March 2008 Archives


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You're fifteen, I can't even remember what school grade that puts you in. If my calculations are correct, it's 1998 and you're a sophomore at Valpo High. (I know no one calls it Valpo High yet, but in two years you'll be editor of the Viking Press and you'll begin using the name. It's not likely to catch on, though.)

I'm twenty five, by the way, so I've got ten years of wisdom on you. I don't want to tell you too much about the future, but you'll be slightly disappointed with some things in life, but you're really doing just fine and occasionally grateful for the things that didn't 'go right.'

I've been granted the opportunity to give you some advice, so I'll start with some specifics, and then finish with the psycho-babble.

Do pick the Viking Press over Honors pre-calculus. You'll have way more fun that way, but do not try to jump back up to the BC Calc class... you really aren't a math genius, and you don't like it anyway. (But, if you can't get the IB diploma without it, then take the plunge... not that the IB diploma will ever do you any good, but you're still awfully proud of it.)

When you're a senior, take a lot more than two days on your Princeton application, and for heaven's sake, don't apply to the engineering school. I suspect that well written essays, a few samples of Viking Press editorials, and an application to the Woodrow Wilson school of public service might actually get you in. The engineering route is a bad idea, and it won't get you into your ivy. Also, you shouldn't worry about the $50 - $100 application fees to the schools you really want to get in to. You're talking about thousands of dollars in tuition anyway, also might I suggest USC? It really is a beautiful campus. Finally, when you're still stuck choosing between Purdue and IU, pick IU's business school. You'll like it a lot more... and keep those grades up.

Other advice? Google at $87 is a bargain, 2003 is not the Cubs' year, but go to Atlanta anyway. Oh, and most all of the ballplayers who put up unbelievable numbers in the next few years are on steroids.

Now, for your life lesson, I'll briefly discuss friendship because it's the area of life that causes you the most stress over the next few years. The basic understanding you need to realize is that friends are made through concerted effort, not by meeting someone who just happens to be interested in the same things you are. In fact, most of your best friends don't really care about baseball, and certainly not the way you do.

One of your misconceptions about other people is centered around the concept of independence. You think it's a weakness to need or want other people's help? You're flat out wrong. People can see you're independent, but if you won't let them help you, they think you don't like them. If someone offers to help with something... they aren't just being polite, they really do want to help, and they're willing to spend time with you, which is an awfully good way of forming enduring friendships.

So, remember friendship is work, but it's awfully rewarding and you'll be way better off with good friends than you'd ever be otherwise, even if you somehow manage to get into Princeton (or USC).

The rest of life's lessons? I'll let you learn those in time. You're gonna have a hard enough time getting the friendship thing right anyhow.

GoatRiders was named blog of the week by the Chicago Tribune. Woot!

Also, I'm starting a new site called Torben Reviews where I plan to review all the fun things I do in life, or all the little things I buy.

Kelly, this weekend. I promise.

Debating the Governor

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For those of you interested to read my recount of my recent debate with Governor Blagojevich, head over to Goat Riders where I posted it.


So, you may know I have been distantly following the progress of the so called $100 laptop. The organization that tried to make this a reality is called One laptop per child, and last year they finally finished with the development of the laptop, and moved on to manufacturing and distribution.

When I heard that OLPC had a program called Give One, Get One, I plunked down my $400 (the computer actually costs $200) and have been eagerly awaiting the moment when I would hear that a child living in the third world had been gifted with the transformational ability to go online... and perhaps, just perhaps I was selfishly interested in getting mine.

Anyhow, mine came via UPS yesterday, and I've been toying around with it since. What follows is an initial review.

I ordered December 5, it came March 14, or approximately two months after my initial estimated delivery date. Not being too anxious about it, I found their communication to be sufficient.

As for the computer, it was definitely designed for a child. The whole case is 9" wide, and 9.5" deep. The keyboard is perhaps 2" too short to allow me to touch type, but the hunting and pecking is much easier than, say, a blackberry. I think if I were 10, however, I could probably touch-type. The keyboard itself is pretty cool. It is rubberizedto protect against spills, sand, ants, or whatever other small objects could get inside a normal keyboard. Also, there are a dozen function keys around theoutside that do reallygreat things like adjusting the volume, the screen contrast, and some program quick-keys. There are also a few keys with no assigned functions. These are intended for 'later developments', but I'm sure I can find a script to let me repurpose them. Finally, the space key is not sensitive enough, and onlyworks occasionally. (The mistake was left in for emphasis, but not generated for such.)

The screen is pretty good. I have not had a chance to try it in the sun, but I've turned the backlight off and can see how it will enable me to use it outdoors during the day. The resolution is probably VGA quality. All the colors are muted, but pictures show up pretty well.

The internet connectivity may be problematic. I couldn't get it to connect to my WPA secured network yesterday, so I used me Dell to explore the troubleshooting at OLPC and saw that they won't support WPA until early 2008, so I assumed it wouldn't work in my apartment. However, with a reboot and a sunrise, I turned it on and lo and behold, it had connected to my network.

One of the strengths of the computer is its networking range. It was designed to pick up weak signals in the bush, so when you take it into a highrise in downtown Chicago... well you might see somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 wireless networks.

This leads into one of my frustrations with the software... it's intended for illiterate children. They use pictures wherever words might suffice. For instance, say you were looking at the 'neighborhood' (networking) screen with seventy five networks. You would see you little XO (it looks like a stick figure if you put the O above the X) surrounded by seventy five different partially filled, multi-colored circles. There is no text anywhere to explain a color legend, and you have to hover over each circle to disover the name of the network. Yes, it's intuitive, but humans speak rather than play pictionary for a reason.

Anyhow, the browser seems to be pretty good. I haven't tried youtube or internet radio, but ESPN works better on here than my blackberry, and the browser hasn't had any issues with the CGI scripts that run eByron.

I've toyed around with the included programs. My favorite is the one that takes in sound through the built-in microphone and displays the sound waves on the screen.My neighbors probably think I went insane, but it's fun watching the computer interpret all the weird sounds I could think to make.

I tried the band synthesizer program a bit, and that's cool. It lets you select an instrument, and then presents you with a staff-like interface that you draw notes into as the note sounds. The enterprising composer can then layer in at least six instruments, allowing them to compose for the entire band... and of course the program will play your music for you.

I've yet to try out the camera or microphone capabilities... but I'm hoping to try a video call pretty soon.

All in all, I'm pleased with the machine, but the true tests are yet to come.


(Of course I wrote this on the XO.)