Monday, May 24, 2010

Birding Season 2010

Laughing Gull in Repose (B&W)
(Laughing Gull in Repose, Sarasota, Florida)

As much as I'm fairly sure that my last post is the greatest elevation to which this blog will ever climb, time goes on, and so must we with it (certain heavy-breathing island castaways notwithstanding.)

Least Grebe
(Least Grebe, Brazos Bend State Park, TX)

As I've discussed in previous posts, I'm not really a birder, I just play one on everywhere-but-TV. As a naturalist, I'm pretty excited by seeing new (to me) species. It's interesting to categorize and “collect” them, I guess, but what really fascinates me is seeing something new, or seeing a new side of a species I'm familiar with. (Rather than make you sit through all this blathering text to get to the pics, I'm going to randomly insert them as we go.) That sense of interaction really touches on a younger me, when everything was fascinating because everything was new and novel [1].

Ruffed Grouse hen
(Ruffed Grouse, Killarney PP, Ontario)

I volunteer at a local state park in a naturalist capacity (complete with uniform and dorky hat). It's been a great chance to learn form some folks who have decades of knowledge they're very willing to share. About a year and a half ago, I decided I didn't know birds as well as I should. Apparently, this is nigh unto a sacrilege in the birding community as we are in what may as well be the Mecca of birding. The Texas Gulf Coast is where people fly to to bird. It's where they hold Birding classics.[2] We're ground zero for birds stopping to rest after shooting over the Gulf from the Yucatan, etc. on their yearly migration. So, I suppose it's fitting I learn to bird here.[3]

Black Skimmers in Flight
(Black Skimmers in flight, Sarasota, Florida)

And birds are easy to get into because, while it often seems you can never get a good look/photo of them to save your life, they're EVERYWHERE. If I'm lucky, I'll see a couple different mammals on a hike. Maybe a reptile or amphibian or two. Lots of insects if I look closely enough, but they don't always make themselves readily known.[4] Birds, on the other hand, are everywhere. And there are a LOT of them, in terms of type and number. So it's not to hard to be continually interested as a birder, because there's always a decent chance you'll see something new every time out, at least for several years.

Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher
(Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Brazos Bend State Park)

After a year and a half of some great hikes and coast trips, I think I've gotten a pretty good handle on the local birds. I'm starting to even recognize some calls. However, I still don't think of myself as a birder, per se. Mostly I think it's matter of focus. Birders may look a bit the odd ducks, walking around in their khakis, guide books in pouches, $2000 swarovski binoculars and spotting scopes, and camera lenses the size of my thigh. But they have a pretty intense focus. They know their birds, and they have a love for them that's fairly impressive in the drive it imparts in them. I don't really have that same sort of drive. It's not that I'm lazy, it's just that I'm endlessly fascinated with all forms of life. I remember leading a group of birders on a hike, and missing some bird they were swooning over because I was equally fascinated with a species of cotton rat I had never seen before.

So as far as me being a birder, I'm too much of a generalist to be a birder. Birders are specialists. I'm content to just be amazed about the natural world in general.[5]

Sandhill Cranes
(Sandhill Cranes, near Sarasota, Florida)

That being said, I also have the unfortunate “collecting” urge the plagues us all now and again. One of the common practices among birders is to keep a life list....a list, simply, of all the birds one has seen (heard, etc). Being an avid photographer, I thought a list on a piece of paper was not halfway as interesting as a collection of images. Over the last year and a half, since I started counting, I have recorded over 200 species of birds, and amassed a gallery of pictures of most of them.

Palm Warbler
(Palm Warbler, Florida)

I'm oddly proud of that gallery, because of the challenge it represented to me. Bird photography is not an activity for the weak of patience or pocketbook. To get those beautiful images one sees in catalogs and such requires endless patience and lenses costing roughly the GDP of Guam. In a good Guam-ian year. A good telephoto lens of acceptable magnification can easily run into the 5 digits in cost. My current setup is akin to a 98 pound weakling begging for a sand shower, and yet it still cost more than my first car.[6] So many of my pictures are blurry, many are poor quality. One in ten, maybe, is a beautiful shot, and that's probably being generous. Please keep this in mind as you peruse. These are not art shots, they are the souls of a place and a moment frozen in a quicksilver blast of 1's and 0's to hold on to a piece of wonder.

