Thursday, November 12, 2009

Symmetries on a Trike

My neighbor recently bought one of these:

He probably is literally the only one in the county that owns a Thoroughbred Stallion. I can only imagine the DMV person's response when he went in and said he needed to register his thoroughbred stallion.

Then yesterday I was picking up some oil for my 4-wheeler at a local power sports dealer and saw this on the showroom floor:

That's a Can Am Spyder Roadster.

Ehhh, neither of these are really my thing. Though I grant they're eye catching.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Futility of Eclipse Based Development

I'm a fan of Eclipse when it comes to Java programming -- I've never had a bad experience with it. I'm sure this is due in no small part to the fact that Eclipse is written in Java, and was initially targeted for Java development. ACM Queue magazine (which I highly recommend), when it still did dead tree distribution, had a regular feature called "What's On Your Hard Drive?" In it developer's would briefly list and comment on the development tools they loved, and those they hated. Eclipse would show up on both lists. At the time I'd used Eclipse only for Java development, and had only positive experiences, and so couldn't understand how a developer could find Eclipse so onerous as to be a tool they hated. Heh, not so mysterious any more...

When it comes to utilizing an Eclipse plugin-based application for doing pretty much anything other than Java, I invariably find it monumentally frustrating and soul draining. I'm not exaggerating.

I've used Eclipse-based applications for XML, XSL, modeling, diagramming, report generation, etc. Eclipse is ridiculously brittle--getting a consistent installation of all the application's required plug-ins is so problematic that Eclipse distributions are provided as pre-built bundles so that you can at least have a fighting chance to just get something started. Upgrading to newer versions of plug-ins is a recipe for breakage, and Eclipse is nearly impenetrable when it comes to figuring the cause and fix of any non-trivial problem that arises.

Yet at exhibits you'll see these whiz bang demos of powerful, productivity-enhancing Eclipse plug-in and Rich Client Platform based applications. Makes you just want to go get them and start producing. There's so much power in that platform, and here you're seeing that power being harnessed right in front of your eyes, so what is the problem??

I read an article about "Wolfram Alpha and Hubristic User Interfaces" that concisely makes a point about the the "hubristic UI" of Wolfram Alpha, and that applies equally well to Eclipse:
The actual developers (a) have enormous experience with the hubristic UI, (b) have enormous patience with its flaws, and (c) most important, know how it actually works. So their internal model can be, and typically is, orders of magnitude better than that of any naive user. So the product actually seems to work for them, and does.

I'm not interested in becoming an Eclipse developer, or a plug-in developer. I'm looking for tools to help me do my job. Occasionally I'll still get seduced by the functionality of an Eclipse plug-in and think that may be this time it will be different, and it'll just work as advertised to the point that the platform "disappears" into the background and all I'll need to concern myself with is the task I'm trying to accomplish.

Still getting burned.

Every time.

Monday, August 10, 2009

98% of Human Irrationality Explained

"Why are they doing 'X'?"

"Because they think it causes 'Y'."

"Does it?"


"Then why do they do it?"

"Because they think it does."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Democratic Scandals vs Republican Scandals

I noticed some time ago that there was a distinction in the nature of the scandals American politicians tended to get caught up in that seemed to depend on their party affiliation.

Generally speaking, Democrats have economic fairness as one of their foundational issues. There's a lot of focus on poverty, the minimum wage, unions, the "safety net", and so on.

And so what's often the nature of their scandals? Money-oriented. They take bribes, neglect to pay their own taxes, or don't pay the required taxes for their hired help.

Republicans of course are the "family values" party, with the big emphasis on the moral issues. (You can see this coming, can't you... :-)

Their scandals? Larry Craig, Mark Foley, David Vitter, Ted Haggard, and today's latest addition: conservative GOP governor and (now former) prospective presidential candidate Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

Interesting, eh? Like I said, this is just a general observation, it's easy to find Democrats in sex scandals, and Republicans in financial ones, but there just seems to be a party-dependent bias in the nature of scandals.

