Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Random Flickr Links

Photo by Ali Khurshid

Photography is a powerful medium. In the past few years, because of the availability of cheap digital cameras and the incredible popularity of Flickr, the medium has become more powerfully democratic. Now professionals and amateurs alike can share their work with the whole world -- with very little interference from governments or big media. When I explore photos on Flickr, the world seems a lot smaller. Here are just a few of the most compelling examples:
  • Tom Stone is a documentary photographer "known for his portraits of people living along the edges of society". His Poverty set on Flickr is an unflinching look at the homeless of San Francisco.

  • Ali Khurshid was recently profiled in Time magazine. His set, The Shadows They Draw, is a collection of dreamy images from one beach in Karachi, Pakistan. Words fail me on this one. You have to check out Khurshid's beautiful photos.

  • The 365 Days pool contains self-portraits of many Flickr members. Each contributor has committed to uploading a self-portrait once a day for a whole year. Honestly, I don't know why anyone would consider such a project. This is definitely a mixed bag, but there are some really interesting ideas here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Favorite Christmas Songs

Pete challenged me and others to list our five favorite Christmas songs. This is very difficult. I could probably list a dozen favorite Christmas Carols. They all bring back memories. And then, of course, there are some great Christmas pop tunes and novelty songs. So without further ado, here's my list (although it might change tomorrow):
  1. Go, Tell It on the Mountain.

  2. Anything from the soundtrack of A Charlie Brown Christmas, but Skating is my favorite. You know this one. It is the song where Vince Guaraldi's piano evokes snowflakes falling.

  3. What Child is This? because it has the same tune as Greensleeves.

  4. Carol of the Bells or anything else from George Winston's December.

  5. Let it Snow. This is one of the few songs I will attempt to sing when other people are around. I can't help it.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

World's Largest LEGO Construction

This week, the SEE Science Center in Manchester, NH unveiled the world's largest LEGO construction. It is a three million brick, period replica of Manchester's Amoskeag Mill. It was built by the SEE Science Center and the New England LEGO Users Group. Check out this video courtesy of WMUR-TV.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Writer's Almanac

"It's the birthday of the man who wrote under the name Mark Twain, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, born in Florida, Missouri (1835)..."
So says today's online edition of The Writer's Almanac. You may have heard the inimitable Garrison Keillor read The Writer's Almanac on National Public Radio. Since I am not always able to catch the radio edition, I've recently pointed my browser's home page to the online edition. Now I am more likely to get my daily dose of literary birthdays and historical notes. (Who knew David Mamet, Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain were all born on November 30?)

I also get to read a new poem each day. I've really enjoyed the selections lately. On the web or on the radio, I highly recommend The Writer's Almanac.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tabblo 2.0

Just six months after it was first made available to the public, Tabblo has gotten a substantial face-lift. It may not exactly be "Tabblo 2.0" (those are my words), but I think it is worth a look.

If you haven't visited Tabblo recently, here's a quick summary:
  • It's a photo sharing site on steroids. In addition to uploading photos, you can organize your photos on a page that tells a story -- a "tabblo". Here's a shameless plug for the tabblos I've created.

  • If you are a big fan of Flickr, you might be saying, "That's nice, but I already use Flickr to share photos. I don't want to leave the Flickr community." Well, you don't have to leave Flickr because Tabblo can automatically access the photos you upload to Flickr. For me, Flickr has become the "shoebox" where I put my best photos. Tabblo is where I go to organize the photos into "albums".

  • Tabblo is a growing community of photographers and artists. Let me stress the word artists. I am amazed at the work other Tabblo folks are doing. I really feel privileged to be part of the Tabblo community. As a Tabblo member, you can comment on other people's tabblos, invite people to view your tabblos, or join groups of like-minded Tabblo members. In my opinion, Flickr can be a bit intimidating. The Tabblo community is still relatively small and vastly more fun.

  • Tabblo is advertisement free and, unlike Flickr, they don't charge for a "pro" account. So what is Tabblo's business plan? I guess they plan on making money on posters, postcards, prints, and eventually, books. You can order a poster-size print of any of your on-line tabblos and you can now create tabblos specifically designed for postcards. While I haven't tried the postcard feature, I can testify that Tabblo posters are wonderful. I recently ordered a poster of one of my tabblos. It was inexpensive and arrived just a few days after I placed the order.
If you have tried Tabblo before, most of the above is old news. You don't need my encouragement to try the new features. If you haven't tried Tabblo, what are you waiting for? Join the fun. Don't just browse; create your own artwork. And incidentally, if you like the "free" Tabblo features, you should consider supporting the Tabblo business by ordering a poster or postcard. I think you'll be happy with the results.

Update: According to Ned, Tabblo supports printing books as of now. That was quick. :-)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Big Surprise

Once in a while,
I'm standing here, doing something.
And I think,
"What in the world am I doing here?"
It's a big surprise.

-- Donald Rumsfeld
For more of Donald Rumsfeld's poetry, see Hart Seely's article at

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Eclipse Rules

Eclipse must be doing very well. I can tell because there is now at least one blog entirely dedicated to listing all of the problems with Eclipse. By comparison, I can't find any blog or website dedicated to NetBeans complaints.

It may seem counter-intuitive that one's vocal critics are a measure of one's success, but consider the case of author Dan Brown. In an interview on NHPR, Brown talked about the uproar over The DaVinci Code. He was initially surprised by the volume of criticism. After all, his earlier book, Angels and Demons, was just as controversial, but it didn't generate anywhere near the same number of objections from readers. Brown's mathematician father explained all by pointing out a simple fact: The audience for the earlier book was a tiny fraction of those that read The DaVinci Code. You can't please everyone, so statistically speaking, lots of complaints might just be a sign you are a smash hit.

Taking the Eclipse vs. NetBeans comparison a step further, try comparing the number of Google hits for these two phrases: "eclipse sucks" and "netbeans sucks". Using Googlefight to do the comparison, I recorded 1840 hits for the Eclipse phrase vs. 421 hits for the NetBeans phrase. Knowing what I know about Eclipse, I'm sure this doesn't mean Eclipse is four times worse than NetBeans. More likely, it's an indication that Eclipse is four times more popular.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Vast Centrist Conspiracy

We have been listening to the thunder of partisan politics for so long, it can be difficult to hear the moderates speak. Is it just me, or are the moderate voices getting louder? Here are just a few I've heard lately:I'm sure there are others too who want to replace all the talk about wedge issues with serious, civil discourse on the important issues of the day. The question is will their voices be heard?

I'm afraid both major parties have already nominated candidates from the fringes. It may be too late to inject reason into the mid-term elections, but I'm hoping for a vast centrist conspiracy to take hold in 2008.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fall Foliage

According to this online foliage report, southern New Hampshire foliage peaked this past weekend. We got our first hard frost on Friday night, so the leaves will be past peak before you know it.

As I scurried around doing errands this weekend, I kept my camera with me and got some nice shots. See my Fall Foliage tabblo for some samples.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Blogger Beta

I just discovered Blogger has some big changes available in Beta. One feature I've been waiting for is tags. They are in the list of Beta features, but of course Blogger calls them labels -- just like labels in Gmail. To get label support you have to upgrade to the Beta and switch to a new template system called layouts.

