Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is getting more and more press, and as our lives become more dependent on the web, the decisions made in Washington on the subject of Net Neutrality are going to be very important. As such, everyone should have a good understanding of what is meant by Net Neutrality, the pros and cons, and how it might impact you.

The concept of Net Neutrality is that every packet of data processed by your internet service provider should be treated in exactly the same manner. Whether you are watching a movie stream over Netflix, carrying on a conversation using your VoIP telephone line, downloading music from iTunes, or just browsing the web, all of that data gets treated exactly the same way. It all receives the same processing priority.

For service providers, this presents something of a problem. The current market expects to be able to purchase an unlimited amount of network usage for a fixed price. This was fine for the service providers when the typical user only browsed a few web pages and downloaded some small files. Their network could easily handle the load without causing interruptions or delays in service to any of their customers. Enter video services like YouTube, Netflix, and iTunes video rentals along with peer to peer file sharing networks like BitTorrent, and service providers find that some customers are using a *lot* more data than others. Some customers might use so much data, in fact, that they cause service delays and interruptions for their neighboring customers. What is a service provider to do?

One option is to inspect the data going across the network and treat that data differently. Let's say you are a Comcast customer. You are using BitTorrent to download your favorite Linux distribution, and you also start watching a streaming movie through Comcast's on-demand movie service. Comcast might inspect that traffic coming from your home and cause the file sharing traffic to be processed at a lower priority than your streaming video. This way, you get a nice clear picture without interruption on your movie (and so do your neighbors), but your file download might take a while longer. Many service providers already have in place systems to detect peer to peer file transfer data and throttle the speed at which that data travels their network. This frustrates the file sharers, but also limits the impact they have on other customers using the network.

That scenario is the opposite of Net Neutrality. The service provider is inspecting data and treating data differently based on what the data is used for. But hey, they doesn't sound so bad right? I mean, the service provider is just balancing the load on their network to give the best service to all customers in all scenarios, right? Well, maybe. Consider, however, if you also subscribe to Netflix. You could watch a season of Weeds on Netflix streaming, but Comcast would really prefer that you pay them a monthly fee for the Showtime premium channels. Now that they have the equipment in place to inspect the data you are sending over the network, maybe they tweak the settings for Netflix data so that the image looks poor, or you get lots of re-buffering interruptions. Eventually you get sick of it and pay the $10 per month to get Showtime and, amazingly, the instant streaming content from Comcast video-on-demand shows up crystal clear and without delay.

This is the sort of behavior that the recently passed Net Neutrality bill aims to avoid. Internet service providers aren't happy with it, as it restricts their ability to manage their networks as they see fit. On the other hand, it is an important protection against potential anti-competitive practices.

A major concern for customers is the impact Net Neutrality will have on their taxes and on their internet service bill. As with any regulation, it requires auditing and enforcement, both of which require funding. That funding will necessarily come from taxes. This might become a new tax that you see on your internet service bill, or it might come from an increase in some other tax you are already paying.

The price you pay for your service might change as well, but that isn't due to any specific language in the regulation with regard to price setting. The regulation states that any two users paying for the same level of service should receive that service equally. Without the ability to throttle certain types of traffic, ISPs may choose to instead introduce tiers of service. If you have a cell phone plan, you are already familiar with this concept. The tiers of service increase the amount of data you may use with an increase in monthly price. This doesn't prevent users from hogging the network, but it does force them to pay for that privilege.

Throttling data based on service tiers *is* permitted by the Net Neutrality bill, and is something I am already experiencing through my own ISP. I live in a very rural location, and my internet service options are limited to dial-up, microwave wireless, and satellite. I use the microwave wireless service, which offers multiple tiers of service. I pay for one of the premium tiers, which means that the data I send on the network gets a higher priority than the data of users at other tiers. For example, let's say that my service provider can handle streaming two movies from Netflix at once. My neighbor, who has basic service, starts streaming a show. Another neighbor with basic service starts streaming a show. The network is now at capacity, and both neighbors are watching a show without interruption. Now, I start watching a show. Since I have a premium tier of service, my ISP allocates bandwidth to me at the expense of my neighbors at the lower tier. My show looks fine and is uninterrupted, while their shows get re-buffered as they fight over the remaining streaming slot. Now let's say someone else with my same level of service comes online to watch a show. The two of us at the higher level of service now use all of the available bandwidth, and the lower service tier receives none. In reality, an ISP would never completely shut off service like that, but those at the lower tier would certainly see their data come through at a miserable drip.

Net Neutrality is certainly a complicated issue. Service providers need the flexibility to be able to insure proper service to their customers at a reasonable rate, but we as customers also need to be protected from anti-competitive practices by those we purchase our service from.

Password Security

Given the massive security breach of the Gawker network of websites this weekend, it is a good opportunity to review password security. Users tend to accrue many accounts across a variety of services and sites as they use the internet. You might have one username and password for your web-based e-mail (HotMail, Yahoo, GMail, etc.) and another for your online shopping (Amazon, eBay, Red Envelope, etc.). You could also have accounts for your online banking and credit accounts. Add to those the social services you use (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, FourSquare, etc.) and you can have more accounts than you know what to do with. The easy thing to do is to give up trying to remember different usernames and passwords across all of these sites and use the same one every time. This is very, very dangerous behavior, and I encourage everyone to move towards better online account security.

First, a brief discussion of why this behavior is dangerous. Let's say your name is Janet Weiss and your e-mail address is For all of the sites you visit you use the username: On every site you use the same password: 10041946 (your birthday). You use this same account information on every site you use on the internet: everything from your bank's website to the local message board for movie enthusiasts. Let's say that the folks running that message board aren't entirely on the up-and-up, and rather than hashing your password like they are supposed to, they store it in clear text in their database of users. One of the folks with access to this database, let's call him Floyd, can't resist the temptation and prints off a list of usernames and passwords, including yours. Floyd spots your username is your e-mail address, and tries logging into your account with the same password you used on the message board. Success, Floyd is now into your mailbox! Here, Floyd does a quick search to see what other accounts you might have. He turns up old mail that tells him all about the places you do your banking, shopping, and other online activities. He tries that same username and password at your bank and he's in! He quickly sets up a few major transfers between your bank account and anonymous accounts he has set up for himself. He regularly checks your mail and deletes any notifications you get about the transfer. A few days later, once the transfer is complete, Floyd is walking around with a pocketful of your savings.

Ouch! So what can you do to protect yourself from this sort of thing? The obvious answer is to not use the same password on all of your accounts. This can seem like a daunting task, especially if you enjoy using many services on the web. How are you supposed to remember all of those usernames and passwords?

As a first step, I recommend picking two or three passwords that you can remember. Make one a really difficult password, like a jumble of numbers, letters, and symbols that has no meaning to you. This is your 'high security' password. Only use this password on sites that you absolutely trust, and that protect your most important information, such as your bank. Be sure that if you are using this password that the site you are entering it on is using an SSL Certification (an easy way to check is to verify the web address starts with https:// not http://). Your browser might also put a lock symbol next to the URL. Your other password(s) is your insecure password. Use this on sites that you don't necessarily trust, but need an account to access. Using this password is a reminder that anything you enter on the site is probably insecure, so act accordingly. Also, assume that every place you use this password, someone else is going to figure it out and get access to the account. Never, under any circumstance, enter your critical account information (such as bank account or credit card number) on a site that does not use a security certificate (https).

Better, but still not a great feeling, right? If someone manages to figure out that 'high security' password, they will still have access to *all* of your sensitive accounts. The next step is to use different passwords on every service you use. That can be really intimidating if you use a lot of services. Fortunately, there are some tools available to help you. First, find a password manager you like, and start using it. I use KeePass, and I highly recommend it. KeePass allows you to save a username and password for all of the different sites and services you use. The information is stored in a secure, encrypted file. You can only open this file by entering a password. Pick a really strong password for this file, as it protects all of your other account information. KeePass will also generate strong passwords for you. Definitely take advantage of this feature. Once you start using KeePass (or any other password manager) there really isn't any reason to remember your individual site passwords. Just pull up the password manager and copy the password for the service you want to use to the clipboard, then paste it on the login screen.

