Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Empirical Evidence, Gaming, and Random Bits

There you have it; more evidence to support the statement that I am the worst kind of geek. I haven't posted in two weeks. I would say that I've been really busy, and I would be telling the truth, but that's a cop out. I could have posted on the weekends, and in the evenings. The truth of the matter is that I've been reading (like a good geek) some bad sci-fi (also like a good geek) and have shunned things like posting online (bad geek) and my online gaming time (worst kind of geek).

I used to play about 4-8 hours a day. It really didn't matter what it was: an MMO, flight sim, first-person shooter, The Sims 2, etc. I loved it all. I'm fairly certain that I still love it all. I just don't want to take time out of what little spare time I have to play games right now. It's all about time management and choices.

I used to be home all day, working from home. I would be there, working at my desk in my home office at 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon when the girls got home from school. I would de-brief them on their day. Then, an hour later, my son would get home from school, and the process would repeat with him. Another hour and a half later, my wife would get home from work, and the process would again repeat. Then, we'd eat dinner, spend some time together, and everyone would go to sleep at around 10:00 p.m. or so. Then it would be MY time to play.

And play I did.

I could easily stay up until 1 or 2:00 a.m. and still get up by 8:30 a.m. for work. Since I didn't have to shave, shower, dress, or drive to work, I could literally get up at 8:29 a.m. and get to work by 8:30 a.m. Since I worked through lunch (eating at home at my desk took away my need to eat elsewhere), I could be done with work by 4:30 p.m. and start on dinner.

Do I miss gaming? Absolutely. But I am not going to sacrifice the time I have each night with my family now for it. I get home at around 6:15 p.m. and I'm in bed by 9:00 p.m. That's less than three hours a night I have to spend with my family. They are more important to me than any game.

As for reading, I won't get into what I'm reading (because I called it bad sci-fi), but I will say that it's enjoyable and that it's pleasant. I look forward to it every day, and I am glad to be reading sci-fi again. I didn't realize how much I've missed it.

Finally, a random bit. If you have a Kindle (1 or 2), you should take a look at kindlefeeder.com. It allows you to specify RSS feeds, and it will automatically grab the RSS content, turn it into a nice document, and send it to your Kindle via whispernet. It's pretty sweet and works really well. I am using it, and I enjoy it. It's nice to get content from the websites I like to visit in digest form versus having to use the browser on the Kindle.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Automatic windshield wiper sensors

The Golden Gate Bridge refracted in rain drops...Image via Wikipedia

When I was a kid of about 9 or 10 years old, my family was on one of it's bi-annual trips through Europe. Being a first-generation American with lots of family (and family friends) throughout Europe, we would go back every two years, flying into Luxembourg and driving through France, Germany, and Austria before making our way into Hungary. On this particular trip, we had a rental car called a Simca. It was a French car, if I remember well, and it had a feature I had never seen before on any of my family's American-made cars at the time: automatic windshield wipers.

As we were driving through France, there was a steady misty-rain (much like today's weather in Houston, TX), and my father was driving. I noticed him turn a lever on stalk extending from the steering column, and the windshield wipers turned on for a moment and then sat silently. I watched as rain accumulated on the windshield to a point where it was almost difficult to see, and then without any intervention on my father's part, the wipers came to life and wiped the water off. This process repeated itself for most of the day, and I put my mind to work trying to figure out what technology was in place to make it work.

Simca 1307 GLS 1978Image via Wikipedia

I thought about it and came to the conclusion that it had to be a water sensor that knew when enough water had accumulated on the windshield, and that's when it would wipe the water off. I told my father about how I thought it worked, and he smiled at me and said, "Yep, you figured it out all right." I was proud of myself, since it was quite a complex system. I marveled at the Simca and how space-age it was compared to our American Oldsmobile and Ford Pinto wagon. I couldn't wait to tell my friends about this amazing piece of French technology when I got back to the US.

When we got to Austria, we visited with my father's surrogate parents; a kindly couple who sort of adopted my dad and his friends when they were refugees living in Vienna in the mid-50's. We would visit them every time we went to Europe, and they were like another set of grandparents to me. Azsi Bacsi, as he was known to me, was a former ship captain on the Danube before he defected with his family (who were in a cargo crate on his ship) in Austria after the Soviet invasion of Hungary. He spoke beautiful English aside from his native Hungarian and German. He would always take great interest in conversations with me, and I began to explain to him about the technological marvel I had only recently been made aware of: the automatic windshield wiper that used sensor technology to measure the amount of water on the windshield. He seemed quite impressed and amazed as well until my father started laughing and explained that there was no sensor; it was a delay timer.

I was crushed. I was angry. I was hurt.

Not only did he make me look silly in front of Azsi Bacsi, but I over-thought the problem, coming up with far too complex a solution. I forgot to consider the simplest implementation of a windshield wiper that didn't wipe steadily: a timer. I was also mad at my dad for letting me believe that the car had sensors as part of its windshield wiper system. That put my belief in the whole concept of "cruise control" into a tailspin of doubt. If there were no windshield wiper sensors, how could I believe there was a "cruise control?"

