ColdFusion Muse

Multi-Monitor Tip

For those of you using more than one monitor and using windows 7, I just accidentally discovered something that is pretty cool. Select a window on one of your screens. Hold down the windows key and the shift key and then use the right or left arrow keys to move it between your various monitors. That's something I do all day long - move various windows between my three monitors to make space for one thing or another. I suppose it's not new to some of you out there - but I thought it was nifty :)

Blizzard Day 2

Well only the brave soul (other than me) made it to the office today. That would be hardy stalwart and compadre Guy Rish. Everyone else is working from home. The final tally looks like 12 to 14 inches and the drive in was pretty daunting. Here are some photos of the final damage.

Here's what it looked like at the office driveway.

Near my local Starbucks

The parking lot.

My back and arms are killing me from shoveling (and I even had my 2 teenage sons to help - yikes I'm getting old).

Blizzard Day in Omaha

Every time someone hears I'm from Nebraska they ask about the cold and snow - followed by corn, cows, "do you have a Gap" and "how long before you get electricity and indoor plumbing". As I've documented here and elsewhere Omaha is a high tech thriving economy. Although I live within a few hundred feet of a corn field, I also live within a few miles of excellent shopping, theatre, music and the arts. Still, it actually does get cold and snowy in Nebraska. We are in the middle of a blizzard today.

9:00 a.m.

Here's what it looked like outside my office door at 9:00 this morning.

11:00 a.m.

And here's the progress after about 2 hours.

I'll post another update when it gets deeper. :)

Pass the Smoked Salmon: Muse Meets Mayor

Last night my wife and I attended an early evening bash thrown by the local chamber of commerce. These shindigs are usually pretty good with door prizes and drinks and fancy-pants hors d'oeuvres. I was milling about feeling uncomfortable as I often do in a "non technology" crowd. I'm a talker by nature but in these crowds the conversation usually goes something like this:

  • Bob (who owns a car dealership): So what does your company do?
  • Muse: We are a web application development company specializing in complex applications.
  • Bob: Oh I see... you design web sites.
  • Muse: Well yes, but that's really a small part of what we do. We are really more on programming and problem solving side of the equation.
  • Bob (glibly moving on): Hey, you work with computers let me ask you something.
  • Muse (heart sinking): Ok
  • Bob: When I try to print sometimes I get this error. Why is that?
  • Muse (wishing a fight would break out and distract Bob): Well... (small sigh) ... I'm not sure. What does the error say?
  • Bob: I don't know I click OK and it goes away. But when I try to print again it comes back.
  • Muse: And what does it say the second time?
  • Bob (Unaware of the Pavlovian Cycle he is in): I don't know I click OK and it goes away. What do you think it means?
  • Muse: I'm afraid I have bad news. It might be time for a new printer.
  • Bob: Rats... I knew it.
  • Muse: Bob, let me ask you something... you work with cars right? I have this little chirping sound coming from the trunk of my 78 Nova every time I turn left on a Tuesday.... What do you think that means?
And on it goes. It's amazing how regular folks always boil down any technology job to "Oh... you work with computers" - by which they mean you tinker with hardware all day long. They automatically equate your skills to that of the local Best Buy Geek Squad. Not that there's anything wrong with being on the geek squad... some of my best freinds are hardware people.

Anyway, yesterday I was sort of not in a mood to mingle. Ann and I were in a line for some little mini roast beef sandwiches (thank you Brandeis catering) and we were chatting to ourselves waiting for the door prize drawings. A man who was working the room came up to me and said, "How are you this evening?" I turned and said fine and shook his hand and said "I'm Mark Kruger". He shook my hand with a practiced grip and said, "Nice to meet you I'm Jim Suttle". I nodded and made a comment about the food and then turned away.

Something was tickling the back of my mind... nagging at me like bad mayonnaise in the back of the fridge. Finally I got it (Ann's poking me helped a little too). Jim Suttle is Omaha's new mayor. I turned back and said "I'm sorry I guess I didn't put two and two together. It's really nice to meet you Mr. Mayor." He laughed and I laughed and Ann laughed and the waiter (a charming fellow with half an ounce of gold in his mouth) laughed. I could think of little else to say other than "You are shorter in person than on TV" - which I thankfully kept to myself. Anyway, it was an awkward moment for me and funny for everyone else. Sometimes I wonder about the Muse... I have no lack of confidence yet I seem so inattentive at times. I wish I had brought my good friend Tom Long with me. He's got a sales radar like an Ageis cruiser. I bet he could have held the mayor's attention for 5 minutes or more. Anyway, now that the mayor and I are on speaking terms I'll have to invite him to one of my candelight suppers.

Relief for Big City Residents

I like to say Omaha is a great place to live but you wouldn't want to visit there. Unless you are a College World Series fan or a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder there is little reason to choose Omaha as a destination for a vacation (or... let's be honest... even a weekend). Someday it might be known as the home of the Muse but for now it remains a hidden gem on the prairie. Folks around here are mighty friendly (if I could channel Buddy Epson for a moment). In contrast folks in truly recognizable "big" cities (NY, LA, Chicago et al) have a reputation for... well, let's just say impatience. I go most days in Omaha without ever hearing a horn honk, but it's hard to go a few minutes without hearing a horn in NY or Boston. I used to think this impatient, slightly rude state of mind was simply cultural, but my recent trip to the big city changed my mind.

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Best Buy in 1965 (Bring Your Firstborn)

I stumbled across this typewritten letter on the documents page of famed computer scientist Edsger W. Dijkstra. The letter, written in 1965 is a basic request for a quote for a "general purpose digital computer" for the Technological University at Eindhoven (in the Netherlands). What is notable is the specifications and price:

  • Number System - binary, not decimal. Hmmmm... Remember when base 10 systems were around? I don't.
  • Memory - (quoting here) "A random access memory with a capacity of say, one or two million bits". Two million bits would be 250,000 bytes and according to this handy calculator that puts RAM somewhere in the 256k range (on the high end). Someone shout out if I got the math wrong.
  • Backing Store - Discs or Drums. (quoting again) "We think that a capacity of 20 million bits would be sufficient." That sounds like about 2.5 megabytes - or .002 percent of a 1 GB USB key (do they make those any more?).
  • Input Mechanism - paper tape reader.
Other comments of note:
  • "We are not very attracted to punched cards." - I don't know of anyone who is, but there are crazy people out there on the Internet these days.
  • "If you have noisy line printers and silent line printers we should prefer the silent ones."
  • (regarding speed) "If a full length multiplication takes 10 mmsec it is fine; if it takes 25 mmsec we think it would be fine also. ...the difference hardly matters when in practice the machine spends eighty percent of its time winding and rewinding tapes!"

The Price

In 1965, what is the expected price of a machine as quoted above with less power than the music player in those annoying musical Hallmark cards? Dr. Dijkstra indicates to his prospective vendors:

"A million dollars is the upper limit. One or two years after the delivery we might be able to spend a quarter of a million to extend the installation if desired"

Isn't it amazing how far we have come? Here's a shout out to Dijkstra and all the other largely unheralded pioneers who slogged in the trenches so we can have I-phones, Macs, Netbooks and PCs today. Thanks guys! (We'll talk to you later about those musical cards - talk about the law of unexpected consequences...).

My Little Girl is All Grown Up... and Saving China

I apologize to regular Muse readers for taking a short sentimental journey. You might want a tissue. Oh... if you don't understand the title I added a note at the end of this post.

Life is change and change is hard. My daughter Jasmine moved into Creighton University on Saturday. Creighton is right here in Omaha - 15 minutes from my house. Yet even though we picked her up and took her to church with us yesterday I still feel a yawning hole in my heart. It is unlike summer camp or band trips or even the time she went to Nicaragua. Nothing will every really be the same for my wife and I from this moment on. We are officially embarking on our empty nest (one down, two to go).

As for Jasmine, she is the epitome of what a daughter should be. She is smart - I mean really scary smart as in the Nobel Prize committee should be checking up on her. She is sharp and witty too. She is nerdy just like her father and brothers. She is a caring and positive young woman with a natural energy and warmth so like her mother. In 18 years she has never given me cause to fear her judgment. She never used the air bags on the car. She never earned less than an A. She never broke curfew. She has never been sent to the principal's office. She has chosen her friends wisely. She has never failed to live up to and exceed our expectations. This is not the hyperbole of a doting father. It is the truth with my hand up. If she could learn to clean out her car and straighten her room I'd say she was perfect.

Jasmine fishing So here's to you Jasmine. I hope your college experience is everything you want it to be and more. I hope you find a passion for something that energizes you for the rest of your life. I hope your mind expands and opens to new and dizzying heights. I hope you find friends and companions who love and accept you and encourage you like you encourage others. Most of all I hope and pray that you will continue to grow in grace and wisdom as you embark on this new season of life. Meanwhile, hang in there and remember, the kettle is always on for you at home. I'm up for baking you a pie and the boys are always ready to bake cookies :). See you on Sunday.

FYI for Muse readers: The title is a line by Mushu, the little dragon played by Eddie Murphy in the Disney movie "Mulan". It is one line of many from various movies that are repeated around the Kruger household - to the chagrin of Mrs. Kruger I might add. Now back to our regularly scheduled technical programming.

Afghans and the Spirit of 1776

In this arresting photo, Afghan poll workers shuttle portable voting stations, ballets and ballet boxes into remote northern villages in Afghanistan using donkeys to hike over washed out roads and rickety bridges. Over 800 donkeys are being employed to get ballets in and out of some of the most rugged terrain on the planet. Today all over the country Afghans are risking life and limb to take pencil in hand and voice their choice for president. Threats from militants are non-stop and some Afghans will undoubtedly be injured and even die trying to do this simple civic duty.

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The Muse Takes Another Crack at Qw...uh... Pest Communications

I had another cold call from the phone company who's name fittingly rhymes with Pest. I know I know, I should give it a rest already. But these folks are so darn persistent it is hard not to take a poke at them. Here's how it went:

  • Jane [with a noticable Hindi accent]: This is Jane from Pest Communications. I would like a few minutes of your time. This is not a sales call. I just need to ask you about your current voice and data services.
  • Muse [While hating myself for thinking "Jane... really? Not Jalaja?"]: I don't think we are a Pest customer. Are we?
  • Jane [undeterred]: It will only take a few minutes sir, I just need to ask you a few questions about your current voice and data service.
  • Muse: ...and this is not a sales call.
  • Jane: No sir, we just need some information about your current contract.
  • Muse: ... and you know we are not a Pest customer right?
  • Jane [A bit like a bad rap song now... or maybe I should say a bit like a rap song]: Yes sir, we just need some information about your current voice and data services.
  • Muse: ... and Jane (may I call you Jane), why does Pest feel like they need this information?
  • Jane [sounding desperate now]: We just need to ask a few questions about your current contract. It will only take a few minutes.
  • Muse: But I don't think my current contract is any of Pest's business. What is Pests interest in the information?
  • Jane [wailing like Hermione after drinking the Cat's Polyjuice potion]: It will only take a few minutes sir. We just need to ask you a few questions.
  • Muse: No thank you, I don't wish to tell you anything about our current service or contracts. Could you take us off of your list?
  • Jane [calm now]: Thank you for your time.
Now perhaps I was unkind to Jane. I know she was just trying to do her job and she probably doesn't actually work for Qwe... er... Pest either. She's just the contract employee of some big call center somewhere that probably pays her half of an actual living wage. So let me say publicly to Jane that I'm sorry. Don't take my surly truculence too hard. The Muse is a tough nut to crack. In fact it has been years since anyone cold-called the Muse and managed to engage him in an actual conversation - let alone sell him anything.

Lest you think I'm alone, I have noticed that our society is becoming more and more jaded when it comes to marketing. I suppose it is inevitable. As consumers (particularly the under 40 crowd) get more savvy they become inoculated to most run of the mill sales techniques. Speaking for myself I never click on text link ads (nor do any of my readers apparently) or banner ads. I don't read marketing emails. I don't peruse the ads in the paper, or watch TV commercials (except for Geico commercials which I find amusing). And of course, I immediately cut off anyone I don't already know who calls me with a sales pitch.

The way I see it (and perhaps it's just me), the Internet has opened up the whole universe of knowledge, services and products to me as a searcher. I can usually find whatever I need. There is practically nothing I want or need that requires a sales person. I even bought my most recent pair of shoes on line. Indeed, I'd rather be stuffed with celery and onions, and periodically basted with butter in a 400 degree oven until golden brown than have to spend more than thirty seconds talking to someone who is trying to sell me something for which I'm not already looking. Now I'm off to work on my CF Webtools sales campaign for the 4th quarter (expect a phone call).

Sean Keith at the Sarpy County Fair

This post is for all you local Omaha folks. My good friend and fellow musician Sean Keith will be playing out at the Sarpy County Fair tonight at 6:00 pm. Sean is an exceptional Christian musician. He's the worship leader at our church and he has a new CD coming in the fall. He's also an all around good guy, my coffee klatch sounding board and sometimes golfing partner. Come on out, grab a corn dog, and listen to one of the best vocal talents I know.

Good Bye to One of Our Favorite Geeks

Last week one of my favorite developers walked into my office and gave his 2 week notice. Ryan Stille has taken a position with another company here in Omaha. We are extremely sad to see him go. Not Dumbledore dying in book 6 sad... but still really sad. I first met Ryan Stille years ago when I started the Nebraska ColdFusion User Group (Necfug.com). He and his co-worker drove to the meetings from Sioux City - about an hour and a half away. I had no idea that this chance meeting would turn into such a long and profitable friendship for me.

A little more than 3 years ago I was looking for an addition to my growing staff and Ryan graciously consented to come on board as a ColdFusion programmer. Ryan has been a tremendous asset to our staff in the time he has been here and CF Webtools has grown with his help and expertise. For one thing, we were mostly a Windows shop when Ryan came on board, but by now we are about half Windows and half Linux. It's no small feat to convince a guy (yours truly) who has made his living as an MCSE to move the bulk of his heavy lifting to Linux, but Ryan's quiet confidence made it a piece of cake.

Here are a few things I learned from Ryan over the years we have been associated.

  • Practically everything I know about Linux.
  • There is always a better way to do things.
  • There is probably a cheaper way to do things.
  • What an "unconference" is.
  • Geeks can be NASCAR fans.
  • Some ice is better than others. As a corollary, not all "on-tap" soft drinks are created equal.
  • If you are persistent you can buy a great used car for next to nothing.
  • 3 monitors are better than 2.
  • When it comes to monitors size does matter/
  • A good RC helicopter is expensive and can cause injury.
  • How to successfully manage a user group.

I hope he shines as brightly for his next employer as he has here at CF Webtools. He will be greatly missed. Actually, it's my fondest hope that he really hates his next place and comes crawling asking for his job back (with a substantial raise of course :). Anyway, good luck to you Ryan. We'll keep track of you on your blog and see you at the user group meetings. Here's hoping you continue to increase in knowledge and experience. I know if hard work and intelligence equal success you will undoubtedly rise to the top wherever you go.

TNT's "Leverage" Infiltrated by Oklahoma Fans?

One of the shows I like to watch with my wife and teenage kids is Leverage which stars (as TNT is constantly reminding us in promos) "Oscar winning Timothy Hutton". Actually the rest of the cast is pretty good too. This escapist drama is about a team of skilled criminals who have turned into white knights - taking down fat cats and power bosses on behalf of the little guy. The show reminds me of the slick British drama Hustle.

Normally I like Leverage. It is a fun and quirky romp that doesn't take itself too seriously. There is always a "gotcha" moment where you finally figure out how they make the big score. Unfortunately, Last night's episode "The Tap Out Job" was a huge disappointment in what has been an otherwise entertaining group of episodes. Why you ask? Well it became painfully obvious to me (and anyone else who has visited, driven through, read about, seen pictures of, flown over, or watched "The Tonight Show" before 1992) that the writers of Leverage are either too lazy to do any actual research or they are ignorant, prejudice, and snobbish with little experience outside of a the cocoon of Hollywood. If you want my no holds barred reasons why - read on.

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Google Wave - The Next Thing?

Like most geeks I love technology. I'm always reading about the cutting edge of research. I can become as engrossed in an online white paper about nano-technology as I am in my favorite TV Show - which is a toss up between the gritty AMC Drama Breaking Bad and the light hearted and endearing (although occasionaly gruesome) Pushing Daisies with the irrepresible Kristin Chenoweth as former Jockey-turned-waitress Olive Snook. Who else could make unrequited love seem so appealing and delicious... but I digress. This "forward leaning" interest in technology tends to create a momentum for me and even for my company (CF Webtools) that makes me prone to try new things. So when Google announces a ground breaking new paradigm for collaboration my temptation is to say "count me in". In case you missed the hype I'm talking about Google Wave which was previewed at Google I/O.

Google Wave aims to combine elements of email, chat, blogging, micro-blogging, collaboration, source control, and social networking into a single interface that claims to draw in all the best features of these tools while eliminating some of the annoying drawbacks. The paradigm for Google Wave moves away from "messages" and toward a "conversation". That might seem too abstract to matter, but such idioms are important because they give us an anchor - a point of reference for understanding something new.

Let me say at the outset that I'm positively inclined toward this product (at least, what I've seen of it). I can see how it would benefit my own team in many ways. I'm already thinking of how I might enhance our vast, custom tracking system using the Wave Protocol. One of the best things about Wave isthe protocol layer and integration strategy. So I am not against the product - indeed I'm rooting for it. I would love to get rid of our hodgepodge of tools in favor of one elegant way of collaborating. Still, I see some problems for Wave on the horizon. So if you want the contrarian view read on...

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Fun With Qw...Uh...Acme Communications

Muse readers and friends who know me well understand that I'd rather have my nether regions bitten by a Laplander than deal with sales people over the phone. However, as a (usually) caring person, I try not to let my personal ire show too forcefully when one of these hard working sales folks call. I know they are just doing their job. Recently however, one phone company has caused me to rethink my "no throttling the sales person" position. I won't say their name but it begins with a Q and ends with est - and in a twist it does not have a U in it. I guess these folks don't know how to spell NO either because they keep calling.

Usually it is pretty typical stuff like "are you happy with your phone service". I'm actually not happy with my phone service but I prefer not to discuss it with strangers over the phone. Still I'm usually pretty nice and say something like "we are not ready to make a change right now." The last 2 times however, the salesman has chosen a new tack. They are now trying to wheedle additional proprietary information out of me. Today things did not go so well....

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The Inquisitive Mind

A misconception about technical folks is that they are fully left-brained and incapable of true creativity. Anyone on the inner circle of geekdome knows this is not the case, but folks on the outside looking in often only see the engineering skills - attention to detail and minutia, obsession with systems and process, and a penchant for pocket protectors. Of course in the last 10 years you can add flip flops, body piercings and a sort of pigeon English consisting of acronyms, techno-babble and quips from Monty Python and the Princess Bride. That should tell you something in itself. There's more to IT folks than numbers and obscure discussions about the best Star Trek Movie (Khaaaan!!!!). That got me thinking.

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