Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
  More great stories
This is a great story (true or not) about house-sitting. I did a lot of sitting for the neighbors as a kid, but never let things get quite so out of hand ...

It was a welcome call. I was nineteen years old, and one of my former high school teachers, my favorite, was asking me to house sit while he and his wife went on a two-week vacation ... “It’s too long to let the grass grow, and we’d really rather have someone staying here to keep an eye on things. We’ve talked it over, and agreed that you were the ideal person to help out.”

“Sometimes groundhogs get a little close to the house and upset the cats. If you see any, there’s a shotgun here by the door.”
Let’s see, drive the old car, mow the yard, try not to be attacked by Hissing Tripod, and shoot the wildlife.

No problem.

When they returned, a day or two early, the yard was knee high, the transmission in the old car was fried, the bed was unmade, there were dishes in the sink, I had called an old girlfriend long distance every night, there was a cigarette butt burn on the brand new Corian countertop, the trash can contained beer cans, and I had failed to dispatch any groundhogs, who were planning a theme park in the backyard. And the angry, three legged cat, who had scratched me bloody when I tried to pet him, was missing.

How it all got completely away from me, and became such a horrible disaster, I have NO recollection.

From Outside the Fence
  Favorite article of the week
From the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge site, an excerpt from The Weird Rules of Creativity

Basically it describes my ideal working environment:

Fail often
Never wait
Ignore and defy superiors
Fight amongst yourselves
There's lots of interesting bits about products that were produced despite management, and in one case created a new award class: extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering duty. Unfortunately, as the author points out, no corporation has this explicit policy in their job manual: "Ignore your boss if you think he or she is wrong."

Here's one example of a the proper use of management bypass:

People who do what they think is right—rather than what they are told or what they anticipate their superiors want—can drive their bosses crazy and get their companies in deep trouble. But they also force companies to try ideas that some boss or powerful group may have rejected as a waste of time or money. 3M's former CEO William McKnight, for example, once ordered a young employee named Richard Drew to abandon a project he was working on, insisting it would never work. Drew disregarded the order and went on to invent masking tape, one of 3M's breakthrough products. Drew's perseverance also laid the foundation for 3M's defining product, Scotch tape.
If I ever get one of my startups off the ground, my employee handbook will include the following:
The following will be considered grounds for dismissal:
  • Failure to address any problem or through inaction allow any opportunity to slip by.
  • Failure to argue with the boss (me) if it appears that he holds some bone-headed opinion or continues to fail to understand the problem.
  Ups and downs
Well so far, this treo has been 90% excitement, and 10% frustration. Most things work great, some things are exceptional, and then other things are just brain damaged.

For instance the RealPlayer plays MP3s just fine, and runs in the background, but it has no concept of the Nav buttons (which is especially annoying for reasons I will explain below).

The camera works great, even in very low light, and the videos are cool too (though others have mentioned the desire to be able to adjust the compression settings), but I'm always switching between picture and movie and every time I switch it points back at the built in memory instead of the SD card. Now since the builtin memory is 19MB and my SD card is 1GB, its pretty obvious if somewhat annoying, but even still I end up with pictures and movies on the built-in space. And of course there's no command to move the picture (though there is a copy command which then you have to shuffle around and delete the source).

The browser shows an amazing amount of information using the small font, but it reveals the throwback nature of the OS all to often, doing its processing and not letting the application or even the entire machine to respond to other events or actions. And I soo miss tabs. Note to Palm: could we add the option to not load images (clickable option on screen, or site by site preference?) Just pulling one page from Ebay ends up using > 500k, and Yahoo mail is perfectly readable up until the moment it loads its screen formatting graphics.

You can also sense how kludged the original vision for the PalmOS has gotten over time by keeping an eye on which apps show any status information about the device like battery and signal strength. It would be really helpful to know I'm loosing my signal while in the middle of a SSH session or while chatting on IM, but they're blank about anything beyond their own function. Not that I blame the app. Palm needs to create something like the Mac titlebar and let the device or system utilities put their icons up there so there's consistant information when moving between apps.

Of course the pinnacle of my user experience rollercoaster so far has been the fact that my Palm is defective. Broken. Going back to the shop after only two days. For some reason the touchpad won't stay lined up. I do an alignment, tap a few spots, and Bam! its off by more than a line vertically. Doesn't seem to be a widespread problem, but I've seen signs of a few other people doing exchanges for bad hardware.

I'm still happy with the Treo overall, its just now I don't have to worry about the fingerprints the kids are putting all over the screen on this unit as I'll have another as soon as the exchange unit shows up.

  Why is this so complicated
In my excitement over the impending arrival of my Treo, I loaded up 800MB of MP3s onto my 1GB SD card.

Of course once I stuffed the card into the treo, no music showed up. So I hot-sync'd it, flipped it around the other way, played with the file name, stuck it in a different directory { nope, not /sound, not /palm either }. Then I had to start digging around.

First I confirmed that the software in there should play back MP3, yes it should. Then I started searching around for help. Unfortunately most of the help was pretty remedial, basically explaining how to find and press the play button. Finally I found this obscure clue to drop one MP3 file onto the Desktop Quick Installer, then pull the SD card out and look to see where HotSync put it. Turns out they go in the AUDIO folder. Fine. Picky little suckers.

Now we're jamming.

  The advantages of a small town
Ok, so it finally arrived. Sprint as usual was confused up until the actual delivery, but UPS had it locally in Flagstaff this Monday morning and it was scheduled for delivery.

Of course sunday night we had a horrific snow storm.

Ok, maybe not that bad, but enough to make getting around in 2WD pretty challenging. I really need a car with 4WD or AWD, but more to the point, the UPS van doesn't have 4WD either. So smartly enough he decided not to make the delivery to my house.

Now if this was a larger town, that would be the end of the story. I'd be sad and pissed off and moping around the house for several more days until the roads improved. But luckily I do not live in a large zombie metropolis. I live in a small town, where not only does the driver know how bad my road is going to be before he even gets to this side of town, but he also knows where my parents live.

So about 2pm I get a call from my mom.

"Hi, its your mom," says my mom.
"Hi mom."
"UPS dropped of a package for you. It says sprint."
"Cool! Its my new phone. I'll be over in a bit."
So now I just have to learn everything there is to know about the Palm OS, find every piece of useful freeware out there (and maybe some not-so-useful pieces like games), and come up with my plan to take over the world. I must go immerse myself.
  Going hyper hyper
NASA launched its X-43a SCRAMJET test platform again this week.

Building on its previous success, this time the mission profile called for reaching speeds around MACH 10 (around 7,000 MPH) which it did successfully; demonstrating its potential for missiles and for launch platforms. While missiles have their uses, the space launch platform is definitely what I'm excited about.

Infrared image of the world-record Mach 6.8 flight

Unfortunately, this flight was the last and fastest of three unpiloted flight tests in NASA's Hyper-X Program which is now over.

While larger versions and multi-stage platforms capable of launching space payloads would have been the next logical step, I don't know what if any further activity is planned by NASA for the SCRAMJET. Perhaps its time for private companies to take the baton, with some possible help from a SCRAM prize.

  Headed home
Back on the plane today to come home, I got to relax, unwind and do something I almost never get around to doing otherwise: reading dead-tree based magazines. I keep a pile on top of the microwave for just such an occasion. Today's issue was Entrepreneur from March 2003 (Ok, so I'm a little behind on my reading).

Besides the cover article on leadership which was ok, my favorate page was Marc Diener's Real Deal where he typically outlines an important tip for negotiating and then illustrates how he's blown it or missed it in his past (sometimes in an odd and humorous way).

The article, Looking for a Punch in the Nose?, (or how to be a really annoying negotiator), included such stupid traits as the whiner, the manipulator, and the liar. But he also mentioned the time waster, and included an example (in which he took the title role):

Once, I was trying to lease the floating hull of an abandoned ship owned by the Canadian Navy.

Canadian Navy?

Oh, they actually have their own ships. Ok, lets continue

We were going to use it as a movie set, but they reserved the right to kick us off in the event of war. I objected. "How," I exclaimed, "could anyone shoot a movie with that hanging over their heads?"

Quietly, the representative asked me to name the last time the Canadian Navy had gone to war.

He got me.

  commie pizza
I grew up in Oakland, so I know where Berkeley is: you head out from San Francisco across the bridge and then you take a left (in other words, Berkeley is really out there).

So I found myself back up in that neighborhood today for an all company meeting where I finally got to meet all of the people that I had been working with for the last year. Nobody really looked like I expected, but then I didn't look like what they expected—so it was even all around.

vs ,

At lunch time they announce that they're going to go get some pizzas, so thinking that I'm saving time, I call out "MEAT," indicating my preference for toppings. But it turns out that they're going to a vegetarian pizza place. So I sing out a less enthusiastic "extra tofu," but it turns out that its not just a vegetarian pizza place—its a vegetarian pizza co-op. Since most of us don't understand the ramifications of this, the locals explain it even further. It seems this pizza place makes pieces, but they don't make what you want, they make what they want. So every morning the staff gets together, see's what's left in the vegetable bin, mashes its up and spreads it over the hundred or so pizzas they're going to sell for the day. Turns out its usually pretty good, its just not the way Dominos does it.

Our host apologizes and offers to send out special for some dead animals, ground up and baked on top of some curdled cows milk and yeast cultures in wheat (normal pizza), but I figure if I could survive travelling around the world and living on various cuisines from the Netherlands to Bangkok, then I can survive one afternoon of communist pizza.

