Thursday, April 24, 2008

Effiel Tower Progress Report

Back by popular demand, a Lego update.

I've got to be honest, Jessi and I struggled with this phase. The weird part was the angle. Even though it looks like square, for whatever reason we couldn't line up the Legos with the picture in such a way both of us could see the correct orientation. It was almost like one of those magic eye pictures.

We kept turning the Legos in circles trying to line it up. Jessi would turn it and I'd say, "are you crazy? That's not even close!" So she'd let me turn it and exclaim, "What?! Are you kidding me? That doesn't make any sense!" Eventually we started swapping spots and realized where we sat created a different angle in the picture.

It's weird that we didn't have this trouble with the first part, but I guess we're getting better at building Legos so it's only natural that the difficulty level would increase too.

You can view all our photos so far here:


Monday, April 21, 2008


On September 20th, 1995 (I was 12) Scoter came into my life. This evening, April 20th, 2008 he has passed away.

Scoter (pronounced Scooter, like the 2-wheeled thing you ride) was named after the White-winged Scoter, hence the funny spelling. Scoter was a yellow lab so we called him Yellow-winged Scoter.

It's really hard to lose a loved one, but thankfully God has been at work in my life so I think I'll make it. For the last four weeks at church, the theme of the series has been death. What is death? How do we deal with death? And most importantly, how can we live for God until our death? Every one of those weeks has really hit home for me with Scoter's passing and has once again got me thinking about my life. Am I headed in the right direction? Am I pursuing God's will? Gosh, life is so fleeting - "life is but a mist that quickly evaporates" (somewhere in the Bible, I was never good at memorizing where) - how can I make the most of it?

There were certain things in life Scoter loved. He love to play fetch. Oh my, he would run and run until he literally couldn't stand anymore. He would be breathing so hard I would think he would die on the spot. But the instant he rested just a little bit, he'd be right back at your feet with his ball waiting for you to throw it.

Scoter also loved to be pet. I mean, sometimes it got to be a little much because I'd be typing at the computer or eating something and he'd come over and pull my arm away with his nose so I could pet him. He would also start standing up and then slowly sink closer and closer to the floor to see if he could be laying down and get pet at the same time. I would suddenly realize I was three inches away from my cereal bowl and fully bent over in my chair. There would be Scoter, fully sprawled out on the floor soaking up every bit of my attention. Of course, then I would sit up and he too would immediately pop up and the process would start all over again. What a funny dog.

Something that made Scoter such a wonderful dog was is intelligence. Here's on thing I learned: if you want to enjoy your animals, get smart ones. It makes such a difference when they actually learn quickly. For example, Scoter loved to hunt for pheasants. All you'd have to do was let him sniff a single feature and he was off looking for them. However, we also owned chickens and he regularly ate out of the same bowl with them - he was smart enough to know the difference. By the way, our cat, Boots, will probably miss him the most as she many times ate and drank out of the same bowls as him, and cuddled up with him to sleep.

I could go on and on with stories about him, especially camping stories. His favorite camping pass-time? Hike a pine cone backwards between his hind legs and chase after it. Yes, hours of entertainment for Scoter. Come to find out, he REALLY likes the water too. We once took him to a lake and he did not want to get out. He just paddled and paddled and paddled. The funniest was when he would splash the water with his paws and then try to catch the water in his mouth. Who does that?!

Scoter was a great friend and family member. He will be greatly missed and even though Jessi and I will surly own our fair share of dogs, I don't think any will be able to compare to him.

This video clip is part of a longer movie my brother and I put together. Basically, Matthew is trying to get in shape and I come up with creative ways to help. This one involved Scoter and a tennis ball.

Shortly after the Crock Hunter also passed away, my brother and I put together this video. In this one we are hunting for... the Scoter. Notice how he just lets us mess with him.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

XML and the Future of the Web

Recently a friend let me borrow a book from him and it has really got me thinking. The book is called "Learning XML" by Erik T. Ray. XML is designed to make the structure of data ubiquitous. You see, there's current a problem with the Internet. There are many, MANY different web sites out there and lots of them structure their data differently. This, unfortunately, makes is very difficult to share information. Let me give an analogy. Say you have a grocery list to do your shopping. That list is your data (eggs, milk and bread). On the Internet, someone might have the same list, but it looks like this: AA eggs, 2% milk and white bread. Or, worse yet: fresh bread, 2 eggs and two percent milk. Do you see the problem? Even though the last two lists are technically the same, they differ in their descriptions, order and quantities. Humans are smart enough to figure this out, but computers just get confused. (incidentally, this is why you can name a file the same name in the same folder as another, only change the case of one letter, and have it work. Computers even see those as different).

The purpose of XML is to create rules for how you structure your data (or grocery list). This way each and every time you make a list it will be the same. Even though it takes a little more work during the set up to make sure it's structured properly, the advantages are huge. You see, then other programs can use your data without trying to figure out what it means. Ladies, that means the guys can do all the shopping because they'll understand what's on the list.

OK, so now you know what XML does, but so what? Why is this important? I really see XML as the backbone to the future of the Internet. It will be a way for web sites to share data back and forth easily. That way you won't have to visit eight places to do your daily stroll across the world wide web. Instead, you might only have to visit four... or maybe one day only one place which has everything you want right in front of you. Think about, if all your favorite places use XML, you (or someone who actually likes to program) could write something to bring it all to one place.

The advantages of having everything in one place is huge! Yes, it does save you time which is nice, but it also means there's more information to learn. For example, Amazon knows what books you like to buy, but what if they also knew what videos you liked to watch (from YouTube and or Netflix). What if they knew the music you like to listen to (from )? Or who you send email back and forth with, and what books/video/music they liked? Do you see the power here? Suddenly places like Amazon and Google are no longer just relying on one type of behavior, but can pull from everything you do to offer you something you actually want 99% of the time. This is what people are starting to call web 3.0 and is part of the semantic web.

I heard a nice way to sum it all up and it goes like this: web 2.0 is all about helping people learn about, and with, other people. Web 3.0, or the semantic web, is all about computers learning more about us. It's a powerful concept which I think AOL was on to with their AOL portal, but it will be something much more effective and customized. XML is the tool which is allowing this to happen.

It really feels like companies are trying to figure out how to make everything work together and eventually the number of places using XML will hit a tipping point where all the sudden every site will have to use it. Personally, I think it's very exciting and am already trying to figure out ways to implement XML and open sharing on my web projects.

So, "Learning XML" is a good book for those of you willing to swim in the code.

PS. For those of you keeping score, gDocs just added a margin to your documents. I think it looks good and helps it look more like a real document. Also, I just noticed the ability to add comments to the document. This should be very helpful when I'm editing someone's work. Normally I would have to change font colors to let them know I changed something.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Lisa's Printing job

My mom and sister came up to visit and my sister made a shirt in my print shop (aka my bedroom). I don't know if I've ever shared any pictures of it, but below is a slide show of what she made. For a first timer and thought they turned out pretty good. Way to go Lisa!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sleep Experiment

Sometimes it's fun to change things up and these last two weeks have definitely been different for me. You see, for these last two weeks I haven't slept in my bed once. I started out with a simple policy: when I get tired, grab a blanket and pillow and go to sleep where I am. Sounds crazy doesn't it? There's no doubt that the first couple of nights were a little weird.

Interestingly, I've developed a pattern. Since I spend 99.9% of my time in my living room, the middle of the floor has become my new bed. I've figured out the right combination of pillows so I don't get a sore neck, and the correct combination of blankets so I don't broil or freeze. It's actually gotten to the point where I think I prefer sleeping on the floor over sleeping in my bed. My poor bedroom has become nothing more than a repository for my clothes.

Yes, Jessi does think I'm a crazy wacko.

Why did I do it? I think it really arose out of two issues in my life. First was a general feeling of "blah". I really felt like I was just floating through time and not influencing my daily choices much. I'm not going to say I was depressed, because I wasn't, but more had a loss of motivation to check things off my to-do list (and it was getting long fast). Now I often, like many people, wait until the deadline to get things done, but now I was starting to let some deadlines slip which wasn't normal for me at all. As you can imagine, this also led to a subtle uneasy feeling and mental paralysis.Psychological enough for you?

The second reason is much more practical: I wasn't waking up in the morning when I wanted to. I would set my alarm at a reasonable hour, usually 8 hours after going to sleep, and then not get up. I was sleeping 9-10 hours and still feeling groggy in the morning. Yes, I was hitting my snooze 6 or 7 times in a row. Now I'm typically a morning person, so this was REALLY perplexing.

Now I know this kind of stuff happens in cycles. I used to have a similar issue with homework. I would be really productive and then magically struggle to get my work done on time. My secret to pulling myself back was to change something up, which, when it was homework, was location. If I did it at my desk, I would move to my couch or the floor. Or, I would have to move to a classroom and rotate rooms. Each cycle lasted about two weeks, and despite how little of a change it seems, it worked for me.

This time round I'm applying it towards my sleep and it seems to be working. I've been able to get up when I want, I've restored the perception of control in my life and my to-do list is back to normal length (which is still probably too long). So life right now is pretty good. What "extreme" measures have you taken to change up your life?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Eiffel Tower Update

So we've been making progress on our Eiffel Tower. The Lego set comes in three parts so that, I'm guessing, it can be easily stored. I kind of like the modular style. We're already starting to get a glimpse of how big this structure is actually going to be. Enjoy the photos.