Category Archives: Humor

Twiddly Bits

[Yes, this is a repost from my original writerferret site. I will be reposting many of these here in order to capture them]

I have a confession to make. I am a twiddler. A twiddler lies somewhere in between a tweaker and a fiddler, and I’m a stereotypical case. It’s a condition moderately treatable, usually by ingesting large amounts of some brain-numbing chemical such as beer. Since I don’t drink a lot of alcohol in general I’m usually left to just suffer.

You probably know a twiddler, or you are one yourself. You might be married to one, or have one in your family. We’re everywhere, and it’s impossible to escape us, and it’s nearly impossible to treat us unless you plan on creating other types of problems.

What’s a twiddler, you ask? Well, a twiddler is someone who just absolutely cannot resist twiddling. No, not twiddling their thumbs (although this habit is a generally accepted precursor and warning sign in young children) but twiddling all the little bits on the things around them. We twiddlers, when faced when something chock full of twiddly bits, simply cannot resist diving in and twiddling them all until we’ve driven ourselves and everyone around us completely crazy.

I come by my twiddler genes honestly, at least. My mother is a horrible twiddler herself. She’s the type of twiddler that, when faced with a tiny scrap of lifted wallpaper buried in a corner of the room that nobody will possibly ever see ends up scraping and repapering the entire house, retiling the bathroom and then resurfacing the driveway just for good measure. She’ll stay up for 300 hours straight to accomplish it, if necessary. Her twiddling generally manifests itself in the arts and crafts, home improvement, gardening and all-purpose dog-twiddling categories.

My own twiddlish behavior leans more towards technology. When faced with a new toy, a new bit of knowledge or even just a new idea I will end up twiddling it until I fall over in an exhausted heap, I’ll then dream about it and then when I wake up I end up twiddling it again until I suddenly realize it’s been 3 days since the last time I ate anything more substantial than a cup of yogurt, the dog is alternating between biting my feet and whining at me with his legs crossed and my cat has packed her bags and left to move in with a saner family.

Since I used to be an engineer, this behavior generally worked out to my benefit professionally, at the expense of any social life. My CTO would drop some new cool toy or some nifty idea off in my office and leave me alone to play with it. When I surfaced for air 3 weeks later I’d pretty much be an expert on it, coming up with all sorts of esoteric uses for it that would make the original inventors cringe and flee the room, and in general becoming a thorough and complete menace. I’d then pocket my nice fat bonus check and walk away happy.

Well, I’m not an engineer anymore. I’m a writer now, and as a writer I twiddle words. Word-twiddling is generally a bit more esoteric than twiddling technology, so sometimes I go find some new project to sink my teeth into, building a lego robot to scratch the dog’s itchy bits or figuring out how to build an automatic nose picker or, as in my latest case, building a digital jukebox.

A twiddler with spare parts is a dangerous thing. When faced with a mound of spare parts I’ll generally go into hyperdrive figuring out some nifty thing that I can build with them. In this case, I was faced with a completely superfluous spare computer, an older one that my wife used to use before she fled my twiddling ways.

I have a very large collection of digital music, in both MP3 and more recently OGG format. I have a large CD collection, and have ripped all of them and encoded them for my car stereo. My car stereo is an empeg, basically a computer with 60 gigs of hard drive space running Linux and masquerading as a head unit. I’ve had this beauty for many years now, and it’s also a twiddler’s dream.

Well, I’ve gotten tired of toting my empeg in and out of my car and plugging it into my stereo. I thought this was rather silly to do, since I already had all the music encoded, had an extra computer, and the general desire to twiddle up something new. First thing I did was to completely strip the old computer, ripping all the parts out into a nice big pile so I could twiddle all of them individually (whee, jumpers and toggles and other assorted nifties).

After putting the computer back together, freshly cleaned, dusted and pressed I then slapped a new version of Linux on it, and then spent a good portion of the last two days transferring all my digital music files to it as well as playing with all the free jukebox players out there. Most of them are way too sophisticated for a twiddler like me, I prefer lean and mean interfaces. I knew what I wanted, things like being able to put it on my network and browse it from any of my computers, fast access, a clean uncluttered interface to it, building playlists on the fly, etc. I wanted it simple and fast to use, and most of all it had to pass the “can you use this while throwing a party and looking at it through a beer haze” test. This is generally a step forward, since most twiddling involves communing directly with the primal forces of nature and being open to whatever you discover instead of having a set idea of what you are looking for.

I finally found one that sort of fit the bill and installed it. I spent the better portion of the wee hours of the morning getting it twiddled correctly, and actually decided I really liked it. I was quite convinced I was going to have to write my own, since that’s the ultimate step of twiddling. I can’t ever really be content with software unless I write it myself, but I was struggling manfully trying to resist the siren call. Since the author of the software I eventually settled on had more than an average amount of cluefullness I really decided I could live with it, for now.

So far, so good, right? Had my jukebox built, working flawlessly, a handy and useful addition to my technology toybox. Complete with a Harmon Kardon speaker set and a wireless network card I could set it up anywhere I wanted, even out on the patio, with just a few mins worth of plugging and unplugging. You think I’d be happy, wouldn’t you? Of course you would, but all my fellow twiddlers can see what’s coming next.

I just had to improve on it, you see. So, after sleeping for about 2 hours last night, I get up and rip it all apart and redo it, making it better (or at least that was what I was pretending to do). Finally, after spending all day doing all sorts of bizarre twiddler dances over it, it’s broken. Not broken badly, mind you, and not irreparable, but broken to the point where I probably need to wipe it out and start from scratch. I’ll probably end up going back to the original shape it was in before I started in on it this morning. If I’m smart, I’ll revert it back to the state where I really liked it, then break all my own fingers to keep me from “improving” it. Of course, twiddlers like me are never really that smart and I’m quite sure I’ll end up fixing it, only to twiddle it into submission three or four more times.

Maybe I should just go buy some beer and medicate myself instead.

Answering the Siren Call

Ok, I am beginning to think the apocolpyse might actually be drawing near. First, I register as a Democrat, now I decide that I want to buy a Macintosh. If I were you, I’d start storing water, candles and ammunition immediately.

I’m not sure exactly why I want to buy a Mac. Ok, I’ve got a few ideas, and there are some pretty valid reasons for it but I’ve been pretty firmly bigoted towards Linux from very near the beginning of it’s life. I’ve had the occasional PC loaded with Windows in order to stay abreast of the requirements of my profession and I’ve used the PC to run the games that I like to play, but I’ve always relied on a Linux box to do my “real” work. You’d think if I was getting frustrated with my current Windows machine I’d simply just tear it apart and reload it with Linux, running the OS that God intended for us to run instead of that demonspawn from Redmond.

I have to admit, though… I want a new iMac. I want to run OSX and I want to get all geeky about Mac stuff. Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t know anything about Macs except that they are pretty and slick, maybe it’s the fact that they run a real operating system now based on Unix or maybe it’s just the fact that I slipped and smacked my head when I got out of the shower. All I really know is I can start to feel that irresistable pull to the… well, I can’t really say to the dark side because that would be the demons of Redmond whispering in my ears. Let’s just call it the “other” side for now I guess.

Ok, let’s stack it all up and look at it closely. First, there’s the important thing to remember which is my very first computer was an Apple, an Apple ][+ to be specific. I loved that thing. It was my first indoctrination into geekdowm and I knew that thing like I knew the back of my hand. I treated it like a beloved kit car that I was constantly tinkering with, extending, enhancing or repairing. I’ll never forget the look on my poor mother’s face when she walked in, saw me hunched over the open carcass of my Apple with smoke curling softly up from my soldering iron and valiantly did her best attempt at not freaking out and murdering her child on the spot.

As I grew older the Apple line and I parted ways. Apple marched towards elitism, expensive GUI’s and what I call “toaster” computing. They became a system for people that simply wanted their computer to “work” without having to tear it down and rebuild it all the time. It became less of a geek computer and more of a workhorse and that just wasn’t where I wanted to be at the time.

Of course now they have started to return to their geeky roots. I mean, what ultimately is more geeky than Unix? Ok, well, learning how to sing a Klingon opera in morse code might be slightly geekier, I guess, but I’m not really interested in going down that route just yet so I’ll settle for Unix in the interim.

I’m much less interested in hardware geekery nowdays and much more interested in OS, application and usability geekery. There’s some really incredible tools available for the Mac, and if you’re even marginally inclined towards the “spend three weeks writing a tool to save yourself five minutes worth of work” mindset (as I am, unfortunately) you can spend years twiddling, fiddling and geeking out with all the clever hackery available with a robust and well supported Unix OS on top-notch hardware.

It doesn’t help that the price point between Apple hardware and PC hardware has finally started to lessen. Sure, the basic Apple system is still quite a bit away from the low end PC systems but if you trick out a PC you’ll end up spending comparable amounts of cash. The Apple overlords have finally switched on their homing device and are trying very hard to call me back to the flock. Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated…

I have tried valiantly to resist the siren call of the Apple.com website but I also know it’s only a matter of time before I run down to the store, offer up my debit card as a sacrifice to the gods of Cupertino and at long last rejoin the Apple fold. I wonder if they will be handing out grape koolaid and black nikes at the reunion meeting?