Monday, May 30, 2005

Mad about Memorial Day

I was listening to talk radio this morning and something the announcer said really pissed me off. He said he was 'unsure' that cookouts and parties were an appropriate observance of a somber holiday like Memorial day.

While it's true most of us enjoy the beer and food of the holiday cookouts they are also a time when family and friends gather and exchange stories of life and service - the exact thing we are memorializing. This weekend I spent time talking with my wife's cousin, a Lt. Colonel in the US Army Rangers, who has already served tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq and is soon returning for yet another tour. I also spent time talking to a 91 year old women who told me stories of her brother who flew in B-17s into Germany during WWII. He was killed on his 25th mission, just before he was slated to return home. If it weren't for these frivolous cookouts I wouldn't have heard their stories and the stories of the people they knew who served our country.

Then there was the young Marine, the son of a friend (a Vietnam vet himself), who home on leave from service in Afghanistan took the time to don his Marine dress blues and march in the local Memorial day parade. Is this day too somber for him to then sit back and relax with his friends and family with a beer and hotdogs? Hell no.

And of course, last but not least, I spent time this long weekend with my favorite veteran, my wife, who is a decorated medic from Desert Storm. I probably don't deserve her, but she sure as hell deserves a cookout without any neo-conservative guilt.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Green Cargo Ships

These images are of Wallenius Wilhelmsen's concept vessel Orcelle; a proposed cargo ship that harnesses wind, wave and sun to navigate the oceans. The press release doesn't say much but according to this site they could start building ships that incorporate these design ideas soon. That would be something to see.

Tangentially, the site where I found the big drawing, and that I link above, is involved with green ocean travel as well. They are 'Solar Navigation - World Electric Navigation Challenge'. They want to circumnavigate the globe in a custom build solar powered catamaran. Sounds fun. If you have some extra cash they could use your help.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Amazon Recommendations Revisited

In case you missed it, in response to my previous ponderings on how Amazon recommendations work, Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah responded with a cool PDF from Amazon that explains the process. recommendations - Item-to-Item Collaborative Filtering (PDF). Thanks Koranteng.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Management vs Leadership

Sometime blogger Joe Russo has written a timely essay on the short sightedness of bulk layoffs. Good stuff.

Visual C# 2005 Express Edition Beta

I've been jonesing for Eclipse's refactoring capabilities ever since I started working at Kubi. I had heard Visual C# 2005 would be adding some refactoring so I was anxious to give the beta a try. What a royal pain in the ass. It downloads and installs easy enough but it's time-bombed if you don't register and registration requires a passport account. I don't know if my passport registration experience was typical, but if it was I think MS is doomed. The first time I registered it worked OK but it would never let me log back in. It kept saying either my login name or password were incorrect. Given that I used a password I use for a lot of things I was pretty sure that wasn't the case. Regardless I chose to reset my password. When I went in to change my password to the name I had thought it already was, but that passport wouldn't accept, passport complained that the new password must be different from the old one, thereby confirming I had been right all along. Add to this mess a ton of email verifications I had to answer that took tens of minutes to arrive in my mail box and the whole experience sucked.

Why does this doom MS? MS is already behind the curve on IDE technology and loosing ground fast. If they think they are going to endear new developers to their platform with experiences like this, when you can just download and run with Eclipse or NetBeans in seconds, they are in for a rough ride.

Brian's Blog

I almost missed the announcement on Bob's blog, but my old Iris and IBM friend Brian Levine has started a blog. Welcome to the blogging world Brian.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Slashdot on IBM

I swear this post about IBM on Slashdot wasn't written by me or anyone I know (at least who will admit it), but If I ever do meet the person who wrote it, I will shake their hand.

My spouse just left IBM global services. They've laid off so many people and had talented people opt to leave the company, that the folks who are left are *way* overutilized. Before she left, my partner was pulling 60 hour work weeks as the norm, while 70-80 were frequent. The endless round of meetings was taking it's toll since the folks who've been spared the ax aren't the doers. They're terrified to make a decision so they just waste time twirling and having meetings about the same issues over and over. They appear to be under the illusion they can keep doing the same old "nothing" every day and wake up one morning and somehow the work will magically have gotten done.

There may have been some dead wood in the company that needed to be culled, but quite a lot of those people are brown nosers who have figured out how to misrepresent their skills to managers who have no technical experience. Laying off massive amounts of people, hoping to cull these folks is like playing a shell game. It ain't working. It's demoralizing the employees that are left and the people with real talent are jumping ship...fed up with over work, pathetic management, endless meetings, and not enough talent left to actually implement designs.

