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Monthly Archives: January 2008

Geek Chic: Rules of reading in public

With the coffee-sipping, café-hanging out culture of today, sitting around is the new cool. Now, as fun as people watching can be, sometimes you just need something to do. Whether at Starbucks, a job interview, the subway or the park, reading a book provides entertainment and reveals an inner layer about you to complete strangers.

Think about how you’d view the guy reading Ann Coulter’s new trash piece (also, it’s a guy reading Ann Coulter). Different books send different messages about you and the right message can affect how you’re viewed by an employer or a potential mate.

Mainstream unknowns

Award-wining, critically acclaimed authors write numerous books of excellent quality but lesser stature. From the classy film noir of Raymond Chandler to the crude sexual humor of Anthony Burgess, these kinds of books present someone intelligent but not a snob. Make sure you buy paperback. This makes your book less conspicuous. You don’t need a thousand page hardback proclaiming your intelligence (or lack thereof) right on your lap. Now your book has a well-know author but unknown title. This gives you wiggle room in perception. Someone who wants to find someone of intelligence would see an independently-minded individual who they would assume has read the better known books by the same author (whether or not you have).

Conversely, if someone is looking for someone less academic, they would look past “Farewell, My Lovely” when “One Hundred Years of Solitude” might scare them away.

Airplane paperback

Mostly the Fabio romance novels, these are the trash they’re made to be (but a boon for starving writers). You can finish them in a plane ride and they will never start a conversation. The higher-end toss-aways like Patterson and Grisham at least
show you follow pop culture, though you are no connoisseur. If you care what people think about you, don’t read these where those people can see you.

Critical acclaim

The key to remember here is that smart people don’t just read the classics – they’ve already read them. Now no one has read all the classics, but if you’ve read one some arrogant know-it all has, you will not hear the end of it. Alternatively, classics tread the fine line of being a smarty-pants or a knowledge seeker. If you’re reading this for school, then bring a highlighter and notebook. If you want to be seen as that smart, then go all-out.

As for the more current award winners, these work similar to Mainstream Unknowns as those interest in smart books will know smart books. These books are less original, though books don’t succumb to being trendy like other aspects of pop culture.

Non-fiction

From biographies to political editorials to self-help books, non-fiction instantly reveals the readers interest and certain aspects of their intelligence. The meanings can be quite obvious. Diet books to biographies of Benjamin Franklin can be
surprisingly fun, certainly educational and always provide party fodder conversation. Though more academic books present the same images of arrogance, non-fiction at least reflects your preference instead of the I-desperately-want-to-be-viewed-assmart-so-I’m-reading-William-Faulkner-on-my-three-day-weekend. Just make sure you 1) like the topic you’re reading about and 2) be careful with political books. You don’t want to be stopping in Lynchburg, Virginia reading about how vital Stonewall was in the gay rights movement.

Graphic novels

Being a huge comic book fan (surprise), I have my biases, though even I rarely read comics in these public settings (opting for non-fiction). Nevertheless, even I give in on my subway ride home from the comic book store with the new shipment. So back to the article. The fastest growing section at your bookstore is the graphic novels. While you may shrug at the thought of reading Spider-Man in your Gucci suit
en route to your six-figure salary job. While as a young college student, conversations of super-heroes have more prevalence, someone wishing to be less nerdy may prefer something without spandex.

Graphic novels cover every genre from Blankets by Craig Thompson, a memoir of Thompson’s rigid Catholic upbringing and meeting his first love, to 300 by Frank Miller (the author of Sin City), the retelling of the 300 Spartans who prepared a suicide mission against the Peloponnesian army. Another downside, though – graphic novels are big and heavy and not often made for traveling. Still, try reading some. I’m not biased.

