December 19, 2011

Why Not

   Recently I have been receiving a few comments about the name I put on my two blogs. Not Much to Talk About and Not Much to Look At are both statements of how I feel about my art. I think it is really easy to look at these two titles as self deprecation and/or negativity. That isn't my intention. I'm writing this to clear it up.
   As many I have a handful of readers at this point. Many of them are close friends or family and know me pretty well. There are a few others that don't know me as well. So I want to give a bit of background.
   I went to college with the high aspirations of becoming a professional writer and possibly a film maker one day. I only wanted to tell stories. In my naivete I chose to major in English. I believed at the time that English was where one went to learn to write and create. I thought, for some strange reason that seems crazy now, that English was an arts degree.
   In two and a half years studying English I was mentally rocked. Simply put I learned that English isn't where one learns to write or create but where one learns to undo the words which others have written. It's not a bastion of creativity but a cesspool of people who believe they are more intelligent than those who create.
   I have to quickly interject that I don't view everyone in an English department as qualifying this. I know many good people who are just passionate about literature and want kids to learn it. I speak generally about what English as a subject is. Also, Alyssa, if you are reading this, I am sorry but I bring it up to make a point.
   So after some serious suffering through lectures that made a serious attempt to make me hate myself, my manhood, my creativity and my opinion I finally decided on a new course of action. I knew I couldn't remain an English Major for fear of losing my already rapidly eroding personality. I decided to attempt to get into film school. I applied to NYU's film school. I thought my application had merit. I thought I had the understanding and talent to get in. In the end I didn't get in.
   At this point I didn't return to school. I haven't returned since. I took my education in my own hands from the day I left school. I studied lighting and camera techniques for years. I bought a very expensive camera and started doing anything I could get paid to do with my camera. I taught myself editing and basic special effects. I spent all my time trying to figure out how to accomplish my lofty goals.
   Eventually I settled on the idea that the only way I would find the success I desired would be to write a movie, move to Los Angeles and then sell it to a studio. You probably are starting to see a pattern of naive ideas. So in time I came up with a story and a plan. My wife and I eventually moved to Anaheim, CA where we live now. This move was probably the greatest decision for my personal career goals ever.
   You see it's in Anaheim  that I learned that what I thought I wanted to do wasn't exactly what I wanted to do. Shortening a lot of the story I will just say that I have been self teaching myself about writing and story telling with and without a camera and actors for quite some time at this point. Some time in the past year or so I realized that the stories I have been creating and making up in my head probably won't work as movies for one simple reason. That reason is that if they are tampered with very much at all the whole point of telling them goes up in smoke.
   I suppose the real lesson I learned is that I am not a collaborative story teller. That isn't to say that I don't have a friend who I am collaborating with to tell a story or two. What I am saying is that a movie writer doesn't have enough allowance to tell the actors what the characters are thinking. That's the directors job at best. So no matter how I write the story as a script I get the same reaction. I got this over and over from readers, "Why isn't this a novel? I want to know what so and so is thinking."
   Even though I came up with this blog before I realized I needed to tell my stories as novels the title really does summarize very well my feelings about my art. But let me spell it out more clearly.
   Art is something with no intrinsic value. Art is valued by the artist and anyone who happens to like their work. My art and my love is in three things. I have always loved stories, music and imagery. I learned a long time ago I have no talent for music or painting/drawing/sculpture. I am very good at telling stories that make people feel. I am also a very visual thinker. I see the world in what I think sometimes are weird ways. I have only every been able to capture those ideas with cameras.
   So I write and take pictures and make videos occasionally. I have only ever made a handful of money from any of it (mostly wedding videos). The "Not Much" statement is that I know what I have to say or show isn't very great or outstanding. It isn't likely to ever make me rich and famous. But that isn't to say it isn't going to make me happy.
   Since I got my new camera and started my new blog I have to admit that I have been really happy with the results. I considered at one point locking the photos on my blog down and maybe asking for compensation like some "professional" photographers do on their websites. I thought about it and said to myself, I think I would rather just see one of those pictures on someone's desktop as a background than have thousands of dollars.
   So the point of it all is that I recognize that I not a professional. I am a hobby writer. I am a hobby photographer. I hope you like what I make. I hope you like my pictures. I hope you like my stories once I finally publish it. I hope you tell your friends about these blogs. I hope my toothbrush reviews both inform and entertain you.
   Thank you for visiting my site. It means a lot to me. Also, I love comments and discussion. Tell me what you like and don't like. Suggest things to me. If you have a favorite toothbrush or TV show or flower tell me about it. If you want me to take your picture let me know. Even though what I do isn't much I appreciate those who participate in it with me in any way.

December 5, 2011

New Blog

   I have a new Blog. It is not a replacement for this one. It is a blog to share some photos I'm taking. As part of the new blog roll out I have made some slight alterations to this blog to try to make them look a bit alike. They are by no means identical but they will have a lot of the same things in the sidebars.
   So the plan for the new blog is to post some photography up with minimal discussion. I might just mention in a post why I am putting the picture up or what I like about it. There won't be lengthy words about it.
   I hope you like it. I hope you check it out from time to time. I hope you tell your friends about it. This new blog is not a foray into some childhood dream to become a professional photographer so it is by no means a portfolio or a sales pitch. However, if you like anything I've posted and want me to take your picture let me know (my contact information can now be had through my "About me" link to the right side).
   If you don't like something I've posted you can let me know in the comments about that photo. Just keep it constructive. I'm new to this and don't especially think I am any great photographer but I would hope people wouldn't post stuff like, "This just sucks." And now I know one of my friends will be posting that very thing soon.
EDIT: You can also get there by following the link on the right side of the page under "My Other Pages."

