Monday, March 31, 2008

Louise's Secret to Success | Dr. Joe Vitale at Zero

Louise's Secret to Success | Dr. Joe Vitale at Zero: "Louise is one of those angelic souls who believed in me before I believed in myself."

Everyone deserves someone like Louise.

Seth's Blog: Getting vs. Taking

Seth's Blog: Getting vs. Taking: "They wait for the teacher (hopefully a great one) to give them something of value.

Many employees do the same thing at work. They wait for a boss (hopefully a great one) to give them responsibility or authority or experiences that add up to a career."

Are you waiting for something to happen?

I've been doing that too much. I need to make something-anything- happen.

Today has been a high energy day. I hope it lasts.

The business of parenting (

The business of parenting ( "It's difficult not to feel incredibly manipulated by the Wall of Death. You know deep down that it's ridiculous; your parents didn't have any of this crap and you turned out fine. But then the what-ifs start gnawing away at your still-shaky confidence as a new parent. Our encounter with the Wall paralyzed us, and with the exception of those plastic wall outlet plugs, we've punted on baby proofing for now. We're letting Ollie show us where all the problem areas are before committing to any white plastic solutions."

You know they never tell you to baby proof the undersides of the vent covers that are in the floor. That was the only thing ur daughter actually hurt herself on in our home. She was getting the hang of walking and found her way behind the sofa to one of the floor vents, she pulled it up and stepped on it, cutting her big toe. It ended up requiring stitches.

For the most part she is a good kid that doesn't get into things too much. Though we are careful to keep the chemicals up and out of the way. Simple toys are best. Right now she is into dolls but we did also play with LEGO, okay it was the princess set but that works too.

Simple puzzles are fun too, though it is really hard to find some in the 50-75 piece range.

Managing the Wrong Numbers

Lawmakers Look To Set Cap On Solar Panel Fees - Denver News Story - KMGH Denver: "'Solar is a borderline efficient technology. Adding unreasonable costs stretches out the payback period beyond what makes economic sense,' he said."

The first question that pops out of people's mouths when you start talking about solar power is "What's the payback period?" It is like the homeschooling questions, "What about their socialization?" They are nonsense questions, they have nothing to do with the matter at hand. You would never ask that question about a new refrigerator or SUV, now, would you?

The funniest things I ever see after a blizzard around here are all the 4x4s cruisin' around in the snow, because they finally have a chance to justify the reason they bought the thing in the first place. "But we can use it to drive in the snow." The best one was the one guy who got his truck out of the driveway and ended up blocking the road for an hour because he couldn't get any farther. He eventually drove it right back into the garage and shut the door behind him.

A solar electric system costs about as much as a new SUV (~$32,000) but with rebates and credits it can be brought down to about $12,000 a new small car. Not an unreasonable amount for some budgets.

The real question isn't how big a system you should get. At the least it should cover the basics like frig, freezer, furnace, sump pump, some lights and a laptop computer.

The real question is how to setup a good loan system to make it easier to pay for. You still seem to have to go and get a regular bank loan rather then something simple like an auto loan. I am not a finance guy so I have no ideas what all the rules and laws are around this but it would seem to me to make more sense creating an auto loan type system to make it easier for people to buy.

The hardest part about getting a solar power system isn't the parts and construction but getting the money. Solve that problem and more people will go for it.

The Tyranny of Car Options

U.S. car companies go back to black
| Business
| Reuters
: "Ford's chief of marketing, Jim Farley, who was hired away from Toyota Motor Co (7203.T: Quote, Profile, Research) last year, said he was stunned to find that Ford was offering 100,000 combinations of options on its entry-level Focus sedan. Some 80 percent of Ford's sales came from just 4,000 of those combinations, he said.

In response, Ford has cut complexity by reducing the number of 'buildable combinations' of the 2008 Focus by 99 percent. On the 2008 Expedition, it has cut combinations by 95 percent."

