Thursday, December 29, 2005

Kerfuffle Man of the Year '05

In the proud American tradition of pointless award giving, I present to you the very first Soul Kerfuffle Man of the Year...

Patrick Byrne, CEO of

You're probably passingly familiar with (aka "The Big O"), which is basically an clone with only moderately competitive prices and a reputation for horrible customer service. Their commercials typically involve a blonde woman utilizing some of the many items she has found on "The Big O" in lamely suggestive ways.

You're probably less familiar with the wild antics of Patrick Byrne, however. In the past year, "The Big CEO" has pulled the following stunts:

- Claimed he was both gay and a coke addict to financial analysts
- Claimed that the mob was out to get him and would probably plant drugs and dead bodies in his car
- Appeared on Bloomberg TV to declare to a bewildered investment world that holiday sales were "a tad disappointing" (typically, bad sales are announced via a tightly worded press release)
- Accused a number of people, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, of a conspiracy to short his stock
- Referred to a "Sith Lord" as the leader of said conspiracy

What truly distinguished Dr. Byrne this year was a conference call he held on August 12, wherein he was supposed to be explaining a lawsuit that had been filed in California court on's behalf.

What we got a rambling mental meltdown the likes of which I don't think I've personally ever seen at the CEO level in corporate America. Included were such gems as:

- "On the coke head thing, and by the way, I’ve never, with one exception, I’ve never even seen cocaine in my life so in case you’re wondering, no, I’m not a coke head."

- "Channel B I put information down that I was a coke head. Now my apologies to my gay friends, both within and without, outside the company, I don’t mean to equate the two. I don’t care. I’m a libertarian and I don’t care at all."

- "I acknowledge that he sounded like he lined his hat with tinfoil."

- "So, here's a box I'm going to put some hedge fund folks. I've got to put all the miscreants in the box marked 'miscreant hedge funds'."

And finally...

"As this went on I started realizing that there was actually some more orchestration here being provided, by what I'm calling here is the Sith Lord or the mastermind. Now, can I tell you who that designated bottom feeder was who was supposed to end up with our company? Can I tell you? I can. But I'm not going to today."

It's even better on audio, which you can get here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Proverbial Jetpack

Way back in the earlier parts of the last century, Isaac Asimov predicted that just about everybody would have jetpacks.

Some of his predictions came true, but a great many did not. One that did not was the jetpack. At the end of the last millennium, I wondered many times, "Where the heck are the jetpacks? Where are the flying cars? THIS is the 21st century???" Could it be that some of the films of the 70s and 80s with their bold visions of what the early 21st century would look like were dead wrong? That we would not be so advanced? Heck, James Bond had a jetpack as early as 1965 in Thunderball!!!!

Well, jetpacks aren't here yet, but something even cooler is close to fruition: commercial space travel. Virgin Galactic recently reached an agreement with New Mexico to build their first spaceport there.

Although this may not be the first time you've heard of Virgin Galactic and its offer to send folks into space for $200,000 a ticket, this agreement means that they could be flying out of New Mexico as early as 2009.

THAT'S the kind of stuff I want to see in the 21st century. Although I can't afford a ticket on that first flight, the thought that I might be able to tour space in my lifetime is just about as cool as it gets.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Think You're Having a Bad Day?

How'd you like to be the guy responsible for costing his company their entire profits for the fiscal year?

In a story reported today, Japanese firm Mizuho Securities lost 27 billion yen due to a typing error by one of its traders. That's about 224 million US dollars.

It actually could have been a lot worse, but market laws preventing extremely volatile price fluctuations saved the company from losing even more money due to the blunder.

Obviously this raises questions about the trading system, which almost certainly should have thrown up red flags all over the place when the trader attempted to offer 610,000 shares, valued at $3.1 billion, for 1 yen apiece (1 yen is about .0083 US dollars). But how would you like to be the guy who pushed "Submit" on that one?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Kids are Firmly in Control

Julie and I went with two friends to Hershey the day after Thanksgiving for a short weekend trip. We've always enjoyed going there around Christmas time because there are always plenty of Christmas lights, fun activities, and chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.

A favorite place to stop in the past has been the Hershey Lodge, which has a real nice upstairs lounge with chocolate martinis and cigars.

This time, however, it was a much different scene.

Ever see the movie Aliens, where the Marines first walk into the hive and the hideous beasts are crawling through every nook and cranny, bringing woe and mayhem with them?

Replace the aliens with children and you've got a pretty good idea of what the Hershey Lodge front lobby looked like when the four of us walked in.

There were so many kids running amok that I'm sure some kind of local zoning ordinance was being broken. I was afraid to take a step for fear of kicking a child.

Perhaps saddest of all were the forlorn looks of hopelessness on the faces of those parents still lucid enough to recognize the chaos for what it was. Other parents sat there quietly in a daze, perhaps hoping that death's cold embrace would take them to a more peaceful place. At one point I even saw a woman sobbing quietly in the corner.

Yes, the kids were firmly in control. If they had wanted, they could have set up their own government right there and the adults would have been powerless to stop them.

The children hadn't just conquered the Hershey Lodge, however. No matter where we went during our brief stay, children were oozing out of every pore in the landscape. Running, screaming, kicking, crying... they were there, like a swarm of locusts devouring everything in their path, leaving naught behind but broken dreams and memories.

Perhaps the most comical quip I heard was made by one of the waitresses, who made the following remark to her comrade in arms that I was fortunate enough to overhear: "I figured out what I want for Christmas. I'm getting my tubes tied."

Here's hoping the parents we left behind made it out with some shred of sanity intact.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Suicide by Warcraft

In China, a class action lawsuit is being brought against Blizzard, the makers of World of Warcraft. The suit is being filed on behalf of the parents of a 13 year old boy who they claim leapt to his death "imitating a scene from the game".

Most of the internet chatter you will hear about this is staunchly in defense of Blizzard, and falls back on the tried and true "Parents need to get more involved" argument. It is a legitimate argument, and any kid that throws himself out of a 24 story building to "meet his night elf hero" certainly has issues that go beyond simply too many video games.

But I DO think that people are writing this issue off way too easily. Video game addiction is a serious problem among the youth of China and South Korea, and it is easy to see why: in video games, ESPECIALLY RPGs (Role Playing Games for the truly uninitiated), there is a real opportunity to play in a world much better than the one you're living in.

It wasn't that long ago that a man in South Korea dropped dead of exhaustion and dehydration after over 50 straight hours of Warcraft.

The thing is, these are what appear to be reasonably normal, stable people up until their respective deaths. By all accounts, nobody really saw this coming.

Before anybody gets the wrong idea though, I want to make it clear that I do not feel that Blizzard is responsible for this. I don't feel that television or movies or music or any other media can be held accountable for the actions of somebody too screwed up to separate song lyrics from philosophical foundations upon which to build your lifestyle. If you need other people to tell you the right way to live, you'll find that in religion, political affiliation, or your workplace just as easily as you'll find it in mass media.

However, parents can't be held completely responsible either when a 13 year old kid does something this crazy. Should they have been more involved and monitored their son's video game habits more closely? Hell yes. But you can't tell me any parent can reasonably predict that a child is going to hurl themselves 24 stories to their death in the hopes of meeting their pixelated alter ego.

It is for reasons like this that I don't think the argument "It's the parents' fault" is entirely fair. When it comes to this, a LOT of people screwed up, not just the parents.

Parents need tools to be able to do their job. With TV, you can get a chip that blocks certain ratings of shows if you feel they are unacceptable. The shows aren't the problem in my opinion, but the option is important because its very availability makes parents think and talk about their child's viewing habits.

Similarly, Blizzard recently introduced parental controls (some speculate because of this incident) for World of Warcraft, whereby a time limit can be set on play time. This, too, is a good tool.. by itself it does nothing, but again its availability will make parents consider the issue.

The Chinese government is even talking about regulating online play time themselves. This is rife with a host of issues (economics being the least of them), but this would only cure the symptoms, not the problem. Remember, these people are dead because there wasn't happiness for them in the REAL WORLD. Without Warcraft, I would argue that the odds are very good they would have killed themselves some other way.

Which brings me (finally) to the real point: regulating online video games is no more ridiculous than regulating the radio airwaves, the television airwaves, or anything else that exposes people to content beyond their direct control. So it's time to stop chuckling under our breaths about how ridiculous China is for considering these measures and realize we do the exact same thing here.

And guess what? All the regulation in the world isn't going to stop a confused kid from making a really bad decision or an already depressed, recently unemployed guy with nothing to live for from ending his misery in whatever way he deems best.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


I knew I should've picked the video game.

Somebody get Ralph Nader on the horn. I need him to write a letter to the Eagles on my behalf demanding those 3 hours of my life back.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Football vs. Video Games

On Sunday I went to a bar with the NFL Sunday Ticket package. My girlfriend is a Bears fan, and since their games are not typically televised in our area, we decided to head out so we could watch them a bit.

I figured with 5 games on at once, it should be pretty entertaining. Odds should be pretty good that at any given point, football would be actively being played, right?

How wrong I was. Over and over again during the stay, all games would simultaneously be dealing with a stoppage in play due to penalties, injuries, booth reviews, or commercials.

And people call baseball boring.

On the other side of the entertainment coin, I took my first crack at Civilization IV over the weekend. I foolishly started a game at around 10 PM, figuring I'd just try the game out a bit before I went to bed.

"A bit" turned into 6 hours, and I went to sleep at 4 AM.

So now I'm faced with a real dilemma tonight. Do I watch the Eagles game, which has a real good chance of being somewhere between annoying and horrible, OR do I play Civilization IV and guarantee myself an enjoyable evening?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Windows Live

Microsoft is so huge and so wealthy that they can afford to make some big time mistakes.

I predict that Windows Live, unveiled earlier this week, will be one of them.

The stuff you can do with the latest DHTML/AJAX/whatever techniques is really cool. It looks sexy and it's a lot of fun to program. I'll admit that, like a lot of other developers, I tend to look at a web based solution to a problem far more often than I probably ought to these days.

But I just can't believe that the need for rich client applications is ever going to go away. Making a web version of Microsoft Office is, in my opinion, just silly. Why would I want to be at the mercy of my internet connection to do things like type up a letter, or punch data into a spreadsheet, or put together a presentation?

Also, Microsoft might actually be arriving to this particular game a tad too late. Google has been doing this sort of thing for awhile, and doing it reasonably well. The Microsoft Live page sure looks a lot like the customized Google home page, doesn't it? And guess what... Google's works in Firefox. I'm not ready to totally write off Microsoft just yet (after all, they've had a lot of success taking working models from other companies and improving/mainstreaming them), but I wouldn't put my money on them winning this fight.

And besides, win or lose, I just can't see this being worth the effort for Microsoft. They make successful rich client apps. They have a dominant operating system. They make the best developer tools money can buy.

I saw a comment from one tech reporter saying that Google is attempting to strike a blow at Microsoft by eliminating the need for an operating system. Sadly, what this reporter doesn't understand is that you need an operating system TO RUN AN INTERNET BROWSER. And Windows has a stranglehold on that market that, I promise you, they're not going to relinquish any time soon.

But for some reason, I think Microsoft might be LISTENING to all of this Google-loving media hype. Considering how often the tech media has declared the end of Microsoft the last decade, they should be dead several times over.

Microsoft should be focused on improving their rich client products by making them better follow standards so they can play well with other apps. THAT'S how they can best increase their already huge market share... more people are likely to use your app if it works with things they already have and like.

But hey, I've been wrong before.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Technical Terminology at its Finest

Check out this quote from an online magazine:

"Some studies show that zombies account for more than half of all spam."

What an age we live in when that sentence actually makes sense.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


The word of the day from my customized Google homepage:

virago: an ill-tempered, overbearing woman; also, a woman of great strength and courage.

It struck me as interesting/sad that there was a word in the English language that simultaneously described a strong woman as "overbearing".

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Automation for a Living

I get to work on a lot of automation projects. We get a file from somewhere, do something with the file, and then drop another one.

The trouble with working on automation is the very fact that you are trying to eliminate humans from the equation means that when something breaks, the designer tends to be the one who gets contacted.

Documentation and logging are two ways to address this problem. A clear explanation of how the process works will help troubleshoot errors (in theory). However, anyone who has worked in this business knows that documentation is anathema: people don't like to write it, and even if it gets written nobody wants to read it.

For this reason I try to make the documentation that I write at least marginally amusing so that on the outside chance that somebody comes along and actually reads page 1, they'll read the rest.

Today we had several "problems" with a layer of our overnight automation. All of those problems were pretty reasonably explained in the processing log files. Basically the failures occurred OUTSIDE of the automation layer that falls under our umbrella of responsibility.. our processes fall in the middle of a dependency chain, and links in that chain broke.

What I'm getting at is that working on automation is a lot like being the New England Patriots. When you win (everything works).. well, that's what is expected to happen. But when you lose (something doesn't work), everybody starts calling sports talk radio and declaring the end of the world.

That means that the best thing to do is write manual harnesses around EVERYTHING and make somebody push a button so that you can shift blame on them when something goes wrong.


I feel dirty for just thinking that.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Tim McCarver...

... is a very terrible announcer. I find I have to actually mute the television at times to avoid throwing a shoe through it while watching playoff baseball.

I have become so fed up that I did a little Google search looking for like minded folks and came across the "Shut Up Tim McCarver" homepage. I encourage you to visit.

I did a Google search on "awful announcer", and had to laugh when I saw Tim McCarver's homepage on the top of the list.

That particular homepage has a link for sending email to Tim (which I'm sure is screened by the producers of the "Tim McCarver Show"). I decided to use it.

I promptly received the following automated response, which also includes my email:

Tim McCarver Answers Your Sports Question
Sunday 10/16/2005

Thanks For Your Question!

You sent the following:


Name: Dave



As a Phillies fan, it pains me to see you soiling your legacy with the terrible job you do on Fox. I'm not entirely sure that this is Fox's fault or yours, but for god's sake please stop the agony and do baseball fans everywhere the service of retiring from announcing. I find your show very entertaining, and you always have good guests, but your announcing is just terrible.

Thank you.

-Dave from DE


We'll answer your question soon.

Best regards,

Tim McCarver

I'll post any further reply here.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Why Getting Old is Awesome

A friend of mine (the LastBestAngryMan) just had a birthday, and he seemed pretty down about the whole idea of getting old.

Now, this is a concept I've never been able to really grasp. Getting older is WAY better than being a kid. In fact, I am looking forward with great excitement to the day when I'm 80 years old, sitting on a park bench, waving my cane at "those rotten teenagers" and whining about "kids today" to anyone who will pretend to listen.

Apparently, however, I am not in the majority opinion on this. I lot of people fear getting old. A lot of people fear dying.

Let's compare being young to being old, shall we?

YOUNG: A good portion of the time you're young, drinking beer is illegal. Sure you can still get it, but you often end up having to run from cops or, worse, hiding from your parents.
OLD: You can acquire beer easily and cheaply.

YOUNG: You can't play any games at a casino.
OLD: There are buses that will take you there leaving every day.

YOUNG: Girls are icky at first, then you realize you want to go out with them. This brings the realization that there are many, many things you need to do and say to attract them. This often requries doing things you don't really want to do in the first place, and many more things you don't want to do once they consent to a date.
OLD: You're too old to care what that girl thinks of you.

YOUNG: Everyone wants to correct every opinion you have because you're too young to know what you're talking about.
OLD: You can tell young people they don't know what they're talking about.

YOUNG: Flirting with a girl could result in a) getting shot down horribly, b) getting a drink thrown in your face, c) getting slapped, d) getting the snot kicked out of you by her boyfriend.
OLD: Flirting with a girl will almost always result in a smile since nobody takes such remarks seriously at your age.

This is just a sampling of the advantages. I haven't even covered things like the social acceptibility of going to the track all day to bet the ponies or complaining ceaselessly about "The way things used to be", with everyone who wasn't born then powerless to argue.

Plus, in all seriousness, it's just a lot more relaxing. (Note: This does not apply if you have kids.)

So anyway, to my friend, I say get old! Enjoy! Even if getting older does remind you of your own mortality, just remember: you were dead for millions of years before you were born, and it didn't bother you much then, did it?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Only So Much

Typically, I try to talk about anything BUT relevant current events on this blog.

That doesn't mean I'm not paying attention.. I very actively follow world news and try to read stories from as many different sources as possible to get the most information I can. I try hard not to come to any conclusions until I feel like I fully understand the full scope of a story, which is very, very difficult to do and sometimes results on confused indecision on my part on a lot of issues. I don't see this as a sign of weakness either... "The man who thinks he knows anything," said Socrates, "proves himself the fool."

But for the last couple of days, I've been a little depressed. Why?

1) 35,000 people are dead due to the earthquake in northern Pakistan, with some estimates saying that another 10-20,000 may die before it is all over. 2.5 million people are now homeless there. To top it off, heavy rain and hail storms are making it difficult for relief efforts there. Oh yeah, and for the final kick in the teeth... winter starts in a few weeks.

2) Up to 50 people so far have been killed in Iraq in a campaign of protest bombings against the newly drafted constitution.

3) Saturday night, a guy got the tar kicked out of him by New Orleans police offers... all caught on videotape. Also disheartening was the following from one of the officers who pushed an AP producer and pinned him against a car (also on tape along with copious amounts of profanity): "I've been here for six weeks trying to keep myself alive... Go home."

