Site Update: Food Photos

That day when I ate at all of the cafeterias at work (a few weeks ago), I brought along a camera, yay! Uhm, but I ran out of batteries early on and I hadn't brought any spares, whoops. So I emerged with only four photos. Ideally, I would have emerged with many many photos and chosen the best four. Ah well. Nevertheless, these photos do bring back memories. I look at them and I feel so full. Then again, maybe that's because I just ate some tamales. And some bread dipped in olive oil. And a couple of carrots.

It's like I'm in training for when the 18th cafeteria comes along.

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Site Update: Contact, Links

I updated the site's Contact and Links pages.

A few months back, Gavin Bell gave a talk at work. He mentioned in passing how various folks are using hCard to say "this web page is about a person" and using XFN to represent the relationships between people. Then he got on to the point of his talk: data-mining social networks. And figuring out how you could use them to get interesting reports on friend activities vs. separate reports for your friend's photos on flickr, status updates on twittr, etc. And the privacy concerns.

As so often happens at these talks, I was surprised by the part that I was supposed to already know. I hadn't heard of hCard nor XFN and the "excitement about microformats" had not yet caught my eye. (Maybe it hadn't caught yours, either. That's why I tried to summarize what each of those formats is for.)

So I set up my home page, contact page, links page, and blog page to point at each other with links that say rel="me". That says, "If you think of a web page as representing a person, then all of these pages represent the same person." (Of course, not all pages represent people--but some do--personal personal home pages, personal blogs, profile pages...) Then I set up some hCard info on my Contact page to say "Yes, indeed, there is a person associated with this cluster of pages." That page now links to some of my profile pages on social networks, each link marked with a rel="me" to say "That's me, too."

My Links page is mostly links to other people. But not all. Can I link to the dog-trainer continuing education page and say "That is Veronica Boutelle."... with a straight face? Not really. Anyhow, I gave some of those links, which were definitely about people a rel="met" tag, meaning "That's a person, and I've met them." For those pages where people gave their names, I also added some hCard information, saying, "This link is to a person named 'Kiem Sie'."

This is, of course, a silly thing to do. A very small fraction of my friends have publicly-visible web presences for which they declare their names. Many of them don't want lots of public "social" information about them out on the net. Some of them have been stalked. Most of this "social" information about people is locked up behind Access Control Lists, and that's probably a good thing.

The hard part about making these relationships visible to computers isn't the data structures, it's the permissions. If I have a private account on two sites and I want to consolidate their information somehow, I'm not likely to convince either site to send information to the other--they're probably competing.

Oh, there's more to say, but I gotta go soon. I guess the short story is:

I've been wasting time with links and social networks.

But the interesting part is that I found out that I know the guy who made the Machinima animation for that "Code Monkey" video. How cool is that?

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Site: Seattle Travelog #13

The exciting news lately is that I've had free time and I've been keeping solid food down. Thus, I've finally put together travel notes from my recent Seattle trip. There are some notes from MS Puzzlehunt 11.0 in there. Plus some photos of the Pier 86 High-speed Grain Terminal. Plus bonus Buffy Night. It's not so coherent. Hey, give me a break, I've been sick.

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Book Report: Dreaming in Code

Tomorrow is Buy Nothing Day, but I'll probably buy some food. Usually, I Buy Nothing for Buy Nothing Day. To make that work, I stock up on food ahead of time. I was going to do that late Wednesday night, but I was sick then. I guess I could have picked up some leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner just now, but I didn't think of it. So I'll buy some food tomorrow. I guess I can make myself feel like less of a consumer whore if I share this book report on a book I got from the library, Dreaming in Code.

It's a book about software projects and where they bog down. Scott Rosenberg hung out with the Chandler Project for a few years and watched them stagger towards creating a working piece of software. He also talks plenty about software projects in general. I get the impression that this book is supposed to be accessible to the layman, sort of a "Soul of the New Machine" for the aughts. I can't tell whether it succeeds--I've been soaking in this stuff for too long to figure out what does or does not make sense to outsiders. But there's plenty in this book that rings true. I've worked with teams who argued about which approach to take--and argued about it longer than it would have taken them to code up both versions and measure which was faster. (On the other hand, you also worry about programmers who just jump in and spend a week coding using some approach which they would have known couldn't possibly work if only they'd talked with someone about it for five minutes.) Anyhow, reading about another project that bogged down... oh, it was kind of sad. Maybe it's a good thing for folks to read when they wonder why the IRS/FAA/etc can't replace its antiquated software.

