Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fermenting up a Dream - Mystery Brewing Company

In a few short months, it will have been fifteen years since I packed my life into a car and left New Jersey for Alfred University. While I may not have walked away from there with a degree or any kind of job qualifications, that parental investment in my future did secure a modest collection of true friends. All have successful careers. Some have families. Few have started businesses of their own. It is on behalf of one of those last ones I write today. My friend Erik (@topfermented) is starting a brewery, and he needs your help. He has a dream, and he's using Kickstarter to offer you the chance to be a part of it.

If you haven't heard of it, here are the broad strokes. Kickstarter.com is a crowd sourcing website that helps people find funding for creative projects. If you're unfamiliar with the concept of crowd sourcing, it's pretty simple. You go, "Hey, Internet! Help me with this thing!" and if even a tiny fraction of a percentage of the internet responds, you will have more help than you can imagine.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

GADGETS: Samsung - Not just Phones

This entry is probably going to be a little shorter than most I've written, but it has a degree of urgency to it.

I currently have a couple of friends and at least one relative that are considering new computers. Sunday, I went to Best Buy to see what they had, and here's what I discovered. Samsung doesn't just make phones that people don't want. They also make computers that people don't want. If you want a new super powerful laptop, you stand to directly benefit from this.

Monday, June 7, 2010

SURVIVAL SKILLS: Total Immersion (The temples of Kyoto)

Having finished breakfast in Hakone, it was time to take the crazy bus back down to the train station and make my way to Kyoto, the last stop on my trip. I mentioned before that Tokyo is one of the most modern cities in the world. This is due to two main factors. Primarily the Japanese spirit of embracing modernity, but also because it was devastated by firebombing during World War II. Fortunately, Kyoto was determined to be too culturally valuable to destroy and was left mostly untouched by allied bombers.

If you're spending more than a week or so in Japan, you owe it to yourself to visit Kyoto, and see some of the 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites scattered throughout the city. But be warned, to get around Kyoto, you're going to need to know a little more Japanese than in Tokyo.

Friday, May 21, 2010

SURVIVAL SKILLS: Ring of Fire (A day in Hakone)

My first week in Japan was spent in the heart of one of the largest, most modern cities on earth. On the way to Kyoto, I spent a day in a little mountain town called Hakone, which while modern enough, was still small enough to offer a completely different taste of life in Japan. I'm super glad I went, and if you should find yourself on vacation in Japan, you should go too. In theory, on a clear day it's possible to see Mount Fuji from the area around Hakone, but it was super cloudy the day I was there. So, instead I snapped this picture from the flight home at the end of my trip.

That pointy white cloud in the middle of that picture is actually the snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji, and it's a pretty good symbol for the volcanic side of Japan, which is the focus of part two about my trip.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

SURVIVAL SKILLS: Being Tall (My week in Tokyo)

Sometimes you'll take some pictures, do some research, draw up an outline in your head, and then sit down to write your article only to find some other topic injected into your brain. Today is one of those times. I am not, in fact, tall. I'm 5'8". By American standards, this is somewhere around average. By Tokyo's JR Yamanote train standards, this makes me a freakish mutant.

The plan was to write my second pop culture article about anime, but here's what happened. I queued up Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Solid State Society on my iPod. Also, it was around 50 degrees and rainy today in NJ. The strange chemistry of these two factors made me think about December of 2006, when I spent two weeks in Japan by myself, with even less than a rudimentary command of the language. My entire week in Tokyo it was around 50ish degrees and drizzly, with various anime soundtracks (especially Ghost in the Shell) on loop in my ears.

While I was there, I took some notes about the trip and I took a surprising number of pictures. Here are the results of my strange moment in forethought.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

SURVIVAL SKILLS: Baconator vs Double Down.

A couple of weeks ago, the Double Down was brand new on the scene and made a huge splash on the internet. Two pieces of fried chicken instead of bread? Amazing idea. Horrifying. But amazing. I desperately wanted to try one and write a story about the sure-to-be-life-changing experience. So, I convinced my friend Jackie to go to KFC with me and give it a shot. Some time while we ate, I started to wonder... Which culinary assault did I like better? Sure the Double Down was pretty awesome, but how does it measure up to the previous standard of awful-yet-awesomeness? The Baconator has been destroying lives for over a year now, six strips of bacon at a time. How does this upstart Chickenator compare to Wendy's Bacon-laden Juggernaut?

At great risk to my personal well being, I've gone into the world and consumed some of the most awful things corporate America has ever offered. I have done this in the name of science and awesomeness. I cannot in good conscience recommend that you follow in my footsteps, but I also can't realistically ask you to ignore bacon's siren call forever.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

GADGETS: How to Choose a MacBook Pro

A week or so ago, someone I follow re-tweeted a message from @autumnbuck, and it was hilarious so I started following her too. She quickly followed me back and there was some mutual excitement over being new nerdfriends. Then, a few days later, she tweeted something about it being time for her to buy a new computer, and I leaped into action.

She needed to record her band, which threw up a giant glowing sign: GET A MAC! But at the time, I didn't know much about choosing a Mac, mostly because I assumed if you were getting one, you had tons of disposable income, and would just go with their Cadillac model. I have since done some research into choosing a MacBook Pro, and found that there are a lot more options and choices to make than I previously thought.

 (Not actually a Mac... The sticker is surprisingly effective hipster-camouflage.)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

POP CULTURE: Paul and Storm and Jonathan Coulton are your friends.

One day last year, I had a handful of friends over to play Rock Band at my new apartment, and at some point, we were flipping through the DLC store looking for interesting songs. It was then that my friend Awesome Kevin (@kezdawg) introduced me to Jonathan Coulton (@jonathancoulton). While going through the store, we landed on a little song called Skullcrusher Mountain, and Kevin took a dollar out of his wallet and handed it to me, and was like, "Trust me." So I bought it, and a whole new era began.

For those of you unfamiliar, @jonathancoulton's music is mostly concerned with the universal melancholy of robots, mad scientists, primates, and cephalopods. The important thing is that beyond being hilarious, the music really works. This is something he shares in common with frequent cohorts Paul and Storm (@paulandstorm), and also @garfunkeloates who I previously reviewed.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

POP CULTURE: Stargate: Universe is better than you think.

Since Stargate: Universe returns from their half-season hiatus this week, I'm putting off my PAX coverage for another couple of days to get you involved in this show before it's too late. Here's what you need to know: SGU is set on a super space ship tooling around another galaxy. Why and how the team got there isn't so important. What you need to know is that they're refugees on a ship that's kind of broken and that they can communicate with earth via a technological gadget introduced years ago on SG1.

