Category Archives: General

Google+ is a Game

So, I’ve seen a lot of the Empire Avenue community spending more time (like myself) in Google+ since its launch. This hasn’t diminished the value of EAv for me, but it likely should force the evolution of the Avenue into multiple lanes. Why couldn’t people choose their own adventure there? Only the first lane would be “the game.”

  • Lane One: for those who wish to continue down the path of Empire Avenue as it is currently paved. The features here should likely be frozen to make way for further development on other lanes.
  • Lane Two: for people who only want to see their social media scores and collect stats on them (ala Klout).
  • Lane Three: like Lane Two, but for brands who wish to see how current registrants are interacting with them.

In other words, I’m guessing that all most Empire Avenue users would want to see is this – coupled with richer statistics and suggestions on how to increase those scores (is something that I can help with):

At this time, I’m earning ~300,000e every day with my portfolio, and my stock is well on its way to 300e per share – so it’s not like I am suggesting a radical transformation because I feel I’m personally slipping. I see bits of the community slipping away to another game: Google+.

The achievements? Connections. The levels? Attention. The score? Credibility.

I’m not suggesting that Google has developed Plus to be a game – just that for any community or social network to drive addiction, the system must continually reward us for our behaviors. We post something, people comment and share. We comment somewhere, people respond to us. Even if you’re someone who loves to lurk, Google+ should prove to be an amazing idea exchange.

I know that some people don’t like Google+ already (although I’m a bit baffled by the logic that Plus would be the first place where cliques exist or insider information is shared). But things are definitely happening here – even with a fraction of users compared to Twitter or Facebook today, the number of engaged users on Google Plus appears to be higher due to how content is surfaced in the system. I feel more connected to others on Google Plus.

Due to a severe lack of time in the day (and night), I am usually drawn to one “entertainment” outlet over another. What brought me to and kept me in Empire Avenue was knowing that it was satiating curiosities – and was fun. That fun factor hasn’t worn off, but it’s been outshined by the fun of Plus.

Empire Avenue was already ripe for a reinvention of itself, but that reinvention seemingly needs to happen sooner rather than later. The team can drive that change forward with new lanes, given EAv’s powerful data collection engine driving the Stock Exchange. Some passionate players are already begging them to integrate Google+ data – which is very telling.

I can’t be the only Empire Avenue addict who is looking for a change – and this evolution would also likely address the standing issues people have had with the platform (learning curve, time requirements, communication challenges, etc.).

The Importance of Technology in Education

Technology has become a defining force in our lives, and its relevance is spreading to virtually every field in one way or another. While some people may go their entire lives never needing to recall the knowledge they gained in various classes throughout their educational career, their experiences with technology will most certainly come in to play very early during their adulthood.

Colleges have taken steps towards online learning by giving students access to professors virtually that otherwise might have an overcrowded and counterproductive learning environment as a result. Assignments are given out and handed in more efficiently, and professors are able to use more of their time with students individually as their office schedules are easier to manage. Many students have to work their way through college to support themselves while receiving an education. This is much easier with a more flexible online schedule and for those that don’t have the ability to move to another state, the college they wish to attend is just a few mouse clicks away.

Is this where grade-school level education is headed? I can’t say for certain that is the case, though it would be beneficial for students to have access to some of the greatest minds in the country during various lectures and lessons versus receiving their entire curriculum from local teachers that may or may not have the knowledge to present their content with the most efficiency.

Bottom line, if you’re not connected to the Internet, you’re not learning as effectively as you could be. Face-to-face interaction is important for students. No one is denying that. What is being ignored by some districts is the importance of keeping technology within grasp as a way to prepare the student for the world that’s ahead of them. The workplace requires you, now more than ever, to know the ins and outs of whatever operating system they work with. If you wish to move up, you’ll need to prove again and again that you know how to navigate technology. Sometimes, having that little bit of extra knowledge can really make a difference in your salary and lifestyle down the road.

How to Increase Gas Mileage on Your Car

Brandon Wirtz, a member of the LockerGnome team, decided it was time to make a few upgrades to his Mini Cooper. One of these upgrades – which is primarily focused on increasing horse power and gas mileage – is to increase the amount of air flow to the engine by replacing the stock air intake with something better.

By replacing the stock paper air filter with a larger cloth model, the amount of air flow to the engine increases. This increases the combustion efficiency and results in a few extra horsepower. Improved gas mileage and slightly increased speed are a couple expected advantages to this upgrade.

Cloth air filters are slightly more expensive, though they are reusable and allow for the free flow of air between the environment and the engine. Cleaning can be done using a special kit that maintains the chemical balance required for the intake to function properly.

One thing to keep in mind when doing this upgrade is to make sure the mass air flow sensor is out of the way and safe while you’re replacing the intake. This is a $150 part that can impact the way your vehicle works and performs. Another item of note is that you will want to secure the new intake to avoid bumps and dips in the road causing unhealthy jostling. In this instance, Brandon went with zip ties (also known as cable ties) to keep the intake securely in place.

A new air intake won’t create a drastic change in your car’s overall performance alone. It is one of several upgrades that can improve the way your vehicle functions. A slow car won’t become an instant drag racer, but the benefits in the improved gas mileage may pay off financially over time.

UPDATE: After a wave of inquiries as to the possibility of “heat soaking” an engine by removing the plastic casing surrounding the old air filter, Brandon put out this video demonstrating his MPG and temperature readings after the upgrade.

Do you have any gas mileage improving tips or tricks? Please leave a comment below and let me know.

What Does Open Government Mean at NASA?

Since their founding in 1958, NASA has been dedicated to doing a lot more than exploring and understanding space. Over the past 52 years, they’ve been responsible for some of the most significant advances in technology. Almost everything we do have been influenced in some way by discoveries made through NASA’s research. NASA has provided an incredible amount of information to the public over the past five decades including stunning images and information that has helped us (mankind) understand how our Universe works. So, what does Open Government mean at Nasa?

Keeping with the spirit of a more open government, NASA has moved forward with several initiatives aimed at promoting collaboration between the scientists of NASA and the public including NASA TV. With NASA TV, the public has live access to NASA and their missions around the clock. This video is also made available to documentarians and media outlets in order to enable them to relay detailed and accurate information to their audiences.

Another initiative by NASA is NASA Open Source Software Development. This program gives the public access to the programs and source code used at NASA. By doing so, they are breaking down the barrier of entry for the private sector to reach space through use of NASA’s investments. This also gives the public a chance to make improvements on the software which may help NASA achieve their goals with less of a burdon on the taxpayer for development.

NASA has also entered the world of cloud computing with their Nebula Cloud Computing Platform. This open-source tool is intended to provide a more cost-effective alternative to building additional giant data centers in order to store and exchange information with the public. Nebula is classified as an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platform, though there are Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS) systems planned for 2011.

NASA has even established a Participatory Exploration Office with the goal in mind of not only informing the public about NASA’s discoveries and data, but give the public a change to contribute to the process. By providing as much information as possible to the public, they are also enabling private citizens to contribute their input and ideas towards the betterment of the program.

Are You a Social Media Expert?

I have to admit that seeing someone call themselves a “social media expert” is one of my biggest pet peeves. Finding the words rock star or guru in a profile gives me the shakes. Realizing that most of the people using these labels definitely don’t deserve them causes me to break out in hives. A child of fourteen is not a social media expert. A recent graduate who happened to take a course or three pertaining to social networking is not an expert. Someone who talks a lot on Twitter is not an expert. Simply knowing how to use the tools doesn’t mean a damn thing, y’all.

Becoming an expert at anything takes years of practice. You’ll make hundreds of mistakes and learn through trial and error. Simply mastering hashtags or knowing how to tag people on Facebook isn’t enough. I was greatly amused the other day to see the profile of a woman claiming to be one of these new-fangled social media gurus. She offers to give talks to help others learn her secrets. Said young lady has a grand total of forty-three followers. I’m not sure who – exactly – she’s even pitching her talks to. Every one of her followers is someone with less than 100 users keeping an eye on them, as well.

I noticed that a teenaged boy on Twitter recently changed his profile to claim he’s the premiere social media expert for teens. I couldn’t help but ask him what gave him the idea that he was “the one” other kids should go to. He replied that he has the most followers out of all of his friends – 61, to be exact. Thus, he has deemed himself an expert.

A true expert is one who would never dream of calling themselves that. They don’t care about titles – they care about the people whose lives they are changing. It doesn’t matter which platform is being used, nor what type of service, product or organization they are working with. The real movers and shakers are touching people’s lives day in and day out, sharing information and ideas, sparking imagination and passion and driving engagement beyond the boundaries we thought existed. They are connecting others and giving them the tools to go out and create change of their own.

Do yourself a favor: stop giving others a reason to dismiss you before they bother to read anything you’ve said. You may just have amazing ideas, but no one is going to listen when you come off sounding like a know-it-all. Calling yourself an expert without something to back it up is often nothing more than an ego trip and a pathetic attempt at getting people to think you’re important.

The problem is that it is backfiring in a very big way.

How Important is Post-Purchase Support?

If you’ve ever had a bad post-purchase support experience, you may have told a few people about it and avoided doing business with them again in the future. Terrible support can destroy a company’s bottom line, and one negative experience can turn away the customer, their friends, family, and Twitter followers. So, how important is post-purchase support?

Sales shouldn’t stop at the check-out counter. A brand is selling itself every time they answer the phone, approve warranty repair, and replace defective products.

Many companies, especially in the tech industry, have tried to save money by consolidating their phone support departments and giving every employee multiple areas to support and virtually destroying their ability to specialize in specific issues. Their sales department receives their detailed tech support calls while their tech support team is busy covering both their department and shipping support.

Often, the struggle for a solid customer-brand relationship can be won or lost by how they handle warranty issues. If you have a problem with your new computer or mobile device within its warranty, how confident are you that the company will take care of your issue without charging you an arm and a leg or making you wait while your product is shipped across the country? Being quick to help the unfortunate victim of a defective device can define a great company. Just because someone got a bad mp3 player or notebook, doesn’t mean the relationship can’t be salvaged by quick and effective warranty support.

Here is what some of our YouTube viewers had to say when we asked which companies provided the best (or worst) support:

“I’ve had great support with dell. i broke my screen 3 days after i got my new Inspiron 15R. they replaced it.. no cost to myself.. it was done within 2 days.”

“Toshiba = Worst
Asus = Best”


“Dell has the WORST customer support.”

“Worst technical support: Cisco… not manufacturers of computers I know, but their support was the worst. Not only was it outsourced help in India where I couldn’t understand the support rep (and he couldn’t understand me). Also, if you don’t have warranty, they won’t help at all unless you pay a price… I NEVER heard of such a thing; it’s one thing to just ask for help and not repair help which may require a warranty, but just to get advice/help?”

“Recently i dropped a glass of juice on my macbook Pro. I went back to the Apple Store where i bought it and they said, they fix it for free, because i was honest that it was my fault.


“dell are the worst i never got my inspiron mini ten after 4 months and over 8 and a half hours on the phone”

Where Two Hillgroves Hang

I first met Justin Hillgrove (and Mike Capp) at the Northwest Folklife festival in Seattle last year.

Before that day, I had no idea I’d ever want to collect art the way I’ve been collecting art – specifically, Justin’s. I saw “Party Crasher” (pictured below) and was able to name darn near every character in the painting. His style immediately drew me closer, and that’s where I discovered a nefarious cast of cartoon characters from my childhood. He-Man (and the Masters of the Universe), Thundercats, and GI Joe. In fact, Justin was shocked to find out that I could correctly name BOTH Hordak and Mumm-ra without hesitation.

While I didn’t pick up any original works that day, I’ve purchased several since. Mostly his smaller canvas paintings, which you would find scattered throughout my home. I also picked up a print of “Party Crasher” and had it hanging in my dining room.

A couple of days ago, he posted new artwork to his site – – and sent out an email newsletter. I snapped up the top four originals so quickly that he didn’t even have time to change the page before subsequent orders blasted in.

Justin was able to get them to me quickly, including the one you see hanging to the far left (which I believe is “Support Group”). He also mentioned that “Party Crasher” was currently hanging at the Twilight art gallery in West Seattle. I had NO IDEA it was still available!

“Party Crasher” features a scene depicting a party held to celebrate He-Man villain Skeletor’s birthday. While the fiendish bunch are celebrating heavily, an unexpected guest has arrived to crash the party. His unique style comes out with his unique interpretations of the iconic cast.

From left-to-right: Hordak, Mumm-ra, Beast Man, Skeletor, Sorceress (background), Cobra Commander, Mer Man, He-Man.

I called this morning and decided that it would be amazing to cherish the very first Hillgrove I saw. And so, my friends, it’s my intention to turn this home into the world’s largest Justin Hillgrove gallery (which will take time).

How to Help Non-Geek Family Members With Computer Problems

Being the only geek, or only admitted one, in your family comes with a great responsibility. Whether you like it or not, you’re going to be called on by members of your immediate and extended family from time to time to fix their computer issues. If you’re married, your in-laws will undoubtedly add you to their phone tree as their official “computer guy”. Here are a few tips on how to help non-geek family members with computer problems:

Make Out Lists of Steps for Family Members to Follow
Sometimes, it can be very difficult to explain the process of checking email to someone over the phone. It’s not like you have training and/or experience doing tech support. Even if you do, family members seem to be more difficult to work with than strangers by an extreme degree. Next time your mother calls you right before you sit down to dinner because she can’t remember how to check her voice mail, make a mental note to type out a step-by-step list of instructions to give her the next time you see her. That way, instead of calling you, she may be more inclined to check the list to jog her memory.

Invest in Remote Access Software
Software including: GoToAssist (use coupon code: CHRIS), TeamViewer, and LogMeIn are all excellent solutions that can help you connect to your family member’s misbehaving PC and show them how to solve their issue without having to hop in the car and drive over. When long explanations aren’t yielding any results, remote access can very well be the next best thing to spending an entire weekend in front of their computer teaching them how to use their system. In many cases, it’s faster to solve something yourself than explain it to someone else.

Create a Support Strategy
If you don’t live in the same city, and your relatives have an issue you really can’t resolve yourself, it’s probably a good idea to do some research on their local tech businesses to determine where they can go. It’s too easy to go right for the big store where they charge insane amounts of money for what amounts to a few minutes of actual work. In some cases, it may be easier to research and call these places yourself. That way you can describe the problem as so they have something more to go on than, “It doesn’t work!” Make sure, especially if they have no real understanding about what the repair shop tells them the problem is, that they call you or make you the primary contact.

How to Guard Against Garden Jawa Theft

Jawas, the scavengers of Tatooine, are known best for their practice of seeking out technology to sell or trade from their huge sandcrawler transports. These creatures have an affinity for technology, and have earned a place in the hearts of geeks from all walks of life. While they may occasionally snag a droid or two that may still belong to someone, it would be impolite to call them thieves. In modern times, Jawas have taken to seeking new homes in systems far far away. This brought them to our planet, where they eagerly fulfill the duties of keeping droids, and other technology, from straying too far away from a geek’s home. Their payment consists mostly of used cell phones and other obsolete gadgetry. While they’re keeping tabs on your tech, who’s watching out to make sure they’re safe and sound? Here are a few tips that can help you guard against Garden Jawa theft.

GPS Tracking Device
Jawas usually put tracking devices on their merchandise in order to make sure they don’t just up and walk away. These tracking devices can be small, but effective. You can return the favor by giving your Garden Jawa a tracking device of its own. There are some remarkably portable and low-cost GPS units that will allow you to locate your runaway/stolen Jawa within a 10-foot radius. If someone has nabbed your faithful Jawa, you should be able to locate them promptly and rescue them from the thieving Sith Lord’s lair. Companies such as Garmin and Zoombak make these small and useful gadgets.

Give Them a Cactus or Nettle Plant to Hide Behind
Some would-be thieves will quickly think twice if their prize is nestled next to an intimidating cactus or nettle plant. The sharp thorns that adorn these plants can give their would-be kidnapper a nasty sting they won’t soon forget. This isn’t such a good idea if you plan on keeping your Jawas around a particularly curious canine.

Assign Them a Guard Dog
A noisy dog with the freedom to join the Garden Jawa in the yard at a moment’s notice (dog door) will create a protective environment that allows your Jawas to carry on with their work in safety. This doesn’t mean the dog has to be on duty at all times. A dog dish in the yard within reach of the Jawa will help get the point across and prevent attempts as well.

Deflector Shields
While our current technology doesn’t exactly allow us to set up deflector shields around the Garden Jawa, we are able to set up low-voltage electric fencing around it to keep it safe. This will deliver a nasty shock to the would-be Jawanapper and likely scare them off. You may have to explain the fence to the Jawa prior to installation to prevent it from accidentally leaning against it.

If you’re interested in getting a Garden Jawa of your own, you can find it here. You can also save money on it by using one of the coupon codes found here.

Alternative Uses for Star Wars Technology

It doesn’t take long to find out that I’m a fan of Star Wars. My home office is full of Star Wars memorabilia. There is no denying that one of the coolest things to come out of science fiction are the various mobile devices we carry around with us today. From mobile phones to touch screen computers – science fiction has given us technological goals that are actively finding their way to today’s modern world at a rapid pace.

What about gadgets that haven’t made their way in to the consumer market just yet? How could they be applied to everyday life in the real world? Here are some alternative uses for Star Wars technology:


  • A faster way to roast a marshmallow
  • Garage door opener
  • Cigarette lighter
  • Welding tool

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” – Han Solo
If there is one thing the Star Wars series has taught us, it’s that blasters are absolutely inaccurate. That makes them fairly unreliable as a weapon, though there are several ways you can make use of it around the house.


  • Self-heating shish kebab skewer
  • Jack-o-lantern carving
  • The ultimate lumberjack’s saw
  • Aircraft marshalling signal light
  • Nose hair and beard trimmer
  • Locksmith tool
  • Can opener

Not as clumsy or random as a blaster, this formal weapon of the Jedi can do a lot more than keep the peace. In the world of today, a lightsaber would have many interesting and useful applications.


  • One way to get around a traffic jam
  • A vehicle that dogs won’t chase down the street
  • Garbage compactor
  • Pecan cracker

The All Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT) walker was one of the most heavily armored land vehicles in the Imperial Army. This slow-moving behemoth may not have won the war for the Galactic Empire, but it may still be quite useful today.

Deflector Shield

  • A sure way to keep your partner on their side of the bed
  • One method of keeping hands out of the cookie jar until after dinner
  • A quick fix for a broken window
  • Pool cover
  • Anti-solicitation device

Deflector shields can protect areas both small and large. From single objects to small moons, they can make all the difference in the world when it comes to keeping unwanted elements away. How would you use one?