Posts with mood content (25)

Windows Phone: info about Windows Phone 8.1 and //build/ sessions
Mood: content
Posted on 2014-04-08 20:58:00
Tags: windowsphone wpdev
Words: 2065

For Windows Phone developers, Microsoft's //build/ conference was a very exciting place! Here's some information for you about developer-specific stuff (Cortana, etc. you can read about plenty of other places...which is not to say Cortana doesn't have some cool stuff for developers!)

The first link to read is What's next for Windows Phone 8 developers. All of the apps for Windows Phone 8 are written against the Silverlight API, and while this is still supported in Windows Phone 8.1, the new APIs that are common with existing Windows 8 apps are called a "Windows Phone Store" or "XAML". (neither one of which is terribly helpful...but I digress) If you want to keep your app as a Silverlight app, here are Supported features for Windows Phone Silverlight 8.1 apps. If you're looking to port your app to the new APIs, check out Migrating your Windows Phone 8 app to a Windows Runtime XAML app, and there's also a very helpful post about Windows Phone 8.1 for Developers–What Controls Are New.

Don't forget: if you want to get the Windows Phone 8.1 update early (and who doesn't?), check out the Windows Phone Preview for Developers - I believe the update will be ready in a week or so.

My notes for the //build/ sessions I went to are below. I'd particularly recommend the "Live Tiles Enhancements", "Nokia APIs", and "Animations in Phone XAML Apps" sessions. My fellow ambassador Lance McCarthy collated videos of all the Windows Phone-related //build/ sessions.

Big news was Windows Phone 8.1 (Action Center for notifications, Cortana, universal apps which shows further unification between Windows 8 and Windows Phone APIs)
Windows free on all <9" devices - seems to change MS's business model, at least on phones
Open-sourced "Roslyn" C# compiler! Not ready for production code yet, but available on github
.NET Foundation ( ) - has open source .NET stuff, including MEF
new JIT compiler RyuJIT - (good for startup time and general performance), now has SIMD support
.NET Native ( ) - compiles C# all the way to native code (uses C++ optimizer). Still can use all CLR features (garbage collection, etc.) Only for Windows Store apps now. (compiles in the cloud?)

Microsoft logo is colors of Office Red, Xbox Green, Windows Blue, Bing Orange!

Wed Day 1 Keynote

New WP 8.1 (Action Center, Cortana)
Universal apps through "shared" project (not PCL, so you can #if, etc.)
Improved mouse/keyboard support in Win81
- Start menu coming back later this year! But with tiles and stuff
Someday can target XBox with Windows APIs
Nokia phones (630/635 and 930) with SensorCore
Windows free on all <9" devices!
Kinect v2 for Windows
preview of Office Metro for Windows

Wed 4/2 4PM 2-582 Tips and Tricks in Visual Studio 2013 Cathy Sullivan
settings sync (to MS account)
search in Tools->Options, Soln Explorer, Error List
Ctrl + double-click window to redock
Ctrl+F4 to close a document
in quick search bar can use filters like @mru (most recently used documents) and @opt (options)
Scrollbar preview thingy - can see changes you've made!
Ctrl+, = Navigate to
Alt+F12 = Code Peek (opens up a temporary window with the definition of what your cursor is on)
- Esc closes
Code Lens - inline view of recent changes, references, etc. (hold Alt to trigger?)
Productivity Power Tools -
- can show which files have errors in Solution Explorer
- Bing code search (searches MSDN, Stack Overflow, etc.)

Thu Day 2 Keynote
Lots of Azure - 57% of Fortune 500 use it
Manage Azure machines from inside Visual Studio
Browser Link - live edit page in browser, reflects back to Visual Studio!
Azure Mobile Services stuff
.NET Native - can compile .NET assemblies to real native code!
Roslyn .NET compilers - refactoring preview, now open source! (, modified lexer to use french quotes for string constants very quickly. Works on Xamarin too
".NET Foundation" - for .NET open source stuff

Thu 1PM 2-588 .NET in a world of devices and services
Best end-to-end dev experience
BYO platform, framework, tools
6M professional .NET developers, 1.8B machines have .NET installed
new JIT compiler RyuJIT - (good for startup time and general performance), now has SIMD support
Roslyn - add language stuff, good for VS extensibility, diagnostics for style guidelines (i.e. if statements w/o braces), easy to see preview and fix it. - source for .NET stuff
.NET Foundation ( ) - has open source .NET stuff, including MEF
.NET Native ( ) - compiles C# all the way to native code (uses C++ optimizer). Only for Windows Store apps now. (compiles in the cloud?)
Efforts have been towards: Native, Open, Cross-Platform

Thu 2:30PM 2-523 Live Tiles Enhancements
Tiles are good unobtrusive notifications
same templates on Win8 and WP now, although WP might not show every field (no Square310x310 for WP)
Windows Notifications Service - now used on WP as well for client and server. SSL for free.
Types of tile update schedules: Local, Scheduled, Periodic (like on Windows - every 30 mins polls a URL for tile XML data), Push (can do a Raw one which will cause your app to run in the background)
Can do test push notifications through emulator
App.OnNewTilePinned event (to set up polling)
WP Tile notification queue - can cycle through 5 notifications which can have different templates, also support for expiring notifications
Same XML for Win/WP - can use Versions & Fallbacks to support Win8 (instead of 8.1).
Advice: put WP templates first
Session 2-521 - Notifications Deep Dive
Draw tiles - WritableBitmap old, XamlRenderingBackgroundTask is new. Recommend doing in C++ to avoid hitting memory cap.
"Debug Location" toolbar in VS can let you fire Lifecycle Events
App Tile Updater sample
Session 2-517 - what's new
Tips for tile scaling (see presentation)
Live tiles for websites using meta tags

