Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Across the Universe - Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!

I thought I had recovered from this earworm a long time ago, but thanks to my boss, it's back in my head.

I'll be having nightmares about it for the rest of the week. Grrr.

Remove Random High School Chick as a friend?

Gorey Castle - Amazing 3D display

New Xbox 360 controller released

Originally uploaded by Major Nelson
It now has a convertible D-pad, so it works as either a disc-type or plus sign-type button. The only thing I don't like is that the four buttons are not color coded and a lot of people use them by color instead of by the assigned letter.

AutoCAD coming to the Mac for the first time in 18 years, should finally give them the software to design a working antenna

Inkjet plotterImage via WikipediaWanna know how you know you're old? My high school drafting classes were all done with mechanic pencil, on proper paper and drafting tables. Worse, we were the last class in my university to train in paper drafting for our engineering drawing courses, we were the pilot class for ACAD, the next class was 50/50, and the "kids" that arrived two years later did all their coursework in ACAD.

My favorite part was watching people do some sloppy shiat thinking nobody could tell just by looking at the screen. You can easily grade paper drawings by looking at the smoothness of the pencil lines, but on screen all you see is a straight line. The trick is to have the student send the drawing to a pen plotter, if the student did something stupid, it will show up when the pen plotter draws it. For example, curve transitions that are not snapped properly, chamfers, compound curves, or even lines that don't connect properly.

Meet Apertus, The Open Source HD Cinema Camera

This came out yesterday, and got slashdotted this morning: 

Here's what I don't understand: Why are people wasting time and resources reinventing the wheel? Has any of these people looked around and noticed how now every major camera maker in the world has embraced HD video, to the point that it is possible to buy dedicated HD camcorders for around $200? Or how about HD video cameras with vibration control for under $400? Wouldn't this effort be better spent in decent video editing applications that are FOSS?

<HD editing rant>
One constant with all of the HD cameras I have tried over the past two years (Kodak Zi6, Sony DSC W and TX series) is that HD editing sucks when you are constrained to whatever software ships with the camera or can be downloaded for free. And yea, I am including iMovie because it is STUPID how (I can attest to this until at least my switch to Windows 7 last year) that iMovie hides (used to?) the export choices that produce 720p or better. Windows Live Movie Maker is nowhere as refined as iMovie, but if your video is 720p and you click on the Youtube upload, it sends the 720p by default. Oh, and Sony, if our cameras come with AVCHD please give us the proper means to edit AVCHD without killing the machine, thanks. 
</HD editing rant>

I really don't get it. And they can't bitch about these cameras not being professional enough, because at the same time as these affordable HD cameras showed up, all major DSLR platforms started offering really hardcore HD video features, to the point that for the last season of House, MD some scenes were shot with a DSLR. I have also seen shorts shot on DSLRs and they are simply beautiful, you just can't tell how they were shot.

What this is about is software: If the project gets away with it, there is going to be a control suite that is not going to be encumbered by patent issues. If you use a commercial DSLR to shoot video you may need to go through a proprietary control layer that will tie you up to the vendor's solution (read: spend a lot of money), while this project is trying to make sure that everything that goes into it is open.

The sad thing is that the bill of materials for this camera is already crossing the $3000, which is almost enough money to buy an entry level DSLR with a kit lens and a laptop to edit your movies. It won't be perfect, but it will do the job.

Living Colour - Glamour Boys

This is oneof these earworms I never see coming my way. Grrrr.

Monday, August 30, 2010

National Air and Space Museum: How Things Fly

It is amazing how much can be taught without the subject even being able to notice it as a learning experience instead of entertainment. I really liked how the explain the balance between the forces of flight, and more than a bit annoyed that I screwed up and almost couldn't figure out the height puzzle.

Enable GPU Acceleration in Google Chrome 7 (Windows 7)

Chrome 7 allows you to offload processing to your GPU. Since the feature is not ready for primetime, you have to enable it through a command line switch. You can do this easily by making a batch file that calls the following:
C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe -enable-accelerated-compositing
Once you run the batch file, you will be able to go to about:memory and note there is a new memory item called "GPU."

Here's what mine looks like: 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Black Hole

If this was a minigolf hole, you can't reach B from A. Ever.

