Beauty Is Skin Deep

To any­one who isn’t read­ing this site by Braille, you can tell that the look is chang­ing. Of course, that’s all that’s chang­ing since I’m spend­ing this evening play­ing with the style sheet. To facil­i­tate an on-going dis­cus­sion between myself and the Jedi Mas­ter design­er, Jason John­son, I thought I’d cre­ate a new post to which com­ments on such things seem rel­e­vant.

I’m mak­ing no promis­es to what final form this site will take, oth­er than the fact it will have lots of infor­ma­tion cre­ate by me about things I find inter­est­ing. Short of that, any­thing goes. It’s all about the jour­ney here. I’m dis­cov­er­ing new things about CSS, Word­Press, and Flickr all the time and this is my lit­tle sand­box with which to play them. Also, I’m hop­ing to learn a few hacks in PHP when time allows. When will the fun stop?

Fast-Paced First Week

I can hard­ly believe that five whole days have gone by since I start­ed my new job. I have to say that I’m feel­ing a great deal more opti­mistic since my last post, too.

My Office View

Look­ing out the win­dow at my new office onto the snow from the last two days in Rich­mond.

I can hard­ly believe that five whole days have gone by since I start­ed my new job. I think that even after psych­ing my self up for a month, I was­n’t pre­pared for the quick pace of work here. I got on a project first thing on Mon­day morn­ing, and I’ve been busy with it pret­ty much the entire time since (well, at work any­way). I have to say that I’m feel­ing a great deal more opti­mistic since my last post, too. It’s not that I thought I’d made a mis­take, it was just that sink­ing feel­ing of real­iz­ing just how much I was step­ping back­ward, in a career sense.

My boss and I did get to make a site vis­it down­town Rich­mond on Tues­day, though. It was about 20º F, in the sun with 15–20 mph winds. I have a whole new lev­el of respect for those con­struc­tion guys out grout­ing lin­tel seats and hang­ing struc­tur­al steel. Insane. We’ve had snow the last cou­ple of days here in Rich­mond, so I doubt they’ve had much of a chance to con­tin­ue. This pho­to is look­ing out my new office win­dow. I took it around lunch on Fri­day. I real­ize it’s not a spec­tac­u­lar view, but since I could­n’t see any day­light from the desk at my old job, I feel as though I’ve moved up in the world.

I’ve spent the week learn­ing all about RAM Inter­na­tion­al’s Struc­tur­al Sys­tem design soft­ware pack­age. I have to say, I’m pret­ty impressed thus far. I’ve used a num­ber of soft­ware solu­tions for struc­tur­al analy­sis and design, and RAM has lived up to its billing as a one of the best. It is very much geared to the build­ing indus­try, and there­fore can tai­lor its solu­tions accord­ing­ly. I miss some of the open end­ed-ness of some of the oth­er pack­ages I’ve used (STAAD, GTSTRUDL) or even the more straight for­ward frame input of oth­er build­ing design soft­ware (RISA 3D). How­ev­er, you trade all that for the speed and com­plete-ness that RAM offers. Sure, I can’t cus­tom edit ele­ments to cre­ate out-of-plan beams, for exam­ple. What I can do, though, is enter in and design an entire two-sto­ry school build­ing in a man­ner of hours. Pret­ty slick.

The oth­er task this week was learn­ing a lit­tle more about build­ing con­struc­tion. For­tu­nate­ly, the edu­ca­tion sys­tem for the struc­tures por­tion of civ­il engi­neer­ing is catered to the build­ing indus­try. I got to spend the last 3 years learn­ing a good bit about bridge design (albeit, only steel bridges). Now, I get to actu­al­ly use some of the things I learned in school towards design. Now, if only I could start using LRFD steel design.

Just as an aside, I’m using a new util­i­ty for Word­Press called Flick­It. It sim­ply adds a quick­tag to your edi­tor allow­ing to eas­i­ly insert a hyper­linked Flickr image. It’s not per­fect, but works does exact­ly what it claims to and is free (after they got into a lit­tle trou­ble with the com­pa­ny that owns Flickr for charg­ing). Any­way, I men­tion it because I know a lot of my friends use both Word­Press and Flickr and might want an eas­i­er way of get­ting them to play togeth­er.

The Village

From all the pre­views last sum­mer, we were both expect­ing a horror/suspense film. Some day, I’ll learn to not trust those adver­tise­ments.

M. Night Shyamalan's The Village

It snowed on Wednes­day night, so Angela unex­pect­ed­ly got to come home from work ear­ly. We stayed in and watched M. Night Shya­malan’s The Vil­lage. From all the pre­views last sum­mer, we were both expect­ing a horror/suspense film. Some day, I’ll learn to not trust those adver­tise­ments. Angela, who isn’t the fan of hor­ror films that I am, want­ed to watch the film with me around, lights on, and sur­round sound turned off. Well, that’s not the best way to watch a DVD at home, but oh well.

The film is Shya­malan’s take on a peri­od piece. The actors fol­low through with the idea superbly. His method of long, sta­t­ic shots real­ly lends itself to the peri­od, as well. This film shot with flashy, MTV-style edit­ing would have been hor­ri­ble. Now, about the peri­od: I got the impres­sion of a late 19th cen­tu­ry, Tran­scen­den­tal­ist style utopia. I could­n’t think that some (if not all) of the peo­ple involved with this had recent­ly read Thore­au. I cer­tain­ly got the impres­sion that the char­ac­ter of Edward Walk­er, played by William Hurt, had at some point.

The Vil­lage does­n’t have the same lin­ear­i­ty of Signs, which was basi­cal­ly your straight-for­ward alien invasion/suspense film. Its gift was in its abil­i­ty to come full cir­cle with sto­ry ele­ments. The Vil­lage is more like The Sixth Sense in that it con­tains the kind of twist that alter the very way you per­ceive what it is that you’re watch­ing. A hor­ror film becomes a love film. It’s almost like Pol­ter­geist being mashed with Ghost, but with much bet­ter direc­tion.

How­ev­er, if The Sixth Sense had a hard right turn at the half-way point, then this film cer­tain­ly has two. One in the final meet­ing of Lucius and Noah and anoth­er in the oppo­site direc­tion at the for­bid­den shed. Even if you expect the dra­mat­ic twists (and you do with Shya­malan at this point) and even if you can guess what’s com­ing next, Shya­malan does­n’t fail to impress. He has a gift for film mak­ing, and even more so for sto­ry telling. I have noticed that, after watch­ing the scenes he delet­ed from his film, I can tell that they fell out in the edit­ing room and not when he had a chance to re-shoot some scenes. Sev­er­al of his films will make men­tion of an inci­dent that we only lat­er see in a delet­ed sequence. Giv­en how much I enjoy his movies, I’ll for­give him this.

I think, on the whole, this film was over-hyped yet high­ly under-rat­ed. Sure, the media blitz was huge and very mis­di­rect­ing. I imag­ine the word-of-mouth stopped after the first week­end just because every­body told their friends ‘It’s not scary at all!’ Most of my favorite films are ones that weren’t any­thing at all like I was expect­ing, instead they were much bet­ter. I can’t tell you if, in a year or two, I’ll be dying to watch The Vil­lage all over again, but I can say that I did real­ly enjoy the movie.

The New Job Begins

I can say whole-heart­ed­ly, I have begun all over again.

My first day at Stroud, Pence, & Asso­ciates was today. I can say whole-heart­ed­ly, I have begun all over again. It’s cer­tain­ly hum­bling, but a good expe­ri­ence. I’m with a much small­er out­fit now, and every­one comes across as being good natured and sup­port­ive (not that they weren’t at URS).

I got an e‑mail from a friend today who, upon read­ing this blog, was wor­ried that things might not be going so well. I had­n’t thought about the tone that pre­vi­ous post might have had until that. So, the sto­ry thus far (skip to next para­graph if you’ve heard this one): after some soul-search­ing, I decid­ed that the time in my life to try the oth­er branch of struc­tur­al engi­neer­ing was now. The oth­er branch being build­ing design, as I was for­mer­ly work­ing in the design of bridges. I took a job offer with a engi­neer­ing firm based out of Vir­ginia Beach, VA (see above) in mid-Decem­ber, and left my job at URS Cor­po­ra­tion on the 7th of this month.

That gets us to my first day. I’m very for­tu­nate to be a com­pa­ny with plen­ty of work. I was added as a struc­tur­al engi­neer to a build­ing design first thing this morn­ing (appar­ent­ly, my boss thought this would be a good learn­ing project). Of course, what most peo­ple would­n’t know that aren’t in the struc­tur­al busi­ness, the pace of build­ing design is a great deal faster than that of bridges (months, as opposed to years). So, I’m feel­ing a lit­tle over­whelmed, but not sur­prised. I’ve a great deal to learn, but that was the very idea behind tak­ing the job. I’ve also had a month to psy­che myself up for the process.

I sup­pose, I should feel pret­ty good about the first day. As it turns out, the hard­est part was fill­ing out all those tax and ben­e­fit forms. The struc­tures part, what lit­tle there was of it today, came easy. I’m sure that will change soon enough, but I’m not going to rush it.

TiVo Made Something Difficult?

The Wash­ing­ton Post has a review of the new TiVo ToGo ser­vice, which I’m still await­ing my ser­vice update for. The review­er feels get­ting the media to your PC is too dif­fi­cult for most users. I thought he might be refer­ing to the fact that the TiVo desk­top and the Son­ic MyD­VD aren’t as well inte­grat­ed as he’d like (not that’d he know since the required update of MyD­VD isn’t avail­able yet). Nope. He thinks set­ting up the TiVo on a net­work is too dif­fi­cult. Sure, I’m a geek and love that stuff, but it’s a won­der this guy can turn his lap­top on.

My Life by William J. Clinton

Not so much a straight biog­ra­phy, but a auto­bi­og­ra­phy from an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent who real­ly under­stood all the pres­i­dents before him. The kind of per­spec­tive only some­one with this posi­tion and his kind of love for his­to­ry and pol­i­tics could write.

My Life

While I began read­ing My Life by for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton back in the sum­mer of last year, my read­ing of it was inter­rupt­ed by the release of a install­ment in the Dune series (weird pri­or­i­ties, I know). How­ev­er, I’ve been back on it recent­ly, and I find the book well worth the time.

I sup­pose most peo­ple skimmed through the first half or more of the book just to read what­ev­er sala­cious details about extra-mar­i­tal affairs they could find, or sim­ply imply. Hon­est­ly, I could care less. I always thought that was a lit­tle too per­son­al for my busi­ness. What’s more, my opin­ion is this: it hap­pened, he lied to con­gress, he was cen­sured, I moved on. It’s not the most sig­nif­i­cant thing in the man’s life and I’m not going to spend any­more of this post or my time wor­ry­ing about it. It’s not like a war got start­ed over it…

Bill Clin­ton is, and prob­a­bly always will be, a nerd of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty (or in politi­co-ease, a wonk). I mean this as a com­pli­ment, in that he is tru­ly one of the mod­ern times great minds in pol­i­tics. He is a stu­dent of the game, so to speak. As A studi­er of his­to­ry and as a per­son who lived through some of the coun­tries more tumul­tuous times, he is able to put ideas and pol­i­cy in per­spec­tive. As a can­di­date and as Pres­i­dent, he received a lot of atten­tion for his pain feel­ing abil­i­ties, but after read­ing more about his youth, I don’t real­ly doubt him. How­ev­er, it is a true love of pol­i­tics that makes him a nerd. I get the impres­sion that this is a man who seeks out polit­i­cal races like a com­pul­sive gam­bler finds race tracks. Sure, he’s a pro­gres­sive who wants change, but I think he also likes the chal­lenge just for the sake of it.

The parts of the books I enjoy most, aside from some inter­est­ing tales of his youth, are the insights into Amer­i­ca’s his­to­ry. Mr. Clin­ton does an nice job of mak­ing Jef­fer­son, Tru­man, and Kennedy all feel as though they were con­tem­po­raries as much as ances­tors. Of course, he has inti­mate knowl­edge of mak­ing his­to­ry, but he hon­est­ly makes Amer­i­ca’s past seem not just inter­est­ing but rel­e­vant. I was aware from read­ing oth­er books by staffers about the Pres­i­den­t’s love for read­ing and how he often would ref­er­ence events in the lives of for­mer pres­i­dents back to Wash­ing­ton for insight. This is what I was look­ing for­ward to in this book. Not so much a straight biog­ra­phy, but a auto­bi­og­ra­phy from an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent who real­ly under­stood all the pres­i­dents before him. The kind of per­spec­tive only some­one with this posi­tion and his kind of love for his­to­ry and pol­i­tics could write. I’m sor­ry to say that up until now in the book, it has only been com­ing in snip­pets.

I can imag­ine crit­ics not car­ing for the all-over-the-map style of writ­ing. How­ev­er, I love it. It adds a sense of place to every inci­dent described. Sure, there are some goofy parts and some anec­dotes that just seem out of place. On the whole, I’d say it’s a good read. I know that many of his detrac­tors sim­ply think this book is revi­sion­ist his­to­ry. I’d say that if some­one is going to attack the man and his work, the least you could do is read his side of the sto­ry, and here it is.

Rethinking My Youth

Vir­ginia up until yes­ter­day had a state law ban­ning sex between unmar­ried indi­vid­u­als.

I thought I must of heard wrong a bit of local news on NPR yes­ter­day, but no, it was indeed cor­rect: Vir­ginia up until yes­ter­day had a state law ban­ning sex between unmar­ried indi­vid­u­als.

The Wash­ing­ton Post reports that the state Supreme Court struck down an ear­ly 19th Cen­tu­ry law ban­ning for­ni­ca­tion between unmar­ried per­sons. While rarely enforced, the law came into ques­tion under a defense move in a civ­il case regard­ing the trans­fer of an STD between two unmar­ried indi­vid­u­als dur­ing a two-year rela­tion­ship. Appar­ent­ly, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas anti-sodomy law in 2003, the good folks at the VA Supreme Court thought bet­ter of this Com­mon­wealth’s both anti­quat­ed and quite stu­pid law.

Now, I must admit that I nev­er had any idea this law exist­ed. Fur­ther, as I men­tioned pre­vi­ous­ly, I thought I heard it right on NPR yes­ter­day and tried to do some research on the inter­net last night. After about 10 min­utes of using search engines and news­pa­per sites, I just gave up (No, that’s not try­ing very hard, I know). How­ev­er, igno­rance of the law is no defense. The real ques­tion for me is, would I have done any­thing any dif­fer­ent­ly know­ing what I know now? (Mom, if you’re read­ing this, I stop right about here) The answer is, I’d prob­a­bly only have done it more. Civ­il dis­obe­di­ence should always be this fun.

Of course, The Com­mon­wealth of Vir­ginia is the same state that, up until the late 60’s, had a law ban­ning inter­ra­cial mar­riages. So, not only would my for­mer life have been a series of enjoy­able mis­de­meanors, my mar­ried life would have been ille­gal, since my wife is half-Kore­an. Which half, you ask? (Sor­ry, I could­n’t resist) Vir­gini­a’s law was par­tic­u­lar­ly nasty in the pan­theon of racist laws, in that it was one that laid out the var­i­ous per­mis­si­ble ratios of her­itage (1/16th negro, 1/4th Amer­i­can indi­an, etc.) that one could still be con­sid­ered white. I’m pret­ty sure 1/2 Asian was­n’t in there, and chances are no one would have much cared, but here’s what the tri­al judge had to say upon exil­ing the cou­ple in ques­tion from Vir­ginia:

Almighty God cre­at­ed the races white, black, yel­low, malay and red, and he placed them on sep­a­rate con­ti­nents. And but for the inter­fer­ence with his arrange­ment there would be no cause for such mar­riages. The fact that he sep­a­rat­ed the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

This sounds like all the same ratio­nal for ban­ning homo­sex­u­al mar­riages: that because God obvi­ous­ly does­n’t want them, than nei­ther should we. I’m not so sure that there’s a whole lot of evi­dence that sug­gests God does­n’t want two lov­ing peo­ple to have a for­mal com­mit­ment. Fur­ther, I think that at some point in my life­time, we’ll look back at today’s anti-gay-mar­riage laws and feel the same way about ban­ning inter­ra­cial mar­riage and unmar­ried sex: why did we ever have laws insti­tu­tion­al­iz­ing hate and crim­i­nal­iz­ing love?

U.S. Can’t Find Its Ass

The BBC reports some shock­ing news this morn­ing; the Unit­ed States has offi­cial­ly giv­en up its search for Weapons of Mass Destruc­tion. No, seri­ous­ly. How­ev­er, O.J. Simp­son con­tin­ues search­ing for the killer of his ex-wife and her friend on the golf-cours­es of Amer­i­ca.