Thu 4PM 3-545 Quality and Performance for XAML apps
Reduced memory usage for XAML in WP8.1
TestListViewer class can extend from ListViewer and log when items get prepared/released (PrepareContainerForItemOverride()) to ensure virtualization is working corectly.
Putting ListViewer in a StackPanel can defeat virtualization! (because StackPanel gives infinite space)
- using a Grid instead will fix
Performance Monitor in VS to log CPU, memory usage, etc.
- can take "snapshots" to see objects in memory, do a diff, see why things in memory
double.Parse can break in german ("34.56" -> 3456) - code analysis rule will catch (pass in InvariantCulture)
Multilingual Editor for localization - can auto translate strings via Bing!
Pseudo-localization - puts in crazy characters, can find non-localized strings
Test on screen sizes, no network, themes, optional HW (no front-facing camera)
Automated tests (unit, UI)
- for UI test do New Project->Coded UI Test Project, can navigate, assert that images exist, etc.

Thu 5:30PM 2-549 Nokia APIs
Imaging, Context, Location Music
Imaging SDK v1.2 - easy GIF creation, local image blend, Image Aligner
ChromaKey - pick color to make transparent, combine images (green screen)
blend filter
Can select areas that are background vs. foreground
SensorCore - sense if walking, running, driving, or idle
SC requires HW (only on 630/5, 930 for now...may come to others later??)
Can go back 10 days to get data
Step Counter, Activity Monitor, Place Monitor, Route Tracker

Fri 9AM 4-587 Native code performance on modern CPUs
Cool new instruction in AVX2 - Fused multiply accumulate (FMA)
AVX instructions=some floating point 256-bit SIMD instructions
AVX2 instructions=more 256-bit SIMD instructions
compiling w/ AVX2 instructions available in VS 2013 Update 2
Profile always - can use VS Performance Analyzer, Intel VTune Amplifier, AMD CodeXL
Case study: on Haswell FP multiply=5 cycles, FP add=3 cycles, Fused multiply accumulate(FMA) does both in 5 cycles
For A*B+C, FMA is faster, as expected
For A*B+C*D:
non-FMA code looks like
mul A,B->A
mul C,D->C
add A,C->A
but two multiplies can run in parallel (since multiple ALUs) and the whole thing takes 5+3=8 cycles
FMA code looks like
mul A,B->A
fma A,C,D->A
and takes 5+5=10 cycles!
For things like dot product, FMA is way faster. Haswell has 2 FMA units
cycle timings are different on AMD chips! performance is hard
Sidenote: "xmm" registers are 128-bit, "ymm" registers are 256-bit
SSE2 and AVX allow 128-bit autovectorization
AVX2 allows 256-bit autovectorization
You might think 256-bit instructions would make your code 2x faster than using 128-bit instructions, but that ignores memory latency. Optimizing your code by using vector instructions moves your code from CPU-bound to memory-bound. You can see this in Intel's VTune.
Case study: Eigen3 benchmark with AVX2 was 60% than with SSE2! AVX was also slower, and this only showed up on Haswell, not Sandy Bridge.
key difference was turning two 128-bit vector copies into a 256-bit vector copy
Intel VTune showed "Loads blocked by Store Forwarding" was high
Store buffers are a small table of address and data that has been stored to them (42 of them on Haswell) - lets you avoid hitting the real cache if you later to a load on an address in a store buffer.
But loads that overlap multiple store buffers don't get optimized and have to go to cache
An earlier 128-bit store was causing that to be in a store buffer, and then the 256-bit copy couldn't read from it so it had to go to cache!
(this perf bug is in VS 2013 Update 2, fix coming)
512-bit vector instructions are coming

Fri 10:30AM 2-529 Sensor Platform Enhancements in Windows Phone
accelerometer, compass, gyrometer, inclinometer, light sensor, orientation, simple orientation
Can respond to light sensor to add contrast in especially dim/bright settings
Outdoors=5K-50K lux
Indoors Bright=500-1K lux
Indoors Dim=10-100 lux
Dark Room=0-10
If you do respond to these, do gradual changes and use hysteresis to avoid weird toggling effects
Orientation sensor - if it's facedown, maybe ignore gestures?
Lock screen apps can now access sensors. Background apps can also access sensors by registering for a DeviceUseTrigger, although a limited number of apps can do this at once. Also needs special declaration in Appxmanifest.
Can control sensors in WP/Win emulator
remember that background task runs in a separate process
For orientation, display=how pictures on screen are shown, device=physical positioning
Be careful about power usage: can adjust reporting interval in background tasks, make sure you dispose unneeded sensor refs!
if the foreground app crashes your background task can linger
For magnetometer can get whether it's high or low accuracy (based on HW quality, etc.)
Snapdragon sensor core has a low-power core to get sensor data
In WP 8.1 sensor drivers are in user-mode, not kernel-mode

Fri 2PM 3-554 Animations in Phone XAML Apps
Timing is crucial - don't make animations too slow
Can be annoying - careful about repeating them!
Animations are great as subtle feedback (like tilt effect when tapping an item)
*ThemeTransition and *ThemeAnimation are the classes involved
some transitions/animations are on WP only, some are on Win and WP but look different, some are on both and look the same
transitions are when page is entered/exited or when items are moved in a ListBox, etc. and are triggered automatically. Animations are on particular elements, and are triggered manually.
animations extend from Timeline class
transitions are specified in XAML with something like <uielement.Transitions><TransitionCollection><ReorderThemeTransition/></TransitionCollection></uielement.Transitions>
animations are put in a Storyboard
PageNavigationThemeTransition's - when navigating from page A -> page B, uses transitions in page B (when going forward or back)
attached property DefaultNavigationTransitionInfo
other transitions: Common (the default one), Slide, Continuum
Even with Common, can get a staggering effect in a ListView - in the transition set IsStaggeringEnabled="True", in the control set attached property IsStaggerElement="True"
Slide - quick animation for leaf node pages (like facebook comments page)
Continuum - text of selected element flies out/in. Good for master->details page (like tapping on an email in email app)
Specify elements with ContinuumNavigationThemeTransition.IsEntranceElement on page B, CNTT.IsExitElement on page A. (for performance, also need CNTT.ExitElementContainer on the container in page A)
New parameter to Navigate() method - can override animation by passing NavigationTransitionInfo.
PopUpThemeTransition - built into Flyouts, Jump lists
PointerUpDownThemeTransition (i.e. "tilt effect") - built into button, ListViewItem, etc.
Uses VisualStates and VisualStateManager like on Win. Can go to a particular state (i.e. "Pressed" or "None") in code with VisualStateManager.GoToState()
SlideInThemeTransition for Pivot swiping. Can set attached property Pivot.SlideInAnimationGroup on contents (up to 3 levels of staggering)
A few builtin animations - "Accordion" (compression) for scrollable elements when reach the top/bottom, page rotation animation with crossfade, menu flyout show and hide

See all my Windows Phone development posts.

I'm planning on writing more posts about Windows Phone development - what would you like to hear about? Reply here, on twitter at @gregstoll, or by email at


Interested in developing for Windows Phone? I'm the Nokia Developer Ambassador for Austin - drop me a line at!


lots of links: misconceptions of poverty, more basic income stuff, baseball
Mood: content
Posted on 2013-11-14 15:53:00
Tags: links
Words: 200

- Poverty in America is Mainstream - some interesting facts here, like it affects way more people than I thought, although the average time spent in poverty is relatively short, which certainly challenges my preconceptions. Along the same lines - 7 Things No One Tells You About Being Homeless (a surprisingly serious piece from Cracked)

- Yet another article about Switzerland's proposal for a basic income - the more I read about this the more I'm convinced this is a good idea, or at least worth trying.

- How the Super-Rich Are Abandoning America - yeah, that's depressing.

- Interesting article on how baseball would be different if they only played 16 games a season instead of 162.

- An article about how an ad agency would market broccoli - apparently, picking a fight with kale is good business!

- 39% of people in South Carolina support same-sex marriage - whoa! For some perspective, in 2006 a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage passed 78-22%.

- Oklahoma! Where the Kids Learn Early - wow, apparently Oklahoma has universal prekindergarten!

- Occupy Wall Street activists buy $15M of Americans' personal debt - at the cost of $400K. Nifty!

- China discovers that pollution makes it really hard to spy on people - well, that's...something.

- An awesome-looking tea calendar (thanks Andrew!)


a few pictures from Houston, Battlehack and Rose-Hulman
Mood: content
Posted on 2013-10-05 16:18:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 120

Click for full images!

<- RIP Astrodome

<- The most amazing Buc-ees ever. (in Waller) The first thing I've come across that the Lumia 1020 can't capture all of it's awesomeness :-)

<- I thought "hmm, I actually didn't know waterjets could cause injury!" And then...

<- The waterjets are punching out lines in the metal! It eventually made the shape of an axe. Then I stayed away from the waterjets.

<- The "What would you make?" board at TechShop. (that might not be its official name, but it's kinda catchy, no?)

<- I went to Rose-Hulman for recruiting. The career fair was held on a track!

<- In the Chicago airport, I saw this penguin tie (at the Field Museum gift shop) that I had to get :-)


Pictures from Mike and Catherine's wedding
Mood: content
Posted on 2013-09-15 22:14:00
Tags: pictures
Words: 48

Here are a few - see the gallery for the rest!

(click for full picture) <- David and I all dressed up before Mike and Catherine's wedding.

<- People hanging out outside before dinner started.

<- Our table had a giant bouquet of flowers!

<- Jonathan and Sarah tearing up the dance floor!


link thursday: hospital prices, kickstarter space telescope, donated cars
Mood: content
Posted on 2013-06-13 16:57:00
Tags: links
Words: 333

In case you missed it, I released my HospitalPrices app for Windows Phone! There's a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation competition I might enter if I can get more data in the app.

We were on vacation last week (recap/pictures coming soon!) but I still managed to collect a bunch of quality links:

- Colonoscopies Explain Why U.S. Leads the World in Health Expenditures - more along the line of hospital pricing, procedures are more expensive here.