This works great from one computer, but what do you do when you move between several computers in a day? One solution is to store the encrypted password file on a site that you can access from anywhere. I recommend Dropbox. You can install Dropbox on as many computers (and your smartphones as well) as you like and get 2GB of storage for free. Dropbox will synchronize the files you store with it across all of these machines. That way, when you add a new password to your list at work, you still have access to it when you get home. KeePass and DropBox both have apps for Android and iPhone as well, so you can load it on your smartphone and carry your passwords with you anywhere. If you don't have a smartphone, consider purchasing a cheap USB memory stick and putting it on your keychain. You can install KeePass to the memory stick and save your password file there, allowing you to carry it with you wherever you go. That way, if you stop in an internet cafe or library, you can still have access to all of your passwords.

Online security can be confusing, and it is easy to make yourself vulnerable to attack. Taking the step of using a password manager and different passwords on every site you use is a big step towards limiting your risk when using the web.


I've been wanting to learn how to develop for the Android platform, and I recently took some time to start a project to do just that. YAGRAC is Yet Another GoodReads Android Client. I've made the source code open source, so feel free to take a look or download the client and let me know what you think.

GoodReads is a social book reading service that I am a huge fan of. You can keep track of books that you have read, want to read, or are currently reading. Your friends can follow your list of books to see what you are up to. It is great for finding like-minded readers and discovering new books to enjoy. The GoodReads site is great, but when I'm away from my desk the mobile site leaves me wishing for more. GoodReads does not have an official app for iPhone or Android, so I though, why not make one myself! So far I have implemented the ability to read updates from friends, browse books on my own shelves or someone else's shelves, search for books, and review my list of social contacts (friends, followers, and following).

This project has proven to be a very good and effective learning opportunity. As I encounter interesting bits I will be sure to share them here.

Exercise Tracking Applications

I enjoy going out for a jog a few times each week. It is a good way to keep in shape, and it it gives me some personal time to zone out, listen to a podcast or music, or just collect my thoughts. I'm also a geek, and I love stats. I love collecting stats from my runs. I've used a number of different run tracking gadgets and applications, and I thought I would share my thoughts on each.

RunKeeper is a mobile application available for both iPhone and Android that uses the GPSr built into the phone to track your run, hike, bike, or any other type of trip. It uses the GPSr information to determine your location and speed, and can provide both mapping at run statistics information.

The user interface for RunKeeper is not pretty, but the real killer for me on this product is that the GPSr accuracy is horrible. This is surprising when you consider other applications running on the same hardware gave much better results, as you will see later. I made two runs with RunKeeper, and both showed totally unrealistic pace and distance information, and the track on the map was all over the place. Other gripes include a lack of integration to music on the device and no support for voice enunciation.

The only positive thing to say about RunKeeper is that the online portal where runs are stored is actually quite nice. Oh, and the price is just right at Free.

RunStar is a jogging application available only on the Android platform. It integrates with the music service to play your favorite playlist, or randomly play through the entire library. It has a power song feature which will play a specific track at the press of a button. RunStar tracks your run using the GPSr of your Android phone.

The user interface for RunStar is very nicely done. The UI is clean and well designed for use in an armband while you run with large buttons and text display. It even includes a custom sleep screen that displays your run stats. The GPSr tracking is actually quite good, which is surprising considering the horrible performance of the RunKeeper application on the same hardware. RunStar offers Twitter integration, allowing you to tweet the summary stats for your run, and Facebook integration is coming.

There are some nags I have with the application though. First, there is no online portal to view a summary of all runs. Instead, the only place to review your previous runs is via the app on your phone. Second, voice enunciation would be great. Voice enunciation is a feature that periodically speaks over your music to let you know your current distance, time, and pace.

RunStar is currently in beta development, and you can load the app for free. From the website and disabled features in the app, it is clear that the developers have some ambitious goals. This is definitely an app to watch.

My Tracks is another Android only application for tracking your exercise. Like the previous applications it utilizes the GPSr on your device to track your location and determine your distance traveled, speed, elevation, and other stats.

The My Tracks user interface is somewhere between RunKeeper and RunStar. It isn't a great UI for use while running, but it is easy to understand and use. There are three main views: the map, trip computer, and speed / elevation graph. Unfortunately, My Tracks does not include direct integration with the music features of the device, so you will need to manage your music / podcast playing separately from tracking your run. Also, the default accuracy setting for the GPS is pretty awful (over 600') so my first run thought I was tearing around town at speeds on par with The Flash. On my second run I dialed it down to the most accurate setting (33') and the run tracking was very good.

Your My Tracks data can be uploaded both to Google Docs and to Google Maps. This allows you to review runs online, and also to share them with friends. My Tracks does not offer Twitter, Facebook, or other social media integration, so tweeting your stats must be done manually.

One huge advantage My Tracks has over the RunStar and RunKeeper is voice enunciation. You can setup the interval at which you will be notified, and the voice over states your distance, time, and pace. I love this feature, as it lets me know if I'm dogging it or if I have attacked to hard early.

The Nike+ system is available in stand-alone form as a USB wrist band, or integrated with your iPod Touch, iPod Nano, or iPhone. The Nike+ system is unique from the others mentioned here as it uses a pedometer placed in the shoe rather than a GPSr to track your run. This limits the use of the Nike+ system to walks, jogs, running, and hiking. It is not able to track cycling, kayaking, or other sports that lack a foot impact. On the other hand, the Nike+ system is the only one mentioned here that will work for treadmill workouts.

The Nike+ user interface is dead simple on your iPod. I place it on par with the RunStar UI, as it is easy to use during a workout, and clear how to setup a run and get started. While the pedometer can only count steps, after configuring your stride length it is quite good at providing an estimate of your distance traveled. The voice enunciation support on the iPod is superior to My Tracks in that it can be configured to announce stats based on distance intervals in addition to time intervals, and includes an on demand announcement as well. Like RunStar, the Nike+ integrates with the music on your device and allows for playing a playlist or randomly playing the entire library. The Power Song feature is also present.

The Nike+ website is vastly superior to the others mentioned here. When you dock your iPod your run is uploaded to the Nike+ site where you can review it along with all of your other runs. You can add friends through the site and compare runs and total progress. You can set goals and share maps with other runners for nice running routes. Nike+ offers integration to both Twitter and Facebook, allowing you to automatically post your run stats to either service.

The only thing missing from the Nike+ system is a GPSr to track the route of your run (note: this might be either under development or available on the iPhone version, I have only used the iPod Nano version). Another potential drawback to the Nike+ system is that it requires the pebble pedometer in your shoe. While you can use the pebble in any pair of shoes, it is most comfortable with Nike+ branded shoes. If you happen to forget either the pebble or your shoes when you want to go for a run, you won't be able to track your run.

My Pick
I love the Nike+ system, and feel that of the systems mentioned here it is the clear winner. Unfortunately, I packed away my Nike+ dongle for my iPod Nano when we prepared to move, so I haven't been able to use it. Of the apps available on my Android phone, the My Tracks service is the one I will be using for now, but I'm keeping an eye on RunStar as I feel it has great potential.

Effective Presenting

I've given a number of presentations to a variety of audiences. Over time I've developed a mental list of things to look for in providing an effective presentation.

Ear lobes and eye balls.
Where do you want the audience's attention? If you are giving a presentation, you want the audience to be focusing on you and the words you are saying. Complicated slides with lots of text and images will distract your audience from what you are saying and give them an excuse to tune out. Make sure the content on the slide is an augmentation of your spoken content, not a replacement for it.

PowerPoint is a horrible format for a white paper.
If your goal is to deliver documentation, deliver a document. Slides are for presentations, not documentation. There is nothing worse than sitting in a presentation where the presenter does nothing more than read their slides to you.

