Tuesday, September 30, 2003

When you think you have it bad
Rory Blyth at Napoleon.com: This was a pretty big deal. When I was six, my family was poorer than poor. I remember one night when my dad came home, got a little tipsy, and then ate a can of cat food. That actually may or may not have had anything to do with our being poor, but now seems as good a time as any to get that experience off my chest.

I remember one time when my Dad began to eat a little dirt (plant) pod thinking it was a mushroom. It wasn't because we were poor. It was because it was very early in the morning, dark and my Dad was hungry. Strange memories.
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Monday, September 29, 2003

Some music and an on stage suicide

Fox News: The hard-rock band Hell on Earth had said that a suicide by a terminally ill person would take place during a concert Saturday to raise awareness of right-to-die issues.

And people thought Marylin Manson was taking things too far. It never ceases to amaze me what entertainers will come up with next.

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Disney and the other studios don't get it (big surprise, huh?)
CNET: According to Disney, MovieBeam will feature 100 films that can be downloaded at any time, with 10 new titles rotated in each week. Once customers download a movie to the hard drive of the MovieBeam device--a set-top receiver manufactured specifically for Disney by Samsung--they gain access to the content for a 24-hour period.

The CNET article makes this service sound revolutionary. When we had digital cable with Charter Communications, we had a very similar type of service through Charter included with the digital cable package. You paid about $3.99 per movie and could select from probably 100-200 movies. So why is this big news? Is it because it's Disney? I'm not sure why I'm supposed to get all psyched about being able to rent/download from a 100 film selection. That's not even mentioning the fact that you have to rent the required hardware. Why not just bundle this with cable or satellite TV and building it into a Tivo like device that serves as the receiver as well as provide the PVR and on demand movie features? I don't get it. If the service provided the same selection as NetFlix, was a part of digital cable/satellite, had PVR capabilities and came bundled with digital cable or satellite service then I would be tempted to buy into it. Until then, I guess the studios will have to figure out that consumers don't care much for limited selection, more hardware requirements, more monthly fees and a total lack of integration of features that should be in one single device.
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Searching for new long distance service
With moving comes all the fun stuff like turning off utilities at the old place and turning them on at another. With this comes the fun of deciding what to do for long distance. Since we live out in the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin (Reeseville, WI to be specific), the cell phone service is a wee bit unreliable. So, all those unlimited night and weekend long distance minutes don't do us much good. That means I had to pick a long distance carrier. I hate long distance plans that charge a monthly fee. I refuse to pay a monthly fee. I also don't care for the 10-10 type numbers due to some weird billing issues I've run into in the past. So, that leaves me with looking at the “alternative” long distance providers out there. I searched and searched on the net until I finally found one that seems to be decent and maybe even legit. BigRedWire. No monthly fee. Online billing and up to the last phone call usage stats. State-to-state calls are $.04 per minute. In state long distance calls are $.05 cents per minute. You can get $5.00 per month to call other BRW members. So, of course, if this works out well I'll be hawking the BRW service to all my friends and family.

I'm sure I'll be seeing that BRW is just some sort of online scheme and I'll be paying the real long distance provider about $5.67 per minute. But, by that time BRW will have fled the country and closed its doors. If this doesn't happen, consider me shocked.
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Friday, September 26, 2003

It's finally all over
We did it. We're moved into our new house and we're completely out of our apartment. The house is a mess (boxes and furniture everywhere) and the apartment is sparkling. It'll be a busy weekend.

We got the deal of the century with breaking our lease. If we were willing to get out of the apartment by the end of the day September 25th, then we would owe no additional money, plus we would get back our security deposit and the remaining September's rent back. I have a co-worker who is in just the opposite position. His apartment is giving him no way out of his lease, which goes through April 2004. He has to sublet it or pay the rent. He closes on his new house on the 30th of this month. He's yet to find someone to rent his apartment. That really sucks.

I feel like I could fall over right about now. The relief of having it all over is great. In fact, I think the relief I am now feeling has translated into my body (and mind) just wanting to completely shutdown now that everything is through. Unfortunately, I have a lot to do in regards to getting everything situated in the house. So, now it's time to convince my body to put in a few more days of heavy lifting before completely falling over.
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Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Wake me up when it's over
Alright, it's official, my nerves are shot. After going through a week of utter chaos I'm hoping it all comes to an end tomorrow. The latest twist this week was a call from our lender that had me more than a little concerned. Our rep left a message on my voicemail at work telling me that our paperwork for the mortgage on our new house should be done by today but there's no guarantee at this point. I was a wee bit tense after hearing that message. I think most would understand why: We are supposed to close on our house tomorrow and had to be out of our apartment the same day.

I'm happy to report that I confirmed this afternoon that the paperwork is done and is being sent to the title agency for our closing tomorrow. Excellent! I can't say enough good things about our lender, First Franklin. Our rep there, John Valentini, helped us out more than anyone during the sale of our house in Ohio and the purchase of this new house in Wisconsin. While the real estate agents in both Ohio and here in Wisconsin left a bad taste in our mouth with their (often times) incompetence, John Valentini and the entire team behind him at First Franklin came through. This last hold up on their end was mainly due to our agent getting a revised sales contract to them so late.

Did I mention that I really don't care for real estate agents? It's nothing against them personally. Most real estate agents are about as helpful as your local used car salesman. There were often times where I had to give advice to the agent on how to approach a particular situation. For instance, on our house in Wisconsin our agent claimed there wasn't a commission listed on the MLS listing for the house we were putting the offer on so she put that she would get half of the sales commission, which is standard operating procedure. The seller's agent, after the seller accepted the offer, sent our agent a fax stating that she would be getting less than half of the sales commission since that was stated up front in the listing. While writing a new offer with our agent to include closing costs in the price, she asked my wife Kelly and I whether she should (again) write her commission in the new offer as being half of the sales commission. Why was she asking us this?! I explained to her that if the MLS listing had the buyer agent's commission stated up front, then she had to agree to that unless the seller's agent was willing to change. If the commission wasn't stated up front, then she was entitled to 50% of the commission. Either way, our offer to buy the house should not be affected by the agents' disagreement over commission. The buyer and the seller don't care about the commissions. (OK, maybe the seller does if her agent is trying to get more than half of the sales commission. By doing that the seller's agent is scaring away potential buyers' agents. But, once the seller has an offer on the table, the seller has no interest in what the commission split is.) Our agent handled that one horribly. She also screwed up getting the revised sales contract to our lender in a timely manner. In addition to that, she didn't even find this house for us. We found it! She couldn't even locate it when we gave her the MLS number! It wasn't until we told her we found it on the Internet that she was able to see the listing on the other major area MLS (Milwaukee.) Yikes! I wish I could say that our agent in Ohio was much better but he was just as bad if not worse.

OK, I'm cooling down now. I just had to vent a little. I'm really thankful for the new house and for things coming together. God is so good to me and my family. Whenever I want to complain about things not going my way I stop and think about it all. It normally doesn't take too long for me to realize that my problems don't even hold a match to most. That's not even to mention the fact that this life is so temporary. To get so bent out of shape by things that (in the end) don't matter all that much is silly. Lately, I've often had the image of Startup.com in my head. More specifically, I remember the scene where the two founders Tom and Kaleil are faced with the demise of their company. Tom, who's worked his butt off as much as anyone within the company, calmly says something along the lines of, “If they (the board) want to fire us, then so be it. I don't want to leave but I know that life goes on. We gave it our best shot.” The way Tom said it in the face of all that was about to happen to him and Kaleil was unbelievably calming. Tom cared deeply about his company but he was able to keep things in perspective. I'd like to be able to say the same thing looking back on the events of my life.
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The whole Java == SUV debate
Phillip Greenspun wrote a quick post saying that Java was much like an SUV. He was inspired to write this by watching a class of his Computer Science students struggle more with Java than those who used other languages like Perl, PHP and even .NET.

Numerous Slashdot readers went ballistic on this. Now we have TheServerSide doing the same. One common comment I've read on TSS is that Phillip Greenspun is a professor with no real world experience. While Greenspun may not be keeping up with the times, he is not a theory only guy. He once had a very successful content management consulting firm in ArsDigita. At the time, ArsDigita was kicking butt and taking names with a system written in Lisp. Yes, Lisp! While most of the competition was futzing around with making “enterprise level” systems, ArsDigita beat them to the punch with a fast and functional system based on a “has been” programming language.

There's a lesson to be learned by what Greenspun is saying and has said in the past when he had ArsDigita going. Microsoft seems to have learned that lesson. As much as people such as myself whine about Visual Basic, there's no denying its market penetration and quick development times. It's quick, dirty and (in general) works. The same cannot be said for Java. Part of this is due to having almost too many choices in libraries and development frameworks, as was stated in the TSS thread. Another part of this is due to Java not having a great development tool like Visual Studio. It's amazing how much easier you can make programming by providing a great development tool. I think the folks at Zend even realize this in regards to PHP development. Look at Zend Studio for proof. Yes, Zend Studio is impressive enough to sway someone to PHP over its other Open Source competition like Perl and Python. Just think how much more a great development tool could sway people to develop with Java, since it, in combination with with various J2EE components, is a technology capable of almost any size project.
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Monday, September 22, 2003

A very cool digital camera
This is too cool. I'm very tempted to buy it. Does it support Macs?

