Saturday, January 31, 2009

Day 31 - Bleh

I figured out why I felt so beat playing hockey yesterday - I definitely have a cold.  It's either arriving or is here.  Staying up late last night didn't help anything, but that's no big deal.  Managed to get haircuts for me and the boys and it was a pretty good day.  A nice nap in the middle of the day helped too.

Caught the latest episode of Fringe tonight on Space.  Not a bad show - I really like how Space is able to show new episodes of current shows within a week of their first airing.  It was most enjoyable - plus it helps with the network schedule fights, so that two of the current shows I care to watch overlap.  This provides a decent option of being able to see it on a night where I have more time.  Really I should probably get a DVR, but I'm not prepared to spend that money.  Because I'd likely get a TiVo and that has a monthly cost.

Fringe is doing pretty well in my mind - the "science" and "tech" is reasonably plausible, enough to keep the show fresh and interesting without to many deja-vu-from-left-field experiences.  Walter is definitely my favorite character, but I think that's the design.  My wife thinks Olivia has a weird head, but I think it's just fine.  I like Olivia's boss (who I can't remember the name of) .  It's developing and I'm willing to play along for now anyway.  I'm entertained and that's what's required.

Wrapping up the last day in January with a relatively short post, but I need sleep and tv and not in that order.  Plus I have to see if Hockey Night has got the sound back for the Vancouver game.  It's really neat to watch the show with no commentary, just the rink noise though.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Day 30 - The end of January

Pretty good day - we had a successful demo, though all I did was bring Timbits.  Something that our company adopted and I feel is an excellent part of the software lifecycle, is the demonstration of the completed feature.  This probably doesn't happen often enough, but whenever it does occur, I think it helps bridge the gap between the line-items that managers and higher-ups have spent so long talking about and what the ultimate user will see.

Something Agile-related that I heard this week, but less positive than demos, were questions from a status meeting.  The question centered around whether we (as a company) should mark a particular feature done or "at risk".  The reason for the question is the trouble - a defect in third-party software.  To make the issue more accessible, let me pose a question: Alice and Bob are writing software that must be combined to form a final product.  Alice's portion requires Bob's to work.  Is Alice done only when the final product works?

I'll let you think about that.  That was probably long enough, or you're impatient and don't want to think about it.  Either way, if Alice isn't finished until the final, combined product is working properly, then Alice is responsible for Bob's piece as well.  Not directly of course, but if Bill wants to buy the final product from Alice, then Alice is responsible for the whole product working correctly.  If Bill combines the piece from Alice and the piece from Bob, but Alice says her part isn't finished until the combination works, Alice is assuming responsibility for ensuring Bob's piece works, even if Alice has no influence over Bob.

That explanation isn't really any better than the original description, but what I'm trying to say is that the questions in my workplace tell me that there are some people that feel that our company can't be finished until the end product works.  I have a big problem with this because we are in the middle of a software sandwich, with one company building hardware and the first layer of software, us, and then another company builds the portion that sits on top of everything else.  If we can't say we're done until everyone else is, we've failed if any of the other two companies has a problem.  But our company can't alter the software from the other two or even influence them.  We'd be taking responsibility for things we can't change, like being responsible for bad weather.  Sure it makes things less nice, but we can't alter the weather - how can we be responsible for it?

After that rambling description of the problem, I'd like to state that I understand the motivation behind the statement.  It is motivated by a desire to make the best possible product.  However, being part of a compound product means that all we can do is our part as good as possible and help identify areas that need help in the other portions.

Had a pretty nice evening - brought some pizza over to my sister's place where the kids were having a good time, but not in the same room as the adults.  Makes life so much better when there is an appropriate amount of distance between the two groups - too close and you drive each other insane, too far and you wonder what's going on (or get lonely - haven't run into that yet).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Day 29 The End Approaches!

The end of the month that is.  Then I won't be labelling these posts with numbers... I almost feel lost just thinking about that.  At least I've been able to keep this up in a reasonable manner.  Like many things, practise makes the entire process smoother.  I was going to say easier, but that isn't exactly correct.  Maybe it is right - my typing speed is increasing and my initial spelling mistakes are decreasing.  The hard part, as always, is the content.  I sound like some kind of beleaguered television executive.  I like the description of the writing process that a recently ex-co-worker described: "Staring at the blank page until the blood squeezes out of your forehead..." It went on from there, but honestly I forget the exact details.  I think it was a matter of letting the blood hit the page and tracing the outlines with your pen and then it was done.  I assumed that editing involved a different bodily fluid, but I decided I'd have to find out on a different day.  A day when I had a lighter lunch...

Had two parts to my day at work - the beginning, which was depressing and the second half which was collaborative and productive.  The team discussed some of the upcoming work for the closing phases of the current project.  The work that was left wasn't the depressing part - it was the amount of work we saw ahead to convincing other teams that they may be missing some pieces of the puzzle.  Not that any one team is way off track, but attitudes may result in more work for everyone down the road.  Since this is the finishing stages of a project, we are doing more and more about testing.  I think some teams haven't hit the balance between things that need to be done all the time (testing-wise) and the final big-push testing phase.  We seem to be missing cross-team, integration-style testing.  Each team has a testing environment, a testing framework  and so, a testing infrastructure that is much better than even a year ago.  Some people seem to think that this testing is great and that this final concentrated testing is redundant.  There is still room for more direct testing, testing that breaks silos and testing of areas that are not a person's speciality.

I found it pretty daunting to contemplate how to convince that more work needs to be done.  It's not something that people like to hear.  The effort is not in convincing people, but in how to create a palatable argument that will lead to modest improvements.  Someone pointed out to me later in the day that the upcoming new project is like a light at the end of the tunnel, the promise of new work, the shiny porch light to mothy employees... New stuff is always more interesting than the final details, so I could understand why some sound so distracted finishing.

The productive, collaborative part of the day, which was happily about half of it, was working on the new project.  Going into these early planning stages for the new project, I was hopeful that I would be able to have a say in the design or planning of what was upcoming.  The team I'm on has a specialization in the current project that won't be in the new project, so we are working on things that are entirely new for everyone on the team.  The encouraging part was that all the people I've talked to about the new project has been easy to ask questions of, given great answers and accepted ideas and opinions readily.  So far, it feels like a team should - not everyone agrees, but everyone listens and problems are solved through consensus.  The test of such an environment comes later when there are other pressures, sort of like starting a business.  You can't say you have a good business until you run into hard economic times for your area - if you can survive that, you have a good business.  I believe there is an old saying "gold tested in fire" which is the same idea.  Three teams came together over the past week and we have sketched out a design "framework".  

I hate to call it a design or even a plan - more like a back-of-the-envelope drawing.  From that, the work that needs to be done can be identified and sized.  Now an iterative design approach takes over, with prototyping and measurement being the basis of what comes next.  So I don't consider this a plan or design - more like an agreement on the rules.  Rules in a game provide a framework with which to operate inside of.  Too many rules and there is basically only one way of doing things.  That's a heavily, tightly, specified design.  The designers do all the work, the implementers do little more than data entry.  Such designs and processes are very brittle - if they work, they can be very very good, but any missing requirements or specification flaw can shatter the result.  I believe that the best designs place trust in the implementers to create something that meets the requirements ("the ends") without specifying how to do that ("the means").  A minimal framework is necessary to allow many people to work in common purpose, the balance being how much detail is necessary to keep people together.  This is something that depends entirely on the specific group. 

To use some Agile terminology, evaluating the people is important to tailor the process.  One of the pillars of the Agile Manifesto is "People over process".  I believe that too many read this as "people no process", where process becomes a bad word.  I think the proper reading is "processes work for people, not the other way around".  Good processes help people work more efficiently, bad processes are actions that are mandated but don't advance the project.  Taking this analogy further, the skills of the "people" dictate the processes.  The more skilled, self-motivated, adaptive the "people" are, the less there is to the process.  Many Agile descriptions end up like this because best people can take a one sentence directive and turn that into a productive working environment.  Not everyone can do that, so more words are necessary.  Or there may be many words to start with, but eventually the descriptions (processes) are reduced to simple phrases to remind everyone where they came from.  The design of software should also follow this model - the design depth will be dependent on the people doing the work.  It is a mirror of the Agile methodology.  In Agile, the result is the running of a project and this is done by the people.  For software, the result is the program which is created by the people.  In both cases, the processes that lead to the result are dependent on the people, with lighter processes being used by more capable groups.

Having written all that out, I think that's why I was so pleased with how things were working today.  The design that came out of the meeting was enough to base the next 6 months off of, but can be written on a single piece of paper.  I think everyone left the meeting feeling like something had been accomplished and agreed to, but it was simple and more of a guideline or framework than anything else.  The ease with which this was achieved was great.  I hope things continue in this manner for the rest of the project.  Hope is important.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Day 28 - Money, money, money and coalitions

Budget Day + 1 and the political intrigue continues.  It was an interesting play by Ignatief, but a good one.  Started by saying how horrible the budget was, but then saying it did have some redeeming features - finally saying that he didn't want to get rid of the government, just make sure it delivered on the good parts.  The Conservatives are on probation - even tried to deliver a sound bit.  I especially liked his response to the first question at his press conference - a reporter asked Ignatief if he cleared his proposals with the Conservatives and he responded that he didn't need to ask their permission to do anything, but if they didn't agree he would have to bring the government down.  That's not a direct quote, it's paraphrasing, so don't go nuts.  You get the idea though - I almost wonder if he planted the question.  Later in the day the Conservatives gave a statement saying they would amend the budget as per the Liberal suggestion, no doubt after breathing several sighs of relief into their oxygen masks.

