Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Tiny Howto: Getting log4j to make noise

I have to start off this note by saying that I pretty much despise logging. Not the generation of all log files, per se. Heck, a log like the apache access_log can be a awesome. But I'm talking about stuff like:

// some method, somewhere Logger.log(LOG_NOISE, "UserAgent was null"); ...

Why? Well, where do I begin...

  • Most of the time, a log message meant something to someone at some point. And after a bug has been fixed, or time has past, the message doesn't mean anything. It's produced, and after a time people don't read it or care about it. It becomes unnecessary code. And I don't like unnecessary code. I remove unnecessary code.
  • People don't check logs. The catalina log file of tomcat on most machines I come across are like 6 gigs (OK, I'm exagerating a bit for effect here). The bottom line is that nobody is going look back and review that stuff. So why produce it in the first place?
  • A good exception message can kick a logging message's butt any day. What good is telling me that something is null? If it's an error, don't just tell me about it, do something. Throw an exception and make my caller handle it (or, usually, just re-throw it). Logging messages make someone reading code scratch their head and wonder what they should do with the knowledge being passed on to them.
  • If you make use of exceptions, and assertions in your code, you'll have confidence that it's running right every time. Which means you don't need to produce a log file to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling. You know the code works because if any tiny thing went wrong, the system would do something about it.
  • Logging messages are lines of code which aren't needed. I'm a big fan of keeping my code as trim as possible. By all means, use System.out.println to debug an issue. But just remove it before checking it in.

  • I'm from the unix school of thought: programs should be like luxury cars -- running silent. When you run the command: tar cf - / | gzip -c | base64 | mail -s 'Wacky Backup' foo@bar.com, do you think that you get lots of warm and fuzzy error messages? No, the job gets done, or you get an error saying what failed. Again, it's a matter of trust.

And I'm sure there's more...

But, this post isn't about my general feeling toward logging. It's about dealing with code that makes use of everyone's favorite logging framework: log4j.

See, tomcat makes heavy use of log4j. Which means that when a servlet throws an exception, and it reaches the top level of the container, by default, it swallows it. It's even worse when a listener or servlet fails on startup. This of course seems insane to someone like myself. You'll gladly give me all sorts of noise about what valves and stuff are starting up, but the tiny little detail, such as why a listener failed and why you won't deploy my application, is completely not there. It just didn't make the cut.

Now, if it were up to me, the catalina log file would be empty of everything except for stack traces. As I said, I don't despise the generation of log files --it's the noise, the random junk being printed out along with the useful gems that get to me. I just want the gems!

OK, back to the subject at hand. How on earth do you get a log4j application to actually log?

Well, every time I need to figure this out I google 'log4j configuration' and come across this link. Which never makes much sense to me at all. Probably because my production server won't start up, and I have beads of sweat rolling down my forehead as I stare at some vague message from tomcat. However, over the last few weeks, thanks to those at work, I've kinda cracked the code. So here, it is, Ben's super short way to get log4j to spit out logging messages.

  1. Create a file named log4j.properties. Put the following content in that file:
    log4j.rootLogger=info, R
    log4j.appender.R=org.apache.log4j.ConsoleAppender
    log4j.appender.R.layout=org.apache.log4j.PatternLayout
    log4j.appender.R.layout.ConversionPattern=%-5p %-30.30c{1} %x - %m%n
    
  2. Store this file in your classpath. As my friend Christian Cantrell used to say, "90% of fixing Java related problems is getting the classpath right" (or something close to that). In the tomcat world, this means putting this file in a place like $CATALINA_HOME/webapps/yourapp/WEB-INF/classes.
  3. I think this part may be optional, but I'd do it to keep log4j happy. Add the following system property to your command line: -Dlog4j.configuration=log4j.properties. Note, that's not a path to a file (like I spent some large amount of time trying to get work), but the name of the file to search for in your classpath.

And that's all there is to it. Start up your application, and watch with joy as the messages poor out.

Tiny Howto: HTTP PUT

mod_dav - Apache HTTP Server

I'm a big fan of making use of the HTTP PUT protocol when you need to quickly publish files from one server to another. It's trivial to whip up a java client using HttpClient, and writing one from scratch isn't bad. Heck, I wrote very usable command line client using bash and netcat.

The only problem with PUT, is that I can never remember how to configure Apache to accept PUT requests.

There is a reference to mod_put around. But it turns out that if you use Apache 2.x it's even easier than that.

Simply add the following to your server:

  DavLockDB /usr/local/apache2/var/DavLock

  <Location /foo>
   Dav On
  <Location>

And poof, /foo can now support PUT access. You can read all about the details of this here.

Naturally, you'll want to put some access controls on this directory -- but that's a tip for another day.

Hilton head

Hilton head Originally uploaded by blumenth. Got to enjoy a brief walk on the beach, when our third day in Hilton Head there was actually sunshine and we actually had time.

Some Beach


Photo-0021.jpg
Originally uploaded by blumenth.

While I'm D.C., this is the view Shira was treated to. How could you not be envious?

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Printable CEO

David Seah : The Printable CEO

Apparently, someone out there thinks you can replace any CEO with two sheets of paper. I wonder how many pieces of paper I'm worth?

On a more serious note, this is an interesting motivational strategy...

Via: LifeHacker

Real Hacking

Rather than post a link to another hacking project, tonight I get to actually post the results of my own hacking adventures. Tonight I took apart and played with a disposable CVS camcorder (thanks Mom for providing it!).

Everything went remarkably well. The directions for manipulating things were accurate as could be. I had all the right tools (a tiny screw drive, and an itty-bitty screwdriver!). And by some smal miracle, I had an old Palm cradle which is the same type of conector the device uses.

Tonight, I followed the instructions for unlocking the device, which essentially consists of shorting it out on startup.

Before I can actually get video off of this device I need to make a cable. Which means I need to buy a USB cable to solder to the palm connector. But, I wanted to get in and fool around with the device while I had a chance.

One interesting thing that I didn't appreciate about a device like this is how superficially access to it is controlled. By simply peeling back stickers, you find the screws to access things and the adapter access port. Stickers, no kidding.

For me, a project like this is also a lesson in patience. I'm used to the software world where you can experiment without much harm (unless it's /bin/rm that you are playing with). Whereas in the hardware world, stuff is a lot harder to simply undo. Clip a wire? Well, it's clipped. Deal with it. So, more thab anything else, this is a mind exercise in patience and problem solving.

Now, anyone know a cheap source of USB cables?

--Ben

Ben on Good Code

From a conversation earlier...

 ...
 Ben:  Please remove that code
 Igor: I didn't want to break anything
 Ben:  I love removed code.
 Ben:  It's the best kind (you don't have to maintain it, read it, or debug it!)
 ...

So ask yourself -- sure, you've written some code today. But have you removed any?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Excitement on the Pike

My pictures can't do this scene justice - 12+ emergency vehicles clustered around 1 block from our house on Columbia Pike. I can't tell if it's a big accident, fire, or something more exotic.

I did learn that I don't have nearly the courage needed to be some obnoxious news photographer. I got about 25 yards from the action, and walked away.

Why? Well, on one hand, I didn't want to get yelled at by some officer. But, more importantly, those guys/gals are working, and the last they need is some shlub with a camera phone getting in their way.

If Shira were here, she would have added one more reason to the bunch. It's the same reason you never (ever) approach a cop doing a traffic stop (to say, ask for directions). The officer is in a potentially dangerous situation, and you never want to insert yourself into that.

I'll leave the reporting to the pros, and I'll check online for the real scoop later.

--Ben

YouTube - State of the Union 2006 -- Bush Impression

YouTube - State of the Union 2006 -- Bush Impression

I needed a good laugh, and came across this today on C & L. If you aren't a fan of Bush -- watch it and giggle. If you are a fan, then I wouldn't bother.

Custom shirt from words on your blog - Lifehacker

Custom shirt from words on your blog - Lifehacker

This is a fairly clever idea -- put a tag cloud of your blog (or I, guess any website) on a t-shirt.

A very low res version of my blog appears to be:

I'm just happy to see that the text for Shira is at least popular as any other words.

For more tag cloud fun, check out an intersting word generator.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Kosher Wine in Arlington, VA

Living in Arlington, it's not usually difficult to find kosher products. Harris Teeter, Giant, etc. usually allow us to buy everything we need. With one exception: wine. Yeah, you can usually find Manischevitz, but come on. This is especially an issue if friends want to bring over wine as a gift.

Well, it turns out there's at least one small option. The Curious Grape, in Shirlington, carries three types of kosher wine. The guy working this evening even had the courage to recommend one.

It's not much, but it's an option.

To find the wine, just look for the section in the back marked marked "Great Wines for under $10." -It's around there. I'm not sure what this says about the wine...but hey, beggers can't be choosers.

--Ben

Book Store Visit

Shira gave me a treat and we stopped by Books A Million tonight. I did my usual routine, wandering around looking for books of interest. Then, grabbing a snapshot of them. Tonight I'll research them on Amazon, and if they look good, I'll add them to my wishlist.

I suppose if the book got rave reviews, I'd actually buy it.

What BAM needs is their own wishlist program. Perhaps they have little kiosks that allow you to scan the bar code, adding it to your wishlist. You could monitor this online and of course, people could buy from it.

Sure would save me the hassle of photographing covers.

--Ben

Friday, January 27, 2006

Scoutmaster: A Highly Evolved Mess Kit

Scoutmaster: A Highly Evolved Mess Kit

Boy, did this post bring back memories. As an Eagle scout, I can remember many pleasant and painful outdoor adventures. There was always an emphasis on trying to pack less. I recall taking a 10+ day backpacking trip (Philmont Ranch for all you past Boy Scouts) and bringing along only a single AA flashlight, instead of something fancier. If you didn't absolutely need it, you left it at home.

Cooking supplies always boiled down to two items: a spoon and a Sierra Cup (one for milk and one for meat, of course). Toss in a basic Swiss Army knife, and you were good to go for any meal.

Ahhh, good times. Not very civilized, or even sanitary, but none the less, good times.

Via: Make

This is my third post in a row related to meals. Why is that?

Lunch

Boy is Shira going to be jealous...had a very yummy thai lunch today. I better take her out later to make up for it.

--Ben

Culinary Treat

You know my mom must have been a clever cook when, to this day, I think boxed mac and cheese is a treat.

My guess is that by not serving us processed and powdered food often, I never got tired of it.

This is also one of the few meals I associate my dad with cooking (mom didn't leave us alone for dinner often, and now you can see why). That and ordering pizza.

Dad, Mom, did I misrepresent you guys here?

--Ben

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Let the Good Times Roll by Guy Kawasaki: The Art of Bootstrapping

Let the Good Times Roll by Guy Kawasaki: The Art of Bootstrapping

Following Guy Kawasaki's new blog, has been like taking a condensed business course (for free, of course). It's really good stuff, and the above post is a good example of his high quality work.

In this lesson, Guy tackles the issue of bootstrapping a company. He gives good advice, some of it pretty basic. My favorite point was his suggestion on how to make projections:

Forecast from the bottom up. Most entrepreneurs do a top-down forecast: “There are 150 million cars in America. It sure seems reasonable that we can get a mere 1% of car owners to use install our satellite radio systems. That's 1.5 million systems in the first year.” The bottom-up forecast goes like this: “We can open up ten installation facilities in the first year. On an average day, they can install ten systems. So our first year sales will be 10 facilities x 10 systems x 240 days = 24,000 satellite radio systems. 24,000 is a long way from the conservative 1.5 million systems in the top-down approach. Guess which number is more likely to happen.

If you are interested in small business at all, this blog is a must read.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Teaching -- ITD 210

The above snapshot was a quick one taken after teaching my first NVCC class, ITD 210 - Advanced Web Design.

The goal of the class is to teach students how to write and read more sophisticated web resources, from tricky HTML tables, to JavaScript.

The actual class currently has 5 students (though we can take more -- so if you live in Northern VA, now's the time to sign up!), and they are all very nice folks. The put up with me as I was late to the class, wasn't able to get into the room (had to sell my soul to get past the guards) and had minor technical difficulties with the computer.

Our first class consisted of talking about Personas and other website design tools.

In terms of technology to teach the course, I'm using the LaTeX class Beamer to write my lectures notes in. This turns out to be a really impressive package. You can create interactive slideshows, yet they are 100% pure PDFs. So, it works on any OS Acrobat does, and is printable. I also made use of my trusty Mach 256 MP3 player as a thumb drive to pull a file off of when it wasn't on the website correctly.

The experience of teaching, which I haven't done in years, was quite a lot of fun. The one thing that still blows my mind is as follows. When I pitch a new concept to a geek, inevitably, the concept is challenged. Am I sure that Personas are a useful tool? Why did I insist on using a short name in the URL? Why have multiple iterations of the same site, vs. new sites? When you teach, and you introduce an idea, you know what the students do? They write it down. Naturally, discussion and debate is important. But, in general, students actually believe what you say (or they assume you are going to test them on it -- so they better learn your view). This is real power, and makes me appreciate that I better be careful of what I say.

Please don't hesitate to review my syllabus and give me suggestions on what you would like included in this type of class. What do you wish someone had taught you in a web design course?

Song of the Day: Nothing Else Matters by Metallica

I'm currently listening to Metallica's, Nothing Else Matters, and I have to say that without a doubt, it deserves the title of Song of the Day. Why?

Because it's being performed on cellos, by the group Apocalyptica. This group specializes in playing Hard Rock songs in a classical context. And while you might think that this would produce just noise -- it really works.

Heard while listening to Beethoven.com

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Free Range Librarian: Being Able to Write: Lessons from Other Writers, New and Well-Seasoned

Free Range Librarian: Being Able to Write: Lessons from Other Writers, New and Well-Seasoned

As long as T-mobile has made it so I can't post photos, I might as well think about writing plain old text.

The above article points to some tips on being a better writer. None of it is that Earth shattering, but it's a good reminder of the basics and it's fairly inspirational stuff.

I wonder if I can count this post as my "writing for the day"? Yeah, didn't think so.

Via: LifeHacker

Waiting

There was a time when going to pick up a person at the airport meant standing at a gate, eagerly awaiting a single person from a stream of those getting off an airplane.

Now, I stand here at an apparently much safer distance. There is a wall of glass keeping me from trying to slip past security and I watch throngs of people pass by, trying to guess where one flight stops and another starts.

I guess I should consider myself lucky, my kids today are my age they probably won't be allowed within 3 miles of the airport without a ticket.

The sounds in the airport seem almost futuristic. Sure, there's the reapting announcement every few minutes telling me to not leave my baggage alone. But that's just the start. There is a movie on continous loop being presented on large screen TV, reminding me that I can't bring sharps aboard the plane. The voice of the movie is low and calm, as if every measure must be taken to avoid stress. Most earily is the swooshing sound being made as each indvidual is scanned with a burst of air (presumbly for bomb making material). The whole scene feels like I'm waiting in line at the Mission to Mars ride at Disney World.

Shira just called - she landed. I better stop writing now, or she'll be in an instant bad mood...

--Ben

Just Business

Here's a snapshot of Shira heading off on a one day business trip. Note the cute dark blue suit and the the briefcase almost twice her size.

That's my wife alright.

--Ben

Monday, January 23, 2006

Hacking Idea: Blog Sketchpad

I've been making my way through the book "How To Make A Journal Of Your Life", by D. Price. It's a small, mostly inspirational guide for how to keep a traditional paper journal about your life.

I've made it through just about three chapters, and the flow has been focused first on writing, then sketching and now photography. The idea being that each new technique helps add to the value of your journal.

One of the primary reasons I maintain this blog is to keep a journal. I'm hoping that many of my posts will be glimpses I can look back on and use to trigger memories, 5, 10 and 20 years down the line.

The similarities between paper journaling and blogging are many. And while one usually thinks of a journal as a private affair, it is assumed that years down the line you will share your journal with your family, friends and perhaps even the world.

The advice given about writing and photography map well from journaling to blogging. This led me to thinking, what about the sketching suggestions?

Price makes it clear that there is special value in recording sketches. First, because they require less hardware than photography, and perhaps more importantly because sketching relies heavily on your ability to really see something. If you took the time to draw something, then you really understand it (in fact, Price recommends learing your camera by sketching it from memory!).

OK, I'm sold on sketching. But how does that fit in with my blog? And especially with my mobile blogging requirements. My first though was that I could simply sketch on paper and then scan the results. I guess that would work, but where's the fun in that? Which leads me to the actual point of this post...

As a hacking project, I'd like to convert/build some device that would allow me to make sketches and post them to my blog. The device should be relatively small, lightweight and durable. At the very least it should sketch black and white lines, though color, multiple pen tips and perhaps even pressure senenstive entry would be great.

In terms of form factor, the device should be as thin and light as possible. A device the size of a steno notebook, or even as large as an 8 1/2" screen would work.

The software should be painfully simple, just storing multiple pages which one could browse through. Add an erase page function and you would be all set. Battery life is a big concern, so less software functionality should help here.

Connectivity could get interesting. Most ideal would be built in wifi. Push a button, have your sketch on flickr. Next desireable would be to store images (postscript files?) on a usb thumb drive or MMC card. Finally, a simple USB connection to a computer would work.

Devices like the new Fly Toy or the Nokia digital pen come close to solving this need elegantly. But, the pens are bulky and not condusive to drawing (IMHO), they are fragile and finally you have the issue of having to pay for paper. In an ideal world you could draw as much and as often as you wanted, and the digital ink would be free.

I would think that I could find some old device to convert to a digital sketch pad. Perhaps even an old palm pilot or ancient failed tablet PC. I'd also take a close look at kid's toys, as they are getting savvier all the time. I wouldn't be surprised if the gadget I want is already used by two-year olds everywhere.

Once I have this device I'll only have one issue left - I can't draw to save my life. But I figure that's just a matter of practice.

--Ben

Pellet gun fires dog treats for fat pups to chase

Boing Boing: Pellet gun fires dog treats for fat pups to chase

Could this work for cats? If so, I've got the perfect gift for Big Fatty...

StatCounter Free invisible Web tracker, Hit counter and Web stats

StatCounter Free invisible Web tracker, Hit counter and Web stats

A while back I was looking around for a stats counter. A quick search on google found me hundreds of them, but almost all of them plaster your site with a cheesy ad, that makes it look much less professional. Not these guys. They claim (and I think I've seen an example) that their stats are as clean as you can get.

I currently use Google Analytics, though if I didn't, I would probably be trying this site.

Via: Guy Kawaski's Blog (see the stats section)

Let the Good Times Roll by Guy Kawasaki: R U in the Loop?

Let the Good Times Roll by Guy Kawasaki: R U in the Loop?

When Guy first talked about filmloop I thought it was a clever idea -- not quite a slideshow, not quite a movie and another album site. Something I wish I had come up with, yet, not sure how it could be used.

Guy has now gone a step further and put the technology to use. In the above article, he talks about using a filmloop to capture his audiance. In other words, use the filmloop as a mechanism for getting to know his readers.

It's a clever idea, and a good example of using available technology to enhance your blog. I'm not sure I'm ready to make my own filmloop yet, but I'm considering it.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Runner's high

This photo brought to you by an endorphin induced run.

-Ben

--Ben

Lie Detector Electronic Kit

Lie Detector Electronic Kit and Circuit Explanation - Voltage Comparator

Now here's a fun electronics project. And while the uses seem many, most of them will probably get me in trouble.

On a more serious note, the page that describes this kit does go into a nice amount of detail. Showing you not just what components you need to buy, but also why the circuit works and the theory behind it. In general, this site looks like a good place to find electronics kits.

Via: Make

Testing...

My posts with images seem to be failing. I wonder if same can be said of text only messages?

Update: Sure enough, e-mail with attachments is failing, but plain old text e-mail works fine. I'm actually on with T-mobile at the moment.

The only nice thing calling T-mobile is that they have specialists who only deal with sidekicks. Which means that they don't blame every problem you have on lack of T-zones or SMS.

Update: They still haven't fixed my issue. Though, I have a trouble ticket, and level 3 support are working on it. I know that I was talking to level 3 support because the tech answered "Hello?", instead of "Level 3 Support, How can I help you today?" In general, I could pretty much tell I was talking to some geek who didn't want to hear from some annoying end user.

So for now, posts are queuing up on my sidekick, and I'll have to blog just plain old text.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Kitties

Shira got to oggle some kitties tonight at Petsmart. Lucky for Ben, we made it out without buying anything.

For some reason, Shira has cleanly made the transition from performing experiments on animals to just thinking they are cute and cuddly. And they say people don't change.

--Ben

Friday, January 20, 2006

Rose of the Month

One of my favorite marketing gimmicks at Harris Teeter is their Rose of the Month program. The program works as follows: every month a 1/2 dozen roses of one particular kind are put on sale for $5-6.00.

What I like about this is...

1. No excuse for not picking up flowers for the wife at least once a month.

2. You don't have to worry about choosing or duplicating flowers, Harris Teeter does all the work.

3. It's pretty dang cheap, especially compared to flower delivery.

4. 1/2 dozen roses turns out to be a good number. In general they all start off small and closed, and over a few days blossom into a nice collection of flowers.

I've found that taking care of them is pretty easy - use the provided flower food, and trim the stems before putting into water. I also like to regularly add water to the vase as it's sucked up - but I'm not sure that's the official thing to do (versus changing the water).

So, impress your signifcant other - and buy her roses. Buy them often and show that you don't only care on her birthday and days Halmark tells you to.

--Ben

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Iraqi Invasion: A Text Misadventure

Iraqi Invasion: A Text Misadventure

The above link takes you to a description of the Iraqi Invasion by our President, as written in text-adventure form.

The text is funny, but it's the format that just makes it hilarious.

An excerpt:

Oval Office
You are standing inside a White House, having just 
been elected to the presidency of the United States.
You knew Scalia would pull through for you.

