Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The White House Photo Stream

The White House has apparently uploaded hundreds of photos to flickr, as the White House Photo Stream.

I'm amazed at the quality of these photos. Each one tells a wonderful story. The White House photographers photographer, Pete Souza deserves immense credit for capturing these, which couldn't have been an easy task. See what I mean?


Bookmarklet: Find Time Zone by Area Code in a hurry

One terrifically bad way to start off a relationship with a client is to call them on their cell phone at 8am when it's 11am your time. To avoid this, I find myself regularly Googling area codes to figure out what time zone they are in.

I recently found which gives me exactly the info I need. Now all I needed was an easy to access the site. To address this, I put together this Bookmarketlet. Just drag the link below to your bookmarks toolbar and you'll be ready to go.

Area Code » Time Zone

To use the bookmarklet, click the bookmark link and enter the area code when prompted. You should then be jumped to the page that gives the details on the area code. It's that easy.

7 Kid Friendly Android Apps (all free)

While hanging out with my newest niece and nephew, I got to thinking about what goodies I could install on my cell phone to entertain them. OK, at about 5 weeks of age, there isn't much these kids are into beyond eating, sleeping and dirtying diapers. Heck, they don't even want to use my phone as a chew toy yet. But, you can never be too prepared, so I poked around the Android Market to see what I could come up with.

So here it is, 7 apps that I think might be especially kid friendly. Remember, this is from an Uncle's perspective, not a parent - so for all I know these are terrible suggestions.

Note: apps with the tag market can be found and installed by searching the Android Market for the application name. Apps with the word built-in, are, as you might guess, already built in.

  • Draw! market - This is a simple app that allows you to scribble on the screen. Should be fun for doodling as well as attempting to draw real pictures (though, good luck!). There are few controls to get in the way, but if you do want to get fancy you can change pen colors and even save your work.
  • Tub Thumber market - This is a simple drum kit app. You see the pictures of the drums and thump away. You can't record your masterpiece, but it should be entertaining none the less.
  • Comedy Sound market - This is a soundboard - a collection of related sounds that you can play on demand. It's not very extensive, but for small kids it could be a simple gadget to play with. I tried all the sounds with the twins, alas they weren't phased by any of them. Oh well, better luck next time.
  • My Tracks & orienteer market - These apps are ideal for older kids. They will allow them to play around with both direction and their location. What kid wouldn't want to take a walk around the block and see the path they took on a map? Orienteer provides a basic compass kids can experiment with and it works just fine indoors.
  • PaiJump PapiJump market - This simple game has you twist and turn the phone to get your little character to jump just right. I'm sure a kid could master it in just a few minutes, leaving us adults struggling to make any progress at all.
  • Voice Recorder market - The Voice Recorder does just what it says it does. Use it to record goofy sounds, make your own radio program or any of 100 other uses. It's simple and should provide entertainment to kids of all ages.
  • YouTube built-in - YouTube provides tons of kid friendly content if you know what to look for. Everything from Sesame Street - Animal Sounds to the Alphabet Song in Japanese is available for you to watch. Just be creative, and fun should be had. Note - this app definitely requires adult supervision, as there's plenty of content on YouTube even an uncle knows isn't kid appropriate.

So, what apps do you find kids like to play with the most? Please share in the comments.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Saying Goodbye to the Twins

Today was the last day of this visit with the twins (and their parents!). We certainly enjoyed our time getting to know them and can't wait to come back and visit soon.

Not shown in the photographs was an especially unique occasion. Chana spit up all over me and my laptop after our morning feeding while I was on the phone with a customer. Chana, you'll be glad to know that my first thought was that I hoped you were feeling better, not that I hoped my laptop was okay. Shira, thanks for cleaning up!

Chana and me during our morning feeding. I'm going to miss getting up tomorrow morning and not giving one of them a bottle. Even the diaper and outfit changes were painless. Man these babies are good.

Dovid and me taking a self portrait:

Shira and Dovid laughing it up:

Shira taking Chana for a virtual airplane ride:

My 33rd birthday celebrated in style! Shmuel went out of his way to get ice cream for the occasion, and they and my Mother-in-Law had cards for me. The guest list was quite exclusive. Not shown in the photo is Chana, she was a little pre-occupied getting lunch from Mommy. Check out that look on Dovid's face - he's ready to dive into the ice cream. Thanks guys for an outstanding birthday celebration!

Dovid doing what he does best - snoozing:

A Most Impressive Ruby Tutorial

Thanks to @Elchie I learned about Try Ruby! - a web based Ruby interpreter. An Applet based web version of a language isn't all that new. But, what's done quite well is the tutorial.

The interpreter and tutorial are linked together, so as you try out the examples, the next step in the tutorial is shown. No more scanning past the examples - it only works if you try them out.

Even if you aren't interested in learning Ruby this is still a user an impressive user experience and one worth checking out.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Walk Around Chestnut Hill Reservoir

We decided to give mom some alone time with her kids and took a walk around Chestnut Hill Reservoir in Brookline, MA.

I have to admit, the last few times I've visited Boston I haven't exactly come away with the warmest feelings for this city. In fact, it seems like no matter when I'm here, it's cold and dreary.

Well, all that changed today - I got to see a nice summer day in Boston and boy was it fantastic. People were out and about, the scenery was gorgeous and there was a light breeze in the air. You couldn't ask for anything more.

The reservoir gets top reviews on Yelp, and I see why. If you're in the area and looking for a walk / run, this is a great place to be.

The Twins Day 4 - Baths and Other Adventures

What a fun day we had hanging out with the Twins. It was a day of firsts for us, including: giving the twins a bath, taking a ride in my sister-in-law's new minivan (a minivan? Now they're official parents!) and taking the twins to their very first restaurant. I'm pleased to report that the twins did great through it all. They even let us eat in peace at the restaurant, proving what perfect angels they could be.

Some photos from throughout the day.

These are from bath time. After the bath, both the twins were absolutely wiped. We were pretty tired ourselves.

This is Dovid as he prepares to head out to his very first restaurant - Cafe Eilat. Sorry to say, but there wasn't anything on the menu for them, so he and his sister just quietly slept while we ate with one eye watching them.

Did I mention we're having a fun time?

Swine Flu Info and another Twitter Case Study

Though I haven't been following it closely I see that Swine Flu is on the front of page of CNN and all over Twitter.

For reliable info, I'd suggest checking out @CDCemergency on twitter. It has links to press conferences, breaking news and articles, such as this one: How to take care of someone at home with Swine Flu.

If you want to get these update sent to your phone just send the text follow cdcemergecy to the phone number 40404.

I just love how Twitter can be used by anyone to setup a quick information site like the CDC Emergency. Whether it's a national emergency like this, or your local Boy Scout troop, you can keep everyone in sync with latest information.

See, Twitter is more than just a distraction.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Twins And The Great Outdoors

We survived our first morning taking care of the twins solo. And this afternoon we took them for a little bit of a walk. Well, we walked, they slept.

But, still, I think everyone had a good time.

I don't mind admitting, I'm both impressed and a bit intimidated by their double stroller. The thing went from folded to expanded at the press of a lever. It's a work of engineering genius.

The Preferred Cygwin Screen Version

Screen should be among the top 10 unix tools you learn. If you have access to a shell account, learn it. Master it. It will save your butt.

On Windows, I've been using this port of screen for years.

But, while poking through the Cygwin 1.7 beta, I learned that it now gives you the option of install screen. You'll find it under Utilities, here:

The cool part about using the latest Cygwin version is that attaching and dettaching from a screen session seem to work flawlessly. Finally, I can screen -rd my way back to all screens if need be.

Twin Visit - Day 1

We got to Boston a couple of hours ago for a visit with the The Twins. Within minutes (seconds?) the camera was out and photos were being snapped.

Did I mention they are just a little bit cute? And well behaved too! Chana-Brocha was kind enough to let me check my e-mail while she snoozed and ate. I can see we are going to get along swimmingly.

And here it is - the official Ben and Shira self portrait with two very cute additions:

Here are a few more photos...just be thankful I'm sparing you the other 127 we decided not to upload.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Arlington at Sunset

From a run yesterday, snapped as I was running along 4mile run trail.

Site of the day:

One of my clients sent me some HTML in e-mail today, but it got munged in the process. I wanted to ask him to resend it to me but do it in a way that it wouldn't get messed. And then I remembered is a simple concept - you can paste whatever you want into a web page and then send someone a link to it. The content can't get hosed up in the e-mail, because all you're sending is a link.

One of the neat features of is that you can create your own personal Pastebin by adding a subdomain. So, I can paste stuff into and not have my clippings get mixed in with others.

There's absolutely no security provided, so don't use it for anything other than public content. But still, it's awfully handy.

See what I mean?

And for a Web 2.0 feel, you can use (It's Web 2.0 compliant because: it's got the funky url, large fonts, pretty colors and Twitter button. Need I say more?).

The Measles Comes To Town

Thanks to Mr Gareth Embrey for pointing out this public health info:

WASHINGTON - With five confirmed cases of measles in the area, local health officials are warning that people in the District and Arlington and Montgomery counties may have been exposed to the virus.

The article then goes on to list locations that are known exposure sites - the grocery store where we shop being one of them.

It's one thing to talk about diseases like Measles, it's a whole other thing when they are popping up in your town. I guess I'm also lucky in that I'm both relatively young, and was immunized as a kid, do I'm probably in fine shape.

And here's a little known fact: Measles killed one fifth of the population of Hawaii in the 1850s.

So, check the exposure sites and more importantly get your kids vaccinated.

OK, that's enough of a public health message for one day. Thanks Gareth!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Eyes In the Back of My Head Hack

I'm expecting an important Fed-Ex today, which usually isn't a problem. But, with my luck, I'll have my music up too loud and won't hear him as he attempts to make his delivery.

Now, there are a couple of solutions to this: (1) turn down the music and (2) relocate myself from upstairs to downstairs near a window. But both are ridiculous. What I needed was to harness the technology I had to solve this problem. And that's what I did.

Here's my super quick hack for getting eyes in the back of my head...

  • Setup Shira's personal laptop, which happens to include a webcam, so it's facing outside the window like so:
  • Now, from Shira's laptop, use Google's video chat and contact myself at work computer in the other room.
  • Turn the feed on and watch the traffic go by:

It's an eerie feeling spying outside my window. It's sort of a very bad reality show.

OK Fed-Ex guy, the trap is, just take the bait...

PayPal Link Generator - Build your own 1 click payment links

Yesterday Shira was paying an electronic invoice when she noticed a neat feature. The invoice contained a link that took her right to PayPal and had her all queued up and ready to pay. We didn't need to ask the person what their PayPal e-mail was, payment was just a click away.

I was so impressed that of course I dropped all my real work to make a little tool that Shira could use to send these kind of links to our customers. And here's the result.

Fill in the details below and click Make PayPal Link. The text area below will fill in with a link. You can then paste this link in an e-mail, on your blog, in your twitter feed, even on the side of a building. Just get creative.

Note: This form is JavaScript based, which means you aren't submitting this information to me or anyone else. Your paypal e-mail and other details won't be visible to anyone, I promise.

Your PayPal E-mail:

A Preview Of The Next Cygwin Version

I recently learned that you can beta test Cygwin 1.7, the next big release of Cygwin. And the best part is that you can use the current version and the new version together:

Please keep in mind that this is a TEST release. Don't use in critical production environments. Nevertheless I'd like to encourage everyone to give 1.7 a try. Due to internal changes it is possible to install a 1.7 release in parallel to a 1.5 release and even run 1.7 processes in parallel to 1.5 processes. The processes will not know about each other!

For a Unix Geek like me living on Windows, this is really excellent news. It's not even the feature set of 1.7 that's so exciting - it's just that Cygwin is still a living, breathing project.

What are you waiting for, give it a try.

Monday, April 20, 2009

QR Code Coolness

To read this blog post you'll need a QR code reader. If you've got a G1, you're in luck - just go to the Market application and search for Barcode Scanner install it. If you've got another phone manufacturer, then you might have to try harder. Check out ZXing and BeeTag.

Android App Of The Day: My Tracks

I'm officially a fan of the My Tracks application for Android. I used it yesterday as Shira and I took a walk along the Mt Vernon Trail here in Arlington. Here's a map of our walk:

View Mt Vernon Trail Walk in a larger map

Some things I like about the application:

  • It's nice and simple - you can easily start and stop recording tracks, add waypoints
  • The insert Statistics function is handy
  • It's got seamless integration with Google's My Maps, so at a press of a button, I can push this up to My Maps to share.
  • It has integration with Google Spreadsheets to allow you to keep track of a list of all your tracks in an easy location

Heck, even the distribution of the program is clever - as they allow you to use bar code software on your phone to slurp in the download URL. It's the first time I've seen bar code software used by a mobile device in any meaningful way - slick stuff.

A couple of friendly warnings though:

  • Double check the units you are in. I was using Kilometers, and thought I had traveled 3.6 miles, when in fact, I had gone 3.6 km. Careful, your ego could get bruised.
  • Don't forget to end the track before you get in the car and drive away. That will throw off your final stats.

If you do any outdoorsy type activities, this is a must have app for you G1.

Here some photos from the walk:

It was a perfect Spring day to be out for a walk

Watching planes land at Reagan National Airport from our picnic spot

Apparently, turtles love all the jet noise next to the Reagan National Airport runway. Who knew?

More Trial and Error Gardening

Like I've mentioned in the past, there are two ways to approach gardening. You can study up, follow the rules and have great results. Or, you can walk around the plant section of HomeDepot, say, "oooh, that looks pretty - let's buy that!", go home and stick it in the ground.

We are once again taking the trial and error approach. And to be honest, it worked out well enough last year, that I'm happy staying ignorant for now.

Before photos...

After photos:

Looks like our timing was pretty good, as the rain today is serving as a free watering service. How nice.

You'll be happy to know that our rosebush is doing quite well. Pretty soon, I'm going to have to declare it as a dependent on my taxes.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tool Of The Day: Windows Vista Snipping Tool

Every once in a while, Windows really surprises me. In a good way, no less. Like their Remote Assistance Tool. Well, they've done it again.

While explaining to a client over IM how to take a screenshot (you hit the key labeled PRNT SCRN then hit Control + V, or forget it), I decided there had to be a better way than the classic Print Screen key technique. Turns out, there is, and it's already installed on Vista: The Snipper Tool.

If you hit Start » All Programs » Accessories you'll find the Snipper Tool. Start it up, and then select on your screen what you want to capture. It even allows you to annotate the image with your scribbling. Learn more here.

Well done Microsoft - keep the pleasant surprises coming.

Most Excellent Video Clips

These were both a joy to watch...

First, a clip from the Dilbert TV show, The Knack:

"Can he lead a normal life?"
"No. He'll be an engineer."

It's perfect. Thanks Dad for providing this one.

And here's Susan Boyle's performance on Britain's Got Talent. I suppose this is like American Idol. Regardless, I've never seen either show, and don't plan to start watching now. But her performance is just too perfect not to watch.

For all you underdogs out there, this is a must see.

Thanks to my brother Dave for passing this one along.

