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Thursday
Sep042003

Why I Love the Library

LibrarySince my early childhood, one of the places I still love to visit is the public library. I'm privileged with a mom who happens to be a voracious reader, so I suppose the Library was a natural place to end up.

In fact, the library was a regular weekly outing for my brothers and I. On library days, mom would pack us into the car and head over to the local branch, where we'd spend hours and hours looking for and at books. Inevitably, we would come home with a huge pile of books: one pile for mom and another pile for us boys.

My mom's appetite for reading and her love of the library have rubbed off on me, which is a good thing. When I think about it, I love the library because I can find almost anything there: books, books on tape or CD, music CDs, music tapes, videos and movies (VHS and DVD), reference manuals, magazines and more. At my local library, you can even borrow artwork!

For me, the library is also a refuge from the rest of the world. When I spend time in those quiet halls, I feel relaxed. I love walking down rows of shelves, sometimes dragging my fingers along book spines, other times stopping to turn my head sideways, so I can read the book titles. The library even has that distinct scent of oxidizing paper and aging comfy chairs, which to me is very inviting and comforting.

But in the past few years I've come across a great new feature of the library system -- online reservations and requests. I can't recall how I stumbled on the Milwaukee County Federated Library System website, but I'm glad I did. I can use tools on this site to search for any title in the entire system and request it, using my library card number and PIN.

Once an item is requested online, I simply tell the system at which branch I want to pick up the item, and usually a week later, I'm alerted by email that it's arrived. This is a great tool, because I can now get most any book (even new releases) right from a web browser as soon as they cross my mind. Having online access is also helpful for busy times when I just don't have time to stop at the library and browse.

Using the library is also a great way to save cash, especially on fiction novels (what I call "read-once" items). Since I generally read a paperback once and never again, I really don't want a collection of fiction novels cluttering my shelves. It just makes good sense to save $7 (or more!) by borrowing a novel instead. The 3 week deadline also works well, since either I'll have incentive to finish a book, or I'll realize the book is not what I expected (100 page rule) and return it. This works for reference books too, since I can review a book in-depth before deciding to purchase.

As an example, last week I requested Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age after seeing a mention of his work in the Palm Digital Media newsletter. I visited the MCFLS website, keyed in the author's name and book title. Within seconds I'd found and requested the book. A week later, a library alert email told me my request had arrived, so I visted the library to pick it up.

Before picking up my requested book, I went upstairs and checked the non-fiction, new releases and found an interesting book called Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age by Duncan J. Watts. In his book, Watts tries to explain the science of networks and how many of the networks we're part of, yet often take for granted, operate. Often I'll stumble on interesting non-fiction books here, like Silicon Boys, mentioned in my weblog.

Finally, I hit the music CD rack and grabbed 6 world music titles. These included music from Africa, India, France, Portugal and even a selection of tunes from Cape Breton Island. You never know what you might find in those bins!

Then I checked out, picking up my requested book, Diamond Age. Total cost: nothing but the time it took to visit the library (which to me was a pleasure) and a small portion of my property taxes.

So, here's the upshot: if you used to be a library fan but haven't been there for a while, I encourage you to renew your card and check out the library again. If you've never been to the library, find out what you've been missing! You might be surprised! :-)

The library is an amazing place, especially for kids. Now is your opportunity to gain access to a wealth of knowledge and information. Maybe you'll leave your children with fond library memories and positive habits like mine.

I for one hope to make the library as special of a place for my son as it has become for me. That's the least I can do for him.

Tuesday
Sep022003

Bunch-O-Palm Tidbits

I'm busy catching up after a long weekend here, but I do have several Palm OS-oriented tidbits to share on the weblog today:

There's a review of the palmOne Tungsten T2 over at Ian Barton's weblog. It's a nice personal look at the Tungsten's successor.

Palm Infocenter has more details on palmOne handhelds that are rumored to be released on October 1st, including the Tungsten E, Zire 21 and Tungsten T3.

Finally, Mobenta has a nice write-up of the yet to be released Tapwave Helix. Cool stuff.

Monday
Sep012003

Harley-Davidson 100th Celebration Parade

Harley ParadeSaturday morning we awakened to a constant rumble of motorcycles that has become quite normal around Milwaukee since mid-week, when riders began rolling into town. It's hard to explain how the rumble sounds, because bike engines are sometimes close enough to the house to clearly hear them, yet most of the time they sound more like a collage of bike engines that blurs into a hum. The rumble is pretty loud too... even down in our basement we could hear the constant hum quite clearly.

August 30th was the big day when 10,000 Harley-Davidson motorcycles paraded across town in celebration of the company's 100th anniversary. Since we didn't live far from the parade route, we decided it'd be a fun experience to walk down and see the parade as a family. So, we had breakfast and dressed for the occasion in our Harley-Davidson t-shirts.

