Sunday, November 27, 2011

Powells: Book Nerdvana

If you're a book lover, chances are you've heard of Powells bookstore. If not, you need to know about it. And like Mecca, you DO need to visit it at least once in your life.

Why Powells? Here are some stats about their main City of Books site...and not counting their other sites...that may pique your interest:
• 68,000 square feet packed with books.
• We buy 3,000 used books over the counter every day.
• Approximately 3,000 people walk in and buy something every day.
• Another 3,000 people just browse and drink coffee.
• We stock 122 major subject areas and more than 3,500 subsections.
• You'll find more than 1,000,000 volumes on our shelves.
• Approximately 80,000 book lovers browse the City's shelves every day in Portland and via the Internet.

Here is the main City of Books site page. This page describes their other Portland area locations. This is a store map of the City of Books site.

In case that description sounds a little dry to you, here is a satellite photo of the main City of Books site. Yes, it fills that entire city block.

Two opposite corners from outside

If there are bigger/better Book Lovers' Nerdvanas in the world, I need to know about them STAT.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Another geek tattoo: Timshel

(Photo of new tattoo, along with my original paperback copy of East of Eden and the version I own on my Nook Color)

There's a tattoo shop in Monroe and Olympia called Primeval Ink (Yelp) that I massively enjoy visiting. Three times now, they've taken a geeky idea of mine and made it a reality that's a part of me. Previously, it was a modified Kanji character (done by Patrick) and a laughing wolf (done by Jen) that I now think of as my avatar.

This latest ink was inspired recently, when I read a very cool book about literary tattoos. And today, Jen at Primeval helped make a literary tattoo from a beloved book a reality for me.

John Steinbeck's book 'East of Eden' is my personal candidate for the greatest fiction book ever written. Steinbeck was a writer who could describe funny things and sad things, describe beautiful things in words that can take your breath away and describe ugly things such that you can see them and understand them. But you would still understand that they must be fought. East of Eden is full to the brim of good flawed people who you would still love to know and bad flawed people who you would gladly see locked away.

As his dedication says:
"everything I have is in it and it is not full. Pain and excitement are in it, and
feeling good or bad and evil thoughts or good thoughts - the pleasure of design
and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation."
But the part that has exploded in my head without fail EVERY time that I read it is the timshel speech (text here). The context is to me the purest refinement of the American melting pot ever: a Civil War veteran and an immigrant from Ireland listening to a Chinese worker describe how he and his family learned Hebrew to understand a sentence from the Bible's book of Genesis. The sentence had been translated in different ways in indifferent translations, its exact meaning muddied. What these students found in the word timshel, representing the very essence of free will, is my personal choice for the most magnificent prose ever written. The ladder to climb to the stars is still there in all of us, even if we as a species seem willing to settle for making our world a fraction of what we could.

Aside from its brilliance, 'East of Eden' also brings with it personal reminiscences as a book I read when I had just moved to Silicon Valley in the 1980s. Shortly after I arrived, I discovered that Steinbeck's Cannery Row was a short drive away and went there as often as I could. 'East of Eden' represents those years in California to me, years when I learned a lot about life and myself. Years when I could easily hop on a motorcycle and visit a Pacific beach within an hour. Years when I went from being a 20-something nitwit to being a semi-intelligent adult.

All of this is why I went today and got my timshel tattoo. Actually, I don't feel I had it made's more like a neat tattoo shop helped me reveal something that was burned into my soul decades ago.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A new privacy tool for social sites and email

Want to decide what privacy rights you have for yourself, instead of letting Facebook, Twitter or Google decide for you? Then this could be the app for you!

Available soon for download under (some version of) the GNU Public License, this app is powerful AND easy to use. Messages are broken into chunks which can even be posted on Twitter. Here is an example of its use:

The UI on the left opens up and you enter a passphrase used to generate encryption keys. Type your message into the Plain Text edit box and it will appear encrypted into Twitter-sized chunks in the Cypher Text box. These can be posted, either in one big chunk or in separate chunks under 140 characters in size.

Message recipients will need to know that passphrase; the message cannot be decoded without it, except possibly by the NSA or GCHQ.

Some features:
- Decryption code doesn't care in what order the message chunks are entered
- Decryption code puts a placeholder where chunks are missing
- Encryption is done with NIST standard algorithms

Drop me a line if you're interested...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Three Cheers for GeekGirlCon!

An event that I've planned on attending for about a year, GeekGirlCon, just ended. It was a terrific experience and I eagerly anticipate attending next year as well.

GeekGirlCon's them is encouraging female geekiness but my experience of it has been more along the lines of encouraging geekiness in all those who have that tendency, irrespective of gender. As a guy, I didn't feel the least bit excluded from any of the panels or events and the panels I attended all spoke to me. As it happened, I attended GeekGirlCon with my wife and my BFF Lisa but I would've felt comfortable and welcome attending on my own. But this way was much more fun.

The experience wasn't quite what I expected but it was still overflowing with awesomeness. I had planned to attend with my daughter (a 17 year old engineering junior at UW who wants to switch to graphic design/art), was sad that she didn't attend. She would have had a great time. I purchased tickets with her attendance in mind, which meant that I passed on Saturday's fare, rife with awesome Whedon, Star Trek and musical content.

But Sunday rocked as well. The panels about finding a geek niche (particularly as a parent) rocked and the merchandise for sale was really delightful. I unfortunately missed meeting a couple people I really looked forward to meeting (e.g., Bonnie Burton) and then ended up having an impromptu and delightful chat with Chase Masterson, a star from Deep Space 9, arguably the most well-written and realistic of the awesome Star Trek series.

I look forward eagerly to flying the GeekGirlConflag over the next year and probably participating in planning and volunteering events for the 2012 event. Well done, geeks!