Those principles to which a party most strongly clings seem to also be the ones on which their weaker members seem most likely to stumble.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Summary Report of a Speculative Incarceration and Interrogation Experience

Excerpt from "Enhanced Interrogation Orientation":

"Let me start off by saying that we do not torture. We are a civilized, modern nation. I want to make that perfectly clear. We interrogate intensively and relentlessly, but we conform to all Enhanced Interrogation procedures and practices as documented in memos produced as part of the United States government's Bush administration interrogation policy. Again, we do not torture.

"I understand that you claim to know little of the particular American defense program from which we are seeking information, and that you in fact claim to be merely a computer programmer on that project. Our information indicates otherwise, and I caution you that maintaining your claim of only peripheral knowledge of the information we seek will not make things easy for you.

"In the interests of full disclosure of what you can expect, and with the hope that with this knowledge you will quickly realize that providing us with the necessary information will make your time here less onerous, let me provide you with an overview of our enhanced interrogation program.

"You will be questioned intensely and relentlessly. You will be shackled to a chair and/or table and/or floor during these sessions. We have found that the attention of obstinate individuals will sometimes 'drift' and therefore require a "facial slap" to restore their attention. Such slaps would not be sufficient to cause physical harm, and would occur over periods not to exceed 1 hour of every morning interrogation session, one hour of every afternoon interrogation session, one hour of every evening interrogation session, and one hour of every overnight interrogation session.

"If you remain recalcitrant for more than two weeks, we will seek to more fully engage your attention. The way we will do this is by, after having suitably cushioned your neck and collarbone, 'slamming' you into a free-standing wall. This is called 'walling' and can be rather disorienting. Be aware that we do have trained medical and psychological personnel standing by to ensure that no permanent physical or mental damage will result from your interrogation.

"Occasionally we may deprive you of sleep for up to 72 hours as, frankly, the desire to get some Z's has been known to encourage detainees to be more forthcoming with their information.

"We have found some individuals to be especially resistant to the enhanced interrogation techniques I have described--and I do hope you're not one of them--such that we've have to 'take it up to the next level', so to speak.

"If you are one of those obstinate individuals, then to encourage your cooperation you will be stripped and doused with a cold water firehose. Be aware that the force of the water is not sufficient to harm you in any significant way, however it is very uncomfortable, and you will be left to 'air dry'. You will at times be confined within a cramped, dark container box for extended periods of time. During this confinement you will not be allowed to exit, therefore we will provide you with a diaper for your excretory requirements.

"I believe you are familiar with 'waterboarding'. The most obstinate detainees, with the most critically required information, will be subjected to waterboarding. I do wish to inform that you are one of those that possesses such critically required information. So you have been forewarned.

"To summarize, if you continue to refuse to provide the information we require, you will at first be subjected to facial slapping to help maintain your focus on the interrogation. Continued resistance will force the intensity of your interrogation to escalate to 'walling', cold water 'hose downs', prolonged nudity and sleep deprivation and confinement, and eventual waterboarding.

"These practices would then soon be occurring every hour ... of every day ... of every week ... of every month ... of every year that you are in our custody and refusing to provide the information we require.

"These interrogation practices are approved at the highest level of our government, and based on the comprehensive legal analyses undertaken by the United States Department of Justice under former President George W. Bush.

"They do not comprise torture. And they are effective.

"Your first interrogation session begins at 10 am tomorrow morning. Sleep well."

Excerpts from "Diplomatic Executive Summary" regarding release from custody:

"A series of diplomatic negotiations eventually resulted in the release from foreign custody and return to the United States..."

"The time from initial detainment until release into US custody was 19 months, 21 days."

Excerpt from a report provided by a neighbor who unintentionally overheard a conversation between the former detainee and his brother:

"It was the second night after he'd gotten back. There had been all the 'Welcome Home' stuff going on, but it was kept kinda low-key, since that was what they had said would begin to help get him readjusted to being back home quicker.