Fast-forward to 2008. I am reading the manual for my 2008 VW Passat when I come across the section for the windshield wipers. I read it, since I have always had an interest in windshield wiper technology ever since that fateful trip to Europe when I read to my amazement that my car's windshield wiper system had a rain sensor! I thought to myself, "Self, we are now driving the car of the future. It's finally here."

I did some searching to find out about the technology behind the sensors, and found this bit on Wikipedia:

The larger the angle to the normal, the smalle...Image via Wikipedia

Total internal reflection is an optical phenomenon that occurs when a ray of light strikes a medium boundary at an angle larger than the critical angle with respect to the normal to the surface. If the refractive index is lower on the other side of the boundary no light can pass through, so effectively all of the light is reflected. The critical angle is the angle of incidence above which the total internal reflection occurs.

When light crosses a boundary between materials with different refractive indices, the light beam will be partially refracted at the boundary surface, and partially reflected. However, if the angle of incidence is greater (i.e. the ray is closer to being parallel to the boundary) than the critical angle — the angle of incidence at which light is refracted such that it travels along the boundary — then the light will stop crossing the boundary altogether and instead be totally reflected back internally. This can only occur where light travels from a medium with a higher refractive index to one with a lower refractive index. For example, it will occur when passing from glass to air, but not when passing from air to glass.

So, someone finally did it; they figured out how to make the windshield wiper sensor work! This was something I wanted to invent myself, and I would often think about how such a system would work. Of course, the solution now used is far more elegant than those I came up with, so kudos to the engineer(s) who came up with total internal reflection.

Now, I enjoy driving in the rain. Knowing that there's all this cool technology going on to make the windshield wipers wipe only when they need to makes me smile.

Really. Ask GeekWife.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Technology legislation

Seal of the United States Federal Communicatio...Image via Wikipedia

One of the most important issues to me in the last presidential election (aside from 2nd amendment rights; that's right, geeks with guns!) was net neutrality. Fortunately, it seems that President Obama's FCC chief believes in net neutrality, and believes that the federal government should stay out of the Internet.

This is a good thing, methinks.

It's already a pain to pay taxes on purchases online, but I guess that's what feeds our government so that it can do things like provide us with protection in the form of a military and provide us with overlords to make decisions in our best interest. I don't so much have a problem with paying taxes on products purchased online; I have a problem with censorship.

I don't condone stealing, child pornography, or anything that takes advantage of those who are incapable of making their own decisions (animals, kids, and some really old people). I do believe, however, that the government has no business telling me or someone else what we can post or view online. Sure, there will be things that we collectively or individually find offensive, but it's not the government's job to decide that for me. It's not the government's job to tell me what I think is appropriate. Get rid of the child porn? I'm cool with that. Otherwise, stay the heck out of our Interwebs.

The Internet is like cable TV. There are lots more "channels" than on cable TV, but to me, the premise is similar. If I find a site or article I don't like, I leave or shut the browser down. Conversely, if I am watching TV and I find a program to be offensive or not to my liking, I have the power within Excalbur (the TiVo remote) and my finger to change the channel or to shut the TV off. I don't need anyone to do it for me, and quite honestly, I find it offensive for anyone to think that they have the right to do so.

Peep show window displaying pornographic enter...Image via Wikipedia

We all have our own flavors of morality. What I believe may or may not be what you believe. Within beliefs, there are degrees that people within the same faiths don't agree on. How then can the government tell me what sites are offensive? To them? To whom within the government?

Illegal activities online should be dealt with. Terrorists using the Interwebs should be shut down. Chid porn should be shut down. Criminals using the Internet to perpetrate crimes, whether in the realworld or online should be shut down. However, just because someone doesn't like to look at nekkid girlies or guys, or because they don't agree with an opinion on an otherwise harmless website... well, too bad.

To those who think that the Internet should be censored should get themselves NetNanny and have a nice day. The rest of us will take our Internet straight-up on the rocks without any government intervention.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Amazing technology

The April 12 launch at Pad 39A of STS-1, just ...Image via Wikipedia

For my kids, electronic high technology is something that just *is*. It's been around their entire lives, so it's nothing really amazing to them. Amazing would be levitation, or perhaps invisibility, but things like smart phones, X-Box, netbooks, iPods, and even satellite or cable TV are about as commonplace to them as a toilet and air conditioning are to me. My, how the times have changed.

I feel fortunate to be alive right now. Aside from the obvious reasons (being addicted to breathing being foremost on that list), it's because in my lifetime, I have seen truly amazing things and have watched mankind transition from terrestrial technology to true space-age tech. Heck, we went to the moon in 1969 when I was two years old!

