Watson, come here. I need you.

Unbelievable – it’s a breakthrough. Red Hat 9 installed on my Thinkpad and detected (almost) everything automatically. Most importantly, on the very first boot, the video worked correctly. What a difference. So now I’m sitting on a Linux desktop, viewing my site in Mozilla, and adding blog entries. Only in America. Okay, well, maybe not.

Coming right along

I changed database structures when I redid my blog this week, and I have to redo all of my blog-management pages. Well, I say ALL like there’s fifty of them, but there were only a few pages. The new version will require quite a few more, because it has more tables and whatnot, and things are just getting started. I can add blog entries over the web again (as opposed to doing it in SQL Enterprise Manager, which is a pain) and it’s actually a cleaner interface than the last one was.

It’s a night for changes again tonight – I upgraded the drive in my home server, Miss Piggy, to a 60gb one so that it’s got more space for MP3’s. I keep all of my 400+ CD collection online in MP3 format to make it easy to play any CD from my computer.

And, brace yourself – I’m trying to install Linux on my laptop yet again. This time, it’s Red Hat 9 going under scrutiny. I found a few step-by-step checklist web pages that walk users through getting RH7 to work on a Thinkpad T21, so I’m hoping RH9 will be roughly the same process. I can’t believe XFree86 doesn’t support this laptop out of the box – IBM sold cajillions of the Thinkpad T20-T23 series, all with the same video adapter, and it’s not exactly esoteric gear. Already I’ve seen problems with the RH9 install, though – it totally disregarded my Lucent Orinoco Gold wireless card. Come on, man, that’s another world-standard piece of equipment. Aaargh.

So, why am I subjecting myself to this? Because at work we decided to go with Java as our programming standard, replacing Delphi back end Windows programs and the ASP front end for the web site. We tried to decide between Java and .NET/C# – I was on the .NET side, but we’ve already got a few Java developers in another office, so Java won out. Neither way is a loser, I think, but I’m not thrilled about it from a personal perspective. I’m really gung-ho on RAD tools, and in Java, I’m not seeing anywhere near the level of RAD tools that I’m used to in Windows. We’re talking about a guy whose second programming language was Winbatch, so you know I like the high-level stuff.

RSS feed implemented

I’ve set up an RSS feed for my blog, but you don’t want to click on it if you’re using Internet Explorer. For some reason (bad coding on my part, I’m sure) IE chokes hard on my RSS feed. After a few attempted views, it starts behaving abnormally and won’t even do DNS lookups, leading to interesting errors like server-not-found when trying to view localhost.

Anyway, the whole RSS thing is extremely strict on syntax, so now I really have to watch my P’s and Q’s – especially the P’s. For example, my p tags to start paragraphs have to always be exactly the same case. One uppercase P and one lowercase p means that SharpReader won’t validate the RSS feed. Ouch.

The whole RSS thing is mildly interesting to me. Matt Jefferson pushed me into motion by asking for the RSS version of this blog, and now I’m bound and determined to implement proper trackbacking and images quickly. Thanks, Matt!

Laptop cam resurrected

Back at the end of April, the plastic bracket for my Ultraport Camera on my IBM Thinkpad T21 broke, and so the laptop-cam on this site wasn’t working. I was going to just toss it in the can (the camera, not the Thinkpad, duh) rather than dragging around the USB adapter. This morning, though, I sat bolt upright in bed and said, “I could superglue it on.”

So now, my Thinkpad has a very permanent webcam attached to the top of it. If you haven’t seen the Thinkpad Ultraports, trust me when I say it definitely looks like the camera came with the laptop – it doesn’t look like a tacky add-on, even when superglued.

I’m actually glad I superglued it on because now I’m not tempted to buy the digital array microphone or any of the other cool Ultraport accessories.

Working on the blog

I rewrote the blog in C#, and I’m adding a few features. I wrote the first one in VB.NET, and since I had to learn C# for work, I figured I might as well put it to good use. The calendar that lets you pick blog dates doesn’t distinguish yet between days with blogs, and days where I didn’t feel like blogging. I’ll have that fixed later tonight – had to learn to crawl first.

