Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


Understand Jargon to Be a Smarter Consumer


Every community has its jargon, but when you are entering into a new world of products and services, it is important that you understand the lingo so that you don't end up purchasing something you don't want or need. Many consumers are prone to making impulse purchases without thinking. In fact, 75 percent of Americans have made impulse purchases and 16 percent said these purchases were over $500, according to a survey by Being knowledgeable about what you are dealing with makes you a smarter consumer. Here's a look at some jargon you need to know:

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing and data storage isn't just for businesses — it helps you preserve and save precious photos, videos, and other data from being lost. However, much of the terminology is new and confusing. For example, you probably want to look for a “consumer cloud” service, which includes popular services like Dropbox. If you want to save as much money as possible, advertising-based pricing models tend to be cheaper. But if the idea of having to look at ads to run your apps turns you off, don't use this type of discounted plan. Consumption-based pricing models refer to services that charge you based on the amount of data you use, rather than a subscription that has set limits and prices per month. Now that you understand some of the technical terms, decide which type of service is best for you.

Surround Sound

If you've ever been wowed by the dynamics of surround-sound systems in movie theaters or home theater stereo systems, you may want to have a system of your own installed. Understanding how surround-sound systems are labeled is essential if you want to get the right one for your home. For example, what does 5.1 surround sound refer to? Well, the five refers to the number of channels: two in the front, two in the back and one in the center. The one refers to whether or not the system has a subwoofer; a one means it does, a zero means it does not. The Dig points out that surround sound comes in a variety of set ups, such as 7.1 and 5.1.2 (which means there are two height variable stereos that add depth to the front soundfield). There are countless variations on this formula, but when you understand what the decimals stand for, you have a better chance of getting what you want and not spending more than you need to.


Biking is a popular way for people to get around in urban areas or add some exercise to the daily routine. Some biking terms can be counter intuitive, though, so make sure you understand them before you buy one. For example, clipless pedals refer to a style of pedal that actually has clips that attach to your shoes to hold your feet in place. The type of pedal with a strap is referred to as a “toe-clip,” so clipless is a reference to them not being this style of pedal. This is the sort of thing that confuses many new bikers (I know that first-hand, since I started cycling a couple of months ago), so it helps to know the jargon before you go into the store. For more of this sort of jargon, Road Bike Rider has an extensive glossary.

One other comment on jargon - don't be shy about asking what these things mean. Sure, you run the risk of some body trying to make you feel dumb, but most of the time I've found that people are willing to help you understand their jargon. For example, bike shop employees should be willing to explain the differences between a Schrader valve and a Presta valve - if they give you a hard time, find another bike shop.

eBike technology from Bosch - hands-on

A couple of weeks ago, Bosch eBike Systems brought an eBike out to me so I could try it out. What's an eBike, you ask? In technical terms, an eBike is a bicycle that has been augmented with an electrical assist that provides supplemental power while you pedal. In practical terms, it is an impressive tool to help you simplify your commuting or road cycling jaunts.

Bosch doesn't make the bikes - they make the "mid-drive" systems that are built into the bikes, so you can find different types, sizes and styles of bikes to fit your needs and preferences. You can find out more and locate a dealer near you at the Bosch eBike site. [Note: I receive no compensation or other consideration for this - just a free ride on an eBike].

Mount up...

I was riding a Haibike XDuro Trekking RX bike with Bosch Mid-Drive technology (provided by Cynergy E-Bikes, a local Portland company), and it was my first time riding an eBike. 

The bike looks a lot like a typical hybrid bike (built for road cycling, and off-road friendly), and I immediately noticed the weight - it was noticeably heavier than the bike I typically ride. That extra weight is because it has batteries on board, and the frame has been reinforced to handle the forces of the electrical assistance mechanism - the Bosch system is built in during the design of the bike, not bolted on afterward, so it is quite sturdy.  

Once on the bike, it rode and handled very well - it felt like a normal commuting bike, and it took no time at all to get acclimated (and it didn't feel very heavy from a rider's perspective). 

Becoming Superhuman

I rode for a couple of miles near downtown Portland, in a big loop along the Willamette River promenade, which gave me a chance to experiment on flat, straight sections as well as some good inclines, congested areas, and curves. The bike was a lot of fun to ride and I found myself thinking about what it would be like to own.

The real fun started when I turned on the eDrive -- I felt superhuman! It is hard to describe the feeling you get when you turn on the eDrive and the bike begins to surge forward, accelerate, and climb up challenging hills under the assistance of the eDrive.

The way Bosch's eDrive system works is by multiplying your power so every pound of pressure you exert on the pedals is amplified when it reaches the wheels. There are 5 modes:

  • Off:     no assistance from drive unit
  • Eco:    50% assistance from drive unit
  • Tour:    120% assistance from drive unit
  • Sport:    190% assistance from drive unit
  • Turbo:    275% assistance from drive unit

You can change modes on the fly, smoothly and without interrupting the ride. That means you can spend most of your time in Eco, but kick things into Turbo for a killer hill or to make up some time on the road when you're in a hurry.

