Monday, 24 October 2011

A few weeks ago a friend and I installed a kit full of micro vortex generators (VG’s) on the wings and tail section of my airplane, a 1975 Piper Cherokee Warrior PA28-151, N639MR. As I described in some detail before, the VG’s modify the flow of the air over the surfaces of the wings, making the air “stick” better, resulting in smoother air flow and better air flow where it’s needed – over the control surfaces at the trailing edge of each wing.

Micro Vortex Generators on Piper Cherokee Warrior PA28-151Well, I’ve now flown the plane several times since installing the VG’s and the results are in:  It’s truly amazing the difference they make.

In a nutshell, here are the results of the modification. I’ll start out with takeoff, talk about in-flight changes, and then finish up with benefits at landing time.

  • From the beginning, the plane gets off the ground sooner. A lot sooner, in fact. And it doesn’t need as much airspeed to initially get into the air. That translates into shorter ground roll and a much sorter takeoff. I’ll have to measure it to see exactly what the distances are.
  • The plane climbs faster. In situations where I used to get 500 feet per minute I often now get 600-700. In those situations where I used to get 700-750 feet per minute, it’s not unusual to get 800-1000. And if I want to convert some airspeed to altitude, pulling back and riding it up is fast and fun.
  • The airplane is faster in cruise flight. Truly faster. You’d think that adding nearly 200 metal tabs to the flying surfaces of the wings and tail would create drag and reduce top speed, but nope. Apparently the improved airflow over the wing is a great tradeoff – Add a little bit of drag as a result of adding the VG’s, but reduce overall drag over the wings and tail thanks to improved laminar airflow. Net result is higher airspeeds at the same engine RPM.
  • Related to that, I can now fly at a cruise speed around 120 mph at a lower RPM than before, which translates into burning slightly less fuel going cross-country. It used to be a real chore to get the plane up to 120 mph in cruise and maintain it there at 2500rpm. But now it’s often flying well over 120mph even at 2400 rpm. That 100rpm difference makes a real dent in fuel consumption, believe it or not. And if I want to fly at around 115 miles an hour, the difference in RPM required is even greater. So, I can get there faster on the same fuel as before, or take my time and burn even less.
  • In flight, one of the critical tests you put an airplane through when you are becoming familiar with the way it flies is aerodynamic (wing) stalls. Needless to say, I have been stalling this plane more times in the past few weeks than is typical as I get to know the new flight characteristics. Again, the difference is substantial: It’s almost impossible to get it to drop it’s nose and stall, one wing or two. In power-on stalls, much of anything beyond a buffet is very difficult to make happen. It just keep on flying and buffeting along at 44 miles an hour or even slower -- which is a lot slower than it used to stall before the VG's. In a power-off stall configuration I’ve flown it in a slight headwind down to 40mph indicated airspeed, and all it really wants to do is drop the nose a little then and keep flying. I literally flew it power-off at 45mph in a buffet for half a minute, no stall. Of course, eventually it will drop, but it sure hangs in there, and loses very little altitude. Compared to before the VG’s, stall speed is at least 5 mph lower, probably more like 7-8 mph less.
  • The control surfaces respond quickly, sharply and with authority in flight. I thought the plane rolled left and right pretty quickly before the VG modification, but it’s much cleaner and more responsive now. Similarly, although not as important or pronounced at cruise speeds, pitch changes happen quickly and yaw is solid with good authority thoughout.
  • Steep turns (45-degree bank or more) are so much more fun now. The plane carves and holds it’s altitude in steep turns, and is so easy to control you just have to wonder if you jumped in the wrong plane by mistake… Nope, this is my plane. Okay, cool. :)
  • As a final note regarding in-cruise flight, the plane generally feels much smoother and more solid moving through the air. It's hard to explain, but it's noticeable when you fly.
  • The rest of the major differences are seen when preparing for landing and during the landing itself. This phase of flight is so different than pre-VG’s that some people will tell you that you'll have to learn to land all over again, and they’re right. At lower the speeds flown in preparation for landing, the control surfaces respond much more sharply and with more authority than before the VG’s. Not only that, the plane simply won’t descend as quickly anymore. It just wants to fly. So, careful reduction of speed to under 80 mph is needed to make sure you’re descending soon and fast enough in the landing pattern.
  • Landing pattern turns are clean and sharp. The sluggish, slightly-mushy sort of feeling is associated with rudder at the slower speeds in turns and when slipping on approach is gone.
  • In the landing flare, one simply must pay attention and fly the airplane slower than used to be the case, since the plane just floats along over the runway like nobody’s business if you’re too fast. Cherokees – especially the tapered wing models like the warrior – are kind of famous for floating, but now the effect is VGs - how they work - from Micro Aerodymanicseven more pronounced. In fact, I’m flying almost 10 miles per hour slower over the numbers at the approach end of the runway than before I installed the VG's, and the plane settles to the runway at a substantially lower speed than before - and quite a bit below the lower end of the white arc. Makes for some smooth, short, nose-high landings – which is great.
  • One of the chief complaints some people have about Cherokees at landing time, when the plane is slow, is that the rudder (which controls yaw, or the direction the nose is pointing) and the stabilator (which controls pitch, or how high or low the nose is pointing) lose their effectiveness. With the tail section VG’s installed and the improved flow of the air over these surfaces at landing time, rudder and stabilator authority is much improved in a very noticeable way.

So, is it worth the time and money? I spent almost $1500 on the kit and a couple evenings installing them (under the supervision and with the approval of my IA). And the plane flies great – faster, more responsive to control inputs and more efficient, plus a longer glide and the capability of going to and departing from noticeably shorter fields. The Warrior isn’t intended to be a back-woods airplane, but shorter-field capability is definitely welcome and valuable.

So, yes – It’s definitely worth it and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Other items addressed lately by the aircraft shop include a new landing light – a Whelan LED model that will never burn out (which beats the heck out of 30-hour or so per halogen bulb) and a newly-rebuilt attitude indicator (the gyro had seen it’s better days, and was in desperate need of repair before I start my instrument training). Needless to say, I won’t be dumping any more money into the plane for a while (at least not voluntarily), since it’s emptied my wallet this summer, to be sure!

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Monday, 24 October 2011 17:44:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 01 October 2011

A couple months ago I dropped by Micro Aerodynamics in Anacortes, Washington after putting together a big fireworks show there for Independence Day. Micro Aerodynamics makes kits of micro vortex generators that can be installed on aircraft to improve performance in a variety of areas. Under the supervision of A&P What-VGs-domechanic and IA (plus all-around-good-guy) Danny from Twin Oaks Airpark in Hillsboro, I’m installing the micro vortex generators on my airplane, N639MR, a 1975 Piper Warrior PA28-151.

What the heck are vortex generators (VGs) and why would I want them? Good question.

VGs can reduce stall speeds and improve an aircraft’s aerodynamic performance. They allow the wing to develop more lift and fly at lower airspeeds, as compared to not having VGs installed.  In turn, this can reduce takeoff speed and improve the rate of climb.  VGs also help to retain effective aileron (toll) control and enhance your rudder (yaw) authority in higher angles of attack.

As air flows over a clean, efficient wing the air "sticks" or adheres to the surface of the wing – a function called “laminar flow.” This clean, laminar flow of air over the properly-shaped wing's surface results in a high pressure zone underneath and a low pressure zone above the wing, which is how lift is produced – The wing moves toward the low pressure zone as the difference is equalized. If the air flowing over the wing surfaces (especially in the low-pressure zone on top of the wing) loses its laminar flow, wing and flight performance can suffer in the form of increased drag, loss of lift and higher fuel consumption.

NASA researchers developed micro VGs to control this flow delamination by producing miniature, controlled spirals of air, called "vortices." The spirals of air laminate well to the surface of the wing and as a result airflow over the wing is more efficient and “sticks” better across the entire surface, including at lower air speeds and higher angles of attack. The result is reduced drag and increased wing efficiency and lift (or you can think of it in terms of DSC00401less engine power being required to produce the same amount of lift). In a perfect world, the end results for the pilot are shorter take-off distances due to more efficient creation of lift, lower aerodynamic stall speeds, ability to land slower and therefore in a shorter distance, snappier and more responsive control inputs for roll, pitch and yaw at all speeds (including critically slow speeds such as in landing configuration), and in some cases even increased top cruise speeds and smoother ride due to the resulting aerodynamic improvements (in the case of especially inefficient wings).

Anyhow, I dropped about $1450 on the kit, and after discussing with my mechanic and discovering I could install them under his guidance and supervision I adopted a measure-twice-mark-once methodology and a friend joined me in the hangar to begin the process of installing the micro VGs on my airplane.

The Micro Aerodynamics kit, first of all, is incredibly complete and well put-together. It includes literally everything you need, with the exception of a couple items I needed to pick up at the local store (90% or higher concentration rubbing alcohol, and in my case some paint and blue painter’s tape, since I would be painting the VGs myself). The VG kit has all the thread, masking tape, adhesive, of course the nearly -200 aluminum VG pieces, self-adhesive patterns to stick on the wings, DSC00432abrasive pad, razor knife, a metal measuring tape – even a sharpened pencil all ready to go. I imagine the only reason I had to buy the rubbing alcohol on my own was because it’s not normally easy to ship that in the mail.

Preparation consisted first of a thorough washing of the entire aircraft to remove all the dirt, dust and bug crud, especially from the wings and tail control surfaces. Another good friend helped me with that a few days prior. On the day we started installing the kit, a lint-free cloth and some rubbing alcohol removed any final layers of crud from the areas where the VGs will be applied – The wings, stabilator (horizontal stabilizer on the tail) and the vertical stabilizer (the upward fin portion of the tail).

I shot a few “before” pictures of the airplane a jotted down some recent performance numbers to help my memory. Typical cruise speed is 117 to 120 MPH properly trimmed at about 2500 RPM and typical sustained climb with full tanks and just me in the plane is about 600-700 feet per minute on a standard-ish day. The airplane stalls with full flaps and in landing configuration (power off) at a pretty low speed – around 50 miles per hour or less. Under full power it’s hard to get it to do a full stall at all, but seems like it’s about the same speed in slow flight at altitude (3000 feet). But ultimately the test will be flying the airplane, hands on the controls and butt in the seat, and seeing how it flies.

Installation consists of following a set of provided diagrams and instructions, and carefully measuring parts of the plane, making marks where indicated, stretching black thread between points to define reference lines, and then applying a DSC00449bunch of patterns made of self-adhesive contact paper. The pattern templates have cut-outs where the VGs will go, as well as notches you line up with the thread lines and the various reference marks you made in the measurements phase.

Placement is important, and the templates make it pretty easy to get it right. In fact, the creator of the Micro VGs told me one customer, who happens to be an airplane mechanic, gave the kit to his 12 and 14 year old buys to install on his airplane (supervised of course, and with great success). Measuring twice and having a helper to provide a second set of eyes will ensure you get everything in the right place. In fact, there are many parts of this project that are much better done with two people.

We completed the full installation in two evenings over about . The first evening was spend measuring, marking with a pencil, stretching thread lines and putting the contact paper templates in place. Then the measurements had to be re-checked carefully, since the adhesive that’s used to stick the small aluminum VG pieces is basically permanent. There’s no moving them once they’re on there.

DSC00464Day two consisted of finish painting the VGs and allowing them to fully dry (I’d actually recommend doing this the day before you actually install them, though) followed by prepping the surfaces where the VGs would be glued down. Pre consists of using a Scotch Brite pad (supplied in the kit) to break the glossy paint barrier, and then wiping the surface clean using rubbing alcohol.

The adhesive in the kit comes in two parts: A small aerosol can with chemical activator that is sprayed on the surface of the airplane skin where the template cutouts are, as well as a syringe of adhesive material, which is applied one drop at a time to the bottom tab on each of the 196 VGs. Needless to say, it takes a while and is some careful, tedious work to glue nearly 200 little metal tabs.

Probably the easiest to mess up and least-forgiving part of the whole project is the process of getting  the right amount of adhesive on the bottom of each VG. It’s easy to get too much on there, and the result is glue squeezing out from underneath. When it cures, it tends to turn from clear to DSC00472a brownish color, so you don’t want that stuff left over when you’re done – It will just make your wings look cruddy. So, a package of 100 cotton swabs is also included in the kit, along with the razor knife, to allow you to clean the excess adhesive before it becomes a problem that can only be solved with a Dremel tool.

The first few VGs we applied were not pretty – I ‘ll just admit that up front. I had to scrape enough adhesive off that it took paint off the VGs, so I will be spot-painting those in the next day or two so they look proper and nice. But after applying a few, my friend and I got in the swing of things and discovered exactly how much it takes. One thing the kit doesn’t have that I think would be of huge benefit is a few practice VGs and a template and piece of aircraft sheet metal. For someone who’s never done this before, a small amount of practice could be really helpful before defacing the skin of a real airplane. But that’s just an idea, and in the end this is not rocket science.

The adhesive cures quickly, and we adopted the recommended method of applying a little at a time in stages. Activator first, then glue on a group of VGs (maybe 20 or 30 or so). Let the previous set cure and harden while you install the next set. Once cured, you just peel the contact paper templates off from around the VGs, DSC00476clean up any excess adhesive and tape and crud, and then move onto the next section. Applying all the VGs took us about three hours of solid work as a team. My friend Matt applied the glue to each VG, while I sprayed on the activator and then placed each VG on the plane in the gaps provided by the templates. On the wings the VGs go on top of the wing surface a few inches aft of the leading edge. On the tail, it’s different. The horizontal stabilizer VGs actually go underneath the wing, and on the vertical stabilizer they go just in front of the “rudder” surface, in the middle of the stabilizer structure. You need to be careful to make sure the ones you apply to the vertical surfaces don’t slide out of place due to gravity – a few of mine wanted to, so I had to make sure they stayed in the right spot until they cured, which takes only a couple minutes. Less is more when it comes to adhesive, we found. But too little and you’re also in bad shape, so really it’s all about the art of getting just the right amount on the base of each VG.

The end result is an airplane that looks pretty darn different – Those little tabs really give the old plane teeth. Next up is a final inspection and (hopefully) signoff by the shop, completion of some required FAA paperwork, and then I’ll get to test fly it, which will be fun. Until then, just have to wait!

Update: The plane was checked and given the green light on Sunday and I flew it for an hour or two. Results were great, with a number of pleasant surprises. Will post more info soon.

DSC00498   DSC00485   DSC00492



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Friday, 30 September 2011 23:52:51 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 16 May 2011

Note: The scholarships for 2011 have been awarded, but check back at the EAA-105 web site in future years for other opportunities.

If you're 16 to 21 years old (or 15 years old but will turn 16 this year), and if you live in the Portland area and want to learn to fly an airplane, there are a handful of $1000 scholarships available - and you should apply! They are sponsored by the George and Lillian Bogardus Memorial Trust, and will be awarded at the end of June, 2011.

Applications are open now though the local EAA chapter. Ten hours of paid-for flight training with an instructor is a pretty cool deal -- See the PDF file linked here and feel free to contact me for more info!

EAA  Chapter  105  will  be  awarding  4  scholarships each consisting of the recipients choice of either:

  • Option 1:  10  Hours  of  flight  training  in  a  Cessna 150  with  an  instructor  through  Starks Twin Oaks Airpark in Hillsboro, Oregon
  • Option 2:  $1,000  towards  aircraft  rental  for  flight training  purposes  at  Starks  Twin  Oaks or other flight school of their choice

RULES:

  • Applicant must be between the ages of 16 through 21.  The applicant may be 15, but must turn 16 in  calendar year 2011.
  • The scholarship is non‐transferrable. 
  • Option 1 must be completed by October 31, 2011.
  • Option 2 must be completed by December 31, 2011.
  • The scholarship may be utilized towards any level of flight training (beginning student through advanced ratings).
  • Children and/or grandchildren of chapter directors, Bogardus trustees, and scholarship selection panel members are not eligible.

TO APPLY:

Submit an application packet (via email in PDF format) to michelle.smith@eaa105.org by Friday, June 10, 2011.   This packet must contain:

  • Biography and contact information.
  • 1 to 2 page narrative describing applicant’s interest, experience, and future plans in aviation.
  • 3 letters of recommendation (2 must be from other than family members).
  • Parental approval and signature (if under 18 years of age)

Interviews for up to 10 selected applicants will be held on Saturday, June 25th.



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Monday, 16 May 2011 17:41:14 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 23 December 2010

Time has come for Jolly Ol' Saint Nick to pay his visits to the good little girls and boys this year. Here are a couple resources you can use with the kiddos to interact with Santa and build up some additional excitement for the Christmas event.

As always, NORAD is tracking Santa's progress throughout the Christmas delivery window. You can go with your kids to http://noradsanta.org for lots of information and links to various tracking resources. There's even a mobile version of the site (m.noradsanta.org) and a Twitter feed (twitter.com/noradsanta). Oh, and on Facebook, too at http://facebook.com/noradsanta of course. Here is the obligatory YouTube video:


But, that's not all. For those parents who might want to arrange a call from the Jolly Old Elf himself, there's an app (or two or three) for that. For those living in the Android world, here are a couple:

CALLME! Christmas - Allows you to choose a child's name and a message and receive a "phone call" (actually an app that plays the audio locally) that you can answer with your child. Lots of good options and pretty cool.

Christmas Call from Santa - This one allows you to receive up to four actual calls. In this case, any phone can be used and a real phone call comes in with a good or "don't be naughty" greeting.

And - from the BONUS department - Check out the interactive Talking Santa (free) app in the Android Market. It's a lot of fun and the kids will enjoy it.

For those without a smartphone, there's also a service on the web called Santa's Hotline that you can use to arrange calls to your child - by name - from Santa. You schedule and choose the call. Very cool.

Merry Christmas everyone!



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Thursday, 23 December 2010 23:07:07 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 09 December 2010

I recently went on a trip across the country with a good friend, and ended up in the town where we grew up – Los Alamos, New Mexico. My final stop before returning to Oregon was the Four Corners area – Farmington, Durango and Shiprock. Here are a few pictures from the New Mexico portion of the trip, which a few people have asked for hi-res copies of. You can click on each one to see the full size version, and then right-click on the large version and choose to save it to your computer if you like. And since it comes up more often than not eventually, please note that commercial or publication use just requires asking nicely. :)

Shiprock, New Mexico

Shiprock2 Shiprock1

Front Hill Road view, Los Alamos, New Mexico

DSC00056aaa DSC00095aaa

Clines Corners, New Mexico

ClinesCornersSign

Fence, 210 North Allen

DSC00113aaa



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Thursday, 09 December 2010 01:04:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 06 July 2010

As many know, I shoot public fireworks displays now and then for Western Display Fireworks, a company located right here in Oregon. That means I’m typically off at some big show each July 4th in either Washington or Oregon, the two states where I am a card carrying pyrotechnics display operator. This year I was with my fine crew in Anacortes, Washington – a town located between Seattle and the Canadian border. We fired the show out over Hidalgo Bay, and it was a good time. The people of Anacortes are terrific, and the show went off without a hitch. For a while earlier in the day the winds were pretty bad, but Mother Nature cooperated and they died off before the show started.

Below is a video of the show as well as a couple setup videos. You can see more video of the setup process at http://qik.com/greghughespdx as well if you like, and once I can get the show video from the other camera downloaded (it was giving me fits last night when I tried) I will post that, as well.

Enjoy.

Anacortes July 4th Fireworks - 2010 from Greg Hughes on Vimeo.

Loading shells

Wiring up the show



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Tuesday, 06 July 2010 15:12:47 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 20 June 2010

Facebook is huge. It serves hundred of billions (literally) of pages a month, and 1.2 million photos every second. Wow. It's generally considered the world's largest web site. I'm waiting for an episode of Build it Bigger to air talking about Facebook, but I doubt they'll do it. Software scaling is hard to show in TV (but data center pictures are exciting to some, I suppose).

Operating software, databases and infrastructure at Facebook scale is a massive and complicated undertaking, and they actually do a lot of it on open-source software.

Pingdom takes a look at how Facebook does it, and describes some of the open-source technology the company leverages, in an interesting article called The Software Behind Facebook. It's worth reading.



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Sunday, 20 June 2010 20:14:29 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 08 May 2010

I decided yesterday to start using my Nikon D200 digital still SLR camera to do some interval shooting, and then took the series of images to make a time-lapse film. It’s something I’ve messed with before a little bit, but for some reason I decided I wanted to dive right in.

I made a couple so-so quick and dirty videos yesterday, and then shot some night clouds moving across the star-lit sky last night. The nice thing about living where I do is that there’s lots of sky and trees to help frame the shots, and the city lights are fairly far away. So clouds get a glow on a long exposure at night but the stars show up nicely, too.

Anyhow, another cool thing about this new little hobby tangent is that I can spend three to five minutes setting up a interval series shot, click a couple buttons, and then walk away for about 90 minutes while the camera takes its pictures. That works great for quickly starting a shot between work calls or what have you.

I used to be a photographer professionally – back when people still shot film. That was two careers ago, and I miss it at times. So I have a pretty solid understanding of how things work for different types of exposures, and all the weirdness that goes with long exposures. But with digital cameras things get messy when you do exposures more than a second, and the whole video noise thing is really pretty annoying.

At any rate, I came up with a few videos, so I thought I would post them here along with a few noted about how they’re made.

My initial videos were kind of messy, but you can click the links to see them if you like. Gotta start somewhere, heh.

I’ll start here with a video I made today, which took advantage of the rather spectacular clouds building in the sky over my house this afternoon. To see this video in its highest quality, view it in HD at YouTube.

The night shot at the end of the above video was filmed last night. I didn’t quite capture the stars as brightly as wanted, but it still turned out pretty nice.

So, tonight I decided I wanted to try again. I adjusted the shooting exposure (went from a 10-second exposure to a 15-second one) and the result was the quick video test below, which shows the stars much more clearly I think.

Night clouds and stars take two from Greg Hughes on Vimeo.

It’s not really too hard to do these time-lapse films. I have a camera that will do interval shooting, and I also have a remote intervalometer shutter release for it. Some consumer cameras have this feature, some require an external controller like the one I have.

Once the series of photos is made, I import them into QuickTime Pro. You just choose File > Open Image Sequence and then point at the first file in the numerical sequence. As long as the files are one complete numerical list, QuickTime will import them in the right order. Then I export the files as MP4, 1920x1080 and 5,000 Kbps or higher bit rate.

After that I pulled the film segments with the soundtrack audio into Windows Live Movie Maker on Windows 7, produced the video with transitions and what have you, then exported to a new hi-def video. I also automatically published to YouTube.

That’s about it. I will try to post a more detailed tutorial sometime soon, after I do a few more time lapse sessions.



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Saturday, 08 May 2010 01:52:44 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 05 May 2010

Once again this year, I have been asked to shoot an Independence Day fireworks show for Western Display Fireworks, and this year it will be in beautiful Anacortes, Washington up on Fidalgo Island, next to the San Juan Islands. I’ve never been there before, and am looking forward to the shoot. There’s an airport up there, so I may just have to plan a weekend flight up that way to scout out the site before the show.

If you think you might be interested in being part of the volunteer fireworks crew, this is your invitation to find out more and see if it’s something you’d be interested in. It’s hard work, but that never hurt anyone. We do some heavy lifting at times, and it’s a bit of a dirty job. But once you’ve experienced it, it’s awfully hard to stay away the next time around. I first smelled the smoke and caught the commercial fireworks bug back in 2000, and soon after that I got licensed as a pyrotechnician/operator and have been shooting shows ever since.

This year we will head up to Anacortes on July 3rd, set up all day on the 4th, shoot the show and clean up after (yes, it’s quite a long day), and then return to our respective homes on the 5th. You'll handle the shells, set up and load the mortars, help wire them all up to the firing equipment, learn all about how they work, participate in a full set of safety lessons, and - most importantly - you'll be a key part of bringing an awesome July 4th celebration to the people of Anacortes and the surrounding area.

We need a crew of about 6-8 people, and at this point I have myself plus three other people confirmed and on the crew list. So, there’s room for a few more! Pretty much anyone who can handle explosives per the federal government can participate (I’ll explain those rules to people who express an interest, but suffice it to say pretty much anyone can help).

Last year I asked for volunteers here and on Twitter and we ended up with a great crew of people who had a lot of fun. So, I’m hoping for the same thing this year!

The fact is, it’s not often you get a chance to blow up thousands of dollars of someone else’s stuff, and we’re talking about the real thing here – not the little stuff you buy at your local fireworks stand. This year’s show consists of 3-inch to 6-inch diameter shells and is bigger than the show we shot last year in Des Moines, Washington (a couple of videos from last year’s show are embedded below to get your appetite going).

If you think you might be interested, drop me a line at 503-766-2258 or email me (address is in the side bar). I’m glad to answer questions!

Here are the videos from last year – The first one was shot from right in the middle of the mortar tubes at the firing location, and the other from the spectator end of the pier. Enjoy!

July 4th 2009 Fireworks - Des Moines, WA from Greg Hughes on Vimeo.

Fireworks - July 4th 2009 - Des Moines, WA from John Losey on Vimeo.



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Wednesday, 05 May 2010 22:16:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 26 November 2009

I spent the afternoon and the better part of the evening with my friend Dave the other day. We're close friends of ten years, both pilots and generally good buddies. We spent the day keeping each other company and - although we only briefly spoke about it - supporting each other through the anniversary of a difficult, life-changing day. It's so hard to believe it's actually been ten years - Both an eternity and a blink of the eye, all rolled into one. So much has changed in that time, yet so much seems the same.

Life can make remembering the good stuff difficult, if we let it. My son died suddenly the day before Thanksgiving so many years ago. He was 15 years old, and Dave was his good friend in high school. While much has happened and changed in both our lives in the intervening time, there's a slice of us that was sort of put on hold back then - almost as if one dimension of time simply stopped still while others kept on moving along. We both miss Brian, but we're also thankful for the times we had together.

So, the Thanksgiving holiday is always a bit of a rough time for me - one with mixed and conflicting feelings. Every year, however, I purposefully try my best to remember what this holiday is all about and to reflect on all the things in life for which I am truly grateful, and there are many. One of the ways I accomplish that is by writing and re-writing these words annually, adding to them and making them paint a picture of life at the time. I do this partly for me, and in no small part for others who might be feeling much the same way and just happen to run across this. So in some ways I'm repeating myself here, but that's what it's all about really - to keep looking back, reflecting on progress, changing and growing as we move forward.

Life's not perfect, and from the depths of the desperate situations and experiences that substantially change us - often things that we would never wish to have happen again, to anyone - we are destined to learn and grow, and hopefully to become better people in the end. I know I have experienced that over the years, and my life is quite different as a result.

Not too long ago some friends of mine impressed upon me the importance of adopting an "attitude of gratitude" in life. What they meant - at least in part - was that the place where you focus your thoughts is pretty much where you'll end up, and that being grateful for what you have - rather than obsessed or angry about what you don't have - is a good thing. For the most part I think they're right. This time of year I tend to think about a lot of different things, some difficult and some pleasant. But every year I try to take some Thanksgiving time to remember that even though life is crazy and our time is often too-short, there are so many things in life for which I am grateful and give thanks.

So, ultimately this message is supposed to be about what I am thankful for. About gratitude. So let's get to that.

This has been an amazing year for me. So much has changed in my life. I am thankful for Laura, my new and amazing wife who somehow understands me and has truly changed my world for the better. And for Megan, Nick and Sam, three of the greatest kids one could possibly hope for. I only hope I can be what they need me to be. They mean so much to me and I love them all very much.

I am also grateful for our many terrific friends, my (now much larger) extended family, my job, our home, my goofy dog, and now another goofy dog. I'm thankful for flying and wakeboarding and skiing and concerts and so many special things we get to experience. I'm grateful for doctors who fixed my damaged body a few years ago and for people who cared enough to put their lives on hold and help me when I needed it. I often wish I was better toward those who have been so good to me, and I strive to find ways to both give back and pay forward. I truly appreciate them, and am thankful they are a part of my life.

There are many, many people in this world much better than me, and a few of those good people I've had the privilege to know personally. I am thankful for them, even if I don't or can't always show it when it counts. I only hope in the future I can be more more worthy of their qualities.

Thanksgiving doesn't have to happen just one day a year. We can - and should - remember these things every day. But in a busy world of hurrying to get from here to there every day it can be easy to forget, so a little reminder never hurt anyone.

I'm grateful for my life - all of it. The people in it, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, and for all the possibilities of the future - whatever those may be. I've been lost and found again. Even though I'm not sure how or why, I think I've come out of it all at least a little bit better of a person. At least I hope so. Our experiences and what we do with them when he times get tough make us who we are. I've been very fortunate in so many ways, and am truly thankful for that.

As they say, "With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."

Yes, it is.

Happy Thanksgiving.



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Thursday, 26 November 2009 09:47:19 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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The other day I went flying in the plane with my friend Dave. We went a few places, including the avionics shop at Aurora and an early dinner at the Mulino Hangar cafe. Then we flew around Mt. Hood as the sun was going down. It was a calm, clear and beautiful day, much improved over the recent rains. You could see all the mountains clearly, from Sisters and Jefferson to the south, to Adams and St. Helens to the north, and even all the way up to Mt. Rainier, clear as a bell. We climbed up to about 10,000 feet and I steered the aircraft while Dave took a few pictures.

Hood3 Hood1 Hood2



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Thursday, 26 November 2009 09:40:30 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 06 July 2009

Here’s a video of the fireworks show we operated for the people of Des Moines, Washington this past weekend. It was both Independence Day and the celebration of the city’s 50th anniversary. It took an afternoon plus the better part of a full day to set up, and we shot it off in about 17-18 minutes.

Thanks to everyone who helped out on the crew this year - It was a great team!

The camera angle is a bit of an unusual one. In this video you are looking straight up at the sky, and the camera is fastened to a bench on the pier where we fired the show. The three-inch mortars are just to the left of the camera, so you’ll see smoke and sparks sometimes, as well as glowing materials falling back toward the camera. Enjoy.

July 4th 2009 Fireworks - Des Moines, WA from Greg Hughes on Vimeo.



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Monday, 06 July 2009 15:19:19 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 02 July 2009

I’m going to file this one here for my own use, and hopefully someone else will benefit in the process. I bought two new batteries for my late-90’s Yamaha WaveRunners because the old ones were dead. I got the batteries all prepped, charged them per the instructions, and went to install them in the watercraft.

I hooked them up and tried to get the Wave Runners to start, but both were dead as a doornail. I checked fuses and electrical connections and all was good. Hmmm. But something seemed familiar about this, like I’d dealt with this problem once before. It really struck me that was the case about the time I pulled one of the fuses out. Hadn’t I done something like that before and didn’t it require me to do some freaky WaveRunner mojo in order to get things started again?

As usual, the Internet was my friend. I did some searching and discovered the same thing my dealer had told me some times ago: When you disconnect power, the WaveRunner goes into an anti-theft mode and won’t run until you do a few things.

Here are the steps that I followed in order to get them to turn on:

  1. Install the battery
  2. Hold down the MODE button on the console until the display flashes the word CODE
  3. Enter A A A A
  4. Now you can start the watercraft

And that’s it. As I recall, you can set your own code, too – But I’m not doing that in my case. I’d just forget it anyhow!



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Thursday, 02 July 2009 14:03:23 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 08 June 2009

After a year and a half of doing some fun security and IT consulting (along with taking some valuable personal time off), last week I returned as a contractor to work full-time at the "parent" of the company I used to work for. Fiserv acquired CheckFree last year, shortly after CheckFree acquired Corillian - which was the company I at worked for about eight years.

My new responsibilities involve working on enterprise security strategy for the company as a whole. I'm excited to be back working with a bunch of people I respect and admire. Completing the full-circle path this transition represents, I'm even sitting back at very the same desk I occupied when I managed Corillian's IT department several years ago. Funny how these things happen! It's been fun to catch up with my old coworkers and to get back in the seat.

Who knows... I might even be inspired to write more here in the future, now that I'm getting my brain back into technology again full-time. :)



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Monday, 08 June 2009 19:52:29 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 28 May 2009

Here's a non-technical post. I shot a few pictures in my yard this morning as the sun was coming up. We've certainly been blessed with some incredibly nice weather recently, after a whole bunch of rain. There are a zillion wild irises blooming across my property. Click each image for the full-size version, if you like.

 



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Thursday, 28 May 2009 06:02:46 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Many people already know that I hold fireworks display operator/pyrotechnician licenses in both Oregon and Washington. So, every year I "shoot" a few (or more) large public display shows. In other words, the professional shows that cost quite a bit of money and make big noises and splashes of light.

Every year I invite people to come help me with the operation of the show on July 4th. It's a fun and exciting way to spend Independence Day, and it's not often that people get a chance to set up, load and shoot a big fireworks show.

But, here's your chance. If you're interested in joining me for July 4th in Des Moines, Washington (which is just south of SeaTac airport and north of Federal Way) to set up, fire and clean up a big show for the city, let me know by sending me an email or giving me a call! My contact info is in the sidebar of this site. We shoot this particular show off the end of a pier over the water. We'll start in the morning and load all the equipment down to the end of the pier, shoot the show and then remove the equipment and clean things up.

It's a bit of work, but it's also a truly unique experience and a whole lot of fun. Heck, how often do you get to blow up thousands of dollars of someone else's stuff? You'll handle the shells, set up and load the mortars, help wire them all up to the firing equipment, learn all about how they work, participate in a full set of safety lessons, and - most importantly - you'll be a key part of bringing an awesome July 4th celebration to the people of the city of Des Moines.

Feel free to let me know if you might like to participate. Safety always comes first and you will be trained in everything you need to know to safely be a crew member. Don't be bashful, there are a few crew slots open and I welcome your help and participation! The requirements for crew participation (per the U.S. government) are: United States citizen or legal resident, at least 18 years old, no felony convictions, and a few other details that I can explain to anyone who wants to participate.

Thanks, and hope to have you on the crew! Get in touch! To pique your interest, here's a sample video of a show we operated a couple years ago in Walla Walla:



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Tuesday, 19 May 2009 15:49:36 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 12 April 2009

Tech Crunch posted a list of Easter eggs - little hidden software treasures you have to search for inside a program to find. It's a good list, and has a few that I had forgotten about. Among those is what some say is the original software Easter egg (I beg to differ, it might be the first video game Easter egg - but we can save that for another day), from way back in 1979 in the Atari Adventure game (wow, I remember playing that one when it was new!).

Of course, Easter eggs aren't limited to software. DVDs have become a popular place to hide fun little things, too. The Lost DVDs are a good example of discs that have extra stuff you have to poke around to find. Web sites are also often sources of Easter egg fun, and http://www.eeggs.com/ is a good site to find out how to find the in a wide variety of places.

There are nine others in the TechCrunch list, plus a couple more scattered around in the (off-topic) comments. Check it out over at TechCrunch.com.



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Sunday, 12 April 2009 17:22:51 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 02 March 2009

As of this evening, I am among the ranks of those who call themselves licensed pilots.

"Wow, what a day! I woke up this morning and started in on some non-flying related stuff that I had on my list, and at about 8:45 this morning my instructor, Kelly called me. Turns out one of the local FAA examiners that conducts check rides for private pilot candidates had today open and so he wanted to see if I could be at the airport for my FAA check ride at 1pm today. It wasn't quite where my mind was focused at the time the call came, but I quickly started shifting gears in my brain and agreed to be at Twin Oaks Airpark to meet Kelly at noon so we could make sure all the paperwork was in order."

Read the whole story about the exam and check ride on my flying blog.



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Monday, 02 March 2009 23:40:39 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 27 December 2008

Update: Thanks to the visiting crews from Clark Public Utilities in Washington for coming over to our side of the river and helping the CRPUD crews out with this huge outage during the holiday season. The power was restored in our area Saturday night, almost exactly 72 hours after it went out.

Yesterday evening I hooked up a new generator, freshly purchased from Lowe's in Longview, Washington because the electricity has been out at my house since about 6:00 p.m. on the 24th. In my neck of the woods (which, by the way, is a fairly literal description), we have two utilities: electrical and telephone service. Internet is via a wireless broadband service and an antenna on my roof that points to a mountain over in Washington. I don't get standard phone service, since I use a VoIP-over-Internet provider. So, when the electricity goes out I'm basically shut down here.

After nearly three days without power I now have a magical gas-powered, electricity-generating box humming away outside and a few awesome orange extension cords running under the big outer garage door, then under the door between the inside of the garage and the house. I've hooked up a small space heater, a fluorescent bulb, my refrigerator and even the Internet equipment (priorities, heh) and now I’m up and running!

This morning I was even able to make coffee. It amazing what a difference that can make when your house is sitting at 47 degrees. I'm going to have to toss out most of the food in my refrigerator and probably the stuff in my freezer, too. There' still little to no running water (I have an electric well and the natural pressure is just a very slow flow at best), but the combination of fireplace and generator/space heater can put the temperature to the upper 50's or better with some effort. It's freezing outside, and it was as cold as around 22 degrees a couple nights ago, so some heat is good to have. Most importantly the pipes won't freeze when the temperature drops.

We've had a big storm here over the past week or so, at least by Northwest Oregon standards, and especially in the City of Portland. We have just over three feet of wet snow on the ground here at home in the woods north of Portland. Broken tree branches and fallen trees litter the area, falling across roads and of course on top of power lines. The other night while outside I could hear trees breaking left and right, and branches falling. Lots of people in the area are without power. On Christmas Eve a couple brothers who are friends of mine made the four-wheel-drive trek from Portland to my place in the blizzard and found utility workers asking us to wait to drive over the fallen lines until they cut the power, and burning wires in the roadway. Those Columbia River PUD guys, out in the cold instead of home with their families, racing from broken line to broken line for more than 48 hours before going home... Those guys are pretty darned great. Tough job. I've seen this much ice and snow at my place only one time before in the six years I've lived here, but the impact has not been this significant and the power has never been out for three straight days. I know they've had extra crews from surrounding towns and counties working 24/7 on getting service restored, and the weather just keeps complicating things.

Now that I've experienced the pains of a slightly drafty house in the cold weather, I'll need to work to find the draft sources and try to fix them up a bit. Trying to heat a house with a slight draft is not exactly fun. It'll help with the energy efficiency of the house anyhow, so it's worth it. To try to keep the heat in the downstairs area rather than trying to heat the whole house, I hung a thick blanket in the stairwell on the recommendation of a neighbor. That was a great idea. It's chilly up there (but not frozen), and respectably warmer downstairs as a result.

Oh, and my outside dog is now an inside dog, at least part time. He's thrilled, like a king is his castle, and I'm pleasantly surprised at how well behaved (and non-messy (in the gross kind of way)) he's been.

There's the added difficulty of three feet of very wet, heavy snow on the roof of the house. At least one of my gutters is pulling away partially with the heavy icicles, so that will need to be fixed. So far the roof is okay, and I'm hopeful the snow on there will melt some before more comes. One of my neighbors was shoveling the wet, heavy snow off his roof on Christmas Eve because he discovered his double-wide home was actually separating along the roof peak where the two halves join together. Luckily, the roof on my site-built home was specially engineered due to a county redesign mandate when they reviewed the builder’s original plans, so it's engineered to handle some massive amount of snow specifically because of the likelihood of this type of storm. They had to re-order roof trusses at the last minute that were designed to hold a lot more weight. I’m directing some thoughts of thanks at whichever person it was in the county engineer's office that caught the design flaw and forced the builder to do that structural upgrade.

At any rate, the utility company says they hope to get a crew working on our area today and to get this large region back online soon. I hope they're able to. It's been an adventure for sure, but I'm definitely ready for the electricity to come back on.



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Saturday, 27 December 2008 10:21:39 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Got the kids all set for Santa's arrival? You can help them track the jolly ol' elf's progress via NORAD's Santa tracking service on Christmas Eve.

There's also a Google Earth feed that you can use to track Santa's progress in 3D - Way cool for all the younger geeks among us! They also have cameras positioned around the world to allow us to see Santa's progress on Christmas Eve!



