And I Couldn't Help Whistling "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life..."

It occurred to me last night that one of the problems of being Jesus and knowing everything about the future and stuff would be making jokes that nobody gets yet. I know that if I had been in that position, I'd have been continually poking Luke in the ribs and saying, "Use the force, Luke!" and then snickering like mad. Of course, as I type this, I realize that it's really a pretty stupid scenario.

Luke came after Jesus. Duh.

Poker, Anyone?

If you're a Confluence wiki user, go check out my entry for Atlassian's Codegeist competition. The first macro allows you to embed a Planning Poker game into any wiki page. The advantage of using the wiki for Planning Poker is that you can format each requirement however you want, leave it up for commenting and trackable editing, and then either come together to play the estimation game together or over time.

Read more about Planning Poker.

But What Does it Say About Me?

In an interesting article called Gin, Television, and Social Surplus, Clay Shirkyon mentions a historian who suggested that the industrial revolution brought a lot of unexpected free time to the general public who didn't know what to do with it. Because they didn't know what to do with this surplus time, they spent a generation liquored up. The next generation woke up to the possibilities an urbanized population provided and did a bunch of creating.

He goes on to say that changes after World War II brought a similar unexpected surplus that we spent watching television. He thinks that we are now waking up from that and figuring out how to spend our time in collaborative pursuits like Wikipedia. It's an interesting idea and you should go read the essay.

I'm bringing it up, though, because he had a little sound bite for a television personality who was skeptical of the usefulness of different geeky pursuits (like playing RPGs in the basement). He says:

However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it's worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.

What passed through my head: How many people are going to quote that and not state their Mary Ann/Ginger preference? Hmm?

At any rate, if I don't change the name of this blog to The Abbot of Unreason, I'm going to change it to Wasting my Cognitive Surplus.


OK, I went and looked. This afternoon, there are 216 links to that page. Most of those are tag-based (like or technorati), so there wasn't a lot of personal response. Out of the first fifteen personal ones I walked through, only two offered an opinion: Mary Ann and Both.

So, I take away that either (a) the internet world is not as obsessed as I thought or (b) the internet world is too young to remember Ginger and Mary Ann.

It's also amazing how many times people quoted parts of the thing without adding any commentary.

Rambling Preamble

OK, here it is in images:

I made a quick perl script. I tried to use the XML::DOM module, but it kept falling apart (and the images returned by Google are embedded in javascript anyway), so I just used a bunch of regular expressions. Whee!

Un Lun Dun (China Miéville)

"Whatcha lookin' at?" the neighbor's son asked. I jumped, of course, at the sound of his voice. The arrival of this kid whose name I can never remember always fills me with angst. Is he a sign of my increasing senility? Does he represent some unresolved issues with my childhood? Was it the Phlegm? Do I have some phobia for names or the unnameable? Is he in league with the squirrels?

The squirrels are a constant threat.

"Shh," I said. "The squirrels will hear you." He peered out the rear window with me. A slight breeze rustled the leaves of the honeysuckle. A bird investigated the bird feeder and, on finding it empty, cursed in the general direction of the house and flew away.

"I don't see any squirrels," he said.

"They're all playing the inconspicuous game right now," I said. "And they're very good at it, too."

"Why are you looking at inconspicuous squirrels?"

"Well, you are full of questions aren't you?" I responded.

"Mom says I'm at that age."

"What age is that?" I asked.

"The age where I'm curious one moment and mopey and quiet the next."

"I think I'm that age, too," I said.

I did my best to stay focused on the battlefield. Was that a squirrel over by the broken bird bath? No, it was only the wind.

"Do you think the squirrels killed the dogwood?" he asked. I looked at him, and then quickly back out the window.

"I hadn't thought of that," I admitted. "I had thought it was just the drought, but maybe..."

"Then what's wrong with the squirrels?"

"I don't know," I said. "They just keep staring at me."

"Well, you are staring at them. It seems only fair."

"The world isn't fair," I said because that's what adults are supposed to say. "Besides, they're creepy about it. I think they want something."

"It's like the beginning of Un Lun Dun," he said. "All the animals and other strangers kept bothering the Shwazzy before she knew. Have you seen any broken umbrellas running around? Or librarians?"

"No," I said. "I don't remember any squirrels in that book."

"No squirrels, but that was London. What kinds of things would wind up in our abcity?"

"Lots of granola, I expect," I said. Un Lun Dun was a city built of the forgotten debris of London -- broken items and unwanted people. The broken umbrellas formed a gang, the laid off bus conductors found glory. "Escalators, maybe?"

"I think it's where the black squirrels and the grey squirrels do battle," he said.

"Wait a minute," I interrupted. "Are you telling me you read a children's book? I thought your gang didn't read kids' books?"

"Well," he said and dropped into the red chair that had found its way to our home. The Brunette claimed it had been left for free in the street, but I thought it might be a spy. "It's by China Miéville and he writes some pretty adult stuff. So we thought we'd give it a try."

"What did you think?"

"Oh, well, he's almost as good as Gaiman, but not so funny. He has a lot more stuff in there, that's for sure. But I thought someone who looks like he does would be scarier."

"People die in that book," I point out.

"Sure," he said. "And it was good fun, but I never really doubted she'd succeed, did you?"

"Well, she didn't," I said.

"Not her, the other one," he snapped.

"Your problem is that you are too jaded," I said. "I fell in love with the book when the milk carton showed up."

"Uh, OK," he said.

"You know, Shel Silverstein looked pretty pirate-like, too."


"Who? Only the coolest children's poet ever," I said. "He also wrote songs. As a matter of fact, he wrote --"


"A Boy Named Sue," I said. "Which gives me a great idea..."

"No," he said and stood up.

"I think I could remember that," I said.

"Look, a squirrel!" He pointed at the rear window and ran to the door. I smiled.

"Nice try at distraction," I said. "But I saw that coming from a mile away."

"You know that the kid in that song tried to kill his father, right?" he asked and then left.

I nodded. That was right. Kinda violent. I shrugged and turned. Then I jumped under the table as quickly as possible. Right there in the window, one of those nasty squirrels was staring right at me!

Feeling Lucky with the Constitution

Take the words from the Preamble and push them into Google one by one. What does the "I'm Feeling Lucky Button" give you? This:

Kind of a weird little tour. A little too heavy on Wikipedia and, perhaps. With the beginning, I thought I was going to be able to go on about the influence of the "Media", but it doesn't work out so clearly. I might go back and replace all the Wikipedia entries with the second Google response. Can you guess what the two universities are that get home pages pulled up? It's nice to see that both Our Daily Bread and the Flying Spaghetti Monster are represented.

Here's the non-Wikipedia/ version:

Hmm. I wonder if I could automate that and grab the first image Google gives back for each...

Greenbelt Housing Trend

Not sure why this interested me aside from my general fascination with graphing data. This is based on data found at MelissaData. Can't say how reliable the data is. Don't make any decisions based on this information.

It sure looks like when number of sales drops, the price goes whacky unstable.

Dive! Dive!

I'm writing this down so that I don't forget. Maybe it will help you, too.

Rumor has it that with the next major release ClearQuest will begin allowing BIRT for reports and will expose more of the innards of the data structure to both BIRT and Crystal Reports. This is exciting, but for now, we have to deal with a CQ that embeds xtal in its application but does not provide complete access to the data structure behind it. So, when you create a report format, you tell the thing which fields from CQ you want to have available to the report, but records are provided to xtal in a flat sense, not as related tables.

For example, imagine you have a record type in CQ called CR and it has a reference list connected to 0..n estimate records. If you run a report against these, CQ will pass along a single line for every CR and estimate record combination. So, if you have one CR with three estimates attached, you'll get three lines even though there's one CR. No big deal, right? You just use the Group mechanism in xtal to isolate the CR information (e.g., you don't want to see the headline three times, say) from each estimate. Standard play.

You can easily use a running total to provide the number of hours estimated for each CR.

