Monday Apr 27, 2009

Blogs.sun.com - Five Years Old

And I've been here for 98.5% of it. From my first post (notice the absence of the signature image in the top left corner), through to the one that gained the most comments, and on to the latest.

Today I spend more of my spare time Twittering, but I still try to summarize the interesting things I find in blog posts.

Congratulations to the creators of Roller and the blogs.sun.com team. It's been a lot of fun.

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Monday Feb 16, 2009

Financial Advice - Drink Heavily

I was using an old post of mine this morning, to remind myself of how I'd rated my book collection, and to rerun the script now 9 months have past and I've a slew of new unread books.

One of the comments there is from Tyler and while I was waiting for the book rating script to finish, I wandered over to his blog. There was a very interesting perspective from November last year, on the current economic crisis and a great quote from his father:

"If you had purchased $1000 of Delta Air Lines stock one year ago, you would have $49 left. With Fannie Mae, you'd have $2.50 left of the original $1000. With AIG, you'd have less than $15 left. But if you had purchased $1000 worth of beer one year ago, drunk all the beer, then turned in the cans for the recycling refund, you'd have $214 cash. Based on the above, the best current investment advice is to drink heavily. It reduces anxiety too. Even better to buy in a state without a deposit and then return them into a state with a deposit refund."

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Tuesday Dec 02, 2008

The Future of Teaching

Just before Thanksgiving we had a parent-teacher conference with Duncan's 5th grade teacher.

According to his teacher, he's got a comprehension level of grade 10 and vocabulary level of grade 9, but is currently not doing so great at writing and/or spelling. The theory is that by the time he's tried to transcribe his thoughts to paper and gone through his torturous writing process, he's typically forgotten what he was trying to say. He ends up writing a small number of short sentences. That doesn't score high marks.

His teacher suggested that it would be acceptable for him to dictate his essays, project work etc. to one of us, and we'd type it in (also allowing for automatic spell-checking). She even went so far as to say that it would be perfectly okay for him to use a speech-to-text system to do his work (such as Dragon Naturally Speaking or MacSpeech Dictate).

If that's the case, then why is he learning how to write and spell (and being graded on it)? I strongly suspect that his next teacher (whoever that may be) will have their own opinions on what is and isn't allowed in this area, and it'll be totally different from this teacher.

This got me googling to see what the future may hold in this area. It's clear that the way I was taught is inappropriate in this current world. But is the way that kids are currently being taught the correct approach? Will they really need to be able to write well in ten years time, or will everything be done via typing, texting and voice recognition?

I found an interesting (but exceptionally long winded) article on The Future of Online Learning: Ten Years On. It seriously needs to be reformatted for the web. An initial contents and section hyper-text links at a minimum. Unfortunately it's not really relevant to Duncan's situation.

I think we are going to try the you-dictate-to-one-of-us approach first, to determine whether the theory above is correct. If it is, then we will see if there are ways he can improve this for himself without one of having to be present.

If there are any parents out there who have been through a similar situation, your thoughts on best ways to handle this would be very much appreciated.

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Monday Oct 27, 2008

It's A Small World

Last night we went over to Duncan's school in the evening as usual, so Dusti could party with all the other dogs. As we parked in the car park at the front of the school, we noticed Jody and Brent, (the owners of Muffin, one of the dog regulars), playing hacky sack footbag.

Now from talking with the other dog owners, I knew that they both were at world championship level, and from watching them for a couple of minutes you could easily see why. I didn't realize just how good they were. Here are the awesome stats for Jody and Brent.

I then went looking for videos. YouTube hadn't been invented when they were winning championships and setting world records, so nothing of them, but I did come across a couple videos that would give you some idea of what footbag at the world championship level is all about:

If that's not enough, then Brent is also the author of a well known Tcl/Tk book. Tcl/Tk was my graphical scripting language of choice until I discovered Python/Pygtk.

It's a Small World.

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Saturday Aug 30, 2008

The Google / Yahoo Alphabet - 2008

Brady Forrest recently reviewed the Google alphabet for 2008. I did something similar in 2005 based on a previous BoingBoing posting.
These Google results seem so biased. The cynical side of me thinks there some money changing hands or some fudge factors in place to get these slanted results.

