Jun 26 2005

First Anniversary

Jeffrey Larson

At the time of this writing, Sarah and I have just celebrated our 1st year wedding anniversary together.

I booked the Romance Package at Chateau Canmore in Canmore Alberta (this is in the Rocky Mountains). This included a hotel room suite, gift and candle lit dinner. Needless to say, Sarah and I were pretty excited about that.

Here in southern Alberta we’ve had too much rain. There have been many floods throughout the area. On Saturday as we were driving out to Canmore, we got caught in a line-up, waiting to be told to turn around. The Trans-Canada Highway was “closed due to 6 feet of water on the road about 10 minutes ahead.”

After waiting in a long line of cars for what felt like an hour, we were told we could still get to Canmore since highway 1A was still open. So we turned around and then headed to Cochrane, to get to the 1A. It was getting late, about 6:30pm -ish by now.

Travelling along the 1A, most people were turning off to get back to the Trans-Canada, but we knew that the 1A went all the way into Canmore. So we continued on. This road was terrible, there was potholes everywhere.

Over a knoll we came, and then we hit the biggest hole in the road, hitting it super hard. Oh crap. We kept driving, the steering felt funny, definitely something wrong. But there was no place to pull over, no shoulder, that crappy road. Finally we found a place to get out of the way of traffic to check it out. The wheel rim was totally dented and the hubcap cracked. Shoot. I got out the jack and raise the Jetta up off the busted wheel… with much difficulty. This place we found to pull over was loose gravel and the jack wasn’t staying still.

After I had tightened the lug-nuts on the donut spare we have, we were on our way again, upset with the dented wheel, worried that we had damaged our new tires*.

* Side-note: you have to know at this point that we had just dealt with a flat tire 2 weekends prior on our trip to Kamloops, where we ended up buying 4 brand new tires.

We made it to the hotel in Canmore at about 7:30pm, parked the crippled car and went to check in to our suite for the “Romance Package”. The lady who checked us in told us that the restaurant where we were to have our candle lit dinner was full and we could not get a table at all. Sarah and I decided to head up to our room and figure out what to do for dinner then.

So, we got dressed up as we had planned on going to a fancy type restaurant. Sarah talked to the lady at reception and we reserved a table at a French restaurant a couple blocks away.

Trying my hardest not to think about what I was going to do about the broken wheel, we walked over to the restaurant. The restaurant turned out to be pretty nice. We got a table next to the window so we could see the mountains that had been freshly covered with snow.

Part way through our appetizers, we noticed that Sarah had sprayed a bunch of orange sauce onto the front left of her white shirt. “Awe man, how did that happen?” I asked. Sarah gestured with her appetizer what she was doing and right away it happened again. The other half of the front of her shirt was covered in orange spots. A piece of the food bounced off her plate and went over her shoulder. The food apparently hit the lady at the adjacent table, she jumped and exclaimed “Ohh!” I said sorry and she — apparently not knowing what hit her — said, “Do you want it back?” We had a good chuckle at that, but Sarah wasn’t happy her white shirt was not white anymore.

It was nice.

In the morning, neither Sarah nor I was feeling too great so we slept in as much as we could and got room service for breakfast. We went down and checked out of the hotel… and since neither of us felt that great, we decided we would head back to Calgary instead of doing a hike in Banff. Now, to deal with the car.

We went to start the car and realized that the lights were left on all night. The battery was completely drained. Drained to the point that when we tried to start the car the alarm would go off since the battery power was messed. We couldn’t figure out how to silence the stupid alarm, but then using the key in the drivers door shut it off.

So now I’m trying to find someone… to help us start our car… so that we can find someplace… to help us fix the wheel of our car. I flagged down a lady in the hotel parking lot who fortunately had jumper cables. I hooked up the parallel circuit and she started her engine, and I tried to start ours… without luck. Shoot, maybe something else is wrong. Tried it a few more times, with the alarm continuously being set off. We thanked the lady for trying and pondered our options.

Sarah and I walked over to the gas station next door and asked the guy there if he could help. “So, you want to use some jumper cables, and a car to help you start yours? Nope sorry.” ARGH! We headed back to the car ticked, and I went and asked at the hotel reception if anyone had a car with jumper cables.

A nice young lady came to the rescue and I once again hooked up the circuit. Now that I had a little time to think about it, I knew to let this baby charge up for a few minutes before trying to start it. Sure enough, the Jetta started just fine after that.

Now that we have our car started we check the fuel gauge and realize we need diesel! We decided to risk it and try and make it to Cochrane to fuel up and give some business to Canadian Tire.

Well, driving that 80 kilometres or what ever it is takes a lot longer with you are driving a pot-hole filled road on a little donut spare. We eventually got there and got our wheel rim hammered back to shape. It was close, but luckily the tire was able to seal again. Regardless, Sarah and I decided to purchase an extra rim since we have actually used that donut spare 4 times this year! Now we have a full sized spare, yeah.

When we got back home we were tired so we had an afternoon nap for a couple hours.

Glad that it was over, we went to Safeway to get groceries for the week. At home we made the choice to get rid of the frost in our freezer so we could fit some frozen goods. You have to understand that our freezer’s small to start with but it was now half the size because of frost.

I thought the fun was over but wouldn’t you know it, when we were breaking the frost off of the walls of the freezer, we punctured the inside wall, making a hole perfectly aligned with one of the inner coils. Oh great now we have freon leaking out of our freezer.

Patching the hole as best as we could, I was doubtful that the fridge would survive. Eventually the fridge warmed up, not being able to stay cold… so let’s end the anniversary weekend by breaking our fridge.

We have a replacement fridge after a couple days of ice-bagging it. Fortunately, most of our big load of new groceries survived.

How’s that for a first anniversary celebration? The story is good for a laugh but I’m glad that stress is done with. Everyone we’ve told has had a pretty good chuckle and suggested we write the story down… so here it is.

Jun 15 2005

Why Google?

Jeffrey Larson

I want to work for Google. They are doing some really cool stuff when it comes to how the general public uses the internet, and I think I could contribute my creativity and ability to make things work.

Is your web browser’s home page set to Google.com? Do you use a Gmail account for web-based emailing?

As an engineer I like succinct lists:

  • Gmail gives 2300 megabytes of free storage for their email accounts.
  • Google Maps provides maps, driving directions, and locations of local businesses and services… I prefer this over Yahoo! Maps or Mapquest.
  • Google Local allows searching for items in a specific location (like Calgary, Alberta)

… and the list could go on.

Two web-pages I browse every once in a while to see what Google is up to are: Google Labs and the Google Search: More page. These pages provide links and info on what projects Google is working on and what services Google provides.

I want to show a brief example of Googles Maps. You can search for any address you want, I have attached images of my searches for my own home address. Once you’ve got a map with your address, Google allows you to get directions to or from it, by entering the second address. Since we’re relatively new to Calgary, figuring out how to get to new friends houses or giving directions to our house for new friends is simplified with Google Maps.

Back in October of last year (2004), Google bought a company called Keyhole. Keyhole provided software for digital photo mapping. Since then, Google has added a satellite image mode for their Maps search. It’s fantastic! To view the satellite version of a map, click on the “Satellite” link above the map and to the right. Find your house, or a landmark of some significance… play with it a bit to impress yourself.

Here are some maps I think are fun:

Do you use Google? How? Why? How much? When?

Jun 15 2005

Skype Me

Jeffrey Larson

If you haven’t heard of Skype you probably haven’t chatted with me lately. “Skype is free Internet telephony that just works.”

I was first introduced to Skype some time last year by Matt Fox (thanks Matt!). One of the cool things about the Skype client is that it is available for multiple operating systems: Windows (2000 or XP), Mac OSX (10.3+), Linux (many distros) and Pocket PC (Win PPC 2k3). Skype is used as a communication tool, and the ability to use that communication tool on different types of computers means I’ll use it more often.

