Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A little less talk, a little more action

Trying to wean myself from the constant scanning of political blogs and newssites, and focus on the science and tech.

Am also going to try to use my bookmarks a little more. I've got the account and the space, might as well put something there.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Getting to the tropics

I've been trying to get to the tropics for more than three decades, but now it looks like the tropics are coming to me. It turns out that climate zones that characterize the tropics are expanding, both north and south. (Which actually isn't good news, but it's not like we can do anything. Check the last line in the quote.) The link below is to the website of Nature. The blockquote below is the Associated Press summary report published on

Earth's Tropics Belt Expands

Dec 2nd, 2007 | WASHINGTON -- Earth's tropical belt seems to have expanded a couple hundred miles over the past quarter century, which could mean more arid weather for some already dry subtropical regions, new climate research shows.

Geographically, the tropical region is a wide swath around Earth's middle stretching from the Tropic of Cancer, just south of Miami, to the Tropic of Capricorn, which cuts Australia almost in half. It's about one-quarter of the globe and generally thought of as hot, steamy and damp, but it also has areas of brutal desert.

To meteorologists, however, the tropics region is defined by long-term climate and what's happening in the atmosphere. Recent studies show changes that indicate an expansion of the tropical atmosphere.

The newest study, published Sunday in the new scientific journal Nature Geoscience, shows that by using the weather definition, the tropics are expanding toward Earth's poles more than predicted. And that means more dry weather is moving to the edges of the tropics in places like the U.S. Southwest.

Independent teams using four different meteorological measurements found that the tropical atmospheric belt has grown by anywhere between 2 and 4.8 degrees latitude since 1979. That translates to a total north and south expansion of 140 to 330 miles.

One key determination of the tropical belt is called the Hadley circulation, which is essentially prevailing rivers of wind that move vertically as well as horizontally, carrying lots of moisture to rainy areas while drying out arid regions on the edges of the tropics. That wind is circulating over a larger area than a couple decades ago.

But that's not the only type of change meteorologists have found that shows an expansion of the tropics. They've seen more tropical conditions by measuring the amount of ozone in the atmosphere, measuring the depth of the lower atmosphere, and the level of dryness in the atmosphere at the edges of the tropics.

Climate scientists have long predicted a growing tropical belt toward the end of the 21st century because of man-made global warming. But what has happened in the past quarter century is larger and more puzzling than initially predicted, said Dian Seidel, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lab in Silver Spring, Md. She is the author of the newest study.

"They are big changes," she said. "It's a little puzzling."

She said this expansion may only be temporary, but there's no way of knowing yet.

Seidel said she has not determined the cause of this tropical belt widening. While a leading suspect is global warming, other suspects include depletion in the ozone layer and changes in El Nino, the periodic weather phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean.

Other climate scientists are split on the meaning of the research because it shows such a dramatic change — beyond climate model predictions. Some scientists, such as Richard Seager at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, say changes in El Nino since the 1970s probably are a big factor and could make it hard to conclude there's a dramatic expansion of the tropical belt.

But climate scientists Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria and Richard Somerville of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography said Seidel's work makes sense and that computer models have consistently been underestimating the ill effects of global warming.

"Every time you look at what the world is doing it's always far more dramatic than what climate models predict," Weaver said.

Both Weaver and Seidel said the big concern is that dry areas on the edge of the tropics — such as the U.S. Southwest, parts of the Mediterranean and southern Australia — could get drier because of this.

"You're not expanding the tropical jungles, what you're expanding is the area of desertification," Weaver said.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Malibu Fire, 21 October 2007

Google Map of the Malibu Fire.
Web site of the fire.
LA Observed’s Here In Malibu.

I’m going to look up the Santa Monica Airport (SMO) frequencies and see if I can get info on the air freqs the water birds are using.


Swam 1,000 yards today, the first in a long time that I’ve swum that far in a workout. It wasn’t too hard and I wasn’t too tired when I finished. I could have done more, but arms and shoulders were a little tired and my blood CO2 was fairly high. The distance was good, so I called the workout a success and called it a day.

Telecommuting with robotics

In the middle of September I took a day off work and went downtown to the LA Convention Center to see the Wired NextFest. (I haven't written about NextFest yet, but I will soon.)