Expect to be interrupted.
If your audience is paying attention, they should have questions. Be prepared to stop at any moment and discuss either a detail of what you said or a detail on your slide. This is a good argument for limiting content, both spoken and on the slide, as it limits interruptions and side conversations. If you haven't been stopped, no one is listening.

Build in transitions.
For group presentations, build in a transition to cue the next speaker. Jumping directly to the first content slide of a follow-up speaker gives the audience time to digest the slide and make assumptions without the guidance of the speaker. This can lead to an ambush, or lack of attention.

Be concise.
You are brilliant. You've done an incredible amount of research on your topic and you want to show your audience how brilliant you are. Your audience, on the other hand, is probably bored and pressed for time. Assume your audience is a bunch of six year old kids hopped up on mountain dew and pixie sticks. Get your message across directly and immediately. Follow-up with reinforcement.

Be consistent.
Use a consistent layout. Turn on snap to grid and rulers. Be sure that common content elements appear in the same position throughout. Do not make your audience go hunting around the slide. Get familiar with the slide master.

Know your message.
Related to being concise, know the message you are trying to deliver. Everything you say or show should be geared towards reinforcing that message. If you can't relate the slide or discussion to your message, remove it.

Time the material.
Practice the presentation to get a feel for timing. Are you way over your time limit? Way under? Leave 10-20% of your available time for discussion.

One idea per slide.
Just because you can fit a lot of things on one slide doesn't mean you should. Focus on just one concept per slide. Loading a slide up with multiple concepts will only lead to confusion.

All those slides you took out to be concise: put them in a different slide deck. Any additional material that someone might ask you for, such as data to backup your findings, keep in that second slide deck. Call it your Fully Updated (F.U.) slide deck. This way, if you suffer the misfortune of someone in the audience questioning your research, you've got it covered with a big F.U.

Wake 'em up
Let's face it, you and everyone in that room would rather be somewhere else. The longer the presentation the higher likelihood that your audience will lose interest. Throw something in there to wake them up. It can be anything, speaker transitions, physical samples, audience participation, home video of you bungee jumping, whatever. Find a way to break the monotony.

Warning signs that things are going very, very wrong
  • No interruptions
  • Waiting on audience to finish reading / digesting your slide
  • Your spoken content doesn't track with your slides
  • Lack of eye contact
Warning signs that things are going very, very well
  • Lots of interruptions / questions
  • Audience discussion
  • Eye contact

Related Materials
Here are links to great materials on effective presenting.
Don't Make Me Think - Geared towards web usability, but applicable to presentations as well
TED Talks - Watch a few of these videos online. These are some of the world's greatest presenters exhibiting their craft.

eBook Readers

I enjoy reading books from time to time, and the amount of reading I have done over the past few years has really increased. Maybe it is a sign of getting older, but I find myself spending less time on video games and more time on movies and books. A number of my friends are avid readers as well, and it is nice to keep up with what everyone is reading through the GoodReads website. One of my friends, @asniksch, is an avid reader and was an early adopter of the Sony eReader products. I scoffed with derision at the idea: paying hundreds of dollars for the privilege to pay double the regular price of a book, and then to be limited to battery life? It seemed ludicrous. He liked the product, but noted a number of major drawbacks that resulted in disuse after a period of time.

Next came the Kindle, and not long after, the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX. @asniksch, ever the early adopter, got one and touted the features of the platform. Again, I scoffed. At $500, the price was much too high to be reasonable, and electronic books were still priced higher than dead tree books. Sure, for the heavy traveler it would be great to be able to carry several books without loading down your bags. I'm not a heavy traveler though. I haven't asked him about his Kindle recently, but I get the impression that he is much happier with it than with the Sony product. In addition, several more of my acquaintances have picked up a Kindle and have talked about how nice they are.

A couple of things have changed since I last scoffed at eReaders. First, I've been traveling quite a bit more. Second, my reading time has significantly increased. Third, the price of eBook readers has dropped significantly. Both the Kindle and nook are available for around $260, which is nearly half of what they cost a couple of years ago. Apple has entered the arena with the iPad, which is not a dedicated book reader but does have that functionality.

