Just For The Good Of It

There are many times in my life where I’ve thought “I wish I had the time to make that part of the world OK again”. But invariably time and money always gets in the way of my goals for world improvement. (ok, and frequently politics).  (ok, and frequently over commitment to too many things that need to be made better).  Sometimes I wish I could just get paid to “do the right thing” of my choosing. Here’s a salary. Go forth and do good.


The problem is that little in the world works that way. Capitalism is founded on the belief that both sides of a transaction must prosper economically for the transaction to be beneficial. But when one side of the transaction is “the good of mankind” it turns out that the entity doesn’t have any cash to spend. And unfortunately the world works on cash (or at least my mortgage seems to think so).  Many times an idea may be good in theory but there is no way of having it “turn a financial profit” even if world would be better off with its instantiation.

Even if there was a “for world good” entity with funding to spend at will there is an inherent problem of trust of the common man. Even if only 10% of the world embezzled or drank their money away with nothing positive to show for it (and I only wish the percentage was that low) the average sponsor would be pretty distrustful of all the applicants.

So in the mean time, most of my grand ideas for world good (ranging all over the map from improved communication systems to improved emergency response solutions) will have to remain in my head until someone comes along willing to just pay people to “go forth and do good”.

What would you do, given unlimited funding “to just do good”?

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What’s the Difference Between Facebook and Twitter?

Many of my friends and family have been confused over the differences between Facebook and Twitter. (Most of the confused use one and simply don’t know what the other is). There has also been a lot of speculation on the net about how Facebook has been slowly trying to take on twitters surge in popularity through their adoption of Twitter-like-qualities.

This write-up documents some of the important differences between the systems so that you can decide which is best for you and how you should think about using each one.

First the Similarities

The core part of both Facebook and Twitter surround “status messages” that you and your friends post to stay in touch with each other. Messages like “just got back drom the new star trek movie” will frequently start an online discussion between those you know about how successful the new film was as a “reboot” of the old series. More boring messages like “I just woke up” will only stir up the electronic version of crickets and will provoke little conversation.

On to the differences…


Facebook was designed as a web-browser based service: you log into their site through your web-browser to see status updates from your friends mixed with their advertisements.

Twitter has, since it’s early days, provided a programming interface (API) to it’s service. This interface let’s programmers write applications that check for new tweets, submit your own status messages, etc, all without actually visiting Twitter’s web page. The result is that there are many many applications and ways to interact with Twitter content besides just navigating to the twitter web page. The most popular ones tend to be the ones that sit on your desktop or in your toolbar and notify you when new tweets arrive.

Openness of the Data

By default, Facebook hides all your data so only friends (and approved game applications) can see your status updates and personal information.

Twitter is the opposite though, for both good and bad. It defaults to posting your messages publicly for the world to search through.

This, by far, is the biggest in usage differences. If you end up using both systems, just think before you post who your audience is. But more importantly, I like it this way. There are many updates that I post to both systems because I either don’t care or actually want them heard widely. The announcement for this blog posting, for example, I’ll submit to both services. I also tend to post smaller and more frequent comments to just Twitter. And much more personal comments to just Facebook.

Update Frequency

Because of the open API and extensive external application support, Twitter is more in your face 24/7 and integrates into your day rather well. The result is kind of a constant connection feeling with lots of friends, services and celebrities. The ability to tweet quickly in seconds is always present because somewhere on your screen you already have an open box waiting for you to type in your latest pontification. There are even application plugins that monitor what you’re doing and provide a tweet on your behalf (such as every time your music player switches songs). Many early tweeters make the mistake of tweeting way too much and let you know all about their third bite of a taco bell buritto you probably don’t care about. (They also quickly lose their followers). The better twitterers post only interesting thoughts and activities.

Facebook on the other hand is designed for less frequent status updates and less frequent review of your friend’s updates. Most users log into the site a few times a day, respond to the discussions, update their status (maybe) and play a game or two. It’s designed to be a “visit when I have time site” and is not designed to let you know that your BFF just put on her left sock.

But the instant notification ability of Twitter is what makes it far superior for service broadcasts. Many important services today have twitter feeds for major events (eg, the White House, the RedCross, CNN Breaking News or even Earthquakes that occur near San Francisco) so that you can be instantly informed about events happening at a given instant.

Twitter has also always had the ability to send and receive cell phone text messages. You can have the service text you when your favorite friends update their status and likewise you can update yours by sending a text too. Many smartphones have Facebook applications or web browsers, but twitters SMS tie-in is, again, designed to make you feel continuously connected (no matter how old your phone is).

Status Update Size

Twitter messages have a size limit of 140 characters, which isn’t much (note how easily it fits into a 160 character SMS message? Surely their choice of size was deliberate!). Twitterers learn to abbreviate and be witty in a very small space.

Facebook, however, lets users write multiple paragraphs about their current thoughts. This works much better for ideas you just can’t convey in a short burst. Twitter is referred to as micro-blogging, and Facebook is in between Twitter and a full-size, long-winded blog like this one.

Data vs Presentation

Another major difference between Facebook and Twitter is the presentation. Twitter is all about the content and the data. It doesn’t concentrate on presenting it in fancy graphics on their site (though many desktop applications actually look much better than the Twitter home page). Twitter just wants to bring you data fast and it excels at doing just that.

Facebook, on the other hand, is a complete package. It’s like the “Hotel California” as it wants you to never leave. It’s entrance hall is splendidly decorated with fancy graphics, profiles, pretty colored reply boxes, etc. Every link from Facebook tends to take you to another Facebook wrapped external page or application so you’re always encouraged to return to Facebook immediately. But, their web interface is a beautiful blend of simplicity and function (apple would be proud).

Twitter is also just status messages only with no extra features, while Facebook is constantly tempting you to take a new quiz or play a new game. Facebook’s interactive and highly-addictive multi-player games are wonderful distractions and suck up hours of your time. Twitter almost seems dull after having spent an hour trolling around Facebook’s site.

So which should you use?

You’ve probably guessed my answer by now: Both!! I have both a Facebook and a Twitter account and use them both daily. I love them equally, but for very different reasons. Facebook is a collection of conversations with friends and family. But Twitter has actually helped me make new friends through it’s openness.

The truth is, they’re very different beasts that serve fairly different purposes. Regardless of what Facebook does to become more Twitter-like it may not matter if the users don’t want or use the Twitter-like changes (I for one like the differences). If Facebook adopts many of the Twitter attributes of openness it will mean losing out on an important aspect of Facebook: your status updates go to your friends and family and people you trust.

So I suggest you try them both and hopefully you’ll even use them both. They’re free, after all. What do you have to lose (but time)?

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My Wife’s Solution to Random Farmers Dropping By

These days if you play FarmTown and you visit “The Marketplace” in order to sell some goods, get hired, or whatever you’re likely to find occasionally that random people follow you back home to your farm when you leave. This seems a bit odd to many people. I mean, if you go to your local grocery store and some random person followed you back to your house you’d probably call the police right? In fact, this is the whole reason we have these things called “locks” on our front doors. To prevent everyone, including friends, from randomly entering our house. Farmtown, however, doesn’t have locks. (Fortunately there isn’t much they can do in your farm so it’s not really a huge concern)

Why people are doing this in facebook too I’m not sure. I suspect that they’re looking for a job (ie, they want to work in your fields for cash) and they’re hoping you’ll hire them.

My Wife’s Solution

So, my wife had a smart idea: never hire them. In fact, make sure you can’t. She does this by clicking on them and then clicking “ignore”. By doing this you add them to the list of folks that are functionally “banned” from your view of the game. The result is that no matter how much they beg you for a job in the marketplace in the future, you’ll never see them and will never hire them. Plus they immediately disappear from your farm as well.

I thought this was a great idea to solve the annoying-farmers problem.

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How I Cheated at FarmTown Today

Cheat??? Why??? Well, after posting my previous blog entry about FarmTown cheating I noticed a huge number of Google and other search engine hits by people looking for “how can I cheat at FarmTown”, etc. Apparently I’m not alone in the desire to overcome FarmTown boredom.

There is a huge amount of wonderful pages devoted to farmtown data, but not as much about advice about how to play efficiently. For those just looking for how much stuff costs, what level you get it at, etc, I recommend
Uncle Joe’s Farm Town Addicts Site

Today’s Progress

While working diligently away on my farm today and jumping from level 19 or 20 (I forget) to level 24 I:

  • Ate a wonderful father’s day breakfast with my family that was prepared by my wife
  • Filled up the car with gas
  • Packed the car
  • Went shopping
  • Played a game of pool
  • Read to my daughter


Well, simply put I wanted to be level 27 so I could buy rivers. I didn’t get all the way there today, but I made a good leap forward. The problem with farmtown is that after the first 15 levels or so it gets very boring when it comes to the farming aspect itself. Not the building pretty pathways and stuff aspect, but the aspect of cultivating a huge set of crops just to try and get more experience points.

This, in my opinion, is a fault of FarmTown’s. They should, after a certain level, make it easier to clear and plant a field full of crops with one “select a rectangle” type motion. It’s cute when you first start to plant each square, but boy does it get boring by the time you get up there in levels. And because levels get harder and harder to achieve the level reward is less and less (aside from the financial increase, which is constant).

FarmTown isn’t the only game with this problem. It dates back to any large “build an empire” type games including empire (the old ascii text game for those that remember it) to warcraft and to the latest in the line: FarmTown. Maintaining a huge set of maintenance tasks gets dull and dry.

But… I really wanted to be level 27. I just didn’t want to spend the time.

Enter The Cheat

Ok, it’s not a “real” cheat. It’s well known, as I’ve discussed previously that you can turn FarmTown cash into FarmTown experience points. The cheapest way to do this is by adding hay bails to your farm. At the end cost of roughly 1 experience point per 10 FarmTown coins spent the hay bails are the best return.

But, it’s boring putting out a gazillion hay bails too, so why is that any better? It provides you increased speed at yet more boring work.

Or does it. I handled this by recording mouse clicks with a mouse event recorder and then playing them back. I’d buy a hay bail and then sell it. And then tell my computer to repeat the process over and over for me while I went and did something else.

Sure, occasionally it would mess up and start trying to place a bail on another, but in general it worked and I got a lot of house-hold chores done instead! Yay! I’m level 24 now!

So if you want the amount of coins you have divided by 10 in experience points, you might give this approach a shot. I don’t have software to recommend to you (see below for my linux notes) but I’m sure if you search for some for your OS of choice you’ll find something. I know stuff exists for windows, and I suspect for OSX as well.

Advice for FarmTown Developers

Don’t get mad at the people that want to cheat. Fix the issue within the game. I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends simply stop playing near level 28 or so because it’s just boring after that. You’ll loose customers unless you can fix the boring aspect of the higher levels. Add something else for them to do instead that captures their interest again.

Final Linux Geek Note

Turns out that all the linux event recording software is dated and doesn’t work. There is some playback software though. I wrote a quick script to wrap around xte from xautomation to record and then replay what I needed.

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A Day in the Life of a Parent

What’s the real cost of parenting? How much time do I spend managing the lives of those I’m responsible for?

For a long time I wondered “where does my day go?” I mean, I know that I spend a lot of time working and a lot of time parenting and a lot of time cleaning, but it still seems to slip away from me with seemingly little to show in the way of filled in checkboxes on my growing list of personal goals. So I decided to check how much time I spend parenting.

Thus, today (2009/06/18) I decided to write down all the little things I do as a responsible parent to see how much time it adds up to. Now mind you, I probably missed a few little things here and there and I am estimating much of the time sync, but I suspect it’s fairly accurate (at least within a 5-10% error rate).

Why did I pick today? Well, for a few reasons. One, I’m acting as a single parent today which I figured would make me look even more like a super-parent. Ok, I probably shouldn’t have admitted that. Also, it was a day I was going to try and get as much work in as I could as well (fortunately, I work from home). It was a beautiful summer day where there was no transportation requirements (adding trips to and from school is a huge time sink) and it was a day where I didn’t do many other house-hold tasks that would have been an even bigger time sink (laundry, vaccuuming, deep cleaning, napping, …). IE, the only two goals I had for the day were parenting and working. In that order.

Now mind you, I try to be a decent parent. There are two extreme views of parenting: let them fend for themselves (they know where the cereal is darn it, why are they bugging me) and complete micro-management (no, move that sock to the left side of your drawer). I try to balance nicely in the middle and be responsible but encouraging self-sufficiency when possible. I made them breakfast and ate with them to interact before I started working (more) and they made their own lunch while I made mine to teach independence.

The Tally

I thought one computer typed set of notes (when it was in front of me) and one piece of note paper would be enough. I underestimated that a bit.

