Saturday, December 23, 2006

Things To Do In Colorado Before Turning 5 or 34: Ski

Last weekend marked the first time that my 4-year-old son got on skis. It also marked my first time on skis. I started snowboarding when I was 18 but I never skied.

We spent the weekend in Glenwood Springs and signed up for lessons at Sunlight Mountain. Sunlight has a reputation for being a family friendly resort just to the north of Aspen and it did not disappoint. The staff were probably the most friendly bunch I've ever encountered at a ski resort. We pulled into the parking lot at 9:30 and took the first spot two staircases from the lodge! My son's package cost $70 total. By comparison, our friends just took their son to Breckenridge for lessons and dropped $160. At one point on the lift, my instructor looked at me and asked if I knew what Aspen charged for his 4 hours of private service... $500.

I started my lesson in a group with a woman that had never been on a mountain and I was pulled out after 30 minutes because I was progressing quickly. The combination of snowboarding for 15 years and ice skating for 26 really made my transition to skiing relatively easy. In fact, my instructor scolded me several times for "turning up hill too much" when in fact I was intentionally stopping with a hockey stop like I've done probably a million times in my life. Stopping was exactly the same on skis as on ice skates for me, just longer "skates". And really, I think adjusting for slope and terrain is 75% of what you need to get down a mountain on either a board or skis. But I was most impressed with how easy skiing is on my body. On a snowboard I really torque my hip and knee in the lift line, strain my ankle on the lift up, pray getting off the lift, sit down to struggle with my less-than-limber muscles as I try to strap into my frozen bindings, push all of my weight to get up, then constantly work both edges of the board by twisting and flexing on the run. I felt like I spent 80% less energy up and down on skis. The most significant gains were getting off the lift and just gliding/going and just letting the skis release or not having to battle against the edges of the skis constantly. The day may have converted me... Talking to my friends that both ski and board, they said they like to board during powder days and ski other days or if they're with skiers. And come to think of it, I do still truly cherish my Ride Timeless!

Quote of the day, toilet wall scratches: Chuck Norris' tears cure cancer, but he never cries.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

TC on Google... Aww Yeah!

With a tip 'o the hat to Thomas, I've modified my Blogger template to include clips from Google Reader. I haven't really bought into the "all my favorite sites in one convenient place" notion yet (I kind of like visiting my favorite sites). But I think it's a nice tool for keeping track of blogs I regularly read. From time to time I'll share the ones that made an impression on me. This exploration into Google Reader also prompted a seismic shift in my Internet usage habits... more on that later.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

4 Days, 4 Blogs: Congratulations Dad and Jan!

My baby girl with her grandpa at his wedding, Saturday, November 18.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

4 Days, 4 Blogs: Dad's Pontiac Solstice

My dad bought a Pontiac Solstice this summer. My wife and I postulate that it was either the result of his early sixties or meeting his future wife (or both). In any case, I hope I'm fortunate enough to own a completely impractical car during my tenure here.

My impressions of the car:

It is a
very cool car and fun to drive. I felt like Speed Racer driving it. I haven't driven it on winding mountain roads yet, but the suspension was tight through turns in city driving. The manual transmission seems like it was built for a true roadster feel - tight and somewhat unforgiving. Sitting behind the steering wheel, visually, it seems like they designed the hood line to rise up a little bit. I'm not a big guy and I couldn't really see over the hood - not quite like how some cars' hoods seem to "drop off". I thought this was cool and really gave it a unique feel driving it but I could see how it might annoy people who appreciate other sports cars. This was really the touch that I thought gave it the Speed Racer feel. The body is moulded around the seats so there almost wasn't enough room for me, my dad, and a box of bagels... but hey. The only drawback I felt was that the manual rag top seemed cumbersome to put up and down. Other than that, I appreciate the engineers at GM that designed and built that beautiful machine!