So I've taken the big leap. This blog will be under construction while I try on different layouts and slowly bring back some of the customizations I did to my old template.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

You Learn Something New Every Day

This past weekend, my thirteen-year-old son and I completed the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's Hunter Education course. This is a sixteen-hour course required by the state. You can't get a hunting license unless you present a certificate proving you have completed the course.

I am not sure I will ever get a hunting license or go hunting. We took the course because my son is absolutely crazy about hunting. I don't know how it started, but he has worked incredibly hard at this. He has devoured books and videos on the topic. He spends hours in the woods looking for deer sign. And he easily completed the hunter education course.

Although I was ambivalent about hunting at the start, I am very proud of my son and I'm glad I tagged along. I've known hunters all my adult life. I certainly respected the hunters I know, but I guess I had acquired the prejudice that most hunters are yahoo rednecks. I thought my friends were exceptions to the rule. Having spent hours over the past few weeks with dedicated volunteer instructors from our local fish and game club, I'm convinced my prejudice was unfounded. These guys are serious about their sport and committed enough to spend hours of their own time to help others learn. They are especially passionate when teaching hunter safety and ethics.

Yes, there are yahoos out there, and you will certainly hear about hunting accidents this Fall, but please don't assume the guys in blaze orange are idiots. Maybe they're not from your tribe, but they deserve your respect.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ten Favorite Songs

Picking up the thread from Pete, here's a list of my ten favorite songs:
  1. Workingman's Blues #2
  2. Ain't Talkin'
  3. When the Deal Goes Down
  4. Spirit on the Water
  5. Beyond the Horizon
  6. Nettie Moore
  7. Someday Baby
  8. Thunder on the Mountain
  9. Rollin' and Tumblin'
  10. The Levee's Gonna Break
All ten songs are on Dylan's new Modern Times. I love this CD.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Applefest Half Marathon

It was beautiful weather for the Applefest Half Marathon this weekend. I worked at one of the water stations and took lots of pictures.

This tabblo features a few of the many Applefest runners and this tabblo is a behind the scenes look at what makes Applefest so unique.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Charles River Scenes

While I was in Cambridge last week, I walked along the Charles River and took lots of photos. If you're interested see my Charles River Scenes set on Flickr.

Prudential Center

EclipseWorld Wrap Up

Friday, September 8 was the last day of the EclipseWorld technical conference. I won't go into all the gory details of the sessions I attended. If you read my Day Two report, it was more of the same: Some sessions missed the mark, at least for me. These sessions just weren't technical enough. In fact, in an informal poll, the consensus among people who have attended both conferences is that EclipseCon is the better conference for experienced Eclipse developers.

Of course, the conference did have some good sessions. The best session I attended on Friday was called Contributing Code to Eclipse. How to. Why to. It was conducted by Bjorn Freeman-Benson, Director of the Open Source Process at the Eclipse Foundation. Bjorn described the organization of the Eclipse Foundation, the motives of it's member companies *, and the details of development process.

As Bjorn puts it, one measure of the Eclipse project's success is they have released a version of Eclipse every year, on schedule, for the past seven summers. This is a record of which most commercial software companies would be proud, but Eclipse is an open source project. You might have expected it to disintegrate into anarchy by now.

How has the project managed to be so successful? Bjorn highlighted three points:
  • It's a meritocracy. Only the best developers become Eclipse committers. Even a paying foundation member company cannot install one of their developers on a project without approval from the current committers. Generally, you become a committer by contributing patches first.
  • The process is completely transparent. Everything from project planning, to staffing, to the actual source code is recorded on the Eclipse web site. This ensures that both committers and the eventual consumers know what is happening with the project.
  • Communication is key. This is related to the point about transparency, but Bjorn highlighted it a few times. He said even a great developer will not succeed in an Eclipse project unless he is also a good communicator.
This is a refreshing approach to building software. I think some commercial software companies could learn from open source. For more on the Eclipse Way, see Erich Gamma on the Eclipse Culture.

* Eclipse Foundation members commit resources to Eclipse projects not out of altruism. They expect to make money on the Eclipse framework.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

EclipseWorld, Day Two

For me, today was Rich Client Platform (RCP) day at EclipseWorld. I planned on attending four separate sessions on RCP. As it was, I took a small detour to learn about the Java profiling tools in the Test & Performance Tools Platform (TPTP).

The first RCP course was First Steps for Building Eclipse RCP Applications. It was mostly review for me, but I thought it would be good preparation for some of the more advanced courses. The instructor, Dwight Deugo, did a good job describing the basics.

I also attended Fundamentals of RCP UI Programming. This session was a little disappointing. The instructor is a good speaker, but he spent the entire two hours talking about JFace -- and from a very high level. Although he occasionally showed some sample code, it was difficult to follow along. The sample code wasn't reproduced in the presentation materials. Even though I was near the front, I couldn't see the details. Pity the poor folks in the back.

To complete "RCP day", I planned on attending a two part session called Successful Architecture Design for RCP Applications. I expected this to be about factoring your RCP application into features, plugins and fragments; interactions between views and editors; extension points; the job manager; and other hard-core Eclipse concepts. Ten minutes through the first part, I realized I was mistaken. The session was all about migrating three-tier business applications from the web to RCP. Although the instructor has good "Eclipse credentials", this topic didn't really fit with the other sessions in the RCP track. It certainly doesn't interest me personally.

Rather than sit through the second part of Successful Architecture, I decided to switch to Profiling Java Application Behavior with Eclipse TPTP. This was a revelation. The instructor demonstrated the features of the Profiling and Logging perspective which is contributed to Eclipse by TPTP. The profiling views let you track execution flow, execution statistics, memory statistics and object references in a running JVM. You can quickly sort these views to find hot spots like methods that consume lots of CPU cycles. I use Eclipse everyday but I didn't realize the free profiling tools have gotten this good. For a good introduction of the Profiling and Logging perspective, see this tutorial at

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

EclipseWorld, Day One

I'm at the EclipseWorld technical conference in Cambridge this week. I was hoping to blog from the conference, but there were technical problems with the conference's wireless network today. There are only a few hundred attendees, but the organizers apparently didn't plan for a large volume of network traffic. This doesn't reflect well on the conference.

Today, we each had to choose one of seven all-day tutorials to attend. I attended the Callisto Boot Camp:
This tutorial, for experienced Eclipse developers who are currently using Eclipse 3.1, will deep-dive on the new features and innovations in each of the 10 projects that make up the Callisto Simultaneous Release. By attending this class, you'’ll gain a unique perspective on these projects, not only about the individual new functions that they offer, but how they integrate together to advance the entire Eclipse ecosystem. Everything you want to know about Callisto--—you'’ll find it here.
The instructor -- Eclipse Evangelist, Wayne Beaton -- acknowleged from the start it is difficult to do a deep-dive on everything. For my taste, he spent a little too much time on the Web Tools Platform (WTP) and not enough on the C/C++ Development Tools (CDT) or Data Tools Platform (DTP). However, I'm not really criticizing. Mr. Beaton struggled mightily to describe the whole elephant. He didn't quite pull it off, but he demonstrated a solid understanding of a broad set of technologies. It was a worthwhile overview.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Milford Labor Day Parade

Admit it. You have been desperately waiting for pictures from the 2006 Labor Day Parade. See my Milford Labor Day Parade tabblo for exclusive photos.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Ned Batchelder recently announced the availability of Tabblo. It's a new photo-sharing site focused on telling stories. I think it's a great idea and the interface is very cool. Ned and his colleagues should be very proud.

