Saturday, October 28, 2006

Signal 41

So this afternoon I'm driving back from our men's retreat. As we get close to Florida and Bearss there's an accident with an overturned car. I have no idea how a car managed to flip there, but it did. Even though there's already one engine on the scene, I feel kind of guilty just driving by, especially when I see that they're actively working inside the car. If I had been by myself, I might have pulled over and offered another pair of hands or some muscle. But I didn't. I did however pull out a scanner and listen for a couple of minutes. I heard a heavy rescue unit responding as part of the call. A heavy or technical rescue unit carries lots of tools and supplies for hard extractions. Everything from vehicle entrapments to baby in the well. Then I heard the engine on-scene tell the heavy rescue to downgrade to a non-emergency response. Hmm. Is that good or bad? A couple seconds later, "Driver is signal 41." Dead. Not just dead. Dead in a way that it's obvious that there is no hope left. It was heart-wrenching, knowing that we'd just passed a few dozen feet from someone that had just passed away in the past dozen minutes.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Social Norms

Not too long ago I caught an interesting podcast from NPR's A Moment of Science about social norms (listen to the MP3 here).

Psychologist Robert Chaldini described how there are two types of social norms, descriptive norms and injuctive norms. A descriptive norm informs by way of example or suggests what is commonly done. An injunctive norm directs us toward what ought to be done; toward what is socially approved or disapproved. It all sounds pretty boring and psycho-babblish, but once you understand the implications, it is surprisingly useful.

If I think these norms in the way things are marketed, especially around our church, I can see why many marketing campaigns fail. For example, we regularly tell people that they "should" get involved in a ministry area or a small group. Yet we know for a fact that people almost never get involved in anything because they "should". It's almost always because one or more friends invite them or especially when they see many people that they know getting involved. The "should" is the injunctive norm and just doesn't have much of an impact on people. The "everyone is doing it" is a descriptive norm and is the one that really has an impact.

I can really see the difference when I look at campaigns we've run, even if I just look at what my reaction to them has been. I assure you that when I hear anything like a "you should ..." or "we'd like everyone to ...", I don't respond in any positive way. But when I hear things like "250 members already signed up ...", it really gets my attention. I really didn't make a firm commitment to joining a small group until I realized that most of the guys I knew at church were in one. Whenever someone invites us to an event, we want to know who else is going. I almost skipped my second men's retreat a couple years ago but decided to go after looking at the list of who else was going.

The worst thing we can do, and we've done this repeatedly, is to try to encourage people to go by announcing that not many people have signed up yet. If anything we need to say that we may run out of space.

Friday, October 20, 2006

What's on my Palm?

Palm TreoI've been a big user of PDAs for almost 10 years now, moving from Psions to Windows CE to what is now my third Palm, a Treo 650. I really became a heavy Palm user with my Zire 71.

So what's on my Treo? So much stuff I won't even list it.

In any given week, here is what I might do with my Treo.

Make phone calls. It's at least as good of a cell phone as my last two, getting good coverage and reasonable battery life. The contact management is pretty good and for once I didn't have to spend hours updating my new cell phone with my contact list from my Palm. I'm still not using a Bluetooth headset, mostly because I just don't make that many calls.

Listen to MP3s. I've had a small set of MP3 music on my Palm for a few years now, mostly to use to drown out background noise while I read, work, or study. Now I've expanded that set (thanks to today's huge SD cards) to include more music just for listening or while walking. I've also started loading up podcasts. I mostly listen to them in the car with an FM transmitter, but now I can fire up my Treo and listen to a podcast anywhere. With PocketTunes I can even set a 15 minute sleep timer and fall asleep to some boring NPR show.

Manage my todo list. As I try to follow Getting Things Done, I've been tweaking my Palm's todo list to fit how I work. Now I have several lists for different contexts (Home, Work, Errands and Store plus Waiting For and a general Next Action). By trying really hard to dump random thoughts into there, I'm really getting less surprises and spending less time trying to remember some random thought. If I need dish soap, it goes in the Treo and I forget all about it until I'm at the store.