Friday, November 24, 2006

4 Days, 4 Blogs: MyLifeBits

I experienced a number of reactions to Clive Thompson's provocative article, "A Head For Detail", in the November 2006 issue of Fast Company. The article explores the MyLifeBits Project, an experiment by Gordon Bell of Microsoft Research Labs that attempts to digitize, collect, and make sense of a lifetime of memories; literally, everything one encounters in life on a daily basis. Mr. Bell's tools: a digital audio recorder, a modified phone tap, a Microsoft SenseCam that hangs around his neck and snaps photos of everything, a tool like Slogger that stores a copy of every web page Mr. Bell looks at, a scanner to digitize every piece of paper, and experimental search tools developed by Microsoft.

The innovative side of me immediately understands how this project must be driving incredible innovation in search tools (and according to Microsoft, obviously developed on top of SQL Server). It's estimated in the article that a 72-year-old person would require 1 to 3 terabytes of space for an average MyLifeBits instance. Obviously that much personal data is useless without tools that help one make sense of it. Tools that no doubt will in some way enrich our lives in the future. The article also mentions DEVONthink, the information manager for the Mac that attempts to augment thinking. Likewise, concepts and technologies surrounding MyLifeBits are actively being pursued and utilized by psychologists because they have shown true promise in improving mental health; both in "normal" folks and in people who have experienced trauma.

But the human side of me (my gut, specifically) says that this kind of technology is just
wrong as a standalone and widespread entity. Mark Federman, former strategist for the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology points out that "We'd all be on our best behavior. Reality would become reality TV." Mr. Thompson then goes on to ponder what happens to Microsoft's sensitive corporate memos when Mr. Bell leaves the company... Mr. Bell quips, "I'll need a lobotomy."

Granted, the point is made that we're already doing this in so many ways. We're storing our photos with tags on Flikr, we're uploading movies with tags on YouTube, we're keeping all of our email with Gmail, we're blogging our thoughts here. Yeah.
At our discretion.

Part of me says this is just another form of hoarding, or the pack rat syndrome that I witness seemingly more and more. To that point, perhaps unintentionally, Mr. Thompson quotes an engineer on a related Research Labs project called Lifebrowser; a tool that lets you train it by rating different things. The engineer poignantly states, "No one ever needs to remember what happened at the regular Monday staff meeting." Exactly.
So why keep it? The point was made that freeing our brains from trying to remember all of these miniscule events actually helps us to be more productive and creative. Remember the chord that Fight Club struck? Throwing it all away is refreshing too. In fact, Mr. Thompson describes some of Mr. Bell's more frustrating moments when he grasps for emails that just don't seem to be there or tries to find photos with tags that end up returning all sorts of documents that are not relevant to what he's looking for. That sounds like an episode of the Twilight Zone. Mr. Bell observed that the more he used the tools to replace his memory, the more he relied on them and the weaker his natural memory seemed to become - just like anything else that atrophies in our bodies.

My final thoughts:

Hope you don't forget your password.

Memory hacking. Sounds interesting.

Memory "enhancement" sounds more interesting. That strikeout you made as the last out... try game-winning hit! That strikeout you made with Sara... try...

person 1, "I didn't say that!"
person 2, "LET'S GO TO THE TAPE!"
(As if politics could get any worse) - $10/mo. to filter and remove all traces of her

"August 29, 2033 After 7 delays in as many months, Microsoft announces that its new operating system will no longer support the .mem format ..."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

4 Days, 4 Blogs: Quote of the Night

Mommy, I can see her boobies.

- My son watching Matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifah) in Chicago

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Random Thoughts From the Road: MSU

My wife and I spent last weekend enjoying Autumn's glory on the campus of Michigan State University. I love traveling simply because, to paraphrase my brother-in-law , "if you want to have new thoughts, you've got to do new things." So here are some of things hanging around in my head since the trip:

The Starbury. Worn in the NBA and always only $14.98. No comment from Nike, Addidas, or Reebok.

My impression after driving a PT Cruiser: fun to drive but I wouldn't buy one (it definitely prefers
cruising to passing). Though I'm always impressed with the details that Chrysler engineers seem to focus on.

Michigan speed limits: how can you set a limit of 75 for cars and 55 for trucks? Lowest common denominator rules...

If Technology is a flattener, and software-as-a-service extends the metaphor, why is it hard to offshore parts of SAAS?

Why is nearly every mom we know a "sales mom"? How come we never knew about this racket? Another sign of a flat world..?

I'm seeing more and more about biofuels. How come I never see anything addressing the water supply that will help create biofuels? Won't water be much more scarce and in critical supply? Maybe it's not simple. Maybe changes to government, corporate subsidies, water law, and the iconic American farmer are involved. Maybe not. But it's time to start being frank and honest about the environment.

Airport security seems to be much more efficient and less congested when it's dispersed to locations near each terminal rather than centralized in one or two main areas. (Distributed systems rule)

Crushing a beer can in Michigan is offensive. Apparently the can machines need the barcode to pay back the $.10 deposit (or something like that). The general public response to the crush can be quite startling actually.

When I was in college it never,
never, occurred to me that I might be talking to a married person in a bar near campus, and that their spouse might be right over there.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Saturday night I took in a concert the likes of which I haven't enjoyed in a loooong time. I saw Kasabian (and here) with Mew and onethousand pictures at the Gothic Theatre in Denver. I'd never seen or heard really any music from any of the bands, aside from the annoyingly short blurbs on iTunes. But being a top-rated band from Leicester, England, and supporting act for Oasis, I'd heard quite a bit of buzz surrounding Kasabian and I liked enough of their annoyingly short sound to check them out. The concert came at an appropriate time, having read Britpop! just two weeks earlier.

I went through a period of about two or three years in college where I tried to cram in as many concerts as possible. Four concerts in five nights was not out of the question: Rollins Band with Sausage and Helmet, Sheryl Crow, Lemonheads with Better than Ezra, and The Cranberries (absent Suede). And I've always been pretty enamored with British bands. Maybe it's their understated stage presence and overwhelming sound, or maybe it's just because they're relatively hard to come by in Denver/Boulder. In any case, save David Grey (technically) and some group of Asian chaps rocking the
The Dublin Castle, I haven't been touched by the British sound in about ten years.

Kasabian were awesome and that's just about all I can say. The Gothic is a small venue, holding maybe 500 people (300 of which approximately in attendance), and Kasabian absolutely blew the doors off the place, blew me away, and took me back to my first Brit-band show with Radiohead. It was amazing. And I usually don't look forward to opening acts, but both bands were talented in their own right and really caught my attention. Especially Mew with their abstract visuals playing on a huge screen behind them along with their abstract vocals - almost uncategorizable. Could one expect less from the top-rated band out of Denmark? But Tom Meighan, lead singer for Kasabian, was the star of the night... by far. He came off to me as a mix of Mick Jagger and Liam Gallagher of Oasis. A good friend that saw Kasabian a year ago mentioned it's apparent that Meighan's been influenced heavily by Gallagher in the year they've been touring. In any case, I felt lucky to be that close to the stage on that night.

Concert Quote of the Night, toilet wall scratches: God loves, Man kills

Monday, July 17, 2006

Conversation of the Week

When I asked my four year old son what he learned at school (daycare) today, he said they were learning about water.

"Hey Dad, do you know what water's made out of?"

(Me, thinking, "well, I know what it's made out of but I can't possibly imagine what you're about to tell me.") "No buddy. What?"

"Um, two H's and an O."

(Me, thinking, "I can't believe you just said that; there's no way he knows what that means.") "Huh!"

10 second pause

"Yep. Two Hydrogens and an Oxygen."

(Me, thinking, "I cannot believe you just said that! Unbelievable!") "Wow! That is really interesting!"

"Yeah Dad."

(Me, thinking, "wonder if I should get him started on 'Six Easy Pieces'...")

Monday, June 05, 2006

Back From Outer Space

My wife and I started new jobs on the same day in March and it has been an absolute time warp up to now. For me, I started with a company that I knew no one inside. For my wife, she started back as a professional for the first time since before she was pregnant with our son - nearly six years ago. For a little while we went into survival mode but Memorial Day weekend really marked a point where we've all gotten into our grooves and we're starting to create some time and space for ourselves (as they say in the NHL).

And what a better way to blow off some stress than to help my brother-in-law close down Armida's karaoke bar in Denver. Twice.

