abqdan: (Default)
For the last week, and for at least another week, feeling somewhat overwhelmed. I didn't ever intend to be this busy in retirement, but I also have a hard time saying no...

For three years I've run my massage business out of an acupuncture clinic. This has brought me a lot of referrals, minimizing the need to advertise. However, the clinic changed ownership in January, and I found out (in a round about way...) that the new owner plans to close this location in June. She'll be taking the client base to a new location (she thinks) but won't have room for me. So I started looking for a new office space. I share the current location with another massage therapist, so I needed to find a space that would work for both of us. I'll also have to change my strategy for finding new clients.

Last year, with an eye to the future, I completed the requirements for an RMTI license (Registered Massage Therapy Instructor) so that I could start teaching massage classes. Although I've been a TA for the massage school for three years, I haven't been offered any full teaching classes in areas I could cover without the RMTI (business, ethics, Polarity). I thought adding an RMTI would give me more opportunity. Well of course, as soon as I started looking for a new office, I was offered a full teaching position in Swedish massage. My first course will be in October, and in preparation for that I'm now co-teaching the current class. (And co-teaching is in some ways more stressful than teaching solo - students will always prefer one instructor over the other; plus, I have to do things the way the lead instructor wants, not necessarily how I'd choose to handle the material).

And about the same time as all that, I had a chance encounter at a senior center that left me committed to teaching computer classes to seniors.

All these activities converged this week. I had my first day in Swedish class without the lead instructor, lecturing on muscle anatomy and Petrissage technique; I received the keys to a new office space and had to clear the old one; and my first computer class is coming up on Tuesday.

Somehow in all this, I decided to also attend a Country Western dance class on Thursday evenings, as well as line dance lessons on Fridays.

Although I gave notice to the IAGSDC that I was no longer going to maintain their website (after 10 years of doing so) they have been unable to find anyone with the necessary skills and time to take it on - it's a custom data-driven website that is used to process registrations for many events each year; and I have a completely irrational feeling of responsibility to fix things that go wrong, and help users run their events, eight months after resigning. I've received no public acknowledgment or thanks from the officers of the organization in years, though various individual members have been appreciative of my efforts; so I do find it difficult to deal with this situation. Just walking away is one option, but I can't quite bring myself to do that.

I am feeling overwhelmed. Things will settle down in a week or two, when the new office is up and running, and I have a few solo teaches in Swedish under my belt. The computer class is not really a heavy lift for me in terms of material, it's just an issue dealing with the logistics with the senior center and some curmudgeonly volunteers there that 'look after' the computer equipment.

Today's project; finish setting up the furniture, lighting, sound, decor etc in the new treatment room.

Retirement is turning out to be hard work. Maybe I should just get a full-time job somewhere.

Changes...

Nov. 16th, 2013 10:02 am
abqdan: (Default)
The last week or two, after a long period of sluggishness related in part to a lingering cold/viral kind of thing, I have a burst of new energy. Right now, I'm riding the wave. I'm not sure how long it will last...

I made it back to the gym three times this week, and increased overall the weights I used for upper body exercises - Mr Atlas, here I come! I've made it a habit (for a whole week now :-) ) to get out first thing in the morning and power walk about 1.25 miles, to get my day started right.

Palm Springs Pride weekend put me very much back into enjoying 2-step and line dancing, so I've given myself a project of learning the most popular line dances from the DiGS country western bar in Cathedral City. I've practiced almost every day this week.

Yesterday, I went for a short hike - about 3-4 miles - in the foothills of the Sandias. For a decade I've promised myself I'd get back into the habit I had in California of short hikes once a week; maybe I can keep this up.

In addition, Bill and I are hopefully going to keep to a routine of a walk together on Sunday mornings.

Overall, I've definitely increased my activity and exercise; but a week doesn't mean any permanent change has been made. I know I have an endless number of triggers that will put me back into a lethargic state. What I really need is a gym and power walking buddy to ensure I keep this up.

In other changes, I've started to cut down on the growing list of 'must watch' TV. This is a big issue for me. It's extremely easy for me to slip back into a sedentary lifestyle of TV watching or Internet surfing. Both are things I enjoy and won't eliminate; the trick is going to be to keep the two things in perspective compared to my other activities.

