I’ve never been sure if I was more of a geek or a nerd. Thankfully, Wired GeekDad blog writer Matt Blum answered my question in a December 24, 2008 Associated Press story proclaiming Barack Obama as the “Geek-in-Chief.”  Blum delineates the difference as follows:

“A geek is someone who has the knowledge of the geeky type stuff and has social graces. A nerd is someone who has the knowledge but not the social graces and a dork is someone who has neither.”

That being the case, I suppose I am more of a geek. I embrace my geekness, though I can honestly say that I have never been a comic book geek in the true sense of the word. While I have read a few graphic novels, I’ve never collected issues and kept them hermetically sealed in a temperature controlled room.

Nevertheless, I’ve had a lifelong admiration for the character of Superman (as the shield in the header of this blog attests). I have also been watching the NBC show Heroes since it begain airing in the fall of 2006 (speaking of Superman, it helped me to recover from “Superman Returns,” which I felt was very untrue to the idea of the character).

I am also a bit of a marketing geek, so I tend to notice things most other won’t — especially when my two areas of interest collide, as they have recently in Heroes. Over the past few seasons of the show, there has been some clumsily obvious product placements. While not entirely distracting from the show, they are hard to miss.

The two main brands that have maintained a strong presence in the show are Nissan and Sprint. It will be interesting to see how the upheaval in the economy and automobile industry might affect this ongoing relationship. Sprint has become heavily involved as of late, even sponsoring an online contest that invited viewers to chose a new hero for an online webisode.

I am also a customer of Sprint and have been since January 2000. In May 2008 I upgraded to the Palm Centro and have been using it ever since (I still am likely only using 25% of the phone’s capabilities).

One of the features I occasionally use is the Internet access — though I would use it more if it were not for inconsistent connection speeds and an underwhelming interface (it does not display the “real” Internet as is the case with the iPhone).

In any case, something caught my eye one day when I was browsing the “fake” Internet on my Palm Centro: the connection/activity icon on the phone is almost identical to the thematic image from Season 3 of Heroes!

This image is one that depicts the earth spliting apart along a diagonal line (bottom left to top right). The connection/activity icon on the Palm Centro depicts an earth with some kind of flame or ball of energy transversing it in a diagonal line (bottom left to top right).

This can’t possibly be a coincidence, can it? I’ve provided an image below containing pictures of both — Have a look and leave a comment with your thoughts about this possible case of product placement:

Unique Sprint Product Placement in NBC's Heroes?
Unique Sprint Product Placement in NBC’s Heroes?

I would love to get some other opinions on this. Certainly this is not the Rosetta stone or anything, but it does intrigue me. By the way, for a more complete list of product placement in Heroes episodes and other information about the show, check out the Heroes Wiki.

Update:

Shortly after writing this blog post, I attempted to answer my above question by reaching out to three Heroes actors who I know use Twitter:

  • Greg Grunberg (@greggrunberg), who plays “Matt Parkman.”
  • Brea Grant (@breagrant) who plays “Daphne Millbrook” (Matt Parkman’s love interest.)
  • David H. Lawrence (@dhlawrencexvii) who plays puppetmaster “Eric Doyle.”

On January 2, 2009 at 12:42 AM I posted the following question on Twitter: @greggrunberg @dhlawrencexvii @breagrant, is Sprint subliminally “celling” on “Heroes?” www.tr.im/sprint.

A short time later, at 1:29 AM, I noticed David Lawrence had just posted a tweet. So I resent the same question directly to him: @dhlawrencexvii Is Sprint subliminally “celling” on “Heroes?” Read this if you get a chance: www.tr.im/sprint. @Joseph_Yi and I are curious.

A few minutes later, on January 2, 2009 at 1:42 AM, David Lawrence replied as follows: @doctorious  Sprint (and Nissan) are Heroes’ 3 biggest advertisers. Nothing subliminal about it. All of us use Sprint cell phones on the show.

Later that same day, January 2, 2009 at 12:13 PM, Brea Grant sent a reply as well: @doctorious  nothing subliminal about sponsorship on the show but i think the whole world splitting thing is just a coincidence. 

I never heard back from Greg Grunberg, but I appreciate the two responses I did receive as they were interesting and enlightening. I wonder how someone who works in production for the show might answer for my question?

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Adverse weather is not something we experience very much of here in Southern California.

Usually, whenever there is the slightest hint of moisture in the air our cadre of well coiffed weathermen, meteorologists (I forgot they have advanced training in meteors), start proclaiming armageddon and calling it the “Storm of the Century.”

However, the past few days have actually brought some wild winter storms to the area (see KTLA, KNBC, KCBS, The Signal and Los Angeles Times).

Weather has been a mess elsewhere too — across the country temperatures have plummeted as we seem to be deluged by some kind of nuclear winter (fortunately, without the nuclear part, but the result seems similar). Even Las Vegas is dealing with its biggest snowfall in 30 years!

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has now closed the “grapevine” portion of Interstate 5 (Castaic through Lebec) and also, quite surprisingly, the Antelope Valley Freeway (14) from Soledad Canyon in Santa Clarita through 10th Street in Palmdale. Several other major freeways have been shut down as well.

It’s been a wild few days.

Fortunately, I quite literally just missed getting stuck in this storm. I was teaching at DeVry in Bakersfield on Tuesday, December 16. In the afternoon, when I drove to campus, there was a light dusting of snow atop some of the higher points in the Grapevine. However, there was no immediate danger or impediment to my progress.

Here are some photos I took that afternoon with my Palm Centro and sent them to my Twitter account using a service called TwitPic. (Note: My orginal desire was to embed the images from my TwitPic account into this page and avoid duplicating them. Unfortunately, that only worked for a short time before the image seemed to expire — so I’ve gone ahead and uploaded the photos to WordPress):

December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Pyramid Lake: December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Lebec: December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Gorman: December 16, 2008

Later that night, after finishing my classes I headed home. As I approached Lebec at roughly 11:30 p.m., the steady rain that began 30 minutes earlier in Bakersfield transformed into sleet. By the time I reached the Tejon Pass (elevation: 4,144 feet), I was driving into a steady flow of snow.

It got fairly dense at one point, and I became slightly concerned as I was driving my Scion xB and had no chains. Mercifully, the snow began to dissipate once I made it through Gorman. I continued onward and made it home without any problems.

Photos from that adventure follow (taken, as before, with my Palm Centro):

December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Tejon Pass: December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Tejon Pass: December 16, 2008
December 16, 2008
Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) @ Gorman: December 16, 2008

Hopefully my luck will continue the next time a big storm blows into Southern California! Either way I will be sure to post some pictures and/or video from the experience. Stay warm!

Due to inclement weather today in Florida the Space Shuttle Endeavour (Orbiter Vehicle Designation OV-105), returning from mission STS-126, was diverted to the backup landing option at Edwards Air Force Base near Rosamond, CA (approximately 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles in the Antelope Valley).

sts-126_patch-svgIn total, the shuttle’s journey spanned 6.6 million miles and 250 orbits of Earth. Endeavour landed on temporary runway 22L at Edwards, while the main runway, 4R, is undergoing repairs — making it the first and last shuttle to do so.

This was the 124th space shuttle mission, the 22nd flight for the shuttle Endeavour and the 27th shuttle visit to the station. It was also the 52nd time a shuttle has landed at Edwards Air Force Base.

It will take approximately one week to prepare the shuttle for its return flight to Florida atop a modified 747 (called the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft) and will cost approximately $1.8 million.

Another unexpected item to add to the cost of this mission: a bag of tools valued at $100,000 dropped and forever lost by Astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper during the first space walk of the mission. The crew will be flown back to Johnson Space Center in Houston tomorrow.

I was able to record the double sonic booms the shuttle made upon re-entry with my Palm Centro and have embeded the file below — they sound like a cross between a shotgun and car backfiring, but were so loud in person that my entire house shook!

Below is an MP3 of the two sonic booms that occured during the shuttle’s re-entry (click the arrow to play the file).

Finally, here is video of the actual landing from the Associated Press:

Welcome back, Endeavour, and congratulations on a safe return from space!

Frequently being on the road driving to and from the classes I teach gives me the opportunity to occasionally see some fairly odd things.

Most often I observe people with strange items in their trunks, on their cars or otherwise in-tow. I’ve learned to never underestimate the creativity (or, in some cases, stupidity) of people when it comes to their cars!

I decided to start documenting as many of these “moments” as possible and aptly title them under the heading of “Junk in Your Trunk.” I will randomly post images as I take them or discover images I took earlier that seem to fit the bill. I am also willing to post photos anyone else takes and sends my way — so feel free to “shoot and send!”

