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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

King of the Castle

It's only been three days since we moved in to our new apartment, and already tonight I'm at my parent's house? You might think Dana has thrown me out already, tossed my sorry ass out into the night. I can't blame anybody for thinking it, but that's not what happened at all. Tonight is Dana's rescheduled dress fitting, after her last one went so disastrously.

The seamstress who was supposed to work on her dress had a few screws loose (I met her, it's no joke). Instead of dealing with Dana's dress personally, she "outsourced" it to another seamstress who wasn't aware of all the specific details and requests that had been made at the previous fitting. Needless to say, the alterations were made incorrectly, Dana was pissed, had to reschedule. If I learn no other lesson about marriage in this life (and at this rate, that's about all I will learn) it's that you don't mess up a bride's dress.

The fitting is relatively late and it's near her parent's house, so she's just going to sleep there. I stopped in at my house for dinner since I would rather be here then at my apartment alone, although everybody is late getting home from work now and I'm alone anyway. This is the third blog post I've written in peace, and history should prove I'm never short on words!

Last night we went out and bought a brand-spanking-new 37" LCD TV. It's big, it's nice, and it's ours. Comcast got the cable installed yesterday too, so we've got working internet and cable TV. We aren't doing a landline because we've both got new cellphone plans, and I don't see a reason for phone redundancy like that.

Both of our commutes are much longer then they had been, but it's the price we had to pay to live together. At least we're right in the middle, and neither of us has an unfairly long ride.

After dinner tonight I'm heading back to the apartment to watch my awesome new TV and try to figure out how to get my damn Linux laptop to connect to my wireless router (yes, it's become a problem). In to work tomorrow, wash, rinse, repeat.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Condensed Soup

Not much time to blog right now (at work). The move this weekend went well, and the apartment is very nice. Most of our stuff is moved in, but we have some organization and stuff to do still. There is no internet connection, which explains why I haven't been posting updates all weekend long. The Comcast guy is coming out tonight to hook everything up though. I'm leaving work early for. I'll post more once my connection gets up and running.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The debate

Yes, it's time to talk politics here, a topic that I tend to avoid in public fora. It's not that I don't know politics, or that I don't care, but that I personally don't feel the need to go out preaching my beliefs. Call it one of the remaining vestiges of my childhood introversion.

I watched the debate tonight between John McCain and Barrack Obama and, less fortunately, I've also been watching some of the post-debate commentary. It's obvious to see how much the commentators are trying to be non-partisian. So worried are they of accusations of bias that they seem to be skirting issues that they need to be tackling head on.

I've been reading fivethirtyeight for a little while now. It's amazingly informative, and as an engineer I'm happy to see lots of graphs and charts and numbers. I like to see technical analysis. This, in a nutshell, is my kind of politics. According to Fivethirtyeight, McCain has been polling terribly for the last week. States that had been leaning his way, like NH are now leaning democrat. States like CO that were in play are shifting more to the left. It's not been a good week for him. What McCain really needed to buck this trend and build some momentum was a knock-out performance in the debate tonight, and nobody is saying that he got it.

What I'm worried about is that McCain's campaign appears to be one of gimmicks now. Maybe it's a brilliant strategy, but he's been playing the media as a tool in a way that I'm not sure I've ever seen. I'm not going to say that Sarah Palin is unqualified to be president. Frankly, I'm not sure how a person becomes qualified for it anyway. Like they say, people rise to their own level of incompetence, and any great senator or great governor could easily be promoted to be an incompetent president. Qualifications aside, is anybody going to tell me that in terms of sheer resume that Sarah Palin was the best choice for VP? Sure she's probably capable. Sure she's probably qualified. But is she the best choice for the job, or was she a gimmick to grab media attention?

This week, John McCain suspended his campaign to focus on the financial crisis. Some people say he was just doing this to gain some more prep time for this debate. I think he could have used it, the numbers say he needed a much better performance tonight then he earned. I see this as being another gimmick, an attempt to look honorable by focusing on the country instead of focusing on the race. As Fivethirtyeight says, he confused the concept of a tragedy (something unpredictable like 9-11 where people would suspend politics as usual) and a crisis (a mounting problem where politicians need to be in high-gear). This move didn't grab the kind of media attention that I'm sure McCain was hoping for.

