Studs

The Studs Terkel talk was pretty good. He just extemporized for about 25 minutes about various topics of today and days past, included some anecdotes in and around the book Hope Dies Last. I just read the foreward and found several of them there. He took questions from the audience for a while and then signed. I bought the new book as well as The Giants of Jazz and got them both signed.

I was a little surprised by the turnout. There were maybe 50 or so people there, which frankly seemed kind of low to me. I don’t know if he does enough events around the city that people are kind of blase about it. When I was a kid I read my grandmother’s copy of Working and was entranced by this person capturing the fascinating essence of the stories of everyday people. I’m glad I had this opportunity to hear and meet the man, even in one of those cattle call signing settings. He seemed like quite a character. I hope he’s with us long enough for me to go to many more.

Unhappy Companies

In another post by Esther Derby, she points to this article in Industry Week by John Brandt about unhappy companies. Here is one of his ways he thinks unhappy companies are all alike:

A belief that employees are dangerous and lazy.

Unhappy companies invariably believe that their employees are out to sabotage the business, and they manage accordingly. All decisions — whether on strategy or coffee for the break room — have to be signed by three layers of management. What unhappy companies fail to understand is that if you treat people as if they’re worthless long enough, eventually they’ll either believe you (and behave accordingly) or they’ll spend all their energy trying to build a paper case that you’re wrong. Either way, your customers (and you) lose. ŽÂŽ 

Yowch, I’ve worked in a number of places like this, like practically everyone. There is a lot of wisdom in his observation above about treating people as if they are worthless.

QA Blog

You’d think a quality and testing blog would be perhaps non-thrilling stuff. Having recently discovered James Bach’s blog devoted to just these issues, I was surprised how interesting it all is. He has two great recent posts, one about why things in development described as too obvious to document are trouble spots and the trouble caused when things are missing from the specification. He also has a great post about movies on themes of interest to testers. Good stuff, all.

How to be Happy

An article in the Guardian explores how to be happy. It discusses “positive psychology”, a branch that focuses on understanding when and why things are going right, rather than the traditional exploration of what went wrong and getting back on track. I had never heard of this before this morning, but reading and browsing led to the Authentic Happiness site of one of the psychologists in the article. I took the VIA signature strengths survey, and unsurprisingly to myself turned up creatitivity/ingenuity/originality, curiousity, and love of learning as my top three. If only I could add in some discipline, detail handling, and patience I’d be dangerous.

I found this via a post on Esther Derby’s blog Software (Management) Process Improvement. I just ran across it today but I added it to my aggregator. Lots of good stuff.

Big Mouth Billy Penguin

Here’s a heartwarming story of reusing those novelty presents from XMases past that have been in the attic ever since. A group of crazed hackers are adding embedded Linux to Big Mouth Billy Bass. They have a stepwise project plan, and ultimately they want to have this thing networked with microphone and camera and serving as the interface for teleconferencing. What a fantastic idea!

Via Boing Boing.

28 Days Later

Perhaps not the best holiday film, nonetheless I enjoyed 28 Days Later. I watched it while the spouse (who hates scary and gory movies) was otherwise occupied. I liked it a lot. Despite bursts of extreme violence, it was actually less violent than I was expecting. Most of the horror is from the prolonged feeling of dread. I actually found the shots of the empty London and the burning Manchester in most ways more scary than the zombie attacks. Creepier, at the very least.

I’ve always been a huge fan of J. G. Ballard, and his particular take on the British disaster novel. During the run of Reality Break, I don’t know how many interviews I worked Ballard into, and this movieI also interpret through that lens. There is a point late in the movie where the protagonist Jim makes a choice (no spoilers here), and his choice is straight out of a Ballard book. I liked the ambiguity of never knowing if this is a worldwide disaster or strictly a British one, never knowing how much hope should be held out. It had a few moments I thought very Romero-esque, such as the bits in the mall and grocery store. Having watched all three endings, I have to say the sunny one that is the “main” ending is my least favorite. I prefer the one marked as “alternate theatrical ending”, which is also the grimmest of the three. Tomorrow, before I return the DVD I’ll explore the making of documentary and the commentary tracks.

All in all, I find this a fine addition to the canon of zombie/disaster/apocolypse films.

Studs Signing

Here’s something I should attend – Gapers Block reports that Studs Terkel will be signing at the Barnes & Noble at 1441 W. Webster on Sunday, November 30 at 3:00 PM. He’ll be doing a discussion and then signing his new book, Hope Dies Last. Reading his work of touching vignettes and slices of peoples lives with his engaging interview style greatly influenced my own work interviewing people.

Real Life Kill Bill

An 80 year old woman used her husband’s sword to fight off two teenaged attackers, reports the BBC. Wow, that’s a spunky octagenarian. I like her quote in the article:

“They were big men and I am not big at all.

“I was trying to keep them away from a chair in the far corner of the room – behind the cushion was my bag, cheque book and all my money,” she said.

“I pointed the sword at the stomach of one them and shouted ‘Get out, get out’.

” I have still got my sword and I am ready to use it if anyone else should have a go.”

Via Die Puny Humans.