Car Engine on Highway 99 NorthThe photo to the left was taken on Wednesday, August 6, 2008 while I was driving north on highway 99 en route to Bakersfield (where I was teaching at DeVry University later that afternoon).

It is a bit hard to see, but there is a car engine in the trunk of the silver Honda Civic in the foreground! I am unsure why there is a car engine in the trunk, though I was certain it was not the engine powering the car, but there it is!

Note: Unfortunately, the camera in my Palm Centro is adequate, but not always ideal. However, you can click on the photo to see a larger, and slightly clearer, version of the photo.

On Monday, July 7, 2008, after enjoying a “one-day vacation” with my family in Big Bear Lake, CA I embarked on a 3 hour and 21 minute, 205.5 mile journey to Bakersfield. There I was scheduled to start teaching another session at DeVry University that evening.

view-of-big-bear-lake

I am only just now able to share the photos from this trip because the past two months were exceptionally challenging, but rewarding. Adjunct teaching is similar to walking a tight-rope without a net: high risk, but high reward. There is no paid leave, sick leave or traditional benefits.

I taught three classes at DeVry:

  • BUSN-115, Introduction to Business and Technology
  • COMP-100, Computer Applications for Business with Lab
  • ENGL-135, Advanced Composition

I also facilitated four to six concurrent online sessions for Axia College of University of Phoenix of:

  • COM-140, Contemporary Business Communication
  • COM-220, Research Writing

Amidst all that I was juggling some consulting projects and myriad responsibilities as the father of two amazing young boys. Despite the limited amount of free time I have, it was important to have some kind of a vacation with my family, even if doing so involved driving 350 miles in 6.5 hours during a 24 hour period.

Had I been able to spend more time on vacation I would have done so. However, my circumstance did not permit it — so I appreciated the time I did have, not the time I didn’t. Although my time in Big Bear was short, it was priceless.

We rented a pontoon boat and spent several hours driving around on the lake just relaxing and taking in the fresh air. I don’t step back and take a break much, especially these days, but it was a wonderful chance to partially recharge my batteries.

After spending the morning of July 7 on the water once more I loaded up my car, filled up the tank (at $4.73 a gallon!) and got what I thought would be a cheap automated car wash (it was $10!). I got on the road at almost exactly noon and was off on my big adventure.

My route included California Highway 18 north (through Apple Valley) to Interstate 15 North (briefly) to Highway 58 West (the starting point is near Hinkley, CA — made famous/infamous in the movie “Erin Brokovich”) and ending on Highway 99.  My stopping point was the Vagabond Inn (North Bakersfield).

The photos below document this pleasant and, thankfully, uneventful road trip.

Fueling up in Big Bear Lake ($4.73 a Gallon!)

Leaving Big Bear Lake on Highway 18

Some kind of processing plant at the base of the mountain

Decisions, Decisions…

Apple Valley (where are the apples?)

Getting onto Interstate 15 (it is the overpass in the distance)

Interstate 15 North

Highway 58 to Bakersfield

Highway 58 Near Hinkley, CA (made famous/infamous in “Erin Brokovich”)

Mojave (home of SpaceShipOne)

Leaving Mojave and heading up the mountain on Highway 58 West

Nearing Tehachapi

Nearing Bakersfield

Smoky skies from various wildfires (see YouTube video below)

The video below was shot during the last leg of my journey. The overcast/discolored sky that was the result of soot and smoke in the air from the Piute Fire (near Lake Isabella, CA) and, possibly, the Gap Fire that was burning in Goleta, CA (near Santa Barbara).

The music in the background is the theme from the movie “Napoleon Dynamite.”  For the music buffs out there it is called “Music For A Found Harmonium” and can be found on the album “Irish Times” by Patrick Street.

It seems to fit the video quite well. Don’t you agree, Napoleon? Gosh!

The “Bond” in all its glory – actually for $40 it is a great value

Scenic view of Highway 99 South from my luxury suite at the Vagabond Inn

All things considered it was a (thankfully) uneventful, yet interesting adventure. There was something unique and invigorating about seeing parts of California many people overlook.

The following day I filmed this video as I drove to the DeVry University Center at 3000 Ming Avenue.

The video below is of me approaching the DeVry campus. The music that accompanies this clip is called “Say Hello” off of the “Centuries Before Love and War” album of the group “Stars of Track and Field.” Notably, I went to elementary school and grew up with one of the members of the band: Dan Orvik.

