Monday, April 25, 2005

The Los Angeles Festival of Books

I went to the Los Angeles Festival of Books today. That was a fantastic event, a must see for anyone who can get to it. We went there with friends of ours, Lynn and Josh, and their daughter. I was looking forward to seeing them because I had been listening to the radio a few weeks ago and happened to hear Josh's name mentioned, and heard his voice as a bonus. So I was excited because I wanted to speak with him about it.

We met them at the children's stage. We settled in, and I turned to Josh and said, "So I heard you on the radio." Josh says, "Yeah, I heard you got locked out!"

I should back up. A few weeks ago I was driving with my wife down National Boulevard. No, that's half of it; we were driving in separate cars. I was following her down National Boulevard, and we were running pretty late. Now, those of you who know Los Angeles better than I already know there are two National Boulevards and perhaps the reason we couldn't find our destination was because we were on the wrong one. Never mind. The important thing was we were lost and running late.

So I'm driving behind Beth and listening to the radio when, like I said, I hear the reporter mention Josh's name and so on. I'm like, "Hey! I know him!" And it was nice because he doesn't have the easiest name to pronounce, and those of you who know me know that I consider it important to know how to pronounce someone's name.

Now the way Beth tells this story, I did not call her on her cell to give her the news, but, I should note at this point I did, in fact, call her. This turns out to be irrelevant.

Not long after the point when, depending on your point of view, I called Beth, we stopped at a red light in a long line of traffic. Something which I hadn't told you was that I expected that Beth would not have eaten, so I prepared by packing some celery sticks and peanut butter, and a mozzarella stick, to give to her at the right time. I'm good that way. So we're stopped at this red light, and I figure I'll get out, run to Beth, give her the food, and hop back in the car. Having locked myself out of the car many times in my life, I knew that the important thing to do was open my window so, in the event that I do lock the door, I can merely reach in and remain cool.

Alright. Time for action. I lower the window, lock the door, get out, run over to Beth and knock on the window. Beth freaks out because I had surprised her. She opens her window and I toss the food in and run back to the car, only to realize, as I had just typed, that the car door was locked, in the middle of a busy street, and the engine running to boot. True, I had opened my window, except it was just open enough that I could get part, but not all, of my hand through it. I pushed my hand, pulled it out, pushed it in, pulled it out, pushed on the window, and so on. Finally I took off my office access badge, which hung around my neck on a string, and frantically attempted to unlock the door by looping the string around my door lock. After 10 seconds of this, the woman behind me watching dumbfounded, Beth's repeated attempts at making contact by yelling my name finally caught hold. I looked at her, and saw she was dangling a key, a key to MY CAR, out her window. It's one thing that your wife has a spare key to your car in case she needs it. It's another thing that she carries it with her, even when she's driving her own car, because she knows your capacity for bonehead moves.

So I ran over to Beth, grabbed the key, ran back to my car, looked at the woman in the car behind mine and explained to her that it's my wife in front by pointing at my wedding ring and then thumbing back at Beth's car, unlocked the door, and got in, just in time for the traffic to move after the light had already changed to green. Cool as a cucumber.

It turns out that Beth told this story to Lynn, who told the story to Josh, but as the game of Operator goes, Josh believed that I actually ran over to Beth to tell her he was on the radio, and a dollar says it wasn't Lynn who made that adjustment. I insist that I called her on the phone, but really, in what position am I that making that clear exonerates me of buffoonery?

And that's who we spent the afternoon with at the book fair. But it was nice because I saw all these interesting booths of writers, publishers, and so on. Carl Reiner was on hand to read, "The 2,000 year old man goes to school." Hey, he came out, that was good, and he had a nice attitude. I wandered around, found a lovely cookbook booth, an ACLU booth, the Huntington Library booth (which was good because I had questions about their upcoming Newton exhibit) and the KPCC radio booth. KPCC is an NPR affiliate and I like their reporters, so I spent a minute briefly chatting with someone; mere small talk. As I walked away, Josh approached, and he said, "Hey, that's the guy who did the story on me," pointing back at the KPCC booth. I realized that the person to whom he was referring, the person whom I just spoke with 30 seconds prior, was Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, a well known KPCC reporter. I hear his stuff all the time. I should have recognized him to begin with, but it was nice that I could have the opportunity to speak with him again. So we go over, Josh says "Hi" to Adolfo and I introduce myself. Josh says, "Rob heard your report [about me] on the radio." Adolfo says, "The one who locked himself out of his car?"

Finally, a site for me!