My brother-in-law lives in Wisconsin and works on a dairy farm. His girlfriend toured the world with a reggae band and has since become a bar favorite around the upper peninsula of Michigan. I've witnessed the jaw-dropping reaction she gets in bars up there... unfortunately, "jaw-dropping" is not the reaction we got when we took the mic but at least I've managed to expand my karaoke horizons.

The first time I ever karaoked I did just one song: Blister in the Sun by the Violent Femmes. I decided to start off with that one again just to get my legs under me. Unlike some bars that have karaoke off in the corner, Armida's is built around it. You're up front and on stage. So it definitely helps to drop a drink or two and pick a song you can channel, or one where you only have to sound like Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes. The other subtle point I learned is that there are a few songs that are bar favorites and you can't go wrong by taking a shot; it's smart to get the crowd on your side early. Case in point, my next song was Brandy (you're a fine girl) by Looking Glass. This is a song that I didn't nail but can certainly dial in on. And, after having won over the bar with my opener, had two random young ladies grinding me on stage (which actually threw me off because, c'mon, Brandy's just not a grinding song). Then there's the closer. In a crowded bar, this is the one that everyone's pretty much drunk for. And again, for some reason I can do Turning Japanese by the Vapors halfway decently - which is all you really need for the closer. Champagne Supernova by Oasis, though slightly off-topic lyrically, was thrown in there somewhere as well...

The next outing wasn't nearly as successful but nonetheless fun. My set included: Tainted Love by Soft Cell, Everything to Everyone by Everclear, and Turning Japanese again in a desperate attempt to win back a portion of the bar. Along the way I took note of such bar favorites as Living on a Prayer by Bon Jovi, Santeria by Sublime, Centerfold by J. Geils Band, and Creep by Radiohead. Look out Michigan, I'll be touring the UP this summer!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Random Netflix Musings

Well, the numbers are in for 2005. We watched 116 Netflix movies last year. That's an average of 9.6 movies per month at $1.88 each. Netflix doesn't exactly make it easy to figure this out - except that they send emails that can be collected. Maybe there's some sort of Long Tail or Web 2.0-ish opportunity here...

I wonder how many Netflix disks were lost because of Hurricane Katrina?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Economics of Expertise

Kathy Sierra, contributing author to O'Reilly's Head First series, Sun's Java certification exams, and Creating Passionate Users makes some interesting points in "How to be an expert". It's another great post embodying the unifying theme of how to kick ass.

In my opinion, there are some very real economic decisions made when evaluating how far down the expert road you want to get. I tend to agree that we practice the things we're already good at. I also agree to an extent that we avoid things we suck at, but I'm not sure it's because we make a decision to be mediocre. I think it has as much to do with the value of our time, or an organization's time, as much as anything.

The point was made, "Yet the research says that if we were willing to put in more hours, and to use those hours to practice the things that aren't so fun, we could become good." I totally understand the point of this sentence. From a pragmatic standpoint, this could describe more time in test-driven development, or an extra evening at a user's group meeting, or really digging into SOAP with that next web service. But I only have 24 hours in a day and I need to sleep for
some of that time! So those other 17-ish hours of my day have some real economic value to me, my family, and possibly other people.

It seems the value of becoming an expert sometime in the future is constantly weighed against the near-term value of that time. And the distance into the future seems to be significant as well. For example, O'Reilly's home page currently displays a heading: "Technology Doesn't Wait-- Neither Should You". In other words, we have a relatively short amount of time to maximize our expertise in a technology. Entity beans? Stateless session beans is the way to go. EJB? Why? Don't you know that Hibernate with Spring probably solves the same problem? Struts? You should consider Ajax with JSF. JavaScript and JSP? Why not a C# .NET smart client..? And on and on for eternity. Sure, I can still put in more hours and become an expert in C or SmallTalk. And yes, being an expert in anything at any time is worthy of some merit. But what it comes down to is this: is the payoff at the end of the expert road worth the time that I missed on other things, particularly, playing with my kids? In technology, that value is diminished with every passing day.

