Category Archives: Geek Alert

The Brain Is A Big Fat Liar

One of my favorite shows is called “Brain Games.” Each half-hour episode shows volunteers and the viewers audio and visual games that show how our brain interprets sensory input. In short, the brain doesn’t merely hear, taste, smell, or see anything as it is, but tries instead to interpret what it senses. Even then, it’s not a true representation of the real world.

Let’s take a look at the ear. Sound waves flow into the ear canal which causes little bones to vibrate inside. The brain then interprets the bones’ vibrations as specific sounds. Even then, we’re not hearing the sound itself, but the ear’s response to the sounds. The brain also tries to attach meaning to those sounds. Where it’s coming from, and what’s causing it. For instance, that roar we hear isn’t simply a roar. It could be a lion, a fierce wind, or an airplane flying overhead. If it doesn’t sound immediately familiar, we will continue to listen until we can say, “Oh! I know what that is. That’s a train going by.” We’re not like a tape recorder that doesn’t care what the sound is. It simply records it. Humans, on the other hand, try to give every sensory input some kind of context.

We went traveling one day and I saw a big orange blob in the middle of a cultivated field. My first thought was school bus, because the color was similar. But then I thought, “Why would there be a school bus in the middle of the field?” I stared at that thing for as long as I could, but I never did figure out what it really was.

How often do we look at clouds and find shapes and faces in them? Because the brain wants everything to be familiar, to look like something it’s seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt before. It’s a survival mechanism, so that way it can quickly determine if it’s harmful or beneficial.

And because it tries to give everything context instead of accepting that there may be no context, or the context is beyond our current experience – like the orange blob in the middle of the field – it sometimes lies to us. My brain grabbed the first object from my experience that matched closest to what it saw – a school bus – so that’s what I thought I saw at first. And yet, it probably wasn’t a school bus. My brain lied to me.

Some other examples are optical illusions and magic tricks.

Here’s a video (excerpt from “Brain Games”) to further prove my point:

Note: You can watch the first four seasons on Netflix.

Courageous or Stupid?

A friend of mine introduced me to this quote by Anias Nin not too long ago:

Life Shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

It’s one I’d like to live by, but by and large don’t. For the most part I’m a gutless wonder, especially if I don’t know the odds of something, or if the odds are against me.

I’m not into taking risks.

Not a good thing for a writer who wants to be published. I don’t know the actual numbers, but I’m sure my chances of winning the lottery are greater. The only reason I pursue it (although my motivation is in the toilet at the moment), is because God won’t let me not pursue it. One thing God is better at more than my three-year-old is the constant barrage of “do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it . . . ” ad infinitum. Sigh. So I keep going, at times not so much because I want to, but to get God to be quiet (He never does, though. He merely finds something else to give me a hard time about).

A few entries ago I bragged about how I was hired to be the new technical editor of AugiWorld. Since then, they changed things around. Instead of one technical editor for the entire magazine, they created content managers for each software discipline. That includes standard AutoCAD, Civil and Manufacturing to name a few. The president of AUGI emailed me a while back to let me know, and asked if I was interested in writing articles.

I expressed I would love to. The hard part isn’t writing the articles, it’s thinking up a subject. Even though I’ve used AutoCAD since 1991, I don’t consider myself an expert. It’s such a massive program, I bet I don’t use 20% of its capabilities. How can I write articles imparting knowledge I don’t think I have enough of?

It’s fear holding me back, I admit, and I’m using that old adage: “Write what you know” as an excuse. Funny considering I’ve always hated that phrase. It’s an excuse not to write and not to broaden one’s knowledge and experiences.

But then an idea surfaced. There’s another program developed by AutoDesk called AutoCAD Map 3D (which comes as either a stand-alone program or part of the Civil package). This program has all the functionality of a CAD program, but with GIS (Global Information System) capabilities added. If you’re not sure what that is, think Google Earth. It’s basically a graphic database program where a person can search for almost anything using a graphical interface. For example a GIS application is for emergency services such as police and fire. They have GIS systems that not only have the addresses of homes, but floor plans, gas and water line locations. With a few mouse clicks, they can access all the information they need. Befuddled blind, yet?

