Dream Job Versus Reality (Why)

Growing up, I didn’t have the usual aspirations a young boy would normally have. I didn’t want to go to outer space, I didn’t want to fight fires, I didn’t want to wrangle cattle. All I knew is that I had a terribly strong appreciation for anything scientific, whether it was chemistry, physics, biology, technology or anything related to nature. Instead of showing interest in toys like GI Joes or cowboy and Indian sets, I can classify all of my toys into two categories: scientific or outdoor fun. Heck, I was still a young boy so of course I had balls, bikes, water guns and all of that shit. The other side of the coin is the one of interest.

My parents basement was my personal laboratory, containing the requisite lab sets and experiments. I’m sure many of them are still in that same basement, but you’ll need to know that they are all probably replacements for kits I worked through earlier. Chemistry sets ran out of chemicals and physics sets ran out of wires or I’d lose pieces. There were only two types that I never actually used. One would be the do-it-yourself kits for building something like a small clock. Those never interested me, simply because you were working within a bounded space. The mind wasn’t given the ability to run wild with possibilities, trying new things to see what happened just for the hell of it. Those kits were nothing more than following basic directions and I would never attain a sense of accomplishment in just putting tab A into slot B twenty times. The second set I never used? For whatever reason, my parents had a dissection kit with a microscope, slides of slices of animal matter and even a whole bee in a preservation jar. This little kit came in a solid wood case and even my immature mind knew this was no toy.

Even though I was given full access to that set and was told I could do anything and everything, I never even used the microscope. Of course I already had one (dorky kid, remember?) and I would just check out some of the slides in awe. I didn’t want to waste anything from that kit. I knew it was meant to be used and used up but it was just too special. I can still picture that bee in the jar.

I never showed a predilection to a specific scientific field until I was about 10 years old. My interest in biology, anatomy specifically, grew as I was exposed to more in school. I’m not giving credit to any specific teacher I had in elementary school (heck, I can’t even remember all of their names! Let’s see, Hipschen for 6th, Kendall for 4th, Peterson for 1st… that’s all I remember!), but I do know what little science I had in school was absolutely lapped up. By my 11th birthday, my parents bought me Gray’s Anatomy and while I didn’t understand or really need a 600 page book on human anatomy, it was the one item that pushed me toward medicine. When I had digested enough of that book, I knew I was interested in medicine and I would eventually be a doctor.

The interest in technology started to rear back up though and my interests slid away from the natural sciences and toward tech. My parents stopped buying me watches because I would always take them apart. Never did I put one back together in a working fashion, a limitation I keep to this day. I love technology, I love anything mechanical but if you followed how long it took me to install my new car horns, you know I do not have the mechanical touch (Ordered the horns on 11Oct2004 and didn’t get them installed until 24Mar2005). So anyway, I was suddenly interested in computers, gadgets and fun electronic baubles. I must have built twenty different computers in the span of a few years and if you think about it, how is that different from putting tab A into slot B over and over? Yet oddly, I was getting a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes things would work perfectly from the get go and that was fine but I actually enjoyed it when things didn’t work at first. I had to use problem solving and technical knowledge to overcome a problem. This started to apply to more than just computer hardware. I was designing websites, running my own servers, networking computers and more. It was hard to get enough, so much so that I started building computers for friends, running their websites, creating mail servers for no real reason and more.

When I started college, I went with biology. It was the passion that I had held the longest, even if it wasn’t the strongest at that current point in time. I loved computers, but I didn’t enjoy writing code which I thought was the only thing that computer scientists did. Soon after starting school, I was able to see the myriad of topics that could be covered in a CS degree and while I couldn’t fit it in my second semester, I was taking CS classes by my second year. Getting a solid A in that first CS class, a total weeder course, and I was hooked. After some serious deliberation, discussion with my parents and friends, I decided to dual major in both biology and computer science. I was still thinking med school, but I had to have more computer experience, it was intoxicating.

Here is where the career choice starts to fall of track. Taking biology classes and computer science classes at the same time, how could I not think of the integration of the two? The application of computer science on biology is fairly mundane: analysis of genetic code, protein chain unraveling, et cetera. The application of biology on computer science? There we go. It’s almost more electrical engineering than computer science, but that messes up my story. Artistic license, thanks. So at this point, I’m thinking about integration of computers, circuitry and electronics into humans in general but I keep thinking specifically of the man-machine interface (usually referenced MMI).