Here's my first Tabblo. Best of luck to Ned and the whole Tabblo team.

Tabblo: New England Flood of 2006

Monday, May 15, 2006

Reduced Speed Ahead

Southern New Hampshire is in the midst of the worst flood since the 1930s. Here's a shot taken this morning. It shows the Souhegan River overflowing its banks in Amherst, New Hampshire.


By the way, there are some great New Hampshire Flood sets on Flickr here, here and here.

Monday, May 08, 2006

All Which Isn't Singing

lincoln summit

all which isn't singing is mere talking
and all talking's talking to oneself
(whether that oneself be sought or seeking
master or disciple sheep or wolf)

gush to it as diety or devil
-toss in sobs and reasons threats and smiles
name it cruel fair or blessed evil-
it is you (ne i)nobody else

drive dumb mankind dizzy with haranguing
-you are deafened every mother's son-
all is merely talk which isn't singing
and all talking's to oneself alone

but the very song of(as mountains
feel and lovers)singing is silence

-- ee cummings

Monday, May 01, 2006

Home Improvement

Our 100-year-old house in Southern New Hampshire includes a twenty-year-young, two-story addition. The addition was built on top of six eight-by-eight wooden posts. The problem is some of the addition's main beams are sagging and the posts are slowly slipping off their footings. This is not imminently dangerous, but it will certainly make it difficult to sell the house when the time comes. (Why didn't our home inspector warn us when we bought the house? Good question, but I'm not going there.)

In any case, we are in the midst of a major home improvement project to fix the problem. Our contractor is going to replace the wooden posts with a solid concrete foundation. He'll dig, pour and frame above the foundation, one side at a time. The photo below shows the concrete forms on the interior wall.

A few friends and family members (probably very few) will be interested in more pictures like this, so I've started a photo journal of the project. It's called The Little Dig. If you are interested, you can even subscribe to this feed and watch the progress. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Total Miracle

The Notes vs. Outlook meme comes and goes. Because I put in my two cents last January, I occasionally still get comments on the topic. I don't want to restart that conversation -- really I don't -- but I do want to highlight a comment I recently got from one Daron Lawing. Daron's comment is much broader than Notes vs. Outlook. It's a profound appreciation of the "pure thought-stuff" we call software:
I'm a Notes end user ... I get my email through Notes and I send email through Notes. What's the big deal? Outlook looks like [it] does the same thing. For me the fact that I hit this button, the machine in front of me comes to life, and images appear on the screen then I type on this keyboard and my brother in North Carolina can get a message from me in a matter of minutes is frankly a total miracle. [You] geeks need to lighten up and be in awe and wonder about both Outlook and Notes ;)

Thanks for the reminder, Daron.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Spell Checker Irony

The Blogger spell checker, when I remember to use it, saves me from posting entries chock full of misspelled words. It's great, but it has trouble with a few common words. "Blog" is one. It also has trouble with "Blogger" and "Google". Ha!

Advice for New Photographers

In 10 Tips for the New Digital SLR Photographer, Thomas Hawk gives some great advice to budding photographers. Although some of the tips apply only to single lens reflex (SLR) cameras, many of them make sense if you have a point-and-shoot camera like mine.

For example, "Join Flickr" (#5) and "Take lots and lots and lots of photos" (#9) are good tips for anyone. Even "ISO, ISO, ISO" (tip #1) applies if you have a point-and-shoot camera with an advanced mode.

If you want to get more serious about photography, the message is simple: Take more pictures, learn all about your equipment, and as often as possible, try something new like shooting in low light. By the way, Thomas Hawk is a master of capturing great pictures at night. Take a look at his "night" tagged photos for some samples.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Dual Ladder Delusion

There are two kinds of engineers -- those who prefer a career in management and those who prefer to climb the technical ladder. At least that's the conventional wisdom in many large companies. As the authors of a 1986 study concluded, it's really a cruel joke.

The study is called The Dual Ladder: Motivational Solution or Managerial Delusion?. It was authored by Thomas J. Allen and Ralph Katz, both associated with MIT's Sloan School of Management, and was originally published in R&D Management. I wish I could link to an electronic copy on the web, but I can't. A Google search results in many citations, but no copy of the article. *

The authors begin their article with a frank assessment of the dual ladder's effectiveness:
The problems underlying the dual ladder concept are several ... [One problem is] organizations tend, over time, to diverge from the initial design and intent of the system. For the first few years, the criteria for promotion to the technical ladder may well be followed rigorously, but they gradually become corrupted. The technical ladder often becomes a reward for organizational loyalty rather than technical contribution.

If the dual ladder is often implemented poorly, there must be a reason companies keep the system. Perhaps, if nothing else, it is an effective way to motivate technical talent. To test this theory, Allen and Katz surveyed managers and engineers in "nine major U.S. organizations". They asked:
To what extent would you like your career to be:
  1. a progression up the technical professional ladder to a higher-level position?
  2. a progression up the managerial ladder to a higher level position?
  3. the opportunity to engage in those challenging and exciting research activities and projects with which you are most interested, irrespective of promotion?
The 2157 managers and engineers surveyed were asked to rate each of the above choices on a scale of 1 to 7. The results were 32.6% preferred "b", the management ladder, 21.6% preferred "a", the technical ladder, and 45.8% preferred "c" the opportunity to engage in challenging projects. In other words, twice as many engineers were motivated by challenging projects than by promotion up the technical ladder. Furthermore, this tendency toward a preference for challenging projects, irrespective of promotion, increased with age.

Although Allen and Katz did not study the software industry specifically, their conclusions are consistent with those of many seasoned software developers. That is: There is an inherent reward in doing interesting work. Even when there is a technical ladder available, many developers find more satisfaction in working on challenging projects than in climbing the ladder. The technical ladder is often the predominant rewards system for developers, but as you climb the ladder, you usually design and write less software. Therefore the dual ladder system is aligned neither with most developers' goals nor with the ultimate goal of the company -- to produce and make money on software.

What do you think? Is the dual ladder a good system that is just imperfectly implemented? Is it, like democracy, the worst system "except for all those others that have been tried"? Or is there a much better system out there?

* Update: Here's a copy of the article from MIT's on-line library. This version was published in 1985.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Camera Review: Canon PowerShot S2 IS

I recently bought a new digital camera. It's only the second digital camera I've owned. Although I am far from an expert on cameras, I want to record my first impressions. If you are searching for a camera, this might help, but to learn all about the Canon PowerShot S2 IS, please check out this review or one of the other excellent reviews on the web.

Rita JeptooThere are several things I love about the PowerShot S2 IS. The first three are Zoom, Zoom, Zoom. The S2 IS is a long zoom camera with a built-in 12x optical zoom lens. If you have been struggling to get close-up shots with a 3x zoom camera, you'll love this feature. For example, I took this picture of Rita Jeptoo, winner of the 2006 Boston Marathon, from 40-50 feet away. With my old 3x zoom camera, I'd have to be 10 feet away to get the same shot. Of course at 10 feet, I wouldn't have been able to take the picture at all. I would have been whisked away by the BAA security volunteers.

