Archive for July, 2009

The Best Part of Summer

Friday, July 31st, 2009

While I am not foodie or gourmand I do like to eat. Summer is great for that. We’ve been picking up a lot of fresh food, fruit and vegetables, from farm stands and farmers markets as we generally do in the summer. There is something special about food fresh from the farm. Now some foods are really good all year round if bought frozen. Many of them are prepared and frozen within hours or even minutes of being harvested. But not everything is and not everything freezes well.

Some kinds of peas, green beans, and berries are different if frozen rather than fresh. And somehow having to shuck the corn ones self adds to the experience for me. We picked some strawberries and some asparagus from our own garden this year. It doesn’t get much better than that. Plus we have been growing some tomatoes (though not as many as usual because I am resting the garden plot this summer).

I’ve had farm stand corn on the cob four times this week which is probably more times than I ate frozen corn on the cob all last winter. Like I said – it’s different somehow. Logically? Perhaps not but emotionally? Oh yes. I am staying south of New Hampshire this week and the corn is a lot further along than it is up north. I look forward to farm fresh corn at homes soon.

I hope to pick up some fresh Long Island potatoes later this season as well. Which is the other thing. In the summer it is easier to get truly local food from small farmers. Sure you can buy potatoes all year long but they all come from a few large states out west. Potatoes are different in different areas. Maine is different from Idaho and different from Long Island and different from other regional potatoes. One gets tired of the same old industrially produced food that is always the same. Well I do anyway.

So what do you like about summer food? Or summer in general?

Signs of the Times

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

I’ve been spending some time working from my “East Hampton office.” That is to say that I brought my Dad down to his place in East Hampton Village and I am working from the guest room upstairs. At the end of the work day I generally take a walk. Our place is just off Newtown Lane and down from Main Street. These are the two big (relatively speaking) shopping streets and I like to look in the stores. And at the people – East Hampton in the summer is outstanding for people watching. But that is another blog perhaps. One of the things I notice is the signs in the stores asking people to behave. Cell phones seems to be a big issue. For example:

  • Please no eating, drinking or talking on your cell phone
  • There are places where it is not polite to talk on your cell phone – this is one of them

Interesting to lump cell phone usage to eating or drinking in a store. And the second one is clearly a plea for civility and courtesy.

An other sign I found interesting said “Sadly, this shop is under video surveillance” Clearly the proprietor is disappointed that someone would actually steal from them and that they have had to resort to such measures.

The most fun sign I have seen, and I have seen it other places as well, read “Unattended children will be given a cup of espresso and a free puppy.” Now there is a threat parents can relate to. Seems a bit harsh though.

Getting Tired of Laptops

Monday, July 27th, 2009

I’ve been using a laptop as my primary machine for years now. At least six but probably more like 8 or 10. The only time I use a desktop is when I use someone else’s computer. Mrs. T’s perhaps to play games. Or a computer in a public place. Most of the time a laptop is just fine. But lately it doesn’t seem fine.

Part of it is screen size but not completely. At home I have a 19 inch screen attached to my docking station. That helps a lot. I have a 21 inch LCD I need to make room for and that will be even better. Part of it is the keyboard. I’m seriously looking at plugging in a full-size USB keyboard. I feel constrained on a laptop. Lately it seems like the constraint on my fingers is leading to constrain in my brain. In any case it is starting to feel like too much work on the laptop keyboards.

Performance is not an issue for me and neither is memory or disk space. Four GB of RAM seems fine and I have lots of extra disk space. No it is the I/O. Hopefully the large keyboard and screen will help when I’m home.

Anyone else feeling like this or are you using desktop systems a lot? Or are laptops enough for you?

The Henry Louis Gates Jr Affair

Friday, July 24th, 2009

I’ve been following the issue of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr and his arrest. BTW Why do they always have to say “Henry Louis Gates Jr?” Why not just “Henry Gates” or even “Dr. Gates” or “professor Gates?” Are their that many Professor Gates at Harvard? Any way to the big issues.

I’ve listened to interviews with both Dr Gates and the police officer who arrested him. The stories don’t completely match which is to be expected. But honestly I didn’t hear anything in the interview with the police officer that made it clear why Gates was arrested. It seems to me the officer could have given Gates his name and badge number and just left. Yelling at police officers isn’t illegal is it? I mean as long as their are no physical threats its still free speech right? SO why the need to arrest Gates? That I just don’t get.

The police arrived to investigate a robbery. Gates was upset about being a suspect. I can understand that. He assumed that it was because he was a black man. There don’t seem to be any real evidence that this was the case though. One would have to be naive to think this sort of thing doesn’t happen to white men. Oh it probably does happen to black men more than white men but I find it hard to believe that a white man would have been treated any differently up to that point. If a call came in about a burglary I would expect the police to ask anyone they found in the house to produce ID no matter what race they were.

I would also expect most people to get upset being questioned like that in their own home. Most of us though are more intimidated by men with guns and would go out of their way to avoid confrontation with the police. I was stopped for a “traffic violation” once and the officer got quite belligerent when I calmly tried to explain that there was a delayed light and that the light on my side was still green even though the light he could see was red. Frankly I was afraid for my safety and I’m a white guy. So I shut up and prepared to fight the ticket in court. Fortunately when the officer called this in the office cleared things up and I didn’t get a ticket. No apology either I might add. Yes I still harbor bad feelings about that officer. I think he acted stupidly. But getting police to admit error is very difficult.  Gates should get an apology unless there is more to the story than what I have heard from the police side but based on my own experience I see that as unlikely.

In the Gates case I think both Gates and the officer acted stupidly. I’m sure they are both really smart people and mean well but either one of them could have calmed things down before they escalated the way they did. The officer should have calmed things down because that is his job. If Gates is so smart and professional and mature he should have seen that no good was going to happen with what was going on and calmed things down. Likewise there were other police there who should have stepped in to avoid the confrontation that led to the arrest.

Speaking of acting stupidly, the President should never have made the comments he did. I don’t disagree with his opinion but I think it was unhelpful to the situation. If nothing else it hardened the stance of both individuals which is not good. Now of course neither will own up to any mistakes which is a shame.

Also it hurt his credibility with the police. Did it help him with some people? Perhaps but to what practical good. I think he should have said something like “It is a very unfortunate situation that I am disappointed to see see happen. I am happy that the charges were dropped. I’m sure a complete investigation will be done and will wait for that before making more specific comments.” Privately he could have supported his friend and he could have requested an independent Federal investigation. But to publicly state something was stupid without more information was ill advised.

You know, just because something bad happens to a black man doesn’t mean race was a factor. There actually are black/white/Hispanic/Asian/native American people who do bad things. No really. I’ve also seen white people get arrested by non-white police and don’t know of many cases where they were arrested because they were white. Though honestly having seen white students being beaten up because of their race I would not be amazed if people were arrested in some cases because they are white. But assuming race is a factor without evidence is, well, its racist.

Good News, Bad News

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

I care very little about the stats for traffic on this blog. I care some and I do keep meaning to ask for access to the Google Analytics information but not enough to do a lot about it. For my work blog I do care and care a lot. Largely that is because my boss who determines things like raises, bonuses and good stuff like that cares about it. I’m not solely numbers focused so don’t get too hung up on that. But since I am also crazy about statistics I watch the numbers closely for that reason as well.

One of the things I always hoped for was that I would build up more of a regular audience. That is to say people who read regularly either by RSS subscription or hitting their favorite link. I track this a couple of ways. Analytics tools show direct traffic, referral traffic and search engine traffic. The percentage of traffic from search engines (which tends to be one offs and not regular visitors) is going down. It was 60% and is now around 50%. I also use Feedburner for subscriber information. The good news is this appears to be happing. Feedburner reports an average of over 400 subscribers (I like the 7 day average for this) for example. This is wonderful.

The bad news is that the total traffic is going down. What’s up with that? Well the clue is that the percentage of search engine traffic is down. So while I am getting more regular readers the total readership is down because search engines are sending me less traffic. And I have no idea why. Technorati shows many fewer in links than it did a year ago. I peaked there are over 100 sites linking in and now it is down to 25. Scary. Why is that? I don’t think I am less interesting. Rather I wonder if a lot of the in links were spam links and Technorati and the search engine companies are doing a better job of filtering them out. (BTW I’m seeing a good number of search engine traffic from Bing which makes me happy. Try it out if you haven’t.)

I hear from other bloggers that their traffic is down as well. Could it be that search engines are not driving as much traffic to blogs as they used to? Or are they spreading it out more? What is going on? Anyone else looking closely at their blog stats and seeing similar things?

Anyway in the short term I think I have to think about how to tell this story to my boss so as to properly set his expectations. Assigning meaningful metrics to blog activity is not a science. Some would say it is not even a good idea.

Time V Money

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

One of the things that become more clear as one gets older is that time is a limited resource. On the other hand money is something one can (usually) get more of. So while I have a reasonable appreciation for money I value it most for when it can be used to save me time.

For example. yesterday I was trimming my bushes with an electric hedge clipper and managed to cut the extension cord. It wasn’t the first time and I doubt it will be the last. Once I found and reset the circuit breaker and took a good look at the cord I decided I was done for the day. I was too tired to continue and do a good job. This morning I found a replacement plug and used it to repair the extension cord. Well that was the goal. It turns out that something when wrong and the cord was shorting out. So I took it all apart, looked it over, tried a few things and low and behold … yeah it was still shorting. So now I am faced with a decision. Do I keep working on the cord or do I get a new cord? Working on the cord, assuming I finally get it right, only costs me time. Buying a new cord costs money. I got a new cord. Well to be honest I used another cord I had in the basement but I’ll probably still have to replace the cord eventually. The cost of a new cord is less than the value I place on my time.

After reading an article that did a lot of economic analysis on free time/recreation time compared to time one is paid for I set a value on my time (for things like this) at half my hourly pay rate. So if something costs me half what I get paid an hour and will save me an hour it is worth paying for. Or rather it is not worth not paying for. Unless of course it is something that I enjoy doing for the fun, exercise or has other non-monetary value to me.

This is why I pay someone to cut my lawn BTW. I hate cutting the grass and there are many things I would rather do with my weekend. It is also how I justified hiring someone to paint my house a couple of years ago. It is a model that works for me.

Of course this sort of thing applies to a lot of  things. For example I can program user interfaces much faster using Visual Studio and VB or C# than I can using Java. In fact I think that the cost of buying Visual Studio would pay for itself (at full suggested retail) in a couple of days over using a ‘Free” Java environment. This may not be true for everyone of course but it sure is for me. That’s why I don’t understand anyone using price of tools as a reason to use Java over VB or C#.

I understand the “write once, debug everywhere” argument for Java. Not the free verses pay argument. I suspect that a lot of professional developers who use “free” tools also pay for some performance enhancement tools as well. Most pros do in most any field. The trade off though is the same – will the cost of the tool pay off in time saved or other means. So much comes down to that trade off between time and money.

A Week Without the Internet

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

For a while now I’ve been thinking that the Internet is a major cause of stress for me. There is not much avoiding it usually. I depend on it for work at the very least. So going on vacation seemed like a good opportunity to take a break from it. And I’m not just on vacation but I’m on a cruise. There is no cell phone coverage and no Internet connection unless I want to pay some rather high prices. I have done this before – paid for an Internet connection on a cruise ship but I was working that trip. So while I can get an Internet if I really want one it is easily avoidable. If  I want to avoid it. So I’m trying.

As I write this intro it has been about 36 hours without a connection. The first half day I found myself often reaching for my cell phone to check email. It made me realize just how often I do this. If there is any “break in the action”, say waiting on line for something, my first action is to check email. This does not seem all that healthy to me. Avoiding more direct contact was not so bad until this morning.

My normal first activity in the morning is to sit at my computer and find out what is going on. I scan my email. I scan Tweetdeck looking for Twitter mentions, direct messages and scan my feed from the high priority people I follow. I also scan the Internet news, some RSS feeds, check the weather and my calendar. Usually before I even visit the bathroom let alone eat or get dressed. This morning that was not an option. It was a minor shock to my system.

During the day is easy because I have plenty to do. Food, pool, onboard entertainment, etc. Plus I brought a bag full of books. Reading a good book distracts me from anything. I haven’t been reading a lot for the last several years because the Internet grabs me first and I don’t get to the books. This also doesn’t seem healthy to me. I miss my books. I have really enjoyed reading the last several days. My reading jag really started on the plane home from my last business trip a couple of days before the cruise.

Still more then a few times I have wanted to look something up on the Internet and not been able to do so. I was expecting email to be the big thing I missed with blogs and Twitter being next. But being able to look something up is running in the lead so far with Twitter in a strong second place. We’ll see if this changes during the rest of the trip.

Tomorrow should be easy because we are going on an excursion to see some Mayan ruins. There are things to do on the ship when we get back. Keeping busy my be the answer for me. But so far the break from the Internet hasn’t hurt me. On the other hand there is going to be a huge backlog of email when I get home.

[Note: posted on my return, well most of the way home, from vacation. Still no email because I let my password expire but I hope to fix that tonight or tomorrow morning.]