Thursday, December 27, 2007

Kids' Tech

While visiting with family for Christmas I asked my nieces if they used RSS. It seemed legitimate enough, since they are from a very metropolitan suburb of Atlanta and two of them live in Athens, GA...home of the University of Georgia. I figured if anyone knew about this stuff it'd be them. They didn't know what RSS was...or news...or Google Reader...or the orange box. I'm convinced it is still too difficult to use for the mainstream. The informal mini-survey just supported that feeling.

I also asked about Facebook. The answer was that it's a way to waste time instead of doing homework. My assessment is that it serves the same purpose as "the Mall" did 30 years ago. It's a place to hang out and talk to friends...albeit one extremely large mall.

I was also told of an instructor that "gets it." I had to ask what that meant. He was "able to relate" is the answer I got. It seems that's the phrase used when more than one person thinks the same way. It doesn't matter whether it's right or wrong, if people agree they think the other one "gets it." I wonder how often I've heard that applied to IT. Tech people tend to think everything we see is a nail just because we have a new hammer. In many cases, paper is all the information system a person needs. Paper is one very robust system for storing data. Any IT person that doesn't recognize that apparently "doesn't get it." :)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Reflecting and Forecasting about the Beloved RSS Feed

We haven't even begun to see the power of RSS feeds. The searching, sorting, re-using, and general acceptance of feeds are still in their infancy.

Remember when it required serious 'net savvy to find stuff on the WWW? Google (and other services to a lesser degree) changed that. Expect to see similar advances in the way we use RSS feeds. Web browsers (d)evolved to the point they are intuitive for the most computer illiterate user. The same will happen in feed reading, because the masses don't want to think about the technology. It should happen naturally, obviously, and intuitively. It shouldn't require hours of search, cut, paste, and re-type to find and download podcasts on a particular topic, for example. It's bound to happen, and reassuring to think it won't be Microsoft or Apple that makes this a user-centric technology. The Google Reader and iGoogle are making headway fast.

Losing Weight without Dieting

Standing will be priority one for losing weight easily. Regular exercise will be the primary regimine, but simply standing more and sitting less should help get things moving.

One of the first things I've learned as a lab rat in a weight loss study is that my perception of exercise isn't necessarily related to how many calories I'm burning. Heart rate was a much better indicator during my last exercise session. Sitting down decreases heart rate, which I do a lot since I spend so much time using a computer. Luckily, I have a notebook PC which works great while standing at our bar. The solution is obvious...more time at the bar! I wonder if that's how one of my co-workers avoids gaining weight too. :)

If standing and computing is something easy for you, I'd be curious to know if it makes a difference for you.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Presidential Election 2008

ABC News' Match-O-Matic for finding which Presidential candidate agrees with your personal views. Answer the questions and find your match.

I've done a good enough job avoiding all things political that I'm not sure who's even running, but it said Romney, Hunter, then Paul for me. All Republicans? Neat, but I probably have a better chance of winning *myself* on a private party ticket than any Republican. You make your bed, then you lie in it (pun intended).

The Demise of Google

Make a local copy of anything you have on any Google site. They'll be filing bankruptcy in a matter of days. How can I be so sure? I bought a share of GOOG stock. My track record with such things is impeccable.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

School Prayer

Another great irony...notice the upper right hand corner of this magazine. "A Christian View: Behind The Fight Against School Prayer." This is Look Magazine from June 18, 1963! Contrary to popular belief, this is not a new issue.

Behind the Wikipedia Controversy

Make no mistake about it, I love wikipedia. What makes it work is the passion that people have about their interests, and the general good nature of people. Ironically, that same passion is also its greatest problem.

I've been a part of a similar "experiment" for 10+ years. This experiment is simply a social network originated (and primarily maintained) via e-mail. The basic rules are that there are no rules. It is commonly agreed that we'll not show blatant disrespect for one another, but that occassionally takes a back seat to the passion. The result is an e-network vastly superior to any engineering reference I've ever known. I'd love to discuss the details, but for now it's better to get to the point.

Heaven only knows if there is validity to the Register's article about the secret mailing list of administrators behind Wikipedia , but the comments highlight the pros and cons of such a resource nicely.

Where this all ties together is in the behavior of people and their passions...more explicitly in the comment made by David Wiernicki, which I'll dub my quote of the year.

I am not an expert...
By David Wiernicki
Posted Tuesday 4th December 2007 02:25 GMT
...but my understanding of the Wikipedia project is that its strength comes from a vast number of people making small changes.

However, the process self-selects to self-destruction - to wit, people who have lots of free time get the most power. But those people are usually the ones who are involved in order to gain personal prestige - the antithesis of Wikipedia in the first place. They're experts in the expert-less community.

So the community automatically becomes run by unstable people who care more about their personal power than the results. And this becomes impossible to stop, because reasonable people by definition will not be obsessed enough to fight the tendency.

And therein lies the doom of a good idea.

I should clarify my interpretation of that to say that a passionate person's power and prestige is often simply ego. Eventually the "reasonable" contributor gives up the fight and becomes a foe to the project. It doesn't necessarily ruin the data, but it is a huge distraction. The typical result is division, with multiple that for good or bad.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


If if were rich and famous (or even poor and influential), I'd start my own term called "e-networking" to replace all the social crap being spewed about. Why do we need social networking, social bookmarking, social annotating, or social anything else? Doesn't the term "social" imply that it is not for business?

If it were up to me, I'd drop the social and make it electronic networking. It's really all about people building networks of relationships and using those relationships to share information. In other words, it is the electronic version of the same networking we've always done.

My kids' peers think it's funny to make up words. My peers (my e-network) will probably just laugh at me. :)

Zen, Dudes!

Zen Habits describes at least 2 reasons to blog (without saying so). If you blog, you can cover items 2 and 15 in their recent post entitled 15 Can’t-Miss Ways to Declutter Your Mind.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Web2.0 is Outdated is yet another video sharing site, but one that lets you add tags and comments inline with the video. More neat technology.

One video shared there is "How to Bluff Your Way In Web2.0" by Andy Budd and Jeremy Keith recorded at SXSW.

The video is a humorous look at web design aspects currently dubbed "Web2.0." You'll likely pick up a few new sites and terms, just in time for them to tell you that the term "Web2.0" has outlived its usefulness. It is now holding us back rather than moving us forward. When companies come to web designers asking for a "Web2.0 design" it means we have a problem. There is a website to create responses for those folks. It's called "The Web2.0 BS (sic) Generator." Just click the button and it'll give you terms to use in your presentations. :)

Friday, December 7, 2007

Facebook Gadget Brings New Hope

There is a gadget for displaying Facebook updates on your iGoogle page!

Anyone with a Google/Gmail account has the ability to create their own custom Google search page. It is called "iGoogle" and is a very customizable personal portal. "iGoogle" has Gadgets (aka widgets on other sites) for putting things like email and RSS feeds on our personal iGoogle page. The Facebook gadget means that you can get important data out of Facebook without having to go to the Facebook site directly. This is a beautiful discovery for those of us dying to see the "walled garden" philosophy of Facebook change.