[Update: It does support Macs - OS 9 or higher and G3 or better. Cool!]
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Does Scoble need to take the reality distortion glasses off?
Scoble: Ever consider that there's a bunch of people out there who work, not to get rich, but because the work 1) matters and 2) is fun?

I hate picking on Scoble. He seems like a really nice guy who definitely does an excellent job in evangelizing for whatever company he's working for. With that said, I must comment on Scoble's above post.

Quite some time ago Scoble (long before he worked at Microsoft) had a post concerning God. Scoble made it clear in his post and in his replies to comments on the post that he does not believe in God. He argued that those who believe in God need to take off their “reality distortion glasses” (my term, can’t remember exactly the term he used) and not try to find meaning in things. If we did that, then we’d all have our eyes opened and see that there is no need to believe in God. So, in light of that, I find the above post rather ironic. It appears to me that Scoble has found a purpose and meaning in his life through his work. I could be interpreting this incorrectly, but it sure seems like that’s what he’s saying. After all, if you’re only working for the money then what is the point? Well Scoble, I would guess working only for the money is what you do when you have taken off the “reality distortion glasses” and come to the conclusion that there is no purpose to life.  This is exactly the same viewpoint given throughout much of Ecclesiastes. “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? Ecclesiastes 1:3
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Friday, September 19, 2003

eBay is moving in
I just heard from a co-worker that eBay is going to be at our industry's big show this year in Vegas. They're going to be doing seminars for the independent dealers in our industry to show them how to utilize the eBay marketplace to sell product online. Most manufacturers in this industry are against online sales. We don't like it because we feel it hurts our independent dealer channel's value and because there could be legal complications. As a result, my company has taken a stance to only sell a limited amount of product online (trinkets and trash as we like to say) and disallow our dealers to sell anything online. Now eBay is moving in and wooing the dealers.

I've been warning people at all levels of the company that we better come up with a solution to make ecommerce work or someone else will. Now that “someone else” is eBay, likely the biggest ecommerce player on the market today. The only crack of light I see in this is that it may still be early enough to partner up with eBay so that we have some say in how things work. If we don't work with eBay, then there is a good chance they will dictate how the game is played with our dealers. Sure, we can tell our dealers they're no longer an authorized dealer if they sell online (which we do currently) but what happens when they all sell online? What happens when other manufacturers bite the bullet and say its OK to sell online? Or worse, what happens when our major competitors join forces with eBay and make a compelling sell to our dealers to only carry our competitors' products in exchange for great new opportunities? I don't like the looks of this. Granted, ecommerce will likely only cover 10% of total sales in most industries, but we still have to account for that 10% somehow.
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Thursday, September 18, 2003

Ahhhh... (That was a sigh of relief, kind of.)

The web site with the new CrownPeak CMS launched yesterday and things are going quite well with it. We're going to be doing training soon for the day-to-day users to start using the CMS. It's a huge switch in mentality. Before we could push ownership of the data off to an agency and blame them for lack of updates or incorrect information. The users say they'll love having ownership. I say it will take some time for them to understand what the means and how it changes their jobs. In the end, it's a great thing. Now for the fun part of getting people to use a new system...

God is certainly testing me in the areas of patience and controlling my tongue lately. I'm sad to report I'd be given, at best a “D-” for my efforts in those two departments. I have three major projects at work all at different phases but all demanding a lot of me all at once. Coming into this week my wife and I were still trying to sell our house. We're closing on a new house next week. We have to move out of our apartment by the 25th of next week. I've had to make a bazillion calls for the sale of the old house, the new house and for moving related stuff. It's been so chaotic and through it all I've managed to lose my patience with just about every person I've come in contact with in the last few days — just ask my wife, son (if he could carry a full conversation with you ) and my co-workers. Then there's the issue of controlling my tongue. Anger tends to lead to saying things you shouldn't about people. I've torn into everyone from real estate agents, insurance agents, product managers, buyers, IT developers...the list just goes on and on. Maybe some of them deserved it, but I never once took a second to stop and pray about it. I simply let the words fly and the consequences follow as they may. I don't normally get like this and I hate it. I prayed this afternoon that God would give me some patience and control in what I say because I'm losing it.
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Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Sell a house, launch a CMS implementation, and pondering a switch from Java to PHP
This post will show up as Wednesday, but it's still Tuesday as far as I'm concerned.

Today my wife and I signed the papers to close on the sale of our house in Ohio. It seems like this day would never come. Now we just need to close on the purchase of our new home in Wisconsin next week. That includes having to move, which is always a joy.

We're about to go live with our first site based on CrownPeak Technology's CMS. You may be reading an article in the near future about it in ComputerWorld. At least that's what a little birdie told me.

I've managed to schedule 5 meetings between the hours of 8:30AM - 1:30PM. What am I smoking? I look at my calendar and it shows things are fairly open every other day of the week. There's nothing quite like slamming yourself with meetings, especially morning meetings.

I'm considering consolidating all the company's web sites to PHP rather than Java. Most of our sites' applications are simple and Java does not cater to fast and flexible development for these types of small web apps (IMO, of course.) I've been thinking about this for quite sometime. I knew I wanted all the sites on Linux and I thought I wanted them all using Java for the small number of dynamic applications that would be needed after CrownPeak was in place across the board. But, now I'm starting to think PHP is a better choice. I've always been critical of IT managers who choose a technology just because it's the more popular choice to make. I'm afraid I would be falling into the same trap by adopting Java for our consumer web sites. I would overpay for development and support all just to say that I was using an “industry standard.” I'm still looking for feedback from our various vendors who provide development services, as well as our hosting provider, who prefers Java and Oracle. I don't want to jump the gun on this, but I also don't want to promote an overkill technology solution for our rather simple needs. I'm curious to talk to our vendors to see how they react and what thoughts they have on it.

That's about it. I've got to send some emails and then it's off to bed. I'm becoming an insomniac again. I can just feel it.
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Monday, September 15, 2003

The cross platform and open .Net myth
Slashdot had a rather boring thread about a great question: Is Microsoft just waiting for the right time to pounce on .Net ports like Mono and DotGNU? I think they are. They won't do it right now because those ports aren't quite up to snuff. But, now that Novell owns the company that started Mono (Ximian), I think Mono development will be accelerated and Microsoft will be forced to do the inevitable: Kill the competition with any means necessary. This time the weapon of choice will be patents. (Ironic, considering last week's browser plug-in fiasco.) I wouldn't touch .Net with a ten foot pole for cross platform development. Until the ports of .Net have Microsoft's blessing, you're treading on very dangerous water.
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The RIAA's worst kept secret
NY Times: Much of the stated concern over file sharing has centered on the revenue that record companies and musicians are losing, but few musicians ever actually receive royalties from their record sales on major labels, which managers say have accounting practices that are badly in need of review. (Artists do not receive royalties for a CD until the record company has earned back the money it has spent on them.)

The article, which I found via Scripting.com, goes on to say that even recent mega-dollar boy bands like The Backstreet Boys have never seen a dime from royalties. But, of course, the music fan is the criminal here and should be punished to the extreme.

P.S. Ever notice how the RIAA never seems to represent the artist? That's not a coincidence.
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Offshore outsourcing guide
ComputerWorld is running a special report on offshore outsourcing. I'm curious how globalization will affect our country in the longer term. We've sent manufacturing overseas and now even services like IT are going there. Will this be the downfall of the US economy long term as a result of having shipped a lot of the work elsewhere? Or, is this good for the US economy because it's capitalism in its purest form? What happens when countries like India become more robust (assuming their governments will allow that to ever happen) and people start demanding more money as their lifestyles are upgraded? Does globalization level the playing field or does it simply provide a way for the richer nations to exploit the poorer nations?

Think about this: If we really want poorer nations to become self sufficient, then maybe that means losing quite a few jobs here in the US. How bad do most people want to help out those countries when it may mean sacficing their own jobs? That is a tough question.
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Saturday, September 13, 2003

Too much fun and a little Jerry Maguire thrown in
I'm currently working on finishing up our first CrownPeak CMS implementation with one other guy internally and one main development lead at CrownPeak. I really enjoy working with both of them. The project has been tough at times simply because the owners of the content often don't know much about the content. Hopefully they'll be more interested in taking ownership of their content more seriously once they see the power and processes they'll have in place with the CMS. Wishful thinking, I know.

Anyway, my partner in crime internally, Ryan, is losing his mind in much the same way I am. He's buying a house and trying to close on it this month. He's also trying to balance a ton of other projects at work while dedicating a majority of his time to the CMS project. With all the chaos Ryan has a tendency to write bug report emails that are rather confusing in their verbiage. I do the same thing under the same circumstances, so we can relate on that one. The other day Ryan wrote a real brain teaser of an email to our lead developer at CrownPeak that only made things even more confusing. I read it while I was over at his desk and told him our lead at CrownPeak would likely reply with: “You had me at hello.”