When choosing modes, keep in mind that the more assistance you get from the eDrive, the faster you use up the battery's charge. For example, depending on conditions, the range in Turbo mode (highest assistance) is 20-40 miles. In Eco mode (least assistance) the range is 50-100 miles. The on-board control panel tells you how you're doing and estimates remaining range based on how you're using the bike.

These bikes do need to be recharged, as they don't recharge while you are riding. That said, they last quite a while - you should only have to charge the bike once or twice a week if you use it for commuting, and the recharge time is about 3 hours (you just plug the bike's charger into a normal household outlet). If you run out of power on the road, you won't be stranded - you can simply pedal it as you would a normal bike (though the additional weight may make pedaling a bit more difficult on hills without the power assist).

Who are eBikes suited for?

While anyone would enjoy this bike, it is ideally suited for commuters, as well as people who are less physically adept but want to ride in hilly terrain (or more easily keep up with more accomplished riders). Bosch says these systems are very popular with the 50 years and up crowd, since they like the physical assistance the bikes provide and typically have more disposable income to justify the extra cost (eBikes typically cost about $1500-2000 more than comparable, conventional bicycles).

Commuters will likely appreciate these bikes most - imagine riding 10 miles to work on an eBike and arriving at work without feeling like you need to take a shower; that is possible with the assistance of the eBike power drive. If you get the chance, stop by a local bike dealer who stocks eBikes, and give it a try - I think you'll be impressed.

Use your best iPhone pictures as postcards

Last year, I stumbled across an iOS app called PhotoCard, by Bill Atkinson. This app allows you to create free, electronic postcards from your iOS photos, personalize them, and send them via email.

You can also convert your postcards into gorgeous physical postcards and mail them to other people. That, of course, is not free but it is also very reasonably priced. I've sent quite a few of them and they are beautiful and very noteworthy, since they are 8.25 x 5.5 inch cards printed in high-quality color printing and mailed by US Mail.

Editing a picture I snapped of The Gherkin tower in London, which I sent as a postcard.

The app comes with over 200 of Bill's own photos, so you can compose something beautiful, or you can use your favorite snaps from your camera roll or photostream.

You create both the front and the back of the card, including your message and the style of the stamp if you are sending physical cards.

If you want to stand out from the crowd, this is a great way to do it. I love this app.

How To Go From Rookie Engineer To Valuable Asset

I have a position on an industry advisory board for a local university's Engineering department, which means I get to hear a lot about the challenges of newly-graduated engineers who are looking for jobs. I've also had the chance to speak with some of the new graduates who were able to get engineering jobs, but are wondering how to make their mark (or at least fit in among their corporate peers).

Imagine this: You've just spent four to six years getting a degree or two in engineering. That's a solid decision considering the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that all engineering fields have a high median salary and show better than average growth over the next decade. Of course, getting the engineering job is much different than excelling at the engineering job. As a new engineer, your fresh education is your greatest strength and, although only time will make you a veteran, there are ways you can further advance your knowledge once on the job to position yourself as an indispensable member of the team.

Learn The Jargon

All facets of engineering are full of technical language, some of which you learned in school or gleaned from technical writings, and some that you will need to research or learn as you go. Depending on the field and your role within the organization, there is differing terminology; for example, the engineers in the non-destructible testing (NDT) department have idioms that differ from the R&D group. Pick up some of the jargon from resources like The Most Used Engineering Terminology Defined list on StruCalc or go even further and read the policy and procedure manuals word for word, as this is where engineering acronyms are born.

I happen to work with a lot of software engineers, and we have our own jargon - not only about engineering and software development, but also about the processes surrounding the coding (think Scrum and Agile). We don't expect everyone to know our jargon, but we're suspicious of anyone who doesn't :-)

Know Your Journals

For many fields, scientific, peer-reviewed journals are where the newest ideas are shared. Since new concepts are among the most valuable things you can bring to the table, stay abreast of the latest scientific literature. SJR ranks scientific journals by field, citations and country. According to SJR, the best journal for mechanical engineering is the Journal of Nature Materials which is a UK-based monthly journal that brings together multi-disciplinary articles on cutting edge material sciences. Electrical engineers may want to subscribe to the Journal of Nature Nanotechnology for its vanguard electronic sciences. I regularly read the IEEE Journal, for example.

Sites To Follow

In an online world, there are reputable websites for scientific literature and engineering technology, with one of the best for civil and industrial engineering being the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers website. Besides giving you a solid history of engineering, the Army Corp of Engineers is the final word in civil engineering, risk management and safety and occupational health.

For very different reasons, another site to follow is Engineering For Change. Not only does this website offer the newest engineering innovations across technical fields but it does it with a socially responsible, philanthropic agenda. Partnered with IEEE and Engineers Without Borders, Engineering For Change lets a rookie engineer networks with veterans around the world, building up his knowledge and support network.

Carve Your Niche

Having a specialization is a good way to become invaluable to your company. Within each brand of engineering, there are specialties that call for additional education. Quality assurance is one of the largest specialties, as every engineering concentration needs a quality assurance department or liaison. For example, rubber seal manufacturer Apple Rubber is QA certified in several areas; in aerospace, Apple Rubber is AS9100 certified; for medical components, the manufacturer is ISO 9001 compliant. They even have a certified cleanroom which is class 10000, ISO 7 compliant.

