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:
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]
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…
I’ve made a somewhat startling realization this week: Beginning July 15th, I’ll be participating in some sort of organized cycling event every weekend for a solid month.
On the 15th, I’ll be kicking off the craziness with a ride in the 6th Annual Fat Tire Festival at our area’s definitive singletrack destination, Dryer Road Park. But that’s just a warm up – the following weekend, I’ll be burning about 6x the energy of the Fat Tire when I ride in a twenty-four hour mountain bike race – thankfully, as part of a team of 4 riders.
From there, the fun moves onto the road, with the Ride MS century (that’s 100 miles, kids) the next weekend, and a 55-mile tour one week later.
I suppose the training rides have already started – but I sure don’t feel as ready for this epic month of cycling as I did for last year’s race!
(Happy Earth Day everyone…)
Occasionally, staunch environmentalists make a good point or two. But in many cases, despite their enthusiasm for the term “sustainability”, they’re just not willing to look at the big picture. Case in point? Greenpeace recently released a scorecard for the “green-ness” of datacenters operated by the world’s cloud computing behemoths. Here it is:
“So what’s the problem?” you might ask… According to a Greenpeace quote highlighted by Boy Genius Report, everyone’s favorite eco-terrorism troupe based their siting scores on the typical sources of electricity for the states where the datacenters are located. But if we’re going to talk genuine “sustainability” (which, by the way, eco-nuts are completely uninterested in) then you’ve got to consider a lot more factors than just the makeup of the power grid sources in a particular host state.
If we take a look at an infographic from the ever-so-transparently-named CoolerPlanet, we can see just how “green” the electricity sources in each US state are:
So greener is always better, right? Not necessarily. Greenpeace specifically bad-mouthed Apple for choosing to locate its newest datacenter in North Carolina, where the energy supply is notoriously un-green. But what were their alternatives? A California site would expose the datacenter to earthquake risks – and I’m sure your neighborhood Greenpeace operative isn’t keen on downtime for their favorite iDevice. Coastal Texas isn’t really an option due to the risk of severe weather. That leaves inland Texas, the Pacific Northwest, and New York.
“Great, relocate there!” say our tree-hugging friends. Not so fast – remember that inland Texas can throw down a wicked heat gauntlet in the summer, while Oregon, Washington and New York get downright frigid in the winters. The DOE estimates that almost half of a typical datacenter’s energy consumption is used for climate control – what happens to that number when the ambient temperature is well over 100°F? Or -10°F? Suddenly, choosing a comfortably-temperate and relatively disaster-free state like North Carolina or Virginia – despite the un-greenness of their energy supplies – doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. I’m sure the stewards of these datacenters would much rather not use as much as 10X the total energy – along with all it’s concomitant transmission inefficiencies – and keep their overall consumption low.
When you start factoring in second-order causes and effects – such as the environmental impact of pulling power, water, fiber and vehicle conduits into remote places, landfill and recycling capacities, employee commute emissions, construction impact – the sites that Apple, Google, Facebook and others have chosen start to look even better. As is almost always the case, monovariatic analysis in pursuit of a pre-selected conclusion falls flat on its face when a bigger-picture view is considered.
Unfortunately, datacenters consume a lot of energy. Choosing their sites carefully – not only based on energy sources but also based on consumption – can reduce this. The people whose jobs, reputations and employers’ solvency are on the line have no choice but to look at the big picture. Ultimately the true solution for Greenpeace’s gripes is likely for them (and the rest of us) to give up their iPhones and App Stores – but then – how would they coordinate their naval blocades, nuclear power plant break-ins and cargo ship boardings?
Harvard Business Review: “Big Content” is Strangling American Innovation
When you want to foster innovation, a good place to start is to look at who’s putting up roadblocks to it. The most reliable answers lately? Government, deep-rooted and deep-pocketed existing industries, and those who are out to extort an easy buck from others’ hard work. So that logic, I suppose, puts the RIAA on the same level as the world’s many patent trolls. Too bad our government of-late seems all-too-happy to cater to both.
[Update: Here's a perfect example - Time Warner removes channels from iPad app (facing pending battles with content providers)...]
We in the open-source world hear a lot of flack about all the things open source supposedly “doesn’t do”. Looks like we can add one more thing to the list of things Linux and other open-source software offerings don’t do: provide funding for international crime syndicates.