Crested Caracara
(Crested Caracara, San Bernard NWR)

One thing I have noticed is that it wasn't until I started learning my birds (and other groups more seriously) that my “natural awareness: started to really shift in everyday life. I suppose it's like that for everyone who specializes in a given thing. Sadly, I also do this for water and wastewater infrastructure and stream characteristics. The world is awash in sensory input, so we selectively shut out or generalize somethings about our surroundings and focus on others. It takes a lot to break your threshhold when you haven't been trained to spot something. Now I notice myself noticing. Where I wouldn't have even paid much attention to birds, .my mind now automatically supplies me with a name/etc. It's not just a bird hopping on the ground, I am acutely aware that it's a great-tailed grackle.[7]

Sometimes I wonder how I didn't see these things before. And, more importantly, I wonder what I'm not seeing yet. That more than anything is the driver of my life, in both the general and specific.

(Willet, Houston, TX)

(These images are from my life list gallery, and represent new species for me this year. This was a great birding year. Not so much for photography of birds:) I do promise to devote equal time to insects, herps and mammals here in the near future. )

Black-Throated Green Warbler
(Black-Throated Green Warbler, Quintana, TX)

1 - I like that feeling. I think we build up a lot of filters and scar tissue as adults. Some of it is necessary, some of it keeps us from being tuned into that sense of wonder that really is one of the better things in life.

2 - A birding classic is a competitive bird watching. On a very large scale. Yep, there's really not much hyperbole I can add to that mental image.

3 - I think of this somewhat akin to learning to walk in the Boston Marathon.

4 - I've noticed among the older/more advanced naturalists I work with that birding seemed to have been a “gateway drug” that inevitably leads to more “hard drugs” like insects, etc. I think the normal progression is birds to butterflies to dragon flies to insects. Mammals usually get the short shrift, and the Herpetologists are kinda in a world, cool as it is, of their own. But birding is really the gateway to “harder” classes/families genii.

5 - Not to suggest the birders I know are not equally versed in other species. They just have selected a major, while I'm still blissfully undeclared.

6 - Though, to be honest, that's not saying much when you first car was an ill-advised 82 Ford Thunderbird. And no, I didn't mean Firebird, I meant Thunderbird. I would say my current setup is also more expensive than my first two cars combined, but again, my second car was an 81 camaro of dubious heritage. So, grain of salt for you.

7 - To be honest, sometimes it's almost as if I wish I could go back to not knowing as much about certain aspects of nature. I often worry that in delving so deeply into the details, one can lose the glory of the picture as a whole. The thought sprung into my head the other day as I was out for a walk. I wasn't looking with a wide angle lens at the scene in front of me, my eyes were unconsciously darting back and forth, zoomed in on the detail...noting the northern mockingbird in the tree, the leucage venusta spider in its web, the vervain blowing in the breeze. While it's nice to be aware of all of these things on a more minute level, it's also worrisome that I'm missing the ability to look at the whole picture...the 30,000 foot view.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Chocolate-covered Bacon: A Love Story

Chocolate Covered Bacon, Glamour shot

I eat fairly healthy fare on a daily basis. I don't drink heavily. In general, I don't overindulge on food, special occasions notwithstanding[1]. Compared to many Texans, for whom barbeque is not only guilt-free but tantamount to its own food group, I am nigh-on bastion of restraint.

Once in a while, however, I need to remind myself I am not yet 35, and therefore am contractually bound to still act like my demographic. By this, I mean being intermittently, but blatantly, self-destructive under the misguided impression of immortality.

Thus begins the story of my relationship with bacon.

Bacon is a bad friend. It is not that good friend who looks out for your interests, and will totally help you move, and is totally cool if you want to date his ex, and will have your back in a bar fight, no matter how ill-conceived. No, that friend is broccoli.