People who don't like the show will tell you it's too much like Lost or Battlestar. They will tell you it doesn't have enough of the goofy charm that made SG1 and Atlantis so much fun. Those people are all correct. However, the show has one important thing that I feel Lost lacks, but which made Battlestar (and now Caprica) work. Internal consistency. Where Lost will reveal an "answer" and either shoehorn something in that sort of makes sense or re-write the whole show's mythology, Stargate's writers are somehow intimately familiar with over 15 years worth of material and they somehow make it all track.
 Since Friday night is the start of SGU season 1.5, there will likely be a fairly comprehensive "previously on SGU" thing to help you get in the game. If they're clever, they may even have an all-day marathon scheduled tomorrow that you can DVR. If you'd rather just step right in, and give the show a chance on my recommendation, that's perfectly acceptable and you may want to stop reading here. I applaud your sense of adventure and trust in my Sherping. If you're already watching and are interested in my thoughts on the show or you're not afraid of spoilers, please continue after the jump for why SGU is better than you think.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

POP CULTURE: Garfunkel and Oates - Not a couple of old guys.

Some time last Fall, I was driving someplace with my friends Kevin (@kezdawg) and Matt, and they introduced me to Dear Deer by Kate Micucci (@katemicucci). Then they played Mister Moon, and by the end of the car ride, I was hooked. Later that night, like a nerd, I scoured the internet for other songs, and discovered a wonderful little piece of music about Sex with Ducks. And that's when I found out that Garfunkel and Oates are awesome.

Together, as Garfunkel and Oates, (@garfunkeloates) Riki "Garfunkel" Lindhome (@rikilindhome) and the aforementioned Kate "Oates" Micucci write songs that appeal to nerds. Their music is about awkwardness, dating-related awkwardness, and the awkwardness associated with things that nerds find annoying. Did I mention awkwardness? Believe me, you will relate. You may not want to, but you definitely will. Somehow through all the awkwardness and snark, something magical happens. Your heart swells up a few sizes, all Grinch-like. Even if that sucker was already normal sized. They will sing you a cheerful-sounding song about something insane and heartbreaking that has also happened to you. But somehow, you'll feel better about it. Garfunkel and Oates are tall and short, light and dark happy pills that you take with your ears.

These first two pictures came from a weeknight show last year. I took my friend Clair (@crunchysunshine) to see them, without her knowing anything about them beforehand. Seconds into the first song, she was sold. Despite essentially being a musical act, Garfunkel and Oates tend to book shows at comedy clubs, and it works for them. Sitting down at a comedy club seems to make more sense to me than standing up in a music hall would. You're far more likely to laugh your face off than dance your ass off, but that's what you're going for. Kate and Riki are amazing musicians and singers, but they're also comedic geniuses with a healthy dose of acting talent (Check them out on imdb.com! You've totally seen them in stuff before.). They know exactly the right muppet-like facial expression that will sell you a joke, as if the joke itself wasn't already great, which it was. They have just the right combination of goofy on-stage insecurity and talent that makes comedy really happen.

This is @rikilindhome, me and @katemicucci after their March 20 show at @comixny. (I'm not sure who or what that guy is pointing at. Maybe he likes knees.) Closing their eyes and smiling way too big for photos is something they do, so I joined them after first goofily asking permission. It's both funny and practical as it ensures you never have to check to see if anyone's eyes were closed.

Musical comedy is a nerd medium. Kate and Riki are nerds. You can hear it in the music and taste it in the often deliciously bitter lyrics. They are our people, and as such it is our responsibility to support them. It is worth your time and effort. If they are playing a show near you, definitely get tickets. Happiness can often be difficult for nerds, so we should learn to take it where we can get it. At a Garfunkel and Oates show, I promise you will get happy. And you might get to meet them. They are awesome. They hang around after their sets to personally sell you a copy of their CD (featuring more closed-eye smiles on the cover), chat with you, and take pictures.

You already enjoy musical acts like They Might Be Giants, Weird Al and Jonathan Coulton. You will also enjoy Garfunkel and Oates.

@nerdsherpa, fan of criminally hilarious not-old-guys.

Monday, March 22, 2010

GADGETS: Choosing a Laptop over a Netbook

A few articles ago I wrote about what to look for in a Netbook. Recently, it occurred to me that some people might actually need a laptop for the reasons I outlined previously.

The main reason to buy a laptop instead of a netbook is because you want to do some hard core multi-tasking or play games. Your laptop will probably be your desktop replacement. Laptops, while not the preferred venue for the most advanced games out there, will still run most of games pretty well. This is at least in part because of the similarities in PC and Xbox architecture. The relatively simple port makes it economical for companies to write PC games that will also play on an xbox (which is a few years old) and expand their market. Additionally, it's kind of a bad idea to limit their customer base to the narrow group of people with outrageously expensive computers.

I will say, I'm a PC. I am still a fan of Apple's portable gadgets, and if I had unlimited financial resources, or was really into video production, I might get a Macbook Air or Macbook Pro. I'm not a Mac hater. They make beautiful gear that's easy to use and incredibly reliable. However, for the purposes of this article, I'm going to go ahead and not recommend an Apple laptop. Macs multi-task well if productivity is your thing, but nobody writes games for Mac OS. Also, you pay a lot for Apple. This is partly because they have fairly unreasonable hardware standards and your computer will never have driver issues, but also partly for the symbol on the case. Also, if you're looking for a Mac laptop, you have three choices, and you really can't go that wrong. So you really don't need any advice.

Shopping for a PC, there are three key items to consider: Price, Power and Style.

PRICE: Price range is important, but doesn't require too much advising. You're going to need to spend a bit more than you would on a netbook. It could be as little as double or as much as 3-4 times. I would budget around $1200 or so. Less than that, and you might not be getting something better than a netbook, and more than that, you're just spending money on marginal increases in power.

POWER: This is the single most important factor in your laptop purchase. You're buying a laptop instead of a netbook. You need to make sure it's actually more powerful than a netbook. To this end, I'm going to briefly discuss how CPUs work, and how Windows 7 differs from previous versions. You need a basic understanding of this to help you make an informed purchase, so bear with me for a couple of paragraphs.

Think of each piece of software you want to run as a liquid, and think of your CPU as a cup. Many modern computers have multi-core CPUs. Think of these as having more than one cup where your operating system can pour programs. Under Windows XP and Vista, multi-core CPUs were not used effectively. It was like holding one cup above the other, and waiting for the first cup to fill until programs spill over. In practice, this rarely ever happened. Windows 7 is considerably smarter. Under a heavy load, Win7 will pour programs into different cups to help distribute the load and make your multi-core CPU do a lot more work.

It is for this reason that you want to make sure your laptop has a multi-core CPU. Even if its clock speed is similar to a netbook, with two or more cores operating under Win7, it will be considerably faster at multi-tasking. Stay away from any CPU that says "Celeron". It's decade-old technology, which is why it's really cheap. They have multi-core versions, but you're better off getting a more modern CPU. I would also stay away from any CORE 2 CPUs. While they are dual core, they're affordable again because they're slightly outdated. What you want to look for is the new Core i3, i5 or i7 models. The i3 and i5 have 2 cores, so they'll be considerably faster than any netbook, and the i7 can have up to 4 cores, which will blow away a lot of desktop machines. You're probably best off going with an i3, as the price of the others scales up faster than their capabilities. If the computer you're using is more than a couple of years old, it will be a huge upgrade in speed, while still being affordable. If you're used to an i3, you might not even notice the speed increase on an i7 anyway.

