Monthly Archives: February 2009

25 random things about Eric

I got tagged on Facebook with the 25 things meme, and I thought I’d duplicate my answers here for the… well, “edification” doesn’t quite work.

Enlightenment… No.

Well, anyway, here it is. It’s on this blog because that seemed the best place for it.

  1. I have a inability to be brief when I write. There’s a natural length for everything, and I don’t want to edit it down. That’s why this is so long, and I don’t want to admit how long it took to write.
  2. I have a bit of notoriety in the local cycling community because of my creation of, an important resource for the cycling insane. No, I haven’t climbed them all, but I have climbed the worst of them, some of them many times. Despite a considerable amount of research, no cure has been found for this affliction.
  3. The first album I owned was “Permanent Waves”. Well, I didn’t actually own it… I had a friend by the name of Pam Purvis who had a tape deck in her car but didn’t have a turntable. She bought the album and brought it over, I bought two tapes (TDK SA90s), and then she ended up with a tape, and I ended up with the album and the tape.

    If you’re younger than, say, me, I need to explain a bit. In the old days, you could buy an album on vinyl, or you could buy it on cassette tape. Or, on 8-track, but you had to have a nice set of boots before they’d let you buy one of those. Albums were great, except that you needed a decent turntable, had to follow an elaborate cleaning ritual, and you had to keep the volume turned down or the needle would skip, gouging a permanent wound in the vinyl.

    You could buy a pre-recorded cassettes and skip all this, except the sound was junk and because they were cheap, the tape jammed, and you ended up with a whole mess of tape sticking out of your tape deck and $9 in the hole.

    So, there Pam and I were, sitting on my bed, listening to Rush. All alone in the house.

    It may be hard to believe now, but like a lot of guys, I had no clue at all whether girls were interested in me in high school, and this was no exception. I’m not sure what I should believe. I could be believe that I missed a chance, or I could believe that Pam was just a good friend.

    But at least I ended up with some decent music, and Pam and I kept up that particular connection for a few years.

  4. I have a super power. I don’t like to talk too much about it, ’cause people get jealous, but you forced it out of me.

    The human brain is an amazing thing. Some people can do square roots in their head. Some people can recite PI to a thousand places. Others know all the presidents.

    My super power is remembering song lyrics. Not songs that I listen to, songs that I like. Songs that I would rather forget.

    Well, it’s not too far to paradise
    At least it’s not for me
    But if the wind is right we can find a way
    To find serenity
    Oh the canvas can do miracles
    Just you wait and see
    Believe me

    Yes, it’s Christopher Cross, “Sailing”, from his album of the same name, which I haven’t heard since the spring of 1982. The lyrics may not be absolutely right, but they’re pretty close.

    I knew I should have chosen “flying” or “invisibility”…

  5. I’ve never been a boy scout – I just didn’t see the point of doing it, and in my school being a scout was 5 of the 10 things you didn’t do.

    However, my sisters were campfire girls back when we lived in Auburn, and I was in kindergarten, and my mom was involved, so I went to day camp with them…

    That’s right, I was a campfire girl…

  6. Back when I was in high school, my mom introduced me to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, and I’ve read the book quite a few times, and seen most of the adaptations of it. The Colin Firth one is the best.
  7. In high school and college, I drove a chocolate-brown Citroen DS19 Safari.

    It would be fair to say that I inherited it from my father, though with the amount of maintenance I ended up doing the first few years I owned it (new clutch, new spheres, new hydraulic pump, rebuilt rear brakes, pulled the head and had it shaved after an unfortunate overheating incident, etc.

    “Spheres, what are those?”

    Well, some Citroens use this cool hydropneumatic suspension, which gives you ride height adjustment, a great ride, sensitive power steering, and is all driven off of a 2000psi hydraulic system. Oh, and front-wheel drive.

    All that in 1960, when Detroit was still obsessed with tail fins.

    I drove the car until one day in 1986 when I was driving on the freeway and the car made a really exciting noise for 30 seconds, then no noise at all. And I found out that it was possible to embed an exhaust valve in the middle of a piston.

  8. Back in the summer of 1978 I was at my neighbor Tracy’s house, and she put on a new tape that she had just gotten.

    I live my life like there’s no tomorrow
    All I’ve got I had to steal
    Least I don’t need to beg or borrow
    Yes I’m livin’ at the pace that kills

    Running with the devil…

    That was pretty radical stuff for somebody who had only ever listened to his sister’s music – Chicago, Carole King, maybe a little Grand Funk Railroad.

    Now, 30 years later, that’s still a great album…

  9. Person I wish I’d met:

    Richard Feynman

    Not just because he’s all sciency and stuff, but because he’s an iconoclast. Or he was.

    I sometimes wish I was more of an iconoclast, but I don’t have the right shoes, nor do I know where to purchase them.

  10. When I was in high school, I worked in the Everett Public Library as a “page”, which meant that I knew how to shelve books alphabetically *and* numerically. It’s an easy job, most of the people you work for are pretty nice, and for somebody who likes to read the way I do, the access to a ton of books was great.