- A space telescope on Kickstarter! If you contribute enough you get to point the telescope at whatever you want! Awesomesauce.

- Want to Save Civilization? Get in Line - lines are cool, and paying to skip lines at theme parks makes me sad. (touches on the same themes as What Money Can't Buy, an excellent book which it's probably about time to re-read...)

- A nice longform article about the queer games scene - that "Lim" game sounds very poignant. Who was saying video games can't be art, now?

- “Warning” signs at historical sites tell visitors to relax and enjoy themselves - these are excellent!

- What Happens to Donated Cars? - the short version is, it's very lucrative for the companies that charities contract out to. It's also an overly-generous tax break. The only thing missing is much benefit for the charity! (I wonder if this explains why we hear promos the KUT vehicle donation program all the time?)

- A researcher has decoded prairie dog calls - one step closer to Darwin from seaQuest DSV!

- Barns Are Painted Red Because of the Physics of Dying Stars - fairly basic physics/cosmology, but still neat if you stop and think about it.

- How the Robots Lost: High-Frequency Trading's Rise and Fall - good news, I guess?

- Google Trends in real-time - I thought this was showing searches in real time, but I think it's just a neat visualization of Google Trends. Oh well.

- Re the NSA story: if you haven't, you should read NSA Bombshell Story Falling Apart Under Scrutiny; Key Facts Turning Out to Be Inaccurate and The Snowden Prism


link friday: seven minute workout, math proofs, supreme court <3's corporations
Mood: content
Posted on 2013-05-17 14:05:00
Tags: links
Words: 270

- The Scientific 7-Minute Workout - sounds promising?

- The Paradox of the Proof - very nice article about the possible proof of the ABC Conjecture.

- Corporations Find a Friend in the Supreme Court - I hadn't realized this, but

While the current court’s decisions, over all, are only slightly more conservative than those from the courts led by Chief Justices Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist, according to political scientists who study the court, its business rulings are another matter. They have been, a new study finds, far friendlier to business than those of any court since at least World War II.

- Charity can't fill holes in aid to poor - the idea that private charities can step in to help the poor instead of the government just isn't borne out by the numbers.

- What's next Google? Dropping SMTP support? - Google seems to be stepping away from open standards, which makes me a sad panda. (also, they seem to really dislike Windows Phone => sad panda x 2)

- Infographic: Is Your State's Highest-Paid Employee A Coach? (Probably) - nice work by Deadspin.

- A Simple Graph That Should Silence Austerians and Gold Bugs Forever - it's not exactly a scientific experiment (wish that we could do those in economics!), but it's pretty convincing.

- Shaking Off Loneliness - being lonely is pretty bad for you healthwise. (and what matters is how you see yourself, not your raw number of friends or connections)

- Caught you red-handed: 9 games with creative copy protection - prompted by the recent Game Dev Tycoon story, but there are some blasts from the past in there!

- Check out the web cartoonists continuing Calvin And Hobbes - good stuff!


Windows Phone: debugging crashes in a released app
Mood: content
Posted on 2013-01-19 18:45:00
Tags: windowsphone wpdev
Words: 415

Unfortunately, bugs are a fact of life, and your app will probably crash occasionally in the wild. But, there are a few nifty tools to help you debug them after the fact.

I wrote about Little Watson a while ago, and while it's helpful, it does require the user to send in a report. Microsoft provides data in the Windows Phone Dev Center that doesn't require the user to do anything - here's how to use it!

Step 1: Get the data
Log in to the Windows Phone Dev Center and go to the Dashboard. At the bottom of the page there's a "Highlights" section that shows app downloads - click on the little arrows at the bottom to see crash count statistics:

(click for full image)

For the app you're interested in, click on the number next to it - in this case we're going to be looking at FlightPredictor.

Now you'll see a screen like this:

(click for full image)
Click on "Export stack traces" - this will download and open an Excel file with the crash data.

Step 2: Analyze the data

You should see something like this:

Go ahead and click the "Enable Editing" button at the top.

Most columns you see should be pretty self-explanatory. Note that "Mango" is OS 7.5 and "Apollo" is 8.0. The call stacks are grouped together - you can see in my example that the top row has 2 crashes, so it's the most common one.

For this crash the problem function is "Unknown", which isn't terribly helpful. So let's look at the full stack trace - move over to that cell and press F2 to see it (and press Up to get to the top of the text). And we see:

So we can see the most recent call in the stack is FlightPredictor.Model.Flight.UpdateCalculatedValues(), and hopefully the call stack will help you track down why the app is crashing.

I tried to use the offset to find what line of code the crash is happening on, but I couldn't make it match up with IL offsets or native offsets (see this MSDN thread). I'll update this post if I find out how to make it work.


See all my Windows Phone development posts.

I'm planning on writing more posts about Windows Phone development - what would you like to hear about? Reply here, on twitter at @gregstoll, or by email at


Interested in developing for Windows Phone? I'm the Nokia Developer Ambassador for Austin - drop me a line at!


Pictures from Utah
Mood: content
Posted on 2012-02-11 21:49:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 14

I finally got around to posting pictures from last week's trip to Utah. Enjoy!


Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy review
Mood: content
Posted on 2011-11-22 19:50:00
Tags: reviews books
Words: 509

Absolute Monarchs: A History of the PapacyAbsolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was interesting in parts but very long. I guess I'm not as interested in early history, because I enjoyed everything from 1600 on more. There were definitely some good popes, but there were also a lot of bad ones - it was surprisingly common to use the position for personal gain (making nephews cardinals and such), although this stopped around the 1800s.

While Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) was against Nazism by the start of World War II, the author presents pretty good evidence that he was anti-Semitic, and he spoke out against the Holocaust much later and more mildly than he should have. Indeed, when the SS sent some Jews from Rome itself to Auschwitz he did not speak out against it, nor did he ever apologize.

It sounds like John Paul II was a pretty good pope - he certainly did a lot of good for Catholicism's image, although he missed an opportunity to review old Catholic teachings on the ordination of women, birth control, and gays. Sad.

Some highlights:

- Best part of the book - the papal conclave of 1159. All but three of the 30 members voted for Cardinal Roland. One of the three, though, was the pro-imperialist Cardinal Octavian. Just as they were about to crown Roland with the papal mantle, Octavian lunged at him, snatched the mantle and tried to put it on himself. A scuffle ensued, during which his chaplain produced another mantle (clearly indicating this had been planned), and Octavian put it on (backwards), ran to the throne, and proclaimed himself Pope Victor IV. He then ran off and ordered some clergy to acclaim him as Pope.

This lead to a schism for a good while. There were 30 such "antipopes" throughout history...although it's been over 500 years since the last one!

- One of the only popes to abdicate (in 1292), Celestine V was encouraged to do so by Cardinal Benedetto Caetani, who "introduced a secret speaking tube" into Celestine's cell and "simulated" the voice of God telling him to resign or face eternity in Hell. Then Caetani became the next Pope (Boniface VIII) I guess that worked out for him!

- In 1329, supporters of German King Louis IV (who opposed the pope) formally condemned a straw effigy of Pope John XXII (attired in full dress). As the author dryly notes, "This bizarre performance did little to enhance the reputation of either emperor or antipope"...

- For a brief while in 1409 there were three popes! The successor of one, John XXIII "reduced the Papacy to a level of depravity unknown since the days of the pornocracy in the tenth century". Apparently he seduced at least two hundred women, "to say nothing of an alarming number of nuns"...

- Pope Alexander VI (1492) fathered eight children by three different women. And he made five family members cardinals!

I enjoyed the book on balance, but 2000 years of history is really a lot to cover.

View all my reviews


New Mexico vacation
Mood: content
Posted on 2011-10-16 21:36:00
Tags: pictures travel
Words: 709

David and I took a mini-vacation this week to New Mexico. Here's all about it!

We left Saturday morning and drove through to Carlsbad. The drive was fairly uneventful, except that I had forgotten that the speed limit on I-10 in West Texas is 80! That made things go faster than planned, and made the 55 mph limit on some roads in New Mexico feel ludicrously slow.

We arrived in Carlsbad around 6, so we had time to check in to our hotel before heading to dinner. Based on advice in the AAA guidebook, we went to The Flume for dinner, which we never would have done otherwise since it was (we discovered) located in the Best Western down the road. It was nice, though, and we relaxed and shook off the drive while being served by a rookie waiter. After dinner we spent the evening in the hotel room and read and watched TV. For food timing reasons, we decided to stay on Central time (after discovering NM is on Mountain time by seeing the alarm clock in the hotel room!) so we went to bed on the early side.

Sunday morning we got up earlyish, checked out of the hotel, and headed to Carlsbad Caverns. The drive down there was slow (darn 55 mph roads for no reason), and we saw mention of "cherry cider" which sounded intriguing. After getting in the park we drove the 7 miles up to the visitor center, stopping at a few sights along the way. Unfortunately, it was pretty clear there had been a recent fire of some sort, as a lot of the vegetation was heavily burned.

At the visitor center, we had a bit of time before our Left Hand Tunnel tour started, and we learned about White nose syndrome, which luckily hasn't spread as far west as Carlsbad yet.

The tour was neat - there were only 11 of us plus the ranger guide, and we got to carry candle lanterns to light the way. The caverns are very impressive in terms of scope, although in terms of formations we had seen more elaborate ones at Natural Bridge Caverns.

After the tour, we went back up to the surface, had lunch, and then went back down to the aptly-named Big Room. It's 1.25 miles around the outside of the cavern, and it's easy to get blown away by the sheer size of everything. The path around the room ends back at the underground visitor center, so we took the elevator back up, did a little souvenir shopping, walked along a nature trail and called it a day after trying a cherry cider. Which tasted good in small amounts.

We drove to Roswell and made pretty good time again, so we did the usual have dinner and relax in the hotel room thing. We've been bad on previous vacations about not taking enough time off to relax, but I think we did well this time. (especially since my feet were killing me after Carlsbad...)

Monday morning we toured the International UFO Museum. It was pretty well done - lots of eyewitness accounts about the infamous Roswell incident with some competing theories about what happened. It seemed clear to me that the Army covered up something, but what that was we may never know. (although one recent theory is that it was an experimental Soviet craft with a midget pilot!)

We looked at some gift shops, then went to the very small Walker Aviation Museum at the old base (now the Roswell Airport) where the "alien" debris was brought.

Honestly, at this point we were mostly out of things to do in Roswell. We read in a coffeeshop in the local Hastings, and after dinner tried to go bowling but it was a league night. The next morning we had planned to spend the whole day in Roswell, but decided to head back early. We did see two interesting art museums before we left, though. Spent the night in Fort Stockton (after cancelling our last night's reservation at the hotel in Roswell) and then drove back to Austin on Wednesday.

All in all it was a quick trip, but we got a lot of reading time in and it was quite relaxing!


Three Cups of Tea
Mood: content
Posted on 2011-01-03 11:45:00
Tags: reviews books
Words: 262

David got me a Kindle for Christmas (yay!) so that + traveling = lots of reading time. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time is one of the first books I read. It's one of those books that I was vaguely aware of despite knowing nothing about it, so I downloaded a sample, which actually made me less excited about the book. (it made it look like a bit of a hagiography) But I bought it anyway.

The book is pretty good, mostly because the story it tells is pretty amazing. Greg Mortenson kinda stumbled into these projects of building schools (especially for girls) in very remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. I have a feeling that the book may be a bit sensationalistic and exaggerated, but even so it's a very inspiring read and shows what you can do if you're ridiculously dedicated to something to the exclusion of everything else in your life. After finishing I donated some money to his organization, the Central Asia Institute.

On pricing: apparently Amazon is trying to keep prices for Kindle books below $10, and this was $13 (so it has a snarky "This price was set by the publisher" note on the page). I don't mind paying $13 for an ebook, but it is a little grating to see that the paperback version is currently available for $7.

This is one of the relatively few Kindle books I have that can be loaned out (one time only for 14 days), so let me know if you're interested!


Don't Ask Don't Tell, and some non-DADT things
Mood: content
Posted on 2010-12-13 14:34:00
Tags: activism gay politics links
Words: 477

As I guessed last time, it looks like the Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal's chances are not good. It's pretty disappointing especially considering that it's not going to get any easier with the next Congress.

I emailed my Senators about DADT, and Kay Bailey Hutchinson responded:

Dear Friend:
Thank you for contacting me about our nation's "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy. I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Officials from the Department of Defense previously testified before Congress that the current policy has served the military well. However, in recent months, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates publicly stated his support for repealing the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy, pending the results of an internal Pentagon review.

The internal Pentagon review report was released on November 30, 2010, and its findings indicated that the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" would bring about limited disruption to unit cohesion and retention. I respectfully disagree with the report's findings. I will not support a repeal of the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy. After speaking with military personnel and former leaders of our armed services, I remain very concerned about how repealing this policy could negatively impact unit cohesion and overall troop readiness -- especially during a time of war.

Our military has obligations around the world, including intensifying efforts to topple the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. I, along with many others, am concerned that a drastic change in the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy could hurt morale, recruitment, and retention at a time when our armed forces need to maintain a strong presence at home and abroad.

Please be assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind. I appreciate hearing from you, and I hope that you will not hesitate to keep in touch on any issue that is important to you.

Kay Bailey Hutchison
United States Senator

Her response is disappointing but not surprising. I'm at least glad that's she's reduced to disagreeing with a Pentagon report based on anecdotal evidence...

Other politics things:
- A good chart of taxes by type. Taxes haven't been this low since the 1950s! And they're getting lower, which seems unsustainable.

- Peter Orszag, who until recently ran the Office of Management and Budget for the federal budget, is now taking a job at Citibank. I agree that this shows a problem with structural corruption even though there may be no actual corruption going on here. But it sure looks fishy.

- Today, a federal judge ruled part of the health care overhaul to be unconstitutional, although what this means in practical terms is very unclear, even if it stands on appeal.

Other other things:
- The Atlantic (now officially My Favorite Magazine(TM)) is currently making money. Hurray!

- Due to a giant snowstorm, the roof of the Metrodome collapsed and let in a bunch of snow. Really crazy footage there! (an HD version available here)


Mood: content
Posted on 2010-02-03 22:48:00
Words: 50

Today at work kinda sucked, and tonight I didn't feel like programming, so I played some FIFA, watched the last episode of Firefly...and now for some Chuck. Time away from the computer is good! (except for checking on sales of LJ for WebOS, of course!)

Posted via LJ for WebOS.


weighty thoughts
Mood: content
Posted on 2009-03-23 10:00:00
Tags: weight projects links
Words: 279

This weekend I was proud of myself as my weight hit its lowest level since I started tracking it this time. (since then it's bounced back up a little, but I'm going to ignore that for now) So I thought it would be a good time to look back at my previous attempts at weight loss to see how well I did.

And I had forgotten that (last very short attempt notwithstanding) I've done much better than this in the past. Right after college I was a full 15 pounds lighter than I am now, and even an attempt a few years later I got down to 5 pounds below my current weight. I really can't decide if this should be encouraging (it is possible for me to weigh less!) or discouraging (I've been trying for 2.5 months and only lost 7 pounds!).

On Friday I discovered that GnuCash (which we use to do our finances) stores its data in an XML format! So I wrote a script to generate a report on how much we spend on various categories each month (GnuCash has some builtin facilities to do this, but I couldn't quite get it to do what I wanted). The report looks pretty but I don't feel comfortable posting it to the web, so you'll have to take my word for it.

Related: I found this awesome ColorBrewer which helps you pick a set of colors for maps or graphs or whatever. This is great news since I suck at picking colors!