The other members of the coalition were very interesting as well.  Gilles Duceppe was very blase - he acted as though the coalition had played out the way he expected.  Jack Layton was the most amusing - acting all hurt, like someone stood up on a date or something.  He then went on to be bitter about how he wasn't going to have the power no more... er, vowing vengeance on the Liberals... er, decry the break-up of the coalition because the Conservatives were still bad.  He tried to make it amusing, but it just came across like a yapping dog to me.  He had a slim chance to share in power, but it wasn't going to happen.

Yesterday I suggested that the Liberals wouldn't want to have power now because any badness from the economy would look their fault.  Today I heard another good reason - a reporter on the CBC (I am aware that I use that phrase often, but deal - I listen to the CBC) pointed out that if the coalition took power, Ignatief would be the unelected prime minister, not even elected by his own party, at the head of a coalition that many Canadians feel is undemocratic.  The only way it could be worse is if somehow George W. Bush became the leader of the coalition.  Actually that may have been better for the coalition because the attack ads would have such an embarrassment of rich targets they'd be incoherent.  It matters not - the coalition is dead just like Gilles Duceppe proclaimed.  Ignatief stated it, and some pundits as well, that the coalition served its purpose - to reign in the Conservatives and get them to play nicer with the other parties.  Ignatief holds the balance of power - it's basically his decision to prompt an election.  The coalition allowed him to begin from a strong point, instead of being tested like Dion was when he first came to parliament.  Dion and Ignatief are in similar positions at the beginning of their leadership tenure - their party wasn't really ready to fight an election.  Harper forced Dion to choose right away, and he opted for the wait-and-see or gather-our-strength position.  The longer he put off an election, the weaker he seemed.  Ignatief inherits pretty much the same party as Dion, but because of the coalition, his first actions are decisive and provocative to the Conservatives.  So now Ignatief can do the same thing as Dion, but he comes away looking like a consensus builder instead of a weak leader.  I'll leave it to history to decide if these differences are due to the skills of the people involved or the situation.

I hope this leads to decent balance in the minority situation and the parties can cooperate to try and get the country out of this recession, er economic downturn.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Day 27 - Post (12*12) + 1

According to my sophistimahcated numeracy techniques, I discovered that my last post was number 144, or one gross.  Or 12 squared. Or 3 squared times 4 squared.  Or 3 squared times 2^4, which is a nice prime factorization.  Not too exciting, but I find that I don't have to prime factor as often as I once did and frankly it's pretty fun.  I think I'll have to do it more often, just because.

Today is budget day in Canada - sounds like some kind of cheap game show, but it does produce some fun copy.  One of the reporters on the CBC noted that the country will run a $30 billion+ deficit, which is large, but looks like a rounding error compared to the stimulus package that Barak Obama is running past the House and the Senate in the US.  I think it's appropriate - we've been doing better as a country in the not spending too much department over the past number of years, so it is right that we are at least an order of magnitude smaller in our spending than the US.  After all, they have 10 times the population.  As for the Canadian budget, it looks okay - lots of "stimulus" and some tax cuts, looks helpful.  The large deficits don't look as good, but I think that all governments should contribute attempts to stimulate the economy, so that's fine.  Really I can't frame what a good "stimulus" package would be.  What I remember as a kid is what Trudeau did to stimulate the economy.  That was infrastructure (roads, bridges, sewers, arenas, etc) and government jobs (larger bureaucracy).  The second part didn't work so great, taking 10 or 20 years to get over that I think.  This budget offers money for people who have lost their jobs (EI changes) which I like, but the tax cuts will be hard to swallow when the economy starts to turn around.  Tax cuts, like the previous GST cut and the newer income tax cuts, will have to be reversed to pay off the deficit.  The Conservatives are basically going to let whoever's in power during the recovery do that and pay the political price.

Speaking of political price, I agreed with the reporter on the CBC who discussed what the Liberals will do with this budget.  They're the deciding factor right now - all the other parties have said "we're voting no".  The reporter thought that the Liberals will probably like to have the Conservatives deal with a bad (and worsening) economic picture, because it would be tough for anyone in power.  I agree with that - sort of a reverse of the NDP in Ontario - the Liberals called a snap election, but the NDP got in (a protest vote).  Turned out to be the best move the Liberals could do because the economy went on the skids and the NDP got blamed, ensuring they won't be in power again in living memory in Ontario.  The Liberals would love to pull the same rabbit out of the federal hat with this crisis - be involved on the "everything the Conservatives are doing is wrong" opposition side while the Conservatives are blamed for the job losses and economic badness.  So I think Ignatief will "reluctantly" support the budget and secretly hope for a bad down-turn in 6 months so the Conservatives will bear the brunt of the bad news.

As a bright spot in the layoff news from my workplace, I heard that the people being let go are being treated with a lot of respect.  This is consistent with what I have seen myself and how management have described the transition and what was said at the time.  It's still sad to see anyone let go, but it has still been the most dignified layoff I've ever seen.  We were told that (last week) those involved were given 2 weeks and could keep coming in to tie up loose ends, or not as they saw fit.  Most layoffs I've seen or heard about usually end with the severing of all ties on the day of the announcement with a prison guard, er, staff member escorting the ex-employee back another day to get their things.  It made me feel a little better to know this was being done in a much more respectful manner.  Perhaps these people will become co-workers again soon.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Day 26 - Money, money, money

Had an early appointment today with yet another financial advisor.  I try and diversify my holdings (meager as they are) and so I have to deal with people that trying to help me with my money.  Or help themselves to more of it - whatever.  It did not go bad - I wish I could concentrate my cash a little better though.  Mostly it's my own fault - hockey is an expensive hobby and I like shiny things like computers and Internets.  Thinking about investments got me to wondering about a couple of things - taxes and the budget.

Tomorrow will be an important day in Canadian politics - the next budget.  This budget is responsible for the current Liberal leader, Michael Ignatief.  He wouldn't have become leader without the crisis precipitated by Stephen Harper in November.  Many have forgotten the coalition of the jilted: the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois, provoked by Mr. Harper.  That lead to the prorogation of parliament until today, with the budget coming down tomorrow.  If the budget keeps the Jilted happy, (or at least off balance), we'll continue on with business a la Harper for a while.  The dire warnings and changing tones (deficits can be good, $40 billion a year will still be a smaller deficit than other G8 nations) will result in a very intriguing budgie, er budget.

So many things that could happen here.  I think that the budget will do enough economic stimulus to disrupt or forgo the coalition.  There have been some leaks and hints about what is to come, but I think that is for the coalition's benefit.  Already it sounds like they may do some things that'll be good for me - roads & bridges.  I think there are several areas around where I live that could use a re-do.  Maybe there'll be money for the city of London to help with it's water/sewer crisis.  Everybody must remember the sink hole and realize that 200 water main breaks a month (a year? I don't remember) means there is room for help.  Plus the city has been struggling with its transit.  Struggling might not be the right word, but it certainly could use some more routes and buses.  London is the tenth largest city in Canada, but the transit infrastructure is no where near that of Toronto or even Kitchener-Waterloo.  But that's just specific local babbling - I am truly interested in what the Conservatives will present.  I guess I'll just wait for the details like everyone else.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Day 25 - That's brisk baby!

Finally headed out to the local pond and had a skate with the kids.  Not exactly a "skate" because I spent about an hour cleaning snow and then about 15 mins before someone had to go to the bathroom (not me).   But we did stay out for quite a bit, in spite of the -12 C weather.  Not too cold at all - I still wonder how people can do it in weather where skin freezes in minutes, but whatever.   I was talking with a guy at Friday hockey who lives in Calgary.  He says they play there outside without much equipment all the time.  The city cleans the ice a couple of times a day, but there are lots of rinks.  Thing is, it's at least -25 C there and they wear long johns track pants, hoodie and a hat.  He said it is fine as long as it isn't windy, but when the wind kicks up it can burn in a few minutes.  Just gotta keep moving - I wasn't that cold because of the shovelling in spite of wearing jeans and no long johns.  Blue jeans are a pretty poor choice for winter wear because cotton radiates heat pretty well.  It's good during the summer, but not the best.  Long johns, particularly woolen ones, provide a nice barrier between the radiant outer wear and the nice warm flesh.  I haven't worn them for a long time because I'm usually too hot.  When I was a kid, my mom would bundle me up so much that I'd start sweating within minutes and I'd be cold anyway.  When I got older, I realized that you're always warm for a few minutes (coming from inside) and if you are active your body warms up, so that by the time the cold has penetrated your body is generating enough heat to maintain a good balance.  When the experts talk about surviving where it is cold, they stress avoiding sweating.  If your under layers get wet, they need to be dried off or changed or else you will freeze.  See any cold-weather episode of Survivorman.

Anyway, my older son declined to skate, but stuck around for the majority of the time, driven inside by the cold.  My younger son had to use a certain facility and decided to remain inside after that.  For me, I think it was a good outing as I didn't notice how cold my legs were until I was inside for a few minutes.   Plus I got some nice fortified hot chocolate out of the whole deal.

Something very interesting that I saw on Slashdot yesterday was the Monty Python Goes YouTube, DVD sales spike.  I had a look at the Monty Python channel when it was first mentioned on /.  and it was pretty cool.  Sketches and so on, nice chunks, done with high quality.  For someone like me who is pretty familiar with most of the material, the channel is a great place to send someone if they don't understand a bit I just quoted or referred to.  Really, that hasn't come up yet, but I assume it will.  I think the tremendous jump in sales is a result of accessibility of the material - that thing the RIAA hasn't figured out yet.  If people can purchase interesting material readily, they'll buy it legit.  If it's "hard to get" (read: expensive) they won't bother.  So this is an excellent example for the RIAA and MPAA on the use of "new media".  After watching more of the clips, I'm going to have to get Live at the Hollywood Bowl.  They have the best version of the Travel Agent sketch.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Day 24

Number these posts has the advantage of supplying a title when one does not come to mind.  It's been a slow day - took the kids swimming, got some chores around the house done, but not as much as I'd hoped.  But I did get to take a nap - always a good thing.

I was listening to "Go" on the way to the YMCA (for swimming lessons) and they reminded listeners that there is not much time left for the Canada Writes event.  I had a good idea for an entry in the "blog" category - make it totally recursive.  Tortuously self-referential.  Make Seinfeld look like a variety show.  But not tonight... Just can't bring myself to focus.  I guess what that really means is that I need more sleep.  Soon...  Soon there will be more sleep.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Day 23 - Two Events to Stomach

That should be two stomach-related events, but that doesn't sound as good.  A bunch of people from work decided we should head out to Wonder Sushi.  This is an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant.  The food is okay, and it is always an event to when we go there.  We could probably simplify everything by just ordering steak teryiaki and crispy spicy salmon rolls exclusively.  And then ice cream.  The whole thing usually ends up in an iron-man competition to wrestle the last few pieces.  Always leave having eaten way too much.  The only redeeming grace is that we can't go as a group very often - cost and the fact that one of our most enthusiastic boosters can't make it often.  It turns out his wife has a strong shellfish allergy, so if he eats crab meat, she'll react poorly when they share things like doorknobs later.  So he can only make it when she leaves town for a few days.   So we did pretty well, but I am quite stuffed.  I'm still suffering from over-stuffed drowsiness - something like tryptophan overload, but with a belly that is doing its best zeppelin impression.

The second stomach related activity was a really fun event at a pub near work - Wink's Eatery.  Turns out several of my co-workers frequent this establishment, frequently closing down the place.  To encourage more people to visit, the owners decided to have an "Appreciation Day" for our company.  This consisted of discounted drinks and appetizers and many people decided to make a point of sampling what was to be had.  I must say it was a most-excellent occasion and I hope another outing can be organized when I didn't have drive off.  Then I'd really be able to simulate the economy, if you know what I mean.  Yes, yes you do.  You don't need to think it's funny to understand, although that little chuckle might have helped you over look the inherent weakness of the whole thing.

Anyhoo, hockey was pretty good this morning.  I played reasonably well and didn't hurt my foot too much while I played.  I'm getting better at keeping my balance, but it seems like it's effecting the small of my back.  Perhaps when I can concentrate less on my foot and focus on my posture, I'll be able to avoid hurting my back too.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Day 22 - Deafening normalcy

I've been staring at the screen trying to find something that stood out today, but really couldn't find anything.  Maybe today is a template for last little while (or time to come?)   Brought my car in to get some expensive plastic bolted to the bottom.  Found out that my trunk didn't latch because it was too cold - latched fine this morning after the temperature went up 10 degrees C from the day before.  I asked the mechanics to spray some lube in there  - hopefully that displaced whatever water was freezing up in there.  When they were done with that, headed to work.  Found out someone I've worked with for the past several months has come under the shadow of the layoff announced yesterday.  So, on their behalf, if you need a marketing manager, tech writer or someone to make you look good in print, let me know.  Also, hopefully you'll be able to provide a salary.  After that the day moved on in typical fashion - meetings until lunch, attempts to work, interrupted by impromptu meetings, followed by scheduled meetings and the time to leave.  Sped home so that my youngest son could make it to skating.  That went well - looks like he's making progress in that area. Dinner, Batman Begins, bed time stories and here we are.

Of course before getting to this, I realized that I missed an important song when I got some Arrogant Worms from iTunes last night - "The Last Saskatchewan Pirate".  Of course I also had to get some more off the "49 songs from north of the 49th parallel" - "The Hockey Song" by Stompin' Tom Connors and a Rush album "The Spirit of Radio".  Oddly enough, I never bought a Rush album before and I think that sits in the same sad category that my never-purchased Led Zepplin albums resides in.   Oh well - I feel better now that I have some of these things, like I've done something good for the musical side of me.  Plus some deserving people made a few pennies off me today - also a good thing.  Them making money, not the pennies.  Oh, and now that I've been listening to more Arrogan Worms, go buy some of their albums - they're really good.  Now - don't just sit there!  DO IT!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Day 21 Work intrigue

Soon I will quit tagging each post with a day - I think after this month, that should be good.  It's a nice reminder now - keeps the whole thing moving along nicely.  Not so nice was the brief meeting at work today.  We were abruptly summoned to an "all-hands" meeting to find out... that some people were being let go.  Not people in the area I'm directly a part of, but people that I've worked with, possibly for years.  Something that was really nice was that they were not named by those in charge.  They have 2 weeks and have been encouraged to spend those two weeks on the job.  We were told that some may come to say goodbye, but that would be a personal descision.  That was followed up with reassurances that these were the only cuts.  The areas effected were named and it did make sense that some would be let go as there was a re-organization a few months back.  That re-org made a few positions redundant and this was the ultimate result.

We had been assured, earlier, by one of the big bosses (boss 3 times removed or some-such) that our company was dealing with the economic changes by halting expansion but preserving all current positions.  This was true for those not effected by the re-org apparently, but it did hold true for most of our company.  Turns out any "cuts" that may have come our way were done by elminating some of the positions to be filled.  I consider that to be the best kind of cuts - the cuts to positions that might-have-been.  Among our two sister offices, one made cuts similar to ours (elimination of positions not yet filled) but one had to cut other staff.

On that note, I would like to say that I'm really sad to see that anyone has to be effect by these changes and hope that those who find themselves without work will find something quickly.

On the hockey front today, we managed to get nine skaters out, but one of our goalies pulled out, having misplaced some equipment at home.  That provoked a discussion in the dressing room after on how to handle the situation.  A popular view was to have a goalie who commits but doesn't show pay their portion (normally goalies don't pay at all).  I suggested they should cover the cost of a rental goalie, but I'm not sure that is the best way to deal with the situation.  The problem is the balance between getting goalies to come out, which is difficult as they are a pretty precious resource, and making sure enough skaters show up consistently to keep costs reasonable.  Everytime two goalies are promised but don't show, some people leave disappointed and don't come back for a few weeks.  So some kind of system needs to be worked out, but I still don't know what that solution is.

The new skates are still reminding me that they are there pretty good, although my feet didn't have that constant ache.  The right foot got irritated on top again, altough this week it was much better.  Took almost the whole game before I noticed anything.  I tried to keep the last few eyes loose, but it wasn't perfect.  I suppose I'll find the right balance soon.  Plus I'll take them in to get reheated and fit again.  I'm beginning to think maybe I need a different insole on the right foot.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Day 20 - A big day

A pretty big day today.  For me I mean - had a huge service on the ole Beetle, got invited into a new gaming clan, and something... else...  Something south of here... Hmm - give me a minute.  Oh yah - the new president in the US - or to quote Grandpa Simpson: "The Prez-ee-dent is a Demi-crat!"  I have to mention it here, or it'll come back to haunt me somehow, but more on that later.

I hit something in the parking garage leaving work on Monday - some snow from behind a wheel-well - but it that was it for the plastic protecting the underside of my engine.  The VW New Beetle TDI has a very low-hanging engine.  I swear it has the same road clearance as a Lotus Elsie, or maybe that's just some kind of Freudian slip, but it is so low that it requires a deflector to protect the oil pan from road debris.  The pieces of plastic just cost so durn much that I'm never in a big rush to fix them.  Anyway, something was dragging the whole way home, so I got a hold of my local dealer (Leavens VW) and manage to get a spot Tuesday.  I also need a few other trivial things done  - a "Clean Air" test (Ontario emissions test) and the timing belt replacement.  Since I don't do sarcasm well in blog form, let me elaborate (that's something I do very well in blog form!)  The diesel engine in the New Beetle is squeezed into the tiny front hood and part of the dash, so it is impossible to work on.  When the timing belt needs to be replaced, the water pump, tensioner and belt need to be done at the same time.  And the engine has to be taken out of the car - 5 hours of labour.  Just think about that for awhile.  So I get a call from the service guy asking me where the big 1 metre sq plastic shield is, 'cause they didn't find it inside the car.  At this point, I realize that I didn't explain that I knew the shields were broken and I wanted them replaced.  Oh well, they don't have that part in stock.  Not a big deal, but that was the main reason for taking the car in!  At least nothing was dragging when I headed home.  And the engine was running better with tensioner and belt replaced.  I think it will start better in the cold now too.

One of the attractions of playing online games has always been the community aspect.  Anyone that has participated in a LAN party knows how much more fun it is to play with a whole bunch of people in the same location.  Failing that, we have trusty headsets and microphones and such so that we can have a similar experience without the geo-locality.  To that end, I've been playing Counter-Strike Source on a particular server for a few years now.  One of the big pluses of this group is that the majority of people are at least as old as I am and they have some simple rules on their server: no swearing, no porn sprays, no using map hacks, no being an ass.  Well the last one is kind of a summary.  In other words, if someone is being a jerk, they're kicked.  And, well, they're a pretty good group.  And they invited me to be part of the group - which is pretty cool.  The other clan I was a part of had a similar makeup, but they were all in Seattle, so I never made it to the in-person events they had.  These guys are mostly in Ontario and engage in the occasional group outing, which would be nice.

Then there is that whole 44th president thing.  I watch the main part of the inauguration - by which I mean his acceptance speech - and that was quite good.  It looked like he did the speech from memory - I never saw him glance down or stare through invisible teleprompters or what-not.  The invocation of George Washington was excellent.  I have good feelings about what he stands for and where he may take the country.  The hype was a little much though.  Like my dad often quoth: "Time will tell."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Day 19: The bluest day

I mentioned in a previous (recent) posting that January 19th was the "bluest" day of the year.  This was determined by researchers and coincides with several events - it is the darkest time (shortest days in the Northern Hemisphere), the time when all the credit card bills from Christmas have arrived and are due, and that point where you've given up on your New Year's resolution in a big way.  Fortunately, my New Year's resolution was to blog more, so by simply noting this for the Internet, I'm still "sticking with it."  Terrible trap this self-referential spiral, but pop culture does it so effectively I figured I should give it a shot.

Actually made it to the gym this morning, but things didn't go as well as planned nor as badly as they could have.  Having learned my lesson last week about not going too far,  I was going to make sure not strain anything during my leg workout.  The first exercise is squats, so I made sure I did about half what I've been doing for a long time, just in case.  Well I ended up only doing 2 sets because my hamstrings started to cramp on before I started the third set.  I moved on to the next exercise and only did 2 sets there too and skipped the hamstring curls.  I guess I'll have to see what happens tomorrow and Wednesday, but I'm hopeful.  My legs generally recover well and it wasn't very heavy at all.  It really shows me how long I've gone without regular gym visits.  Never seems like has been very long.

I heard on the weekend that multiple entries are okay for the Canada Writes contest.  I think I'm going to have to start entering - vote early, vote often I've never said.  Gotta get in a movie pitch and a rant and stuff.  Maybe a song.  Maybe a song about a ranting movie pitch.  Something....

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Day 18 - Impressive!

Here we all are, yet again.  Referring to myself as a group makes me feel like maybe, just maybe, there is more than one person reading.  But whatever - that doesn't really matter.  If it did there would be many fewer bloggers.  Am I right, or am I right?  Yah!

Pretty productive day around the house - I was able to get a bunch of chores done with an efficiency that surprised me.  What I still can't believe is that I'm still sore from working out last Thursday.  Starting back at the gym after a long layoff is tough.  I find that I'm still strong enough to pick up pretty much wherever I leave off, but the endurance has disappeared such that what would have a been a regular-to-light workout has repercussions for many days after.  Chest exercises seem to be most effected area.  Arms recover quickly, in general, but I always seem to hurt the tendons or the ends of the muscles after a layoff.  End up where I can't quite straighten my arm - but that only lasts for 1 or 2 days past the workout.  I have read (but I don't remember exactly where) that biceps will recover 80% of capability within 90 seconds after an exercise.  Your arms get used so much and so often that they are capable of extreme recovery.  Someone like Lance Armstrong would have legs that could recover like that.  I know he has some anatomic advantages plus years of training to make that true.  The chest muscles are behaving like they've just been worked on every day.  Guess I really over did them - oh well.  Still, I've got to make it to the gym tomorrow - gotta make something else hurt to balance things.

I've been reading the latest Spectrum and been enjoying it immensely.  I was surprised by the information related to the cover article on prosthetic arms/hands.  This is part of their annual winners/losers techonolgy which tries to make an educated guess on how technologies scheduled for release in the upcoming year will fare.  This is definitely a winner.  The war in Afganistan and in Iraq has resulted in large increase in amputations, so there are many military researchers who are eager to improve prosthetic upper limbs.  Legs and feet are relatively easy - they require limbs with 3 or 4 degrees of freedom.  Plus non-war related amputations are usually lower limbs.  Myoelectric arms provide 3 degrees of freedom, but natural arms provide 25 degrees of freedom, with opening a doorknob requiring 5 degrees of freedom.  A useful upper limb replacement needs 22 degrees of freedom to come close to replacing a natural limb, plus natural limbs have a sense of touch and heat.  The system being researched is first off an "open" system that describes how things are connected, so future work can target a specific area and improve that and work with all other implementations.  Second, really progress is being made in the control by neural or muscular systems to enable smoother and more practical movements.  Still research but looks like some true steps have been made here.  Pretty exciting.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Day 17 - fullstop.

Checking back, I posted 17 times in the first month I setup this thing, so that's pretty good.  There has only been one other month that I posted more... 2 years ago!  Jeez!  Can't even keep up with fashionable web trends anymore - I must really be showing my age.  This inane one-sided banter is helpful because it is writing.  I'm assuming that it's like publicity - any writing is good.  Er something.  More along the lines of what Malcom Gladwell describes in Outliers - that magic number of hours doing a task is what separates the average from the good from the great.  
Not that I think this will ever turn me into a great writer, but that this will make my writing better.  Haven't read that book yet, so I'm not sure if the argument is based solely on hours-on-task or if there is a combination of innate skills plus hours-on-task that leads to the heights of excellence.  I heard in an excerpt that top performers in given fields don't have the best IQs - there's no benefit after a score of about 120.  That suggests that intelligence (or the IQ measure of it) is not a key factor.  I believe that there is a balance between innate skills, intelligence and practise.  Someone that posses innate abilities but cannot be challenged at the right time will never explore the heights of their skills.  If an individual cannot remain engaged, they won't put in the time necessary.  This can be easily demonstrated with sports and the development of athletes - for example women's hockey.  Canada and the US have the two best teams and the two best programs.  The "program"is more than the identification and training of skilled athletes, it's the large number of teams for women to play in and the hierarchy of competitive tiers.  Countries without a wide infrastructure at the youngest ages don't cast the net very wide.  If there is lots of amateur play, but no tiers of increasing skill, the best players continue to play with the same set of teammates and opponents and are never challenged.    In Canada, women's hockey benefited from the existing hockey infrastructure - arenas, coaches, lots of people interested in the sport.  I believe (but do not know for sure) that in the US there are not as many amateur players, but good players are moved into more competitive leagues very effectively.  Other countries have excellent players, but their players may play at a skill level so far above their teammates that they aren't challenged during training.  That and other countries may not identify some of the truly skilled players because of this lack of infrastructure.

Long digression, but still see the balance between these items as being as important as any single factor.  Even the examples I've heard from Outliers (Bill Joy, Bill Gates, Wayne Gretzky) have that balance - all have innate skills, but access to certain resources (to allow the magic time to practise) and a place to apply the items were very fortuitous.  This is why we don't have people who simply spend thousands of hours making it.  If that were so, the pop charts would be clogged with the many skilled musicians that simply never made it "big" for whatever reason.  Looking at the issue from the other way - why did skilled, smart individuals not make it? - I guess that's why I'm arguing for the multiple factors.  Skill, focus and situational opportunity are the combo.  Skill is obvious - innate abilities sharpened through practise and refinement.  Situational opportunity are those things that can be called "right-place-right-time".  For Bill Gates, it was access to computer time when computers were rare and highly specialized.  For Bill Joy, it was arriving at Berkeley at the right time to be able to contribute to Unix and then found Sun.  Wayne Gretzky it was being part of the Canadian amateur hockey system that allowed him to compete against much older children so that he could challenge his own skills.

All this argument shows a bias forged in experience and undergraduate psychology courses - when there are several possible answers, the best (or right) answer is usually a combination of those possibilities.  When you are looking at phenomenon that is identified and studied in a scientific manner, the possible answers reflect the people creating hypotheses.  To explore a topic, an hypothesis is created and then tested.  Each individual may emphasize some items and overlook others so the initial hypothesis may not encompass the whole picture.  At around the same time, a different person explores the same phenomenon and starts with a different hypothesis.  Once research and testing show a hypothesis is valid, it is difficult to change people's minds about it, so sides develop that stick with one idea over the other.  Finally this is resolved when someone creates a hypothesis that incorporates both ideas and shows that it is true.  Similarly, experience shows conflicts are generally nuanced enough that it isn't as simple as one side over the other.  So that's my bias.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Day 16 - Excelsior!

Yah, I had to lookup the meaning of excelsior too - the Simpson's references not withstanding.  I knew it was a favorite saying of Mr Burns: " excelsior to you!" in "King Size Homer" for example.  Turns out, it's also the motto of the state of New York, probably using the "ever upward" definition.  My last post I refered to the time of the year when resolutions are forgot, but I didn't explain it very well.  Some college in the UK (I believe) has picked January 19th, 2009 as the most "blue" day of the year, though I think I'd call it the most depressing day.  They use the winter aspect (short days, little sunlight) along with the bills arriving from Christmas to pick that particular date.  Fun.

Got another game in the new skates today - this time with reasonable length skate laces.  One of the goalies who played today used to play competitively for many years and works as a manager in a sports store now.  He said that he always recommends longer laces, as the ones supplied with Junior skates are quite short.  He noted that kids generally have a narrower foot, so they need to tighten up the boot more.  With that in mind, I tried to do up the skates adequately, but without pinching the tendon on the top of my foot.  This worked great for the left, not so much for the right.  I guess the irritation from the last time I played didn't help anything, but I must be instinctively tightening that one way too much.  I re-did the right side on the bench before the game started, but it was killing me by the end.  At least the balls of my feet weren't crushed like last time.  Oh well - I'll figure it out some day.  The skates are pretty nice, but I'm still not very well balanced on them.  The shooting pain in my one foot kinda distracts from the search for perfect balance.  I think that it will be really nice once I break them in and figure out how to tie them without cutting off the circulation to my big toe.  The right-hand big toe.  Yah.

My mom came by and showed off her new camera - a Canon G10 (review here) and it looks pretty nice.  She got 2 SD cards for it - each 4GB, paying about $14 for both.  I pointed out that my iPhone has that much storage in it and, after blank stares, relateded that size to the last computer they bought.  They bought an IBM PS/2 Model 50 with a 10 MB hard drive many years back.  So that little tile can store 4000MB/10MB == 400 times the storage.  That 4GB of storage can only hold ~600 pictures in super-fine mode.  One picture pretty much would occupy most of that old hard drive (~6MB/image).  A RAW image would require two of those hard drives.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Day 15 Incredible!

Two weeks, plus a day.  It does sound like something a judge would say - maybe "neighbourhood court".  Provincial courts can do anything up to 2 years, less a day - municipal would be 2 months less a day and neighbourhood... Not really that droll when I have to spell it out, but I thought it was weak and needed some help...

I heard a comment on the radio about this being around the time that everyone has given up on their New Year's resolutions - or maybe it was the 19th of January.  Whatever.  It just reminded me about New Year's and parties and, most importantly, what I've been drinking over the holidays.  What have I been drinking you ask?  You don't care?  Well guess what - I do!  Harkening back to our company Christmas party, otherwise known as one of the few nights out in a year when I can imbibe liberally (imbibe like a Liberal?), I had an expensive cocktail (rye and coke) and switched to something I "mixed" myself - Crown and coke.  I must say that this is definitely the combination that my body acclimatizes to readily as I did not run into the issues of a few years previous.  That is the infamous "rye and coke" then "wine with dinner" followed by "rye and coke", then "I'm out of dough - no more rye and coke" and then someone sagely suggesting the unconsumed bottles of wine on the tables...  I think he knows who he is ;)  Anyway, there was none of that.  That weekend I made my annual LCBO trek, filling the cabinet with my personal stock and gifts for others.

Having seen that whiskey is good - I have known this for some time - I decided that I should branch out to Irish whiskey from my Rye and modest Scotch stocks.  I have heard excellent things about Jameson's.  This became my nog-enhancer of choice over the holidays, and it was good.  Next, I had read good things about "Red Breast", which turned out to be a 12-year-old blend of Irish whiskey's.  Another excellent beverage, best enjoyed straight up.  Reminds me of some of the better brandies or cognacs I've sampled.  I bought a nice looking blueberry Stoli - that's Stolichnaya infused with blueberries - as a gift.  I guess I'll find out how it is sometime in the future.  I also acquired a small bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream, mint chocolate flavoured, but I haven't opened it yet.  I'm thinking that it will be an excellent coffee additive, but I haven't been in the position to consume such a thing.  If the weather stays as it has been for the last few days however...

What else did I have over the holidays?  Some homemade red wine, Bailey's, scotch, Vecchio Romagna, and a selection of carbonated fermented grains.  You know, beer - but nothing fancy.  Sounds like a lot, but a small glass at time over the course of 3 or 4 weeks.  Always nice to enjoy the drink, rather than cramming down drink after drink...  I really do miss those super-sour Tom Collin's the Bomber used to have... 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Day 14 Chilly, but not bad

Not playing hockey was weird - stayed up too late because I didn't have to be up early.  Didn't sleep in too much, but then headed out in the weather.  Not too bad - it was about -12 when I got going.  Shoveled the driveway and relished the cold.  I like being outside in this temperature if I'm prepared for it.  I had a nice sweater on - something I can only do when it is cold out.  That and moving a little bit of fluff around and the whole thing is quite pleasant.  I can remember actually being cold when I was a kid.  That was usually after 1 or 2 hours of building snow forts and some-such, and my gloves (or mits) had doubled in weight.  When the sweat from underneath meets the snowmelt soaking inwards, that's when its really cold.  That or when I'm standing around while the my kids are doing that.  The standing around is always what gets you.

I'm going to have to find an excuse to hang around at night at my parent's house some clear night in this cold.  It is the most special time to be outside - bright moon, blue-black sky, gleaming snow blanket criss-crossed with the ever-thining branches.  The air precise and the silence sharp.  Moving around makes that bright squeak, but that seems like an insult to the night.  Got to remember to breath - but not too deep or else the air stabs at the lungs.

I think I could do better to describe a meditation, but that's something.  What I wonder is what would happen if I'm standing outside in the bright-dark and the deer start wandering by...  They keep looking for acorns and the remains of the garden produce, so it could happen.  Maybe I need to find myself a sturdy deer-whomping, er walking, stick.  I think my dad still has that one I cut a 15 or 20 years back - a nice young hardwood (beech? ash?)  about 5cm in diameter.  I think it must still be in a garage somewhere - hard as all get out, and never cut so it keeps all the strongest aspects of being a tree.  I thought I saw it a few months back, but it would be an excellent walking, er deer-whomping, stick.  That is something I have to go looking for - definitely.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Day 13 - No Hockey???

I really don't like cancelling hockey, but it's happened.  I really, really don't like missing a game, but it's hard enough to get people to come out, so when there are no goalies at all then it's really not worth it.  I still don't like it!  I was surprised there were no goalies though.  We usually have one, even if that one is not the guy I work with.   Oh well - I shouldn't be bitter.

What I didn't do today was make it to the gym.  I ended up taking a whole lot longer getting to work than I thought I would, but mainly because I took awhile to get started.  Shoveled half the driveway because I was worried everything might freeze up later today.  Someone finished it for me sometime during the day, but wife doesn't know who.  Snowblowers are such toys - can just clean one!  Driveway that is.  My delays were nothing to those who had to travel the actual highways, especially the 401.  The consensus was that people either over or under-compensate for the weather.  My contention is that people can generally make one adjustment per day, so if they get it through their heads to slow down and drive carefully in the snow squalls, they can't speed up in the bare-dry sections later on.

I was really wondering what hockey would be like tomorrow, as it's supposed to be pretty cold overnight.  Forecast calls for -18 C, but it might get colder.  It's -12 now, but -19 with the wind chill.  It's the first time it's been really cold this winter, although there were a few times I felt pretty cold because of the wind.  Anyway, the cold temperatures overnight help the rink we use to freeze better.  The cold would not help my new skates fit better, I think, and that is what I was curious about.  Plus I need to put more time into those skates so they will fit better!

The cold weather reminds me of the episode of Mythbusters where they were testing winter-related items.  That episode truly showed how very, very Californian they all are.  They doubted the tongue-sticking-to-flag-pole myth.  I guess the "tongue stuck on chain link fence" that I remember from being a kid just doesn't sound as cool.  Then they tested cars-on-ice  and avalanche myths.  The avalanche bit was pretty wrong.  It was obvious they wouldn't be able to trigger one.  Now if they were in BC this month, totally different story.  They've had so much trouble there because there was a cold snap with some snow first, followed by warmer and wetter snowfall in massive amounts.  In other words, big heavy snow on top of smooth, frozen ice pellets.  A snow conveyor if you will.  When you get a couple of metres on top of those ice-bearings, things flow in a hurry.  I guess you don't realize how much you know about something, like ice, snow and winter, until you see people who know so very little.  One thing I can't criticize in any way is the avalanche safety team, how Adam and Jamie got to use a proper tool to make the mountain safer - dynamite thrown from a helicopter.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Day 12 - The Pudge Factor

One thing about the holidays is that whole "gaining weight" thing.  I am not and have never been the person with the tiny waist.  However, the last few months have been sitting rather uneasily around my middle.  The main problem is simply not getting to the gym.  It's kinda nice to avoid it right around January 1 as there are people in attendance that won't be in attendance in short order.  I'm gonna have to get back on track with that tomorrow morning.  Playing hockey a couple of times a week keeps things reasonable in terms of energy level and total-body-squishiness, but when I can get to the gym for the other 3 days of the week, that does a body good.  Especially in my business - the sitting down staring straight ahead business.  Like the salesman at "The Vast Waistband" on the Simpson's episode King-Size Homer:

Work, huh?  Let me guess. Computer programmer, computer magazine columnist, something to do with computers?

