Saturday, May 21, 2005


This looks to be a really interesting project. They claim that they will archive your digital media forever, basically. Sounds nice, but I registered and took a shot at uploading a few files. What I'm really looking for is an online photo album - just someplace that will store my pictures for me so I don't have to worry about archiving CD's or making sure hard drives are backed up. People who are interested in archiving have to worry about a lot of things like making sure their images are dated, sourced, and described, and I bet quite a few people are doing that and then having a hard drive go south and losing all their work. So before I got onto that part I wanted to be sure I had a good file archiving system, and this site looks like it could be that. What I found was that it was pretty difficult to upload a picture. I uploaded a snapshot of my son and I had to fill in my copyrights, image information, approximate size, resolution, and a lot of stuff like that. It's not a problem for an individual pic, but if I have a couple of hundred it starts to get old fast. The site seemed pretty slow, too, but that might have been my connection. So I guess my next area of research will be image collection formats :) Wonder how they'd deal with a ten-page TIFF if I uploaded it?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Coding principles

* Avoid duplicate code. Anywhere there is duplicate code there is the potential for bugs. Code must always be changed, and anytime you leave the same code in two places, you run the risk of changing it in once place and not in the other, thus introducing a bug. This is the value of Simplicity.

* Don't go too long without soliciting input. You need to get input from users, to make sure that the application is doing the right things. You need to get input from programmers, to make sure your design and architecture doesn't overlook flaws. These are the values of Communication and Feedback.

* Make changes when changes need to be made. Don't fall into the trap of avoiding making changes because "it might break something somewhere." Ideally, of course, you have enough unit tests running to verify that things don't break when you change code, or at least that if they do, you know it quickly. But once the code is so complicated you are afraid to make changes, you can't respond to customer input quickly enough to keep up with your competition. This is the value of Courage.

It's interesting that these principles feed off each other. If your code has Simplicity, you are more likely to have Courage to change, which allows you to respond to Feedback more quickly.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

One's virus grammar must be impeccable

Quote from this article in ComputerWorld: "Another recent variant, Sober.M, which surfaced back in April, deliberately used incorrect grammar within the subject line, thereby attempting to convince recipients that the e-mail wasn't a virus and make them more likely to open the infected attachment." Why on earth would people be more likely to assume that viruses have correct grammar? Since I tend to communicate primarily with intelligent people, seeing bad grammar in an email subject automatically makes it suspect in my book. But now I know better. If I ever write a virus, I'll be sure to have this in the body.

Terribly sorry to disturb you, old chap. Here's those jolly enticing pictures I told you about earlier. Just open the attachment and Bob's your uncle. Cheerio for now!

Will that help?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Indy NDA and VS 2005 Beta

Went to the local .Net users group meeting tonight. They showed off some of the new features of VS 2005, including refactoring and unit testing - two of my particular interests, of course. I think if they become generally adopted I'll have to find some new cause to evangelize :)

The main thing that occurred to me during the presentation was how similar the refactoring support looked to Resharper, and how similar the testing stuff was to NUnit. I hope one or both of these companies is getting a cut. (I asked the presenter to compare VS and NUnit but he wasn't familiar enough with it to say.) The refactoring support for VB was pretty jazzy, though. They're also bringing back Edit and Continue, which everyone was grumpy about being left out of earlier versions. It's just one more tool to help people write bad code, IMO. Much better to write well-tested classes instead of changing a couple of lines on the fly for each run.

Another presenter showed off Master Page support for ASP.Net 2.0, which did look pretty nice. I'm still behind in the Web world, but luckily I wasn't one of the six people tonight who went home with no door prize - I picked up a new book on XHTML and CSS. Worlds enough and time!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Vacation Bible School

VBS is coming up quick! My responsibilities are getting things written and printed, and handling the closing ceremony. I've written up a letter to parents and a letter to kids, and a registration sheet. The closing ceremony will be a bit scary; I'm sure I can get a couple of kids to sing, and maybe a couple to read Bible verses. But I'm thinking there's going to be plenty of time to sing some hymns and take an offering and all that good stuff :) So I guess the question is - do I start a separate blog for it? I guess the answer has got to be yes - at the end of VBS I'll shut down the blog and copy all the entries to the church site. That should be fun!

Friday, May 06, 2005


I'm taking the plunge into learning ASP.NET now. I have a couple of minor things I want to do for my first application: allow posting comments on the sermon at my church site,, and read scheduling information in from an XML file. The code for each of these items ought to be pretty simple, but I'm having trouble grasping the relationship between FrontPage, which the site is primarily written with, and ASPX. Like, I have a theme defined for the site in FrontPage, and it isn't being picked up by the ASPX pages. It appears that the only difference is a meta comment, and I added that to the ASPX, but it didn't make a difference as far as I can see. Also, I wonder if you can bounce the ASPX pages around to make the addresses consistent. Like, the page you get scheduling information from is now - note the navigation bar and the yellow styling - but in my .Net project the page would be . No navbar, no styling, and an address that's rather more complicated. I suspect it's one of those things you just pick up with experience, and eventually I'll realize either that it's not working because something's wrong, or it's not working because there's no way to make it work. But I'd sure like to know the answer now.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Book review: Getting Things Done, David Allen

I spent a few minutes before I started writing digging for the link. Doesn't it seem like anyone who makes a living as a consultant should have a blog? What a great way to get your personality across, and consultants are nothing without personality.

There was a book that came out a while ago about using Outlook as your primary organizing tool. I went to Amazon to read the reviews. Someone said that it was nothing more than "Getting Things Done" with a few tool-specific tricks. I thought at that point I should go read the original rather than the copy. I wasn't disappointed.

I wasn't knocked out of my socks either. It was a good book, and the principals seem straightforward, although to keep using the system sounds like a lot of work. For example, David recommends getting your workstation set up properly with file cabinets and in-boxes; I kept thinking to myself, yep, just as soon as I get a bigger house. But there was some useful stuff. He recommends an indirection from your Inbox, which is where everyone at my company lives, so I tried clearing out the whole Inbox to some alternate folders: "Action Items", "Read and Review", and a few others. I'm not sure how much the system will really help me, but I'm willing to give it a whirl for a while. I suppose I went into the book looking for a tie-in to XP - I figured I'd have my inbox on a set of 3x5 cards that I'd carry around with me. It does seem like you need to have some portable inbox, though, whether it's a Palm or a paper organizer, neither of which I have. Of course, my job requires just about zero travel anyway.

Anyway, my Inbox is empty now, and I have a list of things in my Actions folder, and another list of things in my Tasks, which hopefully I will remember to check every so often. So we'll see how it goes. Maybe it will revolutionize my life. Wouldn't that be nice?

Friday, April 22, 2005

How to lose a web site

Here's some really good advice, with lots of real-life examples, on how not to create a web site.

#1. Don't choose a site that's a random sequence of letters

I was casting around for a web site last year for our church, something I'd never done before. I was doing publicity for Vacation Bible School at the time, so I thought I'd try, for University Baptist Church Vacation Bible School. It was available, which is probably not a surprise.

#2. Don't choose the first registrar that you come across

I typed that address into my browser, which of course told me, that address is not available, would you like to buy it? I clicked yes, and was sent to the default MSN registrar, some company in Australia, and they charged me $35 for the site. (Now I know that $8 or $10 is probably more reasonable.)

#3. Don't let the registration expire

When I figured out that I'd overpaid, I thought, Aha! I'll just let the domain expire from this registrar and buy it again later from somebody else. I did that, but found that the Australian company's policy was to keep their domains unavailable for 76 days. So I had to wait that long before I attempted to buy it again. Unfortunately, I got squatted on. Some company in India that specializes in buying domains that might have inbound links snapped it up before I could get to it, and now it advertises gravestones. A particularly ironic fate for a church site, I thought.

So, that site is gone. I bought a new one,, which is a much cooler name anyway. I'll try not to make quite as many mistakes this time.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


(As if there was anything more narcissistic than a blog). I've started a web site devoted to people named Ben Fulton. We are quite the creative bunch, including artists, musicians, and writers. And one blogger. I was already aware of most of these people, having Googled my own name before, but I turned up a few new ones, and even found that this blog has made it to the first page of links, which was pretty cool. My home site is titled "Ben and Cathy Fulton" which really drops its rank for this search. (I also found some really strange references , which led me to check Google Groups as well. Ah, some great stuff in the early 90's. I was a laugh a minute.)

Monday, April 18, 2005

Book review: Laws of our Fathers, Scott Turow

There's a certain kind of multi-generational book that appeals to me; the kind where you get to look back across many generations and realize how they all fit together. The grandfather was like this due to oppression and violence; so the father was like that because of his father; so of course the hero has to be just like this because of his family history. This is one of those books, which is a bit surprising, really, since it's a courtroom drama primarily, and that's how we see it from the beginning. But you are bounced back and forth between the heroes as they are today (1995) and how they were 25 years ago as 60's flower children. And while only one parent-child combination are really major players, the ghosts of all of their parents are there, and they carry along the emotional baggage. The judge who is the daughter of the revolutionary; the reporter who is the son of concentration camp survivors; the politician who is the child of a plantation owner.