There is a large desk here, along with a few chairs
and couches.  The presidential seal is in the middle
of the room and there is a full-length mirror upon
the wall.

What do you want to do now?

> INVADE IRAQ
You are not able to do that, yet.

> LOOK MIRROR
Self-reflection is not your strong suit.

> PET SEAL
It's not that kind of seal.

...

Via: BoingBoing

New Information Tracking Technique

My original plan at work was to stay as digital as possible. Storing notes, todo items, appointments, etc. on my laptop (in text files, of course).

That lasted for about two days. Inevitably, a request would come in that I'd like to just scribble down, and paper was ever so tempting.

So, rather than fighting it, I'm embracing it.

The strategy I'm playing around with is built around the idea that paper notes should have a short life span. So, I'm currently using the all powerful post-it note and my physical desktop to create a quick location to jot down notes.

The idea is that when I need to jot something down quickly, I can write it on a post-it and stick it to my desk. Once the issue has been taken care of (or logged electronically), I toss out the note.

This allows me to have a quick visual (and tactile) sense of what tasks are stranded in no-man's-land. So far, the technqiue has been working pretty well.

Some pros include:

- A very usable system that allows me to get my ideas down without hassle

- I can cluster notes together to show relation or importance

- The system is portable in that I can drop notes in my laptop case or even stick them to the outside of my laptop and bring them to an alternate location

- Tasks can't easily hide from me

And the cons? My desk looks like a pig sty, and the folks at work must think I've lost my mind.

--Ben

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Speech: Al Gore on Wiretapping

The Raw Story | In Martin Luther King Day address, Gore compares wiretapping of Americans to surveillance of King

This is the second speech I've come across by Al Gore. And, like the first, I'm impressed with his words. He so elegantly put into words what many are feeling: the president is blantely breaking the law by abusing his wiretapping piveledges.

I think the following quote summarizes his point well:

The President and I agree on one thing. The threat from terrorism is all too real. There is simply no question that we continue to face new challenges in the wake of the attack on September 11th and that we must be ever-vigilant in protecting our citizens from harm.

Where we disagree is on the proposition that we have to break the law or sacrifice our system of government in order to protect Americans from terrorism. When in fact, doing so would make us weaker and more vulnerable.

Al, do me a favor and run in 2008. Please?

Via: Crooks and Liars

Local: Upcoming Arlington, VA Torah Weekend

Below is an article I wrote up for an upcoming event at my shul. It's for the dedication of a Torah, and features a very well known scribe.

If you are in the area on February 5th, from 10:15am - 12:30pm, you should stop by Etz Hayim and join us for the event. It should prove to be a really interesting and fun time.


TORAH WEEKEND

Join us for a weekend of fun and learning as CEH celebrates Torah Weekend on February 4-5. We will welcome back to our congregation a newly repaired Torah, accompanied by the world-renowned sofer (scribe), Rabbi Menachem Youlus, who painstakingly returned it to kosher status.

The weekend’s events begin Saturday morning at Shabbat services. During services, we will use the new Etz Hayim Chumash for the first time. These Chumashim have a more modern translation and additional commentary, which is sure to enhance your Torah service experience. Finally, the latest of our new Torah covers will be unveiled, and all of them will be dedicated in a special ceremony.

On Sunday, at 10:15am, following our morning minyan, we will start a very special adult education event. Rabbi Youlus will first discuss his experiences going around the world saving and repairing Torahs. His adventures often involve exotic locations, shady characters and plenty of danger. Following this, at 11:30am, we will have a unique family oriented program. During this program, Rabbi Youlus will explain the job of a sofer, introduce you to the intricacies of the Torah, and let you watch as he makes the final corrections to the repaired Torah, so it is 100% kosher.

Getting to meet Rabbi Youlus is something you won’t want to miss. For the past 15 years, his work in finding, rescuing, and repairing Torahs has resulted in over 400 scrolls being saved. Many of these scrolls come from communities decimated during the Holocaust. Rabbi Youlus is also co-owner of The Jewish Bookstore of Greater Washington, found in Wheaton, Maryland.

The Torah repair and Chumashim were generously made possible from the newly designated Col. Denis and Henrietta Cooper Memorial Torah Fund.

Come celebrate and connect with our most precious gift, the Torah.

Self-stick whiteboard sheets

Self-stick whiteboard sheets - Lifehacker

Turn any surfance into a whiteboard. I can't think of anything that could be cooler.

I'm pretty sure my next house is going to have to have in-laid whiteboards instead of chair-rail and crown molding.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Lucid dreaming - FAQ and Howto

Lucid Dreaming FAQ Lucid Dreaming and Lucid dreams how to trigger a lucid dream

Lucid Dreaming is the ability to both know when you are dreaming, as well as alter an existing dream. It's a strange practice that, ever since I heard about it in Richard Feynman's autobiography, has fascinated me.

Tonight, via LifeHacker I came across this fairly complete FAQ/Howto.

I guess I would categorize this as one more hacking project - but in this case, you are hacking your dreams.

Google Goodies

Two new google goodies for cell phone users:

Site Translator: you provide the URL, google translates the URL into a cell phone friendly site.

Personalized Homepage: now you can get your google homepage personized on your mobile device.

Neither of these features are all that impressive, yet they are still quite handy. These sites will be esepcially useful for Shira's T809 which makes use of a WAP browser.

Via: LifeHacker

Guy Kawasaki: The Top Ten Lies of Entrepreneurs

Let the Good Times Roll by Guy Kawasaki: The Top Ten Lies of Entrepreneurs

This is an excellent list of things you should never say to a VC if you want to get your company funded (or even respected). Having heard some of these in the past, I got a good chuckle out of them.

