Wednesday, May 31, 2006

MP3 hat hack

The last few times I've done yard work I've really enjoyed listening to my mp3 player (the irony is too good to pass up - I'm listening to geeks talk about technical topics while I do manual labor).

The one problem I've had is figuring out the best way to attach the player to me without getting all hung up on wires.

Tonight I finally found a method that worked well.

I simply attached the player to the back of my hat with a thick rubber band.

I found I could maneuver without tripping over myself, and didn't get anything caught in the weed whacker.

The best part is that adjusting the mp3 player simply means taking off my hat - which is much easier than undoing various other contraptions I've tried in the past.

--Ben

Paper Toys

Paper Toys

It's always interesting to watch kids come over to our house and entertain themselves. This is because we don't have very many traditional toys. It's quite amazing how inventive kids can be, especially if you are trying to negotiate with them about what is and isn't legal to play with.

I thought the above site might be an interesting one to have around for these occasions. Not only would kids get to spend time putting the toys together, but then they have something disposable to play with.

It's either that or entertain them by playing with my cell phone.

Via:ParenHacks

How to not get a job

I've been collecting resumes for a position on my team at Innovectra. So far, it's been an educational experience. By far, the thing I have learned most about is how to avoid getting a job. Here are some top tips I've learned:

- Don't provide a cover letter. Just send a message with resume.doc attached. Really, think about it, resume.doc does say it all. Why go overboard with words?

- Write a cover letter that has errors in it, or just reads terribly. OK, you have a Ph.D. in computer science - but should you really be expected to write in full sentences? And besides, getting help from a native English speaker, or just paying someone to help you craft your message is way below you.

- Write a cover letter which is generic and simply consists of every acronym you've ever heard of. That way, you won't stand out at all, and can be just one of the crowd.

- Describe yourself as a "PMS Installer" in your subject line when applying for a Java position. Who wouldn't want a bit of PMS installed now and then? Besides, if the acronym is meaningful for you, then it must be meaningful to the whole world.

- Whatever you do, don't read and follow the instructions in the want ad. If the ad says: "please send a sample of your work" then the smartest thing you can do is to ignore the request. You know it's a trap, one of those cheap tricks to catch people who are detail oriented and follow instructions. Why would you ever want associate yourself with this crowd?

Who knew there were so many ways to avoid landing an interview/job?

--Ben

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Summer Time

It's officially summer in the Simon household. This morning I changed the filters in our HVAC systems so we could...turn on the AC.

Yesterday it was like 88 degrees in the house, which was a bit much for me. Shira didn't seem to mind at all and still slept with a comforter.

Today, I finally put my foot down and asked to have the AC turned on. She did, and it's now 80 degrees in the house.

When I called on my way home, and asked how the house was, she responded simply: "artic conditions."

Ahhhh, feels good.

--Ben

Advergame: Pulling the Perfect Pint

Adverblog: Stella Artois: can you pull the perfect pint?

This is an Advergame that tests your ability to pull a pint (aka fill a glass full of beer).

Dave - seems to me like you should master this game before heading to Germany and the world cup. Forget learning the language, or studying train station maps. Focus on the important stuff. Like beer.

Monday, May 29, 2006

ASCII Art Memories

Going through some old papers, we found an email from me to Shira from 1996 containing an ASCII art teddy bear. That was me trying to be clever (and romantic). Kids today don't know how good they have it, with their pixels and colors. Ahh, the good old days.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Rest stop

Us outside a rest stop in Pennsylvania. The view was terrific. Though we only had a few minutes to enjoy it. Many hours of driving ahead of us...

--Ben

One of the family

Shmuel is getting another does of Simon'ness while we entertain ourselves during Elana's shower.

So far, he's holding up.

--Ben

Catch of day

Here's my big catch (no, not Shira).

Thankfully, we don't depend on my fishing skills to put food on the table.

It was lots of fun playing fisherman today.

--Ben

Gone Fishing

Since 5am this morning, I've been out fishing with my dad and his fishing buddy.

So far, my dad caught 2 perch and a cluster of zebra muscles.

I've caught some healthy looking seaweed.

But we far from giving up...

--Ben

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Shower prep

Tomorrow is Elana's wedding shower. So, the family activity tonight is getting things set up.

Is it odd that my parents can easily host 21 people at one table without missing a beat?

--Ben

Friday, May 26, 2006

Yummies

We stopped by the Specialty Bakers - "The Ladyfinger Specialists Since 1901"

We picked up a few essentials: 3 pies (apple, peach, lemon meringue), 3 packages of filled lady fingers, an Angel Ring, and two mini-pie thingies.