But what I wanted to write about is the link to the robot used as a telepresence avatar. With my program at work about to incorporate and envelope (and probably be consumed) by telecommuting, this could be a useful thing to propose as a virtual presence for people who are remoting in to meetings.

Shrinking icepack

An even better representation of the shrinking ice pack.

Defrosting the icebox, warming the planet

I've been following the saga of climate change since I was an undergraduate and studied both global warming (IR absorption by CO2, CH4, NOx, etc) and ozone depletion. I find it a sad irony that most people are just now discovering the problem when the scientists have known about the imminent problems for decades. In fact, Al Gore's book came out long before he became VP in the Clinton Administration, but to the degree that anybody was paying attention it was the whacko right wing who screeched that he is a psychopath.

(I am not making this up. I have a friend who while supposedly being an environmental scientist and engineer, he is much more strongly a radical neoconservative Republican and far right conservative. He ranted wildly about Gore before that election, and to this day 15 years later still rants wildly about Gore as a "psychopath". He's not the only rational person I know who gets wildly irrational when attempting to confront Gore and the scientific fact of Global Warming Climate Change, GWCC.)

NASA has recently released their mid-September satellite imagery of the minimum extent of the Arctic sea ice. The pictures are scribed with the extent of the ice pack for 1979-2000, for 2005, and then for 2007. The shrinking of the ice is shocking to see, but it is simply the end result of what we have known and expected for decades.

It is worth reading the entire description of the picture (see the link), but here is the final sentence.

In 2007, all Arctic sea ice records were broken by August, more than a month before the end of melt season.
Note that in the (approx.) six months of melt season from spring to autumn, the ice had melted back to its previous minimum more than a month before solar insolation fell past a seasonal level where melting begins to reverse. So there was another whole month of melting, thus setting a new record. We can expect 2008 to be worse.

NASA working with Google Earth

I subscribe (by email) to NASA's Natural Hazards Updates, part of the NASA Earth Observatory. This sends daily notifications of satellite pictures of significant events - storms, floods, volcanoes - essentially any natural event that is best seen from low earth orbit. They use several satellites to provide the images, and include a one-sentence description with a URL of each event. There are usually two events listed everyday.

I just opened Friday's email and found a description and link to an erupting volcano in the Red Sea. I found it interesting because I didn't know that the area was active, but what was very interesting in the message was a link to a Google Earth KMZ file. NASA - the 900 pound gorilla of space imagery - is working with Google Earth!

It's pretty cool to see a government working with common commercial tools and adopting them so quickly.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Hilarious. A riot.
Total geek humor, but too funny everytime.
Every time I look at it I get a new ATF.
I am too geeked out.
My favorite today.
Okay, the next one is great too...
Yet again!

See what I mean?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Writing for Attribution (and satire)

I just checked my "scorecard" of letters to Salon and I've got 9 "Editor's Choice" out of 17 total letters! Woohoo! I don't always try to write for score, but I nearly always try to make it witty, or pithy, or satirical.

I haven't mentioned that I'm taking a class at UCLA Extension in Political Satire, but I am. It's not exactly what I expected it to be; that is, it's not at all a class on how to write satire. But it is a good overview of American satire and satirists of the past century (with a few other token eras and cultures thrown in for contrast and comparison). Now that I'm in the class it's fun to look back at a collection and see where it stands. For an amateur, it seems to hold its own.

Not that I'm patting myself on the back you know, I'm just sayin' ...

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I got in the water for 500 yards yesterday. It was easier than the 500 yds I did last weekend (which I did not write about). I should have stayed longer, but... boooring.

Mapping Dimona

For a long time the satellites that map the earth have been fuzzing out the Israeli nuc site at Dimona. Now, for some reason, Google Earth shows it clearly. Thanks to Arms Control Wonk for pointing this out. (KMZ file on the site.)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Wes Anderson retrospective at the Aero

There is a Wes Anderson retrospective at American Cinematheque's Aero theatre this week. I went to see The Royal Tenenbaums this evening. It's a quirky (Hollywood technical term) story of a dysfunctional family, and boy could I relate to it. I'm sorry I didn't see it before my dad died, but I'm glad I didn't see it when it came out. That is, I don't think I could have handled seeing it before last Thanksgiving, but I wish I'd seen it between then and when he died.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Mod Blog, or modding the blog


I used the Blogger Help Link (in the link below, named "Link") to figure out how to modify this blog's template so as to add the Link button that you (hopefully) can see.

As I slowly learn html, this is a small but pleasing step in the process. (And I did make a copy of the original template before modifying it.)


One of these days I will write about my father's death.

Monday, September 24, 2007

One good Marine; or how the ethnic media doesn't know its own stories

Twice today I've heard stories on National Public Radio criticizing the lack of mention of Latino soldiers in the new Ken Burns documentary about WWII. The first was on Morning Edition by Richard Gonzales, and the second was by Adolfo Guzman Lopez on KPCC (local Pasadena college radio).

The interview some living WW2 latino vets, talk about some guys who died both in Europe and the Pacific, and then talk about the contribution made by the ethnic group, with the strong implication being that their ethnic group is being slighted by being left out of the movie. Which is fair enough. Burns ought to have mentioned them, if only to mention the one guy that neither Gonzales nor Guzman Lopez mentioned, and who is arguably the biggest hero of the PTO - Guy Gabaldon.

I think that there is some irony in that in neither reporter appears to know the history. Gabaldon was personally responsible for taking over 1,000 Japanese prisoners on Saipan, many of them soldiers but some also women and children. Which means he saved all those lives, as well as the (literally) uncountable lives of US Marines who would have had to fight against those Japanese soldiers if they had not been persuaded by Gabaldon to surrender.

To add a little bitterness to the irony of these Latino trying to build a little racism into a scenario where it was part of the circumstance of the time, Gabaldon's case was one of pure racism. Here is a guy who rescues himself from a very bad situation, and uses his own skills of language and social engineering to save at least a thousand people. And he does this against the orders of his commanders, but with his buddies who also go against orders because they see the benefit to everybody. And then when a higher officer nominated Gabaldon for the MoH, an officer above him refused - and that refusal was purely out of racism.

That is the story that Ken Burns should have told to include a Latino; and that is the story that Gonzales and Guzman Lopez should have told also.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Solar Power Conference 2007

Going to Solar Power Conference 2007 in Long Beach on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week. My hoped-for itinerary is here. Am trying to see talks that are relevant to managing a business in the solar industry.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Serious Back Pain

I have had chronic but intermittent bad to serious to severe back pain for thirty years now. It returned last Sunday night. I was sitting in the easy chair (known to be dangerous for my back) for much of the day. A little after 10 PM I got up to put the laptop back on the desk and got a flash of server pain in the same place I always get the pain. It almost dropped me to the floor. In fact I would have gone down but for the expensive equipment in my hands.

I had a very difficult night, and was barely able to get out of bed in the morning. There was no way I could go to work. In fact, I was not able to go to work any day this week.

Web 2.0 and stock watching

When my dad died I received a small inheritance from his IRA. It had been all invested in (bad) index funds (see below). I let those ride for 90 days and then sold them. While I had them though, I tracked them manually with Yahoo Finance and Google Docs, by setting up a spreadsheet which calculated the net change month to month of each, and the annualized change. I had to enter the monthly prices of each for the spreadsheet to do the calculation though.

I just discovered Google's Finance blog, which appears to have code that will automate that process (and probably more). It's Web 2.0 also. So it's an opportunity for me to play with one technique to help me track and learn something else. (Not that I've replaced the sold index funds with anything else at this point.)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Better Living Through Chemistry

Last night I was able to help Chuck Goolsbee with a little advice about his home chemistry program for converting waste vegetable oil to usable oil for diesel engines. Thanks for the nice compliment!

OmniGraffle Extras

Was reading Global Guerrillas this morning and JR wrote a post saying that he thinks Omni Graffle is
...the best drawing and diagramming tool ever...
Good for the OmniCrew to get the recognition, and it's interesting to observe the ongoing development of somebody else who is discovering how much more useful OSX and its associated tools are than Windows.