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Tuesday, 23 December 2008 23:30:33 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 13 December 2008

I know, it's not in any way tech-related but when it snows for the first time each year, I just have to write about it. It always snows and sticks where I live before it does in the city of Portland. We got a couple inches of snow overnight.

The snow started last night at around 8pm and that's what I woke up to. The power went out three times last night, but each time came right back on. It's been snowing off and on all day and the forecast is for more tonight and into tomorrow. This first snow is wet and heavy, so I kind of hope it melts off some before today is over, so my neighbors and I don't end up snowed in due to a frozen layer of slush under the next snowfall, like happened a few years ago.



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Saturday, 13 December 2008 15:00:36 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 12 December 2008

Try explaining to someone that you're thinking of flying a route into the State of Washington from Oregon that will take you close to Rainier. It's not quite as simple as it sounds...


"Where are you?"

"I'm near Rainier."

"Ummmm..."



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Friday, 12 December 2008 22:41:18 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 30 November 2008

Just a quick note to mention that I've been posting a lot to my flight blog at http://coordinatedflight.blogspot.com/, which I started in order to document my lessons and experiences as I work to become a private pilot.

My latest flight, which I made to Salem, Oregon on Saturday, is documented both in text and as a podcast MP3 file. Let me know what you think. The entry can be found at this link.

I'm truly enjoying learning to fly. I'd say "I should have done this years ago," but in truth I'm enjoying having something new and challenging at this point in my life.



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Sunday, 30 November 2008 01:28:13 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 17 November 2008

I wrote all about it on my flying blog, but Sunday was an exciting and cool day, because I flew an airplane solo, all by myself with no one else in the plane, for the first time. This whole flying thing might work out, after all!

The full story is documented on my "Coordinated Flight" blog, should you care to read all about it.




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Monday, 17 November 2008 00:42:29 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 03 November 2008

Well, we're getting going full swing for a week of TechEd conference in Barcelona, Spain. video, audio and stage presentations will be keeping us busy all week. If you're here, please let me know, or drop by and say hi at the "fishbowl" or TechEd stage.

The weather when I flew in yesterday was bumpy and wet, but today it's beautiful and sunny outside - more like the Barcelona I remember. Not that well be out in the air much, this week - but it's nice to look outside and see sun. The hotel and conference center are right on the sea, and as long as I can stay heathy this week, it will be great.



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Monday, 03 November 2008 04:53:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 30 October 2008

I had the opportunity today to spend some time chatting with Ben Jackson, who's the owner and technical director of Brainjuice, LLC. His company created Blogo, the app I use on my Mac to write posts like this one.

But today we weren't talking about Blogo, we were discussing a new iPhone game Brainjuice is in the final phases of completing called Arcade Hockey. It's just about done and will appear in the iTunes App Store in early to mid November. It's a table hockey game and it's a lot of fun, well-executed and designed.

Here are a few screenshots of the game screens, so you can see what's coming. You can click on each image to see the full-sized version.

The splash screen, which you see when the game first starts:


You have the option of playing a one- or two-plater game. In the one-player version you play against the computer's artificial intelligence opponent. More on that later in the article.


You can choose a few options, like the size of the paddles and pucks, as well as the version of the game (standard arcade deck, or "boomerang" style.


Game play consists of a classic table hockey game, and you use the tip of your finger on the touch screen to move the paddle and hit the puck. The physics of the game are pretty good, and the puck reacts pretty how you'd expect and want it to.

The classic and boomerang tables:



When you've played your "best-of" set, the game makes sure each player knows who won and who lost.


As a former air hockey addict, I can say this game is quite a bit of fun, and there's something to be said for pulling the game out of your pocket and playing a surprisingly accurate and realistic game on the bus, before the movie, while out on a hot date you want to impress with your skillz, or at lunch.

Since I had his attention, I asked Ben a few questions about the new game and it's development, as well as future product dev plans.

This is Brainjuice's first iPhone app. Until now you've focused on Blogo, your Mac-based blog authoring app. Why did you decide to create this game?

We wanted to start with something light rather than jumping right into Blogo for the iPhone. Table hockey is fun, the competitor is selling and we thought we could do much, much better. Also, there's something about sliding your finger around on the phone which is a natural fit for air hockey.

When will it be available, and how much will it cost?

It will be available as soon as Apple accepts it, likely in November. It will sell for $4.99, but we plan to offer it for free for an initial period of time.

What's left to be done before you ship it?

We are really only working on the (computer opponent) AI at this point. Besides that it's pretty much done.

What did you learn in the process of creating the game?

We learned that getting though the whole certificates and code signing process is a huge hurdle. And a lot of physics.

How many people worked on the game, and how much time did it take to build?

Brainjuice and INCOMUM (the design and creative team) have 8 team members between them. On this project one developer and one designer did all the work. Total dev time... About two months total. Our team is based in Brazil and Philadelphia, but we spend most of our time here (in Brazil), as the weather is nice.

What other apps can we expect to see from Brainjuice for the iPhone in the future?

We're planning to devote a fair share of out attention to creating Blogo for the iPhone after Arcade Hockey is out the door. We're itching to see what we can do with it.

FInally, here's some (unfortunately somewhat fuzzy) video of Arcade Hockey in action on my test iPhone today. I had a hard time looking around the camera to see the screen while I was trying to play, but you get the idea. Look for this cool game coming soon to the iTunes App Store. Or if you happen to see me around, you can feel free to ask me to show it to you.



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Thursday, 30 October 2008 22:34:26 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I ordered some new business contact cards since I ran out of the old ones some time ago. They arrived today. Rather than going the standard route or reordering the ones with my mug on the front, I decided to shop over in the UK via the Internet.

I ordered one of Hugh MacLeod's designs from over at gapingvoid. He's made a bunch of his designs available for online ordering at Street Cards. The quality of the cards is great (I ordered the coated cards), and I received them just in time for my trip next week to TechEd EMEA in Barcelona and the Dev Connections conference the following week in Las Vegas.


If there's one thing I've learned working in IT and security management over the past several years, it's what these cards convey. It's been a bot of a motto of mine over the years, so it's appropriate for my business cards, I think (click the link to see the full-sized image).

Thanks to Hugh for making it possible to use his artwork. He makes them available for download and use from his site, and they're great stuff.



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Thursday, 30 October 2008 20:07:12 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 29 October 2008

I got a call this morning, a variation of the same call I get around two or three times a month. Someone saw my phone number over in the sidebar and called me to find out about posting items for sale or rent on "Greg's List."

Each time the call comes in, I explain that the site they're looking for is actually Craig's List, which is on the web at http://www.craigslist.org. So, if you happen to be looking for Greg's List, it's actually called Craig's List, and there's the web address for ya. And don't worry, you're not the only one.

Of course, you can still feel free to call me up and say hi anyhow, if you like. :)



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Wednesday, 29 October 2008 18:04:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Want to watch tonight's final presidential debate live on the 'net? Everyone should watch, and please don't skip your opportunity to vote in the election. It's just too important.

Hulu.com is again streaming this debate, and you can watch it right here. Who needs a TV, anyhow?




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Wednesday, 15 October 2008 13:27:34 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 13 October 2008

Space Aliens for McCain or Obama? Could be... Someone's trying to get the vote word out, that's for sure.

Updates: The corn field in the video is at Baggenstos Farms, and you can go walk through it. Also, I'm geeking out a bit on the fact that I filed the video as a CNN iReport that was featured all day today on the homepage of CNN.com and was viewed by 220,000 people in one day (wow). A portion of it was also aired on TV tonight on Anderson Cooper 360. That was fun.

I had a flying lesson Monday morning and on the way back to our home airport, my instructor and I saw an unusual crop formation in a corn field from about 1000 feet above the ground. You'd never see it otherwise. You think someone out there is trying to send us a message? I captured it for you to see with my new Kodak Zi6 pocket HD video camera. You can get the higher-quality version of the video here.

Oh, and by the way: Don't forget to vote!





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Monday, 13 October 2008 14:21:38 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 10 October 2008

Over and over it's obvious that the vast majority of people I speak with have no real idea what the current financial situation is all about, how it happened and how it works.

It's not often I'll ask people to take the time to listen to an audio show, no matter what. But in this case, I think it's important enough. With all the media discussion about the gloom and doom of the current economic mess, there's been little or no meaningful education about what caused it and where we are now. Panic reporting doesn't prepare anyone. History and analysis does.

So: Listen to two audio episodes of a show called This American Life, which are linked below, and you'll be a much more aware citizen. You'll find yourself much better prepared to think about where we're at and where we're going. Understanding how we got here is critical to understanding where we're going, and why.

I hope this is helpful to at least one person. I know I found the reporting and explanations cogent, thoughtful, understandable, non-partisan and non-political, and - as a result - quite valuable.

Let me know what you think.



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Friday, 10 October 2008 12:11:07 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 07 October 2008

DirecTV had an unusual technical glitch sometime in the past 48 hours, and as a result customers with either standard or HD DVRs might experience issues with a "frozen remote" or similar behavior. DirecTV Has emailed customers to let them know (see below).

This is important because if your DVR is in the hung state they describe, you need to reset it, or your scheduled recordings will likely not be recorded.

I had the issue exactly as described the night before last on my HD-DVR, and did a red button reset (RBR) at that time in order to restore it to normal functionality, which is pretty much what the email from DirecTV says to do:

IMPORTANT NOTICE ABOUT YOUR HD DVR OR DVR RECEIVER

In our effort to improve and expand our service, we experienced a temporary technical glitch. If your HD DVR or DVR receiver is not responding to your remote control or front panel commands, you can resolve this issue by pressing the red "Reset" button located inside the small door on the front right corner of your receiver. Please allow about 15 minutes for your receiver to complete the resetting process. Once completed, your picture will return automatically. Unfortunately, any show you may have scheduled to record yesterday will not be available on your DVR.

We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you. Our promise is to provide you with the best television experience, and to resolve any issues that might arise as quickly as possible. If you have any further concerns, please do not hesitate in contacting us at 1-800-347-3288.



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Tuesday, 07 October 2008 16:43:36 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Larry Dignan posted some interesting charts, graphs and figures today over at ZDNet looking at advertising revenue for the first half of 2008, compared to previous periods. He also asks what will happen to advertising revenue in the faltering economy. Good question.

What I know best is my experience, which is undoubtedly unique since this site is not exactly huge (about 750K pageviews/month). However, over the past few years I have watched my revenue trends from contextual advertising rise and fall. In these most recent "tough" times for the overall economy, my advertising numbers (meaning impressions, click-through rates, eCPM, daily revenue, etc.) have increased somewhat dramatically.

If you think about it, this could actually make some sense. Less discretionary, from-the-hip spending by various types of consumers means the market needs to find effective ways to reach out to buyers. In many cases, where consumers are looking to save a few bucks on a purchase, they will naturally turn to the Internet for better deals. So, maybe the Internet advertising world has a real opportunity.

My weblog and the few other site I have don't rely on financial services or automotive industry related advertising, granted. I could be way off base here. Yet I can't help but wonder what the second half will look like. I have at least some confidence it will weather this storm. Time will tell.

Thoughts?



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Tuesday, 07 October 2008 11:37:05 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I've lately come to enjoy the relatively new video site, hulu.com, for catching up on television shows I've missed. Decent quality and easy access offered by the site are great. The other day they posted the Saturday Night Live spoof sketch poking fun at Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, and quite literally everyone I know must have gone there to view that specific clip in the past few days.

Tonight, Hulu takes it to the next level with the real candidates by introducing live streaming to their mix. The U.S. presidential debate is their initial undertaking (view here), and they will also live-stream the third debate next week. Tonight's debate airs on NBC and the last one on FOX, both of which are owners or hulu.com.

It will be interesting to see what else they decide to stream live in the future. One would think they might have to limit live streaming to non-advertising-supported content (like these debates) in order to avoid diluting their local advertisers. But I certainly wouldn't mind being able to watch certain shows live from the road, and ads focused based on geolocation or something similar would be just fine with me. Oh, and as a sidenote: We can always continue to hope against hope for a hulu iPhone app.



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Tuesday, 07 October 2008 08:53:51 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 04 October 2008

It's been a fun and challenging week learning to fly. I found a couple good podcasts, and have posted a couple new detailed entries to my new flying blog, Coordinated Flight.

The podcasts I found are The Student Pilot Podcast, by Bill Williams in Arizona, and Uncontrolled Airspace, which Bill recommended. Good stuff.

I have four flight days scheduled next week. I hope the weather cooperates!



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Saturday, 04 October 2008 16:49:48 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 25 September 2008

Note: While I'll likely cross-post the occasional flying post here (or maybe I'll just mention a few highlights), I've started a whole new blog called Coordinated Flight where I'll publish all my flying-related stuff. That way this blog won't get overloaded with long, detailed flying stuff.

The past couple days I've spent a little time down at Twin Oaks Airpark, a small private airport located on the far west side of Portland, Oregon. Yesterday I spent an hour there, and today I went for about two hours. Both days I learned and flew with my new flight instructor, Kelly. I've always wanted to learn to fly and over the years I've spent quite a bit of time in small aircraft. But now I'm going to put the time and effort (and expense) into learning and practicing everything one needs to know to safely fly a small aircraft.

Yesterday was what they call an introductory ride. Kelly met me and we went to the airpark office, where we chatted with Betty Stark. The Stark family owns the airpark which is on an old dairy farm and has a single runway, several hangars, classrooms and a fuel station. Then we went to our aircraft for the day, a Cessna 150. Kelly showed me the aircraft and together we went though the walk-around checklist. The Cessna 150 is a two-seater and is a smallish aircraft, but is a very common trainer. After checking out the aircraft we climbed in and started the checklist for starting the aircraft. I turned the key and the prop started spinning. Kelly explained some more necessary details about the controls and told me what was going to happen. And then we were off.

We taxied from the ramp to the end of the runway and did the engine run-up and final checks on the list. Kelly radioed the local traffic to let anyone flying in the area know we were departing, and he told me to put my hands and feet on the controls so I could feel the aircraft as we departed. He explained each task he was doing as he performed them, from the time we walked up to the aircraft until we were in the air. I think I've found a great instructor. He clearly knows his stuff and is confident. That gave me a feeling of confidence, too.

Once we were in the air, he told me he was going to hand the controls over to me. The next thing I knew I was flying the airplane. Of course, Kelly was still there, light on the controls in case I screwed something up. He didn't overwhelm me with information, but instead balanced the doing, the explaining and the having fun and looking out the window. We spent about 30 minutes in the air (and a little rain from the clouds that were well above us) and then returned to the air park. I learned about the traffic pattern for Twin Oaks (it's a left pattern with a 45-degree entrance). It was a lot of fun, and probably just the right mix of time, information and experience for a first flight.

Kelly gave me a quick-read intro book with some basic information to learn: Controls, attitude, parts of an airplane, climbs and descents, turns. He assigned it as homework and we arranged to meet again the next day at 3pm for two hours - starting with a quick ground lesson followed by some time in the air.

When I arrived today, we went into the small classroom and Kelly explained some of the performance numbers I need to start getting familiar with. It clear to me that there are a lot of pieces of information that will need to become second nature. Today's classroom lesson focused on common airspeeds and engine RPMs for different basic flight maneuvers, plus an introduction to flying the traffic pattern and the proper aircraft configuration for landings. I had a chance to ask questions and took some notes and we headed out for the aircraft (another C-150, but not the same one).

Today our time at the aircraft was a bit different than yesterday. Kelly handed me the checklist and rather than having me following him as we did the first time, he followed me as I did the walk-around inspection, checking the aircraft from nose to tail, top to bottom. He told me that the next time we meet, he may have me do the pre-flight walk-around on my own (I'm sure he'll check my work, too). After the outside inspection, he then moved the plane to a safe spot on the ramp and we climbed in. Once properly buckled up, we returned to the checklist and started the process of making sure everything was working, properly configured and ready for flight. I turned the key and Kelly showed me how the ground controls work. It's pretty counterintuitive to get out of a car and climb into an airplane: To steer in the ground you use the two foot pedals (and toe brakes when needed). If you put your hands on the control yoke (wheel), nothing happens on the ground. I'm sure looked pretty funny when my brain automatically told me hands to turn the wheel left or right. I had to force myself to use my feet. Once I took my hands completely off the yoke, however, it got a little easier.

I was taught how to do turns on the ramp, with and without brakes. After that, Kelly had me taxi the plane down the taxiway to the end of the runway, where we then entered the runway and taxied all the way to the end, did a couple turns, and then did the same thing all over again. It was a good opportunity to try to get my brain around driving the aircraft on the ground with my feet. I think some future practice will be helpful in overcoming some of the counterintuitiveness.

Kelly then had me stop on the ramp at the end of the runway, where we did our engine run-up and other checklist items. Then he made the radio call and told me to taxi onto the runway and line up on the center line for take-off. I managed to line it up and then let it point left a bit. After correcting for that (I bet it looked pretty dumb from outside the plane, heh), Kelly walked me through applying full throttle and he controlled the plane with his feet as we sped down the runway. "Okay, you feel that? We're doing a wheelie now," he said as the nose started to lift. A little pull back on the yoke and we were in the air, climbing out. When you depart to the south out of twin oaks, you have to start a turn soon after departure due to a noise abatement area (you'd think if you buy or build a house next to an airport you'd know what you're getting into, but oh well). So after a gradual left turn we straightened out and continued climbing. The airport is at about 270 feet above sea level, and we climbed to about 2200 feet.

The main in-air lesson consisted of progressively moving through various maneuvers and maintaining proper attitude of the aircraft: Climbs, gradual turns, medium turns, descents, trimming the aircraft for hands-off flight, and then combination maneuvers: climbing turns and descending turns combined with ending each of the turns on specific compass headings and returning to straight and level flight. It was really fun.

We were almost right on top of the airport before I even recognized it. That whole awareness-of-where-you-are thing comes with time, they say. For now, it;s enough to pay attention and apply what my instructor tells me.

By the time we were ready to enter the landing pattern, my brain was on the edge of overload. 45 minutes of information and sensory load was enough for my feeble brain I guess, so it was good that Kelly was handling all of the landing. I just kept feet on the pedals and fingers on the yoke to feel the controls move. Kelly explained what he was doing as we followed the landing pattern (upon passing the end of the runway on the downwind leg turn carb heat on, throttle to 1500 RPM, flaps to 10 degrees (three seconds pressing the switch), add nose-up trim... then on turn to base leg, dial in 10 degrees more more flaps, engine speed will increase as work load decreases so a little less throttle to maintain RPMs, maintain 70mph, look for the end of the runway on your left and prepare to turn to final... then your final turn, check airspeed and ensure you're moving straight for the numbers on the end of the runway (that they're not rising or sinking), add or subtract throttle as needed and line up... after that, work some voodoo magic, flare the aircraft a bit and put the wheels on the ground without breaking anything - I figure the details will become more clear as I get more experience, heh... then keep the aircraft moving straight down the runway with your feet (back to those feet again) and when all the tricycle wheels are on the ground and it's safe apply a little gradual brake as needed to slow the airplane and taxi off the runway...)

Now I have my first textbook in hand, which is the basis of the ground school lessons (which I am looking forward to). I took a ground school class several years ago at Portland Community College when I was thinking about learning to fly helicopters (I then did the financial math and decided maybe I should wait), and I am hoping some of that will come back and help me this time around. I'm flying to Philadelphia this weekend for a family get-together, so I'll have plenty of time for reading the first couple chapters and answering the questions for each - while on the plane.

I borrowed all the pics here from the Twin Oaks web site. Sometime I hope I'll get comfortable enough to be able to take some quick pics of my own (but for now all I can really think about are the tasks at hand in flying that chunk of metal through the air).



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Thursday, 25 September 2008 20:55:22 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 19 September 2008

It's Talk Like a Pirate Day (as happens every September 19th), and Google's jumped into the fray with Pirate search. Try it here. Enjoy.





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Friday, 19 September 2008 08:15:41 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 11 September 2008
Seinfeld and Gates are back at it again, somehow advertising Microsoft Windows. It's starting to make at least a little sense. Kind of.

If nothing else, it's getting funnier. I know most people said they didn't like the first commercial much. I liked it, though. This second one pretty long. Enjoy:


(via Brier Dudley at the Seattle Times)

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Thursday, 11 September 2008 19:06:10 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 04 September 2008

The first commercial in Microsoft's new ad campaign with Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates is out. I thought it was pretty funny and smart. Subtle, very subtle.

This made me laugh out loud: Gates' "Shoe Circus Clown Club Platinum Card" picture is actually his mug shot from an arrest for traffic violations in New Mexico, way back in 1977. Classic, and funny.


Here's the new commercial. I like the idea of starting out really vague and (we have to assume) building from there. Very Seinfeld-ish.




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Thursday, 04 September 2008 21:39:51 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Now and then I think back to an old song, a not-quite-as-old television commercial, and a little league baseball "career" that happened years before. In each of our lives there's that song, that toy, that event, or what have you - Something from our past that somehow pulls us back, and returns our minds directly into a piece of our past that has some real meaning.

For me, one of those timeless reminders is a song and a Pizza Hut commercial from the early 90's. I recall seeing the commercial on TV, and it's on the old VHS video tape of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. The song is called "Right Field," and it was originally performed by Peter, Paul and Mary (here's an iTunes link for ya). I'm not sure who's singing in the Pizza Hut commercial, but the combination of the visuals and the music is priceless, and it just takes me back.

I think when I was much younger, I even looked a bit like that kid. Maybe a somewhat skinnier head, but close. Watching that commercial truly takes me back. I wasn't a great baseball player by any stretch of the imagination, but I truly enjoyed the game. I remember taking a couple fast pitches to the face, and standing in right (or left, or center) field, the ball high in the air and coming down at me. I was always at least a little amazed when it landed in my glove. I remember my best friends with me on the team and out on the field. The cottonwood fluff floating in the air, just like in the commercial. Lots of rubber bands, oil and a ball wrapped in a new glove, crammed under the truck tire overnight. And I remember, quite clearly, our dads (who were also our coaches) taking us to -- you guessed it -- the local Pizza Hut after games, where we pigged out (that's the term we used back then), belched a lot of soda bubbles, and generally had a great time. I remember playing Space Invaders and Asteroids and Missile Command on the table games there when they were brand new.

Years later as an adult, when the Pizza hut commercial was created I remember watching it with a couple of my foster sons. It was baseball season for them, and they loved it as much as I did. Of course, the fact that it was on the beginning of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video tape helped (since they loved that, too). I was helping coach by then. When the kids weren't around, I sometimes played the commercial over and over a few times. I know it sounds weird, but like I said - Each of us has those little things that truly take us back.

A lot of people don't realize the original song is one of many great songs by Peter, Paul and Mary. I have no idea who recorded the actual music used in the commercial spot. Many people also often don't realize there are additional verses. The final verse and chorus, with a minor modification, if what they used in the commercial. That's my favorite part, but the whole song is great and I think anyone who's a fan of the song would like to hear it or read the lyrics. Here's an iTunes link. The original lyrics appear below, and I've added a bonus YouTube link -- video of PP&M performing the original song.
Saturday summers, when I was a kid
We'd run to the schoolyard and here's what we did
We'd pick out the captains and we'd choose up the teams
It was always a measure of my self esteem
'Cuz the fastest, the strongest, played shortstop and first
The last ones they picked were the worst
I never needed to ask, it was sealed,
I just took up my place in right field.
Playing...

Right field, its easy, you know.
You can be awkward and you can be slow
That's why I'm here in right field
Just watching the dandelions grow

Playing right field can be lonely and dull
Little leagues never have lefties that pull
I'd dream of the day they'd hit one my way
They never did, but still I would pray
That I'd make a fantastic catch on the run
And not lose the ball in the sun
And then I'd awake from this long reverie
And pray that the ball never came out to me
Here in...

Right field, its easy, you know.
You can be awkward and you can be slow
That's why I'm here in right field
Just watching the dandelions grow

Off in the distance, the game's dragging on,
There's strikes on the batter, some runners are on.
I don't know the inning, I've forgotten the score.
The whole team is yelling and I don't know what for.
Then suddenly everyone's looking at me
My mind has been wandering; what could it be?
They point at the sky and I look up above
And a baseball falls into my glove!

Here in right field, its important you know.
You gotta know how to catch
You gotta know how to throw
That's why I'm here in right field
Just watching the dandelions grow!
A simpler time, not a worry in the world. Just a ball, a bat, a group of kids, a field and a few dandelions to distract some of us. We may never get back there in real life, but it's fun to revisit it from time to time in our minds.

I'm also reminded, strangely enough, of something that happened many years later. Several years ago I was in a conference room with my IT team, assembled as a panel to interview a candidate for a position on our IT help desk. We'd asked the common technical and background questions of the candidate, whose name was Aaron. We then threw a couple behavioral questions at him, including the classic, "Why are manhole covers round?" A semi-blank look came over Aaron's face, and after several moments he blurted out his answer: "Because Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles like pizza???" I turned to the guy next to me and declared, "He's the guy." We hired him the next day. His other interview questions and excellent answers had a lot to do with that decision, but the pizza answer was really what made it stick for me. Anyone can answer technical questions. That answer was a classic. And for the record, he turned out to be a great hire, too.

Whether it's a song like "Right Field" or a movie ("Stand by Me" comes to mind) or something else, each of us has our memory triggers. I'm just glad YouTube has that old commercial online, so I don't have to buy a VHS player just to load up this old TMNT video tape that I still have on my shelf. I'm not even sure if it would play anymore, but one thing's for sure: I won't be getting rid of that old tape any time soon.


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Tuesday, 26 August 2008 23:35:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 15 August 2008

I just made a change on the blog, so my main RSS feed links now point to FeedBurner. You should not need to do anything to use the new feed - it's automagical. As a result of this change, some people might see duplicates of past entries. It's a one-time change (I hope), so thanks for putting up with it.

If you happen to subscribe to the feed for any single posting category here, that feed URL is unchanged.



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Friday, 15 August 2008 08:49:24 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 13 August 2008

My knowledge and social integrity was called into question this evening (in an instant messaging group chat session) about a rule-related fact I declared to be true based on the Rules of Jinx. I've always considered the rules to be pretty straight forward, and we all know they are unflinchingly rigid, but I'm willing to accept that evidence is the best proof when someone questions you.

And what better evidence than an encyclopedia of "facts" made up by pretty much anyone who says they know what they're talking about? I went to Wikipedia, and the entry there about the rules of Jinx. I'm posting a portion of it here for easy future reference.

A jinx can be initiated when at least two people in casual conversation unintentionally say (or type, in the case of Internet jinx) the same word or phrase at the same time. If one of them (the "jinxer") yells "Jinx!" before any further conversation has begun, the other person (the "jinxee") is in a state of being "jinxed" and may not speak further until they are "released" from the jinx. The rules for what constitutes such a release vary. Traditionally, a jinx is ended when anyone speaks the jinxed person's name. However, a common variation says that only the jinxer can free the jinxee from their obligation to remain silent. (This is sometimes called a "private jinx" or "jinx personal lock".)

The game ends when either the jinxee is released from the jinx or when the jinxee "breaks" the jinx by speaking while in a state of being jinxed. In the latter case, the Jinxee loses the game and a penalty is exacted.

Simultaneous speaking that is planned or expected, such as during the recitation of the
Pledge of Allegiance or during the singing of a song, is ineligible for a jinx to occur. A jinx may only follow a spontaneous and unexpected overlapping of conversation by both parties.

See the wikipedia article for penalties, variations and details about the Jinx Sequence.

Okay. Back to your regularly scheduled programming, already in progress...



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Wednesday, 13 August 2008 22:58:50 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 25 July 2008

On the Google blog, Jesse Alpert & Nissan Hajaj posted an article today called "We knew the web was big..." which indicates Google engineers recently noted that the number of web pages on the Internet passed the one-trillion mark. That's 1,000,000,000,000 pages. For those who don't process the impact of adding that many groups of zeros at a time, think about this:

  • Take 1,000 pages.
  • Multiply that 1,000 times and think about just how big that is.
  • Multiply that amount another thousand times, and stop to think about how big that is.
  • Now, again take that huge amount and multiply it by 1,000. Now you're at a trillion pages.

That's freakin' huge, really. If you started counting from one to a trillion and counted one number per second, it would take you almost 317 centuries before you were done (and by the way I asked google to help me figure that out). That's almost 32,000 years. It almost completely boggles the mind. That's a lot of web pages.

Google also notes that every day, the number of pages on the web increases by several billion.

Alpert and Hajaj have another explanation to try to explain the sheer size of the Internet today:

Today, Google downloads the web continuously, collecting updated page information and re-processing the entire web-link graph several times per day. This graph of one trillion URLs is similar to a map made up of one trillion intersections. So multiple times every day, we do the computational equivalent of fully exploring every intersection of every road in the United States. Except it'd be a map about 50,000 times as big as the U.S., with 50,000 times as many roads and intersections.

That's really just amazing to me. Wow. And now you know why we call this the Information Age. A lot of that information may be inaccurate, pornographic or otherwise useless, but some of it's good, and the sheer immensity of it is truly awesome.

TechCrunch has a slightly different take, calling the Google post misleading. The end of the TechCrunch post alludes to some news coming next week that might turn Internet indexing on it's head. Interesting - Is there some big search engine news in the works? Is it Microsoft's BrowseRank or something else? Stay tuned.



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Friday, 25 July 2008 20:50:06 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 24 July 2008


Dunno about twice as fast, but will it blend? Blendtec (of course) decided to find out. Found via the Google Mobile blog.



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Thursday, 24 July 2008 10:48:16 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 23 July 2008
Google has opened up their beta of Knol, a web site written by people who know things for people who want to know more. In a nutshell, it's a place to share knowledge. And I like it.

I just finished reading "How to backpack, starting from scratch," by a software engineer named Ryan Moulton. He's in his 20s and has been backpacking since he was eight years old, so he has some real, personal knowledge to share. And it's very useful knowledge, at that. An added "plus" of the article is that it contains a number of very nice panoramas from backpacking locations shot by the author.

Toilet clogs, lawn care, a wide variety of medical topics, you name it: People with domain knowledge may have written about it. Where there's not an article (or two or three), someone who has the knowledge can sign right in with their Google account ID and start writing.

This is cool stuff, nice interface (with a few little flaws that I am sure will get worked out). Worth your time to check out.



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Wednesday, 23 July 2008 10:28:01 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 16 July 2008

There's some great news out of the Microsoft Xbox crew at the E3 conference - NetFlix integration with your XBox 360:

Microsoft revealed that beginning later this year, Netflix subscribers would gain access to the entire Netflix digital library through their online XBox 360's.  Gold membership is required to take advantage of this partnership, but the newfound capacity represents a large step forward in increasing the XBox 360's appeal as a living room media box.  The present Netflix digital library includes roughly 10,000 titles, and on the 360 will feature the ability for watching videos concurrently with friends over the Internet through the new community party system.

Xbox 360 will be the only game system that lets users instantly watch movies and TV episodes streamed from Netflix. Xbox LIVE Gold members who are also Netflix subscribers will be able to streaming movies and television show episodes from Netflix at no additional cost. I'm really looking forward to that. All we need now is a Blu-Ray drive for the 360 console...

Also announced was a revamped user experience and interface (implemented completely through software updates, and allowing more personalization and social interactivity), new HD programming partners and content (including Battlestar Galactica, which I am looking forward to), a price cut on the "Pro" model of the Xbox 360 and a new model slated for August, a future feature which will allow you to copy your game disk to the Xbox hard drive for faster loading and smoother play (you still need to have the original disc though), and a bunch of new games.



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Wednesday, 16 July 2008 11:11:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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On TechCrunch IT, in a post called "The New Apple Walled Garden," author Nik Cubrilovic makes a good point...

TechCrunchIT » The New Apple Walled Garden

Geeks and enthusiasts wearing Wordpress t-shirts, using laptops covered in Data Portability, Microformats and RSS stickers lined up enthusiastically on Friday to purchase a device that is completely proprietary, controlled and wrapped in DRM. The irony was lost on some as they ran home, docked their new devices into a proprietary media player and downloaded closed source applications wrapped in DRM.

I am referring to the new iPhone - and the new Apple iPhone SDK that allows developers to build ‘native’ applications. The announcement was greeted with a web-wide standing ovation, especially from the developer community. The same community who demand all from Microsoft, feel gifted and special when Apple give them an inch of rope. When Microsoft introduced DRM into Media Player it was bad bad bad - and it wasn’t even mandatory, it simply allowed content owners a way to distribute and sell content from anywhere.

How can people who preach and pontificate open systems be so enamored with a completely closed, proprietary system as Apple's? Now, don't get me wrong. I was in line at an Apple store last week with all the people Nik talks about in his article. I really like the iPhone and I think my Mac is great, hardware-wise (okay, the OS is not too bad either). But there's something that's always lurking there in the back of my mind, like a pestering little voice that doesn't want me to give in or forget lessons of the past. "A closed system is a system doomed to fail," the voice tells me. Either that, or it is so limiting as to stifle. Or both. Maybe I need to get my medication checked. On the other hand, maybe the voice is right. Or both.

Risking cliche cynicism, I think one has to consider whether The Church of The Steve congregation is further developing (or devolving, if you prefer) in its adoration, at the expense of long-term good. Blind faith, crazed unthinking people saying one thing yet doing another, the how-dare-you-question mentality... Sounds familiar. And that's coming from an Episcopalian. An imperfect, sometimes-questioning, sometimes-doubting, cynical one -- But you get the point. I hope.

Perhaps the scariest part of my thought process today is that I actually agree completely with Dave Winer on this one. He nails it right on the head. Okay, there are times when I agree with Dave, but until now I've never really admitted it in public. :)

What do you think about Apple's model? Fanboy? Concerned? Who cares? End of the world as we know it? Utopia? Told-ya-so?



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Wednesday, 16 July 2008 10:31:58 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 15 July 2008

You can spend literally minutes (many of them) watching Gary Busey comment on various aspects of business and entrepreneurialism, and laughing in the process. Awesome. Highly recommended, since Gary is one of my favorites. You can click the buttons at the bottom of the video screen to get to different sections, each with several "episodes."

And by the way, the gotvmail service this video series is meant to virally market is pretty great, too. You might want to check that service out if you need a more-formal call-handling system for your smaller-sized business but don't want to shell out the money to buy all the classic PBX hardware. Great for distributed teams and virtual offices, too.



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Tuesday, 15 July 2008 17:57:26 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 09 July 2008

In the past we've seen many computer-focused terms become words of the year and find placement in the dictionary, and this year is no different. Remember last year when "truthiness" (a Stephen Colbert-ism) made it in, along with "google?"

So, here it is, Merriam-Webster's #1 Word of the Year for 2007 based on votes from visitors to their Web site:

w00t (interjection)
expressing joy (it could be after a triumph, or for no reason at all); similar in use to the word "yay"
w00t! I won the contest!

Other words that made up their top-ten-votes list for the year include: facebook, 
conundrum, 
quixotic, 
blamestorm, 
sardoodle, dom
apathetic, 
Pecksniffian
, hypocrite, and 
charlatan.



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Wednesday, 09 July 2008 08:30:40 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 26 June 2008
Trevin pointed to a cool site called Wordle, where you can enter a bunch of text and the web app then creates a visual image representation of the text, where the most commonly used words are larger. You have control over many aspects of the visualization, such as font, colors, layout direction, removing common words, how many words to display in the image (default is 150), etc.

I copied the text from the home page of my blog just before posting this and used Wordle to generate the image below. It's interesting to see what words flat to the "top" of the list. Makes me thing that maybe you can tell something about people from their writing, and as such from the words that dominate what they write.



You can make your own at http://wordle.net, and see what you learn about your own writing. There's also a gallery of wordles created by others, which I got quite caught up in for a while, reading what others have created. Wordle was created by Jonathan Feinberg, who works in IBM Research with the Collaborative User Experience group.


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Thursday, 26 June 2008 11:00:35 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 24 June 2008
Everything about this video - The Website is Down - is so sarcastically and stereotypically hilarious. Josh Weinberg (the creator) is my new hero.
A mashup of true and mostly-true stories from IT hell. If you've ever called tech support and wondered what the hell they are doing down there... well, this should answer some questions for you. Starring Apache, Windows XP, Linux and Halo (among many others).
Note: There's some very NSFW language and visuals. You have been warned.

I'm not going to post video here -- You need to go to the site and watch the whole thing, and then be sure to check out the geeky interactive UI at the end.

(via Chris Pirillo on Twitter)


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Tuesday, 24 June 2008 19:15:51 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 19 June 2008
The Mars Phoenix crew has just announced they've discovered ice on Mars. There will be more tests soon, and ones that should be more direct in their analysis. Today's discovery is based on the visualized disappearance of some white material from the surface over the past few days. From the Mars Phoenix web site:
June 19, 2008 -- Dice-size crumbs of bright material have vanished from inside a trench where they were photographed by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander four days ago, convincing scientists that the material was frozen water that vaporized after digging exposed it.

"It must be ice," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. "These little clumps completely disappearing over the course of a few days, that is perfect evidence that it's ice. There had been some question whether the bright material was salt. Salt can't do that."
Very cool stuff, and it will be even more interesting to see what's next:
Also early today, digging in a different trench, the Robotic Arm connected with a hard surface that has scientists excited about the prospect of next uncovering an icy layer.
And how/where did the news come to us? Via Twitter!

You can follow http://www.twitter.com/marsphoenix for regular updates if you wish. The specific ice updates from today on Twitter are here and here.




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Thursday, 19 June 2008 16:36:21 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Today the trucking company showed up with my oh-so-cliché-midlife-crisis mobile, a 1969 Mustang convertible that I recently purchased from a good guy in Pennsylvania. I made a trip back east a couple weeks ago to hand over the check, transfer the title and drive the car a bit, and then painfully left it there to wait for a vehicle transport company to pick it up and deliver to Oregon.

The car made a long and round-about trip all over the country, and it got pretty grungy while in New Mexico thanks to a dirt road construction zone detour in the desert. I used to live there, so I understand. The soil in the desert, if you can call it that, is very fine and it gets into the air and can find its way on and into everything. When the car came off the truck today, it looked so dull and gross I almost couldn't stand it. But, after two complete washes it looks quite a bit better. It will need another good hand wash and them some detailing and a good wax, but it looks pretty nice already. These pictures were taken after the second wash and a hand-drying.

69 Mustang convertible top up left 69 Mustang convertible top up right 69 Mustang convertible top down

Most of my day was spent on the car: Receiving it from the back of the truck, washing it the first time, getting title and registration taken care of at the DMV, fueling up and washing it again, driving to town and giving some friends rides, stopping by the 60's-style corner soft ice cream and burger place with outdoor tables in the town I live near, and driving home on twisty-turny roads through the woods. It's a powerful, cool sounding and fun-to-drive machine, without a doubt. It's several years since I owned a convertible and I forgot how much fun and how relaxing it is on a nice day to just put the top down and drive. Add the raw power of this car's engine, and wow... A pretty darned good day, if I do say so myself.

And a bonus, which I only discovered when I got it home tonight: It fits in the garage with just about 12 inches of room to spare, nose to tail. Phew! Looks like I need to relocate some shelves.



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Wednesday, 18 June 2008 20:08:28 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 17 June 2008
Apologies to web viewers for the temporary disruption here - I have changed the design template for this blog to a new one (thanks to Anthony Bouch at http://www.58bits.com/ for letting me borrow) and plan to leave it live for 24-48 hours to see how it impacts visits, clicks and retention times in the stats.

I want to make a change since my old template is, well, old. And because Scott harasses me for it a couple times a year. But the template I have been using for a few years now works very well and so I have not made the final decision to move away from it just yet. My plan is to play with this one some and work toward a design that is as effective performance-wise as the old template, but one that looks nicer.

Anyhow, just wanted to send out a quick "sorry" for regular readers of the blog via the web for the cliche "under construction" phase. Be sure to let me know what you think works and what doesn't for you.



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Tuesday, 17 June 2008 21:04:29 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 09 June 2008
I'm in warm and sunny Orlando for the IT week of Tech Ed. My cohort Richard and I will be interviewing, making the speaker contest happen, and generally staying busy through Friday. If you are at Tech Ed this week, be sure to drop by the Tech Ed fishbowl in the exhibition hall, or send and email and let me know. It would be great to meet new people and catch up with others.



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Monday, 09 June 2008 07:53:57 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 06 June 2008
Most of my friends know that every now and then I operate public fireworks displays - as in the big ones with hundreds or thousands of shells, way up in the sky and loud as hell. It's a fun side gig, and I am licensed in Oregon and Washington to run the displays.

This year for the July 4 celebration, I am once again operating the Walla Walla, Washington show. I ran last year's show and am headed back. But I certainly can't do it alone, and so this is an invitation to anyone in the area (meaning in Walla Walla or in the Portland/Vancouver/etc. area) who might be interested in joining me as part of the pyro crew to speak up and join in!

And I'm quite serious. We'll load mortars and set up some thousands of shells and stuff, do a lot of fun and interesting training and safety stuff, learn about how fireworks work, and generally have a fun time. It's not lounging/leisure time - In fact there's quite a bit of manual work of a reasonable nature, and it can get hot. But pretty much without fail, people who join the crew have a great time and are glad they did it. Some get hooked, like Travis and Jenn, who keep coming back for more year after year. Suckers. Heheheh. Be sure to check out Travis' blog entry and Jenn's pictures from last year's show to give you a bit of an idea of what it's like.

So, who can participate? Anyone 18 years of age or older (you have to be 21 years old to fire a show, 18 to help set up and whatnot), who is not restricted from handling regulated explosives (in other words, you can't be a convicted felon or certifiably insane - sorry). You'll be doing some moderate labor (some lifting, carrying, etc). Obviously nobody on the crew can consume alcohol on that day (until the show is over, at least) and you can certainly think of other obvious things that would be safety no-no's.

If you're interested, great! Let me know as soon as you can. I need to firm up a crew list in the next week or two. All I ask is that once confirmed, please make sure you are actually planning to be there. We'll provide the lodging, food, drinks, training and lots of fun. You get to tell people (kids, grandkids, friends, and lame non-believers) about how you are so awesome becuase you helped blow up tons of cool explosives for the Walla Walla community. Just be warned: It can be addictive. Ask Travis and Jenn. :)

To entice you, here is a video with some highlights from last year's show. The video is only a few minutes long; the actual show was close to 20 minutes.




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Friday, 06 June 2008 17:21:37 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 29 May 2008

image If you saw the season finale episode of Lost and happened to be paying attention to the commercial breaks near the end of the two-hour episode, you might have noticed the "commercial" for Octagon Global Recruiting, with a note to visit the web site octagonglobalrecruiting.com for more information.

"Octagon Global Recruiting is currently seeking volunteers to contribute to an important new research project." And it's "on behalf of the Dharma Initiative."

So if you happen to need something to do and have expertise in the following areas (from the commercial spot), be sure to click on through. Oh, and you might want to think about going to Comic Con in San Diego at the same time the recruiting event is happening.

There's one more trade that I couldn't quite get a screen grab of - dentists. And there you have it.

Check it out here. And have fun. :)



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Thursday, 29 May 2008 22:14:02 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 24 May 2008
I recently acquired a restored 1969 Ford Mustang convertible in an eBay auction, and now I'm trying to decide which method I should use to get it across the country, from Pennsylvania (where the person I am buying it from lives) to Oregon (where I live).

I have some flexible time right now before and after the Tech-Ed conference, so one option is to fly there and drive it back. It turns out I have family very close to where the car is (within about 30 miles), so I could visit with them while there, as well. The other option is to have it put on/in an auto-moving trailer and shipped to me, no travel to Pennsylvania required. A third option is to fly there, drive it around a bit and visit with family, and then leave the car with the transport trucking company and fly home.

There's a certain appeal to driving this car cross-country and seeing the countryside this time of year (as well as a certain amount of anticipated fear, since although it's a solid and mechanically sound car, it is a 1969 vehicle). I've considered asking a couple people if they'd like to join me on a road trip, since that would make it even more fun. But, that's about a week of flying and driving to make it realistic.

The car's a nice one. It's a muscle car and built to perform like one. Not a show car, but more like a parade-quality one (meaning it gets driven on an actual, real roadway now and then). Leaving a classic convertible exposed to the elements (and seasonal storms) on a trailer for probably three weeks as it gets hauled all over the country doesn't exactly appeal to me, so I'd want to ship it in an enclosed rig, which means bigger bucks. Flying there and driving the car back means lower cost, but it also means putting almost 3,000 miles on the vehicle and possibly dealing with older car issues.

So - Hmmm... Thoughts? :)



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Saturday, 24 May 2008 11:07:27 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 14 May 2008
I'm going to have to try this one next week when I fly...

Apparently Gerald Buckley was able to successfully scan his boarding pass bar code, which was displayed on his iPhone screen as a PDF image. I have to assume the scanner was most likely an image-scanning type since a laser scanner like you see in many places probably wouldn't "see" the barcode. Although, I have noticed in bright sunlight that the iPhone screen almost looks like the text is printed on the surface right under the glass, almost like it could have a shadow. But regardless, it's pretty cool.

Buckley describes his experience on his blog.



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Wednesday, 14 May 2008 22:24:48 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 13 May 2008
An artist named BLU has created what can only be described as an amazinly interesting and fun short film using stop-action animation and walls on public buildings. Check out more information about the film at the artist's BLUBLU.ORG web site.


MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

Found via Jeff Atwood on Twitter - thanks!



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Tuesday, 13 May 2008 08:39:49 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 12 May 2008
In June I'll be attending the Microsoft TechEd IT Pro week in Orlando. the TechEd conference has been reworked into a two-week event this year, much like they have done in Europe in the past. The first week is focused on developers and the second week on IT professionals.

I'll be working that secpnd week with my RunAs Radio podcast co-host, Richard Campbell. We're going to be running some panel events and speaker contests as well as putting together some new shows.

If you're there, please drop by and say hello!



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Monday, 12 May 2008 21:03:04 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 14 April 2008
I'm not a huge fan of using credit cards, but with that caveat I discovered something last night that I thought was a great idea and service offered by Capital One for their US-based customer's credit cards: Use your own images.

Under the program, every 30 days you can create a replacement card using your own pictures (provided your account qualifies and you have the rights to the images you use, of course). You go to the web site, provide some information, upload your picture (or choose from one in their library if you're dull and boring like that, heh), and submit your design. Once approved, they send you the card in the mail. Pretty simple and cool.

I decided to create my personal card from this image, which I took off my front porch a couple years ago one morning:



... and once I was done shifting the size and sliding the image around on the card for optimal fit, here is what I ended up with. It's almost like God created the view just to be put on a card (except of course that I'd bet God doesn't like credit cards one bit and the whole idea is just ridiculous):

XX

If you're a Capital One credit card holder, you can check out and use the Image Card service at http://www.capitaloneimagecard.com/.

Now I just have to wait 30 days to make another one, heh. I wonder if we can get the state DMV to let us do this with our license plates?



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Monday, 14 April 2008 06:43:43 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 07 April 2008
Today in the mailbox I received a letter from Best Buy with the previously-promised $50 gift card to help compensate for the fact that the HD-DVD player I bought from them is a no-longer offered format. Cool stuff, and well ahead of the "expect it by May 1st" timeframe they established in their original communications.

Great service on this one, and again kudos to Best buy.

Some interesting trivia from the letter in the mail: "Customers will get a gift card for each player or HD DVD attachment they purchased. While we can't supply a specific number of gift cards that will go out, it's safe to say that, through this program, Best Buy will distribute more than $10 million in gift cards to customers across the country."



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Monday, 07 April 2008 15:56:41 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 06 April 2008

˙ʎoɾuǝ ˙ǝɹǝɥ ʇı ʇǝƃ uɐɔ noʎ 'ƃuılǝǝɟ ʇɐɥʇ ʇsnɾ ɹoɟ ƃuıʞool ǝɹ,noʎ ǝɔuɐɥɔ ʎq ɟı ʇnq ˙ƃuılǝǝɟ unɟ ɐ ʇou

¿noʎ uo ɹǝʌo pǝlloɹ pɐɥ ʇı ǝʞıl ʇlǝɟ plɹoʍ ǝloɥʍ ǝɥʇ puɐ pɐǝɥ sʇı uo pǝddılɟ sɯǝǝs ʇsnɾ ƃuıɥʇʎɹǝʌǝ uǝɥʍ 'sʎɐp ǝsoɥʇ ɟo ǝuo ǝʌɐɥ ɹǝʌǝ

(via Guy Kawasaki on Twitter)



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Sunday, 06 April 2008 09:48:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 28 March 2008
I woke up this morning, put on the coffee to get ready for the first round of conference calls, and then went to switch on the TV to catch up on the news. Both DirecTV satellite receivers in the house indicated they were not receiving a signal. I checked the signal meters on both, and sure enough, zero signal received.

After a reset of the boxes, I looked outside and realized a heavy, wet, slushy snow was falling. I went outside briefly and saw a small amount of wet snow on the dish up on the roof, but it didn't look like much. Without more time to look, I went inside and started making this morning's phone calls.

All morning the signal was out on the boxes. I decided to risk life and limb and climbed out on the roof. I *strongly* suggest you never do this. After my experience of coming "this close" to sliding off (my boot and the broom handle getting wedged in the gutter stopped my slow but steady, gravity-driven slide), I was able to reach over with the broom and clean off the dish and the LNB horn. Then I slid, on my backside, across the roof back to the window with the assistance of the broom handle and the gutters and shutters.

That was a dumb move on my part. I won't be doing that again, it was just plain stupid.

I do have the TV signal back. Interesting that a small amount of slush can kill a signal, yet snow that's not as wet can accumulate in droves and not matter. I think I had this happen once over several years with Dish Network's equipment, and I only recently switched to DirecTV so the equipment on the roof is new. Not sure if bands or frequencies in use are different and that's the effect I was experiencing, or if the unusually slushy snow is the real culprit. Or both.

At any rate, it should go without saying, but I ignored common sense for a few minutes this morning - Please don't crawl out on a snowy roof. :)



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Friday, 28 March 2008 10:29:22 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 21 March 2008

A quick non-techie post for all my carbon-focused brethren scattered around the world. Yesterday "it" couldn't decide whether to rain or shine, and this morning "it" couldn't decide whether to rain or snow. Yes, there is a common denominator there, but hey - It is Oregon.

(I'm not saying Oregon is "it," just that it is Oregon, after all. You decide.)

A couple pics... Yesterday afternoon and this morning. Originals linked - note that they are quite large.

Thursday Rainbow  Friday Spring Snow



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Friday, 21 March 2008 11:46:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 10 March 2008

Several months ago I described a number of things I wanted to do during my work sabbatical, which will be coming to an end sometime soon. I've spent that time in a variety of activities, including doing some contract consulting work. But a significant portion of the time has been spent just remembering to enjoy life a little, and getting some much-needed rest. For anyone who knows they need some R&R and happens to have an opportunity to take advantage of, I recommend it highly.

So, what's my report card look like for the past several months?

I made a list back in September of things I wanted or needed to do, and here's a little detail about how each of those has worked out:

Stuff I need (or want) to get done

  • Get some real rest (succeeded)
  • Finish the bonus room floor and trim at home (thanks to a great friend, the trim and floor are done)
  • Finish the shed at home (umm, no progress here yet - still on the list)
  • Add a deck to the side of the house (did some designs, but have not pulled the trigger)
  • Travel somewhere in a 18-wheeler with my friend Broc (I did that, and it was fun - to California and back)
  • Dust off the cameras and get back into the photography swing (have done some of this but not quite as much as I thought)
  • Sell my street motorcycle (2004 CBR600RR - still for sale as of this post - email me  if interested!)
  • Finish reading this darned Koontz novel that I started 9 months ago, heh (done - it was "Intensity" and it was a fun read)
  • Read another book or two - one for enjoyment, one for furthering myself (done - read quite a few, actually)

Things I need (or want) to learn

  • Learn a programming language, at least at a starter level - I an thinking C# - any ideas? (Ummm, no real progress here)
  • I need to study up for a couple certification exams that the whole we-got-bought-busyness process pushed off my schedule, and then reschedule the exams (I've done the studying part...)

Things/places I need (or want) to do/go

  • Visit family in Colorado (done!)
  • Visit family in California (done!)
  • Visit New Mexico (where I used to live) (still pending)
  • Visit a few friends and colleagues in Seattle (done!)

I've also done a whole slew of other things since September. I've traveled to Spain and London, went to see the Patriots beat the Chargers during a weekend trip to Boston, went skiing a bunch of times, recorded a bunch of podcast shows, and a lot more. All in all, it's been a good experience.

Now it's almost time to get back at it, work-wise. I'm in the process of weighing options and deciding what's next. I'm actively involved in a couple ventures that are challenging me and those might be what I decide to do full-time, but have not made decisions yet. Time will tell.

At any rate, I can say with hindsight that I am glad I allocated some meaningful time for myself. I was quite fortunate to be able to do that. Here's to shifting gears!



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Monday, 10 March 2008 15:29:22 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 02 March 2008

... and one of the best scenes. Silly, really. But every time I watch this film I laugh out loud, even still today.

"First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then, shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it."

 
Sorry for the random post. I have no idea why I'm writing this, really. For some reason it was just on my mind.
 
If you've never seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, then each of the following three things applies directly to you:
  1. Your life is incomplete
  2. You're missing out
  3. Shame on you

So go rent or buy a copy now, then watch it and relax, knowing your life is much more whole than it had been before you read this post.



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Sunday, 02 March 2008 23:22:59 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 26 February 2008

I'm sitting in a local Starbucks, doing the ol' WiFi and latte thing. A sign posted on the door as you enter tells customers that the store is closing today at 5:30 p.m. for sbux_cuptraining. According to CNN, the entire chain is doing this, to provide every one of its 135,000 baristas (hmm, that's a lot of workers per location eh?) with training intended to improve the customer-coffee experience.

Good move. I've been a little disappointed from time to time over the past year or so with the declining consistency and quality of my expensive habit. Here's to hoping things get a little better. The chain needs it.

Personally, I won't be heading to Dunkin' Donuts while the training is in progress because I don't need more caffeine that late in the day. But if you do, rumor has it they're running a 99-cent special starting at 1:00 p.m.

Sidebar: When did 99 cents become a "special" price for a cup of coffee? I must be getting old.



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Tuesday, 26 February 2008 11:11:02 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 24 February 2008

It's a little strange, I suppose, even though I have this fancy home theater projector and sound set up in a room allocated just for that purpose, that my living room TV would a 12-or-so-year-old RCA rear projection set. The old RCA is a reliable, still-going strong, 53" wood cabinet model. But it has a glossy screen and reflects light like a mirror. It's hard to watch anything when it's light outside, for sure. the place where the TV lives provides the perfect angle for reflecting the view out the french doors.

New LG LCD 42" HDTV This weekend, Fry's electronics has a great sale on a 42" LG 1080P LCD HDTV (model 42LB5D) on sale for $997.00 (also available online for that price as of the time of this writing, with very reasonable shipping), which is a steal no matter how you look at it. Best Buy's price is around $1599, and you can find it online for around $1200 if you look hard enough. But the Fry's advertised price this weekend was something else entirely.

After a day of thinking about it, I decided it was a good enough deal to take advantage of, and that it would be nice to reclaim some space in my living room. At Best Buy they were willing to match the Fry's price for me last night (frankly, I'd prefer to purchase at Best Buy, but I was open to the alternative if they could not match), and so I drove into town and picked up my new living room TV for $600 less than the floor price and took it home. Score!

It was 11pm by the time we got back home and I was tired, but that's never really stopped me. We set it up and turned it on. In short, as I expected, it's an amazing difference. The LG set is very, very bright and has a great picture, and with 3 HDMI inputs and a variety of others, I'm set. We hooked up a HDMI up-converting DVD player and watched American Psycho (wow, what a film, heh). Color me impressed.

This morning I was able to watch anything I wanted with the blinds pulled open and the sun shining in the windows. I'm a happy camper.



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Sunday, 24 February 2008 14:00:05 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 20 February 2008

fortuneLast night I got Chinese food from the local place and took it home.

After the meal I broke open my fortune cookie. I handed the paper to a friend of mine to read since I didn't have my glasses on and for all I knew I was trying to read it upside down (turns out I was).

I thought my friend was messing with me when he read it out loud.

Anyone have any suggestions at this point? Tin foil hats or garlic or something?

I'm saving this one.



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Wednesday, 20 February 2008 09:39:47 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 19 February 2008

favor_day Favor Day is coming on March 12th, and it's being organized on Facebook. Nothing quite like doing something simple and kind for someone else to make the world a better place. You should be a part - spread the word!

Here's how you celebrate Favorday -- on Favorday, March 12th, 2008, you do planned favors for people, just like you would plan on giving a gift to somebody for the holidays. Any kind of favor can suffice, whether its "I'm going to rub my girlfriend's feet" or "I'm going to clean my neighbor's garage" Favorday is for celebrating each other.

You can help by inviting your friends to celebrate Favorday with you!

By the way, I am on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=584484571



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Tuesday, 19 February 2008 13:09:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 13 February 2008

samurairepairman I have a set of Kenmore HE3 appliances for washing clothing, the matching washer and the dryer of course. I like them a lot and have had them for five years. They've served me well. However, ever since installing a drawer pedestal under both, the washer had taken to frequently hopping and jumping around on the floor while in the spin cycle. It's not a good thing, and I needed a fix.

Luckily after some creative Google work I found this web site: Fixitnow.com, Samurai Appliance Repair Man. It's a blog with lots and lots of entries describing how to resolve common issues with various appliances, including mine. It gave me the information I needed to fix the problem. So I'm bookmarking it here on my blog for the benefit of others and - undoubtedly - for my own future reference.

Thanks, Samurai Repair Guy!



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Wednesday, 13 February 2008 12:51:29 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Over at Wired, they've posted a set of eight early-design logos that graphic Designer Ruth Kedar came up with back when the now-established company was first finding its identity. It's a cool look at the design process and it's interesting to see how certain aspects of the design came full-circle. Click the image below to see the designs and an explanation of each over at Wired.

google-logos



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Tuesday, 12 February 2008 12:27:12 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 11 February 2008

It was pretty clear from the initial public offer that was made by Microsoft to acquire Yahoo! that Redmond intends to make it happen even if Yahoo! management doesn't want to go along. But just in case anyone doubted, today it became quite apparent that's the case. In a statement issued today, Microsoft says:

"It is unfortunate that Yahoo! has not embraced our full and fair proposal to combine our companies. Based on conversations with stakeholders of both companies, we are confident that moving forward promptly to consummate a transaction is in the best interests of all parties.

"We are offering shareholders superior value and the opportunity to participate in the upside of the combined company. The combination also offers an increasingly exciting set of solutions for consumers, publishers and advertisers while becoming better positioned to compete in the online services market.

"A Microsoft-Yahoo! combination will create a more effective company that would provide greater value and service to our customers. Furthermore, the combination will create a more competitive marketplace by establishing a compelling number two competitor for Internet search and online advertising.

"The Yahoo! response does not change our belief in the strategic and financial merits of our proposal. As we have said previously, Microsoft reserves the right to pursue all necessary steps to ensure that Yahoo!'s shareholders are provided with the opportunity to realize the value inherent in our proposal."

Looks like a lot of people are in for a ride. It will be interesting to see how this one turns out, to be sure.



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Monday, 11 February 2008 16:23:37 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 06 February 2008

Awesome. Another Improv Everywhere "mission," everyone frozen in place in Grand Central Station at precisely the same time. No need to say more, really - just watch, it's great.

 

Story and some cool pictures here, and other missions are listed here. Thanks to Jake (once again) for pointing to something cool.



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Wednesday, 06 February 2008 14:05:53 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 04 February 2008

If you had five minutes on stage what would you say? What if you only got 20 slides and they rotated automatically after 15 seconds?

That's the basic premise behind Ignite Portland, which is happening this week on Tuesday night at the Bagdad Theater in Portland, Oregon.

I'm going to be there - along with what looks like a few hundred others - checking out what people have to say. If you happen to be in the Portland area, why not come down and check it out? It's free. If you'll be there, sign up ahead of time so they can plan (not required, but nice to do) and let me know so we can say hi!



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Monday, 04 February 2008 18:17:25 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 02 February 2008

I've uploaded a few photos from our quick jaunt through Arches National Park, near Moab Utah, at the end of December. My friend Cory and I were driving back to Oregon after a couple days of skiing at Keystone, Colorado and decided to detour briefly to check out the place. It was about four in the afternoon and the light was right. Glad we stopped. The complete flickr photoset is here, and here is a link to my flickr photostream.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park



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Saturday, 02 February 2008 20:40:46 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Some people I know who live in the city (Portland, Oregon that is) don't always "get it" when I tell them we sometimes get lots of snow out where I live. If it snows down in Portland even just a little bit, the place just shuts down. It's fairly ridiculous, heh. I suppose since I live relatively close, people just have a hard time imagining any significant snow in the vicinity. But it's all about the elevation.

Out my way you have to drive in the ice and snow, that's just the way it is. I grew up in northern New Mexico doing just that. Now, we do get snowed in up here sometimes, between the amount of snow and the wetness of it all on the steep hills. While we're nowhere near snowed in this weekend, it has dumped a fair bit since the sun came up this morning. Well, more like since it got light outside this morning... We're certainly not seeing any direct sunlight today. We've had similar (or deeper) snowfalls several times here in the past month.

IMG_2118

IMG_2121



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Saturday, 02 February 2008 14:53:08 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Via Jake at UtterlyBoring.com, the latest in the "Will it Blend?" series is here. Don't mess with Chuck Norris:

    

You'll find a bunch of humorous blender commercials at http://www.willitblend.com/. You can also buy the blenders there.



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Wednesday, 30 January 2008 08:22:19 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Here's another "what's my brain doing to me?" piece of weirdness for you to try...

While sitting at your desk, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles. Now, while doing this draw the number 6 in the air with your right hand. Your foot will change direction and there’s nothing you can do about it. 

Reads: “While sitting at your desk, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles. Now, while doing this draw the number “6″ in the air with your right hand. Your foot will change direction and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Hmmm. If you keep trying can you eventually overcome the natural tendency to change directions? I can't seem to do that.

(via Fitz and Digg)



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Tuesday, 29 January 2008 13:56:55 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 18 January 2008

bolts-pats Over the past year I have become more and more aware of the value of doing some of those things that I've always wanted to do, yet have never quite gotten myself to execute on. I certainly have my limits, but I've worked to push myself a bit and to welcome this likely-midlife-crisis with open arms -- just jump right in and live a little. What the heck, eh?

So, this weekend I'm flying with a friend to Boston and we're going to the playoff game between the Chargers and the Patriots for the AFC championship. A couple lucky tickets combined with frequent flier and hotel credits make for a cheap relatively affordable weekend of fun. We were darned lucky to be able to line it all up last minute with flights and rooms available purchased with mileage credit, etc. The idea didn't even cross my mind until right after the Chargers beat the Colts last weekend.

For those not intimately acquainted with American Football, the winner of the game we're going to will play the winner of the NFC championship imagegame in the Superbowl in a couple weeks. the Patriots are undefeated this year, and I certainly hope San Diego shows up and makes it a fun game to be at.

The temperatures in the Boston area Sunday are supposed to be in the teens or lower 20's (Fahrenheit), but hey it could be a lot worse. The NFC championship is being played in Green Bay, Wisconsin (Packers vs. the Giants) and the temperatures there are supposed to be considerably lower, with a wind-chill in the hell-frozen-over range. ESPN has a great article on cold-weather football with lots of good trivia for anyone interested.

And before you ask... No, I'm not going to spend the incredible amount of money it takes to go to the Superbowl these days. That's why they make HDTV. :)



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Friday, 18 January 2008 14:45:22 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Merry-Freakin'-Christmas from Blockbuster. NOT.

Not too long ago I wrote about Blockbuster's sudden and substantial rate increase. People were upset, me included. I begrudgingly gave in, however, and started paying the $7.00 increase - from $17.99 to $24.99 - per month for unlimited in-store exchanges and three mail rentals at a time.

BlockBusterLetterDec27th A few minutes ago I got a very "friendly" email from Blockbuster, letting me know some of the great rentals they have available in the first paragraph, encouraging me to exchange movies in the store in the second paragraph, and then pretty much putting it to me without so much as kissing me first in the third paragraph. Here is exactly what it said (click the image on the right to see a screen shot of the actual email with the section highlighted):

"To continue to bring you the unmatched convenience of both online and in-store DVD rentals, your monthly subscription fee will change from $24.99 to $34.99. This adjustment† will go into effect on your next billing cycle on or after December 27, 2007. The benefits of your subscription plan will remain the same."

So, in the time span of about four to five short months, my monthly cost has gone from $17.99 to $34.99 per month (in other words, roughly doubled) and the services I get for the money are less (since I no longer get the two coupons a month for movie or game rentals that I got for a couple years before their August price and service change).

"Ok, but that's the last straw."

As soon as the month I have already paid for runs out mid-January, I'm dumping this mess. Goodbye Blockbuster. Hello Netflix. I feel like I have to encourage everyone to do the same. This is - in my opinion - not a consumer-friendly company. I know they need to make a profit, and I was willing to support that. But dragging your customers through this kind of mess is not the way to do it. Believe me when I say I'd likely have been willing to spend more for better service (or at least consistently good service in both the store and online, which I don't get today), had a reasonable rate increase been effectively sold to me.

If some kind of miracle happens between now and January 18th when my account runs out and Blockbuster changes their plans, I'll consider sticking around. But it won't happen. This appears to be just more of the same decisions. It's too bad.

If you received an email, feel free to make use of the comments here. What does yours say? What do you think? What - if anything - will you be doing about it? If you agree with me and want to share the sentiment, you can link to http://www.boycottblockbuster.com/, which points to this page.

Time to stand up and say something.

Added -- Some other comments made on other blogs:

And, via Gizmodo, a humorous visual that effectively captures the essence of the situation...

 

I also noted that new subscribers to Blockbuster (people who go there today to sign up for the first time) will be recruited under the "old" pricing plans, as they have not changed the information on the web site. That seems a little disingenuous, if not completely dishonest, doesn't it? Click the image below to see a fill-size screenshot of their pricing page on the site as of the morning of December 20th. I'd hope they'd at least get this problem fixed soon (unless they don't intend to increase the prices for new customers, of course).

blockbusterpricesdecember19list



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Wednesday, 19 December 2007 20:09:45 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Here we are again, right up against the holidays and I am not ready yet... as usual. On Friday afternoon I'll be jumping in the truck and starting the drive from Portland to Colorado, where my mom and step dad live - as well as my brother and niece, two stepbrothers, and related extended family. My mom had knee replacement surgery just yesterday (which she says went well according to the doc), and so there are a couple important and good reasons to be down there this Christmas.

My good friend Cory, who lives in Portland but whose family is in Minnesota, is going to make the road trip with me and we're going to spend a couple/few days on the slopes in the Keystone area after Christmas before we head back. We're pretty excited and looking forward to the trip. We were going to travel by air, but decided to drive instead for a number of reasons. Renting a four wheel drive in Colorado that week is obscenely expensive as it turns out, and we plan to be in places where it's likely necessary. By the time all is said and done, it's a little less costly and we get to spend more time in Colorado if we drive. Plus we have not done a road trip this year, and we have this tradition thing to keep up.

I recently obtained a HD video camera that I have not used yet beyond taking it out of the box, charging the battery and making sure it works, so I will be taking that with me. Maybe I will do some filming on the slopes and see how HD video does when making YouTube videos or something fun like that. I better do some quick research to see how to best deal with the video for web publication.



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Wednesday, 19 December 2007 18:00:44 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Nothing brightens and warms the heart during the holiday season quite like a summons demanding appearance at the United States Federal Courthouse for jury duty. I received my official letter of "congratulations" (yes, they actually use that terminology) in the mail today. I have to appear on the morning of January 8th.

I hope it's not one of those trials that never ends. Fingers crossed. :)

Actually, I believe in the importance of the jury system and take seriously the duty. It's just such a schedule crusher, is all. Luckily I have nothing specific planned that week (or the next), or at least nothing that can't be kept flexible.



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Wednesday, 19 December 2007 17:53:25 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 11 December 2007

A couple weeks ago I rounded up three of my younger, somewhat crazier friends and (without telling them where we were going or what we were doing) jumped on a train to go from Portland to Seattle. This was our Secret Plan SecretPlan1 day, which sounds kind of stupid but really is a lot of fun. Especially for me, since I am the only one who knows the secrets, and the plan.

It works like this: I picked up my the guys - Broc, Cory and Dave - early in the morning on Thursday. All they knew was that they had to keep Thursday and Friday completely free. That's it - the rest is pretty much all trust and blind faith. But hey - what are friends for, after all? Broc and Dave I have known since I moved to Oregon (they were good friends of my son's years ago), and Cory I have known for a few years (he was in the Navy with Dave).

The whole time, each step of the way, they had no idea what was happening next, where we were going or what we were doing. After picking them up we went downtown and parked. We started walking and ended up at the Portland Union Station. I already had the train tickets in my cool Top Secret folder (heh), so we got on a train (which luckily was not announced out loud while we were in the building, so the guys didn't even know for sure which direction it was going), and pulled out of the station. It turned out we were heading for Seattle.

A few hours later we got off the train and wandered around a bit. We grabbed some burgers and then went to the Secret Plan Dane Cook 017 Pirate Store at Pier 57 on the waterfront, and finally ended up at the Seattle Underground tour for an hour or so, which is pretty fun and interesting. There's a fascinating and surprising history to the City of Seattle, and if you have not done the tour and find yourself in the area I recommend it. From there we checked out a kilt store next door (random, I know - and not part of the plan, heh) and then found our hotel over near Seattle Center.

By this time it was getting to be evening, and we headed out to find some food before the next secret plan stop. Of course, I was guiding us to the general area we needed to be in, but not telling why. We found a good pizza place near the Space Needle and went in. Then, once everyone was seated I told them I had to leave take care of some things and that I would be back. Oh, and that they should not get too drunk or anything since they'd have to walk from the pizza place.

I went out in the cold, found the will-call ticket window at Key Arena (which opened more than half an hour late - why is it that Key Arena staff never seem to be able to get information right, anyhow? Right-arm/left-arm issues are rampant, but I digress...). After freezing my butt off for a while, I had what I had come for (less a half-hour of much-needed time). So, I started running back to the pizza place with almost no time to spare.

I gathered they guys and told them we had to split (like right now), and we started walking toward Seattle Center. The frustrating thing about SPCrewWithDaneCook2Secret Plan Day is that at times it's nearly impossible to actually keep the secret - Eventually you want to say something because you're excited and don't want to keep it to yourself anymore, but you can't do that or you'd ruin the whole concept, ya know. Anyhow, I was pretty excited about the next part, so I waited (it was difficult) until we were standing just outside key arena before I took out the next part of the plan and showed it to them: Second row tickets for Dane Cook, who is one funny guy that these three friends of mine really like. The looks on each of their faces when they realized where we were going and what we were doing made it all worthwhile.

Then I pulled out the four back-stage passes and the looks got even better. Heh.

Since the title of this post makes it seem like it should be about Dane Cook, let me say that the back-stage meet and greet things they do with these special tickets (I won them in an auction) is really cool. We got to say hi real quick, shake hands and have our picture taken with him, which was cool. He autographed our tickets and stuff, too. And then we headed out onto the arena floor for some of the best seats in the house and really enjoyed the show. He did a lot of new material, which made it even more fun. It was a great performance. I was able to take a couple of pictures before my camera battery died... I really need to buy an extra battery.

Secret Plan Dane Cook 034a  Secret Plan Dane Cook 032a

It was a late night, and the next day we boarded another train and headed back home. It was a pretty cool couple of days. Hanging out with just your friends can be a really fun thing to do. Surprising them is even better.



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Tuesday, 11 December 2007 10:10:31 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 26 November 2007

I spent the better part of the last week at my dad's place, along with family and extended family for the holiday. They live in Los Altos, in the South Bay area of California. I decided, in a phase of misguided insanity, to get up at 4:00 a.m. on Friday morning to go down to the local Sears store in order to take  advantage of the Toshiba HD-A3 deal they had going (see an approximately equal Amazon deal here). The HD-A3 is a HD-DVD hd-d3_clfront player, and if you were willing to deal with the crowds, you could score one of the $300 players for $169, which is quite a deal. And it comes bundled with two movies (300 and Bourne Identity - good ones), and Toshiba has a deal where you can get five more HD-DVD movies for free from a list of titles.

Unfortunately, I forgot in my excitement and planning frenzy that Sears sucks. I should have stopped to - oh, I dunno - think or something.

Imagine the lonnnng line at Sears, waiting for the doors on the east side of the store to open precisely at 5am. People were giddy, and excitement poured from the mouths of people in many languages. Since I (of course) was late and was not really all that excited about being the last guy in, I just looked at the line and decided to wander down the sidewalk to the corner to see what other doors might eventually open up. If I was going to be last, I could at least get a good loser seat, you know?

This, friends, is where Sears made it's first mistake. Three other people stood with me at the wrong door, in sight of the long line of people who had been there for presumably hours. My door companions, too, had that dejected, partially confused look of glazed donuts in their eyes. And at about two minutes before the magical hour of 5am, the employees inside the store opened our door - before they opened the door where the long line was waiting.

Now, I don't know if some Sears employee thought that was funny or what, but I can tell you the line of people was collectively pissed, and vocalized that fact as we walked right in our door. Some bolted for our door, as well. Others stood their ground. It turned out it was no big deal, since the long line was at the entrance closest to the stair leading down to the electronics department (which is where everyone was headed - more on that in a minute). But the initial opening of the wrong door had the people worked up, and as we marched down the steps of the non-working escalator to the electronics floor, elbows and attitudes started to fly.

Now, if that was it, I'd say it was really no big deal. But there's a more to the story.

We get to the bottom of the escalator (mostly by force, as the crowd behind is pushing hard to get to  its destination), and see that there is no way to move once there because the growing number of people who have already made it downstairs are all stopped about 20 feet away, looking down at something, shoving and jumping over each other. I work my way through the throng and walk around to the other side and discover what was essentially a small, round end table on the floor with a festive red tablecloth draped over it, and a pencil. One woman among the staff started yelling to the entire crows that they would have to sign up on the paper to be served.

You have got to be kidding me, I thought. Who was the genius who came up with this idea?

I stood there and took a few body-blows to my back and shoulders as a couple fireplugs of individuals tried to force their way through the huddled masses to get to the magical service lamp table. It quickly got to the point where I decided to let a couple of controlled elbows loose when one particular individual got to be a little too rough... Just enough to point out he might want to stop, which he did. Then a seven-foot Neanderthal of an individual tried to barge his way through, and failing that then tried to lean and reach over everyone to sign up that way. He was arms-a-swingin' and managed to elbow my jaw a good one, which I didn't particularly appreciate, so in the true holiday spirit I responded with a quick and (relatively)harmless knuckle jab to the ribs. After a couple of those (hey, I was protecting my face), he decided to back off. At least people were able to recognize they were acting like idiots. Good thing no one was drunk.

Anyhow, this story is supposed to be about finding the HD-DVD player for my dad (which I eventually did), not about wrestling at Sears. Needless to say, I gave up on doing any business at Sears almost immediately. The store had almost every DVD player in their arsenal in boxes on the floor except for the Toshiba HD-DVD player and a couple others. So the only way to get what I needed was to sign up on a list that I could not get to and risk a bruised face. No thanks. I think maybe I'm giving up on Sears for good.

I left and did what all good 'Mericans do at 5:30 a.m. on a Friday. I went to Starbucks and got a latte and an expensive muffin. Then I decided to drive down the street in a city I am completely unfamiliar with (in the dark) and see what other stores/crowds I could find. Not too far away, Circuit City was incredibly freakin' packed. The line went around the back of the building even 30 minutes after they opened, and this was a very large building. I didn't even consider getting in line, but it was a sight to see. Same was true for Best Buy. The line was not as spectacular, but it was equally crazy. At both stores they were well-organized and seemed to have a gameplan in place. Much better than Sears, for sure.

Anyhow, I went back to my dad's house and sat down to finish a good Vince Flynn novel I was almost done reading and spent a couple hours that way, with some more coffee and food. I also got online to see what Costco might have in the way of HD-DVD players, since I know they sell them and I have found Costco over the years to be a great place to shop. Sure enough, they have the "club warehouse" version of the same player that was advertised at Sears, dubbed the HD-D3. And low and behold, once you subtract the in-store discounts, it was pretty much the same freakin' price, and  not just for five hours on that one Friday morning. Plus it comes with a HDMI cable, to boot. So, I jumped back in the car around 10:00 a.m., fired up Google maps and followed the directions to get to the nearest Costco.

Sure enough, there were tons of them stacked up and in stock. I also grabbed a 4GB USB thumb drive for my das for $25 after the coupon, which the guy at the register offered up since I didn't have one with me. That's what I mean about shopping at Costco. Between the prices, the service and the great return policy (which I've rarely had to use but it's great when you need it), it's always a good experience.

Anyhow, in my typical Costco-shopping fashion, I also picked up the entire Mitch Rapp series of paperbacks by Vince Flynn (fun books if you're into the whole CIA fiction novels and stuff like me) at for about $8.00 apiece (great deal), and then headed back to the house. Later we grabbed a HD-DVD copy of Planet Earth from Target (Costco only had the standard DVD version in the store, bummer...) to go along with the new player. My dad hooked it up and we watched some HD and standard DVD content, all of which looks great.

hddvd HD-DVD technology is amazing, especially at 1080 resolution. The HD-D3 outputs at 1080i and looks great on my dad's Sharp LCD he just bought. the standard DVD upscaling done my the Toshiba player looks great, with just a few "jaggies" in sharp diagonal lines showing themselves from time to time. The new James Taylor One Man Band DVD (standard DVD resolution) looked awesome on it. I use the Xbox 360 Elite with the HD-DVD drive at home on my 1080p projector, so I get the full 1080p with my setup and it's truly awesome. The HD-D3 has an ethernet port which we hooked up to dad's LAN, and we easily updated to the newest available firmware via the player's menu system.

So, if you're looking for a great deal on HD-DVD players, there are some terrific deals on the Toshiba models (I also hear the HD-A2 is blowing out for around a hundred bucks some places, wow). Check your local Costco store if you're a member.

And skip Sears. Or if you do go there, just be ready to fight dirty.



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Monday, 26 November 2007 18:41:14 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Funny how eight years ago can feel like yesterday. My son died the day before Thanksgiving so many years ago, and while much has happened and changed in my life in the intervening time, there's a slice of me that was sort of put on hold, almost like one dimension of time has just stood still while another kept on moving along. I miss Brian, but I am thankful for the time we had together.

So, Thanksgiving is always a bit of a tough time for me. Each year, however, I try my best to remember what the day is all about and to reflect on the things in life for which I am truly grateful, and there are many. Last year I said many of the same things I'll say here, but that's what it's all about really - reflecting, changing and growing.

Not too terribly long ago some friends of mine impressed upon me the importance of taking on an "attitude of gratitude" in life. What they meant - at least in part - was that the place where you focus your mind is pretty much where you'll end up and that being grateful for what you have - rather than obsessed with what you don't have - is a positive thing to do. For the most part I think they're right. This time of year I tend to think about a lot of things, some difficult and some pleasant. But every year I try to take some Thanksgiving time to remember that even though life is crazy and time is often too short, there are so many thing in life for which I am grateful and give thanks.

Life's not perfect, and from the depths of the situations and experiences that substantially change us - often things that we would never wish to have happen again - we are destined to learn and grow, and hopefully to become better people in the end. I know I have experienced that over the years, and my life is quite different as a result.

Sometimes we learn and grow quickly, other times a little too slowly. I still make mistakes. Fear is a great motivator, one that can be leveraged for good or bad. Best to try for good.

But this is supposed to be about what I am thankful for. About gratitude.

I am thankful for my friends, my family, my good career, my home, my dog. I am grateful for talented surgeons and for the people in my life who have cared enough to stop their lives and take care of me when I was truly in need. I sometimes wish I was better to those who have been so good to me. I truly appreciate them, and am thankful they are a part of my life.

There are many people in this world better than me, and a few of those good people I have the privilege to know personally. I am thankful for them, even if I don't or can't always show it when it counts. I only hope in the future I can be more much more worthy of their qualities.

Finally, I am grateful for my life, the people in it, the goods and the bads, and for the possibilities of the future, whatever they may be. I've been very fortunate in many, many ways, and am truly thankful for that. As they say, "with all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."

Yes, it is.



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Wednesday, 21 November 2007 22:25:44 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Modesto, California - home to the annual Ninja Parade, was once again treated to an amazing display of Ninja skill this year.

    

Thank you, Onion News Network, and to Alex for passing this along. :)



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Tuesday, 30 October 2007 09:12:19 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 26 October 2007

I got up this morning to the first frost of the season. It's cooled off quite a bit here the past week or so. I snapped a couple pictures. I like shadow-light images with a little contrast punch. You still cannot record images digitally quite the same nice way you can with film. But you can fake it if you try, and it costs a hell of a lot less per shot, that's for sure. Makes it way too easy to be lazy and trust in your luckiness though. I miss film. Heh.

258

frost5

241

Also, I have added a "Photography" category to the site, with its own RSS feed as well, since that's been a bit of a missing piece here.



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Friday, 26 October 2007 10:46:02 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 19 October 2007

I grew up in northern New Mexico. Green chile was everywhere, and found in everything. I remember for a while my dad was on this kick where he dreamed up all kinds of green-chile-in-it dishes. Random, crazy stuff like green chile pancakes and  ... well ... you name it. He had a condition where he couldn't taste much of anything, so I think it was the texture and spice that he liked. Anyhow, long story short: For the longest time I was completely burned out on green chiles.

Then I moved away from the area, and slowly the desire to eat good New Mexican food with green chiles in it returned. By far the best green chile in the whole wide world is from Hatch, New Mexico - a small farming town that's fairly close to where I grew up (well, close in a New Mexico sort of way). There is no debate on this one, by the way. Hatch chile is the best chile. Period.

The other day I decided to make some posole (my current recipe for which is below), and I used chiles in a can from the local (meaning Oregon-based) Safeway store. the posole turned out good, but honestly the green chile leaves a lot to be desired. I was spoiled, ruined, and spoiled again as a kid by Hatch.

I went online yesterday morning to the Hatch Chile Express web site at www.hatch-chile.com and ordered 14 pounds of roasted, peeled, diced and frozen Hatch green chiles from the Chile Capital of the World. You can also get whole chiles there, but unless you're making rellenos there's no point - Get diced and save the hassle of cutting and tossing out parts.

Today, almost exactly 24 hours later, the box arrived via FedEx. The shipment was very carefully and well-packaged, in a strong container with Styrofoam insulation and a frozen cold pack inside, and the 14 one-pound bags of chile were still perfectly frozen and went straight to my chest freezer (after some inspection and sampling of the goods, of course). I ordered mostly medium (since that's what I usually cook with) plus a few bags of hot and mild for good measure. Just the smell of this frozen chile confirmed I'd made a good decision.

Not often I get excited about putting food in my freezer, but as weird as it may sound I was excited today. Hatch chile is that good.

I also ordered some mild and medium variety seed for planting next spring (although the climate here will likely make for a challenging growing season). They threw in a book of recipes (which includes instructions for roasting the chiles if I can get them to grow) as well as several dish options and a handwritten note on the invoice about the varieties I had requested. It's nice to know you're interacting with a real, live person. :)

If you want the best green chile the world has to offer, you go to Hatch, New Mexico. If you can't get to Hatch, then you go online to Hatch Chile Express at www.hatch-chile.com -- and you'll be glad you did. By the way, you can also order wreaths, ristras and a bunch of other cool looking holiday-season stuff there. Highly recommended, check them out. And no, they're not paying me to say that - I am just that impressed and I think if someone sells something great, letting others know is a good thing to do. These are local farmers, actually in Hatch (not some large reseller in some city somewhere), and it's a family-run business. Their phone number and email address are on the web page. There's really no better way to do business.

Here’s my updated and current Posole recipe (an edited version of the one I posted here in 2004), archived here for myself so I won’t lose it, and for anyone else who’s interested and wants to try it:

  • Two #10 cans (108oz) Hominy (Juanita's or a similar Mexican style preferred, fresh or frozen/bagged is even better)
  • Two large yellow onions, sliced and cut up (not diced)
  • One tablespoon (or so) minced/chopped garlic
  • One teaspoon dry oregano (Mexican oregano if you can get it)
  • One envelope/package menudo spice mix (a few ounces, optional)
  • One quart (or less if you prefer) of frozen or canned green chiles, diced, preferably hot or medium strength (do not use jalapenos – use real green chile)
  • Salt (plenty)
  • Pepper (plenty)
  • Two pork tenderloins, about 4-5 pounds each
  • Olive oil

In a large stock pot (16 to 20 quarts size), combine the hominy, onions, garlic, oregano, and green chile. Fill with water to cover the ingredients, plus a little more (don’t get too worried about the water – just make sure it’s pretty full). Salt and pepper the heck out of it, and plan to do so again later. Turn on the heat and bring to a boil while preparing the meat.

Cut the pork into small cubes or similar shape pieces (like you can cut pork into cubes, yeah…).In a frying pan, heat a small amount of olive oil and brown the pork slowly, adding some salt and pepper to the meat.

After browning the pork, add it to the stock pot contents, and stir the meat in.Once it boils, turn the heat back to simmer the stuff. Simmer for about 15 minutes, stir, and boil again. Do this twice, then simmer again on low heat.

Now comes the hard part – leave it alone until the cows come home, stirring about every 30 minutes. Keep it on low heat, just enough to bubble a little, to avoid burning the food at the bottom of the pot. "Until the cows come home" translates loosely to anywhere between say five or six hours and overnight (depending on what time you start, I suppose). Trust me – let it cook down, it needs it. Add some water as needed to keep the stock covered. It will thicken up a bit as it goes.

And don’t be stingy with the salt and pepper in this recipe – you’ll need it. You will probably find you need to add some salt while cooking one or more times. Stir it in and cook for a few minutes, then stir again and taste.

Serve with tortillas, and if you want grate a little cheese on top when you serve it up.



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Friday, 19 October 2007 11:12:01 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 13 October 2007

Okay, who wants to add me for Halo 3 fun? My XBox Live gamertag is gergin8or. I'm pretty lame at these games but what the heck. What's yours?



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Saturday, 13 October 2007 12:42:38 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 11 October 2007

UPDATE: The question of whether this actually tells you whether you're left or right brained has come up (I wondered myself how legitimate of a brain test this could actually be), and a post right here on greengabbro.net offers a reasonable and well-written explanation as to why it likely does not, in fact, tell you much of anything about your personality or brain. There's also some links to some interesting auditory "illusions" that I found quite interesting. But still, regardless of the braininess of the image, please enjoy playing with the illusion below. It's true that it can be seen turning either way (it's an illusion). But it's also still very interesting that different people see it different ways on the first try, or more often than not the first several tries.


The Herald Sun, a newspaper in Australia, has a cool page up with an animated image that can tell you whether you are right- or left-brained. Here is the original page, with the details.

Look at the image below. Which way is the dancer model turning, clockwise or counterclockwise?

Most people see it turning counterclockwise, which is correlated to being left-brained. If you see it turning clockwise, you're right-brained. Can you make it change directions? for some it can be difficult to impossible. I can get it to change briefly if I really try (I see it turning counterclockwise).

Here's what they say it all means:

LEFT BRAIN FUNCTIONS
uses logic
detail oriented
facts rule
words and language
present and past
math and science
can comprehend
knowing
acknowledges
order/pattern perception
knows object name
reality based
forms strategies
practical
safe
RIGHT BRAIN FUNCTIONS
uses feeling
"big picture" oriented
imagination rules
symbols and images
present and future
philosophy & religion
can "get it" (i.e. meaning)
believes
appreciates
spatial perception
knows object function
fantasy based
presents possibilities
impetuous
risk taking

 How's it look to you? What do you think?



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Thursday, 11 October 2007 10:32:39 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Jason Cross hits the nail on the head. It's not the hardware, it's not the software, it's not even the company. It's something else completely.

Bad apples (pun intended) can truly spoil the barrel.

I have to say, based on my own experiences and as a Mac user since the very first one came out (yes, that one) when I was a kid, I agree with Jason's points. Well-said and fairly-put.

Now you go read it. Someone needs to say these things, and Jason did. Good for him.



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Thursday, 11 October 2007 05:56:25 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 09 October 2007

master_chief2 Attention all Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington area peoples:

Drop everything, sign up right now (see details below), and meet me to play HALO 3 on two 50-foot ultra-hi-def video movie screens this Thursday (October 11th) at 7:00 p.m. just across from the Portland Airport in Vancouver at Cinetopia. Why? Because it will be the ULTIMATE Halo 3 event.

And you're guaranteed a win, because I will be there. Bonus. Heh.

YOU GET TO PLAY HALO 3 on two 50-foot ultra-hi-def video movie screens (like double 1080p resolution, beautifully up-scaled by some super-fancy equipment to make for an awesome image) and an awesome theater setting, reserved just for us - and the proceeds benefit the fight against diabetes. What more can you ask for?

Your donation of $25 (or more) at the door or will go straight to the America Diabetes Association. You can also pre-donate online and bring your printed donation receipt to the door. There's room for 120 people, so register today to save your seat(s)!

Click to donate!ALSO -- The first 10 people who let me know (in the comments and/or via email) that they have signed up (details of which are below) because they read it here - and then show up to play - will have their $25 donation matched by me. So let's make this happen! It's for a great cause and will be tons of fun.

And blog about this on your own site if you have one. Spread the word!

You need to sign up ahead of time so seats can be counted - so please do it now!

Here are the details:

  • When:  Thursday evening, October 11th, 7:00-Midnight (and yes, you can leave earlier if you want or have to, it's not Hotel California or anything)
  • Where:  Cinetopia - here's a map and their web site
  • Who:  Due to the content and whatnot, 18 and older, please
  • Register for this event at http://iammasterchief.com/ with the RSVP code "FIGHTDIABETES" (and just ignore the fact that the date there is wrong, and you won't get an email confirmation - if you see the PDX event after signing up, you're good to go)
  • You can donate online and bring your web receipt, or donate at the door (but either way, please sign up at the link above)

You can also read more about this event on Rich and Scott's blogs. Proceeds benefit the American Diabetes Association (and Scott explains that quite well).

Business sponsors of the event include: Aivea, Robert Half Technology, Microsoft, the Portland Area .NET Users Group (PADNUG), the Software Association of Oregon, of course Cinetopia and others. A special thank-you goes out to all of them!



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Tuesday, 09 October 2007 09:30:43 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 02 October 2007

I have realized more and more that the time I'm taking off from working right now is time I need to spend doing the sort of things I can't realistically do while employed full-time. For example, I'm actually considering taking the time (and the expense) to get my private pilot's license. We'll see. That may be a bit of a stretch (and the rainy season is coming). But every time I see Jeremy Zawodny post about airplanes and flying, I get excited about it again. Darn you Jeremy!

Broc Driver I've always wondered what it would be like to travel the highways in a big truck. I'm writing this from northern California because I am on the road this week with my friend Broc (he's the goofball in the picture). He drives a 18-wheeler for his family's moving company. We left Portland on Tuesday and we're driving someone's household items to Modesto, California. Then we turn around with a different trailer and load and head back home by the end of the week.

I'm not sure exactly what it is about traveling from here to northern California in a semi truck that interests me this much. Seriously, we could be going anywhere and it would be an adventure for me just traveling over the road in the semi for the first time. Add to that the fact that I have never made the trek from Portland to California on the ground (it's always been by air) and it certainly makes for something to look forward to. In fact, I have never driven further south in Oregon than Eugene before today. Considering I've lived here for pushing nine years, that's kind of sad. And the chance to hang out with a friend for a few days is pretty darn cool, so I'm glad he asked.

It was a great drive today - nice scenery. Mt. Shasta is incredible and huge. It was amazing to be able to see it off and on for such a long time as we approached it and drove past. The peak is at more the 14,000 feet and much of the surrounding area sits down around 3,000 feet more or less, so you can imagine how it stands out. Shasta Lake is very, very low right now. Like maybe even 100 feet low, it's crazy. But it looks like a great place to bring the boat for an extended trip next year. It's on the list.

What would you do if you had unlimited flexible time? I'm always open to new ideas. :)



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Tuesday, 02 October 2007 20:04:12 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 27 September 2007

Arjan Zuidhof, a .NET software engineer in the Netherlands comments briefly on his linkblog regarding our recent podcast show and interview about being a DBA:

"When was the last time *you* listened to a podcast? Honestly? One of the things I know I should do more, but, ahh, the lack of time is standing in the way. Still, learning how to be a better DBA is definitely a healthy career path if you don't know where to go..."

That got me thinking. Arjan's point seems to be consistent with those of many others, and truthfully I have to include myself in that list of people who have found podcast consumption to be too hard from time to time. I have found myself wondering aloud and to myself how in the world anyone can possibly  get the technology to work seamlessly, find and organize podcasts, have them in a place where they can be consumed, and still find the time to actually listen to them.

And then there's the whole (somewhat true) problem I refer to as the "most-podcasts-suck" phenomenon. It can be painful and a bit of work to find a good show, let alone stick with it.

But some of the best learning I have done over the past year or two has been from podcasts, so I can tell you there is a tangible benefit. I listen to a total of maybe 6 or 7 podcasts, and I listen whenever I find I have the time. I don't listen to every episode in its entirety, either - it has to keep my interest. I also don't plan it all out or have a podcast listening schedule. And I have found that's important for me if I am going to be part of the podcast "listernership."

The first thing I had to do was to have a set of tools that make it possible to listen without having to think about it. Here are the tools that I have found actually make it possible, in my real world:

  1. iTunes - Love it or hate it, the fact of the matter is, iTunes makes subscribing to and consuming podcasts freakin' easy. And on top of that, you get show ratings, the podcast directory on the iTunes store, and a lot more. Plus, when you consider that the producers of a podcast have to work to get their show into iTunes, it's raises the bar slightly and as a result the signal to noise ratio is a little lower.
  2. The Mac Mini on my kitchen counter - With some compact speakers and the iTunes client running on it, I just load the Added recently playlist and listen. Obviously, this could be a Windows machine or whatever. The point is, in the space where you spend your time, it's good to have the ability to let stuff play in the background, and your primary iTunes subscription point show be there.
  3. iPod (or iPhone in my case) - The thing that matters the most here is that you need to have it with you all the time. Truth be told, my iPod saw so little use day-to-day that I seriously consider that particular purchase to be a waste of money. I have a friend who has actually used it much more than me. But the iPhone, on the other hand, goes everywhere with me. As a result, the iPod content on the phone actually gets listened to. I cannot overemphasize the importance of this point: Listening needs to be something you just do. The planning part should be limited to the discovery of and subscription to content. After that, the whole idea is to focus energy on the shows, not the delivery mechanism. Else you'll find yourself frustrates and giving up. And that's, well, pointless.

I'm a Windows and Wintel guy primarily, so you might be surprised to see the glaring consistency in manufacturer above. Get over it, I did. And it works. That's what matters. 

My point here is this: The time it takes to actually listen to podcasts is often confused and munged with the time it takes to be able to listen to podcasts. I'm not saying that Arjan's situation is specifically that, but rather his comments caused me to think through some common frustrations based on my own experience and the experiences of others.

I've heard many people say they just can't find the time for it. I know I certainly get frustrated with shows that ramble on and on and present nothing useful. That's why - for example - Scott Hanselman's excellent Hanselminutes podcast is intentionally compact and focused on a specific audience, and it's why we work hard to keep RunAs Radio around 30 minutes per show and focused on topics for IT professionals.

What I've found is that if you can work out the technology part of things, and then be willing to spend a little bit of time here and there glancing at recommendations made by others and which fill your own interests, you can learn and consume a lot of good stuff in the "between" time (and still have time left over for other stuff).

For those who roll their eyes and doubt, here's my "preachy" thought for the moment - for what it's worth: If your schedule won't allow you to listen to a podcast every week or two (and this statement is coming from a true workaholic, people) you might want/need to take a hard look at your schedule and figure out what's wrong with it. Missing out on good information, whether it be written or recorded or what have you, is an unfortunate and damning side effect of too-much-ness. We all got to where we are today by learning, and stopping now really isn't an option - unless our goals are to slide backward and relegate ourselves to being second-best. There should be time for family and friends, time for yourself, and then time for work.

Anyhow, a special thanks to Arjan for making me think. :)

Do you listen to podcasts? Or do you find you can't? Why or why not? What is the one thing podcast producers could do today that would make a real difference to you, the kind of difference that would make it really worthwhile for you to spend some time with them?

Ready? Discuss!



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Thursday, 27 September 2007 07:04:35 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 25 September 2007

I woke up a little early this morning to the smell of coffee (good way to wake up, eh?) and looked outside and decided to grab a camera and snap a couple hand-held shots from the front porch.

After shooting the pictures, and knowing the image would probably need to be cropped and that the long exposure (I had to do controlled breathing and steady the camera big time) would result in some shift in color and contrast, I figured this might be an interesting scene to look at in terms of in-camera composition, exposure and cropping. I used to do photography professionally and have been thinking a lot about getting back into it (non-professionally). This is a way of pushing myself in that direction.

I've included a few questions at the end, and I hope you'll use the comments to answer them with your thoughts. From time to time I'll do the same thing with other images.

(Note: You can click each image to view the larger size)

For illustrative purposes, here's the view the way the digital camera saw it and the way it wanted to expose the frame in "Program" mode (I've resized the image but it's otherwise unaltered). Note this is a great example of where automatic camera modes can result in substandard images. Program mode is not just easy, it's lazy. My opinion, anyhow...

    DSC_0054-crop0

Here's the same scene using a manual exposure, where the exposure is made primarily for the highlights. I bracketed a bit and this one had the best level of detail in the wide range of tonal values present in the scene. It's far from perfect, and the image was made in JPEG mode, not RAW, so it should be noted that right away we start the lossy process:

    DSC_0072-edit0

Here's how I remember the scene looking to my eye, or at least this is close (the image is an altered version of the above frame):

    DSC_0072-edit1a

I then made this crop to clean things up a bit and focus on what my mind was framing. Of the crops on this page it probably comes closest to obeying the "rule of thirds" as far as subject placement goes:

    DSC_0072-edit3

And this one is cropped even closer to show what my eye was truly drawn to. It still comes close to obeying the rule of thirds, but it not as strictly compliant:

    DSC_0072-edit5

So, what do you think works best and why? Do you have a preference? Why or why not? Would you crop it differently? How?



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Tuesday, 25 September 2007 17:25:14 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Master_Chief_Assembled_by_billybob884 Wow. Like as in that-must-have-taken-forever-wow.

Mike McDermott, who also goes by BillyBob884 at the deviantART web site, has created and built a folded Origami paper (plus a little white glue) model of the Master Chief from Halo.

The final model comes out to be 13" (33 cm) tall, has roughly 2100 faces (+ ~800 for the gun), and is made up of 42 pieces (+ 10 for the gun).

How accurate is it? McDermott says:

"Well, it was an exact rip of the Halo 1 Master Chief model, but I had to take a few liberties in changing little details to make it build-able. But I'd say its like 90-95% accurate. The gun is another story though. It's probably somewhere around the magnitude of 60-75% accurate..."

On the site you can download a copy of the instructions, a PDF file of all the pieces (which you can print out and use to create your very own Master Chief), and the PePaKuRa model file for reference (which you should probably use to determine which tabs go where, as it looks fairly complex - a model viewer is available here).

Oh, and if you actually build it, send me a picture and be sure to let the creator know on his deviantART web site.

Mike has also created a number of other paper models you can try, such as the Halo Ringworld and more. Enjoy. :)



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Tuesday, 25 September 2007 11:03:30 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 24 September 2007

I know several people who are heading out this evening to sit, stand, lie and probably roll multi-sided dice in line at stores selling Halo 3 when it releases at midnight. Mine's arriving at my from Amazon, so I won't be in line. Last time I did that (Halo 2), the early-morning drive home ended up with a game of chicken involving a semi truck in my lane. I lost. So tonight I will stray home and relax, knowing my Amazon Prime membership is taking good care of me.

So - are you going to camp out tonight, or not?

 
Highly-anticipated is such an understatement for this one. You can read the GamePro review here.
 
I'd like to see the diorama they built for the Believe video series. Where is that thing - and does any part of it actually exist in real life? You can go on a personal tour of it here - very cool.


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Monday, 24 September 2007 09:54:33 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 22 September 2007

Today was a very good day to wake up and shop for concert tickets.

At 9am I got my James Taylor tickets lined up. I've been to his shows three times in the past and it's by far the best concert I've been to overall. James Taylor's music is my long-time favorite, and even though he'll be six hours away in Spokane when he plays, it will be great and well worth the trip. Heck, I drove there to see Korn and Rob Zombie once several years ago, so I think I can easily make the trip for this one, heh.

And - just as good and exciting - at 10am I was lucky enough to get floor seats for Van Halen's upcoming concert at the Rose Garden here in Portland on December 1st. It's going to be a fun concert tour for all us 40-year-olds. The last time David Lee Roth performed with Van Halen was when I was a senior in high school (wow, I am getting to be freakin' old):

In what promises to be the most exciting live tour this year, Van Halen is embarking on a national concert tour throughout the U.S. and Canada with its original lead singer David Lee Roth for the first time in 22 years.  Considered by fans and media alike as one of the most highly anticipated tours in rock and roll history, Roth, guitarist Eddie Van Halen and drummer Alex Van Halen will perform with Eddie’s son, Wolfgang who joins the line-up as the band’s bass player.  Van Halen and Roth have not performed or recorded together since 1984’s classic multi-platinum album “1984” and subsequent tour, making this tour truly a historic event.

Anyhow -- That's a couple events I am really looking forward to. Now if Paul Simon would just drop by for a concert, I'd be completely set and could die a complete musical person, heh.



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Saturday, 22 September 2007 09:56:48 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 21 September 2007

Lots of iPhone posts recently, I am aware. I promise I will get other topics up here. But I need to tell you about my service experience with Apple this week, as it exemplifies why great service is so valuable - not just to the customer, but to the company as well.

As I described recently, I had a mishap with my iPhone where a new holster that was way too tight resulted in a flying iPhone that bounced off my hand, off my knee, to the floor and a subsequent small dent that prevented the power/lock button from working at all. In a nutshell, the phone got damaged after I dropped it (although I maintain it should be a bit more resilient and the holster I bought sucks design-wise).

So, as I said I would the other day, I took the phone and a small dose of hope with me to the Apple store here in the Portland area to show it to them and see what it would take to get it fixed (meaning how many dollars). As I also said that day, my expectations were low in terms of service coverage. Boy, was I ever surprised.

I took the phone to the store, signed up to speak with one of their experts on the in-store concierge system, walked around the mall for about 30 minutes, and then went back to the store. The techs looked at the iPhone, saw the problem, listened to me for about 15 seconds as I described what had happened, and immediately proceeded to arrange to have the situation rectified.

Wow. As I listened to the service tech telling me they didn't have a replacement phone available right then and there (they were out of stock) and that he expected more in the store the next day, I actually got a little confused. "So how will this work?" I asked. "Will I use the loaner and bring it back here when my phone is fixed?"

"Nope," he said. "We stopped the loaner program. We're just going to give you anew phone. I'm sorry I don't have any in stock right now, but we'll call you as soon as we get one in, probably tomorrow. Since your phone is basically working except for this button why don't you take it with you and you can bring it back when the new one comes in, and then we'll just swap out the SIM and everything right here when you come back."

I think I looked shocked. At least based on the look on his face. He smiled.

"Wow," I said. "Thanks!"

"Not a problem, not at all. You need a working iPhone." said the tech.

And less than 24 hours later I received the call, went to the store, and got the replacement in short order, no waiting. They even let me exchange the decidedly crappy holster case that was so problematic for a much better model, which you can see here.

Kudos to Apple for its quick, unflinching, natural and truly customer-centric reflexes. It felt 100% authentic and the focus was on whether I was happy as a customer and if the product was meeting my needs and working properly. I can tell you this: I have already started looking at other Apple products in the store and have visited the online store a few times since this experience, as well. I am much, much more likely to buy Apple sometime in the future as a result - and that means in my personal decisions as well as professional business ones.

There's something to be learned here, for sure.



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Friday, 21 September 2007 10:36:55 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 20 September 2007

It's been quite a while since I have posted one of my reasons why it's nice to live in the sticks and to have to drive an hour each way to get to the city, but here's another reason why... I got to watch these at the bottom of the hill on my property off and on for a couple hours this evening. You can click the image to see the larger version.

Deer1



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Thursday, 20 September 2007 17:26:47 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 16 September 2007

Now, I'm really not sure how this contextual ad ended up in my Google Mail interface, but I thought it was pretty funny:

funny-gmail-ad
(click the image to view full size if you like)

I'm trying to figure out exactly which one of my friends has the hot mom. Hmmm. Anyone know? Heh. Hey, everyone needs to find an unhappily married woman, eh? Makes me wonder just how many clicks that one gets.



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Sunday, 16 September 2007 19:50:36 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 14 September 2007

This is pretty funny. Note: Some rough language and typical juvenile video game sexual stuff (NSFW). About the same stuff you experience any time you play on Live really, but hey the warning is there in case. Enjoy.



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Friday, 14 September 2007 13:22:23 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 13 September 2007

Wow.

Google's ponied up $20 million to the team that can reach the moon first with an unmanned craft, rove around a bit after a soft landing, and transmit some video back to Earth. This is way cool.

xprize_horizTo win the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a team must successfully land a privately funded craft on the lunar surface and survive long enough to complete the mission goals of roaming about the lunar surface for at least 500 meters and sending a defined data package, called a “Mooncast,” back to Earth.

If you have the will, funds and desire, you can sign up a team yourself. Let me know if I can help. :)

Excerpted from the Lunar X PRIZE web site:

The Mooncast consists of digital data that must be collected and transmitted to the Earth composed of the following:

  • High resolution 360º panoramic photographs taken on the surface of the Moon;
  • Self portraits of the rover taken on the surface of the Moon;
  • Near-real time videos showing the craft’s journey along the lunar surface;
  • High Definition (HD) video;
  • Transmission of a cached set of data, loaded on the craft before launch (e.g. first email from the Moon).

Teams will be required to send a Mooncast detailing their arrival on the lunar surface, and a second Mooncast that provides imagery and video of their journey roaming the lunar surface. All told, the Mooncasts will represent approximately a Gigabyte of stunning content returned to the Earth.

The total purse of the Google Lunar X PRIZE is $30 million (USD).

  • GRAND PRIZE: A $20 million Grand Prize will be awarded to the team that can soft land a craft on the Moon that roams for at least 500 meters and transmits a Mooncast back to Earth. The Grand Prize is $20M until December 31st 2012; thereafter it will drop to $15M until December 31st 2014 at which point the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X PRIZE Foundation
  • SECOND PRIZE: A $5 million Second Prize will be offered as well, providing an extra incentive for teams to continue to compete, and increasing the possibility that multiple teams will succeed. Second place will be available until December 31st 2014 at which point the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X PRIZE Foundation
  • BONUSES: An additional $5 million in bonus prizes can be won by successfully completing additional mission tasks such as roving longer distances (> 5,000 meters), imaging man made artifacts (e.g. Apollo hardware), discovering water ice, and/or surviving through a frigid lunar night (approximately 14.5 Earth days). The competing lunar spacecraft will be equipped with high-definition video and still cameras, and will send images and data to Earth, which the public will be able to view on the Google Lunar X PRIZE website.


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Geek Out | Random Stuff
Thursday, 13 September 2007 18:54:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 11 September 2007

I'll be driving up to the Bellevue area Wednesday to meet up with my friend Scott at a geek dinner they're holding at the food court of the Crossroads Bellevue Mall from 6:30-9:00 p.m. Hope to see you there! Here's an iCal item to add it to your Outlook calendar.

Scott started work this week at Microsoft (congrats!) and this will be a fun opportunity to meet a few people and get out of Portland for a day or two. I'll also be dropping by to see a few other friends. Looking forward to the quick trip.

Oh, and if you're going (or even if you're not), please be sure to take the Nerd Test and bring your results along with you (or post in the comments or on your own blog or wherever). Here's mine, for reference. :)

NerdTests.com says I'm a Cool High Nerd.  What are you?  Click here!



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Tuesday, 11 September 2007 22:15:12 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 08 September 2007

I have started to form a couple lists of things to do or learn while I am on my self-induced break time. My typical methodology is to keep lists in my head, which worked well when I was a little younger and could remember things. Not so much the case these days. Ah, oldness. Gotta love it.

So I am organizing a couple lists. One if stuff I want to get done. The other is things I want to learn. Oh and and another one is things to do, which is a sort of people to see and places to go list.

Suggestions are always welcome. What do you think I should do during this unique time?

Stuff I need (or want) to get done

  • Get some real rest (making great progress on this one)
  • Finish the bonus room floor and trim at home (floor's done!)
  • Finish the shed at home
  • Add a deck to the side of the house
  • Travel somewhere in a 18-wheeler with my friend Broc
  • Dust off the cameras and get back into the photography swing
  • Sell my street motorcycle (2004 CBR600RR - email me, heh)
  • Finish reading this darned Koontz novel that I started 9 months ago, heh (done - it was Intensity and it was a fun read)
  • Read another book or two (one for enjoyment, one for furthering myself)

Things I need (or want) to learn

  • Learn a programming language, at least at a starter level - I an thinking C# - any ideas?
  • I need to study up for a couple certification exams that the whole we-got-bought-busyness process pushed off my schedule, and then reschedule the exams

Things/places I need (or want) to do/go

  • Visit family in Colorado
  • Visit family in California
  • Visit New Mexico (where I used to live)
  • Visit a few friends and colleagues in Seattle (I'm about half-way on this one)

I'll add to this list over time. I'm not nearly as concerned about accomplishing all of these things as I am about listing them out where I can see them and whittling away at them over the next little while.



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Personal Stories | Random Stuff
Saturday, 08 September 2007 16:41:15 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 05 September 2007

Change happens, and I'm living that fact right now. The company I work for was recently acquired and after a long stretch of doing my part to make sure everything went well with the integration process, I spent my last day on the job Friday of last week. I worked at Corillian for the past eight years, to the month. It was a great experience and I am grateful to all the good people I had the opportunity to work with and learn from. I truly appreciate the people I have worked with as well as the ones I have met over the past year during the transition process. Thanks for everything you've taught me and for some great times.

So the short version of this story is that I chose to move on find the next thing, and that by my own choice I'm on sort of an extended vacation from work right now. To be honest, a break will be good for me. Some amazing work opportunities have been presented to me recently and there are a number of people who are probably surprised I am not starting a new job immediately, but overall fit is important to me in a job and as such I will be carefully pursuing options in the near future. At this point I have to think about a variety of aspects of my life as well as work.

I plan to take a few weeks to relax and do some non-work things, followed by getting back on the work track. That means taking some time to get things done around the house, visit with some people I care about in person, do some writing and generally decompress from a year or two of extra-hard work. I'm looking forward to it.

And then, I'll be back on the trail.



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Wednesday, 05 September 2007 22:42:23 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 31 August 2007

My friend Brad Pierce is in the middle of his trip around the world (literally), where he is doing the whole trip on the surface - no airplanes. He's crossed the United States, then the Atlantic, and is in Europe as I write this. Paris to be specific. It's a lifelong dream of his, and he left the familiar world behind to live that dream. I am a lot proud and a little envious. :)

You can keep tabs on Brad's travels at http://www.peopleinpassing.com/, where he is logging his experiences and posting some photos as he goes. Brad is also a talented photographer.

He says 5-6 months or more are still left to go, and the path is one that gets determined on the fly. It's a trip with it's bumps, which is really a critical part of the great experience in Brad's book. Great stuff, man.



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Blogging | Random Stuff
Friday, 31 August 2007 21:24:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Ummmm, wow. Just click it.



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Tuesday, 28 August 2007 18:54:30 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 27 August 2007

Well, I just discovered that I am missing at least one blog entry from the past. I know it's missing because I specifically went looking for it today. I also linked to it in the past from another entry that still exists on this blog. It's just gone. Weird. Also not good. Makes me wonder what else might be missing. I have an idea what might have caused this, but that doesn't help solve the issue. I may have to go back and find some old site content backups and figure out when it disappeared, and probably enumerate all of my posts from the old backups and compare them to what's online now. from there I can make repairs.

Ugh, that just sounds like so much fun... A use for my copious spare time, I guess. Not. Heh.

If you happen to find a link to something here that doesn't work (it will probably redirect you to the main home page), please let me know the original URL and the topic or place you found the link.

Thanks.



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Random Stuff | Things that Suck
Monday, 27 August 2007 12:48:08 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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John Nack at Adobe links to a video that I saw up on YouTube as well the other day after a friend sent me link, where a couple of incredibly smart people have presented a new way to resize (and otherwise edit) images. And apparently, according to Nack, one of those smart people - Shai Avidan - is working at Adobe now. Here's the video:

Technically, it's very interesting, even amazing to watch. From a pure photojournalism ethics standpoint, it's certainly to be considered as yet another real concern to those who work in the field. As much of a technology geek as I am, I was a photojournalist long before I got heavy into computers. As soon as I started watching the video my thoughts were as a former news photographer: "Wow, that's a lie." Proof again why art and reporting are not even close to the same thing, and why so few people with a camera fit into both the artist and reporter skins. You don't need to anymore, you can just cheat. Or at least that's what some people would call it.

It's becoming easier and easier to take liberties with the truth when it comes to recording scenes. With the continued technological progress in digital imaging pretty much anyone with a few bucks for some software and a computer (or even without a few bucks if their ethics are truly in the toilet) can create some pretty compelling imagery. But the easy way out doesn't do it for me... I prefer the actual scene, and non-story-telling edits limited to things like cropping, minor exposure compensation, lint removal and color/white balance. At least that's the way I feel with regard to photos that need to carry the journalism label (and for the most part for my photos, as well).

Artists and anyone creating images for effect as opposed to telling a true story, you can go for it. I won't count it against you too much, heh. But I think I'll just try to stick to taking a good natural picture. :-)



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Random Stuff | Tech
Monday, 27 August 2007 09:45:06 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 22 August 2007

UPDATED: As "Digger Dog" points out in the comments below, there is now a national hotline you can access by calling 811 from any phone, which will connect you to the proper utility marking service for your area. Funny thing is I heard a radio spot describing it yesterday, just a day after writing the original post, heh. Here's the description of the national service from the Call 811 web site:

image "One easy phone call to 811 starts the process to get your underground utility lines marked for free. When you call 811 from anywhere in the country, your call will be routed to your local One Call Center. Local One Call Center operators will ask you for the location of your digging job and route your call to affected utility companies. Your utility companies will then send a professional locator to your location to mark your lines within a few days. Once your underground lines have been marked, you will know the approximate location of your utility lines and can dig safely, because knowing what's below protects you and your family."

YouTube has the 811 video PSA spots online, as well. Here's the shorter of the two:

People are also arriving here searching for campaign materials and signage for the Call 811 program. Bumper sticker, bus signs, workplace signs, ad slicks and a whole lot more -- you name it -- get that stuff here.

Thanks, Digger Dog!

My original post:

Driveway at Home This weekend someone is going to be helping me to solve my long gravel driveway woes. After five years, it's time to take that lumpy surface out here in the middle-o-nowhere and fix 'er up, pot holes, bumps, ruts and huge puddles of water be damned. No more roller coasters for me. We'll have to sink some tractor teeth into the ground a foot or two, maybe deeper in some spots, so I needed to get the utilities marked ahead of time for safety and all that, of course.

Turns out there's a centralized service for a few states (specifically Oregon, Washington, Montana and Hawaii - weird but true) lets you make one call (or file a request online) and all the utility companies in your area will be notified and sent out to mark the spot. No need to call each one individually. In fact, when I called my electric company they directed me to the one-call service. You speak to an operator for a few short minutes and within 48 hours they'll have everyone out and the place all marked up.

CallBeforeYouDig.org is the web site where you can file your request online, and 800-332-2344 is the phone number if you're lonely or something and you want to speak to a human being. Again, it's available for people in Oregon, Washington, (most of ) Montana and Hawaii.

Enjoy, and don't dig without calling. It's not worth the hurt.



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Random Stuff
Wednesday, 22 August 2007 08:56:31 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 17 August 2007

I recently acquired a boat. A smaller jet boat, made by Sea-Doo. Yeah, I know, go ahead and bring it on... Mid-life crisis comments welcome, whatever. Heh.

ScreamingTurtle It's amazingly fun. I've been out with friends a bunch of times and it drives like crazy. the jet drive means you can turn literally on a dime, it slides an skids and turns and flies fast. We've pulled kneeboards and a big tube and it's a blast. No wakeboard yet, mostly because they're so much more expensive and we already have the tube and kneeboard.

The boat is a Sea-Doo 150 Speedster, and it's a 215-horsepower little water demon that seats four. It has a name (people seem to ask me that question a lot), which is Screaming Turtle. Long story behind that, so let's just say it's a random name that one of the kids in youth group and I came up with well before I bought the boat. Kind of pre-planned.

So, I had it out on the upper Willamette River (the clean part that is well upstream from the Portland sewage mess) Wednesday evening this week with a couple friends, and we were pulling the water tube. I was careful each time to make sure the tow rope, which floats on top of the water, was not under the boat. This boat has a water intake opening on the underside toward the back, into which water is sucked to feed the impeller in the boat - the "jet" drive. After several runs of carefulness I got lazy and started the boat without looking for the rope closely enough, so it was pulled into the intake, wrapped around the drive shaft and into the seal, and slightly into the impeller. Ugh. The result of that was a dead-in-the-water boat two miles from the boat ramp where my truck was. Not fun.

Anyhow, lesson there is *always* check to see if the rope is clear, without exception. It's a lot easier to get home that way, and it will save you a couple hundred bucks in labor.

On a side note, there was a very nice man who was out with his church youth group on the river who finished up for the day and towed us with our boat all the way back to the Boone's Ferry ramp, which was awesome. He was a true saint, and although I offered to buy a tank of gas in return for the favor, he declined and said he'd been there before as a new boat owner. Something about a sand bar and a destroyed prop. Heh. Nice guy. It's sure good to know there are people like him out there. Would have been really bad to be stuck in the dark.

Here's some video from Wednesday evening before the whole line-intake-suck-up thing. It was a really nice out. The sun was low in the sky so depending on which way we were heading it was really darned bright. Dave, Lisa and I had a blast.



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Random Stuff
Friday, 17 August 2007 22:00:09 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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UPDATED: On December 19, 2007 Blockbuster notified its customers that it is once again increasing rates for the Total Access service. Click here for more information.

Nothing like BS marketing diversionary explanations for what amounts to a profiteering move. Come on, Blockbuster - we're not stupid... Tell it like it is.

It looks like the great Blockbuster Total Access Premium plan I've been on was a little too good to be true, and Blockbuster is reeling in some line to cut back on the likely massive number of free in-store rentals they've been handing out for free when customers return their online rentals to the brick-and-mortar stores. I know I have enjoyed that service, but I'm not especially enjoying the news I just got in email this evening telling me my account is changing.

In a nutshell, for the price I have been paying all along I will get less. I can still get 3 DVDs at a time, but will only be able to exchange five of the online movies for in-store rentals each month, where before there was no limit. To get what I'm used to, I'll have to pay another $7.00 a month. Looks like I have some decisions to make.

Here's the plan I have today, at least the next week or two...

