Friday, December 31, 2004

Hello 2005

Good-bye 2004. The year the Red Sox won the series. The year I changed jobs. The year I wrote a novel (and no, I haven't read it yet). What's up for next year? What about my books and movies from this past year? Did I really write fifty letters? Tune in again.

Good-bye 2004. Hello 2005.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Tuning a Guitar

My daughter Mia received a guitar this weekend. It's a kid's guitar, but it's a fully functioning instrument.

I used to play the guitar when I was little (around fifth, sixth grade). I took guitar lessons, and learned how to play some basic chords. First song I ever learned: Bad Moon Rising (G-D-C). I can also hit the notes for Happy Birthday and the main theme to Star Wars. I still remember how to play these songs even though I haven't owned a guitar in several years.

I got my hands on Mia's guitar in the afternoon and tried some of my songs, but the guitar was sorely out of tune. Mia also enjoys playing with the tuning knobs at the end of the guitar, which wasn't a help.

I visited a web site to relearn the basics of tuning. I eventually found Tuner Tool, a free program that let me hear the correct notes for the guitar. But this wasn't enough. I had a hard time matching the notes played by the tuner to the notes played on Mia's guitar.

After more minutes with Google, I found a better program, by Encore. This tool not only played the correct notes, but using a PC microphone (which I had), it "listened" to the notes the guitar was playing, and pointed out whether it was too sharp or too flat. It's quite amazing seeing the display change as the note played. I was able to tune the guitar in minutes! I recommend this tool (and yes, I'll be buying a license).

Monday, December 20, 2004

Jeri Ellsworth

The New York Times ran an article about Jeri Ellsworth, who recently produced a version of the ancient Commodore 64 computer that runs on one chip. A company has packaged this up into a joystick, and it's now being sold on QVC (search for E22494).

Jeri is a self-taught computer chip designer, who quit high school, but has clearly followed her interest in chip design to the highest level. The article contains a marvelous quote from Andrew Singer, a high-tech executive, who hired Ms. Ellsworth as a consultant: "It's possible to get a credential and not have passion."

How true. How true! Are we doing work that we're passionate about? I can relate to Ms. Ellsworth's resourceful childhood and her deep interest in knowing how her computer worked. She pursued something she was very interested in, and didn't let her lack of a degree keep her from learning, or making a contribution. I admire people like her!

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Behind the Counter

I sometimes wonder how I'd do working behind the counter at McDonalds. I'd probably kick some serious ass.

I go to the same McDonalds nearly every Saturday for lunch. I've observed how the orders go from the cashier to the monitors, and then onto trays or into take-out bags. I can see where the sandwiches are deposited after they're made. I can see the fries as they're being salted and then scooped into serving cartons.

Yet the level of service can really vary, despite all of these sytems. Sometimes the person behind the counter is new, and doesn't count the order. Sometimes they don't know how to ring up the order, or make change. Sometimes they're just plain slow. And even though I have the look of patience on my face, inside I'm wondering: how long will this person keep their job at this McDs? How many botched orders, or slow transactions will it take before they're back out on the street looking for other ways to make money?

I have never worked in a restaurant, much less a fast-food restaurant. I don't have a real foundation for my complaints, other than it's taking long enough to take the "fast" out of "fast-food". Moments like this, I ask myself: Why didn't I just do the drive-thru?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Ice Skating

There is now an ice skating rink in the Eiffel Tower. That's right, in the Eiffel Tower itself. Patinez au PremiƩr Etage de la Tour Eiffel! The rink is nearly 200 feet in the air, and the sensation of flying must be quite acute!

Unlike golf, where the course is often a beautiful destination, ice skating rinks are largely utilitarian and indoors. There's a lot of hardware needed to keep a sheet of ice hard smooth. For pure destination ice skating, you must go outdoors.

I've been lucky. When I first moved to Boston, I lived near the Public Garden, a gorgeous walking garden that features a quiet pond with swans and swan boats. During my first cold winter in Boston, I found that the pond froze into a perfect patch of ice. In the late evening hours, I would skate around the darkened pond, careful to avoid thin ice, thrilling to how open the space was. It was glorious.

I haven't had that kind of raw ice skating experience since. When Jenn and I visited Rockefeller Center in New York City, I told her we'd have to ice skate there, but we never have.

Maybe the news of the Eiffel Tower hits me because I first experienced ice skating at an outdoor rink. Jersey City. Palisades Avenue (Pershing Field). I had borrowed ice skates. I somehow knew that I was taking the very first steps in a long ice skating love affair.

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Gift Ideas

My wife was surprised when my holiday gift list didn't include any kind of electronic gadget.

Honestly, I can't think of anything I might want, much less need. Last year, I asked for and received a Tungsten E, but I have rarely used it (I have most of my data in an old Handspring Visor). I kept resolving to migrate my data over to this sleeker, more powerful PDA, but I haven't done it yet. Maybe next year I'll do it.

My shelves have plenty of items that I have bought, but never used. I don't like the idea of adding to this pile.

A lot of the cool stuff that I want really require a new computer (I run an ancient 530Mhz Windows 98 box). Because of this, I can't use an iPod, nor can I really get a digital video camera. I need beefier hardware.

So what do I want this holiday season? Same thing that I want every year: books and DVDs. And socks are always a great gift.