Sunday, October 31, 2010

Football California Style

Just arrived at the San Diego game and it's just a little different from the last NFL experience I had years ago in Buffalo, NY.

My toes aren't frozen, I just ate a veggie dog, the sun is out and it's hovering around 70 degrees.

Where's the fun in all this?

Oh well, I guess I muscle through this difficult situation.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.4

Out for a morning walk

Got to love the view, as well as the intimidating signage.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.4

Friday, October 29, 2010

San Diego Adventures - USS Midway and The Zoo

Our visit to the USS Midway was an absolute treat. This was my first time on an aircraft carrier, and its massive scale had the expected effect: Wow.

You might think that an aircraft carrier would be no place for a 14 month old. You'd be wrong. Our little one had an absolute blast. From the chains in the anchor room, to the controls of the training simulators, to the inside of a helicopter - there were infinite things for him to handle and explore. It was like a playground that both he and I could run wild in.

After the Midway, we hit the San Diego Zoo. It's easy to see why the zoo is absolutely world class, it's gigantic. This could easily have been our all day activity.

The real highlight of the day, though, was meeting our new friend Braydon. New, because he's only been on Earth for about 5 weeks. He's so cute and fragile and full of potential. He's an angel.

Some photos...

When Time Zones Attack

Right on time, our little one woke up 6:00am. Unfortunately, nobody explained to him, that it's actually 3:00am here. He was up and ready to start his day, and who could blame him?

Between the desk phone we unplugged and gave him, and the big cylindrical decorative pillows from the bed, he had a field day playing in the room. And while he was tiring himself out, I snapped these photos from our hotel room.

Doesn't San Diego look exciting at night?

This isn't the first time the Boy has allowed me to capture photos at 3:00am, the results of which I'm usually pretty pleased with.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Finally, a Satisfied Air Phone Customer

I'm tapping this message out as we are mid flight on our way to San Diego.  For the first couple hours our little did the best he could to entertain himself in our 3-seat row.  His favorite activity, by far, was playing with the now deactivated Air Phone installed in the seat in front of him.  The boy loves phones and buttons, and here within reach is just such a specimin to interact with.  The fact that it has a button you can press to pop the phone out with a solid thump, and then a auto retracting cord, is just icing on the cake.

As technology flops go, the in seat Air Phone has to be up there in the record books.  Good to know that all that technology and investment could be used to entertain a 14 month old.

Currently, the boy is sprawled out on the seat between Shira and Myself. It's a precious sight to see, to say the least.  If he sleeps the rest of the flight, that will be a quite the gift.  What will happen when we land and Shira and I ready for sleep, and he's waking up rested - well, we'll just play that by ear.

Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.4

Rethinking The Day Timer

How's this for an exceedingly elegant tool to map out your day:

The pages are divided by AM and PM. The left hand side of an open page has a graphic of a white clock which represents AM and on the right hand side has a dark clock which represents PM. Simple but functional, new way to plan your day out.

Doesn't look like much, but when you see it in action you immediately appreciate the brilliance and simplicity.

Seeing as I love paper and I like to map out my day into timeblocks, this setup has a special appeal to me.

If only the cost of shipping ($5.95) wasn't the same as the notebook itself ($5.50). That just feels wrong.

Under a Perfect Sky

The weather tonight made for a wonderfully prefect sky as Shira, the little one, and myself took a little walk. These photos were snapped with my G2 Android phone, and they came out surprisingly well.

The photo I really wanted today, though, was that of the fall foliage along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. It was absolutely picture perfect stunning. Oh well, next time I'll just insist on pulling over to get a few photos.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

WordPress Quickies

It's been a fun day of WordPress hacking. Here a few handy take-aways:

  • Want to set a default preference for the default link type associated with an image? You can do so by following these instructions. This is also a friendly reminder that you can tweak any WordPress option by visiting: I usually do this by accessing the database directly, but this way should be faster and more convenient.
  • Is the Parent Page selector missing from the new page you're trying to add to your site? It's probably because you don't have any published pages yet. In other words, make sure the parent page you want to link to is not in draft mode.
  • Recent versions of WordPress allow a page or post to have a Featured Image. From a code perspective, it's trivial to access the selected photo. Just say something like:
    the_post_thumbnail(array(100,100), array('class' => 'alignleft'));
    and you'll get a 100x100 pixel thumbnail floated to the left. This is much easier than attachment hacks I've used in the past.
  • To access the category being displayed on a category archive page (that is, a page that returns true to is_category()) say:
     $cat = $wp_query->get_queried_object();
    It's tempting to use get_the_category(), which may appear to work. But, what you're getting with that function is the category of the most recently rendered post. The list of categories returned will contain the category being displayed, but may also contain additional, unrelated, categories as well.

What was the last WP hack you came across?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Music is Good, The Venue Outstanding

See what I mean:

Note to self: learn to play a lightweight instrument so I can jam while on the trail.

Thanks Minimal.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Been There Done That: Common Errors in English

Yes, I think I've probably made most of these common errors in English.

They are worth checking out - if only because of their wonderfully pithy explanations. For example:

Some people suppose that since “premises” has a plural form, a single house or other piece of property must be a “premise,” but that word is reserved for use as a term in logic meaning something assumed or taken as given in making an argument. Your lowly one-room shack is still your premises.

Oh, and how many times have I been told to write in the active voice? I'm tempted to print this explanation out and post it next to my computer:

There are legitimate uses for the passive voice: “this absurd regulation was of course written by a committee.” But it’s true that you can make your prose more lively and readable by using the active voice much more often. “The victim was attacked by three men in ski masks” isn’t nearly as striking as “three men in ski masks attacked the victim.” The passive voice is often used to avoid taking responsibility for an action: “my term paper was accidentally deleted” avoids stating the truth: “I accidentally deleted my term paper.” Over-use of passive constructions is irritating, though not necessarily erroneous. But it does lead to real clumsiness when passive constructions get piled on top of each other: “no exception in the no-pets rule was sought to be created so that angora rabbits could be raised in the apartment” can be made clearer by shifting to the active voice: “the landlord refused to make an exception to the no-pets rule to allow Eliza to raise angora rabbits in the apartment.”

Hmmm, maybe the Internet and Blogging won't be the downfall of the written word. Maybe giving people a platform to write, and the resources to learn to write well, will actually make for better writing?

Update: And, to help us all from taking any of this too seriously, I present to you Stephen Fry's take on language (thanks to Paul for sending me the link!):

Stephen Fry Kinetic Typography - Language from Matthew Rogers on Vimeo.

Service to watch: Cloudant

Suppose I want to leverage a massively scalable database for a client of mine. I've got two obvious choices:

  1. Use SimpleDB and any hosting provider
  2. Use a hosting provider that gives me root and setup and manage the database myself

(1) works OK if I'm modeling simple data, but doesn't seem like it would work well for a more complex app.

(2) provides me with plenty of flexibility, but the costs are significant. First off, clients can no longer opt to start off with a cheap shared hosting account to develop and test their app with (that could mean the difference between $5/mo and $100+/mo - real money to a bootstrapping entrepreneur). More significantly, by using a custom hosting environment, the responsibility for managing the server falls on myself. I now need to keep the server and database software up to date and when it's not running well, I'm the first person to get the call.

Yesterday, while thinking about this problem I came across Cloudant. Cloudant offers CouchDB hosting, much like Amazon hosts SimpleDB. Looks to me like leveraging them I'd get the best of all worlds: I could use any hosting provider, from a dirt cheap GoDaddy account to a collection of EC2 instances; I wouldn't have to worry about database maintenance or server maintenance; and I'd have access to a massively scalable database with more flexibility than SimpleDB.

They even offer a free data hosting tier, which again, would fit the small businesses I work with.

My only hesitation, of course, is that I'd like to make sure Cloudant is going to be around for the long hall. I'd hate to trust them to store an app's data, only to have them not be available one day.

I'll definitely be keeping an eye on them.

Anyone else have a suggestion for dealing with this issue of developing a scalable architecture, while doing it on the cheap and simple? I'd love to hear your comments.

Friday, October 22, 2010

3 Steps to Massively Scalable Web Apps

I'm still mulling over building massively scalable web apps. Seems to me like the following three step recipe may be the way to go.

Keep in mind, I'm just brainstorming here -- if you have suggestions, insights and links to other resources, I'd love to hear them. Perhaps this is all wrong?

  1. Don't store anything on the local server itself. Consider using S3 for image/file uploads, and memcached for PHP sessions.
  2. Use a database such as CouchDB or SimpleDB that has replication and multiple instance support as a key part of its architecture.
  3. Leverage a queueing system like SQS and SNS to insure that any potentially long running process -- from sending e-mail to encoding a video -- happens outside the scope of the application itself.

With the above functionality in place, it seems like you could spin up arbitrary numbers of web servers and database servers, and the infrastructure would actually scale.

What am I missing?

Phone Friday: Two magical tips for the G2

Remote Copy and Paste

As if you needed another reason to love AppBrain, here is one. Check out this innocuous little text box in the right hand corner of the My Apps page labeled Enter a URL or text to send to your phone :

It does exactly what you'd hope it would do. Write some text in there, click the button, and poof, the text is now ready to be pasted on your mobile device. Enter a URL and magically the web browser on your phone opens with it.

This remote control functionality seems like it has huge possibilities. For now at least, it makes sharing a URL or text between your laptop and phone a breeze.

Seriously, it feels like magic.

Give Voice A Chance

One of the advantages of spending time with the myTouch is that it forced me to experience life without a hardware keyboard. I didn't much like it, but I got to learn about Swype (among the most impressive software I've ever encountered) and equally important, how voice dialing could be used to efficiently access the phone book.

The G2's voice functionality comes built in with even more functionality. Go ahead and try holding down the magnifying glass button (the one visible when the keyboard is folded up) - after a few moments a Google Voice Actions prompt will pop up. It's worth taking a few minutes and watching the help video they provide.

The cool part about using Google Voice Actions is that the phone will parse and automatically execute requests. For example, you can say: "Call Ben Simon at Work" and the phone will just do this.

The complete list of actions you can take are here. Among my favorites is the Note to self and the Listen to functionality. The note to self will take the text you say and convert it to an e-mail to yourself. Essentially, this is a voice drivenjotter app. The listen to functionality did more than I thought it would - it actually parsed the artist and then setup a new Pandora station for me. Without spending any money, I was able to mention a song and a few moments later have it start playing.

When the voice recognition works (which for me seems like 90%+ percent of the time), the system is nothing short of magic.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Foxhole Radio - Quick, Simple and Powerful Project Fun

I stumbled on this wikiHow article that describes making a Foxhole radio, and I was instantly impressed. And what's foxhole readio? It's a style of crystal radio that was constructed from spare parts during WW II. Construction as you can imagine is dead simple, yet it's functional -- how cool is that? Even I can appreciate how simple this schematic is:

Here's a YouTube video that walks you through the entire process. With the exception of the use of the blow torch, it looks pretty kid friendly too. This one's going on the fun project todo list.

My 15 Seconds of Geek Fame

Yesterday, some kind soul submitted one of my blog posts to Reddit, a service that encourages people to rank websites. For a very brief moment, my article was in the top 5:

Heck, for a moment there I had written something more popular than Peter Norvig - a near impossible feat considering his legendary geek status.

This of course was fun, and I'm tempted to print out a copy of the screenshot for my Mom to post on her fridge.

It always surprises me what content people end up connecting with. I've written many a post thinking this is The One - the one that will earn me massive amounts of traffic. And of course, nothing. And then this post finds traction - it really is pretty random.

My rule is, and will always be: write for myself. Everything else will take care of itself.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Worst Traffic Sign. Ever.

Arlington County gets a great many things right. But one thing they totally blow is their use of a particular sign. Every time I see this sign I'm left totally befuddled. The sign, which I don't have a picture of, because, well you shouldn't be taking pictures while driving, is a standard No Turn On Red sign with the following caption:

No turn on red when pedestrians are present

The question is - what specifically does pedestrians are present mean? Does that mean they are present at any of the four corners of the intersection, or just the corner you want to turn right at? And how do you determine if a person is a pedestrian versus someone just loitering near the corner? And what if a person is approaching the intersection on foot, do you have to assume they will be a pedestrian soon enough? And how close do they have to be before they are considered a pedestrian? And should you be thinking this much about a sign in the first place?

Turns out, I'm not the only one who's confused by such signage. This question was posed to the Director of Office of Transportation Operations at Federal Highway Administration and his response was: (emphasis added by me)

The Federal Highway Administration does not encourage the use of "When Pedestrians Are Present" legends with No Turn on Red signs, because the meaning is vague and there is an inherent lack of clearly defined criteria for enforcement. A 2001 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that signs prohibiting right turns on red during specified hours were very effective in terms of driver compliance but signs giving drivers discretion to turn right on red based on whether pedestrians are present were not effective because the vague message makes enforcement difficult.

Ironically, it appears as though the study was completed here in Arlington.

If a Director at the Federal Highway Administration can't answer this question, how can I? Oh, and when you search Arlington County's website for info, nothing comes up.

There, I feel better getting this off my chest. Looks like if I ever run for county government I'll have my first issue: remove these confusing signs.

Anyone have any suggestions as to how they deal with this sign? Anyone have a sign in their neighborhood just as confusing?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Software Lesson from the County Building Inspector

We're building a deck, and even though the project seems relatively small to me, Arlington County has still had about 3 inspections -- and they haven't even started laying the decking yet.

The first inspection was based on the plans, the second based on the holes for the posts (or footers) and the third based on the frame of the deck.

These multiple stages of inspection make quite a bit of sense: with a minimal amount of the structure built (in the case of the plans, none of it being built), the inspector can easily tell where specific flaws might be. And the builder has got to appreciate the multiple inspections because an error corrected in one stage may be significantly easier than fixing it in the final version (moving a staircase over a few feet on paper is trivial, on the completed deck, not so much).

All this got me thinking - what if we did the same thing for software development?

Software Inspections?

What if you wrote a little code and a third party came in an inspected it. Sorry, they might report, the files are too long (just like the post holes may be too shallow) - fix it, we'll re-inspect, and if all looks good, you can continue.

The multiple inspection model also helps you avoid two common traps: (1) thinking you can describe the project completely up front in a requirements document - you can't. And (2) waiting until the project is ready to ship to do any sort of structural integrity checks, where it's too late to fix anything.

You could essentially do the same checks in software as they do for building:

  • Planning stage - do you have some basic outline of a plan? Is it feasible? Or, were you just planning on meandering for months until the project just runs out of steam?
  • Footers stage - Do you have version control and other best practices with which to build on? Or, were you just going to copy files all over the place and hope for the best?
  • Framing stage - is the framework you've chosen to build robust enough to handle the system? Does it have egregious security issues like PHP's now-deprecated register_globals?
  • Final stage - is the developed software well organized and easy to extend? Or, is it just a pile of loosely connected and randomly named files and functions?

Inspections are of course related to QA - but I wonder they wouldn't be more focused on safety and industry best practices. That is, they won't guarantee that a particular algorithm is working - just that you haven't named files in an obscure and meaningless way.

Of course there are major flaws with the inspection model. One of the main ones being, how stringent should standards be? For example, can I use a framework I've built myself to develop software on, or do I have to use some standard platform that's been 3rd party certified. Or, how much planning is enough - do I need a 50 page document, or can a stack of note cards with sketches on them represent the project well enough? One of the joys of programming is the ability to experiment with new ways of doing things - sometimes those experiments succeed, sometimes they fail. But to write off all deviations from known best practices as a bad thing, seems like a terrible mistake.

Another hurdle: egos. Would a team ever have the courage to invite a 3rd party inspector into their offices and stop work to fix issues that another (no doubt, inferior) programmer found? That seems like it would be a bitter pill to swallow.

Still, as I look outside and watch our little building project take shape I can't help but wonder what would happen to software quality if we had inspections. Why not take a lesson from an industry which has been building real things - things that can actually do bodily harm - for hundreds of years?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sounds hard, but isn't - Food Edition

You know what's not hard to make? Beef stew. For some reason, I'd assumed it was an arduous and/or delicate process to make.

Turns out, with the crock-pot I already own, it's almost trivial. Trader Joe's has Kosher stew meat, which means we didn't have to leave the state to buy it. Heck, the hardest part was finding the individual spices from among the heap of containers in the pantry.

Seriously, if you have a crock pot, you've got to give this a try.