Nathan was sporting a home-made shirt with Harley-Davidson logos ink-jet printed and ironed on Friday night. The front of his shirt had a 100th anniverdary logo while back had "Harley Lovin' Half-Pint Hog" encircling a Harley-Davidson logo.

Harley T'sGail and I wore t-shirts from a Swedish Harley-Davidson dealership we visited in 1998, on the outskirts of Uppsala, north of Stockholm. It was great fun meeting the owner of he store, Kjell, especially when we mentioned we came from Milwaukee. We chatted with him a while, talked about the upcoming 95th anniversary celebration taking place in the summer of '98 and bought two dealer t-shirts (he even gave us a Milwaukee discount!). As a small thank you, we gathered 95th anniversary items and sent a care package to Kjell, which he really loved.

Once we were packed up, we headed off to see the show. Milwaukeeans were already streaming toward the start of the parade at the Milwaukee Zoo. As we approached the exit point of the Zoo parking lot, we could already hear bikes rumbling past us, but couldn't see a thing because the crowd was about 8 to 10 people deep! We kept walking east, until we were able to find an opening in the line of spectators.

The crowds in general were amazing! From the reports I heard, spectators filled the entire 7.5 mile parade route 8-10 people deep and 15-20 people deep at intersections and corners on the route. One rider in the parade interviewed on TV said "I don't think anyone in Milwaukee is home today!"

Harley Parade FlagsOur spot was pretty good, but because of the crowds and the narrowness of the road, it was very difficult to see bikers coming more than a few feet ahead. I was looking in particular for international riders and flags they might have mounted on their bikes. Fortunately, many of the flags were large enough to see above the heads and shoulders of the crowd. I saw quite a variety too: Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Ireland, Wales, Honduras, Sweden, Germany, France, Netherlands, Japan, Canada, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, South Africa and there were probably some I missed. This for me was the coolest part -- seeing visitors from around the world coming to Milwaukee with their Harley-Davidsons and being welcomed so warmly.

The riders cruised down Bluemound road two abreast, and at a reasonable speed so that we could see them as they passed by. Many in the crowd cheered, waved or gave thumbs up signs to passing riders while others held signs like "Welcome Home" and "Come as Visitors, Leave as Friends" which the riders would wave, beep at or cheer to.

On occasion, a backup would occur ahead of our position and the group of riders would bunch up and come to a stop. When this happened, riders would rev their engines to the cheers of the crowds.

Gail knew a work colleague who lived a bit further east of our first stake-out spot, so we decided to continue east and look for him. It actually turned out to be a much better location for viewing the parade, as the crowd was much less compressed. We spotted Gail's work colleague across the street but couldn't yell loud enough to get his attention. A reunion would have to wait until after the parade.

Swedish RidersMeanwhile, bikers just kept coming and coming and coming... At one point I saw a huge blue and yellow Swedish flag coming towards us and pointed it out to Gail. The parade slowed down and the Swedish rider and his wife came to a stop right in front of us. Thinking quickly, Gail jumped into the road and turned her back to them both, pointing at the 'Uppsala, Sweden' on the back of her Swedish Harley shirt. After a moment of reading and realization, the Swedish rider's eyes lit up, a big grin spread across his face and and he screamed "UPPSALA!!!" His wife yelled "Yea!" Gail and I just smiled and waved. The parade of bikers began moving again and the Swedish riders were off with big smiles and a great story for their friends back home. For us, that moment was the highlight of the parade. :-)

As a designer, I was impressed with the variations of bikes we saw. Each Harley seemed a uniquely customized bike. I suppose a few riders may keep their bikes stock, but the vast majority seem to modify them with accessories or paint. We saw nearly every model Harley represented, including classic Fat Boys (like the one Arnold Schwartzenegger rode in Old TimerTerminator 2) to the new high performance V-Rod, which I think looks very cool. Some of the bikes had gorgeous custom paint jobs while others sported flags. One bike from Oregon was covered with animal skins. Eewww.

We were a little concerned about Nathan and his reaction to the noise, because he didn't do well at the July 4th parade this year with fire engines' sirens. However, he did just great! As long as we were nearby, he was enjoying the rumbling bikes. In fact, near the end of the parade, he became overloaded with all of the people and action, and fell asleep in his stroller. Pretty amazing.

Nearly 2 hours later, all 10,000 bikes had rolled past. Three Harley-Davidson semi trucks finished off the parade, beeping their air horns as they lumbered past us. What an amazing sight. We crossed the street and visited with the friends we'd spotted earlier and then began the walk back home as spectators and bikers alike, packed it up for the 100th parade.

HD SemisOn the way home I thought about how cool it would have been to ride in the parade. Just imagine, you're a regular person who's chosen to ride a Harley-Davidson. You've come to Milwaukee with your bike, an entire city welcomes you for the 100th celebration of your cycle's company and cheers as you ride through town. Man, that must have been an amazing, emotional feeling for the riders to experience.

Overall, I think the 100th celebration went very well. I've heard of no problems in the city and that the events were all well organized and attended. Bikers and residents of the city seemed to have high respect for each other, with many business offering special deals and freebies to visiting riders. This is probably the biggest event ever to occur here in Milwaukee, and I'm really proud to have been part of it.

If you happen to be a Harley-Davidson rider who was here in August 2003: thanks for coming! We'll see you again in 2008 for the 105th! :-)

Friday
Aug292003

A Coffee Update

Coffee makersI'm a coffee lover who is always looking for ways to improve the coffee I drink. I've come across some revelations since I posted Good, Cheap Coffee back in June that I wanted to share.

First, I received some great comments on the Good, Cheap Coffee post, primarily from Daniel Stout and fellow Palm OS User Council member, Rachel, which got my mind thinking about making better quality coffee. Daniel offered suggestions about nice espresso makers, and the difference in quality between his old Krups (like mine) and his new Gaggia. He also mentioned how important fresh coffee is to the mix.

Well, as much as I would love a Gaggia or other high-quality home espresso machine, we can't really afford it at the moment. Darn. However, I was able to take Dan's fresh coffee suggestion to heart, by picking up some fresh espresso roast at Milwaukee's Alterra Coffee Roasters. Wow, that made a big difference in the flavor compared to the pre-ground Goya espresso I had been using.

Then, in August, fellow weblogger and coffee freak, Michael Ashby mentioned digging up an old Bodum French Press pot after his coffee maker busted and how much he was enjoying the excellent coffee it made. When I mentioned his post to my wife, she reminded me that the now defunct Coffee Trader (a very popular Milwaukee east-side coffee hangout in the 80s and 90s) used to serve tasty coffee in french press pots. Many memories of visits to the Coffee Trader and the delicious coffee they served, floated to the surface of my mind.

So, Inspired by Michael and memories of the Coffee Trader, I used a part of my PalmSource Champions $50 quarterly gift certificate to pick up a Bodum Chambord 8-Cup Coffee Press coffee maker. I should have it next week, and I can't wait to try it out! :-)

With my mind still on coffee, I re-read comments by Rachel on the original Good, Cheap Coffee post and saw that she loved the coffee she makes with her Italian stovetop Moka Pot. I had a stainless steel pot like this in my single days, and really loved the coffee, but have since lost track of my pot.

Then I remembered -- Gail and I had been given a Lavazza Carmencita moka pot and two demitasse cups as a wedding gift by Martin & Thea, two good German friends who had come over for our wedding. So, today at lunch, I located and dusted off the Lavazza, and cranked out several ounces of thick, rich espresso-like coffee on the stove. Mmmm, and was it ever good stuff!

So, I am happy to report that I'm re-learning ways to make really good coffee and it's still surprisingly cheap -- the Bodum French Press is only $30 and Moka Pots start at around $30 as well. Maybe they're a little more work than a Mr. Coffee drip maker, but the results are so much better.

Hey, have a great weekend!

Thursday
Aug282003

Outlook, Corporate IT, "Trustworthy" Computing & Reliability

Matt sent me a link today to Good Times, a very funny and pointed rant by John Gruber of Daring Fireball. John discusses the scourge of Outlook and Exchange, how IT departments put more emphasis on job security than on "Trustworthy" computing, and his solutions to the problem, which include making systems (Windows, Linux or Mac) truly reliable.

I love that John takes the time to step back and take a broader, common-sense look at computer reliability. Why do viruses and Outlook seem inseparable? Why don't corporate IT department CIOs and workers understand their systems better? Why we should require much more of IT people on system reliability. In short, he suggests IT people should be expected to make their systems as reliable as plumbing.

Here's a long, but hilarious quote from the article:

Imagine if the plumbing in corporate America worked with the same degree of reliability as their computer infrastructure. This would mean that individual sinks, urinals, and toilets would go out of order on a regular basis. Water from drinking fountains would turn brown, but, hey, that’s just how it is. Every few weeks, teenage pranksters from Hong Kong would overflow every toilet in the building, knocking them out of commission.

In response to these problems, large companies would have large in-house plumbing staffs, led by a CPO (chief plumbing officer) reporting directly to the CEO. New restroom equipment would be chosen by the same plumbing staff that is employed for maintenance, thus providing a nearly irresistible disincentive to choose reliable low-maintenance equipment from other vendors.

In fact, all of the plumbing comes from a single company based in the state of Washington. This company’s plumbing equipment is engineered such that it is extremely difficult to see how it actually works. The corporate plumbers are often equipped with certifications from this manufacturer, but they (the plumbers) in fact understand very little about how toilets and sinks truly work.

Woo hoo! Go read the whole thing! :-)