18 Things I’d Tell 18 Year Old Me

Posted by TechyDad on July 29, 2015 under Life

dear-18-year-old-meRecently, the Bloggess tweeted what she would tell her 18 year old self.  This got me to thinking about what I would tell 18 year old me.  Unfortunately, I had so much to say that I couldn’t fit it in 140 characters.  So I’m putting it into a blog post which will be sent into the past for 18 year old me to read.  Here’s hoping that I don’t cause any time paradoxes! (As you read, you can tweet your favorite sections by clicking on the Twitter icons next to the section headings.)

NOTE: The envelope image above is "Envelope 2" by kuba.  This image is available via OpenClipArt.org.  I’ve modified it by adding "Dear 18 Year Old Me" text and "writing lines."

Dear 18 Year Old Me,

Hi.  This is you from the future.  Specifically, from the year 2015.  You might remember that Back To The Future 2 depicted the year 2015.  Well, it got it completely right.  We have hover cars, 3D billboards, and clothes that dry themselves.

I’m kidding.  We don’t have any of that stuff.  Well, except the clothes that dry themselves, but that’s just boring old evaporation.

What we do have, or what I have specifically, is perspective.  You’re young and still trying to figure things out.  I’m older and have many of those perplexing puzzles solved.  Some things I’m still trying to find the answer to.  I’ll let you know if our 70 year old self sends me any information on those.

On to my advice:

It Gets Better twitter

Since you’re 18, you’ve just graduated from high school and are headed into your first year of college.  You’ve just escaped the horror that was high school bullying.  I wanted to tell you that it gets better.  People in college are, on average, much better than high schoolers were.  People in the adult world/workforce are better still.  College will begin an era of your life where you can begin to repair the psychological damage that the years of high school bullying caused.  In the end, those jerks who made your life a living hell in college will fade into bad memories and nothing more.  They can’t hurt you anymore.

There’s A Reason You Are Like You Are twitter

For years, you’ve felt like you’re different.  You’d often fantasize that you were Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation examining those weird human interactions that seem so foreign to you.  It’s very isolating when everyone else seems to "get" socialization but you don’t.  You have blamed this on your high school bullying (see the last point) and will continue to do so for years.  However, eventually you’ll figure out that the reason everyone else seems to have an automatic knowledge of social protocol and you don’t is because you have autism. Your brain operates slightly differently than other people’s brains. This is a good thing when it comes to working with computers (see: The Internet Is Cool later on), but not so good when it comes to reading facial expressions, inferring tone, or knowing just what actions are socially allowed/expected.  Don’t worry, though, you’ll learn how to operate in the neurotypical ("non-autistic") world just fine.  Yes, you’ll have times when you just want to melt down and/or shut yourself off from the world, but you’ll be able to deal with these situations, postponing your melt downs/shut downs until later.

You Will Find Love twitter

At 18, your relationship with the opposite sex is a rocky one.  Right now, you tend to get a crush on someone and get feelings that are so strong towards that person that you don’t know what to do. You doubt your every move. Eventually, the object of your affection starts dating someone and you back off dejected. Seeing all the couples paired off together is physically and emotionally painful for you.  First off, I want to tell you not to overthink yourself.  You try to think up every possible outcome to the point of paralysis.  You feel like you can’t act until your plan is complete but your plans can never be totally complete.  You can never plan for every eventuality.  Secondly, you also pause taking action for fear of your heart being broken.  However, your heart is getting broken by doing nothing.  Better that you try, fail, and learn from the experience, then hang around the starting gate, never moving an inch, and not knowing how to navigate the path ahead.

Eventually, though, you will meet someone. This person will not be like the others. Every action that, for other women, filled you with doubt will feel completely natural. This person will become your best friend, the love of your life, and the mother of your children. So when you’re feeling left out of love, please know that you will find love and won’t be alone forever.

Idealism Is Great But Doesn’t Work In The Real World twitter

At 18, you know just what is right and wrong with the world.  You know that good is good and evil is evil.  People on the opposite end of the political spectrum baffle you because there’s no way someone could possibly believe those views, right?  Compromising in the face of opposition is wrong, you believe, because your views are right and there’s no other way.

In short, you are idealistic.  Now, there’s no problem with idealism.  You should always hold fast to your ideals.  However, in the real world, one needs to remember that not everyone holds the same ideals.  Since we can’t splinter the country (or the world) into a million different factions, we need to compromise.  To function in the real world, you need to see your opponents’ reasoning and find some common ground.  The real world isn’t a place of absolutes – it’s a realm of grey areas where you sometimes need to work with people with views diametrically opposed to yours to find a consensus.

Be Persistent twitter

Right now, you enjoy writing science fiction stories.  You dream of being published like your hero, Isaac Asimov.  You do eventually "get published" in a way (see "The Internet is cool" below), but not from a magazine.  Your one submission gets rejected and you give up.  Don’t give up.  You have a knack for writing so keep at it.  Even more importantly, you enjoy writing so don’t give up just because a magazine rejected you.  This same advice can be applied towards many other aspects of your life.  Keep at what you enjoy even if other people tell you that it’s not worthwhile.

Know When To Listen To Others twitter

As much as it is important to be persistent (see the previous section), being persistent in the face of everyone else telling you not to do something can be needlessly stubborn.  My specific example would be your beard.  At some point in college, you’ll decide that Commander Riker looked good in a beard in Star Trek: The Next Generation so you should grow one too.  All of your friends will tell you that your beard looks horrible.  They will declare that it makes you look way too old.  However, despite their protests but you’ll persist with it for quite awhile.  Don’t.  Shave that sucker off ASAP!  The moustache too.  You just don’t look good in facial hair.

The key is to know just when a person’s advice should be taken.  If an acquaintance tells you that a movie is stupid and you should never watch it again – despite the fact that you enjoy it – ignore them.  If a friend who shares similar interests tells you that they saw a movie that you haven’t seen yet and it was awful, you might be fine skipping it.  It takes time, but you need to know what advice/opinions from what people to take to heart and what advice/opinions from what people to ignore.

The Internet Is Cool twitter

This veers from the "general life advice" of all other sections, but I’m including it because soon your world will expand dramatically.  I’m not talking about college itself.  That will expand your horizons plenty, but I’m referring to The Internet.  Of course, right now I’m sure you’re saying "The Inter-what-now?!!!"  I won’t get too technical (you are a newbie right now, after all), but the Internet is a world-wide network of computers.  You’ll be able to look up information and talk to people from around the world.  Yes, when you’re my age, you’ll regularly chat with people from Australia, Canada, England, Florida, California, etc. as if they lived next door.  (In fact, this letter is being posted on the Internet and will be read by people around the world.)  The Internet is going to shrink the world.  Even cooler, devices called "smartphones" will let you connect to the Internet where ever you are and will let you look up information whenever the mood strikes you.

Remember that "you’ll be published" comment from before?  Well, on the Internet, everyone is a publisher as well as a reader.  You’ll be able to write about whatever you want to write about and put it on the Internet for anyone to read.  (For example, this letter to you, my younger self.)  The downside is that the readers can be quiet so you might, at times, question whether anyone actually likes reading your stuff.  Then again, you wouldn’t get much response if your articles were posted in a magazine and since you’re running your own "Internet magazine," only you can reject your articles.

Relationships Can Be Hard And Complicated But They Are Worth It twitter

Right now, you have an idealized mental picture of a relationship.  You imagine that you begin dating someone, everything goes smoothly until you are married, and then everything goes smoothly for the rest of your life.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this isn’t true.  Relationships take work.  They can be hard.  They can hit rocky patches where it looks like everything is going to shatter into a million pieces.  They can cause you a ton of aggravation.  Still, despite all of this, they are worth it.  The highs of knowing that the person you love loves you back is worth all of the rocky times that occur.

Your Parents Weren’t Always Wrong twitter

At 18, you think that your parents are out-of-touch with reality. They can’t possibly know anything about anything and you know everything about everything.  I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re wrong.  Yes, your parents were wrong about a lot, but they were right about a lot as well.  Except forcing you to give a half-dozen roses while in your suit and tie to the object of your first crush.  That was wrong.  Your father should have let you stick to your original plan of simply giving her a birthday present.  Then again, even the wrong things your parents did were done out of love.  In the flowers incident, your father honestly thought his actions were increasing your chances with the your first crush.  So please don’t be too hard on them.

Learn From Others’ Mistakes, Learn From Your Mistakes twitter

So we’ve established that your parents did some things wrong, correct?  Learn from this.  Make a mental note of every wrong thing that’s been done (while not holding it against those who made those mistakes) and figure out how you’ll do the right thing.  If you can’t figure out the right thing, sometimes doing a "less wrong thing" is progress.  This doesn’t just apply to others’ mistakes, though.  This applies to your own mistakes.  You’ll make a lot of mistakes.  Some that you’ll regret even two decades later.  All you can do is figure out where you went wrong, what you should have done, and then do that next time.

Don’t Dwell On The Past twitter

You have a bad habit of dwelling on mistakes.  You’ll do the wrong thing and then get stuck on this for days at a time.  Every spare moment is spent reliving this moment over and over as if this time it will turn out differently.  As if, by sheer concentration, you can turn back time and fix your misdeed.  You can’t.  Get over it.  Everyone makes mistakes.  The key is to learn from them (see the previous section) and then move on.  If you wronged someone, make it right as best you can, but dwelling on the past too much can keep you from enjoying your future.

Don’t Worry About Letting Others Down twitter

You love science right now.  That love will never dim.  However, your desire to major in physics is going to backfire big time.  (Spoiler alert: Quantum Mechanics is horribly difficult and will be your downfall.)  As you struggle with the decision to abandon your major and switch to a new one, you’ll feel something that threatens to keep you in your old major: Guilt.  You’ll feel guilty over leaving your old department.  Guilty over letting down your professors.  Guilty that you are leaving their small department with one less student.


There is a time to worry about others, but there is also a time to think about yourself.  When it comes to your future, don’t worry about letting others down, worry about what is best for you.

Have Fun twitter

Right now, you are very focused on doing well in school. That’s not a bad thing. However, remember to carve out time to have fun. Don’t work 24/7 or you’ll burn out. Having fun is very important. So put the schoolwork down, go out with friends, try something new, and have a blast. In twenty years, you won’t remember that you got an A on some random essay for some random class, but you will remember when you were at a party with an oversized foam hand, made a slightly dirty joke (referencing what hand size meant) to a female friend, and made her smile.

You Don’t Have To Go It Alone twitter

You tend to be a very independent person.  You try to tackle any challenge that presents itself all by itself. This does mean that you learn how to conquer things yourself instead of only relying on others, but it can be a lonely path.  When you are shouldering a burden by yourself, the weight can be overwhelming.  It doesn’t need to be though.

You have friends. You have family. Talk to them. Let them know what you are going through. You don’t need to deal with everything by yourself.

Ignore The Voice twitter

There is a voice inside of you right now. It can be faint sometimes, but very loud other times.  This is definitely not a nice voice. It will tell you that you aren’t good enough. It will whisper in your ear that nobody loves you and never will. It will tell you that you are all alone in the world.

Do not listen to the voice.

Listening to the voice can, oddly enough, feel good. There’s some level of comfort that you feel when you curl up in a dark room and let the voice tell you "the truth." This is a false comfort, though. The voice is lying.  The voice thrives on you feeling isolated and alone. It WANTS it to only be you and the voice versus the world. It wants you to think that you need it.  The reality, though, is that the voice needs your isolation, not the other way around. If you seek out friends and family (see: You Don’t Have To Go It Alone), you will get stronger and the voice will get weaker.

You’ll Find Your Tribe / Embrace Your Geekiness twitter

In life, there can be a strong pressure to fit in. If you stand out too much, you might feel like people are negatively judging you. People might shy away from you or your might find yourself with nothing to talk to them about because you don’t have similar interests.

Thanks to the Internet, though, (see: The Internet Is Cool) you will find your tribe. You will find that group of people who share your interests, no matter how obscure. Even without this group, though, don’t be afraid to enjoy what your enjoy. If other people don’t like those things, that’s fine. Maybe they haven’t been exposed to it yet (and would like it if they were) and maybe they just don’t like what you like. Everyone has different tastes. Don’t be afraid to enjoy what your enjoy just because others find that outside of their definition of normal. Remember that, even at 18, we had the motto "Normal is Boring."

You Are Stronger Than You Think twitter

Somewhere in your brain, you will always feel like that bullied high school kid. You will imagine that people are sitting and waiting for you to make a mistake so they can laugh at you over it.  You will feel like life’s challenges are just one straw shy of breaking your back. You will question whether you can accomplish anything or whether you are doomed to fail.

Always remember that you are stronger than you give yourself credit for. You can do more than you think you can. The self doubt will threaten to cave you in (see: "Ignore The Voice"), but push that aside. You have talent and can accomplish anything you put your mind to.

Some Things Won’t Change twitter

In Lewis Carol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass, Alice laments "I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it." So it often goes for you. You will realize where you are going wrong, will give yourself some advice on how to improve, and then will proceed to ignore your advice and keep going down the wrong path. Many of the pieces of advice given above could just as easily apply to me today as it does to you, 18-Year-Old-Me. So, please listen to yourself and take your own good advice.

So that’s my advice to you, 18-Year-Old-Me. I’d include some stock tips as well, but I’ve been told the "Paradox Dampeners would explode causing the entire universe to cease to exist.  That seems to be too big of a risk over a couple of bucks.

There are great things ahead of you. Hopefully, my advice will help you out in your journey.

Good luck in your future (my past),

– You From Twenty Two Years In The Future

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Extreme Geekery: Travel Times At Spaceship Speeds

Posted by TechyDad on July 13, 2015 under Extreme Geekery, Space

15-011a-NewHorizons-PlutoFlyby-ArtistConcept-14July2015-20150115Today, New Horizons will make its closest approach to Pluto.  It has already sent us some fantastic views from the dwarf-planet-formally-known-as-the-ninth-planet and it will likely send back many more.  We’ll learn a lot from the information that New Horizons sends us.  I would be remiss to pass up this opportunity to geek out.  My first instinct would be to take the distance between Earth and Pluto and figure out how long it would take to get there via various “normal transportation” means.  Before I do that, though, it turns out that Adam Frank from NPR already did this.  As much as I’d love to do the math again, let’s flip it around.  Instead of figuring out how long it would take to drive to Pluto, let’s imagine you could get in a car that travels at 32,400 miles per hour – the speed New Horizons is moving at.  Let’s suppose you could use this car to make various journeys.  How quick would those travels be?

First, some ground rules.  We’re going to assume that there is no traffic – no sense in having a car that can go 32,400 miles per hour when there’s a line of cars stopped ahead of it.  We’re also going to assume that our can can take a straight line path without crashing.  Personally, I’ve driven at 80 miles per hour and felt like I was beginning to lose control.  I couldn’t imagine how out of control 32,400 would feel.  Not crashing also means being able to go from 32,400 mph to a full stop without any occupants being injured in any way.

Going To New York City

I’ll often get invites to events in New York City.  Sadly, I need to turn many of them down simply because it takes three hours to drive to the city from where I live.  If I had a New Horizons Car, though, I’d be able to get to New York City in under twenty seconds.  At that travel time, I could order a pizza from a New York City pizzeria and get there before they even began preparing my order.  Maybe we need something a bit father away to drive to.

Disney World

It’s no secret that I’m a Disney fan.  I’ve been in love with Disney World since B and I went there on our honeymoon I’ve loved it even more when we went there with the kids.  Obviously, living in Upstate New York means that I can’t just stop by the Magic Kingdom.  What if I had a New Horizons Car, though.  Rounding up to the nearest 50 miles, it’s 1,250 miles to Disney World for me.  With our space-age car, I could get the family to see Mickey in two minutes and twenty seconds.   With that travel time, we wouldn’t even need the boys to bring any books to keep themselves occupied.

Los Angeles

We have some family on the opposite coast that we rarely get the chance to see.  We’d love to see them more often, but cross-country flights are expensive.  Driving cross-country would be out totally, but now we have a bright, shiny New Horizons car in the driveway.  At about 2,850 miles to Los Angeles (rounding up to the nearest 50 again), it would take less than five and a half minutes to get to LA.

Hong Kong

Let’s push the limits a bit more.  Since the continental United States seems so small for New Horizons Car, what about something on a bit more global a scale.  How long would it take to drive to Hong Kong?  (We’ll assume we can somehow drive on water while maintaining the speed.)  Hong Kong is about 7,950 miles away which would mean New Horizons Car could get there in under fifteen minutes.  Yes, I could travel from my house to Hong Kong and back in the time it takes for a half hour television show (including commercials) to air.

Back To New York City

Let’s do one more trip:  To New York City.  Yes, I know, we’ve done this already, but this time we’re going to take the “scenic route.”  To be specific, we would travel west around the entire world until we came back around to New York City.  Essentially, this would be circumnavigating the world so I’d need to know the circumference of the Earth at New York City’s latitude.  Luckily, this website lists all of these so it was trivial to find out that I would need to travel 30,741.789 kilometers or 19,102 miles.  At New Horizon speeds, this would take just over 35 minutes.

Given how mind-bogglingly big space is, it’s easy to forget how fast these craft are traveling at.  Were we to apply these speeds to our daily modes of travel, our world would shrink dramatically.  We would be able to go anywhere on the globe in a matter of seconds.  While I might not have a car that could take me to Disney World before a microwave meal completes, I will enjoy all of the images that New Horizons sends back as it passes Pluto on its journey deep into space.

NOTE: The New Horizons image above is comes from NASA via Wikipedia and is in the public domain.

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Mobile Scanning with A Transforming ScanSnap

Posted by TechyDad on July 7, 2015 under Review, Technology

Since the advent of scanners, people have been taking paper documents and converting them to digital files.  These files have many advantages over paper.  They take up less space, are easier to search through, can be quickly sent to friends and family, and allow for simple backing up.  The only downside of scanners is that they take up a lot of room, require a computer to be hooked up to them, and can require a lid to be lifted and lowered every time the paper to be scanned needs changing.  (The latter of which can make multiple scan

Enter the ScanSnap iX500.  Where other scanners offer a flatbed approach which takes up a lot of space, the iX500 starts off as a relatively small shell.  This compact shape means that it takes up much less space than a conventional scanner.


When you need to use the scanner, however, the scanner’s shell unfolds until the full scanner is revealed.



When I showed this to my boys, they exclaimed that it’s a transformer and it sure is.

Another annoyance about some scanners is that you need to hook your computer up to them with a cord.  Sure, USB cords are handy and pretty standardized, but they are still cords.  The iX500 takes a wireless approach.  After an initial corded setup, during which the iX500 obtains your network’s wireless credentials, the iX500 can be accessed from the wireless network without any cord connecting the scanner and the computer.  In fact, you can use an iOS or Android app to wirelessly scan to your mobile phone or tablet.


You can even edit the resulting PDFs to delete pages or rotate pages (for example, if you accidentally put the paper in upside down).  As with anything on a mobile device, the resulting file can easily be shared with some other app or service.  You can quickly attach the PDF to an e-mail, upload them to a cloud server, or just open them for reading.  The generated PDFs are nice quality also.  Here’s a recipe that I scanned in for Bon Bon Cookies.

Finally, the scanner’s feeder setup means that you can load in a small stack of papers and have the scanner pull them through one at a time until all of them are scanned.  This winds up being much simpler and quicker than replacing papers on a flatbed scanner.

As I mentioned before, my boys were amazed when they saw the scanner transform.  Once they saw the little blue "Scan" icon on my phone, though, they were itching to scan something.  They grabbed artwork that they had made, award certificates that they earned, and more.  One by one, they fed them into the scanner and presses the scan button on my phone.  One by one, the papers came out and the PDFs appeared on my phone.  Eventually, I had to stop them due to a combination of running out of papers to scan and a bedtime that had passed.  I’ve shied away from scanning in the past due to the time it took to boot my computer, hook up the scanner, and hope it all worked.  With the ScanSnap, however, all I need to do is flip open the shell, place in the paper, and use my mobile device to scan in the document.

Quick.  Easy.  And doesn’t take up much room.  The ScanSnap definitely is a scanner that will be getting plenty of use.

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Trump And The Cost Of Web Development

Posted by TechyDad on June 30, 2015 under Web Development

dollar_computerRecently, Donald Trump entered the Presidential race. In his announcement, he said a lot of silly things. (Alternately: terrifying things if he stood a ghost of a chance of being elected.). As a web developer, one of his statements stood out to me:

And remember the $5 billion website, 5 billion we spent on a website, and to this day it doesn’t work. A $5 billion dollar website.

I have so many websites. I have them all over the place. I hire people, they do a website. It costs me $3.

Now, you might be able to argue that the government’s health care website cost too much. Perhaps it could have been developed for a quarter of that amount.  But could Trump really remake the site for less than the price of a Chicken McNugget Happy Meal from McDonald’s?  For that matter, could anyone make a website for $3?  The short answer is yes and no.  (What?  You didn’t think I’d give a clear answer quickly, did you?  Read on for the details!)

Domain Names

Let’s say you’ve decided to set up a website.  Congratulations!  Time to get down and dirty designing your page, right?  Wrong.  First you need a domain name.  A domain name is basically the Internet’s equivalent of a street address – it helps web browsers know just where to get content from.  Domain names are purchased from Registrars.  Some of these cost more than others.  Network Solutions charges about $20 a year.  My registrar, DirectNIC, charges $15 a year.  Others charge less.  (I stick with DirectNIC thanks to good customer service.  I could probably save a small amount of cash elsewhere, but might get worse customer service in exchange.)

You could also get a free domain name by getting a subdomain.  For example, instead of registering SomeWebsite.com, you might get SomeWebsite.FreeWebSites.com.  The benefit here is, obviously, that it is free.  The downside is that your website constantly advertises the free service alongside your brand.


I went over hosting options last year.  To summarize that post, you can get an inexpensive shared hosting, a slightly more expensive but more stable virtual private server, or the most stable but most expensive dedicated server.  Which option you choose depends on your needs.  A new website might start out on one hosting option and move up through the options as it grows.  There’s also a fourth option: The free website hosted by a service such as WordPress.com.  This often comes with a free subdomain (see the previous section), can have reduced branding options, and may or may not require you to show ads that profit your free host.

Writing A Website

Now, you’re finally ready to build a website.  At this point, you could install WordPress, grab a free theme, add your content, and call it a day.  The total cost for this would be nothing (except for your time).  If you needed any custom work done – including if you were hoping to construct a massive web application, this would require hiring a web developer, such as myself, either full-time or as a freelancer.  You might also need to hire a designer – to craft your site’s look and create your site’s images – and an SEO expert – to make sure you rank as high as possible in the search engines.  Either way, this would cost you a lot more than $3.

If someone asked me to build them a website for their business with a budget of $3, I’d spend a couple of minutes laughing before declining the position.  If someone claimed they could build a massive web application that would serve millions of users – for the price of a couple of Starbucks coffees – I’d seriously look into what massive corner cutting was going on.  About the only way I could see a major website being built for $3 is by outsourcing to a country (such as China) that has a population of technical people who are very poor and don’t have any minimum wage legislation.  Even then, I’d wonder what those web developers were doing on the side – perhaps saving a copy of secret company data to sell later.


In the end, the price of your website depends on how much work needs to be put into it.  Building a website doesn’t need to break the bank, but in all but the most casual of cases, though, building a website will definitely cost you more than $3.

NOTE: The image above was created by combining "Dollar symbol in 3D" by vijayrajesh and "Cartoon Computer and Desktop" by DTRave.  Both images are available from OpenClipArt.org.

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Happy Anniversary To My Wonderful Wife

Posted by TechyDad on June 24, 2015 under Anniversary, B

WeddingDancingFourteen years ago today, I walked down the aisle and became the luckiest man in the world because B & I were married.  I thought our lives couldn’t get any better, but then along came NHL and then JSL.  Over the years, we’ve had high times and lows.  Excitement both of the good and bad kind.  Scares and joyful moments.  Through it all, B is the rock I’ve clung to.  Every time I think I can’t take one more thing that life has thrown my way, B is there to provide support.  I wouldn’t be the man I am today without her.  I couldn’t do half of the stuff I do without knowing that she’s there for me.  Whenever I think that I can’t love B any more, I find that I was wrong – I can and do love her more each and every day.

Happy anniversary, B!

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