Bacon is the other kind of friend. The one that owes you a lot of money and is vague about when it will pay you back. It’s the guy who’s a blast to go out with, but whose escapades will tend to leave you with a headache in a Tijuana jail, and skips out without making bail. It’s the friend who is dating your sister even though you’re really not cool with it.

Bacon is not good for you.

But the appeal exists, regardless. This is my relationship with bacon. Like a bad lifetime original movie, I know it’s no good for me, and I’m better off without it, but once in a while I take it back briefly because I can’t resist it, and then feel guilty.

We don’t eat it often, but once in a while it ends up in a dish. My wife made a casserole that had bacon in it. After I finished, I decided to have a small cup of chocolate ice cream. I had no idea at the time the shame and poor decisions that were about to follow that fateful decision.


As I was doling out the ice cream, I snagged another small piece of bacon from the leftovers and chewed it reflectively. The bacon taste still lingered in my mouth as I ate my first bite of ice cream. Whoa. What was that. It was like a supernova of awesomeness in my mouth. It was like someone had tossed a hand grenade of flavor into my mouth, and my tongue had thrown itself on top of it to save its buddies.

Being a scientist[2] I was duty bound to repeat the experiment. I grabbed a small piece of the leftover bacon, and ate it WITH A SPOONFULL OF CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM. I am fairly sure the heavens trembled and the earth shuddered at my inhuman daring and/or the implications of my experiments. The repeat was a success. The findings were reproduceable. I began to plot, immediately.

A terrible beauty is born[3].

While I was abashed to realize, after a quick internet search, that I was not the first to come up with this idea, I remained undaunted. You might almost say I was buoyed by the thought of a brave community of contemporary bacon-oriented flavor thrill seekers. When I finally made up my mind to proceed[4], I set forth despite the cries of the weak-willed that I was like unto playing God with my reckless abandon in the pursuit of the paradigm shattering chocolate bacon project. For the sake of posterity, I am recording my work here. Without further ado, I give you:

Chocolate Covered Bacon, a love story.

On its face, the challenge seemed easy enough: make some bacon. Melt some chocolate. Coat bacon with chocolate. Enjoy. Curse self years from now when coronary heart disease kicks in.

To demonstrate the sensory imagery that this whole experience was literally RIFE with, I have provided pictorial accompaniment. Those with weak hearts, small children, the enfeebled, and vegetarians may not wish to continue farther. You do so at your own risk, I take no responsibility for the off chance that what you see will RUIN YOU FOR ALL OTHER FOOD. EVER.

Still with me? Excellent. On we go into the fat-saturated, chocolatey heart of darkness.

Step 1: Assemble the Ingredients.

Chocolate Covered Bacon, Step 1

I would not recommend cheap bacon for these endeavors. One does not serve discount day old wedding cake at one’s nuptials, nor off-brand generic tea when the Queen pops by for a visit. There are some occasions that DEMAND, in shrill urgent voices like greedy orphans begging for more gruel, that they are special, and deserve treatment accordingly. Giving in to this, I used our Good Bacon. The chocolate was the best…..we had on hand. The beer? Well, that was not for the recipe, that was to calm my nerves in anticipation.[5] Not pictured here is about a quarter cup of milk, a shot of scotch, and a tablespoon of red wine. These are experimental variables. For this recipe 1 bag of chocolate chips and about 8-10 strips of bacon should be a good ratio to start with.

Step 2: Introduce the Primaries.

Chocolate Covered Bacon, Glamour shot

Bacon, meet chocolate. Chocolate, meet Bacon. Ok, this is not so much a step as a glamour shot to memorialize this moment.

Step 3: Prepare the Pork.

Chocolate Covered Bacon, Step 2

I cooked the bacon in the oven, on parchment paper, at 350 until it was just starting to crisp. I felt it was more respectful. Also, someone on the internet did that too. Peer pressure is a weighty mistress. This approach did allow a bit more control on the finished product.

Step 4: Prepare the Chocolate.