October 26, 2011


   My regular readers no doubt know that I am a computer enthusiast but that I am not a programmer. I can help you buy a computer. I can help you set it up. But if you want me to create a custom program you will be lucky if you can get a "Hello World!" from me even in Python (another story).
   However, I would like to take a minute to talk about some new internet technology that is code related. As the title suggests I'm talking about HTML 5. What's so special about it? Let's take a look.
   First of all let me explain the little bit about internet technology for beginners. When you view a web page what you are really seeing is an interpretation of codes. Layers of codes really. I don't mean code in the programming sense, although that is driving everything. What I mean is that you are seeing a bunch of rules on display.
   Over the last couple of decades there have been rules created and recreated over and over that govern the way the internet is displayed in your browser. The reason for this is so the browsers can display the page you look at correctly. Years ago this was not really an issue but there were people that had the foresight to see a problem on the horizon. Today you might notice the problem.
   About 2 years ago I started to notice that a lot of newer pages would work better in one browser than they did in another. The reason for this is that the various browsers out there have come up with different ways to interpret these rules.
   Somewhere along the lines a product or two were created to fix these issues. Adobe had Flash. Java was created or implemented. There are a couple other systems out there that exist that are less well known but you probably use them every day. The idea behind these systems is that they work anywhere. Flash is perhaps the most well known now because so many games are built around Flash. A lot of fancy web sites are built around flash or incorporate flash to make things more showy.
   So a couple of years ago this problem is heightened by what people call the "Browser Wars." You may have noticed that 10 years ago almost everyone used Internet Explorer or IE. Then came a few others like FireFox and Opera. More recently has come Google's Chrome. Now most people I work with use Chrome.
   So the reason these browsers exist at all is because of some really simple ideas. Older Browsers were becoming cumbersome when it came to speed. Some of that speed is lost in the ability of the browser to interpret these rules. Over the last 2 years all the companies making browsers have been pressing hard to find ways to run these pages faster. New interpretation engines have been built. New code interpreters have been built. All with the idea of making things work better and faster. Chrome and Internet Explorer in their latest versions are the front line of the speed race.
   Now back to HTML 5. This new set of rules and language is designed for something more than just speed. HTML 5 includes a lot of new features that embed things like animation and video directly into the page. Previously for this stuff to be done you needed Flash. Flash is an add on to any browser. This means that it doesn't just work it needs to be added on.
   So essentially HTML 5 is all about user experience. It's a new set of rules that modern browsers need to follow so that people can design web sites that are more interactive and interesting than anything that has come before.
   What do you need to experience it? This one is simple. You need a modern browser. You need Internet Explorer 9 or Chrome (version doesn't matter since it updates itself automatically) or the latest version of Opera or FireFox. My recommendation is either IE 9 or Chrome. The reason is that these two have the highest speed scores in almost all areas as of this posting. I personally use Chrome for nearly all of my Browsing needs now.
   If you have a new browser and want to test it now go try the new or You can also play around with where Microsoft has created a bunch of simple pages that will test speed and let you goof around with some HTML 5 toys. I enjoyed shooting Mr. Potato Head out of a Cannon.

August 23, 2011


   When I started this blog I intended to maintain an average posting of once per month. I have up until now maintained that average. At this time I doubt I will be able to maintain that average as I am currently working on rewriting a script I wrote as a novel (I had to check but I think ultimately it will classify as a novel).
   I intend to self publish through and Barnes and Noble through their Kindle and Nook books respectively. This project has become fairly important to me over the last year.
   I intended to shop out the script in Hollywood. After some time of having the script sit on my nightstand I began to feel a bit glum about my prospects. Over time I handed copies of the script to a few individuals (probably about 40% of my blog readers as of today). The main feedback I get over and over is that everyone seems to want to see and understand what is going on. In script form there is little allowance for first drafts to include much other than dialog and basic descriptions.
   Eventually I read a Nook Book called Demon Girl. It was a free book on Nook. I read the entire thing on my Android phone. I was impressed and started looking into this new form of self publication. It turns out it is rather easy, thanks to the Internet, to completely bypass traditional publishing houses.
   The last person who read my script said one thing that really helped me make up my mind. She told me that she would really like to understand the back story and the thoughts of the characters I wrote. I realized at that time that since I have as of now no connections in Hollywood that I might as well go the direction of the novel. At the very least there might be even a handful of people that could enjoy my story. As of now it only gets read when I ask someone to. And then they often miss out on some of the stuff that exists solely in my head.
   So, for the next few months I plan on focusing on writing my first draft. That means I won't be posting much on my blog. However, I do plan on posting updates about my progress. I don't know if these will be monthly or just periodic. We'll just have to see.
   I have a number of blog posts in the works. I have some rough drafts saved for later.
   In the meantime start telling your friends. Get the word out. You can expect to see my first novel out sometime next year. It will be tentatively titled Zero:(Something). I have copyrights to the title Zero:Rising. I may reuse that but since the novel is going to follow a slightly different storyline than the script I may rename it. Anyway, wish me luck and please read my story when it's done. I am only doing it in the hopes that someone somewhere will enjoy it and hopefully find that it enriches their lives.

June 14, 2011


   Do you know what the internet is? On a physical level it is essentially a network of connected computers. On a more philosophical level it may be a bunch of connected people or knowledge derived from humans. On a historical level it is something far bigger. I titled this article paradigm to discuss just how big of a thing the internet is.
   A long time ago humans invented fire. Fire, as recent research suggests was transformative to the human experience. As you can imagine it provided a net of safety as well as the ability to cook. Much later it became the basic tool from which metals were made. Metal work was another transformative invention. Skipping over quite a few we get to the printing press. Anyone think the inventor of the printing press realized what his invention would really do?
   The point is that as humanity progresses there are these inventions that rewrite our way of life. The wheel, the plow, animal husbandry, the printing press, possibly steel, the computer and later the internet. Since the internet really has come about publicly within many of our lifetimes it's easy to overlook as something we just use.
   What I want to get you to think about is just how impactful the internet has been and how much it may will impact our future. And I don't want you to start having visions of SkyNet or any other dystopic nonsense dreamed up a fiction author.
   Let's start by thinking back to about 1998. In those days you listened to your music on your stereo using a CD player. There was talk about the new "mini disc" that was set to take over the world. For a few of us there was this new idea that music could be placed into the computer and saved as MP3 files. I remember the first time I made some MP3s from my CDs. It seemed really cool at first. After a few days it really started to bore me simply because I didn't want to listen to music in front of the computer. I wanted to listen to it while washing my car or mowing the lawn. For that I would place a stereo in the garage and turn the volume up high enough the neighborhood could hear. This was in part done purposely by my as a measure of opposition to most of the radio tunes that were popular in the late 90s.
   The comes along Napster. Napster, and later products, upset the music industry. It has taken nearly a decade for things to kind of level off but what the internet has done to the music industry is rather strange. People don't buy nearly as many CDs as before. Now people have the ability to buy only the songs they want instead of buying the album put out by that 1 hit wonder band of last week. People drop $1 for what they want and don't waste $10-20 buying an album that is mostly worthless. I know many of you have purchased a CD only to regret that the album was not what you were expecting.
   Now we have things like Google Music Beta and Apple's similar offering. These allow us to place our music on the internet where we can access our tunes at any time on any computer connected to the internet. This post was originally going to be a review of that service. These type of innovations are customer friendly but not business friendly. Anyone following the music industry will tell you that if a new album sells 1,000,000 copies it's considered monumentally successful where in the 80's and 90's that was considered only marginally successful. Michael Jackson's Bad sold over 30,000,000 copies according to Wikipedia.
   A similar change is currently happening in the movie industry. Over the last decade or so major Hollywood movie studios have been seeing decreased profits. This is, perhaps, due to the dying trend of home video purchases. This was another trend that peaked in the 80's and 90's with VHS and DVD. Movie studios prior to that did not sell many of their properties to consumers outside of the theater.
   Netflix is currently, and almost single handedly, changing the industry using the power of the internet. Studios, oddly, are not catching on either. Many of the largest are locked in battle over their film properties. Some properties like Avatar have been vowed to never be shown on Netflix. Warner Brothers has pretty much said they are in a war to prevent Netflix from devaluing their properties. The silly thing is that the value of movies is dropping without regard their participation in Netflix. There are many contributing factors but one of them is simply that people can get more shows and movies then they could hope to watch over Netflix streamed over the internet for less than 1 DVD a month.
   If Hollywood fails to adapt they will see more bankruptcy. Maybe you knew this but MGM recently finished filing bankruptcy. MGM has the largest catalog of movies in the world. Now that they are finished with bankruptcy and are moving forward with new management I fully expect that catalog to wind up on Netflix one way or another.
   I know I skipped other internet movie delivery systems. They for the most part are stuck in the old paradigm of charging people huge amounts of money to own a copy of a movie. When it is instantly available it doesn't really matter if you own it or are borrowing it only that it's inexpensive.
   So what's next? Honestly everything is next. Everything you we do will be changed by the internet. The internet hasn't even really had much time to change our lives. I know there are a few things that have begun to change but are not quite done changing. Education comes to mind. How many people do you know that got a college degree online on the cheap? Is there education any less valuable than if they had been sitting in the classroom? How about your homes? I know that over the last few years I have seen a number of changes in my home. My TV is connected to the internet. My gaming is mostly on the internet. My phone controls my computer over the internet (or my mom's computer if needed). I pay almost all of my bills that way now. In fact I have been known to complain that when I write a check it doesn't automatically update correctly in my account.
   One final thought before I leave a couple videos for you to watch. There is a small field of science that studies these transformative technologies. Specifically the study how far apart they arrive. The information they study suggests that these things come in half the time the last one came in. So from fire to wheel is time X. From wheel to whatever was next is time Y. Y=0.5(X). They say that the transistor was one of these technologies. That was invented less than 100 years ago. What I am trying to say is that for most of us the internet is not the only transformative technology we will live to see. Some say the next one is a universal translator. I think it will probably be related to the previous link. Maybe it will be both.
   Here are some videos to feed your thinker some more.

June 9, 2011


   Once again the wife and I are moving. This seems to have become a fairly regular event in our lives. I am fully tired of it at this point in my life but sometimes you just have to do this stuff.
   In all my years I have rarely lived in any single place for very long. I think the record at this point is still 6 years, my first 6 years. My father still lives in the home I was born into. But for various reasons I was only there for 6 years. From that point on I have moved more or less every 2 years. There were a couple of places I have lived for 3 or 5 years but for the most part 2 years is it.
   Even since I have been married, about 8 years now and we are on our 7th place. But to be fair 2 of those 7 were parents homes and the latest one was always meant to be temporary.
   We moved into our current apartment in hopes that one of the complex's townhouse style rentals would come available. One did and now we are moving into that, less than 1 year from when we moved into our current apartment.
   We had one previous opportunity to move into a townhouse already and we passed it up. It was in the middle of the winter and we were a bit low on funds. So when another one opened up we decided that we just could not pass it up, even with the increase in rent.
   So, why post about something so boring? Simple. We want to have room for company. We have lived in Anaheim, CA for almost 3 years now and have for the most part had company here and there. The last 6 months have seen a rather large rise in visitors and our little place is just a bit crowded when they come. So, if you are thinking about coming to visit let me know. Just give us 2 weeks or so to get into our new place, unless you want to help us move. That would be great.