P.S. While I'm still thinking about Jerry Maguire after that last line... Did I ever mention that I (looking around right now before I type what comes next...) really like the movie Jerry Maguire? I remember before I first saw it I thought I was going to hate it. It seemed like it would be a really cliche movie, which in many ways it is. But, there's a lot I like about it. The greed in sports angle. The journey Jerry goes on; scared and losing all confidence in himself once he takes a stand for something. The journey Dorothy goes on; looking for someone who inspires her beyond just the day-to-day. The journey they take together; both looking to fill the holes in their lives with one another. The relationship between Jerry and Ron, which is an example of two great characters on the screen. Wow, it really is a good movie. My friends cringe when I tell them that. My wife, on the other hand, doesn't cringe, she just seemed to walk away from the movie bored because it had something to do with sports. I guess you can't please either side of that spectrum!
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Friday, September 12, 2003

Internet Explorer plug-ins disaster coming
Zeldman: Besides paying over half a billion dollars to the patent holder, Microsoft is supposed to cripple its market-leading browser so that IE/Windows will no longer seamlessly play Flash, Quicktime, RealVideo, or Adobe Acrobat files, Java applets, and other rich media formats.

I know this isn't news per se but it looks like plug-ins as we know them in IE (and possibly other browsers) are really going away. I don't use plug-ins normally, but that doesn't make this horrible patent ruling any easier to swallow. I wonder how much Microsoft loves patents now?
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God bless Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash was an incredible artist. Listening to his music gives you the sense of what the gospel and blues are about all at the same time. There's something about his voice and his approach that had its feet firmly planted on the ground while still managing to sail outside the boundaries of this world. Johnny held tightly to God and, as is always the case, God held on even tighter to Johnny. It's sad to wake up and hear that this legend (and still relevant musician) has passed away. He's moved onto a better place. Thank you God for allowing us to have him for the time we did.
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Thursday, September 11, 2003

Protecting farmers while starving people abroad
Reason: Just how desperate the situation is in sub-Saharan Africa is made clear by British demographer Angus Maddison's calculation that the average annual gross domestic product in the region is just $450 per person. Maddison points out that that was the average income of a citizen of the Roman Empire. In other words, sub-Saharan Africa has made essentially no economic progress in the past 2000 years.

One of the reasons for this is due to countries like the US, UK, etc. subsidising local farming. We subsidise our farmers, thus shutting the third world countries out of our market. Then we nail the little guy again by dumping our subsidised product on their shores at prices the local farmer can't match. Globalization is messy. Far messier than anyone probably ever thought. If you fix this particular problem, then you're going to see farmers in the US go ballistic (and possibly out of business.) It's not unlike what is happening in many other industries where jobs are being shipped to countries where the rates are much lower and the quality is as high, if not higher.

The irony in all of this is that you have environmentalist and other protestors (who seem to have a fondness for protesting with gigantic puppets on sticks) making all sorts of noise. They see the problem and come to the conclusion that farmers need to go old school and cut back on production — no lie. Then you have President George W. Bush raising subsidies for farmers, which only puts fuel on the fire of the problem. In this case, neither side of the political aisle wants to make the hard decision and cut out subsidies for local farmers.

We need third world countries to be able to sustain their own growth, their own survival. One important step for doing this is ensuring that those countries' governments are not abusing efforts to relieve third world debt and other programs setup to help the poorer nations get out of the hole. The other important step is to remove crutches like farming subsidies that protect local interests while literally starving people abroad. Neither step is easy. Each has its own set of problems. But, if we want third world countries to make progress, then these tough decisions need to be made.

[Note: Edited post 9-13-03 to change title (“and” to “while” and to add the link to the puppet protestors.]
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Thoughts on September 11th
9/11 will always be a significant event in my life even though I wasn’t anywhere close to any of the cities that were attacked. I guess this is not unlike people who were around during JFK’s assassination and other historical events – the impact is huge.

I don’t think I learned much about the politics of it all. Politics are what they are. We live in a sinful world, run by sinful people. Chances are pretty good that life on Earth isn't going to be so grand when you take that formula into account. It's sad and tragic, but nonetheless true. I think everyone went soul searching after 9/11. Unfortunately, I think most of us have stopped the soul searching and gotten back to the daily grind. God had our attention for a moment, but we all seem to have attention deficit disorder and only a short-term memory. We're back to obsessing over things like Ben and J-Lo, reality TV shows and a bunch of other pop culture crap. Either people have found their peace and moving on, or they've simply given up to the inane.

Today is the two year anniversary of 9/11, yet it was on 9/9 of this year that I got chills from the haunting memories of 9/11 left us with. The chills came from watching Jay Leno of all places. I caught Wilco on Leno that night and they played their song, Jesus Etc. The words were written many months prior to 9/11 but you'd have a hard time convincing someone of that. References to tall buildings shaking, voices escaping and singing sad songs, last cigarettes, skyscrapers scraping together... It's eerie to say the least and to hear it a couple of days before the anniversary of 9/11 stopped me cold. I couldn't help but question whether I even remember 9/11 all that well. Did I remember the sense of panic? The anger? The confusion? Anything at all? I'm still wrestling with those questions.

God got my attention on 9/11, but now I have to wonder if he's lost it. There's work to be done, houses to buy and sell, places to go, people to see, etc. And yet, I'm left here wondering, on the two year anniversary of the worst tragedy my eyes have witnessed on live television, if I've learned anything at all from it all. Did God change me or was it just a passing emotional experience? That's an extremely hard question to answer. The hardest part is coming to terms with an answer I won't like.
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Scoble and his 1,000 days of Longhorn
Scoble: Maybe I should do something like that for Longhorn. Problem is, there's probably more than 1000 new Longhorn features. How about “the 1000 days of Longhorn?”

Hey Scoble, if you start now you'd probably still have time to spare before the official release of Longhorn.
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Linus talking some smack
ComputerWorld: However, we have to sadly decline taking business model advice from a company that seems to have squandered all its money (that it made off a Linux IPO, I might add, since there's a nice bit of irony there), and now seems to play the US legal system as a lottery. - Linus Torvalds addressing SCO CEO, Darl McBride's letter to the Open Source community

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Wednesday, September 10, 2003

More patching fun awaits Windows users
I just got an email from the Help Desk with a new patch to fix another issue with DCOM. I also saw this on John Dowdell's weblog.

You know, the same problem that allowed the Blaster worm to do its damage. If this continues, I think our company is going to need a department solely dedicated to applying Windows patches.

P.S. Now I better understand why Microsoft has 3,000 sys admins for its 7,000 Windows servers. Although, those numbers make it kind of hard to justify the high return on investment Microsoft has been touting lately.
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Load balancing databases cheaply
The Server Side points to an Open Source project, C-JDBC, that I've had an interest in doing more research on. C-JDBC allows you to have multiple database servers behind a JDBC driver that does all the load balancing work. There is a research report that includes benchmarks. If it works, then the big DB players could be facing some serious competition from the Open Source database players like MySQL and PostgreSQL.
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Remind me again why we have MSRP
Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) is a joke. At my company we are posting MSRP on the products we sell and we're marking the MSRP up by $20. So why do we have MSRP to begin with if we're just marking that price up even more later on? I thought everyone knew that MSRP was a joke. Retailers don't really care about MSRP. They're most concerned with their margins and the competition. If they can sell you a product for over MSRP then they will. I will admit it is nice to have an estimate on how much a product might cost when looking at a manufacturer's product info, but other than that MSRP is useless.
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Scott McNealy just does not get it
ZDNet: McNealy said such a change in IT buying and distribution is a major shift. He likened it to moving everyone away from building their own custom airplane to everyone buying a seat on an airplane run by the airlines. - Scott McNealy, Sun Microsystems CEO

Yawn. McNealy jumps on Ellison's bandwagon by touting the end of IT as we know it with massive consolidation and outsourcing. Did I mention McNealy was speaking at Ellison's party? Either way, Sun's CEO is lost in the forest. He sees his companies sales going way down and figures this means there is no longer a need for highly strategic IT within most businesses today. His quote makes it sound like all of IT is simply a matter of operations. Taking that point of view will sink a business sooner rather than later. So you outsource your IT needs and lower your overall costs in the process. Now when you need IT to help you achieve your business goals who is on your payroll that understands both the tech and your business? Sure, Scott would love for you to hand over your IT needs to companies like his. Afterall, he desperately needs the revenue.
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Oracle JDeveloper 10g looks compelling
They've got my attention again. This time it's with JDeveloper 10g. Whoever heads up the JDeveloper team at Oracle seems to “get it.” The features I saw quick demos of are exactly what Microsoft does best. The nice thing that you get with JDeveloper that you don't with Microsoft's tools is platform independence, application server independence and (shockingly for Oracle) database independence. Too bad Oracle is lead by an ego maniac.
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The RIAA is hunting down the most dangerous ones first

The Register: RIAA keeps 12-year-old quiet with $2,000 bill.

What, they couldn't find anyone younger? I'm sure this girl will continue to love music tomorrow as much as she does today.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2003

The forgotten middleware
One of the first middleware/scripting languages I learned way back when was Blueworld's Lasso. The company had the best middleware for getting FileMaker Pro databases (stop laughing) hosted on Macs on the web. I watched Lasso grow over the years. First they started to expand the operating system options by supporting Windows. At the same time they started using ODBC to allow use of databases other than FileMaker Pro. There were a lot of other features added as time went by but nothing Earth shattering. It took Blueworld quite some time to make the major architecture change that they now benefit from. I had learned other technologies by that time and didn't get a chance to continue working with Lasso much after that.

Blueworld announced Lasso 7 today and it sounds really exciting. Lots of great new features and even more platforms supported. If you're looking for a powerful middleware package that is likely to pleasantly surprise you, I suggest you check out Lasso. Congratulations to the entire team at Blueworld on what looks like another impressive realease.
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A glutton for punishment
Brent Simmons: So that’s what I’m doing, fixing bugs. There’s no programming task I enjoy more. I like solving a bunch of little problems, getting the satisfaction from each one.

Wow! That is a first. I hate fixing bugs, no matter if they're my own or someone else's. That's cool that Brent likes fixing them because I imagine it makes his software that much better.
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Please turn that Pantera up
A co-worker in the cube right across from mine seems to be going through a thrash-metal musical phase. Worse, he feels the need to play his new found love even when he's not at his desk. I fully expect this phase to end soon and then I'll be hearing something like disco or maybe even boy bands. He hasn't hit those phases yet. It wasn't so bad when he went through his classic rock phase or his 80's alt-rock phase. Those were at least tolerable. The thrash-metal is not cool.
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Monday, September 08, 2003

A great risk to being an all Microsoft shop
The company I work for utilizes a number of different operating systems/platforms, but we are quickly becoming a Windows shop. The ERP software runs on IBM's AS/400 and the graphics department runs on Mac OS X. Everything else (internally, not outsourced) is Windows. We made the migration to Active Directory for the network, Windows 2000 for the servers and XP Pro on the clients. This change over is beginning to show some gains in efficiency, but one of the hidden costs of this move to Windows came up yesterday when the HR Director made it known that he wants to put in place a more formal (and strategic) intranet.

The need for a company wide intranet means adding roughly 1,000 users to the Active Directory. The costs for this aren't killer (probably around 50k per year) but these costs get us nothing more than the ability to legally have those users in the directory. It doesn't buy us support, application features or additional efficiencies — just user licenses. I couldn't help but think of the alternatives. Maybe Novell's eDirectory? The costs there are three dollars (yes, $3) per user with full upgrade protection. I can run eDirectory on any platform I would like to, including platforms with optional licensing costs like Linux. Plus, eDirectory adheres to standards like LDAP much better than Active Directory.

Beyond the licensing costs, there are the costs of maintaining all these new users and servers. Consolidating server platforms has helped in this area, but remote administration of the Windows servers is still anemic. You must use a GUI far too often. That's not even touching on the fact that Microsoft servers have been under heavy attack for the past few years and that doesn't appear to be lessening as time goes by. Yes, every platform has security issues, but the question becomes how easy it is to control the security issues. Microsoft hasn't proven it can provide solid solutions to this particular problem.

It is dangerous to commit to one vendor as much as most companies commit to Microsoft. Don't think Microsoft doesn't know how painful it is in reality to switch to the competition. In most case studies on Linux vs. Windows you see some strange numbers on the Linux side in the areas of training and support. Since a company would be moving away from Windows to Linux, most of the IT staff would need retrained in addition to the users. Of course it's cheaper up front to stick with what you have. It's almost always a loss to switch technologies when you take a short term view of things. But, Microsoft knows this is one of the keys it has against competitors. Once you're using Microsoft's stuff, you're not likely to switch — it's just too much money and pain. Microsoft isn't the only tech company that uses this tactic. Almost every IT company out there applies similar (if not exactly the same) tactics. Microsoft is just a lot more noticeable with its huge market share.

My advice to IT managers is this: Be careful when taking the seemingly easy route with adopting all Microsoft technologies. The hidden costs are there, but by the time you're able to seem them it's likely too late. You will have committed too much time and money to seriously consider the alternatives.
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Microsoft is serious about security
Want to know why so many people are suspicious of Microsoft's new focus on security? Look no further than this CNET article about how the Internet Explorer “object type” security flaw patch does not take care of the problem. This doesn't even mention the fact that for every patch that needs to be applied, there is testing and then deployment of that patch to a company's entire network. Sometimes the patch actually does its job and even updates rather smoothly. The majority of the time patches are a nightmare. Of course, it's only icing on the cake when you've finally got the patch applied and it still doesn't work!
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No really, I want you to call me

Sterling Hughes: If you don't know how to deal with international dialing codes (and can't figure it out), I probably prefer not to speak with you anyway.

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Friday, September 05, 2003

No one gets off track better than Slashdot

In a Slashdot post on the Australian government getting two Mainframes stolen, the first posts deal with (what else) tipping your waiter and waitresses. Gotta love it!