Calendar. I have a really weak calendar system because it's spread over three systems. I have an Outlook/Exchange system at work which mostly has work stuff and Google Calendar for all my personal stuff plus the rest of my family and other events like football games and Brownies. Since I really don't sync my Treo at all, I don't keep it in synch with either of those calendars, so all that's on my Treo are the important reminders and GTD actions that have a date trigger. Unfortunately, that just isn't working too well. I need to get it synched with at least my Google calendar.

Offline websites. I've got a decent collection of websites that I've packaged using Plucker and Sunrise Desktop. It's great to have MousePlanet on my Palm when we're trying to decide on the fly if a Disney restaurant is worth trying or if at check-in time, it's worth upgrading to a different resort. I also carry Bruce Eckel's Thinking In ... series to constantly keep relearning patterns, Java, C#, C++ etc.

Alarms. I have 2-3 different wakeup alarms and can set it up to let me sleep in on the weekend. I have alarms set to remind me when it's time to wrap up classes so we end on time.

Bible. I use MyBible to carry several different bible translations on my Palm. They now have NIV Study Bible notes and the Life Application Study Bible notes as well as almost every current translation. It's great to be able to flip back and forth between translations and compare. The software also supports hilighting and taking notes but I don't make use of that.

Photo courtesy aditza121

Thursday, October 19, 2006

It took me about 5 exposures, but I finally had to go look and see what this was that I was seeing in yard signs, bumper stickers, etc. I'm not sure why I didn't guess that it was a church, but sure enough, it was. Good hook.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Livin' It with Stephen Baldwin

Salon has an interesting article up now about Stephen Baldwin and his Livin' It ministry. Most of the article is just a recap of his story and what his X-Games style skateboard-themed ministry is like. I got to hear Stephen speak live at the 2005 Contagious Church Conference at our church, so I already knew the background. Somewhere I even have one of his DVDs and get regular mailings from Luis Palau's ministry.

The hook that got me to read the article was Stephen's criticism of Bono in his new book Usual Suspect.

I just watched Bono a couple of months ago in a taped interview at the 2006 Leadership Summit and he blew me away. Bono talked about his faith and how much he doesn't want to be like Christians.

I even felt like Bono was holding back and I really wanted him to speak his mind. Bill Hybels wrapped up the interview by asking Bono if he had anything that he'd really like to say to 15,000 pastors and other leaders around the world. Bono actually looked intimidated and I swear he backed away from what he really wanted to say. I was so hoping that he'd just unload on them -- us.

So back to Stephen and his world view. He apparently criticizes Bono for not being a sold-out gospel-preaching evangelist instead of what he is, which is a rock star. Stephen apparently thinks it's a waste for Bono to campaign for debt relief for Africa. Maybe Baldwin's wife can read him some of the many biblical references about usury. Bono quoted an amazing statistic. Live Aid raised about $250 million, but the same African countries now owe over $250 billion. Their annual debt payments completely dwarf any money we spend on humanitarian aid.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Detour, Week 2

We had our second night of Detour this week. Overall, things went a little smoother, but even the first week wasn't very chaotic. We had a few more kids for homework help and tutoring, which is great. I think that will really continue to grow. I had to fill in again for science and since I had a boy the first week that really wanted to learn about light bulbs, we did light bulbs and electricity this week.

I started with some different batteries and measuring the voltages on them. Then I took a 6 volt bulb and applied the different voltages to it so they could see how bright it was. Then we applied more and more voltage to the bulb until it finally died. It took almost 20 volts from some some pretty high-current sources (a big AGM lead-acid battery and a pack of NiMH rechargeables), but it finally burned out. Then we talked a little about what's inside the light bulb that burned out. One of the kids even beat me to it and told everyone else that there's no air inside the bulb. Then I did the demo that I was worried about. My big lead-acid battery, jumper cables, and some steel wire. I knew I should have put down some foil or something to catch the hot wire, but I didn't. The wire burned to a crisp immediately and fell right on the table-top, melting a nice line into the new table. Did you know that light-colored Formica table-tops have only a thin layer of light material over a dark base? I do now.

Then I went on to talk about different conductors and resistance. The big demo there was dropping some clip leads into a cup of water and adding salt until the light bulb lit. It started sort of cool for the kids, especially since they'd played with chemistry the week before. But then they got a bonus electro-chemistry demonstration as the tin plating dissolved from the anode alligator clip and the water turned an "awesome!" brown color accompanied by a steady stream of bubbles. I knew I'd get a little of that, but I didn't think it would be that much. They thought it was cool.