Chocolate Covered Bacon, Step 3

I chose to utilize a small saucepan for the melting to ensure enough depth to a) dip the finished bacon into, and b) to prevent burning of the heated surface to volume ration was too high. See? SCIENCE[6]. There’s not much else to recount about this step. But, lest I lose the attention of the foodies in residence, let’s all agree to pretend that these are not just chocolate chips…these are chips hand-pressed from sustainably grown Peruvian cacao beans that were lovingly harvested by plucky village women from disenfranchised indigenous communities and fairly traded and..umm…I think Steve Jobs blessed them or something. There now, we can all enjoy the food for its image and the warm fuzzy feelings we can generate from it rather than its actual taste or composition[7]. But I digress, in the name of SCIENCE™.

Step 5: Melt the Chocolate.

Chocolate-covered bacon, Step 4

Melting Chocolate is not the walk in the park it seems to SOME people. In fact, it has little to do with walking and/or parks. These people are just silly for even thinking so in the first place. I had some trouble getting the cholate to give in to its fate and become liquid. At first the chips melted together, but sneered in contempt at me by forming merely a larger fudge like mass. I added a tiny dash of red wine to see if liquid would help, and it did to a small degree. I did not want to contaminate my chocolate with …..gasp…milk. Unfortunately, a decided unwillingness to melt at varying temperatures called for drastic measures. A bit of milk helped reduce the chocolate to a molten lava consistency almost immediately. However, one must take pains to keep it warm and stirred, lest it solidify into on giant pan-sized chip, as much as that occurrence may seem delightful under other circumstances. We need to keep focused here, lady and gentlemen! At long last I had a Mount Doom-esque cauldron in which to cast my precious[8].

Step 6: Retrieve the Bacon.

Chocolate-covered bacon, Step 5

By this time you should have finished your beer. Advanced students and remedial Irishmen will be well into their second. I say this as a cautionary warning[9]: do not let your relaxed state and sense of victory thus far, coupled with the ethereal scent of cooked bacon tempt you to consuming some of the bacon straight away. If you think you will be tempted thusly, make extra bacon and consider self-reflection on your lack of willpower[10]. Given the intent of marrying[11] the bacon to the chocolate, I found it was necessary to drain extra grease and pat the bacon down with a paper towel.

Step 7: Convergence.

Chocolate-covered bacon, Step 6

As I reflected later, the use of tongs or similar implements might have warded off the inevitable first degree burns one may accumulate in dipping the bacon by hand[12]. In retrospect, I would blame that decision on wanting to experience this penultimate act in the most organic way possible, without interference from mechanical devices. Just a human hand, dipping pig flesh into ground up cacao beans, as nature and your given deity intended. That being said, it was mostly likely more aptly attributable to sloth[13]. That being said, that actual moment was joyous. Rapture is too small a word. I would be miss though, in failing to note that the consistency of the chocolate greatly impacts its dripping potential and subsequent ability to harden when cooled. To little liquid, and it is fudge like, and will not adhere to the bacon. Too much and it is too runny, and will not harden correctly. In my experimenting, I gradually added milk, so that my bacon ran the gamut from bacon-in-fudge to bacon with chocolate syrup on it. In the middle, though, there was genius wrapped in slightly darker genius.

Step 8: Gilding the lily.

Chocolate-covered bacon, Step 7

I laid out the finished bacon strips on another sheet of parchment paper, though I would probably recommend waxed paper for its lower stickiness threshold. As I had some chocolate left over, I made a secondary coating/dripping with the addition of a small volume of scotch. My wife had brought me scotch infused chocolates from the wilds of Seattle, and I was determined to duplicate the taste. The result was a nice addition, adding a little smokiness. (you’ll notice the lighter color dribbles in the picture)

I ate a bit immediately, but felt it better that it cool for some time to harden, and let it alone in the refrigerator for an hour. I also added a few strawberries in a flash of foresight that they might please[14] my wife on her return.

So there you have it fellow scientific adventurers. Chocolate covered bacon. I look forward to further experiments as time and arterial conditions warrant.

[1] As a legal disclaimer, I reserve the right to interpret “special occasions” as liberally as I may care to. Days that end with “y” may qualify, as needed.

[2] i.e., in the sense that I am aware of science in the way that way a puppy is aware of a ball. I don’t totally understand its nature, but that won’t stop me from abusing it.

