Monday
Feb102014

Celebration

I have been absent for around 2 months or so.  It was a family matter, but I won't go into details here.  Anyone who needs details already knows them.  Suffice it to say that the past 2 months have been stressful, but I'm starting to see smoother sailing ahead.  So to celebrate, I'm going to have a little treat:

Montgomerie's Rare Select: Tobermory, single cask, aged 18 years.

I found this little gem at Total Wine and Spirits, which sounds like a ridiculous name until you enter the store and see that they just might have everything.  This one is unique for me for a couple of reasons.  For one, it's by far the oldest scotch I've bought in bottle form.  Usually anything above 12 years starts to get more expensive than I'm comfortable with.    To put this into perspective, I had not yet started High School when this stuff was made.  

The second thing that's unique for me is the single cask.  I would say the vast majority of scotches are blends.  This can get confusing when you look at a bottle, since the two most common things you see describing a scotch is either "single" or "blended" malt whisky.  The single or blended refers to the number of distilleries that contribute to that particular batch, not whether the actual whisky is blended or from a single batch.  You can usually tell that just from the name.  Singles usually just use the name of the distillery (Lagavulin, Glenfiddich, Dalmore), while blends usually have a brand name (Johnny Walker, Chivas Regal, Famous Grouse).  I had to look this stuff up as I was initially confused.  It seemed to have both a brand and distillery.  It turns out that Montgomerie is a company that deals exclusively in these sorts of premium scotches.  So Tobermory is the distillery, and I suppose Montgomerie commissioned this batch.  It must be quite the investment, and risk.  I have no firsthand knowledge, but I suspect single casks are tricky.  What if it's too harsh?  Too strong a flavor of smoke?  Age definitely helps with that.  The longer it's in the cask, the mellower it gets, and the more flavor can absorb from the barrel.  I believe the minimum amount of aging is 6 years, and let me tell you, some of that stuff tastes like rubbing alcohol.  

This Tobermory stuff is incredibly smooth.  It's very balanced too.  While the Islay distilleries focus on adding really intense smoky flavor, and other distilleries will use sherry casks to add some fruit flavor, this does neither.  There's a hint of smoke, as there should be, and a subtle flavor that I'm not sure how to describe.  Earthy is the best I can come up with.  I suspect that's from the oak cask.  I'll read reviews of scotches and cigars, and they will use some of the strangest descriptions. Leather is common, woody.  Doesn't sound very appealing, does it?  I don't think I'm sophisticated enough to appreciate all of that, but I do know that this stuff is quite good, and certainly worthy of a little celebration.  I'm not out of the woods yet, but I can see that the trees are starting to thin out a bit.  I should be able to start getting back into coding, and I will hopefully be more vigilant about updating this blog
Monday
Dec302013

Pictures

Just made a picture gallery page and added some Christmas elf stuff to it.  I'll add other stuff, but don't expect too many pictures of me

Tuesday
Dec172013

C#, ASP.NET, and Other Stuff. Mostly Other Stuff

I haven't written anything in a while.  Not intentionally, I just find that this blog is the first thing to go when I get busy with other things.  I also need to address something that I feel is weird. It involves the nature of this blog. I don't know if it's generational, or a personality thing, but I just have trouble with social networks.  Anytime I think about starting to use one, I can't help but ask "Who cares?"  To which I never have a satisfactory answer.  I don't own a business or have some cause that I'm promoting, and while I happen to think that I'm endlessly amusing, I'm also self-aware enough to know that very few (if any) share that opinion.  I have other ways to keep in touch with people I care about, so I can never muster a good reason to get involved with any of the networks beyond lurking.  But I know that anyone in a technology field looks like a weirdo without some kind of online presence, so I got this website.  I don't know why, but writing on here feels different.  I think it's because people have to seek it out.  Moving on, the weird thing that I referenced earlier is that anyone who is likely to read this is already very familiar with what's going on.  I guess I should approach this without an audience in mind, but I don't quite know how to do that.
 
So here's what's been going on during the writing break.  I have decided to become serious about programming, and have started down a path that will hopefully lead to a new career.  I've been flirting with this idea for years.  I got a Java programming book when I was in college, but never really had time for it.  Then I got into PHP after college, and started working on web apps that I would eventually deploy at work.  I can't remember how much of this I've talked about before, but I do IT support in Seattle, and there are many day-to-day tasks that I do manually that could be transitioned to a database with a web front-end.  So that was where I started.  I did all the work at home, and I thought I would write about my progress.  Now maybe this is just me being shy, or part of that "who cares" reaction I have to social networking, but I didn't really tell anyone about this.  My wife didn't even know I had started writing on here again.  After months and months of inactivity, I can't blame her for not checking.  Somewhere during this time, though, my sister found the blog and was probably horrified that her sweet, darling little brother had turned into a degenerate who rants about video games, scotch, and amateur web development.
 
Somewhere in the process, my sister tells me that her husband, Adam, would be willing to show me the ropes.  This is where talking about this stuff gets weird.  I knew Adam was a software developer from way back when we were all still living in NY and I was a smartass teenager needling both of them over any little thing, but it had never occurred to me to reach out about this.  I think part of it was because I wasn't 100% sure at that point if I really wanted to take programming past the hobby level.  The offer to teach me really made me start thinking more seriously about what I wanted to do.  I didn't want to waste Adam's time by jumping in and then deciding 3 months later that I didn't actually want to do this. So I decided that if I could make something reasonably complex (for my skill level at the time) and actually finish it, then I would take him up on it.  I know myself, and I know that I'm real good at planning and starting, but I tend to lose steam near the end.
 
