Sunday, November 8, 2009

Android Location APIs and why they anger me

The problem lies in the fact that as a end-developer I have to care about the various location inputs on a phone. I have to think about GPS vs Wifi vs Cell Tower LocationProviders in order to really take advantage of the phone's location capabilities. What basically happened was that my algorithm for picking a users location based on incoming location updates caused more accurate but out of date location updates to be preferred over slightly less accurate but much more recent updates.


I basically have to deal with the fact that I might get location-from-gps after I get location-from-wifi-tower OR i might  get location-from-wifi-tower after I get location-from-gps so that the Last Known location may in some cases return a more or less accurate location than what the phone is really capable of reporting just because I wanted to be able to get a quick-kind-of-accurate-lock while I was trying to accquire a accurate-as-possible sort of lock.

How would I make this better?

I could see an API where instead of registering with individual location providers, you would query the system for a set of location updates. You would define that you want FINE location, but will accept COARSE updates first. You would have a getBestKnownLocation instead of a getLastKnownLocation that would return a location based on heuristics you might define when registering your location provider.  Visually, the updates you'd receive would look something like the growing/shrinking circles you get in the gmaps app when honing in on a location. Maybe the developer would request a "HyperLocalWhileWalkingAround" strategy that could be swapped with "PassiveUpdatesWhenLocationIsSignificentlyChanged." both of which could have knobs for controlling specifics of the strategy.

In short, I want to abstract away the code I have shown as an example above. As a end-developer, I don't care where the location comes from, just that I get a location but I do care, what the data looks like.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Nine days of Nolstaga

I had a very special nine days in the Midwest. Probably some of the best nine days in the Midwest that I can remember. Things:

  1. Concert with Chris - We've been seeing shows together for almost 10 years, and its been 8 since we first saw The Lawrence Arms opening for Alkaline Trio at the 2001 Halloween show. Just wow.
  2. Zombie Crawl with Chris, Andy, Jared and others - All sorts of DSF/Chicago drinking memories coming back to life.
  3. Week at home with family - Good to see everyone. I got a night out with my brother, mom and dad. Would have been nice to spend some time with Deni, but she was sick and then back at school.
  4. Driving to Michigan with Chris and Football Master - I spent years making trips to Michigan with Chris and many others. Doing it again, despite the 6 hour drive there, was fun -- I can feel you breathing.
  5. Halloween Parties in Michigan - I hope that there are and that there are not photos of the hyjinx that ensued Friday Night to Sunday afternoon. Great times with great people.
I swear that every time I go to the midwest its going to be my last social visit. I don't know when that will ever really happen though. Every time I go, I leave hoping that the next trip will be as good as the trip just ending.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

git

After spending 2 nights trying to fix my git repository that I broke following instructions on line about removing files from repo history, I'm back to a state where my repo is sane and no longer contains those files I was concerned about. In the course of doing this I had decided to migrate to mercurial, but damn,
rebase --interactive
is very nifty. It allowed me to pretend that the offending commits never even happened! I am still going to switch to mercurial; now that my repo is cleaned up, I should be able to be schizophrenic and switch between which ever VCS I choose

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Bookmarks Live Folder



Want a "live folder" for bookmarks on your android home screen?
http://market.android.com/search?q=pname:com.googlecode.livebookmarks

New icon for Foursquared


Chris made me an awesome icon for the app. In return he got an alpha release! How lucky is that! Now for the low low cost of a line of code or cool menu icons, you too can have some buggy android software!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Android, Foursquare and Push Notifications

How to get push notifications on Android.

As we all are aware its possible to run apps in the background in Android. The way push notifications work for the google apps like gmail and gtalk are by way of TCP connections with long TTLs. This allows the phone to wake up intermittently as the gsm radio will do (on the measure of microseconds) to see if new data has arrived on the wire. This implementation though, requires its own backend and for each service doing it, we'd be draining the battery even further...

Other work on Android Push:

XMPP/Jabber is even worse. Not only is xmpp/jabber a very chatty protocol, but as it works with one long xml stream, the disconnected nature of a cell phone does not jive well with it... holding an open xmpp connection is probably a very bad idea.

So where does this leave us with push notifications on Android if anything push we do is going to eat the battery and cause the user to uninstall the app?