I have also made a decision (I think) to stop teaching at the massage school. I actually enjoy being a TA, helping students improve their technique and understanding; and I'm good at it. But... it is starting to feel like a job, and I have to commit to a 12 week schedule for each class. I want to have the flexibility to go off and hike or do whatever else comes to mind without worrying about that. My massage practice is much easier to manage in that respect, so I don't plant to change that.

And then there's overall lifestyle changes that need to be made. Cholesterol and glucose numbers have been creeping up, and my Doctor's reaction is the standard one - more pills. I don't plan to go that route until I've tried other things. The first is a sustained habit of exercise; the second is controlling my diet. So I'm planning to eliminate the "C" food group - Chocolate, candy, chips, cake, cookies... Now THAT is going to be an immense challenge for me!
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I feel like over the past few years, I've slipped into some kind of hibernation phase of life. When I retired early, I wanted to do a lot of things - nothing complicated, just getting busy with new projects, getting out hiking, camping - back to the way I was when I lived in California. Of course, that was 13 years ago now, and I was younger then. Bit by bit, that 'get up and go' had some how 'got up and went', and I'd hoped in retirement I'd recapture it.

It's easy to sink into a daily round of mundane activities. Time that could be spent actively can turn into snooze time in front of the TV, or wandering aimlessly in Internet-land. I think I've fallen victim to both.

I started going to the gym regularly back in January, but the recent visits to Palm Springs and the work on the condo have deflected me (or given me an excuse) not to do that. A recent cold/virus thing that Bill and I have been swapping back and forth had further reduced my energy level and desire to go to the gym.

Two weeks ago I made my second solo trip to Palm Springs, tidying up the loose ends for the rental of our condo. At the same time, the Palm Springs Pride event was on, and last weekend I committed to attending that event, rather than just making it a business trip.

Dancing at DiGS bar in Cathedral City on Tuesdays and Saturdays, plus the full-day 2-stepping/line dancing on both Saturday and Sunday at Pride has for the moment re-invigorated me. I want to get out and start doing things again, instead of just, well, sitting. Last night, at a 2-stepping/line dance group, I was talking to someone who told me about all the hikes he's currently doing in the Sandia Mountains (to the east of Albuquerque). I suggested he invite me along because I needed to start hiking again. And he gave me this piece of wisdom: "You shouldn't be waiting for an invite or for friends to be willing to go with you. If you want it, you will go". And he's right. I've been filling a book with excuses NOT to do things. I have to change that.

I think the sudden death of a friend of ours, who happened to be exactly my age, has affected me more than I realize. With no warning, he dropped dead in his living room. He was an active and relatively healthy person, but still he dropped dead. It's a reminder that at any age your time here is limited; and as the song says, you should 'live like you are dying".

So in the next few weeks I think I have to start changing some things in my life. How/what I'm not sure. It's going to be a new adventure!
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The web was once a textual place, its origins in SGML and academia. Then they invented programming toys, and along came the script kiddies.

Over the last 20 years, we've received a plethora of new languages and scripting tools. Some, like PHP and MySQL, allowed us to start building useful applications that added to the availability of information - the main purpose of web pages being the transfer of information.

But sadly, then came the graphic artists, and the marketing people. Together they pushed for more 'content rich' (AKA "pretty") sites. What we didn't get was an equal amount of talent and time dedicated to the man-machine interface.

Back in the 90's, when web pages were still relatively new for most large corporations, I sat through endless 'user interaction' lab tests, where we brought in members of the public to check that they could find the content they needed, without the need to call our support line. We studied things like whether a particular link should be on the left or right; whether a particular font made the content more or less readable; whether the color scheme worked for the large percentage of color-blind men, and many other factors. Underlying it all, was the need to have a simple, clear interface to the information - the reason the page was there.

Fast forward to today. We have AJAX, Javascript, jQuery, LightBox and whole bunch of other presentation-layer tools that programmers love. But what about the resulting web page? Here's an example from yesterday.

We use Comcast cable for internet (we don't have cable TV). I don't like the company, but it's the only high speed (now close to 50Mbps) service in the area. From time to time, I like to check on what DSL is doing. I'm not expecting that speed, but 20Mbps would be far more than we need. So I went to the centurylink web page to check on DSL pricing.

