Thursday, May 7, 2009

Today, I witnessed a miracle

It was an accident of cataclysmic proportions. I hear the word "shootdiddledeedo!" spoken sharply from the next room. I ask, in my usual questioning fashion: "What happened?"

Apparently, "Oh shizzle!" happened.

I mobilized. Time to assess. Surely, fingers have been cut, hands scaleded, hair lost. Worse.

A bowl of molten chocolate chips, destined for the top of Colin's birthday Rice Krispy treats has fallen from Christine's hands to the floor. More correctly, the chocolate of doom had fallen onto to the newish carpet.

Ordinarily, I'd have freaked out, but I knew this was a lost cause. There was no reason to get mad since there was no possible way that anger would be able to fix my problem.

Lucid, I decide that the first course of action is to cool the molten chocolate to keep it from soaking into the carpet. Hmm... ice cubes? Too wet. What else? Canned air...inverted!

Dashing upstairs to the office, I came up short. There was no canned air upstairs. To the garage. Sweet success! Canned air. I dash back to the carpet where the situation was unchanged.

I invert the can. Spray. Spray more. We have frost. Is the chocolate frozen through? Spray more. That's about enough, so spray just a bit more.

Now, chip the frozen chocolate from the floor. My thumb is burning from excitement. Man, my thumb has never burned from excitement like this before. The tip of my thumb is yellowing, hard and cold to the touch. I might have overdone the canned air thing. The chocolate, carpet floorboards and earth below the house are now solidly frozen.

I consider this level of frozenness perfect working conditions. My thumb makes an occasional trip into my mouth to avert freezing and I continue my work. Finally all of the chocolate has been chipped away and I'm left with...a big brown stain. Ugh.

After a breather, I regain my resolve. I've secured carpet cleaner from under the sink. Already the lost cause, I apply the cleaner and scrub. I stop scrubbing to soothe a cramp in my arm and scrub some more. I blot and wipe and spray and blot and scrub and wipe and blot. After all is done and very little is said that can be heard by those who don't have their ear to my mouth, I have clean carpet. It looks like it never happened.

Had someone told me I'd clean 1/4 cup of melted chocolate out of the carpet with no apparent ill effects other than frostbite, I'd have declared them mad.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

It is how it is supposed to be...

I'd forgotten this feeling. The feeling that comes with writing code to do something and knowing that it is "just right." Just right probably varies from person to person, and I'm not even sure how to describe it, but there is something about doing it right.

My project is not yet done, and in the moment, when the code flows and is what it is supposed to be, you lose your place in time and in the process. I remember the pull to give up so much to commit myself to what I wanted to do. Even now, in a brief moment of goodness, it all makes sense again.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Do something already, whydontcha?

Well, ok, then. Today, I finally put up the site for Deep Focus Technologies, which is my company that is currently building iPhone software. The first app is nearly complete, simple as it is, and you'll know first if you keep track of what's going on over at

Beyond building applications, I offer a range of software and technology consulting services and I'd be happy to help you with your technology plans.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Save the Earth, or save money?

At the homestead, we're decorating for the holidays, and I finally ran out of red light bulbs. So, I head to the corner hardware store, which is a great hardware store. It is the kind of hardware store where you go when you need to fix something and expect to find parts.

At the hardware store, I'm confronted with a choice: Lightbulbs or a new string of lights? Lightbulbs are $1.10 for four bulbs. A string of 25 Christmas lights is $6.20. Doing the math, 25 replacement bulbs cost about $6.88 on a per-bulb basis and 25 new bulbs with sockets attached to copper wire costs $6.20. The cost of bulbs is actually higher, you have to buy 28 bulbs at a cost of $7.70 to get 25 bulbs.

There's a problem here, and it goes deeper than simply setting price points on goods. It is rational for a human to simply go to the lowest cost provider of the goods. Sometimes it's the local hardware store vs. Home Depot, the corner drug vs. Wal-Mart. Sometimes, it's assembled strings vs. bulbs.

There are plenty of reasons this kind of pricing exists, and valid explanations could range from sophistication to ineptitude, but let me suggest this: it is the moral duty of manufacturers, retailers and consumers to optimize dollar and environmental costs of products as best they can. The environmental costs are hard to calculate and are often situational and counter-intuitive. Paper cups, styrofoam or ceramic mug? It depends.

