Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A (hopefully) short-winded post on my long-windedness

I tend to be long winded in my written and spoken works. I just published a post on another blog. What will probably never get posted is the article I stopped writing before starting that one. The unpublished article amounts to a preface to the article I published. The only reason it is not deleted is I am an unapologetic packrat.

This over-prefacing is quite typical of me. I need to address it. Knowing to stop writing a post just as I am getting to the point, so I can start a new article that "gets to the point," is a good strategy. Maybe one day I will publish something on a blog, and later publish my "overprefacing" as the back story.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Batteries, the tires of laptops

As mentioned before, I drive a 2005 Toyota Corolla. In addition to being the car I learned to drive a manual on, it is also my first new car. Before that had a 92 shadow and a 94 Sable. Both were given to me.

I dumped a lot of money into the Shadow and the Sable. I've dumped less in the Corolla, if you don't count oil changes.

One conclusion I've come to is that you can't count tire maintenance as part of maintenance. Well you can certainly factor in tire wear, and the costs of special tires, if your tires are not of a standard size and mounted on steel wheels. I'm talking about the cost of repairing flats and dented rims and steel wheels.

Flats can happen to anyone, as can dented rims. The frequency of such a happening depending more on what roads (or lack of) roads you drive on than anything else. There also pretty self contained damage. Sure there can be some strain put on the axle, but unless you ride for miles on a flat, this is hardly noticeable.

The conclusion of this observation is I will rarely consider getting a new car as opposed to replacing its tires. The car would have to be truly on its last legs. A busted hose that I would fix myself would put me into the "maybe its time for a new car" train of though before 4 new tires and a steel wheel.

The same is true of laptop batteries. I was recently given a G4 by someone. I spent $119 for a new battery for it. I did not think twice about the cost of getting a new laptop. Sure part of the appeal of it was "full size laptop with netbook battery life," and the cost comparisons to low end laptops go out the window if you only compare Macs to it. But laptop batteries are strange things. They die at irregular intervals. They are expensive to replace, but third parties often make slightly better performing batteries for the same price. This is especially true of older laptops simply because the third party will put newer more efficient power cells in battery cases designed for older laptops.

So my conclusion is always buy a new battery for your laptop. If you don't think you need a battery, buy yourself a desktop. They make small energy efficient ones that use effecient 2.5" hard drives and laptop CPUs.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Back in the New York Groove

Time for a personal announcement. August 19 2009 at around 18:00 I handed in my laptop for my last day of work with the company I had been with for 2 years 4 months and three days. The next day, a Thursday I started at my new company, walking distance from Penn station.

It was a good run with the company. My main reason for leaving is a job in Bohemia. NY is not practical for a man who lives in queens and has a girlfriend who lives in Jersey City, NJ. The new company is definitely larger, and my role is more front end based than my old job.

The new company is larger than my old company. The people I have met so far are intelligent, and passionate about what they do. I look forward to growing with the new company.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

NeatUpload is Neat

NeatUpload is an ASP.NET component that performs http post uploads while displaying a progress bar. This seemingly simply task is actually hard to get right.

I used this once for a site that never launched. The entire site was written in PHP, but I made the upload page in ASP.NET simply because NeatUpload was the only tool I could find at the time to do the job. I exposed my PHP business layer via a web service, and let this one ASP.NET app handle the uploading of large files. The ASP.NET page actually ran on mono, which was not a problem since NeatUpload was originally a mono app.

If I had to upload files again in a PHP app I would probable give swfupload a try. However, NeatUpload is definitely my tool of choice for uploading 

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I want to be a Programmer Aristocrat

This past Friday night I was reading a story in the Wall Street Journal about the late Brooke Astor and the legal drama of her estate. It mentioned that if her son's wife gains control of her fortune, many charities will stop receiving her regular donations. That when it occurred to me that I want to be an old money programmer.

I don't say this because of my penchant for single malt Scotch Whisky nor any other eccentricity I possess that some might consider snobbish. I say that because I begin to understand why the rich give to charities.

The rich don't give to charities to avoid taxes, compensate for inner demons, or feel altruistic. The rich, such as Astor Brooke, give to charities to achieve control and change in ways that profitable enterprise cannot. Of course I am speaking in absolutes. However, for many people whom giving money away and raising money is how they spend their time, they are doing so to affect change.

This is what I ultimately want to do. I don't think I will ever be Bill Gates rich. However, I think I can have my own small empire. I can gain a small degree of prominence as an open source programmer. I can write a web app that supplements my income. I might not ever be of the stature of Linus Torvalds or Larry Wall, but I could certainly write a popular open source product, or become a major contributor to one.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Surreal encounter in Bellmore, NY

I was driving to work today and my gas light came on. I stopped at exit 25 of the Southern State Parkway. As I was pumping gas the man driving the SUV in front of me came up and asked me how to get to New Jersey. He had Jersey license plates. He was not a native speaker, and asked me if I spoke Spanish.

