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User Journal

Journal Journal: Vacation Report 7

Now that I've had a few days to recover, I can write up my vacation.

We started out around noon on Thursday, Jan 4th. I packed up the minivan that morning, packed the kids in, and away we went. Ahead of us was about 1200 miles and 22 hours of driving. My wife and I were equipped with an XM Satellite Radio, an iPod, and a laptop with EvDO wireless internet. The kids had a DVD player and a whole mess of DVDs.

The first stop was dinner in south Jersey, just short of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. As noted in my last JE, we were making most of our stops at Cracker Barrels. My wife and I are both dieting, and it isn't hard to make good choices from the Cracker Barrel menu. The food is a lot better than McDonald's or the other fast food choices, the atmosphere is kid friendly, and the prices are really low.

After dinner, I switched off and drove for the next stretch through Delaware, Maryland, around DC, and into northern Virginia. Unfortunately we hit this area around the evening rush, so we had to fight traffic.

After a batchroom/gas break, we changed the kids into PJs and headed back out. I got my first good nap while my wife drove to the North Carolina border. Then we switched again and I got us across North Carolina and into South Carolina.

My wife drove across South Carolina. We got stopped for speeding in Yamassee, SC. We were clocked doing 82 in a 70. Fortunately my wife had just slowed down after seeing a car ahead with its hazards on. She couldn't tell if it was on the shoulder or not, so she slowed from 100 to 82! The cop figured out the kids were sleeping in their seats, and managed to do the traffic stop without waking them. I think he felt bad for us, since he gave us a $25 seat belt violation instead of the $100 speeding plus points violation.

I drove across Georgia and into Florida. We had breakfast at another Cracker Barrel near St. Augustine. Our accommodations in Orlando weren't available until 4 PM, so we headed to the Kennedy Space Center and spent half the day there.

The kids really had a good time at KSC. They had dressed as astronauts for Halloween, and we took their orange NASA flight suits with us. We took a whole bunch of great photos of them in real space capsules. A big part of the KSC is the bus tours of the actual launch facilities. We didn't bother with those since the kids just wanted to run around after being strapped down for so long.

Then we made the hour and a half trip to Orlando. We were staying at the Liki Tiki, which I'd highly recommend for families with kids. The Liki Tiki is about 6 miles west of the Disney main gates on Rt 192. It has 1 and 2 bedroom timeshare condos, equipped with full kitchens, in room laundry, etc. It isn't a five star resort, but the place is clean and comfortable, plus there are several pools and a small water slide park right on the premises.

The best part, however, is that it is economical. We stayed 7 days in a two bedroom unit for only $350, or $50 a night. On top of that the kitchen is a huge benefit, especially when traveling with kids. The last thing we needed was to try to get an 18 month old and a kid a little less than 4 into a restaurant 3 times a day. In the morning, we could make some eggs or some pancakes and then go straight to the park. In the evening, we could come home and make some mac and cheese or a frozen pizza instead of trying to make two exhausted kids sit still in a restaurant.

BTW, there is a Publix supermarket about another mile west on Rt 192. In the same strip mall is a Papa John's Pizza and a surprisingly good Chinese takeout place. About another mile to the end of Rt 192, then a few hundred feet north on US 27 is a Walmart. Less than $100 in groceries took care breakfast and most dinners for the entire week. That is tons better than we would have spent in just a few days.

In addition, the laundry is a great benefit too. We didn't need to travel with a full week's worth of cloths, only a few days. Makes it easier to pack. I'd do a load or two of laundry every few nights and we were set to go. I also hate coming home with a pile of laundry, so it was nice come home with clean cloths.

After checking in and unpacking, we did go out for dinner. There is a large resort hotel just outside the Disney gates called the Gaylord Palms. The hotel has a huge atrium divided into three zones, representing three areas of Florida. One was themed around St. Augustine, one around the Everglades, and one around Key West. Each zone has walking paths, plants and animals representative of the area, etc, as well as a restaurant. We had dinner at Key West, at a seafood place aboard a sailboat floating in a small lagoon inside the atrium. It was a little expensive but worth it.

The first full day, Saturday, we spent the day at the Magic Kingdom. The kids had a blast, but my younger one isn't used to sleeping in the stroller and had a meltdown. We went back to our condo in mid-afternoon to let him nap, then we all went swimming. It was in the 80s so this was a nice relief form the heat. After dinner, we went to MGM. Most of the attractions suitable for preschool level kids weren't open in the evening, but we got to scout out the place some.

Sunday we went to Animal Kingdom. The Safari is an really great ride, BTW. We had a good time there, but again it was hot so we went back to go swimming in the mid-afternoon. In the evening we went to Epcot for a bit.

A quick hint about Epcot: As you enter the nations area, Mexico is the first nation on the left. There is a restaurant there with outside seating right next to the lake. Grab a table there about an hour before the fireworks and watch the whole thing sitting down.

On Monday we went back to Animal Kingdom. This day was really chilly. It made it to about 60, but the wind was really brisk. We didn't have enough heavy sweatshirts with us to deal with the wind, so we had to buy some.

Tuesday we went to the Magic Kingdom. The highlights today were the Indy Racers and the ever popular Pirates of the Carribean. The ride has been modified to include Captain Jack Sparrow. The modifications were well done. Traditionalists will not be disappointed. I wish I could say the same for the Tiki Room.

On Wednesday, we split our time between MGM and Epcot. We enjoyed several shows at MGM, especially since they involved the characters the kids watch on the Disney Channel. The kids got to meet the Little Einsteins, for instance. The behind the movies and the special effects tours were really fun too. By today, my youngest had figured out how to sleep in the stroller, so we were able to spend the full day there. The "Soaring" attraction at Epcot is a must-ride. Basically it is a large IMAX screen that shows images of hang gliding around California while you sit in an articulated seat, your legs dangling. The sensation of actually flying is accentuated by little touches - getting squirted with a few droplets of water, for instance, while you glide a few feet above the crashing surf of Monterey. You need to be 40 inches tall to ride, and my oldest is about 39.999 inches. In order to ride, he stood under the height requirement bar and the attendant tried to slide a credit card between the bar and his head. The card got stuck and he got to ride.

Thursday we went to the Magic Kingdom again. In the evening we had dinner at the Crystal Palace while Winnie the Pooh and Tiger wandered about. Then we watched the electric light parade and the fireworks.

Friday we packed up and drove to Homosasa, Florida, a town about an hour north of Tampa on the Gulf Coast. My wife has an Aunt and Uncle that live there and we visited for a day and a half, mostly relaxing and swimming in their pool.

Saturday after dinner we packed up and headed on out. The only highway near Homosassa goes in the wrong direction, so we needed to drive smaller roads up to Gainesville before we were able to get to an interstate. A significant chunk of this drive is along a stretch that has lots of deer activity so we needed to stay extra alert just after dark.

My wife drove from Homosassa to Gainesville, then I did the next leg up to Georgia. We switched of again and she got most of the way into South Carolina. I drove most of South Carolina, then she did much of North Carolina.

I drove the last third of North Carolina, then in Virginia we headed toward Williamsburg. My wife's college roommate is a grad student at William and Mary, and was just married a few months earlier. We met her and her new husband for breakfast at a place called "Aromas", which is jsut about a block from the Wren building, the original building for William and Mary, and still in use by the college. We let the kids run aroudn a bit before setting off again.

After that my wife drove to Northern Virginia, I brought us through DC - a wrong turn put us on I-395 into the city rather than going around, so I just kept going up to New York Ave and back out rather than backtrack. Then she drove us through Baltimore and I did Jersey and back home to New York.

We got home around 8PM. The return trip as about 26 hours total, including the extended stop in Williamsburg.