First off I get the usual explosion of advertising graphics, minus any real content. This is a national company, so much of their main page content does not relate to Albuquerque (though they surely know from my IP what market I'm in). But it's pretty. I find a link to get Internet pricing. Click the link, and a cute popup demands my full address, which i supply. It's going to give me 'customized pricing for my area'. I hit the submit button, then a blank screen. I wait. After about a minute I get this:

There is no Action mapped for namespace /freeRange/shop and action name

Now I know this isn't the pricing information for Albuquerque. This is a single line of plain text - an error message. The problem for me is that a customer should NEVER see such a message; this error should have been trapped, and the customer should see a nicely formatted "I'm sorry" page.

I try again - same response. Switch from Chrome to Firefox, fill in my full name and address (again)and voila! The page populates; so my original error message seems to be browser based. And now in Firefox a second, completely different form requires me to fill in my full address AGAIN so that the system can display my options. I persevere, and fill out my information again.

I wait. A new page comes up with some different packages I can select. The first is already selected and the price is displayed. I select a different one; no need to hit submit - by magic the pricing is going to change as I select different options, without me having to refresh the screen. And the pricing blinks, then comes back with the same figure. Yes, it turns out I can select three different levels of service, but they all cost the same. Someone's crazy here; either the page isn't displaying the correct price based on my selection, or they have customers willing to pay the same for 3Mbps, 7Mbps, and 12Mbps service...

I mark this as yet another FAIL in website design.

What they COULD have done, but didn't, is determine my geographic location by my IP, and on the first page displayed a simple list of pricing for all available packages. I would have found the information I wanted in just a couple of clicks, and could have compared the packages and pricing side-by-side on a single screen. But then what would all the graphics, marketing and script kiddies do all day?
abqdan: (Default)
<rant>
Why do some couples insist on having only a shared email address? One of the biggest complaints I get about the IAGSDC registration system is that you can't register two people using the same email address. Guess what - you can't register for lots of things using the same email address - facebook, with over a billion members, being just one system that springs to mind.

I have to say it's the lesbian couples that get most bitchy about this. What is the issue? These days, you can create an extra email address with gmail, hotmail, yahoo and many other sites - even if you really DO insist on reading each other's emails, you can still create a spare account easily enough. Don't bitch and moan at me about it, especially since I'm no longer the webmaster for the association. If it's SUCH a big deal don't go to the fucking event. I don't care.

Jesus!

<end rant>
abqdan: (Default)
As I plow through the daily email exchanges with realtors, finance guys, escrow officers, and sundry others, I keep thinking "It shouldn't be this difficult".

I haven't bought a property in a while, and it seems to me that the paperwork is now even worse than it was before 2007. It seems a lot of completely meaningless paperwork has been added to give the semblance that everyone is paying 'due diligence' to the process, when actually it just duplicates work and generates useless disclosures and information. Case in point: we had a home inspection done, which any sane person does before buying any property. The inspection wasn't too bad - it called out some minor repairs. The inspection also included a zillion exclusions as to what the inspector hadn't done or couldn't do. Hot on the heals of that report, we receive an "Agent's Visual Inspection Disclosure" where our realtor has to walk through the property, essentially noting the same things the inspector did, minus any technical content - which of course is excluded.

The whole title issue is duplicative too - a preliminary report sent via our realtor, and a second copy (with different attachments, oddly enough) sent through our escrow person. And yet both reports originate from the same title company - so how do they end up with different attachments? And aside from reading through the quasi-legalistic gobbledy-gook, the report tells us nothing - because the same company is going to issue the title guarantee, and they wouldn't do that if there was a problem with the title.

Back in England, they had a smart idea - the national Land Registry. All titles recorded in a central database, and you just get a copy of the title with a real estate transaction. No-one needs to research or guarantee it - it's a national database with laws prohibiting false information. This could not be adopted in the US of course - it would kill a huge industry. In fact, I'm convinced the huge mountain of pointless paperwork is a conspiracy between the real estate industry and state governments to keep those jobs going.

Financing is just as bad; we received two disclosures yesterday that are 'mandated'. A Truth In Lending and an Itemization of Amount Financed. These documents, in trying to give you as much information as possible about how the transaction works, end up being completely confusing. So much so, that they come with a thick set of notes explaining why what the document says isn't what is going to happen. For example, the TIL shows a box labeled "Amount Financed" which is considerably less than "Loan Amount". Here's the explanation in the attached notes:

Q: Does this mean I will get a smaller loan than I applied for?
A: No. If your loan is approved in the amount requested, you will receive credit toward your home purchase or refinance for the full amount for which you applied. In the example above, you would therefore receive a $50,000, not a $48,000 loan.