But that's not my story here. I thought I'd write a comment about OG Pro and hopped over to the site to get the info. While there I saw a link to Omni Graffle Extras and realized that I've never looked for the extras for OmniGraffle. I dropped into that and found some cool stencils and scripts. Downloaded a bunch of interesting sounding extras (Maps, WorldMaps, AddressBookChart, CashFlow, Periodic Table, Walkthroughs, Origami, etc) and now have to start experimenting with them.

In fact, the first experimenting I have to do is with one of the extras that is a tutorial for how to best use and implement OG and OGP. This could be really helpful and useful, especially for this graphically-impaired word person...

Addition: Graffletopia

Surf report Saturday

Writing on Sunday about surfing Saturday morning. A colleague is here in Santa Monica from
Cambridge and wants to learn how to surf. He dropped into cubicleland on Friday and I showed him some of the important websites (e.g. CDIP) to refer to when prepping for going out. Being an analyst, I also described to him how to analyze the data - tides, swell, time of day, wind - to have a good idea of what to expect. Much of it went over his head, but at least he's not completely in the dark.

On Saturday we went out, 8 AM. He did not have a wetsuit, but the water is warm and so I took him out sans wetsuit. Also, I put him on a boogie board for his first go-out, so I could watch him handle himself in the water and start to teach him a bit about reading the incoming swell. Also, having a first-timer go out on a boogie is easier for them to feel the incoming energy and learn how to adjust to it without the extra problem of going from prone to standing up while the board is accelerating and changing angle of attack.

At about :30 minutes out I switched him over to my long board, and by the end of an hour (he was cold by then) he'd already caught and stood up on two waves. Woohoo!

From there we went back home and showered off, then down to Horizons West where we bought him a spring suit. Since he's here for the next two months on an exchange program, I decided to show him around town a bit. We walked south on Main from H.W. to Finn MacCool's Irish Pub, a block past Ocean Park Blvd., and back. I think he enjoyed the walk and the tour.

I decided to lend him my longboard for a few days while we look for a board for him to buy. (I was not able to go out Sunday morning and he wanted to.) Back to my place and we loaded up the longboard into my car and returned him to his place north of Wilshire.

Being Dutch he is also looking for a bicycle to get around town with, and I've introduced him to the Big Blue Bus as well.

Friday, August 03, 2007

So many movies, so little time...

The new Jason Bourne movie, The Bourne Ultimatum, opened at 12 AM last night locally and is playing locally. That's a must-see for me (Salon review). I plan to see the new Harry Potter movie in 3D at the local IMAX theater in Culver City. Also in the "want to see" category...
  • The Simpsons Movie
  • Transformers
  • La Vie en Rose (fr)
  • Goya's Ghosts
  • Knocked Up
  • El Cantante
  • Once
  • My Best Friend (fr)
  • Moliere (fr)
  • The Long Goodbye
  • Paris, je t'aime (fr)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
Some of the above are high priority and some are low, but even the high priority titles are a long list.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Flat City

Surf check this morning and the surf is so small that it was like a lake. I was going to post a picture from the CDIP, but it seems to be down. Waah.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Summer surf

Saturday morning went surfing with Stephane. He was supposed to arrive at 8:30, but I called him at 7:30 and "appealed" to him to get down here. He arrived at 8 and we were in the water by 8:30. Stayed in the water until 10:30, by which time the meager but fun waves were few and far between. It was still great conditions, but the high tide had the waves pushed up to the beach so they were essentially shorebreak, and I was getting bored.

Lots of people out though, probably more than I've been in the water with in decades. But the crowd was having fun, and there was a camaraderie that I just don't expect. Crash was out (I don't know his real name, just know him as Crash.) And he was getting rides even in the small waves. He had several students with him, mostly advanced beginners.

The water was so warm that many people were in trunks. I wore my spring suit and actually had to splash water on my back several times to cool off. There were quite a few femmes out in the water too, which was nice. It helped that they were having fun, and generally joined in the camaraderie. (It also helped that they were good looking!)

The south swell expected from Tropical Storm Dalila hasn't yet shown up, and as the storm is degrading it's quite possible that the swell will never materialize. Oh well.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Loser stocks, loser stockbroker

Yesterday marked the end of Month 3 since the broker at Wachovia (Santa Barbara branch) informed me of the contents of the investment account I was to inherit after my father's death. I tracked the 4 funds and 1 stock for these three months to see how they performed.