If anyone is in the market for a good family vehicle, the Honda Odyssey is a great choice. Last year we did this trip in a rented Chrysler minivan and the difference was astounding. We were so much more comfortable in the Honda. In addition, the Honda held the road well at speed, the Chrysler did not do well in a crosswind. The seats were more comfortable, there is a lot more storage space, and it is easier to sleep across the back bench. We were extremely satisfied with the Honda.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Followup - Linux for a 3.5 yr old 3

A while ago I asked for opinions about building a Linux laptop for my son. This is a follow up to that, some notes for my future reference.

After looking around, I decided to go with the Edubuntu, an education related distribution of Ubuntu. Ubuntu had just released their 6.10 "Edgy Eft" release. Ubunutu has a great reputation for usability as a desktop OS. The Edubuntu release has lots of the games and tools that I would like for my son pre-installed.

I downloaded and burned the Edubuntu install CD, and used it to perform an initial install on the laptop I had chosen for this project - an IBM ThinkPad 600E. Thinkpads are so durable, they make great computers for kids. The install went fairly smooth. My PCMCIA ethernet card was identified properly, the video configured itself reasonably, and the system was very functional. The software included Tux Paint, Potato Guy, and a host of other games and activities that should appeal to a youngster. My one complaint was that the sound did not configure itself properly.

Apparently configuring the sound on the Thinkpad 600E is well known as a tricky operation. I tried a bunch of remedies. I disabled fastboot in the bios. (The bios is entered by pressing F1 during the boot process.) I added the kernel parameters pnpbios=off and acpi=off to the grub configuration. Nothing seemed to work.

After futzing around for a while, I decided to start from scratch. I rebuilt the machine with fastboot disabled and the pnpbios=off and acpi=off parameters during the install process, hoping that this would allow the install to discover the sound settings. It still didn't work.

After further poking around, I discovered that IBM provides a config utility called PS2 which can be used to, among other things, view and alter the configuration of the sound card. The utility only runs under DOS. The hibernate function of the Thinkpad 600E also requires a FAT16 partition to host the hibernate file. I decided to build a small DOS utility partition to host the hibernate file and the PS2 utility.

My CD burner software - CDBurnerXP Pro 3 - contains a utility to make a bootable cd. The boot process actually loads a minimal DR-DOS environment and maps it as "A:", and the contents of the CD are available as "D:". Not being certain that the IBM PS2 facility would run under DR-DOS, I found a Win98 boot diskette image and made its contents available on the CD as well as the IBM utilities.

Once I booted with the CD, I used the Win98 fdisk utility to create a 500 MB bootable DOS partition at the start of the drive. Then I formated it and transfered the Win98 system files, the PS2 utility, and some other drivers needed to mount the CD rom, etc. I attempted to reboot, but couldn't because the MBR still had grub on it.

I rebooted with the CD, then used the DR-DOS fdisk to overwrite the MBR. I rebooted without the CD and everything came up fine. I attempted to make a hibernate file with the PS2 utility, but that failed. The Win98 tools had built for me a FAT12 partition. I needed a FAT16.

I rebooted with the DR-DOS disk, partitioned and formated with the DR-DOS FDISK and FORMAT utilities, then loaded the Win98 system files and copied everything else over there. I removed the CD, rebooted, and was able to use the PS2 utility to create the hibernate file and check the parameters for the audio subsystem.

Now, I rebooted with the Edubuntu install disk and reinstalled on the remaining 5.5 GB. The grub config did locate the DOS partiton and correctly made an entyr for it. Sound still did not work. A little searching led me to this page. That successfully fixed my sound issues.

The default kernel was an i386 build, backward compatible to lots of older processors. The other "flavor" available to me was the i686 flavor, which can be used with Pentium II or better. I used the Synaptic Package Manager to de-select the linux-386 package and select the linux-686 package.

Finally, some of the web sites my son might want to visit use flash. I found these directions, which worked pretty much perfectly.

Finally, I created a user account for my son, and moved some links to things he might want onto his desktop.

Still to do, I want to reduce the number of services running. No need to run bluetooth, for instance.

One last thing. Like lots of older laptops, the battery was shot. I was able to trade the battery for a replacement at http://www.batteryrefill.com/. They take aged battery packs and replace the LiIon cells. The control circuitry is usually fine, even though the cells have failed due to age. The refurbished battery for a Thinkpad 600 series is $35 with a trade in of a non-working battery.

