Needle in a Haystack

I just finished what was one of the longest days of my career so-far at Bentley. And everything that was bad about today was entirely my own damn fault and could have been easily avoided if I’d just been a bit more careful.

In addition to pushing some publishing updates to our documentation CCMS last night, I also decided to roll out my new Troubleshooting DITA specialization. It’s based on the specialization that is expected to ship with the DITA 1.3 specification sometime next year, but uses our specialized domains and works with DITA 1.2. That’s mostly tech comm nerd talk for I decided to give the writers a new template geared toward writing troubleshooting tips.

Unfortunately, even after thoroughly testing it on our development server, I managed to mess things up by added a comment to a couple of DTD catalog files after all of my testing but before making a backup of the production environment. That is, I didn’t really have a backup of the functioning production server. Rather, I had a copy of some files I had just made a minor edit to, one of which included a critical error. An error I ended up spending all day today trying to locate and correct.

Eventually, I realized I had left a single “>” character in an XML comment copied over to a text catalog file (the text catalogs aren’t XML and have the angle brackets stripped out – something I will now do with XSL instead of manually!). This one particular catalog file is used to locate the DTDs for our desktop DITA editor and no one was able to check out or create new content in our CCMS as a result of that one errant character. It took me about ten hours to figure this out (well, maybe nine hours of panic attack and one hour of actual clear-headed work). Thus leaving half-a-dozen writers with no good way to edit some of their files today as well as me feeling like a jerk for not being more cautious.

I just wrapped up my fixes —both tested thoroughly in their final form and put into place after backups of the working production environment were made. I’m going to check in with my colleagues in India shortly to ensure they can now edit and create content once again.

Lesson learned; and I am humbled.

Amy Winehouse

Aside

Out of nowhere, I got into the mood to listen some Amy Winehouse this afternoon. It struck me as a real shame she never got to record a Bond theme, among the many disappointments of losing her. Winehouse just had the perfect sultry, throwback voice for a Bond film intro. I realize that it was ‘attempted’ and, honestly, having a duet by Alishia Keys & Jack White is a pretty good consolation. “Another Way to Die” is a great song, but I can’t help but wonder what could have been…

Great Year for My Reading Habit

Twenty Fourteen is shaping up to be a terrific year for my favorite authors and book series. Here are some of the books I can’t wait to read (in order of release date):

  • 2/20: Influx by Daniel Suarez – I’ve not read the most recent books by Suarez, but I loved the Daemon series and plan to read these Gibson-esque near-future novels.
  • 3/3: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson – I just finished the first Stormlight Archive novel (and it’s massive) and it is already one of my favorite fantasy series, with a very unique world and terrific characters.
  • 3/11: Mentats of Dune by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson – Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that the sequels/prequals/expanded universe novels haven’t been as good as the Frank Herbert novels. To be fair, not all of the Frank Herbert novels were on the same level, either. However, I’m such a Dune junkie, I eat these up with glee.
  • 6/17: Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey – A new Expanse book is also getting to be nearly an annual event, thankfully (of course, with two authors under one pen name, one would expect some turn around!). I started the series last year right on time for the third book, and I’ve been waiting for the fourth ever since about a day afterwards.
  • 7/15: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie – Okay, I’ve got a few books to read in this fantasy series to catch up to this one, but I really liked Abercrombie’s first books.
  • 8/5: The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman – The Magician’s series has been one of the most refreshing things in all of fantasy in a very long time. I’ve eagerly awaiting the final(?) book in the series to see what ending befalls Quentin and crew.
  • 8/12: The Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb – Another series I’ve got to play catch-up on, but I really liked the first two novel of Fitz and the Fool.
  • 8/26: Lock In by John Scalzi – It’s a new storyline (and possibly a series; at least there’s a novella to precede it), but Scalzi’s wit is always welcome in science fiction. He’s already released a novella in the same world as this novel.
  • 10/7: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie – Ancillary Justice was one of my favorite books of last year and I’m very happy that Leckie had the second novel in the series in the chamber (or she is an incredibly fast writer, which is rare but would be welcome). Her first book was nominated for almost every award imaginable and I sincerely hope she wins them all!
  • 10/7: Armada by Ernest Cline – I loved Cline’s first novel and can’t wait to see what he’s got next. Update: Well it was bound to happen for at least one book on this list. This title has been pushed back until July 2015.
  • 10/21: The Abyss Beyond Dreams: Chronicle of the Fallers by Peter F. Hamilton – A new Commonwealth universe book!
  • 10/28: The Peripheral by William Gibson – He’s back into the dystopian, distant future. Not that I haven’t enjoyed the future-of-10-minutes-from-now novels, either.
  • 11/18: Clakkers by Ian Tregellis – A new series starting in Tregellis’ coldest war universe.
  • 11ish? The Thorn of Emberlain by Scott Lynch – A new Gentleman Bastards book is getting to be like clockwork from Lynch. So far, he’s kept the characters rich and slowly pulling the curtain back on a much larger fantasy world. This one doesn’t yet have a firm release date, but I’m holding out hope.

Of course, it’s highly possible (actually, almost certain) I’ll not get all of these books read by the end of 2014, but I welcome the challenge gladly!

