Monday, December 26, 2005

Odd memory, random chance

Friday night, I had a dream. I don't remember what the dream was about, in fact, I don't remember the dream at all. All I remember is that I woke up and I remembered this track I had heard a few times back in college (I might have the MP3 somewhere). There was a man with a really unique, full, booming speaking voice (Godlike, perhaps?), and he recorded an album about colors. It had some off-the-wall stuff with his voice laid over jazz, stuff like how green didn't want yellow to be in spectrum, but blue stuck up for yellow, reminding green that blue and yellow could get together and make their own green. I didn't remember all those specifics during that moment in which I awoke. I just had some notion of that guy in my head, and I thought was that I needed to look that guy up when I woke up for real. I thought that maybe I should write something down. Nardeen. That's what I should write down. Ken? But I didn't get up; my desire to sleep won. I rolled back over and told myself that I needed to remember to look something up.

Amazingly, when I finally woke up Saturday morning, I actually did remember that I had told myself to remember something. Something like Ken Bardeen or Ken Nardeen. I wrote down Ken Nardeen on a scrap of paper within five minutes of being awake and went about my day.

At some point in the afternoon, I tried googling for something about voice, colors, jazz. Nothing seemed to come up, so I gave up. I was so certain that Nardeen was so wrong, so way off, that I didn't even try searching for it.

Then Sunday night, I was driving home from my Aunt and Uncle's home where my family had just gathered for Christmas. There was a story being read on NPR, something about a golden dreydl (as sundown of the 25th was the start of Hanukkah this year). The voice prompt on my GPS unit went off, so I turned off the radio to listen and navigate a few turns. A few minutes later, I turned the radio back on.

It was him. That voice, it had to be him. Telling Christmas stories over jazz tunes. Yes, it was him, I was certain. So I listened. And at one point he said, "Oh, hey, it's me, Ken Nardeen," in that unforgettable bass of his. Something like Nardeen. I still wasn't sure about the pronunciation. But I was shocked at how close I was.

This morning, I turned to Amazon and Google to figure it out. Ken Nordine is his name. He had a holiday special on WBEZ. Plus I found that album Colors. Give it a listen (especially the track Yellow; open that link in Windows Media Player).

What are the odds that I'd (a) wake up thinking about something so random, something I haven't thought about in years; (b) actually remember it the next morning; that (c) he would happen to have a program on the radio the next day; that (d) I would happen to be tuned in to that particular station at that particular time and that (e) my memory of his name would be so close to being correct? Slim, I can tell you that. Or maybe I'm just psychic. But wow, what a random sequence of events. Whatever the odds, that Colors album is now on my wish list.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Bob Loblaw Law Blog

Arrested Development sure is a great show. Too bad it's cancelled. I must have hit the rewind button ten times during tonight's episode. So many absurd moments. Bob Loblaw Law Blog. Hehe.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


I got trapped in a parking garage last Sunday. It was crazy. As you pull in, you get a ticket, the gate opens, then a garage door opens, and then you park. No big deal. I did my shopping (at the Trader Joe's on Clybourne) and when I went back to the garage (validated ticket in hand), there was a line of cars by the garage door. A cop came and spoke with me and told me that the door was jammed about three feet open. He lamented that it was the only exit and quipped, "Can you imagine if this were an emergency?" He then told me that managers were called and someone should be here any minute.

After about five minutes (I ate a newly-purchased piece of fruit), I decided to go see for myself. I knew that the garage door at my parents' house had an emergency pull cord to release the door from the chain. There was no such cord on this door. Though there was a sticker indicating that there should be a pull cord. Shady. And trying to just lift the door nearly gave me a hernia.

Another guy started poking around and commented to me that if we removed two bolts, we could disconnect the door from bracket which attached it to the chain. Seemed like a plausible idea. I told him so, and he returned with some pliers. He found some cinder blocks to stand on so that he could work. When he got the first one unscrewed, I lifted the door to take tension off the bolt so it could be removed. We repeated it for the second bolt and we were free.

All in all, it was only about a half hour event. And really, it was kind of fun being part of the door dismantling. No manager ever showed up. I hope they got fined; that emergency pull cord release is there for a reason!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Family Guy, Volume Three

Volume three of the Family Guy DVDs was released today; I just picked it up. The episodes are amazingly recent. The most recent episode was originally aired on 9/25/2005, just three months ago. Nice!!

Second Blog

I recently started a second blog over at It will focus on technology, programming, work, stuff like that. This blog will continue to host content about my personal life, what I had for dinner, what movie I just saw, etc. Subscribe to the RSS or ATOM feeds if you're interested!

Sunday, November 27, 2005


I bought a real Christmas tree last night, a 6ft balsam fir. It smells awesome. I decorated it and my apartment today. I got some LED lights at Target for the tree. Low power, low heat, long life. Nice. I figured that if I was gonna do something as metro as decorate my apartment, I might as well do something techy to try and balance it out. I also made an angel out of aluminum foil. Pictures.


I went to Vegas a week ago for the weekend. Left Friday, came back Sunday. All in all, it was a fun trip. I went with my brother in-law Mike and his friend Dan. We did some gambling, saw a UFC fight (the Franklin/Quarry fight knockout was awesome: Franklin punched Quarry and the guy went immediately unconscious and fell like a tree.) We stayed at THEhotel at Mandalay Bay. It was fairly nice. We didn't get maid service on Saturday, so that sorta detracted from it. I'm still not big on gambling. I played a little roulette, some craps (bought a book on how to play to read on the plane ride there) and casino war. We also ate at some amazing restaurants. A sushi place in Hard Rock casino Friday, and Delmonic's steakhouse on Saturday.

I didn't really enjoy flying America West. It was on time, but the service was sort of unprofessional, and the plane wasn't cleaned while in between legs of the flight (there were empty liquor bottles and goldfish crackers on the floor and in the seat pocket). The passengers were all vacationers, too, not business travelers. When you get used to the orderly progression of flying with business travelers, well, vacationers don't know what they're doing.

I can see myself going back to Vegas, but not anytime real soon. It was fun, but I think amount of fun per dollars spent per hour, there are better weekend getaways. There's a sort of fakeness to it all; like how the hotel was nice, but we didn't get maid service. The design of casinos bugs me, too. It's hard to find an exit or a cashier. They want you to get lost, wander around and spend your money. But, all in all, a very fun weekend.

Monday, November 14, 2005


A very interesting article about bananas. Some snippets:

It also turns out that the 100 billion Cavendish bananas consumed annually worldwide are perfect from a genetic standpoint, every single one a duplicate of every other. It doesn't matter if it comes from Honduras or Thailand, Jamaica or the Canary Islands—each Cavendish is an identical twin to one first found in Southeast Asia, brought to a Caribbean botanic garden in the early part of the 20th century, and put into commercial production about 50 years ago.

A fungus or bacterial disease that infects one plantation could march around the globe and destroy millions of bunches, leaving supermarket shelves empty.

A wild scenario? Not when you consider that there's already been one banana apocalypse. Until the early 1960s, American cereal bowls and ice cream dishes were filled with the Gros Michel, a banana that was larger and, by all accounts, tastier than the fruit we now eat. Like the Cavendish, the Gros Michel, or "Big Mike," accounted for nearly all the sales of sweet bananas in the Americas and Europe. But starting in the early part of the last century, a fungus called Panama disease began infecting the Big Mike harvest.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Another price difference noted at the grocery store: the apples up front, right near where I walked in were more expensive than the apples near the back in the organic section. The organic apples in the back weren't coated in wax and they looked fresher and more natural. This is good. I walked back up front and put the mass produced apples back. I'll take lower priced organic produce any day.


I bought razors at the grocery store today and I stopped to do a little math. To set the stage, I should say that for the past few months, I've been shaving with a double-edged safety razor, a badger hair brush and good glycerin-based shaving cream (no aerosol cans). This all started when I read an article back in April.

Blades for the razor are incredibly cheap. Or rather, they're priced appropriately and most modern blades are incredibly over-priced and the product of marketing. A ten pack of double edge blades was $3.00, or, $0.30 per blade. A four pack of blades for Gillette's newest marketing creation, the M3 Power, was $12.00, or, $3.00 per blade. Yes, that's right: for the cost of one M3 blade, you can get ten double edge blades. Wow.

You might click on those links to Amazon and think that the razor, the brush or the cream are expensive. But it's all relative, and the cheap blades offset the rest over time.

The biggest benefit of this is that I get a superior shave with less irritation. This is due largely to two factors: since the blades are so cheap, I'm more inclined to change them regularly and not drag a dull blade across my face. Second, the good cream applied with a brush that has soaked in hot water gives a great base for the blades.

Yes, despite what the commercials tell you, a razor technology first patented in 1904 (by none other than Gillette) gives a superior shave to the new stuff coming out today.

