Frequently Asked Questions about Joe Kiszka


Among my travels and experiences, I get a lot of the same questions all the time about myself.  I figured it may be a good idea to start recording these questions so that I could explain them in full detail on my blog, so I may be able to point to the answers and direct the inquisitors here for more information.  I reserve the right to update this blog entry over time.


Do you sleep? / How long do you sleep?

Believe it or not, yup, I do sleep.  I generally try to get 8 hours of sleep per night.  I am a morning person, waking up usually between 5 AM and 6 AM.  (My wife isn’t wild about this feature of mine.)  And yes, I have a really, really hard time trying to take naps.  (As I tell folks, people can’t usually remember how many times they’ve fallen asleep in class over their life.  Throughout my graduate degree, undergrad, high school, middle school, and elementary school, I can tell you that I’ve NEVER fallen asleep in class.  (Not even when I was supposed to in kindergarten and it was “nap time.”)

No, I really don’t need an alarm clock to wake up.

For the record, the longest I’ve ever slept I believe was 14 hours my freshman year of college.  I got back from the Rube Goldberg competition my freshman year (it was a disaster) after staying awake for 48 hours straight.  I was out by the time my head hit the pillow that day.


How do you find the time to do all of this stuff?

I have two answers here:  time management, and my ability to use a computer.

First, I manage my time, and prioritize what needs to be done first.  I subscribe to the Steven Covey / 7 Habits / First Things First methods, because that’s what was beaten into me when I was a kid.  Also, I suppose if you want something done, ask a busy person.  I generally stay very busy.  What I do, I try to do effectively and efficiently.

Also–getting to the second point, most of what I do involves a computer, the Internet, or some kind of technology where I’m using a keyboard.

I’m a really good typist, but more than that, I don’t generally use the mouse if I can avoid it.  Learning how to really use Windows (or any operating system) without bothering with the mouse will save you hours, days, and probably years in your life.  You’ll accomplish way more.

I’d probably say the best way that I got this experience was by updating thousands of computers in IT in summer jobs, and not having to want to touch a keyboard.  There’s a better way than what most folks do (especially when doing a long, intensive task), and I generally don’t have the patience to deal with the whole task, so I’ll strive to find the best way to do it, and knock it out.

But, more than anything else, I really believe that the way that I use a computer (and how it’s relatively very different than everyone else I’ve ever known) really gives me a lot more time to do other things.


What makes you think that way?

I don’t know.  These are the kind of thoughts that kept me out of the really good schools.

No, but really.  I suppose it’s mostly my engineering background.  When you go to school to get an engineering degree, you’ll learn stuff about circuits, or dynamics, or math, or whatever your discipline is.  You’ll probably forget them almost as quickly as you learned them.

That’s not to say one shouldn’t go into engineering–it’s that one should go into engineering with the right expectations.  Engineering is the process of melding technology with art.  You’ll learn some specific concepts of the world while studying engineering, but the specifics of the problems change on a daily basis.  Programming my old 8088 with basic when I was a kid is vastly different than coding in an object oriented language for an embedded system (like an iPhone.)  The syntax is generally completely different, but the method of problem solving is the exact same.

See, when you’re going through school (at least in Engineering, i’m not certain about other fields), the specifics don’t matter at the end of the day.  You should be learning how to deal with all of the crap that they throw at you and do it in a way that you’re successful.  This (hopefully) yields folks that can solve problems in the real world.  Though, sometimes this doesn’t work.  But that’s a whole different story for a whole different time.

Ultimately, the wise engineer isn’t arrogant enough to trust that he knows the answer, rather, he knows where to go look up the answer and confirm that it’s right before doing anything that kills people.


Where does your energy come from?  Do you use drugs?

I’m not really sure where all of my energy comes from.  (Perhaps it’s from all of the stuff that I eat.)

Nope, I don’t use drugs.  Like, never in my life.  I drink (I’m a lightweight) and I don’t generally drink a lot.  (I’ll take quality over quantity of alcohol all day long.)  I don’t smoke.  I smoked a cigar once and it made me feel like I shaved my tongue.  Yuck.


How do you spell your last name? / It’s hard to remember how to spell your last name.

