Wednesday, June 30, 2004

You've Got Gmail

A JavaRanch friend of mine (thanks Gregg) passed me an invitation to join the GMail beta last week. I immediately signed up and have been using it since.

So what are my impressions?

  • 1000 meg is a lot of space. I have yet to get to 1%.
  • The interface is very snappy. Response is excellent although there has been occasional slow times. At this point I am willing to write those off to the beta.
  • Threaded conversations are great. All the emails for a particular email exchange are color coded and kept together like a thread in a forum. Each email is treated like an index card in a deck of index cards. You can view them with just the sender and first line displayed or fully expanded. No more hunting around and resorting trying to find what someone said earlier and there is no reason to keep quoting entire email threads in each email. Because of the threaded messages, even though I have about 100 emails, they fit easily on one page in what appears to be 20 emails.
  • Labels are an interesting idea. Instead of folders, GMail lets you assign labels to each email. You can assign multiple labels if you like. Then you can filter your email by a label. In a way, it is as if you could drop the same email in multiple folders. I haven't decided whether I love the idea but I'm not complaining yet.
  • The spam filter is kick ass. I have been routing all my JavaRanch email through my new GMail address in order to test the spam filter. My JavaRanch email address generates at least 100 spams a day. So far, I have maybe two spams a day in my regular inbox. I have yet to see a real email in my spam box.
  • Instead of flags you can mark a message as "starred". One of the filters allows you to show only starred messages. This is very helpful to me. I frequently read emails and then decide that I will respond to them later. Then they get lost in my inbox. Although the same functionality exists in Yahoo with flags, the interface just seems more intuitive in Gmail
My opinion of GMail is good so far. I am still using my Yahoo email but I think I will slowly switch over to GMail.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

J2SE 5.0

The Press Announcement

Sun believes that the new release of Java is so revolutionary that a new number is required, so we are going from Java 1.4 to Java 5.0. Have the engineers at Sun suddenly forgotten how to count?

If you think about it, the transition to Java 1.2 was much more revolutionary than this transition but Sun didn't see a reason to go to Java 2.0. So really we are dealing with marketing spin. Which is fine. Marketing folks have to earn a living, too, so if they think that changing some numbers will create some interest before their big Java convention and get dopey people with blogs to write about it then more power to them.

So there. I have done my bit by spreading the new Java 5.0 meme using the mighty power of my blog. Mission accomplished, Sun marketeers!

Sunday, June 27, 2004


I broke my glasses at work on Friday. I am as blind as a bat (only without the radar). The frame snapped at the point where the part that goes across the nose connects one lens to the the other. It is at a spot that is virtually impossible to tape up. Of course I had to do something because I was at work and being extremely near-sighted there was no way I was going to be able to drive 20 miles (or even 20 feet) to get home. Fortunately one of the women at work had crazy glue (in case a nail broke) so we were able to make an emergency patch.

The glasses held together until I got home and then broke again. I have old pairs at home but I can't read with them. My distance vision hasn't changed but as I have gotten older I have become far-sighted and need glasses to read. The pair that broke are bifocals so I can read with them. The old pairs are just for distance. Reading is a little difficult right now. As Groucho Marx once said, I could read fine if my arms were longer.

I dropped my glasses off to be repaired today. Turns out they had a one year warranty and the warranty expired... tomorrow. Lucky break! This means the frames will be replaced for free. Unfortunately, they don't carry these frames anymore so I have to wait two weeks while they special order them. I guess I have to get used to reading blurry writing for awhile.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Review - Processing XML with Java by Elliotte Rusty Harold

Processing XML with Java Processing XML with Java
by Elliotte Rusty Harold

This book came out awhile ago but for some reason I never got around to writing a review of it. Sometimes a book is so good that I just can't think of the right superlatives to describe it. Anyway, I finally sat down and wrote this review.