Time Spent Parenting Today
Time Seconds Description
7:02 20 Good Morning conversation to first awake child walking by.
7:44 780 Make Breakfast (cereal and oatmeal)
8:02 45 Poured a glass of milk
8:35 180 Applied mosquito repellent liberally to children’s skin
(Oddly, I don’t consider it acceptable for them to touch the stuff even though I put it on thickly)
8:39 30 Explained how to be a more kind older sister
(Hint: don’t yell as much)
9:20 60 Answered questions about going outside, eating crackers, etc…
9:30 60 Son: “What are you using that computer for daddy?” (noticing me typing so quickly)
Dad: “sending email for work”.
10:17 60 Took pictures of my cute kids playing in a stream.
10:23 30 Answered questions about snack choices
10:32 15 Daughter: “What was the hand movement to the a-ram-sam-sam song again?”
Dad: [:shows movements he learned during her pre-school class ages ago:]
10:34 60 Reapplyed bug spray now that a sweatshirt had been taken off and the arms were exposed
10:56 20 Walked outside
Yelled “stop throwing sticks at each other.”
Walked back inside
11:26 20 Walked outside and shouted “stop shouting.”
12:03 60 Dad: “Want to pack a picnic and go on a hike for lunch?”
Daughter: “Yes, but check out the cool rocks I found!”
12:14 300 Directed and participated in the lunch making process
12:22 30 Tied a yellow string in daughter’s hair at her request because her normal hair tie appears to be missing
13:05 60 Applied more mosquito repellent for the afternoon outdoor shift.
13:10 60 Son: “I just wanted to tell you I’m going to put on shorts so you need to put more insect repellent no me.”
Dad: [:reaches for bottle:]
14:46 10 Dad: “Don’t forget to wipe your feet on the rug please”
14:49 30 Daughter: “Dad, can I grab something out of the car?”
“Yes” and [: handed off keys :]
14:50 10 [: Put keys back in pocket :]
14:50 10 Son: “Can I have some graham crackers dad?”
14:54 20 Son: “Dad, how can I get this dirt off my arm?”
Dad: “It’s probably sap and that’s why it’s so hard to clean off. Rub really hard and Good Luck.”
14:55 30 A longer discussion ensued about how I’m wrong and it’s not sap. Oh, and my son proceeded to inform me that hand lotion and soap mixed together make really good soap.
15:21 60 Instructed children to pick up their dirty clothes and then supervised with a threatening look when they failed to follow instructions.
16:19 30 Admonished kids who fell down the stairs that they need to be more careful
16:20 60 Tasking assignment and instructions: “Please water Mommy’s bulbs using these containers”
16:29 180 Patched up kid who ran chest first into out-stretched window frame. Apparently the 16:19 lesson didn’t stick.
16:43 30 Dad: “Did you water both sets of flowers?”
Children: “No. Where’s the others?”
16:55 60 They’re yelling loudly again. Oh, and climbing on that stack of wood isn’t safe. No, swinging from that very thin branch isn’t either. I don’t care if it’s “bendy” it’s still not safe.
17:30 60 Advised about the two minute dinner time warning and answered various questions fired back at me
17:35 1320 Made the promised pancake dinner. Since I don’t like pancakes all of this prep time I’m charging to them (but a promise is a promise, so I made them). I had eggs, which I made later.
17:40 0 (In the midst of the above)
Son: “I can’t get all this sap off.”
Dad: “Holy cow, what were you playing with?”
Son: “Sap”
Dad: [: Grumbles :]

18:13 600 I did the dishes. It actually took me 15 minutes not 10, but 1/3rd of them were mine.
18:36 10 Checked up on teeth brushing status.
18:37 600 Read to son: “Oh the things you can think” by Dr. Suess
19:24 660 Tucked son into bed
19:24 180 Dealt with the ‘Spilled water on Pajamas’ catastrophe
19:39 120 Dealt with the ‘Spider catastrophe’.
Unfortunately it was a catastrophe even though I meant to harmlessly catch and release him
19:57 2100 Read to daughter: Harry Potter
(boy that was a long scene that I couldn’t stop in the middle of)
21:21 180 Tucked older child in and replenishing the night time water supply.

The Results

How much time did I spend being a parent? It turns out to add up quickly:

Seconds: 8250
Minutes: 137.5
Hours: 2.29 (rounding up slightly, but I deserve it)

Now, before you jump in there and say I’m an uptight parent who just spent the day yelling at his kids, I have one important distinction to make about the results: That’s just the time I spent being a responsible parent. These are just the things I felt I “had to do” and there was no choice in the matter. That summary does not include the hour lunch I spent eating with my kids on a rock by a river and watching a butterfly land on my kids outstretched hands (which was really really cool). It doesn’t count the 30 minutes I spent playing sequence with them, or the game of pool I played with my daughter. I only counted the get-through-the-day time. Not the “Quality Family Time” time.


When I was a kid I learned that every essay should have a good introductory paragraph, and solid body and a conclusion. My conclusion from all this is that it takes a lot of time to be a parent. When I signed on to the job I knew it was a commitment that couldn’t be broken and a responsibility I would hold for life. But I’m not sure I truly understood the time sink. In the end, it’s still worth it, of course (the hugs and the laughter alone are worth it). But now I at least understand why I don’t get much accomplished in the other aspects of my life.

It’s my bed time now. Tomorrow it all begins again. Technically I’m being risky posting these totals before midnight.

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How to win (sort of) at Facebook’s FarmTown

[Update: make sure to read my follow on article as well: How I Cheated at FarmTown Today]

Any game, is of course, accompanied by a number of different ways you can attack the problem of “how do I get a high score as quickly as possible”.

Facebook’s FarmTown game is highly addictive to many people and some of my friends have spent endless hours carefully laying out rice fields for harvest two days later.

Status in FarmTown

There are really only two things worth achieving in FarmTown: Money and Levels/Experience Points. Money is earned by planting and harvesting crops (or better yet, having someone else harvest your crops for you). And, if you harvest someone else’s crops then you get some extra cash too (it’s a good deal for both sides). The fastest way to get cash is to go hang out in the market place and beg people for jobs harvesting their fields.

But experience points you only get by either plowing, planting crops, visiting friends farms, or building infrastructure. Now, you can only visit your friends for experience points roughly twice a day. And there is only so much space on your farm so after you’ve filled you soil with crops and farming infrastructure (virtual barns, paths, scarecrows and hay bails) you have to sit back and wait until the crops are ready.

