Week in Geek 11.28.14

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

Thanks to the holiday this week, my visit to Boxcast didn’t materialize, and extra holiday work (the bill-paying kind) kept me from making any excursions, too.

However, there was no shortage of thought-provoking news from the world of science and technology, and a conversation with a colleague gave me an idea for a holiday-related tidbit as well.

The speed of sunlight

First up is a throwback to a couple of weeks ago with some solar-powered news out of Chile. The Solar Cars Atacama Rally featured 20 teams taking place in a race amongst vehicles fueled entirely by the sun, with zero carbon emissions.

One of the racers in the Solar Cars Atacama Rally

One of the racers in the Solar Cars Atacama Rally

The race in Chile took place over 870 miles in the Atacama Desert, which has some of the highest solar radiation rates in the world. The route travels past both volcanoes and snow-capped peaks in the Andes Mountains and takes place on paved commuter roads, not a closed track – to the surprise of many standard motorists. The top cars can reach speeds close to 90 mph, but nonetheless are required to obey Chilean speed limits during the race.

“Chile is the best place in the world for solar radiation so that’s why we wanted to come here,” says Abdulrahman Alkhatib, a Saudi driver for one of the world’s leading teams from Tokai University in Japan.

“You don’t have power steering and the car is extremely light so one gust of wind can blow you off track,” he said of solar car racing in general. “You’re very close to the ground so you see the bumps and curves in the road very late and you have to react quickly.”

The Tour de Sol in Switzerland marked the first-ever solar car race, in 1985, and the sport has grown since then, with similar races taking place all over the world. Universities are often involved with these races, encouraging their engineering students to participate in order to further develop their technological skills, but anyone is able to join, and some corporations as well as high school students have raced in the past.

The cars, which convert sunlight into electricity using photovoltaic cells, have of course improved immensely over time. Early cars saw speeds in the teens and the cells have essentially doubled in efficiency since those days.

Since the cars used to compete in solar racing are the cream of the crop, akin to traditional racing’s Formula 1 vehicles, this gives another great example of the viability of solar energy for travel. These vehicles, which rely solely on direct solar-to-electric cells are proving more capable all the time, which gives a hopeful light to the possibilities for more widespread use of electric vehicles in our everyday lives – something i definitely hope to see more of in the next few years.

And Leandro Valencia, the Atacama Solar Rally director, feels the same way. “I think we’ll start to see more electric cars on the streets of Chile and elsewhere in the world within the next three years.”

Blazing fast Cleveland

Starting in January, Cleveland’s Health-Tech Corridor will be on its way to providing the fastest commercial Internet service in the country with a 100 gigabyte-speed fiber optic network. The “Cleveland Super Gig” will be able to give users upload and download speeds 300 times faster than national averages.

The $1 million project involves laying fiber optic cable from Playhouse Square’s Idea Center to Case Western Reserve University but will not require streets to be dug up – something drivers will be more than happy to know. Most of the cost of the project is underwritten by the federal government, and nonprofit OneCommunity is leading the effort. OneCommunity provides broadband and high-speed Internet services for schools, hospitals and government in Northeast Ohio.

Cleveland's Health-Tech Corridor. How much you want to bet this map was made using GIS technology?

Cleveland’s Health-Tech Corridor. How much you want to bet this map was made using GIS technology?

“The commercial Internet is being reinvented in Cleveland,” OneCommunity chief executive Lev Gonick told gatherers last Friday at a press conference to announce the plans that are helping to revitalize Cleveland as a hub of innovation.

Tech un-savvy

A new report from the Pew Research Center, nonpartisan American think tank based in Washington, D.C. that provides information on social issues, public opinion and demographic trends, showed poll results checking on what Internet users know about technology and the web. You can take the quiz yourself on their site; i scored 8 out of 12 – better than 81.8% of the public but still…i’d better brush up on my tech knowledge if i’m gonna keep writing about this stuff!

Without spoiling the answers in case you participate in the poll, i am happy to note that i knew what Moore’s Law was and that i understood the net neutrality issue. As to the relationship between the Internet and the World Wide Web, what the first browser service was and one of America’s technology leaders, i dropped the ball there.

Most respondents proved in-the-know when it came to common technology terms and questions about some of the bigger technology platforms, but were unfamiliar with several underlying concepts related to technology and its recent history.

Answers across age groups were not all that different, with younger users more apt to correctly answer social media-related questions while older respondents were more aware of technology-related issues.

Educational groups showed the clearest results, with a direct correlation between level of education and overall percentage of correct answers.

Also, people who read The Long Shot and keep up to date with Week in Geek tend to score higher on general knowledge tests and show a marked increase in intelligence. [scientific results pending]

Listen to Mr. T and you can answer more questions correctly.

Listen to Mr. T and you can answer more questions correctly.

Analytics all a’Twitter

Tweet analytics given directly inside your tweets is something Twitter is starting to test with a ‘view analytics details’ button on the mobile app. It must only be on certain accounts though, because mine doesn’t include the option. But it’s something i would definitely use to see things like impressions and engagement rates, the percent of people who expanded a tweet and more.

The Twitter Analytics platform provides the data, which up until two seconds ago i had no idea existed (thankfully that wasn’t a question on the Pew poll!)…and i just got lost looking at that for 15 minutes. Looks like i’d better up my game :-\

Does one thing that a spider can

A team at Stanford University developed hand-sized silicone pads that keep their adhesive strength at all sizes that play on the attractive and repulsive forces between molecules coined van der Waals forces. The pads allow a roughly 150 lb person to successful scale vertical glass walls in the same manner as a gecko lizard.

gecko pads

The climber tested the pads hundreds of times on the glass wall without any failures.

The project was done in collaboration with Darpa, whose Z-Man program works to develop climbing aids for soldiers inspired by biological organisms. The Stanford team’s research, as well as a video demonstrating the above image, is available through The Royal Society.

East side science

A video posted to YouTube on Nov. 17 from the user account of Marko Vovk shows a walkthrough of an abandoned observatory in East Cleveland. Vovk is a civil engineer and inspector, and his channel has videos of several abandoned places in the Cleveland area, edited together with some factual text overlaid on the footage.

This particular video caught my eye after a friend shared it on Facebook. While watching the five minute clip, i thought of how often Cleveland has gotten a bad rap and been the butt of jokes so many times, but how the more i discover about this city i grew up in the more it impresses me. This was a facility doing cutting-edge research with top of the line technology for its time, and now it’s just a shell of a building. Although, i will admit as a fan of graffiti and street art, it was cool to see all the tagging that had taken place inside.

There were some plans at one point to repurpose the structure into housing, but if you ask me, why not revive it as a research facility? If Cleveland is truly becoming a national innovate hub, why not rekindle the spark that is already here in places like this?

