Category Archives: Technology and Science

DMV server installation job and Nor Cal trip

I recently finished a temporary, contract job as a field technician for Form 10 installing computer hardware in California DMVs. Each day, two technicians would arrive at a DMV at 2:30 PM. We’d install new a new uninterruptible power supply and rack server, remove the old UPS and server, remove the old camera workstation, install and configure a new one, install new fingerprint readers at every window, and remove the old fingerprint readers. We’d leave whenever we were finished (usually between 7 and 10 PM), and then one of us would come the next morning to watch from 7:30 AM until 10:00 AM. And then we’d drive to the next DMV. As the team lead, I also had a bit of paperwork.

It was nice experience installation the rack servers. The hardest part was the physical act of getting it racked. It was also interesting seeing the DMV from the other side. DMVs have a reputation for being slow and boring, but in reality they’re staffed by normal people who are for the most part trying to help customers. And some of those customers are pretty bad.

The real difficulty of the job was the hours. Every other day I didn’t work until 2:30, which sounds good. However, when you consider that I’m in a different hotel each night, waking up, eating breakfast, working out, checking out by 11, and then driving to the next DMV by 2:30, there wasn’t much time for anything. There were tiny pockets of time. Maybe I could work out quickly enough, check out early, drive to the next DMV as soon as possible, and get there by 12:30 or 1. That gave me maybe two hours, but those free hours were in an unfamiliar place without any physical space for me to use. It was tough, especially being in Northern California or the Central Valley for a few weeks without being home.

Surprisingly I ran into three emergencies. First, one of the security staff members at one of the DMVs was taken away on a gurney. I don’t know what happened to her, but she was able to walk to the gurney herself. At another DMV, I heard a bit of a commotion between the staff and found out that an ambulance came for a woman who fell in the parking lot. It was raining hard that day, and I heard she fell unconscious. I don’t know if she slipped in the rain, hit her head, and was knocked unconscious or if she suddenly lost consciousness, causing her to fall. What I do know is that I saw security coning off a part of the walkway the had a puddle of blood. Apparently she broke her nose. Lastly, my partner and I witnessed a woman pulling away from a man, yelling things like, “get away from me” and “don’t touch me!” I got security, and my partner brought her inside while the man followed. It seemed to be a domestic dispute. Maybe she was overreacting and he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Maybe he was doing something wrong. I don’t know. But I do know that at the end of the day, she was okay, and that’s what matters. The police came and talked to both me and my partner, and they reviewed the security footage right next to me as I installed the server. It was an interesting day.

There was some chance for fun as well. I had some down time one day and decided to visit the local university, Stanislaus State.

I had never even heard of it, but I enjoy universities, and this one was certainly beautiful.

I also saw some cool wildlife. Yes, this photo is terrible. But there are wild turkey in the center!

And here’s a terrible photograph a baby deer! It’s right under the bush in the center at the top.

While in Sacramento, I had the chance to visit the Capitol Building.

I had to take a photograph with the bear! Former-governor Schwarzenegger bought this and left it in the Capitol Building.

I met an interesting woman with whom I went out twice while in Sacramento too. She teaches fifth graders, including many who have hearing impairments. She uses ASL in the classroom. I found it particularly interesting to realize she has to watch for children signing during tests as a way of cheating. She also plays roller derby in Sacramento, which is pretty sweet!

Chuck Sommerville, creator of Chip’s Challenge, lives near Sacramento. I asked him if he’d like to join a fan for lunch, and he agreed. It was awesome. Chip’s Challenge is one of my favorite games; I have an autographed copy of the original Lynx version. The lunch was a pretty amazing experience. He’s a bit of a personal hero of mine and has done a lot of cool things. He always has fascinating projects and shares progress on Facebook. Over lunch he told me a lot about the development of Chip’s Challenge, Chip’s Challenge 2, and Chuck’s Challenge 3D. I also heard about some more of my Lynx favorites like Klax, Todd’s Adventures in Slime World, Gates of Zendocon, and California Games (Chuck designed the skateboarding game). He also told me about John Romero (designer of Doom) and how they were both huge fans of each other’s work.

