All posts by David Carter-Tod

The Oddness of American Yard Signs

I don’t “get” American yard signs.

2010 Yard Signs St. Paul, Mn by Mpls55408 via Attribution Engine. Licensed under CC NC.

Do you know which parties these candidates stand for? What their policy positions are? Can you believe that it’s quite likely that both candidates pictured represent the same party?! This is standard American political campaigning (this page is a pretty fair representation).

If you consider that Americans almost overwhelmingly vote along party lines, why does name recognition matter? It’s not surprising to me that there’s possibly no real evidence that yard signs “work”, despite claims to the contrary. What don’t I know? I feel like I must be missing something.

If you consider that Americans often support Democratic policies, why do Democrats not campaign on policy? Why do they not use consistent branding and messaging?

I got a political mailing today with a bumper sticker that was “Kick out the GOP”. If you are trying to persuade  voters who have voted Republican, and identify as such, to support your policies, how does that help? Why do Democrats not try to drive a wedge between Republican politicians and voters who identify as Republican? I don’t think, for example, that it’s a particular stretch to say that Republican politicians don’t actually care about reducing abortion, and that Democratic policies are more effective in that.

Brief update on the Adult Recreational Soccer League

An update to this post: For the past couple of seasons, we’ve been playing on the VT (artificial) Turf fields, which are frankly amazing compared to what we used to play on. The price has gone up a small amount, but personally I consider it worth it. You can also find pick-up games at the Turf fields which are open at least to dusk, but often with the floodlights on late. No-one checks ID, so if you’re not affiliated with VT, you’re generally fine to play. The fields and floodlights have made scheduling much easier too, and weather-related cancellations just don’t happen generally.

Also, TechSportsPlex closed down, but NRU is running indoor leagues in the off seasons.

Wayfinding in Food Lion is really bad

Wayfinding in Food Lion (my local grocery store) is really bad. It’s surprisingly bad. The most egregious fault is that the list of items you’ll find in an aisle is different depending on which direction you’re coming from! To know what’s in an aisle you have to stand at the end and look up to the right and left to see what’s in it. Looking for cereal? You’ll only see it listed if you’ve not started with the fruit and vegetable section.

Surely someone made a conscious decision to do this. What on earth were they thinking?

BBWorld 2015

Just arrived at the hotel. DevCon starts tomorrow.

I’m in a bit of a bad mood. The drive up was horrendous. Dense traffic the whole way from Blacksburg, with multiple slow-downs all the way, and stoppages at Staunton and of course on 95 from Fredericksburg on up. Near DC it just got worse, but really from Roanoke, I was never more than a hundred yards from cars and trucks the whole way.

I got here around 7pm. Self-parked my car, which was interesting. That’s around the back. The first set of elevators in the parking lot didn’t work and you have to walk a way and go down a floor to get to the front desk. Definitely felt like a second class citizen. Oh, and parking is $26 a day, which was not mentioned on my reservation.

At 9pm it was still over 90 degrees outside and incredibly humid. DC is a swamp and Vegas is an oven. I’m not sure why Blackboard chooses these places.

Back to my room to relax and my TV isn’t working. The engineer had to reboot it at least three times. Yes, that’s reboot, not turn if off and on again.

Emails my daughters’ school might have sent…but didn’t

I have no clue what’s going on…

I’ve always assumed that part of the reason I have no clue what is going on at my daughters’ schools is that we’re in separate households. It’s becoming clearer that no, it’s not that. Our local school system is just pretty awful at communicating with parents….I mean, really, really bad…so bad, you second guess yourself and, as in my case, go into the school offices multiple times every year to make sure that this time they really do have my contact information. Continue reading Emails my daughters’ school might have sent…but didn’t

Federal GSA Per Diem Calculator

In my spare time recently I’ve been working on a small programming project, which is now live at http://www.perdiemcalc.net/. It’s an extension of work I began many years ago when I was at Wytheville Community College (WCC).

History

As I describe on the About page, the issue I had at WCC was a constant back and forth with my business office as I struggled to get the travel documentation correct for the Per Diem allocation.

Finally I dug into the regulations and wrote a web page with a bunch of JavaScript to make the process easier for me and others at the institution. It turned out to be very useful to other state agencies in Virginia, so it has followed me into my current position and to various urls over time. Around October each year as the rates are due to change, I tend to start hearing from anyone from the Attorney-General’s office to the most obscure agency you can probably think of.

The genesis of this new version is that some institutions in Virginia have started to use the Federal GSA rates for travel reimbursement and wrote to me to ask for a version of the calculator that used these rates. There are a lot more localities in the GSA rates and the pop-up approach I’d used before just wasn’t going to work. It seemed like an opportunity to create something with a much wider audience and do some of the re-architecture that had bubbled in my head for many years. With the permission of my employer I embarked on this as an external project.

