Monday, October 29, 2007

A tale of bad documentation - Part 2

In part 1 I discussed a real life story of bad documentation wasting peoples time. In part 2 I provide an update and some notes on the more human side of this all.

After some correspondence on the mailing lists, I submitted a documentation patch. There might an iteration or two of changes to that, but I expect it to make it into the final product (the website) in short order.

All in all its been a mostly positive experience as far as interacting with people. The people on the list were pretty helpful and quite responsive. However, the tools were a bit obtuse. I'm hoping to be able to help fix that fir future releases.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Observations on Parking Tickets

I get many parking tickets. This comes from growing up in an area where you could park on the street 24/7, but in my adult life having to drive to areas with things like alternate side of the street parking.

First a definition of alternate side of the street parking. Basically in New York City, neighboring Jersey City, and I'm sure many other urban areas, certain areas where you can park on the street have signs where once or twice a week you cannot park on that side of the street for a certain time period. The times are arranged so that if you cannot part your car on one side of the street today, you cannot park your car on the other side tomorrow. Hence the name alternate side of the street parking.

The reason for this is to designate a time period that the street cleaning trucks can clean the street. The penalty for failing to move your car is of course a parking ticket. Also, if they actually clean the streets that day, you get a sticker on your windshield letting you know that the streets are dirty because of you. In addition to all of this are of course areas you just cannot park during weekday daytime hours because the extra lane is needing for moving cars or the area is designated no standing except for commercial vehicles. Violating those signs means getting towed.

I've received several parking tickets, and gotten towed once. I've never gotten a sticker on my windshield, but did once watch a street cleaning truck drive around my car and quickly moved it before someone came to apply the sticker and write the ticket. I've even gotten towed once. These I can all attest to personal irresponsibility However, there is one ticket I attribute to personnel responsibility.

I was hanging out at a bar that was then called Central Ales in Valley Stream. The location of the building is shown below.

View Larger Map

While I was there, a couple of friends I don't see often showed up. They said they would give me a ride home and my friend the manager said he would give me a ride to my car in the AM. So I did a few shots of Jagar and hung out for a few hours before being dropped off at my residence.

The next day I saw a pink slip on my windshield. It said my crime was parking between the hours of 03:30 and 05:30. The merits of such a law on quality of life is questionable to me. Then again I find the concept of wanting to forbid parking on the street for the sake of forbiding it quite elitist. Generally it means people can park on the street to visit homes and residences, but need to secure a private parking spot if they reside there. Of course, the way the law is written, the main culprits are those that frequent bars in the area, and the law has the unintended consequence of encouraging drunk driving. Now in addition to having to go back and get my car the next day, and pay for a cab, I have to pay a ticket if I decide that I had too much to drink and want to do the right thing.

I never paid the ticket, but that is another story. I should have fought the ticket, because I feel so strongly about the law being wrong in this instance that I should have made my feelings public record.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A tale of bad documentation

I am a programmer by day for a small software company. By night I write open source software. I guess I like to program.

I once submitted a patch to an open source program called XML Copy Editor. It was small. Soon afterwards I volunteered to perform a small task and was given developer access to the source repository. I continue to correspond with the developer although I've only made that one original change to the programs source code.

My latest non code contribution was helping the author replace MSXML with Xerces on Windows. I originally expected to have to fight with Xerces, but by dumb luck the first thing I tried worked after a bit of tinkering. The reason that the programs author had trouble using Xerces on windows was not because of bad code or bad make files. It was because of bad documentation.

Because of bad documentation many hours were wasted by him that could have been dedicated to making XML Copy Editor better, or any other task he chose to spend his leisure time on. Because of bad documentation XML Copy Editor has fewer features than it could have. Because of bad documentation I am writing this post.

Now I decided to allow some good come out of this situation. As you all know, I decided to use this as a lesson delivered by the blog article you now read. In addition, I shared my story with the Xerces-C developers mailing list and offered to correct the situation.

Now if you read my email and the documentation I refer to, you will probably come to the conclusion that the documentation is quite good, except for this one oversite. You would be correct. However, the oversite was for common usage scenario, and caused significant harm to one developer and his user base in terms of wasted time. Since the documentation fails to cover the usage senario I care about, the documentation fails to address my needs. Therefore I could have been alienated by the documentations small oversite.

