Jim's Blog Ramblings about novels, comics, programming, and other geek topics


Homebrewing and Vermont Beer

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My Vermont Brewery tours were delayed a bit due to spending most of our weekends doing home improvement projects and yard work. Also, during the last few months I did get a chance to launch http://www.vtbeer.org and develop a WordPress plug-in using RateBeer API. Finally, I got the chance to make another small batch (1 gallon) of beer.


2010 Year in Review

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Another late year in review post.

Previous lists: 2009, 2008

Blogging in Review (2010)

Posts tallied from 2009-12-31 to 2010-12-31

Top 2010 Months (By Views)
  1. November (22,010)
  2. October (20,507)
  3. March (17,619)
  4. September (16,509)
  5. August (15,987)
Total Views

2010 (year) = 199,063


Life in Review (2010)

2010 continued my travels to a few cities that I’ve always wanted to visit and return to see sights that I missed the last time I visited the city.

* denotes a first time

(stopping at airports or just in town for business without sight seeing does not count towards list below)

US Destinations

Portland, Oregon *

  • Pittock Mansion *
  • Japanese Garden *
  • Multnomah Falls *
  • Washington Park *
  • Forest/Linnton Park *
  • Cannon Beach, Oregon *
  • Seaside, Oregon *

St. Petersburg, Florida *

  • Honeymoon Island State Park *
  • St. Petersburg Pier *
  • Historic Round Lake Park *
  • Straub Park *

Boston, Massachusetts *

  • Cape Cod (Eastham) *
  • Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (Cape Cod) *
  • Cape Cod National Seashore *
  • Provincetown *
  • Boston Commons *
  • Cheers Bar *
  • Beacon Hill’s Acorn Street *
  • Faneuil Hall *
  • Harvard (Cambridge) *

New York City, NY *

  • Times Square *
  • Two Broadway Plays (Chicago and Next to Normal) *
  • Rockefeller Center Plaza *
  • Penn Station *
  • Wall Street *
  • China Town *
  • Washington Square Park (NYU) *
  • New York City Public Library *

Washington, DC

  • Smithsonian Institute *
  • Iwo Jima Monument
  • National Gallery of Art *
  • Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum *
  • United States Botanic Garden *
  • United States Capitol (outside only) *
  • United States Supreme Court Building (outside only) *
  • Mt. Vernon Square *
  • US Navy Memorial *
  • Library of Congress, Jefferson Building *
  • Sully Park (near Dulles International Airport) *

San Juan, Puerto Rico *

  • San Juan National Historic Site (Castillo de San Cristobal) *

Las Vegas, Nevada

International Destinations
  • Grant Turk, Turk and Caicos *
  • Philipsburg, St. Maarten *
  • Half Moon Cay, Bahamas *
Local Events
  • Camping at Palomar Mountain *
  • Comic-Con 2010
  • Eastern Caribbean Cruise *
  • Jury Duty (as alternate Juror) *
  • The Avett Brothers and Brandi Carlile Concert (Los Angeles, CA) *
  • La Mesa Oktoberfest *

2009 Year In Review

This is a bit late, but I figure that it’s better than never.

See 2008 Year In Review for previous round up.


2008 Year In Review

I started blogging in late 2007, so I didn't compile a "Year in Review" post. I've broken the post into two main categories: Blogging and Life. The Blogging section will detail some of the statistics collected over 2008. The Life section will include a bit more about what I've done over the last 12 months.


Why is the San Diego Padres’ mascot a Friar instead of a Padre?

While attending a Padres game this weekend I was asked "why do the Padres have a friar for their mascot and not a padre?" (paraphrased)

I really had no answer to this question. I hadn't even thought much about it during my numerous years living in-and-around San Diego.

I attended my first Padre game back at Jack Murphy ("The Murph") Stadium around 1996 just before Qualcomm purchased the naming rights in 1997.

As a young kid playing baseball very far east of southern California in the 80s, I was (still am) a huge fan of Tony Gwynn and so I watched the Padres from afar. (I'm still holding out hope that he'll run for mayor and fix all of our city problems...)