I'll sum up this post with one word: marketing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

SBA 2006 Dissapointment

I installed Microsoft Small Business Accounting 2006 tonight. I've been using GnuCash on Linux for my financial management needs for about three years (before that I used Quicken for about two years). GnuCash is the main reason I keep a Linux box on hand. That and SSH and Bash rock. It implements true double entry bookkeeping with a no-frills interface. Quicken used categories; I think MS Money does, too. But accountants use double entry bookkeeping. Once I learned the methodology (via the GnuCash docs), I became a convert. GnuCash is pretty good and it's free.

SBA 2006 got my hopes up. It's accounting software, not home money management software. But I gave up on it within two minutes. I went to create an expense account: Expenses. Fine and dandy. Create a sub-account, Food. Okay. Then another sub-account, Eating out. Error message: SBA only supports one level of hierarchy. WHAAAAA??? In GnuCash, I have a moderately deep hierarchy of accounts. The likes of Expenses:Entertainment:Vacation:Airfare is not uncommon.

Garsh, should I try again? Should I adapt my thinking while I explore the potential benefits that SBA has to offer? What will I do with Expenses:Transport:Car:Gasoline, Expenses:Transport:Car:Insurance, Expenses:Transport:Public, Expenses:Transport:Taxicabs? How will I see how much I spend on my car? How will I see how much I spend on transportation as a whole? Hierarchies make sense when it comes to books. I want to try SBA, but I'm baffled by this, really. How was the one deep hierarchy decision made?

Another baffling issue (though not a dealbreaker) is that SBA uses MSDE for its backend. Cool, except for the fact that I already have SQL Server running on this machine (or, perhaps, within my enterprise?). Why not utilize my existing installation (investment)? Seems silly, since they're virtually out-of-the-box compatible. But very cool that it leverages a SQL server engine. That in and of itself is a good thing, but I really don't need or want two instances running side-by-side.

I guess I'll go back and explore its features and see how I can adapt within its limitation (what I see as a very huge limitation). But, wow, how stupid. Give me a real hierarchy, not a one level. I wonder what that implementation looks like under the scenes, whether the limit is artificial or if they designed it that way. We'll see.

Burn a DVD ISO for Free

I was poking around after installing the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit Tools and noticed that it installed a little app called dvdburn.exe. It does just what you would expect: burn a DVD ISO to disc (I'm actually using it on XP MCE). It also includes the related cdburn.exe. I'm also a fan of cmdhere.inf (right click, choose install). It lets you right click on any folder and open a command prompt to that directory. And let's not forget robocopy.exe! So there you go: some nice little free utilities from Microsoft.

Sunday, October 16, 2005


I had a pretty fun weekend. Friday I went to a happy hour, drank beer and watched the Sox game. I'm not a huge Sox fan, but I'm happy to see a Chicago team in the running. Being that I live on the North Side, this is Cubs territory. There's not a ton of excitement, given the significance of the situation (I live across the street from a few bars, so I have a good indicator outside my windows). I can't help but wonder how nuts this place would be if it were the Cubs. I guess I should ask someone who lived here last year.

After sleeping in on Saturday, I took a walk down to the Old Town School of Folk Music and picked up some fresh strings for the guitar. I'd had the last set since I got the guitar in December '04. So I walked back home, changed the strings (broke the high E in the process...damnit...good thing I bought two packs), and decided that I had to do something outdoors since it was so perfect outside.

I took a walk toward the lake, stopped in at a sushi place and had a bargain lunch special. The rolls were good, the fish was so-so, but all in all it was a very tasty late lunch. I then continued on to the lakefront and plopped myself down on the rocks at the shore and read for about an hour. The crashing waves...the sun...the breeze...the was almost like vacation (almost).

After that, I went to 3 Penny Cinema and watched The Aristocrats. The Aristocrats is a documentary about a sort of inside joke in the comedy industry. The joke is simple: "A family walks into a talent agent's office and says, 'we have a great act for you!' 'Let me see it,' says the talent agent." At this point the comic telling the joke improvises the most filthy, vile, incestuous, scatological act he can imagine. "'Wow,' says the talent agent, 'what do you call that?' 'The Aristocrats.'" (Watch South Park perform the joke for a prototypical example.) The movie is worth seeing, but (as I was previously warned) it suffers from very distracting editing. As for the cinema, it's a small, two screen theater that still only costs $6.50 for a ticket. Plus I live about 1.5 blocks away. Good enough.

Sunday started with me going to my guitar class at Old Town School, as usual. Then I decided to go for a run. I don't think I've run for much beyond two miles since track in high school, but today I decided to push it. (In fact, in March 2004, 2 miles was an accomplishment.) I ran almost four miles and felt great. I don't know what got into me. Maybe it's my soggy belly, or maybe it was seeing all those fit, trim people with their LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon t-shirts walking around town recently, or maybe the trouble I've been having falling asleep the last few weeks. Whatever it was, I ran about twice as far as I have in probably five years. My route: up to Fullerton, over to the lake, south along the lake to North, stop to stretch, cross over Lake Shore Drive, run back up to Fullerton, back to home. It felt great! Maybe I can make longer runs more regular.

I did some laundry after that, and have been watching some baseball this evening while diddling around on the computer. I'm experimenting with running Virtual Server 2005 on my Media Center, with Server 2003 running in a virtual instance. I want Server 2003 somewhere (mainly for IIS6 and multiple concurrent remote desktop connections), but I don't want extra hardware. My Media Center Box has plenty of oomph (though it needs a pinch more RAM). I'm frustrated by XP's limitation of only one interactive user at any given time. Two people can be logged in at any given time, but only one can be interactive. In other words, I can't remote desktop into my Media Center box and do work while at the same time playing music with the account logged into the console (hooked up to the TV). Another frustration I'm having is that I don't have a "home" computer anywhere. Every time I get a new laptop issued by work, I transfer my primary operations there, since I already have too many computers. But I'm thinking I can set up a "home base" in this virtual instance. Remote desktop in and I'm home. It won't work for things that need to be on hardware (DirectX, for example), but being able to leave MSN Messenger or AIM signed in somewhere (given that I can't sign in at work) might be cool. More to come.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Who, and how?

Who exactly is buying Ashlee Simpson's records, and how did she manage to get on SNL a second time after that first debacle?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

5 Blades

Check out this recent (2005-09-14) press release from Gillette: Gillette unveils 5-bladed razor.

Then read this article from The Onion, written in February, 2004: Fuck Everything, We're Doing Five Blades. "Written by" the CEO of Gillette.

The similarities are uncanny. From The Onion article: "Put another aloe strip on that fucker, too. That's right. Five blades, two strips...." The new razor has a blade on the back for "trimming sideburns." The Onion says, "I don't care how. Make the blades so thin they're invisible. Put some on the handle. I don't care if they have to cram the fifth blade in perpendicular to the other four, just do it!"

Props to erice for sharing this with me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bluetooth GPS

I got a Bluetooth GPS device today. The memory card for my Smartphone hasn't arrived yet, so I can't use it for real. Curious to see how it works though, I paired it with my Windows box and fired up HyperTerminal (remember that program?) direct to its COM port. The thing just spits out its NMEA data once per second. Awesome. NMEA is so easy to parse—it's just a comma delimited line of text. I think I have a project to work on this weekend!


I saw U2 at the United Center last night. It was a great show. Bono did his soap box thing (I was told that he was actually pretty restrained this time). I agree with what he has to say (promoting human rights and equality), but I paid for the music, not the preaching. Still: it was a great show.

I'll leave you some jokes: What's the difference between Jesus and Bono? Jesus knows he's not Bono. How many U2 members does it take to screw in a light bulb? One: Bono to hold the bulb while the world revolves around him.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I just checked in to a flight tomorrow and noticed that I'm Gold on American now. That means I get to board with Group 1 regardless of my seat and I have the option of picking exit row seats. Rock on! I'm special!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Air Show pictures

I finally got my pictures from the 2005 Chicago Air and Water show online. I took them from the fire escape of my apartment. The shot of the F-15 with contrails trailing off of the wing tips like thread from a spool is one of my all time favorites.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Another HTPC Update

I gave in and bought a standard def tuner card for my HTPC, the AverMedia M150. Media Center Edition requires an SD tuner card to enable TV features. I tried to avoid the expense, but it was totally worth it. MCE's TV features are amazing! I've used TiVo and this ranks right up there in terms of usability. I've got scheduled recording for some essential programming (Family Guy, American Dad). I'm excited to never miss an episode again!


On a coworkers recommendation, I downloaded and used XsdObjectGen from Microsoft's web site. I opened up the documentation and saw that one of the principal authors of the tool was Colin Cole. I worked with Colin on a project a not too long ago...shook his hand, had a beer with him even. I feel so special.

Lotus Notes

The best thing to ever happen to Lotus Notes. Thanks, Microsoft!

Outlook Connector for IBM Lotus Domino enables you to use Outlook 2003 or Outlook 2002 to access your e-mail messages, calendar, address book, and To Do (task) items on an IBM Lotus Domino Release 5.x or Release 6.x server.

The Rule of Mike

In any gathering of "tech people," there will be more guys named Mike than there will be total females.

(I read that in a slashdot comment a few months ago and it just popped into my brain, so I decided to share it.)