I in a response to his query I committed most horrible atrocity. I sent him through Staten Island. My concerns for Holland Tunnel traffic are no excuse.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Life imitates Dune, or Justin really likes mail merge

So there I was, a few weeks back sitting in a friends back yard, reading Frank Herbert's Dune. I put down the book for a bit to be sociable and found out that at that very moment an unthinkable sin was being committed on the second floor of the house. A dear friend of my girlfriend was reading addresses from a spreadsheet printout, and retyping them into MS Word to print out envelopes/.

I started foaming about the mouth of the waste of labor, humanity's duty to subjugate computers, (being they lack person hood, self awareness, rights and the like), to do our work for us, so we can do other work. I calmed myself and ran up the stairs to educate her on how to use mail merge.

She would have none of it. I was persistent, but yielded eventually. My girlfriend kept saying, "sometimes the simplest way is the best," This statement was beyond wrong in this case, but I was not going to argue with illogical statements. I went and played with my godson for a bit, and continued to read my book.

Some may be surprised at how upset I got. Others think I exaggerate. A select sew that have witnessed or heard secondhand of my outbursts against ip printing and lack of domain (or novell, ldap, NIS etc) authentication in places that had the means of doing better. The inefficient use of computers really bothers me. My pointless emotional outbursts on the matter might be the folly of my youth, but I doubt such incidents will ever not cause my blood to boil.

Thoughts on Dune's banning of computers

I just finished Frank Herbert's Dune. I've previously seen the Sci-Fi 2000 mini-series and their 2003 Sequel, Children of Dune. I recommend to any Dune newcomers, read the books first, then watch the movies. The novels paint a world in Tolkien level detail, and no movie can ever do it full justice.

The ecological undertones and melange as an allegory to oil are somewhat obvious. The feudalism/corporatism type government of the known universe seems like what would occur in a situation where you had a large expanse of people, and the transaction costs of government were high. I'm sure much was written about these things. I'm sure one day I will read some of them and even write something about such things. What interests me most is the lack of AI, and computers in general.

One could react several ways to the outlaw of computers in the Dune universe. One could simply state that Frank Herbert was entirely wrong about the computer thing, despite being so right about the oil thing. You could also say it will take a long time for AI to get to the point that our leaders must declare "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind." One could also state that Frank Herbert's miscalculation was predicting how useful computers could be without any reasoning skills, and their role as communication devices.

I'm sure that Herbert was questioned on the AI questions. He published Dune in 1965 and died in 1986. So one would think I should have done a bit of research before publishing this article. However, I want to continue this line of thought without an "authoritative" answer a bit more. I'll try to write more about it though. after some research.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Steinbeck Reference in Transformers The Movie

I'm not referring to the Michael Bay film, which I do like. I am referring to the 1986 feature length animated film starring Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Peter Cullen and Orsen Welles, who died before the movie was finished.

In this movie the following dialog occurs between Grimlock, and Kup:

Grimlock: Tell Grimlock about petro-rabbits again.
Kup: I'll give you petro-rabbits.

This is obviously a reference to Lenny, the retarded brute from Of Mice and Men who often asked George to "Tell him about the rabbits." Grimlock, and the rest of the dinobots are, like Lenny, mentally lacking brutes.

I've seen this film over a dozen times, and I've both read Steinbeck's book and seen the movie adaptation that has made the line famous. I never noticed this until this past weekend.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Life without a Wallet

I have a George Costanza wallet that my friend is currently in possession of. I went to a party a few weeks ago. He drove and I placed it in his glove compartment. I forgot about it and have yet to retrieve it.

I kept my debit card, New York State drivers license and cash in my pocket when I went to this party. Hence why I have not rushed back to get my wallet. I have no immediate need for the contents of the wallet. If I need to go to a doctor, I can have him fax my insurance card.

One day I will reclaim my wallet. For now I live without it. 

And for the record, I keep it in my front left pocket. It balances out the weight from the three key chains in my right pocket. Some of the keys in my right pocket used to open doors of buildings that have been demolished.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Process Hacker: Thoroughly Awesome TaskMan.exe replacement

Process Hacker is a thoroughly awesome task manager replacement.

I have nominated it for a sourceforge community choice award. You should too.

Open source PDF utilities for Windows

Adobe's PDF format is the de-facto standard for printable read only document exchange. Adobe has added some new features to the format recently. As a result, Acrobat and Acrobat Reader, both currently at version 9, have become somewhat bloated as it has picked up these features.

That's not to say these features have no merit. My employer uses the electronic signature and form features of Acrobat for their ISO Quality Management process. And while the main feature of Acrobat is the ability to "print" any document to a PDF file, You can certainly do a lot of manipulation of acrobat files such as marging and adding form fields.

However, outside of work, I just need to be able to view PDFs and "print" documents to PDF format. I'd also like to avoid the bloat of Acrobat Reader 9. I do so via two open source utilities.

The first utility is Sumtra PDF Reader. This is an open source windows app that makes use of several open source libraries to view and print PDFs. Its very simple and light weight. It just works.

