Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dream: Nathan Fillion at the Beach

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at

There were a couple of things that pretty clearly influenced this dream: last week I volunteered as a photographer for STORM Camp (check out the photos I took) and right before going to bed I was listening to an episode of the Nerdist Podcast with Joss Whedon.

I was at a work site for STORM taking pictures, when I saw a football with pictures of Nathan Fillion at a beach printed on it. I found out that he was still at that beach, and lo and behold I was suddenly at the beach. I found Nathan Fillion but I was too nervous to go up and say hi. So I took the totally-not-creepy route and started trying to get good shots of him. I got distracted for a moment and when I looked back he was gone, no sign of where he went.

Suddenly a shark jumped out of the ocean onto the beach, and I got a really good shot of that. However it turned out to be not a shark, but a person in a shark suit. Apparently I had been standing in a hallway that was connected to the beach because I looked around and saw +Matthew Linder mopping the floor. I found an HTC phone on the ground that he had mopped over, and somehow it still worked despite being completely soaked. I think Matt and I talked about electronics for a while after that.

Overall this dream doesn't seem to mean anything and there really isn't anything holding the various parts together. But seriously, Nathan Fillion.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Guide for New Android Users

Note: this guide is horribly out of date at this point, so take everything with a grain of salt. I am leaving this article here as it is for posterity.

My best friend +Ian Decker recently got the HTC Thunderbolt, and it is his first Android phone ever. So I figured I should be a good friend and influence the way he uses his phone. Note: most of the links in this article go to the Google Play site for that app, where you can conveniently click "install" and that app will install on the device you selected. No need to even touch the device.

Step 1: Picking your device
Android devices run the whole spectrum of price, size, and even shape. Everyone has their preferences, but the one thing that I can say to everyone is this: make sure that the device you are buying runs Android 4.0 or higher. There are a lot of apps that aren't available on older versions, and 4.0 is the cutoff for a lot of them. I also prefer stock Android to pretty much any skin, so I would recommend a Nexus or the Google Play edition of one of the third-party phones.
+Marques Brownlee has a great YouTube channel where he does reviews of tons of phones, so check him out.

Ian's reasoning behind getting the Tunderbolt was that it is the cheapest phone running Ice Cream Sandwich on the Verizon network. And being that it was the first Verizon phone with 4G/LTE I'm sure it is a quality phone, if a bit dated.

Step 2: Apps
It's important to find quality apps for all of the things you will be doing with your device. Google makes really good first-party apps, but sometimes there are third-party alternatives that are better.

Most of Google's apps come pre-installed, but if they aren't you'll have to go grab them.
Chrome: I know that there are a lot of browsers on Android, and some of them run more smoothly than Chrome; however, I've stuck with it because it syncs with the desktop version of Chrome.
Gmail: by far the best email app out there.
Maps: this ain't no Apple Maps. It's never steered me wrong, and Google's collection of Street View images is unbeatable.
Search: the Google Search app is so much more than just search. Google Now strives to give you the information you need at any given time, before you have to ask for it. The weather is always there for your location, and things like your next appointment, upcoming flights, tracking packages that are being shipped to you, updates on sports, nearby events, and time to get home are displayed when appropriate. It is the most useful feature of having a device that is always with you.
Calendar: how else will you keep track of your life?
Google Drive: it is surprising how many different types of documents you can edit with the Drive app.
Keyboard: Google's stock keyboard for Android 4.0+ just blew the competition away with gesture typing and voice dictation all in one keyboard, and now even people with non-stock devices can use this wonderful app.
Goggles: this is a pretty cool app that will search by taking a picture. If you see a painting or landmark that you don't recognize, try taking a picture of it with Goggles. It also recognizes QR codes.
My Tracks: I used this app to record some hiking trips we went on during our trip to Yellowstone.
Cloud Print: Google originally came up with this when they invented ChromeOS. If you need to print something but you're using a device that isn't connected to a printer, send it to cloud print and your computer at home will print it for you.
Keep: great for quickly jotting things down for later. It can also store pictures and voice recordings as notes.