Of the 5, one was flat (less than 0.1% increase in three months) and all the others had lost money. In fact, all the others had lost money at an annualized rate of more than 12%. To add insult (and further injury) to injury, they were all items that had high management fees attached. And in fact these had been losers for the entire three months that I tracked them, while the stock market itself had been on a wild increase for the same time.

It is unbelievable to me that a professional investment adviser would have initially chosen and continued to stay with things such as this. It's unconscionable and in my opinion professionally negligent. My further opinion is that the guy is incompetent, but my father stayed with him because he has a nice Irish-sounding name.

I called the guy's assistant Naomi on the exact 3-month "anniversary" day and told her to tell Brian to sell everything. That day. She asked (courteously, which is more than I can say for him) why, and I told her "Because they are all losers". I think she is his assistant because she is in training to become a broker. I hope I have illustrated for her a bit of what happens to an incompetent when a no-BS person comes along.

I got the account statement first thing the next week, and took it to my guy. He seems better, but he also seems spread far too thin by his company. So I'll have to make most of my own assessments and decisions, and just tell him what to do and when to do it. I'm still playing the unsophisticated and semi-ignorant investor-dude for all of them, just to see how I get treated. But at least I got out from under the Wachovia loser.

Beer Goggles

El Borracho sunglasses by Bolle, from REI.

Why would anybody call a product "The Drunkard" is beyond me. But for some adolescent reason I still find it quite humorous.

(Link is liable to rot at any time.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Alienated? Who, me?

I was reading Kathryn Cramer's weblog and came across a mention of the Alienation Index, a site that purports to calculate one's level of alienation from things social. My scores:

Meaninglessness = 9
Cultural Estrangement = 21
Powerlessness = 18
Normlessness = 12
Estrangement from Work = 11
Social Isolation = 14

And the key:
Scores should range between 5 and 25.
Scores from 5 to 11 could be considered "low,"
from 12 to 18 "moderate,"
and from 19 to 25 "high."
It's odd, because I don't feel alienated.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

(No) surf report

These days I have a nearly desperate need to get some waves, but there has been no surf in a couple of weeks. Went down to the beach this morning and it was so small that it was simply not worth going out even to get wet.


Pray for surf... ;-)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

real estate and living: LA vs. Paris

I found a very interesting article in the NY Times about an LA woman who has a pied-a-terre in Paris. It's not very big and not well placed in the building (lousy views) but it was affordable, is an income property (rentable to short-term expat Americans) and provides a place to land in the times she goes to Paris from LA to stay for awhile.

I look at it also as a hedge against the outrageous and out of control real estate market here in L.A. That is, LA's RE market is still vastly overpriced, and quite unstable. And the US - both the real estate market and as a place to live - is (I believe) increasingly untenable. That's not something I ever would have told my dad when he was here, but I'll say it here. (Since nobody reads this but the bots anyway, it doesn't matter. )

When M. goes back this September I'm going to have her check the prices and we'll consider buying something there as a place to go to in case we might have to go back for any reason. I'd certainly miss the climate and the geography here, but it's weird to think that Paris is a more affordable city to live than the huge city of Los Angeles.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

I feel safer already

Two weeks ago I flew to San Francisco to undergo* training on the new Microsoft SharePoint 2007 (MOSS). I got into SFO, collected my luggage and took a shuttle to the hotel. When I opened my bag, I instantly noticed that things were amiss. And the "Items may shift during flight..." warning was not to blame.

As I slowly took things out of the suitcase I noticed more and more amiss, for instance the toiletries bag is a small internal bag that snaps into the top of the case, and it was detached and buried in the other stuff.

I wasn't worried about anything being stolen as I hadn't taken anything valuable. Though I was genuinely puzzled it occurred to me that maybe the cargo monkeys had chosen my bag to rifle in a search for valuables to steal.

But finally at the bottom of all the stuff, and apparently tossed in after the stuff had been extracted but before it was replaced, was this charming little card from My Government.

*If it seems like I'm unhappy about this Microsoft bundle of bits, it's because I am. Learning a Microsoft program is like getting brain surgery to rewire one's neurons so as to not think so logically or brilliantly.

