Monthly Archives: September 2013

Back to Life Without Twitter

I just deactivated my twitter account and deleted any app that has any integration to twitter; I simply can’t take the spam any more.

Currently, spammers are raping twitter accounts and puking private twitter messages all over the place, with links to websites that contain malware.  I’ve had enough.

To be honest, Twitter’s popularity and usefulness have always been mysteries to me.  I’ve always been perplexed at people’s love of twitter.  I’ve found twitter to be so aggressively worthless, that I have assumed that I had missed something.

So I was left scratching my head when Twitter filed an S-1 with the SEC and has publically stated it would do an IPO on the NYSE.  It is rumored to end up with a jaw-dropping capitalization of $15 billion to $16 billion.  That is Billion with a B.

Someone is going to loose some money in that investment.

Bose QuietComfort 15 (QC-15) Long Term Review

imageSeveral years ago, I posted a long term review of the Bose QuietComfort 15 (QC-15) over-the-ear headphones, complete with the picture that you should see on the left. 

Based on the comments I received, I decided to update the blog post.

If you are looking at this post right now, your are probably in one of three categories: 1) you have already purchased the headphones and are looking for reviews to validate your decision and make you feel good, 2) you’ve already purchased it and your headphones are screaming with howls of feedback, or 3) you are shopping for headphones.  If you are in the first category, prepare the nerd rage.

First of all, let me say that the QC15s currently being sold have been supposedly reengineered.  The original QC15s had problems with stress fractures on plastic headband; I purchased the second generation, roughly five years ago.

I’m easily distracted by noise.  A slammed door, shrill giggle, or a foreign language conversation can destroy my productivity by pulling me out of the zone.

So after I flew back from Japan in business class, and was given a complementary set of QC15s for eight hours, I decided to purchase a set.  After eight solid hours of flying, there was no pinching or pressure points, and I found that I wasn’t as mentally tired as when I normally fly overseas.

Since I would be wearing them for six to eight hours continuously in a noisy environment, they seemed like a perfect fit. 

Keep in mind that most QC15 buyers wear them intermittently when traveling or at home, and hardly ever for eight hour stretches like I did, every workday.

The cord is replaceable, so you don’t have to worry about a chair rolling over the cord and having to figure out how to repair the headset – you simply unplug the damaged cord and plug in a new one.

The sound quality was fantastic, provided you have a charged battery.  When the battery was dead, the headphones were non-functional.  I was using a battery every two weeks, so I had to keep a stash of batteries at my work desk.  I switched to rechargeable and found that I was changing and charging the battery every week.  I went back to lithium batteries.

However, within the first year, the black leather ear cushions started to flake off.  I would end up with black specks of leather on my ears and face.  At first, it wasn’t entirely obviously to me it was from the ear cushions.  I would go to the bathroom, look up in the mirror and I would see black specks on my face.  This appears to be a common issue.

Next, the adhesive holding the fake leather to the inside of the ear cups gradually let go, exposing the foam insulation.

Lastly, the headphones developed a loud piercing high pitched feedback squeal,  The squeal would start around the four hour mark and then if I turned my head I would get a random high decibel squeal, like someone let loose with an air horn.

As time went on, the usage time to get the feedback decreased, until is would only take 30 minutes to an hour to get a shriek.  I ultimately cracked the headphones open to cut the microphone in a futile attempt to get rid of the feedback.  It didn’t work.

Ultimately, the headphones ended up in the trash can. 

The squeal has also been reported heavily with the Bose Aviation headset (MSRP $1095),  Before my QC15s started developing a feedback squeal, I was interested in getting a set the A20s.  Not anymore.

And to answer most of the comments on the previous post:

Yes, Bose would have accepted the damaged set as a trade in, and I could have walked out with a brand new pair for $129. 

However, I would end up paying another $129 for a set of headphones that loudly squeals like a stuck pig, eats batteries, and leaves leathery pepper flakes all over my face and clothes. 

No thanks.

