Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gas update?

Once again, I didn't end up getting my own gas. I wound up driving for a yard sale route this past weekend (best find: $12 for most of both Toby at Wellsworth Station and James and Percy Tunnel Set - got all of Toby and James, all but one part for Percy, the tunnel, and a ton of DUPLO track), but I never wound up heading back out later in the day (and dad - perennial misplacer of receipts - volunteered to get gas).

Here's a rough data point, based on how much gas he thought he pumped and what the odometer said when I got back in this morning (traffic was AWFUL, and I was late even without having to stop for gas).

13.5 gallons?
311 miles ?

23.03 MPG

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Input Wanted On Upcoming LEGO Shopping Guide

I know most people here are interested in LEGO (since most projects I've blogged are about that hobby of mine), so I have some questions for my fellow LEGO fans: What are you picking up this year? Where are you finding good deals? What are you buying/hoping for for Christmas?

I will be developing a multiple vendor Christmas value guide for the LMOTD blog at some point in the near future. Some stuff's a given (Beach House, Cool Convertibles, Green Grocer, Cafe Corner, Market Street, VW Beetle, etc), but I'm looking to find the best prices I can (Amazon and LEGO are already available to me for sponsored links, and I believe TRU and Target are also in the LinkShare network) and help readers find some cool kits that aren't really LMOTD worthy (like the current town gas station kit and the Agents Mobile Command Center). I'm sure there are tons of great bargains and sets out there that I just don't know about as well (some themes excite me more than others, and I'm yet to start taking the newer Bionicle or Belville sets, or anything "Power Functions" seriously). Feel free to recommend unofficial items (storage units, books, software, gear, whatever else) as well.

So, have any thoughts to share? Leave them in the comments here (open to everyone, no registration required) or e-mail them to

Post-Election Thoughts

Believe it or not, I do have some good project ideas related to this recent election that I'd like to share. I doubt I'll get to doing much with them myself, but I'd like to encourage all other web development/policy nerds to look into them whenever they get the chance.

The long-and-short of it is that both Presidential candidates were instrumental, as Senators and elsewhere in their careers, in bringing forth government transparency initiatives that are useful to bloggers and journalists. Surprisingly, neither campaign was up front about this (I was very disappointed in both campaigns this election for not discussing the candidates' records enough). Somewhere along the way, however, both initiatives picked up API's of use to us web programming nerds.

I'm not new to the world of trying to link to policy data online. I've been frustrated by the THOMAS Library of Congress website on several occasions.

I only recently found out that one of the website ideas Obama has been championing is already available at - this is particularly noteworthy as a certain nutcase on the Republican ticket claimed that she would start this idea, in spite of the fact that the law mandating this passed in 2006. Bloggers and web developers, take a look at that API - we could seriously inform people about up-to-the-minute facts on US spending directly on our websites (with server-side code, of course - cross-site scripting is now blocked by most modern browsers). The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act was passed in 2006 and deployment quickly sped along, thanks to subcontracting with OMB Watch, details at the Wikipedia link above.

McCain smartly co-sponsored that as a Senator as well (it's just a great bill, and I like to think everyone can back legislation like that, even if not everyone can write it). More noteworthy, though, is his involvement as one of the 40 national leaders co-founding Project Vote Smart back in 1992. The non-partisan, non-profit group is dedicated to getting out the facts about candidates' stances on a variety of major issues. There is now an API in open beta and a start at providing RSS support as well.

I'd like to see bloggers everywhere take the initiative and work these resources into their sites. I suspect that both sites (and many other similar sites) will expand the resources available as the demand for them is shown. Again, I'm a bit too busy to take this up as a hobby right now, but I think other web developers should have at it for their political blogs and websites (and of course, I could probably find time if appropriately compensated :) ).

...and on a more personal note, I hope I enjoy my "win" on the general Presidential election more than I enjoyed my "win" during the Republican primary. I'm still feeling a bit disillusioned about how things played out these past few months, and I really hope that the next few years of an Obama administration are much more serious than anything I saw during this election. I also find this bittersweet - as this post shows, I really respected both of these guys as Senators, and I think that there isn't a way to truly replace Obama as a Senator - it's the Senate's loss, in a way. I do still hope to get more involved as a blogger, but it still doesn't look likely that I will. Still, the transparency initiatives are very promising for letting everybody get more involved, and looks like a decent start on making the office of the President more transparent as well (although it looks like his stance on community service has changed since the election - is that an error from a lower-level staffer, or is that intentional?)

EDIT: Either that "mandatory community service" bit was a mistake or we have a cover-up conspiracy here (choose depending on your political persuasion): has been updated to remove the bizarre policy I asked about at the end of that last paragraph. I'd like to think that it was removed BECAUSE of people like me (but with more clout) pointing out that it was a bad idea...but somehow I doubt that that error is an issue we'll ever hear revisited. In any case, the stance I liked during the campaign is now what's listed on the website.

LMOTD This Week

LMOTD will be having a themed week this upcoming week - yes, a theme that meets all of my "variety" requirements! You're welcome to guess it in the comments of this post - I don't plan on announcing it there.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Track Designer

I'm not really working on this project (I need to try out Visual C++, but as of yet, I have not started using it) - but this is awesome. After years of being unable to update one of the most popular LEGO CAD programs for collaborative layouts - as well as a few competing software packages, including one where someone tried to reverse engineer TD - the Track Designer source code has finally been found. This LUGNET thread has the details. If you're new to all this, you're better off reading RailBricks issue 2 than anything else I have to say on the topic.