Sunday, January 30, 2005

Lord of the Rings Marathon

I finally did it. I can now say I've watched the three extended edition LoTR movies back to back in one sitting. The entire three volumes took eleven hours to watch with no breaks except those needed to swap DVDs.

Why attempt such a feat?

I'll admit I've thought about doing this since leaving the theatre after the first film. The opportunity presented itself this weekend because my wife Jayne was out of town.

How was it?

Still good but long. I did notice some reused footage between the films around Isngaurd that I hadn't noticed before.

Would I do it again?

Marathon movie watching is a young mans game. I think I'll hang up my clicker.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Bears as Pets

While looking for a picture of a black bear in the snow to show why I thought my dog Cori looked like a bear (it's the ears), I found this interesting site about raising bears as pets. It sounds like a lot of work but I must admit it looks fun.

The site has lots of pictures of the people's two pet black bears, including the picture that accompanies this post of their bear Sybil in the snow. These folks don't just raise bears either; they have a silver fox, a cow, a bunch of dogs, Llamas and more.

Sand Animation

On stage at the 2003 Seoul Internation Cartoon and Animation Festival, Ferenc Cako paints with sand on a projectors glass plate. Very cool.

Via Sylvain Galineau.

Effective Leadership

I've been thinking a lot about leadership lately and how it can have both positive and negative effects on an organization. While searching the web for viewpoints I found this page titled Effective Leadership that I think does a good job of summarizing some key points.

Leadership Defined

"Leadership is influencing people to get things done to a standard and quality above their norm. And doing it willingly."

As an element in social interaction, leadership is a complex activity involving:

1. a process of influence

2. actors who are both leaders and followers

3. a range of possible outcomes - the achievement of goals, but also the commitment of individuals to such goals, the enhancement of group cohesion and the reinforcement of change of organizational culture.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Jadmin 1.1

Version 1.1 of Jadmin adds two significant changes:

1. Support for scripting the WebSphere TraceService MBean

2. Automatic batch file generation for all utilities in the jar

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Introducing Jadmin

Rather than just create a post about how I use Java to script WebSphere and Workplace, as I mentioned I would Tuesday, I decided to package up the source code and document it on my software page. Here it is - Jadmin.

If you're like me and need to administer the components of IBM Workplace and or WebSphere but don't enjoy working with TCL, the default scripting language, then perhaps you will find this foundation for building Java based Workplace and Websphere utilities helpful. Jadmin provides a simple mechanism for writing and invoking WebSphere and Workplace MBeans in Java.

The secret to Jadmin simplicity is that it uses Java interface proxies to map standard Java calls to the less direct MBean calls. Rather than being required to call the .invoke() method of the MBean and supply a method name and array of parameters, with Jadmin you work with a Java interface that reflects the MBean.

Jadmin 1.0 only provides direct support for the Workplace MailService MBean but can easily be extended to work with other MBeans. If you have an MBean you think should also be included please let me know and I can add the interface to the distribution. But remember the intention of Jadmin is to provide a foundation for creating custom administration scripts not to provide an extensive set of pre-built scripts

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Bear Attack?

No not a bear. Just my dog Cori romping through the Blizzard of '05.

Lotusphere Nostalgia

I've been reading Richard Schwartz's reporting from Lotusphere and it's making me a bit sorry I'm not there. Only a bit though. Between sore feet, pre-presentation nerves and the hangovers from late night at Jellyrolls, I'm happy I'm just sitting here in quiet and snowy N.E. What I do miss is the one on one contact with the users. It's fun helping people in the lab and seeing their excitement for the code you've written.

