Wednesday, February 28, 2007


When I was at JPL the predecessor to the New Horizons mission was on the drawing board. At the time the mission was called Pluto Express. But it got canceled and later completely redrawn as New Horizons.

We referred to Pluto Express as "P-X" and it was fun to say.


The topic of large databases came up today in our engineering staff meeting. Seems that one of our large customers is approaching a petabyte of storage. The idea is to get some PR out of the event.

Also see the examples listed on Wikipedia's petabyte page.

Petabytes--now we're talking..

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Microsoft still trying to answer Google's wake-up call

From Microsoft still trying to answer Google's wake-up call
"There is a level of data center and infrastructure that we continue to need to build," he said. "This is just going to be a continuous investment."
It's going to be hard to catch up with Google if you have to build all that back-end infrastructure with Windows. If Microsoft doesn't, it'll get out that Windows Live runs on Linux. Kind of a catch-22. Snicker.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Road Not Taken

The boys and I went up to the snow last weekend. The snow level was low enough we didn't need to go very high. We turned off to one of our old camp sites.

This is the only real legitimate use I have so far for four wheel drive on my gas guzzling truck. I can turn off the road and cruise down any road the forest service hasn't closed. Once we find a nice spot we just jump out and goof around. No crowds--and pristine snow! The boys love it.

Unfortunately the snow was so dry and powdery that we couldn't make a snowman. And it was so deep that the boys couldn't really move around in it. So we played around for a while, then drove for a while, and later the boys played in the tire tracks. The view and the coffee and the heater in the truck were fantastic.

Next weekend, it's The Cat Haven.

Patterns of Cabinet Making Architecture

A master cabinet maker (my father) sent me a book, Cabinet Making for Beginners, because he knew I needed help with the fundamentals of cabinet making. I wanted to make a dresser for the boys. And while I have a few crude examples of casework to show for my trial and error in the garage, I knew there was a lot I didn't know about bringing together many of the elements necessary to make something like a chest of drawers, and to do so "properly".

Originally published in the 1940's (with many later editions in the 1970's--of which I have one), this book delivers. It presents some fundamentals of tools, basic techniques, joints, then goes through the three major structural aspects of cabinet making (frame, stool, box). The best techniques are presented for a variety of situations, with some lesser quality alternative approaches shown for "cheaper work."

As I work with wood, I'm often thinking about my day job. I have thoughts about how nice it is to have some autonomy and control over my work vs. the endless stream of compromise I wrestle with at work all day. But often I think about the similarities between building a wooden box and a web site. Oh, and I'm a tool junkie.

Cabinet Making for Beginners presents the subject of cabinet making much the say way we talk about "patterns" techniques in programming. The cabinet making trade has been refined over literally hundreds of years. And while times change (modern materials and adhesives make some of the requisite construction patterns 100 years ago obsolete now), books like this represent a distillate of the best patterns that have weathered the test of time.

I am a firm believer that good programmers should be able to see major structures in their code. This is part of why I believe white boards are as important to a team of software developers as is electricity (possibly more so).

This book talks about cabinet making in the same way an experienced software architect would talk about software. He compares and contrasts various techniques in the context of design principles and non-functional constraints. In the case of wood, these are things such as the seasonal expansion and contraction of the wood. He talks about alternatives as compromise, and discusses differences between materials and techniques and how they affect the design.

We can learn lessons from craftsmen going back hundreds of years. Their concern for the structural integrity of their products are not always echoed in the software world. I believe "software architecture" should be treated a separate topic in school. While software is a very different material than wood, and while the business is different enough that one shouldn't get too carried away with analogy, alternative domains of engineering and craftsmanship are worth study and thought.


Back in 1994 I put together a web based great circle distance calculator as part of my CSci 150 project. The front-end was a Perl CGI, and the back-end was a C program that did the actual calculations. I wish I still had some of the code..

These kinds of little applications are common now--but were all the rage in 1994. In retrospect, it underlined the "new era" that was being ushered in by the Internet and the World Wide Web. The ability for somebody to provide such utility to a world wide audience was suddenly very easy.

In keeping with the Rails/GIS theme from my earlier post, now there's a nice looking RoR GIS kit called GeoKit. Enjoy.

Never in America

Saw this via Slashdot (but had to dig up the link). There are several aspects of this commercial that make one think, "never in America." Sorry that we're such prudes.

Google Maps API and Ruby on Rails

This book, Google Maps Applications with Rails and AJAX, looks really interesting. I'll have to give it a try.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Lots of Drives

(Via Slashdot) Google's published results on disk drive failure trends in its server farms. Interesting read. Probably applicable to a company like ours, that sells storage systems larger than many household name datacenters.

Personally, since I have some responsibility for the Engineering product lifecycle processes we use, it reminds me that we can enjoy some 80/20 economics if we address activities such as resourcing new drives/technologies not just as another running change, but as a planned aspect of the cycle.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

C Is The New Assembly

Found this on Digg.
He suggests that a typical developer will write everything in Ruby or Python, and then do performance testing. Anything that needs a speed-up can be redone in Objective-C. You know, that “slow” dynamic variant of C :)
Yes! Please!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Students eventually get jobs

..and when they do they bring stuff with them. My earlier post that equates the Macintosh of the 1980's to Google today is further reinforced by this article that shows how the students of today rely on the Web 2.0 culture in their course work. These are tools and practices they'll expect (or encourage) when they enter the workforce--just as some students were able to bring Macintosh with them out of the academic environment into the workplace in the 1990's.

This is part of the conflict we experience today at a company like ours. Where new blood is clashing with the dinosaur systems of yesterday.

Star Trek Remastered

Two words: AWE SOME! Sign me up!

Geek out.

Baby Jars are for Babies

Count me as the only person who thinks this is a dumb idea. The idea is older than dirt, and just as useful.

I used to rent a house where somebody had done this in the garage. There's a number of problems. Unless the jars are practically empty and full of only one type of item, you need to spend the time to unscrew them to search through them, and then screw them back on. It's a two handed operation as you don't want them to slip out of your hand and fall and break. You also need to be careful not to break them while swinging around tools, lumber, etc, in your garage.

A much better solution is to buy a clear drawer storage organizer. They're still see through, more compact, and can be quickly opened/closed to search for particular parts. Oh, and you can get them for under $20.

Thank you, Reader

I've been using Google Reader for a while now. I could never get into any other readers. It seemed natural to read RSS from a web browser rather than some other client. I also enjoyed accessing the same feeds from any computer--and I switch around a lot.

I used to be subscribed to a lot of feeds. But I found that I was always falling hopelessly behind. I didn't really know why. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I saw that I could share items directly from Google Reader and make them available in the sidebar of my blog. This was an eureka moment. I realized that the reason I was always falling behind was because I had to figure out what to do with interesting items as I came across them--and that this "sharing" thing was the answer. Now when I'm reading and I find something marginally interesting, I mark it as "shared" which provides a way for others to see what I find interesting, and for me to come back to interesting items later.

The result was that I was able to resubscribe to a lot of feeds I'd abandoned before. My total throughput is much higher--even though I don't spend any more time (less, actually) scanning my feeds.

Yesterday was a new benchmark. After a couple of extra busy days at work, I went through and caught up on my feeds. I plowed through almost 600 items in one sitting. With Google Readers convenient statistics, one can see where my average daily throughput increased a while back, plus the spike yesterday.

Geek out.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Terabytes? Yawn.

Working for a company that makes digital video storage devices (for large scale installations), these numbers are pretty small. We deal in network video recorders that store many terabytes of data on a single unit. In a casino, where several thousand cameras may be streaming high quality video to many rooms full of these recorders, the data storage is quite large. If you considered these installations to be "databases", most casinos would swamp this list.

Honestly, we hacked most of it together with Perl

Google vi?

You've got to love the vi-ish feel of Google's keyboard shortcuts. A coincidence?

Google in the Office

Two decades ago the mainstream office wouldn't imagine using Macintosh computers rather than Windows PC's. Even though many communities such as scientific and academic institutions already were. Now it's common, if not yet in the majority, to find a Macintosh doing business duties.

I think today the likes of Google Applications in the Office are where the Macintosh was twenty years ago. Some businesses already use them. While others (like ours) wouldn't think of it (yet).

