Archive for March 2010

Motorola Droid Review

Published on March 20, 2010

Back in December of last year, I made the decision to ditch my land-line telephone and go wireless only. I decided to pick up a smart phone, and chose the Motorola Droid: both because of the Verizon network (with which I was relatively happy) and because it wasn’t an iPhone. Now that I’ve had an opportunity to play with it for a few months, I’d like to share some thoughts on the device.

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Mapping North Carolina’s State Parks

Published on March 12, 2010

I may or may not have mentioned before that I have a goal of visiting and photographing every state park in North Carolina. As a precursor to setting out on that goal, I have created a map of state park locations. Each location uses GPS coordinates provided by the state park service. Now that I have a GPS device that uses Google Maps (a Motorola Droid; review coming soon!), I figured this would be a terrific way to make it easy for me to get driving directions to certain locations.

While looking through all of the official state park pages, I learned a number of interesting facts:

  • Four state parks require entrance fees out of the 39 parks in the state. They include Jordan Lake, Kerr Lake, Falls Lake, and Chimney Rock.
  • Two state parks do not have public access or public facilities at this time: Mayo River State Park and Haw River State Park.
  • One state park can only be accessed by taking a ferry: Hammocks Beach State Park.

The location markers on the map I’ve created are currently being used by me to keep track of where I’ve been. However, the map is publicly available, so feel free to use it to navigate to any of the state’s parks. If you have any suggestions on how the map could be improved, feel free to leave a comment. I’d like for this to be a helpful resource for people.

Hobbit and Fellowship Mini-Reviews

Published on March 8, 2010

As shameful as it is for me to say, I had not, until just recently, ever read The Hobbit or The Fellowship of the Ring (or, for that matter, the other two volumes of The Lord of the Rings). I’m not sure why I never read them. Perhaps it’s because I heard from some people that the books were hard to read. Well, I’m finally getting around to reading them, and I must say that I’ve enjoyed them thoroughly. Here are some thoughts:

The Hobbit

Though technically not a part of the The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is clearly where it all starts. As such, I read this book first, and I’m glad I did. Reading this story first provides a great deal of context for things learned in Fellowship. I particularly loved the way the book was written: it always seemed to me like an old man was telling me the story as we sat around a camp fire. Often the narrator would go off on a tangent, then later realize that he had gotten onto a tangent, and would finally have to apologize to you, the reader. Very enjoyable. The one thing I didn’t like about this story was the abrupt ending. After the climax is a single chapter, wrapping up a number of threads in a short period of time. Such a jarring transition seems detrimental to the whole story on some level. Overall, however, a terrific story. Five Stars

The Fellowship of the Ring

This is by far one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Tolkien’s command of the English language is outstanding, as is his inventiveness. Every character feels alive and their interactions are wonderful to experience. My absolute favorite scene is at the parting of the Company with Galadriel and Celeborn from Lothlórien. Galadriel gives each member of the Fellowship a gift, and she asks Gimli, the dwarf, what he would like. At first he says he wants nothing, but she presses him, so he answers that a single hair from her head would be his heart’s desire. He then continues to assert that he doesn’t want this; he’s only saying so because she commanded him to speak. Here is her reply:

The Elves stirred and murmured with astonishment, and Celeborn gazed at the Dwarf in wonder, but the Lady smiled. “It is said that the skill of the Dwarves is in their hands rather than in their tongues,” she said; “yet that is not true of Gimli. For none have ever made to me a request so bold and yet so courteous.”

She then asks Gimli what he would do with such a gift, and he replies that he would simply treasure it, in memory of her words to him at their first meeting. This pleases her, so she gives him not one hair, but three. Gimli takes them and vows to have them set in an imperishable crystal to be an heirloom in his house, and a token of goodwill between the Dwarves and the Elves until the end of time.

