Thursday, October 30, 2003

Me an asshole?

Contrary to this opinion piece in the Onion, I'm really an OK guy.

This funny brush with infamy reminds my of another blog I saw the other day. I found a link to Jason Salavon's blog and his blurry playmate retrospective. It turns out Dave Barry did the same thing and had a few ' snarky' words on the subject. Its funny, you never know who will read you're blog and think you're and asshole.

Alien, the director's cut

Fox is releasing a director's cut of the 1979 movie Alien to theaters this fall. I've seen some speculation that this is stage setting for next summers release of the Alien vs Predator movie. I wasn't able to find much out about Alien vs Predator but IMDB did indicate Lance Henriksen has a role. They list his character as Chales Weyland, I wonder whether he will be a synthetic clone (or whatever you would call it) of his Aliens' Bishop character. Regardless, I hope this means Fox will finally release updated DVD's from the series. I've been wanting to add them to my DVD collection for a while but can't find any copies.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Despair 2004

Jeffery Zeldman

I just added a Jeffery Zeldman's blog to the list of blogs I read. Mr Zeldman writes about web design and CSS. Two topics that have captured my interest of late.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Abused Words

ExtremeTech has published a story on the ten most abused words in technology. The list of their choices is a follows:

  • Experience

  • Seamless

  • Consuming

  • Scenarios

  • Extreme (the irony was noted)

  • Market Segment

  • Enthusiast

  • Lifestyle

  • Digital Home

While these may be abused in the consumer market, I have to listen to a lot of corporate technologists pontificate and they use a different vocabulary. The words I would nominate as being abused are:

  • Heterogeneous

  • Provisioning

  • Silo

  • Horizontal

  • Vertical

  • Federated

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Star Egg

The detailed physics of stars and black holes is way beyond me but I can usually grok the basics. That's until I read this news bit from Scientific American. The article describes a new celestial 'object' that is a pairing of a normal star and super dense object (like a black hole or neutron star) all surrounded by a 'dense shell' of star stuff, dense enough that only 'photons with the highest energies could escape' it.

I can accept that - the universe is full of strange and wondrous things. My real problem is with this explanation for its existence from the article.

The researchers posit that material ejected from the companion star, its so-called stellar wind, is accreted by the black hole to form a dense shell around the pair.

Now I realize the writers of popular science news sometimes take liberty with the facts but I usually give the folks at Scientific America the benefit of the doubt. What I don't get is how gravity of these two massive objects could act to accrete a shell around themselves from the stellar wind. I could imagine some swirling disk of star dust but not a shell. If someone can explain this to me I would appreciate it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The family tree of a software company

I was reading this PDF on database migration tools and found a reference to a company I had not heard of before, Bachman Information Systems. I googled the name and found they had merged with CADRE and formed Cayenne Software back in 96. I googled Cayenne and found they were bought by Sterling Software in 98. But the story doesn't end there. Sterling in turn was gobbled up by CA in 2000. I doubt this sort of family tree is unique. It would be fun to see the entire company family tree of a large organization like IBM or CA.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003


The status quo can get a little boring. Its fun when someone challenges it with a new idea. Case in point - Java persistence. Relational databases and SQL are the norm, whether there is a wrapper like EJB or JDO or not. That's why the software rebel in me enjoyed looking at the prevayler project. Its basically a journaling object cache. Every action on an object is journelled so it can be replayed and reconstructed after a failure. The folks in the Wiki are a bit fanatical so I suggest you just read through the source code. Its a simple and cool idea that certainly would solve a lot of problems faster and more simply than the status quo.

Monday, October 20, 2003


More CSS fun. This time with lists. The site has great examples of fancy list formats based on CSS.

CSS House

Check out this CSS magic.


Reading a blog via a RSS feed, to me, misses half the point. Its information without context. That said, I have just added an RSS feed to my site and found a RSS reader that's pretty cool: FeedDemon

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Apache Avalon configuration

I was doing some research on the Inversion of Control Pattern and stumbled on some unexpected support for my configuration ideas. The Apache Avalon project uses a very similar approach to supply configuration in their framework. This makes sense as one of the key architectural forces behind Avalon is Inversion of Control (IoC) and the technique is a good example of it.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Permanent Links

Thanks to Bob Congdon's comments in this post, I have added permanent links to my post titles.

Meet Earl Billings

You might not know his name but you probably know his face. Earl is best known as the guy at the end of all the AFLAC duck commercials. (In the first one I saw he was a hot dog vendor, in the one with Yogi Bera he was outside the barber shop, in the one with Chevy Chase he is in the same checkout line). Earl has also has played parts in IBM commercials. He plays one of the executives in IBM's server pixie dust, universal business adapter, business reality detector series of commercials.

Earl doesn't do just commercials either, he has had many small roles in TVs programs and movies.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Rat Pack Test

Are you more like Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop or Sammy Davis Jr. Find out in this amusing test. I was a bit disappointed to find out I'm a Joey Bishop type. I really wanted to be Dean Martin or Sammy Davis Jr.

Annotated Exceptions

On the topic of exceptions, one of my pet peeves with most exception based error handling code is that it misses the opportunity to capture more information about the problem. Ned references the capability of exceptions to carry more information in his essay and specifically mentions Java 1.4’s exception chaining capability but doesn’t go any further with the idea. Knowing the full call stack is fantastic but what if you also knew the parameter values of the function that threw the exception or if like most server based apps you’re logging your exceptions, how about capturing the version information, thread id, memory and disk space status too?

Probably the main reason people don’t do this in Java is because the Exception class doesn’t provide any default mechanism for storing extra data. To that end I wrote some new Throwable base classes for my project at work that allow arbitrary annotations to be attached to an exception before it’s thrown. (I call them AntException, AntRuntimeException, etc….). Not only can I annotate the exception with contextual data, I can mimic the Java 1.4 feature of chained exceptions in Java 1.3 by annotating an exception with another exception.

The problem is that most people are thinking about the non error path when they write the code and not about how they will debug a post-mortem problem in the code from a log file. A very simple case of how doing this little extra work has helped is this story. I work on a very large team spread literally across the world. On any given day there are people running any of a half dozen builds from the past week. As exceptions show up in the log, folks capture the log fragments and write bug reports (or Software Problem Reports as we call them). One very simple thing we did to make this information more valuable was to annotate every exception with a build version number. (Sure the tester should know what version of the code they are running and put that in the bug report, but this eliminates any doubt). So now when I look at an exception dump in a log file I not only know where the problem occurred, but what build it was that had the problem.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Grey Seas Under

I've been re-reading a favorite book from my adolescence, Grey Seas Under by Farley Mowat. Grey Seas Under deals with the missions of a Halifax based salvage tug called Foundation Franklin over a twenty year span from the 30s to the 50s . Unlike most ships who work to avoid storms, it was the Foundation Franklins job to sail into the teeth of them, even as war raged and German U-boats lurked. The prose are simple and a bit repetitive but the stories are so compelling its easy to ignore that short coming. I'm enjoying the re-read as much as the first read those 30 years ago. If you liked The Perfect Storm or enjoy a good sea yarn, you would certainly enjoy this book too. Note, this book is released by The Lyons Press but I don't have any connection with them.

Joel Spolsky's Exceptions

I might as well jump on the bandwagon and say something about Joel Spolsky's comments on exceptions. Let's start with his criticism of the goto command. The problem with goto isn't as Joel says that they "create an abrupt jump from one point of code to another". Jumping control flow is a good thing. The problem stems from gotos ability to penetrate higher level, block oriented, control structures. Basically they are too primitive, too powerful and make it hard to understand the flow. The ironic thing is that these are essentially the exact same problems with return code based error management.

My second criticism is the statement "They create too many possible exit points". There is nothing that says a method needs to throw exceptions from multiple points anymore than you need to return from multiple points. The same techniques you use to manage the number of returns can be used just as well with throws. In Java you don't even have to worry about this because you can do all your cleanup in the finally block.

I don't pretend to love everything about working with exception based error handling code, but the idea that returns codes are a better tools is just plain wrong.

CSS Crazy

I've gone css box border crazy. I found this site with lots of cool examples on how to do columns boxes with css. I've not converted everything over yet, but I may never use a table again for formatting.

Monitor Envy

I want one of these monitors.

My new comment system

I found a comment system I like, BlogKomm. It doesn't use popups, my main peeve with most comment systems. It did require I change my server side scripting from JSP to PHP. I've wanted an excuse to learn more about PHP anyway so its not a big deal. Also, this being just a hobby, PHP is certainly the path of least resistance.

Monday, October 13, 2003

IBM Humor

While checking the link to The Onion in my last post I found this great piece of business humor (at the expense of my employer) . IBM Emancipates 8,000 Wage Slaves.

You don't say

Today must be a slow news day. CNN has as a top story, Iraqi boy who lost arms in war angry at U.S. pilot. Did CNN expect him to be pleased with the pilot? Absurd headlines like this belong in the The Onion not on CNN.

A post that correlates a poet's use of long titles to the use of long and clear names in software

A few posts ago I mentioned the Billy Collins poem An Afternoon with Irish Cows, because it reminded me of blogging. I was reading another Billy Collins poem last night, Reading An Anthology Of Chinese Poems Of The Sung Dynasty, I Pause To Admire The Length And Clarity Of Their Titles, and this one made me think of naming issues in software and how there can be beauty in outright clarity just as there can be in clever conciseness.

Half Life addiction

I've never been a big fan of first person shooter games. I've tinkered with demos of Doom and its kin but never actually bought one of the games. This remained true until I stumbled on a demo for Valve software's Half Life. Not only did I play the entire demo, I purchased a full copy and spent countless hours over the last two weeks playing the entire game. (The last game that hooked me this bad was the classic version of Prince of Persia back in the 80's.) Half Life has great graphics, a cool story and fun puzzles to solve all while blasting aliens and bad guys with a variety of weapons. The first three quarters of the game takes place in a fairly standard industrial/dungeon like environment with ladders, tunnels, jumps and water. Where the game really blew my mind as during the final quarter when suddenly you are transported to a weird alien environment reminicent of a Yes album cover. The sequel Half Life 2 is due out in early 2004 and looks incredible.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Sports pain

I didn't grow up a sports fan. I came to it later in life. (My wife takes full credit for the conversion and now sometimes bemoans it) So I can't claim to have suffered the life long pain of many Red Sox fans but I do know a thing or two about it. Because of this I was not surprised by this article from Retuers on the similarity between emotional pain and physical pain. Any Red Sox fan could have told you that. The mere sight of a grounder bouncing down the first base line causes the stomachs of Red Sox nation to churn. My friend Don must have been feeling the pain from last nights loss when he sent me this picture.

Its not a new picture, I've seen it before, but it certainly expresses the feeling well,

Wednesday, October 08, 2003


I was reading a Reuters article on how NASA may have come up with a solution to its night launch saftey issues and noticed a reference to a type of airplane I hadn't heard about before - the B-57. Turns out the B-57 is a Korean war era bomber. NASA opperates two of these planes as high altitude research platforms and now possibly as night camera platforms for shuttle launches.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Disney connectivity

Just back from a Disney World vacation. We stayed at the Old Key West resort in a two bedroom villa. The place was very nice, but the connectivity was horrible. We needed to make an online purchase of a forgotten item and it took 15 minutes to navigate through just a few screens.
The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism