new york international auto show

This past weekend I was visiting friends in New Jersey, and we went to Manhattan for the New York International Auto Show on Saturday. If you have never been to the NYIAS, it’s huge (held in the Javits Center), and has a ridiculous number of people in attendance each day.

Food is expensive at the event ($3.25 for a 20oz Coke), but with such a captive audience, free-market capitalism gets to shine and charge what people will pay for a drink. Needless to say, we didn’t buy much at the show, but waited till we left to grab something from a street vendor (all of whom were a lot cheaper). It’s also a total rip-off to park anywhere close to the convention center when an event is under way. Parking lots and garages double their fees just to nail people who don’t want to walk a long way. Had we known this ahead of time, we would’ve parked a mile away where the rate was <$12 including taxes. All in all the show was a lot of fun, though I wish it hadn't been as crammed. I got to climb in a bunch of vehicles, both ones that I was interested in, and not. I also found out that a couple cars I like the looks of I won't fit in, so they're off my list of possibles. For some reason most manufacturers don't get it when it comes to big folks. I fit fine in Mazda's Miata, the Mini Cooper, BMW's Z4, and even the short cab edition of the Ranger. However, the Chrysler Crossfire, one of the few non-Ford-family vehicles I like the looks of, is too small to fit even close to comfortably. When sitting in the driver's seat, I had less than 3 inches of clearance between my shins and the dashboard. In my Protege I have over 5. I also decided that while I like the looks of Cooper, and fit in it quite well, it's not on my graduation list. Mercedes' Smart brand is on the list, though only as a commuter vehicle. Right now the short list for cars is the Mazdaspeed6, Mazda MX5 Miata, Lotus Elise, Mazda RX8, and Volvo S60R. For non-cars, the short list is the Ford Escape, Landrover LR3, Volvo XC90, and Ford Ranger Supercab. All I need now is to graduate and get a job 🙂

dating sites

I’ve noticed (for a while now) that most dating and matching sites are all pay based. What I want to know is why? Yahoo! Personals, for example, requires a monthly subscription fee to use it for more than browsing. eHarmony is famous for allowing free scanning, but they charge a (seemingly high) monthly rate. also uses a subscription system. There are myriad others out there that all use the same basic concept – allow people to create a profile free, but as soon as they want to really use the service, it’s going to cost them.

It would seem to me that such a service should be able to be built and run based only on non-subscription revenue. Many people make a stable income from such services as Google’s AdSense. On high-traffic sites, that income has been reported to be as high as $100k/month or more. Even if it took some time to get the service noticed and utilized, I think such a service could be constructed and run entirely off ad revenues. A quick survey of available hosting packages from just one company shows dedicated servers with 4TB/month or transfer and 30GB of space for $99/month.

With such space and bandwidth available, and especially with the bonus of total administrative freedom of a dedicated box, I don’t see why someone doesn’t launch a free dating site. Basic requirements would include a demographics survey, space for an ‘about me’ narrative, a search feature, place to store a small collection of pictures, and some way to contact other members (email via scripted page?). I think it should also have a way of verifying members when they register for the site – a combination of captcha and email /text message exchange – to ensure that scripts aren’t registering bogus people.

A simple policy of “we won’t share your information with anyone without your permission, and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any profile on our site – please report suspicious activity to us at…” should absolve the administrators of any legal repurcussions if something doesn’t work out between members. Obviously, a lawyer should be consulted to get precise wording, but I think this has great potential.

Another feature that could be offered would be private or internal messages – like eBay uses. Members could intentionally change their message delivery preferences to have them delivered to their personal e-mail address, but would default to storing them on the server so that you have to login to communicate. Users should be able to block people they do not want to hear from in the future, too.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, and would be interested in building something like this with some help. If anyone reading this is interested in such an endeavour, please contact me.

the society for creative anachronism

First off, what a great name for an organization.Second, I first heard about this group when I started researching knife-fighting techniques. One of the books I bought on the topic suggested that among the best ways to practice hand-to-hand combat is to join a local SCA chapter. I have spent more time recently learning about the group, and have become quite intrigued in their organization.

I have been interested in siege machinery, medieval weapons, horse-mounted combat, etc for a long time, but haven’t done much more than play various period-set games to acquaint myself with the terminology and technology of that bygone era.