Friday, April 17, 2009

100 Ways To Avoid Starting A Business

My buddy Manoj pointed me to this impressive article: A Complete List of 100 Attributes of People Who Start Companies:How You Can Be One of America’s Entrepreneurs. The article is well written, comprehensive and in many ways - totally accurate.

Yet, I think it totally misses the mark. 100 attributes? Really? I can't imagine anyone has these 100 attributes fully mastered. And working on mastering them seems like a great way to delay, or even avoid starting a business altogether.

I much prefer Paul Graham's list of personality traits a founder needs. It includes exactly one ability:

I was writing a talk for investors, and I had to explain what to look for in founders. What would someone who was the opposite of hapless be like? They'd be relentlessly resourceful. Not merely relentless. That's not enough to make things go your way except in a few mostly uninteresting domains. In any interesting domain, the difficulties will be novel. Which means you can't simply plow through them, because you don't know initially how hard they are; you don't know whether you're about to plow through a block of foam or granite. So you have to be resourceful. You have to have keep trying new things.

Be relentlessly resourceful.

So there you have it - can you learn to be relentlessly resourceful? If so, then what are you waiting for, start a new business already. Heck, even if you don't think of yourself as relentlessly resourceful, you should still start a business - you may just surprise yourself.

Passover Notes - 2009 Edition

Before I forget, I should really take a few minutes and log some of my notes from Passover. As is traditional, I'm leaving myself these notes for use next year.

Stuff I should buy...

  • More wineglasses
  • Some Tupperware
  • A meat and milk stove top saucepan. How we've gone this many years without one is amazing.

Buy this quantity of...

  • 5 (not 10!) boxes of Matzo
  • 1 package chocolate covered cashews, 1 package Viennese crunch
  • 2 Containers of walnuts, no pecans or other nuts
  • 3 (not 6!) bags of chips
  • 6 cans of tuna
  • 1 jar light mayo
  • 2 jars half sour pickles
  • 3+ big bottles of Manischewitz concord grape wine (yum!)
  • 1 bag jelly beans
  • 1 large vanilla Dannon yogurt
  • 7 dozen (not a typo) eggs
  • 8 pints (not a typo) mushrooms
  • 2 cans crushed pineapple
  • 2 quarts chicken soup - 1 qt. feeds 4 people
  • 2 frozen gefilte fish
  • Garlic salt
  • 1 Manischewitz thousand island dressing
  • 1 jar spicy mango sauce
  • 2 packages stuffed cabbage
  • 2 packages spicy hot dogs
  • 2 packages of blintzes for each type
  • 4 sticks margarine
  • 1 large tub of margarine
  • 1 small jam
  • 5 slice packs of cheese (3 - muenster and 2 = cheddar)
  • 1 bag mixed shredded cheese, 1 bag shredded mozzarella
  • 2 canisters of matzo meal
  • 5 boxes of mazto farfel
  • 1 jar mazto balls
  • 1 package of brownies fresh from Israel
  • 2 boxes of chickeny-flavored mashed potatoes
  • 1lb ground beef
  • 1qt milk
  • 1 package dark chocolate covered raisins
  • 1 package of prunes
  • 1 bag Elite Mini Chocolate bars
  • 3 bags of marshmallows
  • Gum
  • 1 package flame roasted eggplant
  • 12 apples
  • 1 jar apple sauce
  • 1 large container sour cream

(Holy smokes, all that for one week of food?!)

Do NOT under any circumstances buy...

  • Onion soup mix
  • Spices other than garlic salt
  • That nasty BBQ sauce
  • Chicken nuggets
  • Montreal cakes
  • Dark chocolate covered cashews (way overrated)

Don't forget to make the 3 kugels that worked so well: pineapple, apple and mushroom. Make the veggie puffs, they also worked. And don't forget to have fun!

See you in 2010!

