Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Love Chuck

NBC's.. CHUCK by =DannyPhantomFreek This is the mantra that goes through my head for 45 minutes straight each Tuesday evening (we TiVo it so I watch it a day late and have no commercials). If you’re not watching it, watch the old episodes and watch it religiously. It is easily my favorite show right now (and I do love Doctor Who (and long term it will always be my favorite), Heroes and Psych a LOT)

I repeat it to Erin multiple times, though tonight I’m giving it a break and repeating it to the rest of the world.

Chuck - Avatar by ~SethCohen88 If you don’t know what it is, Chuck is a TV show on NBC essentially about a Geek Squad guy (the computer tech support from Best Buy) who gets all of the CIA’s database in his head. Hilarious show with some decent plot and great character development (for the main characters anyway). Set your TiVo or DVR now!

I Love Chuck

I Love Chuck

I Love Chuck

I Love Chuck

I Love Chuck

I Love Chuck

I Love Chuck

I Love Chuck

I Love Chuck

I Love Chuck

Peace,
+Tom

Friday, November 21, 2008

Clearly, I’m a Programmer

I’ve been starting to use Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and XAML lately for developing. I still love the Web, but there’s something nice about what I expect is going to eventually supersede HTML in Web Browsers. And no, I don’t believe the browser will go away within the next twenty years, it will merely evolve until we no long user desktops for anything.

So, in searching out a problem I came across this great poem. I am definitely not an engineer when it comes to… well… anything.

A Poem on XAML

We programmers, as you know, have malformed brains.

Most of the time we tend to think like engineers,
but if you give a regular engineer a new tool,
the engineer will say
"Thank you for this interesting tool.
I will keep it in mind if a problem arises that seems to require it."
A programmer, on the other hand, given a tool like XAML,

starts to think:
"This is very cool.
I wonder what I can do with this
in the absence of all other tools.
What it would be like to live on Planet XAML?
How would I move around?
What would I eat?
How would I procreate?
And if the only tool I have is XAML,
what do the problems look like?"

Charles Petzold

Peace,
+Tom

Thursday, November 20, 2008

So Long XM

Pandora Yesterday I finally cut the cord after almost five years. We dropped two of our XM Radios, and are keeping one mainly because of the great deal from XM when we planned to cancel it as well. It’s also because Erin can’t easily get an external music player to play in her Yukon.

So, what possessed a die-hard cutting edge guy to drop XM? Honestly, part of it is that XM is nowhere near cutting edge anymore. I really loved having a comedy station, 80’s, Mix, whatever available on the same station anywhere I went. I also liked the new Sirius offering so I could listen to a football game, but, alas, the salesman who said it would be a 50$ difference after our credit was off…  by about $500. And no, his number wasn’t high, so we dropped that when I found out.

The real turning point though was that I tried out Pandora Radio again. If you don’t know, Pandora is a free online music service where you pick an artist (say Bon Jovi, because that should be everyone’s first choice) and it plays that and other similar artists… kind of like the radio and XM. You can thumb up or down a song so it knows how to recommend the next one. The beauty here is I can thumb down a song and it skips it (or I can just skip  song). Now, there’s a limit to the number of skips you can do in an hour, but so far I haven’t hit it.

It’s not quite as nice as my Rhapsody Jukebox subscription where I can pick specific songs to play, but I’ve also found the artist similar music recommendations in Rhapsody just aren’t as good to me as the recommendations by Pandora. So, when my Rhapsody subscription ends in February I likely won’t be renewing since I’m using Pandora almost exclusively on my laptop.

Okay, that’s all fine and good, free radio at home, but now I have silence in the car. Don’t talk to me about local network radio, they have these things called uh comboveralls… sinterfulls… er commercials, yeah, that’s it. Erin thinks I’m nuts but if I don’t watch commercials on TV (TiVo) or on XM (I don’t listen to the Mix station or most talk ones because they have ads, and I change the station when they come on) I’m sure not going to sit through radio ads. Plus you have to find the right station when you drive on a trip, if it exists (driving to CT through NY the only options are hip-hop and rap, I kid you not, but when you get the CT they have an 80’s station and lots of country).

So, back to the silent car. While it’s all fine and good to “reflect” in silence on your life and have some peace, I’m not really much of a fan. There’s only so much thinking I can do before my brain explodes. I need some sort of outlet, and mindless music is it.

It turns out that Pandora has a $3 per month (on Sprint anyway, Verizon may be cheaper) service where you can essentially play their music any time. You can still skip songs, rate songs and add new artists (Erin doesn’t appreciate when I add artists while driving, I don’t know why). Seriously, $3 per month.

Pair that with my XM at $13 for the first radio or, really, $7 for the additional radio I was using. Heck, balance it with the $12 per month Rhapsody will charge when my subscription is over (right now I’m using a Yahoo subscription where I got a deal and it was $3.50 per month for two years). And now I can pick whatever music I want, when I want it, skip songs I don’t like, and even add whole artists when the mood changes. Since I already have to have the data plan with my Samsung Instinct (which I love by the way, both the data and the phone), it’s kind of a waste to pay all these other service fees.

The final irritation with XM was really actually pretty minor. In Rachel’s room we had an XM radio that played new age music while she slept, like they do at school. Over the past few months she hasn’t had this on, so it was no big deal. But the other day I noticed it plus another regular station of mine no longer existed. Well, new age was now pops. I headed over to the XM Web site, but the channel descriptions made me think they’d just dropped new age. I finally searched on Enya and found it, 5 channels down and with a whole different name, it’s now Sky instead of Audio Visions if you’re wondering. Seriously, if you’re going to make a change like that you should let people know. They could have at least sent an e-mail to subscribers. Of course it’s not the first time this has happened, I lost my second favorite Christian music station so they could have two gospel ones… really, is that necessary?

There are some down sides. One is that on the phone I can’t seem to add new genre’s of music. For example, on the Web site I can say Holiday and get more Christmas music than I know what to do with, or Roc/Pop, Rap or whatever. If I add it on the Web it is available on my cell, but there’s no way to pick a genre that I can tell (yet).

I like the stations, but have a hard time finding a kids station Rachel would like. I finally found The Wiggles Holiday station which has a lot of stuff she likes, Wiggles, Barney, Polar Express, etc. Christmas music. I’d like that, but without the holiday trend. To be fair, that led me to buy The Polar Express CD since Rachel really liked it (no, I didn’t buy a Wiggles holiday CD… but I’ve come close). When I e-mailed Pandora they got back the same day saying they were working on that. I also miss stand-up comedy like Steve Martin or Carl Hurley. Again, they got back the next day that it’s in the works, but don’t know when.

The biggest change though is that the music comes over your cell phone. So, if you lose cell service it may drop off. This doesn’t happen much (I believe it stores most of the song on the phone as it’s playing to counteract small connection problems) but we have had problems skipping a song and having to wait a few seconds for the next one to come up. On the flip side, Rachel LOVES walking around with the phone listening to Wiggles music, it kept her entertained for 1/2 an hour while we picked out pictures at Portrait Innovations.

My cell phone is a better music player than the XM Radio ever was. The XM Radio played my podcasts, but wouldn’t let me jump around in the audio, so if I re-stared a podcast I’d have to hold fast forward FOREVER to catch up. My phone has a slider to choose (though I would like the fast forward option as well).

Of course, you can currently only use Pandora on Sprint and Verizon networks. That doesn’t bother me at all, but it’s worth mentioning to other people. Sprint is also what we’ll be using to listen to football games, since their NFL service has live audio of the games and I can pick the team version. With XM (with Sirius) you get the radio broadcast from the home team, so if the Redskins are travelling I hear the other teams broadcast. With Sprint I get to pick.