Review: Screwpop Tool

Full disclosure: for the first time in my entire life, someone actually sent me a product to review. I'm honored, flattered and pretty much as gitty as a school boy on Chunukah morning. You've been warned.

What is it?

The Screwpop is a little tool that hangs off your keychain. It's a combination flat head screwdriver, phillips head screwdriver, 1/4" hexnut driver and can opener. All the tools are pretty recognizable in the picture:

Why the interest?

Even before the nice folks at Screwpop central offered to send me one to play with, I'd had one on my wishlist. My primary interest: it's a handy tool that I thought I could bring places my Swiss Army Knife wasn't welcome - like through a TSA security line. I've carried a Swiss Army knife around for so many years I just feel naked without it.

Nuff Talk - Lets hear the review

The Pros: The biggest advantage the Screwpop has over other clever multi tools I've used is that it just plain works. Unlike the disappointing Gerber Shard, this thing really delivers. The screw drivers really screw, the hex drive really hex's, and while I didn't try the bottle opener yet, I see no reason it wouldn't function well.

The whole unit is actually quite sturdy, and large enough that you can get a good grip on the screwdriver for a descent amount of leverage.

Another feature of the Screwpop that caught my attention was the fact that you can theoretically drop in any 1/4" bit. By carrying around the Screwpop and a collection of bits, you'd end up with the start of a compact and complete toolkit. Also, if your work calls for an usual screwdriver (say, a torx), you could drop that size in and carry it around.

I was fortunate to be able to take the Screwpop traveling with me. I confirmed first hand that TSA didn't give it a second look. Also, while on the road I needed to open up some boxes and found the Screwpop's flathead screwdriver worked perfectly for this. Normally I'd have used my Swiss Army Knife, but the Screwpop made a perfectly good stand in.

The Cons: The biggest detractor for me was the size of the Screwpop. I already carry a whole bunch stuff on my keychain (that's a whole post in itself), and the weight and size of the Screwpop just made my rig too big. This, of course, is a bit of a Catch 22: the Screwpop is large enough to be useful, but also so large, that I can't justify carrying it around. For comparsion sake, here's what a Screwpop looks like between a Shard and P-51:

Another potential gotcha was my attempt to use some 1/4" bits from my electric screwdriver. The bits didn't quite fit, and when I did manage to jam one in, I had to use pliers to get it out. It's quite possible the fault here lies with the screwdriver's bits - perhaps they aren't exactly 1/4". I just know I was hoping for plug and play behavior, and I didn't find it.

Finally, others have noted that the Screwpop uses a spring loaded ball-bearing to keep the bit in place versus a magnet. I too had second thoughts about whether the bit was going to stay in place, but it turned out to work just fine.

Bottom Line

If your keychain isn't filled with stuff and you're looking for an item with real utility, or if you're looking for a handy tool for traveling - Screwpop is a winner. I won't be carrying mine every day, but I'll probably toss it into my small bag of extras I keep in my backpack at all times. It works too well to leave it at home.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Gotcha of the Day: Windows Vista Resets External Monitor Display Settings

This should really be labeled Gotcha of the Year, as this problem has been going on for months and months, and only today, did I bother to fix it.

I have an external monitor and keyboard that I plug into my laptop to make the whole setup desktop friendly. Since I've had my Dell, whenever I booted it up with the monitor attached, it always reset my Display Setting. That is, I'd have to manually tell Windows that the big monitor was on the right of the laptop, that it shouldn't have 1024x768 resolution, and that it should be my primary screen.

This problem was especially annoying because the system would boot up properly - and then every time, after a few seconds, it would re-arrange itself to the improper setting. Everytime I'd think, this is the time it'll remember my settings - and every time, my laptop would virtually yell Psych! and switch back to the way it was.

When I asked Dell about this months ago, they explained that this was normal behavior because I didn't have a docking station. This was complete hogwash. I should have just ignored this response and gone Googling on my own. Alas, I didn't bother and put put with the problem for months.

The fix, in the end, was simple to find. It's outlined here. Why a thread started in June of 2007 corresponds to an issue I'm having with a laptop purchased in January of 2008, and still fixes a bug in October of 2010 is beyond me. But, whatever.