One option would be to send periodic position updates based on some limiter (the API only has a radius accuracy of no less than a mile. We wouldn't have to wake up all that frequently for the common case of people don't drive around during night time activities). Knowing this, most of the work can be done on the backend to calculate "interesting things," and for notifications, we can send the response over gtalk. Specifically gtalk because most Android phones already have that previously mentioned long-lived tcp session that we can piggy back on. The message could be something along the lines of:

<a href="foursquare://com.playfoursquare.api.NotificationsAuthority/notification/12345?click=user">Mike M.</a> is hanging out at <a href="foursquare://com.playfoursquare.api.NotificationsAuthority/notification/notification/12345?click=venue">Mike's Bar and Grill</a>.

Users clicking on the link would be directed to the android foursquare app, where we could display awesome information.

I'd have to try this out to see if it actually works and how an android app would register as a global URI handler but it should be do-able.

Foursquared Help

I'm looking for help on foursquared. I can start fleshing out some starter bugs and features so that anyone interested can just jump right in and code.

I've been hating git since I started using it and may end up migrating the SCM to HG on Google Code... I just feel more comfortable with both tools... Still not sure. If I have any external contributors it will really force my hand as I don't want to have to deal with emailed diffs and patches.

I'm not asking for testers because at the pace I'm going, the problems and features I'm trying to implement take up my allocated time plus a bit more. Increasing the water hose of bug reports and feature requests would just drown me. On the other hand, I did put together some crash reporting infrastructure while I was on the airplane so that when I do release, I can get automated bug reports: http://joelapenna.com/blog/labels/dumpcatcher (the code is at http://dumpcatcher.googlecode.com)

Right now I'm working on some troubling network connectivity issues (after some period of usage, all HTTP requests start hanging). After I resolve these issues I will be readed for limited testing... I'm content to release non-feature-complete if only to get some people looking at the app who might be developers.

I'm thinking that feature-wise the release will include the five screens I've sent before: http://joelapenna.com/foursquared/

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fighting LiveFolders

Cupcake introduced "Live Folders" to the android world and since then I've wondered why the phone does not come with a LiveFolder implementation for bookmarks by default. In an effort to try and get code into core-android I set out to write it, but I've been struggling with all sorts of issues.

  1. ContentProvider.query returns a CursorWrapper, not a real cursor, which means if an existing content provider does not provide a live folders implementation and you want to write your own little content provider to proxy the requests with correctly formatted responses you'll have to implement your own cursor to delegate to the cursor wrapper. I resolved this by creating a MatrixCursor in my content provider into which I copy the columns from the BrowserProvider.
        public Cursor query(Uri uri, String[] projection, String selection, String[] selectionArgs,
                String sortOrder) {
            Cursor c = getContext().getContentResolver().query(Browser.BOOKMARKS_URI,
                    Browser.HISTORY_PROJECTION, "bookmark = 1", null, null);
    
            String[] liveFolderColumnNames = {
                    LiveFolders._ID, LiveFolders.NAME, LiveFolders.ICON_PACKAGE,
                    LiveFolders.ICON_RESOURCE,
            };
            MatrixCursor mc = new MatrixCursor(liveFolderColumnNames, c.getCount());
    
            int columnCount = c.getColumnNames().length;
            while (c.moveToNext()) {
                Object[] row = {
                        c.getString(Browser.HISTORY_PROJECTION_ID_INDEX),
                        c.getString(Browser.HISTORY_PROJECTION_TITLE_INDEX),
                        getContext().getPackageName(), R.drawable.ic_launcher_shortcut_browser_bookmark
                };
                mc.addRow(row);
            }
            return mc;
        }
    
  2. I can't figure out how in hell I'm supposed to use ICON_BITMAP to set an icon for each item in the LiveFolder -- Looking at the source code it looks like its expecting a byte[], which I am in fact providing, but then the provider is having difficult constructing a bitmap out of that data and NPE's trying to (and I don't know why it is doing so) thumbnail the icon!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Dumpcatcher: Uncaught Exceptions and Client IDs

Alright, about halfway through my flight and I now have an Uncaught exception handler that will post messages to dumpcatcher.

