Monday, August 18, 2008

Thinking too much?

Sometimes I have this feeling that I'm thinking about too many different things at the same time. For example, right now I have four main technical projects at work, two at home, I'm reading 4 books at the same time, 3 podcasts weekly (I've reduced that from about two months ago) plus news and stuff.

It's not the busiest time-wise that I've been in my life. I still have time to watch the Olympics, work on a jigsaw puzzle and play some Wii (mostly Soulcalibur Legends and Boom Blox). The problem is the mental cost of not being able to focus on anything specific for enough time. I have been coming home earlier than usual and more tired than usual. Quite worrisome.

And is this improving any time soon? Not really. Some of the projects at work have to finish in the next week or so, but new ones will take their place. I'll be going to Vegas for KDD this weekend, which will probably give me more ideas of other projects to do at home.

But one of the things that I feel like I'm being most wasteful about is that not only I haven't been finishing most projects, but when I do get somewhere I don't really write it down to both remind myself later and try to give something back to my readers as a token of going through things and suggestions of what they should look into. So I'll try to be a little better about that from now on. Easier to write about a book that I've finished than write emails that friends never reply, or when they do I take months to reply back.

So, what was the last book that I've read? Well, I actually finished two at the same time:

Leadership Brand: Developing Customer-Focused Leaders to Drive Performance and Build Lasting Value by Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood

Quite an interesting book, but unfortunately I wasn't able to absorb too much out of it, because it's more focused on building leadership on your company, creating a theme for it, and making it something visible to the outside world, and it's really not the level that I usually operate. I'm not even sure why I bought this book, but it was on my bookcase, so I decided to read it.

Sunstorm by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter

I really like Stephen Baxter. I thought this was another very well-done book. I liked it more than the first of the trilogy, Time's Eye. I actually bought the trilogy when I heard of the death of Arthur C. Clarke. I always wanted to read it and found it was a good opportunity. I was actually at the bus reading the news and went on my Kindle and bought the trilogy. Later I found out that I had already had this idea before and I had the trilogy on hardcover.

I'm not going to any details about the book, as anything might spoil part of it. As all Stephen Baxter books, I'd only suggest it to the hard sci-fi fans and not the ones that like nice stories in a futuristic environment. The technologies were interesting, but maybe a little lame. The connection of it all and the reaction of the world to tragedy was interesting.

Anyway, as I said, I won't get into any more details. I'll just mention one thing: I really like my Kindle. Great device to read books. Unfortunately not so great for other things. I tried newspapers (and still have a rolling subscription of at least one newspaper at all times), but it's just hard to skim through it and see if anything catches your attention. And that's how I usually read newspapers. But for books... Ah... One of the things that differentiates it from my bookshelf is that I can see all the books that are there waiting to be read. My bookshelf has too much noise of read books. I usually just delete the books I've read from my Kindle (I can re-download them at any time anyway), so it's easy to see what is there waiting for my attention. Also buying new books is way too easy. Very dangerous! I read some news or listen on a podcast about a book that sounds interesting and I get my Kindle, check if it's available and if it is I usually just buy it there. Very dangerous to my finances.

I think that's what I had to write today. Long post, I know... But hopefully with some interesting content.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The reality of our taste

I was reading this post on The Amateur Gourmet and it reminded me how all our experiences are tainted by subjective connections to other things in our lives.

Getting out of food, a typical example of this is on human relationships. If you had a big disagreement with somebody in the past, it's very common for you to never really trust that person's judgment. You have to force yourself to be neutral to be able to correctly compare that person's ideas with others'.

For me I found a different easy way out. I've been so grumpy lately that every idea seems bad. No effort involved in trying to level the the ideas to the "best common denominator". Why I've been grumpy? That requires probably a post that will take longer to write than the 2 minutes I have before having to leave to go to work. So maybe some other day.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

VMware time bomb

This must have been a lot of fun for VMware users

Very hard to test something like this. But I won't get into more details here. Maybe this should be a topic for my other blog.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Microsoft Surface... Interestingly odd

So Microsoft seems to now be pushing its "Surface" product/concept of interaction. It has even, according to this article, installed some in Sheraton hotels in some cities in the US. Go to the article to see a video of how it is supposed to work.