Media Consumption
Google Music: definitely the easiest way to get your library onto your Android device. Install the Music Manager onto your computer and upload your music files to Google. You can then play them from any computer or Android device. Their new All Access program is a great deal: everything in their store for $10 a month. I don't think that I will ever buy music again.
Google BooksKindle, Nook: no matter who you buy books from, there's a way to read them on Android.
BeyondPod: I know you are all faithful listeners of my podcast and many other podcasts. BeyondPod is my favorite podcast manager for Android.
YouTube: duh.
Feedly: this is definitely the best alternative to the late Google Reader (may it rest in peace.) If you don't use an RSS reader, you should really start. It's incredibly useful for keeping up with comics, blogs, and news sites that have new content on a regular basis.

Hangouts: Google's integration of their chat services is complete, and Hangouts is the result.
Google Voice: even if you don't have a phone, you can still have a phone number! Google Voice allows you to text and make calls over wifi, and it synchronizes with the desktop version.
Skype: not as good as Hangouts, but maybe you have friends who are only on Skype.

Google+: my favorite social network.
Facebook: not the best designed app, but it sure beats using their mobile site.
I'm sure that whatever social network you enjoy using has an app. I know for a fact that there a bajillion Twitter apps.

I haven't been gaming a ton on my Nexus 7, but here are a few suggestions.
Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery: if you like story-based games, music, and/or tongue-in-cheek humor, you will love this game. I know I did.
Super Hexagon: This is a really fast-paced reflex game where you just try to last as long as possible without getting hit by the edges coming towards the middle of the screen.
Beat Hazard: an Asteroid-like twin stick shooter where the pace of the enemies and the strength of your weapons is determined by the music you are playing. It's a blast.
Keep an eye on the Humble Bundle. They occasionally have Android games.
There are emulators available on Android, but I haven't checked any of them out. I believe that the legal stance on emulators is that if you own the game itself, it is legal to have a ROM of that game.

DashClock: I like this widget because it displays a lot of important information at once. The time, unread email, upcoming events on my calendar, etc.
ES File Explorer: one of the things that Android lacks is a proper file explorer. This is usually fine, but power users will definitely want to install this one.
Steam: PC gamers will want to get this app so they can access the Steam chat, store, and community pages.
Wifi Analyzer: I don't know what half the things are that it tells you, but there it is.
Voice Recorder: a nice simple audio recorder.
Zombies, Run!: this is the best motivation for running that I have found. It narrates a story for you while you run, and anytime there are zombies nearby you have to run faster.
MTG Counter: if you play Magic the Gathering you've probably gotten tired of having to keep track of how much life you have left. This app does that and has a dice roller.
Adblock Plus: I've never met anyone who has said that they like seeing advertisements on websites. It will also sometimes prevent ads from popping up in other apps, which is probably why they aren't in the Play Store anymore.

Step 3: Customization
Now it is time to make your device your own. Organize your apps. Change your wallpaper. Put some widgets on your homepage. Change your ringtone. Android is endlessly customizable. This is really a matter of personal preference.

Step 4: Enjoy!
Go to town and start using your new Android device. And let me know if you find new stuff that I don't know about.

Saturday, July 6, 2013


Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at

I have wanted to go to Yellowstone National Park for at least 15 years. In my mind as a child, Yellowstone represented the ultimate camping experience. Two summers ago my family tried to go, but we only made it to Mount Rushmore before our van made it clear that it was not going to make it over the Rocky Mountains.
This year, with a shiny new van, we made it.

Ironically before we even left Minnesota we blew out a tire.

This threw off our plans to go see Devil's Tower on our way to Yellowstone, but we vowed to stop there on our way home.
+scott kopp graciously let me borrow his DSLR camera, so I took lots of pictures. The full album is here, but a lot of the pictures will be in this post as well.

