Monday, June 30, 2008

Microfiber Trip Report

In a previous post I mentioned that I picked up some microfiber to help out with household cleaning.
The theory behind using microfiber is the surface of a microfiber cloth contains many tiny gaps and ridges that grab dust and other particles much better than ordinary cloths. If you consider the role of soap in cleaning at a particulate level, soap's role is really to encapsulate particles(dirt and such) to facilitate evacuation through rinsing. Microfiber fills the encapsulation role by attaching itself to the particles and evacuating it on the surface of the microfiber cloth.
So far the purchase is paying off. I picked up a couple of microfiber automotive cleaning cloths because they were fairly cheap ~20 for $10. I keep one in the kitchen and have used it for washing pots and pans. The microfiber does an awesome job cleaning and drying them after the rinse cycle.
I've also used it to clean kitchen surfaces with only water. It works like a champ. Just by using a little water I'm able to wipe surfaces clean.

Question to the reader

Is there a polite way to say: "Shut up and do as you are told!"?
If so, please share that with me. Thank you.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Is today bring your infant child to work day?

At what point did it occur in the head of the lady a few cubes down that it would be a good idea to bring an infant to the office?
She has a laptop, she can work from anywhere. Why bring your kid into an office where adults are trying to work.
If kids are cool I say it's game on for bringing my pug to the office. Nothing helps productivity like having a lapdog.

Pro Tip: turn your computer off

We're trying to minimize the amount of electricity that we consume at home. One step we took was to put all of our 'vampire' electronics on switched power strips. We cut the power at the strip so the appliances can't consume electricity.
As part of this strategy we're hibernating our computers when they are not in use. I don't know when I started leaving computers on all the time, but it really hits from two sides. The first side is the electricity that it consumes, desktop computers can consume a lot of energy. The other side is the heat that the computers generate.
I was surprised at the difference turning the computers off made. They kick out a lot of heat.
Normally, by the time the weather gets into the 80s we would have turned the air conditioners on. Part of the reason is for the heat in the office. With the computers off when not in use the relative temperature of the office is no longer leading us to prematurely use the air conditioner.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Can we start firing people for recommending IBM?

There's a saying in IT that nobody ever got fired for recommending IBM.

Why is that?

Can we start firing people for blindly recommending IBM?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

dal mouimento annou della Terra

At his course, Presenting Data and Information,Edward Tufte spoke about Galileo's declaration that a set eclipses on the planet Jupiter are caused by the Earth and, most importantly, the positioning of the eclipses on the planet Jupiter are cause by the continuous movement of the planet Earth.
The text to which Tufte references can be found here.
It is difficult to understand the gravity of the statement. It is one of the most profound and brave statements ever committed to text.
Consider the following context shamelessly taken from Wikipedia.
Western Christian biblical references Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, and 1 Chronicles 16:30 include text stating that "the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved." In the same tradition, Psalm 104:5 says, "the LORD set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved." Further, Ecclesiastes 1:5 states that "And the sun rises and sets and returns to its place, etc."[87]
The Church believed those passages to state that the earth is a stationary and immovable body.
The Church explained the sun to be a satellite that rotates around the earth, much like the moon.
The Church claimed to have absolute authority over scientific matters. The Church justified their positions on science ultimately through a literal interpretation of the Bible. Those who disagreed with the Church did so at risk of their lives and livelihoods.
What is Galileo saying in his statement. There are a two very important things.
  1. Galileo states that the strength of sound logic premised on observable visual evidence supersedes the authority of the Church.
  2. Galileo states that the strength of sound logic premised on observable visual evidence supersedes the authority of the Bible.
By disagreeing with passages within the Bible and with the position of the Chruch Galileo is declaring both the Church and the Bible to be flawed. In one sentence Galileo is rejecting the Church's ultimate authority.
I can only imagine what bravery this took. Galileo must have considered and reconsidered his conclusion. One of Galileo's intelligence did not simply commit his refutation of the position of the Church to print without having absolute faith in his methods and his evidence.
In a sentence, Galileo declared that logic and observable reality are more credible than the Bible and the Church.
The Church, being one to not welcome some good constructive criticism banned Galileo's books, put him under house arrest, and forced Galileo to publicly recant his position and to state the geocentric position that the earth is a stationary object around which the other planets revolve.
I admire Galileo's bravery and hope that should I be faced with such a situation that I could muster the strength to do what is right.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Trip report: Minneapolis Light Rail

Yesterday, I attended the Edward Tufte course Presenting Data and Information in Minneapolis. I strongly recommend this course to anyone who values communicating information.
One very cool aspect of going to Minneapolis is I was able to carpool with my wife to the light rail station and ride a train into the city. It was a much more pleasant trip than my usual solitary drive to the office.
It was nice to be able to talk to my wife in the morning. I'd really like to work near her so I could drive in with her.
The train was very pleasant. I was able to do some reading. The thing I appreciated the most about the train was not having to worry about parking.
I looked into taking the bus from the suburb that I live in to the suburb that I work in and it would take an extra hour to take the bus on the way to work and an extra two hours on the way back. I'm willing to sacrifice some time, but I can't give up one eighth of my day in additional transportation.
Transportation is becoming an issue for me and others. It is one of the factors that pulls me away from my current position. Smart companies are going to address this need. They will be rewarded with better talent.

No more Jeune Lune, No more Carlin

I'm really glad I spent last weekend outside enjoying the nice weather. Otherwise hearing about one of my favorite theaters and one of my favorite performers both dying would have really dampened my spirits.

George Carlin is one of the most influential performers to me. Like George I am a recovering Catholic turned, well let's not get into that. I appreciate his outlook on the world, he left a huge mark in the way I see the world.
71 seems so young.

I only saw one performance at Thetre de la Jeune Lune, The Deception. It was brilliant. I regret not learning about the theater earlier. My understanding of the circumstances of the theater's closing is because of a $1 million dollar debt from unfortunate financial management.
If there were good news, I have heard that the principal creative people are considering starting a new theater company. I would love to see more of their work.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Easy way to improve your mood

Google Image Search for pugs! Is it possible to see a pug and not be in a better mood?

A friend of mine thinks he's going to get fired

My friends have all the luck. One friend of mine found himself on the business end of the firing stick now another is looking at getting canned pretty soon.
I have sympathy for this friend. He's a nice guy with a kind heart. He isn't the hardest worker and he isn't the most professional person, but he gets the job done and he makes his office a more enjoyable place.
His company is crazy though. I worked there for a year and got the hell out as quickly as I could once I realized that most of the people are crazy. The company is a dysfunctional mess of drama, treachery, and incompetence.
My friend is a system admin there. He keeps all the windows boxes running, administers the mail server, and keeps all the smart phones in shape. He was always worried that his manager and the HR director wanted to get rid of him while I was there, but now it appears that his fears are justified.
I can attest that the manager and the HR director there are treacherous and deceitful people. Working with them was one of the reasons why I left that company.
My friend's manager let slip that they are hiring someone for his position. Being a small office with people who aren't careful about what they say, my friend was able to learn that they are hiring someone to fill his position. He knows that his days there are limited.
I really feel for the guy, he's given that company 10 or so years of service. During all of that time he's been paid well below the industry averages. My friend made many sacrifices for that company and now he's looking at getting thrown to the street for what appears to be a personality conflict.
I actually don't feel bad that my friend will not be working there much longer. It's a toxic company. He hated the place years ago when we worked together. His hatred for the job has only grown since.
My friend is worried though. The stress is clearly affecting his health. He's developing stomach pains. I think in a weird co-dependent way he's stressing himself over leaving the company that he hates so much. I really hope that he is able to find another position soon and his worries subside.
The people who are looking to replace my friend are detestable for how they are trying to replace him. I have no problem with their decision to terminate him over personality conflicts, but I do take issue in their secretive approach. They know as well as anybody that a secret can't be kept in the place.
My friend's role is critical in the office's operations. They literally could not last a week without someone filling his role. I can understand my friend's conspirators' position, they want to make sure that someone can fill my friend's role when he leaves. I don't agree with how they are approaching the situation though. They're trying to hire a full time replacement before they cut my friend loose. What's wrong with hiring someone on a short term contract to fill the gap? It will cost more money than a FTE, however by terminating my friend and replacing him with an interim contractor they would avoid subjecting my friend to the stress of the situation.
Treating people badly is never a good idea. I do not think that they are doing themselves a service dealing with an employee like this. People notice these things. Other employees may assume that they may be dealt with similarly, or they may just get disgusted by it. They may make decisions to leave on their own based on the incident.
Aside from stressing over the situation my friend is taking a pragmatic approach to the situation. He's looking for other work. Regardless of whether this conspiracy is just a figment of my friends' imaginations I think moving on is the smartest move for my friend. He has a chance to find another position away from the treachery and stress of his current situation.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Kneel Before SOD

Separation Of Duties, or SOD is an area of focus in my organization. We have policies in place that forbid individuals from having write access to multiple computer environments in my company. That is, software developers have full access to the development environment, but they do not have unabated access to the QA or Production environments.
The reasoning behind this system is to prevent a rogue individual from trying to sabotage our production environments or hold it hostage like some bonehead sysadmin did to Medco a while back.
Companies should be prepared for this type of damage without worrying about whether their employees are going to try to blackmail them. It will probably happen through good old fashioned incompetence before that type of scenario anyway. The moral of the story is to be prepared to deal with adversity. If your data is valuable, make sure that it can be restored if something should happen to it.
Back to the policy. I'm not sure I'm sold on it.
Having a secure production environment is important, and allowing only competent disciplined and trustworthy people to access it is the key. Easier said than done, but we do our best.
The Segregation Of Duties approach to securing a production environment tries to minimize the number of people who have the ability to affect the production environment. In addition to limiting the people who have access strict rules requiring a traceable set of approvals is required to promote any change into the production environment.
The auditors love this system. For every file in the production environment they could, if they wanted to, follow a paper trail showing who approved putting it out there. That's the theory.
Most developers work with the understanding that any defect they put into production is going to be very painful to rectify. As a result they tend to do their best to be responsible despite considerable pressure to deliver.
So what happens when the pressure to deliver conflicts with the pressure to be in compliance? Well, how much pressure is there to be in compliance? Well, the people who want things done are paying money, the people who are interested in compliance aren't.
There are policies in place and there are people who check the systems to make sure that people don't do anything egregious, there are gaps in the policies though. People outside the inner sanctum of the trusted few who know the production passwords learn the production passwords. It's going to happen.
When it comes down to it, if a person knows that there is something simple that they can quietly do themselves to avert a mess, there will be people who will violate protocol to avert the mess.
There will be some who do it by the book. But there are some who will will assess the risk of getting caught and the pain of going through the lengthy protocol and conclude that simply fixing the problem is the better choice.
Is it a bad thing? Yes and no. It's a risky proposition to have individuals affecting a production environment. It's also an expensive proposition to have individuals run through an elaborate process that involves several layers of management to make a simple fix.
The risk of allowing individuals to make changes into a production environment directly is that every change could introduce additional problems. I worked for a company where one of the developers treated production as his own personal development environment. Following every time he or his team would make a release to production there would be a series of 'point releases' or emergency patches that would ensue for a few days. That company enforced absolutely no barriers in place to prevent this code cowboy from promoting his next best guess into production. The company incurred a tremendous amount of technical debt because of the last minute shenanigans.
The risk of creating an onerous set of processes to effect change is the process will impede an organization's ability to make changes when they need to.
Process and discipline are the two part epoxy that holds a Separation of Duties system together. Without a process, the separation of duties provides negative value to an organization. In the case of my previous company there technically was a separation of duties. Without discipline, the process is worthless because it will be abandoned as soon as it becomes inconvenient.
The system at my previous company actually did have a separation of duties system in place. It broke down because the code cowboy could walk over to his favorite system administrator and say 'I need you to fix this now' and the sysadmin would acquiesce his request without question. There was no defined process in place there, there also was no discipline in place for the system administrator or the developer.
As a result, the codebase at that company could consider a compliment from an adjective like spaghetti and it's application from a description of pogo-stickesque stability.

Monday, June 16, 2008

My alma mater is under water

Iowa City, the home of my alma mater, The University of Iowa, is suffering a terrible flood. The flood is just as bad, if not worse, as the flood of 1993.
I think it's going to be worse this year. There is a lot more development along the river, especially in the neighboring town of Coralville. The 'strip' in Coralville, which houses most of the retail businesses is under several feet of water. It's terrible.

One really smart thing the university is doing is using Blogspot to host announcements about the flood. I salute whoever thought of that.

Flickr here.

Some aerial photos of the damage here.

Below are a few slide shows from the the Daily Iowan, the school newspaper.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Deferring the Deferrable: or how to practice the art of productive procrastion

I procrastinate. I procrastinate all the time. If I don't see a need to do something now, I'll wait until there is a better time to do it. I find that this makes me much more productive than if I were to do everything that is asked of me when it is asked of me.
I like procrastinating for many reasons. The biggest benefit to procrastination is the benefit of information. In the time between when you become aware of a task and you undertake its execution you learn information about that task. Information regarding how to perform a task, with what other tasks to perform a task, and when to best perform a task.
The more time you spend gathering information about the task, the better prepared you will be actually executing it.
This part of procrastination could actually be described as planning. I call it procrastination because I let the planning process incubate in my head without giving it my undivided attention. Instead I think about details of the tasks when the opportunities arise. It's kind of a low impact exercise in planning.
Whenever something falls into my todo list I will immediately triage whether it needs to be executed immediately.
If I don't have to do it immediately I'm going to think about aspects of the task until I do it as the opportunities arise. The opportunities can be brief, a minute here or there, or even a few seconds. Every thought on a task gives me more information about the task.
One myth that people believe is that if you do work as soon as it comes that you'll get more done. That's completely false. Unless there is someone planning and scheduling that work for you, you're completely at the mercy of when the tasks come in. The likelihood of a task requiring a context change is going to be high. You will be busy and you will look busy, but you won't be efficient.
One perceived risk of procrastination in general is not meeting your commitments or underperforming. I do not believe that responsible procrastination increases the risk of not doing your work. If anything, I think it will improve your task throughput.
To help with task tracking I keep a simple todo list. If I can't, or choose not to, execute a task immediately I will add it to my todo list. I use Remember The Milk. I use a plugin to gmail to keep my list visible. RTM accepts incoming tasks via email and SMS so I can add tasks even when I am not near a computer.
You can use whatever list you want to track your outstanding tasks. The features I look for in a task tracking system is ease of use and availability. If I can see the information in gmail it isn't going to stray too far from my attention.
The key to being productive with this system is executing and closing out tasks efficiently. If you have control over when you do tasks you can work on like tasks together. Group them by context and close them out. You'll be surprised how much you'll actually get done.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Personal Goal: Remember people's names better

I always feel terrible when I forget people's names. It's really easy for me not to remember them.
Just the other night I met a number of people and promptly forgot many of their names.
So to everyone I met besides: Jake, Keith, Micah, Laurie, Cornell, Steve, Jason, Mike, Bill, Rick, and Jeff; I apologize.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More on Center of Excellences

I recently learned that there are many categories of Center of Excellences. Like every first comic book licensed movie in a series, an important feature of each Center of Excellence is its origin. There are two basic types of Center of Excellence, grass roots and top down.
A grass roots CoE comes about when a group of like skilled individuals self organize. They pool their responsibilities and collaborate on how they want to do things. It's a lot like any grass roots effort, be it adopting Extreme Programming, Test Driven Development, or whatever. If the people who are most affected by a decision to move in a direction are the ones who actually make that decision they tend to approach it with enthusiasm.
The top down CoE is what my CoE is. Our VP, and maybe his boss, told us one day that we were reorganizing into a CoE. Like any big change that is pushed on people this one wasn't met with open arms. What we, the top down CoE, are doing now is modeling our group against the grass roots CoE. The grass roots people put together standards and best practices for how they do their different tasks. We, the top down CoE, now are tasked with writing our own standards and best practices. I'm going to call it now and say that our standards and best practices are going to be pretty scarce.
What's the difference? I think the difference has to do with the origin of the decision. The origin really says a lot. In a grass roots organizational decision the people involved with that decision have to be adequately motivated to organize and follow through with that decision. They are sufficiently invested in that decision to put forth the effort to make it work.
With an externally made decision, those who are affected most have nothing invested in the decision. All they know is they have a whole bunch of new stuff they need to do and they don't see value in all of it. If the new CoE provides aspects that are less pleasant than before they are going to focus on those aspects, conversely unless previous pain points are alleviated they probably aren't going to notice much that works better. It's probably going to fail.
The key difference between the grass roots and the top down CoE is the grass roots comes to being to meet the needs and alleviate the pain points of those who are affected by them. They work to meet the needs of their managers so they can work together in a Center of Excellence structure. Their decisions are mostly made by the stakeholder to meet their own needs. Their only challenge is to demonstrate significant benefit to their managers.
In the top down Center of Excellence the decision is made to meet the needs of the managers. The mangers are driving the decisions and the schedule to meet their own needs. Those most affected, the individuals, are secondary drivers of the decisions. Their needs may not even be considered while making policy and organizational decisions. To those who are needed most to make a CoE work there is little to no perception of value in their CoE.
The charter of my own CoE is to mimic the characteristics of an organically developed CoE. The needs of my own set of peers is far different from the one that we are modeled on, the model doesn't perform the same type of work.
What doesn't improve the situation is the perception that the majority of decision makers within our organization are not considerate of those for whom they are making decisions. They just don't consider how people will actually get things done when they create processes and policies. Because the decision makers are removed from the process they have no visibility how painful or inefficient their decisions are. It's not that the managers want to make bad decisions, they just don't have the time or the insight to make really good decisions. It's very hard for one person to define a process for other people that works well.
Is there a silver bullet? Maybe not a silver bullet, but this is my recommendation. The decision makers in my organization are going to need to be more receptive to the individuals below them. They need to be willing to accept suggestions from below and allow those suggestions to drive change. If they are unwilling to do that the CoE will fail to achieve its goals.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Pet peeve, shaking floor

One thing that disrupts me more than it should is when a heavy footed person walks by my work area and shakes the floor.
Luckily I don't have much traffic by my current cube, but there is a guy in my cube neighborhood who walks very heavily. I think that the floor resonates from his steps and exaggerates the vibrations. I can feel the vibration in my chair and my monitor shakes a little.
My current situation is an improvement, my last location was along the main hallway in my building. There are plenty of people at my company whose steps I could feel.

Solutions to the silent car problem

Autopia has a decent write up about a problem with electric vehicles. Odd, I could swear we just discussed this issue over lunch.
My idea is similar to the Stanford grad students' use a device to make the car make noise. Nobody suggested pulling a few cards out of mom's bridge deck and putting them in the spokes of the wheels.
I think using the sound of internal combustion engines is boring. Why not have some fun with it and give it a Pac Man sound effect, play the Super Mario Brothers Song, Jaws theme, Road Runner sounds, Flintstones car sounds, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination and intellectual property lawyers.
One idea that I think would be pretty cool is to put a song into a speed aware device. The device would play the song quickly or slowly depending on the vehicle's speed.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

More fun with

I've really enjoyed playing with lately. One fun use is to use it as a language translation tool. Lately I've been sending IM's and messages to friends in other languages.
It's very fast and it is easy.
Below are some phrases that a friend of mine may find handy in his trip to Europe next week.

Goosh 0.4.4-beta #1 Tue, 03 Jun 08 22:59:00 UTC Google/Ajax

Welcome to - the unofficial google shell.

This google-interface behaves similar to a unix-shell.
You type commands and the results are shown on this page.

goosh is written by Stefan Grothkopp <>
it is NOT an official google product!

Your language has been set to: en (use lang to change it)

Enter help or h for a list of commands.> translate en de Good afternoon. Could you kindly direct me to the nearest beer hall?
translating "Good afternoon. Could you kindly direct me to the nearest beer hall?" from "english" to "german":

"Guten Tag. Könnten Sie mir freundlicherweise direkt zum nächstgelegenen Bier Halle?"> translate en es Good afternoon. Could you kindly direct me to the nearest beer hall?
translating "Good afternoon. Could you kindly direct me to the nearest beer hall?" from "english" to "spanish":

"Buenas tardes. ¿Podría usted amablemente me directo a la sala de cerveza más cercana?"> translate en it Good afternoon. Could you kindly direct me to the nearest beer hall?
translating "Good afternoon. Could you kindly direct me to the nearest beer hall?" from "english" to "italian":

"Buon pomeriggio. Potrebbe gentilmente mi diretto alla più vicina birreria?"> translate en fr Good afternoon. Could you kindly direct me to the nearest beer hall?
translating "Good afternoon. Could you kindly direct me to the nearest beer hall?" from "english" to "french":

"Bonjour. Pouvez-vous de bien vouloir me direct à la salle la plus proche de bière?"

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

We're Not Going to Dilly Dally at Target This Time!

"We're not going to dilly dally this time!" That was what my wonderful wife told me when we went to Super Target(619) last night to pick up a few things. She was grumpy because of her appetite.
This is really very exciting to me. When I'm on my own I usually try to optimize what I'm doing so I can achieve my goals as quickly as I can while not sacrificing quality. It's not all that often that I get to try and make a trip with my wife as efficient as I possibly can. This is the type of thing I live for.
We knew what we wanted to get, we had our requirements. I wanted some fruit, some juice, a couple of frozen pizzas, some microfiber cloths and a few other things. My wife wanted orange juice.
On the drive to the store I proposed a route through the store: park in the usual spot, head in, get a cart, go straight to automotive(microfiber), then head toward the frozen foods(pizza) via the rear main aisle, go to the refrigerated juices(orange juice), then head to the non-frozen juices(juice), get the other things en route to produce then head to checkout.
With the route in place we headed into the store. Since we were not going to dilly dally I walked at my natural pace--fast. I walk roughly twice as fast as other people.
When I walk I constantly look for optimal routes to get to my destination. I look for bunched groups of people, children, and other obstacles that may slow me down--I'm not a complete jerk, I don't want to run anyone over or anything. I look for stretches of open aisles that I can easily walk through.
From the carts to the automotive there was a little congestion around the books and CDs, but nothing too bad. I maneuvered the cart through the people then hit a nice stretch of empty aisle. A nice brisk pace got me to the automotive section. I spotted the microfiber cloths and found a couple bundles for a very reasonable price. To keep my momentum in the aisle I lead the cart with my right hand in the front and use my left hand to get the items I'm interested in. I make my purchase decisions(is it what I need, and which one is the best price). I'll spot what I'm going to buy a step or two before I reach it. To load the cart I grab the item with my left hand and drop it in the cart while moving towards my next destination.
I then proceeded along the aisle along the right wall to meet up with the rear main aisle to head toward the frozen foods. Aside from a little bunching around the toys, the path was unobstructed and I only had to slow down to normal person speed around the kids looking at toys
Once I hit the frozen aisle I went back to leading the cart with my left hand and got the pizzas I wanted with my right. I knew what I was going to get before I even reached the aisle. The only question would be whether there was something new or whether the pizzas I wanted were out of stock. Neither was the case. I had to stop to open the door. But once I got the pizzas I wanted, Freschetta thin pizza, I moved directly on to the refrigerated juices. My wife grabbed the orange juice she wanted and seeing limeade that she likes I asked if she wanted some, she said yes and I grabbed it and brought the cart to her. She put her juice in the cart and we proceeded to the non-refrigerated juice aisle.
This one was a little tricky. There were people at the end of the aisle, right where the juices were that I was interested in. As I stopped my cart to look for the juices I wanted, Old Orchard Blueberry Pomegranate and Old Orchard Wild Cherry, an older woman was walking her cart through. I moved my cart out of the way for her and she walked through and thanked me. She also stopped right in front of the juices I wanted and spend a good 30 seconds deciding on a V8 Fusion juice. This was going to cost me a little time. Normally when I need to wait for someone before I can get something I can still see the items and decide which ones I'm going to get. This time her cart was blocking the area where my regular juices are. I had to wait then make a decision, then get the juice. Looks like Target isn't carrying the wild cherry juice. Bummer, that is my favorite.
I picked up a couple Blueberry Pomegranates and a Welch's Strawberry Kiwi--both juices that I had had before, otherwise I would have checked the label. Then it was on to the Asian/Mexican/Kosher/Italian aisle to pick up a few Zatarain's jumbalaya's to go with the kielbasa at home. They have it with brown rice now, sweet. A couple of boxes, again leading the cart from the front within the aisle. We then moved directly towards produce. I saw they had cherries so I picked them up. I then went to their smoothies and picked up a couple of Bolthouse Farms smoothies. The wife grabbed a few other things in the area and we proceeded to checkout.
My strategy for selecting a register is to look at how much stuff is on the conveyer and look for over-sized items in carts, they're deal killers. I proceed from the area by grocery toward the opposite wall. As I'm walking I look to see which register is the farthest fastest register and use that as a baseline to the registers that I walk by. I look for team members(Target employees) that are standing in front of their registers, that means there isn't a line for that register.
Once I get in line I then unload my cart.
My unloading process is as follows. I get the most dense items(juice) unloaded and put them towards the front of the conveyer. I then put boxed goods behind them, pizzas on the bottom Zatarain's on the pizza boxes, I then put the produce and the microfiber clothes furthest from the cashier. The reason I choose to do it that way is for efficiency. As the cashier is scanning the items she is also looking at how she is going to bag them. Heavy things like liquid containers and cans go on the bottom. Light durable things, like boxes, go in the middle. Light and delicate things, like produce and eggs go on the top. If the conveyor is loaded in that order the cashier has to spend less time figuring out the order.
When it comes our turn to check out I say hello to the cashier and tell her paper--not as bad for the evironment. I then swipe my credit card in the scanner and sign. That's a nice feature at Target. I can take care of the payment before all the items are scanned.
As the bags get filled I load each into the cart. Once the cashier is finished scanning the items she tells me the price and hands me the receipt. I can then proceed to the car. One thing I could have done to make the process faster is to put the cart with the others by the door and carry the bags out to the car. Instead I carted them out. As I approached my car I transitioned into leading the cart. With my right hand I opened the rear door of my car. I then loaded all three bags into the cargo area. My wife dropped the cart in the corral. While she was doing that I closed the rear door and then proceeded to get into the driver seat. While she was on her way back to the car I started it and buckled up. When she entered the car all that needed to be done is for her to fasten her seatbelt.
That is how not to dilly dally at Target.
There are a few things I try to do when I need to shop, or do anything, quickly.
  1. Know what you're there for. Have a set of must have items.
  2. If you know where those items are plan a set of waypoints that will go by those areas.
  3. Make a baseline decision before you get to each decision point--if its something you regularly buy you probably already are familiar with the different brands and package sizes. You may even know exactly where they normally stock the products you want to buy. If you see a competing product or sale that offers a better price, go for it. Otherwise you have your baseline.
  4. Always look for the least congested route towards your next waypoint. If the aisle you're in is congested look for parallel aisles. Sometimes the longer route is actually faster than the shorter route.
  5. Be mindful of your body and the cart. Think about the most efficient way you can get your items from the shelf into the cart. You can improve your efficiency by walking next to or in front of your cart. Be careful of your heels if you walk directly in front of the cart.
I believe the principles offer a reasonable compromise for making the best purchases in the least amount of time. When time is not at a premium

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Goosh is a fun web based shell

Slashdot pointed me to Goosh, the unofficial Google shell.
It's a nice little command line online search interface
Below is a list of videos of Ricky Jay(v ricky jay), good clean fun.

Goosh 0.4.3-beta #1 Mon, 02 Jun 08 22:28:01 UTC Google/Ajax

Welcome to - the unofficial google shell.

This google-interface behaves similar to a unix-shell.
You type commands and the results are shown on this page.

goosh is written by Stefan Grothkopp <>
it is NOT an official google product!

Your language has been set to: en (use lang to change it)

Enter help or h for a list of commands.> help

web(search,s,w)[keywords]google web search
lucky(l)[keywords]go directly to first result
images(image,i)[keywords]google image search
wiki(wikipedia)[keywords]wikipedia search
clear the screen
help(man,h,?)[command]displays help text
news(n)[keywords]google news search
blogs(blog,b)[keywords]google blog search
feeds(feed,f)[keywords]google feed search
open url in new window
open url
get more results
search in a specific website

load an extension
video(videos,v)[keywords]google video search
read feed of url
place(places,map,p)[address]google maps search

change language

add goosh to firefox search box
translate(trans,t)[lang1] [lang2] google translation> video ricky jay
1) Ricky Jay - Amazing Card Trick/Manipulation
The Master at work.

2) Magician Ricky Jay on Arsenio in 1988
Slight-of-hand magician Ricky Jay appears here on Arsenio back in 1988 with an amazing performance. I captured this from my own VHS-recorded copy of ...

3) Ricky Jay: 4 Queens 3 Ways
The incomparable Mr Jay demonstrating differing styles of patter and presentation working around a theme of the Four Ladies

4) Ricky Jay - Alaskan Poker
Ricky Jay beautifully performing a seemingly odd 'Alaskan' poker demonstration.> more
5) Ricky Jay - Amazing Card Trick Manipulation
Card Trick

6) Ricky Jay - Sword of Vengeance - Amazing Trick!
Ricky is a great magician and a great raconteur. Here he performs an amazing trick while telling a story from Japanese cinema.

7) Ricky Jay - The Cups and Balls
The scholar, raconteur, and wizard performs the classic "Cups and Balls" with a great story and an amazing finish.>

Rapture Insurance

Kudos to Bruce Schneier for finding this:
It's a service for the faithful to post messages and all their financial information that can then be sent to their 'left behind' friends. They offer it for $40 for the first year and a reduced fee for each following year.
For those who are interested, I am now underwriting dragon insurance policies for $20 a year, (excluding Komodo Monitors). Buy now and I'll give you a 10% discount on goblin insurance*.

*Offer not applicable to the World of Warcraft.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Weak words

There are words that are weak. They make statements weak. Consider the following statement:
Walter Payton was the best running back to ever play the game of football.
The statement above is an opinion that can be backed by strong arguments. The reason that the statement is strong is it is a simple specific statement with a specific subject and a simple direct object.
In a small cadre of competitors: Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Emmit Smith; there are few who can challenge Payton for that title.
Whether truthful or not, the statement carries some weight. If I were to say that to a die hard Cowboys fan they would likely say words to qualify or correct my statement, or to weaken it.
One way we could weaken the statement is to remove the superlativity of it.
Walter Payton was one of the best running backs to ever play the game of football.
Nobody could argue that Payton wasn't one of the best running backs in the history of the game. The statement is still fairly strong, but I be I could weaken it a bit more.
Walter Payton was arguably one of the best running backs to ever play the game of football.
Walter Payton was perhaps one of the best running backs to ever play the game of football.
The words arguably or perhaps water down whatever statement they modify. Each of those modifiers erodes the substance of the statement. Why not go completely overboard and say something like this:
Walter Payton perhaps could possibly be considered one of the better running backs to ever play the game of football for the Chicago Bears during the 1970s and 1980s.
The above is an exaggeration, but I hope it illustrates what adding weak words to a statement can do. People add these words to their statements because they think they can say something without having to back it up. If you put perhaps, arguably, or possibly, you can really follow it with any statement.
The moon is arguably made out of white cheese.
It can be argued, but it isn't true.
The SEC is perhaps the conference that complies the best to NCAA regulations.
If by perhaps you mean isn't, then yes.
Of the active quarterbacks in the NFL, Rex Grossman is possibly one of the best.
If your criteria for better is the lowest QB Rating, then possibly yes.
As you can see, adding vague qualifiers to statements takes the value out of them. You can really say anything. You can say anything because what you're saying doesn't have any meaning.
There is a word for words that have no meaning, noise.