Archive for category Somewhat Random


So I’ve been sloppy again and not updating the site.

Without further ado:

Kindle 21) Safari Online was a little bit of a disappointment. I like the selection, the price is reasonable, the searchable formats are wonderful, the ability to cut and paste example code is stellar. So why disappointing? I don’t use it. My reading is usually in the evening. I want to be able to sit back in the easy chair and read. My laptop is fairly comfortable but staring at a bright back-lit screen is most certainly not. It’s just so much more comfortable to pick up a good old tree-based book and read that. Some of the advantages are still there. If I find something in my book, I can easily cut and paste it from Safari Online but now I’m basically just using Safari as a quick digital copy for all the books that I already have. Bleh… Not worth it. What would make it worth it? If the Kindle-gods worked with O’Reilly to make the entire Safari Online site browseable using your Kindle. I would buy it. I would pay extra. I would make a weekly pilgrimage to the Amazon headquarters. It would be great. But they don’t. Furthermore, from what I’ve heard, on the software side, Kindle doesn’t do tables, mono-space fonts, and some other things that really are  almost required in order to read a technical programming/development related book.

StackOverflow2) Work has been busy. C/C++ has been pretty minimal… I’m getting much  more comfortable with memory management issues and have been pleasantly surprised to see that most C++ code that I dig up out there basically looks like mine. I’m still definitely not an expert at decrypting some of the C++ deep magic code that I’ve seen, but then again, I bet the authors of most of that stuff don’t even understand it anymore.  C# has been a mixed bag. I’ve really enjoyed getting into the “new” features of 3.0 and 3.5 which I had been neglecting until recently. A lot of time spent on Stack Overflow has helped get m e up to speed with Linq and some of the other fun new language features. Generators, extension methods, anonymous functions… it’s all sorts of fun.

3) I’ve been able to watch as the value of various investments that I can’t easily cash out of has continued to dwindle. Thankfully, much of what I did have invested in long-term investments I was able to move to much less volatile funds but it’s still been rough. On the bright side, the end of the world may be near as the Mayan calendar has it set to 2012. Obama would have the rare privilege of being the final President and (also on the bright side) wouldn’t have to worry about his legacy as no one would care how big the national budget is at that point. Also, this would save me a lot of frustration with the whole Social Security thing. One can only hope…

iTaliban4) Wife has been busy with her business. She’s continued to embroider like crazy. I’ve been trying to push her to do more since she’s only pregnant with 3 boys under 5 at home. 🙂 She tells me that some day she may expand her business but not now. I think she’s in a good situation. On NPR (motto: Unbiased news since 1970 or whenever it was we started getting funded by liberals!)  there was an interview with a business owner in the same general “baby products” market. Her remark was that the “economic crisis” we’re experiencing will likely drive a baby boom as people’s lives and schedules slow down and more time is spent at home. But hopefully the economy picks up soon so they can afford overpriced baby products for their new brood. I got her a new iPhone so that she can become more of a geek. She really isn’t nearly geeky enough and it bothers me. I was interested to see that even the Taliban are getting in on the iPhone action (see picture).

Time precludes further updates.

…Will write more later…

, , , , ,


Variable Naming

Some in computer programming have insisted on using the prefix is for all boolean data types. I’ve been bumping against this lately. I think it’s silly. It’s a form of Hungarian notation which seems unnecessary considering that the compiler/interpreter in almost all cases will help us deal with type issues. For readabilities’ sake, wouldn’t it make sense to name something what it represents? For example, if the boolean variable represents the state of being done, I suppose isDone may be an OK name. But if it represents the state of something that may or may not have been done 3 years ago, a better name might be wasDone. What if we want special checking to take place if a flag is set? Should that flag be called isCheck? It seems silly — maybe shouldCheck would work. What if we’re talking about ownership or class relationship. isChild works as a name to indicate class relation, but hasChildren is a perfectly logical name to define the inverse relationship. I saw a few places that advocate the use of helping verbs (have, has, had, do, does, did, shall, should, will, would, may, might, can, could, and must) or verbs of being (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, and been) to prefix these names. This makes sense. However, we speak English and sometimes in English we drop helping verbs (think of did for example). Is something.didSucceed better or worse than something.succeeded? There are numerous similar examples.

I think in the end, naming variables to make them readable is much more important than following some convention. Or perhaps I should rephrase that: the convention we ought to follow is the convention of written English, not some tightly defined arbitrary subset.

, ,

1 Comment

Driving me Crazy

Road to America by Macindow

One thought for alleviating some of the tension in driving:

Imagine each driver on the road around you is your mother.