It’s tough to pick just one that I’m most anxious about, but it would probably have to be Ancillary Sword.

I was going to end this post with a pithy remark how if only Patrick Rothfuss and GRRM would release some new novels this year, it would be complete. Well, no new novels, but Rothfuss is releasing a novella in the Kingkiller Chronicles in October and GRRM is also contributing a Game of Thrones (actually, Song of Fire & Ice) short story to a fantasy collection (Rogues) out next month he is co-editing (which also contains other stories from many of these authors along with others I enjoy reading).

So, yeah, 2014 is pretty much shaping up to be a near perfect year for genre fiction!

That being said, Patrick Rothfuss and GRRM having until about midnight, December 31st, 2015 to get out The Doors of Stone and The Winds of Winter until I start pestering them.

Signed Scotty Card

Aside

When I Met Scotty

The Time I Met Scotty

Over Memorial Day weekend in 1999, Angela, her cousin, Jonathan, and I went to the Star Trek Convention at the Cumberland Science Museum to see James Doohan, who played engineer Montgomery Scott on Star Trek. Jonathan brought along cards for us all to get signed. Almost 15 years later, I managed to find mine.

Defensive Running

Today I joined people from all over the world in going out for a run in dedication to Meg Menzies, the woman in Hanover County, VA who was tradgically struck and killed by a drunk driver on Monday while out for a morning run with her husband. My heartfelt symphathies to her husband, three children, her family, and all her friends.

As I went out on my run, I started thinking about some of the ways runners can try be more defensive in avoiding traffic incidents. Sometimes, caution is just not enough. By all accounts, Menzies was an experienced runner and doing everything ‘right’ in order to try to minimize her chances of being in an accident. Certainly, encouranging everyone to have the decency to not drive while intoxicated and to not text while driving helps us all. But there are some defensive steps runners can take to be safer. Most of these are pretty obvious, but if you’re new to running or have just always done your own thing (as I did for years), then maybe you might get something out of these.

  • When possible, keep to the sidewalks. I know a lot of runners who complain that concrete gives them worse pain (often shin splints) than running on more flexible asphalt. However, I strongly believe that discomfort from running on concrete can be largely offset by properly fit shoes and adopting good form running techniques.

    If you must run on the road, be sure to keep aware of the traffic. Sounds simple, but it’s easy to get lost in a song or a conversation and not hear a car until it’s too late.

    Incidentally, during my run earlier today, I had to go off the sidewalk an onto the road (in the direction of traffic, even) as there was a small flock of turkey vultures devouring a opossum in my way and I deemed it best to not try to hurdle them. However, after about 50 yards and as I heard a car approaching from behind, I jumped back in the grass.

  • I’ve been part of running clubs in the past, but the large majority of my runs are alone. However, running in groups has its own kind of safety. The more ears and eyes, the more likely to notice a car.

    Just try to avoid running down a road two- or three- (or, in the case of Grove Avenue in Richmond, VA, up to four-) abreast. Leaving a runner out in the middle of a lane leaves them —as well as a vehicle— no where to go.

  • As I run by myself a lot and as I’ve started running with a smartphone, I tend to listen to music or audiobooks while on a run. However, it’s important to not listen to music too loudly or use headphones that restrict your ability to hear your environment. Consider listening to audiobooks or podcasts instead of loud music, as these tend to present less of a wall of sound and you can often make out sounds around you much easier.

  • Consider getting a RoadID or at least keeping your driver’s license with you while you run. In the event of an accident, you want people to know who you are and who to contact someone on your behalf if necessary.

    I mentioned running with my smartphone, on which I use a GPS app to track my runs. However, that GPS can also be used to help locate me and make sure I’m safe. My wife can user our shared iTunes account and a Find My iPhone app to make sure I’m still up & moving at any time. In other words, it’s like I’m LoJacked on my runs (and that’s a good thing).

  • Be aware of your own self, as well. As you run, you get tired and/or get into the zone. Both can tend to put blinders on you, restricting your awareness to the path immediately ahead of you. This is also where having others can be of help, but it’s still important to acknowledge that just because you’re deep into the zen of your run, the world around you hasn’t really stopped.

  • Lastly, but sure most importantly, please obey all laws and regulations regarding traffic and pedestrians. As frustrating as waiting on a light to change can be, traffic laws are there to keep you safe. Let’s face it, running out in a urban area isn’t the best place to set a PR. Save that for a race, where the course is closed to traffic and you can really focus on your run and only your run.

    If it helps you, a lot of current running apps have an auto pause feature which pauses recording if you stand (relatively) still for more than 30 seconds or so. I use this feature on the Nike Plus app on my iPhone and it alleviates that sense of urgency I might otherwise feel to dash out in between cars at a red light.

If you want to read even more about staying safe while running, Runner’s World has a great long-form article titled Collision Course.

And, please, whether your out for a run, on your bike, or behind the wheel, please be safe and aware.

