Nate’s Hobbies and Interests
Survival skills have always piqued my interest. Would I be able to survive if …. ? It’s a very primal question, one that makes me feel inadequate particularly in my line of work as a Software Engineer. In a survival situation, software is probably the least helpful occupation you can imagine. I don’t currently feel very well prepared to survive the unknown or the unfortunate, but starting in August 2008 I decided to change that. No, this had nothing to do with the approaching 2012, it never hurts to be prepared regardless of the year. More likely it had to do with becoming a father. Hannah was born in Feb 2008. The scope and the priority of the question became larger: family, infants, health, protection, providing for their basic needs.
So what have I been doing? There are lots of books, shows, and classes out there that can supply ample information on survival. I have read the Field Guide to Wilderness Survival, I have some books on my wishlist that I’d like to read, there are many courses that I’d love to take, but unfortunately most survival skill is best learned experientially, not intellectually. Reading about how to start a fire by friction might get you started, but you’re still a long way from being able to start a friction fire confidently until you’ve done it a few dozen times. I unfortunately I have not.
I’m currently taking a baby-step approach to this, as time and money allow. I’ve made some purchases, I’ve identified some purchases I’d like to make and saving money, I watch every survival show I can record from the Discover Channel, I think more about personal protection, I think more about physical fitness, I think more about risk and try to plan risk mitigation and response. But I haven’t actually done much yet. If this is an area that interests you and you’d like to talk about it more or get together to do something, let me know, I’m game.
Call me a nerd, but I love LabVIEW. LabVIEW is a graphical programming language. No, I don’t mean you create graphics with it. It’s a programming language, but instead of typing cryptic words that hardly resemble english, the source code is graphical. It’s a series of icons linked together by wires, kind of like a circuit board, but the wires carry information instead of electrons. LabVIEW is very powerful in that with relatively little coding you can achieve a lot of functionality very quickly. It’s easy because the Integrated Development Environment (IDE) has an event-driven, non-intrusive compiler, so you always get immediate feedback when a compile error exists instead of waiting till later and crossing your fingers. And it’s fun because you have the building blocks at your finger tips and all you have to do is assemble them in the right configuration to solve problems. It feels a lot like solving puzzles rather than work.
I’ve been very fortunate to be able to make a good living doing work that I really enjoy, and most of that job satisfaction is directly attributed to LabVIEW. I have a hard time not being a work-aholic in part because I enjoy my job so much. Why stop what I enjoy doing? If I had more free time at home I would spend even more time on LabVIEW forums learning about what other users are doing with LabVIEW, both as a way to further develop my own skills and as a way to network with other LabVIEW enthusiests. But alas, there are only 24 hours in a day and there are so many things I want to do. I regret that I don’t get to spend more time contributing to the LabVIEW user community, but I think it’s the right decision for me at this time in my life.
Some people may call me crazy, but let me share my heart with you. I actually think that God has a calling on LabVIEW, and that I am playing some part in it by advocating LabVIEW to staunch Software Engineers who refuse to take graphical programming seriously, too much of a paradigm shift for some to overcome; and by promoting it to future Software Engineers who are not yet ingrained in their ways. National Instruments already has many published Case Studies about how LabVIEW has been and is being used by industry, government, and academia to do wonderful things to improve our world. I think God will continue to use LabVIEW, or something that can trace its roots back to LabVIEW, to really solve some of the big problems of our world and be the foundation for software development of the distant future.
Think about it. We all want to get to a point where we can talk to computers naturally and have them understand us, think about the ship computer in Star Trek. No, think bigger than that, we want computers to be able to read our minds. We usually know what we want to accomplish, but it takes time and effort to organize those thoughts into a series of actions, learn how to convey those actions to the computer, and then execute those actions, whether that be through a microphone, a mouse, or a keyboard. Think about the expression “a picture is worth a thousand words”. Most engineers naturally think in terms of diagrams, they communicate to ourselves and others how things interact, or that things must be performed in a particular sequence with certain decision points along the way. In fact, the Unified Modeling Language (UML) is a graphical “language”, an agreed upon convention for documenting ideas in the form of various types of diagrams. UML has come to be a foundational component of software design. If the design has already been captured graphically, why should it be implemented as text?
In the distant future I think people will be writing software simply by imagining it. They know what needs to be accomplished, and as they conceptualize how to accomplish it, the IDE will in real-time throw together diagrams that reflect what they are conceptualizing. Similiar to a mirror that reflects our physical image, I think software development environments will someday show us our mental image, allowing us to provide clarity to those images at astonishing speed. When we are satisified with the images, the compiler may ask us a series of questions to get futher clarification on some details, and then you’re done, the software works. Test it, ship it, on to the next project.
I think graphical programming in LabVIEW is light-years ahead of any other programming language in reaching this Big Harry Audacious Goal (BHAG).