Really, people — it feels better to drive places and not get there as quickly as you can because you took the time to treat others with courtesy.

, ,


George Orwell on Writing

Not that I follow these rules, but I’ve had this excerpt kicking around for a while in my notes and figured I’d post it somewhere I could reflect on it:

  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never us a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

“These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article”*

From George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”, 1946.

*To see the full context of what he was talking about, you can take a look at the entire essay here.

, ,

1 Comment

How I feel at work these days…

I’ve had a heck of a time staying productive this week. I don’t think that it’s been helping that I’ve been trying to do a lot things on the side. But something about this week felt different. I have clearly defined tasks but I’ve been procrastinating an awful lot more than usual. I tend to have 25 things to do and continually shuffle the top 5 things. I finish them and instead of hitting things farther down the list I substitute the most interesting next 5 things that I can do. So a backlog is typical. My problem is that recently I’ve been feeling guilty about tasks way down in the 20’s and spend a lot of my “free” time trying to focus on that.  So instead of knocking out high-priority tasks, I’ve been ineffectively working on low-priority things.

I tend to mix my personal goals, chores, continuing education, and regular  work all into the same priority pile. I find it hard to segment it any other way. Unfortunately that means that at the office sometimes I’ll blow time on things that aren’t work related meaning that now I have to work evenings, stay late, take vacation, etc. This would ideal if I was working as a consultant and could make my own hours. I’ve never felt like I needed a boss to motivate me and enjoyed the shorter-term goals of contract work and the variety of experience that they innevitably demand.

Here’s a list of things that I’d like out of work:

  1. I’d really like to be able to work with companies and individuals that need services that I can offer.
  2. I’d like to be able to excel in providing these services to the point that my value is clearly seen.
  3. I’d like my work to offer me the opportunity to be creative — not simply implementing known entities.
  4. I’d like to be location-agnostic for much of my work (i.e. telecommuting should be an option for 90% of the time).
  5. I’d like the project sizes to be such that I can cycle to new projects or new clients every 6 months.

As a software engineer, I feel much more like a [traditional brick-and-mortar] architect than a manufacturer or general contractor. What I do should be bigger than simply implementing a known solution — it should be validating, improving, and refining a requirement and then implementing an innovative solution that may be somewhat unexpected. I know that’s a lot of buzz-words, but it seems accurate. I don’t want to help people install Microsoft Word on their computers, I want to help them think about the problems of word processing, document management, collaborative editing, world-wide publishing, and the myriad of associated goals and put whatever solution in place that makes sense for them (hopefully it’s not Microsoft Word).

Anyway, enough angst-filled longing for today.

…Back to the ever-fun-and-exciting C++ experience…

, , ,


Following my nose…

Heading home for the evening after another stressful day. The work isn’t terrible but it can be oppresive doing the same thing too many times in a row. I sit in my car cruising at 64 mph down I-405. It’s an early Fall evening about 7:02pm. The HOV lane has just opened to all traffic so I pull over. My car just hit a decade and has that not entirely pleasant old-car smell. A mixture of Lysol, dust, plastic, and ancient French fries still stuck under the seat. Lysol dominates the smells, trying to hide the others. It reminds me of the smell of hospitals; somewhat sterile but not quite masking the unpleasantness beneath. The radio is playing another boring song. I would turn on something but I haven’t updated my iPod with anything recent in a while and I don’t feel focused enough to listen to a lecture. It’s getting cool fast as the sun is going down and I have a hard time adjusting the air to not be too cold or too warm. Finally I crack my window.

Something changes. The subtlety of the smells that assault me is arresting. “Smells” is a terrible word — the scents, the aromas, the feel of the night that I can’t see and can’t touch. It’s Fall; I smell the trees — you always smell the trees here at night — but it’s richer than usual. I also pick up one of the first wood-smoke smells of the year. There’s something about the mixture of the coniferous trees (a constant here) and the now, barely-turning deciduous trees. It’s a faint scent of decay but a decay that’s all part of the life-cycle for these trees. It doesn’t smell of death, it smells of change, of transition, of eventual transformation. None of this is new — I’ve experienced it before but not for a year. I’ve forgotten — completely forgotten what a joy this is.

As I head by the Kirkland exits I see two colorful hot air balloons hanging low over the valley. They’re catching the light as the sun is setting. I consider trying to take a picture. I stop myself — why bother? There’s something in this setting I could never recreate. It’s not the look of the thing, it’s the environment, it’s the sensations I’m feeling as I look at this. A picture is about as inane as purchasing a Yankee Candle called “Northwest Nights”. It simply cannot compare.