Well, since you got here I figure you figured it out.  At least once.

It’s spelled just like it sounds, but throw in a silent Z in the center.

My wife, after we got married figured out a little device that helps folks spell it…  The “S” and the “Z” kiss.  “SZ”  See? KISZKA.


What does Kiszka mean?

Blood sausage.  (As you could imagine, that got me a bunch of dates in High School.)


How come you are not developing “X” application?  Why in the heck are you selling cable?

Ahh, the get rich quick question.  2 reasons:  social interaction, and money.

I know this may come as a shock to you, but engineers are underpaid, folks.  Especially ones that code.  (I’m looking at anyone with a CS degree that’s reading this.)

And that’s a shame.  Really, they should make rockstar money (and I think they more or less do at Google.  But still, rockstar money isn’t enough to live on in Silicon Valley.)

I liked writing code, but I didn’t like the part about sitting in my office all day and not talking to folks.  That’s probably the main reason I don’t do that anymore…  I really hated sitting in my cube all day and seeing no one.  Code got old very quickly.

Think you’ve got a good idea?  Someone’s already had it…  I guarantee it.  In today’s information age society, it’s less about having the idea… it’s all about executing on the idea.  And if I was developing that crazy new ipad game that you’ve got an idea for, I’d be spending all day doing it, bored out of my mind, and getting paid crap for it.

As for “cable” (I sell a lot more than cable), it’s what I fell into right out of college.  And it’s done me well so far…  so I’m going to stick with it for now.

Essential iPad and/or iPhone Apps


Folks that know me know that I carry an iPad pretty much anywhere that I go.  I’ve had a number of iPads, and I consider my iPad to be an essential tool to my business.  As such, I get asked a lot, “What’s your favorite app for the iPad?”

That’s like asking me what my favorite ride at Disneyland is.  There’s a lot of different apps I like for a lot of different purposes.  So, that’s not really a fair question to answer–there’s a lot of iPad apps that I like, for a variety of different purposes.  So, I’ll break down the ones that I use the most often here, and break them into some general categories.  This should give you an idea of what I recommend for the purposes cited.  That way, you’ll be able to decide if you want to buy one of these apps.


GoodReader – This is probably the most versatile app for the iPad. It allows you to read virtually any kind of media (except for epub–you’ll probably want to use iBooks to actually read those anyhow), store, organize, and even edit some types of media.  It’s directly integrated into the cloud and different server applications–it lets you access a dropbox or browse the internet to save files directly to your ipad, allows for sharing with the network, allows you to plug the ipad into the computer and copy files directly to it (including music), and even allows you to annotate files (like, adobe acrobat’s full edition.)  If you don’t have a cable, it will set up a webserver on your iPad that local computers can browse to and upload or download files via 802.11.  It’s a very, very powerful app.  I probably use GoodReader more than I use any other app in the world.

Flipboard – Great multiple-source media reader.  Think of it as an app that assembles a “magazine-like” interface of different “feeds,” for example–your Twitter feed, your Facebook feed (though, I have sworn off Facebook), websites that you read and enjoy, RSS feeds, etc…  it pulls all of thee into one shiny interface.  It even lets you view them individually or together, looking at the highlights.


Evernote – Evernote is a way of storing all of the information in the world that you find relevant.  It’s a lot more than just a great notes application. Basically, you throw all of your information in here (whether it’s class notes, recipes, doodles, or simply where you parked your car), and it will recall it on any platform ever. Because it’s cloud based, you can do some pretty cool stuff with it, due to server-side processing. Example: If you took a picture of a note that you wrote on a napkin and uploaded it to your Evernote account (assuming you’re using their premium service for $50 a year), the server would read the hand written note that you wrote and if it finds the relevant text, it will highlight it in the image and pull it up in your app.  Again, the interface is cross platform–apps for the iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, PC, Mac, and (of course) a browser based interface as well.  It’s very powerful. All of my notes are all in Evernote now.  I have one criticism here–Evernote is (and always has been) somewhat buggy.  This can be frustrating, but the frustrations are outweighed by the benefits their service offers.