Holiday comic book gift guide

i learned the other day that one of my colleagues, a fellow geek who plays Magic: The Gathering as well as several other geeky enterprises, has been delving into the world of superhero comics courtesy of her boyfriend. She just completed Batman: The Killing Joke and we shared a chuckle about turning the flashlight off.

With Black Friday looming ahead, she told he how they were heading to the local comic shop early that morning to take advantage of a big sale there, and as an avowed lover of superhero comics myself i excitedly recommended a slew of them to her.

So i figured, with the gift-giving season now upon us, i’d share my recommendations here as well for anyone unsure what to get for that geek in their life. Now, personally i’m a digital comics guy through-and-through these days, but even if i weren’t i’d still recommend trade paperbacks rather than single issues since my bag-and-board collecting days are far behind me. That being said, here’s my list of trades that i believe anyone who loves, once loved or may one day love comics would be happy to have on their shelf (or on their tablet):

  • She-Hulk (2014): i’ve mentioned this book more than once on The Long Shot. Since it is now canceled after following issue 12 in December, the whole series ought to be available in two trades at some point – they’re typically six issues collected. The book tells the story of Jen Walters and her superheroic alter-ego She-Hulk as she struggles to get her own law practice off the ground. The team of writer Charles Soule and artist Javier Pulido, with awesome covers by Kevin Wada, crafted tales that were fun and intelligent with the right amount of action over the past year. Books like this are always my favorites, since they do such a great job of showing these classic characters i enjoy so much, but as real people and not just superheroes. These are the kinds of stories i enjoy the most, and this is one of the best examples of them.she hulk 1
  • Superior Foes of Spider-Man: another awesome book that just met the chopping block, with its final issue #17 hitting the stands just this week. Superior Foes pulled me in immediately from the start, providing more than a couple of literal laugh-out-loud moments in every issue. One thing that did bother me about this entire series, i’ll admit, was the characterization of The Shocker – one of my absolute favorite villains – but the way it wrapped up i suspect they kind of had planned all along for him (even if it hadn’t gotten canceled). The series follows the misadventures of a gang of supercriminals and their constant backstabbings and betrayals while planning and executing heists. The story winds down on a bit of a syrupy note, but i’ll forgive that because the ride there was so much fun (and because i’m a bit of a sap myself).Superior_Foes_of_Spider-Man_-1
  • Moon Knight (2014): Issues #1-6 from Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey were absolutely stunning. Cinematic in scope and story, these six issues showed Moon Knight in all his crazy glory and did a terrific job of setting a new status quo for this classic character. An earlier 12 issue run by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev was also terrific, and perhaps both that and this years first six issues would make great bookend gifts. This one is still ongoing, with a new creative team, but i was too saddened by the departure of Ellis and Shalvey to continue.Moon Knight 1
  • Silver Surfer (2014): Singing the praises of Mike Allred is nothing new at The Long Shot, and i implored readers just last week to go get this book. If you’ve never read a comic book in your whole life, you will still enjoy this series i promise, if only for the artwork alone. But the sweet story developing between the Surfer and Dawn Greenwood, plus the emergence of the Surfer’s board as a real character, are worth the cover price alone.mike-allred-marvel-point-silver-surfer
  • Hawkeye: this ongoing series has been a critical darling for years, and i just recently got into it myself through the first few collected editions. Hawkeye has never been a character i thought all that much of, but by taking him out of being surrounded by gods and incredibly powerful allies in the Avengers and placing him in dangerous real-world-esque situations, he quickly became one of my favorites. i’ve always had a soft spot for heroes who get the crap kicked out of them, and this is not unusual for ol’ Clint Barton. His supporting cast is strong too, including residents of his apartment building that he bought out from under some Russian mobsters to keep them from evicting everyone onto the street.Hawkeye_Vol_4_1_Textless
  • Red Rocket 7: Going back a few years, this book is written and drawn by Mike Allred and is my #1 favorite comic book story of all time. It is essentially the secret history of rock-and-roll and how it developed thanks to some alien intervention. i’ll leave it at that.red rocket 7
  • Mister Miracle by Jack Kirby: Going way, way back to the King of comics, there’s a bunch of trades out there for this one. Mister Miracle is a longtime favorite of mine thanks to his outrageous costume (i know – i usually don’t like costumes), wacky dialogue and off the wall powers. But what i most enjoy is how he adventures with his wife, the super strong Big Barda. They’re the sweetest couple in comics if you ask me (told ya i was a sap).mr_miracle_big_barda_by_marvinsafro-d38f473

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Thanks for reading the fifth Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these were the ones that most caught my attention. If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, Dec. 5 and i’d love to see you here! Hopefully my visit to Boxcast will pan out, and i will also continue to try and reach Chris Stuckmann whose terrific videos keep me entertained and informed – i would love to speak with him about his work and life and share it here.

Week in Geek also be appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Thanks for reading!

 

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Week in Geek 11.21.14

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

*My visit to Boxcast was rescheduled for next week, and in its stead i give you coverage from GIS Day and the prevalence of robots in our world today.

Discovering the world through geographic information systems

Since 1999, the third Wednesday of each November has been designated as GIS Day, a grassroots global event developed by Esri – an international supplier of GIS software – that lets users and vendors of the geographic software to showcase its applications to the public.

In the Cleveland area, GIS Day was celebrated by Lakeland Community College as i mentioned last week, and i had the good fortune of visiting the school Nov. 19 to check it out. Most of the action took place in Lakeland’s geospatial technology lab, where experienced users of GIS technology have demonstrations and exhibitions for visitors, who could also participate at one of the lab’s numerous computer terminals.

Lakeland Community College GIS Day, photos courtesy of Jessica Novak, marketing & communications specialist

Lakeland Community College GIS Day, photos courtesy of Jessica Novak, marketing & communications specialist

The lab itself was adorned with GIS maps lining each of the walls that highlighted just a few of the countless applications for the software. As one of the demonstrators – Brian Villers from the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District – explained, “90 percent of data has a spatial component to it, and if it has a spatial component, you can use GIS.”

Villers became interested in GIS while a student at the University of Akron, and along with his colleague Jeff Duke gave a very cool presentation on how the NEORSD utilizes ArcGIS software to have a major impact on the efficiency and efficacy of their work. Field crews, equipped with tablets, can pinpoint trouble spots and indicate the severity of problems so the organization can respond quickly and effectively to correct them. Duke also pointed out that tasks which used to take months or weeks could now be completed in days, because ArcGIS allows information from multiple sources, like spreadsheets on various people’s computers and countless files, to be consolidated into a single cloud-based platform that Villers built.

In order to gather the data instrumental to Villers in building the platform, technicians walked over 250 miles of streams and other waterways to provide a comprehensive inventory of the system. Using their tablets, they added info points as well as video and photos that anyone with access to the platform can use to get detailed information about any of the areas. The info points, indicated by colored dots on the map depending on their severity, include the technician’s name, date, observation type and description.