SyncToy is one of the best utilities I've ever used. I'm using it to make backups of critical files (OneNote files, some source that's not in source control, work documents, SharpReader settings to read from multiple computers and stay in sync) from my hard drive to my USB thumb drive. I plug in the drive, start the app, click a button, and a half dozen folder pairs sync automatically. And if I modify some of those files on the thumb drive from a different computer, SyncToy is smart enough to move changes back the other direction. Well done.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Upgradeable TV

My Philips 37PF7320A/37 display has a USB port. I figured you could use it to browse pictures or whatever--it didn't matter to me because I have a PC plugged into it. I finally took some time to tweak the picture (MCE includes some videos to help you find good adjustments) and read the manual. It turns out you can upgrade the Flash ROM of the TV. Sweet. Download it to a thumb drive and plug it in. I was two realeases out of date. Nice.

City Living

On Friday, I got my hair cut at a salon around the corner, maybe 200 feet away from my door. The timing was perfect. I stopped in on the way home from work to schedule an appointment and she said she could fit me in right then.

After the haircut, I dropped off my dry cleaning at the place right next to the salon. Another short walk.

Saturday was spent moving and playing with my Media Center and home theater. It's looking and working pretty sweet. My entire music library, time-shifted HDTV, divx movies...all driven by a remote control.

I walked to 2200 N Clark to Indian Grill (it has the same owner as Bombay in Champaign) and had some delicious saag paneer for dinner. They wouldn't let me substitute naan for rice, which caught me off guard. I really thought she was making a joke when she said no.

Saturday night when I decided that I needed a snack, I went to the Chipotle downstairs and got some chips and guacamole.

Today when I woke up, I walked out of my building, crossed the street kiddy-corner, went to the Starbucks right there and had myself a coffee.

For lunch, I walked halfway down the block and had a sandwich from Potbelly's on Lincoln. I love those peppers!

Early in the afternoon, I walked a half mile to the Dominick's on Sheffield and Fullerton. It's a cool store—it has two stories. Produce and deli stuff on the ground floor; cans, boxes and refrigerated items on the second floor. Elevators included. I got three bags worth of groceries and walked back home.

For dinner, I took a random walk, heading south down Lincoln, then looping back up Clark via Armitage. I found a gyro place and had way too many calories for dinner.

After eating, I decided to keep walking. I headed two blocks eastward to Lincoln Park Zoo. I think I may have been there when I was a kid, but I don't remember specifically. Anyway, it's really just a park, an extension of the sidewalk. There's no entrance, no gates, no turnstiles. The sidewalks on the street lead to the sidewalks in the zoo. So I took a walk through the zoo. It was a nice walk, though the little girl standing on a bench and screaming, "GIRAFFE! HEY, GIRAFFE!" was a temporary distraction.

On the way back home, I stopped on one of the other corners of the intersection I live on and grabbed a copy of The Onion. I took that to a pub and had a pint of Sierra Nevada.

This evening I registered for a Guitar 1 course at Old Town School of Music this fall. It should be fun!

City living sure is convenient and full of opportunity!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

HTPC Update

This past weekend I started building my HTPC. The parts spec out as follows:

  • Gigabyte GA-K8N Ultra SLI motherboard
    • NForce 4-based
    • Fanless
    • Dual gigabit Ethernet ports
    • 2xPCI Express 16X ports
    • Gobs of USB and Firewire ports
    • Coaxial digital audio in and out
    • Four SATA-150 ports, supports RAID
    • Four SATA-II ports, supports RAID
  • AMD Athlon 64 3500+ (Venice core)
  • 1 GB DDR RAM (2x512)
  • 2x160 GB Western Digital SATA-II in a 320 GB striped RAID-0 configuration
  • Sony DWQ28A 16X Double Layer (8.5GB) DVD+-RW
  • Gigabyte GV-NX66256DP GeForce 6600 256 MB video card with fanless heat sink
  • DViCO FusionHDTV 5 Gold Edition HDTV tuner card
  • Silverstone LC10M case, with built-in display (for track/artist info, for example) and IR receiver (for remote control)
  • Silverstone ST30NF fanless 300W power supply
  • Silverstone NT01 v2.0 fanless heat-pipe CPU heatsink (this thing is sexy, check it out)

Note the emphasis on fanless and quiet construction. This thing is barely audible. I've left the two rear case fans enabled, as the fins of the CPU heat sink butt up against them (did I mention that that heat sink is sexy?). Actually, the hard drives are probably the loudest part of the whole thing. The DVD drive is silent when playing a DVD movie, though it whirs when it really spins up (like when you're installing software). It'll be a nice quiet home theater component, sitting next to the receiver and the TV. I didn't want some loud-ass fans drowning out some quiet dialog during a movie.

There was a challenge when installing the RAID drivers while installing Windows. That whole F6 thing requires a floppy drive (why can't I burn the drivers to a CD?). Finding a working floppy disk took a few tries, as did pulling the drive out of another computer.

I can watch HDTV using the supplied software, time shifting and the whole deal. It comes in beautifully! The Windows Media Center Edition 2005 software will only work with HD if you also have a separate SD tuner installed. Lame! Double-lame, since the Fusion tunes both HD and SD in a single card. So I'll probably be using Media Portal, an open-source project to provide the same functionality. It sees the card as expected, though I still have to set up the channels and install XMLTV (for a program guide) to make it work (in other words, I need to RTFM). Plus it's written in .NET, so maybe I'll contribute in my "spare time."

Did you know that Windows Media Center Edition 2005 is really just XP Pro with an additional Media Center program? And here I thought it was something more.

The other challenge I'm facing is getting the IR receiver that's built into the case to work with remotes other than the one that came with it (say, for instance, the better-laid-out MCE remote that came with the Fusion). I think I read that the beta drivers will fix that, though I didn't get a chance to try.

If only I had more time to play with it! Maybe this coming weekend. Though most of my time will be devoted to moving then, so maybe the weekend after it. Once it gets to a steady-state though, and I'm able to do everything from a remote control, this thing's going to be suh-weet!

Edit:I bought a standard-def tuner.

Friday, July 29, 2005

New assignment, new apartment, new computer, new TV

A lot's been going on in my life. I got assigned to a new client recently for work. Last week I went through an interview for this new project and was asked to come on board! After some bench time, it was a welcomed change to get back into the routine of work. It involves me traveling to and from Salt Lake City weekly which (so far) isn't as bad as it sounds. This is my first week out here. That's about all that I can say. Oh…there appear to be oodles of great-looking twenty-something females in this city. It's like I'm in bizarro land.

Last weekend I signed a lease for a new apartment. It's in Lincoln Park, on the corner of Lincoln and Belden (Belden is one block south of Fullerton). I'm pretty jazzed about it. The location is perfect (less than a half mile to the Fullerton El stop (Red, Brown and Purple stop there), a little over a half mile to Lincoln Park Zoo, and steps away from nightlife, restaurants and tons of entertainment). It's a one bedroom, one bath, has a nice kitchen and it has five big east-facing windows, three of which are in a bay configuration. The only thing that's odd is that it's carpeted. (In Chicago nearly everything is hardwood.) Oh well. The positives greatly outweigh that oddity. The lease starts 8/1 (but that's a Monday and I'll be in Utah).

On Monday all of the parts for my new HTPC arrived. I'll post more on that later as I build it. I didn't have time to mess with it since I had an early morning flight on Tuesday (though I did open every box and look at every piece). It's just sitting there at home, taunting me from a thousand miles away.

In related news, Windows Vista Beta 1 has been released, including an x64 binary. I might have to add a second partition on my HTPC for playing with it!

Last weekend I also placed an order for a new TV. It's a sexy, thin, 37-inch LCD flat panel by Philips. It's supposed to come in today or tomorrow for pickup at Best Buy. Now I get to move in to the new place and get all these fun electronics set up. It's pretty exciting!

GPRS is cool

I have an unlimited data plan with T-Mobile. I've installed the modem driver so that I can use my Audiovox SMT5600 phone as a modem. If you create a dialup connection to *99# the phone connects directly to GPRS and streams that Internet connection to your computer. How cool is that? It supports a max connection speed of 230 Kpbs, although at my current location it's no better than modem speeds. a pinch, it gets me online. Cool!

Monday, July 18, 2005


I spent last week in Seattle for a training program that Avanade sends all new hires to called QuickStart. The week was a ton of fun! I met some really great people from all over the world, including the UK, Germany, Spain and Canada. Plus people from all over the US.

View my pictures from the week!

I flew in Sunday morning so that I'd have time to do some sightseeing. I wandered around and found some random cafe for lunch and had a falafel sandwich. Then I went on the Underground Tour. Seattle was built on a flood plain, so twice a day when the tide came in there were serious sewage issues (if you flushed while the tide was in, the toilets flushed up). They backfilled the entire area, making the old first stories of the building underground. What you see now as the first story is actually the original second story.

After that I wandered around Pike Place Market and took in the sights, including the Original Starbucks (the logo is a bit more revealing there). I bought some fresh fruit and watched the dudes throw fish around.

