Off the Top
Random notes and rants.





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Wednesday, January 31, 2001
I almost forgot, it is less than a week to a certain birthday, so here is the Amazon Wish List.

It was the last Ken Burn's PBS Jazz this evening. This was an amazing trek through Jazz that is unequalled. This final installment was a bit sad in parts with the deaths of some of the "greats". It is amazing the breadth of the works of jazz as there was an incredible amount of music covered along with many of those that gave it the change of direction and face to what generations experienced.

I have up-dated the links page with the CNBC, IBM Alaphaworks and Developerworks pages, which have been on my to add list for a long time. Every time I update the links I think that I must have added them. I really can not wait to get the dynamic link tools running.

I have added two personal sites, one ScottAndrew seems to be focussed on web development with a bent on Document Object Model (DOM) projects. I was taken by his Netscape 6 development article and his treatise on version 6 browsers. The article on DivX reminded me of what a good resource DivX has been for me in the past (mostly the days of ASP (active server pages) development). It has very good DOM, JavaScript, and Open Source sections now too. I also added the DNALounge owners pages, so I can keep up more easily with what is happening with that club.

The dynamic content management tool is finally ready to produce at work. It took three weeks to build, and it only has two templates, but it will create much of the first release of the site. There are a few features that I should add, like asking for verification before deleting entries (which is does wonderfully, but a little too easily).

I will be posting the Crab Dip Recipe in the next day or so. It went over well at Erik's annual Super Bowl Party (sorry about the game's outcome Erik - I had nothing to do with it).

I will get better about reading these blogs before posting. I have begun to spell check them at least.

Monday, January 29, 2001
The mobile phone/handheld was in focus today. The New York Times has a couple of articles today. One focussed on Britain's increased mobile use leading to what could be the end of the phone box. Another covered the "cool reception" mobile Internet is receiving in the U.S. There was a CNet article about the lack of handheld programmers.

Now the strings that tie them... The loss of the Brit phone boxes states that these stationary public stations may become more multimedia based with screens to attract more users. The advantage would be the screen size.

Which leads us to the second story which states the mobile Internet has not taken off in the U.S. for a few reasons: the U.S. population has relatively easy access to the Internet at their home and work (I am leaving the digital divide issues out of this as the mobile solutions would still leave this group out). The U.S. audience is largely pre-conditioned to better more robust screens and the tiny handheld in phone do not seem to cut it. The U.S. population, on average, does not partake in public transportation as much as other nations that have higher usability rates (I how ever seem to be an outlier as I take public transport regularly as it permits me to read news and other information on my Palm OS based system using Avantgo). Another reason is that the U.S. market is more competitive and the margins are far lower for the providers of mobile services and mobile solution providers.

This leads to the lack of wireless solution programmers. The article was not very clear as to where the problem existed. It must be on building the connectivity to the services, as most Internet developers know and have played with, getting the content in a new format for a different kind of device is a rather straight-forward task. The problems are more related to how to layout the information, when you only have centimeters of poor resolution screens to use. The handhelds struggle with memory and battery life as it is just to provide connectivity. The added size would be awkward for a phone were one to try to add a more robust application or more graphic user interface. This is where the PDAs seem like they are much farther ahead than the phone market. Many of the phone/mobile handset producers are outsourcing production as it is far too costly for the Erickson's and Motorola's to handle at this point in the game. Getting back to the programmer issue, it must have been engineers that were lacking as the getting the content into the device is the relatively easy part. Most of the PDA programs for mobile media are free and are rather well developed. The XML options are rather easy to produce, although the server-side solutions can drag and the scalability is limited unless you have a very large server (particularly when using Java). The output can be places in formulaic templates as is a large portion of the Web now. If someone is offering a 50% raise to make this modification, I will not be the last one to turn that down. That is a wave I could ride.

Saturday, January 27, 2001
A tough loss for GU Hoyas today to Notre Dame. MCI Arena sounded like ND was the home team for a while. Such is life and the Big East. I believe ND has arrived in the Big East this year as any team can beat most any team in the Big East. I don't know if Rutgers, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, or Miami will ever be at that level constantly, but ND has stepped up. ND beat out GU on the GU's offensive boards at the end of the game. GU also needs to learn the bounce pass that will help get the ball inside and across court.

After the game we stopped at Houston's where I has an incredible French Dip sandwich. It was extremely good, it was better than the ones I remember from home while growing up. This just means I have to hit the gym later.

It has been a good ending of the week at work as the content management tools has one complete part of the application finished. This will greatly reduce errors and make it easier for most anyone to build that section of the site. This is now the 4th project that has been turned over to a dynamically generated site, based on Web Browser managed input and management tools. With a capture of the output site it can be saved as a static page, should that be needed during heavy site demands. Now if someone will help get the data/content right it will be "flying". I can never understand how people can forget about the content (in this case the data) as that is the most important part. Oh well, one day the light will go on and we will start to hear words that are believed, which will begin to move everything in the right direction. Commitment from the client, across all the player, is what it will take to start seeing the data/content given the proper attention it deserves. We can build killer applications that can do amazing things, but if the information we are working with is garbage, it is all moot. It feels like the movie Groundhog Day with the same things going wrong everyday and day-by-day the headaches go away, but for a year it has been the same problem.

(And I did not think I had a rant with in me today - bummer)

Tuesday, January 23, 2001
This is a short follow on to yesterday's items regarding power and the White House web site. I strongly believe that public entities must be run efficiently, which is not the usual stereotype that is associated with them. There is a large difference between run more efficiently and run in a way that is, or resembles, a market economy based entity. How one measures success is very different and how one relates to customers is very different.

The New York Times has a follow-on article that I found to be dead on in explaining the energy problem in California. The Bush Administration offered two more weeks of support and are pushing California to set long term contracts at these currently very high rates. The situation that sounds like collusion with the power suppliers smells very funny. The tech boom in California was aided by some of the nations lowest energy prices. A large part of the price was hydro electric resources and very mild winters and summers along the coast that don't require extensive use of power to shift the indoor temperature.

On the White House web site (which still has not corrected their gaffs or given the site a more professional look as of this evening). I found two Wired articles on the state of things with the change over and a review of the site by usability "guru" Jakob Nielson.

Monday, January 22, 2001
Who hired a junior high "beginning web design/development" class to build the new White House website. I mean no disrespect to students any where of any level, nor children pre-school age. My favorite error is on the "contact page" when it asks for an electronic e-mail address. This is not rocket science.
Returning to the California power problem... The thing I still do not understand is who decided it was a good idea to take a public good that has a limited group of suppliers to the market with very high cost of entry and make that oligopoly a deregulated market? People are saying that the problem is that they capped the energy companies ability to pass on the cost to the consumer. Who was smoking what? And where? Passing black market prices on to the consumer? The last turn of the century the world was just learning about the problems of monopolies and oligopolies, how did we forget this lesson?

Repeatedly in history the world has learned what makes a "public good" and that the society benefits when there is some government protection of the markets. Britain is learning this with their rail system. The price to entry is high. Keeping ones own rail entity running well, while competing with other forms of transportation on price and convenience is difficult. (If Britain believe that keeping the rail system is better than building roads - California has cursed the day they tore out the rail lines because cars were the way of the furure.) Many reports from Britain complain that the rail companies have not been keeping the rail cars in good repair, clean, nor on-time. The joint requirement and cost to keep the rails in good shape have hurt the system even more. As, America learned from the Savings and Loan debacle (which the California energy problem very closely resembles) it is horribly expensive for the government and the citizens to fix the mess and damage from failed deregulation.

The deregulation of America's telecommunications market has not been a great success, as that market is slowly returning to an oligopoly status, but with a regulatory hand assisting, competition is still present in the market. The regulatory assistance that encourages competition helps consumers get better service and receive a better price. Remove some of the open access provisions in the telecom market and pricing will turn to non-competitive rates, poorer customer service, and great in-efficiencies in the market. Treating public goods, which are limited as there are high barriers to entry (which keeps out competition) and or there are limited resources (throughways, airwaves, access) should not be treated with out public oversight. There are individuals with large egos that believe they can run these public goods as a business in a manner resembling a market economy, those that fall for this trick always pay dearly. Yes, history repeats itself and those who never learned their history lessons are cursed to failure.

Sunday, January 21, 2001
The site's look-and-feel is largely in place with the style sheets and so forth. "Off the Top" needs to adopt the logo and the full style sheets, as does the OtT archive. There are two organges and two blues set on a medium dark gray, with black, white, and organe backgrounds. I still may add buttons for the links and new artwork for the link "bullets". This is closer to a finished site that was the first version that was posted two years ago. The colors? Think Dutch.