The only problem with this type of solution is that it teaches users to enter do entirely the wrong thing. Namely, it wrongly teaches them that it is OK to enter a username and password somewhere other than the website from whence it came. That brings me to a third option, which is just to use a different password for every website's registration and use a password manager like password safe to handle the mess.

"Monte, I think I'll take what's behind door number 3."

I still hate Facebook, but maybe I'll miss fewer updates now. Once again Google saves the day.

Avoid Adobe (Macromedia) Contribute

The Contribute (web) Publishing System has huge shortcomings in any reasonably sized environment. The standard install uses unencrypted LDAP queries to authenticate with Active Directory. Plain text logins like this should have gone away years ago. Implementation of LDAPS for secure authentication in Contribute is done via arcane java commands.

Once you get a secure connection running you must ensure that the email address field in AD is complete. That's the (un-configurable) field used as the key in the CPS database to check a user's permissions.

The need for this configuration assumes that you can get the server to run at all. There seems to be some conflict between the Contribute service and the ColdFusion service when using a secure connection. The 2 services to not automatically restart when the server restarts.

Bottom line: avoid Contribute. There are better ways to allow a novice user to update a webpage without sacrificing the security of your entire network.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Will Facebook Adapt Faster Than AOL Did?

As we were doing our In-Service training last week I was reminded that we ('net users that is) are quickly moving toward an online experience that allows us to choose what news comes to us, esp via RSS technologies. We no longer take the time to visit our favorite websites to check for updates. How ironic was it that the next topic of training was about the popularity of Facebook as a social networking site. Facebook requires you to visit the site to find out your news. It tells me that some big changes are coming. Either Facebook will figure out how to adopt to a different business model, and will drop the walls around their garden, or they'll become the next AOL.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Web2.0, Money, and Education Part II

It was less than 3 weeks ago that I wrote how important I thought it was that we recognize how to make money on the Internet. The second bullet in Dave Winer's post about creating a maintainable and thriving web refers to the way money and competition is changing the landscape of blogging. Companies are putting together teams of bloggers to increase their readership and their revenues.

I think Fred Wilson's post on the topic spells it out nicely. I'm going to post a giant piece of that post, but if you find it as interesting as I did you'll want to visit his site to read the comments also. Fred wrote:
For years, I've been using curators to filter my web experience. I can't and won't subscribe to the hundreds (maybe thousands) of blogs I want to stay on top of. I realize that everything I write here, or on, unionsquareventures, or at newcritics, won't be read by every reader/subscriber. I know that all of you are doing the same thing as I am. We are relying on the world of social media curators to surface up the things that are interesting and we read that.

Techmeme has been the killer social media curator for my world of tech blogs. Lore has it that it was created using Scoble's OPML file. It doesn't matter to me if that's true or not, I love that story. Because my OPML file was unusable until I found Techeme and after that I stopped reading feeds and started reading curated feeds.

But curated systems will be gamed. Everything on the Interent will be gamed. And user generated content won't stay "user" generated forever. The pros will crash any party that's worth crashing and make it their own.

I don't think this is a bad thing, it's just worth noting.

Just when you are starting to get the hang of another new technology and starting to see the writing on the wall you are hit with a moment like this. I'd never heard the term "curated feed" before now. I was just noticing how worthless the local newspaper feed is because all stories receive equal billing, unlike the printed paper which contains headlines of varying sizes. I'd thought useful it'd be for someone to moderate stories and provide only stories I might find interesting. Glory be, I just read that Fred's been using "curated feeds" for years. I feel so inadequate.

Centralization Bad for Internet

How could tinyurl, feedburner, and webcite be bad things? "Centralizing stuff is not good for the Internet," wrote Dave Winer recently. De-centralization is at the core of RSS and re-use of content. Centralization is for control freaks, bean counters, and moochers.

Most of us love tinyurl for what it provides, but did you ever consider what happens when it breaks, or what would happen if it disappeared for good? Steve Rubel addresses the idea recently in his post entitled "Could a Billion TinyURLs Go 404?" The possibility certainly exists. A better solution for a maintainable Internet would be using our own tinyurl services, rather than relying on a centralized service which could easily become overloaded or go extinct for other reasons.

So what about feedburner? A glitch in this service could render all subscriptions through it useless, with no notification to the users. RSS was created as an infinitely scalable method for distributing content. Feedburner works by funnelling traffic through a central site for the purpose of counting hits. It's very tempting to want to know who's reading, but using feedburner to do so makes us no better than the control happy paper publishers we so often criticize.

For kicks I checked the preferred subscription method to local newspaper columnist Joe McAdory's blog and the feed(s) from nearby newspaper The Montgomery Advertiser. Neither used feedburner. I was relieved to find that, and reminded of a familiar Confucious saying--"He who lives in glass house shouldn't throw stones."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Solar Collector Alignment

According to this article about a Solar Heater in Mother Earth News:
The ideal angle at which to position a southfacing solar collector (in the Northern Hemisphere) or a north-facing collector (in the Southern Hemisphere) is your latitude plus 10°.

Looks like I'm at a touch over 32d latitude, which makes 42d the ideal angle. That's close enough to the 45d SWAG that I shouldn't have even bothered to note it...except that it's neat to know someone cared enough to make a recommendation.

Post Veterans' Day Thank You

On the way back from our Smokey Mountain vacation we took the old highway through Madisonville to get some smoked bacon from Benton's Country Hams. While waiting for our smoked bacon order to be freshly sliced to our liking, a gentleman noticed our Auburn University attire and asked "you folks are too young to remember the games, but have y'all ever heard of Jerry Wilson...or Tommy Lorino?"

He recalled meeting a large man named Jerry Wilson (and Tommy Lorino, both from the 1957 Nat'l Championship Auburn football team) in France during the war. He had asked "are you the Jerry Wilson that spent the afternoon in our backfield," referring to the Auburn vs Tennessee football game. I'm not sure if he played or if he was just another faithful fan, but the man was obviously in the presence of someone he admired. What's more, they were now on the same team, fighting for the USA. Jerry had responded by asking where he was from. "Aww...just a little town you've probably never heard of in Eastern TN called Madisonville" the man had answered. Jerry said he knew exactly where Madisonville was located because he went through there on the way to Gatlinburg...a trip many folks from Auburn made for honeymoons and anniversary trips. The man told us that his little town was like so many others since the Interstate had been built. He explained that Madisonville is now a place people travel by, not through. Such true words the man had shared. My wife and I were on our way back from Gatlinburg on our anniversary trip and had elected to take Hyw 411 so we could stop at Benton's. The trip north had been via Interstate, and had taken us right by his beautiful little country town.

It was nice meeting the gentleman, sharing his memories, and enjoying the flashback by visiting the smokehouse filled with the aroma of fresh pork. If you never visited a country slaughter house as a child you might not appreciate the smell as much as I did. For those of you--I hope there will always be Wal-Mart, Bruno's, and Kroger for your culinary purposes. Thanks to the military service of the man from Madisonville, Jerry Wilson, Tommy Lorino, and thousands of others, we have our choice. Thank you, US Veterans.

PS: Mr Allan Benton himself was there at his place of business too. The sausage was excellent, and I can't wait to try the bacon. It was reassuring to see that it's possible for a business to remain viable in a day of automated processing and imported goods. Hurray for the little guy!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Security Issues with Facebook, MySpace, and Social Sites

Security concerns with Facebook, Social Networking, and Web2.0 sites are huge, because they teach users to do all the wrong things.

Perhaps the worst offender is when an application asks for you to "authenticate" an application with your username and password from a third party site. Example--the app which includes your photos from on your Facebook page. This is teaching users to be "phished."

Jeremy Keith, a web developer in Brighton England, pledges to do the right thing in his "The password anti-pattern" post.
So here’s what I’m going to do: even if it costs me a contract in the short-term, I will refuse to implement any kind of interface that involves asking the user for a password from a third-party site. I urge you to do the same. And if you feel equally strongly about this, make your thoughts known: blog about it, talk about it…

I urge you to read his complete post for a better explanation of the problem.

There are also issues of privacy and Personally Identifiable Information which people politely ignore to be "social." It is ironic that organizations are being forced to eliminate PII online, but users are posting far more personal information by their own free will.

Security is not at all a priority when people are trying "cool" new things, because the "secure" way is rarely the fun way. It is unfortunate that security does not become a priority until after it is compromised.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Education's Use of Myspace, Facebook, Second Life

Have you ever read an article full of typos and grammar mistakes and questioned its legitimacy? As you spend a few hours setting up your educational Myspace page amidst thousands of other users who have spent years learning the culture and etiquette you should realize you are not the leader of this pack. Your youthful mistakes distract from the message you bring in the same way typos distract from what you read. This is not to say that you shouldn't try. Rather it is a reminder that the most efficient way to get a message out to a population is to use someone from that population spread the word.

If one of your employees loves participating in MySpace, Facebook, Second Life, or some other possible new media conduit, use that love and energy to do what you can't. That person who is familiar with the method, excited about the message, and motivated by having fun at work can quickly do something you may never be able to do--earn the respect of a target audience, and then teach them something new.

As for yourself...learn and participate, but don't kid yourself into thinking you're gonna be an instant expert.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Web2.0, Money, and Education

We (Education) really need to be learning and teaching more about how to make money on the Internet. The reason is not so that we can make money, but so that we know when we're being taken. Most of what we read about Web2.0 and Social Networking and 'blogging is firmly centered around the almighty dollar. Understanding how and why things work like they do requires knowledge of the online monetary system. The "how to 'blog" tutorials are great, but you should keep in mind how people get paid to write while you're reading them. In order to get reasonable statistics needed for maximizing profits, you need tracking information. The very nature of RSS prevents tracking exactly who reads what. The multitude of sites offering hit statistics and rankings should be your first clue that Web2.0 (a marketing term itself) is all about making money online.

'Blogging is a great evolution of the web so I don't want to hinder that process, but it is worthwhile to understand the monetary system before even reading the "what to do before you begin blogging" kinds of information.

You could do your own search and not bother with mine, but I'll list two hits which seem particularly relevant.
1) Google Adsense is a very common pay-per-click option. Users click on the ads and you get the money. Your job is to build a readership, knowing some percentage will click.
2) The second half of this post by is great! (notice the google ads?)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Microsoft Embracing the New 'Net

I try to save blog posts for after hours, but these links are worthy of notice. The parent Sharepoint blog is certainly worth a subscription for those of us considering its usage.

Microsoft and Facebook expand partnership

Microsoft Sharepoint Usage for Social Networking and "Communities of Practice"

Say whatever you'd like about Microsoft, but they will not remain a sleeping giant for long. The development teams are far from asleep. Apple appears content on grabbing short term revenue here and there. Sun hangs their hat on what is left of Java. Microsoft is very in touch with Web2.0. I love the way Photo Gallery now lets you upload directly to Flickr.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Social Networking Sites

It occurred to me last night why social networking sites are so popular with teens. Like the way we're trained to click here and there on the web itself, the key may not be in what SNS adds, but instead the key may be with its lack of penalty. Studies by Deborah Yurgelun-Todd at the McLean Hospital Neuroimaging Center are showing that adolescent brains are not fully developed to interpret emotion from visual cues, which could mean that the online experience for them is just as good as face to face.

Adults tend to rely on the gestures and sounds associated with a response as much as the actual words. This makes it more work for us to convey emotion via e-mail, text messaging, IM, and SNS than in a face to face meeting.

The latest generation will likely be better at expressing emotion online than most currrent adults, but their natural development should steer the ship toward a healthy combination of online and face to face interaction.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Cyber Security

SANS is a trusted source for security related material. While you may not care about the nitty gritty details of computer hacks and security incidents, you can certainly benefit from the daily tips offered there. See their Security Awareness Tip of the Day at

Solaris Patching
If you happen to be a Solaris admin, you should probably run "pca" (Patch Check Advanced) at least once to see if your systems are as well patched as you think. The patch utility is a single perl script which does more than a boatload of different Sun products...and better.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

4H Camp Day Three

Breakfast on the third day once again featured biscuits, bacon, grits, and eggs. When the total food waste for 110 plus was weighed, we had only 2.5 pounds!

Our morning lesson was Orienteering. I have used a compass before, but learning the parts of a compass and how to navigate was much fun. When we began navigating my son was completely lost. His compass wasn't working at all. The Instructor traded her compass and it still didn't work. We joked about his natural magnetism before she realized that he had purchased a stuffed eagle at the souvenoir shop and it was wrapped around his wrist. That eagle had magnets in the wings for clipping it onto things. His compass worked much better once the eagle wasn't near. We played some games using the compass for navigation and concluded our final lesson.

After a quick lunch, I checked my son out of school so he could ride home with me. He slept about an hour and a half on the way home. Even though he got a good night's sleep that night, he obviously benefitted from a forced nap the next day too. It was an exciting 3 days to say the least. I am incredibly grateful for teachers and a Principal who see the value in this experience and are willing to put their necks on the line to make it happen. There are no 3 days anywhere in grade school that will compare to these. Thank You to my Dearest Principal, Teachers, Camp Educators and others who made this trip possible.

4H Camp Day Two

The plan for day two was to have the boys get ready by 7am and we'd take a hike or something to pass the time before our 7:50 Flag Raising. One of the chaperones had to tell his kids to go back to bed at 4, since they were up showering and getting ready. The lack of a clock has both good and bad points. As I wandered out of my room at around 6:30, putting on my pants as I went, one of the boys noticed the belt in my hand. He screamed, "He's taking off his belt! Get back in your rooms!" Figuring that was my best opportunity to get things back in line I said "5 seconds...1,2." They were already in place. All I could do was laugh to myself.

The AL 4H Center serves great meals. Breakfast offered grits, eggs, bacon, and biscuits. We ate as much as we could eat, then weighed our scraps as before. The tally was 8.5 pounds and my table was one of those with nothing at all on the waste plate. A little competition goes a long way.