So now it is time for me to eat a bit of crow. @asniksch was ahead of his time, but he was right to think that the eReader was a viable product. I am totally drooling over a nook, and really hoping to get one for Father's Day. The ability to take a number of books with me as I travel is a big winner. In addition, we are about to move into a tiny home while we build our new home. I won't have the space to maintain my trophy case of books. An eReader is an excellent space saver. The free wireless service is a big winner too. One thing that struck me as interesting recently is that I book I want to reader, Edenborn by Nick Sagan, was not available in dead tree format in bookstores, but was available in electronic format. Also, another book I want to read is only available in hardback version in stores, and the electronic version price is much lower.

Maybe I have allowed my gadget lust to overrule my better sense. I'll be crossing my fingers for a new toy, and let you know how I like it if I get one.

Quit Pushing Buttons!

For some time now I have been accusing my wife of pressing buttons on the phone in the middle of our conversations. At least once in every phone our conversation is interrupted by the distinctive tone of a button press. I'm not the only one to notice this either, as other folks she speaks with regularly also remark on how, occasionally, they hear a button press mid-call. My wife is certain that she isn't pressing anything, and is perplexed as to how this is happening. In investigating a solution to a different problem, I think I might have found the answer.

Dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) signaling is the technology that allows us to navigate those infuriating customer support menus. Also known as touch-tone dialing, DTMF employs the use of multiple frequencies to create a dual tone sound in the normal voice band (we can hear it) over an analog phone line. The receiver on the other end of the call can listen for these specific frequency combinations to know that a button has been pressed and react to that action in some manner.

DTMF is great when you are using an analog phone line, but VoIP and cell phones use digital signals. In order to be compatible with plain old telephone service (POTS) phones, digital phone systems will use a variety of techniques for recognizing button presses. Unfortunately, some of those techniques can be fooled by a female voice. I think this is what is happening on our phone conversations. It looks like I need to go make an apology.

We do not have a landline phone. Instead, we both carry cell phones (Verizon) and use them for all of our calling. In addition, I use Google Voice for making and receiving calls. So now the question is: which product in the chain of communication is introducing these false DTMF tones?

Have you noticed this with anyone you speak to frequently? If so, what is the chain of communication that is resulting in the errant tone? Ours is:

LG Flip Phone <-> Verizon <-> Google Voice <-> Verizon <-> Motorola DROID

Indianapolis Water

How much attention do you pay to your bills? Do you go through them line by line? Do you save the invoice? I drive my wife bonkers because I save all of the invoices from every bill. I also go through them line by line. I've gotten into the habit of scanning the invoices and destroying the originals to save on stored paper in the house, but at any time I can go through our old bills and make comparisons.

I'm also a nut for maintaining a budget in our house. I know how much to expect on a bill for any given period, and when a bill is off from that expectation I go through it line by line to find out why. Our cable and internet bill is usually the one that gets the most attention as I'm always watching for those introductory discounts to fall off. I was a bit surprised over the course of the last year to find that the Indianapolis Water bill was also fluctuating in seeming erratic fashion.

For those of you in the Indianapolis area serviced by Indianapolis water, go take a look at your bill. You'll notice that there are a few factors that make up your bill: a base rate, volume of water used (in 100's of cubic feet), rate applied to that volume usage, and a tax percentage. The Indianapolis Water utility folks come out from time to time and take a look at the meter leading into your house to get a reading on how much water you have used. They don't do this every month, so you may notice some bills marked with an 'E' to indicate that the volume usage was estimated for the month, and that the next month they will come out for a proper measurement.

Over the course of the last year I've noticed a significant increase in our bill. I was curious why: were we using more water, had the rate gone up, or was it some combination of both. I naturally suspected that our summer bills would be a bit higher as we watered the lawn and filled the inflatable pool for the kids, but I was very surprised to see that our winter bills were higher than those from the summer. What was going on?!

