Category Archives: Background


If you’re like me you don’t remember much of high school. Either you’ve blocked it out or didn’t pay attention or you were too busy worrying about how much the other kids you don’t talk to anymore liked you. Regardless of your reason there is a gray cloudy mass of memory where this formative period should be.

Somewhere after high school I figured out learning was incredibly fun and somewhere in there I figured out how to learn. At the very least I figured out how I learn. The birth of the Internet has helped that post-academic awakening immensely. I’ve had so many “So that’s how it works!” moments I don’t know where to start. Most recently those moments have come while I’ve been learning about electronics, woodworking, and cooking.

The shop classes I had in middle/high school were so useless as to border on a criminal waste of taxpayer money. Birdhouse anyone? Spot welded dustpan? How about a nice galvanized aluminum notepad holder? Let’s see if we can set the bar low enough to be swept into that dustpan shall we? I can only hope that the students of today have a more interested and engaged bunch of instructors than I did. This is not to say all of the instructors I had were bad, there were some gems to be sure (Hola, Mrs. Reisenberg), but most I couldn’t remember if I wanted to. The ones I do remember expected more from me, pushed harder, and cared enough to be disappointed when I screwed up.

I actually do remember my three fingered middle school metal shop teacher, but only as “Mr. Stumblebooger”. He couldn’t seem to get my name right so I returned the favor and his real name has been lost to the gray cloudy mass. I remember him being a very interesting person with stories about visits to Saudi Arabia where his friend, to demonstrate how safe it was there, took his wallet and tossed it on the floor of the airport only to return several hours later and find it exactly where they’d left it. “Over there they cut your hand off if you get caught stealing” he’d say. I think the moral was more “don’t take my stuff” than “don’t steal” but I can’t be sure.

I remember him, his class was a loss.

So the things I’ve been playing with lately have me all jazzed up with lernin’. I’ve been playing with electronics for the first time since the days of the confusing 101 electronics projects kit. Never before had I heard the analogy of electricity-like-water and it has made me understand everything far more clearly. Also, reinterpreting the mishmash of an electrical diagram as just a network for electrons (electrons as packets for you other network engineers out there) has made even more sense of the mysterious world of electricity.

Thanks to many incredibly valuable resources;,,, and the DIY movement , I’m constantly learning how to do new things.

I’ve also been cooking like mad. I love it. It has all the best parts of a geek hobby. It’s got science, gear, gadgets, experimentation, etc… Here is something that is fundamental to your daily existence that you have unlimited creative control over. It can be incredibly complex, very simple, or both depending on how you want to approach it. It is also cheaper and healthier than the fast food or restaurant alternative (think preservatives and fat). Ultimately you get to eat your creation which is immediate punishment or reward. You get better quickly.

Alton Brown of Good Eats fame has been an incredible resource in my culinary education so far. He does a great job of making all the magic that goes on between ingredients accessible and interesting. Also, since I dig books, and there is no shortage of cookbooks, I get to expand my library. Thanks to Curry Cuisine I’ll be trying my hand at grinding my own curry this weekend. Don’t be shocked if a recipe or two ends up on this page.

I guess that’s all for now, more about specific projects later… let’s move on.


Filed under Background, hobby, Random

Notes from Tokyo – 2003

Here are some unfinished notes from a trip to China and Japan back in 2003.

So…here is a brief synopsis of my experience and observations in Tokyo…

1. The most useful thing you can know before going to Japan is… wait for it… Japanese.

I’ve been to several other countries where English was not the predominant language and muddled my way through it but China and Japan are a totally different situation. With a Latin based language you can at least read and, however poorly, pronounce the words you are looking at and start to infer some meanings. Not so with character based languages. You can see the characters but you have no idea what kinds of sounds to put with them. The thing that this most hampers is the ability to feed oneself. There are lots of plastic food displays but there is no Romanized version of the Kanji so that you know what to ask for, the only thing you know is how much it costs (and that it looks tasty).

So far my answer for this is find places where you can just grab what you want and pay for it. Places with the sushi belt, sandwich stands, etc… I’ll keep trying new things while I’m here but making sure I stay fed is key.

2. I should have learned this in Germany but I guess I didn’t. There is no need to tell someone from the country you are visiting that you do not speak their language.

It is painfully obvious by the look on your face and your attempt to tell them. I did that once here and got a laugh and an announcement to the rest of the sushi bar that the waitress didn’t speak English. Lesson: You’re American, they get it…

It’s amazing how clean it is for as many people as there are. It’s actually very difficult to find a garbage can to get rid of something in. Even with that there is almost no trash on the ground.

The sheer number of people all the time is almost overwhelming. The lack of beggars and crazies is also pretty amazing. Given the population density the only place I can compare Tokyo to in the US is New York. And the per capita crazy bum for New York has to be about 50 or more there to 1 here. Why is that?

Consumerism is in full swing, and you have to have some serious money to play. Our exchange rate doesn’t help anything but even without that most everything is more expensive than it is in the States. I expected to find a gadget playground at very cheep prices. For many of the toys I brought with me on this trip this is their first time home in years. However, there are many varieties of the same technology, all very expensive. Same goes for clothes, if not more so. I was hoping to pick up a jacket or suit coat, since the one I brought with me has likely made for the best dressed taxi driver in Shenzhen. Yeah, I forget things, a lot.

So what else, the sushi has much bigger (better) cuts of fish and less variety than I’m used to. The sounds and smells of Tokyo make for as much of the experience as the sights. I’ve done some audio recording to go with the pictures. It should make for an interesting twist on the traditional slideshow.

Right now I’m waiting for the washer/dryer to finish my socks. I figured out how to make it work but didn’t anticipate how long it would take to dry, else I might not have washed all my socks… So since I’m being held hostage by Japanese technology, I’ll watch another episode of the West Wing Season II (thank you Chinese pirates) and have another coffee-in-a-can.

Still 48 hours to go, anything can happen.


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Filed under Background, Travel

Germany 2003

While cleaning files off my company laptop I came across an old writing assignment and I thought it fit the theme here.

The German Overcoat.

My father was drafted into the military during the time of Vietnam. Fortunately for him, and most likely for me, he was not drafted to Vietnam. He was stationed in Baumholder, Germany to guard a line in the sand between Communism and Democracy. Other than routine training and miscellaneous military duties there wasn’t much to do. Growing up he told me stories about Germany and some of the things he did there. One of things that he talked about most often was the quality of the German workmanship. He told me of a suit maker that made beautiful custom suits by hand. The suit maker would take your measurements and send you on your way; you were given no choice of fabric or style. The suit maker would choose what was best for you and three weeks later your suit was delivered. He told me of the woman that did their laundry. That she used so much starch they actually had to use two hands to pry the clothes apart. And he told me about the camel hair overcoat he had purchased there. This was a beautiful coat that he gave to me when I moved out. Unfortunately, I have since grown out of my father’s coat but I still keep it because it meant something to him.

In October of 2003 I was told that I was being sent to a training class on yet another software product my company would soon be selling. I am always being flown to one place or another to sit in a classroom for a day and a half to become “certified.” More often than not I’m left in the end with little more knowledge than I had before and a pocketful of hotel soaps and shampoo. I went through the exercise of checking the class schedule for this trip and noticed that there was one class in Minneapolis and one class in Munich. I immediately thought that given our domestic airline situation this would cost nearly the same. The price difference ended up being about one hundred dollars. I asked my company if they cared where I went to training if I paid the difference in flight costs and they said no. So I was off to Germany.

I arrived in Munich compressed into a smaller form thanks to the gentleman that sat in front of me. I believe he was convinced that if he leaned back hard enough I might disappear and his chair would turn into a bed. I arrived in Germany speaking no German and having not done enough research. Once I found my way onto the U-bahn, the German subway, I headed in the direction of my stop. After getting off the train I began to think about how useful it would have been to remember the raincoat I bought and left in my car. It was about fifty degrees Fahrenheit and raining, not a Portland rain but a Midwest rain. The only protection I have from the elements is an undershirt, polo shirt, and a pair of jeans none of which were keeping me warm or dry. I was burdened by one large heavy backpack on my chest and another larger heavier backpack on my back.

At this point was drenched and rather pathetically wandering around the streets in search of someone that spoke English. I eventually found a security guard that understood just enough to guide me to my destination. Soggy and happy I arrived at my hotel. After a solid night’s sleep and watching The Simpson’s overdubbed in German I was ready to go get my own overcoat. Again I boarded the U-bahn and headed toward the city. The German subway is truly something to behold. The underground stations go on forever and are stories deep; they have city blocks of groceries and retail outlets. I surfaced to find myself at an eight story department store. I found my way to the men’s department and located the coats. Granted this was not the way my father bought his coat, but this would be the way I bought mine. I tried on several varieties with a salesperson standing with me and telling me how good the coats looked, speaking only in German. However, I’m not positive he was complementing me, for all I know he could have been telling me I looked fat.

The coat I settled on is a deep charcoal single breasted four button overcoat. The buttons disappear behind an extra flap of fabric so as to create a seamless appearance. It has a dull gold satin lining with a zippered inside pocket. The outside pockets are deep and wide enough to accommodate winter gloves. Just behind the right exterior pocket there is another zippered pocket, a third outside pocket that inconspicuously gives a bit of extra cargo room with a little additional security.
The coat hangs just beneath my knees and the arms are long enough that the ends of the sleeves fit perfectly into my hands as I cup them by my sides. This is a store bought German coat, not quite as nice as my father’s German coat. It is, however, my German coat. Long after this coat has begun to fray or I have again grown out of it, I will still have the story of how I came to own it and that to me is more important than the object itself.

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Run like…

Many thoughts repeat through my head as I’m doing other things. One that started while I was driving just a moment ago was “Find a dream and run after it like death itself is chasing you”

I believe very strongly in dreams. By dreams I mean aspirations, goals, etc… An idea of the life you want or the person you want to be. I believe I’ve always tried to live as close to my dreams as possible, filling in the in-between time with preparation to reach a certain goal. I was single throughout my adolescence, and in that time I tried to understand what kind of a man I wanted to be, so as to be right for the kind of woman I hoped to find. I found in the intervening years most of that preparation wasn’t necessary. That’s what actual life experience teaches you. However, I have found that I very much like the man I’ve become and I couldn’t be happier with the woman it has brought me to. Preparation is important, but knowing what you want is even more so. It provides you with a plan. A picture of the outcome you hope to achieve. Another mistake I made while I was younger was that I thought I had to have the whole picture defined. I’ve since learned that only the outline is necessary, the details will fill-in with the doing.

In terms of the trip I have coming up I don’t know exactly what I want out of it. I know I want a story worth telling. I want an experience that I can learn from. I want, as I believe I have always wanted, to be a better man for having done it.

This all might seem a little lofty, but if you are to continue reading my writing you might as well get used to it. I sometimes write like I’m authoring a self help book. Know that in the end, the audience is my elder self, and maybe my eventual family.

I think I want to become a writer during this journey. Some have told me I already am, but I believe right now I am just someone who writes. I’d like to become a writer. I hope also to become a photographer. Either of these goals will be fulfilled in the doing. I plan to write every day I’m on the road, even if it is just a few lines. I plan to take pictures every day, even if it’s of nothing of consequence. By doing these two things I feel that I’ll be able to learn from my mistakes and by the time I get back I’ll have piles of material I might be able to do something with. What will I do with it? That remains to be seen. Will it be worth anything? If only to me and the people that want to hear the stories, it will be priceless.

Grand scheme? Who knows, that is usually realized far after the fact.

In closing, find a dream and run after it like death itself is chasing you. Because it is.

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Lessons from my father…

When I think back to the lessons I’ve learned, the things that have shaped me as a person, one thing stands out more than others. The lessons of a game.

One afternoon when I was 2 or 3 years old, my father decided to play a game with me. I remember a small table and a chess board. There was a large man on the other side pointing to the pieces and repeating the way they move, over and over.

That’s the last of what I remember in the first person, the rest is the recollection of my parents. My father tells the story that we were quietly learning the game in the basement when my mother came home and walked downstairs.

“What are you doing!” she exclaimed.

“Just playing a game” he responded.

“He’s too young for that.”

“But he’s doing ok and enjoying it.”

They went back and forth for a while. During that time I was setting the board back up, putting all the pieces where they were supposed to be. Then I grabbed a pawn from each color and put them behind my back for a moment, moved them around, and held my hands closed in front of me. This was so my father could pick which color he would be.

I’ve told this story to several friends and, while some tell me that it’s not possible, I’ll trust my parents and my foggy recollection, because, in fact, we were there.

While I’m not an expert Chess player, and never have been, I do believe that I learned some very valuable lessons from playing that game at such a young age. ? As far back as I can remember I have thought of life as being a lot like chess.

From it I learned:

Think Ahead. Try to see all the moves available for all the pieces, and try to see the move after that, and after that. You need to understand all your options and plan for possible outcomes without being too committed to one sequence of events.

Every action affects all other possible actions. Some doors are opened, some are closed.

See opportunities before they are available. In the event a door is opened, make sure you are already set up to enter it.

Never back yourself into a corner. Always have a backup plan, mistakes will be made.

Make good choices.

Sacrifices must be made in pursuit of a goal. There are trade-offs with everything, do your best to leave yourself in a stronger position if you have to give something up.

And of course:

“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake” – napoleon

Thanks go to my father for taking the time to play the game that day and many days after. Also for not thinking I was too young to learn it. This is just one of a thousand things I received from him. I don’t know if he thought I would learn as much from it as I did.

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Filed under Background, Personal, Writing