We saw the movie "Antitrust" today. It was alright as a syspense thriller. A decent gaget flick with Linux screen shots, Handspring PDAs, and cool desk toys. The movie never put me on the edge of my seat. But, it does introduce open source computing and the ideas/ideology behind it. I think many views would be left with the assumption that open source equals something built in garages. My favorites for this are "FX" and "Three Days of Condor" with Robert Redford. "Antitrust" does have a decent web site for the movie and they are selling/auctioning many of the props on Amazon.

Saturday, January 20, 2001
I need a few more words from the Inuit/Eskimos for snow. The snow tonight is that icy, like a summer shaved ice, with solid crystaline textures that would make a snowball that would stay intact and hurt like the dickens if it hit you on bare skin. English is not a great language for snow. This snow tonight could be called somicy (sum eh see).

Language is a wonderful yet curious thing. Upon returning from our honeymoon in Europe (Amsterdam, Brugges, and Paris -- hopefully I will get to posting pictures one day) I found going to Starbucks was odd as I had been translating phrases in different countries with different languages and I found it difficult to figure out how to order my usual drink (a tall quad Americano). I also missed the food and culture, too but that is another story all together.

The rest of is finally taking shape with its new look-and-feel. I am not sure that the colors do not need some tweaking, particularly on the links page. The header, logo, and page labels will also get some work. But, after more that two years the site is actually getting some attention.

It was a gray day all around in DC today. The weather was sour, Georgetown lost its first game of the season (but the students were back to help make MCI a rowdy venue finally), and GW Bush was sworn in. It is not that I don't like him, it is just some of his choices are more than a little extreme. He ran as if he was trying to prove his was different from the centrist Albert Gore. In DC they were called the twins as the views were very close. Some poor moves after November 7 (he really should have done a state-wide recount in Florida to quell any questions) and now the Norton and Ashcroft picks. It is like Bush went back to the 1950s with these picks, as if America and the world had not learned about pollution actually damaging the environment, people of different races can date/marry with out being struck by lightning, Gays/Lesbians are actually people that can be beneficial to society, and women are bright enough to make choices. The uniting America speech must have had a hidden meaning, because Bush's choices are creating divisions.

My political views tend to be right down the center. Having a government that is efficient, responsive, customer oriented, provides a safety net to catch those that inevitably will fall through the cracks in a Market based-economy, lets business run business (while keeping an eye out to ensure competition), protect the individual from discrimination, protect the environment (we only have one earth and I want my children to have the same ability to enjoy it as I have), be ever mindful that we live in an extremely small world with America as the only super-power to protect the peace and the rights of freedom, and ensure that everybody has the right to join the workforce as an educated participant.

But... It is snowing!!!! Finally!!!! It was a nice treat as Joy and I came out of the Metro.

Friday, January 19, 2001
Trekking into work to day on the Metro was an adventure in patience as D.C. is flooded with "out-of-towners" who seemed very confused with public transportation and even escalators. D.C. gets a taste of this in the Summer and around the 4th of July, but I have never seen it this bad, not even the last inauguration. It is normal practice to have some visitors stop at the bottom of an escalator with scores of people behind them being automatically delivered to their backside, but today topped them all. They seemed to think the trains, most 6 cars or more, only stop and open their door at the bottom of the escalators.

There was a Garrison Keillor story in Salon mentioning the capability of young adults to talk for hours, without repeating themselves. This really has triggered something in me wondering why people lose this capability. As we grow older we fill with a plethora of experiences, yet we start repeating stories at some point in time. The older the more repetitious. Hmmmm....

I really need to get two old hard disk to a service that can recover information, as one of them, if not both, contain my creative writings from a few years ago. More tham 110 poems and a handful of short stories. I have about 60 or so of the poems printed out, but the rest are not avialable. It is easy enough to key in the 60 or so, but I am bummed about the rest.

I pushed the a new look and feel for my site up before it was finished baking. I only have modified the homepage so far. The color scheme is going to be consistent with Off the Top, but the feel is not right. I have been trying to figure out the left navigation bar, as to use buttons or text links. Buttons seem to be getting so pre-2001/old-millenium.

I love my DSL (no, not as much as you Joy). I upgraded my personal HomeSite in five minutes (download and installation), thank you Telocity.

I also like using TextPad for editing HTML/XHTML/PHP pages. It is a great Java coding and compiling tool also, not an IDE for those of you who like GUI interfaces. I have replaced Notepad with TextPad on my workstations and I am so much happier.

Thursday, January 18, 2001
Slashdot had a good posting and comment on the evolution and applicability of JSP (Java Server Pages), which uses Java Servelets (server-side) applications. The comments were well thought out and insightful, which covers about 60% of the Slashdot comments usually (the other 40% are flames and related space wasters). I find Slashdot to be a good source of up-to-date commentary on tech and geek pursuits. Their side columns contain great pointers to related programming and tech resources.