Then my big finale was passing out little LED keychain lights (RadioShack clearance). We had a little talk about being responsible with lights and electricity, then it was time to go.

We had a somewhat disappointing attendance this week and might have even had a few less kids than the week before. But looking around the room, I could tell that we had a lot of different kids this week than we had last week. Something I've learned is that there's no good way to predict or even understand attendance fluctuations like that. Sometimes we just have a "down" night where even a lot of the regulars miss, and we usually can't explain it.

I'm pretty excited about the future of Detour. We keep hearing great comments from kids and parents and people keep coming up with good ideas for 4-week workshop topics for kids. We've got some really great ones lined up for later in the year, especially in the spring when more teachers can make the commitment.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

GTD: The Next Action

One of the crucial elements of Getting Things Done is getting the right "Next Action". It's amazing how, even for simple projects, we can get the wrong next action.

For months, I've been meaning to but some plastic bins for the kitchen cabinets to hold spices and other stuff on the higher shelves. We have some temporary bins that are a little too big to let the doors close, so I needed to get some different ones. But the job just wasn't getting done. On my "@store" ToDo list on my Treo I have "bins for kitchen cabinets". So early in the week I stop at the selection of plastic bins and I realize I have no idea if what I'm looking at will fit. I'd hoped to find the same bins we already have and just buy something a little smaller, but no luck. So I had to go back to my ToDo list and add "measure cabinets for bins" to my "@home" list. Now that I've got them measured, the project is back on my "at the store" list and should go pretty easy. As long as I can find a ruler in the store...

It was such a simple project, but by getting the right steps down and getting them set up on the right contexts, it all flows smoothly.

Friday, September 29, 2006

GTD: Emptying Your Mind

It's pretty cool how really following Getting Things Done can empty your mind of "open loops". Tomorrow I have to go to the dentist and earlier today I thought of the fact that I don't have my new dental insurance card in my wallet. It was sitting in my home "inbox" which I haven't been very good about processing. So I simply added an alarmed reminder to my Treo to remind me tonight to deal with the new card. Hours later I'm at home and I remembered that I'd set an alarmed reminder, but I sat there and had no idea what I'd set the reminder for. I really couldn't even remember. So I looked up the reminder before it went off and was pretty surprised that I hadn't even thought about the insurance card since I'd put it in my Treo. In the past I would have remembered that several times throughout the day, but probably forgotten it when I got home. I probably would have remembered it while I was in bed about to fall asleep or in the shower in the morning, but then I'd forget again until I got almost to the dentist and had to come back for it. But since I'd captured the task in a reliable system, I could let it completely fall out of my mind and it still got done.

Monday, September 25, 2006

LCD Torture

Several weeks ago I finally made the switch to LCD flat-panel monitors, both at home and at work. Within a week my eyes were doing worse, almost to the point where it was a constant distraction. It's a little hard to understand because even though I used pretty high-quality CRTs with high refresh rates, the LCDs still look significantly better. I took a few steps that reduced my eye strain significantly.

I reduced the contrast. At work my LCD was turned up as bright as it would go, so I reduced the brightness and contrast to just above the point that I thought it was too dark. At home I like to work most of the time without much light in the room, so even though the LCD brightness wasn't cranked way up, it still had a lot of contrast with the rest of the room. So now I try to work with a light on in the room. I'm looking for a small, cool light to put behind my monitor to reduce the contrast with the background.

I also switched my primary text editor, Vim, to a white on black color scheme instead of black on white. I was already using similar white/green/grey on black for all my terminals, 3270 sessions, Windows consoles, etc., but I spend at least half my day staring at Vim. Maybe I need to look at some of the web apps where I spend a lot of time, like Jira, and swap the color scheme on those.

Between those two changes, my eyes feel a lot better now, even though I had to spend even more time working lately.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


We had our first night of Detour last night. It's our new Wednesday night children's ministry at church. It's sort of a cross between our old Pioneer Clubs and WorshipU and is loosely based on the Workshop Wonders book. The kids start with a large group time. Last night we had about 5 middle and senior high youth come and talk about what "responsibility" (our virtue for the month) means to them. In the next few weeks we've got a lot of different guest speakers lined up each time. Then we did some praise and worship music and broke out into our activity groups. This first time we have a Lego builder's club, preschool art, cake decorating, dog training, science lab, homework help, and tech team (the lights, sound system, video, etc.). We didn't have many kids for the homework help, but I know that will pick up in the next few weeks. We have an amazing set of volunteers waiting to help and tutor, so nobody should have to stay home on Wednesday nights because the kids have too much homework.

I had to fill in at the last minute for the science teacher, so we mostly worked with vinegar and baking soda. Most kids past first grade have seen it bubble over and half of the kids had built the typical volcanoes. So I filled up some Ziploc sandwich bags and got them to explode, which was a little more exciting. I didn't get time to find some soap bubbles to try another trick I'd read about online yesterday. You build up a big pool of CO2 in a dishpan or some other tub. Then you blow soap bubbles over it. The CO2 is heaver than room air and tends to stay in the container pretty well. Since the bubbles are filled with room air, they'll float on the CO2 layer instead of sinking. It sounds neat enough that I still want to go back and try it with the kids. Maybe next week, but I think we're going to do electricity, light bulbs, LEDs, etc. Maybe some radio stuff?

Last night went pretty smooth considering that it was the first night. A lot smoother than the first night of Pioneer Club last year. I heard that we got a lot of positive feedback from parents and kids. The new remodelled space for the kids is looking amazing and it's still not quite finished. I really need to get some photos as areas get completed.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Deford: "... we are sinners."

Frank Deford argued in this NPR segment that the government should legalize, regulate, and tax sports gambling. It's an old argument that comes up with regard to vices that laws have failed to stop. What was interesting though was Deford's somewhat different spin on it.
Maybe it's a sin to gamble. Okay. But it's an even greater sin not to accept the fact that we are sinners. The government ought to book that bet.

I thought that was an interesting new-but-old take on this argument.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Getting Things Done

Book CoverI've spent the last few weeks [ok, last few months] reading David Allen's Getting Things Done. It's been on my "should read" list for quite a while. References to Getting Things Done or GTD kept showing up in blogs I'd read or reviews of productivity software. So I finally got around to reading it and implementing at least some of it.

What's so great about GTD? There are essentially two main points. Get everything you need to do out of your head and put it down on paper.

Before I started following this, I can't tell you how many times an hour I'd remember something I needed to do. Sitting in my car on the way home I'd remember things I needed to do at work. Or I'd be in the shower and remember that I needed more gas for the lawnmower. Or at dinner with my family and remember that I needed to buy a new tube of toothpaste. All those little reminders would just float around in my head. Some would make it into my Todo list on my Treo, but not enough. Now whenever I think of anything new I need to get done, it goes into my system. Most of the todo's go into my Treo, organized by context. So when I'm at the computer, I've got a list of emails to send and things to look up. Or when I'm at the hardware store, I've got a shopping list of whatever I've thought of over the past few weeks. Longer-term or bigger things go into a document on my computer for me to plan out the individual actions. Or in a pinch, I write it on an index card or scrap of paper and make sure I get it into my "system" as soon as I can.

The other big idea from GTD is to really figure out the "next action" of your todo items. Like "clean the house" isn't an action. It's a project. A project that'll never get started until you start with an individual action. Listing out the action steps on a project helps a lot. I've always done that for major projects, but I've never considered how not doing that for seeming little things like buying a new digital camera can stall that project. Without discovering actions like "research cameras online" first, that todo would just sit and sit on my list. I'd look at digital cameras whenever I was out, but never get around to making a decision because when I was online, it wouldn't occur to me to look up digital cameras.

There is more to the book than just those two points, but they're the big ones as far as I'm concerned. It's definately worth reading.

Monday, September 11, 2006

MSDN Events

Russ Fustino sent me a reminder about another free Microsoft Developer Network event. I've been to a few and it's always been worth the trip. They're local to almost everywhere. You get to meet a lot of other developers, see some of the newest Microsoft stuff, and usually get some free stuff. In Tampa, ours are usually followed by a "Pub Club" social time where you can really get to meet a lot of other local developers and our local Microsoft guys responsible for the developer community, Russ and
Joe Healy.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Live CDs

I've been using different live CDs for years now, starting with Knoppix. If you've never tried Linux, a live CD makes a great way to give it a spin. The latest DVD-R versions of Knoppix contain almost everything I'd want out of a Linux install, all from a zero-footprint bootable disk.

