Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Accident on the I-95

John·ny-on-the-spot (noun, informal): A person who is available and ready to act when needed.

Lately that's how I've been feeling with my new Samsung A900 phone. Florida has plenty of strange daily happenings to keep me busy with the camera features of this wonderful gadget but today my phone had a much more serious role to play. On my way home from work at about 4:45pm, traffic on the I-95 came to a standstill. Now its not uncommon for traffic to slow down drastically due to the natives' driving habits but a complete stop is rare at that time of day on that particular stretch so I knew something had to be up.

Immediately I turned on the camera on my phone just in time to catch black smoke rising over the car in front of me. From there the situation only got more serious as firetrucks and ambulances raced by me on the shoulder. As I inched my way forward I knew that this was going to be bad. By the time I got to the scene of the accident the fire had been doused, leaving only the smoking hulk of what looked like a Nissan or Toyota truck.

None of the local stations are reporting anything yet on their websites although it's been over an hour since it happened. I sent in one of my pictures to the Florida Today but there's no telling if they'll use it. I can only hope though that nobody was seriously injured in this accident, or worse yet, killed.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Bring on the Balkanization!

For years now we've been told about the benefits of combining functionality in an effort to do more with less. This has been especially common in the world of software development where once scattered systems now fall under the umbrella of a single system. Generally, this has meant greater functionality at a lower price. I myself have done this with various web components albeit on a much smaller scale. This trend is referred to as Walmartization and socioeconomic considerations aside, it will continue to have a large impact on software development for some time to come.

Yet despite the good intentions companies may have in providing an all-in-one solution, there are some things that simply cannot be predicted as a need when developing the software. More of a hinderance still, they cannot engineer a product so generalized as to allow somebody to easily add powerful features without requiring a basic knowledge of information sciences. The closest I've seen to this laudable goal is the Google Mini which utilizes XSLT so that a customer can render their results however they'd like.

Reality does not seem to faze large software companies though, or the managers with large budgets who purchase from them. Case in point, I am currently at an impasse with management over the direction of our customer portal. While I fully believe that an integrated back end is a great idea, I also feel that our front end should be controlled by us. The customization that has gone into our current product in just over a year is extreme and to expect a vendor to match it would be overreaching to say the least. Not to mention that we are at the whim of our marketing department which expects changes in days, not the months-long timescale vendors commonly adhere to.

For this reason I say bring on the Balkanization! One piece of software shouldn't do everything. Some tasks are just too specialized to incorporate into a product meant for widespread use. Add onto that the fact that IT organizations often serve departments which expect changes quickly and you can see why such control would be better placed in-house.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Mid-week happenings

My Dad arrived in Melbourne yesterday though not for familial reasons. Strangely enough, he is here for meetings with my former employer. So far he hasn't run into anybody on campus that I knew but then a lot of them have quit since I was there. We've managed to go out to dinner every night he's been here and that's saying a lot considering how busy I've been. This was definitely not the best of weeks to show up but I've got to play the hand I've been dealt and I'm super happy to have him here. I just wish we could spend more time together.

The theater is where I've been spending the majority of my time lately. I volunteer at the Henegar Center in downtown Melbourne and our latest show Once Upon a Mattress has proven to be quite taxing from a technical standpoint. I am running the lightboard while also calling the show and though we are still in rehearsal, it is fairly stressful. For instance, I thought everything was going along swimmingly when I walked into the booth this evening but as it turns out, Hell was just about to be unleashed. From burnt out lights to messed up cues, it was a miracle we even got through the first act. Tomorrow is our last rehearsal so it had better be as close to perfect as possible.

On the work front I am busier than ever. I finalized the demo product today and begin working heavily on the presentation materials. Everybody who has seen the demo in action agrees that even in its nascent state it far surpasses our current version in every category. This is probably the first project where I can truly feel I have relied on others' expertise. So regardless of how management views it, I know that I will be able to take something positive away from this experience.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

New York Mets vs. Washington Nationals

On March 15th, 2006 I accompanied my fellow employees to a match of wits and strength between the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals, formerly known as the Montreal Expos. This has been a yearly event for the organization although this was the first year my particular department was invited.

This turned out to be a real learning experience for me. Firstly, I learned just what the limits of my new camera phone were. But more importantly, I gained valueable insight from my co-workers that would not be so easily accessible at work. As it turns out, several people have put faith in my design for a new web portal and are rooting for my success.

