The Invention of Lying

Last night B and I saw The Invention of Lying. Something I found very interesting was how they handled lies of omission. They took an almost pathological approach of avoiding lies of omission, meaning all the characters really did say exactly what was on their mind at all times. It made for some very interesting scenes! There was a whole slew of cameos too — I was very pleased to see John Hodgman and Tina Fey among them.

If you haven’t seen it, I think it’s very worthy of Netflixing.

I’m a spot color guy living in a process color world

Growing up in a print shop gives me a unique knowledge of all things print. Stray too far outside of the spot color domain however and I have to start getting resourceful.

My family’s business has always used offset presses. And even while they have T-heads to enable the simultaneous printing of 2 colors — the ink has always been Pantone spot colors. This means that whatever we designed, be it on the old negative-creating typesetter circa 1980 or Adobe InDesign, would come out black-and-white in the end to be “converted” to a single spot color on the presses. [Aside: I’m not even going to get into the use of halftone screens and the camera in order to make printable photos — lets just gloss all over that and say it all ended up in black and white.] At no time did I ever need to delve into the process color domain. I knew it existed, I grok the basic concepts, but I didn’t have to concern myself with it.

Recently Benjamin was designing a banner in Inkscape that was to be printed by a 3rd party vendor who specifically requested the document be in CMYK. I dug around and discovered that while Inkscape has some tentative support for CMYK, it is unable to export EPS files in that color space. The work-around is to import the SVG file into Scribus and create the EPS from there as Scribus has better color management support. The tricky part is that Benjamin had used three high-resolution JPEGs in the SVG — JPEGs that were in the sRGB color space. I attempted to use jpegicc utility from littlecms to convert the image from the sRGB color space to a CMYK color space using an Adobe ICC file which succeeded. However, viewing these images did not give me a comfortable feeling that they would look good in print. I ended up punting the work altogether and asked a friend to use Adobe PhotoShop to do the conversion. I was then able to do the Inkscape -> Scribus route to get the final EPS format.

The banner was reported shipped yesterday. Hopefully my color space wrangling worked and it’ll look good upon arrival.

TakeTime take 2

Today IBM announced that, like last year, they’ll be offering the TakeTime program. Once again — I’m very tempted by the possibility.

This year our life circumstances are a little different which will certainly impact the decision to take advantage of the program. This year is my 10th year at IBM meaning I get an extra week of vacation so I’m not as tight for vacation as I was last year. Also unlike last year, we’re in a different part of the development cycle for my product, so it might be more challenging to get management approval. If all goes well, Benjamin will have a full-time job this summer which should make things cash flow a great deal better, but sadly also means that it would be unlikely we could use it for vacation as he would have just started working. And I have high hopes that I might, just might, get some sort of a raise this year which certainly wouldn’t hurt cash-flow wise either.

The first step is to touch base with my manager to see if my management team would even consider the possibility before I get my hopes up too high!

A TED report on Earth Day

Last weekend while Benjamin was working, I decided to determine two things:

  • our electricity usage baseline
  • which devices contributed to that baseline and by how much

Like any performance analysis you need to start with a baseline: where are we now. I wanted to see how much electricity in kW our house was using with everything turned off. Of course “everything” isn’t, well, everything — it’s everything you decide to have explicit control over. For instance – while I’m all about reducing our electricity usage, I’m not going to go around unplugging our microwave, oven, washing machine, and alarm clocks at every turn. All of these devices use some amount of electricity to display clocks or respond to the ‘on’ button.

So with every reasonable thing unplugged or turned off on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I loaded up my good friend TED and observed that we use ~0.168 kW. I then went through the house with my Kill-a-Watt to find out which of those always-plugged-in devices were using power and how much. Here’s what I found:

  • UPS = 34 watts
  • 3 alarm clocks @ 5 watts = 15 watts
  • 1 microwave = 7 watts
  • 1 wireless router = 5 watts

That only accounts for 61 watts, or 36% of our baseline. There are several other devices which I know use some power but I didn’t get to measure yet due to it being a pain to get to them:

  • cable modem (always on)
  • 5-port hub (always on)
  • oven (has digital clock)
  • washing machine (non-physical switch)
  • dryer (non-physical switch)
  • hot water heater (gas unit but plugs into wall too)
  • garage door opener
  • radon mitigation attic fan (always on)

Sadly, the UPS does not have a physical switch so even after turning it off the only way to stop it drawing power is to unplug it and it’s simply not worth the effort to me at this point.

