31 January 2009

And we're back

Site is slowly coming back up; broken links and images are very likely so if you find something, let me know.

25 January 2009

Site Downtime

I'm fed up with 1&1 as my host and am in the process of transferring hosts. There will likely be a lot of downtime this week as I work out the transfer (never done it before) and get the site back up and running.

I know the 3 of you who read this will be incredibly disappointed, but thems the breaks.

20 January 2009

Finally

obama-presidential-photo

No, you will not solve all of our problems. But you make us want to try and say that you'll support us and... well, that's more than we've been able to say in a long time.

Welcome Mr. President, we've been waiting. Enjoy your day today, because tomorrow this country will forget it's good will and turn back to its bitter, divisive ways. Be the better person this country needs.

18 January 2009

links for 2009-01-18

17 January 2009

Enough

This is only one of thousands, thousands, of Palestinians who have suffered at the hands of the IDF. (Click the triangle at the bottom right, then choose "turn on subtitles" option.)



As Americans, we should be ashamed that we have enabled this kind of suffering and destruction. This action by the Israelis has gone too far and needs to end.

Find your Representative

Find your Senator

Contact the White House

links for 2009-01-17

15 January 2009

A Few of My Favorite (Free) Things

Inspired by a conversation at work today about free (as in beer) software, here's a quick list of some of my favorite apps. I use Windows, so many of these will be Windows-only.

FileZilla; open-source, easy to use, FTP client; even runs off a USB drive

Twhirl - Adobe AIR-based Twitter client. Supports multiple accounts, skins, multiple link-shortening services, etc.

KeePass - Password safe. Folder, search, password generation (with random inputs). Open-source, speedy, runs on USB drives.

Notepad++ - Enhanced text editor with support for syntax coloring for dozens of languages and plug-ins. Fast cross-file searching make this a must-have for troubleshooting via log file.

CDBurnerXP - Free CD/DVD burning software. Doesn't automate, but is incredibly lightweight when compared to the bloatware that Roxio has become.

VirtualBox - Open-source virtualization software. Easy-to-use, let's me safely build sandbox environments to trash.

Handbrake - DVD to MPEG-4 converter, which now accepts file (such as AVI) as inputs. Perfect for encoding video for my iPod/phone.

Synctoy - Synchronization tool from Microsoft. Echos, copies, moves, and synchronizes folders or entire drives. I use it for easily backing up my music collection to an external hard drive.

7-Zip - free WinZip replacement.

CutePDF - Free PDF creation. Adds itself as a printer on your system.

Evernote - Cloud-based note taking; works especially well with a smart phone.

VLC - Plays pretty much any video format you throw at it.

Now, if I could find a free replacement for Dreamweaver, I'd be all set.

links for 2009-01-15

13 January 2009

A Workplace for the Electric Future

This week is the North American Auto Show, the annual circle jerk of the automotive superpowers, as they demonstrate the latest and greatest in Detroit. Despite it precarious status as the center of the automotive world, Detroit still holds sway over the direction of the industry and, if this year is any indication, the future is electric. From the Chevy Volt, to the Cadillac Converj, to the new Prius, to an unknown Daimler electric, full-electric cars are destined to hit the market very soon.

At almost half the total operating cost of a standard vehicle (at 12,000 miles per year), these are financially attractive vehicles. But, what would it mean to actually power one? In today's world, filling up is a task done once, maybe twice, a week for the average commuter.

But, with electric, you have to top off daily, if not more than that. The expected range for a Volt upon release is somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 miles per charge. If I live 25+ miles from work, I have a dilemma; round trip exceeds my round-trip range. Let's do a mental experiment...

Fast forward 5 years. It's now 2014. 25% of the vehicles on the road are full-electric (yes, it's optimistic. Deal). In 2006, there were 250,851,833 registered vehicles (wikipedia). Assuming a zero growth rate, that means that 62,712,958 cars will be full-on electric in 2014 (it's an experiment). Ignoring distribution, socio-economic factors, et al, this means that each state has to deal with 1,254,259 vehicles likely purchased for daily commuting. (Ok, not Arkansas, but you get the idea.) In reality, vehicles would be concentrated around metropolitan areas, large employers, and ideological centers (Berkeley and Ann Arbor).

Which leads to my question. Assume that I, the conscientious consumer and commuter, purchases one of these Messianic vehicles to drive to and from my job 25+ miles away.

How do I charge it while I'm at work?

As a potential driver/charger/employee, I propose the following:

  1. Let me pay. Wire up spots, chip my badge and let me scan-in every day. I park at the first available spot, scan my badge at the terminal for my parking spot, and you bill me via payroll for the energy I consume.
  2. You pay. Wire the lot, let me park wherever I can and plug in. Since it costs less than $1 to charge the car for a 40 mile trip, you eat the sub-$30 per month cost to get me to work, making up the difference in "parking fees".
  3. We share. You up the parking fee to cover the under $360/year/vehicle cost to charge my car. Since only 25% of driver need the power, you can balance the cost against the drivers who don't suck down the electric, normalizing the costs.

Which ever method you choose, there are a few things you need to consider now.

  1. How will you measure the cost of charging electric vehicles for your employees (they'll need it)?
  2. What is the value of your employees driving electric vehicles? Can you market or enhance your brand by demonstrating your commitment to non-fossil-fuel-based vehicles? Might that not be worth something?
  3. What are the tax implications for "fueling" your employees?
  4. If you compensate employees for business use of personal vehicles, what are the tax/legal implications of electrics?
  5. Do you have the systems or technology in place to accommodate the next generation of drivers? (I'm guessing no.) How fast can you accommodate them?

The heavily-electric world is being sold to your employees today. It will be your problem tomorrow. Are you ready?

Store Locator FAIL

For reasons I won't get into, I was curious what the closest comic book store to my house was. So I went to Comic Shop Locator (natch), plugges in my location. Closest result?

locator_fail

Yeah, not so much. Thanks Google.

links for 2009-01-13

05 January 2009

Reducing the Administrative Burden Means You Need to Help Us

My AD forwarded yet another article today (this one in Science Magazine) about the increased administrative burden placed on faculty and researchers. To quote:
A 2007 survey by the U.S. Federal Demonstration Partnership... found that 84% of faculty in the United States believe that the administrative burden associated with federally funded grants has increased significantly in recent years. Most notably, the study indicates that of the total time that faculty devote to research, 42% is spent on pre- and post-award administrative activities. [Here's the report]

First, this is a perception that is widely shared up and down the research structure. Central offices, research assistants, and researchers alike are being asked to complete more paperwork, submit to more reviews, and respond to more and deeper questioning than ever before. And, with good reason.

Headline-making conflicts of interest and the need to protect subjects, both human and animal, and security concerns in a "post-9/11 world" (what a stupid phrase) demand that regulations tighten to prevent or discover abuses.

My entire job revolves around this issue. The work done building and integrating systems is all done in the name of reducing the need for faculty and staff to redo duplicate forms, assemble printed proposal packages, or manage a paper trail that fills an entire floor (no joke). Our mantra is "do no harm."

But, here's our challenge. I can get hundreds of staff people, from research administrators to central office folks, to volunteer their time for months to design a form or automate a business process. What I can rarely get, and never with any commitment of time or extended effort, is a faculty member to do the same.

6,000+ faculty members are represented in the report linked above. 84% believe that their burden has increased in recent years. Yet, over two projects and 4 years, we've had to conscript, at most, a dozen faculty members to work with (not "on") our projects. Of that dozen, none of them are willing or able to commit to more than an hour a quarter specifically to a project.

And so, my plea and promise. I promise, we really do hear your concerns and we really do want to reduce your burden. But we need your help. Not just at my institution, for this is a problem I've heard from many other institutions. When we ask--and we'll ask--we're not there to disrupt your life. We're not there because we picked your name out of a hat (in fact, a senior administrator probably pointed us your way with a "they're always helpful" sort of comment). We're there because we have questions about how you want to use the system, how you work on a day-to-day basis, how you think the best way could be.

If you don't give us your time, we understand. But the contract goes both ways; you, by not giving of your time, have to understand that we did our best with the information at hand. We are not psychic. We do not see what happens in your office all day long; we suspect neither does your research administrator, but they're the only ones giving us information.

So, please, please, when we show up in your office (and we will take the time to come to you), give us a chance. Consider that your time is spent not only in furthering your own work, but the work of hundreds of other researchers around campus. I pledge to not waste your time, to deliver the best product I can, and to credit you every chance I get.

We'll even get you a T-shirt.

04 January 2009

links for 2009-01-04