Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Site News

Some random updates, short-answer style...

Site Down - Wassupy was down the past few days not because I've been the latest Google or Microsoft acquisition, but rather because of an unfortunately timed power failure, software update, and negligence.

My server runs linux which is pretty much as good as it gets as far as remote administration goes. Whenever there's a hiccup I just "ssh" over to the machine and fix it, from anywhere. In fact, the system can hardly tell the difference between me sitting at the keyboard in my garage or typing on a smart phone's keypad from Singapore.

So what happened? I'm not completely sure. My current theory is that our power went out long enough for my three minute UPS to fail, causing my machine to shut down. Since my machine had not been restarted in over 400 days (more than a year), the init sequence ("boot") hadn't been run in ages. Since that previous boot last September, I had installed, uninstalled, reinstalled, reconfigured, etc. everything but the kernel.

Anyway, even though I was down for several days the problem only took 45 seconds to fix. The delay was simply because I had to physically get to my machine (in my garage) and hook up a keyboard and monitor to it. All set now.

Holidays - Sarah and I are traveling to Ohio for the holidays (that'd be a good time to steal my webserver! Keep in mind that it's 7 years old and a piece of crap, though). We are getting pretty close to calling it quits as far as the "let's go to every family and do a full Christmas with all of them" thing. We really love seeing family and doing Christmas with each of them (Sarah's mom, Sarah's dad, My mom, my dad) but our interstate-fragmented families, it's getting too hard. I think the problem will soon be that in an effort to enjoy Christmas with everyone, we'll in fact not enjoy Christmas with anyone (and annoy others, too!).

Moving to Ohio will help this somewhat because travel won't be such a big deal, but with a sister-in-law in Texas and a brother in New York (who knows where the other near-college-graduate-siblings will end up) getting everyone together on the same day is ruffling some feathers.

We'll probably do the whole shebang for 2006 and 2007 but my prediction is that we'll start taking turns and working in our own tradition by 2008. We'll see... :)

House - Our house is listed on several sites (FSBO, Craigslist, MLS) and we've had three showings. Most of the feedback from the agents has been positive and we remain confident that our home will sell soon.

As far as my transfer goes, we're planning to move as soon as our house sells, but no earlier than January 22 (Sarah's last day). We are actively looking at homes in the Aurora area (Ravenna, Kent, Streetsboro, Cuyahoga, Rootstown, etc.) and hope that the timing works out.

Television - There's a some good TV out there this season. The good: Lost, ER, The Office, Family Guy, Southpark, Prison Break (borderline). The so-so: House (House isn't funny any more, he's just mean and dumb), Standoff, Six Degrees. The horrible-you-should-not-have-uncanceled-it: 7th Heaven. I've yet to render a verdict on Daybreak. It seems pretty good but the repetition is a little boring.

Work - Work is going pretty well. Unfortunately, my predictions for my December schedule came true...I'm insanely busy. It's not as bad as it could have been but nearly all of my customers are trying to use up their 2006 budgets before the end of...2006. It's not unusual and there were a lot of proposals going out (hence the prediction), but it's still rough.

There was a point where I was booked for 400 hours in December. To put that in perspective, given a little Christmas vacation time, I would have had to work 21 hours per day. Fortunately I'm waiting on several of my customers for approval so the actual demand has turned out to be about half of that.

This isn't just me saying look-I'm-so-busy--my whole company is like this. When I asked for another resource (i.e. a person), I was told that the earliest available date for anyone, company-wide was January or February. If you want to pick a specialty (like software), it could be later. That's good news, I guess. I wish I was eligible for the company bonus plan... :).

On a related note, if you are an engineer or an engineering student, we're hiring like crazy--tell 'em Michael sent ya.
Upcoming Posts - I'm planning to do a couple silly posts as well as some more serious topics. Some ideas I've had floating around for a while include:

  • Basic computer related tutorials (how stuff works, networking, programming, terminology, etc.)

  • How to buy a computer

  • Internet security

  • How to get around your company's web filter via secure personal proxy (akin to VPN)

  • iPod tips or "Things I learned once I finally got an iPod"

  • Discussion of digital music, DRM, portability, and the concept of digital property

  • More programming

  • Rants about traveling and the airline industry

  • Online mapping technology (check out Yahoo Maps--above and beyond Google Maps)


Keep in mind that I haven't actually written any of that stuff yet, nor am I qualified to write much of it. I chose some of the topics because they interest me and I want to research them. My plan is to knock one of these out each month or so in an on going fashion. This will likely be as much or more educational for me than anyone else.

Other topics (like how to buy a computer, how computers work, and programming) I do know quite a bit about so you can expect more frequent posts on those topics because they require less prep time.

Feel free to send me questions. Things these that I just made up are good examples:

  • Why can't I run Mac software on a PC (and what's the difference anyhow?!)?

  • Are wireless routers secure?

  • What is up with Windows Vista?

  • What would you say you do here? Or, what exactly is "programming"?!

  • What's the difference between a crocodile and an alligator?

  • What's so special about those LED Christmas lights?


That's it for now.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Vote Like Your Democracy Depends on it!

I built up the courage to stand in line for 3 hours and have my vote counted (maybe) only to find an extremely easy, uneventful, unelectronic process. I went to my local voting station, received a ballet in less than three minutes, and filled it out with old fashioned pen and ink. In less than ten minutes, I was back in my car and on my way to lunch!

Pedro is the man
(not me, randomly snatched from Google)

What an easy (too easy?) experience. I encourage everyone to vote, but only if you know who you are voting for. Yeah, I said it: if you don't know who you are voting for, don't vote...what would be the point?! Spend 10 minutes before you leave doing a little research. I'd encourage you to not fill this 10 minutes with looking for colorful yard signs and voting for whichever sign you like best. Instead, consider resources like these, that I found particularly useful (seeing as I live in North Carolina and all):


  • North Carolina 2006 Voters Guide by the Family Policy Council. This organization sends surveys to all the candidates and posts the results. That's it. No analysis or funny talk--just scans of what the candidates wrote. I found most of the questions to be good and many of the responses to be very helpful in shaping my vote.

  • North Carolina Board of Elections. Of course knowing who you can vote for in the local races is useful, too. This will tell you where to vote and who you will be voting for.


You can probably find similar sites for your state by searching accordingly.

I am almost disappointed that I didn't get use an electronic voting machine. I was curious how they worked as I have never actually used one. Then again, I like the fact that my vote is not surrounded in controversy by floating on some USB drive or flash card or whatever.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Trick or Treat, Smell my Feet

This is a follow up to Sarah's Halloween haiku referencing batman...there's a short story there.

Sarah and I sat our in our driveway last night handing out candy to the neighborhood chitlins. We bought a metric ton of candy and, near 7:15, were running low. Evidently, our neighbors have been getting busy because there were a lot more kids than last year.
halloween-candy.jpg

Anyway, back to the story. So we were down to 17 pieces left in the bowl and this somewhat rotund batman character came running (good for him) towards us (bad for us). I said the same thing I've said to the previous 70 kids, "Hey there, how are you doing? Great...help yourself to one piece, please."

Seeing that he was going in for the ol' dip and scoop, I made a move to pull back the bowl. He was a pro, though (and a superhero), so my effort was in vain. He escaped with 5-6 treats. I shouted, "hey--just one! I'm almost out of candy, Batman! Jeepers!" He didn't care and ran off to join his parents and hop in the wagon so he wouldn't have to even carry his excessive, stolen bounty. This kid was about 10, I'd say.
If the story ended here, I'd stop writing. It goes on...
batman1.jpg

Five minutes later, Batman has made his way around the cul-de-sac and...comes back to our house. I kid you not. He never even walked up the street! He basically went from my house, to my neighbor, and back to my house.

I pull the bowl before he even touched the driveway. He ran up, eager for another scoop, and I shut him down. I said something like, "you know what, Batman? A few minutes ago you came over here and took a handful of candy even though I told you you could have one piece. No more for you."

He cried a little inside, I'm sure, and waddled back over to his parents. Here's the best part: he told his parents, as best as we could tell, "they--they--they wouldn't give me any candy!"

In response to that bs, I walked over and...ah what's the point...I didn't do anything. The kid left and probably fell asleep with chocolate all over his face and jelly beans stuck to his fingers with a titanic tummy ache.

Other than this kid and the two teenagers that were dressed as teenagers, the kids were great and we had a good time.

Moving North

I think we've made arrangements with all necessary persons (his-work, her-work, his-family, her-family, etc.) so I here you go:

We are moving to Ohio!



moving.JPG

I am transferring from the Apex branch to the main office in Aurora and Sarah will be hunting for new and exciting work in the area.

We're planning to move in January or February.

We're selling our house and will be hunting for a new one. If we don't find the perfect house before we move, apartment living will have to suffice. By the way, I know that the dead of winter is pretty much the worst time to sell a house. Spare me.

At my office, I've not informed anyone of this below management. That should happen shortly.

Why?

Good question. We miss our families and we decided that when we have kids, seeing the relatives a couple times a year wasn't going to cut it. We'll be about 2.5 hours away, which is still a trip, but much more reasonable than the 8.5 hours it is now.

Why now?

Two reasons. First, kids are on the horizon. That horizon might be 1-5 years away--who knows? Sarah's not pregnant now so you'll just have to wait like the rest of us. Second, moving is hard and I don't want Sarah skipping out on the heavy lifting with some lame excuse like, "I'm pregnant," or "I want pickles and cream cheese"...though I guess those are pretty much the same excuse.

Why so soon? Allow me to dodge my question with a clever comment. We weren't planning on coming back so soon. If we were, we wouldn't have bought a house last year for crying out loud.

Why Aurora? Why not Newark?

Another excellent question (it's easy to come up with good questions when you are quizzing yourself). I work for Rovisys, perhaps the coolest company around. Rovisys has an office near our folks so why not? I get to stay at the same, cool company and everything.

Also, we don't want to be too close. I've seen enough Everybody Loves Raymond to know that some distance is important. We're close enough to make easy weekend trips but far enough away that unannounced drop-ins are unlikely.

Why not Columbus?

Why why why...what's with all the questions?! What are you four years old, Poopy-head?!

So there you go. We'll be settled in sometime in the Spring. We're very excited!

By the way, that picture is from when we moved to NC, June, 2005.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Haik-uesday

Halloween today

Many children want candy

Batman really sucks

Sunday, October 29, 2006

My Job Rocks

Subtitle: Why you should work for Rovisys

RovisysThroughout high school and college, I had one goal in mind when it came to academia: get a job. I realized that degree-->job, so I stuck with college. Now don't get me wrong, I had a great time in college. I met some awesome people and often think back to some of the best fun I have ever had.

On the other hand, although I think about engineering pretty much 18 hours a day (it's a disease), I only have to answer to someone 8-10 of those hours. When I get home, I don't have to study or do homework--I do fun stuff!

Here comes the kicker--when I'm at work, I am having fun, too! Most of my friends and family have undoubtedly heard me complain about some aspect of my job (a customer, a coworker, etc.) but I really, really do like my job.

So now the few people that actually knew what I did for a living are scratching their heads...

I am a computer engineer and work primarily as a programmer. A customer gives me a problem and I give him/her a solution. It's really that simple. The trick is coming up with a good, effective solution. For me, that's the fun part.

I get a kick out of seeing things I did be actually useful to others. For example, when I was a coop for Rovisys in 2004, I rewrote their timesheet module. I only had a couple weeks or so to do it and I was pretty new to the development environment they were using but it turned out ok--I was happy with what came of it.
Then, I was hired as a full-timer a year later. They are still using it! Given, it has obviously received some major updates, bug fixes, etc., but the point is that people actually use this stuff! Of course looking back at my code causes me to chuckle at its poor design and convoluted ways of doing simple things. You live, you learn.
OK, OK, but why Rovisys? Rovisys is small company of about 150 people. For the most part this is a good thing. I know most people in the company, including the President/owner--and they actually know me, too! In fact, it's the president of the company that took a bunch of us out on the Great Lakes in August.

Rovisys takes care of its employees pretty well. From what I understand, pay is pretty average, but it goes far beyond that. I don't even want to know what the budget is for company events like parties, outings, etc. It's huge.

The other big benefit I see in Rovisys is the incredibly low turnover. I'm talking like a couple people a year leaving to seek other opportunities. People tell me that the number of people that have been fired is countable on one hand (over 12 years). This is true even through the dot-com bubble of the early 2000s. Rovisys was hit hard like everyone else, but no one was laid off.

This gives me something that is very important in a job: security. So long as I don't screw up big time, I'm confident that I'll have a job.

Friday, October 6, 2006

Yes, I'm Still Alive

Boom!


Thanks to all of you out there that called to make sure I was still alive. It seems that half of the 32,000-person town (Apex, NC) 8 miles to my north was evacuated last night because of a fire and 20+ explosions at a chemical storage plant. As of Friday night, some people are still not permitted to go home.

Sizzle


The plant is about a 1/2 mile from my office so I was not able to get to work today--damn near the entire town was shutdown. This is downtown Apex at rush hour today. A ghost town.


Apex downtown at rushhour. Normally crazy busy.


For a map of where all this stuff happened, check out this thing I threw together with Google's Map API:

Map madness

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The average blah has a bajillion times more bacteria than the average toilet seat

mouseI have heard this phrase over and over and over and over again. Mythbusters even did a show slightly related to this.

Now we have a mouse designed to tackle this "problem". Work with me here...if you clean your bathroom regularly (or even occasionally!), but rarely clean your desk, which do you expect to be cleaner?

  • Here's an idea: clean your desk.


This just in: recently washed stuff is cleaner than unwashed stuff! Holy crap!

Just to take this to an obscene extreme, I took the liberty of creating a headline generator. Fill in the blanks and click "Surprise Me".

A number: and an object: and

Monday, September 25, 2006

Because it's what Jesus Would Freaking Do

Izzy and AlexSarah and I have been catching up on Grey's Anatomy for the last few months. The title quote, "because it's what Jesus would freaking do," comes from season 2, and is funniest line I have heard in a long, long time. If you are not famiiar with it, let me bring you up to speed. If you're not at all familiar with the characters, you'll just have to take my word for it--this is funny stuff.

At this point in the show, Alex has just recently cheated on Izzie, breaking up the sorta-couple they'd formed. She is angry at everyone for helping him study but eventually helps him, too. When he asks why, she answers with restrained rage a variant of the popular phrase.

Alex and Izzy


I snagged those images from TV Squad and ABC.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Twizzlers

I know you're not supposed to get into Heaven just by merit, but whoever invented Twizzlers should get a free pass...If people are going to be somewhere for eternity, they're going to want him or her around.

Twizzlers

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Download Debt and Schedule Information

Excel IconI have added a feature to the Debt Manager that allows you to download your accounts and payment schedule as a CSV or XML file for easy import into Excel or other applications. Since CSV files do not support multiple sheets, you will need to download the account information separately from the payment schedule information.
Export/Download Features

XMLXML on the other hand, supports multiple classes within a single file. This means that if you click either XML download link, you will receive both your account information and your payment schedule information.