Another advantage of the iX series of processors is that they're all 64 bit, so you can get even more out of Win7. Most users probably won't really notice because there's not a lot of 64 bit software out there right now, but there will likely be a lot more soon, and this is a long overdue upgrade.

Another super important thing to look for is a dedicated video card. On the label, it will say something like ATI or nVIDIA on a separate line. If the label doesn't specifically mention it, keep looking for another option. Drawing pictures on your screen takes a lot of math. Netbooks do all of this math with their already-limited CPU and ram. If you're buying a laptop, make sure it has a fancy mobile video card in it. It will have its own dedicated video ram and another processor to help carry the picture-drawing load. This is important for everything. Multi-tasking, YouTube, gaming. Literally everything your computer does. I cannot stress this enough. Make sure it has a dedicated video card. If you're still not sure, ask a salesman or a Nerd Sherpa.

STYLE: I'm generally a function over form kind of guy, but let's face it. You're buying a portable computer. It's portable. You want it to look cool, because people will see it, and inducing gadget-envy is every nerd's responsibility. Sony does an especially good job at this, but you're going to pay a little more for the VAIO stamp than for a similarly-powered Dell or Gateway. However, Best Buy seems to have fairly uniform pricing based on the unit's capabilities with only limited brand name variance, so definitely let the design of the machine play a part in your decision.

As with any computer, there are a number of other considerations. Hard drive space isn't generally too limited in modern laptops. Your hard drive is going to be relatively huge, and with external drives, it's super easy to expand. Any laptop is going to have plenty of USB ports, and again you can expand with external hubs. RAM is the last thing I would worry about when making your choice. While RAM is super important, if you chose an i3-XXXm processor with a dedicated video card as I've advised above, the machine most likely already comes with plenty of RAM. If you're nervous about it, look for 4gb. More than that is kind of overkill and while less slides you down into Netbook range, it probably won't kill you if the rest of the specs are acceptable. Battery life may be of concern to you, but remember. This thing is going to be a beast. It's going to suck down battery like mad. You're mostly going to use it plugged in. Still, if mobility is of concern, just about any laptop battery will let you watch a DVD before it dies.

Lastly, don't forget stickers! They're important for laptops too. Gadget envy!

As usual, if you require any personal sherping for your laptop purchase, drop me a line! I can help.

@nerdsherpa, purveyor of portable computing.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

SURVIVAL SKILLS: A hair salon is pilates for your self esteem.

It's easy to forget that self esteem is as much a muscle to exercise as a commodity to spend or accrue. So, what do you get when you buy a haircut? Do you just get a haircut, or do you get a workout for your self esteem?

I suspect many nerds fall prey to the former. I myself went to a HairCutFactory for many years. And you're not totally wrong. A haircut is a haircut. If you don't like it, give it a month and it will grow back. But by the same reasoning, the HairCutFactory is the Chevy Metro of haircuts. Sure, it'll get you there. Maybe the stereo sounds fine. But why merely accept adequacy when you can spend a little more and get something much better. Here's my recommendation. Once a month or so, spend 1-3 hours of your pay on a haircut. Go to a fancy salon. Get a hairdresser for whom self esteem engineering is a career. Pay him or her for their expertise. Trust their judgment. The HairCutFactory is the entry-level job in the salon industry. Pass on the intern. You deserve and can afford a pro.

I was lucky. During my nerd renaissance, my friend Kate (@katewallftw) was working at a place called Salon du Monde in scenic Point Pleasant Beach, NJ. She brought me in and introduced me to Judy, who has been cutting my hair ever since. Let me walk you through the way your haircut experience should go. It's not a may-step process, but it's very different from what you're used to at a discount HairCutFactory.

Step 1: Shampoo: Now, you may or may not need your hair washed, but at a fancy salon, it's going to be included, and it's an important part of the process, because often the person conducting your shampoo will be a massage therapist.You probably have no idea how much stress and awfulness the little bit of meat on your skull can contain, but your shampoo technician does and will spend a few minutes doing their best to fix it. It may just be the best ten minutes of your week. By the time this is finished, you will already be a repeat customer before any hair makes it to the floor.

Step 2: Haircut: Sure, you've gotten your haircut before, but like I said earlier the HairCutFactory is for beginners. Depending on your jurisdiction, the staff there may have licenses from beauty school, but this is the job they have while they dream of something else or look for a real job in the self esteem industry. They may talk to you about this week's reality TV or procedural crime drama... And their HairCutFactory probably has the local dance music or adult contemporary station playing. But you don't want that. My salon generally has 80s music playing. My hairdresser knows me, talks to me about stuff I like, and remembers what we talked about last time, even if I forget to go for two months. Your self esteem engineer should treat you like your favorite bartender. They will get to know you, and remember pertinent details about you. Think about this when they're cutting your hair. They know you. A trusted friend is working on your appearance, and not some stranger with really outrageous beauty-school-graduate nails.

Step 3: Product: For most nerds, this will be the hardest sell. But it's definitely worth it. This is something they have at HairCutFactory, but not something they really push. And that's to their credit. If you're spending $10 on your haircut, you probably shouldn't bother spending $30 on goop to put in your hair. But when you're spending considerably more, you should really go all the way and add some junk into your daily prep regime. Remember, we're exercising your self esteem muscles. Looking good is good for your self esteem. Spiffy hair can help you look good. This is why male lions have manes, people. Why roosters have those red things. Why awesome Discovery channel lizards have those frills. This said, I recommend against gel. Unless you have a really specific color of hair and style of haircut, gel is probably going to make you look like a guido, and nobody wants that. Go with something along the lines of a styling wax/paste. I use stuff called "sumotech" by Bumble and Bumble. I put a tiny bit into dry hair, which it makes it stand up and look goofy without looking like I have a ton of gunk in it. It's usually even completely dry to the touch and not tacky at all. This is important too. You don't want touching your hair to be gross, in case you or someone else winds up touching it.

The best thing about this advice is that you can give it a shot, and if you don't like the results, next month you can go back to the old way. But definitely give it a shot. Spiffy hair is fun to have, and requires only a relatively tiny investment of your monthly budget and daily effort. Nerds can and should look awesome. Join me!

@nerdsherpa, your personal Discovery channel lizard.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

GADGETS: How the iPad could force you to shower.

This week was iPad pre-order day, and among all of the hoopla, I happened to catch this post on Ars Technica. Behold, in only two months Apple took user feedback from people who got to handle their pre-release iPads, and put a solution in place for a rotation lock.

Their solution? Change the hardware mute switch to a hardware rotation lock switch.

So, yes. They took constructive criticism, and banged out a rapid response to consumer desire. Unfortunately, the method by which they accomplished this kludge represents the worst possible failure of Apple's organizational and management structure.

Who thought of this idea? It's an awful awful idea. They need to start thinking along the lines of the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad all basically being the same device, and the hardware tilt-lock switch screams "three teams that don't communicate!" at me. I'm not only complaining, though. Look, I have a constructive idea for what they should have done instead of a hardware solution.