I’ve used Map 3D for quite a few years, but only for converting existing data. I’ve not developed any database system from scratch. Since we’ve been hired by a few smaller communities in our area to develop a GIS system for their towns, it’s now important for me to learn more about Map.

So I asked the AUGI president if anyone’s offered to write articles about (or be a content manager for) AutoCAD Map.

He wrote back a few minutes later:

Yea, YOU!

We would love to have that!

Question: do you feel that would it fall under the Civil Content Manager, or are you suggesting you as the Map Content Manager?

Let me explain.

A content manager will work to ensure we have at least 1 article in their “industry” per issue (monthly).

Chris Fugitt is the Civil Content Manager. He is generally concerned with Civil 3D. So if you don’t feel the product needs an article per issue, then I would just assign you to work with Chris for whenever you want to write.

However, if Map (and Mapguide? GIS?) is a topic that could use the coverage in each issue (which is your call, not mine), then assigning you as the Map Content Manager would make more sense.

I spent over an hour debating whether to offer to write an occasional article or take the deep-ended plunge and tell him that Map deserved an article for each issue. The rub is that if I offered to be the Content Manager, I would have to write an article if no one else volunteered. How could I do that if I barely know the software?

Two things convinced me to offer to be the content manager. One, with a deadline every month to write an article, I’ll be extra motivated to write. Second, it’ll force me to learn the software.

My response included the admission that I don’t know the software very well. But, I added, I’m not the only newbie to Map. Many of the articles will include the things I learn along the way. I can’t be the only person just starting out with GIS and Map. After all, the whole point behind AUGIWorld is to teach both new users and veterans the finer points of a robust and highly versatile program.

Since I offered (and since he hasn’t written back which I’ve learned means he’s accepted my premise), I’ve downloaded all the tutorials and user guides available for map. They’re all in Adobe Acrobat format which means I can load them onto my Nook. I realized just this morning I can keep my Nook right at my computer and go through the tutorials that way without having to print out a hard copy. Good thing, too. The tutorial book is 438 pages, and the users guide is (I’m not kidding) 2180.

So I’ve changed the “write what you know” phrase to “write about what you want to know.” I want to learn AutoCAD Map, and writing articles about it on a deadline will encourage me to do just that.

I hope.

A New Look

Like the new look?

I changed my theme yet again. It’s not boredom that spurred the change, but my website provider. As of December 9, it will no longer provide Movable Type blog tools. WordPress will still be available, so I switched.

I still have much work to do to it such as adding my favorite blogs in the BlogRoll. If you were there previously and don’t see your name, worry not! I will add it. Along with all my other links. Yay. It’s been so long since I manipulated my last blog, and HTML in general, it’ll take time to relearn everything.

Hopefully tonight or this weekend I can get it all done.

My DSL modem is dying, so my internet access at home has been sporadic at best. They said the replacement should arrive today, but I’ve been hearing that for the last three days. Long story, and not a pleasant one, so I won’t torture you with it.

I wish I could say I used that time well by concentrating on my nano-novel. Ha! At this rate I won’t make the 50K (I sit at a paltry 6K), but I’m not all that stressed about it. It’s not as though I’ll lose anything by not finishing. Mostly I’ve been keeping track (when I manage to get online) of what’s going on at the Marcher Lord Press contest. Voting starts on Friday, so don’t forget to vote!

Also, to find out more about the books Marcher Lord Press publishes, you can check out the store. I’ve read three of them so far (2 Science Fiction and 1 Fantasy), and they’re exceptional stories and writing.

But don’t take my word for it. Check it out yourself.

Word of Advice

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT try to install a new hard drive a Macintosh iBook G4 laptop all by yourself.