"So it was late at night, it was warm, and everyone in the house had gone to bed. It was just him and his brother out on the back deck. I was just having a fit of insomnia, and so had been seeing if I couldn't drop off on the lounger on my back porch when I heard them come out.

"They each had a beer or something, and I heard the brother say, 'There's no way I can ever understand what you want through over there, no way in hell. But I want you to know, bro, that I love you, and I will do anything for you. If you need someone to talk to, or cry on the shoulder of, any time day or night, you know who to call. If you need something done, call. If you need me to be somewhere, right then, I will be there.'

"He then leaned back in his chair--I heard it squeak--and said, 'Thank God at least they didn't torture you.'"

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

From Looking for a Landfill to Finding Grass-Roots Weather

On the local news yesterday there was a report of a meeting being held by concerned residents of a very small community about the possibility of a landfill being built near their homes. As I live about 8 miles from this community I took notice. They're talking about the construction of an "inert landfill", meaning that all that's supposed to go into it is stuff like tree branches, cleared brush, and inert construction debris. I was very interested to see just where this potential site was, since they mentioned it was off of a road I take to work each day. But there was no map in any of the reports from the local television news or on-line editions of the newspaper. The only specific location mentioned was that it would be adjacent to a particular subdivision.

So I went to Google to try to find that subdivision. I found some real estate listings for houses for sale in it, but realtors don't like to post addresses in listings any more so I still couldn't get an actual location.

One thing that Google did come up with, though, was a weather report from a weather station located in the subdivision. I thought that somewhat odd, and so followed the link...

And discovered the Weather Underground.

Weather Underground is a commercial weather service that, among other things, collects and distributes weather information acquired by individuals' weather stations that are members of the network. So I checked for my zip code, and boom, there's a weather station located on the same road on which I live not two miles from my house. This is just totally cool.

I checked to see if there were any stations near my parent's home in Minnesota and yep, despite their living in a very small town, someone is running a Weather Underground weather station about three or four miles from their house--through which I discovered they were enjoying sub-zero temperatures this morning (which is a significant factor in my preferring to live in North Alabama rather than anywhere in Minnesota :-).

So I bookmarked my local weather station, and the one near my parents, and was just very pleased to discover that something like this exists.

(As for the landfill, there's still a lot of studies to be done, and so I'll be keeping an eye on it.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Disappointment of Religulous

I Netflixed and watched Bill Maher's Religuous over the weekend--well, watched much of it anyway.

What I anticipated was a snarky skewering of religious ignorance and hypocrisy. What I got was ignorant, shallow, ham-fisted, third-rate insult "comedy".

To me, the intellectual depth of mainstream American conservative evangelicalism can be aptly characterized as "kindergarten-Sunday-school-Jesus-loves-me-this-I-know-for-the-Bible-tells-me-so". Evangelicals don't want to wrestle with any questions, confront any doubts, or go anywhere beyond the shallow depths of Christianity--and always wear water wings.

An incisive, respectful skewering of this shallowness might get some people thinking, and might get some to dig below the surface, deal with some real questions about their faith, and might even enrich their lives by going through such a self-examination.

Just don't count on Religulous inspiring any such introspection.

Two segments in the movie pretty much sum up my annoyance and disappointment with Maher.

In one he's interviewing Francis Collins, the highly respected geneticist who headed up the Human Genome Project, and who is also an evangelical Christian. Maher is questioning him not about evangelical hot-button issues like evolution, or faith vs science, but whether an individual named Jesus ever actually existed in history. He lists some criticisms that undermine the claim that Jesus was a historical person, and then asks Dr. Collins whether, given these criticisms he's just leveled, his belief in the physical, historical existence of Jesus rises above his threshold for scientific truth.