Maybe the reason I like this sort of book is because of how little I relate. I've done quite a bit of studying of my family history, at least the Fulton and Alspach families, and as far as I can tell they were upstanding and sensible to a man; leading directly to my upstanding and sensible father, and leaving me with no particular emotional baggage, or at least no more than anyone else. We've no horse thieves, we've no child molestors. Maybe we're just really good at concealing it.

But of course we're all blind to our own character flaws. Maybe the rest of the world looks at my family and sees...what? Arrogance? Pomposity? Pretension? It's hard to say. Of course, for the most part no one thinks of anyone else at all, preferring to concentrate on what other people think of them.

Well, but so on the characters go, slaves to their various family pasts. The book twists and turns but holds together somehow, over the course of its 800 pages. I had trouble concentrating on some of the 60's bits, since I had picked it up looking for a courtroom. But worth a read if you have time. Lots of inner-city gang characterizations, so skip it if naughty words disturb you.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Vacation Bible School ramping up

Our VBS has a directorship-by-committee this year, and I'm on it. It's a new thing for all three of us, but we're working together well, so that's a good thing. It seems to be coming together. We've planned just one teacher's meeting prior to VBS, although we anticipate a second, and also a meeting of the non-teacher leaders. We'll arrange a prize package for the kid who brings the most visitors, and we plan on having live animals there for the kids to see as well. Since all of our teachers are pretty experienced, we really hope our opportunities to screw up are limited :) The closing ceremony might be an issue, as our emcee plans to be out of town.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Finishing an agile project

I did a bit of research for this article, after it occurred to me that I really wasn't sure how to answer this objection. How DO you know when the project is done?

Most clients will want to specify the items I gave up front: time, scope, and cost. But specifying all three variables will, almost invariably, lead to overruns, bugs, and dissatisfied customers. Why? Because software is inherently an abstraction. If I want to build a skyscraper, I can get an architect, draw some pictures, do a 3D model. I'll have a pretty good idea of what the concrete implementation of the skyscraper will be before the first shovelful of dirt is ever turned over. But software doesn't work that way. By the time you've put together a decent picture of what the software will look like, you're well on the way down the road and have probably put a pretty nice chunk of change into it. Now, you can try specifying time/scope/cost, maybe even do a good job of implementing it. But chances are if you've done that, you've told the clients you can't make that little change they wanted without changing the contract, updating the design, and of course, charging a lot more money. Now everyone's unhappy. The clients didn't get the change they wanted, so they're not as excited about your product. You're unhappy - or you should be - because you have an unhappy customer and a product that isn't as good as it could be.

So here's the solution: Rather than allowing quality to be the dependent variable, hold it constant and let another variable, say scope, be dependent instead. So now, you've got a contract that says you will work on this project for x number of months, and it will cost y dollars per month, and for that money, the client can choose whatever features they want next at the end of the month. Or, to put it another way, get rid of the deadline.

Whew, I think I'm either going to have to stop this series, or write a book. Next time, I'll finally come back to my church application.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Problems of Software Development 3

One interesting thing I've noticed about Extreme Programming in particular is that any objection you can present to a single practice, usually can be responded to by pointing at one of the other practices.

"We don't have the manpower to test the whole project every two weeks!"

Ah, but you've been writing unit tests all along, right? If your application has a solid set of unit tests, and every one of them pass, then you have a pretty good feeling that even if the new functionality you've added isn't quite right, you've probably not made anything worse for the existing customers. Besides, on big, complicated applications there's usually a process for getting new, isolated fixes out the door long before the next release comes out six months or a year down the road. What these fixes come down to are sort of a "Frequent Iterations" emergency measure - that is, the company doesn't believe in releasing software very often, but the customers insist upon it, so out the door it goes, sometimes whether it's been adequately tested or not.

Finally, automated acceptance tests are a key feature here as well. Unit tests are great, but they work at a deep level of the application. When it comes down to it, the user is going to need to click some buttons and type in some data, and is going to get an expected result. But there's no reason for a person to be doing work that computer is able to do, even if the computer has to move its own mouse and type on its own keyboard.

"Our users are going to file hundreds of change requests! The developers will be buried!"

But you've got a Customer, right?

I think the word Customer in the Extreme Programming sense is really poorly named. Everywhere you read about someone attempting this practice, they say, "Oh, but we don't do that. We have shrink-wrapped software." Or, "We have a dozen customers." This misses the point. Customer, as defined in the XP sense, is required to be a single person, or at the very least a committee. Whether the person speaks for one, a dozen, or 100 million actual customers is beside the point. The customer is responsible for looking at all the change requests, putting them into a neat order, and getting them to the programmers, who will be able to estimate a date based on the highest priority items.

"How will we ever know when it's done if we don't have the requirements set in stone up front?"

But what requirements were set in stone? Generally, they involve three factors; the project's:
  • Time allotted
  • Budget
  • Scope

It neglects the simple fact that a project actually consists of four factors: the three above, plus quality. However, only three of these factors are independent; the fourth one will depend on the others. So, if you specify a project's Time, Scope, and Cost, you have fundamentally specified its Quality as well, and the only way to raise the quality is to lengthen the time, increase the cost, or reduce the scope.

So how do you know when the project is done. I'll look at that next.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Xanga and RSS

This is a friend of mine who has been blogging for a while now, but I haven't found the site until now. Her host, Xanga, does not do an adequate job of providing RSS feeds. Skimming the web provides a whole host of solutions to this. Here are a bunch of links to RSS using various translations:

How many of these give back RSS that can be read in RSS Bandit? Well, that would be: One (1), the one from MikeXStudios. Thanks to the External Mind for that.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Agile in the trenches

So who does this agile development stuff?

Ron Jeffries. Martin Fowler.

Duh. Who does it that's never met either of those two people? Who's actually doing this down in the trenches to develop real software applications? Most importantly, who's never met these two people, develops real software applications with agility, and has a blog?

Me, I guess. But here's a few others:

Importance of the church web site

As Jordon Cooper was considering a church, he found very little about it. He'd find even less, I suspect, about our church if he looked for it. Quite apart from the generic name "University Baptist Church", the web site domain,, has been down for months now after I let it expire. When I realized it, I wrote to the registrar (Melbourne IT) asking if they'd drop it so I could get it back, but they told me to wait 76 days after the drop date. Ouch. But I'm sure that period's expired now, and I'd really like to get the site back to get ready for Vacation Bible School, the whole point of the vbs portion of the site. In the meantime, the site is hosted at one of my other web pages, , where I'm sure it gets about a drop of google juice a month, and no incoming links. Most annoying. I wonder what people would google for if they drove by and wanted to know more?

Problems of Software Development 2

I discussed some problems with software development here.

So what can be done? The basic problems I see here are #1: The Deadline, and #2: The Database. The programmers work in a panicky rush to fulfill all the items in the Database before the Deadline. So let's start with the obvious: Get rid of the deadline.

"Say what?" I hear you cry. "We can't just never release the project!" No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying - and this is one of the requirements of agility - release early and release often. Get the application into the hands of the users and let them bang on it. They may not find all the really picky little bugs, but that's OK for 99% of the users who won't ever use that functionality anyway. More importantly, the users are going to find the things like the button on the wrong form that would save each user four clicks if you just moved it. They'll find the missing report that they didn't know they needed until they saw how useful it would be with this application. Get the application out there quick enough to catch those things - and then fix them in the next release! How often? Every two weeks, I hear, is pretty reasonable.

But the objections now come thick and fast. "We don't have the manpower to test all the whole program every two weeks!" "Our users are going to file hundreds of change requests! The developers will be buried!" "How will we ever know when it's done if we don't have the requirements set in stone up front?" I'm not the greatest practitioner of agile methods in the world. But what I have found is that for every objection that someone makes to an agile idea, there's a pretty good response from the agiliots. I'll try to come up with responses to these next time. Oh, and I've even been working on an application! I'll try to get up to date on that as well.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Big visible belly

I love Brian Marick's idea to help him lose weight. I weigh almost exactly what he does, but I'm not as agressive in my goals; I'd like to be around 175 by the end of the year. I'll be comparing my weight to his though!

Problems of Software Development

I'd hazard a guess that most companies develop software in a manner somewhat like this: they come up with a short list of features, break those down into a whole bunch more smaller work units, assigning those to some programmers, and then go back and review the database every so often to see how many of the work units remain to be completed.

Now, for the most part programmers are good people. They're interested in the project; they want to do a good job and make something easy and fun to use. So what goes wrong? Why do most applications ship with glaring bugs and obvious usability issues?

Here's why: Everything starts to revolve around this work unit database. Near the end, emails go out to the programmers saying, "I see you still have six work units left. Will you be able to get all those finished by Friday?" As the project moves forward, additional work units are added for new features or bugs. More emails go out. Eventually the project gets thrown to a tester, who enters dozens more work units. The programmers, faced with a long laundry list of items and a deadline, starts to cut corners. "OK, this item says we need to add a State Last Worked In field to the form. I know we're eventually going to need a Zip Code too, but I don't have time to worry about that; I have 15 more units to finish by Friday!" So the program goes without the zip code field. It goes back to the testers, who look at the list of completed work items; yup, there's the State Last Worked In field, looks good. Nobody's told the testers exactly what the purpose of the application is, so they don't know that a zip code needs to be there. Finally, all the laundry lists are complete, the testers sign off on it, the application ships. And customers look at it, scratch their heads, and say, "Why on earth didn't anyone think to put a zip code on that form?"

