January 2009
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Month January 2009


Whether it’s a competition or a relationship it’s the last thing you want happening.  It’s the thing many of us fear the most.  Still, sooner or later it’s going to happen to all of us.  In this video Honda takes on failure a suggests it’s the key to success.  They follow how a few of Honda’s failures in both racing and engineering, how it hasn’t stopped them but propelled them to improve.  This is just one video in Honda’s Dream the Impossible series.

Failure: the key to success

Honda’s Dream the Impossible

Big Day for America (and the World)

Gathering to watch history

Today was the Presidential Inauguration of our 44th President, Barack Obama.  I doubt that was news to anyone, but what did surprise me was the number of people that were full of excitement and anticipation for the day’s event.  In fact, most of the people I know were watching the event if they had the opportunity and others were disappointed that they couldn’t.  Personally, I initially going to try watching history unfold using CNN/Facebook, but it put me in a digital waiting room due to the volume of users.  So instead I joined some friends, co-workers and hundreds of others that filled the lobby of the Comcast Center.

It was almost noon by the time I got down there, but it was obvious many of them were there for some time.  Granted this was nothing compared to the thousands of people that filled the National Mall to be a part of the event as I doubt they could see much of the day’s event.  I wasn’t alive for Kennedy so until now stuff like this was just something that happened in history books.  There were people clapping, cheering, a few even had tears (of joy) in their eyes as Obama gave his speech.  Overall he inspires a great feeling of hope within people, both here and abroad, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Few more photos of the crowd at the Comcast Center

Cars, confusion and a conclusion

I just recently purchased my first new car.  It’s actually the first car I’ve owned in 10 years.  During this time I’ve lived downtown where it didn’t warrant owning a car and it’s more of a hassle to own one then rent as needed.  When I did drive it was via car rentals, car shares, family, and friends.  So the decision to get a car was a big one all on it’s own. Then came the process of actually buying the car which was a bit nerve racking to say the least.

To start off there were so many options for me to choose between: stick or automatic, 4-door or 5, hatchback or sedan.  Based on my preferences to design, style, price and how well it would work with my 50lbs pooch, Malachi, I had it narrowed down to 7 models from 4 Manufacturers.

From there I began the seemingly endless research.  I hit the manufacturers sites, online magazines, user forums, and various “impartial” reviewers (Consumer Reports, JD Powers, etc). Thanks to my buddy and Lexus Nexus I had all the Consumer Reports reviews from last two years. I went through all of them, cross referenced them, ran the numbers. I was overloaded with numbers and statistics.

Then it was off to the dealers.  With all the horror stories about car dealers I assume this is probably a point of great discomfort to most car buyers.  For me it turned out to be not too bad.  Could be because I never got the stereotypical car salesman, or that I mentioned early on that I had a number of other models on my list.  Still, as expected, after doing the test drive they’d want to start talking numbers and close the deal.  Somewhat surprisingly at this point after reminding them of my need to compare they backed off on the direct sell.  The more subtle sell was still there but since none of my initial test drives wowed me I was far from ready to talk numbers.

For each of the initial models I tried I wasn’t able to find a comfortable position.  My right knee would inevitably and uncomfortably rest upon the hard edge of the center console.  Maybe it’s that I’m 6’2″ with long legs making me an edge case in regards to a vehicle’s ergonomics but I was still surprised about the cramped quarters.  Ironically the smallest of the cars I tried, the Honda Fit, I had ample leg room.  This discomfort knocked off one of the models with some of the best numbers (price, resale, performance, MPG, safety).  Others the comfort was less of an issue but still lingered as a strike against.

On to car 6 & 7.  With number six I actually talked numbers.  I liked how it drove.  Peppy and nimble.  Stats wise it was on par with the other contenders so the enjoyment factor tipped the scale here.  Still I prefaced the sale with the fact that there was one more on my list to test drive.  If number 7 failed to impress, number 6 would be ready to drive away within the next 48hrs.  I had previously driven number 7 early on in the hunt but only as a stick shift and after being stuck in 4.5 hours of stop & go traffic I reconsidered.

I had high hopes for number 7, enough to put number 6 in a waiting pattern.  Next day was seven’s potentially big day.  Took it for a spin.  Just about as peppy and nimble.  Solid too.  Can’t explain exactly what defines solid, but it was the scale tipper.  Then it was back to talking numbers.

Even though I thoroughly researched the prices of the car, accessories etc. there is so much to keep track of to make sure there are no surprises in the end.  I definitely suggest not going alone.  I was there for hours, partially because they were having computer problems, still be prepared to spend the day.  Also, be prepared your total cost will be a few thousand over the price of the car due to taxes, title, registration and any extras you may want (warranty, alarm system and other add-ons).  After running through numbers for hours, all the initial papers were signed and I could pick up my new car in two days.

Of course before driving out there were a few more papers to sign.   After all the time spent researching, trying, running numbers I was now the owner of my own car.  Now the big moment was upon me.  I was excited but worn out and a bit nervous as well.  So far so good.  I’m enjoying the added freedom and flexibility, and I’m still on my second tank of gas.

Refresh Philly Recap – Jan.09

On Monday night over eighty people showed for Refresh Philly’s inaugural meeting.  When we initially met to plan for this meeting I’m not sure any of us thought there would be such a turnout of energized people right out of the gates.  I hope that those that attended are just as enthused now as they were on Monday.

Refresh Philly - Jan09

The meet & greet was to start at 6 but people began pouring in just after 5:30 and we heard there was a bit of a line to get through security.  There is little we can do to ease the security issue, it comes with being able to host the meetings within the Comcast Center.  Still future meetings will continue to be held on the 45th floor on the first Monday’s of the month.  Something to keep in mind as February’s meeting isn’t too far off.

The first speaker, Tom Boutell, went into the technical history and benefits of Symfony, a Ruby on Rails styled framework for PHP.  If you’re unsure what some of that means you wouldn’t have been alone, a good 75% of the audience were not developers.  The second speaker(s), Phil Charron and Russ Starke of Think Browntone, talked about designing for better User Experience (UX) and how to approach the process for better results.  They gave some background on what UX is and methods for keeping UX in mind through out the project’s cycle.  They then approched the audience for ideas for Refresh to be used a demonstrations of how to implement the processes they just spoke about.  This group discussion also helped bring out some of the various interests and thoughts on how to refresh Philly. In the comming weeks the Refresh team will have their web pressence set up so the conversations can continue onlie after the meetings.

Till then check out the official recap at RefreshPhilly.org or see it for yourself at the next meeting RSVP here.

Tom Boutell
Think Browntone
RSVP here for February

Refresh Philly Begins

Refresh Philly: January Event DetailsOn Monday, January 12th is the first meeting of Refresh Philly.  It’s a group of Philadelphia area designers and developers that are coming together to with the goal of rasing Philly’s game.  So far there are over 50 people that want to see what and and where this can go.

For Monday’s meet there are two speakers:

For more details visit their website:  refreshphilly.org
or  Twitter / Google Groups / Flickr

Refresh Philly
Monday, January 12th, 2009
Comcast Center, 45th Floor
RSVP Required – via Facebook or email (refresh [at] refreshphilly.org)

The joy of coding

Part of writing code is knowing the vocabulary of the particular language.  I’ve been working with ActionScript for years and started the transition to AS3 about a year ago.  I’m currently working on my first AIR application.  AIR can be made  as either Flex or pure ActionScript based.  Since I’m using Eclipse, which by default only supports Flex based AIR apps, I was in Flex’s world and not knowing it’s little quirks I was hitting a wall.

Not knowing the quirks or vocabulary of Flex nor all of AIR’s additions, the search for answers in the documentation left me empty.  Since what I was searching for seemed so basic and simple that I didn’t expect not to find it.  The answers could have been there, I just never found it.

So what was this mysterious nugget I was looking for?  It was simple little thing, adding a Sprite to the stage.  Found how to make various window types and other interesting tid bits, but none of the samples were based on a Flex based AIR app, which is what I was building.  To say the least it was very frustrating.

Turns out that to add a child to a Flex window you can’t just use addChild(), as the Flex window is a FLEX component.  There is a special function called addrawChildren(), which adds a non-Flex component to a Flex component.  From there you can add sub-children via addChild() as you would in an ActionScript based project.  It’s always the little things.

This simple answer/lesson was given to me in less then 5 minutes by my co-worker, Arpit.  He also showed that it was possible to do a non-Flex based AIR app in Ecipse, so all this was for naught.



The new year is upon us and now is the time people make resolutions for things they what to change. Generally I totally ignore this process but this year I decided to give it a try but in a Zen like way.

The first resolution is to allow myself to make mistakes and fail more. Second is to explore more. The third and final is to learn to relax and not try to do everything.

They aren’t the S.M.A.R.T. goals that I have to set up for my day job. Rather they are things I want to keep in mind while going about my day. Things to influence my decisions rather then goals to target, attain then move on.

Retro Geek for a New Year

Video Terminal Sample

It’s New Year’s Day 2009, and people are busy making and breaking their resolutions for a better future. Others are already saying 2008 is passé. Well to counter all this futurism I instead offer you this look back to a time when computers lacked all the visual power of today. Back when screens were all black and green. When images were either all blocky or made up of keyboard characters. For some this is a past that you’ve never had a chance to enjoy…

…well now you can with Video Terminal, a little app created by Arpit and myself that lets you watch video in three old school styles: Mosaic, ASCII and ASCII in color. Directions and additional info available at CIM Labs.

Note: you may need to install Adobe AIR to run the video terminal app.

CIM Labs
Video Terminal
Arpit’s Blog