Saturday, July 29, 2006

Calero Reservoir

Today I cycled the most challenging route I've attempted so far. I cycle out to the Calero Reservoir. This was the longest route (20 miles) I've done, but only by a little. What made it the most challenging is that it's highest elevation I've cycled to, at around 560 feet. My house is around 160 feet, so it's only 400 feet of rise. That rise is over a long distance, though the last 250 feet or so comes in about a 2 mile stretch. Not much by Tour de France standards, but excruciating for me!

Here's a picture I took with my phone of the reservoir:

Nice port-a-potties... And here's the entrance to the park at the reservoir:

It was a fun ride that I will definitely do again soon.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Fixing Iraq

I have a decent number of news/blog feeds that I read. One thing I try to do is read things that I know I will disagree with. I think it's the best way to keep my mind open. Sometimes it's really frustrating though. For example, today I read this article on the Opinion Journal.

It's a horribly partisan piece, as it quickly reveals in its subtitle "Some alternatives to pre-emptive retreat." So it immediately makes the assumption that exiting Iraq is "pre-emptive retreat." As if leaving a sovereign country alone is retreat, and is if any such exit could not be pre-emptive, i.e. someone would force us out. Such an opening to an article sguarantees that it will never motivate someone who thinks we should leave Iraq to re-consider their opinion. Instead this just becomes a ra-ra article with no chance of having real substance.

The author (name not listed) does offer a single argument against leaving Iraq:

"former U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith suggests resigning ourselves to the partition of Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish states. The big problem with that idea is that Baghdad is a multiethnic city, and dividing it along ethnic and sectarian lines would entail displacing at least two million Iraqis and a lot more bloodshed."

So we shouldn't let the people there decide their own future because ... they could hurt themselves? News flash: they're doing that already. Too bad for the US that England or France didn't step in 150 years ago to stop us from hurting ourselves in The American Civil War. If only England could have been occupied and guided America, then a lot of American lives could have been saved...

The unidentified author then goes to provide his list for fixing Iraq:

  • More security forces for Baghdad -- Sounds like Vietnam all over again. Just pour more troops in. That's sure to go over well with the population. Even better, "embed" more troops with Iraqi police forces. Yeah that's really going to make people respect the Iraqi police as legitimate authority.

  • Better intelligence -- When all else fails, blame the troops. We've already seen the President do this. I love how some writer for OJ can claim "it shouldn't be as hard as it has been to identify the likely troublemakers." Maybe the CIA should "pre-emptively retreat" and let this guy take over for them. Clearly he could find out who those "troublemakers" are. Just using such a term shows the author's overwhelming arrogance and ignorance.

  • Iraqi leadership -- What's this, an elected Iraqi spoke poorly about Americans? That's clearly causing violence in Iraq. There was probably no violence until these elected leaders started saying bad things about Americans. So we should definitely do as the author suggests and threaten any Iraqis who say things we don't like. That will definitely stop the violence.

  • International support -- He claims that Iran and Syria are supporting the militia groups by giving them weapons, but a bigger problem is "tacit encouragement" from other Arab states. So let the guns and bombs keep flowing in, but get those Arab leaders in line damnit!

  • U.S. resolve -- Hear we go with the typical Republican tactic of all-but-claiming treason on anybody who questions the President. The real reason for violence in Iraq is the Democrats! If you say that you think we should leave Iraq, you are causing violence in Iraq! So shut up before more people die!

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Ups and Downs of Floyd Landis

This year was the first year that I was really interested in the Tour de France. The exploits of Lance Armstrong were always admirable to me, but never that interesting. This year was different.

I started cycling last year. I bike three days a week, usually about 10-15 miles. This year was also the first year of the Tour of California race. The combination of cycling myself and having a major event near my home motivated me to follow the Tour of California. Not only did it come through the Bay Area, but it's two most important stages were in San Jose. This included a time trial just miles from my house. I would have loved to watch the race in person, but I have a job. I still followed it closely. That important time trial was won by Floyd Landis. It gave him a sizeable lead in the race, a lead that he never gave up.

So when the Tour de France came around, I not only followed it, I rooted for Floyd Landis. If you followed the Tour, you know what a tumultous yet glorious event it was for Landis. I could not believe it when he fell from first place to eleventh with just a couple of stages left. I was thrilled when he came back the next day and crushed everyone in the last Alpine stage. I made sure to record the last time trial and rooted him on as he clenched the yellow jersey. It was a lot of fun. It was the kind of thing that cements one as a fan of a sport. My first time following the Tour, the rider I rooted for not only won, but did it in amazing, come-from-behind fashion.

That was last week. Today I was shocked to see that Landis had failed a drug test. I've often said that I don't care if Barry Bonds or whoever uses performance enhancing drugs. Similarly I don't care if Landis (or Lance Armstrong) use them. Still, it was a really bad feeling to read that somebody I had rooted for could have his victory taken away because of a drug test. I can't imagine what it must be like for Landis.

Here's the thing though. I don't think he's guilty. The test indicated a high ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone. If an athlete is using a steroid, it is easy to beat this particular test by also injecting epitestosterone. In other words, if Landis was really cheating, he should not have been caught like this. Further, it takes a long time for testosterone enhancing drugs to be effective. Thus if Landis was taking some kind of steroid, he would have had to have taken for a long time before the failed test. Otherwise, it would have done him no good. If that was the case, then it would be crazy for him to have not failed an earlier test (he had been tested several times during the race including just two days before, as the race leader is tested after each stage.) I guess he could have been taking steroids for a long time, and just forgot to take his epitestosterone. What other "Landis was cheating" based explanation makes any sense?