If this was a room lined with mirrors, and you lit a candle at point A, you can't see it from B, not even reflected. 

Update: I guess I didn't explain this all the way through. You can't reach B from A with just one stroke, there's no direct line between them, and there is no way to bounce the ball (assuming perfect conditions). Thanks to Ben for pointing this obvious error. 

The Geek Alphabet

 If you don't "get" why red shirts are funny, read this

Saw this on Fark.com ...

And had to check for myself because I was almost sure it was a photoshop:

Old pot charge dashes Army dream: Marina recruit deemed unfit due to high school incident - Santa Cruz Sentinel

Fort Gordon, Georgia, 1993Image by pvera via FlickrThis is a pretty good read. People still have this mindset that military service is where you go to when you can't cut it anywhere else and you only expect three warm meals and a cot. This may have been the truth many years ago, but it is nowhere close to reality.

For example, the military is now delaying basic training to some people by up to 14 months. When I enlisted in 1992 my "delayed entry program" lasted about two months. In my case it was simple: they couldn't send me to basic training because I would graduate before my advanced class started, so there was no point in having me pass basic training, only to ride a mop bucket and a lawn mower for a couple months until the next advanced class started. It was a money decision.

People don't understand it is a numbers game. Recruiters are sales people with quotas. Notice in the article a recruiter even uses the phrase "quality numbers." The way the quota is structured, recruiters need to bring in a raw number of recruits, but a percentage of these recruits have to fit into highly technical areas, for example recruiting satellite repairmen is going to be much harder than recruiting for cannon cockers. Recruits that fit into those harder-to-find slots are called quality recruits and are worth more to the recruiter's effort. The same goes for jobs that will require a much higher than usual security clearance. Since they are getting better "quality" numbers, it means that the military is having an easier time finding clearable people and finding smart people to fill in these jobs, so there is less pressure to allow for waivers for things like possession of tiny amounts of pot, or low scores in the ASVAB.  

Imagine that instead of recruiting people to enlist in the military they are loan officers looking for people to give them mortgage loans. If a lot of people with high salaries, excellent credit and low debt ratios are already applying for the mortgages, it lowers the officer's motivation to entertain giving some of these mortgages to people with low wages, high debt and a bad credit history. Think of it as the low hanging fruit

Overview of the Khan Academy Library

I am at a loss for words:
I majored in Mechanical Engineering, which means I took as much advanced math as it was humanly possible without switching my major to Math Nerd. It was a lot of math, and about 99% of it was pretty damn painful, it all hinged on who was teaching the class and having the wrong professor meant a high C at the best (I was VERY lucky, I got some incredible professors too, but there were also a few that were, well, not good).
Now ANYONE can have access to all of this knowledge for free, they are posted on Youtube! These are so good that Bill Gates gave them a shout out, both him and his 11-year old son have been using these for homework.

The Khan Academy is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) and they have produced over 1600 high quality educational videos on Math, Science, Economics and other stuff. Anyone can watch these videos, and they are structured so they can be used as part of a proper curriculum, not just for informal learning.

Third World - Now That We Found Love

Very obscure earworm unless you are at least in your 30s. Amusing if you are over 40 and remember the O'Jays original.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Clients From Hell : The "hand off"

Richard Riehle in Office Space

I have been killing some time by catching up with http://clientsfromhell.net, and I was almost depressed because a lot of the stuff that is supposed to be funny, well, isn't. It is hard to laugh at so many dumb things that I have actually experienced in real life.

Then I saw this one:
Me: “Here are the designs, and, with your approval, we’ll code them and put them up in a couple of days.”
Client: “Why aren’t they up now?”
Me: “We require client approval before we put up the final product, in order to make any changes.”
Client: “I wanted it up yesterday.”
Me: “Well, this is the first time that we’ve had a chance to meet in person and go over the designs.”
Client: “But I wanted it put up yesterday.”
Me: “I had emailed these to you for approval, but you never responded.”
Client: “I thought you would just put it up.”
Me: “Not without your approval, sir.”
Client: “Well, put it up.”
A week later.
Client: “You know what, there are a few changes I need you to make… I can’t believe you put that up.”
This actually happened to us a few times, to the point that we now force ALL of our customers to specifically direct us to update code on a production site. 