I consider myself technically savvy (as most of you know). The laptop my mom gave me worked for a few days then every time I booted up, I received nothing but a gray screen. When I tried to reload the operating system, it showed no hard drive was installed.

Solution: buy a new hard drive.

I searched on eBay and found a new one for a mere $45. Cool.

After I ordered it, I internet-searched for installation instructions. That was also easy to find, but after scrolling through 17 pages of instructions, I began to wonder if I made a mistake.

I thought about taking it to Geek Squad to install it, but decided against it. I wanted to resell the laptop on eBay, and considering what the computer is worth, I wouldn’t make any money going that route.

By the time the hard drive arrived, I had studied the instructions enough I felt confident I could do it.

Two hours and 30+ screws removed (no exaggeration there), I had the old hard drive removed. Yippee.

I noticed then I didn’t have the proper tool to remove the four screws on the old drive. Now what?

I carefully packed up the disassembled computer and frightening assortment of screws, and internet searched again for the appropriate screwdriver, with the intent of driving to Lowe’s the next day.

Tonight, with all the right tools, I spent five minutes installing the new drive, and the next two hours reassembling the laptop.

I got all the way done, but the mouse button was stuck. I tried to fix it by again taking the darned thing apart, and ended up breaking a piece of the case off.

I further destroyed the computer to remove the new drive with the intent of returning it. There’s a 30 day money-back guarantee on the thing, so I’ll only be out the shipping.

I happily threw all the screws and broken machine in the garbage.

Five minutes later, I took it back out, and salvaged the screen, keyboard, battery and power cord.

I figured if I sold those and the program CDs on eBay, I’ll make about $40. Basically I’ll break even money-wise.

As for the rest, I learned to never – ever – take apart an old Macintosh laptop unless I want to destroy it.

So, anyone need used iBook G4 laptop parts?

Everyone’s gotta have a hobby

My New MiniWhat do you think? Is it perty?

Sure, it looks like a standard laptop, and I can hear you yawning.

This ain’t no standard laptop, though. It’s my new Dell Mini. The screen is a mere 8.9", and weighs in at a paltry 2.1 lbs. It’s perfect for sitting, well, anywhere, and won’t slope my shoulders with its heft if ever I need to drag it through an airport.

I learned that lesson the hard way after lugging my old 17", 9.6 lbs monstrosity about five years ago to a writers conference. Oof. 

The Mini arrived via Fedex yesterday, and I spent most of my evening playing with it after my little guy went to bed.

Well, not most of the night. My mom also dropped off her old Mac iBook G4 for me to do whatever I want with it. She purchased a new one, and thought I could use it. If not, she said I could sell it on eBay, and she’d take a percentage.

Never owning a Mac before, I might hang onto it for a while and learn how to use it.

See how this geek is so happy? It’s fun enough to play with one new toy, but two? Oh, yeah, I’m giddy.

Too bad I have to work for a living, and take care of my son at night, otherwise I’d be sitting on the couch in my jammies with not one, but two computers on my lap.

Eleven more hours . . .

Stealing Ideas

Did you know we can’t copyright ideas?

Some people have tried to change that, but luckily it hasn’t passed muster in the courts or the copyright office. So far.

Could you imagine if someone copyrighted the idea of boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back?  That would mean 99% of the writers out there would have to contact the copyright owner for permission to use the idea, and pay a hefty fee for that permission.

I stole an idea recently (I asked the stealee for permission first, so technically it’s not stealing).

She created a page on her website called In the Queue (one of the strangest spelled words out there).

In it she lists her works in progress along with book covers. I figured I needed to do something similar to help motivate me to continue working on my own WIPs.

Although I still need to create book covers for my WIPs (something I’m really looking forward to), my page is up and running HERE.

If you like it, you’re welcome to steal the idea. 

Using My Name to Learn More about the World

A few weeks ago I signed up for Google Alerts. Every time Google finds my name on the internet, it emails me the link.