Years ago when my wife's dad still worked at Ford he was frustrated by the fact they didn't really know how much it had cost to produce and market a car when it was driven off the lot by a customer.

When we were looking at new cars it was also frustrating to ask the dealer about the availability of a car with all the extra safety options and they would have to call all over the state to find out if they had it and then find out they didn't have one in the entire state, but there was one that had all but one of the extra safety options and another with all but two. We were astonished, why would they do that? For entertainment options we could see going al a-carte but extra safety options you would think would be all or nothing, either you wanted them all or not.

Dell has built its business on mass customization, you order exactly what you want and they build and ship it to you, fast.

Apple strives for Less is More philosophy, it builds what it believes to be a small set of nearly prefect products. They have 2-3 option packages for each of their product lines.

The car manufactures have chosen the worst possible combination. Mass customization without the ability to order what you want. So they have all the complexity without the customer satisfaction.

It looks like the car manufacturers are choosing the Apple route. Fewer options combined into rational option sets. I think that is a great idea. Most people don't really care all that much about the car they buy, as long as it does what they need and looks good doing it.

It would be great to have the question, "What are you looking for your car to do for you?" be the starting point rather then "How can I help you today?"

That said, with most manufactures going this route, that means that there is an opening for one that goes the Dell route and allows you to order exactly that car you want.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Keeping Spring Cleaning Sane

You know its bad when the broom and the vacuum break in the same week, just as you begin spring cleaning.

At this point spring cleaning is not a huge, do-everything-in-one-week job. It is going to take a while, because we are keeping it down to reasonable chunks without exhausting ourselves.

We are focusing on just one task a day, not a whole room. We've already done the freezer and the refrigerator, and the living room furniture.

Doing one room at a time sounds reasonable but often there just isn't the time or energy to do that. The living room may be easy enough: pushing all the furniture into the center of the room and vacuuming the edges and the cushions and putting things back.

On the other hand, the kitchen is more easily done one or two cabinets at a time. Mainly because of moving everything to the kitchen table cleaning the cabinet and the stuff and putting it back in. We still haven't found a really good solution to how our stuff should be arranged so we move things around from time to time. After three tries I am getting less hopeful about finding a better then barely adequate solution.

But then some rooms are all-or-nothing, like the bathroom, you really have to clean the whole thing in one shot or you end up doing it all over again anyway.

It is also time to fix things that can be fixed and just do it and get it out of the way. At this point if I find something broken and is not worth fixing it is time to toss/recycle, if it is mostly used and we haven't used it in recent memory we'll toss it too. A box for the truck of the car is in the living room

For things that work and that we haven't used in a while: a donate/sell box is in the living room. When we get to the closet and dressers that will get filled up and get put in the trunk of the car as it fills up.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Business paradoxes and blaming the schools

AT&T CEO says hard to find skilled U.S. workers - Yahoo! News: "'We're having trouble finding the numbers that we need with the skills that are required to do these jobs,' AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson told a business group in San Antonio, where the company's headquarters is located."

I know too many people who can't seem to get a good job anymore. They can't break past the gatekeepers.

The real problem he and a lot of other businesses are facing is a paradox. On the one hand his HR department is busy looking for ways to exclude a candidate, if it is not a 100% match they toss it. Well, I can understand that, they are probably like every other huge one, they get so many resumes a week they have no way of handling the information overload. A couple of large companies here in Denver get 4 feet of resumes every week, at least one of them recycles the pile.

So looking for a perfect match is not bad idea in itself. It is just that most people have an understanding of what they and their friends are worth. Often the salary offered is nothing like the value given so no deal is made and you end up with people who padded their resumes and can't do the work or people who can do the work and are desperate but who will jump ship as soon as they can, they are often told they are "overqualified."

In-house HR depts are very good at not hiring. I went to the AT&T site but it was so slow I couldn't have applied even if I found something. That is one of the reasons they go to headhunters, and that has it's own set of problems.

The outsourcers, on the other hand, the companies who big companies hire to actually run the off shore setup, just want body counts. Anyone that can even vaguely speak English is welcome, quickly trained and let loose on the phones. And offering a wage that is upper-middle class draws plenty of potential employees.

He's talking about customer service jobs, you know the kind where a huge shift of people sit along long tables and answer questions on the phone all day. All it really needs is basic literacy and computing skills. None of these are skills that would take more then two weeks to teach even to a dropout as long as they could read oven if slowly. Though if they are still using legacy apps to run their business the big bottleneck is an insane interface not the person as such. I worked in a place like that. We had to run two old DOS programs at once to field a single call. They were trying to update to a more modern app, but that interface design was even worse.

There are multiple problems going on here and blaming the schools is just a cop out. Maybe he should try applying to his own company and see what happens. He would be very surprised. He probably wouldn't even get one of those "We'll keep your resume on file for six months" letters.

From Jerry Pournelle

Saturday, March 22, 2008

How to Setup Time Machine on an Airport Extreme Basestation

Apple has updated the firmware on the Airport Extreme Base Station so we can use Time Machine now. This is a great thing as now we won't have to remember to pull in the external disk every so often. Though time Machine is smart enough to tell you it has been 10 days or 20 or more days since the last backup.

I will assume you have a Leopard Mac with all the latest updates (10.5.2), an Airport Extreme Base Station (Gigabit Ethernet) also with the latest firmware (7.3.1) and an external USB 2.0 disk at least as big as your internal disk, bigger is better however.

Preparing the Disk

The first thing you need to do is prepare the disk. I'll assume it is a new disk with no files on it. Pull it directly into your computer first and fire up Disk Utility. Select the disk from the left hand pane and in the left pane choose Partition. Select 1 Partition from the Volume Scheme and under Options... choose GUID Partition Table. Press OK. Finally under Volume Information give it a name and most importantly set the format to Mac OS Extended (Journaled).
Click Apply and let it do it's thing. Once it is done you can unmount the disk and plug it into the Base Station. Sadly, we can't do a Time Machine backup and then move it to the AEBS, so we have to do it this way.

Setting Up the AirPort Extreme Base Station

Open up AirPort Utility and click on Manual Setup and select Disks. Go to the File Sharing tab and make sure Enable file sharing is checked. I would also recommend securing your shared disk with a password or some kind.
You won't be able to use that disk for windows file sharing as it is not FAT but, then Time Machine wouldn't work if you did.
Hit Update and wait for your Base Station to restart.

In a Finder window connect to the AirDisk under the Shared items in the sidebar. You may have to login by clicking on Connect As... and entering your password, that may not be obvious but it is an important step.

Starting Backups

I would recommend connecting to your AEBS with an ethernet cable for the first backup as Time Machine will be backing up everything and it will take a lot less time over ethernet compared to WiFi.

Open the Time Machine preferences in system preferences and make sure it is on and then select Change Disk and click on the AirDisk. It will start preparing the disk and it will take quite sometime to do the first backup, so it is best to do this before bed so it has plenty of time to do it's thing. It took mine 10 hours to do 150GB, just to give you an idea of how long it will take. After the first one it the hourly ones won't take nearly as long as they are much smaller. You just need to make sure that the AirDisk is mounted.

Moving iTunes Off of Your Computer

You can also use the same technique to move your iTunes library off of your computer and onto a sufficiently large AirDisk.
Making sure you are connected to the AirDisk as above, you can go into iTunes preferences and under Advanced change the iTunes Music folder location to the AirDisk. I would also recommend activating Keep iTunes Music Organized and Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library.
Then actually move all of the tracks you need to go to the Advanced Menu and click on Consolidate Library. This is move all your tracks onto the AirDisk. If you have a big library it will take some time, so hooking up via ethernet is a good idea. You might want to let all this run over the weekend.
If you are away from your network and download more music, video or podcasts, iTunes is smart enough to save them to your local Music folder, to add them to your main library all you need to do is run the Consolidate Library command again.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke dies aged 90 - Times Online

Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke dies aged 90 - Times Online: "The visionary author of more than 70 books, who was nominated for a Nobel Prize after predicting the existence of satellites, was most famous for his short story 'The Sentinel', which was expanded into the novel that was later adapted for Stanley Kubrick's film '2001: A Space Odyssey'."