We have a hard rule about production services: you will not shut down a server, restart a server, update code, rollback code, change configuration parameters, change database schema, change data-driven configuration data, etc. unless you have written instructions from the customer in the following format:

"Please post/move to production [whatever] to the production environment for [project name] on date such and such."

The whatever is usually an agreed-on unit of work, it could be a full project, or a seasonal promotion, or a bug fix, etc. If we don't get these instructions, we don't touch a production environment. Whenever a new customer is briefed into our process, we explain this to them.

Why? Because when somebody makes a mistake and he/she has to pick between throwing himself under the bus, and throwing a third party employee (you) under the same bus, human nature makes them lean towards throwing you under the bus. The hand off email keeps everyone honest: the customer is giving you specific instructions that cannot be misunderstood, and you are receiving instructions to modify the live environment.

This may not feel like much to open source hippies and people that think that the only thing websites are used for is as blogs, but this is life or death stuff for the other 99% of the work that is run from a website. Imagine a programmer screwing up and posting a new code version to Pay Pal or eBay, without proper permission. Posting the wrong version of one of these sites to the production environment could cost these companies a ton of money, and it could easily cost the programmer's employer a huge lawsuit. 

Imagine the same poor bastard programmer posting the wrong version to the IRS gateway that receives ALL electronic tax filings for the country, on April 13 and the system goes down. Can you imagine the complete and absolute mess that something like this could create? This is why no programming company in its right mind will allow live updates to be posted unless the customer gives them written approval.

If the deployment is still bad, the programming company takes the blame for delivering bad code, but the person at the customer company that handles the project now has to answer to the company as of why the hell the deployment was approved if it was clear that it wasn't ready. 

New Hire

I have hired a new customer support specialist to take care of my weekend "work" calls:

National Geographic Photograph by Christopher Whittier
Be warned that his people skills are a bit raw but I see a lot of potential in conflict resolution. 

Just Where Is The Lincoln Memorial, Anyhow?

Air Transportation ExhibitImage by pvera via Flickr
Slashdot Politics Story | Just Where Is The Lincoln Memorial, Anyhow?: "'Searching Google Maps for the Lincoln Memorial is returning the location of the FDR Memorial instead. Conservative bloggers smell a conspiracy since Glen Beck is holding his 'Restoring Honor' gathering at the Lincoln Memorial tomorrow (August 28). Notes for the map listing on Google state 'This place has unverified edits'; so, did someone claim the listing and edit the location?'"
Let me tell you the extent to which this is simple, pure, unmitigated bullshit: you simply can't get lost looking for the Lincoln Memorial.

Here's Pedro's Guide to Not Getting Lost in DC:

  • Think of the DC Mall as a kite.
  • The kite's long axis is East/West
  • The center of the kite is the Washington Monument, you can't miss the thing, it is the tallest structure in the area.
  • The left corner of the kite is the Lincoln Memorial.
  • The line between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument has the Reflecting Pool and the WWII Memorial.
  • North of the center line, very close to the Lincoln Memorial, is the Vietnam Wall.
  • South of this line, relatively close to the Memorial, is the Korean War Memorial.
  • That big pool of water south of that line is the Tidal Basin, that big round thing by the Tidal Basin is the Jefferson Memorial. That is the South corner of the kite. 
  • Those trees around the Tidal Basin are the cherry trees. During Spring everyone goes batshit because they blossom and the whole thing is covered in white flowers. 
  • Somewhere between the East and South corners of the kite is the FDR Memorial.
  • The North corner of the kite is the White House.
  • The Right corner of the kite is the US Capitol.
  • Most of the important/coolest museums line the Mall between the Washington Monument and the Capitol:
    • If you are a nerd, your best bet is the National Air and Space Museum. It is on the South side of the Mall, pretty close to the Capitol. That's only half of the museum (and just a fraction of their insanely huge collection), you'll have to drive to the Dulles Airport here in North Virginia to see the rest. 
    • The red castle-like structure to the right of the Air & Space is the Smithsonian Castle.
    • The round thing between the Air & Space and the Castle is the Hirshhorn Museum. 
    • If you stay on the South side and keep walking towards the Capitol you'll eventually run into the United States Botanic Garden.
    • There's a ton of cool stuff on the North edge of the Mall, but I am always drawn to Air & Space, I just can't help it. 
  • Keep going past the Capitol and you'll find the Supreme Court, and the Library of Congress. Don't walk past that :-)
There's just an insane amount of stuff to watch. It helps if you like to walk, you are fit and you have hours to burn. Metro rail is not very helpful but it gets you to the strategic portions of the kite. For example, you can get off the train relatively close to the White House, which gives you a mildly downhill walk at least until the Washington Memorial. The Smithsonian station is very convenient to those of us addicted to the Air & Space. 

