Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs - A Personal Perspective

Today, October 5th, Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computer, passed away. A lot of major media outlets are going to spend a lot of time on this over the next few days or weeks. Steve was not only an innovator, he was the innovator of our time. He set out to change the world and succeeded.

I could tell you about all the products, the Mac, the iMac, the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. But the truth is that there are lots of sites that can (and will) run though all those things. Instead I want to tell you about how Steve affected me, and not in a small way.

In 1996 my wife and I were looking for a computer. We didn't know anything about computers, Windows or Macs, but we knew we didn't want to spend a lot of money. A friend visiting from northern California had an answer for us. He brought us a Macintosh II.

It was a bit of a kludge, a bit of a wreck. When it was new it was a $10,000 computer but when it came to me it was a junker. "It's not much" he told me. "But if you can get it working it's yours." I was elated, and intimidated too. I didn't know anything about computers, but I knew my way to the public library and that was enough.

One of the few nice things about getting an old computer is that everything you need to know about it is at the library. I prowled the stacks for hours, looking for the right books, and I found them. I checked out the ones I thought would help me most and went home to work on my new computer. In a couple of days the Mac II was up and running. A few days later I got an AoL disk and suddenly we were on the Internet.

What a revelation! Within a few weeks were were getting complaints from our friends; the phone was always busy because we were on line. The Mac II was a window into a new world.

Before 1996 was over I was going to the local community college, learning to work on computers. My experience with the Mac II had given me a new perspective, and new ideas about what I could do for a living. Computers were something I was good at. No one was more surprised than me.

By late '97 I'd gotten a job as the Mac technician at the junior college I'd attended. I'd applied for the job to hone my PC skills (I was still using the MacII at home and though I'd gotten a certification on PC computer repair I didn't actually own a PC) but I was the only one on the team that knew about Macs. I was fine with that. I loved the Mac and I loved working with people on the Mac.

In '99 I decided I needed to make more money than the college was willing to pay and I took my first job in the private sector. They liked my resume well enough but it was my Mac background that got me the job. Soon I was supporting the Macs in the company testing lab.

Since then I've had a number of jobs, and there have been times when I didn't have a Mac to use, but not many and not for long. All along the way I've been amazed and delighted by new generations of Apple products.

I had a Creative Labs Nomad mp3 player that I used to take on car trips. It was a pain in the butt to use, so much so that unless I expected to be in a car for hours I never used it. Then one day I saw an iPod, and everything changed.

My wife can be a bit "time challenged", she is often late. For years I tried to get her to take a cell phone, but she was having none of it. When she did finally consent to having a cell phone she hated it. She hated everything about it. She's leave it at home, she'd leave it at work, she'd leave it in the car, she'd forget to charge it. All that changed the day I gave her an iPhone. She loves her iPhone, she uses it all the time. She plays games, reads email, surfs the web, and of course calls when she's running late.

And last year I bought an iPad. I love that thing. I read books on it, I listen to music and watch movies on it. I write on it, plan and schedule on it, keep track of my life on it.

Steve Jobs changed the world and that's a pretty big deal. But he also changed my life. I make my living in an industry that would not exist as we see it today without him.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Steampunk Opera

Okay I'll say it. I do not like Abney Park. Yeah I know I know, and I'm sorry. It's okay with me that you like them, if it makes you happy I'm for it, but it's just not my cup of tea. I'm more of a Orpheum Bell kind of guy. That being said it's a big world and there's plenty of room in it for all kinds of things.

Which brings us to the Steampunk Opera a bit of which I present to you now.

Act 1 S2 New Albion 1 (demo) by mocha lab">Act 1 S2 New Albion 1 (demo) by mocha lab

I am not knowledgeable about this style of music, so I can't say if it's good or not. I can say that I kinda like it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello

I was chatting on IM with a friend of mine today and the subject of The Secrete Adventures of Jules Vern came up. For those of you who never had a chance to see it, SAJV was a steampunk TV show that aired on the SiFi Channel about ten years ago. Sadly it's not on DVD. But I thought it might be on youtube.

Alas, it is not. There are however many other steampunk videos that are on youtube. So it is my pleasure to present to you The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello.

Yes, it's almost 30 minutes long. Yes, it's animated, and no, there are no busty girls wearing their corsets on the outside. But it's pretty darn cool.

Broadening My Scope

I've decided to make better use of the space by branching out a bit. It's not like I had a stellar track record for regular updates anyway. So I'm going to loosen up things a bit, actually quite a bit. At least until I wonder off again.

Markdown May Be the Death of Me

Markdown May Be the Death of Me

This is where we find out. I've spent the last several hours on a little quest. Like most quests it didn't start out as a quest, it started out as a question. That question was what is Markdown and why should I care?

Markdown is a simple syntax for formatting content for the web without typing full on html as you go. For example, if I wanted to add a link to this I could type

<a href="">CNN</a>

which is just too much. Using Markdown I can type


and that's okay, if you don't mind messy links in your text. But I do mind messy links in my text. I want things to look neat.
I tried WriteMonkey, I tried Sublime. They, like most windows software, ok, but they are no going to light you on fire with their brilliance.

Finially (at 5:30 in the morning) I found Gonzo. Maybe I'm just tired, but I have to say I love this program. It has passed all the test that left WriteMonkey and Sublime face down in the dirt. More than that, its actually does things in a reasonable, efficient, dare I say graceful way.

For example, did you notice the inline link in the paragraph above? Gonzo did that, all I did was give it the text and the link.
I'm very pleased. I think I'll go to sleep now.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Home Inventory with QR Codes and Smart Phone Access

If you're like me you own a lot more stuff than you think you do. It's in a box somewhere. The box is in the garage, or in a closet, and it looks like all the other boxes. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to see what was in the box without opening it and sorting though all that stuff?

I decided I needed a better solution. Actually that's not true, I decided a needed a solution, and this is the one I settled on. It's delightfully complex, and after using it for a few months I still haven't decided if it is in any measurable way better than a pencil and a piece of paper. But I do know this, it's very geeky.

Start by going to Google Docs and setting up a new spread sheet. Before you enter any information you going to want to change a few settings.

The first thing to do is change the permissions to "Anyone who has the link can edit".  To do this click the "Change" button. I've already done this in the example below.

Under Visibility options select "Anyone with the link" and under Edit access do the same. This will allow you to view and edit your document from your smart phone.

Click save, and in the next screen copy the URL.

Now all that's left to do is past the URL into your favorite QR Code generator.

Once the code is generated save it as a .jpeg or .png file. Print your file, stick it on a box and start filling out your inventory. Make an entry, drop the item in the box, make the next entry. Keep going until the box is full or you run out of stuff to put in it. Take your box to the garage, stick it on a shelf and forget about it. Next time you want to know what's in the box scan the code.

I've since expanded on this idea. Now when I set up a new box I name it "Thomas_Software_001" which means that the box is mine, it's software, and it's the first box of software. The next one will be called "Thomas_Software_002". I print those names on the label with the QR Code.

Now when I go to Google Docs I just pick the category of thing I'm looking for (software, cables, books etc.) and search the docs until I find what I want. If I'm in the garage and I want to know what's in the box I pull out my iPhone, snap the QR Code and I get a list. No opening required.

Try it out for yourself. Here's a QR Code that links to the Google Doc I set up for this post. Try it out, think about how you might put this technology together in a different way. If you think of something cool let me know.