It doesn't work with android at the momement... There is a thread I know I have to read on android-developers. I think I starred it because I knew I'd find it uuseful.

The first user of this class was going to be Foursquared, but it turns out the code I wrote doesn't work.

I quickly added the ability to create a client id attached to each crash in order to allow me track each individual client and in the process refactored a bit of the code here and there. I'll have to remeber to update the design doc as I have made some changes to the design after noticing flaws in my original work.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dumpcatcher: Java Client

I'm on my way back from Cambodia... More on that later...

After spending about two-three hours working on hmac signing with Java I now have a working Dumpcatcher client for Java, this is similar to the python client

clients/python/logging/handler.py:Dumpcatcher
in that its usage is:
Dumpcatcher dc = new Dumpcatcher(PRODUCT_KEY, SECRET, "http://localhost:8080/add", 2);
HttpResponse response = dc.sendCrash(
    new NameValuePair("short", "Some short dump"),
    new NameValuePair("long", "some long dump")
)
    assertNotNull(response);
    assertEquals(200, response.getStatusLine().getStatusCode());

Have a look: http://code.google.com/p/dumpcatcher/source/browse/clients/java/src/com/googlecode/dumpcatcher/logging/Dumpcatcher.java?r=20090629r0

Now onto making a logging client for this guy.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dumpcatcher: Python Client

For the python dumpcatcher client I decided to go with the standard python logging infrastructure. While there was definitely something lacking in the python documentation for logging.py I found all the information I needed with a combination of the docs and the source code itself. Creating a python client for the dumpcatcher is now pretty simple:
import handler  # from dumpcatcher.clients.python.logging

logger = logging.getLogger('my_tag')
logger.setLevel(logging.DEBUG)  
logger.addHandler(
      DumpcatcherHandler('agtkdW1wY2F0Y2hlcnINCxIHUHJvZHVjdBgCDA',
                         '9b6c65910428419db0d0b730278b72e3',
                         'http://localhost:8080/add',
                         5))


try:
  'a' + 1  # TypeError!
except Exception, e:
  logger.exception('Oh man! Look at this!')
The output of which looks something like:
2009-06-21 06:36:57 demo 40
handler.py:110:broken Oh man! Look at this!
handler.py:110:broken Oh man! Look at this!
Traceback (most recent call last):
File "/home/jlapenna/code/dumpcatcher/clients/python/logging/handler.py", line 108, in broken
  'a' + 1
TypeError: cannot concatenate 'str' and 'int' objects
File "/home/jlapenna/code/dumpcatcher/clients/python/logging/handler.py", line 110, in broken
  logger.exception('Oh man! Look at this!')
Looking at this now, it seems that all I have left is the java client and data aggregation before I'm feature complete!

Dumpcatcher: Python HTTP and Dates libraries

Sheesh,

Python really shows its age when you have to deal with dates, http and urls. I was able to implement my signing and verification bit of code just now and it was quite a pain. I have a sample client in clients/python/example.py and the endpoint/crash.Add handler should show you the inverse side of the handshake.

The thing that was definitely most challenging was writing the example client. Because the python libraries for http, etc evolved over time there are about seventy-five ways to do an http request instead of python's normal "one."

Same can be said for datetime modules. Long ago when we had to use mx time there was a DateTime object, now its built into python so everything should be peachy? Yeah, date handling in python was improved by this change but timezones are still outrageous! Considering I'm now about 10 hours off UTC, I have had to think about how to submit a request in string form. For now though I'm going to punt and require that times submitted are in the UTC time zone.

Now that I've got that baked in, I can acutally write the code that logs the requests to the data store. After that, I need to write a bit of code to do sorting and aggregating of the crash dump data.

Dumpcatcher: HTML

Wow, its been quite a while since I've written any HTML. Probably about one year. Its also been that long since I last used AppEngine and as a result I'm really, really rusty.

I'm now about 3 hours into the hack-a-thon (on a plane instead of of a coffee shop) and I have about 10 hours of battery life remaining.

Things I've learned so far:

I totally forgot the basic IO operations for the app engine data store and with this kind of knowledge its actually pretty hard to re-learn -- I remember such random bits and pieces I forget which parts are bad memory or actuality.

