Friday, March 30, 2007

More than I bargained for

On my way in to work I stopped at a new dermatologist to get a small mole checked on my arm. You would think this would be a simple task, but I had no idea what they would put me through.

First, this is a new doctor's office. So, first I had to sign over my identity to them (and my wife's and a friend - Mom, I chose you). Then I needed to fill out the history form, which they will no doubt ask me all again.

Fine, got it.

They then called my name.

The nurse took me into the exam room and took my vitals. Fair enough. Then she asked me to get undressed.

Excuse me? The mole is on my arm, can I just role up my sleeve? The nurse explained that the Dr. always does a full body scan before treating a patient.

I don't know about you, but I find the phrase "full body scan" to be anything but a good one. I would expect TSA to give a suspected terrrorist a "full body scan." Me, I was just hoping for a quick spot check.

OK, undressed it is.

I humbly asked, "do I get a gown?" I guess I was instantly transported back to the pediatric days of physicals and that open backed garment that was part of the routine.

The nurse's response: "Do you really want a gown? We usually give females gowns."

"Oh, I said. In that case, I won't need one."

But really, I was thinking - what the heck does that have to do with my question? The last thing I want is as much privacy as you give a chick. Whew, that was a close one.

So, now I'm sitting in my scivvy's waiting for this full body scan to begin.

Wish me luck. I think I need it.


Emacs hack: ediff latest versions from CVS

Everyone on my team knows one thing - I sure do love my code reviews. The first thing I do to get the code review started is diff the changes the developer made in CVS with what was previously there.

For years, I've simply read the context diff to see what's changed. But recently (perhaps out of Eclipse envy?) I've considered using ediff, an interactive tool for diffing in emacs. Here's a sample screenshot of what ediff looks like:

The annoying thing about ediff was that I needed to type in the version numbers to diff. That totally slowed me down and made using ediff more of a pain.

Then it hit me - this is emacs. If I don't like something, I can write a bit of code to fix it. And so that's what I've done. The code below ends creating an interactive function named ediff-previous-and-current-version. In my .emacs file I've bound this command to Control-x v e. So now I simply open up a file, type key combination, and poof, I have an interactive diff of what's just changed.

Code reviewing was never so much fun.

(defun vc-buffer-current-version ()
  "Get the current CVS version of the current buffer."
  (vc-workfile-version (buffer-file-name)))

(defun vc-buffer-previous-version ()
  "Get the previous CVS version of the current buffer's file."
   (vc-backend (buffer-file-name))

(defun ediff-previous-and-current-version ()
  "Ediff the previous and current version of this file."
  (ediff-vc-internal (vc-buffer-current-version) (vc-buffer-previous-version)))

(defun my-ediff-quit-hook ()
  "My own cleanup function, to make sure ediff is all pretty when done."
  (kill-buffer ediff-buffer-A)
  (kill-buffer ediff-buffer-B))
(add-hook 'ediff-quit-hook 'my-ediff-quit-hook)
Apologies to elisp hackers if I've butchered this code - please feel free to review it and make suggestions. I'd love to incorporate them.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Just a bit critical of the UN

My brother Dave sent me another video - this one about the UN. It's powerful stuff, and begins to demonstrate a perception of the one sidedness of the UN (or at least of the UNHRC).

Thanks Dave for passing this along.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Blackberry: White Screen of Death

As you know, I got my Blackberry Pearl at the beginning of the New Year. I have come to live with the memory leak, just pulling the battery every few days, and all in all, really love the phone.

Imagine my dismay when Saturday night, while minding my own business, I look down, and the phone has a white screen and the hourglass is turning round and round, as it does when it boots up. Fascinating, as I had not powered the phone down or up, nor had I removed the battery. It had done this trick all by itself. The problem was, it was never booting. It was just continuously showing the hourglass. So, I did what Bill Gates has taught us all to do, and figured I would pull the battery to reboot. Unfortunately, the white screen with the hourglass turning round and round never yielded to the familiar wallpaper background of a picture of Ben and me.

So, I called T-Mobile customer service. I was extremely impressed by first-level Blackberry customer support. I didn't have to wait till support tier 4 until I spoke to someone with a technical clue. The rep told me my phone was basically in an infinite reboot loop. The only fix was to reinstall the Blackberry operating system which would wipe the phone completely. Had I done a backup? Silly question, of course I hadn't done a backup. It's a cell phone. I've had it for 3 months. Anyway... he told me what software to download and install on the Blackberry. Unfortunately, the install failed 3/4 of the way through. We tried 6 more times, and then got the hint that it wasn't going to work. They would have to send me a new phone.