Searching for the Ultimate Keyboard for Programmers

imageEssentially, I make my living by typing.  For more than eight hours a day, I’m hammering out code, e-mails, specifications, documentations, and cajoling various operating systems into doing what I want.

So I’m always searching for the best keyboard.  But near as I can tell “best” is subjective at best.  Some people prefer the scissor-switches, while others prefer mechanical keys, buckling springs, or even membrane domes.

As a result, I’ve become somewhat of a keyboard snob.  I even bring my own keyboard to work when I start a contract, and take it with me when I leave.  I simply can’t type well on the $12 Dell keyboards.  It just doesn’t feel natural, and I’ve found that my typing suffers greatly when forced to use one.

So far, the best keyboard I’ve found is the Logitech Dinovo Edge keyboard, which clocks in at $179.99.   I purchased both the PC version and the Mac version, so I would have the same keyboard at work and at home.  They are identical except for the location of the command/windows buttons, which saves me from having to transition between keyboards – they have the exact same look and feel. 

The Logitech Dinovo Edge keyboard is a Bluetooth keyboard with a rechargeable battery (no cords), and it uses scissor-switches for a nice tactile feel, but feedback is somewhat nominal.  On the plus side, It is quiet.   Oddly enough, the PC keyboard’s lettering has slowly warn away as a I monkey-hammered code for months on end. The only downside is that it is difficult if not impossible to clean.

So when Jeff Atwood announced that he “designed” a new keyboard for coders, I was intrigued.

Jeff Atwood (of Stack Overflow fame) decided that he needed a new keyboard for his coding adventures, so he designed a mechanical keyboard that uses Cherry MX Clear mechanical keyswitches.  The keyboard is made by WASD, which is renowned for their custom mechanical keyboards.

I can totally understand why.  I absolutely hate the Chiclet keyboards produced by Apple, and moreover, I absolutely loath the Dell keyboards.  When I first purchased my Mac, the aluminum keyboard lasted about a week before I replaced it.  I really tried to get with aluminum Chiclet keyboard, but I just couldn’t.  I didn’t like the membrane keyboard.

But back to the CODE keyboard. 

I’ve been waiting for some reviews to come out.  They have sold out of the first production run, so I’m assuming that there are tons of programmers who worship at the altar of Atwood, I just haven’t seen any awesome CODE keyboard reviews.

In any event, I’m thinking of upgrading my keyboard to one with mechanical switches.   So stay tuned…

Avoiding Water Borne Illness While Traveling, Part 1

imageThis is the first in a three part series on water purification options.  I originally wrote this blog article several years ago, but decided to edit it and repost it on my new blog (this one).

On the day I was to board my flight back to the US, I started to get severe heart burn.  I was tired and a little hung over.  I slowly sipped water waiting for it to die down.  It didn’t. 

During my layover, I listlessly shuffled through the Tokyo airport searching for some bottled water, to mix some crushed Alka Seltzer.  During the flight from Tokyo to Dallas, the heartburn would return several times.  I probably ate something spicy, I thought to myself.  The heartburn slowly subsided and I forgot all about.

Several days later, I soon became stricken with gas, bloating, cramps, fatigue, and soon after, severe diarrhea.  For the next four hellish days, I couldn’t eat any solid food.  I survived on water and Gatorade.  I slept continuously, waking up every several hours to spend quality time in the bathroom.  While I had enough energy to listlessly do things around the apartment, I would have to run to the bathroom at random intervals.  After two more days, I entered the local emergency room to seek treatment because I could no longer drink Gatorade without vomiting.

Thankfully, I fully recovered, but for months afterward my digestive system wasn’t back to normal.  It was a major wake up call.  It could have been worse.. a lot worse.

I vowed that I would never get sick again, and started researching how to effectively prevent this in the future.  What could I buy that would render putrid foul smelling water into tasty safe drinkable water?  The gadget-freak in me cried out to go shopping for some insurance that I could drop in my suitcase on those long overseas trips.

Total budget?  The equivalent of my emergency room visit – roughly $400 or less.

Researching on the Internet: Where Every Symptom is Cancer and Where Even Idiots are Experts.

Unfortunately, I quickly found a lot of miss-information about water purification perpetuated by ignorant campers, hikers, and preppers.  Worse yet, I found some advice on traveler forums that was ridiculous, conflicting, or simply harmful. 

Moreover, I found that most advice on water purification on backpacking and survival forums seems to be biased towards the biological threats found in North America.

In North America, contrary to what water filtration companies and environmentalist want you to believe, you will rarely encounter viruses in streams and lakes.  The number one threat is Giardia or bacteria.  In fact, most streams and lakes in the United States are extremely clean, which is why so some idiots will proudly tell you that you only need a bandana or sock to filter water. 

So I started my research.  I needed a portable method of purifying water that would get rid of any of the threats I would face: viruses, bacteria, and protozoa (Cryptosporidium, Giardia, etc.).  For the remainder of this blog series, it is assumed that the water is free of chemical toxins and may have one or more of the following:

  • Viruses.  There are over 140 extremely small (0.004 to 0.1 microns) enteric viruses known to infect humans, including hepatitis A, Norwalk, poliovirus and rotavirus.
  • Protozoa.  There are several very nasty single celled microorganisms (Giardia Lamblia, Cryptosporidium parvum, Entamoeba histolytica (amebic dysentery), and Clyclospora cayetanesis) some of which are associated with death.
  • Bacteria. Bacteria range in size between 0.2 and 10 microns, and are the likely culprit behind your travelers diarrhea and gastroenteritis.  Significant bacteria include: E coli, Brucella melitensis, Leptospira icterohaemorrhagiae (spirochaetales), Pasteurella pseudomallei, Salmonella typhosa (Typhoid Fever), Salmonella paratyphi (Paratyphoid fever), Salmonella schottinulleri, Salmonella hirschfeldi C., Shigella flexneri (Bacillary dysentery), Vibrio comma (Cholera) and Vibrio cholerae. 

But before I get started, here is some generalized (good) advice for travelers.

Prevention (Better Living through Chemistry)

  • Bismuth subsalicylate (2 oz. t.i.d.).  Studies from Mexico have shown when taken on arrival at the destination (three times a day), Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol) can reduce the incidence of travelers diarrhea from 40% to 14%.  That’s right, taking Pepto-Bismol — 2 oz. of liquid or 2 chewable tablets can increase your chance of not getting Traveler’s Diarrhea (TD), but you have to take it before you get TD.  Note: this won’t work it you encounter a virus.
  • Probiotics (Lactobacillus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii) don’t work.  All studies to date have been inconclusive.
  • Halogenated hydroxyquinoline derivatives, enterovioform, and other substances are effective, but may cause "neurologic adverse events" and best should be avoided.  I’m not sure what a "neurologic adverse event" is, but I’m betting it might land you in a difficult spot in a country where you don’t speak the language.
  • Antibiotics are effective (attack rate reduced from 40% to 4%), but only on pathogenic bacteria which are sensitive.  However, the medical community in recommends against prophylactic antibiotics except for short-term travelers who are high-risk hosts (immunosuppressed travelers).
  • Antimicrobials have no effect on viral illness.  Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations are a good idea before traveling abroad.

Prevention (Better Living through Common Sense)

This should be common sense for most of us, but for those who have never traveled extensively:

  • First, try to figure out if the water is potable.  In most of the U.S., Canada, and western Europe tap water is generally safe to drink.  In the rest of the world, the reverse is probably true.
    If the water isn’t safe to drink, avoid ice, since it probably is made from tap water.
  • In areas with sketchy water, do not brush your teeth with tap water (no matter what anyone says); use bottled or boiled water.  This is especially true if the hotel has labeled the water "not fit for drinking" above the sink (as I saw this in Macau and in a hotel in the Philippines).  Also, use bottled water or boiled water to wash your contact lenses or dentures (if you have them).
  • Coffee and tea are generally safe, given that most harmful bacteria and viruses will be killed before the water gets to the boiling point, which is lower at higher elevations.  However, cream and milk are not.  If you must have light coffee, bring non diary creamer with you.
  • US and European chains (such as McDonalds) and large hotel restaurants are also usually safe choices.  Avoid street vendors.
  • Don’t drink from or brush your teeth with the water in the aircraft’s rest room.  They are filled with regular tap water in whatever country they happen to be in.  A recent EPA study showed the bacterial contamination of various water samples taken from aircraft were extremely high in bacteria.
  • Check to see if the bottled water you just purchased has an unbroken sealed cap.  In some countries, unscrupulous vendors will refill used bottled water containers with tap water and sell them on the streets.
  • Stick with name brand water.  In some countries, some water companies bottle unfiltered tap water.