It was a chilly morning and our first lesson was Lake Ecology. We studied types of bugs and critters then waded into the lake up to our knees digging for anything that moves. We didn't find a whole bunch other than mud, but the snails (and some kind of penny thing I forget) were the type which live in good water. We were happy that the water was good, since leeches live in polluted water according to the "environmental indicators."

Our Principal shared with me during lunch that a man had approached her and asked "Do you let the kids take the canoes into that lake?" She responded in the affirmative and told him that our school even owns canoes which we use for regular trips. He looked rather puzzled and then asked, "Is this a private school?" She laughed "No, Sir," and thought again just how great our opportunities really are. The schools in our system are all good, but I'm very glad we live in the neighborhood where we do.

Our lunch waste from chicken strips and tater tots was up a little at 12 pounds or so, but still much improved from the initial 16.5 pounds.

After lunch we proved to our Instructor just how many nautical terms we already knew, then added parts of an oar to our vocabulary. We loaded up 3 per canoe and went out onto Lay Lake. It's pretty hard to handle a canoe in a strong crosswind, but we all managed to get out and back without assistance from the motorboat.

Our second afternoon session was rock climbing. The center has a new climbing wall with 3 levels of difficulty. The kids helped one another a ton with encouragement and pointing out where and how to move up. Climbing that wall is quite a workout.

Supper was excellent and our waste was down to 2 pounds. Yet another skit enforced the message not to waste food.

For sports night my tribe went to the putt-putt course first. Some of the boys went together and some paired up with girls for the course. It was very cute to watch. They all knew exactly what the best way to do every hole was, and were quick to share their excellence. It was nice to watch them encourage one another again though.

We played a bit more basketball, then took a break before Astronomy class. The staff had a tarp spread out in the middle of a large field where the kids sat or lay down for Astronomy. It was a perfectly clear night and slightly cool. Shortly after our Instructor started teaching a bright falling star streaked across the sky. She explained to us about what falling stars really are and that we should be experiencing showers for the next few weeks. Stars change colors with their age as they burn up. The color changes from blue to yellow to red to dark as they burn out. Stars appear to twinkle but planets generally do not. We listened to stories about constellations as she pointed them out with a lazer pointer in the night sky. It didn't touch the stars obvioiusly, but the beam was visible enough to point out stars of interest. It was a beautiful night and was enjoyed by kids and adults alike. A few took advantage of the stillness for an extra nap.

Once back at the boys' dorm, we again prepared for the night and wrote in daily journals. It was easier to get the boys to sleep this night, since it had been a very long day and the adrenaline rush was long since past. As we waited for the boys to fall asleep I had a nice visit with my roommate who had married a lady from my home town. It really is a small world.

4H Camp Day One

My son's elementary school is the one (out of five in our school system) which has managed to twist the Superintendant's arm into letting us (110 or so 4th graders plus teachers and chaperones) go to the 4H Center for 3 days of school. It's an educational experience that I wish every child could have. In fact, it's a shame that every adult doesn't get to go as a chaperone.

When we arrived the excitement was high. Boys ran wild looking for their rooms, and girls wandered their way too. The buildings were obviously not fragile, since these rooms see kids just like ours almost every day.

While the kids were in an Orientation session, the teachers and parents met with leaders from the 4H Center to determine rules for our group. Things like "one snack per child" were confirmed and they asked us about meal prayer. Neither the staff nor the teachers are allowed to lead a prayer. Parents or students apparently do have that legal option. A parent immediately volunteered and there were no objections by the rest of us. I'm sure there were non-Christians in the student body, but the pre-meal prayer was very comfortable for most of us. With administrative tasks out of the way we settled into education.

They divided us up into tribes so we'd have manageable class sizes. We were dubbed the Chickasaw tribe, which started with Ornithology. Our tribe had a Korean boy who had just moved to the US a few months ago. Watching the other boys help him out was nothing short of incredible. We learned what allows birds to fly and what types of beaks different birds have, and various other things. We each got our own binoculars and went in search of a bird. 2 o'clock in the afternoon with screaming kids all around doesn't make the best condition for bird watching, but our Instructor barged on, undeterred. They had built a "bird blind" for viewing a group of feeders nestled in a low corner. As we entered the structure this group of 18 kids got so quiet you could've heard a pin drop. It was fascinating to see them pointing out birds to one another. We visited the raptor cages to see injured birds they are caring for at the center. The great horned owl didn't seem too impressed by our presence. His expression suggested we'd best leave before he ripped out of his cage.

Our second class was called Team Initiatives. The class was about teamwork, and featured games similar to those you might see in leadership classes for adults. The group was given a task and had to come up with ways to solve the problem. There's always a leader in a bunch, and this group was no different. These tasks require input from several people to solve, however. They did an excellent job of listening to one another's ideas and trying different ways to solve a problem. If you doubt the ability of 4th graders to work together, you should have been there to see it. Our Instructor for the course had them eating out of her hand. They learned teamwork, integrity, strategy, and persistence...and had a great time doing it.

Meals at the Center are served family dining style. The kids set the table and brought food to the table. Bowls were passed and each person served themselves. At the end of the meal the waste from our plates was collected as solids and liquids, then weighed. We had a total of 16.5 pounds of waste from our first meal (spaghetti). It was explained that wasting food wastes energy, food, and money. Several skits were done at mealtime enforcing this concept.

After a short break we went out in a field for a campfire with more stories, skits, and educational fun. Kids circled 'round the fire while adults roasted marshmellows and made s'mores for all the kids. Yes, that's lots of marshmellows. Our Principal was seated on the ground next to the fire, assembling s'mores until she was club-fisted with melted marshmellow goo. I can't imagine a Principal more dedicated to her students.

After cleaning marshmellows from our paws we assembled for "sports night." My tribe went to volleyball and played boys against girls. I was afraid it'd be ugly, since the boys were seriously outnumbered, and girls tend to be more mature at this age, but the boys won handily...even tho we weren't keeping score. :)

We moved to basketball for a bit and divided the group into 2 even teams. We figured a full court game would wear them out before bed. Turns out they were pretty tired and we had an injury quick with short, tired fuses in abundance. To solve the problem another adult and myself played against the remaining kids. Basketball is a game where the height advantage allowed us to do that.

I shared a bunk bed with a teacher in the boys' dorm. As we were getting ready for bed we had them write in their journals about what they'd seen, done, and learned for the day. During journal time, I witnessed a pair of Korean boys working together. They would communicate in Korean, then the one whose English was better would spell words out in English. It was neat to watch.

It took a while before the lot of them went to sleep and the homesick gave way to exhaustion, but when the last one dropped we did as well. Apparently one of them had a dream that someone had stolen his sleeping bag, but he managed to find one for the rest of the night after waking us at 3:30 in the morning.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Voice Thread

It's an elephant, or so they say. Apparently my idea of using VoiceThread to create a presentation or slideshow is like using a sledgehammer to drive a tack, so grab a hammer if you want to try a new toy. It's blogger. It's slideshare. It's flickr. It's YouTube. It's entertaining...unless you hate to hear your own voice worse than you hate to see your own picture. Get over it. I did.

I created this little thread about making a good password to try it out. See

Hmmm...and they give you a friendly way to include it as an image...