The British military put some of their troops on LSD to see how it would affect them. The results are amusing but not really surprising.


seriously, is it election day yet?
Mood: content
Posted on 2008-10-20 13:11:00
Tags: politics
Words: 126

Two things I forgot:
- Here are the Sarah Palin bits on Saturday Night Live which I couldn't watch because of stupid KXAN and stupid Time Warner. The skits are pretty funny although Palin has a very small role in each. Also, at this point Tina Fey dressed up as Sarah Palin and Sarah Palin herself are indistinguishable to me.

- There's some email going around about how if you want to vote a straight Democratic ticket you have to first do that and then separately vote for Obama. This is not true (selecting a candidate cancels the straight ticket vote). But, don't vote a straight ticket because it's kinda dumb. In any event, be sure to check your vote at the final confirmation screen before casting it!


not as deep as it sounds
Mood: content
Posted on 2008-04-01 14:42:00
Tags: work
Words: 70

From one perspective, being notified of a problem as you get to work and later fixing that problem means you haven't made any progress - from your point of view things worked as well as they did before you came to work.

From another perspective, there was a horrendous bug that you didn't know about and now that it's gone peace can reign over the codebase. I find it very satisfying!


The Steeping Room
Mood: content
Posted on 2008-01-29 10:03:00
Tags: food
Words: 174

Yesterday I was having trouble concentrating in the morning and needed to get some serious design work done, so I took a sheet of paper and headed to lunch. On a whim, I found myself at The Steeping Room, which is right across the street at the Domain before. I had walked by before and kind of made a mental note to check it out, so why not?

It was a sit-down place which surprised me a little, but I got seated quickly (by a hostess who complimented me on my penguin shirt, no less!) and looked through the menu. The food choices were a little light but there were like three pages solid of teas to choose from. I ended up getting a pot of Gunpowder tea, a cup of saffron white bean soup and the Napa rolls which were very similar to spring rolls.

All in all, good stuff. The tea hit the spot and I finally got some work done. It was a little expensive ($13 for lunch) but not terrible.


lapping it up
Mood: content
Posted on 2007-10-17 15:01:00
Tags: mac computer cluesolver
Words: 180

I got a laptop! It's a 17" MacBook Pro and it's pretty sweet. I was feeling kinda blah yesterday, partially from guilt with spending money when we haven't started working yet, partially from the lousy overcast weather, and partially from not quite knowing what to do with myself. Obviously in two weeks when we're working I'll long for these days of endless free time, but it's kinda like when you're cold you can't imagine what it feels like to be hot, and vice versa.

But I can't stay grumpy for like in the face of new toys, so I'm feeling better. Been setting up stuff, got WoW and Ventrilo installed (I can push to talk now!), and I'm feeling more in the mood to work on the clue solver - right now I'm adding the ability to gain information by knowing how many cards each player has.

Hope everyone's having a nice week. Has anyone seen any good movies lately? We'd like to see something at the Alamo Drafthouse but I've heard very little about what's playing. Also, Netflix is fun.

1 comment

yet another fine day
Mood: content
Posted on 2007-08-07 09:14:00
Tags: starcraft worldofwarcraft
Words: 170

After djedi's awesome cash award, we stopped by Best Buy and got a couple of things, including StarCraft which I played in high school but not since. djedi was reading the manual and ohhhh the memories. Now I really want to play again :-)

WoW 5v5 arena last night was awesome - we went 8-2 (one team we lost to we then beat twice), including a 24 point win.

We've been watching Futurama episodes with commentary the last few days. Excellent stuff. I keep forgetting that even the episodes that don't stand out in my mind are still generally good, and the commentary is pretty quality - they'll talk about jokes they pitched that didn't make it, or gasp in mock surprise as a major plot point is revealed. Can't wait for the new movies to come out :-)

Busy weekends ahead - this weekend onefishclappin and krikwennavd are around, next weekend djedi's out of town, after that is our NYC trip, after that we're visiting my grandparents and aunt & uncle in Hanover, NH. Yikes!

1 comment

A series of unusual dodgeball games
Mood: content
Posted on 2007-01-13 23:01:00
Tags: dodgeball
Words: 573

Saturday is dodgeball day! We had the late shift today, which means I didn't have to show up until 11. We only had six people, which means all of us would be playing every game, which is kinda tiring. The first team we played only had six people as well, so at least it was fair. We hadn't played them before, and we lost the first game as usual. But then something unusual happened (read: unprecedented): we won three games in a row! I got the last person out in two of them (one by throwing, one by catching) and was generally on fire when it game to catching balls. They didn't throw balls too hard so it was just a matter of being alert and going for it. After a few more games we were up 5 games to 3 with 4 minutes left (which is time enough for around two games). We won the next game, which virtually ensured our victory. (hurrah!) The last game, I threw a stinger which wasn't aimed downward like it was supposed to and hit this guy square in the face (he wasn't looking). I was out for a headshot, and felt pretty bad about it. He looked OK afterwards, though (and they won that game so I felt a little better). Anyway, that was our first "real" victory (we won a forfeit when the other team only had 5 players...we played unofficially 6 on 5 and they beat us :-) ), so that was nice.

