All posts by trowelfaz

Book Club

Here are some books I am currently reading or listening to. I usually don’t get a chance to read, so I prefer audiobooks, but when I do read, I don’t just read one books at a time, but a few together (hold on, my ADD is showing). Mind you, while I usually am a very fast reader (at least in technology related materials and other readings where the fluff and colorful descriptions is unimportant), it usually takes me quite a while to finish a novel. Getting tired after a few pages doesn’t help either.
Designing Interactions – Bill Moggridge
This books is less about designing interfaces for user interaction and more about the incestuous relationships between Xerox PARC and Apple. This is basically a bio of the dozen or so people the author has rubbed elbows with, and leaves the impression that only those from PARC and Apple created all things computing. While there are a few thought provoking gems, the rest of the book is uninteresting if you want more of proficient design theory and less of the who’s-who.

Electronics for Dummies – Gordon McComb, Earl Boysen
Since I am starting to learn about electronics (I am familiar with the basics, and have made small circuits in the past), I wanted a quick read that was light on the mathematical aspects. This books seems to do just that. It describes the basic components and how they are used, and has you build a few small circuits to demonstrate the component uses.

Electronics Projects for Dummies – Earl Boysen, Nancy C. Muir
I picked this up to complement the Electronics for Dummies book, thinking there might be more small circuits that I could build to demonstrate to my young daughter. Yes, there are a handful of circuits that look interesting, but they all seem to require some specialized component only available from select online retailers. This leaves out the quick trip to Radio Shack or Fry’s to get what is needed, converting a 1/2 hour project into days of waiting for a $3.00 part (+ $10 shipping) to arrive. One is better off searching the Internet for small learning circuits.

Coming Back Alive – Spike Walker
I just started this book. It was promoted on Deadliest Catch last season on Discovery Channel, and sounded interesting. However, it took a while before my library received it, and I forgot the title of it until the scrap paper I wrote it on suddenly appeared when I was straightening up my computer room. I only finished the epilog, introduction and chapter one before my eyelids decided to shun outside lights. So far, from what I have read, the stories seem a bit sensationalized, which is probably needed to entertain readers. but then again, there is at least some truth to the stories, but I hope the entire book does not evolve into ‘fish tales’.

A Spell for Chameleon (Xanth, Book 1, audiobook) – Piers Anthony
I prefer audiobooks since I can listen on my communte to and from work. I really like fantasy audiobooks, but have a hard time picking ones to listen to, not being familiar with the whole fantasy book selections. I generally stick to those which have movies, such as Harry Potter, LOTR and Eragon, but decided to try those of Xanth, mainly since there are a lot of books in the series and the good reviews. At first, I didn’t know if I could stand it. I think it was a combination of the voice from the storyteller and the writing itself. I held on through the first few chapters, only to find myself being sucked into the storyline. Once you get the background and other obligatory storelines out of the way, you are whisked into the puzzle solving aspects of the story. What is the real talent? I think I already figured it out, but it is a joy to listen to the event unfold. I am not tempted to skip ahead to validate this, for the meat in between is engaging enough. While there are some attempts at dry humor (exploding magical cherries are ‘Cherry Bombs’) and many references to sexual attraction and tension, one must remember that these books were probably targeted at 14 year old boys, preying on their emerging urges.

Well, that is my reading list for now. A bit of history, knowledge and fiction.

You can have any color you want, as long as it is black

People wonder why brick and mortar stores succumb to online sales. Online stores lose the touch-and-feel from shoppers, and certainly cannot compete when it comes to impulse items. However, online stores are superior when it comes to finding exactly what you are looking for, as long as you are willing to wait a few days. I am trying to learn some electronics, and made a quick trip to my local Radio Shack recently for a few discrete components that I needed to build a small example circuit. Nothing uncommon: LED’s , 555 timer and a 4017 decade counter. These are small, cheap components that should be available at any electronics store. Well, Radio Shack let me down. They did have the timer chip, but nothing else. OK, I’ll take the trip up to Fry’s Electronics, the geek superstore. If you have never been to Fry’s, it is the size of a large supermarket with everything under the sun that is powered by electricity. Computers, computer parts, washers, dryers, refrigerators, TV’s, DVD players, video games and systems, movies, phones, radios and anything else you could hope for. Oh yeah, they also have electrical components. A lot of them. Or so it seems.

I made a small shopping list of discrete components I needed for a few beginner electronics projects. Again, nothing obscure. I spent the better portion of an hour looking at components, trying to cross items off of my shopping list. Low and behold, they didn’t even carry much of the items I was in search for! Those items that they did carry, they had low stock on. For example, I needed 3 types of a certain chip. They had a foot long peg containing the items, but only carried two of them. Now, this is a chip that you commonly use in a trio, so why only carry two? Maybe they needed to reorder. Nope. Looking at the other components, most of the pegs only had 2 packages of the components. It is not looking good so far. One item I was in need of was a PIC. This is a chip that you can write programs to. They carry the devices to actually program the chips, but the actual chips could not be found. Anywhere! I asked an employee that was stocking items in the electronics area where I could find the PICs at. He said ‘guitar picks?’. Arghh! No. I explained what it was, and commented that since he is in this area, I would hope he would know where to find them. He directed me to the computer counter where someone might be able to help me. After waiting four deep behind people asking questions like ‘will this hard drive fit my computer’ and ‘I want to upgrade my memory in my computer. What model of computer? Windows.’, I finally was greeted by someone who looked like they dreaded the next question to insult their intelligence. I promptly changed their look to that of bewilderment when I inquired about PICs. He didn’t know what they were, but would look in the computer. His search of PICK returned nothing. *SIGH*. I told him it was PIC and gave him a few model numbers, and directed him to the PIC programmers displayed on the screen. No dice. Nada. No results returned. Strike two on trying to procure common components.

I was reciting my misadventures to a coworker who stated he has had similar experiences and only shops for components online, else he scavages old electronics equipment to recover their silicon goodness before their retirement in the great trash heap. He gave me a few pointers on where to get samples of small components online, and after filling out a few online forms, I have some of the components I need being shipped as I write this, free of charge!

While this post outlines my most recent dealing with brick and mortar stores, I find this a regular occurrence. For most household projects, I need to visit two to three different hardware stores. One for the lumber, one for electrical items and one for fasteners. Same thing goes for incidental items. Luckily, the Walmart, Target and Meijers are all close together, so I can hit each store for the items I need on my shopping list.

So, while I pass new shopping malls being built, I can’t help but wonder how long it will take before the new tenants perish to the powers of the Internet.

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