April 27, 2004

News in Brief


  1. Mel is getting an MRI on her knee, so we can see how screwed up it really is.
  2. I'm coding a Huffman Compression algorithm in Visual Basic this week. YES, it's work-related.
  3. Justin's transfer to St. Petersburg is still up in the air.
  4. The Princess of MeMeMe has decided she wants to "walk away from the Marriage just as she entered it." Oh, plus she wants all the stuff she's accumulated since then. And the new car. So that's pretty much walking away just as she LEFT it, except she doesn't want any of that nasty, troublesome debt that paid for said stuff.
  5. I knew I was playing too much "Splinter Cell" on my PS2 when I snuck up on a group of men in fatigues and threw a Frag Grenade into the room, only to realize that they were the American soldiers I was sent in to rescue. ("Sorry! Force of habit!")

April 26, 2004

The State of Slackerdom Address

Thursday night, Craig took me to see Weird Al at the Tabernacle. I was having a good time, but my spider-senses were tingling. I knew someone in this audience, maybe even dated them, and this person did not have happy thoughts about me. I thought about shouting "Look! It's Chris Kern from Parkview High!" and pointing across the theater, to try and draw their fire, but I decided against it.

The show was great. Craig and I haven't laughed like that in a long time. But I was distracted from the stage by a teenager sitting in front of us. He might have been enjoying the show, but he was determined not to show any enthusiasm. He was always looking around at people, paranoid to see if anyone noticed him cracking a smile. And whenever people started dancing or acting silly, he would laugh and point them out to his dad. I felt bad for this kid, until I remembered my own teenage years.

That was me at a young age; too self-conscious and scared to do anything in public. I, like most kids my age, was terrified of being laughed at. That's the #1 fear of most teenagers growing up; losing face in the eyes of your peers. All I could do was point out other people doing things publicly, things that I,myself, would never do...for fear of being pointed out. It's a vicious circular argument that paralyzes most of our youth into suppressing most of their expressive behavior.

"Look! Jimmy Young and Brooke Stoddard are DANCING together!" I said to my friend at my middle school dance, back in Dublin, Ohio. Can you BELIEVE it? A boy and girl dancing...at a...school dance, of all things. How utterly inappropriate. Truth was, I was just self-conscious about myself, fearful of people pointing and laughing at me if I ever got the idea of doing the same thing. Plus, I just might have harbored a crush on Brooke Stoddard for the previous two years.

Teenagers are pack animals, by and large. They find safety in the numbers of their herd, and comfort in keeping in the middle, away from the dangerous edges. Like many teenagers, I aimed for mediocrity in all things. It was the safest place to be. When defending a report card one day, I actually told my father once that "cool kids don't get A's, they get B's and C's." I wasn't lying, that was actually my intent. Any kids on the ends of the bell curve get the wrong kind of attention. If your grades are too good, the other kids notice and start to tease you about being a brain. If your grades slip too far, you're sent to remedial classes, where you get teased for being stupid. Keep your grades in the B-to-C range keeps you in the middle, so you don't stick out.

[Disclaimer: My social theory applies to most kids, but excludes the popular crowd. From my limited observation, they are similar, but they have additional social dynamics to deal with. As I said, I don't really know. I was content being in my small groups of friends, far from the boundaries of popularity, and the public scrutiny that comes with it.]

It's your circle friends that is most important to you during the teenage years. Most kids like to be involved with sports and activities, but the main driving force for enrolling in these activities is friends. I joined the Theater class after I made some friends there. Most of these friends sang in the Choir, so I joined that as well. I was a horrible actor (but who notices that in High School?), but I ended up becoming a good singer by the time I left for college. While I was proud of this accomplishment, it was the sense of belonging with my friends that drove me to try and succeed. I HAD to be good, or I'd have to leave my friends.

My parents tried their best to encourage my grades, but I was always average, or just a tick above it. No matter how many times adults try to explain it, teenagers have no sense of the words "Long-Term." All I knew was my immediate world. I trudged through my classes just to get through them, looking forward to when I could see my friends at lunch or after school. The words "Permanent Record" just didn't register with most of us, since the end of our Senior Year was the farthest point we could imagine. College was just an afterthought, mostly brought up when your parents got your grades.

High school kids think of college the same way that protestants think about heaven: "I know that I'm not the greatest, but if I'm MOSTLY good, I'm sure I'll be let in with the rest." Luckily, I was accepted to UGA that fall.

I'm frankly amazed, as many people are, that I graduated from college. The first couple of years, I put more hours of work into my A Cappella group in a day than I ever did in studying. My ultimate goal of graduation, even the immediate classes I was taking, frequently took a backseat to playing "Civilization" on my roommate's computer and my hall's long-standing rivalry with the TEP house across the street. And that's excluding all the time and effort put into the pursuit of women. I don't think that I was unique in this upside-down priority set, judging by the company I had in these diversions.

In college, my major influence was still my friends. However, your friends do not make-or-break you there, like they do in high school. Rather, they provide you with comic relief and a sense of belonging, which are necessary to take the edge off the increasingly harsh academic pressures. College's major difference is that there is little risk of humiliation. First off, people are so spread out that there is no real herd. Secondly, everyone is too busy with their own schedule and interests to worry about anyone not in their circle of friends. With the fear of public humiliation lifted, college students are finally free to take their first baby-steps out of their shells. And now that you aren't governed by your parents anymore, you have freedom to do almost everything that you swore to mom and dad you'd do.

Most of the time, this process of becoming yourself is gradual. Occasionally, however, some people are overwhelmed by the new control over their own destiny. Some people explode out of their shells and become drunk, figuratively, with freedom. (This often includes getting drunk, literally, with beer.) College is real life, only with the training wheels on. It's where you can experiment with interests and ideas to see what you like, what you want to do, and even who you are.

College is an absolutely crucial stage of personal development. By all means, it's also crucial for your academic and vocational development, but that's documented well enough. Too few parents and teachers tell you about the personal growth aspect of college, probably because they don't want to know about all the social, relational and chemical experimentation that eventually produces the new you. No one wants to come out and directly SUPPORT slacking and non-academic activities, (and that's just fine, since we probably wouldn't do half of them if they approved), but it's these very same activities that end up teaching you the majority of your life lessons. I estimate that 80% of the learning in college is done outside of the classroom, and every college grad I've talked to agrees with that number.

In closing, I hope that the kid in front of me at the concert eventually loses the fear of sticking out and becomes his own person, as I did. I'm far from perfect, but I've come so far since high school that I can barely recognize the person that I used to be. (By and large, this is a good thing.) But I like not being perfect. Hell, I'm only 30. How boring would the rest of my life be if I got it all right NOW, with 40 or so years left?

April 22, 2004

Alapalooza!

For my birthday, Craig is taking me to see Weird Al Yankovic at the Tabernacle tonight. His "Off The Deep End" tour in 1992 was my first concert, so this has special meaning to me.

My uncle Allan just had a minor stroke, but he's doing fine. I wanted to send him a few stroke-related jokes, but all I could find was the old one about the three old ladies and the flasher. That and lyrics to a horrible old Billy Squier song.

In other news, since Blogger.com is a subsideerariri... subsidera... sub... AFFILIATE of Google, they offered us all introductary offers for GMAIL accounts! (Just read back a few posts for a multitude of news on this.) Of course, I took them up on it. I may not use it, but it might pay to have an e-mail address that has some small resemblance to my real name, so I don't end up with an e-mail like "Big_CK74@crapmail.net" or something.

April 20, 2004

My Wife, The Bride and I

Melissa and I had a Date Night on Friday, dropping the kid with her parents and heading off to catch "Kill Bill Volume 2" with Justin. For those of you who think this might not be the right kind of movie for a date, then you don't know Melissa and I. You see, for our first date, we caught "Pulp Fiction" at the Beechwood Cinemas in Athens. I knew we were made for each other when we laughed in all the right places, and went over all the stuff we loved about it in the IHOP afterwards. *sigh*

But back to the Q-man's latest. It was a totally different movie than Volume 1, but still 100% Tarantino. Whereas the first film was an all-out frag-fest, v2 is all about TENSION. Quentin did some great work, shifting into a lower gear on this and focusing more on character development and plot. The gamut of emotions that you go through watching this movie is amazing. I'll stop there, just promise me you'll go see it!

In a related story, Darryl Hannah had a run-in with the police at the Kill Bill vol. 2 Premier, for ACTING, of all things.

April 16, 2004

Low-Tech Archival Medium

There's been a renewed interest in plaintext storage devices in the Kern household as of late. You may know these devices as "Books." It's a fairly archaic medium for backing up text-based data, and the publishing costs must be astronomical, compared to the practically-free electronic distribution of HTML or PDF files. As anachronistic as they may appear, however, Melissa and I are very fond of them.

I've just finished "Neuromancer" by William Gibson. Everyone recommends this guy and Neal Stephenson if you enjoy reading science fiction dealing with computers, and rightly so, they are the best in their field. One Amazon reviewer referred to William Gibson as "Old School" science fiction, so I thought that this net-hacking story was written in the "early days," like 1992, when MOSAIC was still top of the heap. I thought it was fairly innovative, but nothing seriously ground-breaking, as technological predictions go. There were virtual communities, hackers on the internet, all your usual post-internet age Sci-Fi stuff.

Then I read the book jacket, which shows "Copyright 1983".

That changed everything. This book accurately predicted the state of technology and the internet, back when there was NO INTERNET. This book was probably written on an Apple IIe, a high-tech box, in it's day, when the Macintosh, the world's first mass-marketed GUI, was still being invented. This fact changed my whole perspective about the book. I may have to re-read it later, with this in mind.

But I have another book on my plate now. Melissa just finished "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," and true to my word, I've started on it. (In exchange, Mel agreed to get her Sable's oil changed, which was 5000 miles OVERdue.) Apparently, the Hogwarts gang is now 15 and in the "angry young wizard" phase. Say what you like about the phenomenon, but the books are very engaging and well-written.

I remember trying to convince Melissa to start reading the Harry Potter books a few years back, and she flat-out refused, on the basis that "everyone else was doing it." I've gotta respect that about her, she has to blaze her own trail in life, be her own individual person. Me, I'm content just to fit into a comfortable stereotype, with my fellow Coder/Graphic Designer/Blogger/A Cappella Singer/Movie Hound/PS2 Gamer compatriots.

April 13, 2004

Google's GMail - Continued

I posted yesterday about Google's new G-Mail service, which permanently saves all incoming & outgoing messages from it's users, and inserts text-sensitive ads into all of these messages. But there's more news on the Google front today.

  1. Cnet News reports that Google plans to start selling Ad Keywords to the highest bidder, regardless if that word is trademarked. Ad Keywords are the triggers for Google's text-based ads that appear in the Search sidebar. For example, if you search Google for "Contact", you'll see ads for the company 1-800 Contacts. In the past, the company has reserved trademarked Keywords for their respective owners, in a "gentleman's agreement" to the underlying rights. This policy shift will now allow any buyer to purchase any Search word, regardless of trademark.

    Personally, I'm all for defending the rights of Trademark holders, but I can defend Google's position on this. The company has every right to control what a user sees when they enter Google.com. It's not like the ICANN or INTERNIC is opening the floodgates on registering trademarked domain names, we're talking about Google's site, and they have the right to control content on it as they see fit. This new policy is a little cut-throat, as business practices go, but their decisions should be their own. What effect this has on their revenue streams remains to be seen, but I anticipate some serious backlash from high-profile trademark name holders.

  2. Secondly, there is already Legal action pending against Google, even with GMail in the beta stage, citing privacy concerns. Additionally, this article reports that "European groups recently lodged a complaint with UK authorities, charging that Gmail may violate Europe's privacy laws because it stores messages where users cannot permanently delete them. Europe's privacy protection laws give consumers the right to retain control over their communications."

  3. And finally, there's a potentially bad result of GMail's context-sensitive ads. It seems that visitors to an Australian Gambling Addiction Support web site are being subjected to pop-up ads from casinos. Ironic as this may be, it brings up a potentially devastating, if possibly unintentional, outcome of GMail's Ads. If a GMail user often writes to his Alcoholics Anonymous buddies, the last thing he needs to see inserted in his e-mails is an ad for Budweiser. If Google intends to stay the course with this feature, they need to dig in NOW and prepare for some major lawsuits.


April 12, 2004

Google: Not Just For Breakfast Anymore

A recent Blog article detailed the amazing back-end processes of Google, the company whose name has become the verb for it's industry in the same way that Xerox did for photocopiers. Google is the great Cinderella story of I.T. upstarts, showing that if your ideas are good enough, if your code is slick enough, and if you can secure enough revenue for your product to evolve into maturity, you can live happily ever after in a software engineer's utopia.

When two Stanford Computer Science grads launched their new search engine in 1998 from a garage in Menlo Park, California with $1 million borrowed from family & friends, it was with little fanfare. In the Gee-whiz days of the early boom, most industry analysts didn't give Google.com a second glance, and why would they? No flashy graphics and hundreds of distracting links, just a white page with a colorful logo, a search box and the now-famous "I Feel Lucky" button. Little did the internet community know that Google would turn out to be "the little search engine that could."

Fast forward to 2004, and Google is still ranked first among its search engine peers. But this company is never content to rest on its laurels, is still churning out innovations.

Fresh out of Beta is Google's sibling shopper program, Froogle, which allows users to search thousands of commercial web sites for the best deals. Before Froogle, the best way to compare prices on popular items was ComputerShopper.com, but that system was flawed, since only paid retail partners were ever listed in their indexes. While web retailers in general have a long way to before they are on a level playing field with e-commerce juggernauts like Amazon, you can find dozens of listings, indexed with the company name, price and product description easily readable. Common sense still applies with these small retailers, you have to decide if saving that $25 on your hard drive is worth giving your credit card number to a company called CheepDrives-R-US.COM. A fellow geek looking for computer hardware and parts for his Pac-Man MAME cabinet gushed all about Froogle, back when it was in it's beta infancy a couple of years ago, and it has only been refined and expanded since then.

Next item on the innovation slate from Google is "G-Mail". So what's so revolutionary about web-based e-mail? How about a 1GB storage capacity for free? Industry leader Yahoo only gives me 6MB of space, and one salvo of baby pictures from a co-worker can eat that up in one fell swoop. Google can afford to do this because they have the rack space to act as a global "Hard-Drive-in-the-Sky", estimating a capacity up to 100 Million GMail accounts within a few short years.

The idea behind GMail is just what you would expect: A Search Engine for your personal e-mails. With 1GB of space, you'd never have to delete a (non-spam) email, and thus each piece of correspondence would be on file and available to you. If you forget your brother-in-law's new address, you can search your GMail with a variant of Google's search engine. This is just the thing for users with a penchant for internet pen pals, (like my wife, who has to expunge her Hotmail account almost weekly).

However, there are some notable trade-offs with G-mail that most users might not read up on. The first trade-off is what I like to call the "Spam Non-Compete Agreement." Essentially, Google promises to terminate any spam messages delivered to your GMail account with extreme prejudice, in exchange for their OWN text-based ads to appear. Just like their web site, these ads will be subtle, and text-only, but these particular ads will be context sensitive to the text of your e-mails, instead of search keywords. I don’t think that this will be a major sticking point for most web mail users, since we deal with annoying banner ads on other sites anyway.

However, this text-sensitive ad issue belies a deeper privacy concern: These ads are not based on just the current e-mail, but ALL e-mail to and from your GMail account. Every message that passes through GMail, outgoing AND incoming, is saved to Google’s servers. The text of all the messages are indexed and sifted just like the web pages that they process. While I trust that the company will honor it’s agreement and not share my information, I worry about these servers being hacked or some new clause in Patriot Act-like legislation granting the government the ability to read my correspondence for the past five years.

ASIDE: I really love this age of modern linguistics, where a “Privacy Policy” details how a company will keep and share your personal information, and “The Clear Skies Initiative” lifts the pollution restrictions on American industrial giants, essentially giving them a blank check to throw as much crap into the air as they want.

Google is a truly unique company where technological innovation and revenue streams can live in peaceful harmony, like the lion eating straw with the ox. It’s a GeekTopian business model that proves that if you have enough smart people on your staff, and give them enough funding and creative freedom, that viable business can be harvested as a result. I, along with most creative-minded geeks out there, often daydream about working either at Google or Pixar. But just keep in mind that another bunch of creative geeks are hackers, always looking for creative ways of exploiting good software. There’s information risk in every action that we take online these days, just make sure to read the Privacy Policy of any service you sign up for, and just be mindful of the worst-case scenario.

April 09, 2004

April 08, 2004

Marketing Genius

Once in a generation, an entrepreneur comes forth with an idea so cunning, so potentially profitable, that it sends ripples through the world economic community. Folks, I am here to tell you that *I* am that person, and THIS is that idea.

