Monday, January 31, 2005

TiVo might just survive

TiVo's been under attack by lots of cable providers that want to provide their own branded PVR systems. TiVo's been slow to release new features over the past couple years... very frustrating for us TiVo lovers.

Well, now TiVo has released an SDK for developers and is holding a coding challenge.

Yeah TiVo... what to code?...

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Liberal Arts & Engineering

As my profile will tell you, I'm a geek of all trades. More importantly, I'm an engineer by training. I've got degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. Now, my wife, on the other hand has her degree in English. So, in college to impress her (and try to find ways of competing on level ground during arguments with her, which has failed) I took 4 English classes during my Junior and Senior years:
  • Shakespeare - actually because I love it, not her
  • Romantic Literature - not Harlequin, the other romantic
  • Argumentation - trying and failing to win against her
  • Fiction Writing - just for fun
As I've hinted, Argumentation wasn't my strongest class. I didn't do poorly. It's just that I tend to come at things from a different point of view than is typical in the school of liberal arts. That, and I'm bad at pushing my point of view, unless it's something very technical that I can build a straight forward, logical proof to argue with. Never the less, I ended up with a very satisfactory B in the class. Almost entirely because of my paper discussing the crucial part that computer science should play in every liberal arts education.

Sounds ridiculous, perhaps. But what I was able to show through the paper was that (a) by definition a liberal arts education is intended to broaden one's perspective on the world and our place within it, and that (b) the analytical methods that are critical to understanding the themes in computer science are fundamentally new and not being taught in any other curriculum that is already part of most liberal arts programs. I won't bore you with the details, but the professor was duly impressed with the argument I put forth, convincing her that, indeed, the analytical skills taught by computer science are not typically available elsewhere, and yet do provide insight into questions that are posed by a liberal arts eduction.

So, watch what you say about your friendly neighborhood geek. Despite the sterotypes you might hold, true geeks are deeper than you think.

Second Day Alone

By the way, Ellie did great being left at preschool again today. I sat and played with her for a few minutes. Said "bye bye, Ellie." And all I got was a wave, a smile, and "buh bye."

We made up for any missed screaming later in the day when Ellie went to the ENT (ear, nose, and throat; not fictional ancient forest creature -- that would have been more pleasant). Ellie's got very small ear cannals. So, every time we visit the ENT, we have to pin her down to the examining table so the doctor can remove the wax with a mini crochet hook and look in her ear with the micro-otoscope. She's big enough now that she HATES it and screams and cries. Tough to say, though, if it's harder on her having it done or on mom and dad helping hold her down.

Blind Faith

The current news about the Hubble Space Telescope is an apt metaphor for the Bush administration. A couple weeks ago, Hubble took on of the first actual pictures of an extrasolar planet. A week later, we hear the big news that funding for Hubble repair missions is being dramatically cut by the White House for 2006.

Since the President believes the world really was created in 7 days by the all mighty, I guess there's no reason for us to explore the universe any farther.

He also believes there's no reason to continue the silly study of stem cells. Even though the US main line of stem cells is contaminated. I guess his philosophy is that if you get enough sleep or enough vacation time, you won't get sick.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Greatest American Hero

My nonsense post for the day... I'm sitting here watching the Twilight Zone and one of my favorite shows from the 80s popped into my head, The Greatest American Hero. If you didn't watch the show, you really missed out. It was a great show about a misfit superhero who was given a power suit by aliens... but who loses the instruction book for the suit.

Great show. Only ran for 2 years. Can't even find it on TVLand now. Oh well.

Fatherhood: Patience and Productivity

I'm the kind of person who typically (except on some occassions) needs to be doing something productive. I've finally learned how to sit and watch TV rather than be up and around cleaning dishes or straightening or working on work while we watch TV. Turns out there's a lot of good stuff you miss if you're not paying attention.

Putting Ellie to sleep requires a skill I'd never spent the time to cultivate until now... patience. To rock calmly and quietly while holding a squirming, kicking, overly exhausted baby takes some kind of patience. Especially when it's the third time she's woken up in a night. I suppose this is all practice for having a teenager someday.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Theocratic or Meritocratic Democracy

(You'll have to excuse the ugly adjectivification of government types in the title.)

This is the age of right-wing evangalic conspiracy theories. Today's note from Echidne on god's supposed role in our most recent election.

So, what do we call it when the people of a democracy elect officials based more on their religiously influcenced (or dictated) assessment of a candidate's morality rather than the candidate's technical qualifications?

It's not a Theocracy (yet) where the church directly chooses the leadership of the government. But with how strong an influece religious morality has played in the last election, it certainly isn't a Meritocracy where our leadership is selected based on expertise. Is there a point at which fundamentalists, blindly following their interpretation of Christianity, overwhelm the choices in democracy?

As I see it, fundamentalism leaves minimal room for interpretation of religious principles. As such, the members of fundamentalist groups have little choice in who they elect -- only one candidate lives within the bounds of those edicts -- as described by the religious leaders. So, the religious leaders define which candidates are living righteous lives. As a fundamentalist, you're obligated only to vote for a candidate who agrees with you. If enough American's are fundamentalist, then the religious leadership has effectively chosen the federal leadership.

Sounds pretty fishy to me... loaves and fishy. ;)

First Day Alone

Today was Ellie's first day alone at school. Dad was nervous. I think Mom was neverous.
Ellie didn't seem to have any issues at all.

Mom tells the story best.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Why I Need to Stay Up Later

Rest assured that, no, I'm not actually up this late. I went to bed around 1a, but Ellie woke up about 30 minutes ago, and it was certainly my turn to be up with her.

Sarahlynn likes to stay up late. It makes sense, of course. She's home all day with Ellie. No time for herself. So, after I go to bed, Sarahlynn finally has time just for her and her alone. Problem is that she's a bit ADD and quite a bit OCD. These things were either inherrited or learned from her mother.

Here's how she describes her thinking to me:
  • "It's nearly 1a, I should think about going to bed."
  • "I'll just check the boards one more time."
  • ...15-20 minutes later...
  • "I really should check everyone's blogs one more time."
  • ...15-20 minutes later...
  • "OK, now off to bed. I need to take my vitamins and get a glass of water."
  • ...walks to the kitchen...
  • "Oh, the dining room realy could be dusted."
  • ...walks toward the linen closet to get a dust rag...
  • "I'll pick up some of Ellie's toys from the floor."
  • ...bends down...
  • "But this laundry should be folded."
  • she grabs the first piece of Ellie's laundry...
  • "I need to pack her spare outfits for preschool, but those baggies need to be washed."
  • ...sets everything down to find to find the zipper baggies for Ellie's spare clothes...
  • ...walks past the kitchen table with her computer...
  • "I wonder if anyone's posted a reply to my Dilbert thread."
  • ...cycle starts again...
  • ...repeat until after 2 am...
  • "I'm so tired... just going to collapse in bed."
  • "After I play one game of Spider Solitaire."
  • [from the nursery] "aaah"
  • "She'll settle herself."
  • [from the nursery] "Aaah"
  • "I'll give her a few minutes to see if she settles or works herself up."
  • [from the nursery] "Aaah! Aaah!"
  • "All right."
  • ...Next 15 minutes spent nursing....
  • ...Another 15-30 minutes spent rocking Ellie...
  • ...Then I take over if Ellie still hasn't gone down...
I haven't depicted that as well as Sarahlynn can, but I think you can get the point.

When I stay up with her until we both actually go back to the bedroom, Sarahlynn can get to bed at a decent hour. Last night, I said goodnight at 1a or so. Sarahlynn said, "I'll be there soon." Just to be sure I offered to stay up a little later, but she turned me down, insisting that she'd be in bed soon. She was still blogging at 2:20... After having gotten obsessed with waxing her eyebrows!

Sunday, January 16, 2005

And so it begins

I'm a Star Wars fan... but geeze.

Finishing Projects - Started

As promised, here are pictures of the wall removal phase of the project.

There used to be a wall on the left hand side.

Now you can see inside the closet!

Finishing Projects

Admitedly, I'm not the best at finishing household projects in a timely manner. Cases in point:
  • It took me 9 months to build the cedar chest for Sarahlynn's first Mother's Day.
  • The bathroom sink and cabinet I bought at the same time (as Ellie's gift to Sarahlynn) is still sitting in the workshop... now probably not usable from exposure to all the humidity and cold.
  • Both the workshop and basement storage are in shambles of disarray from my lack of patience in trying to get things organized.
  • This list can go on...
Never the less, here I am starting another new project. And it's probably the largest home improvement project I've ever done in our house!

The contractors just finished work on our basement bathroom a few weeks ago, but we decided the basement should be an even more hospitable "inlaw-suite". So, we're tearing down the wall next to stairway to open up the bathroom entry and laundry room, drywalling the outside of the bathroom, putting a ceiling in the laundry room, and painting the whole place.

If a cedar chest using 64 sq ft of lumber takes me 9 months to complete, then a basement with 1,000 sq ft of drywall will probably take me about 11 years. Luckily, we'll have divorced by then and both moved out of the house. (I can't imagine Sarahlynn staying married to me after 11 years of basement-in-progress.)

--Pictures to come if work progresses.--

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Outsourcing Tape Backup Hijinks

I work in IT... Specifically, I'm the development team lead for a data warehousing group. If you're not familiar with data warehousing, we're the geeks that gather up all the information that we can for a company about itself, its customers, its supply chain, its inventory, etc and put it all in one place to give business analysts and executive big wigs an understanding of how the business is doing and what they might do to make it better (read "more profitable"). What can I say, I enjoy the challenge of trying to unify all the disparate parts of a company into a single model. If you haven't worked for a fortune 500 company, you may have a good idea for just how complicated the all the data behind a big business can be. It's a real challenge.

Anyway, yes, I've sold out to "the man" and have a job that only very loosely works toward making the world a better place... But that isn't the point of this post.

So, we're looking to potentially work with a new database vendor for our data warehouse. Part of that evaluation and selection process is to perform a proof of concept in which we give a copy of our data to both of the vendors we're evaluating, they load that data on a test system configured like the one we might buy, and we execute functional and performance tests against their system. Since our current database is archaic in technology terms (5 year), both vendors had better perform better than our current solution. The only question is which vendor has the best combination of functionality, performance, ease of use, and price. (Just for reference, we're talking about 2.5 terabytes of data and database systems that cost multiple millions of dollars.)

One of the keys to this proof of concept is to create a copy of our existing data and send that off to the vendors. (Never fear, customer privacy is ensured by scrambling personal information and various legal agreements.)

As so many do today, our company outsourcing much of its IT administration to a third-party. (Not naming any names, but they had some issues with upgrading an airlines desktop PC a little while back.) Our database administrators, system administrators, and backup administrators are all "leveraged resources" from that third-party. A "leveraged resource" means that the person isn't solely dedicated to our systems. They might work on the systems for other clients as well. The theory behind outsourcing (as is the theory behind how civilizations and economies are built) is specialization. Someone else learns how to do something really well so that you can skip learning that and focus on your own core skills. Then they can trade services for goods or money. The outsourcing firm specializing in database/system/backup administration, and we hire them so that we reap the benefits of a specialist without putting time/effort into specializing ourselves.

Well, the so called backup specialists that I've been working today don't know how to load a backup tape and archive data to it. I'm no specialist here, but I ended up having to spend 2 hours tonight monkeying around with various tape commands before figuring out the one simple command out specialists forgot to execute. Many thanks to our friend Google.

Specialization may be the foundation of modern civilization and economy, but when it comes to IS, I think I'll stick to my strategy of being a generalist.

  • The specialist strives to learn more and more about less and less, until he knows everything about absolutely nothing.
  • The generalist continues to learn less and less about more and more, until he knows absolutely nothing about everything.

Who Needs Sleep

Ellie's a beautiful child, but sometimes I wonder if maybe we didn't listen to Bare Naked Ladies a little too much when Sarahlynn was pregnant. When it's 4am, she's totally relaxed in your arms, listening to lullabyes, all you want to do is drift off to sleep... but her eyes are WIDE AWAKE... you can't help but wonder what she's thinking about.
Who needs sleep?
(well you're never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep?
(tell me what's that for)
Who needs sleep?
(be happy with what you're getting
There's a guy who's been awake
since the Second World War)
Second World War indeed...

I have to think that there's some deep philosophical thinking going on behind those soft blue eyes when she's relaxed in your arms at 4am... wide awake. Maybe she's figuring out how to isolate and identify the Higgs Boson, or make a lasting Israeli/Palenstinian peace, or cure her Downs. You never know...

"Intelligent Design"

Today was a day for chatter about "Intelligent Design" (aka Creationism). Did you realize that as much as 50% of Americans believe in Creationism? All depends on who you count, I suppose. There's a large middle-ground of people who believe that evolution is God's mechanism of creation. Just, FYI, that is NOT what the term "Intelligent Design" is typically used to describe. "Intelligent Design" is strict Creationism, in which god creates existence in a matter of days. The middle-ground suggest that maybe Genesis is a metaphor. I'd go so far as to say that Genesis is a bad metaphor based on a primative civilation's limited understanding of their world. Bad by today's standards. I'd also be willing to wager that evolution is an only slightly beter metaphor to explain a part of what we observe around us -- based on the standards of 2500 AD.

Never the less, there are still a lot of people of refuse to think through what they observe in the world and choose to take overly simplistic views of the world. We call the vast majority of these people conservative. After all:

While it may not be true that all conservative people are stupid,
it is true that stupid people are generally conservative.
-- John Stuart Mill

Today's commentary on the Creationism / evolution debate via Echidnae and new museum where in the beginning Adam walked with dinosaurs. Don't you just love when science is subjugated by dogma?

To fill you in a little more on my own personal views. I believe that given our current understanding of the universe in which we exist, if there is a god, then his role has been to create very low-level, foundational rules that govern how the things in our universe interact with each other. That's what theoretical physics is about after all, isn't it? Trying to understand those basic laws and equations that govern the way the things in our universe are connected and interact. I believe that it is possible for what we call "life" to come into being as a product of the interaction of "non-living" things in our universe. I buy the "primordial soup" theory in which life came forth from a chemical sludge, and evolved over millions and millions of years into what we are today. I think that the existence of extremophiles helps support that theory.

I'd go from here into a discussion of what I believe the human "soul" to be, but that will have to be for another night.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Happy New Year!

For all those of you who didn't think we'd make it past the turn of the millenium, "Welcome to 2005!" As fickel as it may be, the turn of the year gives us an opportunity to turn over a new leaf. Good luck to everyone on their New Year's resolution.