01/11/2003

I just read some articles about online book publishing. Very interesting concept, and one which may be taking off. Apparently some authors (and publishers) have decided that making texts available– for free– on the internet is a way to generate free and rampant publicity, and also a way to potentially boost printed sales because people who enjoy the online version may go out and buy the printed version.

It’s a wonderful thing to see, particularly in a day when digital rights management has become a bunch of big companies blustering about how their multi-billion-dollar business is doomed because a handful of people are swapping files. The enforcement of digital rights has degraded into threats of legal action and other bully tactics.

Soon we may see music artists moving their wares online as well, and as the movement gains momentum we’ll start using the global network the way it should really be used.

01/09/2003

Last night I posted a job “opening” for a PHP/MySQL developer to help me in my busy times. I made it very clear that I wanted experienced PHP/MySQL programmers, and that I don’t have any steady work– just intermittent projects.

The posting has been sitting out there for a few hours, and not surprisingly I’ve been inundated with resumes. Many of the people are well-qualified, and I’m trying to sort through the ocean of mediocrity to find the gems who would be exactly what I need.

Several interesting responses:

* A Romanian company who says I should consider using Romanian developers because the pay rates over there are much lower. (This guy also called and left a long message in broken English.)

* Someone who said, and I quote: “In your list of absolutely required skills you list MySQL, which I lack…”

* Several people who are new to PHP but seem to think “absolutely required” somehow equates to “just learning”.

01/08/2003

Laralee: “Hey Kyra, Dad’s home!”
Kyra: “Was he gone?”

Ouch.

01/07/2003

For the second time ever, I decided to read Slashdot. It’s one of the most popular geek news sites around, and if I want to stay on top of the not-quite-news stories I should probably expand my reading horizons.

I was amused to find someone had posed the question “What would ‘The Lord of the Rings’ be like if someone besides Tolkien had written it?” The responses were riotous, with one of my favorites being Dr. Seuss:

Gandalf, Gandalf! Take the ring!
I am too small to carry this thing!

I can not, will not hold the One.
You have a slim chance, but I have none.

I will not take it on a boat,
I will not take it across a moat.

I cannot take it under Moria,
that’s one thing I can’t do for ya.

I would not bring it into Mordor,
I would not make it to the border.

01/06/2003

Either I have plain bad luck with Windows, or Windows just plain sucks.

Today I spent about four hours trying to install Windows 98 on two sort-of-old computers from my friend Kindra. She needed ’98 so her kids could play their little educational games (which don’t run under the NT family). It seemed like a simple request, but turned into a nightmare of reformat-install-fail repeated again and again.

After four failed attempts on one, I finally gave up, wiped the hard drive, and gave it to her in the hopes that some CD she had at home would be adequate to the task. The second computer failed twice before it reluctantly accepted the OS.

Don’t even get me started on how much easier and faster it would’ve been to install Linux on both of those machines…

01/06/2003

We rented “Minority Report” the other evening. I’d been interested in seeing it since it first came out, but the classic theater price dilemma kept us from seeing it on the big screen. Now that I’ve finally seen it, I have to say that it’s a great movie. Very suspenseful, and the mystery of “whodunit?” kept us guessing until the end. I was impressed by a lot of things in the movie. Some general comments:

1) I like how Cruise’s eyes changed to dark brown when he got new ones. Attention to detail. It would’ve been even better if, at the end, he had one brown and one blue– since he had kept one of his originals.

2) Whoever played Agatha did a great job. Maybe in real life she’s pretty and funny and whatever, but in the movie she was very much what you might expect of the precog.

3) The special effects were very good. I really dug the computer screens that were projected on glass or just into the air. And the way they manipulate data is fun– sliding stuff around with special gloves.

4) The police airships reminded me of Boba Fett’s Slave I starship.

5) The whole movie was colorized weird– very grey-and-blue. At first it annoyed me, but then I realized if they’d made everything really bright and cheery it would’ve clashed with the mood of the story.

