Friday, December 30, 2005

This is the scene that greeted me as I walked into my office today. Notice anything out of place?

How about the fact that my AC cord for my laptop was sitting on my desk. This is the second time I've left my laptop adapter at work while I brought home the laptop. This is not good, as it leaves me in the unfortunate case of being able to do a bit of work at home, until the battery dies. And then I just sit there and fume.

So, I've been thinking of some ideas on how to avoid this:

- Buy another adapter, leave one at work and one at home

- Get hypnosis so my body simlpy won't let me leave the office till I remember to pack both

- Install an RFID chip in various devices and locations, so that leaving the office or house without both items in my bad, sounds an alarm

- Install a crank on my laptop so I don't even need an AC adapter

- Plug my laptop into my car, so I can be forced to detect the problem early on

- Write an original blog entry complaning about this problem, hoping I annoy myself into getting this right

How about you? Do you have any suggestions to add?

--Ben

Reuters.com - $1 million Web Idea

National, World and Business News | Reuters.com

It's not often that I pick a story and then a few months later Reuters/Slashdot/etc. pick up the same story.

I guess the execs at Reuters have finally gotten around to reading archived blog posts of mine :-).

JavaSpaces

Making it stick.: Jini/JavaSpaces/Rio... and Jython?

The above article makes mention of JavaSpaces. This is technology I've only heard about, but seems really cool. The best analogy I can come up with is that JavaSpaces does for objects what NFS does for files.

By using NFS, all of a sudden your typical applications now have access to networked files. NFS does all the work, and your once non-distributed application becomes distributed.

JavaSpaces does the same thing for your objects. JavaSpaces allow you to store objects in a "space", where that space can be remote or local. Other JVMs can share and access that space. As I understand it, you could have one program simply put a Service object in a space and have another program access that same Service object from anywhere.

Like NFS, you have a bit of a performance penalty, but it's more than offset by the boost the technology provides.

Now all I need to do is a find a good excuse to use JavaSpaces and I can replace all this theory with fact.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

MF Bliki: FluentInterface

MF Bliki: FluentInterface

Marin Fowler puts a name to a particular type of programming style/API/interface: FluentInterface. It can best be summarized as:

   private void makeFluent(Customer customer) {
        customer.newOrder()
                .with(6, "TAL")
                .with(5, "HPK").skippable()
                .with(3, "LGV")
                .priorityRush();
    }

In this case, each of methods (with, skippable, priorityRush) return an object which can be in turn manipulated.

This is a clever solution to making blocks of Java code look as clean as possible. While this style seems to cry out for pretty specific circumstances, it's worth having in mind.

BeanShell - Another use found

BeanShell - Lightweight Scripting for Java

I'm a huge fan of beanshell as I find it to be the swiss army knife of tools for Java. It's an experimentation tool, a debugging tool, a scripting language, a configuration language, it slices, it dices.

If you aren't familiar with beanshell, download it and play around with it. It basically brings the lightweight world of dynamic programming to Java - and the code you write is Java and can access any Java.

The specific use that I wanted to mention this morning though, is that the latest version of beanshell is distributed with a servlet which allows for trivial remote access.

All you need to do is drop the bsh.jar file into your WEB-INF/lib, and add the lines:

    <servlet>
        <servlet-name>bshservlet</servlet-name>
        <servlet-class>bsh.servlet.BshServlet</servlet-class>
    </servlet>

    <servlet-mapping>
        <servlet-name>bshservlet</servlet-name>
        <url-pattern>/eval</url-pattern>
    </servlet-mapping>    

Now you can visit http://yourserver/yourapp/eval and you'll see a small beanshell application where you can essentially run any Java command against your web app's JVM.

Lets say e-mail isn't working from your application. Using this tool, you can simulate all of the steps of sending e-mail by hand, inside the JVM using the same classes your application would use. This gives you an easy way to get an inside-looking-out-view of your application.

Now, my next step is to do same thing, but using a language which is a bit more powerful.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Candle light dinner

Tonight we had our classic holiday meal - Hot Dogs and french fries. That's standard fare for all the big meals, such as Rosh Hashanah and Thanksgiving.

Tonight's meal was made all the more festive by the Chanukah candles being lit.

Yeah, I try my hardest to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Like nitrates.

--Ben

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

My first grown up wallet

This a proud, and a bit scary, day. My wife is moving from her Penn wallet that was crammed to the gills with stuff, to an adult wallet - crammed to the gills with the same stuff. But with a more adult look.

She's made me promise her that she can switch back at any time.

My wife. All grown up.

--Ben

Chanukah with the Rubins


Chanukah with the Rubins
Originally uploaded by blumenth.
Had a nice treat getting to have dinner and then light Chanukah candles with the Rubins.

Lighting candles


Lighting candles
Originally uploaded by blumenth.
Shira lights night #2 of chanukah. Boy, does my wife like fire.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Holiday Traditions

Its_a_Wonderful_Life.mp3

I probably shouldn't be admitting this. But it's too cool not to share, and if I'm going to share, I might as well add in some context.

One of our family holiday traditions is, gulp, sitting around watching It's a Wonderful Life. Well now, thanks to power of the web, I can carry the entire movie around in a 10mb MP3 file. I can listen to George Bailey save his little town on my commute, or just standing in line at the the post office.

I found it especially clever, that in the movie The Hebrew Hammer the evil Santa Clause tries to destroy Hanukkah by passing out copies of It's a Wonderful Life.

And remember, anytime you hear a bell ring....

Holiday breakfast

Shira and I are celebrating our Monday day off with a yummy pancake breakfast.

Me, I'm a big fan of any meal that has the instructions: add water, shake, cover with chocolate chips.

Mmmmmm.......

--Ben

Here's what Republicans said about Clinton and Kosovo

Here's what Republicans said about Clinton and Kosovo

Pretty revealing stuff. One of my favorites is:

'Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.'

-Governor George W. Bush (R-TX)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Dinner

There's just something special about going out for dinner on Christmas. We walked by the 24 hour diner, and it was closed.

As Shira planned, Top Thai was open and we had an excellent meal there. Even there, we were essentially the only customers there the whole meal.

--Ben

Review: Republican Noise Machine by David Brock

The "Republican Noise Machine" by David Brock is an attempt to expose what the author feels as the right wing's media as is: a spohisticated propaganda machine. Harsh, eh? Brock goes to pretty great lenghts to prove his point.

There are a few key a parts to the story. First, the right wing has a sophisticated network of media outlets. Including, blogs, radio, TV, newspapers, books and associations. And more importantly, they are well synchronized. So a message can go from a blog, to radio, to TV to print effortlessly. Addtionally, the messages are consistent, so the media outlets reinforce each other, not cancel each other out.

Secondly, the right has made opinion, not fact, the prime goal of their media outlets. From blogs to TV, the right tends to push their message, not objective news. And of course, consumers love it - they are hearing what they want to hear, even if it's not objective, true or useful.

Thirdly, the media of the right doesn't play by the same rules as the traditional media. It's not uncommon to spread rumors or even lies, as long as the message fits with what they want to get across. In fact, Brock cites numerous examples where a well spread rumor, even when proved false, did serious damage to one of the right's opponents.

While Bernard Goldberg, in his book Bias, argues the media tilts left, he was a lot kinder to those involved. He tries to demonstrate that big TV networks lean left out of misguided ignorance or good intentions - not because of some conspircy theory. Not so, the right, in this book - the bias is real, intentional and very cleverly done.

What remains for me to see is what Brock is going to suggest we do about it. From listening, I'm starting to get my own ideas.

First, the left needs to improve their network and their ability to spread a message - any message, though ideally a positive and true message.

Secondly, I think we need to pound home to the right's constituency what is going - that they are being used. That they are being tricked into spreading lies and damaging others. The right's base need to be treated like intelligent, well meaning people who are caught up in an unfortunate use of power.

As for whether this is a good book or not, it remains to be seen. This is not a fun, or funny story. This is a serious, and sometimes overly-detailed look at a critical problem. So read it - you might not enjoy it - but still, read it.

--Ben

Happy Holidays!

First, a joke (thanks Jody!):

El Al Flight mid to late December landing in Tel-Aviv.

As the El Al plane touches ground and starts to taxi at Ben Gurion airport, the voice of the first mate came on

"Please remain seated with your seat belts fastened until this plane comes to a complete stop and the seat belt signs have been turned off. We want to remind you for security reasons, using cell phones on board of the aircraft is strictly prohibited."

"To those who are still seated, we wish you a Merry Christmas, and hope that you enjoy your stay in Israel..."and

"To those of you standing in the aisles and already talking on your cell phones, we wish you a Happy Chanukah, and welcome back home."