A long time ago I became interested in solar robotics, called BEAM. Solarbotics is an excellent place to learn more about this, but basically they are small robots that are based on incredibly simple analog design. Using 4 transistors, some capacitors, a motor, and a few other small parts, it is simple to create a device that can negotiate objects and travel towards light! The whole idea behind BEAM robotics is to get down to the basics. Most BEAM robots are modeled after insects. Why? Because insects have an extraordinary ability to accomplish a lot with very little (or no) brain power. Instead, they react to their surroundings in an instinctive manner with no thought processes.
I learned about BEAM robotics about 1999, and since then have played around and read a little about it here and there. By far I am still a beginner. I have not even begun to attempt to understand neural net robots that Mark Tilden (BEAM robotics pioneer) designs. But even at my most basic of understandings, it’s still a lot of fun to play with.
I have purchased and built 3 of the kits sold on the Solarbotics homepage. These kits are fun and easy, good learning tools, and make great gifts. I have created two “freelance” robots, and am in the process of creating my third and largest robot. (Although, who knows when (if) I’ll actually get it done.) Look at pictures of the robots I have constructed.
The robot mentioned in the paragraph above is still not complete many years later. I haven’t worked on it in a long time for three reasons. First, the solar robotics hobby is not cheap. This unfinished robot has already cost me nearly $200. Second, solar robotics is not rewarding. It is neat that a solar robot can basically run forever, and in that time they may cover a lot of ground. But in my life time, I get really tired of waiting a minute or more for my robot to make a movement (somtimes very tiny movements). Third, I just haven’t had time… If I do get the time to pickup the robotics hobby in the future, it’ll be on a microcontroller with a battery pack so I can get some instant gratification when my robot is on. 🙂
I also have an old RC racecar chasis that is still in fairly good condition and even has a motor, servo, motor controller, and radio receiver. In the back of my mind I’m brainstorming about what to do with it. I can put a microcontroller on it, but then it needs some kind of task. Following a wire or a dark line is overdone. I’m thinking more along the lines of general obstacle avoidance via infrared and touch sensors. Who knows when I’ll actually have time to do anything with it, but it sounds fun.
We currently play volleyball once a week on a city league. We have a lot of fun playing semi-competive and getting to know the people on our team.
As of December 2010 I am starting phase 3 of the P90X workout program. It’s essentially 1:15 a day following a rotating exercise program on DVD, 6 or 7 days a week. I usually only make 5. I like that every workout is completely different, and they change up the content of the weeks with each phase so none of it becomes very routine. I’ve lost 20 lbs from Oct 2008 to Oct 2010, and now P90X is starting to give me muscle definition that I haven’t had since high school. I’m still a long way from being able to do everything they do on the workout videos. I figure I’ll continue to use P90X even after phase 3 is over until I can do 95% of what they do on the videos. Then I’ll probably look at buying a different work out series like Insanity. I didn’t think I would like working out at home in the living room, but now it feels like the most natural thing in the world. There’s no time wasted traveling to a gym or waiting for equipment. You don’t have to worry about what you look like or smell like. You just work hard, take a shower, and you’re done. I’m enjoying the continual sore muscle feeling that I remember from high school. At the end of Phase 3 I hope I’ll have some good before and after photos that I can post here.
During high school, I was all about sports. I was fortunate enough to graduate Valedictorian, but the real joy of high school was excelling in sports. I went to a small 3A school in Bandera, TX, so I was fortunate enough to experience personal success in all sports I participated in. I say personal success because we didn’t always have a great team, but all teams go through dry spells, right? Anyway, I played tight end and defensive end in football, ironman. For a while I even got to play fullback.
Though you may not be able to tell it now, I used to be quite the athlete. My fastest 40 yard dash was 4.8 secs, and that ain’t bad considering I weighed about 210lbs. My fastest 400 meter run was 56 secs, weighing about 200lbs at the time. At one point in time in my high school career, I held three out of the four school weight lifting records: 645 dead lift, 335 bench press, 320 cleans. (I weighed about 230 for these records) I also squatted 475, but that wasn’t a record… Unfortunately all of these records were smashed shortly after I graduated. Despite these impressive stats, my favorite sport was basketball. My senior year I averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds a game. Unfortunately, we also only won four games that season… I also threw shot put and discus during track season. I experienced great success in these events, and even went to state in shot put. Unfortunately, I had the worst day of my sports career at state, so we won’t talk about that. My official personal bests in these events were 55′ 7″ in shot put and 155′ in discus, however I’ve frequently thrown much farther than these in practice. Ironically, I was also the mile relay alternate for the track team. Alas, those days are history, and the pounds have set in. But at least I have the memories! 🙂
Through my ministry work I’ve learned to play guitar. I very much enjoy singing and playing. I see it as a gift given by God to be used as a ministry tool. I enjoy leading groups in song, and enjoy singing and playing for my own enjoyment, but not so much for the entertainment of others. Dave Matthews will always be a favorite of mine.