[3] I’m fairly sure Yeats original reference via this line was in regard to similar experiment with blood pudding and soda bread, so I felt it fitting.

[4] i.e., finally got around to it, motivated mostly by fears of the leftover bacon going bad.

[5] On a side note, any of the Dogfish Head brews are equally fantastic, though the 60 and 90 minute APAs are downright outstanding.

[6] Insofar as SCIENCE = lessons learned from previous experiences/burns.

[7] Don’t get me wrong, I love food. I love exotic foods, I love cooking. What I dislike is the pretension some foodies get where the image of the thing is as important as the thing itself. They may not be able to taste a difference between table salt and Bolivian north shore sea salt, or cinnamon from different countries, but they are CERTAIN it’s totally better, and that makes them feel better about themselves because they’re so much more sensitive than the rest of us mouth-breathing, hotdog chomping cretins. If you enjoy food, enjoy food. You don’t need to make an elitist identity out of it. It’s like music lovers who won’t listen to anything mainstream because they need to feel elitist and obscure. Blah. Life’s too short to be so pretentious. Ok, rant over.

[8] Bacon. Precious bacon. Though I have not ruled out chocolate-covered hobbit.

[9] Most warnings are, by their very nature, cautionary. Rarely does one warn someone, “Hey…that thing you are doing, I’m worried you’re not doing it RECKLESSLY enough.

[10] That being said, it is my assertion that bacon aids self-reflection. Also, self-denial, self-amusement, and water polo.

[11] I’m using that term in the general sense of joining one surface to another. The last thing I want is bigots to cry foul that I’m supporting the legal union of pig and cacao. We all know the slippery slope that leads to. That’s right. It can only encourage the downfall of capitalism and human society. I guess. That seems to be their usual argument.

[12] This is not the first time I’ve had this general reflection after the fact.

[13] By this I mean laziness, not an actual sloth. What, do you think I have a sloth in my head telling me how to handle hot objects? Do you think me mad?

[14] A lesser man might have used the word “placate”, as her departure and my experiment were less happy accident, and more deliberate planning on my part. It is far better to ask forgiveness than permission.

How to Build a Computer (and why you probably should)

In 2004, I needed a new computer. My 1999 Dell just was outdated enough that the time had come. However, I was frustrated with the selection of off-the-shelf models lots of bells and whistles, but not in the areas I wanted them, and not at the price I wanted to pay. So in my generally cantankerous spirit, I said to hell with them, and decided to build my own.

This determination was wholly unabated by my complete lack of knowledge and skill necessary for the task.[1]

But I managed to do ok with my first "build". I spent far less on it than my wife did on her new computer, and had a better result in many respects. Spurred on by my 2004 success, I decided to upgrade my computer this year, after putting it off longer than I should based on my theory regarding a sensible upgrade schedule.

Tab A, Slot B, repeat as needed.

Building a computer form components is a lot easier than it sounds. If you can play with Legos successfully, you can build a computer these days. These are not the days of room size computers and Alan Turing saving the world with hand-made computer science[2].

Computer components are all essentially made to plug into each other, no soldering, no electronic assembly experience necessary. Tab A, Slot B, repeat. And there's really not THAT much inside your standard computer case. All you really need to know is what components make up a computer, which are best to suit your needs, where to get them cheap, and how best to slap them together.

For that, the internet makes specialized knowledge obsolete. There are a myriad of sites catering to the computer building “enthusiast”, and no lack of information to go on[3]. The best thing about this approach is that you can choose the right mix of components for what you need, rather than the one-size fits all of off-the-shelf brands, and you’ll have familiarized yourself with good resources for FREE tech support when and if something goes wrong down the line.

To demonstrate how easy the process is even for the technologically impaired[4] I am going to walk us through my new build, step by step.

The Build: 2010

Step 1: Buy Stuff.

As stated previously, Slickdeals is a great site for finding deals on pretty much anything. For the people, by the people kind of place. Literally every new component I bought was on a crazy sale/discount deal that was posted here. This saved a lot of cash[5]. The components are labeled here for reference.