The design doc was fun to write, I had to think about a few different problems that I figured I would encounter. I even realized that my initial idea for request signing had some security vunerabilities which I had to think about how to resolve.

I have one third of the whole project done, but its the smallest one third. Users are now able to register their account and create an unlimited number of products.

Next, I need to write the server side component of crash logging. Eg, when a user submits a crash the request must be authorizedand then it needs to get into the datastore.

Dumpcatcher: Design Doc

As I do with any project at work, I want to put together a short doc describing the scope and scale at which I will write this app.

Summary

Dumpcatcher is a simple web service that takes authorized requests from remote clients and logs key-value pairs in its datastore for future analysis. These pairs are typically an aribitrary identifier and an exception/stack-trace.

Features

  • Crash Stack Message storage
  • Clients must be able to submit stack traces (well, arbitrary strings) along with various bits of meta-data. Version, app name, etc.
  • Client libraries for Python, Java
  • I am targeting my <a href="http://joelapenna.com/git/foursquared.git">Foursquared Android Client

    Unknown end tag for </a>

    as well as any other pet projects I may use in the future.
  • Data Aggregation
  • I plan on allowing data aggregation by exception type, custom label and line.
  • Authenticated Client Requests
  • All requests by clients must be sent by authorized clients to prevent the service from becoming a black hole for spam. Design:

Design

App Engine has a very simple data store and webapp framework that I intend to utiltize for the basic functionality of the app.

Users

Users represent a single Google Id and a particular developer using the system.

Products

A product is an application that uses the dumpcatcher to log crashes. A user may have multiple products.

Each product registered will have two values associated with it, a productKey which will be passed as a paramter in all HTTP requests to the server and a secret which will be used to HMAC sign a request.

Product secrets will be randomly generated UUIDs.

HTTP Request

All requests to the dumpcatcher service will be secured with an HMAC hash. The hash will be keyed by a unique identifier provided to the client

productKey

Each client -> server request will include a productKey, an identifier used to differentiate between different products using the service.

HMAC

All requests must be submitted with an HMAC-SHA1 hex digest of the request query paramters as well as an increasing "request" identifer. The message consists of a standard http "query", sorted by keyname and quoted, request

For: http://localhost/add?product_keyd=1234&some=pair&other=pair we would construct the digest like so:

TODO(jlapenna): Probably don't want to split on & if the contents of the request might contain one though, they should already be encoded. Something like that...

sorted_query = ''.join(sorted(request.query_string.split('&'))) hash = hmac.new('SOME KEY', sorted_query, hashlib.SHA1)

And, as such, the actual request made to the server will be:

'http://localhost/add?product_key=12345&some=pair&other=pair&hmac=%(hash)s'

On the backend the server will take the reverse steps and using the secret associated with the provided productKey, will verify the authenticity of the request by encoding the query paramters the same way it is done on the client, keying the result by secret associated with the provided productKey.

Datastore

Initially there will be three models, one corresponding to "crashes," another to "users" and the third to "products."

Each user will be associated with a specific Google ID but a single Google ID can have many products.

Security

Security and validity of client-> server requests will be handled via the usage of HTTPS for securing communications and for HMAC to verify authenticity of a client request.

Replay Attack

An attacker with access to the HTTP stream a client -> server request is sent over will be able to execute a replay attack by capturing the HTTP post made by the client and submitting it as its own, at any rate he so desires.

The solution as such is to only allow requests over HTTPS. This gains the added advantage of preventing any private data from leaking via a network observer packet sniffing.

Caveats

It is likely and highly reasonable that an app like this exists in a highly more polished and featureful way. I chose this project because I felt like it would be a good way to explore some new technologies and have a fun time; not because this is in any way "new" or "exciting"

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dumpcatcher

I took the day off in order to spend it writing some code. My goal for today is to finish with a fully-functional exception catcher for my projects so that I don't have to require users to send me tracebacks or exceptions when they occur.

I started by registering http://dumpcatcher.appspot.com. I will be pushing frequently to this site as I add features. I chose App Engine because I like that its hassle-free application deployment. Launch the app, run it, walk away and it should just work!

Second, I registered http://dumpcatcher.googlecode.com. I will be pushing the code here pretty much just as frequently as I push the site. I chose Mercurial as the SCM because I am sick and tired of git.