Put rotation lock in the operating system.

Let the iPad launch fly with a mute switch. Tell people, hey, we know it doesn't tilt-lock yet. We hear you. We're fixing it across the entire iDevice line. Then release a new version of the OS for iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad that includes a software managed tilt-lock. Here's how it should have worked. You multi-touch any two adjacent corners of your iDevice screen. Now that edge is locked to be the bottom until you release it by multi-touching those corners again, or multi-touch another pair of corners, making those the bottom.

I recognize this modification would also require a line in the Setup options to enable or disable tilt-lock, and probably some API changes, to allow apps to ignore tilt-lock for whatever reason. But what people would rather have than an awful kludge is something clever and useful. I hate it when I try to use my iPhone laying down. I wish I had a tilt-lock on it. I'm sure iPod touch users feel the same way. Doesn't Apple want the iBook store to be awesome for their entire touchscreen iDevice line? Some people just aren't going to buy an iPad. But those people could still buy iBooks. Seriously, Apple. Think things through, guys. The iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad are all awesome, and fill slightly different needs, but at their core they're the same device. Also, while I'm on the subject, why the crap are the analog switches on the opposite side from the iPhone? What's wrong with you guys?

Now that I have that out of the way, here are some things they got right and my thoughts on whether or not you should buy an iPad.

Power management. This is something that Apple gets right, and seemingly nobody else in the consumer electronics business has grasped yet. Apple mobile devices manage batter power so much more effectively than any other company, I can hardly understand it. Battery power is EVERYTHING to your mobile device. It's something Apple picked up on when they first put out the iPod, and they've been consistently getting it right ever since.

User interface. The interface is super stylish and awesome, and from Dillinger's desk in TRON to every control surface in Star Trek: The Next Generation, I continue to wonder why more devices aren't being made with super-magic on-the-fly formattable touch screen interfaces.

Are you a mass-transit commuter? Do you spend an hour or so of down time on a bus or train? If yes, the iPad 3G is probably a handy gadget for you to have. Read a book, browse the web, watch a movie, write stuff for work... All on a thing that weighs a pound, and is super awesome and nifty. There's even already a case for it available from Apple that folds out into a triangle so it's oriented on your lap for typing.

Are you a business traveler? You probably need a netbook. The iPad is not intended to replace a laptop, and it can't do everything you want to do on a laptop. It probably should have been intended to replace a laptop, but alas, Apple sells those too.

Do you like to read a lot? The iPad is a little less convenient to carry around than a Kindle, and you probably already own a Kindle. Also, the Kindle's magic etch-a-sketch ink consumes next to zero battery life. You can read a Kindle almost forever on one charge. The iPad's battery lasts +/-10 hours. Don't get me wrong, 10 hours is an amazing feat of power consumption for an iPad. It's just considerably less than forever. Super iPad also costs almost three times as much as a Kindle, and doesn't come with a free global wireless access to its book downloading service.

Are you an Apple fanboy and/or do you love awesome gadgets and have some disposable income? Definitely get one. iPad 2.0 needs your help and financing to be a billion times better than iPad 1.0. Your technolust will do literally every nerd on the planet a favor, because iPad 2.0 is going to be the most amazing thing anyone has ever conceived. iPad 2.0 (and likely that generation of iPhone) will have 2 cameras, one on screen-side for video conferencing and one on the back for augmented reality. iPad 2.0 will have a repulsively huge solid state hard drive, and a couple of USB ports. iPad 2.0 will realize it needs to replace a laptop, and not be an extra unnecessary device. And let me jump back a second. iPad 2.0's cellular phone hardware will replace your home phone, and with a you-facing camera and screen, iPad 2.0 and that generation of iPhone could make video phone calls a reality. That thing that's existed in science fiction forever could finally catch on, and the next generation of iDevice could be what makes it happen.

Get ready to shower daily!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I had plenty of ideas for this week's post. How to buy pants, why you should probably spend more on your haircut, the magnificence of Ghost in the Shell... Plenty of ideas. And then the jerks at Disney put the new trailer for TRON: LEGACY up on their website http://www.program-glitch-esc.net/

Just like that, every nerd fiber in my body was sucked into the black-on-black-horizoned world of TRON.

Last week, when I was preparing to write the Cowboy Bebop article, I was at Best Buy, and saw a 20th Anniversary copy of TRON for only ten bucks, and I bought the hell out of it. When I first found out about TRON: LEGACY, some time last year, I remember searching Best Buy, and finding no copies. Apparently the folks at Disney, in what I consider to be a fairly brilliant move, printed up a bunch of new copies, threw a sticker on them offering a free ticket to Alice in Wonderland, and promoted the LEGACY trailer that shipped out on the first reel of Alice. Double assault on nerds to get us in the seat for Alice.

I mentioned to my roommate that I got TRON on dvd, and he said that he had never seen it, but having heard me talking about how excited I am for LEGACY on numerous occasions over the last year, he suggested we watch it. It is thus that I can safely say, TRON doesn't stand the test of time. It is, in fact, an awful movie of which your fond memories are most likely wrong. Regardless, you will love it as I do. Just be ready for it to suck. The acting is kind of awful, the computer graphics are awful, and there's one goofy shot of this green hand-animated robot thing that isn't even in the movie for any reason.

What TRON does accomplish is this: it stays with you. They created a powerful and detailed setting which lives and breathes, despite the movie's technical limitations. My dad's standard greeting for the past 20 years has been "Greetings, programs!". The entire plot of a super-powered human savior in a computer-generated world was happily stolen/re-imagined into the Matrix. And have you seen Dillinger's desk? I bet Steve Jobs has one just like it and if you own an iPhone, you kind of do too.

Most importantly, TRON opened the door for nearly every nerd-movie you love. The producers convinced Disney to take a chance on something strange and new, and their moderate success helped soften other studios to exploring new technologies. At the time, the MPAA refused to nominate TRON for an effects award because they felt using computers was cheating. But fifteen years later in 1997, Ken Perlin would win a Technical Achievement Oscar for creating a graphical texture (Perlin Noise) used in TRON. This is TRON's true legacy. It was a pioneer in a brand new motion picture art form that was previously unimagined.

Will the sequel blow my mind? I know I can't wait to see the landscapes in IMAX 3D. I know they'll do pokey-outy 3D for discs to come flying at the audience... I accept that, and perhaps even welcome it, if it means I get to see distant glowing cities of light on the double-black horizon, while lightcycles duel in the foreground. I know now, 9 months in advance, that I will be in an IMAX theater at midnight no matter who I have to de-rez to make it happen. I only hope that LEGACY has a little more dialogue and a little better screenplay than its forefather.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

POP CULTURE: Anime Baby Steps

Geeks tend to like animation. Whether it's Batman: The Animated Series, or the latest PIXAR masterpiece, or even obscurities like Galaxy Rangers or Bionic Six, geek imagination responds well to cartoons. Some of you will obviously already be well aware of Japanese animation, having seen Akira on VHS back in college, or maybe you first saw Ninja Scroll or Ghost in the Shell in similar magnetic tape format. Perhaps you got in on the ground floor years ago and like many, you're starting to find recent anime offerings to be lackluster. Personally, I got started with Gundam Wing on Cartoon Network, which at the time I remember really enjoying. Rewatching it recently on DVD, the constant reuse of stock battle scenes really got to me, so I moved on to the next piece of anime in my DVD collection. Cowboy Bebop.

