31 December 2008

Fantasy Football?

This might feel a little Carlin-esque at times, but bear with me.
Rotisserie baseball is an apt and understandable extension of the Great American Pastime. Slow, methodical, numerically based. No matter how many numbers they cram on a TV screen during a football game, no sport is as stat-happy as baseball. Part of the allure of attending a baseball game is filling in your own scorecard as the game progresses, so I've read.
The slow nature of baseball - pitch after pitch of steady rhythm punctuated by the occasional crack of the bat, or roar of the crowd - makes it possible to accurately and completely record the outcome of a game. Even if there's a dramatic run down for a double play in the top of the 6th inning, you're still going to have plenty of time to record who was out, how many runs made it in, and - if you're really good - how many times the pitcher masticated his gum of choice. You'll definitely have time. Baseball is played in parks because you do so much more than watch the guys on the field when you go.
Thank you, Mr. Carlin.
Then we have "Fantasy Football": you take a fast moving sport with a series of dramatic moments punctuated by the occasional TV timeout where so much is going on if you look away from the field (television) for 5 seconds you'll likely have missed the greatest play in the history of football (Yes, yes, there's replay, but you and I both know that's not the same thing) and you boil it down to the numbers.
The closest I ever personally came to playing fantasy football was a weekly game-choosing contest some friends and I participated in for sodas. Because gambling on sports is apparently illegal in Maryland, and we would never do that. Not this little black duck, no sir.
No drama, no tension, no story - The tension of 4th and goal when your team is down by 5 and there's 3 seconds left in the game (and there's a playoff spot riding on this play) is boiled down to whether or not "& Goal" includes enough yards to bring "your"* starting running back over some other guy's RBs yardage for the week. What makes it even better is if the guy you "drafted"* to be "your"* RB is in fact playing for your team's opponent.
Are you kidding me?
Maybe Fantasy Football is for the person without a team, who loves the numbers and the statistics-as-competition, a real rotisserie baseball type who gets withdrawal symptoms after the World Series ends. Fantasy Football is stat-sports methadone.
I love American football (as well as futbol, but that's another essay), and I can understand how some guys are drawn in to Fantasy Football because they love football so damned much that they want anything and everything to do with it. You can bet the guy who owns that Steelers room on that NFL merch commercial has a Fantasy Football team. Probably stacked with Steelers, too. Except for that one position (second wide receiver? Do they have that position in Fantasy Football? No - don't answer that, I don't care) that some other guy "drafted" out from under him.
This is another reason why I couldn't do Fantasy Football (other than the implied fact that it's more boring than a North Sea Oil Platform). My love for the game made me consider playing, but I'd want to draft my team, because they are who I root for. It's the same reason why I didn't win as many sodas as I should have when I was picking games way back when: I always pick my team to win. I'd be disloyal if I didn't choose my team to win, even if they are playing a team they haven't beat since they moved to Baltimore; my logic, such as it is, always being this: Any given Sunday...
I've been thinking as I write, and maybe football is every bit as stat-happy as baseball. Yards per carry, Number of TD receptions, Yards after catch: these numbers define my Sundays from September through January, but only in the context of the NFL team for whom I root, not some fantastic and unnatural conglomeration of Superstars that only play together in formulas and fiction. Football is as much about the average Joe slugging it out in the trenches, the surprise star of the season (how many Fantasy types drafted Flacco or McClain?), as it is about the flashiest receiver who is best at stashing a sharpie in his sock. Fantasy Football denies this about our game, as well as bleeding the weekly drama until all we have left is black and white, maybe in Comic Sans, if you're one of those people.
Honestly, Fantasy Football guys (guys includes all female-type persons), I don't see the point, and tend to toss it into the same mental pile as NASCAR, if slightly higher on the pile. In the interest of not being a complete hypocrite, I won't call for its disappearance from existence, because it does me no harm. I ask you to not try to persuade me otherwise, because I only care enough about it to complain.
Happy New Year!





*I'm verbally winking at you because the fictitious back in question is not yours, and the only thing you drafted is a fairly good sign that you have too much free time.

24 December 2008

Anecdotal Evidence to the Contrary

Headlines like these:

Final holiday push: Empty stores

leave me scratching my head. Where are these empty stores with reduced foot traffic? Why couldn't I find them so I could do my Christmas shopping there?
I finished my shopping this Saturday afternoon. I tried to go counter-clockwise around the mall to get from Sam's to Kohls, and spent 20 minutes sitting in TRAFFIC. At the VALLEY MALL.
I finally bailed and parked at Macy's and went in.
Sure, I guess the economy's bad when I actually consider purchasing items at Macy's (usually a load of over-priced merchandise trading on a parade and a couple of movies), but ultimately that was happenstance because I saw an empty parking space and took it - outside Macy's.
And sure, I was able to proceed clockwise around the mall and get to Kohls in short order, but the Mall itself was packed with people. PEOPLE. buying THINGS.
I always knew Hagerstown was behind the times, but this is ridiculous.

23 December 2008

Creating a Better Linux: Open Source Verification and Validation

I put a lot into this research paper this past semester, and consider it a quantum leap forward in my synthesis of both the contemporary semester's material and the previous Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) research I'd completed in working on my Master's.
I'm actually, as much as applicable, trying to focus my graduate research on FOSS. It's incredbily interesting, and to be honest, a lot of fun to work with, not to mention very capable of getting the job done. The following paper was "A" worthy, according to the professor, but he dinged me to a "B" because I didn't adhere to APA styling as much as I should have. I concede that point. My TAs from undergrad spent a lot of hours beating APA formatting into me, you'd think it would be automatic - but I digress. Here now, pasting from Word (though mostly composed using the FOSS OpenOffice.org Writer) into this little web-logging interface, is my paper for my Software Verification and Validation course:

Running Head: CREATING A BETTER LINUX

Creating a Better Linux:

Open Source Verification and Validation

SWEN 647

November 14, 2008

Robert C. Murray

Abstract

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) has grown from a 1980s concept and 1990s hobby into a major market force in the present day. There are many FOSS projects that utilize software verification and validation (V&V) in their development processes, but many who either under utilize or fail to employ V&V at all. All FOSS projects should adopt V&V measures to improve their quality. Revolutionizing software development, FOSS has been the stimulus for many new methods of software engineering. FOSS projects have been used educationally to demonstrate this need for V&V, acting as models for V&V classes at the graduate level. As demonstrated by organizations such as Canonical (makers of the Ubuntu Linux distribution), V&V allows a much higher quality FOSS product to be developed. Applying V&V measures to FOSS products will improve the products created, furthering not only the movement, but the potential for profits to be realized from offering services related to the software itself. The success and profitability of FOSS organizations proves that this will be the case.

Outline

I. Introduction

A. What is Free Open Source Software (FOSS)?

B. FOSS needs more verification & validation (V&V)

II. FOSS revolutionizing software development

III. FOSS and V&V in education

IV. Metrics on how V&V improves projects

V. How V&V is used in FOSS

VI. How increased V&V can improve FOSS dev

VII. Discussion

VIII. Conclusions

The movement for free and open source software (FOSS) arguably began in 1983, when Richard Stallman published his manifesto outlining the GNU is Not Unix (GNU) project. Stallman's thinking is that software should be as “free as air” (Stallman, 1983). In the document he considers the commercial sale of software to be a destructive force, and insists that people might only pay to either obtain support for or for the distribution of software. According to GNU, in a perfect world everyone has the right to freely create and modify the software they are using without the danger of violating any licensing agreements.

Almost a decade after the GNU project was begun, Linus Torvalds (a 21 year old from Finland) developed Linux, a FOSS Operating System (OS), as "just a hobby" (Hasan, 2005). Since 1991 Linux has grown from one man's FOSS hobby project into a multi-million dollar industry that comprises dozens of distributions, all free and legal for the downloading (or installing from a friend's disc). Linux is by far not the only FOSS project in the world, but it could certainly be considered one of, if not the largest.

While the primary kernel (or central program) of Linux is still managed by Torvalds, dozens of Linux distributions (known colloquially as "flavors") use this one kernal and they are all managed by different companies, organizations, or single hobbyists much like Torvalds once was. Each of these groups apply their own suites of software, everything from drivers and system software to productivity applications and games. Larger groups include the Red Hat corporation and Canonical; the former has an eponymous distribution, and the latter is the non-profit organization run by South African businessman Mark Shuttleworth that is responsible for Ubuntu Linux, a distribution that growing in popularity around the world.

Many other FOSS projects exist to develop software applications that do everything from serve web pages to playing video games, and a good portion of FOSS projects seek to duplicate or supersede the performance of similar closed source software products. Though the large organizations that exist to create Linux and other FOSS do employ some verification and validation (V&V) strategies in their community based development paradigm, if more projects adopted V&V measures it would greatly increase the efficiency and functionality of their software.

Before we examine how a more broadly adopted V&V effort can improve FOSS, it is important for us to truly understand what FOSS means, and how it has changed the nature of software development. By understanding this we can then appreciate why it is important for V&V to become much more important to many FOSS projects; those that exist, and those that have yet to begin.

FOSS “facilitate[s] competition and open[s] markets as well as innovation to meet new challenges” (Ebert, 2007). When we consider the contemporary software development community, it is not possible to think of it without recognizing and appreciating the contributions made by FOSS. FOSS as both a movement and a market has been a significant and growing component of our community. While in the 1990s the software markets were dominated by proprietary, closes source players like Microsoft, Oracle, and Novell, The opening decade of the twenty-first century has seen the inclusion of the names Red Hat, Mozilla/Firefox, Apache, and Open Office.

As software developers the world over turned a critical eye to the software they used every day to write documents, surf the World Wide Web (the web), even create and maintain the web itself, they realized that the closed source offerings they had been utilizing were either sub-standard, over-priced, both, or sometimes just not what a group of developers thought a piece of software should be. Some developers just wanted to tinker. They came together via the nascent communication medium of the web to collaborate and develop the large body of FOSS that we have at our disposal today. The web is what really made it possible for FOSS to take off by making it possible for developers from Bangalore to Boston to have a globally accessible and temporally neutral repository for communication and code. With this revolutionary communications medium and a hunger to make a better product, FOSS took off.

A product of this new medium was the creation of several new software development paradigms, like incremental development, an agile approach (Ebert, 2007). Developers used these models on their FOSS projects, and eventually brought them into use for their professional software development; likewise are the contributions to software security. The definitively “open source” nature of FOSS means that when a security vulnerability is found, the fix is fast coming because there is no need to wait for the corporate machinations of a software company to identify and release the fix. This rapid approach to development is sometimes a negative point and would be slowed by the implementation of V&V in some projects, but this is an issue that will be discussed later.

FOSS is responsible for 43% of in-house software development in the United States as of 2007 (Ebert, 2007). It is logical to conclude by the absence of news to the contrary (something that the author would have encountered in his daily technology news reading) that this number is either now the same or more likely larger. This growth in presence has forced the closed source companies listed above to step up their game, as it were. Giants like Microsoft continually toy with the idea of open source, throwing the occasional bone to the community, while others like Novell adopt FOSS as a tactic for survival in the marketplace. FOSS has revolutionized software development; and, as one might expect, it has at times become a component of the education process.

Christopher Fuhrman posited that FOSS would be a good source of design problems that software developers would encounter in the real world, thus providing students with a robust environment for source material to practice on legally and without cost (thanks again to GNU et al.)

According to Fuhrman (2007), there are three major problems that must be overcome when teaching first year undergraduates software design. Firstly, they must be made to understand that a recurring problem is actually recurring when it is not always obvious to the student that what appears to be a one-off problem is likely something that is going to be encountered repeatedly. Secondly, one must also convince the student that to determine the proper solution, abstractions are required that will never be actual code, but are later replaced by functioning code. Thirdly is the application of functions in place of the aforementioned abstractions, using the functions from the “problem-ridden design”.

Given that textbook examples are often unconvincing or even contrived, another source for code examples to use in teaching software design were needed by Fuhrman; he settled upon the target-rich environment of FOSS. As indicated above, FOSS is often hit or miss when it comes to quality, something that a more concerted V&V effort would certainly resolve.

Though diplomatic when he writes:

Open-source software is ubiquitous and has established a generally positive reputation in terms of its quality to compete with proprietary products in the areas of software development, software configuration and change management, office automation, databases, Web browsers, etc. However, we consider it in this article as a source of realistic software artifacts, which, because they have been developed by humans, are certain to have design flaws that can be corrected with design patterns.”

Furhman is in fact stating that a good portion of FOSS could use more (or at times any) V&V before it is released by developers for downloading and installing.

Fuhrman tested his hypothesis with a semester of graduate students who completed a series of exercises using FOSS code. Ultimately the students compiled a number of potential improvements for the examples. Improvements that likely would not have been necessary had the FOSS projects been subject to more rigorous V&V before release, more evidence that more V&V is necessary in the FOSS community.

Though anecdotally demonstrative of the need for more V&V in the FOSS community, Fuhrman's study does not address any of the quantitative aspects we would seek to further indicate the herein called for implementation. Admittedly such data were not the purpose for his study, but we do require quantitative support for our hypothesis.

This quantitative support is not as readily available as one might expect. As of 2003 general data regarding FOSS Quality Assurance (QA) activities were rare (Zhao, 2003). However, some data are available. One study performed a survey of FOSS developers via a pair of popular FOSS hosting sites, eliciting 229 usable responses with the projects themselves sorted into three categories: Tiny, having less that 1000 lines of code (LOC); small, with 1000 to 10,000 LOC; medium, 10,000 to 100,000 LOC; and finally large, greater than 100,000 LOC. It is worth noting that often FOSS projects grow in size as they are developed. This is likely due to a lack of Requirements Management resulting in scope creep.

Akin to the lack of overall Requirements Management is the issue of formal documentation. FOSS developers, regardless of type or size of the project, largely ignore the use of formal documentation when developing these projects. They instead stick to simple methods like “TODO” lists or general guidelines. (Zhao, 2003). This is indicated visually in figure 1. However, even without formal documentation of any kind, FOSS projects spend a significant amount of their development time involved in testing. Figure 2 displays the counter-intuitive fact that projects classified as large spend a significantly shorter time in testing than smaller projects. A reminder that this is all largely without a guided V&V effort. The testing that does occur is of a basic nature, most often simply applying inputs that are meant to simulate the users' behavior. This is the most often used test across project sizes.

Projects that invest almost nothing in V&V, instead conducting only basic testing, are also those that are most likely to pass along their bugs to the user. Given the community nature of FOSS, often the “user” is a developer himself and therefore expects to function as a tester or debugger for the person or group developing the project. Some consider this their way of helping out the community. For those projects that spend a short amount of time in testing , the user is certain to find more bugs than if the project had been more thoroughly tested. Figure 3 bears out how more bugs are found when software is tested less. We have already seen that the FOSS projects that are tested the least are in fact the largest projects, and therefore the most likely to 'break out' and gain in popularity among a more generalized population. A population of average computer users who are not necessarily people who consider finding bugs helping out the community; they would rather their software work straight away. The FOSS news websites contain monthly – if not weekly – stories about how Linux or Open Office (a FOSS alternative to Microsoft Office) or some other piece of FOSS are almost ready for “the desktop”, meaning office workers and soccer moms, not just computer nerds and developers. If the facts as presented in figures 2 and 3 persist, then these projects will not ever move beyond “almost” ready for the desktop, and FOSS will remain buried in the server room, or the occasional forward thinking office. The good news is that V&V does exist in some FOSS projects, especially in Linux distributions.

Historically speaking, the Linux kernel was not subject to a disciplined testing regime prior to releasing updates (Thomas, 2003). As with many FOSS projects, a community of developers contributed new features and patches for broken or out-dated features, but testing was ad-hoc at best. Smaller FOSS projects (not necessarily Linux, but other apps) that were created and maintained by only a single user are never subjected to any testing beyond what the creator sees fit to complete. With Linux, at least, discipline regarding the testing regime has been growing since approximately 2001.

The largest portion of the verification piece of what V&V there is in FOSS is made up of code reviews that are conducted by persons who are members of a mailing list and therefore receive notice that new code has been submitted for their approval. The web and the rest of the Internet – mailing lists, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels, etc. - are used not only to disseminate the need for a code review, but as described above they are used by geographically disparate developers to suggest new features and even conduct design reviews before commencing coding.

In Validation, the GNU C compiler project has been indicated by several sources as a FOSS project that is unique among FOSS projects in that it adheres to a stricter process of validation for all changes to the code. Of course, with Linux there has never been an existing requirements document to validate against, so the community comes to an agreement on how a new feature will behave before work on that feature begins. This holds true for all new features that are not subject to pre-existing standards documents like POSIX or IETF RFCs (Thomas, 2003).

Linux distributions often enjoy a high level of quality in spite of a seemingly laissez faire attitude towards traditional V&V. Instead, as described above the community steps in to either develop real-time consensus on new feature behavior, or the community provides sufficient testing via sheer numbers in testing. Some Linux distributions like Ubuntu maintain their own QA teams. The Ubuntu team has teams dedicated to bug reporting, testing, V&V, and QA coordination (Canonical, 2008). It bears repeating that this level of V&V is not the norm. With a community of developers and testers supplanting a traditional V&V team, many larger FOSS projects manage to still deliver quality software (Aberdour, 2007). There are still a good number of medium, small, and even large projects that suffer from this lack of V&V.

“Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow,” says Eric Raymond.

Raymond's quote has appeared in several of the source documents that were researched for this paper, and indeed what he refers to as “Linus's Law” (a reference to Linus Torvalds) is an appropriate statement to sum up the general philosophy of FOSS towards software testing and by extension V&V. The movement itself grew organically and was not planned out by any one company or organization, though structured organizations like Canonical or Red Hat do exist within the community and employ V&V techniques. These are primarily found in Linux distributions, as the OS itself has been viewed as a revenue generator and thus worthy of a legitimate V&V effort. The use of V&V is apparent: Red Hat is a popular server OS, and Ubuntu is to be found as an alternative option for computer buyers who don't want Microsoft's Windows on their new PCs, with their popularity traceable to a level of quality due to their efforts at V&V.

This organic growth has also been highly decentralized, meaning that the FOSS community has lacked a firm guiding hand; certainly there have been luminaries and great contributors like Stallman and Torvalds, but among the pantheon of FOSS, there is no one pointed to as the great Project Manager, he who has made sure the community embraced best practices and did the appropriate testing before releasing. There are those in the community who would argue that this is very much the point, that FOSS isn't about V&V or best practices. A Venn diagram would likely illustrate a significant overlap between these people and the people who desperately want Linux and other FOSS to be adopted by everyone.

Whatever the reasoning, the reality is that the ad hoc or organic nature of FOSS development means that scope creep is a real problem; a significant project may be bogged down by an overzealous community that insists that their project needs a number of bells and whistles, seeking to make it that much better than the closed source product it is seeking to duplicate. A sort of overcompensation that almost deserves a more psychological examination.

The FOSS volunteer army of developers might not consider their lack of V&V important for a number of reasons. There is usually no set time frame for the development cycle of a FOSS project, meaning that a team can perform simple testing for as long as they like without any thought for the structure or efficiency of their testing, using the 'release early, release often' philosophy prevalent in FOSS. Technically their project is 'released', but not in a way that any professional organization might consider using. Time to a stable release might actually be abbreviated if these projects adopted V&V efforts!

Most FOSS developers in the community are professional developers by day, working with some level of formal documentation and QA or V&V. These developers are all aware - even if at just an abstract level - of all of the steps in the development life cycle including requirements specification and certainly V&V. Knowing that these procedures and paradigms exist and that they exist for a good reason, why then do most developers eschew them when they choose to take up work on a FOSS project?

Perhaps they are victims of a poor implementation in their professional environments, where they feel like they never get any actual programming accomplished because they are bogged down in meetings or professional politics that have infected the development process. Perhaps they work for an organization that has a highly structured and restrictive development life cycle, and they turn to FOSS projects in their free time as a way to do what they love free of the restrictions of documentation, verification, and validation, without QA departments finding bugs in their code, or supervisors evaluating them on their lines of code output. Perhaps our community of FOSS developers spend their days working with a perfect development structure that consists of logical and maintainable documentation and robust and fair V&V processes, but for whatever reason they consider all this overhead a waste of time that gets in the way of their coding (after all, is not the code itself the documentation?), and therefore contribute to the FOSS community where, as we have seen, a need is perceived and a lot of code is thrown at the loosely defined problem until something sticks. No matter the motivation for a professional developer to work at FOSS and ignore what he knows to be best practices or even basic QA, the fact is that it occurs with most FOSS, and the quality of software developed in the community is not what it could be.

Consider for a moment security. Open source means that the source code to all of the applications developed are available for everyone to view, and by providing the source code to applications, it follows that FOSS security vulnerabilities are more likely to be exposed and corrected in a swift manner. This is something that is not always accomplished by FOSS's closed source cousins who may not become immediately aware of vulnerabilities and when they are aware waste time in the bureaucracy developing an acceptable patch for the vulnerability. We would stipulate that FOSS projects are in a unique position to employ V&V. Using this security example, we see that FOSS is quicker to patch discovered vulnerabilities than closed source systems. By implementing V&V in the development process FOSS projects would eliminate a significant number of these vulnerabilities before the software is made available, and the uniquely balkanized nature of FOSS means that even with V&V in place for software maintenance, vulnerabilities could still be patched quicker than possible by monolithic software companies.
Of course, it has been demonstrated that FOSS is actually of a surprisingly high quality in spite of its lack of V&V. The authors of the source material who point this out are likely considering a second or third major release of a FOSS project. By this point the community will certainly have been able to track down and rectify most of the bugs in the system. Often initial releases of FOSS projects are at best fickle in their function, and at worst destructive to the user's productivity by causing OS crashes or other problems. To make FOSS ready for the desktop, the community must realize that they need to implement V&V processes within their projects. As discussed above most FOSS developers are already familiar with V&V, they are also familiar with building consensus, and would therefore likely soon agree upon a set of V&V processes best suited to the project before them. Those hobbyist developers with no professional experience have already proven themselves to be good learners, and they would therefore soon absorb V&V processes into their own personal style of programming. FOSS seems poised to implement V&V, given that the community itself consists of a large population of people who are already engaged in informal testing of a project. By applying V&V processes to this testing across the majority of FOSS projects (rather than the minority, as it is presently), FOSS will be more stable and reliable when it is made available to the world at large. This will bring FOSS one large step closer to the desktop.

We have seen how free and open source software revolutionized the software development world. The movement has made giants like Microsoft pay close attention, and had other corporations like Novell embrace it as a philosophy for survival. The projects that have done this have embraced some level of QA and V&V into their development projects. Today Linux distributions like Red Hat and Ubuntu are used by companies and home users that might have otherwise deployed Microsoft's Sever or Vista/XP offerings. Open Office and it's sister release Star Office (offered by Sun Microsystems) exist as viable threats to Microsoft's Office suite, having replaced the Microsoft product in some government and private sector offices around the world. We have also seen how many other large projects do not perform significant V&V, or even basic testing, before releasing their software to the public, and that many smaller FOSS projects exist that would likewise benefit from good V&V processes. As it is FOSS is a minor threat to closed source providers. With V&V processes in place in projects tiny to large, we feel that FOSS would finally be ready for the desktop.

Appendix A

Figure 1: Documentation by project topic (Zhao, 2003).


Figure 2: Testing time by project size (Zhao, 2003).


Figure 3: Testing time vs. the percentage of faults found by users (Zhao, 2003).



References

(2008). List of distributions. Linux Online. Retrieved November 14, 2008 from http://www.linux.org/dist/list.html

(2008). Main / HomePage. NSLU2-Linux. Retrieved November 14, 2008 from http://www.nslu2-linux.org/

Aberdour, M.(2007),Achieving quality in open source software. IEEE Software. pp.58-64.

Canonical (2008). Press release archives. Retrieved November 14, 2008 from http://www.ubuntu.com/news/pressreleasearchive

Canonical (2008). QA team – ubuntu wiki. Retrieved November 14, 2008 from https://wiki.ubuntu.com/QATeam

Ebert, C. (2007). Open source drives innovation. IEEE Software. pp.105-109

Furhman, C (2007). Appreciation of software design concerns via open-source tools and projects. Proceedings of the 38th SIGCSE technical symposium on Computer science education pp.454-458

Hasan, R. (2005). History of linux. Retrieved November 14, 2008 from https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/rhasan/linux/

Stallman, R. (1983). Gnu manifesto. Retrieved November 15, 2008 from http://www.gnu.org/gnu/manifesto.html

Thomas, C (2003). Improving verification, validation, and test of the linux kernel: the linux stabilization project. Taking Stock of the Bazaar: Proceedings of the 3rd Workshop on Open Source Software Engineering pp.133-136

Vaughan-Nichols, S. (2005). Red hat's earnings and stock soar. eWeek, Retrieved Nobevmer 14, 2008 from http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Linux-and-Open-Source/Red-Hats-Earnings-and-Stock-Soar/

Zhao, L., Elbaum, S. (2003). Quality assurance under the open source development model. The Journal of Systems and Software 66 pp.65-75

05 December 2008

Dragging Myself Across the Finish Line by my Lips

I'm going to kvetch for a moment. I promise I'll write something better in the coming days. A preview? Zoe likes to eat broccoli - well, broccoli stems. Still in the ground. But presently:
I thought my first semester of Grad school was a real kick in the jimmies, getting my big-boy legs when it came to grad vs. undergrad.
I thought the Summer Semester of 10 weeks where I crammed in 2 grad classes AND designing/developing a new website was a killer, what with the Summer heat and F being an ocean away.
I now know that this semester was the biggest academic kick in the teeth I've had since 10 grade Chemistry. I'd say my Fall semester of my sophomore undergrad year, but no one who reads this likely remembers when I tried to take calculus-based physics, chemistry, and a bunch of other academic courses in the same semester.
Point is, Requirements and Verification & Validation cover a lot of the same concepts from different angles. You'd think that would make it easy. Oy God, let me tell you, I'm not going to be walking right for awhile after finishing this semester.
I just, minutes ago, uploaded my last final, by the way.
Between having 3 projects in one class where I was group leader of a group that preferred to wait until THE LAST POSSIBLE SECOND (not all of them, I guess) before turning in work, and then turning work that was done wrong, and then who couldn't be contacted for revisions, and another class where I swore I understood the material but my mid term and likely now my final will make me look like a drooling moron.
It's stuff like this what keeps me humble.
Did I mention that while I was in the middle of all this academic splendor work went from nothing to HOLY SHIT NEW PROJECT EVERY WEEK? Not that I'm complaining about the work! I'm a. glad to still have my job and b. like web programming, so it's a good thing, but it adds a pile of stress when I'm exhausted at the end of the day and the last thing I want to do is read a bunch of really dry and blurry PDF scans of IEEE standards regarding V&V. And I'm the guy who'll read the back of a shampoo bottle sitting on the can, and really think about what all those ingredients must be. It's not just something to do for me, I'm genuinely curious.
This wonderful moment of catharthis I've decided to share with the globe was meant to be one of joy and elation, where I was winded from all the jumping about I'd done for victory over my semester. Instead, I'll likely go to bed tonight with nightmares about failing the class.
It's more than just the money, it's the personal academic pride. It's largely the money, though. Shit grades get me shit money in reimbursements from my employer. Good news for them in these tough economic times, bad news for my bank account.
In the end, my friends, it's done. There are no more exams to finish or papers to write, no more groups to shepherd to completion, no more weekly conference posts to make.
Until January 2009, when I face the next semester. How hard can Software Maintenance be? I mean, I do it every day, right?

24 November 2008

More Coffee In Space

Some people lament the status of our Space Program. When I see things like this, however:

http://www.universetoday.com/2008/11/24/mr-fixit-in-space-invents-zero-g-coffee-cup/

my fears are assuaged. With the space program in the hands of genius such as this, the sky's the lim, no, not even the stars are beyond, no, may the force, that's not even close...

I need more coffee.

21 November 2008

Appealing to my sense of Aesthetics

Just a quick note to share this:

http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/11/create-your-own.html

I've only just read this Wired article and the related content on the page, but this appeals, as my title says, to my sense of aesthetics. There's something poetic about the desert night glowing with the light of atomic decay.
That's all, really. I'll leave any deeper meaning as an exercise for the reader.

18 November 2008

The More Things Change...

When I was a young nerd, I had a black and white television. I could watch the local UHF channels, but I didn't have access to our main antenna, so I made do. I realized that playing with the rabbit ears meant that I could almost get in some of the far-away UHF channels from Baltimore, or even York, PA if the wind was blowing right (not so much rolling down the plain as howling through the valley, if you will). I further realized that by hooking up some aluminum foil and a section of fence I got from God-knows-where, I was able to get a picture. A VERY snowy picture. In black and white. With audio static. but I watched.
This is how I saw a lot of Star Trek: TNG the first time around. Oh the evenings I whiled away , beaming with pride at my accomplishments. A Grade A hack ... well, B+, at least.
Fast forward to years later. I'm all grown up, almost have a Master's degree, wife, house, dogs, and a broadband connection. What do I find myself doing some dark October evening? Essentially the 2008 equivalent of watching grainy TV over a rigged antenna: watching episodes of Star Trek: DS9 in very low-quality 10 minute chunks via YouTube. I'd still be doing it, too, but I ran out of episodes-in-order, and I want to watch them in order.
I bought season 1 from the iTMS, but they don't have any of the other seasons. I can't figure out if Netflix has them available for their download service or not, and if you haven't figured it out by now, I'm not terribly interested in the DVDs.
As a young nerd I almost bought the VI Star Trek movies on VHS, in all their packaged glory; of course there was no way I was dropping $100+ on 6 movies on tape. No way. I also knew there were going to eventually be more movies, and my little tiny OCD didn't like the thought of all of the VHS spines not matching.
Now everything is out on DVD. I still haven't bought anything. For some reason I can rationalize the downloading of episodes and paying for them, but the DVDs take up room, and if I do that, I'm buying them on Blu-ray, on which format they don't yet exist. Paramount/CBS (no longer one company, I know) will also have to re-master a LOT of hours of TV and re-render a pile of FX to deliver us an HD trek series beyond the Trek: Remastered stuff (which is beautiful, btw.).
But I digress; I had a little inside chuckle about the evolutionary recursiveness of doing the same thing over again - I guess in another 15 years I'll be watching HD 2-D stuff on the hypernets when I could be paying a premium for the 3D renders. Pshhh. Kids and their 3-D; back in my day we had 2-D and were happy for it!
Both ways uphill!

17 November 2008

A Brief Open Letter to Friends

Friends,

My apologies if I've been less than responsive to you these past few months. Much of my free time has been consumed with work for my 2 classes. I had the unwitting luck of signing up for a brace of classes that, while sharing similar material, both demand a much higher weekly work load than I had yet experienced in my grad school career!
This, along with my other obligations (the stray photography gig, the mrs.'s opera performances), has kept me pretty incredibly busy.
The good news is that school is over for the semester on 12/4, and doesn't pick back up until the end of January. I'm hoping to pack in a lot of Holly-Jolly partying and goofing off into those 2 months before I have to sit back down in front of the laptop and start cranking out more school work.
Until then, I beg your patience and understanding. It's not for lack of friendship that I do not communicate, it's because I'm consumed with thoughts of CASE tools, SRS documents, and the wild, wonderful world of software verification and validation - Independent or otherwise!

Your Pal,

Rob

xkcd and me: It was only a matter of ... time?

It finally happened. Something I wrote years ago and have re-posted in a web-log environment once or twice (and apparently went viral at Mount St. Mary's Chemistry Department before viral was cool - and I never attended the Mount) has been also created in visual form by the talented creator of xkcd:

http://xkcd.com/505/

My work, to which I refer:

Existential Chemistry

The torture was rapidly becoming intolerable. His strength was breaking down. Before too long, his will would be gone and his soul would be among the damned. He felt himself drifting off to sleep. He was in Chemistry – A life sentence, with no parole, or at least it felt like it.The oppressiveness bore down upon him, driving him into a stupor. The poor attempts at humour were like knives digging into the skull, complete with the grinding noise one would expect from metal on bone – or was that the instructor's voice?He no longer knew; colour faded into sound and sound became smell. He could taste what he felt, and it was a bitter taste. The bitter taste of apathy, mixed with the rotten smell of old things, kept long past their worth. Perception became subjective, and the subject was Chemistry.He sighed. The word "entropy" was uttered. His boggled senses locked onto the word, tasting, touching, and smelling it. They knew that this was their guiding principle, that the senses no longer obeyed any laws of order. Disorder, chaos, random sensations processed by random thought. Paradox. Sleeping while awake, loving while hating, wanting while repulsed, coveting while rejecting. The torture wore at his soul, and became a threat to existence. If this madness continued, existence in the normal plane would no longer be possible. He would go insane and mentally combust, his mind forever trapped in paradox. In Chemistry Class.Paradox spread. The senses realigned, though they did this from sheer boredom rather than any significant change. They quickly remembered why they had chosen to hallucinate in the first place, but by now, apathy had set in, and sensation became dulled. No longer caring, shut down was imminent. He was asleep – In Chemistry Class.He had a dream. There was a morning, and he wasn't in Chemistry Class. He slept in, and was joyous, for all was as it should be. But these were all dreams, for he awoke into the existence that did not follow linear time, that seemed to exist always, and yet never. His watch ran sideways – In Chemistry Class.Time kept on slipping into the future. An Angel showed him the way out, as another kept him sane throughout the ordeal. He would make it, it was time, the ordeal would soon be over, the ordeal of Chemistry Class.



It's not a picture-for-word duplication, but the sentiments, the intent, are the same.
It's very Leibniz-Newton. Only without the hurt feelings or powdered wigs.

16 November 2008

Review: Quantum of Solace &c.

If you've seen Bond, if you liked Casino Royale, you'll enjoy this one. It's really that simple. Go watch it, and tell me that the opening scene doesn't convince you that the new Bond is Jim Sweeney.
Now, I have 2 points of contention with NPR's coverage of this film.
Point the first: Weekend America just this afternoon stipulated that there were no gadgets on this film. Way to be wrong, gang. There was no Q outfitting gadget scene, and there were no pen bombs, but that slick table (think Microsoft Surface) at MI-6 and the facial recognition software in Bond's phone sure looked like gadgets to me. It doesn't have to be encased in plastic to be a gadget, and just 'cos you see it every week on CSI doesn't mean it's real. Tenuously I'd argue to include the fuel cells in that list, too, but that's reaching.
Secondly, the "Music Geek", or whichever nerd-chic name he calls himself, the "blogger" interviewed on NPR about the Bond theme who poohed all over this theme? Have another frappuccino and shut up. That was a decent tune; you're as bad as the Star Trek nerds who are rending their garments because the new Enterprise isn't identical to the 1960's model (which is sexy as hell, but then so is the new hotness).
Speaking of Star Trek, I saw the trailer for it. Hell yeah. May 9, 2009 can't get here soon enough.

15 November 2008

Book Meme

Okay, Jared, I'm intrigued.
Jared posted on his web-log, Jareddo, the following:

There is a Book Meme thing going around the Planet GNOME feed.

  • Grab the nearest book.
  • Open it to page 56.
  • Find the fifth sentence.
  • Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
  • Don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.
So, to play along, the closest real book is something the mrs. has been reading. Some vampire novel thing that I refuse to read:

"And I dashed back to my car, feeling that my heart was much lighter than it had been before."

Technically the closest bound volume with words in is my journal, and I know I consider myself a writer, but I'm certain opinions differ. This is moot, mind you. Page 56 of my journal contains information about my house's WLAN, and there's only 4 lines of text.
Page 55? "Next weekend we are off to NYC for the weekend".
This alternate sentence brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled paper writing.
No wait, that's me.
Crap.

14 November 2008

Hey buddy, you wanna buy a steak?

In all the excitement of moving my desk to the first floor (at work) and watching that D&D movie, I almost forgot to share a very exciting moment with you, my reader!
Picture it, Wednesday night, around 6pm, after dark. Damp, chilled air, and me with an empty stomach and a box of groceries.
As I park the car I see a gray sweat-shirted, pony-tailed and ball-capped man make his way briskly down Mulberry St. I pay no mind, as it's not as if he were wearing a dashiki or kimono or a rabbit, and he appeared to be adequately containing his fluids and or viscerals. Perfectly normal.
Then he rushed back around the corner, with something of a not quite haunted, let's call it a preoccupied and perhaps worried expression, slightly out of breath.
He speaks:
"Hey buddy, can you help me out?"
As long as you don't try to rob me of either my dinner, my wallet, or my life, I can certainly help you, I think. Likely needs directions, but if any of the above happen, groceries will rapidly become weapons. Or maybe I'm just paranoid.
"Well, you see," he continues, careful to keep a respectful distance. This is taking place outside my house, me standing near the back steps, him near my dining room windows, "I just made my final delivery for the day, and the lady accidentally got a double order, so I have all this meat on my truck and my boss says I have to get rid of it..."

You what.
"We're talking porterhouse and t-bones, just $4..."

I told him no thank you; our fridge was full. It is, sorta
"Okay, thanks," he replied, "Do you know anyone in the neighborhood that might be interested?"

In meat from the back of a truck. MEAT ... from ... TRUCK.

I told him I did not, that we'd only recently moved here and didn't really know the neighbors. I know that's not entirely true, but compared to the older lady across the street who does daycare and names her wireless SSID with her family name, we did just move in. I mean, my NASCAR/Redskin/Budweiser/Cigarette-loving, parking space hog duplex neighbors and we are brand-spanking new to the neighborhood compared to either the families up the street who enjoy the fresh air of their front porches and have family over on Sundays, or the woman who lives in the apartment house across Wayside and shares custody of her child, or the other woman who lives in the top floor apartment and works as a cleaning lady, likely in a hotel; but not compared to the people in the house behind us. Mostly because that house is for sale and no one is living there presently.
He thanked me and rushed on. Most of me was grateful that the discussion was over so that I could eat and that he had not tried to rob me of life or possessions, but part of me was sad that I had not taken advantage of such a great deal, or that he hadn't been an agressor. I did not save money, nor did I get a chance to kick ass, because I had glass salsa jars in that box and a bottle of Febreze. I could have taken him.
After all, we Republicans might scare easily, but that just means we're likely better armed. And I'm deadly with a bottle of Febreze.


update May 2014: I am no longer affiliated with any political party, but I am pretty sure I could still turn a jar of salsa into an effective weapon, so offer me truck meat at your own peril.

Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God

As my reader(s) know, I occasionally review (ramble on about) an entertainment item I've found enjoyable. Well this time, my friends, I have to share something with you that's so horrible it's ... I mean to say that it ... well, in fact it's ...

It's bad, people.
Here, have a plot summary from Wikipedia:

"Due to a curse from his former master Profion, Damodar survived his death by Ridley Freeborn as an undead entity in pursuit of an evil artifact for some hundred years, one capable of unleashing unstoppable destruction on Izmir and the descendants of those who caused his demise. The movie opens as he finally gets his hands on the artifact after being lead by a magmin, a mysterious black orb also the power source of Faluzure (the black dragon god of destruction and decay), freeing himself from the undead curse after splitting a lake protected by a kraken and serving under Faluzure to completely ressurect the monster.

Soon, Izmir is alerted to the rising of this ancient evil. Berek, a fighter and former captain of the king's guard, now a bored and unsatisfied lord of the King, and Melora, his wife, a gifted young mage, identify Faluzure's eventual revival as poison towers erupt from the mountain that Falazure was sealed in. The King requests that Berek is to assemble a party of adventurers; a group small enough to travel to Damodar's lair undetected, but strong enough to face their enemies. Lux (a female barbarian played by Ellie Chidzey), Dorian (a male Cleric of Obad-Hai), Ormaline (a female elven wizard), and Nim (a rogue) join the former captain of the king's guard to elimate the threat of Faluzure reawakening."


Given that I'm a nerd, you'll realize that I've played D&D at some point in my past. If I had time, the Mrs. and I would likely be playing presently, but grad school > D&D. I did not come into this movie unaware.
It was a quiet Thursday evening, me watching a little SG-1 waiting for the wife to get home from her voice lesson. I stuck around for the movie we're discussing, knowing it would be bad. I was not disappointed, given my skewed criteria.
Friends, this movie is awful. It's so awful it's come out the other side to campy-good and then stumbled down to bad again. You know how Gandalf fell through Middle Earth when fighting the Balrog (keep the mental image of the Balrog, please. I'll be using it in a moment), and became Gandalf the White? Pretend he kept falling and became "Gandalf the Grey with a bad Drug Habit", and you have the general gist of this cinematic mistake. Alan Smithee was too embarrassed to take credit for the direction of this celluloid.
Continuity was an afterthought, and the pacing was miserable: we're riding now we're leading the horses now we're walking again. This might have meant to convey a distance of travel, but the light never changed, and it sure looked like the same city for most of the shots. I mean, if you take off out of the king's courtyard at a gallop, you're going to hop off and walk as soon as you're out of his sight? Finest heroes in the land my ass. And then suddenly we're there!
You know it's bad when I'm discussing things like continuity and pacing. I'm very forgiving with stuff like that. The final dragon attack felt completely tacked on to the end of the entire debacle. This movie was SO BAD that I couldn't even play MST3k with it because the crap was piling up so fast I never had time to think of a good zinger, because my brain was busy trying to figure out the next bit of 'what?'. This would be a good movie to use for interrogations/brainwashing. The victim would be so befuddled by the time the credits oozed by that he'd either give you the launch codes or tell you his mother was a lich.
Back to the Balrog, that achievement of digital wizardry. Want to know what a Balrog's mutant-inbred-retard 3rd cousin/uncle looks like? Check out the "magmen" in this movie. Sounds like they ought to be selling flashlights rather than being fire/earth elementals. Think dancing baby meets Balrog, rendered on a Commodore 64.
They didn't even get the eye candy right in this movie. The 3 females with prominent roles had costumes that left all the wrong things to the imagination. Given the target demographic for this movie, one would think that one would have costumes for the women that didn't just show leg, but displayed it. Same with other, uhm, matters of the figure. You can't even argue that the actresses had some sort of ethical or moral quandary against such costumery - by acting in this movie, their ethics, morals, and taste are no longer matters for discussion.

"No, Maury, I will NOT wear the chain mail bikini for this movie. I left all that behind when I left the Honey Bear Lounge. I'm a legit actress now!"


haha. hahaha. I made myself smile.
Friends, I don't feel I wasted 2 hours last night. I feel that I sacrificed 2 hours of my life to warn you away from this film. It's not Star Trek V bad (at least they had pacing and continuity - after all, what DOES God need with a Starship?), it's certainly not Rocky Horror Picture Show bad (RHPS could have taught D&D a thing or 3,000 about costumery). I wanted a staff of writers a la MST3k to tackle this film, because it's that bad. It's so bad it'd be an MST3k 2-parter because they'd have to stop the movie to get it all in, and then come back next week to tackle it all.
It's a movie for, if I may, lying down and avoiding.
Good luck if you watch, just be prepared to roll for damage - brain damage. (you didn't think you were getting out of this without a lame dice-rolling analogy, did you?)

11 November 2008

The Starbucks Apology

Coffee in the morning, coffee after lunch, coffee in the evening. coffee in Space. I love it, in all its forms and flavored products from ice cream to chocolate covered coffee beans. We even have some coffee soap in the house. The rich aroma and texture of the humble coffee bean is testament to the rich flavor and health benefits it provides us all. And Starbucks brought coffee to the forefront of the American Food Agenda. It made all the players step up their game. Even McDonald's, my teenage employment from a time B-id-C (Before I drank Coffee) where the stuff burned away in pots of foul acidic brew, provides us all with drinkable drip and is unleashing a line of 'coffee beverages' (lattes &c).
I came to coffee about when I came to smoking cigarettes, in college. Unlike the cool, cool (and deadly) habit of smoking, coffee was a necessary evil to keep me awake to study, or from sometimes falling asleep in someone's food when at work. Spaghetti makes for a messy pillow. In time the two intertwined into one habit, coffee and a smoke. I'd sometimes drink coffee without a smoke, or have a smoke sans cafe, but they went together like Rice and Roni. The bulk of my first novel was fueled by black coffee and cheap cigarettes. I eventually gave up the cigarettes for all the reasons you might think, but coffee and I were inseparable.
When I found myself in a coffee house I'd order a big cappuccino, and it was okay. I stayed the hell out of Starbucks, though. They were evil, a den for hipsters and other assorted douches, everything I did not want to be. There was nothing getting me into a Starbucks; and then I met Francesca.
Before she was my lovely wife she was my girlfriend, and my girlfriend enjoyed her Starbucks. Early in the relationship she insisted that we visit, because she wanted her drink. I went, yet reluctantly. I resisted with body language and commentary on our first few visits to this strange new world that I had so assiduously avoided, yet felt strangely drawn to even upon entering. My confusion took shape as righteousness: I would be he who stood up to the stereotype. No mocha-java-frapa-rapa-al-pacino for me! (thank you Denis). No. coffee.
"You mean drip?" the barrista asked me.
And the sizes: venti tall what?

How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world,
That has such people in it!

There was a process here that was in no small way fueled by my desire to spend time with my future mrs. I eventually relented, and found joy in the Peppermint mocha, the beverage meant for the Christmas season but in my eyes perfect all the year 'round. Until I began to count the calories of the powder, syrup, milk, whipped cream. I backed off to cappuccino, then dry cappuccino. Milk and I eventually began to disagree on a chemical level on how it would be digested. I no longer worried about the sizing, the options, the culture. I'd got over it; I'd got over myself. Starbucks is not evil, no more so than any other business out to make a buck (or bucks, as the case may be). Sure, I patronize the local guys (Higher Ground on the Dual Highway in Hagerstown in the Always building - you'll love it!) whenever possible, but much like a McDonald's cheeseburger and fries are comfortingly similar anywhere in these United States, so too can one find a Starbucks to deliver a deliciously consistent espresso whether you're in NYC or Abilene (I've never been to Abilene).
I now grind and steam my own espresso most mornings. I no longer make cappuccino, the vagaries of time and lactose have led me to the purity of the Americano. I trace my desire to do this to the pile of dollars I've handed over to Starbucks, the gallons of steamed coffee that I have poured down my throat. There have been others, and there will be others, but the green mermaid and her siren song of espresso will always call me back. I make no apologies for Starbucks.
I offer my apologies to the barristas who were making a living, hopefully working at something they love, and so patiently guided me with a smile to my coffee. Consistently delicious, always fresh, and hey, who's new song is that? It sounds pretty hip.

10 November 2008

So Your Candidate Didn't Win

Update December 2012: Oh how much changes in 4 years.

A 'get over it' Primer

When it comes to economics, foreign policy, the power of the Federal Government, and interpreting the Constitution, I consider myself a conservative. Take as little of my money as possible, stay out of my business, keep me and my family safe from external aggressors, and have a damned good reason for changing the Constitution before even thinking about it.
I also believe that the Federal government has no business telling me who to marry, what to smoke (rhetorically, speaking, of course, since I don't live in Massachusetts), whether or not to keep my baby (papa, don't preach), where to visit on the Internet, or to whom to speak.
You'd think I voted for Barr. I also believe that in this 2 party system a third party vote is wasted. Just like voting Republican in Maryland on a national ticket is a 'wasted vote'. But I did. Yes, I voted for John McCain. The John McCain who wasn't a mouthpiece for that worst part of the Republican Party, the social conservatives who don't care about government spending or the NSA (hi guys!) reading their e-mail so long as THE CHILDREN are safe and THE GAYS can't get married. The John McCain who was tenacious, clever, and not afraid to tell his own party to shove it when he disagreed. The John McCain I believed had been telling tales to the party base (the aforementioned SC block) so as to get enough votes to win the election. The John McCain who lost the election.
I maintain that he was the correct choice for President, that now President-Elect Obama could have used more experience on the national stage before ascending to the Presidency.
This is not a lament for a Presidency lost. No, my friends, though I consider myself a Republican I am also smart enough to realize that what is done is done, and immediately decrying this turn of events as Apocalypse is foolish and short-sighted. Any man who can withstand the rigors of a lengthy primary and general election cycle, continuously scrutinized and analyzed, and come out the other end the victor with relative numbers not seen since 1988 is a man to be reckoned with. A man to consider.
The man I didn't vote for but now find as my President-Elect.
President-Elect Obama deserves our - those of us who voted McCain, Barr, Nader, McKinney or Mouse (Mickey, Fascist Party) - respect and consideration. He said a lot about wise governance and the responsible actions of government. He's made many promises. He also has some dangerous ideas about Health Care and other social issues; but I'm going to give him a chance. I'm giving him a chance to succeed before I unleash any invective in web-log or conversation.
President-Elect Obama has already had a profound effect on our nation. My Black fellow citizens have with one voice seemed to indicate that now anything is possible; as though a great mental block has been removed from them, a weight lifted from their hearts. The entire world is celebrating the election of this man. The man I thought (in my admittedly less than expert, though still informed, opinion) wasn't ready for the job. People are going about their jobs with a bit more joy in their hearts, the country seems to glow with the freshness of a new bride. I'll confess to being affected by this some myself.
I'm tired of the constant complaints about the government, and I was really tired of the election politics. I believe that some of our good-feelings are simple relief that it's all over.
As a Republican I should by definition fear change (unless it's interest on a dollar, right?), but I often find change to be exciting. Quantum possibilities exist in a Schroedingerian state of what if, both good and bad, but still possible. Eventually they will collapse into the single reality of decisions made; and though we stand now on the cusp of a fresh administration brimming with possibilities, "Schroedinger's" laws, policies, and signing statements will rapidly coalesce over time into the legacy of an administration.
For now, I'm riding the quantum wave of possibility, tapping into some of that youthful enthusiasm I promised I wouldn't lose as my 20s turned into my 30s. I want to be inspired by a president who says mighty things, does mighty deeds, and ends his presidency as a man to be admired and emulated. I want to believe that even though I didn't vote for him that the evidence of positivity and unity I am seeing from this election will finally wash away much of the lingering bigotry and ignorant hatred born of fear.
This is the promise of American Democracy.

Victory is Mine!

No, this is not the long-awaited post-election essay where I posit how even though the candidate for whom I voted lost that the candidate who won deserves a chance to govern before we begin to criticize. No, my friends, I'm still marinating that post.
This victory is all the sweeter. It's likely genetic in nature, though to be honest scientists are still trying to figure out if our blessing (or curse, thinking about all those #$%^&^# pairs of scissors in elementary school) is indeed genetic, or if some set of factors (the hand of God) must be present in the womb for this wondrous ability to take shape.
Yes, friends, my sister has sent me photographic evidence that left-handedness is alive and well in the next generation of my family:



Let us all rejoice! I promise that he shall never suffer (long) the indignity of bad-scissors - those long-neglected paper-chewing apparati that are allowed to stand in for the fine instruments of atomic-rending that the other children use - or any of the other tricks I've learned. Mostly, that since we're lefties, we have the upper hand in any fight that begins with a handshake. I also plan to start petitioning his mother to put him in little league, given how valuable lefties are to the game of baseball.
Rejoice with me - I know of at least one confirmed leftie out there who reads this on occasion.
Victory is Ours.

04 November 2008

Stillrich Wedding Photos

I've been remiss in sharing any photos of the garden with you, friends, so to make it up to you here are ten photos from the wedding we shot on the 25th:



A quick moment to toss a shout out to Noise Ninja. If you do any low-light shooting, I highly recommend this software to clean out the noise. Hopefully there'll be a link to click somewhere on the page for Noise Ninja. The pro license is only $70 for stand alone software, and certainly worth the money. I haven't even customized it yet, only used default settings, and it's been a much-needed addition to my toolbox.
Now to shoot a few more weddings/birthdays/bar(bat) mitzvahs/etc. so I can afford some sweet new glass!

28 October 2008

Stillrich Wedding

Robyn and I, as "PhotoNorth" (we have a logo, business cards, and talent) shot the wedding of a former co-worker of mine this past weekend, in Boonsboro.
The weather was rainy which disappointed me because I had hopes of getting some posed shots out doors, since South Mountain is RIGHT THERE, and what with it being the end of October and all the leaves are turning. No dice. Just as well. The interior of Trinity Lutheran is a joy to shoot in; the white walls and roof of the Sanctuary bounce the light wonderfully, making for a much easier time with the posed shots than I'd had shooting my sister's wedding back in July. Christ's Reformed in Hagerstown has a Sanctuary that eats photons like they're marmalade.
Marmalade.
The reception was at the American Legion in ... you guessed it, Boonsboro. Another building I hadn't yet been in, but another great location for shooting, with the light colored walls and drop-ceiling doing a lot of the reflecting work for me. Rooms like that always give a nice glow to the subject. They almost feel hyper-real to me when I'm looking at the photos later.
The bride was beautiful, the groom was handsome, and the parents were proud. It was a good wedding and a good reception. I'll share a few pictures here after I've finished my processing.
Robyn and I were both wiped when 830pm finally rolled around, but I know I'm ready for another gig already.
Now then, to drum up some business.

20 October 2008

Musing on the Electric Auto

I'm no hippie, and at the same time, I'm no car guy. I like cars. I like things that go "vroom" or "zoom" or "mwaaaaaaa-mwaaaaaah-mwaaaaahhhhhh", and even more so when they go fast. Or more accurately, when I am going fast in them. Ask the MVA, they have records.
There's been a lot of discussion regarding an Electric Vehicle (EV) as of late, especially as oil began its electric slide up to $147/barrel (boogie-woogie-what the *&^%?). There have been nerd writings on the Internet related to EVs (mostly solar, in my experience) for years, but the crude climb up the futures chart (with a bullet) brought EVs (back? I was busy not having been born / in diapers during the last energy crisis) to the fore of the collective consumer conscience.
The nerd and the miser in me both like the idea of the EV. It appeals to my aesthetic sense for some reason, tugs at the part of my soul that just knew he'd be going to space when he grew up. The nerd likes the convergence of technologies, the paradigm shift that represents a break with the past into some brave new world of plug-in filling stations rather than gas stations. A world where people have their newspapers downloaded onto re-usable flexible plastic screens and power is beamed to earth from satellites that bask in the sun's rays continuously. The miser likes that city electric is subsidized, and therefore would result in a net savings over stopping off at Bob's to fill up twice a week. Even people who don't use cars use electricity (save most of the Amish, I gather), so I can never see electric more expensive per unit that gas.
Plus, from what I've been reading, EVs go fast.
One day, 2 years ago or so, I was cruising these Internets and found my first EV crush, if you will. an EV Mini Cooper Concept:


I've thought Minis were pretty cool for some time, and I've never seen The Italian Job (is it worth it?). I imagine the regular gas powered Mini corners like a beast, and this EV concept has a motor in each wheel. It reads like a recipe for another trip to Traffic School for Rob. This little guy, though, was just a concept by an interested enthusiast, not Cooper (BMW). Ah well. Maybe, given the popularity of the Tesla, and the swirling storm of consumer desire for an EV, Cooper would take notice and deliver an EV? They have.



The Engadget tech-blog has been posting spy shots of the Mini test-EV for a few weeks now, and Cooper have finally officially announced the Mini E. For 500 test drivers in Jersey, New York, and CA. 3 places that the Mrs. and I have pondered residing at some point in recent years. Where we likely won't be living when the people who get to test this car will be chosen.
$#!^.
I'm living on the edge of one of the country's worst (busiest) traffic systems, the Baltimore-Washington Corridor. I commute 20+ miles one way daily in a combination of highway and city driving, and make regular trips into either of the aforementioned cities, usually by car (well, DC usually by Metro, but I still drive to the Metro station!). I've been dying to test drive a Mini and test drive an EV. I think that I should be given the honor of testing the Mini E outside the closed environs of NJ, NY, or CA. I even drive my co-workers to lunch on a regular basis.

"This is a nice car," they'll say.
"It's the Mini E by Cooper/BMW," I'll respond. "I am saving money and helping the environment in style!"
Let me be your man in MD, Cooper. I mean, if you want me to be more in touch with Bavaria, I'll gladly visit the Stube more often. I can always do with a litre of lager and a plate of wiener schnitzel! But no lager if I'm driving my Mini E. That would be irresponsible.

18 October 2008

Joe's Homage

I'm sitting here working on school work, with NPR streaming (Weekend America), and they're ending a story about this guy's garage, and what do they end the piece with?
Joe's Garage!
It's rare I catch Frank's work out in the wild, but a moment worth sharing when I do.
No clue what I'm talking about? Google the tune, and thank me later.

17 October 2008

Caffeine Base Here: The Coffee Has Landed

We all know I love coffee, if this is something new to you, click the linky bit back there that says 'I love coffee'. It's rich and dark and warm and fills you with energy AND it's been shown to fight disease (google for the Italian research on it). I love it so much that I don't even milk-up my espresso anymore in mornings, it's a 4-shot americano for me.
My title is about more than the elevatory effects of God's Beverage (it's beans and water, it's natural!). Anyone who's known me for more than 2 hours knows that a dream of mine is to be an astronaut. When it comes down to it, there have been 2 things really keeping me from going after this dream:
  1. I hate cramped spaces
  2. the coffee in space is crap
One down, my friends! From the Universe Today post:

"Franklin Chang-Diaz, a veteran NASA astronaut who spent a lot of time on the International Space Station (ISS), knows all too well the taste of really bad microwaved space coffee. So, in an effort to make life a little better for the current astronauts in orbit, Chang has asked two engineering students to design a machine that can percolate fresh-ground coffee in space…"

They've done just that. The process is apparently secret, but I can think of a few ways that might work, like sealing the coffee and the hot water in a bladder and swishing them around by manipulating the bladder (like a balloon - and then something bad happens!), then you squeeze/suction the now delicious coffee out of the bladder (BLADDER) , through a filter, and into your Astro-CapriSun Coffee cup.
Given my track record for developing apparati and solutions to problems that are more complex than need be, there's likely a much simpler solution, but I think that would work.
Time to run, I have coffee to drink.

14 October 2008

A - lust - inum

Lust.
I'm joining likely millions of others out there in the noo-blog-o-web-o-tubesphere-net in expressing my lust for the new Macbook just announced by Apple. They've also announced a really cool 24" Apple cinema display that I'd love to have, but we must think realistically, my friends.
Oh how I long to use one. Might be time for a pilgrammage.

09 October 2008

You got your Batman in my Lego(s)!


It might not be readily apparent to my readers, but Batman is my favorite superhero; not much of a stretch when you think about my BA and how he's the most psychologically, uhm, "freaking nuts" of superheros. Deadpool aside, I suppose, but that's another argument.
You will be familiar, however, with the Lego love (Hello weblegos). So when I saw that there was a Lego Batman game coming out (in the same vein as the Lego Star Wars games that have been so popular), I began to seriously consider breaking down and buying a game console. Because we're just not that big into video games (GASP). Though I am salivating over the hopefully pending release of Starcraft II (yet another weblog post).
My dreams were all answered for me when a certain wonderful pal who is my prime motivator when it comes to giving in to my dark side (Ray) presented me with his used PS2 and a fresh copy of Lego Batman for my birthday. The Mrs. and I were leaving for NYC that evening, so Batman had to wait.
A few days went by, and I found myself at home, alone with the dogs, on a Saturday morning where I should have been doing school work. The siren song of the PS2 called to me; I hooked it up to the TV, and put in Lego Batman.
Cursed for the lack of a memory card, I've had to replay the first level twice, and what will be for a third time when I get the memory card. This is ok. This is good, because it's helping me to get my reflexes back in order, and by the time I complete that inaugural for the third time, I should be able to just about clean it out.
I'm excited about this game, it's a lot of fun. Sure, it's fairly juvenile, too, but it's exactly what I need. There aren't any lengthy inventories to keep track of, no fiendishly over-wrought plot, and the music isn't a series of 30 second loops that get in the way of enjoying the game, like some other games I've sat through other people playing (Dragon Quest, Any Final Fantasy game, those other games like that; you know, those).
It's music is the Elfman soundtrack, it's visuals are reminiscent of the animated series, the back stories are from the comics (hey Tim Drake Robin, what's up), but the characters are definitely lego-shaped and the whole thing has an elementary school approach to the violence, which I like. It's uncomplicated.
If you take yourself and everything you do super-seriously, then don't worry about Lego Batman. If you like fun, Legos, or Batman, and own a PS2/Wii/PC/XBox/(but not on Mac - grr), then pick it up. Maybe I'll even let you be Robin - but you have to bring your own controller over.

04 October 2008

Wall St, Main St, F#$% YOU ST!

I'm as concerned as the next moderately well-read, intelligent, paying attention guy about the state of the economy, and my informed opinion is that the recently passed law authorizing the Feds to purchase up to $700 billion in stinky mortgages (which hopefully like fine cheese will age well), but sweet Lord in Heaven, I was about to tear my radio out of its mount and heave it onto the shoulder of Route 40 on my way home from work yesterday if I had to listen to one more politician mention Wall St. vs Main St.
I get it. We all get it. Booger-eating 2 year olds with a penchant for pants-wetting and Elmo get it at this point. WS v MS is a amazingly good short hand that allows a politician to say he's a man of the people (BS, I want to get elected to office for one term as a personal economic investment as much as a chance to get my opportunity to participate in the wheels of the Republic, and there are no poor policitians). But ENOUGH already. Move on. Find a new catch phrase. This one is already destined to be the bolded header in the text books for when they are discussing this era. Third subsection in the 21st century chapter, after "9-11-2001: Never Forget", and "2004-2006: Iraq and Roll" will come "Wall Street versus Main Street: America's 21st Century Economic Crisis".
My point is that after hearing it repatedly for weeks now, I was done with it. I could eat the same thing for lunch and dinner for a month if someone gave it to me without blicking an eye, but my ears don't work the same way. I need some auditory diversity.
So just as I'm about to exact violence against my car, does NPR magically feel my rage and move on? Oh no. They do the exact opposite; they rub salt in the wound, pour alcohol in my eye, they do this:

Where Wall St. And Main St. Collide — Literally



I laughed. Now I'm going to find the closest intersection of Main & Wall and take a picture of it, right after I widdle* on it.




*Yes, "widdle" means "pee", and no, I'm not really going to urinate in public. That might hinder my chances to get elected to Congress.

02 October 2008

Garden Ramble: Fall Edition

We've officially landed in Autumn, the traditional harvest time. Of course, if you've been slogging through these web-log words about plants that I've been sharing with you over the past few months, you'll know that I've been harvesting for a few months now.
On herbs, my chocolate mint deserves a special mention because I was certain that it wasn't going to survive because I think it's a really cool herb, but it's thriving.
My flowers have continued to impress late into the year, and I likely have enough marigold (and hopefully soon zinnia) seeds, as well as sunflower seeds to more than fill out next year's garden. There are some orphaned petunias that never found their way into the ground, but are still in flats. This Winter's experiment will be to see if they can survive. Speaking of winter, I'm soon going to be pulling the potted plants back indoors from their summer perches. Poinsettia, Rubber Tree, and the canine salad bar - sorry, snake plant - will return to their inviernal perches indoors. As will the other Winter experiment, the herbs I've planted in pots. Our Northern exposure doesn't give us much in the way of Winter sunlight, but the plants love the CFLs that I've installed in the house. I have a cabbage in a pot. I might bring it in to see if it continues to grow. Why not.
Vegetables. I finally pulled the beans out to make room for what will hopefully be fall cabbages and broccoli, I planted the remaining squash from the thinning, and I harvested some broccoli from the plants that have been growing all summer. I think I botched something there, because instead of wonderful, lush heads of broccoli I got small florets with leaves all through. I think I planted them too densely. My planned expansion and less heavy hand will likely make for more, better broccoli next Summer. Fall radishes and carrots are growing, I see what are hopefully signs from the lettuce/spinach (now that the beans are gone), and of the dozen peas I planted one sprouted. We might get some more peas before frost, but I'll not hold my breath. Peppers continue to come in. I am drying out most of the hot peppers in preparation for making more of my infamous "Satan's Coke Habit" hot pepper powder, and enjoying the green/red bell peppers fresh off the plant! We've even had a cucumber or two come in, though those poor vines never took off like I'd hoped - the squash choked them out for too long.
I'm hoping and praying for there to be enough warmth left for at least a few more weeks without frost, and then the cold work of adding the compost and setting up next year's expansion begins. Once the last flower is gone and the vegetable garden put to bed, aha, for the winter, I'll likely put this little feature on hiatus until February or so, when I plant my first round of seeds, unless you're that interested in hearing my thoughts on my houseplants and how my Winter Experiments are proceeding. You'll have to let me know, though.

Popular Posts