April 29, 2011

Science vs Technology

   The so called smartphone is a handheld conundrum for me. On the one hand it is a concise summary of modern consumer technology and our ability to pack nearly all our daily computer needs into a small compact device. On the other hand the technology is limited by a small chemical reaction package that seems to improve at a snails pace. I'm talking about the battery of course.
   This has got me to thinking about how technology seems to march on in some areas at leaps and bounds. Specifically I'm referring to the silicon that runs electronics. It has advanced at a predictable rate for over 30 years now. Basically our ability to fit transistors on a specified chip size has doubled every 2 years or so. By some accounts it doubles every 18 months.
   What that means for the users of computers, which anymore is just about everyone, is that every couple of years our computer devices get about twice as good. Twice as good at doing things that you don't really notice usually. But over the last couple of years they have become better and better and using less electricity to accomplish the same tasks. This is essentially what allows us to have our iPhones and Androids.
   The other major component, the battery is slightly different. Over the last 30 years batteries really haven't improved all that much. When I was a little kid you could buy rechargeable batteries. Most of these were nickel cadmium based. They work pretty well but they generally have less power than their alkaline counterparts. If you think back to that portable cassette tape player you had to have in 1984 you might recall that a set of Duracells would last longer than a set of rechargeable batteries. Then sometime in the mid to late 90s nickel metal hydride batteries became all the rage. They packed more punch for the pound and were much lower maintenance. But if you can recall cell phones from that era you will remember that they were usually huge.
   Today the most common batteries are lithium based. There are a few different types in use but they all perform about the same. We use these because chemists have known for a long time that lithium packs more power per pound than nickel based batteries. In truth chemists know which elements would make the best batteries and have for a long time. But the march towards the better batteries has been slow.
   So here is why I believe that is: science marches to the beat of the hypothesis while technology marches to the beat of necessity.
   A typical science project starts out as an idea someone has. They might write something like: Perhaps A+B will produce X. They then design experiments to see if the proposed hypothesis is true or false and then they test it. They reserve the "deliverable" section for an afterthought. What I mean is that in scientific proposals the deliverables section is usually at the end and it usually is not a product. More often than not the only promise of a hypothesis is a process by which to replicate the intended results.
   What I am saying is that science often doesn't move towards practical ideas and useful materials. Often it marches in random directions just to "see if it's possible." For example, a geneticist of sorts hypothesizes that it would be possible to grow a third leg on a frog. They design an experiment and eventually grow a third leg on a frog. Nowhere along the way do they bother to ask if it is even worth doing or if it will produce a useful product or add useful information to collective knowledge. Often the point of science is just to see if something can be done.
   Technology on the other hand out of necessity has been mostly excluded from this process. Technology research is extremely expensive. It is currently highly profit driven and has been for some time. So technology often races after money. Money is made by selling stuff. You sell stuff if it will do the required job.
   About 15 years ago I noticed a funny trend in computing technology. I was a teenager and I loved to play video games. They were at the time becoming highly sophisticated. This aggravated my father. He did not like that I would often take over his office computers after hours to play Star Craft and Age of Empires with my cousins. If only he knew how many times I broke his computers trying to get games to work on his network.
   Anyway, I noticed something funny about computers at the time. Companies that manufactured parts would make something really cool and super powerful. A week after it was released some software would come along that would push that hardware to the very edge of what it could do. A few more weeks and it was almost useless to the newest games on the market. Often game makers would build a way for end users to tone down the game so it would not eat the computer's resources. There were some games that took up to a year before parts makers could make stuff that could really do it justice.
   So technology marched on at a quick pace because software engineers, specifically game designers, wanted to do more and show their audience more. Hardware could barely keep up just trying to please the customers.
   The same thing is driving the market now. It's less pronounced because in some sense the hardware has caught up. Console game machines can now reproduce beautiful scenes within games. PCs have moved along to the point where a gaming laptops are highly affordable, I'm writing this on one I got for $750.
iPad are going to be more and more important to every day users. These all rely heavily on batteries. The whole idea behind these things is mobility. So technology has moved towards that in high gear. New chips are being designed to be very powerful and consume little power.
   The issue arises that batteries are not marching on as quickly. New technologies are being developed for batteries. Sadly they are mostly backed by universities that follow the hypothesis system. For instance, a new battery innovation was invented at Stanford about 3 years ago that would increase batteries charge time by about 8 times. The original scientist that made this new innovation said at the time it would take 5 years to get the innovation into production. As of today they are "expecting" a prototype of this battery for cell phones to be made available this year. Not a production unit, a prototype. 3 years to deliver a prototype. Why?
   Simply put, it is not in the best interest of scientist to deliver products. Many times scientists work for institutions that retain part or all of the patents developed by their employees. So innovations don't get put out to market because the scientist gets funded to do research not paid royalties for each battery made using his process. So scientists would often rather come up with hypotheses that take years and years to prove or disprove simply to have job security and long term funding.
   If Intel were researching this battery they would have had some kind of production unit with 12 months of announcing the idea of the new battery. If AMD were doing the same thing they might get something out in 9 months simply to beat Intel to the punch. If ARM holdings were behind it they would have drawn up plans for how to do it and would have sold licences to Texas Instruments, IBM and Nvidia and we would probably be seeing 8 versions out by Christmas time inside the best new cell phones.
   Would it make you sad to know that while Stanford is making a battery with 8 times the charge of current cell phone batteries there are other companies out there making sodium batteries that are even better? Some of these batteries have been in R&D for a decade. There is one substance that science loves to talk about called carbon nano tubes that could potentially improve current batteries by 100 to 1000 times. This stuff was discovered in the 90s. It's a favorite in the research world. What I don't get is why nobody is researching mass production of it. I mean there are a few out there that do but why isn't energizer or Intel or IBM doing whatever they can to mass produce this stuff. Not only does it have the potential to increase battery power but it also has the potential to decrease the power consumed by electronics by around 100 times.
   Imagine that for a minute and you might understand my distress. A cell phone that lasts 100 times longer on a single charge because it uses far less electricity to perform the same function plus a battery that is 100 to 1000 times smaller.