Celebrity look alike

A few months ago, someone told me that someone else thought that I looked like Simon Pegg (the guy from Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and more recently Run Fatboy Run).

simon_pegg_lookalikeI can almost see a resemblance, especially if I grew a goat-tee, which is a possibility... It's something that I've wanted to do for a while...

Simon is a couple years older than me and a couple inches taller, but we share a receding hairline and light red/blond hair. I dunno, what do you think?

I watched Run Fatboy Run over the weekend, and it was an okay movie. It wasn't great by any means, but if you're into romantic comedies where the formula is a pretty standard guy gets girl, guy loses girls, girl falls for other guy, guy tries to win girl back, guy gets girl, etc. then you might like it.

I found it humorous in the British comedy sense. So if you liked Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead, then you might like this movie.

Gordon: Go on then, run!
Dennis: Isn't there some kind of like... special technique?
Gordon: Well... yeah... you put one leg in front of the other over and over again really really fast.

I think the underlying plot (a guy who doesn't commit to anything and hasn't ever finished anything) is interesting and almost makes me want to get out and start running again...

Dennis: I'm Not Fat! I'm Unfit!

- Simon Pegg as Dennis



Here's a few thoughts, links, and gripes that I've had while doing my taxes this year.

America is a land of taxation that was founded to avoid taxation.  ~Laurence J. Peter


I've never understood why stock brokers don't include the purchase date and cost basis on the 1099-B forms. Every year, I need to go back through my transaction list to determine exactly when I purchase a stock in order to determine short/long gain/losses. What's even worse, is when I purchase more stock and one transaction might be short and another transaction might be long terms.

A fine is a tax for doing something wrong.  A tax is a fine for doing something right.

Claim your property taxes

I have an impound account for my home loan. I know this isn't the best way of managing your money (since you don't earn interest on the money throughout the year). However, it is the easiest and I don't need to worry about writing two large checks at the end (Nov) and beginning (Jan) of each year.

Just in case you forget how much you are paying in property tax, you can view your bill online.

  • San Diego Property Tax
    Retrieve and review your property tax bill including an itemized assessments, fees, bonds, etc.

People try to live within their income so they can afford to pay taxes to a government that can't live within its income.  ~Robert Half

Claim your CA VLF

I can't remember, but I think I received my tax statement for my CA VLF last year after I filed. Luckily, there's an online form from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (CA DMV) that you can use to calculate how much you paid last year.



Democratizing Game Development

I've long been a fan of games and game development. I created my first game over 20 years ago and saved it to a cassette (remember those things we used to have in cars before CDs?) on my Coleco Adam computer.

I also remember creating numerous text driven games for my Apple IIc Plus using Applesoft BASIC and saving them to my 5 1/4 inch floppy disks. A few months ago, I found my first game development book (for SmartBASIC) and a stack of 5 1/4 inch floppy disks in my parents basement...

Well, that was a long time ago. Today, there's lots of great gaming libraries and 3D engines for the PC. I experimented with a few of these using C++, but I've rarely finished any of games before I got distracted on another project or something else came up.

A few years ago, Microsoft released the XNA framework for Visual Studio. This framework allowed developers to make games compatible with both PCs (Microsoft operating systems) and XBOX 360s. I participated in the version beta prior to it's release and I've worked with the 1.x and 2.x versions, but I still haven't finished any games so far.

I'm still pretty excited about the XNA framework and it's impact on the programming industry.  I've thought this was great for Microsoft since I heard the first rumors. I believe the XNA framework will bring young developers into the .NET world and even though very, very few will get into the game industry, they will take their .NET skills into the marketplace. Some colleges have even designed programming courses around the XNA framework.

At the Game Developers Conference this week, Microsoft announced their plans for the next version of XNA.  Version 3 will include "XBOX Live Community Games". They also announced support for game development on the Zune, which I think is a good direction also.

This provides developers the ability to upload their games to a community site where peers can download and review your games. If your game passes the peer reviews, then it will become available to all XBOX owners to download and play.

TalkingAboutGames provides a little more details stating:

Gamers will be able to rate user-created XBLA titles through XNA Creators Club once the service goes live... Once a game is submitted, it goes through a peer review process (which eliminates copyrighted material and/or prohibited content), and if it passes, it's made available for download over Creators Club, which will be located on the Xbox Live dashboard. If that's not enough, XNA games can now be played on your Zune as well.

Gamasutra has a lengthy article titled, "Democratizing Game Distribution". The article provides general instructions on the game submission process. The submission form will contain options for the developer to rate violence, sex, and mature content on a scale of 0 to 5, upload screenshots and movie trailers, and upload the game package (.ccgame file).  Next, fellow XNA Creator Club members can submit reviews and game defects (bugs) for the game. Once enough positive reviews have been submitted, XBOX users can download the game via the XNA Game Launcher.

There is a special preview of this ability available until mid-March. You can download the XNA games of The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, JellyCar, Little Gamers, Proximity HD, Rocketball, TriLinea, and Culture.

Maybe it's about time that I get back to work on my own game!


Using your iPod for learning a new language

If you've every wanted to learn a new language, it's easier than ever now. There's dozens of free resources for language lessons including Podcasts (mp3s) and documents (html & PDF). Open Culture provides the

Foreign Language Lesson Podcast Collection. (via Dumb Little Man)

The collection contains downloads and information for the following languages:

  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • Danish
  • Dutch
  • English
  • Finnish
  • French
  • German
  • Greek
  • Hebrew
  • Hindi
  • Irish
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Latin
  • Portuguese
  • Russian
  • Spanish
  • Swedish
  • Tagalog
  • Thai
  • Vietnamese
My Related Posts: ,


On the road again

Working on the west coast with the majority of my clients on the east coast inevitably requires a few trips out there. I made one of these trips to the corporate headquarters this week. This trip was so eventful, I figured that I'd post a personal and funny blog post. Some of my friends have been wanting to see a few little less technical posts and a few more personal ones. Here's a long read that might make a few chuckle.

Day 1 - Heading east

I scheduled my flight for an afternoon departure, which would put my arrival around 10PM. I figured that I would have a few hours in the morning when I could finish packing and check my email before rushing out the door to the airport.  Early that morning, I got a call from a co-worker (client in this case, since I do internal/corporate development) that I was going to be meeting with. The conversation went a little like:

Are you staying at the same place?

Nope, I'm staying at a different place this time.

Didn't you like the other one that you stayed at last time. It's just down the road from the office.

It was okay, but I wanted to try something different this time.

What's the name of it?

Blah Blah in Blah city.

Blah city? That's like an hour away!

What? That was the "corporate preferred place" and I think it said it's just 10 miles away on the web site.

<both turn to Google for help on where it is>

Wow, that is a long way away. I'll change my booking. Thanks

Somehow I'd used the corporate travel service and that hotel had been listed at the top of the page and I had selected it since it sounded a little better than my last place. I call the old place make a reservation, but can only make it for 2 of 3 nights. I made the reservation hoping that I'll be able to get a third night there.

So I proceeded to call the new (farther away) hotel to cancel, but they can't cancel since the reservation was made through the travel agency - only the travel agency can cancel it. I have no idea who the travel agency is or how to contact them since everything is submitted through our intranet. After digging through my mail, I finally tracked down a 1-800 number on an automated email sent with my itinerary. I was able to call and cancel the hotel.

I finish packing and hailed a taxi to the airport. Somehow every time I've ever taken a taxi to the airport, it's a different price even if they drive the same route and it's only a mile or so there. I even get the taxi at the same spot.

Like most times, I arrived at the airport way too early, but at least I usually have time to grab food and get some free Wi-Fi before the flight. I entered and walked to the self-check-in automated machines - no lines, cool. I had no baggage to check in, so I thought this was going to be another nice quick check-in process.

For some reason, the self check-in machines were not working for me. So I tried another one there. Nope, that one didn't work either. So I got in the ticket counter line. At the ticket counter there is another self check-in automated machine. I figured, what the heck, if it didn't work on the row of machines over there, why would it work any different over here.

At least this machine recognized me, but told me to pick up the phone next to the machine to talk to someone. The airline representative on the other end said that my flight was on hold and I needed to talk to a person there. I have no idea why the machine just couldn't have displayed text saying to talk to a human instead of telling me to talk to a human who told me to talk to another human.