Now a deep thought:

On the first night of Chanukah all eight candle holders stand before you. But you light only one. Tomorrow night you shall light two. You know that eventually you will light all eight.

From which we learn two things:

  1. Move step by step in life. Take things on at a pace you can handle.
  2. Always grow. Always keep moving. If you did one good thing yesterday, do two today. Your ultimate achievement is always one step ahead.

Happy Holidays to one and all!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Ben and Greg


Ben and Greg
Originally uploaded by blumenth.
A Christmas tradition... we got to see Greg as he comes to town every year to see his family. Greg is a journalist and an amateur photographer. Can't wait till you start your photo blog, Greg.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Shira's latest toy

Shira just got a Samsung T-809 - a very sexy and powerful phone. Ahhh, gotta love new toys. Can't wait to play with this one.

--Ben

Thursday, December 22, 2005

How to Monitor MySQL's performance

MySQL AB :: How to Monitor MySQL's performance

Knowing little to nothing about MySQL, I was very pleased to find the above article. It gives you a bunch of really useful commands to run to find out what the heck MySQL is doing and how it's running.

MercuryNews.com | 12/22/2005 | A forceful rejection of `intelligent design'

MercuryNews.com | 12/22/2005 | A forceful rejection of `intelligent design'

Shira sent me this - an article that talks about the recent decision to not allow intelligent design to be taught next to science.

We both breathed a sigh of relief when we found out that the judge had found in favor of not allowing the teaching of ID in the science classroom. We think that ID could be an excellent topic for some classes, but, as the article and many others have shown -- ID isn't science. That doesn't mean it's not useful knowledge, or interesting or worth studying -- it just means you can't teach it in a science class. (Yes, if you didn't know, science has a definition -- and it's not: "use important sounding words a lot.")

It's also interesting to note how a large proportion of our country believes in misinformation about ID and evolution. It's so frustrating, because the issue seems so cut and dry once you understand the facts.

At least the judge paid attention to the facts. That's a good start.

But don't take my word for it -- you can read the judge's decision here. A few quotes from the ruling are below. If you have any interest at all in this topic, you should give the ruling a read.

After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research. (page 64)
And another one:
Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court.

Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources. (page 138)

Smoking

Beamer doing his best smoking impression. Either that, or the new job is driving him to smoke.

--Ben

There goes the neighborhood

Yesterday there was a house across the street. Today there's barely a shell. Wow, the demolition team acts fast.

I wonder what the new house will look like, not to mention, cost. The lot isn't huge, so the builder is going to have a bit of a challange.

Stay tuned...

--Ben

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bloggers’ Favorite Books of 2005

Favorite Books of 2005

Looks like an interesting booklist. Time to update my wishlist.

Ten most needed circuits for the DIYer

DIY Live � DIY Archive � Ten most needed circuits for the DIYer

When, one day, I have the free time to actually sit down and play with electronics projects -- this looks like a good place to start. 10 most needed circuits.

Gosh it'll be nice to do these activities, instead blog about my intention to do them...

DIY - Paper Bookmarks

Paper Bookmarks

These look like very cool paper bookmarks. Check them out, my description hardly does them justice. Perhaps, they could be a nice home made stocking stuffer?

Books, precious books

See, books, even in our computer based society, still have a place.

--Ben

Monday, December 19, 2005

Acura Service

Tonight we took in Shira's Acura TL (named ZZ) for his schedule B service. Usually, this wouldn't be anything too exciting to blog about. Yet, as I have probably written here before, I'm very impressed with the Acura service department.

It's not the free wi-fi or drinks that impress me (though they are nice touches), it's the hours they keep. They keep the service department open till 2am nightly (well, most nights). When they told me this while I was buying the car I thought they were joking - but it's true. And it's as nice as it sounds. No more missing work just to fit to some garage's schedule.

This is a perfect example of Ben's third rule of running a successful business: find out what your customer's want and give it to them.

In the case of a car garage, I want to be able to have it fit my schedule, not vica-versa. And that's what they did. It meant hiring a night shift, but who cares, they've earned my, and I'm sure many other's business.

So next time your customers want something, and it doesn't seem like you can give it to them - think about what Acura is doing.

--Ben

Getting bash key-combinations to work

I'm a really big fan of bash's (readline, actually) ability to have nice command line editing features. One that I use an awful lot is the ability to jump between works using Alt-b and Alt-f.

At this point, it's so hardwired into my brain, that I don't even think about it.

Which is a good thing, unless of course you run into a situtation where Alt-b spits out garbage on your screen instead of going back a word. I can't tell you how frustruating it is to hit Alt-b, notice the garbage and think: "Argh, now I have delete the crap I spit out, and I still have to slowly left-arrow back a few characters. I gotta fix that..." It gets even worse, when you consider I probably do this about 15,000 times a day.

So, I finally found a fix. Put the following in ~/.inputrc:

set meta-flag Off
set convert-meta On
set output-meta Off

Poof, now my Alt-b and Alt-f key works like a champ. Along with their friend, Alt-d, which deletes a word.

So, if you use bash, learn to love Alt-b, Alt-f and Alt-d. And when you find a linux box that doesn't work with your new tricks, try adding the above code to your .inputrc.

Do a man bash to learn more.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Security, casino style

The shot included here is a photo of a small sampling of the slot machines available at the Wild Wild West in Atlantic City. Hanging out here, trying to track down my wife among the hundreds of other gamblers, got me thinking. Thinking about security, specifically.

Take bank security. A big aspect of that is intimidation. Big vault doors. Armed men standing around. Tellers behind thick walls. Cameras in obvious use. The whole experience when you walk into a bank just says: "don't try anything, we are ready for you."

A casino is 100% opposite. Players stand a few feet away from stacks of chips. I've never seen an armed guard or camera keeping an eye on me. I walked around using my sidekick and had a laptop on my shoulder, yet nobody seemed to care. The whole experience says: lets have fun, and you can easily win all this money.

It's almost like they want you to feel as though they don't have much security at the casino at all. Seems like it wouldn't be that tricky to rig up a card counting system or something like that (not that *I* would ever consider doing so).

Yet, I'm pretty sure that there's no place more secure than a casino. That I am no doubt being watched at all times, and that while it may look like I could grab a stack of chips and run, I probably wouldn't make it 3 feet.

It seems to me that website developers need to be thinking like casinos. How can they give the illusion that they are relaxed and fun places to be, yet provide bullet proof security.

On the other hand, a computer network should be like a bank. Intimidation all the way.

So, I wonder how I could learn about casino security? That is without having my library card records siezed and my phone tapped. Seems like you would get some good best practices.

--Ben

Why conservatives hate MP3 players

collision detection: Why conservatives hate MP3 players

This article is a version of the typical: "Technology x is inherently evil." In this case, the discussion is about personal audio players, but I've heard this same argument time and time again. One of the more common ones is "thanks to computers, kids today just don't think!"

I usually have two responses to a discussion like this.

First, technology can almost always be used for good or evil. You can watch hours of reality TV and pronounce TV nothing but garbage. Yet, you can also use TV to teach kids and spread important ideas. The fact that most of the time, people are melting their brains watching the latest sitcom isn't something wrong with TV, it's something wrong with the person watching the TV.

Take the personal music player. It can, as they suggest, be a way for people to close off the universe around them and to be as self centered as possible. It's also a way to listen to podcasts -- which is effectively a way to broadcast your ideas to any number of people for almost free. In this scenario, you could easily argue that it's the personal audio player that gets credit for helping to spread an individual's ideas. Hardly a self-centered, egotistical thing to do.

The other argument I typically make is that people have to remember that at any given time in history, what we now consider a commodity, was typically some cutting-edge-controversial piece of technology. The phone, telegraph, car, etc. were all invented at some point, and I am sure somebody said that they were inherently evil.

Consider the phone. You could probably argue that people don't know their neighbors as well, all because they spend so much time yacking on the phone. And of course people don't write letters any more, because they can just pick up the phone and call. Gosh, the phone is evil and responsible for bringing down our society. Yet, if you have a heart attack, I'm sure the phone and 911 looks pretty useful.

So, that's a bit extreme of an example. But the point is, what we find to be safe and excepted technology, at one time was quite risky and undefined. Heck, I can just imagine the kids who were learning to use written language, while their parents didn't yet have that skill....

Dad: Kids today, they don't think anymore. Why, back in my day, if we learned something, we had to remember it. Now, kids just scratch it into a rock, like a bunch of lazy bums. What's this world coming to?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Website Development Process - In Legos

The Website Development Process - In Legos

It's just too cute...read it and enjoy.