Class began on Monday. The focus of the training is on how to be a good consultant: meeting skills, questioning skills, assessing risk, stuff like that. That evening I had dinner at Marco's Supperclub and had an amazing tuna dish.

Tuesday after class we had a team building event at Blue Ribbon Cooking School. Beer and wine provided while you cook under the guidance of professional chefs. This was a great time! Afterwards a few of us went to a pool hall and kept the night going.

After class Wednesday, about a dozen of us went to the international district (the PC way of saying Chinatown) for dinner. Followed by bubble tea and a round of beers (African Amber) back at the Edgewater Hotel (where Avanade put us up for the week).

Thursday was our last day of class. Afterwards thirteen of us went out for sushi. Talk about a great mix of cultures! Japanese food and people from all over Europe and North America. Some beer, some sakegood times! Then we went to the Seattle Mariners baseball game. What's more American than baseball? Of the thirteen of us, only three were American. When the international folks started asking me about the rules (How many tries does he get? What are those lines for? So a foul ball is only a strike sometimes? Don't those people die from boredom standing there waiting for a ball to get hit?), I realized how convoluted baseball is. It's such a simple premise with a huge pile of rules.

After the game we went to a bar called Cowgirls Inc. You know the movie Coyote Ugly? It's like that. Bartenders dancing on the bar. Drinks and dancing made for a good time.

The week was great! I'm glad I got to know so many fun people, and I'm feeling inspired to be part of this organization.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Coming soon: HTPC

I'm getting excited. I'm going to build a Windows Media Center Edition box and buy a 37" LCD flat panel display. I would make the purchase right now were it not for the fact that I'll be out of town next week.

System highlights (as it's currently spec'd out): AMD x64 3200+ Venice, GeForce 6600-based video card (fanless), ABit AX8 motherboard (fanless), Silverstone LC-10M HTPC case, Silverstone NT01v2.0 fanless heat pipe CPU heat sink (looks really cool), Silverstone 30NF fanless power supply, DViCO FusionHDTV 5 tuner (supports ATSC and NTSC in a single card), and a Westinghouse LVM-37w1 display (37" LCD flat panel, 1920x1080 native resolution; I looked at one in person at Best Buy and was impressed!).

Since the computer is going to be a home theater component, I decided to make it as quiet as possible. You know how loud all those fans can be. Imagine watching a movie with a quiet dialog...but all you hear is a bunch of fans that sound like an airplane taking off. The only fans are in the case. Hopefully I'll be able to minimize the usage of those. Oh, man, I'm so excited!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


I was reading a blog from a guy on the Monad team and saw this snippet. Monad (or MSH) is the next command-line from Microsoft. It's a dynamic scripting language. It reminds me of some sort of mix of Bash, PHP, Perl and .NET. I just had my ah-ha moment:

foreach ($f in $feeds) { 


    # read the content from $feeduri as XML 

    $wc = new-object System.Net.WebClient 
    $s = $wc.OpenRead($feeduri) 
    $sr = new-object System.IO.StreamReader($s) 
    $rssdata = [xml]$sr.ReadToEnd() 

    # display title 
    write-host $

    # display title and date of each item 

    $ | 
        foreach-object { 
            write-host "-" $_.title 
            write-host "     " $_.pubDate 


Look at how Monad allows you to use .NET objects. Also note the implicit xml support; you can navigate the DOM as if it were an object ($ Very cool.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

New bookmarklet

The following bookmarklet, when clicked, will prompt you to enter a tag query. Enter something like "blog+friend" to be taken to the view of those tags. This is faster than going to your page, waiting for it to load, clicking in the address bar and then typing the tags.

javascript:location.href=''+prompt(' tag query', '');

Funny Situation

The doorbell rang; Paul answered.

A kid selling something asked Paul if his parents were home.

"No," Paul said, "my parents aren't home." The kid left.

Paul's 28 and he owns the house.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Chicago Reader plus Google Maps

I'm joining the club of coolpeople who hack Google Maps.

Late last night (like from 1 to 4, I don't know why) and this afternoon I hacked together a merging of Google Maps and Chicago Reader rental classifieds. I give you the result (it takes a while to load).

I like a lot, but Chicago Reader (so I've been told) is one of the best ways to find a place to live in Chicago. Craigslist is so-so. Compare the results on the two maps and you'll see that it's true.

Step one: Perform a search and copy-and-paste the resulting URL into my code. You're looking at 1 bedrooms in 60613, 60614 and 60657, priced between $600 and $1000.

There are two ways to find the location of a property. If the classified ad has a map link, I don't need to find the address. I can follow the link; it redirects me to a new URL that has the GPS coordinates in the query string.

Method two involves me parsing: "Street1 and Street2" or "#### (Direction) StreetName". It's not perfect, but it's pretty good. I can then ask Google to attempt find the coordinates from the address I harvested. In total, I can find the coordinates of about 80% of the ads.

After that, I generate some javascript (ads.js) that defines the coordinates and descriptions in a giant array. I can manually upload that to my hosting provider, and index.html references it. Tada!

If anyone's interested in the source (C#), drop me a line.

Kudos to Google Maps on such an excellent and interoperable product.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Goodbye, Oldies 104.3

I was spinning the radio dial the other day and heard some rock/pop on what I thought was Oldies 104.3. I stayed tuned and heard that it's now "Jack FM." They still have the same call letters (WJMK), but it's a completely new format. They seem to have gotten rid of live DJs. You know, like an iPod plugged into a giant antenna. Their website seems to still refer to the oldies version. I miss their jingle already.

Edit: I found some news stories about this. Chicago Tribune business news, Sun Times opinion piece. The Trib article makes references to the iPod-like programming. I swear I didn't read that before I made this post. I guess it happened a few weeks ago. "...By burying the story over the weekend, they hope to minimize criticism from the press and outcry from the public. That no doubt figured into the timing of Infinity Broadcasting, which waited until 4 p.m. Friday (June 3) to blow up two of its heritage oldies stations." Stupid bottom-line mentality.

One more story with a great quote from the man responsible:

"My job in leading the company -- for better or worse -- is to make every radio station as profitable as it can be," he said.

"People want to put their goddam foot on your neck whenever you make a change. The problem is that there's a lot of people who don't have the balls to make a change. OK? We're on the offense. We're not on the defense. OK? We might have made a mistake. Right now, I don't think we made a mistake."

Saturday, June 25, 2005

"That's hot"

There's no air conditioning here. In my bedroom, it was 92 degrees Fahrenheit when I decided to go to bed. I had a fan on the foot of the bed blowing over my entire body. When the side in contact with the mattress would get sweaty, I'd roll over and let that side get some airflow. This morning when I woke up, it was still in the mid-eightys.

Clock with temperature

Friday, June 24, 2005

Cell is up

The cell phone is up and running. Syching against an Exchange server for work email, contacts and my calendar is working, as is POPing Gmail for my personal email. I can get out to the Internet with Pocket IE. This device shouldn't make me so happy.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

No cell service

I'm in the middle switching my cell phone provider from Cingular to my company's T-Mobile plan. I'm porting my number, too. Yesterday I noticed that I had zero bars of reception. That's not that unusual at this house, so I moved to the window where it's usually acceptable. No change. I switched the SIM from the new phone to my previous phone. I got a more informative message: "Unregistered SIM." Was it possible that the service had already been switched? I put in the request on Thursday, and this was Tuesday. I was expecting this to take a few weeks!

From a land line, I called my cell phone number and got a different voicemail prompt than expected (which is to say, different than what I was used to with Cingular). I went to T-Mobile's web site and found out how to get into voicemail, the default password, etc. I was then able to change the greeting to direct callers to a different number.

I checked in with the representative from our company to see if I could get a tracking number on the SIM. I was informed that it had been sent to the corporate headquarters in Seattle. She would overnight it to me. But it got shipped to my Champaign address (despite the fact that I had given my Chicago address). That's no biggie, really. After a delivery attempt is made today, I'll call UPS and have them redirect the package to me in Chicago. I should get it on Thursday. One week to port a number? Two days of downtime (could have been zero if the SIM was shipped to me instead of HQ)? Not too bad.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Audiovox SMT 5600

I got a new cell phone today, the Audiovox SMT 5600. So far, I've been really impressed. It runs the Windows Mobile 2003 SE operating system, so it syncs with Outlook beautifully and effortlessly. I did have trouble getting my laptop to recognize the device when plugged in via a USB cable. A trip to Best Buy to pick up a Bluetooth USB adapter fixed that problem. I can sync wirelessly and get pass-through Internet access via ActiveSync.

Transferring contacts has been a huge highlight: I had all of my contacts stored on the SIM card, so putting that into this phone brought it all over. But I'm switching providers to get in on the corporate cell phone plan (from Cingular to T-Mobile; I bought an unlocked unit). On the phone, I launched the SIM Manager application, selected all contacts, selected Add to Contacts. Sync with the Exchange server, and instantly my Outlook and cell phone contacts were unified. Beautiful. When I get the new SIM, I won't lose a thing. And if you've ever transferred contacts by typing them on the new phone while reading them from the old phone, you know why this is so nice.

A few other niceties: to find a contact from the home screen, just type as if you had predictive input. The phone will filter all possible matches from your contacts. I can use POP3 to check my Gmail account as well as my Exchange account. I'm getting an unlimited data plan with the T-Mobile service, which will be fun, but it's not all that useful now (I have to be within 10 meters or so of my computer with Bluetooth). The camera is average for a phone--as expected--but it takes videos with sound, which might be fun. I also didn't have to download any contraband software in order to transfer pictures, movies and files between the computer and the phone: ActiveSync makes it easy. (I always resented providers for locking out features like that and forcing you to pay to use their network.)

So far, I'm impressed with my Windows Smartphone! I'm starting to think about getting a Bluetooth GPS unit with mapping software. (Developers, check out this open source GPS API for Smartphone and .NET...I'm picturing grabbing live data from Google maps instead of pre-downloading maps to the device.) Gadgets are fun!

Friday, June 17, 2005


I moved last weekend, and it was fun! I took the train down from Chicago and picked up a rented Budget truck on Saturday morning. (Funny aside: Cost of a train ticket to go 130 miles: $12. Cost of a taxi across town to go 4 miles: $7.) Brad came by and helped me load up the furniture. But all of the other boxes (and trash bags after I ran out of boxes), I packed myself. I must have made 70 trips up and down that flight of stairs.

At the end of the day on Saturday, it came time for me to sleep. I had packed the mattress, linens and clothes. So I laid down on the carpeted floor in just boxers and a t-shirt. No pillow, no blankets, nothing. Just me on the carpet. Sometime in the middle of the night I woke feeling very cold. My legs were freezing. So I stumbled around in the dark trying to figure out some way to cover up my legs. The only solution: I put my feet through arm holes on another t-shirt and pulled it up like a skirt. It did the job.

Sunday morning I was back at it by 6:30am. I was fully loaded and had the apartment sparkling clean by 11:00. I had family meeting me on the Chicago end, so unloading went very quickly. By the time I went to bed Sunday night, I was exhausted. Walking up the stairs to the bedroom was painful and slow. But it's done. I'm officially moved out of Champaign. Next step: get officially moved into Chicago.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


I tried a new food today at the Earwax Cafe on Milwaukee: seitan. It's a meat substitute made from wheat gluten. Supposedly it's very high in protein and very low in fat. I had a seitan reuben: grilled slices of seitan, sauerkraut, thousand island dressing and swiss cheese served on light rye bread. It was a pretty tasty dish!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Back online

Sorry to my one reader for the downtime...thanks for sticking around. What can I say, I moved. The new cable modem is up and running, the network has been pieced back together. Until I move again in a few months, that is. Sorry to my friends: I still haven't installed a feed reader on this laptop yet, so I'm behind on reading your blogs. I'll do that soon and get caught up. I've got a few blog entires outlined in OneNote that I'll be posting over the next few days. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

I'm an expert?

I found this today: someone picked up a link to one of my "click here" rants with a comment about how it's frowned upon by experts. I can't help but laugh. FYI, he found my blog from a comment I left on Jeremy Zawodny's blog. I think Tim sent me that last link.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Rustle, rustle.

I was sitting here on my laptop at the office desk here at home and I kept hearing a rustling sound. I thought maybe it was the wind or something, but that didn't seem right. Of course the thought of a mouse entered my head, so I went up to the front where I expected to see an encore of last night (I saw a mouse scurry past while watching SNL), but, alas, there was no sound, no mouse. I went into the dark kitchen and stood there like a statue, waiting for the sound to reappear. There it was: a rustling from the trash. I stared into the bottom of the trash can, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the light. I thought I spotted our furry grey friend. Without averting my eyes, I reached back and pulled the cord to flip on the overhead light. There he was. Looking back at me. As I took a step closer, he tried to jump up and over the lip of the can. With a quickened pulse, I stepped back in response to his jump. But he had failed. He seemed to not be able to get up high enough, like he might be trapped. He jumped again, this time seeming to grab some footing on the side of the plastic trash bag. I kicked the can, knocking him back down to the bottom. I boldly strode forward and gripped the sides of the trash bag, quickly flipped it up off of the lip and cinched it up, tying our mouse friend inside. I could still hear him rustling, struggling against the bag in which he was sealed. I wasted no time in taking the trash bag out to the can in the alley. And when I got back in, I set a mouse trap by the garbage can.

Proxying HTTP and HTTPS with Apache

Sorry if this info is a bit rough. It still needs to be more thoroughly tested, but here's what I've done to make my Apache 2.0 web server be a proxy server for HTTP and HTTPS.

LoadModule proxy_module modules/
LoadModule proxy_ftp_module modules/
LoadModule proxy_http_module modules/
LoadModule proxy_connect_module modules/
LoadModule ssl_module modules/

        ProxyRequests On
#specify a list of port numbers to which the proxy CONNECT method may connect
#allow 22 to use PuTTY w/Proxy to connect to arbitrary SSH over HTTP proxy.
        AllowCONNECT 80 443 22

#secure your proxy server with Basic auth.
                AuthType Basic
                AuthName "my proxy server"
                AuthUserFile /path/to/file/.htpasswd-proxy
                Require valid-user

#Mask your point of origination
        ProxyVia Block
        CustomLog logs/proxy_log common

#allow SSL proxying to occur on port 80
        SSLProxyEngine On
        SSLProxyVerify none

Update on the move and the job

I wanted to post a status update about the changes in my life right now. Tuesday morning I moved everything that I need to live day-to-day to Chicago (clothes, toiletries). I'm staying at my sister's house in the Bucktown neighborhood for now. She and her husband spend 90% of their time in Memphis, where Paul works (Brooke can work remotely for most of her job or she travels when she needs to), so I pretty much have an empty house to myself (it's a bit lonely).

Wednesday was my first day at Avanade. It was just orientation meetings: here's how you arrange your travel and here's how you get reimbursed and here's how you bill the client and here's how you check your voicemail and here's your company laptop.

Thursday and Friday I ticked items off of my TODO list that I had created on Wednesday: build your internal skills profile and resume, talk to people to arrange your client assignment, get the software installed on the laptop that you need for the upcoming project. I've been assigned to a project with "a leading financial services provider" in Wisconsin. It seems like a great project. They're working with some Whidbey/.NET 2.0 technologies, and also some agile methods and automated build management. Supposedly the Microsoft architect on the project is top-shelf, too. Monday morning I'll start at the client site.

Things are settling in nicely. The job is shaping up and the people that I've met so far have been friendly and easy to deal with. It's fun taking the L to work; I get a warm and fuzzy feeling taking public transportation. The commute from door-to-door is about thirty minutes and it's cheap and easy (just the way I like it). Of course, Monday morning I have to drive to Wisconsin. We'll see how it all goes. So far so good.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Jen and I had artichokes as part of our dinner at my apartment last night (along with guacamole and fried rice with tofu). After we were done, I put the artichoke leaves down the garbage disposal. Bad idea. An odd smell started coming out of the drain. At first I thought it was the mixture of artichoke, lime and other foods. But as the smell got stronger, it was clear that it was raw sewage. Add to that the fact that the drain wasn't draining. After the laughter subsided, I reached in and pulled out the fibers of the artichoke leaves that had gathered in the disposal. Once they were clear, the drain still wasn't going down. And my kitchen still smelled like poop. Nasty, nasty, poopy sewage smell in my kitchen. More laughter. I grabbed a toilet plunger and went to work. After about ten minutes of alternating between plunging and laughing, the drain was finally clear. And with a fan on, the sewage smell quickly became a memory.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Les Mis

I saw Les Mis on Sunday with my special lady, Jen. It was playing at the U of I Assembly Hall as part of their Broadway Series. The show was top notch. Most of the cast has experience on Broadway and they were all great (especially the guy who played Jean Valjean). I know the music pretty well (I sang many of the songs when I took voice lessons in high school), so it's especially enjoyable to me.

The first downside was the venue. Assembly Hall is a stadium. They partitioned off about half of the stadium with a giant curtain to give it a slightly more intimate feeling, but it's still the same place I watch Illini Basketball. During intermission, people came back to their seats with all sorts of "stadium food:" tubs of popcorn, soft pretzels with cheese, nachos, hot dogs, you name it. That just screams "high class." I reminded Jen that if we were in a real theater in Chicago (or another big city), we could have cocktails during intermission instead of a footlong hot dog.

The second downside was that this is Champaign, IL. Most people wore t-shirts and jeans. One guy a few rows in front of us was wearing his blue-collar work shirt—it even had his name embroidered on the breast! Jen wore a nice dress; I wore a shirt and tie. We were the most dressed-up people that we saw. Again: if we were in Chicago, we would have blended in (or even been under dressed).

Oh, well. One week from now I'll be living in Chicago. Great show! Not-so-great venue.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

My Hero

I was eating lunch at Papa Del's today with a couple of friends. At some point, a small family came in with a toddler. The toddler had a Happy Meal from McDonald's. Their waiter informed them that no outside food was allowed in the restaurant. The family protested, "It's just a kid; he can't eat anything from here; give me a break; that's ridiculous," and so on.

