Putting money down

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lot.jpgSomeday (hopefully soon), our house will be here. This photo (taken May 25) shows the corner of Perry’s new Park Square development where our house is going to go.

We didn’t quite make it in for Phase 1 – there were only 2 houses with the floorplan we wanted, and both of them got sold very quickly. However, Drue Ploog, our contact at Perry, did a great job of staying in touch with us. When Perry decided to switch four of the houses to the plan we wanted, she called us, and I hauled butt down to their sales office yesterday with my checkbook. All of the houses on the outside edges of the subdivision have already been sold except these 4 changed ones, and I’m thrilled to be back in the back, and in Phase 1. Can’t say enough good things about the way Drue’s treated us so far.

So now I’ve got a sales contract. They haven’t laid the concrete foundations yet, and Drue’s guesstimating that the home will be complete in December, maybe around December 1. I’m going back next Thursday to do the “Phase 1” walkthrough, where we go through the blueprints and specify the early changes we want. Things like electric outlets, speaker wiring, appliances, etc.

I’m supposed to start shopping for a mortgage now, but I’ve got a head start: I already applied with a few companies, and got back great answers so far. The whole thing doesn’t seem as timely as I’d like: everybody says to wait until 30-40 days before closing before doing the actual application, or else you pay extra fees to lock in early. I just wanna know that I’m going to be totally approved, and not get screwed out at the last minute. I’ve got a totally queasy feeling in my stomach. I won’t be relaxed until after I get all the mortgage paperwork signed.


Finally switching to Mozilla

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webcam.jpgOh, man, have I been waiting for this day. One of our developers needed me to check something in Mozilla, and I just happened to pull up our company intranet in Mozilla. I don’t know when this happened, but all of a sudden, Mozilla handles Microsoft NT challenge/response authentication. I’m totally psyched – this was the one thing keeping me from using Mozilla as my primary browser. I hated having to switch browsers every time I needed to access our intranet. (And yeah, I’m the webmaster and yeah I could change the authentication method, but that’s what the company wanted, so I just let it go.)

I love this webcam shot. I’m working outside on Dad’s patio this morning. Wireless networking rocks. It’s a beautiful day, perfect summer temperature in Michigan, maybe 72, plus bright sunshine. So bright I can barely see enough on my Thinkpad’s LCD display in order to get my work done. It’s getting a little too bright, so I’m heading off to lunch and then I’ll work the rest of the day inside.


Microsoft and IE versions

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There’s been a lot of talk lately around Microsoft’s subtle hints that Internet Explorer will no longer be available in “standalone” versions after IE6 SP1. In a nutshell, MS is saying that there won’t be a standalone Internet Explorer 7.

So why are they doing it? More revenue. Browser upgrades don’t cost consumers anything, but operating system upgrades cost money. If Joe Sixpack sees a web site error that says, “You need Internet Explorer 8 to view this site” then he just upgrades his browser for free from Windows Update. However, if the error says, “You need Windows 2005 to view this site” then Microsoft stands a chance of increasing their revenues.

It’s a smart move for the company’s overall value, since they can’t possibly start charging for standalone browser installs, so they know they need to integrate the browser tightly into the OS, and allow for planned OS obsolescence to keep the revenue streams up.

Plus, the formerly frantic release schedule of browsers has slowed to a trickle, so it makes sense to schedule them in tandem with operating systems. Internet Explorer 7 will come around with Longhorn (the new release of Windows for consumers), and the average user will confuse Longhorn’s new browser with the operating system itself. Users will be more likely to shell out for Longhorn if it comes with significant browser improvements.

To paraphrase the old Sun slogan, the browser is the computer.


Still learning MovableType

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I’m still up in Michigan on vacation, and I set aside this afternoon to learn more about MovableType’s templates. I get the feeling I’m missing a whole lot of valuable info here, and I want to integrate the blog more tightly with the rest of my web site.

Today is Dad’s birthday, and I got him a Tivo. If you haven’t gotten a Tivo yet (and according to sales figures, you’re in the vast majority of Americans), you owe it to yourself to go check them out. Tivo makes TV fun again.

I decided to get him a Tivo when I watched him watching TV. Dad & Caryl sit down for dinner around 6 and start channel surfing. You have to do a lot of surfing to find something interesting on TV, and even then, you end up compromising. Tivo makes quality television available anytime, at your convenience, on your schedule. It’s outstanding.

I’m getting frustrated with my LG VX-10 cell phone from Verizon. Out here in the middle of nowhere, it’s hard to get a signal, and even then, it’s a weak analog signal. The VX-10 will only hold on to a weak analog signal for about sixty seconds, at which point it proclaims that it has a dead battery and powers itself off. However, if you just wait a few seconds and power the phone back on, it correctly shows that it’s got a full battery charge. Totally odd. I’m going to take it in for service while I’m up here, and I’m half hoping that they say it’s a defect in the phone, because I’m not terribly fond of this phone. It’s okay, but it’s just not great. I’ve got my eye on the new color Sidekick from T-Mobile, but I doubt I can get out of my Verizon contract early.


Moving right along

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Well, got MovableType up and running, and I’m learning the basics of templates. This morning, I’m adding a couple of blog entries to test how the templates look with multiple entries, and by lunchtime, I’m hoping to have my existing blog entries ported over. Let’s see how it goes.


Testing 1-2-3

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I quit. I give. Mercy.

I installed MovableType this afternoon. I’m tired of reinventing the wheel: I figured I could either spend a few hours implementing TrackBack and Comments, or else I could spend a few hours installing MovableType and get a really powerful blog system.

My web server runs Windows 2000, and MT is really designed for Linux/Unix systems. The installation process was a nightmare, a total pain in the rear. I was hissing and cursing at my machine, trying to keep the noise level down because Erika was napping in the next room. I finally figured out all of the obscure command line garbage and got it working, but I still have a lot of work left to do. I need to set up my templates, import my old blog entries and photos, and shore up the security.

Here’s the first entry on MT, anyway. I’m getting ready to click Save…my fingers are crossed….copying this into UltraEdit just to be safe…


Got my Linux on

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Growing up, Dad took me to the Indianapolis 500 several times. He worked in the tire business for quite a while, and we got some neat seats and had great experiences. The whole spectacle still impresses me, and I try to watch it every year. I don’t watch any other car races live, but I love this one. I’m watching it as we speak.

There’s a lot of cautions this year, so I decided to play around with the Red Hat 9 installation on my Thinkpad. Patrick Glennon suggested I install Apt and Synaptic to make system updates and installations easier. I’d tried it the day I got RH9 installed, but I wasn’t able to get it done in half an hour or so, so I gave up. Today, I gave it another shot, and it was a piece of cake. As a Windows user, I’d think when I double-click on an RPM, it would install. No dice – I had to do the install in a terminal, and then it fired right up. Nifty.

Still haven’t been able to get my Lucent Orinoco working, but there’s a lot of laps left in the 500…


Finally, magazines are “getting” Bluetooth

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David Berlind’s latest column for Ziff-Davis explains what a pain in the rear Bluetooth configuration is, and why it’s too late for the standards group to fix it. The implementations out there now are all wildly different, the user interfaces are wacko, and the whole thing isn’t easy.

For those of you who haven’t used Bluetooth yet, it’s a wireless standard designed to make it easy for you to have a wireless keyboard, wireless mouse, wireless headphones, and to make devices talk to each other wirelessly. For example, your laptop can connect to the internet through your cell phone, but without having to connect any cables, and you can keep your cell phone in your pocket the whole time. It’s specifically designed to make life easier for users.

It’s a great idea, but falls down miserably on execution. Why? Because you can’t hand out a hardware standard to computer companies all around the globe, and then expect them all to design software independently that will work together. Interoperating equipment doesn’t just require hardware standards, but also software standards. My prediction: Bluetooth will die a slow, meandering death in 2-3 years.


Well, that was short-lived

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Linux worked for a few minutes on the laptop, and I left to go get some coffee and eggs. When I came back it was locked up with a grid of boxes on the screen. Luvly. Guess the screen saver’s got a bug, or maybe something in the power management systems. Of course, I didn’t actually *configure* anything – it just came like this out of the box from RH, so it’s not like I can blame myself for picking a fancy screen saver. The only thing I’d loaded was Mozilla.

Ah, that explains it.


Watson, come here. I need you.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Blogging
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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

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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.