So what can be done to break this cycle? Well, the various methodologies that call themselves Agile have some ideas.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Buying some oil tankers

I bought some shares of Nordic American Tanker (NAT) today. I went in looking to put some money into China or maybe Hong Kong in raw materials or transportation, but I really didn't see a whole lot in raw materials that really struck my fancy. NAT is based in Bermuda, which I find really strange; you hear a lot about off-shore tax shelters, and this may be exactly what this is; but I don't see anything wrong with it. It's a public company, and I can buy shares and make a nice dividend return, and that's all that's important to me. So we'll see. As a shareowner they'll be sending me their annual reports in nice printed pages, so maybe once I see those I'll see some disadvantages. In the meantime, maybe I'll ask them to put the current locations of the ships on their website. It'd be just like playing Risk :)

Sunday, April 03, 2005

What did we do that worked?

The site "Church Marketing...", well, something or other, asks, "What did you do this weekend that worked? What did you do that didn't work?"

Great questions. Our service wasn't a whole lot different for Easter than it was for other weeks, but all I have to do is look at this week's service to get a mountain of ideas.

Why don't I keep a camera with me every week? We planted a tree in memory of a passed congregant after service. There were some cameras there, at least. I'll hope to get some pictures for the website.

Our service recording/archiving plan needs work. I didn't bring home the cassette tape with me, for copying to CD.

We got some brand new cubbies for the nursery. That should be handy, although volunteers are needed less in the nursery now that we have a paid worker again.

What did you do that worked? What did you do that didn't work?

Church management software part 3: Creeping feature

OK, the very next thing I intend to do is expand the range of the product a little. For months I've been primarily responsible for attendance-taking in the church; collecting the sign-in sheets, checking for visitors, trying to make sure they're followed up with appropriately. So this is an obvious extension piece for this software; a way to track attendance and followups. I'll think some more about the design of this, but it's similar in many ways to what I've already stated - data entry screens, a data store, and reports, so hopefully there will be some opportunities for refactoring here. Also, requirements for security are a lot less stringent - the data that is kept is names, dates, addresses and phone numbers, rather than social security numbers and income. So it's a bit easier to put together.

So right now, we're looking at three main pieces of the application: benevolence; attendance; and updating (wonder if I can come up with a word that means "updating" that ends in "ence", that would be cool). For ease of updates, we'll split these out into several assemblies:
  1. A stub. This will be the launcher application. It will be very simple and hopefully will allow us to update the other pieces very simply.
  2. A Benevolence assembly.
  3. An Attendance assembly.
  4. An Updates assembly.
  5. A Persistence assembly. This will handle the interface to the data store. Now I really need another word for "Updateance"!

Next step: We'll throw a few screens together and see how they look.

Politics of choosing the next Pope

Friday, April 01, 2005

I still don't get Technorati

Poking around for information on this project, I did a Technorati search for "Church Software". This blog came up, updated 2 hours ago:

Reality Distortions: The Beginning

Very nice. Seems like an interesting guy. But this post was done four days ago. Why does technorati say it was two hours ago? Was there a format update? I don't get it. DLux, drop me a note if you want to talk about software for churches though :)

Church management software Part 2: Inherent requirements

So now we have a basic goal for the application; we have a vague idea what the users are going to want to do with it; the next question is, what are users never going to think about but are going to complain about if it is not present? Here's a few of those things.

#1: Security. We're talking about entering some very private information into a database here; not only are we talking about requests for charity, but personal data like social security numbers will be a likely requirement. Right now, the list of people to whom this information is available consists of: (a) the pastor, and (b) the deacons, and the file is kept locked in the pastor's office. So, while the ideal design would be a distributed one, keeping an online database behind a firewall and accessing it through a web service, I don't feel like I can guarantee the necessary security; even if I could talk all the users into keeping a nice strong password. So, for the initial pass, the data will be kept in local files on the computer. Presumably, when it is actually deployed, it will run on a single password-protected computer. I have some thoughts about using Windows Users and Groups to handle Role issues.

#2: Integrity. An important requirement for a church, huh? But specifically, I mean that the data shouldn't be corrupted; or at a minimum, regular backups should be arranged. The target audience for this project is a small church, and it's a pretty good bet that they won't be doing nightly tape backups of their systems. So at a minimum, regular backups should be done like Microsoft Word does, every minute or so; but ideally there would be a way to automatically back up to a different machine.

#3. Updatability. This is an agile requirement, really. I want to make the software very easy to update so that users will be encouraged to use the latest software at all times. This is a huge benefit for software developers. There's nothing worse than trying to figure out an issue based on a user who's running code from two releases, three service packs, and a hotfix ago. If people come to me for support, my first question will be, "Are you running the latest code? No? Update, and call me back if it's still happening."

Another agile requirement is that you avoid overdesigning the aplication. So, it's past time to write some code. One concept that really appeals to me is "Release 0". That's where you get an application out there that doesn't do anything at all except know how to update itself. Let's see if we can do that next.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Church management software

One thing I'm looking to do is to make this blog a little more technically oriented. My other blog is really an Interactive Intelligence thing - the site is, and it's named after the Interactive product ClientCOM; so it really seems most sensible to keep posts to that blog on ClientCOM - tips and tricks for using it, etc. Unfortunately, soon after I started that blog, I stopped focusing on ClientCOM in order to do other things, so it has been dark for quite a while. I'd like this blog to be about some technical work I'm doing, as well as the books and plays I'm currently seeing. (Once again - blog categories. C'mon, Blogger!)

So my church is looking for a better way to handle benevolence requests. These are requests that come in from people who need charity - say, $100 for fuel in the winter, or help with gas to visit a sick mother. I was casting about for things I might do as a Micro-ISV, so I thought I might be able to help out - and perhaps, if it works out well for this one church, be able to sell the application to others as well. That's a bit of a ways off, though.

So I'm tackling this project; more or less on my own as far as the design goes. I don't think my "customers" are going to be too demanding, so I'll have to keep on top of them to make sure that the application is actually useful to them. I'll be creating the design and requirements, etc., myself, so I think this is a good application to use some agile methodologies on. Specifically, this project will have: Test-driven development, frequent iterations, and easy updates.

So what are the requirements? If I ask the pastor, I'll get an easy answer: A way to enter benevolence requests online, without paper forms. A surprising addition, to my mind, is: A way to track down resources that might be able to fulfill a request. What this is, basically, is an algorithm for finding places that will take vouchers for gas; maybe food banks that could help a hungry person, etc. To my mind, these are such different goals that I'll just be ignoring this one, until I get further along in the development. So I'll concentrate first on the paperless form.

So the next question is, as a techie, what requirements do I see that underlie this prime requirement?
  • A backing store
  • Data entry screens
  • Reports

Seem to be the minimum. I'll think about how I'll be fulfilling these requirements next time.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Writing again

I've been so busy lately that I haven't bothered to write anything. But today I fired up Bandit to catch up a little bit on, and I remembered what it's all about. It's about keeping in touch. It's about exposing a little bit of yourself to the world. Blogging is an interesting feedback loop. You write something interesting, and people read what you have to say. But if you don't write anything interesting, no one will visit your site; so it's about buzz, it's about attention. There's lots of interesting things going on in the blogosphere, and no one has time to keep up with all of it, but to keep in touch you absolutely have to do one thing: write. I think blogs, along with wikis, are the most important new internet development in years, and I'm trying to figure out where I fit in. I should be writing about work. I should be writing about church. I should be writing about interesting things I find on the internet. I should be writing about Extreme Programming, or C#, or Ultimate Frisbee, or anything I know something about.

There's some similarities between blogging and Extreme Programming, I think. They both rely on a tight and fast feedback loop. They both support rapid and easy change. They stress communication as a core value. And maybe most importantly, they both require a lot of discipline. It's easy to write code, hard to remember to write a test every time I make change. It's easy to start a blog, hard to remember to keep it going and keep it interesting.

So maybe this is my latest attempt to regain the discipline. I'll try to write some interesting things. We'll see if it works :)

Friday, December 03, 2004

Ballet Review: Nutcracker

As a matter of fact, I don't go to a lot of ballets. It's not really that I have any objection to them, but on the whole I tend to prefer opera, or at least a play. But it's definitely one of our holiday traditions now, to swing over to the IU Musical Arts Center and catch Nutcracker when it's here. A couple of years ago a friend told us that we were really lucky to see Julie Kent performing in it, as she was one of the greatest American ballet artists living, and we felt appropriately privileged, but Julie was back again this year, so she must have some kind of special connection with IU and it wasn't a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Highlights: The Arabian Dance, Mother Ginger, and Damian Woetzel as the Cavalier. I thought his solos were an impressive display of leg strength. He's from the New York City Ballet. His duets with Julie Kent were good too. Mother Ginger is played by the same person (Colin Donnell) every year and he's utterly hilarious, camping up the role and bumping and grinding his 20-foot wide hips. Joshoa Sutton and Angelina Sansone did a very erotic Arabian Dance. They play a snake and a snake charmer, and she spends her time mostly crawling up and down his body. You could just feel the steam coming off them. I mentioned it to my wife, and she said, "Oh, the one two years ago was hotter." Guess I was still too sleep-deprived then.