A note to any XML purists out there: in the XML output I make heavy use of attributes where elements may be more appropriate. Relax, I don't want to hear about it.

As usual, posts related to the Debt Manager can be found in the Money category.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Just Married: Bill and Jenn

My older brother, Bill, got married a few months back to a great girl, Jenn. They had a great wedding and reception with lots of family, food, and fun.

A couple days ago Sarah got a birthday gift from the new couple and included in the package were some wedding photos...three CDs worth. At first I thought they might be photo CDs with just a couple dozen pics on each. Boy was I wrong. I just uploaded a solid 1.5 GB of photos to my gallery. Jenn had so many people with cameras at some points that it looks like a multi-angle flip book if you go through them quickly.

Bill and Jenn

About Loans and the Effects of Interest

This post describes the Rapid Payoff feature of the Debt Manager, with more of an emphasis on the dollars and cents than the application itself.

Disclaimer

First off, I’m an engineer, not an accountant, banker, etc. I took a bunch of money-related courses in college, but I should not at all be considered more than slightly proficient in the area. Since you stumbled upon this on the internet, you should take it as such: information given by a complete stranger who probably doesn’t know as much about the topic as he thinks.

If the information that my application produces turns out to be wholly inaccurate and you do something really dumb as a result, let me know so that I can fix the application, not your mistake. To put it another way, I am not responsible for whatever you do with this. Seek professional advice when needed.

What’s the big deal?

The idea is to eliminate debt. The fastest way to do this is to pay a lot towards debt., thus minimizing the money wasted on interest. Let me reiterate that point: every penny you pay to the interest of a loan is completely wasted. I think people tend to understate the effects of interest so here’s a nifty chart I just whipped up:

Normal Loan Payoff


This shows the amount of money paid for a $150,000 mortgage at 6%, broken down into principal (blue) and interest (red). Remember, principal payments actually reduce the amount you owe, while interest payments do nothing for you. It isn’t until 18.5 years into the loan that you actually pay more to principal than interest.

If this loan runs its course, you will have paid $173,757.28 to interest--more than you paid for the house!

Now suppose you have an extra $500 each month that you can apply to this loan. The extra dough can come from trimmed expenses, money that was being used to pay for something else that’s recently been paid off, etc. Here’s what the things look like side-by-side:

Loans Compared


That’s a little crazy so let me explain. The three hollow lines that go only to month 150 or so are the accelerated amounts. This means that if you pay your normal payment each month, plus tack on an extra $500 to the principal, you will own your house in 13 years instead of 30.

With this method, you will pay an extra $78,000 extra over those 13 years (13*12*500), but will save $108,000 when compared to the 30 year payoff schedule.

Can’t afford $500? An extra $250 each month will cut the life of the loan to under 18 years and save you a cool $80,000. A mere $100 extra each month will shave more than six years off the loan and save you $45,000.

(note: those graphics were created pretty easily with Office 2007. Spiffy huh?)

Where am I supposed to get extra money?

Lots of places. You can sell stuff you don’t need anymore, switch to a cheaper car, move into a cheaper house, don’t eat out as much, etc. There’s even a way without doing any of that: stop financing new stuff. That is, when your car is paid off, you will suddenly have an extra chunk of change. Instead of buying a new car, keep the one that’s paid off and use what you were using on the car to pay off something else.

This method is known as snowballing because the more things you pay off, the more you will be applying to your remaining debts, while not actually increasing the total amount you spend on debt.

Will this actually work?

Yes, with one seriously huge condition: you must follow the schedule. If you do not apply the extra money, it won’t work. This program takes discipline, no doubt.

My hope is that by seeing the dramatic effects of Rapid Payoff in the Debt Manager, you may be encouraged. You can switch between traditional payoff and Rapid Payoff by toggling a checkbox.

As usual, posts related to the Debt Manager can be found in the Money category.

Introducing: Debt Manager

I’ve been working on a small web application for a little while now. I think it is ready for some public scrutiny so here you go, Debt Manager:


AccountManager.jpg

Jiggawha? At the most basic level, you just enter in all your loans and this puppy will give you a payoff schedule.

Yeah, yeah, I can do that in Excel

True, but I’ll take it one further. This app will do something that is a real pain to do in Excel: rapid payoff. After you pay off one loan, the Debt Manager will apply the extra money to the next loan, then the next, and so on until everything is paid off. This accelerates things like you might not believe.

You’ll see a list of debts when you first start—they are just examples to help you get going more quickly. Feel free to poke around, add, change, delete, etc. The changes last only for your session and are saved in the URL so don’t worry about messing up anyone.

Since this has just been released, I don’t have much in the way of documentation. I plan to post quite a bit about this and other money-related things periodically. To see all related posts, search by topic.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Floppy Disks

Floppy Disk GuySarah’s school gave her a class list for her computer-based grade-book software on a 3.5” floppy disk. Holy crap! I haven’t seen one in quite a while. I had to pop the disk into my Linux server (in the garage) to read it—we don’t have a floppy drive in the house.