So...if that's the results of appeasing stock holders here in the states, why in the world would you want to do the same thing in Europe? Yeah, there's a lot of peple just getting by; never really doing anything. But if management is not competent to figure that out and the en masse layoffs to get rid of them are failing and demoralizing...then you're possibly causing more harm than good by doing it.

IBM is too full of processes, too top heavy (duh as if y'all didn't know that already), and people are constanty job hopping in the company every year or two (or being restructured) with the result that no one know how the hell to do their job.

Crazy Frog

My friend Don sent me this flash animation with no explanation other than a simple warning that it had an annoyingly infectious song. Annoying for sure, infectious? I pray not. The song in question is a remix of the 'Beverly Hills Cop' tune with some weird over dubs that sound like they came from that funny car racing sounds by chipmunks (or whatever) that circulated a while back. The video is pretty funny however and worth a watch. One warning, the video contains full frog frontal nudity, so keep your amphibians away from the computer when you watch it.

From the looks of all the Google links about this, I think I'm showing up very late to this party. Enjoy or gouge out your ears. (that last part's from Don too)

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Amazon recommendations

Recently I've been buying some music based on's recommendations and I have to admit they've hit a couple of home runs. I had never heard of the bands Modest Mouse or Wilco before Amazon recommended them to me but they are now on heavy rotation on my iPod. I've had some less stellar recommendations before so I'm unsure why this time they hit the nail on the head so well. Do they have more data now or better algorithms? I don't know the explination, but I'm psyched about the music.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Baseball Quote

Atttributed to Ty Cobb:

Baseball is a red-blooded sport for red-blooded men. It's no pink tea, and mollycoddles had better stay out. It's a struggle for supremacy, a survival of the fittest.

Women Bloggers

An old IBM friend of mine (an STSM even), emailed me the other day pondering the lack of female voices in the technical blogsphere. While there certainly are some the preponderance does seem to be male. I responded that perhaps women prefer more direct relationships than the detached sort a blogger has with their readers, or that it was just a simple case of women not having the time, given how they often run families as well as have full time jobs. If anyone has some additional thoughts I'd like to hear them.

Monday, May 16, 2005

IBM Blogging Policy

The new IBM blogging policies seen pretty reasonable. Had they been in place when I worked for IBM I would have felt empowered to talk more about technical subjects and the company itself. The one catch-22 that jumps out when reading it however is the section on following business conduct guidelines. Those aren't public but they basically tell you IBM is lord and master and everything you do belongs to them - that's an exaggeration but it's true to the tone. You can read them here. Unless those changed I'd still be mighty careful about what I said.

The short version of the policy as I read it goes like this: feel free to promote IBM on web. Is that bad, no; will it make employees blog like crazy, time will tell. I evangelized the fun of blogging among my peers but few have felt inclined to take it up. The fact is, it takes a lot of time, even for a "E-list" blogger such as myself, and most people already have a hard time balancing work and family without trying to post regularly on a blog.

The one line that drove me a little nuts, and is ironically highlighted by Ed Brill in a recent post, is the one that says: "We believe in transparency and honesty."
I do believe IBM is a very honest company but my recent experience leads me to believe they have a long way to go before they become transparent. For "A-list"ers who report on the world from the stratosphere there may well be real transparency into IBM strategy but for the grunts in the trenches, I really doubt transparency into their world would be allowed. IBM could prove to the me and my readers that they mean what they say by simply allowing me to restore my previous comments. That would be really cool, but I doubt it will happen.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Replacement Killers

My taste in movies can often stray into what many might consider art house fare. To some degree that's true. I love Jim Jarmusch films and I even own a copy of Begotten. But the truth is, I also like B movies. I'm one of the suckers who watches Road House every frig'n time the Spike network plays it. To my mind, Sam Elliot is brilliant in the film and secondary dialog like: "calling me sir, is like putting an elevator in an outhouse; it just don't fit." is timeliess. While Road House may get more plays on TV, my actual favorite B movie of recent years is the Antoine Fuqua master work, The Replacement Killers. I like all of Fuqua's movies but this one has a special place in my heart. It pairs the asian cool dude Chow Yun-Fat with the beauty Mira Sorvino in one of the purest gun fests I can think of. Chow Yun-Fat is a modern Clint Eastwood: cool, capable and deadly. It's just such a great movie. Why am I posting about this now? It's on TV and I can't stop watching it.