His speculation of " must be all the constant sitting and snacking..." is one of the great banes of the information industry.  Ah well - a job is a good thing - it pays for my blogging habit.

Anyhoo, I'm involved with an issue at work that seems to be gaining some traction vis a vis a root cause of the problem instead of an eternal examination of the symptoms.  The current line of investigation suggests the issue was a small problem that leads to performance issues over time.  This is the type of problem encountered at this stage of the project.  The software development is long done, much testing is over and we are left to sort through the "long tail" of remaining issues.  These are the bugs that arrise from complex or long-term interactions, exactly the problem in this case.  We've been working on this project for quite a long time and I suspect that many developers at my work have either passed by or never knew about the "embedded" aspect of our work.

The devices we work on are embedded, but (fortunately) they aren't the embedded ones I first learned on.  These machines have more computing power, memory and long-term storage than I had access to for the first 15 years of using a computer.  My first PC had 1 MB RAM, a 80286 processor and a 10 MB hard-disk.  These devices have 50 MB RAM for Java (plus much more for the underlying OS), hundreds of MB of Non-volatile memory and 300 MIP processors.  So I can understand how embedded ideals can be overlooked during development.  This is the stage of the project when those embedded design patterns pay dividends, or come back to bite us.

One of the best things that these embedded designs lead to is software that is compact, fast and resource-sparse.  These ideals will be more necessary when this software is more widely deployed and possibly developed upon.  Hopefully I can call some attention to this move away from the "small" before we begin the next project in earnest.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Day 11 - Prime time!

Titles are hard, so I figure a weak numeric joke is better than nothing today.   My wife brought up an idea - that "carbon offsets" are equivalent to "papal indulgences".  I thought it was an excellent idea, and something that I should think about entering in a CBC contest "Canada Writes."  After talking around the topic a bit, we both recalled hearing this proposition before, but it is still an interesting thought.  I figured I'd expand the ideas a little farther, branching out to the more general topic of "global warming" and what people think about it and are doing about it.  Like most things, it's probably a good idea to practise composing such a piece, so I'm going to write up some of my ideas here and enter the contest later with something more coherent.  Or less - I'm not sure what they're looking for ;)

Anyway, the papal indulgences vs carbon offsets is a very strong parallel: you get to sin all you want and use money to erase the sin.  The money paid goes somewhere that's not exactly clear and whatever your theological grounding, what gets done with the money to fix the sin is rather murky.  Some examples are the planting of various trees in different parts of the world to offset that plane trip you took from New York to Lake Tahoe to go skiing.  Everything comes down to the "leave it the way you found it" idea I was given growing up.  You can mess things up all you want if you spend the time to clean it up.  Doing all the messing up followed by all the cleaning leaves you in a pickle - the mess becomes like compound interest.  Messing the mess results in more clean up effort than mess-cleanup-mess.  And when we're talking the environment, the "leaving it to the end" is equivalent to "leaving it until I'm almost dead", at which point you've done very little cleaning up and a lot of messing up.  These lessons lead one to try and create less mess and clean more frequently.  This works in the kitchen and in the tar sands - there is a minimum mess necessary to accomplish something, but after that, it should be dealt with.  Economically, once you've made the money, that's the time to do the cleanup, not years later when you've gone bankrupt.  Well, that's what companies do because the gov't (that's us) has to come in and clean up.

Every now and then there is a back-and-forth about "global warming" - it's important to act now, the data is flawed, the science wrong, someone is manipulating the media, etc etc.  The first step is to try and get every person to reduce their daily impact on the world around them.  Next, the impact of their general lifestyle.  A lot of progress can be made through technology and now is the time to pursue them.  Some propose huge projects to fix things, but those smack of desperation and is wrong-headed.  Humans are very adaptable and getting the humans to change is easier, cheaper and more predicitble than trying to bend the planet to our will.  The latter has always been thwarted, never working out as planned or even in a predictable fashion.  So let's get on to working small and building up from that.  Use less water, less electricity, less gasoline.  All these things will be cheaper for you as an individual and then you can look to the things you buy and decide how to select things that are better.  Eating food that is in season near where you live is cheaper and it has to travel less.  It keeps the farmers near you going and it generally tastes better too.  Generating power more locally would save creating huge towers everywhere with lots of cables susceptible to ice and wind and so forth.  

Anyway, that's enough ranting for tonight.  I'll have to look into some more potential topics for the Canada Writes topic.  Everyone that reads this post will know my main problem will be keeping any submission to 200 words.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Day 10 - {Title to be inserted later}

Got a small blog window at this point - gotta put the kids to bed soon and then off to see Quantum of Solace.  I enjoyed Casino Royale (on DVD) so I'm happy with Daniel Craig as Bond.  I'm disappointed that Pierce Brosnan couldn't become Bond when he was in the correct part of his career.  Not that his Bond films were bad, but I think they would have been better if he had a few more years in the role.  Anyway, we'll see what the movie is like and I can blather on about it later.

Got my new skates sharpened today by my "skate sharpening guy" and, more importantly, got new laces.  The skates had impossibly short 84" laces, so I got some 96" ones to replace them.  Hopefully that will mean I can stop bruising the top of my foot just to tie a knot in them...  The skates were sharpened last week, but this guy takes a lot more care than most.  I've had him do my skates since I started playing hockey again a few years back.  The first time he did them, he deepened the 'radius of groove'.  If you look along the blade and measure the depth between the edges and the middle, that's the radius of groove.  Not to be confused with the 'radius of grove' that I originally wrote down.  That's the distance from the middle of a clearing to the where the forrest starts up again.  Anyway, the deeper radius means the blade holds a nicer edge, as long as the blade is good.  My old skates have good steel and so do the new ones, so this only benefits turning speed and the angle where the blade will still bite.  That's why I wanted him to re-do the sharpening that the store did.  The store did an okay job, but not that good.  Herm's in London sharepens blades well, and I suppose Pete's would do better if I had bothered to tell them exactly what I wanted.  But I like this guy and that's who's getting my business.

The other interesting thing he mentioned is that after I put in another 6 or 7 hours of time into the skates I should get them re-heated and fit at the place where I bought them.  That will help break in the skates - they just need to get used a bit before they will really change their shape.  He aslo warned me that it will take about half a season for the skates to get properly broken in, but once they do they will fit great forever.  That's what I'm counting on!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Day 9 - Hockey and feet

Nine posts, nine days.  It's a freakin' miracle.  Well, no, more like someone who spends too much time in front of the computer, but whatever.

So, I've had my new skates for almost a whole week and my foot is killing me.  It's been so long since I broke in new skates I completely forgot about how bad it would be.  I can skate, but not that well because my feet ache with them on.  The main problem is not the skate, but rather the dinky laces supplied with them!  I asked for longer laces before I left the store, but they left the originals in there.  I have to pull them so tight my feet hurt just so I can make a bow!  When I put them on for the first game, I tied the right side too tight and hurt that tendon that goes from your big toe across the top of your foot.  That and I put the toungue on the outside of my knee pads.  For the game I played today, I tightened the other parts as much as possible and put the toungue under the pad.  The top of the foot was okay, but now my foot was in so very, very compressed.  Longer laces will help and few days not wearing them.  Maybe I'll be able to take them back to where I bought them and get the new laces for free.  Maybe I'll just take them to see the guy who sharpens them and never mind about the other place - which ever.

In other interesting hockey-related news, John Tavares is playing for the London Knights now - the local OHL team.  My dad likes to go see a game every once in a while, but it's been hard to get tickets for the last little while.  The Knights have had a few really good seasons and the season ticket sales make getting seats impossible.  Well, you can get standing room tickets, but kids can really go there.  And seats are available, but only one or two at a time.  Anyway, Tavares is with the Knights and the played Tavares old team tonight, the Oshawa Generals.  London came out on top 6-1.  Well, I guess I can watch the local cable channel to catch a game and see how Tavares fits with the team.  Hopefully the team didn't have to trade away too many draft picks for him.

I hope I can get more comfy in the new skates - I do like them.  They're lighter and they same to handle better, but until I can skate without thinking about it, my game will suffer.  It's amazing how much more you do playing hockey then simply skating around.  I'm glad my youngest son has agreed to skating lessons while being as young as he is - that way I can make sure he has a solid skating foundation before he starts playing hockey.  Skating has to be something that enables you as a player, so you can concetrate on where everybody is and playing your position better.  Anyway, he's almost 5 and I that's a little too young for hockey.  It's be a good age for screwing around on the backyard rink or pond, but no dice.   The backyard isn't level enough, I haven't prepared anything at all and the nearby drainage pond hasn't frozen thick enough yet to be safe.  I still like playing hockey a lot - hopefully he will too.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Day 8 Really?

