February 2006

That thing you do

The side of the page features a new block with content from Library Thing. Library Thing is Tim Spalding's tool for allowing bibliophiles and compulsive organizers to have a single, online, place to keep track of book collections. The site favors tagging via a free-taging ala del.icio.us over a Library of Congress subject heading. It is a nice tool for putting a library together. There will, undoubtedly, be some things that come from a few days of working with it that will make it more valuable. One of the first would be the ability to comment on and tag books that are not in my library.


I returned yesterday from a three week stint at FOB Warrior near Kirkuk. My battalion has been taking turns sending pilots and helicopters to Warrior to support the commander up there. Warrior has OH-58 scout helicopters (Kiowas) but no Blackhawks so they rely on us for all passenger air transport. Four crews traveled to Kirkuk for this three week rotation. I shared the day shift with one crew and the other two crews were on the night shift.

I have mixed feelings about the deployment. On the positive side, we lived two per CHU and had a good dining facility, a modern gym, quick laundry turn-around, and flew a lot. On the flip side, when we were not flying we were required to remain on standy-by at the hanger for up to 12 hours at a time. Also, I flew with the same person every single day. This allowed me to learn a lot but also tends to get old. Finally, I actually missed Speicher, which I have begun to see as home.

The mission load was heavy, varied, and interesting. I flew about 60 hours in 3 weeks. By way of comparison I flew 100 hours in the preceding 16 weeks. We flew battlefield circulations just like at Speicher. We also flew "aerial snap traffic control points (TCPs). These involve loading the aircraft with infantry (and a bomb sniffing dog) and flying around the greater metropolitan Kirkuk area looking for suspicious vehicles or people. When something suspicious was spotted we swooped down, dropped off the ground forces, and provided aerial security while they conducted searches. This allowed me to get used to doing quick landings to fields and roads and to get comfortable flying around buildings, wires, towers, camels, cars, sheep, and other obstacles. It also allowed me to play with the dogs when they weren't working. It made me miss my pups but I couldn't have thought of a better way to spend my time than allowing a German Shepherd to practice attacking me.

Grass Stain Theme for Drupal

I just applied for CVS access to Drupal so I don't have the ability to post yet. In the meantime there is a serviceable port of the Grass Stains theme to to Drupal posted. It still has rough edges and there will be cleanup before submitting to the CVS repository but for those eager to start playing with it and improving it here you go.

A new look

WIthin a couple of weeks we'll mark the passage of the three year mark for this site running on Drupal. It is easily the longest the site has been on a single content management system. Others included Clay Basket, Userland Frontier and Zope.

In honor of this and because Drupal needs some good new themes, I started working this afternoon on porting the excellent Grass Stains theme to a Drupal 4.6/4.7 theme. I found several themes at OpenWebDesigns.org that will lead to some more porting soon. First, however, will be a new look for the Nevada Boys State website.

Once I do a little more work on the theme and get CVS access for Drupal I'll be contributing the theme to the site. In the meantime if you want to work with it drop me a note and I'll send you the tar file.

Paying to be a beta tester?

Sometimes one is left to wonder when an idea actually sounded good. One such service is O'Reilly's Rough Cuts. Through this service you can pay to get a book early. It seems though they really are asking customers to pay for the privilege of being editors:

Once you've purchased a Rough Cuts title, you have a chance to shape the final product - you can send suggestions, bug fixes, and comments directly to the author and editors.

There are businesses that have chosen to release beta software under the guise of marketable software and unwittingly turn would-be customers into beta testers. At the very least O'Reilly's program is up front about the fact that you are paying for the chance to edit a book. It's a way of attempting to shift the model from hiring employees or contractors to making customers do more work. With any luck it won't be terribly successful and this post will soon be a relic of some historic experiment.

Changing the language

The 2006 Winter Olympics brings a new little quirk we'll have to deal with for years to come. NBC decided to call Turin by its Italian name Torino. In the years to come will the next company to have the Olympics broadcast refer back to the games by their English name or their Italian? At the end of the day it is far from anything that makes much difference, but is a sign of the arrogance of the mainstream media when one communications company takes it on itself to change the language.

Dynamic CSS

Jeff Robbins posts about dynamic CSS. The idea being creating a CSS in php where you can use variables such as changing colors, backgrounds etc. in the PHP. It also has potential for the ability to reduce the number of files necessary to serve a page.

In systems like Drupal where there is a system-wide style sheet as well as one created for each theme and some modules add their own as well. With all of these it means more connections required to download a single page. For many users this is not a huge deal. For those of us on satellite links it is a problem.

RSS gets new life

It looks like in the last few weeks, the RSS Advisory Board is getting back into business. According to the chair of the board Rogers Cadenhead they will be working towards working with the developers of Atom and RDF Site Summary on things like the Feed Validator and having a common icon for web feeds. Could it be that the format wars will subside and web feeds will be set free?

The freedom of information

Last spring I wrote about Westlaw having RSS feeds available for searches. Then in the late summer a note about Lexis adding web feeds to their searches as well. In the time between it turns out that PubMed added feeds too.

There is an important dichotomy in the areas of law and medicine, however. In the area of law we depend upon two large companies to compile and publish the law of the land, cases and other important notes. If one wants to engage in the practice of law they must subscribe to these services. Medicine, to be sure, has its own databases of publications and information. However, for the lay person there is a big difference. In order for the lay person to search case law they must find a way, which generally includes shelling out bucks, to search the holy grail databases. In medicine it is possible for anyone to search PubMed's database.

Lest it be lost on anyone the ultimate irony would be that it is the government in its various forms that produces the law and the cases that interpret the law. In medicine they provide funding and have some agencies involved in medical research but it is not the primary job of two-thirds of the government as are law making and interpretation.


Reading Jeremy Zawodny's post tonight about reducing distractions at work reminded me of a few things. Jeremy mentions that after having given up watching television the next most intrusive thing was Instant Messenger(IM). I'd probably agree if I could manage to get people to use IM. At about the same time I stopped watching television I stopped using IM, not intentionally but because I am rarely on and at least at home the price of keeping one additional TCP/IP connection open isn't worth it.

It occurs to me, however, that I might actually benefit from getting more traffic moved to Instant Messenger... If it makes the phone stop ringing with calls that are not related to work and most importantly not related to what I'm working on at the moment it could be a good thing. The important part would be to make it more of a messenger and not focus on the instant portion of the title. In this way it could be a "more urgent than email" but something I can respond to as time permits.

I do, about four times a year, watch TV. The occasions are usually special events like the Tour De France and National Finals Rodeo or every couple of years the Olympics. What is notable, however, is how differently I view TV now. In the days when I was watching too much TV I thought I got a great deal of work done while watching. It is the multi-tasking myth. The idea that like a computer the human brain can successfully switch back and forth, moment to moment, from one task to another. As I said, it's a myth.