These days I alternate between Knoppix and Damn Small Linux, depending on what I need from the machine or how old and slow it is. I carry a 1 gig USB key anyways, so I can save off anything I need to keep or work on.

With a mini-CDR of Damn Small Linux, a Linksys WPC-11 wifi card, and my USB key, I can pick up pretty much any old laptop with a CD-ROM drive and boot it up into a useable environment.

Moving In

I'm going to try to move my blog back over to Blogger, now that they've finally made some improvements with their Blogger beta. Maybe I'll pick up the pace a little. I'm importing a few of my postings from my old blog and other places.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Visited States

After seeing this a dozen times, I thought I'd try it. I only marked states where I've actually spent some significant time. I didn't count states where I've just been in an airport or driven through. I also left off any states I visited when I was really little and don't remember the trip.

Create your own visited states map or check out these Google Hacks.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Workload Diversity

In the past few days at work, I've done the following:

* Troubleshot a EBCDIC codepage problem transferring IFS files on a i5 / iSeries / AS/400 machine.
* Built a circular log file tool on a HP (Tandem) Non-Stop Kernel machine.
* Recovered an old UltraSparc machine running Solaris 2.5 for use in some testing.
* Tested and fixed problems in our product on z/OS.
* Troubleshot a problem with our defect tracking web service, which I finally tracked down to a bad ethernet cable to the switch.
* Repaired the wiring for our magnetic lock / keycard door.

If I go back a few weeks, it gets even more diverse:

* Code and test a new release on AIX, Solaris, z/OS, and Windows. (Which also runs on i5, HP-UX, and Linux).
* Tested and supported a stripped-down version of our product on IBM 4690, a point-of-sale system that's sort of cross between CPM and OS/2.
* Troubleshot a problem using an undocumented Windows API on Windows Server 2003, including problems with access rights on domain users.
* Rewrote a major portion of our I/O routines for z/OS.
* Done basic system administration on AIX and Solaris.

Mounting ISO images on Solaris

This week at work I needed to test some of our product CD images before they went out the door. We need to use Rock Ridge extensions to make the long filenames readable on unix. In the distant past we'd physically put the CD's in different unix boxes to test them. Well, now almost all of our unix boxes are at an offsite datacenter, so it's harder to test them. We can't just test on Linux, because it understands Windows-style Joliet extensions just fine.

I found that Solaris has a loopback driver that let me mount the cd image:

mount -F hsfs -o ro `lofiadm -a unix.iso` /mnt/iso

then when you unmount, you have to remember to tear down the loopback device you created:

lofiadm -d unix.iso

Pretty cool.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Title Your PuTTY's

Every day I end up with at least a half-dozen PuTTY sessions open to various unix and other POSIX-ish boxes. By default PuTTY titles each window with the hostname, but when I have multiple sessions to a single box, it's hard to keep them straight. I was happy to see that PuTTY handles the same title escape sequence as xterm, so you can programmatically change the window title from the host you're connected to.

Just set up an alias, function, shell script, .profile, or even your $PROMPT to echo the right sequence and you'll be able to title your windows, whether they're PuTTY sessions, xterms, Gnome terminals, or almost any other Linux terminal session package.

The sequence is: <esc>]0;<title><bel> where <esc> is the escape key, 0 is a zero, <bel> is control-G and <title> is the title you want to set.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Happy Mother's Day

This Mother's Day marks 6 years that we've been coming to Van Dyke United Methodist Church. I never would have guessed I'd still be there 6 years later.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Paying Attention While Driving

We all know that talking on a cell phone while driving reduces your ability to pay attention to the road. The more intense the conversation the less you can focus on the road. Well, today I read in Mind Hacks that the location of sounds really influences our ability to visually focus. If you listen to the radio, especially spoken-word stuff, if the sound comes primarily from rear speakers, your ability to focus in front of you is diminished. Something to try in the car. I know, with two kids, how hard it is to focus on the road when they're talking or screaming behind me. So turn up the radio and set the fade/balance so your aural system is focused where your visual system needs to focus, right in front of you.