So I really don't think he was cheating. If that is the case, that makes this an even worse tragedy. It also shows the many reasons why drug testing is stupid. It certainly leads to the possibility of false accusations and unfairly ruined reputations and careers. And as pointed above, it's easy for "true" cheaters to defeat the testing. Not convinced? Look at the human growth hormone scandal in baseball...

Update: Today it was reported that a mass-spec of Landis's urine revealed synthetic testosterone. Ouch. This story just gets worse and worse...

Led Zeppelin

Rolling Stone's cover story this month is on Led Zeppelin. I read the article this morning. It was funny timing, since I had been listening to their first two albums while commuting the last couple of days. Just this morning, I had been thinking that even though so many subsequent artists have been heavily influenced by Zep, their music still sounds very fresh. I think that's a testimony not only to their songwriting skills, but also their musicianship.

I was not even alive when Zep debuted in the late 60's. So it makes it even more interesting to read about how controversial they were. People thought they were over-hyped even before they released their first album. They were often disliked by critics, though adored by fans. The RS article thinks this was the beginning of the rift between "popular" rock and "elitist" rock. That rift definitely exists, but it's hard to think of Maroon 5 as a descendent of Zep... It's also amusing to read that some pundits criticized Zep for being too macho and violent. Take that Tupac.

I started listening to Zep when I was a teenager. For me, there was little controversy in the band. They were a legend, and discovering their music was like finding buried treasure. It was so superior to the glam metal of the 80's. It wasn't like listening to The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. Those groups sounded old to a teenager. Not Zep. Pink Floyd was the only other similar band for me. If Zep still seemed modern, Pink Floyd seemed almost futuristic.

Since then my tastes have matured, and as I've started liking a wider selection of modern music, I also started liking a lot more classic bands. But Zep is still different than any other band. It's like your first kiss.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Worst President ... Ever?

I was reading this little article from Rolling Stone. It came out a couple of months ago, but is still a pretty entertaining read. It asks the question: Is George W. Bush the worst president in the history of the United States?

The article was written by Princeton historian Sean Wilentz. First off, despite the Wentz's attempts to claim some kind of objectivity, the article is very biased. That's too bad, because he makes some very good, and very objective arguments. It's sad that an American historian would make the mistake of being so partisan. He, of all people, should know better. Instead his partisanship simply makes it all too easy for conservatives to dismiss. Of course it may not matter if he makes it easy to be dismissed or not. But if you follow that line of thinking, what's the point of even writing something like this?

I won't dwell too much longer on his biasses, but they are obvious. He claims that the greatest presidents were George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. The inclusion of Roosevelt shows huge bias. FDR's push into socialism is still a divisive issue. Then there's the court packing...

Which leads to Wilentz's other obvious bias. He talks a lot about various scandals that previous presidents have endured. He dismisses the impeachment of Clinton as partisan. This may be true, but it doesn't change the fact that Clinton was only the second president impeached. He mentions several other scandals, but completely leaves out FDR's court packing. This was one of the worst scandals in American history. Newspapers everywhere depicted FDR as an aspiring king or dictator. Wilentz speaks at length about Bush's signing statements policy, as a huge blow to The Constitution, but it's nothing compared to what FDR did.

So there, Wilentz's credibility is quite questionable because of his obvious bias. That doesn't change the fact that many of his other arguments are sound. Bush used lies to lead us into a disastarous war in Iraq. He has used divisive issues to promote hostility between Americans. He has refused to ever admit any mistakes or faults. He has been an enemy of the scientific community. He showed complete incompetence when faced with the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

That's a pretty bad list, but there's more. Just read Wilentz's article. I'm no historian. It's hard for me to say if Bush is the worst president in history. I disagree with Wilentz and think his tax cuts are (mostly) good. I have problems with Bush that Wilentz does not such as the No Child Left Behind program and the Prescription Drug program (Wilentz says these things just need more funding -- again showing his big government/socialist bias.) Still, Bush has been the worst president in my lifetime.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Welcome to Hell, CA

I've lived in the Bay Area for six years now. I went to college in Pasadena from 1992-1997. So in all I've lived in California for eleven years. Hardly a lifetime, but still a decent amount of time. In that time, I've never experienced heat like we've had the last week. I grew up in Florida, and the combination of heat and humidity there is generally much more uncomfortable than any heat in California. So a hot day in San Jose is rarely too uncomfortable for me. That has not been true for this heat wave. It has been unbearable. I am just thankful to live in an air conditioned house and that the electricity to my house has been uninterrupted. Many of my neighbors have not been so lucky, as there have been a lot of power outages. I live in one of the hotter parts of San Jose.

I'm actually a little surprised that somebody has not claimed that this heat wave is more evidence of global warming. I think that would be a pretty dubious claim (even though I think air pollution is a huge problem,) but I still expect it to be made. Lots of people wanted to blame Hurricane Katrina on global warming, and this would seem like an even more obvious conclusion to draw.