I am always amazed by technology. Even stuff I use every day like cell phones or the Internet; it still makes me smile like a loon. Why? Aside from the aforementioned, it's because I remember what it was like to imagine a lot of this stuff before it was available. To be able to realize and experience the technology I used to read about in sci-fi books is like finally getting to open presents on Christmas morning. Yeah, it's that flippin' awesome!

Let's take the Kindle as an example. This item is something that, to me, is most similar to what Douglas Adams wrote about as The Hitchhiker's Guide. The similarity was not lost on the writer of XKCD.

Click on the comic for a larger view

I love reading, and now that I have a Kindle 2, I read all the time. Every day. For the past few years, most of my reading has been limited to Foreign Affairs magazine, TIME, Entertainment Weekly, or the odd newspaper that would somehow cross my path as well as a bunch of Internet browsing. Now, I'm reading sci-fi again, reading newspapers every morning, and I've got a bunch of books on it waiting for me to read. All that in a device that's about 1/3" thick and the size of a large paperback.

GeekWife said it reminded her a bit of the PADD's in Star Trek, but ended up naming her's Hitchhiker's Guide while mine is named Trillian.

As I read the Kindle, I marvel at the technology within the device: 3G wireless network, epaper, 2GB storage, and decent speed in a form factor that would be laughably impossible only 5 years ago. Heck, I remember when epaper was first being discussed as anew technology over 10 years ago when I worked at Egghead Software in Irvine, CA (part-time while I was stationed at MCAS Tustin in Orange County). It was future-talk; stuff that sounded cool and had great promise, but that we wouldn't see for a long time.

Well, here it is.

I could list for days the number of technologies that make me smile, but the list would get boring after the first few pages. Suffice it to say that when it comes to tech, I'm still like a kid at heart, and I bask in all it's wondrous glory.

I wouldn't have it any other way.
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Papa was a rolling stone...

Where ever he laid his eeepc was his home. That's how the song would go today. Hmmm, maybe I should re-write the song and update it a little. Then again, nah. That'd be sacrilege on some level. Probably on many levels.

My new EeePC 1000HImage by alainnblog via Flickr

However, while I'm not exactly a rolling stone (or a Rolling Stone), I do find myself using my eeePC (and many notebooks before it) all over the place. I used a notebook computer throughout college, and at work. I was one of the very first (if not THE first) Marines to use a Palm Pilot 1000 back in the early 90's when they first came out (got it the day they were released), and I have used some sort of PDA or notebook/netbook ever since.


Every job I've had since 1989 required me to take information from meetings or information gathering and place it into an electronic format utilizing computers. Cool stuff. The Luddite way of doing things would be to write everything down (notes, diagrams, etc) onto a pad of paper or into a notbook and then to transcribe them into the computer (that the Luddte would surely be forced to use, thinking that there's really nothing wrong with the venerable Smith-Corona). I never was one to do things the Luddite way, however.

*PDA: Palm Pilot 5000 {{tr|Palm Pilot 5000 mod...Image via Wikipedia

I used to sync my USRobotics Pilot (back before they were caled "Palms" or even PDA's) with the computer in my office and copy notes into Ami-Pro (the US Government was trying to throw Lotus a bone back in the early 90's) and then have them printed out with all the answers the Major was asking for. I'd typically be the first person finished with the information gathering of all the Staff NCO's at the time, and I received many accollades from the Major because of it. He called me his Star Trek Staff Sergeant, and he called my Pilot a Tricorder (God love him, he didn't know the difference between a PADD and a Tricorder).

I also was one of the very first (if not THE first) traffic accident investigators to have a laptop computer on-scene to aid in investigative notes and data collectionon-site. While the Marines had used a program (DOS-based) called Formtool to fill out forms in the past, I was the first person to take the forms and put them into the computer so that the entire form would print from a laser or inkjet printer without the need to purchase or stock physical forms. This saved us time and money, and garndered us a lot of cool points among the other Military Police offices throughout the West Coast. I created a stencil set for use in Visio, and a similar set was adopted by CID for their crime scenes. With our computerized Visio accident diagrams, we were able to scale our diagrams to within 1/2". Of course, DoD policy is to have diagrams "not to scale," but they were, in fact, to scale. We took measurements on everything, and all our diagrams were as accurate as possible. I heard that the templates I made were still in use, having been passed around from generation to generation of traffic accident investigators who still use Visio to diagram their accidents.

Compaq iPAQ 3630Image via Wikipedia

After leaving the Corps, I went to work at Compaq and immediately put my Palm Pilot 5000 to use (yeah, I upgraded). I went through the Palm V before getting an early iPaq. It was a nice device, but honestly, not nearly as intuitive or useful as the Palm. Regardless, I used it (Company loyalty and all) and continued to lead the way among my peers as someone who embraced technology and was more productive because of it. Once I was issued a laptop, depending on the meeting, I would have either my iPaq or my laptop.