In the spirit of Lotusphere I've spent the past few nights writing a post on a technique I use to script WebSphere and the Workplace server with Java instead of wsadmin or lmadmin. I know it's departure for this non IBM related blog but Lotusphere put me in the mood. The post still needs a little work but it should be done later today or tomorrow.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

All Kinds of Time

I really like the NFL Network commercial that features the song 'All Kinds of Time' by the band Fountain of Wayne. If you watch any football, you've probably seen it, if not you can follow the link above. The commercial contains some great NFL footage. Notable sequences:

- N.E. Patriot Tedy Bruschi approaching the line to the lyrics "...the team's loosing ground to the opposing defense"...

- Archie Manning hugging young Payton and Eli to the lyrics "...the young quarter back waits for the snap..."

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Joy of Painting

I was stuck home this morning waiting for an oil furnace repair man to restore heat to my house. As I passed some time channel surfing I stumbled past a re-run of the old PBS series Joy of Painting hosted by the ever mellow Bob Ross. I had forgotten just how relaxing this show could be with all its happy trees and happy clouds. The paintings all look like bad motel art, but that didn't matter; It was just fun to watch Bob create.

Even though Bob passed away many years ago, I figured he must have some web presence and sure enough he does. You can buy his art instructional videos at as well as other on-line art stores, you can read a pretty harsh critique of his paintings here and you can see people debate when and if his show, Joy of Painting, ever 'Jumped the Shark' here - I hate that expression.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Cut That Meat

I don't want to gloat about this weekend's Patriots victory over the Colts...who am I kidding, of course I do. That was a great game and we kicked their rumps. I've been a Patriots seasons ticket holder for the past three years and have seen some fun games but this weekend's spanking of the Colts was my favorite. Watching football in the snow is always fun but watching playoff football in the snow is the best. The home crowd was very vocal and between razzing chants of "MVP" and "Cut That Meat" directed at Payton Manning and adoring chants of "Cory" for, running back extrodinaire, Cory Dillon there's got to be a lot of hoarse throats in New England today. I know mine is.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Damn Those Aristocrats

Read this SpaceDaily opinion piece on the ESA's Titan landing show. The guy makes some reasonable points about the shoddy Titan landing coverage but then goes off and draws some grand conclusions about the role of politicians in European society. I don't know if he's right or wrong but it's a strange juxtaposition of ideas.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Tron 2

According to this article on Ars Technica, Disney plans to remake the early CGI flick Tron. I don't find that so surprising, Hollywood remakes a lot of junk. What jumped out at me was how the author of the article had such fond memories of the original movie:

...the original Tron was so ahead of its time that Klugman and Sternthal have a lot of work on their hands if they want to impress geeks they way they were impressed more than 20 years ago.

Now I wasn't a full fledged geek back in 1982, at the time I still had dreams of being the next Jacques Cousteau, so maybe I didn't get it, but in my opinion Tron was just insultingly stupid. Sure I get the whole life of Christ parallels, so perhaps the movie has some artistic merit, but as a fodder for a budding technologist it was crap.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Interview with the Sociopath

Mr Ed, from the Hacknot blog, has written a very humorous essay on the dysfunction of the technical interview process. I don't always agree with Mr. Ed but this one's dead on. I've encountered many of these techniques during my career and I'm guilty of using some too. Interviewing is certainly an art form.

One convention he mentions that I've never encountered is that of the unsolvable problem. He lists a few as examples:

  • How would you count the number of gas stations in the US?
  • How would you measure the number of liters of water in Sydney Harbor?
  • How would you move Mount Fuji?
  • How long is a piece of string?

I've been trying to think up some funny responses in the event that someday I encounter them.

Interviewer: "How would you count the number of gas stations in the US?"

Pete: "long integers."

Interviewer: "How would you measure the number of liters of water in Sydney Harbor?"

Pete: "I would measure it in gallons first and then multiply the result by 3.79."

Interviewer: "How would you move Mount Fuji?"

Pete: "I would read it a poem."

Interviewer: "How long is a piece of string?"

Pete: "It depends on the font."

Do I need to buy a round if I get a hole in my head?

What does an on-line computer combat game and a 15th century Scottish game played on the verd have in common? More than you may imagine. The on-line game I’m referring to is called Counter-Strike and of course the Scottish game is golf. While the mechanics of these games are very different, they are both highly addictive for what I believe are basically the same reasons: simple play, beautiful surroundings and the joys of success.

If you’re not already familiar with Counter-Strike, it is a multi-player modification of the Half-Life game engine that allows teams (Terrorist/Counter Terrorist) to battle across various maps with conflicting objectives: plant a bomb/defuse a bomb, rescue hostages/retain the hostages, etc.... In many ways it’s like virtual capture the flag but with weapons.

The first similarity to golf in game play is that an extended game is divided up into short rounds. In golf each hole is a battle to get a ball in the cup in as few shots as possible. In Counter-Strike you try and eliminate the enemy and achieve the objective. Just as golf, this is easier said than done but the real similarity is that each round is a fresh start. If you flub a shot in golf or get killed in Counter-Strike, in the next round all is forgiven. A second similarity in game play is that you have a range of tools to use to achieve the goals of the game. In golf you carry a bag of different clubs; in Counter-Strike you carry different weapons. Just as the swing needed to employ a putter is different from a driver, the skills needed to use the various weapons available in Counter-Strike are different. Attempting to master all the difference is part of the enjoyment of the game.

The second similarity I called out at the start of this essay was the beautiful surroundings. You’re probably thinking it’s a stretch to compare a walk on a nice sunny day with some time at the keyboard, but hear me out. My point wasn’t that the environments of these two games are the same; the point is that the environment of each is just as important to the game. If golf was played on concrete and artificial turf it wouldn’t be nearly as popular. In golf you spend a nice couple of hours in a lush green natural environment. It adds a lot to the game.

It’s my contention that the environment is just as important to Counter-Strike. The modelers who built this game have paid close attention to the details. On some maps there are the sounds of rain and birds chirping; on others you can hear music emanating from certain buildings, a church might have piano music playing from inside it while others may have middle-eastern music. The buildings are also nice to look at. The models are usually clever mazes of hallways and courtyards all decorated with tiny details like pictures and carts of fruit. Of course this is a action game with all the sights and sounds of combat added in. Each gun makes a different sound (I don’t know enough about guns to know if they are all accurate but you can certainly tell a shotgun sound from a riffle or a sub machine gun from a pistol), you can hear footsteps from the direction of other players and as expected all the blood and violence of being shot or hit by an explosions is rendered in detail.

While blood and bodies going limp like a rag doll after a shot to the head may be too graphic for many people, it’s this level of combat detail in conjunction with the bird noises and the church music that make the environment so impressive. It’s a world you want to be a part of. It makes you want to survive.

My last point of comparison between golf and Counter-Strike was the joys of success. I’m not a good golfer; in fact I’m quite bad. I’ve only shot under 100 for a round of 18 holes once or twice in my life and I’ve played off and on since I was a teenager. What keeps me coming back is that random pitch from 10 yards off the green that just rolls into the hole or that drive that just sails straight and true. They don’t happen often but the sudden feeling of mastery after all those moments of aggravation is priceless.

As bad as I am at golf I’m probably worse at Counter-Strike. I don't know if it's just that the typical player is some teenager with better reflexes and more twitch training than I or if there's a aiming gene I just wasn't born with. Either way, I stink at it. A reasonable person might question why I would continue to play. It's a question I’ve ask myself a lot over the couple of weeks I’ve played the game and I believe the answer is the same as for golf. It’s the small joys of victory. I may get killed in most rounds but the joy of finally getting the better of someone who has killed me repeatedly is great.