More importantly though, it has become clear that there are many opportunities out there for an IT worker such as myself. I have always managed to inadvertently pick fights with my most immediate supervisor and this organization is no different. My vision for the future differs from management's and I believe mine to be the correct one. I hope to persuade my bosses of the same yet the knowledge that there are companies out there that desire a new and efficient solution has given me a confidence that I haven't felt before. I have no intention of leaving my current organization but it makes me feel better to know that other opportunities exist.

In the meantime, please enjoy the impromptu gallery I have put together. This is my first time using Blogger in conjunction with my cell phone to create one but I think it will more than suffice.

My colleague Robert

My boss Christi
Colleague and super cool guy Brandon
Resident consultants Arabinda and Kishore

My other boss Bruce and myself

Fellow IT workers Linda and Brandon

Our CEO just bought another keg, w00t!
John, Brandon, Ashlee and Robert

Friday, March 10, 2006

Installing Sirius into an Audi A4

This project was originally posted on my website in September of 2005. I am reposting it here for posterity's sake. The experience I gained during this install was put to good use when I installed a Sirius receiver into my Dad's Silverado.

Project Requirements
  1. This needed to be easy to moderately difficult
  2. It needed to be simple to remove as I didn’t want to have to rip up the carpet or take half the car apart.
  3. The implementation had to look good/invisible.
Items needed
(All items listed unless noted are the Radioshack brand)
  1. JVC Sirius receiver (KT-SR2000)
  2. JVC Sirius car kit (KS-K6012)
  3. Blitzsafe 13-pin auxiliary adapter (AUDI/AUX DMX V.1)
  4. Panavise dash mount (75102-600)
  5. 20 ft. of stereo audio cable with male jacks on either end (42-3501)
  6. Stereo Y-adapter (1/8” phone plug to dual phono jack, 42-2542)
  7. Radio removal kit for Symphony radio
  8. 10 ft. of spiral cable wrap (278-1638)
  9. 3-amp fuse (250V, 5x20mm, 270-1054)
  10. Crimping tool
  11. 2 spade tongues
  12. 2 butt connectors
  13. Inline fuseholder (27-1238)
  14. 6 ft. Adaptaplug Cord (273-1641)
  15. Adaptaplug “B” (273-1705)
  16. 3/8” ratchet with 8mm socket and extension
  17. Phillips head screwdriver
  18. Small flathead screwdriver
  19. Duct tape
The total cost should come in under $300.

Slip the Sirius antenna up underneath the hat shelf as shown. With only cardboard and glass between it and the outside this is as good a place as any to put it without the hassle of having to put it on the roof or on top of the trunk. Note that it will not work underneath the trunk. Thread the wire over to the driver’s side.

Take one end of the stereo cables and thread them from the rear-seat to the trunk using a coat hanger. You will need to remove the rear seat by pulling up hard from underneath the front edge. After this you will need to remove the rear driver’s side shoulder by pulling up and out and then down. Attach the stereo cables to the Blitzsafe adapter’s phono plugs. Attach the 13-pin adapter to the CD changer’s plug.

This shows the rear driver’s side shoulder removed with the stereo cable and antenna wire running down.

With the rear seat removed and both cables coming out of the trunk, we now put them underneath the driver’s side kick panel. Use your fingers to pull the kick panel up in sections and simply push the wire up underneath. I used some spiral cable wrap about every foot to keep the wires nice and neat.

Up near the front on the driver’s side is where our cables will come out. Remove the kick panel here with the Phillips head screwdriver. In this picture you can see our cables near the door trim routed around the fuses using duct tape.

Before moving onto the next step be sure to remove the plastic piece underneath the steering column. First remove the side panel (not pictured) facing the door by slipping the small flathead underneath it and pulling it off. Remove the bolt there using the 8mm socket. Use the flathead again on the two removable plastic covers on either side of the steering column and remove those bolts. There is one more bolt that needs to be removed on the right side farther up underneath. Once these four bolts are out the piece should come off easily.

Now it’s time to make our power adapter. Crimp a spade tongue on each end of the inline fuse holder wires on one side and crimp butt connectors on the other end of the wires. Cut off one end of the Adaptaplug cord then split and strip the wires. Attach the positives (white stripe -> red wire) using the butt connector and do the same with the negatives. Don’t forget to put the 3-amp fuse inside the fuse holder.

Next attach the negative from the inline fuse holder to the ground shown in the picture above. Since we’re using a spade tongue you will only need to loosen the bolt a bit whereupon you will slide in the spade tongue and retighten the bolt. Our positive from the inline fuse is shown in the foreground.

Attach the positive from the inline fuse to the post marked 75X using the spade tongue. This is “switched” power from the battery. That means that it receives power when the car is either on or in accessory mode. Use a zip tie to keep these wires up and out of the way as we don’t want them getting tangled around the hood release. Take your new power cord and attach it to the Adaptaplug “B” plug. Using a straightened coat hanger push the Adaptaplug cord, the antenna cord and the stereo cables behind the console through to the passenger side.

Using your radio removal tools, take the Symphony radio out and attach the Panavise mount as shown in the instructions which come with it. The angled ends of your four removal tools should point inwards. Grasp the radio by the tape deck and give it a good yank to pull it out. It should slide out with no problem. After you have replaced the radio and the Panavise mount is firmly in place, screw the receiver mount to the Panavise mount using the four small screws that came with the car kit.

Plug the phono jacks into the stereo cable. Wrap the visible part of the wires in the spiral cable and attach each plug to its complimentary jack on the receiver mount.

You may have to press the power button on the Sirius receiver the first time it is attached with the car turned on but afterwards it should turn on and off with the car. If everything is working properly then congratulations, you now have Sirius!

Email me at if you have any.

Legal Stuff
All brands are copyright of their respective owners. I am not responsible if your car malfunctions after following these instructions. There may be more ‘professional’ methods of installing this unit but after two weeks of various attempts and many trips to Radioshack, I believe this to be the best layman’s method.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

'Drawn Together' is filthy, disgusting and absolutely hilarious

Having been an avid watcher of South Park for some time, I am surprised I did not stumble across this show earlier. I had always considered South Park to be somewhat of a guilty pleasure, especially with episodes like Fat Butt and Pancake Head and Bloody Mary. But upon my first viewing of Drawn Together I knew that I had never seen anything quite like this.

First, the cast of characters is quite diverse. In terms of animation styles, they range from the 1920s black and white cartoons to the two-dimensional graphics common to Flash videos. And as for personality types, they range from uber-gay to uber-conservative. Inspired by the mind numbing reality shows on TV, this production violates every taboo of modern society (and not just American society) in garnering its laughs.

Last night's episode was about Clara's hentai-ish vagina and her desire to get an "extreme makeover" ala Ty Pennington's show on ABC. Disgusting as this may sound, last week's show about Xandir coming out to his parents and how they would respond was even worse. While play-acting the possible consequences of his decision, he ends up in a house of ill repute servicing perverted Japanese businessmen, eventually killing one by accident that was underneath the shitting table he was squatting over. If you don't understand the last part of that sentence then please, don't concern yourself with it. It is a revolting thought.

But it's also damned funny. Not gay cartoon characters killing people with shattering shitting tables but the fact that traditional celluloid animation has been used to convey such a perverted act. By some small miracle, the same medium that entertained me as a child with shows like Transformers can still keep my attention, albeit with productions of a more depraved nature. Here's to many more seasons of Drawn Together and their lewd form of humor.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Samsung A900

Until quite recently I was the proud and happy owner of a Samsung vi660. It was a simple phone in terms of features but had color graphics, was fairly compact and got great reception. Yet as with all clamshell designs, the hinges were susceptible to wear and what started out as a hair thin line last December become a full blown crack earlier this week. Shortly thereafter parts started falling out and thus I was involuntarily placed on the warpath for a new phone.

Because I still had four months until my two-year contract with Sprint matured I was only able to get $75 off any new phone I purchased. My journey started at the Sprint store and as I made clear with the automated survey I responded to earlier this evening, the experience could have been a lot better. The salespeople were not at all knowledgeable about the product as they made several promises, such as being able to transfer the contacts from my old phone, that turned out to be completely based in fantasy.

That leads me into my major complaint about this phone. Though the camera, multimedia capabilities and enhanced web access are all new, the basic applications such as the calendar and address book are virtually unchanged from the vi660. For instance, transferring contacts stored on your computer requires a Bluetooth connection despite the presence of a USB connection. And even then it's considered a small miracle when it works. If you're thinking about synching the phone with your calendar, forget about it. The capability simply does not exist.

Yet despite these glaring feature omissions, this phone is simply amazing in terms of multimedia support, ease of use and looks. And by looks I mean it looks damn fine. In my opinion it's the best looking phone out there, even more so than it's inspiration the RAZR. The swivel camera is a definite plus as it allows you to take pictures or videos of yourself while previewing. And with the USB connection I can easily transfer items to and from my computer without the need for a 3rd party vendor.

Indeed, the past few days have found me using the A900 to watch videos, play games and in general do much more than just call people. It is truly a multimedia wonder for such a small size. And yet I know that I probably haven't even touched on half of the available features. No doubt I will be spending the next month grokking this phone in an effort to maximize its capabilities. I look forward to the surprises in store for me.