So, we’ve moved on from XM, and I suspect as other people begin getting data plans for their cell service, they may be moving on as well. Even my Dash navigation system is connected to the Internet all the time. If you have been on satellite radio for a while, it’s sure worth giving Pandora a try. Heck, at least call XM and threaten to cancel, they offered me half price for 3 months, then free service for three months. On our main unit is now half price for a year.

Gushing fanboyness done.

Peace,
+Tom

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Random Things

I love being random by Tepara My friend Rob tagged me for a meme. It’s been forever since I’ve done one, mainly since I really don’t like them much. Generally I think that people would find out about me based on what I write in general or in hanging out together.

In any case, here’s the meme:

Link to the person who tagged you.
Post the rules on your blog.
Write 6 random things about yourself.
Tag 6-ish people at the end of your post.
Let each person know he/she has been tagged.
Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

1) My favorite season is sweater and turtleneck season (sometime around mid September or October)

2) I’m realizing that I’m an incredible hypocrite, hoping people will live one way without being willing to step out in faith and make drastic changes to my life (and my families) to help people in need

3) I like carrots. Not a little bit, but a lot. Almost every night for the past few years I’ve eaten one or two carrots a night (un peeled) with salad dressing to dip them in. And still I need contacts. Oh, and Dr. Who, maybe even a little more than carrots, and all the Doctor’s are great in their own way

4) I’m in the top 99.9% income of people in the world (as are every one of you reading my blog) and yet I always worry about money

5) I’m convinced technology can change our world thousands of times faster than we will let it because “it’s not how we’ve ever done it before” is our mantra and standards move too slowly. For example, I just dropped XM radio because, for 1/4 the cost, I can use Pandora on my phone in the car and skip songs, make my own stations and find music Rachel likes

6) I’m a control freak. This has led to me never being drunk, or even all that tipsy

The best people who might actually do this are:

Cindy: One of my good friends from college who I see far too little of but Erin hears about daily in the forums. If you want to know what it’s like to be a stay at home mom, Cindy’s is the blog to watch.

Melissa: Another one of my good friends from college who I see far more often than Cindy despite her living 3 hours farther away. Again, Erin hears about her daily in the forums. Did I ay Cindy; blog for stay at home mom stuff? Melissa’s is pretty good too.

Mason/Miriam: Among my best friends at church with a cute kid who thinks I’m a freak and avoids me.

Kat: Possibly the smartest person I know. She’s a brilliant scientist who is living her dream and finally in the U.K. living the crazy British life.

Kate: One of the best writers I’ve met, though I rarely get to see her writing. Some day we’ll fix that.

Jessica: Another good friend from church who has more musical talent in her little finger than I do in my whole body. Plus she’s smart, how often do you get smart artists? Okay, often I suppose. She’s another stay at home mom… I’m noticing a trend.

Peace,
+Tom

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sacrifice

Designed to Be Happy by ~drowned-in-air I was having an e-mail conversation with a good friend of mine the other day. Now, e-mail conversations are never good because you only get one side and dialogue really doesn’t exist.

We were talking about excess and whether it’s right to spend money on things which a lot of other people would never get.

I firmly believe that I should support small businesses, even if it costs more, than the larger chains whenever possible.

At the same time, I’m frequenting these places to sustain a lifestyle that is far above what 99% of the world live by. Do I keep buying raw food for my dog because it’s a little bit healthier so I can support the business owner that I like? Do I begin buying more espresso and ices cream because I want to see the owners of the store down the street succeed?

I would think things like my fishing trips are more an extravagance than a necessity, and you would be better served by supporting that guide through paying for people who have little resources to go and have a guide. Then they begin to find the joy in fishing you’ve found, learn a bit about fishing, and are able to bring home some food as well.

Redskins tickets, on the other hand, are a gross extravagance that I’ve been recommending we stop doing for two years now. but Erin and her dad want to buy them. We are probably getting rid of three of our seats for next year… so we’re down to four. But there is a reason Erin goes to the games and I watch the kids. It’s definitely her passion.

Overall though, the problem is still the same. Am I willing to be incredibly uncomfortable and think of living my life differently? Differently meaning in ways I’ve never even considered and make me incredibly nervous?

This whole thing got me wondering about what it really means to be a Christian and to fully follow Christ.

Peace,
+Tom

Monday, October 20, 2008

Friends

Kate and Emily after licorice ice cream! In college I found a real “relationship” with Jesus. I remember feeling alone and a bit down and was out walking on the beach during a campus ministry retreat. I felt someone’s hand in mine, and we walked together for a while. I could scream about how hard life is, how hard it is to believe in Him, and still feel comforted with the arms around me. From that point on I’ve always recognized that Jesus is my best friend, and always there even if I ignore him for a while. I’m always the most important thing to his heart, just as each of us are.

I also recognized, and continue to figure out, what friendship means. If we are best friends, then I really need to make him proud of me, just as I’m proud of him. I need to change my life in a way that people know who my friends are, and why.

So, I loved coming across this quote from one of my previous students, but more importantly, my friend, Kate:

It suddenly struck me today how personal of a friend Jesus is. Because, okay, I knew he was my friend. "Oh yeah, like, Jesus is my friend and he loves me, you know, like, just the way I am. And that's so awesome, because like, he died for me." But if Jesus was my friend, that means he likes my lemon bars and he thinks my jokes are funny and he would tell me if there was a bug in my hair. Which is a ridiculous thought. In a good way!

You should check out her entire post Ramblings and maybe a little bit of revelation.

In years of teaching youth ministry, I’ve never been able to fully communicate that. It can’t be forced, we just have to get there on our own. I am planning to think more on this and figure out how to make it more real to people, probably through examining our own friendships, as flawed as they may be. And, truthfully, our part of the friendship will never quite live up.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Realizing Your Passion

finally here by ~cjames In church today Anne, our priest, made an interesting point about our church during her sermon (her big long talk in between music). When she was determining whether to join us as assistant rector, she called the bishop. The bishop is essentially the representative for our region, kind of like the House representative for your state. He responded that

St. Matthew’s gives more to missions, per capita, than any other church he knows of.

That in itself is wonderful. We had at least 100 people go on mission trips this year, not to mention the people who worked to organize and make it happen. But it got me thinking about what made this happen.

Our missions program happened because one person was passionate about the program and the entire church supported him in that passion. Leaders put money into it and individuals volunteered weeks of their year, again and again.

My own role at St. Matthew’s is a great example here. I love teaching and leading. Changing and molding lives into what god wants them to be is my second greatest passion, just behind being the best father and husband that I can be.

I was, and continue to be, encouraged to lead people and change lives. The church put forth more people and money than I can recall in supporting my dreams for the youth program, and it became a thing of wonder. Hundreds of people teens have been changed by the actions of our church.

Again and again our church encourages it’s people to live their passions. More than encouragement, a strong passion to live god’s word for us bring the entire church together.

Who do you have cheering you on and making your passions a reality? what can I do to help make it happen?

Peace,
+Tom

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Scattered

Scatter by *PetervG It’s the only way to describe the way I’m feeling lately. Too many things going on all at the same time.

Peace,
+Tom

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ajax Quick-Start

Ajax Presentation 1

How many of you know what I mean when I refer to Ajax? Okay, what’s it stand for? Right, Asynchronous JavaScript. So, what’s that mean? Anybody?

Right, essentially the Web browser submits information back to the server and renders a response without refreshing the entire page.

An obvious example here is clicking a button to submit a rating, like with Amazon [go to http://www.amazon.com/Doctor-Who-Complete-David-Tennant/dp/B000JBWWP6/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1223001940&sr=1-12].

Ajax Presentation 2

I started using ASP.NET Ajax in the olden days when it was still called Atlas in a community technical preview. Kind of crazy to think that was over two years ago, and quite a bit has changed, though not as much as you might think.

At its core Microsoft has created an Ajax base that is easy to quickly put into practice and also provides the backend JavaScript to allow flexibility and a framework for more powerful Ajax based applications.

Ajax Presentation 3

So, today, I’m going to talk about the easy stuff. I’ll talk about the basic controls you need to get started using Ajax, namely the ScriptManager and the UpdatePanel. I’ll talk about some of the times we’ve used it on projects and some of the things to look out for. I’m not going to talk about extra components like tools by Telerik, ComponentOne, Infragistics or CodePlex or even the Ajax Control Toolkit. I’m also not going to talk JASON… anybody? The JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) implementation for Ajax or calling Web services from JSON. I’m also not going to cover using Ajax in MOSS 2007, mainly because I never got it to work correctly in a quick trial, which may have been because we didn’t have SP1 installed at the time. We’ll save all of that for later if you’re interested.

The first time I used Ajax was when we put together a workforce calculator pilot for the IRS. Like all pilots, this has been is production use without code changes for the past two years.

Yes, I know this can be done with client-server or Silverlight. Heck, I know there are some of you who could have done it in FlashML or a Java app. The problem we have consistently had is that clients (even Booz Allen people) don’t want to install anything new on their machines, even the .NET framework. The obvious beauty here is that nothing had to be loaded on the user’s machine to make it work, but you still get a client/server “feel”.

We didn’t really go crazy with this, we really just wanted to create something that didn’t refresh the entire screen every time a value was changed or a calculation was made. With that we stuck to using the UpdatePanel around areas of the page that we wanted to update without causing a screen refresh. Which leads to the obvious question, what’s an UpdatePanel?

Ajax Presentation 4

The UpdatePanel is a built-in ASP.Net Ajax control that will wrap around any control (including other Update Panels) to provide the rich postback functionality. You just drop in an UpdatePanel tag and put your controls inside the ContentTemplate. It’s also very easy to tie the UpdatePanel to only certain events using triggers. For example, you may want it to run for a calculate button without refreshing the whole page, but not for a save that redirects the user to a new page when it’s completed. When it comes down to it you should always use triggers so that JavaScript code is only added to the controls you want, not to every event that occurs.

Ajax Presentation 5

The backbone for ASP.NET Ajax is the ScriptManager tag. It’s a single tag and just doesn’t look like very much. It’s most interesting property is EnablePartialRendering which, when set to true, generates the plumbing that allows controls in an UpdatePanel to suppress the entire refresh during post back.

When a page is rendered the ScriptManager links a couple JavaScript files which provide all of the Ajax functionality for the page. Really it puts in an HTTP Handler for a dynamically generated JavaScript file ending in .asmx, so don’t go spending hours hunting around the file system for it. These same JavaScript files allow you to write your own JavaScript to access server data or use third party Ajax tools.

It’s pretty important to note that you can only have one of these on a page at a time and it must be inside the form tag, so I always put it in the master file and generally forget about it after that.

Well, did I say forget about it? There’s one incredibly important thing to remember about Ajax. It’s not, by any means, Section 508 compliant. Assuming some of you are new and may not know what I mean, does anyone want to give a 10 second explanation of 508 and why we should follow it?

Ajax Presentation 6

So, in a nutshell, Section 508 applies to people with disabilities.

Those of us who have lived in the DC area for a couple of years (okay, maybe 15 or more) should remember the big hoopla that happened with Metro where the doors would open and close with a ding-dong chime half a second before the doors closed. Sure enough blind people and people in wheelchairs were getting stuck. Not to mention that you’d never know which train you were getting on; was it blue or orange? The yellow or green line, oh, wait, green didn’t exist then. Needless to say trains were refitted and we now have a nice voice telling us the train, direction and a verbal warning of closing doors.

Section 508 did that, and mandated it for all government Web applications too (except SharePoint apparently, which has some odd exception). I knew you were wondering where I was going with that story. Government Web sites need to be equally usable by blind people (color and otherwise), deaf people and people in wheelchairs.

Screen readers used by blind people to hear Web sites will read through a page once it’s rendered and then only reads the label for whatever field is highlighted as they tab through the form. Unfortunately, when only a section of a page is updated with JavaScript, the reader doesn’t do anything. This means 22,000 people can’t use your site. Not to mention the number of blind people in the general public who may be using it. So, how do we make Web sites Section 508 accessible?

Keep in mind that right now I’m focusing on using the UpdatePanel and built in controls with ASP.NET Ajax. I mentioned EnablePartialRendering a bit earlier. Setting EnablePartialRendering to false will turn off all of the Ajax postback interception, so your Web site will function just as if it didn’t have any Ajax, with full page redraws and everything. On every site we’ve built we’ve added into the master file a check box allowing users to turn off Ajax. When they check the box the page posts back setting a profile setting for the user and the code behind turns off partial rendering for that user. Pretty easy.

Of course this only works for built in Ajax functionality like the Update panel. Other Ajax controls, like the open source Ajax Control Toolkit will still use their rich functionality. So you’ll have to check internally and provide additional methods to make the site accessible. And no, I’m not going into that today.

So, let’s set-up a quick site.

Demonstration Steps

  1. 1. Open Visual Studio 2008
  2. 2. Create a new ASP.NET Web Site
  3. 3. [View Split Mode]
  4. 4. Point out the built-in Ajax Extensions
    1. ScriptManager
    2. ScriptManagerProxy
    3. Timer
    4. UpdatePanel
    5. UpdateProgress
  5. 5. Drag a ScriptManager control on the page
  6. 6. Set its EnablePartialRendering to True
  7. 7. Add a DataSet file
  8. 8. Add a TableAdapter
  9. 9. Connect to a database
  10. 10. Create a tableadapter to a database table
  11. 11. Save the DataSet
  12. 12. Return to default.aspx
  13. 13. Add an object data source
  14. 14. Configure it to use the dataset
  15. 15. Add a GridView
  16. 16. Set it to use the datasource, using default values
  17. 17. Check off allow editing
  18. 18. Set PageSize to 100
  19. 19. Run the application and show scrolling and editing
  20. 20. Stop the application
  21. 21. Return to Default.aspx
  22. 22. Add an UpdatePanel with the code in a ContentTemplate
  23. 23. Set UpdateMode = Always
  24. 24. Re-run the application
  25. 25. Scroll down and edit a row
  26. 26. Stop the application
  27. Demonstrate making the page accessible
  28. 27. Paste in the profile provider in Web.Config from the example
  29. 28. Paste in a checkbox in Default.aspx from the example
  30. 29. Paste in the property code in default.aspx.vb from the example
  31. 30. Re-run the application scrolling to bottom
  32. 31. Edit row
  33. 32. Check box
  34. 33. Scroll back down
  35. 34. Edit row and notice refresh and scrolling don’t work.

So, if Ajax is so great, why not use it everywhere?

Ajax Presentation 7

One thing to keep in mind is what happens behind the scenes during a postback with the UpdatePanel. The entire postback event occurs every time. So, if you pull data from the database in the page_load event, make darned sure you have IsPostBack = false. Otherwise you’ll refresh the data every single time. Say you’re on Amazon’s product page and you click three stars to rate something. Do you really want all the page content to be re-rendered, or just have the rating get updated in the database and the stars redrawn?

Again, with a whole postback event occurring, what else happens? All of view state gets passed back to the server, updated, and returned to the browser. Truthfully, the entire page is sent back to the browser, but the JavaScript is smart enough to update only the sections that have changed.

We all know that you should put EnableViewState to false everywhere possible, but this is especially true in Ajax. There are times you may have a large view state and you’ll find that updates render more slowly than if you’d just refreshed the whole page.

On PSDR we had a DataGrid with an Ajax panel around it so that sorting and paging would occur without reloading the whole page. That’s fine, until you realize the grid had text boxes always visible on every row. And we ended up having hundreds of rows. With each textbox in each row having another Ajax control from the toolkit associated with it. The response time got so slow that the postbacks actually timed out. After turning off the EnablePartialRendering for the page everything worked fine. Well, a little slow, but fine.

At this point you should have one question on your mind… This is great and all, but what do I need to do to develop with this and deploy my applications? If that wasn’t on your mind, it should be now based on the pink elephant effect.

Ajax Presentation 8

All you need to get set-up is to download the Essential Components from http://ajax.asp.net which works with the .NET Framework 1.1 and 2.0.

To deploy you just need the application is to include a reference to the System.Web.Extensions.dll and System.Web.Extenstions.Design.dll. I always put those in the bin folder and create the references locally so that when I push it for release in a client environment the dll’s are there and they don’t have to register anything in the GAC.

By default Ajax is included in the .NET 3.5 framework, but I haven’t actually developed an application using it yet, and so I haven’t tested this out.

So, there has clearly been enough talking by me. At this point I wanted to run through a quick demo throwing an Ajax site together.

There are a couple of sites where we use Ajax but I just didn’t have time to touch on.

Resources

Guthrie, S. (2008, October 2). Scott Guthrie's Blog (General Manager within the Microsoft Developer Division). Retrieved October 2, 2008, from ScottGu's Blog: http://weblogs.asp.net/scottgu/

Khothari, N. (2008, October 2). Nikil Khothari's Blog. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from nikhilk.net: http://www.nikhilk.net/

Mahemoff, M. (2008, October 2). Ajax Patterns. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from Ajax Patterns (The publicly editable repository of all things Ajax): http://ajaxpatterns.org

Microsoft. (2008, October 2). Public Sector Developer Weblog. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from MSDN: http://blogs.msdn.com/publicsector/default.aspx

SCHAEFEK. (2006, October 30). 2006 General Government Departments: Distribution of Ratings by Number and Percentage of Employees at Each Rating Level. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from Colorado Government: http://www.colorado.gov/DPA/dhr/oversight/docs/ratings/2006/gengovt.pdf

Photo Credits

· Beach Boardwalk by shaunl (iStockPhoto)
http://www.istockphoto.com/file_closeup/nature/spring/5991593-beach-boardwalk.php?id=5991593

· Wagon Wheel by photog (DeviantArt)
http://photog.deviantart.com/art/Wagon-Wheel-12942352

· The Simple Things by snorf (DeviantArt)
http://photog.deviantart.com/art/Wagon-Wheel-12942352

· Egg’s Nest by Gruye (DeviatnArt)
http://gruye.deviantart.com/art/Egg-s-Nest-35997617

· Backbone by RomainD (DeviantArt)
http://romaind.deviantart.com/art/BackBone-17253241

· Metro by elfish88 (DeviantArt)
http://elfish88.deviantart.com/art/Metro-27035318

· Trinity Library by elementalist (DeviantArt)
http://elementalist.deviantart.com/art/Trinity-Library-675110

· Construction by OnurY (DeviantArt)
http://onury.deviantart.com/art/Construction-74335946

Monday, October 13, 2008

Espresso Yourself

Via Venezia Espresso Machine by Starbucks Coffee Erin and I finally took the plunge. We realized over $9 three or four days a week for coffee was ridiculous. So we bought the cheapest, well-rated, espresso machine we could find.

for what it’s worth, the Starbucks barista was incredibly helpful in the purchase and offered to walk us through exactly what he does and help us through the fine art of frothing milk.

So, the only question left is, what flavors do we try? Does anyone have a great syrup mix that they love?

Peace,
+Tom

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Leader of the Plaque

Colin’s favorite “toy” in our house is, without a doubt, the toothbrush. It doesn’t matter whose it is, though he tends to prefer Erin’s (even when she’s bought replacements). If he had his way he would always walk around with two toothbrushes in his hands and one in his mouth. Lately we’ve been limiting him to one, though today he had two in one hand and a tube of toothpaste in the other.

Needless to say, this kid will have good hygiene. Probably better than Rachel, who we have finally gotten into the habit of brushing at night. Colin would brush morning noon and night. Sometimes I wonder if he is already defining his future career as a dentist.

2008-10-12 - Colin Toothbrush-3 That got me thinking a bit about expectations. There are so many different times that others define our own lives… and we let them. We let our parents shape us into working professionals when all we want to do is live free and help others. We let girlfriends or boyfriends define how we should act from day to day. We let bosses define the focus of our career and we let co-workers convince us to buy unnecessary things. We let marketers convince us what to buy, and we let priests convince us what to believe.

Life is so easy when we follow the “advice” of others instead of creating our own.

Then there are the people who actively defy this trend and live for their passions. The people who live passionately often recognize that they have lived more fully than anyone else could ever have dreamed for them.

Without a doubt, we need to stay within the lines. When we enter into marriage, that is a gift and we honor it by putting our spouse above almost everyone (can you guess who’s above the spouse). We need to listen to all the advice given to us, and decide how we want to respond.

Colin ToothbrushSo, is Colin going to be a dentist? I have no idea. Should I begin to sing:

Son, be a dentist
You'll be a success

I sure hope not. That dentist from the Little Shop of Horrors is psycho.

Revolutions happen when people buck the trend. Sometimes… lives happen too.

Peace,
+Tom

P.S. In case you want all the lyrics and to see the video check it out in the Steve Martin Dentist! post by Gatochy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I Will Never Fully Give Myself to Christ

Sacrifice (by UrbanCinderella) I spent an evening at church listening to some of the amazing stories of people who have gone on mission trips in the past year. They showed pictures, videos and their own stories about the trip.

As one person told their story she mentioned that she had “given herself to Christ” but never really “followed” Christ.

The first, and only thing that came to mind, and stuck with me the rest of the night, is that I will never fully give myself to Christ, because I just can’t physically do it.

I certainly try to follow Christ. I’d like to think that I really follow him, then I realize that it’s impossible. No matter how much I do, God will ask me to do more. No matter how much I give up, there are others who have given up more.

I went to Jamaica on a mission trip in College. This was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had from college. On that trip I worked at a retirement center, which is being very forgiving, since it was a strip of very small rooms with doorways (no door mind you) to the porch outside. If you think of the cells monks have, or even cells in a prison without the bars, this is it. There was a large room for eating and communing and such, and a gorgeous church someone built in the back (I’m still not sure why when the building could have been upgraded). When we drove up I was sure I was at the wrong place.

During the day I helped a little, but more than anything I just sat and talked to the people. I remember one guy who wasn’t much older than I was who had lived in the U.S. and played basketball until he had an accident which severed his spine. He’s been living there in a wheelchair ever since. He was probably the most upbeat, faithful, and interesting/fun guys I’ve ever met. He’s able to share a story about his religion or about his life, and just chat with you about whatever comes to mind. His commitment to Christ surpasses the need to talk about Him all the time and instead be an example of Him and he’s willing to share whenever it fits naturally in a conversation.

Other days I went to an elementary school and helped teach. Honestly, I don’t remember much about the class except that it was one big room with cube panels dividing it into four sections, one for each class. What I do remember is that all these families lived in miles upon miles of corrugated metal homes. They got power my climbing a power line and jacking into the power there, running a cable at about eye level that was held above the ground in one place by a stick with a Y in the top. I also remember lots of goats running around and, let me tell you, they weren’t as pets. Have you ever thought of being your own butcher?

A good example is a picture the people from Africa brought back during their mission trip.

