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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Half Day!

Hiveminder says it's that time again, so a'bloggin' we will go.

I had a half day today, don't think I've said that since grade school. It wasn't even because of the snow either. The Raymour & Flannigan repair guy came over today to look at our damaged couch, and I had to be here to let him in. He gave me a window for 12 - 3, which basically cut my work day in half. I woke up a little early, got to work about an hour early, and left work at 11.

I've been getting good work done here, although I probably have about an hour or more to do before the day is done (that is, if I want to break even for the day, which I don't necessarily need to do).

Had a bit of a snafu last week that has started to manifest itself as a problem this week. Last week there was a site install for one of our new customers. The morning of the install, when our engineer was on site (in the snow and the cold, as he reminded us frequently), it was decided that we had to update our software for the new units. I don't generally like to make last-minute changes to anything, especially when there isn't sufficient time for rigorous testing. But, the man ws on the ground and it was time to make things work. One of the changes I had to make was to add a feature to our satellite messages that we had never used (and never tested) before. I drafted a change following an example I found, did a quick test or two to verify that things weren't blatantly broken, and shipped them out to the installer.

Well, it turns out that there was a problem with the data we're getting, so we need to redo it. There are two options: Go back to the site and update the software, or send updates over the air. The first method always works, but is costly. Plus, it's the week of thanksgiving, and getting on a plane is going to be unpleasant at best. The second option is untried and untested, but theoretically possible. So, I spend all yesterday testing and planning, and I spend today sending out experimental commands over the satellite and trying to verify the result. It takes about 10 hours, on average, to send out a command and verify the result (and it seems to have only about a 50% success rate per attempt), so it's slow going. But, I'm proud to say that it is working. When people are reminiscing years from now, nobody will remember the year Andrew used a satellite and high-technology to save Thanksgiving.

Dana and I are doing easy (read: frozen) dinners this week to save some energy for the big turkey day. I've got some pizza to throw in the oven later, and some pierogies from last night to reheat. Le Gourmet has taken the week off, apparently.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

2008 Technology

It's finally happened, I'm officially using modern computing technology again. Yesterday, Dana and I went out and bought myself a new laptop. It's a real beauty, and is plenty powerful. The last time I got a new computer, I was a brash young high-school graduate with a lousy GPA. The argument could be made, and maybe successfully so, that my first laptop really turned me around. I was connected, and open to the internet where so much self-learning and self-actualization was possible.

My first laptop was a Toshiba with a 1.3Ghz celeron and a 14" screen. It was nice and suitable for what I needed. I taught myself how to program on that computer, C, C+, FORTRAN, Perl, PHP, DOS Batch Script. Quite a lot of memories there. My second laptop was a second-hand IBM with similar stats but with a smaller footprint and much lower weight: perfect for lugging around to class, and my apartment, and my parent's house and Dana's house. This same laptop, that I bought used abour 4 years ago, was the one I've used almost every single day until yesterday.

This laptop is almost incomparably better: Dual-core 2.0Ghz Intel Core processor. 320Gb harddisk. 4Gb RAM. With this laptop, for the first time ever, I felt comfortable doing something I had never done: set up a dual-boot system. My IBM was running Ubuntu, and this was perfect for most of what I had to do. However, every now and then I would run up against a barrier where it seemed like Windows actually did something better. Now, I just boot into Windows to do what I need, and then boot right back into my good-ole' Ubuntu. No muss, no fuss.

Anybody who is interesting in setting up a dual-boot system, I used this tutorial and I highly recommend it.

Before I wrap this post up, I want to say first that we didn't just buy me a laptop, we also bought Dana a new DSLR Nikon camera, that she's absolutely thrilled about. It's a cool camera, and I'm sure we're going to make a lot of memories with it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Hivemindered, adj. Having your life be completely and efficiently organized by using Hiveminder.

Seriously folks, I'm on the path to organizational nirvana, and it's name is Hiveminder. I wasn't properly utilizing it for a while, but as I get more and more of my life in there, I almost can't remember how I lived without it. Every Wednesday I'm getting a reminder to write a blog post. What did I do before, decide to post randomly? Not write anything for days and weeks because I forgot? I've got about 4 or 5 blogs that I'm actively involved with, and every now and then some of them would get terribly neglected because I get so overwhelmingly busy that I just don't remember.

And I am pretty overwhelmingly busy. I do it to myself, and I'm definitely not complaining about it, but I have got a lot of things on my plate. At least I won't be accused of not taking good opportunities when they come across my path. Prime example: I've been thinking about writing a book about Wikibooks for some time now. In fact, the book has been in planning for damn near two years now. Yesterday, I finally wrote up a proposal and sent it in to a publisher for consideration. Wouldn't you know it? But I got a reply right back expressing interest, asking questions, and offering suggestions. Even if this book project never gets off the ground (and I have plenty of reasons to think now that it will), at least I can't ever say that I didn't try.

Wikibooks has been eating up a lot of my time, in a good way. I've been getting back into regular writing, and I've been creating and editing book "collections" for use with our new print-on-demand service. People, listen closely: You can write books at Wikibooks, get a community of people to help review and edit it, and publish it through I've heard from our publisher that we can write books and have them subsidized for shipping to impoverished places like rural India for rediculously cheap. You can help write a book that could end up in classrooms in India, Africa, South America. With print-on-demand and world-wide shipping, we can get free or crazy-inexpensive books to the people who need them the most, and I find that amazingly empowering. That's the kind of thing that keeps me motivated. That, and the fact that I've scheduled my Wiki-work in hiveminder!!

