Category Archives: Personal

Volunteers for Change Fairfax, VA

Leticia has been interested in getting us involved more in the community so she’s been hunting around for local service opportunities. She finally found a great program in our area that I thought I’d share for anybody looking for volunteer experiences in the DC metro region.

Fairfax City runs a division called Volunteer Fairfax that provides volunteers for numerous events through the year. They also organize team-building service activities for your company, up to thousands of people.

Volunteer Fairfax runs a specific program called Volunteers for Change. This program provides hundreds of weekend and evening volunteer opportunities, organized over the web. It’s perfect for people who can’t commit to regular hours every week or month, but want to do something when they can.

Events from their sample calendar:

  • Dinner prep at Ronald McDonald house
  • Bowling with the mentally/physically disabled
  • Bag groceries
  • Thrift store sorting
  • Tutoring
  • theater ushers
  • special city events
  • medical supply sorting

How it works:

  1. Attend an orientation at their building in the Fairfax County Court Complex
  2. Fill out some simple paperwork, sign a release
  3. Wait a day for your info to be added to their system
  4. Log into the web-site, find an event you can do, and sign up online.

Formational Experiences

When I was 9, I started playing with GW-BASIC by typing in programs found in the old kid’s 3-2-1 Contact magazine. This soon progressed to QBASIC, where I mostly made cool graphics with lines and circles.qbasic_output

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QBASIC is not included in Windows anymore, but you can still get it.


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I had also tried modifying the including GORILLAS.BAS and NIBBLES.BAS, but I was still a little too new at this.

When I was 14 I was getting into C/C++ via Borland C++ 3.1 in a big way and spent hours coding prank programs. I had two that I remember:

First was a program called Camels that displayed “I Love Camels!!!” in a vertical, colorful scrolling sine wave down the screen. It trapped Ctrl-Break/Ctrl-C so you couldn’t break out of it. If you hit Ctrl-K, it brought up a password screen that allowed you to exit if you knew the password. Then I put it on a lab at school, set AUTOEXEC.BAT to run it, and modified CONFIG.SYS with “switches /n” to disallow the user hitting F5 to skip processing of AUTOEXEC.BAT. This stunt kind of got me in trouble–the day after school ended, I got a call from my computer science teacher that he couldn’t access the computer and if I wanted a grade I had better get over there and remove that program because he couldn’t get onto the computer. So I had to bike a few miles to school (my parents were out of town) and remove it. Why didn’t the instructor just use a boot disk? No idea… By the way, I got an A.

One of my first Windows programs was something called “Chucky” (why? I don’t know…). Chucky liked to eat….hard disk space. He would startup with no Window, run in the background, and every few minutes it would add a few thousand lines of text to  the file C:\Windows\Chucky.txt. It was probably something like “I am Chucky, I am hungry.”

I even eventually convinced my parents to get me Turbo C++ so I could build Windows programs (suing OWL).

v6upWhen I was in college, I got Visual C++ 6 and thought a fun program would be a desktop utility that occasionally changed your Outlook signature to include a random quotation. You could build up a little database of quotes you liked, and the program would change it on a regular schedule. A friend of mine and I stayed up for nearly 3 days straight working on it. I did most of the programming–he was thinking of new ideas, ways to do things. It was great fun.

These important formational periods are what got me excited about programing. The learning that goes on during a 72-hour hacking session is something that can’t be duplicated in a classroom. The glee at creating pranks is not matched (often) by homework assignments. Sometimes when I’m feeling the drudgery of the current code I work on, I need to remember the excitement I felt back then.

I also need to find something equivalently exciting to work on. One of the things I’m going to do to “get the magic back” (so to speak) is to make sure I’m always experimenting with the latest and great .Net stuff coming out. I need to finally get into WPF, and I’ve even got a fun project to apply it to.

Please help with Word Count Plugin

I was taking a look at the download page for my Word Count Plugin for Windows Live Writer.

It’s gotten a few hundred downloads (thanks!), but the single review is actually spam. Unfortunately, I can’t remove it or even report the review from my account since it’s my own software.

Plea for help: Can a helpful reader out there please report this review as spam and request it to be removed? Also, could someone out there who does use Live Writer write a real review of the plug-in?

If you have further ideas to improve it, please let me know.

Why I love LEGO

For Christmas, I got my wife a neat little townhouse. A LEGO townhouse. She loved it–until she got towards the end of the first model. There was a single piece missing. I went to LEGO’s web site and filled out a simple form. A few weeks later, I got the part and a really nice letter. Sure, it’s a form letter, but it’s still nice:

“Dear Mr. Watson,

Thank you for contacting us on 12/27/07 regarding the quality of LEGO(R) toys and products.

“We were sorry to learn of the difficulty you experienced with your LEGO set. We understand how upsetting and disappointing it can be when a product does not live up to its reputation. Please accept our apologies for the packaging error you encountered. Producing the highest quality LEGO products possible and establishing consumer trust in the LEGO brand name, are the most important goals of our Company. Certainly, whenever a packaging error does occur, we want to correct the situation as quickly as possible to restore your faith in our brand name and what it represents. Therefore, I have enclosed the item(s) you requested to complete your set.

“Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience you have experienced. If we can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Customer Service…”

And that’s why I love LEGO.

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New look coming soon

I’ve been wanting to change the look of this blog to be much more minimalist for a while now, and I think this week will be the week to do it. If you notice weird changes as you’re browsing, please bear with me. 🙂

I’m also going to be reducing the number of ads on the site while trying to make their placement more natural and less intrusive.

UPDATE: Ok, maybe not. I was experimenting with a new theme last night, but it looked a little too sparse. And on my laptop, it was prompting IE7 to install an ActiveX control from Microsoft. I didn’t have time to track it down, so I switched back to this theme, and I think I’ll just concentrate on customizing it further.

No Internet at home

It is really hard not having Internet service at home. Really, really hard. It’s not that I spend every minute checking e-mail, but the lack of ability to check makes the desire that much stronger.

It went out Friday night, sometime after 9 PM. I called Saturday morning, they sent a tech on Sunday night. He determined that the signal was very weak, and that it was weak coming into the house, and that it was so old it had probably corroded to the point where it was useless (these houses are very old). So they have to run a new drop from the junction box into the  home, which they will do tomorrow…

It is making it hard to update, my blog, and accomplish a lot of other personal communications. I can do a little at work, but it’s hard…

On the cover of Wired magazine

OK, It’s a bit old now, but I thought I’d show myself on the cover of Wired magazine. Cool, isn’t it? This was part of a promotion by Xerox where they printed 5,000 (more?) custom covers. This was the July issue. I mostly like how we’re obviously on the water in the picture, but not according to the map. Cool, anyway. Definitely a keepsake.

Ben and Leticia on the cover of Wired

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