    The library at that time had been built over decades. It had lots of weird passages, and the archives in the basement were very old.

    Being alone in the basement of a library at night is pretty creepy.

  11. I was a shy kid. Or, perhaps, just an overly-sheltered kid, as the youngest of the kids and the only boy. When I got out of college and started working – at the mighty Boeing Computer Services – I decided that I wanted to do something about it.

    Boeing had a very active Toastmaster’s group, but I’m not really a joiner and that seemed pretty contrived, so I put it off (okay, perhaps I just wasn’t sure I wanted to do it). Then one day I took a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course from a guy that I worked with, and a week later he suggested that I should become an instructor. It sounded like a cool thing to do – help people to ride better, and spend some time in front of people.

    It was a really hard 10 days, but later that summer I was an officially certified instructor, and that meant that I had to stand up in front of a group of adults that I didn’t know, and try to teach and establish some sort of rapport with the students, some of which are a bit… well, perhaps, “set in their ways” is a nice thing to say.

    I found that I liked the challenge – both the challenge of teaching, and the challenge of being up in front of people.

    Years passed, I ended up at Microsoft on the C# team, and we needed somebody to do talks about C#, both to Microsoft people and to selected external customers. I did a talk, then another, then another. In one quarter, I did 30 talks.

    Well, that’s not quite true – I did the same talk 30 times. Since then, I’ve done talks big and small, from groups of two people, all the way up to around 500.

    And found that I really liked them, and can be a bit of a ham. Or a large spiral-cut honey-baked ham, in some cases. Now, I volunteer to stand up in front of groups and talk.

    Weird. Really weird.

  12. I’ve seen a skeleton. Back in high school, I had a good friend, Dave, who I sometimes went hiking with. We went on a day hike up nearby Mt. Pilchuk, chosen because you can drive halfway up the mountain to start (my reason, not Dave’s…). We had a really nice hike up to the summit – really more of a walk than a hike – and the came glissading down the snowfield (kind of like skiing without skis). We got a little out of the way on the way back, and that’s when we came across it.

    The skeleton of one of the ski lifts from the old ski resort.

    What? Were you thinking of something else?

  13. I commuted by motorcycle year round for about a decade, in all sorts of weather. Now I live so close to work it doesn’t make sense, so now I’m a cyclist and cager instead.
  14. I started reading science fiction when I was 8 or 9, and I ran out of decent kids books to read. I read my way from Asimov to Zelasny (okay, it should be “Anthony”, but he’s less known and I’ve read more Asimov). I still read the stuff these days, so there’s a lot less hard science fiction out there.
  15. Back about 300 years ago, when I was a freshman in high school, I had speech class, and part of that involved making a presentation to the class. I taught one of my friends – I think her name was Sally – to juggle, or at least the first parts of learning to juggle.

    That day, my good friend Peter gave a talk about how to make smoked fish, and then passed samples around for us to try.

    Later that day, I had soccer practice. I felt crappy before, but my coach asked me to try anyway. I lasted about 30 minutes, headed back to the locker room, and then walked into downtown Everett to wait for the city bus to get home.

    I was standing there waiting for the bus, and I suddenly found myself lying on the ground. That’s weird, I thought. I got up again.

    Next thing I know, I was lying on the ground looking up with two paramedics at me.

    After a trip to the Doctor’s office – which I promptly redecorated in the worst way, I spend a week at home on downers (barbs, goof balls, pink ladies…), recovering from food poisoning. And I was the only one who at the fish who was lucky enough to get sick.

  16. I love writing comedy. I hate writing comedy.

    I’ve written enough that writing technical stuff is merely a matter of following a straight line from here to there. Write a, b, c, polish it up once, and you’re done. You can spend a lot more time on it, but it’s probably not going to get a lot better, and frankly, it’s not worth the effort.

    Comedy is different. It’s hard.

    My technique – to the extent I have a technique – is one of progressive refinement. I start with something that is vaguely interesting, and then work for ways to make it better. Sometimes this is a quick process, sometimes it’s agonizing, but eventually I get to one of three end points. Sometimes – if I can get in the right state of mind – it’s pretty good. Sometimes, an idea just doesn’t go anywhere, so I have to abandon it out on the tundra and let nature take its course. Either of those are pretty good results.

    The worst one is when it’s in between, something that I call “humorish” – having all the characteristics of humor without actually being funny. Not only is that hard to figure out (“I can’t define what humor is, but I know that when somebody trips over an ottoman, it makes me laugh”), you have a lot invested in it and you don’t want to abandon it.

  17. One summer in high school, I spent some time in a band. We played at a few small things, made some money, but it never really went anywhere. I’m still happy that I did it. In my mind. In reality, I was a Teamster working at Safeway as a courtesy clerk.
  18. My oldest sister was in swim team. My older sister was in swim team. And, when the time came, I was in swim team.  One day, we were practicing swimming under water (ie holding our breath), and I swam across and back a 6-lane pool, twice, without surfacing. And then did it again to prove to my coach that I could.

