Friday, April 25, 2008

Snow Bunny, Post-Season

Life is funny. I had no thought whatsoever of skiing this year (or any year, really). But peer pressure/family pressure is a strong force, and desiring to spend time with my family, I ended up taking up skiing over the last 6-8 weeks of the ski season. The fact that we had good snow well into April helped, since I didn't even start until March!

Anyway, I found it remarkably fun, and thanks to the magic of friends with cameras, you can even see what I looked like, scooting along the rim of Alpine Bowl at Alpine Meadows. Pretty stylish, huh?

Monday, April 21, 2008

American Political Discourse

It is getting very hard to satirize American politics, but this is a pretty good attempt:

LINCOLN: Ahem, I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect slavery will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you love America this much (extending fingers), this much (extending hands slightly), or thiiiiiis much (extending hands broadly)?

LINCOLN: I think we covered this…

GIBSON: If I may interrupt…

LINCOLN: Please.

GIBSON: I noticed, Mr. Lincoln, that your American flag pin was upside down…

LINCOLN: Yes, the wind caught it. Now, as I was saying...

GIBSON: We get questions about this all the time over at Powerline and on Hannity’s talk show. Mr. Douglas has said this is a major vulnerability for you in the fall. So I’ll ask again – do you love America?

LINCOLN: (scowling with a forced smile). Yes.

GIBSON: If your love for America were ice cream, what flavor would it be?


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Your Assignment for Earth Day

Yes, Earth Day is almost here. It falls on a Tuesday this year, so many folks are observing and acting on it this coming weekend.

One easy thing you can do is read the comics. Jim Toomey, who pens Sherman's Lagoon, is dedicating the current week to shark issues, and this Sunday's strip will be an opportunity for you and yours to get involved. You can see the details here, among other places.

Get the word out. Contact the National Marine Fisheries Service to encourage them to protect sharks. Contact your representatives in Congress to support the Shark Conservation Act of 2008.

Feel Your Arteries Hardening

Words fail me.

OK, one word: YUM.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Slightly Somewhat Positive Whale News (I Think)

Just caught this on Yahoo news. Apparently protesters were able to significantly disrupt Japanese "research" whaling this season:
Japan had aimed to kill 850 minke whales and 50 fin whales on its annual hunt, but the total catch for the year came to 551 minke whales with no fin whales due to a series of offshore protests.
Still a lot of whales killed, but that's about 350 whales that might have died that didn't.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ed Felten on Electronic Voting

OK, one more for today.

Just saw this clip on yesterday's episode of Rocketboom. It's part of an interview with Ed Felten of Princeton University, discussing recent issues with electronic voting machines, including the ways vendors are keeping outside experts such as Felten from testing and validating their machines.

It's short, but interesting. The whole interview is on WhyTuesday's website. Felten mentions that a good site for e-voting info is at VerifiedVoting. But you knew that already, didn't you?

Also, I don't recall whether I've talked/written about Rocketboom before. It's an eclectic little video log ("vlog") from New York City that tends to give a humorous slant to small news stories, but also sometimes slips in a serious report or a weird little "art" video. And they do a great job of keeping one up-to-the-minute with the latest in Internet memes.

Check it out.

Sports Fans Behaving Oddly

As the rest of the family was out of town this week skiing, I got to sit and watch the entire NCAA men's basketball championship game on TV. It was a terrific game, very exciting, sent into overtime by a last-second 3-point shot, and all that. Everything you want in a championship game, and more.

And since one of my good friends who is even more sports-crazed than I am actually attended the University of Kansas (KU) for a time, I had to congratulate him on the victory. All the hoopla around the championship got me to thinking about the legendary chant that KU fans use, "Rock Chalk Jayhawk KU." I've always sort of wondered what it meant, but hadn't gotten around to looking it up.

But someone did it for me, and I stumbled across the explanation today. I am most proud that it was originated by the Science Club. Nerdz Rule!

And I had no idea that the term "jayhawk" was not, in fact, a bird, but an anti-slavery advocate! It's fascinating what you can learn by accident.

This also brings to mind the horror I felt last night at the ballpark when the crowd started doing "the Wave."

I'm not a fan of the Wave. When I go to a game, I go because I want to watch the game, not to watch the other fans. I will admit that when I was in college, the student section at football games used to do a fun kind of vertical version of the Wave, rippling from front to back, rather than around. It was a neat effect. And it's kind of intriguing to me that the origins of the Wave are even more obscure than those of the "Rock Chalk" cheer.