I had several parts of my old computer that were still serviceable for the new model. These included my case, case fans, 1 optical drive (dvdrw), and hard drive. However, for all intents and purposes[6] , I was gutting the old system.

Step 2: Gut the Old System.

I started by opening up my computer. This is what a computer looks like inside.

DIY Computer Build, Step 7

If you have not opened yours before, yours will look vaguely like this, but covered in a blanket of dust. You will notice that I did not take much care in how wires were run, and the overall impression is of a psychedelic technocrat’s nest[7]

I started by stripping out the power supply and related cables, to get my work area free of noodly appendages. DIY Computer Build, Step 8

I then removed the motherboard and the rest of the components except for the two hard drives (bottom right) which were staying for the new build. DIY Computer Build, Step 9

Finally, the almost empty shell got a nice cleaning. Did you know some small spiders can nest in computers? Imagine our mutual surprise. Undaunted, we were ready to prep our new components for insertion.

Step 3: Install the Power Supply.

Here we will make our first introductions with the computer components. Be confidant, they can smell fear.

DIY Computer Build, Step 10

The power supply is exactly what it sounds like. It’s transforms the current from the wall into the voltages that your compenets need[8]. It went in first on my build because it’s hard to get it into place when everything else is in the box.

Step 4: Pre-assemble the Motherboard/Processor/RAM.

The next step is fairly simple, but also involves the most care on your part. The real guts of the computer is the combination of motherboard/processor/and memory.

DIY Computer Build, Step 2

Since these will all be screwed into the case as a single unit, it was easier to put them all together outside, and then place the whole unit in.

The motherboard is the nervous system of the computer. It links all the components together and is the highway on which data travels between them. The processor is the brain of the computer, it performs the data calculations that are the actual “computing”. The memory is essentially the holding place for data the brain/processor is working on[9].

So first the memory gets inserted(picture 1), then the processor (picture 2), then the processor cooling fan (picture 3)[10].

DIY Computer Build, Step 3

DIY Computer Build, Step 5

DIY Computer Build, Step 6

The end result is a motherboard ready to be placed into the case. Again, no electronics know-how needed. Everything snaps into pre-determined slots, no tools necessary[11].

Step 5: Install the motherboard.

This is fairly self explanatory. It rests on a series of screws that attach it to the case, and space it a small distance away from the case wall.

DIY Computer Build, Step 11

(The colored wires you see are the leads from the power supply, for now they are drape out of the way.)

Step 6: Install any PCI-E/PCI cards.

If one was building a basic computer, this step may be irrelevant. Your motherboard has expansion slots to add cards. Different cards enable different upgrades. For most users, there is no need to add an additional video card. This is primarily a gaming aid. Your motherboard has a video processor built in, though it is not up to the task of hardcore 3d gaming performance. I chose to add a modest[12] Radeon 4850 card to my system. I also added a wireless adapter to connect to our home’s wireless network.

DIY Computer Build, Step 12

Step 7: Wire it up!

After adding in a few case fans to help with heat dissipation (and also because they glow a purty red color when they’re turned on), it was time for the least fun aspect of the build: connecting all the various cables and power leads. Again, this does not neede electrical knowhow, it’s like plugging any power cord into anything. There’s just a lot of them. Each component usually has a power cord, and most have a data cable. With all these cords, it can get messy fast. Therefore I waited until everything was in place, so I could figure out where to run each wire, in conjunction with what was around it. The end result was a (relatively) neat and tidy case. During this phase I also installed the optical drives (top right) which are the fancy names for the cd or dvd drives for the computer. I have two, though I probably only need one. Like the other components these plug into the motherboard.

DIY Computer Build, Step 13

Step 8: Software!

With the hardware in place, I closed up the computer and got ready to tackle the software issue. If this had been a from-scratch build, like my last, I would have had to install the operating system (windows). However, I was not replacing my hard drives (where the information on your computer “lives”). I did have to update the software with Microsoft, and find new drivers for my new components. A driver is simply a small piece of data that explains to your operating system how to interact with a specific component, like a user’s manual. Windows takes care of this automatically for many components, but some need to be updated. For the most part, this is handled by popping in a cd that comes with the component, and Windows handles the rest. Even Vista, for all its faults, makes this a fairly simple process. If one did not already have software, then this is a great time for you. Almost anything you need can be had for free. Legally. Open source software hasd a version for pretty much any program you can think of. Open Office virtually duplicates MS Office, and saves in MS Office format. Photoshop, windows media player, etc etc etc. They all have excellent free versions available. Cnet Download is a great place to get some free programs, as rated by users to help find the best.