I understand indifference. Really, I do. It's so much easier to go through life not worrying about anyone but yourself and your own loved ones. It's so much easier to think you've got everything figured out, which leads to the type of tunnel vision necessary to not care about any of this stuff. It's so much easier to turn your eyes to the heavens and insist that this is all part of some abstraction's divine plan, and there's nothing you or I can do about it.

I understand it. I just can't do it... and I can't agree with it.

And in the end, what am I really doing to help? I can talk about it, think about it, blog about it... but none of that is going to help any of those people. I can donate money, and I do, but what I can offer is a drop in the bucket compared to what's needed.


I'll talk about something completely unrelated next time. I promise.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I'll Hold Ed Wade to This...

The Phillies were kind enough to send me an automatically generated form email along with my refund for 2005 playoff tickets. Take a look at this excerpt from that email:

We look forward to 2006 with great optimism as Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jon Leiber and Brett Myers lead the way.

If Ryan Howard is going to "lead the way", that means Jim Thome is going to have to be GONE.

Let's see... overpaid, potentially washed up slugger past his prime... sounds like a candidate for the 2006 Orioles. I hear they're looking for a first baseman...

(NOTE: Ed Wade is now fired.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Google Philosophy

Up until now, Google had a pretty clear design philosophy when it came to their products. Speed and simplicity were the king and queen of Google software design, and this was reflected in everything from their AdSense service all the way down to the source code on the Google web page itself. For example, if you've ever clicked "View Source" on Google, you'd see that the code is crammed together as tightly as possible to minimize the amount of time it takes to transmit across the network. Very slick.

Lately, however, you can spot some changes in that philosophy. The Beta for version 2.0 of Google Desktop is a good example... it's probably the most invasive and distracting piece of software I've seen in awhile, which is something I just don't expect from Google. It can rest as a simple search bar on the bottom of the screen, but to get all the whiz bang features they're trying to promote, you need to have it sit on the side of your screen where it takes up a pretty good deal of real estate.

Another example is the introduction of the new personalized Google homepage. It combines some of the features of the Google Desktop and Google News right on the page, so no longer is there the clean, simple "Google" with a text field we've grown accustomed to.

I use a lot of Google stuff at home and at work. I use Gmail for email (I mentioned this as one of my favorite free things on the web in a previous post). I use the Gmail Notifier at work. I use Google constantly to for development questions. I check Google News in the morning to see what's going on. I use Google Desktop (version 1) in place of the horribly slow Windows Search.

And, obviously, I use Blogger.

Granted, nobody is forcing you to turn any of this stuff on.. you can still use "Google Classic" and you'll get the simple screen you know and love. But that the fact that the switch now exists AT ALL to turn it on seems like a departure in philosophy to me.

I'm not saying that any of this is necessarily a bad thing... I just find it surprising. For now, I suppose it's nice to have the option to personalize my "Google Homepage", but does adding a level of complexity mean that Google will soon look like "My Yahoo" in terms of screen clutter and slower load times?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Where's the Love?

Yesterday was Sunday. To most stout American males, that means it's football day. I got a nice invite from a friend who just bought a house and had set up a couple of TVs with the Sunday Ticket package along with a grill and various meat products. Several of my other friends were also going (stout American males all).

Sounds like the perfect Sunday, right?

Here's the problem: I didn't go. I wanted to see my friends. I wanted to eat those meat products. But the prospect of 7-8 hours of football just did not appeal to me.

What's happening to me? I used to be an avid football fan. It always took a back seat to the end of the baseball season, but I still looked forward to Sundays and watching 12-14 hours of football and football related programming every week.

This morning everyone has been talking about the Eagles game. I watched some of the game, but not all of it... I was more interested in the Phillies game. Once the Phils had won, I turned back for the end of the Eagles. But I could just as easily have read about it in the morning.

This week also featured a marquee matchup between Pittsburgh and New England, two Super Bowl caliber teams. I watched about 5 minutes of it before I became bored and changed the channel.

I can't figure it out. I'll watch Arena football all day long. Why can't I sit still for the NFL?

I already plan on playing World of Warcraft tonight instead of watching Monday Night Football like a healthy American male should.

I even joined a fantasy football league this year for cheap in an effort to get myself excited about football again. That's not working either.

So what has changed? The game, or me?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


I don't know what this word means.

A couple weekends ago I saw Sigur Rós in concert for the second time at the Tower theater in Philadelphia. It was particularly special because they played stuff off of their new, soon to be released (at the time) album, "Takk...".

After the concert, I couldn't wait for this album to come out.

And now, here I sit, far too late (early?) on a workday listening to this album for the third time, and still getting chills from certain bits of the music.

I still don't know what "Sæglópur" means. What I can tell you is that it's the 6th track on "Takk...", and it's a great song. It might be the best song this band has ever written.

This is music to do great things to. This is music that is poignant and hopeful.

This is exactly what we need.

Monday, September 19, 2005


Eagles win 42-3. I told you to relax.

Besides, September is baseball season anyway.

And if you missed the 10 run 9th inning the Phillies had on Saturday against the Marlins, you missed a treat. Nevermind that they promptly lost the next day.. there are two weeks left in the season and the Phillies are in it! Joy!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

NFL State of the Union

I'm in a large, long running football pick 'em league with friends called the Head to Head Football League (HHFL). My team name there is the Falcons (everyone gets an NFL team to make scheduling easy), and since joining the league I've traditionally written a (usually) weekly column on the site called the Falcon's Faulty Pick of the Week. Basically the gag is that I pick the game I am most certain of, explain why I made the pick, and then encourage everyone to pick the opposite because of my rotten luck at football prognostication.

This week I posted something a little more universal, which I'm pasting below. If you don't like football, don't bother:

Surprised by Week 1 of the 2005 NFL season?

If so, you haven't been paying attention for at least the last 5 years.

Let's face facts kids: the NFL is, by and large, crap.

Before you send me hatemail, allow me to explain.

Each year, the NFL has become more and more mediocre. This mediocrity has been encouraged by the league through its financial structure, because they want parity. The only way you can get parity is by leveling the playing field, and the only way to level the playing field in a sporting event is to spread the talent thinly between all teams.

To that end, the league's salary cap, free agent, and other personnel rules encourage this environment. In most cases, it no longer makes sense to hold onto marquee players when they reach their contract year, because you can get 3 young players for his price. Most often, the teams that sign marquee players do NOT improve because the large contract they've now taken on limits them to that one move.

Franchises like the Eagles and the Patriots have managed to pull themselves above this because they seem to be the two teams that understand this economic environment. There is no reason NOT to sign most of your young players to long term deals, because you can always release them with minimal penalty anyway. They're aided by their own success as well: many players will play for them for less money than they could get elsewhere because they want to win.

All this adds up to a league where every week during the regular season the overwhelming majority of the games pit one mediocre team against another mediocre team. The NFL is full of "upsets" every week because if one mediocre team goes on a 3 game win streak, suddenly they look like a powerhouse compared to the rest of the mediocrity... but really, they're still just mediocre.

Last week, the Bears and the Redskins were on Fox. They combined for 16 points, and hundreds of man-hours of naptime (I contributed one myself). The sad part is, people actually PAID to watch this stinker.

The NFL's popularity, I think, survives and even thrives because of pick 'em leagues like this. I'd rather pull out my own fingernails than watch some of the garbage being served up in week 2, but because I'm in a pick 'em league I'll check the score.

I think the average number of fantasy football teams per football fan is over 3 now. When you watch a game at a bar, people cheer on every play because somebody just scored points on their fantasy team. It's gotten worse than loud cell phone conversations at the movies, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Plus, there is so much coverage on the trash talk during the week that between Sundays the NFL is more like the WWE... or at worst, Days of Our Lives.

All of this provides the great smokescreen the NFL needs to hide the fact that their product just isn't that good.

SO - all that being said, last week I picked all the teams I thought would win. Then I picked the opposite. And I got 11 right. I intend to do the same thing for a couple more weeks.

There are lots of terrible games to choose from this week (Detroit at Chicago? Cleveland at Green Bay? Buffalo at Tampa Bay?), but I'm going to go with St. Louis at Arizona. My inclination is to pick the Cardinals because everybody seems to think they're better this year, and I really don't like the Rams one bit.

For that reason, I'll pick the Rams.

YOU PICK: Cardinals

Be warned: the sports media will attempt to make this game interesting by discussing Kurt Warner's ties to the Rams and the possible resurgence of the Cardinals (or is it just "surgence"? They've never been good) under Dennis Green's second year. I won't blame you if you get caught up in the hype. It's the only thing that will make the game palatable.

And stop worrying about the Eagles. All that game proved was that if you pit two of the half dozen above average teams in this league (and certainly the only 2 in the NFC) against each together, the result can still put you to sleep. Why do you think more people are talking about the pregame fight than the game itself?