Without a framework to understand the true cost of goods, we simply can't understand what it is we're purchasing, except in cases, like Christmas light strings and light bulbs where, even if we can't clearly calculate the cost, we can assign a positive cost to the copper wire or the sockets, or the human or robot time to screw the light bulbs in.

Now that I've purchased my bulbs, it's time to visit the auto-parts store. My window isn't clear during rainstorms. I need to fix it.

What is that I'm replacing? At the auto-parts store, I'm encouraged to change my wiper blades annually. This should, of course, be done for safety, correct? Not really. While the most modern form of wiper blade is a completely disposable unit, most new and old vehicles still have a wiper blade and wiper insert system.

The insert is the rubber squeegee. The blade is the metal frame which holds the insert. Now that you've been needlessly educated on wiper parts, you should know that good quality wiper blades, like the kind that came on your car, should last the lifetime of the vehicle.

Twenty years ago, wiper refills outnumbered wiper blades on store shelves by a significant margin. Today, the ratio of products has flipped. At the local branch of our national chain auto parts store, there was one brand of wiper refill and probably seven or eight wiper blade products. Of course, you can command a higher profit margin on two wiper blades, but the environmental cost of those blades in the landfill versus a little piece of rubber is high.

I always assumed that it was the chain auto parts store that was causing the problem, but upon returning home to replace my wiper inserts, I found something curious.

Instead of a mechanical latching device on the insert to keep it in the blade, I found the wiper blade crimped onto the wiper insert, rendering the wiper blade to effectively be a single-use product. I hope there was debate at the manufacturer when this decision was made. Again, this is an ethical decision that involves products, profits, customers and the environment.

The only way to ensure you have product choices that make economic sense is to vote for them. Vote with your wallet, your feet and your voice to ensure that sensible products without abnormally high environmental costs are available to the consumer.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

la rentrée

Re-entry. I read an article the other day about the general malaise that France is experiencing this year as they return from vacation and get back to work. At one time, this would have seemed a foreign concept, perhaps there's something mystically French or European about this.

I would say it is the typical unknown of returning to a job after an extended break combined with the uncertainty of the current times. I know how they feel. After 6 months break, going back is a difficult, but necessary thing.

The stages of this break have been interesting. The first month was harried, move quick, do projects, work out. Mentally, I would go between relaxation and feeling like I threw something great away. I struck out with plans of networking, writing business plans and as I was getting these all fired up, it hit.

The need to actually slow down. So I did, and we went on an extended vacation. As I reached relaxation I started to have the feeling that when I do go back to work, it will be good. Satisfying, enjoyable work something useful, interesting and not weighed down with bureaucracy. I'll have a manager, team and company at large that is engaged and excited as well as exciting. Or, perhaps better, I'll be working on something that simply doesn't exist yet. The future is unclear, but exciting.

Over the end of the summer, the inevitable end quickened the pace. Colin and I set out on a guys trip to Yellowstone. What an incredible opportunity and experience to be able to spend quality time with my son while he still thinks I'm OK.

Which puts me here, I can feel it. It's time to return. I'm actually a bit anxious to return for a variety of reasons. But it can't happen too quickly. I need to find the right thing to do, and I need to be picky about who I work for and with. I'm hiring my next boss and I need to promise myself to look for and obey the red flags and run when appropriate.

Life is the most precious commodity you and I possess and it isn't meant for toiling for the man, it's meant for enjoyment, so a job should be no less than enjoyable, something that begs you to invest your time in it and provides rewards in satisfaction and occasionally even money.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


A quiet mind can be one of the best respites from the stresses of life. Of course finding a way to quiet one's mind is difficult.

Some practice meditation, but I've never been able to stop long enough to try to meditate for relaxation purposes. Maybe that's the curse of television, or perhaps that's what the pace of my career has trained me for.

In flow, the noise drops back and the focus becomes central and can override everything else. Prior to management, I could flow when I was programming. I could stay up all night, or just work on one more thing. Soon enough, I'd be late for dinner, a meeting or missing lunch, and consumed by solving some problem.

I've always sought activities outside of work where I find flow. Performance driving, skiing, mountain biking and most recently, I'm trying to learn to surf. When I do those things, there is little else on my mind. It's me, my body, physics and intense focus.

