May 31, 2005

Happy birthday

Today turns two.

239 entries and we're still kickin'.

Let's take a look at some stats since last July:

Aug 200463182932+
Sep 20042013913246++
Oct 20043303725705++++
Nov 20044550136345+++++
Dec 20046884759839++++++++++
Jan 2005175847164859+++++++++++++++++++++
Feb 2005250767242399+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Mar 2005268260248149
Apr 2005249576224572+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
May 2005292224269453++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

In Site News

Posted at 11:09 PM | Permanent link

May 29, 2005

Introducing Xanga RSS Links for Greasemonkey

Xanga RSS Links is a greasemonkey script for Firefox that adds visible RSS links to Xanga blogs and makes them RSS autodiscovery aware.

Head to the Xanga RSS Links project page for downloads, screenshots, and installation instructions.

In Blogging, Projects, Technology and Software

Posted at 05:48 PM | Permanent link

May 22, 2005

Roth IRAs and a nod to Vanguard Funds

Trafalgar Square, London

Over the years, I've been contributing to a Roth IRA a few thousand dollars at a time. Thus far, my account has resided with Ohio Savings Bank, simply because this was a convenient place start five years ago. I started out with a certificate of deposit (CD), but at some point the CD expired, and my money was rolled into a plain old savings account making interest in the low single digits. At the time I told myself that I didn't want to open another CD because I was planning to invest the money in something more substantial, such as a mutual fund, "real soon now". That was over a year and a half ago.

Of course, this is silly. The whole point of a Roth IRA is that you put money away, and although you can't touch your gains until age 59 1/2, the government can't touch them either. The higher the returns on your money, the more you are potentially saving in taxes. By having kept my money in a savings account earning bollocks in interest for over a year, I've thrown away thousands and thousands of dollars in potential tax savings over time. This is not a good idea.

For the past few weeks I've been been researching brokerages and fund companies that would allow me to invest in mutual funds. A handful of publications offer ratings of discount brokerages, but it seems that these are either generated randomly or there are other factors (kick-backs?) at play because I see little consistency amongst the opinions of different publications.

Around this time, it hit me that Philip Greenspun had written an essay entitled Money, Money, Money. In Money, Money, Money, Philip speaks highly of Vanguard funds, as do many of his commentators. This prompted me to surf over to

I had a look at their fee structure decided that I can avoid maintenance fees if I play my cards right. Their fund expense ratios look good. Looks like a good fit.

Vanguard's online Roth IRA transfer application is mostly straightforward, but at one point I got stuck and had a question. This is how this works:

I call 1-800-414-1321. Zero hold time! I'm connected to retirement specialist Brian. Brian answers my question and proceeds to ask if I understand Vanguard's fee structure. This is impressive because fees are one of the most confusing parts about financial accounts. At this point in my life I've come to expect vague statements about fees to be tucked away in obscure portions of the online documentation, and even after finding those I'm suspicious that something in the fine print is going to screw me.

I explain to Brian that I'm planning to invest all my money into one fund (the Total Stock Market Index Fund). Brian confirms my understanding that my total balance in this one fund will give me an exemption from any maintenance fees, and that the fund has no front-end or back-end costs. I thank Brian and hang up.

Before submitting the application I called Vanguard two more times to confirm a few things. Each time zero hold time, and each time the rep was very knowledgeable, spoke crisp English, and it didn't sound like he was working in the midst of a cocktail party.

After completing my Roth transfer application, I decided to transfer some additional money to Vanguard and open a general investing account in addition to my Roth IRA.

Vanguard has some nice features such as automatic investments where money is periodically drawn from your bank account and invested in a fund. This gives you the benefit of dollar cost averaging, and also forces you to be disciplined about your savings. The nice thing about investing in no-load mutual funds is that you can make a lot of small (few hundred dollar) transactions like this per year without getting reamed by commission fees.

Thus far I like Vanguard for mutual fund investments. We'll see what the future holds.

By the way, if you're thinking about investing in any capacity, I highly recommend that you take a stroll down to your local art house movie theater and see Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room in order to build up your mistrust of corporate America and investment bankers before you give them your money. Jeff has a good review.

Posted at 05:15 PM | Permanent link

May 17, 2005

The 'big' IBM blog announcement

I'm a little bit late to the party on 'big' IBM blogging announcement. Being an IBMer and a blogger, I'm obliged to opine.

My reaction? "meh.."

So the 'big' announcement is that its 'OK' for IBMers to blog.

Very profound.

(although to be fair, the company never directly claimed this to be the "biggest corporate blogging initiative ever")

The new blogging guidelines are essentially common sense codified. They've drawn the line right around where I expected it to be. I no longer have to assume (when you assume, you...).

Is this better than having no line? Yes. Is it good to know that blogging is finally on the corporate radar? Yes. Is this hopefully a sign of bigger things to come? Yes. Am I ever so slightly more inclined to blog about work-related matters? Yes (case in point - this entry).

So what's the problem?

"If you see a snake, just kill it. Don't appoint a committee on snakes."
~ H. Ross Perot

Tends to touch a nerve with "younger generation" IBMers.

I'd say there's much to be gained by simply opening the floodgates and seeing what happens. Granted, I'm not personally responsible for $119B in shareholder value, but the risk seems to be somewhat mitigated when your competitors (Microsoft, Sun) are already doing this.

Until we get a more daring nudge from above, it doesn't look like we're going to get there.

Baby steps to Big Blue blogging...

As for me, I already use my real name, disclose that I work for IBM, and have had a disclaimer for a while now. Gold star?

Sam Ruby: "If you don’t get your hand slapped at least twice a year, you aren’t pushing the boundaries hard enough."

