I Know What I Know

These words were sung by Paul Simon over 20 years ago, and the song has forever stuck in my head1. I often think of this song whenever I realize that people don't know what they don't know.

This past weekend I was forced to give up my secondary job due to a simple thing like incapacitating back pain. For most of the last week I was in extreme pain whenever I would use any muscles in my lower back, and this certainly gave me some appreciation for how often we use our lower backs throughout the day. To that end, I was forced to prematurely end the contract with that company and begin looking elsewhere for supplementary income.

On a chance encounter, I happened to overhear a store manager at a semi-local herbal store complain about how long it took to do an inventory count and line it up with their monthly purchases and sales. Seeing this as a prime opportunity, I asked how they performed this task and was shocked to hear that this small company relied 100% on paper.

While this might not have been so strange 5 or 10 years ago, to hear of a company not using a computer at all in their day-to-day operations is quite amazing. Aside from "cash only" restaurants, I didn't think any tax-paying company would ever want to do things the hard way. When I had asked why they hadn't gone computerized, the reply was "Inventory systems cost way too much, and none are designed for a herbal remedy store".

Jackpot.

I've been working with custom software packages that track everything from inventory to accounting to fulfillment for several companies. A small business like this could be a cake-walk if they truly feel that nothing on the market will work for them. When I asked what they would be looking for in a software package, the list was pretty light. They wanted an automated inventory system tied to a POS that could handle basic book-keeping. When I asked some more detailed questions such as what information they would need to track about customers, or vendors, or inventory receipts I was greeted with a blank stare. They hadn't thought about it before.

Of course, the manager wasn't really thinking about everything they needed right off the bat. Such a thing isn't normally remembered my anyone because they're too busy dealing with the day-to-day operations of a business. I advised the manager that I could write some custom software for them pretty quickly, and could even have it in place within a month. I offered to work on a special rate, too … 1/2 my normal rate, and a store credit for the rest. I visit that business often enough every year that I could easily have a great supply of stress-relief tea and dry skin lotion (not to mention the occasional stomach relief pills).

Today the call came in, and the manager would like me to put something simple together just to walk through what they could have, and work out what they actually need. So I'll drop 4 hours of design time into the application using basic requirements, and then approach them with the rest. The biggest questions I'm going to have will revolve around what these people may not know, and none of us know what we don't know.

I certainly hope that this good fortune doesn't turn out to be the end of a steady client-vendor relationship.

Bathing In Turpid Water

In the past week, this region of British Columbia has experienced record rainfalls. With this has come the usual mudslides that occur and pollute the water supply, but this year was quite a bit worse than in the past.

Last Thursday, the GVRD (Greater Vancouver Regional District) Water Works issued a warning saying that it was unsafe to drink the water. By late Friday, half the region could once again drink the tap water and/or use it on foods and for personal hygiene. Vancouver, North Van and Burnaby were the exceptions to this, and as of this moment, we're still not permitted to drink the tap water.

On Friday hundreds of thousands of people tried to stock up on bottled water. As usual, this resulted in the occasional fist-fight as those who arrived at the stores early were able to hoard an unnecessarily large amount of water, while those who arrived 5 minutes later were left with nothing. People would sometimes call ahead to stores to make sure that water was in stock, only to be told "no". In the paper, I had read how one store owner was reamed out by an elderly person for not having enough water in stock, and while I can understand the frustration, I do not believe this would magically make more water appear.

I find it funny that we live in the province with the greatest amount of fresh water, yet the most populous city has none. For the most part, I can get by without much drinking water by consuming milk or other liquids. I can get by without using water in my dinners by eating something without rice. Though I must admit that it's been quite an effort to stay away from the water.

I'm also surprised that I haven't seen scalpers try and sell water at inflated prices. One could easily get $5 for a two dollar bottle of water if the need was great enough. Sure, it's unethical, but that has never stopped people from earning a dollar in the past.

Of course it's odd that many of the resterants and coffee shops haven't closed down because of this. These are some of the largest consumers of water, yet they're still getting by just fine. I've never heard of a coffee shop using bottled water … so what is their source? Yesterday at 7-Eleven I noticed some children buying slushies, but this also made me wonder what the ice was made from …

I know that turpid water will not likely kill us. There is a possibility that the bacteria and sediment inside could give some people intestinal problems, but I don't think this would be an issue for most people so long as they consume the water in moderation. The only real question is "how long until the water can be trusted again?"

Heavy rain is in the forcast for the upcoming week. If needs be, I'll just put a pan outside to collect some rain.

Has It Been Three Years, Already?

Over the years of my short life, I've learned that television shows typically work in cycles of threes. Every three years there are about three new television shows that are enjoyable, intelligent, and plausible. Typically, these shows have a very short lifespan and are replaced with two years of the common pointless dribble that is everyday TV. The fall 2006 season appears to have three great contenders from around the world that I just cannot get enough of.

