Friday, May 28, 2004

Whale Predation

Here's an interesting article about the predation of Grey Whales by Orca in Monterey Bay.


As whale watchers looked on with a mixture of awe and sadness, mother killer whales -- the most experienced hunters -- took turns ramming head- first, like 6-ton torpedoes, into the calf's soft underbelly, their force nearly knocking it out of the water, while others leapt atop the 20-foot baby, trying to drown it.



"It's the greatest predation event on Earth,'' said Richard Ternullo, a killer whale researcher and co-owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch, who witnessed the battle during one of the company's daily whale watching tours. "It's 100 tons of whales crashing together.''




via wetasschronicles (If you participate in water related sports you often have to suffer with a wet ass)

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Feral Children

I was trying to remember the name of a book I once read that dealt with a wolf child (Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh) so I was searching in Google and found this weird site, feralchildren.com. It's full of fascinating accounts of feral children from around the world and includes descriptions of the common physiological and psychological issues they face. It's disturbing but very fascinating as well. While wolves and dogs do seem to be the most common animal that feral children live with, they are not the only ones. Monkeys are pretty common too. The weirdest cases however involve bears, ostriches, and leopards.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Office Park Frisbee Golf

Back in the early nineties Doug Ross, Gerry Polucci and myself invented a fun variation of Frisbee golf called Office Park Frisbee Golf. Office Park Frisbee Golf is a played with standard Frisbees and follows the standard rules of golf scoring - the lowest number of throws to complete the course wins. In the game you play from one landmark in the park to another - from this tree to that sign, or from that sign to that post. What really makes Office Park Frisbee Golf different from other forms of Frisbee golf is that tar or other hard man made surfaces are treated like water is on a real golf course. If a Frisbee lands on tar you take a stroke and make another shot from the last piece of grass/dirt that Frisbee crossed that's not closer to the hole. You may however, skip or roll the Frisbee across tar/hard surface as long as it comes to rest on grass. Given the nature of office parks with their large parking areas and small islands of green this can be quite challenging.



The original course we designed was around the offices of 1 North Ave in Burlington MA. This was a particularly good spot because there were lots of trees and the parking lots weren't too big. A section of the original course map is below. (You can click it to see a more complete map with hole info and rules.) Over time we extended the ten holes on this map to 18 - we even referred to them as the 'front nine' and back nine' like in real golf.



Original Office Park Frisbee Course



It was not uncommon to get some funny looks as we tossed our Frisbees around the office park. The girls in accounting and marketing called us the 'Nerd Herd'. One time while playing on a Saturday the police actually stopped up and asked what the heck we were doing. We simply explained that were Software Engineers working on a weekend and taking a break by playing some Frisbee golf. I don't remember if they made us show some ID but it was rather amusing. Another time Doug got a Frisbee stuck on the roof of the building you approach at hole 9 and had to climb a tree to get on the roof and retrieve the disk. After the experience of watching him awkwardly climbing up and down I recall telling Doug, "I think I've just seen proof that man cannot have descended from apes..".



We certainly had a lot of fun with it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Pizza Three

I was doing some more reminiscing about my old Alpha Software days (prompted by some of Doug's recent posts) and I googled some old friends to see if I could find some updates. Instead of finding anything new I stumbled on this old article written by a dear old friend and jogging buddy of mine, Francie Peake. This is funny because it's one of the few times someone else has talked about me on the internet.

There's another software program that was written at Alpha that few people know about, "Pizza Three". When I worked at Alpha, Friday was Pizza Day. Everyone would put in a couple of bucks and we'd order pizza. Some people started to complain that they never got their favorite topping. They suspected that the people who called in the order were simply ordering their personal favorite.



So that same programmer who walked to school in his bare feet, Pete Lyons, wrote "Pizza Three". He put in each person's "vote" for toppings and then every week Pizza Three would democratically select the toppings to order based on who was eating that week. It would select one pizza randomly to make sure that those who liked the less-popular toppings such as onion and anchovy would have a chance of getting theirs. Pizza Three was a terrific program from Alpha Software. I hear they're working on an upgrade, Pizza Five version 4.6 (not to be confused with Alpha Four version 6 or Alpha Five version 5).


Pizza Three (and the update Francie forgot to mention, Pizza Four), both were DOS based programs. Pizza Four was pretty modern for the time with a hand tooled multi-select scrolling list box for choosing the people who would be eating that day. Not only did it choose the toppings but it calculated the number of pies required and determined the individual pitch in cost, usually $3.00 or $4.00.