The most important thing to remember is the kite. If you remember the kite, and what lies at each of the four corners and the center, you'll always know where you are. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dining Critic Tries Nutraloaf, the Prison Food for Misbehaving Inmates

"Inmates at Cook County Jail are allowed three privileges: television, books, and food. The staff has no compunction about denying its most difficult residents either of the first two, but under the Constitution, correctional facilities can’t withhold food. Nothing in the Eighth Amendment, however, says the food has to taste good. “This is not the Four Seasons,” says Tom Dart, the Cook County sheriff. “Inmates who are injuring people in jail will get their nutritional needs met, but we will not cater to their culinary desires.”"
 This is really cool. They came up with a bland meatloaf-like concoction that doesn't taste much but it carries the minimum mandated diet elements you need to stay "healthy." A serving is 1,110 calories, the miscreants in question get two servings of the thing per day. Suing doesn't help much because the "loaf" doesn't taste bad, they mostly complain that it doesn't taste much, and their interpretation is correct: tasty food is not constitutionally guaranteed.

Cheeseburger in Hydrochloric Acid - Periodic Table of Videos

'This one runs on fat & saves you money' by Peter Drew of Adelaide

Spammer recruiters explore the fringe of Internet shock sites

Yup, another spammer recruiter sent me a cold inquiry, this time I sent him to Tub Girl (link goes to the definition of Shock Site, not actual Tub Girl). Please don't try to follow that short URL!

72 Bodies Found On Mexican Ranch | The Onion - America's Finest News Source | American Voices

"How could anyone live in such a place? Why don't they all just move up here?"

Wally isn't a morning person, and neither am I

USB 3.0: Everything You Need to Know

OK, this is both useless and desperate.

Why are we still putting up with this cabling nonsense? Why not develop a secure means of replacing USB with a wireless technology, even if it is even shorter range than Bluetooth? We don't need a new cable that goes 3GB/s because even if we had a device that could use such a connection, or computers can't sustain such a channel for long periods of time. 

Instead we should be able to take a hard disk, pair it with our PC wirelessly, and then it would work at whatever speed, but only as long as the drive was within 3 feet from the PC.

If we do this right, our PC will have one wire coming out of it, the power cord. Control devices should use a slower channel like Bluetooth or 802.11b/g/n, and all data channels should go over this high speed wireless channel. Even the Internet connection! We have had routers with push-button device pairings for a while, I don't see why we can't have it also work over this theoretical channel as long as the PC is within 3 feet from the router, anything higher than that would force it to fall back to WiFi. 

One more USB standard that requires a different cable and connector? We don't need that. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gmail VoIP phone calls work inbound too

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBaseIt wasn't obvious from my first experiments, but the service allows you to receive phone calls, at least as long as you have a Google Voice number assigned. You will need to enable Google Talk in your Google Voice preferences, then you can assign your Google Talk as a target line for your phone contact groups. When I called my Google Voice number from my work phone, I got a pop up in Gmail that let me answer the call.

Pretty damn nifty, and the price is right.

Netflix App Now Available for iPhone and iPod Touch -- LOS GATOS, Calif., Aug. 26 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ --

Oops, there goes my idea to NOT get PJ an iPod Touch. PJ loves using Netflix on his Xbox 360, he is going to go ballistic when I install it in our iPhonepod 3G (iPhone 3G not being used as a phone, but it is still a decent iPod Touch).

Francis Ford Coppola to receive lifetime Oscar

The UglyImage by csullens via Flickr
Eli Wallach as The Ugly in "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly"
Eli Wallach gets one too, about damn time! Too bad the writer of the article was too lazy to check IMDB and figure out that Eli Wallach was also in Coppola's Godfather III, and he stole every damn scene he had. Is it too much to ask reporters to spend a couple of minutes researching the material they are writing about?
When you are reporting on a lifetime achievement award on a 94-year old master character actor with 162 movies to his credit, you could at least bother to list his five most popular films.