I think it'll put your picture next to the voicethread if you make a comment. Crap. Now they've got my picture and voice.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Telemarketing: a Two Way Street

When a telemarketer calls I like to see how long I can keep them on the phone. This prevents them from calling and bugging someone else. Tonight's call was from my beloved College of Engineering. He couldn't figure out how to nicely get rid of me, since I did offer that I would love to support Engineering...on one condition.

I babbled several minutes about how I work for Extension at the Univ, and how our statewide network of offices is ideally suited for providing information from the main campus to the people and blah, blah, blah rambling here and there. He was surprised to find that 4-H is a function of Extension, right here on campus. We shared stories about new buildings and buildings to be abandoned ('bout time).

Anyway, the condition was this. I'd like to support Extension *and* Engineering. Since I graduated from one and work for the other, it'd be really nice to be able to make a donation which could be recognized by each. Nope, I'd not like to split the money between the 2 and let them each do their own thing. I'd like to support a program in Engineering which would be delivered by Extension. We have offices all over this state, especially for that purpose.

I made a similar offer/pledge several years ago and it was coded for "Outreach" when I received the contribution form. That's exactly what I told them I would not do, since I despise the idea that Land-Grant Institutions would allow the word the word "Extension" to be replaced with "Outreach." The AU Seal has special significance to me, as it bears the words "Research, Instruction, and Extension." When the official seal is changed, I'll drop my swords and accept that Extension has no right to be recognized for anything other than Agriculture. 4-H will have to carry their own flag (which would probably be easier without Extension anyway).

There is one Engineering department on campus which already is affiliated with Extension (hmm...I wonder how many Universities have an Ag Engineering major, and how many Engineering Colleges claim it). If they remember it exists I'll write the check. If they actually try to funnel research based education through Extension in something not related to Agriculture...I'll at least double my offer.

Die, Facebook and Flickr!

Die, Facebook.
XXXXXX sent a message to the members of Cooperative Extension Second Life.

To read this message, follow the link below:

Facebook, if you wanted me to get the message, you could've sent it to me. If you don't care about me, I don't care about you.

Flickr, you're dying without my help.
It was a perfectly valid suggestion to help them make money and increase usability. Over a month later...
Hello Greg:

Thanks for writing Flickr Customer Care, and many, many
apologies for the massive delay in our response.

I'm sorry, but currently there is no feature to allow for
ordering of prints from the site.


On 14th August 2007, gparmer wrote:
> When using the mobile website (or the full version,
> actually) from a mobile device (tried Motorola Q and Treo
> 700wx) I was unable to "ORDER PRINTS." That seems like
> be a decent money-maker for you, and a nice convenience
> users. Thanks for a nice job with flickr. -greg

And thus the honeymoon for Flickr ends too. You could've teased me just a little and I'd have forgiven the tardiness. At least I've learned to get the pre-nup with Web2.0 relationships.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Marketing Close To Home

I'm not sure the group of college students residing on our lawn today should've been considered "tailgaters"; they were sitting under a canopy tent in horrible weather, drinking warm beer. They are certainly dedicated young men, whose spot shall be reserved for the game tomorrow.

I asked if they knew someone who worked in this building, or had family associated with Extension. They seemed a touch worried (each had an open beer, and not the first) that I was asking and picked a scapegoat in the group who had written a paper on Extension some time ago. "He knows about Extension" they said. Turns out he remembered that the "System" in AL consists of AU and AL A&M (I actually helped with the A&M part).

Their impressions of ACES? 1) Our 1st floor bathroom urinal is huge. 2) Lots of pizza deliveries today. 3) The mirrored windows are eery. It leaves one wondering what's happening in there.

They all remembered 4-H, so calling the building 4-H Headquarters struck a note. They didn't know of Francesca Adler-Baeder and her Alabama Marriage and Family Handbook, but one of them was struggling in a colleague's class on a similar topic. I suggested he'd probably get introduced to Dr Adler-Baeder in due time, and pointed out that we distribute her excellent publication.

They were excited by news that our Auburn Cookbook was only $10 and were ready to go make the first Christmas purchase of the year. I think they were just excited to have something to do, but I'll admit the response made me feel good. By next weekend maybe we can have a display set up to show off the Wild Game Cookbook too.

As I left campus an hour later I saw that one of the new recruits still had the pencil I'd given him behind his ear. I encourage you to try a little personal advertising. It is MUCH more satisfying than spending a day in meetings.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and Extension

Did you see the news this morning where they highlighted how Wal-Mart's growth has slowed? Other big box stores and supercenters are outpacing their growth. Their plan is the same as the one Starbucks' recently used. "Re-focus" on what made them strong. Extension would do well to take note. It is important to stay in touch with new trends, but that doesn't mean abandon your strengths.

For the last 2 weekends I've watched football fans flood our campus as they "tailgate" before home football games. There are tents, grills, widescreen TVs, and spreads that would make your Grandmother proud. Many of these people are tailgating on Extension grounds, then knocking on the door to use our facilities. I seriously doubt they have any idea what Extension is. Oh, what irony! We'll build a virtual island in a virtual land on a computer thousands of miles away, but not enlighten the people who are literally knocking on the door? Wake up and smell the coffee!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Cool Microsoft 'Blog

There are recent posts about Media Center, RSS, video production, photo gallery, and other niceties.

Microsoft's social networking site is "". It claims a very large user base primarily because MS owns hotmail (all hotmail accounts are valid). MS Word 2007 has the ability to publish directly to a 'blog (spaces,sharepoint,blogger,etc).

Vista's photo gallery (new release due soon) looks very nice and should help in the battle against Flickr and Snapfish.

In a new world of social networking tools, it is ironic that MS could've taken on the role of sleeping giant. Ironically, "spaces" has better support for RSS than myspace or facebook, and it will use Atom for publishing. They've pledged support for OpenID. They're becoming "open." Weird.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Obesity in the US

One cure to rising obesity rates is simple. Turn off the electricity. Knowing that it'd work leads to many thoughts about our society. Convenience is a double edged sword.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Delicious Stinks

I much prefer diigo for "social tagging." It also adds social annotating (shared post-its on the www), which could be an awesome tool.

My #1 problem with delicious was this, right out of their FAQ page which explains that I cannot import and share my current bookmarks:

How do I share all my imported bookmarks?
To make a bookmark public, click the "share" link located on the right of its description. We don't have a "share all" button right now for a few reasons...

So right out of the gate, they are making excuses for why I can't continue to make my bookmarks public via their system. Customer service is not their strong point.

I've been saving my bookmarks online since Netscape was the world's web browser. I'll not waste my time moving thousands of bookmarks one at a time.

If you watch the RSS feed from my delicious account, you will see added bookmarks. That's because I've set diigo to automatically update delicious for me, rather than force others to use the information system I've chosen. The *only* advantage I can find with delicious is its large user base. Thank goodness diigo offers a bridge between systems that lets me do what I want...with the potential for other more exciting features as well.

Monday, August 20, 2007

There's a growing trend to evaluate our educational system based on test scores. Undoubtedly, our test scores will improve, but at what price? Are those tests designed to help students who will never attend college? It might surprise some people to realize that half of our students are below average! As important as education is, Academia will not save the world by raising test scores. It is a worthy goal to bring a college education within reach of all children, but not realistic. Luckily, there will always be a need for manual labor.

There is a solution which helps everyone. The solution is to teach all students a variety of skills, and not just academic skills. Among those skills is the ability to do things with your hands. John Ratzenberger created because of what he sees as a crisis in America. You probably remember him as the actor who portrayed "Cliff" on "Cheers." He is also the host of a TV series called "Made in America" and the author of a book called "We've Got It Made In America," which I own and would be glad to share. His message is that kids love to tinker, and we need to foster that inquisitiveness. It is the curiosity of how stuff works which makes for better engineers, inventors, and even art museum archivists(1). What he does not say, but bears pointing out, is that a manual skill can be applied even if one does not pursue higher education.

Ratzenberger's position is that promoting manual skills prepares kids to be the inventors of tomorrow. This past summer my 9 year old son attended a week long summer camp called "Camp Invention." It would come as no surprise to Ratzenberger or myself that the kids' favorite part of the week was the "Take Apart" activity during the "I Can Invent" module. They had a blast learning to use hand tools and examing the gears and pulleys inside discarded appliances.

While the idea behind No Child Left Behind is an honorable one, it will do us more harm than good if it serves to distract our efforts from those things which have historically been our strengths. The teaching of technical or manual skills is just as imperitive as the teaching of the 3 Rs or digital skills if we are to prosper in a future of unknown problems solved by unknown tools.

(1) an Aug 19, 2007 article in our local paper depicts art museum archivist using an open end wrench to tighten a nut on the tail of a 1930 Savoia Marchetti flying boat. My initial response to seeing the image was "Why on earth would he be ruining that nut with an open end wrench? A six point box end wrench should minimize the marring of a museum piece!"

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wikipedia's Weasel Words

There are apparently a growing number of useful wikis available on the 'net. Wikipedia has a Manual of Style that aims to make the site read more like an encyclopedia. It is interesting reading if you've ever wondered what makes wikipedia a civil place for contributors and credible resource for researchers, while maintaining the feel of an encyclopedia. The term weasel words is among my favorites taken from that manual. The full weasel words page is a quick read, but just in case you're a strict RSS type reader I'll include the following excerpt:

Wikipedia, as an encyclopedia, aspires to be authoritative by definition. Including the opinions of "some people" in an encyclopedia article implicitly gives credibility to their opinion and vouches for its relevance, because if it weren't important or relevant, it wouldn't have been included. Given the unique nature and status of Wikipedia, this makes its articles troublingly easy to exploit in this way in order to spread hearsay, personal opinion and even propaganda. The first line of defense against this is verifiability policy, which provides specific criteria for the sort of support a claim must have to survive a challenge in article space.

As you read the core content policies you see how ironic it is that Wikipedia in one way doesn't contain any data. It is a collection of metadata with references to published data--effectively a huge database of links maintained by the public. How backward is that?

Monday, August 13, 2007

PTA Needs

Tonight's PTA meeting featured the results of a survey which asked about interest in information meetings. Respondents entered ideas and comments for future speakers and events. Top billing went to "study tips & rewards", but tied for second place was "Internet Safety." I doubt there's anything unique about our school. I wish this were already part of standard Extension programming, but I'll start with my own brand of good will. We can do this, Extension People.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Universal Dispenser II

If you happen to own a Kenmore side-by-side refrigerator (or one of its sisters of a different name), there's something you should know, other than how NOT to use it to dispense Coke.

While removing my Coke slushy from the ice reservoir, I determined that a mixture of ice, Coke, and running water tends to produce some very sharp ice cubes. These icy razors don't last long enough to serve a useful purpose, unless you think combining the medieval practice of bloodletting with the 1970's practice of making a Coke Icee to be useful.

Given that this fiasco happened at the end of a very long day, my reaction was somewhat similar to that of Tom Hanks' character in Money Pit when his evening bath went awry.

Be safe out there. The kitchen is no place for a hurry-up offense.

The Universal Dispenser

How not to save time using your Kenmore side-by-side refrigerator with "ice-n-water through the door"--

1) place one can of Coke in the ice container for quick cooling.
2) dispense one glass of ice for a family member
3) dispense a second glass of ice, complete with chilled Coke ready for immediate consumption...(after adding a triple shot of your favorite "relaxing" additive).

This could be considered a "feature" since the fridge will actually dispense Coke and ice together through the door, but it is a very messy feature.

As it turns out, there is a bar which stirs the ice to keep it in individual pieces and allow free feeding to the door. That bar can also rip an aluminum can in half.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Doubt the importance of perspective? "Clockwise" is the opposite of what you'd expect when looking at a wall clock from the wall's perspective!

Always consider the other point of view.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Another Sign

This video camera is located a few miles from my home. Looks like "legal" suggested they announce the camera's presence, since it is in public. Apparently "facilities" nor the copy editor really mastered those 4th grade contractions.

"Your" is actually a common misspelling of "You're."

(k1v1n, thanks for the comment on my previous post. I'd have replied but I didn't wanna spoil this one!)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

People at SGI

The first individual I met on my morning ride was a well-tanned lady about my age, walking 3 dogs. "Good Morning!" she exclaimed with a smile, seemingly geniunely happy to see me. I returned the smile, the gesture, and pedaled on. It was interesting because her confidence and assertiveness was very attractive, although she was as normal as the proverbial "girl next door." I speculated that she might be a "local."

The next group of 3 ladies were focused entirely on themselves. They seemed to be discussing the woes of their lives and were oblivious to me or my "Hi." I couldn't help but compare them to a TV show of sisters entertaining bad marriages. The reason was obvious, I thought.

A man in his 30s jogged passed and managed a "good morning" even as he was panting for breath. He was apparently taken by the surreal surrounding of the island and was pushing himself pretty hard to get some exercise and private time. That was why I was out too, afterall.

At a narrow on the path I passed a girl in her 20s, quite well covered in clothing with a hat pulled down over her head. Her complexion was rather pale as you might expect of someone who is quite shy and reclusive in personality. My "Good Morning" was acknowledged and almost, barely, kinda sorta returned out of politeness. Wow, I thought. She should get out more.

There were also a couple of older ladies headed to the pool in their covertible VW bug, and others who made for interesting people watching, but my zen moment (or whatever JAY wants to call that) was already set in stone. While I could identify much more with the man grasping for air, I'd most like to be like the self-confident lady who was out enjoying her morning walk with her best friends. The primary thing differentiating her from the younger girl was attitude. Don't let people get you down--approach life with a positive attitude and you'll reap rewards (and smiles!) from people you don't even know.

Saturday, June 30, 2007


Why do people try so hard to make simple stupid things sound important?

I'm putting up an electric fence around my rose garden as a deer deterrant. Lowe's had a package of danger signs which I purchased to warn away children and neighbors, should they wander near the fence. A plastic yellow sign which says "Electric Fence" (in three languages, for well travelled deer) seemed self-explanatory, but nooo...this is so much more...