April 15, 2011


   The other day I was joking around with one of my bosses at work about computers. I should explain that I was originally hired to do lab work exclusively but as our study has evolved my job has as well. I now do front line IT work for my office. Basically I do all the easy stuff so our main IT person can focus on software development for the time being. Essentially that means I fix all the simple problems and handle all the hardware issues. He still deals with all of the high level technical issues.
   This has presented me with the second opportunity to work hands on in an environment mixed with Apple and Windows based machines. The first time being in college working for the student newspaper.
   Because I am predominantly a PC or Windows user I occasionally make a jab at Apple because my boss is an old school Mac user. At this particular occasion I was making a jab at the fact that another bosses computer didn't come equipped to run Flash. Flash, as you may know, is something Steve Jobs has gone well out of his way to discourage.
   The stupid part about the joke was that Flash is a third party internet browser plug in. For those who don't follow that simply means that essentially no computer system comes with Flash built in. The only exception to that rule is Chrome OS which as of now is still in development and not available for general consumption.
   Realizing my stupidity and feeling quite ashamed I hid away in my cave (I am one of the lucky few that does not work from a cubicle) and began to research operating systems. This is something that has been a very great interest to me lately since my recent dabble in Linux.
   Further explanation in my curiosity is that for a while now I had been wondering why Linux computers can see and alter files from another system. It seemed that if they were completely different systems they would not even be able to see the files from another computer system.
   A decade or two ago you could not place a disk formatted for windows in a Mac and expect the Mac to even see the files. Heck you were lucky if the system could recognize the media and ask for a format. Somewhere along the line that all changed. Now we don't even think when we put a flash drive in any system and the thing just works all the way around. I wanted to know why for a while.
   Fueled by my curiosity and embarrassment I went on the hunt. I found what I was looking for in Wikipedia in the form of historical information.
   So here is my conclusion and a summary of what I learned. Computers are pretty much all the same. There are some minor differences between computers but most of those are superficial. All computers we use today from our desktop to the phone in our pockets are based on the same basic structures. All of these computers are descended from the same ancestry of information technology. They all speak the same language at the core. They all contain the same building blocks. The differences come in how these common blocks are utilized.
   On the lowest level computers speak zeros and ones. For a long time people had to speak that code to program and use a computer. Eventually a shorthand was created to make this simpler. Then another shorthand was created and then another. These three shorthands were used on computers that would be unrecognizable as such to most of us.
   Over time a new version of shorthand was created to translate any of the others into something that resembled plain language and the first real programming languages were born. Many of these languages were designed to be used with a specific machine. Over time certain of these machines became more dominant and with them the languages.
   As computers became less expensive to manufacture and more powerful there came a time when companies decided that a command based interface would be even better as it would simplify the usage of the computer even more. It was at this time operating systems were born. An operating system is nothing more than a plain language interface for a computer. It means that you can get the computer to function on some level without even knowing how to program. The OS (as I will refer to it from here on out) is basically a layer of programming to separate the user from the machine languages that only experts learned so just about anyone could use a computer.
   What really surprised me was that in the very earliest of days the OS of most machines was designed for just that machine just like earlier many machine languages were designed for a specific machine. As I began to wonder about this it occurred to me that the reason for this must be that each machine has specific hardware that another machine would not have had or needed.
   A few years later and some clever people decided that these machine specific parts could be encoded in software called drivers. Then any OS could run on a particular machine as long as the drivers were available to the OS. Each driver would tell the OS how to communicate with the machines unique hardware setup.
   It was at this time that the computer industry really began to have a place in our homes. Some of us had an Apple others an IBM.
   Fast forward a few decades and we are back in the present. We have a handful of OS choices and they all can see the files made for and/or by another. Why is that? Well it's mostly because the origin is all the same. Apple's OS 1-9 ran a specific instruction system for drivers that were specific to any machine they made. Apple held onto control of their hardware and software to attempt to create a very simplified user experience that was meant to be hassle free. They were more or less successful. Microsoft used their various systems to create a broad view that would accept as much hardware as possible in just about any configuration. At the core they were 2 doing the same tasks.
   Meanwhile there were a few other systems that most consumers were not aware of that are equally important. Unix and Linux were being developed for larger computer servers all these years. Unix is an OS designed to be extremely powerful and extremely stable and probably most importantly it was designed to manage a very large amount of resources that typical home computers would never have. Linux was a project that was designed to emulate Unix but be free and more importantly something that anyone could adapt and change.
   One other system was being used with similar properties at the time. It was Windows NT. NT was designed originally for business users to give them a stable system capable of managing a lot of resources. With the release of Windows XP professional and onwards this is the only system Microsoft releases.
   Some time in the last decade a few major shifts occurred and most of us were not aware of them happening. Apple dumped their original OS for a system based on Unix. They created a hybrid of a few versions of Unix systems and released it as OS X. At the time I thought the X stood for the number 10. Now I know it, like every version or Unix, uses an X to denote the Unix origin.
   So, here we are in 2011 with a handful of OS choices. Windows 7 is a version of NT which in turn is a network intended system. OS X is at its core a server software platform. And Android which is increasingly popular for phones is based on the core components of Linux which is also designed for servers. All of our choices are essentially the same at the core in what they do and how they use the actual hardware.
   So, where does that leave those of us who are consumers? If all our choices are the same then what choice do we have? The more I think about these kinds of questions the more I realize that today's computer user is in a position that is new and wonderful in the history of computers. It means that it doesn't really matter what we buy. Brand names are irrelevant now. All of these computers are now capable of interacting with each other. They are capable of sharing information and more importantly our collective ideas and understanding.
   We live in a computer market where manufacturers have to compete for our dollars by providing us with value in areas that are actually important. We can buy the machine that best suits our own personal needs and wants and not be so concerned about whether or not it will be compatible with our office printer or network. We can be less concerned about how something works and more concerned with our own work and our own play.
   While it is still true that not all software will run on every device this old concept is slowly dying. Software developers are realizing more and more that money is made in making software work everywhere and on everything. Other companies are working on ways to make software run on the server instead of the local machine. This gives anyone with an internet connection the ability to use their software from any computer or device. Google Docs is a great example of a really solid Office like software platform that works anywhere from a connected computer and in some places without regardless of what type of computer it is.
   Next time you ask me what kind of computer I would recommend you buy ask yourself a few questions first: What software do I want to run on my new computer? Will it run on another type? Would that other type/brand/model fit my needs equally as well? What kind of money do I want to spend for a computer? Am I mainly going to be doing stuff on the internet? Am I going to play games on it? These kinds of questions are fundamental to your next computer purchase.
   Some simple guidance. An Apple is going to generally cost a bit more than a Dell or an Acer. Some Acer computers are better for gaming than a Mac by virtue of a better video card built into many of them. An iPad has a lot of apps that you can only get on an iPad for now. In a year all of the most popular third party apps will be available on Android and a few months later on Windows (example Angry Birds). One thing you can only get on a Mac is the Macbook Air. Essentially it's the fastest computer around and comes in at a super light weight and highly efficient system. But in a year every other manufacturer will copy this.
   So, the final point here is that when it comes to computers look to features that you  want and that you need. Not at the ones Justin Long or Jerry Seinfeld mention in a TV ad. What do either of them know about you and your needs anyway?

