November 29, 2004

Sql Tutorial

Not bad. Intro to SQL here. Only skimmed it while I was looking for something else, but seems pretty decent.

Posted by kstroke at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

November 24, 2004

Comment Spam

Got crushed by comment spam the other day. Account got suspended. Have to figure out a way around the spam. Will look into the solutions presented here: later. Until then, comments are closed.

Posted by kstroke at 12:41 PM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2004

Web Hunting = Bad

This is just one of the many reasons why this other thing is a terrible idea.

Posted by kstroke at 03:12 PM | Comments (12)

November 16, 2004

Frequent Flyer Board

From wanjen,

I'm turning into a frequent flyer fiend. Not the flying, just the signing up and the reading about it.

Posted by kstroke at 12:38 PM | Comments (12)

November 12, 2004

Log Entry

Light lower body workout.

Posted by kstroke at 01:37 PM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2004

Log Entry

Light upper body workout.

Posted by kstroke at 01:36 PM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2004

Their CarPuter Needs Help

From jocy, an article about how bad software design and process is frustrating and endangering police officers. I need to get going on my carputer so I can have some good experience for building a good version for them. After I fix Koko. So sad. Koko died. Have to figure out why. Either a virus or extended EM exposure got to her.


Published: November 11, 2004
TOUCHY - After complaints about the police computer system in San Jose, Calif., a screen displaying activity and orders was changed to reduce clutter. A Code 99 call for assistance, above, requires two keystrokes.

SAN JOSE, Calif.

SAN JOSE has a reputation as one of the safest large cities in the nation, with the fewest police officers per capita.

Yet a number of the 1,000 officers in this city of 925,000 in the heart of Silicon Valley have been worrying about their own safety of late. Since June, the police department has been using a new mobile dispatch system that includes a Windows-based touch-screen computer in every patrol car. But officers have said the system is so complex and difficult to use that it is jeopardizing their ability to do their jobs.

Officers complain that routine tasks are so difficult to perform that they are discouraged from doing them. And they say that the most vital safety feature - a "call for assistance" command that officers use when they are in danger - is needlessly complicated.

"Do you think if you're hunkered down and someone's shooting at you in your car, you're going to be able to sit there and look for Control or Alt or Function?" said Sgt. Don DeMers, president of the San Jose Police Officers' Association, the local union and the most vocal opponent of the new system. "No, you're going to look for the red button."

Officers also say they were not consulted about the design of the user interface - how information is presented and how commands are executed using on-screen and keyboard buttons. Many have said they wish the department had retained and upgraded the old system, in place since 1990.

Such complaints have a familiar ring. Anyone who encounters technology daily - that is to say, just about everyone - has a story of new hardware or software, at work or at home, that is poorly designed, hard to use and seemingly worse than what it was intended to replace. Yet because the safety of police officers and the public is involved, the problems in San Jose are of particular concern.

At the heart of the dispute is the question of how much the technology itself is to blame, how much is a training problem and how much can be attributed to the predictable pains associated with learning something new.

Any new technology, whether it is a microwave oven or the controls of a Boeing 777, has a learning curve. And often the user interface, the all-important gateway between person and machine, is a dizzying array of buttons or keys that have to be used in combinations. It can take weeks, sometimes months, of training and adapting for people to become comfortable with a new system.

Police department officials in San Jose have acknowledged that the off-the-shelf system, which cost $4.7 million, has had some bugs, yet they say the software vendor, Intergraph Corporation, of Huntsville, Ala., has fixed many of them.

"The city and Intergraph have worked together to iron out the software and work-flow issues that sometimes accompany the introduction of a new system," said Alice Dilbeck, vice president for customer services at Intergraph.

And at public safety agencies elsewhere in the country where similar software has been introduced, employees have eventually grown used to the new technology.

Still, questions and complaints remain, not only among patrol officers but among dispatchers who say that with the new system, unlike the old, they are unable to perform several tasks at one time.

With the system, officers in the field can receive orders, send messages, write reports, call up maps of the city and, using the Global Positioning System, see not only where they are but where other patrol cars are at any given time.

When first installed, the system was unstable. A day or two after the new system went into operation, it crashed, and for several days it was periodically down. "That didn't engender a lot of trust," said Sergeant DeMers of the police union.

Ms. Dilbeck acknowledged, "That was a really bad start."

When the system was running again, a number of bugs were discovered, said Aaron Marcus, president of Aaron Marcus & Associates, a user-interface design consulting firm in Berkeley, Calif., that studied the new system at the request of the union.

Some of the map information, it turned out, was inaccurate, screens were cluttered with unnecessary information, the on-screen type was difficult to read and officers could not easily perform one of the most basic tasks - the license-plate check.

"This is almost a casebook study of what not to do and how to do it wrong," Mr. Marcus said.

Perhaps the biggest misstep of all, Mr. Marcus said, was that the officers themselves were not consulted beforehand, especially when it came to the design of the interface.