He was one of the first authors to get me into reading along with Asimov. Some of the science has been superseded by things we've learned about the universe but the stories themselves are still strong and good.

Comcast troubles

Yesterday afternoon a cable was broken in our neighborhood and now it is challenging getting on the 'net. It might be a few days before things are resolved.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Somethings can't be explained in objective terms, you need to experience them for yourself

Mind Hacks: A stroke of insight

I watched this mainly because my mother had a stroke and was disabled by it until her death.

But what grabbed me completely was how similar what she experienced was to something I experienced. My wife and I were almost killed, and our unborn daughter was killed, by a drunk driver. We experienced 11 on the pain scale, and endured months of grueling physical and occupational therapy.

I came up with all kinds of very creative ways to deal with the drunk who did this to us, even though he had died on scene, believe me we engineers can be very creative when we want to be.

But finally came the day when I forgave him of what he had done to us, why because it was the right thing to do an something the Lord has commanded of us. The result was beyond anything I could have expected, the power that enveloped me filled me with a love for all people that seemed to fill the whole earth and beyond.

It was truly incredible. She experienced something similar.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pi Day The official web site for Pi Day, March 14th

Pi Day The official web site for Pi Day, March 14th: "Pi, Greek letter (), is the symbol for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Pi = 3.1415926535... Pi Day is celebrated by math enthusiasts around the world on March 14th."

A good a reason as any to celebrate.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tech Beat Apple's design process - BusinessWeek

Tech Beat Apple's design process - BusinessWeek: "Interesting presentation at SXSW from Michael Lopp, senior engineering manager at Apple, who tried to assess how Apple can ‘get’ design when so many other companies try and fail."

The funny thing is, is that none of this is unknown or mysterious. All of the things Apple does have been widely preached for a long time, in many different industries. Stuff like this was done in the car industry a long time ago and they got back to it after the Japanese ate their lunch.

The trouble is most companies won't commit the resources to actually do it the right way. Most middle managers are tasked with keeping costs down. Obviously spending money on 10 prototypes, 9 of which will be thrown away is just not a very good way of keeping costs down. Or if they are mandated to come up with 10 they only provide enough money and time for 3 good ones and 7 throwaways. Often it is even worse then that: They call a brainstorming meeting and ask for "good" ideas, which shuts things down before they even start as everyone looks for ideas the boss will think of as "good".

Brainstorming is all about quantity not quality, you can't tell a good idea from a bad one right at first for the most part and that is fine. You spend an hour or two generating as many ideas as possible and then later after a break or on a later day, come back and sort them into possible and impossible piles and then go through the possible pile and hammer on them until they break then work on the least broken ideas and make them work.

Pony meeting is a great term I have to save that.

Stephen Schwarzman - New York Public Library - New York Times

Stephen Schwarzman - New York Public Library - New York Times: "Officials said the system was shifting to what they call a “hub and spoke” concept. The idea is to create hub libraries with comprehensive services — literacy training, homework help, job search assistance — and to tailor programs at satellite branches to meet the needs of specific neighborhoods. Those hubs would aim to replicate the success of the new Bronx Library Center, which has become a thriving gathering spot since it opened in that borough’s Fordham section in 2006. It has become a magnet for young people in the neighborhood, most of whom are African-American, Caribbean or Latino. (Brooklyn and Queens have their own library systems.)"

LIbrary news just keeps coming. This may be a good innovation.

I also don't see any problem with the library selling it's artwork, it's a library not an art museum.

