Remembering Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy passed away earlier today. If you asked many people, they might tell you that they hear Morgan Freeman’s voice in their head when they imagine the voice of God. To me, it will always be Leonard Nimoy. That placid, chain-smoking-induced growl that, in part, made Spock such a wonderful character of his fills me with awe.

Hipster Spock

As a child, in addition to Star Trek reruns (both the original series and the animated series), I grew up watching Nimoy host Nickelodean’s Standby: Lights, Camera, Action!. That show was a wonderful look at how movies are made. Nimoy was a wonderful host, engaging in demonstrations of special effects and occasional gags. His love of movies was evident. In a time before the internet, Wikipedia, and movie blogs, it was a source for me to learn about movies, actors, and directors. In fact, it was there that I first learned1 that the original Star Wars were the middle piece of a larger trilogy, and someday there would be prequels (before the word prequel existed, even, I think) and sequels2. I also learned about Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and the Klingon language from the same show. Of course, that film was directed by Nimoy, who’s involvement in movies and television grew beyond acting.

It’s said to never meet your heroes, as they will only disappoint you. However, I do truly regret never having had to the chance to meet Leonard Nimoy in person. He truly seemed like a beautiful person in most every way and Gene Roddenberry once called him “the conscious of ‘Star Trek'”. A wonderful quote from Nimoy:

Whatever I have given, I have gained.

It’s very sad to have lost Nimoy but I’m so glad that he was able to continue to appear in popular television and films, even up until very recently. His character of Spock is a cornerstone of pop-culture and it’s due almost entirely to Nimoy’s acting. In a show that is remembered for some cheesy plots and hammy acting, as well as some rather uneven movies, Nimoy was a gem in Star Trek. Honestly, if you can watch the scene of Kirk and Spock in the radiation chamber at the end of Wrath of Kahn and not get choked up, you are possibly more Vulcan than human:

It’s hard to think of a better way to remember Nimoy that with a performance like that. Live long and prosper.

  1. Well, either there or my Mom, who perhaps also learned it on the same show!
  2. More recently, JJ Abrams &emdash;who cast Nimoy in his series Fringe as well as bring Nimoy back as Spock in the re-envisioned Star Trek films&emdash; has taken over those sequel films. In fact, in no small part does the willingness of Abrams to continue to use Nimoy as an actor gives me appreciate of Abrams’ taste and ability to pull off such a daunting role.

The End of RadioShack

RadioShack announced today that they have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. They will close about 2,400 of their stores with many of the remaining locations being purchased by Sprint. This is more-or-less fitting, given that the brand has basically gone from the go-to supply store for electronics parts to a cell phone reseller. I honestly can’t say that they no longer carried any electronics parts, but I seriously doubt it’s something most of their locations carried at all.

Ball's TV

Ball’s TV by Mathew Warner on Flickr. These guys look like they could legitimately fix your old tube television, though.

It’s disappointing news for some. Wired has as a story on how influential RadioShack was in building Silicon Valley1. Steve Wozniak (Apple co-founder) recounts how some original telephony hacking got he and Steve Jobs to go on to build computers:

He used [a Touch Tone dialer purchased at RadioShack] for the now-infamous Blue Box, which he and Steve Jobs used to make their own free calls without interference from Ma Bell. Without RadioShack, there’s no Blue Box. And as Woz tells it, without the Blue Box there’s no Apple.

While it’s good to understand RadioShack’s importance in the hacker / maker / DIY culture that helped to spur innovators like Woz, it’s important to note that the RadioShack we all knew and loved died many years ago. They either didn’t see the rise of makers or simply ignored it, in lieu of chasing mobile phone buyers. Admittedly, that was chasing the money at the time. Of course, it’s not served them well in the long run. And they company that brought IBM Compatible PCs to many homes across the country (including my friend, TJ’s, when we were kids) got out of the computer manufacturing business early on.

Jason Soldering

The time my older brother & I fixed my washing machine with a kit I ordered off the internet.