The best part of this book was a cameo by Ducky Sherwood. Ducky was an intern at my place of employment after the events described in this book. I talked with her at an ice cream social and she was pretty cool. Since she was an intern I didn't think to ask her about her past--all too many interns can only answer "Well, I've been in school, you know?" (Kinda like when I made the mistake of attending my 5th year high school reunion.) But Ducky's actually worked on plenty of projects. Peeking at her web page now, I see that she's working on her MS in computer science, specializing in... programmer productivity. Hmm, maybe she got tired of working on projects that bogged down.

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Book Report: Iron Council

I read a lot on the bus. Today, I didn't take the bus and yet I've been able to get yet more reading in. My secret? I'm staying home today with food poisoning. I'm not trying to read anything too deep; my lack of caffeine isn't helping my concentration.

The book Iron Council is a fun piece of science fiction trash. it features popular uprisings, more than meets the eye, desperate chases across a mysterious and unforgiving landscape, and graffiti fashions which could lead to the downfall of a mighty civilization. You can't go wrong with that. Check it out.

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Book Report: Giant Robot #50

The 50th issue of Giant Robot magazine is pretty wonderful. I especially liked the journalistic integrity of this interview with Jason Shiga about his comic book Bookhunter, which you may recall is awesome.

GR: Is there such a thing as a library detective like the character who appeared in Bookhunter?

JS: While the plot is based on an actual case, the story of Bookhunter is highly fictionalized. There are a lot of boring moments when working at the library, and I often daydream about more exciting library positions while shelving. I decided to structure my daydreams into a book, and ended up having to ask some of my older coworkers about the circulation process in the '70s. It was so much fun doing research, I almost didn't start the book.

GR: So is there really such a thing as a library book detective? I suppose it wouldn't be that much different than a video store detective.

JS: Usually when there's a serious crime, the library will contact local police. What is a video store detective?

GR: Sorry, I made that up.

As for myself, I wonder if the library book detectives had a TV show, would their theme music play during the library's hours of operation? Or would they try to keep quiet? But that's an impossible question to answer.

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Book Report: the Algorithm Design Manual

Stir craziness > geek craziness.

I got a new computer today. I was really excited! But not for the reason you think. Sure, it's a sweet new machine that actually works with my DSL connection, so I no longer have to worry about my dialup going away. But that wasn't the exciting thing. The exciting thing was I'd been waiting around the apartment all day for the courier to deliver this machine. So once I'd received it, I didn't unpack it from the boxes. Instead, I got the hell out of my apartment and went for a walk around the neighborhood. But of course the first thing I did once I got home was unwrap this machine etc etc and now here I am typing on it. So the geek force within me is strong.

I warn you: only computer programmers want to read The Algorithm Design Manual. But they might like it. I liked it.

It's something like a Computer Science 101 textbook and yet I'm glad I read it. It starts out like you'd expect a textbook to. But then chapter 8 comes along. Chapter 8 is a laundry list of computer science problem types with a list of different ways of tackling them. It's kind of like the "Have you tried...?" lists for puzzle hunt nOObs. First your figure out the general class of problem that you're dealing with. Then it has a list of questions to ask yourself about the problem--Is there a logical way to order the data? Are the regions likely to fall in clusters? Sometimes the answer to a question then leads to a way to tackle the problem. Sometimes, answering the question just helps you to understand the problem better. I had quibbles with the way it tries to classify computer science problems, but trying to organize all of computer science into a hierarchy is probably impossible anyhow; no harm done.