The airline representative discovered that my plane had been delayed from O'Hare and would arrive about two hours late (hence depart at least two hours late if there was a short turn-around). Instead of waiting, I asked for another flight and she found one connecting through LAX and departing in about thirty minutes from the commuter terminal.

I hurried outside and caught the Red Bus for a ride over to the commuter terminal. As I was sitting in the van, I noticed that it was about fifteen minutes before take-off. The airline representative forgot to tell me that it was getting ready to take off. I hoped that I'd catch this flight, otherwise I'd be stuck trying to get back on the delayed flight or take my chances with another flight.

As I was passing through security, they discovered that I had toothpaste and aftershave lotion that needed to be removed from my bag which delayed me a bit. At the same time, my name was being hailed over the intercom as the other passengers of that flight had already been seated. I made that flight as the last person on board.

Once at LAX, I rushed over to the other terminal and picked up a bite to eat on the way. Once I got to the gate, I noticed I had about thirty minutes before loading should begin. The gate looked empty, so I hoped there'd be a few empty seats near me.

I found a nice seat and began to eat my lunch (a nicely overpriced cheeseburger). After taking the last bite, I started on my fries. Then  I heard the "last call" notice for my flight. Apparently, I was so hungry or oblivious to my surroundings that I had missed all of the loading calls. I think the others had began loading before I arrived - which explains why the area looked empty. Luckily, I caught that flight as the last person to board once again.

On board, I decided to connect my iPod to my laptop. I had copied a few files onto my iPod from my personal desktop in order to transfer the files to my work laptop, but I didn't finish it at home - I figured that I'd just copy the files over at the airport or on the plane. So I start digging through my backpack for my iPod USB cable. I couldn't find it. Looked again. Still couldn't find it. Looked through every pocket and crevice on the backpack. Still no sign of it. Oh well, at least I brought a good book to read and can listen to music on my iPod.

Arrived at Dulles with a chilling 32 degrees outside and proceeded to pick up my rental car. Before heading out the door, I pulled out my jacket and donned it.  As I was walking out the door, I heard a cling behind me.  Turning around, I found that my watch had flown off my wrist and down the hallway. Luckily, I heard that sound, turned around, and actually noticed it was my watch. Somehow, it got unlatched during putting on my jacket.

Okay, back on track... Headed to picked up my rental car from the preferred corporate agency. To my surprise, the guy asks, "Is a Prius okay?" I responded, "Sure."

Most people don't know this, but the Toyota Prius is my self-proclaimed arch-nemesis of cars. Every time I see one, I think I'll see that "Mac Guy" driving it with a conceded little smirk wearing a Bluetooth earpiece connected to his iPhone while listening to his iPod in a custom built docking station made special for the Prius. Why do cars with good gas mileage have to look so awful? I've never driven one and I'm always game for trying different types of rental cars, so I decided that I needed a first hand experience with it.

Once I get to the car, I reach to turn the key, but it doesn't turn. I pull out the key and realize that it's not a key at all, just a block of metal that looks like the the car lock/unlock/alarm device that most people carry on their key chain. So I push the device back into the slot.

I'm starting to push all kinds of buttons, but nothing's happening. Finally, I find the "Power" button and press it. Finally, a sign of life here. Well, almost. Some of the systems is working, but the engine isn't running.

At least I have heat now, it's 32 degrees outside the console says. The previous driver had the climate control set to 85 degrees - that's a bit too warm for me, so I look for the climate control. It's not to be found anywhere on the console. I looked everywhere and finally find it on the steering wheel. After a few minutes, I'm finally able to adjust the temperature. (Afterwards, I found the "Climate" screen that allows me to set the temperature via the console.)

By now, I've begun talking aloud to myself proclaiming that this is the most confusing car I have ever been in.  My next challenge was to actually get the car into gear. Even though, I don't hear anything I know that the Hybrids run pretty quiet and the heater's making a ton of noise anyway.

I think this was the most confusing part of all. (In fact, this took several trips over the next day before I thought that I had figured out the exact starting steps). I kept pressing buttons and rebooting the car until finally, I saw that Drive engaged.

Headlights came on automatically. Whew, that's one thing I don't need to look for. Windshield wipers has been on for a long time now, so I finally begin the search to turn those off.