Your Current Plan: BLOCKBUSTER Total Access Premium 

  • $17.99 / month (plus taxes)
  • 3 at-a-time, unlimited mailings
  • unlimited in-store free movie/discounted game exchanges
  • +2 FREE bonus Movie or Game Rental E-Coupon / Month

And below is the chart from their web site with the new plans. Ouch...

newblockbusterprices

The other thing that really gets me is the lame explanation (my opinion) they provided for why they're pre-determining and limiting the number of in-store rental exchanges they're allowing each month. This is taken from their online FAQ (emphasis mine):

QUESTION: Why is BLOCKBUSTER offering plans with a pre-determined number of monthly in-store movie exchanges?

ANSWER: We are now offering a full range of subscription options so that our customers can more easily find a plan that meets their specific needs, whether that means a basic online-only service without any in-store exchange privileges or a premium plan that includes unlimited in-store exchanges. Our new line-up of plans allow subscribers to get the right number of movies for their needs. Current subscribers are welcome to change their plan at any time by going to My Account.

What?? I already had a plan that met my needs, the very same plan that now costs $24.99, and which used to cost $17.99. Gah.

Why can't they just say it: They want/need to make more money and this makes it possible. Seriously, open and honest explanations about the obvious reasons would be much easier to swallow. In fact, if they told us the reason for the increase is because they didn't anticipate lower margins associated with lots of unlimited exchanges in the store, I might even consider paying the higher price to keep the same level of service. But putting forth what looks like a veiled, lame excuse for a reason doesn't exactly motivate me to do even more business with the company. Hey Blockbuster, just tell us what's really up -- please.

Oh and another thing - If you have one of the accounts with the limited in-store exchanges, apparently the counter for tracking your the in-store exchanges is based on how many you do in a calendar month, not per billing period.

Because I have been with the Total Access program for some time, I have also been getting two e-coupons a month for free in-store movie or game rentals. But I can't tell whether I will still get those after this change takes place. I might have to contact their customer support to find out. I hope they're keeping those in place for their longer-term customers.

Am I just whining here, or do you feel my pain? Are you affected by this change? What do you think?



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Movies | Random Stuff
Friday, 17 August 2007 20:33:54 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 01 August 2007

Want to quickly track your package being shipped by UPS, just type the word "track" followed by your tracking number into the Google search box and click. Google will help you find the info. In fact it look like you can just type the number in and Google figures it out for you.

track_with_google

Cool stuff. I don't have a FedEx or DHL package to track right now - but they say those work, too. Looks like Google automatically recognizes tracking numbers from UPS, USPS, and FedEx. But if you have a DHL tracking number, you can precede it with "dhl" on your search string. For example, something like "dhl 1234567890123" should work.

Or try isnoop.net's visual online tracking tool to map out your tracking information. Not sure what real value that adds, but hey it's really cool if you're watching your Amazon or Woot shipment with great anticipation. :)

track_maps_isnoopnet



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Random Stuff | Tech
Wednesday, 01 August 2007 09:21:24 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 30 July 2007

PirateFish For the record, just wanted to let you know: Rory Blyth is a no good fish pirate. Here. Go look for yourself. Get to know Rory if you are not already acquainted.

He's crazy, sure. But he's coolio foolio.

Werd. FRACKIN' werd even yo.



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Random Stuff
Monday, 30 July 2007 21:12:39 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I was randomly looking at blogs and doing some read-click-read-click-drill-down action when I ran across something that made me laugh out loud, which as it turns out was written on a blog of someone that I used to work with. Small world eh?

It's a list of ten URLs that some unfortunate businesses not only registered, but without realizing they put into actual use.

Blatantly copied here from Steve's Rant (hi Steve!):

Everyone knows that if you are going to operate a business in today’s world you need a domain name. It is advisable to look at the domain name selected as other see it and not just as you think it looks. Failure to do this may result in situations such as the following (legitimate) companies who deal in everyday humdrum products and services but clearly didn’t give their domain names enough consideration:

1. A site called ‘Who Represents‘ where you can find the name of the agent that represents a celebrity. Their domain name… wait for it… is
www.whorepresents.com

2. Experts Exchange, a knowledge base where programmers can exchange advice and views at
www.expertsexchange.com

3. Looking for a pen? Look no further than Pen Island at
www.penisland.net

4. Need a therapist? Try Therapist Finder at
www.therapistfinder.com

5. Then of course, there’s the Italian Power Generator company…
www.powergenitalia.com

6. And now, we have the Mole Station Native Nursery, based in New South Wales:
www.molestationnursery.com

7. If you’re looking for computer software, there’s always
www.ipanywhere.com

8. Welcome to the First Cumming Methodist Church. Their website is
www.cummingfirst.com

9. Then, of course, there’s these brainless art designers, and their whacky website:
www.speedofart.com

10. Want to holiday in Lake Tahoe? Try their brochure website at
www.gotahoe.com



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Monday, 30 July 2007 11:12:26 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 26 July 2007

CIO Magazine online has a great new article detailing the top ten thing you should never write in an email, as well as some other communication tips for business-types. It's decent advice and worth a read, for sure.

Here are the top-ten items (be sure to read the original story as well for the full meal deal):

Don’t Do That! 10 E-Mail No-Nos

1. Negative comments regarding your firm's executives. Too easy for someone else to forward accidentally.

2. Performance criticism. Seems more "official" than when spoken, causing people to worry too much.

3. Bonus or salary matters. Company plans may change.

4. Racial or gender slurs. Enough said.

5. Details relating to product liabilities. Court trail, anyone?

6. Lies about your company's rivals. Another ticket to legal trouble.

7. Office dish. If people want to spread their own news, let them.

8. Sloppy writing. Your image is at stake, even if you're hacking away on a BlackBerry.

9. Sarcastic humor. Without inflection or visual cues, it's risky.

10. Private matters. Don't e-mail details on any part of your life that you wouldn’t want to see in the newspaper.

Source: Dianna Booh

Been bit before? What else do you think should you never, ever put into an email?



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Management | Random Stuff | Things that Suck
Thursday, 26 July 2007 12:25:54 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Analogies and parables abound on the topics of life and business. One I have told a number of times over the years is the story about the two fire chiefs. Having worked in public safety it's one I can relate to. It's a paraphrase on other tales, and I have no real idea where it came from. Someone probably told it to me at some point long ago, probably to teach me a well-deserved lesson or two.

There are two kinds of fire chiefs.

The first stands on a hill surrounded by his lieutenants, captains, firefighters and others, overlooking the town his department is responsible for. Fires are popping up everywhere, and the chief orchestrates call after call to put out each fire, emphatically choreographing each move and lecturing to everyone about exactly what's going on and why. He is in control. What the townspeople don't notice or see are the captain, lieutenants and in some cases the chief himself running down the back side of the hill and into the town, occasionally tossing their lit cigarette butts into windows of cars and homes.

The second fire chief stands on the hill, watching for fires. They rarely pop up, but when they do his captains, lieutenants and firefighters follow their safe, practiced, professional training. They quickly and efficiently move to the fire scene, take care of business and then get back to the station to continue to stand watch. No one gets hurt, and the people who work at the department are happy in their profession.

Which chief do you think gets the public's attention, the recognition and the accolades? Which one would you trust with your life on the line? Which one would you trust with your job? How do you think each of these people got to be chief?

Talk is cheap, talk can be dangerous, and talk is not always about communicating. Agendas and drama often overshadow the real heroes in our world - those that lead from behind and instill a sense of worth, value and respect in the people they represent.

And therein lies the difference: As a manager, do your workers represent you, or do you represent them? Your answer carries important philosophical meaning, and coming to an honest conclusion might be difficult. Take time for introspection and you'll be a better person for it. But most importantly be honest with yourself, regardless of the answer. Without that, there is no way you can truly be honest with others. And without honesty there is nothing - Just a bunch of burned, smelly, water soaked buildings. But hey, at least the fire's out, right?



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Management | Random Stuff
Thursday, 26 July 2007 12:12:40 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Hanselborg Every now and then, despite the loss you feel and experience when someone leaves your place of work for something new, you get that true sense of "Wow!"

That's definitely the case this time around.

Scott Hanselman, with whom I have had the privilege to work for many years, has accepted a job at Microsoft where he will be diving into technology like never before - and that's really saying something. You may know his weblog and his podcast. Now he'll be inside Microsoft and as such delivering even more useful and thoughtful information and detail.

Congratulations, Scott. It's a big loss for the company to be sure, but a terrific gain for the broader community and a great opportunity for you. You're going to be awesome.



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Tuesday, 24 July 2007 07:53:56 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Yesterday my cyber-savvy, recently-retired and way-cool mom chatted me up on IM and asked me what she should do, because she was considering ditching the home phone, getting another cell phone so they can both have one, and using text messaging for spouse communication. Heh. Makes me wonder what kind of technology - you know, in "all the kids these days are using it" fashion - I'll be picking up on in 20 or so years. :)

Her goal was to save a few bucks, plus to get the advantages of text messaging to overcome some of the limitations with hearing impairments and cell phones. I suggested she look at her overall bundles plan with Quest, because right now they get mobile phone, Internet and home phone services all together.  She might also want to look at VoIP as an option, I suggested, but mostly she should call the phone company and talk to them about what unbundling would mean in terms of price. Also, telcos changes their offerings over time, and a bundle deal you got a year or two or three ago might not be the best deal available today.

As is often turns out, it was worth the call:

mom says:
I checked in with Quest (they are partnered with Sprint as it turns out) and the nice young fellow brought my various plans and bundling things and services more into line with current offerings and our usage....so, I saved about $45 a month with that little chat--good advice on your part.  I am going to get Jack a phone he can use so we can text message as a way to communicate.

Greg Hughes says:
cool

Greg Hughes says:
its always good to check in with them once a year to see if they can rebundle

mom says:
right, I just had not given it much thought until lately

Greg Hughes says:
they count on that heh

Just more proof that it's always pays to check in with your telco company and see what they have going. You could save some pretty serious bucks by doing so.



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Wednesday, 11 July 2007 17:27:54 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 08 July 2007

IMG_0307Went out this evening for a hour or so ride with a friend on the dirt bike and ATV. Had a great time, but I need to remember when I come to a sudden end of a road, the front brake is not the first one to grab. I can't believe I did that.

Ouch. Thank God for helmets and gloves. Sorry for the detailed picture. A reminder's a reminder. And it's a knee, if you're trying to figure that out.

I've had one past motorcycle mishap that resulted in injury, which involved a deer in the roadway. This one was just me being stupid. I also had a ATV screw up once that I got a bit of a bruise on, and that's about it. This time, a couple bruised and beat up knees, some scrapes on my chest and a sore, sprained wrist are pretty much all the injuries I walked away with (plus a bit of a sprained ego, I suppose), which is excellent considering I went over the bars and straight into the packed gravel road. I did what I learned in sports as a kid - walked it off and got back on. And took it really easy the rest of the ride, heh.

Anyhow, I am posting this embarrassing moment to serve as a reminder to me and to others not to be a sloppy idiot on a motorcycle. The rear brake is down there by your right foot. Right foot good. Right hand bad.

Right foot, right foot, right, foot right foot, right f...

Doh!



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Saturday, 07 July 2007 23:29:55 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 06 July 2007

Another Fourth of July has come and gone. This year - as I have for several years past - I operated a public fireworks display, this time for the community of Walla Walla, Washington. It was my first time there, and I enjoyed the place and people. It was also my first time running a show in the state of Washington - the past seven or eight years of this have all been shows in Oregon. We shot the show in a sports park and school area on the VA grounds, and the audience was able to sit and watch from all angles around. There's a great hillside under a water tower nearby that makes for an optimum viewing spot.

My crew was terrific, and despite the fact that it was extremely hot (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny all day as we set up the show as well as the next morning while we finished cleaning up), we all had a good time and the show went off well - safe and to the cheers of the crowd. That's what we want. Even the playground sprinklers that came on automatically at around midnight while we were still cleaning up were no big deal, heheh. We just went back to the hotel for the night and returned in the morning.

Update: Travis wrote a bit about the crew experience at the show and Jenn posted some pretty terrific pics she shot.

Below is a video with some excerpts from the show. The video is five minutes long, which is a little more than one fifth of the actual length of the show (which came in at just under 25 minutes, right on target). So, you get a good flavor of the opener, mid-show shots and volleys, the build up to larger shells, some layered height effects, and of course the finale - which was pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself. Several thousand shells and pyrotechnic components from one inch to four inches in diameter made up the show.

I'll add a couple show setup pictures later today or this weekend. Enjoy.   : )



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Friday, 06 July 2007 11:56:21 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 25 June 2007

Ah, fireworks. It's that time of year again. Some of you probably know that I'm a licensed pyrotechnician here in Oregon, where I live. That's what lets me run and operate public fireworks displays - the big ones, you know? Like here and here and here. Not the stuff you buy at the local stand or up on the reservation (common way around purchasing issues in these here parts), but rather the kind of explosives that make for huge (and expensive) shows. It's something I've been involved with for several years now, and a number of my friends like to help out on the Independence Day shows I do each year as well as the occasional other occasion. It's a lot of fun.

Well this year the fireworks display company I work for needs me to do a somewhat larger show in Walla Walla, Washington (yep it's a real town, not just a Bugs Bunny reference). So, in order to be able to run a show in Washington, I took my exam recently to be licensed in that state. Today (just in time, I might add), I got my license in the snail mail. I guess I passed the test. :)

Operating these shows is a big responsibility, and there's a lot of critical safety items to watch out for every time, but it's also a lot of fun and I do enjoy it when I get the chance to blow up someone else's stuff and not get in trouble in the process. I mean, where else can you destroy what someone else buys for thousands of dollars and have everyone cheering when you're finished? Heh.

For anyone in the Portland area that might be interested in spending your July 4th this year helping with a show, let me know and I will put you in touch with my friend Norm at Western Display and he'll probably be able (and glad) to set you up to assist with a show somewhere. Or, if you want to join me in Walla Walla for a couple days and don't mind making the hike over there, let me know as well and we'll see what we can work out. Or if you're in Walla Walla, even better. I'll be making a three-day deal out of it, including travel and setup and stuff. My cell phone is 503-970-1753. Call or text me. And you can find out a little more about what's involved in being a crew member at this link from a show last year as well as the links above.

Ker-freakin-boom. Heh.



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Monday, 25 June 2007 20:39:42 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 17 June 2007

Kent Newsome started a "help me rebuild my feed list" project recently, and I was pinged to contribute a short list.

This is an update on my swivel feeds experiment, in which I ask bloggers I read to help me rebuild my reading list.  I've had a great response so far, and my new reading list is coming together nicely, with a diverse and interesting mix of bloggers.

A good list has formed and when all is said and done he plans to create an OPML list to share.

Here are my five (or so) blogs for the recommendation list. I've tried to find ones that I would recommend highly but which are not already on Kent's list (there is one repeat though). Also, ones where the author published often. They're all listed for their own individual reasons, and no - not all of them are tech-related. Three of these people I have met in person, one I have interacted with on the 'net, and one I have only read. All get my attention in FeedDemon.

  • Rory Blyth - Often described in the past as a train wreck in progress, mostly his blog is just plain real - sometimes very much so. And he's a great writer.
  • Trevin Chow - A Microsoftie I know and appreciate, he's worked on a number of cool products and projects.
  • Adam Gaffin - He writes quick and topical links at computerworld.com on pretty much a daily basis.
  • Scott Adams - Yes, the author of Dilbert and a couple very good books. Scott's blog is incredibly smart and funny and smart and sarcastic and smart and ... Well, just go read it. I'd be shocked if you were not to become a regular.
  • Scott Hanselman - Yeah, he's already on Kent's list but let's face it, Scott's top notch and his blog bears repeating.

Of course, I subscribe to a lot more than those five, but they are among the ones I look at and read new content on nearly every day.



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Sunday, 17 June 2007 11:39:46 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 12 June 2007

I got a new Canon compact digital camera recently for taking snapshots (in places and at times when I don't want to carry my digital SLRs around). What better place to try out your new Canon camera than Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast? Overall the new camera does a nice, respectable job - especially for a compact model. Not too shabby. I'll do a more detailed review soon. My friend also bought one, a Kodak model, which cost half as much and took some truly terrific images. Click the images below to view larger sizes, blah blah.

For some reason I like birds flying over mountains and rocks and stuff. Some Jonathan Livingston Seagull psychological thing or something maybe, I dunno.

         Bird over Haystack Rock, Connon Beach Oregon 

Haystack is the big rock that looks like - well, duh. Next to it in the water are two other smaller (but still quite large) rocks, called the Needles. One of them is in this pic.

       Needle at Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach Oregon



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Tuesday, 12 June 2007 22:31:18 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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IMG_0203From the What The Heck Were They Thinking Department:

I get a lot of "free" business magazines in my position at work. It's one of those inevitable and unavoidable facts of being in a job with "chief" and "executive" in the title. Some of them are actually useful. Many of them are not. A few have absolutely nothing to do with my job or areas of expertise. Those ones tend to get the virtual toilet flush, without so much as being reviewed.

Speaking of which, a new magazine arrived in my office mailbox today, and upon first glance the cover made me wonder, "Why in the world would someone actually name their magazine that?" Specifically, the acronym.

And for what it's worth, the magazine actually has some good stuff in it. But in an English speaking world, well...

I'd just go with the full name, myself.



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Tuesday, 12 June 2007 21:58:20 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 31 May 2007

As I mentioned recently, I went to a sleep study center a couple weeks ago and stayed overnight, where I learned I have an apnea problem. A couple days ago I returned to the sleep center to spend another night, this time with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine and a mask. It was in interesting night.

A little pill helped me fall asleep that night, but throughout the night I woke up from the weirdness of the mask on my face. Sometime in the middle of the night I had a pretty bad "mouth leak," meaning my mouth was opening so the air pressure from the machine and mask over my nose was flowing right out my mouth. So the technician came in and put a chin strap contraption on me, which was a bit too much - I have to say I felt like I was in a head cage or something.

But it did work - Even with the interruptions, I felt noticeably more refreshed than ever the next day as I drove to work and went about my daily work routine. I also had some super-crazy dreams on that first night with a CPAP machine at the sleep center, ones which I actually remembered. And that pretty much never happens to me these days. My doc told me my REM sleep (deep sleep where you dream) was pretty much too broken up to be of any good to me based on the number of apnea episodes I was having, so he was not surprised at the dreams, or the intensity/craziness. He said there's a theory of REM rebound, where a person who has had badly fragmented sleep suddenly is able to enter extended REM sleep, so the brain has a lot of clutter to clean up and the dreams can be intense or active.

I was sent home with a CPAP machine (actually it's a BIPAP machine that has a humidifier - more on that later) and a couple different masks to use. One of them is very small and fits under the nose, and the other one is more of a traditional full-face mask. I tried the nasal pillow model last night with limited success (it made the lower bridge of my nose pretty sore by morning), so tonight I am trying the mask that covers both the nose and mouth in hopes it will provide better results since I am told I am a "mouth breather." It turns out there are a lot of masks out there, with new ones coming out all the time, so it's a matter of trying them til you find the one that works best for you. Most take some getting used to, they say.

At some point here I'll get all geeky and write about the hardware and what it does (the BiPAP machine is computerized and has a smart card like thing that I can pull out and take to the doc so he can see how well I am doing on the machine - pretty cool). I'm lucky to have really good health care insurance that recognizes the preventative value of this stuff and covers the significant majority of the equipment cost

Any CPAP tricks out there that people know of? How long did it take people to adjust, I wonder?



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Thursday, 31 May 2007 22:25:07 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 20 May 2007

I was having dinner the other night with a bunch of people from work, including Scott Hanselman. As is overly-typical during an American dinner "out" in the early 2000's, the subject of TiVo and other PVRs came up. As time has gone on over the past few years, it's become more and more difficult (especially as other PVRs have also become commonplace) to be on the side of the conversation where you're in the small group of people who don't have a PVR already. I got my first TiVo when they first came out. I hacked it and turned it into a 240GB powerhouse. I was an early adopter, but apparently I am not exactly a power user.

Scott (this story is really about him) did the thing Alpha Geeks do at dinner when someone mentioned they don't have TiVo. He said:

 "WHAT?!?! Are you kidding??"

Seems life cannot be lived with out it, hehe...

Then he showed his true Alphaness when he said:

"Sometimes I put on closed captioning and I watch it double speed."

Doing this, he explained, allows him to get a lot more TV watching done than simply watching it in real-time-shifted-time (or is it real-shifted-time?). And he continued the thought:

"If you put in a DVD you can watch it 4x. I watched Oldboy like that," he said. "And if someone got their head cut off you could just go back and watch It in real time." Yeah, or slow motion I guess.

"Huh?" I asked him. "Old wha?"

"Oldboy," he repeated. "It's like the Korean Pulp Fiction."

Leave it up to Scott to come up with this. Personally, I tend to like the music and the dialog and taking the time to enjoy the whole movie package. Dunno about Oldboy since I have not seen it, but now I will have to - I guess I'll find out if it's better in 4x...



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Sunday, 20 May 2007 08:08:58 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Snoring and sleeping are two things that fall on a very short list of items that one cannot observe about oneself. Because of that, there's a strong tendency toward denial. It's a natural human tendency.

As I mentioned the other day, on Thursday night I went to a local sleep lab and spent the night there hooked up to a bunch of wires and stuff to find out what might be going on with me. I've been waking up tired for some time, feeling like I am getting little rest, etc. You can read more about that in the original post.

Anyhow, as you can sort of see in the bad-angle and bad-hair picture there on the right, I got a zillion wires, sensors and bands stuck to me (which it turns out was not as bad as people thought it would be) and fell asleep after spending the evening watching some TV and taking a Lunesta provided by the physician.

I remember waking up a few times throughout the night, which is pretty typical of me. Once the technician (who was very cool, by the way) had to come in and re-attach an airflow sensor that worked its way loose from my face, but overall I figured I slept as well as I do normally, or maybe even a little better than normal. I'll chalk that up to the pill.

The way the study worked was if you exhibit severe apnea within the first few hours they hook you up to a CPAP machine for the rest of the night. That didn't quite happen with me, so I was not woken up for that change of equipment. So in the morning I did the typical rationalization things and figured I was in the clear, no problems, must just be my head or something.

But when the doc came in the next morning (It's a great arrangement by the way - You fall asleep and the doctor shows up first thing so you don't have to come back for another office appointment), he showed me the data printouts and graphs from the night. Turns out I am waking up about 60 times an hour due to breathing problems - Apnea to be specific. People tend to be surprised by the facts since they can't observe it themselves, so when you can see your own stats and see that, hey look - I stopped breathing completely there for like 5 or 10 seconds and then make a loud snore and took a huge gasping set of breaths... My blood oxygen level dropped to like 80% in many cases. Well, let's just say the evidence speaks for itself.

I actually remembered waking up maybe 4 times or so because that's how many times I was awake long enough to form a memory and to become fully lucid, the doc explained. The other several hundred times were enough to be awake but not long enough to remember.

According to the doc I have at least moderate sleep apnea. Because I shifted off my back to sleep my side for most of the night, the apnea signs were probably not as bad as they would have been otherwise (it tends to be worse if you are positioned on your back, and during the time I was on my back the data shows it was in fact worse).

Apnea is simply the closing of your airway while you breathe during sleep. When you sleep your body relaxes, and that includes the muscles that shape the upper part of your airway (the part above the Adams apple is flexible, the rest is rigid). If the airway closes you get no air. If you get no air the brain is not happy. If the brain is not happy it wakes you up to move the muscles needed in order to open the airway. If this happens often enough, you never get long enough sleep to enter that REM phase, or deep sleep, which is needed to get "real" rest, or restorative sleep. And if that happens you have to deal with the problems of sleep deprivation. As mentioned earlier, you don't wake up long enough to remember anything, so it's hard to know when this is happening unless someone else sees it and knows what to look (and listen) for.

My doc said to think of the collapsing airway as being similar to the effect of trying to suck a milkshake through a straw: The straw collapses from the negative pressure and nothing can get through. The same is true for the throat for many people. That's really what snoring is - a collapsing or blocked airway.

So, long story short (too late), I will be going back to the sleep study place in a couple weeks for one more night, during which they'll hook me up to a CPAP machine. That stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure. It's a thing you wear on your face to blow some air into your airway to maintain enough positive pressure there to keep the airway open. I have spoken over the past few days will a surprisingly large number of people (some of whom commented here) who tell me they use a CPAP machine when they sleep and it's changed their lives. Well, worth a try then I guess. I have to admit I am not thrilled about the idea of wearing a mask when I sleep (it seems to me to be such a tied-down option) but I will try it if it might help. You never know.

More in a couple weeks, after the next phase of this whole deal is complete. Meanwhile if you ever need to do the sleep study thing, Oregon Sleep Associates is a good group of professional people and the sleep center is nice - not at all hospital like and easy to relax in. My doc's name is Scott Fromherz, MD and he's great at explaining things and answering questions. Definitely recommended if you find yourself needing a place to fulfill the need.



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Sunday, 20 May 2007 07:44:12 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 17 May 2007

I snore. A lot. Or so I'm told, quite frequently. Years ago I used to go to the movies with my son and drift off to sleep in the theater, just to wake up to him laughing, usually along with the neighboring moviegoers, because I had started snoring and snorting myself awake.

Fast forward about eight years and I'm still snoring, still tired most of the time, and still being told by anyone who observes me sleeping that I snore. I have to believe them, I guess - I can't imagine there's some vast snoring accusation conspiracy that everyone I know has waged against me for that many years.

Recently I have even woke up suddenly catching my breath at the end of a loud snore. Ahh, proof. I often wake up tired and feeling heavy. I get morning headaches. Something's crappy feeling about all that. So I went to see a sleep specialist doctor after a couple people (my mom and someone I work with) both told me they found out they had a sleep apnea problem and got help via a sleep doc and study.

So here I am, sitting on a bed in the Oregon Sleep Associates sleep center in downtown Portland. They have five private rooms here and it's not like a hospital though. It's more like a hotel room. There's a TV and DVD player and the main unusual stuff is the video camera on the wall and all the boxes and wires and stuff over on one of the nightstands. In a few minutes someone will come in to "hook me up," meaning they'll be sticking EEG and EKG stuff to me, a microphone to record sleeping and breathing sounds, strap around my chest to measure breathing, and other stuff. Then they'll give me one of those Lunestas or something similar, and off to sleep I will go.

Tomorrow morning I will know more. If there's something related to my snoring or other sleep problems that are related to the physical symptoms I have, at least there will be options to maybe do something about it. If not, well then I will know it's time to find more ways to reduce stress I guess. Heh.

Have you ever done the sleep study thing? How did it go for you? I'll write more about my experiences once it's all said and done.



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Thursday, 17 May 2007 20:32:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 15 May 2007

A friend of mine just yesterday told me a little story about his experience last week getting a product repaired. It was an interesting conversation, and it made me think a bit about why businesses make the decisions they do and what the impact really is.

Before I tell you his story, let me first share my analogy. Say you run a software company, and that you ship software to your customers on a CD or DVD. One of your customers calls up and says that their CD worked great until last week, and that all of a sudden it stopped working. Okay, you tell your customer - Please take your CD to an IT pro and have them look at it and call me. Maybe we can see if it's defective.

Your customer dutifully does so, and lo and behold, you find out the disc has scratches in it that make it unusable. Now, the software on the CD cost your customer a pretty penny, say $40,000 or something, so it's  a big deal to them.

You think about it for a while and then you send instructions back to the IT professional: Please ship us the CD so we can perform a repair on the disc here at our location using a CD/DVD repair system with some fancy goop and special polish. Please courier it to arrive overnight, before 10:30 am, so we can get it in our process tomorrow and ensure we can courier it back out sometime the following day. We will not charge you for the time required to fill the scratches and replace the label (since it will also be damaged by the repair process). We will then ship the rebuilt CD to you overnight, and we will insure it for $60,000, which we figure is the approximate value of the software plus the value of completing the repair.

Ridiculous (and that was probably a loose-fitting analogy, I know). My friend's ordeal wasn't software - it was a transmission. His wife's car had a transmission go out on it, just out of warranty. Saturn, to their well-deserved credit, fixed the problem anyhow without charging since they determined something was wrong that simply should not happen. But rather than replace the tranny, they rebuilt the entire thing, with a stipulation that they use all brand new parts.

Now, I know as well as anyone that buying a transmission one part at a time, plus the hourly labor to break down and assemble it, is freakin' expensive. My friend and I both sat there and wondered why they didn't just put a whole new transmission on the car.

So, the customer is happy. But the automaker - it seems to me - is assuming a greater expense than necessary. In a world where automakers can't seem to stay afloat (well, or at least they can't seem to turn a profit), wouldn't it make sense to do right by the customer, but in a way that maximizes the cost of doing so?

Anyhow - maybe I am missing something. If I am, let me know.



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Tuesday, 15 May 2007 06:53:11 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 11 May 2007

You know the best way to get a real grasp of how many people read your blog? Just stop posting. They'll come out of the woodwork with questions...

"Hey I noticed you haven't written much on your blog recently - everything okay?"

"What happened? Nothing new recently."

"Did you stop blogging or something"

"When are you going to start writing again?"

... and on and on. Which is nice. So thanks to all of those who have asked. I am alive and fairly well, thank you very much.

I've been pretty tied up at my job lately, with an even-more-than-usual workload. Between that and all the related (and unrelated) travel, any available time to think and write has been quite scarce. Then add in the fact that Richard and I have been working on our new IT podcast, RunAs Radio, and the situation gets even tighter.

But I am still here, so thanks for the thoughts and there is more to come.



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Friday, 11 May 2007 07:09:04 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 13 April 2007

I used to be a Netflix user. In fact I was subscribed for well over a year, but after the first few months I never built the queue back up and I just didn't care to use the service. I found myself constantly forgetting about it. Movies sat around the house after being watched. My monthly fees were going nowhere. Then an opportunity came along to sign up for Blockbuster's online service, and I took it - and promptly canceled my Netflix account. As it turned out, Blockbuster not only offered three movies at a time for a competitive price, but I would also be able to get free rentals in the local store by using monthly online coupons that I'd just load in my browser from the web site and print out at home. That sounded pretty cool to me.

Fast forward about a year, and Blockbuster enhanced their online rental service to allow you to return movies to the local store - they call it Total Access. On top of that, when you return your movie in its mailer to the store instead of dropping it in a mailbox, you get to exchange it for a free store rental of your choice. Now that's a great deal. In the end, it means I can sit at home and set up my rental queue, and rent online, and when I drop them at the store I can get three more movies to watch while I wait for the next set of movies to ship in the mail from my queue. And I still get the two free rental coupons (which can be used for movies or video games) each month. It's pretty awesome. We are watching a lot more movies as a result, and we're also watching more movies that fall into the "interesting" category, too.

I have only one wish-list item for Blockbuster to improve its service, and this is a big one in my book: Right now, if I put movies in my online queue to have mailed to me, there is no intelligent connection between what I rent in the store and what sits in the queue. So, if I put Children of Men in the online queue and I also rent it in the store because I find it on the shelf while I am in there, currently there is no way for the online service to "know" I have already rented it. What Blockbuster needs to do (in my humble opinion) is to compare what I rent in the store to the list of movies in my online queue. If I pick up a movie in person, they should prompt me to remove it from my queue, or allow me in my account settings to have that film automatically removed. More than once I have picked up a movie at the store only to have it shipped the next day or so from the mailing service. In those cases I have just taken the duplicate mail copy and exchanged it for an in-store rental, so no real harm or anything, but I would sure like to have some inventory and queue connection happening with my account.

I highly recommend Blockbuster Total Access. They ship fast, the selection is good, and I am really enjoying the in-store integration.



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Friday, 13 April 2007 14:09:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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One of my favorite people in the whole world, Scott Hanselman, has launched a campaign to raise donation funds for Team Hanselman's goal of $50,000 in this year's Step Out to Fight Diabetes fund raising walk.

Last year, Scott's team raised around $12,000 on a goal of $10,000. This year Scott's pushed way ahead and has more than quadrupled that amount for the team's current goal. You can help! Go to:

    http://www.hanselman.com/fightdiabetes/donate 

... and provide your assistance there. Here is what Scott has to say on his blog about the walk and the goal:

This year Team Hanselman, led by myself and my wife, Mo, who had this whole idea, will be walking to fight diabetes on Oct 20h, 2007. We have set a goal of raising US$50,000. Crazy, huh?

If only 2500 of you, dear readers, gave US$20 to this cause, we've met our Team Goal. If only 1000 give US$50, well, you get the idea. If you can't donate, that's OK. Post about this on your blog, spread the URL http://www.hanselman.com/fightdiabetes or put some of our Diabetes "Flair" on your site!

Last year this time, there were over 5000 people subscribing to this blog (for the technical content, I assume) - this year there are over 14,000.

Let's see what we can do to add to the pot. There are more than 14,000 daily viewers of this web site, as well - so if there is anything you can do to help, even just a couple bucks, please consider making a donation!

Read more about the walk, Scott's own motivation and battle with diabetes, and get all the details at Scott's site.



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Friday, 13 April 2007 09:16:10 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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A few weeks ago I had to fly with a coworker down to Santa Barbara. It was a last-minute trip. Of course, if you absolutely have to fly somewhere for work at the drop of a hat in March, Santa Barbara's a pretty darn nice destination. Good weather, good food, interesting people. We spent almost all of our time there indoors, but we did get an evening outside to enjoy the nice weather and check out the town.

Anyhow, this particular story actually starts right about the time we arrived at the airport for our return flight back to Portland. My co-worker Matt and I finished up our work and dropped off our rental car. We headed for the terminal at the last minute. In the process, Matt found out first-hand why one shouldn't pack liquids in carry-on bags (heh).

Immediately we were faced with a departure delay. Now, I'm not sure what the rest of the world's experience is with SkyWest Airlines (a regional commuter airline that operates and flies the smaller aircraft fleet for the "bigs," in this case United Express), but my consistent experience over the past year is that they do a pretty poor job of being on time and they generally come across as semi-pro. They're just a bit too casual. By contrast, other regional carriers for United Express have always been quite professional and timely. Your mileage may vary, I suppose.

Anyhow, eventually the aircraft showed up from it's previous leg. When it came time to board the airplane, an E120 turboprop, we waited in line as instructed, like impatient school kids waiting with eager anticipation five minutes into a fifteen-minute recess to be told they can run onto the play field, staring out at our aircraft. Our anticipation was interrupted a few minutes later as we were ushered back indoors and directed to take a seat again. "They have to reboot or reset something or another with the airplane, but they didn't tell me what it was," the gate agent informed us. "We'll let you know when it's time to go." Breeds confidence. Nice.

No less than two minutes later they got us back up, hurried us back into line (by now it really did feel like first grade), rushed us to the airplane like a herd of cattle. I looked at my watch. We were nearly an hour behind schedule by now, and it was very unlikely we'd make our connecting flight in San Jose.

Fast forward about 45 minutes to our landing in San Jose and sure enough, we hit the ground five minutes after our connection had already left for Portland. Nice. We headed over to Alaska Airline's service desk (because that's who had the ticket for the flight we'd just missed) and the agent there quickly told us that she would not be able to help us find a flight, that we had to go down to United. There's probably some rule or something that says who has to deal with the ticketing that I am not aware of, but I can tell you that it seemed as if she really just didn't want to be bothered (although the lady standing next to her was quite nice) and was brushing us off without any real concern to the next counter, but what the heck. I'm a frequent flyer with United and have what they call "elite status" with them (I easily broke the 100,000 mile mark last year), so we marched with our bags in tow down to the United ticket desk.

That's where things changed. As it turned out, there were no more flights that night from San Jose to Portland (save an Alaska flight later that night, and I was not about to go back there). But the United desk agents jumped right in and saved the day. They hired a town car (on their dime) to drive Matt and me to the San Francisco International airport (a 40-minute drive) and got us on a flight to Portland that evening. Even better, we ended up in first class and got home the same day (it was late, but at least is was not a day later).

The fact is that traveling for work is not the super-fun thing that people who don't travel sometimes assume it is. More often than not I get to see airports, the insides of office buildings, hotel rooms and lobbies, and the scenic drives through often industrial areas from the airport to the hotel and back. Several months back I started to make a point of scheduling some extra time at my own expense in places where I know I would regret not seeing the sights and taking some time for myself (and Lord knows if I didn't take vacation time that way I would pretty much never get any).

But it's nice that all that flying means I can count on United to be there when things get tough. They may not have the most comfortable seats on their aircraft (Alaska's got them on that one for sure), but the people are consistently great and believe it or not they almost always get me there and back on time, even with all my flights that go through Chicago, which is pretty good in this day and age. So -- Thanks, United.

Do you have a favorite airline? If so, why?



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Friday, 13 April 2007 08:24:43 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Exactly forty years ago my mom and dad brought me into this world. As I recall (from their stories, not from personal memory), my dad went to park the car and by the time he got to the delivery room I was already in preschool (not really, but it was a very fast delivery and dad actually got there real quick). I'm told that when they handed me to my mom, I peed in her face, and the rest is history. What a great way to kick things off, eh?

It's been quite an interesting journey so far, with lots of life lessons, trials, tribulations, successes, fun and great experiences. I am blessed by the many terrific people, friends and family members who are and have been a part of my life - and for that I am truly grateful. Thanks everyone. I only hope I can give as much back.

I suppose it's just about time for a mid-life crisis, so... I think I will sell my motorcycle. How's that for backwards? And the spur of the moment trip I made this past weekend to Las Vegas with my good friend (and with less than an hour's notice)... Well, lets just try for a bit more of that kind of fun.

Mostly it's just another day, and it's always nice to keep adding those on - one at a time. I don't plan to do anything particularly special, other than to maybe getting outside and enjoying the day for a while and hanging around people I work with and a couple friends.

Maybe I should shave my head or get (another) tattoo or something?

Or maybe not. Heh.

Here's to another forty, if I'm lucky enough.



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Tuesday, 10 April 2007 23:09:41 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 03 April 2007

My friend Chris forwarded me recently. Apparently I need to get in touch with myself so I can figure out how to get some of what I already got. Also to find out why I am dead. Identities below changed to protect the "innocent" (and by that I don't mean "Harry." I mean people who read this and might for some reason email or call "Harry").

From: Harry Traore [mailto:haruna_traore309@yadayada.com]
Sent: Wednesday, March 28, 2007 3:03 AM
To: htraoreabcs.com
Subject: From Harry

My name is Haruna Traore (27), I work as houseboy and steward to Mr. GREG HUGHES. He was come from America, and who use to be contractor at big oil servicing bureau here in Cote D’Ivoire. Last year {Jan. 2006 }, my master die of a terribly illness , but before him death, he tell me in confidence of money,  $8.5 Million dollars he deposit with a bank here.

He was very sick and afraid to die and lose all he has in foreign land. He make me to promise he that if him die, I go should try everything possibly to make the money at bank to gets to survivals 1. the earthquake of Pakistan (where he work for long before come here to Africa) and 2. hurrycane of America and he handed over bank document of this deposit to me with letter carry instruction.

I go bank before but they refuse to release money for me unles I appear one of Mr. GREG HUGHES relationes. This hard for me, because since I live with master he no mention any name of family. i try for one year now but no succeed so therefore I want to appear you to bank as my master relation because you are foreigner.So that my master wish before death will ok be done.

I am an ordinary houseboy and not fit reach the survivals in Pakistan and Amerika. If you able to do it for me thank you and respond back immediately so we talk on what will be give to you from the money.

Please telephone me for 225-04-123456

Thanking you for agreement.

Haruna Traore

Oh wait. I'm dead? Wow, I sure missed something here. Hmmm.

Call me, Harry. We should talk.



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Tuesday, 03 April 2007 20:12:30 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Um. Yeah, right.

For some reason the subject of "seats parts that may be used as flotation devices" has come up in conversation a number of times lately. Maybe it's because a number of the flights I've been on recently have been over-water, so the portion of the safety briefing that admonishes you to follow crewmember instructions and whatnot just stands out a bit more: "In the event of a water landing, your seat bottom cushion may be used as a flotation device."

Water landing?

Let's be honest. There's no such thing.