Friday, June 22, 2007

hot summer, cool music

One reason I like living in Santa Monica is the free summer concerts on the Pier, the Twilight Dance Series. This summer we get some acts that I know and like: David Lindley, Queen Ida and Los Lobos (!). Also playing for the 10 night spread are some names I don't know, but the genres look fun. Every Thursday evening starting 7:30 PM.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thou Shalt Keep Right...

The Vatican has issued the 10 Commandments for Drivers. Personally, I think it should start:
1. Thou shalt keep right except for passing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Finally got back in the ocean yesterday after a couple of months. A colleague from the European office is here for induction training, and another mutual colleague recommended she contact me to get some surfing lessons.

No problem! It's much easier to motivate myself to go out when I'm helping someone learn to surf.

Surf was about 2-3 foot windswell, even though the CDIP shows a substantial NW swell offshore. The wind was about 5 kts. from the NW which bumped up the sea surface a bit but not too badly.

We got into the water about 5:15 PM, and there was nobody else out. This was good, as it gave me some time to teach P. some of the techniques of using a bodyboard. Within half an hour there were about 5 guys out on standup boards, but I was getting more and better rides. (The advantage of a body board in small sloppy waves...)

We'll probably go out again this afternoon, and are planning to go out again tomorrow afternoon.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Fast Food = Bad News

Following on Morgan Spurlock's movie "Super Size Me!", recent scientific research provides more evidence that fast food is bad for mammals. Report in Science News.

Polynesian chickens

Science News has an article reporting that recent research seems to show that chicken bones dug up in a Latin American site have the same DNA print as chicken DNA from Polynesia. This seems might be significant evidence that the Polynesians travelled to Latin America between 600 and 2,000 years ago.

There are some dissenting archaeologists, but this is pretty interesting if it is eventually confirmed.

Road Trip for SharePoint

I spent the past week (Sunday night 3 June to Friday night 8 June) in San Francisco doing a one-week training class in the new SharePoint 2007. I learned a fair amount, but I'm certainly not overwhelmed. Whelmed is more like it.

It is useful, but Microsoft has made it too complex for most people so I don't see it getting the kind of use they hope for. Furthermore, they've made significant parts of it compatible only with Windows and Internet Explorer. More specifically, they've built wiki and weblog functionality into it, but to use the formatting options you have to have Win/IE. It won't work with Firefox or Macintosh, unless one types in raw html.

I guess its MS' way of putting the world on notice that we are still expected to use only Windows and only Internet Explorer.

Back in the water

I think the last time I was in the water was about 6 weeks ago when I went in the SMC pool and swam about 350 yards. I've been down to the beach virtually every weekend day morning, but the surf has been small and sloppy windswell - typical for late spring. (Check the CDIP for SoCal.) It's currently about 1-2' from the NW with a 10sec interval; in other words it's slop.

It's hard to get out when the surf is like this, but then I don't get any workout. If I'm going to get back into diving and surfing condition for the trip to Central America though, I've got to get some serious water time.

So today it was back into the pool at SMC. I got in about 500 yards (pathetic!) before my shoulders were seriously tired and I was noticeably out of breath. No problem though, it's the first day back and tomorrow I'll do a little more.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Day at the LA Concours

I went to the LA Concours d'Elegance today with M. It was fun and entertaining for awhile, though I'm not as dedicated to the cars as I was a decade or two ago when I was trying to eke out a living as a photographer (shooting cars, amongst many other subjects).

This time I took some car pictures, but wasn't trying so hard to get really good pictures of the cars. And I didn't even attempt any detail shots. Nowadays I'm just looking to get people pictures, and I may have gotten one or two this time.

I shot a number of photos of M. as she was pretty excited getting car pictures. But I also saw one or two interesting people that I photographed. I can't add the pictures just yet though, as the camera is at home and I am 500 miles away in San Francisco, getting ready to go to SharePoint Administrator training early in the morning.

Much else happened today that I may write about tomorrow evening (if I remember). It's midnight now though, and I've got a 6 AM call.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Web 2.0 and JPL (Part 1)

Today at work we had a 3 hour presentation by JPL's CIO, CIO (emeritus) and a system architect talking about JPL's current and future plans for Web 2.0 implementation. It was pretty cool inasmuch as I knew 99% of what they were talking about, and the 1% thing I didn't know (a children's social networking site) I was able to add an observation* to that was very insightful and he hadn't thought of before (despite its tremendous significance).