It’s 7:16 as I come up on Bellevue. Bits and pieces of scents are still recognizable but as traffic picks up and the large diesel semi’s roll by I’m confronted with too many unpleasant, harsh, mechanical smells. This is a city and the trees can’t compete here with the concrete and glass and perpetual productivity. This smell of progress might mean good things for the economy but it’s not welcome right now. Too much of today was spent focusing on producing, expanding, producing. I hurry past.

It’s still built-up here but the trees are back. I catch fragmented aromas from restaurants — I can’t possibly recognize the detail but some of it is familiar. Little shards of memories in my brain are activated as my olfactory receptors bind with the incoming molecules. For me, my sense of smell has always produced the most distinctive memories. In our world of digital photos, streaming video, and iPods, it’s easy to cloud old memories through constant re-stimulation as we dig through our old albums, watch the same movie again or up that play count on our favorite song. I have no words for the smells I’m experiencing. I’m like a mute wine connoisseur trying to express not just the relative goodness or badness, but trying to define the thing. It seems impossible. How can I be smelling wood smoke that reminds me of specific memories from when I was 6 when I have no idea what type of wood, how this smell differs from the myriad of others, or why this particular memory has become so ingrained with this smell? A segment of the odor gamut (such as the broad category of all smoke smells) doesn’t map to a correlating range of memories but is instead somewhat chaotically tied to various random memories. The relationship seems one-way: I can’t pull up a memory and re-imagine the odor. Only the other way around.

It’s 7:27 as I sweep through the Renton “S-curves”. This isn’t the first night that I’ve escaped into this fragrant world and I know what to expect here. Somewhere in the valley just south of Lake Washington there must be a coffee production plant. The smells are heavenly. I’ve always liked the smell of coffee but something about the intensity that I’m experiencing is so much greater. Momentarily as I continue driving along the highway, the trees, the grass, the smells of the highway itself are all gone and replaced by this warm smell that pervades everything.

My head feels light and I realize I’m hyperventilating through my nose as I try to take it all in. With a pang of loss, the scents retreat and I switch my attention back to driving as I wrap around the Valley Highway clover-leaf ramp and head south down the valley.

Did I say that the coffee was my favorite part? The valley has its own pleasures. With limited agricultural intermixed with large warehouses in the valley I move away from the hilly, rocky, mountain smells of the massive conifers and now pick up wafts of grass, small patches of crops. I distinctly smell pumpkins as I drive past: one of the smells that I know distinctly but experience infrequently enough to still have it remain far from ordinary. A field of cows causes a burst of synapses as many memories flood through my consciousness. Not the most pleasant scent but it’s not about that — the memories — it’s the memories which are making this so extraordinary.

Puyallup is only a few miles away now. More deciduous trees here and that early-Fall, mildewy smell rolls in again. It’s a bit colder now and the left side of my face feels slightly numb from the constant exposure to the turbulent wind through the window. I briefly roll the windows up and turn the heat on. I regret it instantly. The blast of burning dust and filtered engine smells wipes everything. I’m warm now but everything starts disconnecting and the memories fade out. I drop the windows again and turn the heat off. This is worth the cold.

As I dodge traffic up South Hill and hit the exit ramp, I realize that this is coming to an end. With the decrease in speed and the noisy, exhaust-laden traffic on Meridian I’ll barely be able to differentiate anything. I roll the windows up again and turn on the radio. Appropriately, a sad song is playing. I commiserate with the artist as I head due south down Meridian. When I take a left on 136th I realize I have one last unpolluted mile. I enjoy the smell of horses from the one remaining farm on the road, faint but still there. Nestled so close to the homes around me, I can smell the dinners of families. Some good, some not so good, but all with that unique signature. I don’t know if I’ve eaten any of the meals but they remind me of so many dinners growing up.

It’s 7:56. Finally, I’m home. The trip is over and I have to end this now. I roll into the garage, grab my bag and head in. And then it hits me. The best scent of them all — it’s that eerily unique smell of your own house. Work was rough but tonight, God is good.

I’m home.



Personal Blogging

Edit: This blog has grown! I have now added my associate, anonymously referred to as CoderGuy who will be adding posts related to identity, online security, and other privacy issues as well as technology in general. So, faithful readers, not all posts on this site are written by me! You should see the author at the bottom of each post. Hope you enjoy! And now, without further ado…

I am, by nature, a paranoid person; I lock my computer screen when I use the bathroom, in my own house! I have passwords on everything; mail, finances, personal directories, etc. I lock my car in my garage and when I get gas, I shred everything, even it it only has my name on it. OK, so maybe I am an extreme case (I am sure psychologists would have a field day with me), but that isn’t the purpose of this post. The thing is, I actually have no reason to be this way, I don’t do anything that I wouldn’t want anyone to know about, and am not in the witness protection program, I was just raised in an environment that personal things are personal, and if you want to keep them that way, you don’t invite others in.