So I thought I'd try it for myself. Note that with my Firefox 3.0.1 browser, Google Suggest is that little search box near the top right corner. Here's the Google results again for comparison:

A = amazon
B = bebo
C = craigslist
D = dictionary
E = ebay
F = facebook
G = gmail
H = hotmail
I = ikea
J = john lewis
K = kelly blue book
L = limewire
M = myspace
N = nbc olympics
O = olympics
P = photobucket
Q = quotes
R = runescape
S = sears
T = target
U = utube
V = verizon wireless
W = wikipedia
X = xbox
Y = youtube
Z = zip codes

I then changed it to do the search (and suggest) on Yahoo. There were a lot of similar results, but here's the ones that are different:

A = aol
B = bank of america
G = google
I = irs
J = jessica alba
K = kentucky derby
L = lowes
N = nick
O = orkut
P = people
Q = qvc
S = southwest airlines
U = ups
V = vanity fair
W = walmart
Z = zappos

I admit I had to look up what zappos was. I'd heard of the rest. Again, the cynical part of me thinks there's some sponsorship going on there too (bank of america, lowes). As Brady suggests, P is more likely for Paris Hilton no matter how much you might detest it.

I then went to another Yahoo Search site and tried the test again. As you type things in, it drops down an area of suggestions. And the results were different. Compared with the previous Google results, the differences were:

B = bbc
G = google
J = jessica simpson
K = kara dioguardi
L = lyrics
N = national lottery
O = orbitz
P = people search
Q = qvc
R = recipes
U = ups
W = weather

Interesting. Yahoo can't even make consistent suggestions.

I guess if you own the search technology, you can doctor it whatever way you want.

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Sunday Aug 24, 2008

Don't Always Believe In Conventional Wisdom

This article floated to the top of Popurls today. Something interesting to read while I was wolfing down lunch.

As the article states:

A typical claim on the Internet might run, "No matter its size or thickness, no piece of paper can be folded in half more than 7 times", and as you stare sadly at your block of folded paper, you tend to agree.

It goes on to tell how high school student Britney Gallivan of Pomona, California shook off this convential wisdom and went on to solve the problem.

See also the Historical Society of Pomona Valley website for more information.

So don't always accept the conventional wisdom. Challenge everything.

As the article concludes:

Britney Gallivan succeeded because she was as contrary and determined as Juan Ramon Jiminez, the Spanish poet and winner of the 1956 Nobel Prize for Literature. He wrote, in a metaphor for the questioning and resilient human spirit, "If they give you ruled paper, write the other way."

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Tuesday Aug 12, 2008

Best Ever Muffins With Spices

We've been experimenting with a variety of muffin recipes recently. Trying to find something that's tasty as well as versatile. The recipe below combines Best Ever Muffins with Spicy Muffins.

INGREDIENTS

    \* 2 cups all-purpose flour
    \* 1 tablespoon cinnamon
    \* 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
    \* 1/4 teaspoon ginger
    \* 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    \* 3 teaspoons baking powder
    \* 1/2 teaspoon salt
    \* 3/4 cup white sugar
    \* 1 egg
    \* 1 cup milk
    \* 1/4 cup vegetable oil

DIRECTIONS

   1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C).

   2. Stir together the flour, four spices, baking 
      powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl.
 
      Make a well in the center. In a small bowl or 
      2 cup measuring cup, beat egg with a fork.
 
      Stir in milk and oil. 

      Pour all at once into the well in the flour mixture. 
      Mix quickly and lightly with a fork until moistened, 
      but do not beat. The batter will be lumpy. 

      Pour the batter into paper lined muffin pan cups.

   3. Variations: 
      Blueberry Muffins: Add 1 cup fresh blueberries. 
      Raisin Muffins: Add 1 cup finely chopped raisins. 
      Date Muffins: Add 1 cup finely chopped dates. 
      Cheese Muffins: Fold in 1 cup grated sharp yellow cheese. 
      Bacon Muffins: Fold 1/4 cup crisp cooked bacon, 
      broken into bits.

   4. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden.

We tried the cheese variant last night. The cheese was hardly noticeable, which is not a good sign. The muffins still tasted good though. We will probably go back to the fruit based ones now, although bacon bits sounds interesting.

If you have any suggestions for the optional ingredient to make yummy muffins please comment.

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Wednesday Jul 23, 2008

Un-RIF'ed

Or transferred, depending how you look at it. As this new blog entry shows, I'm still working for Sun and have transferred to an engineering group working on OpenSolaris. More about that in a future post.