But the fact remains that we don't do the Wave at the Giants' ballpark. In part, that may be because the seats don't really go all the way around the stadium, so you can't really go all the way around with it. And in part, I like to think it's because we're all busy paying attention to the actual game.

Which brings me to last night.

Now, you have to understand that this year is different for the Giants. Before the season even started, they have basically put up a white flag of surrender. This is not a team that is going anywhere soon, at least as regards winning. They score runs at an anemic rate, and although they pitch well enough to keep most games in reach, they just aren't considered good enough to contend for much of anything.

So last night was the smallest crowd in the 8-year history of the ballpark (only about 30,000 fans in a stadium that holds about 42,000). And in the middle of a scoreless game, someone started doing the Wave. It went around twice, then mercifully faded out. It's quite sad and disturbing that this is what we're reduced to.

On the positive side, the Giants played well enough for the second night in a row to win in their last at-bat, in very exciting fashion. No Wave needed for entertainment.

Anyway, I think cheers are much better than Waves.

Random Sock Thoughts

One of the things that became painfully clear (and I mean that literally) as I went skiing a few times over the last month is that the quality of one's ski socks is very important.

Back in the day when I used to ski as a kid, the norm was to wear thick, woolly socks (I had some lovely ones knitted by my mother). Nowadays this has been changed on two fronts: 1) socks are much thinner, allowing for a snug, comfortable boot fit, and 2) synthetic materials that wick moisture away from the body aid in promoting warmth and comfort.

Fair enough. But not all modern ski socks are created equal. Even the thin socks generally provide some ticker padding in the front, where the shin will press on the boot (assuming proper posture). But the size and shape and thickness of that padding makes a lot of difference. For example, I found that my EuroSock Euro Ski socks didn't adequately protect me from pressure (and pain) from the tongue of my rental ski boots. But in the same boots, my SmartWool socks felt just fine. (It didn't help that the second day I wore the Euro Ski socks, I put a hole in them just trying to pull them up.)

So I like the SmartWool socks, but one thing about them worries me: Are they the product of that most dangerous of creatures???

Friday, April 04, 2008

Speaking of "Seasonal Humor"...

I got a good chuckle out of this:
Such structures will figure prominently in the world’s first Rainbow Farm, currently in development and slated for a 2012 grand opening. In other news, the breakthrough promises to balance the world’s economy via an endless supply of leprechaun gold.

Catching Up

I meant to post about this a while ago, but it slipped my mind.

My niece pointed me at this article about e-voting work being done by a professor at a place near and dear to both of our hearts, UC Berkeley.

My favorite quote is this one:
Soon, researchers and hackers discovered that, among other vulnerabilities, voting machines could be opened with ordinary keys from hotel mini-bars, and their vote counts could then be changed undetectably by simply swapping out their memory cards. In other words, any poll worker, driver, night watchman or other individual with unsupervised access to the machines could throw the results of a close election.
But Wagner maintains that there could be a positive outcome, eventually:
“I’m optimistic now,” says Wagner. “Four years ago, secure voting looked hopeless, but more and more states are getting it. Meanwhile, I’m also impressed with all the election officials I’ve worked with; they’re very dedicated and conscientious. There’s no money or fame in being a county elections officer. You do it because you care.”
It matters.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Toiling in Obscurity

As a professional software developer, it is sometimes hard to explain to people just what it is that I do. Although at times I have been able to point to a screen or hand people a disk containing something I've created, I have to admit that the product of my work is somewhat nebulous and ephemeral. At least when I was a tech writer I could point to a set of manuals and say, "I wrote that."

The fact that I was writing manuals to instruct programmers in how to use software tools that enabled them to write other software was a bit murky to many.

Later I was working on software that "explored" networks, cataloging resources (documents, mostly) it found so that one could search for them. Still, pretty obscure, particularly to those who don't actively use computers or who just use them as glorified typewriters.

And now I work in the realm of enterprise middleware, meaning we write software that helps other software share information. Worse yet, I work on the software tools that enables other programmers to configure and program said middleware. So once again, I'm on the obscure edge of a pretty obscure place.

So this morning I found this article from Red Hat:
That got me thinking and sent me to Google to look for a short definition of middleware. I found a lot of them, but they mostly were either too vague or too dependent on the reader already having some knowledge about middleware.
And ultimately, he comes up with this answer:
Middleware is plumbing.
It's a fairly amusing metaphor, which the writer thankfully only extends to input sources (water pipes and faucets), rather than the output system.

In any case, the next time my mother tries to figure out what it is I do, I think I'll tell her I'm a plumber.