31 December, 2005

Adventures in ‘reel life’

Living in rural NorCal has its own set of unique demands often over looked by prospective residents and real estate folks.

Rule number one. Do not live in the 100 year flood zone, especially if you are near a seasonal stream. NorCal manages to exceed the 100 year flood level somewhere every 7 years or so - often by significant levels, unless you have breakaway walls and keep every thing above flood stage don’t expect my sympathy if you get a bit wet – problem is, there are a significant number of homes who meet this criteria and even more who are often well within the true 100 year flood level but are misreported

Rule number two. You live on or near a known or suspected earthquake fault, deal with it!

If your hot water heater is not secured by at least two straps you are a fool.

if you do not have a quick way of shutting off your gas you are stupid.

if you don’t have enough food, fuel and water to survive outside your dwelling for at least 72 hours (in any weather) you stand a significant chance of becoming a statistic.

Welcome to the new year!

As I write this I have several PC’s from two local radio stations undergoing “dry out” after being under water and mud for at least 12 hours.

While I might be annoying, Mother Nature does not have favorites.

30 December, 2005

Adventures in Television - part one

Having spent most of my alleged adult life in some role behind the camera doing my part to bring what passes as televised entertainment to the people who want to watch it there have been some moments more memorable than most

– like the time the producer felt that having a live tiger on set was a critical element of a computer product launch(?) of course this was somewhat offset by the marketing director who provided bloody Mary’s on the dark stage at the crew call of 0530 – do you have any idea how long it takes to get the smell of tiger piss out of a seat cushion? (I have no idea, we tossed everything that was in the green room the next day)

Then there was the time that someone had the great idea that we could transmit the entire works of Shakespeare to the UK office, when I noted that was a bit like hauling coal to Newcastle I was greeted by blank stares, when we actually aired the program it was tape delayed, a minimal crew was on hand at 0300 to start, we were on the bird at 0400 PDT with a live host in the studio to kick off the tape from the day before - about 15 min into the tape (of course after everyone else had left back to bed) I looked out side the control room to a wall of smoke, when I got to the tape room there were actual flames shooting out of the motor drive unit on the Ampex VPR 1.5+ - and it was (of course) the ‘on air’ machine that was playing back…

Or the time I attempted to book a PAL DigiBetaCam for use in The Netherlands at the same time Princess Di had her unfortunate accident in France, I was dealing with this character in the UK broadcast for hire office, name of Miles Standish – no one in my office knew who the historical Miles was

29 December, 2005

Occam’s Razor

Often invoked but not always understood, it can be thought of as;

‘A tool that can be used to critically examine anything’

William of Ockham

Oxford educated, opinionated and not shy about expressing them, enough so that he was denied his Master’s degree by pissing off the theological faculty. His teachings came to the attention of the Pope (John XXII who held court in Avignion France) whom he further irritated by sparking controversy on apostolic poverty, necessitating a hasty relocation to the protection of Emperor Louis IV (the Bavarian) in Munich where he continued to publish treatises against papal power and in favor of civil sovereignty.

It is believed that he was a victim of the Black Death about 1394

His name, Germanized as Occam can be found in the streets of Munich and as a basic rule of critical thinking

The rule of parsimony, or principle of economy as used by William was stated;

‘Purality should not be assumed without necessity’

Or, 'the simpler explanation is preferred' - in the modern vernacular 'The KISS principal' as in, Keep it Simple, Stupid.

27 December, 2005

Things that are never said in Theater or live T.V.:

By the stage manager:
It looks as though there'll be time for a third dress rehearsal
Take your time getting back from break.
We've been ready for hours
No, I called that perfectly the first time- let's move on.
The headsets are working perfectly.
The cue lights are working perfectly.
The orchestra has no complaints.
The whole company is standing by whenever you want them.
That didn't take long.
No thanks I don't drink.

By the producer:
Of course there's enough money to go around.
We have money left over.
No thanks, I don't drink.

By the Director
Wow, the designers were right on, weren't they?
No, today is the tech rehearsal, we'll re-work that scene later.
I think the scene changes are too fast.
Of course I think that we'll be ready in time for opening.
The crew? Why they're just wonderful!
No thanks, I don't drink.