Despite the often odd adventures I have driving to and from DeVry, one thing is for certain: my commute is never boring!

Since 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, July 1, 2008 the California Vehicle Code (CVC) mandates that all drivers use a “hands-free” device when driving and talking on a cellular phone.  The state actually passed two laws which are now active as Section 23123 and Section 23124 of the CVC.

According to the new laws, drivers caught talking on a hand-held cell phone will be subject to fines of $20 for the first ticket and $50 for subsequent tickets. Additional fees can potentially more than triple the fine — I have heard that the average first ticket will cost $76!

One silver lining in this dark cloud: although the infraction will appear on your driving record the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will not assign you a violation point.

Below is an instructional video about the news laws followed by Q & A about them (courtesy of the DMV):

Q: When do the new wireless telephone laws take effect?
A: The new laws take effect July 1, 2008.

Q: What is the difference between the two laws?
A: The first prohibits all drivers from using a handheld wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle, (Vehicle Code (VC) §23123). Motorists 18 and over may use a “hands-free device.” Drivers under the age of 18 may NOT use a wireless telephone or hands-free device while operating a motor vehicle (VC §23124).

Q: What if I need to use my telephone during an emergency, and I do not have a “hands-free” device?
A: The law allows a driver to use a wireless telephone to make emergency calls to a law enforcement agency, a medical provider, the fire department, or other emergency services agency.

Q: What are the fines(s) if I’m convicted?
A: The base fine for the FIRST offense is $20 and $50 for subsequent convictions. With the addition of penalty assessments, the fines can be more than triple the base fine amount.

Q: Will I receive a point on my driver license if I’m convicted for a violation of the wireless telephone law?
A: No. The violation is a reportable offense, however, DMV will not assign a violation point.

Q: Will the conviction appear on my driving record?
A: Yes, but the violation point will not be added.

Q: Will there be a grace period when motorists will only get a warning?
A: No. The law becomes effective July 1, 2008. Whether a citation is issued is always at the discretion of the officer based upon his or her determination of the most appropriate remedy for the situation.

Q: Are passengers affected by this law?
A: No. This law only applies to the person driving a motor vehicle.

Q: Do these laws apply to out-of-state drivers whose home states do not have such laws?
A: Yes.

Q: Can I be pulled over by a law enforcement officer for using my handheld wireless telephone?
A: Yes. A law enforcement officer can pull you over just for this infraction.

Q: What if my phone has a push-to-talk feature, can I use that?
A: No. The law does provide an exception for those operating a commercial motor truck or truck tractor (excluding pickups), implements of husbandry, farm vehicle or tow truck, to use a two-way radio operated by a “push-to-talk” feature. However, a push-to-talk feature attached to a hands-free ear piece or other hands-free device is acceptable.

Q: What other exceptions are there?
A: Operators of an authorized emergency vehicle during the course of employment are exempt, as are those motorists operating a vehicle on private property.

 

Drivers 18 and Over

Drivers 18 and over will be allowed to use a “hands-free” device to talk on their wireless telephone while driving. The following FAQs apply to those motorists 18 and over.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law prohibit you from dialing a wireless telephone while driving or just talking on it?
A: The new law does not prohibit dialing, but drivers are strongly urged not to dial while driving.

Q: Will it be legal to use a Bluetooth or other earpiece?
A: Yes, however you cannot have BOTH ears covered.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law allow you to use the speaker phone function of your wireless telephone while driving?
A: Yes.

Q: Does the new “hands-free” law allow drivers 18 and over to text message while driving?
A: The law does not specifically prohibit that, but an officer can pull over and issue a citation to a driver of any age if, in the officer’s opinion, the driver was distracted and not operating the vehicle safely. Sending text messages while driving is unsafe at any speed and is strongly discouraged.

Drivers Under 18

Q: Am I allowed to use my wireless telephone “hands-free?”
A: No. Drivers under the age of 18 may not use a wireless telephone, pager, laptop or any other electronic communication or mobile services device to speak or text while driving in any manner, even “hands-free.” EXCEPTION: Permitted in emergency situations to call police, fire or medical authorities (VC §23124).

Q: Why is the law stricter for provisional drivers?
A: Statistics show that teen drivers are more likely than older drivers to be involved in crashes because they lack driving experience and tend to take greater risks. Teen drivers are vulnerable to driving distractions such as talking with passengers, eating or drinking, and talking or texting on wireless devices, which increase the chance of getting involved in serious vehicle crashes.

