GIS Day

08 November 2007

asheville codehaus gis north-carolina opensource technology

Did you know that November 14th is GIS Day?

I've experimented with PostGIS some, so I'm interested to see what's going on. Here in Asheville, we apparently observe GIS Day on the 9th, with some stuff going on at AB-Tech.

There's a talk on open-source GIS, so I'm curious to see if GeoTools or uDig are mentioned, being some of the open-source GIS projects at the Codehaus.

Google Maps has shown us how everything goes better with some visual representation. I think GIS will only grow in importance, and tooling like PostGIS makes it fairly easy.

Historical Histrionics

14 September 2007

asheville events fame history north-carolina

My friend Lance, here in Asheville, hacks for Electric Sheep Company during the day, and by night is actor extraordinaire.

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Starting next week, the immediate theatre project will be presenting Copenhagen, with Lance playing the physicist Werner Heisenberg. The play centers around a meeting (in Copenhagen) that occurred between the seemingly at-odds scientists during the war.

Lance says he has most of his lines mostly memorized, so far. Should be fun!

Just Comes Natural

26 August 2007

asheville events fame family lego north-carolina

As a child, a friend of mine (my Attorney) and I were in the local paper for building a sprawling Lego city across my rumpus room.

This morning, my son continued the legacy, by winning a bring-your-own-Lego(tm) Transformer(tm)-construction competition.

The Asheville Citizen-Times wrote it up nicely.

HENDERSONVILLE – For Noah McWhirter, building Lego figures just comes natural. “I just build things with my wild imagination,” the 10-year-old Vance Elementary School fourth-grader said. “I don’t even think about them. I just make them.”

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Of course, I think part of the winning strategy was bringing The Intimidator Professional-Grade Toolbox, when most kids had some flimsy Tupperware or burlap sack. Bonus points for packing it to the gills with 1970s-era Lego(tm), inherited from dear ol' dad.

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Government Handouts

21 August 2007

community history north-carolina technology yard

usda.png If you Google around enough, with diligence and creativity in your search terms, plus a dash of willingness to check out page 12 of the results, you just might find some value provided by your government.

For example, I've been trying to spruce up the overgrown, dreary and downright treacherous shrubs, bushes and vines littering my yard. Using the pick-axe to uproot shrubbery is fun and easy, sure, but then there's a gaping hole, a void, a cavity of hope waiting to be filled. Plant guidebooks seem to either be jinormous compendiums of every plant, fungus or moss known in existence, or else they trot out the same few dozen marigolds, impatiens and dogwoods.

Designing a garden around the house requires a knowledge of the space, sunlight, water, drainage and soil. Without an eye towards color, blooming and size, the results may possibly be healthy, but boring and mundane.

I know my yard. This area is sunny. That area is shady. The dogs poop in that corner. And in that other one, too. This bed doesn't get much rain.

Knowing my constraints, now I must fill the emptiness. With color. That blooms at the appropriate time. Joy! Even more constraints.

Enter the USDA. Established in 1839 as the Agriculture Division, it's been collecting data ever since.

Their soldiers on the ground, in the fields and forests, steadfastly recording the plants they witness everywhere, have compiled a database of over 89,000 plants seen in the United States. While a nice online search form is available, results can be delivered not only in HTML, but also as slightly-ugly yet still useful comma-separated values.

The data includes what you'd expect, including the entire chain of Latin words to precisely describe the plant, along with its common name, of course. The data also includes, for some of the plants, information that is immediately useful to someone attempting to populate his yard. Commercial availability, US nativity and invasive status, the season and color of bloom. All categorized by the states in which the plants can be found.

Download the 17mb CSV results from a rather large query, slice, load into a database, swizzle and serve over ice.

Living in North Carolina and finding a purple flower that blooms in the spring for my partial-shade bed just got a whole lot simpler.

The Metamorphosis

07 February 2007

day-job java jboss north-carolina opensource

Monday morning, I woke up to find myself transformed into a Red Hat employee.

Yes, that's right, I've joined Red Hat. More specifically, I joined JBoss, a division of Red Hat, to lead up JBoss.ORG . You may recall that a little more than a year ago, JBoss acquired the Drools business rule engine. At that time, Mark Proctor joined JBoss to lead Drools, while I wandered off to pursue other interests. In the intervening time, I followed the project of course. I was impressed with how well it functioned under the larger umbrella of JBoss. When the JBoss.ORG community-centric opportunity arose, I felt I had to finally jump aboard the good ship JBoss.

And here I am.

I join a talented team who already have a lot of cool things underway:

(You may now notice that my decision to learn Polish wasn't quite as arbitrary as it may have initially seemed.)

JBoss is of course one of the pioneers of the professional open-source model. In that, we can never forget our open-source community roots, even when vast sums of money are thrown around. Ultimately all open-source survives and grows based upon goodwill. Tending to the community is required, else you risk alienating your own users. I aim to use my experiences from a variety of open-source projects and communities to make sure the JBoss community is one of which I'm proud to be a member.

So, what exactly am I going to do?

I'm going to find our weaknesses within how we handle our community. Anything that we could be doing better. Perhaps an existing bit of the infrastructure used by projects is irritating. Perhaps we're missing some tooling that folks wished we had. Perhaps we need to help projects organize their documentation or create some tutorials.

Within a community is a continuum of participation. Our job is to remove anything that stands in the way of people moving as far along as they wish.

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Once impediments are torn down, a feedback loop exists, with community members helping each other.

I'm truly excited about this opportunity to work with open-source communities full-time. Things are afoot. And let me know what you think we need to do so that we can leave you with warm and happy thoughts of JBoss at the end of the day.

Update: Here is the official press release (PDF)

Learn a new (spoken) language

20 January 2007

culture north-carolina polish

Pimsleur Polish For a variety of reasons, I've come to the decision that I should learn how to speak Polish. I know a crapload of computer languages, of course: Perl, Java, Ruby, Bash, Tcl, Logo. But English is the only thing I can speak, even after 3 years of floudering in highschool French and a year of 8am university Latin courses.

It's time to learn another human language.

Sure, you can speak French and sound sexy. But even simply pretending to speak French is enough to accomplish that. Everyone's 4-year-old speaks Spanish fluently these days, and I simply don't need to be shown up by a 3-foot-tall crumb muncher. That's no good for the ego.

So, Polish it is.

I live in a small mountain town and figured correctly that our bookstore wouldn't have any useful Polish courses on CD. Thanks to the zippy folks at Amazon, and my seemingly unending free trial of their Prime cheap overnight service, I possess the first 10 lessons of the Pimsleur system.

For those of you who don't know (I didn't), Pimsleur is purely an audio/spoken system. There's nothing to read. The Polish speaker on the CD works backwards through sounding out words and there is just enough repetition to learn while keeping it all interesting.

Vo-Tech!So far, I can say

  • Excuse me!
  • Do you speak English?
  • Are you an American?
  • I understand a little Polish.

The package of 5 CDs is nice enough. I quickly ripped them to iTunes so I could drop them on the iPod. The CDDB is just whacked when it comes to the Pimsleur CDs, be warned.

Then, for the hell of it, I Googled for Polish resources in my town.

Lo and Behold! The local vocational college, about a mile away, has a Polish class starting next week. I'm heading back to school!

Googlenomics

20 January 2007

economics google north-carolina

LenoirGoogle decided to plonk down a $600 million dollar data-center in Lenoir, North Carolina.

You know Lenoir, it's right north of Hickory. Oh, you don't know Lenoir? It's been in the news lately, mostly with folks whinging about how Google, with its billions of dollars in market capitalization, is getting a pretty sweet tax break.

But Lenoir was bidding on this facility, in competition with other municipalities, and apparently thought $100 million in tax breaks would be a small price to pay. The upshot is that Google will bring 200 new direct jobs, plus untold number of indirect jobs, to the area. The average salary in Lenoir is $16,000. The average Google salary will be closer to $40,000. And these folks will be spending their wealth in the community. As will the workers who build and maintain the facility. Lenoir only has 17,000 people.

While Google may have been trying to decide simply the best place to drop a data-center, they were ultimately selling prosperity to the highest bidder. Lenoir won.

Good for Lenoir!

Snow Day

10 January 2007

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We had quite the blast of cold in the mountains of North Carolina today. Was enjoyed by all.

WSTFU-FM

12 October 2006

culture north-carolina

radio.png Here in Asheville, our local public radio tends to play a nice mix of bluegrass, jam bands and local music, along with nice syndicated shows such as The World and The World Cafe (yes, not every public radio station is required to air All Things Considered). This week, though, they have started their seemingly bi-monthly fund-raising effort. This apparently entails putting 2 folks on the air just talking about the wonderful tote bag or coffee mug you can receive if only you'd donate some dollars.

I normally prefer listening to this station, but this week, when they are trying to convince me that my enjoyment of the radio and a tote bag is worth $85, they have actually reduced its worth to -$10. They should be paying me to listen to their fund-raising tripe. Yes, the station is valuable to me, but in trying to convince me of its value, they manage to destroy it all. Instead of actually making me remember that I should support them and trade $85 for a tote bag, they have sent me searching for alternatives on the AM dial.

There has got to be a better way for public media to raise the funds they need than to completely make themselves worthless during the fund drive. I listen to the radio in the car, normally while I'm driving. That is not exactly the best time to pick up the phone and make that pledge! On the other hand, I do use their website on a regular basis to browse the playlists. I do that while not driving. In fact, that'd be an excellent time to try to sell me an overpriced tote bag to fund their activities. Of course, their website makes virtually no mention of the fact a fund-drive is underway.

Yes, these obnoxious funding efforts to convince you of the value of their content (while completely screwing up the content) is simply the way it's always been done. It's time to find a new way. Listening to volunteer DJs umm and ahh their way through 15 minutes of describing all they great uninterrupted music and programs they have is just painful. Considering that Asheville is small, and it takes a maximum of 10 minutes to drive anywhere, 15 minutes of repetive rambling about the music I won't get to hear before darting into the store isn't serving their goal very well at all.

Perhaps use the internets better, and go after your listeners while they're on your website. Annoying your customers is not necessarily the best way to make them part with their money. Even if you throw in a tote bag.

Cow Orking

15 September 2006

culture day-job north-carolina sharing technology web-20

Wow.

I'm finally home after a trip to San Francisco to meet my co-workers. It truly was surreal, in that I've been working for The Job for about a year, and had never met a co-worker, aside from Pete. When I joined, the team was 3 other people, and we were all in different states. New York. North Carolina. Michigan, California.

Now we are 18.

This is the first funded startup I've been a part of, and it's been fun to watch the growth of a company. I think we've assembled an excellent team of talented individuals. It certainly is a rather eclectic group (no, the children are not employees).

It is somewhat strange being the odd-man-out, clear across the country. This trip through, to finally meet everyone, helped solidify the realness of it all. When everyone is in different states, you've got a hip distributed team. When there's just one guy in the hills near the moonshine shack, he's just a remote worker . Ultimately, I wouldn't trade my grits and banjos for the world, and am grateful that an organization such as Radar is jiggy enough to keep a hillbilly round. But while proximity doesn't matter to Subversion or Jabber, we are all humans, and faces do matter.

I'd like to travel out there more often, and I aim to finally locate and hook up the iSight.

The point to this post? Technology allows you to never actually meet humans, but I wouldn't recommend it.