The point I want to make here is that campaigns are not some kind of honest and transparent process. People Lie, as House would say. Obama is lying. McCain is lying. Neither of these two men are the same as they were before, and neither of them are able to be the way they will in the oval office. Candidates say what they need to say to get elected. They change their minds to pick more popular positions that will appeal to more people. They spend more time nitpicking each others misspoken words then they spend talking about the country and the people. This, in a word, is politics. I think McCain is being a little more risky with his gimmick gambles then Obama is, and I think that as these recent polling numbers start sinking in, and as these debates fail to give him the kind of boost he wants, his gimmicks are going to get bigger and more obvious. Diversionary tactics are just another political ploy, and unfortunately they work well enough to justify their continued use by modern politicians.

Tonight I think was good for Obama. Obama has had good momentum building through last week, and tonights tied debate isn't going to shift anything.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The great purge

I'm moving out of my parent's house in two days. I've moved out before, but this is the first time I've moved out with the intention not to be coming back at the end of the semester. I'm also moving to a degree that I've never done before. When I went off to school, I left most of my "stuff" and furniture here. Now, everything that can go with me is going. My mom said she wants my room "cleared" when I leave, or shortly thereafter. God only knows what kind of obnoxious decorating ideas they have for it after I'm gone.

Clearing one's room out to move is a chance for a great many things, and I have decided to enact a great purge. There are so many things that I've kept, unused and unwanted, for so long. Now is my chance to rid myself of these weights once and for all. Growing up, my father was an absolute packrat, who couldn't stand to throw anything away that perchance might contain some utility. He would keep old broken furnature and lighting fixtures with the half-hearted promise that he would try to fix them some day. He would store furniture for people who needed a little extra space, long after it was clear those people were never coming back to collect their items. We still have furniture from my uncle in the basement, that we've had since he divorced his wife and moved into a small apartment: over 10 years ago. We have entire areas in the basement filled with broken lawn furnature, or incomplete bed frames. We have a garage filled with pieces of scrap wood and piping from jobs long since completed, cabinets and chests filled with tools nobody remembers how to use, and closets filled with cleaners that are so old that their labels have since worn off. Now, the only way to find out what is in those bottles is to spray them and see what comes out. Our shed contains all sorts of overflow, two gasoline power generators (one is irrepairably broken), a power-washer sidwalk cleaner (we no longer have a pressure washer that I know of, and we've never had a sidewalk here), two snow blowers (neither of which work), a metal grinder wheel that isn't connected to a motor, and a thin veneer of discarded tools that never made it back into their appropriate drawers. My dad, in short, never found a piece of garbage he wouldn't try to store forever.

My mother was the polar opposite: She was a ruthless cleaning machine. When she got into one of her modes, there was nothing to do but watch in horror as all sorts of things went flying into the trash can. She would point and say "what is this?", but wouldn't care what it actually was. In my mother's world there was, as she was fond of saying, two categories of stuff: keep and trash. If something wasn't in the keep pile, it was in the trash pile. If we didn't know what it was, or what it was for, or when the last time we used it, it was most certainly not in the keep pile. It wasn't long ago when my mom threw away a car recall notice that I received from Honda because she wasn't sure if it was junk mail or not, and the default setting for all mail is junk. If I am not the first person to make it to the mailbox, chances are good I will never see most of my mail.

Like all people, I've picked up some traits from both parents. Like my mother, I tend to view things in terms of their utility, and I do throw enough away to keep from getting cluttered. Like my father, I have a tendency to hoard certain types of things, like CD cases or Videogames (and their related paraphernalia). Digging through my drawers I found a new collection of Windows 3.1 install disks (eight floppies in all) sealed in their original bag. How many people do you know that still have that laying around? I found two new, unopened, printer cartridges for printers that we don't even own anymore. Research papers left over from school that I'm never going to read again, clothing in the bottom of my drawers that isn't even mine. There's lots of weird crap in my room that's managed to stay out of harm's way for years, and now it's all going the way of the dodo.