Ultra Low-Fi: Sounds from the casino

While Shira sat down to play blackjack, I took a walk around the casino with my trust Mach 256 MP3 Player and recorded some sounds.

I don't exactly know what I was hoping to capture, but I thought it might be an interesting experiment. Well, it turns out I didn't really get anything of interest -- except for one short clip.

How does this sound for some gambling music?

Quick Trip - Atlantic City

Shira and I decided to take a quick trip to Atlantic City. Shira enjoys the gambling, I enjoy the quiet time in the hotel room. We both win out on this type of trip.

Attached are a few shots of AC by night. Of course there are the flashy, bright lights of the casinos. But most of the area is just dark and run down. The unflattering shot here is taken from the boardwalk between casinos. Yuck.

Well, Shira's at a blackjack table and I've got my laptop attached to a wireles network. All is well with the world.

--Ben

Friday, December 16, 2005

Gifts for a family in need

Here are the gifts my team bought for a family in need this holiday season. What little girl wouldn't want her own shopping cart and scanner?

My clever wife solved the question of which type of Barbie we should buy - and bought a multi pack. Smart wife.

--Ben

PrototypingTools

HCI at Stanford University: d.tools

This is a very interesting project, the goal of which is to make prototyping physical devices a fairly straightforward process. The technology, in this case, takes advantage of both hardware and software components. Watch the video on the page -- it takes just a few minutes, but explains the project well. And if you are like me, you'll be really impressed with what they are doing.

I bring this up, because software prototyping is still something I think we can do better at. I've seen realatively good results by using photoshop, plain HTML, or even recently MS Frontpage (thanks to Tim). While these approaches kinda work well for representing a simple GUI mockup, it would be nice to be able to wire a bunch of GUI mockups together easily to form a prototype of some kind.

So what do you use to prototype and mock stuff up?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Gmail Mobile

Gmail Mobile

Google's at it again, announcing more nifty features for gmail. The feature that is most impressive is that you can now check your gmail from your cell phone.

And yes, the site looks good on a Sidekick II.

Cork Boat

Listening to a new book on tape - Cork Boat by John Pollack. This is the story of one man's journey to build the first, well, cork boat. His goal was to make a watercraft made essentially of wine corks.

Now, we aren't talking about a cork raft, or a cork floatation device. We are talking about 165,000 indvidual corks put together to form a 2000lb boat.

At first I thought the story would be a kind of riomantic tale of how a boyhood dream came true. And it is. But the story is much more than that too.

First, there are the engineering challanges. How do you turn 100,000 indvidual small pieces into a solid boat? The solution was pretty remarkable: rubber band corks into disks, attach disks together end-to-end to form a logs, logs put together to form a boat. The process had to be able to scale. Additonally, each step needed to form a solid foundation for the next step could be built on. All of this had to be figured out, from the simplest grouping of 6 corks, to how the boat could be loaded on a trailer.

Second, there are the social challanges. This is a brute force effort. Every step of the eay involves people and lots of manual labor. How do you streamline the process as much as possible? How do you keep people motivated when they have an apparently impossible task? How do you meet crazy deadlines? How do you get media attention while having a $0 budget? These questions and lots more are all part of tackeling the cork boat project.

So, to my surprise and enjoyment the story is a rich and enjoyable one. Give it a listen and appreciate that challanges can be met head on, even when you have no idea how on earth you'll pull it off.

If you excuse me, I have to go assemble 160,000 bits into a useful software program.

--Ben

Second worst way to start your day

The first worst is to forget your laptop.

The second worst is to bring the *wrong* laptop to work.

And that's exactly what I did. Argh. That's annoying.

--Ben

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Under the knife

I just finished having very minor surgery on my neck. I'm not even sure it counts as surgery, as the goal was to remove a harmless cyst. Still, a scalpal was used so in my book, it counts.

The process was pretty painless. Though the only thougt I had during the whole event was - gosh, this Dr. Has the worst customer service ever. I kept thinking to myself that I really do have to switch doctors, as this one is ridculous.

How so?

- She didn't know my name.

- she didn't know anything about my last visit

- she did nothing to try to make me feel comfortable during the process

- the majority of the words she did say were to her nurse, talking about the surgery (training her maybe?)