The IS in the camera's name stands for Image Stabilization. That is my next favorite feature. Even if you have steady hands, at 12x zoom, you will find it difficult to keep most cameras steady enough to get a good shot. Image stabilization compensates for shaky hands. You will still need a tripod for long exposures (for example, in low light), but image stabilization works great for well lit scenes.

This may sound funny, but another great feature of the S2 IS is the batteries. It runs on four standard AA batteries. I bought some rechargeable NiMH batteries for everyday use, but I keep four ordinary alkaline batteries close by just in case. I guess it is common for Cannon cameras to run on AA batteries, but the elegant simplicity of this idea is new to me. My old Sony camera runs on an expensive rechargeable cell. I could never justify the expense of buying a backup battery. More than once, I was snapping pictures when the battery lost its charge. This won't happen with the S2 IS.

Although I am convinced the S2 IS was a wise choice, is has two notable drawbacks. First, the LCD screen is small compared with some other cameras in its class. As an example, the Sony DSC-H1 has a much bigger screen. I don't like to admit it, but at my age, I sometimes have to strain to read the S2 IS display. As I get more familiar with the features, this problem may become less severe.

All TogetherThe other big drawback is the lack of a pre-set high-speed shutter mode. I take lots of pictures at road races. With my old Sony camera, I could easily select high-speed shutter mode for stop-action photos of runners in action. With the S2 IS, I have to tinker with Tv (shutter-speed priority) or Av (aperture priority) modes to get the same effect. I suppose this could be a blessing in disguise. With fewer pre-set modes, Canon is forcing me to learn about the more advanced features of the S2 IS. It never hurts to learn something new.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

110th Boston Marathon

Rita Jeptoo

Robert Cheruiyot set a new course record (2:07:14) at yesterday's Boston Marathon. He shaved one second off the 1994 mark set by fellow Kenyan, Cosmos Ndeti. Rita Jeptoo (above), also from Kenya, won the woman's race in 2:23:38.

For more photos, see my 2006 Boston Marathon set on Flickr.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Google Calendar

Blog union rules require me to mention the launch of Google Calendar. Since tech.memeorandum is buzzing about the launch, I'll take the easy way out. Go there for all the coverage.

Most of the early reviews are positive, and I like it too. Little touches like event reminder buttons make all the difference. For example, this button adds an important reminder to your Google calendar:

Monday, April 17 is Tax Day!

Very nice.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

San Francisco Earthquake

April 18 will be the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake. The magnitude 7.8 earthquake devastated the city. The ensuing fire caused even more destruction.

Replace "earthquake" with "hurricane" and "fire" with "flood" and the story sounds a lot like New Orleans in 2005. Luckily New Orleans can learn from Frisco's mistakes. For example there is this word of caution in a U.S. News story about the quake:
As one civil engineer, John Debo Galloway, put it soon after the disaster: "The distant observer will ask why, with virgin ground before it, the city did not cut avenues, widen streets, and build nothing but incombustible buildings." For the business elite that ran the city after the disaster, such safety measures were not an option. "The city had suffered from the greatest fire in history," Galloway wrote. "What San Francisco needs is the cheapest building possible in which business can be done, to insure the community enough to eat. The other subjects can wait."

For more on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire see: 

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Three Years is Enough

April 6, 1864 -- A solemn anniversary is upon us. On April 12, it will be three years since the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter to begin this tragic war. We did not start the conflict (though one could argue the Republican administration provoked it) and it is true most Northerners originally supported the war. However, let us mark this anniversary with an inventory of our progress, and let us hope the President will do the same.

GettysburgTo be sure, there have been some successes. Last July, General Meade repelled a strong Confederate force at Gettysburg. It has been nine months since Robert E. Lee last ventured north of the Potomac. The day after the victory at Gettysburg, General Grant accepted the surrender of Vicksburg and gained control of the Big Mississippi. Last November, Grant routed the Army of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Now Grant has been promoted to lead the entire Union Army. He is the sixth man to lead the army in these three long years. Without a doubt he is the most capable.

However, we must also consider the costs. The number of killed, wounded or missing at Fort Donelson, Tennessee was close to 20,000. The casualties at Shiloh, Tennessee were over 23,000; at Stones River, Tennessee -- over 24,000; at Second Bull Run -- more than 25,000; at Antietam -- 26,000; at Chancellorsville -- 30,000; and at Chickamauga -- over 34,000. At Gettysburg, more than 51,000 Americans were killed, wounded or missing. Those are just the figures for the costliest battles so far. To force the South to surrender, we must now chase Robert E. Lee into Virginia. General Grant's army will no doubt suffer tens of thousands of casualties at the hands of a desperate Confederate defense.

And what of the Deep South? With Grant in Virginia, "Crazy Bill" Sherman is now in charge of the western offensive. Sherman lost his nerve after Shiloh. Can he lead his troops to victory in the Deep South? Many Northerners are deeply troubled by Sherman's appointment.

Of course, the quality of our military leaders is only part of the problem. What really concerns most Northerners is our confusing war aims. Two years ago, the President said:
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it...
But within a few months, Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. We have no great love for the institution of slavery, but freeing the slaves has reduced the chances of restoring the Union. How much more tenacious will the Confederate Army be now that they are defending, not just their homes, but their way of life? One can only conclude the President lied about his war aims. For Abraham Lincoln, this war has been about slavery all along.

Polls show only 30% of the North now supports the war and President Lincoln's approval rating is at an all time low. It is time Lincoln faced the facts. He cannot possibly win re-election in November and we cannot restore the Union. Let's bring our troops home and let the South go.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Book Review: The March

The March, by E.L. Doctorow is the best Civil War novel I've read in ages. It follows General William Tecumseh Sherman's march from Atlanta to Savannah, through South Carolina, and on to Raleigh, North Carolina. Sherman himself makes many appearances in the book, but it is not a biography of the general. Doctorow gives equal time to dozens of other characters including a pair of Confederate deserters, a displaced Southern debutante, a brilliant Union field surgeon, and perhaps the central character, a precocious freed slave named Pearl.

At times the novel wavers between existential despair and existential absurdity. Favorite characters are killed or otherwise left by the way side as the rest march relentlessly on. Other main characters don't appear until the journey is two-thirds complete. At first, Doctorow's apparently haphazard plotting drove me crazy, but he seems to be making a point. This is war. Don't get too attached to anyone.

What's constant throughout is Doctorow's beautiful prose, masterful strokes in character development, and attention to historical detail. Abraham Lincoln even makes a brief appearance. In the hands of another writer, the scene might have been corny or unconvincing. Doctorow's glimpse of Lincoln is hauntingly believable.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Boston Marathon Countdown

The 110th Boston Marathon is just over two weeks away. Race day is Monday, April 17. After months of training, most entrants are tapering. The hard work is done. Now it's time to cut back on the mileage, pray for good weather ("It can't be hot four years in a row."), keep a positive attitude, and try not to go stir-crazy. I've never run a marathon, so I've never experienced the mental stress of the marathon taper, but I know the signs. It can be a tough time for runners of all abilities. Hang in there, everyone.

Lots of people are excited about this year's elite field of runners. Hailu Negussie of Ethiopia will be back to defend his 2005 title. As usual, there will be a strong contingent of Kenyans. But the buzz is all about the American field. Alan Culpepper (fourth place in 2005) and Meb Keflezighi will lead the strongest American field in years. Could this be the year an American takes first in the men's race?

Boston Marathon Leader BoardLuckily I'll have a front-row seat -- well, not a seat really. Just like last year, I'll be working the leader board with my brother and sisters. We just received confirmation of our assignment this week. I can't wait.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

JavaScript Utility for Fixing URLs

Yesterday, I cancelled my dial-up ISP account. If you've been through the change-of-ISP experience, you know it can be tedious. I forwarded my email to a new account and I dutifully notified dozens of people and companies about my new email address. The last problem to solve was moving the many images stored on the web space provided by my old ISP. I've posted many Runtime Log entries that refer to those images. To avoid broken links in my blog's archives, I had to move the images to a new home.

Actually, the easy part was copying the image files to a new location on the web. The harder part was figuring out how to fix the references to those images in old posts. I could have edited each post by hand, but that would have been tedious and error prone. Even worse in my estimation is the edits would have caused Blogger to update my RSS feed. The old posts would look like they had been updated, when in fact I had just changed a URL or two.

I decided a better approach would be to leave the old posts alone and fix image URLs as each blog page is loaded into the browser. With help from a friend (thanks, Terry!), I wrote a few lines of JavaScript. The code is in a file called fixer.js.

To execute the code, I made two changes to my blog template. I added a <script> tag to the header:
<script type="text/javascript" src="http://mysite/fixer.js" />

Then I added an onload attribute to the <body> tag:
<body onload="fixImagesAndLinks('oldsite', 'mysite')">

Voila! The old URLs are now magically fixed. In a way, this is a kludge. I wouldn't recommend this approach for a production web application, but this is just a hobbyist-type blog. Sometimes a kludge is the right tool for the job.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Tenants Wanted, Apply within


Not Enough Enterprise

It's been a while since I tuned into The Daily WTF. (Warning: Regular readers of The Daily WTF may experience serious misgivings about the state of the art of software development.) It's probably not healthy keep up with all the insanity at WTF, but Bitten by the Enterprise Bug really made me laugh:
... their system wasn't the greatest, but it was fairly documented, easy to work with, and, most importantly, did the job. But one thing it lacked, so said upper management, was "enterprise." And that is something that no system should be with out.
Time to bring in the enterprise consultants!

Monday, March 20, 2006

You Are What You Post

Have you ever regretted a comment you posted to someone's blog? Do you wish you could erase your posts from that alt.anarchism discussion way back in 1992? According to You Are What You Post, you should be concerned:
... because today there are two of you. There's the analog, warm-blooded version ... Then there's the online you, your digital doppelganger; that's the one that is growing larger and more impossible to control every day.

Googling people is also becoming a way for bosses and headhunters to do continuous and stealthy background checks on employees, no disclosure required.

This is a good reminder to be careful what you say on the Net and how you say it. I am not advocating self-censorship, but it's worth looking down the road before you post. Are you sure you won't regret your words five years from now?

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Evolution of Software Design

I think Software Development's Evolution toward Product Design* is an important essay. The author, Danc at Lost Garden, gets a lot of things right. His four distinct eras of software development sound about right to me. I don't quite remember "The Technocrat Era", but I lived through the "Early Business" and "Late Business" eras. I know first hand many products of those eras confounded users' expectations.

On the other hand, I think Danc is being unfair when he implies each product of those bygone eras was nothing more than "a pile of poo". His artist's rendition is very funny, but it's still unfair. Danc is also too sanguine about the glories of the "Product Design Era".

Danc seems to believe the key to successful software development is to involve people in berets (artists and designers) early in the project life cycle. He refers to a so called "Production Pipeline" in which the people in berets lay the ground work for pliant programmers. To be fair, Danc doesn't think this will be easy:
Unfortunately, many companies that attempt to adopt a product design philosophy will also fail, despite their best efforts. Cultural change is hard work. To adopt product design you must alter the most basic DNA of the company's values.
It's true we need cultural change and he's right it won't be easy, but inertia is not the only problem. In my opinion, the bigger problem is the people in berets don't have all the answers. They certainly don't always agree on the answer.

For example, many designers are orthodox User Centered Design (UCD) disciples. They design products for user personae and insist the software must always adapt to the user. They can cite chapter and verse from the high priests of UCD including Alan Cooper and Don Norman. But Don Norman himself recently broke ranks with UCD orthodoxy. In Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful, Norman dropped some bomb shells:
HCD asserts as a basic tenet that technology adapts to the person. In [Activity-Centered Design], we admit that much of human behavior can be thought of as an adaptation to the powers and limitations of technology. Everything, from the hours we sleep to the way we dress, eat, interact with one another, travel, learn, communicate, play, and relax. Not just the way we do these things, but with whom, when, and the way we are supposed to act, variously called mores, customs, and conventions.

People do adapt to technology. It changes social and family structure. It changes our lives. Activity-Centered Design not only understands this, but might very well exploit it.

Now consider the method employed by the Human-Centered Design community. The emphasis is often upon the person, not the activity. Look at those detailed scenarios and personas: honestly, now, did they really inform your design? Did knowing that the persona is that of a 37 year old, single mother, studying for the MBA at night, really help lay out the control panel or determine the screen layout and, more importantly, to design the appropriate action sequence? Did user modeling, formal or informal, help determine just what technology should be employed?

I think Norman's Activity-Centered Design principles are much saner than strict UCD, but the art of user interaction design is still evolving. The people in berets don't have a silver bullet. It is unlikely they ever will. User interaction design, like software architecture, is hard work. It will be another era or two or three before we get it right even most of the time.

* via Ned

Monday, March 13, 2006

Google Mars

What's the significance of today's banner on the Google home page? Click on the banner and be amazed. It takes you to a new Google Mars service where you can explore the Martian surface.

Since most of us aren't familiar with Martian geography, Google Mars lets you browse by Regions, Spacecraft and Stories. To see what I mean, click the links at the top left of the Google Mars page. Very cool.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

NH Moose Rescued from Swingset

On Friday, Don Valliere rescued a moose from a swingset in Milan, NH.
"It didn't like the idea too much that I stayed close to it, but it stayed calm," Valliere said Friday. "The only thing I was nervous about was getting bit."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Jumping on the Broadband Wagon

Believe it or not, we used the same dial-up service at home for almost ten years. Until about a year ago, this was just fine. We didn't need more bandwidth. Like most things in life, the situation became untenable by degrees. It's amazing how we tolerated the slow loading of web pages and the glacial speed of retrieving mail messages stuffed with (often unsolicited) digital images. That wasn't a huge problem. The straw that broke the camel's back was the unavailability of our phone service while connected to the Net. With the phone tied up for an hour or two each day, there was no denying it. We had a (gasp) bandwidth problem.