I think I spent a lazy Saturday writing Pizza Three after Rudy our warehouse guy complained that the only pizza left one Friday was green pepper and onion. Years later after the company had grown and shrunk and grown and shrunk a few times, another co-worker Ralph Francescone wrote Pizza Five but it never really caught on.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Response to Doug's Response

Doug responded to my post by pointing out how I failed to take into account the logging and instrumentation he had included. Fair enough. I guess I've just been spoiled by working in Java for so long. In Java, any code that catches the exception can log the entire stack the exception has traversed (with line numbers) by simply calling Throwable.printStackTrace(). As for additional instrumentation, I've written an Exception class we use a lot here on Workplace that allows arbitrary annotations to be attached to an exception. When the exception is logged, all the annotations are logged as well. The original thrower of the exception can add annotations as can classes up that stack that are willing to catch and rethrow it. I blogged about this technique a while back.

Meet Jack McGee

I've known his face for years from all his commercial appearances and bit parts in movies, but I was never able to connect his face to a name. Until today, when I watched the Ridley Scott movies Someone To Watch Over Me. The actor turns out to be Jack McGee, an ex fire fighter from NY. In this movie (one of his earliest) he has a bit part as a bartender at a party. In movies he plays a lot of cops, bartenders and laborers.

In commericals he usually plays a working class guy too. I cannot recall all the commercials he has been in but they are many. Most recently he has gained notice in the Boston area for playing in a Dunkin Donut commercial featuring Kurt Shilling. Kurt's trying to learn to speak like a bostonian - Pahk ya Cahr, Throw Wicked Hahd - and Jack plays a locker room towel guy who tries to set him straight. But he's been in a lot more. Look for him, he is everywhere, and now you know his name.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Exceptions vs Return Codes

This is a response to my old Alpha Software co-worker Doug's recent post on the topic of Exceptions vs Return Codes. (It's actually funny to see Doug mention Ned - I don't know if Doug knows I used to work with Ned at Iris. Regardless they are two of the best developers I've worked with.)


Doug takes the Joel on Software position of favoring Return Codes and offers the following code snippet as an example of why return codes are better.



do { try {
if ((rc = tableCredits.open()) != OK) {
// log
break;
}
bUnwindTableCreditsOpen = TRUE;
if ((rc = tableCredits.lock()) != OK) {
// log
break;
}
bUnwindowTableCreditsLock = TRUE;
if ((rc = tableDebits.open()) != OK) {
// log
break;
}
bUnwindTableDebitsOpen = TRUE;
if ((rc = tableDebits.lock()) != OK) {
// log
break;
}
bUnwindowTableDebitsLock = TRUE;
if ((rc = ::IntegralTransaction(tableCredits, tableDebits, curAmount)) != 0) {
// log
break;
}
} catch (...) {
// catch miscellaneous exceptions here
} } while (0);
if (bUnwindTableDebitsUnlock) {
tableDebits.unlock();
}
if (bUnwindTableDebitsOpen) {
tableDebits.close();
}
if (bUnwindowTableCreditsLock) {
tableCredits.unlock();
}
if (bUnwindTableCreditsOpen) {
tableCredits.close();
}
return (rc);


Using Java with exceptions I could write this code just as safely with:



try {
tableCredits.open();
bUnwindTableCreditsOpen = true;
tableCredits.lock();
bUnwindowTableCreditsLock = true;
tableDebits.open();
bUnwindTableDebitsOpen = true;
tableDebits.lock();
bUnwindowTableDebitsLock = true;
IntegralTransaction(tableCredits, tableDebits, curAmount);
}
finally {
if (bUnwindTableDebitsUnlock) {
tableDebits.unlock();
}
if (bUnwindTableDebitsOpen) {
tableDebits.close();
}
if (bUnwindowTableCreditsLock) {
tableCredits.unlock();
}
if (bUnwindTableCreditsOpen) {
tableCredits.close();
}
}

If it was Doug's intention to only close the resources when a failure occured that's easy too



boolean unwind = false;
try {
tableCredits.open();
bUnwindTableCreditsOpen = true;
tableCredits.lock();
bUnwindowTableCreditsLock = true;
tableDebits.open();
bUnwindTableDebitsOpen = true;
tableDebits.lock();
bUnwindowTableDebitsLock = true;
IntegralTransaction(tableCredits, tableDebits, curAmount);
} catch (SomeException e) {
unwind = true;
throw e;
}
finally {
if (unwind) {
if (bUnwindTableDebitsUnlock) {
tableDebits.unlock();
}
if (bUnwindTableDebitsOpen) {
tableDebits.close();
}
if (bUnwindowTableCreditsLock) {
tableCredits.unlock();
}
if (bUnwindTableCreditsOpen) {
tableCredits.close();
}
}
}

So perhaps Doug's point is more an indictment of C++ than of exceptions in general.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Management and Leadership quotes

"Leaders have a goal of creating an innovative environment that will of necessity produce mistakes, and managers have a goal of honing their craft to reduce and eliminate mistakes and waste."

