January 7, 2006

My plan was to sleep in and enjoy my Saturday morning with Oreo like I usually do. Dominica works an hour earlier on the weekend and that leaves me with the dog and, generally, no phone ringing to tell me to get to work right away. Not so today. Microsoft pushed out an unscheduled patch last night and whenever they do that it affects some things. So I had some calls early this morning and had to get moving to make sure that all of our services were available to our clients.

I was reading an article from Jim Rapoza over at eWeek (who has apparently stolen all of David Coursey’s braincells when he wasn’t looking) where he reported on FEMA illegally making its disaster relief website accessible to Internet Explorer only. For those of you who do not know, Microsoft does not make a version of IE for any platform other than Windows. They used to make it for Macintosh but they do not anymore and even when they did it was a completely different browser from the Windows version and may not have worked for the FEMA website in any case. Anyway, federal mandate says that all US government websites must conform to the Section 508 accessibility standards which any of my fourth grade XHTML design students should be able to tell you. That law is in place to make sure that government web designers are playing political games or getting bandend handouts to make their sites only work with one vendor’s product or another. It is there to make sure that all Americans have equal access (hey David, did you hear that… equal access what a concept) regardless of the platform that they decide to use. Just because many Americans choose Windows should not legally limit the rest of us to only choosing Windows. And to do this with emergency services at a time where people are getting access through any outlet that they can? This is not just a gross disregard for standards, rights and trust but this is a total disregard for human life and suffering. To take advantage of those hurt the most, needing help the most to make a personal statement about one unprofessional web “developer’s” preference for Internet Explorer and Windows is absolutely outrageous. If that developer did not have the capability to write standard XHTML he or she should never have even been eligible for a college degree or for work with a federal agency. What is the FEMA web hiring commitee looking for if it isn’t the ability to write XHTML code accurately? There isn’t anything else to hire based on. The number of people who have to have been not doing their jobs or faking their credentials for something like this to happen is just astounding. I hope that someone makes a big stink about this. This is more important than someone just losing their job because of incompetence. At best this was a completely incompetent web developer who should not have taken a job that he or she was incapable of doing when it was for an emergency services agency. Even so the problem should have been fixed immediately as Rapoza pointed out, any competent developer could have rewritten the necessary parts of the site in 30-60 minutes. Thousands would have voluntered, surely. At worst this is a developer who decided to make a real, life-threatening attack on people who choose, or often had not choice, to use non-Windows and non-Internet Explorer computers. Disgusting.

I got hooked up with that information from reading the blog of Jonathan Schwartz, President of SUN, who writes a really good blog that techie folks should be following. He tends to do a bit of SUN advertising but what would you expect. They are paying the bills. But I heard him in an interview at OSCON recently (like I said, I am catching up with the conferences from 2005 this week) and he was really impressive.

I did managed, finally, to pump out the SLG Podcast Episode 39 last night just before Dominica got home. I checked the stats on podOmatic last night while I was there and I was totally amazed by how many people were hitting up the podOmatic page for us everyday to see if there was a new show out. That was really encouraging. Even with almost a month without a single episode people are still looking for new episodes. That should give me a nice kick in the pants to get me working on new shows. I think that the music that we are playing is making the show a lot more interesting. I think that we are playing some really good stuff and that people really appreciate it. Although our lack of feedback makes it hard to know what people are liking about the show. We are no longer on the top 100 at podOmatic but we didn’t expect to be at all at this point. There are tons more people making podcasts over there and it is harder and harder to make the list and with nothing come out for so long there wasn’t much way for us to hold on to our spot.

The gloom has broken and there is some actual sunlight today. There is a flocking of light granular snow mixed in with the green grass and it looks really cold outside but the sun is shining and we can actually see what the interior of our house looks like again.

Toyota might be leading the world in hybrid cars (I don’t actually know that, it is just an assumption but I think that it is probably a pretty safe one) but RailPower Technologies is doing some really awesome stuff with hybrid diesel powered locomotives. Trains are major producers of pollutants because they represents such a huge amount of our transportation even though the average person doesn’t see them very often. Now if we can just come up with a way to cut the pollution and fuel consumption of our trucking industry we will be in good shape. I think that they are still the top polluters on the fuel chain because they are so big and there are so many of them travelling over such long distances. The US really needs to invest in a larger rail infrastructure. Especially now that trains are increasing fuel efficiency they are moving farther and farther ahead in their cost/performance ratio.

Dad came over at noon and we went over to the Omega for some lunch. Now that I am actually dieting I figure that I might as well make use of my What Scott Ate Today blog to keep track of what I am eating. Not very exciting but a useful use of blogging technology. It makes it really easy for Dominica to keep tabs on me to make sure that I am eating what I am supposed to and it makes it really obvious to me what I have been eating if I am constantly writing it down. Much harder to sneak food without catching myself.

Samsung has a nice looking new MP3 player coming out this year, the YP-Z5 is poised to take on the iPod Nano. This is a nice looking unit to keep an eye on. As you all know, I am a big fan of Samsung products generally. Especially the YEPP series.