I have been using the net almost since Al Gore created it (circa 1990) when you had to use comic book inspired apps in Windows 3.1 to get files and documents (remember Archie, Veronica, Jughead, and Gopher (Gopher? Where’s Betty!?)) and I spend way too much time surfing. I spend most of my time on news sites and technical sites, including technical related blogs. It wasn’t until recently that I started looking at some personal blogs and thinking about becoming a little more social.

I am finding that I am both intrigued and perplexed at the level of personal stuff I have seen on some blogs; pictures, names, details of honeymoons, information about family stuff I wouldn’t share with my own family, yet, people seem to be fine with this amount of information sharing. Being an ultra paranoid person as I am, all I can think of is while I read some of these posts is, “Are you crazy? Telling people that?”

Along my path of discovery, I have found that I am not completely paranoid, as I have seen stories of stalkers, people getting fired for their blog posts, people not getting hired because of their blog posts, even suicides and murders. So maybe a little paranoia is a good thing.

So my question is this; what is a good balance between too paranoid and too open? Are there others that feel as I do or do the majority of people think I am just way too cautious?

I am interested in getting some other opinions and comments.

1 Comment

Tag. I’m it.

I normally do not participate in this sort of thing. But this one is a little bit more interesting and I have precious little information about myself on this blog. So when my lil’ sister Alison “tagged” me to write up 7 random things about me, I’ve decided I’ll actually do it. I’ve made it slightly more interesting (scary?) by making them things that I’d not terribly proud of about myself.

7 Random Things About Me That I Don’t Normally Admit

1. I’m red/green colorblind. My wife (and my oldest kid) are incredibly color oriented. I’ve wondered many times if my wife has tetrachromacy. This random fact is one that is used to the infinite amusement of family and friends as in “Hey, what color does the carpet look like? What about the blinds? Wow! That’s weird!”. Please stop — thank you.

2. I’m a terrible cook. This has not stopped me from trying. I’d like to take this time to apologize to my family especially and the close friends that I have caused to suffer. I assure you, my intent is delicious food.

3. I have a dream… that one day I will be an author. I don’t feel particularly gifted nor do I have anything particular interesting to share with the world but I think that it would be fun to work from home all the time, wake up late, and write off trips to exotic places as business expenses. I’ve also considered writing technical books like those in the O’Reilly series. Most of the authors write terrible drivel so my title would fit nicely. (By the way, I like O’Reilly better than any other tech-book publisher — I just think most of the authors are better coders than writers).

4. I like ABBA (the dance/pop group). I’m sorry Sarah.

5. On a related note, I have taught my oldest son to dance. I’m sorry Patrick. Very sorry.

6. I think that binary is really cool. I fantasize that I have an audience who cares about me explaining it to them. In fact, I regularly “test the waters” by attempting to explain base n number systems to those around me. This explains why I rarely get party invitations.

7. Speaking of numbers, I like them a lot and try to memorize them. I still know one of my good friend’s Social Security Numbers (Sam, you should have NEVER let me get near your wallet) and I can assure you that the largest size of a signed, 32-bit integer is 2,147,483,647. They’re fun. I’m worse with numbers and letters together (as in license plates) but I’m trying to hone my skills (my brother said he knew/heard of someone who could keep a queue of 7 or so in his head while driving — I’m not there yet, but I practice regularly.)

Supposedly I should “tag” others but I don’t like the idea — people shouldn’t be forced to share. If you’re in some way influenced to share about yourself by reading this post, just let me know and I’ll link to it. There — that’s nicer.

, ,

1 Comment

My Hobby

Giving my fuel economy in rods per hogheads.

Thankfully Google does the conversion for you!


1 Comment

The Horseshoe Crab

Here’s something I didn’t know until recently: Pharmaceutical companies rely heavily on horseshoe crab blood to ensure that their products are bacteria free.

Horseshoe Crab

Here’s some other interesting things I learned:

1) Their blood is pale yellow or white and turns blue when exposed to air.

2) A single crab can be worth $2,500 over its lifetime for periodic blood extraction.

3) Although kind of freaky looking, they’re completely harmless to humans.

4) Horseshoe crabs possess the rare ability to regrow lost limbs.

5) Although not yet an endangered creature, horseshoe crab populations are declining.

Here’s the Wikipedia article, a neat article on the medical uses, and a nice general information site.