Or do you…

[Update: as people have pointed out in the comments and as I discuss in How I Cheated at FarmTown Today using hay bails for converting cash to experience points is more efficient]

Many people have figured out that planting grapes earns quick experience points because in 4 hours their ready again. Yes, they’re not worth much but they do turn around quickly. Thus if you’re shooting for straight XP then grapes seem like the right way to go.

But there is a better way:

  1. Plow your whole field per normal (20 coins per square and it’s worth 1 XP)
  2. Plant grapes in your whole field (also 20 coins per square and it’s worth 2 XP)
  3. Buldoze them over immediately (gasp!!!)
  4. Go back to step #1

(and for you slashdot readers add in “Profit!” somewhere)

See… If you’re willing to spend the cash (40 coins) and the time (something you’ll admittedly never get back) then you can earn 3 XP points per square. Quickly. Keep repeating till your out of cash. You’ve probably just levelled up quite a bit.

When you run out of cash, go to the market place and beg people for a job to get more cash. I bet following this formual you could go from level 1 to level 20 in a day without breaking a sweat on anything other than your index finger.

Begging for jobs

Having done a bit of job begging, here’s my advice: be smart, be witty, be silly. You’re much more likely to get a stranger to hire you than if you just keep chanting “hire me”. When I’ve simply made funny jokes about wanting to get hired I’ve gotten jobs much faster than the others around me that were closer to “annoying”.

After all is said and done

Go outside into the real world and mow the real lawn. You probably need it at this point.

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The Art of Waiting

I’m waiting for daughter to come out of school…

Many times in life we find ourselves waiting. Waiting for a plane to come, or a train to go. Many times, as I’ve said before, we have no control over when we’re forced into the waiting state. Other times, however, it’s just random chance that we arrived early for something (or someone else arrived late).

Don’t lose this precious time!! Never ever let yourself get caught
off guard and suddenly bored. Here are some ideas on avoiding boredom and getting more out of these otherwise wasted moments in life.

Always Have Reading Material With You

Now I’m waiting a few minutes for the BBQ briquettes to coal-up. They’re close enough now that there isn’t enough time to do anything else so I might as well write more.

The important rule of never being bored is: always have something to read with you. I, personally, carry electronic books on my cell-phone. For example, I always wanted to read the Sherlock Holmes mysteries and one day I finally put it on my phone. I was sure that reading a book on my phone would be miserable on account of the small screen size. But A few months later I had read the first book in 5 minute increments here and there and had spent an entire few months never waiting randomly without something to read. I’ve been addicted to E-Books ever since. Mostly I’ve been reading free ones. The ones past the Disney imposed extended copyright date, as can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg, and other sources. Want to read the works of Shakespeare? Gutenberg has them all. My kids have heard Dr. Doolittle only because I happened to have it on a phone when we were somewhere without a source of a night time story.

What’s that? Your phone can’t read documents? So!!! Print them out. Keep one page in your pocket (or better keep 2 so you can cycle to the next when you only have a a paragraph to go). One or two pages, next to your keys or wallet, is not too much of a load. I travel a fair amount for work and always have something work-related printed out so I can walk down the jet-way to the plane reading instead of just waiting in line.

Coals are ready. Gotta go…

Or Be Productive

Now I’m waiting for my beautiful wife…

(Not that reading isn’t to be considered productive)

Another anti-boredom maneuver is to bring something with you that allows you to be productive. My Palm Treo, which has a full keyboard, is letting me type this up, for example. But even without it, carrying a small pen and piece of paper or notebook around on which I could design my next garden, antenna or starship (Sorry. Couldn’t resist. We just got out of Star Trek).

She’s back; Off to Costco

Wow, this Costco line is actually short!

Yes, by the way, typing on a small keyboard on a a phone with only my thumbs is less than ideal and hardly efficient. But it’s either that
or twiddle them.

I’m now waiting for my daughter to come out of school again. Talk
about a place where I’m always early and need to have something
planned to occupy my time!

I’m at home sitting on the couch waiting for my son to bring me a
book. My phone was sitting close than anything else I might grab…

Puzzle Lovers Are Always Prepared

True die-hard puzzle lovers have always carried around a crossword,
word search or, more recently, Sudoku Puzzles. In fact, if you fly at all these days I assure you someone on the plane with you will be staring at a Sudoku Puzzle book for the entire flight. I’m sure you can find websites that will generate random puzzles of many types for you to print out.

It really doesn’t matter what your interest or hobby is. Just figure out how to make it (or more likely a portion of it) portable. The trick is dividing any favorite (or not) task or hobby into small enough pieces that at least one piece is transportable.

Good luck! If you don’t know where to start, try bringing a piece of paper to brain storm with you the next time you leave the house.

Time wasted writing this: -25 minutes. Because it was time gained and not lost.

Bonus points if you can spot the Dr. Suess Reference

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I’ve Got Mail!

