Monday, March 26, 2007
Recently at work, I've been using SCons as an alternative to make, the autotools, IDE scripting, or hacky batch scripts for building software.
I like it a lot. Because I'm lazy, I'll just refer you to another blogger who has said everything I would say: SCons rocks like Spock in a box!.
The only downside I've heard about SCons is that it can be slow when get a few thousand source files. I've only been using it for small projects so far, but those small projects will probably turn into bigger projects, so I'm sure I'll eventually get some first-hand experience with the performance issues.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Apple TV: Why?
I'm as much of a gadget freak and Apple fanboy as anyone, but I don't understand why anybody would spend $300 on an Apple TV.
The iPod makes sense: you manage all your music and movies on a PC, then copy what you want to the iPod and take it with you. But the Apple TV isn't portable: it sits next to one's television set, presumably right next to your DVD player and DVD collection, your cable or satellite box, your video game console, and countless other sources of content that don't require long download times and aren't restricted by Apple's DRM.
I suppose it's convenient to be able to download movies and TV shows from the iTunes Music Store, but with Blockbuster, Netflix, and zillions of video stores, but why would anyone spend $15 to download a movie? I can get the same movies cheaper at the local Wal-Mart.
If the Apple TV could replace my TiVo, I'd buy one today. But it doesn't—it only holds stuff you can copy from your computer. I can envisage a future where all my video content comes over the Internet, in which case the Apple TV would serve the same purpose that my TiVo does today, but I think that future is a few years away.
Are there really that many people who currently have lots of video content stored on their computers? Or am I missing something about Apple TV's usefulness?
While browsing through a sporting-goods store today, I was reminded of something I always wanted to try: kayaking. So I'm going to add that to my list of hobbies to try this year.
If anyone has any suggestions for a beginning kayaker (kayakist?), particularly about good places to get instruction in the Atlanta area, please let me know.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Desktop Tower Defense
Are you too productive? Do you wish you had less time available? Do you want to spend an entire weekend sitting in front of a computer? If so, I recommend this game: Desktop Tower Defense.
If you do value your time, don't click that link.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
I haven't seen the new movie 300. I don't want to. I'll probably catch it on DVD or cable some day, but right now, I have no interest.
Why is this fact worth writing a blog entry about? Well, all the guys I know have either seen it, or they really want to see it whenever their wives let them out of the house. It makes me wonder what's wrong with me.
Watching hundreds of people getting killed in grisly ways just isn't as much fun as it used to be.
I first noticed a change in my perspective when I saw the movie Scream. I'd seen plenty of horror movies when I was younger, but I just couldn't get into the spirit of this movie. While watching Drew Barrymore get terrorized and killed in the initial scene, I could only think about how truly horrible it would be for a young woman to go through it. Throughout the movie, I cringed as I saw all those attractive young kids fall victim to a serial killer. When I was younger, it didn't bother me when jocks and cheerleaders got killed at their cool-people get-togethers, but watching it as an adult just made me think about what a horrible place the world can be.
I guess I just can't see it all as fantasy anymore. When I was young, it all seemed unreal, but now I know that some children and teenagers do actually get killed in horrible ways. I know Scream isn't a documentary, but I just couldn't suspend my disbelief.
It's not that I can't stomach violent images. I like everything Quentin Tarantino does, and I have no problem watching old Westerns or war movies. Violence is fine when it enhances all the other stuff going on in a movie, but when violence is the movie, it just turns me off.
So, I'm not going to see 300 on an IMAX screen with a few hundred bloodthirsty teenagers. I guess I'm no longer in that young-male demographic. I'll be watching Man of La Mancha instead.
Tactical Handgun Skills, Level 1
Continuing my unhealthy obsession with firearms, I took a "Tactical Handgun Skills" course tonight. In the gun world, the word "tactical" is used much like the word "enterprise" is used in the IT world: every vendor or service provider attaches the word to their product/service, so it really doesn't mean much. Some wags spell it as "tacticool." But, despite the name, it was a fun class.
The class was a follow-up to the "Advanced Handgun Skills" class I took a couple of weeks ago. For the most part, the drills were simply more advanced versions of the drills from that class: drawing from a holster, and shooting rapidly at one or more targets.