Google Chrome – The best, fastest browser for your PC or Mac is on the iPad, and it’s quite awesome.  Bookmarks and history live in the cloud when you’re logged into your respective devices.  Here’s why this is useful:  Suppose you’ve been shopping at on your PC, see something that you want to buy, and drive to Fry’s to pick it up.  When you get there, the price is 20% more!  You try to find it on their mobile site, but you can’t find it anywhere!  Chrome makes this into a non-issue–simply pop open the “other devices” tab under the blank tab, select your computer at home, and click on the link.  You’ll be there before you can say “tada” (assuming you have Internet connectivity.)


Google Maps – “Google maps is the best–true dat / double true.”  In their “Lazy Sunday” song, the cast on SNL said it best.  Google has the market cornered here like you wouldn’t believe.  The only thing that would make it even better are live traffic updates and the ability to warn your fellow drivers around of impending speed traps and road hazards (and being warned about those hazards yourself!)  If only Google Maps could do that…


Waze – …Google bought Waze, which is a program that offers map navigation, but also lets you know when there’s road hazards ahead.  Also, you can use Waze to send your live travel data to someone.  Are you late to that next meeting, and you’re worried about unpredictable traffic?  Simply use the “send ETA” function of Waze, and share your drive with the folks in your meeting.  That way, they won’t have any questions about where you’re at!


Google – The Google app is more impressive than you may think…  make sure to take advantage of the “Google Now” portion of the app–it tells you what you’re around, and things that will come up in your schedule.  If you’re using it with Google Calendars, and you’ve put the address of your next destination in the “location” blank of your calendar, Google Now will alert you on your iDevice to when you need to leave to your next destination automatically, while taking traffic into account.


Penultimate – (Now, owned by Evernote).  This is a doodling app, which will upload directly into your Evernote account.  Some folks like to take notes this way. I think it’s kind of silly, and would recommend Evernote instead for taking notes. However, it helps to have a little bit of digital drawing paper on hand once in a while.  (Skitch is also an Evernote related app that’s worth checking out for picture editing and annotating.)


Dropbox – Dropbox is way more than an iPad app–it’s the greatest cloud based, cross-platform file storage system ever. Enough said.  It’s probably the most interoperable cloud-based storage that interfaces with the iPad, as other third party apps will offer direct connections to your dropbox.  ( and some others come close, but Dropbox is the “gold standard.”)


Numbers / Keynote / Pages – These programs are like Apple’s take on “Microsoft office” for the iPad. They’re not perfectly compatible (though they’re pretty close), and their interfaces are awesome.  Using these programs for any amount of time will make you hate Microsoft (probably even more than you already do).


Kindle and/or iBooks – Everyone prefers their own flavor. I generally buy Amazon / Kindle books. But Apple’s interface is pretty cool.  iBooks probably has the most “clean” interface to reading books that I’ve seen.  If you’re importing from the cloud, you can download an EPUB book from your dropbox into the aforementioned GoodReader, and then use GoodReader’s “Open In…” command to open them in iBooks.  It works great.  Therefore, they’re both on my iPad.
Mint Personal Finance – Like Quicken for iPad. (Intuit bought them.) The nice thing is–it’s completely free. (It’s all I use anymore.)


Find My Friends – Ever wonder where your Dad / Mom / Significant Other / etc is?  This turns your capable iPads / iPhones / iDevices with internet capabilities to GPS locators.


Coverage? – If you have a 3G / 4G / LTE device (like an iPad or an iPhone), this is great to have to know where you’ll have coverage and where you won’t from each carrier.


Splashtop – This is the best program I’ve seen yet that will allow you to remotely control your PC from anywhere you like.  Want to stream video off of your PC in Los Angeles while you’re visiting in New York?  Yup–this will do it.  Additionally, the Splashtop service will keep track of your computers if your IP changes, so don’t fret if you have a dynamic IP from your ISP–Splashtop will handle IP changes like a champ.


Apps Gone Free – AppAdvice’s app that tells you what apps have gone free in the App store for the day.


Yelp – Probably the best app available for local reviews and finding restaurants in your immediate area.