The surgery tracker that I've written about in the past was borne from that test.  It's kind of crazy to look back at that, even as recently as I made it, and see how much I've changed.  There is some rough, ugly code in there.  That was written with PHP and first MySQL, then adapted for MS SQL Server.  One of the first things Adam did was introduce me to C#, and shortly after that ASP.NET.  My familiarity with object oriented languages was largely theoretical at that point, so it's been slow going, but I'm making progress.  Some of the other major changes that have come from this was Adam dragging me into modern day web programming practices.  Stuff like Github and Bootstrap, and using an actual IDE to write code in (I still love you Notepad++).  I learned HTML and CSS during the time (or from a book written during the time) somewhere between the utter chaos of early HTML, where tables and iframes reined supreme, but before the div tag became the standard structural element of all web pages.  I remember the book stressed the importance of separating the structure of the page from the appearance of the page, but it didn't really offer any suggestions on good ways to do that.  Just being exposed to some of these things has helped me tremendously.
 
Currently, I'm working on a tracker for hard drive based backups that I'll use at some point at work.  I'll write more about that at a later date.  I'm still getting used to ASP.NET, but I'm making progress.  Well, I haven't made much progress lately.  At work they decided to renovate the biggest clinic over the course of 2 months, and I'm playing Christmas elf at home.  We're having my wife's brothers up for Christmas, and it's the first time at least 2, if not all 3, have seen the house, so we want to make it special.  I'll take some pics and put them up here somewhere when it's done.  We keep adding or changing things, so it's a work in progress.  Isn't everything?
Monday
Oct212013

It's Done! ...sort of...

After far too long, my surgery tracking web app for work is fully functional.  Calling it done would be premature, but it can perform all of the functions that it is required to.   I can add, edit, and remove physicians and surgery codes, and enter counts of the various procedures.  It will also dynamically generate a formatted table with all of the doctors and codes for a given month and year.  I know this doesn't sound like much for how long it took, but  part of that was going a few extra steps to make sure the interface would be useful and easy for the people who would use it.  I also made it all in small chunks.  I devoted most of my lunch breaks to it, and a few hours here and there at home when I could.  Part of what took so long was figuring out exactly how to do certain things.  How to structure the data, how to loop through a data set the right way for a given problem, stuff like that.  I feel like these are things that will become more intuitive with time and use.  If I make something similar, I assume it will take less time.

So I'm nearly there.  Functionally, it works, but it needs some polish.  I wasn't particularly consistent with naming things across the different pages, and I think I should clean that up.  I also need to add some documentation.  My first attempt at something like this was an employee directory for work.  I got pretty far into it when the requirements for that directory changed.  It was an unofficial project, so I can't complain that they changed the existing directory I was looking to replace.  It did kill my enthusiasm for the project, though.  Before that, I had documented some of the pages, and in hindsight I see that I went a little crazy.  I had a comment on practically every line of code, and lengthy explanations for each page, section, and for the few functions I wrote for it.  I think brief descriptions and comments on things that are not obvious should be plenty.  if someone else does end up supporting it some day, I don't think it will give them a hard time.  The code is not terribly complex.

I also really need to style it.  Granted, this is not a high priority, but it's mostly unformatted HTML, which looks a little rough.  I don't plan on doing anything too fancy with it, but it should be at least a LITTLE more presentable than it is now.  But it's coming along.  I showed it to the person who will eventually be using it, and she liked it.  Hopefully this will save them some time, and it was a good experience for me.

 

Monday
Sep302013

Quick Stuff

Haven't written anything in a while.  Not for any particular reason, just haven't had much on my mind lately.

I was going to rant about the shortcomings of prequels.  I had watched the Thing (2011) recently, and found it disappointing.  The original Thing is one of my favorite movies, so I was pretty excited about the prequel, but it's just flawed.  The short version of my rant is that the approach the 2011 movie takes is to recreate the exact series of events that is hinted at in the original movie.  I think that's a valid approach, but you need to cover everything.  In the original they find a guy who killed himself, and they basically ignore that.  You have no idea why he does it, and you don't see it happen.  I found it such a strange event in the original that I was looking forward to see how they would explain it.  Was it really suicide?  Did someone else do it thinking he was an alien?  They just sort of show that it did happen when panning over the carnage.  They also didn't really capture the paranoia and bleakness of the original.  And the end was dumb.  I know this seems like a rant, but I was planning to go into details originally.

Prometheus was another prequel to a beloved sci-fi horror movie of my youth.  Alien is right next to Thing in my favorite movie list, so I was excited about Prometheus.  The approach they took with that prequel was to tell a story that didn't directly lead into the events of Alien, but it gave you enough information to know what was going on.  I think this worked better as a prequel, but it failed in a few points as a movie.  The short version is they present a series of questions to advance the plot, but they don't really answer those questions.  Also, the appearance of the alien that everyone went to the movie for is literally tagged on at the end.  It was basically an afterthought.

In tracker news, I'm getting close to done with the final piece.  I've got the data formatting where I want it, and can generate a table with it.  I need to make sure it works when I add new data, but I'm confident that it will work as I intend it. I'm nearing the home stretch now.  I've got a ton of little things to do still, but I think the tough parts are over.

In phone news, I finally took the plunge and rooted and rommed my phone.  I have a Samsung Note, and I was getting a little tired of waiting for Samsung to update their crap.  I got a Nexus 7 tablet a while ago, which runs just plain old Android.  I absolutely loved the interface, so I was eager to get something similar on my phone.  It's funny, it kind of reminds me of when I played World of Warcraft for a few months.  You have the interface the game comes with, then you have all the mods people would make.  It would completely change the interface while still remaining largely the same, and that's what these roms feel like to me.  The basic apps and functionality are all the same, but there are so many more little tweaks and options.  It's really breathed new life into this phone for me.

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