The fix, is as follows:

  1. Go to Programs » Accessories » Task Scheduler
  2. Go to Task Scheduler Library » Microsoft » windows » Mobile PC
  3. Right mouse click on TMM and disable it
  4. Right mouse click on TMM and select Properties
  5. Click on Triggers, and delete the trigger that says to start the task when logging in

Incidentally, the task had a 2 second delay on it, which explains why the computer would tease me with the problem appearing to be fixed.

I'm pretty confident that the above steps will keep TMM from running the future. Though, if I still run into problems, I'm just deleting the whole stinking task.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Songs of the Night

I heard both these songs on one of my Pandora stations, and they gave me pause enough that I had to search them out on YouTube and bookmark them there.

Give 'em a listen - what do you think?

Review: The Best of Field & Stream: 100 Years of Great Writing from America's Premier Sporting Magazine

I like to hike and backpack, so I figured listening to The Best of Field & Stream would be an absolute no brainer.

But alas, Field & Stream is really targeted to hunters and fisherman, and I myself, don't do either. I just couldn't connect with story after story of furry little forest creatures being hunted down for sport. My dad's a fisherman, so I can kind of connect there, but even still, after listening to a story where a man spent 4 hours landing a large tuna - I just wanted to say, dude, let the tuna go.

More than once I considered just ejecting the CD's and going on to my next book.

Thing is, as the stories clicked by, I realized just how naive my view of hunting was. Heck, I eat meat - so far be it from me to suggest people shouldn't go out and catch their own food.

More surprisingly, during the weekend I just spent with my family I found I kept bringing up the stories, as they seemed so relevant to one thing or another we were discussing.

In the end, I have to say, this book snuck up on me and I enjoyed it. While there were some stories I really won't be able to connect with (not without a good understanding of say, quail hunting, anyway), the majority of them were quite good. And while there's death in the stories, there's also ample respect and appreciation for nature and the environment. There's also good doses of history and hilarity.

It's a surprise winner, even for a non hunter like myself.

Sources for Free Full Length Movies Online

Thanks, StumbleUpon for equipping me with yet another way to burn time online: 20 Places to Watch Free Movies Online.

From a quick glance, and seem legit.

I mean seriously, I can just watch The Professional anytime I want, and for free?

This really isn't good.

Remind me again, why between,, these sites and the network sites themselves, I pay for FiosTV?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

G2 Accessory to Avoid: T-mobile Body Glove Snap on Case

After kvetching about how my new G2 doesn't come with a case, I bit the bullet and paid way too for an authentic T-mobile case.

The one I bought isn't featured on the t-mobile site, but a similar one is: G2 Protective Cover. This model on eBay appears to be the exact model.

The case itself consisted of two hard plastic pieces that wrap the phone, and a knob to snap into a belt clip.

First off - I should say that the case had one advantage: the belt clip contained a kickstand which I found surprisingly helpful. Unfortunately, that was the only pro. The rest of the case was all cons. Specifically:

  • The hard plastic shell made the heavy G2 even heavier, and turned it into a clunky device.
  • Because of the way the top shell wrapped around the phone, it crowded the top row of the keyboard. The result was that when I typed on the top row I had to pay extra special attention to pressing the keys in just the right location.
  • The hard plastic shell totally threw off the balance of the slide mechanism. The result was that the keyboard now slid out way too easily. When my Brother saw how easily the keyboard slid out, he honestly thought I had a defective model of phone.
  • The phone snaps into a belt clip and can be positioned at any angle. Problem is, unless you position the phone just right, gravity will cause the keyboard to expand. The result is that I had to clip the phone in place then rotate it until the keyboard didn't slide out.

Bottom line - by adding this plastic shell, I took an elegantly designed phone and made it a clunky mess.

I guess there was one more advantage to the case: taking it off made me feel like I got a brand new, sleeker, phone.

5 Essentials For Travel

yes and yes posted a list of her 5 best purchases which seem to have travel theme to them. This got me thinking, what are the 5 best purchases I've made in travel gear?