(Originally published on EDGEBoston.com)


Geek-Out Moment: First Captain America

Captain America Comics #1, from Marvel Comics He might be dead, replaced, and forgotten, but we will always remember the original Captain America.  Steve Rogers punched his way into our Nazi-hating, flag-loving hearts with his ironically Arian blond hair and blue eyes and rugged good looks.  Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created the super-hero icon in 1940, a year before Pearl Harbor, to amazing popularity (and some controversy).  Captain America proved to be an inspiring figure during World War II both in the comics and out, outselling major magazines like Time during the 1940s until his comic was canceled in 1954.  Marvel Comics revived the character in 1964, proving Captain America had an appeal that could cross generations.  Captain America has been a staple of the Marvel Universe, acting as the de facto leader and moral compass.  Marvel has Captain America assassinated in 2007 with his former sidekick Bucky taking over the mantle.  I’m sure this will last.


Geek-Out Game: Dark Cut 2

Dark Cut 2 Gamers conventional wisdom assumes commercial releases are going to be better than the pathetically, free flash games.  I’m a big fan of Trauma Center series on Nintendo’s DS and Wii which features excellent controls replicating the stress and life-and-death drama of surgery.  I did, however, wish for an alternative to the brightly colored anime and oddly super-powered surgeon I played as (draw a star to save a life).  Dark Cut 2 might be too real, and that makes it only more awesome.  You play as a Civil War surgeon performing M.A.S.H. like meatball surgery only without all that newfangled mid-20th century technology.  Bloody, dirty, raw surgery.  That’s Dark Cut 2.  Get your patient drunk before slicing and watch them writhe in pain when you clean their wound in alcohol.  In other words, this game is not kid friendly.  Of course, it’s only a free game so there’s only four surgeries, but each one will take some practice.  Not four years of med school.  Consider this an entry exam.

Geek-Out Game: Dark Cut 2


Geek-Out Moment: Cylons win

…SPOILER WARNING…finish Battlestar Galactica Season 2 before reading this post

Battlestar Galactia, New Caprica, from Sci-Fi Channel and Universal Battlestar Galactica’s re-imagining has been a like a sci-fi wet dream in this Star Trek-deprived age.  With a staff comprised of almost all former Star Trek writers, Battlestar Galactica has improved on many of the sci-fi staples, streamlining technobabble to a need-to-know basis and focusing on creating a simple and believable fantasy world dealing with real issues.  The show’s catastrophic opening shows the robot Cylons wiping out almost the entire human civilization in a 9/11 worst-case-scenario allegory.  The show’s War of Terrorism allegory gets flipped when the remaining humans find a habitable planet, only to be conquered by the Cylons.  For a year, the Cylons occupy the humans who, in turn, launch a violent resistance, blowing up buildings with humans and Cylons.  The cut and dry Cylons are the terrorists gets ripped apart when now the Cylons are the occupier and the humans are the "freedom fighters."  Suddenly, the show complicates its own message  – what makes terrorists and what makes heroes?  And this is just a sample of what makes Battlestar Galactica the deepest space opera in the galaxy.  Politics and religion makes for greatest mindless entertainment.


Prodigeek worries about being sued for existing

Patent law really sucks these days.  Unfortunately, the insanity that is our patent system doesn’t get a lot of publicity.  The major issue is companies are patenting everything they can to either sue everyone else or protect themselves from lawsuits.  Patents and copyrights are meant to encourage innovation, not be used to scare off competitors.

So explain how Amazon patenting customized 404 error pages deserves a patent?  The Supreme Court ruled over a year ago that eligible patents had to be novel and not "obvious" to people of "ordinary skill" in the related field.  Amazon couldn’t have invented customizing 404 error pages.  That technology already exists and is very easy to edit even for beginning web developers using several hosting tools.  Amazon’s patent seems to make the process more complicated than just using the basic server services, so really they’re just patenting a harder way of doing something everyone does already.

This also reminds me that most blogs (and websites) violate another patent, held by notorious patent troll firm Acacia.  Acacia controls a patent over the "posting a JPEG to a website."  That’s why I plan on switching completely to PNGs.

So if you see calls for my legal funds, you’ll know why.