The packaging points out that they have "two holes in top for fastening to fence wire" which I thought was nice of them. But it continues, "or for nailing to wood post." Wow! Without those holes I couldn't have done it.

Lest you think I'm being over-critical, let me share the final line of the description. "MADE OF RUSTPROOF PLASTIC." I'll sleep well tonight knowing my plastic signs will never rust.

What will them thar Tennessee folks (Fi-Shock inc) think of next? Dehydrated powder?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Manual Arts

John Ratzenberger (Cliff Clavin) was on GMA this morning promoting Pixar's new Ratatouille film. His other comments were most notable to me. He started the "Nuts, Bolts, and Thingamajigs Foundation" to foster manual skills required by industries.

His book, Made in America, honors skilled labor within the United States. The following excerpt caught my attention:

ON WORKERS: The manual arts always has and always will take precedence over the fine arts. Everything physical that the fine arts depends on—from theaters to canvases to printing and binding—depends on the manual arts. Educators who make the rules have bought into the popular notion that we’ve moved out of an industrial economy and into an information age, and therefore, they think, every student has to be educated in the same cookie-cutter way that ignores the importance of manual skills.


I guess I should at least look for his show on the Discovery Channel.

Information Systems

The most important part of an information system is not what features it has, it is who uses the system. Wherever your network of people and information resides, that is where you must be to operate effectively.

The World Wide Web is an information system. The world participates and search engines like google make it useful. It'd be technically simple to create an all new WWW and use a different port and protocol, but futilely ignorant. The world uses the WWW. Join the system or be irrelevant. is effective because that is the wiki that the world updates. There must be millions of other public wikis, but they don't work as well as wikipedia...because the people use wikipedia. It is an information system all its own. Join the system or be irrelevant to it.

Digg, Delicious, and reddit are information systems for labelling and sharing information on the Internet. These systems can be useful when that is where the people and information reside. Same with myspace,facebook,live spaces,xanga, and tons of others. Which tools will eventually win over the people? Those will be the ones with relevance.

How many information systems exist within your organization? How do you migrate people from one system to another? Every system has it's strengths and weaknesses, so 100% buy in is impossible when you suggest any "upgrade." The result is a splintered mess of information systems which do not work. The solution is seldom technical. The solution lies with the people.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Life's Lessons

Years ago while I was working as a software engineer at a small company I was reminded to respect those who take pride in their the janitor. I had moved my pc and was wiping the dust off my desk (as any anal-retentive engineer might do) when the janitor appeared in my cubicle doorway. He was quite put out by the fact that I was cleaning my own desk. It took a bit to sink in what this man was telling me. He was quite proud of the way he did his job. Cleaning was his duty and he took it very seriously. I've thought back to that moment many times. Take pride in what you do to gain the respect of others.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Professional Development Challenge?

Anyone up for a challenge?

Professional Development for anyone associated with education should include updating It'll be easy to add to your list of personal goals. It'll be a little tougher to add it to your co-workers' list of goals. It'll be even harder to get credit noted as part of promotion and tenure, but it *should* happen.

The reasons are many. Fill in your own. Meanwhile, start with updating a private wiki if you'd like, but make it a priority to edit Blogs may be nice because everyone has something to say, but wikipedia is better because everyone has something to add!

The best part if the deal is that your additions will then be reviewed and made better by the largest group of editors in the world.

The challenge is to make it happen.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Saving iTunes to non-iPod

I don't like sharing external links via blog, but this one is likely very useful for so many of us. My experience with iTunes was that it didn't like anything other than an iPod. This should eliminate that problem.

Sagging Door Repair

Originally uploaded by gparmer
I got tired of slamming the side door to our garage to make it close. The fix was easier than I expected, so I'm sharing...

(The "Network Redneck" content is simply that I'm able to be social after taking out the trash without using foul language.)

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Everyone Comes Around At Their Own Pace

When you introduce a new idea or concept to someone, don't automatically expect them to share your enthusiasm. Everyone needs time to adjust to new ideas. If you're reading this you probably are someone who "comes around" to new tech ideas fairly quickly. On the other hand, most folks need time for things to really sink in. In fact, it is a common response for people to be defensive about their old way of doing things. When a person is heavily invested in something, change is difficult (and often expensive). If you doubt this concept applies to you...give it a little while to sink in. You'll come around.

Thursday, June 7, 2007


I don't really want a picture a day of me, but if "I" were a plant or a termite or a garden...the tools could really be neat...

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Random snippets from the day (2 from AA's twittering)

Interesting movie about learning in the future..."Shift Happens"

'Nuther social networking site --

How many social relationships can a person maintain?
Dunbar's Number

Source code search tool

MDM -- Master Data Management -- new buzzword. Rich Kochhar's advice "Don't start with the technology as the centerpiece of the solution. Start with the corporate strategy."

Funny...back to that question..."What is the strategic goal of the University?"

Saturday, June 2, 2007


I was recently discussing with a colleague that RSS feeds and newsreaders weren't really anything new, since Usenet has been doing that since 1979. Why should I really care about RSS? The difference I was told, is that Usenet is now gone but RSS is still here. I'm not really sure which viewpoint was more obsurd.

Usenet news is as popular now as it ever has been. My organization abandoned our feed because we were unable to keep up with the volume. We kind of let it slip into oblivion without a second thought. When you are researching a technical problem and don't find the answer you need on what do you do next? You click "google groups" of course, since there's as much up to date technical information (if not more) available there as archived on the web. Did you know that Google Groups searches a Usenet News archive? If you'd like to download audio books or other likely copyrighted works while "flying under the radar" where do you turn? Still Usenet News. Sites like "" have nice interfaces to let you read or download news, since you've probably forgotten or never heard of the now ancient "nn" news reader and it's many counterparts. The interfaces may have changed, but Usenet News lives on.

That brings us to RSS feeds. 'Blogs, forums, and discussion boards all tend to have RSS built into their websites. RSS gives us a mechanism similar to Usenet News (syndication) for obtaining information. What's new is that this technology exists over the top of web pages. In other words, it is basically a way to subscribe to only the updated pages on web sites which cover topics of your interest. That's almost perfect, since it means you can use a newsreader (like Google Reader) to get new content without having to visit a list of websites. What's just as important is that the same content is also accessible from a web browser for those slow adopters not inclined to use a newsreader.

I say "that's almost perfect" because there's very little reason (ok, no reason at all) to keep an RSS feed on topic. This is my 'blog and even though I've posted relatively few times, the topics are all over the map. Eventually the tagging systems and filtering mechanisms will evolve to maximize the signal to noise ratio in RSS. Until then, I'm not terribly impressed with RSS, but will continue to use it just as my colleagues continue to use "Google Groups."