I mean, it's nice that this ultra-comfortable seat has a couple straps and that I can take it with me as I leave my carry-on luggage behind, and the emergency exit slides that convert to rafts are pretty cool as well. But if the airplane I'm on right now (as I type this) "lands" on the water, what's likely to happen, really?

Water weighs a little more than eight pounds per gallon. By the time you put an airliner into the water at somewhere around 200 miles an hour and displace thousands of gallons of water with just the engines, and when the wings make contact (assuming a flat, relatively gradual contact with the surface), the plane might as well have hit a mountainside covered in heavy, wet snow. Airplanes break when too much stress is applied, and if they happen to float, it's not likely to be for long.

But it sounds nice to remind us that in the event of a water landing (like it's a perfectly normal, happens-occasionally, hey-what-the-heck kind of thing) that the seat bottom is there for you. It will make exiting the gaping hole right behind you where the rest of the aircraft used to be that much more memorable and safe.

It's called a crash. Not a landing.

Kind of funny, the level of ridiculousness that gets injected into our little world nowadays. Avian flu pandemic contingency planning, seat bottom cushions... All for edge-case scenarios. Not that those are bad things to do, but when you can't get your freakin' luggage from one place to another reliably, it seem as if there are perhaps a few other things that could also use some attention.

However, if my plane ever lands on water, I promise you I'll be glad for the floaties. And they have a heater built in, too - right? Oh.



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Tuesday, 27 March 2007 19:54:29 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 20 March 2007

We all have tell-tale signs that the level of difficulty, stress, work or just plain old "stuff" is too high. Maybe we spout off, maybe we forget things - It's different for all of us.

For me it happened on Sunday: I got in my truck, drove down the driveway, turned right and headed for town. A few minutes into the drive something just didn't seem right, and after trying for several seconds to put my brain on what was amiss, I realized I was still wearing my slippers. Luckily I had fresh socks on and shoes in the car. Heh.

Ever done funny or crazy things thanks to the amount of active clutter going on in your brain and life? Here's your chance to admit it. :)



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Tuesday, 20 March 2007 12:12:41 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 15 March 2007
Hosting & Servers at GoDaddy.com

Let me start by saying I really like GoDaddy.

A while back, I migrated this blog from a shared web hosting environment to a virtual dedicated server at GoDaddy. Now, before I gripe a bit about the performance, let me say one thing. What I bought from GoDaddy is exactly what I got. They guarantee something like 384MB of RAM for their Windows VDS's, and my blog plus mail server regularly exceeds that amount. My fault.

What that means is that when the host that houses my virtual server is under heavy load from the various virtual machines it's managing, the available RAM allocated to my virtual machine could drop as low as the guaranteed 384MB level. Needless to say, if that happens and my apps need more, things might crash. Especially those apps that are already running in RAM at the time the allocation changes.

And that's what has been happening on my server. Plus, I have discovered it's getting quite expensive.

As I mentioned in my last entry, my blog typically pulls in around $80 a day or so from ad clicks. Well, this afternoon I had a few minutes to breathe at work and I discovered my server had been offline most of the day. My ad revenue for today is less than $30 as a result. Do that a few times a month and adds up pretty quickly.

So, I've decided that I will once again be moving, this time to a GoDaddy physical dedicated server on its own hardware - an Intel Core 2 Duo running at 2.13 GHz, with 2GB RAM, dual 120GB drive in a RAID array, a Cisco PIX 501 firewall and the works. The reliability and uptime of dedicated hardware is easily justified by saving all the lost revenue from the current system, so it just makes good sense to do this. It's true what they say: You get what you pay for.

At any rate, the downtime during the transition will probably be far less than the downtime each time the current server fails. Maybe I should install this copy of Exchange I have lying around here and really get things humming. Hmm....



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Thursday, 15 March 2007 20:18:29 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 06 March 2007

Over at problogger, I recently (well, actually it was several weeks ago - I am just now using a long flight from Chicago to finish this post) ran across a post entitled "Does AdSense Suck for Bloggers?" where Darren Rowse points to Guy Kawasaki (who started a popular blog called "How to Change the World" in 2006) and the New Web Order blog, which editorializes a bit further on Guy's experiences.

A bit of a high-profile slam on AdSense was taking place in these venues, which is unfortunate because Guy's experiences are not the same as everyone's. I'd venture to say that his experience may in fact be similar to the majority of people who just "give AdSense a try" without putting any serious effort into it. But Guy's blog was never optimized in terms of layout for AdSense advertising and his page content is not exactly optimal for context-sensitive advertising either. Now, he writes about many things (and quite well, by the way) and I truly enjoy his blog, but the fact of the matter is that there are a few things he could have done to improve his click-through rate and revenue. Not to mention the fact that his blog is still relatively new - it's only a year old. These things take time, the creation of contextual content and careful design. And the kinds of changes I am referring to would not necessarily have required trashing the layout or skimping/compromising on the author's writing style.

Go read Guy's post about his experience, and then take a look below at mine, to illustrate that it's not just about being famous or high up in technorati's listings when it comes to having a successful experience with AdSense. Being famous or well-known can help, of course, but it's really about how many web site visitors you get, whether the ads are contextually relevant, and how many of the people who visit your site actually click the ads to reach to the content they provide. I'm far from famous, and I am certainly not too well-known (thank goodness). But my revenues from AdSense on one single web site continues to amaze me.

Note: I am providing some information here that other people may not feel comfortable sharing about their own sites and experiences. That's fine, but I have no reason to hide any of this information. My point is to illustrate that AdSense can and does work, and to provide some evidence as well as a little balance to the "AdSense sucks" argument.

In mid-2006, my page views numbers were somewhere in the 8,000 per day range. Later in the year,  it's climbed to well over 10,000 a day, and is now well over 15,000 page views a day on most days - often in the 20-30,000 range.

So - for posterity's sake and for conversational comparison, here are some stats for the year 2006 on greghughes.net, per Google's system counters (which vary from and are slightly lower than my own internal stats counters, but I think being conservative is a good thing when looking at these values). Note that I cannot post publicly my account's actual click-though rate or other numbers due to Google's AdSense terms of service, which I respect. Also, I ran this article (pre-edits) by the AdSense support team before posting, just to make sure I am not crossing any lines. I have no desire to fall victim to the rather terse and stern terms of service that Google rightfully has on its program. They said I was good to go.

What I can tell you is that my click-though rate is relatively high compared to typical site averages, and that through testing I have proven to myself and others that the high rate is a direct result of effective placement and design of the ads themselves, in combination with site layout and design tweaks.

The 2006 stats for this site (greghughes.net):

  • 2,355,059 page views for an average of approximately 6,450/day average (using some very conservative counters to be sure). Note that today I average more than 20,000 per day - a significant difference. As you'd expect, that difference is reflected in the total number of clicks per day and the daily revenue numbers.
  • 264 posts for the year generated significantly less comments and trackbacks than Guy's blog did - and that's one difference in being famous and high-profile - people link and talk back to you more if you have some celebrity following like many of the A-listers do. Note that perhaps more important than how many posts and comments I had in 2006 are the other 1,107 posts that I made between this blog's inaugural post in 2003 and the end of 2005. Those posts still generate a significant amount of interest and traffic from search engines - many thousands of visits a day.
  • Again speaking conservatively, several hundred people regularly grab the RSS feeds. Again, this is a huge difference from Guy's RSS subscription count (I'm on the low end of the spectrum). His subscriber count via RSS is in the thousands - and this is also an indicator of why his traffic may not be driving much revenue. It's been proven that RSS feeds are not the better advertising medium. People just don't click as much. However, I should say that my friend Scott has seen some good results in his RSS advertising.
  • Total advertising revenue for 2006: approximately $8,700.00, which is significantly higher than Guy's revenue, and let's face, it - no one really knows me from a hole in the ground. It's also worth pointing out that the 2006 amount is for the full year, which includes a good six to seven months of significantly lower monthly revenue before I made some critical design changes to the page layout in about August. In fact, $1800.00 of the year's total came in December alone and my revenue values have been increasing consistently over time. Only time will tell, though. You never know what might drop or raise your numbers. Hopefully not this post, heh. For comparison purposes, my January 2007 revenue was over $2000.00 and it looks like February will close out at about $1700.00.
  • Again, I have intentionally left out any mention of metrics other than how many page views occur and the total payment amounts, because Google is pretty strict about not sharing other metrics like click-though ratios, cpm, etc.
  • As an aside, it's worth saying that for those who are not yet familiar with the process of IRS Form 1099 income, this is not all free money. You do have to pay taxes on it, and it's treated as income for an individual, so be prepared to set a large chunk aside for tax time each month. Keep that in mind and be sure to evaluate whether you should be running AdSense as an individual or as a business entity. Depending on your situation, there may be one option that's better than the other. you may want to consult a good CPA on an hourly basis to give you some advice. That tax hit, ouch!

There's a lot more that goes into making AdSense work than just dropping ads on the page and getting a few (or a lot of) people to look at your site. Sure, you have to drive traffic to your site content in order to get clicks. But ad positioning, relevance of the ads, the actual content of your site, and a number of other critical design and configuration elements play a major role in the failure or success of your advertising. The fact of the matter is, if you have a lot of distracting, flashy, graphical stuff on your pages, the ads will not get clicked nearly as much. Why? People just won't look at them nearly as much. It's that simple. 

For example, I used to have a picture of myself in the header of every page on my site, but one day I decided to remove it just to see what impact that would have on my ad clicks (specifically the click-through rate). I suspected that the picture was competing visually with the ads, resulting in less clicks. Sure enough, click-through nearly doubled as soon as I removed my mug-shot from the page template. Visual competition with your ads equates to distraction (you can think of it as visual aerobics - like watching a tennis game from side court), which means less clicks, which in turn means less revenue. Not a very complicated formula.

So, let me leave you with this - Despite the occasional popular, cliche rant in the blogosphere, AdSense most certainly and definitely does not suck for bloggers if you have patience, use it thoughtfully and apply it well. If you don't believe me, ask Joel Comm, the AdSense guru. If his AdSense Secrets is the bible of AdSense, then he is the prophet who can lead you to the promised land (forgive the analogy, sorry), but only if you actually follow his suggestions - all of them, even the ones you don't really want to. Remember - it's just a web site, so you can always put it back the way it was if you don't like the changes you make. You will have to experiment and try new things. Joel can tell you pretty much everything you need to know and a whole lot more. If I was to put some real and substantial time applying even more of his suggestions and those of others to this blog and maybe another one or two topical sites, I could quite possibly quit my day job.

But hey, I am certainly not planning to do that. I like my work and blogging is more of a passion for me than a vocation. I consider myself lucky: I'm certainly glad to have a revenue stream that makes it easy for me to justify using a dedicated host server and which pays for itself quite well (and then some). I'm also financially able to do more charitable giving in my community and in the world, which is important to me. It's a pretty darned good deal, no doubt about it. And I don't even have to do all that much to make it work - the content I've already written over the past few years seems to appeal to a wide audience, so they come here to find what they're looking for. Because the ads are relevant to what they're researching they sometimes click. All I really have to do is continue to write about the things that interest me and hope that others will remain interested, too.

By the way, I am certainly not the only beneficiary of my advertising success. It's a good deal for Google and it's advertisers, too: The better the ad performance on my site, the more effective their customer's ad campaigns. We all win.

Here are a few resources for learning about AdSense and making it work. These are the ones I used, in addition to a few acquaintances who made suggestions here and there:



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Tuesday, 06 March 2007 21:14:40 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Well, I have had the luxury over the past couple months of not having to travel too terribly much, but this week it's back-on-the-road for me. Time to start racking up those frequent flier miles again, heh.

This week I will be in New York City (arriving this evening - I am on a plane in Chicago on a ground hold, just waiting to take off for LaGuardia... Nice to sit on a plan on the ramp for an hour and a half eh?). I'll be back home for a weekend on Mt. Hood with the youth group from church, and then Monday morning it's right back on another plane to head for Atlanta for a few days.

My hope is that I won't have to live the same crazy travel schedule I did last year, but my job calls for it, so a certain amount of it is to be expected (and accepted). If we ever get off the ground in the plane, that is. Maybe I'll spend the rest of 2007 here eating peanuts and working via Verizon broadband and a Cingular wireless phone. I guess it could be worse. I mean, they do have three (bad) movies in the tape library.

If you're in New York or Atlanta, let me know. I won't have a lot of free time but its always fun to try to meet people on the road if I can.



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Tuesday, 20 February 2007 14:13:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 18 February 2007

Nothing like having an automated buddy on the other end of the instant messaging conversation to keep ya busy eh? Well, sometimes they can be practical.

If you use Windows Live Messenger (MSN Messenger), and if you're a film freak (or even if you just like movies), go to your IM client program and add moviescout@botmetro.net to your contact list. Then open a conversation window and type "hi" or something similar. You can set your ZIP code and start searching.

    

Once you've found a movie you want to look at, enter the number next to the title to get showtimes and a link to more information about the film:

    

It's pretty cool. A lot like using Fandango in your browser, I suppose. But on a mobile device this is cool stuff.



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Sunday, 18 February 2007 01:16:07 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 12 February 2007

I did something today that's quite a bit out of character for me: I went to the WWE Raw live performance this evening at the Rose Garden here in Portland. As in professional wrestling.

And I had a blast.

You see, recently a friend of mine kind of got me watching a bit of the Monday Night Raw TV show now and then. I've always kind of laughed at the whole pro-wrestling thing for a variety of reasons, but tonight I can honestly say that the performance and the whole show was a lot of fun.

 Donald Trump himself even showed up in the arena to challenge the WWE boss to a match at the Wrestlemania thing on April 1st (which the boss rejected, so they came up with a decent alternative - they'll each choose someone to wrestle on their behalf and loser gets his head shaved right there at Wrestlemania).

Fireworks were everywhere in the arena and the whole experience was pretty darned well put together. And it was live on national TV to boot.

Probably the highlight of the evening, I am almost ashamed to say, was the final bout - An eight-man tag-team event that had some pretty huge dudes fighting it out. The cool guy of the bunch is John Cena, and as hilarious as it is to hear myself say it, it was a lot of fun to see him and the others perform. Afterward I asked my friends Rogan and Cory what they thought the best part of the whole night was, and they both had the same thought as me: It was at the end when John Cena stood on the ropes and looked right at us. Rogan and Cory were holding a big sign that had his name on it. It was actually kind of cool.

So there you have it. I confess. I went to Monday Night Raw live and in person, and had a great time.

Wow. That's kind of scary eh? Heh.

Tonight's show will be on TV this week on Thursday evening (for some reason it's a shifted schedule this week and they taped rather than going live).



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Monday, 12 February 2007 23:50:07 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 04 February 2007

If you happen to be at the RSA security conference in San Francisco this week, get in touch and hopefully we can meet up sometime. I'm here through Thursday doing a bunch of media briefings and whatnot (for work) and (whenever I can) attending sessions. My cell number is in the right sidebar, or email me (greg-greghughes-dot-net).



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Sunday, 04 February 2007 22:36:38 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 01 February 2007

One of my all-time favorite coworkers and human beings is Phillip Forteza, who works in the QA department. He's started blogging, and I'm excited about it.

Phil is one of those guys that smiles, smiles, smiles - regardless of the day or the situation. He is a truly good person, one of the kindest I have ever met, and I am always glad to see him. I only wish I was as up-beat and positive as Phil is every single day, though good and bad. If I'm every feeling down and out and I happen to run into him, it's a guaranteed fact that his powerful attitude will lift me up and remove that monkey from my back.

Check out what Phil has to write, it's more than worth the read. We need more people like Phil in this world, but alternatively more spreading of The Phillip Way is a pretty good option.



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Thursday, 01 February 2007 21:36:02 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 28 January 2007

One thing I've noticed about all the weblogs out there is a significant lack of content on certain topics. Management and dealing with management issues is one example. There are a few out there that are quite good, but it's not a common topic. Probably because it's not exactly exciting, geeky or all that interesting to the average person. Or maybe because managers are afraid to talk publicly about problems they run up against. Or because not many managers blog. Personally, I run across complex issues all the time, and I enjoy talking about them in an appropriate way. I think it makes me a better manager in the long run to hear what others have to say. Hence this weblog entry.

A while back I was meeting with one of the people I work with and discussing the variety of ways communication problems can drag an organization down. It was one of those typically generalized philosophical conversations, the kind I like to think of as learning moments. Some call them teaching moments, which is also accurate, but I like to remember I can (and better) learn while mentoring, too. It's a given that inefficiencies can make it difficult to get things done in business, and inefficiencies in communication can certainly have a significant impact. As we traded thoughts back and forth on the topic, I realized that my compadre was unawaredly mixing two different problems together, and classifying them as one. We stopped for a moment, and I explained to him what I see as the difference between communication and behavior problems. There is a fundamental and critical difference, I pointed out - one that is often overlooked and misunderstood.

We've all known people who say or do things that don't contribute in a positive way to an effective team or organization. Unfortunately we often describe such people as having "communication problems," when in fact what they exhibit is instead a complex set of behavior problems.

Because the two types of issues are fundamentally different (as are the respective solutions), a well-honed ability to recognize the difference between them is an valuable and important management trait for one who has the desire to make changes in this area.

A communication problem exists when there is a process gap or other barrier that makes it impossible to successfully communicate some critical information. For example, in the IT support world, we often wonder why users don't provide us with the information we need to help them. Instead they tell us a life story and pass on a lot of information that won't help us solve the problem, all while leaving out the critical nuggets of data. Then the IT employee wonders why and spends significant time chasing users down and trying to gather the missing details needed to work the issue.

But the communication problem in this case is not the lack of information provided by the customer. Rather it's the lack of a properly-defined process. I suggested, in our hypothetical conversation, that if an IT help desk employee has to regularly perform the same tasks and if the information necessary for success is challenging to gather from users, then the solution should be in doing something to ensure the proper information is collected and that the users know what's needed and expected. That's a communication process. And a well-defined communication process does a couple things: It sets clear, unambiguous expectations and provides a known mechanism to accomplish the activity it defines. It also needs to be reasonable and usable, to be fully successful. Perhaps the IT help desk would deploy a standard form, for example, which collects all of the information required to resolve a class of issue. At that point, once the user population has been made aware of the form and process, it is reasonable to expect the users to take advantage of the tools and instructions provided.

Now, if our information communication process is in place and communicated effectively and sufficiently, yet the people to whom the process applies neglect to do their part, we no longer have a communication problem. At that point, we have graduated to a more complicated class of issue: The behavior problem.

Behavior problems are individual in nature, and are more closely related to personality and situational issues. They're not typically resolvable with processes. Instead, they require individual guidance and potentially some form of discipline. Now, the term "discipline" here does not have to be a negative word. Rather, I use it in the context of behavior and performance management. And what works for one won't always work for the rest. This is the area where the professional manager earns his or her stripes: Working with people to change default behaviors in situations where the behavior cannot work. It's hard work.

Perhaps the most useful set of terms we can keep in mind when it comes to defining the issue and a solution: Communication Management and Behavior Management. Understanding these and knowing the differences are what we really need to be concerned about. That and the fact that even with a good communication method in place, it still takes the people and personalities that can and will work within any processes established to be successful.

What kinds of behavior problems are often confused with communication issues? Well, there's the "that's not what I want" class of problems. And then there's the "I didn't think of it so I can't get behind it" philosophy. Or the "that doesn't apply to me because I decided I didn't want it to" issue. Often behavior problems involve some form or another of what I refer to as "terminal uniqueness" - People who believe that they are different and their jobs, situations, wants, needs, requirements and desires are completely different than those of anyone else, and  that therefore nobody else can possibly understand or make decisions that might affect whatever they're focused on. And there are, of course, many more.

Anyhow, I have a variety of stories from my own management experience (both as related to me personally and with others) that illustrate this point, but one person's examples only help to define the situation in a self-limiting form. Do you have examples of your own experiences where the cliche "communication problem" term has been applied, but in reality the issue was people not playing nice? How do you deal with those situations and people?

And I should finish up by pointing out that I am far from perfect in this area. None of us are. I've not been the easiest person to manage at times over the years, to be sure. But a good healthy conversation helps us all to be aware of what's happening around us and within us, and allows us to learn and grow. So, let's converse.

What do you think?



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Sunday, 28 January 2007 13:59:18 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 16 January 2007

I ran across the Giveaway of the Day web site the other evening and was intrigued. I've watched it for a few days now and have downloaded a couple of the programs they've offered. Basically, the site has a different piece of commercial software (typically smaller, utility-style stuff but you never know) that they give away for free for 24 hours. The catch, if you can call it that, is that you can only download any given program during its 24-hour offer period, and you have to install it during that period, as well. If you wait and try to install it later (as I did in once case), the product cannot be successfully registered.

But for free, whatcha gonna do, complain? I mean, come on. Heh. This is an interesting vehicle for getting people to check out other software offered by the companies whose software is featured, I suppose (they show examples of other software titles offered by each company with links).

Worth checking out. Be sure - as always - to use caution whenever downloading any software from the Internet. Good antivirus and antispyware software is important to have in place and running before you start downloading stuff. Heck, before you ever use the Internet for that matter.

In addition, the site has a freeware library that contains some interesting stuff as well as a Game Giveaway of the Day site. Same methodology, only it's games you get to play with.

Here are today's software and game give-away's:



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Tuesday, 16 January 2007 23:46:37 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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The Guardian (in the UK) has a writer who points out that there are 164 branches of Starbucks within five miles of Regent and Wigmore Streets in London. That got me to looking around a bit, and I discovered that within 20 miles of where I work, there are no less than 184 Starbucks stores. Luckily I live in the middle of nowhere, so there's nothing near my home. I used to live right across the street from one until move out here. Talk about pricey!

How much should you be worried? Check out the Starbucks store locater for yourself and see what your situation looks like.

Makes me think... Is Starbucks the new Marlboro? I quit smoking a few years ago...



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Tuesday, 16 January 2007 23:33:01 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Okay now people, those of us who grew up elsewhere in snow and ice know what it means to drive in it (and have a bunch of reasons not to). I mean, I learned to drive in three feet of snow ferchrysake... There are times when you just have to restrain yourself. So, if you live in a city where it gets icy once or twice a year, and if the only way you can drive halfway decently is if its dark and cloudy but completely dry on the ground (you know, when even direct sunlight makes you lose control), then please please please please... just don't leave the house when there is snow or ice on the ground. Especially in a vehicle. That nice AWD car or four wheel drive SUV won't help you one little bit as soon as you touch the brakes... But it will dent. There is no force field.

Evidence to support my argument is available by clicking the pretty picture. Please review. TYVM:


(photo from King5 News)

"Elementary teacher Derek Porter witnessed 15 different car
collisions on icy roads outside his Portland apartment
Tuesday morning and caught several on home video."



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Tuesday, 16 January 2007 23:05:18 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 11 January 2007

Every now and then you find a real gem worthy of pointing to. It's one of those days. A few of the guys who work on my team apparently had an interesting conversation today - one of those ones that, well... As Brent says:

"Today I had one of those conversations. You know, the mildly creative, useless, on the verge of non-pc, feeling giddy, make you laugh conversations."

Read all about it at his blog. They did the math and arrived at the definition for some pretty important technology figures. 'Nuf said. Heh.



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Thursday, 11 January 2007 23:18:28 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 05 January 2007

Scott tagged me and four others on this tell-me-something-new meme, so now it's my turn. In no particular order, here are my five things you (seriously) didn't know about me. Not the easiest thing to do, but as they say, I am bound by honor to post and tag...

  1. I took only one computer class in college, and didn't pass it. In fact, it was so boring and elementary I could not stand to be there. Instead I spent the semester figuring out how to get an Appletalk network to communicate with a bunch of IBM 5150s that we had networked with 10-Base-2 coax. The grade killed me, but the alternative experience was worth so much more.
  2. I was a foster parent for many years. Fourteen kids, over about eight years. Single parent style, almost all of them special needs kids. All of them were terrific in their own ways. I lived in a foster home for a very short time when I was a teenager, and the people who I lived with I have never thanked. I need to do that. They influenced me in a unique way that no one else ever did, for the good. Their selfless act motivated me to do a lot of things that I hope helped others in some way. My desire (or need, or whatever you chose to call it) to help others in ways similar to the manners in which others have helped me has been the root of both pain and passion for me over the years.
  3. My senior year in high school I played Tony in West Side Story. Like as in the lead, sang all the songs and did all the dance and acted all the lines. Orchestra in the pit, chain link fence massive set, the works. Yes, I can still sing the songs. People look at me with a blank stare when they hear this. I was also an all-state tenor that year. These days I limit myself pretty much to singing with my guitar at home and the occasional church hymn from the pews.
  4. I've been a halftime highlight on ESPN and a major television network twice, and I was injured both times. Once was when I was photographing a NCAA tournament I was landed on by a player who was fouled (hard) under the basket. The other time I was pummeled by a football player who was out of control coming off the field while being tackled. He tackled me, but good. Oh, and I used to be a photojournalist and did a lot of sports and news photography for about eight years.
  5. After working as a photojournalist, I was a police officer for about 7 years. You could say I chased ambulances and then did something close to driving them, I guess. It was a great experience and I have nothing but the utmost respect for the good people who do that job. I was pretty good at the job, but it was not so good for me. So, here I am - a professional computer jock. Or manager thereof, I suppose. Ah, how I long for the days of doing respectable, real work. Heh.

That's it.

Oh, wait... I'm tagging Brent, Matt, Rich, Simon and Alex. Alright guys - You're it!



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Friday, 05 January 2007 22:07:13 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 01 January 2007

Just a few goofballs hanging out on New Year's Day. We watched WWE, played the 20Q game, did party poppers, ate nachos, and whatever. And hey, goofball is fun.

Greg, Rogan and Cory
Above: Greg, Rogan and Cory hanging out at the place (listed in order seated in the picture, left to right and I explain that just so Cory doesn't get upset about being last, heh).

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Monday, 01 January 2007 19:34:49 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 29 December 2006

To add to my totally analog Christmas (and the subsequent mostly-analog vacation week that's followed), my friend Cory and I started building a shed in the back yard this morning. We only had a few hours to work today, but we got a lot done. It was 32 degrees out but we hardly noticed. Below are some pics, which I will update periodically as we make progress. Click on each to see a larger view.

A few notes for anyone who is considering taking on a project like this one:

  • Having someone around who actually knows what they're doing is a great thing. My buddy Cory's done a lot of carpentry and construction work, so he's The Boss. Foreman. Teacher. All that stuff. Thank goodness.
  • Seriously, don't even think about picking all the stuff out yourself and trying to haul it home in your truck or car. For this project we went to Home Depot for the materials (due to some reasonable prices and a very attractive zero-payments/interest-for-a-year financing deal). We went to the pro desk, handed over the plans and the parts list, along with $59.00 for site delivery, which was done on a semi truck with a big forklift. This was definitely more than worth the cost. The pro desk helped tweak things, checked the plans and corrected a couple assumptions I'd made, and generally made it a better experience (so far, anyhow - heh).
  • Speaking of plans, shedplans.com is a great place to go and spend a small amount of money for a quality, detailed building plan. I spent $15 with them and it would have been worth it even if I didn't use the plans at all - The building information in there was great and worth the price alone. Of course, we are using their plans for our structure (which is a 12x16-foot gable-roof shed).

Day one: Floor framing

Cory pretty much leveled the site the day before with a shovel, a rake and the 4-wheeler. So today we put together the framed floor. It's in two sections, which were later "wrapped" with a second layer of treated 2x's:

The site is ready to go, and the floor sections are laid out in the general area:

On the piers, it starts to look more substantial - like you got something done. In the last picture Cory and Diogi survey the work we did.

More to come when it gets done. :)



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Friday, 29 December 2006 23:52:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 27 December 2006

I just realized something interesting. This year I had a completely non-techie Christmas. Of the gifts I received, only one was even remotely computer related (but hey, no need to go cold-turkey, right?). I think that's kind of cool. Plus this Christmas was a good one once again, spent at home with friends.

My friend Cory (who appears to have started blogging for Christmas, heh) points out that the act of giving is a good one to practice. I agree.

Of course, receiving is quite fun as well, and I received some very thoughtful gifts this year. Perhaps my favorite (it's hard to choose you know) is a painting that Cory made for me to hang in my office. It's based on a painting by Peter Pongratz from Austria - we saw a bunch of his (rather interesting and crazy) art at the Belvedere museum in Vienna a couple months ago in a display called Sweet Home Vienna. Cory took the Pongratz-style phrases in the painting and replaced them with Office Space lines. Heh. Pongratz and Office Space are a lot alike.

An analog Christmas. Nice.



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Wednesday, 27 December 2006 14:02:17 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 25 December 2006
People who have noticed the site's been unavailable recently will understand why I'm making some changes here. While DNS propogation completes the availability of the site may be a little whacky, since you might be bounced between two servers for a little while. Not much I can do about that, but it will all be better very soon. I've moved this site to a dedicated host server, since the traffic and web server hits are too much for the shared hosting environment it's been on up 'til this point.

Sorry for the mess.

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Monday, 25 December 2006 23:38:49 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 18 December 2006

Yesterday a friend of mine got the same initial reaction out of me that you'll probably have when you read this. But seriously, give it a chance. Weird food combinations can be, umm, interesting.

Take a jar of Claussen Kosher Dill Sandwich Slices, and a carton of Tropicana Pure Premium Grovestand orange juice (that's the lots-o-pulp version). Pour yourself a glass of OJ.

Eat one sandwich-slice of pickle right out of the jar. Use your fingers it's better that way.

Drink some orange juice.

Eat, drink, repeat.

And don't knock it 'til you've tried it. I was surprised.



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Monday, 18 December 2006 20:57:33 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 16 December 2006

This one has to be the scariest, and in my mind one of the funniest, Christmas carols ever recorded. True, Cartman's rendition is pretty special, but when it comes to O' Holy Night, nobody's got this dude beat.

Be sure to listen all the way through. Right when you think it can't get anny better (worse?), the song goes to a whole new level.

And don't drink milk while listening to this. You have been warned.

Click the button to play the music:



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Saturday, 16 December 2006 18:27:16 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Each year, NORAD keep and eye on Santa as he makes his Christmas journey. You can track Santa's progress on Christmas Eve with the kids at the NORAD Track Santa web site.

On December 24th the kids can call the tracking service toll free at 1-877-Hi-NORAD anytime after 9AM Eastern Standard Time (7AM Mountain Standard Time) to find out the status of Santa from NORAD. Or, even better, check out the NORAD Track Santa web site (available in several languages):

NORAD has been doing this for 52 years now. I remember listening to the radio updates when I was a kid, and now you can get even more interactive online. Enjoy!



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Saturday, 16 December 2006 18:05:38 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Every good (and bad) geek child needs a fast, efficient and electronic way to send that proverbial  letter to Santa. And good geek kids, of course, procrastinate along with the rest of us. So, for those of you still needing to send that letter and can't stand the idea of paper, pen and licking sticky stuff, here you go with some Internet Santa resources:

  • Santa's Mailroom: According to Biff, the Mailroom Elf, it usually takes a couple days to answer letters, which you can submit online, no need for a stamp or that pesky snail-mail service stuff.
  • EmailSanta.com: Send an email to the jolly red dude and get an instant response, print it out, or whatever.


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Saturday, 16 December 2006 13:07:01 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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My friend and coworker, Brent, is working this weekend so he can tie up some stuff and go on a real vacation time with his family. Brent does QA, which means he's a bit uhhh twisted at times (and I say that in a respectful, caring way of course, with a friendly smile on my face). Since running QA tests these days often means clicking a button and waiting the automated tests run (quickly, accurately and efficiently, I might add), Brent has short gaps of wait time. QA people get bored quickly these days. Darn that test automation! Between .NET and automated testing systems, our software engineers are becoming the next big population of ADD, MTV-style, video-game-attention-span, immediate gratification victims.

Of course, they already play video games and uhhh, never mind.

But that's not my point. Brent spent one of his while-the-test-is-running gaps goofing around on the Internet and just came up with this:

 

Click the pic to see the whole thing. You can also upload your own photos and make your own video. Or one of someone else you know (preferably someone who isn't too proud and won't be offended, angry or whatever - but I've already been victimized).

Wow, scary. Heh.



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Saturday, 16 December 2006 12:43:41 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 04 December 2006

My friend and coworker, Matt, experienced something last week that no one should ever have to go through, and which we all hope never happens to anyone - whether it be us, or someone we know, or any other person. His parents' house, the one where Matt spent most of his growing-up years, burned down one week ago.

Luckily his folks made it out okay. Sadly, their dog did not and the damage to the house was extensive. They've been piecing things back together (as much as you can do that after a major house fire) for the past week, but I can only imagine what it must be like for them. As a police officer, I experienced many traumatic situations, but when it's a friend it just feels different.

Matt wrote eloquently about what happened, and I am pointing to his blog entry here because I think it's important to be thankful for what we have and the family in our lives, and also because it's important to know that it can happen not just to others, but also to ourselves.

Matt said it best:

"It's very true what they say. A tragedy is just an event until it happens to you. I recall seeing at least one report of a house or apartment fire every holiday over the past few years and thinking how terrible it must be for the affected people, but then I change the station and life goes on. Never did I think that could one day be my house on the news and my family standing in the cold. And while we now have to deal with the task of rebuilding and piecing back together some sense of normality, I've very thankful to have my parents around to help with that."

Amen to that. Read his story here.



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Monday, 04 December 2006 14:01:58 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 26 November 2006

Okay, okay so you can stop emailing and IMing me to ask if I am alive, heh. The blog post shall resume. I am in fact alive and I am back home, and yeah Europe was a blast (both the work and the vacation parts). Pictures are coming, and there's a zillion of them but I need to get them uploaded to Flickr first, and I've seriously been busy with lots of other stuff since returning home.

Here's a quick list of where we ended up going during a whirlwind week of see-as-many-places-as-possible travel. European trains, by the way, are awesome.

  • Vienna > Venice
  • Venice > Rome
  • Rome > Bern
  • Bern > Zurich
  • Zurich > Fussen
  • Fussen > Munich
  • Munich > back to Vienna

More Europe trip short stories and stuff soon, after I get pics and whatnot uploaded.



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Sunday, 26 November 2006 11:03:28 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I am not sure if it has snowed this early in the season since I have lived here - I believe this is the earliest. Woke up this morning to a variety of flashing clocks and electronics (nothing like a power outage to make you realize how electronicified you are) and was surprised to see this...

 

I am sure it will all be gone before long today, but it sure was cool to wake up to.



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Sunday, 26 November 2006 09:26:33 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 23 November 2006

Tomorrow is Black Friday - the "busiest shopping day of the year" they say (although some may argue otherwise). Certainly there are many early-bird deals to be had and the people can get out of control.

So - where to shop for Black Friday? How to find the deals? Well, certainly your Sunday newspaper is an important place to start, but for those who are Internet-oriented, check out Black Friday @ GottaDeal.com, where you can get some more great deals both online (many of which are already available early) and in person.

If you're planning to shop for the specials, this is a great place to use:

http://blackfriday.gottadeal.com/

For current online deals, check this address:

http://blackfriday.gottadeal.com/online.php

Also - Do you have last minute questions about Black Friday? Give GottaDeal.com a call anytime at 415-287-3325 (415-287-DEAL) and they'll be happy to help you out. Note that long distance charges may apply.



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Thursday, 23 November 2006 14:24:37 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Not too terribly long ago some friends of mine impressed upon me the importance of taking on an "attitude of gratitude" in life. What they meant - at least in part - was that the place where you focus your mind is pretty much where you'll end up, and for the most part I think they're right. This time of year I tend to think about a lot of things, some difficult and some pleasant. But every year I try to take some Thanksgiving time to remember that even though life is crazy and time is often too short, there are so many thing in life for which I am grateful and give thanks. Even the stuff I've screwed up.

Life's not perfect, and from the depths of those situations and experience that substantially change us - often things that we would never wish to have happen again - we are destined to learn and grow. I know I have experienced that over the years, and my life is quite different as a result.

Sometimes we learn and grow quickly, other times a little too slowly. I still make mistakes. Lots of them. Especially this year, as I have just recently begun realizing. Fear is a great motivator, one that can be leveraged for good or bad. Best to try for good.

But this is supposed to be about what I am thankful for. Gratitude.

I am thankful for my friends, my family, my good job, my home, my cat and dog, and the many years I had to spend with my dog Buddy, who died earlier in the year. I am grateful for surgeons and the people in my life who cared enough to stop their lives and take care of me when I was truly in need. I sometimes wish I was better to those who were so good to me. But I do appreciate them, and am thankful they are a part of my life.

I'm especially thankful that my friend Matthew, who had brain surgery on Monday this week, is already home and doing well. And I am thankful for the great food we'll be eating at their house in a couple hours, heh.

There are many people in this world better than me, and a few of those good people I know personally. I am thankful for them, even if I don't or can't show it when it counts. I only hope in the future I can be more much more worthy of their time and attention.

Finally, I am grateful for my life, the people in it, the goods and the bads, and for the possibilities of the future, whatever they may be. As they say, "with all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."

Yes, it is.



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Thursday, 23 November 2006 14:19:04 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 24 October 2006

I just finished reading For One More Day, the latest book by Mitch Albom, on flight from Providence. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone. Everyone, in fact.

Albom has a way of writing things that hit life's most important nails right on the head, whether fact or fiction. His Tuesdays with Morrie had some great life lessons, and the Five People You Meet in Heaven was also a terrific story that will make a person think.

For One More Day takes the premise that many - probably most - of us have lost loved ones and had things left unsaid, unasked and unanswered. Unfulfilled and unresolved at times. The book asks the question, "What if you had one more day with that person?"

And from there builds the story. An important and emotional one that the majority of us can almost certainly relate to, each in our own unique ways.

There are people who have gone before me, one or two in particular who - if I am being completely honest - I would have questions for, things to say to them, and answers to provide. I know that can never happen, but Albom's journey in this story lets us process some of those conflicted feelings - including guilt, loss, despair, happiness and others - that can tear at our souls from time to time.

Read For One More Day. Take the lessons and apply them in your life today. I can say that after losing someone so close to me a few years ago, I have tried to do some of that, and this story simply reaffirms the importance of doing so all the more.



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Tuesday, 24 October 2006 09:55:19 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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If you happen to be looking for me over the next month or so and can't find me, don't panic or anything. It's probably because I'm not around. Seems to have been that way for the past several months now. Not much is changing in that regard. Anyhow, I'll be all over the place for next next while...

I've was gone on a (great) trip to Minnesota and back for more than a week until this past Friday, and then was back home for two nights, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Then I was back on the road again, at the Marriott in Newport, Rhode Island (nice hotel) where I was speaking Monday at a conference on the topic of multifactor authentication and security. Then I flew whirlwind-style back home Monday night. Next I'm off to New Mexico on Wednesday for a work meeting, and back home late Thursday night and off again to Europe on Saturday very early in the morning. Hopefully on Friday I can work from home a little and then get ready for the Europe trip.

The European jaunt is a couple weeks long and will include Vienna, Austria as well as visits to a variety of places in southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland and northern Italy for a week plus a couple days of vacation time, before I have to be back in Austria for a few days of work stuff.

When I get back from there, it'll be just two or three days back at home, then I'm off to Las Vegas for a few days (again for work). And - if all goes as planned - after that I can stay home for a while. I sure hope so, anyhow.

So, there ya go. If you work with me you'll probably hardly see me until mid-November (sorry). I guess that's why we have cell phones, though.

For those that are wondering where all the tech posts went, I've been wondering the same thing. I'll try to get back to them again. I guess I have been a bit burned out lately on technology stuff, but it's not gone from my mind.



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Tuesday, 24 October 2006 09:52:28 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 22 October 2006

Today was not my coffee day.

First of all, I got one halfway decent cup of coffee all day, and that was the one at the filling station on Industrial Ave in Longview Washington at about 6:30 a.m. on the way to the airport. I drank less than a quarter of that and left it in the truck when my friend dropped me off for my flight.