MMI is not a single concept but a lush area of possibilities. Examples include the mundane (the keyboard you are using now is technically MMI) to the frightening (jacking into the Matrix, anyone?). Oddly enough, when I was doodling, just postulating about how to create an all-encompassing MMI, my thought was also of a port within the neck. Of course we don’t see exactly how it works in the Matrix, but it could be similar to my design. Basically, the spinal cord is the central location for both sensory input and muscle control. The concept is basically a shim, a plate that is inserted in a specific area of the spinal cord. I have no idea if it is technically possible today, but this plate would allow for the uninterrupted passing of sensory input across the plate. If installed, a user wouldn’t feel a single difference (again, I make no claims of technical ability) and would continue to have complete control over sensation and motor control. The shim would have an IO jack, presumably at the neck for ease of use. I always pictured a flat ribbon type jack, not quite the elongated headphone jack as seen in the Matrix. This could be used for the passive collection of data that crosses the spinal cord shim. The information could be used to track sensation and motor control, something that could be extremely useful for combat situations. And that’s just the passive aspect!

If the plate was sophisticated enough to detect the transmission of single neuronal pulses, of course it would be sophisticated enough to either change the transmission or to provide it’s own transmission. Here is where it gets scary. There is no way to design an interface that couldn’t potentially be used to create a human puppet. I’d rather not discuss that concept as it’s simply unsolvable at this time. Rather, imagine that the interface could be used such that you could send and receive transmissions to properly control your behavior. What if you could send down a signal, the plate intercepts it, then sends a specific neuronal coding for a specific series of muscle action? Again, it seems like puppetry, but it could be used to improve a range of skills, basically anything involving motion. I leave potential uses to the reader.

If we have an IO port, who needs any sort of interface to a computer? Let’s ignore the fact that we haven’t covered the senses, but just touch and motor ability. The computer experience could still have a monitor but all input would be straight from the shim. I believe that our computer experience is still in a 2d fashion not because of the usage of a 2d screen or the lack of hardware but because the keyboard and mouse do not lend itself to the easy manipulation of such a state. A 3d interface obviously allows for an extra dimension and its usage in applications and operating systems could be dramatic. My immediate thought is the usage of peripheral vision for non-active tasks, quickly and easily brought to the foreground as needed.

The extension to this is a way for the shim to interface with the brain and head-based senses. I never did design a mechanism for this to work properly, but it’s bound to be nanotechnology based. If the fidelity could be increased, electrical field induction was the only idea I could come up with. I don’t think injecting electrodes into brain matter itself will be the final solution. Regardless, if the shim had access to both input to and output from the brain, the possibilities just opened up hundredfold. True VR is an absolutely terrifying proposition as I can see a large amount of humanity simply disappearing into its clutches. Beyond that, with proper knowledge of how the brain works, we now have access to thoughts, abilities, emotions, belief, truths and more. This is how the world will end.

So, for a while I thought about switching gears from the combined biology and computer science angle toward biomechanical engineering, the closest field to true cybernetics. Of course there are schools that offer programs in cybernetics, but the field is simply too new for me to take such a risk with my life. Instead, I continued on with my love of computers and problem solving and that has brought me to project management within software engineering. I still problem solve, I still get to design, I’m just not going to change the world.

Haha, doing the usual, listening to WOXY at work when I just stopped… “New Fugazi, what?!” and then found out that the lead singer released a new album as a duo called The Evens. It sure as hell sounds like Fugazi-lite and that is NOT a bad thing.

Is this perfect at-work music? Melodic, great guitar hooks, Ian’s awesome voice with backup (or do they share vocal duties?) by Amy Farina but not too encompassing. I must get the new record.

I find it mildly unsettling that the scent on which I’m most complemented, Ungaro III, has been described as “an Italian graveyard at night”, “dead roses over wet wood”, “funereal”, “dead roses strong port wine and black velvet” and “This is the scent Dracula would wear as his signature”.

I can’t help but comment on the new iPhone. We all knew it was coming, we all knew it was going to be sexy, but did any of us expect this magnitude? That’s what strikes me the hardest, the sheer wow factor of how sexy the hardware and software are. That is extremely key, both hardware and software are sexy. When I see a device like the Blackjack, both the hardware and software are slick, but there is no pop, there is no sly grin as when looking at an object of sheer lust. No commercially-available device has sexy software and only a few devices have ever hit the sexy hardware level (the RAZR, when first released, was a great example). The iPhone has both.

Let’s talk about the hardware first, for without the hardware innovations, the software could never achieve sexy. The innovation isn’t just the touch screen interface as Windows Mobile has had that for years. It’s the concept that the entire device is a touch interface and no stylus is needed. For the first rev, most of the interface is just touch, drag and tap, but there are two examples of touch gestures. A gesture is more than a simple press or a press and drag, but is a specific motion or series of motions that expands the abilities of a touch screen.