Lessons in Investing

Today I met with a financial adviser from David Lerner. I decided that I will not be using them as investment advisers. This is the third adviser I have interviewed so far.

I was actually late for my appointment. I was supposed to meet with him at 5:30 but got stuck at work late and forgot about it. I say David Lerner on the caller id of my office landline and believe I greeted the man with "Hi, oh crap sorry." I felt pretty bad I felt from the beginning this would not be the firm I went with as they tend to be very conservative and I am 26 years old.

I am greeted by a security guard who escorts me to a client meeting room. On my way in I pass by Mr Lerner myself and am a bit awestruck to stand face to face with a man who I've only seen on a website and heard on the radio. My impression of this man from a short meeting is that it would suit his ego nicely to have others awestruck by him. However, he will probably be upset when he learns tomorrow that I said no.

Mr. Lerner says I look lost, and I later found out he probably had mistaken me for an under dressed telemarketer under his employ. When the guard said I was a client he said then your definitely not lost. I explained I was a potential client and he said he owned socks older than me. His employees addressed his as Mr. Lerner and he oozed fiscal conservatism. He was the foil of the archetype coke head day trader.

My potential advisor sat me down asked me what I do and what my goal was. I explained I was a programmer and being young I was looki9ng for a little more risk than his average client. He then sat me down and showed me three of his companies products. First he shows me a REIT fund. Its all local US based stuff, most in the region, and places anyone in the area would have heard of. Not great returns at all, but I assume good for a reit fund. I really haven't looked at reit funds at all so I can comment. He then offers me the fund of the moment, the Large Cap domestic. These return numbers were in the range of 13%. He then shows me one of their guaranteed income products. It involves investing in Marriott properties and basically you get a guaranteed rate of return of 8% with some reasonable rules.

This is when I started talking. I said I would not want to invest in a reit, as its a buyers market,. I said the large cap was a bit to conservative as the last investor I talked to showed me one with an 18% return and I knew someone that used him and I knew this was typical of what he actually recommends Finally I said that 8% is far too low for what I want.

In the end I thanked him for his time and walked out. This was what I expected, but I didn't quite expect the events to fold in exactly this way. I informed the advisor of my age, income, etc and he should have realized that there was no need to offer me the 8% interest product. He could have offered me multiple large caps, and he should have offered me something high risk for diversity. It was a great pitch of I was 50, but not for a man of 26.

So whats the lesson learned here? Know your potential customer. Then again, maybe I'm the one that needs to learn a lesson. Maybe the lesson is when your David Lerner, and you build your business on fiscal conservatism, you rather turn away clients younger than your socks than risk your established customer base.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

This time you might be wrong Ms. Acres.

So apparently a blogger called Ryan Holiday documented and justified his road rage, and Ms. Acres called him a self centered brat. I think in this particular case she might be right, but she does not see the whole picture.

I drive really fast. I run red lights. I'm a stupid youth that thinks I'm invincible. This is where I attempt to justify it.

First of all I speed for sport. I speed all the time, and I tend not to speed more when I am in a rush. My driving style is largely mood based and really has little to do with how late I am running.

I think this makes me safer than the "I'm in a hurry let me hit the gas" type in that I take the same level of calculated risks in a given situation. I don't push it.

Now here is my take on someone driving slow in the left lane being socially irresponsible. No in reality its not worse than murder, pedophilia, killing Jews, or whatever. However, let me tell you a few of my driving stories.

My First Accident

My first accident happened a few days after I got my license. I was waiting to go through the toll booth of the Tapanzee bridge. I noticed a few miles before that I did not have my wallet in my pocket and thought I might have left it at a rest stop. I was searching in a panic for it on line for the toll booth and accidentally let my for off the brake and scratched the bumper of a brand new Camry. The driver insisted on going through insurance even though the trooper even said it was a bad idea and since it was less than $500 dollars worth of damage and he was not under an obligation to file a damage report if both parties agreed. She wanted to go through insurance.

Naturally I felt guilty damaging another drivers car, but honestly I felt a lot more guilty about jamming up traffic in that tool lane for 5 minutes.

Learning Stick Shift

I always wanted to learn stick shift. So I bought a brand new Corolla that I planned to burn the clutch of in my companies parking lot on a Saturday. A kind friend offered to teach me to minimize damage. So I drove around a park until he said give it a go on real roads. I got nervous in my first intersection and delayed alot of people in cars behind me. During this time I felt it was quite selfish for me to want to learn stick shift. I drove around some more and now I am good enough not to burden the other drivers on the road.