    That was my sole triumph in two years of swim team.

  19. When I was about 7, I got a Radio Shack 10-in-1 kit. This kit consisted of a number of electronic components with spring connectors at each lead, a bunch of wires to connect things together, and an instruction book. You hooked 15 to 25, 12 to 24, 44 to 55, and you’d press a button and a light would light up.

    As time went by, and I moved up to the 20-in-1 kit, 40-in-1, and ultimately the 50-in-1 kit. I yearned for the 100-in-1 kit, but, alas, never got it.

    For a while I was going to be a electrical engineer. Then I got introduced to computers in my freshman year of high school, and it was all over. Software was far easier to build that electrical hardware, and it obeyed simple rules, rather than electronics component, which have very simple models and 400,000,000 complications and exceptions that you need to keep in mind to make things really work.

    A few years ago a friend of mine got me back into electronics by introducing me to microcontrollers, where you write software to accomplish what you want and don’t need a lot of hardware.

    I’m still very much hacker whenever I need to do hardware. I know how to get basic things done and a few of the rules, but I’m pretty hopeless at any complex design.

  20. I like fireworks. When I was a kid in Everett, some of my friends were able to go to the res to buy the more sophisticated (ie “explosive”) fireworks, but we were stuck with the “safe and sane”.

    So, we’d buy “Whistling Petes”, and crimp them. If you crimped them at the bottom, they would whistle for a while and then blow up. Or, you could just crimp the whole thing. Many a model succumbed to the might of Pete.

    One year, I was over at my friend Todd’s house, and he had some “safe and sane” fireworks that we wanted to do something with. We made a maxi-smoke-bomb by opening up a bunch of smoke crackers (like firecrackers, but 100% quieter, 50% smokier, and 98% less fun) and crushing some smoke bombs. These went into an old metal film canister with a heavy fuse out the top.

    The first one produced a tremendous amount of smoke, covering his his whole front yard. The second one smoked for about 5 seconds and then exploded. About 10 seconds later we heard a ping as the top to the film canister landed in the driveway.

    I guess the model rocket stuff I do is a little bit like fireworks, in that you still get to smell black powder, and it’s certainly safer, but not nearly as much fun. I do have a high-powered rocket that’s about 4 feet long and 4″ around named Spot, but there are no longer any launch places near Seattle and I haven’t traveled to any launches yet, so spot had a maiden flight and then just gets to hang around in the closet.

    I don’t buy illegal fireworks simply because I don’t want the temptation.

  21. I learned to program about when Steve and Steve were working on the Apple 1, so there weren’t any personal computers. I missed punch cards by a year at my high school, and, thanks to a math teacher who was ahead of his time by at least 10 years, learned to program on a multi-user alpha microsystems. When I was there, it had 192KB of memory, 4 400KB 8″ diskettes, a Z80 running at a few megahertz, 6 ADM3a terminals, and 2 DECWriter terminal/printers.

    Pretty heady stuff for the spring of 1979.

  22. People sometimes ask me what my secret is for writing interesting talks. Well, they don’t, but I wish they would.

    It’s pretty simple. I figure out what the jokes are first, and then write the talk around them. Way better than trying to do it the other way around.

  23. I learned to play pinball when I was about 10 years old, and have been playing ever since. About 8 years ago, I found that you could buy pinball machines on Ebay, and I bought a mid-80s pin named Bad Cats. Which lived in our basement for a while. About 3 years ago, it got exiled up to our ski cabin when I bought a fully shopped (ie restored) Twilight Zone, one of the best pins that Williams ever made, as a present for myself for a reason that escapes me. It’s a great game – lots of modes, *6* ball multiball, and great design. The only disadvantage is that pins are loud even with the sound turned down, so you can’t really play it while other people watch TV.

    A couple of years ago, a friend of mine gave me an early 70s Meteor. That joined Bad Cats up at the cabin, and, after a bunch of well-deserved maintenance, is enjoying a nice retirement.

    I think 3 machines officially moves me from “enthusiast” to “collector”…

  24. If people ask me what I’m like, the term that always comes to mind is “generalist”. Okay, the term that really comes to mind is “gentleman scientist” or “renaissance man”, but that’s a bit too pretentious to say out loud.

    I have a pretty eclectic knowledge base. I know a bit about a whole lotta things, and have fairly deep understanding of a wide range of subjects. Household wiring. Woodworking. Carpentry. Aerobic training. The history of science. Astronomy. 1980s music. etc.

  25. I get bored easily.

    I have friends who ride their bikes 5 days a week for the whole summer, friends who ski 90 days a year, friends who travel the country to launch rockets, friends who take photos every day.

    I like to do all of those things, but generally by the time I get to the second day of an activity, I’m looking around for something different to do. I’m not sure what it says about my perseverance, but I do think it’s means that I’m less likely to get addicted to anything.

    With one notable exception. There’s one thing that I’ve been addicted to since about 1980, but I think that she’s an exception to the rule…