The bottom line though is that every Sunday I'll still sit down and watch the Eagles, and I'll still watch the scores on the ticker... my hypocrisy knows no bounds.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bizarro World

This past weekend, Julie was invited to a BBQ hosted by one of the judges she is clerking for this year. Another judge was also in attendance, and it was awesome to meet people passionate about what they do. I guess when you have to make incredibly difficult decisions in family court, you better be passionate about it.

Then one gets to thinking... here I am, drinking wine and chatting with a pair of judges. How the heck did a guy that dropped out of college twice, only to go back and end up with an English degree, end up doing computer programming for a living and eating burgers cooked by a judge?

Must be my dashing good looks.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

How to Enjoy Delaware for less than a Tank of Gas

Everybody has a horror story these days about how much money it costs to fill their car with gas (and yet I hear just as many talking about buying an SUV... go figure). Since I drive a small car with good gas mileage, I guess I shouldn't complain that it cost me almost $30 to fill my tank with gas since I fill it about once every 2 weeks and I've heard of people spending over $100 to fill their tank.

BUT - even though gas is so expensive, there are still good, cheap ways to have fun. Julie and I spent an entire Saturday enjoying ourselves for a price under $60 a person for the whole day:

1) Start out at Jimmy's for breakfast - steak and eggs: $10.
2) Delaware Park horse racing for five hours - $20 max, less if you win
3) Wilmington Blue Rocks baseball - between $5-$9
4) Fireworks after the game - Free
5) Beer and sandwich at Iron Hill Brewery after fireworks - $20

And people say there's nothing to do in Delaware.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Daunte on Film

Due to popular demand, here are some pictures of the "Daunte Incident". Theses were taken by a coworker with a camera phone, so if they're a little blurry... too bad.

Programming library/Daunte's Raisin Bran:

And the phone:

Thursday, August 25, 2005

More Pranks

Consider this a follow up to the now infamous "Nice Bike" incident.

The last four days I've been on vacation in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Julie and I went down there mostly for Busch Gardens, which was a blast, but also enjoyed the nice scenery, shopping, and restaurants as well. We even met a nice older couple that had retired there who suggested some of the places that were popular with the William & Mary college students.

But you don't care about any of that. So let me give you:

The Setup
Folks are no doubt aware that I'm a sports fan. That includes football. I used to play fantasy football a couple of years ago, until I realized I wasn't really watching football anymore, I was watching numbers. So I stopped playing. And when I stopped playing, I realized something very important: Daunte Culpepper is a fraud.

This guy always puts up incredible numbers: yardage, touchdowns, QB rating, etc. Last year he had an amazing year by just about any standard according to those numbers.

BUT... none of those numbers account for fumbles. Daunte Culpepper consistently leads the league in fumbles by a wide margin. QB rating doesn't count fumbles. Fantasy football usually doesn't count fumbles. Fumbles are not accounted for in any yardage categories. They just disappear. If you count fumbles, Daunte Culpepper is near the top of the turnover list every year in football.

So anyway, I made this point (rather loudly) last year during football season, and as the new season approaches some of the gents at work have, of course, started to rib me about it again.

The Gag
When I returned to the office this morning, I found the following taped to my screen:

The madness didn't even come close to stopping there. I found copies of the picture in a variety of places:

1) Once the taped picture was removed from the monitor, it was revealed that it was also my new desktop wallpaper.

2) The framed picture on my desk of Julie had been replaced with a framed picture of Daunte Culpepper.

3) Every drawer in my desk had been lined with Daunte Culpepper photos.

4) Every folder in my desk had been filled with Daunte Culpepper photos.

5) The inside of every overhead cabinet above my desk was lined with photos.

6) My box of Raisin Bran was covered AND FILLED with photos.

7) My programming books had Daunte Culpepper inserts.

8) A folded picture of Daunte Culpepper was placed under my mousepad.

And finally, perhaps most brilliantly, the speed dial settings on my phone were changed to the following:

* Daunte's Home
* Daunte's Cell
* Daunte's Mom
* Daunte's Agent
* Daunte's Car Service
* Daunte's Dry Cleaner
* Daunte's Pizzeria
* Daunte just fumbled! Suicide Hotline
* Daunte's #1 Fan (My Cellphone)

I'm told by the pranksters themselves that I still haven't found all of the pictures.

So, to reiterate a point I have already made in a previous post:

"Never, ever let anyone know that something is annoying to you. Better to let it eat at your insides until you cry without anyone understanding why."

Yup, it's good to be back.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Eye Contact

The three days in New York City are over, and it is good to be back in Delaware.

Yup, you heard me right.

I actually had a pretty good time in New York. The technology office party was at Chelsea Piers on Monday night, and I've been working long enough that I actually know a few people at the New York office now. As usual, the accommodations were very swank as well during my stay.

I am consistently amazed, however, by how rarely people are willing to make eye contact with you on the streets of that city. I've noticed this before, but never really articulated it: everybody kind of exists in this tunnel vision, running from place to place and cab to cab, always either talking on a cell phone or listening to an iPod.

To me, it's not a very appealing way to live.

My friend Lisa recently posted wistfully in her blog about a friend from Colorado visiting her in Jersey, and how his tales of wide mountain ranges made the Jersey strip malls seem pretty lame in comparison. But despite this, she still loves New Jersey.

(Note to Lisa: The way it smells, Jersey doesn't need to be compared to Colorado to appear lame ;-P)

Similarly, people in New York are always surprised when they find out I like it a lot better in Wilmington. For me, it represents the happy medium. There are still plenty of things to do that are typically associated with "city" life (bars, nightclubs, playhouses, etc.), but it is small enough to start recognizing people after awhile... people will look you in the eye in this town, and not everybody has something glued to their ear to distract them from what is happening right in front of them.

Don't get me wrong, Delaware ain't paradise. But there is something to be said for a place where you don't have to drive too far to see trees... or skyscrapers.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Five Books

I mentioned in my last post (published about 10 seconds ago) that I read 5 books during the course of my vacation. They are:

1) The Darkness That Comes Before - I picked up this book about a month ago based on a pretty nifty looking cover and a number of reviews that hailed the author, R. Scott Bakker, as the next George R. R. Martin. This is apparently the first book in the Prince of Nothing series, and after reading the first book I will definitely pick up the second. I know at least a few people don't like to start unfinished series: if you're one of those people, don't buy this. But this is the first fantasy novel I've read in awhile that for once doesn't feel like a new spin on Medieval Europe... if anything, it feels Middle Eastern. Also, the comparison to Martin (author of the Song of Ice and Fire series, the best fantasy since Tolkien for my money) works here in the sense that Bakker knows how to draw a truly visceral response from the reader. Excellent stuff.

2) Perdido Street Station - The second book by China Mieville, a relatively new face in the sci-fi genre, and the first book I've ever read by him. A coworker (Jason) lent me this book, saying it just couldn't keep his interest. The prose is thick and murky like New Crozubon itself, the fictional city in which this novel occurs. There are a lot of really terrific and original ideas packed into this book (a love story between a human and a bug woman, a machine called the crisis engine, ex-cons called "Remade" who have genetic alterations forced upon them by sadistic judges, etc.), but in the last 150 pages the whole thing sort of falls apart... one gets the sense Mieville wasn't quite sure how he wanted to finish it. The ending is ultimately unsatisfying, due in large part to the introduction of a wandering deus ex machina character called the "Weaver", that seems to be able to just do whatever it feels like doing, ignoring all of the carefully crafted reality we've spent most of the novel piecing together. I'll definitely read Mieville again though, because some of the ideas are too good to ignore, but I don't know that I'd heartily recommend this particular book.

3) The Mythical Man Month - A series of essays on the pitfalls of software engineering from the venerable Frederick Brooks, a lot of this book is still relevant even though it was published close to a quarter century ago. It goes to show that even though the technology has changed, humans really haven't as much as one might think.

4) Prometheus Rising - Robert Anton Wilson definitely isn't for everyone, but after reading and very much enjoying his Quantum Psychology a good while back, I wanted to read a little more. Wilson is the rare philosopher who is also a very engaging (and funny) writer, and I recommend this to anyone smart enough to recognize they haven't gotten the world completely figured out.

5) The Devil Wears Pinstripes - A light and easy series of essays by's Jim Caple about the New York Yankees and why they suck. Hilarious.

Home Again

I'm officially back from what was an incredibly relaxing four day cruise through the Bahamas. I normally am not a real big fan of beach/hot weather types of vacations, but the cruise was a lot of fun because there were so many options. Judging from the size of some of the people on the boat, a good many of them chose to do nothing but eat for 4 days... certainly a viable option, because the food was terrific.

The boat made stops in Freeport and Nassau, and we got off the boat both times to get a look around. We also went snorkeling on a very, very small island (called Pearl Island). That was one of the highlights for the trip for me, since after snorkeling they left you to your own devices for awhile and I lost about a half hour to a very quiet and soothing meditation session.

I also finished 5 books during the course of the vacation. Those reviews will be another post.

The best part of the cruise though was just the chance to see the family. My brother Mike was sorely missed (he just started his new teaching job), but I guess 5 out of 6 immediate family members ain't bad considering we all live pretty far apart now.

Anyway, now it's Saturday morning and it's 80 degrees in my apartment and I left the lights on in my car last night, and I have to run into work to pick up some things for my three day NYC trip starting on Monday. But the sheen of the vacation hasn't worn off yet, so it's all good.

Friday, August 05, 2005


Today I leave for a week's vacation with the family. We're getting on a cruise ship.. should be fun.

I've been working here over a year now, and I still can't get used to the idea of getting paid vacation. There was a time when taking vacation was like a double hit on your pocketbook: not only did it cost money, but you were losing days where you could be MAKING money as well.

Needless to say, I like this option a lot better.

At the same time, I find myself a little reluctant to leave. I really like work, and there are so many things going on I feel like I can't quite get enough done before I take the time off. I am reminded constantly by coworkers that the work will still be here when I get back... but I've been getting pre-vacation stress thinking "I gotta get this ONE MORE thing done."

It's a great problem to have.

So I'll be back in a week. Until then, here's hoping the Phillies put together a winning streak in my absence.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Nice Bike

Most people learn at a very early age that the best way to avoid being teased is to not let the teaser know that what they're doing bothers you. Pretty soon, the average bully will lose interest and move on.

Chornbe, my friend and office mate at work (whose blog is linked in my list of "Interesting People"), is a pretty avid motorcycle enthusiast. A few other people in my group are as well, and they've been spending a lot of time lately discussing/debating/looking at a variety of bikes. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Person arriving to interrupt: "Hey, did you see the picture of that nice bike I sent you?"
Chornbe: "Yeah! That's a really nice lookin' bike."
Person: "Yeah, I thought it was a nice bike myself."
Second Person, overhearing bike conversation and wishing to participate: "Found a nice bike huh? Let me get a look at it."
Chornbe: "I got the picture open right here. It's a sweet lookin' bike."
Second Person: "Ooooh, yeah, that's a REAL nice bike."
Original Culprit: "Yeah, I was just saying I thought it was a nice lookin' bike."

You get the picture. After about 3 weeks of this (and a few days of too little sleep), I finally snapped and expressed my annoyance by claiming I was going to keep a tally of how many times the phrase "nice bike", or some variation thereof, was used on a daily basis in our office. I predicted it would be in the hundreds.

Well, I should've kept my trap shut. The gents at work have since cooked up a variety of diabolical schemes to torment me. Some of the highlights so far:

1) Taping a printout of the words "NICE BIKE" to my monitor. Upon removal, a running copy of Microsoft Word is revealed with the words "NICE BIKE" typed in it.

2) A spoon with the words "NICE BIKE" written several times all over it and placed on my keyboard (this is even more amusing if you are familiar with "Real Ultimate Power", i.e. "I once saw a ninja flip out on this guy for dropping a spoon in a diner").

3) A picture of a guy on a bike taken with a camera phone sent to my email address with the text "Nice bike!".

4) Chornbe posting my email address on his motorcycle forum asking everyone there to send me an email message containing only the phrase "Nice bike".

Let this be a cautionary tale to the rest of you. Never, ever let anyone know that something is annoying to you. Better to let it eat at your insides until you cry without anyone understanding why.

Despite the misery, I have to admit that it is a... dare I say it?... nice joke.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Challenges Ahead

For a little over half a year, I've been working on a webapp for work that will be used by external clients. It's very exciting stuff, and I'm using a host of different technologies and platforms to bring the whole thing together.

In a few weeks, I'll be traveling to company headquarters for what I hope is the last leg of this long process. I'll need the help of other departments with expertise/ownership over areas I know next to nothing about, particularly in terms of security issues. I've been spending the last few days putting together the tech specs for the app explaining how it works, and I'm hoping it is well received by the folks whose help I'll need.

At the same time, Julie is currently in New Jersey for the first day of the dreaded bar exam. She has done well on the practice tests and I think she's going to do just fine, but it's gotta be scary looking down the barrel of three days of testing that you've basically been preparing for the last three years to take.

So there's a lot in the air right now that's going to have an impact on our lives. It's exciting, fun, and more than a little terrifying.


This past weekend marked the third year of what is now dubbed CraigCon, a gathering of gaming groups from a couple of circles of old friends. The event is named for the organizer, a buddy of mine named Craig who is about as avid a gamer as I know. It started out as a chance for old college friends who had moved apart to get together and game, and has expanded to include other gamers from Craig's regular games up in Rutherford, New Jersey.

It's always a good time, and this year was no exception.

It's fun to kick back, relax, and just roll some dice with some good people. Although it has been getting tougher each year for some of the original core group of folks to make it, I find the whole thing so fun and relaxing that I make sure to put it on my calendar every year. I got a chance to play a game I'd never heard of before too: Bulldogs!, a d20 based game with a sci-fi motif. I'll definitely have to pick it up in the near future.

As life goes on, it gets harder to coordinate spending time with old friends, but CraigCon provides a great way to stay in touch and meet some new people at the same time.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Coolness Behind the Click

I just finished up the beginnings of a new webapp today.

The webapp uses Embperl running on Apache. The Embperl template also references a Javascript library for using XMLHTTP, which calls another page which references a Perl package that contacts a .NET web service. The .NET web service then uses remoting libraries to dynamically load or unload a DLL from a currently running Windows service!

Sadly, all the user sees is a link that reads either "Load" or "Unload", masking all of the coolness.

If only I could put some nifty animated effects in there to demonstrate visually how neat what's happening behind the scenes is...

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Most Fickle Mistress

I like to play poker once in awhile. That's not particularly surprising, since EVERYBODY likes to play poker nowadays: the popularity of the World Series of Poker should be proof of that.

I'm not bad either. I consider myself an above average player. I'm not about to go spend $10k to take a crack at the World Series, but I play online for small stakes and I've always done pretty well.

I'm also smart enough to know when I need to take a break. This is one of those times.

It's rare to see four of a kind. It's even more rare to see it twice in 5 minutes. I've certainly never been beaten by it twice in five minutes.

In the game in question, I had pocket queens and, naturally, raised the blinds. A guy who had been playing loose the whole game promptly went all in, and I called without hesitation, laughing hysterically when he turned over king-five, unsuited. The odds of victory were very much in my favor.

Until the flop got turned over, showing king-king-king. Three freakin' kings on the flop, giving him four of a kind.

Unlucky, I think to myself. My stack has now been crippled. A few hands later, I get pocket aces, and I call a large bet. Flop comes out ace-six-four with no flush draws. I go all in.

The same guy calls me with seven-four unsuited. He has a lousy pair of fours. Again I laugh, saying to myself: the poker goddess is just. Now I'll get back a good chunk of that money I shouldn't have lost.

Well, by now you've probably guessed what happened. To my annoyance, the turn came up a four. That would have been okay, but the river was a four also, giving that same jackass four of a kind again.

Apparently the poker goddess is a fickle mistress.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Maria Pepe

With the clouds of terrorism and hurricanes hanging over our heads, I thought I'd point out just a little bit of good going on in the world.

On Thursday, a 12 year old girl named Katie Brownell donated her Little League jersey to the Baseball Hall of Fame. She did this after pitching a perfect game on May 14th, becoming the first girl on record to accomplish the feat in Little League baseball.

Present at the ceremony was a 45 year old woman named Maria Pepe. In 1971, Pepe was an 11 year old pitcher and outfielder playing Little League ball for the Hoboken Young Democrats. She played only three games before parents complained. Little League headquarters responded at the time by threatening to revoke the Hoboken league's charter if they continued to allow the young girl to participate.

It took two years for the legal system to find in Pepe's favor... but by that time, she was too old to play.

Perhaps now, a full 34 years later, Maria Pepe finally got a few things that the legal system couldn't give her: justice, vindication, and closure.

Read the full story here.

Ten Percent

"No man is an island," and all that jazz.

Things are going pretty well for me, and the London attacks served as another reminder of just how lucky I've been for a long time running now.

When the biggest complaint I have is "I spent Monday and Tuesday refactoring code that should've been done last week"... well, it doesn't amount to much, really.

Someone once said 90% of life is what happens to you and 10% is how you react to it. I've been a lot happier ever since I started concerning myself solely with that 10% (heck, just that little bit is quite enough). But that doesn't mean that you can ever completely isolate yourself from that other 90%.

Nor should you. And so, I'm allowed to be depressed by the London attacks. I'm not a kid: I've learned by now that humanity is capable of soaring to incredible heights AND sinking to unimaginable lows.

But if I stop being surprised by those lows, I'll feel that I've lost something.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Joys of Refactoring

The last 24 hours have been the most frustrating I've experienced in awhile.

For the last three months, with any spare time I've had free of critical priorities, I've been working on a new application. Yesterday, around 3 PM, I finally finished it.

I danced around the office with joy and satisfaction. Of course, testing still needed to happen, but the lion's share of the design and coding was done.

Fifteen minutes later, I got an email from the designer of one of the critical libraries the application relies on. He had made some changes and wanted me to do a checkout to make sure nothing broke.

As you've probably guessed, it broke the whole thing.

Most distressing, however, was I had just released a smaller application based on this same library last week. This was broken in the test environment as well.

Fortunately, he hadn't released the changes to production yet, but for the last 7 hours we've been back and forth, fixing one thing only to break another, etc. At last, here at the end of the day, the problems with this production app are fixed, so no users should be affected... but I haven't touched the new app I've sunk all my spare time the last several months into.

In the long run, the changes will be very beneficial... I like what he's done. Except that it is not in the least backward compatible with any previous versions.

Oh well. I guess this is how programmers ensure job security: by refactoring.

Zoo for Rent

First of all, Julie added a lot of legal knowhow to my last post regarding the latest P2P court ruling... make sure to check the comments of that post for details. There is still a subjective gap in terms of the "almost exclusively" clause of the ruling, but it appears that things are not as absurd as I first thought (only slightly absurd).

Second, my place of employment had its Delaware office party on Wednesday night at the Philadelphia Zoo. I'm thinking to myself, "Gee, I haven't been to the zoo in a few years. I imagine we'll have a little tent set up there with food... should be fun."

No no no... the company rented the freakin' zoo.

That's right. Rented the zoo. I wasn't aware that was even possible. The zoo was closed to the general public that evening so we could have it to ourselves.

I still haven't decided if that's exceedingly decadent or just plain awesome. Probably both.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Naked Law (a very good website for technology related court rulings throughout the world) reports the following:

"The US Supreme Court today unanimously ruled that file sharing networks can be held liable for software infringement by their users. The decision is a blow to P2P sites such as Grokster and Morpheus – they had sought to rely on the earlier Betamax case which protected video recorder manufacturers from legal action for copyright infringement, and which is often cited as showing that a manufacturer cannot be liable where its products are used to infringe copyright if they also have legitimate potential uses. This view looks set to change…"

Just yesterday, Julie (who is studying for the bar) proposed an interesting legal scenario which threw me for a loop: say you've got a guy named Bob. Bob buys a laser. Out of the box, the laser is little more than a lightbulb.. it is not capable of doing any damage. Bob, being an evil genius, twinks the laser to increase its power. While testing these modifications, Bob accidentally fires the newly twinked laser at his neighbor's house, blowing it to smithereens.

Who is liable? Common sense says Bob, right? After all, he's the mad scientist! But no... torts law actually holds the manufacturer of the LASER respsonsible, since it was their product that did the damage! Crazy huh? Seems to me by that logic, companies that make guns could be held responsible for murders committed with their products, but somehow this isn't the case (perhaps somebody with legal knowhow can explain this to me?).

Whatever the case, similar logic has now been applied to these P2P file sharing sites, who now can be held responsible if copyrighted material crosses their network. My biggest problem with this is that I have absolutely no idea how the maker of the software would be able to prevent this sort of thing from happenning!

And what about open source stuff? What if somebody gets ahold of the code base to one of these P2P apps and twinks it, like Bob with his laser? Does that mean the original manufacturer is still responsible?

Now, the Supreme Court says the problem with Grokster was not the technology... it was the way the technology was presented. The ruling goes on to say that "dual-use technology" that does not "itself engage in unauthorized copying" is fine... only things that are "almost exclusively" used for copyright infringement are against the law.

To that, I say... huh? This is murky territory at best. Law like this sucks because this distinction cannot help but be arbitrary! Take Limewire, for example.. this is something that could be a very useful tool, but guess what... it's used for downloading music. It is not presented as a music pirating tool, but I'd be shocked if it wasn't used almost exclusively for illegal downloads.

All most of us can really do is wait for the smoke to clear... and to wait for more test cases, since it is the cases that come after the initial ruling that determine whether or not something is going to stick. I'm sure we won't have to wait long.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Weekend in Review

I finally got outside and played my first tennis of the summer on Friday. I picked up a lot of bad habits last year on the court that I'm trying to correct, which is difficult because it basically means I'm hitting the reset button. I'm trying to learn a real forehand as opposed to gripping the racquet with two hands on every swing (in case you can't tell, my fundamentals leave something to be desired). Hit a couple of good shots, but there's a lot of work to do... in the end, Julie pummelled me soundly.

Saturday Jules and and I went to the riverfront for lunch and then did a little shopping. We went to the movies (mostly for the AC), and the debate was whether to watch Batman again (which we knew was awesome), or go see Star Wars (which Julie hadn't seen, but which I had and didn't like). We decided on Star Wars, and I did my best to reopen my mind.

After a second viewing, I think it's fair to say that this movie sucks... but maybe it's not the absolute disaster I thought it was. Let's just call it "terrible" and not "unholy demon spawn".

I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon at the track. I think one of the reasons I like the track so much is how relaxed everything is between races. I love listening to the conversations of the older folks talking about this horse and that horse, and there's plenty of baseball talk to be had there as well. I imagine the amount of statistics involved in horse racing is what attracts so many baseball fans.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Cool Free Webapps

A coworker was kind enough to loan me Joel on Software, a collection of writings by the guy who keeps a blog by the same name. If you're a developer, it makes for very interesting reading... if not, it makes for a very nice paperweight.

In one of the articles, Joel worries over the influx of web applications, since it means a departure from locally installed, rich client applications. He worries that too many developers are trying to webify everything, and it is going to lead to lower quality applications.

I'm of the opinion that the rich client app isn't really going anywhere anytime soon (and Microsoft is banking on this).. the tools the average joe uses to connect to the net are simply not secure enough or fast enough to do things like word processing with any degree of reliability, and people are always going to want certain things kept locally on their desktops. Joel may be correct in his generalization about developer mentality, but the market tends to weed out those things which just don't work very well.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of really cool stuff that is freely available completely over the web (Blogger is one of them). Clever developers are finding new and interesting ways to get tricky with their Javascript and fake the speed of rich client applications.

My top 3 favorite free web tools (not counting Blogger):

1) Gmail - If you're a business owner and need to have complex control over inbound and outbound email, this isn't going to work for you. But if you're the average email user, you absolutely cannot beat Gmail. The interface is exceedingly slick (like you'd expect from the clever folks at Google), and it completely changed the way I read and keep track of email. Gmail doesn't really do anything new: conversation threads, labels instead of folders... these are all things that have been done before. But they are all implemented so well that I abandoned by Yahoo account mere minutes after fooling with Gmail.

2) - At first glance, this may seem sort of pointless... why would I want to put all my bookmarks on the web? You obviously have not experienced the joy of Now, all your bookmarks are in a centralized, always accessible place. You can get to the same bookmarks no matter where you go. "Great", you think, "that's the entire point of a webapp." Yes, but does more than this... by associating labels with your bookmarks, it is easy to organize them by categories. The app is smart... it suggests appropriate labels based on the page AND labels you have already used before! The Javascript alone is an exercise in user friendliness.

3) Tada - This is a free part of a larger application called "Basecamp" (from the makers of Backpack). Basically this thing is a todo list programmed in nifty Javascript. I was only recently introduced to this by a coworker, and it's so ridiculously simple that it's brilliant.. I am currently using it to organize my work tasks in a way that is much more intuitive than Outlook's horrific Task List.

The common thread in all these apps is that they're simple. An application doesn't have to be fancy to be good... in fact, the best ones do one thing and do it exceedingly well. Gmail is by far the most complex and robust (every now and again I still learn a new keyboard shortcut), but in the end they're all cool because they're so darned simple.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Family Matters

I had a whirlwind overnight trip last weekend to Nashville for my cousin Kathleen's wedding (congratulations to her and Derek). It was really nice of her to invite me, especially since I haven't seen anybody on that side of the family in close to a decade.

Close to a decade... that's a long time. I've been sorting through my thoughts on the experience since I got home. It was great to see everyone (including some new cousins I hadn't ever met), but it was also a little odd. How do you approach a family member you haven't seen in ten years? "Hey, how've you been holding up the last decade?"

I've gotten a little better at large social functions the last several years, but I'm not sure anything could've prepared me for this. There's just so much I don't know about my extended family, and the task of getting to know them again seems incredibly daunting.

At any rate, the reception featured these little cocktail burgers I hadn't ever seen before. Neat.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Batman At Last

There are two types of Batman: there's Batman in blue, running around with Robin, making silly quips and fighting cartoony villains. Then there's the Dark Knight, Batman in black, a vigilante who often comes close to crossing the line between himself and the criminals he fights.