Even so, I think there’s never been a better time to be a maker or a tinkerer. With a nearly endless supply of free how-to videos on YouTube, countless DIY and repair sites catering to anyone with a screwdriver and some time, and amazing online shops like Adafruit, someone today has far more access to get started building whatever they can dream up. So, for that, I can be ok saying good bye to RadioShack. Frankly, I wrote them off a long time ago.

  1. Also, they get it wrong about fixing modern tech & gadgets. I’ve repaired iPods and iPhones myself, with parts I ordered off the internet and by watching YouTube videos.

    iPod Battery Replacement

    Replacing the battery in an iPod Classic.

Coke Life

I happened to see a six pack of Coca-Cola Life1 at the grocery store the other day. I don’t recall ever even hearing about the beverage before, but it’s sort of a ‘natural’2 version of the discontinued C2, which was a half-calorie soda. Life uses both cane sugar and Stevia as sweeteners.

I personally liked the flavor of C2 and I like Life. It seems to use the original Coke formula, similar to Coke Zero — as opposed to the New Coke formula, which of course we are most familiar with in Diet Coke. It’s definitely not the same as a ‘regular’ Coke, or even a ‘Mexican’ Coke (that is, a cane-sugar Coke) but I find Stevia to be one of the most acceptable sugar-free sweeteners. At 60 calories (per 8oz), it’s meant to be a light alternative to a ‘regular’ Coke and appeal to people who might purchase Mexican Coke.

I think Life is a bit hard to find, so far. Further, it’s in an 8oz glass bottle, so it’s sold at a premium over it’s more common siblings. And in case you were wondering, it is a caffeinated drink (thankfully).

Coke Life

Coca-Cola Life

On a related note, starting a year ago, I simply stopped buying sodas to have a home except on occasion (like when I see an entirely new drink on the shelf!). However, when we do bring them home, we have shifted to the smaller 7.5oz/222ml cans, which ends up being a nice amount to have with a lunch. Those are 100 calories for a ‘regular’ Coke, so I’d probably have to drink a lot more sodas than I am now in order to justify hunting down & paying more per drink for Coke Life.

  1. I couldn’t find any reviews on Bev Reviews about this drink, but a post from a year ago indicates it was first released in 2013 in Argentina.
  2. In as much as a soda can ever be natural.

Needle in a Haystack

I just finished what was one of the longest days of my career so-far at Bentley. And everything that was bad about today was entirely my own damn fault and could have been easily avoided if I’d just been a bit more careful.

In addition to pushing some publishing updates to our documentation CCMS last night, I also decided to roll out my new Troubleshooting DITA specialization. It’s based on the specialization that is expected to ship with the DITA 1.3 specification sometime next year, but uses our specialized domains and works with DITA 1.2. That’s mostly tech comm nerd talk for I decided to give the writers a new template geared toward writing troubleshooting tips.

Unfortunately, even after thoroughly testing it on our development server, I managed to mess things up by added a comment to a couple of DTD catalog files after all of my testing but before making a backup of the production environment. That is, I didn’t really have a backup of the functioning production server. Rather, I had a copy of some files I had just made a minor edit to, one of which included a critical error. An error I ended up spending all day today trying to locate and correct.

Eventually, I realized I had left a single “>” character in an XML comment copied over to a text catalog file (the text catalogs aren’t XML and have the angle brackets stripped out – something I will now do with XSL instead of manually!). This one particular catalog file is used to locate the DTDs for our desktop DITA editor and no one was able to check out or create new content in our CCMS as a result of that one errant character. It took me about ten hours to figure this out (well, maybe nine hours of panic attack and one hour of actual clear-headed work). Thus leaving half-a-dozen writers with no good way to edit some of their files today as well as me feeling like a jerk for not being more cautious.

I just wrapped up my fixes —both tested thoroughly in their final form and put into place after backups of the working production environment were made. I’m going to check in with my colleagues in India shortly to ensure they can now edit and create content once again.

Lesson learned; and I am humbled.