Windows Hackery

Before Kubi, it had been a lot of years since I last did UI work professionally. It didn't take long on the new job, however, to remind me of what drove nuts about the work - the hackery. By hacks, I mean small chunks of code that do something weird or unobvious that you're required to write in order to solve a problem. This is not to say I didn't need to implement a few hacks while working on the server side, I certainly did, but the amount of them and their prevalence was a lot less. This begs the question, why?

I chalk it up to one major thing, code reuse. Code reuse is one of the panaceas of modern software theory and practice, but it has a dark side. While the reused components may provide desired functionality they often have their own share of issues. If you're lucky enough to have the source code to the shared component and can ship modifications, there's no problem, but if you don't, hackery is often the only solution. Given that Windows is a closed system and is rich in reusable components, it is a fetile environment for hacks.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Making Peace With Autism

Ned's wife Susan Senator has written a book called Making Peace with Autism about their lives raising a family that includes an autistic son. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I've enjoyed Susan's other writings. I just want to wish her good luck and say I'm sure her story will serve as an example and inspiration for others who are dealing with the unexpected twists and turns of life.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Ecyclopedia humor or lack there of

Paper encyclopedias have a reputation as dry tomes of facts with concise no nonsense descriptions. I would have thought the modern generation of encyclopedia editors would be willing to have a little more fun with them. Unfortunately it seems many Wikipedians prefer to keep their version of an Encyclopedia nice and boring as well. A recent FoxTrot cartoon mentioned certain references within Wikipedia and a wave of edits ensued. On one side was the people who wanted to capture the Foxtrot reference, on the others the ones who wanted to expunge it. In the midst of all of this was one guy who just wanted mimic the cartoons implied modifications. It's this version I went looking for on my visit to Wikipedia.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Firefox Spellchecker Plugin

Spellbound is a Firefox/Mozilla extension that can spell check the contents of text boxes on a web form. Useful for blog comments and such. After you install the extension you must separately install a dictionary. The directions are under Known issues. It works well.

Friday, May 06, 2005

History of the GUI

Here's a fun article on GUI history on Ars Technica. I recall too much of this 'history' like it was yesterday. Man, this is a young industry.

Appropriate Anecdote

An old Iris co-worker sent me this in response to recent blog events.

This reminds me of an old joke from the '60s. A man was arrested for
running through Red Square shouting "Khrushchev is an idiot!". He was
tried, convicted, and sentenced to 30 days for insulting the party
secretary plus 30 years for revealing state secrets.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Sam Ruby on Continuations

This is an old link in web time, almost a month old. Regardless, if you haven't read it and you're interested in programming paradigms, you should. I've been a fan of Ruby and other scripting languages for a while so I had an basic understanding of the topic but I could never have explained it so well.

On a side note, I actually had lunch with Sam one day when he visited Westford back before Workplace in the days of Garnet. He is one of the good STSMs - he may well be a DE by now, but I haven't kept track.

Monday, May 02, 2005

UMLet inspiration

I've tried a lot of UML drawing tools, from Visio, to Rational Rose to a bunch of products I cannot even remember the names of. I've never found anything I really liked. Today I wanted to make a quick diagram to flush out a design I'm working on and decided to give UMLet a try. It's not perfect either but it has nice attributes. On the down side, it produces bland diagrams. On the up side its UI is very minimal and quick to work with. It's this last aspect that made me want to blog about it.

In this day and age of dialog boxes for everything it was nice to work with a GUI tool that exploits simple text editing so well. Rather than fill in a table of attributes and functions, in UMLet, you just type in free form text to describe a UML object. For example a class could be described with this text block.

string id;
string runIt(string cmd);
int getStatus()

If you've ever fought with a diagramming tool that was trying too hard to validate all your inputs it's a pleasure to use something that validates nothing.

Unfiltered thoughts of the week #2

How will technologies like QR code effect enforcement of corporate blogging policies. If for example I had posted something titled: Secrets from my job, and then followed it with a QR code image like how long would it be until someone could verify whether that's true or not? Or, because so many less people could read it would they not care?

The choice of the word FOR to describe an interative control block seems rather arbitrary, but most languages use it. Imagine if the common keywords: IF, WHILE, FOR were not common at all?

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism