Monday, November 30, 2009

Difficult Santa talk...

We took time this evening to rearrange the living room and prepare the Christmas tree for its decorations.  It's a tree of wire and plastic that needs 'adjusting' to give it a more tree-like appearance.  John found this adjustment period to be rather tedious which led him to frequently inquire whether the job was complete.  One of these inquiries led here...

John:  "Are we done yet?"
Daddy:  "Not yet, you know why it's important to spend time adjusting the tree don't you?"
John: "Yeah, so that we'll get lots of toys under it."
Daddy: "Well, not exactly.  The more time we spend adjusting it, the more beautiful the tree will ultimately look."
John: "Right."
Daddy: "Besides, shouldn't we be grateful for any toys that we might find under this tree, be it one toy, or lots of toys?"
John: "Yeah, we should be grateful for whatever we get."
Daddy (who should have simply stopped):  "That's right... you know... there are many kids who won't get any toys this year, so, even one is better than none, right?"
John: "Well, yeah, those are the naughty kids, right?"
Daddy (who only now is starting to realize he should have stopped talking already): "Well, some are naughty, but other's have parents who simply can't afford toys this year."
John:  "But Daddy, Santa doesn't treat kids without money differently does he?"
Daddy: "Well, no.... ummm... "
John:  "Daddy, this is sad news, I think we should go shopping tomorrow for those kids who aren't naughty."

Friday, November 20, 2009

FAQ on the first date?

I follow Jeff Atwood because I think he's generally a bright guy and so I took notice when Adrian (another bright guy) was critical of him.  Then, in following a link from google today, I notice this at the top of my browser...

This is from Stack Overflow, Jeff's brainchild.  For an otherwise bright guy, what a incredible dumb thing to do, amateurish really.  Here's why:

o) It seems to pop up based on whether your signed in or not; rather than whether it's really your first time.  It is not my first time, so it's annoying to see it every time.

o) Let's suppose though, that it were my first time.  I doubt I'd have a frequently asked question already.  If I did, would it not be an indication that your site really kinda sucked?

o) Lastly, there's the presumptuous nature of the popup itself.  You really think anyone would want to sit and read your FAQ on the first date?  You're crazy.  You get me hooked on your software and then when I have a question I may poke around your FAQ, otherwise, I'll just leave.

The bottom line...  if a question is asked frequently enough to make it on your FAQ list and said question is of interest to a first time visitor, it's time to fix your software...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Geocaching woes...

"Geocachers find trinkets and trouble" (WashPost)

Sounds all too familiar. At least these people are in Loudoun, Va. Paulding County, Ga., not so understanding.... I don't recall the exact conversation but it went something like this...

Ranger: "You boys been walking around in circles looking at that thing for a long time now..."
Us: "Yeah, it's a GPS unit for land nav trying to find a location"
Ranger: "What's that you got there? a G-P-S (overly drawn out)?"
Us: "Well, it's just a GPS unit, like a digital compass... you know..."
Ranger (skeptically): "I don't know, this just don't sound right"
Ranger (incredulously): "And you say you're looking for some kinda 'treasure'"
Us: "Well, kinda, see, people hide stuff and it's fun to go find it."
Ranger: "Ain't nobody supposed to be hiding stuff on my park land. Anyway, how am I supposed to know ya'll ain't some sorta terrorists or something? these are dangerous times, you know? What exactly are they hiding?"
Us: "Usually, it's just little toys, trinkets, a notebook, and whatnot."
Ranger: "And so you're using some sorta navigation computer to find toys out in the woods?"
Us: "Well, yeah, it's just sorta a game, you see, well, maybe we'll just go now."
Ranger: "Yeah, maybe you should, I don't expect I'll see you back here, right?"

It was longer and even more ridiculous of a conversation than that - would have been good sitcom material. It ruined the hunt - we felt ridiculous. But, it was a learning experience. We learned that such folks are called Muggles and are to be avoided....

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Architectural Styles, Constraints, Desired Properties, etc.

REST gets all the attention, but I think the framework presented in the first half of the dissertation is equally, if not more, important.  There are many frameworks that attempt to understand software architecture but none that I've found that are reasonable.  REST itself is a derived by way of a worked example through that reasoning framework.  I'd like to start using that approach myself but doing so demands a common understanding which, as with REST itself, is rather elusive.  Trying to explain it, as Roy did, in technical terms is further burdened by preconceived notions of overloaded terminology.  So, I crafted a story that attempts to communicate the essence (constraints, desired properties, architectural styles, etc.) without being burdened by the baggage of assumptions.

The story goes like this...

Suppose a customer comes to your "information business" and says, "I have a need for all the information on organic gardening."  The customer travels a lot and needs the information available to him for reference when his customers ask gardening questions, but he's frequently in the fields and, so, isn't always technology enabled.

Your organization is quite large and information comes from a variety of departments.  To make matters worse, you're in the Solutions Architecture side of the business and so you have no real authority to dictate a precise solution - these are 'information engineers' after all, who need room to flex their creativity.  You are, however, allowed to define the solution architecture by way of  "constraints" on their solution.  These "constraints" take the form of:

1) All the information must be together.
2) There must be a Table of Content.
3) All information must have a reference back to the original source.

You have done this so often though, that you and these engineers have agreed that these constraints can be grouped together and referenced by a simple name, its architectural style name, instead of enumerating each one every time.  This is beneficial because you know that certain constraints, when grouped together, evoke certain properties that are commonly desired by your customer.  This allows you to quickly match up your customer's needs with some starting constraints.  Now, you've previously agreed that constraints 1+2+3 above will be referred to as the Compilation Architectural Style.

It turns out that the constraints of the Compilation Style are a good starting point but they don't evoke all the properties that your customer really wants. They want something that's lightweight because they travel, they want something that's easily readable, and they also want something that doesn't require electricity/technology.

So you begin with an instance of the Compilation Architectural Style and add some concrete constraints to get you from "style" to a real architecture and evoke some properties specifically desired by your customer.  Namely, you add the following:

A) Compilation Architectural Style
 - evokes all properties known by the style
B) Information must be on paper
 - evokes lack-of-technology property
C) Information must be printed in Times New Roman
 - evokes readability property
D) Must be in a thin plastic binder
 - evokes lightweight property

So, you pass along the customer order and your solution architecture to the engineers.  Because you've chosen to define your solution architecture in terms of "constraints that evoke properties," you're able to objectively reason about them.  So, when the engineers come back and say that they'd prefer Helvetica because, being sans-serif, it would save on toner cost, you can reason about how changing this constraint might effective your overall solution architecture.  In this case, that level of font-specificity was simply you trying to flex some control where you have none, so you acquiesce. Likewise, the engineers come back and ask that you change constraint D to heavy-weight paper since it'd be a bit lighter - you, again, agree that it still evokes your desired property.

You deliver your solution, which makes your customer happy.  But then you realize that you ought to capitalize on your latest back and forth with the information engineers.  So, you go to the engineers and agree to call constraints B+C+D the Paperback Architectural Style.  In future requests like the original, this allows you to simply refer to a hybrid (Compilation Architectural Style + Paperback Architectural
Style) solution architecture and know that the desired properties will be evoked.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Magic Word

Grace:  "I want my purple blanket"
Daddy:  "It's upstairs, I'll get it for you..."
Daddy:  "... oh, but can I get the magic word, first though?"
Grace:   "Abracadabra!"

Clearly, there is some parenting work left to do...

Monday, September 21, 2009

WashPost: Same-sex marriage

Robert McCartney on why the difference between strong white support for same-sex marriage in the District vs. the rest of the nation...
Why the difference? The District's white population is more secular, liberal and better-educated than the rest of the country. Some surveys have suggested that educational level is the most reliable predictor of attitudes on same-sex marriage, with more-educated people being more likely to support it.
Perhaps this is a good indicator that our education system is broken?   Then again, maybe it says more about religious America, that religious affiliation isn't a more reliable predictor?  Then again, maybe someone's just stretched some numbers to have a fancy way of saying, "you're either with us or you're dumb"?  

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ending badly

mnot: REST-*? Well, this will end badly...

and so, after a choppy discussion...

... it is, hopefully, ending... and badly...

Quite frankly, this is the single dumbest attempt at one-sided
"standardization" of anti-REST architecture that I have ever seen.

Distributed transactions are an architectural component of non-REST interaction. Message queues are a common integration technique for non-REST architectures. To claim that either one
is a component of "Pragmatic REST" is the equivalent of putting a giant Red Dunce Hat on your head and then parading around as if it were the latest fashion statement.

The idea that the community would welcome such a pack of marketing morons as the standards-bearers of REST is simply ridiculous. Just close the stupid site down.

... I subscribe to the Burton Group mostly to be annoyed by nonsense, but Anne captured this one quite well:
I believe in being pragmatic, but if you don't adhere to the REST principles (everything is a resource with a uniform addressing scheme [i.e., a URL], interactions using representations, uniform methods, stateless interactions, using hypermedia as the engine of state), you won't produce RESTful systems, and you won't attain the desirable RESTful characteristics (scalability, serendipity, network effects, etc) that REST is supposed to enable.

For reference, while it still exists... REST-*

Monday, September 07, 2009

"That robot show"... you remember

Talking with John about the show "Superfriends" I used to watch caused me to think about another show that I can never remember the name of. I finally googled the right words and found it. This is for me. For when I forget again... "The Space Giants" with Goldar, Silvar, and Tomoko... Superstation programming at its best:)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

John's Story

As many know, John has been testing his boundaries lately. Doing so, led to him being without toys and books until he earns them all back one-by-one. So far, he's selected only toys when he has earned something back - three so far. This left him in the unfortunate position of having no book to read for story time.

I've got to give him creativity credit, his solution to this dilemma was to write his own. When I first took on the task of taking dictation, I had no clue where he was going with it. About midway through the first page, my wrist was tired - an indicator of how embarrassingly little I write longhand nowadays - so I moved the exercise up to the computer. I left it in his words without edit - I kinda like it his way, "scardest" really ought to be a word, right? Link below:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cutting to the chase

I'm finally getting around to organizing the basement today so that we might rid ourselves of an over priced storage unit.  John's helping.  It took him all of ten minutes to grasp the essence of "organizing":
"So Daddy, we're really just shuffling junk around, right?"

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Rebecca called work sounding teary the other day, it was late morning - I had just finished a conference call. It was a regular day. "Did you get my email?" Quickly, I opened up my inbox to see her message "ER Call me." My heart sank, a quick exchange, and I'll be there soon.

The week earlier, John had complained periodically of a headache. His disposition was normal, no other symptoms, just a headache. Rebecca ended up taking him to the doctor a few days earlier to just check it out. Given the lack of any other symptoms, the doctor suggested changing his pillow and coming back in a week if they're still happening.

Only a few days after that doctor visit - the day I got the call - he woke up late. Normally an early riser, it was Grace who noticed he wasn't yet awake, "Mommy, isn't why John's not awake yet?" she says. Rebecca found him moaning in bed unable to get up. He was lethargic, unable to get out of bed. Upon getting him up, she realized he's also vomiting and the headache has gotten much worse. She promptly made arrangements for Grace and called the doctor's office. After the nurse, both on the phone and in person, demonstrated no sense of urgency, Rebecca decided to take him directly to the E.R. There, the doctor did have a sense of urgency.

I arrived about an hour and a half into the E.R. visit and the wait had begun. John was pitiful, just laying there. As a parent, so helpless. The doctor comes in and the concerns are serious. "We'd like to first take him down for a CT of the brain and see what we've got," he says - he's trying to rule out brain trauma or tumors. After coming back from the CT room they did some blood work.

The timing of all this is rather fuzzy. About 5 hours went by in only a few seconds, making it difficult to relay things chronologically.

In any case, the blood work and CT scan results came back. The CT scan significantly provided a lack of anything significant - we're ecstatic! The blood work, however, shows his WBC significantly higher than normal. Significantly higher than normal - without an accompanying fever - can be real bad, so we need to watch that. No tumor, no trauma, that's good though. Now, the attention turns towards meningitis - there are many forms, some much worse than others, and we need to rule it out. This requires a spinal tap.

He'd explained the spinal tap procedure to Rebecca while I had stepped out so I'd asked him to explain the risks again. Asking about the risks in this situation is odd. I'm asking because I feel obligated to ask. He's answering because he's obligated to answer. All the while, we both know that he's gotta do the procedure anyway - it's the only reasonable path.

John was groggy during the procedure but still in and out. I initially stayed in the room because I wanted him to see me if he woke up. Disappointingly, I ended up stepping out of the room - I watched, standing up, as Rebecca received epidurals for both John and Grace but this was different, unbearable. Then, he woke up. Mid procedure, he woke up, screamed, and neither I nor Rebecca were in the room. We felt terrible. We ran in to re-assure him and in short order it was all over.

The doctor ordered a chest xray as an added test - don't recall exactly why - then said he wanted him transferred to Fairfax INOVA, which has a better pediatric unit.

While we waited for the ambulance to transport him, I was holding John's hand and he looks up and says, "is this real?"... "is this really happening, Daddy?" I wished it weren't. I prayed it'd wouldn't continue. But it was. The question was appropriate - things were moving so fast, so incongruent with our previous days that it was hard to believe, but it was real and it was really happening. "Yeah, peanut, it's real, but Mommy and Daddy are right here beside you the whole way and we love you so much."

Rebecca rode with John in the ambulance while I drove the van. At this point we knew he had to stay overnight at Fairfax so I went home to grab some essentials. On the way to the hospital, I also drove through Chick-Fil-A for a cookies and cream milkshake - ice cream and stress balance one another after all.

By the time I got to Fairfax Inova, John was settled in his room. Rebecca went home and John and I played Chutes and Ladders, puzzles, and transformers. We both slept well, except for the occasional nurse-round annoyance.

Waking up Friday, John looked much better. He had color back in his skin and some energy. Unfortunately, we were still waiting on his cultures to come back from his spinal fluid, blood, and urine. They took more blood that morning with a finger prick to test his WBCs too. At some point on Friday, we confirmed with the doctor that all the really scary stuff had been ruled out. We were looking at Viral Meningitis at this point, the lesser of the meningitis' and an easy recovery. They had started him on some powerful antibiotics from the initial E.R. visit so whatever it was, was likely be knocked out.

I went home Friday evening and Rebecca stayed with him over night. Waking up Saturday, he had much more energy and it seemed this storm was over. His reward for one last Lyme Disease test (read needle) was a milkshake at Silver Diner and Home.

Now, as I write this, John is largely back to normal. Still has a mild headache that we'll continue to monitor. His WBC count has mostly come back to a reasonable range.

The flood of emotions during the "height" of this scare were incredible. Not long ago, we had another similar scare emanating from his knees. During that time, as with this, I reflected on what we'd done and what I wish God would give us an opportunity to someday do. I vow to value more our time together. To appreciate it as the precious gift that it is. I need not another test for this to remain.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Problem Solving Strategies

The other day we made some homemade vanilla ice cream after a day of playing outside.  We put the ice cream in the freezer to harden up while we ate dinner and let the apple crisp cook.  

After dinner I teased the kids with "Daddy already ate the ice cream... you didn't really want any, did you?"

John takes the news slowly and harshly... "you didn't really eat it, did you?"... "why did you eat it when you knew we wanted some?"

While I was having fun teasing John, Grace was just staring at me with a blank face, listening to evaluate the severity of the situation.  After surmising it to be true, she takes action...  she never said a word, just marched right upstairs to the authority figure and declares "Mommy!, daddy ate the ice cream and didn't leave us any!"  I didn't get in any trouble - as the ice cream was still safely tucked in the ice box - but I enjoyed watching the different strategies for dealing with their dilemma...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I-Bond "fixed" rate

All those years ago I thought it a good idea to buy bi-weekly bonds. I-Bonds seemed a good choice because it had a great return (that, I think, actually beat most of our other savings over the same period). I was comforted that the overall rate was comprised of the fixed + the inflation-adjusted rate - so even if it adjusted in a way not in my favor, it'd still beat a passbook account.

Fast forward to now, and a deflationary period and I learn, embarrassingly late, that Uncle Sam actually had a different, slightly more nuanced, definition of "fixed rate" (emphasis mine).

The fixed rate will always be greater than or equal to 0.00%. However, the fixed rate is not a guaranteed minimum rate; the composite rate could possibly be less than the fixed rate in deflationary situations.
So, it's fixed, kinda, but if the economy tanks, they let the "adjusted" component of the rate eat away the supposed "fixed" component, making it - by my lowly definition - not so fixed after all. I suspect I'm not alone in learning this nuance, as this is apparently the first deflationary period every experienced since the inception of the I-Bond.

Equally unsettling is that the rate *could* conceivable be pushed below 0.0% such that it actually eats away at any interest earned over the period too! So I should in fact be grateful that Uncle Sam has provided such a great regulation that in the words of my helpful customer service rep...
... regulations allow us to adjust the composite rate [back up] to 0% to prevent the investor from losing any interest earned.
... that's good... I guess... but with these terms, I think I'll look for other avenues and leave financing our national debt to the Chinese.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sick Food

Some incredibly enlightening testimony on the use of antibiotics in livestock.  Everyone should invest in the hours to hear this testimony.   Some highlights,

" classes of antibiotics considered crucial by the FDA are used as normal feed additives for chicken, cattle, and pork..."

"... 70% of human-use antibiotics are given to animals..."

Alarmed?  No?  Let's look deeper...

"Especially troubling is their use not to cure sick animals but to promote "feed efficiency," that is, to increase the animal's weight gain per unit of feed. "... according to the Union of Concerned Scientist.

"Agricultural use, much of it for growth promotion, accounts for 40 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States. " 
For related reasons, if you haven't already, you should watch King Corn which will give a good clue as to why the cattle need all those antibiotics (hint: cows don't digest corn well even though our tax dollars subsidize it as feed).

Friday, April 10, 2009


At bedtime, I happened upon a story in John's VeggieTale Bible that provided a nice recap of a discussion on Col 3:20 we had earlier.  It started out with a question, "Who is the ultimate boss?," which I posed to Grace.  When she doesn't know the answer (as in this case), sometimes, she just turns to being cute - namely, talking gibberish.  Hearing her response, John politely asks "now Grace, I can't understand you, is that JapaGrace or Graceanese?"

Later... we read a story from Grace's book.  One part at the end required some explaining, so I went into action.   The story is, roughly, some brothers are mean (jealous of) to little Joe, he leaves, predicts feast and famine.  His brothers later come back hungry and, ultimately, he is good to them.  I set about 'dumbing it down' a bit and explaining how it might be similar to him sharing a toy with a little boy who was previously mean to him.  To clarify, he says, "so daddy, you mean it's like the Lord loving us and letting us into heaven even though we sin and don't do the right thing sometimes?"  My reply, "um, yeah, that's a... that's a reasonable simile, sure."  I've always hoped my kids will be smarter than I am, but I'm not sure how that's really going to feel when they've accomplished that at 5!

While writing this, I had to run upstairs to John screaming.  "Daddy, those 'eyes' in the bathroom are really freaking me out... I can't sleep... they're just too scary."  Being dense, it took a few seconds to register.   Finally, I saw the 'eyes' and they are indeed freaky.  Bathroom door closed... another crisis resolved.

From Bathroom Eyes

Earlier, I also managed to capture Grace's "poor Cinderellie" impression...

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


I've never been able to convince Becca that there is a right/wrong way
of hanging TP. When I notice improperly hung TP, I usually fix it....
Hopefully, now she'll see the light...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Circumstances have caused me to reflect upon the American High School experience - not the academic experience, the other one, the gauntlet.  Bright young kids enter as freshmen armed with loads of natural talent, skill, and ability.  Most, with the added benefit of some character, morals, and values.  The next few years aren't, primarily, a test of the kid's academic ability, they're a test of the kid's decision-making skills.  It's a battery of tests administered by their peers and it's deeply saddening to watch one with such potential, perform so poorly.

For added complexity, the difficulty of these tests isn't constant or even linear, they grow vastly more complex and challenging with each and every bad decision.   In Big O notation, they'd be much closer to O(n2) than O(1).  Unfortunately, the consequences of failing this test aren't disappointing letter grades, they tend to be much worse, as in...

... death... as one enters their freshman class, they should look around, more than likely one or more of the young people they see will be dead, disfigured, or disabled over the next few years from their bad decisions.

... parents... as one enters their freshman class, they should recognize that many of the people they stand with will become parents in the next few years as a result of their decisions.

... jail... some, will be in jail or will be making decisions that will ultimately lead them there.  Yes, even that cool football player with everything going for him, he's cool, but he sucks at making decisions.

... drug addicts... many will decide to go down a path of being addicted to drugs.   It'll start out innocently, with exploration, but they'll inevitably decide to squander away most of their God-given talent.

... consequence by association... some will make all these decisions well, but still end up dead or in jail, because they decided to associate with other people who suck at decision-making - sometimes the test is taken as a team.

... and perhaps the most frequent consequence is the failure to reach their potential.  This is a much more benign consequence, but equally disheartening.  They may start out with high aspirations and easily the skill to match only, eventually, to be satisfied by mediocrity.

There's a compounding effect to these consequences too.  The first bad decision won't likely find them in jail, rather, it might start them on a path where being in jail is more likely to occur, for example.

It's this compounding effect that makes it so difficult for those around them.  We see, as if in slow motion, the snowballing effect of bad decisions.  It's sad.  It's disappointing.  It's maddening to watch.  Like watching a middle-aged man riding through his mid-life crisis in his new sports car, the poor decision-makers are easy to spot from the outside.  Perhaps a dramatic change in style.  Maybe it's a more slow process of ostracizing those around them until they're left, isolated, with like-minded peers who also suck at decision-making.

We watch kids enter the gauntlet teasing ourselves into believing that there's a direct correlation with natural skill, academic prowess, values and long term success.  We might even allow ourselves some excitement in pondering how successful a particularly gifted young person might be.  The truth is, success most often stems not from raw talent but rather from good confident decision-making and hard work.

I love you and pray each day that God will provide you with decision-making skills equal to your natural talent.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Want a knuckle sandwich?

I hear this conversation as I'm walking up the stairs...

John: "Grace, do you want a knuckle sandwich?"
Grace: "Umm... sure."
John: "Peanut butter and jelly or cream cheese and jelly?"
Grace: "Umm... peanut butter"
John: (holding his hand to her mouth) "Hows it taste?"
Grace: (fake chewing) "Mmmm... that good John"

I think I got screwed, this is not at all how I remember "eating" knuckle sandwiches from my older brother...  strange.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bizarre Spousal Conversation

Me: "Hey, what's your Paypal password?"
Wife: "I don't know, I always use yours"
Me: "But... I don't have a Paypal account, I use yours."
Wife: "Sure you do, I just bought something the other day with it."
Wife [unspoken, look only]: I am watching Grey's, you're annoying, get out.
Me [unspoken, no look]: This is weird, I'm going back to the basement.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Picasa Mac

Finally. Thank you google.

Now, if we only had financial software for the mac that didn't suck in
some way...