Amy Winehouse

Aside

Out of nowhere, I got into the mood to listen some Amy Winehouse this afternoon. It struck me as a real shame she never got to record a Bond theme, among the many disappointments of losing her. Winehouse just had the perfect sultry, throwback voice for a Bond film intro. I realize that it was ‘attempted’ and, honestly, having a duet by Alishia Keys & Jack White is a pretty good consolation. “Another Way to Die” is a great song, but I can’t help but wonder what could have been…

Great Year for My Reading Habit

Twenty Fourteen is shaping up to be a terrific year for my favorite authors and book series. Here are some of the books I can’t wait to read (in order of release date):

  • 2/20: Influx by Daniel Suarez – I’ve not read the most recent books by Suarez, but I loved the Daemon series and plan to read these Gibson-esque near-future novels.
  • 3/3: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson – I just finished the first Stormlight Archive novel (and it’s massive) and it is already one of my favorite fantasy series, with a very unique world and terrific characters.
  • 3/11: Mentats of Dune by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson – Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that the sequels/prequals/expanded universe novels haven’t been as good as the Frank Herbert novels. To be fair, not all of the Frank Herbert novels were on the same level, either. However, I’m such a Dune junkie, I eat these up with glee.
  • 6/17: Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey – A new Expanse book is also getting to be nearly an annual event, thankfully (of course, with two authors under one pen name, one would expect some turn around!). I started the series last year right on time for the third book, and I’ve been waiting for the fourth ever since about a day afterwards.
  • 7/15: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie – Okay, I’ve got a few books to read in this fantasy series to catch up to this one, but I really liked Abercrombie’s first books.
  • 8/5: The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman – The Magician’s series has been one of the most refreshing things in all of fantasy in a very long time. I’ve eagerly awaiting the final(?) book in the series to see what ending befalls Quentin and crew.
  • 8/12: The Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb – Another series I’ve got to play catch-up on, but I really liked the first two novel of Fitz and the Fool.
  • 8/26: Lock In by John Scalzi – It’s a new storyline (and possibly a series; at least there’s a novella to precede it), but Scalzi’s wit is always welcome in science fiction. He’s already released a novella in the same world as this novel.
  • 10/7: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie – Ancillary Justice was one of my favorite books of last year and I’m very happy that Leckie had the second novel in the series in the chamber (or she is an incredibly fast writer, which is rare but would be welcome). Her first book was nominated for almost every award imaginable and I sincerely hope she wins them all!
  • 10/7: Armada by Ernest Cline – I loved Cline’s first novel and can’t wait to see what he’s got next. Update: Well it was bound to happen for at least one book on this list. This title has been pushed back until July 2015.
  • 10/21: The Abyss Beyond Dreams: Chronicle of the Fallers by Peter F. Hamilton – A new Commonwealth universe book!
  • 10/28: The Peripheral by William Gibson – He’s back into the dystopian, distant future. Not that I haven’t enjoyed the future-of-10-minutes-from-now novels, either.
  • 11/18: Clakkers by Ian Tregellis – A new series starting in Tregellis’ coldest war universe.
  • 11ish? The Thorn of Emberlain by Scott Lynch – A new Gentleman Bastards book is getting to be like clockwork from Lynch. So far, he’s kept the characters rich and slowly pulling the curtain back on a much larger fantasy world. This one doesn’t yet have a firm release date, but I’m holding out hope.

Of course, it’s highly possible (actually, almost certain) I’ll not get all of these books read by the end of 2014, but I welcome the challenge gladly!

It’s tough to pick just one that I’m most anxious about, but it would probably have to be Ancillary Sword.

I was going to end this post with a pithy remark how if only Patrick Rothfuss and GRRM would release some new novels this year, it would be complete. Well, no new novels, but Rothfuss is releasing a novella in the Kingkiller Chronicles in October and GRRM is also contributing a Game of Thrones (actually, Song of Fire & Ice) short story to a fantasy collection (Rogues) out next month he is co-editing (which also contains other stories from many of these authors along with others I enjoy reading).

So, yeah, 2014 is pretty much shaping up to be a near perfect year for genre fiction!

That being said, Patrick Rothfuss and GRRM having until about midnight, December 31st, 2015 to get out The Doors of Stone and The Winds of Winter until I start pestering them.