My next cup was on the plane, the first one that is. As the flight attendant handed me the filled-to-the-rim styro cup, we hit a bump and the hot coffee splashed all over me  in 14B and the nice, attractive woman sitting in 14A (note: reference edited because I realized I found it slightly distasteful myself upon re-reading...). Just my luck. It provided an opportunity for me to apologize several times, but that's not exactly the optimal way to get to know someone. Plus it was strong coffee, so I am sure that coffee-soaked clothing smell was just wonderful for her. Ugh. When offered coffee later on the flight I turned it down. I couldn't bear the idea of a second assault on my seat neighbor.

I got to Chicago and had an hour-and-a-half to wait for the next flight to Providence, so I went to the Red Carpet Club to get online, check a few emails, grab some snakes, and put down a safe cup of coffee sans-turbulence.

Someone had procured the little floor table near the chair I sat in, so I set the coffee on the arm rest and stated watching the Pittsburgh/Atlanta football game. It was fourth quarter and tied up - deja vu kind of situation. Anyhow, I ate my snacks, reached to pick up the garbage, and knocked my coffee straight into the leather chair I was sitting in. The cup dumped its contents right between me and the arm rest. Wonderful, I thought. Then I realized I was sitting in hot coffee and jumped. The lady across from me cringed. Well, at least she didn't laugh.

After that, I gave up on coffee for the rest of the day. OJ only for me. Until tomorrow, that is.



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Sunday, 22 October 2006 18:07:30 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Some things just bug me. Sometimes I write them down. :)

For example - What is it that makes the concept of putting stuff into the overhead bins on airplanes so freakin' complicated? People just don't seem to get it, despite the repeated intercom begging performed by the flight attendants to put rollaways in wheels first, wheels first, WHEELS FREAKIN' FIRST.

Even worse, there's a subset of people who, when asked to move their bag to the optimal position in order to accommodate others, can get downright indignant. What is it with these people? Move your bag, sit down and shuddup already. They didn't build that bin - or this whole airplane - just for you. Jeez.

I dunno why this bugs me so much. I guess it's because the underlying message from such people is that they don't really care how their behavior, stuff or actions affect others. We have enough of that kind of problem already in this day and age. We really don't need it when a couple hundred people are jammed into a metal tube with wings and a couple engines hanging off a few bolts hurtling said flying torpedo through the air at a few hundred miles an hour.

Okay, I feel a little better now. Heh.



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Sunday, 22 October 2006 17:51:35 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 19 October 2006

Today we made it to the Grand Teton National Park, which is just south of Yellowstone (which is where we were yesterday, but the pics will have to be out of order since I don't have those copied yet).

We stayed at the snow lodge at Old Faithful in Yellowstone and woke up to snow on the ground. So, we threw the truck (with new all-terrain and snow tires) into four wheel drive and headed south for the Tetons. Honestly, I was worried the low clouds would prevent us from seeing much of anything. I was wrong, thank goodness.

Here are a few pics from our drive through the Tetons. As you can see, the clouds lifted. In the couple days we spent on our way through the Yellowstone and Grand Tetons parks, we saw lot of wildlife, including a grizzly bear, elk, reindeer, moose and more.

The flickr photoset from the trip is here. I'll add some more later, probably after I get home Friday night.

Grand Tetons National Park

Grand Tetons National Park

Elk in Grand Tetons National Park



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Thursday, 19 October 2006 21:52:35 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 18 October 2006

I'm helping a friend move from the upper-Midwest out to Oregon, and that means a long road trip. We decided to take a scenic route back, and yesterday we stopped at Mt. Rushmore in Wyoming. That was after driving in 40-50mph headwinds on an interstate at about 75mph. My truck does well on the road, but a combined 120 mile per hour head/crosswind is a bit of a pain, not only in terms of driving between the painted lines, but also on fuel.

Good thing fuel's cheap in South Dakota. In South Dakota they also have hotels with these water parks inside. You know, water slides and pools and stuff. We stayed at one the other night and had a blast. Felt like I was 10 again (which is especially weird when I look in the mirror).

At any rate, the real point is that we went to Mt. Rushmore yesterday afternoon. I'd never been there before. My friend Cory had been there (he says) like 25 times, because he has family down the highway and he lived nearby for a while. So I had a tour guide of sorts. We grabbed cameras and took some shots and walked the trail loop.

Mount Rushmore is an amazing work of art, demolition and commemoration all rolled up into one.

The flickr set including these pics (and some more) is here. The last one on the page was shot by Cory (who has quite an eye for pictures).

Rushmore1

Rushmore3

Rushmore2

Washington and Lincoln



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Wednesday, 18 October 2006 06:01:02 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 13 October 2006

Trees Changing in MontanaToday I drove half way to my destination in Minnesota. I saw a lot of amazing stuff and places, but since I am on a bit on a mission to get to my destination (and plan to take the leisurely route back), I didn't stop much.

The leaves are just now changing along the mountains of the Continental Divide in Montana and Idaho, so on the return trip the view should be pretty darn spectacular in that stretch.

We're likely to spend some time at Yellowstone. Never been there, always wanted to. And there are a bunch of other interesting places to go in these parts. Should be a fun week. No real plan, no set schedule, no real rules...

Especially the no set schedule part. Heh.

Nice. :)



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Friday, 13 October 2006 19:22:49 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 12 October 2006

Well, I have about 2,000 miles ahead of me (and I'm later getting started than I'd hoped due to a few unplanned items that came up in the past 24 hours), followed by a couple days hanging out in once place and then 2,000 miles back home.

This will be the first time I've had the opportunity to drive across the northern states out west, like Montana and North Dakota, so I am looking forward to it - and it's the perfect time of the year. I'll be doing the quick drive out and the scenic drive back.

So, blogging here will be light for the next week or so. Unless i get some great pics along the way, of course.



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Thursday, 12 October 2006 12:35:22 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 09 October 2006

Everyone and their brother's going nuts over the announcement this afternoon that Google is buying YouTube. I think we all knew it was coming, and yeah it's a big deal. What was really interesting to me was that I was about to do a between-flights phone interview (on an unrelated tech topic) with a national newspaper reporter (who shall remain nameless), when the interview was suddenly (and rightfully, heh) postponed due the the Google announcement (which had not been publicly made at that time, but I just happened to hear about it third-person before it was actually announced in public).

Anyhow, it's an interesting consolidation acquisition, especially since Google already has their Google Video (which I like), but adding YouTube (which is pretty awesome) does round things out very nicely, especially with the deals YouTube has recently made with some major media labels. How much did that jack up the value in the past couple days?

It's time for Microsoft to find a way to make some sort of serious, serious push on it's Soapbox offering. I have not uploaded any videos yet to my Soapbox profile, but I will soon in order to do some comparing. First thing for MS to do? Probably best to drop the blue color theme and get back to web UI basics. Also probably best to rethink the name. Seriously. I'm not kidding. Google Video makes it blatantly clear what you're using and it's easy to remember. YouTube is a household name and I know what I am doing based on the name, as well. And to be honest, each time I wanted to write something about Soapbox on MSN, I had to go back to my email and search to figure out what the service was called. That's not exactly memorable, or usable.

Actually, truth be told I'm on the fence on the color thing. But the standard, proven blue-text-on-white-background model is safe, expected and generally accepted - and that might just be a good thing right about now.


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Monday, 09 October 2006 18:31:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 08 October 2006

So, clearification.com is now active online. Looks like a Windows Vista viral marketing piece for... well... I dunno what the heck this actually is. It's random, for sure. Not exactly, well, clear.

But hey, it made me watch and I'm typing this, so yeah - it's viral, all right.

Heh, it's funny. I'm really not sure what demographic this is supposed to play to. Maybe kids or young adults. Or people who step in dog poop. Trust me on that one.

An RSS feed is available, and there are "webisodes" being posted periodically. The first one is already up. It's funny. Again, I have no idea what this has to do with Vista, but hey - it's funny. Or at least weird. And stuff.

Here it is:

YouTube? Huh?? Hmm. Heh.



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Sunday, 08 October 2006 07:54:17 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 01 October 2006

As I mentioned before. I recently acquired a Nikon D200 camera (new) and along with it a used but immaculate lens - the Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8 ED AF-S model. Both the body and the glass are exceptional pieces of equipment. I can't say enough about them. I also added the MB-D200 batter pack and extension to the body, which allows more battery time as well as vertical shooting trigger and wheels (mandatory in my book - I spent too many years with F3's and F4's not to have that capability).

I shot a few pictures out in the yard this afternoon to post here, since people have been asking me to do so. What I didn't realize until I uploaded them was that I had the ISO set to 800, which is ridiculously high for daylight, heh. So the image noise is a bit higher than it should be. But anyhow, they still look pretty good. The pictures below are clickable and will take you to my flickr feed, where you can see them in their full-size glory if you want to.

I highly recommend the D200 - I have not found a single thing I don't like about it yet (well okay it eats batteries for lunch, but hey - what can ya do?)

Japanese Maple leaf, backlit:

Red Maple Leaf

Diogi, my friendly (and spastic) chocolate lab:

Diogi, October 1 2006

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Sunday, 01 October 2006 15:12:04 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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So let's say, not quite so hypothetically, that I was going to be in Vienna, Austria for a week in the late-October and early-November timeframe (for work-related stuff). Let's also say that I happened to have an extra week of vacation time available, so I went ahead and got the plane tickets on the cheap(er) and I am arriving in Austria a week before I have to start the work effort. Meaning I have an extra week to see an area of the world I have never visited.

Since that means eight days to do pretty much whatever I want (and to travel wherever seems best) before spending five or six days in Vienna proper, I wonder what people think would make for a good plan? I don't have to stay in Vienna for the extra week, mind you - and I think I'd prefer to get away for that week and see some other places in the region.

I was thinking that maybe a Eurail pass that lets you cross into a couple other countries might be good? So - Where to go and what to do? A friend of mine will also be with me, so we were thinking the "saver" pass for the train system is a good idea.

I've done a bunch of Internet searches to see what others have done, and I have found some interesting and helpful information. But I figured maybe someone who reads this has been there before and will have some ideas. Plus, the bulk of the Internet information I have found is commercial search-optimized generic content meant to drive click revenue, and I am looking for some real-world advice and experience here.

Anyone? :)

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Sunday, 01 October 2006 11:24:54 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 28 September 2006

Nice to live here, dontcha know. The sunrise view from my front porch this morning as I left for work:



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Thursday, 28 September 2006 19:41:04 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 23 September 2006

In a few hours I'm heading for San Francisco (again) to speak tomorrow at (yet another) conference. I'm starting to realize that my little world has certainly changed over the past few years. These days I find myself constantly on the road, speaking in front of groups of people who need to know more about that which I know. I'm on the phone or face-to-face a few times a week with reporters and industry analysts, talking about Internet security, anti-fraud efforts and identity protection.

And somehow I thought I was going to be a photographer. Heh.

Sure, the flying can be tiring (drink lots of water on-board, that's the ticket, except you can't carry it on anymore), and I think I could probably count on my fingers and toes how many times I've slept in my own bed in the past six months. But the experience is a great one, and I am learning and growing more and more every day.

Tomorrow afternoon's topic of conversation (which incidentally is how I try to do my presentations - interactively) is "Solving the challenges of multi-factor authentication." I plan to discuss strong authentication in general (which includes multi-factor among other methods), the many wonders of passive and active behavior biometrics, Cardspace/Infocard and related projects, why we need stronger authentication in the first place, the difficulties of deciding what to implement and how to make it happen, what the impact of requiring strong authentication is on consumers and businesses, and some creative ways to meet the needs of everyone involved. So, nothing big. If you're an identity and access-management geek, or someone who has to implement this stuff, it's probably interesting. If you're anyone else, you're probably bored already, heh. ;)

Best part, though, is that I will get to see my dad, whose birthday I missed last month due to a fit of travel and business overextension on my part. I think I was in Minneapolis or something. I am very much looking forward to spending some time with him.



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Saturday, 23 September 2006 08:22:34 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 19 September 2006

Microsoft today announced and released (in an apparently closed beta) Soapbox, their new service aimed at the YouTube crowd. Word is it will allow you to upload your videos, up to 100MB, for sharing with others. Works with Windows Media player or Flash embedded in the web page. You can get on the waiting list for a beta account via a link on the Soapbox site.

This should be interesting to watch. From the site:

"Soon you’ll be able to upload your own videos, watch those made by other contributors, post comments on what you’ve seen, and much more."

I sure hope I can subscribe to feeds there. That would be a terrible boat to miss. We'll see soon enough.

   Soapbox



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Tuesday, 19 September 2006 05:55:21 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 17 September 2006

Corillian - the company I work for - is hiring. We have a number of positions open across the country, in a variety of locations.

Right now I have one opening in the Security Solutions business (for an experienced software QA engineer), plus all around the company there are a variety of interesting positions and opportunities. As of the time of this post, positions are available in offices located in Portland, Oregon as well as Omaha, New York City and Reston, Virginia. Current jobs include positions in software development, test, product management, support, customer management, database administration and systems administration.

You can check out all the current openings at the Corillian web site job search page. If you find something you like, let me know and I will be glad to discuss the position in my section, or to tell you more about the company. My email and mobile phone numbers are on this blog's web page, over at the right. Don't be shy - I'll be glad to hear from you.



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Sunday, 17 September 2006 09:33:17 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 09 September 2006

BMW Hydrogen Powered

Reports are that BMW is testing a production 7-series that runs on either gasoline or hydrogen. They've been doing tests on vehicle designs that can run on water and the sun for power since the 1970's, and they set a bunch of hydrogen-powered vehicle speed records in recent years, as well (in a silly looking car). But more recently BMW has said that their hydrogen combustion engine powered vehicle (read: no fuel cells and no emissions) would be available by 2008. Looks like they might deliver on that promise.

Lots of manufacturers are working on various designs. There are also companies working to let you retrofit your existing gasoline vehicles.

(Image from AutoExpress - dick the pic for original)

via leftlanenews



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Saturday, 09 September 2006 07:33:11 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 01 September 2006

Now and then I get to rant.

I am (once again) on an airplane, on my way to some upper Midwest city for the day, heading right back home this evening. You get real perspective on airplanes, you know. Perspective on things like heights and time - and on people, too. People you know you'll never see again. And when one knows they'll never see the people around them ever again, I guess they let their words flow more than they might otherwise. That can be good or bad.

There are two middle-aged guys, poorly dressed in corporate standard attire, in the row in front of me. Like as in one of these guys is wearing one beige dress sock and one navy one. They've been yapping away ever since we got on this flight three hours ago. We should have landed well over an hour ago, but they have these things called, umm, I think they're called 'delays' in the secret vernacular of air travel. Anyhow, no one really understands it, so we just sit in the broken down coach seat and smile like it's comfortable as the flight attendants walk up and down the aisles with forced smiles on their faces. You know, the smile that says 'Isn't this fun, we're all stuck on this thing going nowhere again, and we're gonna be late too, yay!'

Anyhow, at least I got some sleep, which is nice (seriously). But that's not my point.

Now I am back awake, and these same two yahoos (no, I don't mean they work at Yahoo! as that would be a compliment, and as you are about to see I have no compliments for these particular guys) are still going on and on about someone they apparently work for and how SHE (emphasis added to match their conversational emphasis on the fact that their supervisor is apparently female) does this and SHE does that and how SHE expects things and how SHE can't possibly understand. It's really rather amazing to listen to. It makes one want to yell "Shut up!"

They're also apparently very concerned about some presentations that they have to give. But they don't seem concerned at all about the actual content, or the audience, or whether the presentation convinces anyone or informs, or anything useful like that. Instead they're harping on and on about how SHE likes JOHN's presentations better, and how the other day they were afraid that they might not look like good presenters in the room with so-and-so, and what they might be able to do to make such-and-such look bad the next time.

Wow. And all of this where I can hear it, with a computer open to a PowerPoint deck I can clearly read and a company logo I can clearly see. And now one of the guys is opening a girly magazine.

Yahoos, I tell ya. And someone's paying them money to "do work."

Some people are truly amazing. Amazingly pathetic, that is. I'm glad I get to work with quality, decent people in my job. If I had to work with guys like this, I don't know if I could keep my mouth shut. Actually, I know I couldn't. They'd be right out the door, no question.



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Friday, 01 September 2006 07:49:57 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 25 August 2006

I'm a professional geek, and manager of many like me (only they're a lot smarter and more talented than I). But I have not been a computer jock all my life. Before this particular career I was a cop (or "police officer" if I want to be politically correct in my terminology). Before that, I was a professional photographer - a job I had for around eight years. I went to college to study photojournalism, and did sports and news photography, was published way-back-when in magazines and newspapers all over the place, etc. etc. etc. I was pretty good at it. My employers liked all the awards I won for them. I didn't care so much about the awards. But I felt good when I made pictures that people liked and remembered. Even more so when they seemed to matter or make a difference.

But while photography was fulfilling, starving to death was not so appealing. Besides, I'd always wanted to be a cop, and so I went from being a figurative ambulance chaser (a news photog) to being something loosely akin to an ambulance driver (except that police cars are a lot faster and you get to chase people in them - ambulance rig drivers don't do that too much, and then there's the whole catching bad guys thing, and you actually get paid to do all that - crazy). It put a notable few more bucks a month in the bank and was a great job, but it was also a bucket of stress and (eventually) painful experiences (I did a lot of child abuse investigations, and in the end it was me or the job -- I chose me).

Then came computer work. Pays a lot better and without bullets flying at me or my car. Not such a bad deal.

But I miss the creativity and fun of photography probably even more than I miss catching bad guys. So, after spending some time breaking out the old camera and lenses and messing around with them on vacation a week or so ago, I have a renewed hankerin' for doing it some more. Not as a job - I have a good job and career. More like as a passion - something more than a hobby. Just to get back into it something like the way I used to be. Of course, in order to do it right I'll have to do some investing. There's a ton of mediocre cameras and lenses out there. I like my Nikon D70 for a basic digital SLR camera, but in my photo world there's a need for something more if it's really to be taken seriously. And I'm a very serious guy. Zoom lenses? Screw that noise.

I'm still a bit of a digital photography nay-sayer. If I was an old dude, I'd probably be going off on something like "Why, back in my day, we didn't have no fancy digital cameras... All we had was cellulose film. And there we were, a bunch of chemical-burned, dry-skinned film developers, cleaning skin flakes out of the darkroom. But we liked it that way!"

Or something like that.

Anyhow, it's all digital now. But I do miss the darkroom. I was good at that. Hmmm, might need to set one up despite the ease of the digital photography world. Not instead of digital, just in addition to. For nostalgic reasons, sure, but also because as good as digital photography has become, it's still not quite up to the quality and subtlety of using a good quality film.

So what's my point? Well, nothing really. Heh. Except that I think I may start looking for some good, quality used Nikon lenses and another digital body. Then make some more trips off to The Middle of Nowhere. Anyone have a good clean AF300 f/2.8 Nikkor you wanna sell? Heh.



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Friday, 25 August 2006 22:32:22 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 24 August 2006


The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is found in northeastern Minnesota, along the border with Canada. They call Minnesota the Land of 10,000 lakes, and the many lakes that make up the BWCA are just some of those thousands. It's a beautiful place, and as far as I am concerned everyone should go at some point in time in their lives. Just let me know when you're going and make sure you all schedule it on the same day. I'll plan my trip at another time, so I can enjoy the peace and quiet. Heh.

Actually, the number of people are parties that can enter the wilderness area on any given day and from any given entry point is pretty heavily limited. The regulations are intended to protect the area and make sure it's maintained as a relatively pristine wilderness area, which is a good idea. Some of the regs seem a bit extreme, but whatever. On the Canadian side of the lakes, it's a lot more expensive and even more restrictive in terms of the regs.

Anyhow, my good friend Cory and I spent a lot of time all week in canoes and fishing. I was feeling (and smelling) pretty strong by the second half of the week. A large part of the time it was just the two of us in the canoe, and other times we were in the boat along with Cory's dad. It just depended on the day and who was in camp at the time. One evening Cory, his sister and I went out for the evening after eagles in a canoe. We earned our eagle chaser badges that night.


Cory paddling on Disappointment Lake


Evening light on the water


I caught this northern pike on our first day out


Sunset from camp



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Thursday, 24 August 2006 22:53:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 22 August 2006

One of the highlights of our canoe trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota was a family of bald eagles that frequented the area around our camp for a couple of days. Being a former sports photographer (a long story for another time), I still have a couple lenses that I use on a D70 digital body, and I was glad I brought them with me on the trip.

I have always been quite impressed with an amazed by bald eagles. Getting a chance to be so close in the wild (they came as close as about 40 feet to where I stood) was a lot of fun. I wonder if you can get paid to watch and photograph eagles for a living. I bet some people do.

For the photo geeks, these images are with a Nikkor 180/f2.8 lens on the Nikon D70 body. These particular images are not public domain. Click each one to view a slightly larger size. A number of people are emailing asking for copies, which is fine, just let me know.



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Tuesday, 22 August 2006 20:42:22 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Edit: Okay, so some people freaked out a bit when they read this, so let me just say that this was a great trip that allowed me to look at my life and priorities in a new way. Work was taking up way too much time and I realized how much I was not enjoying life. That's about it. It was a great experience that let me evaluate where I'm at in life and why. So please don't freak out, I'm not going nuts or anything. Sheez. Heh.

Canoes in the sunlight from the campsite I'm starting this post while on an airplane, once again. I'll finish it after I get back to Oregon. Heading home - as they say - from a place I've never been before. The last week was spent with one of my best friends in the wilderness and experiencing several of the most important things life has to offer: Nature, friends, and some stark realities of life.

As I travel home to my house and my job, I recognize I am leaving something incredibly important behind. My life has was fundamentally changed in the last week. I can feel it in my bones. It's subtle, but it's there. And I am not just saying those words, I mean it.

Here and in the next few posts are images I shot while on vacation with my friend Cory in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota for seven days last week. It's one of the most amazing places I have been to. We went with Cory's dad, Andy, who has been a guide there for many, many years. It was the experience of a lifetime. We fished, we threw hatchets, we ate well, we jumped off big rocks into cold, deep water, and we talked about lots of things. We saw nature and wilderness in the Land of ten thousand lakes. I know this is supposed to be a technical weblog, but for a short time I plan to document some of the things I saw and experienced.

John Denver put it this way (and yes, I know I am showing my age here). For the first time I think maybe I really understand what he meant...

He was born in the summer of his 27th year
Comin' home to a place he'd never been before
He left yesterday behind him, you might say he was born again
You might say he found a key for every door

I'm not 27 years old anymore, that's for sure, but the idea is still the same. Sometimes we see and experience things that so effectively disrupt our ritual lives and the ruts we fall into that the best word to describe the experience is epiphany. We realize suddenly that everything in our little worlds is not quite what we thought, and that it's time to do some serious searching of the soul. In a nutshell, that's what the week was like for me.



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Tuesday, 22 August 2006 20:21:39 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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You know you're HR staff is top-notch when they solve personnel behavior problems in creative ways that actually have impact. For example, what if this email appeared in your inbox?

"If you enjoyed the pizza you forgot you didn't bring in that was in a box in the first floor refrigerator and you want to thank the co-worker who actually did buy it, please contact me for the person's name."

Nice. Of course the offender didn't reveal themselves, but I think this helped solve the real problem, and people definitely took notice.

What creative HRisms have you seen over the years?

(P.S. - Stealing is wrong. Please don't steal. It's bad.)

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Tuesday, 22 August 2006 16:31:38 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 11 August 2006

Fly in and out of enough airports and you'll end up dazed and confused. After flying something like a zillion miles so far this year and transiting who knows how many gates at how many airports, combined with the fact that Arizona has a history of operating on it's own unique clock like a separatist nation... Well anyhow I got to Phoenix (at least I know where I am) and realized I have no idea what time it it here. I am also too lazy to get up and find a clock (a device you'd think you'd find in abundance, but which is actually desperately missing from almost every airport).

So, Google to the rescue. Did you know Google will tell you what time it is anywhere you like? Just ask:

What time is it in Phoenix, AZ?

Google-time

There ya go - It's not just about keyword search!



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Friday, 11 August 2006 13:13:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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My name is Greg, and I am a workaholic. It's been two years since my last escape vacation.

By vacation, I mean taking a trip to get completely away and check completely out of my world. One that does not include work travel on one end or the other (that's more like work plus a side trip, doesn't really count for decompression time). So, now I'm in the Portland International airport, on my way to Minnesota (by way of Phoenix, because that costs a lot less than flying direct, and how exactly does that work by the way?) where my friend Cory will pick me up and we will go north to The Middle of Nowhere, which is where he lives, almost. The airport is running like a finely tuned watch, by the way. When you consider the happenings of yesterday and the resulting increased security measures, it's good to see things moving and that people are not getting stupid or scared or otherwise freaking out.

Anyhow - vacation. Yeah.

We're spending about a week in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness doing some fishing (that with an"F" not a "Ph" - like I said, no work). I have never been there, but I am told it's amazing and have always wanted to go. The fishing should be fun:

"The Canadian Shield lakes of the border waters gives an angler a wide variety of fishing opportunities. Fishing experts attest to the fact that the smallmouth bass fishing can't be matched anywhere. The deep cold lakes are home to the lake trout. Every lake has northern pike waiting to give you a battle while walleyes are sitting on the reefs ready to fill your frying pan . Don't overlook the slab-sized panfish. Spring and fall fishing is usually the best, although because there is very little fishing pressure on most of the lakes, fish can be caught at any time."

Most of all I am looking forward to catching up with my friend and spending a week resting the brain. See ya when I get back. Meanwhile you can just be jealous or feel good for me, whichever your personality supports, heh:

Located in Northeastern Minnesota, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) includes around a million acres of wilderness, with over 1,000 pristine lakes and streams, and over 1,500 miles of canoe routes.  It is considered by some as the most beautiful wilderness they have ever seen.  National Geographic named it one of 50 Destinations of a Lifetime.  In other words, a vacation you do not want to miss.

The BWCA is a true wilderness experience, without motors, no electricity, no telephone lines, and no roads to the inner lakes. Summer and Fall are wonderful times to visit the Boundary Waters and its surrounding award winning resort communities of Ely, Gunflint, Grand Marais, Isabella/Finland, and Crane Lake. 



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Friday, 11 August 2006 09:21:05 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 10 August 2006

Don't think terrorism isn't ever coming back to our shores. As many as 20 aircraft were to be targeted for bombing in a plot in the UK. Sky News is just now reporting that an "alleged plan involved people boarding flights and detonating explosives on planes over UK and US cities" and that "the threat was imminent." The security level in the UK has been raised to "critical" and flying onto and out of the UK is definitely impacted. "This will mean immediate and severe disruption at all UK airports," officials are saying on TV.

20 people have been arrested in London. British officials are stating that this would have been bigger than 9-11.

I for one am glad there are good people out there thwarting these kinds of plans. Thank God for them.

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Thursday, 10 August 2006 05:05:55 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 08 August 2006

Commenting on his motorcycle helmet, a friend of mine incriminates himself. Name changed to protect the innocent. Only 80?? Heh.

Joe Smith says:
I got rid of that halo thing I had on my helmet and put on retro reflective vinyl stickers

Greg Hughes says:
why?

Joe Smith says:
It didn't stay on above 80

Greg Hughes says:
oh hehehe

Greg Hughes says:
maybe you should put it back on then?

Greg Hughes says:
hahah

Joe Smith says:
Ummm, hehe

Joe Smith says:
and 80 is where it started to come off



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Tuesday, 08 August 2006 19:24:20 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 05 August 2006

A new spoof video on YouTube take a different direction (as in, levity used to make a point rather than get a laugh) on making fun of the Apple marketing TV campaign and, well... just watch it. Not sure how accurate it is (but I bet someone will research this and let me know).

"That's iLife!" OUCH...

Click to watch:

(via MacSpoofs)

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Saturday, 05 August 2006 12:45:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 01 August 2006

Yesterday I was in Seattle and had a couple extra hours between appointments, so I headed over to Kirkland to check out the Smart Cars being sold at the Green Car Company. I climbed in a few of the ones they have on the lots there, and then I took one for a test drive.

Obviously, there's something appealing about a small two-seater that the EPA states will get 42 MPG, but which real-world people say they actually get anywhere fromSmart ForTwo Demo Car at Green Car Co. 45 to 60 or so MPG. Seriously - 60 miles to the gallon. For someone like me, which commuted 80+ miles a day in a full sized pickup that gets about 15 or 16 miles to the gallon, that's a big difference.

The Green Car Company gets these cars from ZAP in California. ZAP imports them into the United States from Europe, where you see these little things quite literally everywhere. When I was in Germany earlier this year I saw bunches of them.

You might think safety would be an issue, but not really - check out a crash-test video here. ZAP does all the "Americanizing" retrofit process so it is legal to license in the states, and the emissions stuff has also been taken care of. All those changes add to the price, though - the Smart ForTwo sells for just under $27K - and the convertible is $2K more than that.

Anyhow, about the car. I was impressed. It's well put-together and if you ever get a chance to sit in one you will be shocked by how much room is inside. I mean, there's a lot of room - much more than I need to fully stretch out. Even a person much taller than me should be able to sit comfortably. The seats are good and the finish is what you'd expect to get from a real car. In other words, this is not the Yugo or Metro style little car. It's for real. A number of modifications to meet the U.S. auto standards have been made, and overall it appears to be a solid, well-made machine.

After staring at these things for awhile, then sitting in them and being more impressed than I had planned on, I asked if there was one that could be taken for a test drive. Truth be told, after sitting in one and hearing the gas mileage stories (and even after hearing the sticker price), I wanted to see what they're really all about. The car has - get this - a 0.7 liter engine (heheh) that's (not get this) superturbo-charged. It has an electronic shifting system, and you can run in in automatic mode or  shift by hand using the electronic lever that has become common in many cars these days. A step-up option on the car includes shift paddles behind the steering wheel, for those who don't want to move their hands the 24 inches from the wheel to the shifter.

This car is fun to drive, for sure. It will do 85 miles per hour, so highway driving is perfectly realistic. In fact one of the employees at Green Car Co. drives one four days a week on his long commute (his is much like mine - lots of miles each way), and he is getting around 65 miles per gallon on the highway. Wow. It also turns on something smaller than a dime, and can fit in the smallest parking spot you can imagine (in fact you can fit two of them, at least, in a standard parallel curb spot by parking them nose-to-the-curb).

So, the test drive. After being shown the controls (nothing unusual) and handed the keys, I took it out on the road to cruise some corners, neighborhoods and hills. Kirkland is good for that sort of terrain. I headed out the lot and stepped on the gas, and the car wrapped up and took right off - with a bit more power than I'd assumed it could muster. This was going to be fun, I thought.

The car handles well. The wheelbase is quite long and wide for  such a small car, and I felt completely comfortable driving it around corners and in all the street conditions.

There are two things that stand-out as somewhat unusual about this car when you drive it for the first time.

The first thing in the brake pedal, which feels quite strange when you apply it because the pedal is attached to a mechanism that lowers into the floor rather than being hung from above on a pivot. So when you step on it, its kind of sinks down as you push it with your foot. It's not bad, just unusual.

The second things that stood out is the automatic shifting, which lags between gears. I mean that as it shifts, a clutch mechanism (there must be a clutch in there somewhere) disengages and the transmission shifts, then the clutch re-engages. The result is a period of a second or less when the engine is not powering the drive train. It's weird feeling, but not that big of a deal. This car is designed differently than any other I've driven, so I can accept the fact that it's different. And in this case different is not bad - it's just not what you are used to. By the way, if you are doing electronic shifting using the floor shifter or the paddles, you don't experience the lag between gears. And if you're interested in maximizing both power and fuel economy, electronic shifting by hand is the way to go anyhow.

The air conditioning was better than I thought it would be on a tiny car. The stereo was adequate but not something that will blow you away or anything.

Overall, this was a fun and interesting car. The fuel economy is insane, it handles very well, and it sure got stares and waves even during my 15 minute test drive. If it was less money I'd buy one without hesitating, but the thousands of dollars that are added to the sales price of a European one (one assumes to cover the cost of the "Americanization" and then some more dollars added on for the "new and cool" factor) cause me to have to do some serious math. I could save lots of money every week in fuel costs, but to get to $27K, it would take a huge amount of savings to justify the purchase.

But chances are I will be sitting down and doing the math.

And this video shows just how, uhh, versatile the car can be...



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Tuesday, 01 August 2006 09:48:23 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 28 July 2006

Lots of people get credit card applications in the mail. Recently (possibly as a result of increasing interest rates and therefore the potential to make more and more money) it seems like the number and frequency of credit card applications arriving in my mailbox has gone though the roof. Last week alone I received over 20 of these pre-approved applications. It's just nuts.

Another crazy thing is, one credit card company will send several each week. They're spending lots of money mailing me fancy color-printed paper to try to get me to sign up for a credit card at an interest rate (and a variable one at that) which I'd never touch. The ones with the low fixed rates are more appealing, but I really don't want or need more credit cards.

There's a lot better deals out there. What's the best credit card deal these days? Is there such a thing?



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Friday, 28 July 2006 21:59:17 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 26 July 2006

Forget "Hello, World." More like "Look Out, World!" Greg's gonna learn how to program. Just enough to be dangerous, I am sure... I mentioned this more than a year ago, but have yet to take advantage of it. And at the time all the content was not yet available.

Microsoft has more than 10 hours of online video training geared toward beginners (that would be me) on how to program using Visual C# 2005 Express. Woah, cool.  Dubbed the Absolute Beginner's Video Series, it takes you from "Hello, world" to a RSS reader app. This is totally for me. Not only that, you can choose to stream the video or download it, and the project files are right there to download, as well. Nice - I can spend some airplane time learning how to program!

There's also a C# Windows Forms Controls video series and for those wanting VB.net instead of C#, the same series is also available for that language.

I'm glad to see this kind of content available - it's exactly what getting-old management types like me who wish they'd learned to program a modern language need.

The content of the C# and VB.net tutorials was provided by http://www.learnvisualstudio.net/, which has a whole slew of great looking content available for people wanting to learn programming, from absolute beginner to more advanced level programmers, as well as people in-between.



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Wednesday, 26 July 2006 19:11:49 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Jay Rosen at PRESSthink has an idea, and one that is certainly quite interesting. In his post "Introducing NewAssignment.Net," Rosen describes his idea, which would meld the best of what the Internet mob has to offer with the typically-careful approach of professional Journalism, into a new hybrid-type of news gathering and creation process.

What can "networked journalism" do in the real world? What does news without the media look like? Check out Rosen's thought provoking and interesting post for that and more:

Alright, what is it?

In simplest terms, a way to fund high-quality, original reporting, in any medium, through donations to a non-profit called NewAssignment.Net.

The site uses open source methods to develop good assignments and help bring them to completion; it employs professional journalists to carry the project home and set high standards so the work holds up. There are accountability and reputation systems built in that should make the system reliable. The betting is that (some) people will donate to works they can see are going to be great because the open source methods allow for that glimpse ahead.

In this sense it’s not like donating to your local NPR station, because your local NPR station says, “thank you very much, our professionals will take it from here.” And they do that very well. New Assignment says: here’s the story so far. We’ve collected a lot of good information. Add your knowledge and make it better. Add money and make it happen. Work with us if you know things we don’t.

But I should add: NewAssignment.Net doesn’t exist yet. I’m starting with the idea.



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Tuesday, 25 July 2006 16:25:24 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 23 July 2006

ZuneEveryone and their brother has already written about Zune, Microsoft's planned new digital music player, service and whatever else comes of it (rumors and facts abound).

But have you seen the latest MS marketing virus? As in Zune viral marketing?

http://comingzune.com/

So, yeah... There ya go. Not sure the whole petting-rabbits thing is all that comfortable for me, but it's weird enough to get me to post this, so I guess it worked. Heh.

Oh, and if you are interested the background music is by Regina Spektor - visit her myspace if ya like.

Check out the Zune Insider blog (authored by - yes- a MS employee working on Zune):

"So what’s Zune? It’s Microsoft’s new, holistic approach to music and entertainment. And yes, this year, we’ll be releasing a device as part of the project. Under the Zune brand, we’re looking to build a community for connecting with folks, all to discover new music and entertainment."

The device (and service) better kick some serious butt - it will have to in order to beat the iPod, and let's face it... There's no goal worth Microsoft's time other than doing just that - in the long run. After all, iPods will eventually break (or get scratched into oblivion). What will you be buying when that happens?

Adding in WiFi to the portable device is cool, and so are some of the related ideas. One has to wonder about power consumption though - what will that look like? I especially like the "connected entertainment" ultimate goal - not just music, but video and other stuff, too.

This will truly be interesting to watch.



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Sunday, 23 July 2006 10:13:50 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 21 July 2006

Honestly, I can't tell you how tired of the typical, average, mundane, same-old PowerPoint presentation I have become. 99 percent of the time, as soon as any given PowerPoint presentation starts, I can feel the bile and boredom start to slosh and boil in my gut - in part because I sit through so darn many presentations, but even more so because most presentations - well - they just suck.

There's nothing quite like a slide deck with all the bulleted words the presenter that will be coming right out of the speakers mouth, if your intent is to say to your audience, "Hey, you're an idiot, so let me read this to you." Who's the idiot, really? There's nothing more redundant than reading and listening to the same thing. Or even worse, a zillion words on the screen and the speaker is talking about something else entirely. You lost me at "Hello."

So more and more I feel like I'm wasting my time. "Read to me, speak at me, bore me with bullets ad nauseum." Please, don't.

Don't get me wrong - I know people don't do this on purpose, they're trying hard and - well - it's the way everyone else does it, right? I also know I'm being a bit harsh (in order to make a point, really). It's just that for most every presentation anymore it doesn't matter all that much what it's actually about, because it's so much like everyone else's. PowerPoint is PowerPoint is PowerPoint, and it's tiring.

If you sell a product, or an idea, or some thing, you don't want it to be just like everyone else's do you? Apply that rule to your presentation style - How do you differentiate yourself from the crowd?

We actually love the crowd, of course, because it's easy to stand out when everyone else is doing the same thing. But it's worth risking having to work harder at it if a few people will revisit their presentations and get out of the common PowerPoint traps.

Anyhow, I got to a point where I was also hating giving presentations with PowerPoint (which I do quite often), not because of the PowerPoint application itself, but because of the fact that all my presentations seemed to be basically the same, and all the templates out there seem to encourage it: Long bulleted lists, points to read aloud, graphs and charts and nasty nasty nasty clip-art. Seriously, using clip-art should be a felony. No, really. Seriously. Like as in prison.

So, a couple weeks ago I took a chance on a presentation I gave at a conference, and went all Lessig-ish with it. A couple words on each screen to punctuate the salient points, a plain white background with big, readable black letters centered on the screen, and the rest was all talk. No handouts (and believe me that was a real surprise for the attendees - but it's not like they walked out or rioted or anything). It took some concentrated effort to create the new presentation. Not rocket-science level effort, mind you - but extra work it was. Time well spent.

And - get this - it worked. The audience was engaged and the conversation (which is what it's all about - exchanging thoughts and ideas, as opposed to making a speech, right?) was interesting, for everyone including me. You could tell the format and style was something new for the audience, for sure, but the looks on people's faces were certainly fun to watch. And the thing is, they actually had looks on their faces. Gone was the blank gaze. Everyone in the room was looking at me as I spoke, and that means making a connection. They'd glance at the screen momentarily and then look back to me for the information, not the other way around. We actually looked in each others' eyes. Now, it's not that I have some kind of problem where I desperately need that kind of attention - it's just that it's clear as day that direct, personal communication is much noticeably more effective and meaningful.

The questions from the crowd at the session were good - They were thoughtful, and the audience was obviously tuned in. Not that my audiences aren't tuned in in general - quite the opposite. But in this presentation you could sense the difference - One could feel the connection and involvement noticeably more.

After the conference, we sent my spartan slides, along with the relatively detailed speaker notes printed on the page below each slide, in PDF form to anyone who attended and wanted it. Gotta provide those handouts at some point, you know... Unless it's caught on video or something.

One of the best and most effective presenters I know personally, Scott Hanselman (it's my week to link to Scott, heh), called it "Existential Presentation." I assume by that he means free, individual, unique, possibly even rebellious. I can see that. 