So what do I think about it? I think the goal is great. But I'm not sure they have the right applications in mind yet. They love the flipping through pictures idea and the iPhone multi-touch style zoom, but pay attention to the transition: press a light corner of the table??? Also, they show in some videos on their website the ability to integrate with phones and other active elements.

And that's where I think they are getting things wrong: instead of right now working with everybody to discuss how they can integrate the technology with all devices they are going through a private testing only with selected distributors of Microsoft technology. So, where the innovation can happen will not receive any SDK until who-knows-when. And when this happens, it's hard to say what the compatibility will be with devices.

In a way, this is what Apple got wrong at first with the iPhone, but now is slowly remedying it. They launched a great new way of people interacting with their phone and at first you had to break into the device to install more useful software. Now you can buy it through Apple. Things are still limited, and will always be, because Apple wants to control the iPhone experience, but you can already see the explosive reaction of the development community. That's what people are looking for.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A window to the past

I don't know for how much longer this will be available, but it's funny:,-92.239196&panoid=SqGxboge__NMt6Fy4liZ0w&cbp=1,98.31571236932916,,0,-2.044612009305669&ll=34.89151,-92.238336&spn=0.010789,0.02223&t=h&z=16

It's a picture from the Google maps streetlevel view of a house on fire with firetrucks and everything. Quite amazing quality.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Sometimes they are hard to believe

Sometimes you are browsing through news items and you come across something that just doesn't make too much sense. Today, it was this article on the Daily Telegraph:

Sexual harassment okay as it ensures humans breed, Russian judge rules

I can see that in some cases it's hard to do something about these sexual harassment cases, mostly because the threshold of what defines a sexual harassment is always a little fuzzy and it's hard to find good evidence. I think that's the case here, but the newspapers took it in a completely different way: that it's a good thing to have. Oh, I'm not trying to say that hitting on a co-worker is a good thing. It actually creates a very bad working environment and that's usually the last thing you want if you want to ensure people are happy and productive.

What I'm trying to point out here is that the way this news was written, it looks like the judge was just oldfashioned and wrong. Although judges make mistakes, it feels like there is a part of the story that is missing here.

When you know that a program has been over-engineered

From time to time I have to be reminded what is bad software engineering. And it usually happens by accident, reading an article that was about something completely different. This morning, it was this interesting article on ComputerWorld:

Free Windows XP tuneup: Put new life into an old workhorse

Look at the trick to add "Copy to Folder..." and "Move to Folder..." to your context menu: you go to the registry and add some completely meaningless GUIDs somewhere and... magic! If somebody on the design team decided to add this capability, you either should have put it in a structured menu to add this, or just have removed it from the system altogether!

The other tips are a little bit less worrisome. Interesting article. If my main operating system wasn't a Mac OSX, I would probably use some of those hints.

Oh, and don't think that I consider the OSX great. But it's very simple. It does have some "hidden features", but they usually don't require knowing magic keys here and there. Just digging through menus you didn't know existed, or calling command line tools.

It all always reminds me of the horror that I felt when I had to code using MFC. I bought the great The MFC Answer Book and was shocked by the amount of hidden and under-documented features (well, this was back in 1999 - maybe some things were documented after that) that just did magic to your applications. Things like (this is a fictitious example): "want to create a window with three panels, where two are static and a third can be resized? Just override this "CMainFrame::OnWindowInitialization()" and return "FALSE" and it will just work. Huh?

Anyway, I'm glad that's something far in my past. And also far in Microsoft's past (it's still supported, but there are way better ways of building "rich" UIs right now in Windows using .NET)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Camping this weekend

IMG_5963, originally uploaded by Wandering Minstrel.

So I went camping with friends this weekend. We went to Dash Point State Park, which is only about 40-50 minutes south of where I live. Nice park, but small. What it means is that you can get to anything in the park within a 20-30 minute walk, but there isn't that much to see.

In any case, it's always nice to get out and enjoy time with friends away from the normal day-to-day tasks. Good conversations, fun cooking around the campfire, some smoky but cleaner air...

If you want to see more pictures, you can check the SmugMug album