From Japan: Death Note (the anime)

This is an increidble series. The main character (Light) finds a notebook that appears to have fallen from the sky. He learns that he has the power to kill anyone by writing their names in the book, so long as he is thinking about their face at the time he writes it. He can also specify how someone will die, otherwise, a heart-attack 40 seconds after writing the name is the default.

This is a great example of how absolute power corrupts absolutely. Light is a straight-A student who's studying hard to get into the best schools. His father is the chief at the local police precinct, and his mother and sister are pretty normal people.

After finding this book, Light decides that he will rid the world of injustice by killing anyone who has committed a crime. At first it's so that the world can be a better place, but that quickly changes to reveal Light's ambitions to be diefied as a god.

Each show is packed with intelligent plot twists, some great animation, and great suspense. I look forward to watching this show right to the end.

From the US: Heroes

This is a pretty good series, oddly enough. The premise is simple: a bunch of random people begin to develop supernatural abilities and their lives are somehow connected.

This reminds me a bit of what the X-Men movies did to the comic, but the show is enjoyable nonetheless. The plot twists are few, and the suspense is short-lived, but despite this, the intelligence behind the story stands out like a beacon in the night. I think that the real genius of this story will be missed by anyone who doesn't stop and think about what they just watched. Often times I'll be thinking about the episode afterwards and piece together bits and fragments from other episodes to see how things fit together.

This show is way ahead of anything else produced in North America, and it's a nice change of pace to watch something interesting where humans are used to play the characters (most of what I watch is animated).

From everywhere: The new season of Documentaries

Documentaries have been one of my favourite genres of entertainment for years. Insightful and educational, I have learned more about the world through documentaries than in the 15 years in the various schools growing up.

For the last few years, it seemed as though documentaries were trying to redefine themselves by becoming more like a "reality-tv" show than an educational medium. National Geographic, I feel, had the worst implementation of this as their takes on Egyptian tombs and pyramids made me fall asleep. There is nothing boring about Ancient Egypt … for a documentary to whore themselves out to such a level as to make something enjoyable just a 44 minute romp on the couch is sad, indeed.

But that seems to have changed now that many of the documentaries put out by PBS, History and Discovery are using HDTV and intelligent discussions in their shows. In the last six months, I have seen such quality documentaries come out on these channels that I actually look forward to what they might show the following week.

Documentaries are not just a source of idle entertainment, but of knowledge and information. There is so much in the universe that I will never fully understand or properly appreciate. With these documentaries, I can at least appreciate them better and have a basic understanding of their importance.

It seems that the rut is temporarily over as these new shows allow users to think and form conclusions (even if they prove to be wrong in the following episodes). I can only hope that this season will last longer than normal, as I do not look forward to another two years of unintelligent dribble.

Sleeping Through the Storms

The last few days worth of rain and wind has certainly left it's mark on the residents in and around Vancouver. Trees have fallen, streets have flooded, power has failed for many, people have been forced from their homes … and oddly enough, the water is contaminated.

This last point is the only one that has directly affected me, though. I use quite a bit of water every day … not being able to drink as much will certainly leave my throat dry.

And despite all this … I've slept through the worst of all the storming.

Typically I dream of only three things:

  1. People I care about

  2. Work

  3. Mistakes

    Work is the most common of these three (sad, huh?), and it's not really limited to the software I write, but the data structures that are required to make things work. I have often woken up hours before the alarm with solutions to some of the most complex logic branches I've had to devise, as well as crystal clear coding structures required to make a certain function work in the real world. Lately, however, I've been thinking about the functions and methods of PHP and how I can integrate them into this site.

    One shining example is the random image that will appear in the upper left hand corner of the site (the polaroid). Before today, that was a static image. However, by extending some of the other simple scripting I had seen elsewhere, I found that I could easily adapt the technologies to make that image random with each page load. After writing that function, I added another 8 polaroids (thanks Photoshop!) and voila!

    10 minutes to code and test, then 30 seconds to implement.

    PHP is something I should have learned years ago. I've known that it would become really big since it's early uses, but never really got on board due to personal grudges against the people that touted its superiority to existing web technology. This has really held me back on some pretty exciting areas of the programming world, and has probably kept me from moving to Japan that much sooner.

    In Japan, I find that most programming positions require people to be very familiar with PHP and MySQL. In North America, this has started picking up steam, but has been limited to certain business markets … none of whom I've ever needed to work with. But as I learn more and more about this language, I'm seeing some phenominal potential for its uses.