Now this site makes me happy: tracks Los Angeles restaurant hygiene inspection ratings, and I couldn't be happier. I have a hard enough time eating in a 'B', let alone a 'C' restaurant. However, at least now I can find out a little bit more about why restaurants have their ratings. Thanks!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Jury Duty

I went to the Superior Courthouse today in downtown Los Angeles to report for Jury Duty. I was going to be asked to serve on a case that would take no more than seven days to complete. That could have been a single day, it could have been seven. Requesting a postponement of your jury service is much easier than than you think. In fact, it's civilized. They say, "You may have something important going on at work. You may have a sick child at home. If you think these things are important, so do we." The only requirement was to complete my service within three months. I merely filled out a piece of paper, picked a very good week for me to go, signed the paper and walked out. Really, I do appreciate that.

When I returned to the office later that morning, my coworker said, "that's the nice thing about being a foreigner, no jury duty."

I said, merely throwing him the straight line, "Service on a jury is an honor and a privilege."

Says the coworker, "I meant, it's a bad thing."

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Treo 600

I finally replaced my Nokia POS and said Goodbye to Cingular.

I purchased a Treo 600 and signed up with T-mobile.

The pros:
  • Really easy to use. Everything looks familiar, and if it's not familiar, it's intuitive.
  • I like the camera, even if it is mediocre resolution (640x480).
  • Software that lets me check plane schedules and phone numbers. Perfect.
  • Speakerphone rocks!
The cons:
  • The traditional speaker is mediocre. The reception is crackly, and we live on the 11th floor with an unfettered view. The T-mobile representative said that they're working on a tower two miles away, and that might be the reason why there's trouble. I hope it gets better, cause that's trouble.
  • Can't play Sim City anymore.
Also, note that Palm (or PalmOne, whatever) has released a PalmOS Developer Suite, which rocks! It's based upon Eclipse and Eclipse CDT and Cygwin. Everything is self-contained (it even comes with a JVM.) I wish that were available five years ago.

By the way, if you already have Cygwin running on your machine and you want to use the PalmOS Developer Suite, read the instructions about Cygwin installations. No, really, otherwise it sucks!


Why was I afraid of XSLT? It is the easist thing ever!

Papers on Language Evolution

These past two weeks I've read two fantastic papers on language evolution: the first was written in 1998, and is really phenomenal: Growing a Language, by Guy Steele of Sun Microsystems, followed by Rules of thumb for the design of C++0x [pdf] [html], by Bjarne Stroustrup, now at Texas A&M. I was given the second paper to read, I can't find a link on the net just yet.

Both papers emphasised the importance of library growth over rapid language evolution. Guy Steele mentioned three things which he wanted to see added to Java: generic types, operator overloading, and lightweight user-defined types. The rest could come from libraries initiated by the user community. Bjarne Stroustrup said "Not every library should be a standard."

The thing which I really wanted to mention was a section written by Bjarne in a section called
"Experts and Novices":

C++ has drifted towards becoming an "expert-friendly" language. In a gathering [...] of experts, it is hard to build a consensus (or even interest) for something that "just" helps novices. The general opinion (in such a gathering) is typically that the best we can do for novice is helping them to become experts. But it takes time to become an(sic) expert and most people need to be reasonably productive during the time it takes.
That hit me as a trend I noticed in my work. I don't write languages, but I have had the occasion to write material which someone else needed an expert knowledge to understand. This is not uncommon, of course. All too often we find languages, libraries and tools which tend to require more of our understanding than we reasonably would expect to give.

I don't have a nice conclusion, just some jumbly thoughts.

West Wing Season 6 Finale

OK, the season is finally over. There were a couple of great episodes. The Josh/Toby fight was much, much more effective than I expected. The president lying on the bathroom floor having a petulant fit was superb. Also, did I miss something, or hadn't I seen a preview where Toby had given his notice? I must have missed that one.

On the flip-side, CJ as Chief of Staff is unbelievable, as in "not believable", and why would Santos choose Leo McGarry as a Vice Presidential candidate? Truth is, Leo apparently has the background. The first result from Google for Leo McGarry brings up this page, which mentions that not only was he the Secretary of Labor and a political powerhouse, but he commands $40,000 on the lecture circuit. So, maybe he wasn't such a bad pick after all. Then I wish they could have reminded us of these facts. Why should I have to go scouring for that information? It's been a while, guys.

Really, what fundamentally disappointed about the finale was how evident it was that it wasn't written by Aaron Sorkin. Readers of gave the show an 'A', and maybe I'm comparing it to past season finales, but an 'A' for what? For twists and turns? The speech wasn't that great. As an opera, the episode played well, but I guess I'm still looking for those moments such as the one where the President Bartlett gives God a piece of his mind and he looked like he might actually get a quick shot. I'll still watch the show, but with much lower expectations. Yeah, right.