I considered subscribing to digital cable and adding high-speed Internet to my cable service. One look at the monthly rate and I changed my mind. Instead we went with DSL. At least in my area, Verizon Online DSL is much cheaper than cable. Verizon shipped my DSL modem a few days after I placed the order. Just a few days after that, they enabled DSL service. The installation was incredibly easy. The Verizon installation disk includes very simple, audio setup instructions. We were connected in less than an hour.

Part of my motivation for getting broadband, was to have faster access to my company's Virtual Private Network (VPN). Getting to the VPN over DSL proved to be a little more difficult. When I authenticated with the VPN, my client went into an endless loop supposedly "exchanging keys with the VPN server". After googling for help and coming up empty handed, I finally consulted some colleagues at work. The solution was to upgrade my VPN client and switch from IPSec to SSL. I don't understand all the trade-offs of IPSec vs. SSL, but it's clear SSL is compatible with more DSL modems, cable modems and wireless routers.

So I am up and running. Broadband will make it possible for me to work more hours from home. When I'm not working, my family and I can now enjoy educational videos like Einstein Robot. This is progress? The only thing better would be to have a wireless router so I can work and watch streaming videos from any room in the house. I can't wait. If you can recommend a good wireless router, please let me know.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Getters, Setters and Object Orientation

As I read Martin Fowler's Getter Eradicator essay, I wondered for a moment what I was missing. As Fowler says:
[One] sign of trouble [in OO design] is the Data Class - a class that has only fields and accessors. That's almost always a sign of trouble because it's devoid of behavior. If you see one of those you should always be suspicious. Look for who uses the data and try to see if some of this behavior can be moved into the object. In these cases it can be useful to ask yourself 'can I get rid of this getter?' Even if you can't, asking the question may lead to some good movements of behavior.
The problem is my work lately has been full of Data Classes, or what my colleagues and I call Value Objects. A value object is nothing but a bag of properties with getters and setters. A value object is almost devoid of behavior. It is usually passed to or returned by a service that implements the behavior. I found myself wondering, "Is this a bad thing?"

Fowler's essay refers to an even better essay by Allen Holub called Why Getter and Setter Methods Are Evil. Holub warns the reader about violating encapsulation with getters and setters and then back-peddles. There are some valid uses for getters and setters. For example:
The vast majority of OO programs runs on procedural operating systems and talks to procedural databases. The interfaces to these external procedural subsystems are generic by nature. Java Database Connectivity (JDBC) designers don't have a clue about what you'll do with the database, so the class design must be unfocused and highly flexible. Normally, unnecessary flexibility is bad, but in these boundary APIs, the extra flexibility is unavoidable. These boundary-layer classes are loaded with accessor methods simply because the designers have no choice.
That perfectly describes my recent work. I have been working on an abstract, highly flexible Service Provider Interface (SPI). Since I can't force reuse of behavior, I have to define transparent value objects and defer the behavior to each service provider.

All well and good, but Fowler and Holub have reminded me this is not Object Orientation. I guess it is closer to Service Orientation. I am reluctant to call it that only because there is so much other baggage associated with Service Oriented Architecture. In any case, the point is this: Use of getters and setters can be a bad habit. Although I continue to work on my SPI, I occasionally venture up into the Object Oriented layers above my interface. When I do, I'll be on the lookout for inappropriate getters and setters.

Monday, February 27, 2006

More Services from Google

February has been a busy month for Google. If you use Gmail, you know they have integrated mail with Google Talk instant messaging. You can now send and receive instant messages right from your Gmail inbox.

The Gmail team also introduced a service called Gmail for Your Domain:
This special beta test lets you give Gmail, Google's webmail service, to every user at your domain. Gmail for your domain is hosted by Google, so there's no hardware or software for you to install or maintain.
I don't know what the terms of service will be, but this could be a big hit with small to medium size businesses.

More recently Google announced a beta test of Google Page Creator. This service lets you create your own web site at <yourname> It features a WYSIWYG page editor and a 100 Mb allowance for files at That's 10 times more than my ISP allows and I have to pay for that service. Not surprisingly, Google was overwhelmed with people registering to test Google Page Creator. The beta is now temporarily closed to new registrations.

Finally, Garett Rogers reports Google is working on a new calendar service. There is no official word from Google on when the service will be announced, but you can bet it will generate lots of buzz.

Mail, instant messaging, calendar, blogs and home pages. Do you think Google is interested in the collaboration market? Right now, all of these services are funded by advertising revenue and tested by an army of unpaid workers (you and me). I wonder. Is it just a matter of time before Google begins selling a hosted collaboration suite directly to businesses?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

No. 1 Ladies' Detective

The hot, dry, dusty bush country of Botswana could hardly be further from New England in winter. Precious Ramotswe's job solving crimes and other mysteries could hardly be more different than working in an office. Maybe that's why I enjoyed The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. It's the first in a series of books about the unconventional detective Mma Ramotswe*.

This is not an edge-of-your-seat mystery. It's much more of a character study -- both of Mma Ramotswe and of Botswana itself. Smith takes time to tell the story of Ramotswe's childhood and life as a young adult. He highlights her decision to become a detective to "help people with problems in their lives". Then he brings the reader along on many of Mma Ramotswe's early cases -- everything from a search for a missing person, to tailing a con man, to a surprising murder investigation.

The news from Africa these days is a litany of disease, civil war, genocide, and post-colonial turmoil. This has been the news for as long as I can remember. As Mma Ramotswe travels around Gaborone, Botswana, you sense those things in the background, but you also experience her abiding pride in the relatively peaceful recent history of Botswana and a strong connection to the land and the people. Mma Ramotswe loves her Botswana. I'm looking forward to another visit when I read the next book in the series.

* In Botswana, Mma is a term of respect. Mma is apparently the equivalent of Madam, just as Rra is the equivalent of Sir.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Do It Yourself Satellite

A few days ago, NASA published photographs of SuitSat, a homemade satellite launched from the International Space Station on Feb 3:
SuitSat, an unneeded Russian Orlan spacesuit, was outfitted by the crew with three batteries, internal sensors and a radio transmitter, which faintly transmitted recorded voices of school children to amateur radio operators worldwide.
After the launch, ham radio operators around the world picked up SuitSat transmissions and reported them on the SuitSat web site. Unfortunately, the last report was about five days ago.

Although it isn't transmitting any more, I guess the suit is still up there orbiting the earth. According to the NASA site, "The suit will enter the atmosphere and burn up in a few weeks."

Correction: As of Feb. 16, SuitSat is still transmitting. Yesterday, I read the report table wrong. The table lists the most recent event first.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Common Ground

Last week's feature by Charles Arthur in The Guardian set off quite a firestorm within the Notes and Domino community. Several people blogged about it and many more commented. For example, there are more than 50 responses to a follow-up on Mr. Arthur's personal blog. There are close to 80 comments on Ed Brill's blog.

Charles Arthur and the Notes defenders, including me, remain very far apart on this issue. Mr. Arthur apparently lives in a parallel universe where the last three major releases of Notes never happened and where a vocal minority of Notes haters speak for the entire user population. He is, of course, entitled to his opinion, but the Notes supporters are conceding none of his points.

