fighting the lack of good ideas

how much does “quality” matter?

For several years, I have done business with Harbor Freight and Northern Tool and Equipment. Both are low-medium cost suppliers of tools, supplies, and equipment.

This morning I received the weekly email sales flier from Harbor Freight, and see they have a 19.2v cordless drill for $24.99 (regular price $29.99). This got me to thinking – why would I want to buy a “high quality” or “name brand” cordless drill from a place like Lowes, when their least-expensive, similarly-rated, drill is $79.97? Is a Black and Decker really nearly 3x better? Will it last more than 3x as long? Or drill 3x as well? Is the battery-life that much more impressive on the $80 item over the $30?

My gut feeling on this is no: the “name brand” is not that much better – but it’s what folks “expect” it to cost. And let’s not even go to high end (at Lowes, that’s about $280 for an 18v DeWalt). I do happen to like DeWalt drills (along with Bosch and Makita). But I have a hard time justifying spending 9x the money for something that – from all I can see – is not fundamentally different from the less-expensive off-brand.

If the batteries really don’t last as well, you can still buy 3 “drill master” drills and charge the out-of-use ones while using the next one in line. And if they do work as well, then you and your two bestest friends can have a drill party and get more done in less time – and for less money to boot!

The drill I use most frequently is a Coleman rechargeable drill I recovered from a car when I worked at Hertz about 10 years ago. It’s not the most amazing drill ever, but it does what I need it to far more well than I need it to.

I’d wager the above-mentioned drill from Harbor Freight would more than adequately meet the needs of most folks -and leave them $50 extra to pick up that other really cool item just down the aisle 🙂

the host by stephanie meyer

While I was living in Singapore, I read The Host by Stephanie Meyer (of Twilight fame). I had completed the Twilight series, and had, overall, enjoyed her writing style and was interested to see if she would be able to write a story that did not involve vampires, werewolves, and a bizarre romance between a human and her two love interests (the vampire, and the werewolf – in case you didn’t know).

Back to the point of this article 🙂

The premise of The Host is that an alien race has invaded Earth to overtake the dominant native race (ie humans), and infiltrate them so that a peaceful society can ensue. Yes, these peace-loving, non-violent creatures fight humans for control of the planet.

Our story follows one particular implantee, Wanderer, and her “host”, Melanie, and their co-journey of exploration and infiltration of remaining human-only enclaves (so that, ostensibly, the creatures can finish overtaking the violent humans and bring unending peace to the planet).

I was extremely impressed by Ms Meyer’s shift into a new genre (sci-fi romance instead of fantasy/horror romance). The quality of the story-telling, in my opinion, was very good – as was the scene creation. Much of the story happens in complete darkness, or at least in completely unvisitable locales (much of the story takes place in hidden caves in the desert).

Every time I read a story, I am generally thinking about who I would cast in the main roles. Hopefully it doesn’t cloud your reading too much if I suggest a casting call for the main character(s) (but if it would, don’t read below the bulleted list).

This was another novel I really enjoyed, and would recommend to just about anyone.

  • Quality of writing: 4/5
  • Entertainment value: 5/5
  • Story engagement: 4/5
  • Overall: 4/5

I’d cast Evangeline Lilly (of Lost (Kate Austin) fame) as Wanderer/Melanie.

folding@home – ewok cabaret

For several months (I guess, more accurately, “years” now) I have been contributing to Stanford’s folding@home project. That’s my team I just linked-to (88135).

If you’re interested in donating your spare CPU cycles to a pretty worthy cause, I’d invite you to join my team 🙂

new job

Today I started a new job, which will hopefully involve a bit less travel than my last one did. I enjoyed working with my team at my last employer, and wish them the best in their future ventures.

Now off to find out where my first customer will be 🙂

the deadly sins of programming – again?

InfoWorld this week published yet another article on “The 7 deadly sins of software development”. For those who don’t care to read the ~1 page article (that’s split unless you use the “print” option that puts it all on one page), here’s the list:

  1. Lust – overengineering
  2. Gluttony – not refactoring
  3. Greed – cross-team competition
  4. Sloth – not validating input
  5. Wrath – no/bad comments
  6. Envy – no version control
  7. Pride – no unit testing

Spiffy. Items 1, 4, 5, and 7 are beaten to DEATH in every computer science / information systems / intro programming / advanced programming / algorithms / data structures / etc / etc class I have every attended, read about, heard about, or thought about. Why is it rehashed AGAIN by InfoWorld?

Better yet, why does an article like this appear every 9-18 months (or more!) in a major publication or on a major website (InfoWorld, ComputerWorld, arstechnica, joelonsoftware, codinghorror, etc etc)?

Is it because, as my friend Steven said they’re ‘basically new writers {“i’m fresh out of college and i know everything”} or quotas on programming articles‘? Is it because programmers are really THAT lazy? Or that bad? Or that inconsiderate? Or that management hasn’t encouraged a culture of excellence and teamwork? Yes, shipping IS a feature. It’s really important. So is having developers who care about their work – and who care for their fellow workers who will have to look at / modify / care for / clean their work later.

Lack of version control will bite you HARD everytime you don’t use it (don’t ask how I know – call it a Bad Experienceâ„¢). Competing with other teams is just dumb: you’re all supposed to be working for the same company, the same end goal, and, ultimately, the same customers who will eventually pay for whatever it is you’re writing (I’ll relate another moderately-humorous anecdote on that another time).

If developers really are that bad, or their employers are bad enough to not help/fix behavior, then we’re all in a lot of trouble. And if they’re not – then it must just be that it was a slow week, so somebody thought they’d regurgitate and modify the same thing we’ve all heard hundreds of times.


For the past several months I have been traveling almost weekly into CT, specifically flying into BDL.

I have rented almost exclusively from the Dollar location next to the airport, and have experienced nothing but overt professionalism and friendliness from the staff.

I had a couple rentals with Hertz, and the staff, while formally polite, was overall very gruff and short with their customers. Likewise with Thrifty. Jeff and Ellen run their office with professionalism, overt friendliness, and remain calm and polite even when dealing with exceptionally-rude customers.

Whenever I have the chance (which thankfully has not been often because few are) to interact with some of the incredibly rude folks who have come-in to the Windsor Locks location, I have always defended the crew behind the counter who typically go above and beyond what is required to help those who have come to rent a car from them. I have never had as good a repeat rental experience as I have had at Dollar for the past many months.

I have never personally had an issue with any vehicle I have rented there, and I’ve rented enough that at .5 Southwest credits per rental, I’ve accrued a free flight! Some other customers come in looking for something to be wrong and how to take their frustrations at having to be in CT or having been delayed, or that they’re running late out on the staff behind the counter. I do not know what would possess someone to do that, since all it can do it upset the person you’re talking to who probably can’t do much to help you out beyond what they are already doing (ie, renting you a car, or handling the return).

Were I in the position to do so, I would want to reward this particular location in some fashion – a pizza party, more time off, pay raise, bonus: something should be done for them.

While I am excited that I won’t be traveling into CT every week soon, it is with some sadness that I leave the pleasant folks at Dollar.

outliers by malcolm gladwell

I have now read a few items by Malcolm Gladwell, but so far have liked Outliers most. The premise is Mr Gladwell’s research that if you hit ~10000 hours working on something, you become fabulous. That, and being born right after an age cutoff (say, 3 Jan when the age cutoff is 31 Dec) will give you a marked leg-up on your teammates/opponents (and duh! an almost-8-year-old will do better at most things than a just-7-year-old).

Oh – and parents have a strong influence on their children: if they encourage their children, they’re more likely to do well. And individual attitude/drive is important, too – if you want to do well, you’re more likely to.

Some would say that Mr Gladwell cherry-picked his subjects: but then again, who doesn’t when writing a book that wants to present a particular conclusion? I do wish he had put some counter-examples to his general thesis – if for no other reason than to show they are the exceptions, which proves the rule he tries to establish in the book.

Mr Gladwell is a noted journalist, and has articles published in a variety of well-known magazines and newspapers. His style is very accessible, and while he present new material and/or tries to make points, he doesn’t ever talk down to the reader: you feel like he’s bringing you on a journey of discovery, and you’re finding-out what he’s telling you as he is discovering it for himself.

  • Quality of writing: 4/5
  • Quality of content: 3.5/5
  • Entertainment value: 4/5
  • Educational value: 3/5
  • Reading comfort: 4/5
  • Overall: 3.5/5