- she used the side of my head as a table to hold supplies, and didn't applogize or explain to me what she was doing

- she complained about how little money doctors make these days

- I had been trying for 3 weeks to get her to fill a prescription or at least call me back. She never did, nor did she acknowledge my efforts over the weeks

- she treated me like an interruption in her day

All of these issues could have been resolved by reading my chart, annotating it with a few small details, and simply putting forth a bit of effort.

Does she need to do all that fluffy stuff? Not at all. Of course, I don't need to go to her in the future either.

--Ben

The Rosenthal Effect

I dropped my car off yesterday at the dealer (Rosenthal Chevrolet) for the 100k mile service package. Ya know, the service that has a big long list of things they do and costs and arm and a leg? Most of the items on the list are overpriced, even I know that. Yet I really trust the guys there and they have always taken good care of me.

Anyway, the Rosenthal Effect is what happens every time I drop off the car. I get the call back: "Ben, we got your car...and the mechanics were checking it over and foud _____ wrong with it." Actually, they usually find 3 or 4 things wrong with it. 3 or 4 expensive things of course.

This time it was the AC compressor and the rear brakes (about $1200 total for parts + labor).

This happens everytime.

Now, all is not lost because I have a buddy Justin, who is a car hacker. That's a good friend to have. Need something on your car fixed, like say an AC compressor and he'll do it. And if you are nice, he'll even let you help. When I needed my frony brakes done he helped out by doing one brake and supervising me while I replaced the other. (Note to readers: given the chance, ride in Shira's car)

So, now I look to the Rosenthal Effect as something of value. For essentially free, they will diagnose my car problems. Then, I take it out of their shop and have a friend help me learn to make the repair. How cool is that?

--Ben

Zero Cash, A Little Talent and 30 Days - Day 1

Zero Cash, A Little Talent and 30 Days - Day 1

This is an inspiration/interesting buisiness experiment. The goal is just what the title says: start a profitable business in 30 days with no initial cash invested.

From a quick scan of Day 1 this appears to be the real deal - not just some get-rich-quick scheme.

Go, read, and get inspired to start your own business.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Holiday Extravaganza

Tonight Shira and I attended my company's holiday party. It was lots of fun and included all of the features you would expect to find in a top-notch shindig: good food, booze, party favors, a chocolate fountain and of course a nice group of people.

As Shira noted, it was nice of the company to have a nice big party a few weeks after I joined the organization so she could meet everyone.

I did make it out on the dance floor, making a partial fool of myself. But that's all part of a day's work.

--Ben

Is this Entrepreneurship?

The Entrepreneurial Mind: Is This Entrepreneurship?

I shoveled plenty of snow growing up. But it never once occured to me to try a stunt like this one.

How to Make a Chicago Hot Dog

How to Make a Chicago Hot Dog - WikiHow

Mmmm....Chicago Hot Dogs. My family is originally from Chicago, and the first order of business upon returing for a visit was to order Chicago Hot Dogs. Lots of them.

The HOWTO seems pretty accurate -- Vienna beef, Neon-Green relish and of course a steamed poppy-seed bun.

I think of all the foods out there, this one probably brings back the most memories of familiy sitting around a table eating away. Forget a Thanksgiving turkey, give me a Chicago dog instead.

Gosh I'm hungry now.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Emacs for Microsoft Windows

CVS Emacs for Microsoft Windows

In my quest to make windows an ever more usuable platform I've been playing with different versions of emacs (emacsen?).

First I tried cygwin's version. The X version isn't bad, but in general it integrates pretty poorly with other windows software. Besides, it doesn't really work with JDE (the Java Development Environment).

Next I tried NT Emacs. This has better integration with windows, and still allowed me to access cygwin tools. It works with JDE and is pretty slick in general.

However, some of the latest features of emacs weren't present in that version. So now I'm trying CVS Emacs. So far so good (of course, it's been about 3 minutes). This version of emacs builds on ntemacs, adding a slicker look and feel and at the very least support for inline images.

So, if you are an emacs geek, stuck on windows, save yourself some trouble and just start with the CVS version. You won't be disappointed.

Perhaps one day I'll get around to writing up why I'm even still using (and enjoying) emacs. But that post will have to wait for another day.

Logo choices



The above are two choices for an Ideas2Executables logo. Which one do you prefer? We have a few more choices, which we'll try to post later today.
Thanks!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

MetaUML -- UML for LaTeX/MetaPost

Welcome to MetaUML, UML for LaTeX/MetaPost

I'm not usually a big fan of formal UML diagrams because usually they are clumsy to create on a computer.