But the most useful piece of advice comes from Guy's mom: “Never play Russian roulette with an Uzi.”

So true, so true.

Via: Fresh Inc.

Extra Parts

We were talking today at work, at how it was impressive that when I replaced my brakes a few days ago on my car, I had no extra parts.

Apparently, to make up for the inbalance of events in the universe, I had a first tonight.

An extra part left over from emptying the dishwasher. Odd, eh?

What's your favorite extra part story?

--Ben

Monday, January 16, 2006

Review: The Weblog Handbook

I just finished Rebecca Blood's Weblog Handbook. This text is a guide to starting and maintaining a weblog. It's a quick read, as it's pretty short.

As promised by reviewers, Rebecca stayed away from the mechanics of blogs and blogging, which change way too frequently to bother printing in a book, and focused instead on the fundamentals. She attempts to educate the reader on a wide variety of issues ranging from what a blog truly is to how can you increase your traffic.

The most valuable part of the book, for me, was the list of Do's and Don'ts to be a quality blogging. For example, reminders to cite your sources, or how to handle corrections in a smooth fashion will help minimize the number of screw ups a newcomer to the blogging world will have.

Is this a must read? No, not really. If you've heard the hype about blogging and want to get in on the action this is probably a good place to start. Also, if like myself you've slowly been blogging more and more, you might want to read the book just to see if you are missing anything.

In fact, if I were to make a "Get Started Blogging" kit, it would probably include:

  • This book
  • An account and and blog on blogger
  • A list of 5 blogs you should be reading daily
  • A bloglines account

Overall, I give Rebecca Blood a lot of credit. She's made a timeless text in a space that typically has a shelf life shorter than a carton of milk.

Byte Converter

Draac.Com's - Byte Converter

Lets say you need to figure out how many bytes are in 100 megs. You have two choices: spend 20 minutes at the whiteboard trying to remember 5th grade math, or, ask google.

Google was kind enough to point me to this site, which ever so clearly, tells me what I need to know.

Windows and Symbolic links

:: Shell-Shocked :: Windows Symbolic and Hard Links

Today, while trying to setup an especially clever tomcat configuration, I found myself wishing that Windows had symbolic links. (I know, some people wish for money or world peace, and all I want are symlinks.)

Well, it turns out, my wish has been answered. Windows XP, anyway, does offer honest-to-goodness hard and soft links (and no, I'm not talking about this shortcut sillyness).

The article above, links to page that talks about it.

The bottom line is that if you want to do hard links, use fsutil and if you want to use softlinks use junction.

What I find amazing is that these are both supported in the operating system, yet there is no handy command to make use of them.

Even when windows does something right, they mess up. Geesh.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Ready, Ready, Pull

Went trap shooting today for the first time. Trust me, there is nothing sexier than watching your wife shoot things out of the sky. Nothing.

Thanks to Justin and Jenna for introducing us to this very challenging "sport".

--Ben

Changing the brakes


Photo-0021.jpg
A view from inside, as there was no way I was going out into the freezing cold to take the picture. But, the boys are working hard changing Ben's rear brakes. Note to readers: only ride in Shira's car!

Originally uploaded by blumenth.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Hacking: BASIC Stemp & The 7-Segment Display

BASIC Stamp & the 7-Segment Display

I've always been interested in getting to hack micro-controllers -- the tiny computers that sit above raw hardware, but to below a full blown processor and operating system. They seem like an excellent way to fully understand computers and their capabilities.

The problem with micro-controllers is that I've yet to find a good introduction to them. Either the information is way out of my league, or is way too basic. The blog entry above seems like it might be a resource that's useful: basic, yet useful enough to get one to the next level. At the very least, it can go into the pile of basic experiments to try.

(Via: raelity bytes)

Quick Version: How to Win Friends & Influence People

How to Win Friends & Influence People - Basic Summary

The first self-help book I ever read (actually, listened to on tape!). It was recommended to be my first boss, Ray.

What I remember most was that most of the information in the book is advice that I had heard before, but did not know it was attributed to this book. For example, the advice on getting a job interviewer to do the majority of the talking, or the importance of smiling, were items I had heard before. Yet it was truly valuable to hear them all combined, and in context.

Another feeling I got from listening to the book was the need to be reminded of these critical principles. Sure, it's nice to learn them once - but they are useful enough that a refresher on them never hurts.

Well, now you can get the refresher in a condensed one page version.

(Via: LifeHacker)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Intimidation

Few experiences are as intimidating to me as walking into an auto parts store to buy a new part for my car. I have exactly what I want rehearsed - like a foriegner in a strange land asking "Where's the bathroom?" Sure, I get the request out, but inevitably, the answer is gibirish.

What's worse, any question I ask could be the question that deomstrates my complete and utter ignorance.

"I need rear brakes for a 98 chevy cavalier, please."

The response: "which size do you wan, BS636R or BS553R? Do you need brake part cleaner? How about brake fluid?"

All I can say is, I have no idea, and please help. And heaven forbid they mention the upcoming football game this weekend in small talk - again, I would be clueless. I can imagine what the clerk is thinking: "he looks so much like a dude, but could he really be a chick?"

Today's experience went well. The guy who helped me basically said I could buy all this stuff and return what I don't need.

The final fear of course is the wonder I have in whether I even bought the correct parts. Where I need to go back and try again.

So why bother? Simple, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Besides, I'm a computer programmer, I live for understanding complex systems.

