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Up for Air

Phew! It's been crazy busy the past couple of weeks. I can't believe I haven't had time to come up for (blog) air since before Halloween.

First of all, I'm happy to announce that after a lot of extra work on the weekends and evenings to get things wrapped up, AG's new custom photo card service is now live and ready to help you with your holiday card needs! I'm honestly very impressed with the product--the card designs are great, and they look fantastic on the high-quality paper they're printed on. Since I'm not AG's usual target demographic, it's rare for me to be this wowed by what we put together, but these are cards I'd want to buy and send. So, major congrats to everyone on my team and who's helped to bring this to life!

Claire's had her first cold, which has thrown the sleep schedule off a little bit during the day, but she's still sleeping through the night like a champ. She's graduated to a new size of diaper, and progressing happily (she's gained almost 40% of her birth weight already!). She's recently discovered that her legs are stronger than she thought; she really enjoys standing up while I steady her torso. And there are several more great photos over at my Flickr stream (again protected for her privacy).

It's hard to believe, but our anniversary's come around again already; it'll be seven years tomorrow. We'll celebrate with Champagne and caviar and a nice relaxing dinner in. Marriage has been quite an adventure so far, and it's just getting more interesting as it continues... One thing that's abundantly clear is that sharing my life with Liz has simply been the best. :-)

Off to check on Claire--it's time to eat and play again!

AGI Hack Day: Mission Accomplished!

Hackers Only
Originally uploaded by aaronoliver3000.

Once upon a time, some Python developers here at AG Interactive said, "Gosh, we should totally do one of those fancy Hack Day things." And they went unto their manager, who said, "What excellent timing, I think we should totally do one of those fancy Hack Day things too. Let's make it happen." And so they did. And it was good.

I'm very, very pleased to report that our first-ever AGI Hack Day was a smashing success. Roughly fifty people, divided into fourteen self-organized teams, spent 24 hours putting together prototypes of whatever great ideas came to mind, covering ground from new product ideas to deeply geeky internal architecture improvements, and then presented their work in three-minute demos similar to the PyCon lightning talks. Prizes were awarded today in the "fun" categories ("Funniest Hack," "Hacker's Choice," etc.); a forthcoming second round of demos for our senior team will yield the big winners.

Hack Day has definitely been a big score for our culture. The atmosphere has been so alive and vibrant, with a hum of excitement and activity, a certain je na sais quois of Cool Stuff In Progress. It's been fun just to be around it. One very good choice that we made was to open up the event to non-developers, so that our talented system admins, UI gurus, product managers, and even QA folks were able to jump in and come up with great ideas. A few adventurous souls liveblogged their experiences, and photos have been appearing on Flickr (including some excellent late-night Guitar Hero shred-nanagins).

The response from the company has been very positive, so I think we can look forward to many more excellent AGI Hack Day events in the future.

Diminished Postality

For the record (in case anyone was still in suspense about this)... Apparently if you send an email to the USPS's web tools customer support box saying that nothing you try on their test server is working as documented, you'll get a lovely form letter about a day later congratulating you on successfully completing all testing and granting you access to the USPS's production systems, and suddenly everything miraculously Just Works.

Nothing quite like my tax dollars at work. :-)


Going Postal

I spent the better part of today cooking up a nice little interface to the US Postal Service's rate calculation APIs, and like a good little dev I've even been writing little py.test cases to poke at it. But once it came time to stop stubbing out the live IO and see if their test server would yield up any joy, my hopes were dashed and torn asunder. Because as lovely as all of the API documentation is, no matter how thoroughly they describe the input and output XML schemas, no matter how slick and (literally) head-turning their diagrams are, none of it matters two hoots when the test server says that there's no service with the API name that the docs tell you to use.

Even better, all of the preliminary canned example requests that are supposed to be no-brainers to bounce off of their test server get a lovely and oh-so-enlightening "the parameter is invalid" response. Yes, thank you, it's all clear to me now! Clearly--the parameter... It's invalid! What was I thinking?

United States Postal Service... you're on notice.

Seriously, though, if anyone else has had to integrate with the USPS APIs and has advice, I'd love to hear it. I did encounter some rumors and hearsay that "some" of the APIs were recently "broken" and "undocumented," but I'd really like to believe that there's a simpler (and friendlier-to-deadlines) explanation than that.


Nessie, Is That You?

Nessie, Is That You?
Originally uploaded by mikepirnat.
It all started so innocently... A whole bunch of rain, some company-wide emails about which cars were most in jeopardy from the flood waters in our parking lot... And then a guy sent out a photo of the situation. Minutes later, it was a Fark Photoshop contest, played out over an all-hands email chain.

This was my little contribution, tossed together very quickly in GIMP. It received a startling amount of praise (including hearty LOLs from members of our senior management and a commendation from our art director!), so I figured I'd share. :-)

Hopefully everyone else managed to stay high and dry today--or if you did have to slog through it, that you did so safely.

Heck Yeah

Dang, it's suddenly turning out to be a great week! In brief:

  • After a couple miserable days of near-100-degree temperatures, the weather has cooled off and is now downright awesome.
  • Got my monitor back from Apple (no thanks to DHL, who apparently don't even believe in leaving slips at the door when they ignore the "no one will be home between X and Y, please deliver when it will actually make sense to do so" instructions). It's all fixed and happy, and now the cats have a new box to play with. It really is amazing how much better the ACD is than the old 19" monitor I'd been using in its stead...
  • I totally aced the infant CPR course we did last night. Plus, since everyone else was either too timid or too cool to do the "say stuff out loud along with the script" part of the training, my long-dormant inner theater geek had an excellent opportunity to ham it up loudly, to the amusement of all. Thought for today: "The scene is safe!"
  • This is the week that I finally have cleared enough off of my plate at work to dig into fixing the crapton of problems on our new site that are Safari-specific. It was an uphill battle for a few days, but this afternoon I finally had the "eureka!" moment of complete enlightenment and discovered the one bug in the JavaScript framework we're using that seems to be the lynchpin holding everything up. With what's literally a one-line change, close to twenty really horribly broken things on our site suddenly and miraculously work. Huzzah! I'll probably have something more on this once I get the legal OK from work to the disclose details of that portion of my brain...
  • We had a major project launch and data conversion that started last night at midnight... and for the first time in forever, I didn't have to do anything to support it. No being online from home, no camping out in the office, no having to monkey with it in the morning, nothing. After seven years of driving in at two or three in the morning, I can't describe how great that feels to just not have to worry about it. :-)
  • Liz kicked ass on her most recent papers! You go, girl!
  • The window's open, the sunset was lovely, the breeze is delightful, good music on the ol' MP3 player, and a cold beer. Ahhh, bliss.

I'm not entirely sure whether recent events are karma's equivalent of the cash-back bonus, or if I've just taken out a karma-equity loan that'll eventually catch up to me, but for now I'm just going to enjoy feeling happy.

It's an Honor Just to Be

Today I discovered that I've been nominated for Chairman's Awards in two categories: "Innovation" and "Team Leadership."

Huh. Cool. :-)


Jonathan Lewis: Writing Optimal SQL

The office sprung for a bunch of us to attend Jonathan Lewis's "Writing Optimal SQL" seminar, put on by the nice folks at NEOOUG (that'd be the Northeast Ohio Oracle Users Group, for those playing acronym bingo at home), so I had a nice and brain-meltingly interesting Friday away from the office. Lewis really impressed me as a speaker, weaving deep and potentially lethally sleep-inducing concepts in with real-world horror stories, pithy remarks, good cheer, and a charming sense of humor that made eight hours of database guts and gore seem like a good time. Thankfully, we all received copies of the slides, so I will have something besides my half-dazed chicken-scratch notes to spur my memory. Lewis described many problem scenarios that were uncannily similar to design mistakes that we've made--some of mine in particular (I don't pretend to be a database guru, just a humble Python developer)--and I was quite excited to be turned on to so many new ideas for potential solutions to real problems that we've been wrestling with. There are a number of very useful gems, like how to coax Oracle into executing your subqueries first rather than last, as well as a number of undocumented hints that are very promising. I suspect I may have to start keeping tabs on his blog as well...

