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April 28, 2004

Jump the Shark

I was writing a blog entry today about The Flintstones and needed to do some fact-checking and found a web site about TV shows called Jump the Shark. The purpose of the site is to let people share their opinion on when a TV show peaked (or really hit bottom). The title is based on when Fonzi jumped the sharks on Happy Days (wearing his leather jacket). Some people say shows never jumped the shark, but opinions differ. One funny aspect is that brand new shows quickly get entries. It's always good to the be so cool that you realize a show is tired before anyone else so people start off pretty early.

One funny observation on Gilligan's Island (which was only on for 3 years) was that the professor should have confessed that he could have gotten them off the island on the first day but a geek like him would never have had a chance with women like Ginger and Mary Ann back on the mainland.

Anyway, it's funny to read people remembering the shows although some of it is not for kids.

Flintstones U

On one episode of The Flintstones Fred changes places with a millionaire who wants a taste of the normal life. Fred says he couldn't possibly run a corporation but J. L. Gotrocks says it's easy: You just go to the meeting and when they bring something up you say "Whose baby is that?" then "What's your angle?" then "I'll buy that."

Fred goes to the meeting and they say something like "The first order of business is the merger with XYZ Corporation." Fred says "Whose baby is that?". A vice-president stands up and says "Me, sir." Fred says "What's your angle?" and he says "Well, they've got a huge market share and their product will bring us a lot of revenue" (or something like that; I haven't seen this since I was a kid). Fred says "I'll buy that" and the merger is approved. They go through one item after another and Fred handles everything the same way. He has become a corporate CEO.

It's a good lesson I think not for CEO's but for people who ask their superiors to make decisions. Do the research, bring the information, and have a recommendation in hand. Be able to bring up the positives and negatives so that they can make an informed decision. It's amazing how often I see people ask managers (or me) to make decisions but don't bring enough information or haven't thought about addressing a few easy questions like "What's your angle?" or "Why is this a good idea?" or "What could go wrong?". If you do all of your work then getting approvals should be as easy as going to Fred Flintstone and answering his three questions.

April 25, 2004


One of the Georgia's little known attractions is the Kangaroo Conservation Center near Dawsonville. They have about 200 kangaroos there. The primary purpose of the place is breeding kangaroos to supply zoos, but they run a decent tourist business as well. A tour is about 2 hours. Part of that time is inside and where they introduce you to the different kinds of kangaroos and wallabies they have. They just let them run around an enclosed area with you, but they typically don't come real close. They are very gentle animals and look a lot like deer when they're not hopping around.

They also showed off a kookaburra and a very tiny antelope called a dik-dik. Dik-diks are territorial and mark their territory by rubbing a gland under their eye on anything that sticks out like a limb. They told us to stick out our fingers and some of the dik-diks marked people's fingers with a tarry little blotch (one marked Susan's finger, but not mine). Here's a picture I took later of a dik-dik being curious through the pen fence. Their noses are very flexible and they can bend them around easily. They are very, very cute and about the size of small dog.

The place takes good care of them, making you wash your hand before possibly touching them (none ever came quite close enough to touch) and walking across an anti-bacterial mat before entering the grounds. The facilities seem to be very good.

After that introduction everyone gets on board a converted army truck (a deuce and half; it can really climb hills) and they drive you through some of the multi-acre pens. You don't get to walk around with the kangaroos, but there are tons of them! Mostly they sit around in the shade, but the truck scares them a little bit and they get up and hop out of the way. It's cool to see a whole bunch (mob) of them hopping along. They pointed out that kangaroos are the second fastest land animal behind the cheetah. That just shows that nobody cares about second place because I'd never heard that. Fortunately there are no cheetahs in Australia. The only thing that was missing was we didn't see any mothers with joeys in their pouches.

It's kind of expensive ($25 for adults; $20 for children over 8), but where else are you going to see so many kangaroos? It was pretty neat.

April 17, 2004

Super Geeky iPod Stuff

One problem with the iPod is that it doesn't store mp3 files by name anywhere. All the mp3's are stored in hidden directories by numbers. So I was at work and wanted a way I could move songs onto my hard drive there and listen to them. I found a neat piece of open source freeware called SharePod that lets you do just this as well as export playlists or just play songs from your computer that are on your iPod. It does this by running a program that you store on the iPod itself so you don't have to install anything on the host computer.

But after extracting a few songs onto the hard drive I found I was missing my album playlists that I had on my Archos and in my folders at home. So I wanted to have the songs sort correctly by track number, but SharePod doesn't get the track numbers or have any way to incorporate them into the file name.

I took the source files home and started poking around in the Visual Basic code. It was very confusing because I didn't even know what the structure of the database was (the file on the iPod where all the data is stored is called iTunesDB). It's not like they're just going to make it normal so there are all these nested records, where a song has one record but then the title, artist, etc. are stored in separate records within that record (not fields, records).

I found a page on SourceForge that described the structure of the various records and another page that described how the records worked together.

Eventually I figured it out, made some changes to the SharePod source files, compiled a new executable (after fixing one typo), and ran a prototype that would test whether I could pull in the track numbers. It worked the first time!

Then I needed a way of incorporating the track numbers into the file names. I made a couple of more changes, compiled a new executable, and it worked on the first try too! That never happens.

Other than comments I really only added about 15 lines of code and changed two of the objects on the program forms. But you have to know how to add it and where.

Anyway, I wrote to the author of the program to tell him thanks and about my modification. You can download the executable from my website. I can send source files if someone needs them, but you probably should go to the author's page at the link above.

April 16, 2004

Bought some Delta

Delta went down to around 7 a year or so ago after being at 60 before the crash and 9/11. I thought it had to be a good buy except that it's earnings at that time were -$15 a share and projected losses were $6 a share. It just seemed like a company couldn't possibly lose that much money. But they bottomed out and went up to around 15 before starting to work their way down again. Earlier this week they released the earnings which were bleak again and their stock was back in the 7's. I thought it was interesting but I'd hold back. Today it dropped in the mid 6's so I bought some. It's very speculative but hopefully it will go up. As soon as I bought it I wished I'd bought more, but that was the greed talking. I will buy more if goes down 20%, but I'm thinking I won't sell unless it goes up 40%.

April 15, 2004

Katie follow-up

Today marks 8 weeks since Katie's surgery (see the update at 4 weeks). She seems about 95% recovered, barely limping and being pretty normal. But I know she can't really run at full speed or jump as high as she usually does. I took her in this morning and the vet was very pleased with her x-rays. But there is still a pretty substantial gap on one side of the bone where new bone hasn't filled in yet. That's normal and he says that at this point there's almost no chance that she could do anything to mess up the surgery, like pull out a screw or bend the plate.

That means I can start taking her on walks up to the full 2 miles over the next few weeks. After 8 more weeks she will have another follow-up visit and hopefully be given a clean bill of health to do regular Katie stuff.

Meanwhile, Lucy is staying with me for a week while her owners are on vacation. She's a very cute little version of Katie with a *lot* of energy. Since she's an only dog in her house she's used to getting all the attention and toys and it doesn't work that way in my house. Still she's have a lot of fun and everyone is getting along well.

See the conclusion to this series.

April 5, 2004

More Human Beings

The other day I was walking to lunch past Atlanta City Hall. There was a lady on the corner talking on a cell phone. But she was talking very, very loud and was pretty perturbed about something but mostly just loud. It was odd enough to notice, but not really think much about. After we ate lunch we came back the same way. This was at least 30 minutes later. The lady was still on the cell phone and yelling. At no time was she apparently ever listening. As we walked by she got louder and it sounded like she was sort of addressing us. I think what she was doing was staging some kind of protest (there have been a lot lately with the Georgia legislature in session; one day the gay rights group faced off against the family groups that are against gay marriage) but she didn't have a permit to do the protest. So she brought a cell phone and was just yelling to everyone. Then if anyone questioned her she could say she was just talking to someone on the phone, there are no laws against that.