0080 (by St. Matthew's)

After school one day I was asked to bring a television from the school to the house of one of the teachers. I went into the house and was stunned. Inside rugs, colorful fabric and even chairs greeted me. It felt immediately cozy and very easy to call home. There was even a doorway to another room. In contrast we stopped by the governors house.

King's House (by Richard O’Sullivan)

I can’t imagine living in tiny houses like this, and yet these are people who have made their lives there, and recognize them as incredibly comfortable. Every time I go on a mission trip outside the U.S. I recognize just how much we have, and how little we appreciate it.

There are many times when I recognize that if we really do give ourselves to Christ, we would be spending every moment of that life in communities that could use our help. We would move our families to the regions most in need, and commit our lives to them. Simply, we would become life-long missionaries, even if it’s within our community, because anything else wouldn’t do Him justice.

There are people who live without any comforts, and somehow they find comfort. They live without any reason to have faith, yet they are able live and share that faith for more successfully than I can.

In short, even if I gave up everything and lived a life committed to Christ, there would still by thousands more that do an even better job of it. More importantly, Christ would still recognize that I could do even more.

So… I guess I’d better start trying to emulate those people and Christ as soon as possible so I can catch up!

Peace,
+Tom

P.S. In case you’re wondering, this is not a statement that I’m going to uproot life and become a missionary. Family trumps everything, yet another reason I never will fully follow Christ. I’ll always be considering other people.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Mockups and Balsamiq

Balsamiq One of the things I think all projects need, even more importantly that detailed requirements (since no one seems to read those) are screen designs. Every time I have to do this for a new project I open up Visual Studio and drag controls onto the page and use HTML to lay them out. It’s not bad, but it sure can take a while. Especially when you want to just move something around during a meeting. I tried Expression Web, but it really isn’t any better.

I know you can do it in Photoshop and Fireworks, but, for one thing, I don’t have the money. For another, it’s pretty complex.

Then I was reading Tim Heuer’s blog post on Software Mockups using Balsamiq. Balsamiq Mockup is a tool where you simply drag elements onto a page and put them where you want. It also uses a pretty obvious hand drawn style which makes clear that both, this is all for demo purposes, and that anything can be changed.

One of the amazing things is that Peldi, the founder of Balsamiq, is willing to give away licenses for free to non-profits or people who develop open source software. I’ll probably never get to the point of contributing to open source stuff, but we are planning to redesign the church Web site. Heck, for $80 it’s really pretty affordable anyway, and I will probably purchase a license at some point. For now though, I will stick with offering a tiny bit of free publicity (nothing like Tim Heuer can offer).

I sent a quick e-mail and within a half an hour I got a response with the license key. So, now I’ve been playing with it, and I think I’ve found my new permanent mockup tool.

One of the best parts is that I can create the mockup, send the XML to anyone, and they can open it in a free Web based version of the tool (you can only generate an image in that case, not export).

So, if you’re planning to redesign or build requirements for an application, I have to recommend Balsamiq. It’s been so easy to use, and I’m really hoping it will make the user buy-in and design documentation a lot easier.

Peace,
+Tom

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Family Dreams

Rachel sleeping in box of popcorn (by tlbignerd) One of the best things about being a parent is to see someone else notice what you’re doing, and get passionate about it.

When I started the dream journal, it was just for me to see what I’ve been thinking about. It’s helped me remember a lot of details in dreams, and move past them, never having them again. It’s been great. Alas, it’s another thing I stopped doing recently since waking up in the middle of the night and writing for 15 to 30 minutes made me too tired in the morning. But, I also saw how much my dreams drove my daily thinking, like I’d dream and forget about some song, wake up and have all kinds of memories related to that song.

Rachel soon noticed what I was doing with the pad of paper in the morning, and asked about it. From then on she would wake up each morning and proudly tell me what her dreams were that night, and then tell me to go write them down.

These aren’t incredibly deep or long ones. One on August 15th was

Tico (the squirrel from Dora) pretended that he had Swipers nose on his regular nose.

But I love hearing what is going through her head. Recently I woke her up in the middle of the night to go potty and she mumbled this

Daddy, I dreamed that we had [something something, it was mumbled] and Madeline was here and Winnie and Rika and Slate. But Slate wasn’t sick anymore.

Slate is our friend Melissa and Madeline’s dog that they had to put down last year. I don’t know why, but Rachel thinks about her often, even before she was sick. We’ll say we’re going to see Melissa, John and Madeline and she adds “and Slate.”

I got just a tiny bit emotional, I don’t really cry much, but I love how Rachel understands life, the good and bad, and is also always imagining a better place.

Peace,
+Tom

P.S. In case you didn’t know, the picture above is Rachel pretending to sleep in the box of popcorn. She got at least an hour of enjoyment from that box. I got an hour of exercise constantly picking up and returning the popcorn that fell out. It was a really great time.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Pointless Stories

Point of Light (by ~Andross01) I was talking to a teen tonight at Starbucks who was asking to hear my life story. We’d started that conversation over a week ago, and I never finished. The main reason I finally figured out tonight, is that there was too much detail without a point.

Every other time I tell a story about my life, it’s been in conjunction with either a talk or some point I want to make. Here I was just going through my life and I actually think the teen was more interested in the story than even I was.

Truthfully, stories don’t stick unless they impact the person hearing them. There’s no point in telling a story without a point. Really, it needs a point that resonates with the listener.

So, the next time you’re telling someone, even your spouse, about your day, think about what the point is. If it’s simple information then it’s probably going to go in one ear and out the other. It it’s going to make the listener feel something new, both the story and the feelings are tied together and may never be forgotten.

I wonder how many times I’ve told stories that never get remembered?

Peace,
+Tom

Life Update

I don’t think I’ve ever actually given an update on what’s going on in my life here in the blog. That’s mainly because whatever I write about is generally what’s going through my head and either directly or indirectly related to what’s going on in my life. If you read carefully you’ll get a pretty decent picture of who I am, without some of the depressing parts (those are for personal conversations, thank you very much).

But then a week goes by, or a month, or multiple months, without any consistent posting. I figure it’s fair to give a quick update.

First, nothing earth shattering has happened. Work is going very, very well, though the company shall still remain nameless for fear of random stupidity misunderstanding from legal. It’s busy, pretty interesting, and I genuinely enjoy the people I’m working with. I also get to work from home a bit more, which is great.

I also stopped waking up at 5 a.m. Since Colin kept waking up in the middle of the night, or Rachel got up to go to the bathroom and came into our room (which I rarely can sleep after) it just got too hard. Too many Starbucks trips (heck, still too many really) made it clear I needed more sleep. Plus I’d get irritated when I’d get up at 5 to do stuff then be interrupted at 6 to have to watch Colin. So I decided for now, to sleep on in.

So, what about evening you ask? Well, over the past month or more, it’s been filled with working in front of the TV. There are some great shows, and with the writer strike we’ve been watching new stuff, like Eureka, Newhart (well, those are repeats) and Torchwood.

Right now I’m putting together a presentation on Microsoft.NET Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript, not cleaner or whatever else). So, mainly I’ve been so busy writing has taken a back seat.

Recently I’ve begun recognizing how much that’s been making my life feel out of control. When I’m writing I feel like I’m both contributing to the world, and I’m getting my thoughts in order. Without writing really, the only thing I have in order is my Getting Things Done to-do list in Remeberthemilk. By the way, Rememberthemilk (RTM) is incredibly worth it, and paired with Getting Things Done (and used regularly) is invaluable. Since RTM is free, it’s really great, though I do have the pro account to support them, though I sure with they had a Samsung Instinct version of their tool.

Besides all that there is stuff Rachel is doing. She has swimming Friday afternoon (Claude Moore Recreation Center), Dance/Gym (Little Gym) Saturday at noon and ice skating Sunday at noon (Ashburn Ice House). Man, you should see her skate. She’s not much to look at in class, but after class last week she and I did the free skate and skated for two hours straight without a break. She sped ahead of me, picked herself up when she fell (mostly on turns) and eventually had me show her how to spin with her arms in and her head moving with the spin.