Sunday, February 11, 2007


It's fascinating to see Ben and Joaquin grow. Ben is 5 years old. He can't yet grasp the magnitude of things like "one million" or the fact that dinosaurs lived a long, long time ago.

Yesterday while Ben and I were killing some time, I browsed to the Astronomy Picture of the Day Archives and came across this picture of the Sun. I thought it was a good opportunity to learn about this thing that literally governs his daily life.

I pointed to the picture of the surface of the Sun and told him that if he was in a space ship and went to that spot, his space ship would melt.

To which, he said, "And your crayons too! Anything waxy would melt!"

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Firefox OpenSearchFox

This is one tool I've been waiting for for years.. I've set up my own Firefox search engines before. But it was a tedious effort, and I never managed to get around to doing it for the many internet applications I use on a daily basis. Now the effort has been taken out of the setup with OpenSearchFox, a Firefox plug-in that allows you to immediately identify any search field on any web page and instantly add it to your Firefox search bar.

All you have to do is install the plug-in, then browse to any web site with a search field, right click on the field, and select the "Add OpenSearch plugin" option. Search is now available in your Firefox toolbar along with Google, Wikipedia, etc.

Amazing Sky

This is an amazing picture, from the Astronomy Picture of the Day (which has no RSS feed - Grrr).

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Best part of this post, mouse over the image for the tool tip..

(But, alas, I see nothing in RFC1149 about this)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Moving Fast

I like some of this interview with Irene Au, Director of User Experience at Google.
I think it’s really important to be very pragmatic about what you’re building, and how quickly you’re building [it]. There’s a balance [that must be struck when pursuing] something that’s really perfect. When you’re innovating very rapidly, sometimes you just don’t even know how things will be used and what [they’ll] be used for. So sometimes it’s just important to get it out there. Being able to adapt to the conditions and the environment…that was kind of a survival skill that I had to learn.

Skype Conspiracy

More Skype questions.. Why does Skype read from the BIOS?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

One at a time, please

Ironic. This just in, this tool for OSX helps you concentrate on one application at a time. I seem to remember having something like this on my first Macintosh ca 1984. I think it was called "Finder." :)

John built the boys this awesome catapult. It's made out of oak, all functional, and very "authentic" looking. Monica has the details on her blog and pictures on flickr. Really makes me want to build a trebuchet.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Google World

What a great picture.

The guys who work with me are constantly struggling to keep up with the maintenance of the growing number of "systems" we put up. I'd like to think we're following the Google model. But the maintenance question is a serious one.

Blogger Beta has been rocky, and there are still a bunch of features that just don't seem to work correctly for me. My Google Desktop upgrade from some months ago left me with a Desktop that works, but not quite as well as the original.. I don't know how long Google's model and its need for constant care and feeding can be sustained and still represent a collection of "best of breed" applications.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Speaking of Skype Security

Slacker Moms

I wonder what Monica thinks of this?

Video IM

What I'm interested in is a good Video IM system. I should be able to look people up and initiate a video call with them. I should have a list of "contacts" to which I can press a button and initiate a video call.

This is what Skype does--and it does it pretty well. But it's tricky justifying Skype in a business setting, for a variety of reasons.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Shared Reader Articles

I've added the sidebar offered by Google Reader that shows "shared" items I come across in Google Reader. It's to the right..

Vista Hack

This is crazy.. Somebody points out that one could delete files from a Vista system using the voice recognition capabilities built into Vista. To which, Microsoft responds that:
The firm has pointed out that in order for the flaw to be exploited the speech recognition feature would need to be activated and configured and both microphone and speakers would have to be switched on.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but if one wants to use the voice recognition capabilities of Vista, isn't that the configuration you would use?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Knack

My mom used to complain because I would take apart my mechanical and electrical toys, then use the parts to make other interesting things. My toys were never put back together. My parents thought this was a waste. I thought it was a lot of fun.

Dave Talks

I've seen Dave Thomas speak before. He's good at it. It's amazing how a good speaker can put so much life into dry, technical subject matter. Anyway, if his latest talk is "one of his better talks," then it's pretty good.