The bill: $11.10.

Quite possibly the best deal in baked goods ever.

--Ben

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Off by 1 error

I missed picking up a library book for Shira by 1 minute. The library was all locked up. Argh.

If I had my Mom's chutzpah I probably could have gotten in. But alas. I don't.

Oy.

--Ben

Marriage proposal suggestion - write the book

collision detection: Man delivers marriage proposal as 113-page publish-on-demand book

OK, this guy gets credit for going the extra mile to impress his wife to be. He wrote a book explaning why she should marry him and is then selling it online.

Makes me feel like such a slacker.

How to Erase Old Marks off a Dry Erase Board - WikiHow

How to Erase Old Marks off a Dry Erase Board - WikiHow

Being such a whiteboard fan - there's nothing more painful than seeing someone write on one with a permanent marker.

I can't wait to try out the trivial trick suggested in this article.

Via: LifeHacker

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Icing: Lightweight web development

The folks at LShift have put together a lightweight web framework they call Icing.

They intrduce it as it as follows:

As part of a recent development project, we’ve assembled pieces from SISCweb, SSAX and SXPath, and some of our own code to build a simple web-development framework we’ve tentatively named Icing.

I'm a really big fan of SISCweb so naturally I'm excited to see what they put together.

For starters, they have a presentation that you can review.

Broadcast Your Podcast

BROADCAST YOUR PODCAST

This is a fun site that explains how to build a simple FM transmitter. What's nice about it is that the directions for actually building the device seem very in depth.

Yet another items to add to my hacker todo list.

Via: MakeZine

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

JavaScript Shell

JavaScript Shell

I just found an interactive JavaScript shell, which includes such cool features as tab completion and history.

If this is half as useful as beanshell, then this will have been a really useful find.

Plus, you can have emacs talk directly to it.

Good Advice

Just stopping to smell the roses.

--Ben

Garmin eTrex Review

I've now had my Garmin eTrex for a few weeks. And while I've yet to use it for anything too serious, I've started forming some opinions about it. And as I do on The Blog, I thought I would share.

First, I put the Garmin on my Amazon wishlist knowing full well it was the most basic model. And it certainly has lived up to that. It's no frills all the way. The nice thing though is that what it claims to do, it does well.

Physically, the device is the most solid of any gadget I've ever owned. It claims to be waterproof, and I believe it.

In terms of functionality, the core GPS capability, plus some common functions are provided. You can store your current location, view your past "tracks", and route to a location. Of course routing here is a trivial straight line route between start, end and points inbetween.

You can record most of this data for later review, though the internal moemory size is pretty tiny. The device seems to work well for collecting data, but not for storing it long term.

One of the most impressive features is the battery life. After dealing with Shira's iQue PDA/GPS I'm amazed at how long this device can go on a set of double AA batteries. They claim battery life is like 22hrs, compared to much less for the iQue.

The GPS itself seems to pickup the sattelite signal fairly easily. Though at times it has diasspointed me with losing the signal. I really don't have enough evidence either way to say if the GPS itself is high or low quality.

One of the key reasons I wanted the Garmin eTrex was its hacker friendlyness. And I wasn't diassapointed. There are a handful of simple linux programs that allow for easy uploading and downloading of the data. My favorite of which is gpsbabel, which smoothy pulls off data from the device and can convert it to the standard gpx format.

While getting Linux to talk to the GPS is easy, getting it physically connected to a box was not as trivial. The standard connector provided by Garmin is a serial port. In this day and age, a serial port is considered a 'legacy port' and both laptops I had lying around were 'legacy port free.' As a result I had to plug the device into an older Linux box. It's pretty remarkable that buying the right cables and adapters to plug the device into a modern USB based computer probably cost more than the GPS itself.

The main detractor for the device, by far, is its input capability. This isn't surprising, considering it has 4 buttons and a very primitive "operating system." But with that said, I've owned cell phones that seemed to be just as low powered and yet still managed to give text completion of some sort or another, while being just as low powered.

In general every input operation calls for scrolling through lists of letters and numbers, almost always starting at the digit 0. Even entering longitude and latitude is pretty painful. As I practice more though, it may get to be less of an issue. The other aspects of the UI, such as the menus and how you access them are just fine. I do like how you don't explicitly need to save entered data - it's just stored automagically.

An additional resource which really ads value to this device is the site www.gpsvisualizer.com. This site does two key things. First, you can upload the data pulled off from the device to their server and they will generate a map (including nice integration with Google maps!). Secondly, they provide a geocoding facility. This is just a fancy way of saying that you can enter a postal address and they will tell you a latitude and longitude for that location. You can then plug these values into the GPS to allow you to create specific waypoints corresponding to real world locations.