Hedgehog in a Can!
Hedgehog in a Can!
You laugh now, but remember the "Pet Rock" craze? Sea Monkeys? FURBIES, for God's sake?!? How can all of those ideas make people rich and THIS cute, fuzzy thing, hermetically sealed for freshness, not sell like hotcakes?

Okay, you can stop laughing now. Seriously.

Okay, fine. But don't come crying to me when WWW.HedgehogInACan.COM is selling more than AMAZON. I'll just keep this thing on my desk at work, I guess.

April 07, 2004

Hung on the Age Bracket

Well, it’s official now, I’m “in my 30‘s.” Not really such a big deal, really. My parents in Hawaii sent me an e-Card and my brother called me from L.A., on his way from one job to the next one (he has three now). We had a good chat, and he recounted a great story about how he lost his cell phone on a hiking trip with Gwennie. Even the Nash family in Devonshire sent me an e-mail from their new computer.

I got my wish for a small, low-key no-cake birthday last night, so Melissa and I dropped Matthew off with her parents and met Justin and Craig at Jillian’s for dinner. We came in to find that it was Team Trivia night, so we registered ourselves as “The Headlighters” (don’t ask) and settled in for some competition.

At first, thing looked good for our team: The rounds had categories like “Disney, Music and Alcohol”, so we cleaned up with Melissa, Craig and Justin on the team, respectively. But we lost it in the second half when the guy started asking questions about foreign prime ministers in the 1950’s. (We still would have lost, even if my teammates had gone with my answer of “Hall and Oates” as the duo with the most Top 10 singles, instead of Simon & Garfunkel, but I just had to mention it.)

We all had a great time, just eating, drinking & joking around, and that is just what I wanted for my birthday. I just don’t want traditional birthday parties anymore. It’s not so much that I don’t want to be reminded of it, it’s just that it doesn’t seem like such an accomplishment, at this age. When you’re young, every year is a milestone, and you can do things one year that you couldn’t do the one before. After you get out of college and settle down with a job and family, there’s not a real discernable difference from year to year. Sure, I’m happy to be 20 lbs lighter this year than the last, but aside from that, I’m not much different.

Perhaps if I reach some unnaturally high age, such as 90, and it’s actually an accomplishment to have lived another year, I’ll change my position on this.

April 05, 2004

Strangely Quiet

Melissa was gone most of last week. She went down to Florida with Matthew and her parents. Her grandmother has advanced Alzheimer’s, and she’s no longer able to take care of herself in her house, so they had to put her in a nursing home. It was a miserable few days for all involved, both from the stress and emotion of the situation and from Matthew’s tantrums. He IS two, and we understand that he’s going to have them, but being cooped up in a car for the 13-hour drive made it all worse.

Meanwhile, I had a strangely quiet house to contend with. The only sign so far that I’m starting to think like an adult (since I’m turning 30 tomorrow) was in how I dealt with this sudden lot of free time. Instead of planning to spend most of it drinking or gaming with my friends, I made up a list of chores around the house that needed to be done. Married men know this as the “Honey-Do” list (as in “Honey, Do this, Honey, Do that…”). Don’t get me wrong, there was some beer, PlayStation 2 and friends involved, but only for Friday night.

But it was the total quiet that unnerved me. There was such sadness in the absence of activity around the house. I have often thought that I should get more things done each week, and here I was getting LOTS of stuff done. But after this absence, I find that accomplishments are hollow without loved ones to share them with. Lesson learned: I will do my best to relish future “distractions” from my family.

The Aforementioned Friend stopped by for a visit and I told him “I miss Mel and Matthew. It’s so weird. All of their things are still here, but they are not. The house is dead silent, and I’m suddenly all by myself.”

“Welcome to MY world,” replied The Aforementioned Friend.

He was right, but Melissa and Matthew are only gone for four days, and his wife is never coming back. I can only take solace in the fact that he’s getting the divorce paperwork finalized this month, bringing much-needed closure to this crisis in his life.

April 02, 2004

No big announcement, but I've recently acquired some gallery management software, which does all the layout and resizing for me, so I was able to create the London and Oscar Party galleries in batch. Sure, they're not really Fung Shui yet, but it'll come. Check them out!