Fortunately, Linux is sweet and let me mount the disk remotely and copy the files over. That is, after I wiped away the cobwebs. No joke—there were cobwebs on the floppy drive! I’m actually surprised that it worked at all. I can just imagine what the Linux kernel was thinking… “whoa? You want to mount /dev/fda0? What the hell is that? Oh right, right, a floppy disk. I didn’t even know I had one of those things installed…”

I snagged that image from Google Image Search.

Sailing the Great Lakes

I went sailing last month for three days with some coworkers. It was awesome.
Sails

Every year, Rovisys’s owner takes a couple dozen people out (whoever signs up) out on the Great Lakes for a multileg sailing trip on the Bum Boat. Every three days, a van full of 5-7 new crew members drives up to meet the boat to replace the existing crew.

Me, driving


This year, there were six legs. I was on leg five and had a blast. We drove up on a Friday and met the boat around 5pm. The previous crew lingered for a while but eventually headed home. We went out for the first of several fantastic dinners. After a huge meal and lots of drinking, we stopped by two bars before we made it back to the boat to bunk for the night.

The highlight of the first night would probably be a crazy old man we ran into at the last bar. His name was drinky or rinky or blinky or something like that. He never took a drink, though he went through the whole cheers thing over and over. He continuously tried to pick fights with each of us while muttering something unintelligible. Old people are funny.

Mackinac Bridge


Anyway, the next day we sailed from Detour, Michigan to Mackinac City. Total sail/motor time was about 8 hours. The best part of this day’s sailing was when we ran into a little rain and John (the owner, President, and Captain) stood unphased. It was light and we could see on the radar what we were getting ourselves into. The punch line occurred when he went below and came back up with his fowl-weather gear on. The crew exchanged glances and said, “uh oh.” Then the real rain came. It was still nothing too heavy with smooth seas but not three minutes after John came back, I got pretty damn wet.

Horizon


We docked up and walked around Mackinac island for a good while then tempted fate with various raw sea creatures at dinner. After another great meal, we headed back to the boat for an evening of games and cards.


The next day we motored elsewhere and managed to get in a fair deal of actual sailing. The sailing part was great because it makes driving more fun, and it’s quiet.


Anyway, check out some random shots from my voyage and judge-selected photos from the other legs.


You can also read details from legs 1-4 in the Captain’s Log.

UPDATE 29SEP06: The Captain's Log has just been updated to include legs 5 (me) and 6.

The Pups

The dogs are doing fine. Pirate is an angel compared to Jane--she’s a blobby little mess most of the time. Jane is sweet when she’s tired, and cute pretty much all the time. She’s also not so fat anymore. When we initially got her (April), she had some medical issues that made her…blobby. Now that she’s healthy and on a diet, her stomach doesn’t drag on the ground and she can “sit” like a normal dog.

Jane


Pirate


Pirate and Jane


She’s also learned a few tricks and it getting along better with Pirate.

If we ever get her house broken, we’ll be good to go.

Sarah's Teaching Job

SLHSSarah started teaching biology a couple weeks ago at Southern Lee High School in Sanford, North Carolina. She has three regular bio classes and is crazy busy. She leaves the house around 6am and returns around 6pm. Then she writes lesson plans and tests until midnight or later. She is finally catching up to the point where she is working a few days in advance and can occasionally get 5 hours of sleep.

I am not joking here. She is working her freaking tail off for those little punks. Oh yeah, about her students...

AppleThis is a regular bio class—not enriched or college-prep or anything. The ability to read is apparently not a prerequisite. I took her first test and got a 98 on it—I haven’t seen any bio crap in more than 6 years and I missed one question. After giving the same test to 75 students, she had less than five As.

This is easy stuff. For example, a question on lab safety: “True/False It is good practice to taste unknown liquids to identify the chemical present.” What?! Even my dog knows not to do that and he’ll eat anything.

I’m not sure what’s ok to write about and what’s off limits regarding her students so I’ll try to get Sarah to post some things. She has some really, really ridiculous stories. My current favorite is about her most disruptive student going to the administrator’s office to serve a suspension, only to find that he had received a second suspension that same day from a different teacher for a completely unrelated antic.

On the plus side (for her), I don’t mind grading papers. I try to do as many quizzes and homework assignments as I can. The thing is though, I hate to alphabetize. I don’t know why—I just hate doing it. I finally started refusing to do that part—hey it’s my mental health or a clean stack of alphabetized papers. You can’t have both.

Working like it's my Job

Rovisys LogoWork is kind of a roller coaster now. I work at Rovisys in Apex, North Carolina (though it’s based in Aurora, Ohio). The big project that I have been working on for about a year is driving me absolutely insane at the moment. Here’s the deal: the project began with a spec written by another company. Rovisys was then hired to implement a bunch of software. About half of that software (a web application) was implemented quickly and installed successfully under a project lead by my friend and coworker Bryan, of the world famous Guy Behind the Guy.

I did some stuff for that but eventually moved over to the other half of the project which involved a multithreaded windows service that does a bunch of stuff as real-time things happen at the company’s plants around the world. I came into this side of the project a little late and eventually learned a whole lot about how not to manage the implementation of a project. The business side of things went ok, but the code…not so much.