The second is PDFCreator. This is a PDF print driver. It allows you to save any document you can print to a PDF or email the PDF directly. Their is also a network feature I have not experimented with. I'm not sure the benefit of a network PDF generator. Perhaps its intended for rendering large documents. PDFCreator also exposes a COM interface for making PDFs programatically. I have not experimented with this, but it apparently comes with samples.

My only grip with PDFCreator is that it attempts to install a toolbar on Internet Explorer and FireFox. Its pretty explicit about letting you know you want to do this, and Acrobat Distiller 6.0 does the same thing. I can only assume Acrobat 9 Standard and Pro do the same.

WinCalendarTime, customize your windows clock

Have you ever said to yourself, "If only I could display the date as well as time in the windows task bar without making it take up more than one row?" Well I used to, until I discovered WinCalendarTime a few months ago. Its a simple windows C program that allows you to format the time display your windows desktop. You can chose to hide either the date or the time and there are three date formats. You can also display seconds of the minute. Unfortunately, it does not allow me to display the date in ISO format (e.g. 2009-04-18 23:34) . One day I might write a patch for that.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Education Views: Homogenity versus Heterogeneity of screwing kids up

I'll admit, its a rather wordy and pompous title, even by my standards. However I can't think of anything catchier.

I was discussing education with a coworker, and we had a disagreement over whether the federal government should have a role in it. He was all for a nationally dictated minimal curriculum. I, of course want to abolish the federal department of education and leave it as a state issue. Long term I'd like to abolish all the public schools, but the private and charitable infrastructure is not available to deal with such a radical move at the moment.

As we talked, it became apparent that similar motives and opposite views were driving us to our opposing stances. He didn't trust the state governments of other states to provide good education. I don't trust the federal government, or any of the state governments to handle education. In both cases, the concern was not for our kids (the kids he has now, and kids I might someday have), but for other kids.

The heart of his argument is that the federal government would do a good job of not screwing up kids too much. It would prevent some states from teaching Creationism. It would set reasonable achievement levels for reading and math. Individual states could hold their students to higher standards if they wanted.

The heart of my argument is any education gets something wrong. Rather than have a nation of people all with the same incorrect views on some topic, lets take steps to ensure that everyone is wrong about different things. In other words, if everyone is screwed up differently, market forces will weed out the incorrect ideas quicker. 

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tweeting Now

I tweet now. There is a section on the right of this blog that displays my current tweets.

Why tweet? Mainly because a friend was tweeting about an open source project developed that I meddle with occasionally. I could talk endlessly about why, but my radical ideas have already occurred to others.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Singing the praises of Credit Unions

I'm going to make a rare post where I talk about something in a positive light. That something is Peoples Alliance Federal Credit Union, my bank.

I joined shortly after taking a job in Hauppauge, NY in December 2002.  The credit union was walking distance from my office, which was good since I didn't have a car.

My initial impressions were pretty positive. The first part was the lack of any kind of withdrawal or deposit forms. Instead, you had a membership card, and told the teller what you wanted to do. You would get a printed reciept, that you had to sign if you were making a withdrawal. This sped things up to the point that it was quicker to talk to a real teller than an ATM assuming both had no lines. There also happens to be a branch in JFK, which I can access via a short walk from my house to the air train. Finally, they handle ATM deposits prmptly.

It did have its downfalls. First of all, they charge fees for using other ATMs. This is made doubly annoying by the fact that they are not a large bank with many branches. That being said, I've had accounts at large banks, and 90% of my ATM withdrawals were from bodega ATMs then. Basically, I don't plan in advance for my petty cash needs.

They also opened a branch in Ronkokoma. This is near my current job so it convient.

I've always felt a large faceless multination bank would better serve my needs, but never bothered to make the change. That being said I am aware of the benifits of small, more personal banks. I just never need one until late December.

I had just gotten my bonus checks and was going to pay off my car loan. I made a deposit and scheduled a payment for the 27th, which would have given the checks 4 business days to clear. Since they were payroll checks I expected them to clear in 2 days.

A few days later I noticed a $25 dollar fee and that the check had not cleared. I decide to call them up and see if this matter could be rectified in a small bank manner. It turns out that a 10 day hold was placed on the check. I asked why so long for a payroll check, I was told to call the branch I deposited the check at so they could verify it was a payroll check. They apparently still had the physical check at the local branch. I would have expected the physical checks to be archived at the central branch same day. 

I called that branch and explained my situation. I asked for the hold to be removed, and the $25 dollar refunded. She said she would find the check and call me back. When she called me back the funds were already released. She said since I get direct deposit, they assume any checks are not payroll checks, but i could write a note on the ATM deposit envelope next time asking for a shortened hold date. I will do this next December when I get my bonus check.

If this happened at a larger bank I don't know if I could get it rectified same day. I also don't know if they would be place a shorter hold on the check by default. All I know is that I was able to resolve this issue with two phone calls and one outgoing call.