The gpsvisualizer site is even Sidekick friendly, so I can access the geocoding from anywhere I have cell signal. If you forgive the poor input on the GPS, this means that the Garmin and Sidekick make a powerful combo.

There's one final area of the device to consider - is it useful? I think the answer is a clear yes. For any outdoors activity (from hiking to a walk around the neighborhood) the device gives you reliable data in a seemingly rugged package. For activities such as using it for driving directions, the device is less useful, but still not useless. While it won't give you turn by turn directions it will let you know how you are doing relative to your destination.

In fact, I was really inspired to write this review after the device helped me take an unusual route to work. I was pretty sure I knew where I wanted to go, but it was really nice to have a small safety net, insuring that a wrong turn wouldn't go un-noticed.

I've also heard it suggested that the Garmin would be a good device for travel. It's durable and the batteries last a long time which is good. And if you pre-load it with some standard points (the airport, your hotel, etc.) you can use it as a rough way to keep from getting lost.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the device. It's nice to own a gadget which puts ruggedness and pure functionality over cheap plastic and gimmics. I'd say that the Garmin delivers on its promise: it's a cheap and reliable, yet bare bones entry into the GPS world.

Now, what I need are some adventures where I can put it to work.

--Ben

Garmin eTrex Review

I've now had my Garmin eTrex for a few weeks. And while I've yet to use it for anything too serious, I've started forming some opinions about it. And as I do on The Blog, I thought I would share.

First, I put the Garmin on my Amazon wishlist knowing full well it was the most basic model. And it certainly has lived up to that. It's no frills all the way. The nice thing though is that what it claims to do, it does well.

Physically, the device is the most solid of any gadget I've ever owned. It claims to be waterproof, and I believe it.

In terms of functionality, the core GPS capability, plus some common functions are provided. You can store your current location, view your past "tracks", and route to a location. Of course routing here is a trivial straight line route between start, end and points inbetween.

You can record most of this data for later review, though the internal moemory size is pretty tiny. The device seems to work well for collecting data, but not for storing it long term.

One of the most impressive features is the battery life. After dealing with Shira's iQue PDA/GPS I'm amazed at how long this device can go on a set of double AA batteries. They claim battery life is like 22hrs, compared to much less for the iQue.

The GPS itself seems to pickup the sattelite signal fairly easily. Though at times it has diasspointed me with losing the signal. I really don't have enough evidence either way to say if the GPS itself is high or low quality.

One of the key reasons I wanted the Garmin eTrex was its hacker friendlyness. And I wasn't diassapointed. There are a handful of simple linux programs that allow for easy uploading and downloading of the data. My favorite of which is gpsbabel, which smoothy pulls off data from the device and can convert it to the standard gpx format.

While getting Linux to talk to the GPS is easy, getting it physically connected to a box was not as trivial. The standard connector provided by Garmin is a serial port. In this day and age, a serial port is considered a 'legacy port' and both laptops I had lying around were 'legacy port free.' As a result I had to plug the device into an older Linux box. It's pretty remarkable that buying the right cables and adapters to plug the device into a modern USB based computer probably cost more than the GPS itself.

The main detractor for the device, by far, is its input capability. This isn't surprising, considering it has 4 buttons and a very primitive "operating system." But with that said, I've owned cell phones that seemed to be just as low powered and yet still managed to give text completion of some sort or another, while being just as low powered.

In general every input operation calls for scrolling through lists of letters and numbers, almost always starting at the digit 0. Even entering longitude and latitude is pretty painful. As I practice more though, it may get to be less of an issue. The other aspects of the UI, such as the menus and how you access them are just fine. I do like how you don't explicitly need to save entered data - it's just stored automagically.

An additional resource which really ads value to this device is the site www.gpsvisualizer.com. This site does two key things. First, you can upload the data pulled off from the device to their server and they will generate a map (including nice integration with Google maps!). Secondly, they provide a geocoding facility. This is just a fancy way of saying that you can enter a postal address and they will tell you a latitude and longitude for that location. You can then plug these values into the GPS to allow you to create specific waypoints corresponding to real world locations.

The gpsvisualizer site is even Sidekick friendly, so I can access the geocoding from anywhere I have cell signal. If you forgive the poor input on the GPS, this means that the Garmin and Sidekick make a powerful combo.

There's one final area of the device to consider - is it useful? I think the answer is a clear yes. For any outdoors activity (from hiking to a walk around the neighborhood) the device gives you reliable data in a seemingly rugged package. For activities such as using it for driving directions, the device is less useful, but still not useless. While it won't give you turn by turn directions it will let you know how you are doing relative to your destination.

In fact, I was really inspired to write this review after the device helped me take an unusual route to work. I was pretty sure I knew where I wanted to go, but it was really nice to have a small safety net, insuring that a wrong turn wouldn't go un-noticed.

I've also heard it suggested that the Garmin would be a good device for travel. It's durable and the batteries last a long time which is good. And if you pre-load it with some standard points (the airport, your hotel, etc.) you can use it as a rough way to keep from getting lost.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the device. It's nice to own a gadget which puts ruggedness and pure functionality over cheap plastic and gimmics. I'd say that the Garmin delivers on its promise: it's a cheap and reliable, yet bare bones entry into the GPS world.

Now, what I need are some adventures where I can put it to work.

-Ben

-- Ben Simon My blog: http://benjisimon.blogspot.com Got a software idea? http://i2x.blogspot.com

Gliffy - a quick peek

A while back I mentioned that I was excited to see Gliffy take shape. Gliffy is a graphical diagramming tool that works inside your web browser (think Viso meets Flash Plugin).

Playing with it tonight for just a few minutes I had two strong feelings.

1) Wow, this is cool!. They managed to make a really smooth drawing UI in the browser. And with some neat features.

2) Wow, this is needs work.. While the basics are there, trying to put together a diagram was frustrating as it was difficult to smoothing switch between positioning stuff, entering text and doing other tasks.

I really hope the folks behind Gliffy keep up the great work and really polish things up. They have an excellent start.

My first drawing...

Monday, May 22, 2006

Fear in marketing

Check out the claim on this bottle of Off:

"repells misquitos that may be carrying WEST NILE VIRUS"

I see. How compelling.

I can just imagine how this packaging was put together. Marketing says: "We need to work West Nile in there!" The lawyers come along and say "OK, but you have to water down the claim so we don't get sued." And the consumer breathes a heavy sigh of relief because they are now protected from this deadly disease.

Gotta love marketing.

--Ben

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Field Ready

Shira standing in field ready position. Some police training habits die hard.

--Ben

It's Official

Elana has a Master's Degree! I'm officially the slacker in the family (both Blumenthal and Simons included), as everyone has an advanced degree but me.

We are so proud of her.

--Ben

Update: Check out my photos from last year, when Elana got her undergrad degree.

How to watch a graduation

--Photo Removed By Censor--

1. Get every moment of it on video

2. Play tetris on your cell phone

3. Listen to an ipod with your neighboor

4. Give your hubby dirty looks for blogging during this important occasion

--Ben

Filling up

It's graduation time! We are in the main Brandeis gym waiting for the festivities to start.

The main speaker: His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal.

Supposedly, the prince of Jordan.

Perhaps he would like to meet Her Royal Highness Princess Shira? I'm sure they would have plenty to talk about.

--Ben

The Doctor makes a followup

Not only are we getting to hang out with Elana and Shmuel this weekend, but we also got to see Aaron too.

Aaron delivers babies for a living, so pretty much his typical day at work is totally fascinating to me. Lots of fun stories.

Combine these adventures with Shmuel's pharmacy stories and it's like our very own episode of ER.

--Ben

Friday, May 19, 2006

A view from Boston

The photo attached is the view from outside our hotel window. Pretty, isn't it?

--Ben

Rushing

Of course there was a huge accident shutting down the BW Parkway, causing us to almost miss our flight. Luckily it was the other direction than the one we were heading. But it still caused us major delays.

And naturally, we were leaving from gate 16 - the last gate in terminal C. So typical. We got practice the drag-pull-run airport experience.

Anyway, we are on the flight, getting ready to take off. Whew. That was too close for comfort.

--Ben

Web Site Design Tutorial

Photoshop Web Template - Web Site Design Tutorial | PhotoshopSupport.com

Something about this tutorial for creating a website caught my eye. Maybe it was the tone, or the step by step process that makes somethign that is relatively complex easy(ier). Or maybe it was all the pink.

Regardless, it may be worth checking out.

If nothing else, the list of design resources seems handy.

David Holt: Music - How To Play The Spoons

David Holt: Music - How To Play The Spoons

I've been meaning to learn a musical instrument...

Oh, the skills you can learn thanks to the power of the Internet.

Update: D'oh - I forgot to add the attribution to this post. I found this on LifeHacker (where else?). And if you are intereted in learning new skills, another one they posted a link to was about learning magic tricks

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Airplane Tracker

Shira came across this very cool site today. It allows you to track the airport activity at some major airports, such as Boston, in this photo. The flights are delayed by 10 minutes, but it's still pretty remarkable data to see "live." You can even playback activity from a prior time.

Why you would actually pay money to develop this service is beyond me, and it seems like a gaping security hole, but with all that said, it's really cool!

Climate Control

Check out Tonya's hack to keep her heater from spewing out gobs of cold air.

Why is it that our offices only have two settings - too hot and too cold?

--Ben

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Not as private as you may think

ONJava.com -- Subverting Java Access Protection for Unit Testing

Suppose you are planning to design a highly structured programming language, meant to be used in a team environment. You would make sure to have support for private state, which other objects couldn't see -- right?

Would you then go ahead, and add a really simple facility to your language that allowed you to turn off all those access controls?

Well, I'm not sure I would - but Java did. Which turns out to be really nice.

The above article describes how you can get access to private methods and fields. I was using this technique to help me track down a memory leak in a program I'm working on.

I simply kick off my application, open up a BeanShell console to it, and am free to peek inside things like static caches and such.

So nice of Java to offer this back door.

Bluish Coder: Google Web Toolkit

Bluish Coder: Google Web Toolkit

Chris mentions that google has released the Google Web Toolkit.

The toolkit appears to an API for creating sophisticated web applications (read: Ajax enabled) all by writing Swing like Java code. It seems like it could be really useful.

I wonder how well it could be mixed with SISCweb to provide for an even better API.

Lots to play with.

Playing with Prototype

Tonight I had a chance to play with prototype, as documented here. I'm pretty much blown away at what an impressive library it is.

Prototype goes beyond adding convenience functions, to actually changing the way you think about solving problems in JavaScript. It makes heavy use of anonymous functions, and other fairly advanced features, and shows how they can be put to good use.

This also shows how flexible a language JavaScript is, in that you can extend it to add in new metaphors that simply didn't exist before.

Take some time to play with the library, and before know it, you'll be writing:

data.each(function(o) { doSomethingWith(o); });

instead of:

for(var i = 0; i < data.length; i++) {
  doSomethingWith(data[i]);
}
or
 var needle = haystack.find(isNeedle);

Yes, I know this is very Functional/Lisp/Scheme like. But that's hardly surprising, as converting JavaScript to Scheme has been done before.

Once you've played around with Prototype, it's worth looking into Open Rico. Open Rico uses Prototype to offer a series of sophisticated web UI controls, all cleanly accessed through JavaScript.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Color Schemer - Online Color Scheme Generator

Color Schemer - Online Color Scheme Generator

This site provides a cool utility to play around with color schemes. I've always been blown away at how hard it is to do the simple act of picking colors. It really doesn't seem like a tricky activity, yet I always manage to choose ones that make it looked like a color-blind amateur was selecting colors.

What I like about this site is that you can choose a color scheme and then make it lighter or darker. I think I often start with a particular color I'm shooting for, but don't know the best way to visually tweak it to get to something sharper.

Anyone have any good suggestions for picking color schemes?

Monday, May 15, 2006

101 things you can do in Firefox

101 things you can do in Mozilla

Need a reason to try Firefox? How about 101 reasons?

Get Firefox

Playing Hookey

Shhhh, don't tell anyone. Today Shira and I came home, curled up on the couch amd watched TV. As Brad Paisley says, "it was time well wasted."

OK, enough fun. Back to work...

--Ben

Add Bookmark via Javascript

Add Bookmark Javascript Example By Eddie Traversa

The JavaScript needed to add a bookmark in IE is pretty trivial. However, I had yet to see a solution that works for both IE and Firefox. The above link points to one.

Update: This turned out to be too good to be true. The attached code creates a bookmark. However, in Firefox, the bookmark loads in the sidebar. The result is a bookmark that isn't really useable.

On a good note, the effect may very well be useful for other things, so it's probably still worth playing with.

Thanks to Beamer for playing with, and reporting on, this code.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Moms

We got to enjoy Mother's day with an authentic Mom, with 4 great boys to prove it.

Happy Mother's day Danielle.

To my mom: Happy Mother's Day. Sorry for eveything bad I ever did. I wish I could say I won't do any of it again, but you know my non-lying policy.

--Ben

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Clinton vs. Bush - The honesty question

I think this CNN poll says it all. Though I doubt you find the same results on the Fox News site.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Power

Behold! The power of the compressed work schedule (C-Wiz as I prefer to write it). Shira had today off, so bread was baked, brownies were prepared and eclectic items were purchased from far away super markets.

And I get all the benefit.

Thanks sweetheart.

--Ben

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