Our current electric rate is $0.11883 per kW, so the smallest our electric bill could possibly be (excluding service fees and taxes) is $14.37 (0.168 kWh * 24 hours per day = 4.032 kW per day * 0.11883 = $0.47 per day * 30 days per month = $14.37 per month). Granted, we have to actually live in the house, so it will never be that low, but that give me our lower bound.

During the past few weeks I discovered some other interesting datapoints:

  • My computer, which is on at least 9 hours every day, only uses around 30 watts.
  • Benjamin’s hair dryer uses ~1 kW – which explains why the time he gets ready for work is often our peak kW usage during the day unless we turn on the oven…
  • The oven uses ~3 kW.
  • The clothes dryer uses ~3 kW off and on throughout its cycle and drops down to ~1 kW at other times. That’s unsurprising once you think about it – you’re not baking your clothes, you’re introducing hot air, tossing the clothes around a bit, and then more hot air.
  • The iPhone charger, as well as most other wall-worts, don’t actually use electricity unless they are being used. I was under the incorrect impression that these AC/DC converters would use some small amount of electricity while plugged in but not being used.

It’ll be very interesting to see how the electricity usage changes this summer when our AC kicks in.

Inkscape development dependencies on Fedora 12

Just FYI, if you’re wanting to compile Inkscape from source, you’ll need (at least) the following dependency RPMs on Fedora 12:

  • gc-devel
  • glib-devel
  • gtk+-devel
  • gsl-devel
  • libxml
  • libxml-devel
  • poppler-devel
  • poppler-glib-devel
  • libsigc++20-devel
  • glibmm24-devel
  • cairomm-devel
  • pangomm-devel
  • gtkmm24-devel
  • ghostscript
  • ghostscript-devel
  • jasper-devel
  • ImageMagick-devel
  • ImageMagick-c++-devel
  • libwpd-devel
  • libwpg-devel

Hospital visitation for gays

Mid-February I posted about about my concerns regarding hospital visitation rights for Benjamin and I should something occur. Obama must have read my blog post, because yesterday, only 2 months later, he instructed his health secretary to make it happen. The new rules will only apply to hospitals that participate in Medicare or Medicaid which is most of them according to the NY Times. I suppose any hospital who decides they don’t want to comply can just stop participating in those programs (and good riddance if they close because of it).

My family sincerely thanks you Mr. President.

My new friend TED

From my IBM bonus this year we purchased Benjamin’s college ring and my new friend TED 5000. TED is short for The Energy Detective – a device that installs in the electrical box in your house to measure the electricity usage. After a bit of wrangling yesterday1 I was able to get it installed and working and can geekily report that as I type this, we’re using 0.258 kWh. A point in time measurement is interesting and can be somewhat useful (it was educational for instance when we turned on the oven last night and the usage jumped an entire kWh) but trending data is much valuable and TED does that too.

The TED Footprints interface is accessed directly from a browser on the local LAN which renders it less useful for showing others. Thankfully the TED 5000 works with Google PowerMeter so I can know how much electricity we’re using when I’m not even there. That takes geeking to a whole new level.2

Armed with TED and another new geeky tool called the Kill-A-Watt I’m getting a much better picture of where we’re using and wasting electricity. Benjamin just shakes his head and loves me anyway.

More data and revelations to come I’m sure.

1 There are two pieces to the TED 5000: the MTU which sits in your electrical panel and the Gateway which plugs an electrical outlet and connects to your router. The MTU gathers the data and sends it to the Gateway using Power Line Communication (PLC). To do this the MTU connects to both A and B 120V sides of the power line so no matter which side the Gateway is plugged into, it can receive the PLC signal [aside: I’m probably using not-exactly-correct electrical terms here — there’s a reason I went Computer Science instead of Computer Engineering]. Unfortunately some devices, like UPSs, can obliterate the PLC signal if it’s on the same circuit. This was initially my problem as the most convenient outlet to plug the Gateway into was on the same circuit as the UPS for my computer. If I unplugged the UPS it worked great. If the UPS was plugged into wall, it stopped working. Drat. Thankfully the cables into our breakers are well labeled and I was able to locate an outlet in the basement that was on the A side not on the B side with my computer equipment. I plugged the Gateway into the A-side outlet, connected the MTU only to the breaker servicing that outlet and off we went.

