A Blog by Scott Isaacs

Month: April 2005 Page 1 of 2

Lunch at Miller Brewing

So today, Gerry and I met Sean at his workplace for lunch.  Miller looks like a great company to work for.  It’s a nice building, has a good cafeteria, and, based on our quick tour, has a lot of conveniences for employees.  There is an exercise room, a convenience store, an actual bar (doesn’t open until late afternoon), a Tyme machine (ATM for those of you not in Wisconsin), dry cleaning service, and probably more things that I’ve forgotten already.

Granted, I don’t drink, so free beer doesn’t appeal to me much, but the company seems to really value their employees, which is great.  If it was 20 miles to the west, I might send over my resume tonight.  It’s hard to pass up a 4.5 mile commute, although it would be great to work somewhere where I could have someone as bright as Sean to mentor me.

Back in Wisconsin

So I’m back from my California trip now.  I got back yesterday afternoon, and, obviously, I didn’t post anything while I was gone.  I did take some pics of the place, though, and will try to get those up somewhere soon.

My body hurts from working on that house.  It’s apparent that I don’t get enough physical activity.  So I thought of a few things I could have done to better prepare myself for this trip:

  • Spend a few hours per day lifting heavy objects (like drywall) over my head, and hold it there for several minutes at a time.
  • Repeatedly scrape my bony white shins and calves with rusty metal outdoor faucets or other metal materials.
  • Climb up and down a ladder while carrying a circular saw, drill, hammer and various other tools.
  • Kneel down, in five minute intervals, on tiny pieces of gravel or asphalt roofing material while wearing shorts.
  • Hit my forearm with a crowbar, hammer or other heavy object one to two times per day.  Repeat this exercise for thumb as well.
  • Practice standing and staring in confusion, while trying to answer the question, “Now what do I do?”

Since I am going to have to make another trip out there to finish the project, I think that it is in my best interest to start this new training regimen immediately.  Does anyone have some asphalt roofing material I can borrow?

Going To California

So in a couple hours, I’ll be catching a flight to my home town in California.  Over our Christmas trip to see my family, Kelly and I bought a house for investment.  I am going out there this week to do some work on the house with my parents, and then we are planning to sell it.

Anyway, I may or may not post much over the next week, but if I get a chance, I will post a couple photos of the house and describe our progress and frustration.  🙂  (Probably more of the latter…)

TechEd Registration Confirmed

I finally got my registration confirmation for Tech·Ed 2005.  Now I just have to get a hotel and flight — and choose my sessions.

Generic Book Review – Notes for Publishers

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been reading a new book.  These comments aren’t specifically about this book, although they are prompted by it.  Anyway, here is my short list of things for publishers to consider before sending a new book to the public.

Make small books small enough to fit in my back pocket.

The book I am currently reading is 125 pages with fairly large font (12-14pt?).  It is very thin, but is roughly 6″ x 9″ (I don’t have a ruler handy).  If the book had been reduced to, say, 4″ x 6″, the font reduced slightly (10-12pt), and the pages increased to about 175-200 (making it only slightly thicker), I would be able to carry the book in my back pocket or jacket pocket.  I like to keep my hands free, especially when it’s cold (pockets), or if I am at a coffee shop trying to carry my wallet, coffee, scone, and napkins over to a tiny table.  As it is, the book is sitting in my truck instead of being with me right now. 

Recent Observation: I can’t read a book while it’s in my truck and I’m at my desk.

Obviously this doesn’t apply to large books, such as a book on Design Patterns or VB.NET or Financial Accounting, but if the book is small, make it small.

Include some type of bookmark.

This could be as simple as a paper book cover with “flaps”, or a ribbon sewn into the binding.  Or take it a step further and include a heavy paper (laminated?) bookmark that is printed with highlights from the book, or that has a space for a quick note from the reader.  Maybe I want to remind myself to go back and re-read the section in Chapter 8 about Topic ABCDE.

What if this bookmark had some type of adjustable “pointer” that would remind me where exactly I left off on the current page?  That might not make sense for a technical book that is divided into sections with section headings (a logical stopping place), but it sure would help me when I was picking up my copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy after 6 months of neglect.  When reading “easy reading” books (entertainment or other light reading), I may just stop at the end of a paragraph in the middle of a chapter.  In these cases, it’s not necessarily important that I completely understand the context of the read where I left off — I can probably pick it up as I read along.  However, it’s frustrating for me to suddenly realize after a few minutes of reading that “I’ve already read this”. 

Of course I could solve this problem on my own by buying a stack of Post-it Notes, but why can’t something be included?  As it is, I am currently using a napkin from the local Caribou Coffee shop to hold my place.  I don’t like to dog-ear my books if I can help it.  Especially if I think I might read, or refer to, the book more than once.  I know — I’m weird.  But I’m spending money, so work with me here.  😉

Show examples of completed worksheets.

The book I am reading at the moment has a few worksheets scattered throughout.  They are designed to help me convert to the author’s way of thinking, see the light, understand, figure out what to do, etc.  The thing is, some of the questions are vague — at least to me.  Maybe it’s because I haven’t been paying close enough attention (likely), but, other than the cost of adding 10 extra pages to the book, what would it hurt to add a completed worksheet by a fictional person?  I, personally, tend to learn by examples, so if I saw how John Doe answered his questions, or completed the worksheet, I might better understand how I should be doing it myself to get the most benefit from what the author is saying.

Give me access to digital and/or audio versions.

At the moment, I’m not sure how this would work and still protect from copyright infringement, etc., but it must be possible — it’s 2005, right?  When I buy a CD, I’m pretty sure that I’m allowed to copy it to my WMP, or my iPod.  Why can’t there be a similar “feature” for book owners.  If I have paid for a book, let me have some way to download a PDF, HTML, Word document, or some standardized e-book formatted copy of the book.  Depending on the type of book, let me also download an audiobook format of the book.  Maybe the book should just include a CD that has the e-book and/or the audiobook on it?  Maybe the solution is to include some type of voucher for a deep discount on the e-book or audiobook?  That would keep the cost of the book as low as it is now, but still allow me fairly easy access to alternative formats. 

Of course, the publisher (or whoever decides) probably doesn’t want to invest the money in creating an audiobook before the book is popular enough to support it.  However, the e-book should be fairly easy because, having worked at a newspaper for 4 years in the past, I would be willing to bet that printers don’t do manual typesetting and that the content is already in a digital format.  Maybe some text-to-speech technology can be created to automatically create the audiobook from this existing electronic content (again, it is 2005)?  Or maybe students in acting school can do the readings for cheap, or internships, or class projects, or whatever?  I don’t know if acting schools even have internships, but the point is that it might be feasible to do something.

Give me access to digital versions of any worksheets.

This is basically a combination of the previous two items, but still very worthy of consideration in my opinion.  If you’re going to take the time to create a worksheet for me to complete in the book I just bought, make that worksheet available for download.  I don’t like to write in my books for the most part.  I really don’t like photocopies (they’re always crooked and blurry).  You’ve already got the content, so why can’t you save it off to a PDF and put it on the publisher’s book site.

This doesn’t just apply to worksheets.  This is pretty similar to the way that some coding books will make the sample source code available online.  Certain diagrams may be useful for printing, especially if I need to convince someone (such as my boss) of the merits of what I am reading, but don’t want to give him my book.

So anyway, those are a few of the thoughts I’ve had over the last couple days.  I’m sure that some publishers are already doing some of these things for some of their books, but I think it could stand to be more widespread.  Anyone agree or disagree? What would make reading better (easier, more fun, more productive, etc.) for you?

Book: The Power of Innovative Thinking

As Gerry mentioned, the local B&N is moving and was having a pretty good sale on certain books.  So, Sunday night, Kelly and I went over there and spent about $80 on discounted books.

I found this one and it was only about $3 (if I remember correctly).  I started reading it this morning at Caribou and read about 20% of the book in 20 minutes.  There are only about 125 pages, and the font is big (not jumbo, but not tiny). 

So far, it seems to be another one of those “common sense” books telling you what you probably already know, but might not be thinking about.  If the book makes an impression on me, I might write more about it after I’ve read the rest.  I’m sure it’s definitely worth the $3 I spent on it, though. 

Bar-B-Geek… Geek-A-Que… Whatever…

So, I’m thinking about having a grill-out for my local geek friends and acquaintances one day this summer.  I’m not sure what to call it, though.  Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Bar-B-Geek
  • Geek-A-Que
  • Bar-B-Geek-A-Que
  • Q#

Maybe I could do it in conjunction with the Milwaukee Nerd Dinner?  Or maybe not?  I haven’t really thought that much about it other than getting preliminary approval from Kelly (my wife).  🙂

How do you want your burger done?  (It doesn’t really matter how you answer.  If I’m grilling, it will probably be medium-well.)

Searching for a Niche

WARNING: I ramble on and on in this post.

So the last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about “my niche”, or, more accurately, my lack thereof.  OK, so I haven’t been on a pilgrimage, or quest, or anything like that, but I’ve probably spent a grand total of 30-60 minutes thinking about this, and talking to Gerry about it.

You know how some people are known by what they are good at?  For example, there’s the “patterns guy“, the “persistence/ORM guy“, the “AI guy“, the “audiobook guy“, the “RSS guy” etc.  Well, I’m wondering what “guy” I am, or should be, or if I should be a “guy” at all.  It’s not an ego thing really — I just want to be an expert at something.

So far, I don’t think that I am an expert on any particular topic.  I know a fair amount about a fair amount of topics, but can’t think of anything where I might be considered the guru.  I’ve been trying to think about what topic I would like to use as my niche, so I started by thinking of things that interest me or have interested me in the past.  Here’s a short list:

  • Programming
  • Graph Theory (enjoyed in college)
  • Number Theory (enjoyed in college)
  • Reading books (although I tend to stop reading after about 20-50 pages)
  • Reading blogs
  • Music (playing and listening)
  • Writing (sometimes)

I know I have other interests, but these seemed to be the most likely to lead to some level of gurudom (guruness?  guruosity?).  Of course, I’ve forgotten almost everything I learned about Graph and Number Theory, and I’m barely an amateur on my bass guitar.  I could study, though, if I could see some application of the knowledge.  After all these years, I don’t even know how one would apply knowledge gained in the study of Number Theory — I just remember thinking the class was very enjoyable and that I had a good teacher.

I should go dig up my old textbooks.

Other than the math topics, my interest list seems to indicate that maybe I should become a reviewer of some sort (book, music, blog, etc.), but I really have no interest at all in doing that.  God only knows that I don’t want to be an expert at code reviews.  Now that would be boring.

This is just the present-day version of “what do I want to be when I grow up”.  I knew better when I was 14 what I wanted to be than I do now at 30.  If you had asked me 15 years ago, I would have told you that I was going to be a physicist.  I had taken a high school physics class that was very easy and natural and interesting.  Of course, college physics changed my mind on that topic, and I’ve been unsure of what I wanted to do ever since.

Oh well.  It’s not like I have to make a life-changing decision on anything this week, right?  But I am going to spend some time thinking about what interests me, and what I can do to become an expert at those things.

Unfortunately, I think becoming a professional baseball player is out of the picture anymore.

TechEd 2005

It looks like I’m going to Tech·Ed this year!  I found out a few weeks ago that it was a possibility.  I just found out yesterday that my corporate credit card limit is being increased so that I can register myself and my boss, reserve hotel, flights, etc.  I’m pretty excited about going.  I haven’t decided what sessions to attend yet, but will probably attend a combination of web development and architecture tracks.

I’ve never been before.  I imagine it will be a complete information overload, though.  Does anyone have any tips?  I imagine I’ll be referring to the conference DVDs regularly for a while after the fact.

Is anyone else going this year?  From the Milwaukee area, the only person that I know of (so far) that’s going, is Damon.  If anyone else is going, especially from the WI .NET Users Group, let me know!

April Milwaukee Nerd Dinner

This month’s Milwaukee Nerd Dinner is on April 26th at Buffalo Wild Wings on Mayfair.  I’m going to try to actually be there this time.  🙂

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