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  • Bought A Condo -- Celadon Greenway

    We've bought a condo! Actually, we put a deposit down on it a few months ago, but things were a little dicey after the Microsoft shake up. Everything has leveled off, i.e. the new job is going swimmingly and we're forging ahead.

    There is one issue with our new purchase: They haven't been built yet. Actually they just broke ground about 2 weeks ago, and construction is expected to to complete sometime next Spring so we're in full blown hurry up and wait mode. The development itself is extremely cool: Enter Celadon Greenway. I've been living in the middle of uptown Charlotte now for about 7 years; this will be the segway to our transition to just outside center city...a whopping .5 miles from where we live now. The main goal of this building project is being very eco-friendly. If everything goes as the developer plans, we'll be one of the first LEED certified residential complexes in the entire country. Read more about their goals here. Picture time:

    This is a CG mockup of the development. There are 24 condos; ours is the 5th unit if you start counting them from the lower left hand side going clockwise (the end unit at the top of the bottom left structure). More general pictures are located here 

    This is our specific floor plan. It'll be right at 1600 sq ft, and I've already laid claim to the media room, which will be known as the geek room going forward. We also got lucky and got an end unit...our side windows will face due west, so the sunsets will be nice, plus it'll be good and dark in the mornings (not a morning person).

    As is to be expected we're beyond stoked. Eight months and counting.

  • Machine Preparations For Overclocking

     My main workstation is getting on up there in age...it's about 27 months old, though the video card and processor were both upgraded within the past 6 months. I'm not really in the mood to wrangle together a completely new machine, so I've decided to go the overclocking route to try and eek out whatever performance gains I can. I've never been much of a hardware kind of guy, though I do remember the days of going through the tedious process of booting into the BIOS, increasing the FSB/Clock/etc a couple of clicks at a time, rebooting, and then running <insert benchmarking software here, usually Sandra or PCMark>. Lather, rinse, and repeat until you got the machine to crash, then back the settings down just a bit and voila...a faster running machine that only took the better part of a day to achieve. Now there are automated tools that'll do all of this straight from the Windows GUI, although my beloved nTune does not support dual core processors. Any recommendations, or should I just do it the old fashioned way?

    Here are a couple of photos of some recent cooling upgrades I made to the machine (click for larger images):

     

    The case is an Antec P160...notice that the drives face forward for easy access. They are dual 150gb Raptors. The heatsink is a Thermaltake V1; my CPU temperature dropped 10 degrees C simply by dropping that into my case. Total case weight is around 25 lbs.

     

    This is another view of the new heatsink. It's actually extremely quiet...much quieter than the stock AMD Opteron fan that shipped with the processor.

    Hopefully I'll get another year or so of good use out of this machine before I have to build a new one. Newer games are starting to stress it a little (although Bioshock runs like a charm with all settings maxed out). I'm always looking for an excuse to buy hardware though. 

  • So That's How The eSata Drives Generate Revenue Money

    My new eSata drive arrived today...Newegg was having a special, so I got 320 gigs for 80 bucks. You can't beat that, save for one thing: It didn't come with an eSata cable. Price of said cable? 20 bucks, and it has to be ordered seeing as no one in a brick and mortar around here carries them. Sounds like a fantastic ploy on the drive makers' parts: Sell the drive for cheap, but charge an arm and a leg for the connectivity.

    It was still a pretty sweet deal even after having to fork out extra dough just to hook the thing up to my machine.

  • Switching From Microsoft To Logitech Input Devices

    I've been a longtime user and fan of Microsoft input devices (keyboard/mouse)...pretty much ever since I made the move from Mac to Windows 9 years ago. That era is coming to an end as I'm transitioning over to Logitech hardware in my home office. Whereas Microsoft is all business with a touch of flash and a lot of comfort, Logitech is more about expanded functionality with a lot of flair. In the workplace, I'm sticking with the Microsoft Natural line of products since I do about 10x as much typing and mousing (I do write code for a living after all), plus looks don't really matter. Logitech's latest offerings are pretty damn slick though: I've moved to the MX Revolution wireless mouse (which is rechargeable...earns mucho bonus points), and I haven't quite settled on the specific keyboard since unfortunately all of their good ones are sold as a keyboard/mouse combo, so I'll have to pay extra just to get the keyboard I want. More than likely it will be MX 3200 Laser combo, but it's a shame to have to throw the included mouse in a box.

