Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Dr. Thomas H. Milhorat

Dr. MilhoratWe found out some interesting things about Michel's doctor, Thomas H. Milhorat. First, he is THE MAN when it comes to Chiari Malformation and syringomyelia. You can read more about it here, but in 1999, Dr. Milhorat redefined Chiari. His research changed the way everyone looked at the disease. He is a founder and director of the Chiari Institute.

His father, Ade T. Milhorat, was also a famous neurologist/scientist/researcher. He was one of the founders of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the organization that you know from the telethons run by Jerry Lewis every year. The elder Milhorat was one of the leaders in researching Muscular Dystrophy. He died a few years ago at the age of 98 and was still doing research. He published a reserach paper with his son on Chiari and syringomyelia when he was in his 90's!

I would say that we were very lucky to find Dr. Milhorat.

The Healing Continues

MichelAs you can see, Michel's head is healing very nicely. The stiches are out and there is no swelling or sign of infection. Michel is also doing much better neurologically. She can now stand straight with her eyes closed without falling over. She also felt pain in her hand when she touched something hot for the first time in months. She still can't walk a straight line but things are definitely looking up.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Christmas Report

Michel is getting better every day. We were worried that she wouldn't be up to going out for Christmas but she felt OK so we went to her brother's (Jimmy) house. She lasted quite a while before she ran out of energy. Beth had a great time with her cousin Tracey and Mikey was reasonably well behaved (at least for Mikey). He did manage to break two china plates but we will blame that on Kathleen (Jimmy's wife) because she took her eye off of him for a minute. Mikey got the first season of Sponge Bob on DVD. He spent most of Christmas watching that and playing with Beth and Tracey. Beth got a bunch of games for her PlayStation 2. Her favorite so far seems to be Final Fantasy X. She has had Final Fantasy X-2 for a while and has finished it but she didn't have the first game.

Michel is going to the doctor today to have her stiches taken out. Our friend, Cindy, is taking her. Every day is another step on the road of recovery. So far things are going well and we are hoping Michel can be back to her old self soon.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Home at Last

BethI brought Michel home at about 7 PM. Her potassium levels were good and she had no fever so they decided to let her loose. It's good to have her home. I just want to add at this point that everyone at North Shore Manhassett was wonderful. The staff there was as professional and as dedicated as you would ever hope for.

Beth's ear wasn't too bad. The NP gave us a prescription for anti-bacterial cream and orders not to wear an earring for a few days until it heals. When it gets better, Beth has to wear hoop earrings for awhile to give the ear a chance to fully heal. Not bad considering the horror stories that we heard about infections so bad that the earring had to be surgically removed.

The picture is Beth at the doctor's office and no, she is not playing the air guitar!

Monday, December 20, 2004

Still Not Home

MichelMichel wasn't released so we are hoping for tomorrow. She has been running a fever and has a sore throat so they might keep her until Wednesday. She has her IV out so she can walk around without lugging the pole with her. They removed the bandage from the back of her head so you can see the full incision now. I have provided it as a link so the sqeamish can avoid seeing it. Overall, she is feeling pretty good and we are looking forward to having Michel home.

I should add that I printed the picture of the Christmas tree and brought it to the hospital so Michel could enjoy it. it is amazing what a good picture you can get from these digital cameras.

Meanwhile, Beth had her ears pierced a couple of months ago and one ear has always bothered her a little bit. It looks like she has a nice infection going now. She is probably going to need some antibiotics so I will be taking her to the doctor tomorrow if it doesn't look any better.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Sunday Report

Merry ChristmasI only got to see Michel for about 30 minutes today. I had hoped that Michel's brother would be able to watch the kids but they had plans so they could only watch them for an hour which gave me about 30 minutes at the hospital. Michel wasn't feeling well. She has a cold and has been running fevers on and off. Her potassium levels were low again so she had to get more IV's. We walked three times around the floor and she wasn't worn out. Cindy had complained about the IV stand because the wheels wouldn't turn so they got Michel a new one. It was much easier to push it around the floor when the wheels actually move. We are still hoping Michel will be getting out tomorrow but with the potassium levels and the fevers we aren't overly optimistic. Michel's parents should be back tomorrow.

The picture is of our Christmas tree that my sister put up yesterday. Laura and Beth helped decorate it. Thanks Barb! The cat underneath the tree is Kokie.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Michel's Recovery Continues

MichelMichel has been running slight fevers off and on all day so she doesn't feel quite as well as she did. The doctor came in and he said that she is doing very well and is on course to be booted out on Monday. We walked around the floor twice while I was there. Our friend Cindy dropped in to see Michel. And Eileen's flowers finally were delivered... and they weren't dead. Actually, they were very pretty.

My sister, Barbara, came over, cleaned the house, decorated for Christmas including putting up the tree, and watched Mikey while I went to the hospital and did some shopping. The house feels like Christmas now. Barb's daughter, Laura, took Beth Christmas shopping since Michel isn't going to be doing any and I am not the right person to be picking out clothes for Beth. Michel's parents went back to Brooklyn but they will be back on Monday.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Friday Report and Pictures

MichelI visited Michel after work. She is doing great. I brought her some chicken soup and a bagel. It is amazing how quickly she is recovering from the surgery. She said the pain is very mild. The worst pain is that she had to get an IV with potassium and that apparently burns like hell going in. She has a fat lip. Apparently the anesthesiologist screwed up and Michel bit her lip during the surgery. Michel's surgeon, Dr. Milhorat, was not pleased.

MichelMichel now has three zippers in her head. The big one is under that bandage. She got up for a little bit while I was there and we walked around the hallways. Michel's sister, Eileen, sent flowers but they got lost somewhere in the hospital so we looked around for them. No luck. There were some dead flowers at the nurse's station but they weren't from Eileen.

Morning Update

MichelI spoke with Michel on the phone and she is feeling pretty good considering what she has gone through. She has normal post-operative pain but none of the chiari pain that she has been living with since July. I won't get to see her until tonight because I had to go to work today.

Since I haven't been to the hospital yet today, here is a picture of the hospital that I took yesterday. Nice blue sky!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Two more reviews written...

and another waiting. I read three books in three days while waiting in various waiting rooms at the hospital. I posted the review of Explorer's Guide to the Semantic Web and Core Java 2, Fundamentals today. I still have to post the review of the best of the three books, SWT/JFace in Action. I'll try to get to that one tomorrow.

Second Surgery

Michel A perfect surgery! The operation was 7 hours long but everything went perfectly. They repaired the base of Michel's skull and she now has a plate in her head. I'm not sure what exactly was involved but it was very extensive. The doctors who performed the surgery are the director and associate director at the Chiari Institute, Dr. Milhorat and Dr. Bolognese.

They let me see Michel at around 3:30 PM but she was still out of it. She is spending the night in the recovery room and being sent back to a regular room tomorrow. She seemed to be in a lot of pain compared to Tuesday's surgery. I'm just glad that this is all over and we can start the recovery process.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Day After

Michel is doing very well. She got up and walked around a bit and they let her eat a regular meal for supper (ziti with meatballs). Surgery is tomorrow at 7:30 AM. This surgery will definitely be the worse of the two as they have to cut through the muscles in her neck to get to the section of her brain that they need to work on. If everything goes well they spring her on Monday or Tuesday.

Here is the picture of the day. Rather than post it I have linked to it because some people may be a bit too squeamish to look at it. The doctor came to change the bandage and while he had Michel's head exposed I got a shot. You can see the two incisions in the picture. The larger one on the top of Michel's head is shaped like an upside down "J". At the top of the "J" is a bump under Michel's skin. That is the shunt. You can see the second incision by Michel's ear. The incisions are held together with staples (and yes, they do sometimes use a glue stick). Michel has another incision in her abdomen but I didn't get a shot of that one.

The shunt itself is an amazing piece of technology. It can be set to let more or less fluid flow through it as needed. They use a magnet to change the setting so that they don't have to operate again.

I just want to add a special thanks to the gang at JavaRanch. I appreciate all the good words of support and the beautiful flowers and the teddy bear. You guys and gals are the greatest!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Day in Pictures

Michel This is Michel sitting in the kitchen waiting for it to be time to head off to the hospital. Surprisingly, Michel was not the least bit nervous. She was just anxious to have the surgery so the pain that she has had since her fall back in July would go away.

Michel Here is Michel waiting at the hospital for the surgery. She is listening to London Calling by The Clash. The surgery was scheduled for 3:30 but they wanted us there at 1:30. The problem with showing up on time is that you have to wait.

Michel The surgery was over in almost exactly three hours which is what the doctor told us it would take. It went perfectly and I got to see Michel in recovery about an hour after the surgery was over. Michel's first words when I saw her in recovery were, "I love my shunt." (This is a reference to the Julia Sweeney movie, God Said, "Ha!") The pain between her shoulders was gone for the first time since July. Amazing!

MichelMichel was brought up to the room fairly quickly. She is sore but in good spirits. And she is bald. Completely bald. Totally bald. But she is still beautiful. The next surgery is scheduled for 7:30 AM on Thursday.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Review - Building Portals with the Java Portlet API

Building Portals with the Java Portlet APIReviewed another very good book. I downgraded this one a little bit because the writing isn't as crisp as some of the other books I've read. On JavaRanch, I am giving this 8-horseshoes which makes it a high 4-star book. In the book, the authors mention a web site they are setting up to support the book but at the time of this review, the site didn't exist. The site was supposed to provide some additonal information about using Pluto that the authors didn't include in the book.

Brain Surgery

A BrainTomorrow is the big day. Michel is getting her head chopped open and her brain messed around with. Tomorrow is actually shunt day. Thursday they go back in again to fool around with the base of her brain. I think they need to do the shunt first to relieve the pressure in her brain otherwise when they do the other surgery her head will explode like a can of Coke that has been shaken up. Or something like that.

It just seems like something comes up every year around Christmas. It's always somebody is sick and needs to spend some time in the hospital. We picked up Michel's parents from Brooklyn yesterday. They will be spending some time with us taking care of the kids while Michel is in the hospital. If I say that they are life savers, that would be an understatement.

Since Michel is going to have her head shaved for the surgery, she went and got a short haircut on Saturday. It looks really pretty. Of course, it will all be gone tomorrow but hair grows back. Bald and with staples in her head... my little Frankenstein monster! I will be sure to post some pictures of before and after!

We did get some good news that I forgot to mention. Beth made the honor roll at school. I talked to all of Beth's teachers and they all said that they are happy to have Beth in their class and that she is wonderful girl. This is such a relief after the bad year she had at Our Lady of Mercy. Her sixth grade teacher was a disaster and whenever I asked her why Beth wasn't doing well I always got the same response, "Sixth grade is much harder than fifth grade." What a load of crap. Beth is doing great, loves her teachers, and has made a bunch of great friends. I'm sorry that I ever wasted my money putting Beth in private school.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Blackadder speaks out about free speech

Rowan Atkinson"To criticise a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous but to criticise their religion - that is a right. That is a freedom. The freedom to criticise ideas - any ideas even if they are sincerely held beliefs - is one of the fundamental freedoms of society. And the law which attempts to say you can criticise or ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed. It all points to the promotion of the idea that there should be a right not to be offended. But in my view the right to offend is far more important than any right not to be offended. The right to ridicule is far more important to society than any right not to be ridiculed because one in my view represents openness - and the other represents oppression." - Rowan Atkinson, speaking out about the latest attempt to criminalize speech in Britain.

BBC article

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Review - Java Reflection in Action

Java Reflection in ActionAnother five star book review. I seem to be finding a bunch of excellent books. This one covers reflection. Reflection is an interesting topic but it also seems to be poorly understood out in the programming world. Everyone knows about reflection but they don't seem anxious to use it in their code perhaps for fear of performance hits or fear of complexity.

About a year ago, another publisher sent me a manuscript of a book on reflection proposed by these authors. It seemed to be geared towards college graduate students and wasn't particularly practical. At the time, I told the publisher that the topic was a great idea but that the approach was all wrong. What was needed was a book that programmers could use in their every day work which would provide them with the knowledge to make use of reflection. It seems that someone took my advice because that book was never published and instead a completely different book, geared towards business programmers, was written by the same authors. So go out and buy this book so that my advice will make me look smart! ;)

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Twenty-five Years of Programming

This month is the 25th anniversary of the start of my career as a computer programmer. It was December 3rd, 1979 that I started at Dun and Bradstreet as an Assembler/COBOL programmer. I was working on an IBM 370, which was a state of the art mainframe. This was before the days of personal PC's so programmers were looked on as almost magical. No matter what information you wanted, if it was on a computer you needed a programmer to get it for you.

This first job was in New York City on Church St., just a few blocks north of the World Trade Center. I worked with a fantastic group of people and it was probably the most fun of any job I have ever had. There were a few not-so-fun things that happened shortly after I started. First, the Long Island Rail Road went on strike for a week in what was one of the coldest Decembers in memory. I had to take a bus into the city and then catch the subway. I was tempted to quit right off the start. Then in the Spring, the subways went on strike. The first couple of days I took the train in to the city and then walked, took a bus, took PATH trains, to get to the downtown office. Then they started letting us go into work at night. That actually worked out great as parking was available on the street at night.

In twenty-five years the changes that have happened in the IT field have been amazing. The things that come to my mind are: the change from mainframes to servers, the growth of languages like C and Java, object oriented programming, open source programming, and the biggest one of all, the growth of the internet. From an IT person's point of view, not all of these things have made our jobs better. In many ways, these changes have commoditized what we do making us less valuable as individuals to a corporation. Or maybe I'm just missing the good old days of my mispent youth. I do know this... I would not recommend an IT career to anyone.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Multiple Inheritance

It's been quite a while since I have had anything to say about Java but an article on JavaLobby made me want to respond. The gist of the article is that multiple inheritance is wonderful and would solve many problems for developers and Java should allow it. Let me just sum up my feelings by saying that this is an incredibly bad idea. The lack of multiple inheritance in Java is a good thing, not a defect.