Here's what you need to do. Find a copy of Cowboy Bebop, schedule an hour or two a day for a couple of weeks, and watch it. Will it make you a better nerd? Definitely. Remember, it's your responsibility to know about things that are awesome, and spread those things to others. And Cowboy Bebop is one of the originators of Japanese animated awesomeness.

From the moment you hear the opening theme, this show should have you. And keep that in mind as you watch, because all of the music is composed by Yoko Kanno, and the woman is a genius. I have few complaints about Cowboy Bebop. The two in particular are both the whining of a fanboy more than anything else. I wish there was more Cowboy Bebop in general, and I wish there were more episodes about the arc plot. But these are not actual bad things about the show. They pretty much nail everything. Every character in the series has at least two episodes about their personal story, and several of those will wring tears out of you if you are in fact a living person. The show has five main characters, which to me, seems to be about right for almost any show. More than that, and character roles and personalities start to overlap too much, and it becomes increasingly difficult for a team of writers to compose episodes where all of the characters actually stay in character. Cowboy Bebop also eases you into the characters, starting with only two, and then gradually adding the others.

Here's something else I like about Cowboy Bebop. One of the characters is a dog. And yet, somehow the show remains serious and mature. Ein, the Welsh Corgi "data dog" will make you smile, even as the arc storyline strives to extract your heart through your tear ducts. Ein is frequently teamed up with Ed, the teenage computer hacker who also serves to bring some fun to an otherwise serious show. Spike, Jet and Faye are all about the aforementioned heart wrenching, however. The overall theme of the show is that in the modern world, there's no effective distinction between a friend and a family member. Your family is who you choose and in some cases, who chooses you. This is part of the secret magic of Cowboy Bebop... It's a lot more deep than just a cartoon with a dog who can play Go.

And yes, here is the one stuffed animal that has stayed with me for the past ten or so years of what passes for my adulthood. It's Ein. He's adorable.

Perhaps one of my favorite things about Cowboy Bebop is that the production company told the creator, Shinichiro Watanabe, they wanted him to do something with space ships, and this is what they got. There are all of about 4 episodes that feature space ships, and a couple of brief scenes in the movie. What Watanabe delivers instead of just spaceships is a fully realized vision of a near future where terraforming and interplanetary travel are possible. He takes you from the massive Tokyo-like cities of Mars to the slightly screwed up atmosphere of Venus, to the ruins of Earth, to the colonized moons of Jupiter. And they give you just enough story about how the tech works that it feels like science fiction without being focused on the tech. He gives us a setting that Joss Whedon would later soak up and make his own for Firefly. He makes space cowboys work. I promise you will love it.

You definitely want to get in on the Cowboy Bebop action now, because Fox has signed up the rights, and are currently working with Watanabe, and a number of other producers and writers from the series to create a live-action movie due in 2011, starring Keanu Reaves as Spike. So, watch it soon and enjoy it before you have to take your chances with Hollywood.

...see you @nerdsherpa

Friday, February 26, 2010

GADGETS: How to choose a netbook

Nerds and many other people can find a small portable computer to be extremely useful. Last Saturday, Jenny from Reed (strangely not on twitter) posted something on her facebook page seeking guidance on a netbook purchase. I leaped into action, and posted her some advice. This made me think that there might be others out there in need of netbook advice.

To your left is a picture of my netbook. It's not actually a netbook, mind you, because I bought it in 2006, for roughly 10 times what they currently cost. However, it has something no current netbook offers: a built in optical drive. Yes, I can play and burn CDs and DVDs on my netbook. Also, it has a button on it that boots it directly to CD/DVD playback mode without powering up anything else. It's good for battery power. Plus, it has a James Bond fingerprint scanner, which is pretty excellent when I'm out at a place with wifi, and I have to get up to refill my drink. My laptop is a Sony, but when I got the iPhone, I thought it would be cute to throw the sticker on it and represent. Stickers are an important addition to any laptop. When people see you in the world with your laptop, stickers help them to know you're awesome. Also present, the Evangelion sticker on the top left, my friends' band bottom left, and nerdy t-shirt headquarters, Jinx on the bottom right. I'm entertaining candidates to go diagonally in the open space. Maybe I'll find something good next time I see They Might Be Giants.

 Now, there are a few things you should know before you go to pick out your netbook. Price is a consideration, but netbooks are pretty uniform in cost these days, roughly around $300. Hard drive space is something else to think about. You're generally going to see models with either 160gb or 250gb. Unless your price tag is pinned to the sub-$300 range, it's probably worth it to splurge the extra $50 for the extra hard drive space. As far as CPU, you have two basic options right now. The Intel Atom n270 and the Atom n450. Now, without going into all of the technical details, you can break it down like this: both processors are physically around the size of a quarter, and have pretty similar speeds. The main thing the n450 brings to the table is battery life, and a tiny bit of processing speed. If you're really into using your netbook without external power, the n450 may be worth the little extra money. I personally mostly use mine plugged in unless the four tables with power outlets are all taken when I get to Panera, and when I've had to use it on a bus or train or plane, the battery power is enough to watch at least one movie.

Will it be your only computer? If the answer is yes, you should probably think about spending a little more money and getting a full fledged laptop. Netbooks don't really multi-task effectively. Sure, you can run MS Office, or Firefox, or watch a movie from the hard drive... But you can't really do more than any one of those things at a time. Also, you're definitely not going to be playing any recently released games on your netbook. Also, do you travel much, or like sitting in coffee shops? Then a netbook is a really solid decision. Another tip is don't buy your netbook online. Go to Best Buy or the consumer electronics store of your choice and handle one. Put your fingers on the keyboard and type a bit. Make sure it's comfortable for you. It's going to be strange at first, because the strike depth of the keys is incredibly shallow. But as long as there's room for your hands, and the buttons are far enough apart for you to hit one at a time, you're probably okay. Also, feel the bottom of it. Is it super hot sitting idle in Best Buy? All that heat is generated by electrons sliding through molecules of gold, and those electrons come from the battery. So if it's super hot while not doing much of anything, it may be spending too much battery power on friction. Also, hot keyboards aren't comfortable typing surfaces.