The first gesture is used to unlock the device. For those of us that have non-flip devices, a locking mechanism is essential, unless you enjoy making random phone calls and allowing unintended glimpses into your world, from the audio perspective of your purse or crotch. To make sure that the device isn’t accidentally unlocked, the unlock procedure is usually more complex than a simple button press. I love the simplicity of a hardware switch, but that doesn’t usually meld with the rest of the interface. Some products (Treo 650, iPod, Zune) use a visual cue on the screen to explain why it is no longer taking input, but I still expect a more integrated experience. When the iPhone is locked, it clearly explains it is locked, shows the time and then explains how to unlock it. Instead of a series of key presses or a hardware switch, you actually just run your finger across the bottom of the screen. This is a simple and deliberate motion which I highly doubt would be randomly replicated in a purse or pocket. So simple and intuitive, but we’ve come to take that for granted in Apple products.

The second gesture, while easy and fairly self-explanatory, is not quite as intuitive or discoverable. When viewing something that can be zoomed, placing two fingers on the screen at a distance and then moving the fingers together will zoom in. Zooming out is the reverse, pulling fingers apart. It’s pretty simple, but completely indiscoverable. I could see power users relying almost completely on gestures to navigate and interact with the device, but not in this version.

The software is sexy in a very static fashion, meaning Apple has applied a large amount of polish to the basic grid menu layout. They have also reinforced the concept that black is the new black as the grid layout looks more professional with a black background, white text, white halos around the icons and the icons with the usual Apple gloss. Isn’t white on black more readable than black on white, anyway? The navigation of the main OS is seriously lacking cohesion, though. If you take a look at some of the phone demos, the button to enable speakerphone is in the upper right corner while in the voicemail system but is in a new grid view when in a phone call. During a call, how do you back out to the contacts list? In some applications, you can move back with a button in the upper left corner. In some applications, the upper left corner button is just some action related to the app. I’ve come used to consistency and I believe Apple could have made a consistent interface, but they have chosen not to. I almost feel that the phone/SMS portions of the phone were developed separately from the photos/browsing portions of the phone. For a static, v1, this is visually appealing but I’m not convinced of the usability just yet.

One area that needs immediate attention is scrolling. Say you fill this with as much music as the 8 GB device can hold and now you want to play a song that starts with a letter near the middle of the alphabet. Do they actually expect you to press and drag all the way to the middle? I’ve gotten very spoiled by the concept of smartdial on Windows Mobile and even Zune has a better way to scroll through large lists. As you scroll through a list, the speed increases the longer you hold down the button. Of course this leads to overshooting your target as the time allowed for reaction is smaller, but the overall time to get to the desired song is shorter. Not that I want to give them more ideas, but maybe they could use a gesture to imitate pressing and holding a button for scrolling. Say you swipe your finger from top to bottom of a list and then hold your finger there. The screen detects this and continues to scroll down automatically, speeding up. It would stop when you released your finger, allowing you to scroll back up if you overshot your target. Crap, maybe I should patent that before Apple does.

As much as removing the keyboard has cleaned up the interface and allows for some pretty cool UI, I still think a PDA needs constant text input. If the music interface of the iPhone had the ability to pull up a keyboard, you could search for your music rather than scanning or finding it. The goals for searching and scanning/scrolling are different, so a method for doing both should be available. Apple could have a gesture that brings up a keyboard for searches… alright, I’m not going to give them any more ideas.

This is a killer product with a few shortcomings, but look at the success of the RAZR. The actual software was atrocious to the point where the only thing it was good for was making phone calls, but people pay for sexy. Apple just brought sexy to the mobile device space.

Please note, this should not be taken as disparaging against the Barrier family of dealerships. I’ve simply had a bad experience with one salesperson at one of the dealerships.

Long story short, I used to stop at Barrier to look at the pre-owned Boxsters anytime I drove past (once every couple months?). I stopped doing this and one night while out with the girlfriend, she mentioned that I hadn’t bugged her about letting me have a sports car lately. We stopped by and they had one of the exact cars I was looking for: CPO 2003+ base model, triple black, heated seats and basically no other options. Based on CPO, it should have been priced in the very high 30s to low 40s, but this one was only $36k. I decided right then and there I would go talk to a sales person first thing the next day.