In such a polarized atmosphere, it is difficult to find common ground. Yet there is this quote from Charles Arthur complaining about his readers:
This inability to read something online and follow the thread of its argument seems to be an amazingly common failing. I notice it again and again in the grousing emails I get about articles: people don'’t seem to twig what they'’re reading. They skim a bit, and then reach the bit they disagree with, then leap to their email program to fire off their prejudices.

I know how you feel, Charles. Change a few words and you have:
This inability to understand and use software seems to be an amazingly common failing. I notice it again and again in complaints on the web: people don'’t seem to grok what they'’re using. They tinker a bit, and then reach the bit they disagree with, then leap to their blog to fire off their prejudices.
Of course, I don't disdain users in general, but I know from experience some users will set their mind against a software product and concede none of its benefits.

So how should we handle this situation, Charles? I think we need to realize that the vast majority of our constituents couldn't care less about such debates. Most readers of The Guardian are moved to complain only very rarely. They are more interested in sports and weather and getting on with their lives. It's the same with Notes users. They are not interested the fine points of UI design. For them, Notes is a business tool. They've learned to adapt to Notes quirks and get on with their work.

We should get on with our work too. At the end of the day, it is not about scoring points in a debate. It is about practicing our respective crafts. On his personal blog, Charles Arthur appears to be losing interest in this topic. Notes supporters like Ben Rose, Alan Lepofsky and Ed Brill need to get back to the fine work they do. I certainly need to get back to writing software.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Slow News Day

Today The Guardian published an editorial bolstering the claim, yet again, that Notes is the most hated software product ever. The editorial quoted my I Love Lotus Notes post from last month.

Ben Rose, founder of the UK Notes User Group, was also quoted in the editorial. Ben has already questioned both the data and the "research" behind the article. Ed Brill has responded too. I can do no better than to point you to Ben and Ed. I think they both got it right.

But, of course, I have an opinion too.

When I first heard about the piece in The Guardian, I was prepared to hate it. I feared being quoted out of context and expected I'd have to write a scathing letter to the editor. In fact the editorial didn't twist my words. To be honest, my reaction is closer to a yawn.

This whole topic has been rehashed many times over. Some of it is really old news. For example:
When new mail arrives, you get a message saying "You have new mail". But the mailbox display doesn't update; you have to press a key or menu item to refresh it. So the program is smart enough to know email has arrived, but not to show it - something the clunkiest free email program does routinely.
That problem was fixed years ago in Notes 6!

The rest of The Guardian piece is mere speculation about who hates Notes, why they hate it, and what percentage of users hate it. There is no actual research to back up the claims and many of the facts are plain wrong. Round over. The Guardian didn't lay a glove on Notes.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Waterfall 2006

Register today for the Waterfall 2006 conference this spring in Niagara Falls, NY. Speakers include Ron Jeffries on Extreme Programming Uninstalled, Dave Thomas and Andy Hunt on An Introduction to Dogmatic Programming, and Jon Kern on WUP: Waterfall Unified Process.

The conference will be chock full of sessions celebrating the death of Agile Development. I had difficulty registering, but I am sure the registration page will be back soon. According to the web site:
We're sorry but registration is not yet ready. Our software developers have a really wonderful design. They're almost done entering it into it a UML tool. They've told us not to worry and that finishing it will be "trivial" because "all that's left is the coding."
Don't forget to mark your calendar. The conference is on April 1!

Friday, February 03, 2006


What will they think of next? Googlefight lets you pit the results of one Google search term against another.

Click here for a Super Bowl XL prediction.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Buying Innovation

The truth behind Yahoo's acquisition of Flickr and
The truth is, I think, that Yahoo bought 'Entrepreneurial Spirit'. Ok, these small companies also have some technology, a few members, a little revenue and great PR but that wasn't the main reason to buy them. The truth is that big companies don't innovate. They can't.
Interesting perspective.

(via Ben Poole and Volker Weber)

Monday, January 30, 2006


DSC03308Over the past several months, I've occasionally posted photographs to this blog. I've carefully crafted a thumbnail for each photo, uploaded the images to my ISP web space, and hacked the HTML for each image. I guess I've been doing it the hard way.

I've known about Flickr for months -- I've even used it to search for photos -- but this weekend I finally got around to posting some photos of my own. It's great! The Flickr uploader tool is easy to use and it is dirt simple to create photo sets. You don't have to diddle with image editing and HTML. For example, here's a small set of pictures I've taken this winter.

Flickr has been generating buzz for months. It is often cited as a successful example of a service fueled by a bottom-up taxonomy or folksonomy. I'm still not sold on the idea of folksonomies for organizing data, but Flickr is great. It's the photo sharing, stupid!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Roving Mars

A couple of nights ago NHPR's The Front Porch aired an interview with George Burton, the documentary filmmaker from Holderness, New Hampshire. Burton is well known for making Pumping Iron (1977) and The Endurance (2000) among other films. This Friday his new film, Roving Mars, opens in IMAX theaters nationwide.

Roving Mars tells the story of the NASA mission that sent the rovers Spirit and Opportunity to Mars in 2004. According to the NHPR interview, it includes plenty of footage from Mars itself, high-definition images transmitted by the rovers. This sounds great. Unfortunately, it won't be opening at an IMAX theater near me. It looks like the closest showing is at the IMAX theater in Providence.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Online, Over Fed, and Under Surveillance

I'm a bit overwhelmed with life online. I guess I'm not the only one. Pete recently wrote about unplugging some his information feeds. Before that, Rands wrote about Repetitive Information Injury. I can relate. Lately, I think I've been spending too much time checking my feeds at Bloglines. I need to get that under control.

But it's not just conspicuous consumption that worries me. I'm also worried about conspicuous production. I am just beginning to realize how much of an electronic trail I leave online every day. For instance, I let Google store my personal email and blog entries. That part of my electronic trail is intentional and I have a degree of control over it. But I also post comments to a handful of other blogs, enter all of my runs in an online running log, participate in discussions on various forums, and manage a queue of DVDs at Netflix. That's just off the top of my head. There may be more.

The problem is much of this electronic trail is beyond my control. If someone took the time to stitch all of the data together, they would essentially own my electronic identity. Antonio and Ned see some potential in helping "unwitting bloggers" establish a cohesive online identity. As Ned said:
People are more and more willing to have bits of themselves online. Some are more than willing, they are eager, but need help getting started with a substantial presence. I think there's lots that online services could do to turn members into unwitting bloggers. There's lots of exciting stuff coming down the pike.
Exciting, yes, but I keep getting stuck on that one word. Unwitting. I don't like the idea of someone else controlling my identity.

Om Malik recently wrote about the dangers of keeping too much of your life online:
Somewhere on some server, in some SAN your life is cached. We are living a cached life. And it is going to get even more cached, as we turn to always-on wireless devices. Our RSS will be cached somewhere. So will be our thoughts that appear on blogs. Our TiVo watching patterns to music listening patterns in iTunes, and other such new conveniences are part of a new cached, convenient albeit less private life.
Don't get me wrong. Life online is great. I like the convenience of Gmail, Netflix and other services, but we all need to be careful when trading privacy for convenience. Is your online data in good hands?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Kids Today!

The Wall Street Journal Online reports some Computer Science students are using the Internet to outsource their homework. Some use a service called RentACoder to put their homework out to bid. For example:
"I need a simple console-based program and a PHP script written that uses the openssl library."