This library looks like a promising alternate approach -- instead of drawing, you simply describe in a code-like-language what the diagram should look like. And poof, the library seems to render what you were thinking.

Of course I know nothing about this library, so I may be using my imagination to guess what I'd like this library to do rather than what it actually does do. Got that?

Could be a nice alternative to struggling with the mouse to draw things just right.

MAKE: Blog: The MAKEbot is here!

http://www.makezine.com/blog/archive/2005/12/the_makebot_is_here.html

I've blogged a bunch about how I think AIM bot provide for a fairly unique and powerful UI. And now, as if to prove my point, Make provided their own bot.

In the past I've talked about how AIM bots allow you to query a service quickly. The make bot also IMs you when new info is available. In other words, they are using IM to push messages to the me, not even waiting for me to ask it for data. Very cool.

I did realize another reason why I like IM - especially on the sidekick. That's because you can have more than one IM conversation going at a time. Whereas you can only be browsing one page at a time. So now, I can check make's site, chat with my wife, figure out how to spell "fiddlesticks" and search for a kosher chinese restaurant all at the same time.

--Ben

Good Experience Games

http://www.goodexperience.com/games/

I'm not a gamer - but I could imagine there would be times when being able to play an online game or two could be useful. Maybe you are babysitting for your friend's kid, or maybe you are trying to figure out a wicked problem at work and need a bit of distraction.

For those reasons and dozens more, the above above link may come in handy. It contains a list of well done, mostly free, games.

I haven't tried any of them on the list. So please try them and let me know your favorites in the comments of this post.

--Ben

Football - a day of firsts

Hang'in out watching football. We not only had fun, but I managed to have quite a few firsts...

  • First football game I've ever gone to a bar to explicitly watch
  • First shot of jaegermeister + redbull. Which was essentially like drinking candy mixed with cough syrup
  • First time I ever consumed a fried pickle. Which tastes like a ... pickle wrapped in fry batter. Very tasty.

It was definitely a fun way to spend a Sunday.

Seth's Blog: Please hold

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2005/12/please_hold.html

Some interesting insights into the problems of dealing with the wait time in an in-bound call centers (like Dell's order center).

The important point he makes is that folks immediately thinks cost cutting when they think about call centers. But in the case of call centers that are taking orders the emphasis should really be on improving the customer's experience so they will spend *more* money.

This reminds me of an idea I read about a while ago - though I don't recall who's idea it was. And that was when a user hit's an error page in your wbe application you attempt to give them a coupon code, or something free. In other words, rather than saying, "oh well, guess you just aren't lucky enough to buy our product today" you say - "whoops, we are totally embarrassed - please take $20.00 off your next order."

Bad things will always happen to customers (they'll be on hold for too long, they'll find a bug in your web application, etc.) but as Seth reminds us - we can actually do something productive about it.

--Ben

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Bomber - concluded

I just finished the book on tape "The Bomber" - and really enjoyed it. I thought it was going to be your typical crime/adventure novel but I think it ended up being a bit more.

My first thought when I finished the book was that of pride. I had managed to figure out who the bomber was before the author came out and told the reader.

But, once I thought about the story some more I realized a couple of things. First, the story was an excellent tale of how people can start at same place in life, and exerience similar circumstances - yet have totally different outcomes based on fairly small details.

Second, I realized that there many details of the book which I had yet to truly understand. There is a small story that is told in-between the chapters of the main story. Which character wrote this text? What was the point of this text? And why did the main character behave the way she did during the epilogue?

So, it turns out, I didn't have it all figured out. Which means the author did indeed do her job.

This book is definitely worth a read (or listen). As a bonus, you'll get to learn about Sweden and have a craving for Glog when you are done.

I give this book a rating of 8.5/10 for just being an enjoyable book.

--Ben

Saying goodbye

My last view of the old cage being powered off. Ahhh, the memories of sitting in that over-air conditioned little box.

I can remember more than one all night session trying to revive a dying system. My scariest night came when I couldn't get IPVS to load balance traffice to our webservers. I ended up using Apache Rewrite rules to simulate a load balancer. Oy was it a hack. But it was also 5:30am and the world would be waking up and wondering why things were broken.

Yep, those were the good old days.

--Ben

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