New Skills

Technically, in the very first version it was completely self-contained JavaScript. I’d been tinkering with JavaScript since it first was made available for Netscape, and this was a continuation of that work. My initial data structures were pretty naive and I had to include a lot of cross-browser hacks, but it worked. I modernized and simplified over the years, but the basic approach didn’t change.

This new version, however, is more or less a complete rewrite. I used it as an opportunity to refresh some skills and revisit the state of the art in some technologies.

agile programming - i'm glad it has a name

My first rewrite was on Google App Engine or more accurately as a Google Apps Script. I got it working pretty well, but ran into some limitations in terms of deployment. I couldn’t for example, deploy it to a custom url. I junked some of that work, but in the process became more familiar with json and how I wanted the design to work.

In the current version there’s some use of JQuery and a fair amount of json. I’ve also taken the raw data from the GSA and put it into a backend database. That part is a simple MySQL backend, with PHP for the dynamic requests. The code is also written in such a way that I can extend it to other data sets and much more easily update the data as new rates are issued each year.

Other technologies I’m tinkering with include Google Analytics (although I have a lot of experience with that already), and Google AdSense. I’m also tracking my work in Trello. I don’t have the code in version control, but I do have a test and production instance for my development work, and keep the code on Dropbox. I’ve become more familiar with my web host in the process too.

Looking Forward

Nothing is ever finished. I have a feature card in Trello prompting me to add Recent Searches as an option for people. At the same time, I’m always looking for something to subtract, to simplify, or to uncomplicate.

I’ve not entirely worked out a support model yet for questions, comments and feedback. For now, I’m happy with less being more. I welcome feedback, but this is a solid design that has worked well over the years. I’m curious to see if people will find this useful. If they do, that’s great, and even if they don’t I’m glad I had a reason to learn some new things.

Selling My Car: 1996 Honda Accord

1996 Honda Accord side viewI’m selling my car. It’s a silver (officially Heather Mist!) 1996 manual Honda Accord with 326,000 miles on it. It’s in pretty good shape. It was in an accident in the late 90s when someone pulled out in front of it, but otherwise it hasn’t had any accidents that I can recall. There are no significant dents. I’ve owned it since new. Maintenance has been regular. For the past five years or more, I’ve been using Auto Experts on Main Street (Blacksburg), so you can always ask there about it.

1996 Honda Accord front view

You don’t get to over 300,000 miles without some issues. Things have been replaced over the years, and I have most of the maintenance records. I honestly don’t recall what’s been done, but it’s the original engine. There are things that need work:

  • The radio mostly doesn’t work.
  • The A/C doesn’t work. Pretty sure this is a simple leak, but I’ve never got around to getting it fixed.
  • It burns (not leaks) a bit of oil, so you have to keep an eye on the oil.
  • Third gear sometimes requires double-clutching. This means it probably needs a new transmission fairly soon.
  • There is no rust, but the paint has faded in places.
  • The automatic door locking is flaky.
  • The engine light stays on, but it’s been on for the past five years!

The miles are mostly highway miles. State inspection was done January, 2014.

I will only sell it in person, to someone local, in cash for $2,000 (or thereabouts). I will not provide the VIN online, but will provide it in person if you stop by.

540-200-8630 or david@carter-tod.com

Soccer in Blacksburg

If you search for soccer (football/calcio/futbal/fútbol/Fußball) in Blacksburg, you will probably quickly see that the high school has a great tradition of success for both girls and boys. If you look at Virginia Tech, the women’s team is excellent, the games are free, parking is good, and they are excellent to watch. The men’s soccer team isn’t quite so good at the moment.

If you want to play soccer as an adult, what are your options?

If you are a student at Virginia Tech, I guess you can play intramural sports, which for internationals who might not be familiar with the term, is recreational sports (“within the walls” I suppose). I never did when I was at VT, but that was probably more out of ignorance than anything. I have no idea what those games are like.

If you reside in the New River Valley, then the other options are a pick-up game, or playing in the New River United Adult Recreational League (NRU) – see below for more details. NRU do not, in my opinion, do a great job of advertising its existence. Their web site also leaves some things to be desired in terms of linking. Hence this post.

New River United also runs most of the kids recreational soccer in the NRV (there’s a Christiansburg setup too), and they have competitive teams for kids as well. I’ve coached and been involved with the kids recreational soccer and enjoyed it. It’s very popular and the fields around town are filled on a Saturday morning.

Pick-up games

I have never really cottoned on to where the pick-up games tend to be, but two locations that I know of where people gather include Nellie’s Cave Park, and the field behind the Food Lion on North Main (park behind the Food Lion and walk up), which is also known as Shenandoah Field. Nellie’s Cave Park tends not to have scheduled games, so it’s often available. Note that all the goals in town should be locked when not in use, because they mostly belong to NRU and they have to lock them for insurance purposes. It’s very frustrating as a casual player, but you just have to live with it.

Adult Recreational League

I play in the Adult Rec League, and have done for many years, perhaps a decade or more now. I played in high school in England where I was pretty good, but not great. The league is usually split into Sport and Competitive. At a very broad brush, Competitive (or the A league) tends to be under-30, skillful and athletic-kids who played in high school or maybe even college. Sport (the B league in which I play) tends to be older, less skillful and less athletic (or at least two out of three of those).

If I look at the team I currently manage/captain (The Goats), we have 8 in their mid-20s, 4 in their 30s, 3 in their 40s and one 60-year old(!). That’s a bit skewed for us historically. I’d say we have more 30 and 40-year olds usually. Our players are locals, graduate students, some undergrads, and faculty. We often have some international students on our teams. Not a ton of women play, but some certainly do. The focus is on having a fun, safe game.

We typically play an 8 game regular season in both Fall and Spring with a tournament at the end. We usually play one game a week, skipping when there is a break at VT. We tend to play on the weekends and weeknights because a lot of us have jobs, and the fields we usually use are owned and used by the local school system. NRU is building its own field near the airport which everyone hopes will be open soon. The fields we use are not great, but not terrible. There’s no budget for improvements really. The ground around here tends to be quite full of clay so the fields can get quite hard when they are dry. See the recent update posted here-we now primarily play on VT’s artificial turf!

One thing I wondered when I first signed up was why it seemed so expensive to me for so relatively few games. Part of the answer is that we play full games with three qualified referees. They generally are very good, and having them makes for good games. In terms of the rules, it is pretty standard, except that substitutions are unlimited, and we play with no slide tackling allowed. You can sign up as an individual and get assigned to a team if you are not aiming for a specific team.

Other options nearby

Roanoke has a number of good options. My understanding is that there is a women’s recreational league and a recreational league. I have heard there is a league for older players too, but I’m not sure where to find the details on that. I believe serious players involve themselves with the Roanoke Star Club, but there’s Valley AFC for kids too.

Indoor soccer

If you want to play indoor soccer (futsal) there are two basic options locally. There’s a winter league at the Blacksburg Community Center (Blacksburg Indoor Soccer League – BISL), and during the same time period there is an indoor league at the Tech Sportsplex near the mall area in Christiansburg. As an old geezer, I tend not to play because it’s a bit harder on my knees and can be quite fast, but the quality can be very good.

Flying with a red feather

So I just got back from Las Vegas last week, and no, I didn’t get the red feather there. It did not drift away from a showgirl’s boa.

I flew from Roanoke to Chicago and from there to Vegas. As I got to my seat on the flight from Chicago I noticed that there was a young African-american girl sitting in the window seat. There was no-one in the middle seat and I had the aisle. She was young, in sixth grade as I found out later which would make her around eleven or twelve. In my experience kids in the States don’t have ages, they have grades.

She looked at me. “Can I sit there?” She gestured at my seat.

I laughed. “I need it so I can stretch my legs.”

“What about that one?” She pointed at the middle seat.

“I guess. Why?”

“I’m scared of heights.”

I debated a bit with myself. A middle-aged white guy. A scared black girl. She reminded me very much of my own daughters. “Sure.”

We talked. We talked a lot. She talked a lot. She was scared of heights, but not exactly of flying. She was flying by herself from Akron to Las Vegas to live with her dad for a year, after living with her mom for a year. Her aunt was in the hospital having a baby (or babies) as we flew. Her dad worked with planes and had his own (really?). Another aunt had lost a leg in a plane accident. She was so nervous and anxious that she had puked in the bathrooms after her flight from Akron. She was being monitored by the flight attendants and I presume being met in Vegas. They checked on her with a second glance at me. “That’s your seat at the window, honey.”

“She’s scared” I replied before stopping to think through what they were really asking.

She wrapped her arm around mine as we took off and tightened it ferociously.

She fell asleep.

I never knew her name. The flight attendant mangled it when checking on her.

I told her about my daughters. My youngest who loves basketball. The eldest who loves singing.

We talked about the plane. I told her all about how they couldn’t just fall out of the sky, how they work with only one engine, and how air could be bumpy. That wasn’t nearly as effective at distracting her as my being exaggeratedly grossed out by her tales while we were landing.

She told me about her dad.

Near the end she showed me a cut on her foot where she’d stepped on some glass her mother had broken in the kitchen. It looked like it needed some care.

“You didn’t see a doctor?”

“No.”

She’d not been good in school, she told me with a bit of a shameful grin, as if I shouldn’t really like her, nor enjoy her company.

She showed me some beautiful paper flowers she’d made, and I met her imaginary friend.

My mind filled in too many blanks.

When the time came, we parted with few words. I left her on the plane. She looked in her bag of random things and quietly gave me the red feather as a keepsake.

I put it in a safe place.