So this is probably the reason why I still have not actually changed the oil in my car myself. There are experts out there that can do it for me. And in the end, I guess I'll live with mediocrity in investing, remodeling my house, or playing that saxophone that's in my basement. But that's because I am trying as a software engineer. And frankly, I'm able to convince my employer to pick up a portion of the economic cost of traveling down that road. But most importantly, I'm well on my way to becoming an expert at being a dad. And I think the economic benefits of that to our world will probably outweigh my contributions as an engineer.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Open AJAX Consortium Looks to Ease Development

One of the interesting points that Laszlo Systems CTO David Temkin makes in this interview is the relative lack of good UI developers out there, specifically in the J2EE realm. I think he's correct in stating that a good J2EE developer tends to be proficient more on the server side than on the client. And maybe that's because there's relatively much less Java code actually involved in the display when you're talking about a web application - witness the rise of Ajax. Also, a good UI developer has to be so much more than just a software engineer. A good UI developer needs to be part psychologist, part designer in the pure sense, part artist, part engineer, a users' advocate (gasp), and extremely detail-oriented. On top of that, a good J2EE UI developer probably needs to work well in other technologies such as HTML, JavaScript, CSS, XML/XSL, and even Flash. True, these are not so much of a technical stretch compared with J2EE technologies, but it is a bit of a stretch to expect the same person to be truly exceptional in all of the technologies (jack of all trades, master of none).

The one thing that catches my attention most about Ajax splashed across, developerWorks, and TheServerSide is that these same people were touting XP not very long ago. And granted, I understand that these folks must live on the edge. But I find it so interesting that we've shifted from test driven development and best-practices to getting something out the door quickly. And a "something" which isn't based on a standard framework (as this article points to), can't easily be unit tested, has very little tool support, and actually isn't even grounded in Java!

I'm excited about these developments but I'm also interested in watching how they play out with Windows Vista and XAML lurking around the corner.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

BITS problem solved

The server does not support the necessary HTTP protocol. Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS) requires that the server support the Range protocol header.

The latest application that I've worked on is a C# WinForms application that incorporates the
Microsoft Updater Application Block to handle automatic updates. For Java developers, this is basically the equivalent of Java Web Start. Under the covers, the Updater Application Block uses BITS (Background Intelligent Transfer System) technology; the same technology that's running when you install a security patch from Microsoft. We encountered the above error with a single client site and it took an incredible amount of time to figure it out, and there was only a smattering of clues published on the web.

The error message may lead you to believe that the problem stems from a misconfiguration on our server. The following is a snippet from BITS documentation:

HTTP Requirements for BITS Downloads

BITS supports HTTP and HTTPS downloads and uploads and requires that the server supports the HTTP/1.1 protocol. For downloads, the HTTP server's Head method must return the file size and its Get method must support the Content-Range and Content-Length headers. As a result, BITS only transfers static file content and generates an error if you try to transfer dynamic content, unless the ASP, ISAPI, or CGI script supports the Content-Range and Content-Length headers.

BITS can use an HTTP/1.0 server as long as it meets the Head and Get method requirements.

To support downloading ranges of a file, the server must support the following requirements:
  • Allow MIME headers to include the standard Content-Range and Content-Type headers, plus a maximum of 180 bytes of other headers.
  • Allow a maximum of two CR/LFs between the HTTP headers and the first boundary string.

But the actual cause in this case was our client's firewall configuration. The firewall (SonicWall pro 5060) was interfering with the response from our server. The solution: our client opened our IP range on their CFS Exclusion List, Gateway AV Exclusion List, IPS Exclusion List, and Anti-Spyware Exclusion List.

Hope this helps someone else out there!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Lessons in SOA

Although I agree with the comments of George Carey about this article, I wanted to add a little personal experience to the underlying theme of the article that a SOA needs to be based on a loosely coupled abstraction layer. This is absolutely critical. Why? Because services can easily turn into a maintenance headache that is, "write once, maintain forever."

Coming from EJB/JSP-land, it's not initially apparent that point-to-point services are bad. Both Microsoft and Sun are selling how easy it is to produce and consume web services. But it becomes obvious over time that you're actually writing a public API rather than remote procedure calls. This is a significant shift in thinking and practice and shouldn't be underestimated. Under the basic constraints of API development, service signatures cannot change and contracts can't be broken. This can lead to versions of methods like getDocument(int) and then getDocument2(int, boolean), etc. Then in the future when a bug is found, you may end up maintaining getDocument() and getDocument2(). Of course we strive for proper encapsulation, but sometimes even good encapsulation cannot prevent the possibility of breaking a contract. So then you may even wind up maintaining different versions of compositions that basically perform the same task. Or, in the unlikely event that a database primary key changes, it may reverberate all the way through the system unavoidably breaking a contract. And even in a system with relatively few web services, this amount of maintenance can quickly become unacceptable.