I would like to give a big thank you to everybody who put in a good word for me (and there were a lot of people as far as I can tell). It's very much appreciated. I'd also like to thank the several external people who offered to forward my resume to the appropriate people within their companies.

The next thank you goes to my new manager Bonnie Corwin, who fired up the after burners and made this remarkably swift and painless. RIF'ed on a Thursday. Interviewing on the following Friday, Monday and Tuesday and being offered a new job on the Wednesday.

I've had a couple people ask me why I'd want to continue working for a company that just laid me off. Because I know it was nothing personal. Because I still believe in the company, its vision, its products and its executive management.

I still have a dream, and now I hope I'll be able to do my small part to make it come true.

I've now got a lot to learn in a short amount of time, so I don't expect to have too much time for blogging. Most of what I do blog about for a while, will be OpenSolaris related, so I'll start a new category for that. For those of you reading this via Planet GNOME; as I'm not expecting to do much GNOME development in the future, I'm going to ask Jeff Waugh to remove me from that syndication. If you are still interested in reading this blog, I suggest you subscribe to the RSS feed.

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Thursday Jul 10, 2008

RIF-ed

Sun's having another round of layoffs today, and I'm one of them.

I fully realize that people are RIF-ed to reduce the headcount (plus associated expenses) and it's no reflection on how good or bad you've done your job. Even so, it still hits you hard.

I've been at Sun over 21 years. During that period, there have been some great times. I've worked on several exciting projects with lots of very clever people and made some good friends. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all those people who have mentored me and helped me with my career while I've been here.

As you can imagine this was all a bit of a surprise. I've no idea what the future holds for me at the moment. I know I'm going to be looking for a new job and hoping that I'll be able to stay in the Bay Area with our family and friends.

Thanks to all the supporters of this blog over the last four years. I've really enjoyed doing it. If you read it, I hope you found something interesting.

If anybody thinks they might be interested in employing me, I've put my resume online. My email address is near the top.

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Tuesday Jul 01, 2008

Blinky Bugs

We finally got around to making the blinky bugs that we bought at the Maker Faire earlier this year.

For anybody who dabbles in electronics and making things, you've probably got all the parts you need to build one of these, so all you need are the instructions, and they are online.

There are parts to make four bugs in the kit. For the first one, we carefully read the instructions and slowly and methodically built the bug. A small note to others. The little pieces of copper pipe bend just once. If you think you've bent it wrong, don't bend it again. It just snaps. Trying to remove the broken bent pipe from the antenna wire leaves you with antenna wire that is no longer straight and looks like a clock spring. This happened to us. It's why we currently have just three completed bugs. It would have been nice if they'd included a spare piece of copper pipe in the kit. Luckily I have a bag of various sizes and shapes from K & S Engineering

After the first bug was completed, the next two were easy. It can be frustrating to get the antenna wires "just right" so that the lights aren't on all the time, and only blink when you touch them.

I think Duncan enjoyed making them more than playing with the end result. They are really for younger kids.

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Monday Jun 23, 2008

Don't Talk To The Police

Links to these two video's came over Hack a Day recently. They are U.S. centric, but well worth watching.

Firstly, Professor James Duane:

"In Praise of the Fifth Amendment Right to Not Be a Witness Against Yourself.

Why I am proud to admit that I will never talk to any police officer."

Secondly, Officer George Bruch, Virginia Beach Police Department:

"The Other Side of the Story."

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Monday Jun 16, 2008

Moog Guitar

(As reported over on Geek.com).

This looks fascinating. The company that gave you Moog synthesizers in the '70's, have now created a Moog Guitar:

It has five different sound modes, designed to give the player a wide range of possibilities to play. The most touted mode is the infinite sustain, which allows players to hold a note on every note and at every position.

Other modes include controlled sustain, mute mode, harmonic blends, and the Moog Filter.

Check out the video. Maybe I'm just showing my age (or personal preference in music), but I'd have liked to have have seen what Carlos Santana or David Gilmour could have done with it, rather than Lou Reed. Or maybe they just tried it out on artists in New York.

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Wednesday Jun 04, 2008

Wii Fit - Two Weeks In

You may remember from my initial observations on the Wii Fit that I set myself the goal of losing 2 pounds in 2 weeks.