I was a little disappointed in Collins' response, because what he should have said was, "Bill, what an ignorant question, didn't you do any preparation for this interview? Scientific research is performed using the scientific method--observe, hypothesize, experiment, refine theory, repeat--which is wholly inappropriate to the ascertainment of historical events. For historical research you use historical methods, whether you're researching the existence of Jesus, Socrates, King Arthur, William the Conquerer, the Trojan War or the Battle of Hastings. Asking for scientific proof that Jesus lived two thousand years ago is akin to my asking you for scientific proof that you're not a tool."

The second segment was Maher's interview with Vatican astronomer Father George V. Coyne. Father Coyne is well-versed in science and the scientific method, is grounded in the reality that science has illuminated for us, and knows full well--far better than your average evangelical or attack interviewer--when and where to apply the tenets of science and the tenets of faith. He even explicitly describes, and Religulous illustrates with a helpful graphic, that the Bible was written between approximately 2000 BC and 200 AD, while the practice of modern science began in the 1600s. Therefore there is no science in the Bible. Well, this just draws Bill up completely short, he appears to have no idea on how to heap scorn on a religious believer that understands the proper roles of science and faith, and therefore finds them a solid and compatible foundation on which to live, work, and believe.

Gary Thompson's review of Religulous captures my sentiment about this segment, and the disappointment with the movie, really well:
"There is a briefly provocative exchange with a Vatican astronomer, the closest 'Religulous' comes to a fair fight. It's an inconclusive draw, and leaves the viewer wondering how much more interesting the movie might have been had Maher picked on more people his own intellectual size."
That's my problem with this movie, Maher just constantly goes for the cheap shot, the easy snicker, the splicing in a brief shot of campy footage from somewhere to illustrate some Beavis &Butthead grade "irony".

I was very disappointed at the shallowness and ignorance of this movie, the only difference between it and a similar movie made by some college age jerkwad is that Maher had a bigger budget and is far snarkier and quick on the take than almost anyone else.

When Maher goes after the hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness of politics and politicians I'm fine with this approach, they're all down in the mud then. But if you're going to purport to show the ridiculousness of religion, at least take on the varsity squad.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I KNOW what I saw!

Are you sure?

(I'd embed this YouTube video, but its owner isn't allowing that. Whatever.)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Forklift FAIL

Crikey, what happened here????

Let's go back and start from the beginning...

Alright, here it is coming off the truck from the rental place.

Okay, got the pool all strapped up and on the hooks. So far, so good.

Let's start movin'!

Uh, is it supposed to be up on two wheels like that?


Alright, the driver's gotten out...

(N.B.: The photographer did not blithely continue snapping pictures while all this was happening. These photos were taken from the front porch of the house, which is where the phone is, and the driver's co-workers immediately let it be known that there were no serious injuries and so no need to call 911.)

Okay, so now what. Here's a reminder of the current situation:

The forklift (it's actually called a "variable reach forklift") has its boom extended and it has rolled down hill, so it's not like the thing simply has to be rolled back up 90 degrees, it's more like 100+ degrees.

So bring in the rescue rig...

Give it a go and try to pull it back up the hill...

Okay, that's not working so well.

Let's see if we can't raise it up from below.

Okay, getting there...

Chunk! Ahhhhh...

Okay, everybody check it out.

Crap, the operator cage got bent and the boom couldn't get stowed. Well, there's an easy way to fix that.

Mission accomplished!


The forklift operator/pool contractor is fine. He slightly injured his foot, but that was it, and after a Percocet and a good night's sleep, he was back at work the next day.

The crew from United Rentals did an excellent job righting the forklift, they took things slowly and safely, ending up taking about 2 hours to get the forklift back on its wheels. And after letting the oil and whatnot percolate back into everything, the machine started right back up and ran fine.

The pool shell had actually gotten set down in one piece when the operator realized he was starting to lose it, but when he went over the straps--which can support 12 tons, pulled the shell over so bad it cracked on both sides. So we get to try this again in a couple weeks, hopefully with a somewhat better outcome.

Why God Invented Hot Tubs

It's snowing in North Alabama...