Will this affect the Iraqi elec­tions held lat­er this month? I doubt it. It did­n’t seem to mat­ter the folks here in the States, and I doubt peo­ple dodg­ing sui­cide bombers much noticed the head­line. Bar­num was right, you can’t fool all the peo­ple all the time…

Apple Stakes Its Claim

Apple seems to be tak­ing the Tar­get approach to design. That is to say, great design need­n’t be expen­sive.

It seems that the theme of this year’s Mac­world Expo is going to be afford­abil­i­ty . With the keynote speech announce­ments of the head­less iMac, called the Mac mini, as well as the sporty iPod Shuf­fle; Apple seems to be tak­ing the Tar­get approach to design. That is to say, great design need­n’t be expen­sive. You’ll make up the cost of the design in vol­ume.

There was a great deal of spec­u­la­tion about the “head­less” iMac online, lead­ing to some law suits. It appears that the iHome was indeed a hoax, but on the right track when you take into con­sid­er­a­tion the Mac mini as well as the announce­ment of Final Cut Express HD. Of course, I’ve yet to play around with one, but a G4 Mac in a small square-ish box (stop me if you’ve heard this one) sounds like a cool lit­tle com­put­er. Pro­vid­ed it does­n’t over­heat like the cube. Based on what I know about the per­for­mance of the new iMac, I’d say it’s safe from over­heat­ing. They’re putting lit­tle fans in there just for good mea­sure these days. All of that aside, I’m glad to see a well-designed Mac with some decent specs at what seems like a super price. Par­tic­u­lar­ly since most of us already have a mon­i­tor, mouse, key­board, & speak­ers we can plug into one. While I love the design of the iMac (which is, by the way, a G5 now, instead of a G4), if you already have those things on your desk, buy­ing them again seems waste­ful. Just buy a KVMS switch (like the one I have from Belkin for my PC & Lin­ux box).

I am impressed with the iPod shuf­fle as well. Do I real­ize it’s just a USB key dri­ve with a speak­er jack & music play­er but­tons? Of course I do. How­ev­er, it’s a nice­ly priced one that hap­pens to have the über-cool name of iPod attached. Demand greater than sup­ply? Unless they’ve already pro­duced these things buy the 100’s of thou­sands, than you bet. I bought a 1GB USB key for about $70 a few weeks ago, and I’m already wish­ing I’d just wait­ed and bought this thing for twice that. I’m hap­py to pay pre­mi­um for this kind of cool.

TiVo Hacks by Raffi Krikorian

In my impa­tience for TiVo To Go, I recent­ly bought TiVo Hacks by Raf­fi Kriko­ri­aned.

In my impa­tience for TiVo To Go, I recent­ly bought TiVo Hacks by Raf­fi Kriko­ri­aned­st­ly use­ful hacks, like pret­ty much all of the books in the O’Reil­ly ____ Hacks series. I say most­ly… who wants to make all of the text on your TiVo inter­face in ital­ics (seri­ous­ly, hack no. 9).

I’d say that of all the books out there for hack­ing your TiVo, this is prob­a­bly the most con­cise and up-to-date. Of course, there’s part of the prob­lem. If you have Series 2 TiVo, you trade off for nicer fea­tures with the inabil­i­ty to do many of the more pop­u­lar hacks for the TiVo. You can’t use FTP to get your video off of your TiVo with a Series 2 becuase the video is scram­bled on it. Okay, you can FTP it, but what’s the point? Any­way, none of this is the author’s fault, and he goes iin­to some detail to explain exact­ly what mod­els can do what.

The great­est hack, in my opin­ion, for any TiVo is going to be adding more hard dri­ve space. You’re real­ly not going to improve on the fea­tures of the UI by adding a screen clock and the whole web-surf­ing thing sounds fun until you remem­ber that surf­ing with just a TiVo remote is going to suck (that’s why you have a lap­top). Adding/replacing hard disks is the killer hack, and this book tells you pret­ty much all you need to know. Of course, all you may need to know is to just buy a kit from Bill Reg­n­ery. How­ev­er, this book still goes a long way and I’d rec­om­mend it to any­one who owns a TiVo and is curi­ous about what’s inside the box and how to make it do some cool tricks.