I ran the body test again today and I'm down 0.9 pounds from that initial weigh-in value. Wii Fit tells me my body weight is likely to fluctuate by up to 2 pounds during the day, so I should always weigh myself at the same time each day. I remember that for next time. My BMI is slightly less (25.36) but I'm still quite a way from the ideal value of 22. The good news is my Wii Age is down to 49 (minus 5 years from last time, and 2 years below my actual age).

The Wii Fit divides the exercises into four categories:

  • Yoga
  • Strength Training
  • Aerobics
  • Balance Games

So far I've been mainly concentrating on the balance games (which are mostly fun) and the running and step exercises from the Aerobics section.

I've now got to the point where I can do the Ski Slalom and not miss any gates, but I'm still only at 2 stars (amateur). Obviously I've got to just go down the hill faster but it's going to take a lot more practice.

For the running (which doesn't use the Balance board -- you just stuff a Wii remote in your pocket), I've tried them all. I actually like the Island laps the best because you can run on different courses if you rush ahead of your guide at different times. You then get to follow one of the two dogs. I love the different sound effects as the surface you are running over changes. I appreciate that every other Mii out there is running slower than you. Watching a Mii trip over is funny the first time. Then it gets old.

Over the weekend, when we got the Wi Wireless connection finally working, Duncan imported a load of new Mii's. It was cool to see Mii Darth Vader running the other way when I was exercising earlier today.

I find that the Free Lap running gets boring. It would be nice if you could vary the course. If you can do this, I haven't worked out how yet. It would be nice if other things varied too. Like the weather. Running in a snow storm would be "interesting". I suspect the Wii doesn't have enough graphics uumph (to use the technical term) to do this.

After Duncan and I tried the two person running, I tried it by myself. I put two Wii's in my pockets, one on either side). Strangely enough, the second Mii (controlled by the right-hand Wii remote) lagged a long way behind the other one. I'm not sure what that's telling me. Maybe that my body is very unbalanced when I'm running.

My aim now is to start doing some of the strength exercises (particularly for the abs), and to learn how to do more of the yoga exercises. I'm a complete beginner in this latter category, so I'm still on the very simple positions.

The novelty hasn't worn off yet. Two weeks in and I'm still having fun.

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Monday May 26, 2008

TV Season Finales - Spoilers

I think we've now had the season finales of all the shows I watch (although in a couple of cases it was hard to tell). I couldn't let them go without a few comments and speculate on what's going to happen for some of them, at the beginning of the next season.

If you still have some of these on the Tivo and haven't viewed them yet, then don't read this. There are some major spoilers ahead. Same for folks in other countries who haven't received the last episodes yet. (I use a poor-man's Tivo. Record everything on VHS tape, and then watch them the following weekend. That way I can fast forward through the ads. I rarely watch a show in real time any more).

And yes, I still watch too much TV.

  • Two And A Half Men: One of only two comedies I watch. I'm not even sure that that was the season ender last week. There was no real cliff hanger. They are still very funny though. It's actually the support cast that make this a great show for me. People like the mother, the psychotherapist and the house keeper. I'll be back next year.

  • CSI Miami: I gave up on this show several weeks ago. David Caroso just ruins it for me. Perhaps they'll fatally shoot him next year.

  • Medium: Wow! They ended this season without a two parter dragging over into the new TV season. And everything on a positive note. Their loyal fans (and I'm one of them -- this is my favorite TV show) will be back.

  • NCIS: I've been saying for quite a while after their extended "big frog" run of episodes, that Jenny Shepard's character was truly terrible and should go. And what did they do in the last show? They shot her. Bravo! Does anybody think we are going to have three new NCIS agents under Gibbs next year? Neither do I.

  • Law and Order: SVU: So Casey Novak (Diane Neal) is gone. Looks like Det. Chester Lake isn't coming back either. I'm surprised that Stabler and Benson still have a job with all the not-by-the-book plays they do. I'll still keep watching it though.

  • Woman's Murder Club: Good season ender. They nicely rounded up the Kiss-me-not killer and left a minor cliff-hanger for next season. Personally I couldn't care less whether her father lives or dies. They introduced his character fairly late in the series and he's been a minor bit-player up until now, (although I suspect he's going to live and that's going to change for the next season). Nice to see (or rather not to see) Tom Hogan's wife isn't a regular any more. Her character and her interaction with everybody else, was just plain irritating.