30.3 degrees. About an inch on the ground so far. This is actually the most snow we've gotten here in over five years.

Friday, January 30, 2009

What characteristic do you despise?

I got one of those email questionnaires that asks a bunch of questions about yourself that you fill out and then pass on (along with sending a copy back to the originator). Since it came from a friend I was going through it and came to the question, "What characteristic do you despise?".

Easy, I thought, and typed in "Hypocrisy."

But this one kept nagging at me, and just kept pushing its way back into my thoughts.

Okay, so why does part of my brain thinks "hypocrisy" is an inadequate answer?

Well, where does hypocrisy come from?

Self-centeredness, the notion that the whole world revolves around one and that the most important thing to the person is satisfying their own wants and desires. And anything goes in that pursuit, including spouting high-minded ideals if they'll help you get what you want--hence hypocrisy flows from self-centeredness.

But I still wasn't totally convincing myself that was what the characteristic I most despised.

I thought maybe narcissism, but that trait is more personal, being focused entirely on one's self, and so has less of the external effects of other personality defects.

I finally figured it out then. Hubris.

With self-centeredness it's still possible that you might recognize that in pursuit of your own gratification you're screwing over others, but they're just not as important as you are, so them's the breaks.

Hubris, though, is different. It's self-centeredness without the potential for guilt. Because one afflicted with hubris believes that they are always right, in everything, all the time. Any idea or action of theirs is always right, because they thought of it. There's no questioning, no self-doubt. Everything they do is by definition the right thing to do.

This can be highly destructive.

I've known and known of business owners, religious leaders, and governors and presidents afflicted with hubris, and the result has been damage in all scales across the spectrum.

Doubt is an essential component of a personality, the possibility that despite your best efforts you could still be wrong. It tempers one's actions, encourages one to plan contingencies if case things don't work out, and keeps your attention focused on what you're doing.

I'm a self-confident person, a software developer, and I've been very successful at my career over the years. Still, though, a not insignificant part of that success derives from the fact that I'm well aware that I make design and coding mistakes, and so I'm always on the watch for them. (Which led to my "Confessions of a Terrible Programmer".)

Doubt is part-and-parcel of a healthy, self-confident person, and those lacking it, those infused with hubris, can seriously harm those in their sphere of influence. That therefore is the characteristic I most despise.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The "Any Competent Programmer" BS

An columnist wrote an article asking "Why aren't developers interested in Ada", which was pretty good, but the first comment on the article kinda got me going.

Scottish Martin's comments do absolutely make some good points, and I had no quibble with them. He ends his comment, though, with one of my pet peeves: "A professional team can develop quality software whatever the chosen implementation language and toolset." (And that just set me off--though Martin's just in the wrong place at the wrong time. :-)

That statement is analogous to the "Any competent programmer can write good code in any language" trope.

The advocated language could be Ada, Lisp, Haskell, or any of many others that face an uphill struggle for acceptance. The advocacy is dismissed with the claim that programming language choice just doesn't make much difference, and after all, a competent programmer can write quality software in any language.

While this claim about the ability to create good code may be true, it's irrelevant, and is usually thrown in the face of a developer who is advocating the use of a programming language that differs from the corporate herd selection, in order to shut them up, which it too often does. The claim, though, begs the question of how much it costs, in time and money, to develop that quality software using a chosen language and toolset. And whether a different choice could lead to quality software being developed faster and more cheaply, thereby encouraging the creation of even more quality software.

I've argued about this before. Programming language choice does matter, programming toolsets do matter. Programming language and development tools are where the bits hit the hardware, and if you want quality work from a developer, you need to use quality tools.

Seriously, do Indy and Formula One racing mechanics get their tools at WalMart and Harbor Freight? Because "a professional mechanic ..."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Here Reverend, have a seat."

"Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!"

Martin Luther King, Jr. 3 April 1968, Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ Headquarters) Memphis, Tennessee

"I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible."

Barack Hussein Obama, II
44th President of the United States of America