My point is that in order to be successful with a SOA, you probably need to put even more work up front in design and more forethought in policies such as managing deprecation. And I understand that implementing a SOA is different than implementing a few web services. But as this article points out, this fundamental understanding needs to get to the core of an organization before the "if you build it, they will come" mentality.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Indiana Jones and the...

I rely on my brother to filter only the most important Ain't It Cool News. Thank you Steve. And thank you to all the creative folks out there suggesting titles (readers talkback) for Harrison Ford's swan song as Indiana Jones.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Remote Prosperites

Last month, I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Cyd in London (Camden Town). It was a short but incredible trip; made more comfortable by the fact that I flew business class both ways. It's disgusting how they treat you in business class. I highly recommend it.

Day 1 involved:
1. Making it onto the correct tube train and realizing I'm sitting in the absolute middle of the train, with my luggage, 8am on a week day (packed), I'll need to navigate off the train soon with my luggage, and I'm American. DOH!

2. Trying to decipher Cyd's directions out of the Underground station. "Go straight out of the station" can be interpreted in many ways when you're faced with a 6 point intersection, cars driving on the other side of the road, and no street signs (street signs are on the buildings - I didn't know that until day 2). In fact, it took 3 tries to head in the right direction. Have a look for yourself... which way would you have gone?!

3. Trying not to succumb to spontaneous REM sleep. In the famous words of Evan Dando, "I know what it feels like to be MAARK today." (paraphrased)

My prescription for shaking off GMT-0700 was spending some quality time with myself in the crisp air of Regents Park.

And then a few more hours exploring the catacombs of Camden Market. I think I probably heard at least 20 different languages while wandering through.

4. And later after a short nap, wandering to a tiny little back-alley with a couple boutique stores, drinking hot sangria, and helping Cyd find a bobble (Christmas tree ornament).

Day 1 conclusion: Absolutely amazing.

Day 2 involved:
1. Waking up at 6am. That's the time my son usually wanders into our bedroom every morning. This strikes me as completely bizarre as it's 6am London time.

2. Knocking out the things I absolutely had to see: Sir Isaac Newton's sarcophagus in Westminster Abbey and John Harrison's clocks that won the Longitude prize. Along the way, I got to see the rest of London via the Thames and Greenwich. Very satisfying.

3. Listening to some very bad karaoke in a local pub.

4. Loading up the jukebox at the Camden Castle, birthplace of Blur, and partaking in an obligatory G.W. discussion with a young Londoner currently residing in Barcelona.

Day 2 conclusion: Absolutely amazing.

Day 3 involved:
1. Waking up at 6am again.

2. Wandering to and then through the Tate Modern gallery. Rodin, Picasso, great views of Saint Paul's, etc.

3. Wandering through Picadilly Circus and the theater district to find some amazing Indian food.

4. Eating amazing Indian food.

3. Spending some quality time at a local pub with Cyd's international mates over a few bottles of wine.

Day 3 conclusion: Absolutely amazing.

So Cyd asked what the best part of the trip was. The best part of the trip was the conversation with Cyd about life and actually spending time with Cyd's mates. It was just being there.

By the way, I just saw King Kong the other night and the commercial they played before the movie had Kate Winslet walking here.

Hey Cyd, take a close look at the Camden Lock... you'll see some of Banksy's work (hanging painters). My brother picked up on it in this photo that I took.


Monday, January 02, 2006


Instead of coming up with a list of fleeting New Year's resolutions, I choose an action verb that I intend to incorporate into as many aspects of my life as possible during the new year.

For 2006, I choose "create."

Create abundance.
Create time.
Create love.
Create health.
Create opportunity.
Create prosperity.
Create something unique.

Here's to a happy, healthy, prosperous new year! Cheers.