Lowlights: The Prince didn't quite make it under Father Christmas's robe. You could see him running along behind, and that effect didn't work at all. I've thought the last few years that the magician (Theodore Keener) kind of gets short shrift. You can see the intent in what they're doing, to make him look mysterious and magical, but the timing always seems to be just far enough off that you don't get the impression of a puppetmaster pulling the strings of the other characters that they're going for. We thought the choreography in the Dance of the Snowflakes was slightly off.

In general: Fritz (Justin Zuschlag) was very effective, hassling the girls, swordfighting the magician, and sticking his tongue out at him when he thought he could get away with it. I wasn't that excited with any of the marionettes, which is a bit odd, because Joshoa Sutton played the Moor, and he also played the Mouse King and the snake charmer very effectively. They've redone the Chinese dance recently. I dunno; the dancers were very good, but I think I still preferred the dragon from last year. The Russian dance is my favorite to watch, it just pulses with energy. There was a baby on stage for the party scene. The lady next to me said it was Ms. Kent's, which is why she didn't perform last year. Having a baby must be one of the worst things a professional dancer can go through.

Here's what I found most odd: I think they were lacking a dancer. Not that they were lacking any of the parts, but the sequence at the beginning of the second act where the prince narrates the battle with the Mouse King, is supposed to be narrated TO someone - and no one was there! They told it all to themselves, just a little narcissistic reminiscence. I also thought that Julie Kent played the Dew Drop Fairy, but now that I check my program I see that's wrong; unless maybe that dancer was the missing one and Ms. Kent took over for her.

It seemed short to me this year, but maybe that's the sleep deprivation again. I can't imagine what they would have bothered to cut. We were home by 10:30. It plays twice tomorrow and once again on Sunday. See it if you have a chance!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

IU loses to UNC 70-63

I listened on the radio and followed along on the free peegs board, so I don't have any real insight from watching the players. But here's a few thoughts.

What I know: IU couldn't shoot to save their lives, and I don't think Carolina was much better. So why can't they shoot? The announcers say, "They don't translate what they learn in practice into games". The fans say, "They have a lousy coach." I think it could go either way. Coach Davis' first really good recruits were Marshall Strickland and Bracey Wright, and as one Peegs poster pointed out, neither one is any better as a junior than they were as freshmen. Coach's fault, or players? We won't know until - or perhaps unless - we get to see him coach a few more recruits.

What else I know: I love the freshmen! They're out there hustling and working, and Vaden nailed three three-pointers in the last couple of minutes. That's a great sign. But, so ends the first game against a really tough non-conference stretch. We'll see if the team gels...or perhaps just learns to shoot.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

IU Basketball

I may get in the paper again tomorrow, with a comment about the Indiana basketball team. I said they would be better than last year, but not as good as next year. Here's the thing about the team: we are just now getting to the point where the last pieces of fallout from the Knight firing are manifesting. The seniors from this year - and make no mistake, it's a bad senior class - are the group that would have been recruited primarily after the firing, but before Coach Davis was given the job permanently. I don't think Adolph Rupp could have done much of a recruiting job under those circumstances. I'm hearing quite a bit of rumbling about how this might be Davis' last year, but I don't buy it. With the two Auburn transfers that will play next year, with a couple of good recruits, with maybe a couple of starting forwards taller than 6'3", I think the program might be able to get back on its feet.

Now, the Davis philosophy towards recruiting is a lot different than Knight's. We've moved from the real recruiting of student-athletes to going after the NBA talent that all the Kentuckys and Arizonas like to have. I really miss watching a smart kid with not much athleticism, like Jarrod Odle, going up against some bozo with no interest in anything but the NBA draft, like Joel Przybilla, and taking him to school. We won't see any more of that.

Well, we must move with the times. Indiana, our Indiana, Indiana, we're all for you!

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Letter to the Editor

I love it - after telling I-69 opponents not to vote for Libertarians, the newspaper - and I assume Kurt Van der Dussen again; I wish they would admit it! - now claims that every single opponent of the highway must have voted for them. Here's what I wrote to the editor in response:

After a long battle, it seems fairly clear that the issue of I-69 has resulted in a victory for big business interests over consumers, and the highway will be built. Those who continue to fight on must surely console themselves with the adage that the only cause worth fighting for is a lost one.

But the Herald-Times' position on this issue has moved beyond "supportive" to "obsessive" and maybe even as far as "flaky." Almost the only mention of the highway in the last month has been on the editorial page, first by telling highway opponents not to vote for a tiny third party, and later, bizarrely, by claiming that the tiny third party's tiny vote totals must have represented all the opponents. For my part, I suspect that many voters found the arguments in the first editorial compelling, although judging from the second the H-T must not have thought so.

Still, those who are against the highway can do nothing less than thank the Herald-Times for keeping the issue in the public eye. No cause is ever truly lost until it is no longer talked about.

There is a 200-word limit; this is about 190 words. I worked for a while trying to get in some points about the Libertarians, and how the number of people who were even aware of Gividen's anti-highway position was probably pretty small, but I decided to keep on message for this one. (I can write one letter per month, maybe next time!)

Friday, November 05, 2004

Oooh, new cell phones today

When our contract with Cingular ended we decided we wanted to switch; the reception isn't that great at our house with them and we really hope Verizon has some closer towers. We're upgrading our phones from ancient huge things, so pretty much anything we got would have been a big improvement; that's why I chose the free phone and the wife got the $20 model. She's spent all day entering numbers. I haven't played with mine yet, but I intend to upgrade when I get a chance. I want a WiFi phone. Working for a VOIP company I don't see much point in bothering to use anybody else's bandwidth if I don't have to, though. I'm thinking that if I can get a phone that is WiFi compliant, I can probably get it to run it off my home network. There aren't any available in the US as far as I can tell, but here's some possibilities, if they ever make it to market.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election liveblog

9:40 PM, Indiana time. Polls here have been closed for nearly three hours, but the minute they closed Indiana was announced for President Bush, unsurprisingly. It's been known for weeks.

The most interesting thing I've heard so far was a report on CNN that the Kerry folks were very optimistic about Ohio. There certainly hasn't been any formal report - none of the networks would dare - but this informal report is the most exciting news I've heard so far. Current score is Bush 171, Kerry 112. Dan Rather says the "Election is humming along like Ray Charles." Hmm.

9:56. They've announced that Mitch Daniels has won out over Joe Kernan for governor. I don't know how much difference that will make, really. I'm willing to give Mitch his chance. I voted for Kenn Gividen, of course.

10:00. Switching over to Jim Lehrer's Newshour. I'm sorely tempted to switch off the TV; I think more information will be available on the radio. For some reason I went and looked at the radio station websites for results, without success, before going back to my favorite,, which had all the information.

10:40. Bush takes Missouri. He's now up 193-112. We're still waiting on the exciting states, though. No new news on Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Florida, and Michigan and Wisconsin are still in play as well.

Looks like a shift on the Monroe County Council. The three Democrats are up, and if they win the Dems will take control of the Council back. I have no real idea what that will mean for the county :)

10:55. lists Pennsylvania going to Kerry. As I type this, Jim Lehrer also announces that, but the AP hasn't announced it yet. As I watch the election, I automatically add 55 votes to Kerry's score to represent California; if you do that Bush is still ahead 193-188. Yow, how long will I hold out tonight?

11:10. CNN now adds California officially to the Kerry side, and Idaho and Arizona for Bush. Bush 203-188. The Newshour analyst thinks Florida will go to Bush; if so it's very simple; whoever wins Ohio will win the election.

11:15. CBS shows the count as Bush 219-199. The "Bloody Ninth" is showing 49% each for Baron Hill and Mike Sodrel. I didn't realize that district was so much in play. I wonder if Baron Hill is regretting not answering the survey I blogged about before?

11:28. Hmm, CNN's "Crossfire" guys aren't too happy with Florida. Tucker Carlson: "I think we should give Florida to Puerto Rico." Paul Begala: "How on God's Earth do we not have absentee ballots counted in Florida?" (You would think that with all CNN's correspondents, they would be able to update their blog more often.) Newshour now shows Bush, 203-188.

11:42. ABC is willing to call Florida for Bush now. They were beat to it by several minutes by Instapundit. PBS announces Bush by four percentage points in Ohio, with 65% of the vote counted, and apparently people are STILL trying to vote in Ohio. VodkaPundit is practically calling the election over.

12:17. Cuyahoga County in Ohio seems like it could put Kerry over the top all by itself. PBS now reports Kerry taking or ahead in Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Michigan. CBS, the most daring of the networks, shows Bush ahead 246-207. Barack Obama is giving his victory speech now; I bet he'll be a good senator.

OK, that's all I can do. Off to bed...but I'll have the radio on for a while!

Monday, November 01, 2004

Vote Green Libertarian

I got quoted in the paper last week for suggesting that I would vote for Kenn Gividen (L) for governor of Indiana, "to make my preferences known". Not a brilliant quote, but I had a 50-word limit. An editorial appeared in the paper a day or two later, saying that, "The sight of "green-minded" I-69 opponents urging us to vote for Kenn Gividen because he opposes the highway makes some people stare in amazement." I've been wondering since then if this was a direct response to my comment. I've had a few letters printed in the paper concerning my opposition to the highway, and while the paper's editorials are officially not signed - does anyone find it odd that letters to the editor are required to be signed, but letters by the editor are anonymous? - I can guess that the comment was from Kurt Van der Dussen from the insulting tone and the condescension. Kurt has been writing pro-highway stories for as long as I can remember, and I'm sure he writes most of the pro-highway editorials as well. Of course, on my part there's no inconsistency; I've steadily voted Libertarian starting with Andre Marrou for president in 1992, and when I wrote my comment I hadn't even considered the happy coincidence that Mr. Gividen was the only candidate against the highway, so thanks to the anonymous editorial writer for pointing that out, and strengthening my commitment nicely. Vote Green, vote Libertarian. Vote for anyone who has principles you agree with and has the ability to get the job done. Vote.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Writing encouragement

I love this bio. At age 37 I still harbor fantasies about writing a Great American Novel, but with no writing background, literary degree or published credentials, getting published appears to be the sort of thing that will really require some kickstarting, even in the unlikely event that I make it to the end of the story. But this story is the kind that gives me fresh hope. Congratulations, Mr. Cunningham, and good luck with the writing thing.

Thursday, October 28, 2004


Forthwith, my endorsements for Monroe County candidates.

Maybe not all of them. There's a voter's guide in the paper today. What gets my endorsement?

(1) A response. Candidates here and there didn't respond at all to the questionnaire from the League of Women Voters. What are they, too good for them? Kevin Enright gets my vote for surveyor. Richard Bray in the 37th and Vi Simpson in the 40th for State Senate.

(2) A non-incumbent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of incumbents didn't bother to respond. Put these first two items together and you'll know why I endorse David Sanders (D) over Steve Buyer for US Representative in District 4.

(3) Libertarians, and lost causes in general. Mike Englert is running for County Comissioner in district 2; I understand he used to go by the name "Moss" and protest logging by sitting in trees. You got to love that! Endorsed.

(4) You must know how to *write*. Al Cox is the Libertarian running against Baron Hill (D-9th), and so I would ordinarily vote for him. But he didn't even run a spellchecker over his answers to the surveys. Hill didn't bother to respond. Mike Sodrel? You get my vote by process of elimination.

(5) Reputation. Or in some cases, the lack of one. I've never met Jeff Ellington, but it seems like I've been hearing sleazy things about him my whole life. Iris Kiesling gets my vote for Monroe County district 3. I've always liked the work Paul Hager has done for small government, even if he did ditch the Libertarians. He gets my vote for State Rep in district 60.

(6) Skillz. The paper endorsed Sandy Newmann for Auditor, citing her experience with computers and accounting. Her opponent, the incumbent, is someone who seems like she's been in local government in one position or another forever. Time for a change.

There you have it. If the candidates want my vote in the next election, they should now know how to get it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Winter exercise

It really gets tricky this time of year. Of course there is always the weight room, and my company provides a decent one that I'll probably end up using once a week or so, but I really need a little competition to get the heart pumping properly. I have a strong preference for field sports, primarily Ultimate Frisbee and soccer, but I like volleyball too. It looks like the pickup soccer group I play with will be able to play indoor again - man, I still really want some training - but I don't know about indoor ultimate. I've just this summer started monitoring the Indiana University and Indianapolis frisbee mailing lists again, and I went out and scrimmaged one night with the IU co-ed team. It was fun, but I only had about half an hour in me to keep up with the kids. I'll probably take a shot at the Riverside Indy game sometime too, if they have any more this year. For volleyball, I tried to put together a Bloomington city league team a few years ago, but it never really got off the ground, and I don't have the skills to try to muscle onto a team. I'll check their schedule anyway.

Sunday, October 17, 2004


It's an odd thing that it seems to be really hard to find topical blogs to read. There was an article in Forbes, I think, a while ago that listed the Ten Best Sports Blogs and the Ten Best Economic Blogs and things like that, but every so often I get a wild hair and decide, "I'm going to go subscribe to some Science Fiction blogs." So off I go to Google and search for them, and a few minutes turn up blogs by ten or so SciFi writers, but that wasn't quite where I was going. I wanted a blog about Science Fiction. I wanted book reviews, discussions of classic series, thoughts on the physics of Star Trek. Maybe it's different for books. I love to read Arnold Kling, the econ prof, but when you get right down to it, I don't suppose he really produces much other than words, so his blog ought to be good. Anyone who wants to talk about Star Trek probably doesn't output all that much. Same with soccer, Ultimate Frisbee, and a few other things that don't draw many professional writers.

I suppose what it comes down to is that the best blogs are just written by good writers, rather than topical ones. Wouldn't it be cool if you could aggregate blogs by topic rather than by author? Maybe that's the next big thing; of course we don't get topic listings here at blogger. Something to look forward to.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Added Haloscan trackback

I've noticed that my page doesn't look as cool as most of the pages out there. I suppose that's a bad thing, but somehow I don't care; the most distinguishing feature of a cool looking page seem to be really small text in light letters on a dark background. I can't bear reading most of them without my Bandit.

Still, when I get a chance I fiddle around with the settings and add stuff here and there. Today I turned off Blogger comments and put in Haloscan instead. Trackbacks are way cool and I can't understand why Blogger doesn't have them natively.

Windows automatic reboots

Scoble talks about Windows machines rebooting automatically. My company has a story to tell about this too. A server that runs the almost-nearly-practically production versions of our software, driving our phone systems, suddenly rebooted itself. It took us a long time to figure out what exactly had happened; we thought our software had caused a serious machine blowup, and a good chunk of the company was without phone service for several minutes. Our IT guys were aware of the automatic reboot possibility but didn't think that option was set on the machine. How it got set remains a mystery.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Bush / Kerry again

The three-year-old is usually working on bed between 8 and 9, so I keep missing the first parts of these debates. Here's some thoughts on the ending, though:

9:27. Kerry just said he doesn't care if an idea is a liberal idea or a conservative idea, as long as it's a good idea. That was one of Clinton's strengths, to pick up good conservative ideas like balancing the budget. It's a shame neither of these candidates have any good ideas, though.

9:22. Bush is claiming that America was divided in the 2000 election and in the 90's, too. Not true, certainly not like it is today.

9:18. One thing I've always liked about Bush is that he's always talked a very tolerant position for other religions. He's talking about everyone's right to worship or not to worship as they choose. This is in contrast to his father, actually, who said he didn't think atheists should be granted full rights.

9:13. It's amazing how far apart these two are. It seems like every response by Bush starts out with, "That's just not true!" Kerry mentioned Bush has never met with the NAACP, but the president ignored that. Might as well, it's not like he's going to get any black votes anyway.

9:09. Is it just me, or is the President looking really flustered? ...nice response by Kerry on assault weapons; managed to sneak terrorism into it too.

9:04. Good grief, the moderator brought up the draft. I really hate when they ask questions where the answer is, "Yes, I oppose that. Now about Iraq...".

8:58. Minimum wage. The whole debate is silly, really, as minimum wage issues are like public schools, the only thing they're good for is political posturing. If anyone was serious about fixing the minimum wage, they would peg it to the inflation rate like social security is.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Play Review: Pride and Prejudice

We went up and saw this at the Indiana Repertory Theater in Indianapolis. I wrote a review of Emma a while ago, but I prefer P&P, and in the last six months I've read the book, watched the A&E miniseries, watched a movie, and now gone to see the play. So I think I've got a handle on the plot now.

Of the three "acted" performances I've seen, the A&E miniseries was my favorite, I think because it was the one that had the length to stay truest to the book. Most good stories can't be told in video in less than five or six hours, so the movie I found pretty disappointing. The play was in a category by itself, though. There was a fair amount of slapstick in it; not many serious scenes at all. The acting was certainly fine, I had no issues with the skills of the actors at all. Mrs. Bennett and Mr. Collins were especially good, probably because they camped up the characters pretty heavily. The girl who played Lydia Bennett gave her a very thick nasal accent, which I didn't really see any reason for. What bothered me the most, though, was Mr. Darcy during the first hour of the play, when it was very clear that what he was doing was courting Lizzy. This is certainly not true to the book. In the book, Darcy's pride would never allow him to court anyone as low-born as Lizzy, and even when he paid her compliments, they wree usually done as an attempt to fend off Caroline Bingley's advances. So to have him up there actually making googoo eyes at Lizzy, I found a bit odd.

One reason why I shouldn't be writing play reviews is that I don't see enough of them. This is a case where I want to say, "Oh, but in the London production Darcy was acted most excellently." I can't say that, though, because I haven't seen any other production, and for all I know the courting is part of the play, not something the actor does. Maybe they need to play up Darcy's attraction to keep the plot moving? I wasn't sure, but if I had been directing I would have told Darcy to act the part more as the proud, arrogant nobleman he was.