Why do they show "Amount Financed" as less than the "Loan Amount"? Who knows?

The government may think they've added a layer of protection after the sub-prime disaster; in actuality, they've simply added a layer of meaningless paperwork.
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On Friday we signed the seller's counter on our offer for a condo in Palm Springs. That clinched the contract - though there are still finance and inspection hurdles to go through. By Sunday night, buyer's remorse was setting in. Sunday evening I started re-working spreadsheets for my retirement funds and the costs of the condo, and became concerned that I simply couldn't afford to do this.

While there has, according to our realtor, been a 10% year-on-year growth in house prices in the Palm Springs area, that isn't necessarily reflected across the board. One of the advantages of working with an agent for a period of time is the chance to access sales records for multiple properties over a long period. It became apparent fairly quickly that at the price-point we were considering, there hadn't been that much appreciation. Over the past two or three months, we've actually seen a number of properties being priced down, rather than up. What this means in terms of our purchase is that we can't expect rapid appreciation of the property. When you sell a property you take about an 8% hit due to commissions and other costs. So to be able to sell this unit in the future, and get back what we are paying for it, it needs to appreciate at by least 8%. I doubt that will happen for at least two years.

Not that we are anticipating selling in the short term; but this is the kind of scenario that steals my rest at night - the 'what if' of a major (for us) purchase. And so, with several completed analyses, I headed to bed, but did not sleep. At 3am I was back at the computer, adding in costs and other items I'd neglected in my first analysis.

By the time Bill (my rock, in these situations) had arisen, I was exhausted and convinced the purchase was a bad idea. Our discussion calmed me down somewhat, and Bill essentially left any decision to proceed or cancel up to me. After three very large cups of coffee, I was sufficiently awake to start working again on "what if's" and was eventually surprised to find that things were going to be OK after all.

Looking back over other such purchases, and major life decisions, I see that I approach them all this way. First enthusiasm (sometimes excessive) followed by a period of severe doubt, then a period of re-analysis, and finally a decision to proceed or not. And despite the frustration for myself and those around me, this process seems to work - for me. I rarely come to regret the choices I make after this process is complete.

So now, enough with the hand-wringing; it's back to being excited about our new project... and the potential for actually sleeping through the night!
abqdan: (Default)
Without much fanfare, I launched the latest version of the IAGSDC website last Monday. I took over as webmaster in 2004 after the Remake The Heatwave convention in Phoenix. Prior to that, the website was a set of static HTML pages that was rarely updated.

Since then, I developed a data-driven site where most pages are generated dynamically from a database. Functions include a profile system, allowing dancers to stay in touch (before everyone moved to Facebook), a club directory giving details of the locations and dance nights around the country, an event registry and calendar that can be updated by members, and a complete suite of registration applications that allow regional events and national conventions to track registrations, and accept payments by PayPal. Under the hood are other functions that assist the officers of the club in running the organization.

The site has been used to register attendees for seven national conventions, as well as over 90 other events. In total, the system has handled close to 10,000 registrations.

Overall, I'm pleased with the work I've done on this, though as with most website work, the site is regarded simply as a tool that 'exists' by a lot of people; they are unaware of the thousands of hours that go into design, programming and maintenance of it.

Well, I came to the realization this week that it is no longer 'fun' - it's become just an 'obligation'. So it's time to move on. I've let the chair of the organization know that we need to locate a replacement for me.

That may not be easy - in some ways, I've created a monster. The site is extensive, and there are still many requests for additional functions queued up. Looking after this requires someone who can work at a technical level with domain registrars and the ISP; is comfortable with PHP and MySQL (even if they just want to convert the site to something else) and above all, can work with a very diverse (and sometimes very rude and unpleasant) set of people. Fingers crossed that someone will step forward. I've already put out some inquiries with likely suspects.

I may over time miss the role; but for the moment, I feel more relieved than sad that this particular chapter of my life is closing. I am sure I will seek out some new challenge in the near future; it's not like me to just sit and rest for long!
abqdan: (Default)
An old science fiction story has come to mind many times over the years - but somehow the memory became muddled - imagine that! The NSA issues in the past week or two once again recalled to mind this story, which dealt with the problems the information age might present.

To my younger readers (ha! I don't really have any...) I would remind you that firms in the 60's used to use hollerith-encoded "punched cards" to record details of transactions. They would sent them out to customers with a stern warning printed on them at the top: "Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate" - any of which actions making the card either useless or error-prone.

In his story "Computers Don't Argue" (1965) Gordon Dickson took the problems with computers and these punched cards to a logical, and horrific conclusion. For years my addled memory was telling me this was an Asimov short story, but I'm delighted to have tracked it down today, by the miracle of the Internet. The full story is downloadable here. I'm hoping this link is with the permission of the copyright holder - I don't encourage the electronic theft of materials. Fingers crossed I don't receive a punched card in the mail...

http://ebookbrowse.com/computers-don-t-argue-by-gordon-dickson-rtf-d282470636
abqdan: (Default)
You may already have followed the dramas we've had with trying to buy a condo in Palm Springs. It may be that we should just take a rest at this point and do nothing. But we have one last opportunity to buy right now. Here's the salient points:

Pros:

  • The market is improving, so now would be a good time to buy (a year ago would have been better, admittedly)

  • I am mostly retired, so I could make use of the property when I want; Bill has the flexibility with his job for us both to go stay there for a week or two each year.

  • Renting during 'the season' would cover part of the annual costs for the next three years; after which Bill would be retired and we'd use the condo to 'over-winter' in California.

  • We've found a condo we both REALLY like


Cons:

  • The owner of the condo we like wants to sell for $10,000 over currently appraised value - no negotiation will be accepted

  • The same owner wants us to let her daughter stay there for three months after escrow closes (which isn't a huge issue, since we wouldn't need it particularly in that period).

  • No matter how I work the figures, taking into account what we'd make on our deposit if it stays in other investments, the costs associated with running/maintaining a condo, and potential increase in equity over time, I can't make this look like a good investment on paper.


So here's the problem; I have an emotional reaction that we should agree to the terms of the seller, just because I really like the complex, and the unit. But in pure business terms, we come out a little worse off after 5 or 6 years owning the condo, than if we just did nothing.

One big issue with 'what-if' modeling is that there is very little on which to base a prediction of how well our other investments might grow, or how fast the CA property market might rise in the next five years; so a lot of this is guesswork.

The difference between our last offer and full asking price is just 2.57%; though in reality, the price they want is about 5.7% higher than a fair market value for the property. So we'd effectively be starting out with a 5.7% loss...

Bill and I will have to sit down and talk this through tonight - do we go with a good solid investment decision, or an emotional decision (plus the 'joy' and benefits of ownership of the property long-term).
abqdan: (Default)
Once again I had to spend hours blocking a distributed hack attack. This one originated from three locations - Canada, Russia, and China. While I think two might have been bots controlled from elsewhere, the Russian attack was at least in part conducted by a human.

The general purpose of the regular attacks against websites I maintain seems to be to install malware and/or to install porn directories, which users are then directed to from other hacked sites. The problem has grown tremendously in the past few years.

In addition to this particular attack, last week the ISP I use was hit with a DDOS attack, and a brute-force attack against all WordPress sites hosted on their servers.

The continued and frequent attacks mean I can spend less of my time on actual site maintenance; I can only imagine the hours consumed in total by owners of small websites.

But the really disturbing thing is the number of hacked computers that are now controlled remotely by botnets, which are responsible for these attacks; and the number of sites that are maintained by people who can't tell an SQL injection attack from their armpit. In many ways, the tools that have enabled just about anyone to create a web presence are responsible for the growth of these attack vectors - there are so many sites out there with trivial attempts at security that they are sitting ducks for these concerted efforts launched by criminal networks.

I recently read an article that highlighted a particular town in Russia. Twenty years ago, it was a small farming community; it is now home to thousands of programmers, all hired to come up with new ways to hack websites. And apparently, this is either not illegal there, or the authorities have no way (or maybe interest) in shutting down this activity.

I wonder how much longer small sites can exist; even major corporations are unable to keep ahead of all the attacks on their infrastructure. A single owner has no hope of maintaining sufficient security to beat off every access attempt.

Color me disillusioned.
abqdan: (Default)
But I can't imagine what it is.

We watch a lot of streamed content from Hulu and Netflix. Over the past year, both services have changed their streaming systems so that when one program finishes, another immediately starts streaming ('autoplay' on Hulu, 'post-play' on Netflix). On Netflix, it's the next program in a series; on Hulu, the next one in your queue.

I suspect someone told them they needed to be more like cable, where one show automatically follows another; but as far as I'm concerned, one of the benefits of streaming is that you just see what you want to watch right now. It is a benefit (to me at least) to be able to pick and choose the shows I want to watch, without additional episodes or programs automatically starting to play. To cancel this 'post-play' feature you get 15 seconds at the end of a show to cancel the next episode. Particularly annoying when you fall asleep in your chair or bed, and wake up to find you are a couple of episodes further along than you expected!

Thankfully, the engineers at Hulu at least had the sense to bury an on/off switch in the user preferences; Netflix didn't, and according to the support person I just spoke with, have no plans to do so.

Another piece of UI engineering where need and operation were never discussed with customers!
abqdan: (Default)
I must be one of the luckiest people around, because I have yet again been picked to continue someone's good works. I have immediately submitted the necessary information. This is the email I received confirming my selection:

Greeting,

I am sincerely seeking your confidence in this donate of money to help in projects which will make a huge impact in helping the orphans, widows, and widowers. which I propose with my free mind here is this hospital sick bed, as a person of integrity from God. With warm hearts I offer my friendship, and my greetings, and I hope this letter meets you in good time.

My name is Ms. Mariana TINIRAU from France. I currently undergoing medical treatment here in London, as a result of my two Kidney Cancer, which effected my liver under the ribs in the right upper part of my abdomen and i can not beable to walk myself or do anything without the helps of hospital nurses. I was former mechanical engineer at OILIBYA - LIBYA OIL COTE D'IVOIRE. DISTRIBUTION DE PRODUITS PETROLIERS. During President Laurent Ggbabo regime Former President of Cote d’Ivoire.

Presently, I deposited the sum of $6. 650, 000.00 US Dollars, with a bank in Abidjan and this fund is presently with this bank for long awaiting my disbursement as beneficiary to Provide any next of kin to the funds with this bank. Since i can not do anything by myself again. Recently, my Doctor told me that I would not last for the next coming month due to cancer problem. Having known my condition, I decided to donate this fund to you or your organization A good person that will utilize this money in good faith to help the orphanage homes, widows, and widowers this funds.

I took this decision because I don't have any child that will inherit this money. I kept this deposit secret till date, this is why I am taking this decision. I don't think I will need any telephone communication in this regard because of my health condition. Upon your reply I shall give you the direct contact of the bank and I will also issue a letter of authorization to you that will prove you the present beneficiary to the bank.

I will also want you to send your below requested information that I will submit to the bank.

1) Real Names
2) Phone/Fax numbers
3) Occupation
4) Residence address.
5) Bank account information
6) Passport

Please always be putting me in your prayers all through this time of my bad health condition and I Await for your urgent responds.

A Pet Peeve

Feb. 8th, 2013 09:12 am
abqdan: (Default)
Somehow, the art has won out over information on so many products these days. It crept up on me, so I didn't really figure it out until recently. I think it started with Apple's artsy 'carousel' approach to displaying albums on music devices. But it has spread to just about everything now - mostly because app writers want the apps to look cool.

My problem is that the art - album covers, artist pictures, DVD illustrations - all take up a huge amount of real estate on a screen. Our big screen Sony TV is a case in point. It has apps for Hulu and Netflix built in. But there is no way to open a simple LIST of the programs we have queued up. Instead, a maximum of 20 icons of the shows is displayed. As a result, you get to endlessly scroll through long lists of content - especially on Netflix, where my current 'instant' list has some 200 titles in it.

Now on the matching websites, Netflix and Hulu both offer a combination of icons and lists for shows. This works well; but on hand held devices, on boxes like Roku, Tivo or our TV, you only get the icons.

I'm afraid the entertainment industry has failed to find out how people use information before designing the access to it. Probably, an app designer for Netflix has 20 titles in queue, and figures scrolling six at a time is no problem, and looks pretty. But in the real world, all kinds of users use information differently. I don't mind them having this 'tile' option for those that want it; but it really would not be at all difficult to also provide a simple list display for those of us that just don't care about the cover art.
abqdan: (Default)
I don't post much here anymore, mostly because it's far quicker to dash off a note or whatever on Facebook. And there seems to be so few people posting here now. Sad, because I enjoyed the discussions here much more than I do on FB.

But today is a special day! One of my Netgear gigabit switches failed last night - actually the second one to fail since I replaced all the switches with gigabit speed devices in 2009. I wasn't best pleased, since the warranty was expired. I decided to call Netgear anyone, mostly to whine at them. And then I discovered the equipment has a lifetime warranty; it's only their free phone support that expires at the end of the warranty. This is both good and bad - the other failed switch I simply binned, thinking it wasn't worth dealing with. Oh well, lesson learned.

I hope I understood the Netgear support guys - both clearly Asian Indian, with fairly heavy accents. But both seemed very competent, and helpful. As I understand it, a replacement is being shipped, for a 'shipping charge' of $19 - compared to the replacement cost of $160, that seems like a good deal for a two year old switch. Yay me!
abqdan: (Default)
At the general elections, I work the polls for Bernalillo County. In the past that has been a pretty simple job, because I was assigned to a local site, and we only dealt with our local precinct. This year however, Bernalillo has purchased a computer system that allows anyone to vote at any voting center. The result is that instead of having thousands of pre-printed ballots, they are printed on demand when you turn up to vote. That alone should save many trees.

That's not the main aim of course - the idea is to make it more convenient to vote. You don't have to know where to go - you can pick any location from a list of 69, county wide. The system feeds real-time data to an app that shows the polling locations, and the approximate wait-time at each one. All the clerk's workstations are linked by a VPN to allow real-time updates of who has voted, and this is sent every couple of hours to all political parties, so that they can get out their voters (or not). All of this simplifies the process.

Some things though become much more complex. Now, instead of having to deal with ballots for a single precinct, poll workers have to deal with all the various types of ballot for (potentially) hundreds of precincts. While a lot of the vote tallying is dealt with by a mark-sense reader (we have paper ballots, with bubbles you have to fill in), incorrectly marked ballots (where they've marked both Romney and Obama for example), and ballots with write-in candidates selected, must be tallied by hand at the end of the day. All this information has to be entered into several Excel spreadsheets by the poll workers, and then transferred to a secure flash drive.

Many poll workers have worked the polls for 20, 30, and sometimes more years. The older folks are used to precinct ballots, where there is no technology and a slow trickle of voters. In the past, they could sit and chat, do crossword puzzles, read a boo and have a pot luck. Not any more. This year, they're all going to be working computers, and they will be working flat out for most of the day, since there are far fewer voting locations than previously. Where a single precinct might see 200 votes, a convenience center will have between 1000 and 2000 voters on election day. (These are estimates by the county, based on early voting patterns). The county has hired 800 temporary workers to staff the voting centers.

This year, I'll be a Presiding Judge for a voting center. This means I have to manage all the equipment, poll workers, and the observers, poll watchers and poll challengers. I have to ensure everything is done as prescribed by NM law, and I have to make sure no-one and nothing disrupts the polling process. Along with a second judge (the Exceptions Judge) I have to handle any exceptions - people needing provisional ballots, those who have requested but not received absentee ballots, etc.

One of my main concerns is that the challengers appointed by either party behave themselves. We've been warned that there may be attempts to act illegally, trying to challenge registered voters, question voters waiting in line, see information they're not entitled to, etc. so I plan to have a chat with them before the polls open to make sure we are all on the same page about what they can and can't do.

Closing the polls used to be quite straight-forward; you ran the paper tally from the voting tabulator, corrected for write-ins, documented provisional votes etc, then packed everything up and shipped it back to the voting collection point. This year though, it promises to be a long and involved process. Although we'll still be working on a final tally late in the evening, the provisional (and accurate within a few votes) results will be out very quickly after the polls close, because the provisional results are released when the electronic totals are submitted to the voting warehouse. We were warned that in all probability, the result of the Presidential election will have been called before we even finish our final totals, unless the race is very close and New Mexico's electoral votes become a deciding factor (not likely either way).

I'm expecting to be working from 5am to midnight. It's going to be a long, long day.
abqdan: (Default)
Patents used to protect truly novel ideas, but now they are used to protect 'concepts' or even just 'ideas'. This is nonsense.

Software patents have bugged me for years (no pun intended). Back in the 90s, some companies got fat filing patents on tiny portions of code in applications, then claiming they were unique. Once they had a patent, they could sue any company that used the code or something essentially the same. I'm quite sure I routinely wrote PHP code that infringed a patent or two - because I was writing applications that do standard business processes, and they can only be tackled using a limited set of algoithms. And I once worked for a software company that was far prouder of its ever-growing list of patents than it was of its actual products.

