Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Excavating the good stuff

I'll soon be leaving Atlantic Dominion Solutions as a full-time gig. This means pulling all the independent contracting skills back out of the earth where they've been getting buried under two years of distraction.

With that comes the return of my blog posts! Keep an eye out, I'll be updating this site soon. Until then,

"Be well, do good work, and keep in touch!" (shamelessly stolen from Garrison Keillor at

Friday, October 05, 2007

Acts As Conference website released!

We've just made public the acts_as_conference Rails conference website at Orlando FL, February 8th and 9th, 2008. Go there, you know you want to. Think Florida in balmy winter, light sweater and tolerable swimming for the cold-hardy. Think regional Rails conference, geekery fun, MacBook apples lighting the room like spirits of a finer technical bend. Think evenings playing Werewolf.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Nights like tonight...

You know that moment when you've thrown everything up in the air because you're tired of juggling or tired of holding it all, and you have that perfect moment when time slows and you stand to watch everything still to suspension in that space between rising and falling?

That's the moment when you try to remember to breathe. You quiet the frayed synapses of your mind well enough to find the focus once again, see what's best to let go, and catch the rest.

So what if all the watchers see is one person juggling? Perspective is everything.

Friday, August 31, 2007


I'm registered for Blog Orlando, and just made public the new domain name I've registered, -- looks like I'll be motivated to get something up and running there now!


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Emergence on audio

One of the most aurally interesting takes on Google I've heard in quite some time:

Emergence on RadioLab


Thursday, August 23, 2007


It's often not so much what you put in, as what you leave


Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Sometimes distance seems a bitter pill and I scream and cry for just a bit of sugar.

Yet to watch the landscape with this new perspective gives me peace
until I wonder what the fuss was all about?

- - -

He goes to breeze and back again from mist finds following
an older ether young to wrap his senses round.

- - -

Does tension hold the world aloft?
The breath of breeze to fill the sails and kiss the skin,
or hurricane to drown the trees and bring them to their shattered knees?

That is all but memory. Now is time for depthless blue to see,
to sip, and watch the aeronauts flap racetracks in the sky.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Apples to Oranges?

Just call me 'Eve.'

Why? Because I've taken a bite of the apple and found the truth fascinating!

Now, I remember when Mac OS X came out, and being a bit of a Linux geek, I remember being pretty excited that OS X was based on Unix. And being maybe more than a bit of a Linux geek, I endorse any alternative operating system. You know, free code, free speech, and free beer to foment the seeds of dissent, to push us out of comfortable confines, to keep the technology and creativity moving, and growing.

My Uncle uses Mac -- this is really just a natural part of the order of things, since he's a sound engineer. He falls in that sorta-artsy-fartsy realm of computer geekitude, a small subset of the population that has long been served by the superior artistic tools that Mac provides. "I'm running Mac OS X now." he tells me. So one night, while over at his house and needing to get online, I pop onto his computer. I'd only really worked with Windows and *nix, but lo and behold, there was that shell access! From there, I managed to do what I needed to do, and just how cool was that?

But back in my world of PHP Dev, *nix and Windows sysadmin, and user support, news of Mac came through as that other OS, info bytes wafting in through the filters like news of a different country, interesting and someplace I might like to visit someday but off the immediate radar.

Then I start learning about Ruby on Rails. RoR is really just another programming language and development framework, the next generation or iteration of making and using tools that lift and set us on the shoulders of those who came before, that have incorporated the knowledge gained and best practices learned in the years before. I go to the local RoR user group, and what's this? I'm seeing apples glowing with that backlit life that sends a subtle hello world to folks sitting across the table. And what's this? The presenter is using Mac, and he's got multiple desktops, whiz-bang server platform tools that let him move easily from one web test server to another sitting in his box. And look at that! There's TextMate, a text editor/programming environment built specifically for RoR development, that not only completes the line your writing, but also completes the lines in the function below that undoes what it is you're doing now so you can revert to a previous rollout if need be.

And you can't get that on Windows, or Linux.