From: Balance of Power; James Lucas; 1998 Amacom




"There is an overlap of management and leadership. Clearly, not every manager is a leader, nor is every leader a manager."

From: A Survival Guide for Project Managers; James Taylor; 1998 Amacom




"Leaders are better understood as a quantum phenomenon, while managers are well described through the classical physics lens."

From: The 9 Natural Laws of Leadership; Warren Blank; 1995 Amacom




"The transformational leader empowers others and keeps them focused."

From: Fusion Leadership; Richard Daft; 1998 Berrett-Koehler Publishers




"Managing and leading are not the same."

From: Team-Based Project Management; James Lewis; 1998 Amacom




"Management can never lead to passion."

From: The Passionate Organization; James Lucas; 1999 Amacom




"Leadership has been characterized as doing the right things; management as doing things right. Both are important."

From: Sales, Marketing, and Continuous Improvement; Daniel Stowell; 1997 Jossey-Bass



"The less managing someone does, the better off the company."

From: Jack Welch and the GE Way; Robert Slater; 1999 McGraw Hill Professional Book Group



"Leaders and leadership teams working together in a proper design will run the business more effectively than by hierarchical, command-and-control managing."

From: The Will to Lead; Marvin Bower; 1997 Harvard Business School Press



From: MeanBusiness
This is not directed at you Roy ;-)

Simpsons Bar Gear

No bar should be without the Simpson Pewterware tool collection or the Moe's Bar Clock. The full line of gear can be seen here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Sid and Nancy Revisited

It's been a long time since I first watched the Alex Cox film Sid and Nancy. The first time through I didn't recognize Gary Oldman or Cortney Love. I also never connected that Sy Richardson had played in both Alex Cox's previous film Repo Man and Sid and Nancy. Turns out Sy was an Alex Cox favorite because he also appeared in his next film Straight to Hell too.

Top 10 Gross Sport Activities

Here's another funny link I found on The Wetass Chronicles. This story is originally from ESPN. Good quotes include:



From 7. Donning a mascot's costume


"On a scale of 1 to 10, the stench (was) about a 50," Paul Pierson, a mascot for the Harlem Globetrotters, told Page 2's Patrick Hruby. "The stench (was) horrible. I'll tell you what: You can wash a costume, get it from the dry cleaners, use Bounce, Snuggles, whatever. But the moment you put it on and go out there for five minutes, that clean smell is gone. And that stench just comes straight through."


From 1. Players urinating in their uniforms


But it gets worse than just urinating in your uniform. In one game, Seahawks center Robbie Tobeck had an intestinal virus that left him with an unfortunate bit of -- how shall we put this? -- severe incontinence.



"I tried going to the shotgun, but we couldn't because of the crowd noise," Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck told the (Tacoma) Morning News Tribune. "It was a bad one."


Giant Squid

Nice article in The New Yorker on Giant Squid. It's a pretty long article but it starts out with the short story of a yachtman's encounter with a giant squid during an around the world race. It's cool and scary at the same time.



The creature seemed to be wrapping itself around the boat, which rocked violently. The floorboards creaked, and the rudder started to bend. Then, just as the stern seemed ready to snap, everything went still. "As it unhooked itself from the boat, I could see its tentacles," Ragot recalled. "The whole animal must have been nearly thirty feet long."



The creature had glistening skin and long arms with suckers, which left impressions on the hull. "It was enormous," Kersauson recalled. "I've been sailing for forty years and I've always had an answer for everything,for hurricanes and icebergs. But I didn't have an answer for this. It was terrifying."



via wetasschronicles.com

Tony Randall's Word Quest

The death of Tony Randall yesterday reminded me of a game I purchased a while back called Tony Randall's Word Quest. I heard about the game while watching Tony Randall on Carson one night. My family likes word games so I gave the game as a gift to my sister who usually host our family holiday gatherings. I know it's not nice to speak ill of the dead, but that was one of the most infuriating games I've ever played. My siblings are all educated and have good vocabularies, but this game was way too hard for any of us. It's still a running joke during the holidays when the topic of which game we should play comes up.

House of Sand and Fog

I had heard very little about this movie when I rented it. I knew that it was centered around a house and that it stared Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly but that's about it. Now after having watched the film I don't have much to add to that description except perhaps to add that the film is also about pain.



I kept asking myself as I watched why anyone made a movie about this topic. The first three quarters of the film immerses you in the characters pain - maybe the word immerse is too subtle, drown may be more appropriate. The last quarter takes all that pain and piles on more and more until every character is broken. This is not entertainment in it's classic form.



I give a lot of credit to all the actors for being able to pull off a film with no real story except the pain of their lives. Ben Kingsleys is fantastic and deserving of his Oscar nomination. Jennifer Connelly is also very good in a performance a bit too reminiscent of the one she gave in Requiem for a Dream. The performance that I think deserves mention that I hadn't heard about before was that of Shohreh Aghdashloo an Iranian actress who plays Ben Kingsley's wife. She is very good with very little material. Among the extra on the DVD is a tape of her audition. It's an amazing thing to watch a professional actor move from emotion to emotion as she reads from different scenes in the film. It's very impressive.



On a personal note, as someone who has lost a friend to suicide it's a painful movie to watch. The vacant look on the faces of the actors as they approach the end is all too reminiscent and haunting. If you've experienced something similar be prepared for some intense moments.




Monday, May 17, 2004

Call me a Doughnut

I just read the Kurt Vonnegut article Bob pointed to in this post. I love this quote from the piece.

Even crazier than golf, though, is modern American politics, where, thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.
...
Which one are you in this country? It's practically a law of life that you have to be one or the other? If you aren’t one or the other, you might as well be a doughnut.

I like the article a lot but I think it fails in the end when saying the Iraq war is just about oil. I think it's a lot more complicated than that. I think it’s based on a lot of thing, including fear, revenge, impatience and a national belief in manifest destiny.


I'm not a big fan of Michael Moore but I tend to agree with the general premise of his Bowling for Columbine movie, in that a lot of Americans are afraid and this fear leads to a lot of selfish behavior. In the Columbine movie he was talking about gun violence but I think the mindset's the same albeit a step removed in this case with the weapon of choice being the military. A lot of people in the US are afraid of terrorists and so are accepting of any action against them, even if it means we hurt a lot of people in the process.


There's also a revenge factor and I'm not talking about President George W. Busch being angry with Hussein for attempting to assassinate his father. I think at a national level most Americans are ticked off that Hussein failed to act defeated after we kicked his ass in the first Gulf War. I think that made a lot of the population mad and therefore supportive of another war.


I also believe our short national attention span has contributed to support of this war. After 9/11 we wanted action. Kicking the snot out of Afghanistan didn't make us feel better and we didn't want to be patient and work with the UN. Any long drawn out solution, whether it be wiser or not, would have been a hard sell politically.


My last item, manifest destiny, is probably the hardest to backup but it's based on my own conversations with patrons of a local watering hole. A lot of people just feel it's our right - be it because we are, powerful, Christian, or just because we are Americans to wage war against Iraq. No deep cares about the long term consequences - just turn the place into a glass bowl.


Now this essay may make it appear I'm against this war, but I actually not. I don't want to go into my own reasons but suffice it to say it's not just because I'm addicted to oil or I’m a conservative – remember I’m a doughnut.




Sunday, May 16, 2004

JDOM

Recently I've been writing some utilities to help analyze the relationship of different components of Lotus Workplace. The build system we use uses XML files for declaring explicit dependencies on other component parts of the system. I just needed to load all these XML files and build a large tree to walk and extract some data. I decided to try the JDOM library and it worked great. It's so simple to use. It took about five minutes to learn enough to do all the parsing I needed. I really like it.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Back on-line

Actually I've been back for a while, I just haven't been posting. My heads been someplace else - someplace warm and sunny, where they serve cold frosty drinks and the fishing is great, infact.



This was my biennial fishing trip with my buddies. Three days of fishing out of Islamorada, with a couple of days of horsing around the Keys. It's a fun trip, but my liver always needs a break after it.


Of the three days fishing two were spent in small boats out in Florida Bay back country. This is gorgeous water, very shallow, with lots of mangrove islands and birds. The above picture is me hooked into either a nice sized Lemon shark or big ray. Both were a lot of fun to catch. If you ever want to go fishing down in this area (and if you like to fish I highly recommend it), do yourself a favor and use the same guide we did, Matt Bellinger from Bamboo charters. Not only is Matt awesome at putting you on to the fish, he is a funny, funny bastard. I've fished with Matt three times now and it's always a hoot.


While on the trip we stayed at the Holiday Isle Resort on Islamorada. It's a fun place, especially for young folks or a group of men. I know my wife wouldn't like it, it's a bit beat up, but for a group of guys wanting to fish and have a few drinks without hopping in the car, it was perfect.

 
The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism