Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
  Why automatic classification just doesn't work.
About a year ago I happened across a weblog from a fellow geek who had just had his life turned upsidedown. After a couple of years chronicling various electronic goodies, developer tools, php, rss , other random web stuff, and the usually blog echo-chamber activity; Eric suddenly had his life turned upsidedown.

Eric C. Snowdeal IV.
born at 8:36 p.m. on july fourth 2004.
weight: 1 pound 7 ounces
length: 12 inches

sometimes things they don't turn out quite exactly how you planned.
Born after only 25 weeks, little Odin (Eric IV) was looking at a 65% survival rate and mom was recovering from a life threatening attack of Preeclampsia. The next three months were absolutely frightening as things would look up one day and down the next, Odin would go through all kinds of procedures, and the parents wouldn't know what to expect.

The good news, if you've already jumped to present day, is that Odin survived all this and has settled into what seems to be a normal life.

This week I was out at AICM teaching the kids there to melt metal and occasionally get it to stick back together (welding), and since someone had recently decided to donate the money for the school to upgrade its IT infrastructure, I actually had highspeed access out in the dorms. Besides connecting into work and getting some work done, I also checked in with the usual suspects to see what was happening. At least I did with the other webloggers on my list.

The camp had put a web proxy in place (most schools have), and the web proxy had sorted through, finding lots of images featuring large quantities of skin-tones. Deciding to err on the side of caution, bluecoat decided that it was possible that this web site belonged to an altogether different economic sector, one generating large quantities of pictures featuring lots of skin-tone areas. Luckily they supplied a "response" form so that I could inform them that a premature baby in an ICU was not the pr0n they were looking for. sigh

  Cool postcards from reality
Real life is rarely as interesting or colorful as they make it in the movies, but Princeton University has started an annual competition to find those occasional occurances when science intersects art. The winners of the first annual Art of Science competition are facinating, even if the sources are somewhat obscure.

This one reminds me of the colorful bioweapons in the Rock.

  From wayback when
Our highschool reunion is coming up, and while I can't go, they asked for song suggestions. The 80's were pretty good for music (at least I think so), and this was a partial list of songs that were running through my head at the time.
A ha - Take on Me
Art of Noise - Paranoimia ( Max Headroom )
Asia - Don't Cry
Corey Heart - Sunglasses at Night
Cyndi Lauper - girsl just want to have fun
DeBarge - Rhythm Of The Night
Dennis DeYoung - Desert Moon
Dire Straits - Money For Nothing
Don Henley - All She Wants To Do Is Dance
Dream Academy - Life in A Northern Town
Eddy Grant - Romancing The Stone
Elton John - I'm Still Standing
Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams
Foreigner - I Wanna Know What Love Is
Frankie Goes to Hollywood - Relax
Grover Washington Jr & Bill Withers - Just the Two of Us
Huey Lewis & the News - The Power Of Love (from the Back to the Future soundtrack)
Kenny Loggins - Footloose
Jack Wagner - All I Need
Jefferson Starship - We Built This City
John Parr - St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion)
Journey - Faithfully / Separate Ways / Open Arms
Katrina and the waves - Walking on sunshine
Laura Branigan - Gloria
Madonna - Material Girl
Men At Work - Down Under
Mr. Mister - Broken Wings
Michael Jackson - Beat it
Murray Head - One Night In Bangkok
Naked Eyes - Always Something There To Remind Me
Nena - 99 Red Balloons
Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson - Say Say Say
Peter Schilling - Major Tom
Phil Collins - Against All Odds
Pointer Sisters - Jump
Ray Parker, Jr. - Ghostbusters
REO Speedwagon - Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore
Robert Palmer - Addicted To Love
Soft Cell - Tainted Love
Styx - Mr Roboto / Don't Let It End
Survivor - Eye of the Tiger
Taco - Putting on the Ritz
Tears for Fears - Shout
Timbuk 3 - The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades
Toto - Africa
USA for Africa - We Are the World
Van Halen - Jump
Wang Chung - Everytbody Have Fun Tonight
Willie Nelson And Julio Iglesias - To All The Girls I've Loved Before
ZZ Top - Legs
Brings back lots of memories. Some happy, some bittersweet. Being a geek and sixteen is a difficult combination. But I survived.
  Creating yourself, and the trappings of a business
While I sometimes work for other people, I've pretty much kept my original business, Video Bits, going on the side for 17 years now. Its not always been a major concern, but its been open and operating, and that's a pretty remarkable thing.

I don't think the name was the best idea I ever had, but if June Fabrics can sell software for handheld devices, then Video Bits can do whatever it wants.

Mother In Chief was lamenting that she needed business cards now that she's getting back out into the business field. If you're working to re-establish your credibility and quickly build up a client base, then having things like letterhead, business cards, a dedicated line with its own answering machine (not featuring the voice talents of your three year old); and other trappings like that probably help; or if you're like me you can just be stubborn and say the heck with it.

Do you have a business card?
What's your fax number?
don't have one
What's your web site?
don't have one of those either
Do you take credit cards?
How about checks?
well, kind of
Actually, that last one is kind of a grey area. Unless your company is < your name here > Co. , then taking checks made out to the business is one of those things that you should do (like being able to ship Fedex or UPS, or receive email). Actually receiving the check is no problem at all--they put a piece of paper in an envelope and send it to you, you open the envelope and put the piece of paper on your desk. And then you leave it there. But unless you want their accountant to call you up six months later because he still hasn't been able to reconcile the bank statement since you haven't deposited the check, you've got to get a business account set up.

While there are lots of great options for personal accounts, there's just about nothing for business accounts. Banks are still used to charging all kinds of fees for business accounts, and about the best return you can get on your deposit is half a percent for balances over $50,000. Its so bad that I'll go months (and sometimes years) without a business account, just letting infrequent checks pile up on my desk (and dodging the calls from the accountants) until its bad enough that I go through the trouble of opening one up. At one point I had $40,000 in checks sitting on my desk that I was just to lazy to do anything about (I knew if the money was in the bank it would just be easier to spend it, so it was kind of a forced savings strategy, but mostly I didn't want to have to deal with the banks).

In the end I opened up a business savings account at the same internet bank I have a personal checking account, so I can use the web tools to transfer money back and forth between business and personal (thus not needing to have business checks, when your paying bills, vendors don't care who the check is from); but the issue of looking like a real business has become secondary to my reputation of being able to do what I say I can do. Enough people know I can get the job done, that they don't mind that I don't have a business card.

Am I marketing myself effectively this way? No.

But you reach a point where that no longer matters. Where success is defined on your terms, not the world's terms. That was one of the big wins of the dot-com boom: the you're going to give me a million dollars and I'm not even going to wear a tie manifesto. Maybe you have to be a little crazy to fight the trends, but then what fun is there in being normal. So if you're going to get business cards, get them for the joy they bring you. Never do anything because you have to.

  From the net to the phone
While I do use my Treo a lot for the internet when I can stand the wait and even once in a while getting a phone call (how quaint), its killer app is as a media player. The built in apps do fine for playing MP3 (and you can store quite a few of them on a 1GB SD card), and TCPMP does great job playing back movies and tv shows I have saved. But I still had one gap in my coverage: streaming lectures and talks.

I had actually found the solution that could pull the streams and save them locally. Out of the three available options: Real Video, Quicktime and Windows Media; none of these will play on a Palm device, but at least windows media is the least of the three evils on the desktop, so that's what I choose.

I had had to play with oggDrop a few weeks back for work, so I thought I'd see if that could help. Unfortunately it wouldn't take WMA directly (as is the case with most freeware), but I happened to have another piece of software with a more commercial lineage, so I broke out Rad Video Tools.

Since these guys are a game company, they have all the real tools to handle any format, and their converter will handle all kinds of things including WMA sources, and even Quicktime (which is how I ran into them in the first place). So I dropped the WMA files onto it and it spit out a bunch of WAV files. Unfortunately, it wouldn't compress the audio, but I had enough space for the 100MB each one took (about 20:1 expansion over the compressed version). Then I dropped all the WAV onto oggdrop, which was quite happy, and it compressed them down to about 12-15MB each. So while 5MB each would have been better, 11 hours of audio is still only 174MB, which is spare space on a 1GB card after I stuff two 350MB TV shows on it.

While TCPMP does have a vorbis decoder, I hadn't loaded it last time I updated (there's a new update of TCPMP today btw), so I went searching far and wide and found another freeware program from Aerodrome called AeroPlayer. The curious thing about this SW is the player & ogg is free, but Aerodrome charges for mp3 & aac support (which are the formats supported by the builtin player on the Treo for free). Guess it made sense once apon a time, and its perfectly fine for my needs. The only thing left to do was to pick a skin for it since the default look wasn't all that pretty. While the art on some of the skins was pretty wild, I finally settled on winxp just because it used the smallest font.

So after hopping and jumping through a number of different hoops, we're jammin. At least as long as the battery keeps up.

  Strategies of a vetran ebay buyer
I've bought a lot of stuff on ebay, probably more than I should; but with all the things that I've bought, I've found that there are only three strategies that work. Forget the idea of finding an item after doing a search, bidding $5 over the current bid (days before it ends), and waiting to win. This pretty much never works. But really, unless you're just throwing money away, you shouldn't even bid on the first couple items you find. You should just watch.

Different catagories rise and fall. Bulk legos will be going for $6 a pound one month, and $3 a pound a month later. A welding helmet may go for $48 during the week, but only $31 for the one that closes on Sunday. One week there may be only two Miller Maxstars listed, with ten people fighting over them; but the next week there may be five, and you can pick up the beat-up one for $300 less than the ones the week before. So before I even start buying, I just pick out items that seem interesting, and watch them to see what the final price is for them. It doesn't hurt to also go out and price the same things new on froogle or pricegrabber, just to avoid being scammed.

So, now you're ready to bid on some stuff. If you're online a lot, and enjoy the thrill of the hunt, then the first style: sniping, may work for you. Sniping is a term applied to bidders that wait until the last 30 seconds before an auction ends, and then enter in their bid. What's the point? Well, almost nobody bids the highest price they would really pay for something, and if you outbid them earlier, then they have time to consider the item more and maybe raise their bid up further. So sniping is all about hiding one's intentions, and lulling others into undervaluing the item. It takes some work though, to hang around right as the auction is about to end and bid right at the last minute. I'll often intend to bid on something, and pull up the page about ten minutes before the auction ends, only to turn my attention to something else and not remember it tell its already over. You can also get out-sniped by other snipers which is annoying. Still, its a good way to save some money if an item is particularly hot and you have the time.

If your reflexes aren't that good, you can also try scavenging. Scavenging is searching around for an item that is mis-labeled, mis-spelled, mis-classified, poorly described or otherwise not where it should be; so that the competition is greatly reduced (or even non-existent). My first success, was a scavenging operation, where after watching and bidding on a couple dozen hitachi nailers, I saw one listed as a NV 83a (but the picture was clearly a NR 83a). The buyer also didn't post a picture in the index, so only if you went looking at the page would you realize his mistake. Instead of paying $120-150 for the item (which was where all the previous ones ended up), I paid $77. I also scored a $1,500 Miller welder for $425 because absolutely nobody else could find the item (it was listed in "Lawn and Garden") and so I walked away with the opening price. This win was a double success, as it had initially been listed at $500, and I had even considered it at that price, but had forgot to bid on it the first go around, so it was re-listed at a lower price.

Once in a while, I don't have the time to wait three months to find an item. Then, if the dollar amount is not too high, its time to use the third strategy: the slammer. I needed a better saw for cutting logs, as my old $79 dewalt wasn't up to the task. Since I've been using 12" and 15" blades, the straight reciprocating action tends to leave the sawdust in the middle of the log and bog down. They have nice high power orbital action saws at the hardware store, but I wasn't going to pay $200 for one, so I browsed around on ebay for a bit watching the action on the Milwakee's and a few of the less popular brands like hitachi and bosch.

Finally, after a few days, I found the perfect item: a bosch 11amp orbital saw, from a high rated seller, in less than perfect cosmetic condition (a lot of like-new items are bought by dealers or store owners to re-sell, so their prices are generally higher). About a day before closing, I scoped out the competition and placed my bid. The previous bid price was $22, so I bid $48. Turns out I cut it pretty close. The previous bidder had actually bid $32, so the new price settled out at $33 until right at the end of the auction, when a sniper showed up.

This wasn't actually a pro-sniper, because he bid once at $40 (which I trounced), and then he thought about it and bid again at $44 (which I still trounced). If you're going to snipe, the whole concept is to be the last person bidding, so if you want to win, you should bid as high as you're willing to go the first time to avoid the, oops, can I bid again in the remaining 11 seconds before the auction closes? So don't really know if chucklesva would have bid even higher if he had had the time, but in any case, he didn't and so I won.

The new saw is great, and I've cut up two cords of wood with it in about four hours (only breaking one blade). Now I have to split all of it. I wonder how much a log splitter would be ...

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 /

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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