I'm off to do some more packing now, I'm sure I'll be back with stories.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Shower Weekend

This weekend was Dana's sister's baby shower, the baby who is due precariously close to our wedding date. I helped out with a lot of the preparations, and I think I impressed a few people with my chocolate fondue recipe. I say "recipe", but like all my culinary creations it was a shot from the hip. I never measure anything and rarely have more then a vague idea when I start making something in the kitchen. Lucky for me, the end result usually turns out nicely.

Bought some last-minute necessities for the apartment. We're moving in next weekend bright and early, so anything we don't have now we might be without for the first night. The kinds of things you almost wouldn't think of may prove to be obnoxious if we had missed them, like a shower curtain liner or a trashcan or a lampshade. We still need to get the first month's rent together. We have the money, we have plenty of money. What we don't have is the money in a format that is going to be accepted by the apartments: For the first month's rent they are only accepting a money order or cashier's check. My primary bank, USAA, doesnt have a physical branch anywhere that I know of, and therefore doesn't have cashiers. I wouldn't even know how to go about getting a cashier's check made up for me, or if it's even a service they provide anymore. Getting a money order, apparently, requires cash, and that's also a huge problem. I can't take out enough money to cover it from an ATM either, at least not in one trip. I wired the money to Dana's account (Citizen's Bank, which does have a physical location near her house) and she's going to get the cashier's check. I did get added onto her bank account, and we priced out getting renter's insurance for our new place.

That only leaves 5 days before we move in together, the step that I consider to be the largest in a relationship. A marriage is a nice ceremony, a piece of paper, and a legal status. We're already monogamous, have been for years. When you live together, everything changes. That's when you really get closer to a person, when you learn more about them, and when you've added them as a full-time fixture in your life. In 5 days we're going from seeing each other mostly on weekends, to seeing each other every day of the week, and that's a mind boggling change that marriage cannot possibly compare to.

This week is going to be a busy one at work. Most people from the office are heading out to the RSI trade show in Chicago to show off our wares and see some of the other related technological developments. I've opted to stay back at the office and work through a few additional issues that I've been worried about. We just moved to a new manufacturing partner, and the first unit we got off their production line doesn't work 100%. If this RSI show generates the kinds of sales numbers that people have been anticipating, we need to iron out our production issues ASAP.

Not to mention that I'm not a big fan of traveling. If I can be helpful and productive from home, this is where I would rather stay. It's not like I come home from work, pop open a beer, and turn on the TV. I come home and I work: writing books, developing software, organizing an international fleet of volunteers. I've got a lot going on in my life, and I need to be able to draw a clear line between where my work ends and where the rest begins. I've got things to do in the hours I'm not working, and I don't give that up if I don't have to.

Friday, September 19, 2008


I've been introduced to the website, a networking site for professionals. On first glance, it seemed like another on the list of social website popularity contests. I'm already an occasional user of Facebook, if I waste any more time being "social" I won't have the time to get out and actually interact with people at Parrot and Wikibooks like I want to.

I'm starting to come around though, and I'm really starting to appreciate the service Linkedin has to offer. It's not just keeping in touch with friends from highschool, most of whom I would actually prefer not to be in touch with. It's a place where I can post information from my resume, form professional connections with like-minded people, search jobs, and track my career. And I'm just getting started with my career, so there is a lot of room for growth here.

One thing that I don't like about Linkedin is that it doesn't have any real allowance for the things that get done outside of work. For instance, there isn't any real way to show the work that I've done with Wikibooks, or the Wikimedia Chapters Committee, or The Parrot Foundation. With only a few months in a full-time job, these experiences are the most valuable on my resume and are worth a prominent place on it. The solution I found, which I copied from some other people I saw, was just to list these non-profits as jobs. I do meaningful work with these groups, so I think it's fitting.

