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Can you tell I’m a geek?

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Compiled by Roy Blumenthal (roy.blumenthal@pixie.co.za)

You know who he is by now. Gareth Branwyn is the dude who wrote the super-guide to using modern media effectively for business and pleasure, “Jamming the Media”. You know who he is cos you’ve got a great memory, and you recall in glorious Technicolor detail the review I wrote of the book. Then come straight back here and find out all about the author. (Be warned: there is a major solicitation later in this piece asking you to buy the book. You’ll find the link to the Amazon-Gadget book alliance below.)

GADGET: Let’s kick off this digitally enabled interview with the most important question in the world: “How should I go about buying a gadget?!!”

GARETH: Don’t believe the hype! Even if you see half a dozen of those ubiquitous “What’s Hot” columns about a product, be cautious, if not sceptical. Most of such columns are “rip and read” pieces, taken from the manufacturer’s press release or written by an overworked tech journalist who’s tired, wants to go home, and who doesn’t really have time to do much more than make sure the gadget turns on.

Read several of the in-depth reviews found on sites like Gadget, Street Tech and “deep geek” sites like Tom’s Hardware (http://www.tomshardware.com) and AnandTech (http://www.anandtech.com).

Check newsgroups related to the device you’re interested in. Wait ’til there’s a sense of what those in the know REALLY think about the product. Then you should be able to make an intelligent purchase.

I also use shopper.com (http://www.shopper.com) to find the best possible price on most computer gear.

GADGET: Well, that’s one way to work up a sweat – don’t just buy the darn thing. Do some research. What do you do after all the thinking? What’s your stress-release method-of-choice?

GARETH: I’m a voracious reader (sci-fi, science and technology, underground comix, art and design, biographies, pop culture and music). I also subscribe to dozens of magazines, (MIT Technology Review, half a dozen computer/Net rags, Robot Quarterly, Steven Brill’s Content, Jazz Times, Spin, Rolling Stone, Utne Reader, Esquire, Jane, Details, Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly). And I track a number of zines (Bunnyhop, Murder Can Be Fun, BUST, Hermanaut).

I also enjoy geeking out with my son, building miniature robots and model rockets, and playing role-playing and video games. Gee, can you tell I’m a geek?

But I do have a social life. I swear! I’m a big music fan and love going to clubs, raves, concerts and parties.

GADGET: Let’s peek into your workroom. Tell us what computers you own…

GARETH: Micron Millennia 450, PowerComputing 120, Transport Trek 2, PowerBook 1400, Everex Freestyle PDA, REX Pro [Museum Pieces]… 486 clone, Mac Iisi, Mac SE, PB100, Newton 100…

GADGET: The poor sad Newton! At least it’s not alone, huh? Now let us in on the hardcore stuff. What projects are you currently allowing your faithful production machines to help you out with?

GARETH: Version 2.0 of my web site Street Tech (http://www.streettech.com), ongoing development of my other sites (http://home.earthlink.net/~garethb2/http://home.earthlink.net/~garethb2/jamming), article writing, and work on a novel you’ll probably never see.

GADGET: Here’s a nitpicker deluxe. Our readers have expressed interest in knowing what software other people use, so we’d like a list of all the software you’ve got loaded.

GARETH: Oh man, that would be a VERY long list. My primary software tools are BBEdit (Mac), Photoshop, QuarkXPress, MS Word (ick), PixelSpy, Fetch (FTP), NCSA Telnet, Netscape Navigator and Claris Emailer.

GADGET: Time to put on your inventor’s hat. What three Gadgets would you rush out and buy if they existed?

GARETH: 1) A computer that actually works without system crashes, endless upgrades, and crappy performance. This computer would be entirely modular, allowing you to (easily) upgrade processors, chipsets, sound and video cards, drives, etc., so you buy ONE computer (say every 5-10 years instead of every two years) and then gradually change components as need dictates and pocketbook allows.

2) A good-quality Internet phone that allows you to talk with all types of phone users (other Internet telephony hardware, software-based telephony, regular analogue phones) – all for FREE.

3) A universal handicap device that functions as a cane, a picker-upper, a storage space for small items, a leaning stool, etc. I have an arthritic disease and am just appalled at the poor design of a lot of handicapped tech. I have a vast collection of useless, if not downright dangerous, picker-uppers and a cane that falls over if you so much as breathe near it.

GADGET: What’s your favourite gadget in the world? One you own, that is…

GARETH: Currently the thing I’m most enamoured with is the LEGO MindStorms Robotic Invention System (http://www.legomindstorms.com). I think it could have an amazing impact on kids growing up with the ability to design, build and program all manner of computer-controlled autonomous devices.

My other current fave is the Matrox Marvel G200-TV card. It’s a multifunction card with video, 2/3D acceleration, TV tuner. Also has hardware MJPEG and comes with Avid’s new consumer-grade video editing software (Avid Cinema). Inside of minutes (if all goes well), you can be loading in audio/video and editing your own vids. All for under US$300.

GADGET: Let’s round off by giving our readers an unashamed bit of biographical info. Go on, no blushing now, let’s hear it straight…

GARETH: I’m a writer on the intersection of culture and technology. I’m a contributing editor of Wired, and the Tech Tool editor of P.O.V. I also write for Details, The Industry Standard and the Baltimore Sun. I’m “Le Grande Fromage” at Street Tech (http://www.streettech.com), a hardware and consumer electronics review site that attempts to provide honest, no BS reviews that focus on the “out-of-box experience,” something we can all relate to. Our motto is “to rant about the stuff that sucks and rave about what doesn’t.”

I’m also the author of seven books, including “The Happy Mutant Handbook” (with the editors of bOING bOING), “Jargon Watch: A Pocket Dictionary for the Jitterati” and “Jamming the Media,” a DIY guide to various forms of “media hacking” (zines, cable access TV, indie music and film, media pranks, and more).

I’ve been (dare I say) blissfully married to the incomparable Washington, DC jazz singer, Pam Bricker for 18 years. We live in Arlington, VA with our 11-year-old son, Blake.

GADGET: Thanks Gareth. As I mentioned above, I’m now going to ask our subscribers to go buy your books. All of them… “You heard me, dear reader – links below!”

* Write to Gareth Branwyn at garethb2@earthlink.net

* Gareth is the Editor-in-Chief of the wonderful consumer-technology site, Street Tech (http://www.streettech.com) It’s good to see other people in the world doing stuff that flows with what Gadget is doing.

* You already know he’s a contributing editor at Wired magazine. Go see all of his goodies online (http://www.wired.com/news/news/search_results_news?words=branwyn).

* Head for the Baltimore Sun web site and do a search for “What’s Hot” or “Branwyn” to find some of his stories there. (http://www.sunspot.net)

* And of course I’m going to be asking you to line our coffers by spending your cash through the Amazon-Gadget associated bookshop! So here I go… “Please buy Gareth’s books through us! (And save 20%!)” Go straight to the titles by following these links and slipping them straight into your shopping basket…

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