After leaving Compaq (well, they asked me to leave because of this thing called "massive layoffs"), I went to college and used my notebook computer throughout. My GPA was a 3.79, and due in large part to the great notes I was able to take on my notebook. I even made a nice bit of money selling my notes. My notes in American History were so good, that Dr. Cecil Harper actually changed the curriculum so that students wouldn't have the advantage of my notes. What a compliment!

After school, I went into tech writing. I purchased a Palm T|X and used it quite a bit until I got a Motorola Q. The Q took the place of the T|X and was quite useful not only as a phone, but as a PDA. At about the same time, I purchased an ASUS eeePC as soon as they became available. It was a spectacular small machine, and completely replaced my larger 14" Gateway. The diminutive size of the eeePC with its 7" screen allowed me to carry it in one had to meetings, coffee shops, and to client sites. It was unobtrusive and 100% capable of word processing, creating spreadsheets, and even light Photoshop work not to mention browsing and email. I took some flak from a client who was also a computer manufacturer (I told them I would gladly use their netbook if they were to provide me with one), but they admired the small size of my machine. The only thing I wasn't fond of with the original eeePC was the small size of its SSD, so a few weeks ago, I got a new one with a 9" monitor, N270 Atom processor and a 160GB HDD. I know; the SSD was faster, but I use lots of programs and I wanted the larger space since I also use the eeePC as my primary computer. The nice and fast computer that sits at my desk at home is no-longer "home base" as far as computers go; the eeePC is.

That is why where ever I lay my eeepc is my virtual home. With tethering, the Internet is always available, and I can get my email, Engadget, or web anytime I want. When I am inspired to continue to write on the novel I'm working on, I can just get to it. If I need to take notes at work in a meeting, I have the eeePC to do it on. Writing these blog entries; all done on the eeePC. It literally is my virtual home.

How many of you live out of a computer on the road? What tools do you use on yours that help you in your daily lives?
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Neither iTard nor Fanboy shall I be

In episode 7 of Worst Kind of Geek, we meet Edge, a geek who doesn't buy into some of the marketing ploys by some of the most clever pseudo-geek companies around.

Just a few examples:

Zune Software version 3.0.532.Image via Wikipedia

Apple: To be cool and rock like U2, you need an iPod. To be hip, you need an iPhone. And only the creative who think differently use Mac.
Me: First of all, I don't want to rock like U2. There are many alternatives to iTunes, all of which run better, smoother, and faster (including my favorite, Zune). As for the iPhone, I will admit it's cool, but I prefer a phone like the G1 or my Instinct over it. Why? Can you say REMOVABLE BATTERIES and VIDEO? Let's touch on Mac. Twenty-three Brazilian (that means a lot, btw) programs available for PC versus about 63 apps available for the Mac. Even Linux (run on PC's) has more (and most of it is free or less expensive). Why pay the Mac tax? To be cool? Since when do geeks want to be cool?!?!?!

Xbox 360 Wireless ControllerImage via Wikipedia

Nintendo: Only the coolest of hipsters have a Wii. We even have Wii Fit to help you lose weight. And our products look nice and white like another company whose products are all shiny and white and hip and cool.
Me: I see what you're doing there, and I'm not falling for it. I have an X-B0x 360 that does all we need or want it to do and then some. I don't care so much for Mario games anymore (1980 called; it wants its video game back!), and I do my exercise and dieting the old fashioned way: away from the TV!

Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup carImage by geognerd via Flickr

Toyota: If you're really hip and cool, you will drive a Prius. It gets great gas milage, it's hybrid, and did we mention it's hip and cool?
Me: If I want to drive a car that gets more than 40mpg, it wouldn't be a Prius. It'd be a VW Jetta TDI (turbo diesel) which puts far fewer harmful chemicals and pollutants into the environment than the Prius will and even gets better gas mileage. How, dare you ask? All the manufacturing required to make a Prius coupled with the toxic components that will one day need to be disposed of are FAR GREATER than the amount of pollutants the ultra-clean burning Jetta TDI will ever create in its lifetime. The batteries in one Prius alone has enough harmful pollutants to make anyone cry. You wouldn't want that stuff buried anywhere near your backyard.

It IS possible to keep your geek cred and not sell out.

You can remain true to your geek roots and not buy into the marketing hype that tries to sell you your image.

Be true to yourself, your geekiness, and you will sleep better at night (and probably have more money in the bank, too. I mean $2400 for a Mac when the same-stat PC would run you $1200 tops? C'mon!!!).

BTW, I'm not being cynical. I have been known to be a brand-loyalist, just not for brands that try to sell me the "cool" and "hip."