Chuck now works with LEDs. One installation of which he was particularly proud was the “Sensing YOU” installation in San Jose, which I had a chance to check out. It interacts with the phone game, Ingress, and responds to the motion of pedestrians passing under it. He actually got me playing Ingress now too. It’s a location-based game made by Niantic, the same developer who later made Pokemon Go. Ingress and Pokemon Go use the same underlying data.

Here’s a video of the installation that I took! I was with Matt and Katie, who I stayed with one weekend. They were very gracious to let me stay in their home and are truly terrific people. I had a wonderful time with them!

I’d never put up Christmas lights and enjoyed the opportunity to help them.

They looked great!

Matt has an arcade cabinet at home that his brother gave him as a gift. Here’s Matt and Katie playing Bomberman together. This photo makes me really happy honestly! They’re wonderful together, and I might have a soft spot for arcade cabinets too.

Visiting them was really fun. I got to see my friend Marc a couple nights that weekend as well. It’s practically unbelievable to me that I originally met these great friends through World of Warcraft!

That’s my trip! I got to add rack server installations to my resume, see all sorts of the more rural parts of California in which I had never stopped, visit Sacramento, and even meet Chuck Sommerville. It was a pretty good gig!

Google kills Google Reader

We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader.

via Official Blog: A second spring of cleaning.

My brother, James, brought this terrible news to me. I love Google Reader. Earlier today I mentioned to gem that Google Reader is a great tool, and that more people need to use it and RSS feeds in general. Reading individual sites requires you to remember to check them and to see content in various layouts. For most sites, the content is what matters, not the layout and style. RSS feeds allow you to grab the content without the need to bother going to the site.

Google Reader is a feed aggregator that shows you all the feeds to which you’re subscribed and their items. You can also organize them into folders to sort. I have 272 subscriptions. I’ve read 2,306 items in the last 30 days and 104,820 items since March 2, 2008. That’s a little over five years that I’ve used this wonderful service.

I read jokes, gaming news, a ton of WoW blogs, US news, world news, tech news, and more. Google Reader also allows you to tag items and star items. There are two tags I use all the time – “suggested reading” and “show gem.” You might be able to guess what “show gem” is; I mark items that I want to show gem later.

I use “suggested reading” to mark WoW posts that I’d like to consider for my weekly post on my WoW blog highlighting blog posts from other sites. Once a week I look through the tag, decide which to use, and remove the tag from the current items. You can also e-mail people from Google Reader. This is also really useful.

One of the coolest features are they keyboard shortcuts. There are shortcut keys for selecting articles, e-mailing, tagging, marking read/unread, and more. It’s super helpful and easy to use. Google Reader’s also a web app, which means you can access it anywhere. An installed program wouldn’t be anywhere near as useful. I use it at home, at work, and on my phone.

Folders, tags, and stars are very useful for feed organizing. I know there are other RSS readers, but I sure hope there’s one with a feature set that rivals Google Reader’s! I don’t blame Google for this. If people don’t use this service, it’s understandable. I blame all of you that don’t use it. You’re all terrible people.

A Note For Toshi

I saw this on Toshiba USA’s Facebook page, and I had to share..

A Note For Toshi (my Toshiba PC)
Hello sweet Toshi I know your there’
Wake up Wake Up if you Dare
U R so sweet U R so Kind ‘
I Push all of Ur buttons
and U really don’t mind,
U let me talk to folk all around the place,
and harvest all sorts of crops,
He He even let me fly into space,
oh Toshi U really R Tops’
Ur buttons so shiny, ur screen so sweet ,
the real world finds it hard to compete,
Oh Toshi i really am sorry
I must press the OFF button till Tomorry!
He he he I was only joking !!!
Lets Play some Music and get the housework done ‘
So this Granny and Toshi can have some more FUN

Toshiba USA Facebook Timeline, 1/11/13

CES 2013: The show

The Consumer Electronics Show 2013 was last week, and it was my second year attending. Like last year, I swear the most common products weren’t very innovative or new at all. Every corner of the show seemed filled with speakers, headphones, iPhone and iPad cases, and iPhone and iPad docks.

Of course, there were some other things too. First, thanks to Windows 8 there were a variety of new form factors of laptops/tablets. These included slide out laptops/tablets, laptops that fold over backwards, and laptops with screens that swivel within their frame. To be honest, they felt similar, and none of them felt 100% right. I suspect we’ll see some more iterations on these until something catches on.

I also saw the ability to turn many devices into things that were a bit superfluous. I want my devices to do their jobs. While adding additional functionality seems like a benefit, if I already have another device that does that job better, then I don’t need the new one.

TVs were big this year too of course. A variety of companies had 4K TVs. You can definitely tell the difference between 1080p and 4K, but it’s no where near worth the price yet in my opinion. Of course, I just got an HD TV for the first time, so obviously I don’t care about that very much. Sony had a TV on display that used glasses to show two separate images to different people. This allowed people to play a two player PS3 game on one TV with each player seeing a full screen. That seemed cool (but not worth wearing glasses). Sony also showed off their Vitas. It’s a nice little device, but the controls just don’t feel good to me.

The only thing this year that really impressed me (although not new this year) were OLED TVs. They have such a vibrant, clear picture. I’d rather have a 1080p OLED TV than a 4K non-OLED TV. However, some companies were showing 4K OLED TVs. Now that’s cool.

Windows 8

Windows 8 Partner Box

Happy Windows 8 launch day! It’s nice that it’s finally here, but I suspect that we’ll have a lot of customer questions despite our preparations. The Windows 8 launch was one of a few causes of stress this week. Hopefully next week will be calmer.

For lunch today we went to P.F. Chang’s before heading over to the Microsoft Store. We wanted to play with Surface ourselves. The first thing I noticed was how nice the Microsoft Store itself was. It was bright, colorful, and very welcoming.

The Surface was fun to use, and the keyboard was interesting. There are two type of keyboards. The first is the Touch Cover. It’s a cover with a touch sensitive keyboard and touchpad. The keys don’t actually depress, but you can feel individual keys. It felt a little odd but worked well. The second keyboard is the Type Cover. It’s similar to the Touch Cover but has keys that actually depress. It’s like a laptop keyboard.

The Surface itself felt solidly built. Even the integrated kickstand felt secure and useful. I just wish the Surface Pro (with Windows 8 Pro rather than Windows RT) was available now rather than in three months. There hasn’t even been an announcement of the price!

There were no surprises relating to software. Windows 8 is, no surprise, the same Windows 8 that we’ve been using for a while now. There’s also no Windows 8 family pack or bundle, which is unfortunate. Most people probably have more than one computer. I have at least three that need to be upgraded. Of course, Windows 8 Pro is only $39.99, so I can’t really complain.

I’m pretty excited about Windows 8. It’s hard to predict how receptive the general population will be, but I suspect that after the initial fear of the unknown calms down, people will be fine with Windows 8. While I don’t use the “new interface” at all really, I’m frustrated using Windows 7 computers. I’m anxious to see what other Windows 8 devices are released, especially by Toshiba. We’ve already announced an ultra-book with a slide-out screen, converting between a tablet and laptop. It uses full Windows 8, not Windows RT. Microsoft is almost entirely pretending that the Surface Pro exists, which might be a strategy to keep its OEM partners happy. After unexpectedly entering the tablet market, by only providing a Windows RT tablet, they’re allowing OEMs (whether intentionally or not) to fill the hole with Windows 8 devices.