I've been a member of Wikibooks for over three years now, and I'm approaching my 40,000th edit. Within the next few months there is an opportunity for me to get some grant money to do some specific authoring work there, and there also might be an opportunity for some book writing that I'm doing to be published. I'll post more information as I get it, of course.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Productive Weekend

We had a "relaxing" weekend this weekend. "Relaxing" here is just a euphemism for "worked on things that weren't the wedding". Most of the weekend was spent with the plumbers who were installing their new heating system, and the rest of the weekend was spent lazing around (good!) and running a few errands. We managed to pick up a few more odds and ends for the apartment, too.

This weekend I found out that one of my books on Wikibooks, "x86 Disassembly" was promoted to featured status. It's quite an honor, I think, because featured books are advertised on the main page and get a few other cool messages as well. Wikibooks has about 3600 books (by one count), and we have only about 64 featured books now. Some of these "featured" books are really legacy from years ago, and don't really meet our current standards anymore, although the effort hasn't been made to remove them yet.

I've been talking with some of my Wikimedia compatriots from Wikiversity today and yesterday, and apparently a little bit of hell is breaking out there. Infighting between some of the members there has come to a head, and people were asking me for some advice. Unfortunately I didn't have enough time to really get involved in the situation, although I am following along with the drama tonight.

Speaking of Wikibooks and Wikimedia, I applied today for a "microgrant" related to Perl 6. The project I applied for is to write a book about Perl 6 at Wikibooks. I've found that there is a relative dearth of information about Perl 6 on the internet, except for the infamous "Synopses" that form the majority of the language specification at this point. I'm hoping that a well-written book can help bring Perl 6 to the masses. Writing this book is something that I've been planning to do for a while now, and if I could get some grant money for it, that would be icing on the cake. Plus, a formal grant would help keep me on an aggressive development pace for it.

Anyway, that was my weekend so far. Next weekend is Dana's sister's baby shower, and the weekend after that we are moving into our first apartmnet together. Exciting times!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Google Chrome

I downloaded Google Chrome today to give it a quick spin. A lot has been written about it, it's interface and it's performance, so I won't duplicate any of that here.

One of the first things I wanted to do was test it for compatibility with some of my JavaScript gadgets on Wikibooks. Lo and behold, it had exactly the same compatibilities as Safari. Since they are both based on Webkit, that makes good sense to me, although I thought Chrome had a different JavaScript engine. One of the problems that Safari has always had was that i couldn't download an edit window and embed it in a gadget, and I never knew why. Firefox did it fine, and I could even manage (with a little back-door hackery) to make the feature work in IE too. But for some reason, it never worked in Safari.

So, I was feeling a little bit disappointed because I was starting to think that Chrome was basically Safari but with less resource demand and a slimmer interface. That is, I was disappointed till I found the developer tools. Unlike Safari (at least, so far as I could find) Google has JS debugging tools built in. Finally, I was able to figure out what the problem was in my scripts for all these months.

The problem, it turned out, was that Firefox was allowing a particular behavior (moving a node from one document to another without being imported first) that isn't technically part of the spec. Webkit is more strict apparently, and doesn't allow this. So, I went back to do things The Right Way, and of course that's introduced some more bugs for me to work through. I'm hoping to have it tonight, and then the only bugs left will be IE-related (go figure).

All in all it is a neat little browser, but I'm not going to switch to it from FF3 yet. Especially not after some of the amazing things I've heard about FF3.1Beta.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Staying busy

It's been a few days since I have been able to post an update here, and now that I have the free time I don't know what to write about.

I almost got sent to Pueblo Colorado this week because of the units from work was malfunctioning. However, a technician who was stationed out there did a simple examination of the terminal and found the problem. Thus, no trip out to Pueblo.

Last week our water heater here at the house started leaking, so dad bought a new one. Of course, he decided that we were going to install it ourselves. I'm a pretty handy guy, and I'm damn good with solder (I am now!) so the project actually went pretty well. We have reliable hot water now, but it's not as hot as it used to be (which wasn't as hot as anybody wanted it to be). I think there's some kind of a problem with our tempering valve, but that's a different project for a different day.