As it turned out, I am still screwing around with this project a year later. We have 99% of everything complete, but we just can’t quite get the thing out the door. It was about a year ago that the eight person development team was cut down to three, then two, and last November, to one (me). Since then, I have worked to correct some problems and make lots (and lots) of major enhancements.

If we could only get this out the door…. We are currently on our third release cycle. That is, tomorrow will be the third time the software has been released. With each release, old problems are fixed and new problems are discovered.

I haven’t been working on this full time all year but damn near.

The reason work is like a roller coaster is that the days surrounding a release are incredibly stressful, mostly because time is rarely on your side. Leading up to the release, things seem peachy. Then, 48 hours before a release, the customer has a habit of calling me late at night with a line like, “function x isn’t working…and hasn’t worked for a month, though we didn’t bother telling you earlier and we’re probably the ones that broke it. Fix it ASAP. Our company will catch fire if you don’t work on this right now. What’s the number for 911?!” My cell, apparently. So we have long stretches of everything working great mixed in with short, panicky periods of chaos.

All that said, I do like my job. I enjoy the work I am doing. I really enjoy problem solving, too, so working in a high stress environment to fix bugs PDQ is usually enjoyable.

I have also been working on other projects besides this software job. Working on these other projects has taught me three things. First, I like working with other people from my company. Rovisys seems to hire good people so working with them is unsurprisingly, good. This is in contrast to working closely with a somewhat difficult customer for long periods of time.

Second, I like to write software. These other projects have not been software related. I have been doing a lot of documentation-related tasks for pharmaceuticals. Check out cGMP for some nitty gritty boring stuff related to that. I am glad to gain exposure to these other fields, which is especially important at Rovisys because they do so much of that kind of stuff, but I find that I enjoy working with software much more.

Lastly, I don’t like to travel much. Traveling would probably be fun if I were single, but I’m not. When I leave for weeks at a time, I miss my wife and my dogs. I have a family brewing back home and it’s tough to fly away, work 12-16 hours/day and live out of a hotel room. About that travel…yes let’s make this an obscenely long complainer post. Best to get it all out at once, right?

Travel

Last year I traveled 23% of business days. That’s slightly more than one day a week or one week a month. I talked to my mangers (plural) about this and received mixed feedback. My technical manager (according to the org chart) told me my travel was not unusual and to get used to it. Damn. My day to day manager (the one I actually do stuff for) told me he’d cut it down to a more reasonable level.

Well I guess it’s down slightly. Since June (my anniversary date), I have traveled one week to Cambridge, Massachusetts, one week to London, Ontario, and two weeks to Bloomington, Indiana. I have a couple days here and there scheduled for October but nothing else major planned at the moment.

Ok, so actually, that’s exactly the same pace: four weeks in four months. Damn.

I hate to complain, but this is probably my largest (by far) issue with my job. Relative to this, everything else is great!

BTW: I have another post titled "I Love my Job" that's been sitting in my drafts bin for months. Maybe now is a good time to polish it up and click Publish.

Microsoft Office 2007 (Beta 2, Technical Refresh)

Office LogoThe geek in me continues. As many of you know, I use Linux (Gentoo) at home (to host this webpage, for example) and love it. Many of you also know that I do not have a unfounded hatred toward Microsoft, Apple, or the Linux-style products. In fact, I have a Windows laptop for work, an ancient iBook from college, and an even more ancient Linux server in my garage hosting this page. I like all three systems for different reasons.

I will say this, though: Microsoft Office blows all other office-style applications out of the water. Now that Microsoft is releasing Office 2007, game over. I have been using the beta for the last couple of months and it rocks. I know that I’m a big nerd for being excited about a software product but hey, I use Office more than I use a lot of other things deserving of attention (e.g. my car, TV, etc.) so why not?

Office 2007 on my machineOffice 2007 has been completely redesigned. This means two things. First, you will hate it for about one week, and two, you will love it thereafter. I have gone back and used Office 2003 since on other computers and it makes me feel clumsy, dumb, and irritable. Once you get used to the new design, the old design feels like a crumpled up, hacked together piece of computer garble.

I won't go into much of it now, but the basic gist is this: every feature is in the ribbon (that toolbar thing). If you are looking for something, just click through the tabs and it will be there. No digging required.


This is of particular interest to me because one of my personal interests is GUI design, including the study of how people use computers. I have long believed that if you are semiliterate and become confused while using an application, it is the application’s fault.

So if you are brave enough to try out beta software, give Office 2007 a go. I think you can download it for $1.50, though it was free when I got my copy. You can also take a “test drive” where you use a remote copy via a web browser so you can try it out without installing it.

You can already read a lot more about it from the developers themselves.

Podcasts

I have been really busy recently so I apologize for the two months of no updates. I hope to make up for that today. Get ready for massive updates...hopefully you find something interesting in here. I hop to write some funny stuff soon, too.

I’ll start us off with...Podcasts

PodcastI am ashamed to admit that I am about two years behind on this one. For those new to the term, a Podcast is (usually) a subscription based mechanism to receive regular episodes of audio or video. These are generally free, weekly programs…think radio shows.