April 5, 2011

Linux... Finally

   As an avid computer user and self-described tech geek/gadget fan I don't know why I didn't get to this earlier. But I have finally installed and run Linux on my computer. As a beginner I decided to go with Linux Mint.
   Because I have been a long time Windows user and didn't really want to reinstall everything I have on my laptop should things go wrong I decided to go with a USB drive version (Trend Micro thinks this site is dangerous though it was not so the first time I visited). Basically what this means is that I have installed Linux Mint on my 8GB flash drive and when I want to run it I can use the boot menu to load it instead of Windows.
   The initial installation took probably 15 minutes. That included downloading and installing on a new flash drive that was already empty. Then it took me a couple of minutes to enable the boot menu option on my laptop.
   Running Linux Mint the first time was kind of strange. Overall it looks quite a bit like Windows. It is essentially a simple point and click interface like we are all used to. I would say that it just doesn't quite have the polish that Windows has, though if you are used to running Windows XP it may be a step up.
   There is what is essentially a "Start" button in the lower left hand corner that will open up a menu where all of the preloaded programs are located. It comes with Open Office as well as Mozilla Firefox and a handful of other programs that essentially equate with things within Windows.
   Being a Chrome user mainly I immediately went and downloaded Chrome for Linux and installed it. I used the version Google packaged for Ubuntu as I was told Mint and Ubuntu are very similar. It was really easy to install. Once it was downloaded I simply had to click the installation package and it ran an installer program. A minute later I was importing my bookmarks into Chrome and browsing the web.
   And that ends the simplicity of using Linux. Everything I have attempted to do since installing Chrome has been something of a headache.
   The next thing I tried to install was an anti-virus program. Linux users the world over will swear that you never need an anti-virus program in Linux. This fact I have seen debated in many forums. As I am not qualified to say I would just assume that no computer system is free from security issues. However, for my purposes I was hoping to install the software to scan Windows based systems from a safe environment. The idea being that if my laptop or a computer I support gets a serious infection I could boot to Mint and run a check on the drive(s) and clean the system.
   I found a number of anti-virus programs designed to run within Linux that were advertised to scan Windows drives. Once I found one I was shocked at how difficult the system was to install. It required opening the command line terminal. Many of you may remember when computers ran DOS. You had to type commands into a black screen and hope that you typed them right in order for the computer to do anything. If you were studious you may have learned a lot of commands. You may remember some of them still. But in today's world that stuff is mostly forgotten and in many cases not needed. In the Linux world it is still how everything is done. The graphical user interface is still something of a facade.
   To end this part of the story I'll just say that I still have not figured out how to install this anti-virus software or any other for that matter. Perhaps one day I will get online to learn the commands required. Yes it requires more than one command to install.
   The next hurdle in my Linux adventure was when I tried to connect to my home internet using the wireless card in my laptop. I suppose Windows has made me lazy. I remember in the DOS days that all hardware came with driver disks. Even whole computers would come with disks containing drivers for preinstalled hardware. Then one day Microsoft decided that it would create a vast database of drivers and make it's operating system automatically detect new hardware and at least attempt to install it from its database.
   Linux has some drivers built in. I have to say that the Ethernet port worked without installing additional drivers. The wireless card would not. I looked on the internet for some kind of fix. From what I can see so far the only possible way to make it work is to get a report from my system, upload it to an experts forum then wait and hope that the card is even supportable.
   Now all this wouldn't be so bad, especially considering that Linux is free. However, it is difficult for me to live with these difficulties when many Linux advocates love to say things like, Linux can do anything Windows can do.
   Can I play Starcraft on Linux natively? Can I run MS Office? No. In fact just browsing the web wirelessly has proven difficult to say the least.
   I recently have run across statements on the internet
   The point is my parents want to get on their computer and do something. They do anything from playing games to working on genealogy. The point is they don't have the patience to deal with command lines and I don't have the time to be doing it for them.
   With Linux it may be possible to do anything one can do with Windows. But at this point in development Linux is far more confusing that most other computer systems out there. As computers get more powerful and more compact the users of computers are looking for simplicity and convenience. Computers should be a way for the average user to get more things done not a way to find more things that need getting done. From where I sit the only Linux based system that is even capable of this at this time is Google's Linux based Android, which ultimately only uses some Linux guts.
   For now the world of computing for the masses still belongs to Microsoft Windows, Apple's OS X/iOS and Google's Android. My advice, don't get your parents or grandparents anything else.

