The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Cool toy from ThinkGeek

I had to stop myself from snapping up this USB GPS device:

This small GPS gadget can easily be placed in a car, boat, land speeder, or just about any moving object and will record its own time, date, location, speed, direction and altitude. The recorded information can then be downloaded to your computer through the USB port and optionally integrated with Google Earth or Mapquest. This feature allows you to "playback" the location points of the TrackStick and see a visual mapped history of its travels.
Containing 1MB of memory it can store up to 4000 records allowing for months of travel. When the TrackStick is not moving, memory is not used. The record interval is adjustable to anything between 1 and 15 minutes (this is used to save memory and will not extend the battery life). It’s so small you can hide it for covert applications. There are no special software applications to buy and the raw data can be exported in RTF, XLS, HTML, or Google Earth KML formats.

It's $250 from ThinkGeek. Maybe I'll get it for myself as a bonus if I beat my revenue projection this month.

Update, 6 June 2006 5:36p CT (22:36 UTC): Bruce Schneier has picked up on the security ramifications of this device.

Joel Spolsky's 12 rules to better software

My project manager sent around this link to Joel Spolsky's rules for software management:

I've come up with my own, highly irresponsible, sloppy test to rate the quality of a software team. The great part about it is that it takes about 3 minutes. The neat thing about The Joel Test is that it's easy to get a quick yes or no to each question. You don't have to figure out lines-of-code-per-day or average-bugs-per-inflection-point.

I totally agree with Spolsky's list. I have never been on a project that scored better than 7 until now (which scores 9, IMO, but we're moving toward 11), and only one, ever, has answered "yes" to #8 (quiet working conditions).

Christians sue for right of free bigotry

The latest campaign of the Christian right is to get colleges to grant them exceptions to their broad anti-harrassment policies. The L.A. Times reports on a suit against the Georgia Institute of Technology:

Ruth Malhotra went to court last month for the right to be intolerant.
Malhotra says her Christian faith compels her to speak out against homosexuality. But the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she's a senior, bans speech that puts down others because of their sexual orientation.
Malhotra sees that as an unacceptable infringement on her right to religious expression. So she's demanding that Georgia Tech revoke its tolerance policy.

You have to read about two-thirds down the article to get to the crux (sorry) of the wing-nuts' objection:

[Christian activist Gregory S. Baylor] says he supports policies that protect people from discrimination based on race and gender. But he draws a distinction that infuriates gay rights activists when he argues that sexual orientation is different—a lifestyle choice, not an inborn trait.

Two things: first, whether sexual orientation is biological or a "lifestyle choice" misses the point, because the policy protects against religious persecution as well, so invalidating the policy would open up the fundies to more discrimination on campus. Second, according to the L.A. Times, by saying that the evidence suggests more strongly than not that homosexuality is partially biological, I'm a "gay activist." No wonder I feel fabulous.

There's more. Malhotra apparently has a long history of not "getting it" regarding appropriate and inappropriate speech:

Malhotra said she had been reprimanded by college deans several times in the last few years for expressing conservative religious and political views. When she protested a campus production of "The Vagina Monologues" with a display condemning feminism, the administration asked her to paint over part of it.
She caused another stir with a letter to the gay activists who organized an event known as Coming Out Week in the fall of 2004. Malhotra sent the letter on behalf of the Georgia Tech College Republicans, which she chairs; she said several members of the executive board helped write it.
The letter referred to the campus gay rights group Pride Alliance as a "sex club...that can't even manage to be tasteful." It went on to say that it was "ludicrous" for Georgia Tech to help fund the Pride Alliance. "If gays want to be tolerated, they should knock off the political propaganda," the letter said.

Imagine, just for a second, that Malhorta received a letter saying her Bible-study was a "terrorist club...that can't even manage to be civil." Imagine if it included the sentiment, "If Christians want to be tolerated, they should knock off the martyr propaganda." Don't you suppose she'd sue over that, too? At least in that case, she'd have a defensible position.

Window vs. Aisle

I promised earlier to discuss the joys and sorrows of traveling for business. I had some time this morning in the airplane to do so.

Every week, I fly back and forth between Boston and Chicago. This morning I caught the bleary-eyed special leaving Chicago before 7, and I still missed my 11:30 Scrum. Between that, having to get out of bed slightly before 5am, and a general feeling of lethargy that no amount of coffee can cure, not to mention the lost billable hours, I'm going to start returning to Boston on Sunday nights.

Neither Anne nor I is thrilled with the arrangement. But then, we're not ecstatic about the 100% travel to begin with. The compromise is for me to be home no less than 48 hours a week, and for her to come out to Boston every so often.

A funny thing happened to Anne recently. She used to be an Aisle Person. She's becoming a Window Person, possibly because I have been one for the 30 years I've been flying.

Aisle People don't really like to fly. It's a means to an end. I'm here, I need to go there, this requires sitting in an aluminum tube for several hours; best to sit in the asile to minimize the aluminum-tube time.

I, on the other hand, always take a window seat. The very first time I got in an airplane, before I could even spell my name, I think my nose was pressed against the window for four hours. I've never gotten over how cool it is to look down 10 km (6 mi) and see...everything.