I went through all of those saved bills (huzzah!) and made a spreadsheet looking at our usage and costs throughout the year. Here is what I found:

This chart shows our bill from 01/30/2009 through 02/25/2010. For the first half of 2009 the trend was fairly level, but then we see that increasing trend, even through the winter. That concerned me. So what about my usage?

Well, that explains part of it. Our usage did go up through the winter months. I have a couple of theories on that. One, we have three kids, and in August our youngest hit the one year mark. Three young kids get dirty, no matter what time of year, and that means lots of baths. It also means lots of laundry and lots of dishes. So this could conceivably account for our usage increase. Still, our bill increased by nearly 50%, while our usage only increased by around 30%. Where did the additional cost come from? The Indianapolis Water bill indicates the base rate (what you pay regardless of how much water you use), but does not indicate the usage rate (what you pay for each 100 cubic feet of water). So I charted those as well.

Yuck, our base rate went up by about a dollar each month.

Whoah, and we had a 20 cent increase per 100 cubic feet. Double whammy!

So that explains why my bill has increased: increased usage coupled with increased base and variable rates. All together, the bill breaks down as follows:

ItemJan 2009 RateJan 2010 Rate
Base Rate$8.21$9.10
Cost per 100 cubic feet$1.82$2.02

The only part of this bill that remained constant over that period was the tax rate of 7%. I'm still curious why the base rate and variable rates fluctuated from May through September of 2009. I would have expected a clean cut-over from one rate to another, but instead we see it bobble up and down until it settles on a rate in October. Have you noticed similar behavior in your bills?

An interesting bit of trivia - Indianapolis Water provides the water, and Hamtilton Southeastern Utilities takes care of sewage. In this same period, my Hamilton Southeastern Utilities bill remained a constant $33.55.

2010 Shamrock Run

I've been pretty good about regularly jogging over the past year. At least twice a week I would be on the treadmill at night getting in about 5K. I kept telling myself that I was going to enter at least one 5K race in 2009, but it never happened. A few weeks ago I saw that my friend Chris had completed a 5K as part of the training series for the Indy 500 Mini Marathon. I remembered how I had failed on my promise to myself in 2009 and resolved to make it happen in 2010.

My first task was to find a way to start running outside. Running on a treadmill is convenient, and it is good exercise, but it is definitely not the same as running outside. My typical day was to wake up a little before 8am, get prepped and out the door by 8:30 and into the office around 9:30am. Most evenings I left work between 6:30 and 7:00. Getting home so late meant that, even if the sun were still out, my family wasn't going to wait around on me to run before having supper. So my running time didn't come up until after dinner and getting the kids to bed, which means 9pm at the earliest. It's pretty dark at 9pm in Indiana, especially in February. Most nights I don't get to bed until 2 or 3 in the morning. I've been like that all my life - I've always had trouble going to bed at a decent hour, but I seem to operate just fine on only a few hours of sleep each night. I'm definitely not a morning runner, so I had to find a way to be able to get home with a enough time to run before dinner, and while the sun was still up.

My solution was to shift the start of my day back. Now my alarm goes off at 6am and I'm usually at the office by 7 or 7:30am. An added benefit of this early wake is that traffic is much lighter. I leave from work around 4:30, which again helps to avoid traffic but it also gets me home with enough time to run before dinner. I've been running outside these last two weeks and getting my legs in road run shape.

This is all in preparation for my first road race of 2010: The Indianapolis St. Patrick's Day Celebration Shamrock Run. It is a 4 mile race in downtown Indy.

I pushed my distance past 4 miles on Friday, and I've got two more weeks to continue prep for this race. I don't intend to put in anything like a competitive time, but I would be really pleased if I finished in under 45 minutes. The registration information says that runners are expected to keep a minimum of a 12 minute per mile pace, and that is pretty close to my jogging pace. Hopefully I don't irritate some poor race volunteer by puttering through this course.