So I'm sitting there, interested in the underlying technology of course, but also a little flash-dazed by this idea that Mac, which once sat in my mind as an artist's platform, is also being used as a development platform. And thus began my state of Mac Envy. Yes, I've taken a bite, and found myself naked before the eyes of technology.

Anybody got a spare fig leaf?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Corporatizing Mediocrity

My recent exit from my full-time job has gotten me thinking about the way corporations seem to be handling their bottom lines. I left the company because after a year of promises of pay raises never realized, always footnoted with 'after the new management takes hold, after we reach the numbers, after the start of the fiscal year', yadda yadda yadda, I lost my patience and my ability to suspend my corporate disbelief in the constanly moving focus of the company ideals. So while it was a good job for what it was, it was time to leave.

I have a friend who works as an editor of a newspaper. She too is fighting the stress of the big squeeze from new owners, new management that only wants more from the existing employee base, unwilling to pay higher for higher quality, unwilling to pay to keep those more experienced employees in their jobs, and in the end winding up with an employee base that consists of only the inexperienced, and the burnt-out.

She too is looking for new work.

Another friend was shopping for a pastry cutter from the local Target. For those of you unfamilar with what a pastry cutter is, it's a tined device that lets you cut butter or shortening into flour much more efficiently than the two-knives-together method my grandmother taught me. Now, I know that not too many people make their own pastries anymore, but really, should it be so difficult to find this 5 dollar device? When she asked the store help if they had it, she was told no, that college students don't make pies.

So what I'm getting to is this: how long will we settle for average? How long do we dumb down to the lowest common denominator so that the big-business corporations can shave millions of partial pennies into their big profit bank accounts?

Sometimes I make myself just a little bit sick when I realize i'm settling for less than what I like, either by watching a tv program i don't really care for that much, but don't have the energy to turn off, or listening to that commercial i can't stand but am managing to tune out of my active conciousness, or order that food that doesn't really speak to what I'm hungry for, but is there, and is cheap. Life has a way of keeping us busy and distracted from the hidden paths, the circuitous routes that so often take us to places that offer so much more return on our energy investment. Getting older has a way of wearing down, wearing smooth the passions that lit our activity when we were coming out of high school and thought that going vegetarian, or boycotting particular companies, would really make a difference. I think I gave up my "Fur is dead" t-shirt for a little extra closet space. Maybe that makes me cynical, maybe it makes me a hypocrite. But today, I can start paying a little more attention to what I buy, and buy a little less crap. Because, after all, we only have today.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Hack and Slash!

I've started working on a couple of Ruby on Rails projects of late, moving toward doing contract web programming full-time. I must be showing my true geek factor when, sitting here near midnight on a Friday I'm bouncing in my chair at getting htmldoc to properly print user-defined pages to pdf, the words 'hack and slash' slipping through my mind as the best descriptor of having just taken one piece of code and hacked and slashed it to get it to do something a bit different.

I'd sing the praises of Ruby on Rails (never mind I was doing fairly serious programming in the language/framework a week after starting to learn it), but so many others have done such I'll leave you to search Google for the kudos.

I know I once bragged about my old employ, and while I still hold them in high regard, I've realized it's time for me to move on. A girl can only fix so many printer problems before she realizes she's never gonna get folks to stop asking her for help with this kind of stuff and let her code. Now I know why so many IT people seem snarly -- people tend to not ask you for help so much when they're afraid you'll bite them.

But I digress, and the witching hour is coming fast apon us. Oh, and I've already got a bug report of that bit of code I just upped. Ahhh, the life!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Back from the dead?

*cough* *cough* *sputter* *sputter*

The fine Florida post-winter weather has passed on into heat, humidity, and hurricane hell, so I'm back to while away the hours in air-conditioned and monitor-lit solitude.

Wow, do I love MIT! In my dream of dreams, I thought of going to MIT for Cognitive Science back when I was noticing their work on wearable computers and nanotechnology (both science-fictiony interests of mine), but circumstance and some lack of motivation has kept me here grounded wholly in the dirt and grime of the real world. Well, it looks like my dream may be fulfilled after all:

That's right, MIT course content is being made freely available to anyone who has the fortitude to stick with it. Maybe it really is true: the internet makes you smart.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

New Year's, 2000

We were asked in class if we rememebered Y2K. Boy do I! I dredged this up from an old website post, something I wrote about December 31, 1999 turned January 1, 2000. Total fluff, not really IT related (other than brief mentionings), but it captured my mood of that night in Athens, GA, just over 6 years ago.

Turning Time

New year's eve: so this is the last day of 1999, and chances are tomorrow will be just like today was. I find myself wondering if I should feel mystified. This is how we mark time; outside of us, this day has no significance any more than any other day. Hm.

I decide to dress up a little, since I so rarely do. Find that slinky slightly shimmery turtleneck in thin horizontal stripes of black and olive green (whoda thunk that polyester could seem fashionable?), wear with black jeans, motorcycle boots and leather biker jacket, thinking I may as well enter the new year ready to kick some ass if I had to, not that I really would but sometimes the image is fun. Run out of patience before I get to makeup, so I go clean-faced. Good enough for friends who wear jeans and flannel to work, and good enough for myself.

Go to Piotr's with Ben, who will have to leave early to cover the y2k readiness centers. Suprise, the TV is on. Someday I'll have to break them from this habit. Drink some beer, engage in conversation depite the television. So you heard I'm working at Cisco? Yeah, it's good -- I like it muchly. Pride must show through me. It makes me giddy sometimes.

11:30, and Ben is getting back as we're making plans to head downtown to watch the fireworks. It bothers me a little that Morris Newspapers spent more on fireworks for one night than they pay Ben in a year. Someday Ben will be appreciated for his value. But then, shouldn't we all be? We drive downtown, even though Piotr's apartment is about 12 blocks away. Ben and I park at the paper, lose the others. Guess they'll work it out on their own. Ben checks in at the paper, comes right back out and we head to the center of downtown. Ben's phone rings -- there's a fire down at College Square, the direction we're heading. We go by to find it's only someone's cigarette butt that got thrown down a manhole.

There are people all around, with noisemakers, friends, looks of excitement and drunkenness on their faces. This beats the hell out of watching television any day, even if it is only little old Athens. Sometimes being there makes all the difference in the world. We continue on to where we think the fireworks will be, where most others are gathering. We hear our names shouted, look up to the top of the parking deck to see figures waving at us. We wave back. There's a police car parked in the middle of the intersection; that's a cop who wants to be where the view is good. Other cops on bicycles, roaming the town, looking un-anxious. There are a couple of false starts, false countdowns. Then the fireworks begin. People are screaming, whooping and hollering, whistling, laughing, shouting. Sparks fly over our heads, kids with sparklers run around us, creating volumous amounts of smoke to add to the surreal nature of this time. Lights are still working, no airplanes falling out of the sky, no rioting in the streets. No great pyramid from outer space coming to take the believers away. Ben needs to test an ATM, discovers the only problems being drunkenness of the users. He heads back to the paper, I look for the friends.

I go back to the parking deck, but streams of people are flooding the glass-walled stairway and I don't see them. I decide to walk down to House of Joe to see if they are there, since that spot was mentioned. I start walking, feeling like a salmon, floods of people walking past me. I think I have the long-strided but not too hurried pace down well. Every other person yells happy new year at me. Two girls throw multi-colored shiny confetti at me. People I've never seen reach out to me, we high five or give a quick shake of the hand. Everyone seems to be in a good mood, such that I've never seen. People are looking me in the face as I go by, wishing happy new years. I wonder if it's relief that life will still be as we know it, that the worst-case scenarios have not come to be. One guy calls me girl in leather. Even the pandhandler tells me I look beautiful after he asks me for change which I do not have. I find myself walking in step to tunes blaring from parked cars. I get to Joes, and it's closed. Turn around, walk back to the paper. More people with happy wishes greet me as I sail past. I find this general elation contageous.