The other fault I found was with the Bennett sisters' costumes. They looked like they were all wearing nightgowns for the whole play. I suspect this was due to a lack of available period underwear; if you want to make a gown like that look right, you need to be buttoned, strapped, belted, and tied in properly.

But I enjoyed the play, overall. Definitely worth seeing, and, although I suspect the Indianapolis audience isn't overly critical, they gave a standing ovation.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Bush / Kerry debate

9:29. Asking Bush what poor decisions he's made. That's a softball for any experienced politician. They used it to make their usual points about flip-flopping and war mistakes.

9:24. Wow, a very blunt abortion question. If someone asked that at a confirmation hearing they'd be booed right off the committee. Bush's straight-up pro-life position is an advantage here - Kerry has a more subtle point to make.

9:21. Bush put out some nice generalities on the Supreme Court issue. Kerry is hammering back with specifics, pointing out that Bush said Scalia is one of his favorite judges. Scalia is the worst judge on the current Supreme Court.

9:16. President Bush is talking about his stem cell decision, which is a pretty political balance - not going out too far on the pro-life agenda to alienate the moderates.

9:10. Senator Kerry is wearing a red tie. The President is wearing a blue tie. OK, maybe it matches the background better, but c'mon! Got to have the power tie!

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Book review: Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

There's a little blurb on the cover of my copy from Hemingway, saying that all American literature springs from Huckleberry Finn. Maybe it's true, maybe not, but it's clear there is a style about Huck Finn. The language is exceedingly simple, the plot consists of a series of more or less unrelated scenes. But the dialect rings very authentic; Jim's voice as a slave, and Huck's voice as an uneducated Missourian. I think the most intriguing thing of all about the book is Huck's certainty that stealing slaves is an unethical thing to do. He goes back and forth, anguishing over whether to turn Jim in or help him escape to a free state, eventually deciding that, since he was born a bad person, he's just going to help Jim escape and chance the eternal flames. Now, if this book had been written in 1983, this would have been the absolutely predictable decision that the character would have made. We all know slavery is, and was, evil, and for a book in 1983 to come to any other conclusion would have been either (a) unthinkable, or (b) Literature. But I wonder how inevitable the conclusion was to readers in the early 19th century.

Huck Finn makes a lot of banned books, of course, and let me see if I can get my blog on any available banned blog lists by revealing why: the constant repetition of the word nigger. I suppose it's less likely now, though, due to its relatatively common usage black-on-black. So I'd guess anyone Googling for that word will find my blog pretty low down on the list. In the book, the usage is absolutely authentic; Huck uses it, Jim uses it, every character in the book uses it. At any rate, I distinctly remember reading a letter of Abraham Lincoln referring to "Darkies", and I haven't heard anyone suggesting that his books be banned.

The flak over banning of books is really a tempest in a teacup, though, IMO. The only true definition of censorship is when the government disallows the book entirely. To claim that a book has been censored just because a single school library has decided not to carry it is disingenuous, especially in these days when pornography is available for free and books can just be downloaded. I don't buy into the NRA-style slippery-slope arguments. Things that are right, are right, and a library's freedom to make its own decisions about what books to carry is right.

I suppose the key question about Huck Finn, though, is how relevant is it, really, today? I can't answer that. For literary critics it's probably important as the Book That Spawned American Literature, but I find that analagous to playing Pong, The Game That Spawned American Video. It was a great game then, but today's games are a lot better.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Broadcast censorship

Howard Stern is moving to satellite radio. More power to him - I'm a Sirius subscriber myself, not that I would ever listen to the man. But the articles I'm hearing seem to be focused mostly on why satellite radio isn't censored, while the airwaves are. But there's a very good reason for that. Broadcast signals are a limited resource, and the government in its wisdom, has decreed that they are a public resource. Stations that broadcast are given a license by the government to use a certain frequency, and in return they promise to do certain things, like not swear, and run public service announcements. But satellite and cable transmissions are not a limited resource. In theory you could have as many as you wanted, and the government has absolutely no legitimate interest in any kind of regulation. So the FCC should not be regulating cable or satellite broadcasts.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Birthday the Third

The youngster is three this week; I'll put up pictures on the web site...well, when I get around to it. The interesting thing about his cake this year was its size - it was big. We ordered it for 20 but I don't think they took into account that half the twenty were three-year-olds. So if anyone wants some birthday cake just drop me a line. The theme this year was trains. We asked for a Thomas the Tank Engine cake, but they said they couldn't do trademarked material, so we asked for a cake with a railroad on it, and we put a little store-bought Thomas in. Sigh. The railroad had a mountain and a tunnel to go through, though; very nice.

Recent ways I've found of wasting money on cool toys:
  • Sirius Satellite Radio
  • Product 9 Video Editor
  • Wireless Print Server

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Church web site

Off and on I've been updating our web site, and I added a volunteering form this week. I don't think anyone had really been paying attention to it, though, because I sent the link off to Pastor Annette, and she forwarded it to the church mailing list, and then I got a few volunteers and a few compliments on the site design. So that was nice. Next task: Bios of the principals of the church, and more detailed descriptions of church events.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Internet sports video

I was clicking around Google and ESPN today, since the IU football game starts in an hour or so. Of course it's not on TV - why would it be? - so I was curious to see what my options for bringing in Internet video were. I checked, fiddled around for a while without success, and then found some kind of pop-behind window I hadn't noticed come up with an option to subscribe to all college football games, $120 for the season.

I don't want all college football games. I want today's IU game, that's all. Who knows when I might have time to log in again during a football game? So that's out of the question. What else is there?

Starting with the IU website, looks like they might do something with Yahoo. Yes, they can do football broadcasts, but for IU, only radio...and what's this? What do you know, you have to subscribe for the whole season. Huh.

Wonder how much they're getting out of IU fans wanting to listen to IU football over the Internet? $20 a month or so?

Why on earth aren't these games PPV? Is anyone actually subscribing any other way?

Friday, August 27, 2004

Small theater groups near Bloomington

Looking for some great, yet inexpensive, live entertainment? Try one of these groups:

Little Theater of Bedford

Bloomington Playwrights Project

Brown County Playhouse

Shawnee Theatre

Indiana University Theater

Play review: Caught in the Net, Ray Cooney

We went over to the Brown County Playhouse to see this. As of tonight, I am officially a Big Fan of Ray Cooney; I thought before we went to see the play that I'd recognized the name, and reading the program I recognized a couple of other titles of his that I'd seen. I'm not a play-going afficionado by any means, especially since the three-year-old was born, but I try to get to a few plays every year. Cooney specializes in the British farce; that is a play where the main character tells a lie to cover some indiscretion or problem of his, then has to go on inventing bigger and bigger lies to try to keep holding everything together. In this one, the main character is a man with two wives in different parts of London, and a teenaged child by each one, who eventually meet over the Internet.

As it starts out, you assume the man (played by Jonathan Molitor) is going to be the main prevaricator, since he has been holding the two households together for many years, but it soon turns out that his reluctant buddy Stanley Gardner (Scot Purkeypile) has the real creative genius, coming up with a series of lies to tell every character, and almost holding the whole thing together until the very end. I was impressed by Mr. Purkeypile, who had a real sense of physical humor. He had just finished playing Froggy in The Foreigner, and I kept looking at him and thinking how perfect he must have been in that part.

The play started out a little rough. Watching comedies, I pay a lot of attention to timing, and I thought the timing of a few of the lines was a little rough. But things quickly smoothed out, and midway through the first half I was lost in the action and trying to keep track of which character knew what. That's always how I know a play's gotten good, if I'm no longer paying to the dynamics of it. Before the end there were plenty of moments that had the audience rolling in the aisles.

Playhouse tickets were $17, even before you get into the ridiculous Ticketmaster fees. (I once tried to order tickets to a museum through there, and children under 10 were free. Ticketmaster wanted to charge me a $3 handling fee for my free ticket. Wrong.) You can get them without additional fees at the IU box office, but it still strikes me as a little high. Maybe I'm getting old, though; I think most things are ridiculously overpriced. Oh well, I'll certainly be back next year if another Cooney play is on.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Book review: Emma, Jane Austen

It's an interesting thing to note, that if you go searching for information on Emma on the web, 90% of the hits you get will be aimed at kids. I'd assume high schoolers, since I wouldn't assign the book to younger readers myself, but still, questions like "How many characters marry in Emma?" make me cringe. I think the correct answer is, "All of them", more or less. Then there are the Austen online biographies, of which there are roughly three million. I don't know how much I'd have to wade through to get the answers I want, to the questions I have, none of which I can remember any more. The edition of the book I read wasn't annotated much better, either. We learn that "Imaginist" is a word Ms. Austen made up which means, "One who imagines", and that's great, but somehow I think I could have figured it out all on my own. On the other hand, every so often there is an allusion or maybe just something going on behind the scenes, that I'm sure was perfectly clear to every contemporary reader of the book, which left me saying, "Now what exactly did you mean by that?"

My favorite thing about reading these older books is the unconscious descriptions of the society. You can hear people saying, "Oh yes, back then women were practically forced to get married, they were always addressed as Mrs. or Miss, and they always took their husbands' names" but you don't really feel it until you read a book like Emma, where things like this aren't discussed, aren't mentioned, they simply permeate the book and the telling of the story. They are basic facts of existence Without Which One Could Not Exist. You don't get the same effect from reading a modern novel that is merely based in that time.