WordPress – for updating your wordpress blog, like the one you’re reading now, or


TripDeck / FlightTrack / FlightBoard – This is an essential app for business travelers.  This will allow you to see flight status updates in real time (and view the “flight board” at any given airport.)


RoadAhead – Ever wonder what’s available to eat at the next 5 exits on the highway you are on? Both of these apps do this for you.  I hear RoadNinja is decent at this as well, but I don’t really use it.


Remote – If you have AppleTV at your house, this is essential.  You can control iTunes or your Apple TVs remotely.


Shazam – Not sure what the song is you’re hearing? Turn on Shazam, push the icon, and it will listen for about 10-15 seconds, and usually tell you who’s singing the song, what album(s) it’s on, and what the name of the song is.


Find iPhone – Self Explanatory. Recently led to the arrest of a TSA agent at DFW Airport who had stolen 8 iPads.


AirStash – This goes with the device–imagine being able to extend the space on your iPad with a small hardware device, reminiscent of a jump drive, that accepts SD cards.  Want to connect it directly to GoodReader?  You can–it supports WebDAV!


Dark Sky – Ever need to know what the weather is going to do exactly for the next hour or so?  Want to see when the rain will slow down?  This will use your GPS data and live weather data to tell you as exactly as possible.  This started with a Kickstarter Project.


Convertible – A fun conversion tool to play with.  It lets you take standard units and calculates conversions based on whatever you want to do–even “real world” units.  For example, I’m approximately 5’8″ tall.  That means that I’m as tall as 1.85% of the Statue of Liberty, 11.07 US Dollar Bills, or about 247 ants tall.


HP 12c – One of the best calculators ever, and it all fits in your iPad now.  Super cool.


CamScanner – This is a great app to take a picture of a receipt or a document, it does the perspective correction, the color correction, and can even OCR the image into a searchable PDF, and then allows you to e-mail the result, or better yet–upload it directly to Evernote or Dropbox.


There’s a bunch of other apps (especially games) that I recommend, but these apps all pretty much will do whatever I NEED to do on an iPad or iPhone–I can do almost anything on the iPad or iPhone with these apps.


Panoramic Photography


NOT the preferred method for panoramas: This is how I USED to do panoramic photography–the end file was 22 MB and the photo wasn’t really “interactive.” Also, parallax and inconsistent white balance settings causes the visible bands between the images.  Consider this the “before” picture.


In my last semester (Spring 2007) as being a full-time undergraduate college student, I elected to model my entire campus (IPFW – Purdue’s Fort Wayne campus) in 3D, all by myself.  I did this for a final project in my graduate level computer graphics class that I was taking.  6 months of blood, sweat, photoshop, digital photography, and tears later, I had a complete product.  I turned it into Google for their first ever “model your campus in 3D competition”, and turned in my project (I believe I got a B+).  (You can see the models I created here.  This effort should probably be its entire own blog post on it’s own, but I’m not going to elaborate more than that here.)

I then started my first “real job” (which included a good 5 months of training in Richmond, Indiana).  One night, I returned to my corporate apartment and was welcomed with a message on my machine.  It was a Google employee telling me that they loved my models, and that I had won the competition.  (I think I woke all of my neighbors with my celebratory yelling.)  They invited me to fly out to California for the winner’s trip.

It was a lot of fun.  We got to get a tour of San Francisco, got to hang out with the other winners, but coolest of all–we got to get a tour of the Googleplex (Google’s corporate headquarters) and attend a workshop where we met a lot of the folks at Google that developed a lot of the technologies that they owned (Google Earth, Google Sketchup, YouTube, etc) and got to see a few neat things that they were working on.  (They made us all sign NDAs at the time, as well.)  Two things that they showed us really stayed with me as super cool.  One was the implementation of gigapixel imagery into Google Earth, and the other was this neat new thing called “street view.”

Street view was especially remarkable to me.  This is probably due to the fact that in the year prior, I had earned some extra bucks on the side working for the Amazon Mechanical Turk (Amazon’s implementation of artificial artificial intelligence–yup, that’s correctly two “artificial”s) to identify addresses on pictures, which was eventually supposed to be used to identify businesses in a MapQuest type application, which I think Amazon was trying to develop.  Or perhaps it was that my engineering research job was focused on the difficulties of processing images attached to cars?  And here Google shows me this magical interface that can now view the world from the street in a full 360 view, shot in real-time, almost like you’re actually there!

Incredible!  Ever since then, I always thought “Gee… wouldn’t it be nice if I could do that!”  Wouldn’t it be cool if I could create immersive photography that captures all aspects of an environment and is viewed interactively with the user?

Fast forward to 2013.  Finally, with the money and toys that I had started to acquire, I decided to actually consider that in some good detail.  Let’s talk gear.

Time to "Gear Up"

Time to “Gear Up”


Here’s the gear that I use to take and interact with these photos:

Nikon D5100 – This is my camera.  There are many like it, but this one is mine.  (There’s newer versions, like the D5200.  In my opinion, these “echelon” of cameras within Nikon offer the best compromise between technical specs, ease of use, and price.  The D3000 series is too dumbed down for my taste, and the D7000 is a bit more than I wanted to spend, offers roughly the same picture quality, and is a bit bigger and heavier.)  This is a DX frame, not an FX frame, which also makes it substantially less than it’s full frame ancestors.  The lenses are also less expensive.

Nikkor 10.5mm DX Fisheye – This is the fisheye lens used on all of my panoramas.  Amazon says it doesn’t work with the D5100, but that’s BS.  However, it is true that it will NOT AUTOFOCUS with the D5100.  But, frankly, you don’t want it to in this case anyhow–you want manual focus.  When taking these pictures, you will want to set your focus (probably at infinity) and leave it there.  Autofocus in this circumstance could actually screw things up.

Panosaurus – For years, I wanted to buy the Nodal Ninja, which is fancier, but this does the job just as well for a half to a third of the cost.  I don’t think it will qualify you to become a “Google Trusted Photographer” but unless you are charging for that service, it doesn’t matter anyhow.

Nikon ML-L3 Remote – When taking the panorama, you should try to keep the camera still.  The infrared remote is super portable and can help with that.  (Make sure to throw extra button-cell batteries for your remote in your bag.)

Manfrotto 290 Series Tripod with ball head (MK293A3-A0RC2) – Get a decent tripod.  While this stuff isn’t super heavy, it’s going to be too heavy for a cheap tripod.  The ball head is a must to make sure that you’re not screwing with “straightening the horizon” on your 360 panorama later.  Manfrotto makes a great tripod.  They also make tripods in China, but the “REAL” Manfrottos (like this one) are made in Italy.

PTGui – Once you take the pictures, you’ll need a program that can stitch the images together.  This is probably the best stitching software that I’ve found.

iPad – One of the historical limitations of panoramic 360s was the inability to view them in a way that was really cool to appreciate, aside from clicking and dragging a panorama on a computer.  The iPad sets one free here–as cool as clicking and dragging is on a computer, I’m quite fond of how you can get an iPad app that truly allows you to interact with the image in a more immersive way.  Of course, there’s an app for that.  I give you…

iPano – Using your iPad, you install this app, then hold the iPad up, and you look through the iPad like a sort of “lens”–it makes you feel as though you are there, in the scene and looking around.

How it works

If you want to know all of the details on how this is done, I could describe the actual process in detail here, but really, it’s already quite well described on 360 Cities.  So, go there and read about that.  Or, you could simply watch the series of videos that 360 cities links to.

In less detail, what I do is I mount the camera (equipped with the fisheye, of course) oriented in “portrait” to the Panosaurus, and using the tripod ball head and the panosaurus’ bubble leveler, I ensure that the panosaurus is level.

Then, I put the camera in manual, get my focus (no auto focus recommended here) and use the built in light meter on the camera to decide what settings I want to take the pictures at.  (I generally go for a moderately lighted portion of the scene–not the darkest shadows, and not looking into the sun–somewhere in between.  It helps to shoot in raw, in case you want to mess with the white balance later.

Diagram of photo directions

These are the directions I take the pictures. Photo directions #1 – 6 all lay in the XY Plane, where as #7 is ponted in the +Z direction, and #8 is pointed in the -Z direction

Using the Panosaurus’ angles, I take 6 pictures in each horizontal direction, pointing in increments of 60 degrees each.  (The first at 0 degrees, the second at 60 degrees, the next at 120 degrees, etc…  the final at 300 degrees.)  I then take one picture pointing straight up into the sky, and one picture pointing straight down to the ground.

Then, I go back to my computer and use PTGui to stitch them all together into one big panorama.  (I generally use the quicktime format – QTVR).

Finally, I go write about it on the Internet.  Haha.  That brings us to the…


The Bridge at the Main Landing of Port Orleans Riverside, over the Sassagoula River. (7 MB).  Way more interactive, way smaller than the first image.

(Important Note:  Flash is required to view this interactive panorama.  If your browser supports flash, please be patient.  This file is slightly over 7 MB.)

Once the file loads, you will be able to click and drag around the image.  As you can see, the results are a lot of fun to play with.  I’ve left the tripod head in the picture, just so you can see what it looks like, from the perspective of the camera.

Game Review – Mr. Jack


The box for Mr. Jack

Game Overview:

Mr. Jack is a 2 player game that takes you back to the Whitechapel District of London in the year 1888.  The now infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper is on the loose.  While playing this game, you interact with eight suspicious characters who are suspected of being Jack the Ripper.  One of the characters in the game is Jack the Ripper.

One player assumes the role of “Jack,” using the dark alleys, streets, sewers, and flickering gas lamps of the Whitechapel district to help the guilty suspect evade the police in one of three ways–evade the inspector until morning, get the inspector to guess incorrectly, or simply escape the inspector.

Game Mechanics:  

Mr. Jack is a complex game, where each player has to be very strategic in their moves, and plan ahead wisely.  Depending on which character is emulating Jack, a players strategy should change dramatically.  No two games are the same, and it is difficult to offer a “rule of thumb” or a strategy.  Generally speaking, in my play-throughs of the game, it generally seems like having characters “in the light” favors the player playing Jack toward the beginning of the game, and toward the end of the game favors the inspector.  It also seems that the longer the game goes (there are a maximum of 8 turns total), it seems to be more difficult to escape, rather than evade.  (And yes, depending on multiple factors, one player’s strategy may change throughout the game.)

It is not too difficult a game to learn–it helps to just jump right in and start while reading the instructions.  It seems a lot harder to learn this game than it actually is.  Your first few rounds won’t be very strategic, as you’ll start to begin to gain an appreciation for the vast strategy underlying the mechanics of the game, however, strategy is extremely important in Mr. Jack.


Mr. Jack seems to combine elements of “Clue” and “Chess.”  It really has a good feel for the setting, though somewhat cartoony in nature.  It doesn’t have a cheap feel to it or anything either–the pieces are solid and are fun to play with.  The artwork is fairly nice, and doesn’t disappoint.  Additionally, you can play it online as well using the Mr. Jack website for free with others (though it helps to learn on the original board game first.)

Setup and break-down is fairly simple, and I can actually encourage my wife to play this game with me every now and then, despite the longish games.  (Expect to spend up to half an hour on a game.)


There’s a decent learning curve, and it really helps to have someone help teach you how to play.  On many of the higher-end board games today, iOS apps exist which allow you to play online and on your iPad / iPhone / iDevice solo.

Additionally, this game only allows for two people to play.  This may be an issue if meeting up and having a game night with a bunch of friends.

Overall Ranking:
(4 stars out of a possible 5)

All in all, Mr. Jack is a great game.  The best part of the game it is that it can get very “deep” at times, despite its fairly simple premise.  This also is probably the most difficult part of the game–this makes it difficult to consider all of the possibilities of play and the consequences of each move.

What prevents it from getting 5 stars is that it can only be played with two players.  However, for a fun yet cerebral game, this is a great option.

Welcome to!


Joe snapping a photo at Versailles.

Welcome, everyone, to my latest project–

Among my written reviews on the Internet, I’ve found that there’s some writing that I’d like to do, and some content that I’d like to share, that doesn’t really fall under the umbrella of

Specifically, I intend to write about the things here that really interest me.  This generally includes technology, art, photography, travel, and other stuff, also.

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