A Lake, Two Decades & A Quiet Revolution

Posted in Random thoughts by dave on September 15, 2014 3 Comments

Beginning well before I was born, my family spent a week’s vacation each summer at a rented cottage on Keuka Lake. It formed my definition of idyllic: endless cannonballs off the sun-faded wooden dock, skipping stones across glass-smooth water at twilight. Sparkling, sun-bathed mornings spent dangling night crawlers for perch. Afternoons curled, reading, in oversized chairs. Nights of whispers and flashlight duels between twin beds in the room my little brother and I shared.

Weathered Chairs Overlooking Keuka Lake

The last year I can remember taking that trip was 1997. There was no broadband. No smartphones, no tablets, no social networks, no blogosphere. We had a cell phone; it didn’t work there. We had a laptop; there was no reason to bring it along.

Fast-forward nearly two decades: we finally returned to Keuka this July. My brother and I are each married now. My wife and I have a son. Life – and the world – have progressed, but the lake remains. Nine family members spent the week at Keuka; we arrived with 10 smartphones, 3 tablets, 2 laptops and 2 Kindles between us. Broadband and WiFi are table stakes for cottage rentals, and the lake is blanketed in coverage from 4 different mobile networks. Our history in this place created a stark contrast, and something felt profoundly different.

Over the last few weeks and months, I’ve noticed what I hope is a shift — perhaps the beginning of a collective realization that our relationship with the tech that surrounds us and connects us is less-than-healthy and in need of some therapy. I’m far from an early adopter, but I want to be at the tip of this spear.

Myke Hurley and Casey Liss talked about evolving social norms around devices and networks, and the need to – at times – silence the rest of the world in favor of the world that’s in front of us. Clay Shirkey decided it was time to ban devices in his university classroom. Ed Batista at HBR called our daily firehose of information a “marshmallow test for grownups“, and aptly noted that the devices and services we use are expertly designed to capture as much of our attention as possible. Meanwhile, I love being part of the groundswell of enthusiasm for analog tools and genuine paper notes.

Manual Typewriter

Don’t get me wrong: I adore my smartphone, my tablet and my Kindle. They all add value to my life. I think they help me add to others’ lives, too. But there is a balance to be found, and right now – as a society – we’re not there.

I hope we’re headed toward a time when putting our phones away – not just down – during a face-to-face conversation is considered common courtesy. I hope we can learn to separate the beeps and buzzes that enhance our lives from the ones that don’t – and that we’re sufficiently-mindful to disable the latter. I hope we can teach our tools to respect us — maybe even to use some of their smarts to recognize when it’s important to leave us, their masters, undisturbed. I hope I can learn to set aside compulsion and systemized distraction, and I hope I can model that to my son.

And I hope that with each future visit to the lake my family makes, we find ourselves better-balanced with the technical world, better-connected to each other, and better-able to take in the blessings of the very special place that surrounds us.

Mini Review: Seth Cole “Cross Section” Quadrille Pad

Posted in Experiences, Geek Stuff by dave on June 19, 2014 No Comments yet

I’m not a reviewer per-se, and this isn’t a pen or paper blog, but I am a (likely certifiable) Pen Addict. Because of this, I’m nearly as choosy about good paper as I am about good coffee and good whisky. And while normally I don’t review pens and paper here (or do much of anything here for that matter), I didn’t see any reviews of this product from the usual suspects, so I figured I’d provide one.

Seth Cole Cross Section - Quadrille Pad

Seth Cole Cross Section – Quadrille Pad

Recently, running late for a seminar and finding my supply cabinet inexplicably bereft of writing pads, I made a quick stop at the local grocery store. I quickly grabbed some legal and graph paper pads and headed for the checkout counter, hopeful that at least one of them would contain decent paper. Neither did. More…

Playing Catch-Up…

Posted in Life Profundities by dave on October 12, 2013 1 Comment

Wow…no posts in over a year… With the lights flickering back on over at Buzzardo.com, it might be high time for some new posts to appear here, too. Since that last post, in May 2012, a lot has happened:

I became a daddy…


…and probably some other stuff too, but I’m too tired to remember much of it, much less write about it coherently!

Christopher turned 7 months old today. For being a guy who never had much of an affinity for kids (really, more the opposite), I sure am crazy about him…

EEWeb.com Featured Engineer

Posted in Random thoughts by dave on May 10, 2012 2 Comments

A few months back, the folks at EEWeb.com, an online community for electrical engineers, contacted me about being one of their “Featured Engineers” – the resulting interview went live today:


…Gonna get married!

Posted in Life Profundities by dave on January 8, 2012 1 Comment

A hearty, happy and heartfelt congratulations to our dear friends Jason and Alicia – as of this evening they’re engaged to be married!