Any time that you go on a road trip out west, your first view of mountains up close is always the coolest thing you have ever seen. +Amy Buck and +Jonas Buck were both pretty terrified during that first mountain road.

We went to the south area of Yellowstone first and camped near Lewis Lake. It was really chilly, especially since we were used to the summer heat. +Caleb Buck, Jonas, and I huddled in our tent and played Magic the Gathering for most of the evening. I froze my butt off that night because I took my jeans off.

The next morning mom took the girls to go see some hot springs and work on earning the Junior Ranger badge while the guys went for an eleven mile hike. +Eric Buck and Caleb were wearing hiking packs to train for Philmont later this summer. Almost halfway through the hike I remembered that my tablet could record our route for me, so I turned it on. Here are the stats and a link to the map:
Total distance: 9.53 km (5.9 mi)
Total time: 2:28:46
Moving time: 1:58:11
Average speed: 3.85 km/h (2.4 mi/h)
Average moving speed: 4.84 km/h (3.0 mi/h)
Max speed: 8.91 km/h (5.5 mi/h)
Max elevation: 2430 m (7974 ft)
Min elevation: 2366 m (7764 ft)
Elevation gain: 150 m (493 ft)

That afternoon the girls took us to see the hot springs, which was really cool. Yellowstone has a lot of crazy geological magic going on, and Jonas really enjoyed reading through the little pamphlets explaining exactly what was going on.

We also went to see Old Faithful, and I saw a few people there with cameras that gave me serious lens envy. I took a bunch of pictures, most of which turned out well.

The next day we got caught in a parking lot while a herd of bison ambled through, which was really cool. Most of them looked like they were in the middle of shedding their winter coats (they were rubbing themselves against a lot of trees) and there were quite a few calves.

We also saw some elk.

Yellowstone also has a "Grand Canyon" of its own, looking like something straight out of a painting. And there was a guy there who was painting it.

Then it was time to head up to Belgrade, Montana to visit mom's high school friend Karen. I got to drive because mom and dad were both exhausted from the last few days. Of course, it wasn't until we got there that I remembered that I had left my driver's license at home.

The Hoffmans train horses, so Tanushri and Subashri helped feed them and got to ride them.

Caleb and I ended up with the job of leading the horses because we're young and spry and can run as fast as the girls want the horses to go. It's a good thing that the horses weren't stubborn as the burros I raced in Philmont.

Caleb also got in on the horse riding action, and he almost ran into a wall. It was hilarious.

They also groomed the horses a bit and we got to watch Mike putting on new horseshoes.

We were also introduced to such classy pastimes as cribbage and golf. Caleb and I are pretty good at cribbage, but I don't think any of us can golf.

It rained for a while during dinner (fantastic smoked ribs!) and we got to see a double rainbow. What could it mean??

There was a full moon out that night, and the view of Belgrade was awesome, so I experimented with some long-exposure shots of the city and mountains surrounding the valley.

The exposure times range from 4 to 10 seconds, and they pick up a lot of detail that I myself couldn't see. I particularly like what happens when you use Picasa's automatic color corrector on some of the pictures:

The next day we left Tanushri and Subashri with Karen while the rest of us went on a hike to Lava Lake. I once again recorded our route.
Total distance: 10.17 km (6.3 mi)
Total time: 3:11:35
Moving time: 2:21:20
Average speed: 3.18 km/h (2.0 mi/h)
Average moving speed: 4.32 km/h (2.7 mi/h)
Max speed: 5.85 km/h (3.6 mi/h)
Max elevation: 2166 m (7106 ft)
Min elevation: 1653 m (5423 ft)
Elevation gain: 548 m (1798 ft)
The hike was pretty much all uphill on the way to the lake. It also seemed to be a pretty popular route among the locals because we saw plenty of people who were there with their dog or their family or their girlfriend, out for a nice picnic at the lake.