Batman Begins is, finally, Batman in black.

This movie gets everything right. The screenplay is based on Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, so right away you know it's going to be dark and edgy (Miller also wrote Sin City). It's directed by Christopher Nolan, responsible for Memento and Insomnia, so you know it will be trippy and a little strange. And it stars Christian Bale, a guy that is not afraid to make bold decisions even when he is in BAD films.

The movie flat out rocks. The movie is also a bit scary at points: there are a few scenes when we see Batman from the perspective of the criminals, and it doesn't look like a lot of fun. In addition, one of the villains featured in this movie is the Scarecrow, and he is a perfect outlet for Nolan's trippy tendencies.

Wimpy little kids will get scared by this movie... but everybody else will enjoy it.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Championship

At least 20,103 Philadelphia hockey fans saw a Philadelphia team win a championship on Friday night.

The Philadelphia Phantoms beat the Chicago Wolves 5-2 in game four of the AHL Calder Cup championship to complete a four game sweep and win the title.

I sure hope somebody outside of the Wachovia Center noticed.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Another One Bites the Dust

One year and three plot rewrites later, another successful D&D campaign is laid to rest.

I just finished up my weekly D&D game with my friends, and with the last session of another long game (this one set in Eberron) come the familiar mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I'm glad I'll have some time off from the work and writing/plotting required to host a weekly D&D session. It'll be nice to PLAY again for awhile, since two of my friends will be picking up the mantle of DM and alternating turns in the seat. No more will I have to handle the curveballs and plot rewrites that happen when a character does something completely unexpected and blows up everything I had planned.

On the other hand, I know that in a couple of months I'll get the itch again. I love playing D&D, don't get me wrong... but I like being behind the DM screen even better. D&D is collaborative storytelling at its best: the players help you make the story as good as it is, and I'm lucky to play with so many friends that I know well (this was the fourth campaign I've run in the last several years, and I've been playing with these guys since college). But in the end, it is the DM's show... and the game will either be great, or totally suck based on the work and thought the DM puts into it.

All good stories have to end, and this one was no exception. But just as reaching the last page of a book or the final scene of a film can leave you with a little sense of loss, so can ending a campaign that has been running as long as this one.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Song of Ice and Fire

In very exciting news, I just discovered on George R. R. Martin's website that the fourth book in his Song of Ice and Fire series has, at long last, been completed.

It's been a few years since I read A Storm of Swords (book 3 for the uninitiated) for the first time, and a lot of folks were starting to wonder if Martin would ever get Feast for Crows (book 4) finished. He explains some of his decisions for this book on the website, and I'll be very interested to see how it all pans out.

The first three books (Game of Thrones, Clash of Kings, and Storm of Swords respectively) are, for my money, the best written fantasy novels since Tolkien basically invented the genre with The Lord of the Rings. If you haven't read them yet, you're really missing out on some of the best writing last decade has to offer.

Livin' Large

Since my last post, I've done the following:

- Eaten a pile of sushi I made for myself
- Won $150 by finishing 19th out of 470 in an online poker tournament
- Went to the racetrack and had a grand old time with Julie and a bunch of old men
- Watched the Arena Football playoffs and thought about upgrading my Soul season tickets
- Gone to a BBQ

That adds up to pretty good times.

I just passed my one year anniversary at my place of employment, and I almost can't believe how much my life has changed since then. I still play D&D on a weekly basis and I still am lucky enough to date a great girl, but beyond that almost EVERYTHING about my life has changed.

The source of changes pretty consistently came back to one thing: money. Money can't buy happiness, that's for sure... but it can certainly PREVENT you from happiness. Ever since I got this particular job, I haven't ever had to worry about picking up extra shifts at the end of the month or whether or not the bills are going to get paid. I'm still really really careful with my money... mostly through force of habit because things were tight for so long... but I don't need to do any advanced math anymore to see if I can afford to go to the movies on the weekend. I'm not going to be buying a yacht anytime soon, but it is absolutely incredible how much less stress there is in my life just because I don't need to worry about rent money.

What's next for me? I don't know. But if I'm even half as lucky over the next year as I've been this last year, I should be in pretty good shape.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Goodbye Jedi

It's finally over. The long, sad, ruining of the Star Wars trilogy is, at last over. Now I can begin the healing process and try to pretend that none of it ever happened.

In fairness, there were some cool moments. There were some pretty pictures. And there certainly was no shortage of lightsaber enhanced butt whooping.

I will tell you what I hate most about these movies though: the thing that I found so appealing about the Jedi Order was that they were supposed to be diplomats. They valued peace over fighting. They wouldn't help you attack, but they would always help you defend. They were so cool and full of inner peace that Obi Wan was perfectly comfortable with letting Darth Vader chop him in Episode IV (I mean... the FIRST movie... gaaah it's happening) just so that he could turn into a ghost and advise Luke from beyond.

The Jedi don't act like that at all in ANY of the prequels. All of their attempts at diplomacy fail, which is not surprising because they don't really try very hard to settle things peacefully anyway. Everybody is anxious to pull out their lightsaber and start chopping... even Yoda. But Mace Windu is the most baffling example... he's supposed to arrest the Chancellor, but he quickly changes his mind and decides killing him is better.. and to me, that goes against everything I always thought the Jedi stood for.

In the end, I hope people like the movie and enjoy themselves, and that seems to be the case since the movie has gotten some very good press. And of course, it's very easy to make the argument that age has something to do with it.

For whatever reason, though, I did not like Star Wars III.

If you want spoilers and more extensive opinions, check out chornbe's review of the movie.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Worn Out

I am absolutely worn out. I'm not just worn out by the last week in which I've had to do a lot of traveling, nor am I just worn out by today's running around for the girlfriend's law school graduation.

No, I'm also worn out by the fact that tomorrow is going to be busy as well.. About 6 of my 8 working hours tomorrow are already scheduled for meetings.

Also, Saturday I'm saying goodbye to a pair of friends who are leaving for Florida.

I'm looking forward to seeing my friends this weekend. But I'm also looking forward to sleeping until I feel like getting up on Saturday as well. Just need to make it through one more day...

Monday, May 16, 2005

Billy Graham

When I arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina last night, I discovered to my surprise (and a bit of dismay) that there is actually a parkway here named the "Billy Graham Parkway".

Then, this morning, the top headline in the USA Today features a picture of a decrepit Billy Graham, sitting in a rocking chair.


Friday, May 13, 2005


This week coming up is looking pretty hectic. I leave around lunchtime today from Delaware to head up to New York City for work until sometime on Saturday, and then on Sunday I leave in the evening for Charlotte, North Carolina for a tech conference until Tuesday night.

I've never been a "road warrior" in any job, and I'm not sure I'd be particularly good at it. I like having roots and I like going to my real home at night. When I first got hired at this job, I had to basically spend three weeks in a hotel in NYC for the new employee orientation.. while this sounded fun in theory, it got old pretty fast.

I think the thing I missed most was my kitchen. You know you're at a place you can legitimately call "home" when you can cook yourself something you want.

At any rate, I'm borrowing a coworker's laptop for the Charlotte trip, so I won't be completely out of touch over the next few days. I think he's got World of Warcraft loaded on there too...

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Congratulations are due to my friend Dan (his blog is featured in my list of "Interesting People") and his wife Carrie, who recently announced that they are expecting their first child sometime in January. Great news for them, because I know this is something they've wanted for awhile.

Another one of my friends having a kid got me thinking about my own possibilities of fatherhood someday... it would seem to me that having a child changes everything about your entire life, a million times more than just getting married does.

I've never wanted kids, and after some thought on the topic in light of Dan and Carrie's news, I still don't. I want to be able to retire early. I want to be able to go out whenever I please right now without getting a babysitter. I don't want to deal with the "I hate you" rebellion of the teenage years.. I don't think I'd be well suited for it. I don't want to deal with trying to take the kid out to a restaurant and keeping them under control while they fling spaghetti on the people at adjacent tables. Kids just tend to drive me absolutely nuts after more than a few hours.

But, of course, I say that now. Who knows what I'll think in another 14 years when I'm 40 and the panic induced by my newfound sense of mortality brought on by a raging midlife crisis kicks in... I'll probably react by having a half dozen kids.

And there is something else, an intangible that might just trump every other argument I've laid out... it has to be a pretty cool thing to come home from work and see your kid smile and say: "Daddy's home!"

So congrats to Dan and Carrie, and to all the mothers and fathers out there already doing what they can to bring the next generation up right... you're a lot braver than I am.

Friday, May 06, 2005

FredEx: No Delivery on Sunday

The Eagles lost a great receiver today when they cut Freddie Mitchell, aka "FredEx". While still not sure where they'll be able to make up his 12-20 catches a year, Andy Reid is exploring his options.