So... Let me begin...

Addendum: I actually ended up going into work instead of taking the day off and coded this on a flight to Cambodia.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Foursquared!

In early April I started working on an Android client for Foursquare I started out with an idea that I could screenscrape enough of the mobile app to make a worthy native api but I was quick to discover other nefarious methods to get at the API that Foursquare was using on the iPhone client. Armed with wireshark and a couple of python scripts, I was able to auto-generate a Java API based on data samples pulled from the TCP dump.
Over the next several weeks I started designing a UI for the app. First and foremost I developed a venue search + checkin activity. I then implmentented another screen to scratch an itch, the CheckinsActivty. This is neat because it displays in a list and in a map which each of your foursquare friends may be.
I had to take a break from the UI work when I started talking with the foursquare people intesting their public API. After several days of fighting with Apache's HttpClient and oauth-signpost (Signpost, by the way, is awesome -- The problems were all in my implementation).
Now its mid-June and I've gotten back to working on UI features; I wrote a "UserActivity" yesterday that displays information about a user. At the moment this information is limited to their name, city and badges acquired. I've also started recovering (fixing bugs) from a lot of refactoring I've been doing in the UI to simplify the design.
I have to start work on figuring out what I want the app to do... In the short term and the medium term. The end state is pretty clear -- feature parity with the iPhone client and a pretty UI to boot. After that there are cool pie in the sky ideas but I'll probably be bored of working on the client by the time I get there.

Join the Foursquared Mailing List!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Twitter blah blah blah

This weekend I was in Amsterdam and one of the cool things about this trip opposed to last year's tour-de-Europe was that I was checking twitter along the way. I'd stop at a cafe for a beer or a snack and pull out my phone. I'd reload the search.twitter.com page I had in the browser with q=amsterdam and I could get an up to the minute feed of what was going on in the city *right then and there*. I was also able to solicit suggestions from other people using the service and found a set of cool and not so cool things to do in the city! The coolest was that I found out the World Photo Press Exhibition was going on (incidentally in the old church within the red-light district).

I can see where this is going and hopefully in the future I'll be able to filter out the boring "Look at me, I'm in insert-location-here" tweets and get a more useful result set but even now it was quite fun looking to see what was going on around me that was just out of sight.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lately

Lately I've been:
  • Playing Kickball
  • Hacking on Android/phone stuff
  • Building cellular networks
  • Slacking at work
  • Working at work
  • Drinking a bit too much, then just the right amount.
  • Walking around
  • Eating BBQ while watching a basketball game
  • Exploritorium'ing the Outside
  • Planning
  • Scheming
  • Reading: 2 books a month (only once was I behind schedule!)
Things I haven't been doing:
  • Taxes
  • Selling my car
  • Keeping in contact
  • Running around

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Board Games and Take Out

Tomorrow is my Birthday.

In lieu of doing something outrageous and fun I plan on doing something geeky and lame.

I'm getting home around 6pm tomorrow (Monday) night. I don't plan on leaving. If you would like to show up (at any time there-after) and play some awesome board games that would be super cool.

Sometime in the future there will probably be Birthday related celebration (Chuck-e-Cheeze? Base Jumping?) but I'll schedule that for a time that isn't the Monday night before St. Patrick's Day.

PS. If you go out drinking with me on St. Patrick's day you can say things like "Happy Birthday" and buy me beers, but that does not excuse you from doing the same thing in the near future when there is an official birthday celebration. You can also bring the beverage of your choice tomorrow if my extensive stock of half empty bottles of random liquor does not interest you.

Lastly, you can on any (preferably all) of these days give me birthday presents.