By the way, Microsoft gave everyone in Toshiba’s Digital Product Division a box like the one in the photograph. It contained a Windows 8 t-shirt, a stress cube, some stickers, a bag, and a pen! Sadly it didn’t contain any hardware or even a copy of Windows 8!


I thought I’d share some of the videos I took of ASIMO at Disneyland on 9/24/12.

Here he’s introduced to the audience for the first time.

ASIMO shows off a little bit.

Dance moves? Yeah, he’s got those.

Last but not least, ASIMO uses the stairs,

The Verge Reports on Toshiba’s Windows 8 Devices

Toshiba shows off first Windows 8 prototypes: convertibles, sliders, and tablets | The Verge
The Verge offers a nice little article on Toshiba’s new Windows 8 devices. These include a tablet that connects to a keyboard similar to the Asus Transformer as well as a tablet that slides open to reveal a keyboard. It can also slide up to look like a standard laptop.
I hope I get to beta test these.

Netgear 802.11ac Router Reviewed by CNET

5G Wi-Fi (802.11ac) explained: It’s cool | Crave – CNET

Now that you can actually buy the first wireless networking products that use 802.11ac, Buffalo’s router and media bridge, it’s time you learned about the this new wireless standard. While the “ac” designation definitely does not mean “air conditioning,” I can say for sure that 802.11ac is cool.
And by cool, I mean fast. That’s the biggest difference about 802.11ac compared with previous wireless standards. But first let’s see how similar it is.

Mmmm, faster. Sounds great on paper (screen?), but the speed of my internal network isn’t really the problem right now.