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Charitable Giving for People with Tiny Mailboxes

As a bleeding heart tree-hugging liberal dupe of the special interests, I give to many charitable organizations. Then they send me paper mail to let me know what they're doing and to encourage me to give them more money. Meanwhile, my apartment building has teeny-tiny mailboxes. My mailbox often fills up. Once my postal carrier fills my box with urgent bulletins notifying me that some children in far-off lands are still hungry, sometimes s/he notices that there's not enough room for unimportant mail like bills and invoices and so those get returned to sender. It was like a DDoS attack on my physical mailbox. For the last year or so, I've been letting these charitable appeals pile up--so I could count them. I guessed that there were probably just a few places filling up my mailbox with constant mailing.

And that's true. The following organizations, between them, sent me a little bit more than half of the charitable-org mail I received in the last year or so. I want to remember to not send them any more money until I move someplace with a bigger mailbox.

SPLaC List 2007

(I'm calling this list the SPLaC List in honor of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which I gave some money a few years ago and which responded with too much mail. I had a bigger mailbox then, but they still managed to fill it.)

  • Americans United for Separation of Church and State
  • Doctors Without Borders
  • Environmental Defense
  • FINCA International
  • Friends of the San Francisco Public Library
  • Greenpeace
  • Friends of the Urban Forest
  • Glide
  • The Ocean Conservancy
  • Pacific Crest Trail Association
  • People for the American Way
  • Planned Parenthood of North America
  • Project Open Hand
  • Save the Bay
  • Sierra Club
  • United Negro College Fund
  • The Yosemite Fund

I'm not saying that these organizations aren't doing wonderful things. I'm just saying that I'm going to let someone else, someone with a bigger mailbox, support them.

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Book Report: Goodnight, Irene

My internet service provider sent me an interesting email--in a few weeks, they will stop offering dialup service. Yes, my main computer is still on dialup. Stop laughing. It has an ethernet port, but its ethernet controller is some nonstandard thingy built into the motherboard, and I never found a Linux driver for it. A while back, I bought an ethernet card--which didn't fit in this ancient computer's ancient slots. I guess I could have looked around for an ancient ethernet card, but that was starting to sound like effort. But now, now, I am being spurred towards effort. And thinking about dialup. And thinking about the past. Oh, right, I'm supposed to be talking about the past, about "Goodnight Irene", a collection of Carol Lay's old comics.

This comic book is a romance (keep reading!) story about Irene. Irene was raised by a tribe in Africa into body modification, specifically into facial changes, such as lip disks. She comes to America and then the wacky hijinx ensue. Her friends include a bearded woman, Irma from Burma (who's very tall and has neck rings), a Fat Lady, and other, uhm, people of unusual appearance. There is love and betrayal, but it's pretty silly. Just when things have settled down a bit, a facsimile of Strong Bad's head appears. It doesn't make too much sense, but it makes enough. Check it out.

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Book Report: In Search of Stupidity

I'm not working on gPhone the Open Handset Alliance. There were various internal recruiting drives for the project; I slunk away from those, kept my head down. I've worked on some mobile phone platforms. Lately, I've been working on other things. Mobile phones were interesting, but it turns out that these other things are pretty interesting, too. Still, there are memories.

The first of those mobile phone platforms was made by a company called Geoworks. Ah, Geoworks. The name brings back waves of nostalgia. But it's a rue-tinged nostalgia. Like, there's some rue mixed up in that first mobile phone platform. It was pretty advanced, it ran pretty fast, seemed to be engineered better than the competition. But then all of the deals went away. A competitor had turned their platform into a standard which many companies would contribute to--an alliance, as it were. In the end, most of those allies didn't use the software, but it took those allies a while to figure out what they would do, software-wise. Meanwhile, they sure weren't buying Geoworks' software. Eventually, most of those allies fell away from the alliance; Is Nokia the only one left? Anyhow. That alliance was Symbian. Recently the CEO of Symbian was described in the news as not being too worried about the Open Handset Alliance. Was he really being disparaging--or does he know how hard it is to keep an "alliance" of mobile phone companies to cooperate?

Ah, Geoworks nostalgia tinged with rue, woven through with rue.