Many people have asked me in the past to explain how in the world I handle so much E-Mail. Since it’s such a long story consisting of many parts, I rarely answer it. Also because I think it’s easier to describe using diagrams, examples and sciency looking graphs. In fact, it turns out, that even describing how much mail I get, and why I get so much, is a story in itself. So this is part #1 of like 2 that describe my E-Mail setup. This first part consists entirely of a description of how much mail I get in the first place. Believe you me, it’s quite a bit.

So, how much raw E-Mail do I get?

So before this, I actually wasn’t even sure. It turns out that the answer is simply put as “a lot”. A whole heaping lot. Much of it is, of course, spam (I don’t have an exact percentage at the top of the article). But even assuming that it’s 90% spam, which likely isn’t the case, I still receive a lot of mail. And it’s all my fault because, simply put again, I want that much (gasp). Ok, maybe not the spam.

So let’s start off with some (sciency) graphs showing the raw numbers of E-Mail that I attract. To really understand it all, I need to break it down into chunks and study each piece.

The Long Haul: Mail Per Month

The first graph below shows the amount of mail per month that I received over the last year-ish.

Mail Per Month

Mail Per Month

The important thing to notice in the above graph is that the amount of mail I receive isn’t even consistent month to month as it ranges from 6500 in a month to almost 13,000. Sure, February has less days in it so you’d expect it to be lower because all months were not actually created equal. But even those slight variations don’t account for the huge swing in differences from month-to-month. Some of it certainly is because my work-load with respect to communication comes and goes. Some months I simple receive a lot more mail for work related projects than other months (usually as deadlines approach and panic ensues).

But the biggest reason for the fluctuation is that spam comes in waves too. Just looking at my day to day E-Mail it’s always amazing how much the incoming spam varies. Some of my email addresses (I have many) are widely published and thus widely harvested by the evil address-collecting spam machines. This results in a huge amount of my mail being spam, unfortunately.

But beyond that, you can see trends in the graph where, for a while, there was a significant drop in incoming E-Mail. This was because a major spam ring was taken out of service a while back and that’s where the huge dip comes from (you should have had a spam dip in that time frame too). However things are unfortunately back to spam-normal again. Do you feel like all of a sudden you’re getting more spam than you used to? Well, you’re not alone. Eventually the next spam king-pin took over and we’re back to an abysmal spam rating of something like 90% on-average spam. The peace was nice while it lasted, but now I’m back to evaluating whether my rich Nigerian uncle really did leave me a fortune or not. Fortunately if he didn’t, it turns out I have 1094 other rich Nigerian uncles who also amassed a small fortune if only I could pay the wire-transfer fee to get it safely into my bank account.

The Shorter Haul: Mail Per Day

The next graph shows the amount of mail per-day that I received mostly during the month of May (2009).

Mail per Day

Mail Per Day

There are a couple of interesting actifacts that you can hopefully spot in this graph as well. You’ll notice that has a definite repeating cycle. The cycle is simply this: the low spots are on the weekends. I.E., by far the most mail I receive comes during the work week. This isn’t surprising to me since much of the mail I receive is work related in the first place. Which begins to tell you how much mail I receive for work-related purposes.

Ok, But What Exactly Is It All Then?

There’s the real question. If I get bombarded with so much mail, how much do I actually read??? So, lets pick a day. Ok, let me pick a day since you couldn’t help me there. I picked June 3rd, 2009 which is a Wednesday.

On Wednesday June 3rd, 2009 I received 4514 individual pieces of email. Now, lets quickly do the math shall we? If I tried to read all of that and I did so in, say, a 10-hour period (8 hours for work and 2 hours of reading just the personal mail) that would be 4514/(60*10) = 7.523 email messages per minute that I would have had to read. Though that might be possible if they were all short, I assure you that the people I correspond with are not well known for writing short, brief messages. Long winded rants are, unfortunately, much more common.

Weeding Out The Spam And Rich Uncles

So, the first thing we need to do is remove the auto-discarded spam and duplicate messages (I have a nice filter that removes duplicates so that I’m never bothered twice because someone put me on both the To and the CC line or because I’m subscribed to multiple mailing lists that the message went through). It turns out that in the 4514 messages, I auto-discarded 3163 of them. That’s roughly 70% of them. Since that’s most likely spam, that’s probably close to the real spam percentage that I receive: 70%.

Looking At What’s Left

That leaves only 4514 – 3163 = 1351 messages left to handle. And if I had 10 hours to sift through 1351 messages in my INBOX I could do so at the leisurely rate of 2.25 messages per minute. That’s almost doable (at least if I blacklist a few of the people that mail me the most long of the long winded rants).

But here’s the real secret. Of all those 1351 messages, only 10 actually ended up in my INBOX. That’s important, so let me repeat it. In bold. Only 10 messages actually ended up in my INBOX. And there’s the secret to my success: everything else gets filtered out and placed somewhere else. In fact, if you really look at how I treat mail it turns out I have lots of INBOXes. The one that only received 10 is the one that is just mail sent to my personal account. My work addresses only received 16 to the work INBOX equivalents.