Blogger and SMS

Testing... Blogger over SMS

Update: What do you know, Blogger mobile can now be setup to work over SMS. Back in the day, Bogger mobile only worked over e-mail, and a phone with only basic SMS capabilities was out of luck. But not any longer. Just follow the instructions here.

If you have a blog already, you just need to go to Settings » E-mail & Mobile and click on Add mobile device to register your phone number. Until you do this, any message you send via SMS (to the phone number: 256447 - that's BLOGGR) will be rejected.

Happy mobile blogging!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

2 Helpful Script-Fu Resources and More Script-Fu Code

Yesterday, I decided I'd write a quick Script-Fu function that would give me one button saving of a file as a PNG. That way, I can develop the image as a .xcf, and whenever I want to save it as a .png I just hit Control+P. No dialog boxes pop up, it just does the right thing.

While developing this plugin, I made use of two resources:

  • GimpMode - Wow, this is one slick mode for emacs. It gives you tab completion on gimp procedures, and allows you to do interactive development. Easy the installation is cleanly done. It's packages like this that remind you why emacs is still here today. Well done.
  • Docs for the re-match function - I needed a way of turning a filename like foo.xcf into foo.png. One of the easiest ways to do this is with regular expressions. Gimp has the re extension built in, so this should be doable. It took this document explaining how it works before I really go it. Here's a sample usage:
    (define (morph-filename orig-name new-extension)
      (let ((buffer (vector #f #f #f)))
        (if (re-match "^(.*)[.]([^.]+)$" orig-name buffer)
            (string-append (re-match-nth orig-name buffer 1) "." new-extension)
            (string-append orig-name "." new-extension))))
    Notice how I'm passing in buffer, and then using it to extract the matches found. You'll want to also note that the vector has to be sized correctly when passed in.

Here's the completed plugin. One piece of the puzzle that tripped me up is that you can only save a single layer as a PNG. So, to save your image, you need to invoke gimp-layer-new-from-visible, add that new layer to your image with gimp-image-add-layer and then finally, you can pass that new layer to file-png-save-defaults.

(define (bs-save-it-png img drawable)
  (let ((current-name (car (gimp-image-get-filename img)))
        (target (car (gimp-layer-new-from-visible  img img "Save Layer"))))
    (gimp-image-add-layer img target -1)
    (file-png-save-defaults RUN-NONINTERACTIVE img target 
                            (morph-filename current-name "png")
                            (morph-filename current-name "png"))
    (gimp-image-remove-layer img target)))

 "Save-It: PNG"
 "Quickly save the currrent file as a PNG"
 "Ben Simon"
 "Copyright 2009, i2x"
 "April, 2009"
 SF-IMAGE "Image to process" 0
 SF-DRAWABLE "Image to process" 0)

(script-fu-menu-register "bs-save-it-png" "<Image>/Filters")

Monday, April 13, 2009

Somebody, Anybody, Explain this?

Check out this Anti Gay Marriage PSA:

With quotes like:

"My freedom will be taken away"
"Those advocates want to change the way I live"

How can this sort of ad be anything more than fear inducing propaganda?

Sure, let's have a discussion about gay marriage - but is this really the way to do it?

Review: Henry Poole Is Here

I really enjoyed the way events unfolded in Henry Poole Is Here, and how I went from confusion to understanding about the main character - so I'm not going to say a whole lot here, for fear that I'd ruin this for you.

But, I will say that Henry Poole is a relatively simple film, yet one that was quite enjoyable and worth watching. At every step of the way it avoids getting preachy or beating you over the head with a set of views. Instead, it opts to lay out the facts and leave the conclusions for you to decide.

I know that's hardly a ringing endorsement - but in a movie that is supposed to deal with matters of miracles and faith, allowing the viewer the ability to decide how to interpret the events of the movie is no easy matter.

I give this film a 8.5/10.0 because while not being the perfect film, it was fun to watch and even more fun to think about after the fact.