Lithium Network Conference Part 1 – The Work

Lots of interesting things at LiNC this week. I couldn’t cover all of it, but here are some highlights.
The “Me too” button was discussed a little bit. It’s a button on posts that allow people to say “me too,” like “I have that problem too” or perhaps “that solved my issue too.” I’m not sure how you’d educate forum members to use it if you get a lot of forum members, but it’s an interesting idea.
Someone brought up the idea of losing control of your brand due to social media. The response was that opinion always existed even before social media. Social media gives brands control and data on opinion.
Andrew Leary, Executive Vice President of Ipsos, discussing having overlaid their social network on other applications and automated escalations based on popularity. Someone could grab a tweet and publish it on the forum. When it reaches enough kudos, it would automatically be escalated to e-mail and sent to people who relate to the tweet’s content. It’s interesting, but it doesn’t exactly apply to a support forum like ours. It also would require heavy text analytics it would seem.
Vincent Boon, Head of Community for giffgaff, a mobile phone company in the UK, discussed how giffgaff uses social networking for all marketing. It’s kind of amazing. They have a forum, and they payback community members with points that can be used for products, donated, or redeemed for money. People create or change banner, design fliers, pass out fliers, and even create websites to get people microsim cards. giffgaff gives all fonts and logos to anyone who needs them but doesn’t hold onto the brand tightly. If people want to create their own logos, that’s fine. It’s interesting to me how responsive and willing to help giffgaff’s community is. Their forum escalation time is set to 24 hours (if a post doesn’t get a response after 24 hours, an employee is e-mailed), and it’s never been triggered.
Bridget Dolan, VP of Interactive Media for Sephora gave a talk about the cool things Sephora is doing in the mobile space. Of all social networks, Facebook has been the most useful for them. No real surprise them. Following Facebook is Pinterest. What? Yeah, Pinterest didn’t get a lot of attention at LiNC, but it’s apparently working well for Sephora. When they relaunched their desktop site recently, they created a whole new mobile site as well. They also have iPhone and iPad apps, each with a different purpose. While Android overtook iOS last year among giffgaff users, Sephora is seeing the vast majority of mobile users on iOS, so all their focus are on that OS. The mobile site appears to focus on a similar thing as the desktop site – sales, product information, tutorials. The iPhone application focuses on being able to scan products to find more about them. Every product sold within any Sephora store can be scanned using an iPhone.
For Sephora, the iPad isn’t just a larger iPhone. It’s more for shopping and entertaining because most iPad users aren’t using them on the go. It features more rich materials, for example. It also has a “Today’s Obsession” section, showing trends as well as the latest Facebook and YouTube posts. The iPad app is designed to look like a flipbook or magazine.There’s also a promoted question, pulling people in to answer it (Beauty Talk). They also run contests, such as asking the community for nail looks. One of the coolest ideas I heard all weekend was what Sephora calls the Beauty Studio, which is like a virtual mirror. The iPad is held in portrait mode. After finding a makeup tutorial, a video is played in the bottom half showing you what to do. The top half of the screens shows what the iPad’s front-facing camera is viewing – in other words, it shows the viewer. This allows you to follow along with the tutorial video while putting on makeup.
The iPad isn’t just for use at home. Sephora is experimenting with iPads in store, both for customer use and cast member (employee) use. In-store, you can e-mail yourself steps, product lists, and YouTube videos to ensure you can replicate what was done to you in-store if receiving help. They’re also beginning to use mobile point-of-sale in stores (like Apple Stores I suppose).
Joe Clarke and Gonzalo Salgueiro gave a talk about their implementations at Cisco. They’ve done extensive customizing that’s very cool. They wanted to create an exchange of information between internal and external support that would appear seamless to customers. They didn’t want to have solve the same case multiple times, so they focused on how to reuse solutions. They call their forum and knowledge base Tech Zone. My favorite quote of the day? “This lustful union (of Cisco and Lithium) created the love child that is Tech Zone.” Keep in mind that Tech Zone is for internal, Cisco use only. First, to promote sharing of information, they’re pushing reputation hard on the forum. There are many ranks, and when mousing over the rank, you’re shown exactly what that person did to earn the rank. That doesn’t mean saying simply “2000 posts.” It’s in full paragraph form and specific to that user. Besides rank, which is using the out-of-the-box system, they’ve also introduced a separate scoring system used for leaderboards. The reputation worked so well that when they offered their top contributor the role of moderator, he was excited but turned them down when he realized he’d lose his reputation.
When the two speakers traded off, Clarke said, talking about the PowerPoint clicker, “I won’t need this because I, like any mad an, am going to attempt a LIVE DEMO!” Very entertaining guy, and the live demo was impressive as well. Because Tech Zone was designed engineers for engineers, they didn’t want to make it look pretty. They wanted to contain condensed information. They use an expandable tree structure to browsing the forum with short sub-forum titles and mouse-over descriptions. This wouldn’t be good for a customer-facing site in my opinion because mouse-overs aren’t very helpful on touch devices, but can work well internally. To save space and get things above the fold, they use tabbed viewing.
Their very ugly case management tool for support agents uses fuzzy logic to take the call notes and determine the primary and secondary categories of the case. If the tech needs help, they can click “Post question to Tech Zone.” This takes the information from the case and creates a post on the forum, automatically populating the correct fields and placing it in the correct subforum. It doesn’t submit, however, so that the tech can make changes if he wants. He needs to set his own subject. As soon as stops typing in the subject bar, a list of related threads is shown below. This helps decrease redundant threads. It uses metadata as well, like kudos and linked cases. What are linked cases? Well, if the tech decides that some other thread is related, he can press “Link your case” to show that it helps him as well. This also makes a note on that post that it helped another case. If the thread doesn’t help, the tech can return to the form with which he was working, and everything’s still populated.
To help get things answered, there are easy to use filters showing questions without replies and questions without solutions. They also added a “raise hand” feature. The raise hand button isn’t available right away, but after a certain amount of time, the original poster of a thread can click “raise hand” to indicate that he still needs more help. This is used for the same reason bumping is but has the benefit of not increasing the reply count, making it look like the thread is already being considered. This sounds like a great tool, but I think the community would need to be educated on how it works. It probably wouldn’t work for a community that gets many people who sign up, post a couple times, and never return.
Cisco is also using Apache Wave (Google Wave) for collaboration before publishing to their knowledge base or forum. Because their KB is internal, they’ve also added a “Flag for external publication” and can pass the data to their external publishing system. It’s not all about exporting either. They have a content import feature that takes a link and will take the site, formatting, images, and call, and pull it into the knowledge base. It’s all very cool, and Cisco shares all their code. It was all created by the two speakers present at LiNC as well!
Jane McGonigal
Jane McGonigal, game researcher and developer, also gave an interesting talk. She discussed how the majority of both boys and girls now play games, and how even 92% of all two-year-olds now play video games. Video game usage can even be used to fight depression in moderation. Studies have shown that children who play video games are more creative than their non-gaming counterparts. Take that, non-gamers!
I’m sure I’m missing a ton of stuff. I know I have notes that I didn’t discuss here, and there was plenty of interesting conversations that didn’t end up in my notepad. However, that does provide a nice segue into another topic. I had an iPhone and an Android tablet with me. I could have brought a laptop. My note taking was done with a pen in a pocket-sized notebook. Of course, that isn’t to say that I wouldn’t use electronic devices if they were adequate. With all the advances, what happened to Palm’s Graffiti (and I’m thinking of Graffiti, not Graffiti 2). I miss it. Many other people were using devices, although I don’t know if it was for note-taking. It’s no surprise that at a conference about social networking, I saw a lot of Facebook and Twitter on computer screens!