Games:

  • Shadows over Camelot
  • Bang
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Colosseum (If I can purchase it in time)
  • Pompeii (If I can purchase it in time)
  • Gloom (If I can purchase it in time)
  • Cranium
  • Hackers
  • Tic-tac-toe (Don't mess. I'm awesome at this game. ~30 times better than your average polar bear.)
  • xbox (Don't be lame. Play real games)

As you can see there are games for everyone here.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Statusinator Update

Just pushed a new version of Statusinator to the Market. New Features:
  • Create Albums from the Upload Photo Activity
  • Progress Bar updates when uploading photos.
  • 60% faster photo uploads.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Data from Google Checkout

So I recently started selling things using Google Checkout and wanted an easy way to check my sales metrics. I thought it would be simple, after all, this is Google, they do gdata for most of their products. Turns out I'm wrong. gcheckout does not have a gdata API and as a result I could not use the existing google-gdata-python API to do my queries. In fact, until recently you couldn't even get an nice report of your sales using any API. Never-the-less, the available API implementations are not of much use to me, a python programmer guy. There aren't any python api examples either. So, I ended up using a Google provided RUBY implementation, some awk and some shell to get the information I needed.
Having never written Ruby this took much longer than I had wanted to spend on it. I still don't know any ruby even though I wrote ten line... heh. I also had to learn a bit of awk. I bet there are better ways of doing what I'm doing but I was in a rush.
Nasty Awk
BEGIN{
  voided_total = 0
  voided_orders = 0

  charged_total = 0
  charged_orders = 0

  new_total = 0
  new_orders = 0

  total = 0
  total_orders = 0

  raw = 0
  raw_orders = 0
}

{
  raw += $6
  raw_orders++

  if ($8 == "CHARGED") {
 charged_total += $7
 charged_orders++

    total += $6
    total_orders++
  }

  if ($8 != "PAYMENT_DECLINED" && $9 == "NEW") {
 new_total += $6
 new_orders++

    total += $6
    total_orders++
  }

  if ($8 == "CANCELLED" || $8 == "PAYMENT_DECLINED") {
 voided_total += $6
 voided_orders++
  }
}

END{
  print "Voided:\t\t" voided_total "\t(" voided_orders ")"
  print "Charged:\t" charged_total "\t(" charged_orders ")"
  print "New:\t\t" new_total "\t(" new_orders ")"
  print "Raw:\t\t" raw "\t(" raw_orders ")"
  print ""
  print "Valid:\t\t" total "\t(" total_orders ")"
}
Nasty Ruby
require "google4r/checkout"

class Test
  def myorders
    # Use your own merchant ID and Key, set use_sandbox to false for production
    configuration = { :merchant_id => '675887550112686', :merchant_key => 'AAsdffRGSgGSSHFDDAsfghj', :use_sandbox => false }
    @frontend = Google4R::Checkout::Frontend.new(configuration)
    checkout_command = @frontend.create_order_report_command(Time.local(2009,"feb",2,10,15,1), Time.new())
    response = checkout_command.send_to_google_checkout    
    puts response
    # puts response.redirect_url    
  end
end

t = Test.new
t.myorders
Nasty Shell
#!/bin/bash
ruby -I /var/lib/gems/1.8/gems/money-2.1.3/lib/ -I ~/src/google-checkout-ruby-sample-code/lib ~/get_order_info.rb |\
  awk --field-separator=',' --exec ~/get_order_info.awk
Nasty Data Sample
Google Order Number,Merchant Order Number,Order Creation Date,Currency of Transaction,Order Amount,Amount Charged,Financial Status,Fulfillment Status
328708331237305,328708331237408,"Feb 20, 2009 3:35:32 AM",USD,0.99,0.00,CANCELLED,WILL_NOT_DELIVER
521483258992859,521481258996859,"Feb 20, 2009 4:38:07 PM",USD,0.99,0.99,CHARGED,DELIVERED
141649937446182,145649937456182,"Feb 20, 2009 10:07:17 PM",USD,0.99,0.00,PAYMENT_DECLINED,NEW
211001643228570,148041643218570,"Feb 21, 2009 2:05:02 PM",USD,0.99,0.00,CHARGEABLE,NEW

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Started out strong....

I started out this year strong; three books, three weeks. In the following three weeks though, I've dawdled through three books; not completing any of them; one of them I even threw out. So what am I to do?
  1. Wikinomics (Can't read it. Threw it out.)
  2. The Art of Strategy (Sounds interesting but haven't started it.)
  3. Anathem (Too much gobbly gook. I think I'm over Neal Stephenson)
  4. The Maltese Falcon (I'd like to see the movie(s) first.)
  5. The Satanic Verses (I'm 20% finished and having a hard time understanding what is going on).
  6. Insert your suggestion here

So there we have it. Five books that I can think of, off the top of my head that I haven't started reading or am having trouble getting through not to mention the countless

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Vegas, on the Run

Two weeks ago, at the behest of my friend Kevin the both of us along with six others embarked on a last-minute trip to Las Vegas. We started planning at 7:30pm on Friday and less than 12 hours later we were all on a plane headed to the Sin City. Carrie, John, Bill, Liz, Christina, Abbey, Kevin and I were the troopers who went. The trip was fantastic. From the all night drinking session we had Friday night (probably the worst idea of the weekend) and the "GET IN THE VAN. GET IN THE VAN!" super shuttle ride at 5am to the airport all the way through to Champaign brunch at the hotel Sunday morning, airplane cocktails and then finally Italian Beef sandwiches in the Mission that staved off both the end of our trip and an early bedtime there was just never ending amazingness. Props have to be given to Kevin for his dedication to the cause and being unrelenting in getting people (including myself) to go. Condolences must also be given to John for the Devil Sandwich caper that caused his ill health the entire weekend. Arriving Saturday morning required that we steer clear of Abbey's "Lets walk from the Airport" nonsense advice. At the hotel some of use were in zombie mode and required a nap.

So we had zee naps. Then we went out for lunch. Where should we go to lunch? I wouldn't have known; nobody else would have but the call of free Margaritas answered that question for us -- a nice woman handing out fliers for a cheezy tex-mex restaurant provided us with such free things. Lunch was fantastic. To have food, and not booze in my stomach was incredible though only the Salsas were of note. Afterwards we went to New York and I saw the first of my friends (Kevin, John, Bill) doing the gambling thing at the single-deck Blackjack tables. Not quite into the cards thing the remainder of us walked around a bit and found ourselves accosted with small playing cards. Not of baseball players or golfers but rather of blinding flashlights and stars that covered the more private parts of the prostitutes that advertised their services. Walking through throngs of people shoving these in your general direction was quite disquieting and would have likely errupted in violence if the advertisers, at last possible moment, had not retracted their outstretched arms. We continued walking. At the Bellagio fountain the most appropriate music provided a soundtrack for a dancing water display and, the only down point of the weekend, a disgruntled phone conversation between someone and someone else. "My Heart Will Go On!" it proclaimed to the animated motion of pyrotechnic water displays and frustrated gestures of the phone conversationalist.

From there all the way to Paris we traveled with a western stop at Bill's saloon where the most sugary more-than-a-slushy 99 cent Margaritas provided a sugar coma to the few of us who consumed them (not me... I'm not one for sugary drinks; especially those ones). Onward! Forward! We continued on our journey stopping underneath the 5/8ths scale Eiffel Tower, studdering past a midget leprechaun offering cheap bud light and stopping (by way of an outstreched heel at an intersection) a pink Be-Be tracksuit outfitted crazy woman. No, "Excuse me," was not, to her, a suitable request for our slight relocation out of her way. Instead, pushing a dog-laden children's stroller she stuck her tounge out: "Thhhhhbbbbbbbbbttttttt." No sooner did we make way for her was she stopped by another onlooker and bothered for a photo op. Little did we know our brush with a Las Vegas Strip brush with fame. We never did find out who that woman was -- the desire to consult the camera-laden fan never really piqued our interest to cross that intersection; but she will remain famous to us. Headlines: "Pink-track-suited Dog Pusher Raspberries Strangers!" "Tourist with Camera Disappointed by crazy-lady photo op! Says she was not the crazy person they were looking for." "Residents outraged: Woman Pushes Stroller into Stranger. Onlookers Confused"

Forthright we continued on pace to welcome the unknown that was about to confront us. From afar the ever gazing eyes of the Wizard Donnie (Osmond) mocked us from the flamenco themed hotel near our heads. Distracted by the omnipresent eyes we threw money to the wind in exchange for plastic wristbands that went unused. Damn that Donnie Osmund and his confusing ways. In Vegas, money floats through the air but you must offer some to the gods of the winds for the chance (less than 50%, even with the best logic) to paw at the squandered presidential leaves of green that riddle the air currents above your reach.