Gift “To-Dont’s” for Your Geek

Posted in Geek Stuff, Random thoughts by dave on December 12, 2011 No Comments yet

It’s Christmas, and you’ve got a geek in your life. Congratulations! Maybe you’re a new boyfriend or girlfriend, bewildered by your love interest’s tech savvy, or maybe you’re a parent whose progeny has recently taken a sharp turn toward geekdom. Perhaps, on the flip-side, your long-time significant-other has always been a geek, leading to endless gift-giving frustration. In any case, DaveRea.com is here to help. This handy guide post should help get you started in navigating the strange and contradictory world of geek gift giving…

Let’s get one thing out of the way right up-front: Unless you know your geek extraordinarily well, or are a fellow geek yourself, avoid tech gifts like the plague! Chances are, your geek researches the living hell out of every technology purchase, analyzing myriad specifications and exploring minutia of compatibility. The odds are stacked – much like a ready-to-topple Jenga tower – very much against you. If you must buy technology, get ready to do your homework: you’ll need to make sure that your gadget gift of choice will play nicely with everything in your geek’s current stable of tech goodies, not to mention scope out the reviews to make sure it meets with other geeks’ approval. Simply aiming for the cutting edge isn’t enough, either – it can actually be a negative if your target hasn’t been “rooted” or “jailbroken” yet. All that said, if you’re still insistent and a fan of the “dog ate my homework” school of research, most things endorsed by Limor Fried, Linus Torvalds or Steve Wozniak are at least a good start.

Next up? Accessories. You might think you’re home free now – your geek already owns and loves their smartphone, tablet or camera of choice, so picking up some attachments should be a sure thing! “But,” as Jeremy Clarkson is wont to say, “you’d be wrong…” Geeks are nearly as choosy about their accessories as they are about their gadgets. After all – if your phone accompanies you every waking hour, how it attaches to your waistband is probably nearly as important as how it synchronizes with your personal cloud. Compounding the confusion, some accessories actually use magnets, RFIDs or Bluetooth to affect the way their host gadgets operate – something that your geek might find fascinating and useful, or annoying and intrusive.

At this point, you might be left wondering what’s left?! Thankfully, the tech world is a big place, filled with extravagances that your geek probably finds endlessly amusing or interesting, but insufficiently-essential to break out the PayPal account. It’s in this treasure trove of extravagance that we find some of the best geek gift ideas. Take clothing, for example: Consider apparel (or, if your connection with your geek is a romantic one, various undergarment permutations) from ThinkGeek.com, XKCD or that epic Pandora’s box of personal printing sites, CafePress.com. If this weren’t enough, all three of these places offer various other gift options – from cube goodies to brain teasers – that are likely to glom onto your geek’s favorite memes and offer endless amusement (or, at least, a reminder of your thoughtfulness that’ll make them smile with the warmth of knowing someone finally embraces their geekiness).

Failing this, geeks’ tendencies to go over-the-top on certain things is another great source of gift ideas. For one thing, most geeks have an ongoing unrequited love affair with security. They adore encryption, enjoy (or are at least thoroughly intrigued by) lock-picking, and – among other common threads – possibly harbor a penchant for philosophy or an enthusiasm for entrepreneurship. Some ideas to consider along these lines? Check out the latest in mechanical info-sec, locksmithing for dummies, geeky deep-think or startup savvy. If your geek has constructive tendencies, you might consider applying your gift to their creative side. A gift certificate to Adafruit, Sparkfun or your local electronics (or, if you’re crazy daring, pyrotechnics) surplus house can go a long way – and it’ll give them the opportunity to analyze and scrutinize their purchase to their geeky heart’s content.

You know your geek best – so bear in mind that the advice here may apply to varying degrees. Note that I haven’t mentioned gaming (a. because this is a complete Pandora’s Box in itself, and b. because if gaming is high on their list, relationships that might result in gifts probably aren’t) – though this can offer as many gift-giving opportunities as it does land-mines. Bear in mind, too, that the best gift for a geek might be something entirely and decidedly non-geeky – because even geeks need a break from geekiness once in a while. Sentimentality is not lost on us – one of my favorite gifts remains a framed duo of hair-brained invention ideas on coarse, yellowed typing paper – borne of my 6-year-old brain and transcribed by my patient-to-the-point-of-sainthood grandmother. It was a collaborative gift to commemorate my completion of grad-school: my Aunt saved the letters, and my wife had them framed. For the record: No combination of silicon, wires and software can bring quite the smile to my face that appears when I look at those notes. They’re artifacts of the past, connected to the me of the present by the hands of the people I love.

[Image credit: David Miles]

Shralp the Gnar

Posted in Bike Stuff, Experiences, Life Profundities by dave on October 8, 2011 4 Comments

I planned to get back to our hotel around 6PM – leaving plenty of time to take Kelly to see Red Rocks Park and stand on-stage at the ampitheater made legendary (at least to us) by Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, among others. Instead, in a dirt-filled rental car, toting a half-functioning rented Ellsworth mountain bike covered with red-clay mud and snow, I pulled into our hotel parking garage a little after 11PM. I still couldn’t feel my fingertips, and the mixture of mud and blood that washed off me in a hot post-ride shower would have been well-suited to an action-movie recovery scene.