Dealing With Mail in Clumps

So what is really happening, behind the scenes, is that my mail for the day actually got sorted into 44 different places. Not just 1 or 2, but 44. That lets me sort and prioritize my mail so that the important stuff I can see right away in small INBOXes and they don’t get lost in the bulk of the rants.

In the rest of the mail: 638 messages went to a folder for fedora developers consisting of auto-generated emails describing upcoming changes to the operating system. Another 110 were long winded rants about the same operating system that went to a discussion folder (at least I bet they were long winded rants; I didn’t study most of them in detail). 102 were about my favorite linux-based TV recording software: MythTV. Another 120 E-Mails were messages that were most likely spam but placed in a folder for me to double check them because the spam-filtering software wasn’t confident enough to just throw them away without my help.

And so on. You don’t want more of a breakdown than that. Trust me.

Thank You For Waiting;

You’re Message Important To Us Me

That being said even my real INBOX occasionally turns into a black tar-pit where it seems I can never stay afloat. Even with only 10 messages going into it for a particular Wednesday I’m not perfect and frequently I “mean to respond later” but fail to get back to it in a timely manner.

The important thing is that the people that really matter (you) do end up in my highest priority folder (assuming you’re not one of those long-winded ranting folks). Everyone should filter their mail to put their most important email messages first in their lives and let the others stew until they’re nice as savory. I’m going to come back at some point in the not too distant future (I hope) to provide additional guidance for “getting ahead of your email”.

I’ve actually learned something from this long winded analysis too. So I’m glad I wrote it up. What I’ve learned is that I should have a severe headache and should step quietly away from the computer. So I think I will.

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2m / 440 Copper Pipe Super J-Pole

The 2m/440 Super J-Pole

This antenna is also known as the “copper cactus” (because it kind of looks like one of course!). It is an outstanding performer, especially when you get it up in the air. A friend of mine (KC0UYK) convinced me I should build this antenna and I’m certainly glad he talked me into it.

I built mine from 3/4″ copper pipe. This provides you with a greater bandwidth than 1/2″ pipe and the SWR stays low throughout the 2m Amateur band. I’ve built two of them to date, and they both work wonderfully with very little tinkering. Even if you’ve never used a soldering torch to weld copper before it’s a good project to learn on. (I had never done any copper pipe work before my first cactus antenna).

If I was going to do it again, I’d use a stronger type of copper pipe simply because it tends to flex in the wind just a bit. I chose the cheaper of the materials and in hind site I regret it a bit.

I’m not going to go over all the details of how to build one since there are links below to help you with that. I’m only going to discuss the lessons I learned while constructing and using it.

Building It

The instructions I followed were from this site:

Here is a nice calculator as well showing the proper lengths for a given frequency. I strongly recommend using this to do the design:

The only modifications I needed to make were to increase the space between the two vertical components by 1/4″ to account for the increase in the size of the pipe (those directions are for 1/2 inch pipe).

Finally, if you’re one of those modern “I’d rather watch an instructional video” kind of folk, here’s a youtube video of someone building a smaller J-pole (non-super) for just the 70cm band.

Feeding It

It’s recommended you use a short coil of 4 turns of coax as close to the input of the antenna as you can. The super-J’s tend to be affected by near-by metal structures and this is supposed to help alleviate that. I’ve done this in the past and I think it did help, but the way I have my current one mounted I don’t have a coil at the moment and it still works wonderfully, but there isn’t a huge amount of metal near it either.

Getting It In The Air

I had mine in the attic for a while, and it did just fine. But when I finally got it up on the roof connected with high quality co-ax boy does it reach out better.

I mounted mine to the chimney of my roof using a chimney mount I picked up from Radio Shack. The mount is somewhat of a pain to put up and I don’t think it’s a high quality ratchet system on the mount, but it seems solid and doesn’t move. I added extra metal braces to the corners of the chimney to keep the metal from eating into the stucko (I don’t have a brick chimney which would be better). The metal corner brackets are actually just held there by the mount strips itself.

Tuning It

To tune it with a SWR meter, take a reading and if it’s off move the two clamps (ie, the feed-point) simultaneously up or down the copper piping until you hit near a 1:1 SWR. Now, if you’ve already put it on the roof you’ll either have to run up and down a lot or take a radio (with power) up to the roof with you.


With this mounted on my roof I’ve had conversations at 5 watts quite far away. For those familiar with the Davis area, I’ve talked to people mobile from my house in Davis simplex at 50 watts out to nearly Hazel on the far side of Sacramento. My wife (KI6UTP) and I held a conversation between each other from Davis to beyond Sunrise without straining too much to hear each other except when I dropped down into a dip on the highway. That’s a total flat-land distance of 25 miles. We also talked as I was roaming around the mountains up near the Echo Summit (7500 feet or so), which was a distance of 90 miles. But the elevation helps a bit there. WB6ISO (I think) in Pine Crest (elevation 2000 feet or so) said I was 40 over S9 at 5 Watts.