There are two rules that sum up my thinking on this. One comes from Joshua Bloch and the other comes from the gang of four:

1) Favor composition over inheritance
2) Inherit interfaces and not implementations

Inheritance is abused in OO programming and allowing multiple inheritance is inviting more abuse. We should program to interfaces and use those to support multiple inheritance. We should combine separate interfaces in a single class in order to provide the appearance of multiple inheritance. On the good side, the author of the original article did write a post script in which he admitted that he could get around his problem by using interfaces. And that is exactly the right way to do it!

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Easy as Dell!? %$#@%&!

If you check back to my November 9th entry you will find this throwaway line, "So I cancelled the order from Dell".

To refresh your memory, I had ordered a memory card and a video card from Dell for my daughter's computer. The video card was back ordered so I cancelled it and bought one from Best Buy. Although the actual cancelling of the order was less than simple, I didn't think much of it at the time but following events brought it to mind. So let me start at the beginning.

I called Dell to cancel the order and was immediately reminded that Dell had transferred their customer service for non-business customers to India. Because of complaints of bad service, business customers are still being handled in the USA but us lowly personal computer owners apparently don't require stellar customer service. Anyway, the person on the other end spoke English, although with a thick Indian accent. I told him that I wanted to cancel part of the order, specifically the video card because it was backordered. He told me to wait and after a few minutes he came back to tell me that the memory card had already shipped, which I knew since I had already installed it in my daughter's computer. I again explained that it was just the video card that I wanted to cancel. He again put me on hold. Eventually he came back and told me that he had sent an email to the people in the US that would cancel my order and everything should be fine. So, let me get this straight Mr. Dell, you transfer American jobs to India and then don't even give these people the tools to do their job? He has to cancel my order via email? What kind of madness is this?

Flash to ten days later, and sure enough the video card arrives at my house. I call Dell again and again I get someone in India. I explain the situation and he seems to understand the issue. He puts me on hold. A few minutes later he comes back on and tells me that he is waiting for a response from the return center so I can get a return authorization number. Although he didn't state "email" I strongly suspected he was waiting for one. A few more minutes and I got my return authorization number. UPS picked up the box without any trouble.

This whole thing could have been avoided if (a) Dell's web site gave accurate information about the length of time you need to wait for back ordered items or (b) the people in the service center were given the proper tools and the proper training to do their jobs!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Family Bonds

Family BondsWhat led me to my earlier entry about Long Island was the HBO program, Family Bonds. It got me started wondering about what other people think about Long Island. Do people think of Amy Fisher when they think of Long Island? Do people believe that shows like Family Bonds reflect Long Island? Obviously, in one sense Family Bonds does reflect Long Island. The Evangelista family is part of Long Island. But in another sense they are caricatures of Long Island, reflecting only one sample of Long Islanders.

If you haven't seen the show, then you have missed an entertaining although odd program. The show is about the Evangelista family, who live in Medford. Tom Evangelista is a bail bondsmen and the show in part is about his business and his occasional hunting down of bail jumpers. What makes the show truly entertaining, however, is the family. HBO describes them this way, "the most outrageous, fun-loving, and wild (yet somehow functional) real-life family on TV". Tom's family is made up of his wife, his married daughter, his two sons, nephew, and various in-laws.

One of my favorite scenes involves Tom's mother who has a sick dog. The vet tells Tom that he needs to get a stool sample from the dog so he tells his mom to get it. She says, "I'm not going to get it. You get." Tom says, "I'm not getting it." The scene ends without any resolution. As the credits finish, we see Tom in his mom's backyard with a flashlight hunting for a stool sample. What a good son!

Anyway, if you think the Evangelistas represent Long Island then you right and you are wrong. Long Island is a big place with almost 3 million residents and one family can not represent life on Long Island. But they are Long Islanders.

Review - Pro Jakarta Velocity

Pro Jakarta VelocityAnother review, of a five star book on Amazon. I have to admit that I am a fan of Velocity so I may be biased. After all, I even wrote an article about Velocity. The book covers Velocity from end to end. There is little that I could find missing from the book where I would say, how could he have left out X. Good examples, clear writing, just a nice job overall.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Long Island

Long IslandI have lived on Long Island my entire life. I often wonder what the impression of Long Island is of people who have never been here.

What Long Island really is all about is difficult to pin down. It's hard to even agree on what Long Island is. Ask someone from the area and they will tell you that Long Island is Nassau and Suffolk county. A person from Brooklyn would never consider themselves a "Long Islander". But physically, Long Island encompasses four counties including parts of NYC. Going west to east they are Brooklyn and Queens which are part of New York City, and Nassau and Suffolk. The entire island is 118 miles long (it is a long island, the longest adjoining the continental US) of which 85 miles is Nassau and Suffolk. At its widest point, the island is about 20 miles wide. Living on Long Island, it is very easy to forget that you live on an island (at least until you want to get off it).

The population of Long Island is larger than most cities. Including Brooklyn and Queens there are about 8 million people on Long Island. The population of Nassau and Suffolk is about 2.8 million. Generally, the further east you go, the less populated the island is (except for the Hamptons in the summer). For those who are interested, the population density of Nassau County is 4,655/mi²!

Long Island is often thought of as a "bedroom community" for New York City and to some extent that is still true although most people on Long Island don't work in NYC. Long Island is made up mostly of single-family detached houses. Median household income on Long Island is pretty high (although the cost of living is high) and the education system is generally excellent. Many top-ranked colleges are on Long Island. Many top-ranked hospitals are here as well.

The weather on Long Island tends to be moderated somewhat by our proximity to the ocean but we have definitely have four distinct seasons. Did I mention we have 1,180 miles of shoreline including some of the nicest public beaches in the country?

Some Info about Long Island:

Long Island History

Wikipedia - Long Island

Special bonus picture from my front door:
My Block

Monday, November 15, 2004

Review - Effective Enteprise Java

Effective Enteprise JavaAnother review, this time of an excellent book. I gave it five stars on Amazon. This is similar to the book Effective XML, in that it is a collection of various topics. You could open the book anywhere and start reading an item and not feel lost. Not a tutorial or reference but more like a collection of articles by someone who knows the topic.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The good: Mikey has been qualified for the Medicaid Waver program. This is going to be a huge help. We are already getting extra therapy in the house for Mikey and we will be getting an aid soon. I think this is going to take a lot of pressure off of everyone especially with Michel being sick. Which brings us to...

The bad: Michel needs more surgery. Her Chiari Malformation has developed to the point where they need to put a shunt in and do some extra work at the base of her skull. This will require two surgeries, two days apart. The plan is to put the shunt in on December 14th and do the other surgery on the 16th. Michel will be bald for Christmas! She will be in the hospital for five days. Fortunately, Michel's parents will be staying with us and I have some vacation time left over. I just hope that this is the last of the surgeries.

The ugly: We went out to a barn dance with our friends on Saturday. My sister, Barbara, (who lives in Medford near the stars of Family Bonds) watched Mikey while Beth had a sleepover at a friend's house. It was good to get out and see some of our friends. The ugly part? You should have seen them dancing! ;-)

Friday, November 12, 2004

Review - Java Garage

Java GarageI just wrote a review of Java Garage by Eben Hewitt. I gave it two stars on Amazon. I think this is a book that could have been good but the author was too much into this I have to be different mode.

I noticed that the book got several very good reviews on Amazon and one review similar to mine. That review seems to have been hit with a bunch of unhelpful votes. Some people miss the point and think that the voting on Amazon is for whether you agree with the review or not. The question is, was the review helpful.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Memory, Cards, Roller Coasters, and a Kiss

MeIf you recall from a few days ago, I had bought Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 for Beth for her birthday. But darkness reigned o'er the land as it was revealed that great heaps of memory and fancy new video cards are needed to run the complex 3-D games of today. So it was off to Dell to order the above mentioned items. Dell was quick to deliver the memory but the video card was backordered. Not to worry, Beth, the box from the game says we can run the game with the pitiful old 32meg video card that you have in your computer. But it was not to be... the game complained that more and more was needed. And darkness once more descended upon the land.

So I cancelled the order from Dell and went to Best Buy where I got the required 128meg video card. Installing the hardware was easy. When I installed the memory, Windows XP recognized it instantly and started using it. But the video card was different. Installing the card was not too hard. Pop out the old one and slip in the new one. Plug everything back in and start it up. Insert the installation CD and install the drivers. reboot. Uh-oh! A blue screen of unhappiness has appeared on the monitor. Start it up again. OK, this time it starts and we get to windows but we start the game and again the blue screen appears. And there is much gnashing and wailing at the evil name of Gates in the Paul household.

Let's google ati3duag.dll which seems to be the offending program. Hits! Someone else had the same problem and they installed the updated drivers and all was well. Off to the ATI web site and download the new drivers. Uninstall the old, reboot, install the new, reboot. Looking good so far. Start the game and... rejoicing! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Daddy is the hero!

Well was it all worth it? Beth came down and said, "Daddy, this game rocks!" and gave me a kiss. So, yes, it was well worth it!

Sunday, November 07, 2004

The Blogger Hits 46

MeToday is my birthday and I turned 46! Dwight Eisenhower was President when I was born. The Giants and Dodgers had just completed their first season in California. Movies released in 1958 included Vertigo (I always liked that film), The Bridge on the River Kwai (top grossing film of the year) and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Ice-T, Madonna, and Dan Castellaneta were born that year. It was also the year my wife was born. You can read more about that wonderful year here.

Today was a nice day. The weather was perfect and the kids and I played in the front yard throwing leaves in the air. It's better than raking. The wind carried all the leaves over to my neighbor which is only fair since I don't have any trees on my property. I took Mikey for a drive and we listened to his current favorite song, "Word Girl" by Scritti Politti, about 100 times. My son obviously has excellent taste in music. Michel didn't have a great day. She overdid it a little (laundry, cleaning) while Mikey and I were out and was hurting for the rest of the day. My mother-in-law gave me 47 cents. I think it was one cent for each year and then a penny for good luck. Either that or she miscounted.

Mikey is in bed and Michel is resting so I'm going to watch a little football and work on the NY Times crossword until 10:00 when my new favorite TV show, Family Bonds comes on. I think that show might be the subject of a blog entry!

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Post-Election Tales

Here are a couple of post-election stories that caught my eye and I thought were interesting/humourous:

In the first one, we learn that people from Ohio think the British are "weenie-spined Limeys" and have "pansy-ass, tea-sipping opinions."

Brits' campaign backfires in Ohio

In the second story, we are reminded that people get the government they deserve:

'Mystery Candidate' Wins Without Campaign

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Fall and the Wind

WindmillThe Fall is my favorite time of the year. Crisp, cool weather replaces the hot, humid New York Summer. Today was a beautiful Fall day. It had rained hard yesterday but today was clear windy day with temps in the mid 50's. The wind was blowing the leaves off the trees and now there is a pile of crunchy leaves in front of my door. The Fall brings perfect weather but it also brings wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables. I bought some NY Macoun apples today but it also the time of fresh local grapes and fall squash.

All this wind (plus a post about alternative energy sources by Helen Thomas on JavaRanch) has reminded me of the Long Island Offshore Wind Initiative that has been in planning for a couple of years. The plan is to build windmills about five miles offshore where the wind blows almost constantly. If all the windmills that are planned are built, the windmills would provide 5,200 megawatts of power and supply 77% of Long Island's power needs. We would have cheap, pollution free power and eliminate most of our need on foreign imports. If we used Canadian hydroelectric or solar power for our remaining needs, we could eliminate virtually all polluting energy sources for Long Island's power.

Of course, a proposal like this doesn't come without critics. The main criticism seems to be aesthetics. The windmills will be visible on a clear day from our beautiful beaches. Some people have complained that they will be an ugly eyesore against our previously pristine views. Here is a simulated picture of the windmills. I wonder if the builders of windmills in Holland received the same complaints from those who didn't want to ruin the views of tulip fields. There is also the question of cost and cost effectiveness. To determine the practicality of windmills on Long Island, a small wind farm of between 25 and 50 windmills will be built. They will produce about 100 megawatts of power, enough power for 100,000 homes. It is estimated that the wind farm would be complete by the end of 2007.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Happy Birthday Beth!

BethToday was Beth's birthday. She turned 12 today which means she is only one year away from being a teenager!!! Accepting that I have a daughter who is practically a teenager is not easy expecially when it is so easy to remember when she was small enough to hold on my forearm. I think that is one of the reasons that it is hard for parents to accept their children growing up... because we remember them as being so little as if it was yesterday.

Anyway, Beth got the two things that she really wanted, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Season 1 Box Set and Rollercoaster Tycoon 3. Plus we had KFC for dinner and Carvel cake for dessert, both of which are Beth's favorites. Everything was perfect except that I found out that Beth's computer doesn't have the right graphics card to run Roller Coaster Tycoon so I had to order an upgrade from Dell. Anyway, all we will be well when the new card arrives.

So, Happy Birthday Beth! You are the best daughter any father could ask for.

Monday, November 01, 2004

A Peak at Some of the Family

Forgotten-NYMy wife's cousin, Kevin, has a really cool web site called Forgotten NY. The idea behind the web site is to capture the images of New York that are part of our past. Kevin explores all over new York and captures images of abandoned buildings, old faded advertisments, streets that no longer exist, etc. It makes for a fascinating way to look at New York City.

Anyway, Kevin also has a blog and his entry for July 22, 2004 includes a picture of the family. Open it up in a new window because Kevin describes the people in terms of his relation to them. I will describe them in relation to me. If you are looking at the picture, the first thing to point out is that I am not in it. I was home watching Mikey that day while Michel was in Brooklyn helping Kevin. The second thing to keep in mind is that this is my wife's family so you are basically looking at my in-laws.

So, Eileen (2nd from left) is my sister-in-law. She is Michel's sister. (Michel, for those who haven't been paying attention, is my wife.) To the left of Eileen is her husband, Tom. To the right of Eileen is my mother-in-law, Mary King. She is from Newfoundland and has an accent that everyone thinks is Irish. Although I pick on her and she drives us crazy sometimes, she is an absolute lifesaver and has been an incredible help especially since Michel became ill. In front of Mary are Eileen's two sons, Brian and Patrick. That makes them my nephews. Well, they are my nephews because they are Eileen's kids not because they are standing in front of my m-i-l. I mean, not every kid who stands in front of my m-i-l is my nephew. But I digress. To the right of Mary and slightly behind her is Michel's cousin Tina. She lives in Phoenix but happened to be visiting. [Ed. - Michel has reminded me that Tina didn't happen to be just visting. Tina had come to NY to help us after Michel's surgery.] According to my daughter, Tina is tres cool. Next to Tina is my wonderful wife. I would go on here about what a lucky man I am to be married to her but I don't want to make this too long! In front of Michel is my daughter, Beth. Beth is an absolute treasure. I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate to have these two ladies in my life. And last but not least, the handsome gentleman all the way on the right is my father-in-law, Jim.

