• Greg Baker

Gifts I Didn’t Know I Needed

(reprinted from the Metro Spirit 12-21-15)

Well, let’s just start with the obvious…

Obvious #1 – The Force Awakens opened last week, and yes, it was AWESOME!  If you haven’t seen the movie yet, what are you waiting for?  By now, all the uber-fan nerds have stopped seeing the movie in costume, so you shouldn’t stand out too badly.  It’s a good film, go see it!  BTW – You’ll get bonus points if you spot the Stormtrooper played by Daniel Craig.

Obvious #2 – Merry Christmas!!!  I hope that you and your family are enjoying the holiday season!  While I have to submit this article to Amy a few days before Christmas, I’ll go out on a limb and say we had a wonderful time.  Of course, there’s always a chance that the hoverboard burst into flames…

Honestly, I’ve always found Christmas to be a little anti-climactic.  As a community, we spend almost two months building up to the day.  The first displays start appearing in stores before Halloween.  By Thanksgiving, everything is fully decorated.  And considering how the stores are treating Black Friday, Thanksgiving has evolved simply into a big lunch before going shopping.  We’ve set high expectations for Christmas day, and while we spend a great deal of effort meeting those expectations, it’s all over in a few short hours.  Then what?

Many folks use this downtime to catch up with family and friends.  Others relax and watch a football game or two.  Today, I’m going to be your guide to those gifts that you didn’t know you needed.  This season, two items really stand out.

Now that neckties have officially gone out of style, what is the one gift that Dad always needs?  It’s a very simple answer – Dad always needs socks.  The socks he has never match, they always have holes, and they usually smell.  And typically, Dad’s socks are purely functional – no fun at all.  To sum it all up, Dad’s socks are old, ragged, and boring.

Dad’s suffer from another problem.  He likes to fall asleep while watching the television.  No man is immune from this phenomenon.  Broadcasters must insert a subliminal code sequence into the programming that causes all fathers to lose consciousness.  No other explanation makes sense.

The first didn’t-know-you-needed gift that is perfect for Dad is a pair of socks that pauses Netflix when he falls asleep.  These socks contain an accelerometer that detects when Dad’s is sleeping, and then triggers an attached IR device to pause Netflix.  The folks at Netflix have happily provided a set of Do-It-Yourself instructions.  Sure there are a couple of skills that you need to master – basic soldering, Arduino programming, knitting – before attempting this project.  But a DIY success provides Dad with cozy socks and prevents him from missing a minute of Jessica Jones.

The second item on the didn’t-know-you-needed list may appeal only to a smaller audience, albeit maybe not that much smaller.   Over the past several years, Minecraft has developed a huge fan base that extends across all age ranges.  Minecraft pulls out our inner creativity, and players will spend hours building and creating the most insane structures.  For example, just this past weekend, I learned how to create glass panes.  Now, my Minecraft Steve literally lives in a glass house.  Yes, it’s lame when compared to the master builders.  But for me, well, no accomplishment should go uncelebrated.

While Minecraft players spend a significant amount of time living in the virtual world, they do have loved ones that reside in the real world.  A constant problem for these loved ones is reaching into Minecraft world.  My wife can attest to this issue.  When I’m involved with a build, a minimum 3-hour delay exists between the time when she initiates a communication and the time I receive the message.  Given that sound travels at 340 meters per second, the Minecraft universe must reside approximately 3,700 kilometers outside of the real world.  Certainly, a way exists to close the gap.

Verizon may have the answer, and their new product is the second item on our list.  (Well, to say it’s a product may be a stretch, but…)  In partnership with Minecraft design firm Blockworks, their team developed a fully-functional mobile phone that browses web pages and performs video calls.  The secret is an application called Boxel that translates video into blocks.  The web pages are typically too grainy to be useful, but the video call is completely functional.  (See the online demonstration by CaptainSparklez)  All the code is open source at GitHub.

If you missed out on the perfect present this Christmas, I hope these ideas inspire you.  Whether its for you or a loved one, sometimes that best presents come from embracing your inner nerd.  Don’t be afraid to go there!


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