In part 2, I will delve into various water disinfection and purification methods and then finally describe my water purification setup in part 3.

Coworkers Behaving Badly

The life of a nomadic technical mercenary – you get to work with a lot of people, in a lot of different working environments.

Each morning, when I get ready for work, I try to put on my "game face."  As I step in to a client’s office, I am as professional as I can be.  When I’m there, everyone is delightfully witty, interesting, and their children’s pictures are attractive, and I’m super productive.  After all, I’m a consultant, and it’s just a temporary job — I can handle anything with a smile.

However, I thought I would recap some of things that I have seen my coworkers do during my career, which made me laugh, cringe, or just plain annoyed me.

I am simply shocked at how some people behave at work.

What is the The Equation of Joke

One of the funniest moments I can remember was when a coworker (with a PhD no less) wrote on a whiteboard in permanent marker.  He filled up the whiteboard before anyone noticed it.  I still chuckle about this one. 

Topless at Work

At another gig, the company owners turned off the air conditioning after hours to save money (and I got paid extra to figure out why the servers were shutting down.  Hint: thermal overload).  One of the contractors was older gentleman that would take his shirt off when he was hot and "getting sweaty."  On the weekends he would wear shorts and take off his shirt.

He was not particularly fit and it really bothered the impish 20-something female software engineer who had to sit next to him, especially when he started to tell her about his sexual conquests.  Even I was disgusted.  It was the first time that I have ever had to tell someone a lot older than myself that their behavior was simply not acceptable.  The female employee spoke up and he got canned.  We were all happy to see him go.

Smell the Knowledge Transfer

By far, the worst one I can remember was working closely with an overseas employee for hours who simply smelled terrible.  Strong odors or body odor don’t bother me.  However, this employee I had to do a “knowledge transfer” with, well he smelled simply god awful. He smelled like greasy rotten potato chips, wet fart, and burnt tires all mixed together into an overpowering stench.  I never said anything to him, but the smell was so powerful it would trigger a migraine and make me nauseas for hours afterward.

At the end of our sessions, he would put on his leather coat and leave in a cloud.  Worse yet, other coworkers would come to my desk to ask technical questions, their face would invariably twist up in a confused expression while they tried to remember why they came to my desk.  The smell was assaulting their senses so hard it was jamming their neural pathways.

Finally, one of the other programmers asked, “What is that stench?”  I looked innocently back and said, “what do you mean?”  I knew the other programmer was scheduled for multiple two hour knowledge transfer sessions with the overseas employee.  Soon enough he would find out for himself. 

Gurgle-Snort

Another cubicle-mate was a heavy mouth breather, where each breath would be punctuated by a slight snore.  Frequently, he would emit gurgling burps.  He also brought in his own telephone headset, and he would call his wife at least two times a day and have rambling conversations about what he was doing.

I don’t mean to be Nosey

A cubicle-mate that would blow his nose constantly, even when he was eating.  He would also pick his nose.  Out of the corner of my eye, I swear, I saw him eat one.

A Death in the Family

Before I continue, let me say that there are two things that make me uncomfortable: germs and grown men who cry. 

I was working at a gig where I was stuffed into a cubicle with an older engineer.  He was personable, very talkative, and likable.  The only problem I saw was his coffee cup. 

He had a coffee cup that he would drink out of, but never would rinse it out or wash it.  As the water evaporated it would leave a ring of sediment on the side wall of the cup.  Over years of abuse, the coffee cup had become stained, leaving brown-grey striations much like you would see on the side of the Grand Canyon.  I would sometime lay awake at night plotting a reason to steal the cup and wash it, but I didn’t want to touch it.  I would wipe down my side of the desk with cleaning solution, much to the amusement of the project manager.

A few months later, the engineer fell in love via a dating site, and decided it was time to get married/remarried.  He took a week off to visit his new fiancé.  When he finally showed up, his lips were covered in sores, and he kept inferring he had a great time *wink* *wink*. 

I started wiping down my phone, desk, and computer more often, using alcohol.

For the most part, things began to get back to normal until his dog died.  As he tearfully explained, the dog didn’t die of natural causes.  The dog bit his new girl friend, and had to be put down.  He actually cried and had tearful phone conversations about his dog to friends and family.  The mourning and depression lasted almost a month.  He still had a picture of his dog as his windows desktop background.  He would strike up conversations and steer it to his dog and he would start to cry.  Older men who cry make me uncomfortable.

Sometimes, You Aren’t Alone

One Saturday, I was working on a hot project.  Another consultant came into the deserted office, dialed the phone, and started crying and sniveling to his soon to be ex-wife.  As the sorted details of his personal life spilled over the cubicle wall (she was cheating on him), I felt like I was watching a human train wreck unfold in slow motion before me.  I couldn’t escape, because I would have to walk past his desk on the way to the exit.  After an hour on the phone, he left (I don’t think he knew I was working several cubicles away).  While I felt bad for him, It was awkward for me to look at him in the face after that.

Stupidity Doesn’t Have a Postal Address, So Let Me Use Yours

At one job, I worked with an eccentric consultant who had a federal firearms dealer permit.  One day he ordered a book and ten thousand (10,000) rounds of ammunition, which was delivered to work. 

He swore it was just a mistake, the ammunition was supposed to be delivered to his home, and the book was supposed to be delivered to work.  Nevertheless he was fired on the spot (and walked out accompanied by no less than three security guards).

Porn at Night

At one company, someone was detected surfing porn sites at night.  They placed a security camera to catch the culprit—whom they assumed would be someone on the night cleaning crew.  They caught a lot more than they wanted.  The employee not only viewed the pornography on his office computer, but started to pleasure himself.  When they fired him, he started to angrily protest… until they slapped the VHS movie on the table.  He got up and left without saying a word. 

Engineering or Sales?  How About Both?

I had a manager periodically quiz me about when I came in and where I was during the day.  At the time I had a habit of writing down my hours and accomplishments in a paper Day-Timer planner, so I had no problems telling exactly what I did on a given day, months ago.   He kept asking, “are you sure?” 

I was insulted, a little embarrassed, and confused.  I immediately started wondering if someone was trying to get me fired.  I told him he should have access to the security door access logs and we could look at the data together.  He suddenly smiled and quickly left. 

Nonetheless, I thought it was odd.  I asked some of the other consultants about it and one of the other consultants let out a gut-laugh and explained.

The manager had previously trusted his employees and contractors to be professional and honest when it comes to their time card.  That ended after he hired a Vietnamese coder that spent most of his time on the phone speaking rapid-fire Vietnamese.  Half the time he didn’t show up.  Towards the end, he only showed up on paydays to collect his check.

One day the manager came looking for him, and grew agitated when he was informed he hadn’t been there for several days.  Since then, he constantly monitored and watched his employees. 

Worse yet, one of the other Vietnamese coders told everyone why he was one the phone all day — he was selling Amway. 

Outsourcing is So Great, I’ll Do It Myself

At one gig in the Northeastern US, they found out a consultant outsourced his own job to China.  He had difficulty in finishing the assignments he was given, and he had even more difficulty in explaining why he coded the way he did.  At first they thought it was a language problem, but it was soon discovered that he was sending and receiving source code and company specifications over unencrypted e-mail zip files to his cohorts in China.

And those are only a few of the stories I could share.