On top of that last week she really swam by herself in the pool. It looked a little more like a controlled drown wince they don’t yet have the idea of lifting your face to the side to get air, but I’m so glad to know she is getting it.

I guess I should write about the rest of the family huh? Winnie is great. Slowly losing weight which is helping her walking since she hurt her foot a few years ago.

Oh yeah, the rest. Erin is good. Actually going to a church bible study, but you didn’t hear it from me. The down side is that I can’t go, which means I don’t get second dinners anymore, she does. Man I miss second dinners. But then I go to Starbucks to talk to people Thursday nights, so it’s worth it. Otherwise work for her is good.

Colin has been with grandma all summer, and goes back to preschool next week. He’s talking, but only just. He can identify Erin, Rachel and I and point to us, which is great. He says “Elmo” when he wants to watch TV, though now he says “Backpack” during Dora, so we have his education through Television well under way. He will say down, get down, up, and daddy. There are others if we say them first that he will repeat.

Anyway, that’s been life. Very busy with very little writing. But it’s really a great life.

Peace,
+Tom

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Being Upbeat

When I was in high school I discovered the band Asia (about a million years after they started making music). One of the songs I put on every morning for at least a few months, at full blast was Days Like These (I Fell Like I Can Change the World) from Then & Now (act fast, you can get the album for 24 cents on Amazon).

Then I got in contact with my friend Laura from high school. I don’t know if I’d say we were the type of best friends who stay in touch forever, since it’s been about 15 years since we’ve talked, and we were only friends for about a year. But when I think of high school Laura often comes to mind. There’s a point, really.

In high school I’d pick Laura up and she’d drive up to school. It was her way of getting driving experience with her permit. When Annie Lennox came out with Walking on Broken Glass in her Diva album, we’d blast that music, both of us singing at the top of our lungs. We must have looked (and sounded) like idiots, but at those moments we we’re rock superstars and the world would want to hear us. There’s something so freeing about singing out loud with a friend.

Another one was Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now. I clearly remember my friend Geoff and I walking down the street with a headphone splitter (remember them) singing like seals and loving our butchering of the song.

So, it’s always great when I get to add to my list of upbeat music. I came across this YouTube video some fans put together of the song I’m Alive. It’s worth watching and seeing just how many people are involved and the absolute joy on all of their faces. Great song to start the day with, but I doubt the kids or Erin would let me sing it at the top of my lungs for a month.

What’s your favorite song to start the day?

Peace,
+Tom

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sin

My Wild River Loves You!!! (by denise collette) While I was at Starbucks tonight with some teens, we ended up talking a bit about God. Something a bit odd since we usually just talk about life, but eventually discussions on life do turn to God.  We went all around in the discussion, from free will to incest and landed on sin. You know… is it a sin to have incest, is it a sin to be homosexual.

What this led to was my own thought about sin. I think Jesus made sin incredibly easy to understand, and immensely harder to follow.

Jesus came and said that there are only two commandments you should follow (the old rules can kind of be thrown away). You should Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul. The second commandment is that you should love your neighbor as yourself.

Seems easy, right? It’s one of the great things from Christianity, while there is a lot of gray area, there’s also a lot of clarity. All I have to do is love god with everything I have. To do that I recognize the love I have for myself and give it, and then some, to Him.

Then, all I have to do is love everyone I meet (by neighbor he didn’t mean people I live next to, more people I am connected to, which is everyone I meet) as much as I love myself and my God. So, all the 10 commandments and sin stuff is gone, right? Easy stuff this following Jesus.

Except, of course, that I now need to love everyone. Meaning, I can’t kill anyone. I can’t swear at anyone. I can’t try to take anyone else’s wife or property. Right, none of those things are done in love of every other person.

Really, though, it gets even harder. Think about it, I can’t avoid the person who irritates me. Not only can I not avoid them, but now I have to try to connect with them emotionally. I may not like them and their actions, but I have to love them.

All those times I (er, other people I mean… of course) talk about how irritated I am at someone else. Is that done in love? Griping about another person or even the actions of another person, are not done in love. If I don’t want someone to gripe about me, then I shouldn’t gripe about them. Now I need to control my thoughts and my actions, because I don’t even want people to think anything badly of me.

Here’s the great benefit from this. If everyone did this, every word spoken would be in love. Everything said to you or about you would build you up, even criticism. Everything I say about someone will be with a positive spin.

Sure, bad stuff will still happen. Sure, life will suck sometimes. Sure, I’ll make bad decisions. But if everyone I come in contact with constantly showed me they loved me by being open and supportive, suddenly nothing I do is wrong. Things can be improved, but I’m no longer scared to take chances.

Every action we take, in love, is right. Every actions others take, is right. All of a sudden the world is centered on recognizing our differences, loving them, and coming to conflict not to win or be the best but simply to be together.

I sure hope I’m around when the world recognizes this simple message. Heck, I hope I’m still alive when I fully live this message.

Peace,
+Tom

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Flickr Art

While I was perusing Flickr for photos on a small town for a previous post I came across this photo by Valerie Walsh (valgalart on Flickr).

Small Town Winter (by valgalart)

Poking around her photostream there is some pretty neat stuff there. Like these:

The Coffee Pot (by valgalart)

Venitian Nite (by valgalart)

Angel's Flight (by valgalart)

I definitely recommend checking them out and her Web site.

Peace,
+Tom

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More Dreams

Small Town after 3rd (by j image) I’ve continued the dream journal each night. Some days, like last night, nothing happens. But more often I have some incredibly detailed, long, and sometimes interesting dreams.  I had this one just a few days ago, making me think I should think about moving so a smaller town, or at least one with a museum inhabited by monsters.

I was on the Metro with Erin, though it was more like a commuter train or Amtrak train going WAY out beyond DC. We were going to some far out place for a trip or weekend called 777.

Some stuff happened in our car, but I don’t remember what. At a stop we then went up to the front car (Erin and I) and were talking to some people, including the conductor. The conductor realized something was missing and sent me back at the next stop, to a car at the back of the train to get it, a Bluetooth headset or something. As I ran to the last car I overshot the train. When I turned around to run back to the last car the train had begun pulling out of the station. I was stranded and the station was in the middle of nowhere.

I walked away from the stations and ended up near an inn or hotel. I talked to someone there and kept walking to a small town they had mentioned. It started getting dark, though it was still late morning or early afternoon, and I came across a shopping mall. I went through the mall, and when I came out on the other side it was bright outside, essentially the mall blocked the sun. I headed on thinking I was going back to the train station, but was distracted. I remember looking for a compass or something to figure out where East was.

I came into a small town that had a lot of people, thousands, but wasn’t “huge” like a city. There was a main road with shops on either side, and some other side roads (the the main road joining a side road in a “V”. Everything looked like Annapolis or Old Town with shops essentially as townhouses.

I got to the end of the street and came upon some train tracks, more like local tracks without spars. I had initially thought I had found the train station, but quickly realized it was in the center of town and was a scenic train track.

I kept going and came to a big museum. I had two doors I could use; one looked older and inside the pillars looked overgrown with plants and trees. I went in that door without even looking at the other one. I saw up in a tree some predator. As I watched it warily I got hit in the side. I looked and there was a long, thin thing that seemed to have an almost human face but with a very short neck and squashed facial features.

It looked like a really sick teen.