After a minute or two of this, some random guy on the other side of the dining room shouts, "That's bullshit!" He stood up and marched across the dining room, chest puffed up, and inserted his opinion into the conflict. "That's bullshit," he reasserted. "You can tell your manager that I'm never going to eat here again. And I'll tell all of my friends that are parents to never eat here, too."

Ahh, my hero, sweeping in to save the fair maiden. I will be eating there again (or maybe not, since I'm moving). Restaurants (and their lawyers) have to cover their asses; no outside food is standard policy at most establishments. Plus they have awesome deep dish pizza.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

New Job!

I've accepted a job with Avanade in Chicago and have officially tendered my resignation here at the U of I. My last day will be Friday, May 6th; my first day will be Wednesday, May 11th. I'll post more about the job search at another time. I'm going up to Chicago tonight for the Cubs game tomorrow (my birthday), and then lunch with my family on Saturday. This should be a good weekend: I have reason to celebrate!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Save our Bluths!

If you watch Arrested Development, no doubt you're aware that the number of episodes this season was cut from 22 to 18, a sign that the show may not be renewed for next year. Enter, a website devoted to keeping the show on the air.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Offshore development

Reposted from Boing Boing:

Three San Diego entrepreneurs plan to start a cut-rate outsourcing plant for software development three miles off the coast of Los Angeles aboard a used cruise ship moored in international waters.

Wired with a fat T3 pipe fed by microwave, SeaCode would employ 600 developers - the bulk of them non-U.S. citizens - who could crank out code around the clock at a lower cost and higher rate of efficiency than their American counterparts. The beauty part (at least according to the proponents) is that business would be booming, the headquarters could change sail wherever business took it, and RnR would be just a half-hour water-taxi ride away. In your neighborhood.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Wal-Mart doesn't like unions

A Wal-Mart in Quebec is closing after workers voted to unionize. Sounds like everyone lost. Wal-Mart closed a store. Workers lost jobs. Wal-Mart gets to maintain its zero-union track record. Maybe this will inspire other Wal-Mart employees to attempt to unionize (and maybe even succeed), leading to a more friendly (if slightly more expensive) Wal-Mart.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Firefox about:config

This is a post mainly for my future reference. I may edit it as I learn new things. Feel free to ignore.

  • Full list
  • - Page to open on browser startup. 0: Blank, 1 (default) Home (a.k.a. browser.startup.homepage), 2: Last (probably does not work)
  • browser.block.target_new_window - True: Links with target set to _blank will open in the current tab instead of a new window. False: Links with target set to _blank will open in a new window. Note: No longer in use. Use instead.
  • - 0 (default): Force all new windows opened by Javascript into tabs. 1: Let all windows opened by Javascript open in new windows. (Default behavior in IE.) 2: Catch new windows opened by Javascript that do not have window attribute values set; otherwise allow them to open a new window.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Absurd Restrictions

Warning: Rant Alert.

I have a Fleet credit card that has recently become a Bank of America credit card due to their merger. I logged into the new site with my existing username and password. I was immediately redirected to a screen where I was told to change my username and password.

The username must be ten to twenty numbers. No letters are permitted. They suggest using my social security number. Aren't we (as a society) supposed to be moving away from SSNs? I don't want to use my drivers license number since it's based on a deterministic algorithm. I don't want to use my SSN because I keep hearing that I need to protect that number. So what am I to do? Use a random number that I can't remember? Maybe the credit card number itself?

The password must be four to seven number and/or letters. No symbols are allowed. So my favorite eight character password that is mixed-case and includes numbers, letters and symbols is off limits—despite the fact that it's actually a more secure password.

I'm so peeved about these restrictions I'm tempted to cancel the card. I cancelled another card (Capital One) recently because they kept sending me SPAM about how I should transfer my balances, even after I "removed" myself multiple times, and even exchanged emails with real live humans! Stupid jackasses who make arbitrary, insecure decisions that interfere with my life.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


I read Jay Bazuzi's personal blog. In his professional life he's a Microsoft employee working on the Visual Studio C# IDE. He's been talking about eating live (fermented) food recently, and I've found myself intrigued. When I went to Africa last summer, I took a probiotic supplement. Good bacteria in your intestines helps your body fend off potential unpleasantness, so I'm comfortable with the idea. So last night I ordered some kefir grains from a seller in Chicago. Kefir is a fermented milk drink. You put the grains (starter culture) in milk and let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours. The bacteria in the kefir breaks down the lactose. The bacteria also has the benefit of being able to colonize your intestines. That sounds good to me: a bacteria living in my intestines that can help my body break down lactose. I'm looking forward to this experiment!


I saw this on The NewsHour last night (emphasis added):

Speaking at a Geneva conference two weeks ago, Jan Egeland said: "Measured in human lives lost, I think that Congo is the number one problem in the world today." Egeland added that the number of casualties amounts to: "...a tsunami every month, year in and year out, for the last six years..."

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Buffalo Tofu?

I bought some Frank's Red Hot sauce so that I could make some Buffalo wings (Frank's and butter is the original sauce, created at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York in the 1960s). I decided to try pan fried tofu coated in the sauce instead of chicken. It was good. It turns out that chicken is just a vehicle for the delicious sauce.

A town in mourning

It was sad driving around Champaign today, seeing all the windows that were still soaped with, "GO ILLINI," feeling the somber mood, seeing the flags at half staff. (Okay, maybe that was for the Pope.) It was an amazing season. Too bad it didn't end up the way we all hoped it would.

I got a parking ticket while I was watching the game. I was parked in a lot that required a permit until 5:00. At 4:41 I was issued a $20 ticket. Sheesh. $20 for 19 minutes.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Improving Internet search: an idea

Kent and I were talking about Google results and the idea of customizing them. The result of our discussion ended up being sent to suggestions-at-google-dot-com. I think it's a really cool idea. It's such a big idea, though, that it would take a company like Google to pull it off. Do you think it would work? The suggestion:

I would like to be able to add weight to certain domains/sites such that they bubble higher up in my search results. For example, I like Wikipedia results. I would like to customize my search results such that pages from get an extra "bonus" in their PageRank.

Building on that idea, it would be cool if I could add people that I know to a network of my friends. I could weight my friends so that their search preferences (preferred sites) also reflect in my search results. The further away a person is in the chain of people, the less their preferences effect my results.

This might be implemented as a star system on the results page. If I was satisfied, I can click back and score that result with 5 stars. If it did not answer my query, or if it was some search engine spam, I can give it 1 star.

The idea of bringing human feedback and social networks to Internet search could really make results better.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


Overheard at Picadilly Liquor:

"My 33 year old friend just died, so I'm going to climb into this beer for the night...At least he made it to 33. I had another friend die at 25...If I did what he did, I'd be dead, too." news

The creator of has quit his job to work on full time. He got an "outside investment" that will allow him to keep "independent" and "acquire some much-needed infrastructure." I look forward to seeing what's next!

Monday, March 28, 2005

Talking points memo

From ABC News, excepts from a GOP talking points memo about Terri Schaivo, circulated to Republican Senators. Emphasis added.

  • This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue.
  • This is a great political issue, because Senator Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a cosponsor and this is a tough issue for Democrats.

Remember that CBS poll where 74% of respondents answered, "advancing a political agenda" when asked, "why do you think congress got involved?" I think they were right.

Edit, 2005-04-06: The source of the memo has stepped forward. It was an aide to Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL).

Sunday, March 27, 2005

What I learned today

It's been said that you learn something new every day. I thought it might be fun to keep track of at least one thing each and every day. My goal is to write a single sentence daily. I don't know if I'll keep it up (I just started a few hours ago). I present: What I learned today. It's written in PHP with an XML datastore (yay for separation of data and presentation!). Maybe in the next iteration of this blog I'll integrate it (I want to do some sort of Wiki/blog combo thing that's pluggable to add things like WILT). We'll see.

Edit, 2005-03-29 22:19: I added an RSS feed. I'm hoping that "what I learned today" will become the next big thing on the Internet (like blogging) and I'll get to say that I started the craze, and I'll get interviewed on cable news and people will write books about me. Ready everyone? Add WILT to your blog!

Friday, March 25, 2005

Click here part 2

Following up to my previous post and Renice's comment that "context-relevant links are rumored to help a page's Google rank," I submit this:

The first result of a Google search for "click here" is the Acrobat Reader download page.

This leads me to believe that the biggest abuse of "click here" as link text on the Internet looks something like this: "This site requires Adobe Acrobat Reader. Click here to download."

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Click here!

Possibly my biggest web-related pet peeve: web sites that use "click here" as link text.

My eyes skim over a web site, following visual cues. I process information without really thinking, stopping for a second look where I pick up something meaningful, skipping over things that aren't. A link (with its unique style from the surrounding text), is a visual cue. But "click here" delivers nothing meaningful.

With a particular company with which I have an online account, I had scoured their small online bill payment section trying to figure out how to change my email address. For the past 3 months, I've looked every time I've logged in. I had come to the conclusion that it was not possible to do online. Well, it was. (You see where this is going, right?)

