Monday, January 15, 2007
Small acts of kindness

Several years ago, I had trouble with asthma-like sneezing and coughing waking up in the middle of the night. From all the news stories, I figured it was dust mite allergies.

Even with thorough washing of the sheets and bedding, and effective removal of dust thanks to the wondrous Roomba (I consider one of the cleverest inventions of the 20th century, at least in the field of home appliances), I still would wake up coughing and sneezing.

A co-worker, I think his name was Cory, told me about an allergy products company in Georgia where I could get an enclosing mattress cover made of tightly woven microfiber that was breathable to let air circulate but fine enough to enclose dust mites and their waste products (which they say is what causes the allergic reaction).

The problem was solved immediately.

I have the feeling that when we look back and wrap up our lives, it is the small favors and random acts of kindness that will be most remembered. Wherever you are Cory, thanks.

PS. If you know somebody with a problem with dust mites, send them a link to this blog entry.

(http://avrashow.blogspot.com/2007_01_01_avrashow_archive.html is the direct link.)
Monday, January 08, 2007

Coffee sent to your door

I drink coffee. I've considered it healthy for many years, even before the recent wave of scientific studies finding benefits and not finding health problems from its consumption.

It's a kind of bean soup, but with the beans roasted, crushed and only the broth consumed.

Café Mam (sounds like mom) is grown by fair-trade cooperatives of native Mayan farmers living in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. The growers, primarily of the Mam, Tzetzal and Mochó peoples, are organized according to egalitarian democratic ideals that stress responsibility to the co-op, hard work and high standards. Their programs provide countless benefits to outlying native communities. [from cafemam website]

The coffee is grown without pesticides and the growers receive fair payment, which provides "countless benefits" to these groups of indigenous people.

I, a creature of habits formed decades ago, order the Light Roast, whole bean, [1-888-CAFEMAM] though most people like the expresso-like roasts or blends of light and dark roast beans. I've tried the decaf, and it's tasty, but that's not my cup of tea, so to speak.

This just in:

LONDON - Drinking tea can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke but only if milk is not added to the brew, German scientists said on Tuesday.

“The beneficial effects of drinking black tea are completely prevented by the addition of milk, said Dr Verena Stangl, a cardiologist at the hospital.

Word I've heard is, same goes for coffee (it's healthy only without dairy).
Thursday, January 04, 2007
It's time to XAML ! If you have Windows XP and a fast Internet connection, you can start playing with WPF.

With any new technology, there are early adopters, there are late adopters, and there are those who only use what is preinstalled, preconfigured for them.

Generally, I wait until tools support any technology rather than use Notepad to explore the concepts and constructs. But waiting for the next version of Visual Studio and the Expression tools (the ones not released yet) does not preclude anyone from running xaml and learning about WPF.

There are several fine books out about WPF. I bought one (Chris Sells), have another on order (Adam Nathan, full-color illustrations and code coloring should make it easier to associate the xaml code and its rendering), and downloaded a prerelease "rough cuts" version (Chris Anderson).

Now that the .NET 3.0 framework has been officially released, I could have downloaded it. I tried an experiment to see what would happen.

I created a first.xaml file using Notepad (this example is copied from the Chris Anderson book):
<FlowDocument xmlns='http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation'>
<Paragraph>Welcome to my document!</Paragraph>

I noticed the icon on the desktop had a WPF shield rather than an unknown file extension icon, so I double-clicked it and Windows XP offered to download the .NET framework. I clicked OK, the .NET Framework (3.0) was downloaded, and then IE7 launched and downloaded a little viewer and the text in the Paragraph tag was displayed in IE7 with a zoomable slider control in the lower right corner.

So now I can start playing with xaml examples and seeing the results until the Visual Studio team officially releases something official I won't have to uninstall.

For Windows Vista, with the .NET 3.0 Framework already installed, you can just double-click on a xaml file to view it (I expect that xaml will soon be standardized with no capital letters, or maybe just a capital X). IE7 will still need to download a little viewer before displaying the file.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Gerald Ford, the 38th president, died last week at age 93.