The warm cafe where I’m sitting and typing this entry – with jazz, the smell of espresso and the sound of lighthearted conversation floating through the air – feels almost as otherworldly as the landscapes I just endured with two other riders…


5 Ways to Fail at QR Codes

Posted in Geek Stuff, Ranting by dave on September 17, 2011 1 Comment

It’s pretty damn cool to see QR codes (finally) skyrocketing in popularity here in the ‘States. I’ve been seeing them all over the place – in magazines, on signs and displays, winking from TV commercials, backing people’s business cards, even on bumper stickers. Unfortunately, as is usually the case as any new technology makes its way into the worlds of marketing and advertising, there are bound to be some people who get the “You’re doin’ it wrong” stamp. It’s to these ambitious QR code rookies that this post is dedicated: avoid the following pitfalls, and I’ll wager your QR code campaigns will go a lot better…

  1. It doesn’t help if we can’t scan it!  It’s great that you’ve got an awesome web link with lots of data values hanging off the end, and maybe a nice long tracking ID, and that you’ve turned it into a QR code. The problem is, that code is probably 20 to 30 blocks on-a-side, and unless a user gets right next to it and holds their phone at just the right angle, they won’t be able to scan it. One of our local realtors has taken a liking to just this approach – convert a long, convoluted link into an extremely-detailed QR code, then print it about 4 inches tall and plop it on top of the sign. Most people will see it as a gray square, and the few that do recognize it as a QR code will have to get out of their cars and walk up to it. Congratulations – you’ve provided exactly the same value as the paper flyers stuffed into the box down below. The solution: If you must use a web link that’s 2 miles long, pass it through a URL shortening service like Bit.ly or Goo.gl. In addition to a nice, simple, QR code that doesn’t have to be in spitting distance to scan, you’ll get the click-through counters and analytics that those services provide out of the box.
  2. Keep it mobile! Few practices in advertising get under my skin more than a QR code that redirects me to a company’s old-fashioned home page. The only way these QR codes are going to be scanned is using a mobile device – most likely a smartphone or tablet. So don’t dump me to your boring, slow-to-load, optimized-for-1280-pixel-screens home page. You know I’m going to be visiting from a mobile device, so send me to a mobile web page that my device can consume. If I have to double-tap, pinch-zoom, scroll around or squint to see the page you’re sending me to, chances are my interaction with you is going to end almost immediately after I scan your code.
  3. Consider the context! QR codes are great, but there are some places and times where even the staunchest techie will admit they don’t work all that well. It’s really hard to scan a QR code in a dimly-lit room. Same goes for scanning from a moving car or aboard a bouncing bus. But my favorite example is the web link QR code (a long, convoluted link, of course) proudly displayed on a NYC subway car. Yay! You’ve given me a link! On a subway car where there’s no freakin’ data service! Unless that train car happens to go above-ground (which, I admit, does happen occasionally in the outer boroughs) I can’t even visit the site you want to share with me, let alone take any action on it. Which leads me to…
  4. There’s more to QR codes than URLs! It’s exceedingly rare that I encounter a QR code that contains anything but a web link (a.k.a. a URL). But there are lots more things you can stuff into a QR code! A quick look at the options on the ZXing QR Code Generator indicates you can store calendar events, geographic locations, e-mail addresses, contact info, or even just raw text. Mobile devices know what to do with these different types of codes – scanning the QR code on the back of my business card, for instance, will net you all my encoded contact info that you can pull into your device’s address book with one click. That NYC subway ad – which was for a classical music concert – would have been much more useful as a calendar event code: let me save it to my device’s calendar, then I can take action on it later, when I’m back in cell service or sitting at my home PC.
  5. Make it worth our while! The bottom line and end goal for any ad campaign is to convince the viewer to take action. When you put a QR code in your visuals, you’ve already got your audience taking action – we’re scanning the code! So once we’ve done that, don’t just send us to the company’s home page, or to some boring campaign-specific landing page. Offer some value add. Macy’s hit the nail on the head with this one – their latest in-store campaign offers QR codes that link you to various web videos featuring designers offering fashion advice. Considering QR code early adopters (read: geeks like me) are probably the most likely to need such advice, this is pretty brilliant. Kidding aside, in a huge field of boring QR codes, Macy’s offers a post-scan experience that’s interesting and engaging, and tied directly to the products you’re browsing through and (if they’ve played their cards right) about to carry over to the cash register.
QR codes can be a very powerful tool for marketers and advertisers – but, as is the case with any technology, you have to understand their capabilities and limitations. Get it right, and you’ll engage with a new audience in a new mode. Get it wrong, and you’ll have people posting photos like this (as snapped at my local Best Buy) on Failblog…
Update 2011-10-10: Now this is some QR code innovation!
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