It will take a few days to write th full summary, and then some more time to condense that into an executive summary. And I may not be able to post it here (for obvious reasons).

*He briefed us on the children's social networking sites Club Penguin and Webkinz. I hadn't heard of either, but neither had anybody else in the room. It turns out that these sites get much more usage per person-visit than such sites as MySpace or Second Life. After everybody absorbed that information I commented that "When these get mashed up with One Laptop Per Child, then things will really begin to happen".

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

from Microsoft to Google?

My first real, good, and real good, PIM was Claris Organizer. I bought it at 1.0 and upgraded every time I could. It was - then and now - a very good piece of software for tracking personal information, and especially for linking calendar events and contacts. When Steve Jobs rejoined Apple one of the things that happened was Claris was killed as an independent company: Filemaker was spun off as an independent and Organizer was left to die. It was shortly sold to Palm, who halfheartedly supported it. It was still Palm Organizer, and was okay but getting old and in need of update. That was at least 6 years ago. Palm made one minor update to bring it up to OS X compatibility, but it was essentially abandoned. I stuck with it as long as I could, but eventually it just didn't work well anymore with the OSX operating system.

At that point I had to move all the information out of Organizer and into something else. I had worked with Now Contact, with Chronos, and with the various Apple software solutions. Nothing was as good, even though Organizer was no longer sufficiently functional.

But in 2004 Microsoft finally revised Entourage enough that it became a very good personal information manager, in addition to being a very functional email client. (Note that it is also a useful news client, so long as you restrict your usenet use to nntp://microsoft.public.*)

There are a few problems with Entourage though. First is that its database is fragile and can break so severely that one can lose a substantial amount of data. Microsoft does not provide any tool to fix or diagnose the database. (In typical Microsoft fashion, they maintain that it is a proprietary and so the customers cannot have any tools to work with on the broken part.) Another problem with Entourage is that it works best as a standalone, almost completely ignorant of anything else on one's computer. Granted it has extensive AppleScripting capabiltiy and there are some fairly capable scripters out there, but the scripts simply don't provide sufficient bridging to the rest of the operating system. (This analysis ignores the pluses and minuses of Entourage when it links to Exchange server.)

Don't get me wrong - Entourage has more data fields than anything I've worked with aside from a custom database. But it is a challenge to get anything in or out, and it is especially difficult to use with anything else (other email, GTD, calendaring, contacts, etc. programs).

Fortunately, it is fairly easy to work with. So when the time came to finally extract my information out of Organizer I chose to move the resulting dirty data into Entourage for cleaning up. I made a project out of all the contact data and laboriously went through all the contacts to eliminate duplicates (would have been nice to do that programmatically!) and fix the data that was broken in the transfer. As I had over 750 entries, this took awhile. I finally finished it a few weeks ago (down to 610 items), and now it's time to make another decision.

I want the information to be available to any of my computers - preferably from the net but at least from my HAN. Entourage simply doesn't recognize that. So I have to move the data either to my gmail account or to Apple's Address Book and then build and configure a server.

Getting the data out will be easy, but getting it out in some form that is easily transferrable will be difficult. I'll have to look for some tool to ease a move to Google. Alternatively I could move all the data to Address Book and iCal, but frankly those two are just too simple. Even Sbook is better than Address Book, and that was built by one guy on his own time.

Also, the latter means I'll have to manage a server. I can do that - and it will provide some other useful services - but I've got better things to do with my time.

I'll study the problem and practice it a bit and see where the study leads me. More later.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Work Stories: Web 2.0 and an Internet Titan

I was scheduled this morning to show Steven W. (in the Cambridge office) how to use Adobe Connect for collaboration and screen sharing. Duck meets water. Sheesh. After less than five minutes he diverted me from the script and we took off in all sorts of directions. First diversion was "let's put down the phone and try the audio conferencing". I hadn't used it before so we sort of stumbled around a bit, but shortly got it working and didn't use the phone for the following hour and a half. The audio cut out a few times - predictably when we switched layouts - but we figured out how to restore it. He's probably the best user in the company now besides me and Chris, and I'll have to continue practicing with him to keep up.