While golf and Counter-Strike are certainly very different and appeal to different parts of society, I hope I’ve shown how the games get their appeal in much the same way. Both are simple in concept yet hard to master; both rely on the environmental experience to add to the game play and finally both are epitomized by small glorious successes amid many small defeats.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Classical Music in Movies

I'm not big into classical music but I do enjoy it. On a whim the other day, without knowing the work, I purchased a recording of the complete Bach Cello Suite performed by Alexander Rudin. As I listened to the first suite I instantly recognized the piece as the same one being performed by Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin in the closing scene of the movie Master and Commander. While looking for verification for my discovery I found this cool resource: Bohemian Opera's Classical Music in Movies list. I don't know how comprehensive it is, but it does verify the Bach suite being in Master and Commander.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Blind men and the Elephant

While reading the blog Thinking Faster I happened upon a reference to some blind men and an elephant that just didn't ring any bells.

...learning only the information that I think is important really is like the blind men describing the elephant.

Some searching turned up this funny poem that tells the source parable. Now that I've read the whole thing, I know I've heard it before. It's a good story and one very applicable to the issues of working on a team. Hopefully blogging about it will help me do a better job remembering it this time.

Tidal Waves

When people talk about using the word Tsunami instead of Tidal Wave they often will say that Tidal Wave is a bad name because it has nothing to do with tides. While that's true I now realize that the Tidal Wave name was not chosen because of the suspected cause of the event, rather it reflects how the wave acts. Watch any of these video. There's no giant wave crest, the ocean just engulfs the coast. A commentator on 60 minutes said it well. I'm paraphrasing but it was something like This changed what I take for granted. I had always expected the ocean to stay in it's place. I no longer do.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Cowboy developers

A recent responder to Damien’s Iris article chided Damien for being a cowboy and not a team player and pointed out an article about Oracle 10g development cycle to make his point. I have two separate responses to this thought.

I too think Damien is a cowboy developer, but when I say that I say it with respect and admiration. Infact, all the best developers I’ve worked with have been cowboys. That's not to say they haven't been team players either, they all have been. Cowboys by their nature are team players.

What does a real cowboy do? They work on a team to shepherd a heard of cattle from one location to another. A cowboy knows their job on the team but can also think independently and be assertive because the heard is large and there may not be another cowboy in range when trouble strikes. A cowboy doesn’t need a lot of creature comforts either; they can sleep on the ground and live off beans and cornbread for weeks on end. Cowboys don’t always get along with city slickers and they don’t have much use for towns, except perhaps to visit the saloon, but put them in their element and they are king of the range.

In this context, a cowboy sounds a lot like a software developer to me. Code is a lot like a heard of cattle. Each cow - I mean piece of code - needs to be coerced to work in the direction of the entire project. Just like in herding, this often means moving from one area of the code to another to keep things moving along. To do this you need self motivated people with a variety of skills and a team and project perspective. And, just like real cowboys, a cowboy developer can do all this with a modest set of tools; just give them a good computer/horse and editor/saddle and they can get the job done. When working on an interesting project a cowboy developer will gladly work crazy hours and live off soda, candy bars and pizza for months. But also like cowboys, cowboy developers don’t like people who aren’t developers who try and tell them how to do their jobs. They work best with other developers and they willingly follow the lead of a developer who has demonstrably better skills than themselves.

As for the Oracle 10g article - I would take any article written by a marketing person on behest of corporation with a grain of salt. A statement early in the piece pretty much kills the credibility of the author as far as writing about software development.

"In the past, developers used local, four-CPU machines for development and testing," says Kumar. "But the number of tests has grown from 30,000 to more than 100,000, which is more than a desktop machine can handle." So, Oracle pooled the developers' individual computing power to create a server farm of more than 1,000 machines. This development grid represented a major breakthrough for Oracle, giving developers on-demand computing from any location. It also offered them far more horsepower than a single dedicated machine could provide. As a result, they could edit source code not only more safely and accurately but also more quickly.

I’d really like to understand how this grid helped the developers edit source code more safely, accurately and quickly. Perhaps the author was trying to indicate that grid helped developers regression test changes and get the code integrated into the build quicker, but that’s not what they said.

