Pilot G-2 07 – The Best Pens Ever?

I’ll admit it. I hang out with geeks. But not just geeks who love computers or tech or whatever, but also writing geeks, library geeks, and, well, you get the idea. Among the literary circles, I’ve found people sometimes go on and on about a certain pen or pencil they love. This always mystified me, as to me, a pen is a pen, a pencil is a pencil, and the greatest amount of thought I put into the process is trying to figure out where I just put one down.

pilot gel pensAlas, I may have levelled up. I’ve moved into the realm of “This is something I really like”. About a year and a half ago I started writing a fulltime journal (on paper, sorry, no URL). Naturally, I used whatever pen I had lying around. Somewhere along the line I picked up a Pilot G-2 07 pen, and… wow. I found a pen that was comfortable, had a great flow to it, and looked good.

Have I finally gone off the deep end? I found myself two weeks ago placing an order with Amazon to keep a stock of these pens in my carrying bag, and at my desk at work. I have never, ever done this before (okay, qualified – I did it once for mechanical pencils, which I use when sketching out projects), and certainly never for a single style, brand, whatever of pen.

Maybe it’s the fact these are ‘gel pens’, which have a smoother stroke than your typical roller ball pen. That combined with a good feel (rubber grip, etc) just make them a joy to use.

I’m going on about enjoying using a certain pen. Definitely cracked.

RC Racecars are AWESOME.

Yeah, I’ve been pretty focused on drone racing, but this is pretty epic.

My first ‘radio control’ experience was building a Tamiya “subaru brat” model when I was in my 20’s, and that helped later when I started building drones. These cars are a little different, but the feeling is similar. Pretty nifty stuff.

2016 New England Auto Show

Yesterday Zach and I went to the New England Auto Show at the Boston Convention Center. it was right next door to Arisia, so we thought “what the heck, lets take an hour or two to go look at shiny cars.” He’d never been to a commercial car show before, so we trundled over.

2016-01-1717.jpgOn the way in, we ran the usual gauntlet of free coupons, surveys, and other marketing nitwits. The line to buy tickets was super-fast (literally walked right up to the next person selling), but someone had already stopped me in line “Hey, I bought an extra, want mine?” er…. sure! That was $15 not spent.

Once on the show floor it was acres and acres of carpeting with shiny cars and trucks parked on them. I realized quickly that Zach knew more about modern car lines than I did, so I let him identify some things. I helped out with things like “Yes, that really is a Bentley, and yes, they really do cost a quarter million dollars, and no, I can’t tell you why.”

There were some important wins that made the show worth while. I was able to look at the 2016 Volt, and in particular, whether I could fit in it (spoiler: yup). I also love that Chevy redesigned the Volt’s center console, which was a mess. That plus the new battery layout and longer range (about 53 miles on battery, as opposed to the 41-ish I get with my 2015) makes me want to see about changing my lease over.

Two other high points of the show. Zach has decided that his dream car is the Mazda MX-5 Miata. I’ll admit that when it first came out as the Miata 25 years ago, I was pretty taken with it. No way I could sit in it though. 2016-01-1715.jpgZach had never had the opportunity to ‘try one on for size’, so now was our chance. He fit! The soft top closed comfortably over him, and he was over the moon. If you’re going to be in love with a car, at least he’s picking a stylish, not stupidly over the moon expensive one.

The one other bit of fun we had was Zach was able to climb into a real live Modified-class track racecar. We were gaping at it when the owner said “Want to try it on for size?” “Not me”, I said, “But could he try?” I pointed to Zach and he said “heck yeah!”. So after some wriggling in through the window, he socketed into the drivers seat (which was conveniently sized about right for him), and he got a feel for what real racecars feel like.

All in all, a nice 2 hours spent with my son geeking about cars. For me, it was also a chance to try out my lovely new Canon 11-16mm ultra wide angle lens. Here’s the full gallery. This was my first time doing any decent work with such a short focal length, and I was pleasantly surprised with the results. I like it!

Visualizing Content Flow on Social Media

About two years ago, I re-launched this blog. Since then it’s become my primary “I gots stuff to say” mechanism. For quite a while I hoped Google Plus would reign supreme, but it’s become readily apparent that platform is buckling via “Death from a Thousand Cuts.” Google is destroying any hope it had of dethroning Facebook one feature at a time..

Realizing that, I put more effort into making Planet Geek my main sounding platform. I re-launched the site, imported all the old content into it, gave it a facelift, and started writing again. Sadly, with the most popular services not supporting RSS, just having the blog there means many people I’d like to keep in touch with simply won’t ever see the content. I needed a way to stay in touch with my friends, family, and social connections, without having to repost the same thing over and over and over again.

By far the industry leader is Facebook. I briefly considered using it as my primary soapbox, but I just can’t bring myself to subscribe to their “We will capture all the content, all the clicks, and all the users, and share none of it outside our walled garden” approach to media. The final straw is their constant tweaking of “We will only show you what we think you should see” (more rants on this in another post). So, no Facebook for me… so where should I go?

In the end, with respect to which social media platform I should settle on, I’ve chosen none of them, and all of them.

Planet-geek, running WordPress, is my go-to platform. I do 99% of my writing here, and whatever writing I have that passes for “creativity” is created using WordPress content tools. But that isn’t enough, is it? Our online social circles are fragmented and isolated. One group lives on Facebook, another lives on Livejournal, some are still on Plus, etc etc.  They would never see the posts unless I manually reposted either the entire article or direct links to everything I write.

socialmediaflow
Visualization of Social Medi

There’s no way to cover all the bases, so I’ve done the next best thing. I chose carefully where I create and publish content, but I’ve also built links that automatically share, if not the entire content, at least a notification to all the media channels I want to reach. I have to shout out to Nextscript’s SNAP tool for making this as painless as possible. SNAP (Social Network Automatic Poster) can link my blog to just about every social network out there. I’ve set up many links, and the tool works flawlessly.

But I do create content in other places. My photography needs a creative channel, and WordPress just isn’t the tool for it. So, Flickr and Instagram come into play. Wait, but sometimes I post to Twitter directly, what about that? Yeah, okay, that’s there too.  Fortunately, many of these sites (unlike Facebook) allow for external notification / sharing of content.  If I post a picture to Flickr, it has an automatic notification mechanism to Facebook.  Instagram does the same thing.  Sadly, Google Plus has none of these tools, and also has no easy API for posting content, so it tends to be the last thing updated (I need to do it by hand).

Thinking about this, I realized that my ‘communication flow’ would make a nice visual. The graphic above is a map of the public sites I use for social media / interaction. I’ve deliberately left off chat systems and email (I use IRC, Slack, Hangouts, Skype, and of course Email). For the most part, all these services notify me back via Email, so in theory, I should be able to just watch my inbox for interactions. A lot of times that doesn’t work so well.  Still working on that part!

This was a fun chart to put together. It shows the results of months of tool configuration, auto-linking, loop detection (yeah, don’t set up auto-posters to one service that is auto-posting back to the original), etc.

Am I missing anything? Let me know… er, on the blog if you can. 🙂

Sick.

Colds suck. Colds that aren’t really colds but just make your life uncomfortable suck. Colds that aren’t sniffly, but just something sitting in your throat making you sound like James Earl Jones suck… well, okay, the JEJ part doesn’t suck that much… kinda cool actually.

This has been rattling around since last Wednesday (5 days now). I’m at work, but have the energy of an overweight cat on a midsummer day. Just wanna lie around and meh.

Hopefully I’ll be back to full functionality soon. This cold has the weird pattern of a) I’m sleeping really well at night, and b) I want to eat CONSTANTLY. The latter is both good and bad. Good because I have an appetite and it makes me feel good when I eat. Bad because, well, yesterday I ate half a box of donuts. Hmm.

I’d like to be better soon, plz.

When Sites Get Stupid – Techspot Raspberry Pi Ripoff

I have a pretty comprehensive RSS collection, using Feedly as my portal into all things awesome. I’m also really enjoying playing with my Raspberry Pi teeny computer, so when I saw a posting come up saying “The Complete Raspberry Pi 2 Starter Kit – just $115 in the TechSpot Store – gives you all the tools and resources you need to start your Raspberry Pi experience right.“, I had to give it a look.

techspots shameful bundling
Shame on Techspot for an idiotic bundle.

What a scam. Shame on you Techspot. Take a look at that “Kit”. It’s the baseline Raspberry Pi, at a slightly higher, but still “in the realm of normal” price. An case / kit – well, okay, that’s helpful, though pricier than what you can find on Amazon with 5 seconds of searching… and 4 ‘courses’, at $200 each. Yes kids, they’re valuing information anyone can get with 10 seconds of googling at $200 a pop.

A new low Techspot. A new low.

Tablet Ordering: The Future of Restaurants?

Anyone who works in the tech industry knows just how quickly a single new piece of technology can change the way we function, and there’s probably no example that better illustrates this than the way the mobile industry has changed how we do just about everything. We’ve gone from only being able to send short messages with our phones to being able to control drones with them, and now, reports are saying that mobile phones have made gadgets like calculators and alarm clocks obsolete.

That’s not all they’re slowly making obsolete, though. The popularity of mobile devices has skyrocketed since the invention of the smartphone, with Gaming Realms, a company that specializes in designed mobile-optimized slots with no-deposit free spins, has reported that there were 1 billion smartphone users in 2012, and this number is expected to double by the end of this year. For years, people have been talking about how e-books might be killing paper, and though all research points towards the opposite, mobile seems to be starting to trump paper in another field: restaurant menus and warehouse checkouts. Businesses in the US and the UK have begun establishing tablet-ordering systems, and results and feedback have been favorable.

The motivations for using tablet ordering systems are quite universal: they were expected to improve the efficiency and accuracy of order picking while saving in labor and paper costs. When Chili’s implemented tablet ordering with the help of Ziosk, they reduced service wait times, and boosted overall satisfaction with their services because the tablets also allowed children to play games like Z-Trivia, keeping them entertained while they wait for their food to be served. Chili’s is a prime example, because they’ve tried to strike a balance between convenient ordering through tablets and interaction with service personnel, as even though appetizers, drinks and desserts can be ordered through the tablets, main course orders are still taken by a server in person.

Casual restaurants are also starting to look into devising a similar system. According to Adam Rapoport, Editor-in-Chief of Bon Appetit, “I think the casual dining places do it for two reasons: One, it sort of expedites the whole process and gets more people in and out the door quicker. And two, it cuts down on labor costs and it’s more efficient.” It also helps that there are now several different companies that offer tablet-ordering services at competitive rates, but there are still some issues to contend with. For one, tablets, unlike paper menus, have a short lifespan of a few hours before they need to be charged, unless they stay plugged into consoles, which would then limit their portability. This system seems to work for Chili’s, however, as they’ve seen a 20% increase in dessert and appetizer sales since implementing tablet ordering.

The mobile industry has changed the way we do most of our business, and the restaurant industry is no different. With technology rapidly evolving and becoming even more accessible, it’s likely that tablet ordering will soon be in many restaurants across the world.

Experimenting with Google Voice

I’ve been working up the gumption to gain some more flexibility in how I use my cell phone. Having had the same number with AT&T for over a decade, I was loathe to try out other carriers because each time I switched I’d need to port the number, increasing the risk of losing the number.

Google Voice has long tempted me as a possible solution. It allows me to have a single phone number, and have that number forwarded anywhere I like. The big win came when Voice allowed porting of existing phone numbers in.

Today I took the plunge.

I’ve ported my main cell phone number to Voice, gone to AT&T and gotten a new line and monthly plan on my old phone, and told Voice to forward calls to the new number. One big benefit to this is incoming calls will also ring me in Hangouts on my laptop. When a call comes in, I get a Hangouts popup saying Xxx is calling, and I can choose to pick it up on the laptop, using the speaker and mic there, or pick it up on my cell phone, which will also be ringing. I find using the laptop as a phone ‘terminal’ remarkably comfortable and clear, so this is a huge win.

Last but not least, now I am free to play around with phone configurations without risking being ‘cut off’ if my main cell phone number gets screwed up. Today I’m still on my old Galaxy S4, but I hope to get a Moto G or Moto X soon, and set that up as my carry-around device. All of this is going on, and from a callers perspective, nothing has changed. I have one phone number.. just how the call gets to me has been adjusted.

So, I made it into the Boston Globe.

Well, their ‘Innovation and Tech’ buzz site at least. But, cool, huh?

Dave Shevett is chairman of the US Drone Racing Association, an unaffiliated group based in New England. One day, he stumbled across an FPV drone-racing video online and was hooked. Not long after, he formed the USDRA. The group is small, but has been working with clubs in the Northeast to help set guidelines.