March 30, 2011


   About 9 months ago I purchased an Android phone. Particularly I purchased the MyTouch 3G Slide from T-Mobile. For the most part it has been a positive experience. You can read my full review in the archive section for June 2010.
   Recently I have had a handful of issues with my phone. The main issue is that the phone came with very limited space for installing apps. The Android Market now has a few hundred thousand apps to choose from, many of which are completely free. From time to time this presented a problem as my phone would run out of room.
   At the time I purchased the phone I was under the impression that this particular model would soon receive an update that would give it a few extra capabilities. One of the main abilities was going to allow you to move apps from the phone to a micro SD card. This phone came with an 8 GB card. Up till now I have only filled my card about half way.
   So for months now I have been waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. Yesterday I went so far as to call customer service in hopes that they could solve the issue or at the very least offer me a better phone for my years of loyalty and paying my bill on time. Nada.
   Since I was completely tired of waiting I decided to do something brash. I rooted my phone. For those unaware of that term it simply means that I unlocked the phone to take complete control over it. It essentially grants you access to add or remove whatever you wish from the hardware you purchased. In my case it allowed me to remove the excessive junk that T-Mobile placed on my phone from the time of manufacturing.
   One other perk to rooting an Android device is you have the ability to completely wipe out the operating system and install any other operating system based on the Android code. This was the main goal that I was aiming for.
   In my case I was waiting months for the Android 2.2 system update. So, once I had access to the phone I simply found another operating system based on the 2.2 update. In my case I decided to go with the ever popular CyanogenMod 6.1. The base code behind it is Android 2.2. Essentially it promised to fulfill all of my hopes and dreams.
   The process was a bit long. It required first installing the software development kit that Google has created for people who wish to create software for Android. Once I had this installed I used it to push certain software elements to the phone that allowed the phone to be booted into a special mode that allows you to erase and install components.
   There were a few moments that were a bit scary. At one point I erased the system software on the phone and then rebooted into nothing. I got a bit concerned until I figured out how to boot into the loading program again which allowed me to install CyanogenMod.
   If you are considering rooting and installing new operating software on your Android device I highly recommend you click on my link above and read up on it. Keep in mind that rooting your phone voids your warranty.
   I have already noticed a couple of benefits from the new software. First of all everything runs faster. Programs download and install faster. They appear to run faster, though I am not 100% certain that they do. I also have more space available for apps. In addition to the extra space I now have the ability to move the apps to the SD card just as I wanted. I also have been able to unlock and use the Chrome-to-Phone add on feature for the Chrome browser.
   In all honesty I was very hesitant to make the change. I was concerned about losing my warranty. I was concerned that I would lose out on the update whenever it comes out. After going through with the process I am actually glad I did it. By the time T-Mobile and HTC release the update to 2.2 I expect I'll be running a stable version of CyanogenMod based on 2.3 or 2.4.