I make it back to the paper, and Ben tells me friends are back at Piotr's, tells me to take the car. I head back feeling a little mystified. These people in the streets after midnight are the same folks who will be guarded as they walk down the streets on Monday morning. I feel lucky to have seen this side of humanity.

Back with friends, I share some champagne, share some more conversation. Ben joins shortly thereafter. We eventually leave, and life continues on as it always has.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Taking the underdog's view

Marc works for the UPS helpdesk. Or rather, he did before they got closed down. While this was not a complete surprise (they had been shrinking the desk's workforce through attrition for the last 9 months or so, going from an ensemble of about 20 employees down to their current count of 3), what was a surprise was when he showed up for work yesterday to find no body there.

That's right -- they'd decided over the weekend to cease calls to the desk and didn't bother to let some of the employees know, sending Marc upon arrival to a different office to do whatever work they could find for him there. This is reflective of their overall attitude toward keeping their workstaff informed throughout this process. Marc (and some of his coworkers) have for months felt the desk was going to be shut down, but not until about 4 weeks ago did management actually announce any such plans to the dwindling helpdesk staff. They said then that generally UPS gave 90 days notice but would give no date. About a week later, they told them the close date would be Feb. 28th (well short of the 90 day window they'd mentioned). Then last week, management told them that the desk might close sooner (though again they would not give a date). They have made a habit of being extremely stingy with information, have given wrong or misleading information in order to coerce employees into particular positions, have flip-flopped on closing dates and promises of benefits. Today, they were supposed to have a meeting with the HR manager, but no such meeting seems now to be going to happen. All this has left the remaining employees with an incredibly distasteful distrust of management, leaving them and me by association with the sense that UPS is horribly mismanaging its IT force layoffs.

You can read the opinions of others in the company on the website Brown Cafe (not sponsored by UPS). Under 'UPS People' click 'UPS Discussion Boards', then click 'Brown Cafe', then 'UPS Discussions' and look for 'UPS laying off Technical hourly employees'. This public, and mostly anonymous, forum (due to fine print in the employee handbook telling employees they are not to talk about any of this) is bringing to light the sentiment that the UPS marketing engine would not have us see.

This makes me think about another mental munchy tidbit -- how the free availability of information to anyone who wishes to seek it out is changing the way corporations (and the military, for that matter, but that's a different post) do business. No longer can the 4000 pound gorillas hide behind their PR screens, filtering out predigested information to a coddled public. We want the raw, the real, the hard information, and now we can get it.

Dr. VanSlyke once mentioned in class that any business that gets unionized deserves the union it gets. While the UPS driver force is unionized, its IT force is not. Until now, it hasn't made much sense in general to unionize IT because the working conditions tend to be pretty good. I'm curious to see if UPS will have the ignominious credit of pushing their IT divisions to unionization. Note the thread on the Brown Cafe labeled "Information on making TSG unionized", and the link there to find more information at

I'm also curious to watch how the way they've managed this IT reorganization will affect UPS in the long run, curious to see what of it makes it out into mainstream news, and curious to see if this decision to save money now in the short term will adversely affect long-term productivity and health of the company. My personal interest aside, I believe this is a case study in the making.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Open Source or ERP ... why not both?

How we rolled our own ERP over time using open source code, ingenuity, one IT guy and a paper clip.

I used to imagine the existence of an entire underground civilization of computers locked away in dusty, damp, inhumane back room conditions, streaked with grease-monkey fingerprints, caked with flour and jammed with crumbs, or hiding amidst the junk just on the other side of the drip falling from the ceiling of the add-on shack. I imagined that one day, all these computers would realize that they weren't the only ones, that there were others out there, just like them, and they would form underground coalitions, pass surreptitious communications back and forth, and form a plan to unite and demand better work environments, unionized PCs for cleaner conditions.

Granted, this is a fantastical scenario, but I mention it now because in a sense, it's not so far from what is actually happening. What is ERP but a way to tie together previously separate processes into a unified whole?

