Sunday, July 26, 2009

Irrationality & Freaks: A Book Recommendation

A typical book in my Audible library focus on technical / geeky topics or science fiction of some sort. My past two selections have been outside of that realm, but firmly within my area of interest. They have focused on human behavior.
It might be logical to conclude my fascination with the behavior of people is rooted in my lack of understanding. I'm not the most talkative person in a social situation; I often attribute this to my lack of interest in sports. However, I do enjoy looking at the world around me and analyzing everything. I can't help myself. It is the part of me that needs to understand, categorize, and model everything that drives the world around me.

The two books that I have recently read (listened to if you want to be technical) are:

While my favorite of the two is Predictably Irrational, I thoroughly enjoyed both. They both consist of a random collection of examples, studies, anecdotes, and conclusions. I am constantly trying to remind myself of the lessons about behavior that are found in both of books. Applying these models of the world to the actions we take every day and in understanding the actions other people take will subtlety change the way I look at the world.

I find the topics of "The true cost of Free" and the analysis of social norms vs. economic norms discussed in Predictably Irrational especially interesting and can find examples in my own life. These are especially appropriate when it comes to looking at my own shopping behaviors and the way people interact in the work place.

One example that I find very appropriate is the willingness for people to keep doors open even once they realize they are no longer beneficial to do so:

More video demonstrations from Predictably Irrational at their website

As for Freakonomics, I really enjoyed the topics of understanding how parenting affects a child's success. To sum it up in my own words, it isn't so much about how good of a parent you are, it is more about how good of a person you are. The following section on names was even more interesting especially when it comes to looking at your friends and family.

To confess something rather strange: whenever I see a parent with a young, often unruly or restless, child at the grocery store, I tend to analyze that person's parenting skills. I find the grocery store a particularly good place to do this because it is often stressful for the parent to have a child with them while they are attempting to accomplish a very specific task. At the same time, the grocery store offers a very teachable environment for basic economics, simple math, healthy diet, and even colors, shapes and textures for younger kids. Often I see parents who are not helping the situation by not giving their child the attention they want or ignoring a child behaving in a very public way. However, I occasionally see parents who are simply brilliant in keeping a child captivated and well behaved through subtle actions.

Both books have associated blogs which (while I do not frequent) have provided very interesting reading after having finished the books: Predictably Irrational Blog & Freakonomics Blog

Overall, I highly recommend to anyone interesting in better understanding the actions that you and the people around you take every day, these books are a great place to start.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A New Look for

I wrote a custom PHP script for the first version of my personal home page on the Internet. It collected several RSS feeds from social media sites and displayed them in one location. The page simply collected all of my posts from my blog, Twitter, Digg, and YouTube. While this page served its function, technically, it was riddled with problems.

First off, it was very slow. It requested multiple remote feeds which was at the mercy of the remote server. The feeds were cached, but when they needed to be fetched, which happened to be synchronized, the page would take almost 10 seconds to render.

The other major problem is my lack of ability to make a good looking website or write a single line of CSS that improves the visual appeal of a website. While the page didn't look terrible, it did not stand up to the quality that I wanted.

My solution was to simply abandon my custom page. My main page now points directly to my personal wiki which hosts information about various projects that I have worked on along with other code samples that I have published. To make up for it I added support to embed RSS feeds.

Overall this should help encourage me to post more on my blog and publish some of the old projects that I have worked on.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

My New Commitment to Blogging

I realize that I have not been the most consistent blogger on the internet. However, I often have things that I would like to publish. There are interesting items in the news, various projects I am working on, or simply ideas that I would like to share.

My new goal is to post at least one blog post every week. I'm going to try and be consistent, schedule some time to sit down and publish something no matter what. While it may be short and simply mention a few things, if I fall into a habit the probability that I start producing better and better posts goes up and up.

I have several other goals that all revolve around my web presence. I started on my personal home page a while ago but never really finished. It doesn't look very good, is very slow to load because it is not optimized correctly to load in the remote feeds it uses, and needs to completely changed. This is definitely on my to-do-list, but finding the time is always difficult.

My other big project is posting things on JCode (, my personal Wiki where I planned on posting things about projects that I have worked on. This is something of a companion site to my blog. More specific details and actual code will be posted on the Wiki while time specific progress will be posted on my blog.

The main project I have been working on lately is a method for tracking members, attendance, committees, and achievements for Speed School Student Council. I wrote a custom PHP application and designed a normalized table structure to store all of the information. The bulk of the work went into writing a management console that myself or future DOAs will use. The front end is at and is purely informational. This will likely be my first major post to JCode describing how I designed everything including table structure and some clever security features that I designed.

That is it for now. I haven't decided which day I'll try to post on yet, but at the very least I will be attempting to post every week, it is on my calendar.

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