John’s Recon

June 25, 2009

Nibbles Calls The Police To Keep Him Company

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 5:09 pm

Way back before the internet, before we had Best Buy and Fry’s electronic stores, there was a very successful California mail-order electronics company called, DAK Electronics … named after Drew A Kaplan, the ultimate master of typed hype.  He went away for many years but has returned with an internet company of the same name, DAK, not as much hype. It probably won’t be as successful as before since the competition has gotten so much better than the likes of Federated Electronics that we had in Dallas.

I got his catalog every month and it was filled with mouth watering bites of specs and speculation of what you can do with the products. You see, Drew bought up gobs of failed products … not because they were no good, but rather they were too consolidated or too fancy or too something. These inventor dreams had failed because no one understood them, or their specs, or the market where they belonged. Along comes Drew and buys up the failed product at ten cents on the dollar and offers them up to me, the electronics geek with no kids yet and a disposable income. It was like selling a smart phone when the cell phone business was just getting somewhere … no one understood the value until Drew explained it to us. His catalog entries were carefully crafted essays of product love and they were delicious to read … even if my wife rolled her eyes at them.

This is how I came to buy a speaker phone for the home (weren’t around for the home back then) with 5 dedicated buttons for police, ambulance, fire, etc and a full qwerty keyboard (didn’t have T-9 cell phone input style back then) and 3-line LCD display with 50 entry memory. Qwerty for putting in names, store-names, etc in its dial list (also new back then). Unfortunately, it was relegated to my bedroom headboard in ’87 due to its demand of flat real estate (big keys) and general ugliness (according to my wife).

We went on vacation leaving our brand new house, dogs and my daughter’s cat, Nibbles, in the capable hands of our neighbor. After a fun but uneventful vacation we returned to see one of our front double doors off the hinges and falling inward as I put the key in the lock. The other door clearly had forced entry breakouts at the latches. In horror, we hurriedly searched the house but could see nothing missing.

Our neighbor was at the front door (or doorstep) calling to us and apologizing that he wasn’t there to greet us. Between he, his explanation from the police force, and us, we were able to work out the following set of events.

A couple of nights before we were to return, Nibbles went into our bedroom because he was lonely (forbidden but I forgot to close the door) and was walking on the headboard. He must have stepped on the police button and missed the fire button. The dispatcher answers immediately. Speculation, of course, but we didn’t have 911 in Allen back then and they were one of the first lines of emergency. Nibbles hears the human voice through the great realistic acoustics of the speakerphone (150 – 15 KHz, no matter that the phone company limits voice to 6 KHz). I’m sure he gave one of his cries for attention that sounds like a human baby being tortured with a barbecue fork. And THAT was all the entire Allen Police Force needed to hear since it was still a small town back then and no one tortured babies back then especially with a barbecue fork.

My neighbor woke up to the sound of a crash and saw 6 Allen Police cars (their entire force at the time) and a fire truck in our tiny cul-de-sac all focused on the front door of our house. He scrambled to get dressed, because he was responsible for the goings on and needed to find out what happened. They didn’t find anything except the phone off the hook. No sign of a cat (I’m sure he was terrified and hiding in a very good spot). After conferring with him, the police/fire seemed satisfied that nothing was wrong and put the door back as best they could. They were not upset … besides where can you get a good emergency drill at 5 am … I’m sure they were quite pleased with their emergency response.

We had a good laugh but I was a little disturbed that I had no front door without some work. That is when my neighbor remembered, “Oh yeah, I forgot. They said no charge for the emergency response since it was a valid alarm.”   That made me think … 6 police cars and a fire truck … one and half doors … not a bad trade to know they have your back. I finally got around to replacing the last two pin fittings in the door this spring. The phone was retired soon after the event. Our neighbor passed his house-sitting jobs onto his oldest son who was also tramatized by two other events during our vacations … which forced us to find other neighbors to watch our house … but that is another story.

June 23, 2009

Brave Marketing

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 8:04 am

Now that it is really hot, riding a bike, even leisurely, generates perspiration. Let me be more specific … sweat … tons of it. Even when your speed provides a refreshing breeze, there will be a time when you turn downwind and the heat you are generating will have you sweating into your eyes in no time.