The cool thing about podcasts is that you can subscribe to them (again, usually for free), and they will update on your computer (and iPod if you have one) automatically. So if you are an NPR addict like me, but don’t always have a radio handy at just the right time, you can subscribe to the appropriate feed and listen to your program whenever. You can usually go back 10+ episodes, too!
StrongbadNLOAsk a Ninja

Here are a few podcasts I started listening to lately:

  • Security Now - A highly paranoid, security focused tech podcast. There was some good stuff on encryption a while back.

  • Strongbad Emails (video) - Hilarious. Start with episodes on the web. There is a podcast feed but it hasn’t been updated in a while. Be prepared to waste several hours on this.

  • Ask a Ninja (video) - Also extremely hilarious, and more episodes on the web.

  • Nobody Likes Onions - Funny. More like a radio show than the others. Be prepared for explicit content, and lots of it.

  • The Onion Radio - tiny (less than a minute) reports typical of Onion headlines.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

That Actually Happens?!

Michael and I were watching the first season of Grey's Anatomy the other night and in one of the episodes, they discovered a surgical towel that had been left inside someone's chest from a previous surgery! A TOWEL! I was like, dude, good thing that doesn't happen in real life cause that would be super scary. Turns out it DOES happen! In fact, it is common enough that a company has decided to produce RFID sponges - this way a wand can be waved over a patient which will let the doctor know if there are any sponges remaining inside before sewing the patient up.

I can't imagine being the test subject in this study:

"Hey, how'd you get 100 bucks?"


"Well, my doctor was operating on my abdomen and they hid sponges inside of me before sewing me up. Then they tried to find them. Sortof like a scavenger hunt."



Better use a metal detector, too...imagine the doctor going out to his car after a 12 hour shift only to find he had "misplaced" his keys.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Site's Been...Unavailable

I know, I know. gimme a break.

Broken wire

So it wasn't really Pirate's fault this time...I was having some network issues. I've switched how my dynamic DNS is handled so hopefully things will be better from here on out.

Monday, July 3, 2006

Holy Crap, That's Hot



In Raleigh, at least. I will be getting my AC charged pronto--with temperatures like this, I could probably make a health insuance claim for it.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Game 7: Canes vs. Oilers


This just in: I am going to GAME 7 of the Stanley Cup tonight. Holy bejesus. This is reason #248 to work at Rovisys.It all comes down to this, folks.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bush Sees Things Differently

Reporter


This isn't much of a come-back post, but hey, I was laughing pretty hard when I heard about this on the news.

In a way, it almost makes me like Bush a little bit--I can see myself making the same joke.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Prime Numbers

I know there are few that appreciate numbers as much as me. If you're not one of them, stop reading now.

Wikipedia is loaded with information on numbers. I have been focusing lately on prime numbers. Wikipedia lists 59 different "kinds" of prime numbers. A prime fits into a specific category if it is prime and has some other special characteristic.

For example, a prime (i) is a twin prime if (i-2) or (i+2) is also prime. That is, 5 and 7 are twin primes, but 13 and 17 are not.

Another interesting class of primes is "Illegal Primes". Illegal primes are numbers that are prime and also illegal. The web quotes only two numbers to be potentially illegal primes. The numbers could be considered illegal because their binary representation could be deemed illegal.

The example of this is the DVD decrypting program DeCSS. That is, the DeCSS application could be archived (merely to allow for padding, I guess). It's binary code could then be converted to the decimal equivalent of a prime number, thus making the decimal number illegal. (by decimal i mean base-10, not a number with a decimal point.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Patriot Games

No, not that Clancy novel or movie...introducing, "The Patriot Act Game".

The Patriot Act Game

Eat your heart out, John Ashcroft.

Instead of play money, the game uses Civil Liberties. More often then not, you lose your civil liberty cards (more or less depending on your race) and end up in Jail--err--Guantanamo Bay. The game is very educational.

The game is freely available--the author provides PDFs that you can download and print out. Check out the site for more information.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Cell Phones at the Movies

I just saw yet another article about movie theaters wanting to jam cell phones. For those unfamiliar, this would mean that while in a movie theater employing this technology, your cell phone would have "No Service".

Obviously there are problems with this. First, what if something bad happens? If there is an emergency and people cannot use their cell phones, try not to drown in the flood of lawsuits.

That's probably why jamming devices are illegal.

Other reasons apply to those that responsibly use their cell phones. When a phone is switched to silent, I don't care what you use it for. If you are texting away, checking email, playing Nibbles or whatever--if it isn't distracting from the movie, why should I care?

Finally, there is a better solution. I suggest that theaters, churches, etc. install devices that send out a signal, telling the phones to automatically switch to silent. This would be awesome.

Just imagine...you walk into church and your phone, being smart and sophisticated, silences itself. After you leave church, your phone reverts to your crappy Super Mario Brothers ringer or school fight song. Then, you swing by the theater to see a movie, and the phone silences itself again. Sweet!

Of course this method has its problems, too. First and foremost, this technology doesn't exist. This task would require cooperation among phone makers. Fortunately, the method used to signal the phones does exist in many newer phones, Bluetooth (short range communication).