In the mid-afternoon I had to give a presentation on collaboration and associated techniques technologies, and social implications and ramifications, i.e. Web 2.0. I based it on Tapscott's business theory of wikinomics and included many of my own observations. It was a success inasmuch as we (Chris and I) didn't get thrown out of the room. We didn't get a go-ahead either, but at least we planted a seed.

After that I went straight to a "retirement" party for Bob Anderson. Bob didn't really retire, in that many people of his stature and seniority don't really retire from there, they just go to 1/3 time and move to adjunct status. He'll retain a shared office, a phone line and his email address and will probably continue to do occasional project work, but he won't be in the building regularly anymore.

the toll to date

Another month has passed since last post. Three weeks after that post (on 30 March) I got word that Tom, a good friend of nearly 35 years, died on 21 March. And I'd also been deeply concerned over another friend who I'd learned in January had had unprecedented brain surgery to remove a cyst. She survived, but barely. The first three months of 2007 have been challenging, thus the dearth of posts.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

a terribly bad and sad day

No posts in a long time. On February 18 my father died. I was with him in the hospital room. I miss him a lot.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

SCALE 5x, Day 1+1

Went to SoCal Linux Expo, Day 1 today. The first thing I noticed - and kept noticing the same thing over and over throughout the day in various presentation sessions as well as on the show floor - was the proliferation of Mac laptops.

In fact, I think there were more Mac laptops than any other single model of laptop. In all there were more non-Apple laptops (HP+IBM+Dell) than Apple, but not by much. And if you consider that those non-Apple machines were running some version of Linux, usually Ubuntu (or, in a few cases, Windows), while most of the Macs were actually running OSX, then there was more OSX in general than any other OS.

I went to SCALE 4x last year, and 2x two years before that. At 2x I think I saw 2 Macs, and one was an old TiBook that was running Debian. Last year at 4x there were a few more, but nothing like this year. And just as significantly as the hardware was the OS. And a number of the people were actually presenters who were presenting to a crowd of (supposedly) Linux people using OSX and Keynote. And there was not a peep from the audience. Not a single word or sound of complaint. The OS was accepted as a "fellow traveler" as it were.

Most interestingly were these two.

Jean T. Anderson, a committer on the Apache Derby project was presenting "How to Particpate at the ASF" from her MBP. Now, she actually flipped from OSX into Parallels where she was running Linux and then presented from Open Office's presenter program. But for the entire :90 minutes of the presentation preceding I watched her working furiously on something, and that was in OSX. She actually went to the podium and attached her machine in OSX, and then flipped over to Parallels. (That got an "ooh, aah!" from some of the crowd.)

Today I saw Patrick McGovern present "Leveraging the IT Community", which was really a presentation about his company's very cool server/network monitoring application. The company and the application are both called Splunk. He presented this server monitoring application (actually it is a server log search application) from his Mac laptop and from Keynote. He used some cool transitions (though the basic template was rather plain, and the content was heavy on words and light on graphic enhancements). But again, the audience didn't even peep.

I've been reading that the *nix IT community has more and more been taking to OSX, but this was the first time I got to see it up close and personal. I guess I have to admit to feeling some personal vindication and validation of my choice of preferred OS. And there's no question that while OSX has been moving more toward the *nix community, it's also true that the community has been expanding to include OSX as a member of the common platform.

More later about Day 1 and Day 1+1 and the presentations and exhibits. Of course tomorrow is Day 2 and I'll be going to that too. Will see how much I can actually get posted up.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

New journaling application

I kept going back to viJournal and trying to make it do what I wanted, or to learn how to work with it to create the results I wanted. Eventually though I just could not do some of the simple things I wanted. (How about two entries on the same day but under different times without a circuitous workaround?)

At the beginning of this month I was in San Francisco at MacWorld 2007. We speakers got a few complimentary gifts, including Mariner Software's MacJournal. I validated the license code last night and have started using it just this morning. Already like it much more, as it is very customizable.

It also publishes directly to Blogger (as does viJournal), so I'll probably use that too in the future and maybe post more to this space.