Theme of Farktography Contest No. 277: "The Book of Armaments"

My three entries are from my visit to the Pensacola National Naval Aviation Museum (right after 9/11) and a much more recent visit to the Dulles annex of the National Air & Space museum (the Udvar-Hazy center): 
Fat ManImage by pvera via Flickr
Model of the Fat Man nuclear weapon
 Bell AH-1 Cobra
Curtiss P40-E Warhawk
Curtiss P-40E Warhawk, it is painted as "Lope's Hope" in memory of USAAC/USAF pilot and World War II ace, Donald S. Lopez (former Deputy Museum Director at the same museum). At the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Udvar-Hazy Center (The "Dulles Annex").

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

US military's top secret X-37B shuttle 'disappears' for two weeks, changes orbit | News.com.au

X-37B unmanned space shuttle
This is really cool. Instead of trying to build a new shuttle, somebody actually figured out how to take the parts of the process that work (reusable vehicle that is blasted off like a rocket, then glides down like a plane) and made it smaller (read: cheaper) and unmanned. They also added some interesting capabilities, like the way it scoots in and out of the atmosphere to switch directions, which totally screws with anyone that is relying on basic orbital tracking calculations to figure out where it should be.

Google enters the phone business ... well, it tried to

Hours since it was leaked that Google is working on providing free VoIP calls from within Gmail, Gtalk and Google Voice, I got a pop up in my Gmail asking me to install a plugin, and then it showed me this:
 That's the good news. The bad news is that it froze both Chrome and IE. I didn't even bother trying it in Firefox. I did manage to make two of our phones ring, but that's about it. I have a very fast dual core laptop on Windows 7-64, and everything ground to a halt every time I tried to place a phone call.
I bet somebody screwed up and let too many people start using the service at the same time. As a norm Google services are released in a staggered fashion, but this just came up and I am sure I can't be the only one having trouble with this. 
That said, it is interesting the timing of this release when the people that make the Magic Jack promised a free VoIP service two weeks ago and is already late by close to a week. I guess we'll see about that ...

UPDATE: I tried it from Ivette's laptop, which is not as powerful as mine, and hers (also Windows 7-64) worked fine. I guess I have a problem with my audio drivers.
UPDATE 2: I had a problem with my audio drivers, it works really damn nice. 

A little bit of moral support for my coworkers ...

They are fighting a lot of DERP today, so this is to cheer them up a little bit: 

Iron Maiden - Twilight Zone (with lyrics)

Not the most annoying earworm by a mile, but I can't get it out of my head. Worse, with my bad luck I'll end up rick rolling myself.

Every time I work on web banner changes ...

Fred Gwinne as Herman Munster
I feel like Dr. Frankenstein, and my monster is not very scary and more than a bit goofy-looking. And every time the customer bounces back the image with even more changes I imagine her (the customer, not my PM) as Rennfield (yea, I know, different story) as the one asking for the changes:

Tom Waits as Rennfield
"Master, Master, please move the Chinese text a tad more to the right, and make the chain logo a tiny bit smaller and move the ball with the other text to the other side of the kid with his head's chopped off..."
And yea, I just described word-for-word something I just did to a banner. 

The Programmer Hierarchy

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

photoopa's laser-triggered photo rig

Originally uploaded by fotoopa
This is photoopa's homebuilt rig, which uses lasers to trigger the shutter on the Nikon DSLR.

IMG_5198 monarchvlinder (Danaus plexippus)

This was shot by the "Photo Grandpa" (his nickname in Dutch is "fotoopa"), a Belgian that likes to shoot Macro with a rig that he designed and built to add laser triggers to his NIkon DSLR. The butterfly is a Monarch (Danaeus plexippus).

Billy Joel - Pressure

Not a fun day at the office.

Have You Seen This Flier


Recruiter Spammer strikes again

The spamming recruiter didn't budge after our previous encounter, he just sent me a new cold inquiry. Here's my reply: Please don't try to go to that link, it is worse than Lemon Party.