Hosting with GitHub Pages
Mar 28, 2012

It occurred to me that having transitioned my blog to be a generated static site, I was paying Rackspace ~$11 to simply host static files. (And for me to have the pleasure of managing a server in the process!) This struck me as stupid, for what are probably pretty obvious reasons. So, I've made another change to my blog hosting. I'm now using GitHub Pages. Thanks to DNSimple it was drop-dead easy to change my DNS settings appropriately as well.

I've still got one more site hosted on my Rackspace CloudServer that I need to figure out what to do with. It's basically just an image server that I'm holding onto for historical reasons (there are still various sites out there that are linking to it), so I may just throw that on GitHub pages as well (it's less than 40 MB of images, so I don't feel too bad about it), though I would much rather have a solution where I could point the domain name at my Dropbox public folder for that sort of thing. Anyone know of a way to do that? I can't just CNAME the domain to dl.dropbox.com, because that would break the existing links, instead I need it to rewrite the URL to include the path to my public folder. It would be super easy to do with Nginx, but that would require me to run and manage a server, and the whole point of all this is to not have to do such things any more. Hopefully I'll be able to come up with a solution to that...

For all my non-static sites (including whatever personal and side-projects I might work on) I've been really, really happy with Heroku. If you haven't used the service I highly recommend checking them out. Hopefully I'll find the time to blog about it in more depth in the future. Suffice it to say, I will be attempting to use Heroku for pretty much every project I work on. Undoubtedly there will be some cases where it becomes necessary to manage (virtual) servers on RackSpace or EC2, but I think that's going to quickly become a small minority of cases.

Anyway, the serving landscape has been changing with remarkable speed lately, and I'm sure it will only continue to do so. The net result is that my life is much easier, and my hosting costs much lower. Vive la (hosting) révolution!

Now in syndication!
Feb 26, 2012

Well, I should now have a working RSS feed again. Unfortunately, I don't actually know for sure whether or not this is the case due to some complications with FeedBurner. I started using FeedBurner for this blog in 2006, well before they were bought by Google, and never really got around to doing whatever things were required when that acquisition happened. As a result, my account was never properly transitioned. I attempted to do that the other day, but it would appear that not only do I not know my FeedBurner password, I don't even know my username or the email address I used to sign up for it. Everything I tried was rejected. So, I have no way of changing my settings leaving me with a choice between changing the URL of my RSS feed (an annoying solution for my subscribers), or attempting to rebuild my new, RabbitFish-based feed in-place to keep the FeedBurner feed going. I've attempted to go with the second option, and I suppose we'll know shortly how well that worked. Looking at my server logs, it appears that FeedBurner will update roughtly every 30 minutes, so it shouldn't take too long to ascertain whether or not the new feed is working properly. I guess we'll see in about 30 minutes!

This blog is now powered by RabbitFish!
Feb 10, 2012

A few months ago I made some major changes to this blog. One of the obvious changes was the new design, based on Twitter Bootstrap, but in addition to that I also converted the blog from a Django site to a static site. At that point, all I actually did was scrape the site to static files using wget and throw them up on the server to be hosted with Nginx, but I've now taken that a step further.

For the past three months I've been working on a personal project named RabbitFish. It's a static site generator built on Python 3 that uses Jinja2 templates and YAML for storing configuration and content data. This blog is now powered by RabbitFish.

Largely because of the technical constraints of the still very immature state of RabbitFish, I've also made a few changes to the structure of the blog. Probably the most obvious is that I've gotten rid of the tag cloud that used to be in the right-hand sidebar. In addition, I've actually completely removed the tag system altogether. Of course, you'll notice that all the old posts, and this one as well, still have tags, but rather than being part of an actual tagging system, they're now basically just shortcuts for searching the blog; if you click on one, you'll see that it just takes you to the Google Custom Search for my blog with that tag filled in as the search query. Additionally, I've removed pretty much any way of navigating around the blog. Taking a page from Apple, I've decided to rely solely on search for finding blog posts. To ensure that all the posts get properly indexed, of course, I've also added a page that simply lists all the blog posts. (It's also linked to at the bottom of the index page.) Most of my traffic was organic search hits anyway, so I don't really see this causing any problems.

The one thing that I still have left to do is get syndication set up. Currently, the feed for everything prior to this post is still available thanks to FeedBurner, but I still need to set up a new, live feed to get new posts in there. Fortunately, that will be as easy as setting up a new ListPage in RabbitFish, and writing a template to build the appropriate XML file. I'll probably get that done this weekend.

Since I was already using Disqus for comments, all the old comments are already here and new comments shouldn't be a problem. I'm realy interested to hear what people think about RabbitFish, as well as the minimal interface I'm exposing for the blog now.

RabbitFish: https://github.com/joshourisman/rabbitfish

Adamanteus 0.5 released, now with more PostgreSQL!
Jun 05, 2010

I've now finally gotten around to adding PostgreSQL support to Adamanteus! It wasn't really difficult, just hard to find time to do with everything that's been going on lately (quite busy at work and with the new house). The usage of Adamanteus hasn't changed at all, now you can just specify 'postgres' as your backend rather than just 'mongodb' or 'mysql'. There is one slight caveat, however: the pg_dump utility does not allow you to provide a password non-interactively. For the time being, at least, that means that if you're using Adamanteus to back up a PostgreSQL database you can't specify a password (it will throw an exception if you do). The solution to this is to either 1) set up a read-only passwordless user for running backups, or 2) set up a .pgpass file on the machine from which you intend to run your backups (documentation here). I recommend the .pgpass option, it's quick and easy. Adamanteus 0.5 is available from both bitbucket and PyPi.

Adamanteus: versioned backups of databases using Python and Mercurial
Mar 26, 2010

Backing up databases is one of those things that I've always felt could be done in a better way. Traditionally I've done it with a simple shell script that used mysqldump or pg_dump to dump my database to an SQL file named using a timestamp, compress it, and maybe scp it off to some remote server for redundancy. This approach works just fine, except that I recently took a look at my backup directory for a project using that setup only to discover that there were nearly 5000 backup files taking up 11 GB (and this is using bzip2 to compress them!). Obviously not an optimal situation, especially considering that really very little changes from backup to backup, and it's quite possible that nothing changes at all for some of them. It simply makes no sense to store an entire dump of your database every single time!

Fortunately, this is a very familiar situation that we've got advanced tools to handle: version control systems. So I decided to write a little program to replace my shell script that would use a modern, advanced version control system to provide a much more reasonable solution. What I came up with was Adamanteus, a command line program written in Python that allows you to back up your database into a mercurial repository. It currently supports MongoDB and MySQL, and I plan on adding PostgreSQL support this weekend.

Using Mercurial immediately solves basically all the problems with my original approach. It stores diffs rather than full files, meaning you aren't wasting space with a lot of duplicate information. It also handles compression transparently keeping the file sizes down even for the diffs. Plus, because Mercurial is a distributed version control system it's very easy to provide redundancy by pushing and pulling to and from remote repositories. (Pushing/pulling to/from remote repositories isn't currently implemented, but that's also in my plans for this weekend.)

The project is far from complete, but I think it's sufficiently far developed to release as 0.1. Plans for the 1.0 release include:

  • PostgreSQL support
  • The ability to restore your database from a particular revision in the repository
  • automated cloning/pushing/pulling of the repository
  • Integration with Django as a management command
I think this is actually pretty close and it probably won't take too long for me to implement all of those, so hopefully I'll be able to push out a 1.0 release very soon. The one other issue holding up 1.0 is that I'd like to wait for MongoDB 1.5 which will bring mongoxport functionality in line with mongodump which is what I'm currently using. The issue here is that mongodump produces binary data files which don't play quite as nice with version control and lose you the advantage of only storing diffs. Mongoexport will export JSON or CSV files, which will allow it to take full advantage of Mercurial, but until 1.5 there's no easy way to use mongoexport to dump all the collections in a database which is the default behavior for mongodump.

Anyway, I'm definitely looking forward to some feedback on this project, as I suspect it could be quite useful to many people. Contributions are always welcome as well!

More on the massive ObamaCare Loophole
Mar 26, 2010

Since my last post I've seen quite a few other people writing about exactly the same issue with ObamaCare that I saw: it actually encourages people to not carry health insurance. The most recent is someone's whose blog I've been reading for a while and whose opinions I generally respect: Philip Greenspun an EECS professor at MIT. He actually did the math to reveal that a family in Massachusetts making $100,000 can expect to pay around $20,000 per year on insurance. The fine for not carrying insurance, however, would only be $2,000. And, of course, the insurance carriers would be forbidden from denying them of insurance if they showed up already sick and actually in need of health care.

But there's more! Brian Caplan at the Library of Economics and Liberty (which I don't actually know much about, but I would guess is biased in the libertarian direction from a cursory examination of the site) suggests another unexpected side-effect of ObamaCare will be that employers will stop offering insurance as a benefit. Part of the reason it's currently so common for insurance to be an employment benefit is that the government has been encouraging this behavior since around WWII by not counting health insurance as taxable income. This, apparently, is going to change with ObamaCare.

This, however, I think is actually a good thing. I mentioned in my last post that I had some ideas on a different sort of reform that I've posted about elsewhere in the past; below is an outline of some ideas that I put together a couple years ago (around the time that Massachusetts was debating the inspiration for ObamaCare):

  • Decouple health insurance from employment
    • current system economically stupid
      • encourages un-educated consumers
      • reduces consumer choice
      • reduces competition in the market
    • current system unnecessarily restricts consumers
      • people with health problems can't change jobs for fear of losing insurance
      • true cost of insurance is hidden from consumers
  • Make medical costs tax deductible
    • all costs should be up to 100% tax deductible (maybe variable by income)
    • makes health care significantly more affordable
    • provides the same functional assistance as a single-payer system
    • doesn't encourage reliance on the system
    • doesn't require increased bureaucracy
    • encourages personal responsibility
  • Provide low/no interest loads to cover medical costs
    • interest rate based on need
    • removes problem of non-payment
    • allows even the uninsured to afford very expensive procedures
    • doesn't encourage reliance on the system
    • payments are tax deductible under point 2
  • Loosen regulations on insurance industry
    • regulations such as setting a maximum deductible hurt both sides
      • consumers aren't allowed to decide for themselves what they need
      • insurers aren't allowed to innovate and find new solutions
    • regulations reduce competition
      • not all of them!
      • regulations provide a disincentive for new insurance companies to enter the market
      • the more insurance companies there are, the better for consumers

Obviously this is still rather rough, and some of the points are clearly designed to address things that have now changed. However I think this is a decent outline of changes that could be made to healthcare that would meet the goals of both sides of the public/private argument. I'm sure there's tons of discussion that could be had on just about every one of my points, so perhaps I'll take the time to break each one out into a separate blog post where I can go into more detail in the future. Also, I'll try and write some more about the code I've been working on as there's some good stuff involving MongoDB, MongoEngine, and—of course—Django.

What does ObamaCare actually do?
Mar 23, 2010

I've been generally on the fence about ObamaCare—and really about the various proposals to reform healthcare in general. I do think that our system needs reform, it's just that I've been unconvinced about the specific proposals made for the form that reform should take. But now it's 'happened' (although what we have is not really healthcare reform so much as health insurance reform) so the question is now different: what are the implications of our new system, and where do we go from here?

The implications, I think, are both quite interesting and not at all what most people expect/want them to be. For example, I think the new bill will actually increase the number of uninsured people in America (at least in the short term), and I think it will do this via two separate mechanisms:

  1. An active dumping of high-cost and/or risky customers by the insurance companies who currently cover them, and
  2. People taking advantage of the new system to actually save money without sacrificing healthcare by foregoing insurance
But isn't the whole purpose of the reform to make both of those specific things impossible? It's certainly the stated purpose, at any rate. So why would I claim that the effects of this bill are going to be exactly the opposite of what we were promised they would be? Well, what does the bill actually do?

Let's look at the first mechanism I mentioned above: insurance companies actively dumping expensive patients (even more so than they already do, I mean). Starting in 2014 they will no longer be able to do this, they will have to cover everyone. But for the next four years they are free to continue doing so, and it makes a lot of sense that they would ramp up this practice so that they can increase revenues as much as possible in preparation for that future. In the meantime the government is offering some sort of high-risk pool of insurance for those people that can't currently get coverage, so it won't even seem like that bad of a deal: the insurance companies win by increasing revenue, Obama wins by being able to point to the vast numbers of people that are already being helped by the program, the patients win because they have health care, and the taxpayers win because... well, actually we don't so much... But that's really not so bad; it's hard to complain about people with health problems getting the help they need, even if you don't think they're getting it in the best possible way and you don't want to have to pay for it. It's the other mechanism listed above that I think is more insidious: gaming the system.

How and why would people game the system? Well, it's actually quite easy and straightforward: as things stand it's quite easy to get the best of both worlds: save money by not purchasing health insurance and still be able to rely on health insurance to pay for your medical expenses. The reason this work is that the 'individual mandate' of ObamaCare is toothless: just as in Massachusetts it's cheaper to pay the fine imposed for not purchasing health insurance than it is to actually purchase that insurance. $100 per year or 1% of your income (whichever is more). That's a pretty paltry fine (though it will increase in 2014 along with the activation of the various other parts of the program). And couple that with the high-risk pools that you'll be able to buy into to get government subsidized healthcare regardless of pre-existing conditions it renders this whole change meaningless (or worse?)! Why would I pay thousands of dollars per year for insurance when I can pay much less and then, if I get sick or injured, simply buy into a plan that I legally can't be turned away from? I'd end up paying less money than I would if I actually carried insurance, but I would still get all the benefits of that insurance! As long as the fine/tax for not carrying insurance is less than the cost of actual insurance, and as long as it is required by law that you be able to buy insurance at any point regardless of your current health conditions, there is absolutely no incentive for anyone to ever purchase insurance right up until the point that they actually need it!

The implications of this are quite staggering: they basically undo the whole fabric of our healthcare system. Our system (even now) is based upon the idea that it's relatively cheap to pay for routine healthcare costs, but relatively expensive to pay for the bigger and rarer procedures. So we amortize those costs over time and over a large pool of people by buying into insurance plans where everyone pays in a relatively small amount and then, on the rare occasion that they need it, they're able to draw a large amount to cover larger medical expenses. But ObamaCare has undone that! Now we don't need to pay into the system (except in a barely token amount) in order to draw from it! If and once people realize this and start dumping their insurance plans, this will lead to the collapse of the insurance industry; it will simply be impossible to operate under the insurance model.

The result of this will be greater and greater financial obligation on the government to support the insurance industry and pay for that healthcare and therefore a greater and greater tax burden on us to pay for it until, eventually, we are all simply paying taxes into a government system that funds all our healthcare needs. Sound familiar? That's because it's a single-payer system—a monstrously constructed single-payer system built with the rotting corpses of the various insurance companies.

This is, of course, a worst-case scenario. In order for this two actually happen at least one of two things has to be true:

  1. Our government has to be incompetent enough to not recognize and fix these problems before they overwhelm us, or
  2. The intended goal of this plan was, all along, to simply set us on the path to a single-payer system
Neither of these options would really be all that surprising to me, frankly. I'm pretty sure our government is that incompetent, and I'm pretty sure that the people who initially conceived and designed this reform would prefer a single-payer system. But we'll have to wait and see what happens. Regardless, I think it's safe to say that there are really only two possible systems for health care that would be stable: a fully private system, or a single-payer system. There are benefits and disadvantages to both, and there are all manner of compromises between them that I think could actually be good (which I've written about elsewhere in the past, and should really write a post here about as well). But—as much as I hate to sound like I'm parroting those who truly are on the lunatic fringe—we really are looking at the opening salvo in a battle for single-payer healthcare in the US. Whether you think this is a bad thing or not is up to you.

A zsh prompt for Mercurial users
Nov 16, 2009

My friend Sebastian Celis recently posted on his blog about a zsh prompt for Git users. Basically, it's a set of scripts for ZSH that allow it to display the current status of the Git repo you're currently in. Very cool stuff, but unfortunately I don't use Git (very often), and instead use Mercurial for most of my projects. So I decided to modify it to work with Mercurial. Very little has changed from his Git version (in fact, in most files it was a simple s/git/hg/), so I'm not going to go over how it all works. If you want to know that, you should read his original blog post. Instead, I'm just going to link to my bitbucket project for it: Mercurial for ZSH. It is, at this point, a pretty half-assed port. There's still some work to do to fine-tune it for Mercurial, but it works. Another thing I'm interested in doing is seeing if I can get it to auto-detect what VCS is being used for the current directory and act accordingly so that it doesn't have to be limited to either Merurial or Git (which goes along nicely with another project that I'm working on and will hopefully be able to write about soon). But, half-assed or not, I think it may be useful to anyone out there using both ZSH and Mercurial (or any any VCS, if you want to fork the code again).

Car free once again
Nov 03, 2009

After a year and five months, Jessi and I are car free once again! Yup, yesterday we sold our '06 Mazda 3 that we bought in '07 and re-entered the ranks of the urban carless. This is the second time we've been without a car, the first was right after I moved to Boston from California and sold my Camaro. That lasted for about 6 months before Jessi got a new job that was not accessible by public transit. This time, with my new job at Discovery Creative, and Jessi working from home, a car has become an unnecessary expense. A very large unnecessary expense, as a matter of fact: before taking into account gas an maintenance, owning the car was costing us around $500 per month! That's a lot of extra money that's now going to be sitting in our bank account! Of course some of it will go to Zipcar rentals for the few times when we actually do need a car, and some will probably go to getting our groceries delivered by either Peapod/Giant or Safeway, but even still those added expenses should be far less than what we're saving by having no car.

Django admin awesomeness
Oct 15, 2009

Yes, I realize that this is now my third post not related to DVCSes since I said my next post would be about DVCSes. So sue me. I recently encountered an interesting requirement for the Django admin: we wanted people to normally only see (and be able to edit) objects that either they created themselves, or that the creator had assigned them to. Fortunately this is insanely easy in Django 1.1, all you have to do is override the queryset() method of the appropriate ModelAdmin like so: This snippet very easily allows you to apply essentially any filter you want to the QuerySet that gets passed on to the change_list and allows you to provide an exception for super users (always a good thing!). That part was really easy and something I've done before (even in 1.0.x where the functionality is there, just not exposed). Where it got trickier was where the client also wanted the functionality to be able to view all the objects regardless of who created them, but still only have editing capabilities for their own objects (and only see the information available on the change_list for others). This part was much harder, but fortunately also made very possible by the updates to ModelAdmin in the 1.1.x branch. The first thing I wanted to do was just provide a new URL and view integrated seamlessly into the admin. Again this was very simple with the new admin, and required only overriding the get_urls() method on the ModelAdmin: Getting that all_objects view to return something essentially identical to the normal change_list, but with a completely different filter on the queryset, and some different display options was the real problem I had to address. Wrapping my head around the problem took some time, but fortunately even this was pretty simple once I really started to get into the flexibility of the ModelAdmin class. Broken down to it's most basic level, what I wanted to do was return the change_list view from a Model Admin. This in itself is very simple to do, and requires very little code: Once I figure that out it was pretty obvious that what I needed to do was subclass my ModelAdmin and just re-overide the relevant functions. Turns out this is really easy to do, and gives you a whole lot of flexibility. So I created a special AllItemsAdmin subclass of ThisAdmin, and overrode that queryset() method to return all the objects. I then had to figure out a way to get it to only display but not link to edit pages for objects that the current user doesn't own. Since I needed them to be in the queryset, this was a little trickier. Anyone who's been working with the Django admin should know about the list_display option on the ModelAdmin. What you might not know (I didn't until recently) is that no only can the list_display list contain field names and properties from the model (Actually, if you didn't know that you can provide callable properties from your model, you should check that out. It lets you do some very useful things.), you can also provide callables from within your model admin. So you could set your list_display to something like ['title', 'my_function'] where my_function is a method on your model admin with a definition along the lines of my_function(self, object) that can perform operations on the Django object for that row and return whatever value you want. The normal options for model properties (such as allow_tags and short_description) work here as well. So what I was able to do with this was create a custom column for my change_list that looked at the specific object, checked the ownership properties as above, and then returned either just the name of the object, or the name of the object as a link to the regular edit page for that object. By setting list_display_links to (None,) I was able to prevent any of the fields from automatically be turned into links. Of course doing this required that method to have access to the request which it usually wouldn't, but since I was already working with a hacked up subclass of my ModelAdmin I was able to just override the __init__() to take the request object and pass that in when I instantiated it. What I ended up with was this really awesome view (if I do say so myself): As you can see, this is also using another new feature in the 1.1.x admin: reversing of admin URLs. After this all I needed was a few simple changes to the change_list.html template for this model let me add a 'View all' link to go to this new view, and then the 'all' context variable being passed in as extra context simply tells it to provide a link back to the standard view otherwise. The result of all this was a seamless integration of my custom 'view, but don't edit all' view into the Django admin.

Sorry about the downtime
Oct 14, 2009

I just happened to check my Google analytics today and saw that my hits had dropped essentially to zero since October 8th. Turns out that my wsgi file was a little screwed up after my initial attempts to migrate my blog to django-mingus. I have, obviously, fixed it, though I still want to move the blog to mingus and will hopefully get the chance to actually do that soon. Until then, however, at least my blog is up!

Storing IP addresses as integers in Python
Oct 07, 2009

I just saw this very interesting (for a programmer) blog entry on Storing IP addresses as integers. As the article says, anyone who wants to store IP addresses in a database is generally going to do as a string. However if you're really concerned about memory efficiency, you might want to find a lighter data type to use. Since an IP address is really just a collection of integers it would make sense to store it as an integer, however doing so without losing important information (specifically, the placements of the dots) becomes an issue. The blog post in question introduces the the pack() and unpack() functions, which 'allow you to create and extract data into and out of binary-packed strings' and provides the Ruby code necessary to encode an IP address as a simple integer and decode it back to a dotted quad. I thought this was pretty cool, so I decided to write the equivalent Python code. This is what I ended up with: It seems to work as advertised, though the packed string the encode() function returns is different from what Ruby gives you, so they won't interoperate (it would probably only require changing the pack() and unpack() formats to do so, but I didn't feel like experimenting to figure out which ones). Of course, being a Django guy, the immediate application of these functions that I see is creating a new IPAddressField that stores the address as an integer instead of a string transparently.

Building RESTful APIs with django-piston
Sep 26, 2009

Discovery Creative has a lot of web sites and apps out there. And quite a few of them need to send email in one form or another. Previously that has meant that every single one of those sites/apps needed to implement it's own mechanism for sending email. This is obviously a bit of a pain, not to mention a potential security risk, and a blatant violation of the DRY principle. So I was tasked with building a better mousetrap, as it were. One of the cool new things I had heard about at DjangoCon 2009 (which I really should have written about...) was Piston, a framework built in Django for building RESTful APIs by the bitbucket guys. I'd never actually built any sort of API before, but it seems to be the thing to do, so I decided to take django-piston for a whirl and how it works. As it turns out, it works extremely well. So well, in fact, that when coupled with some of the fun tools that Django provides (such as ModelForms) you can easily build a RESTful API in no time at all. Thanks to django-piston I was able to create a simple API that will allow us, moving forward, to use a single, centralized email solution for all our web apps. In fact anything that can send an HTTP POST request (including curl, which is what I've been using for testing) can send email using the API I created so long as it can also handle HTTP authentication (which django-piston easily handles against django.contrib.auth). I'm hoping, after a little more work and refinement, to open-source our API so that other can benefit from it (and, hopefully, contribute back to it!), but for now you'll have to make do with a sample project that I threw together for the most recent django-district meeting this past Thursday: Django-Piston Presentation. It's a bitbucket repository that includes all the code for a simple RESTful API that allows you to create, fetch, and delete objects from a simple Django object. This particular project was designed to be extremely flexible, and all one needs to do is add or remove fields from the model (or point it at a different model) to adapt it to just about anything. Hopefully it will serve as a pretty good instructional example to anyone who wants to create their own API with django-piston. The project also contains my notes on how to build and test it in an Emacs org-mode file. Next up: Git, Mercurial, and moving on from Subversion.

Comments are go!
Sep 18, 2009

Just a quick note: this blog now has Disqus comments. Turns out it's insanely simple to implement, thanks to Arthur Koziel's awesome django-disqus app. Took me no more than five minutes during my lunch break to get everything to it's current state.

Blog has been migrated to the Rackspace Cloud
Sep 17, 2009

One of the reasons that I haven't been blogging lately is that I have a lot of planned changes for the blog. Most importantly, I've been planning on moving it to my Cloud Server on The Rackspace Cloud (née Mosso). I've finally taken care of that, and this post is the first on the new server. If you can see it, that means the DNS changes have propagated. Now that I've done this I have a number of other changes planned. I'm going to completely overhaul the backend to the blog. In the course of the migration I upgrade from Django 1.0.2 to Django 1.1. Nothing else has changed yet, but I intend to also revamp the templates, add some fancy new feature to better integrate with the rest of my online life, and start using django-mingus. One of the more urgent changes I want to make is to switch to Disqus powered comments. Previously I was using django.contrib.comments along with Akismet for spam filtering. Akismet really just hasn't worked at all for me for the past few months, which is why comments are current disabled. Fortunately, Disqus should cut down on the spam by requiring registration without imparting too large an onus on the readers by using a number of common authentication backends like OpenID, Facebook Connect, and Twitter. I'm hoping it will make for a good compromise. The most important change, of course, is that I intend to actually start writing again. I've got a lot of ideas that I've wanted to write about and simply haven't because either I didn't have the time, I wanted to wait until this migration, or I was just too lazy. Hopefully, that will be changing now!

The Colony: Another Discovery Creative project goes live!
Jul 09, 2009

I will get around to actually writing something soon, I swear! But for now you'll all just have to make do with another announcement of a project going live. This time it's actually up on Discovery Channel site. It's a Flash and Django based app promoting one of Discovery's new shows The Colony, about survival in a post-apocalyptic LA. I've actually been looking forward to this show, can't wait to watch it!

Silverdocs.com: My first Discovery Creative project goes live!
Jun 02, 2009

I'm actually a bit late on this one, but I've been so busy with my next Discovery Creative project that I just haven't had time for much else. Anyway, from June 15 through 22 AFI, in partnership with the Discovery Channel will be putting on their Silverdocs Documentary Film Festival. Check out the website for more details on the festival and the films they'll be showing, not to mention an example of how awesome my (and the rest of Discovery Creative, I guess) work is.

No more dydxtech.com!
Jun 02, 2009

This is just a quick update. I'm phasing out the dydxtech.com. As a result, dydxtech.com now redirects to this page. None of the content from the original site is sticking around other than my portfolio, which is now available on this site at joshourisman.com/portfolio. I've done a half-assed job at re-skinning the portfolio page to look like the blog, and I'll put in some sort of link to it eventually.

Life in Maryland
May 10, 2009

I've now been living in Maryland and working at Discovery Creative for a whole month, so I think it's about time I started writing again! My first couple weeks I was here alone while Jessi finished things up in Boston I had little motivation to do much outside of work, so I found myself going in to work early and home (I was staying with my aunt and uncle who graciously offered me a place to stay at their home in Bethesda during the limbo time between moving out of the condo in Somerville and into the apartment in Silver Spring) late. That left me pretty exhausted at the end of the day so relaxing, eating, and sleeping were much higher on my to do list than writing. Since Jessi got down here my time outside work has been dedicated to unpacking boxes and transmitting what little I know of the area to her and her sister Becky who flew out to help with the move. Now, however, we're unpacked—if not completely then at least enough to be comfortable—with most of our furniture in place and awaiting delivery on the few remaining items that we've purchased. So time to start looking towards the future again. My experience here thus far suggests that there's a lot of interesting work ahead. I've got a few Django projects already going on, including working with some new stuff like OpenID, OpenCalais, Clickpass, Twitter, and many other things. I'll probably be starting work on a project using Google App Engine in the near future, and I've already begun learning about and starting to work on iPhone apps as well. So I should have lots of good fodder for technical posts in the coming months! On top of that there's a whole new city to explore, and nearly the entirety of my family spend time with. Before we knew we were going to be moving, Jessi and I had been planning on getting kayaks this summer so we could spend some time on the Charles and Mystic rivers, maybe the Harbor Islands, and hopefully take them up to the Adirondacks to explore the lakes up there. That plan certainly hasn't changed as now we've got the Potomac and other bodies of water to play with. Plus we're now so close to Shenandoah that it would be a crime not to get in some camping and backpacking. (And after the missed opportunity last winter, I'm definitely planning on some winter backpacking in the Senandoah back country this year!) So with any luck I should be doing a lot of writing on a lot of different topics in the future. At the very least I need to do some work on this site as I want to integrate my portfolio into the personal site and phase out the business one. And working on this site always seems to give my something to write about.

Good news, everyone!
Mar 26, 2009

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you'll likely have seen my big news: I have a new job! That's right, I've been hired on as a web developer for Discovery Communications (the parent company of the Discovery Channel). More specifically, I'll be working at Discovery Creative, the subset of Discovery Networks that works on things like web sites (duh) and advertising. It's a pretty awesome job, and I can't wait to get started. But, true to form, the transition to this next stage in my life is not as simple as that. The job is not here in Boston, rather it's down in Silver Spring, Maryland (just outside the northern tip of DC). So just three short years after moving to Boston, we're moving to Maryland! This is a little less crazy than it might sound. Nearly all of my family is down there, within about 10 miles of Silver Spring. The next largest concentration of my family members (which consists of just my grandmother and an aunt) is in South Jersey, about a 3 hours drive away. Other than that, there's no single place in the coutry where I could live near more than a single blood relation of mine (although there are a number of other places we could go to be overrun with members of Jessi's much larger family). On top of that, Jessi's sister and her daughter (our niece) are moving to Virginia this summer, about an hour away, and my sister is going to be in DC for at least the summer after her graduation in May. Strangely enough, DC actually seems to make a lot more sense for us logistically. The only real complication is what to do with our condo. Fortunately it's about four blocks away from Harvard Law School, basically on the campus of Lesley University, and within walking distance of Tufts University. So we're pretty confident that we'll be able to get it rented pretty quickly, and after some consulting on our mortgage (Best thing about the current economy? We can refinance and knock a good 2% off our interest rate!) it seems as though it should work out pretty well financially too. So yet again this blog will turn into the chronical of a move. A much shorter move than last time (thankfully; as much as I enjoy driving cross-country, I really am not in the mood to do it again right now), but one that will, I think, prove quite interesting. Oh, and the best thing about this new job? They have a dinosaur in the lobby! How cool is that? [Edit: Corrected a mistake. The parent company of the Discovery Channel is Discovery Communications, not Discovery Networks! Thanks Matt!]

Kindle for iPhone
Mar 04, 2009

Amazon has released a Kindle for iPhone (iTunes store link) app. It's exactly what it sounds like, and my first impression is that it may well be the straw that breaks the camel's back and pushes me to adopt the Kindle.

I woke up this morning to discover that Amazon had released their Kindle for iPhone app. We all knew this was coming, though I don't think anyone (at least, not me) suspected it would come so soon. I have been anxiously awaiting a good eBook solution, and thus far the Kindle has seemed like the best bet, but I haven't yet been totally convinced. Fortunately the Kindle for iPhone app is free, removing the first barrier for entry to buying into Amazon's system. On top of that they allow you to download the first chapter of books in the Kindle store for free to preview them. This provides the perfect opportunity to test it out, so that's exactly what I did.

Immediately upon downloading the app my first task was to get some content to test it out with. The home screen provides a promising 'Get Books' button, but unfortunately that merely takes you to a screen entitled 'How to Get Books' which does nothing other than tell you go 'Get the best shopping experience by visiting www.amazon.com/kindlestore on your Mac or PC'. It also, helpfully, tells you that you can 'use Safari on your iPhone to buy books' (and, in one small nod to decent functionality provides you with a link that will open Safari to the Kindle store on your iPhone). So my first experience with the app was one of disappointment; I wasn't near my computer, and Amazon.com isn't the most mobile Safari-friendly site in the world. So my next thought was to check the Amazon.com iPhone app (iTunes store link). This app allows you to browse Amazon's vast catalogue of products and even purchase them. Unfortunately, for the Kindle editions of books it only allows you to add them to your wish list and not purchase them directly. I'm generously assuming that the next version of the Kindle for iPhone app, or the Amazon.com iPhone app will remedy this situation and provide an integrated way to purchase Kindle content. In the meantime, I used mobile Safari to grab a preview of the Kindle edition of one of the books on my wish list. I chose Sam Harris' The End of Faith, as I've been wanting to read it for a while.

I haven't used an actual Kindle yet, so I don't know how it compares, but the Kindle for iPhone app provides a pretty good interface for browsing your library. You can easily sort them by recentness, title, or author, and there's an 'Archived Items' section that allows you to see and download books that you've purchased but which haven't yet been added to your iPhone (when you purchase a book from the Kindle store it gives you a choice of which device(s) it should be pushed to initially). It even helpfully provides you with an indicator of whether you have the full book or just a sample, although it does not appear to tell you if you've started reading a book yet or how far through it you are which would be a nice touch.

Upon selecting my book sample to read, I was initially taken to the first page of text of my single chapter. However the book's title page, copyright page, and a hyperlinked table of contents (among other things) were also present. Pages are turned, intuitively, with a swipe of the finger to the right or to the left. A single tap on the screen reveals various options such as a back button in case you've followed any links (such as on the table of contents, or in the case of endnotes), a button to add a book mark, a button to adjust the font size (I chose to go with the smallest size in order to minimize the number of page turns necessary), a reload button, and a less than clearly labeled button that looks like an open book. It also provides you with a slider that allows you to easily scroll through the book, and an indicator of how far through the book your indexed, I believe, by word number (the screen I'm currently looking at indicates that my location is 387-395). The less-than-obvious button is actually a 'Go to' button which gives you a number of options including 'Cover', 'Table of Contents', 'Beginning', 'Location' (which allows you to enter the number of a particular location), and any notes or marks you may have added. A pretty good system, though it was only through experimentation that I figured out what it actually was.

The reading experience, I found to be surprisingly good. I've played around with the Stanza eBook app for iPhone, but was never really able to stick with it for long periods of time. I don't know if it was the choice of fonts, the quality of type-setting, or what, but I found reading with the Kindle for iPhone app to be great. One of the common criticisms I've heard of the Kindle and of other eBook readers is that it doesn't simply 'disappear' the way a paper book does when you're reading it. Maybe it's the intuitive touchscreen interface the iPhone provides, but I definitely didn't find this to be the case. In fact I blazed through my sample first chapter in no time at all and rarely noticed that I was reading off an iPhone. The text is exceptionally clear and easy to read, and while I'd prefer the larger screen of an actual reader device, I found there to be plenty of text on the screen that I wasn't constantly flipping to the next page. In fact I was probably only about halfway through the sample first chapter before I decided that spending the $7.96 to buy the full eBook is totally worth it. Basically, I'm a convert.

I still have concerns about the Kindle in general—I don't like the locked-in nature of using Amazon's DRMed content, and the price is currently just a little more that I'm willing to pay for a reader (especially now that I can read the books on my iPhone)—but I'm now convinced that my initial feelings, that eBooks are the way of the future and it won't be long before I, at least, am doing most of my reading electronically, were right on the mark. I'll definitely be buying a book or two through the Kindle store now, though I'm still hesitant to invest in much of a Kindle library in case I end up deciding to go with some other solution, but if Amazon comes out with a Kindle 3 that is a little more in line with what I want from a dedicated reader, I'll almost definitely be purchasing it. And I'm still not ruling out the purchase of a Kindle 2 entirely. If Amazon were to drop the price by $100, I'd buy one today. But I do very much hope that Amazon and the publishing companies will find some way forward for more open content. The fear of getting trapped into a system that ends up being inferior will certainly continue to curb my investment in the Kindle, but since Amazon has stated, and now demonstrated, that Kindle content will be made available on other devices, they may well have sold me on their eBook ecosystem.

Boston Restaurant Week, Winter 2009
Feb 18, 2009

I can't believe I haven't written about this yet, but BostonChefs.com's the unofficial guide to Boston's Restaurant Week for Winter 2009 is live. I've been working on this particular site since 2007 when I first help make some PHP-based improvements to it. Last summer it became my first professional Django-based project when I completely redeveloped it in Django. This year I've made some further improvements to the Django codebase, including a completely re-implemented and much improved Google Maps mashup that lets you view the restaurants geographically. Previously this had been using some old code that I had inherited from the original site. It was pretty good code, but more modern tools allowed me to vastly simplify it. Specifically, instead of always loading every restaurant and populating the map with markers, then simply zooming in on a specific neighborhood or restaurant, it now only loads the restaurants appropriate for the current target. If you select a specific neighborhood, it only loads the restaurants for that neighborhood, and puts markers on the map for them. Because of that I was able to use Google's API to automatically set the bounds and zoom level of the map to best show those restaurants. This removes the need to manually pick a set of coordinates and zoom level for each neighborhood (having, then, to fine tune it for each neighborhood individually) and instead takes care of all that automatically. The result is a map that's simpler to manage, presents the relevant information more intelligently, and is much quicker to load. All in all, I think it's a pretty big improvement.

Ordering on inline edited items in Django's admin with jQuery
Feb 13, 2009

I just finished up with some relatively simple, but still fun modifications to the Django admin site for one of the projects I'm working on. For this project I needed to create a many-to-many relationship between two models with ordering information associated with it. This is fairly easy to accomplish by creating a many-to-many with an intermediary table. But providing a convenient mechanism for managing that information is a little trickier. By default you'll just end up with a text entry box in which to manually type the order for that item. This gets pretty old pretty fast, so finding a better method is important. In the past I've used jQuery to add drag and drop re-ordering to inline edited models, but this time I needed to do a little more as well. Specifically I wanted to make it easier to add more inline item. Ordinarily you just set an arbitrary number of empty boxes to have displayed (by default 3) and if you want more you have to fill those boxes, then hit 'Save and continue editing' to get three more. This is a pretty crappy way to do it (but the only way without introducing unwanted dependencies). Some googling revealed that Arne Brodowski had done pretty much exactly what I wanted to so, so I worked up some modified version of his scripts. The first step was setting it up to hide entries that were marked for deletion. Arne provided a prototype script to do this, but I made a few modifications that clean it up a bit and made it actually work (at least with jQuery 1.3.1). What I ended up with was this somewhat more elegant looking script: jQuery(function($) { $("div.inline-related input:checkbox[id$=DELETE]").change(function() { if ($(this).attr('checked')) { $(this).parents('div.inline-related').children('fieldset.module').addClass('collapsed'); } else { $(this).parents('div.inline-related').children('fieldset.module').removeClass('collapsed'); } }); }); The changes I made are mainly in the selector for grabbing the checkboxes ($("div.inline-related input:checkbox[id$=DELETE]"), and in the method for checking whether or not the box is actually checked ($(this).attr('checked')). With those changes it works exactly as advertised, which is a pretty handy bit of functionality. The next step was slightly more complex. To be able to dynamically add more relationships without having to 'Save and continue editing', I made basically the same template changes as Arne did, and fortunately this time didn't need to make many changes to the script. I basically just removed the 'return false' from the end and wound up with this: function increment_form_ids(el, to, name) { var from = to-1 ; $(':input', $(el)).each(function(i,e){ var old_name = $(e).attr('name'); var old_id = $(e).attr('id'); $(e).attr('name', old_name.replace(from, to)); $(e).attr('id', old_id.replace(from, to)); $(e).val(''); }); } function add_inline_form(name) { var first = $('#id_'+name+'-0-id').parents('.inline-related'); var last = $(first).parent().children('.last-related'); var copy = $(last).clone(true); var count = $(first).parent().children('.inline-related').length; $(last).removeClass('last-related'); $(last).after(copy); $('input#id_'+name+'-TOTAL_FORMS').val(count+1); increment_form_ids($(first).parents('.inline-group').children('.last-related'), count, name); $(first).parents('.inline-group').children('.last-related').find('input[id$=order]').val(0); $('div.inline-group').find('div.inline-related').each(function(i) { $(this).find('input[id$=order]').val(i+1); }); } You'll probably notice that I did actually make one other change. After I had gotten all this working, I realized there was one problem: If when starting from scratch you just happened to enter your choices in the order you wanted it wouldn't actually save that ordering information. By default (with my model definitions anyway) everything was assigned an order of 0 until you actually dragged things around to reorder them. This might be ok for some applications, but just won't work for this particular project. So I added those three lines of code to the function for adding new entries and also made sure that it's also done when you first load the page. This way you can be sure that everything will always be numbered appropriately and you won't end up with any unwanted 0s in your ordering information.

Finally some good news!
Jan 26, 2009

I've written in the past about the dismal state of reading in America, and how depressing I, as an avid reader, find it. Today, however, I was pleased to discover via mssv.net, that recent NEA study shows that reading is on the rise again, especially among 18-24 year olds. With any luck, this will result in an increase in demand for eBooks and eBook technology, so that we might finally start to see some of the advancements I'm looking for (such as my ultimate eBook reader and my eBook store idea). eBook technology does seem to be pretty steadily advancing towards what I'd like to see, and I think it may be only a matter of months before I finally see a device that convinces me to take the plunge (maybe even the Kindle 2, if it ever comes out).

Another project goes live: davidsmall.com
Jan 21, 2009

I recently went live with another Django project. The Small Design Firm website uses Django and Prototype frameworks to showcase the company's previous projects and news articles. This was a pretty straightforward project and didn't really involve any real hacking, but was none the less a good reminder of how pleasant it is to work in Django and how quickly one can develop a website with it.

BostonChefs 2.0 is live!
Jan 14, 2009

This post is actually a few weeks overdue, but we were away on vacation for a couple weeks, and I'm still in the process of catching up from everything. Anyway, the new BostonChefs.com is live! There haven't been any major changes since the public beta I announced a few months ago, but there have been a few minor tweaks and even a couple new features added. This is my first major Django project to go live, and while there's still some work to be done it's nice to see the product of so much work finally going out the door. But there's no rest for the weary, and I've got a fairly large number of more projects in the pipeline including at least three more Django projects of varying sizes, and one in CodeIgniter. The next few months, if not the whole of 2009, promise to be quite busy!

Hours of Operation
Dec 16, 2008

As you probably know, I've been working on a Django-based re-build of BostonChefs.com (the new version of which is actually live now, but due to DNS propagation issues isn't yet available to 100% of people which is why I haven't yet written a post about it). Among other things, BostonChefs.com provides information on some of the fantastic restaurants in the Boston area. One piece of information it provides is the hours of operation of those restaurants. In order to store this information I created a model called HoursOfOperation. It looks like this: class HoursOfOperation(models.Model): DAY_CHOICES = ( ('0', 'Sun'), ('1', 'Mon'), ('2', 'Tue'), ('3', 'Wed'), ('4', 'Thur'), ('5', 'Fri'), ('6', 'Sat'), ) restaurant = models.ForeignKey("Restaurant") meal_period = models.ForeignKey("MealPeriod") day = models.CharField(max_length=3, choices=DAY_CHOICES) open_time = models.TimeField(default=datetime.datetime.now) close_time = models.TimeField(default=datetime.datetime.now) def _get_hours(self): return "%s - %s" % (self.open_time.strftime('%I:%M%p'), self.close_time.strftime('%I:%M %p')) hours = property(_get_hours) As you can see, each 'hour' is related to a restaurant and a meal period, which allows us to display the information in a manner similar to that you might find on a store's front sign. For example, if you go to the Grill 23 & Bar page (my personal favorite restaurant in Boston, although Craigie on Main is a decent challenger), you'll see something like this: DINNER * Sun: 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. * Mon-Thur: 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. * Fri: 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m. * Sat: 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Building a list like that out of the above model proved slightly more difficult that I might have hoped. It required quite a lot of template logic, including writing a custom filter. The block of template code necessary to generate that list looks like this:
{% regroup restaurant.hoursofoperation_set.all by meal_period as periods %} {% for period in periods %}
{{ period.grouper }}
{% regroup period.list by hours as hour_list %}
    {% for hour in hour_list %}
  • {{ hour.list|collapsedays }}
  • {% endfor %}
{% endfor %}
As you can see, somewhat complex. Those nested {% regroup %}s can be nasty to wrap your head around, if nothing else. But basically it's taking the set of HoursOfOperation objects related to the restaurant, grouping them by meal period, then taking the subset of those objects for each meal period, and grouping those by the hours of the day they represent. So what you're then left with is a list of all the different time periods (still represented as HoursOfOperation objects) that the restaurant is open for a given meal period, and the days on which it is open during those hours. As you can see above, the days are represented by number of the day of the week (0 for Sunday through 6 for Saturday). Converting that list integers into something like 'Mon, Wed-Fri' was not very easy, and certainly not something I wanted to try to tackle using Django's template tags. I ended up drawing heavily on my hazy memories of CS 127 (many thanks to Dave who taught me all about recursion way back then) and creating a filter that considers the list of HoursOfOperation objects as a list of those integers, then recursively converts it into a list of lists representing the subsets of contiguous days in the list. So if you start out with [1, 3, 4, 5] you end up with [[1, 1], [3, 5]] which is then converted into 'Mon, Wed-Fri'. After several false starts I ended up with this beauty of a Django template filter: from django.template import Library from django.template.defaultfilters import time from types import ListType register = Library() def simplify(index, found, days): high = index+1 mid = index low = index-1 if not found: days[low] = [days[low], days[low]] if high >= len(days): if not isinstance(days[-1], ListType): if days[-1] == days[-2][1]: days.pop(-1) else: days[-1] = [days[-1], days[-1]] return days if int(days[high].day) - int(days[mid].day) == 1 and (found or int(days[mid].day) - int(days[low][0].day) == 1): days[low][1] = days[high] days.pop(mid) high = high-1 found = True else: if found: days.pop(mid) found = False return simplify(high, found, days) @register.filter def collapsedays(value): hours = "%s-%s" % (time(value[0].open_time), time(value[0].close_time)) days = simplify(1, False, value) for i in range(len(days)): if days[i][0] == days[i][1]: days[i] = days[i][0].get_day_display() else: days[i] = "%s-%s" % (days[i][0].get_day_display(), days[i][1].get_day_display()) return "%s: %s" % (', '.join(days), hours)

Should have done this a long time ago
Dec 12, 2008

Really, this was a pretty major oversight on my part, but I just now finished added a 'status' field to each entry in my blog app. It's a pretty simple thing in and of itself, I just added a tiny bit of code to my Entry model: STATUS_CHOICES = ( ('dr', 'draft'), ('ac', 'active'), ('ar', 'archive'), ) status = models.CharField(choices=STATUS_CHOICES, max_length=2, default='dr') And then a custom manager as well: class EntryManager(models.Manager): def active(self): return self.get_query_set().filter(status='ac') Remembering, of course, to make sure that manager was actually accessible from the model (in this case by adding 'objects = EntryManager()' to my model class). Once I did that I was able to change the Entry.objects.all() in my view(s) to Entry.objects.active() and now I'm able to write a post and save it without actually publishing! As I said, something of a bonehead move that I didn't do this in the first place. Since I was messing around in my code anyway I decided to clean up the admin for my Entry model as well. Since I'm the only one who ever uses the admin for my blog, I hadn't bothered to before, but now I've got a little more info available to me when looking at my entries: class EntryAdmin(admin.ModelAdmin): prepopulated_fields = {'slug': ('title',)} save_on_top = True list_display = ['title', 'date', 'site_list', 'status',] list_filter = ('sites', 'status',) So my admin now looks something like this: A cool thing there is the 'site_list' column. By default, you can't use a ManyToManyField in the list_display for your model. But I've dealt with this before, and it's only 5 lines of code to make this work: def site_list(self): if self.sites: sites = [site.name for site in self.sites.all()] string = ", ".join(sites) return string Good stuff!

CostToDrive: An awesome new tool for planning road trips
Dec 03, 2008

Later this month Jessi and I are going on a 2,500+ mile road trip. We'll be spending Christmas in Florida with some of Jessi's family and new years in Georgia with some friends of ours. Why on Earth would we spend so much time on the road (the long legs are approximately 17 hours of driving each) when we could just hop a jet and be there in a couple hours? Well, it's saving us a ton of money, and since it's a longer trip the amount of time driving really isn't that significant. How much money is this saving us, you might ask? Well, when I was initially planning this out I just used Google maps to figure out the distance, divided by MPG our car gets (mid 30s on the highway, it's an '06 Mazda 3), then multiplied by what I figured would be a realistic price of gas in December. At the time (this was a few months ago) I figured that $5/gal would be reasonable, and the cost came out to around $350. It would cost that much just for us to fly one way from Boston to Florida, not to mention a multi-city itinerary and the additional costs of having to get from the airport to wherever we were going. Now, however, I've discovered an awesome new website: CostToDrive.com. It basically takes care of all that for you, and with up to date information. So I just entered our starting and ending point, and what kind of car we're driving (currently it doesn't handle multi-destination trips, but I've apparently still retained some basic arithmetic skills). Not only does it you an estimate of how much the trip will cost, but it actually gives you driving directions that include the specific gas stations you should go to in order to get the best price. How awesome is that? Apparently, at current prices, it will cost us $59.01 to drive from Somerville to Amelia Island at an average cost per gallon of $1.73, $20.79 to drive from Amelia Island to Athens Georgia at $1.82/gal., and $56.80 to drive from Athens back to Somerville at $1.54/gal. (Seriously? When I first got my car in '99 it cost me $1.75/gal. to fill up in Oakland, CA!) So all in all the trip should cost right around $140 (assuming current gas prices, but who knows what will really happen there). Not bad! Definitely not worth my money to fly.

Custom fields and widgets for Django forms
Nov 19, 2008

Every so often you run into a situation where Django's built-in form fields and widgets just don't meet your needs. I ran into this the other day when creating a credit card processing form. I wanted an easy way for the user to enter the expiration month and date of their card, but the tools provided by django only gave me a single text field and the option to use a javascript date picker. Neither of those was quite what I wanted, I just wanted two selects that would allow the user to pick the month and the year, as on pretty much every credit card form you've ever filled out online. The obvious option would be to make two separate fields on your model, one for month, and one for year. But I don't really like that option. I would much rather have both selects show up on the same line, which is not the behavior you'd get with two separate fields. So I decided to write a custom widget and field to accomplish this. It was actually surprisingly easy to do. Probably the most difficult part was coming up with a decent way to populate the selects with worthwhile options. I'm not entirely pleased with the route I took there, but it's easy enough to change later. Here's my code: from django import forms import datetime class MonthYearWidget(forms.MultiWidget): """ A widget that splits a date into Month/Year with selects. """ def __init__(self, attrs=None): months = ( ('01', 'Jan (01)'), ('02', 'Feb (02)'), ('03', 'Mar (03)'), ('04', 'Apr (04)'), ('05', 'May (05)'), ('06', 'Jun (06)'), ('07', 'Jul (07)'), ('08', 'Aug (08)'), ('09', 'Sep (09)'), ('10', 'Oct (10)'), ('11', 'Nov (11)'), ('12', 'Dec (12)'), ) year = int(datetime.date.today().year) year_digits = range(year, year+10) years = [(year, year) for year in year_digits] widgets = (forms.Select(attrs=attrs, choices=months), forms.Select(attrs=attrs, choices=years)) super(MonthYearWidget, self).__init__(widgets, attrs) def decompress(self, value): if value: return [value.month, value.year] return [None, None] def render(self, name, value, attrs=None): try: value = datetime.date(month=int(value[0]), year=int(value[1]), day=1) except: value = '' return super(MonthYearWidget, self).render(name, value, attrs) class MonthYearField(forms.MultiValueField): def compress(self, data_list): if data_list: return datetime.date(year=int(data_list[1]), month=int(data_list[0]), day=1) return datetime.date.today() Simple, no? The results end up looking like so:

Dynamic upload path for Django FileField/ImageField
Nov 18, 2008

Django provides an extraordinarily easy way of integrating file uploads into your site in the FileField (also the ImageField which provides some nifty image-specific functionality). However as soon as you start dealing with file uploads you have to worry about where those files are going to be stored. To take care of this, the 'upload_to' argument is set when declaring your FileField which is a local filesystem path that will be appended to your MEDIA_ROOT to the upload location (you could also use an absolute path). By default this is just a static string, though it does handle strftime arguments to allow some flexibility and will look something like this: However that's not always going to cut it. Sometimes you're going to want more flexibility that even just separating the files out by date information. In that case you can take advantage of the fact that a callable can be passed as an argument. In one of my projects I've defined a function that returns the appropriate path depending on a couple of different variables. In this particular case, I know that all uploads for a certain model will be PDFs, while all uploads for certain other models will be images, so I'm able to pretty easily generate appropriate paths for those uploads. We also wanted to obfuscate the filenames so that someone couldn't easily guess the path for other files, and didn't really like the way that Django simply keeps appending '_'s to filenames in the event of a filename collision until it ends up with a unique name. To handle that I simply generate a random string to use as the filename, which fits our needs quite nicely. In my specific case, the function lives in myproject.lib.files and looks like this: As you can see, it's pretty simple to generate an upload path based on pretty much any characteristics you want. To then tell Django to use this function to get the upload path rather than a static string you modify your model definition like so: And that's all it takes. Now all my uploads are automatically renamed and uploaded into the particular directory structure that we want. And since all the logic involved is in a single function it's extremely easy to change it at any point if we decide to alter our directory structure.

Sean Tevis not for Kansas
Nov 10, 2008

I'm sure it was probably lost in the noise of the Obama victory last week, especially for those of us outside of Kansas, but Sean Tevis, to whose campaign for Kansas state representative I did end up donating my $8.34 to, did not win his race sadly. I was rather inspired by his XKCD style campaign ad, the very basic math by which he proved that running for office is not only the purview of the rich, and his policy ideas for Kansas, and hope he runs again in how ever many years it is until the next relevant election.

The world's best hot dog
Nov 10, 2008

Well, I just got back from Iceland on Saturday. It was a great trip, and I'm definitely planning on returning in the not so distant future with Jessi. As promised I kept a photo blog with my iPhone, still available here: http://gallery.me.com/josh.ourisman#100051. Unfortunately, even though I was able to get WiFi nearly everywhere, for most of the trip I had trouble sending emails, so I didn't take as many pictures as I otherwise would have on my iPhone. I do have a ton on my camera, however, and I'll be putting those online soon. Our trip was definitely an interesting one. It was put on by Abercrombie & Kent, a luxury tour company, for a handful of travel agents such as my dad and a few other professionals in the travel industry. The flight over was on A&K's private jet, a 757 leased from Icelandair and fitted out for total luxury. It seats, I believe, about 50 passengers, and has a lounge area where we were served a fantastic dinner consisting of caviar served in the Russian style followed by our choice of lamb, red snapper, or, I think, chicken. Needless to say, this was not your typical airplane dinner. Nor, unfortunately, is it anything that I'm likely to experience again anytime soon. After landing we, along with two A&K guides, were handed off into the capable hands of Luxury Adventures who spent the week taking us on a whirlwind tour of all the attractions that Iceland has to offer around Reykjavik including the Hellisheiði Geothermal Plant, the Blue Lagoon, the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, the Geysir geyser (the root of the word geyser), the East-Ranga river (purportedly one of the best salmon rivers in the world), the site of the first Icelandic parliament (from around 972 C.E. or so), and a dizzying array of other beautiful and amazing sites which I'll try and post more specifically about once I get the pictures off my camera. I also got to check off an item that has been near the top of my to do list for years: eat whale. While at the Hotel Ranga we had a fantastic dinner in which I got to sample not only whale, but also puffin (which tastes, unsurprisingly, a lot like duck) and reindeer (which also unsurprisingly tastes a lot like regular venison). I did not, unfortunately, get to check off the other food item that I was hoping to while in Iceland: kæstur hákarl, though I plan to on a future trip. Anyway, on to the hot dog. It turns out that Reykjavik is home to the world's best hot dog in the form of Bæjarins beztu pylsur (which translates as 'best hot dog in town'). It's a small stand on Pósthússtræti, which just so happens to be the same street as the hotel we were staying at: the Hótel Borg. I had mine 'ein með öllu' (with everything), at the suggestion of a friend of mine from Reykjavik, and it was truly fantastic. Apparently the hot dogs in Iceland are mostly made of lamb, but also with some pork in them. It was absolutely delicious, and quite affordable at only 250 króna which, last week, was about $2, though this week is about $1. Which brings me nicely to my next topic: the exchange rate. This past week, it was about 125 króna to the dollar. However today the króna was put back on the international currency market at a reduced value and is currently at 225 króna to the dollar. As a result, Jessi and I are seriously considering going back for a long weekend this coming weekend. Thanks to Icelandair's vacation packages it would only cost $799 per person for two round trip tickets and two nights at a hotel in Reykjavik, and only another $55 per night to extend the trip. It's kinda hard to turn that sort of deal down, especially for a trip to a place as amazing as Iceland. They have a number of other packages as well, and I'm looking forward to taking advantage of them for both a winter trip to experience the darkness of arctic winter, and spring and/or summer trips for some hiking and backpacking across volcanic plains and glaciers. Long story short: I love Iceland. I don't think a single day went by when we discovered some new thing about the island nation that inspired me to declare my intention of moving there. However by far one of my favorite things about the country has nothing to do tourism or even really our trip at all. While we were driving around the country side we saw tons and tons of what we were told were summer homes. When we asked what Icelanders do in their summer homes the answer was: read. Apparently Icelanders are amongst the most prolific readers in the world and, as evidence, there is a three story bookstore on Austurstræti (I think I spelled that right) in Reykjavik that was open, and filled with people sitting down reading, well after all the other shops had closed up for the night (6pm on non-summer weekdays). If you've been reading my blog for a while you might know that I find the US' abysmally low level of reading to be be very depressing, and the idea of a country where the national pastime appears to be reading is quite appealing to me.

Iceland, ho!
Nov 04, 2008

Today I get to add another entry to the fairly long and growing list of countries I've visited: Iceland. In about 4 hours my dad and I are hopping a plane from Boston to Reykjavik. It's going to be a short trip, only four days, but Iceland has long be high on the list of places I want to visit, so I'm excited to get a taste of what will someday become a destination for a longer trip (not to mention whale, and maybe even hakarl). As I did with my Europe trip last April, I'll be taking advantage of my iPhone's ability to not only take pictures but also upload them directly to a MobileMe gallery, though this time I'm also taking my nice camera as I won't be staying in hostels and aren't worried about it getting lost stolen, so there will be a second gallery of higher quality pictures after I get back. The only downside of the trip is that I'm going to have to wait to Wednesday morning to hear about the results of today's election. We're landing at 11:30 local time, which is only 6:30 Eastern, so the polls won't even be closed yet. I might stay up for a while to watch the returns, but apparently everything closes at 1, so I'll just be sitting by myself in the hotel room... Oh well, I get to go to Iceland. The gallery for this trip will be at: http://gallery.me.com/josh.ourisman#100051

A really ridiculous hardware question
Nov 01, 2008

To celebrate the dawning of November, I have a really ridiculous hardware question (as you may have guessed from the title of this post). Does anyone out there, in the whole of the internet, know where one might find and, ideally, purchase a compact cassette data drive? Yes, those funny things that we used to listen to music on in the 80s can also be used to store data. If anyone could help me find some such hardware and, ideally, some Linux drivers for it I would be very appreciative. [Edit: Some further research has shown that the data on such drives is stored in an analog manner, and therefore is essentially just a recording of the 'sound' of the digital data. So any old tape player should do so long as it can be hooked up to the audio in/out of the computer. Proper software to demodulate the analogue signal is, of course, necessary, but there's plenty of stuff already out there to build on (it would basically just be an acoustic coupler). The only problem with using a standard tape player is that it's not going to be computer controlled and so will need to manually be stopped and started as necessary.]

Modifying the Django Admin: redirects after adding, changing, and deleting
Oct 27, 2008

One of the Django projects that I've been working on for about a year and and will (fingers crossed) be going live in the very very very near future has involved a lot of modification to Django's admin interface. I plan on writing more about the many, many specific changes that I've made to the interface (without modifying the actual Django codebase, so that the changes can be easily applied by anyone without breaking updates), but to talk about them all at once would make far too long of a post. So I'll be taking them on one at a time. The change I want to talk about right now involves redirecting the user to the page I want them to be at after they've finished adding or editing an object rather than to that object's model's change_list. Normally, if you're editing an Entry object in the Blog app, when you hit save it will take you to /admin/blog/entry/, which is a list of all the Entry objects in the database. However there are some instances in which this isn't the behavior I want. Once such instance involves model inheritance. Say, for example, you have multiple types of Entries which you've accomodated through multi-table-inheritance. Because the different sub-classes are different models, they all have their own change_lists in the Django admin. But I want to be able to view, edit, and create Entries of all types from one page. Fortunately, Django makes this fairly easy to accomplish. All that is necessary is to override the appropriate methods in the Entry ModelAdmin. That will end up looking something like this: class EntryAdmin(admin.ModelAdmin): def change_view(self, request, object_id, extra_context=None): result = super(EntryAdminAdmin, self).change_view(request, object_id, extra_context) if not request.POST.has_key('_addanother') and not request.POST.has_key('_continue'): result['Location'] = iri_to_uri("/admin/blog/entry/") return result The exact same modification should be made to add_view as well, and a nearly identical modification to delete_view though it doesn't need to deal with the _addanother and _continue cases. You can then use the EntryAdmin class for all of your varioud Entry sub-classes, or, if you need some other changes to the admin for different Entries sub-classes you can sub-class EntryAdmin for them. Now, whenever you hit the save button after editing any sort of Entry, it will always take you back to /admin/blog/entry/ rather than /admin/blog/linkentry/ or whatever your other subclasses are. If you want it to only take you back to /admin/blog/entry/ if you're coming from a particular page and otherwise take you to /admin/blog/linkentry/ all you need is to add a GET variable to your url (something like '/admin/blog/linkentry/add/?return_to_main=True') and then check for it in your modified change_view, add_view, and delete_view methods with a request.GET.get('return_to_main', False). I've even used this between objects of different model types to create a 'dashboard' page that allows you to view, and alter the relationships between an object of one type with objects of another type. All that's necessary in a case like that is to pass the id of the object in your GET variable and take that into account when creating your uri. An added benefit of that it makes it easy to auto-fill the ForeignKey field when creating a related object. In such a case you'll also need to keep that GET variable in the URLs down the line in order to maintain compatilibility with the 'Save and add another' and 'Save and continue editing' features. But that's still a simple modification: class EntryAdmin(admin.ModelAdmin): def change_view(self, request, object_id, extra_context=None): result = super(EntryAdminAdmin, self).change_view(request, object_id, extra_context) other_id = request.GET.get("other_id", None) if not request.POST.has_key('_addanother') and not request.POST.has_key('_continue'): if other_id: result['Location'] = iri_to_uri("/admin/dashboard/%s/") % other_id return result elif request.POST.has_key('_continue'): if other_id: result['Location'] = iri_to_uri("?other_id=%s" % other_id) return result elif request.POST.has_key('_addanother'): if other_id: result['Location'] = iri_to_uri("%s?other_id=%s" % (result['Location'], other_id)) return result return result But more on that sort of thing in other posts.

More blog updates
Oct 26, 2008

Since you're reading this there's a decent chance you know this already, but I've made some changes to my blog's styling again. I think it looks much better than it did before and is a little easier on the eyes. It was inspired in large part by the WordPress theme that Mark Shuttleworth uses on his blog. I've definitely decided that I like the simple bordering on minimalistic look, and the solid blue background I was using before just wasn't doing it for me. Plus I even learned some useful CSS tricks that I didn't know before in coding it. I'm planning a similar redesign of the dy/dx tech website in the near future to bring the look of the site a little more up to date as well.

The downside of shared servers
Oct 16, 2008

I've been nothing but impressed with the service I've got from WebFaction and the reliability I've gotten from their servers. I even had a very high traffic site run on a WebFaction shared account without a hitch. Today, however, we got a first hand look at the downside of a shared server. If you're a webfaction customer you should be (no really, you should) subscribed to their status blog It's a great way to be kept up to date on any issues that might affect your site. The most recent issue has to do with the MySQL server on web49: the server that we happen to be using to develop a very large project. As you can see from reading the entry, the problem appears to have been caused by a corrupted database table (not one of ours) which was causing some unreliability with the database server (our Django based site was intermittently unable to connect to the database and, when it could, intermittently unable to authenticate). Though they thought they had it fixed, the problem returned and while they're attempting to fix it for good they've rolled back the entire database server to a known good backup. This is a good approach as it means that everyone should still have most of their data in the meantime. Unfortunately, we happen to be in the middle of populating the database with the data we need to go live in the near future. Rolling back the database even by a day means that we've lost a ton of work. We should get it all back once the problem is fixed, but of coruse that means that we have to put the work on hiatus until the problem is fixed to avoid versioning issues. This right here is the perfect illustration of why a dedicated server is a good idea. Yes, a shared server might be able to support your site. But it also leaves you vulnerable to the actions of the people you're sharing the server with. If someone else does something stupid that corrupts a database table on a server that they share with you suddenly you stand to lose a lot of work. If someone has a poorly written app that somehow manages to crash the server or even just eat up all the RAM, your site goes down. With a shared server you simply don't have the security of knowing that your site is stable and secure even if you trust your hosting company and you trust your code. That security is what you're paying for when you get a dedicated server over a shared one.

Duplicating WebFaction's Apache setup
Oct 13, 2008

I've been using WebFaction for my hosting for a while now, and have been extremely pleased with them. In addition to the fantastic service I've received, I've been very impressed with the intelligent way they have their servers setup. They've clearly done a lot of work to make things as modular as possible which makes it insanely easy for me to run multiple sites with very different requirements seamlessly on the same server. Basically what they've done is segment out all of your different websites into 'applications'. Each application in represented as a directory in your ~/webapps/ directory, and is essentially a self-contained environment with it's own apache instance, and, in the case of a Django app, it's own $PYTHONPATH. The end result is that even though all the websites are being stored and run from within my home directory, they're entirely modular, can have different, or different versions of the same, dependencies installed, and can be shut down and restarted independently of one another. On top of all this is a fantastically simple custom web-based control panel that I'm pretty sure is built with Django. I've been so impressed with how well this setup works, that I've decided to duplicate it on my home server for development purposes. Currently I do pretty much all my development work on my Gentoo Linux powered ThinkPad. To that end I've installed Apache, MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQLite, Python, PHP, &c. to allow me to mimic the live sites as closely as possible and to allow me to continue working when I don't have internet access (such as when I'm flying or visiting Jessi's family out beyond the reach of broadband). This works very well, but as I'm just using a basic Apache install, without any VirtualHosts, it's not nearly as flexible and means I can really only work on a single site at a time with some work necessary to switch back and forth between projects. Of course most of the time I just use Django's built-in development server when working with Django, but I do end up relying on Apache sometimes, and I'd like to set up my home server as a more complete development environment for both myself and some friends I can grant VPN access to. So to that end I've been looking into WebFaction's setup with the idea of re-implementing it myself. Turns out it's pretty simple. Simple enough that I almost feel like I should have thought of it myself. Basically, WebFaction's setup scripts create a new 'app' in your ~/webapps/ directory, and populate it, most importantly with a copy, owned by your user, of the Apache executable, some scripts to start, stop, and restart that executable, and an httpd.conf file that sets the (in the case of a Python-based app) $PYTHONPATH variable to include a ~/webapps/yourappname/lib/python2.5/ directory allowing each site to maintain it's own dependencies independently (you can also put things in your ~/lib/python2.5/ for global dependencies if you want). Oh, each application also gets it's own copies of the necessary Apache modules to the same effect. Each application's Apache instance(s) is set up to listen to a different (non-80) port. The end result of this is an extremely simple, extremely modular setup that works fantastically. Obviously I've left out a step here. If each Apache isntance is listening to a different, non-80, port, how does your traffic get to your actual site? This is the one part that I can't really just peek into the configuration files for, because it doesn't (as far as I can tell, which makes sense) live on the same server as my sites. I assume that what's happening is that WebFaction's name servers are simply pointing requests to (for example) joshourisman.com:80 at my.webfaction.server:portnumber. Again, a simple, yet elegant solution that allows for easy customization and expansion. I haven't yet tried to implement this setup myself (I first want to move my server from FreeBSD to Linux (which now that I'm using full-time again I'm just much more familiar with), but there's nothing about it that's particularly tricky. Really, the routing is probably going to be the hardest part, but I'm planning on replacing our rather lackluster TrendNet wireless router with a Linux box which will give me much greater control and (hopefully) better reliability.

Replacing files in a Django ImageField or FieldField
Sep 24, 2008

Django provides a lot of really useful tools to simplify the development process and let you focus only on the important bits. The FileField and ImageField (a subclass of FileField) are good examples of that letting you simply tell Django that your model will have a file or image and letting it take care of the issues of uploading, storing, and all that. In the past, that's really been enough. It will even automatically delete the file/image when you delete its parent model object. One thing it doesn't do, however (and this has been the topic of much debate), is delete a previously uploaded file/image when you upload a new one for the same model. What I mean by this is if you have a model with a FileField defined and use it to upload some file associated with an object. If you then later decide that you want a different file associated with that object and upload it, it doesn't delete the original file and instead leaves it in place and only changes the path stored in the database to point to the new file. Depending on the nature and traffic your website gets, this can lead to massive amounts of storage being wasted on orphaned files (assuming you don't want to keep those old files, of course). I toyed with a couple different approaches to this, including the possibility of subclassing the FileField to try and add that functionalty directly to the field. While this would probably work, I instead opted for a less generalized method: overriding the save() method of the model to take care of this: def save(self, force_insert=False, force_update=False): try: old_obj = ModelName.objects.get(pk=self.pk) if old_obj.image.path != self.image.path: path = old_obj.image.path default_storage.delete(path) except: pass super(ModelName, self).save(force_insert, force_update) This work perfectly, though it has the disadvantage of being specific to a particular model, which violates the DRY principle (assuming you're going to use it on more than one model). Fortunately there's a simple way to solve this problem too: subclassing models.Model and then instead of having all your models subclass models.Model directly, have them subclass your own version of it instead. In that case you'll probably want to have it work generically on all ImageFields and/or FileFields rather than having to name them all specifically. This isn't too hard, and you can build up a list of all the ImageFields for a particular model like this (taken from the sorl-thumnail project): for field in model._meta.fields: if isinstance(field, models.ImageField): if field.upload_to.find("%") == -1: paths = paths.union((field.upload_to,)) [Edit: There was a bug in my code that I've corrected. Details are below in the comment by Comete.] [Edit2: Fixed another problem in the code with variable names. Thanks, again Comete!]

Unapproved apps on an iPhone without jailbreaking?
Sep 23, 2008

As I'm sure most people are aware, it's possible to install apps on your iPhone that aren't available through the AppStore. This requires you to go through a process known as 'jailbreaking' (which is surprisingly easy, and has been around since before there was an official App store), which in addition to allowing you to install apps (including an online repository rather like the official App store), means that you have to be wary of any software updates becaues they, at best, will undo your jailbreaking or, at worst, might brick your iPhone if you don't un-jailbreak it first. But there's another method of installing apps that haven't been given the official Apple stamp of approval on your app. One that doesn't require jailbreaking, and is absolutely authorized by Apple. If you are an iPhone developer, you can install the app that you're developing onto your iPhone to test it out. I haven't done this myself, not having tried my hand at iPhone development yet, but I've seen it done. That being said, and being a known fact, doesn't this mean that we have another avenue to installing apps on iPhones available to us? Shouldn't it therefore be possible for these unapproved apps to be distributed in such a manner as to be installed through the iPhone dev tools and therefore without having to jailbreak your phone? Might it not also, therefore, be possible for the installer app that connects you to the repository of available unofficial iPhone apps to be installed in this way? I'm asking these questions because I don't know the answers, but I'd like to find out. The one real problem that I can see is that maybe apps installed using this method won't have access to all the underlying functionality that is available to unofficial apps but kept hidden from those approved ones. But again, I don't know. I can't imagine this question hasn't been asked before since it seems like a pretty obvious one. But if people can figure out how to jailbreak the iPhone in the first place how much harder can it be to figure out how to use the dev kit to install the installer app without jailbreaking?

Politics; it's been a while
Sep 22, 2008

I haven't written about politics in a while. Strange considering how much is going on lately. Well today in the mail we got our copies of 'The Official Massachusetts Information for Voters: The 2008 Ballot Questions'. Direct democracy is a hoot, so this seems like a great way to get back in the swing of things. Question 1: I've written about this one before. Question 1 is on the issue of ending the Massachusetts income tax. My previous assessment boils down to the thought that ending the income tax is all well and good, but I'd much rather see the property tax go, as property tax is, in my opinion, in direct conflict with the concept of private ownership. But you can read about my previous thoughts on that in the post linked to above. In reading the provided arguments for and against presented in the packet I'm struck by a couple of thoughts. First, in the argument against there's really only one point, that the government needs that tax money. The rest is just supporting arguments for that. Most strikingly, however, is the way they chose to phrase the argument. The argument opens with, This legally binding initiative would slash state revenues by more than $12 billion a year - nearly 40 percent of the state budget'. This contrasts nicely with the opening statement of the argument for: '"41% waste in Massachusetts state government," reveals survey'. Nice. So in theory it's possible to end the income tax and still come out ahead. Didn't Deval Patrick say he was going nto cut waste or something? What ever happened with that? One other point on the argument against. Their conclusion, which really should be their best argument: 'Times are tough enough. Let's not make them worse. Vote NO'. While I understand they're saying that repealing the income tax will result in fewer services and smaller budgets, I'm not sure it's in their best interest to claim that an extra $3,700 in your pocket (on average) is going to make tough times tougher. I'm thinking I'm probably going to vote 'yes' on this one. If for no other reason than that I enjoy being contrary. Question 2: This one actually caught me by surprise. Apparently I just haven't been paying enough attention. Question 2 is about decriminalizing possession of marijuana. I'm sure we're all familiar with the arguments against decriminalization: it encourages usage, increases crime, &c. It's probably not much of a surprise to anyone who reads my blog to find out that I don't really buy that. Regardless of what you might believe about the morality of mind altering substances, there is absolutely no reasonable way to believe that marijuana is any worse or more harmful than alcohol (except for the fact that you generally smoke it), and plenty of reasons to believe that alcohol is more harmful than marijuana. If for no other reason than to save the billions of dollars that we pour into finding, arresting, trying, and incarcerating people whos represent no threat to society, and who probably outnumber (or close to it) the 'law-abiding' population. Let's stop throwing our money down that bottomless pit. Question 3: Question 3 is about prohibiting dog racing in Massachusetts. The argument for is that it's cruel and inhumane. The argument against is that we've always done it, besides it makes money. I'd say all three of those statements are true. So I'm probably voting yes.

An update on MobileMe
Sep 22, 2008

Google Analytics tells me that my post on problems with MobileMe is currently one of my most popular, so I thought I'd write a little more about that. As I said before, I had been having some big problems with MobileMe. For a while, my iPhone simply wasn't syncing at all. Since I do a lot of work at home where I have access to my iMac, but also do a lot of work elsewhere on my Thinkpad this was a bit of a problem. Initially I got around this by migrating to Google Calendars. But, to be honest, this didn't last for long. My approach was to import my iCal calendars into Google, then subscribe to them in iCal via CalDAV. This worked decently well, and allowed me to keep my calendar in sync on Google, iCal, and, via syncing through iTunes, my iPhone. It was a bit more cumbersome, but at least I had full access to my calendar wherever I went. The main problems with this were that on my iPhone, the Calendar app didn't have write access, I'd have to go into Safari and edit the calendar that way if I wanted to do it on my iPhone (a process which I don't really like; I'm not a huge fan of web apps in general). The other problem was being tied to syncing through iTunes again. In the brief time that MobileMe worked propertly, I got very attached to my over the air syncing, and didn't really like giving it up. Long story short, it didn't take that long for MobileMe syncing to start working again, and I switched back and have been very happy since. Since I can still access me.com/calendar in Firefox on Linux by simply changing my user agent (and it works perfectly), I really have no motivation to use anything else. So for the foreseeable future I intend to stick with MobileMe for my calendaring needs. If apple offered some sort of hosted MobileMe the way Google does with Gmail I might even switch to that so that I could have full integration of all my tools (it's annoying that the address book on my mac and my iPhone isn't the same as my gmail address book, and the syncing between the two is so horrible that I have no desire to touch it ever again). Another alternative I'm somewhat considering is Zarafa. Zarafa offers a drop-in Exchange replacement that, basically, exactly duplicates all of Exchange's functionality including the ActiveSync that iPhones now support. Even better, they just open-sourced it. This is actually a fairly attractive possibility as it would give me everything I like about MobileMe, plus all the other advantages that an Exchange solution would offer except for the licensing costs (and hopefully some of the annoying design decisions, though I don't know enough to really say yet). The downside, of course, is that I'd have to maintain my own server (or pay for a hosted solution, if such a thing exists). But I do know a number of other small business owners who could probably benefit from such a thing, so I could probably go in with them on a server to run Zarafa for all of us (and maybe even get them to pay me to maintain it and such). It's certainly worth considering at any rate. I may try and set it up on either my Gentoo-powered Thinkpad or my FreeBSD server at home and give it a whirl.

Calendar-based blog archive
Sep 21, 2008

Over to the right, in the sidebar, you may notice a nifty javascript calendar displaying the current month with some days highlighted. It is, in fact, a navigation tool for the blog. The highlighted days are the days with posts. Click on a day, see the posts for that day. If there are no posts for that day, it falls back to the month. If there are no posts for that month, it falls back to the year. Pretty simple stuff, really. The calendar is implemented with YUI, and the fallback mechanism is, of course, all Django code. The fallback isn't something that's built into Django, sadly, but was relatively easy to implement by just wrapping Django's date-based generic views in some views of my own. Really it's just a simple 'try except' block that catched a 404 error and instead returns a redirect. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself: from django.template import loader from django.http import Http404, HttpResponseRedirect from django.views.generic import date_based def archive_month(request, year, month, queryset, date_field, month_format='%m', template_name=None, template_loader=loader, extra_context=None, allow_empty=False, context_processor=None, template_object_name='object', mimetype=None, allow_future=False): try: return date_based.archive_month(request, year, month, queryset, date_field, month_format, template_name, template_loader, extra_context, allow_empty, context_processor, template_object_name, mimetype, allow_future) except Http404: return HttpResponseRedirect("/%s/" % year) def archive_day(request, year, month, day, queryset, date_field, month_format='%m', day_format='%d', template_name=None, template_loader=loader,extra_context=None, allow_empty=False, context_processor=None, template_object_name='object', mimetype=None, allow_future=False): try: return date_based.archive_day(request, year, month, day, queryset, date_field, month_format, day_format, template_name, template_loader, extra_context, allow_empty, context_processor, template_object_name, mimetype, allow_future) except Http404: return HttpResponseRedirect("/%s/%s/" % (year, month)) (Also check out nifty syntax highlighting! Based off this snippet from Django snippets, modified to remove the Markdown bits. And by highlighting, I of course mean formatting. I'll be adding fun colors and such to it in the near future.)

Comment moderation is hopefully live
Sep 21, 2008

I've just finished implementing comment moderation for the blog using Jannis Leidel's fork of James Bennett's django-comment-utils. I've run a few test which seem to indicate that the basic comment moderation functionality is working though, at the moment, I still don't have notification emails going. It was actually rather amazing just how much comment spam this blog got in the past two weeks since it went live on Django without spam protection. But this should significantly cut back on it. It's really great having such a huge body of quality work out there to draw from when building a Django project. [Edit: Looks like the problem I'm having with email may be on WebFaction's end rather than mine. Nice because it means I probably am doing things right; annoying because it means it's not within my power to fix it. Oh well, a ticket has been submitted and hopefully soon I should be getting email notifications of new comments.]

My first Django patch
Sep 16, 2008

I just submitted my first patch to Django! Among other things, this is my first real forray into the inner depths of the Django code. This patch fixes an issues that had been bothering me for quite some time. In Django's admin interface it's possible to specify that a particular field should be automatically filled in with the value(s) you enter in some other field(s). For example, as I typed 'My first Django patch' into the title field of the form I used to write this post, it was automatically filling in a slug field that's being used for the permalink to this post with 'my-first-django-patch'. This is a very useful features and uses just a little bit of javascript to accomplish it. The only problem is that it only works when you're trying to pull information from a text field. Sometimes, however, you might want to pull information from another sort of field, such as a drop-down menu. Previously Django simply wasn't capable of this. With my changes, however, it is able to handle this potentiality quite well. It's not really a huge patch, just a fairly a little added code to a single javascript method, and there's no guarantee that my patch will every make it's way into the Django code base, but it's still fun to be able to contribute to one of my favorite open source projects ever. The patch, for those that are curious, can be found here, and I've also submitted it to djangosnippets.org here.

Ah the joys of django
Sep 13, 2008

I've just implemented the first real benefit of having my blog now be Django based instead of WordPress based. Because part of the reason I had wanted to make this move all along was to allow for some close integration between my blog and my business site, when I went about setting up the Django project for the blog I actually just duplicated the project for my business site. Because of this, I'm able to use Django's sites framework to have both project pull from the same database. This means that any information available to one is also available to the other. Because I used a ManyToManyField to define the relationship between a blog entry and a site, I'm able to specify that a particular entry is related to either or both of the two sites (as well as any future sites that I may decide to add). This entry, for example, is related to both. Thanks to Django's fabulous templating system I was able to effortlessly integrate the blog templates into my business site without every writing a single line of HTML or CSS. The end result of all this? The business relevant posts on my blog are available not only at joshourisman.com, but now also at dydxtech.com/blog. How cool is that?

Comments have been imported!
Sep 13, 2008

Hot on the heels of having imported the old posts from the defunct WordPress version of my blog, I've now imported the comments as well. Unfortunately this proved a lot trickier than the posts, and many comments very likely did not make it over. Just over 200 did, however, and, for now, I'm going to call that good enough and focus on other things. Any comments left from now on, however, will work just fine thanks to the awesomeness of Django, and it's comments framework which is so incredibly simple to use I don't think it's worthwhile to do any more than simply link to the docs.

Old posts have been imported!
Sep 13, 2008

Yes, I've managed to import the old posts from my blog! It was pretty easy to do, complicated only by the fact that I initially accidentally pulled the data from a different, older WordPress blog that I deleted some years ago but apparently still had the MySQL databases for. At any rate, all my posts are now once again accessible, and any old links to them should still work. Comments have not yet been imported, but that's the next step. For now everything should be working as expected, but please let me know if you encounter any errors or problems.

Fresh from the Family Farm: A new project goes live
Sep 12, 2008

It's always fun doing this: a new project has gone live! In cooperation with BostonChefs.com, Fresh from the Family Farm is an event for local Boston-area restaurants to showcase the possibilities of local ingredients from area family farms. The event runs from Oct. 12 through Oct. 19, and a list of participating restaurants, along with links to make reservations through OpenTable (where available), and links to the restaurant's BostonChefs.com profile (also where available). The website is powered by Django (which is now at 1.0, something I plan to write about soon), which even still I am growing to love more and more as I use it.

A couple new features added
Sep 11, 2008

Since last night when I posted the last entry I've added a few things to my new blog. First off, syndication. Anyone who was previously subscribed to my blog through the FeedBurner feed (http://feeds.feedburner.com/joshourisman/lRQx), which should be anyone who was subscribed to it, should hopefully still be subscribed. If not, please let me know either through a comment on this post or via email. I've also added XMLRPC pinging to it, so every entry I post should be submited via Ping-o-Matic to all the normal places. Probably less importantly, I've added a Google site search box to my template so you can search my blog, although at the moment it's mostly going to return results from the old blog which are currently unaccessible (but I'm working on that). Next steps, other than getting my old content imported into the new blog, are Akismet spam filtering for comments, better integration of tagging (which is actually already there, just not in a usable manner), post archives (which are pointless until I get that data imported), and better templates. As this is all being built entirely from scratch feedback is, of course, both encouraged and welcomed.

WordPress problems have finally forced my hand
Sep 11, 2008

As you may recall, I've mentioned a fair number of times in the past that I've been planning to migrate my blog away from WordPress on onto my own custom Django-based solution. Part of the reason for wanting to do this is fun, but also because I'd like to be able to have a little more integration between my blog and my business site. If you're reading this, you can no doubt tell that something isn't quite right with my blog. Mainly, it looks completely different, this may well be the only post you can see, and it might be lacking a feature or two that it had before. The reason for this is that my hand has been forced. For the past several weeks I've been unable to log into my blog. No, I didn't forget my password, it just won't let me log in (it even says I have the wrong password when I try something else). This simply will not stand. So I've thrown together a very very quick and barebones blogging app (and when I mean quick, I mean I did this in less than two hours) that at least gives me some ability to keep blogging. I will, of course, be expanding it to add the missing functionality, and I will be working on importing the posts, comments, and such from the old blog (I still have access to the databases, so this shouldn't be a problem). In the mean time I'm planning to set up some redirects so that links to old posts aren't broken. Hopefully it won't take very long for me to get this new blog up to speed in terms of functionality and design, and to get my old stuff imported into it so I can finally be rid of WordPress entirely. Of course, I do have to prioritize projects for clients, so it may take a bit longer than I'd like.

MobileMe Problems
Aug 06, 2008

A lot of people have been writing about problems they've been having with MobileMe, Apple's recent replacement for .Mac, to the point that I can't actually think of any good things that I've heard about it. Steve Jobs is even on record as saying that it's not up to Apple snuff. Thus far I've been silent on the issue, mainly because thus far I haven't had any problems. That, however, has changed. About two days ago, my calendars stopped syncing. Changes I make in iCal are no longer reflected on the me.com web calendar, nor do they get pushed to my iPhone. This is rather a large problem, as it means I have no access to my calendar when away from my desk, which I am most of the time. To make matters worse, me.com claims to be incompatible with Firefox 3.0.1, at least when I visit from my Gentoo Linux powered ThinkPad which means that even if it was syncing, I wouldn't be able to access my calendar from it and would be restricted to just my iPhone. I'm sure that a little messing around would result in it working in some browser, whether it's Firefox inaccurately reporting its version, or a WebKit based browser claiming to be Safari. This is rather a large problem for me, as it basically means that I have little to no ability to view or manage my calendar when not at home despite paying not only for MobileMe, but for an iPhone, the one device you'd expect to not have compatibility problems. This may be enough to make me switch to using Google calendar, despite the fact that it won't sync with iCal or my built-in iPhone calendar app, which I vastly prefer to a web-based interface.

PHP again?
Jul 29, 2008

I've just started working on a new project using ExpressionEngine, a PHP-based content management system. I didn't really know a whole lot about it going in (it was the client's choice to use EE), but from what I've seen so far it's a pretty decent piece of software. Being a CMS, it sits somewhere between blogging software like WordPress, and a framework like Django. Basically this means that it's much more structured than Django, proving a lot more blogging and related functionality out of the box but still much more flexible than WordPress allowing for a lot more freedom in the creation of your website. So far it seems like they've struck a good balance, providing a relatively shallow learning curve while still giving you a lot of powerful features. Of course, for me, I found the more structured nature of it to be a bit restrictive. Also, I just don't get some of the choices they made. For example, your URLs, while readable and search engine friendly, all look like 'domain.tld/index.php/blog/archive/&c'. Not a bad URL, but why on Earth is that 'index.php' in there? If they're going to use URL re-writing to provide nice URLs, why do they leave that useless bit of information in there? It's not like it would have been any harder for them to have taken it out. Also, the only obvious way to edit templates is through their web-based control panel. I'm sure there's really nothing stopping me from going in with an FTP client or via SSH and editing the text files directly, but they don't even hint at where you would want to look to do that (and as I didn't install it on the server myself I have no experience with the directly structure). Neither of these problems is a big deal, or a big obstacle to someone who knows what they're doing and wants to change it, but they just seem like very strange design decisions to me. Overall, however, I think it looks like a pretty good system, and very good way to rapidly build a flexible and highly useful CMS. I don't know that it'll ever be my first choice for a project, as anything I can do with EE I can also do with Django, and in a way that's more intuitive (though probably has a higher initial investment of time), and anything that I don't need that level of flexibility and power for, I'd probably just use WordPress. But still, it's a nice piece of software, and I can definitely see how it would be a very good choice for a lot of people.

WordPress iPhone app
Jul 22, 2008

If you didn't already know, WordPress has released an (free) iPhone app. I'm writing this post from it. So far it seems pretty cool. All the basic functionality is there, plus a few really cool features like live previews that work exactly as they do when you're editing online, and, even better, the ability to add pictures either from your iPhone's library or directly from the camera. I'll test that out now: Ah, apparently the picture(s) will simply be attached to the bottom of the post. Makes sense. If you're wondering, that's Dexter, our crosseyed kitten, named after the eponymous serial killer hero of the amazingly awesome Showtime show of the same name (which is based on the novel(s) by Jeff Lindsay which are, sadly, not nearly as good as the show). The iPhone's auto-correcting type is very useful here. Sadly, it's not all that great for manually entering HTML, which is how I prefer to do things (and, as far as I can tell, the only way to do things with the iPhone app). Anyway, the app is, in my opinion, pretty great. Anyone with a WordPress blog and an iPhone should get it.

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Mihos for governor!
Jul 17, 2008

I hadn't even started thinking about it, but in the course of writing my last post about Sean Tevis, I just happened to find a very interesting Boston Herald article from the first of this month: Christy Mihos unveils 2010 bid for Mass. governor. If you were reading my blog around the time of the last Massachusetts gubernatorial election (or, as I called it Mass Guber '06), you'll know that I was a pretty big Mihos supporter at the time. Although his campaign website hasn't yet been updated to reflect his renewed candidacy (though it does have the new www.christy2010.com URL), I'm going to go ahead and assume that I still agree with most (though not all) of his positions, and probably that there won't be any other contenders in the race that I'm likely to consider voting for (though I did like Gabrielli last time around). So, as of this moment, I'm announcing my official support for Christy Mihos for Governor of Massachusetts, as well as the beginning of my coverage of Mass Guber '10!

Sean Tevis for Kansas!
Jul 17, 2008

Sean Tevis is running for state representative in Kansas. Why do I, who have only ever been to Kansas once and that was only because it was in my way trying to get from Texas to Minnesota, care about Kansas politics? Well, I don't really. But I do care about greater civic involvement in politics in general. And I also think that it's almost always a good thing to get new blood into politics and replace incumbents. So when a number of different people all linked me to his XKCD-style campaign advertisement I actually read it the whole way through and then read the rest of his site. He doesn't go into a whole lot of detail on the issues he's written about so far, and he hasn't written about that many issues yet, but what he's got up there now, I like the sound of. If I lived in the right district in Kansas, there's a decent chance I'd vote for him. And I might just donate $8.34 to his campaign because, not only do I like what he's doing, but he made me laugh while he's doing it. Plus, he's got this great blog entry.

Boston Restaurant Week
Jul 16, 2008

As those in the Boston area are probably aware, this years Summer Restaurant Week is fast approaching. This year it will be two weeks, those of August 10 through August 15 and August 17 though August 22. If you've been reading my blog for a while you may know that one year ago, almost to the day (off by 5) I announced that I had helped work on BostonChefs.com's Unofficial Guide to Restaurant Week. Well, this year I'm announcing the same thing. The site just went live with all the information you might want about what's going on with this Summer's Restaurant Week including the restaurants that are participating, what meals they'll be serving, what's on their menus (where available), and a Google Maps mashup to help you find them. The site has been completely redeveloped and is now powered by Django, making this my first Django-based project to go live! (Not counting my own website, of course.) Go check it out, and bon appetit!

The intricate ballet of government beaurocracy
Jul 15, 2008

I just got off the phone with the California DMV. That's right, the California DMV not the Massachusetts RMV that I've already spent countless hours waiting in line at or on the phone with. As you may recall, I recently (and after many many failed attempts due entirely to problems on the RMV's end of things) converted my California driver licence to a Massachusetts one. In doing so, they managed to forget my motorcycle endorsement. Having put quite a lot of time, effort, and money into getting that endorsement in the first place I wasn't really all that interested in losing it for no good reason. After two relatively pleasant chats with a woman at the RMV they sent me the paperwork I needed and told me that all I had to do was take it into a branch office and they'd be able to take care of it. So yesterday I went into the RMV branch at the Cambridgeside Galleria. They're open until 7, and I got there at about 5:30. After waiting in line for a scant 45 minutes I gave them my paperwork and explained what was going on. The woman behind the counter told me that, unfortunately, she'd have to call into the Boston branch office which had closed at 5 so I'd have to come back the next day (today) before 5 to take care of it. So today I went back in. I got there at two and spent maybe 10 minutes waiting in line. The same woman was there and she called the Boston office. They told her that before they could correct the mistake that they made, I would have to call the California DMV and request that they send a copy of my driving record over to them. Hence my call to the California DMV. Unfortunately, the woman I talked to at the California DMV told me that I'd have to submit a form and pay a $5 fee before they would send my driving record. The form and check will, of course, have to be mailed in, so who knows how long this is going to take. What I want to know is exactly how much of my money is being wasted on this crap. Is this really what I'm paying taxes for? Is it really worth the effort for me to be a law abiding citizen when I could probably have a motorcycle with invalid but normal looking plates illegally in no more than a couple hours if I really wanted to?

So will I buy an iPhone 3G?
Jul 15, 2008

With all my posts about the new iPhone software that I've got installed on my first-gen iPhone (and I do mean first-gen, it's a 4 GB), the question still remains of if I'll upgrade my hardware as well. There's definitely some good arguments either way, but my answer, at this point, is a resounding maybe. To be honest, I don't really care about the 3G data speeds. EDGE is by no means blazingly fast, but it meets my needs sufficiently well that I'm don't feel the need to upgrade just for the faster data network. The feature that really does attract me, however, is the GPS functionality. The built-in Google maps feature that I've got now is nice, and certainly a lot more convenient than having to look up direction on your computer and print them out, but it's definitely less useful than it could be largely because it requires user input to be of any use. You have to take your eyes off the road and your hand off the wheel/shifter so you can see have it show you the next step in the directions. Because of that limitation I have been, for a while now, seriously considering buying a TomTom GPS navigation device for the car. The existence of real GPS on the iPhone, however, calls that plan into question. Especially as the price of a TomTom is greater than or equal to the price of a new iPhone minus the proceeds I might get from selling the one I've got. Yesterday AutoBlog posted a review of the GPS functionality on the iPhone. Apparently it leaves a bit to be desired, and doesn't actually do anything more than the old iPhone does except have a more accurate idea of where you are and put a moving dot on the map to show your position along the route. It doesn't automatically tell you what the next step in the directions are, you still have to do that yourself. So with things as they are, there's really no reason for me to even consier getting an iPhone 3G. It offers no compelling new features for me. But wait! Just before the iPhone 3G was released, TomTom announced that they were working on porting their software to an iPhone app! When they made this announcement there was all sorts of speculation as to why it would never work. Some insisted that the iPhone SDK agreement forbid the development of navigation apps. Some insisted that the iPhone 3G's GPS antenna wasn't good enough to provide turn-by-turn directions. Since then, however, there's been clarification from both Apple and TomTom that there is no legal or technical barrier to this happening. TomTom reports that they've got the software pretty much working as well. So I think it's just a matter of time (weeks, hopefully) before we see the iPhone becoming a fully featured GPS navigation device. Even better, it will be a GPS navigation device with internet access! That means that all of the advanced features that TomTom currently offers (if you have a compatible bluetooth enabled phone) should work including real-time traffic reports and, what I think is one of the coolest, buddies! So basically, if the TomTom software proves to work well, I'll probably get an iPhone 3G. If it doesn't, I probably won't, at least not until either TomTom or someone else does get a good GPS navigation app out there. Assuming, of course, that I don't get tired of waiting and just buy a TomTom device.

Official iPhone 2.0 firmware
Jul 12, 2008

I wasn't really intending to write a whole lot more about the new iPhone software, but I've actually seen a fairly huge spike in traffic since my first iPhone 2.0 post and I feel like I should probably pass this info along. It appears that the earlier, pre-release 2.0 software that I downloaded and installed on my iPhone to great effect the other day may have been intended for the iPhone 3G only. This isn't confirmed, but since we do have an official release now, it's probably not a bad idea to install that instead (I just finished doing so myself). Again, MacRumors has the download link and instructions for doing so.

A cool feature idea for the iPhone 3.0
Jul 11, 2008

Yeah, yeah, 3 posts about the iPhone in two days, and you still can't even buy the 3G iPhone yet! But I was taking advantage of the new iTunes remote last night as we had some company and so were in the living room and wanted music playing there without having to go into the office to mess with the computer. One of the nice (and necessary, really) features of the remote app is that it lets you turn on and off any speakers available on the network. In our case it's just the computer itself and the living room, though eventually I'd like to put some on the back deck and in the kitchen. This makes it a breeze to have your music play on any subset of available speakers. But what would be really cool is if it had the ability to determine which set of speakers you were closest too (shouldn't be too hard, just see which AirPort Express base station you get the strongest signal from) and automatically switch the music to the appropriate speakers. That way as you walked around the house your music would follow you. Of course you could always just play it on all your sets of speakers, but what kind of fun would that be?

Uh oh, an iPhone 2.0 bug!
Jul 10, 2008

It didn't take very long, but I found a bug in the iPhone 2.0 software. It's nothing major, but a bit of a pain. Basically, if you install an app via iTunes rather than directly on the iPhone, or if you install it on the iPhone then have iTunes transfer it to your computer when you sync (it asks you), you have to then delete it from both places if you want to get rid of it. If you delete it from only the iPhone or only from iTunes a sync results it in being back in both locations. I imagine this will probably be fixed relatively quickly.

iPhone 2.0
Jul 10, 2008

Thanks to a tip on MacRumors, I've now got the 2.0 firmware running on my iPhone. This means I've got apps! Without resorting to jailbreaking! So far, I've got to say it's pretty slick. I've only got a few apps installed so far, but the app store works incredibly well (you can see reviews of it and videos of it on Gizmodo). For me, there are two apps that are absolute must haves: the iTunes remote and the Pandora app. We have some speakers set up in the living room via AirTunes on an AirPort Express so that when we have company we can play music in the living room without having to drag a computer out there or something like that. The only drawback to that setup has been that someone needs to get up and go into the office to change the music. No more! Now we can just whip out one of our iPhones and take care if it from right there. Now if only it were possible to play music over AirTunes with an iPhone so that a friend who was over could play their own music if we wanted. But even better than the remote app is the Pandora app. Pandora, if you don't know, is a website that basically helps you find awesome new music (kinda like OurStage, but it's music from big name artists). Basically you start a 'radio station' by seeding it with either an artist or song that you like. Pandora then picks songs for you based on the characteristics of that song (characteristics such as 'traditional blues melodies' and 'minor key tonality'). You can then rate songs with either a thumbs up or a thumbs down to help fine-tune the station. I've found a ton of good music thanks to Pandora, and now I've got access to it wherever I go (it didn't work before because the site is Flash based). Anyone who likes finding new music should definitely check it out. I find it especially useful for exploring new genres: just find a single song you like in that genre and it will help you find more. The iPhone app even has a button that lets you buy the current song/album in the iTunes store. There are a few other features that the 2.0 firmware brings of course. Most notably is MobileMe, which gives push email, contacts, calendars, &c. to MobileMe (previously .Mac) subscribers. I am a subscriber, but the new services aren't actually active yet so I haven't really been able to play around with that yet (But once they do go active I'll be faced with the conundrum of what to do about email. Currently I use Google Apps to manage my email which I really like and works really well, but using my mac.com email address would give me push email. Maybe Google will give us push eventually and I won't have to sacrifice their awesome spam filtering and the ability to host my own domain's email with them. Or maybe Apple will offer something similar.). The new firmware also gives us the ability to search contacts in our address book (and adds a Contacts icon to the main screen so you don't have to go through the phone just to find an email address). I'm sure there's all sorts of things that I haven't found yet too, but for now the only other thing I'll touch on is a better implementation of password field. Previously, when entering a password you had to either pay very close attention or just assume that you weren't hitting the wrong keys on the virtual keyboard. Now, however, it shows the last character that you entered and only hides the previous ones so you can tell if you've made a typo. Not huge, but a nice touch.

Best interaction with the RMV yet
Jun 30, 2008

I just got off the phone with the RMV. After being on hold for about 30 minutes (annoying, but not a huge deal) I explained my problem to the woman who came on the line: that I gave them a California C & M1 license (passenger cars and motorcycles) and received a Massachusetts D license (passenger cars only) in return. She said she'll pull my application, double-check that I did, indeed have a California motorcycle license and that my application was properly filled out to reflect that (both true) and then add the motorcycle endorsement to my license free of charge. Took about 5 minutes of actually talking to a person and hopefully things will be fixed soon. Sadly it will apparently take until Wednesday before her request for my application paperwork goes through, but whatever, I can deal with that.

The saga of the television continues
Jun 29, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, Memorial Day Weekend actually, Jessi and I finally got a TV. I had been planning on a 42" Olevia 720p display with no tuner, because it was an incredibly good deal on Newegg, but then I found an even better deal at Best Buy, and was able to get a 42" Insignia 1080p display with a tuner for just about $100 more. So we've now got a 42" 1080p TV hooked up to some cheap rabbit ears I picked up at Radio Shack. It's pretty awesome just for the irony factor of that alone, but with those cheap rabbit ears we're able to pick up a good 20 digital stations, about half of which are in HD as well as a number of analog stations. So we'll be able to watch, for example, the Olympics in all their HD glory without the need for cable or satellite. As I've mentioned before, my intention has been to set up some sort of HTPC to manage the content for the TV. I went back and forth before deciding on ElGato's EyeTV on a Mac Mini over MythTV on a PC, but in the meantime I didn't really want to spend the $500+ on a mini, so I set up an old gaming PC I built a couple years ago and hooked it up to the VGA input on the TV. At first, just to try and get things going quickly I installed Ubuntu on it. This proved to not really work at all. Ubuntu could see, but not use the integrated sound card on my motherboard, and video without sound isn't very fun. I probably could have fixed that with a little tweaking, but there was a bigger problem: my 5-ish year old Athlon 64 3000+ just didn't appear to be up to the task of playing HD video. I decided to give it a real test: a 1080p rip of the BluRay version of The Fifth Element in a matroska container using H.264 encoding. Basically, it just didn't work at all. So I decided to scrap that idea and just set it up with MythTV for now so we can at least watch TV with basic PVR options. I threw an Gentoo on it, and got MythTV running (with sound!) and started planning out the new system to replace it. Then I figured, what the hell, my entirely system from the kernel to mplayer has been compiled from source and optimized for the Athlon 64 architecture, I might as well give the HD video another shot. Amazingly, mplayer opened the 1080p matroska video and played it. Success! It did have some issues with the audio going out of sync, but some command line flags fixed that ('-cache 8192 -autosync 1' is what ended up working). So, it appears, a 1.8 GHz single core Athlon 64 can decode 1080p H.264 in real time! This discovery vastly dropped the minimum hardware requirements, and thus the cost, of a MythTV based HTPC so I decided to give that option another look. A bit of research later, and I was able to spec out a full HTPC with HDMI output and all that good stuff for just about $200. It's hard to argue with those numbers, so it looks like I will be going with a MythTV solution after all. I'll be using a 2.2 GHz dual-core Athlon 64 X2, which my experiment suggests will be more than adequate for what I need and, of course, powering it all with a fully optimized Gentoo install. I'm going to keep the old gaming PC running as my backend for all the storage so I don't need to cram too much into the tiny little case I'm getting for the HTPC, and trying to figure out the final design for that system is proving to be an interesting problem in it's own right, but I'll write more about that later in what I'm sure will be a fascinating exposition on the relative merits of various advanced filesystems and the several different UNIX-like operating systems that love them.

New features in Apple's upcoming Snow Leopard
Jun 23, 2008

Anyone who pays attention to Apple news is, I'm sure, aware of their recent announcement of Snow Leopard, the successor to Leopard, which will be coming out in about a year. They're also probably aware that Apple is advertising this release primarily as a code refactoring that will add stability, optimization, and 'no new features'. Since that announcement there have been any number of blog posts explaining how there actually will be some significant new features, they're just mainly under the hood enhancements that the average user wouldn't actually be aware of. RoughlyDrafted has an excellent post explicating what some of those features are, so I'm not going to rehash that discussion. I do, however, want to address one of the points made, specifically that 'ZFS isn’t going to replace HFS+ outright in Snow Leopard, and has limited relevance today to desktop and laptop users, particularly those who never move beyond the single disk drive installed in their system'. I disagree. This statement is partly true in that most people, especially those with only a single HDD, won't benefit from ZFS' pooling and the various benefits that come from that (such as RAID-Z). But I still think it's inclusion in OS X will be a coup for the average user as well. Specifically, the use of ZFS means that silent data corruption will be a thing of the past thanks to copy on write and full data checksumming. Also, the advantages that ZFS' snapshots will bring to TimeMachine will greatly enhance it's usability, speed, and effectiveness for anyone with an external hard drive, network hard drive, or Time Capsule. On top of that, there are, in fact, a few benefits of ZFS pooling for those with just a single hard drive. In particular, filesystem level compression will allow the user (or, more likely, Apple) to designate certain folders to be their own filesystems that are automatically compressed to to provide a) more efficient use of space and b) faster access. This won't help much with your music and video files, but it should do a lot to greatly reduce the size and increase the access speed of the configuration and preferences files in your Library (mine is currently 3.24 GB uncompressed). I don't imagine it would be difficult for Apple to update OS X so that /Library, /System/Library, and /Users/*/Library are all their own filesystems with compression turned on. And even if they don't a savvy user could do this themselves if they really wanted to. ZFS will also be a boon to those who might want to create their own home server. A niche market for now, perhaps, but the ability to just keep adding new USB or FireWire (or eSATA?) hard drives to their computer and have that storage space just seamlessly added into their storage capacity will make it significantly easier to manage. I, for one, think that ZFS is probably the best news related to Snow Leopard that I've heard. I've already been using ZFS in both Leopard (you can download an update from the ADC that gives you full read/write access to ZFS) and FreeBSD and loving every minute of it. I just wish Sun would release it under the GPL so it could be included in Linux as well...

Now this is just a slap in the face
Jun 20, 2008

After two years and far too many visits to multiple RMV offices I now finally have a Massachusetts driver's license. A CLASS D driver's license. The forms I submitted as well as the California license they took from me both clearly specified that not only am I qualified and certified for, but was applying for a CLASS D AND M license. Of course it's well beyond business hours now, so I'll have to wait until Monday morning before I can even attempt to rectify this situation in a way that doesn't involve me having to pay money to take tests I've already passed. And here I was all ready to start maybe being possibly very slightly less hostile toward the Massachusetts state government in all its various and sundry forms.

Hosting hassles
Jun 20, 2008

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently migraded my dy/dx tech website to a different hosting company. If you've really been paying attention, you may recall that not too long ago I had gotten a Media Temple hosting account with the plans on migrating all of the sites I host, both my own and clients' to it only to discover that setting up Django on a Media Temple (dv) account is far more trouble than it's worth. My estimation of that hasn't changed, in fact I actually cancelled my Media Temple account a few weeks ago after the last client I had hosted there was moved off to another host. My experiences with WebFaction have been so positive (exploding data centers notwithstanding), that I have instead migrated everything to their servers. Well, not everything yet. This blog is still hosted on DreamHost for the time being (though I plan on moving it to a WebFaction hosted WordPress blog in the very near future before eventually migrating it to a Django based solution as I've mentioned before). The hosting hassles referred to in the title, thankfully, have nothing to do with the actual hosting companies I'm dealing with, and are instead due to a foolish mistake on my part: when I switched my domain to WebFaction, I forgot that I had custom MX records enabling the use of my hosted google apps for my domain. As a result, as the new DNS information started propagating, people stopped being able to send me email. Fortunatly, it was an easy fix to just change the MX records with WebFaction, and I don't think I missed any important emails, but if anyone out there got a bounceback when sending me an email, that's why.

A big new project goes live
Jun 18, 2008

It's been a while since I've been able to announce a big new project. Not because I haven't had any, but because everything I've been working on lately has been so large that nothing is quite ready to go live yet. But finally, I get to announce a big project that I recently finished: the Becoming MOBOS video blog. As I'm sure many of you from the Boston area are aware, there is a new Mandarin Oriental that's been under construction down by the Pru. They hired me to create an internal video blog for them. Unfortunately, since it's internal, I can't link to it, but the screenshot to the right links to a full-size, albeit redacted, image. It's a WordPress based blog using a verstion of WPelements.com's MassiveNews theme customized by your truly. I also used FlowPlayer to provide the Flash video playback capabilities. All in all, I think it turned out to be a pretty slick site. That's not the only news, however. In preparation for announcing the Becoming MOBOS site I've been doing a little work sprucing up my own website. So I also get to announce a new version of the dy/dx tech website (I also changed hosts for it, so you may need to wait for the DNS to propagate if you're still seeing the old site). The overall look of the site is the same as before, but I've removed some rather pointless elements such as the Google Map that used to be on the front page. In it's place is now a slideshow of screenshots from my portfolio, which I think is a much better use of the space. The majority of the changes, however, are under the hood. As you may recall, I redeveloped the site using Django a while ago. Since then I've spent a lot more time with Django and know a lot more about it, so I completely redeveloped the site (using the newforms-admin branch and was able to make a lot of improvements to the code, and basically leave it better positioned to integrate more features in the future. Among other things, I plan on migrating this blog to a Django-based solution and integrating it into the dy/dx tech website to some extent. I've been working heavily with Django for the past several months, and I just keep liking it more and more. It makes every part of my job so much more enjoyable and, in a lot of cases, faster. Be on the lookout for another project going live in the next couple weeks: this one will be Django-based and will be very public, and, I predict, very popular.

I did it!
Jun 15, 2008

Finally, after five failed attempts, I've managed to get my California license converted to a Massachusetts one. On Friday Jessi, who's been using her Illinois license for the past 4 years in MA, and I drove up to the RMV in Lowell (we'd had enough with the one in Boston) and actually managed to get our licenses converted. At the moment we've only got temporary ones, but soon I should, for the first time in my life, have a license that actually has my current address on it! Now I just have to hope that my new Massachusetts license retains my motorcycle endorsement, because the temporary license they gave me has no indication of that. I'm not going to be very happy if, after all that, I only have a half-functional license. Especially if they want to try and make me take the motorcycle test again.

Boom! No web site for you!
Jun 02, 2008

Currently I've got two projects hosted on WebFaction servers. So far, I really like them. As managed hosts go, they're probably the best I've worked with, and they certainly make life very easy when building Django powered sites. Today I got an email from one of the clients whose project is hosted on WebFaction saying that their site is down. So I checked it out, and while I was able to access it, it was extremely slow, to the point where a less forgiving browser/LAN setup might cause it to time out. So I fired off a support ticket to WebFaction, and within a couple minutes, not only was the site back up to speed, but I was provided with a very good explanation for why my server was having problems. Apparently there was an explosion at one of WebFaction's data centers this weekend. It took out power to the data center, but fortunately no one was hurt and none of the servers were damaged. Obviously, there have been some interruptions in service for the servers in that data center (which includes both of my WebFaction projects), but they've already gotten a significant number of the servers back online (though only one of mine). Amazingly, this is actually the second time I've had a server taken out by an explosion at a data center. The first time was with a hosted Microsoft Exchange server with a hosting company in London. It really sucks having sites down, especially critical ones (fortunately only one of the projects I have hosted with them is critical, and it's the one that's back up already), but as reasons for downtime go, you have to admit that an explosion is a pretty good one.

Some fairly large computer news
May 31, 2008

I've been working away from home more and more often lately, and the 13" screen on my MacBook has been feeling more and more restrictive. So I decided to replace it with a something bigger. Obvoiusly my first thought was a MacBook Pro, but they're just so expenssive that it's hard to justify the cost. So instead, I bought a ThinkPad. I got a T61 with a 15" WSXGA+ screen, 802.11n, dual-layer dvd burner, 2.5 GHz Core2Duo... basically the exact same features (and even hardware probably) as a MacBook pro. The biggest difference? I spent less than $1000 dollars on it. This is actually my second ThinkPad; I had an x61 that I bought in college and actually used as my main computer when I first moved to Boston because my PowerMac was in-transit and I didn't have anything else. I've also been impressed with the ThinkPad line, the higher end ones have very nice build quality, and they're popular enough with the Linux crowd to have good Linux support. So, for the second time in my life, I'm running Linux as my main OS (specifically Gentoo Linux on kernel 2.6.25 with the tuxonice patches). The biggest issue with using Linux was finding the appropriate replacements for my commonly used apps. Most of them were Easy: Firefox stays the same, I use Google Apps to host my email so no problems there either. For instant messaging I was planning on using Pidgin, but ended up going with Kopete because after trying it out, I just like it better (that's right, I'm using KDE, 3.5 for now). The biggest challenge, was trying to find something to replace TextMate for coding in. I absolutely love TextMate, and take advantage of a lot of its advanced features all the time. Fortunately, back when I was a CS student, I got nice and familiar with Emacs, and was well aware that, even if the functionality I wanted wasn't built in, someone's probably created an add-on for it, and if not it would be pretty simple for me to do it myself. Turns out I was right. I haven't completed all my Emacs modification yet, but so far just two little scripts have given me most of what I was looking for. First was yasnippet, which provides a snippet feature that works in pretty much the exact same was as TextMate's. Someone even wrote a script that will download TextMate bundles directly from the repository and covert the snippets they contain to work with yasnippet. You can't do much better than that. I'm also using emacs-textmate which provides an Emacs minor mode that emulates some more of TextMate's behaviors; specifically, it adds in the ability to automatically insert paired characters, so if you type '(' it automatically inserts ')', and handles deleting them gracefully as well. There were a few other features that I use extensively in TextMate as well that weren't provided by either of these add-ons. Fortunately, it was relatively simple for me to implement them myself (with a little help from a friendly Emacs guru on the Gentoo forums) and patch emacs-textmate to provide it. Specifically, I duplicated TextMate's auto indent feature by adding an extra keybinding to emacs-textmate to bind the return key to the built-in Emacs function newline-and-indent. I also bound M- to a new function of my own creation defined thusly: (defun open-next-line() (interactive) (move-end-of-line nil) (newline-and-indent)) This duplicates the behavior of command-return in TextMate, which is pretty much the same as 'o' in vi[m]. I'm still working on how to duplicate command-shift-return, which inserts the appropriate line ending character based on language (';' for C and C-like languages, ':' for Python, &c.) and then opens and goes to the next line. But I don't think that will be too hard once I learn a little more elisp. After that I just need to figure out how to duplicate Textmate's tag closing function, which is a huge time-saver when coding HTML. All in all, I'm quite happy with my new computer. Things may not be quite as pretty as in OS X, but they can be if I just put a little work in to making them so (I've already got e17 installed, which comes close and with some more tweaking may replace KDE as my default environment). As much as I love Mac OS X, there is definitely a strong argument to be made for Linux, at least for people who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty with the command line and a good old text editor. Even with just a couple days spent adjusting the system, I think it's already at a point where I could see using it full time, maybe even prefer it to OS X. Which is really saying something when you consider that I've been a Mac user for about 24 years.

I love Django
May 20, 2008

I'm currently working on a fairly large Django project that I think I've mentioned a couple times in the past. In that Django project there is a Person model and an Organization model. Both Persons and Organizations have email addresses. Organizations are related to Sites (through a ManyToMany field), but Persons are not (they're related to Organizations through an intermediary table). I'm currently attempting to create a contact form, so that people can email either a Person or an Organization using newforms. For security reasons, we don't want the user to actually see the email address, just the name of the Organization or Person. Fortunately, newforms has the ModelChoiceField class that you pass a queryset of options. In keeping with DRY principles, I want to be able to use a single Form regardless of whether the person is trying to email a Person or an Organization (both models have a field named 'email_address'). Unfortunately, this is where I ran into my first problem: ModelChoiceField doesn't really allow you to define the queryset dynamically, you have to define it in the form definition. Luckily I found this blog entry which provides a method to re-define the queryset in the __init__() method which allows you to change it based on the HttpRequest object. My next problem was that I only want the user to be able to email Organizations and Persons on the current Site. Since Organizations are directly related to Sites I just used the CurrentSiteManager. However since People are not directly related to Sites, and are instead related only to Organizations (through an intermediary table), I couldn't do this. Instead, I decided to try this crazy bit of code: Person.objects.filter(persontoorganization_map__organization__in=Organization.on_site.all()) Amazingly, it just worked exactly as I would have wanted it to. No fuss, no problems, just a queryset of Persons related to the current site. Go Django!

Getting there with the TV
May 17, 2008

I posted a while ago about my plans for our TV setup. In the intervening months I've made a few changes to my plans and taken a big step towards getting it all set up. The biggest change is that I've removed MythTV from the picture. Originally I was planning on either building my own MythTV powered HTPC or buying a TVease Zodiac MythTV system. It appears that TVease has gone out of business, so that's now out of the question. But in the course of my research on building a MythTV box, I realized that it would be a similar price and far far easier for me to just buy my HDHomeRun through Elgato and get their EyeTV software with it. I can then just run it on a Mac Mini using Pyetv to control it all through Front Row. With that in mind, I've now purchased my HDHomeRun from Elgato, and am currently watching the Detroit and Dallas in the Stanley Cup playoff live in a window next to my browser as I write this. We've also get it scheduled to automatically record Lost and Grey's Anatomy. So far I really like the EyeTV software. With the HDHomeRun we've got two tuners so we can do picture in picture and/or record one thing while watching another (or just record two shows simultaneously). I've had no problems or complains with either the software or hardware so far, though I have had a few problems actually introduced by my computers. For some reason, my iMac occassionally loses its AirPort connection which means it loses its connection to the HDHomeRun. As a result, our recording of the latest Grey's Anatomy stopped after 7 minutes. Fortunately this won't be a problem with the final setup because I'll just connect the Mini to the network via ethernet. On the plus side, the 802.11n network I setup for my iMac gives me no problems watching two HD shows simultaneously. The other problem we've run into is that occasionally the reception isn't that good. But that's easily fixable by just getting a better antenna, which won't be hard to do since we're currently using some cheapo rabbit ears. All in all, I'm pretty confident that this is going to work out well. And it will be easily upgradeable if we decide we want to get cable and/or sattelite (probably sattelite because if we're paying all that money I'm going to want Setanta Sports).

Last night at the Apple Store
May 15, 2008

AppleSo as I mentioned, I was at the opening of the new Boston Apple Store on Boyleston St. last night. Unfortunately I was a little late showing up and didn't get my free t-shirt. :( As I mentioned, it's an extremely nice location with some extremely cool design. The entire top floor (of three) is dedicated to support with a gigantic Genius Bar that is apparently able to support several thousand people per day, and a ton of iMacs lining the walls where you can get one on one help/tutoring (they call it their One-to-One program). Another cool new features they're rolling out (or possible already had and I just haven't been paying attention) is their personal shopping service. You can make an appointment to show up and have, essentially, a personal shopper to help you out with any questions or help you might need while shopping. Seems like a pretty cool idea, and I imagine it will be very useful for the parents who want to get their kid a new computer or something but really have no idea what they're looking for. All in all, I think this store is going to be a huge success. Especially positioned, as it is, directly across the street from the Prudential Center and the soon-to-be-opened Mandarin Oriental hotel. It will definitely be a little more pleasant to visit than the Cambridgeside location, though parking won't be nearly as easy so you'll probably start seeing more people with big iMac boxes on the T... And in closing, these people weren't on the guest list and therefore aren't as cool as me: These people aren't as cool as me. (Yes, both pictures in this post were taken with my iPhone.)

Apple Store Boyleston
May 14, 2008

I'm currently at the grand opening event of Apple's new flagship retail store in Boston. I've only just gotten here, but so far I've hot to say that I'm impressed. It's something like a cross between the 5th Ave. location in New York and the Miracle Mile location in Chicago. In short: three stories of beautiful, glassy architecture with a huge skylight topping it off and the iconic white Apple logo overlooking the Pru. Also, they're giving me free beer and appetizers, so far so good. I'll write more about itlater, for now I'll just enjoy it, and play with the toys.

And another thing
May 01, 2008

Why is everything that disrupts parking labelled an 'emergency' around here? When it snows enough to disrupt parking it's a 'snow emergency'. When they're forbidding parking so that they can paint lines on the street it's an 'emergency'. Last night we walked into Porter Square for dinner and passed no fewer than two different 'emergencies': 'Emergency! We're painting lines on the street! Please file calmly, but quickly to the nearest exit!', 'Emergency! We've torn up the sidewalk! Please ...walk around it!'. Seriously, people, these are not emergencies... Ok, there's a vague case for the 'snow emergency', but there is absolutely no excuse for labeling an event that has been planned for weeks if not months as an emergency.

Some braindead planning by the city of Somerville
Apr 29, 2008

So, currently there are signs up and down both sides of Somerville Ave. saying that there's no parking on those streets due to an 'emergency'. Well, that's all you can read of the signs as you drive around looking for parking due to the fact that everyone who usually parks on Somerville Ave. is now parked elsewhere, anyway. If, however, you take a closer look at those signs, they say that there's no parking there on 4/30 and 5/1 from 7:30 pm until 6:00 am or so because they're painting bike lanes. Painting bike lanes? Bike lanes are great and all, and I wish there were more of them in general. But this is just an absolutely moronic way to go about it. The most obvious reason that it's a completely moronic thing to do is that Somerville Ave. is currently being re-paved. For the past, I don't know, 6 months or so, they've been very very very slowly working their way from Union Sq. towards Porter Sq. tearing up the roads and repaving them. Now this is definitely an essential thing for them to be doing as the state of Somerville Ave. is, in a word, abysmal. So, in general I heartily approve of both these measures. The problem is that they're doing it in the wrong order. Unless they're planning on not fixing up all of Somerville Ave., which seems somewhat ridiculous since they're already investing time and money in the project and disrupting just about everyone's lives for it now, or they're planning on somehow, miraculously finishing the rest of Somerville Ave. tonight and tomorrow, they're just wasting a bunch of money here. They're going to spend the next two days painting bike lanes on the street only to tear it up and re-pave it in another month or so (if we're lucky). This just strikes me as a tremendous waste of money. Also, it seems kind of odd for them to be painting bike lanes on a street that doesn't really have car lanes painted on it. I guess we're not really far enough away from Boston to escape the sphere of city planning moronicism.

Complex Django hosting
Apr 27, 2008

As you may recall, a while ago I got myself an account at MediaTemple with the idea that I'd move all my websites over to there. I had previously been using Dreamhost, but wanted something a little more high quality so that I could reasonably offer hosting services to some of my clients. MediaTemple seemed like a good way to go, and for the most part their service has been great. Unfortunately, I have run into a few problems. Most importantly, despite spending a fairly significant number of man-hours working on it, I've been unable to get Django running on my (dv) server. Yes, they have a (beta) program that makes it easy to run Django on a (gs) account, but for my needs a (gs) simply won't do and I really don't want to have multiple accounts with them. The end result of this is that several of my web pages are still running on Dreamhost because they require Django (this blog actually is as well even though it's currently a WordPress blog, because I want to switch to something Django-based and it seems like an unreasonable hassle to migrate my WordPress blog to a new server only to then have to migrate it again to new software, especially as I'm currently holding onto my Dreamhost account for my Django-based pages anyway). The issue is now coming to a bit of a breaking point. Why? Because I'm currently working on a pretty large Django-based website that will be going live in the next month or two. For the purposes of development, it's being hosted on WebFaction, which has been an amazing host. They make it incredibly simple to host a Django site, to the point that basically zero setup is required. But as we get closer to the point of going live, I've been considering what the hosting needs of the site will be going further, and how to best serve them. The site is a redevelopment of an existing site, so we can get a pretty good idea of what the traffic numbers are going to look like. This will let us extrapolate the RAM and bandwidth requirements pretty well too. The issue, is that once the Django version of the site goes live, we're going to start to expand it. Thanks to the capabilities of Django, it's being developed with the potential for massive growth in mind. Specifically, it's using Django's Sites framework to allow for expansion to several sites. Currently there are only two, but the Django version will go live with 4 or 5, and there's the potential to expand far beyond that. This means that we're going to require a pretty large number of (software) servers. There's the MySQL server running the back-end, an HTTP server for static content, and then an HTTP server for each site, and they're all going to be using up resources to different extents. Trying to find the best hosting solution for this sort of setup has led me to a couple of options:
  1. Stay with WebFaction. A number of people have said they believe that WebFaction's shared hosting plans should be able to accomodate this. WebFaction provides a very good combination of ease of use and low-level access, their prices are good, and the way they have their hosting set up, it's extremely simple to add another Django install complete with its own Apache/mod_python instance. They also offer dedicated server, but I think there are probably better routes to go than with WebFaction's dedicated servers.
  2. Switch to Slicehost. I've only just learned about Slicehost, but so far they look like a pretty sweet deal. For a very reasonable price you get a virtualized server running a Linux distro of your choice (you can choose from 8 right now) run on Xen. They claim not to oversell their servers, so you're guaranteed to actually get the full capacity that you pay for (unlike with budget hosts such as Dreamhost). And since you're getting your own virtualized host you have full root access. They basically have nothing preinstalled, so you can easily set it up in whatever configuration you want without having to deal with the vagaries of the anointed hosting package (Plesk on MediaTemple, I'm looking at you). I really like like look of them, and they've been getting good reviews. They're currently listed as the number 2 hosting company on Djangofriendly, behind only WebFaction. With my background in IT and Linux administration, the fact that I'd have to manage everything myself isn't enough to scare me away either. The fact that they let you choose your Linux distro really appeals to me as well, as I'm by far more familiar and comfortable with Gentoo than any other Linux distro. I only wish they offered FreeBSD slices, but the only reason they don't is technical, and once that issue is resolved it sounds like they plan on it. In a lot of ways, they're basically a very affordable colocation provider. The biggest issue, it sounds like, is that apparently communication between different slices counts against your bandwidth allotment (for both slices, presumably). This means that as the site I'm working on grows, if it spreads out to multiple slices (which it undoubtedly would and which I'd want it to do since that will give the added reliability of spreading across multiple physical machines) we'll basically be billed for database access from the sites that aren't on the slice with the database server.
  3. Colocation. Colocation is basically the 800 lbs. gorilla in the room. It costs a lot more, but you get what you pay for. With colocation we'd have all the advantages of Slicehost (minus the low price, of course) plus the ability to expand more or less arbitrarily. We could have as many physical machines as we wanted running as much or as little of the site as we wanted. Provided we're willing to pay, of course. On top of that all the server management would again fall to me, but this time without some of the nice shortcuts that Slicehost offers. Essentially, colocation is alway the fall-back option. But hopefully one of the other two hosts can offer us a solution that's a little more balanced: we get less control, but more simplicity and ease of use for a greatly reduced price.
At the moment, I'm leaning towards sticking with WebFaction for now. I'm already very impressed with what they offer, and from the sound of things, they'll continue to be a more than adequate host as we expand. But I'm also definitely looking for input. If anyone has any suggestions or recommendations I'd love to hear them. In particular, any first-hand experience with hosting large Django sites with any of these solutions are most welcome.

FreeBSD on an Apple MacBook
Apr 06, 2008

For the past week or so, I've been running FreeBSD on my MacBook. So far, I've got to say, I absolutely love it. I have a lot of experience running a range of Linux distributions on all sorts of hardware including both PPC and Intel Macs, but just a week or so of FreeBSD usage has convinced me of the OS' value over Linux. A standard FreeBSD install is incredibly simple. If you don't want to dive into any messy details you don't have to (though you do need to be comfortable with the fact that you're going to be using a curses interface rather than a real GUI). You could probably have a full, working install of FreeBSD, complete with X.org, in 15-30 minutes if you didn't want to do anything crazy. I, of course, wanted to do some crazy things. Namely, I wanted to have it running on Sun's ZFS, which took a little extra work. If you just want to run FreeBSD on your MacBook easily, I highly recommend this howto from Goddess-Gate.com. It's very good and very easy to follow (just remember that you might not use a French-layout keyboard and you'll be fine). To start things off, after partitioning my drive with BootCamp, I used this ish.com howto to get a minimal FreeBSD install running with ZFS. At this point, my Airport card was working with the built-in drivers, which was absolutely stunning after all the work and effort I've put into trying to get WiFi to work with Linux in the past. After that I took a few tips from zenspider to get the basics setup like configuring my own user with sudo privs, and ZSH as the default shell (I'm a fan of things that start with Z, I guess...). After that, just a few tips from the Goddess-Gate.com howto as well as the MacBook page o the FreeBSD wiki (the wiki page will be important later) got me to a basically complete and usable stage. In addition to the basics, I installed the e17 window manager, which so far I really like, gvim and xemacs, for my basic work needs (traditionally I'm an emacs guy, but lately I've been playing around with vim a lot), Opera for web browsing and some of the KDE packages, though I don't want or plan to use KDE, I just wanted a few of the applications to play with (Konqueror and Kate), so I removed all the KDE packages other than kdebase and it's dependencies. At this point I only had a few issues with my install:
  1. the trackpad - FreeBSD currently has no support for advanced features with the MacBook trackpad. The synaptics drivers available in FreeBSD don't recognize the USB trackpad that Apple uses, so you're forced to use basic mouse drivers which means no two-finger scrolling or right-click. The best solution out there (and I'll address this in a bit) is to configure xbindkeys so that F10 sets your mouse button to left-click, F11 sets it to middle-click, and F12 sets it to right-click.
  2. fn key - FreeBSD also currently has no support for the fn key on the MacBook keyboard which means that the home, end, pgup and pgdn keys are unusable. This isn't a huge deal as you can use various other keybindings to the same effect, but it's annoying.
  3. battery monitor - For some reason the battery monitor widget that comes with e17 only sort of works with my MacBook. If my battery is full, it says so. Otherwise, it just says 'DRIVER'. Oddly enough, this doesn't seem to indicate an actual driver problem, because I can get the full info on my batter at the command line including time remaining and all that fun stuff. Since the information is obviously all available I'm going to try and patch the e17 widget to work with a MacBook when I've got the time. Meanwhile, I'm sure that other battery monitor probably work, though I haven't had a chance to try any yet.
  4. Firefox - I simply have not been able to get Firefox to work properly. I've tried various ports (firefox, firefox-devel,linux-firefox, and linux-firefox-devel), but sometimes they fail to compile, and even when they do, they won't run. Since I've got both Opera and Konquerer installed I'm just going to ignore this issue until Firefox 3 is released and makes it into the ports tree.
Other than those four things, everything else has really been a dream in terms of ease of setup and use. And, I'm happy to announce, I've come up with a better solution to the right-click issue! You have to install xvkbd and then add the following to your .bindkeysrc:
"xvkbd -text '\m3'"
	Control + b:1

"xvkbd -text '\m2'"
	Alt + b:1
This will allow you to use ctrl-click for right-click, as in the Mac OS, and alt-click for a middle-click. The one caveat, which Rui Paolo, writer of the MacBook entry in the FreeBSD wiki helped me discover, is that you have to compile the latest version of xvkbd yourself, as the one in ports is outdated and doesn't work for this. So I'm going to work on building a new port with the latest code. The lack of a simple way to right-click was the one thing that was really bothering me with my FreeBSD install, so this is a pretty huge deal as far as I'm concerned. Well, that was a very long and geeky post. Now I have to get ready for my international flight tonight.

Leaving on a jet plane
Apr 05, 2008

Tomorrow night I'm flying to Dublin. Sadly, I'll only be there a few days (Did I say days? I mean hours...) before I fly to Rome where I'm meeting up with my friend Evan. We'll be spending 2 weeks in Rome, Venice, Vienna, and Munich. I'm taking my iPhone so that I can have internet access and all that without having to lug around my MacBook (or worry about it going missing), so I've been trying to find the best way that I can use it to post photos online. I thought that my Zooomr account would allow me to post photos by email, but I can't find that option anymore. I also thought about using my tumblog, but I can't seem to get the email posting feature to work for it. Fortunately, I also have a .Mac account which means that I can create Web Galleries for my photos. The iPhone integrates pretty seamlessly with that, and every picture I have on it gives me the option to post it directly there (once I set up .Mac email). This seems like a pretty good way of doing it, so I've set one up as a sort of photolog here: http://gallery.mac.com/josh.ourisman#100039 Any updates requiring more than just a photo will, of course, happen here.

Safari 3.1, Gmail, and Firefox 3
Mar 19, 2008

Like many others I upgraded to Safari 3.1 last night. Also like many others I'm now encountering the 'shift bug' in Gmail. If you haven't yet read about it, what happens is that for some reason in Gmail on Safari 3.1, and apparently only in Gmail Safari 3.1, when you hit the shift key (or caps lock key) in the body of the message it changes focus. The result of this is that it's impossible to enter capital letters or any other character that requires the shift key suchs as '$' in the body of your message. Basically, Gmail is unusable in Safari 3.1. There is a workaround for most people: at the top right of your Gmail page you may see a 'newer version' link. If you go to that and then select US English as your language, this apparently fixes the problem. Unfortunately, the 'newer version' link isn't available in the Google Apps Gmail, which is what I use. The other fix, of course, is to simply use a different browser. I'm a big fan of Safari, and have been using it exclusively pretty much since it was released. I've tried Firefox a number of times, but never really liked it that much for a variety of reasons. But like others, this problem hasn't really left me with much of a choice. So I'm writing this post from Firefox 3 beta 4 which, I have to say, isn't too bad. It definitely, as others have said, uses far less memory than Firefox 2, which is a big part of the reason I generally don't use Firefox. I'll keep using it for a while and we'll see how it goes. The other reason I generally stick with Safari is the tight integration with OS X, as well as the .Mac bookmark syncing. But I have been looking into cross-platform alternatives to .Mac, because it would be nice to have a solution that would work with other OSes as well (the price issues doesn't bother me so much because it's such a useful product and it's actually pretty cheap if you have a family pack). The one real issue with switching away from .Mac for me is that I make pretty extensive use of Yojimbo which uses .Mac to sync it's SQLite database and Transmit which uses .Mac to sync bookmarks. Not to mention my use of Apple's Address Book and iCal because they sync not only with my other computers through .Mac but with my iPhone. So if anyone can recommend a solution that would allow me to replicate all that functionality across multiple *nixes (specifically OS X, Linux, and FreeBSD), I'd appreciate it. ;)

Tesla Roadster enters regular production
Mar 17, 2008

Tesla's CEO Ze'ev Drori announced today that Tesla has met their goal of starting regular production of the Tesla Roadster today. This is big news. I've been watching Tesla for going on two years now and anxiously awaiting the day when their cars become available for sale (not that I plan on buying the $90,000 roadster anytime soon...). I really hope that demand will be high enough for them to keep on track to release their sedan in the near future (which I just might buy). As far as I know they're still planning on finally unveiling it in the first half of this year, which means we should get to see it very soon. I wonder what I have to do to get invited to that party. In other electric car news, ZAP, in partnership with the Chinese Youngman Automotive Group, is planning to release a limited number of cars based on the 100 year old Detroit Electric. An electric car that was in production from 1907 to 1939, back before the internal combustion engine was king and cars were electric as often as not. If they keep the original price point of about $2000, I'll have to pick up one of those too.

My ultimate eBook reader
Mar 16, 2008

I thought I'd expand a little on my description of my ultimate eBook product. I've put quite a lot of thought into this over the past year or so, and come up with what I think could be a great little piece of hardware. The basic form-factor would be something like the iPhone/iPod Touch, but with a screen around the size of a sheet of paper. Personally, I think A4 would be a good size for it, although I'm sure there would be plenty of Americans then annoyed by the fact that it's the 'wrong' proportions (A4 does have the benefit of being pretty much exactly the same size as my MacBook though, which is nice). I see no particular reason that it couldn't be as thin as an iPhone, especially with all that area in which to spread out the innards. For the most part it would be relatively in-extraordinary: eInk touchscreen (ideally in color, but that might be pushing it a bit for our current eInk technology), some decent amount of storage for files (1 GB maybe? More?), WiFi, a web-browser (makes it very easy to implement my eBook store idea I posted about before), and the ability to view a variety of file formats like plaintext (really stretching it there, I know), RTF, PDF, &c. I think my eBook store idea would be a pretty-near killer app for it, but the real kicker, in my opinion is bluetooth. Not just bluetooth, or course. What I want is the ability to pair it with my computer so that I can essentially use it as a second screen for viewing documents. What I envision is this. At it's most basic, you pair the device with your computer over bluetooth and it shows up on your desktop giving your normal filesystem access to put files on it and organize them as you see fit. However it does much more than that. It also gives you a new application that can open all the file formats that the device can display. If you have a Mac you can either put this app in your Dock and drag files to it to be opened, or set that app as the default file handler for PDFs and/or other filetypes. When you open a file with this new app the file doesn't display on your computer screen, it displays on the reader. Basically the reader becomes a second monitor for viewing content that lives on your computer. It should have a similar function that ties into the web browser on your computer so you can just click a button or hit a keystroke and the website that you're currently viewing on your computer comes up on your reader. For me, this would be huge. When I take my laptop off to a cafe or wherever to work I either have to lug around hard copies of any relevant documentation up to and including large reference books like The Django Book. My only other option is to use electronic references which, while more than adequate and sometimes even better for conveying the necessary information, take up quite a bit of real estate on my MacBook's 14.1" screen (or even on my iMac's 24" screen since I usually have anywhere from 5-10 windows of code open). If I had a product such as this I could just double-click my documentation PDF or eBook (many reference books now come with an eBook version) and it will pop up on my reader where I can reference it exactly as I would a piece of paper. True a conventional eBook reader would be able to fill the same function in many ways, but this functionality would significantly simplify the process and allow me to use the more functional interface provided by a full computer. It allows you to simply double-click a file on your computer to open it, and then walk away with the document in hand to read on your way to a meeting or to peruse over lunch. Basically it completes the metaphor of files on your computer and lets you physically handle them as if you'd just pulled them out of a file cabinet. The really cool thing about this idea is that we could have it tomorrow. It would only be a software update for the iPhone or iPod Touch (plus the attending local app) to make this a reality. It probably wouldn't be particularly hard to do either. If they wanted to, I bet Apple could give us this capability in the next update. Using the small iPhone screen wouldn't be quite as good, but it would be a start and I, for one, would use it extensively.

A brief update and some thoughts on the future of eBooks
Mar 13, 2008

It's been far too long since I've written anything. A whole lot has happened since the last post, much of it work. I'm on track for my biggest project yet to go live pretty soon, and I've got a number of other smaller projects that should be released even before then. In the mean time Jessi and I spent 10 days on the west coast at the end of last month. It was a fairly busy travel schedule: fly from Boston to San Francisco on Friday so Jessi could host an OurStage.com sponsored Yelp party, then Saturday morning fly from San Francisco to San Diego where we spent a relaxing weekend with some very fun members of Jessi's family I hadn't met before, the Monday Jessi took the train to LA for some meetings and I flew straight back to San Francisco (LA's just not my town) to hang out with friends and see my dad until Jessi came back up on Wednesday for NoisePop (also sponsored by OurStage), then back to Boston on the following Monday. It was definitely very nice to be back in the Bay Area, although I learned that it's never a good idea to plan on relying on the free WiFi in a hotel. Though our hotel (the Civic Center Holiday Inn) had it, it was pretty flaky and seemed to have some policy in place that prevented outgoing traffic, which meant I couldn't SSH into my server, which meant I was severely limited in what I was able to do from the hotel. Fortunately we were right across the street from the absolutely amazing San Francisco Public Library main branch which is probably my second favorite public library after Boston's Copley Square branch, and provides pretty fast free WiFi. All in all it was a very good, but very exhausting trip. Since getting back, my focus has been pretty much all business. I've gotten a lot of work done, though I still have a lot of work left to do, and hopefully I should be able to make some pretty big business-related announcements over the next couple months. I did, actually, have one small business milestone while in San Francisco: I hired my first contractor for a small job. Jesse Legg helped me out with a quick project so that I would have the free time to work on another that had a looming deadline. Not really that big of a deal, but I think it's still an indication that I'm on the right track and my business is continuing to grow. In other news, I just saw on Gizmodo a story about a new eBook reader from Netronix. It's basically like they took Amazon's Kindle and made the changes that I would have wanted made: they added a touchscreen interface and gave it WiFi instead of EV-DO. While the lack of EV-DO obviously limits it in terms of being able to get content no matter where you are, I think it will prove to be a more useful direction for eBook readers. What I would like to see, similar to Amazon's always-on eBook store, is some framework by which people with a WiFi enabled eBook reader can walk into a brick and mortar bookstore, browse through the books, and, when they find what they want, but it electronically and download it directly to their reader via the store's WiFi network. In some ways this would be less convenient than Amazon's store, but it would also be vastly more flexible and give people the option of still supporting their local bookstores. I would also really like to see this sort of technology extended to libraries, although the whole premise of the library is predicated on the limited time that you have access to the materials, so it would probably require some sort of DRM in order to be workable. Hopefully, with the popularity of the Kindle, eInk technology and the whole concepts of eBooks will start to advance more quickly and we'll start seeing better and better reader technology. I know I will definitely own an eBook reader of some sort in the next few years. I just hope it has some mechanism for both the sort of WiFi store described above and some note taking capacity.

Obama speak on religion, faith, and atheism
Feb 10, 2008

I may disagree with him on some (perhaps most) of his policy position, but I have a hard time not liking Obama. Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms I see leveled at him is that he is without substance, that he makes a big deal of broad phrases but has no meaning to back them up. This criticism is completely unfounded, and he's demonstrated so on many occasion. Despite the fact that I have many disagreements with his policy ideas, I still think he's one of the most appealing candidates currently in the race and would make an excellent president. I just might vote for him. I think this speech may be a little old, but it's new to me, and very good:

Super-Duper Tuesday (Really?)
Feb 05, 2008

Ridiculous fifth-grade name aside, I suppose this is a big day. Not for me, however. This morning I drove Jessi over to our polling place to vote in the primaries before work. I suspected it wouldn't really work, but I decided to go in and see about voting myself. My name was in the rolls, but rather than the familiar D, R, G, W, or, apparently, U next to my name there was a very cryptic and unknown symbol: L 'L, what's L?', said the woman checking people off in the book. 'Do you know what L is?' The gentleman next to her mused, 'L? Liberal? That's Democrat, right?'. My clarification that L stood for Libertarian didn't really clear things up very much, and they ended up having to make a phone call to ...someone who told them that there was no Libertarian ballot and that I wasn't eligible to vote. I figured this was probably the case as I hadn't heard anything from either the state or national party about primaries, but it was disappointing none the less, especially as we have a local, George Phillies of Worcester, in the running for the LP presidential nomination. Phillies also happens to be my favorite candidate for President being not only a Libertarian, but a science fiction author and college professor as well. With any luck he'll get the nomination and I'll actually get a candidate that I want to vote for this time around (in '04 none of the candidates I liked got their respective nominations: Dean, Nolan, McCain; I'm not longer a McCain supporter however so his likely nomination this year doesn't really help things). Oh well, at least I won't be barred from voting in November. Which brings me to another topic I've been meaning to discuss: a particular ballot question. Come November there will be a rather important question on the ballot, the question of whether or not to end the Massachusetts state income tax. If you check out their website it sounds like they actually have a decent chance of passing this. It was on the ballot before in '02 and just barely failed with only 45.3% of the vote. That was with very little publicity and the media presenting it as a cause that couldn't possibly succeed. However with that strong a showing in '02, no one can claim this time around that it has no chance. It very clearly has a chance, and therefore media reaction to it has been a little more positive this year. They're also investing a lot more in publicity to spread awareness, so I think there's a very good chance this might pass in November. That said, I don't want it to, I think we should keep the income tax. Well, that's not entirely true either, I don't want the income tax, but I think that repealing it right now is the wrong thing to do. This is Massachusetts, after all, and with a democratic legislature and Deval Patrick in the Governor's office I find it unlikely that, even given an $11b drop in tax revenue, the state is going to put the brakes on any spending. Instead they'll just look for different ways to bring in money like increasing the sales tax, increasing fees, and just generally taxing more things. One area where spending is probably likely to fall, however, is local aid. A lot of the cities and towns of Massachusetts are already suffering from anemic income and getting very little help from the state. This clearly isn't going to improve if we stop giving the state part of our paychecks. So how are those municipalities going to keep making ends meet? Easy, they'll keep doing what they always do and raise property taxes. I pay enough in property taxes as it is (about three times more each quarter than Jessi's mom in Illinois pays in a year), and I find property taxes to be by far the more egregious kind of tax. Think about what it means to have to pay property tax. Essentially, it means that you can never actually own property. In all but name, the State owns your property and you merely rent it from them. Don't believe me? Try not paying your property taxes and see what happens: the same thing that happens if you stop paying your rent. You have to pay for the privilege of living on your own land! I say that rather than repealing the income tax, by far the better thing to do would be to repeal property taxes. This would a) strengthen the right of people to own property, b) reduce the cost of living significantly by lowering rent as well, and therefore c) reduce the prices of goods and services by lowering the costs for the providers and sellers. Now, maybe repealing the income tax would actually be successful. Maybe next year we'd get a budget that was $11b lighter (wasn't that one of Patrick's campaign promises anyway?). Maybe Massachusetts will implement something like the FairTax on a state level, and prove one and for all that either it can work or it can't. Probably not, but one can hope. Regardless, I think our first priority should be repealing property taxes. I would much rather see that happen, and I think it's a revenue loss that could be more easily and quickly accommodated (rent assistance payouts, for example, would suddenly become much lower which would free up more money for local aid to compensate). But we'll see what happens in November. I may even vote in favor of repealing the income tax just on principle; if it passes and our legislature and governor surprise me by taking it in stride there could still be some good that comes of it.

80% efficient, flexible solar panels?!?!
Feb 01, 2008

Apparently! The Idaho National Laboratory has announced a new technology that uses nanotech to create a flexible, highly efficient solar panel. And at 80% efficiency, they aren't kidding when they say highly efficient. Most panels clock in at about 40%. I've seen a few reports of experimental systems that have approached 70% but that are extremely complex and expensive. This technology, apparently, is actually quite cheap. In addition, it can convert infrared radiation to electricity as well, so it will even produce power at night. There's just one problem though: they have no way of harnessing the electricity created. Light and heat are converted to electrons, but we don't yet have a way of collecting those electrons. Oops. But apparently that's in the works and should hopefully be coming soon. Even still, this is a huge breakthrough. It brings us almost to the point of cheap, limitless power. Use this stuff in the roofs of electric/hybrid cars and trucks and you'll get a pretty decent range extension and the ability to charge (probably slowly) even in places without power. Cover the roof of your house with this stuff and you'll probably be pretty close to being able to go completely off grid. Since it will generate power 24/7 (though much more during the day)

What happens when you give an iPhone to a 2 month old?
Jan 22, 2008

Apparently she sends you an email: From: Josh Ourisman Mailed-By: dydxtech.com To: Josh Ourisman Date: Jan 22, 2008 10:18 PM Subject: d : -- gcrahfh Josh Ourisman dy/dx techn Tel: +1 857-753-0060 Web: www.dydxtech.com Blog: www.joshourisman.com I really didn't even have to provide any help at all. All I did was (using her fingers) slide the unlock thing, and then help her click on my name after several failed attempts. Everything else is entirely her own input. Unfortunately, she seemed upset that she wasn't able to enter text in the body except as part of the signature due to her lack of hand-eye coordination and started crying, so I had to hit the send button for her. But still, I'm pretty impressed that she managed to enter an emoticon for the subject. (No, this wasn't my two month old, I'm currently in Minnesota visiting some friends and their new baby.)

Finances
Jan 12, 2008

2007 being over, and taxes looming on the horizon, I figured I should probably put together my finances for the year. I should have been keeping track of this on an ongoing basis, but... Pretty much as soon as I started to delve into my records, I realized something: my hard copy records were fairly abysmal. Fortunately, I keep everything on my computer, and the hard copies are more of a convenience thing; as it is apparently the case that they're not actually all that convenient, I'm going to transition into fully electronic record keeping. Don't worry, I keep everything backed up both locally and remotely. I am in IT after all. I realized something else almost immediately: things are actually going pretty well, especially when you also take my 2006 numbers into account. My business having started in the summer of 2006, I had pretty low revenues for that year. In fact, both my Q1 and Q4 revenues for 2007 were greater than my total revenues for 2006. The upshot of that is that in 2007 I saw approximately 300% growth in revenue over 2006. Quarter by quarter, I maintained an average growth of slightly over 55%. One point of interest: on November 1 I changed my business model. In that month I brought on a new partner, and December ended up being my second highest grossing month yet, despite the holiday slowdown. Obviously I don't have the final numbers yet, but I can pretty much guarantee that January will beat it, and February will likely beat January. In fact, I'm currently set for Q1 of 2008 to not only be my highest grossing quarter so far, but to repeat the performance of Q1 2007 and gross higher than the entire previous year. I think this means that my business model is working. :)

Django on MediaTemple (dv)? Harder than it looks.
Jan 07, 2008

So, a little while ago I got a MediaTemple (dv) server. In general, they seem to be pretty good. The server's been fast and reliable so far, I get a good amount of storage and bandwidth for the price, and I have root access so theoretically I can do pretty much whatever I want. I have run into a bit of a problem however. For the past several days I've been banging my head against installing Django on my MediaTemple server. In theory this should be pretty easy. The server comes with Apache and mod_python installed, so all that I should need to do is check out the lated django trunk from svn, make a few symlinks, install MySQLdb, change some Apache configurations to tell it to use Django for the appropriate URLs, and go. In practice, it's not working quite so well. The first few steps were simplicity itself. It wasn't long before I had a successful Django install and was able to 'python manage.py syncdb' to have my projects database tables created. Changing the Apache settings was a little more difficult because you can't actually modify the httpd.conf as Plesk will overwrite it. Of course, there's no documentation telling you this or telling you the appropriate solution (despite, I might add, the insistence of the MediaTemple KnowledgeBase that instructions for installing Django on a (dv) server exist somewhere). A little help from Django's Google Groups community helped me out with that, though, letting me know that I instead need to create a /var/www/vhosts/MYDOMAIN.COM/conf/vhosts.conf file and put the settings in there. So I did that, and it even seems to work, but when I try to actually go to the page I get this: Mod_python error: "PythonHandler django.core.handlers.modpython" Traceback (most recent call last): File "/usr/lib/python2.3/site-packages/mod_python/apache.py", line 299, in HandlerDispatch result = object(req) File "/usr/lib/python2.3/site-packages/django/core/handlers/modpython.py", line 188, in handler return ModPythonHandler()(req) File "/usr/lib/python2.3/site-packages/django/core/handlers/modpython.py", line 161, in __call__ response = self.get_response(request) File "/usr/lib/python2.3/site-packages/django/core/handlers/base.py", line 64, in get_response response = middleware_method(request) File "/usr/lib/python2.3/site-packages/django/contrib/sessions/middleware.py", line 15, in process_request request.session = engine.SessionStore(session_key) AttributeError: 'module' object has no attribute 'SessionStore' Apparently, for some reason, there's some problem with Django's sessions middleware, although no one else seems to have discovered this problem. If I remove sessions (and therefore the admin app) from my project the page will actually load, but it then fails to actually be able to get anything from the database so gives me errors on any page that requires database calls (most of them). Thus far neither the Google Groups nor the expert aid of Jesse Legg have been able to help me make any progress in solving this issue. There are people out there running Django on MediaTemple (dv) servers, so I know this is possible, and I'm confident that I'll get it eventually. But in the mean time it's incredibly frustrating and is putting serious delays in the process of transitioning my sites over to MediaTemple (not to mention in the development of some other Django projects I'm working on right now). You can be sure that when I finally get Django working on my (dv) server that I'll be writing a detailed account of exactly how it was done. There really needs to be some documentation on this out there.

Further news on the Lakota Independence Movement
Jan 04, 2008

There are obviously other topics for me to write about, but I'm quite busy lately and this is one that I both want to keep on top of and want to spread awareness of. Anyway, just a quick update for now. Now that the new Republic of Lakota website is back up, they've continued to make improvements. The biggest is the addition of a discussion forum. It doesn't have a whole lot of traffic just yet, but it's still relatively new so hopefully that will change. Certainly I think the existence of the forum will help drive traffic to the site and therefore spread awareness, and hopefully some good things will come of it. For the record, I've registered on the Republic of Lakota forums with the username 'josho'.

Republic of Lakota
Dec 30, 2007

I've just discovered that there is a new website for the Lakota Freedom movement: www.republicoflakota.com (the old website forwards to it). The new website is, in my opinion, a little better looking and, more importantly, better organized. There's a separate section explaining their motivations, as well as one explaining the history of the movement. I do think it would be helpful to their cause if they added a news section or blog with an RSS feed to make it easier for people to keep track of what's going on (and help their search rankings). Most importantly, however, they have addressed the criticisms leveled at them that they do not actually represent the Lakota people. They say that they have had ongoing communications with traditional chiefs and treaty councils for the past three years, and have been in consultation with the traditional treaty councils of: Pine Ridge, Porcupine, Kyle, Rosebud, Lower Brule, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock, and Flandreau. I hope that this means they actually do have some legitimacy behind them, although there still hasn't been any real mention of them in the news. But I'll be continuing to follow the story and hopefully something actually come of it. Edit: It appears that republicoflakota.com is now down, and currently displays only a GoDaddy domain parking page... (Thanks, Windtalon, for the heads up.) I've emailed the people in charge (the Means) and let them know, so hopefully this will be resolved soon. Edit 2: The site's back up now.

The joys of air travel
Dec 28, 2007

For the week leading up to Christmas, Jessi and I were in New Mexico with my mom. Flying to New Mexico is a somewhat ridiculous affair, because there aren't all that many direct flights to Albuquerque. In general, the best bet has always been to fly Southwest. I've never been a particularly big fan of Southwest, but it wasn't that big a deal because I was only ever taking short flights (Oakland to San Diego, Oakland to Albuquerque, and Oakland to Los Angeles, were about it). Now, of course, I'm living on the East Coast again, so not only did I have to drive an hour to get to an airport that Southwest operates out of (they fly to Providence and Manchester, we chose Manchester for this trip), but there weren't any direct flights. It wasn't really all that bad though, as long as I have a book and an aisle seat so I can stretch my legs every so often I can deal with it. The real problem arose after we got back to Manchester. We came back with an extra suitcase that we hadn't taken with us, so had 3 checked bags instead of 2. Unfortunately, only 2 of them actually made it to Manchester—the two that had only my stuff in them. Jessi's bag was nowhere to be found. So we filed a claim in the baggage office and they assumed that it was just stuck in Chicago (where we had caught our connecting flight) and would come in the next day (yesterday) at which point they would send it to us by courier. So yesterday I spent the day waiting for the courier. He finally arrive in the early afternoon and brought in a suitcase. Unfortunately it wasn't ours. It wasn't even the right color, although someone had thoughtfully tagged it with our baggage claim number. The courier was very apologetic, although also very happy when I didn't blame him for the problem; apparently he gets yelled at a lot when that sort of thing happens even though all he does it take the bags where the airlines tell him to take them. We figured what probably had happened was that the tags on two bags got switched some how, so he had dropped our bag off at someone else's house (if it's not an apartment you can have them just leave the bag for you), so I figured we'd get a call about it that night when the people got home from work and discovered the mistake. No such luck. So last night I got a call from Southwest. They confirmed that the bag that had been delivered was the wrong one, and then basically just said that they have no idea where our bag is. I repeated the description of the bag that I had given them before and let them know that it had one of Jessi's business cards in the name tag holder and that all the contact information on it was valid. Now we're essentially just waiting for Southwest to conduct some sort of national search for our bag. Maybe it's still in Albuquerque, maybe it's still in Chicago, maybe it's still in Manchester somehow. Maybe it got put onto the wrong flight at some point and ended up somewhere altogether different. Maybe a baggage handler stole it. Maybe the TSA stole it. Who knows (although I'm leaning towards the TSA being to blame just because). I've never actually had a bag get lost on a flight before, it's not a very fun experience. It also does little to improve our perception of Southwest. We don't really plan on ever flying with them again, although New Mexico is the only destination of theirs that we'd even have considered them for anyway.

Space-based solar power
Dec 27, 2007

Amusingly enough, just two days after my post on photovoltaics in which I mentioned the possibility of orbital power generation plants that send the power back to Earth via microwave transmission, National Geographic ran a story on exactly that. This technology is one that's been of interest to people for quite a while, and has been showing up in science fiction for decades. Apparently the Pentagon is also interested in space-based solar power, and the South Pacific nation of Palau has expressed interest in being part of a proof-of-concept implementation of the technology. The details are all in the article, but essentially Palau has an uninhabited island where they propose building the rectifying antenna to receive the power from space. This would demonstrate the possibility of the technology as well as the safety. Apparently, this project could be completed as early as 2012 for about $800 million.

90¢ per watt solar
Dec 24, 2007

I, along with a lot of other people, have been watching the development of photovoltaic technologies with much interest over the past two years. For a lot of people, photovoltaics represent the holy grail of power generation, and for good reason. Almost all off the power we use currently comes from the Sun in one way or another (oil and coal are condensed plant matter from millions of years ago, the energy we get when we burn them is the energy that they stored through photosynthesis from the sun; nuclear power is a bit of a stretch, but when you get down to it, all elements heavier than hydrogen were produced through the fusion power of a star, including the fissionable materials we use for nuclear power generation). The only power sources that I can think of that don't harness the Sun's energy in one way or another are hydroelectric and tidal generation, which derive from gravity (which, I suppose, you could still say comes from the Sun because without the Sun the Solar System wouldn't have formed, but that's probably taking it a bit too far). So solar power, whether it be from photovoltaics, sterling engines, or some other technology is really just a means of cutting out the middle man. The sun puts out so much energy that once we have the technology to make solar power generation a large-scale reality, we'll basically have access to infinite energy (approximately 386 billion billion megawatts). The reason we haven't started using large-scale solar power installations, of course, is that we haven't been able to get it to the point where it's cost-competitive with coal, oil, and nuclear. The number that's always been bandied about as the tipping point where solar power becomes viable is $1 per watt. That goal was reached, indeed exceeded, last month by Nanosolar who managed to bring the production cost of photovoltaics down from about $3 per watt to about 30¢ per watt. Their technology is now shipping, and being sold for a mere 90¢ per watt. Essentially, this now means that we have access to limitless, cheap energy. Of course the problems of cloud cover and night time are still an issue when it comes to solar generation, but there are certainly ways around that. It's always daytime somewhere on the Earth, so enough solar plants spread around the Earth will allow us to generate power 24 hours a day. And there are always places where cloud cover is essentially non-existent, basically all the large deserts around the world. The true holy grail of power generation, though, is power generation satellites. Once we put large photovoltaic arrays outside of Earth's atmosphere, we have an unobstructed view of the sun forever. Microwave power transmission can then beam that power down to Earth's surface, although there are obviously some issues there. One of personal favorite ideas is to combine the idea of solar power satellites with the idea of a space elevator: basically a giant tower that pokes up out of the Earth's atmosphere and has a huge array of solar panels at the top so that we can just transmit the power down the tower on wires; if we wanted to get really crazy we could build an entire ring of solar panels that completely encircles the Earth with multiple elevators connected to it serving as distribution nodes. That, of course, solves multiple problems at once but is sadly beyond our current technological abilities. Science fiction aside, though, we have reached an important point in the history of human technology: the point where limitless, safe, clean energy is in reach.

Lakota Freedom?
Dec 22, 2007

I've been doing some more research into the authority of the Lakota Freedom movement to actually declare independence for the Lakota Nation. From what I can tell, even amongst the Lakota there's a lot of confusion about the issue. The man largely behind the movement appears to be Russell Means, a Lakota activist and one-time gubernatorial candidate, and there are mixed feelings, to say the least, about him taking the role of spokesman. Some say that even if he did have the authority to represent them, they wouldn't want him to. Others appear to be all in favor of what he's doing and hopeful, if not confident, that the U.S. government will acknowledge him as a representative of the Lakota. The discussion about this issue seems to be the same, regardless of which side of the always-complex relationship between the U.S. and American Indian nations you happen to be on. The fact that everyone is questioning whether the delegation that went to Washington had any authority to do so makes me suspect that they probably did not. However nearly everyone, myself included, also seems to think that even if it's nothing but a PR stunt, it could turn out to be a tremendously effective one. It certainly raises the questions (or would, if the media was actually covering it... I still haven't found any coverage of this in major US sources, maybe on Monday) of the legality of the way we (the U.S.) have treated the Indian nations, the true nature of the supposedly sovereign nations created by the reservation system, the reality of Indian dependence on the U.S. government, the desirability of freedom and independence, and whether or not the more recent treaties have been honored any better than past ones were. If nothing else, I think this will be successful in raising these questions on the reservations where it is, at least, getting more attention than off of them. Probably unsurprisingly, I, for one, think every step that can be taken towards true independence should be. Obviously it would be complicated for everyone if a completely sovereign nation sprung up in the middle of the country, especially if others were to follow. I'm currently in New Mexico outside Santa Fe, and driving from here to the Albuquerque airport next Wednesday I'll pass through about 5 or 6 different reservations. What would happen if they decided to become fully independent nations as well? Nevertheless, I think it is extremely important that we look at the treaties that we've signed, understand what obligations they entail, and examine whether or not we've actually lived up to them. The treaties were theoretically supposed to be for the benefit of both sides. Were they? If they were, are they still? If they're not, they should either be re-negotiated or gotten rid of entirely. The declaration made this week was almost certainly timed to take advantage of the upcoming elections. Now, in particular, we're all questioning the wisdom and benefit of pursuing imperialistic policies abroad. Before we can even hope to answer those questions we need to answer the questions surrounding our imperialistic policies at home. Putting real thought into these questions and trying to answer them will, I think, be of tremendous benefit not only to Lakota and other Indian nations, but to us as Americans, and to all the peoples we currently do and will deal with abroad.

Some national coverage
Dec 21, 2007

Well, it seems that the Lakota Independnce story is starting to get picked up in national sources ...kind of. It's made it into USA Today's On Deadline blog: Lakota withdraw from treaties, declare independence from U.S. It's not much, but it's a start. Hopefully next week will start to see the story make it into some of the bigger outlets. Also, I was very surprised to find that if you do a Google search for 'Lakota independence', my previous entry is the number two result. Cool for me, not so much for the Lakota or whoever is handling their media relations. I've also found, thanks to digg, a map of the Lakota nation. The story is getting some international coverage though: There is, of course, some question as to the reality of this movement. It's being said by some that it's nothing but a political stunt by the American Indian Movement. Certainly the AIM was involved, but I'm not sure that necessarily means the whole thing is a farce. Some more research into the matter is called for. I, for one, would like it to be real, and to actually happen. But it seems that even among the Indian community they're saying that it's nothing but grandstanding and that the delegation that went to Washington didn't actually represent them. Well, I'll still be following to story to see what happens.

Lakota independence
Dec 20, 2007

I haven't seen a whole lot of coverage of this, and what I have seen hasn't really had all the much information. But apparently the Lakota Sioux have unilaterally withdrawn from all treaties with the United States and are taking steps to emphasize their sovereignty including plans to issue their own passports and drivers licenses, as well as opening diplomatic relationships with other countries. The most interesting step they're taking, to me, is the offer to allow U.S. citizens to move to the new Lakota Country where they can live tax free so long as they renounce their U.S. citizenship. This move could serve to attract the talent and marketable skills that they will need to survive as a fully independent nation, but only time will tell. They've also announced that they will be pursuing energy independence through renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and bio-fuels. The best coverage of this that I've seen so far comes from the Indigenist Intelligence Review. It also contains the only link I've found so far to their website: lakotafreedom.com. Unfortunately, due to the recent news exposure, the site has exceeded it's bandwidth allotment and is inaccessible. I've attempted to contact them in order to offer some of my own hosting for the interim, but have yet to hear back. Edit: the website is apparently now back up, so we have a first-hand source of information. I'm extremely interested to learn more about what's going on, and will be doing my best to keep on top of the story. Unfortunately it doesn't really seem to have been picked up by any major news outlets, which is unfortunate. In particular it will be interesting to see how the U.S. government responds to this. In theory it's completely legal, and they were technically already sovereign. In practice, the sovereignty of the various American Indian nations has always been tenuous at best. A few other nations, however, including Bolivia and Venezuela, have apparently already expressed their support.

The young Alan Keyes?
Dec 14, 2007

We were watching the Republican debate the other night, and every time Alan Keyes was on the screen I just couldn't shake the feeling that I had seen him before in some other context. Something about his facial expressions and the way he moved just really reminded me of someone else. Here's a video of him from the debate to give you an idea of what I'm talking about: It was still bothering me a couple hours after the debate until it hit me! I knew who he reminded me of! This guy (YouTube)! Am I crazy, or could that totally be a young Alan Keyes?

Apparently I might just know what I'm doing
Dec 11, 2007

The other day I got a call from a recruiter. Apparently Apple wants to hire me to work at the Genius Bar at the new Boyleston Apple Store. Presumably they found me through my Apple certification, and I certainly have the resume for the job. Being a Genius isn't really that bad a gig. You get something like $20/hour, benefits, and, of course, you get to play with toys all day. Of course this isn't exactly the direction I'm looking to go in professionally. I have no particular desire to work retail. And I certainly have no particular desire to do nothing but fix people's computers for $20 and hour when I already do that for more money on the side of a more lucrative business. I might consider a job managing the Genius Bar, but retail tech support seems like a bit of a backwards step at this point. On top of that I think I may be on the cusp of moving my business to the next stage. As I've mentioned before, I've transitioned my business into being primarily about web development and services. My business model has been to partner with web developers who need someone to do the programming for them. This strategy has been working very well, and for the past few months I've been much busier on average than I had been previously. Now, I think, things may be about to really take off. I'm about to start a very big project, my biggest so far. Because of that, I'm basically going to be completely booked for the next two to three months while I work on this. But, with my business model being as successful as it has been lately, I can be pretty sure that during this time there will be a number of other opportunities that arise (in fact I already know of a few that will be coming up soon). This is exactly the position I've been working towards since I started this whole experiment just about 18 months ago: having more work coming in than I can handle myself. This means I'm finally at the point where I can seriously consider hiring more people. Of course at this point I'm really only looking for a contractor or two. Someone who can put in a few hours a month for me doing the work I don't have time for myself. Having gotten to that point there's a clear path forward. While I work on this big new project, I'd only hire contractors as I need them for the work I don't have time for myself. Once it's done and I have a little more leeway to think about other things I can continue to take advantage of them to reduce my own work load and let me spend more time on finding new business. At some point after that I should be able to have enough business coming in that I can afford to hire a developer full-time and focus primarily on sales myself. And, of course, if that goes well I can hire someone to do sales full-time, and then I'll really be getting somewhere. The obvious 'end-point' of this strategy is for me to be managing a company that employs a full-time sales staff as well as a full-time development staff. Maybe even bringing in my own design team, although I think I'd prefer to maintain my partnerships with a large network of designers. At any rate, I think I'm finally approaching the point where I can truly consider this whole venture to be 'successful'. In the meantime, I guess I should start looking for some contractors. Any LAMP developers out there who might be interested in a little freelance work? I'm mostly looking for PHP developers, but those working with Python, ASP, Ruby and others are welcome as well. Also, I'd favor the Boston area at this point, but am definitely interested in expanding geographically as well. Feel free to send me resumés at josh@dydxtech.com.

My Portfolio
Nov 28, 2007

I've been meaning to do it for a while, but I've finally gotten around to creating a portfolio. Since my website is now Django based this was incredibly easy, and probably only took about 45 minutes to do. Previously I've just been keeping a list of links to former projects that I included in emails to prospective clients. I didn't really want to put up a portfolio when I only had a handful of projects to show off. But in the past few days three different projects went live: Lola Boston for which I created the locations database, Tundratour for which I created a database for the different trips as well as a 'shopping cart' to allow people to request more information on multiple trips at once, and Sel De La Terre which was live before but now has a tool for purchasing gift cards online that I created. I figured that 5 projects was a big enough number to go live with, especially as it should be growing pretty rapidly in the next few months. I'm still trying to decide if I want to put more information in there. Should I put in a little description of each project, or at least expand on what my contribution to the project was? The Chainsaw Awards page was nominated for the MITX awards, I should probably mention that somewhere. Fortunately, now that it's there it will be easy enough to add more to it. The other question I've been asking myself is whether or not I should include websites that I worked on at my old job. I was just as much responsible for those projects as the ones I'm doing now, but somehow it just seems like I should leave them off. Fortunately again, it will be easy to add those later if I decide to. And in the meantime I have a portfolio to show off. A pretty nice one, if I do say so myself. Also, I do still intend to write that post that I promised while I was in Jamaica, I've just been very busy ever since getting back. I'm going to be away again this weekend (Florida for another wedding), so hopefully I'll be able to get to it next week when I'm back.

US Border Security
Nov 12, 2007

Never fear, my fellow Americans, our borders are secure! So secure, in fact, that a law abiding US citizen traveling home from a friendly nation with which we have very good relations can barely get into the country. Ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but that's what it felt like. I had a great business-related post all planned out for when I got back, but now I feel inclined to post about this instead. As you should know if you've been paying attention, I've just come back from Jamaica where I was for my uncle's wedding. I've been to Jamaica tons of times; I started going from before my memory starts, and there are pictures of me there in diapers. I've had plenty of annoying trips going through customs and immigration (usually in Miami), but this time definitely takes the cake. There aren't, apparently, any direct flights from Boston to Montego Bay, so instead I flew JetBlue to Ft. Lauderdale where I caught an Air Jamaica flight to Montego Bay. Coming back I simply reversed the trip. As an interesting aside, when I was buying my tickets I discovered this: Apparently the USSR is still alive and well, but you can only get there through Jamaica. Anyway, back to the point. My schedule gave me an hour and a half between my two flights in Ft. Lauderdale. I have never had immigration take that long (except maybe going into Manchester this past spring...), even going into China has always been a breeze when I've done it, so I figured I'd be fine. The first problem was that they were simply unorganized. The passport control area was designed have probably about 10 lines all feeding different desks. Instead, they had set it up as one single long line that snaked through the room (because it was way too small to accommodate even a single flight's worth of travelers despite having obviously been renovated pretty recently). They didn't even separate out the US passport holders from the rest, which would have completely solved my problem. 45 minutes later I was less than halfway through the line because, despite it being incredibly obvious to anyone that their setup wasn't sufficient to accommodate even a modest number of people, only about half of the desks were actually staffed. About an hour later I finally made it through, picked up my bag, went through customs (very quickly, thankfully), then got on the shuttle to take me to the other terminal where I'd catch my next flight. At that point there was only about 30 minutes before my flight boarded which essentially meant that I couldn't make it. First off, they won't let you check in less than 30 minutes before the flight (and I hadn't checked in online before, which turned out to be a good thing), and second it's very rare to spend less than a half hour going through security. Fortunately, I had a solution. Since my flight hadn't actually left yet and probably wasn't even boarding yet I hadn't technically missed it yet. That meant that, while I was on the (surprisingly long) shuttle ride between terminals I was able to go online with my iPhone and change my itinerary to a later flight. JetBlue is very good about changing itineraries, and they only charge you the difference in the ticket price (if any) plus about $25 service charge. So when I got off the shuttle, all I had to do was check into my next flight and go through security. Security, as I expected, probably took about 45 minutes to an hour because, again, they didn't have enough people working causing a huge bottle neck so there was no way I could possibly have made my flight. So I bought some books, and waited 4 hours for my flight. I ended up leaving just a little after I was supposed to arrive in Boston originally, and landed in Boston at around 10:30 at night. Fortunately, Jessi was there to pick me up so I didn't have to deal with the vagaries of the T nor the exorbitance of a taxi. Despite all that though, I had a great time in Jamaica. I got to spend time with my family that I rarely see, and meet some interesting new people. I also was able to get a few good pictures that I'll be posting online once I figure out how to get them onto my computer (I used to just use the built-in card reader in my monitor which I no longer have, and I'm not sure where the cord for my camera got to). So, that's my border crossing rant. Stay tuned for that business-related post I promised earlier.

My first iMac
Nov 02, 2007

My new iMac came a couple days ago. So far it's absolutely great. Unlike my PowerMac G5, it plays HD video without choking. Even better, after installing Perian I can watch all that HD video in Front Row using the remote instead of having to deal with navigating through the file system, opening it with VLC, and then setting it to fullscreen. I also really like the new keyboards. A lot of people have been complaining about them, but they're like the MacBook keyboards, which I love, only better. It is annoying that the switched around the functions of the F keys though (going to the Dashboard used to be F12, but it now F4; hitting F12 increases the volume), but that won't take too long to get used to. The only annoyances so far have been dealing with my external hard drives, and Leopard. The hard drives are really my own fault, when I originally put together the 500 GB RAID to store my video I used an eSATA enclosure along with an eSATA controller card in my G5. The iMac has neither eSATA ports nor anywhere to put an eSATA controller card. Fortunately, however, it does have FireWire 800 (IEEE 1394b), so I just replaced my old eSATA enclosure with a new USB 2.0/FW/FW800 enclosure and that was ready to go. Leopard is a slightly larger problem however. I've already upgraded my MacBook, and so far I really like Leopard. However the vast majority of my work requires me to edit remote files which I do using Cyberduck and TextMate (two fantastic programs, anyone who has use for an FTP/SFTP client and/or an advanced text editor should definitely check them out). Unfortunately Leopard breaks the integration between the two so that I can't just easily edit files on my server as though they were local. This isn't, I don't believe, a bug in Leopard, merely a change in functionality that Cyberduck and/or TextMate will need to take into account before the it can work again. I know that TextMate 2.0 should be coming out soon and that it will be Leopard-only, so hopefully that means it will fix the problem. Until then, one of my computers needs to stick with Tiger, and since I already upgraded my MacBook that means it's my iMac. I kinda wish it were the other way around, but it would be way too big of a pain to change that now.

A new business model
Nov 01, 2007

When I first decided to start my own business, my idea was basically to offer IT services for Mac using individuals and companies. Previously I had been working in IT at an all Mac corporation, so I definitley have the skill set to do this. The problem with that idea turned out to basically be one of supply and demand: there's quite a lot of competition in the field, and as a newcomer without much of a background it was hard to distinguish myself and actually land jobs. During the past 18 months or so that I've been doing this I've gotten some work doing IT, but not really all that much. Instead I found myself filling the gaps by doing web development. For whatever reason, it appears that I'm much better at selling myself as a web developer than I am at selling myself as an IT consultant. So I've found myself doing mostly web development with IT work pretty much being something I do on the side. So in the past month I've made the decision to change my business focus. Instead of dy/dx tech being a Mac IT business that also does some web development work, it is now a web development business. I've even let my membership in the Apple Consultants Network lapse, as the main benefit I derived from it was the great prices for software which I've now already got. There are a number of benefits for me making this switch. The first is that I'll now be able to focus all my energy on finding web development work rather than it being a secondary focus. Since even as a secondary focus, web development was much more successful than IT, I think this will really pay off. The other benefit is that it will be easier to distinguish myself from the competition. I have a number of web site projects that I'm working on right now, and that I've worked on in the past that I can put my name on. Having that lets me put together a nice pretty portfolio of work, something that IT work just isn't as good for. I'm currently working on putting together a portfolio application in Django to add to my website. This will increase the ability of my website to sell my services, and also serve as visual evidence of my businesses growth and therefore as a rought metric for the quality of my services. I'm waiting to finish up a few of the bigger projects that I'm currently working on before going live with online portfolio. I will still, however, be doing some Mac IT work. But now I'll be doing it under the In Home Mac brand. In Home Mac is a company started by Matt Moglia, a good friend of mine from High School. He started doing the Mac IT thing for himself in the Bay Area at about the same time I started doing it in Boston. He's apparently much better than I am at marketing those services, and has now built up his company to the point where he's got multiple techs working for him in different areas. I'm now the In Home Mac tech for the Boston area. The main advantage of this for me is that I no longer have to worry about advertising those services. All the advertising and such wil be taken care of for me, so I just have to take care of the work when it comes in. This is just about a perfect arrangement for me as I can focus on selling the services that I'm actually good at selling and still have work to do with the services I'm good at but can't sell well. I'm pretty confident that this change will, in the next several months, lead to me bringing in a lot more busines than I have been. Especially as I've already got a pretty good business model for the web development side of things. It's pretty rare to find people who are both good designers and good programers. This makes a lot of sense when you think about it, but what most people don't realize is that both skill sets are necessary for functional websites. In general, I've found that web designers tend to do the designing and then either muddle through with what little programming skills they have or get a friend or relative who knows more programming than them to do it on the side. This works for a while but tends not to be a very scalable model for a number of reasons. First, someone who's doing web development on the side can often make time to get one project done, but they just can't do it for project after project because they have other things to worry about. Second, it's usually not reasonable for that person to quit their day job and do web development full time because a single web designer or small web design firm isn't likely to generate enough work to justify a full time developer. So I have an advantage here. I have as much time as I need to dedicate to web development. On top of that, I have enough time to fine more web designers to partner with. The more designers I work with, the more steady the work coming in will be. Currently I'm working with two different small design firms which brings in decently steady work, and I'm always on the lookout for more designers and small design firms that might be interested in hiring me to do their development. This basically ends up being win-win for everyone as several different designers get to have a developer without needing to hire one full time, and I get to work full time as a developer without having to sell my soul to a big company. My eventual plan now is to partner with enough designers and design firms that I can't actually handle all the work myself. At that point I can bring in more developers in the same way that Matt has brought in more Mac techs and my business can really start to grow not only in size and revenue, but in the variety and quality of the services that I can offer. There's only so much I can do myself, but when I start bringing in more people I'll be able to add their unique skills to the services I can offer and I'll be able to delegate work out in a logical way to improve the workflow, efficiency, and quality. I'm not quite to the point of needing to do that yet, but I think I'm on track to get there. And I've already got a few other people in mind to bring into the dy/dx tech web design fold including an SEO specialist and another general developer who's good with Ruby on Rails.

As promised
Oct 26, 2007

...my account of Blogtoberfest 2007. As expected it was a lot of fun. There were a ton of people there, far too many to be able to actually have any sort of real conversation with even most of them. In addition to our illustrious host Jenny, I was able to meet a number of area bloggers for the first time including: Dana Zemack, Michael Krigsman, Jesse Baer, Andrea Mercado, and a few others whose names and/or URLs I sadly can't remember. All in all, there were actually only three bloggers that whom I had met before: Jesse Legg, Steve Garfield, and Adam Gaffin. From the sound of things most of the people there were meeting a bunch of new people as well. The highlight of the evening was probably the raffle. Everyone who attended put their name in a hat (well, bowl) for a chance to win a number of prizes including a beautiful print of Fenway Park shot by Jenny herself. As per usual, I didn't win a thing, although both of the two people standing to my left at the time won things, as did at least two other people I had been talking to throughout the night. I'll just try and claim credit for that. Afterwards Jesse (Legg) and I made our ways back to Somerville via TC's Lounge and the Newtowne Grill. A good night, I think, was had by all. In other news, I think it's safe to say that it's officially starting to get almost kinda cold here. It looks like Monday will be the first day that the temperature doesn't even break 50°, although overnight temperatures appear to be remaining strictly above freezing for the foreseeable future (at least according to the weather widget in my dashboard). I did, however, actually turn on the heat today for the first time in months. The furnace hasn't actually kicked in yet as the residual heat from the day is still keeping us above the 65° I set the thermostat to, but it probably will within the next 30 minutes or so. I also bothered to take the time to figure out how to program a schedule into the thermostat. It's a much more useful feature than I thought, letting me program in 4 distinct periods for weekdays (delineated by Sleep, Wake, Leave, and Return), and 2 periods for weekends (Sleep and Wake). This actually works out rather well since despite the fact that I work from home and so will want the heat to be on during the day, I prefer a much cooler temperature than Jessi does. Thanks to the programmed in schedule the condo will only be too warm before Jessi leaves for work in the morning and after she gets home at night leaving it nice and comfortable for me during the bulk of the day.

A year's worth of travel
Oct 26, 2007

So when I first put my computer up on Craigslist to sell I received a very interesting offer: a year of unlimited free travel on US Airways. Being a big traveller this was an extremely appealing offer on the face of it, and I let my imagination run away a bit on the possibilities. I came up with various ways of doing it, from simply hopping from city to city having fun and taking whatever flight I could get out when I was done, to a more commercialized plan of attempting to get corporate sponsorships to pay for places to stay and places to eat (and maybe even the flights as I'd much rather do this sort of thing on JetBlue than US Airways) in exchange for the marketing they'd get from me putting their branding on my blog, writing about their services, having my picture taken using their products and services &c. After thinking it over, I decided that the first option is just untenable. At least for right now. I have a business to run and build, and a number of opportunities on the horizon to expand that. I've got a home to take care of an a mortgage to pay. I've got bills. I've got all sorts of responsibilities that, as much as I might sometimes like to, I can't just walk away from (unless I can find a place to walk to where the IRS can't find me, that is). The second option might very well be doable. With a good enough pitch, I could probably get sponsorship to do this sort of thing. There would be all sorts of sponsorship opportunities as well: national sponsorships from whatever airline and whatever hotel chain I can get, regional sponsorships from state tourism boards and regional chains, local sponsorships from local restaurants, attractions, and what have you. And of course I could sell advertising on the site as well. If you think of the whole venture as a year long online and physical marketing campaign for the various sponsors, it could pretty easily lead to a 6 figure income when all is said and done. So I considered that, and I considered who I could approach, and how much money I could reasonable expect to get, and what I would have to promise in return. And I decided that, while it may be doable, and I might even be able to convince the sponsors that they want me to do it rather than to just steal my idea, fund it the same way I would with sponsorships from other companies, and then just hire some actor to do it better than I ever would and only pay him a small fraction of the money because it's just a job for him, even if I could do all that I don't think it would be worth it. I'd love the opportunity to travel around the country. I'd especially love it if I was not only not paying for it, but was making a lot of money off it. But the things I'd have to do to make that money would, I think, take all the fun out of it. I like to travel on my own, and see things and do things and even write about it, but as soon as it becomes a big corporate thing there's just too much planning and negotiating and crap like that I don't want to deal with. I'd want to be spontaneous and have fun and deviate from whatever little plan I have whenever an interesting opportunity comes up, and I'd never be able to do that if I had and airline and a hotel chain and who knows who else footing the bill. Unfortunately, I came to the conclusion that the traveling idea would either be really fun but impossible, or possible and lucrative but not fun at all. So instead I sold my computer and monitor for cash and ordered a new iMac to replace them. Expect a write-up of Blogtoberfest 2007 later today.

Blogtoberfest
Oct 25, 2007

Well, I'm off to the Pour House for Blogtoberfest 2007. It'll be a great chance to meet some more of my fellow area bloggers, as well as catch up with the ones I've met before. Expect a post summarizing the night ...assuming anything interesting happens.

Goodbye PowerMac
Oct 25, 2007

Last night I sold my PowerMac G5 and 24" Dell monitor. I bought the G5 almost exactly four years ago on October 20, 2003. At the time it was the top of the line Macintosh with all the options, but since I had an Apple Student Developer account, it only cost me about $2500, the cost of the low-end PowerMac. Despite being four years old, it's still a great machine. It's perfectly capable of doing just about anything you might want it to do including video editing (which is what the guy I sold it to is going to use it for). The only thing it really has a problem with is playing HD video. It had problems decoding 720p H.264 content fast enough and would often stutter. 1080p content was completely unplayable. If it hadn't been for the fact that watching video was my main use for it (I can do all my work on my MacBook just fine) I would have kept it until it either failed catastrophically or simply was no longer able to run the software I needed. I'll be replacing it with an iMac. It seems like a bit of a shame to replace a PowerMac with an iMac, but a 24" 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo iMac will be completely paid for by the money I got for my 2.0 GHz G5 PowerMac and 24" Dell LCD monitor, so I'm essentially upgrading my computer for free. The iMac should have no problem playing even 1080p H.264 content, as my 2.0 GHz Core Duo MacBook plays it about as well as my PowerMac played 720p. The screen in the iMac should also be slightly better than the one I sold, so this turns out to be a pretty good deal for me. Actually, it's a really good deal for me. The only out of pocket expense when getting the iMac will be AppleCare, which I definitely think is worth it. Oh, and I also have to get a new hard drive enclosure. Before I was using a SATA to eSATA enclosure along with an eSATA controller card for a 500 GB RAID, but the iMac won't have eSATA so that's out (and I sold the enclosure along with the G5), so I also had to order a SATA to USB 2.0/FireWire/FireWire 800 enclosure to replace it. Until I get the iMac I'll be stuck with just my MacBook. It's a little odd right now having nothing but a little laptop sitting on my desk, but, to be fair, it's just as capable of a computer as the PowerMac was, so currently I'm not actually missing out on anything other than the bigger screen (and the use of my 500 GB RAID) in the meantime.

Go buy a bike
Oct 24, 2007

Treehugger just posted a quote about the relative efficiencies of various modes of transportation. Basically, biking is the most efficient way for you to get around. Walking comes in 2nd, then trains, then cars. This is hardly news for anyone who pays attention to such things, but I think it's still worth pointing out. Boston is America's walking city, and it's true that this city is very friendly to walking. Sure it may be a bit of a hike from the North End to Kenmore Square, but it's certainly within the realm of possibility, and the more you do it the easier it will be. Really, unless you're making a delivery there's very little reason not to walk everywhere in Boston. Even when I was living in Central Square I'd often make the walk across the river into Boston to go to the Boston Public Library. But really, what we should be is America's biking city (currently Sparta, Wisconsin is the Bicycle Capital of America; I say we should take that title). Not only is biking more efficient than walking, but it's much faster as well. The walk from here in Somerville to Boston is a little more than I'd want to undertake on a regular basis (though I've done it once or twice). With a bike, however, Boston suddenly become mere minutes away. It takes me about 30 minutes to bike at a fairly leasurely pace from Porter Square to the Broadway Red Line stop in Southie. According to the MBTA it takes the Red Line 20 minutes to make the same trip, and that's if the T's being friendly that day. On average, I'd say biking that route is as fast or faster than taking the T. To drive that same route, according to Google maps, would also take 20 minutes, though that doesn't account for traffic (and Google says it could take up to 30 minutes with traffic, though on some days it would certainly take even longer). It also doesn't take into account the amount of time it takes to find parking. Some days it could take just as long to find parking as to drive there. So not only is biking more efficient, it is easily just as fast and often faster than taking the T or even driving. When you're talking about the shorter distances actually within Boston (say from the South End to the Financial District or Fenway to Copley Square) the advantages of biking will just be magnified. With those shorter distances the small amount of time it takes for you to walk to the T station and wait for the train, or to walk to your car and then deal with traffic, become even more significant. With a bike, you just get on and go and can, for the most part, ignore traffic. Biking is cheaper too. I got my bike for $10 off of Craigslist. It was in good enough condition when I bought it, though not perfect. For $20 I probably could have gotten a bike that was in perfect condition. But even if I had gone and bought a brand new, top of the line bike, I could have gotten one for as little as $1500, and most people would be more than happy with a $300 or less bike. Once you make that initial investment for the bike, helmet, bike lock, and maybe saddle bags to carry your stuff and some lights for biking at night you've still spent very little money. And when biking you don't have to worry about paying for parking or paying for T fare. Even at longer distances, biking can make sense. When Jessi was working in Lexington she could still bike to work. The Minuteman Bikeway goes from right here in Somerville straight to Lexington and beyond. It's about an 8 mile ride from here to Lexington, which takes 30-45 minutes depending on your speed. Public transportation requires you to take the T and then transfer to a bus which actually takes longer than biking. So she could leave later and still get to work on time all while getting some exercise. Really, if you ask me, biking is the ideal form of transportation for Boston, or most cities for that matter. Obviously it won't work so well for everyone, but it does for a whole lot of people who probably never even considered it. The only drawback to biking is the weather. Biking isn't so much fun in the winter. But even if you take the T or drive in the winter and bike the rest of the year you're still going to be saving a ton of money and getting a lot more exercise all at the same time. For me, my bike is my favored form of transport. Weather permitting, I'll use it over any other method. Of course I do have a bit of an advantage in that I do all my own work on it which means I can keep it in tip top condition for no cost other than the occasional replacement parts. But if you want to keep your bike in good condition without getting your hands dirty and without spending a fortune on over-priced maintenance, I highly recommend you take it to Quad Bikes. They're a non-profit bike shop that services the Harvard Community and does all the work on the Harvard Police Departments bike fleet. I also happen to volunteer there in my free time, which is something else I'd recommend to people interested in bikes. Their volunteer program is great, basically they just teach how to work on bikes by having you work on bikes. After a few weeks there you'll be competent and confident enough to do all the basic work on your own bike, and you'll have a great resource in the people who work there to help you with the more complex stuff. Plus, they have all the tools so you don't need to buy your own. And they rescue and refurbish old bikes so you can get a great deal on a perfectly serviceable bike. Or even, if you wanted, get a bike custom built for you. As an additional benefit, I find that getting my hands dirty and actually producing tangible results (unlike web development, which offers it's own rewards to be sure) is extremely satisfying. It's a great way to relax, unwind, and still get something productive done.

To fly, or not to fly
Oct 20, 2007

Currently my main computer setup is a PowerMac G5 with a 24" Dell monitor. It's a great computer, but is getting to be a bit dated. So this afternoon I listed it on Craigslist. My plan was, if I can sell it for enough, to replace it with a 24" C2D iMac. So far I've gotten one offer that's very different from what I was expecting, but has filled my head with all sorts of fun and tempting ideas. The offer was from a guy who works for US Airways. As a US Airways employee he basically gets unlimited free flights whenever he wants them. He also gets a companion pass so that other people can fly with him. Apparently the holder of this pass doesn't need to fly with him, so he can just give it to someone and they can fly for free. His offer was to give me one calendar year of unlimited free flights in exchange for my computer system. Obviously a year of free flights won't pay for a new iMac, but it gave me an idea. If I took this, I could spend the year being, basically, an air-hobo. If I wanted to be really hardcore about it I could spend the year sleeping in airports and eating nothing but airplane food, but I think I'd probably end up missing out on a lot of fun opportunities that way. But think of it this way: there are 52 weeks in the year and 50 states in the union. I could spend just over a week in every single state. But how would I pay for food? Not to mention our mortgage and bills. Well, I could blog about it. There's plenty of interest in travel blogs, and this would certainly be a travel blog with a twist. Might it be able to generate enough traffic and interest that I could make enough money off it for a year? It may well be able to. Maybe I could even get US Airways to sponsor me somehow to help make it doable, or a hotel chain to do so and give me a place to stay during my travels. At first I just dismissed the offer out of hand. But travel is absolutely my favorite thing to do, and the more I think about it, the more tempting it is. (I actually even considered trying to do something similar on my own without the free flights after college.) I was just going to delete the email, but now I'm seriously considering calling the guy and getting more details on the limitations of this pass. This could be very interesting and very fun. And Jessi's already given it the green light. So if I can figure out some way for this whole thing to be financially viable, I just might do it. The money thing, of course, is the limiting factor here, so I leave this with a question for you: should I do it?

Somerville power outage
Oct 13, 2007

The power is out in much of Somerville and has been for about three hours now (since most of the way through the top of the 8th inning of the Sox/Indians game). The Porter Square area has power fortunately, but I recently returned from eminent local blogger Jesse Legg's house where we had been watching the game until the power went out (afterwards I contented myself with cleaning everyone else out at poker), and from my bike ride back (not very fun in the pitch dark, even with a headlight) it appeared that pretty much everything on the other side of Elm St. is dark. The Ball Square area certainly is at any rate. Power outages in and of themselves don't really bother me, but several hours of nothing but candle light can start to get annoying. I can only imagine that for the power to be out for this long it must be a downed line or something similar that can't just be routed around. Of course the wiring in this part of the country is probably so old that it could be just about anything. Hopefully I'll know more soon. In the meantime, I just hope it isn't another days-on-end without power scenario like we had in the Bay Area when I was a kid... Edit: I just took a look at the City of Somerville website and apparently this is a 'scheduled emergency power outage', whatever that means. It appears that the power will be out until 8am for the 100 through 400 blocks of Highland Ave. Of course it also said that it wouldn't start until 12am, so who knows what's really going on. Also, my Verizon DSL went out about 30 minutes ago. I wonder if that's related. Edit 2: Thanks to Boris for pointing out that the notice I found on the Somerville website was from 2002. Oh well, guess it was an unscheduled emergency after all. Edit 3: Cool, if you do a google search for 'Somerville power outage' this post is the number two result.

The state of young Somerville
Oct 12, 2007

Next Monday (October 15th) at the Somerville Theater in Davis Square Mayor Joe Curtatone of Somerville will be holding a State of the City address targeted specifically at the 21-35 year old demographic. Topics will include: the Green Line Expansion, redevelopment of the city's website (sadly I have nothing to do with that), the Somerville school system, and many other things. There will also be a question and answer session with the mayor and city department heads following the address. Food will be provided, it'll be a great chance to meet other young people from around the city, and apparently the Somerville PD will be there so you can register your personal electronics. I'd post the flyer they sent out to those of us on the Young Somerville Advisory Group, but ...let's just say it would clash with the design of my site. If you're in Somerville you can call 311 for more information. Vital info: Monday, October 15th 6:00 - 8:00 pm Somerville Theater Davis Square

Health care
Oct 10, 2007

It's been a while since I've written about anything political, but this seems like a good topic to start back in on. I'm going to start by making an admision—one that's pretty much guaranteed to earn me a phone call as soon as my dad reads this: I don't have health insurance. Just to be clear, let me expound on that. I live in Massachusetts, a state that requires by law that all residents have health insurance. I am currently, as I type this, breaking the law just by sitting here minding my own business and daring to make my own decisions about my life. Starting in December (and I think it's important that it be made more widely known that even though it's currently illegal to not have health insurance in Massachusetts, you won't actually start being punished for it until December) the state will theoretically even begin to fine me for not having health insurance (although, to be honest, had I not just make a public admission of it how would they even know?). And yet, I am among America's uninsured. Funny how outlawing a behavior (or, in this case, a lack of behavior) doesn't actually stop people from doing it, isn't it? There are a number of relatively cheap insurance options available to me, although not as cheap as I'd like since Massachusetts' wonderful law making health insurance mandatory only focused on lowering health care costs for people older than myself. The truth is that I could afford health insurance. When I did some research a few months ago I think the cheapest plan out there was around $125/month (and I'm sure it would be possibly to get those rates even lower if I went with a high deductable plan that would actually save me even more money in the long run; more on that here). I can afford that. I just don't want to. And why should I have to? I honestly can't remember the last time I went to the doctor's office. I can't remember the last time I was sick for more than 3 days. I can remember the last time I went to the emergency room: it was when I was 12 and I broke my pinkie in a karate mishap. If there is anyone who doesn't need health insurance, it's me. Of course Massachusetts says I do. And they're going to start fining me if I don't get it by December. Some might say that this is a travesty. Some might say that someone should intervene to protect me from myself. Some—and I think everyone knows who I'm talking about at this point—might say that the government should step in and provide me with a service I'm not asking for and actively refusing despite being legally obligated to avail myself of it (the position of universal healthcare makes a lot less sense when phrased that way doesn't it?). Some might want to know why I'm bringing this topic up now. The answer is that I just read this post over at Clasically Liberal (a favorite political blog of mine) and it really gave me pause to think. Most of the information in there is pretty old news to those of a more libertarian bent: the cost of health insurance is so high not because of greedy insurance companies, but because of lazy consumers and moronic government policies that encourage that laziness. And it's not a problem to be solved through government regulation, which repeated evidence in massive experiments carried around around the globe to the detriment of millions of unsuspecting and undeserving subjects shows only decreases the cost of health care by not providing it in the first place. Amazingly enough in this era of enlightened liberalism, and this is the part that really caught my attention, the market has actually provided a better solution. Enter Dr. Jay Parkinson. Dr. Parkinson has introduced a totally new kind of health care: the kind that doesn't cost a whole lot of money. When you sign up for his service he becomes your personal physician. He handles just about everything for you, but for very low costs. He keeps his costs down by not having an office: he makes house calls. But more than that, he'll talk to you over the phone, or by email, or even a video conference to determine if you actually even need to see a doctor. And of course he charges less for that than for a house call. He also only takes patients between the ages of 18 and 40 (hey, that's me!). When you need to see a specialist, or even go to an emergency room, he'll help you make the arrangements. And more than that, he's already done the price comparissons for you so he can make sure that you're not getting overcharged by a hospital or doctor that's used to people who don't question their high prices. Basically he'll help make sure that you get the best care you can for the least amount of money. He's even done the research to let you know which pharmacies charge the lowest price for the medication you need. All in all, he saves you a ton of money by not making you pay for things you don't need. For most people in the age bracket that he services, they'll only be paying about $500/year, just 1/3 of the cost of the cheapest traditional health plan I could find that doesn't provide anywhere near as good service. There's only one problem: he live in New York, and therefore only takes patients in the New York area. If he, or anyone else for that matter, set up a similar practice here in Boston I would sign up in a heartbeat. As, I'm sure, would a ton of other people. (You here that, Massachusetts doctors?) I'll even help them out with their web page! But for now, I'm sitting here with no health insurance, breaking the law, just because the only guy out there who's offering a service that would be worthwhile for me is a couple hundred miles away.

Go Apple!
Oct 10, 2007

Apple has surprised me again and really come through. Apparently it's no longer the case that all laptop repairs are sent in; they now do about 95% (according to the woman at the Genius Bar that I talked to) right in the stores. They had the right size hard drive in stock, so I was in and out in less than an hour with a fully functional MacBook. Also, for the first time since the Genius Bar concept really took off (it took about a year, really) I didn't even have to wait in a long line for service and even got in before my scheduled appointment. So apparently they've done something to vastly improve the appointment system. On top of all that, since they had to replace the hard drive I got a fresh OS install. And the version they installed is 10.4.8. Ordinarily I'd be a little annoyed about the forced downgrade, but in this case I'm rather happy about it. I've been one of the unfortunate few who's been experiencing AirPort problems in 10.4.10 (although I was only having intermittent dropped connections and not kernel panics like some people), so I'm leaving it at that version for now. Hopefully the 10.4.11 update that should be available in the next day or two will fix those problems, otherwise I'll just wait for Leopard to update. In other news, the Indian place in the food court at the CambridgeSide Galleria is extremely disappointing. At first I thought their prices were ridiculous. Then I saw how huge their portions were and though the prices might actually be fair. Then I tasted the food... Needless to say I won't be going back (not that I often eat at mall food courts anyway).

A very long catch-up post
Oct 10, 2007

I've been getting bad about updating regularly, and I'm trying to fix that. I have, however, been very busy lately. Here's a quick rehash of what's happened since my last post:
  1. It turned out that the work I was expecting to have to do while I was in Illinois ended up getting pushed back by my client. So I never really had to test out my Parallels/Gentoo/Lighttpd/SQLite setup for web development (although I did some very basic tests that worked out just fine).
  2. IMG_0016
  3. I got to meet Jessi's sister's new daughter, and basically my niece, Maura, just hours after she was born at around midnight on Sept. 28. Here are some pictures of her meeting her aunt Jessi, her grandma, her great-grandma, her mom, and, of course, me, all taken on my iPhone (the one to the right is my favorite of the many funny faces she made).
  4. Went to the wedding of some of Jessi's friends from home.
  5. Flew back to Boston.
  6. Had a whopping 4 or so days before some other friends came from Illinois to visit us, and then got to show them around Boston and expose them to some of our favorite things here (like G'vanni's in the North End and Tacos Lupita in Porter Square). Though in the process it finally dawned on me that since we have a car now the Providence and Manchester airports are within range so we can actually fly on SouthWest and save some money when we go places that JetBlue won't take us (they flew SouthWest into Providence).
  7. Finally sold the Mercedes. I didn't get quite as much for it as I wanted, but I still got enough that it was worthwhile having repaired and sold it rather than just junking it when it died.
  8. Finally got that project that I had expected to be working on while I was in Illinois. Ended up having to do the whole thing in two days (ah, the joys of sub-contracting).
  9. I lived out my 9,125 day, remarkable only in that it's a multiple of 365. This was the same day we ate at G'vanni's, and afterwards got pastries from the North End's Modern Pastry.
  10. I put off development of my WiFi database site in favor of a different project. This one will be less flashy, but will have much greater personal utility. It will also probably be useful for a lot of other people too, so my plan is to make it a hosted (free) service and open it up for anyone to use. I'm considering the possibility of maybe some premium features that you have to pay for, but that will have to wait.
  11. My MacBook, which I've had for approximately 17 months now, died. I'm fairly positive it's a hard drive failure as when it happened there was no kernel panic or any other sort of error message. The computer was still running, but any processes that were trying to access the hard drive locked up. Then the hard drive started making a pleasant clicking sound. Upon attempting to reboot I sill get the starting chime, but then it just goes to a white screen and clicks. This all seems consistent with a hard drive failure as when it happened most of the system would have been running in RAM and so unaffected, and the startup chime is stored in firmware and so also unaffected.
And that brings us to today. Currently I'm waiting until it's time to head over to the Apple Store in the CambridgeSide Galleria to have them look at my MacBook. The problem is such that they'll spend a few minutes looking it over and then tell me that they'll have to send it in to the service center for repairs (they only do work on desktop locally, laptops are always shipped out). It should be a fairly quick repair though, so I should only be without my laptop for probably a week at the most. Fortunately I bought AppleCare for it, so the repair will be free. I'm also working on designing a home theater setup for the condo. Currently the only screen we have to watch the few tv shows and movies we watch is my monitor. This isn't as bad as it sounds, as it's a Dell 24" LCD with greater than HD resolution (1920x1200), but it does mean that we have to sit in the office on our desk chairs which isn't as comfortable as it could be. The other day we tried moving my computer out to the living room to see if the screen was big enough to use as a tv in there. It isn't quite, but it wasn't actually all that bad. However since my MacBook just died I had to move the computer back into the office so that it would actually be useable. So now I'm planning out what will become our home theater system. I'm fairly positive that for the screen I'll be getting the Olevia 342i, a 42", 720p tv without an HDTV tuner. This may seem lacking, but it isn't. At about 8-10' away, the difference between 720p and 1080p on a 42" screen won't really be noticeable. And we dont' need a built-in HDTV tuner, because I'm going to be using the TV with a SiliconDust HDHomeRun. The HDHomeRun is a much better choice for us becaues it's a dual-tuner device, and it's compatible out of the box with MythTV, which is what I plan on using to manage our video library and for it's DVR capabilities. That leaves only the question of how to implement the MythTV system. I've narrowed that down to two options:
  1. A Mac Mini. Actually, that's a vast oversimplification. The Mini would only be running the MythTV front-end. The back-end would be running on a Linux box. I already have a suitable machine to use for the Linux box (I built it a couple years ago as a gaming rig, and it's more than up to the task), I just need to reformat the drives and install MythTV. So the only cost there would be the Mac Mini (about $600) and the drives for storage ($330 for a 1 TB drive to start). So the total initial cost of that MythTV setup would be around $1000.
  2. A TVease Zodiac. I'd get the $900 base model, because I don't need/want the analog tuners and it's cheaper to use the HDHomeRun than to get a model with HD tuners; also it's cheaper to add more storage myself. This ends up being a little costlier, but significantly easier in terms of setup and usage. It also reduces the number of components the system has by allowing me to put the MythTV front-end and back-end in the same box without significantly reducing my storage capacity (it has room for three drives, so a maximum of 3 TB, but I can always add external drives as well so the maximum storage capacity is essentially infinate). I probably wouldn't get a new HD for it right off the bat. Even though it will only come with a 250 GB drive, I can point it to the 500 GB RAID that I currently store my digital video collection on over the network so I think it will be sufficient for now. Of course eventually I'd probably want to put another TB or more into it. The total initial cost of this MythTV setup is also about $1000, but much easier to accomplish.
So I have to figure out which setup I want to use. The Mac Mini will look better, but the Zodiac doesn't look that bad, and the eventual plan is to recess it into the wall anyway which will look pretty cool no matter which I use. I'm really leaning towards the Zodiac right now, but I want to do a little more research before I make any sort of decision like that. In the mean time, I can at least get the TV and see about hacking it into the current setup (perhaps using KnoppMyth on my PC (the reason I'm not going to just go with a plan like that is it won't look as good and will be loud, should be perfectly fine for a temporary setup though).

Working from the road
Sep 23, 2007

This will be my second post written from my iPhone. I'm currently in the middle of nowhere in Illinois at Jessi's mom's house. We'll be here until the 30th, which means I'll have some work to do on the trip. On my previous visits here there was always a wifi network available from one of the neighbors who was kindly sharing his sattelite Internet connection with the rest of the town (it's a very small town and they can't get cable or DSL out here). Sadly it turns out that someone had been using up his monthly bandwidth allotmen so that's no longer available to me. Hence me writing this entry from my iPhone. Fortunately, I came prepared to work without Internet access. I had planned to do some work on the flight over here, so before I left I created a new Parallels virtual machine and installed a copy of Gentoo Linux in it, and set up a lighttpd server with PHP and Python running in FastCGI as well as SQLite and MySQL so I could do both PHP and Django development without having to only guess at whether or not it would actually work (technically this wasn't necessary for Django since it comes with a lightweight development server built-in, and OS X comes with SQLite installed standard, but I figures I might as well). I also tried setting up Tinyproxy on my iPhone so I could share my iPhone's EDGE connection with my laptop for browsing, but for some reason it doesn't seem to be working even though I had no problem with it at home. The end result is that, even though I have no real Internet access to speak of, I can still do my work. I can even keep in touch with everyone thanks to my iPhone and meebo, and, if the need were to arise, I could always set up an SSH tunnel through my iPhone and get SFTP access to my webserver (or any other, for that matter) that way. So even way out here where they don't even have DSL, I'm still fully connected. This is one of those times where, even though I spend pretty much all my time working with technology, I'm still completely amazed by it. Now, I believe, it's time for dinner.

Go carrot
Sep 18, 2007

This is, oddly enough, another iPhone post. I know I said I wouldn't really be commenting on it any more, but this is a post that will be useful to other people and isn't relevent only to iPhone owners. Really, this has more to do with email than iPhones. The story starts out, however, with my iPhone. One annoyance of the iPhone is that it doesn't have any spam filtering capabilities for your email. Whatever shows up in your inbox shows up on your iPhone. This isn't necessarily a problem for everyone, but it is for me because the nature of what I do requires that my email address be easy to find and easy to read. So I get a lot of spam. And I use a client-side spam filter to deal with it (specifically, the one built into Apple's Mail, but that's not so important). As a result, having my iPhone check my mail automatically didn't work so well. Every 15 minutes (the period I had it set to check email) it would ding to alert me that I had mail, only for me to find that it was, almost without exception, spam. So I needed a way to filter my email before it got to my iPhone. There are a couple way that could be done. The most obvious is probably to install something like SpamAssassin (a server-side spam filter) on my email server. But I didn't really want to do that. I've never really liked SpamAssassin, and maintaining it can be a chore. There is, however, a very reliable and very accurate server-side spam filter available that I actually already used. That would be the spam filtering offered by Google's Gmail. Applying that spam filtering to my regular email was actually very simple and in some ways increased my flexibility in terms of ways to deal with my email. What I did was this:
  1. On my email server, set my email addresses (josh@dydxtech.com, josh@joshourisman.com, and a couple others that I keep around for legacy support reasons) to forward to my Gmail accounts (one for personal, and one for business).
  2. Create new, private email accounts on my email server. These are where all of my email is going to end up, but I'm not going to publish the address anywhere or tell them to anyone.
  3. Set my Gmail accounts to forward to the appropriate private email accounts
  4. Transfer my archived email from my old accounts to the new private ones
Pretty simple, as long as you have a basic understanding of how email works. Basically email goes to my public email address, is forwarded to Gmail which filters out all the spam very reliably, and is then forwarded to my super-secret, private email account. All mail sent from that account has a from and reply-to address of my private account, so it's difficult (though not impossible) for people to determine the addresses of my private accounts thus cutting nearly to zero the amount of spam that I ever have to deal with. Gmail, of course, isn't perfect, but if some spam gets through all I have to do is log into my Gmail account and mark the offending message as spam there. Similarly if I'm not getting an important email I can log into my Gmail account and check the spam folder there and mark it as not spam if necessary. So what does all this have to do with carrots? Well, that comes in at the last step: transferring my archived email from my old accounts to my new accounts. This turned out to be the most difficult step, although it didn't have to be. It sounds easy enough: set up both the old account and the new account in your mail client, drag the messages/folders from the old account to the new account. Done. It actually worked exactly like this for my work account. But I've only had that account for a little over a year, so there isn't all that much email in there. My personal account, on the other hand, contains my archived email going all the way back to September 6, 2000 when my Carleton College email account became active (it was from my dad). Sadly all my email from high school and earlier were lost that same day due to me being naïve enough to think that now that I was in college I could trust the IT people to know what they were talking about. They didn't, and I lost several years worth of email because of it. Come to think of it, that's probably why I do what I do all these years later. I also, in the process, found this gem sent on December 30, 2000, it was the very last email I received in the year 2000:
             \     /
              \\   //
               )\-/(
               /o o\
              ( =T= )
              /`---'\
         ____/ /___\ \
    \   /   '''     ```~~"--.,_
 `-._\ /                       `~~"--.,_
------>|     Go Carrot!                 `~~"--.,_
 _.-'/ \                            ___,,,---""~~``'
    /   \____,,,,....----""""~~~~````
So anyway, the problem I was getting to. Basically, when trying to copy all that email over (nearly 6000 messages) it wasn't working. I'd try and copy it only to find that I was ending up with some tiny subset (usually less than 500) emails in my new account. So I tried splitting it up into smaller quantities. Same problem. I spent a good chunk of yesterday trying to fix this. This morning I woke up to find only about 200 messages in my account. So I finally put a little extra thought into it and realized what I was doing wrong: I had SSL turned on. All IMAP traffic between my computer and my server was being encrypted. That meant it was going slower that it normally would be. That meant very long copy times, the potential for time-outs, and the potential that my client would decide to synchronize it's folders in the middle of a copy. Seemed like a likely culprit. So I turned off SSL and tried again. The first thing that I noticed was that the transfers were suddently blazingly fast. I had known there would be a speed different, but the actual slowdown you get in email tranfser when using SSL is vastly more significant that I had expected it would. The result? Everything copied over perfectly in one try. So really there are two lessons in all of this: 1) a good way to filter the spam out of your email before it gets to your iPhone (or other email device that lacks it's own spam filter, or if you just want to filter your spam without having to train filters on multiple computers) is to route your email through Gmail, and 2) if you're going to be moving large amounts of email messages around, especially between accounts, you might want to consider turning of SSL for the duration (keep in mind, however, that this exposes your email to the internet; it would not be impossible, or even all that difficult for someone to snatch the text of those emails if they wanted to).

My first Django site
Sep 15, 2007

My first Django project is now live. Sadly it's not a very interesting one, just a re-develop of the dy/dx tech website. It looks exactly the same as before, but it's now powered by Django. This doesn't really offer any advantages at the moment, but it will. For example, pretty much all the data on the site is currently stored in a database which means it will be extremely simple to add, remove, or change any of the services show in the services tab. Not that I really expect that to change any time soon (although you may notice that the services tab is the one part of the website that has changed; I've added a few, and consolidated some redundant ones), but the principle is sound. More importantly having the site powered by Django will make it much easier for me to add some new features/online services that I've been thinking about for a while. The first one will definitely be a portfolio tab. I've worked on a pretty good number of websites in the year or so since I started this business, and I really should have a portfolio on my website to show off my work. I'd also like to put up a clients tab where I can list my clients and, if I'm lucky, get some testimonials to put up there as well. Then of course there's the WiFi database that I've been talking about for a while, that will have it's own subdomain, but I'll give it its own tab as well. Hopefully now that the whole site is done with Django and I'm a little more familiar with how the framework works development of those things and others will go a little faster.

The morning after
Sep 10, 2007

I've now spent a weekend (and weekday) playing with my iPhone. So far I've discovered nothing to dampen my enthusiasm about it. In fact, I probably like it even more than I did before. Having confirmed that the touchscreen wasn't a significant impediment to typing or dialing the only concerns I had left were the low speed of EDGE for data transmission and the lack of an IM client on it. Neither of those things are concerns anymore. While EDGE is slow, it's sufficient for the basic needs of email and looking up driving directions with the built-in google maps application (which is completely awesome; a fun test is to center the map on your current location and then just type 'starbucks'—or 'dunkin donuts'—into the search bar and watch all the little red map pins drop out of the sky skewering your local caffeineries of choice). As for IM, I've always been a huge fan of meebo.com, a web-based, multi-protocol IM app. They've been my favorite Web 2.0 app for as long as Web 2.0 has been around, and their recently released iPhone optimized version doesn't disappoint. Unlike most sites, you don't even need to go to a special address to get to the iPhone version: just type meebo.com into your browser and it automatically detects that you're using an iPhone and shows you the correct interface. You can log into any account for any protocol they support (AIM, MSN, Yahoo!, Gtalk, ICQ, and Jabber) or into your already existing meebo account (unfortunately you can't create a new one from your iPhone) and it takes you to a low-profile, low-bandwidth, IM interface optimized for the iPhone. They didn't try to mimic the way the site works in a traditional setting (exactly like it does on your desktop, complete with a separate window for each conversation), and they didn't try and shoehorn desktop metaphors like tabs in. Instead they simply show you your buddy list. Click on a contact and you get a conversation screen where you can chat as you normally would. The only elements on the screen are their buddy icon, a small icon to take you back to your buddy list, a text box to enter your message, and a send button. If someone else IMs you while you're in the middle of a conversation the number of new messages you have appears in a little bubble over your buddy list icon (just like a dock icon in OS X) and the content of that message briefly appears in a little pop-up. Switching conversations is just a matter of going back to your buddy list and selecting a different person to talk to. It's that simple. And it's been designed specifically with the limitations of the EDGE network in mind so it works just fine even if you don't have access to a WiFi network. It's done incredibly well, and even if Apple adds iChat in later I don't expect I'll stop using meebo (which isn't too surprising seeing as I don't use iChat on my Mac either in favor of Adium; also, I imagine that the reason iChat isn't in there is because AT&T doesn't want there to be a messaging application in there that doesn't let them charge per message as they usually do when it comes to instant messaging and there's no way I'm going to eat up my text messaging allowance with iChat when meebo's around). So basically, the iPhone rocks. That's my review. Unless something seriously unexpected happens, I don't expect I'll be commenting any more on the iPhone itself. But you can be sure you'll be hearing about whatever apps I end up using with it, whether they be web apps or actually apps added through hacks (I'll start messing around with iPhone hacks soon, I'm sure).

Well now I've gone and done it
Sep 08, 2007

I'm writing this from my brand new iPhone. I know that I had previously said that I would wait to get one and that I wasn't particularly interested in the first generation one, but it turned out to actually be a fairly practical purchase, surprisingly enough. It all started because Jessi's birthday is coming up (as is mine) and I knew she wanted an iPhone. We had, up until today, been on a family plan from Verizon, which saved us a fair bit of money over the two individual plans we had before. But because of that it complicated the matter of getting an iPhone for Jessi. So I looked at just about every possible configuration of cell phone plans we could possibly have. It turns out that T-Mobile is unequivocally the cheapest provider, while Verizon is the most expensive (I didn't bother looking at Sprint, they have nothing that would interest me over the others). AT&T are in the middle. After comparing the monthly costs of a Verizon family plan, a T-Mobile family plan, an AT&T non-iPhone family plan, an AT&T iPhone family plan, an individual iPhone plan and an individual T-Mobile plan, and an individual iPhone plan and an individual Verizon plan I found that there were only a few cases that actually made sense. Due to the fact that there was still a whole year on our Verizon contract it just didn't make financial sense to switch to another provider to try and save money, so regular family plans on T-Mobile or AT&T were ruled out. The only way that it made sense to switch wireless providers was if it was going to involve getting Jessi an iPhone (assuming an iPhone is actually worth the extra money, that is). Between the theee options that involved getting an iPhone for Jessi (an iPhone family plan or an iPhone individual plan for Jessi and an individual plan for me from either Verizon or T-Mobile---an iPhone individual plan plus a non-iPhone individual plan from AT&T would actually be more than the iPhone family plan because if the amount of minutes needed) the cheapest actually turns out to be the iPhone family plan. So the only remaining issue was the initial cost of two iPhones plus the early termination fee from Verizon. Apple's new price drop on the iPhone pretty well took care of that and the clearance prices on the 4GB model offset the cost of the early termination fee. So I figured that there's no time like the present and ordered two 4GB iPhones. Making this even more amazing is the fact that I placed the order Yesterday, I got the free shipping that's supposed to take 5-7 business days, and the iPhones arrived TODAY! Way to go Apple. And yes, I typed this whole entry out on the touchscreen, I'd have to say that the concerns about it not being usable were unfounded. The only problem I'm having with it so far are that it can't quite keep up with my typing which can be annoying and takes me back to the days when I was using a IIgs. Also when it gets too far behind the autocorrection stops working until I stop and let it catch up. But even so, this is by far the best phone I've ever had, and I like it way more than a Blackberry. Now to turn of the damned keyboard sound...

dy/dx tech's WiFi Database
Aug 19, 2007

A little while ago I posted about an idea to create a good online database of places that offer WiFi. My motivation for this is that, as I have no real office, it's often nice to work from a cafe or something like that. This is especially true during the summer as those places usually also have air-conditioning that I can take advantage of as well. Additionally, while there are any number of sites that claim to fulfill that purpose, none of them do a good job at it. I've been unhappy with every such site I've tried for pretty much as long as WiFi has existed. So now I'm going to do something about it. This project is also a good opportunity for me to learn some more web development skills. Up till now the web development that I've done has been almost entirely in PHP. It's also been coded 100% by hand. I like doing things that way because it means that I know exactly how everything is working under the hood, and have no qualms whatsoever about going in and changing things. Now, however, I'd like to expand a little beyond that. I'm comfortable enough with the way web programming works that I no longer feel the need to be completely in control of everything; it's time for some shortcuts. Fortunately, frameworks such as Ruby on Rails and Django exist to provide exactly those sorts of shortcuts. Being, as I am, a huge fan of Python I've decided, with a little input from Jesse Legg that I'm going to create my WiFi database site with Django (I've got another project planned for the near future that I plan on using as an opportunity to learn Ruby on Rails as well). I've just finished installing Django on my web server, so development for the WiFi project will be beginning shortly. The way I see it, the key to creating a successful site as opposed to the ones that have existed previously, is to make sure that all the relevant information that people might want (information such as available bandwidth, number of outlets available to customers, whether or not you need to purchase a coffee to get a code before you can use the internet, &c) is available, make sure it's presented in an easy to use way, and, most importantly, make sure that the list is complete enough and the site good enough that users actually want to contribute. This will never work if I just try and make a list of cafes with WiFi that I maintain myself; it absolutely needs to allow for contribution by users. People need to not only be able to find out that the Boloco in Davis Square has free WiFi, they also need to be able to add the Grand Prix Cafe to the list as well if it's not already there. They need to be able to let other visitors to the site know if they've had problems connecting to the network with Vista or OS X or Linux, or if the staff at that particular cafe tends to be rude with people who spend 'too much' time using the WiFi. There's a whole lot of information out there that someone looking for a place to get WiFi could use, and the only way to make sure that all that information is available is with some sort of community participation. Basically, this is probably going to turn out to be a pretty large project. It will be interesting to see if and how it grows. It will also be interesting to see how much data needs to already be on the site before it hits that critical mass point and becomes useful enough for people to want to add more data on their own. It should be fun.

Facebook attains relevance!
Aug 13, 2007

Prior to now, I've never really been a fan of Facebook. I had an account because it was useful to have, but I never logged in except when I got an email saying that someone was requesting an interaction of some sort. Recently I've actually been spending a fair amount of time on Facebook because the whole application thing intrigues me and I want to see how people are using it and what it's capable of. Yesterday, a friend of mine pointed out an application to me that has finally justified the existence of Facebook. For the past few months I've made extensive use of Scrabulous, a site that lets you play Scrabble online for free. One of their better features is 'Email Scrabble' which lets you play Scrabble with anyone else over email. It works very well, and is convenient for someone who, like me, doesn't usually get big chunks of free time all at once, but often has a minute or two here and there. Now, however, they have a Facebook app. The way you play is pretty much exactly the same, except that now the board is inside a Facebook window. However the integration with Facebook has lead to some very cool new features. For example, when you invite someone to a game you don't need their email address any more you just start typing their name in and it auto-completes it based on your Facebook friends; up to four people per game (only two for a regular email game). It also keeps track of your statistics and puts them on your Facebook profile. And I now have a link on my profile so that anyone can challenge me to a game of Scrabble. And if you like Scrabble, I welcome the challenge.

Soccer? In Somerville?
Aug 10, 2007

According to The Somerville News, Somerville is being considered as a site for a new soccer stadium. This stadium would become home turf for the New England Revolution. At the moment, I have mixed feelings about this. There would certainly be advantages to having a sport stadium in Somerville. For one, having it would bring a lot of attention and money to the city. Just the fact that we're being considered for the stadium I'm sure will help raise people's awareness of Somerville which, in turn, will probably bring some increased investment in the city. Not to mention the tax revenues on everything that's sold at a stadium, parking, and incidentals bought by fans while they're here. And certainly Somerville has a large soccer fan base. There's even a grocery store called 'Gol!!!' on Somerville Ave., not too far from our condo. Obviously a sports stadium can be a big money maker for the city. But there are also negatives to this. First and foremost, we're basically in Boston here, and Boston sports fans are ...an interesting bunch. I don't know how much overlap there is between Revolution fans and Sox fans, but just ask anyone who lives in Kenmore Sq. how they like their neighborhood on game nights. I sure wouldn't want to see the same thing happen to whatever neighborhood in Somerville gets the stadium when the Revolution has a home game (and I'm sure the people who live there have even stronger feelings about it). There's also the question of where the funding is going to come from. A whole lot of professional sports stadiums are subsidized by the cities they're in, and I really don't have any desire to pay more taxes just so that we can have a soccer stadium. Then there's the issue of space. Somerville isn't that large of a city, and unless they're going to pave over some park land, building this thing will require demolishing some existing houses and/or businesses. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but what if the people in the proposed spot don't want to leave? Will the stadium simply go away, or will eminent domain be exercised to force them out? And what about traffic? I don't think there's a single city in Massachusetts with well designed roads. Can we handle the influx of traffic that a stadium will bring? Or is Somerville going to have to basically shut down the roads to everyone but fans on game nights like certain areas of Boston? So, like I said, I have mixed feelings on this. My general inclination is that that bad would outweigh the good, but I don't really know enough about the issues to make any sort of real determination. Seems like it would be a good topic for a municipal referendum, if such a thing is possible.

An Automotive Update
Aug 07, 2007

Jessi and I are currently the proud owners of two cars. One, a 1983 Mercedes Benz 300sd, which you probably already know about. The other, an '06 Mazda 3 Grand Touring Hatchback with just over 14,000 miles and an extended warranty good until 100,000 miles. Although we did have to finance the Mazda, we got an absolutely fantastic deal on it (about $5,000 under Blue Book). The Mercedes is currently having a new engine put in. It simply wasn't selling as a two ton paperweight, and we were able to find someone who could get us a new engine for much less than the previous quotes we had been given and have it installed by the end of this week, so we decided to go for it so that we have a chance of actually selling it and recouping our losses. The good news is that the new engine has only 100,000 miles on it. The old one was just shy of 300,000 when it gave out, and these engines regularly exceed 500,000 so I'm confident that the Mercedes is in about as good condition as a car of this vintage could possibly be. Sadly, it's just not realistic to keep it along with the Mazda, and we definitely want to keep the Mazda rather than the Mercedes, so the Benz is still for sale. If anyone is interested please let me know. All the same stuff is true about it now as before: body is in great condition with some minor rust on the rear, driver side fender (and I have a replacement fender that will go with the car), minor electrical issues (radio, sunroof, passenger power seat), and a ton of spare parts including an extra set of wheels with some very nice snow tires and two extra rear differentials (one for a gasoline model that will get you better mileage if you use it on a diesel). The Mazda even comes with an amusing name. I'm not really one of those people who's into naming my car (I mean really, it's just a car...). This time, however, the car definitely has a name. When we were getting into it to drive away from the lot we discovered what appears to be the only remnant left of the previous owner (well, probably lessor considering the low mileage and recent model year): an SAT vocab flash card. The word on the card? 'Recalcitrant'. Considering the huge amounts of trouble, stress, and anxiety we've gone through with this whole car ordeal leading to us buying the Mazda in the first place (and, really, continuing until the Benz sells) we decided that it's the perfect name for the car. So our nice 'new' Mazda 3 shall now be known as The Recalcitrant ('recalcitrant' just sounds like a ship name to me, so it was either that or U.S.S. Recalcitrant... or, I suppose, HMS Recalcitrant).

Well gee, that's a little insulting
Aug 03, 2007

I just received a phone call from an 866 number. It's not the first time this week that I've gotten a call from that number, but the other times, for some reason, whenever I answered, the person on the other side hung up. This time they didn't. It was a woman telling me that I'd been entered into some sweepstakes to win $25,000, a BMW, or some other prizes. I've gotten calls like this before, but I was a little bored so I just played along. I answered a few basic questions (no personal information), and then they came to it: they wanted to give me a free diamond watch, and free magazine subscriptions for 60 months (5 years?!?). And in exchange all I had to do was sign up TV Guide at $3.99/week. I have no real desire to get TV Guide—it wouldn't do me a whole lot of good seeing as we don't own a TV—and I wasn't particularly interested in the other magazines either since I can get all the content they offer online. So I told the women that I wasn't interested because I don't really read magazines. Her response to that? 'Well, I understand. Some of us aren't as avid readers as others.' What?!? Seriously?!? Did the telemarketer just accuse me of being illiterate? I hadn't realized that reading magazines was a sign of being cultured. Obviously I should replace my bookshelves crammed full of actual books with magazine subscriptions! Amazingly enough, she said that I was still entered in the sweepstakes. Usually they disqualify you when you refuse to subscribe to their magazines in exchange for a diamond watch (yes, it's always magazines and watches). I'll happily take their money or their nice car, but whatever little chance there ever was that they'd get a single penny from me is now gone. They're certainly not going to get the $200+ they want for a fairly pointless magazine that I have no interest or use for.

A car story, and some questions
Jul 31, 2007

This weekend, Jessi and I were down in New York having a nice relaxing weekend. I had gone down earlier in the day with a friend, and Jessi came down after she got off work bringing another friend. When she was down around Hartford the car died on her. We couldn't find any Mercedes garages in the area so we had it towed to a dealership where we had to wait until yesterday just to get a diagnosis. It turns out that the timing chain broke, almost definitely rendering our engine permanently useless. We've talked to a number of different mechanics and it seems the only option for getting the car running again is to replace the engine. This would cost us about $5000, on top of which it would likely take several months just to find a new engine to put in as they're rare and in high demand. We can't really be without a car for several months (sadly), so the only option available to us is to replace the car. Fortunately, it still has some value even though it needs a new engine, so we should hopefully be able to get some money back out of it which will help offset the cost of another car we'll have to get early next week (this parts already planned out and shouldn't be a problem). So, anyone interested in buying a 1983 Mercedes Benz 300 sd Turbo Diesel in need of a new engine? It comes with a second set of wheels with very nice snow tires on them, two extra rear diffs with half-shafts (one is for a gasoline), and various and sundry other, smaller spare parts. It could be a great car, and I was really looking forward to driving it for many years to come. Also, does anyone know of a good, cheap way that we could get it back up here from Hartford? Regardless of where the eventual buyer lives, we need to move it out of the dealership's lot where it currently is. P1010468 P1010471

If only I had had my camera...
Jul 26, 2007

About 30 minutes ago I was sitting in the Porter Square Breugger's working (I've since gotten tired of being there and am now working at home on our back porch) when something interesting happened. At first, all I could hear was squealing tires. There was a collective gasp from most of the people in there (who, I assume, had a better view than I). Then, about 30 seconds later, further tire squealing and further collective gasping. Mere seconds later there was further tire squealing and a loud clunk as a small, light blue, early 90s Japanese car slammed into the back of a taxi right outside the window. More tire squealing ensued as the little blue import pushed the relatively huge (about twice it's size) Crown Victoria the remaining 10-15 feet to the end of the block, at which point the cabbie wisely decided to pull around the corner and get out of the way. The import, undeterred, sped across the busy intersection (through a red light as cross-traffic sped along) and turned left attempting, presumably, to merge illegally with the cross traffic. At this point I lost sight of the car as just about everyone in Breugger's had jumped up and run to the window to see what was going on. At about this time another car pulled up by the window I was sitting next to and stopped. Everyone in the car—three or four people—jumped out and after a cursory examination of their own vehicle joined the people who were basically running down the street to see what had happened in the aftermath. Long story short, the little blue import was driven by an older woman. While driving down Lancaster St. towards Mass Ave. had apparently lost control of her car. We (the customer of Breugger's) assume that she must have, in the ensuing chaos, hit the gas instead of the brakes. She hit one car up beyond where I could see, then continued down to the corner of Mass Ave. where she hit the cab. Unable to stop (from her point of view, anyway) she plowed through the cab and into cross-traffic. Eventually she was able to stop the car at the corner of Mass Ave. and Somerville Ave. Last I saw, as I was walking back home, she was still sitting in the car while the occupants of the cab and the other car that was hit were parked behind her, walking around on the phone (the cabbie presumably with his employer and the other with their insurance company). All in all, I'd say this was an extremely happy ending to what could have been one of those 'old-person-who-really-shouldn't-be-driving-meets-farmers-market' scenarios. Usually I'm not lucky enough to be present for such exciting goings-on. I'm glad that, having been present, I didn't have to witness anything more gruesome.

Young Somerville Advisory Council
Jul 25, 2007

Last night I went to the second meeting of the Young Somerville Advisory Council. The meeting last night had two main foci: the City of Somerville's website, and the mayors upcoming 'State of the City' address to the younger residents of Somerville. Two rather interesting topics really. The website is soon to be overhauled (with the new version coming online sometime this Fall) in the hopes of increasing its effectiveness, its traffic, and the sense of community it can build within the city. Personally, however, I think the best improvement that's being made is one that's already gone into effect: changing the URL from www.ci.somerville.ma.us to www.somervillema.gov. I imagine the reasons I think this was a good move are probably fairly self-evident. As for the 'State of the City' address, there was a lot to discuss. First of all, the mayor wants to know what we, the young denizens of this fair burg want to hear about. Sure he could just talk about the same things that politicians always talk about in speeches, but he knows that we probably don't want to hear that. So he asked for our input (and the input of others we know in the community) on this. The biggest issue by far, I believe, is a public update on the status of the project to extend the Green Line to Union Square. Other that came up were issues of public safety, the local schools, the planned development in Union Square, and may other things. I wish I'd thought of it before we had the meeting, but I've just now created a Squidoo lens for the group with a text plexo so that we can get some sort of organized community participation for picking topics for the address: There was one other thing of note about the meeting. When I went to the last one I realized that one of the other guys there looks very familiar. So familiar, in fact, that I was pretty sure we had gone to Carleton together. It turns out that this was the case. We actually even played rugby together very briefly. Now he's also living in Somerville, and just down the street no less. Small world.

As predicted
Jul 18, 2007

Modern diesels are coming to the US. As I've predicted and hoped for, the availability of low sulfur diesel fuel in the US (which, I might add, is what we put in our car) is at long last spurring the introduction of new diesel US models beyond the heavy duty truck range. Toyota, Honda, BMW, the Chrysler group, Nissan, Audi, and GM all plan to release new diesels in the next few years, and Volkswagen apparently plans on selling diesel versions of the Jetta and new Beetle starting next year. I'm hoping that some of the other European manufacturers such as Peaugeot, Renault, and Citroen end up coming back to US shores as well—more competition is always a good thing—although at the moment I believe only Fiat has plans to do so. It will be interesting to see what this does in terms of the 'we can't be more efficient' line the US manufacturers have been giving us for years. In the course of one year we could easily see the maximum fuel efficiency of non hybrid models jump from something like 30 mpg to closer to 70 mpg. Something tells me that we won't however, as the US manufacturers are going to want to slowly edge towards their true maximum efficiency at a snails pace. Hopefully the introduction of the diesel Jetta, which in Europe gets something like 50 mpg, will push them to do better. At any rate, it should be an interesting couple of years in the US automotive industry as the amazing advancements in efficient and clean diesel technology battle it out with the preconceptions about diesel most Americans formed in the 80s.

4th time's NOT the charm
Jul 11, 2007

Today was supposed to be a nice, lazy, relaxing day. The Restaurant Week Project is finished, and I've got nothing pressing to do. So I decided to take my new bike (Oh yeah, last weekend I bought a bike off Craigslist. $25 for an old Schwinn hybrid in pretty good shape.) for a ride and get some things accomplished. First things first, I decided I'd go back to the RMV to try again to get my California license converted to a Massachusetts one. So I got on my bike and headed towards Boston. I got all the way to the Boston Common before I ran into my first problem: a nut on my rear wheel had come loose and my wheel got pulled out of position so that it was rubbing up against the fork. I had foolishly not brought any tools with me, so I just locked it up and went the last few blocks on foot. I got to the RMV and got in line with 51 people ahead of me. One hour and 30 people later, I figured I was finally going to be getting my license. Then, all of a sudden, things slowed down. Up until that point they had been calling a new person every couple minutes. Then for a long time nothing happened. Then, as before, in a flash of smoke and brimstone an RMV employee appeared and announced to us all that the Social Security computers were down. AGAIN!!! This is now the fourth time I've been to the RMV to try and convert my license and failed. It's the second time that my trip was a failure thanks to a crappy Social Security computer system. Had I previously had any faith in the state of the RMV, the Massachusetts state government, or bureaucracy in general, it would now be lost. Having never had such a thing, I'm simply wallowing in despondency and despair at the thought of having to try yet again. So I left the RMV thwarted yet again and contemplating the issues involved in getting my immobilized bike home. Fortunately, I was able to borrow some pliers from a friendly bus driver and get my rear wheel mostly straight and my bike ridable again. So I continued along my planned route to the Copley Square branch of the Boston Public Library where I checked out a copy of Charles Stross' Accelerando, then bike back home via Storrow Drive and the Harvard footbridge. All told, my main accomplishment of the day—which was supposed to be getting my Massachusetts license—turned out to be the fairly pedestrian achievement of biking ~12 miles. It is, at least, a very nice day for a bike ride.

Boston's Restaurant Week
Jul 11, 2007

Most of you probably know about Boston's Restaurant Week. For those that don't, it's a week (or more) that happens twice a year during which participating Boston area restaurants offer meals from a prix fixe menu at very low prices. For example, Excelsior will be offering a three-course meal for $33.07 (I might just have to give that a try). What you probably didn't know is that there's a fantastic website at restaurantweekboston.com (offered by bostonchefs.com) that will show you all the participating restaurants, the details of their participation, the prix fixe menus that they are offering, and a Google maps mashup to help you locate and get to those restaurants. I helped create it, so you should go use it to help justify my services. ;)

The new 7 wonders of the world
Jul 10, 2007

Way back in March I wrote about a competition to pick a new '7 Wonders of the World' list. Hopefully some people read about it here and then voted. At any rate, the results are in, and we have a new list. My picks for the new list were:
  • Angkor Wat
  • Roman Colosseum
  • Moai (Easter Island Statues)
  • Great Wall of China
  • Kremlin
  • Petra
  • Stonehenge
The actual winners were:
  • Christ the Redeemer (Rio de Janeiro)
  • Great Wall of China
  • Roman Colosseum
  • Petra
  • Machu Picchu
  • Chichén Itzá
  • Taj Mahal
So three of my seven picks actually made the list. Not bad, and I would have considered those three to be the best in there anyway. The only one I'm a little disappointed didn't make it was Stonehenge, but I'm glad that Machu Pichu and Chichén Itzá got on there; it's about time the Americas got some recognition for the incredible achievements of indigenous civilizations. One thing that would have been nice would have been to leave the Great Pyramid of Giza on the list. As they say in the National Geographic article, the Great Pyramid was not only the oldest of the structures on the original list, but it's the only one still surviving today. I think that right there should qualify it for a place on the current list.

More depressing stats
Jul 06, 2007

Way back in February I wrote about some depressing statistics. In a nutshell, fully one third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. Today, I've found some more depressing statistics that seem at least tangentially related: One in five Americans believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth. Not only that, but fewer than 33% know that DNA plays a role in heredity, and only 10% know what radiation is. Most American don't know what a cell is. In addition to being a complete disaster when we're expecting people to understand things like the relative merits of nuclear power, 'irradiated' milk, and stem cell research, this is obviously a complete failure in our education system. What we need, is some way of encouraging people to actually want to learn. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to do that. Clearly we need to put more thought into the way our education system is working beyond the fairly inconsequential concerns of public vs. private and standardized test scores.

My experience with the iPhone
Jul 05, 2007

As you probably know, I spent last weekend in New York. My last post was actually written from the SOHO Apple Store. The main reason I went there was because I knew I could get a free internet connection, but I was also hoping for the chance to play with an iPhone. Sadly, the iPhone table was about five deep in people, so I gave up on it. But I did manage to play with one at the 5th Ave Apple Store the next morning. Prior to having actually touched one, I was of mixed feelings on the iPhone. On the one hand, I've been awaiting the so-called touch-screen iPod for as long as there have been rumors of it. The iPhone is clearly that, and more. However I was, as most people were and some still are, concerned about the efficacy of the interface, in particular typing on the touch-screen. Beyond that there were obvious, to my mind, flaws of the first generation device that everyone has gone into already. Jesse Legg has already written on the technical flaws of the iPhone and I see no reason to continue harping on them myself. Instead, I'll just say that I never had any intention or desire to buy the iPhone as it currently is. My plan has been to wait at least until the 2nd generation when they've repaired those flaws and hopefully made some other improvements as well. That was, of course, until I actually got to use the iPhone. My expectations for the interface were high, but the actual product completely blew them away. Using the iPhone is so incredibly simple that anyone should really be able to do it. The screen is extremely bright and sharp and the interface is well designed and takes full advantage of the enormous screen available to it. In other words, it's an absolute pleasure to use for all the basic tasks. This was really to be expected, but Apple completely outdid themselves this time. Then, of course, it came time to test the virtual keyboard. I honestly was not expecting much, and when I saw how small it actually turned out to be I thought I'd be disappointed even still. The fact that the first time I tried to hit a letter I hit the one next to it instead didn't do much to improve my outlook. But when I tried actually typing out a message I was amazed. Within a minute or two of practice my accuracy had improved amazingly, but it really didn't need to at all. At one point I accidentally typed in 'uojpmw'. The iPhone correctly translated that to 'iPhone'. In fact probably about 99% of the time when I hit the wrong letters because of the small keyboard and lack of tactile feedback it didn't matter because the software was able to correctly predict what I had intended to type. The only times there were ever any problems was with it not getting the word right was with shorter words. For some reason it wasn't very good at the two letter words. Other than that, I was flat-out amazed. Even disregarding the auto-correcting, I'm now of the opinion that the small, touch-screen keyboard is more than sufficient. I think that within a week of using it, anyone should be relatively comfortable with it. Within a month, they should probably forget that there was ever any other way of having a keyboard on a phone. Having entered the store with the position that 'the iPhone is cool, but I have no real desire to buy one at least until they fix a few things', I found myself very tempted to buy one right then and there. As much as I enjoy using a Mac, I would hardly call myself an Apple fan boy, but just then I was probably as close as I've ever been. I resisted the urge, of course; I'm very happy with my current phone (the Motorola e815, though I plan on replacing it with a RAZR 2 when I can) and provider (Verizon) and don't particularly want to drop $600 on a phone and then spend an additional $75 per month or so on the plan (also I have no particular love for AT&T). None the less, I was forced to walk out of the Apple store with the opinion that Apple really hit the ball out of the park with this one. The fact that they sold nearly a million units on the first day would seem to support that thesis. I'm very much looking forward to the future of cell phones now. The iPhone and it's successors, I think, will really stir things up. We're hopefully going to start seeing a whole lot of innovation in cell phones, something we haven't really seen in a while. I can't wait.

Slightly disapointing
Jun 30, 2007

Well, I'm currently at the SOHO Apple Store. My bus arrived at 11:20, well before I expected it to. The trip was almost depressingly uneventful. The bus was clean, in good repair, and well driven. No problems what so ever. The only delay we encountered was a broken down bus, and it wasn't even a Fung Wah! So far, I have to say that Fung Wah does things far better than the MBTA.

Wish me luck
Jun 30, 2007

Today I'm taking my life into my own hands. In just 2.5 hours (after I first drop Jessi off at the airport), I'm getting on the dreaded FungWah bus and heading to New York. We'll see if I make it there alive. The first thing I plan on doing is heading to the SoHo Apple Store (I haven't been to that one yet, and it's located conveniently close to China Town), so I'll check in there. Check back around noon to make sure I haven't died horribly in a freak bus mishap.

Working from home
Jun 29, 2007

For the past year or so I've been doing pretty much all of my work from home. Occasionally I go into a client's office and work from there, but the vast majority of my work I do here. Right now, for example, I'm sitting on my back porch. This week, however, has been a little different. As anyone in the area knows, it's been extremely hot. Over 90° for the past three days in a row with about 50% humidity. Not pleasant. We have an air conditioner in the bedroom, but I prefer not to run it if I don't have to so I've been doing a lot of work from elsewhere. Specifically, I did a lot of work from the Breugger's Bagels in Porter Square. They have free WiFi and free air conditioning, so it's a pretty good deal. Yesterday and today I also spent a little time working at the Boloco in Davis Square. Their air conditioning isn't nearly as strong, and wasn't quite enough yesterday, though their free WiFi seems a little more reliable and faster. Anyway, working from Bruegger's for basically an entire week was an interesting experience. I definitely wasn't the only one; every single day there were at least three or four other people there with their laptops working. Oddly though, there were very few people who did it multiple days. I definitely saw a buch of the same people every day, but they were mostly people who just came in for lunch. The people who came in to do work generally didn't seem to make a habit of it (except me, of course). I also discovered something about myself. I found that it's much easier for me to focus on work and be productive when I'm not at home. Pretty intuitive really, but the extent to which it's true was surprising. I was definitely much more productive when I was working from Breugger's or Boloco than when I work from home; which isn't to say that I'm not productive from home, just that it's a little easier to get work done when I'm not. As a result, I plan on working from other places more often. This should help my productivity, probably my quality of work too, as well as just get me out of the house more, which will be nice. I only wish that there were more places around here with free WiFi. It's basically Breugger's in Porter, Boloco in Davis, The Druid in Inman, and Grand Prix in ...uh ...out past Porter on Mass Ave. Those places are all nice, but of them only Breugger's and Boloco are really that good for working. The Druid is a bar and doesn't have the most comfortable seating and Grand Prix just doesn't do it for me. I tried working there, but the big Plasma screen showing Sky Sports kept distracting me with rugby highlights. Maybe this is something I can help address as part of the Young Somerville Advisory Council. In the meantime, I'd like to compile a more complete list of the places in Cambridge and Somerville with WiFi. There's any number of websites out there that claim to have a searchable list of this sort of thing, but in my experience they're usually pretty poorly done. I'm not sure why that is, it's an extremely simple concept. Maybe once I have a big enough list I'll try making one of my own. It's the perfect application for a Google Maps mash-up. Might even make a good added value service for the dy/dx tech website. Anyone have any suggestions for good places with free WiFi in the area I might not know about?

Wales
Jun 25, 2007

I finally gotten the pictures I took in Wales online. (Thanks to recent improvements to Zooomr I was able to upload them all at once instead of having to break it up in to small chunks of photos.) Now that I've got illustrations, I plan on writing in more depth about the trip, but for now, here are some of my favorite shots. P1010203 P1010168 Go ducky, go! P1010163 Kayaking across the sky P1010327 Ratchet

Working with the Mayor
Jun 22, 2007

If you read the Globe you may have noticed this article that ran on the 17th. Basically, Mayor Curtatone of Somerville is putting together a group of young Somervillians, the Young Somerville Advisory Council, to help provide the city with input from its younger citizens. What the article doesn't mention is that I am one of the 25 Somervillians on the council. So far, I don't have a whole lot of information about what, exactly, we'll be doing. But our first meeting is scheduled for next week so I'll get a chance to meet Mayor Curtatone, some of his staff, and the other 24 members. I'm really looking forward to this. Now that I'm a homeowner, I've made a bit of a commitment to stay here in Somerville for at least a decent period of time, so it makes sense for me to be as involved as possible with the city and, if possible, the city government. Short of running to be an alderman, being able to, in at least some small capacity, advise the mayor on some matters seems like a pretty good start. It'll definitely be an interesting experience and, hopefully, a rewarding one.

Facebook Applications
Jun 20, 2007

It's hardly news that Facebook has released an API to allow people to create custom 'applications' that will run on people's Facebook profiles. What is news is that I'm now looking at that API in more detail as there is a possibility that I will be creating just such an application. While I'm not a particularly big fan of Facebook (although I am a member because it does have it's useful moments), it would be pretty foolish to ignore it altogether, and the new Facebook Applications opens up a whole new world of possibilities for one, such as myself, who works extensively with web development and web technologies. It also opens up a whole new world of possibilities for marketers and those who could potentially abuse personal information. For example, when someone adds your Application to their Facebook profile you are given their user id. The Facebook API allows you to look up a users profile based on their user id. I haven't yet looked to see exactly what information is provided, but I imagine that you can get your hands on pretty much all of it; certainly everything that's public. It also allows you to look up the user ids of all the friends of a particular user, as well as all the groups they're in. Considering the whole 'seven degrees of separation' phenomenon, it would not be difficult, assuming you could get just a few people to use your application, to get all the profile information on just about everyone on Facebook. You have access to their pictures as well. Clearly this was all possible before, but now it's much much simpler to set up an automated system to do it for you. All you need to do is create even a vaguely popular application, and the data will basically just gather itself. Throw in a little data mining, and you've got an extremely powerful tool for gathering personal information about a whole lot of people. We've already seen how poor judgement when it comes to what goes on your Facebook profile or your MySpace page can get you into trouble. It seems to me that Facebook Applications have the potential to bring a whole new world of hurt down on the users, especially now that it's no longer limited to just students. Of course, as always, you, the user, have the power to control what information others have access to. If someone pulls some personal information about your off of your Facebook profile and uses it in a way you don't like, you really have only yourself to blame. This is not to say that it's all doom and gloom, of course. The Facebook Applications also open the door to a whole host of exciting new possibilities. It will now be possible for Facebook to position themselves as the hub of your Web 2.0 experience with all your web services being pulled together into one, easy to use dashboard on your Facebook profile. I think there are going to be some very cool tools developed as Facebook Applications. Maybe I'll even create some of them myself. Just remember, that you are the one that's ultimately responsible for what information you make publicly available to the internet. If there's any information that you would want your employers, parents, &c to know, don't put it on your Facebook profile.

Roswell Revealed
Jun 13, 2007

Rhea, over at The Boomer Chronicles, has just posted about some very interesting information. Apparently Jesse Marcel Jr., son of the late US Army Intelligence officer Major Jesse Marcel, is releasing a book telling his father's story. This doesn't really sound very interesting unless you happen to know that Major Marcel was the first officer on the scene of a crashed aircraft in July 1947 at none other than Roswell, NM. Jesse Jr. claims that he will be revealing the true story of what happened; a story his father was never allowed to tell due to the military's official coverup of the incident. Everything about this book, of course, will have to be taken with a grain of salt, but I—and a lot of other people—have been fascinated by this story since I was a kid. I'm definitely curious to see what Marcel has to say, though the possibility that he's just trying to use his position as a relative insider to cash in on the gullibility of the UFO crowd seems rather high. Regardless, I'm sure it will be an interesting read, and that it will prove to be an incredibly popular (and lucrative) book.

A very strange text message
Jun 11, 2007

Last night, at 11:22 PM, I was driving down Mass. Ave. when I received what is probably the strangest text message I've ever gotten: Cheri est ce que tu me comprends je t'aime j'envie de te voir a mes cote pour t'embrasser sans cesse.I NEED YOU DARLING bonne nuit LOVE Fortunately, my French is good enough that I can translate: Darling [or possibly a woman named Cheri], do you understand me? I love you. [Possibly: do you understand that I love you] I need to see you a mes cote [I'm not sure what that means. Perhaps it's supposed to be à mes côte: at my coast? If it's supposed to be coté (dimension) it makes even less sense. And, of course, mes is plural while cote would appear to be singular.] in order to kiss you forever. I NEED YOU DARLING good night LOVE The number it came from is international, but as I was driving at the time and not at my computer all I could tell was that I was pretty sure it it wasn't France's country code. It also had the wrong number of digits to be a Canadian number, and it had the 011 prefix which I don't think is needed with Canada. So it couldn't have been from any of my friends in France (who are also excluded in that I don't think any of them have my cell number). Turns out I was right, France is 33, this message came from a 509 number which it turns out is Haiti. So I've got four possible theories about this message:
  1. Cheri is a name: Someone in Haiti had a fight with their American girlfriend named Cheri and accidentally sent the message to me instead.
  2. Cheri is the (masculine version of the) word 'darling': Someone in Haiti had a fight with their American boyfriend and accidentally sent the message to me.
  3. Cheri is the (masculine version of the) word 'darling': I have a secret Haitian admirer.
  4. It's some sort of scam.
In any event, what I should do about it is unclear. If it's likely a scam, I should probably ignore it. If it's a secret admirer ...I'm not really sure what to do. If it was sent to the wrong number maybe I should respond and let them know so they don't keep wasting both of our money on international text messages. What do you all think I should do?

If I wasn't already a huge fan of Tesla Motors
May 30, 2007

I would be now... At a recent appearance before the California Air Resources Board (CARB—familiar, I'm sure, to anyone who's seen Who Killed the Electric Car), Tesla Motors CEO Martin Eberhard delivered a deliciously sarcastic three minute statement about California's Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate, fuel cells, and electric cars. A quick excerpt: However, we are actually delighted by the way this bias [towards hydrogen fuel cell vehicles] finds implementation in the ZEV mandate. For the results of this mandate is that all of our potential EV competitors – all the big car companies – remain mired in non-productive, deeply-expensive fuel cell programs, keeping them out of the EV marketplace, and indeed out of the serious ZEV marketplace entirely. The full text is available on the Tesla Motors blog. Politics, in my opinion, is in dire need of more sarcasm.

They're everywhere!
May 29, 2007

Apparently it's not just the MBTA and RMV that are extremely horrible at expediting transportation in Massachusetts. I'm starting to think that poorly implemented transportation is simply endemic to the Commonwealth. I was at Logan airport earlier, at the E terminal, waiting to pick up some friends who have since flown in. The signage there is less clear than it could be. I wanted to just stay in the terminal E loop, but the only options I could see were Airport Exit and parking to one direction, and indeterminate other things in the other direction. So I went the other direction. It didn't seem quite right, but it was an airport, and they're never laid out logically, so I kept going. Besides, there was no obvious way to turn around and go the other way. Eventually, I found myself in Maverick Square; clearly I had made a wrong turn somewhere. Having never been in East Boston or Chelsea before I didn't really know where to go. The plus side was that I had, by that time, learned that my friends had missed their flight and wouldn't be coming in until later, so I could go home rather than trying to find my way back to the airport. I had no idea where I was, but I could see the water, and, as I still know very little of the local geography, figured it must be the river and that following it must eventually lead me to Cambridge. So I drove toward the water ...and discovered many large ocean-going ships. Last I checked there are no large ocean-going vessels in the Charles river. This was when I realized that East Boston is on the other side of the harbor. Still, I figured, following the water would probably be the best bet. Eventually it led me to the Sumner Tunnel where the signs indicated that the normal car toll is $3. I very rarely carry cash, and had been expecting to only have to pay the $1 I'm used to getting on and off the pike, so that was all the cash I had on me. So I decided to keep going and see if I can find a cheaper way to get home. A little while later I saw signs pointing towards the Tobin Bridge. Again, my lack of familiarity with the local geography, cause largely by the fact that I pretty much never drive here, got me in trouble. For some reason I had it in my head that the Tobin Bridge was actually the Bunker Hill Bridge. This idea was reinforced by the fact that the Bunker Hill Bridge is clearly visible from East Boston. So I followed the signs knowing that from the base of the Bunk Hill Bridge I could easily get myself home. The signs, of course, didn't take me where I expected and I ended up on the on-ramp for the Tobin Bridge, hoping that there was no toll to cross. Of course there is, and as I was in a Zipcar which has commercial plates, that toll was $4.50. Being $3.50 short I had to tell the guy that I had no cash. I figured he'd give me some sort of ticket so I could mail the toll in later, maybe with a small fine. Well, he did give me a ticket, but closer examination leads me to believe that I'm going to have to pay a $50 fine. Plus whatever fee Zipcar charges me for having to deal with receiving the notice of violation and informing MassPike that it has to go to me instead which I think is about $20. So, just because I don't usually carry cash and am not really familiar with driving in the area I may be out $70. That's just a load of crap. At least they offer an option to appeal the violation. An option of which I am definitely going to avail myself. One advantage to being self-employed is that I actually have the flexibility to deal with bureaucratic nonsense without fear of being fired.

Fuel efficiency? I think not!
May 25, 2007

Jeff Woelker just wrote a post about how ridiculous American car makers are when it comes to fuel economy. Apparently Chrysler is currently running ads for their cars (Jeff has an embedded YouTube clip of a Jeep commercial) in which they're touting 30 miles per gallon as if it were some sort of selling point. I thought this would be an opportune moment to point out that the 24 year old, 4000 lbs Mercedes that Jessi and I just bought gets—get this—30 mpg! Doesn't seem quite so amazing anymore does it. A related point: while we were in Wales, the owner of the B&B we were staying at in Dolgellau drove a new VW Jetta station-wagon. It got 50 mpg. And I'm fairly sure you can get cars in Europe that get 70+ mpg, better than even a Prius. These, of course, are all diesels, and the modern ones with amazing efficiency can't run on the diesel we're currently selling here in the US. But, as I've mentioned before, the decisions has been made already to start selling low-sulfer diesel here in the States that will allow us to suddenly increase our fuel efficiency from 30 mpg or less to 70 mpg or more. Of course we'll have to buy imports, because American car makers are still claiming that they aren't capable of mileage that high. It will be an interesting day indeed when the low-sulfur diesel starts flowing through American pumps.

Curses, foiled again!
May 24, 2007

Well, Zooomr (my photo hosting service of choice) is currently in the middle of an upgrade so I can't upload the pictures I have either from the trip or of the car. So I'll unleash my newest rant about the RMV. As you may recall, Jessi and I went to the RMV a little while ago to convert our out of state licenses to Massachusetts ones. After more or less an entire day and two trips to the RMV in Chinatown, we had failed. So we decided that this past Monday, as our first full day back from Wales and the day before Jessi started her new job, we would handle all the car stuff: picking up the plates and registration from the insurance company who had taken care of all that for us, getting our Massachusetts licenses, and actually driving the car to Somerville from Franklin. The RMV, of course, apparently felt the need to throw a wrench in our works yet again. We got there pretty early, maybe 10 am, so there weren't that many people in front of us. We waited for about an hour until there were only two people ahead of us in line. Finally we were going to be finished with the damned RMV and have all that needless, inefficient bureaucracy behind us! Then, mere minutes before Jessi's number was to be called, and mine right after, an RMV employee appeared in a flash of smoke and brimstone to inform us that 'Social Security [was] down' and so they couldn't process any new licenses or license conversions. All they could do was renew existing licenses because that process didn't require confirming your identity with social security. As I had already gone most of the way through the process before only to be turned away when my passport, California license, and bank statement proved to be insufficient proof of my date of birth, signature, and Massachusetts residency, I thought that maybe they would still be able to take care of my license. Alas, this was not too be. They also informed me that the problem would be affecting all branches foiling our backup plan of going to the Watertown RMV once we had our car. So now we have our sweet new ride, insurance, registration, and parking permit, but are still without our Massachusetts licenses. For the time being, at least, the RMV has overtaken the MBTA (and IRS) as my least favorite governmental body.

Back home in Somerville
May 21, 2007

Well we're back in the US. Today is mostly dedicated to sorting out the car (I've got another nice rant about the RMV to post), and that's keeping us pretty busy. But once that's all taken care of and I've sorted through the 300+ pictures I took in Wales, you can expect some updates.

Off we go...
May 12, 2007

Well, Jessi and I are off to Wales. We'll be gone and more or less completely incommunicado until the 21st. So don't expect any blog posts from either of us until then. Cheers.

No longer among the carless
May 10, 2007

Somewhat ironically, a story was just posted on TreeHugger entitled '10 Reasons to Ditch the Car'. Why is this ironic? Because Jessi and I just bought a car after six months or so of car-free living. When I moved here from California, I brought my car with me. But it didn't take long for me to decide that I'd be better off without it. Both the apartment we were in before and now our condo are only blocks away from a T stop, we live within easy walking distance of all the necessities, and I haven't really felt compelled to spend all the money involved in getting a Massachusetts license, registering a car in Massachusetts, insuring a car in Massachusetts, paying for gas, and paying for parking. And for those few times when we needed to get somewhere the T couldn't take us, Zipcar has done a fantastic job of meeting our needs. But now, with Jessi's new job, our needs our changing and we're getting a car. Being me, I put quite a bit of thought and research into choosing the appropriate car. Really, there's only one important factor when it comes to choosing a car, and that is cost. Cost of purchase, cost of insurance, cost of fuel, cost of maintenance, and, of course, environmental cost. Happily enough, there's one easy way to minimize the purchase, insurance, and environmental costs involved in buying a car: buy used. Used cars obviously sell for less and are cheaper to insure (we're not talking about a collector's car here), what's less obvious is that they're also the more environmentally friendly route. For the most part, new cars don't get any better mileage than older ones did. In some cases they're even worse. Additionally, when you buy used you're not incurring the added environmental damages of the manufacturing process. Money-wise, with a used car you're not committing yourself to any sort of financing plan, and it will depreciate in value much more slowly, so you can always just put it on Craigslist and sell it again without throwing away most of the money you spent on it. So we're getting a used car. The issue of minimizing cost of fuel and maintenance is a little trickier. There are two ways to minimize fuel costs: get a more efficient car, or get a car that uses cheaper fuel. There aren't that many choices for fuels, it's pretty much gasoline or diesel. For a select few ethanol might be an option and I suppose compressed natural gas might work for some people as well, but in general that's it. Despite the bad rap that it seems to have, diesel is actually a very good choice. Diesel vehicles pretty much always get better mileage than their gasoline counterparts, and even an older diesel will get as good or better mileage than pretty much anything on the road today (other than hybrids, obviously). Some modern diesels get even better mileage than hybrids, though they aren't currently available in the US, and won't be until we start selling low sulfur diesel at the pumps (which should start later this year, I believe). Plus, diesel isn't particularly expensive (Usually $2.99 around here, while 87 octane gasoline is about $2.85. Although one place I saw right by our condo was actually selling diesel for less than gasoline.), and diesel prices are a little more stable than gas prices. Diesel really appears to be the way to go, especially in hopeful anticipation of the introduction of the modern diesel cars that the rest of the world already enjoy. As for maintenance, you either have to get a car that's cheap to repair (such as a Civic or something), or a car that won't have to be repaired very often. One good thing to note when dealing with reliability in cars is that all cars, even new ones, have the potential to be lemons and require a ton of repairs. In fact, new ones are probably more likely to have problems, because the old cars that are still around today are the ones that were well made and not prone to problems. Over the years, the cars that aren't so reliable are just going to get weeded out, so that the only used cars available to be bought are likely to be pretty sturdy. Of course this only applies to cars above a certain age as the weeding out process can take some time, and new cars will have warranties and lemon laws to protect you. So this one's a bit of a toss up. It really depends on your situation. But considering the low price of a used car, if you get one and it craps out on you, you can get another and still have paid less than on a new car. So, with all that in mind I picked a car with a low purchase price, good mileage, great dependability, and a touch of class: a 1983 Mercedes Benz 300sd turbo diesel. It was cheap (another car in the same price range was a '92 Accord), it gets 25-30 mpg, it's probably one of the most reliable cars ever made, and it's also an absolutely beautiful piece of machinery. It looks like it must have cost a fortune, and in 1983 it did at around $40,000. Adjusted for inflation, that's over $80,000 in 2007 dollars. It's currently still sitting in the driveway of the guy who sold it to us, because he was kind enough to let us leave it there while we're in Wales next week, but as soon as we've picked it up on the 21st and brought it home, you can be sure I'll be out there with my new camera. So there will be picture of it available soon.

Beaurocratic inanity
May 08, 2007

In Barack Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope, he uses the DMV (or whatever local variant he said) as an example of why people generally feel that the government isn't really working for them. Today has left me inclined to agree with him. Today Jessi and I headed over to the Massachusetts RMV to (finally) get around to changing our license over to Massachusetts ones. A process that I'm sure you know was loads of fun. The first obstacle to converting our California and Illinois licenses to Massachusetts ones was one of location. There is no RMV office in Somerville. The closest one is in Cambridge, annoyingly enough at the Cambridgeside Galleria which is on the Green Line, not the Red Line. Of course, that doesn't really matter, because that location doesn't let you convert an out of state license. So we had to go into the Boston location, which is on the Orange Line at the Chinatown stop. Once we got there, which took 30-45 minutes, we headed inside and found ourselves at the 'Greeter Desk'. This isn't something that I've encountered during my previous experiences with the California DMV, but I think it's actually a pretty good idea. Rather than forcing us to figure out which part of the building we need to go to and which line we need to stand in and which form we need to fill out, we simply told the greeter what we were there for, she handed us the appropriate forms, gave us each a number for the appropriate line, and directed us to the third floor. It was at this point that we realized we had forgotten to bring any of the documentation needed: a passport or social security card, proof of date of birth, proof of signature, and proof of Massachusetts registry. We didn't have anywhere to be just then, so we got back on the T, came home, got the documents, went back to the RMV, got new numbers, and got back in line. At this point it was about 2:30. Jessi had a 3:30 appointment, which fortunately was nearby. So we waited in line. And waited. And waited. And then Jessi had to go to her appointment before her number got called. So I stayed, and 15 minutes later my number was called. I went up and gave the woman behind the desk my form. Had my picture taken. Then gave her my supporting documentation. Only to discover that I didn't have all the supporting documentation needed. I had my passport, I had my old license, and I had a bank statement. By any reasonable standard, this should be enough. The passport proves that I am who I say I am. It proves my birth date. It proves my signature. My old license also proves my birth date and my signature. And my bank statement proves my Massachusetts residency. But no, that's not good enough. Apparently each document can only be used for a single purpose. You need separate documents for each of: passport (why?), date of birth, signature, and residency. This is just completely ridiculous. Why is my passport, a federally issued document intended to prove my US citizenship, identity, date of birth, and signature, not count as proving my date of birth and signature to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? And why can a single document not prove more than one thing, especially when it's specifically designed by the federal government—and recognized by state governments in other capacities I might add—to prove those very things?

Reviving Mass Guber '06
May 03, 2007

I just saw a very interesting Google Ad. I was on a discussion board I frequent (the MacNN Forums) reading a thread about Mitt Romney. Above the thread I saw this ad: Apparently, someone's still paying to run Healey/Hillman '06 ads. Perhaps a disgruntled campaign worker left it active to cost her some money. Or perhaps her team was just so disheartened they completely forgot to clean up after them selves. In any event, I encourage everyone to follow the link. Maybe they'll get enough ad clicks that they'll actually notice it's still up...

New Triworks home page
May 01, 2007

As you may know if you've been reading my blog for a while, in addition to my own freelance work I'm also a managing partner and account manager at Triworks America, the American branch of a global design firm that, among other things, creates some absolutely beautiful Flash websites. Our design team has just updated our own home page at www.triworks.net, and, once again, they've done amazing work. I really can't begin to describe how much I'm impressed by these guys. It was their utter genius for design that led myself and two of my friends (who are responsible for the College Poker Association site) to partner up with them and form Triworks America. So check out the site, and prepare to be amazing. I think you'll be as impressed as I am with their work.

Wainwright bank, the meeting
Apr 28, 2007

I'm sure some people are just dying to know how the meeting I was invited to with the co-President and co-Founder or Wainwright Bank, Robert Glassman, went. First off, two of the other bloggers who where there, Shai Sachs of Progressive Democrats of Cambridge and Joseph Porcelli of Neighbors for Neighbors, have already written up some excellent posts about it, and you can probably expect to see more in the near future from Jessi as well as maybe over at Cos's blog, Sam Seidel's blog, or Anali's First Amendment. But for now, here's my take on it. First off, the premise of the meeting was to discuss how Wainwright Bank as a whole and, perhaps, Mr. Glassman specically could engage with the progressive blogging community in the area. If you don't already know, Wainwright Bank is not what you'd ordinarily expect from a bank. In addition to the standard savings and checking accounts, loans and CDs that all banks have, they also maintain a number of community resources and have a real commitment to helping out non-profit organizations. A good explanation of what this means can be found on their mission page. Their CommunityRoom.net page is also an excellent resource through which they provide (as I understand it) free webhosting to non-profit organizations throughout the greater boston area. And one other fantastic service they offer (that I hadn't known about until it was mentioned in this meeting) was that each branch has a conference room that they make available to anyone in the community who either banks with Wainwright or is one of the non-profits in the Community Room. As a small business owner who banks at Wainwright myself, this is a fantastic resource I have at my disposal as I basically now have a space to hold meetings other than my living room, or whatever coffee shop happens to be convenient. As for the meeting itself, it consisted of Mr. Glassman, the aforementioned bloggers, and several other Wainwright team members. The discussion focused largely on whether or not Wainwright should have a presence on the blogosphere and what sort of presence it should have. We talked about the potential advantages of a corporate blog vs. a personal blog by Mr. Glassman and/or other Wainwright employees. We talked about what sorts of things should or shouldn't be mentioned on any such blogs. And we talked about the potential disadvantages as well. One of the major disadvantages, which I don't think any of us bloggers had though of, is that banking is a heavily regulated industry. Much more so than probably any of the others where we're starting to see corporate blogs pop up. Banks are very thoroughly scrutinized every single year, and it was clear that there was some worry on the part of Wainwright as to whether or not this would be a problem when it comes to blogging. Not being in banking myself, I don't really know what sorts of things the regulators would be looking for or might have a problem with, but it seems like this was a fairly large concern. But regardless of how it's done or the potential problems, the main thrust of any blogging activity would be to spread awareness of Wainwright and the things they do in a way that's not intrusive or disruptive like traditional advertising campaigns. Basically they want people to get to know them, which, in my opinion and from my experience, is a perfect application for a blog. We came up with a lot of different ideas about things they could do, but there are two of them that really stick out for me. First was the idea that people from the various departments of the bank could blog about prevalent issues in personal finance, politics, mortgages, and general money related issues. For example, with the whole bit issue of sub-prime mortgages right now, we (the bloggers) really thought it would be nice to have an authoritative voice from a bank such as Wainwright talk about what sub-prime mortgages actually are, what the problems have been, and basically just shed light on the whole issue to those of us who don't know so much about these things. And I'm sure there is no shortage of other such issues that they could talk about. Doing this would create a fantastic resource for people around the country, and do a great job of spreading awareness of Wainwright. The other idea that I really like is a more personal blog, perhaps by Mr. Glassman himself (an excellent candidate as one of the co-Founders, and he did seem interested in doing it). The purpose of a blog like this would be to put a human face on the bank and let us get to know the philosophy behind it on a more personal level. In my own experience with my own business this has been very successful, and from meeting with Mr. Glassman myself, I think he would be an ideal candidate for it. The decision is far from being made, of course. Banking is slow-moving and cautious industry. But I find it very encouraging that they're even considering this at all. It sounds like there will be a few more face to face meetings about this in the future as well. I'm looking forward to them as I'd very much like to be further involved in Wainwright's entry into the blogosphere.

Politicians continue to disappoint
Apr 26, 2007

Way back in February, I wrote about my feelings on the candidates for the '08 presidential election. I picked my top choice of candidates from both major parties, basically I found the candidate from each party that I was least opposed to voting for. At that point, my choice was Obama for the Democrats and Giuliani for the Republicans. Since then, a few things have changed. First off, I did a little more reading on all the candidates and discovered that I kind of like Ron Paul. I agree with him to some extent on most of the issues. The only issue where I'm really opposed to his stance is on parts of his border controls and immigration plan. I don't, for example, completely agree with him on the need to physically secure our borders. Yes, we need to secure our borders, but our historically pretty open borders with Canada and Mexico are a good thing for all three countries. Rather than cut off the Canadians and Mexicans, we should work with them. I guarantee that the Canadian and Mexican governments don't want terrorists to strike in the US either, as it would be bad for their economies as well as ours. They also don't want any attack to come through their country, as that would be bad for them in many ways. So why not work with them, so that we can maintain the openness we've thus far enjoyed while still improving security. I also don't agree that we should get rid of birthright citizenship. In as much as we are a free country and a country interested and involved with encouraging freedom for people around the world, it is important that we do what we can to extend the freedoms we enjoy to those that don't. One method we have of doing that is offering the people who lack those freedoms for themselves the opportunity of giving their children a better life. Yes, it provides a motivation for illegal immigration, but if you really think about it, the reason we have illegal immigration is because the US is a good place to live. The only way we're ever going to stop illegal immigration is through policies that turn the US into a bad place to live, and I, for one, would rather not do that. Despite that, however, I like Paul's other positions, and he moved up in the rankings to contest Giuliani's position as my favorite Republican candidate. The other thing that changed, happened a little more recently, and most people have probably already heard about it. It is, of course, Rudy Giuliani's recent statements in New Hampshire. I had previously said of Giuliani that 'his strong support of the PATRIOT Act, and his buying in to the "with us or against us" mentality spread by the White House in regards to terrorism don’t sit well with me'. He's now basically gone and taken that to the next level with his statement basically that more Americans will die with a Democrat in office than with a Republican in office. Even if he were right that the Democrat approach would be less successful than the Republican one (which I don't think is the case, though I suspect the best approach would be somewhere in the middle), what he said was essentially a threat against the American people. As Keith Olbermann said, his statement was basically an act of terrorism: the use of fear to steer opinion and policy. That pretty much sealed his fate, as far as I'm concerned. So, Giuliani's off my list of people I'd potentially vote for. He now joins Hillary Clinton and John McCain on the list of people I absolutely won't vote for. In his place as my Republican candidate of choice, for now, is Ron Paul. Barack Obama is still my pick of Democratic candidates for now.

PayPal Developer Sandbox
Apr 26, 2007

So a project I'm currently working on involves using the PayPal API to handle credit card transactions (two projects actually, but the PayPal part will be more or less interchangeable between them). I've never actually used PayPal's Merchant Services (or any other e-commerce platform, for that matter) before, so I'm having to teach myself how to use it as I go. Fortunately, PayPal offers a developer 'sandbox' where you can set up what is essentially a dummy account to test your website without actually incurring any charges or having to move money around. This is a brilliant idea, and I'm glad they thought of it. However, it's really just not implemented very well. Setting up the dummy account within the sandbox is ridiculously hard to do and not at all intuitive. For the most part, it's like setting up a regular PayPal account, with a few minor differences. The problem is they don't document those differences at all making it very hard to figure out what you're doing. There's a help link on the developer page, but it doesn't actually work and only takes you back to the main developer page. So in order to figure out what you're doing you have to go to their developers forum and search for the answer there. When you do that you discover that hundreds of other people have had the exact same problem and have also resorted to using the forum. Reading through the threads they created you see the same thing over and over. The developer is confused and asks how to do something, and a person from PayPal responds with a very brief answer that barely suffices to help you move on to the next step. As a specific example: when signing up for a PayPal account, one of the pieces of information you need to give them is your Social Security Number. For the sandbox account, it doesn't work if you leave it blank, it also doesn't work if you use a random string of 9 digits, and it also doesn't work if you use a real SSN. So I searched the forums to find an answer, and the only reply that PayPal had given when people asked about this was that you had to use a 9 digit number where the first three numbers were 1s (so, 111xxxxxx). They provided no detail beyond that. So I tried the number 111111111. Didn't work, because someone had already used it. PayPal, of course, never deigned to mention that you had to pick a unique 9 digit number that started with three 1s. So I tried 111999999. Also no good. Nor was 111222222, nor 111111112, nor pretty much any other pseudo-random string I could come up with. Eventually I had to settle with taking my real SSN and changing the first three digits to 111. This worked, but isn't a very good solution. Since the first three digits of your Social Security Number indicate what office your number was issued in, it's not that difficult to figure out the first three numbers of someone's based on where they were born (or at least to narrow it down to the point where a brute force approach becomes reasonable). So not only was setting up the account inconvenient, it was a bit iffy in terms of security as well. I understand that they didn't want to have to change their code a whole lot, but how hard would it have been to just set up the SSN field to auto-fill with a valid string of numbers, or to allow multiple people to use the same string? At the very least, they could have put a little note there explaining the constraints on the number you have to enter instead of barely pointing you in the right directly, if you ask, and then letting you figure the rest out yourself. Fortunately, I eventually figured it out. But then ran into another obstacle, one which is still in the process of being resolved: you have to verify your dummy sandbox account before you can take advantage of the PayPal Merchant Services. If you don't have a PayPal account, verification involves them making two small deposits to a bank account that you control so that you can then tell them the amount of the deposits proving that it's your account. First of all, it's completely ridiculous to require this of a sandbox account where no real money will be dealt with. Secondly, they again take no steps to simplify this process. They don't even allow you to use a fake account, because you still have to go through the whole verification process. So you have to wait several days before the deposits go through and then show up on your bank statement (assuming you have online banking, otherwise you have to wait up to a month for your statement to be mailed to you). Several days, just to set up a test account that uses a fake SSN and will never see a single real dollar. Does that make sense at all? I sure don't think so. PayPal obviously handles a lot of money. And they make a lot of money through that. I'm sure a pretty decent portion of that income comes from people who use PayPal's Merchant Services on their own webpage. So you'd think they'd want to make the process of setting up and testing those services as quick and painless as possible to encourage more people to use them. You'd think, anyway.

I'm a high profile blogger?
Apr 24, 2007

I was rather surprised today to get an email inviting me to a meeting with the co-President and co-Founder of Wainwright Bank, Robert Glassman. Apparently Wainwright, as a socially progressive bank, is reaching out to the local progressive blogging community and I was one of the small group of people they sent the initial invitation to. I'd like to think that this is indicative of my status as a high profile blogger, but I imagine it has more to do with the fact that I've written about Wainwright on several occasions. I suppose, when you think about it, I may not actually be that bad of a choice. I may not have the most popular blog around, but it definitely has a readership, and that readership is continually growing. I've also got some first hand experience on the value of blogs as marketing tools, and I have more direct experience with internet marketing through my position at Triworks which, while not a marketing company per se, certainly requires me to think about internet marketing and the issues related to it. At any rate, they also asked me to spread the love and forward the invitation on to other progressive bloggers in the Boston/Cambridge/Somerville area. I'll be sending it along to those bloggers whom I already know of course, but there are certainly others out there that have slipped my mind. So if you fit into that category, feel free to contact me and I'll forward the invitation to you (I'm not about to publish the cell phone number I was given to RSVP to...). It's just too bad that Bruce isn't around any more...

We've been in Porter Square for about four months
Apr 24, 2007

and I'm still continually finding things that make me like it here even more. Moving to Boston from San Francisco, I was a little worried that I'd be giving up the amazing variety and quality of food that was available to me. I was particularly concerned about Mexican food. Fortunately, it didn't take long for Jessi to introduce me to Anna's Taqueria, a burrito joint that makes burritos almost identical to those at Gordo Taqueria, my favorite burrito place in San Francisco (and it's been said that the owners are related, certainly their menus are). I won't say that it was a condition of choosing this condo, but the fact that there's an Anna's right down the street from us certainly made this location a little more amenable to me. Then, after we moved here, we discovered Tacos Lupita, a Salvadorean restaurant that's also within easy walking distance of our condo and which serves absolutely amazing food (though not quite Mexican). I've since put together a rather extensive list of good-sounding restaurants around us to try. One of the places on that list was The Half-Shell which is actually right down the street from us. I'm a huge fan of gyros, and they have a sign advertising their gyros right out front, so I'd been meaning to give them a try for a while. This afternoon I went to get a haircut (Charlie's Barber Shop is a really good barber shop that's also right down the street from us) and decided to stop in at Half-Shell and finally give their gyro a try. It was really good, but that's not the best part. The best part, is that they serve gyro pizza. I first had gyro pizza while I was a student at Carleton College in Minnesota. I was immediately a fan. Sadly, I'd never, until now, found a place that serves it outside of Minnesota. One of the reasons I was looking for a place around here that has good gyro is so I could try and get them to make me a gyro pizza for me. But now, my search is over. If you've never had a gyro pizza before, I highly recommend you head over to Half-Shell and give it a shot. Now that I know there's one, there's probably other places around that serve it too, I'll have to try and put together a list, because I'm definitely going to be insisting that all my friends in the Boston area give it a try.

We won what?!?
Apr 23, 2007

On Saturday, Jessi and I rented a Zipcar and drove out to ...some suburb the name of which escapes me. The reason we did this was to sit through a 90 minute presentation on cookware. Well, actually the presentation wasn't our real motivation for going there. The real motivation was what we were given for going to the presentation: an all-inclusive 3-day vacation to the Bahamas. Apparently at some point Jessi got us entered into a contest. The winners got, if they attended this presentation, a choice of two vacation packages. One is a 3-day all-inclusive (that is, food, drinks, and activities at the resort) vacation (not counting airfare) at one of a number of Wyndham resorts in Mexico, the Bahamas, or ...somewhere else. The other was a 3-day stay at resorts in a variety of other places including the continental US (like Atlantic City and Niagara Falls) not including food and drinks and the like. Obviously we choose the all-inclusive deal. So at some time in the next year or so, we'll be spending three days lounging on the beach on Grand Bahama. I can't wait. The cookware they were showing us was by Royal Prestige. They make two lines of surgical stainless cookware which actually seems pretty nice. The guy (salesman) giving the presentation explained all about how their cookware is 7 or 9 (depending on which line you buy) ply whereas the stuff you see in stores is 1.5 to 3. Also, the exterior is all surgical stainless steel which is sterile and non-porous which makes it very easy to clean and safe to cook in. This much of the presentation I was all for. Stainless cookware has a lot of advantages over other sorts, and I already liked it. The rest was a bit iffy in my book. Royal Prestige calls their lines of cookware 'Health Systems'. The long and short of it is that their cookware makes it very easy to cook a healthy meal with minimal effort and no added greases or oils. The concept really is pretty cool, and you can read about it on their web page, but from what we could tell, their product is pretty much targeted at people who couldn't really be bothered to cook their own dinner. It's designed to make simple dishes easily and quickly, and, while it could obviously be used for any recipe, the benefits of their 'health system' can't really be reaped with normal recipes. It seemed like the idea was basically to get people who would otherwise just go to McDonalds to cook dinner instead. In as much as they're successful in that goal, I'm behind them all the way. But Jessi and I are both decently accomplished cooks, and cook pretty healthy meals 5-6 days a week as it is, so we ended up not going buying the 'health system'. I did, however, find their approach to sales to be rather interesting. First, they basically lure in a small group of people with the promise of a free vacation (which they deliver on). Then they explain (ad nauseum) the benefits of their products over the leading competitors, really driving home the health point (which is a good one, I think). Then they offer you massive discounts on their products (basically you can completely furnish your kitchen with cookware and tableware for less than $2000) as well as giving anyone you refer to them within a certain time period 40% off. I assume their plan is to get you to buy no matter what (and 50% of the people there did, so it's obviously successful). They probably have very low margins or maybe even take a loss on what they sell to the small group at the presentation. But by giving people you refer a discount, they're encouraging you to tell your friends about the product. The product also has a pretty catchy (and, I'll admit, useful) gimmick, so even if you don't tell your friends, they'll notice when you're cooking using Royal Prestige cookware and probably ask about it. Essentially, it's old-school viral marketing: they're trying to build a buzz about their product and drive sales mostly through word of mouth. It's hardly a new idea, it's basically the same idea behind tupperware parties and similar things. But it's interesting to see how what's pretty much the hot new thing in marketing, really isn't. Sure it's been updated and changed to fit the new medium of the internet, but the basic idea has been around for decades or more. It's amazing the things you can learn from a cookware salesman...

Maximal cheese, minimal nuts
Apr 19, 2007

I've mentioned a few times that I've lately been getting into digital photography. I'm pretty sure I've also mentioned that I was feeling a bit limited by the technical constraints of my camera. Well, no more.
Old Camera
Before I didn't actually have my own camera, and had been using Jessi's, a Kodak EasyShare C340. It's not a bad camera at all, and I've taken some good pictures with it. But it's more than a little limited in what it can do. In particular, it has no manual focus ability, and no manual aperture control. Certainly these things aren't necessary to take good pictures, but having them gives you so many more options and creative control over the pictures you take. This wasn't really a problem until recently, as my photography experience was basically zero, and I wouldn't really have known what to do with those features in the first place. But in the past nine months I've taken hundreds of photos and, I think, made a lot of progress as a photographer. For the past few months, I've really felt that I'd run up against the limits of the Kodak, and that there were pictures that I knew I could take, but that the little C340 just wasn't capable of taking them. It's an odd sort of feeling, really, when you realize that you're being held back by the limitations of the tools you're using. In about three weeks, Jessi and I are going on a week-long hiking trip through Wales with my dad (who runs an independent travel consultancy in Berkeley). I've spent some time in the Welsh countryside before, and it's absolutely beautiful over there. When I was there before, I wasn't much of a photographer and I took a video camera rather than a still camera. It was quite possibly that trip (which happened in the spring of '04) that helped me to realize that photography might actually be a good form of expression for me (I guess you could say that I was running into the technical limitations of my video camera in the same way that I recently did with Jessi's little Kodak). At any rate, I know there will be some beautiful scenery there, and I know I'm going to want to photograph it, and I know that the EasyShot will hold me back if it's all that I have while I'm there.
New Camera
So I got a new camera. The new one is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8. It has 7 megapixels, compared to the 5 the Kodak has (not a huge improvement, but still nice). Additionally, it has a built-in 12x optical zoom rather than 4x, manual focus, aperture priority (manual aperture control), shutter priority, optical image stabilization, it can save images in RAW files (uncompressed, and therefore higher quality image files) rather than just JPEG, and it has a great, high-quality LEICA lens. Sadly I've been too busy so far since getting it, that I haven't had a chance to play with it yet (the picture of the old camera above is actually the first that I've taken with it), but I can't wait to take it out for a spin this weekend (which, in a happy coincidence, is also going to be the first sunny and warm weekend in a while). Now that the weather's better and I've got a fantastic camera, I plan on spending a lot more time outside taking pictures, so expect to hear more about that. But for now, it's back to work for me. Oh yeah, I also just wanted to say that I bought the camera through Abes of Maine, which is basically an online discount camera retailer. In my experience they almost always have some of the lowest prices around. But that's really neither here nor there. What I actually wanted to say was that I ordered the camera on Sunday, the 15th. I ordered it with the free shipping option which was supposed to take 7-10 days. The camera arrived on Tuesday, the 17th. Now that's service. Also, in case you don't get the title to this post, it's a reference to a recent posting on Jessica Hagy's blog Indexed, which is probably my favorite non-textual blog (it's images of drawings she does on index cards, hence the name).

I've been back for less than a day...
Apr 10, 2007

...and already I've got something to write about the MBTA. This time it's about the buses. I know first hand that, to people who don't live in and around Boston, the (often very) negative feelings people have about the MBTA don't always seem justified. But I think I've got a pretty good example to help explain the way we feel.
04-10-07_1624
Today I met with a (hopefully soon-to-be) new client at a cafe on Newbury St. I took the bus to get there (83 from Porter to Central, CT1 from Central to Newbury & Mass Ave.). The driver of the CT1, as he was driving down Mass Ave (a major artery, for those who don't live around here), was making out a check (to whom, I don't know). And when I say as he was driving, I mean literally as he was driving. He'd have one hand on the wheel while he was looking down at his lap writing on the check with the other (though, in the picture to the right we were stopped at the light where Main splits off from Mass Ave.). As we were crossing the Mass Ave bridge he actually took both hands off the wheel so that he could put the check in the envelope and lick and seal it. As anyone who's driven, walked, or biked across any bridge over the Charles knows, it gets very windy, certainly windy enough to push a car, let alone a bus, over into the next lane if the driver isn't paying attention. Fortunately we got lucky and neither forced anyone into oncoming traffic on the left, nor crushed any of the bikers on the right under the wheel of the bus. Then, as we got to the end of the bridge he (with both hands on the wheel, thankfully) started swerving from lane to lane as if he were actually going to maneuver the bus through the compact car sized holes in traffic. If anyone reading this has ever ridden a bus in China (if you haven't, like roller coasters, and aren't afraid to die, I highly recommend you try it some time), it was almost that bad. In general I've actually had positive experiences with the MBTA bus system. It's probably because I don't commute to work and rarely ride them during rush hour, but I've almost always had friendly, sometimes even courteous, and competent drivers, and they're even usually on time. I really do have to draw some sort of line at multitasking while guiding a several ton bus full of people down a busy street. As the Fung Wah has aptly demonstrated, it's hard enough to drive a bus as it is. Though I got where I was going on time, today the MBTA was not putting it's best foot forward (if it has one).

(oops, I forgot a title)
Apr 05, 2007

It's been a while since I've written anything. Just been too busy to find the time for keeping the blog up to date. The plus side of that is I've been busy with work. As business goes, I think I'm finally starting to hit my stride. I'm starting to get more responses to my ads (which, I think, probably has to do with people googling me after reading the ads and finding this blog), I'm starting to get more (and better) responses when I reply to other people's ads, and the specific jobs I've been getting are all of the sort that are likely to lead to a longer lived professional relationship. I think the most frustrating thing about this whole venture of mine so far has been the frequency with which people simply do not respond when I contact them about a job they're advertising. I understand that they might be busy, or might have already found someone else to do it, but is a quick, two-line courtesy email too much to ask? I'll admit, I've probably managed to unintentionally snub a person or two (which reminds me, I have a phone call to return when I get back to Boston), but having had to deal with it disturbingly often myself I really do try and make sure that everyone gets at least some response. But at least it seems to be happening less and less often now. I have to wonder if that is related to my recent upturn in business lately. Perhaps I'm actually starting to build a reputation and am looking more credible to potential clients. One can only hope. Well, one could also retain a PR firm/person, but I don't quite have the budget for that yet. It's a good thing I happen to live with Boston's foremost expert in internet and word-of-mouth marketing. For now, and until Monday, however, Jessi and I are in Santa Fe visiting my mom. I like it here. My mom's house is maybe 25 minutes outside of the actual city, off a dirt road in the middle of the desert. It's about a 12 acre property, surrounded by a small community of similar properties. Most people around here, including my mom, have horses which means they also tend to keep things pretty quiet and relaxed. It's a great place to go and just do nothing for a while, which can make for a very nice break from being in Boston and running a business (or two). The weather's also been fantastic. Today it was 75° and sunny. Compared to the rain and even snow Boston's been getting today. I even managed to remember to bring my camera, so hopefully I'll be able to spend some time just wandering around the desert taking pictures. I've already found a few good shots I want to go back to with the camera later. (And a few that could be great, but not until I get a better camera. The one I'm using doesn't even have manual focus, let alone aperture priority or anything fun like that.) Well, guess it's back to some more relaxing before dinner.

Boston's new Tremont Canal?
Mar 26, 2007

The other day I went down to the South End to buy a bike off of Craigslist. I don't really know my way around the area too well, so I used the MBTA's trip planner to figure out how to get there. (A lot of people have had problems with the trip planner giving them bad directions, but it's always gotten me where I want to go.) The directions it gave me were good enough, but there was something about them that just didn't seem quite right. According to the directions the trip planner gave me, I was supposed to take the Red Line train from Porter Square to Park, and then get on the 43, a bus that goes down Tremont to Ruggles. That's all well and good, but the icon shown for the 43 isn't the bus icon, but the ferry icon. Has the MBTA accidentally let slip with their plans to turn Tremont St. into a canal? Perhaps they're developing some sort of land ferry to replace the buses. At any rate, it's hardly a major problem, but an amusing MBTA misadventure nonetheless. (It still does the same thing, I wonder how long it will take them to fix it.)

Tremont Canal
Mar 26, 2007

Screenshot of MBTA trip planner.

Pig vs. Pig
Mar 22, 2007

Half of a pig.

I've been waiting for this for a long time.
Mar 21, 2007

I just learned about Tumblr, a free tumblelog service. What's a tumblelog? Well, it's basically a really basic form of blog that involves no writing. For example, I now have a little bookmarklet in my bookmark bar labeled 'Share on Tumblr'. When I click it, I get the window you see to the right. It let me very easily and very quickly throw whatever random things I want, be it a link to a website, an image, or a YouTube video, onto my tumbleblog. I spent a lot of time online. It's kinda my job. As a result, I find and am sent a lot of interesting/funny/strange/weird things. In particular, as many of my friends can tell you, I find a lot of interesting/funny/strange/weird videos, which I love to share with my friends. The problem is that while pretty much all the video sites out there have a mechanism to share videos with people, they still require you to manually enter the people you want to send them to, and they're all diferent, and they don't actually all have that feature. So I now have a tumbleblog at joshourisman.tumblr.com where I can easily share all the strange and funny videos I have with whomever wants to see them. So far it has three of my favorite YouTube videos on it, and there will definitely be more to come (and probably other non-video things as well). Enjoy!

Tumblr Window
Mar 21, 2007

The window you get from the Tumblr bookmarklet.

Amazing new computer graphic technology
Mar 20, 2007

This video is a bit on the dry side, but watch it all the way through. It's a demonstration of a new 3D facial rendering technology by Volker BLanz and Thomas Vetter of the MPI for Biological Cybernetics in Germany. It does a lot of amazing things, but the most striking is the ability to map a 2D photograph (or even painting) into a realistic, pose-able, 3D model. In the video, stills of Tom Hanks, Audrey Hepburn, and DaVinci's Mona Lisa are used to create very realistic looking 3D models of the heads. They're even able to change the lighting and have added elements to the pictures (such as a hat) cast realistic shadows. Combining this technology with rapid prototyping could lead to some very cool physical reconstructions of historical figures. I imagine it could also have a lot of potential for forensic reconstruction. I wonder what would happen if they applied this technology to the image on the Shroud of Turin. Very cool.

The joys of pseudo-parenting
Mar 20, 2007

Today we took our cat, Pigpen, in to the MSPCA clinic over in Boston to be spayed. (Apparently the vet in Illinois where Jessi got her didn't spay her as we discovered when she went into heat for the first time a few months ago...) Thanks to SNAP (Spay-Neuter Assistance Program) the procedure only cost us $60. That, of course, does not include the cost of having a cat who we didn't let eat since midnight last night (she was searching all over the condo for food this morning), stuffed in a box (which she hates), drove in the car (which she hates), and then left alone with strangers (which she hates), in a strange place (which she hates), full of other cats (which she's never really experienced before), where they did all sorts of strange things to her. She is not going to be a happy kitty when I go pick her up this afternoon. I imagine she'll go straight to her hiding place under the bed and not come out for a very long time. The only real consolation for her is that our good friend Brian works at the MSPCA so there will at least be a familiar face around. We also, a little while ago, got a call from the MSPCA clinic saying that in the course of her surgery they found a mass near one of her ovaries. They think they were able to remove it all, but we're still paying another $50 for a biopsy. Hopefully it will turn out to be benign and we won't have to subject her to the indignity of a car ride again for a long time. In other news, you may notice a new, big, grey thing in the sidebar of my blog. It's the beta version of the AutoRoll widget from Criteo which I was informed about in an email from Peter, a project manager at Criteo. Apparently it works by tracking which blogs (that have installed the widget) each unique user goes to, and then displaying for each user a list of blogs that they're likely to enjoy. Seems like a really cool idea to me, so I'm giving it a shot. Of course it can only really be any good if lots of people install it on their blogs, so give it a shot! Hmm, I think that's about it for now. I've got some work to do before I go rescue our poor bewildered cat from the clutches of the evil veterinarians.

Blogging as marketing
Mar 15, 2007

I started this blog largely with the intention of it being a marketing tool for my business(es). Well, that's what I said anyway. In reality, I didn't have much of an idea of what that meant. I'd spent enough time in the worlds of technology and public relations to know that blogs were a big deal and could make a huge difference when it comes to marketing yourself. But as I'd always been solely on the technology side of things I discovered that, while I had learned a lot about what to do to market myself, build my brand, &c, I didn't really know anything about how to do it. Fortunately that's never really stopped me from doing anything before, and I've found that I learn the best by doing anyway. So I just created this blog and started writing my story in my own way like the stubborn individualist that I am. And I've certainly learned a few things in the process. For one, when I started out I didn't really have any idea of what sort of things I should be writing in order to make my blog as effective a marketing tool as possible. I also didn't know in what ways my blog would drive or be driven by my efforts to grow my business. I started out writing pretty much only about things that were directly relevant to this blog: the process of essentially starting over from scratch in a new city with nothing but my wits, my skills, and Jessi to keep me alive. This was actually surprisingly successful. Within weeks of starting this blog I had already started to build a reader base rather than just having a few people randomly stumble onto this site through technorati. I like to attribute this to the fact that the basic story-line of my life since then has been fairly archetypical, and, I'd like to think, one of the private fantasies of just about everyone who's grown up in America. Regardless of why, my blog has been pretty successful; my daily hits are measured in the thousands and I currently have around 30 subscribers. But a successful blog does not a marketing strategy make. I suppose that my original, and somewhat far-fetched, strategy was that I'd start writing my blog about what I was doing, people who were interested in my services would find it, and I would suddenly have business coming out my ears. Clearly I was being a bit idealistic, as that strategy has an underwear-gnome-sized gap: how do people who are interested in my services find it and why do they bother reading it? Fortunately, I had actually already solved that problem before I had even realized that it was a problem. Whenever I post an ad on Craigslist, or respond to a Craigslist ad, or send an email to anyone about anything, or post on a message board, or do just about anything online, I also make sure that there's a link to my blog in my signature or profile, or whatever. My blog address in the contact info on my resume, and a permanent fixture of my business cards, and I always make sure to fill out the 'website' field when commenting on other blogs. So without even thinking about it I can ensure that anyone I contact, no matter how large or small their interest in my business, can easily find my blog and read it. And that, I've discovered has really been the key. I've never had anyone call me or email me because they found me through my blog and wanted me to do a job, but nevertheless this blog has most definitely been a useful tool in my business for the simple fact that it's a distinguisher. There have been several situations where a new client has told me that they had gotten several bids they were considering, but after reading my blog they knew that I was the one they wanted to hire. That, to me, seems to be the best indication that I could get that my blog is fulfilling the purpose I laid out for it. It also, I think, carries with it an important lesson. It tells me that it's not actually all that important that this blog be about my business or that I restrict my posts to the things I'm doing business-wise. What's important is that I express myself clearly and accessibly so that when a potential client is comparing me one of my competitors and clicks the link to my blog, they'll feel that they've gotten to know me a little bit and learn a little about who I am beyond the dry facts and numbers in my proposal or the list of experience and awards in my resume. And that, I suppose, is the whole point of public relations to begin with.

When interests collide
Mar 13, 2007

Treehugger has just run a story about carbon sequestration; a name for techniques which reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by putting them into other places. Personally I've always been a little skeptical of the idea, due perhaps to a limited understanding of it. But the recent Treehugger story has, for me at least, really driving the point home about how it can be a good and useful thing. Why did this seemingly innocuous story about a popular subject among environmentalists make so much more of an impact on me than others?, you might be asking. Well, the answer is that this story has a direct relation to another interest of mine: pre-Columbian American civilizations. The story talks about one method of carbon sequestration that brings about other benefits beyond reducing our emissions. It's referred to as 'incorporating bio-char into the soil', which is another name for creating terra preta (and you'll notice a similarly named link at the end of the story). Terra preta is the name for a type of soil found in Amazonian regions of South America. Ordinarily the soil in the Amazon is nearly completely devoid of nutrients due to the near constant 'rainfall' caused by the rainforest. There are, however, patches of earth which not only defy this trend but are incredibly fertile. These patches, termed terra preta, or 'dark earth', because of their uncharacteristically dark coloration for the region, are believed to have been purposefully created as a soil management project by pre-Columbian American civilizations perhaps as early as 720 B.C. I was already familiar with the nature and benefits of terra preta due to my archaeological interests, and so the mention of using it as a form of carbon sequestration really brought the whole concept into focus for me. An important component of terra preta is the high levels of charcoal in the soil (hence the term 'bio-char'). Charcoal, as we all know from our high school chemistry classes, is a form of carbon, and therefore one possible destination for the carbon that would otherwise be forming carbon dioxide to be pumped into the atmosphere. This, I suppose, is the perfect example of why I'm interested in archaeology. Not only are ancient cultures fascinating in their own right, but they can actually have important lessons, and even technologies, to teach us that can help us with our own modern problems.

Some amazing news
Mar 13, 2007

A Massachusetts politician, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino no less, may actually be doing something in a way that isn't completely moronic and doomed to fail! Menino's wireless task force, charged with coming up with a solution to providing a free wireless network for Bostonians, has created a new 501(c)(3) non-profit entity called openairboston.net that will be in charge of providing this service under the leadership of the former CEO of Lightbridge Inc. Pam Reeve. Now, I'm not going to make the claim that this is the best way to provide a city-wide, free wireless network, or even that Boston should provide a city-wide, free wireless network, but I am going to claim that this is the first time that I've every heard a plan that sounds even vaguely reasonable and designed to succeed come out of Massachusetts politics at any level. This is not, of course, to say that this new 501(c)(3) won't fail miserably, but at least the approach seems well thought out and maybe even good. Way to go Mayor Menino! Now if you'd just stop trying to prevent Bostonians from being safe in their own homes and decrying the state of parking in Boston while simultaneously—and hypocritically—actively working to make it worse, I might even put you on the list of reasonable, if not good, politicians.

Wonderful things
Mar 13, 2007

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you may recall my mentioning that myself and two friends of mine were planning on starting a company to work in concert with some amazing web designers that we know. Well, that has now happened, and the three of us are now managing partners of Triworks America, LLC. We are working in concert with Triworks, a Portugese based web design company who, in my opinion, are by far the best designers I have ever seen. If you don't believe me you can check out not only their web page linked to above (which will soon be updated to include information on our little triumvirate), but the College Poker Association (a project by my two fellow triumvirs by which they discovered Triworks' amazing talent), and any of the sites in their portfolio (the link's at the bottom of the Triworks.net page). You can also, of course, consider the fact that every single Triworks site that has been submitted for an award has won that award. This venture, I think, will turn out very well. As is blatantly obvious, Triworks has absolutely amazing talent when it comes to design. The only thing holding them back in the past, I think, has been that they're located in Portugal and, while they can speak English well enough, doing business in a non-native language is not easy. My friends and I (and yes, I'm pushing to have the title 'Triumvir' included on our business cards) should hopefully be able to provide the cultural and linguistic bridge needed to help bring their amazing talent to the US. Incredibly enough, we've already receive and RFP a very big name international client. Hopefully this augers well for our future success. (Yes, I've probably been watching a little too much Rome. Blame Titus Pullo.) In other news—also oddly Portugal-related—you can vote for the New 7 Wonders of the World, which is pretty cool. My votes:
  • Angkor Wat
  • Roman Colosseum
  • Easter Island Statues (Moai)
  • Great Wall of China
  • Kremlin
  • Petra
  • Stonehenge
Sadly of those I voted for I've only been to the Roman Colosseum (which ranks as by far the coolest thing I've ever seen), the Great Wall of China, and Stonehenge (probably the second coolest thing I've seen). Of those I didn't vote for I've only been to two: the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty, both of which, though iconic, I don't think quite rate as Wonders of the World.

I guess there's crime everywhere
Mar 08, 2007

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you may remember that shortly after I moved into the apartment in Central Square that we were living in previously there was a shooting right across the street. One of the reasons Jessi and I were so eager to move out of that apartment and into our new place in Porter Square was because the apartment was in a fairly high crime area. While Porter Square is certainly safer and has less crime than Central Square, we're not completely free of crime here, sadly. Our condo is the top floor of a triple-decker. The other night, someone broke into the first floor unit in our building. Apparently they broke a lock on one of the windows to get in, took whatever they took, and then just waltzed out the back door (actually, I imagine they probably snuck more than they waltzed, but waltzing is just so much more poetic). I'm not sure, but it may have been the same incident reported on The Bachelor in Porter Square: Crime in Porter Square. Sadly our first floor neighbor had taken his dog to work with him that day, or this probably wouldn't have happened. What makes it a little scary, however, is that at the time of the break-in the woman who lives on the second floor was in the shower (she heard the thieves talking in the back stairwell when she got out). I was also home, on the third floor, but was busy working and didn't hear a thing sadly. There are, of course, a lot of easy things we can do to prevent this from happening again. First, we can replace the locks on the first floor windows and doors with better ones. Second (and this is something we want to do anyway) we can put better lights at the front and back doors, and put them on motion sensors. Despite this one incident, I don't really think an alarm is necessary, but it's also always an option. We could also get some NRA stickers to put on the windows (and I, for one, wouldn't mind backing those stickers up with fact).

Decision made
Mar 06, 2007

I'm now banking with Wainwright Bank. Well, technically I'm now banking with Wainwright Bank in addition to Bank of America (not going to put all my money with Wainwright until I get my ATM card...). I decided that the few small things against the smaller banks weren't really that big a deal. And I actually decided that I don't care that they don't have e-Bills, because I've realized that it's been much harder to keep track of my spending without the paper copies. As for why I chose Wainwright over Leader, well it was really just a gut decision. Wainwright has a few more locations near me, which is nice, but in the end I just felt a little better about them. Highly scientific, I know. I also took this opportunity to finally open some business accounts. Wainwright offers a free small business checking account, which is nice, so I went ahead and did that. I've been meaning to do it for a while as I want to make it easier to keep my business and personal finances separately, and it was pretty easy to do since I was already in the bank opening personal accounts. Another fun perk of having done this is that I can now accept checks made out to Derivative Technologies Consulting. (If I really wanted to, I probably could have done that before by just showing them my business certificate, but it's just easier this way.) I've only been with Wainwright for a day now, so I can't really say much about them yet. But when I went in and spoke with a banker about opening my accounts they were very friendly and helpful. Their online banking is a bit basic, but it does all the important stuff. I do have to say that it will be nice to be finished with Bank of America. Even if they hadn't screwed me over on that $10,000, I prefer working with smaller, local businesses. Hopefully thing will go well with Wainwright, I've certainly heard nothing but good things about them.

Corrections
Mar 04, 2007

Recently I posted about solar power and a company called Citizenrē. It turns out I had a few inaccuracies in that post. Maika Hoffmann, a member of their sales team, was kind enough to contact me and give me a clearer picture of Citizenrē and what they do. Rather than try and re-hash everything, I'll just copy and paste the relevant portion of the email: STATEMENT: "For a pretty small security deposit ($100/kW, with a 5 kW minimum)" REALITY: The smallest system size is 2 KWp. Also, regarding the deposit: "The Security Deposit is $500 for all REnU systems with a nameplate capacity of 5 KWp DC or less, and for REnU systems with a nameplate capacity larger than 5 KWp DC it is $500 plus 10 cents per Wp DC for every Wp DC greater than 5 KWp DC." (FRA Terms & Conditions, Section 7.2. Security Deposit) STATEMENT: "cover the costs of equipment and installation by paying per kilowatt as you normally do." REALITY: With the current offering, the panels will be rented for the length of the contract. As far as the customer is concerned, it will seem as if they were "paying per KWh as they normally do". However, it is important to keep in mind that this is really a rental rate. Citizenre is a solar service provider, not a utility. The price per KWh is determined as follows: Citizenre utilizes the average rates published by the utilities to the utility commissions. This means they look at the gross sales published by the utility and divide them by the number of KWh distributed. Unfortunately that means the KWh price includes those base fees and taxes. That being said, as a self generator, the customer will avoid those charges in the future. Citizenre considers this aforementioned average cost as the true cost of the electricity though, and so the rental rate is based upon it. STATEMENT: "let you lock in a per-kilowatt rate that will never go up" REALITY: The longest contract duration is 25 years. STATEMENT: "will be lower than what you’re currently paying your electric company" REALITY: A lot of utilities charge tiered prices, with a low baseline rate and incremental price increases for higher consumption. As Citizenre uses an average price, people with low energy consumption can actually find themselves paying more with Citizenre, because Citizenre's rate is higher than the baseline rate. On the other hand, Citizenre's offering works great for customers who do get charged in the higher tiers. As a matter of fact, if a particular customer is really only concerned with saving money, a partial system that brings their net consumption with the utility down to baseline prices would be the cheapest. Personally, I believe spending a bit more to lower emissions as much as possible are always worth it though. STATEMENT: "Presumably, if you’re generating more than you’re using and some of it is going back into the grid you’ll be getting money back on that as well." REALITY: The system size is determined based upon the customer's historical usage and/or an energy audit. Many net metering laws only require the utility to credit the customer for self generation, but not actually buy back the power. In addition, the customer pays Citizenre based upon the energy production of the system. Hence, if anything, it will always be under rather than overengineered. Finally, Citizenre's offering is really best explained at http://renu.citizenre.com. The solar calculator in the bottom left corner lets customers check whether their utility is within Citizenre's service territory, and what the rental rate would be. Clicking on the FAQ icon in the bottom right of the site leads to a page with a thorough overview of the entire life cycle of the service. I checked out that solar savings calculator, and put in my own info. According to it, my current electric rate is 16.7¢ (per kW, I assume), if I were to get a Citizenrē solar panel system, they would lock that rate in for the length of my contract. They estimate that doing so would save me $257.35 over 5 years, or $8,931.06 over 25 years. If I were to invest that money and receive the 'investment grade bond yield average of 9.44%' I'd have nearly $20,000 at the end of that 25 years. I would also, 'eliminate 116 tons of CO2, 378 lbs of NOx, 998 lbs of SO2, 24 lbs of PM, 9 lbs of VOC, and 46 lbs of CO. That is equivalent to taking approximately, 20 automobiles off of the road, or planting 341 trees'. If the numbers hold, it definitely seems like a good deal. I did a little math of my own. Assuming that my electric rate remains at the current 16.7¢ for the next 25 years, and that my electric use also stays at the same level, I'll be spending about $30,000 during that time period. In reality, I'll obviously be spending more than that. Buying a solar panel system that would meet those needs would (based on my estimates helped by this website) would cost about $40,000. If that's actually the case (though I'm sure my numbers are horribly inaccurate), Citizenrē actually seems like a pretty good deal. Of course an even cheaper and more efficient way of doing it would be to get a bunch of investors together and just build one huge solar array somewhere that's hooked into the grid and just sells the power back to the utilities.

Still trying to figure out what bank to use
Mar 01, 2007

As you may remember if you've been reading my blog for a while, I'm currently using Bank of America for my banking, but, as they've really pissed me off, I want to switch. I've basically narrowed the choices of alternative banks to Wainwright Bank and Leader Bank, both of which have a lot going for them. However there are still some issues that leave me questioning whether or not I really want to go with either of these banks:
  • Neither Leader nor Wainwright have a branch in Porter Sq. They both have branches in Central, and Wainwright also has a branch in Davis, so it's not a huge hassle, but it's still an inconvenience if I need to go in for something.
  • Another issue is the lack of ATMs. Obviously neither Wainwright nor Leader are huge banks that can afford to have an ATM on every corner like Bank of America, Sovereign, and Citizen's are (around here anyway). They are, however, both on the SUM ATM network, which means I'd be able to use any SUM ATM without worrying about fees. There is, fortunately, a SUM ATM in Porter Sq. (Cambridge Savings Bank has a branch here and they're also on the SUM network), and I know of a few others, but I'm concerned about whether or not there are enough of them to actually make it worthwhile. I don't want to be having to pay fees all the time because I can't find any SUM ATMs.
  • The last issue is with online banking. Bank of America really does have fantastic online banking, and I've grown very used to having the features that they offer. I'm sure most other banks will have most of the same features (Wells Fargo did), but there's one feature in particular that I really like and am not too fond of the idea of giving up. That feature is e-Bills. The e-Bills program, if you don't know, let's you arrange to have your bills come directly to your Bank of America online banking page. You get an email alert letting you know a bill has arrived, and when you log in it shows you the bills that have come in, your balance, the minimum payment, and the due date. You can then schedule you're payment directly from the page. It's an incredibly convenient system, and I quite like having it. Losing it wouldn't be a deal breaker, of course, but losing it on top of less convenient ATMs and locations makes things a little more questionable.
Now that the whole mortgage thing is taken care of I'll be doing more research into the matter. Hopefully it will turn out that my fears are unfounded and there are plenty of SUM ATMs around Boston to keep me happy. And, if I'm really lucky, one or both of Wainwright and Leader will have the e-Bill system or something similar to it.

A new step
Feb 28, 2007

I just took a new step in this whole life thing: I made my first ever mortgage payment, thus warding off homelessness for at least 30 more days. Speaking of my mortgage, they recently did something with mine that I found a little amusing/annoying. We got our mortgage with Sallie Mae. The first payment was always to be due on March first, and they had sent us our first bill (or whatever it's called) to that effect. Then we noticed that they were sending it to the old address, so I called them up to change it. This, mind you, was about a week before the first payment was actually due. Once I was on the phone with a representative and gave them our account number they informed us that our mortgage had been sold to Aurora... already. They sold our mortgage even before we made the first payment! This may be completely normal as far as I know, but it just strikes me as really weird. Why did they even bother giving us a mortgage if we're never once going to make a payment to them on it? I suppose it's a better investment for them to sell it off before we even have a chance to default on it, but still... Another kinda odd thing was that the mailings from Aurora are coming to the new address and not the old like the ones from Sallie Mae were.

Debunking the debunking of the discovery of Jesus' tomb
Feb 27, 2007

I'm sure everyone's seen the news that James Cameron has made a documentary proving that some tombs discovered in Jerusalem nearly three decades ago contain the remains of Jesus, his mother Mary, his wife Mary (Magdalene) and son Judas (an ironic choice of names, if you ask me). While I'm certainly on the side of the skeptics on this one, it really annoys me when people who clearly don't know what they're talking about address scientific issues. I'm talking, of course, about Bruce Feiler's Huffington Post post entitled The Jesus Hoax. In it, he provides four 'reasons' why this claim is obviously false. I'll get to those in a minute. But before he even gets that far, he provides this little gem of 'logical reasoning': As it happens, Cameron and Jacobovichi claimed only last summer to have "proved" the Exodus. Well, which is it? Either their first documentary is false, or this one is false. Of course, they don't care. They profit either way. (In fact, both are false.) First off, what is that even supposed to mean? Is he trying to claim that if the Biblical account of Exodus is true, so then must be the Biblical account of Jesus' ascension to heaven following his resurrection and vice versa? How could such a claim possibly make sense? Why would the veracity of Exodus be linked to the divinity of Jesus? Exodus, lest we forget, is not just a book in the Bible, it's a book in the Torah. It's a story of Jewish history. Disproving the divinity of Jesus would in no way disprove Judaism. In fact it would actually strengthen Judaism's position, as Jews don't believe in the divinity of Jesus in the first place. And, to look at the converse, neither would proving Exodus false disprove Jesus' divinity. Again, it might even reinforce it. If Exodus is false, and taking that further, if Judaism is false, but God is still real, wouldn't it make sense for God's incarnation on Earth to want to guide people away from the old and false teachings of Judaism? Yes, it just might. So, it's entirely possible that both Exodus and the divinity of Jesus be true. It's also entirely possible that they both be false. It's also entirely possible that one be true and the other false. After reading that, I could barely bring myself to read the rest of the article. But in the interest of fairness, and intellectual honesty, I soldiered on. Now, moving on to those four 'reasons'. The first of them, I don't really have a problem with. It seems a bit suspect to me, but I'll readily admit that I don't know enough about the period to comment on it. The second and fourth, however, are different stories. The second: 2. A family from Nazareth would not be buried in Jerusalem. Jewish custom holds that a body should be buried within 24 hours. I recently heard of a family that hired a private plane to get a body from Cleveland to Jerusalem in time. It would have been impossible to get a body from Nazareth, in the Galilee, to Jerusalem in this time period. Also, there's no way for a family to tend a grave this far away. So the idea of a multi-generational family tomb for Jesus in Jerusalem makes no sense. Even the archaeologist who discovered the cave originally, Amos Kloner, has dismissed the show as "nonsense." This is just nonsense. Yes, Jewish tradition holds that a body be buried within 24 hours and therefore someone who died in Nazareth would not be buried in Jerusalem. However, according to the Biblical accounts, Jesus did not die in Nazareth, he died at Calvary, a hill outside of Jerusalem. Jewish tradition, therefore, would require that he be buried in Jerusalem, not in Nazareth. So the idea that he would have been buried in Nazareth is just, on it's face, ridiculous. As for there being no way for his family to attend to the grave or for it to be a multi-generational burial site, the Biblical accounts also record that both Mary, Jesus' mother, and Mary Magdalene, Jesus' supposed wife, were in Jerusalem with him at the time of his death. Yes, it's possible that following his death they would have gone back to Nazareth to live with Joseph, but it's also possible that they would have stayed in Jerusalem until they themselves died and were buried alongside Jesus. So again, likely or not, it's entirely possible that Jesus and his family would have been buried in Jerusalem. Unless, of course, the Biblical accounts are false, in which case this is all moot anyway. The fourth: 4. The DNA evidence that Jesus was not connected to the Mary buried in the tomb does not prove anything, other than they are not related matrilnearly. For all we know, they could have been related patrilinearly. Or, they could never have met. There is no evidence the female body belonged to someone who was "married" to anyone else in the tomb. There is no evidence she was the mother of anyone else in the tomb. And we can be sure they checked that! So the claim that Jesus fathered a son with the "Mary" in the tomb is bogus. There is, at least, one thing about this claim that I'll agree with: that DNA evidence could not prove that any of the two people in that tomb were married. They could, however, prove that the Jesua in that tomb was the son of one of the Marys and of the Joseph, unrelated to the other Mary, and that Jesua and the unrelated Mary were the parents of the Judah also found in the tomb. Where Mr. Feiler got the idea that there is no evidence supporting this, I don't know. Seeing as Cameron announced that they had DNA evidence proving his claims, it seems unlikely that he would have also said there was no DNA evidence proving his claims. As far as the claims of matrilineal vs. patrilineal relation are concerned, he still doesn't seem to know what he's talking about. Matrilineal relation can be established by comparing the mitochondrial DNA (mDNA or mtDNA) from two individuals. A person's mtDNA is identical to that of their mother's (and her mother's, and her mother's, &c.) and therefore two people who share a common female ancestor will have identical (or near identical due to mutations that will occur over time) mtDNA. There are other DNA test that can determine if people are related in other ways, such as Y chromosome tests which work in a similar way as mtDNA tests but can only be applied to males and male ancestors, and other, broader tests as well. However, there was no announcement that I'm aware of in which it was stated that the DNA tests performed on the remains were based on mtDNA, so there's no basis to state that the tests could only have revealed matrilineal relationships between the remains. As for the third reason, which I haven't mentioned yet. It has no problems, per se. However the logic behind it tends to fall apart when the second reason is shown to be nothing but mindless ramblings. So I'm inclined to just discount it entirely. In conclusion, until we have the whole facts we can't say for sure who is in that tomb. Perhaps we'll never know the identity of those 2000 year old corpses. What we can say for sure, however, is that Bruce Feiler doesn't know what he's talking about.

What were they thinking?
Feb 26, 2007

On Friday night, Jessi and I went to a BU hockey game with Jessi's BU Com school alumni group. Now, I gotta say, BU has a pretty lame mascot. A Boston terrier? Really? I mean, at least it's not a toy poodle, but come on. However in this game, BU's mascot definitely comes out on top (no pun intended). I don't know what they were smoking when they picked it, but Vermont's mascot is, get this, the Catamite. I mean Catamount. First off, I think 95% of the people there had no idea what a catamount is, I definitely heard a ton of people in our section turn to their friends and ask, and secondly it just sounds way too similar to catamite, which you definitely don't want to be naming your sports team(s) after. Unless, I suppose, their plan all along was to not only lose but to let BU solidify their win by taking their goalie off the ice and still giving up the puck to BU who, of course, scored easily on the undefended goal. I suppose it could have been worse. BU's mascot could be the Eagle.

Completely off topic
Feb 22, 2007

But how can I not post about this? Chimpanzees in Senegal have been observed making and hunting with spears. That's just ...amazing. A whole new level in non-human technology. I've heard of chimpanzees using sticks as probes to get termites out of mounds, and as clubs in attacking other chimps, but this is much more. They're not just picking up some object and using it, they're actually shaping their own tools, making the intuitive leap from using an object to creating an object (in this case by sharpening a tree branch with their teeth) for a specific purpose (spearing a bush-baby to pull it out of a hollow cavity). This is a purposeful manipulation of their environment to suit their own ends. I wish we had some sort of idea of how long they've been doing this. If it's just a recent phenomenon then we've basically just witnessed the rise of a new tool making species. Just ...amazing.

Client referrals and free solar power
Feb 22, 2007

Today I had a very important phone call. It was a call from a new client, but not just any new client. This new client found me by being referred by another client rather than through and ad or by meeting me in some other context. As I see it, referral business is the most important business you can get. It not only means that you're getting business in the first place, but it means that you're doing your job well enough for people to recommend you to others. Plus, it allows your business to grow much faster than it otherwise would. If my current clients refer new clients and those clients refer even more new clients, before you know it I'll be working with Kevin Bacon! I like to think of it as the first sign that my business is becoming self-sustaining; in other words, that it will grow at a greater rate than my personal investment into it. Eventually this is the trend that will allow (and require) me to hire employees to spread out the work load, and eventually to move myself into a purely management role. In other news, I've just learned of a new company in the renewable energy space. As Jessi and I are now homeowners, the issue of utilities and utility bills are much more important than they once were. I've written previously about cogeneration and how it can have a major impact on your energy bills and consumption. In that post, I also said that I thought it would be great if you combined it with photovoltaics. The problem with such a system is that there's a huge initial investment which means that it doesn't actually save you any money for quite a while (5-7 years in the case of Climate Energy's cogeneration system). But now I've discovered Citizenrē. Citizenrē offers what is essentially a free photovoltaic system. For a pretty small security deposit ($100/kW, with a 5 kW minimum) they'll install a photovoltaic system on your house for free. Instead of paying for the system up front and then waiting for the energy savings to cover that cost, you pay nothing up front and cover the costs of equipment and installation by paying per kilowatt as you normally do. They also let you lock in a per-kilowatt rate that will never go up and will be lower than what you're currently paying your electric company, so you're still saving money. Presumably, if you're generating more than you're using and some of it is going back into the grid you'll be getting money back on that as well. I haven't looked into it as thoroughly as I need to before making any sort of commitment, but from what I've seen it seems like a sound idea. Some people are claiming that it's a scam, but it seems to me like it has potential. I'll definitely be looking into it more and, if I end up being convinced, may get some solar panels put up on our roof.

Pre-primary presidential politics
Feb 13, 2007

I've always found it interesting (and somewhat disturbing) how soon before an election people start campaigning. I suppose to some extent it makes sense to start a presidential campaign early, there's a lot of work to do, and if you win it will be the crowning achievement of your political career. Of course anyone for whom that is a motivation, I would say, shouldn't be president in the first place... The plus side is that it gives me plenty of time to familiarize myself with the potential candidates so that, some 22 months from now, I can have a well educated opinion upon which to cast my vote. Although with this crop of candidates, as always, picking a favorite is more a exercise in compromise and choosing the lesser of multiple evils. At this ridiculous early juncture, I've actually been able to narrow it down to one candidate from each of the major parties: Giuliani and Obama. Giuliani: Giuliani has pretty obvious appeal. He did great things for New York, he has a solid track record of standing his ground and taking reasoned approaches to solving problems despite political pressure, and he seems to do a pretty good job of combining the best of 'Liberal' and 'Conservative' politics into a coherent political philosophy. There's really only one area in which I don't like him. Unfortunately it's a pretty big and important area: terrorism / the war on terror. In part, I'm sure his positions are due to the political concerns of being a high profile New Yorker, but his strong support of the PATRIOT Act, and his buying in to the 'with us or against us' mentality spread by the White House in regards to terrorism don't sit well with me. In pretty much every other regards, however, I like what he has to say. Obama: In general, I rather like Obama. My biggest issues with him are his support of the USA PATRIOT Act, his stance on gun control, and some but not all of his economic positions (minimum wage and estate tax to name a few). Other than that, he seems like a pretty decent politician. I do like his position on the Iraq war. Having initially been against it, he's now saying that, since we already went there and made a mess of it, we should at the very least stabilize the country before leaving again. Right there he's addressing my biggest criticism of the anti-war movement: that those advocating that we leave now are completely ignoring that we are responsible for the current condition of Iraq. I don't think we should have gone to Iraq in the first place, but we did and now we have to live with the consequences. It's not just Bush's fault or his cabinet's fault that we're in this mess. It's our fault for electing them twice, and we don't get to just run away from our mistakes. As for the other candidates, it really becomes an issue of whom will I not, under any circumstances, vote for. That list is pretty much: Clinton, McCain (used to like him, but I don't like the direction he's gone in lately), and Romney (could anyone in Massachusetts seriously vote him into another office?). Any others, I'll consider if nominated. I'm really interested to see who end up being candidates for the Libertarian nomination. I really really hope they manage to nominate someone who could become a serious contender (like Gary Nolan) rather than one of the stereotypical Libertarian raving lunatics (like Michael Badnarik) this time around.

Long term plans
Feb 12, 2007

I guess I've been slacking when it comes to the blog lately. No excuses really, I've just been absorbed in working on my long term plans, both business and otherwise. In terms of general life plans, I'm considering a few different things. I haven't made any decisions yet, but grad school is finally showing up on my radar. When I graduated from college I really didn't have the stomach for any more school just yet. How Jessi could go straight from undergrad into a masters program is beyond me, let alone our friend Ari who went straight into a PhD program! For myself, 16+ years was a long enough stretch of uninterrupted school, though it may only take only one fourth that for me to recover enough to dive head first back into academia. Part of the reason I didn't go straight into grad school was that I wasn't sure what I wanted to study. Four years of Computer Science taught me that, while it's a fun thing to do and I certainly have a talent for it, neither CS research nor a life of sitting in front of a computer coding are what I want. Originally when I was starting college I had planned on majoring in physics and going on to a PhD program in astrophysics. I suppose that had a lot to do with the fact that the two best, by far, teachers at my High School were Mr. Henning, who taught me calculus, and Mr. Davis who taught me physics (this is not to discount how great my English teachers, Mrs. Mahoney and Ms. Caraballo were, nor Mr. Filson who fed my love of Jazz). Physics and multi-dimensional calculus are just fun, but, as with CS, I never really saw a career that I would enjoy at the end of that path. It's taken me about two and a half years to finally re-discover a field of study that's held my interest for pretty much my entire life, though, for some reason, it never occurred to me to consider it as a career path (possibly because my school only offered two courses in it and it wasn't even available as a major): archaeology. As a kid in school I was always the weird one who wanted to study ancient history not modern, and took Latin instead of French or Spanish. Who wants to learn about the French revolution when you can read about the origins of written language in Sumer, the discovery of new tombs in the Valley of Kings in Egypt, or the Roman emperor who made his horse a senator? Through college my interest in the field manifested itself through studying religion, linguistics, and philosophy, where, as always, my interest was constantly on the past (historical linguistics was, I think, was of the most fun classes that I took in college). The earliest civilizations, and the ways in which they built themselves out of nothing have always been far more interesting to me than the way in which we, and other recent civilizations, have simply built on those foundations. More recently I've been reading about a new (for me) center of civilization: the Americas. In school we all got a pretty short, glossed over summary of what pre-Columbian American societies were like. From what I've read more recently, that picture was not only incomplete but in many ways just insultingly wrong. American civilizations, it seems, were in many ways much more impressive than those of the 'old world'. The fact that, even here in the Americas, we know so little as a culture and still spend so little energy to learn about American history and civilizations is boggling. The things kids are learning about it now in school are the same outdated things our parents were taught decades ago. I could go on about this at length, but sufficed to say, I've discovered a very great interest in pre-Columbian America, particularly the rise of Mesoamerican civilizations. Perhaps, as I'm now considering, great enough even to send me back to school. That's the area where I'm still weighing my options and considering the possibility. But, for pretty much the first time ever, I'm actually seriously considering going to grad school. Obviously there are logistical issues to be overcome before taking on such a venture, and, if at all possible, I'd prefer to not abandon my various business ventures. So at the very earliest, I would want to be starting school in Fall '08. That gives me 20 months to prepare for everything. So, the first step of my plan is to spend the next 20 months building my business(es) to the point where I'm able to take a less active role in them. If, of course, that proves unrealistic (or even undesirable depending on how things go) I'll have to push back those plans. But the more I think about it and start to work my life around it, the more I like the sound of this new plan.

Some depressing statistics
Feb 02, 2007

From here: 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college. 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. That's something I just don't get. Pretty much the only reason that I'm ever not in the middle of a book is because I've already read all the books I have and I haven't had a chance to get more yet. I recently read Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire, and I'm currently about 1/4 of the way through Charles Mann's 1491. Next up will most likely be Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, though I may move into fiction a bit for some Charles Stross (I've heard good things about The Atrocity Archives) or Kevin J. Anderson's Of Fire and Night which I've been waiting for for a while. In some way, I even miss having a 45 minute commute every morning and evening like I did in San Francisco. It was nice having a full, uninterrupted hour and a half every day in which to do nothing but read. I guess everyone has things they like to do. I like to read. It doesn't hurt that the Boston Public Library is a work of art, either.

One of life's mysteries; from raptors to rugby
Jan 31, 2007

I'm sure I'm not the only one to have noticed that jobs/projects never seem to come one at a time. They're like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park: when you stumble upon one out in the jungle somewhere, you can be sure there's more of them flanking you in the bushes just waiting to jump out and disembowel you. Only less bloody. Unless you're a hit man or mercenary or something I suppose... Anyway, my point is that it seems to be a Law of Business that you can never be only doing one thing at a time. This law even seems to apply to freelancing. Having finished off some projects and being left with a little free time, the leads on new work were coming in slowly recently. Then, all of a sudden, a nice juicy lead pops up out of nowhere in the wilds of Craigslist. Had I thought of my dinosaur simile earlier, I wouldn't have been so surprised when, within a day, two more had surfaced. And this at a time when some of my side projects are starting to ramp up as well. Fortunately, unlike a velociraptor attack, this is good news. I was lucky enough to have a nice quiet period in terms of work while Jessi and I were moving into our new condo, and now that we're mostly finished with that I've got what's starting to look as though it may be a glut of work to help us start saving for the remodeled kitchen in our future. It's a good thing it didn't work out the other way around or I'd probably be pretty miserable right now. So anyway, it looks like I've got some choice new projects coming up. There are, as usual, a few web things to do, but the biggest thing of note is that I may be taking steps towards pushing my consulting business in a new and exciting direction: IT strategy consulting. At my previous job in San Francisco I was used to filling pretty much every rung in the IT ladder. I did everything from helping people format their Word docs to designing the IT infrastructure for a new office and spending tens of thousands of dollars to contract for its implementation. So though I've been focusing more on the support and implementation roles in the work I've done so far, I definitely have some experience in doing more. I've now got a chance to do just that and hopefully establish myself a little further up that ladder. This has always been part of my plan, though I expected it to take a little longer to actually find an opportunity to try and move into that space. Hopefully this will also provide the opportunity (and income) to take another step that's been part of my plan—and of which inklings of impending reality have lately been appearing—hiring employees. I've actually been approached in the past about hiring someone on, but never at a time when I could realistically think about doing it. If things go well in the next few weeks/months, I may be able to (need to, even) start thinking about actually doing that. This, of course, would be a huge step in many ways. And, as I always knew to be the case, the most useful tool in getting to this point has been networking. Advertising will always bring in some work, but if you want to be proactive about it, there's no better way to go about it than to just get out there and meet people. Of course to do that you need to know where to go to meet the the sort of people that are actually likely to buy what you're selling. Fortunately, I just the other day met Mark Doerschlag who runs MarksGuide.com, a site dedicated to networking and networking events in Boston. He's pointed me towards a couple different events that I'll be checking out in the near future, including the web innovators group of Boston (which is, in name at least, quite reminiscent of the SFWIN events I often attended while I was in San Francisco (doesn't look like they're actually related though). So with luck this will help accelerate things even further. In other news, this weekend marks my favorite event in the sporting year: the opening matches of the RBS 6 Nations rugby tournament. Making it an even better thing, now that I'm in Boston instead of San Francisco the first match of the day starts at 8:30 am instead of 5:30 am, so there's a change I might even wake up and drag myself down to the Phoenix Landing to watch it live (something I haven't been able to do since 2004 when I spent a week and a half in London)! So five of the next eight weekends should find me at the Phoenix, hopefully not surrounded by rabid Ireland fans who won't much appreciate my (much needed, but sadly not very effective) cheering of Scotland. At least Scotland are playing England on Saturday, so the Ireland fans will be on my side for that match... All in all, it appears that good things are ahead (as behind).

We have our own internet almost!
Jan 26, 2007

Yesterday I got a package from Verizon with our new DSL modem. Today our DSL gets turned on. Actually, it's already turned on, we just can't use it. Why? Because we don't know our phone number. Since the line wasn't active when we moved in and we didn't bother getting phone service (What's the point when we both have cell phones?), we have no idea what the phone number—or dedicated data line number as the case may be—actually is. According to the Verizon DSL activation page, the only web page we can get to with our DSL right now, we should have gotten the number when we ordered our service. But we didn't. Nor was the number anywhere to be found on any of the documents that came in the package with the modem. This seems like a bit of an oversight on Verizon's part. I guess I'll just have to call Verizon and see if I can get it from them that way. So I guess it's off to touch-tone menu land for me...

Trash day's on Tuesday. ...and twice on Wednesday?
Jan 24, 2007

Having just moved into our new condo, Jessi and I didn't really know what we were supposed to do with our trash, and we haven't really had a chance yet to meet our neighbors and ask them about it either. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have the misfortune of losing my internet access yesterday morning (still stealing from a neighbor until Friday) and so I was leaving the house early enough to notice that everyone had their trash cans out with trash in them. So I ran back upstairs and brought down our garbage just in time to see the garbage truck come around the corner to pick it up. That, I figured, was that. Trash day is on Tuesday. Imagine my surprise when this morning I not only see a garbage truck coming down the street again, but, soon after, another one follows! Three garbage trucks in two days? What is the city of Somerville spending my tax money on? I suppose it may have had something to do with the fact that we're literally right on the line between Cambridge and Somerville (the other side of the street is in Cambridge), but I still don't see how that necessitates three garbage trucks. Oh well. To paraphrase Lord Alfred Tennyson, ours is not to reason why.

Foodler.com
Jan 22, 2007

As I mentioned in my last post I've just discovered Foodler.com. Foodler is basically a website that lets your order directly from local restaurants for pickup or delivery. This is hardly a new idea, I used to do it all the time with Food.com back before it became the Food Network's website, but, despite the lack of novelty, I was still very impressed by Foodler. It not only does what you'd expect it to do, but it does it very well. It's all AJAXy, so the pages are dynamic and very smooth to use. But I think my favorite thing about it is that once you register an account and give it your address, it greets you with a list of places that will deliver to your address and are open. The main page shows you three categories: Open and delivering, Open for takeout, and Closed restaurants. This was an incredibly useful feature the other night when Jessi and I were trying to find a place that would deliver to our new condo at midnight. Once we put our address in it narrowed down the selections only to places that would deliver to our specific address (fewer than to our zip code) as well as to the places that were still open (there were about three total). It also provides ratings, so we were able to easily choose between the two Chinese places that were available. The ratings appear to be pretty accurate, because the one we went with, Happy Garden was fantastic. Their service was quick, their prices were good, and their food was definitely the best I've had on the East Coast, and possibly the best I've had outside of China. For anyone in the Somerville area, I highly recommend you try it out. And if you're too lazy/busy to go there, just order your dinner online with Foodler. You won't be disappointed.

First night in our new condo
Jan 19, 2007

Even though we officially started owning our new condo (and had the keys) last Friday, since I was away that weekend the plan has been to move in this coming weekend. Instead, I decided to surprise Jessi by moving the essentials (read: bed and Pigpen) yesterday so she could come home from work to our new condo. So, last night was our first night in our new home (where I'm also writing this post, stealing wi-fi from a neighbor). We also had our first dinner in our new dining room. Though, as the dining room table is still at the apartment, we had a 'picnic' dinner on a blanket on the floor, and, since all the pots and pans and food are also still at the apartment, we ordered Chinese through Foodler (which I'll definitely be writing about). I have to say, it's a nice feeling to wake up in a place that's your own. There's still a lot to be done (Currently the only furniture we have here is the bed, a lawn chair that was on the deck when we moved in, and a tv dinner tray that Jessi brought over when she was doing some painting last weekend. The chair and tray are currently serving as my 'desk'.), but it feels good to finally be in our own place. If I have time, I'll probably bring some more stuff over today (last night we packed up suitcases full of clothes, so I'll probably empty them, go back, and refill them), but the bulk of the work will be tomorrow when we'll be bringing the remaining furniture over in a U-Haul and starting to actually make this place feel homey. One other thing that we need to get done is internet. The essential utilities are already taken care of, but I don't really want to keep stealing my internet access from an unknown neighbor. The choices, basically, are Verizon DSL or Comcast cable. Eventually I want to be using Verizon FiOS, but it's not available here yet. In the meantime, I think we'll probably go with Verizon DSL. It's not as fast as cable—assuming we go with the cheaper option—and it's significantly cheaper at around $25/mo for a 768 Kb connection or $35 for a 3 Mb connection (w/ 'dry-loop' activation which means we don't also need to pay to activate a phone line we don't really need or want) as opposed to $60 w/o cable tv or $45 w/ cable tv that we don't really want (odd pricing structure, that). Jessi has left the Internet in my hands, so I just need to decide if it's worth $10/mo for an extra 2.25 Mb/sec. It probably is. I'll probably be taking a ton of pictures, and have all sorts of more specific things I want to write about over the next couple of weeks, so look forward to that. (I insist!) For now, I think I'll say that's it for blogging this morning.

Home inspection
Jan 11, 2007

It's been a while since my last post on the home buying process, so I figured I'd remedy that while I've got some free time this morning. I left off with the negotiations, a process that I actually found pretty enjoyable. As it was really just the two agents negotiating, we basically were just setting the negotiation strategy and letting Anne handle the tactics. That suited me just fine and, despite losing the first place we negotiated on, I think we proved to be fairly strong negotiators. Having agreed to a price with the seller it was time to move on to the home inspection. When we were first talking with Anne about the buying process she had provided us with a list of inspectors and inspection companies in the area and given us some basic advice. Basically, once you have a list of inspectors you want to make sure you get someone who's got a lot of experience, but still not hugely expensive. After going through the list provided by RE/MAX, we had a price range from about $250 to about $600, and all the inspectors claimed to have years and years of experience. The inspector we ended up going with, Mark George, was actually towards the lower end of the price scale, but has about 25 years experience and when talking to him on the phone he just 'sounded right'. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but when I was talking to him on the phone he just sounded like you'd expect an experienced and honest home inspector to sound. In general that's probably not the best thing to base a decision on, but in this case it worked out because he was simply fantastic. Even Anne, who's obviously worked with a lot of home inspectors, was impressed and said he's probably the best she's worked with. The home inspection involved much more than him just looking the place over and giving us a report. Instead he walked us through the entire process. He pointed everything out to us as he saw it and explained what it meant and why it was good or bad. He explained the process of maintaining everything that needs maintenance, from the water heater to the wooden gutters (apparently you need to treat wooden gutters with linseed oil every so often), and actually explained why you want to do this things rather than just telling us we need to. He was also just a fun guy who enjoyed joking around (his very heavy Boston accent didn't hurt either). He even brought a ladder along and took us up on the roof to inspect that, something which, apparently, the buyers of the other two units in the building never bothered to do because when we got up there we discovered that the rubber roof, though in good condition, needed to be re-sealed as some of the seams had dried out and separated (something which proved quite useful to know). As a home inspector, Mark wasn't allowed to recommend a roofer to fix it, but he was able to give us an expected price range on the work so we were able to use it when re-negotiating after the inspection (a process which proved to be very painless as we had a less than perfect roof above our top-floor condo to use as leverage). All in all, I'd say the inspection was one of the most enjoyable parts of the process. Not only was it incredibly useful, and helped to reassure Jessi and myself that we had found a great place, but we also learned a lot about the things we need to be aware of and be sure we take care of after we move in. As I've said many times before, I think it's extremely important to have good people supporting you when buying a home, and Mark George definitely fit the bill. As with everyone else I've worked with on this, I highly recommend him to anyone looking to buy a home in the area. Next up, handing over uncomfortably large sums of money, more mortgage stuff, and actually taking ownership of our new condo (which happens tomorrow!).

Just a quick update
Jan 06, 2007

I've been pretty busy lately, and don't expect to stop being busy for the next couple of weeks, so posting will remain sporadic at best. Anyway, spent a week in IL for Christmas and a weekend on the Cape for New Years as mentioned. Spent last week and will be spending this week getting everything back in order after the trips as well as preparing to move, because on Friday we're closing on the condo. Immediately after closing on the condo, I'm getting on a plane again... So it will continue to be a pretty busy time for both Jessi and I. But the end is in sight! Come February we will be moved into our new condo, there will be no more impending travels (except, possibly, a trip to Ireland in March), and hopefully time to relax. Anyway, related to the move, we need to find some people to take our place in the apartment. If anyone is interested in sub-letting two rooms in our apartment (one is about 10x11 and the other is about 11x12), please let me know. More info is available in this Craigslist ad.

Add and vote for your favorite Boston blogs.
Dec 29, 2006

Just a quick post to let everyone know that Jesse Legg has created squidoo lens for Boston-area blogs. Go to it, add and vote for your favorite area blogs.

I'll keep this short
Dec 26, 2006

Because in a few minutes I'll be leaving to go see Jessi's grandma. I'm currently in Illinois (read: the middle of nowhere) staying with Jessi's family for Christmas. We've been here since Friday and will be here until Friday, which is why I haven't been writing anything. Also, the internet connection is incredibly slow out here (it has to be satellite way out here in the middle of nowhere, so it's also extremely high latency...) which hasn't really encouraged me to spend a whole lot of time online. Anyway, not really a whole lot going on that's relevant to my blog, but i wanted to point out this. Apparently a company called Phoenix Motorcars is building electric trucks/SUVs that will be released some time next year. According to the website it has a range of over 100 miles and can charge to 95% in less than 10 minutes. If this is true, it's huge news. One of the markets that I think electric cars really need to break into is the rural market. Ordinarily the limited range and long charge times really make electrics impractical for rural areas, but with a charge time measured in minutes, 100 miles should be plenty. A good, rugged electric pickup would, I think, really change the image that electric vehicles have in the eyes of Americans. It would stop being a toy of the rich, spoiled celebrities and urbanites, and start being something that you're average joe farmer could actually use. Having spent a good amount of time out here in farm country, I think it's safe to say that this is where our oil dependency is hurting us the most. Out here, people have to drive everywhere, and they have to drive pretty long distances even to just go out to dinner at a restaurant. That adds up to a lot of gas and a lot of money (even way out in rural Illinois, gas is running around $2.25 per gallon for regular). If it were practical for people out here to drive electrics, it could really save a lot of money for everyone. Additionally, if farmers are using electric trucks, it reduces their costs which will drive down the prices on their crops and make it easier for American farmers to compete with imported food without market-imbalancing subsidies (something which I think would be very good). Hopefully the Phoenix SUT (Sport Utility Truck) will turn out to be as good as it sounds. I would love to see EVs start to appear way out here in the middle of nowhere. As far as image goes, a 'cowboy-compatible' EV will go a long way towards making EVs seem like a more viable alternative for everyone, in addition to the advantages of bringing down the cost of domestically grown crops and therefore helping our economy and American farmers.

Living in Crack Head City isn't all bad
Dec 15, 2006

Crack head city
Say what you will about Central Square, or 'Crack Head City' as one of the cleverer denizens of my future home, Porter Square, labeled it on a map of the T, but living hear does have it's benefits. Despite the occasionally shooting, there are definitely some good things about our current apartment. For example, both of the following photos were shot out the window of my office at sunset.


November Sunset:
100_1060


December Sunset
100_1105 (1)

Only because I can't stop laughing
Dec 15, 2006

And everyone needs to see this. From here and here

The MBTA: ineptitude and indolence incarnate
Dec 15, 2006

Back in mid-September I wrote about how I was finally starting to understand why people don't really like the T. This was mostly in response to the implementation of the then-new CharlieTicket system which was obviously not very well thought out and could have been done much better and probably much cheaper (if only they had thought to hire me to do it...). Now they've started rolling out the CharlieCard system, and with it a whole new fare structure. The CharlieCard, I think, is actually a good idea. It will make things much more convenient for both the passengers and the MBTA. And it really isn't a system that's particularly easy to screw up considering the infrastructure is all already in place. And yet the MBTA seems bound and determined to excel at screwing up. In January, when the CharlieCard goes 'mainstream' (right now it's only there for the elite few who braved the morning commute at a certain time on a certain day at whatever station the MBTA deemed worthy of having CharlieCards that morning, or, in Jessi's case, the elite few who were able to talk a security guard into giving them one anyway), we'll also be getting a new fare structure. The cost of a ride will, of course, be going up. But it will be going up by varying amounts depending on how you pay for it. People with CharlieCards will pay the least, and will get free bus rides. People with CharlieTickets will pay more. I suppose that makes sense, as CharlieCards will save the MBTA money in the long term, but it's still annoying and somewhat confusing. I'll even go along with the fare hikes as a good thing, because the MBTA is clearly in need of more money with their mounting debt and all. But with all that mounting debt, what is that money going towards? Is it going towards the poorly maintained red line (the one Jessi and I ride) that, nearly killed a child and woman yesterday due to faulty doors? No, it's going to a new MBTA website. A new MBTA website that doesn't even properly implement the Google API. When you go there you get a warning about the Google API key not matching the site. Basically, they never got a new Google API key for the live site and were still using the one from the development site, which doesn't work (I learned this the hard way when developing the dy/dx tech website). Admittedly, the new website looks better, and it won't take long for them to fix the Google API problem, but it seems like an egregious waste of money to me, when they are so in debt that they can't even properly maintain their trains. The MBTA needs to improve their service and systems, that will improve their image, that will encourage more people to ride the T more often, that will increase their income, that will work to alleviate their financial situation, that will allow them to continue to improve their service and systems, ad infinitum. Basically, their current path would run any ordinary company into the ground, but thanks to the miracle of government subsidies they don't really need to worry about it. Ah, but for the luxury of a government contract, we could all be wallowing in the depths of our own ineptitude and indolence.

More bad BOFA news
Dec 14, 2006

Fortunately it's not personally relevant this time, but Bank of America is pulling their support for the celebrity series. Boston.com is running a more detailed story. I haven't mentioned it in a while, but I am still planning on dumping Bank of America and moving to a different bank. As before, my top two choices are Leader Bank and Wainwright Bank. I haven't fully decided which I'm going to go with yet, but it will almost definitely be with one of those two. Wainwright has the whole social responsibility thing going for them (hey, maybe they'll take up sponsorship of the Celebrity Series), but after one of my previous posts about my banking quandary someone from Leader Bank actually personally got in touch with me and offered to answer any questions I have, which was really nice. Leader Bank also has displayed a commitment to embracing new technologies to improve the banking experience (although, to be honest, their web site doesn't really reflect that) which I think is a very good thing. At any rate, I'm going to wait until after all this home buying and mortgage stuff is over before I start moving messing too severely with my account balances.

I think I broke it, and negotiations
Dec 14, 2006

Prizewagon is down. Their servers appeared to have crashed. Oddly enough, this happened at the exact moment that I won a hand in the tournament I was playing in. I can only conclude that this is the result of some vast conspiracy aimed at preventing my success at online poker. Yeah, that must be it. Anyway, on to real estate negotiations. We actually ended up going into negotiations on two different places (not at once). The first one, was a fantastic 2 bedroom, 2.5 bath townhouse in Porter Sq. By some strange fluke it just barely happened to be in the high range of our price range and was an absolutely beautiful gut rehab. We still decided to make a very low offer because of the state of the market, and because we really didn't want to go that high if we didn't have to. After several rounds of negotiation the seller had made an offer that was very close to what we wanted, but just slightly higher. We decided to push just a little bit harder and countered with our actual target price. To be honest, I think the seller would have taken it, but their agent didn't want to. Instead, the agent delayed and brought in one of their own clients who must have made a much higher offer because we weren't even given the chance to match it. I can only assume that the actual buyer must have offered close to the original asking price whereas we had gotten the seller down by about $50,000. Suckers. After losing the townhouse we started looking again. The next thing we found was again at the very high end of our price range. But, rather than a townhouse or a condo, it was a single family house. And not one out in the middle of nowhere, but literally just a block away from the Porter Sq. T stop in a very nice residential neighborhood (actually only about two blocks from the townhouse). It was listed as 1,500 sq. ft., 3 bedroom, 1 bath. The catch? It had been built as a farmhouse around 1900, and it looked like the only upgrades since then had been installing indoor plumbing. Despite that, it was a beautiful house with huge investment potential. Investing maybe $20,000 into it could have finished the attic, bringing it up to around 2,000 sq. ft. and up to 5 bedrooms, converted two of the bedrooms into a master suite, and upgraded the kitchen to something modern. The problem was that we wouldn't really be able to afford to put in that investment for a while. So we'd be forced to live with it as is for probably around 2 years, and on top of that had to make bigger mortgage payments than we really wanted to (which wouldn't really have been to bad because it had a four-car tandem driveway that could easily have been converted to 3 parallel spots and rented out). It also had an old oil heating system, so we would have had to pay for that all winter on top of everything else. It would have been a great investment, but eventually we decided that it was just a little more than we were willing/able to take on just yet, so we let it go. The next one we found was the one we've now basically bought. Unlike the other two, it's at the low to middle of our prize range. Previously we had been looking at 1,200 to 1,300 sq. ft. condos, but this one, at only 980 sq. ft., actually feels bigger than those thanks to a very good layout. Everything in it is modern and it needs no work. It's the third floor of a three-floor building that had just recently been converted from rental units and the other two had sold within the past 6 months. It's actually just up the street from the townhouse we first made an offer on as well, so a very good location. The only problem, which originally had actually been a deal breaker for us, was that the kitchen hadn't been updated since the 60s. But it was still in working order, and after our experience with the house we had realized that we weren't actually afraid of doing a little work on the place. So we decided to make an offer on the place. Negotiations (obviously) went very well, and we were able to get the seller to agree to almost exactly the price we had as our target. Having seen what we've seen and realized what is and isn't possible for us, I think this place is actually just about perfect for us. It's in exactly the neighborhood we want, it's just about the right size, and it'll last us for at least 5 years, which is pretty much the amount of time that we're likely to want to stay there. Having found this place, I'm actually kind of glad that we didn't get the townhouse and that we decided the house would be too much. The next step: inspection. The inspection was actually, to me, one of the most interesting parts of the process. I'll write about it in my next post.

House shopping
Dec 13, 2006

As promised, the first stage of buying a new home. Obviously, there are three very important things to know when going into the first stage of buying a home: where you want to live, what kind of place you want to live in, and how much you want to spend on it. In Jessi and my case, we wanted to live in Cambridge and within walking distance of the red line so that Jessi could still easily take the T to the office. We also knew that we wanted a condo with at least two bedrooms and at least one bathroom (duh...), but we didn't really know much beyond that. We started our actual shopping online. It didn't take too long to discover that by far the best web site for searching and getting the basics on properties for sale in the Boston area is Hammond's. It has all the listing you'll want to see and, in my opinion, the best interface by far of any of the options. It let us specify exactly what our search criteria were, including neighborhood. It really helped us get a better idea of what was out there and what was in our price range (and we were lucky enough to discover that, in the current market, there were plenty of places that met our criteria and were in our price range). The next step was finding an agent. it's not strictly necessary to have your own agent when buying a home, but it makes the process vastly easier, and the seller pays their fee so why not. Since we didn't really know what we were doing and we wanted to be sure we got someone we could work with we initially talked to a couple different agents. We ended up, as I mentioned before, going with Anne Munson from RE/MAX Destiny in Cambridge, mainly because we just felt like she was a good fit for our personalities. Once we had signed the paperwork with Anne and told her what we were looking for she signed us up with MLS (Multiple Listing Service) and we started getting daily email updates on whatever new properties showed up that met our criteria. She also was able to give us copies of the Rosenoff Report, which is basically a giant printed out spreadsheet with info on all the properties for sale in Cambridge and Somerville. That was more Jessi's domain, so I'll let her write about that if she wants. Anyway, this is the point when it starts actually looking like house shopping. Based on the properties that came to us through MLS we would tell Anne which ones we were interested in and she would arrange for us to go see them. We also went to some open houses. Around this time we also went to get our mortgage pre-approval. Chris Smith, of Capstone Mortgage, was recommended to us by a friend who works in real estate in the area. After telling her our financial situation she was able to pre-approve us for a mortgage that was in exactly the range we were looking for. Again, just to be sure, we also went to someone else to see what they would say. In this case we went to Cambridge Savings Bank. They weren't quite as good. For some reason they said that, unless we got someone to co-sign our mortgage they would only approve us for around $15,000, significantly less even than the down-payment we already had. So we went with Chris. Eventually we found a place we wanted to put an offer in on and went into negotiations. But that will be the next post. In other news, Pigpen is now famous: Cat Art Gallery. Jessi says I'm going to turn into a crazy cat lady...

Fastest hands in the West and an all-star home buying team
Dec 11, 2006

Now that we're pretty much done with the house buying process, I figure it's a good time to start writing about it. It's long, it's complicated, but it's interesting. One of the things that I found really interesting about it was how many people are involved. It's not just the buyer, the seller and their respective agents. Jessi and I have had to deal with: our agent (Anne Munson of RE/MAX Destiny in Cambridge. She's fantastic and we highly recommend her to anyone else buying a home in the area), our mortgage broker (Chris Smith of Capstone Mortgage. Again, we couldn't recommend her any more highly.), our attorney (Katherine Kurtz of Belesi & Conroy. Haven't really worked with her as much, but she seems to be pretty good.), the seller (probably shouldn't give out her name...), the seller's agent, the seller's attorney, a home inspector (Mark George of Home Inspection Assoc., Inc. Yet another amazingly competent person we were lucky to have on our team), and I'm probably forgetting one or two. In addition to those people, Chris also has to deal with an attorney (also Katherine in this case, which simplifies things and saves us money) as well as the various bank people. I don't think I can possibly stress enough how helpful it was to have a good team of people to work with. Anne made the process of finding or place as painless as possible, and Chris exceeded all expectations in doing the same with the mortgage process. Mark is a fantastic inspector, I think I learned more about houses from him during the inspection than I'd ever hoped to know in the first place. I'm sure most agents, brokers, and inspectors are good people and good at what they do, but the people we've been working with have just been great. Even if you don't go with the same people we did, you should really make sure that you like and are comfortable with the people you're working with. You'll be spending a lot of time with them and giving them all sorts of personal details, so pick someone you trust. I really think that's the most important thing to know about buying a house. There's certainly a lot else to the process, but the people you work with, if they're good, will help you through all of that. I'll get into the actual process in the next couple posts. And now for something completely different. The cameraman sucks, but you want to watch this all the way through anyway.

Shepherds and Brokers
Dec 07, 2006

I'm writing this from The Druid in Inman Square where I'm stuffed to the gills with what was, by far, the best Shepherd's Pie I've ever had in my life. Rather than the standard ground beef with some peas and carrots topped with mediocre mashed potatoes it was a fantastic lamb stew with vegetables topped with fantastic mashed potatoes. And they didn't skimp on the meat either, there was plenty of nice big chunks of lamb to last the whole way through the meal. Plus they're one of the few places around enlightened enough to offer free WiFi. So you get a fantastic Irish Pub with fantastic Irish food, good prices, great atmosphere, and internet access so you can spend the whole day here and still claim to be working. I think I have a new favorite casual eatery. In other news, we met with our mortgage broker this morning to apply for our mortgage. When we were first starting the process we were told that applying for a mortgage was like getting a root canal. I've never had a root canal, but, if that's what it's like, sign me up! I think the mortgage has seriously been one of the easiest parts of this whole process, which is saying a lot considering every other person we've worked with on this has been really good and really helpful. I think we must have had one of the best possible house shopping experiences, and I almost can't wait to do it again (Cape house, anyone? Maybe in a few years...). So we're now pretty much finished with buying our condo. Everything that we need to do has been done, and now it's just up to our lawyer, agent, and broker to take care of the rest. We're definitely on track to be moving in by our closing date of Jan. 12.

Some real news
Dec 06, 2006

I haven't been writing much lately, just too much going on. I'm very close to getting my first client who will hire me on retainer rather than just for projects, I'm trying to keep on top of various opportunities to pursue for the new web venture as soon as all the paperwork for that is all ship shape and Bristol fashion (as an old boss of mine would say), trying mightily to find the time to get the work needed on cellphonetechnews.com done so that it can really launch, and, of course, buying a house. If you had told me when I started this blog, way back on June 21, that today I would be buying a house, I would have thought you were crazy. None the less, this evening Jessi and I will be signing the Purchase and Sale agreement for our new condo in Somerville (and you'll notice that I now have a Somerville category to complement my Cambridge one), and handing over a cheque for more money than I've ever actually seen at one time before. Of course things won't really be finalized until Closing, which will be happening mid-January to avoid complications with the holidays, but the really important step of signing the paperwork and handing over a lot of money happens today (and we're meeting with our mortgage broker tomorrow morning to deal with that aspect).
Move
So once again, this blog will be chronicling a move. This time I'll be moving less than 2 miles as opposed to the more than 3,000 before, but I think it's just as big a move in other ways. We're moving from renting to owning, a big enough step in its own right, but more importantly we're moving from a temporary residence in the area to a commitment to stay here. We had always planned to stay here for probably at least 5 years, but now that we'll own our condo it's a little more official, and much harder for us to just up and leave if we feel like it. So for the next 5 to 7 years, we'll be living in Somerville. Other than college, this is probably the first time I've ever really decided that I'd be staying in one place for any extended period of time. The only question that remains is: How will Pigpen handle all this? The process of buying a house is a very strange and convoluted one. I guess I had always imagined it as being like buying anything else: you find what you want, negotiate a price, and buy it. Instead it's a long, involved process that involves hiring several different people to manage it for you, takes about a month, and involves several discreet steps any one of which could fail and bring the whole deal crashing down. I suppose, despite its apparent complexity, that it's really probably one of the most well-honed business practices there is. People have been purchasing land for thousands and thousands of years, so all these steps are probably there for a reason and serve a very good purpose. I definitely intend to write more about the process, and our experience with it, in more detail, but I'm waiting until it's all over so I can collect my thoughts on it. And so, I'll leave you with this: An example of just how important editing is to film and our impressions of it.

Absolutely amazing picture
Dec 02, 2006

I found this picture via Digg. It's now my new desktop picture (replacing the very first image taken on the surface of Mars by Viking I). I find the picture incredibly cool, and can't help but try and analyze what it represents. From the way the horizon curves upward, and the generally tubular view, the city is clearly built on the inside surface of a toroid structure. The only reason that could possibly make sense is if it were built in space, either as some sort of free-floating space station, or some sort of habitation ring attached to a ship of some kind, and spun to create artificial gravity. It could, I suppose, also be some sort of variation on a Dyson shell, as in Larry Niven's Ringworld. The tube-looking thing running along the ceiling, then, would most likely be some sort of high speed transportation system that takes advantage of the lower gravity that exists closer to the axis of rotation. Although that then begs the question of why they bothered to have boats in the river. Perhaps it's not meant for every day transportation, but is instead intended as a sort of 'airport shuttle' to take people to other parts of the ship or to an unspun spacecraft docking area. Very cool. There's so much detail in this picture I'm sure I'll come up with more, but for right now, it's way too early on a Saturday morning to be putting this much thought into a picture...

Written last night on the train
Nov 30, 2006

I realized it's been a while since I've talked about what was supposed to be a main focus of this blog: my business. In the past few months, dy/dx tech has actually really started to take off. It took a little longer than I had expected and hoped, but I'm now actually starting to get people responding to my ads. By far, my best performing ads have been those on Craigslist and those on the Boston Blogs Ad Network. I was putting a few up on Google, but because of the commonness of my keywords it was getting tot he point where I would just have to spend more on the ads than is really worth it. Fortunately, advertising has never been a big part of my marketing plan. And, of course, I have my other projects. Cellphone Tech News, as some may have noticed, has not been updated in a while. This is for a couple of reasons. The main one is that dy/dx tech has kept me pretty busy in the last couple weeks, but in addition, I really want to make some improvements to the site before it really goes live. Currently it's just a collection of static HTML files. Functional, but only just. My first step, one that I've been working on this week, is to replace that with a fully-featured, modern CMS. Originally I was thinking I'd just do it in WordPress, but after talking to a few other people about it I've decided to look into Joomla!. I took at look at Joomla! before when it was in it's infancy and wasn't particularly impresed. But it definitely seems to be in a better state now and I've installed it on a test server to play around with. If anyone out there has any experience with Joomla!, particularly with modifying the layout and writing themes for it, I would very much like to talk with them. In addition to dy/dx tech and Cellphone Tech News, I've got one other project that I'm working on. In typical fashion, this one is also large-scale. Without going into too much detail, I'll just say that the phrase 'high-end web design' doesn't do it justice. I am, at this very moment, on a train from Boston to New Haven, CT, where I will be meeting with some friends of mine (the guys behind College Poker Association) to hammer out some of the details so we can get this project off the ground (and yes, the CPA website is an example of the sort of talent that we'll be bringing to the table). Be ready to hear a lot about this new project in the near future. So overall, I'd say I'm doing pretty well. Within 6 months of leaving my last job, I'm now owner or part-owner of three businesses, all of which have the potential to be very successful, not to mention several other major achievements which I'll save for another time.

Thanksgiving after-party, and my Zipcar EV is dead?
Nov 27, 2006

Spent yesterday, last night, and this morning down on the Cape with some good friends. It was, as all trips to the Cape are, an excellent time. I also realized that the Cape is surprisingly close to Boston; it's only about a 60 mile drive each way. Why is this significant? Well, other than the fact that it's close enough to go even for just a day trip, it's also well within the range of even the least technologically advanced electric cars. Even an old EV-1 would have no problem with a trip down to the cape, nor would something like Nissan's failed Hypermini with it's 62-mile range (provided you had a charging station down there as well) or Nissan's upcoming new electric subcompact. I think this is a very interesting and important fact. No one, or at least very few people, would deny that an electric car is a good choice for someone who lives in a densely populated city (like Boston) and never drives outside that city. Hybrids help fill this gap by providing not only the eco-friendliness and energy efficiency of an electric car (albeit to a lesser extent) but also the range of an internal-combustion car, thus allowing city dwellers to both feel good about their energy usage and still take weekend drives to their vacation home off in the country somewhere (like Cape Cod). But despite the seeming limitation of a 120 mile range (or 250 in the case of the Tesla Roadster), it's really not all that limiting. An electric car has more than enough range for someone in Boston to drive around the city all week with no problem—very few people are going to drive more than 250 miles during their work day—and it also has plenty of range to take them down to the Cape on the weekend and back with a little bit of driving around while they're down there (or lots of driving if they happen to have a charging station at their Cape house as well, and who wouldn't really). So really, it would seem that electric cars are the perfect fit for the modern citizens of Boston. Yes, there are some people for whom an electric car just wouldn't make sense, but I imagine that the vast majority of Bostonites would do just fine in one. And, I think that Boston is enough of a liberal, forward-thinking, socially-aware city that electric cars would really catch on here. Now if only Tesla Motors would add Boston to the list of cities where they'll be available next year... In other news, I went to reserve a Zipcar for tomorrow morning for a job I'll be doing. As usual, I checked on the status of the Rav-4 EV near me only to find that it's no longer even listed! Hopefully it's just out for repairs and the problems it's had in the past haven't rendered it completely dead. I've still never even had the chance to drive it. Even if it is dead forever, I really do hope that Zipcar will be expanding their EV fleet in the future. That they have EVs at all is one of the things that I really like about the company, and I still intend to do everything I can to encourage their continued usage.

Texas Hold-em
Nov 25, 2006

Thanks to the prodding of a good friend of mine (and one of the guys behind the College Poker Association), I've recently become a member at Prizewagon.com. An online gaming site where you play with fake money for the chance to win real money. I've been playing tons of Texas Hold-em for the past few days (currently the only game where you have a chance at cash prizes, I think). I've never really been much of a poker player. In fact, given my track record, I've pretty much considered it a lost cause. However I've discovered that I'm not entirely terrible at Texas Hold-em. After my first day of playing I was up $4000 (fake dollars, that is). I'm now down by about $1000, but consistently getting better. I think having a computerized version helps a lot since I don't really know everything that's going on and it explicitly spells out my options for me. I'm almost considering starting to play for real, just for fun. We'll see. At any rate, if you have any interest in poker at all, I highly recommend you check out Prizewagon.com. And don't forget when you sign up to say that I referred you. My username is 'joshourisman'. I look forward to taking your fake money (yes, that's a challenge).

Amazing new technology converts heat to electricity
Nov 21, 2006

IT Week reports on an amazing new technology under development by Eneco that promises to revolutionize modern electronics and many other things. The technology is a solid-state chip that uses thermionic energy conversion to generate electricity from a temperature gradient with an efficiency as high as 30%. If successful, and they're already in talks with both Apple and Dell, this could mean big things. For example, as we all know, computers generate a lot of heat. This is one of the primary factors limiting the size of laptops; the smaller they are, the harder it is to keep them cool. But with a technology like this, that heat is no longer such a bad thing because, in the process of passively cooling the electronics, electricity is being generated that can then be contributed to active cooling or any other purpose increasing battery life. There are also plans by which this technology could replace batteries all together. By using these chips in combination with a small burner, electronics could be powered in an efficient and environmentally friendly way by burning fuels such as ethanol. Obviously, a technology such as this has all sorts of applications. Any process that generates waste heat (which would be almost everything we do) could now also generate electricity. A suggested application is replacing the alternators in cars by using these chips to generate electricity from the heat of the engine. This would have the benefit of aiding in cooling the engine as well as improving gas mileage as there would no longer be any horsepower being wasted on spinning the alternator. I'm left to wonder if the human body generates enough heat externally for these chips to be incorporated into clothing.

Personal calls on company time?!?
Nov 21, 2006

I've been contemplating the best way to handle my phone numbers. Currently, I only have one phone: my Motorola e815 on the Verizon network. This works just fine for me as I have no objection to only having a cell phone and no land line. The problem is that it makes it difficult to distinguish personal calls from business ones. As a result, I can't really say how much I spend on business calls and how much I spend on personal calls, and, more importantly, I can't say 'I'm not working today, so I won't answer any business calls' or 'I'm busy, so I'm not answering any personal calls' very easily. To somewhat combat this I got myself a SkypeIn number a while ago. The advantage of this was that I was able to have a local Boston area (617) number while my cell phone was still a Berkeley (510) number. I set the number to forward to my cell phone, and pretty much just left it alone. However I recently discovered that Skype wasn't doing that good a job of forwarding calls. Sometimes it would, sometimes it wouldn't. And the ones it didn't forward went to my Skype voicemail instead of my Verizon voicemail meaning I didn't even know I had a some important messages until I happened to log into Skype one day. Another disadvantage of Skype is that, come January, it will start costing me money to have Skype calls forwarded to my cell phone. Fortunately, I think I've come up with another solution. Jessi and I, when I first moved out here, changed our Verizon accounts to put us on a family plan. Amazingly enough, this actually cut our monthly phone bills in half because the low-end family plan costs the same as the low-end individual plan, and we still only use about half the total minutes. For an extra $9.99/mo I can add another line to our plan. This line could be my business line (or my current line could be the business line and this one could be the personal one). That would solve all the problems of only having one phone, without tying me down to a particular location in terms of taking calls. It will only cost me an extra $120/year, compared to $30 for the SkypeIn number plus however much it would cost in calls, and I'll get more reliable service and better voicemail. Plus, adding this line won't increase the minutes we use at all, because I'll be making the same number of calls, some of them will just be moved from one line to the other. Additionally, I qualify for a free upgrade to my phone thanks to Verizon's 'new every two' program, so I don't even have to pay for a new phone. So really, the only question now is what phone do I want. I believe I'm going to go with the LG VX8300 pending some more research.

Pastafarianism vindicated
Nov 19, 2006

I've discovered what is, unquestionably, scientific proof of the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. This picture of the so-called 'Eagle Nebula' (NGC 6611) is, without a doubt, actually a picture of the FSM and His most noodly of appendages, thus proving that not only does the FSM exist, but that He created the stars in the sky. Take that, Kansas Board of Education! You can clearly see the twin globes of His Holy Meatballs at the top-right of the 'nebula'. There are also tons of noodly protrusions surrounding them. The large stream of matter coming from Him, must be the primordial materials of the universe. As looking at the cosmos through a telescope is effectively looking back in time, I believe that what we are seeing here is the FSM creating the universe. RAmen

The very best of Craigslist
Nov 17, 2006

I've just discovered this page: The Best Of Craigslist. It looks like it's all the highest rated Criagslist postings, and it even has an RSS feed. I highly recommend that you check it out. My favorite so far: Dear Jesus, I want to believe in you and your miraculous powers, I really do. I was raised in a devout Catholic home, and as long as I remember have been hearing about your divine nature and limitless compassion. You turned water into wine, healed lepers, and even raised the dead. I know you have boundless abilities. I also know that your compassion compels you to assist those who suffer, and to hear their agonized prayers. I have been ceaselessly praying to you for over three years now Jesus, yet still my prayer remains unanswered. Please tell me: Why won’t you run over my co-worker Renee with an 18 ton cement truck? Every day is another eternity of listening to Renee talk about her mildly retarded, morbidly obese child and her husband’s swollen testicles and ass-boils. I am suffering beyond the point of endurance my Lord. Please make manifest your divine Love and Grace by sending a cement truck of mercy to squash Renee flat in all your love and wisdom. Thank you in advance -

Who do I give all my money to? Or, alternative bank round-up.
Nov 16, 2006

I've gotten a lot of response to my two posts about the problems I've been having with Bank of America, and a lot of good advise on what banks would and wouldn't make good replacements. So now I've been doing a little more in-depth research and finding some trends. Bank of America: Basically, no one really likes Bank of America. Adam pointed me to this article in which a San Francisco man was arrested simply because he tried to verify a check at his local BofA branch which turned out to be fraudulent. He then ended up spending around $14,000 just to clear his name, even though he was just doing his due-dilligence to find out if the check he had been sent was real or not. He thinks BofA should pay the tab, BofA disagrees. There's even a whole blog about it. And of course plenty of other bloggers have their own stories about why they don't like and/or are leaving Bank of America, such as this one. [Edit: Wikipedia points out some other issues with Bank of America. Basically, they're just not very nice people.] Citizen's Bank: I had been thinking that I'd go with Citizen's Bank as I'd previously heard only good things about them. However, Rebecca and Mike both have had problems with them, similar to the ones I and others have had with Bank of America, and this guy is also having problems with them and currently considering leaving. [Edit: Citizens Bank, it turns out, is a member of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group. This wouldn't really affect me, except in that the RBS is the main sponsor of the Scottish national rugby team and the RBS 6 Nations international rugby tournament (my favorite sporting event of the year).] Sovereign Bank: Sovereign is another bank in the area that I walk by all the time and thought I'd check out. However Andraste has had a lot of problems with them and says to stay away. A quick search has revealed a few things about them. For example, this person received two Sovereign Bank check cards (with PIN numbers!) addressed to someone else. They did the right thing and tried to get the to the rightful owners (something which Sovereign wouldn't help them with), but what if it were someone a little less moral? I certainly wouldn't want my check card and PIN number being sent to some random person. It also appears that their online banking is sub-par; not a huge problem, but an annoyance. Leader Bank: Leader Bank is yet another bank that I walk by all the time. I haven't been able to find a single bad story about them. And I've found this story in which Leader Bank has started allowing people to communicate with their bank manager via IM. Cool idea. Probably wouldn't use it, but it gives them points in my book. Wainwright Bank: Thanks to Aaron, Wainwright Bank is the only one that's actually gotten a recommendation. In addition, a search has revealed no horror stories about them. Plus, I think they're the bank with the closest location to where I live (although only by a block or two). Also, their website was a winner at the MITX awards that I was at the other day. So at the moment, it looks like the short list of banks would be Wainwright and Leader. I will, of course, be doing more research into it, but at the moment I'm leaning toward Wainwright. We shall see. And so I leave you with this poll:

Continued AJAX problems
Nov 15, 2006

I'm still beset with the same AJAX problem that was standing in my way last month. The problem revolves around using responseXML.documentElement rather than responseText when passing data from a PHP server-side script to the JavaScript client-side script. For whatever reason, it just fails to work. At this point is seems extremely unlikely that the problem is one with my code, and I'm nearly 100% certain that it's not a problem with the way that I'm passing the XML from PHP to JavaScript. I managed to find a tutorial describing how to do what I want to do, but it uses exactly the same method I was already using, and their demonstration script exhibits the same problem as mine when I try to use it. This is starting to get pretty frustrating, especially as this is a project I'm doing for myself in my spare time and so don't really have the time to do the in-depth research it will probably require. Fortunately it also means I have no hard deadline... Anyway, I don't know if anyone who reads this knows anything about AJAX, but if you do, do you have any thoughts? Does the demo script from the tutorial work for you?

Combined heat and power
Nov 14, 2006

Thanks to Digg I found this article from The Christian Science Monitor. It's about a local Massachusetts company, Climate Energy, that sells micro-combined heat and power systems for homes and small businesses. Micro-combined heat and power, or cogeneration, is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a system that provides both heat and power. The way it works is so incredibly simple and obvious that most of us have probably actually thought of it a few times. Basically, it's just an internal combustion electric generator (it burns natural gas, rather than gasoline or oil). As anyone who drives a car knows, internal combustion engines put off quite a lot of 'waste heat'. So in a Micro-CHP system, that heat is put to use instead, heating your home. The result is that you heat your house and generate electricity at the same time. Because the 'waste heat' is no longer wasted, the system can actually approach 90% efficiency, making it an extremely economical use of resources. The system costs around $20,000 but will apparently pay for itself within 3-7 years (depending on local energy costs). The currently available model heats air for use in forced air heating systems, but they're working on a model that will heat water for other heating systems as well. I assume it would also be possible to use one to either replace or augment your water heater to increase efficiency and power generation (and therefore savings and potentially even earnings) further. Combine a system like this with photo-voltaic solar generation on your roof and you're probably getting pretty close to living off the grid. As a soon-to-be homeowner (hopefully), this is a very interesting piece of technology to me.

For those that think IT is an optional service
Nov 13, 2006

I present to you videographic evidence that IT problems can be much worse than Word losing your report or your email server failing. And if you didn't catch it from watching the video that was not one of the recalled batteries, it was a 'safe' one.

What a surprise, it was BofA's fault...
Nov 10, 2006

This morning I went down to my local Bank of America branch to discuss yesterdays' problem. I would have gone yesterday afternoon, but I was more than a little peeved at the time and decided that it would be more productive if I went this morning with a level head. As was very evident to me, and which I tried mightily to beat into the head of the woman I spoke on the phone with yesterday, it turns out that it is not normal for my available balance to go down, even when a hold is placed on a deposit. Normal procedure would be for the deposit to be made and the money credited to the account. Because it was a large deposit, they put a hold on it so they could wait for it to clear. A hold works the same as a debit, but is temporary. So if you deposited $10,000 to you account, there would be a $10,000 credit, followed by a $10,000 hold / pending debit. This has the effect of raising your balance but not your available balance so you can see how much money you will have when it clears without being given access to the money the bank doesn't actually have yet. All perfectly reasonable and logical. What happened with my account was that it was deposited, and the teller who processed the deposit put a hold on it. Then some other branch of the bank saw that I had a large deposit to my account and went and put another hold on it. The result? An $11,000 credit, and a combined $22,000 debit. From there it's pretty obvious what happened to lead to all of my money in savings being transferred as overdraft protection for a debit that was far more than I could handle. The nice man at the bank that I talked to removed the second hold, and therefore the extra $11,000 debit, and refunded me the overdraft fees (which I had already been promised would not appear in the first place). I will say that they did a very good job of handling the problem quickly and efficiently when I went in and talked to them in person. However I am still more than a little angry that this happened in the first place. It was, without a doubt, a screw-up on their part. And a pretty massive screw-up too. And not only was there the initial problem, but when I talked to them on the phone they were completely unhelpful and didn't even acknowledge that there was a problem (How anyone can fail to realize that a deposit should not, under any circumstances, lower your available balance I don't know). If I weren't lucky enough to be self-employed and able to just run down to the bank to handle this, not to mention savvy enough to recognize that no matter what they said on the phone it was most certainly a screw-up on their part, I would have been stuck with no available cash other than what I had in my pocket ($6) until the funds were released and the hold dropped. I also would have been stuck with the overdraft penalties and possibly other penalties for dropping not only to a zero balance, but a negative balance across all accounts (the remaining $20 that had been in my savings account went to overdraft protection this morning before I went in to the bank). It also would have been a massive blight on my bank statements (and may still be), which could cause problems when providing the documentation for the mortgage I will be applying for in the near future. So overall I'm still pretty upset with Bank of America. When all this is over and all my money is accounted for and put in my high-interest account, I'm going to go talk to someone at Citizen's Bank and see if I'd rather keep my money with them.

Really not happy with Bank of America right now
Nov 09, 2006

As some of you know, Jessi and I have been house shopping. In preparation for spending the requisite substantial amount of money I've been liquidating investments so I can consolidate my down payment into a high interest savings account (5.05% from EmigrantDirect.com). For various reasons I haven't been able to have the money wired directly into that account, so it's been coming in checks that are then deposited into my Bank of America checking account and then wired to my EmigrantDirect account once the checks clear and the funds are released. This has caused a whole shitstorm of problems that, as far as I can tell, defy all logic, common sense, and mathematical reality. One of those recent, large deposits was for a little over $11,000. More money than I had with Bank of America at the time. Normal procedure when making a deposit to my account is that my account balance goes up by the full amount, but my available balance only goes up by some smaller amount until the check clears and they release the funds to me and I actually have access to the full amount. This time, however, they put a hold on those $11,000+, which, for some reason that no one I've talked to at Bank of American can explain in any sort of coherent way has resulted in a large portion of that deposit being debited against my available balance. My available balance was not nearly enough to cover that debit and so I went into overdraft. Overdraft protection kicked in and transferred the vast majority of my savings account balance to my checking account, leaving me with less than $20 in my savings account, and still not covering that massive, unexplained, unreasonable, illogical, mathematically unsound debit un-covered, and giving me an available balance of -$6000 in my checking account, despite an actual balance of just shy of $20,000. Since all of my money went into failing to cover that mysterious debit which doesn't even show up on my statement, I now have no access to my money at all until those funds are released to me. I did, however, manage to extract a promise that I will not be penalized for going under my minimum balance on my savings account, nor will I have to pay a fee for the over-draft protection that I shouldn't have needed by any reasonable standards. And you can bet they will hear about it if they conveniently forget that fact. The best explanation I was able to wrest out of Bank of America for why depositing nearly $20,000 into my account results in me having a buying power of -$6000: it's just the way it works and it's too complicated to explain over the phone. Well, you know what's not too complicated to explain over the phone? That as soon as this is all cleared up and I have access to all of my money I'm switching banks. I don't care that banking with BofA is convenient, that they have a national ATM network, or that they have the best online banking in the industry. They've also completely screwed me over if I, for some strange reason, feel the need to spend money any time soon. You know, on something ridiculously lavish like food.

Congratulations to Governor-elect Deval Patrick!
Nov 08, 2006

Many congratulations to Deval Patrick and his campaign team for a job well done. Despite my personal support for Mihos, I do think that Patrick will be an excellent governor. Politics aside, he has all the characteristics of a great leader, and I think he's sincere in his commitment to the betterment of the Commonwealth.
Christy Mihos
I was very glad to have the opportunity to observe the final hours of the race from the Mihos campaign's election night party. It was a fascinating experience and, if nothing else, strengthened my confidence in Christy Mihos as a candidate. I hope he runs for office again, because he'll have my vote again. The party was a lot of fun, and it was a great place to be while watching the poll results come in. It's difficult to say exactly what the mood was. Certainly everyone was excited and highly anticipating the results, but with what turned out to be very high voter turnout it didn't take long for it to be pretty clear that things weren't going to turn out quite the way we wanted. Unfortunately I haven't yet been able to find any reports on what the voter turnout actually was, but certainly it was much higher than it seemed in my precinct. But when Mihos entered the room it was nothing but cheers, and Mihos' concession speech was very gracious and complementary of his opponents and, especially, Deval Patrick. Sadly I didn't get a chance to actually meet Mr. Mihos, but hopefully there will be other opportunities in the future. As far as the actual election went, obviously my prediction was just a tad off. But I really do think that, had voter turnout been low, it would have shaped up more as I predicted. The results definitely seemed to support my take that the only people who voted for Healey were party-line Republican voters who voted for her for no reason other than that she ran on the Republican ticket. She could have sacrificed a baby on stage, and they still would have voted for her because she's a Republican. Patrick obviously took not only the general Democratic vote, but the moderates and centrists as well. According to reports I've seen he took a large percentage of independent voters. I think general resentment towards the current administration, and a view of that administration as definitively Republican—both state and federal—is what really kicked his numbers to the levels they reached. Clearly I overestimated the amount of the backlash against the current administration that was leveled against the Democrats. I thought that they would be viewed as part of the problem to a much greater extent than it appears they were. I guess people just aren't ready to shake that two-party mentality yet. Maybe some day. If we're lucky.

Relatively high turnout so far may spoil my prediction
Nov 07, 2006

I've just discovered thanks to Blue Mass Group that the Herald is reporting that we're actually seeing pretty high turnout with 20% of Boston having already voted by noon. This may upset my prediction for Mass Guber '06 and spell trouble for Mihos. On the other hand, it seems to me that the large voter turnout is going to be inspired by wide-spread disappointment with the status quo in American politics. I do think that it will definitely bring up the Mihos and Ross votes as many people are dissatisfied with the Republican leadership but don't know if the Democrats will be any better (Kerry Healey did have a good point that it's a good thing to have different parties in control of the Legislative and Executive branches). But, with Patrick's high charisma, I think Patrick will also reap a lot of benefit from this. I'll stick to my estimates for now, but I wouldn't be too surprised to see Healey drop even lower, and the race between Patrick and Mihos to be much closer than anyone would have expected.

Low voter turnout will win the race for Mihos
Nov 07, 2006

One of my friends came back from the polls around 2:30 this afternoon. Apparently, at that time, only 400 people had voted at our polling place, a polling place which covers Cambridge's Ward 2 Precinct 3, Ward 3 Precinct 3, and Ward 5. When he voted, as when I did (around 8:30 am), there were no lines. Something tells me that 400 people is a very small fraction of the total people covered. It's probably safe to assume that a lot of people will be voting after work, but how big a fraction will that be? The polls are only open until 7, which leaves less than 2 hours for most people. In a neighborhood in which I've seen very little other than Deval Patrick signs, it leaves me to wonder if the polls we've seen up till now are actually representative of the people who vote rather than just the people who are eligible to vote. Sure 51-ish% of the people polled before may prefer Patrick, but who knows if they're actually going to vote. And if Patrick's monstrous lead is eroded, who knows what will actually happen. My impression from watching the polls and people's opinions over the past few weeks has been that very few people actually like Kerry Healey. I suspect that the vast majority of the 21% of people who poll in her favor are doing so because they're party-line Republican voters and not because they actually like her. Patrick, on the other hand, has all the party-line Democrat voters, plus the moderate Democrats and many moderate Republicans. Whereas Mihos has the disillusioned voters from both parties, probably a good portion of the Libertarian vote, and those Republicans who don't like Healey but can't bring themselves to vote for a Democrat. Ross, well Ross has the environmentalists, and a portion of the gay vote. While obviously it's difficult to impossible to predict the way the vote will actually break down, my hunch is that low turnout would probably hurt Healey the most, then Patrick, with Mihos and Ross tied for least affected. Healey will be hurt the worse because the people who I think area actually going to vote for her are the ones that are the least emotionally invested in the election. Patrick has obviously done a good job of drumming up public support, he's very charismatic and that's what's going to carry his vote, but he still will suffer when the generic Democrats don't care enough to go to the polls. Mihos and Ross are only getting votes from people who actually care. They don't have the apathetic party-line voters who might or might not show up, which, I think, artificially deflates their ratings in opinion polls. So my prediction is that in the final count, Mihos and Ross will come up from their previous polling numbers. Not necessarily because people came out to support them who weren't represented in the polls, although I think that will happen for Mihos as well, but because Healey and Patrick will lose votes to apathy. I wouldn't expect Healey to get much more than 17-18% in the final count. Patrick, I think, will remain strong, but still drop to high 30s to low 40s. I'd give Ross around 5%. And maybe I'm being optimistic, but I think Mihos will break well into the double-digits, possibly into the 40s beating even Patrick.

Election day
Nov 07, 2006

For the first time in my voting history, I actually got to the polls before the lines today. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed to discover that Cambridge uses the same kind of polls that I used in Northfield, MN: the kind where you just fill in the bubbles with a marker. Just once I'd like to use one of the old machines where you actually pull a lever. At least these ones are simple, easy, and unlikely to cause confusion.
100_1011
Sticking with my view that you should vote for a candidate, not for a party, I cast my ballot for a mix of Republicans, Democrats, Green-Rainbows, Independents, and even a candidate from the Working Families party; I also like to vote for the third party candidates, especially in races where they're only running against one other candidate who's almost definitely going to win. As I'm sure you all have guessed, my vote for governor went to the independent candidate: Christy Mihos. In the last poll he was only polling at 8%, but we can always hope. I do think he's likely to break into double-digits in the actual polls, if nothing else, and I would definitely like to be able to congratulate him as my next governor tonight. Time shall tell. I hope everyone out there who's reading this is going to vote, if they haven't already. And if you're in Massachusetts, vote Mihos for governor!

Remember, remember, the fifth of November
Nov 05, 2006

Though it involved no gunpowder, treason, or plot, this Guy Fawkes Night (Which is also one of my favorite holidays, even though I'm not British and don't celebrate it. There's just something about a holiday during which you burn people in effigy...), it was certainly still a night to remember. Tonight, Jessi and I made an offer on a townhouse/condo. I think this means that we're officially Big Kids. It also means that, barring unforeseen problems, we'll soon no longer be residents of Cambridge, but of Somerville, the second move this year for both of us. The process of home-buying has been, so far, pretty painless. I'll write about it in more detail, but I'll wait until we finish the process first. In other news, I went to my first Carleton College alumni event the other night. I don't know why, but I never really bothered to get involved with any of that stuff in San Francisco. I suppose it probably had to do with already knowing lots of people in the area and having a regular office job that brought with it some really great friends, whereas here I know fewer people, and don't get to meet as many new friends through work. Anyway, the event was actually a lot of fun. It was largely '05ers and '06ers, then myself and one of two others from the class of '04, and a couple from '02 and '03. Amazingly enough, I actually ran into someone that I played rugby with freshman year. I also met a guy who's currently a corporate lawyer working with biotech firms. He pointed me towards some Mac users he knows in the industry, so hopefully I'll even get some business out of the event which, I suppose, just goes to show that a little networking is always worthwhile. Oh yeah, I'm also in need of a haircut. I haven't had to do that yet here, so I have no idea where to go. Any and all recommendations are welcome. Preferably somewhere that's likely to be able to squeeze me in before tuesday night when I'll be attending Christy Mihos' election night party.

America's Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25
Nov 03, 2006

Business Week has just published their list of America's Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25. As an entrepreneur under 25 myself (though sadly not one of the top 25) I think this a great thing. I know plenty of people my age who, despite being young, are amazingly talented and savvy people. My good friend and former co-worker, Sumaya Kazi, is one of those people, and made the list for creating The Cultural Connect, an online publishing company that publishes 4 (soon to be 5) online magazines about successful, young, minority business people. She's done a fantastic job and been amazingly successful considering the company has been built entirely on the dedication and free time of herself and a few other young business people. The voting is currently on to pick the top 5 of those 25, each of whom will be featured in the print edition of Business Week. I encourage you all to check it out and vote. If nothing else it will be a good opportunity to learn about the amazing things being done by young people around the country.

Handicapped Trap: more MBTA madness
Oct 31, 2006

I've posted before about the incredibly horrible and poorly thought out job the MBTA is doing with the transition from tokens to Charlie Tickets/Cards, but I've recently discovered yet another hidden gem in their glorious scheme. If you enter the Central Square T station, heading outbound, through the stairs closest to the river (the stairs that are also closest to my apartment), you find yourself in a small ante-chamber with two of the new gates. Sadly, there are no ticket machines there so if you don't have a ticket you have to go back up the stairs and take the main entrance. But that's not the worst part. No, not at all. Because those two gates, also happen to be handicapped gates. Even though there's no elevator, or even escalator to allow handicapped people to get down to them. And while I'm sure they did that because the ADA probably required them to do so, I also suspect the handicapped gates cost more than the regular ones, so it's yet another pointless waste of my tax dollars. But it gets worse! It occurred to me as I was exiting the T station through those self-same handicapped gates the other day that, were a handicapped person to see them, they would most likely assume that it was a handicapped exit. They'd then wheel themselves through that gate only to discover that they were trapped at the bottom of a set of stairs with no way to get out of the little ante-chamber unless they want to spend another $1.25 to re-enter the station and go out a different entrance. Apparently the MBTA has decided to solve our handicapped 'problem' by capturing the wheelchair-bound in the mass transit equivalent of lobster traps. I can only speculate as to whether they plan to tag and release said handicapped people, or whether they'll just let them starve to death in the T station. I'd also like to point out that the MBTA web site's 'trip planning' feature is crap. The other day I wanted to get from Central Square to Kenmore Square. Not knowing the bus system, my first inclination was to just take the red line to Park and transfer to the green line, but I thought I'd see if there was an easier way. And there is! The solution is to catch the 1 bus and take it down to Commonwealth, and walk up to Kenmore. Of course, the MBTA web site didn't say that. It told me to take the 1C bus (a limited-stop express bus) to Commonwealth. Great, it's faster, right? Wrong. The 1C bus doesn't stop at Commonwealth. The MBTA web site doesn't even know the bus routes! Fortunately, the 1C does stop at Newbury so I didn't have to go too far out of my way, but what if it didn't? And what if I was trying to make a meeting rather than getting dinner with a friend? Really, the MBTA is just doing a bang-up job. And with that out of the way, I'd like to bemoan the state of Mexican pop music: ¿Que?

Serendipity
Oct 30, 2006

Last night, Jessi and I were walking back to Central Square from Davis Square. As we were going through Inman Square, we passed Ryles, a jazz club on Hampshire. Jessi and I are both huge jazz fans, and, to some extent, jazz musicians. We've walked passed it a dozen times, and every time I always say we should go in there. Last night, as we walked by, we noticed that the stage was set up for a big band. About 30 paces past the last window in I stopped and realized, 'wait, did that drum say "BASIE"?!?'. A few minutes of 'there's no way', 'how cool would that be?' and such and I had to run back to the door to check the calendar. Sure enough, on the board, at 6:30 and then at 8:00: The Count Basie Orchestra. It was 7:00. Just enough time to walk home, change, and walk back. So we bought two tickets and did exactly that. It was an unbudgeted, spur of the moment, $50 expense. But boy was it worth it. They were amazing. Every single musician in the band, upright bass, piano, guitar, two tenor saxes, two alto saxes, a bari sax, three trombones, a bass trombone, and four trumpets, was fantastic. They played some great pieces, including one from the 30s, one from the 70s, and some more modern ones. Five of the band members were actually hired by Count Basie before he died (in 1984), and baritone sax player John Williams has been with the band for 50 years. All in all, it was an indescribably great evening, and a fantastic reminder the Boston has an amazing jazz scene. Plus a good reminder that it's been several months since I was last at Wally's, something that absolutely must be fixed.

Political bloggers, post celebration
Oct 30, 2006

Just got back from the aforementioned Celebration of political bloggers. It was very cool, much cooler than I expected actually. I wasn't really sure what to expect, though I was hoping there would be some big names there. I got more than I expected and met: Steve Garfield, David Kravitz, David Weinberger, Shai Sachs, and others. Sadly, I'm horribly bad at names and have forgotten a few good ones. Also sadly, and more on this in a bit, I had no business cards on me to give to the several people who asked me for them. One thing they should definitely do, which I suppose they still could and if they don't I might offer to start doing it for the future meetings which I attend (and I intend to start attending their regular Thursday meetings with some regularity), is, after the meeting, send an email to everyone who attended listing the names and blogs of everyone who was there. I think that for those people who don't have cards and those that have poor memories for names it would really increase the value of the meetings. The meetings normally take place on Thursdays at the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School: link. I recommend it for anyone who's into blogging. Jessi also really enjoyed it, expect a good post from her about it in the near future. I'm really excited about having met Steve Garfield. He's a big name, and doing some very cool stuff. Plus, there's an immediate business connection: he shot this video on his cell phone. I don't know what it is, but something about that piqued my curiosity as Editor in Chief of cellphonetechnews.com. If I can just put my finger on what it is, maybe I'll write a story about it... Now back to Kinko's and my lack of business cards. In preparation for this event specifically I wanted to make sure I had some business cards to hand out. I knew it would be a stretch, but I called Kinko's this morning and asked them if it would be possible for me to have some cards printed up by 5pm if I brought them right in (it's a 10 minute walk from my apartment). They said sure, just come by with a PDF, no problem. So I did. They said they'd have it ready by 5, and I figured I was good to go. Three o'clock rolls around and I figure that they, as they often do, might have finished the job early. So I gave them a call. The guy who answered the phone says to me 'oh, well I left you a message'... no, actually you didn't ... 'you need to re-create the PDF because the way it is now we can't do it'. Um, great. And you couldn't tell me this when I brought it in and we looked at the PDF together and you told me it wouldn't be a problem? I wasn't planning on using Kinko's for my business cards anyway, they're just convenient and fast, but now I'll definitely be getting them printed up elsewhere. My dad actually recommended a place a while ago that he used for his cards, but I can't remember the name of it and for some reason Spotlight has been completely useless lately. Oh well, he'll probably see this and remind me of it. (Hi dad!) The plus side is that I've recently come up with what I think is a much better design for the business cards anyway, so now I won't have to print any up with the old design.

Celebration of political bloggers
Oct 27, 2006

On Monday (Oct. 30) there will be an event at Harvard's Berkman Center there will be an event entitled 'Blogging the Vote in 2006: A Celebration of Political Bloggers'. The event is 'to honor all those who have been blogging the vote', because apparently we 'should be celebrated for [our] role in making public the discussion about who should be the next Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts'. I'll be there, and I'm bringing Jessi with me, Matt of Hub Politics will be there, and hopefully many others. I'm really looking forward to the chance to meet some of my fellow Boston bloggers, especially with such an interesting topic as Mass Guber '06 to talk about. Plus there's free food and drinks. Hope to see you there. More details available here.

Mass Guber '06: Another debate
Oct 26, 2006

Sadly I missed the debate last night because Jessi and I were meeting with a realtor. From the accounts I've read so far, it sounds like it was a great debate, and I really wish I'd seen it. Here's one good account of it, another is here, and I'm hoping we'll get one later from Jesse Legg. If only this was the sort of thing they'd show re-runs of the next day... I did, however, get an interesting and germane piece of mail yesterday. It came from the Mihos gubernatorial campaign, and is an invitation to the campaign's Election Night 2006 Celebration at the Radisson Hotel. I definitely plan to go. It should be a great opportunity to meet Christy, and, hopefully, congratulate my next governor. At the very least, I imagine there will be free food and probably champagne.

Question 2
Oct 25, 2006

As promised, my analysis of Massachusetts Ballot Question 2. Question 2 is an interesting one. Basically, the proposal is that a single candidate should be able to run under multiple different parties, and that said candidate should appear on the ballot multiple times, once for each party they're running under. At first glance I really didn't know what to think about this. Clearly it's main effect will be on the party system, and it will definitely affect voters and candidates who don't fit into the two mainstream parties. The question is how. As an avid supporter of 3rd party politics I definitely see some potential for good in the idea of 'fusion voting'. The Mass Ballot Freedom Campaign (who are the ones behind this Question) have a pretty good educational video (right) about it. The video actually really helped me clarify my thinking on the issue. I had not been aware that a system such as the one proposed is already successfully in effect in some states (including New York) or that it's been done before at various points in American history. Unfortunately, I've been very hard pressed to find anyone speaking out against Question 2. The only argument against it that I've heard has been that it will confuse voters. A lot of people are responding to this with outrage, 'how dare they insult the intelligence of the voters like that!', but, to be honest, I think it's a somewhat valid point. We've seen in the recent past just what effect confusing ballots can have on an election, and it's not good. In this case, however, I don't think the confusion factor will be that big of a deal. Worst case scenario, a voter sees one name on the ballot several times, gets confused, and just votes for the party they want rather than the person they want. In general, I don't approve of party-line voting, but it certainly does serve the purpose of removing the need for people to actually think about politics. As for the effect this will have on 3rd parties, I can see two possibilities. One, it could, as advertised, increase support for 3rd parties and help raise them into greater relevance. This seems to be what's happened with this system in New York and in other places historically. On the other hand, there's more to voting than the parties, and I think the individual candidates are far more important. In any given election, I don't care what party a candidate is running under, I'll vote for whichever candidate I think has the best policies, be they Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian, or Bull-Moose. I do think that this method of voting, by virtue of increasing awareness and support for 3rd parties, may actually hurt those 3rd parties. There is little doubt in my mind that a Democratic candidate that got the majority of their votes as a Democrat and then some others as a Green, though they will certainly spend some time and attention on Green issues, will still focus mainly on Democratic issues. It may end up being the case that policies such as this will result in fewer 3rd party candidates and therefore no real change in the system. Historical data, however, would suggest that this isn't too likely. And as this will provide more choice to the voters I think it's a good thing. Question 2 gets a yes on my ballot.

Google ads! And an interview.
Oct 24, 2006

Following the poll I posted last monday (8-2 in favor), I've now put some Google ads on my blog. Undoubtedly you noticed the banner at the top of the page. There's also one at the very bottom, and a 'skyscraper' of ads in the side bar under all the useful stuff. Hopefully it's a good balance of enough ads to maybe make some money but not enough to annoy people too much. We'll see, and, as always, input is more than welcome. It looks like Google is struggling to find ads relevant to my blog. Not all that surprising really, although it's been getting better over the course of the day. We'll see what it settles on. Also today, I had my interview with Seth Cummings. It went well and I think I got a lot of good material to write an article. I still have to go over my notes, but expect to see a piece on Seth/Amp'd/BU on cellphonetechnews.com by the end of the week.

Today I am really an editor
Oct 21, 2006

This morning Jessi sent me a link to an article about a new BU class on making 'mobisodes'. A mobisode, if you don't know (which I didn't), is a movie shot with cell phones. A very cool application of cell phone technology, and definitely in line with the current trend of 'user-generated content'. Seeing as I'm now the Editor in chief of a cellphone technology news site, I figured I should probably do something with this information. Fortunately, in addition to being engaged to someone with a master's degree in Public Relations, I spent a pretty good amount of time working for a PR firm. Sure I was doing their IT, but I definitely learned a lot about the way media and PR works. So I had a pretty good idea of what to do next. If you read the BU Today article I linked to you may have noticed that the idea for the class came partly from Seth Cummings, co-founder and VP of amp'd mobile, one of those new, upstart mobile phone companies like Boost Mobile and Metro PCS. On Tuesday afternoon I'll be interviewing him for a piece which will (obviously) then be published on cellphontechnews.com. So if anyone has any questions for him, especially about the class or cellphone multimedia applications in general, please let me know and I'll do my best to get them into the interview.

Dohickies
Oct 18, 2006

If you're not already, you should really be reading the Tesla Motors blog. It's a fantastic example of what corporate blogs can be. In the latest post, CEO Martin Eberhard talks about the technology used in the motors that will drive their cars. In doing so, he gives an excellent history lesson on Nikola Tesla (in my opinion, one of the most interesting people in the history of technology). Apparently the motors they use are extremely similar to the electric motor Tesla designed and patented in 1888, that's how good he was. And, to top it all off, he actually uses the word 'dohicky' in a technical explanation. (The dohicky in question being the commutator used to flip the polarity of the magnetic field in a DC motor causing it to actually spin rather than just align in a single position.) I really can't wait to test drive a Tesla Roadster. With luck, my next car will be one of their future models. In other technology news related news, I now have another job title to call my own. I am now, in addition to being Founder and President of Derivative Technologies Consulting, the new Editor in Chief of Cellphone Tech News, an appropriately named site focusing on cell phone technology news. A position which will undoubtedly afford me plenty of opportunity to use the word 'dohicky' myself, I'm sure. Over the next few weeks I'll be working on transitioning the existing site to a more robust and feature-full (I really don't like that word, 'featurous' would be much better) back-end and working on increasing the volume of content. While I'll do my best to write as much of that content as I can (and, as you're all aware, I'm perfectly capable of being quite verbose, quite often), ideally I'll be able to find some regularly contributing writers to take on some of the load. So, if you happen to be interested in writing about cell phone technology, or even just have some ideas on what we could write about or direction we might want to look in, please feel free to email me (josh@joshourisman.com).

Mass Guber '06: Christy Mihos on Business
Oct 17, 2006

First, the big news: another local blogger, Jesse Legg, has referred to the Massachusetts gubernatorial race as 'Mass Guber'. Perhaps I shouldn't, but I'm taking credit for that. Title aside, Jesse's written an excellent post about the upcoming Gubernatorial debate an Faneuil Hall this Thursday. His breakdown of the candidates and what they need to accomplish in this debate is spot-on. And he, as a fellow Mihos supporter, hits it right on the nose when talking about the Mihos campaign: Christy Mihos; I was so excited for him. I handed out bumper stickers and buttons. His commercials were spot on, clean and critical but not attack ads. My support continues but, as I blogged about last week, I’m mildly concerned for the campaign. He had a lot of momentum after the initial debate. I’m going to watch closely Thursday to make sure he isn’t giving up. Maybe he’s low on funds. Maybe he plans another blitz Friday morning. I hope for the latter. Just keep it clean and come out fighting. I couldn't agree more. Mihos has an amazing energy and charisma that speaks to people, even people who wouldn't otherwise consider an independent candidate. On paper he is a fantastic candidate, his campaign has been well run, and his ads have been amazing. But in the last few weeks Christy Mihos has just sort of dropped off the radar. I haven't heard or seen anything about it. I hope it's just the calm before the storm and that the campaign will be gearing up following Thursday's debate to finish out the race with a bang. Mihos may still be polling in single digits, but if he can put on a good show at the remaining debates and campaign hard to get his name, face, and message out there, I still think he stands a chance. He will, at least, have my vote on November 7. In other Mihos news, Peter Howe of the Boston Globe, has written an excellent article on Mihos. It touches on all the key points of Mihos' platform, but, most importantly, it talks about his stance on business, and particularly small businesses. I had previously written directly to the Mihos campaign about exactly this issue. Although I never got a reply directly on that question (I did get a persona reply, however), I consider this article to probably be better than just an email to me would have been. When asked what he would do for small businesses in Massachusetts (such as his own) he responds, 'The only thing a governor can do is take away the stress and burden that fall on my customers each and every day. Take away their fees, their fines, their taxes [and] just make it so that people that are coming in to see me are happy and can afford to live here'. While on some level it would be nice to hear that he'd give aid specifically to small businesses or do something that would directly benefit me, in truth, this is, I think, the right position for him to take. It's not government's place to decide which businesses live and die, it's the place of the consumer. All government can and should do is stay out of the way as much as possible. Christy Mihos, as a small business owner, gets that, and I, as a small business owner, am glad that there's a candidate out there who does. And, in other Mihos news, yet another blogger has come out as a Mihos supporter. Says Roger, of Mass Maddness: Massachusetts needs a real-change candidate, a description that doesn't apply to either the Democrat or Republican candidate. But it does describe Christy Mihos -- too bad the voters, the media, and Beacon Hill write him off. But why is Mihos the right man for the job? Because he's open, he cares, and he (at least tries) to bridge any left-right babble.

Question 1
Oct 17, 2006

On the Massachusetts state ballot there are three questions called, appropriately enough, Question 1, Question 2, and Question 3. Although in actuality, they are called Initiative Petition A, F, and H, respectively. Question 3 is about childcare. I don't really know anything about the issue, and the phrasing of the ballot question itself is somewhat confusing, so I'm just going to ignore that one. Question 1, however, is very interesting. The issue is whether or not to allow wine to be sold at food stores. 'The proposed law defines a “food store” as a retail vendor, such as a grocery store, supermarket, shop, club, outlet, or warehouse-type seller, that sells food to consumers to be eaten elsewhere (which must include meat, poultry, dairy products, eggs, fresh fruit and produce, and other specified items), and that may sell other items usually found in grocery stores.' Any city or town can issue up to 5 licenses to food stores to sell wine for every 5,000 citizens of that city/town. If you want to really get into it, I think that the proposal is bad in that it perpetuates an inherently flawed, unfair, and anti-competitive system. I think that anyone should be able to sell any beverage that they want, be it wine, beer, schapps, single malt whisky, or everclear, so long as they take sufficient steps to verify the age of the customer. (Technically I also support abolishing the minimum drinking age, but that's a whole nother issue and rather beyond the scope of this post.) That's how it works in California, and, to the best of my knowledge, alcoholism is not running rampant through the Golden State any more than it is here in the Bay State. However, as abstaining to vote on Question 1 will also leave aforementioned flawed, unfair, and anti-competitive system in place, I'll just stick with a yes or no on Question 1. In that case, my vote is a resounding yes for Question 1. Under the current system wine is only sold in liquor stores, wine shops/galleries, and some speciality food stores (the Trader Joe's near us sells both wine and beer). However the store where we buy our grociers (Shaw's) can't, while the numerous liquor stores around Central Square can and do. The only arguments against Question 1 seem to be coming from the liquor stores themselves. Of course they don't want anyone else selling wine, if they have to compete their profit margins will most likely go down. Sadly, for them, that's the nature of a free market: competition leads to market efficiency and the consumer gets what they want for the best price. There is no good reason for the liquor stores to have a monopoly on wine (or beer or liquor for that matter), except, possibly, in the minds of the liquor store owners. A yes on Question 1 means a restoration (partial though it may be) of the rights of the citizens of Massachusetts as consumers. (Question 2 is also interesting, but I'll leave that for another post.)

Google ads?
Oct 16, 2006

So I think i've reached the point where I need to ask myself this question. When I first started this blog I made the decision not to put ads on it. The reason I made that decision was that, with no one reading it yet, I would not get anything out of it, and there's always the people that will be turned off by the presence of ads, making it harder to gain readership. However, since I've started writing this blog, my readership has been growing fairly steadily. Taken over the entire life of this blog, I have an average of 11 subscribers. Over the past month it's at 16, and over the past week it's at 18. While my all-time high of 22 subscribers is certainly not going to pay the bills, it's definitely at the level where I'll start to see a couple bucks. Maybe even enough to offset my hosting costs. Of course, if it were to lose me my readers, I don't think it would be worth it. So, I'm putting it to you, my readers, the question of whether or not I should start putting ads on my blog. If you don't care, I'd consider that a 'yes' vote. If you do, and would really not like to see ads, I'd really appreciate a comment letting me know why. It's a question that's not only applicable to me, but to pretty much every blogger out there, especially the smaller ones. And I think it's only fair to say that without a strong vote against ads, I'm leaning towards adding them.

My first ZipCar
Oct 14, 2006

Last night I had to get down to Chestnut Hill. It was the first time in 8 years that I've needed to get somewhere accessible only by car and not had a car. Fortunately, right before I drove down to DC I signed up for a Zipcar account. If you've read Jessi's blog at all you'll know that she's a huge Zipcar fan. I've always thought the concept was cool, but never had any first-hand experience with it. After actually using the service, I think I'm well on my way to joining her in her fandom. Making the service even better, I'm saving a lot of money on it by getting a business account.
Barbados
Last night I had reserved a Toyota RAV-4 EV. As I've mentioned before, I'm a fan of electric cars, and Zipcar maintains a small fleet of them. I want to encourage them to expand their EV fleet, so I plan on reserving the EVs whenever feasible. Sadly, this time, when I got to the garage, I couldn't get into Ralph (the RAV-4). My Zipcard, which you put up against a sensor on the windshield to unlock the car, simply wasn't opening the doors. After a little experimentation we realized that the culprit was the one biggest drawback to Zipcar: the previous driver hadn't properly plugged the car in, so the battery was completely dead. Fortunately, a quick call to Zipcar (the number's right on the card), and they had switched my reservation over to another car in the same garage (they actually have four in that particular garage). That one was a gas powered Scion xB, had 3/4 of a tank, and worked just fine. Amusingly enough, due to recent events, the car I ended up driving was named 'Barbados'. How's that for coincidence?

The District of Columbia
Oct 12, 2006

Quite a lot has happened so far this week, it may turn out to be too much for a single post. We shall see. The week started out, on Monday, with a road trip. Jessi and I drove down to Washington DC for a couple of reasons. The first, which we had been planning for a while, was to sell my car. This was accomplished easily enough, and the title transferred to Ourisman Chevrolet in Marlow Heights. The second, which came up more recently, was to attend, on Wednesday afternoon, the swearing in ceremony for the 'Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of United States of America to Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines'. The ceremony was conducted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and was attended by sundry important people in the DC set. The ambassadors from the seven Caribbean nations were there, as well as the ambassadors from Jordan and Morocco. At least one senator and one former senator were there. I also had a chance to meet and talk to Sam Donaldson—and it was actually from him that I learned about the plane crash that killed New York Yankee Cory Lidle. In addition, since the person being sworn in as the ambassador was my grandmother, the vast majority of the Ourisman family was there; from my 11 month old cousin Caroline, to my 97 year old great-great-aunt Molly. After the ceremony was a cocktail party at the Chevy Chase club in Chevy Chase Maryland. There I had the opportunity to talk with Chris Matthews, host of Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC, and his wife, Kathleen. Chris, I discovered, was very well familiar with national politics, including local Berkeley politics (which my dad chatted with him about) and the Massachusetts Gubernatorial race, which, in his opinion, has already been won. I tried to get his opinion on the Mihos campaign, but he, understandably, didn't seem to want to talk about politics that much. He did, however, tell us about the next episode of Hardball which was shot on Friday. Apparently he interviews Robin Williams. I can't wait to see it. There were other people there whom I recognized but couldn't place. Undoubtedly they were other public figures from various walks of life. All in all, quite the networking opportunity. Hopefully some future opportunities, business or otherwise, will come of it. The rest of the time in DC was spent visiting with my family. I haven't had a chance to see them much since we moved to California in '92, but hopefully now that I'm back on the East Coast I'll be seeing them more often. [Edit: Ok, it's a little weird when there are bloggers calling my grandmother hot.]

Insomnia can really help with productivity
Oct 08, 2006

It's nearly 6 am on Sunday, October 8th. For whatever reason, I can't sleep. Instead, I've spend the past 3 or so hours writing AJAX code. If you're not a programmer, there's a good chance this is the last sentence of this post that you'll want to read. Don't say I didn't warn you. I'm working on a project that pairs an AJAX front-end with a PHP back-end. To make things even more complicated, the content for the site is stored both in a MySQL database and in XML files. The plus side is that the complexity of the project has pretty much forced me into improving my coding style, my college advisor would be proud. It's also making it much more interesting and requiring me to learn a lot just to get it done. In the time since I gave up on trying to get to sleep I've managed to solve a major problem that was preventing me from making any more progress. The way the site works, there is an XML document that defines the structure of the data that will be displayed. This XML file is read in and converted into a PHP object (actually it's one PHP object with an array of other objects, each of which has it's own array of objects...). Once the structure is known, obviously we need to drop the data into it. The first step to doing this is an asynchronous HTTP request to a PHP script that then has to have access to one of the child objects of the main object (as well as all of its respective children). This is the part that was throwing me off as I can't just throw the PHP object into the arguments of a javascript function. Eventually I just passed the name of the XML file along to the script and recreated the entire set of objects. I'll probably try and find a more efficient way of doing that eventually... (Actually, it's just now occurred to me that I can probably serialize() the relevant objects, pass them that way, and then just unserialize() them in the PHP script. I'll have to play around with that.) Once the object set has been re-created in the PHP script, it is then able to pull the needed data from a MySQL database and send it back. Unfortunately, the data that gets sent back needs to go into three different places, so the response has to be in XML. This is where I'm currently stuck. I can format the response as valid XML with no problem, however once I do that and echo it back, the javascript doesn't actually seem to recognize that it's XML. I can only get at the data through the responseText variable, and not the responseXML one. This would be fine, except that I apparently can't use getElementByTagName() on responseText which makes it difficult to get at the data in any useful way. So I need to figure out how to get javascript to actually interpret the response as XML. This is where I'm stuck right now, and again, until I figure this out, I can't make any more progress. The really annoying part is that this latest problem is the last hard part. Once I figure this out, the rest of the project will be a breeze, and should only take another couple of hours (at least to get it demo-able, there are a few other complex features I need to add before it's actually ready, but they don't affect the functionality so much as the interface). Hopefully I'll be able to figure this out (or some helpful soul will be able to give me a hint) and get the project finished by the end of next week. For now, I think I'm going to give sleeping another go.

Honesty is not silencing opinions
Oct 04, 2006

Emily Rooney over at The Greater Boston Blog posted today an article entitled Let's Be Honest. In it she advocates excluding Christy Mihos and Grace Ross from the remaining gubernatorial debates. Apparently she thinks that just because they qualified to be on the ballot, that doesn't mean we get to hear what they think about the issues. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that's exactly what it means for them to qualify to be on the ballot. In justification for this position, she cites the latest polls in which Mihos has 7% of the vote and Ross 1%, claiming that this 'means both candidates are out of the running'. I beg to differ. Admittedly, 8% of the vote won't win anyone anything, but it represents approximately half a million Massachusetts voters who think that Mihos and Ross have something worthwhile to say. Are we to completely ignore those 500,000+ people? Who knows what will happen in the next 30-some days. For all we know, something that Mihos or Ross says in one of the next debates, debates Rooney doesn't want them to attend, will be the thing that opens the floodgates and wins them the election. All candidates have the right to be heard, and the voters of Massachusetts have the right to hear them. She does have one good point when she asks 'But are they qualified to be governor and do the voters of Massachusetts think they are?'. It's an excellent question and one that should, nay must be addressed. Fortunately we already have some very excellent mechanisms in place for addressing exactly those questions. They're called debates and elections.

Tesla Motors and electric cars
Oct 04, 2006

I recently watched the movie Who Killed The Electric Car?. While obviously anything said in such a movie has to be taken with a grain of salt, I think the general message was probably on target: there is currently demand for electric cars, at least among urban populations, and it is possible to build an affordable electric car that performs adequately, the problem is that the current auto manufacturers and dealers already have a line-up of vehicles that fit the range of car driving needs out there, and introducing more will just result in them having their own products compete against each other. In other words, they're entrenched in current politics and technology. I agree with the existing auto companies that it simply isn't a good idea for them to be building electric cars at this time. However there is also, definitely, a market for electric cars, and if there's one thing that a free market is good at, it's providing what the consumers want. The solution to this modern economic conflict—that the consumers want something that the existing companies simply can't sell—is simple: start a new company that sells what people want. That was pretty much the thought I had after watching the movie, that someone should start a company that builds and sells only electric cars. There's demand for it, the technology to do it exists, and it's been pretty well shown to be economical. Technologies more recently developed for hybrids, such as regenerative breaking, are also very applicable to improving electric cars, making them even better than they would have been before. While I think it will certainly happen that the existing manufacturers will bring electric cars to the market again (and do it right this time), for their own very valid reasons, they just can't do it now. The hybrid car, is definitely a step in the right direction. Once one company has their entire line switched over to hybrids (a goal, I was told by the president of Toyota a few years back, that Toyota plans to meet by 2007... we'll see about that), especially if at least some of those hybrids are plug-in hybrids, they'll be well positioned to make the next transition to fully electric cars. But, that probably won't happen until 2009 or 2010 at the earliest. Enter Tesla Motors, a company planning to do exactly that. Started in 2003 in San Carlos, California, they're planning to start selling their first production vehicle, the Tesla Roadster, in early 2007 (in select cities only). In fact, they've already sold out of their first 100. Starting with an $90k electric sports car, they're going after the high end market first, which will allow them to sell cars even before they've become large enough to leverage economies of scale and sell cars affordable to the Average Joe, and will then work their way down the line over the next few years until they have a lineup of electric cars to suit just about everyone's needs. The plan is to have an ~$40k, four-door family sedan some time in 2008, and an even more affordable third model some time after that—probably, you know, 2009 or 2010. I would not be surprised to see, if Tesla does well enough to stick to their plans, the major car manufacturers releasing their own electric cars (again) to compete with the Tesla models. Which is a good thing, competition will only lead to more affordable cars made with better technology. As usual, I expect the market will solve our dependency on oil faster and more effectively than regulation from the government ever will (don't get me started on hydrogen fuel cell cars...).

Tonight's debate
Oct 03, 2006

Sadly, I actually missed a big chunk of the debate because I was called away by work. On the plus side, I'm getting enough work that it actually pulled me away from the debate. I did, however, see enough to address the four points that I wanted addressed. First: Healey's performance I though Healey did a much better job than in the last debate in terms of simply presenting herself well. She had obviously been coached much more extensively this time and was much more on top of her game. The biggest effect of this, I think, was that she actually acknowledged that there were more than two candidates in the race. Unfortunately she forgot that fact again in her closing remarks. Overall I thought her performance was still pretty disappointing. She represents the status quo that people don't want, and she knows it, so she does little other than point out why (she think) her opponents' (really, just Patrick's) positions are even worse than hers. She also keeps harping on and on about how horrible it would be to have Democrats in control of both the governor's office and the legislature. I agree with her, that it's, in general, not a very good idea, but it's also not really a position you can run on. If the race were closely contested and she and Patrick were neck and neck, then it might become a valid point to campaign on, but when she's trailing by as much as she is in the polls she really needs to point out her positives not Patrick's negatives. Second: Patrick's performace I still don't think that Patrick lived up to his reputation in this regard, but he, like Healey, gave a much better performance than in the last debate. I was, as usual, somewhat disappointed on his actual policy, but I still think that he would, politics aside, make an excellent governor. I also really liked the way that he addressed the Cape Wind question, and I think that his rationale for not supporting the income tax rollback is a good one: yes it would be great to cut that .3% on everyone's income tax, and yes the people voted for it, but before we can do it we need to cut spending by that much. I also approve of his statement that it's more important to cut property taxes first. Third: Ross' performance Sadly, Ross did not pick up any hints in terms of wardrobe or makeup. She wore the same blue ...thing that she wore last time and looked more like she should be a shopkeeper on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley than a gubernatorial candidate. She did, however, display an amazing improvement in terms of speaking. Her statements were much clearer and more organized, she spent less time trying to identify herself as part of the 'lower 60%' (although she did mention it at least once), and she consistently gave intelligent, coherent, and well thought out responses. Listening to her speak, and watching her demeanor, she actually gave me the impression that she could do a good job as governor. I'm still not going to vote for her for a number of reasons, but I was very impressed with her performance tonight. Fourth: Mihos' performance Mihos, I think, may have actually done a little worse in this debate than in the previous one. He didn't seem quite as on top of things and fantastically coherent as in the last debate, and he had lost some of the general charm that he displayed before. I think part of that may have been the lighting... He did still do a good job though, and he, and Ross, surprisingly, both drew a lot of applause and laughter from the audience (For which they were sternly admonished by the moderator. The audience, that is. Amusingly enough, Healey got by far the least reaction from the crowd, if any at all.) He did, I think, focus less on attacking Healey (at least in the parts that I saw), and instead focused more on the Republican party in general. That aside, I think he did an excellent job of answering the questions posed, though if he brought up the small business issues I had hoped he would, he did it while I was working. Moving on from the actual debate, another local blogger and Mihos supporter Jesse Legg had a very insightful post earlier today. He talked about how the candidates are not doing a very good job of leveraging the internet. As Howard Dean showed two years ago, the internet can be a very effective tool in campaigning. He suggested using YouTube as a medium for debate, with each candidate offering their answers to the questions in separate videos. I think this is an excellent idea, and would do a lot, not only for the candidates, but for the state political blogging. How much improved would a blog be if you could embed YouTube videos of the candidates speaking on an issue in the paragraph in which you talked about their position on that issue? Short of recording, digitizing, and editing the debates yourself, this really isn't a possibility right now. Amusingly enough, this is actually one of the issues I brought up in my letter to Christy Mihos. His last ad has an amazing presence on the web. It's become a viral video and has brought national awareness to Mihos and his campaign. As Jessi can tell you, virals can be a very effective marketing mechanism, and anything that works for marketing can be adapted to campaigning. I also really think that candidates should maintain their own blogs, or at least offer something to bloggers. In 2004, Gary Nolan, one of the candidates for the Libertarian nomination (and the man I wanted to vote for) maintained a blog and provided web banners for his supporters to put on their websites. I would love to be able to put a Christy Mihos banner on my blog, but one simply isn't available. None of the other candidates are offering anything like it either. In addition to simply spreading awareness, it obviously will also act as a distinguisher; never a bad thing. I anxiously await a reply from the Mihos campaign to my email, and hope they'll be able to provide a good perspective on this (and maybe even start taking advantage of it).

Mass Guber '06: 2nd debate
Oct 03, 2006

I'm currently sitting in front of the tv watching PBS waiting for the second gubernatorial debate of the '06 Massachusetts gubernatorial race. No, I'm not going to get tired of saying gubernatorial. I'm considering 'liveblogging' it, but we'll see. At any rate, going into it, I'm interested to see a couple things: 1) if Healey is able to give more than the lackluster performance of the first ebate, 2) if Patrick can, this time, live up to his reputation as an excellent speaker, 3) if Ross has maybe picked up a few hints since the last debate and can present herself as more of a serious candidate, 4) if Mihos will spend a little less time criticizing Healey and more time voicing his own opinions in a more objective context. Also, a couple days ago I sent an email to the Mihos campaign asking them about Mihos' position on small businesses and sole proprietorships and if he had any thoughts or plans on what he could do for those businesses. I'm sure it's a long shot, but it would be great if he brought it up during the debate.

Vermis, can you digg it?
Oct 03, 2006

The fourth episode of Vermis is up now. Look for my name in the credits! Everyone should go watch it. It's fantastic animation, and it needs to be popular or Uth TV won't keep buying episodes from Alan. And if you like it, you can digg it here. And, once you've watched it, you can view the uncensored version here.

Grill 23
Oct 02, 2006

Last night, Jessi and I went to Grill 23 for dinner. For those that don't know, Grill 23 is a steak house in Back Bay that's been around for over 20 years, since 1983. The same company, American Food Management, also runs two other premier Boston eateries: Excelsior and Harvest, neither of which, sadly, have I tried yet. I've only been there twice, but Grill 23 is, by far, my favorite restaurant in the Continental US (there's an amazing Japanese/Korean place in Honolulu that might challenge it, sadly I can never remember the name). Jessi had the same thing we both had last time we went, the 14 oz. dry-aged New York steak. It was fantastic, although not exactly cooked to my liking. I'll let her talk about her steak if she wants. I, on the other hand, tried something different this time and ordered 'The Berkeley' off the weekly menu. It consisted of a 16 oz. Dry-Aged Ribeye steak, Château Potatoes, and Utica Greens with Cheese & Bacon. One of my favorite things about this restaurant is that, when you order your steak rare, your waiter asks you if you'd like it 'red and cool'. You're damned right I would, and that's exactly how it came, a perfect rare the color of a nice red wine in the middle. I don't know what they do to their steaks, perhaps they marinate them in butter, but I've never had anything as good: tender, juicy, and amazingly flavorful. They beat the pants of my favorite West Coast restaurant, Tulio, in Seattle—where they also make a fantastic Dry-Aged Ribeye, and a grilled veal chop that is to die for—which is really saying something. Executive chef Jay Murray really knows what he's doing. Dessert was, for a second time, the most amazing Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée. I'm not a huge fan of sweet foods and rarely eat dessert, but Grill 23's crème brûlée is just amazing. Incredibly smooth and not over-sweetened, with a fantastic creamy flavor, you'll find little bits of ground vanilla bean on the bottom of your dish to let you know that it's made entirely from scratch. My hat, metaphorical though it may be, is off to pastry chef Molly Hanson. They have a fantastic wine list as well, with over 1000 selections to choose from. I won't say too much about the wine, that's Jessi's area, but I've been tremendously pleased with the bottles we've gotten both times. Beyond the food and wine, the service pushes Grill 23 way over the top. With it's classy dark wood and brass decor, the amazingly friendly, professional, and courteous staff simply complete a perfect package. Our waiter, Bill, has actually served us twice now, and I think next time we go, and there will be a next time, we may have to specifically request him. The service really makes you feel like you're getting your money's worth, and make no mistake you'll be spending a fair amount when you go here. I've had no problem, both times Bill has served us, tipping far more than the full price of dinner at most restaurants we go to. I really don't know what I can say about the exemplary service at Grill 23 to really convey how amazing it is. I can say, however, that if you are away from the table for a minute or two, don't be surprised to find, when you come back, that your napkin has been folded and draped over the arm of your chair for you. Now that's service (courtesy, last night, of Hercules). [Edit: guess I'm not the only blogger with a restaurant review from this weekend, Jen Stewart (another transplant to Boston from California) has something to say about Bouchée]

Small businesses in Massachusetts
Oct 01, 2006

I've been meaning to write about this for a while, but never actually got around to it. On September 15 the Boston Business Journal ran an article entitled Report: Mass. ignores small business segment. As a small business owner, this obviously caught my attention. According to the article 'small businesses are undercounted in Massachusetts and that is hurting them'. Apparently the state of Massachusetts, when compiling statewide employment data does not count sole-proprietorships, of which, in 2004, there were over 424,000—17% of all jobs in Massachusetts. What does this actually mean for sole proprietors such as myself? Well, it means that the state does not offer any economic incentives for the development of my business. There are no tax cuts, subsidies, or any other sort of aid that I can take advantage of as a sole proprietor. To be honest, I would generally consider this a good thing. Why should the government give me preferential treatment over your ordinary private citizen? Government subsidies are, in my opinion, a stagnating force serving largely to preserve inefficiencies in our economy and, in general, doing more harm than good. Tax cuts, which I approve of in general, would be better, I think, if applied to individuals rather than businesses. Politically, I just don't think there's any good reason to give me or other sole proprietors (or any business, for that matter) preferential treatment of any kind. That, of course, is a purely ideological position. In truth, you probably wouldn't hear me complain too much about policies that resulted in me paying fewer taxes or getting free money in the name of 'economic stimulation'; as long as the current state of things is unfair, it may as well be unfair in my favor. And, again from an ideological standpoint and ignoring the fact that I fit into this category, I think that, if you are going to be favoring any businesses anyway, sole-proprietorships and other small businesses are where you want the aid to go as it will have a more direct effect on the individuals that make up the company. Also, there is a lot to be said for encouraging the growth of small businesses. Small businesses are, in my opinion, an important part of any economy. In the event of massive economic upheaval (of which there are many sorts that could occur, I don't think there's much need to enumerate them), small business are much more agile and able to adapt to those changes. While a large business will be more likely to weather the storm and survive due to their own economic inertia, a small business will actually be able to change the way they work to suit the new situation thus providing a far more dynamic, resilient, and efficient economy. Some would argue that small businesses are also more risky, as, if they fail to adapt as advertised, they'll generally be forced to just go out of businesses as they lack the reserves to keep them going in a rough spot. That, I'd say, doesn't really indicate any sort of inferiority, however, as large businesses will usually go through rounds of layoffs while weathering a storm resulting, probably, in an equivalent number of lost jobs. Given Massachusetts' current predicament of declining population as businesses and individuals flee the high cost of living and business, enacting policies to attract new business would go a long way to invigorating the economy and reverse the flow of the 'Mass Exodus'. And there can be little doubt that it would be best for the Massachusetts economy if business expansion in the state were the result of new Massachusetts-based companies springing up and keeping their earning here in Massachusetts rather than large, national companies opening offices and then dispersing their profits throughout the country. In other words, Massachusetts should be working to specifically encourage the starting of small and home businesses and sole proprietorships throughout the state. It's good for the citizens of Massachusetts, it's good for the people who want to do business here, it's good for the Massachusetts economy, and it's good for the state. This issue is, of course, quite relevant given the ongoing gubernatorial race (which I'd really like to see other people start calling Mass Guber '06 too). Sadly, although all of the candidates mention the need to attract new people and businesses to the state, none of them say a thing, that I've been able to find, about small businesses specifically—although Patrick's proposed increase of the minimum wage would hurt small businesses, and Healey's proposed reduction in unemployment insurance costs would help them. This is another one of the reasons that I support Christy Mihos. As the owner of a local, Massachusetts-based business himself, I trust him to keep local businesses in mind when shaping economic policy, and not sell out the interests of small businesses in favor of large national and multi-national corporations.

Mass Guber '06
Sep 27, 2006

I really didn't want to turn this into a blog about politics, but I'm having a hard time resisting with the ongoing campaign. I promise that as soon as the campaign is over political posts will be cut back to a bare minimum. That aside, here's another clip from YouTube. This time it's a bunch of Fox News correspondents tearing into Kerry Healey for her performance on Monday's debate. Basically, they weren't very impressed and think that she's going to lose herself the election. They also criticize her for her attempts to gloss over the relevance of the Mihos campaign saying that, if anything, she's helping his position. But enough of my summary, here's the clip: I've also created a YouTube playlist where I'll be sticking all the videos I find that are relevant to the '06 gubernatorial race. It's called Mass Guber '06.

Best campaign ad ever
Sep 27, 2006

Usually I can't stand campaign ads, but this one is just hilarious:

Blogosphere revealed
Sep 27, 2006

I have, once before, had my blog mentioned in an actual news source The Boston Globe, courtesy of Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub who writes a column about the goings-ons of local Boston bloggers. Apparently CBS News also has a similar column that follows blogs, Melissa McNamara's Blogophile. Her most recent article, which ran today, started off talking about the Wallace vs. Clinton bonanza on Fox News, and eventually talked about our very own Cardinal O'Malley and his blog. In it, she quoted, and linked to my post about the very same. So my blog has now been mentioned and linked to in a major news source twice in just one month. As lame as it sounds, this whole blogging thing still just blows me away...

Zooomr
Sep 26, 2006

I've posted about Zooomr before, but I feel the need to mention it again. I've recently discovered, not in small part due to the inspiration of my friend Ari, that I rather enjoy photography. So I've been carrying Jessi's camera (a Kodak EasyShare C340) and been snapping away at just about everything I see. The better shots I have, of course, been uploading to Zooomr since they were nice enough to give me a free pro account and all (here are some of my favorites: Bottle, subwaylamp, emptycar, and my first 'decent' picture Pigpen in the window). I'd like to think that my pictures are getting better, especially since I've graduated from my camera phone to an actual camera, though I still would hardly consider myself an artist. So imagine my surprise when I get a notification that someone had commented on one of my photos. Of course, I was even more surprised to discover that the comment was a compliment from John Keyes, a New England photographer who takes some truly excellent pictures. Now I'm all the more motivated to keep at this and see if maybe I could actually be a decent photographer. Now that I've had some more experience with it, I've got a much more well-formed opinion of Zooomr as a service. For the most part, I'm highly impressed. It works very well, has an excellent geotagging feature using the Google maps API, a decent social networking feature, and RSS feeds of your favorite people's pictures. There are two things that I think they could improve, however. First, it would be really great if it had a way to 'favorite' pictures. So, for example, if I were to find a picture that I absolutely love I could mark it as a favorite and it would then be viewable, or at least linked to, from the favorites section of my Zooomr page (would also integrate well with blogs). The other thing that I would improve is a better feedback mechanism. I've been looking all over for a email link or feedback form so that I can request this feature, but I just can't find it. So I'm requesting it here. And just to make sure they see this, I'll link to Thomas Hawk a member of the Zooomr team and another excellent photographer out of San Francisco. Oh, and maybe the Zooomr blog too just for good measure.

The gubernatorial debates
Sep 26, 2006

I love the word gubernatorial. Especially when combined with my old governor Arnold 'the governator' Schwarzenegger; I much prefer calling him 'the gubernator'. Anyway.... Last night was the first debate in the Massachusetts gubernatorial race. I watched it, or at least thought I had. Now that I've read some of the responses to it (one from Hub Politics, and one from Hub Blog for starters), I'm not so sure. Everyone seems to be proclaiming that either Patrick wiped the floor with Healey, or vice versa. I don't particularly recall either of those things happening. About the only thing I recognize from the accounts that I've read is that Mihos really went after Healey, that Ross was fairly ineffectual, and that Healey consistently attempted to frame the debate as being solely between herself and Patrick. Beyond that, here's what I saw (and it doesn't seem to be what most people saw): Healey, despite her experience and current position as Lieutenant Governor, seemed to have a tough time with the debate. She was not particularly well-spoken and, in my opinion, didn't do a very good job of presenting herself. From what I've read since, this is fairly normal for her (Although many Republicans seem to think that she somehow transcended that last night and did a wonderful job. I suppose that when you set the bar low, it's not hard to surpass it...) Ignoring her somewhat lackluster performance, she didn't present herself very well. I got the impression that she was nothing but a politician, and had none of the qualities required of a true statesman and leader. Patrick also was not as well spoken as I expected him to be, but from what I understand this is not the norm for him, and I still think he did a better job than Healey. He did, however, despite that do an excellent job of presenting himself. I got the impression from his performance that he really is an excellent statesman. He knew his stuff, and was on top of his answers. He did an excellent job, I think, of addressing the questions directed at him given the constraints of the format (a timed debate is not the setting in which to expound on the details of your position). He also managed to be courteous and respectful to all involved even when disagreeing with or criticizing them. Truth be told, I think he would make an excellent governor. I just don't agree with his politics. Ross performed much better than I expected her to. She did a decently good job, but she is clearly not a politician. She also could use a wardrobe assistant and a good stylist if she ever wants to come off well on television. Who shows up to a debate against three seasoned politicians in black suits wearing ...whatever it was that she was wearing? And those huge, highly reflective glasses just don't work in studio lighting. Beyond her obvious lack of experience, however, I thought she did a very good job of making her points and ensuring that she got her position out there. I don't think she had the best timing or tact, and it was quite clear that she supports Patrick over herself to be governor, but she comported herself well. Mihos remains my favorite, and I thought he did an excellent job. Although I think he performed better in the first half than the second. Of the four candidates, he was by far the best spoken. He had his answers down, knew his stuff, and phrased it well. His business experience really came through here as he handled the debate like a sales pitch to the people of Massachusetts. And I think he sold himself pretty well. But it was also quite clear that he really has it in for Healey. He went after her at every opportunity, criticized her on everything, and was very clearly interested in hurting her campaign. To some extent this is a good move for him, as he really needs to take as many Republican voters as possible. He especially needs to take the Republican voters who already aren't happy with Romney and Healey, and I think his performance was calculated to do just that. He spared very little time for Patrick or Ross, which makes sense. If he has any chance of winning he's going to have to do it by winning the Republican votes that currently seem to be going to Patrick. He needs to paint himself as a rational and effective moderate-conservative, and so far he seems to be doing a pretty good job of it. My overall impression of the whole thing was that the strongest weapons in both Mihos' and Patrick's arsenals are their extensive business experience. They know how to get things done, they understand the relationship between money and results, and they understand how to speak to customers constituents. Ross, I don't really know why she's in the race. She clearly is a Patrick supporter, but I guess just wanted to make sure her issues were on the table. Healey is, as so many have already stated, struggling against the Romney legacy. People don't like where things are now, and she's part of that. I'm not even going to try and claim that there was a winner, because I don't think there was. But Patrick really raised himself in my estimation last night, Mihos did an excellent job as well, Ross met and slightly exceeded my expectations, and Healey was somewhat disappointing.

Archblogger O'Malley
Sep 22, 2006

Today Seán Patrick O'Malley, the Cardinal of Boston, posted his first second post in his blog. I'm about as far from being Catholic as possible (in fact, I'll be going to a Rosh Hashanah dinner tonight...), but I've still subscribed to his RSS feed and am looking forward to reading what he writes. I'm not sure if it's been done before, but I think this is really cool. A Cardinal, the Archbishop of Boston, is writing a blog. Regardless of whether your Catholic or not, or even if you can't stand organized religion, I think this will prove some really interesting insight into the inner workings of Boston, Catholicism, and maybe even the Holy See. At the very least we'll learn something about the Cardinal himself. And, you have to admit, it would be pretty sweet if the Pope himself were to start a blog; a place for him to pontificate if you will ...or not. I do have one slight reservation about this blog, and I'll share it with you: I have many fond memories of those days in the early 1960’s. I will share with you, believe it or not, that I and everyone else were wearing lederhosen in those days…but, do not try to find those pictures because I assure you that the negatives have been destroyed….LOL!. I'll leave you to take from that what you will. In other news, I just read an ad on Craigslist in which someone is trying to organize a networking group for technology consultants. I, of course, immediately responded letting him know that I'd definitely be interested and offering whatever help I might be able to give. I think this is a great idea, and a great way to meet other people doing similar things to what I'm doing. Sure they are, in some way, the competition, but that's no reason that we can't get together and learn from each other, share resources, and help each other out. There's more than enough business out there to go around, and we all have our own unique specialties. Hopefully this will actually happen, because I think those of us who attend will really be able to help each other out and learn from each other. [edit: I was wrong, this was actually his second post. His first was here]

The Cape Wind project
Sep 20, 2006

Staying in the political vein for now, I had a few thoughts on the Cape Wind project. When looking into the candidates, it didn't take long to realize that their thoughts on this project revealed a lot about their general policy. Really, it should have appeal to members of both parties. It involves the privatization of public land, favors business, reduces (albeit slightly) our dependency on foreign oil, stimulates the economy, and lowers cost of living at the same time for the Republicans. For the Democrats it's good for the environment, helps establish America's support for alternative energies, and stimulates the economy, all important Democratic talking points. When you think about it, there's no reasonable objection to it. Republicans should like it for the free market approach towards solving several issues at once, and Democrats should like it for the vapid, buzzword-compliant environmental-friendliness. Me? I like it for all of the above reasons; it's just a good idea all around. The only people who don't like it are the NIMBY crowd. So this issue really provides an excellent test as to the general political alignment of the candidates above and beyond the broad stroke of party. In a broad stroke of my own, I think it's fair to say that those who support it are, in general, interested in the issues more, and those who are against are mostly just courting the vote of the, generally wealthy, Cape Coders (most of whom are probably snowbirds anyway); no one really objects on any grounds other than aesthetic. At least that's the feeling that I got from reading the various candidates' positions on the project. It did, however, occur to me while reading up on Cape Wind that there were other alternatives. For example, tidal generators could generate power from the tidal fluctuations of Cape Cod, Buzzard Bay, even Boston Harbor. This could easily be used to augment, or even, in a state with as much coast as Massachusetts, replace the wind farm without infringing on people's views from their vacation homes (and how dare anyone consider besmirching that 1/2 vertical inch of horizon). It appears that I'm not the only one who thinks this way, as I read this morning that tidal power generation is being seriously considered for implementation in the San Francisco Bay. Now, to be fair, the San Francisco Bay has extremely strong currents and so is especially well suited to such methods and, even so, will only be generating 38 MW, whereas the Cape Wind project is projected to generate 420 MW (An increase in global wind power generation of over 700%!). The San Francisco proposal seems to be putting the turbines under the Golden Gate Bridge, approximately 19 acres of seabed, whereas Cape Wind will cover approximately 15 acres. This does suggest that wind power is significantly more efficient than tidal generation (1,400% more efficient, even), if more visually obtrusive. The difference is significant enough that I find it unlikely that any errors in estimation on my part cause much of a deviation from the actual fact. So really, the only possible argument against the Cape Wind project (assuming it's economically viable, which, really, it must be or no company would propose it and the various wind farms that exist all over the world wouldn't exist), is that some people might not like how it looks. And, having been to a number of places that have wind power, I have to say that argument doesn't hold much water; wind farms actually look pretty cool. So, as a measurement of general character as well as environmental friendliness, I find support, or lack thereof, of the Cape Wind project to be a pretty effective test of whether I like a candidate or not. So, if this were the only issue I were looking at, my rankings would probably be Patrick, Ross, Mihos, Healey. However my other important issues are economic policy, gay marriage / equal rights, and general commitment to basic freedoms. Taking those in mind (either weighted or unweighted) it comes out Mihos, Patrick, Ross, Healey. Sigh, politics are annoying.

Massachusetts politics
Sep 19, 2006

Are very strange indeed. To my 'foreign' eye it would seem that the candidates range from Democrat to very Democrat—even the Republicans would be considered America-hating liberals in some parts of the country. And I use liberal here, of course, in the popular sense of the word rather than the traditional. With the primary elections today, I finally decided this morning to take a look at the candidates and see what I thought. Based solely on the information presented on Boston.com this is the order in which I decided I liked the candidates (keep in mind this was before the primaries): Gabrieli (D), Mihos (I), Healey (R), Patrick (D), Reilly (D), Ross (GR—Green-Rainbow ...yeah, I don't know either. I actually kind of like Ross, but she hasn't voiced opinions on enough of the issues for me to really know). The primaries being over, my choices are now Mihos, Healy, Patrick, and Ross. I've taken some time to look a little more closely at their platforms now and thus far my ranking remains about the same. But before I get into any specifics, I just have to say: how cool is it that Ross has a Hatian-Creole translation of her site? Anyway, as I was saying, I've been taking a closer look at the candidates now. And, as I suspected, I like Mihos. I agree with him on pretty much all the issues he lists on his platform. We do, however, disagree on the death penalty (I'm against it), gambling (I'm for it), the cape wind project (I'm for it... tentatively), and gay marriage (we're both for it, but he supports putting it on the ballot whereas I think it should be a given based on the Constitution). On pretty much everything else, we agree. As for Healey and Patrick, I really can't decide which I'd prefer. Taking the issues as presented by Boston.com and not weighting them based on which issues I actually care about, I'd give Healey an 8/12 and Patrick a 5/12. Giving a weighted score is difficult because in both cases the some of the issues I disagree with them on are ones I care about (environment, gay marriage, and civil rights for Healey, fiscal strategy, gambling, health care, and again civil rights for Patrick). Basically to choose between the two of them I'm forced to choose either a fiscally conservative and socially liberal Republican or a fiscally liberal and socially conservative Democrat: the basic political question of American politics. It's not an easy choice to make, as I would consider myself fiscally and socially conservative (where conservative means keeping government and legislation out). Fortunately there's Christy Mihos who's fiscally conservative and socially centrist. Really I think they come out about even. This is why I'm a big proponent of a four-party system, it covers all the possible permutations of opinion in an essentially two-issue political arena. Here's a chart I drew out while studying the candidates initially to help me keep track of who I did and didn't like and why. Os are good, Xs are bad, and blank spaces are, well, blank.
EconEduEnvGay marriageGamblingHealthcareMass. exodusPublic Safety
GabrieliOOOOOXO
MihosOOXOOOX
HealeyOXXOXOOX
PatrickXXOXOXXO
ReillyOXXOXXXX
RossOOXX

Oh yeah...
Sep 18, 2006

I also got my company web page partially set up. It's at www.dydxtech.com. There's still a lot I have left to do with it, but I've got it to the point where I feel like I should start spreading it around. In a lot of ways it's a learning exercise. The tabs are all done in AJAX, which I sort of knew how to use before, but now I have a much stronger understanding, and my CSS kills are constantly improving the more I use them. Basically, the more I work with this this stuff the better I get at it, and I figure my own web page is one of the best advertisements for my abilities as a web developer.

Assaulting a police officer is much worse than a parking violation
Sep 18, 2006

cornercopcornercop Hosted on Zooomr
Or so I am lead to believe by the voices wafting up through my window. I assume it was the cop who's currently stationed at the corner of the street who said this, and he seemed to be saying it to some random person across the street. Unfortunately I missed whatever altercation it was that let up to this revelation. It's nice to know, I suppose, that the best use for his time while standing on our corner is giving out parking violations. Perhaps the incredibly loud and irritating 'take back the neighborhood' party they held in the park next door yesterday that drove Jessi and I from our home for the majority of Saturday actually had some effect other than waking us up with a very loud man on a loudspeaker singing the Mr. Rogers theme. In more relevant news, Craigslist has started really rising to the occasion in terms of yielding potential work, both directly and indirectly. On Thursday I responded to an ad looking for someone to help test out a web page. I went in on Friday and did exactly that: helped them evaluate a new design for their site. It's not really the kind of work I'm looking for and didn't bring in much in the way of business, but it may have ended up being much more productive than I could have hoped when I first saw the ad. While chatting with the guy I was working with while there I learned two very important things: 1) his company is having trouble finding qualified AJAX coders, and 2) he happens to know of at least two biotech companies in the area that are Mac based and might be looking to hire consultants. Talk about a big score in terms of new business leads! If I could get work with just one of the smaller biotech companies in the are (and there is just a tad more than one of them here) it would pave the way for me to position myself as a Mac consultant specializing in the biotech industry, something that would likely be huge in terms of establishing myself. I already emailed him about both opportunities, and although it sounds like I probably won't be going for any AJAX work with his company (they're only interested in full-time employees) he's digging up some details on the biotech companies that he knows about for me. I think this could be the first step towards setting up the kind of business I've been picturing in my head this whole time. I've also, thanks to Craigslist again, found some other promising leads. As usual it's mostly web development stuff, but there's also a PC consultant in the area who's looking for a local Mac person to refer Mac business to. It sounds like he gets at least a couple people looking for Mac help a month and wants someone reliable that he can refer them to. The perfect way to start spreading my name among the home users and from them, hopefully, to their friends, coworkers, and companies.

I just had to share this.
Sep 14, 2006

A fine display of one of the most important skills for any IT worker to have: technobabble! I can only hope that some day I'm able to spout nonsense with the fluency of this guy.

That was fun
Sep 14, 2006

The BMAC meeting last night turned out to be pretty fun and worthwhile. The presenter for the night was Rich Siegel the guy who wrote BBEdit (pretty much the text editor for coders working on Macs) and started Bare Bones Software. He talked about the changes in the latest major update (8.5) of BBEdit as well as their relatively new product, Yojimbo. Being a long-time Mac user, BBEdit has pretty much always been on the radar. Although, to be honest, I've never really used it (I generally use SubEthaEdit for my coding when I'm not using Emacs). But after his talk about it, I'm seriously considering it. Two of the features in particular (folding and clippings) really caught my attention. I'm definitely going to give a try on my next project to test it out and see if it's worth the somewhat hefty price tag of $125. I'm also giving Yojimbo a try. I looked at it when they first released it about 6 months ago and didn't really see the point. Since then, however, I've often wished I had a good program to use as a repository for all that random information you tend to accumulate like serial numbers and passwords. There are a number of solutions out there such as SOHO Notes (which I can get for free, but don't really like), but after last night I obviously have Yojimbo in mind and so am giving it a shot. Fortunately it's much cheaper ($39), so if I decide I like it there won't be much reason not to get it. In other news, I just got my copy of OS X Server in the mail thanks to the highly discounted prices offered by the Apple Consultants Network. I'm planning on installing it on my PowerMac G5 to use as a home server (as well as a testbed for various other things), but first I want to make some hardware upgrades to the machine to better suit it's new role. In particular, I want to move the two 160 GB hard drives currently in it into an external enclosure (probably this one with an eSATA PCI-X card) and configure them into some sort of RAID (haven't decided yet) as a backup store, then put some bigger drives into the internal bays (possibly two 500s, maybe two 250s). Should be a fun project, and will definitely make it easier for me to keep on top of my OS X server skills. I've also got a few ideas for hosted services that I could offer with a setup like this, although I'd want faster, more reliable internet and some hefty UPSs first. Also, for those of you who may care, there's a new episode of Vermis. As of right now it's not showing up on the site, but it should be soon. An interesting note on this episode is that I got a writing credit (I can do creative stuff too!).

Finally...
Sep 13, 2006

After all this time, I've finally gotten around to posting an ad on Craigslist. Don't ask me why it took so long for me to get it up there, especially since I've been buying and selling things on Craigslist like there's no tomorrow every since I unpacked my Door to Door crate, but now it's there. It went up yesterday, and I haven't gotten any hits so far, but I suppose selling a service isn't quite the same as selling a product. I'm sure the copy could also use a little work... In addition to craigslist, I will soon also have an ad in the classified of The Phoenix. Jessi just pointed out to me that their classifieds are now free, so I have no qualms about putting my less than perfect ad on there. Once I've gotten something a little more polished I'll actually start paying to put it places like the Globe. Also, tonight I'll be heading to my first BMAC meeting (BMAC being the local Mac Users Group (BMUG was already taken)). It should be an interesting one as Rich Siegel of Bare Bones Software will be giving the presentation. And I figure giving out whatever free help I can at the following Q&A session will be good for spreading my name around and getting people to call me when they need help in the future, and it'll just be good in general to get my name out there in the local Mac community.

Does this mean I'm a real Bostonian?
Sep 12, 2006

When I first made the decision that I was going to move to Boston, I made a point of searching out and subscribing to local Boston-area blogs. After reading them for a while I discovered that there was a very common thing that kept popping up all over Boston blogs: complaining about the T and the MBTA. At first, I didn't really understand this. Living across the bay from San Francisco, my experience with similar systems had been BART. In comparison, the T is vastly more convenient and vastly cheaper ($1.25, rather than getting you wherever you're going, will maybe get you to the next stop, but the farther you go the more you pay on BART). Fortunately, this naïveté was not to last for long. I had the good fortune of moving here just as the MBTA was about to implement the CharlieTicket system. At first I thought this would be a good thing because although the cards lack the quaintness of the token system, they also lack the sheer mass of the actual tokens. The cards definitely do make it much more convenient to pay for all the rides you'll need in a given day or week at once. But once they actually installed the machines at my T stop (Central Square), I realized that the system just isn't well designed for the way the T currently works. If you buy a $1.25 card, as many people do, you stick it into the machine, get it back, and walk through the gates. Makes sense until you realize that you now have a completely useless card with no money on it. As a result there's almost always a pile of spent CharlieTickets just inside the gates. Obviously this is a waste of paper and money, and could easily be corrected with one simple change taken from the BART system: if you stick your card in, and it only has $1.25 on it, just open the gates and don't give the card back. That saves the cards to be put back into the distribution machines and reused, or at least just cuts down on the clutter in the stations. The only reason I can think of for the current behavior of the CharlieTicket machines is if they want people to keep their spent card and just put more money on it the next time they want to go somewhere, but that really doesn't make sense either as it's not any more convenient for people to do it that way than it is to just get a new card every they use one up. Also, the little paper cards are just too flimsy to last for all that long. If they really wanted to have people reuse the cards they should use heavier, plastic ones. Ones that would be read with a swipe mechanism similar to the one that was already present on about 50% of the old turnstiles. The other, and I think vastly bigger, problem with the CharlieTicket system wasn't with the implementation but with the installation. Someone in the MBTA had the brilliant idea of switching the stations entirely over to the CharlieTicket system one at a time. As a result, some stations only use CharlieTickets and others don't use them at all. Even now, at least a month into the transition, if I want to go to Harvard Square (as I did on Saturday) I have to buy a $1.25 CharlieTicket to get there, then a $1.25 token to get back. Of course if I didn't realize that Harvard Square didn't have their CharlieTicket machines installed yet I'd probably end up getting a $2.50 CharlieTicket thinking I could use it to get home only to be surprised when 1) I couldn't, and 2) they only have one window open selling tokens at Harvard Square on a Saturday afternoon so there's an enormously long line. Long story short, I walked home to Central Square. What they should have done, was not bring a single CharlieTicket machine online until there was at least one in operation in every station. So for a while they would have had all stations using both cards and tokens and slowly moved them over until all stations had only one token turnstile. At that point they could easily have just completed the transition over night without inconveniencing the riders at all. Of course, I suspect their plan is really to change the fare structure to make it more like BART and therefore more expensive for the riders. They should have just stuck with the tokens and added token dispensing machines. Hopefully things will be better when they roll out the CharlieCards...

If you like horror movies
Sep 09, 2006

Check out this poll at fuse.tv. It's a web-poll about recent horror movies, tv shows, and thereby-inspired music. Oh, and guess who's responsible for the back-end of that poll (with the help of a flash designer from Pod Design...). ;)

Web design
Sep 07, 2006

Before I actually get into the meat of this post I just wanted to say: I was mentioned in the Boston Globe! How cool is that? Adam Gaffin, writer of Universal Hub, is also a correspondent writer at the Globe and has a Sunday column in which he talks about some of the things that have come up in his blog, the Blog Log. On August 27th, he included my post about the shots fired outside my apartment in the early hours of August 13th. I'm not too happy that it happened, or about the resultant, ever-precent police cruiser in the park, but at least it got my name in the paper! And now on to the real topic: Web design has never been my strong suit, but I'm now working on putting together the web page for my consultancy. For inspiration, I've been browsing the Apple Consultants Network directory and looking at the web pages for some of my fellow consultants (As a side-note, if you search for the Cambridge zip code—02139—guess who the very first result it? That's right, me. Cool, eh?). I've discovered that it's actually fairly common for the consultants listed there to not have a website at all, which I think is definitely a shame because the first thing I'd want to do when trying to choose a consultant to work with is check out their website so I can get a better idea of who they are and what they do before actually talking to them (which is why mine links to this blog for now), and the websites that do exist run the gambit from, frankly, really crappy to exceptionally good. I suspect mine will be somewhere in the middle, as I certainly have the technical skills to put together a functional site and at least enough aesthetic sense that it will be, if not pleasant, at least not offensive to the eye. Having decided on a nice, simple design, I've discovered the hard part is content. Obviously I want to have a description of the company: what I do, why I'm qualified, why you should choose me, &c, as well as a list of the services I'm able to provide, maybe the costs I charge for them, contact info, and the basic stuff like that. But actually figuring out how to present it and the details of what to actually say is infuriatingly difficult. So rather than actually working on that, I've decided to procrastinate by posting to my blog. Sadly I find it's much harder to justify procrastination when I'm reporting to myself.

Timing is not everything
Sep 01, 2006

I am very, very glad, having read all about moving day in Boston that I decided to go with Door to Door. I didn't have to deal with traffic, I didn't have to deal with parking, and I definitely didn't have to deal with Storrow Dr. And I saved money. Basically there's no way that I didn't come out on top. Current and future students in greater Boston take notice!

Sweaty and disgusting
Sep 01, 2006

09-01-06_0955
Door to Door dropped off my container this morning, a full 2 hours early. Fortunately I had actually managed to get myself out of bed already and was able to sign for the container and everything. Also fortunately, the person who was parked in the no parking area the city set up for my container (how cool is that, I got my own no parking zone) moved before the tow truck came. Now I am, as advertised, sweaty and disgusting, having moved the very top layer of my stuff as well as my computers. I see no reason to expect that state to be altered for quite a while.

What's in a name?
Aug 31, 2006

I've finally gotten around to doing two things I've been meaning to do for a while. First, I registered my business with the Cambridge City Clerk. This technically isn't necessary as a sole-proprietorship as I can just do business under my own name, but I've never really thought that was the ideal way to do things. And now I don't, for now I have registered a DBA. From this day forth (or at least until I change my mind), my company shall be known as 'Derivative Technologies Consulting'. And, thanks to my Apple Consultants Network membership, I was able to get my hands on a free copy of Chronos' SOHO Business Cards business card designing software. With it I was able to come up with the tentative design for my business cards on the right. It's very loosely based off one of the templates they provide, although the only part that actually came from the template is the circle and they had it as a bright red circle with a black border. The color scheme is actually one that I was already using on my invoices and letterhead (and actually I was already using the circle there too which is why I picked the template with the circle in the first place), as is the main font. The name actually came from the logo. Originally I was thinking of something along the lines of 'nth degree consulting' with the logo being some stylized version of n°, but a google search revealed that one had pretty much been done to death (there's one that already uses my logo idea, and even an nth degree IT). From the n° idea for a logo I came up with using the dy/dx instead, and thus Derivative Technologies was born. That name has actually also been taken but not by nearly as many people, so I decided to distinguish myself by adding the 'Consulting' bit. I'm still working on finalizing that business card design, especially as I'm concerned about the cost all that color might entail, but I think it will probably end up being at least related to what I've got. Next step, I suppose, is to set up a website since I already have the domain (dydxtech.com, the other options I could think of were also taken). The other thing I did today was to register to vote in Massachusetts. Really the only reason I did that today was because I was in the City Clerk's office and they had the forms right there. Had I done it yesterday I could have voted in the primaries, but, to be honest, I really don't care about the primaries because it only matters for the Democrats, and I didn't register as a Democrat. No I didn't register as a Republican either, I don't like either party (or the party system at all for that matter). I ended up registering as a Libertarian, not because I really consider myself a Libertarian (although more so than either a Democrat or a Republican) but because I figure it can only be a good thing to have more people registering for third parties and I sure as hell wasn't going to register for the Green-Rainbow party. Oh, I also sent in an invoice for the web development project I was working on. Thanks to the miracle of living with someone who works for the client, I'll actually be getting the check for that this evening. So on top of all that I'm receiving my first check as a freelancer today as well! And that, I think, is probably the biggest news I actually have (in the smallest paragraph, no less).

As predicted
Aug 28, 2006

Things are starting to pickup. Today, for the first time in a long time, I spent the whole day working. Well, the whole day between waking up a little before 11:30 and just now, with some breaks throughout: all told, about 6.5 hours. Which, to be honest, is probably a lot more time spent actually seriously working than I usually put in when spending 10 hours per day in an office. And all this from my bedroom. In addition to this one job, which is going very well and will be paying my rent for October (and then some), I've got another possible job in the works. It's coming in through one of the web developers that I'm currently talking to about another project. So far I've been pretty amazed by how quickly this web work is coming in. I haven't even really been actively looking for it, just responded to a couple requests and all of a sudden it's got the potential to really make some money. Now I guess I have to decide how much I want to focus on this and how much attention I should be devoting towards getting actual IT work. The IT work is what I'd rather do, but, as usual once I finally rolled up my sleeves and got into it, I've remembered that programming is fun. I'll have to figure out a way to balance the two, but in the meantime it's very nice to know that even if/when the IT business is slow I've got other marketable skills to fall back on that there's plenty of demand for. And it sounds like if I teach myself ASP and .Net I can expect some more work in the near future. I also, finally, have a date for when my stuff is getting delivered. About two weeks ago I got an email from Door to Door saying that my container had arrived at their facility near Boston, but that they didn't have a delivery date scheduled and I should hurry up and schedule one because they're very busy right around now. This was news to me as I had specifically told them that I wanted my stuff delivered on Sept. 1 several times. I called the guy that had sent the email and told him as much. He said he'd see what he could do and try to get me in as close to the date I wanted as possible, and that he'd call me when he knew when my stuff would be delivered. Today, I still hadn't heard from him, so I called him back. Turns out he had scheduled my delivery and not actually told me about it. He also managed to spell my name two different ways when scheduling the delivery and later pickup of the container so it took him a while to figure out when I would actually be getting my stuff. Fortunately he was able to get my stuff scheduled for delivery on Sept. 1 as I had hoped, so everything is still going according to plan. Now all I need to do is enlist some help in moving my insanely heavy couch up the three flights of stairs to my apartment. I'm also thinking about just listing it on Craigslist and trying to sell it straight out of the container... All in all I've had a good experience with Door to Door, although it's seems as though they were much more organized when it came to taking away my stuff than when it came to giving it back. Whether that's due to the added costs I could incur by them having my stuff for longer or simply because the office over here isn't as organized as the one in the Bay Area, I don't know. But I'll definitely consider using them again next time I make a long distance move even though on the drive across the country I didn't see a single Door to Door truck or container but saw no end of ABF trucks. I think I probably saw more ABF trucks more often than just about anything else no matter what part of the country we happened to be driving through.

Today is a good day
Aug 25, 2006

Several good things today. Most importantly, in addition to the two web designers I've been talking to about doing some programming for them (and I'm pretty confident that at least one of them will hire me), I've been hired to do yet another web programming job. It's a fairly small project, but I imagine the company that's hiring me to do it will have similar projects in the future that they'll now know they can come to me for. Also, with this job I'll be well on track to meeting the financial goals I've set for myself. All in all a good thing. What I really need to do is step up my marketing efforts. So far I've haven't been putting enough effort into it, and I really need to change that. But I think I'm finally getting over the vacation mood and starting to want to do something productive with my time. The first thing I should do (as Jessi keeps reminding me) is write an ad and post it to Craigslist. The next step, and my preferred marketing method, is to start doing some networking. I've been working on putting together a list of local groups and events that would be good networking opportunities for me, now I need to actually start taking advantage of them. Any suggestions for networking opportunities are, of course, welcome. In less work related news, I've finally gotten around to joining a rugby team. I'm playing with the MIT Men's Rugby Club. Went to my first practice last night, and will be going to a scrimmage with North Eastern on Sunday (I might even get to play depending on how many people show up). In addition to being a whole lot of fun, it's reminded just how long it's been since I've played or really done much to keep myself in shape. With my old job it was really hard to stay in shape as I had a 45 minute commute between Albany and San Francisco, didn't technically get off work until 5:30, and was often in the office much later than that. After a long day at work and 45 minutes of standing on BART I really wasn't in the mood to do much of anything let alone work out. Fortunately, my situation here is completely different with work happening on my schedule and no commute. With luck I'll be back in shape in no time, all while having fun and playing the greatest sport around.

Work ho!
Aug 23, 2006

In addition to just doing general IT stuff, I also happen to have a degree in Computer Science and a fairly strong background in programming, particularly web programming of late. What I don't have, however, is much skill in the way of web design; I can set up a very basic web site that isn't ugly, but visual design just isn't my thing. So one of the other things I've been thinking about ever since I hatched this crazy plan of mine has been the possibility of teaming up with a web designer to do backend work. That aspect of my plan, it seems, may be bearing fruit. Thanks to the miracle of Craigslist I'm now talking to two different web designers, both of whom may be interested in hiring me for a project that could lead to a more formal work relationship. Things are sounding pretty good, so I'm very hopeful about this. With luck I should have at least two projects coming in within the next two weeks. At the very least I'll hopefully be able to get a good website out of this.

Following up
Aug 23, 2006

It appears that at least one real newspaper did, in fact, cover the shooting that happened outside my apartment on the 13th. The Cambridge Chronicle ran an article on the 17th about it. (Many thanks to Adam from Universal Hub for sending me that link.) Around midnight on Sunday, Aug. 13, two 18-year-old Columbia Street residents sitting on a porch between 41 and 45 Columbia St. were fired upon several times from a blue Honda Accord. The porch they're talking about is directly across the street from my apartment, I can see it out the living room window (but not out my bedroom window which is on the other side of the building). Apparently the searching around I saw them doing afterwards bore some fruit as the article says they 'were able to recover several shell casings' ('several' being a number between 1 and 4, I'm guessing...). In the six days since that article ran, not much has changed really. There are routinely at least two cops stationed in the park next door, and it's not at all uncommon to see 3-4 cruisers around. The other day they even pulled a car over across the street and spent at least 45 minutes doing something. They had the marked cruiser that pulled him over, an unmarked car that showed up a little later, and the two cops who had been in the park. And I don't think they even ended up giving the guy a ticket! The car, I believe, was a red Corolla, so definitely couldn't have been mistaken for the blue Accord that was used in the shooting. Oh well, I suppose with the essentially constant police presence here now, there's unlikely to be any further problems. And nobody commits crimes in the winter anyway, so we should be safe until at least spring. But rest assured that we fully intend on moving out of this apartment at our earliest convenience.

(Oops, I forgot a title)
Aug 17, 2006

Yesterday I sent in a proposal for a project requested by my very first real client, Pod Digital Design (a viral marketing company that does some very cool stuff). This will actually be my second project for them, and hopefully will lead to more in the future. I'm actually making money now. Sweet. I've also been poking around the Apple Consultants Network web site checking out all the new resources that are now available to me as a member. I've already scored some free software through it and will be, once my Door to Door container with my other computers arrives, purchasing some heavily discounted Apple software through it. They provide some really amazingly good deals, and the membership fee will more than pay for itself with just that first purchase I'm going to make. In other news, my very good friend Julia French has made it into Valleywag. They've picked her as one of the two likely winners of the Web 2.Ooh Ladies' round. A contest for, I suppose, the hottest chick in the Web 2.0 conference circuit. Obviously everyone should go and vote for her. However I've noticed something with the poll they set up. No matter how many people I get to go vote for Julia, the ratio of the votes stays at just about 57% to 42% in favor of the other girl. Now I'm no mathematician, but I'm pretty sure that those percentages should be fluctuating a little more than that. Is this poll rigged?

It begins
Aug 15, 2006

I just sent in my first invoice to my first client. It wasn't for a particularly large amount, but I am currently working on a proposal they asked for for some further work, and that work will end up being for a larger amount. It definitely feels good to know I'll be getting some money soon, and it looks like I may be getting some more clients in the very near future. I think I'm finally getting this business off the ground. One annoying thing that I need to learn more about is whether or not I need to charge sales tax. It's been suggested to me that it's worthwhile to just always charge sales tax because it's easier than figuring out which things I actually do need to charge for and which I don't. According to Massachusetts state law, I need to charge sales tax for telecommunications services, exempting a certain few things like internet access. Of course, what constitutes 'internet access' under the law? Is it only the services provided by an ISP? Does installing a wireless router count as providing internet access? What if I set up someone with Verizon EV-DO cards for their laptops? Am I providing the internet access, or is Verizon? Guess I should add this of the list of things to ask the accountant (whom I need to remember to email...).

We're not alone
Aug 14, 2006

Looks like Jessi and I aren't the only bloggers in the area. Bryan Clark of Red Had also heard the shots last night. Apparently he also lives right by our park and walks his dog there. According to and article he links to the recent gun violence in the area may be related to a local chapter (? franchise? what?) of the Bloods. Who knew they had made it all the way to Cambridge...

Contact me
Aug 13, 2006

I can be contacted:
  1. By email: josh joshourisman com
  2. By AIM: joshourisman
  3. By Skype: joshourisman

Shots fired; hey look I'm a journalist
Aug 13, 2006

At about 12:15 am (10 minutes ago or so) Jessi and I heard 4 shots fired somewhere in the general area (Central Square). Immediately after two cop cars with lights on but no sirens came down Bishop Richard Allen, paused, and then to a squealing right turn onto Columbia heading towards Mass Ave. Now there are two cruisers parked in front of Morgan Park on Columbia St. with two cops directly across the street searching for something in front of an apartment building. From our bedroom window, which faces away from the park, towards Mass Ave, it sounded like the shots came from directly outside. But with the buildings around the sound could easily have just bounced around and really come from anywhere. It was definitely relatively close by, and a small caliber gun (sounded a lot like a .22, but I'd guess a 9mm is more likely). I think it's also safe to say that there was only one gun. Immediately after the shots were fired a large, black SUV (looked like a newer-model Chevy, but it's hard to say) came down Bishop Allen (from the same direction the cop cars later came from), went straight through the intersection and took the street that bears off to the left after the parking lot (no idea what it's called). From observing the cops' behavior, my take is that the shooting took place probably across the street from Morgan Park (there was a shooting there not too long ago). The two cops on foot across the street had to be either searching for evidence that the gun was fired from there (such as shell casings on the sidewalk) or that the gun was fired towards there (such as bullet holes or at least impacts on the brick building), they were looking both the ground and the side of the building so it's hard to say. The two cars that sped off towards Mass Ave must have received a report of the gunman and were speeding off to pursue. That's all the info I have right now as it hasn't made it to the news yet (obviously), but as it sounded like it happened literally in my own backyard I'm very curious to find out more. I'll probably post here about is as I do. [Edit: check out Jessi's blog for an alternative take on things]

Keeping up to date
Aug 13, 2006

One of the things that I've been pretty bad at lately is just keeping up to date with what's going on. It was pretty easy before with my old job as I was always in an office with people whose jobs required them to be on top of the latest high-tech news. But since I've gotten to Boston I've realized that it's much harder to do that on my own. Not helping matters is the fact that I'm on a new computer because all my RSS feeds are on my PowerMac that I won't be getting back for another half a month. Despite my somewhat lackluster approach to it lately, knowing what's going on is really extremely important when trying to do business, especially when trying to do business in a high tech field. If I'm going to be successful at all in terms of helping people with their computers I need to know what sorts of things are popular, what software people are using, what the latest and greatest tools I should be recommending are. I also need to be familiar enough with those things that I can do more than just mention them and offer 3rd-hand advice on them. So starting today I'm going to do my best to fix this. Earlier, we went to a bookstore where I grabbed a few magazines. Despite my high-tech leanings, I really do prefer reading print magazines to the online versions. I find it to be a more pleasant experience, and easier on the eyes. Plus I don't need to worry about the battery dying in the latest issue of Wired. Plus it's a lot easier for an article to catch your attention when you've got a whole column of it there in front of you next to the article you're already reading rather than just a headline linking you to the body elsewhere so I tend to get more from the print versions as well. I also intend to start going to BMAC (Boston Macintosh Users Group) meetings—I meant to go to the one this month (especially as it was all about WWDC), but sadly I completely forgot. The nice thing about actual gatherings is that, in addition to learning about current events, it will help me start building my Boston network and also possibly bring in some business. There's a few other groups with meetings that I intend to attend, some more work-related than others (like a few language groups). Although to be honest, I'm much more excited about the fact that I'm going to be playing rugby again. Hopefully this Tuesday I'll be back on a rugby pitch for the first time in about 5 years. I can't wait.

I'm certifiable
Aug 10, 2006

I passed the test and will soon be an Apple Certified Help Desk Specialist for OS X 10.4. I also completed the application to join the Apple Consultants Network, I'm hoping that I'll hear back on that today or tomorrow and start getting work from it next week, but we'll see. Considering that I've been doing Mac IT professionally for about the past three and a half years and doing it for friends and family for years before that it was pretty much a breeze. With zero preparation I was able to pass the test with an 84% (only needed 62%) in just 30 of the alloted 105 minutes. There really is nothing like experience for teaching you this sort of stuff. Unfortunately after looking at the sample test for OS X Server—which I need to get the next highest certification, the Apple Certified Technical Coordinator—it looks like I'm going to need to do some studying. I do have some relevant experience, just not enough. Hopefully I can just find a good book that covers this stuff, as the courses for it are just way too expensive. Another thing I've been thinking about is the legal status of my company. Right now, as an unincorporated sole proprietorship, I don't really need to do anything. I can do business and collect payment checks made out to myself, and then continue filing for my individual income tax as I've been doing up until now. Rather than getting an EIN I can use my social security number. However I've heard from multiple sources that it would be better to get an EIN and to, as much as possible, make my business an entity in its own right, distinct from myself. I can see a couple advantages to this myself: it would look more professional and it would keep my business and personal finances more clearly separated. On the other hand it would change my tax status and the legal standing of my company, and I'm not really sure if it would change them for the better or the worse. I suppose that what I really need to do is talk to an accountant/lawyer about this and get an expert opinion on how best to proceed. So I'll need to find me a lawyer, I guess.

Test time
Aug 09, 2006

Well, I'm off to take my certification test. Soon I shall be an Apple Certified Help Desk Specialist and will be only one more test away from being an Apple Certified Technical Coordinator. I'll also be joining the Apple Consultants Network, of course. Wish me luck!

A consultancy for me
Aug 06, 2006

Today I had a nice little chat with Peter Yorgin of Mobile MacWiz. Peter is a friend of a friend as well as a Mac IT consultant operating in Manhattan. He's been doing this for a couple years and was able to give me some good tips and pointers as well as refer me to some useful resources. Perhaps the most useful thing he was able to tell me about was the Apple Consultants Network. Apparently Apple maintains a network of Mac IT consultants which people can use to find consultants in their area to help them out with their problems. In addition to helping business find you (and apparently it's very good for that) it also provides you, as a consultant, with a lot of resources to help you out. For example every year there's the Annual Apple Camp for Cosultants which is basically a four-day training session for Mac consultants given by Apple. Also you get access to email lists where consultants are able to collaborate and share their technical expertise to help each other out. You also get discounts on certification and training, access to all sorts of third-party promotions, permission to use the Apple logo, free marketing materials, and all sorts of other things. If you pay the extra money to get the plus level membership you also get free and discounted copies of Apple's software and even hardware. Personally, I think the free and discounted Apple software alone probably makes the membership fee worthwhile, and if the membership is able to provide you with only a couple hours of work it's paid for itself. The only real catch is that you have to have an Apple OS X certification of some sort. But I just took a look at the certification stuff and I'm pretty confident that I can pass the test for the lowest level certification (which you need to get the higher level ones) right now without taking any of the prep courses or anything. So my plan for next week is to get my Apple Certified Help Desk Specialist certification ($150), then apply for a membership in the Apple Consultants Network ($695/year + $50 application fee). From the sound of things, doing that right there would probably be enough to get me going as far as consulting goes. Of course I still intend on doing some marketing of myself as well, and should already have a few other things coming in from other sources. This first week has been a little frustrating as I've watched money pour out of my bank account with nothing coming in to replace it. But now things are definitely starting to look good, and I'm getting my confidence about all this back again. One week of 'vacation' was definitely enough, I'm ready to dig in and get myself going.

Work!
Aug 04, 2006

Yesterday I went into work with Jessi to help out with a simple IT issue they were having at her office. It took me all of maybe 3 minutes to actually finish what I had come in for (and I don't really plan on even charging them for it), but I ended up spending the day there anyway. This turned out to be a good thing because I was able to spend some time talking to her bosses and should hopefully have a little more work coming my way from them in the future. So I've now done my first work as a freelancer and, pending discussion when the bosses come back from vacation, am soon to have my first official client. And this during my first week when I was 'on vacation' too. It seems to me that this first client is extremely important. Not only because it means that I'm actually going to be bringing in some money, but it will be my first taste of what freelancing is like. It will be interesting because I really have no choice but to experiment with them and try and figure out the best way for me to do business, but at the same time I can't be too inconsistent and I certainly can't take my experimentation too far. It also is my first chance to start establishing a name and reputation for myself. If I do well and I impress them I can, at the very least, use them as a reference for future clients, and if I'm really lucky they'll even refer potential new clients to me. I've also been thinking a lot more about my DBA. Currently all I've got is my own name to do business under. That's works just fine, but it just seems to me that it would be better to have a company rather than just an individual. It certainly would make for some more interesting business cards (which I really need to remember to design and print up...) and it will be more versatile moving forward if I end up doing well and hiring people. Plus then I can say I own my own company. I think I'm getting close to having one, but I'm still not really happy with it. Maybe when I've narrowed it down to a few options I'll post another poll and see what everyone else thinks. Oh well, we'll see, but now it's time to go catch my bus.

A very long post in which a mall is a place of business
Aug 02, 2006

Having driven all the way across the country, spent a weekend on Cape Cod, and finally moved into my new home and, essentially, new life, I was immediately presented with some annoying problems. The first, and perhaps most annoying, of those problems was that the client that I thought I had in the bag, I actually didn't. I had been told by one person at this company right before I left San Francisco that they had decided to go ahead with everything. I, of course, then sent off an email to my contact there asking when we could go over all the details and get a contract signed. It turns out there may have been some internal miscommunication at some point, for when I arrived in Boston I found an email waiting for me informing me that they had decided not to hire me at all because they thought it would be more cost effective to attempt to do it internally. What I found particularly strange was that they didn't say 'you're asking for too much, can you bring it down a bit?', they said 'you're asking for too much, go to hell' (not in those words, of course...). Personally, I don't think I was asking too much at all, and I consulted with several people in IT about reasonable prices before I gave them the quote, but I'm certainly willing to negotiate. Of course it is true that it would be cheaper for them to do it internally, but certainly not more cost effective because it would involve two people spending probably most of a day doing this instead of their actual jobs. So I sent them back a nice polite email saying I understand and maybe they would be willing to hire me to do it for less. We'll see, I guess. The next problem is that parking in Boston, and Cambridge as well, is horrendous. It's actually better than San Francisco, but still pretty bad. I have no problem finding a spot on the street overnight, but finding a place to keep my car during the day is a much bigger issue. In order to get a residential parking pass, I need to register my car in Massachusetts. However my car is not really the sort of car that you want to have in the winter in a place that snows and my California registration expires in the fall, so I'm planning on selling it in a couple months if not sooner so it makes no sense to register it here. Cambridge also offers a visitor parking pass which costs only $8 for the year. There are a few stipulations however. For example, it can't be used in the same spot for more than 24 hours, you have to move every day. Also, it can't be used in the same car for more than 3 consecutive days. Failure to comply with these stipulations leads to the permit being revoked. As far as I can tell, Cambridge parking policies are designed in order to maximize the related tax revenue. So I intend to see if I can find a parking garage in the area where I can get a monthly pass. Failing, or until, that Jessi will just be driving my car to work every day where she gets free parking, thus solving the problem of me needing a place to keep my car during the day but leaving me dependent on public transportation (which I don't really mind). Yet another car-related problem is that in Cambridge, unlike Albany (and apparently Boston-proper), if you park on the street during street sweeping they don't just ticket your car, they also tow it. I discovered this the hard way yesterday when my car was magically spirited away by the parking fairy while I slept. So I spent a good deal of time yesterday getting very sweaty and annoyed getting my car out of impound. Happily I, in the process, met a very nice bus driver who helped me out after the MBTA website directed me onto the 72 bus rather than the 78, and a very nice cab driver who gave me a free ride to just a few blocks from where the bus would have dropped me off anyway. I have my car back and a slightly elevated opinion of humanity, but am $95 poorer. I'll pay more attention to that in the future. In weather news, today was projected to be the hottest day in Boston in like 10 years or something. As a result, I was informed, a state of emergency was declared and there would be rolling (or some other sort of) blackouts during the day. Fearing being stuck in our apartment without even our meager air conditioning to protect me, I had Jessi drop me off at the Cambridgeside Galleria on her way to work where I also solved the pre-existing problem of what computer to get by buying a black MacBook. I'm now sitting on a bench outside the Apple store taking advantage of free air conditioning and free WiFi (not that from the Apple store though, I found another, faster network that I can only get from in front of the Apple store). I also discovered that there's a Bank of American branch in the mall, so have opened my new bank account as well. Finally for some good news. Despite the 'sure thing' client that fell through, I've still picked up my first client. I'll be going in to their office tomorrow to do a small, relatively easy job for them and hopefully to point out to them all the other incredibly good and useful things they want to hire me to do for them. More details on that will surely follow. In short: things are looking good, and I expect them to start looking much better any day now.

Home at last
Jul 31, 2006

[Edit: Sigh, apparently I posted this as private originally. Guess I wasn't quite as coherent after the trip as I thought.] After 7 days of driving and visiting family and friends, Jessi and I are finally at our own apartment in Cambridge. There is quite a lot I want to write about, but there's also a very large amount of things I need to get done now that I'm here, so writing will have to wait until I've made some headway on those. So expect some interesting updates soon, but this will have to do for now.

Day 1, 1,150 miles
Jul 24, 2006

Last night, at around 2am, Jessi and I arrived at my mom's house outside of Santa Fe, NM. The drive took a little longer than planned due largely to traffic going South on 99, a thunder storm in Arizona, and heavier than expected traffic going East on 40, but we made it in once piece. We're spending the day here with my mom, then will be heading out tomorrow morning continuing East on 40 to Tulsa, then switching to 43 to St. Louie, then 51 up to Jessi's mom's place in Illinois. The trip has been pretty much entirely uneventful so far. Just lots and lots of driving through blazing heat with nothing but desert to look at. The terrain out here is quite pictureque, but the 115° F heat and $4.69/gal. gas coming through Arizona made it hard to appreciate. It's very nice to be making real, physical progress in my plans. I've also been working on a few other things. I'm very close to signing my first contract; it will just be for a project, but there's the possibility of more projects with the same client in the future, and there's never anything wrong with getting paid. I've also got a couple other leads on some potential clients that I'll be following up on when I get to Boston, and I may be getting some work coming my way as over-flow from another Mac IT freelancer in New York. So things are looking up, and I should hopefully be getting some contracts signed within the next week or two. To that end, I've signed up for an account at EchoSign, an online contract management service that I actually learned about from the HR manager at my old job who's started using it herself. It's pretty cool. Basically it lets you email the contract to whomever you want for either a written or digital signature. If it's a written one, they print it out, sign it, and fax it to a number provided by EchoSign for your contracts; for digital signatures, they initial it on a web form and just click a button. EchoSign keeps an archive of the PDFs of your past contracts, and keeps track of any contracts you have waiting to be signed or ones that you need to sign yourself. It's a very cool service, and exceedingly useful for, say, freelancers who aren't necessarily going to be in the same physical location as their clients. I want to find out a little more about it before I actually start using it (For example, is the fax number that's used for your contracts unique to your contracts, or might it be shared with someone else?), but I think it looks promising.

On the road again
Jul 24, 2006

(I wanted to post this yesterday before leaving, however the DSL at what used to be my house wasn't working for some reason. So pretend it's been up for over 24 hours.) Today, having completely packed up all my worldly possessions (Except, obviously one of my computers. The ThinkPad, in case you were curious.) Jessi and I are getting in my car and I'm leaving my house in Albany for the last time. I am, of course, leaving behind more than just a house. My roommate, with whom I've been living for the past two years and with whom I've been friends for the past 14, is still living in this same house; one of his coworkers is taking over my half of the lease. My other friends, many, and some of the best, of whom were, until Friday, coworkers. My dad, whom I'll obviously still see, but not nearly as much. The office that I helped set up in January of this year (I may have left my job and that office but I certainly have a lot of fond memories of both, helping to set up that office and install all the technology being one of my favorites). And of course San Francisco, a city that I spent so much time just across the Bay from but never really got to know until just last year; one of my favorite cities in the world, ranked up there with Shanghai, London, and Madrid. Those are the things I'll miss, but one other thing that I'm leaving behind I definitely won't: the 2866 miles between me and Jessi, that I'm quite glad to be giving up. The trip itself should be a lot of fun. We've got a lot of territory to cover, and not all that much time to cover it in if we're going to make it to Cape Cod in time for a massive party that Jessi assures me we can't miss. The plan is to leave Albany on Sunday morning, driving South and then East to visit my mom in Santa Fe. We'll spend Sunday and Monday nights there, then head North-East to visit Jessi's mom in Illinois skirting around Nebraska on the way (I've driven through that state far too many times as it is and have no desire to see that particular 400 mile stretch of nothing again). We'll spend a night there, and then move on to Boston. If all goes according to plan we should arrive in Boston on Thursday night, although now that I'm moving with Door to Door it's not longer an issue since I'm going to have my stuff delivered on Sept. 1. Along the way, obviously, we won't really have internet access, but I intend to post when I can. We'll also have Jessi's camera with us, so I'll hopefully be able to provide some visual record of the trip (and take full advantage of Zooomr's geotagging feature).

As they say in Russia, до сведаня
Jul 21, 2006

Today was certainly a big day: my last day at work. This last week has been strange in several ways. Obviously there's the sadness of leaving all my friends I've made there mixed with the excitement of everything that's happening. On top of that, work itself has been strange. There was a bit of ramping up leading up to this as people wanted to make sure everything got taken care of, but then for the past two days there's been very little work for me to do. Today I took care of a few last things, but mostly just said my goodbyes, had a nice lunch with the one co-worker who could drag herself away, had my exit interview, my last weekly Friday meeting, packed up my stuff, and left. Going into it, I really had no idea what to expect from the exit interview. It's not something I'd done before, and it really seemed a somewhat strange concept. But the reality of it was very different from my expectations; it was actually fun. Our HR manager is absolutely wonderful, and she and I share a very quirky sense of humor (for example, we're both incredibly amused by my YouTube playlist The Hoff). Although the interview had it's serious moments and there was genuine discussion about what I thought was good and bad about the job and company, I think we probably spent about 50% of the time laughing. I don't know how one is supposed to feel about an exit interview, but I really enjoyed mine. At the Friday meeting, along with all the normal mundane details of what happened that week, I was also presented with a going away card and gift. As with the interview, this part was just fun. The card they gave me is an absolute riot. Rather than your typical goodbye card, the message on the front is 'Mazel Tov on your bar mitzvah'. It must have taken me a good 10 seconds of laughter before I was able to straighten up and actually open the card to see the message 'Today is your first aliyah- your first step toward manhood. May each step of your life and each reading of the Torah lead you to greater wisdom and joy. Congratulations on your wonderful achievement'. Given my aforementioned quirky sense of humor, I really don't think there could have been a more appropriate card. And the gift was also great. A gift certificate to Grill 23, my favorite restaurant in Boston which serves by far the best steak I've ever had in my life. I really did have amazingly great coworkers. I'm going to miss them.

Ah, the petty things in life
Jul 20, 2006

Today is the last day that I'll have to wear 'business casual', and tonight will be the last time that I have to set my alarm clock to 6:30 am. (On a regular basis anyway.) Those may be fairly small things, but to be honest they have been my least favorite aspects of having an office job. This really will be, to me, one of the nicest things about all this. Obviously it will still be important that I look good and be punctual when on the job, but I intend for my business wardrobe to consist of suits for meetings and the nicer end of casual for when I actually have to go work in someone's office; and I certainly don't intend to schedule anything early if I can avoid it. Suits, of course, are the pinnacle of comfort (not to mention they just looked damned good); what could be more comfortable than clothing that's been specifically tailored to your body? I'd really have no problem wearing nothing but suits to work. Of course they're not really appropriate for IT work where you're as likely to be crawling around under a desk plugging things in, as you are to be sitting in a chair all day coding and whatnot. So those will be saved for meetings only (and I'm definitely going to need to get a summer suit or two, as wool suits are not year-round attire in Boston as they are in San Francisco). For the rest of the time the key is comfort, practicality, and professionalism. Anything nicer than khakhis and a polo shirt would really be wasted as the job will involve some crawling around on the floor, lifting heavy objects, and even getting a little sweaty from time to time, and wearing uncomfortable clothes just makes the job unpleasant. I guess I'll really have to play it by ear and figure out what works the best (erring on the side of too nice, if necessary). Of course anything that doesn't involve actually physically setting things up I can do from home, so it doesn't matter what I wear.

The situation has been contained
Jul 19, 2006

Door to Door dropped off the containers today. So far I have to say I've been very impressed with them. Not only have they made things more convenient than any of the others by being able to pick up the containers over the weekend and still being cheaper than the alternatives, but they're actually punctual too! Since I had to be at work today, my friend Alan (creator of Vermis) went over to my place to take delivery of the containers. All I had to do was tell them that he would be the one to sign for them and it was taken care of. But the most impressive part: they said the containers would be dropped off between 12 and 3, they were dropped off at 12 sharp. I don't think I've ever even heard of a delivery actually being made on time before. So my impression of Door to Door, so far, is very good. Let's hope they live up to expectations and deliver my stuff to Boston safely and on time! Also today, I went to the Bank of America to open up a new account. Currently I bank with Wells Fargo, but they have no presence in the Boston area which would be rather inconvenient. Apparently, however, the California branches of BofA are on a different computer system than the rest of the country so that if I were to open my account in California, the branches in Boston wouldn't have full access to them. So the banker I talked to recommended that I wait until I get to Boston to open the account. He also gave me the good advice that the best way to do it is to close out my Wells Fargo account and get a cashier's check made out to me for the full amount which I can then just use to open the BofA account. Unfortunately, I want to leave my Wells Fargo account open until at least the end of the month so that I don't have to go through any annoying paperwork in getting my paycheck direct deposited into a new account for the one last check. So I'll still have to figure out how to best to do that. But really, what the hell, Bank of America? Actually, I have run into something similar before. When I first went to college in Minnesota (at Carleton College) they didn't have Wells Fargo there either. However they did have Norwest Bank, which had recently been bought by Wells Fargo. I could use my ATM card at Norwest Bank ATMs without getting any fees, but they weren't able to get full access to my account. However within two years they had switched everything fully over to the Wells Fargo systems and it was all nice and easy. But Bank of America has been operating in Calfornia for at least the past 14 years (as long as I've been living here) and I can't imagine they're only a recent entry to the Boston area. So still, what the hell, Bank of America?

Just add water
Jul 18, 2006

I'm continually amazed at how quickly something can spread when powered by the Internet. When I started this blog there was obviously no one reading it (except, perhaps, Jessi). And at first I didn't even do much of anything to spread it around, although I put it on Technorati and got some hits from that right off the bat. Eventually I started putting the link in places and commenting on other blogs using this as my address. Getting this blog listed in directories was definitely very productive and the likes of Universal Hub and Blogflux have definitely brought me most of my traffic. But what really amazes me is that now, less than a month after I started this blog, I'm getting hits from hundreds of distinct hosts (averaging around 50/day), and transferring almost 3.5 MB of data every day. 3.5 MB really isn't that much (although it's more than two floppies...), but when you consider that this is pretty much just text, that's actually pretty amazing. To some extent, I suppose that what I really find amazing is that so many people are actually interested in what I have to say. Obviously all of those hundreds of people who've clicked a link to my site haven't continued to read it regularly, but some have. My Feedburner tag in the side bar consistently shows that I have subscribers, maybe not tons of subscribers, certainly not the level that could make me a professional blogger, but still, people are actually subscribing to my blog, reading, and presumably caring about, the things I write. Maybe I'm just far too old-fashioned for my age (I do occasionally find my cell phone to be indescribably amazing), but I find the whole phenomenon of blogging, and the Internet in general, to be completely fascinating.

I suppose I'll need a laptop
Jul 17, 2006

One thing that I've been thinking about during this whole process, but only just now really started to do anything about, is the fact that I'll really need to buy a laptop. Right now I have 4 computers: A 2.0 GHz PowerMac G4 (original), a home-built Athlon 64 box, a 1.7 GHz ThinkPad X31, and a 1.8 GHz MacBook Pro. You might be wondering how having 4 computers, two of which are laptops, adds up to me needing to buy a laptop. Well, the answer is that the MacBook Pro isn't actually mine, it belongs to the company I'm currently working for, and the ThinkPad is old, has not very much RAM, is a little beat up, the battery lasts about 5 minutes, and I'd really rather use a Mac. I suppose I hadn't actually mentioned here before that I like Macs, and that I plan on doing freelance Mac IT... so now I have. So I basically have three options for laptops:
  1. Buy a new battery for the ThinkPad, and just stick with Linux (the OS that's currently on it). The problem with this is that I then show up as a Mac IT Consultant with a beat-up old PC laptop. Not really the best image, and can't inspire much confidence as it looks like I'm not even willing to use the products I'm supporting.
  2. Get a MacBook. A 2.0 GHz MacBook with 2 GB of RAM (from Crucial, Apple severely over-charges on RAM), a 120 GB HDD (oddly enough getting that from Apple is the best deal), and AppleCare (not going to go without on a computer that I'm trusting my livelihood to; will also be keeping it backed up) will run me about $2200 (actually will be less because I can get a few discounts). Not bad at all. The downside of the MacBook is that it doesn't look as professional as the MacBook Pro, and it has no Express Card slot so I can't get an EV-DO card for it for mobile internet.
  3. Get a MacBook Pro. A 2.0 GHz MacBook Pro with 2 GB of RAM, a 120 GB HDD, and Apple Care will cost me about $2800. So for $600 I get an extra 2" of diagonal screen space, a slightly more professional look, and the ability to spend more money on an EV-DO card.
So the question that remains is, is it worth $600 to look more professional? Actually, it probably is; if it helps me get just one client it's paid for itself. On the other hand, the black MacBooks are pretty slick looking too, so is the MacBook Pro $600 more professional? That one's a little tougher to answer. I think what I'm probably going to do is get the MacBook for now. An updated MacBook Pro will likely be coming out in the relatively new future, and the 2nd rev ones are always less problematic than the first. When that happens I can get a new MacBook Pro and sell the MacBook. But let's see what everyone else thinks.

Apparently Italy is now a province of Nigeria
Jul 14, 2006

Yep, I was right. The girl from 'Italy' emailed us back (we has responded before we got the second email not realizing what was up) with an interesting story: Hello Once Again, I thot about the payment of the first month since am not currently in the states to get the payment done.....so as to make it faster and easier...there once a company in the states that owed me some money and they have agreed to pay me back in a American cashiers check which can not be cashed here...so i will have them get the check mailed to you via Ups or fedex so that you can get the Check cashed and deduct your first month rent out of it and get the remaining balance wired to my travelling agent here in Lagos cos the money you will be sending is for my flight manager to use it to book for my flight ticket... That would be the textbook scam right there. She goes on to try and sell herself as a very upright and trustworthy person. It's actually fairly well done and she manages to point out some interesting things that, when you think about it, would be pretty convincing. For example she says she's not much of a sports person but loves hockey. I thought that was a good touch. She now claims to have been born in Flagstaff, Arizona and brought up in Africa. She seems to have completely forgotten that she's supposed to be in Italy, and now says she lives in Lagos. And her English has improved remarkably. So yeah, something to be watching out for if you happen to be looking for roommates at some point.

Am I a god - fearing,easy going,simple nature,open mindedness,free of dubiousness and fully disciplined person?
Jul 14, 2006

[Edit: After some googling, I find it quite likely that we're currently being targeted by some counterfeit check scammers. This could be fun. :)] You may recall that I recently posted that some of the emails we've gotten about the room we're trying to rent out have been very strange to the point that I've almost suspected some of them of being some sort of scam. This trend has continued, and I just received one that I absolutely have to share. Hello, I will like to know if tis room is available for rent,if its kindly let me have answer for the folowing question. 1) I will like to have the description of the room, size, and the equipments in there. 2) I will like to have the rent fee per month plus the utilities. 3) Also I will like to know if there is any garage or parking space cos I will have my own car come over. (BMW 5series) 4) I will also be coming with some of my belongings e.g shoe rack, book shelf and books, my electronics e.t.c 5) I will also like to know if I can make an advance payment ahead my arrival that will be stand as a kind of commitment that I am truely coming over and for you to hold the room down for me. I will like to know the total cost for the my initial move as in first month rent and if you accept deposit as soon as arriving first day i will pay u the balance. 7) I will like to know the major intersection nearest your neighborhood. like Shopping Mall, Store, Church e.t.c 8) Lastly, I will like to know more about you and also I will like to have your pics as for me to know how my roommate to be looks like. I will be very glad to have all this questions answered with out leaving a stone unturned. My name is [no names, thankyou], I work currently in the field in Africa.Im working presently with my company JEK cons inc here in Africa.I had CCNA in certification and do hope to end my current assignment soon .I hope to come down as soon as i do to explore my talent and love to have a more profitable job,I am presently in Africa and I will be moving to the states fully to live for the rest of my life I'm originally from Cortland Ney york and moved to Africa through My company. A Computer Consultant and I deal in various kind of computer applications and softwares. I graduated in Argosy University in Costa Rica 8 years ago and I have my B.sc in Computer Science.will be moving to the states fully to live for the rest of my life and start a new life and get my own business as a Computer Consultant ( I have my resume) I am a fearly mindedness person,easy going,transparency,free of dubiousness in nature, associate with open minded and trust worthy people.The nature of my profession keeps me busy all the time .In this wise i do not have time to host irrelevant friends or all sorts of indisciplinable association or engagement.It was quite fortunate of me to have seen the profile of your apartment displayed on the website i have been anxious to be linked up with this kind of opportunity.The fact is that i have decided to settle down here at home in America anytime from now(next week).Therefore,I need a god - fearing,easy going,simple nature,open mindedness,free of dubiousness and fully disciplined person to put up with as a co-tenant and landlord here in America. there fore I will be very glad to have all the above questions answered with out leaving a stone unturned Kindly get back to me First off, most of the info asked for was included in the ad I posted, so those questions are just redundant (more on that later). Second, how and why does she plan on bring her beemer to Boston from Africa? Third, Shopping Malls, Stores, and Churches are not major intersections, although they may all float. Fourth, I have a hard time believe that the person who wrote this is from Cortland, New York, or anywhere else in an English-speaking country really. I think the rest really speaks for itself. But what's really strange about this email, and what really makes me think there's got to be some sort of scam going on here, is that it's virtually identical to an email we received from someone claiming to be in Italy. Is there some sort of known scam going on here? That's really the most plausible explanation I can come up with. See for yourself: Hey there,Am [no names], I am writing just to confirm if you still have the room for rent,If YES Please I will like to have answers to the following questions below: 1) I will like to have the rent fee per month plus the utilities. 2) Also I will like to know if there is any garage or parking space cos I will have my own car come over. 3) I will also be coming with some of my furniture, that is if the room is not funished and if furnitures are allowed, like bed, book shelf cos I read alot, shoe rank etc 4) I will like to have the description of the room, size, and the equipments in there. 5) I will also like to know if I can make an advance payment ahead my arrival that will be stand as a kind of commitment that I am truely coming over and for you to hold the room down for me. 6) I will like to know the major intersection nearest your neighborhood. like shopping mall, bus line e.t.c 7) Lastly, I will like to know more about you and also I will like to have your pics as for me to know how my roommate to be looks like. 6) If the #5 questions is YES, I will like to know the total cost for the my initial move as in first month rent and if you accept deposit. 9]payment mode. I will be very glad to have all this questions answered with out leaving a stone unturned... I am sincerely interested in the room as advertised I need answers to my 9 questions above as soon as possible so as to arrange for you to get the money prior for my arrival as the company client  I worked for before I quit wants to arrnage for the payment. As I will like to make an advance payment ahead my arrival so that you can be rest assured that this is real since I am not in the state presently.If you think I will be a good roommate to you and you are interested in roomie with me kindly email me directly to my private email box at [no email addresses either] Lots Of love [still no names] See what I mean about the questions? Is there some example letter out there for looking for a place to live in an English speaking country?

Apparently I'm moving Door to Door
Jul 13, 2006

Door to Door is another moving company in the same vein as Help U Move and ABF. When I was looking at all the others I also submitted a quote request to them. Sadly, unlike the others, Door to Door does not have a nifty online quote form that gives you your quote in a matter of seconds or minutes, so I sort of discounted them off the bat. But I shouldn't have! This afternoon I got a call from one of their representatives with a quote. Not only was it cheaper than ABF, it was cheaper than Help U Move, and even cheaper than U-Haul. What Door to Door does should sound very familiar at this point. They drop of a shipping container (6' x 7' x 8') or however many you want (for example I reserved 2, but if I can fit everything into 1 I'll only pay for 1), you pack them up, they pick it up, and drop it off at your destination. What's different about them, however, is that they give you a full 15 days of 'storage time'. This can be used in a number of different way. You can use up to 5 for loading at your origin, up to 5 for unloading at your destination, and the balance can be used for storage if you don't want to have to deal with it yet. You can, of course, pay to have them hold on to it even longer, it's less than $4/day. In addition, they will drop off and pick up the containers 7 days a week (here, anyway) so my scheduling constraints are pretty much gone. As long as they don't destroy or lose my belongings, I'm definitely likely to be a loyal Door to Door customer for whatever other moves I make in the future. And they have an excellent record, so I think it'll work out just fine. They even do international moves!

Help U Move?
Jul 11, 2006

Moved ahead with two important steps today: signing the lease on our apartment, and making the reservation for the moving truck with Help U Move. Signing the lease went well enough, nothing really interesting there. It's the reservation for the truck that I find more worthy of discussion. When I originally did my research on them (including getting a quote with the form they provide online) I came away with a very good impression. From reading their site, my understanding was that they'd drop a 28' trailer off at my house, I'd have as much time as I needed to pack it up, 'This can be one hour, several hours, overnight or over the weekend, you decide', they'd pick it up, deliver it to my place, and charge me for the linear feet that I actually took up with my stuff. The quote I originally got on anywhere from 3' to 8' of trailer space was approximately $1800. So today I went and actually filled out the reservation form to reserve the trailer. Annoyingly the price has gone up to just over $2000, but that makes sense as I'm giving them less lead time. What's a little more annoying however, is the timeframe they give me to pack it up. From the description they initially give, I thought I had pretty much as much time as I needed. I was planning on getting it dropped off on Monday, packing after work over the course of the week, and getting it picked up the following Monday having left in my car for Boston on Sunday. However when you actually get the reservation they give you some slightly different phrasing: You are allotted two (2) busness days to load or unload the trailer. Weekends are not included. If you exceed those two days, trailer detention charges may apply. Ok, seems reasonable enough. Weekends not included means that Saturday and Sunday don't count against those two days, right? Wrong. If I want the trailer picked up on Monday, they'll drop it off on Friday (they've changed their policy to be three days). Any earlier than that and I'll have to pay extra. Still not too bad, but it presents some interesting logistical problems. Specifically, they need someone to be there to take delivery of the trailer, and they'll give me a 5 hour period on the weekday that I want in which it could be delivered. This would be great except for the fact that I have to work on weekdays. I could see about working from home on the day that the trailer's going to be delivered, but if that's going to be on Friday it's my last day and it just seems somehow wrong to work from home on my last day. If it's going to be earlier in the week then they're going to have to pick the truck up on Friday which means I have to get all my packing done on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday after work. Maybe I'll be able to get my dad or someone to be there to take delivery of the trailer. Anyone want to make a couple bucks? It also turns out that they want me to be there when they pick up the truck (on a weekday) so that I can get the driver to sign a confirmation of how much space I'm taking up. It's not strictly necessary, but the alternative is to trust them to do it at the truck terminal. So I'd really rather be there. Again this presents some logistical problems as they'll only pick it up on a weekday. If it's picked up on Friday, that means a second day during my last week that I should really try and be at home for. I don't really want to have to ask for that. If it's picked up on Monday that means postponing my departure by at least 24 hours, which cuts into our already somewhat tight driving schedule; basically we'd probably have to drop the visit to either my mom or Jessi's mom. Again, not ideal. And again, the only reasonable course of action seems to be to enlist my dad or someone else to be there to sign the form with the driver. Depending on the timing of this, I suppose it could possibly be my roommate, but I suspect they'll want to pick it up in the middle of the day. And the part that really annoys me: You are required to secure your load by creating a bulkhead in the trailer using load bars and plywood. Load bars will be provided with the trailer, however you are responsible for obtaining two (2) sheets of (4x8 ft) plywood. Oh, come on! How hard is it to provide a bulkhead of some sort, really? It's not a huge deal for me to run down to Home Depot and spend <$20 on two sheets of plywood, but come on... So they've kinda put me in a tight spot logistically. I'm not really sure that I can accommodate the schedule they want to force on me, and no one's bid on my move on uShip. I have sent an email to a guy that was recommended to me, but haven't heard anything back yet. If I need to, I can certainly make some sacrifices and do things their way. But hopefully I'll be able to work out something a little better...

In which I do a lot of browsing the web and accomplish precisely naught
Jul 10, 2006

One of the things I did today was to look into some of the more boring aspects of setting up a business. To that end I headed over to the City of Boston website and went to the section for the City Clerk. What is the City Clerk, you might ask? Well, among other things, 'the Office of the City Clerk is charged with ensuring that businesses throughout Boston apply for and obtain a business certificate'. And a truly honorable purpose that is: making people pay before they're allowed to make money; nice bit of logic, that. Of course then I realized that I won't actually be doing business out of Boston. I will be working from home and living in Cambridge. So I had to go to the website for the Cambridge City Clerk. This actually turned out to be a good thing, because the Cambridge City Clerk has a much better website than the Boston City Clerk. The Cambridge City Clerk's site actually deigned to inform me of who needs to file a business certificate: 'Any person, partnership, or corporation conducting business in Cambridge under a name other than their own or corporate name'. It's not immediately clear whether this is true in Boston or not, but in Cambridge I don't need to file—at least as long as I'm doing business under my own name. But if I do decide to do business under another name, it'll only cost me $35 every four years in Cambridge as opposed to $50 every four years in Boston. The Cambridge City Clerk website also pointed me towards the Massachusetts Department of Revenue website which has a handy page titled Information About Starting and Conducting Business in Massachusetts, containing helpful information on all the wonderful little taxes you have to pay when doing business in Massachusetts. Luckily, as I will be a sole proprietor, it turns out I still only need to worry about filing my personal income tax (which I just love doing), which, I suspect, also means that I don't get a Tax ID number, which means that I won't be able to actually register as a business for other things (such as Zipcar), which means the money I might be saving by not having to pay all those extra taxes will probably be taken up by not reaping those financial benefits. Hooray. Just so that this post isn't entirely taken up with me whining about the annoying realities of doing business outside of a free market (read: in the real world) I thought I'd point out a little bit of interesting history. The first recorded instance of the iconic rattlesnake and motto emblazoned on the Gadsden flag (pictured to the right) is quite closely related to Cambridge, where, late in 1775 the Continental Army was poised outside of British-controlled Boston. Starved for guns and powder the Continental Congress contrived to capture an arms shipment on it's way to the British forces in Boston and to that end created the Continental Navy and the Marines. The familiar imagery was seen emblazoned on the drums of some of those Marines that enlisted in Philadelphia and was recorded in an anonymous letter to the Pennsylvania Journal, most likely written by Benjamin Franklin. In the letter Franklin, a vocal opponent of using an eagle as the national symbol of the soon-to-be United States, expounded on the appropriateness of the rattlesnake as a representation of the American colonies. I observed on one of the drums belonging to the marines now raising, there was painted a Rattle-Snake, with this modest motto under it, 'Don't tread on me.' As I know it is the custom to have some device on the arms of every country, I supposed this may have been intended for the arms of America. The 'Don't tread on me' motto, of course, was taken from the Metallica song of the same name...

Whoops...
Jul 07, 2006

So it's been brought to my attention that certain things on this blog may be getting misinterpreted by some people. For example the tone of my writing could be interpreted as hostile towards my current job and the countdown timer to my last day could be seen as evidence that I can't stand being here. That's not what I was getting at at all. I'm incredibly excited about everything that's going on, and it's true that I can't wait for July 21 to roll around, but it's not because I'm miserable where I am and hate being here it's because I'm excited about where I'm going. The countdown itself is really just a little toy I put up there because it was fun to code, and I think it emphasizes the fact that I'm under time constraints here. The rocketry reference also seems pretty appropriate, as my next steps will certainly be blasting me off into the unknown. So yeah, nothing that I've written here was intended to be taken in a negative light at all. I'll admit that I may be getting a little anxious, but the last thing I want to do is come off as angry or vindictive. In other news, you may have noticed a new addition to the side bar of my blog (assuming you bothered to scroll down and see it). It's a widget from Blue Dot a new social bookmarking site. It's still in beta, and there are some basic features that aren't there yet, but already I think I like it more than del.icio.us. I intend to write about it in a little more detail on my other blog where it's a little more appropriate, but I thought I'd mention it here since I put the widget here. Also, some of my coworkers were having fun today Googling their names and seeing what things their names were attached to. In the past, Googling my name hasn't been too relevant to me. But now, a search for "Josh Ourisman" will yield 1.5 pages of results before you see something that isn't directly relevant to me, the very first result being this blog. Cool, no? Hopefully I should have some actually relevant news soon. Very hopefully it will involve me being able to say that arrangements for my move have actually been made...

Decision made
Jul 05, 2006

Well, I've made my decision and I'm sticking to my guns. I just got off the phone with the president of the company that had offered me a job. I turned them down. It was a pretty good offer—somewhat more than I'm currently making, a comparable retirement plan, decent benefits (but sadly no vision insurance), and a free T pass—but it's really just not what I want. I'm confident that I'm capable of making it as a freelancer, and, even if I'm wrong, I feel the need to at least try. I do plan, after I've gotten myself settled in Boston, on offering them my services on a contract basis if they ever have need, so it's possible that I'll still be doing some work for them. So really, there's nothing lost here, and the offer itself helped me gain a little confidence. I'm also going to be talking to my current boss today about the projects I'm currently working on and what will be happening with them. Hopefully this should lead into a discussion about me doing contract work for the company to finish up some of those projects (and possibly others). So really today represents a pretty good deal of progress. Now I just need to clear up all the details on my move and get started packing!

Posted on the 4th of July
Jul 04, 2006

I have to say, the Internet is a strange 'place'. Having posted the ad for a roommate both here and on Craigslist we immediately got a number of responses both by email and by phone. Responses from people ranging from a matriculating freshman from California to a nurse in training in West Africa. The very strange thing is the way some of the response emails have been written. There's a few that read exactly like some sort of email scam. For example: I'm writing to you After excessive enquiries on accommodation listing on the roommates.com your property happens to interest my personalty and has been singled out by me. I am [no, I'm not putting her name up on the Internet] a 27 year old female living in the Greaat britain,EUROPE after the death of my father and am a professional in the field of modelling and fashion design. The dailytheory achievements have warranted me to want to relocate to Us so i can further more on my career and make it well in life course i have all it takes toThese have warranted the need for a special and comfortable room and roommate were I will stay for the duration of a year or more depending on how the lease is been drawn; all expenses are the responsibility of my client who is owing me some few dollars. Maybe it's just evidence of the poor state of internet communications, but this sounds to me like the beginning of a 419 scam. That was seriously the first thing I thought when I read this email, except that I can't actually find the scam. Fortunately we've also gotten a number of promising responses (like the aforementioned Californian freshman who also commented on the adorableness of Pigpen, I knew the picture was a good idea [edit: Jessi's good idea :)]), so hopefully there won't be a problem finding anyone in time. It's very nice that this is moving along so nicely because there's so many other things to worry about. I still need to call the moving company and arrange that, I still need to arrange things with my current landlord, I still need to start packing my things up, I still need to soldier through my last 13 days of work, and I still need to talk to my boss about the details of the contract work they want me to do after I leave. Oh, and I still need to turn down that job offer. So much to get done and so little time to get it done in. At least with Jessi here for the past week and a half (I just dropped her off at the airport to go back to Boston now) we were able to plan out the route for our drive from San Francisco to Boston (we'll be visiting both my mom in New Mexico and her mom in Illinois on the way, sadly we weren't able to fit a visit with Ethan and Alison, two friends of mine from college in Minnesota).

We need a roommate
Jun 30, 2006

Jessi just reminded me that I should put this up here: We're going to need a roommate. [Edit: Oh yeah, the room will be opening up in September. That's probably worth mentioning.] I'll be moving into the apartment that Jessi is currently living in and her two current roommates are both going to be moving out, which leaves us with a rent that's a bit higher than we'd like. It's a 3rd floor apartment in the Central Square area of Cambridge (on Columbia, one block off of Mass. Ave., so just a short walk to the Central Square T stop) with hardwood floors and plenty of room to spread out. There are three common rooms: an eat-in kitchen (w/ large pantry), living room, and study. The bedroom we'll be renting out is fairly large (larger than the living room or study) and is in a corner with two windows so gets plenty of natural light and a nice cross-breeze. There are two shared storage closets as well as a private closet for whomever rents the room; it also has a built-in hutch/bookcase. Rent would be $900/mo, and we'd need the first and last month's rent up-front. If you're interested or know anyone who might be you can get in touch with me by email at josh@joshourisman.com or on the phone at 510 717 4017 (keep in mind I'm currently in California and don't much appreciate being woken up at 5am ;)). Oh, and we have one small cat, Pigpen, who you would also be sharing the apartment with. She's a nice cat and even I, who am not a huge cat fan as well as allergic, rather like her. As an added incentive, here's a picture of Pigpen: How can you say no to a face like that?

Freelance solidarity
Jun 30, 2006

Well so far the results of the poll are dead even on whether I should take the job or not. I suppose I'll give it some more time to see if more people respond (according to FeedBurner I have 8 subscribers now, and I voted and I know at least two other people did who didn't actually read the blog, so there should be at least 5 more people who might still vote). Fortunately (and probably smartly), I don't actually intend on making an important life decision based on the results of one web poll on a relatively low traffic site. Anyway, this isn't strictly relevant to my topic, but my good friend Alan is a freelance animator, so I'll pretend that makes it relevant enough. Alan has just premiered the first episode of Vermis, a series of clay-mation shorts about a group of worms on Uth TV. It's well done, funny, and more episodes are on the way as soon as he can make more clay worms, so check it out and support a freelancer and artist. On a more germane note, I'm now exactly three weeks out from my last day in San Francisco. I still haven't made any arrangements for the move, but after doing a little more research (and checking out the links that you all sent me) I think I've decided that I'm going to follow my first instinct and go with Help U Move. I just need to call them and make sure there's going to be enough space on my street for them to leave the trailer during the time I'll need it. Details will follow of my experience with them, as I'm sure it will be useful to anyone else planning a move.

Testing my resolve
Jun 29, 2006

As I mentioned previously I have been covering my bases by applying for a job despite my desire to go freelance. Just a few minutes ago the president of the company I was talking to called me and made me an offer. It's not a stellar offer, but it's good, reliable, easy money. And actually, it would be a raise from my current salary even though I'd be moving to a non-profit... They called me on my work number, so I didn't really feel comfortable discussing it openly, but they'll be sending me the full details of the offer by email. What I know so far is that if I were to take this job I'd be getting an approximately 15% raise, significantly better hours (10-6 instead of 8-5:30), and somewhat greater responsibility (the only IT guy instead of part of a team of 4) for a smaller organization (one office instead of 18). On the other hand I expect the benefits package to not be as good as my current deal (about half the vacation time, not quite as good health, no vision, and not sure about dental yet). The practical side of me, of course, says take the job. But if I were in the mood to listen to my practical side I probably wouldn't be doing any of this in the first place. I know that what I want to do is turn down the offer and go freelance, but do I have the courage of my convictions? I have until Wednesday to decide, although they'd prefer for me to get back to them by Monday. And they have two other people that want this job, so I don't think there's much room for negotiation (besides, this offer would already make me one of the more highly paid people in the office). I think I've made up my mind, but I'm curious what other people think. So here's a nice little poll:

Just some general blogging stuff
Jun 29, 2006

In the spirit of making my blog more fun I've added a few things. The first is a countdown clock which you can see just to the right of the title for the blog (unless you happen to be reading this via the feed...). As of right now it reads 'T-22 days', there being 22 days until things really start to happen. 22 days from now it will read 'T+0 days', and will continue to count up from there, providing a running tally for how long I've been in business in Boston. The countdown is just an extremely simple PHP script, took only a couple seconds to write, but I think it's a pretty fun little feature to have. The other thing i did was to sign up for FeedBurner which will let me keep track of the activity on the feed for my blog. This is mostly to satisfy my own curiosity (and possibly my ego a little), but I suppose could be somewhat interesting for others. They also offer various other services to help get more out of your feed, although for the moment I'm mostly interested in seeing how they measure the stats. That let's me put a little image on my site that displays how many subscribers I currently have like this: I'll probably be putting it in the side bar somewhere, although I may wait until the number's a little less depressing... Nothing really all that fascinating, but it's fun to look at the different things you can do with a blog.

Like I said, it's all about relationships
Jun 28, 2006

On Monday, Universal Hub posted a link to this blog and a description of what it's all about. Overnight traffic to this site soared, and the number of distinct hosts (roughly the number of people who have, at one time or another, looked at this site) tripled. Considering that Universal Hub is a Boston-oriented site, it's pretty safe to assume that most of those hits came from the Boston area. From a business perspective that means that every single one of those hits could potentially lead to some work. In truth, it's likely that only a very small fraction would do that, but the point is that some very minimal effort from me (listing my blog at Boston Online, a pretty cool site that lets you, among other things, find Boston blogs by T stop) led to my name and my story being spread to a much larger audience. If just one or two of those people actually stick around and keep reading it's instantly worthwhile, and hopefully more than that will find this of interest and send the link around to their friends. This is the value of networking. But it's not all about establishing new relationships. It's also about maintaining old ones. Earlier today an established relationship (a former employer) pulled through, and I'm well on my way to signing a contract with my first client as a freelancer. Nothing has been agreed upon or signed yet so I won't mention any specifics, but negotiations are under way and I'm confident that we'll have a contract within a week. Had I done a poor job of maintaining this relationship, or, as so many people do, burned my bridges as I crossed them, this business would be out of reach. And since it's an established relationship, and they already know me and the kind of work I do, I can count on them as a reference for future potential clients, and possibly even for leads to find new clients. For any business, but especially for a fledgeling, one-man shop such as mine, it's essential to maintain good relationships. They'll lead to work, references, leads, and help establish a good reputation. Without a good network of relationships your business will fail. One of the nice things about doing business for myself is that relationship management is very easy; I don't have to worry about some dissatisfied employee badmouthing the company, I just have to worry about how I present myself.

Behold the power of blog
Jun 27, 2006

One of the things about going from a corporate job to starting my own small business that requires a lot of getting used to is the highly personal nature of it all. I'm not just a single cog in a lumbering corporate machine fulfilling one small, specialized purpose; I'm the entire machine, I do everything. I don't get to dump my financial issues on the finance department, and I don't get to leave someone else to worry about finding clients; I have to do everything myself. In the words of Robert A. Heinlein, 'specialization is for insects', and if I don't learn to handle the full range of business functions I'll amount to nothing more. But it doesn't just mean more work, it means more control. I'm free to do my job in exactly the way I think it should be done. I'm free to give my services away for free if I want, or to refuse a potentially high-paying client for reasons of principle. Of course all this requires that I actually find some potential clients first, and that require marketing. At the moment, my two top priorities are 1) my business model, and 2) advance marketing. The model is coming along, and I'll post more details as I hit important milestones. The marketing, however, is only just getting started. I've spent the past year and a half working at a PR firm and, although I worked in IT, I've learned quite a lot about how, and how not, to do and find business. My experience with PR and marketing has left me convinced that the key to business is personal relationships. Finding customers is not about buying advertising space or cold-calling potential leads—although those do have their proper places and uses, and can't be forgotten—it's about getting to know people and, more importantly, having other people get to know you. Even if you find more friends than leads you're still building your reputation, spreading your name, and even recruiting an ad-hoc marketing department (and really, how can you complain about having more friends?). Maybe no one you know needs what you're selling, but if they know what you're selling and have a good opinion of you they're likely to recommend you if someone else is in need. So that's my current marketing goal: to meet new people. If my business is personal (and a business like this has to be; if I'm not fully invested in it it will fail), then so must my marketing be. I'm not just trying to sell a company here, I'm trying to sell me. I need people to know that I'm out there, to know what I'm offering, and to know that I'm a person they would actually trust to handle their needs. And what better way than a blog to introduce myself to the world and let everyone know who I am and what I can do for them? Now I just need a DBA...

Another day, another disclosure
Jun 26, 2006

After a weekend of Northern Californian sybaritism (Tiburon, San Francisco, & Napa) with Jessi (of WhipperSnaPR fame), I'm back in the office for my 20th to last day of work. Two important things happened today. First, I had a call with the president of a company in Boston that I interviewed for a job at a little over a week ago. (Obviously getting a job would be antithetical to my plan of starting my own company, but you gotta cover your bases, right?) She'll be calling me back tomorrow afternoon and I'm 95% certain that she'll be making me an offer that's higher than my current (and soon to be ending) salary. The question remains of whether I will take it. Certainly there is an appeal to the steady income of a regular job (not to mention benefits), but it's not really what I want. Unless they make me an offer significantly better than the one I'm expecting (which is unlikely as they're a non-profit) I plan on turning them down, but it's definitely nice to know that my skills are in demand and that people think they're worth money. Makes me a little more confident going into business for myself. The other thing that happened was that my manager sent out an email to the entire US team (six offices) telling them that not only am I moving to Boston, I'm leaving the company; something I've been both looking forward to and somewhat apprehensive about. It definitely makes the whole thing seem more real now that everyone knows at least part of what's going on. I've had a lot of people wishing me good luck which, like the (potential) job offer, makes me a feel a lot better about this whole thing. One thing that I've found since I first made the decision to do this has been that every single person I've told has been very supportive. There's always the initial 'you're kidding, right?', or 'you realize how crazy this sounds?', but once they realize that I've actually thought things through, that I actually want to do this, and that I intend to do it right, they pretty much always say they think it's a great idea. Maybe they're just being polite, but I like to think it's got more to do with people recognizing that I'm following my dreams and wanting to support it on principle (and maybe even live it vicariously). I suppose I should start referring people to this blog... T-25 days and counting.

What's a sales process and why do I need one?
Jun 23, 2006

As I was driving into work today (yes, I know it's a spare the air day and that BART was free, but I actually need my car after work today) I was in a good mood. An exceptionally good mood really. I don't think I've ever enjoyed going to work quite as much as I did this morning. At first I assumed it had to do with all the various things going on in my life: today is the first of my last five Fridays at my current job, it's my girlfriends last day at her current job at the same company (unlike me, she actually has another job lined up, read all about her wacky adventures here: WhipperSnaPR), and I'm really starting to make progress on figuring out this whole going into business for myself thing. Then when I got into work I read this article and realized that my happiness has nothing to do with any of that and is solely because today is the happiest day of the year. Oh well. Getting back on topic, you may have noticed that I said I'm making progress on my new business venture. And since I'm sure you actually noticed the title of this post, you've probably already figured out that it has something to do with a sales process, whatever that is. Until yesterday I had no idea what a sales process was either, nor did I know that I need to have one. Fortunately my very good friend Julia French has a lot of experience with this sort of thing and has helped people set up their own consultancies before; she set me straight. So what is this magical sales process thing? you may find yourself asking. Well, amazingly enough, it's a process for selling. More specifically it's a tool to help you figure out what you're going to sell, whom you're going to sell it to, and how you're going to sell it. Just knowing that your going to sell some particular product or service to some particular group of people isn't enough, you need to break it down and set up a specific plan of action. You need to identify your target market and break it down into tiers, identify the specific products/services you want to sell to each target market, determine how you want to split up your time and attention between the different tiers of your customer base, and then figure out how you're going to sell each product/service to each tier and for how much. But rather than bore you with my clumsy attempt to explain this in more detail, I think I'll leave that to Julia herself who will be making her debut as a guest blogger here shortly. Take it away, Julia.

Preparing for the move
Jun 22, 2006

With my moving date (July 21) now less than a month a way, I figure it's time to get serious about figuring out all the logistics. The biggest question, of course, is how I actually get my stuff from San Francisco to Boston. My first thought was to use PODS. I really like the concept, and their way of doing things just seems very convenient. (For those that don't know, they deliver a container of the appropriate size to your house, you pack your stuff in it, and they take it off to either a storage facility, the destination of your move, or both depending on your needs.) However when I got a quote from them it was around $7000, a bit more than I was looking to spend. My next thought was the tried and true standard of U-Haul. Obviously U-Haul is a known quantity. They've been around, they're well-known, they're reliable, and whenever you drive long distance you always see more U-Haul trucks than anything else. How can you go wrong? When I got a quote from them it was about $1800 to get a truck for 11 days and three thousand something miles, along with a trailer to tow my car. Not a bad deal, other similar companies (like Penske) were all in comparable price ranges. This is all perfectly good, I have no problem driving 3000+ miles in a U-Haul towing my car, but I wanted to drive down to New Mexico on the way to visit my mother, and I didn't really relish the idea of taking the U-Haul with trailer down one lane dirt roads where I might not be able to easily turn it around to get it back out. In addition, my calculations suggested the cost of gas for this option would be around $1000. Then it was suggested to me that I try some website where you can post what you need in terms of moving services and different people can bid on your move. It sounded great to me, although by the time I got home that night I had forgotten the name of the site (I need to figure that out still). A Google search of the what I thought the name might be lead me to Help U Move. Help U Move's approach is something of a mix between PODS and a traditional moving company. They deliver a trailer (like the back of a semi) to your house. You pack your stuff into it, using as much or as little space as you need (though they'll charge you for at least 3 feet even if you don't use it all). Then they pick up the trailer, take it off to wherever it is they take it, load it up with commercial goods, and drive it to your destination. They'll even hold it in storage for two days at no extra charge. Because they're using it for commercial deliveries as well they're able to offer very low costs. The quote they gave me: $1700. That's right, they beat U-Haul on price as well as convenience. There's still a few things I want to check out, but the BBB has received no complaints about them, so I think there's a good chance I'll be going with them. I'd much rather drive my own car from San Francisco to New Mexico to Minnesota to Illinois to Boston (lots of people to visit on the way); it'll be significantly faster, more comfortable, use less gas, and did I say faster? Now I just need to get on with my favorite part of any move: packing. [Edit: whoops, apparently a bad quote in a link had chopped out an important part of this post...]

I've completely lost my marbles, or only just now found them all
Jun 21, 2006

This morning I tendered my resignation. Exactly one month from today, on July 21, I will leave my office for the last time, leave San Francisco, move in with my girlfriend in Boston, and start my own IT consulting company. About as much change as you can possibly have in your life all at once. Why? Because this is what I want to do, and call me crazy, but I think that's a good enough reason. In one month's time I will be on my way to Boston with no job and very little money. Despite that, I've so far found this experience to be quite liberating. Although I still have the responsibilities of my current position for another 30 days (and will continue to fulfill them, as I don't want to abandon the friends I've made at this company), they seem much less onerous than they did yesterday. This has definitely been the least frustrating day I've had at work in just about as long as I can remember. But even still, I don't think the reality of what I've done has really set in yet; I've still got 30 more days of exactly the same thing I've been doing for the last year and a half, and, close as that is, it still doesn't really feel as though my situation has significantly changed. But really, that's the whole reason I'm writing this blog: I don't know what to expect, but whatever happens I intend to share it.

An experiment in independence
Jun 14, 2006

This blog is my official chronicle of the process of quitting my job, moving across the country (from San Francisco to Boston), moving in with my girlfriend, and going into business for myself all at once. I like to think of it as a social experiment in exactly how far I can pursue success along a path entirely of my own choosing. I'd been dissatisfied with my job for a number of reasons, but the one that always seemed the most significant to me was the simple reality of working in the corporate world. I'd wake up at the same time every day, put on the same clothes, drive to the same BART station, take the same train to the same station, walk into the same building, sit at the same desk and do the same thing, 9+ hours a day, 5 days a week. After a year and a half I decided that enough was enough. The obvious solution to my problem: self-employment. Yes it will be a lot of hard work, yes there's a good chance I'll fail, yes even if I don't fail I still might barely be scraping by for a long time, but all that will be in the context of me doing the work I want to do on my terms and no one else's. This is an experiment. An experiment in exploration. An experiment in starting over. An experiment in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is an experiment in independence.