I’ve got the database structure set up to allow for multiple images per blog entry this time, plus additional members and comments. By next week, hopefully you’ll be able to scribble in something meaningful here. Knowing you, though, I doubt you’ll pull it off.

Happy Mother’s Day

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, Mom & Caryl! I’ve always been so proud of both of you, and I love you so much that I wanted to let the world know what great mothers you’ve been, and continue to be. So, world, meet my Mom and meet my second mom, Caryl, and read up on what great women they are, and how they’ve inspired me to be who I am.

NPR and Blogging

As I sit here in my car outside Starbucks, NPR is doing a story on blogging. They describe a site with One Minute Vacations – sixty-second sound clips of people’s trips in various cities. You can jump online, take a quick respite from your busy day, and transport yourself to Ghana, Stockholm, or any number of interesting places. Nifty. I prefer photoblogging myself – Photojunkie is a great example. So I’m listening to NPR talk about a site about blogging, while I surf it, from my car. (Life doesn’t get much better than this – or does it?

Over the last couple of days, we’ve talked a lot at work about switching programming languages to Java. I’m blogging about this because I think it’s a pivotal moment in my career.

I don’t have any interest in learning Java: over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten more and more interested in true RAD tools. My recent research into integrated UML tools only solidified that push: it came as a shock to me that there are UML tools out there that will literally produce parts of your code if you do your design work in diagrams up front. The nicest (and most expensive) ones, like Rational XDE, even integrate completely into the development environment, so you’re using one tool to do all your work. How cool is that?

But back to Java. I’m faced with the prospect of moving to the polar opposite end of programming: doing everything in text editors, no wizards, no drag-and-drop, no work automation. Is that how I want to spend my day? Can I see myself staring at text editors for hours on end? No way.

So then, forget the company for a moment: what do I want to do for a living over the next five or ten years? I love doing analysis, project management, not text editors. Long morning already, I guess.

The lapcam dies

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Exhibit A: the last photo from my laptop webcam. Not as in the last today, but the last one. I opened the screen of the laptop, and the webcam came off in my hand. A piece broke off, a particularly vital plastic piece that holds the USB connection together, and now it’ll no longer work. Dang. Well, it worked for quite a while – good deal for $40. I probably won’t get another one for the time being: I wasn’t that impressed with the performance of the Thinkpad Ultraport Camera. Even though it’s nicely integrated with the top of the screen, it’s just too slow to refresh images.

I’m in Dallas again this week, and I haven’t updated the blog lately. Working a lot, traveling back and forth, and at the end of the day I don’t feel like sitting around on dialup working on the site. Heck, I don’t even feel like going out for a haircut, and as you can see by Exhibit A, I’m in sore need of one.

Cynthia Cooper is returning to the WNBA – as a player! I’m excited for the team, and can’t wait for the season to start. Our season opener is May 22 against Seattle. I’ll be there!

The 56k blues

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Man, dialup sucks. I’m sitting in a hotel room in Dallas, slumming around on dialup. I always forget how slow it is. I came here to help Erika get set up at the hotel she’s staying at during her airline dispatch training, but we’ll probably end up moving to a different hotel. This one was cheap, but it’s tiny.

I’m on vacation this week, and I took the opportunity to update a few pages in the site. I added my latest article for HAL-PC, and added a photo gallery of my turtles – thanks to Mom for shooting some absolutely great photos with her digital camera during her March trip. She also shot the one of me that graces the home page as of this writing.

I’m working on rewriting the site in C# instead of VB.NET, because I’m going to be using C# at work. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel and write yet another blog package, but I’m still having difficulty finding one that meets my needs. I want the data housed on my server, I want to be able to upload multiple photos for each blog entry, I’d prefer the data was housed in SQL, and so on. I found an interesting project called InfiniBlog, but I’m having quite a bit of difficulty getting it working. It’s early in the life cycle for InfiniBlog and it hasn’t built up much of a user base yet, so nobody seems to respond to my questions about the software. A shame, because it’s gorgeous and meets almost all of my design requirements. I’d rather use somebody else’s, even if I have to pay, because I’m not about to implement my own TrackBack system. We’ll see: I want to have this resolved by the time my vacation ends Friday.

It’ll be a bit of a shortened vacation – I used a few days coming up here to get Erika situated, and I’m heading down to New Orleans this weekend for Steve’s birthday party. They do a big crawfish boil, definitely fun. Plus, amidst all this, I want to get some updates done to my ServersAlive reporting system, SangfroidJr. Roland Gaspar on the SA list has put together a neat query to show uptime percentages, and I’d love to have a page that shows it.

The Byzantine Chapel

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Waitin’ on Microsoft. I’m spending this week learning C#, so I’m in the process of installing the Visual Studio 2003 beta. Man, this thing takes a while. Might as well slap a new entry in the blog.

I went house shopping this weekend and got somewhat excited by a few homes in Steve’s neighborhood, out on the west side of town. The more I looked, though, the more conventional everything seems, and that’s not really our style. I headed over to the Bookstop on Shepherd and started looking through architecture books.

I ended up falling in love with a few custom-built concrete houses with a gorgeous modern look to them, so I’ve pretty much determined at this point that we need to build our own. Erika and I are never leaving Houston, knock on wood, and we like very architecturally interesting houses, of which there seem to be exactly zero on the market. Mom & I toured the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum at the Menil Collection last month, and that was a great example of the architecture I’m fond of. Don’t be fooled by the name – there’s nothing Byzantine about the museum building itself, pictured here.

Anyway, that’s the kind of thing I like – lots of right angles, little adornment, nice pools of water, sort of a minimalist Asian flair to it. Now I’m hooked on the idea of a custom house.

Got my game face on


Got my game face on. I’ve always been the kind of guy to make strange faces and noises while programming, and working at home has increased my wackiness. While testing a new stored procedure, the webcam caught me with my fist up, getting ready to give my computer the finger if it didn’t succeed. I happened to notice the webcam so I thought I’d save the pic for posterity. No particular reason. (And no, the stored procedure didn’t work the third time, either.)

Macromedia revealed their newest product at FlashForward today: Central. It strikes me as odd to name a product Central when it’s all about decentralized applications, but hey – that’s just me. Part of me says this product is doomed to failure because coders associate Flash with the Skip-Intro link, and this product is a heavy-duty Flash, but the other part of me is genuinely interested in building Central apps. The first one I can think of: blogging. It’d make for the perfect lightweight blog client, both for updating your own blog and for receiving other people’s blog updates. The second one I can think of is work-related, and you won’t pry that one out of me, muhahaha.

Mini-ITX form factor

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The database server is undergoing maintenance at work, so I’ve got a few minutes. (And no, the machine pictured here isn’t the server.) I surfed over to Tom’s Hardware, one of my favorite review sites, and they’ve got an excellent evaluation of the new mini-ITX motherboards from Via. Mini-ITX is a relatively new compact form factor for motherboards that allows you to build a computer in much smaller packages. The motherboard itself is about 6.5″ by 6.5″, so you could pop one of these in a glovebox relatively easily. Plus, these Via models run cooler than conventional computers, and require less power, so they’re perfect for in-car applications where you don’t want fans or huge power inverters.

A great source of information for this sort of thing is Mini-ITX.com, a UK site that shows plenty of great examples of building Mini-ITX motherboards into cool pieces of equipment like a log cabin or a gas can. Why? Because you can.

I’ve been interested in Mini-ITX since I started playing around with an in-car computer, and I gotta confess, I wish my Volvo C70 had the Dolby Digital surround sound option. (Some of the C70’s have a fifth speaker in the center of the dash.) That would allow the uber-geek experience of wiring the Via’s Dolby Digital AC3 5.1 surround up to the Volvo’s speakers. The Volvo deck doesn’t have AC3 digital inputs, obviously, so it’d be an expensive proposition, finding a car-based AC3 amplifier.

Theoretically, I could buy a C70 surround-equipped dashboard top from a salvage shop or something, but the thought of tearing up my new Volvo isn’t pleasant. Maybe a couple of years from now.

Database server is back online. Back to work.

Minor site updates

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Did some updating on the site today. Redid some of the navigation stuff, added plain-text HTML navigation at the bottom of the site, scanned some new photos from our most recent NYC and New Orleans mini-vacations, modified the front page to show the blog photo alongside blog entry, and set up SSL so I can make my blog entries in wireless cafes without worrying about somebody sniffing my username/password. Wouldn’t want some stranger making entries in my blog. That would be a world crisis. Just a reminder – you can get a free SSL certificate for your site or your email addresses at CACert.

I was going to do some more work on the blog’s database back end that would allow me to add more than one photo per blog entry, add an audio clip, let people subscribe to email updates (Lord only knows why anybody would), etc., but it’s just way too nice of a day outside. I washed Erika’s Jetta earlier this morning, and I think I’ll take it back out and vaccuum it as well. Maybe do a quick grocery shop and make her jambalaya before she gets home, heh heh heh.

The problem with small wireless cafes

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Wireless networks that don’t work are especially frustrating. I’m stuck at Kaveh Kanes waiting for the monthly HoustonWireless meeting. For the last hour, I’ve been struggling with the wireless internet connection here, changing my settings every which way but loose, trying to get it to work. No dice. Can’t even get my wired connection to work, can’t get an IP address, can’t win for losing. Since I’ve been in here, two other guys have sat down with laptops, fiddled with ’em, and then given up in frustration. I guess I’m a slow learner.

Scratch that, I guess I’m slow to give up my money. I blew $5 on parking, $7 on a latte and pie, and I drove all the way down here. I’m reluctant to give up my investment, admit defeat, and just pack up my gear and go home. It’s looking like I don’t have a choice.

Sun had it right when they said the network is the computer: these days, I just don’t want to bother with my computer if it’s not hooked up to the wider network at large.

Tonight, HWUG is discussing the future of the group – where we are now, where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there. A lot of the group members want to concentrate on building publicly accessible wireless hotspots like this one (this one that isn’t working) at Kaveh Kanes. The more I think about that, the less I like it, and right now I can’t even begin to list all the problems with it. We don’t do a good enough job supporting and maintaining the nodes we have – why try to build more?

My idea instead would be to educate the community on wireless networking, and get the savvy computer people started on building their own wireless networks. The technology still isn’t mature enough that we can just drop-ship a box to a small business and expect things to always work. Instead, we need to prepare our infrastructure so that when the equipment IS that reliable, we’re ready, and we can build a mesh of connected, reliable nodes.

That’s my two cents, anyway. I’m not going to push the rest of the group too hard in that direction, because I didn’t really get into this to be a leader. I joined HWUG to meet cool people and do cool things with wireless. If other people want to build nodes, fine, I don’t want to stand in the way. We’ve had members that tried to redirect the group to their own fiendish purposes, and as the saying goes, I want to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

Lost a CPU

Fall down go boom. Lost a CPU in my dual-cpu server last night after I went to bed. For the last couple of weeks, the temperature monitor on it had been reading 195 degrees F, but I thought it was a mistake, since I could put my finger on it without yelping in pain. Either I’ve got a really high tolerance for pain, or else the CPU was fried, and it looks like the latter.

It’s a bad day for networks everywhere, I guess – we’re having problems at work, too. I was singing along to Better Than Ezra, mourning the loss of a firewall, when the webcam seemed to capture me in mid-word with my mouth wide open. Got a laugh out of that one.

My first digital camera

I finally got a digital camera. I’ve been putting it off because I couldn’t justify spending even $100 for a digital camera that can’t take better pictures than my traditional camera. (I still can’t find a camera under $500 that outshoots my Kodak.) Anyway, I got an el-cheapo $40 SiPix Blink II because it was small enough that I’d leave it in my laptop bag. The photo quality is abysmal (640×480 pixels max, no flash, no LCD) but more than good enough to enrich my blog.

Here’s a good example – for months, I’d been meaning to take a few pictures of my new Volvo C70 and post ’em up, but I kept forgetting. Here we go – live and in color, right outside the Ragin Cajun, the best Cajun place in town. After a weekend in New Orleans, Erika & I agreed that the food here is so good, we’d almost rather stay here and eat. Between this place and Bayou City Seafood on Richmond, we’re set. We shot a roll full of conventional film in New Orleans this weekend, but of course that’ll take a day or two to come back, and another day or two before I get around to scanning it. If I’d have had this little camera with me, I’d post a picture of the huge fat woman who was walking around the French Quarter topless. Or then again, maybe I wouldn’t. Can’t go alienating all my readers at once.

Hmmm, I’ve finally run out

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Hmmm, I’ve finally run out of USB ports. I’ve been a firm believer in USB – it’s a simple, easy-to-use connection standard that accommodates a lot of peripherals. Today, I ran out of USB ports. I’ve been using a USB keyboard, mouse, webcam, radio, printer, and scanner, and the straw that broke the camel’s back was a new USB storage device, one of those memory keys. MicroCenter had ’em on sale for $20, and I couldn’t pass that up.

I’ve been wanting one to store the settings for my car computer. Basically, I’ll be able to plug my USB key in to activate the car computer, so it grabs my email username & password off there. Erika will have her own, so her settings will be saved. I’m thinking things like the last played song, news channel settings, things like that. Gotta write in support for that now.

Got the Tivo

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Rough week. The site’s been down for a while, and it’s a funny story. I moved the server to my office in Dallas so that it wouldn’t be down while I moved apartments this past week. Then, oh sweet irony, what happens? The office network goes down hard. Mail still isn’t getting through to my server, among other things. I would have actually been down LESS had I kept the server at the apartment.

I finally got a Tivo, and we’re loving it. Erika was crying with laughter last night while watching Taxicab Confessions 4. Tivo just makes tv-watching so much easier and more convenient.

Houston Wireless and Node-In-A-Box

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I’m downtown at Kaveh Kanes, the coffee shop where HoustonWireless meets (tonight, as it happens), and the place is actually hopping. People are all over this place, and most aren’t doing wireless-related things. At the same time, everybody seems to wander over to the computer to check their email sooner or later, and you have to wonder how many of them are here because of the wireless in one way or another.

I’m doing a little presentation tonight on marketing materials for Node-In-A-Box, which is my big push to get small businesses to set up nodes. Steve and I were telecommuting today and we would have killed to have gone somewhere more interesting than Starbucks, but we couldn’t get wireless working right at GetWired, and we didn’t want to pay for parking at Kaveh Kanes. We gotta get more midtown businesses with nodes.

Just call me Brent Millionaire.

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Just call me Brent Millionaire. For the last week, Erika’s been excited about this new show on Fox called Joe Millionaire. It’s a direct ripoff of The Bachelor with the interesting exception that the guy in question isn’t actually well-to-do: he’s a construction worker making $19k a year, just pretending that he’s recently inherited fifty million. Twenty women are holed up in a French castle with this guy, and he has to whittle them down to just one that he wants to keep.

As soon as the show came on last night, I thought the castle looked a little familiar. Turns out it’s the castle Becky picked for our trip to the Loire Valley! Becky and I actually stayed in that castle, walked around in the ballroom (empty at the time), took photos of the gardens, etc. It’s so hilarious to see the grounds and the rooms of the castle and say, yep, I’ve been there, and I wrote about it in my travel pages.

As we were watching the show, I ran into the closet, pulled out my travel photos, and showed them to Erika. I pointed out the staircases, the floor, everything was pretty much as we left it. I gotta ask Becky what the name of the place is, because I can’t find it in my notes.