Scenes like this one are peppered throughout the text, and are truly wonderful to take part in. I’m greatly looking forward to the next two books, even though I know how the story plays out. Five Stars

Yates Mill County Park

Published on March 7, 2010

I took a trip to Yates Mill County Park this afternoon and took my camera along. This photo album is the result. It’s not very long, and isn’t too colorful (it’s still winter, after all), but I really enjoyed the park. If you live in the Triangle area, I highly recommend it.

Requiring Code Block Braces

Published on March 3, 2010

One of the things I most appreciate about Perl is that it requires code blocks to be surrounded by curly braces. In my mind, this is particularly important with nested if-else statements. Many programming languages don’t require braces to surround code blocks, so nested conditionals can quickly become unreadable and much harder to maintain. Let’s take a look at an example:

if (something)
    if (another_thing)
    {
        some_call;
        some_other_call;
        if (yet_another_thing)
        {
            do_it;
            do_it_again;
        }
    }

Note that the outer if-statement doesn’t have corresponding curly braces. As surprising as it may seem, this is completely legal code in many languages. In my opinion, this is a dangerous programming practice. If I wanted to add additional logic to the contents of the outer if block, I would have to remember to put the appropriate braces in place.

Had I attempted to use this code in a Perl script, the interpreter would have complained immediately, even if warnings and strict parsing were both disabled! This kind of safety checking prevents me from shooting myself in the foot. Some may complain that requiring braces makes programming slightly more inefficient from a productivity standpoint. My response to that is that any code editor worth its salt can insert the braces for you. My favorite editor, SlickEdit, even supports dynamic brace surrounding, a feature I truly appreciate. It’s a shame that more programming languages don’t enforce this kind of safety net. Hopefully future languages will keep small matters like this in mind.

Credit Cards in America

Published on March 2, 2010

On February 22, several new laws went into effect in the United States in the attempts to protect consumers from credit card companies. Included among these laws is a rule that credit card statements must include information on how long it will take to pay off the balance when paying the minimum amount each month. I’ve heard a great deal of talk on the radio about this particular change, mostly to the effect that it should help wake people up to the fact that minimum payments aren’t a great idea, at least from the consumer’s point of view; the credit card companies love this scenario.

That got me thinking about credit cards in general here in the United States. According to creditcards.com, the average credit card debt for American households in 2008 was $10,769 (for households with a credit card); almost $11,000! It boggles my mind that there are people out there with a running balance that high. My credit card debt is $0, which means someone out there has a debt of nearly $22,000! How does that even happen?

Most people must live well above their means, which makes no sense to me at all. Maybe that’s because I’ve been pretty tight with my money all my life. I remember saving up chore money to buy my first Nintendo system. Every video game purchase was a result of hard work and scrimping and saving on my part. As a kid, I literally kept paper ledgers tracking how much money I was taking in versus how much was going out. Saving just came naturally to me. I paid for every vehicle I’ve ever owned, I paid for my college education, and I graduated debt free (or nearly so; I had about $1000 in student loans which I immediately paid off once I got a full time job). I’m what the credit card industry calls a “deadbeat.” I pay my bill on time, in full, every month. How can I possibly do that? By staying within my means!

I essentially treat my credit card like a debit card: I know how much money I have in my bank account, so I know not to spend more than that. It’s not that hard! Online money management tools like Mint.com only make that process easier. Month to month, I can track where my money is going, and how I’m doing overall.

I’m not sure what the answer to America’s credit card debt problem is. At the very least, money management should be taught in school. Growing up, I had plenty of friends who got into trouble with money by purchasing things well outside of what they were capable of. The sad thing is that money management isn’t that hard; it simply takes a little bit of self control. Which is something most Americans apparently just don’t seem to have.

More Random Photos

Published on March 1, 2010

I’ve posted a new photo album comprised of random photographs taken over the past several months. The album isn’t particularly large, but there are a few interesting shots. If spring ever gets here, I hope to get back into the photography groove.

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