Pulling Back The Curtain

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” Those were the words shouted by the wizard when Toto pulled back the curtain near the end of The Wizard of Oz. The wizard did not want anyone to know that all the smoke and noise was only a trick. Now I’m gonna pull back the curtain and show you a few tricks that if you’d been paying attention you would have noticed anyway. Continue reading “Pulling Back The Curtain”

Did We Just Break Another Treaty?

You know my thing about seeing patterns. Well here’s another one that’s a little hard for me to ignore.

First of all let’s review. That last round trip to the moon was made in the seventies. This was after a half dozen human excursions were made to fulfill the dream of a fallen martyr and some other unmanned landings. If that is entirely true, than all well and good. Many have asked why no major programs to return have happened since then. Some have answered with the possibility that an agreement was made with those not of that current earth to not revisit our nearest neighbor in space. Continue reading “Did We Just Break Another Treaty?”

How to Learn Stuff

The only thing a college degree really proves to an employer is that you know how to complete a four-year long project. Of course for many of us even that takes much longer. I’m sure you all know what the types of college degrees are – BS, MS and PhD – which stand for Bull Shit, More Shit and Piled Higher and Deeper.

The most important thing you need to learn to survive in life is how to learn. Sometimes this merely involves paying attention. Most of the time you need to put in some effort. Never be afraid of learning how to do stuff by doing it wrong. Trial and error is a time-tested way of learning. The most ineffective method of learning is relying on others to help you or even worse, blaming others for your own inability to learn.

I worked in the R&D department of a data warehouse where they hired me to replace an employee who had a PhD. He may have had a degree but he wasn’t able to use facts to make something work. He was always spending so much time writing what he called ‘pretty, pretty code’ he never finished a project that worked.

I was at the data warehouse only a few months and had already designed a user interface for a new product  and re-written code to rejuvenate some old products when someone asked me “Whats your degree in?” After I stopped laughing I said that depended on if he thought an Associate Degree in electronics technology actually counted as a degree.

At one point there was a new product they wanted to develop which monitored microclimates and reported the information to niche customers. I already knew some general knowledge about meteorology from hanging out in the weather department at a TV station helping them with their computer problems. (That’s an example of using the “Paying Attention” method.) When I found out I needed to learn more about the specifics of microclimates I said “I’m going to B&N. I’ll be back after lunch.” I came back with an armload of books which I read drinking in knowledge about things like pressure ridges and downdrafts. A big  hint here is:

Don’t judge a book by its cover – judge it by its index.

I knew that even though I had some small experience in meteorology I was going to need more than that to make the project succeed. I wasn’t afraid of putting the effort in to find out what more I needed to know for the project.

When I was computer tech at another place I was one of three techs managing several hundred machines. One day one of the other techs and I were talking about how files are saved on a disk at machine code level. The third asked how we knew stuff like this. We both said we just read the books and played ‘what if’ with the software code. This goes back again to not being afraid of getting it wrong the first time. To do this there was quite a bit of effort and dogged research. Effort which the third tech some how never managed to put in. There were always too many video games to be played instead.

The three best ways to learn stuff: Books, Books, and Books. Then experience. Above all have no fear to experiment. How else can we expect to keep those Idle Thoughts coming?

Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be, Part Deux

"NadelAufPlatte" by Moehre1992 - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NadelAufPlatte.JPG#mediaviewer/File:NadelAufPlatte.JPG

Last time, I discussed my nostalgia for wing windows on the the old cars from the sixties. But let’s face it, with fall weather moving in I wouldn’t be using them right now if I had them. So let’s move on to another thing that has gone the way of the Dodo, the art work that used to be found on 12 inch album covers.

Dark_Side_of_the_Moon
Album cover from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

One of the basic experiments in high school physics class is showing that white light breaks into a spectrum of colors when it shines through a prism. This was an easy one to remember not because we learned this from our teacher as much as we remembered the art work on the Pink Floyd album, Dark Side Of the Moon. This is one example of art work that was found on the covers of vinyl record album covers. Another one of my favorites was the Led Zeppelin III album. The album cover with the rotating volvelle was one of the original examples of user interaction. I’ve always really loved getting the Led out. I lost my virginity and a great deal of my hearing somewhere between the Immigrant Song and Gallows Pole.

Led Zeppelin III album cover.
Led Zeppelin III album cover.

In the late 1970’s, I dated a girl whose roommate was the manager of a record store. (Anyone been to Homer’s in the OM lately?) Her record collection was packed tight on a shelf measuring 10 and half feet. The girl had an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure music in addition to albums you could otherwise only hear on underground FM stations in the 70’s. I would spend hours listening to her collection, marveling at the art work on the covers of albums that I’d never heard of and wondering if I was dating the wrong roommate.

These days most music collections are just a bunch of computer files on a hard drive or smart phone. There is no physical art connected to the music other than the icon sized pictures on the playlist in the software. Sure you can still find a lot of the vinyl albums (For instance, used LPs at Homer’s)  but only OCD afflicted rich guys make the effort.

Yes, I’m definitely on the side that says nothing sounds better than analog albums played on a Garrard turntable with a Pickering cartridge and output to a Bogen Amplifier and Jensen speakers. But today unless you live in an anechoic chamber and have no neighbors within a football field’s distance, you have no hope of getting the “live performance sound” anyway so why bother? Earbuds just don’t make the quality of noise canceling headphones either. Since I’m usually singing along off key with the music anyway that makes it hard to fully appreciate the original artist’s talent.

And let’s not even mention the several friends I have that are using those turntables that have a USB output so they can put all their vinyl to digital. Let’s not mention that because I’m doing the same sort of thing with several thousand dollars worth of DVDs and VHS tapes that I want to see using iTunes. I’ve already finished ripping hundreds of CDs I bought in the 80’s and 90’s.  Yeah, I know it’s a huge copyright grey area. But what else is a person supposed to do?  Otherwise, every time the media technology changes I have to buy The White Album again.

And for the record (pun intended) pictures of album covers are used under the fair use clause of the United States Copyright laws and are copyright by their respective music groups and publishers.

Featured Image: “NadelAufPlatte” by Moehre1992 – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NadelAufPlatte.JPG#mediaviewer/File:NadelAufPlatte.JPG