Jersey City Bus Stops

Across the Hudson river from Manhattan is a place called Jersey City. Image the Bronx if it were a New Jersey Municipality. This is Jersey City. They even have their own subway system to Manhattan called the PATH Train.

I've been unfortunate enough to have to spend significant time in Jersey City. If it wasn't for my sworn duty as a New Yorker to have nothing but bad things to say about the Garden State, I would say a few good things about it. However this story is about something that pisses me off greatly.

In NYC people don't park in bus stops. We double park and occasionally block hydrants, but would never park in a bus stop. This is mainly because you will get towed. However, as a huge proponent of public transportation, I consider such an act morally reprehensible.

In Jersey City this is just not the case. Running into the pizza shop at 8pm? Just park in the bus stop no one cares. Granted there is a huge parking problem in Jersey City, and while you can rent a spot in someones driveway or empty lot, unless you are downtown or by the waterfront, there are no lots to buy a parking space for a day from.

This is why I came to the conclusion a while back that if I am ever was a mayor or local legislator, I would decree that whoever was found parking in a bus stop would have to spend the night in jail. This is how reprehensible I feel about the crime. Its not even a self centered thing. When I ride the bus, having to step twelve feet into the street does not inconvenience me. When I drive, I really don't mind getting stuck behind a bus as I am a big fan of taking buses. However, parking in a bus lane just shows a lack of caring for society at large in my opinion.


This Ryan is angry and aggressive and needs to grow up. He either exaggerates when he describes the anger of being behind a slow driver, or Ms. Acres is absolutely correct in her assertions that he is completely self centered. However, maybe, just maybe he has a similar thought practice as mine, and just wrote that post while still angry. Maybe he is absolutely guilt stricken, when others suffer for his actions. Then again I didn't read any other articles in his blog, so I am not in a position to back up these theories.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Predicting Reaction to Ms. Acres and her Response

In her latest post, Ms. Acres talks about how she is ok with how she looks and hates the fact that most women aren't. No doubt she is generating a buzz for her apparent contradiction with her posts where she makes fun of fat chicks. However, it is not.

If you read her posts you realize what she hates is sloth, and self pitty. In her faq, she claims fat men are more acceptable because they tend to be jolly.

Also, one can be physically fit and have bad ankles and wrinkly foreheads. That is of course unless your ankles are ugly because of a total lack of muscle development.

Sensationalism in the media.

I site here watching the News Channel 4 at & in NYC Tonight. As usual there is a story that is teased throughout the broadcast that is one of the last stories shown.

This one seems like a first amendment issue to the uneducated, but is not. However, there might be federal fair housing laws that are applicable. I'm not quire sure of the constitutional validity of these laws, but I'm pretty sure most federal laws these days are unconstitutional.

The issue is a co-op board banned religions statues in residents front yards. A co-op board is a private organization, and therefore may make any sort of rules it wants to. They can erect a giant burning cross or a statue of Xenu, and any lawsuit based on the first amendment regarding the matter would not make it anywhere near the US Supreme Court.

I believe in religious freedom. Part of that is allowing people and private organizations to express religions views, or lack of religious views. Personally, I don't believe in going out of my way to not offend people. So I would not want to be a part of this co-op board. However, I don't exactly I'm co-op material in general.

So while I don't support this decision, I support the co-ops bord right to make it.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Camera's in the Supreme Court

Recently Clarence Thomas has published a book called My Grandfather's Son, a book in which he tells the story of being raised by his grandfather. I've yet to read it, but I plan to. However, I heard most of an interview he gave to his former supreme court clerk, Laura Ingram as part of his promotional tour.

One of the topics he is asked about in the interview is cameras in the supreme court. He said he does not see a benefit to the process from them, and therefore would not place them in the court room.

This bothers me. I'm a fan of transparency in process, for government and the private sector. I've contributed to wikipedia, and make an effort to always do so while logged in. My behavior online generally occurs while logged in. I encourage others to do likewise, and to publish their work on the internet, especially when they think its of no value.

Thats not to say that I do not support privacy. I accept the necessity of Wikipedia's allowing anonymous edits. I hope to never be compelled to edit wikipedia anonymously, but cherish my ability to do so if necessary. While I store a large amount of data on googles various services including gmail, this blog, and my entire search history. I'm a fan of allowing court records to be sealed after punishment is served. I also have plenty of my own secrets that I attempt to limit knowledge of.

I feel he is asking the wrong question. If it were my decision, the question I would I would ask would be, "Would having cameras in the Supreme Court hurt the process of judicial review that occurs there?" Also if so, why? If a court is afraid to reveal its process, that is cause for alarm.

I don't refer to the "closed door meetings" that are necessary in any dealing making process. People have to be allowed to caucus. Small subgroups have to be able to reach consensuses to sell the idea to the group at large. However, I feel that the actual process of lawyers arguing their briefs should be a matter of public record.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Musing on healthcare

Last week I had a sore throat. I believe it was strep. I will never know for sure though.

See I'm not a fan of sick days. I pride myself on not taking them. I found a walk in clinic on Wednesday that I thought I would be able to make it to after work. I was not able to. So I decided Thursday to make an appointment with my physician.

My physician is actually an APN. Her name is Emma. She works in a practice under the supervision of a Doctor. The first time I went to this office I was given Emma. My experience was good so I always request Emma when I sign the clip board when I go there. Of course I've been there about three times in 5 years, twice in the same month, so it would be wrong to call her my regular primary health care professional in any other sense than she is the one I would go to if I went to the doctor for checkups.

They had no appointments available that day. Friday's I work from my girlfriends house and the distance prohibits me from seeing Emma that day. So I call a doctor's office in my girlfriends neighborhood I used once.

The doctor himself picks up. His receptionists apparenty stepped out. I ask to make an appointment on Friday. He claims he is closed on Friday but can fit me in today, Thursday. I say that is not possible for me. I inform im I believe I have strep throat so I ask him to recommend a walk in clinic of some sort where I can get the back of my throat swabbed. He asked if I had ever been to him. I say yes and he says he will have an antibiotic and a cough suppressant prescription sent to the local Walgreens for me to pickup. He then gives me the standard "are you allergic too?" litany of questions. Other than my concern for overuse of antibiotics I'm quite happy with this arrangement. The only negative is that the cough suppressant contains codeine and therefore is only good to me during the nighttime if I wish to function.

So this got me thinking of health care. Being I am in the last developed country in the world to my knowledge that has something resembling free market health care and I am a die hard capitalist, I do this a lot.

The big question is why can I not just buy a strep throat test like a pregnancy test. Its a simple enough idea. Sell the things that the doctor uses to the general public over the counter. Their disposable and benign. If I don't have a strep throat I save a visit to the doctors and everyone besides the doctor wins. Being doctors are just powerless cogs in the health care machine, there is no one in power that would stop this.

Secondly I got thinking about the cost of drugs. The problem with the cost of drugs is that pharmacies have greatly varying prices, and doctors don't have any idea what the drugs they prescribe actually cost, and prescribe whatever the drug sales rep pushes for them. I think the doctor that wrote me a prescription over the phone is not a victim of this. The cough suppressant appeared to be a generic and the antibiotic was. Also the cost for both at Walgreens before I gave them my insurance card was $69.99. Thats hardly what I would call unfordable health care.

Finally I was reminded of one of the greatest quandaries of health care I have ever had.

When I was a child, my health care was provided by a team of pediatricians at a relatively large office. There were 3-5 doctors employed by this practice at any given time. So it was small enough where my doctor knew me, but large enough where they could have a small lab onsite. One of the things in this lab was a centrifuge for doing bloodwork. I knew my cholesterol within 15 minutes of getting pricked when my parents took me for a checkup. However, when I had strep, my parents would get called a few days later after they looked at the culture.

Fast forward to adolescence. I went to a general practitioner, this was not Emma but another doctor. Most of the other patients were at least 30 years older than me. First time I had strep I knew right away. But she sent blood tests out to a lab so I had to call to get results.

This has always bothered me. Unless my switching physicians coincided exactly with the invention of the quick strep test, there was no reason for my pediatrician to still use the petri dishes. The new tests were faster and required no capital investment. You buy tests and you buy swab. Both are disposable items. Now my general practitioner, probably had more patients with high cholesterol than my pediatrician. Could she not afford a few grand for a centrifuge machine to be able to get people instant results.