Mark Twain Quotes

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

My next computer will be...

So I've decided to build my next computer.  

No, I'm not talking about just buying a case and stuffing a generic motherboard with Intel CPU into it.  I'm talking about a portable, laptop like machine.

With the availability of alternative options like the raspberry pi, you can build interesting computers.  Yes,we're not talking powerhouses here.  But we are talking a level of flexibility and variety not seen since the early days of personal computers.

Now the PI is a little weak, even though it now sports a quad core at 900mhz.  But it is only $35.  For around $100 you can get an octo core at around 2ghz, with the ODROID.

Using an HDMI to LVDS board I can hook up almost any LCD screen, and I've got a couple old laptops I can salvage from.

Add in a MoPi power HAT and a handful of battery cells and I've pretty much got everything I need to make a decent little machine.

The question then remains: what do I put it all in.  There is the Pi-top project that has a 3d printed laptop case.  But I want something more unique.

The first generation will be a prototype made from recycled cardboard.  Then I will make a more elaborate design using Lego.  Finally, I make a permanent design using wood, metal and leather in a steampunk style.

I may not be fastest but I bet I'll get some heads turning.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hands off my internet connection

If you don't know what Net Neutrality is about, let me explain it to you.
Do you like the internet? Do you like how you can find things from the most obscure to the most popular? Do you like how its getting faster all the time, and that speed applies to whatever you like to do on the internet, no matter how obscure or weird it is?
Net Neutrality is the Internet equivalent of "If it ain't broke, DON'T FIX IT!"
Net Neutrality means don't f*ck with my internet!
Net Neutrality means keep big businesses from changing something that already works just so they can make more money.
Net Neutrality means equal access for everybody -- isn't that what America is supposed to be all about?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Modern development hardware needs.

So its coming up on the time when I'm thinking about what kind of computer to upgrade to.  Our existing machine is a Macbook Pro that, when we got it 5 years ago, was top of the line.  Its taken a beating, going through 2 batteries, both fans, being dropped on a corner so the case is a bit warped, a hard drive death and the dvd drive dead (but never replaced) and now the power brick.  But all in all, a very solid reliable performer and still going.

So I'm thinking, this is still a pretty decent computer.  The last time I upgraded, the difference was pretty amazing.  For the last year and half, I had a company Macbook that was brand new with quad core processor and a huge harddrive.  But it wasn't hugely noticeable performance.  If I got a brand new Macbook today, I don't know that it would really seem that much faster.

Even though I am doing software development.  More specifically, web software.  So I'm running web servers and messaging queues and databases, browsers and editors, etc.  That's more than most people run, however, its not necessarily computationally intensive most of the time.  Do I really need a spanking new, blazing fast multicore monster of a laptop?

My first thought was, it would be cool to have a portable server box.  Like, really portable.. couldn't you pack a fast CPU and an SSD into a little box running linux and use that for dev?  Wouldn't that be better?  Then you wouldn't need all that running on your laptop.  Also you could then plug that into another machine and work if you wanted to.  And you could have a less beefy laptop.

Or, what if you just went all cloud based and have all your dev in the cloud?  Heck there's even a service that lets you have a Mac in the cloud ( never mind all the other services like bitnami and heroku etc.  And if you don't like that, you could also build your own server at home and use that. The only drawback there is having a good internet connection, which might limit you if you like to work from Starbucks or something.

Either way, you wouldn't then need such a powerful laptop.  I'm thinking my next laptop will be less of a do-it-all expensive monster and more of a sleek portal into my cloud connected development envirionment.

And with the money I'll save, I can restore my kit car.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Damn it jim, I'm a programmer, not a data manipulator!

Ah but really, I don't feel like a programmer most of the time anymore.  And yet I write code.  But it seems most of it, like 90% of it, is just boilerplate code to transform data from one form into another.

Throw in filters, validation, and access permissions at different points along the transformation chain, and you have 99% of most web applications.

Why are we writing so much code for all of this all the time?  For a project I am faced with a decision.  Do I write code?  Or do I use some service which allows me to not write code?  It seems lazy, it seems like the way out for people who just don't know how to program, why would I as a seasoned programmer make use of such a tool?

But then, why not?  If I can use Dreamfactory to create a REST API to a database (complete with auto-generated documentation, authorization and permission checking, etc) and then use Appery to visually design a mobile app, and connect to the REST API, all without writing any code.. why not?

Granted there's still some edge situations that require some coding.  But the rest is just thinking about the data, how to present it, and how to store it.

I'm not really a programmer anymore.  I'm a data manipulator.

Or maybe I can put a nicer spin on it, and say I'm a "web application architect" - because there's still the process of defining the data, deciding how best to present it, and choosing the best tools and infrastructure to support it.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Taste of Failure

The taste was still on my lips and in my mouth as I slowly made my way through the morning commute.  It reminded me of my failure over the last few days.   With nothing else to do with my brain I replayed the events leading up to that morning.

For more years than I can remember, it has been an interest -- near obsession -- of mine.  I’m not sure why, but I know it began with wanting to make my own pizza as a child.  Today, while I still yearn for that perfect home made pizza, my current goal is sour dough bread.

I’ve been baking breads for some years now.   I would characterize the results as being successful.  That is, of course, according to everyone else.  The bread is eaten and never lasts long.  The kids love the “salty bread” (baguettes) and soft pretzels.  Whenever anybody brings bread to church its assumed I made it.

But for me, the elusive true sour dough bread has not come forth from my oven as yet.  This week, I decided to try a new method based on a sour dough baking vlog I discovered from an actual chef.  It looked promising and seemed to address the issues I felt I was having.

The problem with sour dough is that you don’t just mix up a recipe and pop it in the oven.  Its a more involved process.  There are steps.  And timing.  Its a formula of sorts.  And yet there is a lot to it that is just intuition and experience.  This seems to be the appeal for me.  Baking bread, programming a computer, restoring a classic car.  Sequences, steps, processes, methodology, puzzles and problems.  These are things that get me going!

Everything seemed to be going well.  The sour starter was bubbling as described.  The sponge left overnight looked, well, spongy.  After adding the deceptively simple ingredients of salt, sugar, oil and flour, I proceeded to knead.   I could tell something didnt seem quite right at this point, but it was coming along like it always does.  I left the dough to rise all day.

When I got home, I could see the dough had indeed risen, but then fell slightly.  I pulled out the dough, folded it, formed it into the baguette shapes and left it to rise a final time.

In the morning, it had not risen.  I knew I had no choice at this point but to bake it and hope for the best.  While baking it did expand a bit, like it is supposed to, but not enough.  When it came out, it was hard and dense.  I had just invented hardtack.

I was severely disappointed, because this was to be my lunch.  I had already cooked a corned beef the night before.  I had the sauerkraut I made last week.  I had a plan!  Yes, I am obsessed not just with bread but with the idea of making complex meals entirely from scratch.  My other goal goes back to my childhood pizza experiments, and now consists of making mozzarella from scratch, as well as the sauce, and the crust.

I made the sandwich anyway.  My son, an early riser, was excited.  He passed on the bread after eating a few bites, but he didn’t recoil in horror.  Honey Nut Cheerios just seemed a better fit.  Then I tasted the bread.  It was hard, and chewy, but not in the good way a baguette should be - lightly crunchy on the outside, with a soft smooth crumb on the inside.  No, this was dense.  But oh my!  Was it sour!  It was really sour.  Over an hour later I could still taste the sour on my lips.

So, it was an epic fail.  Or was it?  My goal this time around was to finally get that sour dough flavor, and not just the “salty bread” flavor my kids seem to love.  Well, I sure scored big time on the sour flavor!  It was just too much and the bread texture was wrong.  Its so sour I started thinking of ways I could dry out the bread and grind it to a powder and use it as sour flavoring in quick breads.

And there it was.  A failure turned into a success of sorts, and the fruits of the failure repurposed for some future productive use.  Maybe this weekend I will try again.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Radio Shack to close 1100 stores...

So I guess Radio Shack (or is just The Shack now?  Who's brilliantly stupid idea was that?) is not doing well.  No big surprise there!

Here's an idea.

F*ck all the consumer BS products that they can't compete with Walmart on (cables, batteries, cell phones, etc).  Fire everybody that doesn't actually know about electronics and building things.  Stock the stores with awesome stuff like robotics kits and little computer boards and such.  But that's not enough.

Put in work benches. 

Turn the stores into maker-spaces.  Have classes for all ages on making robots and spy devices and little computer controllers and such.  Sponsor local schools that have engineering programs or create such programs.

Make it so that when the next kid walks by the store in the mall his mind is blown when he sees robots and blinking lights and kids with their parents making cool shit.

I never go into Radio Shack anymore.   My son wouldn't even notice the store.  But I guarantee if we saw THAT Radio Shack I wouldn't be able to tear him away from it and I'd probably drop some serious change there.

Just sayin.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Common Core

I work for an educational software company.  Common Core is a big deal around here.  I wanted to dispel a few myths that directly apply to my personal work:

"Increased data collection.. why the obsession with data?"
-- Yes, we are all about data.  The software allows the collection and subsequent analysis of a ton of data.  Is this an invasive affront to privacy?  Are we gonna sell this data or let people who dont need it see it?  No!  We have security and we dont sell data to marketers.  We allow teachers, nurses,  administrators to get reports on this data in order to help the students.  Collecting this data is nothing new in schools.  Being able to actually categorize it and build reports on it and actually use it for something positive is new.  How is this bad?  Now we can easily make sure everybody who needs to know about a kids obscure food allergy knows about it, or that his online assessment testing shows a particular spike in one subject area that nobody would otherwise have noticed.

"Its expensive and directs money at evil special interests like e-book and computer companies"
--  Um, yeah, because its the 20th century and we have computers and e-books now.  Hey does anybody know how much a regular textbook costs?  And how often do they update them?  Does anybody really want to keep using Scantron sheets and filling in bubbles for testing?  It may cost more upfront, but with computer based assessment testing teachers can modify tests easily and create better tests for kids.  And e-books can be updated constantly instead of once every few years.  For less $.  A lot less.  An ebook reader can cost less than a single textbook and hold a hundred books updated constantly.  And this is bad?

"Nationalized testing is bad"
--  Really?  We already test kids.  Problem is, there's no standard.  Kids from one state can move to another state and be behind in school because of different standards.  This is a matter of national pride and should be a patriotic issue.  As an American I'd like to know that we as a country have minimum standards for our people.  If you have an issue with testing, that's one thing.  But we already test kids, we have to measure their progress somehow, why not have a national minimum standard?

I could go on and on but I'll stop now.  I have to work on some software that lets teachers and nurses collect a ton of personal data on kids.  No, really.  And I'm proud of my work.