Month: December 2009

Tech: How to create Yahoo Widgets

If you want to make your own Yahoo Widgets just go here and download the SDK, the Konfabulator Reference Manual, and the tutorial and you’re off and running.

You might also download the Widget Class Library. It’s very simple, all you need is a decent text editor. I can recommend Notepad++

(Takes you right to the download page, you want Binary Files and you can choose from a self-extracting EXE file or a ZIP file.

Here’s what I did with their Hello World test. This one just puts the current artist, track title and total time on the desktop in a nice blue 18 point text. No bells, whistles, etc. hence the name iTunesSimple:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

			var trkTitle = iTunes.trackTitle;
			var trkArtist = iTunes.trackArtist;
			var trkLngth = iTunes.trackLength; = trkTitle + " by " + trkArtist + " " + trkLngth;
			myText.opacity = 255;

It’s an odd mix of XML definitions and JavaScript code. And did I mention I’m sort of hating the string functionality of JavaScript, yes it has substring but I am so familiar with the right, left and mid statements in other languages. Grrrr.

Geek: I can see by infrared, how I hate the night!

The subject line of course from the great series of books by the late Douglas Adams. It was Marvin the Paranoid Android lamenting his ability to see in infrared.

A few years back a friend had given me a Hasbro/Tiger VCamNow. He was getting them on ebay for about $20 each. The camera is a 1.23MP still, and video at 640×480. I know that all cameras have an infrared filter built into them as the Charge Couple Devices (CCD) can see just fine in the infrared and even UV ranges.

Hasbro/Tiger VCamNow Camcorder
Hasbro/Tiger VCamNow Camcorder

It was fairly simple to modify. Just open it up, unscrew the lens assembly from the CCD and scrap the infrared coating off. I haven’t snapped the SD card into it yet, I’ve just been using the internal memory of the device. It definitely sees in infrared now.

Reminiscence about amateur astronomy

I’ve lived in the Providence metro area all my life and I completely missed both the Perseid and Geminid meteor showers due to light pollution in the city.

That brought back some memories. I grew up in the city and back in the 1970’s the street lights were still incandescent bulbs in these interesting fixtures. They had a corrugated edge, they looked a little like pie plates with the top pinched in to form a small dome. They were painted green on the outside and white on the inside.

But then growing up I remember mailboxes attached to phone poles. Now you can’t find a mailbox in the city at all.

Back then the only major use of sodium lamps and high pressure sodium (HPS) lamps was the major thoroughfares and the highways.

But in the 1980’s things began to change. Those old incandescent fixtures were changed out for HPS fictures. Not only that with the uncovering of the rivers they started with globe lighting and uplighting. You can tell what I’m getting at here.

Back in the day we could see a sky full of stars, identify the big and little dippers, Orion, and a bunch of other constellations with the naked eye. But now, you’re lucky if you can see two or three of the higher magnitude stars. Orion still peeks through a bit, but I haven’t seen the dippers in a long time.

All because of HPS and crappy lighting design.

Public Transit Maturing in Rhode Island

Very interesting. I got this off the Greater City: Providence blog. The title is perhaps a misnomer but transit throughout the state is being re-thought. This mostly focuses on the improvements in the City of Providence.

GC:Providence has a better writeup so check the link I put at the top of the post.

However I did a financial breakdown on the system and thought I should put this out there.

Capitilism Hits the Fan – Richard Wolff

A few days ago Prof. Richard Wolff spoke at both Rhode Island College and Brown University on the issues with capitalism as we know it. We’re in for a very rough ride, I’ve known about it for over a decade now. I hint at it in my blog posts, or I come right out and say it.

The biggest thing to happen was corporate greed. That’s what is pushing the U.S. into becoming a third world country.

Thanks to Paul Hubbard for recording the above video.

What I did last night

I participated in the Rhode Island Department of Education’s (RIDE)forum on the Race to the Top money being disbursed by the federal government. It amounts to $4.3 Billion among 48 states over 4 years. So if you divided it among the states it’d be $89,583,333.33 per state, and over four years it comes out to $22,395,833.33 per year.

That is a fairly significant chunk of change. If you divide it evenly among RI’s 36 school districts, each one would get $622,000 or so. But I suspect more will tilt toward the urban core so that could be changed. If we confine it to 10 core urban districts (Which ten to be of the poorer both population and performance.) it would mean $2,239,583.33 for each district which is significantly better by a factor of five.

The table I was at was mostly teachers, administrators and two RIDE employees. I stayed quiet through most of the discussion only agreeing at some points. But when it came to the I.T. side I inquired how grading was being captured. It’s still a paper based system. I explained that a web interface viewable on a smart phone could change that and how automating some of the tasks would free up time for other things. Not only that, I explained how it would make it easier to spot trends over time. One teacher chimed in that she uses her own Blackberry to show graphs and things to students of performance grades, etc.

I learned quite a bit last night. For example, I hadn’t been aware that elementary school teachers take an awful lot of childhood development courses. (I actually loved developmental psychology in college!). Then of course the subject of ESL was brought up and many of the teachers had horror stories about kids being shipped into their class not speaking a word of English. The other topic that came up is how union rules need to change in order to implement some of the requested additional duties.

Another interesting tidbit popped up. Seems that when it comes to grade level math standards, they’re all over the map. When I think about my high school math, I had Algebra I & II, Geometry and Pre-Calculus. But in some schools they may have what I did, while in others they won’t have pre-cal, or they won’t have Algebra II/Trigonometry like I did. So the grade level comparisons are apples to oranges.