On the swag front, I scored a free copy of his book, Cost-Based Oracle Fundamentals (signed!), a T-shirt ("Save the Database, Save the World"), and a lovely rubber ball which strobes red and blue LEDs when bounced (ooo, shiny!). One of my co-workers won a chair.

The weather was fantastic, so once the event wrapped up, we had a nice walk through my old north-side CWRU stomping grounds and had a few rounds at the Barking Spider (which, oddly, I'd never actually visited while I was a student, being underage the entire time I lived on campus).

All in all, a great way to finish out the week. Hooray for boondoggles! :-)

Cats, Blizzards, Valentines, Curmudgeon

Originally uploaded by mikepirnat.
Julia has a stupid new trick way to eat (see photo).

On the weather front, it took me about two hours to get home last night; I had two-inch thick chunks of ice that developed on my wiper blades, which made the last half hour or so really exciting. Got stuck in the driveway, but heroic wife Liz helped dig me out. Once safely inside, I shot some photos of the snow around the house; turned out kind of neat but made me wish I had a tripod for some cool long exposure tricks, and also to avoid having to bump up to ISO 1600 to get anything usable. Click on over Liz and I also had some fun rescuing cars that got stuck in the intersection in front of the house. Figure I earned some good karma there.

Luckily my plow guy got our driveway around 5:30 this morning, so I was able to make it into work for my 0700-1600 site monitoring shift on time and reasonably unscathed. The roads were all kinds of awful (still!) but the general lack of traffic really helped.

Valentines Day has been smooth sailing here, with nothing even approaching any real level of drama. (Okay, there was some excitement when we started breaking all kinds of previous record highs, but certainly nothing resembling bad drama.) Sites are up, snappy, rockin' and rollin', just doing their thing. It looks like the snow is tapering off, so hopefully the drive should be a lot easier today.

Oh, and it totally sucks that Case Western closed today. They never would have done that back in my day... Even when the roofs were collapsing, we still went to class! (God, do I sound old or what? Dang kids these days!)

Things I Should Do

One of these days, when I'm not always working until 8 or 9 at night, I really should:

  1. Either start digging into some of the techy books that I've got in progress, or find something really fun to read. I miss reading something really satisfying (still coming down from the Neal Stephenson high of 2006). Why haven't I bought the new Neil Gaiman collection yet? Or any of the various Absolute editions from DC (Sandman, Watchmen, Dark Knight)?
  2. Get out and shoot some photos. Get more experience playing with my camera. Maybe spring for the "thrifty fifty" 50mm f/1.8 lens for my camera and do some portraits or something.
  3. Fix up bogus EXIF dates on old photos. (Gee, that sounds like fun...)
  4. Rate and upload old photos.
  5. Work on the multi-protocol IM bot that I keep tinkering on every so often. If I was really cool, I'd get it some svn/trac love and start accepting input from the outside world.
  6. Freshen up the mix CD's in my car.
  7. Get through the forest temple level of the new Zelda game.
  8. Go see a movie. I think we've planned to go see Pan's Labyrinth for about three weeks now and keep finding excuses (weather-related and otherwise) to skip it. I should go see something so that I get out of the house for a bit.
  9. Fancy up my personal site so that it's easier to maintain the things that get so quickly out of date.
  10. Get back into some regular exercise schedule. I like doing it, I like how it makes me feel... so why can't I seem to motivate myself to do it more often? Frustrating.
  11. Oh, I should probably finish up preparations for my PyCon presentation, since I'm doing a dry run of it for ClePy on Monday....

Right. Just got to get the primary roadblock out of the way (if only I could live without the need for a paycheck!), and then I can get right on that.


If there's a bright center of the Internet, you're on the blog that it's furthest from. Rants, raves, and assorted ramblings from my little patch of the periphery of known space.

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