Reduced Speeds from AT&T

Reduced Speeds from AT&T, originally uploaded by theuser.
You are now chatting with Christine C., an AT&T sales representative.

  • Christine C.: Welcome to AT&T online Feature Sales. How may I assist you with your features today?
  • Peter Anargirou: Hi. I was wondering why I received a text message about having my speeds reduced if I’m already paying for unlimited data
  • Christine C.: I would be happy to help you with the data pla.
  • Christine C.: You will still get unlimited data. It is usually over 5GB then the speed can be slowed for congestion.
  • Peter Anargirou: I’ve only used 2 GB when I received the text message last night.
  • Peter Anargirou: And I don’t have tethering nor am I jailbroken or doing anything else I’m not supposed to do.
  • Christine C.: I understand. Unfortunately, I can’t access the account to take a look. The slowing speeds are based on location and usage. You will still have the unlimited data plan.
  • Peter Anargirou: I understand that it would still be unlimited, but it’s of course frustrating that there isn’t an option for a bigger package, yet reduced speeds is almost the same as cutting off data. If I can’t successfully do the things I pay to do with my data plan, then it’s become worthless. However, I know that’s not something you can change of course.
  • Peter Anargirou: I do have two other questions. First, if my speeds are reduced, does that reset the following month?
  • Peter Anargirou: In other words, if I go over this cap and have my speeds reduced, will I have normal speeds the next billing cycle until I hit the cap again?
  • Christine C.: It does reset with the next billing cycle.
  • Peter Anargirou: Well that’s fantastic, because I was on the 28th day of my billing cycle.
  • Peter Anargirou: Second, in case I want to consider different service provider, where can I find out if I’m still under contract and when that expires?
  • Christine C.: Perfect!
  • Christine C.: Your contract will be listed in your Profile which is under My AT&T.
  • Peter Anargirou: Okay, thank you very much!
  • Christine C.: It is on the second tab about half way down.
  • Christine C.: Is there anything else I can help you with or another feature I can help you with?
  • Peter Anargirou: No, that’s it! You’ve been very helpful! I work in a similar position than [whoops] you, and I know it can be frustrating when customers get mad when you have no control. I hope you have a wonderful day.
  • Christine C.: Thanks! Thank you for choosing AT&T. We appreciate your business. Have a great week! Happy New Year!