In Blogging, Technology and Software

Posted at 10:36 PM | Permanent link

May 16, 2005

Raleigh Blog Meetup, Tuesday May 17th, 2005

Join us tomorrow (Tuesday, May 17th) for the second Raleigh/Cary Bloggers meetup of the month.

What: An open meeting to talk about blogging, podcasting & whatever's on your mind
When: Tues @ 6:30 p.m.
Where: Cafe Cyclo, in Cameron Village

2020 Cameron St
Raleigh, NC 27605 (map)
(919) 829-3773

Who: Bloggers & people who want to blog (Podcasters welcome!)

Hope to see you there!

In Blogging

Posted at 09:21 PM | Permanent link

May 11, 2005

Philip Greenspun on Scott Peterson

Philip Greenspun:

"For any man who has been dumped or divorced by a woman reflecting on Scott Peterson ought to be a humbling experience. Consider that Scott was beloved by both his wife, a beautiful and kind person, and his massage therapist girlfriend. This despite the fact that Scott was an adulterer and murderer, both black marks against a person's character. So the only reasonable conclusion that a rejected man can draw is that he is less attractive, as a package, than Scott Peterson."

From Flying over Scott Peterson's House.

In General

Posted at 07:58 PM | Permanent link

May 10, 2005

Hiring is Obsolete

Paul Graham:

"Remember that. If you start a startup, you'll probably fail. Most startups fail. It's the nature of the business. But it's not necessarily a mistake to try something thas has a 90% chance of failing, if you can afford the risk. Failing at 40, when you have a family to support, could be serious. But if you fail at 22, so what? If you try to start a startup right out of college and it tanks, you'll end up at 23 broke and a lot smarter. Which, if you think about it, is roughly what you hope to get from a graduate program."

From Hiring is Obsolete

In General

Posted at 09:37 PM | Permanent link

May 08, 2005

Mac OS X Tiger Emacs Incompatibilities

I just upgraded to Mac OS X Tiger (10.4), and unfortunately this killed my Emacs setup.

Carbon Emacs has stopped working, as has DoubleCommand, which I had been using to remap my PowerBook's enter key to ctrl (I'm completely lost in Emacs without this).

To fix the general Emacs problem, I've replaced Carbon Emacs with John Wiseman's Aqua build of Emacs, available via Dan Moniz here. Looks pretty sexy.

Unfortunately at the time of writing there is no Tiger-compatible version of DoubleCommand, nor the equivalent uControl.

Emacs is dead to me without a right ctrl key, and I use Emacs a lot.

I read Technote TN2056, but it mentions nothing about how to remap modifier keys.

Does anyone know of a general way to remap modifier functions (ctrl, option, cmd, shift, etc.) to other keys under Mac OS X?

In the meantime I'm offering my services to both the uControl and DoubleCommand projects to help get them ported to Tiger. I just wish that I knew more about Mach Kernel hacking...

UPDATE 5/26/2005:

The MacOS X 10.4.1 update kills the Aqua Emacs build that I linked to above. Once again, Dan Moniz has an updated version.

As far as remapping the enter key goes, I've been been participating in the uControl mailing list. Owing to the fact that Apple has added the ability to remap the caps lock key to control in the OS, uControl's maintainer, Shane Cells, has retired. Development appears to have stopped for the foreseeable future.

Heiko Hellweg has instructions for remapping the enter key on ADB keyboards. Unfortunately this does not work with newer Powerbooks (like mine) which use a USB keyboard.

I recommend heading over to to file a feature request for the ability to remap the enter key so that hopefully this problem will be officially solved in the future.

UPDATE 7/28/2005:

See my comment below for information on using Emacs under X11 with the enter key remapped.

UPDATE 8/23/2005:

We finally have keyboard remapping utilities for Mac OS X 10.4!

In Technology and Software

Posted at 04:37 PM | Permanent link

May 05, 2005

What is a buffer?

Today's question comes from Adam Steinbaugh of Wittier, California.

Adam writes:

hey Josh -- what, exactly, is a buffer?

Well, Adam, a buffer is an intermediary space in memory where data is stored before being processed and shuffled off to some place else.

What good is a buffer?

Lets say that you're continually gathering input from somewhere and writing it to disk. Writing to disk is an expensive operation - much more expensive than pushing bytes around in memory. Each time you receive a byte, it would be a waste of time to write it to disk immediately because then you're doing a lot of expensive operations.

Much better to first read the incoming bytes into a memory buffer and then flush the entire contents of the buffer (say 1024 bytes) to disk en mass when the buffer is full. This way, you can still process each byte as it comes in, but you minimize the number of disk writes that you have to perform.

Make sense?

Let's look at things another way.

Let's say that you're moving into a new apartment. You have to move all your stuff from your old apartment.

Unfortunately you made the mistake of investing in a 1969 VW bug for transportation, and in it, you can only carry one of your belongings at a time.

Instead of using your own wheels to drive back and forth to your new apartment twenty times, you get your buddy to bring over his VW bus. You pack all your shit in the bus at once and move everything in one trip. After you're finished moving, Natalie Portman comes over to your place, and you make out.

In this story, the VW bus is your buffer.

In Technology and Software

Posted at 11:39 PM | Permanent link

May 02, 2005

Raleigh Blog Meetup, Tuesday May 3rd, 2005

Join us tomorrow (Tuesday, May 3rd) for the first Raleigh/Cary Bloggers meetup of the month.

What: An open meeting to talk about blogging, podcasting & whatever's on your mind
When: Tues @ 6:30 p.m.
Where: Cafe Cyclo, in Cameron Village

2020 Cameron St
Raleigh, NC 27605 (map)
(919) 829-3773

Who: Bloggers & people who want to blog (Podcasters welcome!)

Hope to see you there!

In Blogging

Posted at 08:48 PM | Permanent link