ADDED: GeekWife mentioned to me that she noticed that a lot of the products I purchase and use are either Microsoft, or Microsoft-compatible. This is true. However, it's not because I am rendered tragically hip or cool through their use; it's because I believe that they are the superior product, and that they perform the tasks I need them to perform in a manner that is conducive to higher productivity and efficacy. Further, I feel they are a high-quality product that bring me enjoyment and pleasure. I was hoping I wouldn't have to state (or re-state, as it were) the obvious, but here it goes: when you buy a product, do so because it suits you, not because its marketing hype or because social currency dictates that others who have purchased said products will admit you into their "cool kid" club.
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Another sign of worst geekiness

Towel with the words "Don't Panic" o...Image via Wikipedia

I modify things.

It's something I guess I picked up from my dad who always made things work "better." Now days, it's called hacking, but back in the day, it was just making it work better.

Lawnmower: Sharpen blade. A lot.
Car: chip mod, tint windows, new higher-performance air filter.
eeePC: Add 2GB RAM.
Windows: too many "upgrades" to mention.
GeekWife's Kindle 2: add new "cover" image that says "Don't Panic" in friendly letters.
My eeePC: swapped the right-shift and up-arrow buttons.
my My bass guitar amp: goes to 11

...and the list goes on and on.

Why do I do this? Why does any geek do this?

Because we know better. Even better than the designers. And in the end, we want to make the item "ours."

Why? Well, it comes down to the fact that items are designed for general use. Most of the time, at least. So, when I get an item, whether it's a car or an R/C aircraft, there is something I may want it to do or in a manner for which that item was not specifically designed. Like my car.

I wanted it to get better acceleration and better fuel mileage (both were already good, but I wanted "more"). So, I had the ECU "tuned" with a new program that got more performance out of the engine than it was designed for (within safe parameters, of course). I am quite happy with the results, and I do get better performance.

Almost every true geek I know does this. The reasons we do these hacks for may vary from item to item, but it all comes down to the fact that we have the know-how, the time, the patience, and the energy to take something that was meant for everyone and make it ours.

That's one of the things that makes me so excited about Windows 7. Faster: cool. Better implementation of security: cool. Neater effects: cool. Better task switching: cool. Customization beyond anything Windows has allowed before out-of-the-box: WAY FREAKIN' COOL!

Just about all my geek friends I've spoken with in regards to Windows 7 seem to be fixated on two things: performance (duh) and customization.

I guess it's because we like to make things our own, and we like to modify things.
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Tech in all I do

As any good geek can tell you that it is a moral imperative that we use technology in everything we do. Not just any old technology, but the latest and newest technology.

Case in point: my water bottle.

I used to drink from regular plastic water bottles, but the more I thought about not only the chemicals that the plastic could be leeching into the water that I was drinking but also the environmental impact of those bottles, I began looking for alternatives.

Sigg bottles in Whole FoodsImage by Jeffery Simpson via Flickr

Not wanting to lose one plastic bottle for another, I began researching metal bottles. Most metal bottles sold are either stainless steel or aluminum. Both are much safer for humans to drink from, and somehow don't give the liquids inside a plastic-y taste. I eventually settled on a bottle by Sigg in Switzerland.

It was more expensive than other bottles, but it seemed to have the best construction, shape/design, and it appeared to be more high-tech.

Now, I know what you're thinking here: how could a bottle appear to be more high-tech?

Well, it seems that the design of the cap was made with luggability in mind. It is a loop which allows attaching to a backpack or any other bag using a carabiner. I just happen to have a few carabiners, so I put a few of them onto my lunch bag and onto my netbook bag so that I can attach my water bottle anytime I want now. Also, the inside of the bottle is treated so that there is no bare aluminum inside to make contact with the liquid. What is the treatement? It looks somewhat ceramic.

Best of all, it's super-light and drinking from it is actually comfortable. Yeah, I said comfortable. I don't know how to explain it, but after drinking from plastic bottles with their small openings for so long, drinking from this Sigg bottle is just "comfortable."

I could go on and on about the other high-tech items I use in daily life instead of the old low-tech stuff and how I've been a champion of technology my entire life, and I've been accused (properly) of being a gadget geek (guilty as charged). I'll save those for the future. I'm sure it'll come up again. And again.
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Monday, March 9, 2009

The Kindle 2

Here's a little story about a boy named Edge
He bought his wife a Kindle (2) as an anniversary gift.

When it arrived he saw how incredibly cool it was
So he went back to Amazon and got himself one.

When his wife found out, at first she laughed
But then said she would rather that he hadn't.

For you see, she was going to get him one as a gift
So with her he made a deal and she paid for it.

So now they both have their Kindle 2's
And they both read ebooks, emagazines, and enews.

They both are very happy with the gifts they have
Just don't interrupt their reading, else they may get mad.


Kindle 2:  slicker design, still hard to use. ...Image by Zach Klein via Flickr

Yeah, weak. I started writing this as a regular post, but the first sentence came out like the first line of the theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies.

I did, in fact, get a Kindle 2 last week (Monday to be precise) and I have to admit that I am in love with the device. As all geeks know, tech is meant to make our lives easier, and to make the inconvenient convenient. The Kindle 2 does just that; makes my life easier and more convenient.