The whole article seems like management patting themselves on the back for their ‘brilliant’ plan. I would like to hear from some developer on the ground how things really were. Most of it sounds like standard enterprise development BS.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Images of Tsunami Disaster from Space

The International Charter organization has made public a lot of images of the tsunami disaster area. I found this before and after picture of the Banda Aceh particularly impressive and horrifying.

The Good Ole Days of Iris

Damien Katz's recent post about his experiences at Iris has made me nostalgic. Iris was truly a remarkable place to work. A lot has been said about the development staff at Iris, and there certainly was some brilliant folks there, but what really differentiated the place was all the other people. Everyone, from management to the guys in the mail room worked their asses off to make sure development had the resources and the time to do a great job. If you had a problem with your paycheck or some health benefits, the HR and accounting staff would quickly solve the problem with a smile. If there was a network or phone issue, the folks from network administration would jump to fix it. I've never seen more laser focused and broad based support for the goals of an organization. The work was hard and much of the code rather crufty from age, but no one every grumbled about the long hours and weekends. Iris worked hard for you so you worked hard for Iris.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Lion attack

I understand hunting for food but hunting a large carnivore like a lion, in this day and age, just seems wrong. Too bad this lion didn't get a better grip. I'd attack someone shooting at me too.

Worst Web Ad

While researching the ad I talked about in the last post I found this old article from flakmagazine about another web add on a popular topic of a lot of the spam I see. It's pretty funny. Warning this link points to adult material.

Most Annoying Web Ad

Have you seen the add with the cockroaches scampering around with the tag line that says something like: Squash the roach and win an iPod. I hate that add. It's not that I mind cockroaches so much, I dissected my share of bugs in invertebrate zoology and entomology classes that I don't have much of an aversion to them, but I hate how the add is so distracting to the content of the page it's on. Kudos, I guess, to the company that designed it; it certainly caught my attention. Out of curiosity as to who would use such a horrible gimmick I followed the link and it led to a company called IncentiveRewardCenter. This is how they describe themselves:

IncentiveRewardCenter's mission is to deliver reward incentives to consumers that participate in marketing promotions and offer surveys.

Companies' spend a lot of money advertising to recruit users to their services. Why not turn the tables and use that money to reward consumers to try out their services? It's a win-win for both companies and consumers.

Sounds like a simple ploy to get valid names and addresses for spam and junk mail to me. Some more searching turned up a person who wasn't so happy with their dealing with this company either.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Humor and Blood

Blood and humor don't seem like they should fit together but for some reason they sometimes do. I'm not sure anyone would laugh at a gut wound, but off someone's limbs and it's hilarious. Of course I'm thinking of the black knight of the Holy Grail, Dan Ackroyd's Julia Childs sketch from SNL and the Tarantino's Kill Bill movies. The same ploy was also used in the movie Anchorman I mentioned a couple of days ago. I don't understand this phenomenon but I always laugh. Is delimbing someone the ultimate slapstick?

Worlds Largest Catsup Bottle

Folks in Collinsville Illinois love their giant catsup bottle water tower. A private restoration effort raised $80,000 to repair and restore this landmark.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

If you haven't seen the recent Will Ferrell comedy that most commercials advertise as just being called 'Anchorman' your missing out on a gem. The actual title of the film is actually the longer phrase I've used as the title of this post. It's not really that important but it gives you an important clue as to the design of the movie. This is a pseudo bio pic. In the film we see the fall and eventual redemption of Ron Burgundy, a good hearted anchorman in the 1970s caught up in the sexual revolution. The cast is very funny and features cameo roles from a lot of recognizable faces. The comedy is very broad - there are the expected funny faces and improv moments from Ferrell and crew but there are also some very absurd and funny set pieces such as a gang fight between rival news teams that seems like it was pulled directly from West Side Story. I haven't laughed at a film this hard in a long time.
The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism