Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Review: Into the Wild

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I seldom do this with any book, but I'm going to give up on this one half way through. This was a tale of some deranged young man who wandered around the back country trying to... do what I'm not sure --- find himself? Eventually he hikes into the tundra of Alaska without so much as a good pair of boots and, surprise, winds up dead. This is a fine story and would've made a good magazine article. But it gets stretched out into this tedious affair of comparing this nut job to every other nut job who ever lived off the land. A history of every John Muir wannabee that wound up dead. Not terribly interesting actually.

A guy from my last job loaned me this book. I need to get it back to him somehow. Interoffice mail isn't going to work. :-)

Monday, December 04, 2006

First Day

Survived my first day at RHD with only a minor headache. I actually got to solve an interesting technical problem. A new OWA server wasn't behaving. I found the problem related to back-end servers having different Exchange version than the front ends. See this article for the geeky details. It's nice to see already that the technology here is familiar and yet just different enough to be challenging. One thing I have to give RHD props for is their documentation. Excellent. I built a new server today. While installing Exchange was no big deal, their antivirus product was unfamiliar to me. No problem following the well-illustrated step-by-step instructions my predecessor left behind.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Black Creek Greenway

Found this greenway trail and rode my bike the complete 14 miles. Starts in Cary, goes out to the RDU overlook in Umstead state park and then over the new pedestrian bridge over 440, ending at Meredith.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Garlic - 1 Month

1 month since I planted garlic. Seems to be doing well so far. I used wheat straw as mulch. Problem is the stuff keeps germinating so I've been spending a bit of time plucking wheat plants out. I think this will die off once the weather gets cold. But with it in the 70s this week it shows no signs of stopping soon.

Monday, November 20, 2006


On Friday I resigned my position with Progress Energy. I am sad and excited and happy and nervous all at the same time. It's very confusing. I'll start with R.H. Donneley in December. I'll be doing senior architecture work with Active Directory and Exchange plus other messaging systems. Pretty much the same thing I've been doing, but this is a more senior position in a more complex environment and should prove challenging and rewarding. My goal is to fully apply all the Rob 2.0 skills I've been learning and put them to good use at RHD. I will start by listening. A lot.

I'm definitely going to miss many of the good folks at Progress. I'll have to make an effort to stay in touch. I learned more about soft skills here than anyplace before. However, my technical skills were probably atrophying from disuse. My new job will force me to crack open some tech books I'm sure.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Book Reviews

I told myself I'd review books as they come off my reading list. Haven't been keeping up. So here's some catchup...

Madeline Albright's The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs examines the important role religion plays in international politics and the highlights the lack of attention it's getting in the Bush administration. Key takeaways were that the three Abrahamic religions have more in common than they have separating him and that we'd do well to leverage these commonalities rather than focus on the "otherness" of the less familiar Islam. Can't we all just get along?

Adam Mansbach's comedy, Angry Black White Boy (Or the Miscegenation of Macon Detornay) is a very funny novel about a white suburban kid who is blacker than most black people. He's totally "down" with hiphop culture. Winds up starting a race riot in NYC when he suggests that white people take Malcolm's "Day of Apology" literally. Thousands of clueless folks come to apologize for what they do not know. Violence ensues. Very odd ending of the novel which was quite depressing. Leaving me the feeling that there really is no hope for every gaining understanding between the two cultures and there will always be animosity. Can't we all just get along?

For work as part of the Rob 2.0 project I listened to an audiobook version of Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. I have to say. It sucked. Psychobabble through and through. Oh, there may have been a nugget or two of fairly obvious common sense. But basically the premise is that relationships are more important to success then intelligence. OK. I got it. But there were no helpful tips about how to get from here to there. I suppose it helped to raise my awareness of the issue. Like I was unaware before. Oy.
Finally I finished Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End. As usual I love this sci-fi author's highly imaginative technology. Unlike prior works of his I loved (The Peace War, Marooned in Realtime), the technology here is near future. A natural extension of current web-based tech projected out about 50 years. I hope it all comes true. I can't wait. Wearable computers. Passing of certs around to validate identity. Reputation engines ala Ebay today (think Wuffie). Cool stuff. Plus a really engaging story to keep things moving along. I especially like the UPExpress company which delivers packages in near real-time by sending them semi-balistically and then using paragliders and GPS to get them on target. Similarly a tactical strike team is launched into LEO ready to project power to quell a potential terrorist strike. Launch em high, then let em fall and finally deploy at the last second as the situation develops. Developing info streams in via mass use of analysts that are chewing on data ala wikipedia. All totally cool. As usual, I feel like I'm born about 100 years too early. :-)

Happy Halloween

I'm rather proud of this jack-o-lantern I carved. Scary, huh?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Halloween at the Office

Yesterday we brought in candy to fill company-sponsored Halloween bags for the Boys and Girls club. Pizza was a strong motivator. Decorations transformed our conference room and nicely set the proper mood.

Friday, October 06, 2006


My town (Apex, NC) is front page news today. I woke up at 1am to sirens. After several minutes, I realized the sirens weren't moving. So I got curious and went outside. I noticed an odd orange glow on the horizon and the air seemed eerily foggy. Lots of sirens in the distance. Went back inside and turned on the TV and checked for local news. The first thing I heard the newscaster say was "large portions of Apex are being evacuated now..." I ran upstairs and woke Evelyn and we sat and watched the news of the chemical fire and evacuation. We called one friend known to be in the evacuation zone but got no answer.

At 8am I commuted to work on my normal route. I was the only car on NC-55 until I got to US-1. I noted state troopers blocking access back up 55 toward my house. Getting home today might be interesting. Winds have shifted from SE to N. Evelyn says 55 is now completely closed in Apex.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Be More Likable

Five Tips to be more likable. These makes sense to me. I've been practicing some elements of this but need to do better. Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence talks about "over learning" or "over practicing" techniques like these so they become second nature. You need these tools during crucial conversations (high stakes/high emotions) and they need to be at-the-ready. So I'm going to need to start practicing these intensely. Folks will probably think I'm nuts. Ah well.

1. Be positive.
2. Control your insecurities.
3. Provide value.
4. Eliminate all judgments.
5. Become a person of conviction.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Kids in a Garden

I had lots of helpers who decided to spontaneously tidy up our new garden. The neighbor kids came over to rake the fresh dirt. They even brought their own tools. When I commented on how great it was to have free labor, they demanded payment. One wanted "Five Dollars!". After negotiation I wound up paying them off in gumballs. I think it was a pretty fair deal.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Friday Roundup

A very good week at work. Started off getting some recognition passed to my boss from a customer this week and then had several very good interactions on other support cases that led to very positive kudos landing in my inbox. Not one, but two coworkers commented to me that I seem to be very customer-focused these days. One buddy told me I seemed happier and much more relaxed of late. I told him about the new Rob 2.0 project that I'm working on and he got a kick out of that. Why am I doing better? Some good coaching from my bosses, HR, and peers. Some studying I've been doing (reviewing Crucial Conversations and listening to a book on Emotional Intelligence). Mainly it's just a refocusing of attention on what comes out of my mouth and my internal attitude. I do find that I think "be happy", then happy comes out. I'm not good at explaining this. Other factors include a more stable homelife. With Evelyn staying at home now and the kids being well situated in school... it let's me focus on other things. I was in a near panic about financial concerns when we cut our income in half, but somehow we're doing just fine. We've made significant lifestyle changes, but I'm surprised at how little I miss all the "extras".

Another good thing I did was telework one day this week. Company won't come up with an "official" policy but the bosses have both said that we can work from home once in a while if we need (want?) to. And... so I did. And it was truly great. The day was actually quite busy. But I got all my daily tasks done and actually made headway on a migration project that has been languishing. Quite frankly, I felt I was more productive working away from the office than I ever am in the office. Admittedly, this was my hypothesis going in. So, did I work extra hard to ensure that I met my "quota" of work? Or was it simply that I was more productive because I had less distraction? I think a little of both. I set different parameters for my workday when I was at home. I answered every phone call for instance. I rarely answer the phone in the office unless I can see who it is calling and I know I'm waiting on info from them. Everyone else can go into the voicemail and get queued behind other workflow (GTD paradigm -- minimize distraction). Similarly with email, rather than doing my Email Dashes hourly (GTD / Inbox Zero) I pretty much kept one eye on email all day long. Yet, it was nice to have a break from the office banter. Make no mistake, I enjoy the banter, but do recognize that it reduces my productivity and I don't like that aspect of it. I'm going to try to continue doing telework one day every other week I think. I'm hopeful other team members follow me in. I think this ties in nicely with the GTD concept of going up to 50,000 feet once in a while to survey and also my team lead's idea about having a Deep Thoughts Friday once a month.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Wired 14.08 Review

Interesting things in last month's Wired:

Tesla Motors, a Silicon Valley auto manufacturing startup, plans to develop an electric car utilizing laptop battery technology. Premise: Let computer manufacturers do the R&D of increasing battery performance. Using outsourcing that Detroit has already developed, they can design, build, and market a car with dotcom know-how at internet speed. Their first product, a sports car, does 0 to 60 in 3 seconds, has a range of 210 miles and costs about 2 cents per mile. Sadly, it's going to cost around 90K so I won't be getting one. Next up is a more affordable sedan. Article

The $100 Laptop could revolutonize global education. Article.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

How dare you, Mr. President?

Keith Olbermann on MSNBC gave a most poignant summation of the inadequacy of President Bush's response to the 9/11 attack. I was actually quite stunned that a network allowed this to air. It was very refreshing to hear truth to power from the MSM.

This Hole in the Ground Video

The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had 'something to do' with 9/11 is "lying by implication."
The impolite phrase is "impeachable offense."
Not once in now five years has this President ever offered to assume responsibility for the failures that led to this empty space, and to this, the current, curdled, version of our beloved country.

I then sat through another Presidential speech. Bush still riding his one trick pony. We're safer now that we've caught Saddam. Oh, yes, I can feel the safety. It's not unlike the warm glow of the fireball that's going to form over a port city any day now if he doesn't do something to secure the damn shipping system.

He also laid into Disney for their "Path to 9/11" movie and made good use of an old Twilight Zone episode to help make his point. All in all, I wish more commentary on the news was of this sort (from either side of the political spectrum) than the usual screaming heads we get these days.
The network gave him over 9 minutes to lambaste Bush for failing to respond to 9/11 in a useful way. I can't get over that he got away with this. To be "fair and balanced" here's a commentary on the commentary from a right-wing blogger.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Year Round

Kids' school is going year round. This should be interesting.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A New Garden

I started a raised bed garden this weekend. I used planks of cedar nailed together and then staked at the corners. I turned just about an inch of topsoil (ha -- cement hard clay filled with rocks). The boards are 8" high and I'm going to fill this with good topsoil, manure and compost. I'm hoping you can grow vegetables in just 8" of soil. My long-range plan is to build another box like (10' x 5') next to it and then surround each with cedar mulch walkways. It should look something like this when I'm done. I like this site's block style of gardening. So, not having ever done this before I figured I've give this a try. Everything I read seems to indicate raised bed gardening is the way to go.

I need to bring in some more dirt. Luckily I have this nifty compost bin I built in the spring. It's filled up with grass clippings, leaves, way too many pine needles, and kitchen scraps. Even has some shredded office paper in there. Amazingly, it's pretty much turned to dirt. Well, dirt with a lot of pine needles in it. Apparently they're indestructible.

As Evelyn and I are putting this thing together it's raining pine needles down onto my pristine new dirt. I told her how my gardening mentor at work told me the one thing I want to be careful of is pine trees because they dump a lot of acidity into the garden. Oh, well. Don't see a way around this, I guess we'll be buying lots of lime.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Carbon Credits Come to California

Got this note in my email from Environmental Defense, a group to which I contribute. Praise be. Now if I could just figure out how to get my power company to embrace renewable energy. Why we're not throwing up solar plants across the countryside I do not know.

Yesterday's passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) in California is an incredible achievement and gives huge momentum to our efforts to pass a national global warming cap. The bill, co-authored by Environmental Defense,
sets a statewide cap on global warming pollution and creates incentives for businesses and entrepreneurs to invest in clean energy technological innovations.

The Washington Post pulls no punches.

With the Bush administration sitting on its hands, state governments are emerging as the principal actors in reducing U.S. dependence on the fossil fuels responsible for greenhouse gas emissions.

Seems ironic that Republican Arnold is the one that's going to lead us to environmental enlightenment. I guess out there even the GOPers aren't too evil.

NPR News

Bad, Sad News

I was planning on participating in tomorrow's search for my coworker along with hundreds of other volunteers. The search has been cancelled. We received an internal memo at 5pm today letting us know. I was involved over the initial weekend of this ordeal with helping in the investigation from an IT perspective. Scouring her computer for any clues about where she may be. Obviously, we found nothing useful since this was the epitome of senseless and random violence. I feel very caught up in this thing. There's a lot of anger and frustration about this in the office.

N&O News, WRAL News

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The American Tobacco Trail

Most excellent new maps of the American Tobacco Trail have been placed on the Triangle Rails to Trails website. Chloe and I did a three mile leg from Olive Chapel Rd to Goodwin Rd and back. The highlight, of course, being the trek through the tunnel under US64. For a 5 year old I think Chloe is a fantastic cyclist. She's very quick and had no trouble keeping up with me.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Got Him

Police have caught the guy who kidnapped my coworker. Where's Cynthia!?

Back to School

School starts today. We're still on the traditional calendar here, but there's a push on to convert all the elementary schools to year-round. Yesterday we met the kids' teachers. The kids, while not 100% enthused, seem to be ready for the transition. Chloe especially is excited to be starting kindergarten. Evan will be allowed to bring his bunny in to help him transition to 2nd grade. He will have his two teachers from last year supporting him this year as well (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) as he transitions to an "inclusion" model. We've been nervous about having him removed from a self-contained classroom, but it seems like the school's administration and faculty have put a good deal of thought into planning for Evan's needs. I think he'll probably do ok.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

GTD + GMail = Productivity

I'm something of a productivity nut. The best system I've found so far for organizing my life is GTD. Now someone is providing a Firefox add-in called GTDMail that leverages the power of GMail to create a free, web-based, googlicious GTD organizer. I love Gmail, but it's not currently where most of my mail lives. And I'm not a Firefox convert. Have nothing against Firefox, but for me IE gets the job done and as an IT professional I'm confident I can keep my system secure from whatever latest nasty has been written to take advantage of security holes in that browser. So... I'm not sure if I'm going to really use this tool, but I may give it a shot. I currently use Outlook at work as my "trusted source" for storing all my information. Problems with this model: "my work" can suddenly become "my old job". When I'm home, or travelling, access to my work Outlook is problematic. If I were to keep everything in Gmail it would always be available (well, if I had a computer and internet access, but pretty soon that will be ubiquitous anyway). Problems exist with this model, too. Can we really trust Google to "not be evil" with all my data? Can we trust DHS? Also, most of my input into my system comes from work, much of it as emails which I receive in Outlook at work. What to do? Write a rule that forwards everything to gmail. I'm sure some security policy at work would make that verboten. Forward individual items to gmail? An extra step. Finally, my homebrew system using Outlook email and tasks is working pretty well. But still, I like the idea of gtdmail.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Missing Coworker

A coworker is missing. I don't know her. She works in a different building from me, but I'm familiar with her site and the parking deck she used. There's been some minor crimes in the garage in the past, but this is a whole new level of scariness. Cynthia is in our thoughts and we all hope she is found safe soon. The company has said they are rapidly ramping up security in the garage and that we should see a noticeable "increased security presence" starting tomorrow.

Kids are Cool

Both my kids are impressing me daily with how they are maturing and learning. I read Mummies in the Morning to Evan tonight. He read a paragraph aloud with me. First time he's read for me without being prompted. Very cool. He still claims he, "Hates reading. Reading is stupid!" But I'm seeing the light go on whenever he gets a new word.

Both kids helped wreck the front patio by making a vegetable "stew" in a big bucket. Key ingredients included mud, leaves, sticks, and copious amounts of purple fountain grass. They then dumped this stew all over the patio.

The weather has gotten tolerable of late. Sat outside for a pleasant chat with our neighbors. We all confessed to having googled/zillowed our fellow cul-de-sac denizens. Funny. All the kids are excited this week about learning what their new teachers will be for the following year. We find out tomorrow whose ours will be.

RSS Feeds are broken

This makes me sad. I so cleverly created an RSS feed for my Netflix queue so I could easily see what was coming. But, apparently it's broken, so I've removed that element for now.

Update: I put the feed back and it appears to be working now. I noticed that the feed from blogger to my Google homepage also seemed to be broken (or at least not updated) earlier. When I checked it just now it was updated, so on a hunch I thought the feeds would be fixed here. And they are. I'm not sure if this is a coincidence.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Back to Work

Today was my first day back to work after a week and a day of vacation. Why the extra day? My company gives us an extra day off every other week. I like this. Technically, it's not really extra time off as we work nine nine-hour days to make up for the missing 8 hours in each 80 hour (2 week) block. And yeah, that means there's really an extra hour that the company gets. But no one seems to care. It's nice getting every other Monday off.

Hey kids, don't download this song. Looks like that link got taken down. Funny WeirdAl piece. Maybe someday I'll hunt it down again.

Monday, August 21, 2006


I always find it very annoying when I read comments on popular blogs (e.g. Rocket Boom) and the first (or third) post just says, "First!" Like we're supposed to care? Anywhoo, this is my very first blog posting. I'm not yet quite certain what the purpose of my blog is. But it seems like a blog is something I'm supposed to have.

I've been facing some challenges at work lately. My boss tells me, essentially, that I need to improve my "judgment" when communicating with others. I think, like a lot of geeks, that I just come off as arrogant sometimes. I tend to not put people first when communicating in my daily life. I recognize that and lately I've been trying to improve. I'm reading lots of self-help type stuff which is highlighting for me a lot of flaws on my personality. So when my coworkers look at me strangely these days when I go all out to be nice/pleasant/kind/gentle, etc, I tell them not to worry. It's just me trying out a new Rob. Rob version 2.0. I needed an upgrade.