February 9, 2011


   From time to time I like to endorse a product. Today I would like to try to convince you to watch Fringe.
   First of all Fringe is a science fiction show that is rather heavy on the fiction. The science aspect was and is rather exaggerated.
   Sometimes shows like this are called "science fantasy" simply because what the show refers to as science is actually magic. It is a lot like the movie Weird Science that was made in the 1980s. These 2 teenage boys make a woman with a computer. In the 1980s computers were magic and could do anything. Oddly some people seem to still believe that this is true.
   Fringe is a story about a scientist that some time ago went crazy. At the beginning of the story Walter Bishop is being held inside of a mental facility. He had been there for many years. Walter Bishop was at one time one of 2 scientists whose work eventually culminated in one of the largest corporations in the world, Massive Dynamic.
   To get things started something rather strange goes down and as FBI special agent Olivia Dunham investigates into this rather bizarre event all signs begin to point to Walter. They want to bring him in for questioning but they are unable to gain access to him as only family is allowed to contact him.
   The FBI hunt down his only living relative, a son named Peter. They beg and beg and eventually go get Walter from the facility. Downplaying the drama momentarily, the FBI are helped by Walter and what is left of his memory. Walter is kept in line with the help of Peter (kept in line being used loosely).
   Ultimately the FBI opens or recruits Olivia into "Fringe Division". Essentially it is a division devoted to investigating things that are considered "fringe science". Most of these things actually seem to point to Walter Bishop and his former research partner.
   Now that you have the setting let me tell you why you should watch it.
   First of all the show is full of suspense. Not that it leaves you hanging at the end of every episode though some do. For the most part the suspense is mostly in the form of the occasional story that borders on the scary.
   Another favorite aspect is the seasonal story arcs. I know that different people favor different concepts in television. While some lean to the shows with long running stories that last for seasons others prefer shows that have self contained stories that start and end in an hour. Fringe has a healthy mixture of both.
   Early on I was rather fond of how well they crafted stories that fit comfortably into a single episode. Then I was occasionally surprised at how those stand alone episodes were used to further the seasonal arc later on. Sometimes this is done in a season that is different than the one in which the original episode aired.
   There are enough arc stories to satisfy even fans of Deep Space Nine. Usually these are placed at the beginning middle and end of each season as seems to be customary.
   Last month Fringe moved to Friday nights on Fox. You have many options to watch. If you haven't seen any yet feel free to start from the beginning. Netflix, Hulu and Hulu plus are all great ways of catching up. I know one friend picked up the show mid season and has been very glad to watch both the first episodes from Netflix as well as the current season. She told me that she has had an easy time getting involved in the show that way.
   I enjoy this show enough that I think about it during the week and it is one of the highlights of my weekend. Fringe has put the Sci Fi back in Friday.

January 7, 2011

Personal Responsibility

   Somehow when I was a kid I taught myself the idea that I should never accept blame for anything I ever did. It was as if somewhere deep down there was this idea that if I ever did I would be in deep trouble with the parental units and authorities in my life. This in many ways taught me how to be the teacher's pet in school.
   One day when I was about a week before turning 18 years old I was sitting around the house thinking about my life. At the time I wasn't living at home but with a friend. I started thinking that I was about to be of legal voting age and that society had placed a large amount of trust on me at that point. I remember feeling that I was not an adult yet but would shortly be one. I remember feeling that once I turned 18 much of my life would be up to me and that before too long all of it would. I already was away from my parents and making a lot of decisions on my own.
   It was at this point in my life that I decided to take responsibility for my own actions. I knew that nobody else in the world could any longer. I knew that my parents did the best they could to teach me to be a good upstanding member of society but that from that moment on any mistakes I made were my own and nobody else was going to be there to cushion the blame. I remember this to be a sobering thought.
   Did I change over night? Heck no. As a friend told me, "We are the hero in our own story." As time went on I realized that my silly brain still hated to be wrong. I felt like when I was wrong those who discovered I was wrong would suddenly think less of me. By less I mean that I really thought they would start to hate me and think I was a fool.
   About 2 years after I had made my life changing decision I remember being faced with a particularly difficult situation. I was a volunteer living in West Africa at this time. One day I returned to our little compound where a few of us lived and was quickly taken aside by my friend. He explained to me that the shower we had been using was completely dirty and some guests came and commented to our leader about it. I was told that he was furious over the situation because we were expected to maintain a professional appearance as we hosted many people.
   Having received the heads up before I got yelled at I prepared myself with the truth. A moment later I was called over. I could tell our leader was getting ready for a good yelling. I walked up to him and apologized about the situation directly and told him that I was fully to blame and would try to do better in the future to maintain the guest bathroom and keep it spotless and clean.
   That day I learned a powerful lesson that when you take that responsibility straight away you also take the thunder out of chastiser's mouths. In this case our leader had barely anything to say after that.
   Fast forward a few more years. I'm living in Salt Lake City working at the same place as my older brother Tim. I was lucky to spend a lot of time with him as an adult where as a kid we didn't have much of a relationship, mostly because we lived in different states. I remember on many occasions talking about friends and family with him at lunch. I would make up excuses for their lives and situations that they were in. Tim taught me a rather interesting lesson that though seems obvious was completely disconnected in my head. He told me one day, "You are just making excuses for them. They are in the situation they are in because of their choices."
   It was a simple idea. I didn't realize though that taking personal responsibility is about more than just me. It's about all of us. In this case it was expecting adults to not need me to make up silly little excuses to explain away the fact that they create (at least for the most part) situations that are difficult or at times things that they are incapable of dealing with. Now that doesn't mean that they don't need or deserve help. It just meant that there was no reason to explain away bad decisions. I no longer felt the need to explain away my bad decisions or those of the people I love.
   It's really interesting what that did for me. Once I realized that I didn't have to excuse every mistake my parents made I started to realize that they are not infallible. I began to study some of the things friends and family told me as a kid. I decided that I could learn about things on my own and come to my own understanding of the world. Not that I had not begun but this new idea opened the doors for all sorts of information.
   At one time in my life I had been taught something or other about nearly every alternative medicine branch there is. I have since learned that most of them are completely bogus and are perpetuated by people looking to empty your pockets. Most of them have feed you the same misinformation which creates a vicious cycle that is hard to escape from without learning what that misinformation is.
   I was always taught that food additives
   Don't make excuses for your mistakes. If I have learned anything it is that people who are willing to admit they made mistakes learn from them. People listening to you admit them usually respect you for it. The motivating principle behind scientific and technological progress is that we often learn more from mistakes and failures than we do from success.