One interesting aspect is that a friend of mine, who lives about a mile from me, said my lower antenna in the attic actually gave him better performance. I suspect that the downward angle of the antenna propagation isn’t as good as it is closer to the horizontal plane. This makes some sense since it performs really well out to the horizon. Since he could hear me anyway, only a mile away, I’m hardly worried about it since I think it’s more important to have the main propagation closer to the horizontal to get a better reach.

[Update Jan 2011: Check out the results of measuring the antenna along with adding a balun and a lightning ground strap.]

Still To Do

Simulate it. I generally like to run antennas through simulators before building them, but I haven’t done so with this one. It just works 🙂

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Google Wave: it’s a big one

Anyone who’s talked with me about computers and communication know that I have wanted to rewrite the email architecture and have a lot of good ideas about what is needed to make it happen. Well, yesterday the folks at google trumped me. And boy did they.

Now I’m not one to generally proclaim ahead of time that something is going to be the next big something. In fact the first time I opened a web page back in the 90s long before most people had heard of “http” I merely thought “yeah, that’s nice but nothing amazingly new”. Even http was a minor improvement on other things. The famous web 2.0, that brought us many cool webpages like google maps, facebook, etc, were really just minor steps forward in technology that I again thought were cool, but nothing outstanding.

For the first time, I’m here to say: Google Wave will indeed change the world. Or the way we work with it. It’s the first technology that has ever caught me completely off guard.

Learn About It

The best way to learn about it is to watch the demo video. You probably want to watch at least from about 0:05 to 0:15 on it to get a feel for how cool it is. The trick, I think, will be to stop watching it as it keeps rolling out new things as you watch it (the interesting non-geeky content is a full hour long, out of the hour and a half). Though the video is targeted for developers (and as a developer it targets me perfectly), but it’s not so geeky that everyone else will be annoyed.

I May Actually Quit Using My Current Mail Reader

I’ve tried, over the years, to move away from the mail reader I use today (something 99% of the population have never heard of: Gnus). The reason I have never succeeded in finding anything else that would fit my bill is that gnus helps me manage email like nothing else can. Yesterday, on May 28th 2009, I received 4661 pieces of email. Now, certainly a large portion of that is spam. But a lot of it was stuff I needed to at least consider and the power of gnus lets me sort it appropriately so I can actually handle the load. But that’s a whole other subject for another time (many people wonder how I do it; I should write it up sometime too).

Google Wave, on the other hand, may finally offer enough of a new enough complete change in the way communication happens that I’ll actually be able to keep up with the level of communication that I need.


It provides real-time updates, shared tagging, proper thread control, reduced bandwidth, retroactive publishing a conversation to a new person. All these features are likely enough to actually pull me over. There are issues as well, and I’ll probably document those later, but on the whole they’re a fantastic change in thinking and are a lot along the lines of how I’ve wanted to revamp things but I think they’ve succeeded in taking to a level further than I was thinking.

It’s really like mixing email, web, chat, and usenet news all together in a single form. Or it looks like it at least. Kudos on taking the best of all those highly useful worlds and actually getting them to fit together.

And they already have it working on android and the iphone!

The Right Developmental Path

One of the reasons that I don’t use gmail much, or many other web-based solutions is that I don’t necessarily think that http and javascript are always the right tool for every job. Yes, javascript turns websites into wonderfully interactive sites, but in the end I still prefer writing text/editing into speedy local applications (I’m saying this while typing into a web page, oddly enough).

With waves, however, they’re extending both the web API and the protocol definition itself to the world. The protocol is based on XMPP, which is the standardized version of Jabber, and this is huge. This means that people will be able to write import/export components for waves and thus you can actually continue to edit in something else and publish it as a wave later.

Kudos to their forward thinking about the realm of standardization and allowing data access to other types of applications and programming languages. This is what will make it huge.

There is always a but…

I do wonder about some of the negative communication aspects that could happen. Centralized data storage about a conversation thread is a great thing when the data is generally public in the first place.

However, we still need to be careful when transmitting important information. Wave provides the ability to grant someone retroactive access to a wave. Imagine having a wave discussion and then suddenly excluding person X from a branch of it and then later intentionally or accidentally granting person X access again. Imagine how they’d feel when they realize they’ve been excluded. This happens all the time in email, but when in email when person X sees part of the conversation again he likely didn’t see the message that said “I’ve excluded person X because …”. This is really just a new management issue, but by far the benefit outweighs the negative.

(and there are more odd use cases, but certainly the benefits will outweigh the oddities of them as well)

I Can’t Wait…

And I’m not sure I’ve ever said that before about an upcoming technology.

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