Another thread that I picked up was the move to unite the educators and make ALL of them responsible for a child’s education.

Ran into Vanessa who I’d met when I did the program review down at Chariho. Also got to meet RIDE Commissioner Deborah Gist. Very nice lady, and I’m told she’s the real deal when it comes to education.

If you’re going to build a POS system

Make sure you build it right. The supermarket near me just upgraded it’s entire POS system a few weeks ago. All new registers, and a bigger display for the cashier. I really don’t know what benefit this gave them other than replacing hardware/software.

And ever since they’ve been having problems. Today I’m in there and they announce that the credit/debit machines are down and they can only take cash.

Being the express line is next to their computer room I saw worried looking techs (You can spot techs, the cell phones, bluetooth headset, jeans, button down or pull over shirt. ) trying to fix it.

Here’s how it works. From the register the credit card device just sends the card number and expiration date to the central server. The central server makes an SSL connection to a card processor like RBS, FDMS et al. Back in the day it used to dial up the card processor since you’re only transmitting 25 to 30 characters which goes like lightning even at 300bps.

But now everything is net connected. So an SSL connection is made, the processor makes another SSL connection to the card issuer (After doing a database dip on the first six to seven characters.)

So the problem had to be with their card processor. And I just bet it was either RBS or FDMS.

Stay Strong New York

The news out of New York saddens me but it doubles my resolve to see marriage equality through here in Rhode Island in 2010, not 2011.

It irks me that politicians think their religious views trump civil rights. I almost want a test when people run for office. If they attend churches more than once every month, or they’re a minister or pastor, they can’t run.

And yes, technically I’d be excluding myself from running since I’ve been a card carrying man of the cloth for some time now. But I’m tired of people forcing their religious views down my throat.

And Maggie “The Loathsome” Gallagher is already crowing about NY. I’m going to make fucking sure she cries about RI.

Books: Republican Gommorah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party

I love my public library. Even if they don’t have a particular book in the system they do put the record into the database so you can reserve a copy when the book arrives. So I was a bit surprised when I got the email that Max Blumenthal’s book “Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party”.

I’m about a third of the way through the book right now. It is a literal who’s-who of the right wing religious nutjobs in government and policy circles.

He starts the book out by talk about the roots of the movement that go back to a certain Mr. Rushdoony, then moves on through the various bigots and hot air machines. In the section I’m in right now he’s talking about Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council who got his start in the Council for National Policy.

I’m going to quote a paragraph from the book. This explains EVERYTHING. I’ve oft accused RI Governor Don Carcieri of suffering the same gestational issues.

Exhausted and anguished, Davis was impelled by his narrow escape from prison to “escape from freedom.” His freedom was a local televangelist named James Robison who was known as “God’s Angry Man.” Born to a rape victim who tried and failed to abort him, Robison grew into a dark-visaged draconian Pentecostal preacher who railed against gays and liberals with a degree of vitriol that even contemporaries such as Jerry Fallwell could not match. When his anti-gay rhetoric provoked the cancellation of his television show in 1979, Robison submitted to an exorcism procedure that he credited with delivering him from the dark demons dragging his career downward. He claimed afterward to have gained the power to deliver others from the hosts of darkness. (His personal assistant was a young evangelical minister from Arkansas named Mike Huckabee.)

So Robison survived an abortion attempt. But the real point of that whole quote, Mike Huckabee. Interesting bedfellows indeed.

The other thing I’m noting is that all of the known players on the side of the alleged religious right have their demons aplenty. Many are plain and simple criminals. The religious right has this way of forgiving your trespasses if you embrace the Christ. Does this not sound familiar?

The book touches on all the issues, the anti-gay, anti-sex, anti-abortion, and anti-equality camps. By equality I’m not talking marriage equality which they’re against anyhow, but racial equality.

It really is insanity by definition. Here’s another quote when the author discusses the abstinence only education pushed by the religious right.

These statistics should have discredited the movements morality machine once and for all. Instead, the exploding rate of sexually related disasters in evangelical communities has sustained the Christian right, enabling its activists to exploit personal crises for fundraising and recruitment drives. For every crisis pregnancy there is a crisis pregnancy center where anti-abortion activists propagandize vulnerable teenage girls. Because many of these are funded by Focus on the Family, the teens passing through their sterile back rooms may be presented with a copy of Brio! or given the popular tract by former Focus on the Family counselor Steve Arterburn, Every Young Woman’s Battle, a book that posits masturbation as a dangerous gateway drug, while unintentionally revealing its appeal. “Once you begin feeding baby monsters,” Arterburn warned, “their appetites grow bigger and they want MORE!” It’s better not to feed such a monster in the first place.

I’m getting the idea that a baby monster refers to the anatomical parts involved in masturbation. I note that Arterburn focuses on female masturbation yet says nary a word about male masturbation. How interesting.

And as far as it being a gateway drug, give me a break.

I find myself gape mouthed reading this book. In one part Leslee Unruh proclaims that heavy petting causes pregnancy. Is that batshit insane or what? Mrs. Unruh needs a biology refresher course. By her logic I should a hug would be considered enough to lead to pregnancy. If that last were the case I’d have a little league team of my own out there somewhere considering the number of women who’ve hugged me.