Articles from Other

Tim's Rivershore Polar Plunge 2011 for the VA Special Olympics

By Michael Flanakin @ 5:15 PM :: 4801 Views :: Other :: Digg it!

I've joined a group of friends and co-workers to take part in Tim's Rivershore Polar Plunge in Dumfries, VA on Feb 26, 2011. If you're unfamiliar with Polar Plunge events, it's basically a bunch of people getting into freezing cold water to benefit the Virginia Special Olympics. This'll be my first year, so we'll see how it goes.

The real reason I'm posting about this is to share an info graphic I threw together that shows how much the top 4 teams have raised for this event. My team is #4, which is why I stopped there. As one of my early attempts at creating an info graphic, I'd love to get others' thoughts on it and how to improve it. Of course, if you want to donate, that'd be great, too! ;-)

Help 'Cold hearted Cache' be the #1 fund-raiser for Tim's Rivershore Polar Plunge 2011

Note that the numbers have been changing a lot lately, so I had to just take a snapshot and finish the image. I wanted to create an interactive Silverlight version, but that just didn't seem feasible given time constraints. I'm hoping I'll be able to take on more of these info graphics and push them out quicker as I get more experience.

I want to especially thank Joseph Williams (and Tina Garceau) of willceau.com for use of the shivering man cartoon picture.


Check All To-Do Items on Foursquare

By Michael Flanakin @ 8:44 AM :: 2246 Views :: Technology, Other :: Digg it!
Foursquare + jQuery

As fun as Foursquare is, it agravates me to no end at how short-sighted their interaction designers are (if they even have any). Admittedly, I have this problem with almost every piece of technology I use, but don't have the time to fix them all -- if only *rolling eyes, shaking head* What I do have the time for is finding a quick hack to something that was annoying me -- namely, checking all the to-do items on a Foursquare account page.

Go to any Foursquare account page, like the Bing account page, and you'll be presented with a list of usually 50 or 100 to-do items that often lead to a badge. Say what you will about Foursquare, I enjoy the game. I have gone thru several of these pages clicking each one after the other a few times now and finally got fed up. Within a minute, I was able to use IE8's built-in dev tools to come up with a quick solution.

If you're not familiar with the IE8 dev tools, simply open IE8 and press F12. The dev tools may open in a new window, but I prefer them docked at the bottom of my main window, since I'm usually on a laptop. The extra window is ideal for dual monitor setups, tho.

IE8 Dev Tools

The HTML tab comes up first, which is where I started -- actually, that's not true, the first thing I did was jump over to the Script tab and type $ into the Script Console. This let me verify that Foursquare uses jQuery. Armed with jQuery, I knew I could accomplish what I needed fairly quickly. I selected the element selector arrow (first item on the toolbar on any of the tabs) and then clicked on one of the "Add as a To Do" elements within the page. This switched over to the HTML tab to show me a div with a checkbox. Most importantly, the div has a class of tip_todo_unchecked and the checkbox had an onclick handler. This is all I needed, thanks to jQuery. I moved back to the Script Console and used the following jQuery code to select all unchecked items and click them. Note that I had to "click" them to run the onclick handler. Simply checking them wouldn't have triggered the onclick event.

$('.tip_todo_unchecked :unchecked').click()

If you're not familiar with jQuery, the question mark ($) is an alias to the jQuery() function. Typically, you pass in a selector that is used to traverse and select HTML elements. In this case, we're grabbing all elements unchecked checkboxes (input elements with a type of checkbox) that are within elements with a CSS class of tip_todo_unchecked. While not exactly the same as CSS selectors, jQuery selectors were obviously heavily inspired by CSS selectors and aim to "embrace and extend" what CSS offers in this arena. The click() function simply calls the onclick event for each of the elements that were retrieved. It's that simple.

Note that you'll have to wait a few seconds while the page dynamically registers all of those clicks for you. I just jump down to the bottom of the page and wait for the last few to process.

Arguably, I should've put this into a GreaseMonkey for IE script, but my faith in IE add-ins has dwindled, so I don't use that anymore. Firefox users can do the same thing with FireBug and/or GreaseMonkey. Heck, there may already be a GM script for this. I don't know because I'm not a fan of Firefox -- not that I think IE8 is the best browser in the world. Obviously, the same capability is in Chrome, as well. The bottom line is that jQuery allows this simple hack.


Feed Update

By Michael Flanakin @ 11:06 AM :: 870 Views :: Technology, Other :: Digg it!

Feed Update, thanks to FeedBurner

I hate self-promotional posts, which is why I never announced my move from Geeks w/ Blogs to my personal server and why I never moved to MSDN blogs, but I feel like this one at least serves a purpose for other bloggers...

I'm doing something I've been meaning to do for a while: update the URL of my feeds. I use FeedBurner, which has been nice, but I've always hated using a FeedBurner URL. I thought about creating a reverse proxy to do it, but never felt the sheer need to spend the time to do that. Luckily, FeedBurner has done the work for me. I'm not sure if this is a new service or not, but I have to thank Scott Watermasysk Syndicated feed for pointing me to FeedBurner MyBrand. This feature allows you to specify a custom domain for your feeds. While not the complete flexibility I'd like, it at least gives me the ability to maintain a controlled domain name in case I ever decide to self-host my feed.

With this, the following are my new feed URLs:

I'm probably going to be scrapping my feedback and ratings blogs. Feedback is too tedious because I have too many ideas and ratings gets annoying because I put everything in Netflix and sometimes IMDB. I'm looking for a good platform to support this type of blog, but haven't found one, yet. I'll probably just create some mashup using Netflix's feed.


Microsoft Boy

By Michael Flanakin @ 7:34 AM :: 1662 Views :: Other , Microsoft, En Español :: Digg it!

Microsoft Boy

This parody came out a while ago, but it's too funny to pass up. I haven't seen it linked to much, so maybe you haven't seen it. It's the story of a day in the life of what a Microsoft marketeer must have been like as a school boy.

Muchacho de Microsoft

En Español

Este parodiar fue fijado hace un rato, pero es demasiado divertido sin mencionar. No he visto a demasiada gente el hablar de él, usted no lo he visto tan quizá. Es la historia de un día en la vida de un vendedor de Microsoft como muchacho de escuela.


Learn a New Language

By Michael Flanakin @ 7:07 AM :: 829 Views :: Other :: Digg it!

Learn a new Language

Scott Hanselman Syndicated feed points out a post by Tim Ferriss Syndicated feed, How to Learn (But Not Master) Any Language in 1 Hour. As a language enthusiast, this sounds very interesting. Obviously, I'm working on my Spanish now, but I'd love to learn French, Japanese, Italian, perhaps Portuguese, and who knows what else. A skill like this would do wonders to ultimately pick up these other languages. So what's the secret? Tims suggests that 6 sentences can give you conversational insight into any language (shown here with their Spanish equivalent).

  • The apple is red.
  • It is John's apple.
  • I give John the apple.
  • We give him the apple.
  • He gives it to John.
  • She gives it to him.
  • La manzana es roja.
  • Es manzana de Juan.
  • Doy a Juan la manzana.
  • Le damos la manzana.
  • Él lo da a Juan.
  • Ella le lo da.

At first glance, I had no idea what Tim was talking about. Sure, there are some things I can easily extract, like "apple" is "manzana" and "John" is "Juan," but to be conversational in an hour? That seems to be asking a lot. Truth is, Tim isn't saying this is all you need. He's actually saying these sentances can give you a good understanding of a few of the complexities of a language. You can walk away from these sentences with an idea about how long it'll take and how easy it'll be to learn the target language. This is something that might take some getting used to, but Tim's insight is definitely spot-on. The main thing that falls short of becoming conversational is the lack of vocabulary. Like I said, this method simply gives you insight and doesn't truly make you conversational... not to belittle the method.


My Future Posts

By Michael Flanakin @ 7:48 AM :: 1176 Views :: Other , En Español :: Digg it!

It's been ten years since I had formal training in Spanish. Unfortunately, I haven't used any of it. Lately, I've been thinking about how I can fix that. I only know a couple of people who I could speak to, so forcing myself into it isn't quite an option. So, I figured I'd take a more sensible approach, given my day-to-day life. I have a three-pronged approach. First, I subscribed to a few Spanish-speaking blog feeds, which will allow me to read at my own pace. Next, I subscribed to a few Spanish learning podcasts to hone my listening skills. Finally, I've decided to write my blog posts in English and Spanish, which will allow me to express myself in Spanish. I'm hoping these three things will give me what I need to converse without taking five minutes to formulate sentences. Using blogs and podcasts will just help ensure I stick to it, since I already use these tools to stay on top of the tech industry.

This isn't intended to be a New Year's resolution, but I'm hoping I stick with it for the long haul. I'd appreciate any help correcting my grammar as I learn. This will obviously slow the frequency of my posts, since I'll have to write them in English and hand translate to Spanish. Hopefully, I'll grow a Spanish-speaking crowd to make that worthwhile for others.

Mis Postes del Futuro

En Español

Ha sido diez años puesto que tenía entrenamiento formal en Español. Desafortunadamente, no uso la lengua. Últimamente, he estado pensando de arreglarlo. Solamente conozco algunas personas que habla Español, tan forzarse a hablar no es una opción. Pensé que tomaría una acercamiento más elegante, de acuerdo con mi vida cotidiana. Tengo una acercamiento de tres partes. Primero, suscribé a algunas blogs en Español, que permitame a leíndo a mi propia velocidad. Después, suscribé a algunas podcasts para aprendir Español a mejora mis habilidades de escuchando. Finalmente, decidía a escribir mis postes de blog en Ingles y Español, que permitame a expresarse en Español. Espero estas tres cosas dame que necesito a conversar sin usando cinco minutos a traducir oraciones. Usando los blogs y podcasts ayudará a asegurar continúo, puesto que ya utilizo las herramientas.

Ésta no se piensa ser mi resolución del Año Nuevo, pero espero continúo para el largo plazo. Aprecio ayudame con mal gramatica. Esto se retardará la frecuencia de mis postes, puesto que escribiré en Ingles y traduzco manualmente. Esperanzadamente, creceré mi muchedumbre de habla hispana.


Netflix Testing Lower Prices

By Michael Flanakin @ 4:40 PM :: 864 Views :: Other :: Digg it!

I just have to gripe about this. For those of you who haven't been following the Netflix-Blockbuster competition, Blockbuster is losing... well, that's my opinion, anyway. Blockbuster tried it and it wasn't too successful, so they had to scale their plans back, which made them cheaper, if I remember correctly. Now, from what I gather, Netflix is trying to get a feel for how it might deal with lowering prices Mobile-ready link.Of course, they're only doing this for select individuals using their 2- or 3-out plan. This just aggravates me. Why are they rewarding people who use two of their smallest plans? Most companies try to persuade customers to upgrade by showing how they can save money on the larger plans. Netflix isn't (and has never been) that smart. In fact, they've got you at a sweet spot of 3-out for $5.67 per disc ($5.33/ea with the price drop). All plans with 4 or more out are $6/ea.

Someone at Netflix needs to get a clue. Logically, you should see a small price drop in every level, as you move up. That's what entices users to upgrade. Maybe that's the problem... the logic. Of course, I'm just bitter.


Live Search Club

By Michael Flanakin @ 8:48 PM :: 1443 Views :: Technology, Other :: Digg it!

Microsoft released Live Search Club about a month or so ago and I've been meaning to check it out. Well, I finally did and I think it's interesting, but I don't see it really winning anyone over anytime soon. The basis is pretty much summed up by the ads: "Play games. Earn tickets. Win prizes." With that, it's more enticing than most games out there, where you don't have the chance to get anything back. Then again, looking at the prize list, I kind of have mixed feelings. Most prizes to me aren't worth the time to even try to win. Then again, the bottom of the list -- consisting of Vista, Office 2007, Zune, and Xbox 360 -- is definitely interesting. Of course, you'll need at least 6000 tickets to get to this level and 35,000 for that Xbox. With all that, there's just one question: How quickly can we earn points?

There are 7 games that all revolve around search -- go figure. Some of them work with the search, others don't. My impressions are below, but let me summarize... All-in-all, this is simply a marketing campaign to get more people using Live Search. If you ask me, I think it could work. I expect numbers to start jumping up... if people find out about it, that is. I guess one good thing is that these games will also be publicized on MSN Games, which is a pretty big crowd. Of course, you don't have a chance to win prizes on MSN Games, so if you're going to play, make sure you go to Live Search Club.

Chicktionary 1.00.009

Synopsis: 7 chickens can each lay an egg with a specific letter. You basically have to make as many words out of that as you can. More specifically, it looks like you have to spell around 10 three-, four-, and five-letter words, 5 or 6 six-letter words, and 1 seven-letter word. These numbers change from game-to-game, so they may be different. The bottom line is you have to come up with 35 words that fall into these groups. You may be able to come up with 35 three-letter words alone, but you still have a limit.

Playtime / Points Earned: 20-60m / 20 pts

You'll knock out most of your words in a matter of minutes. The problem comes in when you're trying to get those six-letter words. And, just to forewarn you, don't bother saving your hints for those, because they "run out" regardless. I just played a game that I was able to knock out all but 2 six-letter words in the first two minutes and after going thru countless words I tried to make up, I decided to go for my first hint. Guess what... it claimed I used all my hints. Apparently, this must be at least in part based on what you have left.

I will say that, if you're into learning new words, this is a great one for you because of how search is integrated. After you submit a "word." Live search will throw the definition up for you to see what the word was. This can be interesting when you start getting down to those last few words. When you do, tho, you do have the option to give up. If you give up, you're also giving up on points, so take note of that. Then again, by the time you get to that point, you're so aggravated it doesn't matter.

One last thing I should mention: search doesn't give you a whole lot here, but it can, if you're lucky. I was able to get a few hints on properly spelled wods by using the spelling correction. I would by no means depend on this, but it did help me get lucky a few times.

While I like this game, I spend most of my time trying to figure out 3 or 4 words, which just doesn't up the enjoyment factor all that much. If you like these types of games, go for it. The fact that there's no time, tho, is what kills me. If I had to change one thing, it'd be that some concept of time and levels be brought into play here.

Clink 1.00.025

Synopsis: You're given 10 hints, each corresponding to 2-3 blanks, and 13 words to fill those blanks. The words can be used as many times as necessary to fulfill the hints.

Playtime / Points Earned: 5-10m / 10 pts

I like this one, partially because it's relatively simple. Search is easily integrated here because you are encouraged to search for the hints, words from the pool, or any combination of both. This can help, but knowing a secret to the game helps a bit more. Not that this was an all-powerful secret, but here's what I noticed... In every answer, one of the words will be used in the next answer and another will be in the previous answer. For instance, here are the top three answers in one game: Will and Grace, say grace, and strange to say. As you can see, "grace" is used on 1 and 2, and "say" is used on 2 and 3. This pattern is in every game I've played so far. Also, you'll notice that, when you have 3 word answers, the third word is only used once in the game. So, if you're stuck on a three-word answer, you should know 2 of the 3 words, so all you have to do is find the last word that hasn't been used, then put them in an order that makes sense.

Of course, with a simple game come simple points. While I find this one relatively quick to get thru -- usually -- I find it hard trying to build up the points with this one.

Crosswire 0.06.009

Synopsis: This is basically the matching test you had in grade school. You're given two sets of 9 words and your job is to determine which words on the left match the ones on the right. You must do this with three sets of words, the third of which throws in a kink: one word on each side does not have a match. Be careful here because if you match to/from either of these words, all your matches will be cleared.

Playtime / Points Earned: 10-25m / 20 pts

This one is pretty simple, when you break it down. The most annoying part is if you end up getting the last set cleared for choosing the wong answer. Then again, if you do that, you get to see which two are the bad answers and you'll know which to avoid, so in the end, it's not a huge deal. Usually, you'll be able to figure out the answers you forgot in a minute or two, where it probably took you about 5 minutes to get that far. All-in-all, this is a worthwhile game. I think most will enjoy it, but there's not a whole lot of thought that needs to go into it. I will say this is one where searching can make or break the game. There will definitely be things you won't know without searching for them. Luckily, it's usually fairly easy to search for these answers by using boolean (AND/OR) searches.

Dingbats 1.00.034

Synopsis: This game is a trimmed back version of Wheel of Fortune. You have three phrases you have to guess and hints to go along with each. The name of the game relates to the characters used in place of vowels -- Dingbats is a font. You can guess 10 consonants, but can only get vowels after guessing a phrase correctly, in which case you can uncover 1 of 5 dingbats. Of course, the vowel these dingbats represent change from game-to-game.

Playtime / Points Earned: 5-10m / 3 pts

The first thing I'd suggest is to do a quick search to find out what one of the thee phrases are before picking off letters. Sometimes, it's possible to guess a phrase or two without picking letters. This can be good because you may need those letter guesses later. Also note that the phrases are typically related in one way or another. Some relations have been more obvious than others, but from what I've seen, they have all related back to each other. This can also help when trying to guess a tricky phrase.

While I think Dingbats is a fun and easy game, it's just not worth the 3 points you get for it. If it were 10 points, I'd think about it a little harder, but this one just isn't the point-earner I'd like it to be.

Flexicon 1.10.056

Synopsis: Essentially, Flexicon is a layered crossword puzzle. You have 4 mini crossword puzzles that are linked together by one long word. Your job, as with any crossword puzzle, is to fill in the blanks. Go figure.

Playtime / Points Earned: 15-25m / 25 pts

I like crossword puzzles, so I'm automatically going to gravitate towards this one. The one thing that annoys me the most is how much the focus jumps around as you move your mouse around. Every time you mouse over a hint, the coresponding row/column is highlighted. While this seems like a nice feature, if you're simply moving the mouse to search on something, it's annoying. Maybe it's just me, tho. I do like the fact that you can do just about everything from the keyboard, which makes for faster game play. The only things you're missing is the ability to submit a row/column and the ability to switch between the puzzle and the search pane.

Speaking of search, this is another game that works well with search. You don't always have enough information to make the search productive, but you should be good for about 2/3 of the hints.

Red Carpet Reveal

Synopsis: You're given 5 questions to answer, each revolving around one person who you will have to name at the end of the round.

Playtime / Points Earned: 5-10m / 10 pts

This is my least favorite game, by far. That doesn't mean the game is bad, tho. I just don't like it because it's not my kind of game. It's all about celebrities, which I could care less about. So, if you're into celebs, this might be right up your alley. The game is pretty easy, tho. Search works well for it because you have everything you need to find the answers you're looking for. And, if you think you might be worried about figuring out who the questions all relate to, let me just say that it's usually obvious after the first two questions. If you're searching for answers, you'll notice a name pop up over and over.

Seekadoo 0.04.019

Synopsis: Here's another traditional game: a basic word search. You're given a subject and you have to find 15 words. The only problem: you don't know the words.

Playtime / Points Earned: 5-25m / 15 pts

As simple and fun as word searches might be, this one sucks. With every word you find, the background color of the selected letters changes. I'm not exactly sure why it is, but this just makes it hard to read or something. In the end, the letters that are left unshaded spell something out, but that doesn't help you any when trying to find words. Speaking of not helping, search is absolutely pointless here. Unless I'm missing something, the hint you get for the puzzle is not going to help you narrow down you choices. Admittedly, the hints you can get thru search will help, but in the end, I just feel like search is wasted here.


New Hotmail Commercials

By Michael Flanakin @ 12:09 PM :: 1001 Views :: Technology, Other :: Digg it!

I'm not completely sure when this came out, but there are some new commercials for Windows Live Hotmail. Of the four available online, the first two are the best. I think you might be surprised about 'em.

Suspicious Male

Hot Male


Programmer Personality

By Michael Flanakin @ 7:19 AM :: 829 Views :: Development, Other :: Digg it!

I'm such a sucker for these personality type tests. After seeing Chris SellsMobile-ready link Syndicated feed post on his programmer personality type Mobile-ready link, I had to give it a spin...

Your programmer personality type Mobile-ready link is:
   DHSB

You're a Doer.
You are very quick at getting tasks done. You believe the outcome is the most important part of a task and the faster you can reach that outcome the better. After all, time is money.

You like coding at a High level.
The world is made up of objects and components, you should create your programs in the same way.

You work best in a Solo situation.
The best way to program is by yourself. There's no communication problems, you know every part of the code allowing you to write the best programs possible.

You are a liBeral programmer.
Programming is a complex task and you should use white space and comments as freely as possible to help simplify the task. We're not writing on paper anymore so we can take up as much room as we need.

Of course, with every one of these tests, I always want to have another option. They never truly give you enough answers. Then again, nobody ever said they were scientific.