Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Aria Asia

Last night (New Year's eve) we walked from our hotel to a curry rice fast food place nearby. Since New Year's is celebrated in Japan, there was a stage set up in the marketplace area just outside the restaurant and there were some live performances going on. While we were inside eating, we heard a pretty lively rendition of Pachelbel's Canon being played outside. It was performed with an electric violin accompanied by electric guitar, base, and drums.

Curious, after finishing our dinner, we went outside to watch some of the live performance. The electric violin music was performed by a band called Aria Asia. They call their music "Street Rock Violin" - at least, that's the tag line on the brochure they handed out to the audience during their show. The woman playing the violin had a great stage presence. I liked the music so much I ended up buying the CD they were selling. You can check out a sample of their music on iTunes here. While the album I bought contains 6 songs, there are currently only two songs available on iTunes. It's very good stuff if you like the electric fiddle.

I didn't take any pictures during the show, but here's a snapshot of the CD. Since I bought it directly from the band, the violinist signed the CD for me and shook my hand. I think that's the first time I've ever had anyone give me their autograph.

New Year's Greeting from Okinawa

Wishing you all a happy new year...

(picture of a small sign post found outside a Buddhist temple in Naha)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Beer vending machines

One thing you immediately notice in Okinawa is there are vending machines EVERYWHERE. You can be on some small street in the middle of a residential neighborhood and you'll be able to find a vending machine on the side of the street. Another point of interest is many of the vending machines serve both hot and cold drinks. So, you can get a hot can of coffee or a cold can of iced coffee from the same machine.

And here's something I'm pretty sure you'd never find in the US - you can get beer from some vending machines!

Osaka Airport sunrise

I'm finally getting around to filtering through some snapshots I've taken earlier in this trip. Here are a few I took while waiting for the flight from Osaka to Okinawa.

Since we were staying at the hotel at the airport, it was just a short walk to the terminal for our flight. We got there earliy enough to see the sunrise.

This last picture is of the interesting architectural design of the terminal windows. I think I may have taken a similar picture when I was here two and a half years go.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas sunrise over Okinawa City

Merry Christmas! Being 13 hours ahead of the US, I get to experience Christmas "a day early". I was surprised that a lot of the stores in the area have Christmas decorations up and even a few Christmas trees. There's even the occasional Christmas tune playing, mostly instrumental only, and I got to hear a Japanese-language version of "Santa Clause is Coming to Town" in a local supermarket.

This is a snapshot I took from the roof of our hotel here in Okinawa City. The view is mostly a sea of concrete buildings, but you can see the ocean off in the distance. The hotel has a nice roof-top area with picnic tables. Surprisingly, there's no one ever up there.

We're only here for two weeks, so the sensei at the dojo where we are training has offered to teach us every day while we are here - even on the weekends! We do get New Year's day off, though. Given the class schedule, that means I won't likely be posting many photographs from this trip as we won't be doing much site-seeing at all.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lost in Osaka

Ok, we're not really lost - just delayed. We were supposed to be in Okinawa by now, but the flight from Detroit to Osaka was delayed. We got to sit on the plane in Detriot for over 2 hours before we even left the ground. Add that to a 14 hour flight, and it makes for a lot of uncomfortable sitting in one place.

It's nice to finally be sitting in a nice comfy leather chair in a hotel lobby rather than a cramped space on a plane. (The hotel WiFi Internet is only accessible from the lobby).

Since we only had a 2 hour layover in Osaka, by the time we arrived, our flight to Okinawa had already departed. The ground crew members in Osaka were extremely friendly, helpful, and apologetic (in stark contrast to the usual treatment in USA airports). They put us up for a night in a hotel at the airport, gave us two complementary meals (dinner and breakfast) and some free minutes to make calls anywhere in the world to help alleviate the inconvenience. (I know the hotel and meals stuff is standard fair for missed flights, but the whole demeanor of the people and how they handled it was much more courteous than I'm used to. I had forgotten how so much of the Japanese culture seems to be oriented around courtesy. It's very refreshing.)

We made some quick calls to people expecting us in Okinawa tonight to let them know our change of schedule, had a nice meal at the hotel, and then wandered around the airport to get our bearings for tomorrow.

Hopefully our flight to Okinawa will be uneventful in the morning.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

CVS passport photo scam

CVS has a nice little scam going in their photo printing department. I needed to get some passport photos for an international drivers license for an upcoming trip. I already had an appropriate photo - I just needed to print it out on glossy photo paper. I figured I'd try the photo printing kiosk at CSV since it's right down the street.

At first glance, the photo kiosk only offered standard sized pictures, 8x10, 4x6, 5x7, wallet sized, etc. There was no option to choose 2" x 2" which is required for passport-sized photos. Wallet sized photos didn't have an exact measurement size listed, so I wasn't going to take a chance with that.

I eventually asked the person in the photo department if there was an option for printing passport sized photos. It turns out there is, but is in a totally different section of the kiosk menu under something like "special features". Along with the "special feature" comes a "special" price - $7.99!! Holy smokes! This is a ridiculous price when a single 4x6 costs $0.19. To illustrate the crazy price even more, for $7.99, they give you one 4x6 picture with six 2" x 2" pictures in it! You have to cut them out yourself!

So, if you ever need passport photos, do yourself a favor and make your own composite 4x6 image using photo editing software and then just print out that 4x6 for $0.19 rather than getting scammed for $7.99.

Monday, December 08, 2008

A dog's understanding of fairness

There an interesting article on about a recent study that claims to show dogs have an understanding of fairness. Basically, two dogs are asked to dog a trick ("give me your paw") but when only one gets a reward, the unrewarded dog stops doing the trick.

I thought it was a pretty good demonstration that dogs do have more complex emotions than a lot of people give them credit for, but one psychologist had this complaint about the study:

One such nonplussed scientist, Clive Wynne, a psychologist at the University of Florida, told the AP that he wasn't sure the experiment measured fairness at all.

"What it means is individuals are responding negatively to being treated less well," Wynne said.

To that I say, "Well, duh!" Isn't that basically what fairness is all about? Being "treated less well" is in fact the same as being treated unfairly. That's like me saying, "The study doesn't measure fairness at all. It only shows the dogs are responding differently when they are treated unfairly." Wouldn't that statement just be completely contradictory?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A waste of paper

It's that time of the year again when we get bombarded with catalogs in the mail. While I find the vast majority of these a total waste of paper and they usually end up in the recycle bin before even being read, there are a couple catalogs I enjoy reading. One of them is from REI - the outdoor supply store.

However, I was a bit disappointed by the most recent mailing from REI. At first glance, it appears to be a new holiday catalog, however, aside from the front and back outer cover, the catalog is page-for-page identical to the catalog they sent out a month ago! Talk about a complete waste of paper!

One could have hoped that an outdoor supply store would be a bit more environmentally conscious, but no, they're jumping on the holiday shopping bandwagon just like everyone else. They just churn out another 60+ page catalog with identical content from the previous month... Oh well. At least they used recycled paper.

Friday, November 28, 2008

American Consumerism at it's Worst

Here's America's consumerism at it's worst. An employee at Wal-Mart was trampled to death due to the rushing crowd on the day after Thanksgiving. Sadly, it's not a joke. Read the news here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Re-imagining pop tunes with a Cuban beat

I don't know how I missed this in the past, but if you like Cuban music, the album "Rythms del Mundo Cuba" is worth a listen.

It came out back in 2006 and has a selection of pop songs redone to a Cuban beat. What originally caught my ear was hearing a Cuban version of Coldplay's Clocks while listening to Radio Paradise.

The album includes songs by Sting, U2, Franz Ferdinand, Ibrahim Ferrer, and more!

You can read and listen to more about the album on the official web site All profits from the album go to a good cause, too: Artists Project Earth (APE).

The album is available on iTunes here: Rhythms del Mundo & Coldplay - Rhythms del Mundo Cuba

Friday, November 21, 2008

Radio Paradise

I've added yet another radio player app to the iTunes App Store. You can read about the details on my company blog here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dim Sum

One of the things I really like about London is just about every restaurant in the city has vegetarian options. Even a restaurant that specializes in chicken dishes has a special section of their menu for vegetarians. You'd never see that back home with a place such as KFC.

I've often heard good things about dim sum, but never took a chance to try it back in the states since it's usually made with meat. I finally got a chance to try it here (at a restaurant called Ping Pong) and it's quite good.

For those who've never tried dim sum, here's my rough, probably inaccurate description. It's a Chinese meal composed of baskets of steamed foods, usually small breads or rice paper stuffed with meats or veggies. For a more complete and accurate description, check out Wikipedia.

Here's a snapshot of part of my meal.

I got some oddly named drink called a Chinese Mule - it seemed to be apple juice, sprite, mint leaves and lemonade mixed together. It looked a lot like swampy water, which seriously was a plus for me. I enjoy odd looking drinks which are tasty.

This last picture shows what a backet might look like inside. The larger puffy looking pastry is bread filled with vegetables and the other more shiny items are those wrapped in rice paper. I've never had bread that's been cooked via steam. It's has a much more delicate consistency than baked bread.

The item on the right in the basket is sticky rice wrapped in a large leaf (maybe a banana leaf?). When I first walked into the restaurant, I saw someone unwrapping one of those leaves and thought the person was pulling skin off a fried fish. Fortunately, I was terribly mistaken. The rice wrapped in a leaf is very good! Sticky rice is probably my favorite style of rice, when it's cooked properly. (There was the one time I ordered sticky rice from a Thai restaurant and it had the shape and consistency of a hockey puck. I literally could not even cut it with a sharp knife! That was definitely the worst rice I ever had. )

Quantum of Solace

It was a rainy day on Monday (surprising weather for London) so we took some time out to see the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace.

For a while it was looking like we were going to be the only people in the theater:

But, shortly before the film started, more people starting showing up.

It was a pretty good film, but I liked the previous one better. This one seemed to have a less developed story and was pretty much non-stop action. Yeah, I know, a James Bond film with non-stop action - who would have thunk it?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

New Forest

I took a ride out to the British countryside today. Some friends and I went to New Forest. It's a national park in southern England - about 2 hours drive from central London.

One of the interesting facets of the "forest" is the roaming animals. My friends had told me there were "wild horses" roaming the forests and that they've been there since the time of William the Conqueror (from 1060 AD). As it turns out, the horses aren't actually "wild" - and they're actually ponies. They are owned by the "commoners" who live in the area and were granted certain rights to the forest by the Crown back in the time of William the Conqueror. One of those rights was to allow their animals to graze the forest. You can read more about the history of the forest here.

While the horses aren't really wild and they are actually ponies, they do roam free throughout most of the forest. It was kind of crazy driving down a road to a hiking trail to suddenly come across 4 ponies in the middle of the road walking directly towards the car. They did scatter out of the way fairly quickly, but it was a frequent occurrence to come across some ponies in the road. Here's a photo I snapped from the car (sorry it's a little washed out):

While it is called a forest, it's not necessarily what you might picture when thinking of the word forest. In this case, the term forest has a legal meaning, again dating back to the time of William the Conquerer. It was an area of land set aside for his official deer hunting grounds. So, the trees aren't "old growth" forest trees dating back to the 1000 AD. It's a managed area of land that has multiple uses, including timber harvesting. In fact, in much of the area, there aren't any trees at all. It's a very boggy area, and the soil is very poor for nutrients (the ground has a lot of clay), so not much grows in the area other than some types of brush and trees (which is apparently one of the reasons it never got developed like much of England).

What I found interesting was where there were trees, the surrounding ground was covered with only ferns. It made for a very pleasant area to walk. Here are a few pictures I snapped along the hike.

This last picture is just something I accidentally snapped while putting my phone away. I kind of liked how it turned out looking like the picture was melting...

Friday, November 07, 2008

Thinking about connotations

I've run into a situation I didn't think I'd ever have worry about with my new job. As I've mentioned in the past, I've developed an iPhone app for playing streaming audio over the iPhone. Now, a company is paying me to create an iPhone app for them for a rock-and-roll radio station.

Today I received the artwork for the app and found myself taken by surprise. For the background image used to represent the app in iTunes and on the iPhone, the station chose a photograph of a woman in a bikini. It's typical rock-and-roll imagery - woman in low-cut bikini laying on the ground (and wearing high heel shoes). Yeah, I know, it's no big deal - go to any beach, watch some TV, or stand in line at the supermarket, and you'll see similar images. (Ok, maybe at the beach you won't see the high heels part... I'd think the heels would sink into the sand making it difficult to walk.) But, it's not the photograph itself that I'm concerned with writing about here - it's my reaction to the artwork that what got me to writing this post.

For some reason, my initial gut reaction was, "I can't submit this to iTunes and have this image associated with my new company." Yet, the more I think about it, I'm not sure why that was my gut reaction. I was originally thinking the picture was "low class" but now I'm trying to figure out if there's more to it. Is it instead the case of me being a typical male and I'm reading more into the picture than there really is?

Why should I have an immediate negative connotation to a picture of a woman in a skimpy bikini? Can I blame my parents for my strict religious upbringing? Am I being sexist? Does this reaction say something deeper about my opinion of women in general if I think there's something negative about such a picture? And why am I writing all this personal stuff in my blog for everyone else to read?

Ok, at least I can answer that last question. I found it interesting that the idea of trying to analyze why I found something negative got me to finally consider maybe the problem was actually with my own perception of things. The whole direction the thought process took was unexpected. And I thought others might also find it thought provoking.

I still need to think a bit more about whether I really have a problem with the photo, but I definitely have some new sides to the issue to think about that I didn't initially consider.

Modern art/architecture at The O2

The O2 exhibition center is an odd looking building. It's on the Thames River near an industrial wharf area. Its design reminds me of the large piles of salt covered with tarps at the wharfs back home in Providence with the additional oddity that someone left some "crane seeds" in the pile and these yellow cranes sprouted up. Yes, that description makes little sense, but check out the photo and you might have a better idea of what I'm trying to describe:

The structure is HUGE and underneath that tarp are a bunch of buildings housing restaurants, a concert center, an exhibition hall, several movie theaters, etc. etc.

At the landing for the catamaran ferry, there were several modern art sculptures. I found this one particularly cool:

Here's a closer-up view of crane seedlings sprouting out of the roof of the tarp dome.

London sunshine

Believe it or not, this photo was taken around 1:00 PM - this is the height the sun would be around 3:30 PM back home. I forgot how low the sun is on the horizon in London this time of year. It starts to get dark around 3:30... ug....

And while it was sunny at the time of this photo, it was raining a few hours later (as was predicted).

London Tower Bridge

I took a catamaran ride down the Thames to visit the O2 Exhibition Center to see the Body Worlds exhibit.

Along the way, we passed under the Tower Bridge. It's a pretty cool view passing directly under it.

Sorry about the poor quality of the photos on this trip. I didn't bring my real camera - just the camera built into my iPhone. It's always a trade off of the convenience of less baggage to worry about vs. the lack of having good control of taking a picture of an interesting scene. For this trip I opted for less baggage. On the river trip today I definitely regretted not having a camera with a decent lens. There was lots of interesting architecture along the way.

London city home garden

Here's the backyard garden view from the home where I'm staying. Most
homes in the city have their own little private patch of walled-in
green in their back yard. It's a quaint little spot.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Typical London Weather

In case you wonder whether the London stereotype of lots of rain is true, here is the extended forecast:

Look! Down in the sky!

It's a bird! No it's a plane!

If you click on the this picture for a larger view, you can see there's another plane slightly below the plane I'm in. I guess this is a busy route. In about on hours time I saw our plane pass over 2 or 3 other planes while we were over the middle of the Atlantic.

The US election results from a British perspective

While riding the subway (or "tube" as they call it) from the airport, I saw an interesting headline on the front page of a local London newspaper: "America is looking a bit cool again." I wished I had snapped a photo of it - it was typical London tabloid style - the headline was in such large print it took up the whole front page!

Anyhow, it's promising to think America's world-wide reputation might be on an upswing from steep nose-dive it took over the past several years. Of course, it was just a sensationalistic tabloid headline, so who knows whether world opinion is really changing...

Sunrise somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean

This is a view from my flight to London last night / this morning. I left Washington DC around 10 PM, but didn't arrive in London until 10:30 AM. I happened to wake up just before the sun came up - I think it was around 3:30 am (home time, or GMT -5), but was over the middle of the Atlantic the time.

Coincidentally, there was another airplane about a half mile away heading in the same direction, but I couldn't get a good picture with my phone's limited camera.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Today's the day, so take some time out of your busy schedule and visit your local polling place.

It's a surprisingly warm and beautiful fall day. I took a break from work this morning and walked the 1/2 mile to the nearby elementary school that's my designated polling place. There were absolutely no lines. Other than the walk, the actual voting process took about a minute. I had to sign a form and then play connect the dots on the voting card:

In an odd coincidence, two different people sent me this same humorous video

I guess they really think I'm an unreliable voter...

My favorite part of the video is the view of the church sign saying "All God's children welcome, except for Brian Stormont."

Friday, October 24, 2008

I joined an iPhone cult

No, don't worry mom! I didn't really join a cult. I just went overboard with the idea for a Halloween costume...

...and yes, I really did shave my head. I figured I should try it at least once in my lifetime. I had never done it before.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Finding My Niche

I think I may have found my niche. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm really enjoying writing software on my own. And, I'm actually starting to see some money from some spin-offs on a project I originally did for free. So, it seems I just might be able to make a living doing this.

And, now, to make it even better, I found a non-profit application for my computer programming skills. It's still just in the discussion stages, but I'm been approached to make an iPhone app for a non-profit cause. I don't want to discuss the details right now since it's not a done deal, but if it does work out, it'll give me a chance to focus some energy on something positive for the community. And that's what I felt was lacking in my previous job. It paid well, but there was no working for the possible betterment of people's lives.

In my previous job, there would have been no way I could tell my boss, "Oh, sorry, I don't want to work on that right now, I'm busy developing some software for a non-profit." Now I can. Since I'm the boss, I can choose to set aside some of my time to work on non-profit projects or go do some volunteer work during the day. I know it will mean I'll potentialy be earning less money that week, but that's my choice. With a 9-to-5 job, I wouldn't really have such a choice.

So, hopefully I'll be able to keep enough money coming in to pay the bills while also being able to work on some non-profit software projects. Let's hope the plan works.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Time Travel

I've found I'm getting good at time travel. The problem is it's only in the forward direction and it seems to be going faster and faster. Ever since I quit my day job and started working on my own, time is just flying by.

I find I'm spending almost all my free time working on programming. It's very enjoyable, but I can't figure out where all the time is going. I'll sit down to tinker on an idea for a few minutes and the next thing I know it's dark out and I forgot to eat the previous two meals. I'm tempted to set up a video camera to figure out whether maybe I'm just blacking out for hours at a time.

But, at least I do have something to show for it. My base of iPhone code is building up and things are getting easier and easier to do now that I've become more familiar with the Apple Cocoa / Objective C development environment. Hopefully soon I'll have some more announcements about applications showing up in the iTunes App store.

In the mean time, I've found this blog has really been suffering for any significant content. No introspection, no interesting pictures, not much of anything. Sorry. If it's any consolation, I haven't even found any free time to play video games. And if you know me well, that's gotta sound hard to believe. I guess my obsession for problem solving and programming trumps video game playing - at least at the moment.

Hmmm... maybe I should write a video game program for the iPhone... (and join the thousands of other developers who are doing it; there are already over 1300 games in the iTunes App store. Woah!)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

WRNI iPhone app in the local news

I'm pleased to announce that today's Providence Business News has an article about my first iPhone app - WRNI Radio. You can read the story here.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Camera fixed!

It turns out my D200 autofocus problem was something simple and I was able to fix it myself.

The autofocus mechanism on an SLR camera is driven by a small servo motor in the camera body. This motor turns what looks like a small flat-head screwdriver blade, which in turn turns a small screw set in the edge of the attached lens, and this turns the focus of the lens.

The problem with my camera was the driver was stuck down for some reason. It is normally spring loaded and is sticking out a bit, just enough to catch the screw in the lens when the lens is attached.

Here's a picture that illustrates it better than I can describe:

Anyhow, rather than sticking out like it is in this picture, the blade was recessed into the hole. So, I just took a very thin pointed tool and poked at the blade. When I pressed on it, it popped back out. I'm assuming when I originally turned on manual focus, the blade was retracted but then got stuck in that position for some reason.

Hopefully the problem won't occur again, but at least I now know it's pretty easy to correct.

Camera woes!

The unexpected happened this afternoon. My Nikon D200 camera suddenly stopped working properly. It no longer auto-focuses. I had switched it to manual focus while experimenting trying to taking pictures of falling rain drops during a thunderstorm. When I switched it back to autofocus it no longer worked.

At first I suspected it was a problem with my lens, but I tried a different lens and get the same behavior - the autofocus motor whirs and whirs but the lens doesn't move.

Looks like I'll have to send it in for repair. Good thing I kept my older Nikon D50 as a backup. I wouldn't want to miss the chance at some prime fall weather photos.

Bird Carvings

I've been meaning to write about this in the past, but kept forgetting. As a hobby for about the past 35 years, my father has been carving birds out of wood. He started out making fairly simple ducks, but over the years has gotten a lot more skilled and now does much more intricate detailing.

Here are a few photos I took of some of his work from about 7 years ago. I should note that other than the branches or blocks of wood the birds are sitting on, everything in the piece is handmade and painted by my dad, including the blades of grass (made out of copper sheeting), stones, dragon fly, etc.

I'll have to track down other photos of his work and post it in the future.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Random Eye Dull Photo - Birch Tree

I stumbled across this old photo I shot back in 2000 somewhere on the Lincoln Woods Trail in Lincoln, New Hampshire. It's pretty low-res since it was shot with my old Sony Mavica camera. That camera took 3.5" floppy disks as media!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Nintendo DS game boosts kids test scores

Here's an interesting story from the BBC. Back in March a school in Scotland reported they did an experiment where one set of elementary school students played a Nintendo DS "brain training" game for 20 minutes before regular lessons and another group did not. After many weeks, the group that played the video game before the start of regular school lessons performed significantly better on math tests than the other students.

Thinking those results might be a fluke, they did an expanded study including 600 students at many schools. They just released the results today and it turns out it wasn't a fluke. The students that played the video games for 20 minutes in class each day on average had a 50% better improvement in their performance vs. students that only had regular school lessons. You can read about it in detail here.

Now, it's important to remember the students weren't playing just any video games. They were playing those "brain training games" (like Brain Age) that are specifically designed to improve your cognitive abilities. Don't go thinking that playing some Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty before class will help your exam scores. Although... come to think of it, my favorite way for preparing for exams in college was to spend my study time right before the exam in the video arcade on campus. I'd study for a while, take a break with some arcade action, study some more, and repeat. Maybe that helped with my test scores after all?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Random Eye Dull Photo - Zebra

In honor of my old employer, I post this photo I took on the Masaai Mara in Kenya back in January.

It's been a month now since I left Zebra to start my own business. (For the record, this is the first time I've actually mentioned my previous employer by name in this blog.)

It's definitely a much better life style working for myself - I should have tried this years ago! I tend to find myself working a lot more hours than my old job, but it's all voluntary and it's something I'm enjoying. So far I haven't made a dime on my own, but it's still early and I didn't expect to have any income yet. My first iPhone app is getting some good feedback and there is the potential for more (paying) work to come from that. We'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile I am working on more ideas...

Sorry for the lack of posts here lately. With the new business, almost all my attention has been focused there for the past month.

Oh, and thanks to everyone who has sent me words of encouragement. It is appreciated!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

WRNI Radio - my first iPhone app!

I'm happy to announce my first iPhone application is now available in the iTunes App Store! It's called WRNI Radio and allows listening to WRNI - Rhode Island's only NPR radio station - over the Internet. Here's a link to it in the iTunes Store.

Here's a screenshot of it as seen in the iTunes store:

It was made available for free so people will have a free option for listening to WRNI on their iPhone. At the time the app was made, there was no free iPhone app that allowed adding a custom streaming radio URL on the phone. The only options were apps that cost money. Since this is free public radio, the radio station wanted a free method for the public to listen.

A friend of mine works at the web design company that was developing WRNI's new web site. He knows I'm getting started writing iPhone software, so he asked me if I'd be interested in making a free app for WRNI. Less than a week later we had a working app submitted for review in iTunes and today it is now officially available for download in the iTunes store.

It's a happy day for me today.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Infinity breeds contempt

While experimenting with my new iPhone app, I was listening to the NPR program called Fresh Air. On today's show Alan Ball was being interviewed regarding his new HBO TV show called True Blood. I don't have cable TV, so I've not seen the show, but it's about Vampires in modern day.

Anyhow, Alan Ball was talking about the concept of living forever (which vampires do unless killed) and he said something very simple which I found very profound. The gist of it was this:

"It's the finite nature of life that makes it important."

If you live forever, why should you cherish any particular day - you'll have an infinite number of them. And that idea struck me as very important. As I've mentioned in the past, sometimes I tend to get bored with life and wonder what's the point. But that is the point - life itself. It's such a short span of time we have to walk this world - we may as well make the best of it and value every day. We each only have a limited supply!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

On the qt

A few weeks ago I was chatting with some friends after karate class and the usage of the phrase "on the qt" came up. Surprisingly to me, a couple of my friends hadn't even heard of it and thought it was actually supposed to be "on the dl". Now that was a phrase I had never heard. Apparently, it means "on the down low" - i.e. hush hush. And this basically is the same meaning as "on the qt."

But, we wondered, what does "qt" stand for? Well, I finally just remembered the conversation and used that helpful intarweb thang and came across this link. So, it appears "qt" is an abbreviation for "quiet". The phrase has been around since the late 1800's, too! I guess that's why only my older friends seemed to know what it meant. :-0

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A Peaceful Swamp

On this past Labor Day holiday, I went with some friends to Lake Chaubunagungamaug, also known as Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg (seriously!), and a bit easier to say, also known as Lake Webster. (No, really, I'm not making those first two names up.)

The idea was to go kayaking on a nearby lake. From looking at a map of the area, this long-named lake seemed like a good place to try - none of us had ever been before. Unfortunately, this was a very very busy lake. It probably didn't help that it was the last holiday of the summer, but kayaking on this lake was akin to kayaking down a busy city street. Jet skis and motor boat were constantly buzzing about, the smell of gasoline fumes filled the air, and the shoreline was what might be politely called "thickly settled" - lots of houses one on top of the other directly on the lake shore. (Next time I'll remember to consult a satellite map before picking a kayaking destination.)

This definitely was not an ideal kayaking spot. However, after paddling around for a while, we did manage to find a small patch of solitude. The southern end of the lake turned into a lilly pad filled swamp. Just paddling into it about 100 feet was enough to completely remove all waves from the boats and the wind. Here's the view looking further south into the swamp.

We hung out in the swamp for about 45 minutes or so, just drifting and watching the occasional turtle pop its head out of the water. It was definitely a much needed break from the chaos on the lake.

A Blog for Intellectuals

I ran across a blog today that had the following description:

...present interesting items from around the web on a daily basis, in the areas of science, design, literature, current affairs, art, and anything else we deem inherently fascinating. We want to provide you with a one-stop intellectual surfing experience by culling good stuff from all over and putting it in one place.

It's called 3 Quarks Daily. A lot of the stuff is a bit too intellectual for my tastes, but there are some tidbits nonetheless that appeal to my lessor lesser intellect.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Stormy Productions web site

For anyone interested in seeing why I didn't pursue a career in web design, head on over to here:

It's pretending to be the web site for my new software development company. I have no artistic talent, so right now it's very monochromatic, barebones, and the logo art (not that I'd really call it art) is very rough.

I'm going to now refrain from any more postings on this blog regarding iPhones or software development. All that sort of content will now be posted on the company web site.

iPhone Notes Font Change

If you don't have an iPhone, you can stop reading.

I just accidentally discovered a way to disable the default "handwritten" style font (officially called Marker Felt) used in the iPhone Notes app. This can be done on a note-by-note basis. Here's a screen shot illustrating the differences between the two fonts:

It's quite simple to get this behavior. First (and you only need to do this once) go into your main iPhone settings and enable an international keyboard. You can do it via the Keyboard settings (as shown below) or via the International settings. Choose to add a new keyboard, specifically one with Japanese support.

Then, when you are editing a note, press the world icon next to the space bar:

This will toggle your keyboard mode amongst the keyboard settings you chose earlier. When you get to the Japanese keyboard (as can be seen by the funky space bar) simply press any character on the keyboard and your current note will instantly revert to a normal non-handwritten font. And, as an added benefit, you can type Japanese characters.

Even if you delete the international characters from the note, it will remain in this font. I'm assuming the iPhone must be saving either font or character set information on each individual note. Too bad there's no way to select a specific font to make each note stand out from others on the main list.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Office mishap

I had a mishap with my new office. As can be seen in my previous picture of the home office - it's actually just my dining room table with a couple of laptops (and a sewing machine) on it. Well, since it does double as my dining room table, I tend to eat there while working in front of the computers.

This morning I was eating a bowl of cereal and I noticed a small drop of milk splashed onto the laptop. So, as I continued eat the cereal with one hand, I reached up with my other hand to wipe the milk of the laptop. Unfortunately for me, the bowl of milk was balanced on top of a paper notebook I had been using for taking notes and the edge of the notebook was overhanging the edge of the table slightly. So, as I reached up with my other hand, I clipped the edge of the notebook and dumped most of the bowl of cereal (milk and all!) on to my laptop computer. Whoops! I just had to laugh out loud at my total clumsiness. In an attempt to clean up a couple drops of milk, I ended up completely soaking my computer in milk.

Fortunately, my computer appears to like milk. It's still running just fine. Though, I do hope it doesn't start to smell.

Sorry, I didn't take a picture. It was tempting to take one, but I figured my time was better spent mopping up the milk before it soaked into the computer too much.

Monday, August 25, 2008

New Office

With a new job comes a new office. It's a bit of a mess. My boss is a bit of a slob. I don't know why he insists on keeping a sewing machine on my desk.

This is my first day of self-employment. So far it doesn't really seem like work. It's more like what I would normally enjoy doing in my free time on the computer anyhow. Hopefully I'll figure out a way to actually earn an income with it at some point. But for now it'll be a lot of research and learning.

I'm hoping to target my applications to the iPhone and Mac, so I have to get up to speed first with Apple's Cocoa programming environment. I'm already an official Apple-registered iPhone developer (along with about a bazillion other software developers chasing the iPhone application development goldrush), but I've been doing low-level embedded programming for the past 8 years, so it'll probably take me a month or so to get proficient with Apple's tools. Maybe in two months (hopefully less) I'll have something professional-looking for the iTunes store.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Automating Photo uploads in Blogger

This post is going to be somewhat technical. (Mom, you can stop reading right now - you're not missing anything.) I'm going to describe how to automate the uploading of photos to Blogger such that it is fairly easy to then compose a blog entry referencing those photos. This process assumes you have a Mac (since it uses AppleScript) and an FTP account on a server where you will be hosting your images. It also assumes you have the program Graphic Converter and the Cyber Duck FTP client.

First, some background.

I recently discovered that when I use the normal Blogger interface for uploading photos, Blogger is doing some sort of color conversion with the images. What I see after I upload an image is not the same as what I originally sent. Since most of the images I upload to this blog are photos, having the color changed on me - even slightly - is somewhat of a problem. I'm not claiming to have any artistic vision, but I would like what I try to display be displayed in the most accurate manner possible.

So, to get around this problem, I decided to resort to hosting my photos on my own FTP server. The problem with this is I can no longer use the convenient feature in Blogger for inserting an image in my post. I now have to do my own conversion of the photos, making a separate thumbnail image along with the larger sized image, upload those images to the FTP server and then remember the path for the images so when I craft the custom HTML code to insert the images in my blog post, the path correctly references the thumbnail and links to the larger image. Then, if I am including several photos in my blog post, I have to repeat this process for each photo! Ug! That would take forever! And I'm a slow enough writer as it is.

Fortunately, computers don't mind doing repetitive tasks such as what I just described and in fact they can do it quickly and error free. All I needed to do was write a small script to perform the proper actions. Here's a link to the sample script. It takes a list of photos, generates thumbnails of them, uploads both the thumbnails and original images to my FTP server, and then inserts into my clipboard the HTML text necessary to reference these images in my blog posting. Oh, and then the script deletes the original photos and thumbnails from my computer. That's an important point to know, especially if you are planning on using this script. THE SCRIPT IF USED AS IS WILL DELETE YOUR ORIGINAL PHOTOS! For me this is what I want since the originals are just low-res exports from my photo management system.

I should also note that the script I am using is based on a script written by Jerry Stratton. His excellent detailed description of using AppleScript with GraphicConverter can be found here. When I first needed to perform this scripting task I had no experience with AppleScript and Jerry's example was just what I needed. If you aren't too familiar with AppleScript, I'd recommend first checking out Jerry's site. He provides much more detail in the description of his script and how it works.

Here's the normal workflow for me using this script. I am using Adobe Lightroom for managing my photos. When I have a set of photos I'd like to upload to my blog, I choose to export them. I export them in a lower resolution for the web - usually with a max width or height of 600 pixels. Since these low-res photos will be deleted once I'm done, I export them to a scratch directory called blog-drop.

At the very bottom of the export dialog window there is an option to perform Post-processing" on the exported images. This is where you will choose to run the AppleScript to create thumbnails and upload the images to the FTP server.

Once you export the photos, your mouse cursor will turn into a black and white spinning wheel while the AppleScript runs. After it is complete, you can then go to the Blogger post editor and simply hit the paste key and the HTML code for referencing the just uploaded photos will automatically appear.

And that's about it as far as using the script. Don't forget, as written, the script WILL DELETE YOUR PHOTOS!!! If you don't want that to happen, look for the following lines in the script:

    -- Send all the processed files and then delete them
    ftpSend(thumbNails, destinationThumbFolder, 1)
    ftpSend(sourceFiles, destinationImageFolder, 1)

If you don't want the files to be deleted after they are FTP'd to the server, change the last argument of 1 to a 0.

One other note - the call to open an FTP connection looks like this:

    connect to hostName as user userName with protocol ftpProtocol with initial folder dest

You may notice that there is no password listed in this. I am using the feature of CyberDuck that allows saving the FTP password to the Mac keychain. This is much more secure than hardcoding the password into the script. If someone looks at your script, they won't know what the FTP password is. Of course, it could be argued that the use of FTP itself is not secure and I'd agree. Using plain FTP your username and password are sent over the Internet as clear text. If you are concerned about such things, then use SFTP instead (assuming your FTP server supports it).