I love reading, but I hate carrying books. Some people love the way books feel and smell. They would get their literature no other way. Me, on the other hand, love epaper. I love the concept of having hundreds or thousands of books at my fingertips on a device as thin as a #2 pencil and the size of a medium paperback. That the Kindle 2 has Internet access turns it into something akin to a true Hitchhiker's Guide (as comic xkcd.com pointed out). We even used it as such on the very first day my wife had hers.

We were on our way to Siegelman's of Houston in Conroe. Being from Chicago, I wanted to have the first Vienna Beff Chicago Dog in Houston. We set out to Conroe, but apparently made a wrong turn and ended up in Cut-n-Shoot. Geekwife pulled out her Kindle 2 and looked up the place on Google. We then used Google Maps to get us there. Very cool!

Today, I used it to look up the origins of Spam. A co-worker was telling me that the origins were in military use, but I disputed this, remembering it was a consumer product sold as Hormel's Spiced Ham back in 1937. So, instead of using my computer to look it up and then have to have him come over and stand behind me, I used the Kindle 2 to look it up and pull up the wiki page. I found the info and handed it over to him so he could read it.

Yes, it amazed him just as it amazes every single person who sees it.

What was the first book I read on it? I was going to read The Hitchhiker's Guide on it, but instead decided on reading Sunken Treasure by Wil Wheaton (a MUST READ if you're a geek of any true geekness). If you know what a 20d is, who Wesley Crusher is, and anything at all about fark.com, then you need to read his book. It's very well written, funny, geeky, and funny. Did I say it was funny? It's available on lulu.com for $5 for the ebook version. I highly recommend it.

Back to the Kindle 2. It's a device that, like TiVo or the iPod, has really changed my quality of life. I am able to read newspapers once again (without having to deal with the bulk, the ink, and the recycling nightmare) and I'm able to read novels, other books, and classics. Heck, I have everything ever written by Poe, Kafka, Melville, and Heinlein (among others) on it already, and the number of ebooks rises daily.

If you haven't seen one yet, go over to Amazon's site and check it out. If you want to see one in person, go to kindleboards.com. They have a program where they try to locate someone close to you to show it to you in person so that you can see how cool it is.

No, I don't make money from this (nor will I be able to make money from it), but I do love the device. People said cars, telephones, television, personal computers, and video games were all passing fads. Some luddites try to claim the same when it comes to ebooks. I think they are missing the mark. By a lot.
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Sometimes, it's the simple things

1896 Telephone, hand cranked magneto on right ...Image via Wikipedia

Last night, just before dinner, I received a telephone call from my grandmother. She needed tech support on her computer. It seemed that she had been cleaning, moved a bookshelf, and now, her UPS was screaming and the computer wouldn't turn on any more.

She's 84 and lives in Boynton Beach in Florida. She called me with a frantic tone in her voice; she really hates when she has to rely on others, and especially when it comes to things she doesn't understand in the first place (like compupers).

While the actual conversation took place in Hungarian and over the course of an hour, I will try to record it here as best I can.

Grandmother (GM): Now, I think I completely and totally messed up. In my stupidity, which is inherent with old age, I moved a book shelf and made the UPS scream and now my computer won't turn on. I'm afraid I went and really messed this thing up quite badly.

Me: I'm sure you just pulled a wire out of the plug or something. Did you take a look to make sure everything was plugged in?

GM: Well of course I did. That's the first thing I did, and everything looks fine except for a few plugs that seem to have no place to be.

Me: You may want to trace the wires, each and every one of them, and re-plug them, and connect any you find that aren't plugged in.

GM: I hate this. I used to be so smart about this kind of stuff, but now, I am so stupid and I just can't seem to figure it out. There is no-one who lives around me that can figure this stuff out, either. I have no-one who can help me here. I can't afford to pay someone $65 an hour to come and fix this either; I just had to pay the $500 deductible on the accident I had last month!

Me: Don't worry. We will get it to work. Just take a seat and take a look at the cords and the plugs. Just study them for a bit and see if you can follow each cord to it's source and then to the plug. Just make sure they're all plugged in. I'm pretty sure that's all it is.

GM: I tried that before I called you, but everything is plugged in. This is ridiculous. It is too bad that there isn't anyone here to help with this.

At this point, I recognized that she wasn't getting any more calm. In fact, she was getting more and more aggravated and unable to understand the instructions I was telling her, let alone comprehend anything I was saying in regards to the cords and plugs.

Me: (thinking that she's not going to be able to fix it tonight) Tell you what. This happened to me when I was at your house in July. I had to move the very same bookshelf you talk about when a picture dropped behind it. I moved the shelf and the computer shut down, so I had to figure out the cords and plugs and eventually found the right one after a few minutes.

GM: But I tried...