The big announcements this week are the new physical media formats. Both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray have come close enough to being finished that manufactures have committed to having the first players for these discs out over the course of the next several weeks. Toshiba is bringing out the lower capacity HD-DVD player in March. And Samsung is expected to release the first Blu-Ray player in April. We will have to wait and see what happens but this is definitely the hot topic to be watching this winter. Now is the time to seriously consider curbing your investment into DVDs. The end is near and you may be quite unhappy if you continue putting money into an older format.

For those of you who have never tried OpenOffice or would like to be able to run it without installing it (for example from a memory stick or from CD-ROM) you can check out the newly finished Portable OpenOffice which you can download for free. This is great for people who want to have access to a standard office environment but work from a number of different machines where they may not have the ability to install their office software of choice. There are other software packages available from the Portable Apps project including some incredibly useful ones like Firefox, Thunderbird and Sunbird from the Mozilla Project as well as GAIM, the big multi-instant messaging services client, and NVu, a popular web page editor.

This one is an oldie but it is really funny and I didn’t want to forget it so I am including it here, just because:

Tanlines from Summer Activities - Snowboarding, Scuba Diving, Rollerblading, Engineering

I did a little work on the site today. Those of you who come here regularly will notice that the links at the top of the page, while sparse, are not working. There is a small About blurb on the left. And the Flickr badge has returned so that you can check out my latest photos easily.

I finally got some decent photos of Dominica and my first model railroading experiment. This is a 2’x2′ N Scale layout on 3/4″ plywood. There are two Model Power buildings, a farm house and a barn. There is an old Bachman church that I have had since I was young. Some of you might recognize it from the picture taken with Eric Millen and I in front of the old train layout many years ago. Like almost twenty years ago. There are no trains in this little layout. Just the three buildings, a tiny chicken coup and a small outhouse behind the farm house. Trees are put on without removing the plastic bases so that we can use them again elsewhere (no reason to keep this layout as it is.) The buildings are all pre-built and have bases associated with them. That makes them look a bit sillier than it should but it was our first attempt at this. The road is scratch built but there are no cars on it. There are some horses and cows around the farm. And there are three people in the layout. The whole thing is very Spartan but it was a really good exercise for both of us and we learned quite a bit by doing it.

I missed Former Intern Andy’s Christmas Blog but it is a good one to check out. No one talks about the commercialization of Christmas quite like FIA.

I actually managed to pull off another podcast today and got it posted both here (via the Internet Archive) and on podOmatic. I have fallen off of the Top 100, along with the Jedi Council Speaks, at podOmatic but I think that I am now back posting again that I will be able to inch my way back into the spotlight. If I can just get everyone here to help me just a little bit. I got a number of awesome new songs onto this latest show so be sure to check them out. I spend a bit of time auditioning new songs and filtering through songs that I currently have set aside to make sure that I am only getting the stuff that I really want to be playing. It is really awesome that so much music comes out so quickly that I can just keep playing great new music all of the time and still be really, really picky about what I play on the show. I am really proud of the selection that we play. It is especially cool that so much of the music that we play is played by almost no one else so our selection is definitely unique and special. For example, we played Katy Wehr today and we are, so far, the only show to have played her music from PodSafe. I am really excited about having played her first because her music is really awesome. Her sound is amazing and pretty original. It’s artists like her that really make this whole thing so much fun.

So over the past week or so I have been doing some searching online and the Internet seems to be mostly devoid of any really good model railroading web sites. Okay, actually it is even devoid of any halfway decent sites. It is really pathetic actually how little there is out there. It is difficult to get information online. It is even harder to find out how to buy anything online. Even some of the biggest manufacturers of model railroading equipment lack the simplest search features on their sites. I am thinking that I need to put together a decent model railroading web page. There must be people out there that want to have model railroading resources on the Internet and just don’t have the ability to do it themselves or something. I find it amazing that such a popular hobby has just no online support whatsoever!

I am trying out a new mapping service called Frappr! It is a neat “personal mapping service” that allows you to put your own personal markers over top of Google Maps. I thought that it would be a neat way for my readers to be able to connect to me even better. So you can now check out my Frappr! page. I have started putting location markers for places that I have lived in the past and the Omega Grill is on there too. I don’t know if this is a really exciting technology or just silly but I thought that I would give it a try and see what people thought of it. I think that it is kind of neat for my readers to be able to see where the locations that I talk about are at. Now people can easily see where Washington Hospital Center is and where I used to live in Alexandria, VA and Pittsburgh, PA, etc. I think that it is a pretty neat idea. I have lived in so many weird places and go to so many different places that I think it adds something to the blog. Kind of gives it a sense of space. Anyway, I think that it is a good idea. Let me know. Someone comment. No one ever comments 🙁

Dominica got home and cooked dinner. Then it was time to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation and to do some railroad modeling.

Dominica found one of the funniest websites ever. It is now her favourite way to pass the time. I suppose that it is funnier to people who are or who know knitters but it is pretty funny for anyone. Check out You Knit What.

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