Skype calls are encrypted end-to-end meaning the calls cannot be intercepted by third parties. The importance of this feature is clearer when you realize that Skype is based on peer-to-peer (P2P) technologies. This means that the network that supports the calls is built from the users that connect to it, and the calls do not go through a central server. This allows the service to be extremely scalable to a global extent. Those of you — who are familiar with how Kazaa’s file sharing program worked or how the Gnutella network functions — will be able to relate.

Did I mention Skype is FREE? Calls from Skype users to other Skype users are free. You can even have teleconferences with multiple callers from different places.

How is Skype free? Skype (the company) also provides the following pay-services as well;

  • SkypeOut: allows users to make calls to normal telephone numbers at a small per minute rate.
  • SkypeIn: allows users to get their own regular phone number to allow calls from normal phones to be received on the computer with which they are logged into Skype.
  • Voicemail: allows users to receive voicemail from missed calls or even when they are logged off of Skype altogether.

I think Skype is cool, it works! It’s decent even without a broadband connection, as long as the upload bandwidth is high enough. I’ve had many conversations with my Parents(-in-law) in South Africa (even though they were using dial-up) on Skype, and it seems to work quite well most of the time. Upload bandwidth is usually the issue with slow connections.

Speakers and a normal microphone work alright, but its best to wear headphones to reduce the amount of feedback you get. One thing I must recommend though is a specifically designed headset. I bought a cheap headset for $25-30 a few months ago and the improvement is wonderful. No more background noise from the microphone in the room, the mic is close to your mouth and often has some built in noise cancellation as well.

Download Skype now!

SkypStatus ScreenshotI’ve been playing around with Skype for quite a while now. Skype provides an API so that developers can build applications that interact with the Skype client. I took this API and programmed a simple Win32 application (my first win32 program!) that keeps track of the users online status and posts it to my website. This allows me to display to visitors of my site if I am online, away, offline or whatever. It was fun. I couldn’t think of a cool name for it so I just named it SkypStatus… maybe STATUSkype would be better or something?

SkypStatus works with my Apache webserver using a MySQL database to store my presence status information. My status icon is then accessible using the URL of the image below.

Jeffothy's Current SkypStatus Icon

It’s cool because I can then use that image in forums or blogs, etc.

Lately I’ve been reading Skype Journal via its RSS feed. If you want to read other news related to Skype, “Share Skype” might be a good resource.

Comments are enabled, respond away!

Jun 12 2005

¿Usted Habla España Parlate Italiano?

Jeffrey Larson

Sarah and I have now booked our flights to Europe for this September. Oh man, we are so stoked!

We’ve been planning to go on a trip to Europe for quite a while now. I’ve heard about many people trying to mash tonnes of countries into a trip, but I’m proud that we’ve kept our scope for this trip to just Spain and Italy.

That’s right, we’ve booked a 4 week trip to Italy and Spain for this September. We got a killer deal on flights with Scandanavian Air, $909 plus tax each. This will fly us from Calgary through Copenhagen (Denmark) to Madrid (Spain), and then from Rome (Italy) through Copenhagen back to Calgary. Man it’s gonna be fun!

We picked up the Spain Lonely Planet guide at a used book store in Kensington and we are starting to figure out where we want to go and what we want to see. We’ll be looking to pick up a book on Italy too.

We’re planning on hosteling and camping it most of the way… we’ve heard there are some pretty cool camping spots.

Anyone have other suggestions for us? Don’t be shy.

Jun 10 2005

Dad’s Next Car

Jeffrey Larson

Nissan AltimaToyota CorollaMazda 6So, my Dad has been leasing a Honda Accord for a few years and the lease is up in the next couple weeks. I’ve never been very savvy when it comes to my knowledge about vehicles, and I think this comes from my Dad. There are those people who know it all, and those that just use a vehicle as a tool.

What kind of car should he get?

Some things to know before making a recommendation:

  • stay away from American makes, he’s had enough of Fords Chevys Chryslers, etc.
  • keep the budget under $30K
  • his Accord felt a bit too big for him but a Civic might be a bit small
  • his Accord was a little 4-cylinder with no guts, more pep is preferred.