One last thing to consider is this. If the netbook is going to be your second computer, you should think about getting a small external hard drive. Mine is a MyPassport from WD. It draws power over the USB, so you only have one cord to worry about, and it will operate off your computer. As you can see, it fits in the palm of your hand, and weighs almost nothing, so if you have a messenger bag or something to tote your netbook around, the drive will easily fit in a pocket of the bag, and you won't even notice it's there. Of course, if you already have a decent sized iPod, you can just enable disk mode, and use it as your external hard drive. Either way, it will be pleasant to have an external memory device to transfer files quickly between your two computers. I also keep my entire music and photo library backed up on mine, just in case. While you're at it, if the netbook is going to be your only computer, you may want to explore an external USB-powered CD/DVD device. Otherwise, you're not going to be able to watch movies unless you download digital copies to your hard drive. Again, make sure it's USB-powered, so you only have to worry about one more cord. I will say that the only time I really use the optical drive on my netbook is when I want to watch a DVD, and sometimes I'll burn a CD for a someone. Those two uses aren't that frequent though, so think about the last time you put a disc in your computer before spending the extra cash.

If you need someone to hold your hand while you pick out a netbook or any computer hardware, I'm here for you. Just throw me a tweet, email or message on facebook, or leave me a comment here and I'll leap into action as soon as I get it. And sure, I have a super awesome desktop, with a repulsively massive amount of monitor space, and a quad core nehalem cpu, but here I am on my couch, blogging from my netbook.

Last piece of advice! This may seem like common sense, but don't put your new computer away hot. Shut it down and let it cool off before you stick it in your bag of choice. You don't want it to be hot in an enclosed space.

@nerdsherpa, purveyor of portable awesomeness.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

SURVIVAL SKILLS: How to Eat Pancakes

Some of you have doubtless witnessed my pancake eating system firsthand. Still others have seen the movie My Blue Heaven, from which I learned it, many years ago. Regardless, as I spent the first half of the day today at International House of Pancakes on their free short stack of pancakes day, I figured it would make a good blog post. More on the system in a bit, but first, while I'm not usually a sucker for charity type stuff, Lou the owner/operator of my local IHOP stood up and announced on the restaurant PA system, that last year, the people of Brick helped his store become the number two collector nationwide for the Children's Miracle Network charity, and he said that if they pull in $15k today, they would very likely be number one. Like a sucker, I donated twenty bucks. However, since about 95% of the audience for free pancakes were local high school students, I felt like I had to compensate for some of their likely-to-be-awful donations.

Now, on to the system. The basic purpose of the system is to provide an equal amount of syrup to every bite of pancakes through using a moderate amount of prep work up front, instead of whatever mess of a system you currently use. (Dipping, smothering, etc.) At the end of the post, I'll endeavor to post a YouTube video of me actually performing the system on my stack of pancakes, if I can get that to work. Throughout the post, the photos are of my friend Jackie attempting to use the system for the first time.

STEP 1: Apply butter normally, by lifting each pancake, and spreading butter on the one below. This is the only effective way to transmit the butter throughout the stack as it is a solid at room temperature, and when melted it's difficult to control.

STEP 2: Align the stack of pancakes so you have a more or less uniform stack. You don't want to have one of your pancakes too far off center, or step 3 will be far more difficult.

STEP 3: Cut your stack of pancakes as you would a pizza. That is to say, cut it into eighths. Now, your first instinct is going to be to stab your fork tines into the pancakes to stabilize the stack for cutting. This is not recommended. Instead, lay the fork flat (curved side down as shown in the picture) on the pancakes, and cut between the two center tines. This will help mitigate excessive tearing along the edges of your cuts. The goal here is to keep your slices very tight, and keep the stack more or less aligned as described in step 2. A helpful tip for the cutting is to turn your plate and cut the same direction, all the way across the stack every time. Doing this will allow you to make only 4 cuts, and prevent any awkward wrong-handed cutting.

STEP 4: Now you may apply your syrup. Do so at the center of the stack, at the junction of the cuts. The slices you made in step 3 will serve as natural channels, carrying syrup throughout the stack. You may apply as much or as little syrup as you like, and the system should still work.
As you can see from a cross section of my stack above, the system is self-regulating, and does not result in the bottom pancakes being saturated. Through a miracle of science, syrup is transmitted equally through the stack to each piece.

Here is the link for the video: http://youtube.com/nerdsherpa, (Yeah, it goes silent about 30 seconds in. One take, people! Shot on an iPhone! Some day, I'll get editing software.)

@nerdsherpa, philanthropist and carbohydrate engineer.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

POP CULTURE: Going to Conventions

Here is a new responsibility: You need to start attending conventions.

They happen frequently enough that you should be able to hit at least one every three months within a short distance of home. If you live in a major metro area, then you really have no excuse. Last year, when my whole nerd renaissance began, I only attended two conventions. This year, I already have one under my belt, and at least three others on the horizon, but more on that a little later.

Here's why conventions are important. Large quantities of our people assemble, and do things together. Here's something you probably know all too well. Nerds are shy. It is therefore difficult for us to meet others of our kind and form will-to-live-sustaining social relationships. But at conventions, things are different. That cute girl or guy over there? Nerd. He or she is in your league. You have things in common. You can have a conversation. You even probably have some amount of geography in common. I grant you, these revelations may not help you lower the shields and open hailing frequencies, but time and exposure will.

The first con I went to since I resolved to change my life was February 2009 New York Comic Con. My friend @nperkins and I both had new jobs and disposable income, so we decided to get VIP tickets. Worth every penny. We got to avoid lines for screenings, have our own secure coat check area and never had to wait in the giant line to get into the place. If there's a ReedPop event near you this year, get VIP tickets. You'll thank me and see me there.

Now, by my second convention of last year, I was unemployed. The economy smashed the construction industry and my job evaporated so at the last minute, I sent an email to the wonderful Kim at Reed (who I dealt with for the VIP tickets) asking if they still needed volunteers for the New York Anime Festival, which was about a week and a half away. She put me in contact with Michelle (@volunteerdenmom) and we got me on the schedule. By about halfway through the thursday setup for the show, I knew that I would probably not attend any future Reed conventions as a guest. In truth, despite my extensive background of fixing friends' computers and recommending gadgets, movies and television shows, September 2009 is when I really became a Nerd Sherpa.

The fact of my sherpitude was quickly recognized and over the next few days I struggled to learn the names of the staff folks, despite their best efforts to the contrary. (They assured me that @lsett's name was "Gus") And pretty soon, @volunteerdenmom, @crunchysunshine, @littlest_asian and @petertatara were all close friends. You too can make friends at conventions. I can even give further examples!

This past weekend, @dreadpiraterose and alltern8.com gave me tickets to Farpoint, a fan-run sci-fi convention in Baltimore. Since this year's guests included @feliciaday, I knew immediately that I had to take @nperkins, who introduced me to The Guild. Point is, in the 3 days of the convention, we made a handful of new friends by going to panels about things we found interesting. Specifically, @moonrangerlaura, @cmaaarrr and the aforementioned @dreadpiraterose, who I had never met before the show. It was great fun, we got our pictures taken with @feliciaday (Look how pale we both are! Nerds unite!), and we made new friends. And this can happen to you too.

My next convention adventure is PAX East, in Boston in March. (If you want to go, move fast. Tickets will 100% sell out before the day of the show.) I'm super excited for the show because a number of my Boston area friends will be there. Even if volunteering means I won't be able to super spend time with them, it will still be a huge amount of fun. Also a big deal, my friend Scott (@mrmacguffin) will be introducing his independently developed game, All Heroes Die. You should check it out.