--Ben

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Favorite pastime

This is a quick snapshot taken in front of a local hotel, while waiting for a friend to appear.

While this represents the perfect moment for me to pull out my sidekick and read bloglines, check my e-mail or blog, it means something totally different for Shira. It's time to practice one of her favorite activities: people watching.

That's right, she'll just sit there and watch as random people come and go. This is fun for her (and others, I hear). I guess it's the whole notion of being able to make up a story (he's running late to a meeting, and his wife is out of town and didn't dress him, and he just broke up with his girl friend which explains the grim look, ...) to match the person.

Little know people watching tip: Want to find a great place to people watch? Try a marathon! You stand there and hundreds of people stream by - all with their own unique story.

Me, I'd rather be blogging. I wonder what my wife would say about me if she saw me typing away at my sidekick?

--Ben

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Supermarket Observations

(1) They promise us that one day micro-chips will be everywhere. Well, I've seen no better example of this than the shopping cart I just used at Harris Teeter. It contains a wheel, that if pushed over the perimeter of the store, automaticaly locks up, rendering the cart useless.

This caused me to have the following thoughts:

(A) Is this an RFID trick? I need to learn more about this technology to see if I can use a similar solution to avoid forgetting my charger at home or work. Maybe I get an electric shock if I leave the building without my charger.

(B) Yikes, how much money must Harris Teeter lose on lost (stolen?) carts that justifies this expense.

(C) I wonder if I could steel one to try it out.

(2) While checking out, we had two different types of Morning Star Farm items (yummy stuff, by the way). The sale was buy one get one free - but what wasn't clear was that they had to be the exact same item.

So, the cashier rung us up, and of course the second one wasn't free.

What did the store manager do, without even waiting for us to ask? She instructed the cashier to give us the price we wanted by double scanning one item, and not scanning the second item. She made the cashier work a bit harder, and appologized for the unclear sale.

She didn't have to do this. She could have seen if we would have even noticed, or simply explained to us how the sale worked. But instead, she put us first - ahead of her inventory system, the convenience of the cashier, and even The Rules.

Give this woman a raise and a job training other managers to do the same.

--Ben

Dentist Appointment

Today I had a dentist appointment. And what made it most remarkable was how unremarkable it was.

Usually my dentist appointments are long, involved sagas. My core beliefs and fundamental motor skills are questions. I'm usually asked to pass certain tests - ranging from how do you floss, to recite every medication you have ever been, or will be on.

But not this time. This time my teeth just got cleaned. I was not intergation about how often I brush, or why I won't buy the latest XSP-3000 atomic toothbrush, only sold by my dentist, of course. I wasn't even told I had to come back in 3 months, instead of 6 (the ultimate insult, as it says that 99% of the population cannot destroy their teeth in 4 months, but you can).

They even found something wrong - one of my fillings has some decay around it and needs to be replaced by a crown. But I only picked up that much because the hygenist mumbled something a bit too loud so I could hear this bit of news.

While this whole guilt free, pain free, rather enjoyable experience was nice....I kinda miss my usual adventures. I kinda feel short changed. All I got was a cleaning, when I usually get a cleaning and a story.

--Ben

Making dinner

Here's a snapshot of Shira "making" dinner. And by making I mean ordering it off the web. What on earth did people do before the web?

--Ben

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

i2x Merchandise

Special thanks to Elana for putting together an i2x store. Now you can finally own an i2x mug or clock.

Sure, we have a business license, customers and pay taxes. But now I really feel like we have a legimitate company.

hebcal.com: Interactive Jewish Calendar Tools

hebcal.com: Interactive Jewish Calendar Tools

As far as I'm concerned, hebacal is the best Jewish calandar site I've ever used. They give me exactly the information I need in a compact and clean form.

What I still marvel at though, is the ability to import a whole year's worth of Jewish events into my sidekick in one import. All I did was:

  1. Visit the interactive calendar builder
  2. Select my options and click Get Calendar
  3. Click on Export calendar to Palm, Outlook, iCal, etc.
  4. Download the Microsoft Outlook version of the file
  5. Visit T-mobile's site and log into my Danger Desktop Interface
  6. Click on calendar, and then import
  7. Simply upload the .csv file that you created earlier - even though it appears to be asking for a .txt file
  8. And poof, you are done.

Now I never have an excuse for being late for Shabbos...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Mozilla -- ExtensionsIE Tab

Mozilla Update :: Extensions -- More Info:IE Tab - All Releases

A very cool extension to Firefox that allows you to see the content of a tag as rendered in IE.

This should make developing cross platform web UIs much easier. It certainly makes it much easier to confirm that a particular layout looks good in IE.

I'm sure there are dozens of other Firefox extensions I should be using. Do you have a favorite?

Poynter Online -- Writing Tools

Fifty Writing Tools

Here's a collection of 50 writing tools, starting with #1. Seeing as writing is such a critical skill, it's nice to see such a vast collection of methods to improve my writing ability.

Now if I just had time to read them all...

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Air & Space Visit

Shira, Peggy and I visited the "new" Air & Space museum today. As to be expected, we were all impressed.

Shira took some pictures with her phone that capture the place pretty well. I'm amazed at how well her phone holds up under low light. One picture I got that she didn't was of a nifty rocket designed to deliver propaganda material.

If you ever make it to Washington DC, you should make the trek out to Dulles VA to check out the museum there.

--Ben

Shira and WWII Era airplane


Photo-0014.jpg
Originally uploaded by blumenth.

Ben and the Enterprise


Photo-0019.jpg
Originally uploaded by blumenth.

SR-71 Blackbird -- It goes fast!