It's funny how sometimes you learn the name for the system you've been using all along at work, and you suddenly develop a higher respect for what it does and how it came to be. When my supervisor started at our place of work, he was the IT department. The school was using Access to store student data, and was quickly realizing that it would not scale to meet the growing requirements of the business. Being as slim on budget as IT was on staffing, he pulled together a system using Open Source products: Linux on the mail server running Postfix, PostgreSQL database with user definitions and permissions set through the use of pgAdmin, and various PHP classes (including the PEAR framework) to build the Web Interface to allow employees access to student files from their offices in Grand Cayman, Orlando and Niceville, FL, and Standish, Maine, on whatever operating system platforms they were using (usually Windows). Add to that an online web portal running eGroupWare available to students wherever they may be, and what you get is the built-to-order beginnings of an ERP.

So, where do I see ERP in our system? To start, the nature of our company required that we be able to keep track of student information from wherever we were, because our students are so dispersed. Since we don't have our own teaching hospital, we have agreements with others throughout the US and UK to allow our students to do their clinical clerkships there. While some students stay at a particular hospital through their clinical science education, most of them travel to different locations. And since the administrative offices are in Florida while the college itself (where students attend their basic science classes) is in Grand Cayman, we could not be tied to a particular location. I see it this way: the student is what drives the process (giving that student their medical education and degree is the process). The IS is built to enable faculty and staff to do what they need to do to help keep that student's education on track, and all the systems functioning in order to create an environment to facilitate that. While our system is still not as all-inclusive as I would like, we are working toward building modules to reach that goal. I imagine our system works so well because it was built from the ground up and tailored to meet the needs at any given time. While that has caused some problems with keeping the larger picture in mind, all in all I'm proud to say that our system is highly successful.

As the school has grown, the IT staff has grown. Now, we have three of us full-time in the Oviedo office: the Director of IT (my supervisor), myself as software engineer and helpdesk overflow, and the helpdesk guy to assist employees and students with computer and online account questions and problems. We finally hired someone full-time in Cayman to handle IT issues there on campus, and he has a guy helping part-time. The Maine staff still relies on bringing in occasional IT help from a guy we have contracted to work hourly on an as-needed basis. I've been with the company now for about 2 1/2 years, and one thing I know for certain: there's gonna be changes ahead.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

When OS Wars Become Irrelevant

As an 8 year Linux user, I've long (at least by IT technology standards) been immersed in the mentality of the free-speech and free-beer software idealism of the GPL (GNU's Not Unix!). But in the last 3 years working in a Windows-pc office where at the start, most of my time was spent resetting people's various passwords and showing them how they can retrieve their Outlook send mail button when they've lost it (no lie), I've grown too distant from the geek camaraderie of my undergrad days. Back then, Friday nights were often spent packing up the pc and heading over to a friend's 1-bedroom efficiency to lan and cram with friends and classmates among the Ethernet cabling and power cords strung like copper-core spaghetti across the walls and windows. Nostalgia aside, one reason I've decided to come back to school, and to MIS in particular, is because I felt it would be good to broaden my understanding of the IT world, and find a structure to force me out of the head-in-the-trenches workaday habit.

Then I listen to Tim O'Reilly talk about The Software Paradigm Shift, and a hundred things start to become clear (almost as fast as the caffeine-induced synapses fire hyperdrive in my soon-to-be-aching head). How many of you use Linux? Think carefully, this shouldn't be a trick question, but it is. Tim is not just asking how many of you use Linux on your own PC, he wants to know how many of you use Google, web-based email, shop online. Cause if you do, chances are you use Linux. We may be coming to a point where the OS wars are truly becoming irrelevant.

Now think about network computing in general. There's talk of a time coming when we move to using applications over the network. We've started already -- again, there's that online email you use (and isn't it nice to be able to access that no matter where you are?). Tax time is coming, do you use an online tax service? Have you cancelled your paper bank and credit card statements because it's so much easier to reconcile your accounts online and you just don't want the clutter? How many checks did you write last month, vs. five years ago? How many online shops have your credit card information stored for future purchases? You think you wouldn't want to give up Word on your pc, but if you've written here, aren't you using a network word processor? How about that new Gmail app that lets you check your email from your web-enabled cell phone? And how many people do you know who have World of Warcraft accounts? Network computing may not be so far off as we think.