Sure, I love my laptop, cell phone and camera, but all that gear seems like it's fairly easily replaceable with the next model. So, taking a little broader view, here's the list I came up with:

  • Any Bill Bryson travel book (In a Sunburned Country being an excellent option) - Bill Bryson's writing taught me two key travel lessons: (1) when things go wrong (and eventually they will go very, very, wrong) you have a choice - get upset or laugh. Bryson taught me to do the latter. (2) Bryson has a knack for seeing and appreciating the small things about travel. By learning to do this, every place, no matter how mundane, becomes a joy to travel to. (Cost: Free - rent it at the library.)
  • A Blogger account - It's amazing how quickly a vivid day of travel fades from memory. After a few months, a week long vacation packed with adventures seems like a hazy collection of just a few memories. The best fix I've found for this to to keep an online travel journal. A few photos and notes from a days adventure goes along way towards making your vacation memories permanent. Do this for yourself. Do it for your children and your children's children. Could you imagine reading your Grandmother's travel journal from when she was 18? Don't do it to become popular on the Internet. Oh, and be careful, journaling can get addictive. I often need to remind myself to not try to record every experience, if I do, I just go nuts. (Cost: Free)
  • A Fordors guide to the area I'm visiting - I suppose any travel guide will do, though, through the years, I've always depended on Fodors. Travel can be a surprisingly difficult activity - being in an unknown city, with an unknown language, can be both exciting and overwhelming. A Fodors guide becomes my security blanket. I helps me find a place to eat when I seem to be in a part of the city that has no restaurants, things to do when everything seems closed, and side trips when we've exhausted all the local attractions. Heck, it'll tell you when to tip and how much. My general rule is to scan the guide before I leave, really delve into it on the airplane ride over, and then use it as needed when I'm traveling. I don't let the guide dictate what I do and don't do. (Cost: Varies - usually around $15.00)
  • A sleep mask, head phones and chill music - This is my sleep-on-the-plane system, and I've found it to be amazingly effective. The sleep mask I use was a free one I've picked up along the way. The headphones can be nothing special, though I like my Etymotic Research ones and chill music can come from a variety of sources: a cell phone app, mp3 player or even the XM radio offered by certain airlines. I just know that combining these three items means that long flights with noisy children become totally bareable. (Cost: Varies - less than $30.00 if you're clever)
  • A Google Reader Account - By using Google Reader you can easily read other traveler's blogs and generally get tips on how to travel better. As they say, the more you know, the less you need. (Cost: Free)

Interestingly, while writing up this blog post I found addressed a similar question some time back. Without realizing it, I've basically written up the same answer - though with some slight variation. I guess I still feel pretty strongly about these items.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Android G2 vs Lumix DMC-TZ50 Photo Comparsion

A few days ago, Shira and I hit a local park to let our little one play among the trees and dirt. Happen to have both my G2 as well as my Lumix DMC-TZ50 so I was able to grab some snapshots with both.

Here's a few shots from each:

G2 Photos

Lumix Photos

I've got to say, the G2 really holds its own. It's by far the closest thing to a quality camera I've owned from T-mobile (that includes the Sidekick models, the G1 and the myTouch). When you consider the fact that G2 has auto sync with Photo Bucket and the ability to Geocode photos, there are actually some solid reasons to choose the G2 over my classic Lumix.

Of course, the G2 lacks the zoom of the Lumix and the settings that allow for a bit more flexibility. With that in mind, I won't be leaving the Lumix at home when I actually plan to take photos. But, it's good to know that as long as I have my G2 I'll be able to take passable photos.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Giving Thanks

I'm thankful that Christopher Columbus could risk life and limb so Shira could have the day off today and we could have a wonderful picnic lunch together.

I'm sure Chris was enough of a romantic to appreciate this.

Mmm, Mmm, Bugs

I know why I don't eat insects - they aren't Kosher. But why don't you?

From Science News:

Looking for a different sort of snack? Iowa State University's Entomology Club has Web pages featuring recipes for Banana Worm Bread, Rootworm Beetle Dip, Chocolate Chirpie Chip Cookies, and other insect treats. A handy nutritional chart reveals that 100 grams of crickets provide 12.9 grams of protein and 5.5 grams of fat whereas June beetles offer roughly the same amount of protein but only 1.4 grams of fat.

12.9 grams of protein and 5.5 grams of fat - not too shabby.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

A Perfect Sky

A snapshot of the perfect sky visible as I was dropping off our little one at day care. I guess this is in the same spirit of stopping and smelling the roses.