It's day 8 in the habit-forming department.  I know I feel better knowing that.  Well, maybe not - but whatever.  I'm here now, I might as well write about something... Something topical, ... in the news... GM!  Just saw a little something about the Chevy Volt.  Some guys from the NBC got to take the test-mule out for a drive.  They seemed impressed in a muted way.  So far, that project has been proceeding how I hoped it would.  It's taking a bit longer than I thought it might, but I guess there are many things that have to be considered when creating a whole new infrastructure.  Saw something from - they referenced the NBC site, plus have lots of other info on the Volt.

This was the vehicle I always thought the Prius was, until I found out more.  The Prius has a big battery, but it doesn't have enough juice to run very long on straight electron power.  Once I heard that, I wasn't interested in the Prius at all.  When GM hinted they would make a series hybrid - one where the electric motors move the car and any engine is used to generate electricity - I began watching with great interest.  I guess the biggest disappointment with the whole project so far is that if GM had kept the EV1 project alive, they would have had the incremental engineering improvements that only come from tinkering with production models.  I took an electronics shop class in high school, and the teacher was an electrical engineer who used to work for GM.  He told us that one of his first jobs in Detroit was helping to test an electric Cavalier in the early 80s, if I remember correctly.  I think I remember seeing something about Henry Ford tinkering with an electric Model T at one point.  The problem has always been with the battery storage systems.

Another interesting tech-bit I saw recently was on the development of hybrid lead-acid/ultra-capacitor batteries.  That's the kind of thing that could lead to interesting things for me.  Like nice buffering systems between a wind/solar generation system and my home.  The ultracapcitor part makes the battery suitable for the high-voltage operations that occur when generating wind power and are neccessary for handling electrical grid changes.  For stationary applications, this technology will bring the cost of such systems down, as they are about 1/4 the cost per Watt of NiMH batteries, which are cheaper than Lithium-Ion batteries.  Which the Volt uses.  On a hybrid, the rapid charge/release cycles used in acceleration and regenerative braking make normal lead-acide (ie. car batteries) unsuitable.  Lithium-Ion and NiMH can store/release energy quickly, with Lithium-Ion having the higher storage density.  Lead acid technology is cheap, and combining them with some ultracapictor techonology provides the rapid charge/release capability for a small additional cost.  I would love to have a solar system that charges are large battery pack that I can use to power my furnace and computer when the power goes out.  

Anyway, I'm still interested in the Chevy Volt, although there will be about 2.5 years until I could possibly own one.  And it sounds like those expensive batteries will make it pretty expensive, so that's less appealing.  On the other hand, I wouldn't mind being part of something that changes the way vehicles operate.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Day 7 - Is the number really necessary?

I think that numbering these posts helps me to stay on track.  Not very subtle, but after all, I'm not terribly subtle so it suits me.  I suppose I should stick to fewer topics in each post, but again, that's not really my style.

The company my wife spent a brief (part-time) stint at finally evaporated.  Looking back, she's sure she got out at the right time.  I think she was right - but she said she was skeptical of part of the ownership team from the beginning.  So today she was dealing with the people who were complaining about the demise of the company and pretty hostile to her comments of "you should have seen this coming."  Maybe the group of people that left at the same time was a hint - that or the police raid - but I can't be sure what would be the best indicator.

So we were talking at my parent's place about this, trying to work out how so many people could miss such glaring problems.  The talk turned to how different people react to problems, generalizing to the different styles.  My dad would not go quietly, where as my wife would go quietly - but more in the "This isn't good - I'm getting out" slip-out-the-back-before-anyone-notices style.  About a week before anyone else.  I suspect it's that insight that caused her to be passed over for better position at that company.  She's claiming "precognition" among her special skills now.

This leads to an interesting psychological point.  I don't know if there is a formal label for this pattern, but I'll do my best to explain it.  Let's start with basic premise - a person won't work for a company that they hate.  It's like having a free software disciple working for Microsoft - there is a phundamental philosophic pdivide pconflict (some times you have to work to get the alliteration).  That's not to say that it won't happen, as some reasons or needs overcome that difference.  Like if that free software disciple is really tired of coding for lattes on the corner and living in a discarded laptop box.  The interesting psychological part is when we invert this premise and apply the principle of inertia.  When someone is happy, they would like to remain happy, so if work for a company they are probably happy with the company (on the whole) and will suppress (or ignore) information that shows otherwise.  Humans adjust their perception of reality to accentuate certain things and ignore contradictions or items that damage a particular view.  This is enshrined in the saying "In his mother's eyes, he could do no wrong." Of when you search for that missing pen, searching all over and then someone else comes by and says "Is that it?" pointing at the middle of your desk just beyond your notebook.  

I'd like to remind you scientists out there reading this that I'm not writing book that attempts to illuminate the psychology of the working human, (although it could be a hoot), so I'm not even going to attempt to back these assertions up with years of carefully crafted studies.  I'm sure they exist, but I'm not going to go and cross reference them now.

So this is why there were so many people that were upset at my wife, though she was clearly right about this company she used to work for.  Be honest, you didn't think I was going anywhere with this, did you?  The people were the most upset were the ones that were happiest in their jobs.  They didn't want to see problems, so they simply didn't see any problems.  Obviously when 4 people quit at the same time, they're morons.  The police showing up is Allen conspiracy to make disgruntled employees feel justified in abandoning their attractive, hardworking and generous colleges...  Embellishment is fun, but even Allen would agree that this might be taking it a bit too far.

  Allen ~= Alien.  Like in extraterrestrial.  Not really working is it?

Yah, I think it's getting late again.  It's fun to lumber off in strange directions but eventually I have to circle back to my bed.  And sleep.  And something...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Day 6 - Is this a habit or a compulsion???

Working towards a habit with this here writing thang. I should really pursue better sleep habits, but whatever. Gotta hit the hay early tonight to be fresh for hockey tomorrow. It's really hard to concentrate when one hasn't had enough sleep. The worst part is that internal censor tends to go on extended leave when you're more tired.

Had an interesting team meeting today - my manager outlined what is going to be happening this year, as well as he knows it now. Like most things, the year has begun and the plan isn't finished, so we start with an outline and work our way towards having it done. Anyway, he gave some interesting insights to our "big boss", basically drilling into us that he likes to 'manage by data' instead of 'managing the data'. See that subtle difference there? Slick!

I really can't do sarcasm when I'm this tired, or when I'm writing - lacks the whole tone-of-voice and eye-rolling-boredom look that is necessary for sarcasm so obviously weak that it can do nothing but become an instant parody of itself.

Anyhoo, I've met this particular 'big boss' and really liked what he's had to say at various meetings. It didn't hurt that he was the one that delivered the "despite this whole market kablamo, every one's job is safe" talk. It's nice to be using the internet in your own house that one can continue making payments on. Nice. (Wow this sarcastic parody of this blog post keeps cropping up - my subconscious must be trying to tell me something...)  That wasn't behind my good opinion of him because I decided on that a long time ago.  He has an excellent track record working for highly technical companies and he started from an actual engineering position.  Plus he's sat on IEEE standard's committees, which is something I can respect.  Especially since he sat on the 802.11 series of committees.  Lasting through one of those would be quite an accomplishment simply because of the competing money, er companies that are trying to come up with something that is standard, but more like their standard than anyone else.  Everyone should be amazed that something emerges that everyone pretty much agrees to.  Anyone that can help move that kind of crazy mess forward seems like the kind of person that can sort out the mess that is the relationship between our customer & owner (they are the same entity).

I'm hoping that this 'big boss' can help our owner provide us with the information we need to create the products they want in a timely fashion.  There is lots of communication happening, but something is missing to make the whole thing really click.  Our company needs to change too and the fact that the 'big boss' is addressing both sides of the problem at the same time is really encouraging.

Did I mention that when I'm tired, I ramble on with crazy segues around the topic I was on?  I saw that Qnx has an embeddable Java VM that runs with its microkernel OS.  What I wouldn't give to slap that into some of the hardware we have at work...

As I was saying before, looks like the 'big boss' will be looking towards hard data to determine what is going on.  I think this is a good thing because it will bring us closer to repeatable and coherent processes.  This is the kind of thing that could be done in a scary way, but as I mentioned above, I like what the 'big boss' has done before and I'm optimistic.

I think some at my work may be worried about this 'big boss' because he isn't a big proponent of Agile - in fact, many of the ideas he's expressed are decidedly non-Agile.  I'm thinking of the 6-month product cycles as an example.  First, I'd like to point out that just because the entire company isn't 100% Agile doesn't mean our corner of it can't operate in an Agile fashion.  Secondly, I've made mention of processes a few times already and the Agile manifesto does say "value people over processes".  Some read that as "process == BAD", but I think that's limiting.  Processes can enable people - just like learning certain martial disciplines.  A student begins by copying the precise set of forms and movements.  Once those become instinctual, then the student is encouraged to explore the reasoning behind the precise steps.  Finally, the student moves beyond simple instruction and adapts the movements to themselves, expanding and refining.  Processes in an agile environment should serve the same purpose - to provide enough structure for people to operate in with the understanding that one day they may outgrow it.

Okay, guess it's going to be time for that whole sleep thing.  Soon.  Because if I keep this up much long and I'm just gonna pass out here and what little semblance of sense that these words have will evaporate.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Day 5 - What a game!