By the designers:
Of course all of my drawings were turned in on time.
Yes, it is absolutely my fault the set looks awful.
You know, you might have a point there.
The director knows best, obviously I wasn't giving him what he wants.
We have too many gel colors in stock, I can't choose.
Of course the shop will have the costumes ready on time.
No thanks, I don't drink.

By the technical director:
This is the most complete and informative set of drawings I've ever
We built it right the first time.
No problem, I'll deal with that right away.
I love designers.
No thanks, I don't drink.

By the actors:
Don't.....Let's not talk about me.
Really, I think my big scene should be cut.
This costume is SO comfortable.
I love my shoes.
No problem. I can do that for myself.
I have a fantastic agent.
Let me stand down here with my back to the audience.
I'm sure someone told me there was a wall here, I just forgot.
Without the crew the show would never run; let's thank them.
No thanks, I don't drink.

By the stage crew:
That instrument is not in the way.
There's room for that over here.
We'll get in early tomorrow to do it.
No, no I'm sure that is our job.
Anything I can do to help?
All the tools are carefully locked away.
Can we do that scene change again please?
It's a marvelous show.
I don't need this many on the crew.
Pizza again, great! I love Pizza.
No thanks, I don't drink.

By the orchestra members:
Wow, the strings and the woodwinds are perfectly in tune.
The saxophones are fine. In fact they could play louder.
This is fine. I have plenty of room.
These chairs are amazingly comfortable.
This stand light is great. I can see the music perfectly.
What a terrific conductor...so clear...so easy to follow.
The air in this orchestra pit is so refreshing.
What a super tap-dancer. The tempos are rock solid.
What a great cast, all able to act and sing so well too!
No thanks, I don't drink.

20 December, 2005

3rd post

the result of over 20 years experience (what can I say, I'm a slow learner...).

In a given installation there are never enough router x-points, patch bay, or DA's.

In a given computer there is never enough memory (both RAM and Disk), nor is the processor fast enough.

Although I'm told otherwise, I have yet to encounter a technical problem that the application of sufficient amounts of cash won't solve.

In any construction project, there are always delays.

Meet with the project manager, but base your decisions upon talking (listening) to the on the job foremen.

Show slack time on the Gantt chart, but hide two to three times as much (but don't tell anyone!).
You can always shorten a cable, but stretching them is a lot harder.

No matter how well you plan, there is always a last minute "crunch" - the trick is, to expect it.

No matter how many outlets (AC) you have, you will always need to plug in "Just one more thing".

Aside from operator error, the most critical thing (box, process,) will fail at the worst time ("On Air").

Seldom is it the same "show" it is almost always something new.

Live television is unlike any thing else, except for perhaps live theater, for the behind the camera operators as well as the on camera talent, you do it when you are supposed to or you don't.

Television is great for the engineers, they deal with signal levels from picowatts to megawatts, frequency range of DC to daylight, computers and software that run the gamut of "mostly harmless" to downright user hostile.

Speaker support at conferences should be invisible.

Always remember, History is written by the winners to justify their victory.

When you have to eat crow, the fresher the better, and start with head first, that way the feathers won't get stuck on the way down.

Cultural Anthropology


Field notes on the Technology Nerd Subculture

Synopsis: A brief exploration of the nerd subculture in and around “silicon valley” during the decades of the 1980’s and 1990’s through 2002


As a personal observation, most of this semesters reading and viewing can be fairly construed as a series of opinions in search of a science. The field of cultural anthropology has become somewhat self correcting of late although some of the more egregious examples are still taught. It is in that spirit that I offer the following.


This field researcher spent the decade of the 80’s observing and participating in the nerd culture at the very center of it all, the venerable Hewlett Packard Company. More specifically, from within the HP television network where the entirety of the culture was open to observation. In the ‘90’s this researcher participated in the venture capitol funded start up stock option frenzy that ultimately ended in the high-tech burst of 2000 and ends with a stint at a highflying software company that had it’s own version of Enron management.