The SCA, founded in 1968 in California (didn’t see that coming, did you?), places as its focus the recreation of the middle ages in today’s world. Currently comprised of 19 kingdoms around the world (though most are in the US and Canada), the SCA is further subdivided in feifdoms, barrons, etc – all old-world terms for the subdividions of kingdoms. Royalty is determined by competition at sanctioned events, and their is a full recreation of nobility terms, based on competition, favor of the current King/Queen of the kingdom, etc.

Most local meetings require medieval garb, and they have directions for making basic tunics on their website. Members make it their goal to learn (and perhaps master) ancient arts that have either long-since been forgotten, or have become passe in this modern era. Such disparate activities as sewing, metal working, armoring, jousting, and farming all come under the auspices of the society.

Even more fascinating than this, though, is the fact that the whole organization is voluntary. No one is forced to become a member to attend meetings (though to compete you typically must). The whole society is predicated upon respect and politeness – when meeting someone whose rank you do not know, a typical greeting may be “my lord” or “my lady”. Titles are earned, not merely bestowed, and each individual in the society works to create a simultaneous economy of pre-17th century Europe while living their normal lives in today’s world.

Upon joining the society, new members choose for themselves names (which must be period-appropriate) and occupations, with the only caveat being you may not have the same name as another member (no pairs of John Hunters walking about, but John Hunter and John Barber are fine). Depending on your locale, you may be able to join a guild of like-minded members to learn a similar trade, improve your fighting skills, or just converse.

Overall, the SCA has very few rules. Beyond disallowing conversation of modern-world things and events as a general rule, and requiring the donning of period clothing, they function as a live role-playing game.

From what I have read about the orgnanization, some members go so far as to design entire stories about themselves and their character name, so they have a ‘history’ in their anachronistic realm. Other participants are more in it for the fun of it, but have a chance to learn from others who have joined to actually live-out a personal fantasy and become very proficient at the occupation they have chosen.

Another bizarre feature of this society is the possibility of wars. No, not ‘real’ wars in which people end up dead, but wars for prestige of the kingdom, and (perhaps) the transfer of regions of a given kingdom to a neighboring one.

Since learning about these folks, and especially after my recent research into local meeting places, I have decided it would be fun to try it out for a while, and see if it’s something I would like to pursue as a hobby.

For more information, or if you have participated in the society and can give me some pointers, please leave a comment.

containerized datacenters

Expanding on Cringely’s posts late last year (first, second), I was wondering why companies don’t offer turn-key datacenters for businesses.

Imagine, for a moment, that you were in need of several servers – email, web, hr, inventory, file storage, applications – and support architecture – routers, switches, firewalls, etc. Locating suppliers for all of these can be a very time-consuming process, and if everything is not purchased at the same time, you can run into compatibility issues. So, why not have a business whose sole purpose in life is to integrate datacenter needs for customers, and then deliver those datacenters ready to roll?

For example, let’s say you need to provide email for 5000 users, handle user authentication for workstations, serve a medium-use website (>10000 hits/day), document management, and handle human resources -related stuff (employee contracts, sick/vacation time use, benefits, time tracking). From my understanding, a typical organization who needs to do this will solicit proposals from several vendors, fight their internal bureaucracies over how much should be spent, what OS to use, etc, and then finally start purchasing equipment after several months. In a perfect world, the vendor supplies support and training to administrators so they can run the hardware for their organization, but otherwise leave the ‘real’ work up to the customer.

I think a very profitable business could be run in which a vendor receives such a request from a customer, but instead of worrying about which hardware goes in which closet, is there enough rack space already, or do they need more, etc, they could provide the entire package in a container that could be delivered via truck (or train). Said container could include its own HVAC unit, and only need a couple connectors to the outside world to become a ‘usable’ server room when it’s delivered.

My vision for this is to install lots of rack space into a default arrangement in the container, preroute cooling and ventilation ducts, wire the whole container for power, phone, and network, and install insulation inside the container, so that the HVAC unit won’t be working overtime to keep the box cold.

Containers have lots of space inside of them, and could easily be used to hold dozens of servers, storage units, and networking infrastructure hardware. Once a customer settled on what they need, in terms of current and future capacity, minimum networking requirements, OS, etc, the vendor would just install all of the necessary hardware into the racks inside the container, install non-proprietary software into the hardware – basically everything the systems administrators would have to do when the hardware arrived at their location – but would then just close the doors on the container, hire a trucking outfit to deliver the container, and have it dropped-off at the customer’s location.