Old(ish) Tech

I still have the Apple LaserWriter 16/600 that was the office printer at JStream, the first start up I ever worked for. When I walked in the door in 1998, this thing was the printer. After its assets were bought by Intertrust and offices merged, I ended up taking it to telecommute and have had it ever since. Recently, super-dude Jonny X sent me the transceiver so I could set it up on my network. I had to do some weird stuff to be able to telnet in but once I did it was a breeze to set this thing up. It took nothing to get all the Macs in the house to be able to print, but the Windows boxes were problematic. I broke down and did a web search and turned up a reference on how to use Mac OS X to share printers with Windows 2000 boxes. I never could get the Windows boxes talking directly to the printer, but this is good enough. In the bad old days, it might take weeks of looking through manuals to find answers like this. Praise be to the information superhighway! It makes old tech fun again. With any luck, I’ll get another 10 years out of this printer.

Thanksgiving Travel

We considered travelling home for Thanksgiving, but decided against it. The Thanksgiving weekend is always a big pain, I think. It’s nice when everyone is close together, but when you are distant from your people, it’s horrible. The weekend is too short for lots of travel, everyone else in the country is getting on the same plane as you, things just suck. We’re opting to just stay here in Chicago, where we will try to find an Indian restaurant with a Thanksgiving buffet. We had great curried turkey years ago, and have been trying to recapture that experience ever since. Instead of doing a power travel for this weekend, we’re spending extra time over Christmas. For once, we might actually have 10 days or so to do all this stuff. We are always in a rush when we visit anyone because we have many people to see, spread out a lot of territory. For once, we might have a peaceful holiday.

Gearing up on JMS

For my side project, I’m now getting to the point where I want to start learning about JMS, in preparation to use it. I’m particularly interested in the “durable subscription” type queue, and am looking for a good way to do this. I have seen OpenJMS as a possibility. Right now I only have Tomcat on the box, although I’m not opposed to putting an actual app server up there. Does anyone have any insight? Should I consider putting JBoss or WebSphere on there? The throughput on this will not be that great, maybe on the order of a message every minute, tops, and probably much lower than that. My hope is that I can set things up such that it is as independent as possible of the message service. I’m a rank beginner in this regard, so I don’t (yet) really know what I’m talking about. If you have suggestions, please feel free to leave a writeback.

The Pause that Depresses

I’ve never smoked, but I’m going through my own habit kick right now – trying to cut back on the amount of Diet Coke I drink. The key moment was last night doing the recycling, when I found three empty 12 pack boxes for the lemon Diet Coke. I’m the only one in this house that drinks the lemon ones, which means I drank those three 12 packs since the last time the recycling was done. I know I drank some of the regular ones too, so I’m consuming 6 or more cans of Diet Coke a day (this doesn’t count what I drink at restuarants, movies, etc.) I drink too much of it.

I’m allowing myself three per day – one in the morning, afternoon and evening. It will be tough. It’s not 9 AM yet and I’m jonesing for one. I’m trying to reach for plain old water when I would go for the Coke. It’s overall better for me, cheaper, keeps the appetite cravings down, etc. Oh, but the Diet Coke is tasty, and one sure would be good right about now….

The War on Copying

Here’s an article/op-ed piece on DRM, stressing that current schemes lack flexibility and convenience. A quote:

Many companies mistakenly focus on the technology when trying to understand DRM and fail to consider the real social issues that managing content involves. For example, DRM schemes that tie content to a single PC fail to address the needs of, say, a child of divorced parents who lives in two homes. Even more common is the person who wants to play music at home, at work, in the car, on a portable player, and at a friend’s house. The killer app for digital content is the connected home, yet most DRM schemes undermine consumers’ ability to easily move content between devices. Protection isn’t just about security; you need to consider convenience, as well.

It is in these real-world individual issues that DRM will meet the most resistance. Content owners want strict definitions of stealing and honesty. However, schemes that are too difficult to work with or appear insensitive to individual circumstances may drive “honest” people to reconsider what honesty really means.

What I’m discussing here is the ebook side of things, not music, which have different dynamics. I do agree with the above statements about the problems with DRM. The DRM companies try to hide this fact, but the consumers notice. I’ve seen it cited by the guys at Fictionwise that on books for which they’ve gone from DRM to non-DRM (because the publisher allowed them to) the unprotected book outsells the previous version by an order of magnitude. That sounds like a bad trade to me: reduce (not eliminate) the risk that someone will read for free in return for lower margin (the DRM guys take a slice), and 90% reduced sales.

My belief is that there are thieves and their are customers, and there is little or no overlap between the two. The former have plenty of time and the latter have plenty of money. Customers want the goods, a simple convenient purchase procedure, clean well-formatted books that they can put on their PDAs and get the hell on with their lives. Thieves will spend all day scouring pirate newsgroups and FTP sites looking for something. Both exist, but I really don’t think the thieves cut into the sales. The insistence on DRM is really cutting off noses to spite faces. Ultimately, though, it is completely ineffective. The majority of the things I see traded in the newsgroups are books like Harry Potters that have never had an electronic edition. This is perhaps indicative that this is a fight not worth participating in. Cede this to the scumbags, don’t worry about them, and proceed taking cash from the many customers who are looking to give you money.

I’m not just pulling this dynamic out of my ass. Fictionwise also moves copies of public domain books that could easily be downloaded from any of a number of places. FW has established a level of trust with their customers, such that they’ll happily pay a few bucks for a book they could get for free from Project Gutenberg. What they get for their money is convenience, a familiar experience, and a book formatted in a preferred format (for me, it is iSilo). There is no reason to think that the existence of pirate copies detracts more from sales than legitimate Project Gutenberg copies. Personally, I don’t think it detracts at all. Yes, I could probably find copies of something I want given enough time, but I’d rather use money rather than spend my precious time on the hunt. Make the purchase convenient, the books reasonably priced and the experience sexy, and you don’t have to worry about anything else. Customers don’t like the DRM, it costs everyone extra money, and in the final analysis it is orthogonal to the problem.

P. Craig Russell Art for Auction

There’s this guy who is the original art agent for P. Craig Russell and I’m on his mailing list. I’ve never bought anything, but I’ve had moments of deep temptation. My favorite story in the recent Sandman: Endless Nights was “Death & Venice” and a great page from it is for sale on eBay right now. The current bid is $200, but I know the reserve is $675 and there is no way I’m getting the OK for that. Oh, but I love that story and I love this page. I’ll take a cue from the folks on Clean Sweep – I won’t own it but I’ll think about it.

Hibernate book from Manning

It used to be a few years ago that when I needed a programming book, I would go straight for the O’Reilly book. Later, my loyalty shifted to the hard-nosed pragmatism of the Wrox books. Both of these publishers have (had, now that Wrox is out of business) distinctive, well branded books. Either jumped off the shelf as being by their respective publishers, O’Reilly with the cool colors on the spine and the line drawings of animals and Wrox with the bright red spine, yellow letters and pictures of the authors on the front. (A coworker once looked at my copy of the Wrox book PHP Programming and said “There’s a group of guys that need more sex.”) Either way, I liked most books by both publishers, and they were easy to spot in a bookstore.

Now, Wrox is gone and O’Reilly has published so much crap in recent years that my brand loyalty has evaporated. My new publisher of choice is Manning. They too have the distinctive covers, with the Rennaissance figures in costumes on the cover. I really am enjoying the Husted Struts in Action. Now I see that there will be a book on Hibernate written by several of the principles in the project, and it is currently being reviewed on the Server Side. I’m going to be checking it out. I like Hibernate, and am definitely in the market to learn more about it, especially in the form of more learning of best practices. They are on chapter 3 now – I guess they only keep one chapter up at a time. The first two don’t seem that crucial to me, so I need to get this one before it disappears and get plugged in. When this book comes out, it is a must buy for me.

Uganda has the Digital Bookmobile

I’ve started looking at World Changing, and today they have a fascinating reference to this digital bookmobile in Uganda.

Inside the Bookmobile is a PC and laser printer provided by Hewlett Packard, a paper cutter, and a hot-melt glue binding machine created by Berkeley, CA-based Powis Parker.

With this equipment loaded into a four-wheel drive diesel van, National Library staff are bringing a whole new world of books to rural Uganda. Schools in this sub-Saharan African country typically have one textbook for every five or six children, and literature and storybooks are virtually unavailable for most schoolchildren.

and later in the article:

So where do all these books come from? First and foremost, from the public domain collections on the Internet Archive. The Archive boasts more than 30,000 public domain works freely available for download, printing and other uses. One hundred thousand works will be available by the end of 2004. In Uganda, classic books like “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” and “The Wizard of Oz” are filling school libraries.

In addition, the project is funding two scanning stations at the National Library offices in Kampala, where operators will scan AIDS education, farming improvement, adult literacy, and other materials for the Bookmobile to print. All these materials will also be made available on the Internet Archive.

The Bookmobile concept was pioneered by Brewster Kahle, digital librarian of the Internet Archive in October 2002. Kahle built the first bookmobile and drove it across the US to demonstrate the value of public domain materials. Kahle has also helped the government of India and the Library of Alexandria in Egypt to create their own bookmobiles.

I like this. If I were to go do some volunteer work abroad, this seems like a good one. Go to the heart of Africa, and drive the bookmobile! You could be “Johnny Bookseed”, spreading tools for literacy in your wake.

Chicago Weather

From what I’ve been able to tell from my brief time here, Chicagoland residents are completely obsessed with the inclemency of their weather. In August I arrived in Evanston with the moving truck on the hottest day of the year, and even then people were talking about how bad the winter would be. Almost every conversation I’ve had with a neighbor involved winter, and always in the same tone of voice you tell a kid around a campfire about a bogeyman with a hook hand.

I’m expecting the winter to actually not be as bad as the ones I grew up with in Kansas. At the risk of sounding cliche, I actually did walk to school in the snow (but I wasn’t barefoot and there are few hills in NW Kansas.) The last few days have been cold, but last week I went all the way until Friday without ever putting on a coat. At several points, I felt hot and overdressed wearing sweatshirts. If it really does live up to the hype, I’ll eat my words but right now it feels kind of like new resident hazing.