GEOS didn't start out as mobile phone software. It started as an OS for x86 machines. You know, PCs. Microcomputers. Going up against Microsoft? What could we have been thinking? Which reminds me: I am supposed to be writing this book report on the book In Search of Stupidity. (This might be a good time to mention that my opinions are mine. My opinions are not my employer's. My opinions are not my now-defunct ex-employer's--any of them.)

Joe M. at work recommended this book. It has some fun anecdotes from the early days of microcomputers. Back when PCs were called microcomputers. Back when all PCs were not necessarily called "PCs". Anyhow. I liked it plenty. Then again, I am a geek of a certain age and thus remember some of the products described. The book's theme is marketing blunders. But (as noted in an afternote), it's hard to narrow blame marketing for all of these blunders. In one anecdote, the company fires all of the engineers... and has trouble marketing future updates. Is that bad marketing?

The most flattering part of this book is in the chapter on OS/2. It talks about how plenty of software companies wasted plenty of effort to port their software to this OS... to no benefit because that OS never really took hold. That wasn't the flattering part. What was the flattering part? The book, a book about stupid companies, mentions my old employer Geoworks, but does not call it out as a stupid company. Yay.

At this point, IBM still had the ability to checkmate Microsoft's plans for Windows. One way was to buy a new OS from a company called GeoWorks. The company had developed a highly optimized product with a slick GUI that could run in a small hardware footprint; GeoWorks ran with amazing alacrity even on the original IBM PC. This was the path favored by [IBM's] Desktop Software division.

The book doesn't mention that Geoworks actually worked on implementing the Presentation Manager look and feel on top of GEOS. (I'm probably getting the details wrong there. But we were doing something like that for IBM.) The theme of that chapter in the book is Companies that IBM Tricked Into Wasting Effort on Presentation Manager and OS/2. I think IBM paid us for our work, though. If we were getting paid, that means our effort wasn't wasted, right? I sure hope so. I think the main lesson we learned was: Never work on a project codenamed "Wizard". It's always bad news.

What, the book? You wanted to hear about the book? Oh, the book is good in some places, other places you might want to skim. The best places are the first-person anecdotes. The author, Rick Chapman was employed with some kooky characters at some of these early microcomputer software companies. Reading about them... you just can't look away from the trainwreck.

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Not-exactly Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere

Item: Saturday, I wanted to vote, so I walked through the Haight and down to City Hall. In the Haight, I noticed some young folks in matching t-shirts scurrying around. So I observed and eavesdropped. It was Cal Berkeley students, doing some sort of a hunt. I think it was called something like the "Bear Hunt". But it didn't look puzzly. It looked like they were just getting riddly clues that would point them at some storefront. Bah. I wasn't interested. But there was another batch of students with similar t-shirts close to city hall. Was this a city-wide hunt? I don't know. I kinda stopped paying attention when it looked like there weren't puzzles.

Item: In theory, Ravenchase held a treasure hunt in San Francisco on October 20. I exchanged mail w/someone from Ravenchase a while back--I volunteered to playtest their puzzles for the then-planned SF hunt. And they wrote back. But they didn't write back w/a playtest. And their hunt doesn't seem to have generated any blog items or any entries on their forum.

Item: My challenge for today was nothing to do with puzzles. I ate at 17 cafeterias. That's all of my employer's cafeterias in Mountain View, CA. And then I went back to one of them for dessert. I was done by 1pm, but at least one person was faster than I was.

Item: In hindsight, this blog post doesn't have much substance, not much of interest to most of this blogs' readers. I'm sorry, but I'm really too full to do anything about that now.

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Book Report: Core Memory

I like old computers. This is a book of photos from the Computer History Museum. The photographer, Mark Richards, gave a talk at work a while back. When people asked him how he chose which things to photograph, he said that some was aesthetics--but some was placement of machines within the museum. No-one was going to move one of these devices just so that he could get the photo he wanted. If you've been to the Computer History Museum, you might remember that there are some support columns scattered around that block your view. As a limber human, you can crane around and eventually get the big picture of what something looks like. But the camera doesn't have that option. The photos are stunning; some are on the internet.

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