On the road, finally.

As I was driving, I wanted to find a Circuit City, Best Buy, or even Wal-Mart to buy an iPod USB cable. I had checked at Dulles before I left, but the workers had no idea if any store there sold iPod accessories or not. Luckily, there's a Circuit City across the street from my hotel.

This should be a piece of cake, I thought. I walked in, picked up item, proceeded to checkout - about 60 seconds total time. Then I proceeded to stand in line for about 25 minutes as a two struggling cashiers look dumbfounded at the cashier machines and each other while about 15 techs walk around the store bored (the only people in the store were in the checkout line). I thought, why not just open the other registers so everyone can get checked out - but then I realized that they probably weren't certified to operate those machines.

Finally, get up to the cashier and I have no idea what the guy behind the counter is doing. I almost wanted to grab the scanner from him and scan it myself. (Actually, this reminded me of my Starbucks visit were it seemed like all of the workers were high and took an inordinate amount of time for two simple drinks.) Swiped my card, finished the transaction, and then I tore off my own receipt from the machine as the guy just stood there staring the console.

Ok, to the hotel... Checked in, got 2 free cookies. Sweet. That's my dinner for tonight. As I was putting away my clothes from my other carry-on, I find my iPod USB cable.

Day 2 - Meetings part 1

I went downstairs and picked up a few muffins, a yogurt, and coffee from the hotel before heading to work. I then sat in meetings all day. I actually had to leave one meeting while on break to go to another meeting.

It's interesting when you have contractors in the room and you're the client. Most of my career, I've been the contractor meeting with my clients, but this time it was a reversed since our consultants were there (Microsoft and another MS business partner).

It's funny to meet people a while after you've talked with them or email them. Email is so impersonal and it's easy to appear confrontational. It's the same thing with phone conferences sometimes, so I never really know how others will remember me, but most remember that I'm usually the guy that gets things done or figures things out.

Somehow every one there thinks I'm some sort of superstar, but I know that I'm just a hack and the things they ask for are all relatively simple tasks. They were just used to getting slow or no responses from others.  Last time, I visited one of the people I had briefly talked before sort of complimented me saying, "I'd thought you'd be taller." WTF?

I had a great seat to watch the snow continue to fall all day during our meetings. Unfortunately, I didn't park in the employee underground parking area.

I walk outside to find the Prius covered in snow with about 3-4 inches on the roof and hood. Luckily, a coworker had some gloves a rag to help clear my windshield and hood. I make a mental note to bring a windshield scraper and gloves next time I come out here during the winter.

If I had taken the original hotel, then instead of a 5 mile (20 minute commute) that I now faced with the closer hotel, I'd need to drive about 2 hours or more in the snow and there were tons of accidents everywhere there due to the snow and ice.

I fumble around with the Power button and gear shifter and finally get the Prius into reverse. At this point, I still don't know what I'm doing right to get it into gear. The digital camera display for reverse is a nice feature on the display, but the display distorts the distance to things making them appear to be extremely far away. The camera is even nicer because the rear window is covered in ice right now and the camera is clear and looks fine.

I had dinner and a few beers with a few co-workers at a local Italian place. Upon returning to the Prius, I finally figure out the three stage power button. Instead of thinking of Power as on/off, there's a third mode that is the same as when you turn the key backwards in your vehicle - where most systems operate but the engine isn't running. You have to press the button just right to get it to turn the engine on, otherwise, you'll end up in that other mode. Since you can't hear any sound from the engine, you can't really tell what mode you are in, except for the illumination color of the Power button (something I'd missed before).

When I got back to my room, I noticed that I had three new voice messages. I was hoping that it was the front desk letting me know that my room had become available for my last day, but it wasn't the case...

Voice mail 1 (paraphrased): [7:15 PM] Woman with condensing and accusatory voice tells me that she is disappointed that I'm out drinking with Art again.

No idea who that was or who Art is, but I was out drinking. This is a bit interesting, so deleted it and continued on.

Voice mail 2 (paraphrased): [7:35 PM] Same woman still upset that I'm not there and then finishes the call by calling a whore.

Nice. Deleted. Continue to next message.