2 Google’s too mainstream to be truly geeky. This takes us to a whole new level: the entire set of trending data is available through an API. Some folks have already developed some cool 3rd party apps, including an iPhone app. It should be pretty simple to develop a gnome-based applet that reports my real-time kWh usage via these APIs. More things to play with in my non-existent spare time!

eGo CarShare – hassle vs value

Ever since moved to Colorado we’ve been a one-car household. Overall this hasn’t been a problem seeing as I’ve also worked at home since we moved too. Because Benjamin was in school I was able to schedule my use of the car when he was in class — I’d drop him off, run my errands, and pick him back up after his last class.

Now that he’s at his internship I have to schedule any errands during the weekend, and sometimes that just isn’t possible. Luckily, eGo CarShare placed a car within walking distance of our house. The idea is that you’re able to rent the car in 15 minute increments. You pay by the quarter-hour and the miles driven — the insurance and gas is included.

I had hoped to report to you how wonderful this experience was. So far it’s been a mixed bag. I’ve only used the car twice. The first time was a decent experience after learning how to use a Prius (oddly, starting the car isn’t intuitive). The second time was a disaster and proves to be getting worse by the day.

The second time I rented the car was April 8. I had a meeting from 1:00 to 3:00 just 2 miles away from my house. I wasn’t comfortable biking there due to the overall inaccessibility of the location by bike due to I-70. Instead I walked down to the Town Center, had lunch, and at 1:00 walked over to pick up the car. I fob’ed in, and noticed that there was about 1/4 of a tank of gas left. I say “about” because it’s a Prius. The gas gauge is a digital read-out and it isn’t entirely clear if there were 12 total bars of which only 3 were lit up (thus 1/4 full), or if there were 10 total bars and three of them were lit up (thus 1/3 full). Sadly this is an item of concern. If, during your use of the car, the unit has 1/4 tank of gas or less, you are suppose to go to a Conoco and use the CarShare fleet Conoco card to fill up with gas. If you fail to do so you pay a $25 fee. As I was unable to ascertain what the level was, I decided to err on the side of caution and plan to fill up with gas before returning it.

At 2:55 I left my meeting and drove to the nearest Conoco — which is 1 mile on the opposite side of where I would have returned the car (ie: I added 2 miles to my overall trip due to needing to fill it up with gas). The pump would not give me a receipt so I had to go inside and get one from the cashier. I ended up returning the car 4 minutes late, which will cost me a fee of $27.50 because I didn’t notify them first. CarShare will credit you $2 for the hassle of filling up the car. However, it apparently takes at least 15 minutes ($1.625) and 2 miles ($0.60) to accomplish that task — or $2.23. Worse, because I didn’t initial my receipt (because I wasn’t aware I was suppose to) I’m not even getting the $2 credit!

And it gets worse. I got an email today saying that the car was “filthy” when the next occupant got in it. Well, it was filthy when I got in it too — but apparently I’m suppose to call and report that immediately and if I don’t I’m assumed to be responsible for it. Tack on an additional $25 plus the cost to clean it.

So we’re looking at a minimum of $52.50 ($27.50 late fee + $25 Improper Return of Vehicle fee) plus whatever they charge me to clean the car in addition to the $18.22 it cost me to rent it in the first place.

I freely admit that many of the issues I brought on myself due to lack of knowledge: I should have called and let them know that the car was dirty, I should have called and gotten confirmation about how the gas level reads in the Prius, I should have extended my reservation by 15 minutes in order to fill it up thus costing me only $1.63 extra instead of $27.50 — all newbie mistakes. Although now that I know, given my last experience I’m not very motivated to continue using this resource.

Update: After communicating via email with Amanda, the CarShare fleet manager, it appears that customer service is alive and well within the organization. After explaining the situation Amanda took my word that the car was filthy when I got to it and is following up with the previous user. Moreover she is forwarding my email to the billing manager and she expects them to waive the late fee due to the gas issue. Even if they opt not to waive the late fee, the customer service level alone is enough for me to give them one more shot. As I told Amanda, I really want to like this service to supplement our 1-car household. I just need to stop making newbie mistakes and keep the Member Support phone number on speed-dial.