Each of these quality assurance specializations requires specific expertise, record keeping and detailed reporting. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists quality assurance in each engineering sector, from electrical to industrial to computer.

Try to find a field or specialization that not only hold your interest, but maps to your talents. For example, if you have an eye for detail, QA (Quality Assurance) may be the specialization for you. If you are adept at chemistry, you may want to get into a laboratory environment creating coatings. In any case, deciding where you want to specialize - and doing that early in your education or career - can help you prioritize and come up with a plan for success. 

Sharper Minds Through Video Games?

I play a lot of video games during my travels - it is a great release to unwind in my hotel room, and I find it very relaxing (yes).  I flit from one to another quite often, but my current favorites are Borderlands 2, Diablo III, and Call of Duty: Black Ops.  I also tend to apply lessons I learn from video games into how I view the world; for example, I have given multiple talks about what information security can learn from video games - such as this brief talk the RSA Security Conference earlier this year).  

With that in mind, I wanted to make sure I wasn't deluding myself - to find out if there really is something to this "learning from video games" thing I preach about all the time.

According to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, 59 percent of Americans regularly play video games, with the industry earning more than $10.5 billion in revenue annually. The survey also showed 44 percent of respondents play video games on their smartphones and 33 percent play on wireless devices. The rise in popularity of gaming has also led to the rise of studies investigating the potential negative effects they have. The Ohio State University found an increase in violent video game playing resulted in a spike in aggression.  

For what it's worth, I can definitely tell the difference between video games and reality and I think this resultant increase in aggression might be true of any competitive activity, such as organized sports.  Of course, that is just my theory...  

Since I know I benefit from playing video games and I don't feel they are harming me, I was curious about the "other end of the spectrum" when it comes to the impact of video games.  As it turns out, more researchers are looking into how video games can benefit us and report surprising results. Boosting memory, delaying cognitive decline and increasing multitasking ability and confidence are just some of the ways we can benefit from regularly playing video games.

Boost your memory

Recent studies from the Georgia Institute of Technology show gaming won't necessarily improve reasoning and problem solving, but can help boost your memory. Working Memory Capacity (WMC), is our ability to recall information relatively quickly even while distracted. The study showed that gaming can help strengthen our memory skills, along with our ability to work on a variety of tasks or switch between them quickly.

That makes sense, since practice with just about anything - including retention of data - tends to improve your abilities in that area.

Prevent cognitive decline

Playing games and using the computer may help prevent cognitive decline and preserve brain function. Staying mentally and physically active — whether by socializing, exercising or playing games — could also delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. Game resources like iWin carry a variety of puzzle games and mind teasers that could help strengthen memory, improve hand-eye coordination and encourage problem solving on convenient mobile devices or tablets.

I used to play Brain Age on my Nintendo DS to help in this area, and I know people who swear by Sudoku and other puzzles as a way to keep their memories and minds sharp.  I say you enjoy it and it doesn't cause any harm, why not?

Improve Multitasking

Researchers at UC San Francisco discovered video games, especially 3-D varieties, can actually improve overall cognitive performance in older, healthy adults. Senior citizens who played the games for 12 hours over the course of a month showed an improvement in working memory and sustained attention. Their ability to multi-task also improved as they became more skilled at switching focus during their gaming activities.

Of course, we can't truly "multi-task," but the better we can context switch and get back on our mental feet when switching from one task to another, the better.  I've noticed that my eyes take longer to adjust from close vision to far vision as I get older, and I suspect that resistance to switching from one context to another is a challenge from a mental perspective.

Build Confidence

Scientists at the University of Essex explored if people's self-esteem improves while gaming because it gives them the chance to experiment with characteristics they envision their ideal self possessing. The Researchers discovered gamers enjoyed gaming the most when there was little overlap between their actual and ideal self. Participants reported feeling better about themselves after playing with the personality traits they wanted, such as being outgoing.

I definitely agree with this.  Even though it is an artificial world, I find that taking risks in video games makes it easier for me to take risks in the real world - it can help you feel less anxious in the face of the uncertain.

Improve your vision

While some say excessive video gaming can hinder your eyesight, some new studies show the opposite to be true. Researchers at the University of Rochester discovered action video gamers who play a few hours a day over a month improved their vision by 20 percent. This improvement came from being able to pick out letters from a clutter of images. Gamers played for about 30 hours and saw a significant increase in their vision's spatial resolution.

Again, this feels right to me.  Not only do video games improve my reaction time, they force me to expand my attention to take in more things - this is true from a visual point of view, but also from an overall situational awareness perspective.  I need to keep tabs on where I am, how I'm doing versus my objectives, how the others in my party are faring, pay attention to new threats and opportunities, etc.

The bottom line

OK, so maybe I'm guilty of contrived rationalization, but in my book, the data says playing video games is good for me.  Enough said - I'm sticking with it!