So all in all it was a lot of fun. Now I just have to read the Philip K. Dick short story it’s based on…

01/05/2003

The week Alex was born, I made up my mind to finally write a full-length novel. I didn’t want to do it for publication, riches, or fame– but because I had some great story ideas (just concepts, actually) and wanted to put them to paper. I spent a few days laying out the plot and the characters and even the world where they occurred. It was, of course, science fiction and therefore had to take place in the far future on some far-flung world of the galactic empire. I even started writing, but after twenty or thirty pages I simply ran out of steam. Over the years those ideas have festered, the plot has evolved, even the characters have changed. And every time I try to dive into it, I find myself stuck beyond a few chapters.

As an interesting side note, one of the three main characters in that story was named Kyra al-Kii, and a year and a half later I took that name for my daughter. So now it might look strange to have a heroine named for my daughter, but the truth is that it’s the other way around. That’s when I really decided Kyra was a cool name, and what better use for it?

Anyway, the years– almost six of them– have rolled past, and I’m no closer to finishing the novel. I’ve added to the concepts, but my biggest hurdle (and a constant weakness of mine) is that while I have some really fascinating plot lines, I haven’t figured out how to tie them all together into a coherent, gripping, sensible story. It’s like I have pieces of twenty stories and need something to bring them all together into a saga. I don’t know if that’s how most novels are written, but I suspect not. I’ve read books about how to write novels, and all of them suggest planning chapter-by-chapter, describing characters on paper before even beginning to write about them, and really thinking about the story and finding its weaknesses and “dry” parts so they can be improved.

So the ideas are still there, the ambition is still there, but I simply haven’t dedicated the time and energy to do it. I’ve always said that my goal in life is to spend my retirement years (hopefully not too far away) sitting on my big house-encircling porch, in an easy chair, clicking away at a novel on my laptop while the sun setsover the mountains in front of me. That image is so vivid in my mind that I can almost picture the place I live, and the setting I’m describing. Of course there’s a long and not-so-fun road to get there, but if things go really incredibly fantastically well I could be there someday. Time will tell.

01/03/2003

Tonight I was working on some stuff, and Alex needed me to come upstairs. With a little help from mom, he called my cell phone and I answered.

“Hello?”
“Hi dad.”
“Who is this?”
“Alex.”
“Alex who?”
“Alex Schroeder.”
“I don’t know anyone named Alex Schroeder.”
“Yes you do. I’m your kid.”

01/03/2003

Alex: “Kyra, you’re a pooter.”
Kyra: “You shouldn’t call people that.”
Alex: “Why not?”
Kyra: “Because it’s not a nice word.”
Alex: “Yes it is.”
Kyra: “Then call yourself a ‘pooter’!”

01/03/2003

The tally is in. This year I sent 8,024 e-mail messages. That’s an average of 22 messages every day.

Yikes. No wonder I feel out of touch when I’m on vacation or whatever, and can’t check my e-mail for a day or two…

01/03/2003

So at 2:00 this morning the city of Boulder lost power. It was out for three hours, during which time the facility where I’m co-locating my web servers had a diesel generator running. Around 4:00 the generator sprung a fuel leak and shut down, so my UPS batteries kicked in. They lasted a little over half an hour, and then all my computers shut down.

When the power came back on, four of my systems rebooted themselves. The other two didn’t. This was, of course, a problem– those were the database servers. I woke up to clients calling and asking where their web sites were.

Although this is really just a case of bad luck, it goes to show how complicated it is to keep servers going all day, every day. Fortunately my clients are understanding; they could easily fly off the handle and scream at me about incompetence…

01/02/2003

Today I was struggling with writing some web code that would work in both Netscape and Internet Exploder. Of course Microsoft has put together their own little flavor of Javascript, so the stuff I was writing worked just fine in Netscape but gave big ugly errors in IE. When Laralee came into the office and asked how I was doing with stuff, I explained my woes. Her response about Microsoft:

“They’ll burn as stubble.”

01/01/2003

For the first time, Alex read a book entirely on his own. It’s part of a big ol’ collection called “Learn to Read Storybook” or something. I had it as a kid, and my mom copied the first few (easy) stories and bound them. He breezed through the first one, even though it was mind-numbingly dull:

I see a bee.
I see a tree.
I see a bee fly to the tree.

It goes on for about fifty pages. However, these are all words that are easy for kids to figure out, and Alex did it. I was pretty proud.

