Jon’s Gadget Bag – Updated!

While posting a status earlier today I did a search of and came across this post from December 2005 (The date on the post is incorrect). I figured if anyone cares, I’ll update you on what I carry on a regular basis now (Amazing how it’s changed in 7 years only in brands, not in versatility). Who knows – maybe you’ll find a new Christmas present for yourself or someone else! Continue reading “Jon’s Gadget Bag – Updated!”

Create Your Own Magazine With IFTTT, Pocket, And Yahoo! Pipes

A few months ago I realized that I had a number of blogs that I liked reading, but rarely had the time to read them while scrolling around Google Reader. So a plethora of stars ensued, to keep things for “later reading”.  This wasn’t ideal. I also found that I really liked viewing daily “picdumps” from various websites, for quick humor in the evenings. But some days I’d run out, and other days I wouldn’t get to them at all. Also not ideal. Finally I came up with the solution: Put it all in Pocket (Formerly Read It Later)…. and put it in automatically!  Continue reading “Create Your Own Magazine With IFTTT, Pocket, And Yahoo! Pipes”

Why Wait In Line For Starbucks?

This morning I stopped at an extremely busy Starbucks. Eight people awaited drinks as I entered, 4 people in line, and about 10 cars in the drive-thru. I calmly walked to the end of the line, and was out the door with my drink in about 8 minutes. On the way out, I held the door for the woman behind me and she joked “Ever wonder what they put in there that makes us wait that long for it?”. Why do we wait for Starbucks?

Starbucks Logo © by kevinix
  • Routine: Humans crave regularity and an overall sense of what will happen. Stopping at a certain place to get coffee is no different from eating a preferred breakfast or taking a preferred route to work. One does it because it is well known, minimizes the chance for surprise, and allows our brain to have an easier time parsing our crazy world. If you’ve ever felt tired after a particularly intense day in the office of thinking as opposed to physically moving, you know that heavy brain work can fatigue the entire body. Routine is one way to decrease that.
  • Preference: We actually like Starbucks (or any other brand for that matter) for a number of reasons. Mere-exposure dictates that simply having it around often enough will engender a liking, while the hardcore Starbucks haters will argue it’s all about cognitive dissonance (i.e. we really don’t like it, but we do it often enough that we convince ourselves we actually do). And if we don’t prefer the coffee, we may prefer the environment, or the location, or all of the above. Plus our preferences can be constructed on the fly, so small changes (i.e. an extra few minutes) can always tip a preference from “Nay” to “Yea” or vice versa.
  • Subjective Time Perception: Starbucks has made a good stab at trying to make a long wait at least seem shorter. The line to get a drink, at least in Shreveport, is usually never longer than 4 people. The wait for drinks may be longer, however you feel as though things are moving along, even if your drink is still in the ‘ticket yet to be printed and slapped on a cup’ stage. Plus there is always something to look at, always something to explore, or a product to consider buying. And they give away free iOS books, movies, and songs, which allow us to spend at least 30 seconds feeling rewarded simply for hanging out near the small freebie cards. After all, if they gave us our drink right when we ordered, we might not see those cards 😉
  • Lifestyle Aspiration: Let’s face it, some of us would love to hang out in a coffee shop all day (in theory at least, in practice this would probably be annoying). We like the idea of sipping strong coffee, brewing new ideas, and chortling at high-brow jokes. Starbucks fits this aspiration in ways that McDonalds and Dunkin’ just don’t (yet…).

Why do you wait for Starbucks? Or do you not wait and laugh at those of us who do?

Jon’s “Broken” Day

So I should start this post by noting that as of 7:24 AM this morning, Saturday, “Broken” day has been resolved. Amazingly. So however horrific this ‘bad day’ story sounds, at least I believe it has a happy ending.

Broken glass © by liknes

Yesterday started out like any other Friday. Little did I know that it was the day that most of technology and mechanical interaction were gunning against me. I peacefully woke up, worked out, showered, and was excited to teach on a Friday for the first time in 5 years. Karey even woke up early with me, and offered to make me breakfast.

“Sure”, I said, “Just make me a couple of pop tarts”.

About 10 minutes later, she arrived with said pop tarts, which were burnt around the edges.