  1. I now know Nate Marquardt, a UFC® (Ultimate Fighter Championship) fighter, won his bout against Wilson Gouveia In UFC® 95 February 21 with a Technical knockout.
  2. Niels Marquardt, US Ambassador to Madagascar, opines in local media outlets that the country of 20 million was on “the verge of civil war” . . . That’s all I can give you on that. To read more I need to subscribe to the online newspaper.

Every day I learn more about Nate and Niels – and meself through the internet. I’m glad my name isn’t more common, because instead of the one-three alerts a day, I would receive much more.

Your assignment for today is to search your name and tell me if anything interesting pops up.

For a minute of fun click Here (psst. You’ll need to type in your country of origin and birthday before it’ll take you to the fun part). It’s a great example of what people can do with website programming.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Like my new format? Bright, isn’t it?

I changed it mostly because the original template was boring. The text of the entries and comments didn’t pop off the screen like I wanted them to.

This one’s better, but not perfect.

So says the artist within me.

And the geek. The geek is glad this one isn’t perfect, because it encourages her to study cascading style sheets (or CSS) even more, and in the end create that perfect template.

Within the next few months I will continue to tweak my blog, so don’t be surprised if it keeps changing every time you stop by.

On my list of additions includes a short bio and (gasp) a picture of moi. I’m sure you all would like to know the face behind the words. That will take a while, because none of the pictures I have look professional enough.

Change ‘o subject.

I finally tackled my possible articles last night. They didn’t take nearly as long as I figured. There were plenty of red marks, to be sure, but since they’re so short, rewriting them shouldn’t take more than two hours.

After that I’ll go through the edits my husband suggested for my novel. Most people frown on family critiquing a person’s work, but Dave is a good editor. He writes well himself and is a voracious reader. He knows a good story, and can pick out plot and continuity problems quite well. He also doesn’t pull punches, so I know his assessments will be at least honest even if I don’t agree in the end.

I may end up with all my saleable (I hope) material ready with a week to spare. Wow. That’s definitely a first for me. I’m usually still writing or editing like a madwoman the night before something is due.

What am I going to do with that extra week?

Work on my blog template perhaps?

Happy New Year!

Okay, so I’m five days behind.

Would you believe I’ve been busy?

Quit laughing. It’s true. I used (or wasted) most of my free time reading "Head First HTML with CSS and XHTML" by Eric Freeman and Elisabeth Freeman.

Geek that I am, using a software program with templates to create my website isn’t enough. I need to know how it works. What do all those codes mean, and how can I take advantage of them?

The book is a fun read, too. It not only teaches how to write concise code, but contains puzzles, and dialog between different functions to better show their similarities and differences.

I studied so much over the weekend, I actually dreamed in HTML code last night. How odd is that? I didn’t wake up this morning, I booted up.

I know, bad joke, but it’s my blog and I can be as silly as I want. So there. Ha!

Change o’ subject.

One reason for this blog is not only to talk about my writing journey, but also to provide you some entertainment. Talking about me all the time gets dull, and I want to keep you interested.

An idea occurred to me a few days ago that will necessitate participation of a few of you every couple of weeks. I approached one person so far, so we’ll see how he responds.

I’d also like to start a newsletter, but I need to study up on my email package to see how I can create something both intellectually and visually pleasing.

One more way to keep my book editing on the back burner.

To titillate my artistic mind (and waste even more time), I purchased a Wacom graphics tablet. It’s due to arrive by UPS today. Yippee!! I hope to create a picture or two to add to my website.

‘Nother change o’ subject.

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. I figure if I want to change something, or set a specific goal, why wait until the new year? There’s no time like the present.

However, it’s okay to think about what I want to accomplish over the new year.

I will complete the final edit of my novel, and market my novella through (hopefully) local bookstores and my church. If no one bites on my novel at the writers conference I will research into agents for it. In the meantime, I want to work on another novel – my first nanowrimo novel I wrote in 2005.

A couple of questions for you.

Would you be interested in a newsletter sent out every few months?

What are your goals for 2009?