Star Ratings

After doing the Jawgrind podcast with some friends for the past couple of years, I’ve realized just how much a five star rating system can vary among different people &emdash; and even myself at different times. As I’ve been rating entertainment (and even goods, as in the case of Amazon) for years, I’ve always had something of a descriptions for setting star ratings. I think it might be worth putting those down, for my own sake, as well as anyone who might be interested in reading them.

  • ★★★★★ – This is a work I feel I could watch, read, or listen to at any almost any time. It holds cultural significance (to me) and I feel may help you to better understand me as a person1.
  • ★★★★☆ – This was an excellent piece of work. Though it might have had some flaws, I would enjoy revisiting it again in the future. I would recommend this to most anyone, particularly if this seems in line with their interest.
  • ★★★☆☆ – This as a solid piece. I would recommend it with some reservations, but I might not have much cause to revisit in the future.
  • ★★☆☆☆ – This piece suffered from severe flaws. Though I may have enjoyed parts of it, I almost certainly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone nor would I want to revisit it.
  • ★☆☆☆☆ – This piece had very few, if any, redeeming qualities. I may not have even finished it2. I would actively encourage others to avoid this. Knowing that someone did enjoy it might make me question their taste or, at least, question if I really understand them.

So, if you search for about a minute, you’d surely find something I’ve rated that doesn’t seen to fit into this scale. I don’t claim to apply any rigor to this at all (as I indicated by the need to document them here).

Jawgrind ratings, for example, are done in the vacuum that is Star Trek: The Original Series (for me, at least; I can’t speak for others on the show). I’m not saying a five-star rating I gave to an episode of that show would compare to a five-star rating of a novel, film, or album3. Those episodes are rating on a microcosm version of this scale, and should only be compared to themselves. Had I tried to use this universal scale on those episodes, I wouldn’t have had the granularity to usefully describe each one 4.

I do try to apply this scale to books on Goodreads, films or shows on Netflix, or albums in iTunes5. In the case of Netflix or iTunes (and Amazon, even), this has a positive feedback of helping recommendations (though Netflix seems to have given up actually trying to recommend anything despite that whole million-dollar prize thing). Even there, I’m sure I’m not as consistent as I like.

  1. I cannot, though, say I universally recommend my five star ratings, though. Why? Because something so well loved by someone may require some very specific tastes. That level of enjoyment isn’t necessarily going to be felt by all, but this is why I indicate you might understand me better as a result.
  2. Though, out of fairness, I try to never rate something I didn’t complete (or, in the case of foods, at least thoroughly try). I don’t see how someone can give a valuable rating to something they never finished watching or reading, for example.
  3. However, I’ve considered that a overall series rating (or at least by season) would would be useful in this scale, though.
  4. They’d pretty much all be 2 or 3, to be frankly honest about it.
  5. If you didn’t already know this, you can rate entire albums independently of songs in iTunes, which can be very helpful in constructing genre favorite playlists (genre + album with 3+ rating).

India Declared Polio-free

Aside

After three years without a single reported case of polio, India was declared free of polio. It’s been so long since polio was a epidemic in the United States &emdash;which goes a long to way to explaining our current anti-vaccination and anti-science culture&emdash; that is hard to grasp how monumental this news is for so many people. The BBC reports that there are only three countries left where polio is endemic: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Wired recently had an excellent long-form piece on the effort to eradicate polio from the planet.

Starting Out 2014 Right

My goals from year-to-year don’t change that much. However, that’s not entirely a bad thing. Some have set goal lines but most of them are open ended. Strive-to-do-more-of-this or less-of-that sort of things.

However, this year, I’ve decided to narrow some of my goals to the daily level. More accurately, at the end of each day I hope to answer the following questions to myself:

Today, what did I…

  • …eat?
  • …do for exercise?
  • …work on?
  • …create?
  • …learn?
  • …read?
  • …help my children do?
  • …do to let my family know I love them?

I won’t have a (good) answer for each question every day and that’s ok. Some days, the answer may be the same thing for more than one question (actually those may be the best answers). But hopefully, I’ll have a positive answer for most questions on most days.

2013 in Review

I didn’t post a set or goals for 2013, but I did review my goals for 2012 and I feel pretty good about working on some of those goals in 2013, as well.

In fact, I think with regard to my personal health, this past year was a very good year for me. Tracking my activities and food made a big difference. Also, I attended a good form running clinic and began working on my running technique to prevent injuries. Possibly as a result, I set a PR this year in the Turkey Trot 5k &emdash; running it in nearly 25 minutes (I’m number 61 overall). Lastly, I recently completed an Ironman Challenge1 at our gym: swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles over the course of the month (I finished it in 22 days). I’ve also managed to eat (a little) better and have even recently cut soda out of my regular diet.

I certainly go a lot more experience this year with XML programming (and programming in general, also learning some JavaScript along the way). I’m not expert, but I’ve learned enough to comfortably be able to manipulate HTML and XSL:FO output at work.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that I made much of a great effort into visiting friends & family, nor in creating more2. I certainly failed to blog regularly here or post updates on the kids. Those are all things I’ll have to work on in 2014.

  1. Angela signed us both up, without me knowing. Which was sort of payback for signing her up for a marathon all those years ago.
  2. Unless you count building LEGO kits with my kids because I think I must have done a hundred of those.