"I need 2 algorithms filtering -- median and Gaussian."

"A C++ program that will implement a billing system using threads. Needs to be completed tonight if possible."

RentACoder is normally used for legitimate business purposes. The report stresses that a only tiny minority of students use services like RentACoder.

(Via Slashdot where there are plenty of comments about the offenders' bright future in middle management.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Interfaces Overvalued in Java API Design

In Java API Design Guidelines, Eamonn McManus says:
There's a certain style of API design that's very popular in the Java world, where everything is expressed in terms of Java interfaces (as opposed to classes). Interfaces have their place, but it is basically never a good idea for an entire API to be expressed in terms of them. A type should only be an interface if you have a good reason for it to be.

McManus goes on to explain the problems with interfaces and to list the cases where interfaces make sense. This is the best explanation of the tradeoffs I have seen anywhere.

Of course, the article isn't just about interfaces. It includes lots of other guidelines for Java API design. Good stuff.

Happy Birthday, Ben

Today, January 17, is the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's birth. Although he lived in Philadelphia most of his life, don't forget he was born in Boston.

Here are some words of wisdom from Mr. Franklin:
"Beware of the young doctor and the old barber."

"If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect."

"Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."

"Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead."

There are many more Franklin quotes here.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Starbucks Media Empire

Apparently their profitable Hear Music division, has Starbucks executives dreaming of a media empire. As reported by the Seattle Post Intelligencer, Starbucks plans to promote movies starting with the spring release of Akeelah and the Bee. An NPR story I heard last night claimed Starbucks also has plans to sell books at some of their 10,000 coffee shops.

I like Starbucks cappuccino. Although I've never bought a music CD at one of their stores, I also like the "Starbucks sound" and I can see the logic in their peddling music with coffee. But I think it's a stretch for Starbucks to be tying in other media. It feels like they want to dictate good taste in coffee, music, books and movies.

Since it is Starbucks, I won't bet against their success, but I don't like where this is heading.

Misuse of Chinese Characters

Over the years, I have worked with many engineers from Japan, China and Korea. I am always amazed by their ability to speak two (or more) languages fluently. I feel stupid by comparison.

Still, I get a chuckle whenever I visit It's a collection of unintentionally funny English phrases discovered in Japan and other Asian countries. I think it's mostly a good natured collection. Hopefully, it's not offensive to Asians.

The good news is it is just as funny when the shoe is on the other foot. Hanzi Smatter is a site "dedicated to the misuse of chinese characters in western culture". The site specializes in translating chinese characters tattooed on gullible westerners. The tattoos don't always mean what their owners think they mean.

Photo from Hanzi Smatter

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Best Database of 2005: Alpha Five V7

CRN recently named Alpha Five V7 the Best Database of 2005. It beat FileMaker Version 8 and Microsoft Access for the top honor.

I was fortunate enough to work on Alpha Five starting with version 1.0 about fourteen years ago. Selwyn, Pete, and Doug deserve credit for designing the original product. I left Alpha Software almost 10 years ago. I wonder how much of the original code is still in V7.

In any case, congratulations to Richard, Selwyn, Cian and others for the CRN award. It's great to see a small company taking on the bigger players and winning in the SMB Database market.

(via Pete @ DevelopingStorm)

Friday, January 06, 2006

I Love Lotus Notes

Lotus Notes is a truly great software product. It is slicker than black ice in New England in January. It may not be the best thing since sliced bread, but is better than anything invented before sliced bread. Alright, I may be over compensating to counter the claims at Lotus Notes Sucks (and elsewhere), but I really do love Notes.

In the interests of full disclosure, I worked on Notes from 1996 through 2002. As a software developer, I contributed to versions 4.5, 4.6, 5.0 and 6.0. Obviously, I don't like to hear people bash the product I worked on. On the other hand, I have also used Lotus Notes every working day for almost ten years. It is not and never will be a perfect product, but it also isn't nearly as bad as some people make it out to be.

Let's look at some indisputable facts:
  • When it was introduced in 1989, Notes pioneered the concept of groupware.
  • It is one the most successful desktop applications ever. For example, in 2000, Network Computing named Notes one of the top ten products of the 1990s.
  • Unlike many products of its vintage, Notes is still going strong. According to Ed Brill, Notes still has 120 million seats (see comment #9). Microsoft in particular has repeatedly tried to kill Notes, and Microsoft has a history of obliterating the competition in many market segments (think Wordperfect, Lotus 123 and Netscape Navigator). How many products have been able to withstand sustained competition from Microsoft? Notes and Quicken are the only two products that come to mind.
So why do many people dislike Notes? Why does the anonymous owner of Lotus Notes Sucks spend hours on his web site? Why does Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror fame rant against Notes on his other blog? Are evil CIOs intentionally torturing their users with a defective product? That would be ironic considering the early adoption of Notes was viral**.

In my opinion, people dislike Notes because their expectations don't jive with the original intent of the product. At its core, Notes is a runtime environment for collaborative applications, but when people complain about Notes, they are usually not talking about core Notes at all. They are talking about the Notes Mail and Calendar applications.

Why does this distinction matter? It matters because the Notes core is what a lot of people really love. The three core features I really like are:
  1. Replication. This is what lets you disconnect from the network and continue to read and send mail. It's also what lets Domino servers maintain multiple copies of your mail file. I don't think any product does replication as well as Notes and Domino.
  2. Security. Notes security was way ahead of it's time in 1989. It is still rock solid.
  3. Programmability. You don't like the way Notes Mail works? Programmability lets you (or an IT developer) fix small problems and add completely new features in mail. It's also what lets you build entirely new applications for your business.
None of this means IBM should disregard people's complaints about Notes Mail and Calendar. Far from it. I know IBM takes these complaints very seriously. The Mail and Calendar applications have consistently improved from one release to the next. As a relatively new Notes 7 user, I am very impressed with the new features and quality of Mail and Calendar.

Here's what I am really saying to people who dislike Notes: Grow up please. You may have preferred the mail application you used in your last job. You may have a dozen small complaints about how Notes works. But don't say Notes sucks and recommend throwing it out. That's like throwing out the baby with the bath water. Chances are your IT department has many good reasons for sticking with Notes. Have you asked what those reasons are?

** I mean viral in a good way. In the early days, small groups in large companies used Notes to solve real business problems they couldn't otherwise tackle. At first, this drove central IT departments crazy. Eventually, the IT departments understood the business justification and adopted Notes themselves.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

So Long, Weather Notebook

The last edition of The Weather Notebook aired on Friday, December 30. In case the name is unfamiliar to you, it was a two-minute radio show produced from the weather station on top of New Hampshire's Mount Washington. It's mission was to educate the public about meteorology and weather-related issues. The show aired on more than three hundred radio stations nationwide.

The Weather Notebook received most of its funding from Subaru and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Recently the NSF decided not to renew it's commitment. I find this troubling. The show was a perfect vehicle for the NSF's mission to "promote the progress of science". I wonder whether the decision is a result of budget cuts, or the perception The Weather Notebook violated the NSF's advocacy guidelines (pure speculation!), or something else.

In any case, you can still read The Weather Notebook Archives online. And perhaps the producers will secure enough funding to return the show to the radio. I hope so.