Python Challenge

I have a learning disability: I can’t learn things for the sake of learning them; that is I learn by doing, and in order to do something, I need something to do. Since I don’t have enough time to bite off any medium or large scale project right now between work, school and “life”, the Python Challenge is really neat way for me to dabble in learning more python.

Its a series of puzzles solvable using Python (or I suppose almost any language or tool set), but they are as much about solving riddles as the programming itself. I’m only on puzzle 4 or 5 out of 33, so there’s plenty to look forward to.

Corporate Blogging, Problems With

There’s much ado about the value of blogging in the corporation – and I like the idea in principle- and miss the blogs inside IBM that let me hear about what is going on all over the company because there’s apparently no such system at {new company}.

I’ll start by saying it’s clear that the First Ammendment doesn’t apply for corporate communications.

A few months ago I had a run in with my old management chain at IBM in which I wrote on an internal blog about a guerilla effort I undertook with a colleague to improve part of the product we worked on, which ultimately succeeded when I showed that a work estimate (apparently attempting to kill our initiative) of a couple weeks was really more like several hours.

I recieved not one, but two, shoot from the hip emails (one sentence each, like 40 minutes apart) from a certain second line manager critical of a minor detail of the post I made which were just splitting hairs. I invited him to point out clearly where by post violated the corporate blogging guidelines, and recieved a response of indirect pressure through a friend who worked there that “hr was reading my blog” and I “could be terminated for my post” or just that “.” Ultimately I took the post down rather than have to hear about it anymore. *(Note this was against the backdrop of being in the process of being laid off)*

Then I hear about some folks who were scolded by their management chains for posting critiques of corporate initiatives.

It’s clear that people are most sensitive to information that comes the closest to the truth. If one reports manager X has three hands, he or she won’t be all that bothered, but if one puts up thoughtful (emperor has no clothes-style) critique of some straw-man corporate effort with executive-attracting glitter and little substance, then suddenly the claws come out.

Now that’s its easy to make public knowledge of ridiculous management antics, or critique weak proposals, one of two things could happen – a) don’t do or propose dumb things (or accept thoughtful criticism gracefully) b) come down hard on people who criticize those things.

Which one do you think will happen?

Orange Juice Adulteration: An Investigative Report

The other day I’m drinking a Tropicana “100% Juice” Orange Juice, and happened to glance at the Ingredients:

100% Pure orange juice from concentrate (filtered water and concentrated orange juice) and Natural flavors*.
*Ingredient not found in regular orange juice

Now I’m wondering – what are these “natural flavors” that are different than “orange juice flavor” – luckily for all of us there’s a helpful 1800 number on the label! So I call, and ask, what’s with these extra flavors? The helpful woman asks if I have any food allergies that I’m worried about. I say no, I just want to know if some natural “dirt”, “asphalt” or “squirrel” flavor was lurking in my OJ. I authenticate as a non-prank caller by reading her my UPC Code, and then the answer is revealed:

The “natural flavors” are oils extracted from the orange peel/rind and added back to the juice.

Just today it occurs to me a followup question: if these flavors are “not found in regular orange juice”, how can they call it 100% juice?

Wasted days – ugh!

I’d rather be programming than trying to make an application work – I hate losing days to trying to figure out why some fairly opaque application (or worse a group of them trying to interact) is not working – shutdown the server, change a config file, start up again and see if that mattered. Repeat until my brain feels squishy and I want to just curl up and take a nap. I’d feel better after programming for 20 hours than i do after having issues making something work that i need to test.

The future is scripting and templating

I was *really* impressed with the Turbo gears 20 minute wiki screencast. (eventually I’ll get around to checking out the Ruby on Rails screencast as well, though I’m sure it kicks a similar magnitude of ass.)

In 20 minutes, the screencaster (Kevin Dangoor) builds a simple wiki using a object-relational mapping library and a templating library, and even throws in some AJAX-like functionality into the client (which works in no time because the data to be displayed is already in a dictionary, ready to be rendered in any format)

Anyone doing development for the web should think twice about bringing the slow, expensive and overly complex J2ee stack to the party. Complexity is not a virtue.
One couldn’t get but a tiny fraction of the amount of work done in 20 minutes with J2EE. So why is the software industry so wedded to the Java train?

