Saturday, November 5, 2011

Support Indie Game Developers and Worthy Charities via the Humble Bundle

As I've mentioned before, my household (-christy) are big fans of Minecraft. This game is probably the most successful example of an indie game that went on to make millions. Many times we're so enamored with the big game studios that we forget that there are many talented and innovative smaller efforts in the market. One cool way to support these earnest code monkeys, is to buy bundles of their games that appear in the Humble Bundle (aka the Humble Indie Bundle)!

I'll let Wikipedia do the summary here...
The Humble Indie Bundles or Humble Bundles are a series of game bundling experiments that allow users to purchase collections of multi-platform DRM-free independently developed video gamesonline in a "Pay what you want" manner, with proceeds bypassing middlemen and going directly to the indie developers and charities. The first bundle was organized and managed by Wolfire Games. Beginning with the second bundle a separate company spun-off, Humble Bundle, Inc., with the sole purpose of making bundles. The bundles are made available for purchase during limited time frames. Purchasers are able to set how much they wish to pay for the bundles and how they want their money to be distributed between the games' developers and two charities: Child's Play and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The games in the bundles run on Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux-based systems and are digitally distributed without digital rights management (DRM) controls.[1] Five bundle drives have been completed to date, breaking over $7 million in total sale and charitable donations.
Right now they are offering a great new version featuring some cool games:
  • Voxatron - an old-school, pixelated platform shooter that has cute hip graphic styling. This game was created by Joseph White and his team at game developer Lexaloffle. The tiny pixel peashooter bullets are awesome, and so are the pixelated explosion effects. If you're old-school like me, you'll notice nods to Robotron, Diablo, game boy adventure games, and many other classics. As an added bonus, it has very cool level building tools and user generated content options.

  • Blocks that Matter - Here's a very cool platform puzzler featuring a tiny driller robot named "Tetrobot". This game was created by Swing Swing Submarine - a small French game company owned by William David and Guillame Martin.  In a sly nod to creative rights, Tetrobot travels through underground puzzles to save his creators who were captured by someone trying to steal their work! It's a Tetris and Minecraft mashup that you'll really enjoy playing.

Please support the Humble Bundle! It's an excellent way to support worthy charities and the creativity of indie game developers. The latest bundle features the games above plus the game, "The Binding of Isaac". Pull out your e-wallets and buy now!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The End is Nigh!

Why go for a bike ride, when our robot overlords can ride the bike for you!?! I love this little guy, especially when he's taking a break and checking out the scenery. I kept wondering, "Where is he going?"

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Good Reads for Geeks

Hey, long time no talk... Here are some good reads for you sci-fi-techno-robot-lovin'-gamer geeks out there...

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - This is mandatory reading if you grew up in the 80s. The setting is a realistic future where most of society has entertained ourselves to death, depleted all of our natural resources, and is now addicted to a massively multiplayer online game. In this future, virtual worlds are preferred over the slum-like existence of real life. When the fabled creator of this game dies, he leaves his fortune up for grabs to his avatar-based universe. All people have to do is solve the multi-level quest that he's developed, most of which surrounds his obsessions with 80's technology, video games, and popular culture. Of course, there's the pre-requisite large corporation beating down on the rebels - but it is really well done. If you ever fallen prey to addictive MMORPGs you'll really enjoy this ride. Essentially, Cline has produced a love letter to the 80's in the form of an epic adventure quest. However, underneath the high speed chase there is a sly commentary about life online - how we make our online personas appear more interesting than they really are (ahem... facebook), the depressive qualities of comparing online skills/physique to the stereotypical obese and clumsy gamer, and ultimately the acceptance of who you are sans virtual reality.

Robopocalypse: A Novel by Daniel Wilson - This is one of those books where the plot is so tight and momentous that it is hard to put the book down once you get started. Told from the perspective of a soldier who is archiving events after the end of the ultimate humans vs. robots war, we get small interrelated stories that show the start of the robot revolt all the way through human triumph. Wilson does a great job creating robots that are both hilarious and creepy. It's not hard to imagine that we would give so much of our boring, task-focused lives over to automatons. More difficult is the notion that we are trusting machines to do so much without realizing that we're ultimately giving up control of our world. This book has larger than life characters, an evil robot overlord, and an ample serving of ass kicking revenge. It's the classic theme of a dwindling human race with their backs against the wall fighting back... Loved it.

REAMDE: A Novel by Neal Stephenson - Stephenson is one of my favorite authors. If I sound like a fanboy please forgive me. A while back I did a post about his last book, Anathem. This novel is set in the Pacific Northwest and features some of my old haunts, so it's such a joy to build an image in my mind while I read this book. REAMDE is also focused on gaming, and specifically a MMORPG named T'Rain (think of World of Warcraft on steroids). REAMDE refers to a virus that infects online players. It's primarily delivered through Microsoft Outlook (hilarious) and encrypts victim's hard drives and requires them to pay a ransom to young and brilliant Chinese (online) gold farmers which they convert into real cash.  Stephenson is the master of weaving several story lines into a huge ball of compelling madness. There are so many bizarre and wonderfully complex characters in this book, you could easily make many movies out of all the story lines. I'm 3/4 of the way through this epic 1,056 page novel and it's maddeningly intricate but hard to put down.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Serpent's Coil Book Signing at Barnes & Noble, Wed 7/27 @ 6pm

Hey locals! Christy is doing a reading and signing at the Medford Barnes & Noble store on Wednesday night, July 27th at 6pm to celebrate the release of her new book, "The Serpent's Coil - Prophecy of Days Book II". WhiThe store is located at 1400 Biddle Road. We're handing out cool new PoD bookmarks from the series, and I'm sure there'll be a staged question from 7 year old Hank that's posed in a earnest manner. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

EJCGC - Episode IX - Home Sweet Home

We pulled our last leg today... Sparks Nevada to our little burg in Ashland, Oregon. It's great to be home! On our way we stopped at Burney Falls just outside of Mount Shasta. Teddy Roosevelt once declared this the "Eighth Wonder of the World!" I think he had too many beers that day. However, it is an awesome sight...

This was an amazing trip. The kids and I are dog tired, but we saw so much and learned so many new things. Special thanks to my parents for the sweet ride, and a lot of love and patience. We created some great memories!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

EJCGC - Episode VIII - Military Activity in Nevada

Whoa... More desert, and more desert, and more desert! Today's trek was a bleak look at the Nevada wilderness. Based on our alien experience at Longstreet Casino, it made sense that we were perched on the edge of a huge military reserve and the infamous Area 51. The military picked the right place, it's in the middle of nowhere and it's impossible to get to - range after range of plus 100 degree desert and mountains, no water, just death, death death!

We started today's leg in the Amargosa Valley, through Goldfield, Mina, Hawthorne, Fallon and finally stopping in Sparks - a suburb of Reno. The landscape was empty and hot and full of weird minerals and salty, shallow lakes. Here's the route, note the similarities with the pic above...

Sadly, we went through several mining towns that are all but dying, particularly Goldfield and Mina - beautiful buildings from the 1800's that are near condemnation. We drove through Hawthorne and saw a weird set of bunkers and odd, ghostly warehouses. We slowly realized that Hawthorne Nevada is a U.S. Army Depot where ammunition is made, tested and stored. Endless rows of ammunition bunkers dot both sides of the road. According to Wikipedia, "The depot covers 147,000 acres and has 600,000 square feet of storage space in 2,427 bunkers. It is said to be the largest such facility in the world." Friendly! Here's a pic...

Just to the north of Hawthorne is Walker Lake. The East Walker river drains into it and over the past 20 years has become shallower and shallower. The lake is about 18 miles long and about 8 miles wide the longer axis running north and south. Walker lake is very salty and as of 2004 the salinity of the lake made it difficult for native fish to live. In addition, irrigation has made the water level drop over 140 feet over the past century. That said, it is a beautiful body of water. Here's a pic from the car...

The RV park we're staying in tonight is in the shadow of a large casino and on the shores of the Truckee River - a perfect end to a bizzare day in Nevada. We're on the homestretch to Ashland tomorrow. Can't wait to see my beautiful wife, and our needy cat!

Friday, July 22, 2011

EJCGC - Episode VII - Amargosa Valley

Weird day and a lot of miles in the desert... Today we traveled from Sedona, up through Kingman Arizona, on to Viva Lost Wages (Las Vegas) and eventually to the Amargosa Valley. Tonight we are staying in a border town in the middle of nowhere - Longstreet RV and Casino!

Death Valley National Park is just around the corner, and I've got to admit that this is one of the most remote places I've ever been to. We got out of the RV to a dry 100+ degree wind, and not a cloud in the sky. Here's what greeted us...

The RV park was a madhouse of activity (wink)! Hank's reaction in this photo is a classic that I will always remember...

Thankfully one other RV showed up or we would have been robbed by ancient pioneer ghost bandits. One added bonus is that they had a massive cow... which Juliet and Hank tried to milk...

Luckily they have a car wash... just in case we needed it...

That is all...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

EJCGC - Episode VI - Slide Rock State Park

Another great day. We drove up the canyon early and went to Slide Rock State Park. This is a really interesting rock formation that creates little natural pools and water slides. Here's a blurb about it from the Arizona State Parks web site:
Slide Rock State Park, originally the Pendley Homestead, is a 43-acre historic apple farm located in Oak Creek Canyon. Frank L. Pendley, having arrived in the canyon in 1907, formally acquired the land under the Homestead Act in 1910. Due to his pioneering innovation, he succeeded where others failed by establishing a unique irrigation system still in use by the park today. This allowed Pendley to plant his first apple orchard in 1912, beginning the pattern of agricultural development that has dominated the site since that time. Pendley also grew garden produce and kept some livestock.
You can still see the Pendley Homestead where apples were packaged and several other cabins. My brother and I spotted some of the tin irrigation ditches that he build in the cliffs above, crazy engineering and rudimentary materials. If you have kids I highly recommend this park, it's a lot of fun. Hank and Juliet swam non-stop for three hours (we're a little crispy from the sun today). Here's a picture collage and a little movie of the kids sliding around. We're going to spend another day in Sedona tomorrow before we depart for Las Vegas, so I'm going to skip posting anything on Thursday. Really tired but very happy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

EJCGC - Episode V - Sedona

Beautiful drive from Williams to Sedona today. Yesterday we had a few thunderstorms, but today was crystal clear until some clouds moved in late in the day. The landscape of Sedona is awesome - contrasting deep reds and greens everywhere. We had a snack in the old Tlaquepaque shopping area. Sedona reminds me of Sante Fe, many high end clientele. We are in the shadow of Snoopy Rock in the Rancho Sedona RV Park. Here's a map...

It was very hot and humid today, so we took a swim in the river nearby (see below). The rock formations are amazingly cool. Here are some pics from our day...

Monday, July 18, 2011

EJCGC - Episode IV - The Grand Canyon!

We met my brother and his family in Williams last night, and today we hit the sweet spot - the Grand Canyon! Instead of driving in, we decided to take the Grand Canyon railway which is a very cool vintage train that drops you off in the south rim of the canyon. I'll let the pictures do the talking...

I'm not sure why, but I felt really patriotic during our visit. I saw hundreds of people from all over the world at the edge of the canyon. It made me realize how beautiful our country is, how epic our landscape is, and how lucky we are as Americans to live in this country.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

EJCGC - Episode III - California Water War

Today was a big road day... We drove many miles down highway 395 - parallel to Death Valley, and eventually took a left at Barstow to head east on to Williams, Arizona. Not much to report but I did find out something interesting about this area. On a early morning hike into the hills above Lone Pine, I came across this huge canal behind a tall fence line with barbed wire...

I thought this was curious, but I didn't really think much about it until I saw this...

As Hank would say, "What in the nether?!?" Los Angeles is 230 miles south and east of Lone Pine. When I got back to the RV, we looked it up and it's a grave story. Here's some info on the Owens Valley from Wikipedia:
In the early 20th century, the valley became the scene of a struggle between local residents and the city of Los Angeles over water rights. William Mulholland, superintendent of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) planned the 223 miles (359 km) Los Angeles Aqueduct, completed in 1913, which diverted water from the Owens River. Much of the water rights were acquired through subterfuge, with purchases splitting water cooperatives and pitting neighbors against each other. The purchases led to anger among local farmers, which erupted in violence in 1924, when parts of the water system were sabotaged by local farmers.

Eventually Los Angeles acquired a large fraction of the water rights to over 300,000 acres of land in the valley such that inflows to Owens Lake were almost completely diverted... In 1970, LADWP completed a second aqueduct from Owens Valley. More surface water was diverted and groundwater was pumped to feed the aqueduct. Owens Valley springs and seeps dried and disappeared, and groundwater-dependent vegetation began to die.
Essentially, to supply the development of Los Angeles, the city stole all the water from this valley. Although the farmers got paid, it devastated the region and several lakes dried up and the farm lands closed. This aqueduct supplies about 50% of the water to the Los Angeles viaduct. It makes you wonder how LA is going to fair in the coming decades. Regardless, here's a beautiful shot of the mountains above Lone Pine - I was impressed with this town, small but large in character!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

EJCGC - Episode II - Lone Pine

We are in Lone Pine, California... a cute little town of about 2,000 people that sits in the shadow of Mt. Whitney, which at 14k feet is the highest mountain in the contiguous states. The landscape here is really stunning, a huge line of mountains that seem to drop straight down to a flat desert valley. Whitney and Lone Pine Peak are at the bottom end of the Sierra Nevada range, and part of the John Muir Wilderness. Here's a pic of Mt. Whitney from Wikipedia...

I'm realizing that this area is rich in history, and I was completely ignorant about it before the trip. Today we started south on highway 395 from Carson City, through Mono Lake (where gas costs 4.65 a gallon!). At a rest stop near Mammoth Lakes I learned about the "Lost Cement Mine", a legendary huge gold mine in the area that even Mark Twain searched for in the 1860's. The plaque pictured here is really funny, it basically states that if you find it to contact the authorities so that they can put this marker in the right spot. Uh, yea sure, I'm going to contact the government if I find the mother lode!

Lone Pine itself has some interesting history as well. In the late 1800's much of the town was destroyed by a massive earthquake that killed about 10% of its residents. During World War II the Manzanar War Relocation Center held Japanese Americans in internment camps. This facility has been turned into a National Monument and I'm hoping that the visitor center is educating Americans about our shameful practice during this time. Lastly, the town of Lone Pine has an annual film festival celebrating all of the westerns that were filmed in this scenic area, including 13 John Wayne films, Roy Rogers, and many other famous films. The nearby dry lake beds have also been the setting for several cool sci-fi films including Tremors, and Star Trek 5.

Tomorrow, we're continuing through the desert on to Barstow and then crossing over into Arizona for a stay at Williams - our Grand Canyon launching point!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Epic Journey to the Center of the Grand Canyon - Episode I

Greetings from Carson City, Nevada! The kids and I are in an RV with my parents and we are headed to the Grand Canyon. Today we left Jacksonville in my folks plush 30 footer (CRV in tow). This is a really kick-back way to travel, I particularly like the couch. It was a beautiful day, we passed by Mount Shasta, travelled down through Reno and ended in Carson City.
Speaking of... This is an interesting town that became a city based on a huge silver ore mine called the Comstock Lode nearby. During the Civil War, Nevada became a state and declared Carson City as it's permanent capitol. The city also has it's own mint - how cool is that! It's pictured to the right. 50 issues of silver coins and 57 issues of gold coins were minted here between 1870 and 1893 bearing the "CC" mint mark. The mint was established in Carson City to facilitate minting of silver coins from silver in the Comstock Lode. Now it serves as the Nevada State Museum. Another piece of random trivia - the old Bonanza TV show's "Ponderosa Ranch" was placed in this region just south of Carson City. This region definitely has an olde west twang to it.
Tomorrow, we're off to Death Valley!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Serpent's Coil: Prophecy of Days - Book II

Yesterday was a big day around the Raedeke house, as Christy's second book arrived in the mail! Amazon is now shipping the second book in her Prophecy of Days series, The Serpent's Coil. Here's the description from Amazon (no spoilers!):
After discovering that Uncle Li betrayed her and the Fraternitas Regni Occulti burned down her family’s house, Caity Mac Fireland retreats to a boarding school that allows her to travel around the globe. With the murderous Fraternitas hot on her heels, Caity continues to mobilize the planet’s young people as she attempts to fulfill the Mayan prophecy. Helping—and sometimes hindering— Caity in her quest are her best friend Justine, boyfriend Alex, and new classmate Jules D’Aubigne, an intriguing French boy.

Can Caity end the devastating global reign of the Fraternitas and save the world?
...and, of course, the book features my favorite character Mr. Papers - a super smart monkey who can communicate via origami. In this book he pulls out some surprise ninja skills from his past. I keep begging Christy to let me pen the "History of Mr. Papers" to expose his epic and legendary life story. Maybe someday he'll get his well-deserved spotlight.

Congrats to my beautiful, funny, and talented wife for another notch in her writing career. The kids and I are very proud of your work. I'm also in awe of your ability to juggle being a mom, a writer, and your secret life as a military marketing maven! They should write a book on your weird and wonderful life - it's been a truly unique journey.

As you would expect, I highly recommend Christy's books and they are very inexpensive at $9.95 each! Support Christy's work, and buy the set on

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Promise of The Khan Academy

As you've probably noticed from my blog posts, I believe that public education is in the process of a complete reboot. The current system is undergoing a sea change caused by a lack of state and federal funding, a mistaken obsession with standardized tests as a demonstration of adequate knowledge, an unsustainable teacher retirement system, and most recently an economy that doesn't really support the road map to success that we've espoused for 100 years - get a high school diploma, get a four year liberal arts degree, get high paying job, live the American dream.

Amidst all of this educational noise, there is also a fundamental shift going on in the clients that the system serves - the students. Technology is the catalyst that allows students to endlessly entertain themselves, to access information from any source at any moment, and ultimately to bypass that boring teacher who stands up in front of the class and lectures for 70 minutes every day. Like it or not, teachers are in competition for attention in the same way that major media outlets compete for our listeners, viewers, and ad dollars. Agreed that students must have the desire to learn and not just play. But the internet opens up resources for kids that the education system must learn to incorporate.

If you haven't done so, please check out the Khan Academy. Quoting their site, "Khan Academy is a free world-class education for anyone anywhere. The Khan Academy is an organization on a mission. We're a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere. All of the site's resources are available to anyone. It doesn't matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology. The Khan Academy's materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge."

The Khan Academy is the brainchild of Salman Khan, a first generation American who was an educational star in his own right receiving degrees from MIT and Harvard. What's cool about Salman is that he rejected a high-paying career in finance to start this adventure in online education. His site features over 2,100 videos and self-paced exercises on core tenets of math, science, and the humanities. He also provides cool features like knowledge maps, instant user stats, and some traditional gaming features like achievements/badges. Akin to his methods, why not check out this Ted video and get the deets from the horses mouth instead of letting me ramble:

Bravo! Now... if only our public education systems can find a way to embrace this awesomeness! I can imagine an educational future where students choose their own teachers, are offered endless opportunities and access to materials and practice, and ultimately drive their own educational path. We can get started now by supporting this site as a complimentary practice to classroom-based learning. We have an old saying at school that you'll hear out of many teachers' mouths, "I am a life long learner." As cheesy as this sounds, it's a transformative lifestyle. I encourage all of you to take one sample lesson at The Khan Academy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Value of a Skilled Workforce - Part Deux

Here's a great example of a necessary, valuable, and beautiful skill in the trades - pinstriping! We can't all do this, but what an amazing skill. The human hand is a powerful thing. He's like Bob Ross on steroids! This video is mesmerizing... I could watch this all day.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Speed Riding Down the Eiger

This is insane! Thanks to the magic of helmet cams and YouTube, I can mow my lawn today and go for a virtual thrill ride! Try to hold your lunch down as you view this...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Value of a Skilled Workforce

My apologies, this blog was truly a ghost town over the past two months. This spring has been particularly hard at work. I feel like my high school just survived the perfect storm and we're laying around on the beach trying to spit out salt water and catch our breath. Like many schools in Oregon, we're trying to survive on fewer dollars which ultimately means fewer teachers and fewer elective programs. Let me explain why your son or daughter will experience reduced opportunities for elective study in the coming decade.

As the state ratchets up graduation requirements (which I support), there's a tendency to apply more teaching staff to students who are struggling to pass state tests (which I do not support). In Oregon, all high school students are required to pass math and english state assessments as a graduation requirement. Students at my high school who do not pass these tests by their sophomore year are usually enrolled in a "Math Skills" or "Lit Skills" course until they achieve a passing score. This is in addition to their regular english and math class in a given semester, and at the expense of an elective course. Although the teaching quality and intention are honorable, this is largely perceived as a joke by our students. Students refer to these classes as "Math Jail" and other less appropriate nicknames. Apt for the metaphor, when students pass the test they are released from these classes but usually too late to join an elective class in progress. In theory, I support this practice. Yes, I want all graduates to be literate and capable in math. But this practice has dangerous repercussions. Elective teachers are usually the first heads on the chopping block when cuts are made, which means programs get closed and there are fewer elective opportunities for students.

I'm the head of the Career and Technical Education department at our school, which is commonly referred to as "CTE". We encompass all the vocational electives you took when you were in high school - Business, Technology, Culinary Arts, Auto, Metals, Woods, Drafting, etc. We teach reading, writing, vocabulary and math as a standard part of our curriculum, yet we've had a very hard time keeping these programs open amidst shrinking state funding and higher graduation requirements. My job is not at risk. I've been teaching now for a decade, which based on our union contract puts me out of harms way (can't get into unions, Wisconsin, and all those nightmares in this post!) However, we've had a hard time keeping younger CTE teachers employed, and retirees are rarely replaced. As a result, high schools end up offering elective programs based on "who's left to teach?" rather than, "what's best for our students?" If you've ever wondered why your local high school offers culinary arts but not automotive or metals courses, this is probably why. We are not aligned with the demands of the local economy. For example, I teach computer science and digital media. Realistically my students should move to San Francisco, Portland, or Seattle if they want jobs.

A peek into national averages shows that only 25% of U.S. students attempt a four year institution after high school, and even fewer graduate with a college degree. Sad, but true - high schools are preparing kids for a post-secondary college pathway that most students do not choose to travel. As a result of this trend, my elective staff has aligned ourselves tightly with two year associate degrees and one year certificate programs at our local community college. However, I'm not sure that students see their career path clearly. I think we have a long way to go. This troubling data point gets me thinking about 75% of our current graduating class. What are three out of four grads going to do when they leave high school?

Mike Rowe, of “Dirty Jobs” fame, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation last month as part of their hearing on "Manufacturing Our Way to a Stronger Economy". He talked at length about America’s lack of skilled tradespeople, and the fact that we will need young people to work in trades to maintain our service-oriented lifestyle. In this excerpt, he addresses the skills gap in our country and how high schools are part of the problem:
I believe we need a national PR Campaign for Skilled Labor. A big one. Something that addresses the widening Skills Gap head on, and reconnects the country with the most important part of our workforce. Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The Skills Gap is real, and it’s getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled tradesmen are over 55. They’re retiring fast, and no one is there to replace them. Alabama’s not alone. A few months ago in Atlanta I ran into Tom Vilsack, our Secretary of Agriculture. Tom told me about a governor who was unable to move forward on the construction of a power plant. The reason was telling. It wasn’t a lack of funds. It wasn’t a lack of support. It was a lack of qualified welders.

In general, we’re surprised that high unemployment can exist at the same time as a skilled labor shortage. We shouldn’t be. We’ve pretty much guaranteed it. In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of “higher education” to such a lofty perch, that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled “alternative.” Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as “vocational consolation prizes,” best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.
Mike’s words are a excellent reminder that we need to hold on to high school programs that teach skilled trades and a connection to the world of work. Moreover, how about teaching literacy and math in a relevant and applied manner through CTE courses instead of doubling-up on traditional english and math classes? If you are a parent, I urge you to redefine your own high school "shop" experience and see the potential value in training your own child for a skilled trade through high school CTE programs. There are good paying jobs for young people who have the specific skills that our economy needs.

Check out Mike's full testimony here... Inspiring stuff!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Where are my robot assistants?

I enjoy sites that look back on the past - particularly when it comes to technology and innovation. I recently found a cool blog that covers a number of tech-related topics from popular magazines such as Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, LIFE, the Saturday Evening Post and many others. Check it out at: The only contact info I could find is an email to "charlie" from Regardless, he's done an excellent job collecting cool stories and ads from the past.

I was born in 1965, and for most of my life sci-fi movies and novels promised personal robots and hoverboards by the year 2000. This internet thing is nice and all, but WHERE ARE MY PERSONAL ROBOTS AND MY HOVERBOARD!?! Space travel was also supposed to be common place by this time. Based on NASA's lack of support from our federal government, maybe Richard Branson and other private industries are our only hope.

Back to the subject. Here's a great article from Mechanix Illustrated in January of 1953 stating that "You'll Own 'Slaves' by 1965" Robot slaves that is... note the difference in cultural sensitivity in '53 in this quote from the article, "In 1863, Abe Lincoln freed the slaves. But by 1965, slavery will be back! We’ll all have personal slaves again, only this time we won’t fight a Civil War over them. Slavery will be here to stay..." What!?! Huzzah slavery!?! Nowadays, we would clearly call these robots "assistants". Check out the awesome robot below who's dressing modern man while shining his shoes at the same time. He's clearly superior to the lowly foodbot bowing at man's feet.

If you read the text, you'll hear of a relaxing lifestyle where the everyday trog-like labors of life are taken care of by our gentle robot friends. I appreciate the certainty of the last line of the article, "One thing is certain, the robots are coming. The wonders of electronics will dominate every phase of our future life to make it more successful and pleasurable for everyone who lives on Earth." You can catch the full text and all of the page images on Charlie's blog here. Like Tom Bodett, I'll leave the light on waiting for my robot pals to arrive.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Spat on Tattoine

Here's a much-needed humorous break from the harsh reality of Japan and Libya today. I love the costumes here... and the final sad comment from R2-D2.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Scenes of Terror: Japan's Earthquake and Tsunami

Love it or hate it, the Internet allows you to get a first hand view of disaster in a way that was not possible in the past. I've been watching many different first person accounts of the devastation on youtube. Here are some of the most jaw-dropping scenes... It's like a real-life Jerry Bruckheimer film. I can't imagine what the people of Japan are doing to cope with all of this madness. It's terrifying.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bike Prototypes: It's a Minimalist 36er!

Our mustachioed, bowler-wearing forefathers straddled some hilarious bikes in their time. You've probably seen the classic gigantic front wheel, tiny back wheel version pictured here from the turn of the (last century). This was called an "ordinary bicycle" or a "penny-farthing". Penny and farthing were British comparisons of the wheels to the coins used in that era - larger to smaller. The term ordinary came later as a way to describe this older bicycle compared to the new "safety bikes". I've never ridden a penny-farthing, but I've seen some local folk in our annual 4th of July parade and it's a precarious but fascinating venture. Imagine just the challenge of mounting this thing without breaking your teeth! That said, there was some good design in this bike. Obviously, it's a single speed direct drive so the larger front wheel allows for a higher speed. Once you got rolling, I can imagine that your could get a pretty good clip going. Also, the large size of the wheel smooths out the ride on bumpy road surfaces.

In the last decade there has been a trend toward mountain bikes with larger wheels, these are known as 29ers as opposed to the standard 26" wheel of a let's say "ordinary" mountain bikes. Road bikes have not featured new tire sizes in a long time. Today's standard road bike wheel is a usually 26" or 27" (650c or 700c). The gas price crunch over the past 5 years has really re-kindled American's interest in bicycles, and I love the fact that designers are now taking some chances with new ideas and prototypes.

A great example of this trend comes from Grand Rapids, Michigan industrial design house JRuiter. Designer Joey Ruiter and staff have come up with a cool, minimalist design that incorporates many aspects of early and modern bikes. Behold! I give you the Inner City Bike 36er! Check this thing out, it is a direct drive road monster!

It looks a bit precarious, and those tires are really close together, but you've got to love the forward thinking design. I am also psyched that this came out of the state of Michigan, where so much engineering and manufacturing innovation has occurred in this country. When I look at this prototype, I see a nod to the basic black simplicity and function of Henry Ford's Model T. His famous quote from 1909 applies here, "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so as long as it is black." Nice work Joey and company, I hope to see your design available in bike stores all over the country very soon!

Monday, February 14, 2011

It's Funny Because It's True!

Juliet and I made Christy a funny valentine card. Does anybody get the reference?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentines: Jilted by PDX

First off, happy Valentines Day to my beautiful wife and kids or "Valen-Times" as Hank used to call it. Valentines Day has its roots in a seemingly unrelated act by Christian martyr Saint Valentine. According to accounts, Valentine refused to follow Roman law stating that soldiers should not be married and he secretly performed marriage ceremonies for young men. Roman Emperor Claudius II jailed him for these acts. Apparently, Valentine and Claudius tried to convert each other to their own beliefs (Paganism and Christianity), but natch the Emperor prevailed and Valentine was executed (Special Christian Miracle Bonus Round: Before his death, he is reported to have performed a miracle by healing the blind daughter of his jailer - hence his sainthood). Based on this story it's perfectly clear why we give candy, flowers, and cards to our loved ones to honor Saint Valentine. You gotta love modern interpretations of weird holidays!!!

{start rant} Recently I spent the weekend in Portland for the 17th annual RecRoomRomp, where 16 brave middle-aged men compete in pool, ping-pong, and bowling for fame and fortune. I spent the weekend having a great time with some of my best friends in downtown PDX - my home town. I grew up in this area and lived in several houses all over the Portland area from the early seventies to the late eighties. Usually I like to visit Rip City, but this stay was alarmingly annoying. Portland is being taken over by hipsters!

Don't get me wrong, Portland has always seen itself as unique and different from other cities. It's rightfully known for many civic innovations - city planning, architecture, mass transit, and more than its share of great restaurants and businesses. I also have lots of friends and family in the area that haven't changed one iota. My issue is with the new "cooler than thou" attitude that is permeating downtown. During our stay there were several instances where my friends and I got the cold shoulder from local merchants and downtown residents overcome by hipsterism. Particularly at one of my favorite coffee spots, Stumptown. Agreed that I'm in my mid-forties and lack a certain youthful appeal, but Portland has always been a friendly town (with the exception of visits from Californians in the seventies and eighties).

This diagram captures it perfectly. In my last visit, I saw several "Mountain Men" and "Williamsburg" folk, and plenty of "Fauxhemians". Maybe I'm finally too old to understand their scene, but I've never seen that kind of attitude in my home town. The recent comedy Portlandia is a sign that the city is taking itself to seriously and I hope Portland turns the corner on this one! {end rant}

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Information IS Beautiful

Found this great site over the weekend that shows data in the most artistic and engaging manner. You should check out I did a post earlier about information graphics, and I think this site is in the same vein. The site features the work of David McCandless, a British writer, designer, and author who's done several pieces for Wired magazine. He also has a book out under the same name (Amazon link here). To quote David about his work, "My new book Information Is Beautiful explores the potential of data visualisation as a new direction for journalism and story-telling."

Here's a wonderfully visual representation of our fears from the last decade - check out the madness of swine flu mentions on the Internet. I encourage you to explore his interesting visualizations!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

R.I.P. Gerry Rafferty

Damn, Gerry Rafferty just died. Sounds like the bottle got the best of him... I remember hearing his music in the car with my Dad. He was a little before my time, but his 1978 "City to City" album is an all time classic. If you're not familiar with his music, here are three monster hits.

Baker Street is quintessential laid back 70s rock. Dave Grohl did a great cover several years ago...

Here's the tune that was famous long before Tarantino used it as a backdrop for the brutal cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs. Strange video, though...

A great love song. I can remember hearing this many times on AM radio growing up in Portland. Thanks for the great music, Gerry!