Archive for the ‘navel gazing’ tag
Not the exact same dialer my father carried, but pretty close. (Via PhishMe.)
Note: This post inspired by Gizmodo’s feature on what our dads taught us about tech.
My father didn’t enjoy gadgets for gadgets’ sake. He bought fish from Nova Scotia, Iceland, Florida, and other places a long way from our home in upstate New York. He and a handful of employees cut it all up and sold the filets. He grew up in rural Long Island, then on a working upstate farm, and couldn’t type beyond finger pecking. Still, the very first device I can ever remember thinking was amazingly cool–or whatever equivalent of “cool” a 6-year-old had in the mid-1980s–was a tiny device he held up to the phone receiver at five in the morning.
It was roughly the size of today’s iPhone, though small in my dad’s gargantuan hands. The label read “Radio Shack,” it was sharp-edged and brown plastic, and it had a big speaker under its flip-open cover. If you slid open the case in the back, there were lots of switches, and maybe even transistors. The main magic, though, was when my father would pick up the kitchen phone handset, hold the speaker up to it, and generate a series of squawks and beeps. When the analog argument was over, he’d maybe punch in a few numbers, then put the device away and start talking. “Jim? Rick Purdy. I need Icelandic Cod by Thursday …”
I picked up my tech obsession, indirectly, from my dad’s cast-offs. After he sold off and closed Statewide Foods the first time, to try a white-collar job and spend more time with his kids, I inherited his office’s bookkeeping computer. It was a Gateway 486DX-33, “Turbo” switch and all. I installed Windows 95 when it arrived from a dozen or more 3.5″ floppy discs. I upgraded it with a CD-ROM (4x) and sound card (Creative, 16-bit) for proper gaming capacity, but then had to check out every single Windows setting, BIOS switch, CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT script, and potential hardware problem when System Shock wouldn’t stop crashing with a terminal-type “Divide Overflow” message. In the end, the culprit was an obscure BIOS setting that put the hard drive into a necessary “Turbo” mode. I will never again buy, name, or accept anything in my life with a “Turbo” label–ever.
Cut to 2010, and I’m a 29-year-old writer who earns his wages detailing the kinds of work-arounds and system fixes that filled my formative years. Interviewed by the local alternative weekly, I brought up that brown box of my father’s. I mentioned it again in my next phone call with my father, and he explained the mystery I’d managed to never directly ask him about.
The device was a Radio Shack tone dialer, and he discovered it in the world of long-distance brokers. It was a kind of “red box” phreaking tool. Rather than pay then-monopoly rates to AT&T/Bell/NY Telephone for long-distance calls, the tones and squawks from the device activated something deep within the local phone switching station, which in turn connected and authorized him to use his own much cheaper carrier to call Iceland, Canada, or wherever he needed fish from.
The conversation about the “brown box” was the last I’d ever have with my father. He passed away on March 23, 2010. A heavy manila envelope had arrived four days earlier. Inside was a brown, dust-flecked device, with a speaker and all the switches still set up.
Every generation thinks they’re the first to stumble across everything. I’m typing this from a smartphone tethered to my laptop to avoid Panera’s unusable lunchtime Wi-Fi. My dad was sneaking around legitimacy to get things done long before his son.
“What’s your Twitter handle? Are you looking for VC money? On Foursquare? HELLOOOO?!?” (image via Wikimedia Commons).
Over a long weekend in September 2007, and right before I sent an overly earnest pitch letter to the editors at Lifehacker, I created this web site so that I might appear impressive, experienced, and engaged in the wider world of tech.
Once I’d made the jump to being actually engaged as a full-time, at-home, independent editor and freelancer, I made updates to the site so as to appear busy and important. Once I was busy, and at least self-important, I wanted to appear responsive, involved, and all kinds of quirky.
These days, I have no time to appear anything at all. Or appear most anywhere, unless it’s tangentially work-related or deductible from taxes. Free food, sure, but otherwise, no dice. Read the rest of this entry »
A single ShackBurger, crinkle-cut fries, and a glass of their own ale. This was a great moment to have a G1 camera handy.
I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya. Long time, like, since before the national health care debate started. Long time like, I still lived in Rochester. Long time like, everybody still thought the Bills had a great passing game ready to roll out.
So! Here’s the notable stuff. I’ll skip the minutiae of professional/Lifehacker-related material, since I should really be a good “personal brand” and round that stuff up on the professional page.
- I got to eat at Shake Shack. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it was part of a very nice two-day jaunt to New York City, wherein I got to work at the Gawker office, see three old friends, and enjoy Manhattan in the not-too-cold-to-walk fall. But I’ve been fiending for this particular combination of meat, sauce, bread, and greenery since I posted about making your own at home. It did not disappoint. Honest food and good ingredients, cooked well and served up straight, and I’m totally in love.
- Among other media appearances, I was quoted in the Wall Street Journal, following a very fun interview with Alexandra Levit. This is important mostly because the WSJ is something my parents and relatives can say they’ve actually heard of, so family get-togethers now have one gimme conversation point.
- My wife and I moved back to Buffalo, so now I’ve got new home office digs and an endless tab at Home Depot. I miss many things about Rochester, but overall, it’s been great to get back to the business of shivering, connecting, and eating with the great people here.