As ProfessorCraig mentioned in class, we seem to be moving back full circle to a centralized computing framework. Where before the computers and the technology were all proprietary and this locked in the company's ownership of them, now it works because the technology is so very ubiquitous that anyone can gain access to the information and services they want (well, maybe everyone except the guy who's still trying to figure out where his "send mail" button went to).

In thinking of all this from a business perspective, I wonder if some of the success of these forms of business are to do with economies of scale made cheap. Technological information at its basic level costs less than pennies to reproduce once the initial startup costs are invested. The value lies not so much in the products themselves as in the way they are put together. Peer to peer networks like Napster and the peer-to-peer client-server hybrids like Google, Amazon, and eBay are showing us that the village is logging in, and the village is contributing. Google uses the aggregate data of millions (and counting) of website links (deriving the value of a website's worth by the number of links that point to it) to tell you where you are most likely to find the information you're looking for. EBay's value is attributed to it simply by the flux of users that shop and sell there every minute. There seems to be a fiat value system at work here, fed by the critical mass of individuals who use those services. IT may very well be changing the way business models work in some arenas.

For those worried that IT is dead, that it is being commoditized into a near invisible infrastructure, you seem to be missing the forest for the trees. While Carr makes some very good points in his article "IT Doesn't Matter" in the May 2002 issue of The Harvard Business Review, he seems to be looking too narrowly at the field of IT, looking backwards at what IT has already achieved and using that as the measuring stick that says it's near the end of its run. Those who will prove him wrong will do so by standing on the shoulders of technology's predecessors, all the way back to fire and metalworking and electricity, to gain a better look forward into the infinite complexity that computing and its organization can offer.

Bewildering, isn't it? If you just got a sense of vertigo, you understand my point of view. Happy flying!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Contextual Personality Disorder

Greetings fellow classmates and wanderers of the web! As a quick intro, I'm posting some ruminations I had a few months back on my other journal space. While I'll generally be posting thoughts on school-related topics (I'm a Masters MIS student at UCF), I'll occasionally venture into other areas. I look forward to your comments.

Contextual Personality Disorder

I'm suddenly feeling intrigued at the multitude of personality faces so many of us seem to carry. Places such as these online as anonymous as we choose, we define ourselves in ways that fit better, being chosen, than what we were born into. We're not locked into the realities of family, job, expectations here and so can be what we want, who we want, envisioned and projected Matrix-like as our ideal selves.

This flourishing is due as much to the possibilities afforded us by an alternate world that exists in what most call the internet. This is a space that runs, web-like, with no real center, organic in its ability to heal broken routes, sending speed-of-light traffic down alternate pathways faster than any human can innately fathom. This network has grown to the point where it reaches into almost every household and makes available worlds real and imaginary to the most secluded and cut-off individuals. For those of us who were born on the cusp of this age and remember schools that weren't connected to computers or the internet in any visible way, do we have trouble understanding the gestalten knowledge of those who grew into the technology from infancy? Will we always be a little clumsier, a little slower in picking up the intricacies? Yes, unless we chase down the knowledge and pull it into our own cognitive framework, and maybe even then.

I once heard that you can measure the stress level of a society by the smallest unit of time that it measures. I wonder, then, in this microsecond economy of activity, what that means for our collective peace of mind? What rules will need changing in the future? What shifts in paradigms will we have to absorb or refute, and most likely refute to our own disadvantage?

Then there's the social aspect that I see evident when walking through a college campus now vs. even only 5 years ago. Two out of three are on their cell phones, connected remotely and continually to someone somewhere else, and utterly refusing to even notice the people passing 2 feet away. We're connected to the other side of the world, and our housemates and neighbors are strangers.

I honestly don't know if this is saddening, or heartening.