This evening, after finally "clicking here" to find the page where I could edit my account, I was inspired to send this email to their "webmaster."


Please don't use "click here" as link text. It reduces usability of the web site.

I was trying to change my email address for my online bill payment. The help said, "visit the 'Edit Account' section." That's incorrect. It should have said, "visit the 'click here' section."

(Actually, your help is wrong regardless: the link reads "Click here" followed by "to edit online billing info." There's no mention of "edit account.")

Web users look for navigation cues, like menus. Or they skim the page for links. "Click here" gives nothing meaningful at a glance.

This is a good article on the subject:

I hope you act on this feedback,

Travis Pettijohn

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


According to a US Government report, in 2005 the US will consume 20.4 million barrels of oil per day. That same report states that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has 10.3 billion barrels of "technically recoverable" oil. That comes out to about 500 days worth of oil at our current consumption rates (but since consumption keeps rising, it will actually be less). That's not very much. In my opinion, it's not enough to risk the possible devastation that could occur in Alaska. And I don't believe that such a small amount will provide relief from foreign oil as proponents want you to think.

But a provision to allow drilling at the ANWR was tacked onto the budget in the Senate. A tricky move since Senate rules forbid a filibuster on the budget, thus ensuring its passage. Today, a vote to remove that provision failed 49-51. Our country just moved one step closer to drilling in Alaska. If the House passes it in their budget, that will be that.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Use Google...errr, MSN

I've picked on Chris Andersonbefore. Reading an interview today, he gave a funny quote: "If you want to hear about sharper fonts, you have to go Google for Bill Hill, sorry, search and you can read all about the fonts..." (emphasis added).

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Ruby will be the next big open source programming language. It will rival (if not beat out) Perl, PHP and Python in terms of popularity. I say this because ever since I was made aware of it, it seems to keep popping up...and always in a positive light. Read this blog entry for an example of what I mean.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Richard Clarke at UIUC

Richard Clarke (click for bio), former "Terrorism Czar" and author of Against All Enemies, spoke this evening at the U of I. He gave a fascinating talk on the status of the war on terror. I managed to get a seat in the second row (I had to jump over empty seats to bypass the jam in the aisle.) Here are some pictures that I took with my camera phone. I'll share from my notes. At the end of the talk, I asked a question, and then later got an autograph of my copy of his book.

  • He began by defining the war. Terrorism is an methodology; you can't fight a war against that.
  • We are at war with Jihadists who practice a "perverted version of Islam." Also people that support the ideas of Jihadists, both politically and financially.
  • We must "win this war as a war of ideas."
  • Polling shows that the United States government has essentially "zero credibility in key Islamic countries." Thus, the we cannot be the ones fighting the war of ideas.
  • Are we making progress in the war on terror?
  • Comparing the amount of terrorist activity worldwide in the 36 months before and the 36 months after 9/11, Jihadist attacks have doubled since 9/11.
  • In Iraq, there are 60 to 70 attacks against U.S. forces every day.
  • Bush stresses that we are fighting the war overseas so that we don't have to fight it here at home.
  • Bin Laden recently told Zarqawi to send terrorists from Iraq to the U.S.
  • Clarke asserts that, "Because we are fighting in Iraq, terrorists are coming here."
  • "How are we doing in the war on terror? Not very well."
  • 3/11 in Madrid (bombs in subway) left over 2,000 dead.
  • Carried out not by suicide bombers, but people who got on, left backpacks of explosives on the train, and got off.
  • ABC did the same thing in New York (with cameras instead of explosives). No one did anything to check the bags.
  • 60 Minutes placed a bomb-look-alike package at a chemical plant next to a quantity of chlorine that could kill 100,000 people if released into the atmosphere. No one stopped or questioned them.
  • "You can't stop everything...."
  • It would cost $9 billion to implement working homeland security.
  • We've spent $100-some billion in Iraq, which is exporting terrorists.
  • Clarke points out that we're training police and firemen in Iraq, yet Bush's recent budget proposal will reduce those numbers here at home.
  • "Frankly, I think we made a mistake after 9/11," in our emotional state, we allowed the PATRIOT Act to be passed, which is abusive.
  • PATRIOT Act allows the FBI to force librarians to hand over records.
  • See José Padilla, a U.S. citizen who is being held without having been charged, without access to a lawyer, and without a trial by a jury of his peers.
  • We should "advocate better homeland security...and at the same time advocate for the Constitution."
  • Referenced the Benjamin Franklin quote: "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."
  • His book is titled "Against All Enemies." The presidential oath, part of the constitution, states that the president-to-be shall defend the Constitution against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.

He took questions. I asked the second question: Do you feel like you're preaching to the choir? That the people who should be listening—like the policy makers who get things done—aren't listening?

Somewhat, yes, he said. There are some people who will never say anything bad about the Bush administration; these people watch FOX News (the crowed roared with approval). But we all know people who need persuading, so we need to wear them down.

Someone else asked if he thought it would matter if Bin Laden were captured now. Clarke said no. Bin Laden has become a symbolic leader. If he were gone, it wouldn't really change things. (See Che Guevara after he was arrested by the CIA.) We should have captured or killed him in the mid-90s when Clinton authorized it. Or in the months following 9/11.

Someone else asked about Bush's vision to spread democracy in the Middle East. Clarke reminded us that terrorism can still be bred in democracies (see Timothy McVeigh). He also reminded us that "the Iranian-backed party won the election" in Iraq. So there are doubts about just how democratic Iraq will be.

He was also asked if he would consider going back into public service or run for office. No, not at all, he said. He feels that he can make a greater impact from the outside than he could from the inside.

After that, there was a book signing. As he signed my copy, I told him, "I saw you on the Daily Show...I saw the smear campaign that the Bush administration had launched against you...I bought your book the next day." He smiled, gave me a wink, and said, "I wish that they had kept it up; it was great for book sales." We shook hands and I thanked him for coming.

This was a very cool experience. Clarke is a very interesting and intelligent man with a very unique point of view. I learned a lot and I hope that you learned some, too.

It's also fun to think about the people that I'm connected to through him; you know, like the degrees of Kevin Bacon game. Not only presidents, but Jon Stewart.

Monday, March 07, 2005


From The Daily Show on Wed 2005-March-02:

Jon Stewart: "Dude I was in Half Baked, you don't think I know?"

The Rock: "I love that movie. That is a great movie."

Jon Stewart: "That is a fun movie. And we had a fun time doing it...especially the research."

Bolstering my Karma

I got mailings from NRDC and The Sierra Club recently. I was trying to decide which one to donate to, and I ended up donating to both of them. With four more years of the Bush Administration's assault on our environment, I figure I ought to lend a hand.

Paneer and ...

I made paneer last night, which is an easy to make unripened, soft cheese. Bring a half-gallon of whole milk to a rolling boil. Remove from heat. Add 3 T lemon juice (supposedly vinegar works, too). Put on low heat. Stir for 30 seconds or so until the yellowish whey separates from the white curds. Strain through cheesecloth. (This is chenna.) Shape and press with a pot full of water (or other weight) for 30 to 60 minutes. Now you have paneer.

My intent was to make saag (spinach) paneer. I read a few recipes and sort of combined them. It's all right, but it doesn't compete with Bombay's. I'll definitely make paneer again. Probably add it to a store-bought simmer sauce. Or maybe I'll actually try following a saag paneer recipe next time.

Friday, March 04, 2005

iPod Shuffle

Ever since Iffy got an iPod Shuffle at the local Best Buy last weekend, I've been considering stopping by and seeing if there were still units available. Tonight I stopped by. There were still units available. I am now the proud new owner of a 512 MB iPod Shuffle. Nice.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

H&R Block Bait&Switch

I went to file my taxes tonight. I followed the link on to free file. I filed with H&R Block last year, so I thought I'd use them again so that they could import my data. Free and less typing. Good deal.

When I finished everything, I went to eFile and I was asked how I would like to pay the $29.95 for the "Online Tax Program." Huh? I thought this was free.

I figured out how to do their online chat support, so I was able to IM with someone. Her resolution? Do my taxes again, and this time create a new account, don't sign in using the account I created last year.

Huh? Can you say Bait-and-switch? I said, "You're telling me that I have to do my taxes AGAIN?"

"Unfortunately, yes," she said.

"I'm sure that you have the power to make this be free."

"Unfortunately, I do not."

I was livid. I got a phone number which I'll call on Monday. The sad part about this is that it would probably take me less time to do my return again than it will to call them. But I'm interested in taking up the fight. This is absurd.

So if either of my readers haven't yet filed their taxes, please don't use H&R Block.


According to their website: "Free federal online tax prep and e-filing for all taxpayers. No restrictions. Everyone qualifies.*" (Emphasis theirs, not mine!)

"* You automatically qualify for free filing through the IRS Free File Alliance - NO AGI limitations. To receive this FREE filing offer, you must click 'Start Now' on this page. Includes one federal return."

Update: I called and was given the same solution: create a new account and start over. I said, "No way am I doing my taxes again. I'm going to get the service for free, so why make me do it again?" And I was issued a coupon code. Amazing how that worked. The 16 minute phone call (most of it on hold) was actually much less time than doing my taxes again would have taken. Victory is mine!