A few weeks after PAX, Reed is flying a handful of NY Volunteers with leadership skills out to Chicago to help them whip a new team of volunteers into shape to run Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo aka C2E2. It will be my first time actually in Chicago, and my first business-type trip. No paying job has ever sent me anyplace on a plane, and here I'm volunteering for these people and they're flying me halfway across the country and putting me up in a hotel for a week.

I'll also be volunteering at NYCC 2010, this October, and you should definitely come out for it, wherever you live. The show is going to be bigger than ever before, utilizing the entire Jacob Javits Center, instead of just half like in previous years. Also notable, there will be a symphony orchestra performing the score to The Two Towers while the movie plays on a giant screen over their heads at Radio City Music Hall. If you're a nerd, New York will be the place to be October 8-10.

While reporting on every convention happening everywhere is far beyond the scope of my blog, I can safely tell you this. There are conventions near you, and probably more than one has a topic of interest to you. Use Google. Check one out. I promise you'll thank me later. @nerdsherpa

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

SURVIVAL SKILLS: International Travel

You should get a passport. In fact, if you type "where do I get a" into Google, the first thing it auto-completes is passport. So, you won't be alone. However, since you're already at my page, and a google search seems so far away right now, I'll help. Go here. The Department of State will be happy to tell you what you need, and where you have to go. Basically you have to go down to your county government offices, fill out a form, pay some money, and give them a couple of passport photos. You should get those at Wallmart before you go, it'll be much cheaper than using the local passport photo ripoff shop across the street from the county office.

Why do you need a passport? I will grant you, international travel is pretty expensive. But as a nerd, one of your key responsibilities is to be better than everyone else. You know more stuff, you're not afraid to do more stuff, and when you tell stories of the places you've been, other people will wish they too had gone. So, get a passport. It's not difficult, it's not terribly expensive and it opens a lot of doors.

I've had my passport for a long time and I'm writing this article because this is the year I need to renew it. It'll be a little sad, as it only has 2 stamps in 10 years, but that's still better than most Americans. My stamps are United Kingdom and Japan. I've also been to Scotland (during the UK trip) and Mexico (on a cruise) but neither of those gave stamps. I'll write more about the trips later, but for right now I'm going to talk about how to plan your trip.

There are a few key methods for travel planning. Each time I've gotten a stamp, I've used the same method, and I highly recommend that you try it as well.


For my UK trip in 2002, I bought the plane ticket the Friday before Thanksgiving, and flew out the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Keeping in mind this was when people still weren't flying for terrorism hysteria. The people I worked with all thought I was crazy, and to some extent I was. But I had a friend living in London, and over the course of 3 days we had several wacky adventures (including a day trip to Scotland) with zero pre-planning.

In 2006, I went to Japan for 2 weeks. This time, I booked the trip on Thanksgiving day. I went the the travel agent at Mitsu-wa in Fort Lee, NJ. They were open on Thanksgiving, and the agent was super helpful. I told him I'd like to spend about a week in Tokyo, I would like to go to a hot spring, and then I'd like to spend the rest of the time in Kyoto, and I gave him a price limit for what I was willing to pay for a night in a hotel at each location. He booked it all, including a train (not shinkansen, unfortunately) from Tokyo to the hot spring, and then on to Kyoto, and then a train/flight back from Kyoto to Tokyo for the flight home. So, all I really knew was where I was staying. For what I would do, I bought the Lonely Planet guide to Japan, and their pocket japanese language guide. Booked the trip on Thanksgiving, flew out two weeks later. Also, I speak nearly zero Japanese. I have some food-related vocabulary, but that's mostly it. (More to come on how to survive as a gaijin in Japan later.)

So, winging it has worked out pretty well for me. I highly recommend you try it. Just be smart. Don't go to a country where winging it can lead to an extended incarceration while the State Department negotiates for your freedom.

Another important thing to do on vacation, whether you go alone or with a friend is this: get people to take your picture. Don't settle for shooting a landmark yourself. Get someone else to take a picture of you in front of the landmark. This is something that I haven't been especially good at doing, but next time I go on a trip, I'm going to work on it. The reverse is something I'm good at, and something you should do as well. Offer to take pictures of other people with landmarks. Any time you see someone taking a picture that they should be in, walk up and offer to take the picture for them. I know, nerds are shy, and I am as well. But you're on vacation. Take a vacation from being shy while you're at it. Plus, photography transcends nearly any language barrier. Pointing at their camera and at the landmark will pretty much do the trick.

@nerdsherpa, international man of mystery.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

GADGETS: My guide to Windows 7

In December of 2008, the time had come for me to upgrade my computer. My previous machine, an Alienware Aurora, was the first computer I ever bought. Before that, I had only ever built them myself out of components. When I got that one, I had a spiffy job, with comparatively low expenses and high disposable income. I got it specifically to blow away the system requirements of Half-Life 2, and it did so admirably. But time marches on, and when you add up the 2-3 years since I built the computer before that, and the 5-6 years the Aurora continued to kick ass, I had been out of the computer manufacturing business for almost a decade. Thus, a little over a year ago, I felt it was high time I jumped back in.

I consulted with my friend Tadd, who is an incredible PC resource, and got a ton of advice from him. About the only piece of advice of his I didn't take was not to get dual video cards. I was excited to have a cutting edge machine, and I was way too attached to the dual video card thing to accept his advice, so I went with a pair of ATI 4800 series cards. Beautiful card I got, too. I don't remember the manufacturer, but they didn't do that thing most ATI cards do: encase the heat sink in plastic. I get that they want to focus airflow across it in a certain way, but essentially all they're doing is building a little box to store dust. I also picked up one of the new Intel i7 series chips, the Nehalem, I think it was called. Something wierd like that. 2.67 gigs of quad core power. This computer, even a year later, is still a beast. And now, that Win7 is out there, it actually has a chance of using the other 3 cores that XP never really tapped.

And this was my long term plan when I built the machine. Knowing Win7 was on the horizon, I figured buying a quad core that XP couldn't use would basically be getting myself a brand new computer in a year when the new OS hit the market. I felt it was a sensible investment, especially since the march of CPU speed increases has slowed down in the past couple of years.

Now Win7 has been out for a few months, long enough for me to get past the Is-it-Vista? stage. A few of my friends got it running on their machines, and they love it. So I decided this week that I was ready. I went out, picked up a new external drive to back everything up, and got a copy of the Home Premium Upgrade. At first the guy at Best Buy didn't think I could use the upgrade, he thought I had to buy a full version. He was wrong. The issue is that there's no direct upgrade path from XP to 7. This is Microsoft being a jerk to people who (wisely or luckily) avoided jumping on the grenade of Vista, nothing more. So, you have to do like three more steps to install it and follow the directions on a card they include in the box. Really, they're shooting themselves in the foot, because probably most people who had to upgrade from XP to 7 needed to call tech support.

Myself included.