The heat has also made me very diligent in venting my car during the day. I always roll down all four windows about 10% and vent the sunroof. I really think that some car maker should put a "vent" button in the car and/or on the fob to the car. It would be great to hit the lock button on your fob and then hit the vent, too.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Liquid Metal vs. Web 2.0

One of the stations that I've been enjoying on XM lately is XMLM -- XM Liquid Metal. I like metal, though I've never been "really into it." It's fun to listen to casually, but it's usually too flawed to listen to intently. Most of the singers try to sound scary, and that's just too humorous to take seriously. Now I do listen to some of the lighter, crossover stuff like Tool and System of a Down. I did buy Slipknot's last record, too, but it really got old after a while. Anyways, it's the perfect kind of music to listen to on XM. You just turn on Ch. 42 while you drive and don't pay too much attention to the singers.

The other thing about metal bands that is really funny are their names. You've probably seen this survey making fun of Web 2.0 company names by comparing them with names of Star Wars characters. You could easily do the same thing with metal band names like Opeth, Chimaira, Unearth, Mastodon, Adema, Motograter, Taproot, Candiria, Brujeria, Atreyu, Dimmu Borgir, Himsa, Soilwork, and Spineshank. I should've thrown some Web 2.0 sites in there just to prove the point, but those are really all metal bands and links to their sites. Many of them have MySpace pages as well, just demonstrating the depth of the MySpace penetration into youth culture. It's not just cheerleaders and student council members using that place, it's the kids who hate them as well.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

It's Almost That Time Again...

That's right, it's almost time for more Donovan McNabb vs. Terrell Owens barbs. I found McNabb's comments to reporters somewhat amusing, but mostly sad. He's clearly still in the denial stage of the break-up. You know that stage. It's where you are still convinced that you are better off without your ex than you were with them. Just check out a quote like this:

To be honest withyou, the way that you win anything is by winning games.

So it's all about winning games, eh? You see he still thinks they'll win more games without TO.

Even though they went 6-10 last year.

Even though they were 4-3 with Owens and 2-7 without him.

Even though his QB rating with Owens was 87.3 and without was 74.1

Even though he set career bests in yards, completion percentage, touchdowns, and passer rating in his one full year playing with Owens

Yeah, it's all about winning games Donovan. I just wonder what's going to happen when he finally realizes that TO was the stronger member of the duo. TO has made other quarterbacks shine, but McNabb has never made any receiver shine. TO's only full season with McNabb was his 5th best in receptions, 4th best in yards, and tied for 2nd best in touchdowns. One could make a good argument that Jeff Garcia to TO was a better combination than McNabb to TO.

It's going to be a long, long year in Philadelphia. Philly has the worst fans in sports, so they deserve it.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hibernate Annotations

Today I found myself in a familiar position -- needing to write ORM backed code. This was a really simple case actually. I had one new table I needed to add plus a class+DAO to access it from my code. Time to call on my old friend Hibernate.

Perhaps I am "old-fashioned" but I usually like to write DDL first. I can see the logic behind writing an object first and then working from there (object -> mapping -> DDL) but it's just easier for me to write the DDL first. So I wrote that and created my table. Then I fired up Middlegen to create my Hibernate mapping. At that point I paused.

Middlegen is great for generating a Hibernate mapping (hbm) file. I decided not to use this and instead use Java annotations. Hibernate Annotations provides full EJB3 Annotation support for any Hibernate application. So I downloaded it and quickly scanned through some of its documentation. I saw that I needed Hibernate 3.2, so I downloaded the latest version of that 3.2CR3 as 3.2 is not GA yet.

I was already pretty familiar with the EJB3 Annotations as I've been one of the many observers to the evolution of that spec. I was ready to write my annotations, but I still needed a class to annotate. So I went ahead and used Middlegen for that. That required me to generate the hbm file, but I simply discarded it when I was done.

Now I annotated my simple class. I'm using Eclipse 3.2 and it handles annotations very well. I simply write the simple name for the annotation, like @Entity and then I could press ctrl-1 to add the appropriate import statement, just like I would do for a class. It also checked my syntax, so it immediately told me that I didn't need quotes for my nullable attribute when I wrote @Column(name="foo", nullable="false").

Now I had an annotated POJO. Next I wrote the DAO class that accomplished my use cases. They were pretty simple, just two methods. I was using Spring so this was especially easy using its HibernateDaoSupport class.

Next I wrote a simple unit test. I told Eclipse that I wanted a new JUnit test case, and it asked if I wanted to do a 3.x or 4.x test case. I chose 4.x, since I was in an annotative mood. Since this was my first unit test that involved Hibernate Annotations, I decided to keep it as simple as possible and bypass Spring. Thus I simply created my Hibernate session factory in my setUp() method, using the AnnotationConfiguration class, of course.

I ran my test and it failed. Not big surprise, don't all unit tests fail the first time? What was surprising was the error message. I had a stinkin' class not found exception. The class that was not found was org.hibernate.loader.custom.SQLQueryReturn. I looked in my hibernate3.jar and sure enough, it wasn't there!

Luckily it was easy enough to Google for this class and that quickly lead me to a thread on Turns out while Hibernate Annotations needs Hibernate 3.2, it only works with Hibernate 3.2CR2 not 3.2CR3. In other words, if you download the latest Hibernate and Hibenate Annotations, thye don't work together. I went back to the Hibernate site to download 3.2CR2. I noticed that the general purpose Hibernate download page indicated 3.2CR2 as the latest, even though the home page indicated Hibernate 3.2CR3 was the latest and released on July 6.

So I downloaded 3.2CR2 and used it and ... no problems. I did read on the forums that there definitely were problems with that release, I was just lucky enough not to run into them.