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Businesses' lack of ambition

Fast Company: Today, in contrast, many leaders are almost cynical about new ideas. If one were to construct an ambition index, you'd find evidence of a growling bear in the idea marketplace. Virtually every barometer is down: published business books, leadership lectures, consulting revenues, corporate investment in developing the knowledge, skills, and abilities of employees, venture capital money and deals, and issued patents. The numbers reflect a severe idea recession.

I originally thought this lack of ambition and new ideas mainly plagued IT. There is certainly a fear to move beyond the comfortable these days. I'm sure there are a lot of reasons for this, many of them psychological. The question is how you get out of this rut.

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Thursday, September 04, 2003

...And last winter we had flying squirrels
I overheared a co-worker's phone conversation. He's talking about a squirrel problem he's having at his home. It sounds like every type of squirrel known to man is attacking this guy's house: gray, red, flying — you name it and they're probably down in a bunker somewhere right now going over their plans for a full force assault on my co-worker's house.
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Another day, another Microsoft security flaw
ComputerWorld: At risk are recent versions of Microsoft's Access, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Visio, Word and Works applications.

At least it does not affect the really popular MS applications that everyone uses. Oh wait, it does.
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Wednesday, September 03, 2003

The Christian marketplace confuses me
I got this one from Jason Steffens over at Antioch Road. What can I say, he's on a role!

Jared Bridges over at TruePravda writes about Family Christian Stores deciding to open its stores up on Sunday. TruePravda argues FCS shouldn't be ashamed of running a business, but don't call your business a ministry. You may sell some stuff that helps people to grow closer to God, but you may just as well sell stuff that simply slaps God's name on it in order to appeal to the Christian consumer.

I commented on Jared's post about my confusion over the whole Christian marketplace thing. I used Rick Warren's “Purpose Driven xxxxxx” series of books, videos, etc. as an example since I just recently covered one of the books in a small group. I can't help but think that there's something wrong with this whole profiting from your ministry. You have a right to make a living and even become rich, but should you make a living and even become rich off your ministry?
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Tuesday, September 02, 2003

John Edwards' stance on abortion
Jason Steffens over at Antioch Road points out that John Edwards believes abortion should be legal, but only until “the fetus has reached viability.” Jason asks a great question: Where in the Constitution is there a basis for drawing a viability distinction?

And, as even science is proving to the dismay of pro abortion supporters, life begins at the earliest stages of pregnancy. If the pregnant mother who has an abortion is not taking a life, then why do we put teenage girls and boys on trial for killing their new born children? Is it because the teens on trial put the grisly details in our face and the abortion's ugliness is hidden?
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64-bit x86 server biz is a little slow right now

The Register: The Itanium market is not for the faint of heart. One quarter you can be king of the world only to find yourself at the bottom of the heap three months later. Case in point. Dell sold 14 Itanium servers versus 0 from IBM in Q1. In the second quarter, IBM was the one selling 13 systems versus Dell's 0. You win some, you lose some.

Those numbers are accurate. It's not 13,000 or 13 million or even 130 Itanium systems sold — it's 13. Yikes! AMD, while off to just about as slow a start as Intel in the 64-bit processor race, appears to have a better plan with their Opteron processor. They're beating Intel at its own game. By providing solid 32-bit compatibility, AMD allows companies to purchase 64-bit chips now that may only run 32-bit apps or just a handful of 64-bit apps. Intel was always the company that tended to make the slightly less inferior CPU but got the biggest piece of the market share pie. Now it appears that Intel is trying to make Itanium the superior processor at the price of backwards compatibility. AMD may very well have the inferior CPU this time around and they may also be the ones at the top of the desktop and server mountain within five to seven years from now.

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Monday, September 01, 2003

A recommendation for your banking needs
My wife and I have been using NetBank for checking and savings accounts for at least three years now. I can't say enough good things about NetBank. The customer service online and off is excellent. You can get interest checking, online bill pay, Visa check cards and much more with no fees or minimum balances.

It's easy to complain when service is bad so I'm trying to make an effort lately to point out companies I've done business with that have been providing good service. NetBank is definitely one of those companies. Check them out.
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A great story, a great cause
My Dad, who retired about a year ago, now volunteers to help out with Habitat for Humanity. I read this post by Cameron Purdy about his involvement with HFH. The key to Cameron's volunteering is the story behind why he does it. It's a well written, powerful story. I've never heard a bad thing said about Habitat and that is rare in this age of rampant corruption.
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For those not fond of parking their cars

BBC: Toyota launches a “green” car which is clever enough to park itself.

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The Colonel