Having backed everything up, I went into BIOS to change my boot device priority (here is where most XP users trying to upgrade would begin to have problems and call Tech Support... STEP 1 of the process.) from HDD to optical drive. I've been fiddling with BIOS since the late 80s, so not a big deal. Boom, the system boots from the DVD, and I use the custom install button. I delete my partition and create a new one (Goodbye old data!). And click for it to install. I starts cooking. In like 10 minutes, it says it's finished, and just needs to restart. I will say this: a fresh install of Win7 is FAST. So it restarts, almost makes it to an operating system, and then my screen goes black.

I've done the whole upgrade your Microsoft Operating System dance before. At one of my previous jobs, I made the horrible mistake of trusting Microsoft and upgrading all of my work computers to WinME. It took me two days to get those machines back to 98 so that our office network would function again.

So, I didn't panic. I figured it was just a hiccup, and I decided to just start over, since everything was so fast from start to the point where it stopped working. And I duplicated results. In troubleshooting, being able to duplicate an issue is a good thing. It means there's definitely a cause that you can isolate. However, as there are an extremely limited number of options in the Win7 setup, there wasn't really anything I could be doing wrong. Fearful of it being a hardware incompatibility issue, I knew I had to resort to the Tech Support phone number.

Guess what! After almost three hours on the phone with tech support, we worked out that it was... Wait for it... My Crossfire video card setup had returned to bite me in the ass. Although there is a Win7 Catalyst driver, the Win7 setup has no idea what to do with dual video cards, so it responds, quite naturally, by crapping the bed. Now, for those of you out there waiting to upgrade from XP to 7, with multiple linked video cards, this is what you need to know: After the restart fails, if you restart again, and bypass the DVD, it will go to a BOOTMGR screen, asking you if you want to try to load Windows 7 or an "Earlier Version of Windows", which... Well, I never tried, but I'm pretty sure I had nuked that earlier version when I deleted my partition. I'm pretty sure that option wouldn't have done anything. (Anyone remember ABORT, RETRY, FAIL?) Regardless, neither of those options is correct. Instead, you need to hit F8. Yeah, I think it says somewhere on the screen that you can hit F8 for more options, but it's not super obvious. Then you need to select "Low Resolution (640x480) Mode". It'll disable one of your video cards and load up with a bare bones driver, and the first thing Win7 will do is connect to the internet, download the latest driver, and spasm in a terrifying manner for a few moments while it figures out the score. Then, all of the sudden, your one working monitor will black out, and both will come back on, and after a few seconds of panic, you will be able to fiddle with the extended desktop and monitor layout options, like you used to.

Took almost three hours for the tech guy to help me figure that out. Good thing MS outsourced that job... Otherwise, the tech guy's hourly salary would have cost more than the copy of Win7 that I bought. Oh, or they could have just made a direct upgrade path from XP to Win7. Probably would have saved them money to be cool. Good job, MS! Spend a ton of cash on being jerks!

The good news is, once I spent an afternoon sorting out my installation, the OS is great. It's fast, has some neat features, and I'm sure it's wonderful in a number of behind-the-scenes ways. I do wish it had some support for doing neat things with multiple monitors. Maybe it does, and I just haven't figured them out yet. For example, I would like, if I'm watching a movie fullscreen on Monitor 1, for Monitors 2 and 3 to be able to go to screensaver, so I don't have to obsess over what new tweets or facebook updates are happening on my browser window. It might already be able to do this, mind you, and I just haven't figured it out. If I do, you'll be the first to know.

Then, after I did the XP-Win7 upgrade, the next day, my friend Kate brought her laptop over, and we upgraded hers from Vista to Win7. This process was much simpler, especially since her laptop came with a free upgrade, because she bought it just before Win7 hit the market. She took my advice back then, and got a dual core CPU so that a few months later when Win7 came out, it would be like getting a bonus faster computer. Toshiba made this upgrade process super easy by including a special software package to upgrade all of their hardware-specific software at the same time as doing the Win7 install. This install went super super smoothly. Took us most of the afternoon, but we were playing Rock Band while it did it, so no biggie. Not a single hitch at any point in the process. So, if you were unlucky and got stuck with Vista, at least Microsoft has thrown you a bone and made it incredibly simple to get Win7 running on your machine.

Anyway, if you're running XP or Vista, you should do yourself a favor and upgrade to Win7, especially if you have a multi-core CPU. Don't buy a full version! The upgrade disc is all you need. The process is pretty simple, and the most time consuming part (assuming you don't have any difficult-to-solve high-end hardware problems) is copying your important files to an external hard drive at 480mb/s.

My name is @nerdsherpa, and I'm a PC.

Friday, February 5, 2010


How does one become a Nerd Sherpa?

For me, it started early. By age 4 or so, I was playing Combat against my sister on the ATARI 2600. By age 7, I had moved on to the King's Quest series on the old 286. I seem to remember the machine being somewhere around 4-6 megahertz, and maybe 8 or 10 on Turbo. Of course, kicking it up to 10 megahertz made most games far too fast to play. Around age 10, my dad taught me to build my first PC. It was a 386, 12 megahertz! That thing was a monster. A few years later, Wing Commander was released, and in order to get it to run on my computer, we had to go buy this giant surfboard of an expansion card so we could install more ram. Friggin game took two kinds of ram (extended and expanded, or something like that).

Eventually, I would build many other computers, be the first person I knew to get an mp3 player (the old blue and gray Creative NOMAD), and somewhere in there, I became the go-to nerd for computer and gadget issues for most everyone I knew.

I like the idea of comics, but in practice I'm mostly an animation junkie. I consider myself super lucky to have been the exact right age to get in on the ground floor with Batman: The Animated Series. Kevin Conroy is my Batman. Then the saturday morning X-Men cartoon came along and transcended time and space to ruin all three future movies. Flash forward to the late 90s: Cartoon Network began importing animation from Japan. Of course some other outlets had done it before. I vaguely remember watching Robotech as a tinyperson. And there was Ninja Scroll, Akira and Ghost in the Shell on VHS. I remember Saturday Anime on the SciFi Channel, but they pretty much blew it. What really did it for me was Gundam Wing on Adult Swim. Then came Cowboy Bebop and a few others.

Of course I also like movies, music and tons of TV, but we'll get to more on that stuff later. The common denominator is that I like my pop culture to tell me a story. Make me feel stuff. Trust me, you'll like it to do that too.

You cannot live on Ramen alone, though lately I'm making a pretty good run at it. You need many other things to keep you alive as a person, and not some shoddy facsimile thereof. Many nerds fail in this area, but I have long held that I'm the sort of nerd who makes a reasonable impression on outsiders. There are many things that can make being a nerd bearable. Travel. Hygiene. Alcohol consumption.

Now, I'll grant you, up until about a year ago, I wasn't doing much more than subsisting in this area. But lately, I've turned things around, and made fairly aggressive progress on the learning curve. Hang in there, I can help.

Gentlemen, BEHOLD:
My sherping credentials in brief.
Follow me on Twitter, and I'll let you know when new posts happen. And what I'm watching on TV. Or what I'm having for lunch. (Hint: It's usually Ramen) @nerdsherpa