    To this end, as I dream up new things to add to this site, I'll try to implement them. I'm sure that I'll eventually reach the end of what I can do on a personal site … but I feel this would be a great testing ground. My server has a laughably slow processor (compared to actual production-level servers) and very limited capabilities. If I can maintain a great looking site while also keeping the functions fast and smooth, then I should have no problem transferring these skills elsewhere. At the same time, I'll see about learning even more PHP and JavaScript as these seem to be the main technologies in use across the ocean.

    Finding work in a foreign country is never easy. But hopefully by attacking this learning curve with my usual passion, I won't be caught sleeping through the next storms.

So Tired ...

It looks like my site has finally become more stable.

I still don't fully know what happened the other day to make it unloadable, but it looks to be in tip-top shape now. I've even added another cool little side-bar item: "Chuck Norris Facts".

I've been reading the Chuck Norris Facts for over a year now, and I still laugh pretty hard at some of the more creative ones. While killing time at work, I managed to find a script that would let me add it to my site, so here it is. Hopefully others who know about Chuck Norris will find it funny as well.

I've lost quite a few hours of sleep over the last week while working out the bugs to this site, so it will be nice to let it run for a while without my constant attention. It was my hope that after it was set up and running the way I liked, I would just connect once a day or every second day to submit a post about whatever I might be thinking about that day, or wherever I might happen to be. Perhaps this is still possible.

There are a few other nice functions that I have integrated into this site, but they will not be seen by many people. These are the simpler things like site counters, stats collectors, and the like. I'm interested to know not only who is checking out my site, but how often. If the traffic hits 20 unique hits per week, then I might just start making my posts more interesting.

Over the next few weekends I'll be uploading my collection of quality pictures, and tweaking a few of the functions and bugs on this site. One of the first bugs I want to hit is the frame disconnect when hovering over the bottom-most link in a panel box … it's just a visual nuisance, but a nuisance nonetheless.

Alright, it's time to get ready for work. I need to leave soon, and the shower is calling. Drop me a comment and let me know what you think of the page.

Ja ne,

Yare Yare ...

It seems that my site looked pretty good … for about a day.

I'm not exactly sure why, but something happened where the contents of my server was starting to be offloaded to a foreign IP. At the same time, it seems that my MySQL database started going a little corrupt, and I've been trying to fix quite a few of the issues that have popped up over the last little bit. Add to that the issues I'm now having with the weather bar, and it certainly doesn't look to good.

I must admit, I have no idea why this has occurred. I've spent the last two hours putting my network back together, as well as my server. It seems that several things all went at once. To that end, I've beefed up the security on my network, and taken my site off port 80. I don't think this last thing will do very much, really, but everyone has already bookmarked the site using the :88 switch, so why change it?

I'll hope to get the site back to it's previous state in the next few days. Until then, it will run in reduced mode.

What a lovely way to start the week …

Holy Cow, Batman!

After spending most of the day at my keyboard and writing/modifying/obtaining PHP code, I've managed to get the site looking pretty complete!

The countdown timer is a nice touch. For the moment it will display the number of seconds remaining before my flight to Tokyo is scheduled to take off. I'll probably change that before going to the airport to show how many days until I return. I have no idea what to put after that, as there are no other specific dates that I can think of to use.

The weather bar on the side is also looking pretty good. That bar was the smoothest plugin I could install. Kudos to the development team, as their hardwork has certianly made less work for me. After getting the basics set up, it was just a matter of 1 line of code in my sidebar (aside from the seperate frame, which is a copy/paste job from existing frames).

Another cool feature is the Google Maps plugin. I've included a sample for this post, just to let you know where I'm currently sitting. The plan is to use this while in Japan to give people a better idea of where I am at any given time. For the moment, Google Maps doesn't like the Japanese address system, but perhaps I can hammer out some GPS coordinates or something similar that will work. It seems that everyone I talk to asks where I will be in relation to Tokyo … but they don't really know where Tokyo is, either.

My image gallery appears to be working, and there is still quite a bit more work that needs to go into that. However, so long as it's functional for the time being, I will be happy. It seems that I'll need to upload pictures in a 4-step process until I can get a faster/better/stronger server. However, once the pictures are uploaded, the current server will work just fine. That said, I'll just stick with the 4-step process.

For a brief period I tried to have a language bar on this site. This would have been a cool little feature as it would have translated my site into eight other languages by referencing the Google Language tools. Unfortunately, I could never make it work, so it was yanked. I might revisit this at some point in the future, but it's not a clear requirement.

The final note is the missing :88 from the end of my site address. I've decided to remove the port 88 reference because this was causing some problems with the Google Maps plugin, as well as the Google language bar. While I might not have the language bar installed anymore, there's still the possibility of adding it in the near future. Aside from that is the ease of finding my site. I highly doubt I'll ever get a real traffic load to my site, but if I do, I'll put some Ad Sense on here to recover the costs of bandwidth :P.

Most people say this site looks professional, now. Only one person recommended a change. Hmm … perhaps I could put some kind of polling software on here … this way people could vote whether they like the site design or not. So far, it's taken me several hours to learn PHP and construct it as it is. But that doesn't mean that it couldn't be better.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

Image Gallery Up!

Alright … It's only taken me three days to build the image gallery into my site, and another 10 hours to load 80 pictures, and then three hours to work out the scripting error that prevented me from writing this post, but it looks like it's actually working now :D

Of course it's taken so long because I'm still teaching myself PHP and working within the limitations of MySQL 4, but it's all good. Pretty soon, this site should almost look like it was setup by an intermediate user :P There are still about 400 pictures that I would like to post on here, and of course once the pictures are up, I'll need to replace the reduced images with the originals (long story), but all in all, I should have this part of the site done by the end of November.

That's the plan, anyways.

There are still a few more things that I would like to add to this site. A working calendar (since the scripting here will not handle the default calendar setup), a site counter, and even a count-down timer. All of these things are pretty minor, though.

Alright, I'm way too tired to see straight … so I'm going to bed.

Lest We Forget ...

Today is Rememberance Day in Canada (Veteran's Day in the US), and we're asked to remember all the people that have fought and died in the many wars our country has taken part in. In British Colombia, November 11th is considered a holiday, while in other parts of Canada it is just another day.

I have never been in the military. Few of my family have actually served, or even gone to war. All of my grandfathers were in the second world war, and fortunately, all survived to tell about it.

For most of the year, people go about their business and completely forget how often our way of life has been challenged by those with designs to take over the world, or just a little corner of it. We have become very spoiled with the lack of insurgency and the relative peace on our side of the planet. Today there are millions going about their business, never once stopping to think of those who give their lives to preserve what we've taken for granted. Sales at retailers and the start of Christmas shopping for many will keep their minds occupied.

The phrase "Lest we Forget" is often invoked on this day, and I think it truly suits the purpose of Rememberance Day. History has taught us that those who do not learn from the past are likely doomed to repeat it. If we forget about what we've fought for, we might forget why we fight.

I hope that I never have to take part in armed combat.

I hope my children never have to take part in armed combat.

When diplomacy fails, violence is sometimes the only resort. Let's just hope the next great battles that ask us all to rise up will be for something greater than in the past… lest we forget.

I Hope My PDA Can Go 12 Hours Without a Recharge

I don't know why I didn't do this sooner, but I just checked out where I will be sitting during my flight to Japan and back this coming Winter.

I have not flown very often, but luckily I have had the window seat each and every time. I enjoy looking out the window (before the plane gets above the clouds) and seeing the world below. This bird's-eye view gives me great appreciation of both nature, and the ingenuity of the human race. I can see well planned cities, and not-so-well planned cities. I can see the rivers and streams flow through lush greens, golf courses and even suburban residences. I can see the small cars travelling here and there as people go about their business.

Of course, this is just my excuse for not saying things like "I get claustiphobic when I'm stuck between a bunch of strangers in a tight space for hours and hours and I want to look outside to get at least a partial sense of space and freedom."

During my flight to Tokyo from Vancouver, I will not be sitting beside a window. Instead, I'll be sitting in the centre row of seats. Luckily I'll be on the outside, so I can assume that this means I'll be flying next to a married couple with one child. Hopefully that child knows how to relieve the stresses of cabin pressure.

On my last overseas flight, there were several children under two years of age that didn't know how to handle the cabin pressure. Unfortunately, the pressure would fluctuate quite often for some reason as well. The pressure changes alone gave me a terrible headache 30 minutes into the 10 hour flight, but the crying children only added to it. Even though I could listen to some music in order to escape the echoing cries, I could not drown it out completely.

My flight back will be a little better, because I'll have a window seat. I'll also be on one of the nice Boeing 767's as I fly back from Osaka. One little hitch will be that my seat cannot recline. I'll be right ahead of the rear cabin door. While this means I'll have a great unobstructed view of the ground (because I'll be ahead of the wing), and I'll be right beside the washrooms should nature decide to call, but I will not be able to get much of a comfortable sleep.

Oh well, I shouldn't complain.

I was able to obtain these flights pretty late into the season, and they were at a pretty decent price ($1430 return). Had I bought the tickets sooner, I could have saved a few hundred and maybe been able to request better seats. But even though I might not have the most comfortable flights, I'll get to spend two weeks with my Reiko-chan. That alone will make the 21 flight hours seem like nothing.

That said, I'll still bring my PDA and about 2 Gig of music with my trusty headphones just incase. Who knows … maybe I'll meet someone really interesting on these flights and make some new friends, or find some opportunities for work in Japan.