I showed up and walked around the car for at least 15 minutes before anyone even addressed my presence. It was another 10 minutes before my specific salesperson came out to talk to me. He let me take a test drive, first with him and then with just the girlfriend, so of course I’m getting good vibes from him. I asked about the history of the car, RMS issues, everything that could potentially be an issue. He came back and basically said the car was perfect (aren’t they all)?

Time to talk finances. By this time, I’ve spent at least two hours with this guy and we haven’t discussed payment, credit, price or anything. He runs a credit check, finds out I’m from MS and claims we should be able to make a great deal. He prints out the initial price sheet and the quoted price is suddenly $39k. I asked if he pulled up the wrong car since this price was wrong and he gave me a befuddled look and said it was right. He even pulled up the file on his PC, showing $39k. I immediately asked him to walk outside with me and to read the sticker price on the car. $36k and here come the excuses. “Our porter must have mislabeled” “This must be from a totally different car” “We’ll fix that right away”

Maybe we can still salvage this, and I just needed to find out if I really was getting the bait and switch from an f’ing Porsche dealer. I commented that I was planning on paying no more than $34k and started negotiations. We got as low as the original sticker ($36k) and he wouldn’t budge. I told him it wasn’t going to work so he said in case I changed my mind, he wanted to introduce me to his “backup”. His backup turns out to be the general manager and of course he tried a hard close. He went so far as to say “It’s such a gorgeous day and the weekend is only going to be better.” Ah, of course, I should easily pay thousands of extra dollars on something I don’t need just because of the weather.

I went back two nights later and they still hadn’t fixed the sticker price. It was sold a week later, presumably to someone that didn’t mind or notice the price fluctuation.

Ignore me.

Winter profiles have a lot of depth to their coloring and a lot of contrast between their hair color, eye color and skin tone. Winters need hues that are sharp, stark and clear to complement their skin. They look best in intense, rich colors, like black, navy blue, red, and hot pink. For lighter colors, wear bright white or icy pastels, such as cool blues, pinks and yellows. Avoid earthy tones and subdued colors like beige, orange and gold as they will make the skin look unhealthy.

Since the age of 12, I have weighed less than 180 pounds in only two different periods of my life. The first was when I was wrestling my junior year of high school. I started out around 185 pounds and the intense training brought me down to roughly 160 pounds and probably single digit body fat percentage. I wouldn’t say I was in an unhealthy state, but I used unhealthy tactics to drop that much weight. Working out for three hours on an empty stomach is fairly brutal. So, the other time that I weighed less than 180 pounds? Today. As difficult as it is to eat clean, exercise properly and maintain other health parameters, it’s completely worth it. I haven’t worn a pair of size 31 pants… ever. It’s a good thing my current wardrobe isn’t expensive because if I keep this up, I’m going to have to replace quite a few things.

Occasionally, during a bad day at work, I would get a comfort meal at the cafeteria. This meal consisted of a double Swiss cheeseburger and some steak fries. Of course it tasted great, but now that we publish the nutritional information for our cafeterias, I’m not so sure it was a good idea:

  • Hamburger Patty x2 = 640 calories, 54g fat, 34g protein, 2g carbs
  • Swiss cheese x2 = 214 calories, 8g fat, 8g protein, 0 carbs
  • Bun = 270 calories, 5g fat, 8g protein, 48g carbs
  • Fries = 600 calories, 32.4g fat, 3.8g protein, 35g carbs

TOTAL:

  • 1724 calories
  • 99.4g fat
  • 53.8g protein
  • 85g carbs

(those numbers don’t add up properly since a 67g/50g/50g ratio for the burger should actually be 1003 calories)

That single meal has more calories than I intake in a full day now!

Random Zune thoughts:

  • Is it a requirement to use the 200×200 JPG album art that is usually 10-12 KB in size? Stretched to 240×240, the quality is poor. If the average song is 3 minutes @ 192 kbps (roughly 4 MB) and the average album is 12 songs, the Zune can hold about 575 albums. Doubling the album art quality would reduce the Zune capacity by a whopping 1.5 songs.
  • Zune Marketplace downloads are 192 kbps WMA files. Even played through $30 headphones, the audio quality over a 128 kbps MP3 is dramatic. I kinda wish I hadn’t ripped all my CDs into 128 kbps just to save a little drive space. I’d still use MP3 as support is so ubiquitous.
  • The preloaded content is a blast. Having so many music videos, video clips, pictures and music right out of the box was a great idea. It will also introduce the musically-limited to some great bands.
  • Losing the preloaded content sucks. Don’t partner the Zune up to any old computer thinking you’ll just re-partner to your media machine later. If you need to change the partnership, all content on the device is removed, including the preloaded stuff. I hadn’t even seen/heard all of it yet!