User Journal

Journal Journal: My son, the artist 2

So Joe has been pounding away on OpenOffice Writer lately. He mostly likes to take things from around the house and copy the words in. Today, however, he made up a new game.

OOo Writer has a "paragraph background" feature that allows one to set the background color for that paragraph. Today, he made several blank lines and started setting the color for each. Starting from the top, he made a band of light blue, a band of bright yellow, about 5 more bands of light blue, then a band of green.

Then he called me over and said, "Look. I made the world. Here is the grass, the sky, and the Sun." I was shocked. It was very 20th century abstract art. Very cool.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Ask Slashdot - Linux for a 3.5yr old 7

I'm admittedly biased, but my son Joe is really bright. He is currently three and a half. A few weeks ago he asked if he could make letters on the computer. I opened up a word processing program and let him pound on the keyboard a bit. He's been doing this regularly.

About a week ago, I walked in and found this on the screen...


I asked him about it, and he said that he copied the letters from the label. (This is an old IBM ThinkPad) A few days later my wife walked in a found this...


When asked, he said he saw it written on mommy's laptop screen and typed it in from memory. Today, he typed in "Milk Duds" by copying the box from some Halloween candy. And right now he is going around the house finding objects with writing on them and typing in the writing.

My wife and I decided that Santa is going to bring him his own laptop. I have an old ThinkPad 600 that should be perfect, especially if I get a new battery for it.

He's currently playing on a laptop with CentOS running (a free derivative of RedHat Enterprise Linux). Is there any distribution particularly appropriate for young kids or should I build his machine with CentOS as well? Does anyone want to recommend a word processor for him? OpenOffice is a little heavy weight, and while he has been using vim successfully, that might not work well when he gets a little more independent.

Also, any recommendations for puzzle games? He likes playing snood, so similar games might be fun for him.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Super Karate Monkey Death Car 2

"The original title of this book was 'Jimmy James, Capitalist Lion Tamer' but I see now that it's... 'Jimmy James, Macho Business Donkey Wrestler'... you know what it is... I had the book translated in to Japanese then back in again into English. Macho Business Donkey Wrestler... well there you go... it's got kind of a ring to it don't it? Anyway, I wanted to read from chapter three... which is the story of my first rise to financial prominence... I had a small house of brokerage on Wall Street... many days no business come to my hut... my hut... but Jimmy has fear? A thousand times no. I never doubted myself for a minute for I knew that my monkey strong bowels were girded with strength like the loins of a dragon ribboned with fat and the opulence of buffalo... dung. ...Glorious sunset of my heart was fading. Soon the super karate monkey death car would park in my space. But Jimmy has fancy plans... and pants to match. The monkey clown horrible karate round and yummy like cute small baby chick would beat the donkey."
User Journal

Journal Journal: The Death of the BCS? 3

Is this the year that we finally witness the death of the BCS?

After Rutgers beat formerly undefeated Louisville last night the natural order of Div-I college football is at risk. The national championship should have been decided when an undefeated Louisville was faced the undefeated winner of the Michigan-Ohio State game. Louisville now has their first loss, and now six or seven teams can argue that, at one loss, they should be the challenger for the title.

But Rutgers is undefeated. Going into last night they were ranked 13, and if they finish out their last three games with wins, including a win against West Virginia, they'll probably be ranked in the top 8 or 6.

How can a highly ranked, undefeated team, a team who defeated the number 3 team late in the season, not have the opportunity to play for the championship?

Maybe next year we'll have a tournament.


Journal Journal: Sick and Tired of Political JEs 12

I'm sick and tired of all your politics Journal Entries. You all complain about the lying, cheating, negative campaigning, smearing, etc etc etc. And you all want to live in the town of Gum Drop Falls, near Chocolate Lake, and everyone is good and decent and honest.


I'll let you in on a big secret. To some degree they are all crooks. And so are we.

We don't live in some utopia because the human animal is flawed. Sometimes only moderately flawed, sometimes downright evil, but flawed none-the-less.

And there is the brilliance of the American system!

Everyone is selfish, self-centered, egotistical, etc. So they fight, hurl mud, organize campaigns of misinformation, etc. And they fight each other. Meanwhile, every effort they make to fight each other is that much less attention they direct at us. We are more-or-less left alone. You need to get all the officials pulling in the same direction to get mass genocides and other such fun. But get them pulling in different directions and you get left alone.

So don't worry. They are all scoundrels, but they are scoundrels who can't work together for more than a moment or two. I'm less scared of disorganized scoundrels than an organized group of seemingly 'good men', because they are just scoundrels that hide it better.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Congrats, Tigers 2

Here is the rule that everyone should remember:

Unless there is a severe flaw in some other part of their game, the team that pitches better will win.

The Tigers have no flaws, and they simply pitched better. Wang and Mussina are a nice pair but I don't have anyone I feel good about 3 through 5 and I don't have any confidence in my relievers short of Rivera.

Good luck, Detroit. I hope you come back to NY for the World Series. On paper the Mets probably match up the best, although they've had some injuries lately and they are playing in Quadruple "A" rather than the major league. Your path look pretty clear from here on out.

User Journal

Journal Journal: [Baseball] Is there a better all-around player? 4

Mr. November showed up again tonight. He's a relatively quiet guy - such that it baffles the mind to think how the average spoiled star would behave with his numbers.

After ten years, it is time that we can appropriately ask "Is he the greatest of his generation? Is he on par with the greatest of all time?

  1. Hits for power
  2. Hits for average
  3. Hits situationally
  4. Hits in the clutch
  5. Hits to all fields
  6. Runs the bases well
  7. Fields his position exceptionally
  8. Positive clubhouse influence
  9. Good leader
  10. Good role model

There simply aren't any holes in his game.

Now there is a certain pitcher whom is a definite first ballot hall-of-famer, but he is a bit more difficult to measure against the all time greats. Pitchers have become so specialized that it is tough to measure a closer against the great starters of previous eras. You can't argue with a 0.81 post-season era over a very large body of work. You can't plausibly argue that there has been a better closer since the emergence of the modern closer, but would a Sandy Kofax have been even better if he was used in the same role? Who can say?

User Journal

Journal Journal: For StB: Some practical Java info... 1

Sam, the following are some things that I remember confusing lots of beginners and didn't seem to be covered very well it lots of books. I'd suggest trying to wrap your head around this as early as possible.


Imagine that I wrote a class called Log that handles log files. Now Blinder wrote a class called Log that provides a whole bunch of mathematical operations based on Logarithms. Finally, Fort Knox writes a class called Log that is part of the data model for a timber company. Now say you want to write an application that uses all three of our classes. How do you keep all three straight?

This problem comes up so often in the software world that Java provided a set of best practices on how to handle it right from the start: packages.

A package forms part of the name for a class. In that way, all three Log classes can have different names.

A set of rules and conventions are generally followed when naming packages. Here they are off the top of my head:

  1. package names are always in lower case, while class names start with case characters
  2. package names consist of one or more words with dots between them
  3. package names that start with java are part of the java language as defined by Sun
  4. package names that start with javax are optional parts or extensions to the java language as defined by sun
  5. everyone else uses reverse internet domains to distinguish packages

The full name of the Map class provided by Sun is java.util.Map. When I write a class as part of professional services engagement for my company, I write com.mycompanyname.ps.projectname.other.descriptive.text.MyClass. This seems like a pain in the ass at first, but it quickly becomes second nature.

The packages normally translate into directories. So when I write the code for com.mycompanyname.ps.projectname.other.descriptive.text.MyClass I do it in a file named com/mycompanyname/ps/projectname/other/descriptive/text/MyClass.java. When that file is compiled, the output will go to com/mycompanyname/ps/projectname/other/descriptive/text/MyClass.class. Again, this seems like a pain in the ass, but it too will become second nature.

I can take a bunch of class files and put them into a zip file, then use that zip file as a "library". This zip file is usually a "jar" file, which stands for "Java ARchive", and has the extension "jar". The directory structure inside the jar will still contain com/mycompanyname/ps/projectname/other/....

For things like classwork, your email address is probably the good root for a package name. You'll probably want to put your work in packages like com.gmail.samthebutcher.schoolname.cs101.proj1...

Typing out the full name of a class every time you need to reference it can be very tedious. By using the keyword "import" at the top of java file, you can avoid having to type out the whole name every time you need to reference it. So I can use the command "import com.mycompanyname.ps.projectname.other.descriptive.text.MyClass;", then I can just use the short name MyClass within my code, and Java knows what I mean.

I can also import an entire package at once by typing "import com.mycompanyname.ps.projectname.other.descriptive.text.*;". Understand, however, that this only imports that specific package. If there is another package with a name that includes that name but then has another leve, like com.mycompanyname.ps.projectname.other.descriptive.text.anextralevel.MyClass, it is a totally seperate package and won't get included with the *.

The package java.lang is always imported automatically. String and java.lang.String are the same thing.

Jar Utility

As mentioned briefly above, Java has the capability to work with lots of class files bundled together in a zip format. While Java can use a plain old zip file, most of the time java uses a specialized zip file called a Java ARchive, with a jar extension. A jar contains an extra directory, META_INF, and an extra file META-INF/MANIFEST.MF. The manifest file is used to store metadat about the jar, and do some other things you don't need to know about right now.

Java provides a jar utility to make, update, and view jar files. The jar utility takes many of the same command line switches as the unix tar command, so it is pretty easy to use. BTW, the "M" switch suppresses the generation of the manifest, so the command "java cfM MyZip.zip ..." is a pretty good way to zip up a file or directory.

Ant nad your project structure

The Apache Foundation supplies lots of great Java utilities. One of which is Ant, available at http://ant.apache.org/. Ant is basically a build automation tool. A file, build.xml, resides in the base direcotyr of your project. Then you issue command like "ant compile" or "ant clean" and ant builds your project. Ant is, by far, the most widely used tool for doing this.

Typically, you'll give each project its own base dir. It might be ~/mycode/myproject, or it could be somewhere else. Under that base dir, you'll normally have your build.xml file a dir src/, and maybe a dir lib/. The lib directory will contain any third party libraries and jar files. You'll write your code under src, taking care to have the right subdirectories to tie in with your packages.

After you have written some source, you need to compile it. Here is where you start using ant. You'll issue the command "ant compile". First ant will notice that the compile task is dependent on a task nameed "init". "init" is responsible for building out the remainsing subdirectories that you need. I usually have init create a directory build/ for any generated files, build/classes/ for the class files that correspond to my code under src/, and dist/ for any jar files that I generate. After init runs, then the compile task runs, compiling each of the source files and placing them in a tree that corresponds to their package names under build/classes/.

Now, after going back and fixing some syntax errors, I want to try running my program. I use the command "ant run" and ant will set up the appropriate classpath, then execute my program. Finally, I want to bundle up my program in a jar file. I can issue the command "ant jar" and ant will build my jar file.

"ant -projecthelp" will list all the possible tasks that have been defined for this project.

Putting it Together

Here is a sample development environment demoing both packages and Ant. I'm not sure if slashdot will let me get away with uuencoding.

begin 755 HelloWorld_src.zip

The uuencode almost works. Pull out the random spaces and everything should be ok.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Brother Sam... 3

how was school? Your first day of the new class was a few days ago, right?
User Journal

Journal Journal: An open letter to Tigers fans 3

I don't believe my team (NY Yankees) has a realistic chance right now, so I don't have a dog in this race...

Would you actually feel good about putting the ball in All Star starting pitcher Kenny Rogers' hands in a critical playoff situation, or do you sometimes wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and an overwhelming feeling of dread?

If you do feel confident, please explain why, given his 0-3, 8.85 era in 9 playoff appearances record.

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"A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked." -- John Gall, _Systemantics_