It began attaching me and eventually had me pinned down, with razor sharp teeth about to slice my face and throat. I got my hand under its tiny chin pressing against its throat. It stopped his face from coming toward me, but really I was just buying time. I took a chance and moved my hand, my thumb accidentally slipping in its mouth once, but got my hand wrapped around its throat and my thumb on his trachea. I pushed and pushed until he was unconscious. I then jumped up and ran out.

I ended up outside and then in another museum (or maybe a section of the same one) where I saw people and talked to them. I mentioned the animal and they just referred to it as “the kid.”

I then ran into Alex D., Christine M. and some other college kids who were staying in the town as a stop-off for a longer trip. I mentioned “the kid” but then we all forgot about it. At some point I I went back through the “wooded” hall but nothing scared me.

I was back in town walking around. Rob and Jodie were there walking around and ended up in a pub.

I came across a parking garage when a guy offered to park my car. Suddenly I had my car and said yes. He drove it into an impossibly small doorway, and it was taken care of.

I was talking to some teens and saw others coming up the street. In the group was Allison P.. I went over and boisterously said “I didn’t know you were on the trip too. I’d have spent the day with you.” We then walked down a side street and saw a lot of townhouses that looked like new construction, or were very clean and kept up, but were empty.

I was talking about how the town is a great example of capitalism and the balance needed to keep it successful. The town survived on retail sales from visitors, but had no “production,” so it would always remain small and homes would be empty.

We went up some steps and ended up back on the main street, near the scenic train tracks.

I bought, or got something about the town and went to the garage to put it in my car. I went to the garage nut no one was there (it was now dark). Two townspeople were around and said I could go in, and opened the door. There was an old woken ladder going down and I asked, jokingly, “what, no elevator?” The townspeople replied that it was an old town. I went down and there were flickering lanterns illuminating the area. I got to the bottom and was in a big room with panels in the floor with hooks that pop up. I pulled a hook and opened it a bit, but the bay was empty. I was sure my car would have been there.

Then the garage owner poked his head from above and said my car should be right there. I asked him how he gets the cars in and out and he said he airlifts them with a tow helicopter.

I moved over a spot, lifted the panel and found my car. I checked to be sure, then lifted the trunk as much as I could (just a crack) and put my item in the car. They were going to pull the car out of the garage, but I realized they need to since I wasn’t planning to leave.

While I was waiting for the helicopter I noticed the hook on the front of the car with a rope/strap that didn’t look sturdy enough to hold the car. The owner said it would be fine.

While waiting I also saw Rob down there doing stuff in his car (he had more space in his garage spot).

The helicopter flew over, they attached my car, and they lifted it out. I grabbed my phone to take some pictures. The helicopter looked a bit boxy, like a tow truck with a red box on it. It had a car strapped right to the bottom already, and it flew off with my car hanging down by the front bumper.

I came out of the garage and Erin was there. She had a balloon or something. We went by the scenic train tracks and had a quick sit-down meal. I talked about how much I love the town and want to move there. She didn’t seem against the idea at all. We finished up and walked down the sidewalk and ran into a pickup imaginary baseball game that happened right in the sidewalk. We accidentally walked through them as they threw (and hit) an imaginary ball and ran in a circle (as wide as the sidewalk) to imaginary bases. Erin accidentally walked through a base runner. The people grumbled but we apologized.

We got to the end of the street though and headed for the car. I asked Erin if she’d like to stay the night in the hotel, hoping she’d say yes.

I thought I’d like to live there, but didn’t want my kids growing up there and being so na├»ve. I’d had a conversation with a teen there who had never left the town and had no idea how to live in a larger community [I can’t remember his question that started it, but it was a single question]. I decided we could retire there.

I asked Erin if she’d want to stay the night in the hotel, but before I got an answer the alarm went off and I woke up.

So, the question of the day is, are you at all interested in hearing about how my head works when it’s not doing anything productive?

Peace,
+Tom

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Conversations

Willy, NO swimming and talking on your cell phone! (by ucumari) When two people are in a conversation, in reality, one person is talking, expressing their feelings on “whatever” and the other is listening.

Often the shy, quiet people are good at being the listener, sharing a little bit about themselves, but mostly waiting patiently while the talker discusses their life.

What’s interesting is that most often the person talking the most isn’t actually driving the conversation. More often the listener will add in a single question or comment that gets the talker to expand on one area. Most often it’s the listener that drives the conversation down a specific path or line of thought.

In most cases the person talking don’t even realize it.

We often think of the “talker” as the person dominating the conversation. It’s interesting that the person who dominates actually has the least control over what they are doing.

How often have you realized that the times you feel most in control, are also the times someone else is pulling the strings?

Peace,
+Tom

Friday, July 25, 2008

God’s Funny Ways

Never Change Your Love in the Middle of the Night (by I'm Your Pusher) God works in some pretty funny ways sometimes.

I went to bed last night at 7:45 to get a nap before going to a movie. As I began waking up and thought about leaving for the movie, I got a phone call and talked to a distraught friend for an hour and a half.

The nap was incredibly helpful, but not at all in the way I’d expected.

I love it when a plan comes together… Even if it’s not my plan.

Peace,
+Tom

More Dreams

Rachel & Madeline Sleeping (by tlbignerd) I’ve had a whole lot of different dreams lately.  This journal is working out somewhat well, though I find it pretty hard to actually get up in the middle of the night and write the dreams down.  Then one morning recently I was writing a dream and it took about 15 minutes to get down.  Needless to say, Erin was thrilled.

When I told Rachel what I was doing the piped up with her own dream from the night before.

I dreamt about where I was at school with my pajamas on and I took me panties off because they were wet and I showed my butt to the floor.

She said that unabashedly and with a big smile.

Maybe this is where high school nightmares of showing up at a test in your underwear are born.

Peace,
+Tom

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Do Youlu Hulu?

Hulu logo I mentioned in an earlier post that I was in the middle of watching Newhart when Joanna said a useful line.  If you don’t know, Newhart is a TV show from 1982 – 1990.  It’s a show about Bob Newhart (one the the best comedians ever, check out his biography, you’ll laugh your tukus off… if you’re cheap it’s a penny used on Amazon), and is making clear to Erin where I got some of my idiosyncrasies. In any case I’m sure you’re asking yourself, how was Tom watching Newhart on TV when it’s so old?

That seems like the perfect question to talk about Hulu.

Hulu has been around for over a year, but it’s been a closed beta.  Now it’s finally open, and anyone can watch TV and movie episodes.  The quality is excellent (so good I can run them on my TV off of my laptop) and the shows start right away.  What’s great is that they really have a LOT of TV shows and movies. There’s old stuff like Benson and new stuff like The Office.  They even have some pretty new movies like Pitch Black.  They even have shows in HD, though those mostly appear to be clips right now.

The best part of Hulu?  It’s free.  When you watch a show every 15 minutes you’ll get a 20 second ad.  So, can you live with watching your TV with a single ad every 15 minutes?  That’s one ad for a sitcom like 30 Rock, two for hour long shows like, um, Total Recall 2070 (did you even know there was such a show)?  If you miss an episode of your favorite show, you may be able to watch it here, since you have most (or all) of the previous episodes (Benson season 1 episode 2 is missing for some reason).

Essentially Hulu started as an idea at NBC to give people video easily.  They left the venture and a bunch of networks are now working together to provide content.  They get advertising revenue, and we stop downloading the stuff illegally. 

What really impresses me is the quality.  The streaming from Sci-Fi of previous episodes is very pixilated and could never be shown on a TV.  This stuff is great quality.

There are still a lot of shows missing.  I looked for The Closer since Erin missed an episode, but it wasn’t there.  I’d just love to see more stuff up.  But if you haven’t checked out Hulu yet, I’m sure you’ll find something to love.

And no, we didn’t use Hulu for our Newhart episodes.  Sadly, they’re not up yet.

Peace,
+Tom

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Expectations

expectations (by Amelia PS) Our expectations of others is clearly defined by our own capabilities.

What I mean by this is that what we expect other people to be capable of is based on what we think we’re capable of ourselves.  For example, I believe I know a ton about computers, both hardware and software.  A little about Macs, but a lot about Windows.  Whenever I talk to someone else about computers, I initially expect they know as much, or less, than I do about computers.  So when we’re talking I “dumb down” the language until someone tells me “yeah, got it, I know that.”

I also overhear people who need need a few months to come up to speed on a new project.  It just takes a while to understand the client, what the application should be doing, and how everything works.  When that same person meets with someone new to the project, they expect that the new person knows less than they do about the project, and that it will take a long time to get the same understanding that the experienced person now has.  That experienced person is really surprised when the newbie took their previous experience, did their own research, and now has an understanding equal to the experienced person in only a few days.

What would happen if we all went into conversations expecting more from the other person than we expect from ourselves?

We sure don’t want to push someone over the edge.  For all you know, you really are the smartest person in the world about how to marinate green peppers stuffed with ground arugula and pigeon meat, so you can’t expect someone else to be better.

How much would someone’s self-image improve if we all met them for the first time expecting them to be better than ourselves.  What if we told the person that?  Don’t make yourself look stupid, just make the other person look smart.

Stop expecting someone to be less capable, or know less than you.  Change your own expectations of others, and they’ll change theirs as well.

Peace,
+Tom

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Comparisons

Old West Collectibles - Gold Scale (by www.OldWestAntiques.biz ) We’ve been going to Let’s Dish to prepare our dinners for about a year now, and we really love it.  In case you’ve never been, and never heard Erin and I gush about it, Let’s Dish is a place where they get all of the ingredients together and we come in and prepare our meals.  We split all of the meals, so that our 8 meal session lasts for 16 meals, just a little under a month.

One of the funny things I always find myself doing is comparing meat.  The staff do a great job separating out meat (either chicken breasts, flank steak, pork loin), and yet I still compare all of the options.  Heck, I find it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to tell a difference, but I still compare each time.

A few weeks ago our television died.  The bulb burnt out and the TV (even without the bulb) had a weird ticking noise.  So we decided that instead of spend hundreds of dollars getting it fixed, it was time to get something new. There I am at Costco about to buy a TV and before I pulled it onto the cart I compared the different boxes to find the one with no marks on it.

I know that I’m not at all alone. People always look to get the best, and feel disappointed when they don’t get it.

When we’re at the grocery store we look at how other kids are better behaved, and wonder what we can do to get our kids in line.  When we’re on the road we look at all the other cars around us that get better gas mileage, are nicer or are more fun.

It’s so easy to begin coveting those things we don’t have, and just as easy to resent the things we do.

Marketing relies on this.  That we all need the next, new, big thing. That we aren’t happy and our lives aren’t complete until we have the newest phone and the biggest house.

When I look around the room I think about how many things I have that 99.9% of the world doesn’t have (heck, a roof for one).

I’m in the middle of watching Newhart right this minute and Joanna says “We spend so much time regretting what we don’t have instead of appreciating what we do.”  Now if that’s not a sign, then it’s just coincidence.

Anyway, it’s time to look around the room at every single object, and appreciate the amount of work that went into making it, into earning the money to buy it, and into the time to acquire/create it.  It’s time to appreciate the old things that we have more than the new that we don’t.

Peace,
+Tom

Friday, July 18, 2008

Diary of a Dream Journal

It’s day 3 of my reincarnation, and I have to say that strange things are afoot in dreamland.  I vaguely remember having some sort of existence years ago, when my dreamer was in college, but can’t recall a single thing he wrote.  I sure hope it was more interesting than this stuff that is now filling my pages, shaping my view of the world.

Things are either incredibly boring, or new career ideas are afoot.

Check this one out:

7/15/2008
I ate bourbon chicken from Let’s Dish and popcorn during Live Free or Die Hard.

Read “The Terror” by Dan Simmons before sleeping

Up at 6:26
I know I dreamt something about a big-screen TV and another about work or a coffee maker, but I can’t remember them.

Puhleese, how boring can you get?  If this is what I have in my near future, just throw me into the fire now.  Using me as paper for the bird cage would be preferable to this boredom.

Then I get nights with tons of dreams (four dreams two nights ago), one even a bit interesting, if in a psychadelic sort of way.  Here’s this one:

7/16/2008
Ate BBQ pork loin from Let’s Dish and carrots afterward Read “The Terror” before sleeping

Up around 4:30
I woke up with the radio alarm coming on.

I dreamt that I was driving home and saw some fireworks going off. I was then walking along the back of my house, which seemed to be a townhouse. There were lots of huge fireworks going off and I was wondering if Erin was watching them from our bedroom.

The next thing I knew I was driving down the road during the day. I drove up to a white car that was flipped on its roof. I drove by slowly, behind another person, and saw it was a police car. I was going to just drive call 911 but the car in front of me pulled over, so I decided I should too to see if I could help. I dialed 911 and got out of the car. As I began walking back I somehow saw the accident on TV and the man in the leading car was talking on his phone to someone at 911 about how he could see the cop waving. Then it seemed the cop was ok and I was I was then watching the scene on TV as people arrived to help.

See how he jumps from the car to walking to having a townhouse that is somehow detached? Plus a car wreck to boot! Obviously he’s on drugs, but that doesn’t make it somewhat interesting.

Then last night after he goes to see Dark Knight he comes back with imaginations of grandeur. It must be the large popcorn and soda he chugged down at 2 a.m.

7/17/2008 asleep at 7:15
I had dinner at Potbelly after Rachel finished ice skating class. I’m going to wake up at 10:30 to see Dark Knight.

Up at 5:30 to my alarm

I dreamt that I was in a community center walking down the hall and came across a room with people from church meeting, but no one was talking. Lots of people were in the room, none of whom I recognized, though it was a Reverence committee meeting. There were three or four rows of seats rising higher like bleachers or an auditorium with tables in front or, really, like a house committee hearing room. There was also a stage up front with a few people, the “designated leaders,” really making decisions. I went in and the room was silent, they had topics to discuss but no one would agree on anything. They didn’t really have a focus for the Reverence committee and everyone was bored.

I went and got people moving more. When people began getting “interested” I saw that we had corded microphones and needed cordless or something, since the corded microphones meant that not everyone could be heard. We gathered three of the mics together at the top of the seats for people to talk into.

People began talking and getting passionate about things… and disagreeing. It was good to see everyone having an opinion and sharing it, but soon people became upset and angry. People cared about Reverence and were glad to share their feelings openly, but they still had no direction. People raised their voices and I couldn’t get them to listen.

I gave people small sheets of paper to write out the focus of Reverence and the meeting itself. While people wrote down what they want Reverence to be, the question came up and people began arguing about structure and leadership. People put an org chart together and wanted to know where the decision making power [I originally wrote command] came from. I grabbed a sheet and began to draw a circle but someone else brought up the Target symbol (red with one circle around a center dot). I was the dot in the center, a leader shaping the decision making of the outer circle, which is where the people (committee members) were. Every person in the room was at the same level. The circle had “designated leaders” at the same level [and power] as everyone else. Decision making carried equal weight and equal responsibility.

I wasn’t the focus, or even a part of the group. The leaders were the people in the circle, the dot in the center was the meeting director, uninvolved in decision making and instead focused on keeping the circle moving, caring about their path and decisions as they continued around forever.

Then I got a flip chart, moved it to the center of the room, and people began giving their ideas on committee direction. I didn’t get to write any down. Something happened, I don’t remember what, and the dream ended.

If this keeps up I’m putting in for hazard pay.

Peace, or at least a sleepless night,
+Tom’s dream journal