Photo-0020e.jpg
Originally uploaded by blumenth.

Ben and the Enola Gay


Photo-0015.jpg
Originally uploaded by blumenth.

Building Progress

In just two days, the house across the street went from having no second floor, to having one in place. I don't know about you, but I find this pace impressive. Especially considering this was over a weekend.

I know that in the programming world we borrow quite a few metaphors from the construction industry. While we talk about plug-ins, they actually do plug stuff in. Heck, we even "build" our programs from source code.

One question I've always had is whether or not any of the practices they use in construction could be applied to software development. They have hundreds of years of experience dealing with topics like component standardization, job estimation, project scheduling, labor specialization, etc.

Seeing as our field is so young, comparatively, you would think we could learn from a craft that has so much overlap as ours. Occasionally I've browsed Amazon and my public library for just the right book on construction - but have yet to find the right text. Though I do plan to keep my eye out for one.

I, for one, can't wait until we have a Home Depot for computer components. Just like a builder can walk in there and buy a new sink and drop it into their house's kitchen, I'll be able to buy a new blog component and just plug it in to my app.

--Ben

Starbucks Pricing - how do they do that?

Fresh Inc.

Yet another discussion on the topic of how Starbucks gets away with charging $4.00 for a cup of coffee, when everyone else is selling the same thing for $0.75.

As businesses go, you have to give Starbucks a lot of credit for their success. Rather than listening to everyone else's rules about business, they made up their own.

Google Find: Music Search Results

Sorry if this is common knowledge...but I just came across it.

Try going to google, and searching for an artist, like Garth Brooks. Notice what the first result is?

It's a pseudo site, generated by google, that shows you:

  • The artist photo
  • A list of each CD created by the artist
  • The ability to view each track on the CD
  • Links to: buy the CD, read reviews, find lyrics, etc.
  • The data is sorted by popularity, but can be sorted by release date

It's a great example of providing a domain specific (music in this case) set of search results, without interfering with your web regular results.

I know this also works for movies and the weather -- I wonder what other search results like are implemented?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Unexpected Attraction

My usual hangout at Borders is the bargain section, with the occasional visit to the computer section (and art section - but that's a post for another day).

Thanks to my latest book on tape I couldn't help but smile and pause as I walked by the "new romance" section. All those lonely strapping hunks just waiting to find the right petite, once-wounded, voluptuous babe. One book even promised "Temptation this hot is ripe for the picking." I'm not even sure I know what the means.

Shira on the other hand, found the Income Tax code to be her book of choice to oggle. Gosh, and she says I'm strange.

--Ben

Seth's Blog: How to be lied to

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2006/01/how_to_be_lied_.html

This blog entry by Seth Godin makes a critical point - if you want honest feedback from people you have to ask them questions that they will feel comfortable *not* lying about.

An example from his page:

(1) Do you like our product?

(2) What's the best part of our product? What's the worst?

Seth's point is that it's much easier to lie when answering (1) than (2).

Read it, and then ask the right questions.

--Ben

Friday, January 06, 2006

Current News cloud - Google News Tags by NEWZingo

Current News cloud - Google News Tags by NEWZingo

An interesting way to view the news going on in the world. I really like how they use font size and weight to represent the importance of a story. This turns out to be an interesting, but fairly unobtrusive way to pass on information to the user.

Midbook review: To the Ends of the Earth, by Elizabeth Lowel

The other day I was in a very big hurry to rent a book on tape from the library - and picked a novel a bit too hastily. I ended up renting Elizabeth Lowell's: To The Ends Of The Earth.

In my haste, all I saw was that the story involved a ship designer and a photographer, and seemed like some sort of adventure. Things started off with a pretty basic prolog - nothing too bad.

However, once the story started I quickly got suspicous. I then checked the book on tape box again - and there it was in 24 point script font: A Contemporary Love Story (or something to that effect).

Suddenly it hit me - I had rented a trashy love story novel. Ooops. For the next four chapters I've been putting up with a tall, muscular stranger, with angled lines and a savage, yet suductive manor - getting to know an ellusive, curvatious, independent, strong willed, sexy-legged woman.

In the first scene the boy not only resucues the girl, but litterly carries her off to his multi-million dollar home by the sea, where they promptly jump into the hot tub (with clothes on - minus his shirt, of course).

I'd laugh, but it's too hard to do while nearly gagging from over-cheesification. Yes, the book is that bad.

Yet I'm hoping to make it all the way through. I have this unwritten rule (or is it now written?) that says that I listen to a full book I rent - no matter how bad it is. Though, I must admit I've broken that rule a time or two.

So my plan is to suffer through this book, with all it's flowery dialog and shallow plot. I'm also hoping to learn a thing or two. So far I've learned that...

(1) Really independent women love to have control taken away from them by even more indepdent men.

(2) The nape of the neck is an incredibly sensual part of the body and deserves a good 5 minutes of writing about it.

(3) Women like to be picked up and carried places. This is especially true if you don't ask their permission.

(4) When you offend a woman and she demands you leave, that's your signal to stay and kiss her.

Wish me luck on this one, it isn't going to be easy.

--Ben

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Poor UI

This mail slot represents what I consider to be a big UI mistake. It's a perfectly standard looking mail slot with a note above it that says you should, under no circumstances, use the slot.

To me, this is like fixing a web UI by adding more messages in red, trying to cajole users into behaving correctly.

Rather than add more messages, change the UI so the user can't even mess up.

In this case, why not put the label over the mail slot itself, making it impossible to use the slot? It changes the UI by making the user unable to make the mistake of ignoring the warning message.

--Ben

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