Jakob Nielsen, a principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, a technology consulting company in Fremont, Calif., agreed.

"It's a prescription for disaster to develop a big system without testing it with users before it's launched," Mr. Nielsen said. "There are always issues in the user interface that need to be smoothed over."

The San Jose police chief, Rob Davis, said that those who were in charge of planning for the new system "have reviewed it and in retrospect would probably agree that if they had involved more of the end users during the planning phase it would have made the rollout easier."

Since the complaints first arose, Intergraph has fixed bugs and streamlined some of the more cumbersome tasks such as the license plate checks. Ms. Dilbeck and others have spent weeks at a time in San Jose working to eliminate bugs.

"I'm getting very good feedback about the upgrades," Chief Davis said.

Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that the San Jose officers had grown used to the city's 14-year-old text-based system.

"It's a debatable issue as to whether you should fix the old or go for a new paradigm," Mr. Marcus said, "because the old software wasn't off the shelf, it was customized."

The amount of training that was initially given to officers, three hours, was considered by many to be inadequate. "You expect our officers to be able to operate in life-and-death situations with three hours' training?" Sergeant DeMers said.

Sgt. Thomas Navin, supervisor of the department's systems unit and the person who has been most responsible for training on the mobile systems, acknowledged that training was "bare-bones basic." Additional training has since been offered.

But the fact that the system is based on Windows complicated the issue, since not everyone was familiar with pull-down menus and other basic features. "There are people who are Windows savvy and those who aren't," Sergeant Navin said. Officers in their late 50's and early 60's tend to resist the new system more than younger officers do.

Also, officers were trained on desktop computers with track pads on the keyboards, not the touch screens they would eventually be using.

Another point of controversy was the red Code 99 command, used when an officer is in danger and needs help. Originally the system had one key for Code 99, but it was later changed to a two-key combination because the single button code was resulting in too many false alarms. Now it is the two-key method that prompts some complaints.

Over all, the new system is an improvement over the old, some department officials say, in part because it contains a mapping feature based on global positioning data provided by the city. But the maps contain errors, Sergeant DeMers said.

Officers say they are being distracted by the tasks they are expected to perform on the new system when their full attention should be given to what is happening outside the patrol car. Sergeant DeMers said one officer recently was so distracted by what he was doing on the 12-inch touch screen that he crashed into a parked car.

During a recent tour of the system with a reporter in the passenger's seat, Sergeant Navin typed in a message to another officer, Sgt. David Bacigalupi, asking his opinion of the Intergraph system. "You can't print what I think," came the officer's response.

Later, as Sergeant Navin drove through the streets of San Jose, his taps on the screen inevitably led to some swerving, inadvertently bearing out his colleagues' claims - even though he was clearly well versed with the ins and outs of the system.

"In practical reality, especially when responding to an emergency call, they have to do some of these things while en route," Mr. Marcus said.

The fact that the officers and police dispatchers were not consulted about their preferences and requirements has come back to haunt the city. In July, the union asked for meetings to discuss the new system, saying it was having an adverse impact on officer safety. "Legally, they can't just implement something like this unilaterally," said John Tennant, general counsel for the union.

Even after some extensive tweaking, there still seem to be some fundamental bugs, Mr. Marcus said. "Much of the design was incorporating a Windows desktop graphical user interface with complex menu hierarchies, which just doesn't make sense in a vehicle."

Dispatchers have been similarly unhappy, citing delays with the new system that could endanger officers.

It takes longer to give officers information about the prior arrest record of someone they have just caught, said Melissa Albrecht, a San Jose dispatcher for 15 years. "Does that two extra minutes make a difference when they're standing there with a felon?" she asked. "It could.'' In September, Ms. Albrecht sent a six-page memorandum to the police chief listing her concerns.

She credits Intergraph with many improvements. But the system still does not allow dispatchers to perform several tasks simultaneously, and this causes delays. "What they keep throwing at us is that the system works as designed, and my question for them is, 'Does this design work for us?' " she said.

For perspective the San Jose department might do well to borrow a page from a city to the south.

The San Diego Sheriff's Department has had the Intergraph touch-screen system in place for six years, and although there were bugs and resistance at first, the kinks have been ironed out and the deputies are now used to it.

"Some of our people had never done anything with a computer," said Hanan Harb, who manages the department's dispatch center. "We had to do basic Windows training, and it's hard to make that leap if you're not computer literate to begin with. It's a big learning curve." Now that people have grown used to it, and now that this is what they know, "it's very easy for them," Ms. Harb said.

Dr. Nielsen said the Chicago Police Department had similar problems in 1999 when it rolled out an ambitious computer system without having tested it with on-the-beat police officers first.

"Chicago learned its lesson and now has a much better system, developed with user involvement," Dr. Nielsen said. "It's sad that the San Jose Police Department had to learn the same lesson all over again. Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it."