Thoughts on the movie 9

Yesterday evening I hosted a pizza and movie night and had a great group of friends over to see the movie 9 (the post-apocalyptic animation from Tim Burton, not Nine the musical1). I really enjoyed it. I think it’s one of those movies whose story grows in your mind once you’ve seen it once and you need to see it again later to fully grasp it. I’m sure there are thousands of movie writeups on the web already but I’ve purposely not looked at them so I could jot down my own thoughts first.

Spoiler alert from here going forward – you’ve been warned.

I thought it interesting how the writer decided to break up the human spirit into different segments. After thinking about it here’s my interpretation of which part of the human spirit resided in each of the characters:

  • #1 – Pessimism. Self-preservation. Leadership by power.
  • #2 – Creativity. Resourcefulness.
  • #3 & #4 – Memory. Child-like curiosity. (both too big to contain in 1 entity)
  • #5 – Cowardness. Loyalty. Self-sacrifice.
  • #6 – Obsession. That little bit of “special” we all have.
  • #7 – Bravery. Agility.
  • #8 – Physical power. Intimidation. Brawn.
  • #9 – Optimism. Hope. Encouragement. Leadership by community. Ability to leverage other’s gifts.

Throughout the movie you don’t like #1 much if at all, but if you stop and think about it – the Source created them in this order for a reason. #1’s traits were necessary to keep them alive and together during the initial events (as seen in the flashback). I don’t think #9 would have been up to the task. There’s also a reason that the Source said that #9 was the last hope of humanity. Initially I took it to mean that all of them were the last hope of humanity, but I think that he was specifically talking about #9: optimism & hope.

And think about what was left at the end of the movie: bravery, optimism, hope, memory, and curiosity. Some of the best parts of humanity. Memory of what went wrong to temper the curiosity to not repeat them. Optimisim and hope for the future. Bravery to confront the future and the situations as they arise.

And what was lost at the end of the movie? Pessimism, cowardness, obsession, intimidation but also, sadly, creativity (but was what got humanity in it’s predicament to begin with), resourcefulness, loyalty, and self-sacrifice.

I’ll probably be dwelling on the movie for a couple of days and will be adding it to our Netflix queue to watch it again here in a few months.

1 Both movies came out at roughly the same time. One day Benjamin comes up to me and our conversation went something like this:

B: I can’t wait to see the movie Nine.
C: 9? Really? I didn’t think you’d want to see it.
B: Of course! It has Penelope Cruz in it!
C: [thinking: wow, I didn’t know she was voicing in that movie] Interesting – I didn’t think you’d be interested in an animated post-apocalytpic film.
B: What? Honey, it’s a musical.
C: Trust me, it is not a musical. Are we talking about the same movie?
B: Nine right?
C: Yes – 9. [thinking: why does this seem like Who’s on first?] Have you seen the trailer for it yet?
B: No.
C: Lets watch it.
[Trailer for 9 gets watched.]
B: That’s not the movie I’m talking about, here’s the trailer for the one I’m talking about.
[Trailer for Nine gets watched.]
C: Oh. Yeah, that’s more your style!

Being a digital packrat has its advantages

This evening, through a series of unimportant events which I won’t bore you with here while I bore you with other things, I went in search of an uncropped version of an image I use as an avatar at PGDP. My goal was to crop it at a larger size (128×128) than the version I use at PGDP (80×80).

Despite my best efforts I was unable to find it on my computer. I remember, however, emailing it to the DnD group when it was created 5+ years ago (the avatar is my DnD character Gairdeachas). So I sshed into my mail server, bunzip2 compressed my 2000-2004 sent emails (maildir tar archives), grep’ed through them for what I recall of the filename, and found it. A quick base64 decode of the MIME attachment data (easier than loading it back into my IMAP server and accessing it through my mail client) and success! Then a simple cropping via the Gimp yielded the desired 128×128 image.

In short: yes I’m a digital packrat. I retain all the mail I sent and received back to 2000 ever since I graduated college and stopped using university email systems.

And if you’re really curious – here’s the image I was looking for cropped down to size