If only every technical book was written this well! Anyone who is working with Java and XML should have a copy of this book. Highly example driven with clear explanations, the author makes using XML in your Java programs a breeze. Even better, the author has a style that makes the book fun to read as you feel like you are learning all sorts of secrets from an XML insider.

The book starts with a quick introduction to XML and then gets into how to create XML documents in your programs. The first four chapters cover everything you need to know about creating XML whether it is for XML-RPC, SOAP, or simply to store in a file. The next section covers parsing XML documents. SAX and DOM are compared and then the next eight chapters discuss these two methods of parsing documents, explaining how to use them, comparing them, and helping you determine how to decide which technique to use for which situation. The section on DOM explains not just how to parse documents using DOM but also how to create new documents. The final chapters of the book cover JDOM, XPATH, and XSLT.

Did I mention that this book is full of examples? The author doesn't rely on simply explaining how something works or how to use a technology (even though his explanations are excellent), he has examples to demonstrate everything he discusses. Each example builds upon the previous example and makes learning the techniques easy and enjoyable.

This earned 5 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Addison-Wesley and came out in November 2002.

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

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Review - Professional Portal Development by W. Clay Richardson

Professional Portal Development with Open Source Tools by W. Clay RichardsonProfessional Portal Development with Open Source Tools
by W. Clay Richardson, et al

There seems to be a new breed of technical cookbook book that involves throwing a lot of different technologies into a stew and hoping that what comes out is flavorful. Unfortunately, the result is more often than not, a less than tasty meal. This book is a prime example. Although it claims to be a guide to portal development using Java, it is mainly a bare bones discussion of lots of open source technologies without tying them together.

The book starts with an introduction to the Java Portlet API. This should be the heart of the book but in 35 pages we get a glance at some aspects of portals and some tables that give us a little on what but virtually nothing on how or why. Thinking that this was simply a quick introduction I wasn't too let down but then the book moves on to short chapters on Lucene, Apache James, Apache OJB, and Jakarta Slide. The book talks about security, planning, JavaScript, deployment, web services, etc. The one thing that is lacking is a feel for how this should all fit together within the Portlet API.

Taking each chapter by itself, some of them are good while others cover little more than the surface of each topic. Overall, the book fails to be a guide to developing a portal using Java. It should be considered as a series of articles dealing with different aspects of portal development but without any real connection.

This earned 3 stars on Amazon. The book is published by Wrox and came out in February 2004.

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

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Some good news

First, it appears that Mikey does not have leukemia. The re-test of his blood showed a marked improvement in his platlets. The doctor thinks that the bruising and petechiae are not related to leukemia. We had noticed the petechiae but we had never put them together with a blood test. If he is having drops in his platelets then we will need to figure out what is causing it and what treatment (if any) he will need.

All that is left of Michel's kidney stones is a small chip that needs to pass. It could take a month or more and we are hoping it is sooner rather later. It is giving her occasional pain but heat and Vioxx seem to be doing the job.

We couldn't have a week without some kind of medical situation so Michel got conjunctivitis on Sunday. Her eye swelled up so much that she couldn't even see out of it. It looked like I popped her one. We ended up at one of those non-emergency off-hours doctor stations (Michel calls them "doc in a box") where they gave her a prescription for some drops. The kids and I waited outside and I turned off the car but left the lights on (it was overcast) so naturally the battery died. Fortunately a good Samaritan saw us and gave us a jump.

Anyway, today is our 20th wedding anniversary, which is china. So feel free to send us any spare Ming vases that you have sitting around the house.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Big news at Symbol

The NY Times tells the story fairly well. Although it sounds like bad news, it is actually great news for the company. The key is the word "ex-executives". Former senior executives of the company have been indicted for inflating revenue in order to drive up stock prices. All of these people were booted from the company prior to my joining the company in early 2003.

The good news is in the rest of the story:

  • no criminal charges against the company
  • the fine is exactly what the company had withheld from last year's earnings
  • the outstanding stockholders' lawsuit is settled for the amount that was withheld from last year's earnings
  • the former chairman has agreed to return salary and stock to Symbol

The big deal from the company's point of view is that the sword that has been held at the company's neck has been withdrawn by the Justice Department and the company can now proceed into the future without worry.

So how did the company do so well with the Justice Department? By fully cooperating in the investigation, by removing all employees (no matter how high up) involved in illegal activity, and by opeing their books up to a complete audit to discover the true financial situation of the company. The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Rosalyn Mauskopf "recognized the efforts of a company like Symbol to 'boot' out fraud and admit criminal conduct and making victims whole, as well as making sweeping changes to restore confidence in the market."

I think this is an example for all companies that discover illegal activity. Don't try to hide it. Make full restitutuion. Remove the guilty parties. This is the only way to insure that your company can survive.

So how is Symbol doing under its new management? Fantastic! The company has a large cash reserve with little debt and revenue and profits are increasing at a dramatic rate.

Friday, June 04, 2004

More of the same

The testing in the ER revealed that Michel has more kidney stones. One of them, apparently, is 6mm in size which is huge on the kidney stone scale. She is going to the doctor today and I think they are going to try to break up the stone with sound waves (Extracorporeal Shockwave Lithotripsy).

Anyway, this has definitely been the week from hell. I have a bunch of books and chapters that I have been asked to review (everything seems to come all at once) but I haven't had the time to do much more than glance at them. Hofstra cancelled my summer classes because of lack of attendance. The extra money could have come in handy for some of the medical bills. Anyway at least we had some good news at my company, Symbol. But that's another blog entry!

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Life sucks again

Michel couldn't get the stent taken out yesterday because of Mikey's appointment with the oncologist and by the time I got home she was having really bad pains. We ended up in the ER until 1 AM where they gave her a shot for the pain and sent her home.

Michel got the stent removed today and she felt pretty good for a little while. By the time I got home she was in agonizing pain again. So we were off to the ER again. This time I didn't stay because the kids really had to get home and get to bed. I got a call a few minutes ago from a nurse in the ER that they were running some tests and Michel would probably be spending the night.

I am beginning to think that we are jinxed.

Want a traffic ticket?

Spotted this article in the NY Daily News: Traffic agents go high-tech. The article doesn't mention it but the device the traffic agents are using is from Symbol. The newspaper article showed the device close-up and you could easily see the Symbol logo.

In case you don't want to read the article, Symbol is making a scanner/printer/Wi-Fi/look-up device (Symbol PPT 2800) for traffic enforcement. New York City has about 150 on the street and will buy around 2,000 of them for their traffic agents (the people who give parking tickets out). Registrations in NY state have a bar code so the agent can scan the bar code and it brings up all the information they need to know about the car. The unit is set for Wi-Fi so presumably it could tell the agent if there are any oustanding warrants on the owner of the car or if the car was stolen. The unit then automatically prints out the ticket. It has the added feature of helping to prevent tickets from being improperly issued, so if the traffic agent tries to give you a ticket for an alternate side of the street parking violation on a holiday, the ticket will be rejected by the unit.

The unit is actually being used in several cities. I'm not sure why The Daily News chose today to publish the article but I guess I can't complain. Too bad they didn't mention Symbol.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Life Sucks

I haven't posted in awhile because things have been insane lately. To start with: my wife has been sick with a kidney stone. She had it removed on Friday and had a stent put in. The stent has been causing her pain so she is having it removed today... maybe.

The worse news is that my son may have leukemia. He has been very lethargic since Friday and broke out in a bad rash. The rash wasn't getting better so we took him to the Urgicenter at Schneider Children's Hospital. They ran a blood test that showed his white blood count is very low. The "rash" is actually bleeding under the skin. Without enough platelets his blood is having trouble clotting. Today he was admitted to Winthrop University Hospital for testing to see if it is leukemia. If not, they have to figure out why his WBC is so low.

Update: the oncologist thinks that it is not leukemia but something called Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP). This is a serious condition but is controllable. We will know more next Tuesday when they run another set of tests.