I hope to have him reading “The Lord of the Rings” next spring.

01/01/2003

Win the battle, lose the war?

I was in court yesterday, suing a former client who refused to pay for work I’d done. After a year and a half of broken promises, I finally went to court over the issue. I won– by default– because the guy didn’t even bother to show up. Yippee, I should get my money now, right?

Of course not. Now begins the exciting process of “discovery” where I submit papers to the court (at cost to me, of course) to force him to reveal his debtors– clients or otherwise. I could also ask for bank account numbers, but I have those. The problem is, I called the bank to see if there’s enough money in the account to cover the court-ordered payment, and there isn’t. He could easily open a new account somewhere, use it instead of the old one, and I’d never know. More to the point, he could refuse to disclose his debtors and I wouldn’t have anywhere to turn to get the money.

So I’ve learned, through hard experience, that you can be a complete idiot and refuse to pay for things, and in the end you can get away with it. The only way I’ll ever see my money is if I persist– perhaps over the course of a year or more– and in the end it’s a question of whether it’s worth my time and headache to collect.

Sigh.

12/30/2002

At times it’s hard to be a “nice guy” in business. This morning I had a meeting with a longtime client to discuss a project that would mean several months of steady work and a check for fifty grand at the end. Yet as we were talking about the project, it became apparent that what I was proposing might not be quite what they really needed.

So, rather than trying to push them into a solution that would’ve been expensive (although very cool), I suggested they explore some other options and have me do some integration work, rather than full development. I probably cost myself the contract, and certainly won’t be taking home the big check, but in the end I feel better about it. After all, I’m in business to help clients. Paying the mortgage is just a nice side benefit.

12/30/2002

Alex to Kyra:

“I noticed that your burps are almost as loud as mom’s.”

12/29/2002

I’ve got bilingual kids. Tonight at dinner Zack was standing up in his chair (a favorite pastime) and Kyra– always the disciplinarian– pointed at him and shouted:

“Zack, NO COMPRENDO!”

12/25/2002

At the airport the other day it was hard to tell which group outnumbered the other: the security screeners or the passengers. There was literally an army of white-shirted FAA people running people through the scanners. It was almost comical, seeing a line of people standing at attention (with their rubber gloves on) waiting for the chance to “wand” someone who sets off the beeper.

This time I left my pocketknife at home.

12/18/2002

Laralee and I saw “The Two Towers” this afternoon. Opening day, of course.

All I have to say is that the movie is awesome on a grand scale– yet at the same time, it has disturbing digressions from the plot in the book. It’s as if Peter Jackson took the characters and the situations from the book, and kind of made up his own little story with them. Even
more so than FOTR, this movie twists characters and events in a way that may make for good cinematics but, in my opinion, lessens the story Tolkien wrote.

Anyway, it’s fun to watch and I’ll definitely get the DVD (will there be an extended edition with another hour of footage?)…

12/15/2002

I spent all day yesterday working on Christmas cards. First I picked a bunch of pictures, resized and cropped them, and tiled them into a big (page-size) mosaic. Then I spent an hour or so writing the big ol’ form letter. In one sense, I despise form letters because they’re terribly impersonal– and everyone knows it. In another sense, when I’m sending 200+ cards I don’t have a lot of choice.

In the Good Old Days ™ I would handwrite a couple paragraphs in every card I sent. People got their personalized messages, and everything was good. The years went by, and each year I find that my list of recipients has grown. At some point it just became impractical to write so much… sadly.

After finishing The Letter, I put my printer through its paces. It’s a color laser printer– very sweet– but I’m running dangerously low on my drum kit life (whatever that is). So I was just hoping the printer would make it through 200 front-and-back solid full-color pages. It did.

Then came the envelopes. Usually I print address labels (recipient and return address) and then we spend a bunch of time peeling them off and sticking them on each envelope. Instead, this year I printed directly on the envelope, which allowed me to put a cute picture of the kids in Santa hats right on the envelope.

The last step, of course, was the actual folding, stuffing, and stamping. Laralee and I worked together this morning and did all of them in about two hours. That included brief (one-line, mostly) handwritten messages to each person, and in the end we had a huge stack of stamped envelopes.

Now I’ve got to do another 40 or so for my clients…