Thursday, April 1, 2004

Political Friendster

Political Friendster: Political Friendster is a parody of the social network Friendster. It allows a visualization of the connections between players in the political game.

e.p.c. posted this at 09:42 GMT on 1-Apr-2004 .

Saturday, April 3, 2004

Usability: not just for windows and Macs

This is a great essay Ronco Spray-On Usability on usability in Linux and open source applications. I love open source. But most of my experience has been in using server side code like Apache. In the past few months I've started using (or trying to use) PHP based applications and...have yet to find one I've liked. They are all quite technically functional, but the UI is frequently absolutely bizarre. It wouldn't be so bad if you could update the UI (since the UI itself is typically templated, using CSS and macros for style and function), but more often than not you can't touch the UI. You're stuck with !!!! as the label for the Settings/Preferences, ?? for Help (ok, that wasn't too bad, but I'd like to change it to the more obvious "Help") and » » » for a function which I'll let readers guess.

Coders suck as designers. Graphic designers, UI designers, anything requiring visual design: coders suck at it. I love hacking code, I've also taken a number of design classes. I freely admit that I suck at design and avoid having to do any design as much as possible. I try to separate out the design of anything I write from the application as much as possible. It's easy to do, and CSS makes it even easier (though you still have to deal with the monopolist's penalty browser).

But, to repeat myself, coders suck at design and especially UI. There have been various attempts at making it easier, IBM had CUA and Apple had its Inside Macintosh series and tighly controlled the UI libraries. But with CUA there were variants, PF1 almost always meant Help and PF7 and PF8 meant page up/down, but everything else was a mish-mash, on product code as well as internal code. On the Mac...well, there was a lot of consistency within applications and across applications, but programmers and the marketeers behind them frequently had to be different so you'd frequently get a change up.

I don't recall any absolutely devastating mistakes due to UI confusion when I heavily used Macs in the early 1990s, but I do recall having to remember allegedly common keys meant one thing for a Microsoft application, and another thing for an Adobe or Aldus application (and frequently, meant different things across Microsoft written applications).

At IBM, I frequently deleted files or notes by accident because I didn't catch that PF4 meant Delete in one application and PF12 was Print, and in another application the roles were reversed. Was easier when I switched to OS/2 and eventually Microsoft Windows, but even there you get oddities. Instead of consistency, you get tooltips to try to further explain what Replicate is supposed to mean.

I don't have a recommendation on how to improve UIs in open source "free" applications. It's easy for me to contribute a patch to open source code. I don't know how you contribute a bit of a UI.

When I was in grad school, I briefly contemplated interning at the FSF. I was to work on manuals related to the GNU project. At the time I was quite into Unix and really needed to do some hard core writing and rewriting to get up to speed as a technical writer and thought this would be a great opportunity. The stumbling block was money: there was none. No salary, no stipend, nothing. Furthermore, the person I was communicating with was horrified that I would even ask for such a thing. Now, I believed then and still believe in the idea of open source / "free" software: that a programmer or company can choose to ship the source code along with the product to the product's users. But I also believe that this is possible while charging some sort of fee. I also believe in eating, paying rent, and paying off your debts (which in my case at the time were disturbingly high due to student loands). So, instead of the FSF I ended up at IBM and the four of you who have read this far know how that worked out.

Coders suck at user interface design. And open source coders, advocates, and users need to accept that you get what you pay for. If you want better interfaces, hire a designer and offer to pay for the work. Money is involved in getting things done in the world, even in coding your open source projects, and especially in getting good UIs. If you're not willing to do so, then at least separate out the UI component so someone can do a better job than you have.

e.p.c. posted this at 19:24 GMT on 3-Apr-2004 .

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Heading back to land-o-lincoln

Frisket and I will be driving back to Illinois at the end of the week for another round of fun estate clearance and disposition. Planning to leave Brooklyn Friday morning, drive to somewhere in Ohio, and then arrive in Downers Grove some time Saturday afternoon. We'll stay for about a week and then drive back. Am hoping to finish up the things I need to finish up and avoid another return trip.

e.p.c. posted this at 17:49 GMT on 6-Apr-2004 .

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

The Prince's last flight

Plane Wreck of the Author of ’Prince’ Is Discovered: A French underwater salvage team has discovered the remains of the plane of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of "The Little Prince," six decades after his disappearance, government researchers said Wednesday..

e.p.c. posted this at 12:23 GMT on 7-Apr-2004 .

Thursday, April 8, 2004

Surreal TV: The Apprentice

So, according to this essay at The Morning News, The Apprentice is rigged. Duh. The Morning News - Reality’s Apprentice: My reality collided with reality TV during episode seven of NBC’s The Apprentice. The premise was a hyped-up competition over real estate. The remaining participants were challenged to renovate and rent one of two ‘rundown’ Brooklyn apartments in 48 hours. One of those apartments was a third-floor, one-bedroom in a brownstone on Third Street, where my family and I live on the first two floors. On screen, the team leaders stood outside our stoop and negotiated for the apartment above us. Off screen, we knew a few things they didn’t. A month before, for instance, the previous occupant and my upstairs neighbor had jumped out the window.

e.p.c. posted this at 14:22 GMT on 8-Apr-2004 .

Friday, April 9, 2004

Heading out

Left Brooklyn tonight around 9:30 p.m. Planning to drive across PA tonight then to Chicago tomorrow afternoon. Will be in Chicago for the coming week, returning next weekend.

e.p.c. posted this at 21:19 GMT on 9-Apr-2004 .

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Pulling over for the night

Made it to the Sideling Hill service area on the PA turnpike, am pulling over for the evening. Not quite as far as I intended to get tonight but I'm in no hurry to get to Illinois.

Approaching Harrisburg, PA on I-81, I decided to stay on 81 to the Carlisle interchange (where you get off 81 and drive about a mile to I76). For the past few trips I've detoured around Harrisburg using I283 or I383, whatever's east of the city. It adds a few miles but skips all the construction and city traffic.

Tonight I thought: Hey, traffic should be light.. Duh.

Got off I81 in Carlisle only to be met with a complete closure of US11 right at the I76/turnpike exit. The turnpike itself was open, I just couldn't get there. There was the thick smell of burning wood in the air but no obvious fire...whatever had happened had occurred awhile ago. I asked one of the emergency guys minding the street what was up and he said there had been an incident (? accident?) at the turnpike-US11 connection and that it'd be closed for awhile.

So...using the trusty GPS I backtraced up US11 to US15 to I76. Drove by the Carlisle interchange and couldn't see anything other than many, many trucks queued up trying to exit.

e.p.c. posted this at 03:01 GMT on 10-Apr-2004 .

Back in DG

Arrived in Downers Grove, IL around 7:15 tonight. Checked out the house and let Frisket frolic in the yard a bit before heading to Chicago. I'm staying at the W Lakeshore for the week...figured it would be best if I didn't spend the week getting depressed in the house again.

e.p.c. posted this at 19:22 GMT on 10-Apr-2004 .

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Misc notes from Chicago

Spent the day yesterday dealing with bank accounts. I had to wait until I received the Letters of OFfice which authorize me as executor to deal with teh affairs of my mom's estate. So...having these in hand, I headed to the two banks she used.

The first bank was friendly, but refused to work with me mostly because my brother (and father!) is listed as a beneficiary on all of the accounts. So I had to ask Pat to fedex a latter authorizing me to act on his behalf. I also have to find a copy of my father's death certificate. Nothing major, but I wish I'd known before showing up (and yes, I did call a couple weeks back to find out what would be needed and all that was mentioned were the Letters of Office.

Every time I think of Letters of Office Casablanca comes into my head with its Letters of Transit.

Anyway, the second bank was more amenable to working with me, even though my brother was listed as beneficiary as well. So that account is closed.

Today I'm returning to the first bank to close the accounts and open a new estate account. Also going to try to get the car transferred to my relatives.

It's been clear but very, very windy here since we arrived on Saturday. Kind of miserable for taking Frisket on any sort of decent walk around River North. I did take her to the Oak Brook dog run yesterday so she got some running in.

e.p.c. posted this at 12:51 GMT on 13-Apr-2004 .

IBM to Acquire Schlumberger Unit [WSJ] - IBM to Acquire Schlumberger Unit International Business Machines Corp. agreed to acquire the business continuity services unit of Schlumberger Ltd. as it continues to strengthen its information technology services offerings.

I wonder if this puts IBM in the weird position of providing services to the Olympic Games again (since Schlumberger owns SEMA which replaced IBM as one of the I/T partners).

e.p.c. posted this at 13:58 GMT on 13-Apr-2004 .

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Today is

...screw up my homepage day.

Tried to do something nifty to make the page build, load, and cache better and managed to cause all sorts of little problems with PHP.

Spending another half hour at the hotel before heading to DG for the day.

e.p.c. posted this at 11:18 GMT on 14-Apr-2004 .

Thursday, April 15, 2004

A letter from Terry Jones,MP to Mr. and Mrs. Blair

Terry Jones: Tony really must try harder: His essay on Iraq shows he has little grasp of his subject, world politics

Dear Mr and Mrs Blair,

I have just had to mark Tony's essay, Why We Must Never Abandon This Historic Struggle in Iraq, and I am extremely worried.

Your son has been in the sixth form now for several years, studying world politics, and yet his recent essay shows so little grasp of the subject that I can only conclude he has spent most of that time staring out of the window.

His essay, of course, is written with his usual passion and conviction, but, in the real world, passion and conviction do not count for many marks.

Crucially, Tony does not seem to have read any of the first-hand accounts that are easily available and describe what is really going on in Iraq. On the recent escalation in violence, for example, he writes: The insurgents are former Saddam sympathisers ... terrorist groups linked to al-Qaida and, most recently, followers of ... Moqtada al-Sadr. This is simply not good enough. Tony ignores the multitude of reports indicating that revulsion against the occupation is now widespread among ordinary people.


e.p.c. posted this at 09:43 GMT on 15-Apr-2004 .

Happy Tax Day

I'm filing extensions for myself and my late mother today. I didn't actually make much last year but I did do a very bad thing with respect to an IRA I have and, well, the IRS would like some more of my money as a result. I don't think anything will be owed by the estate but I'm not sure I have all of the relevant papers to file to extension land.

e.p.c. posted this at 10:15 GMT on 15-Apr-2004 .

Friday, April 16, 2004

Note to self

If you happen to be out of state on tax day and decide to postpone until the very last minute calling in an extension, be aware of the time zone difference between where you are and where you are calling, to forestall the last minute occurring an hour before you expect it to.

e.p.c. posted this at 01:45 GMT on 16-Apr-2004 .

Saturday, April 17, 2004


On the road again, back to Brooklyn, NY via Denham, IN and other points along the way.

e.p.c. posted this at 14:09 GMT on 17-Apr-2004 .

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Back in Brooklyn

Left Saturday midday from Chicago for Denham and spent a couple hours with my grandmother. Left Denham around 7:00 pm and drove into Ohio before pulling over for rest. Then I kind of did the drive-awhile doze-awhile thing across Ohio and Pennsylvania. Arrived back in Brooklyn around 7:00 p.m. Sunday night.

I rediscovered why I've been avoiding I-80 across Pennsylvania for these drives back and forth: it's a terrible road with little service and incredibly boring to drive on. Rest Areas are infrequent (and quite hostile to pets, you're given a little strip of grass where you're supposed to walk Fido, the catch being the strip of grass lies between where the cars are driving and where the trucks are driving). Construction on I80 dwindles the road down to one lane in each direction. I76 (the PA turnpike) costs more to drive, and is longer, but tends to keep two lanes open in each direction during construction, and has pet-friendlier rest areas.

Spent yesterday and today recovering from the drive and trying to prioritize stuff to do. Walked Frisket over to the vet today for her yearly shots and physical

e.p.c. posted this at 17:58 GMT on 20-Apr-2004 .

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Buying miles

I am starting to plan yet another trip to Chicago, this time by flying. I have 39,895 miles in my United account, left over from my days as a raging-road-warrior for IBM.

A first class, totally changeable ticket on United is 40,000 miles. The normal ticket is 25,000 but has all sorts of nasties attached.

So I'm looking into buying miles and I can add the necessary miles for US$54.57 (for 1000 miles). That's about 5¢ per mile. If you buy 25,000 miles the rate drops to about 2¢ per mile. 25,000 is the max you can buy, so you can't buy a first class ticket that way.

I just priced a refundable coach fare and...hah. Much cheaper to spend the $55. Much, much cheaper. Since we can see what value United places on miles, I will “save” about $1200 by using my miles vs purchasing a new ticket.

I haven't paid to fly on United since...some time in 2001. Lisa and I flew to Sydney for free (miles), I made several flights to Chicago on miles. I suspect that the Vienna trip in 2001 was paid for but I used miles to upgrade to business class.

They certainly have a silly system, but they are a silly airline subsidized by US taxpayers so you can't expect much better.

e.p.c. posted this at 18:08 GMT on 21-Apr-2004 .

Thursday, April 22, 2004

London Booted

London Booted is a mash-up/remix of London Calling by The Clash. I have an on-again/off-again interest in The Clash, I blame a guy who rode my bus in high school as well as one of my friend Eric's roomates at CMU. Freshman year (1985) this roommate played all of his Clash record collection for us late into the night, including what I only recall as terrible Country Clash.

e.p.c. posted this at 00:42 GMT on 22-Apr-2004 .

Yesterday's todo list

epc's todos for Wednesday April 21, 2004
  • Walk the dog
  • Send in estimated tax payments
  • Pick up estate related mail from PO box
  • Pay estate bills
  • Pay household bills
  • Do miscellaneous NYSD related work
  • Write letters for estate to transfer car ownership
  • Propose to Lisa

e.p.c. posted this at 14:47 GMT on 22-Apr-2004 . , Comments [3]

Friday, April 23, 2004

Since I was apparently too obscure with my post yesterday

Yes, Lisa and I are engaged.

Answers to frequently asked questions:

  1. No, no date has been set yet.
  2. Yes, the date will likely occur some time in the next twelve months.
  3. No, my mother's passing delayed this as I'd originally planned to act earlier this year.
  4. Yes, Frisket will likely be involved in some way, shape, or form in the various activities.
  5. No, it is totally untrue that Frisket attempted to eat the ring. The wrapping for the ring is another story.
  6. No, this had nothing to do with the upcoming tenth “anniversary” of
  7. No, it is highly unlikely we would have a service at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
  8. No, we have not regisered at Fry's, J&R, or the Sony store. Yet.
  9. No Max, I did not file a formal project plan. Yet.

I will add more answers as I make them up.

e.p.c. posted this at 16:01 GMT on 23-Apr-2004 . , Comments [4]

Slightly acerbic and eccentric dog walker who masquerades as a web developer and occasional CTO.

Spent five years running the technology side of the circus known as

More about me here.