Anyway, it's a good book. You have to enjoy the "Novel of Manners", as I've heard them called; there is a surprising lack of car chases, death scenes, or even bank robberies; the point of the book is simply: how does one get what one wants in a society in which behavior is so strictly regulated? You soothe, you hint. You avoid ruffling feathers. At one point Emma is obliged to spend an afternoon with Mrs. Elton, whom she truly dislikes, in order that her degree of dislike not be known. (The utter uncouthness of Mrs. Elton simply cannot be described; she refers to her husband as "Mr. E", if you can imagine.) But once you get into the feel of thing, the lack of manners is truly grating. I think I'd prefer to bang my head against the wall rather than read over one of Mrs. Elton's obnoxious speeches again.

I'm not going over the plot. Google for "Jane Austen Emma" for many many descriptions - primarily in words of one syllable - and you'll find everything you need to know. It starts a bit slow, but by the time Emma has managed to get herself well and truly tangled in her attempts to matchmake for everyone around her, it's impossible to put down without finding out how she extricates herself. Read it. And always be polite.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


I don't get what Technorati is about. I blogged last night about losing weight, right? They claim they index blogs, right? Yet, if I go there and search for "Losing Weight", I get three pages of entries that don't include mine. If I search for my name, I get "No results found". So am I not indexed? If blogs aren't being indexed, what's the point of Technorati? It's not like spiders can't find this page. Now, if I don't show up because I don't have anyone linking to me, that's cool; but I wish I could find that information out somewhere on the site. I even went there and "Claimed my blog" one day, I think. Username and password are long lost. So what are they doing over there? Anyone know?

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Losing weight

So I gained a few pounds on vacation. I had a goal of losing 20 pounds this year, and I was doing pretty well until vacation, when we went out for meals, drank quite a bit, and ate snacks in the hotel in the evening. Still, I managed to hit the treadmill three times during the week, so I thought I'd be doing ok, if not great. So I was really irritated when I got home and found I'd gained six or seven pounds for the week.

Of course, that was a bit high; probably quite a bit of water. I managed to work most of it off with soccer and Ultimate Frisbee the first couple of days back, but I was still 7 pounds shy of my goal for the end of August, so I've really been trying to cut back on calories since then. I'm still probably two or three pounds too heavy with a week to go yet, with one soccer game yet to play. Ah well, maybe I can find a few minutes to run as well.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Back from vacation

Wow! A whole week in exotic Evansville, IN. We really live it up on our vacations.

In all seriousness, we did spend most of the time in Evansville, and had a great time. I wish the hotel had had Wi-Fi, and I would have blogged each day, instead of the couple of sentences I'm going to provide now. We spent the first couple of days in New Harmony, IN, the site of some Utopian experiments in the early 1800's. Most people could probably do the town in a few hours, but we were interested enough to come back the second day to look at the things we missed. I especially liked a recorded lecture over a miniature layout of the city. We also visited the State Park and the Wabash River, which was bigger than I remembered.

We visited the George Reitz house, a very nice old house, where we were guided by a very knowledgable tour guide, who kept throwing things out like, "We're having the restorers come in next week to see if there's any old wallpaper behind this whitewash", which is a nice change from the rather bland from-memory speeches you often get in this sort of house.

We went to French Lick and West Baden, to see the old hotel that has been recently remodeled. We didn't get to see much, they had big No Trespassing signs everywhere. But there was also a train museum in town, which was very nice, although we didn't actually take a ride.

We visited another train museum in Evansville, as well as the Museum of Arts and Sciences and the Children's Museum. The train museum was a great value for $2. The Children's museum was a bit on the small side, although we would definitely be members if we lived closer.

We visited Angel Mounds State Park, to look at the old Indian mounds. I preferred the inside displays to the outside ones, which mostly consisted of "Don't walk here" signs. We did see a Snowy Egret in the wetland.

We drove over to Kentucky to visit the Audubon state park. Very nice birdfeeding stations, with dozens of hummers and a few other things. The audio tour of James Audubon's life was nearly an hour long, and discussed a surprising number of exhibits in a very small space.

We went to Connersville and, in our third train museum, finally took a train ride, from Connersville to Metamora and back. The museum had no less than five Thomas the Tank Engine train tables, and an extensive Thomas gift shop.

We watched lots of Court TV and gained lots of weight, at least I did :) All in all, we vacationed good and hard, and now I'm happy to get back to my desk and relax!

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Book review: Chicago River, Libby Hill

I have a habit, when we take a vacation, of picking up a book with some local history or some interesting information about a site, since I read voraciously I prefer a book as a souvenir to some knicknack that I'll never find a place to keep. (The downside, of course, is that I constantly need more bookshelves.) So on our Chicago trip I picked up this history of the Chicago river, which is chock-full of information and fascinating research on the river. I'm looking forward to our next trip, now, to examine the mouth of the river with my new understanding that it is now engineered to flow outwards from Lake Michigan and, eventually, empty into the Gulf of Mexico. I had no idea.

The author has done a lot of what I like to do, which is to wander out to some random place and say, "Wow, I wonder what this looked like 20 years ago? Or 50, or a hundred?". If the place is on the Chicago River, you will find out in this book. Tons of details, with discussion like, "The tiny creek actually flowed into the river just south of the Mini-Mart on Calcutta Avenue." If I were a native this kind of detail would be terrific, and I would be sure to swing by Calcutta Avenue some time and see if I could actually find the ditch. Since I'm not, I have to wish someone would write a similar book about Spanker's Branch, the tiny creek that runs through the Indiana University campus here in Bloomington. I think I'll be waiting a long time.

The book tails off a bit in the end, with some pieces that almost seem like propaganda concerning various nature preserves that now exist on or near the river banks, and there is a map in the back showing "Golf Courses on the Chicago River", as if I might be interested in spending a summer golfing down the banks. Judging from the number of courses, I probably could.

But the first 80% of the book is terrific reading for local history buffs. There was a series of books many years ago on rivers - maybe a depression-era public works project? Employ those writers! - and that had a Chicago River book as well, which is referenced by this updated version, but this one is obviously a labor of love. The older books spend a lot of time discussing the people who happened to live on the river banks rather than the river itself. I bought one on the Ohio River as a souvenir of a trip to Cincinnati, and I haven't managed to slog through the whole thing yet. But if an update comes out that is as good as the Chicago River book, I'll be in line to buy it.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Book trading site

Thought I had a great idea for a new web site for a minute; a book-trading site, where you would agree to send used books to other members if they would send books to you.  I know, I know, trading sites don't make profits and went out in the 90's, but I don't think that's the goal; any more than the little old men in carpet slippers who run used brick-and-mortar bookstores are really in it to make a profit.   The goal is to get around the godawful prices of books these days, and to find them nice homes when you're done with them.
But I did a quick search before I really started to look into it, and I found this one.  I skimmed for reviews and users, and found...nothing.  I don't think they've been open for more than three months, so I'm thinking I just missed the boat here.  Well, book trading is my goal, so I'll give them a try.  Hope they don't do anything evil with my credit card number.

Thursday, July 15, 2004


Went to Chicago for the weekend.  It's turned into an annual event for us, just to go up and visit some cool stuff; the art museum, the field museum; the Navy Pier.  Well, that last one wasn't so hot - somehow I just can't get too excited about a place that charges a buck for a refill of iced tea.   I hate to think what their profit margin on that must be.  We visited the children's museum too, which was...not terrible.  They had some nice stuff for the two-year-old, but it was pretty jammed together.  They could have used quite a bit more space.  The children's museums in Indianapolis and Bloomington - and Cincinnati, for that matter - are nicer.
But of course, the highlight of Chicago for me is the museum campus.  We only went to the Field Museum this year, but the aquarium and the other museums can't be beat.  We actually walked from the Navy Pier to the campus this year - a couple of miles, and pushing a stroller!
Topped it off with a quick visit to Indiana Dunes.  We went, unprepared, to the beach.   Swimming in Lake Michigan beats swimming in Monroe Lake, surprisingly enough.  The visit was way too short.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Book review: Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke

Okay, so I'm a little late with this one. But at least I read it, and all the way through; bought it on eBay for $15 and you couldn't have done that six months ago.

It's a good book. It opens with a description of what Clarke was doing on September 11, and it is riveting. It's exciting to hear what was going on at the White House: "They did what? What else can they do? Shut down this! Close that! Scramble the fighters!" Very cool stuff.

Clarke is clearly a Clinton fan. I was at Goodwill a few weeks ago and picked up George Stephanopoulos' autobiography, so I've read two sympathetic books in the last few weeks, and my opinion of Clinton has gone up a lot. I always thought he was a good president due to his domestic agenda, the balancing of the budget, and the roaring economy, but I was at least willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt and say that he's done an okay job against terrorism. When the Iraq war started, I was on-the-fence to negative, thinking that the war would probably do no more harm than good. The utter incompetence at the peace process, however, has pretty much turned me into an Anyone-But-Bush'er.