So, I started looking into headbands. Not until I added sweat to the Google search did I turn up Halo brand headbands which are made for a lot of perspiration. I bought one before I started looking at the biking forums that mentioned why Halo headbands might not be the answer for people who are riding 26 miles at a shot (that is not me, BTW), I came across the Sweat Gutr. The Halo headband is working for me … for now anyway.

Yes, the Sweat Gutr, does just exactly like it sounds. It is a gutter that channels sweat off the forehead, away from the eyes and onto the sides of the face. It makes no pretense for moping up and cooling. Its very design will give maximum coolness and handle whatever you can give it in buckets of sweat. It is a phenomenal product and all the rage among heavy duty bikers and marathon runners. A little unconventional looking but who can see or care when you have salt in your eyes.

So, if you invented this … what would you call such a remarkable device? I am sure there were debates aplenty internally on appropriate names. Now, if you are the type of marketeer that makes a feel-good don’t-talk-about-the-product ad, like the ad for the Prius, you would have come up with something that suggested you were on an icy dry planet in winter. Instead, they named it for what it does exactly … which directly focuses on the problem and matches the target audience it was intended … the Sweat Gutter … well not quite … the Sweat Gutr … which still gets its point across with only the name alone. I am proud of their team to stand up and use a name that might offend some, to target its exact audience. Congratulations to some brave marketing, may we have more of it please.

June 19, 2009

New House Experiences and Urban Crust

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 8:09 am

Yesterday, I was eating lunch and getting reacquainted with an old comrade from our defense engineering days. This was at the Fillmore Pub in downtown Plano, Tx. A fine place to get a beer with some good food as well. We somehow got onto the subject of “lessons learned” on building a new house and how we were never going to use them since we probably would never build new again. In fact, my cul-de-sac neighbors and I all built our houses at the same time 22 years ago and our combined experiences could fill a must read book. But now, all those many lessons are long forgotten except for the one Keith reminded me of … taking pictures of your house with the walls off so that you know where the plumbing and wiring is. It seems that both of us came up with this clever idea and that both of us made the exact same mistakes in their execution.

  1. Never shoot pictures out of context. A year later you won’t know if this picture came from the dining room or the bathroom or looking up or looking down.
  2. Pictures should be spot metered so that the exact subject (wire, pipe, joist, etc.) is properly exposed. Having a lot of sun because you have no walls can throw an averaging meter exposure off. There is not much use for a photo that is well balanced but the exact subject is too dark to see.
  3. Large depth of field cameras (like the short focal lengths of point ‘n’ shoot cameras) should be dealt with. Shooting a wall of joists which has a wall of joists behind it and another wall behind that, will look like a lot of tightly packed joists. Besides being distracting, it can be almost impossible to know if the wire or pipe belongs here on this wall or really on the adjoining room.
  4. Close ups should be described with context and shooting angle as soon as possible before you forget them.
  5. Finally, pictures should be taken from the future working point of view. For example, if you were going to run a DirecTV cable down this wall … between which two joists are there no cross members and how do you get through the top of the wall? Don’t ask me how I know this.

Now granted, 20 years ago we didn’t have today’s online picture capability where you can co-locate a lengthy description with the picture. It still is important to do it right. Since I was using film I only shot one roll. When the pictures came back from developing they all looked all right. But in the end, I was only able to use just one picture for real-world help during the years that followed. Now just think of a book filled with these useful facts written in a hilarious style. Too bad all the potential authors have long since forgotten the material that should go in them.

After lunch we went next door to tour a brand new establishment, Urban Crust Pizza, which was celebrating its one-week opening. This place is restored to its ancient roots (a growing trend in Downtown Plano, Tx) having something to do with horses, saddles, and leather. Our tour guide, Diane (princess Diana she explained for us old folks who might have a hard time remembering her name) was quite knowledgeable about the place … she is new to Texas from Chicago and thunderstorms like we had last week make her nervous. Hey, it worked, I remembered her name. When we got to the second floor she pointed out that the two story chandelier was made from horse whips … maybe this used to be a place where they beat horses … I just don’t remember her first statement on what the ambiance was trying to capture. It is a nice place indeed, well restored to original brick walls with downstairs being the family area, upstairs being a little more private. And then there is the roof … go up another flight of stairs to the roof bar called 32, I think. The bar itself is an Ice Bar where part of the surface area is frozen … no, you can’t slide drinks down it at 32 mph like in the old west because there is a healthy frost on it … you can set your drink on it … though there must have been a lot of tours that day since it was mostly filled with hand and finger prints testing out the frosty surface. Diane said that drinks are served at 32 degrees which I think scientifically possible since they have alcohol in them … I think this rules out ice tea. She also pointed out that the staircase has railing on both sides … in case you have spent a while cooling off upstairs. Finally she pointed to their drink menu but I didn’t see much of it because my eyes were fixated on Frozen Margaritas $3 … probably Happy Hour but still. She bid us adieu with a come back and see us now … are you kidding? … how many miles do I have to ride my bike, to work off $9 worth of sweet liquids and tequila? … I am there, of course, with some amount of guilt since my favorite place is next door but margaritas aren’t their speciality.

June 17, 2009

A Geek Is A Geek Whether Trekkie Or Body Fitness

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 1:32 pm

I define a geek as someone whose knowledge and zest for a subject, borders on obsessive. Now that some of my weight is coming off, due to mostly bicycling, I have become more interested in the subject.  I’m starting to notice what calories are in what foods and being a little more picky about what goes in (that is if I could be more picky according to my friends). I had heard about these devices that could measure body fat so I had to take a look. There are a gazillion but these scales interested me.

These are not scales since no one pays much for that. These are Body Composition Monitors. I am kind of interested in the middle one that measures body fat percentage, body mass index (BMI), skeletal muscle, resting metabolism, visceral fat, body age, and finally, body weight. I’m guessing that body age is how used up you are compared to some newer body. I guess this is a useful parameter if you can get it to go negative with respect to my real age since mine is getting up there. So, I started with measuring body fat and am now up to estimating resting metabolism and skeletal muscle. Now that is just way more information and control parameters than the normal man pursues on this subject.

Whether health nuts believe it or not, they are geeks … plain and simple … no different from Trekkies … except for maybe the fact that most Trekkie bodies indicate they don’t get out much and visceral fat could outweigh the other parameters in their whole body equation. Pun intended. Anyway, I intend to join their ranks soon … Fitness Geeks not Trekkies … I already was a card carrying member of the other one.

June 12, 2009

What Would Cavemen Do?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Prichard @ 6:42 am

Yesterday morning I had something in my eye … I could feel it but didn’t see anything. It has got to be an eyelash I told my wife. I got a lighted magnifying glass for the sole purpose of helping her find things on my person … splinters, something in the eye, ear, nose, and throat. But, alas, her close up eyesight even with a lighted magnifier is sorely lacking in resolution. So her, as an additional pair of close-up eyes, is a bust. It is just me then.

I fussed with it all morning. It would feel OK and then it would be back. I guess by fussing all around I irritated other areas so that I didn’t feel the real irritation until things settled down. I figured I was destined to have an irritated eye for a few days when I thought of a stealth technique we used in Radar … look for something that isn’t visible by looking for disturbance in the background.

So using the lighted magnifier and a close-up mirror all carefully lined up (could have used 2 more hands), I looked carefully at my eye. When I blinked a couple of times I noticed that the tear fluid had an even coating except in a specific area. I dabbed at this area with my little finger and behold! a CLEAR eyelash was on the end of my finger. Now that, is not right … clear. I don’t think even albinos have these. It must be a gray one whose optical index is changed by the tear fluid. That was correct … gray eyelashes that fall into the eye can appear clear in the tear fluid. Man! I am so screwed.

And then I thought about the lowly caveman. First of all, he doesn’t have a lighted 5x magnifier because what happens after the initial set of batteries runs out … they didn’t have batteries in the checkout stands back then. I bet they didn’t even have 2x much less 5x. Wait a minute, they only had pools of water for mirrors and those are so hard to tilt to a 45 degree angle.

So here he is hunting the Woolly Mammoth and it kicks some dirt into his eye … they weren’t always walking on snow you know. And he drops his spear and grunts to his hunting partners, “Ah Uh Uh Ah Ah”, which means “Time out, Guys. I got something in my eye”. Just WHAT does a caveman do?

It seems even though we had similar problems back then, we have a whole lot better bathroom tools than they did. And of course, they didn’t live long enough to eventually get clear eyelashes in their eye which is good because it will be a long while before a paper is written on Stealth Radar techiques.

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