Which Thinkpad?

So I’ve been given the Okie Dokey to upgrade my laptop (featured here) to something with more memory and a faster CPU. The current machine is a T40 (1.2ghz, 768meg, 40gig). (although, for some mysterious reason, /proc/cpuinfo -always- says:

model name      : Intel(R) Pentium(R) M processor 1400MHz
stepping        : 5
cpu MHz         : 598.174

even though I’ve disabled all speedstep stuff in the bios.

ANYWAY. I need More. Running eclipse, jboss, firefox, evolution, and apache, plus most likely an Oracle instance means I need at least 2 gig of memory on the machine.

I’m totally confused by the Thinkpad lineup nowadays. I think what I want is a T43 maxed out on memory, but maybe I’m wrong? The only other thing I definately need is 1400×1200 on the laptop screen. I do enough work on the machine itself that 1024×768 is -right- out as a workable resolution.

Anyone care to untangle the mess that is the Thinkpad line for me? My requirements are:

  • 1.8ghz or faster
  • 2 gig of memory (I can start with 1 gig and upgrade later)
  • at least 40 gig of disk
  • 15″ display
  • On-screen resolution of 1400×1050


Rod Trip

There’s something surrel bout being stuck in New Jersey with lptop tht hs broken ‘a’ key. (tht ws done, by the wy, by cut nd pste with the mouse.). Time to browse eBy nd try nd find replcement I think. (IBM Thinkpd T40).

Most marketable tech skills?

So while working with some other geeks this afternoon, the subject of Ruby on Rails came up. I’ve heard good things about it, but I voiced my skepticism about shelving my current workcycle (in Java) and learning Yet Another Language. I mean, how many folks can be looking for Ruby programmers nowadays?

Well. Gee. How many are looking? Good question!

So off to Dice, one of the better job / tech search boards out there, and I did a little keyword searching. The summary of what I found isn’t all that surprising, but still interesting…

Sampling 75,117 entries…

Keyword… Number of matches…
Java: 12210
C: 8235
C++: 6828
Basic: 6369
Perl: 3718
C#: 3516
Cobol: 1177
PHP: 639
Python: 383
awk: 138
REXX: 72
Ruby: 40
Pascal: 27
Lisp: 24

Interesting. How about platforms?

Keyword… Number of matches…
Windows: 10753
Unix: 11474
Linux: 4859
Mac: 461
VMS: 275

So apparently being a Java programmer on Windows is the way to go 🙂

Content Managers for generic websites?

I’ve sort of fallen into a task where I need to set up a website for a small group of people. The site will be used for general marketing, schedule information, and as a resource the group will use to pick up materials and information to share between themselves.

As someone who has been pretty active in the Content Management arena, I’m finding myself stymied at how difficult it is to find a simple web-based content management solution that will allow other users in the group (a limited number – onlye 1-2 other technical folks) to maintain the site.

We already know we’ll use a Wiki for the ‘internal community’ aspects – we’re doing this now – it’s allowing uploading, downloading, content editing, etc. But using a wiki to drive the main site seems… out of sorts. Wikis are not made for general-consumption-by-the-public websites.

So I’m looking around. I haven’t found what I’m looking for yet, but I’d like to hear from other folks what they’d recommend.

What I’ve looked at so far, and my feelings on each, follows…

Continue reading “Content Managers for generic websites?”

Computin in da Field

Things are settling down a bit around Chez Geek, and I’m starting to get back into the rhythm of working on my laptop full time. Life things being as they are, it makes sense to really keep an eye on where in the area I can find to telecommute. This is more of a challenge than you might think. Not many businesses are comfortable with you just plopping down in their space and sitting for 4-6 hours straight.
Despite that, though, there are a few places that encourage this, or even invite it. Since today I was hanging around Waltham, MA, I decided to see what I could find in the area.
First step, since it was lunchtime, was the local Wendys. Surprisingly, I’ve had very good luck finding open WiFi access points around Wendy’s restaurants – I guess they just sort of invite the open-no-wep-key types to their locale. Today I found 7 (!) accesspoints in range, and easily connected up to one to keep in touch through lunch and a bit after. Alas, Wendy’s dining room chairs really aren’t that comfortable, so I decided to move on.
I had stopped by the Charles River Public Internet Center once before, but it was unfortunately closed at that time. This time the door was open, but the public area was being worked on, so I couldn’t sit down. These folks seem awfully nice, and I think I’ll explore doing more formal “Come here and work for a day” arrangements with them. The woman at the front desk was nice enough to point out a local coffee shop that had open WiFi, and was within walking distance, so off I went.
I ended up at “Cafe on the Common” (oddly, no website), right in the center of Waltham on Moody street. There was one other laptop-a-holic when I got there, so I settled into a comfy table, got a big bowl of coffee, and settled in to work. The net connection was a little bit twitchy, but I was able to get 2-3 hours of work in, whilst listening to lovely music.
I’m going to keep exploring other good spots around the area. Finding something a little further west would be nice, since I’ll be commuting to Sudbury Valley School for picking up Z when the school year starts – be nice to have someplace within striking distance of that.

Claimit and Domains

Over the last few days, other people have started to use Claimit for managing giveaways. There’s a potential for this thing to pick up steam, and I need to do some more work on the code, but in the meantime I thought it might be nice to actually register a domain for it.
Twiddling whois, I see that ‘claimit.com’ is registered, but the associated ‘www’ site doesn’t have the standard ‘Buy this domain!’ crud all over it. So I fire off mail to the domain tech contact asking if they’d like to sell the domain.
I get a quick response (nice), saying “I have to check with my partners, but note it won’t be cheap.” Folks are STILL trying to cash in on this noise, huh? I sent back a very terse letter saying I don’t endorse profiteering from domain squatting, and went back to whois.
Well, lookee. ‘claimit.net’ is not registered. I’ll take that instead.
The next question was which registrar to use. Unfortunately, my recent experience with Register.com has been poor to disasterous (2 weeks to resolve a broken address pointer in their database), and their pricing scheme ain’t so hot either. So I decided to try Yahoo! Domains for this one. The process was truly slick, costing me $9.95 to reserve the domain complete with A and MX records hosted on their servers. I set up a forwarder so that hits to www.claimit.net will be redirected to claimit.stonekeep.com, and sat down to wait to see how long it’ll take to go into the master nameservers, and for DNS to propogate.
Answer: 23 minutes.
I’ve never brought up a new domain that fast before. Amazing. Stick that in your smoke and pipe it, mister domain squatter.

Flight to Tampa. Song Airlines Cool

I’m in Tampa working a convention this week. Since this was a “I pay for everything” trip, I booked a flight on the cheapest airline I could find, which ended up being Song Airlines (apparently the ‘cheapo’ side of Delta). $170 round trip from Logan to Tampa. Not too shabby.
What I didn’t count on was the entirely pleasant experience of it all. Song has a great checkin system at Logan. I was initially dismayed at the horrifically long line at the Delta desk, then I glanced over and saw the ‘Song Checkin Kiosk’. The kiosks were great, and after asking for my credit card (which they siad on screen they were using only to get my name – a neat trick I thought), my reservation came up just fine. I was able to reassign my seat to an exit row right on the screen, and off I went to drop my bags in for checked baggage.
All that done, I had an hour to kill before my plane departed, and after playing Spaceward Ho for a while (a great little game for the Palm), I was able to board, only to find that my seat, which was labelled as an exit row… wasn’t an exit row.
The attendants were very pleasant, checked the bookings, and said “Try 16A, that row isn’t booked.” “Thanks!” and I plunked myself down.
The first thing I noticed was that all the airline seats had a little display in the back of the headrest, facing the person behind. I’d seen something similar before – usually it’s for showing in-flight movies or the like, but this seemed a little more robust. It was just idling while we were at the gate, but after takeoff, the system powered up and I was presented with… a menu system! It was a touchscreen. Well okay!
It turns out this is a Linux based in flight entertainment / media system that Song airlines installed in all their 757’s. You can build your own MP3 music list from their library (which was okay – I listened to Eurythmics Greatest Hits, Purple Rain, and Depeche Mode while I was doing some coding). There’s also a great scrolling display showing the position of the plane on the trip, but that wasn’t the coolest part.
In the menus, there’s a ‘Games’ section. Okay, why not. Wait. A trivia game. No, A NETWORKED trivia game! Holy cats! You can play the trivia game against other people in the plane. When you start it up, it asks you for a name to use in the score list (I typed ‘GEEK’ on the little keyboard that came up), and voila, you’re in. The games are 20 questions long, and scores are kept for the game and for the entire flight. Your seat number is shown as well, so you can get an idea where the people you’re playing against are sitting on the plane. The top player for a while was someone named BOSOX in seat 1A. I suspect it was the pilot. 🙂
This game definately made the 3 hour flight go very quickly – it was interesting hearing folks all around going “Ohhhhh! Michael Jackson did that? Huh!” when a question came up that folks were guessing on (Who collaborated with Paul McCartney on ‘The Girl is Mine’?), and then seeing everyone getting the easy ones right (“Spock, from Star Trek, came from what planet?”). You’re scored based on how fast you answer – if you answer right off the bad, 500 points. As you think about it, the score drops down eventually to 50, then 0.
The system also had movies on demand, basic television, and other goodies. It’s great to see such an outstanding system on a ‘bargain’ airline.

eCost – no longer a partner of mine.

It’s a wonder these companies can function at all.
I have a convention in Florida this week, and to make things a little smoother, I was planning on having a pair of flat screen monitors shipped to the hotel. It was time for some upgrades to my home systems anyway, so a pair of new monitors would come in handy.
I got a call back from eCost saying “Sorry, we don’t ship to hotels.” (this a good 5 hours after I placed the order – so this conversation started at 8:05pm. I get on a plane tomorrow morning at 10am).
“Why not?” “It’s not our policy.” “But I’m going to be there, just ship it.” “It’s not a valid shipping address.” “Why not?” “It’s not on your credit card.” “So?” “So we can’t ship to it.”
*pause* *deep breath a few times*
“Okay, so how can we solve this?” “You have to add this address to your credit card.” “WHAT?” “Yessir.” “I’m not going to do that, this is a one off shipment.” “That’s our policy sir.” “I’d love to see that in writing.” “Sir?” “Never mind. I’m a guest at that hotel, I arrive tomorrow night.” “Then we can use a signed letter from the manager of the hotel stating that you’re a guest there. It has to be on the hotel letterhead.” “You’re joking! It’s 8:30 at night, there’s no way we’re going to get that in time for this shipment. Why don’t you just call them? Want the number?” “No sir, I ahve it.” “Good, call them, I’ll wait.”
*10 minute on hold*
“Sir, they won’t verify you’re a guest there, since it’s just a reservation, you’re not there yet.” “Oh for petes sake. This is absurd. Who are you trying to protect here?” “We’re trying to prevent fraud and stealing sir, we’ve had problems with hotels before.” “And who are you trying to protect?” “Us, from being stolen from” “Okay, listen carefully…”
(by this time, btw, we’ve escalated to the ‘supervisor’, which I suspect wasn’t a supervisor at all, someone in billing) … “Listen carefully. The only person you’re protecting is me. You don’t want someone using ‘my’ credit card to ship items and have them stolen. I’m the owner of the card, I authorize you to ship it. Ship it please.” “Yes sir, as long as you update your credit card with the appropriate information” “I’m not going to alter my credit card information for a one off purchase.” “That’s our policy sir.” “If tha’ts your policy, why did you change it 3 times in the last half hour?” “…” “I’ll put this bluntly. Unless you take me, an existing, well established customer of yours, and help me solve this problem, I’m cancelling this $600 order, and never doing business with you again.” “We will help you, sir, but you have to do something for us. Alter your credit card information.” (this really got my goat. Quid pro quo? WTF?).
“Fine. If you won’t make this order work for me.” “You jsut need to alter your credit card sir” “No.” “That is, of course, your choice.” “Fine. Cancel this order. I want a mail within 1/2 hour confirming that this order is cancelled, and there will be nothing billed to my account.” “You will have that sir.”
And that’s the end of my business relationship with eCost. I’d council others to take this story into account when doing any business with these folks. It’s now 25 minutes after that conversation, and I still have not gotten the mail. We’ll see.
Update I just got a message from the ‘Credit Card Processing’ group at eCost saying she has ‘removed the authorization’ for this transaction. I’ve specifically asked for the section of their policy where they state they will ship only to a hotel when getting a signed letter from the hotel manager on letterhead.

‘claimit’ updated.

I threw together a tool last year to help with big giveaways on Freecycle-like mailing lists like Craigslist and, on a far smaller scale, Greaterboston-Reuse. The problem was dealing with large lists of things, and who gets what, and if stuff is still available or not, and the inevitable long exchanges of emails about where things are, if such and such is around, and can you hold on to something for me…
Enter Claimit, where I’ve been postings piles of things we’re giving away as we get ready to move out of this house. I just did a code update of it, adding some new functionality and cleaning up some rough edges, but so far it’s helped us manage dozens of items being given away, out of lists of a few hundred, and more are going up each day.
It’s been a good test of the concept, and while it’s not quite ready for the volume of traffic Craigslist would generate, it’s slowly maturing into a great little tool.
(And, if you’re -in- the Boston area, and want any of the stuff we’re giving away, feel free to check it out 🙂

dbVisualizer 4.3 released

One of the finest general purpose database access tools, dbVisualizer has been updated to version 4.3. A full release announcement including new features is available on Minq Software’s website.
I’ve been using dbVisualizer for the last year or two for accessing MySQL, Oracle, and Hypersonic database instances. It’s cross-platform functionality, rich user interface, and excellent price-point (free for evaluation version, $99 for 3 licenses that enable some of the more advanced functions) has made it my primary choice for a database client.
I should be doing a review of the new version shortly.

How not to do business.

I just got spammed by someone using LinkedIn. I’m really getting tired of these things. I don’t like LinkedIn or any of the other ‘contact management’ sites. I have no idea who this guy is, or what his business is, so I visited his site (which I sussed out of his email address – the automated spam from LinkedIn had no contextual information, like, oh, who this idjit was).
His site was one big flash animation with music. That was the last straw. So I wrote him back. Thought I’d share this with the general populace. If you use LinkedIn or other websites that force me to log in to it to give you my contact information – don’t spam me with requests for me to update it for you.

First of all, who -are- you?
And while I’m replying, a few comments…
Your webpage is incredibly annoying. Flash animation and music on a
home page is a mark of someone fairly out of touch with technology and
actual implementation. By making Flash your default page view, you’ve
immediately alienated many users who may go to your site curious about
who are are and what you do. It certainly dissuaded me from doing any
further navigation on your site. When that music started blaring in on
my desktop speakers, I simply closed the window.
If you’d like to show off your prowess in website technologies, design a
site that is portable, well laid out, and useful. Do not play music. I
didn’t come to your site to dance a jig to your catchy little tune. I
came for information, not entertainment.
Furthermore, Linkedin is simply a mechanism for collecting email
addresses in someone elses database. If you have interest in doing
business with me, then ask me. Don’t ask some automated service to spam
me with a request to log into their site and give -them- my information
so you can update your address book.

I don’t expect this guy to Get It, but heck, at least I tried.
Update, an hour later
I got a reply back, arguing that LinkedIn is not a spammer (I don’t know how how else to define a service that sends me commercial email asking me to log into it and give it personal information, even though I did not ask for said services. The fact that someone else asked for it to do this makes it even worse). But the tone was pleasant, and they did include a vCard… which was linked to Plaxo. Another personal-information-archiving website.

5watt GMRS radios. Any opinions?

I’m considering replacing my el cheapo 1 watt FRS radios that I use for conventions and shows. They’ve been okay, and 2 years ago they were fine, but the headsets are terrible, and they don’t have enough ‘oomph’ to carry beyond a couple hundred feet, particularly in hotel buildings.
I’ve noticed that Midland Radio now has a full 5 watt GMRS radio (they’re marketing it as ’14 mile’, which is fine, as they say, across open water or perhaps chatting on a playa somewhere *grin*.
Anyway, they also have a very nice set of headphoens – including a ‘behind the head’ headset, which sounds perfect for extended wear (the ‘in the ear’ units for me get uncomfortable after an hour or two).
They also have a ‘stealth’ clear plastic version – just like the secret service uses. If you really want to be talking into your cuffs, this is the setup for you 🙂
Anyway, thoughts on these? Price on midlandradio for a pair, with chargers, with the cheaper of the headphones is $94.99. I’m seeing them on eBay for around $75 for a pair.

Animeboston Ho!!!

I’m gearing up for AnimeBoston, which runs this weekend at the Hynes Convention Center.
This is by far my biggest event, tripling the size of my next biggest event. We’re even renting hardware! This is the frist time I can’t provide all the equipment needed to make things work, so we’re working with Rent-a-PC to get a half dozen flatscreen monitors delivered to the hotel.
We start delivering things to the hotel tomorrow (Wednesday), with setup in the ballroom starting at 9am on Thursday morning. Registration opens at 5pm, and by that time we’ll have:

  • 3 Fargo Pro badge printers
  • 6 Operator terminals
  • 3-4 Administrator terminals
  • Server and console
  • Receipt printer for on-site registrations
  • 6-10 Kiosk terminals
  • Network and Power for everything.

Yay events 🙂

Dayblogging Ubercon – Day 1

Today we start our bi-annual Ubercon event. We’re up to Ubercon V, so I guess we’re an institution now, eh? We’re just getting ready to go start setup, reg opens at 2:30, and I have some small code changes and database updates to complete, so we’re off to see the.. er… hotel event manager.
I’ll try and post some updates as things go along. So far, I set up all the equipment and tested it last night, things are working fine. This was, unfortunately, before 4 of the new Gateway terminals fell off the shelf I was working on. They seem okay, nothing rattling around, but I was not in the mood for powering up my terminals at midnight to watch them smoke, so I just quietly went to bed.
Off to breakfast and setup!
Update – 4:15pm
Aaaaaaaaaand, we’re off.
Reg is open, and folks are flowing through okay. We have 4 Gateway terminals running, and 3 kiosk terminals, plus one badge printer. Equipment lossage has been limited to One (1) Gateway DOA, one bad keyboard, and One (1) I-Opener dying. We have another Gateway that’s prone to sporadic reboots, so that gets a little annoying. I need to keep the active ‘operator’ terminals at 4 – 3 just backlogs too easily.
We have a slightly different arrangement with the helpdesk this time. We ran a cable up to the helpdesk / ops desk area, and there’s a clued operator at the terminal there. If folks have problems at Reg, we can send them along to the help desk (about 50′ away), and they can fix / research / find out hte problem. They can also send a badge print request to the main printer, which is close enough that the folks don’t mind coming back over to pick up the badge. There’s never a backlog at the printer itself, so it’s really just a walkup.
I have some pictures, I’ll try and post them during the next lull.

Moving into the next age of geekery.

For quite a while I’ve been wanting to move into some of the more widely used methods for writing and deploying large-scale apps, particularly in Java. Sun developed a system called J2EE a while back that provides an environment where Java apps can scale to incredibly large installations. Up until now, I haven’t had the opportunity to really explore it

I recently started a 4 month project with a company in NJ to explore the feasibility of porting their applications from a Visual Foxpro base into J2EE. This is really a fantastic opportunity. I’m not only helping a great project move into an exciting new environment, but I’m also getting the chance to learn something I’ve been interested in for ages

One drawback though is that the J2EE environment is huge and fairly complex, and therefore there’s not ‘one way’ to do things. J2EE provides an object-based application server that’s designed to let you design and implement virtually any system and do it big. The steps I’m taking now are determining what aspects of this system are appropriate for us to use, and how to use them

This process is not helped by the fact that I don’t KNOW J2EE at all. I’ve never used these technologies myself for my own application development, and I’ve only brushed up against some of their technologies at a previous job. My work on CONGO used a hyper-simplified version of this concept, so there’s a heck of a learning curve here.

I am making progress though. Part of this project really requires the environment to be workable from someone who has traditionally been using Microsoft Visual Studio applications. That means a clean IDE, object editor and browser, etc. Tonight I successfully configured Eclipse to use a plugin to manage the JBoss application server I’m running on my laptop. Following some tutorials, I built and deployed a servlet to the server, and, via an Apache module used to connect Java servlet containers to web servers, I successully ran the servlet, and got those wonderful words… “Hello World”.

Seems like a lot of work to get 2 words on the screen, eh? But that’s the joy of learning a whole new environment. It doesn’t look like much, but it represents a big step down the road to understanding how I (and my client in NJ) may use this system to write and deploy applications. Personally, I’m okay as long as I don’t get stuck, and continue moving forward.

This coming week I hope to have enough in place to get a full JSP->Servlet->database process working, so that I’m familiar enough with the environment that I can start looking at designing how things REALLY work inside the appserver