Of course this solution does not address issues with people who actually talk on their cell phones during a movie. While jamming would work in that case, I think a swift kick to the temple would be better. That's exactly how Chuck Norris would handle the situation, anyway.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

For the "nerds" out there

The next time someone calls you a nerd, direct them to this website. That's right, it's an "Apple" tree. If, on the other hand, you actually have done something like that, there's no hope for you.

apple tree

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Radio Shack

Radio Shack LogoThis is hilariously clever.

In other news, Radio Shack is headed down the tubes. Big shocker there...when's the last time you bought something at Radio Shack? 1996?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Careful there...

For those of you that took my advice from the post "Oh, you work with computers?" and installed Microsoft's AntiSpyware, you should be aware that a recent update could ruin your Norton Antivirus installation. At least that's what this article claims.

You will probably be fine if you wait and update your software in a few days. In any case, look through the items to be "cleaned" before you "clean" them!

If it's too late, see if the support offerred in the article helps. If not, let me know.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

I can't make this stuff up

Evidently, a Louisiana man is suing Apple because his iPod could cause hearing loss. You have got to be freaking kidding me. He is not claiming to have sustained hearing loss, but he could sustain hearing loss.

Apple iPods already come with a label indicating that high volume could cause permanent hearing loss--this guy justs wants more labels. Wow.

In other news, stoves can be hot.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I can't believe it's not truncating!

This is for developers only. If you are not a developer but keep reading, you will just think this is dumb--my wife certainly did.

I have always been taught that integer arithmetic yielded truncated results. For example, 10+0.9 = 10. The reason for this is that 10 is an integer and thus 0.9 is converted to an integer before the addition takes place. This conversion is performed by truncated the fractional part (.9), leaving just 0. 10+0=10.

Trust me, as a computer engineering student, this is hammered home over and over again.

Fast forward to the jobsite. I am using real technologies now like VB.Net. I am using a method that returns a double/float and really need the integer part. So, I use good old CINT(double). I am shocked when my results appear to be rounded! Holy crap!

This is huge. CINT(1.6) = 2, not 1! So I look up the documentation and sure enough:

Note: CInt differs from the Fix and Int functions, which truncate, rather than round, the fractional part of a number. When the fractional part is exactly 0.5, the CInt function always rounds it to the nearest even number. For example, 0.5 rounds to 0, and 1.5 rounds to 2.


I'll be damn. You might notice something even more crazy--it doesn't just round .5 up, it rounds to the nearest even number. Holy crap times two. I have not used this style of rounding since chemistry class in college when we had to mess with significant digits and such. This means that CINT(2.5) = 2...and...CINT(1.5) = 2. Yes, they both equal 2.

OK, I know you are thinking that the madness must be over...it's not. The documentation suggests that you use INT or FIX instead. Now skeptical of all things, I lookup INT. It seems that this has its quarks, too. INT always rounds DOWN--even for negative numbers! That is, INT(1.9) = 1, INT(-1.1) = -2.

It turns out that FIX is the function of choice for good old fashioned integer truncation. Go figure.

It should be noted that as far as I can tell, integer casting in C/C++ works like FIX...like everyone I know expected.

A conversation I had with Michael today

Michael: in computers, what is 1*1.5?

sarah: 2

Michael: good guess
no

sarah: 1
?

Michael: it is typically 12
1
1
integer arith.

sarah: ah
i forgot about that

Michael: i just discovered a HUGE thing in VB that shocked me

sarah: so 1*1.9 is 1, too

Michael: yes

sarah: what's that?

Michael: CINT(1.9) is used to convert the argument to an integer
so, i would expect...
CINT(1.9) = 2
wait
I would expect cint(1.9)=1

sarah: ya
no?

Michael: it doesn't. Cint ROUNDS....holy shit

sarah: :)

Michael: i called bryan. he didn't believe me

sarah: crazy!

Michael: this is so backwards

sarah: you guys are nerdy
:)

Michael: seriouslyt

sarah: i know!

Michael: it gets worse

sarah: it's so awesome!
and crazy!
crazily awesomely crazy!

Michael: it uses scientific rounding -- it rounds .5 to the nearest even!
cint(1.5) = 2
cint(2.5) = 2

sarah: omg no way!

Michael: so to go from assuming it simply truncated to now rounding ina very unusual way is very disconcerting
you think you are funny but you are not.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Thoughts About Pudding

  • I think pudding is capable of ending all wars and conflicts.

  • I think it is weird that I can buy both refrigerated and non-refrigerated pudding.

  • Cafeteria pudding usually sucks. That's because it's not real pudding.

  • Low-cal pudding isn't very good either, but it will doĆ¢€”when it comes to pudding, take what you can get.

  • You can eat pudding with a spoon or fork. It's so versatile!


And one final random though (not related to pudding)...

  • Why is it that it takes hours and hours to freeze a slice of lasagna but I can reheat the same frozen block in only 90 seconds? Come on!

Monday, January 2, 2006

Things my dog has eaten today

a peanut m&m
half of a squeaker from a toy (subsequently coughed up)
fluff from the toy
a jello cup (mostly empty)
a potato