Introducing Edutopia Groups!

This is for all you teachers, librarians, parents and education-watchers:

This Tuesday we're going to be launching our new Edutopia Groups community, as a place for educators to gather and discuss "what works in public education." We have invited some great educators to facilitate the groups for us, and we're really excited to watch the groups will up with insightful conversations.

Today we're inviting in our existing members and friends & family for a sneak peek. If you're interested in how to fix our education system, please come on in and join the conversation! And if you know someone else who'd be interested, feel free to invite them in.

Don’t Fear the OOP

I got an awesome email today from an old WebTV coworker's dad today.

Jos (pronounced "yose") was an amazing guy. One of those people you just couldn't be in a bad mood around, who was always creating these wacky side projects that were sometimes more successful than some of the company's main projects.

One of my favorite Jos projects was called Don't Fear the OOP. It's a brief, informative and highly entertaining tutorial on "why coding Java (or any other object-oriented programming) is just like writing a trashy Western novel." Each page was separated into three sections: explanation in normal English, using cheesy Western novel metaphors; pseudo-code that was still readable, but structured more like code; and actual Java code. Add in a bit of Jos-patented humor, and it really is a brilliant way of teaching object-oriented programming.

Sadly, Jos died not too long after completing the tutorial (and the WebScissors tool that I maintain on his family's behalf). Healthiest man I knew, and he died of a heart attach at his desk one day. Just like that. I suppose it's true what they say: "You get what everyone gets; you get a lifetime."

But Jos really did something with his. (Besides the obvious, of leaving behind scores of people who loved him dearly.) It's been... wow, has it really been almost a decade since we lost Jos? And yet his WebScissors tool is still getting a few thousand hits a day, and his Don't Fear the OOP tutorial is still out there on the web, helping people get friendly with Java.

Which brings us back to the letter. Jos's pops just forward this email that he got from a high school programming teacher (does it make me old that that's a foreign concept?) who stumbled upon Don't Fear the OOP and used it to great effect in his class.

Letter from a happy OOPer...

A Series of Tubes

I'm sure everyone remembers the embarrassing moment when Senator Ted Stevens described the internet as a series of tubes.

But little did I know (until now) that this is not the first time that the phrase "a series of tubes" was used in conjunction with the internet. In his book Weaving the Web: The original design and ultimate destiny of the World Wide Web by its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee uses the exact phrase: "a series of tubes."

Of course, Berners-Lee uses the phrase correctly in describing the CERN particle physics research institute, where the particle accelerators are the tubes). But I thought the parallel use of the phrase, years apart from one another, was amusing.

Today, I’m wear black

Three years ago today, we lost a Great Man. We miss you, Johnny.

Man in Black - Johnny Cash

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.

more...

Apple improves Boot Camp

When I got rid of my 13" MacBook last month, I described the MacBook/Boot Camp shortcomings that lead to this decision, explaining that they would probably get fixed in the Leopard release early next year, but I wasn't willing to wait that long. Well, it looks like a lot of the complaints I had have been fixed wit the release of Boot Camp 1.1.

Things that are reported to have been fixed in Boot Camp 1.1

  • The keyboard drivers have been updated to fix most of the problems I reported before. It is now possible to use a key combo to right-click without a mouse, page up and down, and have access to a true delete button.

  • The device drivers have been improved so that you can now use the built-in webcam, microphone and (presumably) CD/DVD burners.

  • No word on whether or not additional screen resolutions have been added. But since my Dell has the same problem, I doubt it. I think I may just need to swallow my pride, admit that the laser eye surgery did more harm than good, and get myself a new pair of glasses.

Remaining MacBook shortcomings that prevent me from regretting my switch back to a Dell - at least for now.

  • The hardware problems with the heat and the sharp front edge are still an issue. If they fix these in the next iteration of the MacBook next year (and hopefully add a real right-click button!), that would go a long way toward convincing me to switch back.

  • I still haven't found a way to export email from Mac Mail into PST files. There are utilities to go from PST to Mail, but not the reverse. Which means that any email I send from Mail is locked in to Mac, and can never be retrieved if I decide to switch back, or even backed up on my PC desktop. If anyone hears of a utility that can get around this problem, I would love to hear about it. This is the one deal breaker that prevents me from considering OS X as a primary OS.

  • I'm actually rather fond of the built-in SD card slot on the Dell. If the MacBook had an expansion card that could replicate this, that would be cool. But it really is convenient to be able to back up your digital camera photos to the laptop without having to have a cumbersome cable with you. After all, if the MacBook had a SD card slot, I wouldn't have lost all those photos from ComicCon when my bloody camera disappeared. That alone is worth a lot to me.

So I still don't regret switching back to Dell for now. But my hopes have improved that they might have a MacBook that meets my needs by the time I need to get a new laptop again. And if nothing else, I am still very anxious to see when they'll come out with the Mac media center box (ie, a DVD player sized Mac with all the Front Row goodness of the Mini, a giant hard drive, TV connectivity, DVR capability, and possibly HD DVD player), especially now that I'm going to have a decent TV to plug the puppy in to.

We Didn’t Start the Wiki

While listening to 95.7 Max FM a while back, I was pleasantly surprised to hear We Didn't Start the Fire being played. I hadn't heard the song in ages, but was amused to realize I could still sing along with all the lyrics. My first thought was that kids who heard this song for the first time now would have no idea what half the lyrics refer to. Then I got to thinking... I didn't even understand half the references when I first heard it. At least kids today (did I just use that term?) have the internet to look things up (without having to deal with the Dewey decimal system).

Thus I decided I must give myself a silly geek project: write a blog with the lyrics of the song, and link each phrase to its accompanying Wikipedia listing. Well, I finally sat down to give this a shot today, and was amused to see that there is already an incredibly detailed Wikipedia entry for We Didn't Start the Fire. Not only does it provide links for each of the phrases, it also points out that the phrases are in chronological order, which I think is pretty cool.

And it saves me from doing a hell of a lot of searching and copy/pasting URLs. Which is good and bad, considering that now I have no choice but to do all those household chores that have been piling up all week while I've been sick. Damn you, Wikipedia!!

Abandoning my Little Black Book

I was really hoping that installing Windows on my sexy black MacBook would be the key to turning me into a Mac user. But as much as I do love it in a lot of ways, I'm afraid it's just not the bridge I was hoping for. Most of the issues I have with it are software related, and will probably be fixed in Leopard. But some are hardware problems, and at least one of them is a deal-breaker.

So, sadly, it looks like I'm going to be selling my Little Black Book (as lovely and wonderful as it is) and replacing it with a Dell M1210. It's definitely not as sexy as the MacBook, but it solves all of the complaints I have with the MacBook and even throws in a few extras, for roughly the same price. Function wins over form. For those of you who are curious about the details behind the decision, read on...

Return of Pink Five

If you haven't experienced Pink Five before, now is your chance. Imagine a valley girl X-Wing pilot on the death star run, on Dagobah, and infiltrating Jabba's palace. It's brilliant! And if you're already a fan, a new episode has just come out. Well worth the wait, and I love that it's just volume 1.

Melissa, if you're still looking for cosplay ideas for ComicCon, look no further. From the pink lightsaber to the X-Wing up on blocks, you were born to play Stacey. Particularly in the third film. :)

Joss Whedon’s Equality Now speech

Yes, Joss Whedon has created some great shows, like Firefly, Serenity and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For that, we thank him. But it's the inspiration behind why he does what he does that makes us love him - and his creations. If you have any doubt of this, take a listen to his acceptance speech for his award from Equality Now.

Joss Whedon's Equality Now speech

"When you're asked something 500 times, you really start to think about the answer."

eBay Express and Half.com

Last night a friend emailed me to ask if the launch of eBay Express meant that Half.com would be going away soon, or somehow taking a back seat. Today another friend sent me a link to a LifeHacker post in which one of the comments posed a similar question.

Now, let me be clear in pointing out that I am in no way an official spokes-model for eBay. But, in the words of William Shatner*, "here I am to speak what I do know."

  1. eBay Express is geared towards convenience-oriented shoppers who are looking to buy new, fixed-price goods within a more conventional e-commerce experience. If you just want to snag a copy of the Firefly DVD and get back to your regularly scheduled day, eBay Express is right up your alley.

  2. Half.com is geared more towards bargain shoppers, who are primarily looking for the best price on an item, and are usually perfectly happy to buy used. If you're staring down the syllabus for your spring semester of law school or nursing, you will come to truly understand the wonder and beauty that is Half.com.

  3. In the brick and mortar world, retail record/book stores and used record/book stores coexist quite nicely. The same buyer may go to one store for one type of shopping, and to the other for a different type of shopping. So I don't see how these two venues could be seen as anything but complimentary.

  4. If they actually were planning on shutting down Half.com, you would all have heard a piercing, gut-wrenching shriek, which a Spaniard would correctly identify as the sound of ultimate suffering (with me at its epicenter). Instead, you see me smiling to myself and humming softly. All is right with the world.

* With apologies to William Shakespeare. Although Shakespeare probably would have loved Shatner's rap rendition of "No Tears for Caesar."

This I Believe: There Is No God

NPR has a series titled This I Believe, in which people from all walks of life share their essays on what beliefs they hold dear. I just ran across this one from November, in which Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller fame) shares belief that there is no god. Regardless of your own view on the topic, this is an excellent read. My favorite bit, which I think sums up the whole essay is:

"Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around."

Flanvention Tidbits

It looks like my intention of writing an in depth review of Flanvention is going to end up in the same "good ideas gone wrong" bin that as my non-existent review of ComicCon. However, since I already dropped a teaser for Scott, and he could probably use a pick-me-up about now, I'll throw in something quick. I won't go into the panels too much, since they've already been thoroughly covered on the boards. But I did want to highlight a few things that were of particular interest to me, 'cause I was involved.

First, I have to say that the best part of the weekend for me wasn't seeing the cast or taking part in any of the official events. It was the browncoats. A while back, I wasn't even planning on attending the Flanvention, due to some drama I had been inflicted with (a long story that's really not worth telling). But after talking to Renee on the phone one night, I remembered why I had gotten so involved in this fandom in the first place: the people. Sure, I wanted to see the cast. But I needed to see my fellow browncoats again. Especially since this was the last event at which I knew for sure that some of my favorite folks would be in attendance. So I had to go. And I was not disappointed. I had a great time seeing everyone again, got to know a few people I had met at ComicCon a bit better, and even proposed marriage at one point (though, admittedly, only so I would have the ability to threaten Jen with divorce and deportation when she acts up). Good times. But on to the more report-worth bits of the weekend...


Surprise Guest Panelist: Shawna Trpcic

On Saturday, during the girls' panel, someone asked them if they had swiped anything from the set when Firefly was canceled, and Morena wistfully replied that she wished she had been able to steal some of Inara's costumes. So, of course, someone piped up and mentioned that Shawna was currently auctioning off four of Inara's dressed on eBay. Morena's eyes went wide, saying "really??" and then did a very cute "well, why didn't she tell me?" pout.

I couldn't resist a setup like this. I went to the back of the room where it was quite, called Shawna, explained what happened, and asked her if she'd like to talk to Morena. With Shawna on the line, I went back to my seat, waited for them to finish whatever question they were in the middle of, then shot up my hand to be next. Jewel called on me, so I stood up, held out the phone and said "Morena, I happen to have Shawna on the phone right now, if you'd like to talk to her." Again, she did that "What? No, really?" bit, so I ran up to the front and handed her the phone, with Shawna on speaker phone. The two of them chatted for a few minutes about the costumes, and Morena asked her how her babies were doing and such. Then Summer took the phone to ask her about one of a maroon dress of River's (which, sadly, is locked away somewhere in Fox's archives).

The off-shoot of this is that there are now several pictures on the web of both Morena and Summer holding my cell phone. Which cracks me up, since I had already been complaining that my iPod got to take a more vacations than me (when it was mailed to Jewel and back), and now it appears my cell phone is more famous than I am, or am likely to ever be. hehehe On the other hand, it didn't hit me until a few hours later, but when Jewel called on me she had called me by name. Which was a surprise to me, since I didn't think she recognized me in person. Huh. Who knew? :)


Thank You to Christina Hendricks

One of the last minute additions to Flanvention's roster was Christina Hendricks, who played Saffron on the Firefly TV series. I had met her very briefly at the premiere, but it wasn't until I talked to her Saturday that I realized just what a sweetheart she really is. I asked her to sign a caricature of Saffron one of the SF Browncoats made as one of the prizes for the WonderCon 2006 charity fundraiser, and she was just nice as could be.