The Venetian housed a wax Whoopie Goldberg, a faux Nick Cage and imitation Blue Men as the landscape surrounding rolling hills of moving walkways. Only a twitchy arm captured our group's worn photograph; mimicking the dream one of us exclaimed that we were a part of. Through a mall we squandered time none of in the lead but all of us following. Escaping the blue skies of the mall we found a Treasure Island and here it was that I had my first taste of Vegas free booze; It was the most expensive free booze; I'd ever consumed. From $45 dollars ahead of the curve to 45 below I ordered, waited for, then consumed my drink. Cashing in my chips for far less than I had offered for them in the first place, I set my drink down on a building column before we wound our way back down the strip to a Burger Bar.

But no, the draw of food does nothing to hold back the urges of a gravel parking lot "club wear" store. The polution smothered and sooted maniquins outside were ample warning to the scummyness inside. Later we found "Burger Bar" and within it a beer list thicker than the burger-only menu with any topping you could want was the food setting for our Las Vegas dinner. Food was consumed. I had a "Kobe" beef burger with blue cheese, peppered bacon and prosciutto burger. Great burger and beer; sub-par fries.

Full and content we stumbled to our temporary home at the Monte Carlo and it was then that disaster nearly struck. Tired from a day's activities and a night's lack of sleep some of us crashed. Others though could not sleep and with a great insight they went to purchase beer. Even beer did not awaken the sleeping folk but there was someone who would not let this disappointment; someone who dressed the part and made us awaken. Christina was the tour-de-force that got all of us out of that hotel room at a bit past midnight to get to the clubs. From Ceaser's Palace to the Bellagio we moved as the clubs there were holding lines hours long. In the bar right nearby we consumed great drinks and while the music was good a giant table stood in the way of dancing; Kevin, as he is known to do, contacted a friend that was in the city and we were redirected to the Hard Rock Hotel where a great DJ and fun atmosphere led the way for hyjinx. Abbey, Kevin, Liz, Carrie and I were the five AM rockstars that got asked to leave the club when the lights were up and we realized where the hell we were at that ungodly hour (Hard Rock Hotel's Club) but it was Kevin and Liz who stayed the course and did not take to sleep. There was gambling to be done and Kevin would not waver in that efort.

Sunday morning saw the invisible departures of a portion of our crew as life back in the city (Bill was moving) and other travel arrangements (Abbey was flying to New York later that afternoon!) required an painfully early 10am flight out of Vegas. The remaining members of our group still had several hours to kill and took it at a Champaign Buffet where many Mimosa were had by all (except Carrie, whom as we understand it now, prefers Bloody Marys to the delicious Orange Juice and "White Label Andre," champaign.

But this was still not the end of our journey. Through two flights and a layover we continued our journey, sleep coming briefly but dismissed with an excitement that was still not fully depleted. Even after landing in SFO we continued our travels. To the mission we went; some of us consuming the first Itallian Beef we'd had in months; for others it was their first. We consumed or food with zeal washing them down with delicious beers and soon it was time to part ways. Some went North, some went South, others ventured East and the remainder headed west. Dispersing through our city I can hardly recal and as we all reached our homes we welcomed the sleep that we had been ignoring for days -- dreamless from exhaustion and the dream that had been the haze of our recent adventure days.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan (January 12, 2009) - 462 Books In A Year

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan (January 12, 2009) - 462 Books In A Year Oh yeah, great. I call dibs on reading 26 books this year and jerk has to go and read 462 of them. Jerk.

Bi-weekly books.

Like my friend Drew who is reading a book every week this year, I am trying to read a book every two weeks. I just finished up reading "Dies the Fire," by SM Stirling. It was a good book though a bit slow at parts. I don't have much of a review for it though -- Its a low-magic fantasy book complete with swords, gods and some modern conviences. No Electricity or Gunpowder though. The book chronicles two major characters with differing styles leading a group of people in a new era of no technology.

Next is The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist's Guide to Success in Business and Life, which I originally read about on the Freakonomics blog. It sounds interesting and engaging and should hold my curiosity. I want to alternate between fiction and non-fiction in my quest this year. I was originally going to read Ananthem next, in fact, I started it last night but I want to read this one first. Plus Anathem is intimidating at 900 pages.