Thanks for the memories, Fred. You may not be the People's Champ anymore, but you'll always be the champion of my heart. 4th and 26 forever!

And what I mean by that is: good riddance.

Read all about it here.


"TMTOWTDI" is one of the selling points for Perl pundits everywhere. It is also, I think, the language's greatest weakness.

Very much in Perl fashion, the acronym serves to obfuscate an otherwise easily recognizable concept. That mess of letters stands for "There's More Than One Way To Do It." You'd think this would be a good thing, and when you're writing throwaway scripts it can be. Nothing beats Perl's regex syntax, and it's tough to beat it for quick text parsing jobs as well (Python lovers, put away your guns please).

A good, clear, responsible coder can also make some robust libraries with Perl.

However, there are also a ton of wacky shortcuts in Perl. You know what I'm talking about: things like "magic" variables, "implied" variables, etc. Because there are a zillion ways to do the same thing, a lot of Perl programmers like to show off how clever they are by saving themselves a couple of keystrokes here and there.

The problem with this is that you get code that is incredibly difficult to debug 6 months later. Sure, the original coder saved himself a dozen keystrokes by using as many implied variables as possible, but he often does so at the expense of several hours/days of debugging time a few months later. Wouldn't it be worth it to spend the extra 2 minutes coding clearly?

Perhaps that's why I like Java and C# and other languages that force you to be object oriented. OO languages don't let you be lazy: true, it might seem silly to have to write several lines of code just to print "Hello World" to the screen, but when the jobs get more complicated, I want the structure imposed upon me by this programming style.

I work for a company that has built the vast majority of its code base in Perl, so I use it every day and see a lot of lines of Perl code. Some libraries are very good: the programmer took the time to type those extra keystrokes and make everything as clear as possible beyond simple inline comments and documentation. But there are also a lot of BAD libraries: things where, through the simple laziness/"look how clever I am" mentality, you're forced to waste time figuring out what the heck the guy was thinking before you can use/fix his work.

Because of this, on those occassions where I get to work on the Windows side and write some C#, it is like a breath of fresh air. In the end, it makes me a better programmer because it forces organization, and that even helps when I go back into Perl because I've still got that organized mindset.


Just finished watching Ran, a samurai style treatment of Shakespeare's King Lear by Akira Kurosawa. The only other movies by Kurosawa I had seen before this one were Seven Samurai (later remade as a western which became a TV show: The Magnificent Seven) and the often copied Rashomon, both of which I enjoyed quite a bit.

So I have no idea why I waited so darn long to watch this movie, and why I haven't seen more Kurosawa movies. The battle sequences in Ran constitute some of the most beautiful and compelling film I've ever seen, and the acting is spot on. I particularly enjoyed the costumes: you can tell where films like House of Flying Daggers get their sense of color.

I discovered when I went to rate the movie at Netflix that Kurosawa had done a film long before Ran called Throne of Blood based on another of Shakespeare's works, Macbeth, which just happens to be my favorite Shakespeare play. Needless to say, I've moved the movie to the top of my queue.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Running Man

I run once, maybe twice a week just to remind my body that my legs still need blood circulated through them, but check out this story about Frank Ouseley, a friend's father who had quadruple bypass surgery and then ran the Boston Marathon.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Vote For The Worst

A lot of people seem to think that reality television is a sign of the end times for American civilization. I'm here to tell you that this notion is downright ridiculous. Not only has reality television given us such TV classics as "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance", the original "Joe Millionaire" (but not the sequel), and "Fox News", but it has also made stars out of losers like William Hung on American Idol.

And now, there is a website dedicated to ensuring that we get the "best" American Idol has to offers us. At, loyal watchers are rallying behind Scott Savol, who is apparently the least talented singer on the show.

From the website:

"TV is supposed to be about the entertainment value, and what's more entertaining than a fish out of water outlasting the big fish and sharks? The producers wanted Scott in the top group so he could fail, but let's give them the monster that they've created."

Let's hear it for the democratic process!

Friday, April 29, 2005

A Better Day

Attitude Adjustment

The evening after the horrible afternoon I spoke of in my last entry, I bought myself I bottle of wine and kicked back on the ol' meditation cushion for awhile to get some perspective back.

I mean seriously... getting this worked up over something so essentially silly is, well, silly. I think this tends to happen to anyone when they work somewhere for awhile: you start to get tunnel vision at work, and perspective starts to narrow quite a bit. You really have to make an effort to remember that it only helps to worry about things over which you have control. When you answer to a boss at work, you don't have 100% of the control.

My mood has also been helped by working on the project I really want to be working on today, tightening up the code and making the libraries I've been building more reusable. This was mostly just moving functionality around, but it is always fun to look back on a huge volume of code you've written and make it better. It's a lot like rereading an old poem you wrote and tightening a few lines here and there.

Breaking Up the Band

Speaking of writing, I had been working on an original D&D campaign setting for the last couple of years with some friends, but the group dissolved about a month ago for a variety of reasons. But the experience served to remind me of two difficult lessons that are applicable in a lot places:

1) It is hard to work with others, because compromising isn't fun
2) There is a critical point where new ideas start to become detrimental to any project because they keep it from moving forward

The aforementioned group has been essentially split in half and I find myself in both camps, now apparently working on both projects. But I'm not sure how this split will actually solve either one of these problems. People may make fun of management types, but if you put a bunch of creative people in a room to work together and one of them isn't in charge, you might never get out of there with anything concrete. Even if they don't have the title of "manager", there has to be at least an unspoken arrangement whereby final decisions end up getting made by one person... all the neat, abstract ideas in the world don't put a product in somebody's hands.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

A Tough Day

Anyone ever agreed to "help out" someone on a project, and then next thing they know it's THEIR project?

This has happened to me with this pretty poor application in the last couple of weeks, and yesterday was a particularly bad afternoon as the realization came that this piece of junk was starting to become MY piece of junk, if it hasn't already.

This app just doesn't have a solid design. It's using decode tables and config files for the SAME information, so when you have to make changes you have to make them in two places.. the first sign that you've screwed something up when you wrote the app. Not only that, this thing operates outside our company firewall and is exposed to the big bad internet, and we do not have an adequate test region to try out any changes we make to things on the external web. In other words, I'm coding without a safety net.

Hopefully today will be better, but this piece of junk needs to be replaced. There's just no way to salvage it. I can keep putting band aids on it, but if I do that it's never going to go away. The problem is that it is a typical response for a developer to say "Rewrite it!" when they look at code that isn't theirs... I'm guilty of it myself. But seriously.. this thing is going to make my head explode if I have to spend another afternoon looking at it.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Weekend in Review

Rec League Football

Not only did One Hot Mess capture its first win of the season this weekend, it got its second as well! After the team we were scheduled to play forfeited due to lack of players, we played a make up game and won 27-20. I caught another touchdown pass and had an interception, but I was most pleased with my sliding catch on 4th down to keep our game winning drive alive. But those were small contributions... everybody on the team played really well, and our quarterback always does a nice job every week of distributing the ball and keeping everybody in the game. It was a ton of fun, but I was definitely sucking wind by the end worse than any point this season!


Julie and I watched House of Flying Daggers which was recently released on DVD, and it was terrific. This is a movie by the director of Hero, and was just as grand in scale and visuals. It also prominently features Zhang Ziyi who is, for my money, the most talented actress alive in the entire world today. At least that I've seen. Julie absolutely loved the movie as well, which was good because I think I might've still been in trouble for Sin City, which she didn't like so much.

Philly Sports

The Phillies have scored three runs in the last three games. The Soul lost again and Graziani threw two more interceptions. And the Sixers lost game one of their 2005 NBA playoff "run" on Saturday.. at one point they were up by 12, but managed to lose by more than 20.

In other words, it was business as usual.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Bee Invasion

It's tough not to get caught up in the hype of spring. Flowers are blooming, the days are warm, the nights are longer, and baseball is being played at ballparks everywhere.. heck, this year I tried on my shorts from last spring, and they still fit, which is a small achievement in and of itself.

But it also means two other things:
1) Sunburn
2) Bugs

You'd think sunburn would be easy enough to avoid by remembering to wear sunblock, but I burned my scalp so badly a week ago that I'm still peeling. I look like I'm in a dandruff commercial and using "Brand X". "Wear a hat" they tell me, but there are some places where you just can't do that.. and besides, I got the sunburn on a day I WAS wearing a hat most of the time.

The bugs usually don't bother me much either, but this year there are what appear to me to be an excessive number of bees. There are so many of them flying around outside of my 4th floor apartment that they are bumping into each other. They also enjoy flying into the window, making a nice THUD as they do so. I woke up in horror this morning to the sound of "THUD... THUD... THUD"... it was like a Hitchcock movie.

But these are small complaints.. if the universe were a restaurant, I'd note them in the suggestion box, but I wouldn't stop coming to eat.