DIY Computer Build, Step 14

There we go. It sounds more complicated than it really is. All one really needs to know is what the primary components are, and what they need. The rest is fairly idiot proof. It is inherently geeky, but it's oddly satisfying. If for no other reason, I recommend a self-build as a great way to get to know about your computer. It's not that complicated. There are only a few key components, and they have fairly easy-to-understand roles. The benefit of this is that when something goes wrong, you're far less likely to have to pay someone to fix it for you, and more likely to be able to do it yourself. Add in some cost savings, and the ability to get what you really want, and

[1] In general it can be said I'm seldom deterred by lack of experience, skill, knowledge, common sense, or rational self interest. I'm sure my wife and neighbors within blast radius would concur.

[2] ..and then being prosecuted and chemically castrated for his efforts, because what was really important was that he was gay, not that he had saved the free world through his efforts on encryption, or that he had almost single-handedly ushered in the modern computer age. No, no, the fact that he preferred men was MUCH more important. Thanks, 50’s America, you kept the spirit of Salem alive and well. Thankfully, it is a much kinder, gentler hobby these days.

[3] The best sources for the enterprising young geek are arguably: Tom’s Hardware for basic knowledge and product ratings, Ars Technica for a forum of people who gladly dole out sage advice on all things technological, Newegg for cheap parts and good service, and Slickdeals to help find great deals on all the components you will need.

[4] This is, of course, self referential. I still can’t set the VCR clock. I just have made peace with it by rationalizing that the time it shows reflects an alternate dimension slightly removed from our own, therefore rendering any attempt to reset it a tentatively dangerous proposition as it may somehow breach the dimensional walls, and lead to a cataclysmic explosion. Creativity helps with technological incompetence.

[5] In general, whether to build a system (assuming you’re not doing it just for the hell of it) depends on your price range. Want to spend less than $300 and you’re not a PC gamer? Buy something off the shelf. It doesn’t have to be top of the line, the lowest end will still outperform what you need it for. Also, because these come with an operating system (Windows, etc) bundled, it’s hard to beat the price. However, for most mid-range users, a self-build is a very attractive option, especially as retail operating system licenses are transferrable to new computers, UNLIKE the “OEM” license that comes with your store-bought computer.

[6] I cannot write that without thinking of the best mondegreen ever, being a friend’s unintended substitution of “all intensive porpoises” in its place. Even better than the usual bastardization as “all intensive purposes”.

[7] There is a segment of builders who take almost perverse pride in having a clean appearance inside their case. They go so far as to invoke a technological feng shui-esque, “Cable Fu”. Honestly, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

[8] The great thing is that other than having a general idea how big a supply you need (usually in the 450-500 watt range), you really don’t need to know the electronics of it. Your involvement will be limited to a) buying, and b) screwing in, the PSU.

[9] This is not the same thing as storage space. This is short term memory, not the long term storage capacity on your hard drive. So if you have a million mp3s and are running out of room, you need more storage space, not more “memory”.

[10] While doing this it is best to grab something metal, or tie yourself to a ground, to prevent any stray static discharge from affecting these delicate components.

[11] Hardcore users often will apply a layer of heat transferring thermal past between the processor and its cooling fan, to aid in heat dissipation. I am not hardcore enough to warrant this.

[12] Video cards are cost drivers for computers. Newest models are several hundred dollars to $1000 plus. However there is a steep price decline as new tech emerges, which it does frighteningly fast. I spent about $70 for my card, which would normally go for about $100, retail. It will be more than I need, but will allow me to indulge in a 3d game now and then. This is not necessary for most windowed or flash games as one might get on facebook. If you bought the game in a box at a store, you most likely will need a video card.