Maybe I should put the annotations on the shelf, for now? I'm guessing that it will be stable well before the code I'm working on will be stable, but it's hard to say given their roadmap...

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Monday, July 17, 2006

McAfee AdWare

I recently got a Dell laptop at work. It came loaded with a lot of software. The first thing I did was remove most of what was on there. One of the things that I did not remove was McAfee Security Center. This included anti-virus software, a personal firewall, and spam filter. These are all somewhat useful things, so I left them on.

Soon I disabled the personal firewall. My computer is always either behind my company's firewall or my home firewall. So an personal firewall on my laptop had little value. Next I disabled the spam filter. I use Thunderbird for my email at work, and I don't receive any spam (yet) on that account. I use GMail for my personal email, and it already has a good spam filter. I left the anti-virus on. This is a Windows machine after all. I also just disabled the other services. I reasoned that there could be future circumstances where I might re-enable them.

Every time McAfee downloads and installs a virus definition update, it pops up a little message just above the system tray letting me know. Now it also downloads and updates its spam filter, and lets me know about it in a similar way. These are both acceptable things.

Recently, it started using this notification system for other things. In particular, it keeps reminding me that I only have a trial subscription for the anti-virus/spam definition updates, and that I need to renew said subscription. Luckily for me, they offer deep discounts on subscription renewals:

How annoying is that? I went through the various menus in McAfee Security Center trying to figure out how to disable this kind of advertisement disguised as a notification. This is done easily for the anti-virus/spam definition update notifications, but I have not been able to find out how to do it for these ads. Security Center is the first piece of ad-ware I've had on any of my computers in about four years. Luckily, my company has a volume license of Norton Anti-Virus, so I can just uninstall McAfee and install NAV. That seems like the only way to stop the McAfee ads.

Update: McAfee has decided to spam me as well. You would think a company that sells an anti-spam product would realize their (potential) customers obviously don't like spam...

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Leiberman and Lamont ... and Boxer?

Like many Democrats out there, I have been watching Ned Lamont's challenge to Joseph Leiberman with great interest. And like many California Democrats, I was very surprised to hear that one of my state's senators, Barbara Boxer, was not only endorsing Leiberman, but planning to campaign for him. Boxer is a leading critic of the war (even though she voted for it -- we must never forget or forgive this,) while Leiberman is probably the biggest Democratic supporter of the war.

It's an interesting story on many fronts. On one hand, I totally favor Lamot for being so anti-war, and I resent Leiberman. It seems like the essence of democracy that Lamont defeat Leiberman because the people of Connecticut are against the war and Leiberman is for it. As my friend Terry pointed out in a quote from Harold Meyerson "His [Leiberman] problem is Connecticut."

However, I can understand some of the frustrations of Democrats out there. It would help the overall strategy of "beat Republicans" if Leiberman won the Connecticut primary. Plus, I can understand those that feel it is unfair for Leiberman to lose because he "failed a litmus test." It's like the now classic Republican tactics of using divisive issues.

So in some kind of Machiavellian /uber-strategy / median voter theorem way, I see the tragedy in the Leiberman vs. Lamont saga. But who cares? What matters is not that there are more Democrats in Congress, what matter is that there are people in Congress who are going to vote for freedom. You cannot favor the war in Iraq and favor freedom at the same time. You cannot favor things like the Patriot Act and favor freedom at the same time.

As for Boxer, she is just one of many establishment Democrats who is standing with Leiberman. That just shows the weakness in the Democratic Party. It's members care more about power (winning it from the Republicans) than they do about principals.

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MySQL Upgrade

  This morning I was doing some work on the PocoTag project. This is the "evolution" of the old PocoPay project. Basically PayPal's introduction of mobile payments did not seem to bode well for PocoPay, so we have a new business plan.

    A big part of the new plan is to provide anonymous email redirection, kind of similar to craigslist. For this I installed Apache James as our email server. I thought I might need to write one of its mailet apps, but it turns out it bundles several mailets including one that does email redirection based on aliases in a DB table. That was almost perfect. Only problem was that we were not storing the alias and "real" email addresses in the same table. I figured that was easy to solve by simply creating a database view.

    Then I remembered that database views were introduced in MySQL 5. We were running MySQL 4.1 for PocoPay/PocoTag, so now views. That meant it was time to upgrade. I read through some of the MySQL documentation, and it claimed that the Windows installer could seamlessly upgrade from 4.1.5+ to 5.0+. We were running 4.1.12, thus I thought the installer was going to make my life easy.

    Turns out I (or the documentation) was wrong. The installer made no interaction with the MySQL 4.1.12, and tried to do a parallel install of 5.0 instead of an upgrade. So I shutdown 4.1.12 manually and backed up its data directory. Then I uninstalled MySQL 4.1.12 (and uninstalled the 5.0 that was installed, though not configured.) I re-installed 5.0 and dropped in my data, and ... voila! Everything worked perfectly. I created my database view just as I wanted. Next I will configure James, enabling its JDBC Alias mailet with the my new view, and PocoTag should be ready to provide anonymous email redirection.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Nike + iPod Sport Kit

I read this article about Apple and Nike releasing the Nike + iPod Sport Kit. This was first announced back in May, but is just no making its way to your local Apple Store. I've been intrigued by this device, since I run three days a week and I listen to my Nano while I run. So I would seem like the target audience for the device.