The next game was odd. We had played the other team before and they had beaten us pretty bad (I think we won one game against them). Before they came in our captain told us that there had been some kinda incident in the earlier game they had played (he didn't know what it was) and so they were upset or something, and the head ref was going to come in and ref our game. Well, OK. So then the team came in and the head ref came in and they were clearly arguing about something. And they continued to argue for like 5 minutes, and we still didn't know what was going on and just wanted to play a nice friendly game of dodgeball. We played for a couple of games and they won all of them, and then started to act strange. Like beating us to the balls on the rush but then rolling them to us. In one game, one guy sat down on the floor for a while. After that game, the head ref started yelling at them again and they argued for a little while longer. Apparently the earlier conversation had been about how they thrown too hard and left marks on people (girls especially?) and that they were too aggressive, or something. I'm still not entirely sure what the deal was, but it made the whole game fairly tense. After that they went back to their previous style, and they throw pretty darn hard. They ended up winning 9-0 and argued some more as we left. Meh.

We had some people over to watch the Ravens game. It was fun! (despite the Ravens' loss, in a game that featured no touchdowns. Whee.) We played some games after that, including some Wii and Tsuro. And I've almost finished one of the projects I microresolutioned about - just need to test the Windows version. And still a 3-day weekend!


off to houston
Mood: content
Posted on 2006-02-20 12:38:00
Words: 26

Hmm, apparently I've used that subject before, because Firefox autocompleted it for me.

Anyway, I'm off to Houston to do recruiting stuff at Rice. Back tomorrow!


lots'a thoughts'a
Mood: content
Posted on 2005-11-30 12:34:00
Tags: pictures
Words: 200

I forgot to mention yesterday that I hit a deer on the way back to Austin! I was just driving along, minding my own business, when a deer ran across 290 (super-fast), and I just barely hit it. We stopped soon after and there didn't seem to be any damage, but it scared the crap out of me for a while. Never had that happen to me before.

Firefox 1.5 did in fact release yesterday. The pop-up blocking seems to be better, and things are noticeably faster (especially going back and forward). Still seems to use a lot of memory, though.

Yesterday djedi and I got a Christmas tree and put it up in my apartment, which was exciting (although messy). We haven't decorated it yet, but it really feels like Christmas even with just a bare tree up in the living room :-) I ordered some TiVo ornaments to put on it, too!

I finished putting keywords on all of my pictures, so now you can search by keyword to find pictures that people are in.

Hope everyone's having a nice day! And I hope whatever's in the air that keeps my allergies (and other peoples', it seems) going disappears!


Mood: content
Music: 50 Cent vs. Michael Jackson - "In Da Starlight"
Posted on 2005-08-08 11:36:00
Tags: asmc charlottesweb work
Words: 455, crazy weekend.

Friday night was gala night, which was very well attended. The show went pretty well, then I went out and hung out with my family - it was nice to see them again, although I'm going to see them next week on vacation as well :-) Then I was cashier for silent auction people, and then my family and djedi and I headed over to Kerbey Lane Cafe which was good (although the service was quite slow). After that, bed, then we met my family for brunch the next morning at Whole Foods and went back to the theater for two more shows. By this point I was really getting tired - my part is pretty high-energy (stumbling all over stage and whatnot), so it takes a lot out of me. Anyway, after that we went to church and came home and had wildrice13 over for dinner.

Unfortunately, I had some work stuff I was pretty worried about so I went in to work to try to fix stuff while djedi and wildrice13 played some FFX-2. I ended up spending longer than I meant to at work (3.5 hours) but I eventually got in a groove (involving listening to my current music over and over again) and fixed both of my major issues, which I was quite pumped about! Came home, and FFX-2 was passed (including the special 100% cutscene) not too long afterwards. Congrats!

Sunday I slept in a little bit, which was really nice, then back to theater for two more shows, striking the set, and the cast party. We didn't stay too long because we were tired, then we headed up to destroyerj's for a monitor-viewing and games, including a rousing game of Simpsons Clue (Smithers did it!), Snipe Hunt, and a few rounds of Bop It!

So, today is my day between shows, and Charlotte's Web rehearsal starts tomorrow. I need to work more on memorizing my lines. Busy week between gamenight, two rehearsals, and djedi's birthday (happy birthday!). I think I'm done with djedi's code for now - it seems to work and the major source of confusion we had was cleared up...

So I wear a nightguard now when I sleep so I won't grind my teeth (which I apparently do like nobody's business...). The last time I had a nightguard it was for orthodontics work I had, and it hurt every morning when I woke up (presumably because my teeth were trying to shift back or whatever), so I was pleasantly surprised to find that this one doesn't hurt much at all, and it only makes it a little harder to get to sleep (which hasn't been much of an issue so far given how exhausted I've been!). Yay!


my weekend
Mood: content
Music: Enigma - "Principles of Lust"
Posted on 2005-03-14 10:29:00
Words: 63

Had a good weekend - it was nice to see my sisters again and spend some time at home. Picked up a few books - I already finished The Tipping Point, which was very good (as I had heard). I read some other essays of Malcolm Gladwell's at, which I also enjoyed.

Right now David's out of town, so I'm sorta on my own...


Mood: content
Music: Coldplay - "Trouble"
Posted on 2005-01-31 09:37:00
Words: 40

So the TiVo is back alive (albeit minus all of our old shows), and so I have my computer back, which means I can listen to music at work again (I stream my mp3 collection from home). Life is good!


This backup was done by LJBackup.