Me: I understand, and I need you to listen to me. Sometimes it's best to look at these things with fresh eyes. I know from experience that if I can't solve a problem when it's getting late and I'm tired, the best thing to do is go to sleep and tackle it in the morning. I'm sure you'll be able to look at it and catch something you have been glancing over. I'm sure that you can get this working in the morning. Just don't worry about it; you didn't ruin or break anything. I'm sure it's a matter of just plugging something in.

GM: You know, you may be right. I'm just going to go to sleep and I'll check again in the morning. Can I call you tomorrow if I have any more problems with it?

Me: You can call me tomorrow and anytime. Let me know how it goes.

She and I hung up, and I hoped for the best. I received a call the next day at around 10 a.m. (about ten minutes ago):

GM: Well, after looking at the cords and plugs and disconnecting and reconnecting them 70 times without success, on the 71st try, it worked.

Me: Did you really count all your tries?

GM: Of course not, but it felt like close to 70 tries.

Me: So it's working now?

GM: Yes. Thanks to your patience and advice, I got it working. Thank you!

It's these little things that make me feel like I'm somehow able to give back to my grandmother. She busted her butt to give me a great childhood all those weekends I spent with her and my grandfather. She would clean all week and do all her chores Monday through Thursday so that when I arrived on Friday evening, she could dedicate all her time to me until Sunday afternoon when my parents would pick me up. I could never repay her for all her efforts and love, but in my own little geek way, I'm doing what I can to let her know that I appreciate her and her love, and that I love her very much, too.
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The Worst Kind of Geek

Standard joystickImage via Wikipedia

I'm the worst kind of geek. Not in the sense that I am an uber-geek, or that my geeky tendencies are so beyond the pale that it can be considered "the worst kind."

No. It's far simpler than that.

You see, I wasn't the kid who got straight A's all through school and blew your bell curve. I did that in the 8th grade to see if I was capable of doing said shenanigans (I did, and I was). Then, in the 9th grade, I decided to take it easy, give my mind a break, and I skated. Little did I know the ice was thin, and the water below very cold.

I was the kid who knew more than the teachers. Always. I can't remember a day in school where I actually came home thinking, "Wow, today was amazing! I learned something new!*" The problem was that I took to reading encyclopedias for fun as a kid. When I was 4 or 5. If I found something I was interested in beyond what the encyclopedia could tell me, I would ask my dad. If he couldn't give me sufficient answers (as was often the case), I would be taken to the library and encouraged to find out more. And find out more, I did. About nearly everything.

The problem with this was that I was always far ahead of the class, and almost always even more knowledgeable about things than most of my teachers. Some teachers were impressed and passed me because they knew I was far too smart for the classes I was in while others resented me (one teacher to the point of physical abuse that left scars on my arms). The rest didn't care enough about their jobs, let alone some know-it-all kid who would rather sit and draw during school than listen to a boring and often fact-deficient lecture about the pyramids.

All my friends were the geek brainiacs. They loved me. I was the only true geek who possessed the social skills to "cross over" and actually have girlfriends. I was also friends with many diverse groups of people, and would act as liaison, ambassador, and sometimes as protector to those of my friends who were lacking in things called "muscles." I was a swimmer, bicyclist, and even a runner (cross country in HS), and became friends with most of the "sporto's" and "jocks." I also was friends with just about everyone else, but my "peeps" were my geeks.

My geek friends also loved me because I would rarely do my own assignments and I always had time to help them with theirs. I was also a great project team member because I concentrated very hard on helping the team succeed. I never let my teammates down, so I was in high demand as a group member.

We used to hang out on Friday nights or on the weekend playing D&D (yeah, I played it before it became AD&D), Pong (later Atari 2600), or later writing our own games (mostly simulations of ICBM launch sequences) on my TI-99/4A.

Back to my problem; being the worst kind of geek. There was one area that I never studied very much and never put much effort into: math. I hated it. Why? Because it was unimaginative. It was pure fact without flavor. To me, there were better things to do with my time like read history, science, biology, psychology, sociology, current events, etc, but I had no time for math. This would haunt me for nearly 20 years.

While in high school, I watched friends get accepted into prestigious (or even regular) colleges and universities with SAT scores lower than mine. I could have gone nearly anywhere (on academic probation at most due to my low grades in HS) but I chose not to. The last thing I wanted to do was to go to college or university to waste my parents' money. I knew I would screw up and party too much and chase the girls too much, so I did the next best thing.

I joined the Marines.

In retrospect, it was the best thing that I had ever done; I learned discipline, motivation, and how to take pride in a job well-done. I also learned that I really should have gone to college and gotten a degree. I was working for people who were far less intelligent or qualified than I was, and it was often painful having to work for people who couldn't think their way out of a wet paper bag.

I rose in rank fairly quickly enough after a few rough starts in my military career, but once I became an NCO, I never looked back. I was promoted up to Staff Sergeant within 9 years (quite fast back then), and at 12 years (facing promotion to GySgt), I decided to leave the Corps so that my kids could grow up closer to their grandparents and cousins. It ended up being the best decision I have ever made, but perhaps that's for a later post.