After an extended period of time, the lunch gathering team returns with five cardboard boxes, piled high with steaming meat from Round Table. No, they didn't cave in to my demands. It turns out that commies don't make pizza on Mondays.

  Speed Rules
While I thought my 640k connection at home was cool, I'm visiting out in California for a few days and Tim has 1.5Mb DSL. The extra 3X is great, as is not worrying about using the connection too much (I get yelled at if I use too much more than 300MB in a day).

So out here, in just one day we managed to download Fedora Core 3, Caos Linux, and FreeBSD 5.3. Except for Caos, we downloaded everything with Bittorrent which totally rocked. Even without inbound connections, there were plenty of seeds and out bandwidth use pegged in minutes. 160KB/sec is a sight to behold and we managed to grab about 4+GB in less than half a day. I soo need to upgrade my connection at home. Plus I'll probably need more hard drive space ...

Keep those legal torrents going.

  A sense of humor in legaleze
Virgin has a pretty good brand in a number of different and interesting markets. Part of it is that they don't take themselves seriously.

Joe Gratz actually read the Virgin Digital end user license agreement, and found many entertaining and interesting bits stuck in there, like:

This software is licensed to you only for the reproduction of music and/or video that you own or have the expressed right to use as the software allows. Any attempt to reproduce copyrighted material that you are not expressly permitted to use is not legal, not good for the economy, and not nice. Furthermore, it is not cool, it is not kosher, nor is it the kind of thing that your parents would be proud of. Put the kibosh on it. Hey, are you reading this thing? I didn’t think so. Nobody ever really does, do they? Except the lawyers who write it. Think about it - you’re a lawyer, making god-knows-how-much and hour, and this is the best you can come up with? Lame.

... If it helps, think of this past paragraph being read aloud by a chorus of small leprechauns. With lisps. And gas. There, that’s better.

“THE SOFTWARE IS NOT INTENDED FOR USE IN THE OPERATION OF NUCLEAR FACILITIES, AIRCRAFT NAVIGATION OR COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS, AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL SYSTEMS, LIFE SUPPORT MACHINES OR OTHER EQUIPMENT IN WHICH THE FAILURE OF THE SOFTWARE COULD LEAD TO DEATH, PERSONAL INJURY, OR SEVERE PHYSICAL OR ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE.” What does that mean? Who would use music software to operate a nuclear facility? Did they put that disclaimer in because at one point someone did in fact navigate an airplane by using their music software? Is that even possible? I can’t imagine it is, but hey, if they feel that it’s necessary to put that stuff in a software usage agreement, well then so do we. Needless to say, when we think about it, we get pretty creeped out.

If your cat or pet gerbil walks across the keyboard while you aren’t looking and ends up buying some music that you detest and/or are embarrassed to own, it isn’t our problem. It also isn’t our problem if you get totally piss-drunk and go on a shopping rampage purchasing a complete collection of the worst songs ever recorded. Don’t come crying to us in the morning while you are nursing your hangover and try to erase the last twelve hours of your life. Also, we can’t do anything about the total stranger wearing a superhero costume, slathered in cool whip and who is passed out on your bed either. It’s NOP - not our problem.


Go read the whole article, there's more stuff in there.

If you're really worried about your cat buying extremely distasteful music, fear not—there's PawSense, the software that cat proof's your computer. Hmmm, I wonder if it will detect little kids too!
(Thanks to Jessica Lyons at MetroActive for that one.)

  Great holiday moments
Max is now four, so this year we decided he could go trick-r-treating. Since we live in the middle of nowhere, we took up our friend's offer to go along with them in their neighborhood.

Winter arrived early this year, so there was snow everywhere. So Max and his friend Aaron were dressed rather warm. His father also dug out the wagon for them to ride around in, so that they didn't have to walk from house to house. This turned out to be a great idea for two four year olds, and it also allowed us adults to pick each stop (since we were driving).

After a couple stops, Max started getting the hang of it (thought I had to remind him on a regular basis to say thank you after getting the candy). He and Aaron were having a great time. And since Aaron's family was a familiar to the neighbors, they were getting lots of candy.

Max was dressed as a lady bug, wearing his lady bug jacket which he has lived in almost non-stop since he got it this summer when we started collect lady bugs from the yard and keeping them in his room. He has tons of ladybug stuff. But we didn't mention that while trick-r-treating. Everyone thought he and Aaron had great outfits, and you could see how much fun it was for them to give some candy to these two little guys, as apposed to the jr. high kids running from house to house trying to collect as much candy as they could before it got to cold to be out.

After about an hour we packed it in and headed home. Max could barely carry his sack at that point. He ended up with more than four pounds of candy, which represents more than 10% of his total body weight. Translating into adult sizes, that would be like a bag um, well it would be huge. Mom let him pick out a few pieces to eat before bed, then we put the rest away for later. Its going to take him weeks to eat it all, even with my help.

  Getting reaaaaally close
Ok, so Palm One started taking pre-orders today. So now I'm the proud owner of a order number. One of thousands I'm sure.

On the phone (yes, I had to call and clarify some stuff first), the automated recording was saying one to three weeks, but the web site is saying two to three; so I'm probably not going to get one in time for my trip next week. Alas. Now that there's nothing to do but wait for the phone, it seems like its so far away.

No word on the 2GB SD flash card either. But more vendors are adding pages for it, even if nobody actually has it. I sure like apple's style better: when they announce a product, you can order it (usually).

  Its incredible
In case you were living in a box the last month, the most important even of the season is apon us: the release of The Incredibles.

Max and I went to go see it early this afternoon (which was particularly good timing as older kids weren't out of school yet and there wasn't any line). Except for Max piping up and asking, "What was so funny?" whenever there was an adult joke; and having to constantly answer the question, "Where did the robot go, Papa?""I don't know, I think they're looking for it," we had a great time.

You can tell the animators and CG artists had a great time on this. The island fortress itself is amazing. Its the kind of thing they would have done in James Bond if they only had one billion dollars to spend.

What's remarkable is how similar the the story is to the Thunderbirds. I mean, they overlap in so many ways:

Were there differences? Of course. Thunderbirds sucked, and Incredibles is great. As Wil also recognizes, its all in the characters and the writing. In the thunderbirds the main characters were just annoying, and the supporting cast mostly cardboard cutouts. In the Incredibles they're more real, their problems are more real, and you want the good guys to succeed. And the movie doesn't take itself seriously, its littered with loads of hilarious charactures like the evil insurance manager, voiced by Wallace Shawn, who also did Rex the Dinosaur and is most well known to us as Vizzini:

Anyway, go see it in the theaters. Buy it when it comes out on DVD. Collect all the toys. You know the drill, and if you don't, your kids will remind you.

  Hacking media
So between the Northpoint sermon archives and the University of Washington Computer Science online video archive there are hours and hours of audio and video out there available for watching and listening to online. Instead of having to live in a big city like Atlanta or Seattle, I can bring the culture and information of the big cities to me.

Now one problem is that my internet connection isn't always the greatest. Plus some of these archives are time limited (only showing the last six months or a year). And unfortunately you can't directly save the streams from the browser (even if you open up the ASF and try to decode the contents). The MMA protocol gets redirected to the windows media player in any case. So off we go on another Google search.

ten seconds pass

Besides a number of programs people are trying to sell to do this, it turns out a group calling themselves the Streaming Download Project decided to write software to do it for free. Unfortunately it only runs in real time (taking an hour to download a 4MB audio file), but you can batch up multiple requests and just let it run in the background. I'm running a capture right now, looks like it works.

Life in the middle of nowhere, remote programming to try and support it, startups, children, and some tinkering when I get a chance.

January 2004 / February 2004 / March 2004 / April 2004 / May 2004 / June 2004 / July 2004 / August 2004 / September 2004 / October 2004 / November 2004 / December 2004 / January 2005 / February 2005 / March 2005 / April 2005 / May 2005 / June 2005 / July 2005 / August 2005 / September 2005 / October 2005 / November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / June 2007 / July 2007 / August 2007 / September 2007 / October 2007 / November 2007 / December 2007 / January 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / August 2008 / February 2009 / August 2009 / February 2010 / February 2011 / March 2011 / October 2011 / March 2012 / July 2013 / August 2013 / September 2013 / October 2013 / November 2013 / December 2013 / December 2014 / February 2015 / March 2015 / July 2016 / September 2016 / December 2016 / April 2017 / June 2017 / July 2018 / November 2018 / January 2019 / February 2019 / April 2019 / December 2019 / March 2020 / April 2020 / May 2020 /

Paul Graham's Essays
You may not want to write in Lisp, but his advise on software, life and business is always worth listening to.
How to save the world
Dave Pollard working on changing the world .. one partially baked idea at a time.
Eric Snowdeal IV - born 15 weeks too soon, now living a normal baby life.
Land and Hold Short
The life of a pilot.

The best of?
Jan '04
The second best villain of all times.

Feb '04
Oops I dropped by satellite.
New Jets create excitement in the air.
The audience is not listening.

Mar '04
Neat chemicals you don't want to mess with.
The Lack of Practise Effect

Apr '04
Scramjets take to the air
Doing dangerous things in the fire.
The Real Way to get a job

May '04
Checking out cool tools (with the kids)
A master geek (Ink Tank flashback)
How to play with your kids

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