    For anyone who knows me, or has kept up with this blog for a while, you'll notice one glaring thing about the keyboard I mentioned: It's not an ergonomic (aka split) design. I've long extolled the virtues of retraining your fingers on a split style keyboard...the problem is that they take up quite a bit of space and are pretty ugly. The Logitech Wave isn't that bad, but I went and test drove one earlier today and it just looked kind of cheap (the keyboard lettering is kind of cartoony looking...the characters are in boldfaced type), and still wasn't as small as I would have liked. That being said, I'll continue to hang with the big gawdy MS split keyboards at work...the 16 miles a day my fingers travel will thank me later, and I still highly recommend them for any knowledge worker based scenarios.

    A couple of years ago, I was all about some big badass keyboards, the geekier looking the better. Now I'm leaning more towards sleek, and something that blends in with my desk rather than comandeering my workspace. Wires used to be cool (the more wires you had sticking out of your desk, the cooler you were right?), now I consider them passe. Also, the wireless transceivers that come with Logitech's wireless products are tiny...about the size of a USB thumb drive. Less clutter since MS's are huge, just one more thing to take up desk space. I used to view Logitech as kind of a toy brand...not to be taken seriously. Their new offerings are definitely changing my mind though. Definitely worth a look if you are in the market for some new input devices.

  • A Couple Of New Music Recommendations: Mew, Muse, and Cold War Kids

    In my never ending quest to find new (indie rock) music, I've stumbled across a couple more troupes that I really dig, all of them via The Dive which comes on Fuse.tv at the most ungodly hour imaginable (usually around 3am Sunday mornings). By no means are any of them new...they've been making music for years, but only recently have they made it onto my daily playlists. They are:

    • Cold War Kids: Good edgy sounds, slightly dancey and energetic. 'Hang me out to dry' is the hit single from their latest album, Robbers and Cowards. An all around fun band, good party music.
    • Mew: Of all the places in the world for a progressive rock band to hail from, Denmark is certainly not on my radar for internationally acclaimed indie rock music. But from Denmark they doth hail, and their music is deep and melodic. Their lead singer has one of the most unique voices I've ever heard...you'll either love it or hate it (think Geddy Lee except with more overtones). 'Am I Wry? No' is a great tune off of the re-released Half the World is Watching Me album, though my personal favorite is the no transition between tracks 'And The Glass Handed Kites' album.
    • Muse: Probably the most mainstream of the 3 listed here, but still a killer group nonetheless. They're British, so they must be good, right? They've been around for a while, and their maturity shows in their musical taste. They are also characterized by a uniquely sounding frontman...definitely worth a listen to see what I'm talking about. 'Supermassive Black Hole' is the track to listen to first to get a better idea of what these guys are all about.

    Hopefully some of you will enjoy listening to them as much as I have over the past few months. Enjoy.

  • Community Server Developers Conference, New Themes Released

    Telligent has announced the first ever Community Server Developers Conference...there was one last year, but it was not an official Telligent sanctioned event and unfortunately I was not able to make it. This year I am definitely planning on dropping in to help represent the CS MVP's. From the announcement:

    We are very happy to announce the first official Community Server Developers Conference (CSDC) will be held on the weekend of October 20th and 21st.

    Over the next couple of weeks we will be working on the final agenda and session list, but you can expect topics to cover everything from tips and tricks on extending Community Server, the new web service API, and the newly announced Community Server 2008.

    Registration is just $99 if you register before September 5th.

    Feel free to drop me a line here if you're going to attend, and also let me know where a good place to stay in Dallas is located. This should be a fantastic event, if nothing else just to rub shoulders with some of the incredible developers who work for Telligent.

    In other CS news, the CS Theming Contest has concluded...you can browse all of the submissions from both the community and Telligent employees (as well as vote on your favorites...I did not make any submissions myself) over on the CS theming site. I personally have an affinity for Kevin Harder's 'Gulf Coast' submission, but there are plenty of good themes to choose from if you'd like to give your CS site a facelift. Of course you can also choose one of the themes to start with and then make more tweaks to it since CS now has a GUI for making site-wide theme changes. Congrats in advance to the (yet to be announced) winners!

  • MSDN Event In Charlotte – Silverlight, LINQ and WCF

    Microsoft is having an MSDN event here in Charlotte on the 16th of August with topics on Silverlight, LINQ and WCF, all of which are pretty exciting technologies coming down the pipe for the Visual Studio 2008/.Net Framework 3.5 release later this year. I know I'm pretty excited about them! Our group at Skanska has been given the thumbs up to attend, so if any readers will be in attendance feel free to drop me a line and perhaps we can meet up for some lunch beforehand.

    In other news...

    The first couple weeks at the new gig have gone quite well...to say I work with some bright guys would be an understatement. The group synergy is amazing, which is one of the most important aspects when it comes to building software. I've got some pretty cool stuff I'm working on, all of which will make for some interesting posts down the line at some point. The nature of Skanska's business makes for a very interesting enterprise architecture which I'm still getting my head wrapped around, but there's some pretty amazing stuff going on, so hopefully I'll be able to get into some specifics of that soon as well. It's a company that I've found myself very much getting behind when it comes to their core values, and how they apply those values to the line of business they are in.

    Gotta give Skanska a pat on the back for their latest contract: We landed the contract for renovating the UN HQ in NYC, a deal that will be worth $1bn USD over the next 7 years. To be a part of the company that's making that happen feels pretty damn cool, and knowing that our group had a hand in building some of the technology that will go into the project is even cooler.

  • Starting A New Job On Monday (7/16)

    It has been a very interesting 2 months since my last job related post; in a nutshell I am not in Seattle and I was not able to take the position with Microsoft that I've been talking about. I have an entirely separate post that I'm working on which goes into more detail as to exactly what happened as it's a story that needs to be told, however I'd like to get settled into my new role before I post it.

    Did he say new role? I think he did!...so what's this new role? After Microsoft and I decided to go our separate ways about a month ago, I was contacted about a position here in Charlotte for a company that (to be honest) I'd never heard of: Skanska USA, which is the American arm of Skanska AB which is based out of Sweden. They are the 3rd largest building company in the world, and are #433 on the Fortune World 500 this year. Their IT group also made the 2007 CIO 100 list, and they've been named to the Information Week 500 on a regular basis over the past few years. The point is that they are a solid IT group...I did my homework this go round since a previous engagement turned out to be a huge disappointment in terms of overall technological prowess (or lack thereof). Needless to say, I am extremely impressed with Skanska.

    The interview process I went through with Skanska was one of the more unique experiences I've ever done. I won't give away their entire recipe to the secret sauce, but a huge part of their company philosophy is being able to have conversations with workers of any level, from the guy sweeping the floors all the way up to CxO level management, and as such I had to give a how-to presentation in front of the entire Charlotte office as part of the screen, with one stipulation: It couldn't be about anything technical (tell a geek they can't be technical for x amount of time, and interesting things are bound to happen). I did mine on how to fold origami cranes. Readers may not know this, but I have a pretty healthy fear of public speaking; it went off smashingly though as over the years it's something I've gotten used to, and channeling the fear is no longer a problem. From a technical standpoint it was also one of the more involved processes I've been through (dare I say even harder than the Microsoft interviews?)...lots of practical tests. When all was said and done, they spent around 20 man-hours total getting to know me...very impressive.

    I think one of the more captivating aspects of their development group is that when I arrived, I expected there to be a pretty large team of guys writing code what with all the case studies and public notoriety they have gained over the past few years. Sufficed to say, the development team is in the single digits. I even asked during the screening process something to the effect of "man, you guys must write a lot of [efficient] code"...their response was "you better believe it." Sounds like my kind of group of guys.

    I start on Monday (7/16), and that should also mark the end of my blogging hiatus as I've been doing minimal postings over the past few weeks while I've focused on landing a position which fits my career goals for both now, and the future. I'm happy to be aboard, and I have no doubt this new role will broaden my technical horizons as they are doing some amazingly innovative stuff within their technology stack and are a very advanced group.

    Sidenote: One thing that really impressed me with the overall market this go round (besides the fact that it's a job hunters market right now) is that all of the groups I spoke with were familiar with Community Server. Since I'm a CS MVP, I think that definitely worked out in my favor, so congrats to the Telligent team...your product is making inroads into the corporate IT realm which of course is a huge market to tap into. Maybe I'll get to use CS in some of my daily work in my new role!

  • Pownce: Quite A Disappointment (And Other Thoughts)

    Pownce was recently launched (I'm here for anyone wanting to 'friend' me, though I don't see myself being too active in the near future, plus good luck getting the site to actually come up) as a so-called 'Twitter killer'...I'll sum the Pownce experience up in a nutshell:

    "If you thought Twitter was unreliable, you'll be pining for Twitter's level of uptime after just a couple of hours using Pownce™."

    For any readers who don't know what Twitter is, I'll give you a few minutes to Google it. Go ahead, take your time...

     

    My biggest beefs with Pownce at this point are:

    • A complete lack of any type of public API (it may exist, but there is zero documentation on it). We might not even need that if...
    • Pownce's native client was worth a damn. It is written on top of Adobe's new AIR platform, which is based almost entirely on web technologies (HTML, Javascript, Flash, etc) which DO NOT lend themselves well to the desktop experience. It looks very out of place as it has its own custom 'theme' (if you can even call it that). And if you think the Pownce website has awful uptime, the client app is even worse. I already have a great web application on my desktop, it's called Firefox and it renders HTML just fine.
    • No centralized community discussion portal. As far as I can tell, Pownce's only avenue for support requests is by adding a comment to this thread (which as of the time of this post has around 400 posts...try searching that to see if your issue has already been mentioned). There is an email address as well, but I'm pretty sure messages sent to it end up in the same places as socks in a dryer. I've submitted several issues in the past few days and have heard nada back. It's very frustrating when it seems like no one is listening (or even wants to feign listening), especially in a community which is bound to have a bit of web development talent floating around in it.
    • No SMS support. Are you kidding me? That's a deal breaker for most folks right there.

    Of course all the pro-Powncers might come here and say "well, it is still in beta." I'm sorry, but that excuse no longer cuts it on the web, especially when you're in a particular space of sites where competition is high, and users will leave and never look back after just a couple of disappointing experiences. If you're launching it to the general public, it better scale and have almost no downtime at the very least. Other stuff can be forgiven, but in the case of Pownce (as I stated above) who knows if anyone is even listening or gives a damn what their users think. For me, that's the ultimate slap in the face...go and build what could be a really nice service, and then take a let's-launch-it-and-hope-for-the-best type attitude. Their blog has 2 entries, and I've yet to see any mention of bugs that are either A) fixed or B) in the process of being fixed anywhere else on the Pownce site. Is anyone driving this thing???

    The most unfortunate part of all this is that I wouldn't even get this wrapped up in a post like this if I didn't actually like the site itself. When Pownce is up, it blows Twitter away in terms of features, and overall experience. Pownce supports more than just sending out plain text content...you can:

    • Upload media files, which will be displayed inline and can be viewed/played/etc via an inline viewer/player. Nice touch.
    • Group messages to be sent to specific 'sets' of friends, which you can create. Or send them out to the entire Pownce community. Or just reply to a specific message. Or forward a message on to a different group of folks (with a nifty 'only send to friends who haven't seen this message yet' option). With Twitter it's either for the whole world to see, or for just one person.
    • Other little timesaving things which I'll leave as an exercise to the reader to discover.

    The bigger question is pretty obvious at this point though: Why do all of the sites in this space seem doomed to repeat each other's mistakes? I mean seriously, how hard can it really be to get apps like these to scale well, and also provide a nice end user experience? Is it the LAMP approach (I doubt it, but they do have that in common)? Is it lack of money to throw some hardware at the problem? Is it teams that aren't experienced in delivering highly available/scalable web applications (my money is on this one)? It's a big mystery to me at this point, because it really does seem like a drop dead simple concept, something that could be coded up in a weekend, stress tested for a few days, and deployed on a small web farm the following weekend.

    I do wish Pownce all the best, but I am pleading with them to open up some better lines of communication. We're not all going to stand around waiting for the site to just magically be fixed for very long...we'll either go back to our preferred site, or wait a couple of weeks until another team releases their own Twitter killer.

  • For All The Massive Attack Fans Out There

    I'm sure there has to be a couple of Massive Attack fans who visit this site, and if you're not (or have never heard of them) it's never too late to give them a shot. They helped pioneer the trip hop movement which set the stage for many later bands to follow (Portishead comes to mind, among many others). It's nice and dark, soothing, dubby, and just an all around bad ass style of music.

    A 5 hour mixed set of nonstop Massive Attack tunes has been making the playlist rounds over on the DI.fm Lounge channel for several months now; recently the author of the compilation has finally made it available for download: "This Is Massive Attack (mp3)" compiled by DJ Finny. Snag the download, queue it up in your media player of choice, and enjoy the nonstop sounds of Massive Attack.

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