I was extremely bummed, because we all know what a pain it is to go through new phone setup. My new phone came and it already knew what Gmail account I had setup. That was promising. Everything else had to be done from scratch. Contacts could be synced from Outlook. I re-downloaded Google talk, Gmail, Google Maps and tried to put all my bells and whistles back to how I liked them.

The only problem was that IM took me to the Blackberry browser and gave me a 404 error instead of taking me to the IM client. So, I called T-Mobile support again. They told me they were having a known issue with this, but there was a work-around. She sent me an email with a link that I could click on right from my Blackberry to download software. We installed it and I was in business. That is two helpful first-tier T-Mobile Blackberry support folks. I am impressed!

The phone is almost back to how I like it. I will tell you what I have already done... that's right. I have used Blackberry Desktop Manager, and performed the first of many backups to come!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Winter is gone

How do I know winter is gone? It's 80 degrees upstairs in the house.

And the sad part, Shira's loving it.

Oy, let the complaining-about-how-I-can't-breathe-in-here begin! Gonna
be a long summer, I can tell.


Ayers does Passover

Gosh I love Ayers Hardware (703-538-5678, 5853 Washington Blvd, Arlington, VA). This little store has everything!

It's like a Target, Wal-Mart and Home Depot all rolled into one, but with employees who care. I know I've blogged them before, but they are doing such a good job, I can't keep myself from doing it again.

Today's mission: find a variety of odds and ends to fulfill a Passover shopping list. From shelf paper to a cork screw, I found all the items I needed.

I asked the clerk - apparently the store has been open since 1948, and under the same ownership since the late 70's. He said their sales took a dip when Home Depot opened down the street, but recovered when people realized the kind of service they were going to get there.

This is clearly one business that is winning by not taking shortcuts.


Review: In A Sunburned Country

In A Sunburned Country is one of Bill Bryson's travel books about Australia. With a trip to Australia coming up, I decided to rent the book for the subject matter, and because I was hoping it would be a fun read.

The other books I've read by Bryson have always been funny, and with 40+ hours on an airplane, I figured I'd need a few laughs.

How right I was on all accounts.

The information in the book was accurate, relevant and quite interesting. And best of all, it was laugh-till-tears-streamed-down-my-face funny. Seriously, Shira thought I was suffering from some sort of medical condition, I was laughing so much. What a great antidote to a 13 hour flight.

I just love Bryson's books in general, and this one is no exception. The adventures he gets himself into are just priceless.

I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed this book and what a terrific writer Bryson is. But, I'll spare everyone and just say this was a 10/10 and that you simply must read this book.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Seth on Shortcuts

Here's more great wisdom from Seth Godin.

There are some airlines that spend all their time dreaming up ways to lobby the government and others that spend all their time making flying a better experience. There are restaurants that dream up ways of charging more for bottled water, and others that work hard to create an experience worth bringing a group to enjoy.

He makes an excellent point: rather than trying to take a shortcut to success, try something a bit different - work harder, and provide a better product/service/experience/etc.

This is a message we simply don't hear often enough. Well put Seth.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Passover - The real dirty work begins

Today Shira and I spent quite a bit of time preparing for Passover. Today's main activity was to take every bit of food out of the pantry, clean it (the pantry, not the food), chuck some of it (like the cans of evaporated milk, best used by 11/04), and decide which of it can be given away to unsuspecting people at work. All this to reduce as much non-kosher food in the house as possible.

As you can see from the attached photos, the first step of the cleanup process involves making a gigantic mess.

Keep in mind, we don't just clean stuff up and get rid of food that isn't kosher for Passover, but swap in an entire set of dishes, pots, pans and utensils that are just used on Passover. We do all these changes for a mere eight days. Then everything is put back for the next year.

To think, for the last three thousand years my fellow Jews have been turning their lives upside down for this holiday. This is clearly evidence that God not only exists, but has one heck of a sense of humor.

Coming Soon...The Onion

Here's some good news for DC area residents: The Onion will be available for pickup at newspaper boxes around town.

The one in the photo here is at Pentagon Row in Arlington, VA.

I love their tagline: Journalistic Integrity Comes To Washington, D.C. Nice.

If you have never read The Onion, drop what you are doing (after you finish reading my blog) and visit their website. The Onion is laugh out loud funny fake news. It really is clever stuff.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Barack Obama: President of MySpace

Numeric Life pointed out the following data that was shared about the popularity of presidential candidates on MySpace:

Barack Obama: President of MySpace

Way to go Barack! Even without adding him to my list of friends, when I visit Barack's MySpace page I'm greeted with the message Barack Obama is in your extended network. And I currently have two friends, so that's saying something.

I really do hope these numbers translate to support and votes.