This is equivalent to granting a patent on the idea of a fork. Then only one company could make forks; other companies would have to license the patent in order to make rival forks. Sounds silly I know, but that is essentially what is happening in the software industry.

Applie just received a $1 billion judgement in a patent suit - over such things as how a list on a phone or tablet 'bounces' when scrolled. They claim to have invented various 'movements' including a two-finger squeeze to reduce the size of a picture on a screen. I can't swear to it, but I'll bet that gesture was used previously in a science fiction movie or book - indeed, a huge number of developments have been predicted in that genre. Should the original writers be getting the patent fees? After all, the idea was theirs first.

In the end, the consumer loses, because choice is restricted or costs increase for rival products.

Am I saying we should do away with patents? No, but I do think the laws are currently a mess, and do not deal well with our modern society. True innovators should be protected, but the innovations need to be more substantial than displaying a button on a web page.
abqdan: (Default)
Found out today about the 'we the people' White House initiative. Obviously, the White House receives thousands of letters, emails and calls every day, and they presumably distill those down to a report that shows what is trending. However, the "we the people" initiative is a little different. It allows you to create a petition, which you advertise. If you get 25,000 signatures in a month, the White House will take some kind of action - though it may still turn out to be a form-letter type response from a government department.

To use it, you have to sign up for a 'whitehouse.gov account' - which is another way of saying that they are collecting names and email addresses; doubtless that factors in to their reasons for providing the site. But since they already know my details, creating an account didn't bother me.

I decided to try this out, starting with a constitutional amendment! It's been bothering me that the various amendments being suggested to 'fix' the Citizens United issue are too specific. They mostly seem to want to re-establish Congress' right to control election financing. Which is fine, but the Supreme Court should not really have the power to redefine the term "person" at all. I'm pretty sure the founders did not have corporations (in legalese, 'fictitious persons') in mind when the wrote 'person' and 'persons' over and over again in the constitution. They meant individuals. So defining the term as 'humans' in the constitution should be an easy fix.

In any case, it can't hurt to repeat this and similar demands to the White House and Congress. So I created my first petition here:

http://wh.gov/TAtb

As you'll see, I'm a little shy of the 25,000 votes necessary to get it into the main White House queue! LOL

I'm all for more channels to the top. Take a look at the site: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov and see what others are talking about. And sign my petition if you are so inclined.
abqdan: (Default)
HTPC - Home Theater PC - is a dedicated computer that is hooked up by HDMI to your TV to handle things like browser-only content. It needs to be small, quiet and powerful enough to render 1080p content.

I thought I'd found a good candidate in the Apple Mac Mini - but it turns out from reading user groups and other posts, that this little guy whines a lot when he's hot. Actually, his fan revs up to hurricane-force when the video processor is working overtime on streaming video.

I'm surprised that no-one has really addressed this gap in the market - it shouldn't be hard to create a box that does what I need - and as more people migrate from cable to alternative media, the market will only grow.
abqdan: (Default)
I guess we both watch too much TV. That said, I spend a lot of time getting ready to watch, rather than actually watching. The problem is that while there are many decent services out there, there is no convergence.

The core of our watching experience is broadcast TV, which we can record using TiVo. We also have the Netflix and HuluPlus apps for the TiVo. Unfortunately, this hasn't been the panacea I had hoped for.

First, the TiVo apps are rather buggy and poorly designed. They are graphic intensive, and rather than providing a simple list of content, they use large graphic tiles, making browsing for content difficult. The TiVo search feature frequently returns results that are not consistent with the actual content available through the two apps - it will often identify content that is not actually available for streaming. And the apps are limited on what can be shown on the TiVo - some Hulu programming for example is not available through the TiVo, though it is through a standard PC browser. Netflix's claim that they have thousands of TV shows to stream is disingenuous at best - relatively few new shows are available, and content from premium serivces like Showtime is non-existent. (Their DVD option has more content, but we don't want to go back to DVD ordering/shipping).

The result is that we have to remember what is and what isn't available through the TiVo, and then switch to a PC with HDMI connection to the TV to watch other shows. Then there are the many channels ( A&E, CBS to name but two) that don't have their content available through Hulu at all - so for those we have to use the PC browser.

The promise of convergence is there, where we'd be able to watch any content through one device, but we seem to be years away from all the companies - content providers and service providers - getting together to make this seamless. The problem seems to be the profit issue - how do they all make money from convergence? I guess once that is resolved, we'll see more technologically mature solutions.
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