There a few technologies I’ve adopted that I would consider life-changing. Maybe not the sort that change the entire course of my life, but certainly that have had a dramatic impact on my day-to-day behavior. DVR (TiVo), smartphone (iPhone), and a personal activity tracker (FitBit). As a professional, I’ve always been at a desk for a lot of my time. But when I practiced engineering, I was often going on site visits and moving around throughout the day. Now that I’ve been working remotely for a software company, that’s not the case. My activity level can vary dramatically from day-to-day. I had no idea just how much until I started wearing the FitBit.
One day I’d break 10,000 steps shortly before lunch (if I went running, typically). On another day, I might be lucky to approach 2,000 steps. What’s more, is my eating varied just as much. And my activity (i.e., caloric expense) had absolutely no correlation with my eating (i.e., caloric intake). So my body would one day get twice as many calories as it really needed and another not enough. I was essentially training my caveman-era/lizard-brained body to hold on to every scrap of calories it got because who knew what tomorrow would bring.
Wearing the FitBit and carefully tracking my calories eaten has help to change that behavior. I now track my calorie intake using LoseIt1. Having a number of activity goals —steps, active minutes, stairs, and miles— all of which
gamify my physical activity. Of course, I don’t meet the targets all (most?) of the time, but just having the goals points me in the right direction rather than stumbling around in the dark.
Of course, just tracking the data is one thing. It would be all too easy to just pile it all together in some useless place. FitBit’s web site and iPhone app are really exceptional. In fact, I sort of use my FitBit as just a recorded (and occasional timepiece) and rarely take it out of my pocket. I simply use the iPhone app. On an iPhone 4S or newer, the smartphone syncs directly to the FitBit via Bluetooth 4.
I also use the FitBit to track my sleep, although that’s more to make sure I’m getting enough rather than judging the quality of it. Apparently, I’m generally 98% efficient at sleeping, whatever that means. The velcro wrist strap is a pain and tends to come off my arm. I’m on my second wrist strap, as well as second silicone clip. As a result, I’m considering upgrading to a Force next year. The One has been great so far.
DC Quick Charger at Nissan NA
Seriously, though, she did seem to enjoy herself while prancing around on the sidewalk and around the high-voltage fast charging tower. It was both cute and disconcerting.
Ainsley hanging out with the DC monster &
taking photos of it recording videos of safety instructions with her iPad
But I really wanted to write about the fast charger, as this thing is really something to behold. It’s relatively large for an ev charging station, though not really that daunting when compared the massive Nissan building just behind it, of course. The cord & charging plug attached to this thing are just massive, though. We’re talking Doc Brown sending 1.21 jiggawatts big!
The fast charger is actually a Nissan design and this is a showcase for how an ev can be quickly charged up (to about 80% capacity) in 15-30 minutes. Our experience today was pretty typical. We rolled in with <24% of our battery pack remaining after our drive up to Nashville’s Opry Mills and back 1. Within exactly 15 minutes, we had charged up to 74%, or one-half the battery pack capacity. That would be remarkably slow for pumping gas, of course. However, compared to L1 (120v) and L2 (240v) charging, it is remarkably fast.
Nissan’s DC Quick Charger is 480v (!) and, to be honest, isn’t likely something you’d want at your home. Even if you could get the electric service hooked up for it and didn’t mind the $15,500 price tag, the noise this thing puts off is disturbing2. You know that high-pitch whine that some flash photo capacitors put off? Imagine that much louder and even higher pitch. Something like the world’s largest dental drill.
But this is a showcase of what is possible for electric vehicles at fueling stations or service centers, not residential3. And it is quite cool to have one nearby.
Bonus shot of yours truly standing by the quick charger tower. Ainsley insisted on taking my photo since I’d taken hers.
Here’s a bonus video from over three years ago when the LEAF was first introduced to Nissan NA employees (many of whom are my neighbors).
When we bought a gas/electric hybrid, it was the perfect vehicle for my needs at the time. A 4×4 for visiting construction sites, enough room to carry us and the dogs, and good fuel economy. However, in nearly seven years since then, my situation has changed considerably. I now telecommute to work from home, I no longer go to job sites, and Angela has a swanky minivan for our long family trips with kids and dogs.
So, we sold the hybrid Escape and got a fully electric vehicle: a Nissan LEAF.
As Angela put it, this is the perfect nerd car. 1The performance of the car is surprisingly good, but I’m not really a fast driver, anyway. The fun stuff is all the gadgetry in and out of the car. The navigation and user interface are about the best I’ve ever used in a car. The touch screen is really nice.
