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Tom Gromak
Sharing the geek life with young people, and loving it.
Sharing the geek life with young people, and loving it.
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This pretentious menu generator is just what I needed for a laugh today. http://www.brooklynbarmenus.com/
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Today I'm writing in one of the weirdest (but coolest) places yet: all by myself in a cavernous early 20th-century auditorium.
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Working at my computer all day (which means lots of music), and this classic electronic track came up. Incredible that it's 16 years old!
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I came across a wonderful treasure at the junk auction today, and almost bid for it. Instead, I took a picture.

It's a big cardboard box filled with hundreds of Polaroids, each one featuring a different old lighting fixture. Nothing else. Most are interior shots, some were taken outside, all of them delightfully surreal.

The answer to the mystery of who took these and why is probably vastly less interesting than where my imagination takes me.

Who might you imagine took these? Why?
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Earlier this week I received a cryptic email from Amazon asking me to call a certain phone number about my recent HP Chromebook 11 purchase. Until then, I’d been loving the upgrade from last year’s solid Samsung model, particularly because of the screen and keyboard upgrade. I use my Chromebook just about every day, and the improvements in this year’s model make a big difference.

Why I’m a Chromebook Fanboy

Yes, I’m a big fan of these little “browser-only” machines -- this one is my third, after the original CR-48 and then my Samsung, so I’m clearly hooked. I’ve seen a lot of hate directed toward Chromebooks, often comparing them to a similarly-priced Windows machine that can run Chrome as its browser, plus do everything else a regular computer can do. It’s absolutely true that you can spend that much, or a little more, to get a perfectly functional “full” computer.

To me, however, this misses the point. I’d never recommend a Chromebook as someone’s only computing device. If, however, you’re like me, you already enjoy using Google’s tools, and you spend a lot of your computer time working online or in the cloud. If that’s the case, where else can you find a laptop that combines good battery life, zero maintenance, light weight, and seamless integration with Google’s desktop, tablet, and cell phone apps for less than $300?

Have you seen the clunky Windows junk you can get at this price level? Can you afford $1,000 to get an admittedly gorgeous Macbook Air? I can’t. I wouldn’t even want to spend $600 to get a sub-par Ultrabook. In both cases, if I ended up getting a “real” laptop, about 80% of the time I’d be doing things that I could accomplish just fine with a Chromebook. I’m willing to wait until I get home or I’m at work to do the 20% that can’t be accomplished with ChromeOS. Meanwhile, I’ve saved money and enjoy tremendous convenience.

The Mystery Call

When I called the number Amazon gave me, I was surprised to see that it connected me with Google customer support. When the someone answered, I asked why I'd received the weird Amazon email. Instead of getting an answer, I was asked if there was anything wrong with my unit. I said not really, but mentioned that my power supply got pretty warm when charging. The gentleman told me to simply make sure it was well ventilated when charging, and thanked me for calling.

This didn't answer my question, so I pressed on. “Could I talk to someone who knows why this Amazon email was sent?” I asked. I was politely put on hold while the support rep looked into it. While I was waiting, I Googled “HP Chromebook 11 safety” and found an article that said the machines have been removed from sale at Best Buy and Amazon because people have reported that their power supplies overheat, causing a potential fire hazard. Rather than do a recall, HP and Google surprisingly recommend that owners use a UL listed micro USB charger instead of the one supplied with the unit while they work with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to find a solution.

My support representative eventually came back on and told me that the email I’d received was, indeed, about the charger, and repeated his recommendation to keep it well ventilated. He mentioned nothing about using an alternate charger due to the safety risk until I asked about the article I’d found while on hold. “I was getting to that,” he said. How about starting with it? This is vital information, after all. The disrespect Google showed me by not being upfront about the problem is extremely alarming, and the disregard for my safety is unconscionable. I expect more from both Google and HP, which is why I'm extremely disappointed about the whole experience.

An Unsatisfying Conclusion

As a Google Certified Teacher and someone who has been asked by Google to run workshops for educators, I’m lucky to have first-hand knowledge of how passionate, intelligent, and caring these folks are. The way I was treated in this instance doesn't reflect the Google I know, and if they’re treating people who don’t know them like I do this way, it has the potential to severely damage their credibility and trust.

It's equally bad to put the people answering support calls in a position of treating customers poorly. My support representative didn’t seem as though he wanted to provide such a bad experience. I think he was doing the best he could within the constraints placed upon him. I can't imagine what that kind of work environment must be like.

Now, I’m left with a dilemma. Send back my Chromebook 11, or keep it while using an alternate charger, waiting and hoping that Google and HP eventually do the right thing. I still have a few weeks to make my choice, and at this point I have no idea which way I’ll go.

#google #hp #chromebook #chromebook11
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Holy smokes! How could I not have heard this version of Black Magic Woman by Dennis Brown until now? It's sublime.
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About a year ago, as the leaves started changing and the days darkened, I decided that I wasn’t going to renew my contract at the best job I’ve ever had. Today marks 100 days of my new, post-decision life, and so far nothing has turned out quite as I’d expected. Thank goodness that was a major part of my plan.

What brought me to this midlife crisis? There were plenty of factors, but the one I’m thinking about most as I write today is how the risks I’ve taken in my life have shaped how I decide to live it.

Start with a decade ago, for example. I left a promising and lucrative business career to become a teacher at a small private school because I found that my work lacked the kind of meaning and connection I needed. Some friends thought I was crazy, and had no problem telling me so. After all, all I had was a few tech certifications and a high school diploma. What made me think this wasn’t anything more than wishful thinking?

I conceded that they may have been right, but I didn’t care. I started reading everything about teaching that I could get my hands on, and I started giving free tech workshops to anyone who would listen to me. I ended up in church basements and library meeting rooms, talking to business groups and little old ladies about how Y2K wasn’t going to be as bad as everyone thought it would (fortunately, I was correct). I also kept alert for any opportunities that might come along, and so a couple of years later I found out about an opening for a tech job at a school that also required teaching Computer Literacy to ninth graders.

It was perfect. I can’t remember wanting anything more badly, and I interviewed as though my life depended it (but not in a desperate, creepy, loser sort of way, you understand). I remember coming in for my first round on a snow day, alone and flailing in an unplowed parking lot, wearing a suit and shoes with no tread. In the end I proved the naysayers wrong, because I stayed on my feet and the school gave me a shot. I haven’t looked back since.

That opportunity, and the chance they took on me, was crucial. I suddenly found myself in a place that was filled with colleagues and students who supported and encouraged me through every step of my journey to become a teacher. They even sent me to night school at a university, where I earned my Ed Tech degree. 4.0 GPA, baby.

I try to repay their kindness every time I step into a classroom, and never forget how lucky I am to be standing there. Six years after starting the job, I became one of only fifty educators world-wide selected by Google to become a Google Certified Teacher in the year I applied.

Looking back, this huge risk turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and today teaching is as much a part of who I am as my proud geekdom. I traded up to a more meaningful and challenging life, and the rewards were beyond anything I could have comprehended when I started.

How would you look at taking risks if this was your experience? What if you had taken another, even bigger risk before that? Rewind five years before I made the career switch, and you’ll see that I’ve lost a ton of weight. Seriously, a lot. I’ve kept 100+ pounds off for over twelve years. That astounds me. To be honest, the final 40 pounds that scale needle has been bouncing within since are still one hell of an angst-ridden bitch. But I am such a different person now -- healthier, happier, and more empowered -- that taking this risk did nothing short of giving me my life back. Talk about heavy.

Both of these examples have taught me that taking calculated risks can lead to transformative changes. They’ve brought me a better quality of life, and provide me with a meaning and purpose that are crucial. In the end, these risks were absolutely, without a doubt worth taking, in large part because they were so difficult, long-term, and far-reaching.

Which brings me to a different road that I found myself on last October when I told my employers that I wasn’t renewing my contract, and has taken me right through to these last 100 days. It’s the road that connects me to my creativity. I’d always promised myself I’d travel down it someday, but that someday never came. Instead, I was a dilettante, starting but never finishing, only working when conditions were ideal (they never were) or when the muse struck (she rarely did).

Every day that I read something fantastic, listened to an amazing new song, or saw a show that made me gasp in delight, I was reminded that it was the end result of someone who buckled down and followed through, finishing their work.  It was like there was a world of consumers and curators one one planet, and a world of creators and innovators on another, and I was living on the wrong one because I couldn't get up and commit.

No longer. I made a decision not to be passive, and my incredible employers actually embraced the decision, giving me the opportunity to work at my school half the time and write for myself with the rest. As a result, I am now actively writing and finishing stories, as well as studying the art of storytelling and the craft of writing as much as I possibly can.

It's hard work, and has its ups and downs, but for each of the last 100 days, I’ve averaged 500 words. Not many, I know, but it adds up. I’m amazed to sit here now and find 50,000 of them — six complete short stories and a novella — sitting there, looking up at me from inside their folders, waiting for me to do something with them. Don’t worry, I will. Soon. I’m just finding my way there, bit by bit. I look forward to sharing parts of my journey with y’all from time to time, and (eventually), perhaps even a story or two. Wish me luck.
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My introduction to the weekend has been nice and smooth. Perfect September days ahead, too ... cool nights (great sleeping) and warm, sunshiny days. A little payback for all of the crappy weather we endure in Southern New England. Now, if it just wasn't Town Fair season, it would be perfect...
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This track is helping me to get through my word quota for today. Perfect accompaniment for the bright, cheerful sunshine outside, reminding me that there is life beyond the keyboard as soon as I am through.
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