There were a couple of new wrinkles. One was the "speed reload:" a technique for quickly putting a fresh magazine into a semi-automatic pistol when it runs out of ammo. I've read about this, and practiced a bit at home, but having an instructor really helped refine my technique. We were told to use it whenever we ran dry during the exercises, so we got plenty of practice.
The other new thing was clearing stoppages. A "stoppage" is the failure of your gun to keep firing, due to a jam or other malfunction. In a semi-automatic pistol, every time you pull the trigger, the round should fire, the empty brass case should be ejected, the hammer/firing-pin should be re-cocked, and a fresh round should be fed into the chamber, readying the gun to fire again. Unfortunately, sometimes not all of these events happen as they should, and Murphy's Law suggests that stoppages are most likely to happen in the middle of a firefight, so knowing how to quickly fix the problem is important.
There are basically two drills for clearing stoppages. If you're lucky, a "tap-rack" will solve the problem: you slap the bottom of the magazine to ensure it is seated properly, then rack the slide to eject whatever is in the chamber and feed a fresh round. This is often taught as "tap-rack-bang," meaning that you pull the trigger after racking the slide, but the instructor noted that people who are taught like this often fire after clearing the stoppage even though firing is no longer warranted. He teaches the technique as "tap-rack-ready," meaning that after racking the slide, you prepare to fire but don't actually do so without assessing the situation.
If you are very unlucky, you get a "double feed malfunction," which means that the gun has tried to feed a new round into a chamber that already has a round in it. This jams the gun pretty good, and it takes a few seconds to clear it. It's best to find some hard cover if this happens during a real-world situation.
To drill on clearing stoppages, the instructor loaded our magazines with a combination of good rounds and empty expended brass cartridges. He'd tell us to fire, and if an empty cartridge went into the chamber, we'd have a stoppage and we'd need to deal with it. It was an interesting drill.
The stoppage drills reminded me a bit of the emergency procedures I learned as a pilot. You have to diagnose the problem, apply a standard set of reactions, then evaluate the result. However, unlike with flying, in a gunfight you wouldn't have time to consult a checklist.
There were only two students in the class, so we went through our 150 rounds in two hours instead of the three hours that it takes with a full class. I'm looking forward to the "Tactical Handgun Skills, Level 2" course that should be offered in a few months.
For several years now, I've been handling most of my bills and other financial transactions online. Unfortunately, there are still a handful of transactions each year that require shipment of a little piece of paper somewhere, so every once in a while, I have to buy a stamp.
Because I use stamps so infrequently, I can never find the last book I bought, and I have to buy a new book of stamps every time I need one. So every item I have to put in the mail costs me about eight bucks.
Can we all please meet up in the 21st Century, and dispense with this "First Class Letter" crap? And while we're at it, can we get rid of checkbooks?
Saturday, March 17, 2007
BBC America has been showing episodes of "The Prisoner," which is really cool. It's got that perfect blend of 1960's science fiction and paranoia that appeals to me, even if it doesn't make any sense.
As someone who has resigned from a few jobs, usually pissed off, I identify myself with the hero of the series. I've never banged on a supervisor's desk, but I always hated the obligation to explain myself—I wish I had the discipline of Number 6.
<thunder> Be seeing you...
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
My First TV
I'm not sure why, but I've been thinking about the first television set that was "mine." It was a small black-and-white Philco TV set, given to my by my maternal grandfather, I think. I got it when I was 12 or 13 years old.
It was connected to an antenna that my parents put up in the attic. I wonder how many households these days have an antenna—most people now have cable or satellite as their TV source.
I remember watching Blue Hawaii on this TV set. In those pre-cable days, I assume I was watching on WTBS (Ted Turner's station), which was a local UHF station.
It's strange to think that the youngest generation will never know the time when TV sets only received a handful of stations, or that having a TV set in one's bedroom was a luxury. My TV had no remote, nor high-definition, but it was the coolest thing a teenager could own.
Monday, March 05, 2007
Advanced Handgun Skills Class
About two months after my first handgun training class, I've an "advanced handgun skills" class. The basic class was focused on familiarization and safety; this advanced class is more about how to use a gun in a self-defense situation.
It is difficult to practice "real-world" skills at a shooting range. Thanks to lawyers, insurers, and local politicians, most ranges have very restrictive rules. For example, at many ranges one is not allowed to draw a gun from a holster, shoot rapidly, or engage multiple targets. Some ranges won't even let you load more than one round at a time. Range practice is good for developing and maintaining the fundamentals, but really only prepares one for a situation where a stationary attacker appears in front of you when you already have your gun in your hand.
A nice thing about taking a class is that the range's rules are relaxed when there is an instructor present. So, for the first time, I got to draw a loaded gun from my holster and fire several rapid shots at a target.
The course started with some classroom time. First the instructor reviewed the safety rules and legal issues that everyone should have learned in previous training. He demonstrated various ways to carry a concealed weapon. He described a few basic tactical principles. Then it was time for the range.
The range exercises started with practicing the draw (with unloaded guns). Then, we were instructed to draw and fire a single shot at the target. After doing this a few times, we then drew and fired two shots at a time, then three at a time, and up to five at a time.
When shooting for accuracy, one wants all the hits to fall within a tight grouping of a few inches. But in a combat situation, it's best to shoot fast, so a group of 8-10 inches isn't bad. If your group is too tight, you're shooting too slowly. "Spread the love," the instructor advised.
When learning to shoot rapidly, you start by shooting slowly to get the motions right, then you increase the speed. Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.
We practiced shooting at multiple targets. This drill consisted of firing a few shots at the target in your own lane, then turning and shooting at the target in the next lane over.
The last group drill was "point shooting," which is firing without using the sights. In a self-defense situation, one will probably have time to aim carefully, and the attacker is going to be very close, so it is often best to just point the gun and keep shooting until the threat is gone.
Along the way, I had to keep reloading my pistol. This was my first experience of needing to count shots and switch magazines when getting low. I had three magazines with me, each capable of holding 15 rounds. I went through a little over 100 rounds, so my magazines and my loading fingers got a good workout. My pistol ran dry in the middle of a drill once, giving me an opportunity to practice a fast reload.
After a short break, we had the final exercise. The instructor set up some obstacles and targets on the range, dimmed the lights, and then led us each through the course one at a time. We weren't told exactly what would be there, we only knew that there would be some bad-guy targets and some no-shoot targets. I'm happy to report that I didn't shoot any good guys.
There were nine of us in the class: eight men and one woman. I got to chat with them during breaks, and all seemed like nice, reasonable people. The class ended at 9:00 PM (after three hours), and most of the students were anxious to get home to watch 24.
I really enjoyed the class. It was a lot more interesting than my typical trip to the range, and I learned a lot. I hope to take the "Tactical Handgun Skills" course when it is offered a few weeks from now.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Done with Flying?
It has been two months since my last flight. Unlike some of my unfortunate pilot blogger comrades, my lack of flying hasn't been due to bad weather, health issues, financial situation, or scheduling difficulties. I just don't have any interest in doing it.
My monthly two-hour solo flights around the Atlanta area are no longer interesting. I could do some long cross-country flights, but it seems pointless to me to spend several hundred dollars just to fly to some far-away place, have lunch, and fly back home. I've never been inflicted with wanderlust. The southeast doesn't have any cool terrain to fly over. If I lived within flying distance of the Grand Canyon, the Rockies, coastlines, or other such sights, I'd go exploring, but my area is just filled with flat featureless terrain.
I'm not the first private pilot to discover that, after getting the license, there's not much to do. People have actually written books about ways to keep yourself interested in flying. It seems to me that if you have to work hard to find interesting things to do, the activity must not be very interesting.
Carrying some passengers would make it more interesting, but my friends and family are all either scared of small airplanes, or are too heavy to make the weight-and-balance work out. I've had a couple of volunteers who came up with excuses at the last minute.
During my last flight, I felt a little rusty and overwhelmed. I decided I either needed to start flying a lot more often, or stop flying altogether. It looks like I'm choosing the latter. My last flight was my Last Flight.
This is not necessarily a permanent decision. I understand that it is pretty easy to get back into flying after putting it aside for a while. It's more complicated than riding a bicycle, but apparently one never really forgets how to do it.
And who knows . . . I might change my mind and go flying next weekend.
(Of course, right after I wrote this, I watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica with some really cool Viper-flying scenes. If I see a Star Wars film or Twelve O'Clock High anytime this week, I'll definitely be flying again soon.)