Back (again) to geekiness. I remained interested in all the things I was always curious about, but being married with young kids has a way of sapping your energy and desire for things not so important as changing diapers, feeding babies, playing with babies, getting them to school, etc. So, I became a sort of dumb geek. I focused all my geek energies on computers and became quite adept at networking, computer building, and server operating. This served me well in my post-Marines career.

I found myself in a career that put me back in-touch with my people. Geeks. I was surrounded by them everywhere, and it was glorious! I started learning once again, and I began reading again. I found myself engaged in converstations that were intellectually stimulating, and I found and made new friends who were at least as smart as I was. Of course, the two best friends I made in the Marines both remained my best friends, and they were both of the geek persuasion as well (go figure), but they were the exception to the general population within the Corps.

It was this renaissance of geekdom in my personal life that led me to get a divorce and to then find the most amazing person in the world. She was at the very least as smart as I am (probably way smarter!), had similar interests, tastes, views, and... well, heck we were similar in every important way except one: chromosomes.

Having been married to her (a true geek; she even loves Star Trek!), and having made new friends (all geeks), I was reminded of how I was both uber-geek and makeshift geek. I could hold my own on just about anything except for the important geek skills like math (I only went up to college algebra in college) and programming (my skills extend to BASIC and some PERL, JAVA, and simple .NET stuff). I am proficient in database design and theory, but not so much in writing queries. I understand particle physics, but string theory is... well, stringy to me.

I play (and have played) MMO's since the dawn of the Internet gaming community, but these days, it's not so much a badge of geekness as it once used to be. Heck, I know luddites who have bought computers just to play WoW (a game I never have played, and I refuse to play based on principle alone; I will not go where the unwashed masses go). I read newspapers, magazines, and books solely on my Kindle 2 now. All music is on my computer, iPods, Zune, or it comes to me through satellite radio or digital cable. I have broadband internet at home. I own my own domains for my own email addresses. I am a guildleader.

I have geek cred as my wife would say, but deep down, I know that I let the species down. I could have been some kind of uber-succcessful scientist, writer, political scientist, historian, lawyer, doctor, etc, but no. I am a technical writer who goes from writing training on complex high-end servers to writing user guides for systems management software to writing maintenance manuals for armored tactical vehicles for the Army. It's a geeky job, but on the geek-cred scale, it ranks rather low.

I'm not entirely bothered by it, but when I talk to my friends from HS, I'm the one with ONLY an undergrad degree. The rest of them have Master's and Doctorates. Sadly, that doesn't make them smarter than me, but it gets them better jobs. Their knowledge is focused in areas in which I may or may not be interested, but in the grand scheme of things, when it comes to overall knowledge, wisdom, and outright "smartness," I can still think circles around most of them.

So, I am the worst kind of geek. I have a minor superiority complex, yet I'm socially very friendly and tactful. I can fit into social situations, yet have very thought-provoking discussions on a wide variety of subjects with people from many different backgrounds and disciplines. I love to learn, yet I have very little in the way of formal education.

I'm a geek without advanced degrees, I don't play Magic, The Gathering, I don't play WoW, and I don't understand some of the jokes programmers tell each other. I don't wet my underoos at the sight of a pretty girl, and I don't have any problem talking to them, either. I don't live in my parents' basement (and never did), and I don't have a room where I build robots and conduct mad experiments with soldering irons and circuit boards (although I do have microminiature electronics component repair training). I'm not a Linux fanboy or iTard (although I do have at least one Linux machine up and running at any given time, and have installed a flavor of Linux at least once on every computer in the house).

So, as you see, I'm a geek without some of the geek-cred that is normally associated with my kind. However:

I love Star Trek. I love Star Wars. I play MMO's, read a lot, have tried more than a few instructables, build computers, manage networks for fun, build and maintain servers for fun, love role-playing, love technology and gadgets, and know more about pop culture than almost anyone else I know. I know enough about programming to be dangerous (and well-hated by programmers whose programs I've messed up in the past), I know enough about databases to be dangerous (same note about programmers applies to database administrators), and I can write html/xml/sgml in notepad and make it work. I have been on the Interwebs since the early 90's, and I have my own set of gaming dice and source books. I build plastic models (though not very recently, I have about 20 in the closet ready to go) and fly R/C aircraft. I love big words and philosphy or political discussions with friends (foreign relations, even better).

So yeah, I'm a geek, but the worst kind.

I hope to write here regularly. My main blog is on hiaitus right now, but I feel motivated to write here. If you decide to read, I welcome you. If you come here to flame me or to otherwise insult me, know that your comments will be deleted. I don't have time for BS here. I have much better things to do... like to finish reading "Friday" again. For the 5th time.

*The last time that happened was in the first grade when we learned about the Yanomamo Indians. I never let myself get caught off-guard again.
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