As I write this, we're over Lake St. Clair, just passing into Ontario. I can see that Lake St. Clair has two distinct currents, one direct from Lake Huron, which is dark green, and the other from the marshes on the Canadian side, which is muddy brown. The two flow in parallel down the Detroit River almost to the Renaissance Center, where turbulence from Belle Isle finally mingles them in swirling eddies of what I can only assume are heavily-polluted mud.

Ten minutes more and we're over the great swirling sandbar jutting out into Lake Erie right in the middle of the Canadian shore. I can actually see the sand flowing past it, lengthening it, creating a huge sandy beach upstream and a hazard to navigation downstream. Just a few minutes past that and we're over Buffalo, N.Y. There's Niagara Falls, identifiable from the cloud of mist hanging over it, and Toronto, barely discernable through the morning haze. Next, over Western New York and the Finger Lakes, deep valleys scooped out only a few thousand years ago by the southern edges of the massive ice sheets that dug out the Great Lakes. Finally, depending on our approach, I'll either get a terrific view of Nashua, N.H., from about 2,000 m (6,000 ft), or we'll get up close and personal with downtown Boston.

This is why I always get the window seat. And Anne, who finds herself flying a lot more than before we met, has started to agree.

Photo: Cape Ann, Mass., on downwind to Logan on today's flight.

Old Man Moskowitz

One of my favorites:

Old man Moskowitz was getting along in years. He decided to retire and let his 3 sons run the company (which manufactured a wide variety of nails). The sons thought they could increase market-share with some judicious billboard advertising.

Only a week later the old man was taking his usual Sunday drive in the country when he saw the first billboard ad. There it was—a picture of Jesus on the Cross, with the caption: "Nails for Every Purpose. Use Moskowitz Nails."

The old man immediately met with his three sons to voice his concern. He explained that the backlash could be horrendous. The company could be ruined. The sons agreed to discontinue that ad.

A week later the old man was again taking his usual Sunday drive when he saw the second billboard ad. There it was—a picture of the same cross, empty, with Jesus crumpled on the ground below...and the caption: "Next Time Use Moskowitz Nails."

Lowest. Approval. Ever.

The President's approval rating has fallen to 36%, its lowest ever, according to a new AP-Ipsos poll out today:

  • Just 36 percent of the public approves of Bush’s job performance, his lowest-ever rating in AP-Ipsos polling. By contrast, the president’s job approval rating was 47 percent among likely voters just before Election Day 2004 and a whopping 64 percent among registered voters in October 2002.
  • Only 40 percent of the public approves of Bush’s performance on foreign policy and the war on terror, another low-water mark for his presidency. That’s down 9 points from a year ago. Just before the 2002 election, 64 percent of registered voters backed Bush on terror and foreign policy.
  • Just 35 percent of the public approves of Bush’s handling of Iraq, his lowest in AP-Ipsos polling.
  • Just 30 percent of the public approves of the GOP-led Congress’ job performance, and Republicans seem to be shouldering the blame.

The MSNBC report includes a quote from a Republican pollster repeating the canard that it's not as bad as it seems because the Democrats don't have much of a plan. But we do have a plan. Our plan is to fix the enormous damage to our international reputation, our economy, and our political institutions that the GOP has perpetrated on us. It would appear that 64% of the public think that's plan enough.

Predictable software

We spent two hours yesterday debugging some code that kept firing early. It wasn't clear to anyone, including the people who wrote it, why this happened. We patched it with the C# equivalent of duck tape, but really, it still doesn't work right.

This incident shows how important it is to know what your code is supposed to do, and not to accept the code if it doesn't. Many tools exist to help—most notably, unit-testing tools like NUnit—but they have trouble with the specific problem that we encountered: events fired from black-box controls.

I will have more to say about this later.

The Midnight Special

Before nodding off to bed tonight, on a whim I searched Google for a funny story I remembered hearing on WFMT-Chicago's Midnight Special many years ago.

The New Year's Eve Midnight Special always ran long, and always played a bit called "Moose Turd Pie." Thanks to Google, I finally found out where it came from: U. Utah Phillips, who even has a link to the bit on his site.

This is what the Internet is all about.

Bush authorized Plame leak: Libby

The New York Sun is reporting that President Bush authorized leaking Plame's identity, at least implicitly, according to the vice president's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby:

A former White House aide under indictment for obstructing a leak probe, I. Lewis Libby, testified to a grand jury that he gave information from a closely-guarded "National Intelligence Estimate" on Iraq to a New York Times reporter in 2003 with the specific permission of President Bush, according to a new court filing from the special prosecutor in the case.
The court papers from the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, do not suggest that Mr. Bush violated any law or rule. However, the new disclosure could be awkward for the president because it places him, for the first time, directly in a chain of events that led to a meeting where prosecutors contend the identity of a CIA employee, Valerie Plame, was provided to a reporter.

Whether or not this is true, it's interesting to watch the administration's in-fighting get to this level. One hopes the electorate remembers, and understands, in November.