by Nick Thursday, January 04, 2007 10:04 AM

I'm a pretty typical computer geek in that I have my fair share of geeky toys.  I have a rather nice collection of geeky odds and ends that I like to keep in my cube at work.  Jeff Atwood offhandedly pointed out a new toy... which I feel I now must have.  It's a clock made out of Nixie Tubes!  One of my first "tech jobs" was working for the Technical Support Center at MSOE (where I got my degree in Computer Engineering).  My primary job was computer repair and network administration, but occasionally I'd get dragged into the "the dome" (where we stored all sorts of ancient computer equipment which we didn't need any more) to tear stuff apart for recycling.  One of the items that we tore apart had all sorts of displays made out of Nixie Tubes, and so I kept one cause I thought it was cool... which I still have to this day, and sits on a shelf in my cube with my other toys.  So when I saw a picture of the Nixie Tube Clock... I immediately started to drool:

In my eyes, this is the perfect combination of form and function.  A gorgeous stainless steal modern look to the base, yet it's operation depends on 30 year old technology.  I love this kind of elegant combination of old and new.  So why don't I just go out and order one right now?  It's $300!  That's just a little too much for a clock that would sit in my cube... even for me.

Is That a Faraday Cage In Your Pocket?

by Nick Wednesday, November 29, 2006 2:36 PM

Or are you just happy to see me?  One of my favorite online geek stores is Think Geek, and I subscribe to their RSS feed so I can get updates on their coolest new gadgets and toys.  One of their latest is an RFID blocking wallet.  It is a nice looking leather wallet, but has a Faraday cage built in.  Why is this important?

One of the scarier trends in the credit card industry is the inclusion of RFID chips in credit and debit cards.  Visa is marketing this concept as Visa Contactless, and MasterCard now has the PayPass system.  Many of their card issuers are using it already.  Unfortunately, with some simple equipment bought from Radio Shack, and a little technical knowledge gained from the Internet, identity theft becomes much easier.  With something hidden in a backpack or briefcase, a thief can now read your credit card information at a distance.

A Faraday cage built into a wallet is a simple, and very convenient solution to this problem, as it blocks the RFID signal from getting to the card.  That means that your card can only be read when you take it out of your wallet to pay with it, which is the only time you want it read anyway.  Most importantly, you don't need aluminum foil in your pants.  It's the perfect Christmas gift for the concerned consumer in your life.  You don't even need to be a geek to have one.

I Want One Of These!

by Nick Monday, November 20, 2006 10:36 AM

I think this is one of the coolest things I've ever seen, and I can imagine about a dozen uses for the programmability of this thing... not to mention the sheer cool factor.  Ladies and gentlemen... I give you the Optimus keyboard:


Granted it will be kind of expensive... at least for a keyboard.  But the OLED LED key technology that will switch the key display depending on the layout, and the ability to have visually different keys show up depending on what application you have active at the time is totally cool.  I have a feeling that this thing will be mine.  It's not released yet... but will be soon.  The developers also have a blog devoted to the project.

I Really Want These...

by Nick Thursday, October 26, 2006 8:27 AM

These are just freaking cool... but I'm having a hard time figuring out what I'd actually use them for.  I guess it's just another one of those things that only a geek would understand.  But just the fact that something so small can have so much holding power is freaking cool.  You can find out more about rare earth magnets here.  In fact, one could argue that rare earth magnets have contributed to the computer industry just as much as transisters have.  There is a page with all sorts of interesting ideas... and you just have to love a product that comes with a warning like this:

These magnets are very strong and should be handled with care. Small children should not handle these magnets. Older children should be supervised at all times when handling these magnets. These magnets should not be ingested. If the magnets are allowed to snap together or against steel, they will chip and crack. You should keep them at least six to twelve inches away from computer hard drives, credit cards, computer monitors, and other susceptible electronic equipment. Individuals with pacemakers and other internal medical devices should not handle or come within close proximity of strong magnets. These magnets are safe for air transport as packaged but as a general rule they should be kept off airplanes.

And seeing as how my life is surrounded by computers and electronic equipment... I'm not sure I want to worry about accidently bringing my cool new toys within range of something I haven't backed up in a while.  But still....

Cube Goodies

by Nick Friday, October 14, 2005 9:30 AM
Forgive me for such a long post. When I first got the idea to write this, I didn't intend for it to go so long. Great plans of mice and men and all that. If you stick through the entire post, I do have a question for you at the end.

You spend at least 8 hours in the office (at least those of us that work)... so it's natural that you want to fill your work environment with a part of you... something that you will enjoy. There are certain things that I always have in my cube that I never can seem to do without.

First there are those certain books that I never crack open any more, yet I seem to need to have in sight to feel complete. They're what I call the Programming Testaments. If you are a book learner like I am, then you know these titles in one form or another. They all have various editions, but are so well known that they're often simply referred to by their author's name now. I'd love to write a book some day that was so well known that people would say "Hey, can I borrow your copy of Schweitzer?"

Programming Windows: This is the bible of Win32 API programming. Every now and then people still ask to borrow my copy of Petzold. He even has a blog now. Even today with managed code and object oriented programming, having an understanding of the basic Win32 API is valuable. All the layers that have been built since then still eventually call here.

Advanced Windows: This is the bible of memory management and threading for the WinNT platform (which whether you realize it or not is what Windows XP is). Things change, and .NET has made this somewhat obsolete... but if you do interop with .NET like I still do... than Richter is still a good reference to have. Remember... the OS isn't managed.

The C++ Programming Language: I don't program C++ any more, yet I still consider this to be my first language. I have the newer edition of Stroustrup in my cube, and an older edition at home that was given to me by my brother-in-law Shannon. That older edition is special to me. It's highlighted, coffee stained, worn, and well read. He gave it to me early in my career and said "Read this and you'll know everything you need to." He lied. I had to read it several times.

The C# Programming Language: This is what I consider my primary language now, even though I actually write VB.NET at work. I hate VB.NET for reasons I share from time to time on this blog. Keeping this book in my cube reminds me that not all languages are trite, wordy, silly, and hamstrung. Anders (I refer to him by his first name when I reference the book for some reason) isn't as well written as Stroustrup though. Stroustrup can be read like a real book, even if it is incredibly difficult. Anders is written purely as a language reference.

Code Complete: This is not considered to be any sort of testament by many people, but it ought to be. McConnell is one of those books you keep in your cube to see who looks at it and says, hey you have a copy of Code Complete, can I borrow that sometime? It's a litmus test of developers to see whether they simply hack out code or design software. If you don't think there is a difference between the two, then get away from me.

But besides the books, there are other more superfluous things that I like to keep in my cube, that hopefully reflect more on my personality. They're just some fun things I've collected over the years.

The Scream: Its by Edvard Munch, and one of my favorite paintings. I have a blow up doll version that I keep on a shelf.

Dilbert Mint Tins: The tins are empty now, but every cube has to have some sort of reference to Dilbert in it. It's a law you know.

The Binary Clock: My mom gave it to me for Christmas one year. I thought it was silly at the time, but now it's kind of interesting. Every now and then someone will walk in my cube and just stare at it... and then eventually say "I give up. What is that?" After some clues, some people eventually figure it out, usually by guessing. Mind you, these are all software developers that I work with. When I tell the ones who can't guess that it's a binary clock, they eventually say something like, "Oh, OK" and then walk away. It always makes me a little sad when that happens.

Acrobots: This is just a fun little guy that I occasionally pose in different ways to see if anyone notices the change. Nobody has yet. Maybe that's because nobody comes to my cube that often... hmmm... I won't ponder that thought.

I have a few other miscellaneous things, but you get the idea. Recently a friend turned me onto this site, called Despair which is just hilarious. Being a consultant, I was thinking of getting a small version of this to put in my cube. My question is... is that going over the line? Would it be unprofessional to have something so blatantly cynical in my cube, no matter how true?

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Nick Schweitzer Nick Schweitzer
Wauwatosa, WI

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I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit. ... Full Bio

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