  • Criminal Minds: This one was just over the top. Why do a show's producers believe that they need to leave you dangling in order to get you to watch the show next year? So, who do you think got blown up? First, I don't think it's Garcia. She'd been inside all the time. The obvious candidate is J.J. The question there is, is A.J. Cook (the person who plays her) pregnant in real life, and does she want to leave the show to spend time with the new baby? I'll pick somebody else. This is a little bit way-out-there, but I reckon it's Derek Morgan, and he wasn't blown up by the terrorists, but by female FBI agent who fears she's going to lose her job to him. There. That'll get the conspiracy theorists talking.

  • CSI: New York: Another really annoying dangling cliff hanger. I'm getting a tad fed up with them using "unique" technology to help them track down the bad guys. A gun with absolutely no recoil, that means two bullets have exactly the same entry wound. Give me a break! If the bank robbers were really trying to get away with the crime, why would they use a gun like that which would be easy to trace? I've no idea why the bank robbery went down the way it did, but no doubt it'll all be explained next year.

  • Law And Order: Jack McCoy has made an enemy of the governor! That'll be good for some interesting episodes next year. I see we had two new detectives and one new lawyer this season. I hope they manage to stick with these so they can build up some chemistry.

  • Scrubs: I'm again not even sure this was the season ender. It felt more like the last episode. Period. This show has been "slow" recently. They are running out of original funny ideas. I don't think it's coming back.

  • CSI: Warrick's gone. I can live with that. And the real mole in the department has been exposed. My wife and I picked him out several weeks ago, when you saw his profile in shadow reporting that Warrick had just been arrested. His voice is quite distinct. No doubt next year, Grisham and team will piece it all together and bring down their boss. Hopefully next year they'll also give bigger parts to some of the techies. A relationship between Hodges and Simms would be fun.

  • Without a Trace: Jack, the loose cannon, has finally been demoted. I was surprised he kept his job. It'll be interesting to see what happens with the relationship between Jack and Sam Spade next year. And also Danny Taylor and Elena Delgado (which just fizzled out this series).

  • Numb3rs: Megan's gone (and I'm going to miss her). Charlie's been arrested for emailing classified documents to four academics in Pakistan. A pointless cliff-hanger. It's bound to be all cleared up next year.

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Wednesday May 21, 2008

Initial Observations On Wii Fit

We popped down the local GameStop store this morning and picked up our pre-ordered Wii Fit. These are in BIG demand. I see the Amazon sharks sellers have already hiked up the price by about 40-50 dollars. I predict at Christmas time, it'll be hundreds of dollars over recommended retail price.

The guy at Gamestop said they took about 150 pre-orders. They had to stop taking them, as they knew that's all they would initially be getting.

I can easily believe it.

We bought it home, and unpacked it. Packaging is excellent. Easy to find all the extras: batteries, disc, installation instructions and leg extensions (needed if you have a think carpet). Batteries are installed underneath. The power switch is at the back (once you've placed it in front of the TV).

Syncronization with the Wii is trivial. There is a red button underneath (hidden in with the batteries). Press that and the one on the Wii after the Wii Fit disc has been started. It's that easy.

It'll then check you have the correct date and time and ask you to pick a Mii.

My Mii bounces in dressed in fitness togs (something I personally wouldn't be seen in public in, but no matter). You then work your way through lots of screens explaining the whole concept behind Wii Fit. It's lecturing you, but it's doing it in a nice friendly way. My Mii is nodding along as it happens which is just one of the many endearing touches that are present.

It asks for your height, date of birth and how much you think your clothes weigh. It then "scans" you.

In the introduction, it'll give you a couple simple tests for correct posture and how well you can balance. The latter test involves applying weight to either your left or right leg in order to try to keep the red bars in the blue areas. It took me a few moments to grok what was going on, so I didn't perform it very well. It insinuated that I probably trip over a lot. Nah, I just need practice.

So how am I doing at startup time? My BMI (Body Mass Index) is 25.38 (around 22 is good) and my Wii age is 54! Sigh. So I'm slightly overweight and weaker than I should be for my age.

You then setup a fitness goal. Mine is to lose 2 pounds in 2 weeks. My calendar is stamped for 21st May. I'm all set.

When I get "back on" later today (my wife is currently hogging the machine), I'll start working through some of the various exercises in earnest.

In short, it looks like it's going to be fricking awesome. It's going to be fun to exercise and try and get fit (which is the way exercise should be).

Nintendo have another winner on their hands.

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