“Sorry – I don’t know how they got so dark so quick – I’ll eat them if you want, and make you new ones”. My wife is great like that – she’s willing to remake something for me and even masochistically eat the ‘bad’ food so it doesn’t go to waste. I declined said offer, and just ate the crispy parts first to get rid of them. In retrospect, I should have seen this as an omen of the day ahead.

I arrived at work around 9, and at 9:45 I headed off to my class. The clock in the back of the classroom was running slow, so my colleague ran a bit over on his class. No problem, I got in, got set up, and was off and rolling by 10:01.

Then at about 10:30, everything died.

And by everything, I mean the computer, monitor, and projection system. My notes disappeared into the ether of thrown breaker. My students rejoiced, and I tried to ad-lib, recalling my lecture as best as possible. The custodian in the building checked in with me every couple of minutes, asking if she’d thrown the right switch to bring my class back to life, which in a way only made things more vexing. Now I’m trying to recall my lecture outline from memory, and just as I get rolling, I need to break to see if the power is back on. At one point, I simply looked at my students and explained:

Listen, I view this as “I’m telling you the story of the lecture”, and I apologize for the distractions. It’s sorta like telling a story to a child and having the book suddenly explode. It throws you off

After the students got a good laugh, and about 10 minutes, the computer came back on, and I was back in business. Not a horrible event, but one that was annoying.

So I played ‘catch-up’ as best I could, noting where I left off to resume on Monday. I returned to my office, and found an email, displayed below:

Hmm… so that’s why it was a bit warm in here. Oh well, at least it’s only in the 80s today, not the 90s as usual. And I have a little fan, so I make due.

The rest of the work day was pretty uneventful. The A/C got fixed, the second “show” (a.k.a. lecture) went smoother, and I left work around 5. I wanted to get home quick because a new “toy” was waiting for me. You see, after 5 years, the dyed-in-the-wool geek in me finally decided to buy and activate a current-generation iPhone. And it was arriving today.

So, anxious geek Jon gets home, checks the mail, and no iPhone. Karey was out shopping, so I assumed she got the mail first. I figured I’d check the tracking information when I got to my computer, however upon returning to my computer, I am distracted by a very loud buzzing noise coming somewhere in the sea of technology of both my and Karey’s desk (which are back to back). I dismiss the buzzing in favor of looking up the tracking number, and see an “exception” – “notice left”. This makes no sense – we have locked mailboxes here – why wouldn’t USPS drop the package? I start to get angry. Post offices here are not open on Saturday, so if it’s sitting at the post office, it will be there until Karey picks it up Monday during the day.

While I wait for her to get home, to see if she might actually have said notice or package, I decide to figure out the buzzing issue. I check the two small desk fans, neither are on. I check Karey’s laptop, it’s fine. Finally I decide to turn off my monitor, and it goes away.

I turn the monitor back on. And nothing happens.

Now I’m really stressed. My monitor is a 27” Apple Cinema Display, which I (in a delirious state and after receiving a consulting payment) paid nearly $1,000 for last year. I intend for it to last quite awhile, and shutter at the thought of lugging it in for service (especially since my nearest Apple store is 3 hours away, and I don’t know if authorized repair shops take AppleCare). I mess with the plugs, power cable, etc.. and nothing works. I am now sad, angry Jon.

Karey arrives home with my iPhone – it had been left, the postal service website was wrong (And they wonder why people find their service sub par). I figure if one Apple product is broken, I might as well play with another. Since moving to our new apartment, my T-Mobile service has absolutely sucked in the building and at our pool and fitness center. Since it’s my only phone, I’ve investigated multiple options to get around this limitation (VoIP, etc…) but nothing has worked. Most of my phones don’t have T-Mobile’s WiFi Calling, so I decided a few weeks ago (in a moment of rage) that I was just going to dump T-Mo after 9 years, 9 months of service. Surprisingly, I found that Verizon would give me everything I was currently using for a cheaper rate, so my mind was made up.

So yesterday I took my used iPhone 4s (which I bought on eBay after verifying the ESN was clean) to the Verizon store and got it activated on a month-to-month service basis (Because I have a feeling a new iPhone might be coming out soon… that I’d like to use a subsidy for). The whole process seems to go smoothly, the number ports, and my 4s is up and running. Karey and I grab dinner, and head home.

I arrive back at my desk to look at the giant paperweight which used to be my monitor. Figuring that now was as good a time as any to call Apple and see what they have to say (And since I now have cell coverage, I can do that confidently), I dial them up.

And the call connects!

And there is no audio!

Yea, my first night on Verizon, and the calls have no audio incoming or outgoing. I freak out. Did my new iPhone have some weird defect related to the phone’s radio audio channels? The rest of the phone works fine. Speaker works fine. Mic works fine. No audio. Grr….

I pulled up Twitter, searched “Verizon”, and find nothing of note. So it’s just me.

After an hour of frustration, multiple reboots, and much frustration, I search Twitter again, and find 1 tweet. Here’s the conversation I had with the gentleman:

By Midnight, my “wiggin” service was fixed. I head to bed, figuring that I’ll deal with the monitor tomorrow.

This morning my eyes popped open at 7 AM (Oh well, I’ll sleep when I’m dead), and I stumble out to my desk with my non-wiggin phone. Figure I’ll give the monitor one more shot. Nothing.

After my macbook finishes booting, something prompts me to try the monitor yet again. And for some weird reason… it works.

So I power cycle a few times, and it comes back each time. No problem. In fact, I’ll do it right now just to tempt the Apple gods.

And it came back again. Hopefully the issue was transient and now we’re back to “normal”.

So, to recap, here’s what broke yesterday:

  • My pop tarts
  • The power in my classroom
  • The A/C in my office
  • The United States Postal Service’s method of tracking packages
  • My ludicrously expensive Apple Cinema Display
  • America’s largest network

Here’s hoping that today isn’t a repeat!

Welcome New Students!

It’s the first day of the fall semester, and this post is for any of my new students who decide to wander over to my website or my Twitter feed. My message on here is pretty short and to the point: Welcome to my class! If I haven’t made it abundantly clear during the first class meeting, I’m very excited to be teaching and want you to feel comfortable contacting me whenever you have questions about the class, assignments, life, etc…

Let’s have an awesome Fall semester!

OK, This is Sorta Creepy When You Think About It

Recently I’ve been working out and trying to get back on my diet (err… Reduced Calorie Intake Plan – RCIP, remember?). One of the sites I use to track my information also has a forum for members, and I sometimes scan the list of topics just to see what’s going on. It’s there that I found a slightly creepy exchange.

The back story: A woman complains that her husband doesn’t want to have sex with her as often as she wants (especially now that she’s working out and it’s “all she thinks about”). He’s got no interest. Amidst many of the helpful comments, one person wrote the following, which was heavily quoted and heartily agreed to:

So assuming her husband does not want to have sex, I believe the word that describes the actions above would be… oh yea… rape. Could you imagine if the roles were reversed? How super creepy would it be to go to a forum and see a man complaining about his wife having no interest in sex, and then have someone write the above. “shush her and tell her it will all be over soon” – sounds like a line from a horror movie or crime docudrama, right? And then to have multiple people agree…

Kinda creepy on this Friday morning!


Why Do Printers Still Suck?

The Installer failed and looped endlessly. You should be ashamed.

Recently I bought an HP Photoshare 7510, a pretty nice printer/scanner that brings me up to the wireless age.  I’ve had a few problems setting up the software though. My Mac had a few hiccups with the scanning from the printer feature, and Karey’s Windows 7 laptop refuses to have the printer installed. After spending an hour with it, I told her to simply email the printer a PDF to print, the software is just hopelessly broken.

Frustration © by music2work2

How broken? Well after downloading 3 different files from HP, the last being a wizard, the software just endlessly loops through the entire installation, saying “Downloading drivers”, then when that install fails, the same wizard picks up again and says “Downloading drivers” and launches the install all over again. This prompted me to leave the above snarky-yet-true quote on HP’s web survey. It didn’t help that pressing the “Details” button on the installer error page just brought up a dialog box that said “Installation Error”. Those are some deep details.

But the bigger issue – can anyone explain to me why in the last 10 years we’ve made enormous advances in all areas of technology except printer drivers? They’re still bloated and buggy, even as the hardware has gotten better. The software simply is horrendous.

Better yet, the companies are still in the mindset of “Bloat it on up, we don’t care if it drags the computer down”. Windows installers are horrible in this respect. The HP installer I just looped through 5 times required me to press a button to show checkboxes, which I could then uncheck, for a bunch of useless things I knew Karey wouldn’t want on her computer. It was purposefully built to be a pain to do.

Oddly enough, the Mac version of the same software had far less bloatware (i.e. nearly none) and all its optional stuff was “opt-in” (i.e. I had to check it to get it to install). All i can figure is that the Mac software is programmed by Mac users who think “I wouldn’t want this junk on my system” and disregard upper management’s “Make them opt out” cries (call it “corporate disobedience”). While the Windows software is programmed by someone who is an inch away from unemployment and will do whatever horrible thing upper management says. Reminds me of a car dealer mechanic once who confided in me that he felt horrible drilling holes in brand new cars just to screw on a dealer nameplate. He knew no one cared to advertise where they bought their car for free, but if he didn’t screw that sucker in, he’d be in the unemployment line. Probably the same for the Windows guys (since there are obviously more of them on the market than the Mac guys – something related to that huge number of people who use Windows over Mac OS)

In the end as much as I hate to admit it, I have to print things sometimes. I also have to scan things (a lot). I can’t get away from these monsters anytime soon. I just wish companies would get a clue about how to build decent non-dysfunctional software.

The Pirate and The Butterfly (And The Man)

So those of you who noticed my Short Story of the Day project a few months back probably realized that I am much more comfortable with writing than drawing. I tell the anecdote time and time again that I have no idea how someone who has artists for parents can’t muster up more than a decent stick figure. But last night I found an app that gives me hope (Well, one of many apps that help out loser artists like me): My Story Creator, an app that recently went from the horribly high price of $0.99 to free, so I downloaded it.

And here’s my first story. It’s a work in progress, and has a cliffhanger ending for sure! (Click each picture to enlarge)

The Cupcake Diet

By Dr. Jonathan E. Westfall

(Totally a real Dr… Just not a Medical one…)

Cupcakes Are Your Savior

So you’re fat. How do I know that? Well because you’re reading a diet book. Well, I guess you might just want something interesting to read while on vacation, or perhaps you know me personally and are curious about this whole Diet book thing.

But I’d like to think you’re fat, because I’m fat, and we all know from pop culture that fat people are losers who like to hang out together because somehow that makes us feel better. At least skinny people think that, and we shouldn’t burst their bubble.

So seriously, we’re all fat here, and we want to lose some weight for some reason or another. Maybe we want to look better, or be able to do more, or we don’t want to die 2-4 years earlier than our skinny friends (Because some amazing things are sure to happen to us in those last 2-4 years. Presidential Elections, senior discounts, advances in fiber sciences, etc…). And at one point or another, fat people want to find something that works when it comes to weight loss. Well friends, I’m here to share an amazing secret with you – the answer is, seriously, cupcakes. Continue reading “The Cupcake Diet”

Geek Thrills: My DD-WRT Router Kicks Your Linksys’ Butt!

This is a long geeky story that starts with pure ENVY. Yes it’s a deadly sin, and yet it’s one of those that I sometimes engage in, despite no deathwish. My envious feelings are a bit different than most so.

This all starts when Karey & I moved into our new apartment last month. The first night we were here, I took a quick peek at the SSID list – after all, apartment buildings provide a number of interesting entries. I saw quite a number of entries that looked like this:

And was intrigued. Who was this Rick Ray, and why was he running a guest network? Was he some sort of “those without internet” savior? So I hooked up to his network (a deadly sin in and of itself, but hey, maybe I’m the sort of guest he wants) and saw this:

Yep – a guest access splash page with a Cisco logo on it. Knowing Rick Ray probably wasn’t a network tech with an industrial grade router at home, I realized that Cisco/Linksys must be adding this as a pretty logical feature on their newer APs / Routers. And here I was with just a regular old WPA-protected network that I told people the password to as they needed it. This put my Geek card in real jeopardy. Read on to hear how I fixed this the only way I know how: Overkill! Continue reading “Geek Thrills: My DD-WRT Router Kicks Your Linksys’ Butt!”