Reading the review, it does seem like it has a lot of nice features. It's nice to know how far you've gone and how far you need to go still on a run. Personally I run the same route each morning, and I know all the distances on the route. Isn't this necesarry for any runner? In such a case, then the extra data on the Nano during the run is kind of useless. The "power song" feature is kind of amusing, but I could see it being useful.

The big value to me is that uploads this info to the nikeplus website every time you dock your Nano. That website seems to have some nice tools for tracking progress, etc. That seems really useful or at least interesting. I pretty much know my fastest times, but I don't write these things down -- it's not worth the effort. There's no effort with the sport kit.

Of course it's probably a moot point for me anyways. I'm not going to buy one of the special pairs of Nike shoes to run in. Nike does not make running shoes that are good for an over-pronator like me. I'll stick to my Brooks Addictions. Of course it looks like I might be able to attach it to me shoelaces, like a timing chip. However, I have a Marware armband I keep my Nano in while I run. This essential in protecting the Nano from sweat. I don't think my Nano with a sport kit attached to it would fit in my armband. Somehow I'm guessing it will fit fine if I used the Nike armband instead...

The sport kit is not too expensive at $29. The armband costs that much, too. So that's $60 to easily track workout results... Doesn't seem worth it to me.

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To XM or Not To XM

Two months ago, I bought a new car, a 2006 Volkswagen Passat that included an XM Radio. I also got three months of XM service for free. Now that I'm two months into my free service, I figure it's time to decide if I'm going to continue with the service or not. Time to do good vs. bad.

The Good: Lots of stations, lots of variety. My brother visited me at the end of May. He told me that several of his friends have XM and really like it. He said that they have a favorite station that they leave it on ad infinitum. There's no commercials on XM and many of the stations have a narrow focus, making them ideal for "lock it and leave it." That's not how I use XM. I have 18 XM presets on my car stereo, and I have all of them programmed. I am constantly switching stations and finding great songs. Often these are songs that I have not heard in a long time, or they are unexpected songs from current releases. Just this morning I came across "Everything is Fair" by A Tribe Called Quest. I listened to that song all the time in college, but had not heard it in years. It's a great song. Later, I heard the new Dixie Chicks song "Not Ready To Make Nice." I don't listen to country (though there is one country preset on my stereo, courtesy of my wife) but this song came on mix station. I was surprised to like the song quite a bit.

The Bad: Repetition and reception/sound quality. I have been very surprised to find some repetition on XM. I have definitely heard the exact same sequences of songs on the same station on consecutive days at almost the exact same time of day (while I was driving to work.) This is very disappointing. I've also heard some particular songs repeated quite a bit over a week's time. For example, this week I've heard Alice In Chain's "Would" at least five times. It's a good song, and I was pleased to hear it the first couple of times, but it's seems crazy for a 10+ year old song to be repeated that much. The other negative is reception and sound quality. I have been surprised to see the reception fade at times. Sure if you're in a parking structure or a tunnel you expect this, but I've seen it fade when parking under a tree or stopping under a freeway overpass in traffic. I've commented before on the sound quality being far from CD or even MP3 quality. I'm really nitpicking there though, it is still a lot better than FM quality.

So what to do? I think the good outweighs the bad, but just barely. I think I will keep XM, though I might go month-to-month for awhile instead of buying a year subscription.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Great Idea and Hope for Education?

I came across this article about a lawsuit in New Jersey. I read it and immediately thought: "Why hasn't somebody done this before?" In the lawsuit, parents of children in "failing" schools (not sure what that means exactly, though it has an obvious conotation) are suing the state to allow them to switch their kids to a school of their choice and (this is the key) to get the money that would have gone to their "old bad school" and use it for the new school. What a great idea! It just makes so much sense. It seems so much smarter than the now "conventional" approach of just pumping more funds into the "failing" school in hope of "fixing" it.

Of course, your kids shouldn't have to go to a particularly bad school just so you get this kind of choice and freedom. Everybody should get such freedom. I'm still hoping these parents succeed, since I think it would lead to everybody (at least in New Jersey) getting the same kind of choices and freedom.

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Mac Ads

I used to be a Mac user, and Mac ad campaigns have always been interesting. I really love this bit making fun of them.

Ah, it's so funny because it's so true. Maybe I wouldn't find it as funny if I still owned a Mac, especially since I like worn jeans to boot. I think I'd still find it hilarious though. The worst thing about Macs are generally their owners. They definitely tend to be obnoxious elitists. I have a long time friend whose been a Mac for as long as I've known him (almost fifteen years) and he totally fits every Mac-fan stereotype you can think of. I have another acquaintance who is a huge Mac and especially Steve Jobs fan, and she is often guilty of pretentiousness.

Of course it's dangerous to get carried away with generalizations. I know other people who are annoying techno-snobs, too and are not Mac users. Also, I used to have a co-worker who had worked for Apple for ten years. She was a Mac user of course, but she was never arrogant and snobby about it at all. Still, the lost Mac ad is a lot of fun.

Macs are popular at my new workplace. I thought about getting a Mac laptop to go along with my Linux desktop system, but went with a Dell laptop running Windows instead. I like Mac hardware, especially now that they have Core Duos in their laptops, and I really love OSX. I bought my first Mac (an iBook) five years ago because of OSX. Still, when I thought about things objectively, I knew I would be much more productive with a Windows laptop than a Mac. I might buy a Mac laptop for my home use, or maybe another Power Mac when they get revved with Intel chips, but I would really only want it for personal use, not for work. Plus, even with the switch to Intel chips, Macs are expensive. The Dell I got has very similar stats to a 15" MacBook Pro (same processor, screen size/resolution), but I got it with more RAM and a bigger and faster hard drive. It cost around $700 less than a MacBook Pro, partially because it doesn't have a DVD burner, Bluetooth, a built-in webcam, remote control, or the illustrious iLife apps. Maybe those things are worth $700, but I had no need for them. The only thing it had that I might have appreciated was a better video card, but that's not worth $700.