Andrew Carnegie - Carnegie, Libraries

Andrew Carnegie - Carnegie, Libraries: "Outside the library Carnegie built in Allegheny is a monument to Anderson, and on the entrance arch to most libraries he built is the inscription, 'Free to All' -- and 'if one boy in each library district, by having access to one of these libraries, is half as much benefited as I was by having access to Colonel Anderson's four hundred well-worn volumes, I shall consider they have not been established in vain.'"

On this day Andrew Carnegie started building free public libraries around the world, eventually building 2500 in a dozen countries.

He became the richest man in the world, of his era, mainly because he was able to talk himself into a small private library to read books. Which is a fun story on its own, but until he started his building program public libraries were rare and widely scattered. Most libraries were private and getting in would required knowing someone or having the money to buy in.

Between the donations of Carnegie and the organization of Dewey we have our modern library system. Of course they have had a bit of an identity crisis in hte last few years with the internet but things are settling down now.

Sadly it does not look like his dream of one boy doing half as well as he did has ever been achieved but there is still hope.

Understanding the Universe - It's Awesome - Cosmic Calendar -

Understanding the Universe - It's Awesome - Cosmic Calendar - "Imagine that the history of the universe is compressed into one year—with the big bang occurring in the first seconds of New Year’s Day, and all our known history occurring in the final seconds before midnight on December 31. Using this scale of time, each month would equal a little over a billion years. Here’s a closer look at when important events would occur when we imagine the universe in one year."

Yeah, but all the interesting stuff happens in the last second.

Monday, March 10, 2008

March 10, 1876: 'Mr. Watson, Come Here ... '

March 10, 1876: 'Mr. Watson, Come Here ... ': "1876: Alexander Graham Bell makes the first telephone call in his Boston laboratory, summoning his assistant from the next room."

For better or worse a great invention was made this day.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Study: Girls Like Science and Math - Yahoo! News

Study: Girls Like Science and Math - Yahoo! News: "Girls like writing and reading; boys like math and science. At least that's the stereotype. But a new survey shows that girls in elementary school actually like math and science better than language arts."

not a big surprise.

School just doesn't matter sometimes

Homeschoolers' setback sends shock waves through state: "'They just affirmed that the current California law, which has been unchanged since the last time it was ruled on in the 1950s, is that children have to be educated in a public school, an accredited private school, or with an accredited tutor,' she said. 'If they want to send them to a private Christian school, they can, but they have to actually go to the school and be taught by teachers.'"

It just doesn't really matter what the school system does, they can be ignored.

I know people who raised good children under oppressive regimes. Eastern Bloc mostly. They would teach their children after school the things they should know. Sometimes, okay almost always, they would ignore homework. It never amounted to much in the way of a grade anyway so it was easy.

Actually, we have it much easier here then there. Here we have all kinds of zero-tolerance policies in place. Their greatest punishment is to keep you out of school. Just make sure to put a toothless plastic knife in their lunch and then you'll have plenty of time to learn something.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

ABC News: D&D Co-Creator Dies

ABC News: D&D Co-Creator Dies: "Gary Gygax, who co-created the fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons and helped start the role-playing phenomenon, died Tuesday morning at his home in Lake Geneva. He was 69."

I never got big with it as a game as others have but I did play it on occasion and it was great fun. I had a more consistent group playing Star Fleet Battles.

You know for all the scorn and attacks on D&D, it was the only cooperative game to hit anything close to the mainstream. It isn't an "I win, you lose" type of game. And lots and lots of kids and adults have and are playing it.

It was a great way to explore options. It often was a good insight into your own soul, what characters you liked to play told you something about yourself, and often far more clearly then some personality "instrument".

Role-playing is something people end up doing a lot in life, but as a game it can be great fun as the pressure is off. As a teaching aid it can be great as we can together explore the possible effects of choices. It is far better to make bad choices in an inconsequential game then in real life.

Now, where did that big bag of dice ever end up...