Everyone who met her agreed that she's just great. But the problem was she was locked away in the tiny, hard-to-find signing room for most of the weekend, so not very many people did get to meet her. She wasn't included in the girls' panel for some reason (wouldn't that have been a hoot?), and they even had an Angel panel at one point, even though she and the twins were sitting in the signing room. Remember, this was supposed to be a Firefly/Serenity-specific con. What were the organizers smoking?

Anyway, I really wanted Christina to know that the fans appreciated her being there, and would love to see her at future cons (not to mention in the Serenity sequel), even if the Flanvention organizers didn't seem to share my opinion. So Saturday morning I snagged a framed Jason Palmer print out of my car, signed a nice little note on it, and brought it around to see if anyone else would like to sign it for her as a thank you gift.

I spent most of the day going around getting it signed by over a hundred browncoats, and had just finally sat down for the first time all day, when we heard people saying "goodbye Christina, thanks" from the other side of the lobby. Startled by the possibility of missing my chance to deliver my little creation, I instantly sprang off the couch (somehow simultaneously grabbing the painting from beneath my legs), and bolted to intercept her on the other side of the lobby.

I told her she couldn't leave yet, because we had a thank you gift for her, and gave her the painting. She looked genuinely shocked (probably because I had practically appeared out of nowhere), gave me a kiss on the cheek and said thank you while a bunch of other people in the lobby clapped for her. Then she walked back over to her boyfriend and said "wow, that was weird!" We were maybe ten feet away, so I said "you know, we can hear you" and she laughed. :)

So what does any of this have to do with Scott? I mean, really, that's the only reason any of you read this far, right? To find out what I did for Scott, and why he owes me? Well, of the 100+ signatures, all but one of them are authentic. I knew Scott would have loved to have been there for this, so I forged his signature down at the bottom, so he could put in his well-wishes by proxy. And really, this was safer than having Scott there in person, considering his habit of yelling my name at the top of his lungs whenever a cute redhead walks by (for the uninitiated: long story). That would have been just a little too unsettling for Christina, I think.

Anyway, here's a photo of the poster in its finished form. You can click on it to see the high-res version, and read all the signatures close up.


A virus for the what??

I can't believe it. Someone finally managed to write a virus for the WebTV...

WebTV Virus Writer Sentenced to Prison

Of course, what I find particularly amusing about this is the nature of the virus. Basically, it just reset the box's dialing script to dial 911 instead of the local access number. That in itself is not funny. But remembering how many times the Palo Alto (and then Mountain View) officials had to come to the WebTV campus for accidental 911 calls, back in the old days, makes me wonder that the whole QA staff isn't in lockup on precedent.

You see, when a WebTV box downloads its list of local access numbers, it makes its best guess as to what format the number should be dialed in (seven-digit, 10 digit with area code, 11 digit with one then the area code - I've even seen some bass ackwards places that require one then the number, with no area code - weirdos). But since this formula is not foolproof, it also lets you edit your own custom dialing options. You can tell your box to dial a nine to get an outside line (useful if you're on a PBX, like a hotel or a business), force it to dial a one when calling, and other nifty options.

The trouble is that if you have it set to dial a nine to get out and always dial a one... what happens when your local provider goes away and is replaced with a long distance provider, or a 1-800 number. Instead of dialing 9,1,5551234, you're suddenly calling something like 9,1,18004093288. Which results in the call being placed to 911, and the operator getting nothing but modem screeches in their ear.

The difference, of course, is that this guy did it intentionally, and we always did it accidentally. But man, the folks at the 911 switchboard must have hated us after a while. I'm just glad that our building never had a major disaster, since any call placed to 911 from our PBX probably would have been bumped to the bottom of the queue, under the assumption that it was just those damned WebTV people screwing with their dialing scripts again.

WonderCon 2005 – A Summary

This weekend, I went to WonderCon, at Moscone Center. The first thing I noticed as I entered the con was that they had some serious con security. I had barely found the Firefly fan table when the rest of the Browncoats started showing up. Miyu, of course, was already there and hard at work. Much to my delight, Rosie and Tamara, who we met in Chicago at the Browncoat Ball, were there. And I got to meet Saxon, and several others who I had seen on the boards.

The first thing most of us did was to head over to the autograph line. They had a gigantic line that you had to wait in just to pick tickets out of a series of buckets, one for each autograph session. If you got a winning ticket, you got the arm band to attend the autograph session. There were five buckets, I think. One was for the Firefly cast (Nathan, Adam and Summer), one was for Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, and the others... ah, who cares. I was hoping to get the Firefly cast, but I got Joss & Cassaday, so that was still pretty cool.

While we were waiting in line, I got to hang out with a bunch of the Browncoats, and had a great time chatting with them. And I kept noticing people pointing at me, since I was wearing a Mal outfit. Saxon's daughter said she was surprised I wasn't being mauled by women in that outfit, and I agreed that it was a frikkin' tragedy that I wasn't. :) Donna was in line with me, and kept catching me out of the corner of her eye and thinking that it was Nathan - even though she knew it was me (I later signed a postcard for her "Donna, I'm not Nathan. Love, Ray"). Oh, and I got an email from Tzegha while we were in line, which was primo timing.

The highlight of the day, of course, was the panel at which Joss, Nathan, Adam, and Summer spoke. Joss, Nathan and Adam are just as funny in person as people say, and they played off each other seamlessly. Summer was absolutely gorgeous. She seemed kind of nervous and shy, and didn't say much (with Nathan and Joss to compete with, it's no surprise she couldn't get a word in), but she was constantly striking these demure poses that were just downright adorable. Being a clever little monkey, I picked up one of those Griffin iTalk Voice Recorders for my iPod, and brought it with me so I could get an audio recording of the panel. Those who missed the con can check out the audio download and a cheat sheet for the visual cues.

Most of the rest of my day I spent manning the Firefly fan table. We were raffling off all sorts of Firefly schwag to benefit the Red Cross' Tsunami Relief. We had books, DVDs, t-shirts, signed photos, and the like. The t-shirts Alan asked about when he interrupted the panel on Nathan's cell phone were part of the raffle, too. And half way through the day, Nathan even sent over his own Serenity sweatshirt (complete with stain under the collar) and signed on the arm, for the drawing. Hawking the tickets was a blast. I haven't had that much fun hawking since I worked Inn Yard at the Blackpoint faire. It helped that the people I was hawking to were fellow browncoats, and that all the money was going to a good cause. I even bought $30 worth of tickets myself, in hopes of winning a deck of the custom Firefly cards (which Miyu made, and could have made a fortune if she were selling - everyone was asking if they were for sale).

Later in the day, Joss stopped by the booth. He was incredibly gracious, and stuck around chatting with us for a while. Before exiting the booth to be flooded by a hoard of fans, he shook all of our hands and very sincerely thanked us for all we (meaning all the fans, not just those at the table) have done to support him, and keep his show flying. We thanked him right back just as sincerely, and off he went to meet (more of) his adoring fans. Having already met Joss and not caring too much about autographs, I ended up taking the armband I won to see Joss and Cassaday, and told the crowd around the booth that the next person who bought $20 worth of raffle tickets would get the armband too. It took about ten seconds for someone to swipe that up, and it got more money for the cause, so I was happy.

Shortly before the raffle, I finally got away from the table and got a chance to see the Firefly fan room. Miyu arranged to have an entire room set aside for fans to gather in and watch Firefly episodes. It was amazing to see how packed the room was. Even with the quite a few Browncoats still on the convention floor and at the booth. there was standing room only in the room, which spilled out into the hall. It was great to see how many fans showed up for this!

Shortly before it was time for the raffle, Lil' Ewok ran out to the con floor to track down Joss (in the way only a teenling geek girl can), and brought him back to the room. Seeing him coming down the hall, we had them kill the projector, and told everyone who was coming. Joss comes in, sees Jubal Early's face frozen on the screen, and asks "what'ca watchin?" Joss then agreed to pull names for the raffle prizes, and then gave another very heartfelt thank you to the fans for sticking with the show through thick and thin. I also got an audio clip of Joss doing the raffle (5MB). The "hot" comment is when he's looking at a signed photo of Jewel Staite. When he says "this is very, very useful" he's referring to the giant bucket-o-cash that was the Red Cross raffle proceeds.

After the con, I gave Miyu a ride to the cafe where the after-hours shindig was going to be taking place, and then headed back to try and make it to the masquerade that was being held (and possibly to try and run into that cute girl dressed as Death ;) ). The masquerade was too packed, though, and they weren't letting anyone else in. So I just grabbed something to eat and headed back to the cafe.

Possibly one of my favorite parts of the weekend was getting to know some of the Oregon Browncoats. Erin was an absolute charmer, Kira was seriously cool, and Kira's boyfriend Steve handed my ass to me at the Ms. Pac-Man table, so he certainly earned my respect. I spent most of Sunday hanging out with Erin and her friend Bernadette. The three of us were there for the Starship Smackdown, which really deserves its own post. Suffice to say, though, it was quite an upset. In the history of Starship Smackdown, the only ship to ever win has been the original NCC-1701 Enterprise. But this year, Serenity and the Enterprise tied. Woohoo!!

Drawing from the Hoard

In Neil Gaiman's American Gods, there is a leprechaun who teaches the main character how to pull gold coins out of the air. He explains that there exists a Hoard, from which you can merely pluck what you need. And when you are done with it, it vanishes, returning to the hoard from which it came.

When I made the decision last year to sell off most of my physical belongings to fund my job search, I kept this metaphor close to my chest. Yes, I was getting rid of every movie I owned, almost all of the collectibles I had gathered over the years, and even a good deal of the books that I had had for so long. But I was merely returning them to the Hoard, and would be able to retrieve them again when the time came. And now, as I get back on my feet financially and start to rebuild my collections, I do so knowing that anything I buy is merely snatched from the Hoard, and will eventually vanish back to its origin.

The other day, I was poking through CraigsList at work, and ran across a listing that caught my eye. It was a list of about 100 DVDs, priced at $8 each. The titles were largely high quality, and it was apparent that this was someone's personal collection. But the note at the bottom that read "will sell all for $300" confirmed my hunch that the man who posted it was doing the same thing I had done - returning his prized collection to the hoard, to cover his short term needs and retrieve it again later, when fortune permitted. I felt obliged to help him in his quest, as so many of you helped me by buying bits from my own collection when the need was great.

After doing the math, I determined that I could even turn enough of a profit to snatch back a few of my own lost items from the hoard while I'm at it. I stopped by his place after work, let him haggle me up to $360, and felt good when I saw the same sense of "oh good, that covers this month's rent" relief in his eyes that I experienced when my own collection was liquidated. I pulled out the 20 titles that I wanted for my own collection, and the result is a list of 80 DVDs that are ready to return to the Hoard.

On the practical side, I'll leave the list as is for the next few days so my friends can take dibs on whatever they want. Then I'll push the lot to half.com (the Hoard incarnate, you could say) and let the free market redistribute this gentleman's collection to appreciative hands.

On the philosophical side, I think that many of us can learn a lesson from the Hoard. Which of your possessions are truly valuable to you, and could never be replaced? Which could you easily return to the Hoard for a few years and retrieve again later (or not at all) without really losing anything. How much would you even notice if it were to suddenly vanish from your bookshelf or closet?

And now that I think of it, I suppose the metaphor goes beyond physical goods as well. How much money can you afford to return to the Hoard, so those who have lost everything at the hands of nature's wrath can snatch it back in their time of need? How much time and thought can you spare to bring a smile to the face of someone who is in need of one? How much of your riches are really your own, and not just borrowed from the greater Hoard? And how much more valuable would that collective wealth be if everyone recognized its sacred status as a shared, liquid resource?

So, in the name of putting my money where my mouth is, I make this pledge. Any proceeds I get from selling this gentleman's collection (after recouping my initial investment) will be donated to the Red Cross. At the prices I have listed currently, that would come to a little over $150 (in addition to the $50 I had already ear-marked for the purpose).

What do you own that you wouldn't miss if you auctioned it off and put the proceeds to a worthy cause? It's an interesting question to ponder.

Cutting into the heart of a cutaway illustration

Tonight, I was hoping to finish this stupid treatise on all of my pe-employment opinions on eBay's business model. And after working on it for the past three hours, I'm almost done. Just two or three more paragraphs and a bunch of proofing and it'll be ready for prime time. But I seriously need to get to sleep, so I'll have to finish it later.

In the meantime, here's something incredibly cool that I happened to run across. Maybe it's just the former aspiring architect in me, but I've always been fascinated with cutaway illustrations. Not only because they look cool, but because I marvel at how they can get that much detail assembled in scale and presented in a manner that makes sense to the non-technical viewer.

So you can imagine how cool I think this Demonstration For Cutaway Technical Illustrations is. Between the detailed info on the process that goes into building one of these illustrations and the super-detailed-zoom, this stupid site had me grinning from ear to ear. Can someone remind me again why I abandoned architecture as a career goal? Oh, right. I had yet to get my hands on AutoCAD and I sat right next to the ammonia machine for three years straight. That's enough to turn someone off of a really cool career track pretty quickly...

I have the coolest friends

Sometimes I'm just amazed at the incredible things my friends are able to accomplish. This week, I'm particularly proud of my friend Alison Gianotto (also known as Snipe).

Alison is one of my "imaginary friends," in that I have never actually met her in person. We met online several years ago when I sent her an email asking about something or other that she had posted on her site, and we ended up geeking out about PHP and becoming friends. We often answer each other's questions when we get stuck on a bit of troublesome code, or need our latest masterpiece ripped to shreds by a second set of critical eyes.

One of the projects she started working on a few years ago, shortly after her cat was burnt alive by a neighborhood psycho, was an online database for pet abuse cases, called pet-abuse.com. When she started it, I thought it was a great idea, and a fantastic way of turning her grief into something useful. But I never thought it would be as successful as it has been.

Last week, her site was featured in a Sun-Sentinel article on the link between animal cruelty and later violence against humans (her bit is at the bottom), and later today she's going to be interviewed by Animal Radio (not sure when that will air).

What started out as a small local project has grown into an incredible prevention and educational resource that helps communities all over the country (and even internationally) to prevent similar cases, and bring the abusers to justice.

Keep kicking ass, Ms. Snipe!

BrickLink Order #219423

I'm such a dork!

As yet another step in my ongoing quest to sell everything I own, today I finally set up a store on BrickLink.com. It's a site that is every Lego geek's dream. I has a complete catalog of every Lego set ever made, and lets collectors buy both complete sets and individual bricks from one another. And they also let you post your entire inventory for free, and only charge you a cut when it sells, much like half.com (which we already know I love).

So I posted about half my collection to my new store, and then ran out the door in time to get lost, bitch about the lack of parking in North Beach, and make it to Dougie's bday bash (whomever thought of combining an Irish pub, an Indian restaurant, and a billiards hall with air hockey tables is a god!). I was supposed to head over to Ragani's afterwards, but decided that it was already way too late and I wanted to get up in the morning for this town hall meeting with the mayor thing.

Anyway, I got home tonight and there was an email waiting for me. Some guy in Oregon bought 8 sets from me, for $79. WooHOO!! [big, shit-eating grin] The thing is, I shouldn't be as happy about that as I am. I mean, I've been selling things on eBay, Half.com and CraigsList for ages. I've shipped things all over the US, to the UK, Germany, Australia, and even Hong Kong. Hell, even last week someone from CraigsList came over and gave me $100 cash for a bunch of Lego sets. So why am I suddenly grinning ear to ear over a transaction that isn't even a third of what the Lego Star Destroyer went for? I have two theories.

The first is that this is the first sale I've made from an actual online store. If I ever manage to get my business up and running, I'll be banking my entire career on turning the web into a tool that small businesses can use to carve out a living, not just another platform for multi-national conglomerates to hawk their wares to the world. Sites like this, that take a really simple idea and execute it elegantly just make me smile. This little "you've made a sale" email is kind of the equivalent of the first dollar a small family owned business makes, which they then frame and hang behind the cash register (or, in this case, preserve forever in the form of babbling blog entry).

Second, it means that I'm making progress. Sure, $80 comes nowhere near what I need to make off of selling my belongings, if I want to be able to stay in California after my unemployment runs out. (And that's not even counting the money the lawsuit is going to sponge up.) But it's not just about the money. I'm making progress on my promise to give up procrastination for lent. I'm getting something done that I've been meaning to do for weeks now. And it feels good!

Or maybe I'm just still on a high from all of the Guinness and curry. Who knows.