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Expert Bee

Saturday I came across an ad craigslist. I responded to the ad, and got an email from a guy named Diego that I needed to make a bid on the project through a site called Expert Bee. I went ahead and did and won the bid. I then had to pay $8 to get in touch with the actualy client -- this guy Diego was an Expert Bee employee who had just cross-listed the ad on craigslist probably because he realized that not many people were reading the Expert Bee site. Today I get a response from the client. He no longer needs help on the project, so I'm simply out $8. He said that the Expert Bee interface had made it confusing for him to realize what was going on. Can't say I'm too big of a fan of these Expert Bee guys either! At least I paid them through PayPal so I don't have to be too paranoid that there going to (continue) to rip me off in the future...

Update: I exchanged some emails with the aforementioned Diego, and my $8 was refunded to me. So these guys seem a lot more on the up-and-up after all.

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The Grassy Knoll

Saturday I set my DVR to record The Gentlemen's Finals of Wimbledon. NBC listed it as a six hour affair for some reason. My wife became a little anxious about dropping six hours of HD programming on the DVR, but the machine assured us that it had enough space on its hard drive.

So this let me get up at 8 on Sunday morning to watch the finals, instead of getting up at 6 to see it live. That's nice. I was eager to see a re-match of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Their match in the French Open finals was disappointing. Not because Nadal won, but because the quality of tennis seemed low. However, part of that is because it was clay court tennis and the slowness of clay makes it hard to hit winners and thus more inevitably more points end with errors. Still, it made me wonder if the reason that Federer and Nadal were so dominant was not because they were such great players as most thought, but because tennis is particularly weak these days.

Wimbledon is on grass, of course. Grass has the opposite effect of clay. It is very fast and so it is much easier to hit winners and fewer points end with errors. So not surprisingly, Federer-Nadal was much more enjoyable to watch. The fast surface clearly favored Federer, much as the clay clearly favored Nadal. So it wasn't too surprising that Federer finally beat Nadal in four sets.

The match still left me wondering about how good these two players really were. I was very surprised to see Federer stay behind the baseline. Not only did he not serve-and-volley much, but he didn't even approach the net that much (33 approaches in four sets.) Looking at the match statistics, none of them are that amazing. One could argue that Federer simply won because he has a better second serve -- about 13mph faster than Nadal's and thus he won 57% of his second serve points vs. 42% for Nadal.

It's funny how things change in tennis. I remember a decade ago when people were complaining about the speed of men's tennis. They said that Wimbledon was the worst. Men had such huge serves that it was rare for the opponent to even return it and trivial to volley it away when they did. People complained about Pete Sampras, Boris Becker, Michael Stich, Richard Kraijeck, and Goran Ivanisevic. They pointed to women's tennis as being more interesting because there were still rallies.

In this year's Wimbledon, the last serve-and-volley player in the men's draw was Radek Stepanek, who lost to Jonas Bjorkman in the quarterfinals. The women's game is hardly dominated by big serves, but yet both finalists came to net more often in three sets than Federer did in four sets.

So how would Federer fare against Pete Sampras at Wimbledon? Not well I think. For that matter, I have a hard time imagining him doing well against Becker in his prime either. Even other guys like Ivanisevic and Kraijcek would be tough on Federer I think. Andy Roddick has a big serve like those guys, but he is a baseliner at heart, just like Federer.

Now don't let me sell Federer too short. His game is amazing, especially his forehand. The best forehand ever? Maybe. It reminds me of Steffi Graf's forehand. Actually his game in general is similar to Steffi's, though he probably has a better backhand (though she made a lot less mistakes with her backhand than he does.) He is a lot of fun to watch play. I think he would be tough for mid 90's Sampras on hard courts, but I just don't think he would ever be able to break Sampras on grass. Ever. His return is not good enough and Sampras would swing for the fences so to speak on Federer's serve. And Federer does not seem mentally tough (unlike Nadal.) That was what made last year's US Open final so interesting. Everybody thought that Andre Agassi stood no chance, but then he took a set. You just knew that if he forced a fifth, then either Federer would have to show mental toughness that he had never shown before, or the A-Train would have rolled.

One final note on Wimbledon. This year was the first Wimbledon where I watched most of it in HD. Last year I saw some of the highlights, but usually on the SDTV in my bedroom. I was in Bakersfield during the finals. This year I saw a lot of early round action in HD, and watched all the finals in HD. Tennis is a spectacular sport in HD. It was amazing to see the cracked dirt on the worn parts of Centre Court, and to see the dust and grass fly as players ran down balls. There were also a couple of points they replayed in super-slow as Federer or Nadal hit shots. It was incredibly to see their muscles rippling as they hit forehands and backhands.

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Friday, July 07, 2006

Required Programming Skill: SEO

As I've mentioned in an earlier post, I occasionally do some moonlighting as a consultant. One thing I've noticed lately is a lot of projects where one of the "programming" skills needed is Search Engine Optimization or SEO.