Geek-Out Moment: Counting 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42

Lost numbers, 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42, from ABC Lost has many mysteries, but the numbers take the top prize.  The seemingly random list of numbers, 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42, have been featured throughout the series as lottery numbers, passwords to save the world, seat assignments on the plane, and mysteriously written out on the equally mysterious hatch.  So much of Lost’s mythology seems to tie into these curse numbers, with clues linking the numbers to the Valenzetti Equation, the equation predicting the end of humanity.  Yet that hasn’t stopped pop culture from embracing the mystery, from the growing variety of off-the-island references (it’s Catwoman’s prison number) to thousands of people using the numbers to win the lottery themselves.  Seems the curse won’t scare people away from millions of dollars.  Or maybe that’s just what the numbers want us to think…


7 greatest starship captains

Every geek dreams of commanding their own starship, but few get the chance.  I want to recognize the starship captains that have inspired us over the years.  They’ve shown up how to lead and how not to lead.  How to handle crisis and how not to handle crisis?  And most of all, how to speak every line with the gravitas of a Shakespearian actor.  Here’s to you, the 7 best starship captains and your gravitas.

leela 7. Turanga Leela

The Planet Express ship might only be expected to deliver packages across the galaxy, but that hasn’t stopped Leela and her crew from stopped (and starting) interstellar catastrophes.  She’s help save the universe from random time skips to fighting giant bees, beetles, and women to doing with the nasty with an embarrassing cadre of space dorks.  All part of the job.

6. Captain Peter Quincy Taggart

So technically he’s a captain who isn’t a captain who becomes a captain but not really.  Well, for the sake of this list, Captain Peter Quincy Taggart can pretend to captain my ship any day.  Taggart captains the NSEA Protector on the classic TV series Galaxy Quest (best remembered in the documentary film of the same name).  On the show he foiled the greatest evil aliens the universe has ever seen, but his greatest triumph came in the 1999 Galaxy Quest film where he and his crew has to save an alien race from certain extinction.  Even though he was really an aging actor with no command experience except for lines in a script, Taggart rose to the occasion and saved the day.  Never give up. Never surrender.

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Geek-Out Moment: Lynda Carter spins into our hearts

Campy superhero TV shows fit the 70s like well tailored spandex on a tight behind.  The New Original Adventures of Wonder Woman were nothing different.  The scantly clad feminist warrior spun into television history in 1976 with a popular live-action series running for three seasons (all available on DVD!).  Beauty contest winner and apparent actress Lynda Carter immortalized Wonder Woman, playing up the bullet proof bracelets to the unforgettable spin-transformation.  When secret identity Diana Prince needed to save the, she would spin around at super speed and in a flash of light transform into Wonder Woman.  Sure the dazzling special effects were partly a cost-cutting effort, but even laziness can make for classic TV.


Geek-Out Moment: Technicolor takes over

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, from Disney Look at all the pretty colors.  Hollywood enjoyed various color film technologies in early years.  Using early forms of Technicolor, Hollywood produced more and more full color pictures during the 1920s until the Great Depression when cost cutting became priority.  Most of the movie companies entered the 1930s with financial worries and hoped the new, state-of-the-art color film system from Technicolor would revive the industry.  Technicolor’s new three strip process allowed for an improved rendering of the color spectrum making for a greater range and higher quality use of colors.  Several musicals first employed the technology which earned its stripes after the animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became the highest grossing film of 1937.  Classic films like Wizard of Oz, Singin’ in the Rain, and Adventures of Robin Hood also featured the technology which dominated color motion pictures until 1952.


Geek-Out Moment: First computer virus

Computer viruses plague our frail hard drives like, well viruses.  The scary thought is that these viruses that can wreak so much havoc and mayhem are usual the creation of geeks like you.  More impressively, these viruses can provide jumps in programing and development.  Even now the lines between virus and spyware and helpful program are becoming tangled as the software is starting to mimic each others practices.  Not to say viruses are good, but progress is progress.  The likely first computer virus appearing in the early 1970s called Creeper.  It infected computers through modems posting text "I’M THE CREEPER : CATCH ME IF YOU CAN."  Viruses evolved throughout the years, mutating into harder-to-find-and-kill programs.  The term computer virus itself began in 1984, coined in a paper by Frederick Cohen as suggested by his teacher.


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