Hewlett - Packard

HP at the time was still an Engineers company, its marking philosophy was called “the next bench” where one engineer would “sell” to the guy on the next bench over and was mockingly (however accurately) described as selling sushi and sake as “cold dead raw fish and warm white rice wine”. The year I started at HP it became a 10 Billion dollar corporation - however 1/10th of that figure was the first generation of Laser printer which was a full “OEM” from Cannon, with the only contribution from HP being the plastic case. This was a sign of the changes to come.

As HP has close ties with Stanford – at a time when there were no “F” grades, it became a running gag among the nerds that you could always tell a non engineering Stanford graduate as they would announce the fact within moments of meeting, we figured there was some graduation requirement class that taught one how to casually drop the factoid that they were indeed a Stanford graduate.

When the personal computer became a marketable reality HP stepped up to the plate and introduced 4 totally different computers. The first was from the instrumentation side and was a engineers “wet dream” color vector graphics, mainframe horsepower and a little scroll wheel right on the keyboard (this was pre mouse). Not to be left out the calculator group came up with an oversized calculator complete with a full QWERTY keyboard and nifty little magnetic strips that would be manually pulled through a slot where one could store or upload data. The third entry was a UNIX hacker’s “must have” a luggable case complete with a plasma display and built in Ethernet and modem, just the tool if you wanted to crack banks. The final entry that year was the infamous touch screen, complete with a monochrome (green phosphors) screen and only one real application, an electronic rolodex that looked like and acted like its physical counterpart. The one glaring missing piece of information was that you could not move one bit of data from any of them to any other!

General observations

This is a male dominated culture although there are notable exceptions.

It is neither a patrilineal or matrilineal culture. It does sometimes run within families. However for the most part the participants are self selected.


There are two broad but overlapping classifications of nerds; the hardware centric geeks and the software “Code heads”

Hardware nerds

While by no means a excusive activity the hardware nerd can often be observed at electronic “swap meets” - a direct continuum of the barter market place from the earliest dawn of civilization. They will often have entire rooms of their dwelling dedicated to their avocation. Disdaining popular gadgets (unless there is a justification) these poor souls may spend months in search of some obscure, hasn’t been made for 10 years part just to restore some 20 year old device that has long since been obsolete.

The “Code heads”

There is a greater percentage of female “CodeHeads” and for the most part seem to be able to maintain some degree of general societal norms. The males in general tend to be less physically active and their entire world is contained within the confines of their particular software tribe. The more extreme examples of this work in a mental environment where it is so abstract that whatever rudimentary societal normal language and social skills they may have acquired have atrophied to the point where they can no longer function without someone else taking responsibility for basic life support While for the most part they are hardware agnostic some will exhibit a religious frenzy over a particular brand of hardware.

There is a broad continuum of “tech nerd-ness” from the bearded Unix guru to the 40 something single head of household with her first PC starting a “Blog”

Examples of the former seem to be cut from the same mold. They tend to be almost exclusively male, physically they tend to be overweight bespectacled bearded forty something’s often single or in a childless relationship. Examples of the later can be found all over the web.

Historical Nerd Indicators

Early tech nerds (in the pre computer days) were often Ham radio license holders and this is a still a positive indicator of “nerd ness” but has become a rapidly dwindling subculture in the internet era. Other indicators are model railroads, radio controlled aircraft and other technology “toys”.

The roll of the tech nerd has evolved over the years, often starting as a semi skilled technician, a necessary part of any technology based company but not socially accepted by the “front office” clique. In the mad frenzy of the mid ‘90’s this long standing paradigm had been turned upside down, both by the success and the acceptance that cubic $’s brought to some and the courting of the Venture Capitalists.

Mating rituals

mostly hypothetical”. This is not to imply that nerds don’t mate, as noted above the female nerds seem to be more in line with societal norms and have little difficulty once that decision is made. For the males, until the nerd has reached the stage of success where his material assets overcome the lack of social interaction skills or one manages to mature enough to acquire a minimum of the requisite social skills most mating ritual is purely hypothetical or lived vicariously through more socially accepted members. Substitutes for physical interaction are the “virtual” relationships which range from the adolescent Laura Croft fantasies through “Eliza like” programs to the various “adult” toys and entertainment options that can (for some) be acceptable substitute.

16 December, 2005

First Post

This Site under disruption for the present, please check back in, oh, say, 6 months...