I just requested to be one of his friends, so that should put his most recent friend count at 80,012.

The graph and data for this information is hosted on, which looks like an interesting site in and of itself. If you are a data geek, it seems like it would be worth checking out.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Out to lunch

Had lunch with the team today. What a great chance to collaborate on ideas, build constructive team relationships and improve our cross functionality knowledge matrix.

Oh, and to drink beer and eat rich chocolate deserts.

Mmmm...collaboration never tasted so good.


Ironic TinyUrl Humor

Note the message on the right hand side where the ads usually appear.

What does it mean that I not only found this funny, but blogworthy funny? Oy.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

$38 billion worth of PMA

On topic of deleting information that is worth $38 billion by accident an anonyous coward said:

I once deleted a file worth $38 billion. I was afraid my boss was going to fire me, but he shook my hand and laughed "Fire you?!! We just invested $38 billion in your education! We can't fire you after that kind of investment." And true enough, I never deleted a file worth that much again.

Point taken.

Thanks to Simon for pointing me to the original story.

Passover is coming

If this doesn't get you in the mood for Passover, I don't know what will. Shira and I are actually planning to do a bit of cleaning tonight...ahh, the joys of Passover.

This is probably the closest thing to a Jewish country music song I've ever heard.

Dave (as in my bro) - thanks for passing this movie on to me. Excellent selection.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Enconomy Plus is looking better and better

Sure, my Economy Plus experience was a bit tight for the 40+ hours we spent in the air. But at least I didn't have to put up with this.

Remember, it could always be worse.

Lightweight Image Editor

I've been impressed with how much mileage I've been getting out of my thumb drive lately. But, as I've quickly learned, its 1 Gig capacity simply isn't that big. So, I've started for looking for ways that I can free up some space.

First, I removed the pocket version of a Pocket Firefox. While exceedingly cool, I can survive a session of IE if I need to.

Next, I got rid of 7 zip. Again, it's a cool app, but most windows boxes already have a zip program, and I can usually grab one if I need it.

Finally, I thought about removing The Gimp, but I really like the idea having an app where I can crop and tweak images. But still, at 26 Meg, it was an expensive choice.

So, I poked around and came up with IrfanView. As Wikipedia says:

It can crop, resize, and rotate images. Images can be adjusted by modifying the brightness, contrast, tint, and so forth, and by converting them between formats. Many of these changes can be applied to multiple images in one operation, using batch processing.

And, it does all this and weighs in at about 1MB. Just what I was looking for.

I also added an app to the thumb drive: hugin. Hugin is used for making panoramic photos. This is something I'll actually use while away from my computer, so I thought it was worth the 31 Meg it costs.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Walking out without paying

I just picked up this prescription from CVS. It had a note attached saying they didn't have all meds in stock, so it was only partially filled.

So, what did the clerk do? She gave me the pills and told me to come back tomorrow to get the rest. And, oh by the way, I should pay then too.

I'm just shocked by this incredibly sane policy.

Best Buy doesn't trust me enough to let me handle a digital camera without being tethered by a security cable, and CVS lets me walk off with unpaid drugs.

Way to go CVS, you guys rock.


Lessons from the Wolfpack

I'm most of the way through John Keegan's Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to Al-Qaeda, and while it was a slow start, I'm really enjoying the section on WW II.

Keegan just got done discussing the German U-boat campaign. Here's a few things I learned.

First, the U-boat was actually an inferior weapon compared to those it was going after. Yet, it was able to use its one advantage - that it was effectively invisible - to beat a much more powerful enemy.

I guess that amounts to more evidence that small can beat the pants off big.

Next I learned that U-boats traveled in wolfpacks, rather than on their own like the US subs did. A key aspect of these wolfpacks was that they were closely controlled via a central authority.

The result of this grouping and control was that the U-boats could simulate a much larger presence. For example, they could string out to form a large net to find ships, or they could cluster together and simultaneously attack for a bigger impact.

In other words, small, when properly coordinated, can also be big.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Chill Music

Let's say you have a nasty case of jet lag from say a trip to Australia. What's a guy to do to try to relax and catch some Z's?

Well, listening to Chill Music is an option.

Chill music is apparently a cross between those soothing CD's you might find at Brookstone and techno music.

I've actually decided I like the stuff. At least when I'm in a jet lagged mood, anyway.

I've enjoyed Summer Chill and Astral Navigations so far. Though there are plenty more to check out. And most (all? some?) of them are free to listen to and even add to your mp3 player.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Photos from our Australia trip

Here's a collection of photos from our trip. Even if you've been following along on Ben's blog, this is a bigger (but not too overwhelming) and slightly more organized set.

As you know, we had a great time and can't wait to go back!