All that would be left for the customer would be decide where they wanted their datacenter, connect power and network, and turn it on.

What do you think?

center creek canoes (C3)

For my senior capstone course, our professor is having us each build a mock e-commerce site. All through the semester till this point, the counter example I kept picking for questions was a canoe.

So, when we were told to pick something to sell, what could be more logical than canoes? So I am writing a mock e-commerce site to sell custom canoes.

Reasons to do business with Center Creek:

  • customer service – we will deliver your canoe ourselves, no third party shipping
  • customer service – Creekside™ delivery available – not only do we deliver your canoe in person, we will bring it to your campsite or canoeing location
  • customer service – as long as you don’t damage the canoe intentionally (no sledge-hammering the hull), we guarantee it for life – the guarantee is transferrable as long as you tell us who you sell it to
  • customer service – you will always get a person when you call customer support, if the location you call is closed (weekend, holiday, after hours), we will call you back – personally
  • custom-fit to you – if you order a custom CC canoe, part of the purchase price includes round-trip airfare and one night’s accomodations to the location nearest you to have the seat(s) fitted to you (and a companion if you order a 2- or 3-seat boat)
  • quality – each of our canoes is hand-made by caring, professional boatmakers whose only job is designing, building, and delivering boats

Did I mention we stress customer service?

Our canoes aren’t cheap – but they are the best available.

Oh, and the other bonus of calling the company Center Creek Canoes: any time we order materials to build our canoes, we get to call the order a C3PO 🙂

fantasy baseball

This year I am participating in a Fantasy Baseball league with some friends, hosted on Yahoo. The last time I tried out the fantasy baseball thing was 6 years ago, and I had no clue what I was doing – I just thought it was kinda cool. Well, this time around isn’t much different (yet) – I still don’t really know what’s going on, but am getting pointers from everybody else in the league (inluding our ‘commissioner‘) to help me out.

Since the season only started yesterday, standings are kind of pointless right now – but we’re all tied 🙂

I’ll be posting progress of the league throughout this baseball season.

technology and baseball

I subscribe to a slew of RSS feeds on a couple different sites, from technology to world news, sports to medicine, there’s a bunch of really cool benefits to getting news feeds.

This morning I noticed an item on Wired about technology’s impact on baseball (original story). In it, Tony Long shares his love and frustration of technology in the grand ole game of baseball.

I agree with his premise: technology has done more to harm the game than help it. Beyond improvements in medical procedures to get players back up to game speed in an amazingly short time, the focus on technology in the game has made it a lot less fun. When I was a young kid, watching baseball was fun because you could get mad at the umpire for calling a strike on your favorite batter, or calling the pitch a ball which clearly wasn’t.

Improving players’ abilities through video analysis of their swing/throw/slide/whatever has made for a more equal pairing between players than should exist. Knowing about the guy who’s pitching to you should come from your experience, and maybe watching a few other games he’s pitched, not inspecting every throw he’s ever made ever caught on tape.

Another problem with this focus on technology has been the balooning cost of keeping players and of going to a game in person. The last major league game I went to cost $50 per person. The last minor league game I went to was $7. You don’t see such an intense focus on improving players through analysis in the minors, which makes those games lots of fun. From where I live in NC, I’m within 30 minutes of three minor league teams (Bulls, Grasshoppers, Indians), and I can go to Elon games for free.

College and minor league teams don’t spend lots of money on technology to improve their players because they don’t have to. Their players are out there for fun – not money. Most minor league players have other ‘real’ jobs, and college players have classes – and sometimes work – to attend to. Somewhere along the lines, those few who make it to big leagues get caught up in a very powerful money-making machine. The owners, the league, radio and tv broadcasters – they’re all trying to make money off the game. To make more money, and to justify $10-million-a-year contracts to a guy who’ll only be able to play for 2-8 years, the owners and the league have pushed for technological improvements. They’ve pushed for a unification and standardization of what used to be a ‘game of inches’. Now it’s a game of microns.

I love watching baseball, but have become less and less fond of the majors over the past few years. As much as I love technology in other arenas, I wish it would get out of the way in sports.

Bring back that game I liked as a kid.