Signed Scotty Card

Aside

When I Met Scotty

The Time I Met Scotty

Over Memorial Day weekend in 1999, Angela, her cousin, Jonathan, and I went to the Star Trek Convention at the Cumberland Science Museum to see James Doohan, who played engineer Montgomery Scott on Star Trek. Jonathan brought along cards for us all to get signed. Almost 15 years later, I managed to find mine.

Defensive Running

Today I joined people from all over the world in going out for a run in dedication to Meg Menzies, the woman in Hanover County, VA who was tradgically struck and killed by a drunk driver on Monday while out for a morning run with her husband. My heartfelt symphathies to her husband, three children, her family, and all her friends.

As I went out on my run, I started thinking about some of the ways runners can try be more defensive in avoiding traffic incidents. Sometimes, caution is just not enough. By all accounts, Menzies was an experienced runner and doing everything ‘right’ in order to try to minimize her chances of being in an accident. Certainly, encouranging everyone to have the decency to not drive while intoxicated and to not text while driving helps us all. But there are some defensive steps runners can take to be safer. Most of these are pretty obvious, but if you’re new to running or have just always done your own thing (as I did for years), then maybe you might get something out of these.

  • When possible, keep to the sidewalks. I know a lot of runners who complain that concrete gives them worse pain (often shin splints) than running on more flexible asphalt. However, I strongly believe that discomfort from running on concrete can be largely offset by properly fit shoes and adopting good form running techniques.

    If you must run on the road, be sure to keep aware of the traffic. Sounds simple, but it’s easy to get lost in a song or a conversation and not hear a car until it’s too late.

    Incidentally, during my run earlier today, I had to go off the sidewalk an onto the road (in the direction of traffic, even) as there was a small flock of turkey vultures devouring a opossum in my way and I deemed it best to not try to hurdle them. However, after about 50 yards and as I heard a car approaching from behind, I jumped back in the grass.

  • I’ve been part of running clubs in the past, but the large majority of my runs are alone. However, running in groups has its own kind of safety. The more ears and eyes, the more likely to notice a car.

    Just try to avoid running down a road two- or three- (or, in the case of Grove Avenue in Richmond, VA, up to four-) abreast. Leaving a runner out in the middle of a lane leaves them —as well as a vehicle— no where to go.

  • As I run by myself a lot and as I’ve started running with a smartphone, I tend to listen to music or audiobooks while on a run. However, it’s important to not listen to music too loudly or use headphones that restrict your ability to hear your environment. Consider listening to audiobooks or podcasts instead of loud music, as these tend to present less of a wall of sound and you can often make out sounds around you much easier.

  • Consider getting a RoadID or at least keeping your driver’s license with you while you run. In the event of an accident, you want people to know who you are and who to contact someone on your behalf if necessary.

    I mentioned running with my smartphone, on which I use a GPS app to track my runs. However, that GPS can also be used to help locate me and make sure I’m safe. My wife can user our shared iTunes account and a Find My iPhone app to make sure I’m still up & moving at any time. In other words, it’s like I’m LoJacked on my runs (and that’s a good thing).

  • Be aware of your own self, as well. As you run, you get tired and/or get into the zone. Both can tend to put blinders on you, restricting your awareness to the path immediately ahead of you. This is also where having others can be of help, but it’s still important to acknowledge that just because you’re deep into the zen of your run, the world around you hasn’t really stopped.

  • Lastly, but sure most importantly, please obey all laws and regulations regarding traffic and pedestrians. As frustrating as waiting on a light to change can be, traffic laws are there to keep you safe. Let’s face it, running out in a urban area isn’t the best place to set a PR. Save that for a race, where the course is closed to traffic and you can really focus on your run and only your run.

    If it helps you, a lot of current running apps have an auto pause feature which pauses recording if you stand (relatively) still for more than 30 seconds or so. I use this feature on the Nike Plus app on my iPhone and it alleviates that sense of urgency I might otherwise feel to dash out in between cars at a red light.

If you want to read even more about staying safe while running, Runner’s World has a great long-form article titled Collision Course.

And, please, whether your out for a run, on your bike, or behind the wheel, please be safe and aware.