Also, Nissan has a mobile app for the iPhone2 (and Android?) that can be used to check up on the charging as well as start the climate control in the car. So between installing Nest units in our house and this car, I can control my A/C from anywhere!
I do have to confess a certain amount of pride that this car was built just down I-840, in Smyrna, TN. That cutting edge electric vehicles and their batteries are built here and that Nissan has its corporate headquarters for North America here in Franklin certainly makes me feel like I’m buying American, regardless of the Japanese heritage of the company (and most of the parts in the engine). A number of my neighbors and friends work at Nissan, many of whom drive LEAFs. I even met one of the factory guys —who also drives a LEAF!— on the showroom floor. And my particular car had really just arrived from the plant, with all the shipping protection still in place and six miles on the odometer.
I also recommend checking out the documentary, Revenge of the Electric Car [on Netflix WI] to get a picture of how the LEAF came to be, as well as the current state of ev’s in the US. Though, in order to make much sense of that film title, you need to watch Who Killed the Electric Car?, first (or at least read my review).
In the past week, we’ve managed to take a 70 mile round trip drive up to Opry Mills and another 50 mile round trip to downtown Nashville, both with no issues of range. I’ve also driven around town everyday; taking kids to school, going to the gym, trips to the movies, and of course the grocery store. I can say this car is about the perfect city car and is works well enough on the interstate or highway (though at above 70 mph, you can pretty much watch the battery level drain down like there was a hole in the thing). Franklin probably has the highest number of electric charging stations per capita in the country, so we live in a good place to have an ev.
So far, I’ve been just using the 110v
trickle (Level 1) charger that is included with the vehicle trim we got. It works fine, as it gets easily topped-off overnight. In fact, it’s just plugged into my workbench’s power strip, between the drill press and miter saw. However, if I had an actual daily commute, I’d definitely spring for a 220v (Level 2) charger in our garage. I could see a drive like that coupled with a evening drive around town leaving you with less-than-enough to make it home the following day.
I’ll have to compare monthly energy usage from here on with previous years to get a sense for what the actual cost is for us, but I’m confident it’ll be under 1/3 of what we paid previously in gas (or what we’d pay for similar trips around town in our van).
I’ll continue to post updates as we use the car3. I’m sure I’ll have some story about the first time I run out of power somewhere out on the road.
As much as I’d like to think we’re on the cutting edge here, you cannot drive anywhere around Franklin, TN (the home of Nissan North America) without passing a half-dozen LEAF’s. There aren’t too many other kinds of electric cars here, but they’ve also been on the road (elsewhere) for a couple of years now. The charging infrastructure is quickly growing around us. So, this move felt a lot less like blazing a trail than jumping on a trend that is right for us.
But, as for now, the most I can say is this car seems like a great car. Of course, that’s largely in part because I’m almost exactly the demographic for this car.
If you’re a web developer, there’s probably many better ways to go about doing this than using a Windows Batch file. You probably already know many of them. This isn’t intended to be used in a web data scenario, but more for local XML data management tasks.
I personally really like the Windows batch file command language. It’s pretty simple, even though it does lack a lot of nice features1. When you want to do folder or file operations in Windows, I think it’s the easiest thing to use even when you’re a really poor programming like I am.
This batch file writes three pieces of information to an external XML file:
I refer to this new XML file as a manifest, as it lists all fo the contents (well, XML files in this case, anyway) in the folder. Once an XML file is created with this information, XSLT can then be used to use or change the information in those files by running against this manifest file.
MakeManifest.bat looks like this:
SET output=manifest.xmlECHO ^<manifest sourcepath="%~dp0"^> > %output%FOR %%f in ("*.xml") DO (ECHO ^<file href="%%~nf.xml"/^> >> %output%)ECHO ^</manifest^> >> %output%
Copy those lines into a plain text editor and save it with the file extension
.bat and give it a try!. That’s all there is to it. If none of that makes any sense to you, I’ll refer you to SS64′s CMD reference page.
It is worth noting that (and the sharp reader might have figured this out already) this list will include a refernce to itself, itself being another XML file in the folder. You could simply rename the output file extension to something else (.txt, .manifest, etc.), which is a good reason I put in a variable to make that easy to do. It doesn’t affect what’s in the file.
In my case, these XML files tend to be DITA topics. What I’m really after here is to create a DITA map. With a little XSLT file to process this manifest —which can be run from the same Windows batch file— it’s easy to create a DTIA map for all of the DITA topics the script finds in the folder.
Now, to do this, I use Saxon9HE, which is the opens source version of Saxonica’s (Michael Kay’s) XSLT processor. It’s easy to use, very fast, supports the latest versions of everything, and free.
I’ll follow up this post with another soon about how to do just that. I wanted to post this step first so as to not overwhelm someone who is learning (nor give me an excuse to put off posting anything).
Well, if you are going to break that rule and you’re going to do it front of the three remaining band members, the President of the United States, the First Lady, and all rest of the audience at the Kennedy Center —who happens to be honoring Led Zepplin late last year— then you’d best perform just like Ann and Nancy Wilson (of Heart), Jason Bonham (son of the late Led Zepplin drummer, John), and the rest of this amazing band.
Wow. Check out Yo-Yo Ma grooving out to the guitar, the members of Led Zepplin completely entranced, and Robert Palmer shedding a tear after the end!
Okay, now let’s all go back to never covering this song. We’ll revisit it again in another 1/3 century.]]>
We went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey1, which of course is the first part of trilogy of films dedicated to the J.R.R. Tolkiens first novel.
So, as not to bury the lead, we both liked it. I can’t say that either of us loved the film and it didn’t have the great impact that the first film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy had for me. But, it was a pretty solid adventure film and it’s hard for me to not have a fond feeling for anything based in middle earth.
My biggest dislike of the film was generally just the overall tone. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again was a children’s book and while it certainly had all the fantasy trappings of LotR (and more: dragon!), it was notably more light-hearted. I don’t recall a sense of real danger from Golem; at least no more so than the trolls trying to eat the dwarves.
Of course, there’s simply no way that this movie could have been a child-friendly, light-hearted adventure movie. By making LotR first the tone of the world had been established and you can’t lighten it up easy. Else you get Ewoks or, God forbid, Jar-Jar Binks. And no one wants that from the dwarves of Middle Earth.
So, in order to make a movie based on The Hobbit as epic in nature as the LotR, Peter Jackson and company had to do what works for so many movie franchises: a prequel!
Okay, so The Hobbit came before the LotR, so of course it’s a prequel, right? Well, not exactly in the sense we think of movie prequels. Hobbit was written before LotR and with a very different audience and purpose from the author. LotR was an epic myth which keyed off of a single incident in the Hobbit (the ring), which was much more of a simple fantasy adventure tale. To put it another way, if you were a school child in Middle Earth, studying the story of the Hobbit would be akin to learning about some European land feud resulting in a minor war. The events of LotR would be world-changing, like studying the and fall of the Roman empire.
Further, The Hobbit just wasn’t that long of a story. At just under 100,000 words, it’s well in the novel territory, but it’s less than a quarter of the entire LotR trilogy of books (which were really intended as a single novel, anyway). It surely could have been one heck of a single movie, and no one was that surprised when it was announced as two movies. However, three movies really seemed like a stretch. And honestly, the first film could have easily trimmed off a bit in terms of overdone action sequences.
Fortunately, it seems that much of the plot
padding in the Hobbit trilogy is coming from canon sources like the appendix of The Return of the King and perhaps The Silmarillion. So there’s probably not a lot of content created here just for the film, though there is no shortage of the extended, elaborate action sequences (most of which involve orcs or goblins) that Peter Jackson loves to embellish on. However, his admiration (and that of his partners in writing & producing) for the source material is evident.
Given just how dry much of Tokein’s other writing was — there’s a damn good reason The Silmarillion or the later posthumeous works of Unfinished Tales and History of Middle Earth never became popular — some added character depth and lively adventuring from Peter Jackson et al. might be just the thing to bring them further to life. Who knows, there may well be a third trilogy in there somewhere. Of course, none are ever going to be as epic and amazing as the Lord of the Rings, including The Hobbit.
My grandfather, Carroll Coleman, died this afternoon in hospice in Naples, FL. With is wife, Joan, and two of his children, Kathleen and James him, he passed peacefully after a short decline with pneumonia.
His 94 years were a life spent overcoming much to achieve the American dream. Growing up during the Great Depression in Arkansas, he served in the US Army as an x-ray technician and worked partly on farms until he eventually found work in travelling sales. He married his sweetheart, Ruth (my grandmother), and made a career in sales, purchasing, and management with regional department stores. After losing my grandmother in June of 2001, he later relocated to Southwest Florida where he met Joan, with whom he spent many happy years.
There will surely be a more complete and accurate list of facts of his life to come. But what that brief description fails to capture was the remarkable personality and intelligence of a man who was the definition of a family patriarch. A man who treasured his family and loved to experience life. His optimism and wisdom were an inspiration. To me, he was the epitome of style, class, and intelligence. I looked up to him and any time we were together I saw everyone else doing just the same.