Programming is my profession. So to see SEO labelled as programming is ... offensive to say the least. SEO is a similar skill as spamming or creating pop-up ads. How can it be compared to "true" programming skills.

Then again creating spam that dodges spam filters or pop-up ads that avoid pop-up blockers is non-trivial. It does indeed involve a skill. It may be a skill that I wouldn't brag about to my friends and family, but it is a skill and it is a skill that involves programming of some sort.

So maybe SEO is a programming skill. I made a post on Slashdot recently talking about so-called Internet Operating Systems or WebOS. To me a WebOS is a different kind of OS that lets people create web applications. Traditional OSses allow you to save bits to disk, whereas a WebOS would allow you to save a photo. Perhaps SEO is a part of WebOS.

In the B2B world I've been working in for many years, there is a lot of talk of using web services. One of the idea of web services is that you can publish a description of your service to a UDDI repository. That's a lot like the old Yahoo directories, which did not work. Search is the easier technology than directories or repositories. If search is an integral part of WebOS, then indeed SEO is part of it too.

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Global Warming

Global warming is always a fun subject. It's the Left's abortion, i.e. it's an issue that progressives are as passionate as fundamentalists are on abortion. Actually I don't think that's quite fair. I think progressives are less passionate in general than fundamentalists -- it's jus the nature of the doctrines and the basis of their appeal. I digress.

Anyways, I guess Al Gore's video has really generated a lot of interest in global warming. To me, it's one of those topics where both sides have substantial evidence. It does seem like more scientists are convinced of global warming than are not. I was particularly interested in seeing Stephen Hawking's comments in China recently about global warming.

Much like abortion, there is an easier way to assess the issue than trying to sift through mountains of evidence. The connection that most scientists make is between air pollution and global warming. If there is no connection in these things, then there's not much that can be done about global warming. Opponents say either that the connection cannot be made or that global warming is not occurring.

Personally, I don't care. Pollution is a problem, a big problem. My wife is from Bakersfield, part of California's San Joaquin Valley. Air pollution there is awful. She suffers from asthma, as do many people in the valley. An estimated 16% of all children in Fresno suffer from asthma. That's one out of six. That's a lot of people, particularly children, suffering because of air pollution.

I'm one of the last people you'll find to appeal to the government to solve a problem. The government stinks at solving problems. On the other hand, I'm not a devotee of laissez faire above all. I do believe in freedom, and a corollary of freedom is capitalism. It is ridiculous to think that capitalism can solve all problems, and air pollution seems like one of those.

What disincentive is there for those who pollute the air in San Joaquin Valley? Some of the pollution is from farms, but a lot of it is from large trucks hauling cargo from the ports in Los Angeles and Oakland. If I run a trucking company, why would I care about the health of children in Fresno? For capitalism to work in this situation, there would have to be a reason for the polluter to care about the environment. But there's not. A truck that produces less pollution is not going to be cheaper or more efficient than a conventional truck -- not unless oil hits what $200 or $300 a barrel?

And thus air pollution is one of the rare cases where govnerment intervention is needed. Freedom must be reduced to reduce air pollution. This may well lead to a reduction of global warming -- but probably not. The United States is a huge producer of air pollution, but hardly the only one. Other nations will likely continue to produce air pollution, and thus the reduction from the United States may make little difference in aggregate. But it will make a big difference in the lives of people who live in areas of significant air pollution. It will make a big difference to the lives of children in Fresno and Bakersfield.

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Apps Retry

I've recently taken a new look at a couple of Web 2.0 apps: Flock and Meetro. I had already tried both of them and blogged about Flock last year. I had seen the news about Flock going beta, so gave it a new try.

The good news is that Flock has really improved over the last nine months. I didn't find any of the huge bugs I experienced last year. I did run across some weird issues with its blogging tool, which I'm using now and used for a couple of other recent blogs. It seemed to dump a ton of unclosed font tags into the HTML it generated. Blogger was not too happy with this. It wasn't too hard to fix the HTML by dumping it into a text editor (TextPad) and doing a search/replace, but it was annoying to have to do that. It's only done that on one of the three blog posts I've written using it, so I haven't abandoned it ... yet.

One of the great assets of Flock is that it is based on Firefox. This is a problem too, because Firefox has so many extensions. The two features I like the most about Flock are it's delicious integration and blogging tool. However, I like the Firefox delicious extension better than Flock's delicious integration. Flock is more seamless, but that makes it seem strange. Also there are bookmarks that I want only on one computer somtimes, such as sites on my company's intranet. I don't want thse sent to delicious since I won't even be able to use them from any other computer, unless I VPN'd to my company's intranet. I do like Flock's blogging tool better than Performancing, the tool I've been using on Firefox.

The other app I retried is Meetro. It too has come a long way in the past six months or so. It offers integration with AIM, Yahoo, MSN, and ICQ. That's great, but where's Google Talk? Also, it's buddy list management is really lacking. You can't create aliases and you can't organize the buddy lists.

Of course Meetro's selling point is not as a universal IM client (Gaim is much better for that,) but as a location aware IM client. This seems to work OK. I put in my work address and it insisted I had my zip code incorrect, even though I didn't. It also made an initial guess on my location as Fremont. I was in Los Altos, which is about 22 miles away.

Keep in mind that I am far from the target user of Meetro. That would definitely be teenagers and particularly college students. I might get my teenage nieces to give it a try and see their opinion, and maybe my nephew Daniel, who is a student at FSU.