I wanted to test out Google+'s new "auto-awesome" features, so I made sure to take some panoramic shots. I think it did an excellent job stitching them together.

Then it was time to check out the north part of Yellowstone. While the rest of the family went to find a camp site, dad, Caleb, and I hiked over Mt Washburn. Because of the elevation change on that hike, we were expecting it to be very challenging. However, the path was more of a gravel road the whole way, so it was actually a lot easier than Lava Lake.
Total distance: 10.43 km (6.5 mi)
Total time: 2:45:01
Moving time: 2:34:04
Average speed: 3.79 km/h (2.4 mi/h)
Average moving speed: 4.06 km/h (2.5 mi/h)
Max speed: 5.65 km/h (3.5 mi/h)
Max elevation: 3116 m (10224 ft)
Min elevation: 2656 m (8713 ft)
Elevation gain: 452 m (1483 ft)

At the top was a fire lookout station with a nice room with paintings that labeled what you were looking at off in the distance. Unfortunately, the building prevented me from taking a full 360 degree panorama. But what can you do?

We camped near Mammoth Hot Springs, which is a huge tourist area near the north entrance to the park. We went to a gift shop and bought some shirts and got some ice cream. That was nice considering we had been camping for a while.
On our way out of the park we took a picture by the sign and the original arch that was built for the park.

On the way home mom and dad decided to stop at Little Big Horn National Monument. To our surprise, it was free admittance and there were tons of people there. Turns out we showed up on the anniversary of the battle (June 25). I think that is the craziest coincidence I have ever experienced in my life. There were riders and runners from the Cherokee and Souix nations celebrating with a parade, and it was pretty cool.

We walked around to all of the monuments and grave markers, which was sobering. The markers were placed where the men fell, so of course there is a large cluster at the site of the last stand.

Tanushri and Subashri once again did the Junior Ranger program. The ranger who swore them in added a line to the oath about the Little Bighorn Monument being the coolest national park in the country.

By evening we made it to Devil's Tower, which is so far out of the way that I guarantee you wouldn't find it unless you knew where it was. While we were hiking up to it we saw a few black widow spiders and a rattlesnake that Tanushri startled. Luckily everyone stayed calm and it went down a hole. So that was officially the deadliest hike I have ever been on.

Tanushri and Subashri didn't want to hike all the way back to take down camp, so I stayed with them at the visitor center and helped them with the Junior Ranger book while the rest of the family went back. The funny thing is that I learned more about Devil's tower from the Junior Ranger book than I did from the informational signs on the path around the tower. For example, most native cultures from the area called it "Bear Lodge" or something similar, which I think sounds way cooler than "Devil's Tower".

The ranger who gave them their badges told me he liked my shirt, and I'm not sure if that means that he went to Morris and lived in Gay Hall or if he is gay. Come to think of it, he had really good handwriting (not to proliferate stereotypes or anything.)

On our way around the tower we saw a couple of climbers making their way up it, as well as the stake ladder used by the first two people to make it to the top back in the late 19th century.

I of course recorded our trek.
Total distance: 5.48 km (3.4 mi)
Total time: 2:00:03
Moving time: 1:26:40
Average speed: 2.74 km/h (1.7 mi/h)
Average moving speed: 3.79 km/h (2.4 mi/h)
Max speed: 5.96 km/h (3.7 mi/h)
Max elevation: 1322 m (4339 ft)
Min elevation: 1159 m (3803 ft)
Elevation gain: 204 m (668 ft)

For our last night we splurged and stayed at a KOA. I know, it's not real camping. Seriously, they had a pool and wifi. We weren't complaining.

Over the course of the car rides I listened to a ton of podcasts and read Star Wars: Scoundrels and its companion novella Winner Lose All both by Timothy Zahn. I'm sure I'll be telling you all about them soon enough.