Things I Carry: A Nerd’s Survival Kit

An older photo of me with the Note II, I’ve upgraded to the III since…

To make sense of the following, consider that I identify as 1. nerd, fifties-style, and 2. customer service rep for over eighteen years. While customer service comes first, my time is also spent in public service and philanthropy, quietly for the most part. For me, all that means I need a lean and effective set of tools.

(Yes, this is obsessive, and it’s been each and every day for all of the nineteen years, but I really am a nerd, and that’s how we roll.)

Maybe eighty percent of my work can be done with a good, large smartphone. I’m using a Samsung Galaxy Note III, which gets the job done. It helps that I can use alternate on-screen keyboards, making typing much easier. What really helps are keyboards where you can swipe across the keyboard to type, like Swype and SwiftKey.

Home screen widgets also make my life easier, particularly my calendar, but also weather, and wifi, and 4G signal strength.

The Chrome browser syncs up with my desktop and notebook systems, easing my work burden a great deal.

With the shutdown of Google Reader, well, I’ve been trying out Feedly: So far, so good.

I also read a lot of books, maybe eight per month, and the large screen is good for my eyes. Using the Kindle app, but it’s growing problematic. (I’ve read around 700 books, mostly science fiction. See comment about 1. being a nerd, and 2. how we roll.)

This kind of phone is really a handheld computer/communicator, and that will be an increasing reality as its software evolves. Maybe in a few years a good phone will be the only system we have, automatically connecting wirelessly to larger screens and keyboards.

Speaking of larger screens and keyboards, sometimes I really need that, as well as some specific software. When I travel, my solution is a MacBook Pro Retina 13″. In my home office, I use the MacBook.

Stuff evolves, and my watch is becoming more useful. Through my life, a watch has been the only bling I wear, though I added a wedding ring last year. However, I’m now donning a Pebble watch, which combines a nice looking analog watch with extra function. It functions as a little smartwatch with caller id and text messages, which has proven unexpectedly useful. (For older readers, it’s the Dick Tracy kind of deal, you’d see me interacting with my watch. That’s no longer a sign of eccentricity… I think.)

My deal really does involve the smallest set of tools needed to get the job done, wherever I am. It’ll be interesting to see how the phone might supplant notebook and desktop usage, and to see how watches and other wearable computing gadgets evolve.

Less is more, but whatever tools I use, the job’s gotta get done. After all, a nerd’s gotta do what a nerd’s gotta do.

My First Job: What Big Blue Once Was

My first real job was at IBM, in the old Boca Raton lab, in 1976. (Important: IBM has become a very different company in the last twenty years, so please assume none of this applies to the current company. Also, this is all to my recollection, and memory is unreliable.)


The offer was made early, and sounded great. I’ve never been in love with the beach, but thought it might be fun to live near the ocean, and live in a city whose name means “mouse’s mouth.”

The job was in “advanced technology” and dealt with systems architecture.

It took a few years to sink in, but turns out that in corporate language, “advanced tech” is a euphemism: It isn’t what it sounds like. But the software design process didn’t include asking actual customers about usability. I discovered later on, through founding craigslist, that listening to people is about the smartest thing you can do.

I got involved in some software development. That led to some customer involvement, but I was too easy to read, and customers looked to my reactions to see if marketing was, say, stretching things. We nerds are not great salespeople.

After some years, the opportunity to transfer to IBM in Detroit was made, to be involved in a joint effort with General Motors to do factory automation work. Well, I took the offer.

Detroit was pretty good for me, I liked the people and got involved with the local science fiction community, and the local artists community.

After a total of seventeen years, IBM was going through a lot of changes. I took a really good buyout offer and ended up moving to San Francisco, where I got another job and a few years later started craigslist in my spare time.

Photo: Adam Jenkins/Flickr

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