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