He had a rich life and was relatively well for almost the total of his years. He left peacefully and with loved ones nearby. I choose to think he is reunited with Ruth and at rest.
I am truly grateful for this remarkable man and all that he did for his family.]]>
First, I should point out that to further streamline my work, I’ve implemented a couple of other tools besides just Flare. These are all free, open-source tools which I highly recommend you having in your tech-writer toolkit1.
And of course Flare. However, you could also easily integrate much of the same workflow into using the DITA Open Toolkit as well as any other help authoring tool with a command line interface.
I prefer to use dates in my archive file names just to make things clear for the teams downloading them what ‘version’ it is. Sure, we could just check timestamps, but this just makes it more obvious. I use the international data format — YYYY-MM-DD — as the prefix for my titles and I wanted this automated into my batch file. However, as my region is US on my Windows machine, I need to just change the short date format in the Control Panel to this format. That way, I can use the
%date% environment variable to always input the current date when the archive is created.
Aside from that, installing the above tools is all that is required.
Notepad++ can be used to create and edit the Batch file. Simply create a new document and save it (somewhere convenient) with the
.bat file extension. This also indicates the file type to Notepad++ so the syntax is highlighted appropriately (simply makes editing easier).
I want to place my outputs in a Zip archive for the convenience of labeling them all with the current date and placing onto a FTP server for other teams to download. So I set a variable to include the current date:
(The second line just outputs the same back to me so I can verify the date string was as intended)
Next, I change the directory to the MadCap Flare installation:
cd\Program Files (x86)\MadCap Software\MadCap Flare V8\Flare.app
Then I can use the command line entry —
madbuild — to initiate builds of any number of Flare projects and targets (which are individual outputs from a single-source Flare project).
madbuild -project "C:\Documentation\Product\ProductHelp_A\Product_A.flprj" -log true -target "Product_A HTML Help"
madbuild -project "C:\Documentation\Product\ProductHelp_B\Product_B.flprj" -log true -target "Product_B HTML Help"
madbuild -project "C:\Documentation\Product\ProductHelp_C\Product_C.flprj" -log true -target "Product_C HTML Help"
Next, I want these three compiled HTML Help files to get placed into the ZIP file I named in my variable. This uses the command line interface for 7-Zip:
7z a -tzip %ZipOut% @C:\Documentation\Output\Product_file_list.txt
Product_file_list.txt is just a plain text file containing the absolute file path and file name of each of the compiled HTML Help files. It’s described in detail in the 7-Zip help, but essentially the entire file path for each file to be included is on a line in the text file. No special syntax or separators required.
Lastly, I want to transfer the ZIP file over FTP to a convenient place for the rest of the team. The default Windows FTP program cannot run in passive mode, which is required to navigate a firewall. However, the Linux FTP client NcFTP has been ported to Windows and has a command line interface which is more flexible.
ncftpput -F -u username -p password ftp.mydomain.com /Product/ %ZipOut%
Just save the file in your text editor. All that is needed to run it is to simply double-click the
.bat file in Windows Explorer. The command line window will open, execute each line in order, and close upon completion.
It would be easy to also use Windows to schedule running the same thing nightly or weekly if you need to regularly post updates of your work.
But, next year my employer’s plan will not require a copay for preventative care visits. Or, in other words, those are 100% covered1. As my entire family is covered for medical & dental, that’s four physicals and eight dental cleanings (we go every six months). In other words, while our annual premium portion is going up $120, we’ll be paying at least $180 less than previous years.
So, thanks to my employer, my insurance company (we have Aetna), and to President Obama for making my insurance costs go down for this first time ever!
Obamacare, but this if they want to claim this as a new benefit, it doesn’t really matter to me.
The desk is battleship gray, with quite a few dings and scratches. However, it’s very sturdy (as it’s made of approximately 1,000 tons of sheet metal) and still in pretty good shape. The damage it has is more along Wabi-sabi1 than disrepair, so I’m okay with it for the most part.
This, along with a similar style desk, were in my father’s office since I was very young. Also, since I was very young, I’ve always been fascinated with not only space exploration and technology, but the aesthetic that is associated with those things. If you can imagine the desk that an engineer at either NASA or IBM might have sat at sometime in the early ’60s, you’re thinking of a desk like this.
This particular desk has an interesting feature where a corner of the desk is lower than the work surface to accomodate a typewriter (no doubt, sized for a 1961 IBM Selectric).
This desk also has drawers (!), unlike my old wood desk. I just need to clean up the glides a bit. I’ve of course never heard a dying pterodactyl, but I think I have a very good idea what one might sound like based on the bottom drawer opening.