“When I got started in this hobby/sport/whatever you want to call it, no one had really tried to organize basic classifications and rules for running a race,” he said in an e-mail. “I decided to set up the organization to act as a sort of clearinghouse reference point for clubs.”

The latest tech sport taking the country by storm? Drone Racing.

So you wanna be a wedding photographer…

Petapixel is rapidly becoming my favorite blog for articles about photography, both the business and the tech. A recent post entitled ‘You Sure You Want to be a Wedding Photographer?’ hit pretty close to home, as I’ve been shooting more weddings lately, and yes, I’ll admit it, I’ve done the mental exercise of “Can I do this full time?”

If you want to be a wedding photographer, you need to stop and think about your life.

So you want to be a wedding photographer? Want to go pro, go full-time, ditch that desk and take the industry by storm? Stop and think about your life. Do you LOVE to work? Like, truly LOVE working? Not the recognition, not the money and the fame, and least of all the internal accomplishment feedback that comes from achieving small successes that only you can see. Nope, you pretty much need to love doing the work.

I arrived at “Heck no”, long before before I read the article, but Levi’s point by point breakdown of “You really have to love photography – not be in it for the money, fame, glory, or any of that BS…” is, IMHO, spot on. I love taking pictures, I love doing post-processing, and I love hearing customers tell me they’re happy with my work. Is it frustrating sometimes? Sure… it’s a lot of work, and there are aspects that ain’t great. A good example is in Levi’s article:

And somebody’s gray uncle strapped with two DSLRs worth more than your car will waltz in and bogart all your shots while insinuating that you probably shouldn’t have even come. (You’re a real jerk, Uncle Bob.)

Boy ain’t that the truth. I’ve had this happen twice, though not quite with the snooty commentary from Uncle Bob.

So, no, not a full time career for me. In the meantime, I’ll happily take the work as it comes along, throwing myself into each job with all the professionalism, skill, and excitement I can bring. At the end, I’m happy with the product I give my clients, and I can go to sleep knowing I did my best, made someone happy, and be ready for the next days challenges.

Anti-Intellectualism is Killing America

This article on Psychology Today cuts through the current easily derailed conversation about race, gun control, and the lack of informed, civil discourse today…

America is killing itself through its embrace and exaltation of ignorance, and the evidence is all around us. Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter who used race as a basis for hate and mass murder, is just the latest horrific example. Many will correctly blame Roof’s actions on America’s culture of racism and gun violence, but it’s time to realize that such phenomena are directly tied to the nation’s culture of ignorance.

In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are“lies straight from the pit of hell,” where the chairman of a Senate environmental panelbrought a snowball into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president, it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.

Anti-Intellectualism is Killing America

Rain! Rain! Rain!

Rain!
Weathermap

You know that scene in movies where people go running out into the field and dance in the rain after a long drought?  “Our crops are SAVED!”.  Or the scene at the end of Dune (yeah, if you don’t know this spoiler by now….)

I feel like that today.

The 2 storm fronts that came through Berlin over the last few weeks completely missed us.  We’ve been doing some watering to keep the apple trees and strawberries and garden materials going, but the lawns and fields have been suffering.

Now?  A steady, not deluge-rain, cool temperatures, and ahhhhhhhh.!

Changing Tides – Reworking my FB, Blog, Twitter Sharing.

It’s become sadly apparent that Google Plus, the service we had all hoped would dethrone Facebook and become a more open, useable, and at least mildly privacy aware environment, is rotting on the vine. Features are being spun off into standalone products, and long hoped for features have never materialized.

So I’m falling back to the old standby.  A year or two ago I completed rebooting Planet-geek and have been enjoying using it as my primary platform, so I’m going to take the final jump and make the blog my primary posting platform, while letting the fairly awesome SNAP tool from NextScripts repost / share things out to various social networks.

Right now I’m echoing posts to Facebook, Twitter, and Livejournal, but may add other sites going forward (NextScripts supports dozens of different systems).  Any requests?

While the FriendsPlus.Me tool I was using was ‘Okay’, I wasn’t happy with the several levels of redirects and “you must source your post from G+” setup.  This way, my blog is the authoritative source of my ramblings, just as I want it to be.  But I understand if you don’t want to subscribe to my RSS feed or are more comfortable on other platforms, well that’s fine, you’ll still see my happy chatter.