Missing from the picture is Michel's brother, Jim and his wife, Kathleen, and his two kids, Tracy-Anne and Timmy. They weren't able to be there that day.

So there you have it. That is the family that by the law of the great Empire State, New York, I am officially related to.

A New Blog

I started a new blog called Java Book Reviews where I intend to post my reviews of books related to Java and programming in general. There are a couple of reasons for doing this. First, I want to syndicate my book reviews to JavaBlogs but I don't want to syndicate all the other things I post on this blog. Since Blogger doesn't support categories, my only choice was to create a new blog for the book reviews. Second, I don't want to clutter up this blog with the book reviews.

In the future I will just post a short note here whenever I post a new review. I am not going to delete all of the reviews that are here because some of them have comments but at some point I will delete all the reviews that don't have comments.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Mikey and His Dancing Teeth

Mikey had his day at the dentist on Wednesday and everything went beautifully. We took him to Schneider Children's Hospital and Dr. Charlie performed almost 4 hours worth of dental work while Mikey was under general anesthesia. Mikey had two root canals, four teeth filled, two teeth pulled, and eight teeth crowned with stainless steel caps. His mouth looks great! Everyone at Schneider was great. The anesthesiologist came out and talked to us about Mikey's history and assured Michel that he done this "at least once before." The intern who was working with Dr. Charlie was very nice and Dr. Charlie was, of course, the best. After the surgery he gave us his home number and his cell number and told us to call him and let him know how Mikey was doing because he wouldn't be able to sleep until he heard from us.

We also got good news on Mikey's ears. After Dr. Charlie was finished, the ENT took a look in Mikey's ears. He had a torn ear drum but it has completely healed. The ENT said that other than a little bit of wax, which he removed, everything looked beautiful in Mikey's ears. We thought for sure that Mikey was going to need surgery to repair his ear drum so this is really good news.

Mikey's pulmonologist was worried about Mikey being under for so long so Mikey spent the night at the hospital. Michel stayed with him but Mikey slept most of the night (although Michel didn't sleep much at all). His breathing was perfect through the whole night and we brought him home the next morning. The whole thing went as well as we could have hoped.

Am I Helpful?

If you will take a look at my Amazon page, you will see that I have reached a major milestone. After almost 3 years of writing reviews for Amazon, I have reached 1,000 helpful votes. That means that 1,000 times, someone has clicked the little "yes" button next to the question, "Was this review helpful to you?" which is underneath each of my reviews.

You might be saying, "But Amazon has millions of customers. How can 1,000 measly votes be of any significance?" All I have to say is that getting votes on Amazon is not easy. I know that people read the reviews. Authors complain about them. Professional reviewers revile them. And customers read them but ignore the vote buttons under them. And the small group of dedicated Amazon reviewers write large number of reviews, discuss votes and treasure votes and complain on their dedicated forum that no one votes. With a bit over 125 reviews on Amazon, I guess I fall into that group of dedicated reviewers.

The ranking system on Amazon is a little strange. Votes are important, obviously, but ranking isn't based just on the number of votes. How the votes are distributed across your reviews is also critical. Once you achieve a certain number of votes on one item, additional votes don't count towards your ranking, although they do count towards ego stroking. Take a look at John E. Fracisco's Page. He has almost 7,000 votes but almost all of them are for a single review, his joke review of The Story About Ping (see the bottom of his Amazon page). So even though he has more than 6 times as many votes as I do, he is ranked at almost 90,000 while I am in the top 800 Amazon reviewers. Also, too many votes from the same person either in one day or overall don't improve your ranking. Stuff the ballot box and Amazon ignores the votes.

So anyway, let me thank all the people who have found my reviews helpful, especially those who have expressed it with a vote and let me apologize to all the people who have not found my reviews helpful. To them I promise to try to do better. Finally and especially to the authors whose books I have panned all I can promise is that I try to be honest in all of my reviews.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Review - Java Studio Creator Field Guide

Java Studio Creator Field GuideJava Studio Creator Field Guide
by Gail Anderson, Paul Anderson

5 out of 5 stars

Sun's Java Studio Creator makes use of JavaServer Faces (JSF) to allow visual development similar to the way Microsoft's Visual Studio allows visual development of ASP based sites. It is an easy to use IDE that allows you to drag and drop JSF components, validators, and converters to design a web application. Much of the code required for a web site is automatically generated for you as you visually develop and additional classes can be generated or hand written (depending on their complexity) using the tool. This book will not teach you JSF but it will teach you how to use the IDE and quickly create web applications. This book is a well-written and easy to follow step-by-step tutorial to using this new IDE.

The book starts with a chapter on Java that can be easily ignored. The next chapter gives a quick introduction to the IDE. The authors demonstrate many of the basic techniques and show how to use the visual features to create navigation for a multi-page web site. The third chapter discusses each of the JSF components that are available in the IDE. Chapters four and five demonstrate how to use these components to build a web application. The examples are simple but they show how to integrate the generated code with custom beans (that can also be generated). Chapters six and seven show how to integrate Web Services and databases into your application. Chapter eight looks at internationalization and writing custom validators. The final chapter covers debugging.

If you have a copy of the software and want to utilize it to the fullest then this book is well worth buying. If you don't have the software then look at ISBN 0131499947 to purchase the book and the software together.

This earned 5 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Prentice Hall.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Review - J2ME Games with MIDP2

J2ME Games with MIDP2J2ME Games with MIDP2
by Carol Hamer

5 out of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. The author does a solid job of explaining everything you need to know to write games for MIDP devices. If you are familiar with Jonathan Knudsen's book on J2ME (probably the best book on the subject), this book expands the single games chapter into a fun and interesting book.

The book starts with a quick sample showing us how to use the Sun IDE and how to run our games on the emulator and how to download our games to a phone. The author shows a couple of example games, a maze and a jumping game, that give a good overview of the basic techniques games use on MIDP devices. She then expands those examples by showing proper use of threads and shows how to play tones and music during a game. Storing information (such as high scores or user preferences) is demonstrated. Downloading game enhancements such as new levels for a dungeon game are also demonstrated. The book is full of well-commented code samples (worth stealing) that show the techniques being discussed.

The author of this book has a nice, easy to read style of writing. Her enthusiasm for the topic comes through and makes you want to try the many sample games. If you have been spending too much time on enterprise programming then playing around with some MIDP games might be just the antidote and this book will get you started on the fun.

