Tuesday, June 29, 2004

quietly sitting on the couch

I'm at home this morning waiting for the insurance inspector guy to come and make sure that my house is my house :) We just switched insurance companies so we have to go through this again...and one of our sliding doors is broken ! It happened while I was painting; I was carrying a huge ladder and let the momentum get out of hand. It's been there for a few days, but the weather has been so nice I haven't felt motivated to fix it ;) Actually the glass held together for a few days and just plopped out yesterday, so I hope it doesn't cause this guy any heartache. I've called a couple of repair places and I'm getting quotes to have it fixed.

Deanne had a root canal done on her bad tooth. It doesn't hurt anywhere near as much as the prevailing myth would have you believe. We're lucky to live in a modern age, especially where pain is concerned. She was in the chair for one and a half hours, then came straight back to work and she felt only low-level pain even after the novocaine wore off. We watched a lot of Star Trek and had takeout Italian though....we haven't cooked a meal for ourselves in ages, you know ? When we do eat at home it's just grazing on random stuff from the pantry. I wonder if our fridge will be fixed soon...yeah, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. I would've cooked six complicated meals a week except my fridge is busticated.

Finishing touches are being put on Mercury MailRoom and we're collecting "ooh gosh, it's fabulous" quotes from our beta testers. I've also thought of a plan where we would let buyers from poorer countries pay less than the $US 99 we're going to charge for it. I don't want it to be out of reach of people that would find it useful.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

from the top

Deanne's got a tooth situation that's going to require a root canal on Monday, so she's spending the weekend clutching her jaw and groaning. A dentist was able to see her and put it a temporary filling on Friday, but she's on the pain pills to keep it under control until then. We went out for a little shopping today and while looking at carpets, a weird thing happened. One of the staff approached me and asked if I liked the carpet.

"Sure, it's pretty nice. We're thinking of getting it."
"Do you want it cheaper? I can get you a discount."

Hmmm...strange way to phrase it, I thought, but let's see where it goes.

"How much of a discount ?"
"50% off. Just give me fifty bucks for the rug and a hundred dollar tip and meet me outside. You'll get your rug....but you can't bring it back."
"How is that different from theft ?" I asked.

He backpedalled a little and said he could get me a discount because the rug was damaged while being unpacked etc. but I just thanked him and declined politely. I've heard of employee theft but never actually seen it happen.

Curly Oxide
As we were driving home we listened to This American Life, an excellent radio show. This episode was about Curly Oxide, an Hasidic Jew named Chaim who felt the pull of rock'n'roll and for two years performed as Curly Oxide. He soaked up popular culture like a sponge and leapt right in with both feet, but eventually gave it up for marriage. A great story. And apparently just talking about it has made this blog the #1 hit on Google for this fellow...those of you who are disappointed to find out I'm not him :) will want to read this interview with Vic Thrill, Curly's friend from the radio piece. Vic Thrill also has his own site.

Then we listened to From The Top which featured Peter Schickele, who is better known as the discoverer of P.D.Q Bach. What was unusual was that Deanne didn't ask me to turn the radio over to a regular music channel - she's usually got no patience for NPR, but we listened to two whole hours of it today. I think it's because I was a very compliant shopper and also I'm wearing a stylish baseball shirt that drives her crazy :) She's napping now and around four o'clock we're going to see Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's new film.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Looks bad in Texas - I hope it's not heading over this way. Posted by Hello

stormy weather

It's summer in Florida and that means afternoon storms. Right now there's a total doozy going on out there and I wish I'd brought my camera. The lightning is leaving white lines in my eyes and I'm not even looking out the window; the thunder is rattling the windows and the wind is whipping the undulating grey rain sheets away from our building and north up highway one. I like watching it but I'm glad I work indoors :) The storms have been quite heavy at night for the last two nights, but only out at sea. We live half a mile from the ocean and as we take our midnight swim before bed, we can see the clouds lighting up every three to four seconds, but we don't hear the lightning. Every minute or so it pauses and about eight seconds later there'll be a tremendous white flash that lights up the whole western sky. Cripes...a huge bolt just hit the ground and made a weird ripping sound, like a kid playing with a toy spaceship..."psheeeewwww!"

Today we had a presentation from the four different insurance companies that are handling different parts of our company's insurance plans. In case you don't live in the USA, the cost of health insurance is very high here - I think we're paying about $1200 per month for each employee - and we're very lucky to have an employer that covers the cost for us. The only part I turned down was the optional "accident coverage" provided by AFLAC because I'm young, relatively healthy, have a very safe job (safe meaning not physically dangerous) and I don't even get on the highway to drive home - I'm 5 miles away on one lightly used road.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Two bridges across the river in Redding, CA. I'm testing out the BloggerBot image posting service - looks very cool so far :) Posted by Hello

Then I've come in and added this stuff. Does anyone else think that Star Trek's Prime Directive is a cold, heartless and totally nasty thing to adhere to? Me too.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

waiting for the sun on the mountain

Good old King Crimson...always saying something vague enough to link to whatever you're thinking...and I'm thinking about copyright. Cory Doctorow went to Microsoft to give a talk on why Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a Bad Thing. If the Powers That Be have convinced you that all downloading is STEALING and that all the music and movies that could exist on your computer have to be LOCKED UP to protect starving artists, go read his talk.

He's released it into the public domain, and you can read his two science fiction novels as well as a short story collection he's written. They're not crappy, they're not being given away as loss-leaders...he's just putting his money where his mouth is on the issue of promoting his work by giving it away. Confused? Don't be. Also look at Baen Books, who found that giving their books away over the Internet increases their sales. Stick that in your paranoia pipe and smoke it, Ellison.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

nibbled to death by cats

A weird scary headline for a day which sees me sneezing and sniffling. Deanne and I played host to our friend Jennifer, who was Deanne's maid of honour, and we had a great weekend, right until Deanne caught a helluva nasty cold. She's travelling all this week too, so she's sucking down the medicine like there's no tomorrow. Luckily New York is quite warm this week, but she's in a different hotel each night and has to talk for about 7 hours a day, so I'm expecting a wreck of a woman to come back on Friday :(

I stayed home today because of the cold too, but I used the time to complete the 2nd beta version of Mercury MailRoom. The site isn't up yet, but I've asked all the beta testers (there were seven) if they'd like to look again. As soon as the site is up we can start doing sales, which will be an exciting thing :) !

Kipp came over yesterday after work and we played some NHL Hitz hockey on the gamecube. Lots of fun, but I'm definitely feeling that my gaming days are behind me. I enjoy them, but don't feel the need to spend long hours winning every possible stage. Bit late in life to come to this realization, but there you go :)

A big day for Babylon 5 fans today - JMS revealed that the coming B5 movie is called The Memory of Shadows, but that the untimely death of Richard Biggs, who played Dr. Stephen Franklin, has slowed preparations somewhat. My guess is that there's going to be some script changes. He also said that the coming "Crusade" DVD collection will have him telling the story of how the show got screwed by TNT...eeeeexcellent.

The fridge guy will be coming on Friday and I've just knocked a big chunk off our home insurance costs..the last company was, I'm afraid, screwing us.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

bought myself a liarbird

Today's proposal to Save The World, or at least the American political system, constrains free speech but as a tradeoff spares us from watching a lot of political adverts and wondering who the next President will owe favours to.

The problem seems to be that the electorate has, on the whole, a very short attention span and not much interest in seeking out information on the candidates and their policies. This leads to parties needing to flood the airwaves with lots of short, attention-grabbing ads in the hopes of drawing our eyes away from Law & Order for long enough to consider the future of the country and the free world. Sad, isn't it ? This requires years of fundraising to raise the millions (President Bush has raised over $200 million, Kerry about $117 million) needed to even attempt this race, casts suspicion on those organization making donations, makes the candidates look suspicious for taking it, and leads to the need for massive legislation like McCain-Feingold.

This situation has arisen because of the quite noble idea that Freedom of Speech is a Good Thing. You can say what you want, and that includes the right to give money to whomever you want when it comes to politics. There is also no law requiring citizens to get involved in politics, so the parties have to blanket the country in the hopes of getting our attention. If we paid more attention voluntarily then I suspect the quality of their ads would improve, and they might take longer to say it instead of squeezing their policies into thirty second sound bites.

So my proposal is that political advertising on TV and radio be banned. It is just TOO EXPENSIVE [Kerry spent $18M in June on TV ads] to expect candidates to raise the funds every four years. Each candidate will instead be able to write a 100 page book and create a 2 hour DVD (production budget to be kept to some low figure) that will be delivered to every house in the country and to every library. In this book and DVD they can outline everything they'd do if they're in charge. In return, we the people (remember that?) promise to take some friggin' interest in the country we live in. The press is, of course, encouraged to analyze each set of proposals.

It's not perfect though; here's some of the problems I see with it.

  • No interaction: the candidates don't get to respond to each other's proposals, except perhaps in interviews. This leaves the general public to evaluate each proposal without hearing criticism from other candidates - hopefully the press will be balanced in their analyses....erm...oh dear.
  • The DVD could easily be turned into a propoganda film. People can be easily steered by messages in "movie" form, it's something we're trained to do from childhood. Perhaps some restriction on the format of the presentation?
  • This craps all over the candidate's right to freedom of speech. It's definitely a trade off, so I'll leave it to wiser minds than mine to decide if the benefits outweigh the harm done.

And remember, the American system of voting is not the only democratic way of doing things. Australians are compelled to vote - you are fined $50 if you don't vote, and even the method of counting the votes is different. So there's more than one way to run an election - it's not the End Of Democracy if we make changes to our current system.

And the bugger of it is that since I'm not a citizen I'm not actually allowed to vote :) But it's fun to speculate :)

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

you can't spend the whole song in space

Today's Thing I Agree With is an article by Bruce Sterling in Wired about the Bush government's propensity towards legislating science. In Suicide by Pseudoscience, Sterling gives us a summary of how a political nutcase called Lysenko derailed Soviet science, and how we're beginning to go down that path here in the USA. We're a long way from it, but this administration seems more hellbent than most on filtering the science they want to hear. Wasn't it Reagan who said "facts are stupid things"? Well, Bush is going one one (two? three?) steps further, so far that the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a report warning about how far this government has gone to twist the scientific method and the body of knowledge in order to fit it into it's own view of the world. I hope this policy is halted before it does any more damage.

In other news, is Amarok not the greatest instrumental album of all time?

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

bastard spyware

I spent 90 minutes this morning wrestling with the unspeakable evil that is the n-Case spyware demon. Having cast it out, I will now close the filthy portal through which it gaily entered, that limping kluge that is called Internet Explorer.

I'm all Firefox now. Are you?

Monday, June 07, 2004

welcome to the garden of earthly delights

We had a really nice weekend. Breakfast on Saturday at a new gourmet breakfast/lunch placed called Eatsy's that turned out to have really good food but very spotty service. We had to ask for silverware three times, water twice, two plates got sent back because the side dishes were wrong, but I guess they're just getting started and need time to...I dunno...LEARN TO READ!?

Deanne and I napped for most of late Saturday afternoon, then went out with friends Vicky and Scott for dinner and some live music at Paddy Macs. The band was three acoustic guitarists called Acoustic Revue (?). They were really good and played lots of covers and a few originals. I asked for Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" because The Church played it and I've never actually heard the original. These guys seemed to know their Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Eagles etc, so I think what I heard was close to the original Neil Young. I bought one of the guys' solo CDs too. Scott commented that, since he bought one too, he was surprised I hadn't offered to just burn a copy for him. "Hey", says I, "I'm happy to buy a CD that hasn't been put out by those greedy hypocrites that run big record companies." The title track, "piece of the sun" is available on his site for free, so take a listen and support our local artists.

On Sunday we swam a little, attack the north face of Mount Laundry, painted the house a little more and I started the long process of copying parts of my video collection to DVD. I began with a Church live show (what else?) and found that at this 1989/90 era concert Steve was using the bass that I now own - cool :) !

Lastly Mercury MailRoom has been installed in our tech support department, so I'm heading over there to see how they're doing with it.

Friday, June 04, 2004

harness your horse and catch the wind

That's not *actually* the title of what I'm listening to, but it is the real title of a Tuvan throat singing song that I have somewhere...just not the actual bit I'm listening to. There's a really good film called Genghis Blues about this amazing singing style and the effect it had on a blind blues man called Paul Pena, who taught himself to sing it after hearing it on shortwave radio from Moscow, and eventually got invited to Tuva to compete in their singing competition...terrific stuff and a potent reminder of how lucky we are to be able to hear each other across the world.

I'm a pretty quiet and shy kind of person, but I have a recurring desire to want to be really good at doing something in the arena of musical performance, so I tried to learn Tuvan throat singing. Long car trips (luckily I was alone) turned into "EEeeeeeeeAaahahahhaaaaaaooooooooouuuuuuuu" as I tried to coax a harmonic out of my voice. I think I might have made a start on the "karygra" style, but mainly the only result was a sore throat and an appreciation of the level of control it takes to do this.

Actually I started this entry wanting to point readers to my friend Daniel Bowen's latest missive, a summary of how volunteers can force a pig-headed government to fix something that's broken, even when they claim it isn't? How? With video cameras and some organizing.

It was another nice day at the office today. Fixed a bug with how one of my programs interacts with our database, and I watched a corporate helicopter land and take off at the building opposite ours (see pic from a few days ago). FPL, our local electron wranglers, fly execs and secure documents regarding the two nuclear power plants in our area between that office and the Miami office. One of my colleagues used to work for them and he said that legally they had to do this for any written material regarding operations at the two nuclear plants. Wonder if they had a list of doughnut deliveries to Sector 7G?

Lastly my brother's computer got it's domain name back, so I can start my pursuit of beta testers for Mercury Mailroom. I also got a 120GB drive into the new computer and hooked up my VCR to the video capture card and, for the first time ever, the whole thing worked smoothly! I can start turning my old VHS tapes into DVDs, though there seems to be no easy ways to do chapter points without VERY slow video editing software.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

games without frontiers

Lesson 1: Don't close your browser before you publish a new entry in your blog...

Lesson 2: I saw this news item a couple of days ago and wondered why the last point it made, as a funny little tag, wasn't instead the 2nd or 3rd point and taken much more seriously. Here's the article in question and here's my favourite bit:

(In case the article is gone, it's a litany of incorrect guesses about the history of WWII, kids not knowing who was the US President or UK's Prime Minister during the war, what the Normandy invasion was about, who participated, or where it took place.)

There were some exceptions to the general ignorance. One teacher at Great Addington Church of England Primary school in Northamptonshire was amazed to find that one of his pupils had scored 100 per cent in the test.

He said: "I asked him how he knew material which we had not covered in school. He told me he had picked it up from a D-Day game he played on his computer."

I want to know why anyone would be surprised that kids learn from video games and if you put a historically accurate one in front of them (and there's lots, especially based around war), they might learn a thing or two. Instead of automatically assuming games are bad, try encouraging them to play accurate ones instead. Wired has a good piece on the subject too.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

do you like our owl?...artificial?

It's been a damned fine day today...I stayed home till noon to allow some contractors to come in and fix various broken things. We got a new tap set on the kitchen sink and a fit, healthy bloke came and sweated his arse off changing pipes and stuff. He actually had to cut the sink out of the counter and take it outside so he could properly beat the ever-lovin' crap out of it before it'd give up the old tap set, which time, love and chemical corrosion had sealed into place. He's coming back later to change out a shower valve which, I'm told and thus believe, is a totally different kind of plumbing job that requires welding equipment and far more money. Also had visits from the pest control guy, the pool guy and the washing-machine repair guy.

But, I'm a contented fellow because I used the time productively and re-finished the not-quite-finished-as-it-so-happens Mercury MailRoom. See, I'd always told Deanne that I shouldn't do manly chores such as plumbing because I'd screw it up and my time would be better spent writing software. Then I'd sit down and play games :) But not today!

A small interface tweak was needed and the old name "FAQ Support" had to be taken out of some of the documentation. As soon as the tristesse.com domain comes back to life (it should be today) I'll start contacting companies that might want it and see if they'll beta-test it for me. I'm thinking of giving it to them free for a year as I'm hoping to find a way to do an annual license sort of thing. $99 per user ? Seems like a fair deal for the amount of time it'll save them. But I need my email account to be working before I can contact anyone. Or it'll be a short call...

"Would you like to use my software? It's cool and stable and will really help you!"
"Sure, where can we email you?"
"Actually, my brother's PC isn't working, so I can't get email. But if you..."
"Hello? Hello? No, please! I am *so* a professional!"

I also got a bonus for project completion at work, bought $50 of nuts, raisins and granola bars for office snackage (to avoid paying the vending machine people), wrote to some friends and family, had sushi for lunch, listened to the Bladerunner soundtrack, walked the dog in a light summer rain, failed to beat my NHL Hitz 2003 hockey game, and even talked to my brother! Keith is on vacation in Seattle and is having a grand old time...wonder if he'll go visit Microsoft?

So it's a quiet happy evening for me while I wait for Deanne to come home. Actually I suspect she read this today - someone from her college, Nazareth, searched on "sirenbrian" and came to this site and read four pages yesterday. Ah referral logging...is there nothing you can't tell me? I wonder who that was though?

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

monkey off my back

I've finally got the first version of Mercury MailRoom out the door. I finished the help file, added the "don't do that stupid thing, userboy" protection features that it needed, and bought a Delphi component to do the file attachments thingy. You don't want to know...suffice it to say that getting actual files into the clipboard, so that when you paste them into Outlook they'll look like regular attachments, ain't easy unless you're Microsoft.

But it's done and I'm Hap-Hap-Happy. I've never written my own product before and this has been a lot of fun. I hope to get insanely rich off it and retire to a life of debauchery, consisting of lots of new toys for me and the spousal overunit, houses all over the world and people paid to iron my clothes and mop the floor.

So if you need a tool to help your rapidly diminishing tech support crew answer a rapidly rising tide of email, leave a comment asking about Mercury MailRoom.