Archive for the 'Personal' category

Recovered from host server upgrade – sorry for the outage

December 11, 2008 8:04 pm

Looks like my hosting company decided to move my blog from a 32 bit OS to a 64 bit OS, breaking the PHP CGI in the process. Thus, my blog was offline for around 20 hours or so (rough guess).

Support claimed I had a “custom” PHP install, which I think is not the case. Anyway, I had to copy the 64 bit PHP CGI binary from their system location to my blog location, update a pointer and now everything is good again.

Apologies all around for going “dark” for a while.

Word 2007 and Vista Speech Recognition – don’t say "delete document"!

December 10, 2008 8:35 pm

I had a very unpleasant experience today. My wife is trying to deal with pain in her arms and hands from too much typing by using Vista’s speech recognition feature along with Word 2007. She was writing a final paper for a college class and had just finished the last four of nine pages. That’s when she noticed an extra word in her paper, right at the end: “document”. It didn’t belong there, so she did what you’d do naturally and said “delete document”.

THAT’S WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPENED. Apparently the speech recognition software turned that phrase into a command and proceeded to empty the nine page paper of all content without hesitation. On top of that, the undo feature of Word seemed to not have noticed the command (or been bypassed somehow), so she couldn’t get the document back via undo either!

This all happened while I was in a meeting at work right before lunch. When I got back to my desk I had several panicked voice messages. Luckily, five pages from the day before could be salvaged because my wife had the presence of mind to close the document without saving, which let her recover all but the about four hours of work that had gone in before the disaster struck.

I went home over lunch to see if I could salvage any more. I decided that I needed support from Microsoft. Well, the call with Microsoft Product Support was less than pleasant (as support calls usually are) and didn’t get us the four pages back, either. Best I could tell nobody had ever reported such an issue before.

I’m surprised this glaring problem escaped all testing at Microsoft. One of the cardinal rules of software development was violated in this case: “Never, EVER, lose the user’s data.” I can’t believe there was no prompt to confirm if she really intended to delete everything in response to the phrase “delete document”. I can’t believe there was no undo possible.

I just can’t believe it. Yet, it’s true.

Something different for your kids’ Christmas gifts this year: Boomerang, the audio magazine for children

October 12, 2008 8:16 pm

This is something that has come back in popularity in my family recently: Boomerang, the audio magazine for kids aged 6-12. It’s a really interesting concept, in that it tries to introduce kids to "big ideas" through all kinds of interesting angles. Here are some of the topics they cover in their productions:

  • Natural Wonder (fanciful musings about something in nature)
  • Widget and Whack (taking things apart, with a comic slant)
  • Money
  • Weird Words
  • Mystery
  • American Journey
  • Schmave’s Elevator (stories about the 50’s and 60’s)
  • Jokes
  • The Count (counting to ten in foreign languages)
  • Book Beat (a children’s book author reads from their book)

Each "magazine" is about an Audio CD’s worth long, i.e. about 70 minutes. You can download each issue, buy a bundle at 40% off or subscribe to have a physical CD mailed to you.

There is a weekly podcast available, and you can download and listen to a sample. Give it a try and see how your kids like it. I’m pretty sure they will.

Boomerang, it’s granola for your ears.

A Geekdad Experiment: What Gears Do On a Bicycle

September 27, 2008 2:54 pm

I did this the other day with my kids, and they thought it was a lot of fun.

It’s a simple experiment to do with your kids when they ask what the gears on a bicycle do. You’ll need:

  • A bike with gears
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • A measuring tape or stick
  • Paper for keeping a table of measurements

I started by making a schematic drawing of the two gear assemblies, front and back (we had a 21 speed bike) and numbered them. Then I made a table with a corresponding number of rows and columns and labeled them.

We went out on our low-traffic street after dinner and drew a starting line close to the curb. Next was getting the gears into the first position: smallest wheel in front, largest in back. Then I explained that we would put the front wheel of the bike right on the starting line and make sure the pedal was in its top position (easy to remember). I asked one of my kids to get on the bike and make exactly one whole turn with the pedal, while I held the bike steady during travel (don’t forget the bike helmet!) We then marked how far the front wheel had traveled and labeled the mark with the gear number combination. Now we changed the gear and did the whole thing over until all gears were covered.

During all this it turned out that holding the bike steady was too much work, and we had to be careful not to "coast" without treading the pedal. So I ended up holding the bike myself, turning the pedal while trying to walk alongside, half on my knees. Plus, we had to speed things up because it was beginning to get dark.

Here’s a picture of our markings (from the next morning):


Just by looking at the markings, we could tell that sometimes you can go approximately the same distance with several different gear combinations.

When we were done with all gears and markings, we got out the measuring tape and measured how far each mark was from the starting line. That resulted in the following table:


We then entered this table into a spreadsheet and turned it into a graph:


Sorting by distance, it looks like this:


This is shows that if you want to go smoothly from the lowest speed to the highest, you have to do a lot of shifting. Some steps aren’t doable without shifting both front and back gear, so in essence you won’t be able to go up smoothly.

Anyway, a fun experiment for after dinner or a weekend afternoon.