This earned 5 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Apress.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Jury Duty

This past week I have been on jury duty. The last time I was on jury duty was a long time ago. That time I had to sit in the waiting area at the court house for a week. I was called for one jury and was rejected. Then back to the waiting area. This time the jury duty was a breeze. They now put you on telephone standby. Each night you call to see if you are to report. They finally got around to my number and I had to report Friday. Apparently Friday isn't a big day for trials. I arrived at 8:30 AM and they showed us a film about jury duty. We filled out saome paperwork and then waited. Around 11 AM I was called to an empanelling room. This is the room where they ask you questions and decide whether they want you for the jury. The case was a malpractice case. Apparently a 42 year old man went to the hospital for a heart attack and died of a brain bleed. Michel suggested that it might have been because of the anti-coagulants they use as treatment for the heart attack. One of the defendants in the case was North Shore Hospital, Michel's employer. Needless to say, it was decided that I wasn't needed. So it was back to the waiting area. Around 12:30 PM they let us out for lunch. Back at 2:00 PM. 2:30 PM they called my name and it was back to the empanelling room. "Thanks a lot... you can go home. Your jury duty is over." So that was it. I have performed my civic duty and I don't have to serve again for six years. This was the third time I have been called for jury duty and I have yet to get on a case. I don't know if that is good or bad.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Life Sucks - Part 7

When last we heard from our heroes, life sucked. And so it goes...

So Michel has now passed her three month anniversary of not being able to work. The doctors still don't want her going back, even for light duty. She had to drop her class because she couldn't do the work in the doctor's office. Too bad. I think she really liked working there.

Mikey's dental work is next week. He will be spending the night in the hospital because all the doctors are paranoid about his airway. His ENT wants to bronch him as long as he is there. Why not? The more the merrier.

I always thought maybe God had a bit of sadistic streak in him but now I'm convinced that he enjoys suffering...

I don't want to start any blasphemous rumours
but I think that God's got a sick sense of humour
and when I die I expect to find him laughing.

--- Depeche Mode

Review - InstallAnywhere Tutorial and Reference

InstallAnywhere Tutorial and ReferenceInstallAnywhere Tutorial and Reference
by Zero G Team

4 out of 5 stars

This book is an excellent guide to using InstallAnywhere no matter which platform you are running or how much experience you have with the product. This is the kind of documentation that you wish that the company would provide especially when you consider the price of the software. According to the introduction, the book was produced from the handouts that Zero G had produced for their three day InstallAnywhere course.

The book starts with a quick introduction and some screen shots showing what running an installer would look like from a customer's point of view. The authors next show a simple example of building an installer. Unfortunately, and this remains true for the rest of the book, no screen shots are included. This means that you must be running the software to take full advantage of the book. No reading this book in the bathtub. The book works well as both a tutorial and reference guide. The authors take you step by step through an exercise explaining each of the options even if they aren't used in this exercise. The instructions for each exercise are very clear. The use of the product is clearly explained while you are using it, which makes the learning "stick".

The book covers everything from the most basic installer all the way up to writing your own custom plug-ins. If you are interested in taking full advantage of the InstallAnywhere software and don't want to spend the money for three days of training, then this book is for you.

This earned 4 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Addison-Wesley.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Review - Official Eclipse 3.0 FAQs

Official Eclipse 3.0 FAQsOfficial Eclipse 3.0 FAQs
by John Arthorne, Chris Laffra

4 out of 5 stars

The name of this book is a little deceptive as this is really the official FAQs for Eclipse plug-in developers. The book is broken up into chapters with each chapter covering about 20 questions. The first three chapters seem a bit unnecessary as they cover a general overview of Eclipse. Most plug-in developers probably don't need the answers to those questions and most developers not trying their hand at plug-ins won’t need the answers to the remaining 300 questions.

Starting with chapter 4, the book covers many of the questions that plug-in developers will have. The main sections are broken up into a look at the basics of the Rich Client platform including JFace and SWT and specifics on the Eclipse IDE platform. Workbench, editors, perspectives, and views are covered in the general part. The next part goes into more specific details of the Workspace and Resources API and the Java Development Tool API, among other topics. The questions are arranged well so rather than a random collection of questions, each chapter is very readable. Supporting screen shots and source code are provided as needed. The questions selected cover many of the more confusing areas of plug-in development. The answers are well written and easy to follow.

The book includes a CD that can be installed as an Eclipse plug-in so that the answers will always be nearby even when a co-worker borrows your copy of the book. Overall, this book is a valuable aid to have nearby while doing plug-in development.

This earned 4 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Addison-Wesley.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Review - A Programmer's Guide to Java Certification

A Programmer's Guide to Java CertificationA Programmer's Guide to Java Certification: A Comprehesive Primer, Second Edition
by Khalid Mughal, Rolf Rasmussen

5 out of 5 stars

If you are studying to become a Sun Certified Programmer for the Java 2 Platform 1.4 this book will help you to receive not just a passing grade but an excellent understanding of the intricacies of the Java programming language. Mughal and Rasmussen aren't satisfied with simply giving you a minimal understanding of Java so that you can pass a test. They are interested in helping you to understand the language at a deeper level. After all, it is much easier to pass the certification exam when you actually understand the material rather than when you have simply memorized a lot of details.

I'll give you an example of the level of detail that the book covers. Section 5.2 of the book covers Selection statements. The section starts with a description of the if statement followed by an activity diagram which explains the flow of the statement. The authors then show a simple example followed by a clear explanation of the if statement. Then they do the same with if-else, this time using several examples. The same level of detail follows for the switch statement, again providing clear text, with a simple activity diagram, followed by several well explained examples. Finally, the section ends with several review questions. What this means is that this book can serve you well even after you have passed the certification exam. You will be hard pressed to find a better written reference.

The book covers all the information you need to pass the certification exam and covers the material needed to connect all the pieces together. The included CD has several mock exams with questions that will help you understand the type of questions that you will face on the actual exam. If you do well on the mock exams you will do well on the real thing. Overall, this is an excellent book for studying for the Java certification. But it is such a good reference that you will want to keep it nearby even after you have passed the certification.

This earned 5 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Addison-Wesley.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.

Review - J2EE 1.4: The Big Picture

J2EE 1.4: The Big PictureJ2EE 1.4: The Big Picture
by Solveig Haugland, et al

4 out of 5 stars

This is a book that could have been a lot better. The main goal of the book, and one at which it generally succeeds, is to give you an overall view of what J2EE is and how it fits into an overall IT strategy. The advantages and disadvantages of each piece of J2EE are discussed. There is very little code in the book (and what is in there could have easily been left out without any loss of clarity) so if you are looking for a book to show you how to write programs then this is not the book for you.

The book has some serious drawbacks. First, the authors of this book are trying desperately to reach some level of geek coolness with mentions of The Simpsons, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Pulp Fiction, and with the use of deliberate (at least I think it is deliberate) poor grammar and spelling. But after awhile it just gets annoying. The book is probably twice as long as it needed to be because of the authors' desire to try to make the book fun. But unlike the Head First books, the "fun" here just gets tedious and turns short discussions into long and confusing discussions. (Why is a J2EE server like a dolphin? Does it like fish?) The book is also repetitive. For example, the discussion of session beans on page 48 is repeated almost verbatim (including the same picture) on page 139. The book does not cover JavaServer Faces and makes only a minimal mention of Struts. None of the other open source frameworks are discussed at all.

Overall, the information in the book is accurate and there is really no other book on the market that covers the material at this level (which is why it is getting 4 stars and not 3). The authors apparently know their stuff but the book could have been a lot better.

This earned 4 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Prentice Hall.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Edward J. Paul

Today is my father's birthday. If he was alive, he would be 90 today. He was born just after the outbreak of World War I, a time that seems like ancient history today. According to the VA, there are only 623 living veterans from that war. His parents were of Czech ancestry, his mother having come to the US in 1901 when she was only 13 years old. My father survived the great influenza outbreak of 1918 that killed more people than World War I. He grew up during prohibition. He told me that when he was little his father used to send him to the speakeasy to get a growler of beer ("growler" was a slang term for a pail of beer). He reached adulthood during the Great Depression which must have been a very difficult time.

He joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 and was sent to training school in California. He was never sent overseas, partly because of a medical condition and partly because of his age (at 28 he was an old man when he joined up). The closest he came was during the "Battle of the Bulge" when reinforcements were needed. He spent the war in various bases in the west including Tonapah and Walla Walla, Washington.

After the war, he went home, got a job in sheet metal, and married my mom, Helen. They raised three kids, Edward Jr., Barbara, and me. By the time I came along my father was already in his mid-40's so my memories of him are as an older man. I could relate to how Ray Kinsella describes his father in the movie Field of Dreams, a movie that is very personal to me.

By the time I was old enough to relate to my father as an adult, he started suffering the affects of Alzheimer's Disease. He died of the disease in 1996 but by that time he was long gone. I still miss him and I miss mostly that I never got to know him as an adult and so many of my memories of him are tainted by that horrible disease. Happy Birthday, Dad. I know that you are in a better place.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Philippe Maquet

PhilippePhillipe Maquet was a moderator at JavaRanch. Philippe died suddenly, apparently from an aneurysm.

Sometimes, we get to know people or even make friends with people on the internet without ever actually meeting them face to face. Sometimes we even get to know people on the internet better than we know our own neighbors. Philippe was a person who I was glad to have had the opportunity to know, even if we only met through the internet. He was the kind of person who had only good things to say about everyone. I can honestly say that I can't recall ever having a single negative thought about Philippe. He was an enthusiastic supporter of JavaRanch and worked hard to make JavaRanch a better place. I am glad that I got to know Philippe even if it was for only a brief moment. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones.

There is a wonderful tribute to Phil on Javaranch.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. Amen.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Get Out Of London

My basement had become the place where everything (and I mean everything) ended up being stored. There had been a lot of stuff in the attic, but when we dormered the house it all ended up in the basement. Anyway, over the last few months I have been slowly cleaning out the basement, throwing away or reorganizing everything that was down there. At least some of the inspiration for all this clearing out comes from this.

Anyway, Friday, I had cleared out enough of the basement that I could take the challenge and set up the old stereo equipment that hadn't been used since we moved into the house, 14 years ago. It had all been down in the basement collecting dust along with our collection of vinyl records. So I took out the receiver and the speakers and hooked them up. Fortunately, I had saved all the old speaker wire so this was easy enough. Then I plugged in the receiver, fully expecting smoke and flames to come shooting out of it but all was quiet. I turned on the receiver and the appropriate lights came on and all looked good but there was no sound. Played with the FM tuner, the volume, and the speaker select button but still nothing. Just as panic started to set in, I noticed that I had hooked up the speakers to the surround sound inputs. Moved them to the correct spot and suddenly the sound of static filled the air.

I couldn't remember how to tune to a radio station (and I didn't have the FM antenna hooked up anyway) so I went and got my turntable and hooked it up to the receiver. Amazingly, the turntable was still balanced correctly and the speed was still synched. The EP, Love Cats by The Cure was still on the turntable so that must have been the last thing I listened to 15 years ago. I took that off, and put on Get Out Of London by Interferon which is a song I hadn't heard since my club days in the mid-80's. I think this was the only song Interferon ever released. Anyway, the song played perfectly without a pop or hiss even after having been stored in the basement for 15 years. (Note for the youngsters: pops and hisses are the noises that LP's used to make when playing if you didn't treat them as if they were made of the finest Ming china.)

So now if you drop by and I'm down in the basement you can expect to find me listening to The Alarm or Heaven 17 or The Suburbs or any of the other great groups that I haven't heard in years. Sometimes, life is good.

I should add that I found the manuals for all the stereo equipment and the remote control for the receiver which still works perfectly. Too cool!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Review - Pro Jakarta Commons

Pro Jakarta CommonsPro Jakarta Commons
by Harshad Oak

4 out of 5 stars

Jakarta Commons is a collection of generally unrelated but useful classes that can be incorporated into any Java project. In general, the documentation available is limited at best and in some cases is limited to little more than the Javadoc from the API. This lack of good documentation has helped to prevent the widespread acceptance of the Commons classes. This book will help to address that major shortcoming of the Jakarta Commons.

This book is an introduction to the most commonly used classes found in Jakarta Commons. Not all the components are covered. For example, Betwixt, Jelly, Jexl, and Codec are barely mentioned. However, the components that the author discusses are the most useful and are generally well covered. The book starts off slowly with an introduction to Jakarta Commons and then a brief and incomplete look at the Lang component. This chapter will give you no more than a flavor of what is available. The Logging component is well covered although I would probably never use it and the coverage of the Validator component should have concentrated solely on implementation outside of Struts and left Struts explanations to books on Struts. The remaining chapters cover the more useful components including Digester, Pooling, BeanUtils, and FileUpload and do a great job of explaining the components and providing realistic examples of usage.

Anyone who is writing Java code should be interested in the Jakarta Commons and anyone who is interested in Jakarta Commons should have a copy of this book. It will serve both as a good introduction to Commons components and a reference to using those components.

This earned 4 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Apress.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Review - Prime Obsession

Prime ObsessionPrime Obsession
by John Derbyshire

5 out of 5 stars

In 1859, Bernhard Riemann, one of the greatest mathematicians of his day, wrote a paper about the distribution of prime numbers. In that paper as an incidental remark he wrote, "All non-trivial zeros of the zeta function have real part one-half." Riemann had no proof that this was true but he suspected that it was true based on his intuition and his understanding of prime numbers. For nearly 150 years, mathematicians have been trying to either prove or disprove Riemann's hypothesis.

Writing a book about something as obscure as the zeta function for the non-mathematician is a daunting proposition but John Derbyshire is up to the challenge. In a book on a topic like this, you expect the author to not be afraid to discuss complicated mathematics. By starting off slowly and holding our hands as he moves through the math, Derbyshire makes complex mathematical functions understandable even to someone who hasn't looked at calculus in more than twenty years. So even if non-trivial zeros, natural logs, and prime number distribution theories sound over your head, Derbyshire will explain it in a way that will make it clear and interesting. Derbyshire breaks the book up so that the odd-numbered chapters cover mathematical details and the even-numbered chapters cover historical background of the story. So even if you do get lost in the math, you still can still follow the story which is fascinating in itself.

At the time of writing this review, a possible solution proving the Riemann hypothesis to be true has been produced by Louis de Branges of Purdue University. That makes "Prime Obsession" both fascinating and timely.

This earned 5 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Joseph Henry Press.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Life Sucks - Part 6

Michel went to the doctor last week and the result was that he doesn't want her going back to work until October. She is still in a lot of pain. And the worker's comp people are giving Michel a hard time because they claim that Michel should be able to do other, lighter work. If they think it's a good idea for a nurse to load up on pain killers and then do charts or discharge planning then they aren't very bright. Michel is supposed to start school next week. She is studying to be a Nurse Practicioner. We still aren't sure if she is going to be able to do the work with this injury.

Anyway, just to add to the fun, we found out that Mikey needs a load of dental work. And by "load" I mean several thousand dollars worth. He will have to be put under anesthesia for the dentist to do the work and that is always a bit scary.

And so it goes.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Being a Parent

Map wrote a very tender blog entry dealing with her parents in which she mentions part of a post I wrote on JavaRanch. The specific line from my post that she said almost made her cry was:

100 pounds was about what my daughter weighed when I stopped carrying her upstairs to bed when she fell asleep in the living room.

These are the kinds of things parents do for their kids. I remember when Beth was little and would wake up frightened in the middle of the night, I would let her sleep with Michel and I would go sleep in her little bed. Struggling up the stairs carrying your little girl to bed is just what you do as a parent. It comes from love and a desire to make life a joy for your child. I don't think it is easy to describe to someone who isn't a parent but I never met a parent who didn't understand it immediately.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Mikey and his body parts

Mikey knows his body parts as you would expect of any 7 year old. But he likes to play games where he is asked to point to something and it is good to play these kind of games to help him improve his communication skills. So he is with my mother-in-law and they are playing:

MIL: Mikey, point to your nose.

Mikey: [points to nose and giggles]

MIL: Mikey, point to your mouth.

Mikey: [points to mouth and giggles]

MIL: Mikey, point to your eyeballs.

Mikey: [points to crotch and laughs]

Whoops! Wrong balls! My mother-in-law thought it was the funniest thing ever. Mikey really does keep us laughing.

So anyway, I guess I'm letting Mikey watch too much cable TV!

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The Rock of Gibraltar

History is an interesting subject. Besides just being nosy about people of the past and the events that shaped their lives, history is a study of how those things affect us to this very day. The BBC had an interesting article about Gibraltar and the affects of a treaty that was signed almost 300 years ago.

The story goes like this... at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession, the Treaty of Utrecht was signed which gave the British ownership of Gibraltar, which they had captured in 1704. So in 1713, the British are given control but one of the clauses of the treaty is that if the British ever leave Gibraltar, they must give the Spanish first dibs on getting it back. (The treaty actually used the word "dibs"... well, maybe not.)

Anyway, speed ahead to 1969 and the British give the Gibraltarans? Gibraltarites? Gibraltarers? ummm... the people of Gibraltar a constitution which guarantees that they will never be given over to another country unless the people of Gibraltar give their approval. So where does this leave us... the British can only give up Gibraltar to Spain (Treaty of Utrecht - 1713) and they can only give it to Spain if the people of Gibraltar support it (Gibraltar Constitution - 1969).

But the people of Gibraltar don't want to be ruled by Spain or Britian. They want independence. But the British can't give independence without Spain's approval. And Spain wants Gibraltar back. So the British are stuck. They can never leave Gibraltar without the approval of both the people of Gibraltar and Spain, an approval that they are unlikely to get anytime soon. All because of of a treaty that is almost 300 years old.

Monday, August 23, 2004

I never dream of trains

I often dream of trains when I'm alone
I ride on them into another zone
I dream of them constantly
Heading for paradise
Or Basingstoke
Or Reading
I Often Dream of Trains - Robyn Hitchcock

I rode the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) from 1979 until 1996. That comes out to 17 years, I believe. On a good day with no delays (that is, almost never) I spent 90 minutes on the train. Each morning, I would climb aboard and hope for a seat and then repeat the process coming home. Conservatively, that is something like 22,500 minutes, or 375 hours each year. Multiplying that by 17 years gives approximately 265 days spent on the trains. Almost 3/4 of a year. And yet, I never dream about the trains. I sometimes dream about the subways or the World Trade Center but I never dream about trains. Is that weird?

What brought this up was that I found an old train schedule and monthly ticket while going through a box of old junk. It reminded me of how little I think about the rail road.

Review - How to Lie with Maps

How to Lie with MapsHow to Lie with Maps
by Mark Monmonier

3 out of 5 stars

Any book that calls itself, "How to Lie with…" is simply begging for a reviewer to compare it to, "How to Lie with Statistics." The latter is a classic that is fun and educational. Unfortunately, this book falls short of deserving the title but it is still an interesting read. One of the main problems is that rather than being a guide to help avoid being fooled by maps, the author uses the book as an introduction to the science of cartography. It seems that a large portion of the book is aimed towards the prospective mapmaker. I found these parts to be a bit difficult to get through. Also, there are very few real life examples in the book. I would have liked to see more examples from newspapers or magazines in place of the samples the author provides. Some of the few real life examples are from Nazi Germany and the USSR and seem very dated.

That was the bad side but there are many good points to the book. The chapter on development maps was very interesting (although the attempts at humor are wasted) and should be required reading for anyone who is serving on a zoning board. Also, the discussion of choropleth maps is excellent and the reader will come away with a clear understanding of how these maps can be abused either deliberately or accidentally by the cartographer. The author shows examples of very different choropleth maps using the same data that will make you skeptical of anyone who uses choropleth maps to prove a point.

Although parts of the book drag, the book is short at 150 pages so it is a relatively quick read. I wouldn't say that it is required reading, but it will help you maintain a healthy skepticism about maps that you might encounter.

This earned 3 stars on Amazon. The book is published by University of Chicago Press.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Review - Mastering JavaServer Faces

Mastering JavaServer FacesMastering JavaServer Faces
by Bill Dudney, et al

4 out of 5 stars

JSF is a new technology designed to simplify the task of creating Java web applications by making them work more like typical GUI event driven applications. There are a lot of changes to the web framework for JSF and this book does a very good job of clearly explaining these changes. The book starts with an introduction to JSF that compares it to both Struts and Swing. The authors explain both the architecture and the main patterns used in JSF, which helps to make clear how JSF works. UML diagrams are used to help explain how the various pieces of JSF interact. The middle section of the book covers all the main points of JSF at a nice leisurely pace: configuration, UI components, navigation, event handling, and data conversion and validation. Plenty of code samples are provided and all the code is clearly explained. The final section of the book covers building a complete JSF application, designing custom components, and converting an application from Struts to JSF.

This book is a nice introduction and tutorial on JSF. For many developers, this will be all they need. Others may be looking for a book that can serve as a reference or will cover more detail and this book will not fill that need. If you are looking for a book to help you learn the basics of JSF and to get a good understanding of how to properly implement a JSF application, then this book will serve you very well.

This earned 4 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Wiley and came out in June 2004.

The review can be seen on Amazon on My Amazon Reviews page.

One last comment... I wish Wiley would be more careful about misprints. I don't know if it is the authors, the technical reviewers, or the publisher, but someone needs to check these books again before they go to final printing.