Parrot is going well but slowly. I'm digging around in the function-calling code now, trying to simplify some of the calling conventions and algorithms that Parrot uses. It's very tricky stuff, and I can't say I understand all of it, but I am making steady progress (with some help from my colleagues when I need it!). I joke sometimes that I do more programming at home then I do at work, and I'm a software engineer! Actually, it's not really a joke, just the irony of a poorly-designed business card. I have a lot of trouble saying that the VB.NET stuff I do at work is really "programming" anyway.

Hiveminder says my next post here is scheduled on Wednesday, but I may post before that if I have news.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Status update

With so much going on in my life, you'd think I'd make a few more blog posts explaining them all. Not so, I've been a little dis-motivated to make any blog posts recently.

My motivation pendulum has swung back towards Wikibooks, because recently there have been some major changes there. The new print-on-demand extension that's been installed there is amazing, and as we speak my first book is in the mail. After all this time it's going to be amazing justification for me to finally have a book with my name on the cover. Of course, I'll only be credited as an "editor" on the work, even if I know deep down that I'm responsible for the vast majority of the authorship as well. Such are the caveats of working in a collaborative environment like Wikibooks: you don't get the winner-take-all credit that a traditional author gets from their books. Also, I don't get any royalties. What I could do, of course, is try to get the source files myself and take those to a publisher, get my own deal and get royalties from it. I doubt there is any real money for an amateur like me to be making from the kinds of books I've written thus far.

Yesterday was a harrowing one, Geoff's girlfriend Kara missed her flight back to the USA. This happened after my parents received a call that her connecting flight from Chicago to Philly, so everybody was highly confused. To top off the situation Geoff's microphone was busted, so he couldn't talk to us by Skype, so I had to coordinate the powwow between Geoff on IM and my parents on Cell. Kara should be flying into town tonight around midnight.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Welcome Home

I don't think too many people read this blog, but some people may have accidentally added it into their aggregators in times past. Forgive me this post, which promises to be long and rambling, and feel free to skip past it if your eyes start to glaze over.


Yesterday afternoon we landed back in Philly airport from Cancun Mexico. The honeymoon, which lasted about 6 days and nights, was a great one. At least, I assume it was great, I've never been on a honeymoon before so I have nothing against which to compare. We went to some cool all-inclusive adults-only (but not clothing-optional) resort, and really had a blast. Not having to carry my wallet around all the time and worry about how every drink and every meal would affect my bottom line was quite liberating. I don't know when or if we will be able to take a similar trip in the future, but I hope we do.

The service at the resort was exemplary, although Dana and I both agreed that some of the food didn't quite meet our expectations. Of course, the problem could easily have been on our side of the table, since we have become a little snobbish in our burgeoning foodyism. I had an issue too with the consistency: The average quality of the daily breakfast buffet was far surpassed by the quality of the dinner entre selections, for instance. I will say, for what my opinion is worth, that their asian restaurant was some of the best asian food (including sushi) that I have ever had. On the other end of the scale, their Italian foods were just short of appalling, so you can't win them all.


The election is tomorrow, and I'm sorry to report that I probably won't be able to cast my vote. I registered in south Philly back when I was still living there as a student at Temple. I never moved my registration to Chester County when I moved in with my parents, and by the time I moved in with Dana in Mongomery county, it was past the 30-day deadline to get it switched. I don't know why I didn't do it sooner (I should have!), and even if I was registered in Chester County where my parent's live, that's where I work and I would have been able to get to the polls without any problem at all. 4 long years have passed where I could have updated my registration, but it was never at the top of my todo list because it never seemed like it was a pressing move to make. Now, when it's most pressing, I'm kicking myself for not taking it more seriously before.

For what little it's worth I'm a supporter of Barack Obama, but as a non-voter, I don't really have any standing to preach about this issue any further here on my blog. When 2012 rolls around, I definitely won't make the same mistake.


The wedding was fantastic, and pictures are already finding their way onto facebook. When we get more pictures up, I'll try to post links or something. Dana made quite the gorgeous bride, and a really fun time was had by all those who attended. All the planning that Dana and her mother put into it was well-rewarded.

By the by, if there are any lovebirds in the greater Philadelphia area looking to get hitched, let me know because I could make a few recommendations about various vendors that we dealt with.


Got word today that the FSF released a new version of the GFDL which includes a migration clause for moving our wiki projects to the CC-BY-SA instead. This is great for a number of reasons, but it also raises some practical problems. One issue that I'm trying to deal with now is the issue of book donations. There are a number of authors who have donated books to Wikibooks, and now their works could be migrated to CC-BY-SA if things move that way. Many of the books I've worked with (including the UNDP-APDIP books) are already dual-licensed GFDL+CC-BY-SA, so there isn't an issue with them.

Before the wedding, I had a great phone conversation with people from the World Bank about donating one of their books to Wikibooks, and now I have to get back in touch with them about it to know about this additional detail. Hopefully I can put them in touch with some of my contacts at the UNDP-APDIP to help smooth the way for this cool project.

There are lots of other wikibooks-related projects going on in the background too, but the time is not ripe to talk about any of those yet.


The fledgling Parrot Foundation is having an in-person meeting for some of their contributors later this month at Google Headquarters in Mountain View CA. I am hoping that I would be able to make it too the meeting (how cool would that be!!), but it's such short notice and I'm completely out of vacation time now after the honeymoon. I have to see if I can find some amenable flight plans that would get me there and back without having to miss any work (or very little).

Anyway, that's all my rambling for now, I'm sure I'll have more posts to make in the coming days once more details flood into my head.