Q: Can my parents give me permission to allow me to use my wireless telephone while driving?
A: No. The only exception is an emergency situation that requires you to call a law enforcement agency, a health care provider, the fire department or other emergency agency entity.

Q: Does the law apply to me if I’m an emancipated minor?
A: Yes. The restriction applies to all licensed drivers who are under the age of 18.

Q: If I have my parent(s) or someone age 25 years or older in the car with me, may I use my wireless telephone while driving?
A: No. You may only use your wireless telephone in an emergency situation.

Q: Will the restriction appear on my provisional license?
A: No.

Q: May I use the hands-free feature while driving if my car has the feature built in?
A: No. The law prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from using any type of wireless device while driving, except in an emergency situation.

Q: Can a law enforcement officer stop me for using my “hands-free” device while driving?
A: For drivers under the age of 18, this is considered a SECONDARY violation meaning that a law enforcement officer may cite you for using a “hands-free” wireless device if you were pulled over for another violation. However, the prohibition against using a handheld wireless device while driving is a PRIMARY violation for which a law enforcement officer can pull you over.

It is hoped the laws will reduce distractions to drivers, thereby mitigating the 4,000 traffic accident deaths that occur in the state each year.

A study released by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute documented 80 percent of accidents are caused by driver distraction, and 65 percent of near-crashes resulted from driver inattention three seconds before the event. The Public Policy Institute of California anticipates 300 fewer traffic fatalities annually once these new laws take effect.

Yet, there remains great debate as to how much using a hands-free device improves your ability to pay attention to the road beyond what you would experience by simply holding the phone to your ear.

In a June 28, 2008 a Daily Breeze article, California State University, Dominguez Hills psychology professor Larry Rosen, a specialist in the psychology of technology, is quoted as follows:

“Hands-free phones are no safer than handheld – it’s all an issue of cognitive load, or brain power. If you talk to somebody on a phone, you only get a limited number of cues, as opposed to looking at someone when you can see their demeanor, their facial expressions. When you don’t have those cues, your brain has to work hard to fill them in and having to work extra hard means you’ll be paying little attention to the road.”

Additionally, as reported in a July 2, 2008 Daily News article, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University discovered listening to a conversation while driving reduces brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent!

So, as was echoed in the quote by professor Rosen (above), it’s not how you are talking on your cell phone that matters — it’s the fact that you are talking on your cell phone. You could have two extra hands on the wheel while wearing your headset and still drive like an idiot.

That being said, I think using a headset is a nice option while you are in the car — though I think it actually has the opposite effect: it makes me want to talk more. I find myself more engaged in the conversation because I don’t have to think about holding the phone. I am unsure if I am in the normal or abnormal category for this issue, but it is how I feel.

For nearly the past month I have been using the Plantronics Explorer 350 with my Palm Centro — mostly as I drove to and from DeVry University in Bakersfield, but also around town on short errands. It works very well and it is reasonably comfortable. I like it because it sits in my ear, making it easier to hear the person with whom I am speaking.

I recommend this device to anyone looking for a Bluetooth headset. I do, however, not recommend wearing it outside of your car — you can get away with looking like a dork/Borg from Star Trek in your car, but once you are outside of it, the same cannot be said!

I initially tried a Motorola H500, but either the unit I had was defective or the design doesn’t suit me — becasue I could almost never hear anyone whether I was at highway speeds or even on side streets.

In any case, the results of this new law remain to be seen, but if it has the same effect as most other laws related to driving — or even most laws for that matter — I doubt it will have much of an impact beyond generating additional revenue for the state that can get misappropriated.

I am encouraged by the portion of the law dealing with drivers under 18, as that seems to make the most sense: completely outlawing the use of cell phones while driving is the only way to (at least legally) ensure that drivers are no longer distracted by them.

At the same time I am a realist: making something illegal does little to prevent someone determined to do it from doing it.  I also know that if you aren’t distracted by your cell phone while driving there are plenty of other things to do the job: kids, pets, people, iPods,  the stereo, makeup, food — the list goes on. I once even saw a woman reading a book while driving down the 405 Freeway Southbound in the Sepulveda pass!

But, if you live in California, it is now law, so unless you want to waste a lot of money you need to “get assimilated” and find yourself an earpiece that works for you. Just look at the bright side: now you will have an extra hand free so you can hold your coffee and your breakfast burrito while talking on the phone!