Now imagine that your CR record type has two types of children: estimates and actuals. If you have one CR with three estimates and two actuals, then how many lines will be passed as individual records to xtal?


You know, I would have expected there to be five, but what happens is that CQ iterates over the records: For the CR, for each estimate, CQ provides each actual. You can see this by making the similar query in CQ. The result set for the image will look something like:

1Dev code3Dev code3.5
1Dev code3Modify Db3
1Modify Db12Dev code3.5
1Modify Db12Modify Db3
1Update Docs144Dev code3.5
1Update Docs144Modify Db3

Ignore for a bit any relationship we might want between the actual category and the estimate category. That's another essay. We're only interested in the fact that these are children of the same CR.

Drop into xtal and the immediate question is: how do you arrange the groups? In xtal, it looks like groups are only available in one big nesting, like one set of Russian stacking dolls. That won't work for us here, because there need to be two little dolls inside that stacking set and xtal won't let us do that. Any totals fields we've used to add up the estimate and actual hours is going to go kerblooie.

That's a technical term.

A quick glance at xtal's help tells us that we might want to use subreports. I tried that. It won't let me use the subreport wizard because the second step of the wizard is to select a data source and we really don't have one. CQ is providing the data through its interface, so none of the choices make any real sense. Dang.

However, we are allowed to import a subreport from a file. So all we really have to do is create a file. Try this: create a report format in CQ against the CR record type. When editing the report, group by CR. Hide the Group Header and Report Header/Footer sections. Put your running total in the Group Footer. Save the report format as a name you'll remember, "subreport_estimate.rpt" is a good choice.

Now, create a new report format for CRs. Group by CR. Use Insert>Subreport and choose to insert from an existing one. Choose the file we saved. Insert into the Group Header field. Right click on the new subreport and choose to Change Subreport Links. Choose the CR id field. This will make sure that the subreport is provided a subset of information to work with and not repeat over and over.

Now, repeat in a similar way for the actuals subreport. You might want to divide the Group Header into subsections so they don't overlap.

Easy, huh? From this point on, if you want to modify the way the subreports look or add fields, you can do it from the main report by double-clicking on the subreport square. You don't need the files we saved any more.


Lately, I've been thinking about crying. Oh, it's not in the sense of wanting to cry; I've been thinking about the act itself. Like all things, I blame this on someone else. In this case, Peter Sagal (of Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me, an NPR news quiz) wrote a blog entry discussing songs, books and movies that make him tear up. And really what's got into my head is how many things there are that don't make me cry.

It's not that I don't cry, you see. I'll get a little glassy just like anybody else. It's just that there are things that I think should make me cry that don't.

For example, I can't think of a single song that makes me cry. Part of this, I suspect, is my age. I've gotten to a point where music rarely makes me do anything any more. There are songs that used to make me drive fast or laugh or feel excited and energized. Even now, there are still songs that will lighten my mood. But I don't think music ever made me cry.

Except, that is, for the song that goes, "many tears ago I built a castle..." I've never heard anyone sing it but my mother.

Peter Sagal mentions a scene from the book Watership Down, which I have to say as a whole never did anything for me. I'm an avid reader. I love books more than other types of entertainment. However, there's a wall with reading that keeps my emotions separate from the reading experience. Books don't play me the way movies do.

Except, that is, for The Book Thief. That tore me up.

A few movie scenes have caught my breath, but not as many as I would expect, and never the ones that I should expect. I've been widowed 15 years, now, but the movies about lost loves never made me cry: The Fisher King, To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, Truly Madly Deeply. I thought I might feel sad at the Visitor, but it was not to be: plus, it wasn't as much about his grief as about the immigration issue. So, what has made me cry? The only one I can think of is a scene from Sense and Sensibility. It's not even a sad scene: it happens when Emma Thompson stands up and says, "oh!" upon the return of the dude.

Even that was years and years ago.

What do you cry about?

Movie Summary

Wow, we saw a lot of movies this last week. Here's a summary:

The Grand A movie in the vein of Best in Show, with professional poker tournaments as the focus.

  • Location: E Street
  • Noise Level: Hard to hear
  • The Skinny: Not bad. Not great. About equal to Best in Show, but no Spinal Tap.

The Visitor A widowed professor gets entangled with immigrants who get caught up in INS.

  • Location: E Street
  • Noise Level: Not bad, though the guy snoring in the front row was distracting.
  • The Skinny: Good movie up until the end. The girlfriend was excellent. The ending was disappointing.

Leatherheads A screwball comedy set in the 20s with a reporter mixed up in the beginnings of professional football.

  • Location: Majestic, Silver Spring
  • Noise Level: Fine.
  • The Skinny: Had some funny bits, but Ms. Zellwegger was miscast. Don't get me wrong: I think she's beautiful, but she's not that kind of beautiful. A woman in the row behind us whispered, "He's prettier than she is..."
The Forbidden Kingdom A Boston movie nerd awakes in a Bruce Lee fantasy (without Bruce Lee).
  • Location: Beltway Plaza
  • Noise Level: LOUD
  • The Skinny: It was about what you might expect. Jet Li and Jackie Chan certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves. The women were so dang young. The kid was lost.

Step Away from the MMORPG

From our weekly crime report:

04/12 10:58 A.M. Burglary. A video game player, a laptop computer and a coat were taken.

Goodness. Somebody was so into playing a video game that he didn't even notice he was being stolen?

London Calling

I got the brochure for the London speech. I almost missed the deadline for a picture and was stuck at a customer site trolling through my travel pictures for something to send along. Does this hat make me look American enough?

Gosh, I'm tiny! The full picture has a buffalo head, too. I cropped it so that people wouldn't be confused.

North Central Railroad Trail

We took a little ride up the North Central Railroad Trail, north of Baltimore. (The map is available in my Google Maps.)

It was a 12 mile round trip from Paper Mill Road up to Corbett Road and back. The entire trail goes up to Pennsylvania. It's a fairly flat ride along the river (near Loch Raven and parts of the Gunpowder), but I wasn't up for a 40 mile round trip, even if the last half would be back down hill.

It's easy to forget that there are still rural parts of Maryland and that we have a long horse raising history. We watched a farmer tootle around on his tractor and were shadowed by several hungry looking birds. I must look more wobbly than I realized.

Look, ponies!

Tiki Hut

No wonder this is only $9.99 at CVS (the drug store, not the version control tool). It's a nice candidate for Apostrophe Abuse.

Still, it makes me want to go to Hawaii.


This is going to get repetitive if I title all of these things Rejected!

At any rate, the story I sent off only a week ago, has already been rejected. Dang. In the olden days, it took months for the axe to fall. What's with these people?

Lookin' Out for a Hero

Take a look at the fight going on over at The Superest.

Player 1 draws a character with a power. Player 2 then draws a character whose power cancels the power of that previous character. Repeat.

The fight has been going on since the fall and it's not clear who is going to win. The drawings are equal parts Guillotine and Too Much Coffee Man.

Good Job

Ok, so it's too easy to wait until something bad happens to mention the people who do stuff for us every day. So I just wanted to say, "good job!" to the driver of the R12 bus this morning (9704). Around 8am, he properly yielded to a cyclist crossing the street at Kenilworth and Crescent. It's nice to see.

We'll return to our regularly scheduled grumpiness later.

Make a Joke About Eclipse Memory Usage

So, I got cornered in an alley last month. I can tell you that nobody is as happy as I am to be in April now. It was a terrible thing: Visual Studio snuck up behind me and whacked me in the head with its new source control user interface. As I turned to react, Eclipse kicked me in the knee-caps with a failing vi plugin. As I fell to the ground, I was approached by the Godfather: Softbench waddled up to me, mumbled something incomprehensible, and kicked me in the stomach.

I should've listened to that soothsayer when she told me to beware the IDEs of March.

J33-V5 Goes for a Ride

I thought I'd keep track of all my story transactions this year, just to see how long things take.

I sent "Cheerio, J33-V5" off to the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction yesterday.