Monday, February 21, 2005


Some people like to think that we humans are not animals. I'm here to tell you that we are just animals. Watch a mother silence the cries of her infant child by offering her breast. We are animals.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


For some reason I decided to practice my Illustrator skills by tracing a photo of my face. So what do you think? Can you tell that this is me?

Vector version of my face

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Flickr Shrink & Upload

After uploading a few photos to Flickr and realizing how quickly that 10MB/month upload quota was going away, I realized that I would have to resize my photos before uploading them. So, rather than crack open Photoshop, I did what any other programmer would do. I wrote a program to resize and upload for me. It's actually pretty sweet and quite functional. Check it out if you have a (free) Flickr account.

You should know: The error handling is pretty thin. It preserves EXIF! It won't save your login/password (not necessarily bad). It's multithreaded; I think you'll like it. I'm actually happy with the architecture! I wrote it in one evening.

View a screenshot.
Download version 0.9 for .NET 1.1.

(Sorry, Tim.)

Edit 2005-02-12 16:30: New version, 0.9. Better error handling, supports drag-and-drop, saves login/password if desired (Base64 encoded in "HKCU\Software\\FlickrShrink"; not really secure, but obfuscated a bit), remembers last folder you added files from, creates thumbnail in a background thread (gives a nice UX when you select amongst items in the upload queue), mores little fixes.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Vatican, condoms, & reproduction

The BBC is reporting that senior Vatican Cardinal Georges Cottier was quoted as saying the use of condoms may be legitimate to stop the spread of Aids in poor countries. He said it was no longer a question only of allowing the transmission of life, but of actively preventing the transmission of death to a sexual partner. Well said, Cardinal.

In a related story, Andrew Sullivan (hat tip to Jason for introducing me to him) has a great piece running in The New Republic. He talks about Hillary Clinton's pro-life/pro-choice position. Her position, her writes, is "quite simple: a) the right to legal abortion should remain and b) abortion is always and everywhere a moral tragedy." This is a position that I've held for a long time. Sullivan also says, "And if she and the Democrats can move the debate away from the question of abortion's legality toward abortion's immorality, then they stand a chance of winning that debate in the coming years." It's a good read.

Monday, January 31, 2005

JHymn, iTunes & Fair use

Like buying music at the iTunes store? Does DRM make you claustrophobic? Enter JHymn. Click your DRM troubles away. It even includes a built in MP3 converter. It doesn't get much easier than this.

Edit: I wanted to add this link to an interview with the author of JHymn, published 2005-01-27.

Sunday, January 30, 2005


I made pizza from scratch tonight. Dough from scratch. Sauce from scratch (food processed canned whole tomatoes, reduced in a saucepan, enhanced with garlic, olive oil, and hot peppers). The pizza was topped with coarsely chopped fresh basil, pepperoni (pre-baked to cook off some fat), onions, green peppers, black olives, and mozzarella cheese. I kept the toppings sparse enough that it was all really well balanced. Yummers. I'm looking forward to my leftovers!

Friday, January 28, 2005

A Microsoft employee's take on WMA/MP3

Chris Anderson of Microsoft bought his wife an iPod. He writes:

I picked it up two days ago, and since have been in process of converting our 3000+ songs from WMA to MP3. I decided that I wasn't going to ever again rip to a proprietary format. I want my music where I want it, not where Microsoft or Apple dictates.

That cracks me up...a Microsoftie publicly renouncing WMA. Someone should remind him that MP3 is a proprietary format. It's just "de facto" and thus it has broad support.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Who cares?

I pulled my keys out of my pocket. I heard a coin fall. I noticed it was a penny. I kept walking.

Monday, January 24, 2005


I was fiddling around on my guitar last week, just pushing on strings trying to find some chords. (I'm still on the two-string lesson in the book, but I was just fiddling for fun.) I hit this chord:


which is D, G-C-E, which is a C/D. So I play this chord and I think to myself, Man, that chord reminds me of this part of Worlds Apart from Big River. You see, my friends, when I was in high school, I was a choir boy and I took voice lessons. I sung a lot of these kinds of songs. I made a note of this chord and how it reminded me of this song. It would be played when "one" would be sung, as in, "two worlds together are better than one." Anyway, I was at my parent's house this weekend (today was Mom's birthday) and I brought back The Ultimate Broadway Fake Book from my voice lesson days. Today, I looked up that part of the song. Mind you, I haven't sung this song outside of the shower in at least five years, and even when I sang it with accompaniment, it was only with a piano. And you know what? It was the exact chord; the tab notated in the book was identical to what I had played. I was amazed at my sheer awesomeness. I figured I would be off by a few steps or something, but to nail that chord exactly, man, who knew I was that amazing :)

Saturday, January 22, 2005


I was reviewing log files from my 1and1 hosted accounts. Some of these numbers blow my mind. After removing all known search engine user agents, in the past nine weeks, has had visits from 4083 unique IP addresses. has seen 3638 unique IPs. Blows my mind, man.

Edit: I'm stupid and I don't know how to work a pivot table. That was total page requests served, not unique IPs. The unique IPs served numbers are more like 415 and 181, respectively. Not quite as mind blowing :)

The Mac Mini: The iPod of HD Movies?

Robert X. Cringley offers a theory about the Mac Mini: Apple will offer HD movie downloads a-la iTunes, and the Mini is the set-top box—complete with DVI to hook into your HDTV—to play those movies. Just like the iPod and iTunes did for music, the Mac Mini will do for movies.

I, for one, could see myself being a consumer of such a product and service. I would welcome the option of downloading movies if the cost and quality was comparable to a rental at Blockbuster. If the quality were to exceed that of Blockbuster—which HD would do until the HD DVD format war ends—it would only sweeten the deal. Does this excite anyone besides me?

Via Slashdot.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


"I'm so overexposed that I make Paris Hilton look like a recluse." -Barack Obama

Monday, January 10, 2005

Renice (blog, links) introduced me to today. It's a "social bookmark" site. At first I didn't get it. I looked at her links and I didn't get the appeal. And the layout looked sort of lame, frankly. I already use to store my bookmarks server-side, so why switch?

Then took a longer look...and I got it. When you create a link there, you give it a bunch of "tags." A single link can (should?) have multiple tags. Unlike a traditional hierarchy of folders where a link lives in just one spot, tagging allows you multiple paths to a single bookmark.

It doesn't end there. The URLs are human readable, and you can perform intersections on tag sets. For example: to see every link that I've tagged "friend," you can go to To see every link that I've tagged "blog," visit To see the intersection of the two sets, which is to say links that are tagged with both "friend" and "blog," go to Pretty cool, eh?

There's also a social aspect to it. Bookmarks you post there are public (obviously), and it's interesting to explore the Internet through other people's bookmarks. You can do things like visit to see bookmarks that everyone has tagged as "csharp" (I chose to write it out since # is a special character in a URL). Then you can find a link created by someone else and click on the "csharp" tag underneath it to see everything that that individual has tagged "csharp." Then see what other categories that person has tagged other links in that category...and explore! You can also click the "and x other people" linkwho else has the same page bookmarked.

There are RSS feeds available for every tag (, for example). You could create dynamic lists of links on your blog with something like that.

Adding links to your account is easy. You create a bookmarklet (a bookmark to a javascript location which executes a little code) which you just click on, type your tags, and you're done.

I have two concerns, maybe just one, really: the lack of a hierarchy was a concern, but then I came to understand the set intersection which can accomplish the same thing. The other concern, the real concern: how is funded? There are no ads and no fees. I don't know how it can sustain itself. It's funny: if it had Google text ads, I would be much more comfortable with the service. I don't want to see it go away, and I don't really want to pay for it, either.

I'll be switching from for my server-side bookmark management. a9 is perfectly functional, and it introduced me to the freedom of storing bookmarks server-side., however, offers a unique and cool way to store, share and browse bookmarks that is unlike anything else I've seen.

Sunday, January 09, 2005


On today's Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn back home. This was a jolting issue in USA Today newspaper on Friday, that, "Seeking to build support among black families for its education reform law, the Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000 to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same. The campaign...required commentator Armstrong Williams `to regularly comment on NCLB [No Child Left Behind] during the course of his broadcasts,' and to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show in 2004."

Senators led by Democratic leader Harry Reid have written the president, Albert Hunt, to say that Mr. Williams should give the money back, that this was a violation against the law of blatant government propaganda.

Wait a tax dollars are sponsoring this kind of propaganda?

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Tsunami aid, per capita

On The McLaughlin Group last night, John brought up the topic of tsunami relief aid pledged by governments, per capita. I touched on this in a comment here earlier. I found a breakdown of not only per capita data, but also per capita normalized by GDP. The leader in the normalized data is Qatar, with $53.46. The United States comes in 27th with $1.19, right behind France with $1.50. It's interesting data for sure. I've put it in a CSV, sorted by the normalized data. I'd also like to see something like this for private donations, but a quick search didn't yield anything.