Personally, being the practical and somewhat-less-eloquent guy I am, I see it as a kind of resurrection of some form of miraculous goodness from the hell of a bloated and obese PowerPoint existence. Ah, existence. I get it, Scott!

Anyhow -- What do you think?

P.S.  Great resources for presenters and presentation authors (hey - you do write your own presentations, right???):

  • Presentation Zen Blog (which has been subscribed in my aggregator for quite some time)
  • Garr Reynolds presentation tips
  • Scott Hanselman's Tips for a Successful Microsoft Presentation (great stuff)

From the comments, Jim Holmes points out a couple more great ones:

and Shane Perran also has some excellent suggestions:

  • Steve Jobs - Simply brilliant when it comes to presentation. That goes for most of the Apple design/marketing team
  • www.guykawasaki.com - Guy Kawasaki - A one time Apple guy turned VC and absolute master of presentation
  • sethgodin.typepad.com - Seth Godin - Author of the ever popular Purple Cow and another master presenter and storyteller
  • www.alertbox.com - Jakob Neilson - While wildly hard-nosed about design, he knows content usability like no other - mostly web oriented, there is a lot of carry over

Those are all good ones, and most all those blogs I subscribe to (and the rest I just did, heh). Presentation is about content, style, design, personality, conversation... All important components.



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Friday, 21 July 2006 14:51:58 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Last week it was Toronto, and this week I am headed to Atlanta. I'll leave Portland in the early morning Wednesday and fly across the country and then back, once again. This time I decided to use a couple of those 500-mile class upgrade vouchers I've been earning and hoarding, since this is the last flight I have scheduled for at least the next few weeks (I have over 100,000 total miles accrued on my frequent flier account, including about 70,000 real, actual miles flown since February and 45 flight segments flown since the beginning of the year - sheez). I've been flying my body into a deep, dark pit of cramps and generalized pain. So, I figure I might as well try to make this trip a nice one, eh? Then when I get home and spend a couple or few weeks in my own bed maybe I'll eventually get back to "normal." Whatever that is, heh.

So... I'll be in the Columbus and Atlanta, Georgia areas Wednesday night plus all day Thursday and Friday. Then it's back home again. If I am lucky, my travel calendar will remain fairly close to what it looks like today and I won't have to fly again til sometime in August. Fingers crossed!

The travel can get in the way of fun. My friend Norm called me tonight to see if I could help shoot a big fireworks show (on a river barge) this Saturday but I had to say I'd better not unless he gets in a bad bind for crew members, since I don't get back home til late on Friday night. All this travel really takes a lot out of me, and I'd hate to only be partially effective while everyone else on the crew was out there working their butts off. At any rate, I do wish I could work this fireworks show - it will be a fun one, and with a good crew of people. Oh well - next time!

I think maybe United Airlines owes me something more than a few upgrade coupons and some miles that can only cash in on a limited set of flights/seats. What do you think airlines should do for their customers that travel a zillion miles a year on their flights?

At least they aren't charging to use pillows and blankets like Canada Air was on my last trip. Wow, talk about penny-pinching. It's not very attractive.



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Tuesday, 18 July 2006 20:59:46 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 17 July 2006

Yeah, it's cliche and random, but truth is Oregon's a great place to live. Heck, the whole Pacific Northwest is terrific. Here's just three among many reasons I say this...

Sunrise Mount Hood

MultnomahFallsMay2006

Wild Iris



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Monday, 17 July 2006 20:16:08 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 10 July 2006

I'll be on the road (well, in the air actually) Wednesday through Friday this week, as I am traveling to Toronto, Ontario (Canada, of course), where I'll be speaking at a conference this Friday on the topic of strong authentication for web sites and the role of web site users in the security process. They say there will be somewhere around 2,000 attendees, so it should be an interesting conference. I've been doing a lot of this kind of presentation recently - there are many changes in the works in the financial services industry for performing strong authentication of people who access online banking and other secure web sites. That's pretty much everything I've been doing for the past year or so, in fact.

It's been several years since I have visited Toronto, so I am looking forward to the time there. It's always been one of my favorite cities - clean and attractive.

If anyone happens to be in the Toronto area later this week and wants to try to catch up, be sure to let me know. Email and phone info are in the menu bar on the right side of the page on this site.



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Monday, 10 July 2006 20:06:34 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 08 July 2006

Remember that guy who decided last year to start with one red paperclip and trade it up for a house?

Well guess what?

He succeeded.

Kyle MacDonald will soon be moving into a house in the small town of Kipling in Saskatchewan.

The two-storey house in Kipling was built in the 1920s and has undergone renovations in recent years. Roach admits some touchups and yard work are needed before turning the keys over to MacDonald, and a work party is scheduled for Saturday, July 8 to do just that. He is hoping residents will jump on the bandwagon and that there will be lots of help that day, in preparation for welcoming Kyle and Dom to Kipling.

Here is the progression of trades (with a link to the details of each item):

one red paperclip fishpen.JPG knobt.JPG  coleman.JPG  generator.JPG one instant party skidoo2 yahk2 Cintas  Cube Truck1995 one recording contract phoenix one afternoon with Alice Cooper one KISS snow globe one movie role one house

Tenacity and a blog. Wow.



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Saturday, 08 July 2006 14:03:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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I'm feeling rather thoughtful and somewhat random today. I even cleaned the island counter in my kitchen. Well, sort of. How's that for unusual? It's nice to have a "down" day, for sure.

So anyhow, this morning I took this Jung personality type test online after surfing around on Portland craigslist for random stuff and finding a not-where-you'd expect link to the test on there somewhere (no idea where, craigslist is this infinitely random web of always changing complex stuff where one can always go to see how much more screwed up than oneself people really are). I took the profile test for kicks, and basically just because I like those sorts of things. They make me think. I ended up classified as type INFJ, which it seems is pretty much spot on when I read the description. I don't especially like everything about the fact that it's right on the mark, but hey - what can ya do? Heh.

Infj-profile-results

Then I took the short version of another online profiler that assesses your entrepreneurial business type. the results of that were also interesting. I'm fascinated with the questions these profile systems use, especially the whole group of them in combination. Depending of how the answers pattern out, I can see how one could accurately draw certain conclusions. Not sure how accurate these are in reality (they sure seem to hit the mark), but they are fun to run though nonetheless. It makes me think.

Biz-type-profile

Hmmm, always interesting to see what the robots think of you, eh?

So that got me thinking about something else that always seems to be on my mind: What do I want to be when I grow up? Sure I'm 39 and turning bald and grey (prematurely by the way, I really don't feel this old). But there's a part of me that wants to do things that matter - to somehow change the world, if you will. So, I have to indulge that part of me from time to time, if for no other reason then just to stay happy and sane. To make me think.

Earlier this week we did a big ol' fireworks display for the Clatskanie (Oregon) Heritage Days on July 4th, which was a lot of fun and quite successful. One of my friends from the pyro crew - Brad - brought along a friend of his who had not worked a fireworks show. Jake is his name and he works for a non-profit called Action Without Borders, and they have this interesting and cool web site at idealist.org that is basically a clearing house for, well, non-profits and idealists. Check it out, it's cool. It makes me think.

Anyhow, I enjoy what I do today because there are parts of it that "matter," and that drives me to do more. There are many other things I'd like to do someday - other things that might in some way change the world, or something like that. But I'll leave the descriptions of those things for another time.

Ask yourself this: How can you change the world? What will you do? What makes you think?



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Saturday, 08 July 2006 11:33:25 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 06 July 2006

Just when you thought you'd seen it all, well - you'll just have to check this one out for yourself (from KGW.com).

Straight from the Portland Bureau of Ridiculousness...

A Northeast Portland man is suing basketball superstar Michael Jordan and Nike founder Phil Knight for a combined $832 million. Allen Heckard filed the suit himself, June 29th in Washington County Court. Heckard says he’s been mistaken as Michael Jordan nearly every day over the past 15 years and he’s tired of it.

 
kgw.com

“I'm constantly being accused of looking like Michael and it makes it very uncomfortable for me,” said Heckard.

Heckard is suing Jordan for defamation and permanent injury and emotional pain and suffering. He’s suing Knight for defamation and permanent injury for promoting Jordan and making him one of the most recognized men in the world.

Uhhh... Yeah, right. You can read the whole story here. And roll your eyes like me. Rolling eyes is so much fun. What an idiot.

My favorite quote from the story:

Some might wonder how he decided to sue Knight and Jordan for $416-million each. "Well, you figure with my age and you multiply that times seven and ah, then I turn around and ah I figure that's what it all boils down to."

Wow. Scary thing is he might get a few bucks tossed at him to go away. Or if we're lucky he'll lose hard and get stuck with the defendants' attorney's fees. You think he considered that possibility?

What an idiot. Sorry, but there are times when you just have to come out and say it.



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Thursday, 06 July 2006 22:41:02 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 05 July 2006

Today was a good day - more so than most. I realized this a few minutes ago as I stood in my freshly-mowed front lawn and surveyed my work.

First of all, the fact that the sun was still out and I was actually standing in my front yard (heck, the fact that I was even on my own property at 6pm on a weekday) was a minor miracle. Between extensive travel and the time spent at work catching up on all the stuff I miss while traveling, time spent at home has been very little. So a better-looking lawn and the fact that it's still plenty light out as I type this are both great things.

On top of that, an old friend from back when I lived in New Mexico - John Turner - called me today out of the blue. Seems he'd been searching for "Redneck Yard of the Week" and found my blog. Hmmm, interesting psychological questions about that search come to mind, heh. But anyhow, JT's one of my all-time favorite people and it was great to hear from him after a few years of disconnect and to catch up on the phone. People ask me why I put my cell phone number on this blog - now you know. JT mentored me (whether he knew it or not) and was a big factor in convincing me back in '98 and '99 to leave law enforcement and move into computers and technology. Mostly he helped me get past the risk/fear part and into the take-action part. Plus he believed I could do it and make it work when I was not so sure. He was also there for me during some very difficult times, and I will always appreciate that. He's an awesome dude and all around good people, and it's great to be back in touch.

Finally, I had a day where my schedule at work wasn't meeting after meeting after meeting. I am realizing more and more just how much endless meetings rob from your soul. So it was very nice to be able to sit still and catch up with the people I work with and to close a few loops.

And to top it all off, I am at home and done with yard work in time to catch a full hour of South Park on Comedy Central. The dogs were shocked to see me and to get a chance to play around, and the crazy cat is trying to get me to play fetch (what a weirdo). Ahhhh, the life!



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Wednesday, 05 July 2006 18:03:20 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Lighting the showUpdate: Both Rich and Travis have posted blog entries about our fireworks show, check 'em out.

Once mortars (the tubes that the shells are launched out of) are installed (which takes a while and represents the bulk of the manual labor that goes into a show), it's time to load the shells. This is the last fireworks show post until I can get some video or images of the show itself from others, since during the display I have to watch the line crew and supervise for safety and light some shells myself - no time for taking pictures, so I rely on others.

(Update: Crew-member Erik Dake shot the picture at left, which shows us from a distance lighting off the shells that are launching into the night sky. Note that it's a long exposure - so you're seeing several shots worth of flame and lit up smoke. It gives you an inkling of an idea of what it's like, though.)

After installing the mortars, the remainder of the afternoon was spent loading the show, doing some walk-through training to show how we light the shells, lots of redundant safety training all afternoon, and finally getting some dinner before blowing the whole thing up. Several new crew members that were here for their first show had the chance to light the show and experience the smoke and noise. There's really nothing quite like it.

The show was terrific (lots of extended cheers from the crowd, which is pretty much the only real litmus test) and the crew did a great job from beginning to end. Here are some pictures of the crew members setting up and loading shells in the evening, in preparation for the show. Note that we spend about 6-7 hours setting up a show that took 22 minutes to completely destroy. It was worth it.

Here's the pics...

Travis (who got his pyrotechnician license from the state recently - congrats!) loads some of the mortars that will be used to fire the finale:

Travis loads the finale shells

Rich and Desann - first-timers - load a five-inch shell:

Loading more shells

The "other" Scoble (Alex, that is, also a first-timer) loading five-inch shells:

Alex loading

Jake (another first-timer, lots of those today) loads more shells:

Drop a shell

The crew loads the line:

Loading the line

Dave loading another mortar:

Dave drops a shell in

Jake, Jenn (also recently got her pyro license!), Brad and Erik (both repeat offenders) loading mortars with shells:

Crew loading

Thanks to a great crew for putting on a great show. I'll be glad to work with any and all of these people again.



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Wednesday, 05 July 2006 00:22:14 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Tuesday, 04 July 2006

Thank goodness for The Crew. Having plenty of people around to help makes all the difference in the world. This year I can actually man a shovel (before my back surgery I was mostly just giving directions, which always feels stupid). We've run througfh some initial safety talks and talked about how the whole process works. After we ge everything installed and ready we'll do some training. But much to do before then.

Setting up is a lot of work, but hey it's worth it when you hear the crowd cheer at the end of the show. Besides, where alse can you blow up several thousand dollars worth of high explosives legally in someone's neighborhood and have everyone love you for it?

A mortar is a tube that basically acts as a cannon - the sheel is loaded into the bottom of the tube and the lift charge sends it out of the tube into the sky. It's, well, pretty exciting when it happens.

But before you can shoot them off you have to install the mortars, in our case in the ground. That means people, shovels and hopefully a good breeze. We're lucky today - not hot and a breeze to make it bearable. Last year was sweltering hot.

Everyone installs mortars - 4 and 5 inchers:

Installing Mortars

Back-filling the trench (which was dug by a back-hoe):

Installing more mortars

Lots and lots of tubes - hundreds of 'em:

Lots of tubes

More to come later...



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Tuesday, 04 July 2006 14:19:49 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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One again, I'm out setting up and preparing to fire off a fireworks show with a bunch of friends and helpers. I'll post a few updates here and hopefully be able to impart a little bit of what goes into setting up and executing a public display. EVDO rocks, by the way. A bit slow out in this neck of the woods, but still it's the only way to be able to write this from a field.

First of all, there's a significant amount of hurry-up-and-wait involved. I arrived early this morning (before 9am) to meet the truck that delivered the explosive shells. All 1.3G commercial fireworks have to be delivered by someone with a commercial driver's license and a HAZMAT endorsement, and I have been too lazy to get mine. I really need to do that. I've read the book and just need to get my butt in gear.

Dave showed up earlyAnyhow, so since I had to get the shells at the early drop off, that means a bunch of time before the crew shows up to help set up the show. Luckilly, Dave (at left) showed up early, too. He got here at the same time as the delivery truck. Talk about a glutton for punishment. Heh. Nice to have someone else around in the intervening hours.

And it suddenly got cold out. Turns out there's a 30% chace of rain mid-day, but by late afternoon it should warm up and the chance of rain drops off to pretty much zero. That's always nice when you have to shoot fireworks. Wet is bad, dry is good. And as I type this, it starts to rain. Go figure.

The picture set is at Flickr.com so look there for everything. Here's a few to start. I will add more later:

We start with an empty trench. Into this trench we will install about 400 mortars (you'll see those later).

An empty trench

Dave showed up really early. So he gets trench inspection duty.

Dave inspects the trench

A truck full of mortars and boxes of shells. Nothing exciting really, and it doesn't look like much until it's out of the truck. But we do that part a bit later, after the crew shows up. Right now they're all stuck on the other end of town calling me on my cell phone while the massive three hour parade goes on. For a realtively small town they sure have a huge parade! Heh.

Truck with equipment and shells

More later.



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Tuesday, 04 July 2006 11:35:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 01 July 2006

Winners are not determined by who gets the last word or who attacks whom.

Or as one common user just said: "What I see here is ego overcoming ego." Could not be better said. The ego in this room is suffocating. The thought leadership is suffering as a result.

Typical of me, I didn't realize the first day of Gnomedex that the guy sitting on the floor behind me was oh, one of the co-founders of Firefox.  I figured that out pretty quickly when I did the "okay so that name sounds familiar, ummm, uhhhhh.... Oh!"

Yeah. So I'm getting old. Hey, at least I figured it out.

At any rate, I enjoyed the few quick chats over the past couple days while sitting with Blake Ross, who as it turns out is a nice guy and and is obviously wicked smart. He also cares about what he builds and the people who use it, and it shows.

Unfortunately, what I will call "the predictable regulars" here at the conference apparently seem to think they have a monopoly on caring. Unless you agree with these people, you lose. They scream and bitch and moan if they can't finish a sentence, and they complain about one person controlling the conversation, yet they cut others off when they try to participate in the conversation or when they - God forbid - try to defend themselves.

At any rate, Blake stepped on the stage today to talk about how Firefox went from zero market share to millions of downloads without a marketing budget and almost exclusively through community driven effort. It's a success effort worthy of review and notice. But the conversation - predictably - was dragged off by the predictable few into a pattern of argument and conflict. Blake tried to steer the conversation back to the topic at hand (which is what discussion leaders were supposed to do, let's be clear on that point) and was attacked for doing that, too.

What it specifically wasn't intended to be: A talk about features, bugs, roadmap or the future of Firefox.

And as Jeremy Zawodny said at the start of his presentation, which followed Blake's, the participants in this room sure do like to bitch. And so it goes.

So let me say this to Blake: Thanks for a great browser, and keep it up. Winners are not determined by who gets the last word or who attacks whom or how loud our little tiny echo chamber is. We all know that when it comes down to it.

And next year, maybe we should suggest they rename this conference if this is the way its going to be. BitchCon maybe. Or give each person two comment tickets at the door, and when you've used 'em up you can listen but not bloviate. I dunno - I love GnomeDex but I also long for the days of the enthusiasts and the practical, even while enjoying the debate that Gnomedex has brought us this year. But the change has been fundamental, core and pervasive. It's a whole different show. Not a bad thing necessarily, just very different.



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Saturday, 01 July 2006 14:34:45 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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A Gnomedex discussion took place earlier in the conference about sharing intimately personal things on weblogs and in public forums. There was a lot of other stuff in the conversation, too - but what I took away from it was the "what do you write about, why, and is it a good idea?" theme.

Some people are a truly and completely open book (crime, sex and all) on the Internet, while others who used to be quite open in their blogging have since changed and have pulled all the personal stuff back in, only writing about things that are not descriptive of real life. Kids these days (that's my old dude comment for the week) seem to post all kinds of things that some find both shocking and concerning.

For my part, I write both. I would never write about certain things that are definitley best kept private, and there are a number of specific things that happen in my life which I choose not to post here. But people do sometimes comment about things I write that are quite personal. It really doesn't take courage (people often say "I wish I had the courage to..."), just some common sense and a desire to think things through sometimes, which I find works out well by writing.

I often write (both the personal and the tech stuff) to clear my plugged up brain so I can sleep better. So I guess whatever comes out just comes out. With a filter. Like it or not. Good or bad.



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Saturday, 01 July 2006 08:59:30 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 30 June 2006

Chris Pirillo just mentioned onstage (at Gnomedex) that he wrote: TechMeme Hacked!!

Also - noted the launch of blaugh.com. Cool. The un-official comic of the blogosphere.



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Friday, 30 June 2006 08:48:18 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 28 June 2006

Time sure flies when you're having fun (or when you're working like crazy). I can't believe it's already here: Gnomedex starts Thursday evening, and I'll be heading to Seattle Thursday afternoon to check into the hotel and disconnect from the rest of the world and plug into the ultimate geek fest. It looks to be a very interesting and exciting time. I am sure Chris and Ponzi will once again outdo the past shows.

If you'll be there, let me know. My mobile number is over on the right side of this blog, as is my email address. Or just comment here.



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Wednesday, 28 June 2006 21:20:54 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 19 June 2006

Now, this is a great idea. Heard about it today on Startup Nation (which is a great radio show and podcast, by the way):

VocationVacations allows people to test-drive their dream job completely risk-free.  A VocationVacation isn’t job-shadowing, and it isn’t a fantasy camp. Instead, “Vocationers” work one-on-one with a credentialed mentor to see what their dream job is really like.  Currently, the company offers more than 200 packages in 31 states – and is growing each month including: TV producer, brew master, dog trainer, B&B owner, professional photographer, comedy club owner, race team pit crew member, baseball team general manager, chocolatier, sports announcer, white water rafting outfitter, animal shelter director, costume designer, talent agent, horse trainer, wine maker, baker, private investigator, film events producer, cheese maker, wine retailer, fishing outfitter, wedding coordinator and many more.

See what might fit your desires with their Dream Job Finder.

Looks very interesting. I'll have to dig into this and maybe try something out.



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Monday, 19 June 2006 22:40:42 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 17 June 2006

logo.jpgI first discovered and wrote about Pandora some time back, in December or so. Well, since then the Pandora crew has been hard at work and there's more new features that make the great thing they'd developed even better.

To re-cap, Pandora lets you enter the name of a musical artist, and it creates a "station" of similar, complimentary music based on the original selection. That music streams and plays in the web-based player like a radio station. And it's complete songs that play, not just clips. You can also rate the tracks and there are links to do things like buy from iTunes or Amazon. You can also take discovered songs you especially like and create new stations from those.

In a nutshell, use Pandora and you'll find lots of music you'll like that you'd never find otherwise.

But anyhow, about the new stuff...

On the Pandora blog just yesterday they announced some new features, one of which is called Backstage. It's a back-end into much of the information that drives Pandora. Here is how they describe it:

We created Backstage as your door to the music universe that lies behind Pandora. Search for an artist or song to start your exploration.

... whenever you hear a song you love, just click the song, album, or artist name to learn more. That click will take you "backstage" where you can browse an entire universe that tells the story of more than twenty thousand artists and their collected works.

Sample entire CD's, read about the history of your favorite bands, look at artist photos, build your musical profile, buy albums and tracks from iTunes or Amazon, and get all kinds of great recommendations for songs, albums, and artists you might enjoy.

Find something you like? You can create a new station with just a single click. Have some time on your hands? Just want to browse? Want to settle a bet about how many albums The Cure released in the 80's? Hop over to http://www.pandora.com/backstage and search for your favorite artist or song to get started.

Very cool stuff.

There are some other feature tweaks to the main Pandora interface, too. You can now rate a song with a single mouse click. Just mouse over the song you want to rate, and click the thumb (up or down) graphic that pops up. They've also added the ability to create a new station from any artist you encounter while listening. Just click the song menu and select "New Station: from artist" and Pandora will instantly create a new station for you.

And if you're wondering how the Pandora team does all that music comparison and correlation so you can find music you like, well guess what? It's a people-driven process, not automated. No wonder it works! Learn more about the people that manage the musical cataloging here.



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Saturday, 17 June 2006 12:08:26 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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What podcasts do you listen to? Which ones actually keep you coming back?

Honestly, there are so few podcasts out there that I can stand to listen to anymore. I deleted a whole slew of podcast subscriptions the other day because I felt like I was wasting massive amounts of time on those occasions when I did listen, and because many of them have simply turned me off completely and therefore got skipped over and never listened to (and honestly that's most of them).

What are my pet peeves? Okay, here's my harsh list for what will cause me to kill the audio before the podcaster even gets started.

  • Any podcast that opens with anything even remotely like "your speakers are about to blow up" or "warning, "the sound you're about to hear may cause damage." Give me a break. Everyone says that, and the only potential damage is me pushing a pencil through my ear to drown out the un-original intro.
  • Don't say "welcome to the world of (anything)." That's as lame as the movie trailers that start with "In a world..." People laugh and cringe at the same time. And it's sad when cringing is accompanied by uncomfortable laughter.
  • Open your show with "blahblah podcast" plus the date and then never use the word podcast ever again. Use of the word "podcast" more than once in any single sentence, or in more than one sentence in a row should be a felony. Agh. I know it's a freakin' podcast, it's not like it magically found its way onto my computer - I had to do all kinds of work to find it and access it. Tell me something I don't know and (here comes the 'o' word again) original.
  • As much as it might mean to you, chances are nobody else especially wants you to pontificate about how you and your girlfriend celebrated her 31st birthday this past weekend. In fact, your girlfriend probably doesn't want you saying it either...
  • Podcasts about podcasting. Uh, yeah.
  • Crappy indie music. Note that I have nothing against independent music if it's good. But any music that's bad (indie or otherwise) is bound to drive away listeners. The operative word is 'crappy.' If you played "We Built This City" on your podcast opener, I'd probably click the 'Close' button, too.
  • Repetition
  • Repetition
  • Repetition
  • Seriously, you don't need a blog entry with the same copy/paste text on the page for every episode. I'm reading to see what's different, not what's the same. I already unsubscribed from the podcast, don't tempt me to do the same with the blog.
  • Snot noises (sniffling, etc). Seriously, blow your nose or take a decongestant or something.
  • "So I thought I would talk about something like that and so ummm yeah so uh I am going to talk about that now..." GAH!

They can't all be that bad...

Anyhow, my new goal is to find 10 awesome podcasts that attract, deserve and retain my attention. Let me know if you have suggestions.



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Saturday, 17 June 2006 10:14:26 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Not exactly my typical blog topic, but I found this to be very interesting, and somehow I think people like Bill and Melinda Gates might think so, too.

It certainly might be worth putting some serious thought and effort into. Is this possibly the changing face of education?

The Fairhaven School in Upper Marlboro, MD is not your typical school. Instead of the standard educational model, this private school takes a radically different approach - Kid-powered learning, if you will. 73 students and a few teachers have turned the traditional model on its proverbial head. Done right, this could be a powerful form and method of education. It sure looks like the kids are well-educated, smart and (perhaps most importantly) involved in their world.

There's a DVD that a film maker made about the school and its students, and you can view the trailer here:



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Saturday, 17 June 2006 08:14:36 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Love it. The bathroom: It's not just for laptops anymore.

Introducing iCarta (click to view larger size). Thank goodness there are people out there inventing these things and making a zillion dollars as a result. Is it really that simple? Who the hell funds these things, anyhow?

ICarta

Specs:

  • 4 Integrated high performance moisture-free speakers deliver exceptional
    clarity and high quality sound
  • Charges your iPod while playing music
  • Audio selector allows you to play iPod shuffle or other Audio device
  • Integrated Bath tissue holder that can be easily folded as a stereo dock
  • Requires AC Power (AC Adapter included)
  • Easy to remove from Wall Mount


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Saturday, 17 June 2006 07:23:47 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Friday, 16 June 2006

Okay, so the video of the Bellagio style fountain show with Diet Coke mixed with a bunch of Mentos was cool. But what happens when you mix them up in your body? Makes for some serious gas, I guess.

Wonder no more. Here's yet another video where the subject performs another Mentos experiment that succinctly proves the theory (click to view the video):

Pepsi-girl

Thanks, Sean.



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Friday, 16 June 2006 19:42:50 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 15 June 2006

Stellarium-logoStellarium is a free open source planetarium program for your computer. It shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you see with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope.

It is being used in planetarium projectors. Just set your coordinates and go.

If you're at all into telescopes or the night sky, this one's for you.

in version 0.8.0:

sky

  • over 120,000 stars from the Hipparcos catalogue with info
  • asterisms and illustrations of the constellations
  • images of nebulae
  • realistic Milky Way
  • very realistic atmosphere, sunrise and sunset
  • the planets and their satellites

interface

  • a powerful zoom
  • time control
  • multilingual interface
  • scripting to record and play your own shows
  • fisheye projection for planetarium domes
  • spheric mirror projection for your own dome
  • graphical interface and extensive keyboard control

visualisation

  • equatorial and azimuthal grids
  • star twinkling
  • shooting stars
  • eclipse simulation
  • skinnable landscapes, now with spheric panorama projection

customisability

  • add your own deep sky objects, landscapes, constellation images, scripts...

 

Click the image to view a full size screenshot:

Stellarium1

More great screenshots here.

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Thursday, 15 June 2006 21:42:22 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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What are you doing this July 4th? Well, if you're in the area (meaning the Pacific Northwest) and have a little "crazy" built up inside, here's your invitation to join me and a few of my pyro-friends as we spend the day setting up a big-ol' public fireworks display and firing it off for a community here in northwestern Oregon.

And I don't mean the fireworks you buy at the store or over on the reservation. I mean the real-meal-deal -- a commercial fireworks show bought and paid for by a town for the community.

Come on -- You know that hidden pyro deep down inside is clawing around in there, just trying to get out. You know you can't help it. You must give in. Say yes and experience the smoke, explosions and flames that go into getting those huge aerial displays off the ground and into the air. Or just help dig and bury equipment and then sit back and watch from the best seat in the house. Your choice.

In other words, come spend the 4th of July this year with us. It will be fun.

So - What exactly do you get/have to do?

Well first of all, you don't have to do anything you don't want to. Many people who come to help out are much more interested in setting up and watching the show than actually lighting it off, which is fine. Crew-members (yes, you'll get to truthfully tell people you're on the Pyro crew woohoo!) do everything: Install the mortars (4- and 5-inch mortar tubes for this show), load all the shells (hundreds of them), get trained on how this stuff works and - most importantly - how to be safe (training by yours truly), and finally we actually light the show and man the fire extinguishers - or whatever you are comfortable with. Then we clean it up and head out. By that time, it's been a long, fun day.

On the day of the show, after setup (read: manual labor involving shovels and dirt) is completed, we'll do some knowledge and safety training where you'll get to learn how the components work when you light them, and generally what to expect. It's fun. And fact is, not a lot of people get to do this kind of thing. So, this is my open invitation to the people who read this. Assuming you're 18 or older and you've not been convicted of a felony or are otherwise restricted from handling explosives (seriously, that's a hard-set rule from the feds and there's this piece of paper you'll sign saying you're cool), and assuming you don't show up drunk or anything (again, safety), it's a great time.

So, yeah... If you can talk the significant other into it (or bring him or her with ya), and you're up for it and not like completely freaked out by fire, explosions and lots of noise and smoke, let me know by sending me an email or giving me a call. Both the email link and the phone number are over there on the right side of the page (assuming you're viewing this on the web site).

Links from past shows to get you acclimated and prepared:

So, if Travis' account of things doesn't completely scare you away, be sure to get in touch!

Coolio. See ya there.



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Thursday, 15 June 2006 21:11:54 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 14 June 2006

Gnomedex 6.0I'm taking a quick break from my work-all-night-at-home mode, and I see that Chris says Gnomedex 6.0 is officially sold out in the main hall (you can still attend in the "cove" hall via video feed, though). It promises to be yet another good year for this Gnomedex show/conference/event (it will be my third). It's all happening June 29th through July 1st.

If you're attending this year, let me know (my email and mobile phone are over on the right side of the page) and let's catch up!

Also, the OPML of attendees' blogs is here.



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Wednesday, 14 June 2006 20:38:47 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Thursday, 08 June 2006

I've made three trips from Portland, Oregon (where I live) to Washington DC in the past month. I love DC, but that's enough for me for now. Especially when you add in all the other trips I've made in-between. Try expecting to fly from DC to Omaha, but getting to Chicago and finding out your flight to Omaha was cancelled, so you decide to fly to Kansas City and drive to Omaha. at 1 a.m., then five hours later you get back on a plane to fly to your next stop

Crazy. I have spent most of the past couple months on the road. Or in the air, as the case may be.

Anyhow, time for a couple days off, no matter how much I may be needed elsewhere, so I am heading up to Scranton, PA to catch back up with my friend, Mary Beth. Her brother's getting married at West Point this weekend so we'll be up that way for a couple of days. What a cool place to get married. He graduated there last year and is an officer in the U.S. Army in Arizona. It will be a fun weekend.

Then it's back home so my dogs and cat can stare at me in disdain again for a day or two. Heh.



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Thursday, 08 June 2006 05:34:10 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Wednesday, 07 June 2006

http://www.zachbraff.com/

Sure, he's had the Garden State blog going with an occasional post here and there for a while, but Zach Braff - one of the few actors I can actually stand to listen to (actually I think he's a rather good, decent, funny cool person) for more than five minutes at a time - has started a new blog with video and text entries. Check it out.

Needs RSS though.



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Wednesday, 07 June 2006 19:58:02 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Monday, 05 June 2006
Is it just me, or is it kinda strange (and maybe a little ironic) that "anti-freeze" and "coolant" are the same thing?

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Monday, 05 June 2006 21:26:12 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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JK posted a cool picture that turns out to be a visual representation of his weblog. So, I went to the site that creates them and made one of my own (click the image below to view full-size):

greghughes.net site graphical representation

Color Legend:

blue: for links (the A tag)
red: for tables (TABLE, TR and TD tags)
green: for the DIV tag
violet: for images (the IMG tag)
yellow: for forms (FORM, INPUT, TEXTAREA, SELECT and OPTION tags)
orange: for linebreaks and blockquotes (BR, P, and BLOCKQUOTE tags)
black: the HTML tag, the root node
gray: all other tags



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Monday, 05 June 2006 21:20:32 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 04 June 2006

Diet-coke-and-mentosI know, I know - it's sooo lame to link to Internet videos, blah blah, but seriously I only link to the ones that make me go WOW... This one certainly got me to play it more than just once.

The Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos Experiments:

What happens when you combine 200 liters of Diet Coke and over 500 Mentos mints? It's amazing and completely insane.

This has to be one of the better orchestrated Intarweb videos I have seen in awhile. Two guys take 200 bottles of Diet Coke, drop a bunch of mentos in the bottles, and end up with a terrific - albeit kinda messy - display. It does cause one to wonder, though:

If I eat Mentos and drink Diet Coke will I blow up????

Watch it here. Some of the earlier tests are also viewable online. Heh.



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Sunday, 04 June 2006 07:29:08 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Saturday, 03 June 2006

If there is one thing I have learned lately, it's that I have been wrong all along about how to solve problems between businesses. It's become very clear to me over the past few days of industry observation that the only way way to solve a problem is to serve some form of aggressive legal notice just as soon as humanly possible. So, as part of my top-secret role as a representative of an organization I am not actually allowed to tell you about, the following notice has been formally served on America Company and its CEO.

Background: America Company has infringed on the property rights of the organization I represent, and it's obvious they have done so intentionally and without even asking or offering to cook dinner or anything. That phone call back in February where they asked if it "would be cool" to use the trademark doesn't really count - it was purely a discussion of hypotheticals and whatever was said was certainly not really meant.

So, I regret even having to go this far. It is a very difficult thing to have to do. Unfortunately, it's now officially the only acceptable way left to solve real problems...

Dear AMERICA COMPANY and RORY BLYTHE, CEO:

I am counsel to AMERICA THE OTHER COUNTRY LLC (herein referred to as "SHADOW AMERICA"). Working closely with THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (and its predecessor, THE COMMONWEALTH OF SALEM) as well as its various divisions and entities, SHADOW AMERICA is the creator and producer of of the ATM/NIGERIAN SCAM MACHINE and ATM/NIGERIAN SCAM CONFERENCE, and has been constructing and distributing these machines, and conducting these conferences, since 2004. As a result of our investment of time, energy and resources in the production of the ATM/NIGERIAN SCAM MACHINE and related conferences, and the associated ATM/NIGERIAN SCAM MACHINE service-marks and product trademarks, members of the industry and interested members of the public have come to associate the mark "ATM/NIGERIAN SCAM MACHINE" and the ATM/NIGERIAN SCAM MACHINE conferences with SHADOW AMERICA and THE COMMONWEALTH OF SALEM.

It has come to my attention that you have marketed a service and/or device entitled in whole or part ATM/NIGERIAN SCAM MACHINE. Through this title, you are misinterpreting and misrepresenting, and recipients are given the direct and false impression that you are providing them with SHADOW AMERICA'S ATM/NIGERIAN SCAM MACHINE device. We have received numerous complaints related to confusion among our highly confidential and sensitive list of customers surrounding your marketing materials published on or about June 3, 2006, and other similar items.

SHADOW AMERICA has a pending application for the registration of ATM/NIGERIAN SCAM MACHINE as a service mark for the production, marketing and sale of devices, namely combination ATM-scam machines, associated devices and services related thereto in various fields of technology and services. You use of the ATM/NIGERIAN SCAM MACHINE mark without our authorization or consent directly violates our exclusive rights. Selecting this title can only been seen as a deliberate attempt to trade off the good will of SHADOW AMERICA and causes confusion in the market. You mis-use, ironically, is exacerbated by your use of the term "AMERICA COMPANY" in your marketing material, which is close in language and terminology to SHADOW AMERICA, and due to the little-understood yet existing connection between SHADOW AMERICA and THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, your company's name further complicates matters for consumers. Moreover, such actions contribute to unfair trade practices, unfair competition and are a flagrant violation of SHADOW AMERICA'S trademark rights.

SHADOW AMERICA hereby demands that you immediately cease and desist from utilizing ATM/NIGERIAN SCAM MACHINE at the name or title of your products and/or services, and from making any further use of our mark, or any mark that is confusingly similar to it. SHADOW AMERICA further demands that you provide us written assurance within ten days that you have ceased to use such name and title and that you will refrain from using and SHADOW AMERICA marks in the future.

Any further actions by SHADOW AMERICA will depend on the nature and promptness of your response. SHADOW AMERICA will retain and reserve all of its rights with respect to your actions to date.

Very Truly Yours,

Sosu Mie
SHADOW AMERICA
(AMERICA THE OTHER COUNTRY LLC)

Rory, you've been served. Again, I blame you.

Ok. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming...



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Saturday, 03 June 2006 20:07:34 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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 Sunday, 28 May 2006

Cathy Rigby as Peter PanIt's slightly out of character for me to go to a live theater performance, but I'm glad I bought a couple tickets in early April to the stage production of Peter Pan, starring Cathy Rigby, for the second to last night of the show's farewell tour. The show was performed last night in downtown Portland at the Keller Auditorium, and I can tell you this: It was a lot of fun and an amazing show, both technically and for it's entertainment value.

First of all, no matter who you are, Peter Pan is just a great story. It speaks directly to the kid hiding within each of us and reminds us that youth is something that passes, but growing up is something that happens in its own time and in accordance with our individual wills. Few stories can make you think about what's possible like Peter Pan does, and for that it's a timeless classic story. It was actually written a hundred years ago.

This show was very well done all the way around. The set was terrific and the lighting made it all work. Of course, one of the most amazing aspects of this show - and the thing that truly sets it apart from most others - is the fact that Peter quite literally flies in the window and all around the stage. At one point, Cathy Rigby, who plays Peter and has done so for years, even flies out into the audience, over your head while the orghestra plays loudly and the crowd cheers (see some back-stage footage here). And when she flies, the former gymnast in her shows through, as she twists and turns and somersaults and spins through the air. Let's just say it's a fantastic flying effect. There's something about the Peter character, one of a young boy who is determined never to grow up, a desire many of us probably share in our own individual ways - and who can fly because he believes, something we all wish secretly we could do. If only wishing and believing could make magical dreams come true and keep us young forever... It's a universal appeal that the story of Peter Pan carries.

When Rigby and the other actors fly across and around the stage, one can't help but wish there was some way to give it a try yourself. It's powerful enough to invoke a wish to actually be able to fly, the same feeling I had when I was a kid lying on the grass and getting dizzy watching birds circle around overhead in the summer. I always wondered what it would be like to be a bird. Tonight I wondered what it would be like to be Peter Pan.

From what I've read, it seems this is Cathy Rigby's farewell tour and therefore the final weekend for this show - it will be no more after Sunday. She flies out in true style, as incredibly athletic as ever (this is an amazingly energetic and athletic production). Sunday evening is the last performance on their schedule during this "farewell tour," which is a sad moment because the filled auditorium tonight was quite pleased and into the performance. Certainly there's more opportunity for the next Peter to take on the role of a boy who woudl not grow up, to please future crowds of both young and old. I am glad and feel quite fortunate to have seen this show before it closed. Magic and pixie dust can really make a lasting impression.

A few press links from the Portland final run of Peter Pan:

It looks like a few Sunday tickets are still available, and if you like the story and can swing it, you should check it out. There's an afternoon show plus one final evening performance. Here's the link for tickets, which will be good only on Sunday - After that, this particular Peter Pan will have grown up, and will be gone.



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Sunday, 28 May 2006 09:14:30 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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