We got our new refridgerator yesterday also. They had bought the fridge before the water heater went, otherwise I can't imagine that they would have had both going on in the same week.

The house used to have two water heaters: One normal heater, and one that was a solar-powered heater. The solar one hasn't really worked for a long time (and hasn't been connected to water for a while) and it started leaking so we're removing it. This is a slow process, dad wants to drain all the water out of it trip-at-a-time with the shop vac. The hold up with the solar heater is that it's a closed-system: The fluid that travels to the solar panel on the roof isn't water: It's propylene glycol. That's going to require some special disposal that I haven't even started to plan for.

In the free time that I do have, I've been doing a lot of work on Parrot, my wiki bot program and Wikibooks. Specifically, I've been using my wiki bot to help edit a wikibook about Parrot. The world of open content textbooks has had a lot of exciting news recently, and I've got a "virtual meeting" on line coming up with members from a few other like-minded websites. I'm all about synergy, but I go in with the realization that Wikibooks is probably the black sheep: Almost every other open content textbook organization uses a CC license, while we're stuck with GFDL. It's gotten to the point that I almost derive sexual excitement when thinking about license unification.

Don't know what else to write, but as soon as I click "Save" I'm going to have a flood of ideas. That's how things always go.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Holy Toledo

It's not really a phrase that I would say myself, but after my recent trip to Toledo Ohio everybody seems to find a lot of humor in saying "Holy Toledo!" The trip was relatively uneventful, and when I have more time I will post some information about it.

No sooner did I get in to work this morning then the boss was talking about shipping me back out the door. This time, he wants me to head out to Pueblo CO to find and diagnose a malfunctioning unit, and swap it out with a new working one. What makes the matter all the more upsetting is that there is a team of no fewer then 3 field technicians at the very place they are going to send me to, all of which are more then qualified to diagnose any of the problems we would have in the field.

The units we are making are satellite tracker units. As a gross oversimplification, they are like GPS relays, taking GPS position information that they get from the GPS satellites and transmitting it to us over a different satellite. The list of possible things that can go wrong with the unit are separated into two basic types: Internal failures and external failures. The internal failures are things that have gone wrong on our end, either during design or manufacture: Things like faulty hardware or software design, faulty construction, bad configuration, etc. External problems are things which we would typically have no control over such as physical trauma or satellite blockage.

Any field technition can take a look at the unit and determine if there is such an external problem. In fact, if I could get a reliable set of photographs of the unit, I could make the determination from the comfort of my own desk. Internal problems are much harder and typically would require some amount of disassembly and analysis that can only be done in the lab. In other words, there is no real reason to send me to Pueblo, because there isn't anything that can be learned from doing so.

Another problem with the plan is that they want to send me to Pueblo with a new unit, that I can use to replace the old one with. However, because of the volatility of the batteries, they are sending me out with a unit that has none. My job will be to take the batteries out of the old device and put them into the new one. This is a fine plan, unless of course the batteries themselves are the problem. In which case I end up with two non-working units and a pair of batteries that don't work and cannot be transported anyplace meaningful.

On top of all this, I worry that I'm being shoehorned into some kind of "Field Service Tech" job, something that I do not want, and that I feel is doing a great disservice to my intended career path as a whole.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Interesting Potential Projects

There are two interesting project ideas that I would like to try my hand at eventually, as I get more free time:

1) Closures for C? It's an interesting idea that is being developed elsewhere. I would love to find a way to add this, as some kind of optional parser mixin, to Parrot's C implementation. I could copy the syntax that's being used for this in Clang and llvm-gcc, to increase interoperability with those projects
2) Alternate Syntax for C++, which has been developed by none other then Damian Conway. I would love to see this implemented as an alternate parser for C++, which could share almost everything (except the parser) with a "standard" C++ implementation. Implementing both in parallel would be very fun (and if I could combine with #1 and give C++ some closures too, that would be hot).