- Having settled in a bit, I’ve been writing material for Buffalo Spree (ooh, new web site!), a twice-monthly tip column for ITworld, and the occasional piece somewhere else, like Popular Science.
- I have started watching The Wire, sequentially from the first episode, for the third time. This is notable mainly because it represents an approximate, cumulative total of 150 hours dedicated to the study of this five-season masterpiece, being early into Season 3, and not counting Season 5 episodes I totally watched twice, because I downloaded them early and then pretended I hadn’t when they aired on HBO, which I subscribed to solely for the purpose of getting on-demand Season 5 episodes, and yes I’m aware this is a comically overlong sentence.
Since you asked, yes, I find Season 2 to be vastly underrated, and Season 3 to be very loose and faulty at points, despite having two of the strongest plot arcs (Hamsterdam and Stringer Bell’s quest to “go straight”). I could certainly go on–and I have in the past–but let’s just say that I’m very eager to discuss this with you at any point when we meet. Midway through your surgery? Tie off that morphine drip, fellow watcher, and let’s get down to brass tacks.
Since the last time I dropped some HTML here (2008!), quite a bit has changed for the Purdman. Here’s the traffic-friendly listicle version:
- Moved to Rochester: I started at the University at Buffalo in 1999, and have lived in Buffalo—minus a 1.3-year hiatus in Sandusky, OH—ever since. Rochester’s only an hour and a half by car from my old town, and, to the vast majority of those who even acknowledge its existence, upstate New York is all one big exurb of NYC anyways. But it’s no small thing to leave a place where you’ve got a really good handle on the local media happenings and gossip, the menus of approximately 70% of the regional eateries, the non-abridged lexicon of local legend and lore, and all the other stuff of small-city life behind.
How to adapt to Rochester, then? Reverse every future-of-news-business article at once and get the actual print newspaper delivered every day. Sign up for things you’d normally shrug off (BarCamp Rochester, anyone?). Be randomly friendly to people. Working from home makes it tough to find a clear path to local enlightenment, but, then again, it’s the dead of winter. Sunshine, I hope, is not only the best disinfectant, but a powerful energy source for social generators (Sorry, I’m still recovering from a wind energy piece).
- Senior Editor at Lifehacker: Mostly because the site’s originator, motivator, and, uh, editor gracefully said goodbye to pursue a truly freelance life. There’s an old Gawker Media trope about how one year of full service does, actually, constitute being “Senior,” but I’ll leave that to the MediaBistro/TechCrunch types to parse. It’s a bigger step up than it might seem to those on the other side of the PHP, but I’m really enjoying having an active role in asking questions, planning features, and making changes that shape the day-to-day success of my favorite site.
- I turned 28:
- Canceled cable, switched to streaming: Nor have I looked back once. I’m using Boxee and Apple TV to cut the cable, so I can stream The Office, 30 Rock, and (very soon) Lost whenever I want in HD. For everything else, there’s free, over the air digital television. Seriously, it took a lot of mental re-programming to get used to the idea that there’s actually free television out there.
- Reminded what real reporting is like: Nothing I did approached the completeness of the intense, strongly-felt coverage by the Buffalo News. But I covered the crash of flight 3407 in Clarence, NY for the NY Post, and it struck me, for the first time in a long time, just how intense deadline journalism involving real humans can be. It was overwhelming, terribly sad, and an experience I’ll keep with me for a long time.
A ThinkPad, a cat that doesn’t understand personal space, coffee, and water–vital parts of my morning routine.
My social-media-savvy (and skilled) fellow Lifehacker Tamar Weinberg did the yeoman’s job of getting the whole editorial team to spill what we use in discussing, planning, researching, and writing the site. My own picks and preferences are about halfway down the page–they’ll stand out for all the Linux gear (plus the open admission to using Vista without a pistol to my frontal lobe).
I wrote up today’s Top 10 feature on Lifehacker, Top 10 Tools to Get Blogging Done. I wrote about how tools like Tumblr, Foxmarks, and others can make getting your ideas written and posted much easier.
And, yeah, I haven’t posted anything of substance here in a long time. I have no less than five half-thought-out, one-third-written, not-quite-ready posts in draft form. Even when same-day inspiration strikes (New restaurant! New writing clip! Funny thing I found!), it always seems to dissolve when I hit the admin page on this thing, like lime juice into water (I’m really thirsty at the moment).
The biggest reason—blogging for Lifehacker makes up the bulk of my work-work these days. I’m still digging how fun it is to write on-the-fly about technology, but sitting down to write a blog during the off hours feels kind of like, I dunno, returning home from a real estate office and planning how to sell your own home. I’ve also come to realize the value of away-from-the-screen time, both for getting things done on the home front and for my eyes/mind/hands.
I’ve toyed with the idea of giving myself a topic, and a regular schedule, to write about here: Buffalo, food, maybe even blogging itself. I’ll get around to making a decision sooner than later—assuming blogging doesn’t kill me first.
To do: Make the sidebar a bit more interesting, give my friend and like-minded blogs some love in the blogroll, and, uh, post about something other than my blog.