According to Clarke, however, Bush has totally screwed up the war against terrorism as well. Starting with the lack of planning that allowed 9/11 to happen, followed by an indecisive response in Afghanistan, and of course the leap to conclusions that started the Iraq war, Clarke shreds the Bush administration top to bottom. I can't say for sure that it deserves to be shredded, from my own knowledge; more reading is needed here.

That's the big talking point of the book, of course. We've all seen the headlines: "Former Bush aide writes tell-all!" The fact is, though, the Bush administration is covered pretty quickly in the last couple of chapters. The meat of the book is about the Clinton administration, and the claim that Clarke makes that I'm surprised didn't get a lot of airplay, was the claim that Clinton did a darn good job against terrorism. Clarke blames bureaucracy and the intelligence services for the failures on the Clinton watch.

So is it true? I can't say it is for sure. But what I do know is that 9/11 happened under the Bush administration, which is demonstrably incompetent at so many things, and it sure wouldn't surprise me to find that "Preventing Major Terrorist Attacks" is another area where Bush gets a failing grade.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Counterterrorism Wiki

So I started reading Against All Enemies this week. I'll do a book review of that when I get done, too, but the thing that really strikes me is how hard it is to follow all the information in it. I'm not reading it with an agenda - well, yes I am, Bush stinks - so trying to really understand in my head what was going on is pretty tough. And Clarke does a lot of things like blaming the CIA and FBI for problems, where I'm sure that if I read a book about the CIA I'd hear a pretty different version of events. So I went over to SeedWiki and started up a CounterTerrorism wiki. What I've written on it so far is just a few things and links I've found, but I really only have one goal for it - understanding what the heck Clarke is talking about. Due to the nature of Wiki's, of course, it may end up being something else entirely.

Sunday, July 04, 2004


My child is nearly three. It won't be long before we have to think about a school for him. One of my top choices is Harmony School, but I wonder if I can be accused of elitism if I want to send him to a private school? I think my dad would say he needs to be exposed to children of diferent backgrounds than us, and I am sympathetic to that. But some kinds of diversity I don't want. For example, I would be perfectly happy not having him exposed to:

- Students who don't feel that education is important.

- Students who believe that the world owes them a living.

- Students who are just marking time until they are legally allowed to leave school.

- Lawyers.

Well, OK, I suppose that last one isn't a big issue in preschool.

So am I an elitist?

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Book review: The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett

For the sake of full disclosure, I'm a big Pratchett fan. I breathlessly wait for every new novel and run out and buy it as soon as it comes out. (In paperback, that is. I'm not made of money here.) So it's convenient that in his recent forays into the children's market (like Amazing Maurice), if there was ever a hardback version I didn't see it, and got to buy the paperback version as soon as I knew about it.

But even so, I was hesitant to read Maurice. A good author for grownups does not necessarily make a good author for kids, and I was very ready to be disappointed with what made the Discworld interesting for kids. But I wasn't. When you read Pratchett, you can always expect to see the conventional wisdom turned on its head. The witches are heroes, the handsome prince is a bad guy. If you stay true to yourself and follow your dreams, you'll get your rear kicked by the guy down the street who works for a living. And I was very glad to see this pattern continuing in Wee Free Men.

As a matter of fact, it's hard to say what really makes this a kid's book. "Teen fiction" is where you'll find it categorized, but the only difference, really, between this and any other Discworld book is maybe just a slight lack of depth in the characters. Even then, it's just as likely that they will show up in other books to become more rounded out. The Nac Mac Feegle have already appeared in Nanny Ogg's kitchen, for example, and I read one review claiming that the aerial Night Watch officer in that book was one as well, although I missed that when I read it. I'll check more carefully on my next read.

And it has to be said, Tiffany Aching, the nine-year-old pre-witch, is a compelling character. It'll be clear to readers familiar with the series that she has all the right attributes to be a talented witch, unlike, for example, Magrat Garlick, or Tiffany's would-be mentor, Miss Tick. Tiffany not only has the smarts, but also the sense to know when it's better to whomp a monster on the head with a frying pan rather than close her eyes and magic it away. I wonder if we'll get to watch her growing through her teen years to adulthood, like Death's granddaughter Susan. We can hope.

All in all, I just have to think of this book as A Discworld Book, and that is how I will categorize future Pratchett "teen fiction" offerings; to be bought as soon as they are available.

And speaking of that, Mr. Pratchett: I'm done with this one. May I have another?

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Onine church calendar

I was asked to look at online calendars for church this month. I spent a few hours on it and came up with three: Calendars Net, Super Calendar, and Hunt Calendars. The most important thing I think I found is that there wasn't a whole heck of a lot of distinguishing features. To write up a report for the church, I checked prices, and tried to compare ease-of-use and reliability. But I don't think I did it right, because my recommendation actually was questioned because I'd rated the only calendar that wasn't free highest :) Super Calendar costs $20 a year. But I recommended Calendars Net, mostly because it was free and allowed sending reminders for free, the only one of the three that did that. But maybe I missed something...if you know of a better online calendar or a better idea for calendars in general, post it in the comments.

Friday, June 18, 2004

How To Blog by Tony Pierce

Keepin' it real here. My only issue is, I searched all over the site and never found the bloody RSS or Atom feeds. What am I supposed to do, read it in my browser or something? (Thanks Hugh)

Monday, June 14, 2004

Mt. Rainier is in sight

That's right, I'm in Seattle today. Flew in for a two-day conference at Microsoft. It's really cool that both Microsoft and my hotel have wireless access; I like being able to turn on my laptop just about anywhere and have access. Cathy would have liked to make it a family trip, but that would have meant Jesse not going to Vacation Bible School, and I really can't conceive of six hours in an airplane with a two-year-old. Maybe next year. I can't decide if I made the right decision not to rent a car. Cab ride to the hotel was $35, and $35 back again of course, but I think finding a very easy bus route to Microsoft was the clincher. A buck fifty for a four-mile ride, and I imagine renting a car would have been more than $100, plus all the parking headaches.

I subscribe to Dana Epp's blog. Can't believe they're scheduling a dinner just a few days after I leave!

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Evangelism and IT lessons from a church

Scoble is one of the most-read bloggers around, so I don't know why I'm linking to him. Good article though, and good reading if you are - like me - on a church's Outreach committee.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Rough day today

Rough day today. After an extra-long church service with Communion and new church members, went downstairs for a potluck dinner and baby shower, and the little one got his fingers caught in the door. Off we went to the health clinic, where we proceeded to wait. And wait. Eventually I went off to McDonalds to feed the troops, ignoring the comment in the room saying "No food allowed!" Finally we did get the fingers X-rayed, and it looks like there are no breaks, so Jesse gets lots of Advil and some very sore fingers for the next few days.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

My pastor has started a blog! I've been encouraging lots of people to blog; the CEO of my company, my dad, the pastor. It's bad form, they say, to make your first entry about blogging itself, and Annette avoided that error - unlike me - but the art form is new enough to be interesting, and widespread enough to be a real social phenomenon. What does it mean when this many people can post their thoughts, publicly, and be widely read by even more? It is, in a lot of ways, the way that Americans can stop Bowling Alone, and reconnect with their communities, and it seems to me that religious leaders should be in the forefront of that movement.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

I sent a message to the webmaster of the local paper this week, saying, "Are you offering RSS feeds? If not, when will you start?"

Got a message back a couple of hours later saying, "Sounds like a good idea - try this feed out and see if it works."

It didn't at the time, but a couple of iterations later the local paper is now offering RSS feeds! How cool is that?

Herald-Times RSS feed

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The major topic of discussion on the news this morning was the gay marriages taking place in Massachusetts.

There's a lot going on in the world today. A disastrous war in Iraq, leading to massive federal budget deficits. Gas prices spiking to record levels. Torture and abuse of prisoners, in Iraq for sure and probably at Guantanamo. Afghanistan is still a mess; so is most of Africa, and the Palestinians and Israelis are no nearer peace than ever.

In all this, is it really important who got married today?

Friday, May 14, 2004

There was an article in the local paper today - I'll add a link, but I bet it's not permanent - about electronic voting. The author, who claims to have a PhD in computer science, is pretty hard against any kind of computer based voting. I don't understand why. The arguments are all correct, of course - poor programming or malicious programmers could cause votes not to be counted or even recorded differently from what the voter intended - but in conjunction with a printed ballot, I see very little possibility of serious problems. The nice thing about a computer-printed ballot is this: it doesn't need to be human-readable. Wouldn't it be cool if each ballot printed out to an inch-high bar code on a standard piece of paper? You could fit 10 votes or so on a page, and create software to scan the ballot back if required. This way, each voter could have his ballot scanned for accuracy even before leaving the polling place, and recounts would be an easy job. Why is this so difficult?

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Meme via Burning Bird: From "The Bushes: Portrait of a Dynasty". "According to his son Bucky, he never spoke about them later in life." Instructions: Grab the nearest book, open it to page 23, find the 5th sentence, and post its text along with these instructions. I would add to the instructions: point back to where you got the idea so that we can follow the threads. I got the idea from Ongoing. When I opened the book I thought I'd be out of luck, but luckily there were exactly five full sentences on the page :)