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.