Well, the Canadian Men's Junior team won their 5th straight gold medal tonight.  The game was much better than I expected, after watching the Canada vs USA and hearing about the Canada vs Russia game.  Canada tied Russia with 5 seconds left and won in the shoot out to make it to tonight, so I was wondering what the play would be like.

When Canada played the USA, they won, but both teams play a similar style - fast and loose, lots of checking and dump-and-chase play.  Plus there was no love lost between the two teams, so it was exciting hockey.  An excellent game.  However, I watched the Sweden vs Russia game earlier that day and the Swedes played a very skillful puck-control game.  The Russians were not able to take the puck off them in the Swedish zone, making their attacking play pretty abrupt.  Given those two examples, I expected Sweden to dominate play.

Thankfully, I was wrong!  A quick goal early on put the Swedes back on their heels.  As the game wore on, it was clear that team Canada was trying hard to force bad passes, stay in the passing lanes and prevent the stretch passes and quick play that marked the Swedish play earlier in the tournament.  It looked like things were going to fall apart for Canada after they started getting a lot of penalties in the 2nd, but the Canadian netminder Tokarski played a great game, keeping Sweden off the score board through 2 periods.   I think it was a critical step that Team Canada start the third with no goals against, and a power play to boot.

In spite of the many penalties, Canada played a disciplined game, especially a few times when emotions looked to boil over, but the players stayed away from team Sweden after the whistle to make sure no calls would be made.  I thought the Canadian players did a good job staying away from the Swedish goaltender, who spent most of the game trying to draw penalties.  

An excellent game and I'm glad I watched it.  Hopefully that same discipline can be applied next year to try and bring home gold again!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Day 4 - Prepare for...

Wow - four posts, four days! It must be some kind of... pathetic attempt at something. Anyway, today is the day I'm preparing to get back to work and preparing to try out some new hockey equipment.

It's a new year at work. We've shipped product into an actual market, we have loose ends to tie up and I have to endeavor to make things better for all. Complacency is an enticing and dangerous state - we're an "agile" workplace, but I don't think I did enough retrospecting. Now is a good time to look back and think about I could have done better. Team-wise, I think things went quite well, except for a lack of retrospectives. The team is cohesive, adaptive and gets things done. We've tried, in our own silo fashion, to develop practices and methods that result in better output. Towards the end of the year, I gave a presentation on one of these practices. Another team member gave a presentation on the technical details of the features our team maintains. This kind of outreach is the type of company-wide connection that I'd like to promote. I haven't done enough to make that happen, other than complain - something I know I'm pretty darn good at already. It's time to branch out from complaint to action.

Optimistic words for an optimistic time of the year. Now on to my other preparations - hockey related. I got myself a new helmet and a new pair of skates. My current helmet, although quite nice, was beginning to react poorly during the course of a game. I suspect, (but can't prove), that certain pads were absorbing sweat and slowly crushing my head. Not good. I have the dents to justify these suspicions and the cage was getting rusty, so it was time to move on. I bought a cheaper version of the same helmet, with nice smooth pads. Hopefully this will provide the protection and lack of soft padding that was SQUEEZING MY BRAAAIN!!!

I also got new skates, which I've been promising myself for a long time. I wanted to get a pair of high-quality, modern skates. I asked around and Graf was touted as the best, so I've been investigating for a while now. I went to Pete's Sports to see if I could find someone that could fit skates properly. Graf is not a volume brand, so I was confident that any store that actually carried them would have suitably trained staff, and I was not mistaken. Graf is known for their comfortable skate and their range of shapes - capable of accomodating a very wide range feet. I have small feet, so they are hard to fit. Because they are so small. Anyway, this turned out to be an advantage as I fit best in a Juniour size, which cost less than the Senior sizes. Also, I ended up choosing a pair that I probably couldn't break in if they were a Senior pair. Turns out, it's not a great idea to go into the nearest sports store and buy the top-of-the-line skate. Usually they are so stiff that you'd have to play in a competitive league to break them in properly. So remember that when buying your next pair - save yourself some money and some pain!

Anyway, buying was good, but today I prepare to actually use them. It's going to be different because they are a size-and-a-half smaller than my old ones, so the blade area is much decreased. On the other hand, they are lighter, so maybe I'll be able to pump those legs a little faster. Now I just have to look into that extra padding 'round the middle...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Day 3 - Edu-ma-cation

Fun topic, that whole education thing. I spent a lot of time in the education system and I have many ideas and opinions about it, so it's a good topic to write about. I just read this article on the CBC website and thought I'd throw out some points on the topic.

I agree with one of the major points that there is an obsession among parents to send their children to university. Like many things in life, higher education is something that a person needs to commit to and have some facility with to see real benefit. That's a fancy way of saying that some people aren't cut out for university. The author (Robert Smol) indicates the cost of higher education as something that should be considered. That is sensible advice - does it make sense to struggle for 4 years at something that you don't get much out of and pay all that money? That time and money could have been put to better use.

I guess the first problem is one of perception - namely the best/wealthiest careers come out of university and the smartest people are university educated. Both these ideas are flawed in many ways. The example of Bill Gates comes to mind - he started, but never finished, an undergraduate degree. However he has been very successful and seems to be a pretty smart guy all round. Many people involved in the early days of personal computing followed a similar path - self taught and now very wealthy. The opposite condition is also true - some university educated people are not terribly smart. They may be hard working, or they may be smart but chose a discipline that doesn't capture their imagination, so they don't come across as the best in their field.

I present a two-pronged conclusion: tine one is that it is more important to find something that captures your imagination. Your child may not have anything like that, so helping them discover that will have the most benefit. The second conclusion tine is that the obsession with university degrees is diluting the meaning of them. So many people have degrees now that many companies will not consider applicants that do not have post-secondary education, even for positions that don't need them. I don't have an examples off-hand, but it's like requiring a degree in computer engineer to sell electronics at Best Buy. Sure, that person could understand everything they sell from the circuit level up, but why would it matter? Does that make them a better salesperson?

The requiring of university degrees for positions that don't require post-secondary skills is a disease that is probably impossible to stem at this point. I know that my degree is worth less than my father-in-law's undergraduate degree. I think he had to work harder than I did, but I think that people going through my program now have an easier time that I did. I'm sure there are people out there that may disagree with me and I welcome their observations.

Not a bad start. This is a topic that I can mine for some time, so keep watching this space.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Day 2, Ought Nine

It's a start - I remembered to log in again! Whoo! Okay, I'm not really that excited, but starting is important. I think it's three weeks to start a habit - three days will be good for me. First hockey game of 2000 + 9 and I've already scored the best goal of the year. Point shot, high on the short side, off the post, off the far post and in. Very pretty. Not sure what I'm going to do to follow that. Not that it matters - I don't get paid 10 million a season like some Swede who's two years older than me and waltzes in to Vancouver half way through the year. Then my goals would matter. Goals in hockey - that thing I do for fun.

Now's as good a time as any to throw some gasoline on the John Tavares pyre-of-worship. I really enjoyed the World Junior game on New Years Eve between Canada and the US. Looked like trouble in the first 10 mins of the game, with Canada down 3-0. Then Mr. Tavares shows everyone where the net was and away went team Canada. Really open two-way game and very nice to watch. I'm still mooning over Tavares' goal in the pre-tournament game against Solvakia. Enjoy! I think the kind of play that goal epitomises will be the future of hockey. There are generations of players that have increasing hand-eye coordination skills and there will come a time when enough people show that level of skill that a significant portion of the game will be played in the air. Maybe it'll look like lacrosse around the net - little flip to the crease then bat-bat-bat and in. Just a thought I had after watching that Canada-US game. Nothing will beat the certainty and control of smooth on-ice, tape-to-tape play when moving the puck around.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A new year - a time for...

I guess it is time to write up something here. I find it hard to believe that it was August when I last posted. Then again, maybe that isn't so hard to believe. We've started a new year - 2009, last of the 'oughts'. Probably it will be a year of reflection (I aught to have done this, I aught not to have invaded Iraq, I aught not to have create a fiscal device which crashed markets around the world). Hopefully that kind of thinking won't weigh on consciences too heavily. What I aught to have done was write more. Gonna try and change that here - 'tis a simple habit, but a tough one to keep up. Well, some seem to have an easier time than others. Kimota94 even had to branch out to 2 and even 3 blogs. I have trouble keeping up and I'm jealous that I can' t even compare to that output. Then again, I always wished I could write like Isaac Asimov at 90 wpm on a manual typewritter. There was a mind that could make things work the first time through, on the fly.

Well, the new year brings renewal - hope, possibility and some third thing which I'm not going to tell you. Maybe later. When I get into writing as a habit. Always seems so easy during the dark cold months of the year when I'm on vacation. When I stop talking to so many different people, I guess I have more to write about. The experiment comences!

Happy New Year! Remember, the media likes to say a lot of things, but that doesn't always reflect what is going on. The stock market crashed, but it hasn't erased a large portion of the jobs. Statistics Canada's latest unemployment numbers (check out this chart) show Canada's unemployment rate at ~6.5%, lower than the 7% in 2005. This means the economic crises is no Great Depression, at least not yet. On the other hand, all the frank discussion that claims that my spending (as a consumer) is responsible for keeping everything going, seems like a pretty asinine thing to base wealth and species success off of.