Voice mail 3 (paraphrased): [7:45 PM]: Same woman claims that I don't care about our daughter and says some not-so-polite things that I can't post here and then hangs up.

Deleted. No more messages. Whew.

Just for the record, I don't have any kids, was never married, and I have no idea who she was, who she was trying to reach, or who the guy's drinking buddy is. She definitely had the wrong room.

About 45 minutes later, she called back and sounded confused when it wasn't who she expected and I told her I had no idea who that guy was. Finally, I think she realized she'd been given the wrong room number.

After thinking about it a little more, I think this guy had set himself up for the perfect alibi. He'd accidentally given her the wrong room number and went out drinking with his buddy. This way, he could say he was in his room all night waiting for her to call. Or maybe, he really did accidentally given her the wrong room number. Yeah, right...

Day 3 - Meetings part 2

I was able to changed rooms early in the morning before heading into the office. I was greeted with a nice chilling 21 degrees in the morning, but at least it's not snowing.

We watched a nice Titan (Microsoft Dynamics CRM v4) PowerPoint presentation and live demo from the Microsoft representatives. It seems like my future is trending into and towards CRM, but at least the new version is fully managed code now.

Along with Microsoft, we went through some of the CRM SQL Server maintenance plans and configuration details and found lots of things that needed to be fixed. We talked a little about Sharepoint integration with the new version of CRM. I also think that I'll be moving towards Sharepoint development probably sometime next year.

I'm starting to like the Prius console display, but it's a bit distracting. In most cars, I can use the radio or mess with the AC/heat controls without even looking at the controls, but not here. It feels like there'd be a lot of accidents from drivers not watching the road while they mess with the console display.

I thought I had figured out how to boot up the car, but it appears that I was mistaken. I'm still having trouble getting it to fully start, but after a few reboots or resets or whatever, it eventually gets going, but I still don't know exactly what I'm doing.

Day 4 - Heading west

It's warmed quite a bit this morning and it's about 27 degrees this morning. It'll warm up a few more degrees as I drive to return the rental car. I hoped that I could make the entire trip with the fuel gauge still in the Full position and almost made it, but on the way to the car rental drop-off the gauge dropped a bar.

It hailed a little bit on my drive to the airport, but overall it's much nicer than a few days ago. It is nice being able to pay less than $3/gallon for gas, but I only needed to buy a gallon or so.

Another thing that puzzles me is the inconsistencies with TSA inspections. I have no idea why they made me removed my sweater, that's the first time I've ever had to do that. It will be nice when we can bring bottled water back into the terminal instead of paying x3 as much for it after we get passed the gate, but I'm sure the corporations within the airports will lobby against that ever going back to how it was before.

Dulles seemed to have free Wi-Fi, just like San DiegoLindbergh, but it doesn't seem to be working (unlike San Diego/Lindbergh). I also noticed that many of the major Wi-Fi carriers had Wi-Fi connections that required you to pay by the hour, maybe that's why the airport doesn't have a working free Wi-Fi.

My flight back was rather uneventful. I really wish that in all the cutbacks the airlines have done that they'd remove the ability to lean back in your chairs instead of cutting out the food services.

I was able to finish the sci-fi book I had started a few days ago and it was actually pretty good. I hope to write a short blog entry about the book soon which will probably be followed up with an entry about the related video game that was also just released.

As I was reading and listening to my iPod, the guy sitting next to me interrupted me to inform me of a picture of a a polar bear on a piece of floating ice in the airline magazine. He thought it was funny that the bear was "surfing", I think he was a bit confused when I didn't laugh at the advertisement.  A bit later he noted that my soda can contained the same color as his can of fruit juice. Another interesting observation, but one that I don't think many would consider noteworthy.

Another interesting thing to note was the guy had 6 different color pens in a pocket protector. I didn't even think they sold pocket protectors any more. They were accompanied by a pocket calculator and a very thick checkbook/daily planner. His activities continued to intrigue me when he pulled out his rental car paperwork and the Consumer Reports book on the 2007 car models. He began reading and taking notes on the rental car paperwork about the various cars and highlighting passages in the book. Lastly, he added a little commentary during the flight such as, "Runners to your mark" as we taxied to the takeoff and "Ride'em cowboy" as we went through some turbulence.