Interestingly, I just returned from a long road trip. My family and I travelled south along Eastern Oregon, Nevada and California to Carmel and back north along the Coastlines of California and Oregon. It was a rewarding trip, particularly in one unexpected way.

Unlike parking yourself on beach at some resort, being catered to and doing nothing relaxing, there's very little that is physically restful about driving 3000 miles on a roadtrip, camping 3/4 of the nights you spend on the trip. It's a lot of work, and can be very tiring.

On the 24th night of the trip, I was thinking about getting home and the end of the trip. My thoughts drifted to the question of what my next career step should be, and from there it was off to the races. My mind became very noisy, almost randomly firing concerns, questions about the future and just about everything else that had been deferred during our travels.

After finally falling asleep and waking up the next morning, I realized that the trip had ended, and at the same time that something kind of special had happened on this trip. I experienced flow for a very long time on the trip. The trip had been physically challenging and clearly draining, but at the same time my mind had been experiencing a focus and a rest that might have been unattainable in any other situation.

I'd been flowing for at least a couple of weeks. The focus was on the trip, what we were doing and where we were going. Little else

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Blackberry and Mac: a match made in Tukwila

Let me start out by saying, if you've got a Mac, you should consider your options for a smart phone very carefully. I've only got one phone, and I've been frustrated with my Blackberry ever since I gave up my work BES connection. If you've got a phone connected to a some sort of a data plan, how could you accept anything less than fully-connected, fully-synchronized? I know I can't.

The options:

Probably the best, most complete option is BES on a full corporate-style mail server. You could go procure a copy of Exchange and BES (only $500 for 5 used BES licenses) and let 'er rip. Of course, if that's too complex, rich or bandwidth-hogging or all three for your tastes, you could try a hosted Exchange solution with BES. This will probably run you about $25-$35 per month for the server side. Your carrier, if it is like mine, will want to ding you about $15/month over the personal Blackberry plan to connect to a BES server that you're paying for. So, you're in $40 to $50. That's pretty steep when coupled with your probably $65 phone bill for voice, data and Blackberry Internet Service (BIS).

Which brings me to BIS. BIS should be a full-featured BES replacement for those of us outside of an enterprise, right? Wrong. With GMail or Google Apps, it doesn't seem to get the state right between the device and the IMAP connection I use for my desktop mail. It doesn't even purge deleted items. GMail may have a hand in that one, but you can't tell anything about what BIS and GMail are doing because BIS provides very few visible configuration options for much of anything, other than to import an Outlook or Outlook Express email profile which does me very little good on my Mac. But it gets the job done, sort of. I have a hard time believing I pay for this service. It's all TCP/IP and data, right?

Open source is often right where you need it, and in solving this problem, it's very close. Funambol has most of the pieces you need -- SyncML servers to hold your data, free and hosted at and, an open-source client for Blackberry to push your data to the SyncML server, and early client for iPhone and Mac which will sync your contacts with a SyncML server. Maybe on a good day, but I was unsuccessful. Even after busting out the debugger to see what was happening on the client, I still got server failures with both services as I was trying to get my data up to the server. Next stop on that road would have been running the server locally, debugging the issues and fixing the code. I can't fault this group for having a not-quite-working system, but I'm looking for something that works now, rather than a project.

Enter BusySync. BusySync is a calendar publish/subscribe facility subscribe to your main Google Calendar and publish an iCal calendar to Google calendars, as well as provide ad-hoc calendar sharing. BusySync works smoothly, effortlessly and is perfect if all you need is to synchronize your calendar to a Google calendar. Unfortunately, for reasons that I won't explain here, you can't sync the Entourage calendar with Google calendar in a way that you get two-way syncing through Google to a Blackberry. If you use iCal, this scenario works great.

If you want to use Entourage and have it sync to your primary Google calendar, there is another Mac to Google synchronization option available. It's called Spanning Sync and it works similarly to BusySync, but it allows you to map the calendars you want to synchronize. With Spanning Sync, I can synchronize my Entourage calendar, or the iCal version of my Entourage calendar, with my primary Google calendar. Google calendar sync picks up that calendar and synchronizes it with my Blackberry and the calendar problem is solved!

For the moment, I'll put up with cabling up to sync my contacts...until I decide that I want a single, cohesive solution that I can host, and I'll either pony up the cash for BES or pony up the code for funambol.

I think I'll go the funambol route.