Jun 10 2005

Vertical Horizon : Go

Jeffrey Larson

Album Cover: Go by Vertical HorizonVertical Horizon is my favourite band right now. I just love listening to all their stuff, the driving guitars mixed up with acoustic guitars. Oh and always with the beautiful harmonies, I can’t not sing along when I hear certain songs.

I bought the “Go” album by Vertical Horizon when I was in Malaysia. I remember sliding it into my Discman and walking down the streets of Kuala Lumpur… as I listened I couldn’t help but smile and I felt like running around and jumping up and down, that’s how excited I was to hear such great music.

You should really listen to some of their stuff. I just wish they were coming out with another album sometime soon.

Jun 10 2005

JavaScript Help

Jeffrey Larson

JavaScript HelpOver the years I have done a decent amount of web development which includes some sort of JavaScript use. While most of this has been client-side javascript, I did refactor a web application for the BC Government: it was a server-side JavaScript app (ran on an old Netscape webserver) that used an Informix database which I reworked to be a PHP app (running on the Public Library Services Branch’s newly specified Linux Server) that used a MySQL server.

Anyway, I thought I’d share some of the resources that I most commonly use when I want to avoid “recreating the wheel” using JS.

DevGuru JavaScript Index
DevGuru has a fairly complete description list of built-in JavaScript functions, statements, operators, constants, objects, methods, events and properties. It tells you which parts of the language are partially supported (ie. certain web browsers) and usually gives small and simple usage examples.
IRT.org JavaScript FAQ
IRT (Internet Related Technologies) has an excellent FAQ for JS developers, beginner or not. The FAQ is organized by category and is quite comprehensive. IRT also has code sample examples that go along with most of the FAQ answers. Do have a look if you haven’t before.

Of course, if you’re looking for working javascripts to integrate into your project there’s always Hotscripts.com or Dynamic Drive DHTML.

Post a comment if you have some other good JavaScript resources you seem to keep going back to.

Jun 10 2005


Jeffrey Larson

As you probably know, I maintain a webserver running Linux for serving my website and a number of others that I maintain/host/support. SSH is the way to access this machine remotely.

I have almost always used PuTTY as my SSH client of choice. A few weeks ago I was helping one of my co-workers (Dale Jamieson) with updating a webpage for his sailing club. I downloaded PuTTY for him by default, but he had been told to use SSHTerm. So, I checked it out and was kinda impressed. I haven’t played around with it enough but it does have some interesting attention grabbers.

SSHTerm Professional seems to support common SSH1 and SSH2 (telnet like) shell interfaces, in addition to SFTP and a secure VNC as well! I’ve used TightVNC (get’s updated rarely!) and Ultr@VNC (the VNC of choice for me at the moment) for remote desktop usage in the past but I haven’t had a program that brings it all together.

I supposed one drawback is that its a larger setup instead of small executables without the need for installation (like TightVNC Viewer and PuTTY). But a positive is that SSHTerm brings ease of use by integrating GUI control with SFTP and SSH (without leaving out the command line usability).

What do you use?

Jun 9 2005

RSS Reader Application

Jeffrey Larson

So I started using this News Reader Application. I was checking out a bunch of the ones I could find on the net. Installing them, trying a bunch of different types of feeds, news/blogs/etc and I stuck with one particular reader for now.


This RSSOwl is currently in version 1.1.1 and works really well.
I have a stack of software applications that I like to keep track of versions and updates for, and it’s a pain to visit each and every one of their respective sites. So with RSSOwl, I just add the RSS Feed’s URL and I am notified of updates whenever, as long as I have RSSOwl open, simplifies it a lot.

I’ve also been checking Brenton’s Blog often, so RSS is coming in handy! I’m going to try and add a feed generator for the Hills of Japan site when I can as well.

I’ve always thought that windows apps created with Java have been slow with respect to their GUI response. RSSOwl is a true Java app and its quick! Doesn’t look to out of place either.

You should check it out, if you can see an application of its use for yourself.