Public Radio Podcasts: or lack thereof

I’ve never thought much about podcasts – why do I want to listen to some pimply-faced nerd’s heavy breathing over his thoughts on Magic The Gathering? *Until Now…*

One thing (ok, the only thing) I miss about not driving to and from work is listening to the radio, specifically the news in the form of MarketPlace Money. Without a portable radio, and with a good chance of being underground on a train that time of day I’m pretty much out of luck – enter the podcast!

But wait, even though I can stream the show live when its on WBUR, or anytime from the marketplace website, they don’t offer podcasts. I can listen to the show anytime, anywhere there’s internet for free, but if I want to download the show to place and time-shift **offline** I am asked to fork over some money. It would cost them nothing extra (as in close to zero marginal cost) to get a small script written that will generate a podcast XML file and provide that file along with an MP3 of the show (at a negligable bandwith difference over streaming) .
I’m all for public radio making enough money to continue production, but it doesn’t ring true that podcasts are more expensive than streaming- especially since real audio server probably costs money, and none of the tools for podcasting have to.

Fortunately its pretty easy to record the realaudio stream to an MP3 and create an XML wrapper, and I can have my damn podcasts. (Unfortunately they don’t stream any faster than real time when recorded) Fair use? Isn’t it the same as if I recorded it off the radio directly?

Is the fee for podcasts just a tax on lack of scripting savvy?

Toby Lightman mini-show at the head of the charles

I first discovered Toby Lightman by randomly wandering around Music Midtown a year and a half, killing time before the next show I planned to see. She’s captivated the crowd with her fantastic voice, great songs and some fun covers – that’s a really long prelude to say I saw her again yesterday making the most of a cold and blustery mid-afternoon set at the Head of the Charles regatta, which I wouldn’t go to if not for the entertainment and people-watching, because as far as I’m concerned, if you’ve seen one boat row by, you’ve seen ’em all. I think she’s better live than on her album.. I wish I’d thought to bring her CD to get it autographed!

Apparently its ok to kill people if you’re old

Boy, I can’t wait until I’m 93 years old. Apparently in Florida, they not only let 93 year olds with dementia drive, but don’t charge them with a crime if they happen to say, kill someone while driving around, then drive around for another 3 miles with a the body of their victim in their windshield. I don’t know anything about dementia, but how can you forget a **corpse in your windshield**? Wouldn’t that tend to block the view a bit? See AP story on cnn.

States seem to have thoroughly cracked down on teen/inexperienced driving with various graduated licenses, isn’t it high time we started requiring frequent (every year or two) relicensing above a certain age?

Managing Interruptions

The field of HCI known as Considerate Computing or Interruption Management appears to be taking off, shoving its way into widespread consciousness in the form of a New York Times Magazine article “Meet the Life Hackers” and a follow up segment on NPR’s Day to Day (Thanks to Frank)

One can find a slightly deeper overview of the field of considerate computing in here [Warning: PDF] , published January 2005 in Scientific American.

This is a fascinating area of study (for me at least) and its really just in its infancy – computers have finally gotten so powerful that there are lots of left over cycles to make users come first, and taming the information firehose that was enabled by computers in the first place. The foundational studies of just how much interruptions affect users accomplishing their primary task were published in 2002. One study [(McFarlane, 2002) ]( of a set of users playing an interactive game interrupted by a dialog posing simple questions showed a 36% decrease in accurate game play, and 70% decrease in accurately handling the interrupting dialog.

I wrote a paper surveying some of the basic research in the field, as well as focused on managing person-to-person remote-collaboration interruptions in the spring for my HCI (Comp 171) class at Tufts if you’re interested.

The best resource I know of for material in this area is which has PDF available of much of the important research in the field, including the two “foundational sources”, one of which I referenced above.

Truth in Advertising: A Tale of Two Bags

What does resealable mean to you? To me, it means a container that has some mechanism for resealing the container – for a jar, that might be a lid, and for a bag, I’d go with some zip-lock mechanism. Perhaps even a little patch of adhesive could make a bag pass as faux-resealable.

The box of Sunmaid raisins on my desk at work has neither, yet the box proudly boasts of “resealable bag inside”. The bag is no more resealable than any other zipper less bag – that is to say it isn’t. Kristi points out this is a step in resealability from the previous “raisins loose in a cardboard box” configuration, but I’m not buying it.

On the other hand, I bought a 6-pack of champion socks in a bag that boasts of its resealability, and comes with a ziplock!

So I can have my socks never lose that new-sock smell, and stale, maggoty raisins. Because no one likes stale socks.

You can’t make this stuff up.