Posted by kstroke at 06:14 PM | Comments (12)

Note To Self

No time to rebutt a somewhat non-sensical comment on another blog. URLs to use in rebuttal when free time arrives:,,

Posted by kstroke at 04:29 PM | Comments (12)


Pharmacists refusing to dispense (birthcontrol) drugs on "moral values" grounds. And states are proposing laws that protect such decisions? Ridiculous! Think. For one second would you please think?!? That also means that pharmacists can refuse to dispense AIDS drugs because that's God's wraith on gays and those who commit grave iniquities. They could also refuse to dispense any drugs at all on the basis that sickness is one of God's tools and taking drugs would be interfering with God's will.

I think it's also questionable from a theological standpoint. Posit: God is omnipotent. Conclusion: since neither pill nor wall of latex can stand in his way, it doesn't matter if you dispense them or allow their use. If you were meant to have a baby whether you wanted to or not, God would do the immaculate conception thing all over again. Else, God's leaving the choice to you.

To these pharmacists and their supporters, use your God-given brain for a second. Just one second. Blargh. This kind of thing makes my head hurt.

Another thought - I bet you wouldn't be able to get people to shut down fertility clinics. That's more like playing God than trying to prevent pregnancy.

Posted by kstroke at 12:17 PM | Comments (12)

November 09, 2004

Marvin rocks

Marvin is the man! Flawless execution and follow through.

Posted by kstroke at 11:27 AM | Comments (12)

November 08, 2004

November 07, 2004

The Incredibles

The Incredibles rocks. So well done. Love the Bond feel. A lot of movies, even the ones I really, really like, have at least one scene that's bleh. None of that here. Fantastic. I think it's my new favorite movie.

Posted by kstroke at 07:25 PM | Comments (13)

November 04, 2004

So Sad

Bush's victory makes me sad. This seems to prove that all that matters is your ability to put together the better ad campaign.

I have no beef with what I believe the Republican party stands for. I don't agree with the social conservatism, but I am a big supporter of fiscal conservatism. I do think that the party seems to have been taken over by people who are not in their right mind, though. I heard the RNC chairman talk about how the elections dealt a "demoralizing" blow to the Democrats. Is that really the point?

People of differing opinions vie for elected positions. Though they differ in their beliefs, I believe it's important to realize that everyone is on the same side. "Demoralizing blows" should be dealt to enemies (like Al Qaeda) not to other people who wish to help fellow citizens (via a different path). I don't think the ultimate purpose of either party should be to eliminate the other party. It should be to make your community and country better. In fact, competition should be welcomed.

Different opinions let you know how other people think and feel. Opposing ideas help you refine and evaluate your own. On occassion, you may even realize that you are wrong. The point is to serve the public. They should welcome anything that can help them do that better.

Posted by kstroke at 01:15 AM | Comments (13)

November 02, 2004

Election Day

Cool poem found on NPR. Text of it is in extended entry.

Hopefully you get to vote today. Nefarious forces (search for Swing Set) are out there trying to stand between you and your rights. It seems the Republicans are evil, and the Democrats are incompetent (though possibly just as evil). And who know what side the hackers are on. The electronic voting machine companies are clearly on their own incompetent side. Jeez. What sort of evaluation did all these government agencies do? Reminds me of a story a co-worker told me a while back.

There was a company that had important stuff on servers and had emergency generators that would theoretically kick in if there was a power failure. They tested this system at regular intervals (every six months to a year) by shutting off the power and making sure the generators kicked in and ran fine for five minutes. One day the power went out for real and the generators kicked in like they had during the tests. Somewhere between five and fifteen minutes after the generators started up, they were overloaded and all power was lost. Oops.

The Poor Voter on Election Day
The Proudest now is but my peer
The highest not more high.
Today, of all the weary year,
A king of men am I!
Today alike are great and small,
The nameless and the known.
My place is the people's hall,
The ballot box my throne.
Who serves today upon the list
Beside the served shall stand;
Alike the brown and wrinkled fist,
The gloved and dainty hand!
The rich is level with the poor,
The weak is strong today.
And sleekest broadcloth counts no more
Than homespun frock of gray.
Today let pomp and vain pretence
My stubborn right abide.
I set a plain man's common sense
Against the pedant's pride.
Today shall simple manhood try
The strength of gold and land;
The wide world has not wealth to buy
The power in my right hand.
While there's a grief to seek redress
Or balance to adjust,
Where weighs our living manhood less
Than Mammon's vilest dust -
While there's a right to need my vote
A wrong to sweep away,
Up! Clouted knee and ragged coat -
A man's a man today!
- American poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

Posted by kstroke at 04:17 PM | Comments (11)

November 01, 2004

Smart Monkey

Imo is so cool.

And the little monkey holding the snowball is really cute.

Hey, they swim, too! (search for "swim", w/o the quotes)

Posted by kstroke at 03:38 PM | Comments (12)