Salon had a good article about the power problems in California. The article debunks the myth that the Internet is to blame.

Yes I have been living about two days behind (as seen in these two articles). I catch up on Slashdot from their e-mail summaries and my Avantgo did not synch this morning, so I got to read more of yesterday's news.

Wednesday, January 17, 2001
The PBS Jazz series is still entertaining me, educating me, and turning me on to a handful of new pieces I have never heard, or have completely overlooked. Tonight, #5 in the series, had a very slow and wonderful Duke Ellington tune that preceded and played under an interview with Mr. Ellington saying his music came from dreams or a dream-like state.

I tried getting U2 advance tickets (for members of the U2 site, this is still a somewhat odd concept) this morning only to find Ticketmaster this morning only to find Ticketmaster servers had given into the demands place on them by fans. This is not the only time I have heard of Ticketmaster technology keeping up with the task. Not even an overflow server pushing up light weight pages stating there is greater demand than capacity. A nice cluster of servers with nothing but static pages posted to offer information when things get a little hairy, I suppose it is too much to ask. Ticketmaster should be able to have a team of tech geeks that should be able to write code to detect saturation and push off the overflow.

I have received the second of my first two purchases from today, yes I just got around to it (thanks Paula and Fred). I am wondering why I did not investigate this previously, or at least wishing I had done so. I picked up two out of print items 1) the Jerry Kaplan book "Startup", and 2) the Peter Gabriel extended EP "Steam" which contains a sweet version of "Games Without Frontiers".

Tuesday, January 16, 2001
I still don't see that this site has moved off the NT/2000 boxes. I will have to follow up with Interland to see what is going on with the switch. The initial server set-up for the change over is not impressive. It is a Linux server, but with an Apache server that is six or seven generations old, the PHP that is available looks to be PHP 3 and it is not a module running in the Apache server. This is pathetic for $40. I have a development host server running at PHP Web Hosting for $10 a month with the most recent Apache servers with the most current PHP 4 built into the Apache server. The PHPWH guys do not have the bandwidth of Interland, nor the server power (just based on responce times, not benchmarks).

What is the importance of having PHP built in? Building the module into the server has the PHP processing available instantly and also greatly increases security by not being a cgi run script.

Sunday, January 14, 2001 and CNN have good overview article on bluetooth interference. I have been following this as a pet project for a couple years now as an emerging resource. Bluetooth's active distance keeps shrinking so as to limit radio frequency interference with other items in the same bandwidth. One item this article does not mention is microwave (the in your kitchen microwaves appliances). Many microwaves are in the same or a near band which will cause interference with the signal (i.e. lost data transfers). The article also mentions the 802.11(b) which Mac users will know as the Airport. Not only will office LANs find interference, but home networkers using wireless networks.

What can be done? Choose wisely and learn what interacts with what and which device has its waves interfered.

GU Hoyas are now 15-0. Not too bad of a start.

It was a good weekend overall as Joy and I went out Friday and Saturday night to friend's parties. It was good to get out and see old friends, many of whom we have not seen since our wedding.

Today I went to the ESPN SportZone to catch the NFC playoff game and we ended up in a side room which had many sports events on various screens, but had music playing. Unless you are at the main screen they do not play the sound for the games. It does not encourace a turn over of tables, which we understand. The whole of the room finally pleaded with the wait staff and managers to turn on the sound for the game rather than music (if we wanted music we would have gone to the Hard Rock down the street - talk about not understanding your market). To get the sound turned to the game each table had to agree to a $20 per person minimum and 18% gratutity per game. This was not too bad, but it would make it a lot easier if it was stated and ESPN Zone understood it was a sports bar essentially. On the upside, they have have a great game room in the basement (getting a game card was a long process, ordering one from your waiter/waitress would be a much better idea and having it added to your bill). They also have television in the restrooms above each toilet (this was a secret wish I never knew I had) and made it feel like the Circuit City advertisement with the guy and the soccer (football) match.

Friday, January 12, 2001
As I was looking for an office address in the U.S. House of Representatives I ran across a coincidence in that in my move this past Summer from Arlington, Virgina to Bethesda, Maryland I moved from Congressional District 8 to CD 8. Not only that but my representatives names, Moran and Morella, are next to each other on the alphabetical listing of Representatives.

I also realized I am on the cool NEW Blogger server that has been in the news. Go Pyra!!!

Thursday, January 11, 2001
I finally opened my Amazon Wish List so that it is searchable (or you can click on the link). I have been using the Wish List as a reminder to myself of what items I have an interest in. After the holiday season people we saying they did not know what to get me. I guess this will help, not that my birthday is around the corner.
I know this because Amazon e-mailed me to let me know my birthday was approaching. How kind of them.
So far this year is off to a good start. I have read a wonderful book - Lying Awake by Mark Salzman, been watching a great PBS series - Jazz, and been enthralled by a wonderful movie -Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (which Joy and I actually saw December 30, but close enough). Things are a little less hectic with work. The GU Hoyas are 14-0, so far. This may be a good year.
Wednesday, January 10, 2001
I am finding Total Sports Total Cast for college basketball games is a passable way to follow Georgetown Games off the net. Thanks to HoyaSaxa online to point this out to me. I know, I could find a radio and listen, or use my tickets and go...
It is finaly warming up just a little bit here. It was nice to walk to the Metro and not get more wind burn/freezer burn on my face. I know this warm spell will only last a week or so before Winter returns. Yes, I still like my seasons. And no, I still don't miss the eternal Spring of San Francisco. With seasons there is always something to look forward to.
Tuesday, January 09, 2001
More changes are in store for the The weblog color scheme may bubble up to the home page and links page. The home page has been modified very little since its first day in early 1999. The links page, however, has changed quite a bit as new and modified links have arrived. The computin/tech section has been modified to get to my links from where ever I am. The Web Trends reports show that few others outside of myself use the links pages.

The other change that is coming soon is a move from a Win NT/2000 platform to Linux. This site's platform has followed what ever I have been developing with at the time. My web developing history begins a few years prior to the creation. So following straight HTMLwith perl and cgi on UNIX systems I moved briefly to NT with ColdFusion. This development was soon followed by ASP with Access and MS SQL Server pages. This is where began. about a year and a half ago this site was moved into ColdFusion with MS SQL Server capabilities. The development of the site was held in check by paid development work that had my mind moving back to UNIX and perl. After a few prototypes were developed I had some time to code/script with PHP on UNIX and Linux. This development has been augmented with some perl when is is needed, but the development of web browser based systems has me using PHP at every turn. This nice thing about PHP is what you develop will run on any OS with out anychanges, as long as the database (if you are using one) does not change (i.e. you remain with Oracle, etc.). PHP is very easy to code, which means that a product can be up and running more quickly and the coding/scripting is processed very quickly. I still dabble with ASP, Cold Fusion and straight perl here and there, but I really prefer PHP. The benefit for the site is that I can build for fun with helps my daytime development, and the helps my daytime chops too. I am looking forward to the change.

(Some how I have the feeling this is going to turn into a longer piece)

Last night's Ken Burns "Jazz" series started off on a great note (pun intended). I have been a jazz fan for years and the first show in the series provided great infomation that I did not know. I am looking forward to the rest of the series, but I will need to find the time to watch.
Sunday, January 07, 2001
The type of things to be posted here on OtT will fall into notes/rants/observations about sports (GU Hoyas, SMC Gaels, SF Giants, SF 49ers, cycling, cricket, and (what the rest of the world calls...) football), tech, the tech business, and how business uses/does not use technology. On occasion economics and public policy will enter into the observed notes.

I have a rather long list of interests, but I enjoy reading as a source of entertainment. This is a large reason why the Internet was an easy diversion and asset to my life.

After yesterday's Georgetown Hoya drubbing of Seton Hall it looks like the Hoya's are for real. It was a blast to go to the game yesterday, but it will be even better once the students get back. Joy and I even made it on the gameboard camera (I don't know if I want that to happen again). The best dunk, the second by Demetrius Hunter at the end of the game, has not shown up online yet. One of his other dunks is up on ESPN, but the tomahawk slam where he was in the air 15 to 18 feet has not made it. This dunk got the crowd, already going crazy from the Scruggs 3-pointer, in the insane mode. It was mostly donors, locals, and just a few students at the game.

Red Auerbach (sp?) was at the game was he looking at future talent or talking with John Thompson about goining the Celts?

Friday, January 05, 2001
Off the Top is a random posting of various items that come off the top of my head. Some will be general observations, while others will be rants or views posted so to be available for later use. These items are aimed for my own use first, if others find them helpful that is great. This is generally an easy way for me to find annotated links and refer back to earlier thoughts of my own.

Fight for your right to standards!