We seem to get so few perfect mornings like this - bright and sunny, yet not scorching hot or freezing cold.

Got to savor them while we can.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bowling, Legos and Egg Sacks, Oh My!

What a fun fill day we had! We got to go bowling and play legos with my nice and nephew. We also tried kite flying, but wouldn't you know it, there wasn't any wind to make the kites go. We also got to watch my dad make egg sacks for his early morning fishing trip tomorrow - yum!

We celebrated my grandpa's 91st birthday, too. He was in great spirits, and while he didn't bowl, he did drink beer and hang with the fam. We should all be this together when we turn 91.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Looks like this trip is going to happen

After a random 1 hour maitnenance delay, it looks like we are good to go.  I'm onboard and ready to catch some Zzzzz's.

I'm just amazed at how much chaos surrounded this flight.  The gate are was a mob scene.  Surely they can do better.

Still, I'm onboard and comfortable.  So, I guess I can't really complain.

Why is this trip different than all other trips"

OK, maybe not *all* other trips, but certainly recent ones.  I'm actually traveling without Shira or our 1 year old.

That's right, no stroller, car seat, diaper bag, pack-n-play, car seat, extra diapers, soy milk or snacks.  And no little boy to keep calm, entertained and happy.

It's just me and my day pack.

While I don't miss all the schelping, though, truth be told our trips haven't been too painful in the Stuff department.  We've been able to leave the pack-n-play at home and use one at our destination, rent a car seat with the car, use a stroller that is lightweight and fits in the airport scanners, and Shira and I typically share a carry-on which means I carry the one bag and she takes the boy's diaper bag.

And, of course, I do miss the fun of watching our little one take in the whole airport experience.  He's actually started pointing out airplanes in the sky above our home, and I'm sure he'd be thrilled to see planes up close. (Of course, he's elated to see busses, fed ex trucks and anything else that's big and has wheels.)

Oh dear, as I was typing out this message I learned my flight is delayed for mechanical reasons.  My flight just got pushed back 1hr. Hmmm, maybe not having a baby to entertain right now is a good thing.


Phone Friday: Very Poor Man's Android Docking Setup

I noticed on my new Android G2 that there's an application named Clock. Turns out, it's actually a program meant to be kicked off when you drop the device into a dock. It starts up this slick screen that not only contains a clock, but also weather and other features.

Only thing is, I don't have a dock nor is it obvious to me if I can buy one for my G2.

After a little poking around, I learned that I can more or less simulate the dock by kicking off the Clock app when the phone is charging (usually via USB, in my case). Here's the basic idea:

Setting Profiles (Lite) is an app that allows to you start an app when your Droid is plugged in, so it should do most of what you want.

And it does.

Now when I plug my phone in, the Clock app starts. And just as importantly, if I can think of different app I wanted started at that time, I can just as easily replace the Clock app.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Review: The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security

I would assume that computer security books need to walk a fine line between giving enough detail to the reader to be useful, yet not so much detail that a hacker can use the information to wreak havoc. The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security by the infamous Kevin Mitnick seems to completely disregard this principal. The book, to me anyway, comes across as a guide for social engineer hackers with a thin veneer of "hey, you can use this information to make your organization more secure" layered on top.

The book is structured as series of stories of successful social engineering hacks, where each one is deconstructed to see why it worked and what principals you can learn from it. To be totally blunt, it's basically a how to guide for committing fraud over the phone.

But, I have to admit, it sure made for a fun read. The stories in this book show how attackers can use a blend of clever techniques with pure chutpzah to pull off remarkable crimes. I wouldn't have thought a computer security book would be gripping, but this one was.

One could potentially criticize the book for being dated - many of the examples talk about computer technology that's ancient history now. But, it's fair to say, these techniques aren't about a particular system or technology. I have to think they'd work just as well today as they did 20 years ago (and 100 years ago, and 1000 years ago).

Whether you read the book to get a peek at the dark side, or just to arm yourself against being taken advantage of - it's definitely worth a read. Oh, and you definitely don't need to be a computer geek to appreciate this one.

An office with a view

Not to mention, a breeze.

One day I may tire of working from home and having all this flexibility. But on a perfectly sunny day like today, that day seems a long, long way off.