Incidentally, it seems quite simple to feed Usenet News to a website and syndicate it via RSS. Is that not being done? Seems like a great project for or google.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

1936 Nash/Lafayette Engine

Originally uploaded by gparmer
The craftsmanship from 1936 is nice. No computers were harmed in the production of this engine. Almost every nut here is fine threaded. Note the safety wire on rod and main caps. The prominent plumbing is the oil feed to the main and rod bearings. Apparently they hadn't mastered the art of drilling internally through the length of the block yet. I've got 2 of these now, and hoping to build one that runs. Why? I don't know, other than preservation of history. The second engine has one *very* busted cylinder. Oh well.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Free HDTV -- Telecommunications' Best Kept Secret

Cable television companies and Satellite TV providers have managed to grab such a large percentage of the TV viewing market that people have forgotten free Over the Air (OTA) transmissions exist. It still wouldn't be worth mentioning *if* the FCC weren't forcing TV stations to switch to a digital signal. What it means for consumers is that if you're willing to put up with a 1960s style outdoor antenna you can get free HDTV.

Since we are deep into the transition phase (analog is set to go away completely by Feb 17, 2009) most stations seem to already be broadcasting a digital signal. Actually, most of the stations in Montgomery, AL and Columbus, GA are broadcasting at least 3 digital signals. There is typically a High Definition version, a Standard Definition version, and an all weather version for each station.

Still not convinced to put up an antenna? Consider this. Our local cable company charges several dollars extra per month for the HD package. They have a total of 6 possible HD channels, none of which are as clear as that provided via an OTA antenna. The cable company doesn't distribute the "extra" channels which stations are broadcasting. The Satellite providers offer more HD channels at an even higher price, but my ignorant legistors won't let me waste my money on local channels at all, let alone HD versions. To top it off, the best looking channel on our TV, bar none, is Alabama Public Television. It's shocking, when you consider I'm comparing to the high end HDTV signal offered by Dish Network...including HD Discovery.

FWIW--I bought a Samsung DLP TV from because it was relatively cheap and I had no expectation of getting an HD signal. Even the TVs at Best Buy looked pretty crappy relative to our old Standard Definition set (as in, they didn't look much better...Standard Def on a widescreen can even look worse!). It seemed like it'd be a waste of money to get a really nice tv and then feed it a crappy signal. Well...(especially) with the OTA antenna...the Samsung looks as good as any I've seen, including sets that cost much more and are fed a paid-for signal from the cable company. If you pass a rusted mobile home and think how well off you are, check to see if there's an antenna. They just might be laughing at YOU! Now you have 2 reasons to be ashamed.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Very Slow WinXP

The automagic update service in WinXP has been causing users fits. Machines are so bogged down they appear to be locked up. The latest from ComputerWorld--

"Microsoft swears Automatic Updates lockup fix works"
The "svchost/msi issue" issue has plagued Windows users, particularly those running Windows XP, for months. For more info...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Urban Chickens

Apparently my better half was attracted to my agrarian roots. She's decided we need fresh eggs. Google tells me she's far from alone in this desire for "city chickens". When she shared with the kids we all got quite a laugh. Our son said, "Let's name them Chicken Nugget, Chicken Tender, and Chicken Finger." He's my boy alright. He was convinced it was like the Alpaca and sheep suggestions (which thank goodness never happened) until we built an 8x8x8 chicken coop. There's no turning back now. My wife says we can't eat any pet that has a name, so we'll have to eat the eggs only. Time will tell.

(Warning: non-PETA approved material follows!)
We've agreed to purchase 1/4th of a 4H Steer any day now. Don't you know that calf had a name too. I can hardly wait for one of those tender pampered steaks.

If you see pictures of chickens scattered amongst our family photos, now you know why. There's plenty of Redneck left in this Network guy. Aren't you glad you're not our neighbor?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Introducing the Book

Most of us have seen this already, but it fits in with the "Shiny New Penny" concept soooo well...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Shiny New Penny Syndrome

My supervisor gets credit for the term "shiny new penny syndrome," but I'll help spread it. If you're in IT, you probably know someone with this issue. He loves the new gadget, the neat gizmo, the cool idea, the latest buzz. He's always excited about what he's found and looking for a way it can solve a problem (oftentimes a problem we don't even have!). After he's played with the penny a while it begins to tarnish, he gets bored, and he moves on in search of another new penny.

IT professionals must be careful not to let social trends and "the shiny new penny syndrome" affect the way we conduct our professional lives. If every new and fun thing we find gets touted as a must-have technology then we lose our credibility. It makes us no better than the boy who cried wolf. It also means we can't give full support to the technologies which we have in place and working.

That leads to my cardinal rule of IT. "Everyone Comes Around At Their Own Pace." I'll save that for a later post, but I'm sure you can figure out what it means without explanation.

Friday, May 18, 2007

ESPA Conference Trip

We blew right through Mobile hoping for a few hours of socializing on some of the nicest beaches in the US...what we found was an afternoon of rain, so the balcony had to suffice for a nice visit and discussion of work.

Lab setup in conference room went pretty well, but they had to lock up at 10pm, and we needed food, extension cords, and some final prep for the presentation.

'Bout 1am I thought..."It really would be nice to have the presentation printed for handouts." I connected the VPN, installed the network printer for the nearest office, and printed 60 double sided, collated, and stapled copies of the presentation. Damn it's nice to be a Network Redneck and know how to do that so quickly and easily. Anne picked up the handouts and final bits of equipment from that office about 7:15am, and we were all set to go before 8 o'clock. 30mins to spare was just about right for stress prevention.

The presentation went great. It was nice to put faces with the voices we talk to on the phones. We even had some attendees from North Carolina...I wonder if John put them up to it? :)

Monday, April 30, 2007

Blogs Themselves

My eXtension buddies claim blogging as something one should do because "everyone has something to say." To take that one step farther, I'll suggest that it allows a person some therapy from the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People." It does so by allowing one to vent about things in their circle of concern, while spending our productive time within our circle of influence. With a little luck, someone will read your posts who *does* have influence over things with which you are concerned.

Blogging is more about the writer than the reader. Much of the notion is exactly like a diary. No need to be defensive -- indeed the opportunity for learning does exist.

Plugging back in to the Social Network

As a result of plugging back in...I've already touched base with a bunch of dear old friends, learned some IT stuff, and scored 2 free 1937 flathead engines. Now back to work...

Human Defensiveness

Why are we so defensive? It's more than fear, miscommunication, or intimidation, but those all seem to contribute. The trick is to not let your defensiveness prevent you from listening to the other point of view.

I'm here partly because I was defensive about my "social network." I was complaining about mine and was told, "you need a new network." While that was true, the reality is that my social network of years past had become so successful that it was interfering with work, family, and other fun. At that point I cut the best part of it off completely for several years. Like most everything else in life, the key is taking all things in moderation.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

First Post

See...the irony of my (lost) first post is that it said..."apparently blogging started in 1995. After 8 years I guess it is about time for me to try it." In case you're sleepy, or your math is horrible, that was 2003! Here we are 4 years later and I realize that "Network Redneck" is the most apropos of my blogs to take public. I've been posting primarily on a daily work blog, which I contend should not be public for security reasons. On the other hand, my colleagues are into social networking at the moment. Being as I find people, personalities, and the human condition in general to be fascinating...I just had to join in.


Well I'm back. It's been a 4 year hiatus from this address, and the archives are gone. Boo hiss.