Update: I have grown tired of Meetro and uninstalled it. I did recommend it to a few of my nieces, so I'll see how they like it. I've really grown fond of Flock and have started using both its RSS aggregator and its Flickr upload features a lot. It's very cool to open my photostream and drag-n-drop pics from it to a blog post I'm working on. It would be nice if there was a sync extension for it, so that if I add a newsfeed on my laptop it is also added on my desktop at home.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Confirmation Bias

I was catching up on feeds, when I read this post called A Declaration of Cognitive Independence. It links to a Scientific American article on the so-called confirmation bias. This is a great read, though it's one of those "obvious" things after you read it. It says that people don't think when they are faced with information that is contradictory to their opinions/beliefs. This seems anecdotal, but the article offers some modest scientific proof of this phenomenon.

This has to be incredibly obvious to anybody trained in the world of science. Science is built around principles designed to squash the confirmation bias. That's what the scientific method is all about. The article mentions this, and suggests how similar principles could be applied to things like politics and corporate decision making.

There were a couple of interesting thing that this brought up for me. First, it reminded me of my eleventh grade English language course. This class had a huge effect on my life. It was an Advanced Placement class taught by a tough professor who had a Ph.D. and had taught at four-year colleges. It really taught me how to write and express myself. This has been a huge advantage for me both in college and in my career.

The reason I bring it up is that a lot of what we did in that class was write position papers and essays. I had some experience writing these kind of papers from my tenth grade European history class, but the English class took things to a new level. One of the principles that was stressed to me was that if you want to write a convincing essay, you must gather the most convincing evidence to support your position. As a corollary, you add nothing that would contradict your position.

This seemed like a great strategy when I learned it, and I have employed it quite successfully over the years. Now I must wonder if it is fundamentally flawed. I was already indoctrinated in the scientific method and mathematical proof before I took this class, so I'd like to think that I judiciously employed those techniques when forming a position, even if those techniques were not reflected in the statements of the position. I'm sure there are many times when that was not the case though...

The other thing that this article made me think about was personal relationships. Confirmation bias is a big part of most people's relationships with other people. The scientific method is great in science, but as I have learned first hand, it is often inappropriate during social conversations. If you're being scientific when socializing with your friends, then you will often find yourself challenging their statements and trying to discredit their reasoning. That's not a great way to build friendships. Maybe Stephen Hawking and Kip Thorne can interact like that, but I think most people would have a hard time with it. Now there are probably people who actively seek confirmation bias in their friends, but even those who would disavow such sycophants are still guilty of the same thing in one way or another.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006


Yesterday I moved. It was a short move, in terms of distance between old and new locations (about 1 mile.) I moved to a bigger house: 4 bedrooms vs. 3 bedrooms. We moved to our old house last March. We found out we were having our second baby about a month later, and right then I knew that eventually I would want to move to a bigger place. Eventually turned out to be about 15 months. Our old house had a pool, which was nice for us but not good for kids. The new house has no pool, but a very big backyard -- which is great for kids. It's funny how your priorities change over time. It also has air conditioning, which the old house did not. The recent California heat wave has made me really appreciate air conditioning.

Of course the worst thing about moving is ... moving. We planned things out in great detail, but of course nothing works as you plan it. I shouldn't say that. Our moves arrived when they were supposed to and moved everything to the new house in about 15 minutes less time than we had allotted for it. Everything was downhill from there.

Our stuff on our old lawn, ready to be moved

First, our new refrigerator didn't arrive when it was supposed to. In fact, it didn't arrive until today. Apparently the delivery person who was to deliver it yesterday was involved in an accident, and his boss had already taken off when started calling asking where the hell refrigerator was. So we had to buy a small refrigerator to put a few vital things in to store over night. We still wound up throwing away some food, which is aggravating.

Next we had problems with our washing machine. For some reason the belt on it keeps coming loose after awhile. I guess we will have to get a repairman to look at it. It's a Maytag, so memories of all those old Maytag commercials came to mind. You know the ones where the repairman is moping around lonely because nobody ever has problems with their Maytags thus nobody ever needs his services. Well we're gonna need him now...

Next the Comcast cable guy came over. He got the cable working -- sort of. We had brought over cable boxes and our cable modem from our old house. We hooked it up to our main TV. Most channels were ok, but the high-def ones were not. They were not in HD, and too big for the screen. The repairman made the typical customer service responses, suggesting something was wrong with my TV. Then he thought something was wrong with the connection cables from the cable box to my TV. So he put new ones in, and that had no effect. I suggested that maybe something was wrong with the cable box. So he brought in a new one, and it worked great.

I wasn't done with the cable guy yet. Next we had to get the cable modem working. I had it hooked up directly to my computer. We tried to go online and instead got some special Comcast page that indicated that my computer was connected to their network but could connect to the internet. To fix this problem, the repairman had to download some program from Comcast to my computer! He didn't even ask me if this was ok. Anyways, he installed the program, ran some operations and of course it did not work. The program indicated that my cable modem still belonged to my old account. Apparently Comcast could not just my location, they had to give me a new account. I guess there is some relation of (user, location) -> account. So my modem would only for my old account, not my new one. The guy tried to call somebody at the local Comcast center. That person apparently was inexperienced and incompetent. So the guy called a friend of his at a national center. This person was able to transfer the modem to my account, and everything worked. Of course I un-installed the Comcast software immediately after the guy left..

So now we're moved. We got the refrigerator today. We still need to get the washing machine fixed, but we're making progress!

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