Bloggers have editorial freedom to comment on any event or thought, although the implied contract with readers mandates there should be some useful or interesting information in each blog posting. Often, a blogger will comment on a news event citing their personal involvement with the person of interest. I will use that as the thinnest pretext to comment on the passing of President Ford.

In retrospect, his pardoning of President Nixon seems wise and timely. Instead of the nation going over the minutia of what a former president directly ordered and how much was covered up criminally, it was much better to look forward and deal with the problems and challenges of the 70's. There was still a war in Southeast Asia and other problems needing attention. It was time to move on, though the public didn't want to let go of the public scandal yet.

So, pardoning ex-President Nixon was the right thing to do. It came as a shock to everyone, though, because everyone wondered if some backroom deal had been made before Gerald Ford was appointed Vice President. He should have begun his speech to the public explaining that it's time to move on, that whatever Nixon had done was relatively unimportant after he had resigned. That kind of speech would have prepared us for "Therefore, in the nation's interest to face the present challenges... I hereby unconditionally pardon Richard Nixon."

I think that would have been more understood by the public.

In the presidential debate with Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford stated he did not believe that the Communists were in control of Poland. It was years later, in the late 1980s, that a trickle of people were allowed into Western Europe from Communist satellite nations. The trickle became a flood, and soon there was no domination of Eastern Europe by Russia.

Anyway, getting back to the thinnest pretext for writing this blog entry, I read in the daily newspaper the day after the Berlin Wall fell an editorial by Gerald Ford, ex-President defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election. He recounted his statement in the presidential debates, saying that at the time, he was trying to make a statement that the Polish people did not consider themselves part of the Communist empire, and he thought he was using inspirational poetic language to describe the spirit of freedom yearned for behind the Iron Curtain. He said he was surprised that people interpreted it as him not knowing the political reality of Eastern Europe at the time.

But he waited until the occasion of the fall of the Berlin Wall before really explaining it. If he had communicated better at the time, he might have been elected president in 1976.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
"Zune to eventually outsell iPod" someone claims.

Lee added that he expects Microsoft will eventually "be the leader" in the digital media player segment.
What? Well, I've been wrong before.

Long ago I read a PC Magazine column saying Microsoft was planning to take its wordprocessing and spreadsheet programs (Word and Excel) and add a third program to let people create overhead slide presentations and call the package Microsoft Office.

The columnist was puzzled who would need such a program. Microsoft predicted we will all be using the overhead slide program to prepare presentations (not just corporate vice presidents and marketing managers).

It sounded preposterous, but the columnist insisted that no matter how strange it sounded, Microsoft had done studies and was confident people would find the product as useful as a word processor or spreadsheet program. I was wrong. PowerPoint is useful for communicating to teammates or to a group of one or more people. I read somewhere schoolkids like to present research about a subject with jazzy (colorful, animated) presentations.

When the Pocket PC came out, the PalmPilot personal organizer was the only successful device people used to carry their contacts information and to-do list. People scoffed when the Pocket PC was introduced. And yet, Palm recently licensed the Windows Mobile OS.

Another example was when Bill Gates introduced MSN as an alternative to the America Online juggernaut which had achieved its preeminence as an Internet service provider, someone said, by carpetbombing America with promotional CDs. When asked by a skeptical reporter if he thought the new service would make money, Bill Gates said, "I am absolutely, positively sure..." and then went on to say "that it will lose money for the first few quarters [or years, I don't recall the exact wording]."

And yet in all cases, there were signs I didn't see. The expensiveness and beginner-orientation of AOL and its dial-up subscriber base, the black-and-white PalmPilot with its inability to function as an extension of a Windows desktop, the general need every high-tech worker has to communicate ideas to a team. There were signs. I just didn't see them.

Concerning the Zune, what if the screen were much bigger but yet portable and I could watch movies (that I used to have to physically obtain the shiny DVD to watch) and webcasts and home movies? What if Microsoft allowed it to receive off-the-air local high-definition television signals? What if I could load a music CD on to my desktop computer and have it instantly available on my Zune?

There are so many possibilities that I would not count Microsoft out on any market they go after. I've been wrong before.
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