Lakeland Community College GIS Day, photos courtesy of Jessica Novak, marketing & communications specialist

Lakeland Community College GIS Day, photos courtesy of Jessica Novak, marketing & communications specialist

Outside of crew tasks such as debris-choked water flow, NEORSD uses ArcGIS software to keep track of and manage all the water flow lines throughout their district, which is a dizzying array when shown on their live ArcGIS map. Technicians can monitor the flow of water and make adjustments as needed, as well as survey areas for potential new lines and coordinate any land development necessary to keep NE Ohio’s water running. The latter is particularly useful to NEORSD’s legal department, because the database displays not only a map of the areas in question, but land and project costs, easements, the progress of jobs and more – all shown live in real-time.

Part of NEORSD’s strategic plan, these comprehensive dashboards are used to track the progress of all strategic objectives and their metrics.

In addition, the ArcGIS data can be quickly and easily shared with other departments like firefighters, police and emergency crews in severe events, which can greatly increase their ability to respond to situations. As Duke said, one of the best things about this technology is how it visualizes data collected from all over clearly and concisely. The momentum behind their use of ArcGIS answers the question, as Duke put it, “How can I provide best services for my customers?”

The ArcGIS information isn’t just for internal use, either. Customers can access GIS maps through NEORSD’s website to find information about fees, stormwater management and more.

In a more general way, the demo from NEORSD’s Jeff Duke and Brian Villers showed just another way that technology makes things more efficient and how huge of an impact it has on our world. Lying beneath the surface of all the things we use each day, like our water systems, is an intricate network of technology where people like Villers play a key role in improving its use.

Earlier in the day, technology specialist Stephen Titchenal led a workshop that focused on Google Earth, a powerful and free application with a huge amount of imagery that also allows for citizen mapping, and showed some of the more advanced things users can do with it on their own.

Titchenal introduced guests to his website Rails and Trails that “provides high-resolution digital images of historic maps and documents that can be re-used by students, educators and historians.” All the seats in the lab were filled during Titchenal’s presentation, during which he pointed out several aspects of Google Earth that may go unnoticed by the casual user, like the display of images’ origin, how to use the clock feature to look at how maps change over time, and how to add layers or overlay other maps and then adjust transparency to see how those maps interact with Google Earth. The mixed crowd of men and women of all ages were keen to follow along with his guide through the application, as well as ask questions about its capabilities.

Essentially, what Titchenal brought to the group was insight into just a few of the ways Google Earth can be heavily customized by users not only in its UI but through using information from other sources like the historical map overlays mentioned above. The bulk of the presentation delved into the Layers, and specifically the Earth Gallery option through which users can browse through shared maps to use as layers in Google Earth. In particular, Ohio and Pennsylvania have very good maps, as those two states were the first to use LIDAR (light and radar) over both of the entire states to create elevation maps. He also pointed out that users’ operations are all saved under “My Places” so you can return to them easily later, download onto your computer or share with others.

“You could take your whole life to look at this stuff,” Titchenal said. “It’s really very fascinating.”

And indeed it was, especially considering the application itself is free. Many times, i’ve used Google Earth as a simple distraction for entertainment. “Ooh, look, i can see that place i went to one time!” But it is so much more than that, able to create routes, help with historical and geographical research and a multitude of other tasks. Titchenal’s presentation was worth it alone just for his pointing out the Earth Gallery’s shared maps and overlay ability, which has things like worldwide Climate Change since 1910, voter turnouts and park systems just to name a few drops in the bucket.

Lakeland Community College GIS Day, photos courtesy of Jessica Novak, marketing & communications specialist

Lakeland Community College GIS Day, photos courtesy of Jessica Novak, marketing & communications specialist

Mark Guizlo, professor and chair of the department of geography and geospatial technology at Lakeland, was really pleased with the response from both guests and presenters.

“It is especially rewarding to hear from students who have gained a new understanding of how their own field of interest can (be) related to GIS and to a spatial perspective of the environment,” he said. “The presenters were impressed with the questions they got from students, which is great to hear.”

Guizlo estimates that about 500 people participated in GIS Day at Lakeland, with 80 students that completed a GIS workshop during that time and 15 exhibitors from public agencies and private companies.

“We need students who want to add GIS to their skillset or who want to become a GIS technician,” Guizlo added. “The job market is growing, and Lakeland offers a robust program that is grounded in the real world and based on the U.S. Department of Labor Geospatial Technology Competency Model.”

Guizlo went on to say that the most impressive thing about GIS is the interdisciplinary nature, something that Villers echoed when i spoke with him after the NEORSD presentation. He stressed that students are well-served by attending events such as this and other networking events, making the point that “in order for them to build a future, they have to take seriously (these additional steps) since they need every tool available to compete.”

Like the LeanDog meetup, events such as this are plentiful not only in my hometown of Cleveland in Northeast Ohio, but i imagine all over. These free community events are great ways to not only network as Guizlo mentioned, but also to learn new skills and improve existing ones. As i mentioned a couple of weeks ago, there are avenues out there for everyone hoping to move forward with their aspirations whether they’re technology-based or not – you only need to take that first step.

Robots!

Oh, hi.

Oh, hi.

A fair bit of news this week from the robotics field, something i am both fascinated and a little wary of. First up, i saw a video of two robotic arms programmed to conduct an elegant katana swordfight. The extreme precision is flawless and amazing, to be sure. On the other hand…why do robots need to conduct samurai battles again?

On a less violent, but probably more impactful to human life (via roboticizing of jobs) is a robotic pancake maker. Like the katana-fighting robots above, this robotic system comes courtesy of ABB Robotics, a leading supplier of industrial robots and modular manufacturing systems.

In both cases, precision is showcased through these machines’ impressive software that does anything a human can do, only better. Maybe someday i’ll post more deeply about my theory of where humankind is heading in light of AI and robotics advancement, but for now, let’s move on to more current-day robotics news which comes from The Atlantic.

In an article titled “Robots at Work and Play” posted Nov. 19, the terrific magazine shared a gallery of 30 photos showing a wide range of robots like Awabot, which allows absent students to follow as well as participate in classes. Kinda like the time Sheldon built a robot version of himself to extend his lifespan on The Big Bang Theory.

Life imitates art...?

Life imitates art…?

A few other noteworthy robots featured in the gallery are one built by an Iranian schoolteacher that instructs children on how to perform daily prayers, the X-37B Orbital test vehicle – a robotic spaceship, and a strength-enhancing exoskeleton. The gallery is really quite fascinating and worth checking out. Several of them stray into the “uncanny valley,” the point at which robots are so lifelike as to cause human revulsion, but nevertheless there are numerous really intriguing examples of robotics.

The dark world of the future

My fascination with science fiction’s depiction of a world that might come to be (and eerily often does) stretches back to when i first became interested in authors like Philip K. Dick and Daniel F. Galouye, who’s 1960’s sci-fi books told of pervasive technologies and mankind’s struggle to find a place in the world we’d created for ourselves. Reading them as i did in a time when much of what they imagined had come to be, and in some cases even more dramatically than they envisioned, fostered in my both a respect and caution towards technology.

In addition to my great love of old timey science fiction, which motivated me to write about the fantastic (and now canceled) Prophets of Science Fiction program, i also love street-level classic comic book superheroes like Daredevil, Hawkeye and Moon Knight – depending on the creative team of course. The latter of those heroes recently enjoyed what i thought was one of the finest comic book runs in recent years, courtesy of the creative team of Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey. So i was quite dismayed when their collaboration on Moon Knight ended after six issues. Six issues! The title continued, and it might be great, but i was so disappointed and so into the book that i can’t bring myself to continue reading.

However, i was quite joyous to come upon this little news flash – a new title from Ellis and Shalvey coming in 2015 billed as “an all-new ongoing series about the disturbing, unruly future that looms near for society.” The book is called “Injection,” and although i’m a pretty solid Marvel zombie, i will definitely give this the ol’ three-issue chance to see how it goes. If it’s anything like Moon Knight, i’m in for the duration. For me, the most important thing about comics is the art, and Shalvey’s work is so cinematic and evocative. Ellis is hit-or-miss for me, and to be honest i’m much more into the artistry of comics that a great artist and bad writer can still be enjoyable under the right circumstances. Not that Ellis is bad by any means, and a dark sci-fi tale by these two gives me high expectations.

Promo print for the upcoming Injection comic

Promo print for the upcoming Injection comic

i put my money where my keyboard was and picked up the first couple of issues of the new Thor series and i’ve got to say, it’s terrific so far. It’s no secret that i am a great fan of strong female heroes, so i was already excited about this book since day one of hearing about it. Now two issue in, the new Thor has delivered imo. The artwork is fantastic, and although the story isn’t exactly riveting so far, the new version of Thor certainly has my attention. To be honest, i don’t really care who is under the helmet wielding Mjolnir, although it will be interesting to follow the story and find out.

What i enjoy most so far is the feel of the book as a great jumping on point for new readers to comics in general and the Thor character in particular. Thor has never really been all that intriguing to me, but this iteration has my attention because of the duality represented in her character so far. To others, she speaks and acts as traditional Thor would, but internally she is unsure of herself and her abilities. In fact, it seems the hammer Mjolnir has quite a bit more to do with the persona of Thor than being a mighty weapon…

The action in the book is also very exciting so far. As this new Thor learns what she can do and the tests the limits of her abilities, she does a masterful job of battling foes like the frost giants currently plaguing the storyline. What i’m really looking forward to is her first interactions with other established heroes in the Marvel Universe, especially Thor’s teammates in the Avengers. i flipped through a few pages of the new Captain America which has former Falcon, Sam Wilson, wearing the stars-and-stripes and making yield all those who would oppose his mighty shield. The pages i saw had him standing up quite strongly to Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. and i’m curious to see how he’ll react when he meets Thor.

So far, i’m not 100% convinced i’ll stick with this book for the duration, but for now it’s a fun story that i look forward to seeing how it plays out. A great number of people i know, as well as lots of people online, were very critical of Thor’s new direction, and i urged them to pick up the book to see for themselves. That suggestion still stands, especially for those who may not have ever been into comics or used to but drifted away. It’s worth three issues at least.

Marvel NOW's Thor

Marvel NOW’s Thor

Lastly, and briefly because i’m short on time, i want to give huge praise to the current Silver Surfer run by Dan Slott and Michael and Laura Allred. There’s several books from 2014 that i really love like She-Hulk and Superior Foes of Spider-Man, but above them all is this book, which is just pure fun. For anyone familiar with the Allred’s work, i don’t need to mention that the art is spectacular, and the story is right up there, too. It’s no secret that i’m not really into the slugfest-of-the-month or big crossover stuff, so this book’s tale of cosmic journeys is just a joy to read. Seeing the blossoming relationship between the Surfer and his traveling companion Dawn is really sweet, and the development of the Surfer’s board as a real character is a treat as well. If you love offbeat comic stories and have a place in your heart for classic characters, i strongly urge you to pick up this book. In the comics biz, it’s all about the sales to keep titles alive, and i would be supremely sad to see this one go away because it doesn’t have Surfer zapping Thanos every month or whatever.

GO GET THIS BOOK!

Seriously. There’s probably a collected edition out of the first six issues. Start there. The Power Cosmic demands it.

silver-surfer-2014-3-power-cosmic

 

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Thanks for reading the fourth Week in Geek in addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these were the ones that most caught my attention. If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, Nov. 28 and i’d love to see you here! Week in Geek also be appears alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the main site).

Thanks for reading!

Week in Geek 11.14.14

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

The most exciting news of the week has been all over the Internet, and i’m sure no one has missed it.

That’s right, a racy photo spread featuring Kim Kardashian is the most intriguing thing that happened in the last seven days. But seriously…

PicardCometTribalism

More impressive than the news of Kim’s moon were a number of things related to the sun

Despite some landing difficulties when the Philae craft double bounced, the robotic probe did successfully land on the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet. However, it settled into a shadowed area that blocks the module’s solar panel array from getting enough sunlight to keep its battery going. Scientists are concerned that the battery’s power may not even last through this weekend, but in true human ingenuity fashion they are working on several things to possibly correct the situation. Since you can’t throw a rock without hitting news of this space rock (which itself dwarfs the greater Los Angles area), let’s move on to something that may have slipped under your radar.

That's one big ol' comet!

That’s one big ol’ comet!

The Dutch love their bicycles…and solar energy

Something that has no problem collecting solar energy is the world’s first solar bike lane, which became available for use Nov. 12 in the Netherlands’ suburbs of Krommenie and Wormerveer. This stretch of road runs 230 ft. and cost $3.75 million, and the country plans to lengthen it to 320 ft. by 2016 in an ambitious plan to one day power everything, like traffic lights and electric cars, entirely using solar panels.

The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) has dubbed the lane as the SolaRoad, and citizens there are excited to use it, considering it a very useful and very cool thing with roughly 2,000 cyclists expected to make their commute on it each day. Hopefully, their appointed spokesperson will eventually get back to me with answers to some of the questions i lobbed their way. If so, you can be sure i’ll share the update.

Installation of SolaRoad in the Netherlands.

Installation of SolaRoad in the Netherlands.

Constructed of crystalline silicon solar cells embedded into concrete and covered by translucent tempered glass, SolaRoad is another piece of the energy puzzle aimed at turning road surfaces into energy harvesters.

Not to be outdone by the SolaRoad is another solar-powered path in the Netherlands. The Van Gogh-Roosegaarde bicycle path was created by artist Daan Roosegaarde and inspired by Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

The Van Gogh-Roosegaarde bike path.

The Van Gogh-Roosegaarde bike path.

This pathway is constructed of sunlight-absorbing stones that glow at night. It’s part of a larger Van Gogh Cycle Route running 208 miles that connect areas in the Netherlands where Van Gogh was born and raised. The Starry Night path is just over a half-mile long and, like the SolaRoad is part of a big picture effort towards sustainable infrastructure.

“I wanted to create a place that people will experience in a special way, the technical combined with experience, that’s what techno-poetry means to me,” Roosegaarde said in a statement.

But what about in ‘Murica?

Here in the U.S., a similar project called Solar Roadways aims for a first public installation in spring of 2015. This amazing innovation was aided by an Indeigogo campaign that ended in June and had surpassed it’s $1 million goal by more than double.

The co-inventors and co-founders of Solar Roadways even have a link to my home state of Ohio. Scott Brusaw, an electrical engineer, spent over a decade as director of R&D for a manufacturing facility here in the Heart of it All as well as receiving his education from the University of Dayton. Scott has been dreaming of “electric roads” since early childhood, and after serving in the Marine Corps, working in the oil exploration business and learning a great deal of engineering on his own as well as through college, he’s gained the knowledge and experience in electrical skills to make his boyhood dreams into reality. He and his wife and partner Julie have dedicated their lives to the success of the Solar Roadways project and work diligently to make the world a better place to live.

Solar Roadways website has a wealth of information both technical and general about the development of the project as well as where it’s headed. Thankfully, they also have a snappy video for those of us who prefer to get our information verbally and visually. They have a couple of dozen other videos on their channel as well, and perhaps the coolest thing about them is seeing Scott and Julie digging in and doing the work themselves. They’re not philanthropic investors – just a couple doing the best they can to improve their world.

Engineering breakthroughs in my neck of the woods

Students from my alma mater Cleveland State University took first place in the 2014 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Student Design Competition. This contest challenges students to solve chemical engineering design problems, and team members won for their work coming up with an alterative way of making influenza vaccine.

The team of Zakaria Benmerzouga, Jeremy Miller and Andrew Zak put forth a cost-effective way to make the vaccine based on a cell-based method rather than the usual egg-based method.

The 120 nationwide programs invited to join the competition had just over a month to complete their submissions. The CSU team was advised by faculty member Dr. Dhananjai Shah, with members who all graduated in May (with me!) from Washkewicz College of Engineering. The award which includes a cash prize will be presented to the team at the AIChE Annual Meeting in Atlanta Nov. 16-21.

Go Vikes!

Go Vikes!

Another former school of mine, Lakeland Community College, is holding a free event next week called GIS Day on Nov. 19 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Presented by the Geospatial Technology program, this celebratory event aims to educate visitors about the program and generate interest in the field of geographic information systems – a growing field according to the school’s press release.

According to Lakeland’s geography and geospatial technology department website, GIS captures, analyzes and displays information used for marketing, logistics, risk analysis and more and is used in all levels of government. Environmentalists also make use of the technology to understand things like animal habitats and land changes. It is utilized in natural resource exploration as well as by utilities for emergency response and basically it’s quite a handy informational tool from a geographical perspective.

During GIS Day, visitors can check out exhibits and demonstrations from local professionals who work in this field, visit the school’s geospatial tech lab, get hands-on use of the ArcGIS platform to build their own smart maps and at the very least enjoy free food and refreshments.

Lakeland’s first GIS day in November 2012 saw more than 300 visitors and Katie Kerr, an event instructor who works for a GIS business intelligence company, said she thought the event was phenomenal and looked forward to the next one. By all accounts, it sounds like a pretty cool thing so if you have the time go check it out.

Events such as this and the LeanDog meetup that was the focus of the last Week in Geek are great examples of the sorts of open-to-the-public tech events accessible to anyone with an interest in learning more about emerging technologies or keeping up to date with existing ones. They offer great opportunities to network, pick up new skills or hone the ones you already have and they’re happening quite often in Cleveland and i presume other cities around the country and world. Finding out about them is only a few clicks away!

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Thanks for reading the third Week in Geek addition to visiting The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but these were the ones that most caught my attention. If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything!

Next week i’ll be visiting another innovative Cleveland tech company to get an inside look at how their breakthrough technology put them in the national spotlight after teaming up with ESPN, and hopefully getting a chance to chat with two brothers and local film fanatics about their quest to give you all you need to know about the movies.

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, Nov. 21 and i’d love to see you here! Week in Geek will also be appearing alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs (click the logo at the top right of the page for the blogroll).

Thanks for reading!

DDO Madness!

My good friend, frequent Long Shot commenter and contributing writer recently pointed out the lapse in DDO-related stuff here lately, and senior developer Knockback’s recent forum post giving a sneak peek at Update 24 seemed like a good opportunity to do just that.

ddo_logo

Heart of Madness

The first item mentioned, which based on replies to the post seems the least well-received, is a new adventure pack involving the plane of Xoriat encroaching on Eberron. In game lore for the Eberron setting, Xoriat is the realm of madness and the source of bizarre creatures like the iconic D&D monsters beholders and mindflayers. The craziness from Xoriat that spills over into the regular world features in more than a couple of quests, including the Harbinger of Madness pack that has your adventurer working with reporters from the Stormreach Chronicle. That has long been one of my favorite story arcs, if only for the fact you get to act as a freelance journalist while investigating a mystery in the harbor.

Pykzyl, a chaos beholder from the quest In the Flesh

Pykzyl, a chaos beholder from the quest In the Flesh

The new pack features three dungeons, the return of characters like the Lords of Eyes and Stone as well as a notoriously nutty fan favorite to appear in the quest “Fashion Madness.” The pack will be 450TP (free for VIPs), and is slated for preview on the Lammania server this weekend.

Since rolling up my main DDO toon Schir Gold as a chaotic neutral-aligned character years ago, and maintaining that alignment throughout her many lives, i always felt a bit of connection to the Xoriat-related content, with all its googly eyeball imagery and insane situations like constructing an airship out of animated furniture. Many DDO players seem to dislike a lot of these quests…but then again, the forums are filled with people who seem to dislike just about everything and yet continue to play. Who’s crazy now?!

Yaulthoon the mindflayer, BBEG from In the Flesh

Yaulthoon the mindflayer, BBEG from In the Flesh

That other place DDO ventures

On the other side of the dimensional rift, the Forgotten Realms side of DDO will have a new dungeon themed to tie in with Wizards of the Coast’s main storyline running through their pencil-and-paper D&D material “The Tyranny of Dragons.” This is very exciting news, because it tells me the D&D license relationship between Turbine (the makers of DDO) and WotC is strong enough that their big picture promotions are cross platform. i’ve always been a proponent of a stronger relationship between the two and long hoped DDO was the flagship D&D videogame. News like this makes me think that is something the folks at these two companies are working towards, which is great news for DDO.

Tiamat, the primary antagonist of D&D's Tyranny of Dragons story.

Tiamat, the primary antagonist of D&D’s Tyranny of Dragons story.

The new content for Tyranny of Dragons is going to be free-to-play for everyone, which gives further reason to suspect stronger support for WotC towards DDO. If it’s free, then PnP players might be more likely to check out tabletop D&D’s digital counterpart.

Classic D&D adventures

The success of the DDO iteration of classic D&D adventure The Haunted Halls of Eveningstar is getting another installment with Update 25’s plans for the release of

drumroll…

The Temple of Elemental Evil!

Dungeon magazine ranked this beloved D&D adventure the 4th greatest of all time in 2004. The quest has been around since 1979 when Gary Gygax designed it for his group of gamers, and was collected and published in 1985 for geeks everywhere to enjoy. There was a sequel to the story in 2001 called Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, as well as a 2003 computer game hailed as “one of the most authentic PC Dungeons & Dragons experiences of the past few years.” As a diehard D&Der myself, i of course played through the game which was both extremely challenging and supremely fun – and the closest to PnP gaming that i’ve ever experienced in a videogame. My fondest memory of playing it was when i found a particular room’s battle to be too difficult that i snuck past it, around the corner to a secret door through which i discovered a treasure hoard. The moment i plundered the gems there, a shriek came from the other side of a curtain to a larger space where, apparently, the BBEG of the whole thing waited. The gems were linked to her power somehow, and by simply swiping them i’d defeated her, whatever elementally evil plans she had and therefore the entire quest.

Zuggtmoy, the Demon Queen of Fungi from Temple of Elemental Evil

Zuggtmoy, the Demon Queen of Fungi from Temple of Elemental Evil

Several posters on the DDO forum responded to news of this classic dungeon making it’s way to our game with pleas to develop it as more than a single standalone instanced quest, which is something i agree with wholeheartedly. The whole story includes an adventure called The Village of Hommlet and in total is just a huge adventure. Later developments of the story had it dovetail into several other adventures like Scourge of the Slavelords, Against the Giants and Queen of the Demonweb Pits, and perhaps we’ll see those make their way into the DDOverse at some point. The latter of those stories led the heroes into a fight against Lloth, who is already a big part of DDO, so maybe this enormous storyline will someday link together. The Forgotten Realms in DDO at this point is primarily high-level adventure, and personally i’d like to see some top-down development that would include lower level heroic content there as well.

And if anyone on the DDO team is reading this and thinking about other classic adventures to develop, i’d like to throw Expedition to the Barrier Peaks into the ring right now. And also appeal to your good (extra)senses to add psionics to DDO!

Personal DDO milestones

On a smaller scale, my DDO play experience has had some cool developments recently. Due to becoming a lot more busy with two jobs as well as a dedicated regular feature here on The Long Shot (that will be included on The News-Herald blogroll soon!) i left my VIP subscription behind to go to a free-to-play, or premium account. So far, i haven’t noticed much difference. Notably, there are several adventure packs that i don’t have access to which is kind of a bummer, but there is still more than enough content to keep me busy having fun. That being said, i’m not sure which ones i may have already purchased in the last eight years during spurts of non-VIP status. And the announcement of Update 24’s Heart of Madness pack means i’ll have to start stockpiling TP earned through favor rewards since i no longer get my VIP 500TP each month. While i could just purchase TP in the DDO Store, i’ve been trying to avoid that so perhaps i’ll have to do some farming via multi-server questing to fill my coffers. Since i have access to iconics, i’m thinking that shouldn’t be too tough to just roll up some level 15 toons across the servers and blow through enough content to get TP.

Going premium and avoiding DDO Store purchases also meant i had to earn my Heart of Wood to reincarnate Schir the old fashioned way – through Tokens of the Twelve and Commendations of Valor. Fortunately, when i cancelled my sub i was also on the last life of the TR train i boarded years ago. At that time, when Schir was just a lowly first life artificer – the class that immediately became my favorite – i decided on a plan to acquire a suite of past lives that i felt would make her the ultimate representation of her class. The plan was three ranger PLs for the ranged damage, three sorcerer PLs for the evocation DC and spell points, and along the way the druid class was released so three of those for the buff on the artificer’s iron companion. At one point, i deviated from the plan to try out a pale trapper build, from which i snagged a wizard PL for +2 spell penetration that doesn’t hurt.

Schir Gold pays her respects at the in-game monument dedicated to D&D creator Gary Gygax - something every adventurer ought to do.

Schir Gold pays her respects at the in-game monument dedicated to D&D creator Gary Gygax – something every adventurer ought to do.

At times i contemplated getting three barbarian PLs because hit points, and fighter, rogue and monk PLs for their bonuses, but while on my last life as a ranger i simply couldn’t wait to get back to artificer. And also, remaining strictly chaotic neutral in all Schir’s lives meant i couldn’t do monks anyway.

Now, settled back into life as an artificer to stay, i am having a blast!

Never one to min/max an optimal build, i instead built Schir’s final life the way i envisioned it those years ago. She has the Dragonmark of Making which boosts her Cannith Crafting skills and, although that subsystem of DDO isn’t the greatest, it’s still fun to experiment with. Plus, you get decent ROI by breaking down junk loot for platinum and essences. My system has been working out pretty well so far. After a day’s questing i hit the auction house and post anything lucrative on the shard exchange, and anything with augment slots on the regular auction. The rest is broken down at the crafting station. One day, i hope Turbine gives Cannith Crafting a pass at which point my investment into Schir’s skills will pay off handsomely.

Another great aspect to settling into this as a final life is in regards to her vast collection of loot. When it comes to gear, i’m a bit of a snob and like all my stuff to have at least dark blue borders from named and raid loot. Over the years i’ve amassed a substantial hoard of doodads, thinking that someday i might need them for some life or another. But since i’m an artificer to stay, it’s been great to unburden my vault of things i know i’ll never use. A lot of the stuff was bound to character, which basically meant i just sold it off cheaply to a vendor. That being said, the real treasure trove was in my gargantuan ingredients bag that held things i could sell off for tidy sums like Scrolls of the Antique Greataxe and other commonly sought epic crafting ingredients.

Speaking of ingredients, i noticed Schir has been carrying around thousands of trap parts for who know how long, so i thought i might get into crafting traps and grenades a bit as well. From what i understand they’re not all that spectacular, but still, i’ve got the ingredients so i might as well use them for something. There’s also a smattering of Shroud crafting ingredients in the bag, as well as a plain, untouched green steel heavy repeating crossbow in the bank. Raiding in general is something i’ve never done more than a handful of times, but i’d like to change that and i think eight years is a long enough time to go without any green steel. So if anyone on Sarlona server needs to fill a raid slot with a capable artificer who has very little knowledge of raids, look me up! Adding an alchemical repeater to Schir’s loadout would also be great…

Overall, since i feel comfortable staying an artificer, it’s really been a hoot to start using a lot more of the consumable items i’ve accumulated over the years. My crafting levels shot up by a huge margin after some time making and breaking shards, since i had thousands of essences laying around, as well as millions of plat to spend on whimsical items. Currently, in addition to Shroud ingredients, i’m in the market for Free Agent Fuschia hair dye and maybe a new hair style – the dragonhorn flip isn’t my favorite.

Lastly, something that has had a big impact on Schir’s life is the recently-added Harper Agent enhancement tree. For quite some time, folks have been clamoring for a third artificer enhancement tree, and i’m here to say there already is one. It’s the Harper tree. Granted, i’m no build expert but from what i’ve experienced so far this has everything an artificer might want.

  • INT bonuses
  • INT to hit and damage
  • Universal spell power bonuses
  • Weapon enhancements
  • Spell point bonuses
  • Listen, search and spot bonuses
  • Melee and ranger power bonuses
  • Minion bonuses
  • Skill bonuses

And that’s not even a complete list. What more could an artificer ask for? So far, i’ve invested almost entirely in this tree, as well as the human racial tree for the dragonmark, and more INT.

Schir Gold on the flagship of the Sacred Flame Guardians.

Schir Gold on the flagship of the Sacred Flame Guardians.

As you can see, i’ve started to put points into the Battle Engineer tree as well. Call me crazy, but i dig that runearm and the decreased cooldown and run speed while charging feel like a good investment to me. Originally, i thought i’d focus on the Arcanotechnician with an eye towards fully beefing up the iron companion. With the druid PLs, Harper bonuses and augment summons feat i figured why not go all the way? Plus, since Schir has the Construct Essence feat so she can repair herself, the companions self-repair to nearby allies seemed like a good idea. However, i don’t think there will be enough AP to go around. Additionally, the companion still bugs out enough that it gets on my nerves so i don’t know if it will be worth it as she gets higher in level. TBH i think i might just swap out the augment summons and Harper minion points entirely at some point. Which i guess would make the druid PLs not as impactful as i thought (but i still had a great time playing a druid so it wasn’t a waste).

You might also notice the melee weapon Schir is wielding there. That is the longsword Sirocco, which currently is bejewelled with a Ruby Eye of Force. Thanks to the Harper tree’s melee power and INT to hit and damage abilities, Schir has had great success as a hand-to-hand combatant. Her much-beloved Frozen Tunic also helps in this department, since it procs quite a bit to aid in mitigating damage. Artificer’s have medium armor proficiency automatically, and while this would give a serious boost to AC, PRR and MRR, i just love that Frozen Tunic. In higher levels, i still haven’t decided what sort of armor she might use. Black dragonscale is nice, as is the blue version. And level 18 will let her don the Elocator’s Habiliment that i’ve been a fan of for a long time (yes, even the look of it…Mirror of Glamering anyone?). That shadowscale stuff look pretty cool, too, but that’s a long way off from level 12 where she’s at right now.

Switching it up between melee and ranged with repeating crossbows, the runearms, spells and boosts to wands and scrolls was always one of the things i enjoyed most about the artificers, and in DDO changing your gear frequently to meet the situation is a mainstay, so i’ve really been relishing the versatility.

At the end of the day, i’m most happy to report that DDO is still very much a fun game. We’re getting a great update soon, and there seems to be a closer relationship between DDO and D&D which gives me more confidence that the game will continue for some time. On a smaller scale, i’m having a helluva great time with Schir Gold back in the saddle as an artificer to stay…unless they come out with psionics then i might have to stock up on Tokens of the Twelve for another TR!

As always, thanks for visiting The Long Shot and making it all the way to the end of my longwinded posts. If you would like to contribute to The Long Shot, please drop me a line. Be sure to check back every Friday for the Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news.

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Good gaming!

Week in Geek 11.7.14

Week in Geek – a roundup of science, technology and pop culture news with commentary each Friday

New ideas afloat at LeanDog

leandog logo

Proliferation of technology and consequently the systems that run it is nothing new. The ubiquity of software applications is such that we tend not to think too much about how they operate and who does all the work to make them run. But the truth is, there’s a legion of programmers, coders and developers out there making sure our technological lives enjoy smooth sailing, and they’re not all clustered in places like Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Seattle.

One of them – LeanDog – calls downtown Cleveland its home port, the renovated stern of a 120-year-old boat docked near the national historic landmark USS Cod. The unique offices of this tech firm are home to craftspeople with a passion not only for creating quality software, but also for coaching and educating others in their trade.

The front of the LeanDog boat, with Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum across the water to the left.

The front of the LeanDog boat, with Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum across the water to the left.

On the first Thursday of each month, LeanDog hosts a meetup open to the public and geared towards those working in technology as a way to network, share ideas and learn about new innovations in their field. They’re also part of a greater Cleveland-area meetup scene which holds events pretty often, so there’s plenty of opportunities for both those already working in the industry as well as people who might just be starting out to socialize with others who share their passion and pick up some tricks of the trade in this constantly evolving field. Meetups typically see 10-20 visitors, with higher numbers if there is an expert speaker. The meetups sometimes feature coding exercises for attendees as well.

On Nov. 15, LeanDog is hosting all all day Code Retreat for example, focusing on software craftsmanship with network practice, tests, pairings and other exercises.

Entrance to the LeanDog boat. Inside they enjoy a terrific view of the Cleveland skyline including the beautifully-lit Terminal Tower. But it was rainy and dark so i couldn't get a good photo of that. My bad.

Entrance to the LeanDog boat. Inside they enjoy a terrific view of the Cleveland skyline including the beautifully-lit Terminal Tower. But it was rainy and dark so i couldn’t get a good photo of that. My bad.

Nathan, one of LeanDog’s Ruby developers, greeted me in the company’s studio space, a subtly nautical-themed room where the craftspeople do the bulk of their work. The wonderful workspace is comfortably appointed with blue and green chairs  backed with mesh reminiscent of a ship’s rigging, decorative portholes in the wall frames on which painted octopus tentacles wound around, and dominated by a giant ship’s wheel. He was excited about working there as a web app developer, which he said was a very cool place to work and a great business to be in.

As another guest pointed out, so much in the industry changes so fast, with whole new frameworks releasing sometimes as often as every two weeks. So these kinds of events are great to help keep up to date.

One of those people just getting started, who visited the Nov. 6 meetup was Derek, who got into application development on his own and came to the event to see what it was all about. By the time things were wrapping up, he’d spoken with several people and got their business cards, laying the groundwork for his own network in the field.

Joel Byler, an Agile software developer at LeanDog, took point for the evening, welcoming me and thanking me for coming to check it out. He encouraged me to make myself at home and have some pizza that LeanDog provides free for attendees, and who was i to refuse his hospitality? Before the start of the evening’s focused discussion, Joel showed me how they livestream the event on Boxcast – another Cleveland-based company that allows anyone to stream live HD video. The video from the Nov. 6 meetup is online for anyone interested in seeing what the night’s focus was all about. Joel also showed me around the studio a little bit and explained the idea of LeanDog’s “information radiators,” which are all the various points that act as hubs for projects, ideas and so forth. These can be as simple as whiteboards with sticky notes attached, to a live queue of coding recipes, maintained by an in-house app, that lets the team know if anything requires attention by highlighting the item in red (if everything is running smoothly, all the items are green).

Attendees of the LeanDog meetup in the training room listen to the speaker of the night.

Attendees of the LeanDog meetup in the training room listen to the speaker of the night.

Before things got underway in LeanDog’s training room, the group of attendees trickled in, most of them setting up slim, sticker-adorned laptops as reflex actions. They way they fell into easy conversation with each other – whether they knew each other already or not – reminded me fondly of my own experiences at the comic shop. People who are shy or reserved are friendly, chatty and comfortable in their element. They talked about not only programming and technology as you might expect, but also the Browns, their wives and kids, the last rock concert they went to. You know, just like regular people. One guy related how he’d modified his satellite dish into a television antenna, while another told how they’d used some quick-thinking and a 3D printer during the boat’s christening a few weeks earlier, when Mayor Frank Jackson came to help celebrate. When the mouse controlling a moving monitor stopped working, someone took it apart and 3D printed a sort of holster for the thing, jury-rigging a way to control the monitor using the guts of the broken mouse. How’s that for innovative quick thinking?

Here’s a video of the boat christening event put together by Bill Synk from the USS Cod submarine:

If i’m honest, i barely understood what everyone was chatting about during the 6-7 p.m. social hour. They shared stories of programming, research backgrounds and the like, and i immediately realized “oh, that’s what it’s like for other people when i’m talking to friends about comic books!” It also struck me though, that this is what sets people apart in any situation – these are the people who go the extra length to network, learn new things, meet new people and keep up to speed on what’s happening in their industry. They go to meetups, summits and symposiums, and ask each other what tech they’re using and how.  And people like these folks sure do a lot to make the world go ’round. Their clients are pretty much everyone and they do their best to stay on top of their game.

Focused discussion

Josh Schramm led the discussion, which covered AWS OpsWorks, an application management service. He prefaced his talk by letting the crowd know he’s primarily a Ruby on Rails developer and how OpsWorks saved his world because it was a different sort of work than what he primarily does, but allows him to include that sort of service in his repertoire. From what i understood, Ruby on Rails is a web application framework, which is a slice of the entire application, and OpsWorks is what governs that entire application.

Josh works at the IT consulting firm Level Seven, and framed his presentation both as an overview of OpsWorks for those unfamiliar, as well as a brainstorming session of sorts in order to collaborate with the other guests on ways to improve his use of it. This sort of dual-purpose presentation is what stood out to me as the best part of meetups like this. For an industry which experiences such frequent growth and change, even those on the forefront can benefit from the input of their peers, and again showcased how folks like this are real go-getters.

In case you missed the link to the Boxcast earlier, Josh also shared his slideshow presentation which i’ve also included below if you are curious about OpsWorks. As a layperson, much of what he talked about was over my head. But to the credit of Josh’s speaking and presentation skills, it wasn’t so far above that i was completely lost. He actually made it sound quite accessible, something he told me afterwards was his goal. Originally, he thought the crowd would be primarily developers who were already familiar with the sort of tasks OpsWorks is designed to tackle, but made some adjustments to account for the different levels of people who came as well as those who couldn’t make it and would watch the livestream.

Josh’s slideshow was crisp and clear, and his talking points were understandable, witty and humorous. The way he broke down OpsWorks into four structures (stacks, layers, apps and instances) and explained each one with screenshots of the UI went over well with the group, and he was very astute in his responses to the various questions lobbed his way throughout the talk. During the wrap-up he gave thoughtful bulletpoints of OpsWorks good and bad aspects, and during the talk my mind kept wandering to Derek, who i imagined was probably soaking up all he could. It seems like OpsWorks offers a great jumping-on point for developers because of how it integrates several parts of application management under one umbrella, and also because Josh explained how his firm’s established clients experienced improvements after migrating them to OpsWorks. Newer clients, those setup with OpsWorks from the start, were running smoothly as well, so i surmise that it makes some clunky parts of the job easier to manage.

At the end of the night, i spoke further with Joel, who again thanked me for coming and encouraged me to visit their other meetups, which i definitely intend to do. i’m still just getting started in the crazy world of technology journalism, and if this event was an indication, there’s a huge, exciting universe of this stuff all around that i am looking forward to discovering more of. Joel was also very cool to take my information and pass it along to LeanDog President Jon Stahl, who is out of town right now. He thought Jon might be amenable to giving me a proper tour of the boat and speaking more about LeanDog, which for me would be totally awesome. So, thanks for everything Joel! It was a real pleasure and honor to visit, learn more about LeanDog and have an introduction to this fascinating world you inhabit.

Thanks also to Josh for his presentation, and to all the other guests who took their time to share a few words with me. Special thanks to Derek for being a self-starter who showed up to make some connections and i am happy it paid off for him. If anyone else out there is a programmer, developer, coder or otherwise, or thinks they’d like to be, i definitely encourage you to check out meetups like this and others in the area (or whatever area you live in – i’m sure this is not something happening only in Cleveland). There’s avenues out there for you and every other person hoping to move forward with their dreams and aspirations, you just need to take that first step.

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Thanks for reading the second Week in Geek addition to The Long Shot. Of course, there were many more exciting things that happened in the world of science, technology and pop culture this week…but this was the one that most caught my attention. If you have any news you’d like to share, drop me a line and let me know – i try to keep up with stuff but i can’t read everything! In fact, Josh Schramm himself (speaker at this event) dropped a little tidbit that i plan to follow up on which lies more on the pop culture spectrum of the Week in Geek, and it’s another Cleveland-centric thing which makes it doubly cool.

Follow @longshotist on Twitter for frequent shares of related articles and (hopefully) humorous nonsequiters.

Week in Geek will be back next Friday, Nov. 14 and i’d love to see you here! Week in Geek will also be appearing alongside other great blogs at The News-Herald Blogs starting very soon (as soon as the digital content manager returns from vacation).

Thanks for reading!