New Blog

I've been neglecting this blog for going on seven years now. In that time I've posted just about anything that seemed to hit my brain. The result is that, while this blog does present a diary of my life and thoughts, it lacks a central focus. If a reader were regularly visiting my blog in hopes of seeing coding and gadget posts, they would be frustrated by the movie reviews, book reviews, game reviews, political rants, and other detritus that periodically appears here. So to solve that issue, I've started a new blog that will be focused only on the techy type stuff I do. I still intend to post here whenever I gut a burr in my saddle, but if the topic of the post has to do with coding, computing, or some other technical subject I'll be posting it here instead. I've already copied over my existing technical posts, and I hope I can provide interesting content there in the future.


I received a lot of fantastic gifts over Christmas time, and the two that have gotten the most use are the water cooler and Netflix subscription. I don't have much more to say about the water cooler (aside from how awesome it is to have hot and cold, good tasting water in the basement). The Netflix subscription has given me an opportunity to watch a lot of films, and the one I watched tonight left me with some thoughts.

Ink is an independent film shot on a small budget about a girl who falls into a coma and enters a dream world with opposing forces fighting for her soul. First, let me say that I am not an indie film fan. Not that I have something against indie films, just that I've never had any strong desire to go to Sundance or anything. So even though this movie showed up as recommended for me on Netflix streaming, I was reluctant to watch it. I'm glad I did, but now I'm struggling to decide just what I think of it, and whether I would recommend it.

The budget for this movie was small (under $250,000) and no major publishing studio picked it up. Still, it is pretty impressive what the film makers were able to pull off on that budget. There are no fantastic special effects, but what effects are in the film fit well. I was a bit put off by some of the performances and camera work. At times I thought, "these guys are making a movie in their yard!" Even so, the story is well told.

Which brings me to the story. I liked the story. It is an important tale to tell, and I would recommend this story to others. I would recommend it even more strongly if there were a big budget remake, because I think I could have really enjoyed it more that way, but as it stands, I feel comfortable recommending this movie to others. I will say that you should set your expectations low going in. You aren't going to be blown away by incredible action sequences, or wowed by some clever special effect. Once you've watched it I hope that it leaves you thinking about the message, which it did for me.

By the way, if you would like to watch Ink, it is available for instant streaming on Netflix, as well as Hulu.

Exit 5 is Broken

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Every day my commute takes me to exit 5 on I-69. I can say with a high level of confidence that this exit is broken, especially when taken from I-69 northbound. It is a sad situation, as a great deal of work recently went into "improving" this exit. Exit 5 services two major roads: SR37 and 116th street. The recent road construction extended the start of the exit ramp by a half mile to the south, so that just after passing under the 106th street overpass vehicles can take the exit. About a quarter mile further north the exit increases by a lane, with the right hand lane intended for vehicles exiting at 116th and the left hand lane for those going north on SR37. The trouble is that the line of cars queued up for exit five regularly backs up all the way to 96th street. Traffic attempting to merge from 96th street heading north is blocked by a wall of vehicles that are trying to dive down to the right-most lane to get in the exit 5 queue. In addition, traffic already heading north is preparing for the four lane interstate to become two lanes. The net result is a huge mess of vehicles.

The most frustrating part is that the portion of exit 5 that I need is almost always clear of traffic, but is impossible to get to. As I said, there is typically a solid line of vehicles in the right most lane that runs from 116th street all the way back to 96th street. From what I can tell, nearly all of the traffic in this lane is looking to head north on SR37. My usual tactic is to bypass as much of this traffic as possible until the exit has grown from one lane to two lanes. At this point, I just hope for a gap. Now you might be thinking, "What a jerk, get in line like everybody else!", but remember that the lane I'm aiming for is empty. If I can just squeeze through that wall of folks heading north on SR37 then I wouldn't be inconveniencing anyone.

I don't like to present a problem without attempting to present a solution, so here is potential solution: separate the exits for SR37 and 116th street. The SR37 exit should be moved north of 116th, expanded to two lanes, and moved to the left most lanes of I69. The traffic in those left lanes needs to merge down anyway since the lanes are ending, so this would be a good way to get that traffic sorted. I think this would greatly diminish the traffic at exit 5, ease the troubles of traffic merging from 96th street, and help those attempting to go north on SR37.

Jade Mason