Things that I like

It occurred to me that a high percentage of my recent posts on various social media are complaints or rants about something that is bugging me at the moment.  Because I don’t want to be that guy, here are some things that I like:

  • MLB Network – My TV is constantly on MLB during baseball season. Great, great coverage. I love Harold Reynolds and Mitch Williams is great (which I wasn’t expecting for some reason).
  • Kindle – I got a Kindle last year and, as a book guy, wasn’t sure if I was going to like it.  Now there are very titles where I want the actual book. I just want it on the Kindle.
  • Chili dogs from The Varsity – Drove through Atlanta last weekend going to my cousin’s wedding and got to stop at The Varsity. Best chili dogs on the planet.
  • Ken Burns Baseball – As long as this has been out, I can’t believe I’ve never watched this.  Watching it on Netflix on my Tivo Premiere (2 more things I like, by the way)
  • Foo Fighters – Not only a great band, but you’ve got to love guys that help cover a set at a festival when someone else is a no-show and play shows in peoples’ garages.
  • Stub Hub – They made this list by taking care of me (and everyone else) when it looked like the Auburn vs. Oregon BCS Championship was going to be a disaster.
  • Citrix Online (GoToAssist, GoToMeeting, GoToMyPC) – Helping other people with their computers is a lot easier now than it was 10 years ago and Citrix has a lot to do with that.
  • Google Calendar – On the computer and on my Android phone, this is just a good product.
  • (and last, but not least) Nice lady working at the McDonald’s drive thru who loaned my wife money last week when she got to the window and realized her wallet wasn’t in her purse.

Atlanta Braves/Turner Field seating information

Whenever I’m looking online to buy tickets for a baseball game, I always have a hard time visually translating the 2-dimensional overhead view seating map. (“Is that section in green at the back of the first deck or the front of the second deck?”)  I always end up trying to search for pictures of the stadium to make sense of it.

In case anyone else has similar issues (maybe it’s just me) – I’m posting this. I just did a Turner Field stadium tour (which was great by the way), which gave me a good chance to take a lot of pictures.

Click here for the official Turner Field seating chart on  I just discovered that if you click a section on this map – it shows a picture of the field taken from that section.

As you can see in the  picture below (click the picture for a larger view), Turner Field basically has 3 levels.  Sections numbered in the 100’s and 200’s are on the lowest level – 100’s below the walkway and 200’s above.  This shot is taken from right behind a 200 level section.  The 100 level seats are below the walkway and rails. If you look across the stadium – you can get a better sense of 100 vs. 200.

Turner Field - Terrace level behind Section 228

The sections numbered in the 300s are in the middle level, in front of the suites.  Sections numbered in the 400s are in the upper deck. (You can just see the bottom of the upper deck in right field in the picture above.)

The concourse area on the terrace level (behind the 200 sections) is very spacious by ballpark standards.  Lots of room to get around to bathrooms and concession stands.  (Picture below is dark, but you get the idea.)

Turner Field Terrace Level Concourse

The picture below is the view from the press box. You can get a good sense of the 100 (below the walkway) vs 200 (above the walkway) sections.

The visiting team’s bullpen is just to the left of the foul pole. The open area below the giant screen in center field that looks like a bullpen is actually the sod farm where they grow extra grass to replace worn spots.  The Braves’ bullpen is beyond right field (not shown in this picture).

Notice the area under the big Delta sign. You’ll notice there’s no section shown on the seating chart there.  The 755 Club is located there.

Turner Field view from Pressbox

The picture below zooms in on that area.  The area above all the pennants is the 755 Club. Membership is $500/year, but many tickets you can find on eBay include 755 Club access.

Behind the outfield, there is lots of stuff to do before the game (or during if you have kids that get bored during the game).  If you click on the picture above for a larger view, look in the area between the 755 club and the big screen and you can see through to the Fan Plaza beyond the outfield.  Here is a panoramic view of Fan Plaza from

The picture below shows the view from the 755 club. This view gives you a good view of the 300 sections. (Notice how the suites have a couple of rows of stadium seats on the other side of the white barrier.  Seats below the white barrier are the 300 sections.)

Turner Field - View from 755 club

In the picture below, the area under the big Budweiser sign is the Chop House, a restaurant in the stadium where you can sit and watch the game.  (You can see the Braves’ bullpen from here – to the right of the State Farm sign.)

Turner Field - Chop House

Cool tidbit #1 – tickets for the skinny sections on the very ends of the upper deck (sections 422 and 437) are $1, if you buy them the day of the game.

Cool tidbit #2 – you can bring food into Turner Field.  Here are the details from – Food, non-alcoholic drinks (non-glass, non-aluminum) and soft-sided coolers (with the hard plastic liner removed) ARE permitted.

Vestavia Boy Scouts collecting items for storm victims in Birmingham

Vestavia Hills area Boy Scouts are collecting items for the storm victims around Birmingham all day on Saturday, April 30 and Sunday, May 1 at Scout Square on Highway 31 (where they normally sell Christmas trees – in front of the Post Office and across the street from Publix).

I’ve been up here a few minutes this morning and at this point, I don’t think they need any additional labor. If that changes during the day, I’ll post an update.

They will take anything that you can think of, but here’s what I’ve seen so far:

  • Bottled water
  • Non-perishable food items. (If you are at the store buying canned food, maybe throw in a hand-held can opener.)
  • Flashlights and batteries
  • Toilet paper and other toiletries
  • Clothing
  • Blankets and sheets. (I’ve seen a couple of sleeping bags.)
  • Small toys
  • Baby wipes
  • Hand sanitizer

I’ve seen lots of big trash bags of stuff. If you can separate (toiletries separate from food separate from clothes, for instance) and label things (even writing on a trash bag with a Sharpie helps) – that will make the process more efficient.

Is Microsoft the new IBM?

In the early 90’s, I was starting my programming career. I had a job programming COBOL on an IBM mainframe. I wanted a job programming Visual Basic (3) on Windows 3.1.  At the insurance company where I worked, the old guys (you know – the ones over 40) thought you couldn’t possibly run a company without computers from IBM. (I’m pretty sure we were one of the few sites that ran OS/2.)  I remember thinking that those guys were dinosaurs that didn’t have a clue. PCs and Microsoft were the future

Soon after, I started my own consulting company which has been a Microsoft partner since then. I’ve gotten over 30 MS certifications (going back to VB3 and Windows 3.1). You could definitely call me a “Microsoft guy”.

So now, I’m the old guy (over 40 anyway) and I’ve been listening to younger guys talking about PHP and Ruby on Rails for a few years now.  My initial reaction was something like – “Those are toy languages.  To any serious programming, you need to use .Net.”  The other day it occurred to me that to today’s twenty-something codejocks – I’m the IBM guy from the insurance company.

Well lately I’m starting to think it’s more than just their perception. I’m really starting to hate Microsoft. I don’t mean just the sales side. I’ve hated them for years, but the technology has always been good.  Don’t get me wrong. Visual Studio and SQL Server are still great and I really like SharePoint, but a lot of the other stuff frequently annoys the hell out of me.

Looking back, the decline has been going on for years. Starting on the consumer side – I used Microsoft Money since version 1.0 and loved it but the last few versions really sucked.  (They finally got out of the business and now I have to use Quicken.)  Windows XP was a great operating system, but when Vista came out – our company upgraded in anticipation of our customers upgrading.  No one ever did. (Vista was like the corporate equivalent of Windows ME. Very few people ever saw that either.)  I was hopeful when I heard other people saying good things about Windows 7. Maybe it would be a move back in the direction of XP. Nope – they doubled down in trying to out-Mac Apple. (If I wanted a Mac, I’d buy a Mac.)

I used Windows Phones for many versions – all the way to 6.5. I finally had enough and got a Android phone and love it.

I upgraded my Windows 7 to IE9 the other day and my computer no longer knows that Outlook 2010 is my default email program. (Notice I’m on the current version of everything.)  When I tried to send a file as an attachment today, I got an error message saying I had no default email client. Oddly enough, the message wasn’t from Windows, but was from Outlook.  My default email program was telling me that I had no default email program.

You get the idea.

We’re helping one of our clients move their corporate email.  We use a hosted Exchange service for our email and looked at that first.  It’s basically $5/month/mailbox. They’ve got about 20 mailboxes so that would be about $100/month.  Then we looked at Google Apps and it’s free so that’s what we went with.  One of my co-workers asked me “why do they need an Exchange server?” and I didn’t have a good answer. Just like the old dinosaurs when they tried to explain why we needed a mainframe.

Survey questions – don’t make them mandatory

I just closed my account. (Nothing wrong with I use Quicken and so I didn’t really need it.)  In their confirmation email, they gave me the standard “We hate to lose you as a customer. Would you mind filling out a survey to give us feedback?”

OK – I’ll take a couple of minutes and let them know that I didn’t really have a problem with their service. (I actually think it’s very interesting.) I just didn’t need it.

The first page has 10 or so questions. I answer the 3 that are relevant to my situation and click Next.  I’m then told (in red) that the 7 questions I didn’t answer are Required.  So I clicked close on the browser and went on about my day.

This happens all the time. Seems like 3 answers from me are better than none.  If you’re really interested in feedback – take the feedback a customer is willing to give you.

Don’t Surprise your Customers

So yesterday, I had a small printing job that I uploaded to Kinko’s. (It will always be Kinko’s to me, no matter what FedEx decides to call it.) I’ll spare you all of the details, but – when I went to pick it up, I found out that they had printed my black and white document on their color printer and my bill was over $100.  (I was expecting it to be about $15.)  Surprise!

We haggled a little bit, she knocked some off the bill, I paid and left the store irritated. As I drove home, irritated turned to mad. I realized I was much madder than the situation actually called for, but that didn’t change how mad I was.  It reminded of something Seth Godin wrote here about being disrespected – “Looking back, I’m really sort of amazed by two things: First, how visceral the feeling is when I feel as though I’ve been disrespected, and second, how easy it would be to avoid.”  Visceral was a perfect adjective for how mad I was. Continue reading

Eat your own Dogfood

I spent the day helping a client set up a software system to help them keep their bank accounts reconciled. It was a ridiculously frustrating experience. The idea behind the software package is that now that most banks have web sites where you can download a file containing the account activity, it should be simple to pull a new file down every day and constantly make sure that you and the bank are on the same page about how much money is in your account.

After spending most of the day at this, I feel pretty confident in saying that no one involved in building the software ever actually used it to reconcile a bank account. Technically, the software did do the things that its feature sheet claimed it did, but I don’t know that the user was any better off as a result of having it

I think that’s the problem with a lot of software design – people think about the data the software must track or process, without really giving much thought to the steps that the user will have to perform to use it. Continue reading

After reading Liberal Fascism: Where do we draw the line?

I’m just finishing up reading Jonah Goldberg’s book, Liberal Fascism.  I thought it was very informative and thought-provoking book.  (I’m a conservative who has subscribed to National Review for many years, so that’s not really a surprise.)

It got me thinking a lot about “the individual” vs. “the collective”, which is basically the relevant battle.

As someone from the right, I naturally favor the individual in this debate. I basically want to be left alone to pursue happiness how I see fit and would just as soon leave others alone.  There are some cases, however, where I would feel OK about interfering in other people’s lives.  Phillip Garrido, kidnapper of Jaycee Lee Duggard, needed to be interferred with.  Just about all of us, regardless of our political affiliation, would agree with that.

The question, then, for all of us is – where do we draw the line?  Which actions/situations of others need to be interferred with?  More specifically, to borrow from Ayn Rand, which actions/situations of others need to be interferred with “at the point of a gun”?  (That’s important. Everything that the government requires you to do – it does so at the point of a gun.)

Once you concede the need for certain things to be done at the point of a gun, you have admitted the need for some kind of government.  I say this to point out that I am not anti-government. There is absolutely a need for government.

Having said that, I think government is terribly inefficient and wasteful.  I think this is just the nature of the beast.

If you agree with these two points, the logical takeaway from that is – get government to do the things that it has to, but nothing else.

When you apply this to our current healthcare reform debate, I think the relevant discussion isn’t “should we or shouldn’t we”, but rather “can government do the job?”  If you think of it as interviewing candidates for a new position, I think we are currently arguing about whether or not the position should exist.  I think the more relevant argument is – our only candidate (government) can’t do the job we are interviewing for.

PayPal IPN integration from .Net

Note: I recently put a C# version of this code on GitHub at

It’s easy enough to integrate your site with PayPal so that you can send shopping carts to get paid for. Since the communication is via a POST, it did take me a couple of minutes to get an ASP.Net page to post to something other than itself via a postback. I ended up using an ImageButton (using a PayPal logo image) and set the PostBackURL property to The static fields (like “business” to pass the email address that is my PayPal user id) were sent by putting a HiddenField control on the WebForm. The dynamic fields (like shopping cart items) were added to the form in code (in the PageLoad event) like this:
Dim h As HiddenField

h = New HiddenField
h.ID = “shopping_url”
h.Value = “”

It’s a little more complicated to get PayPal to tell your site that you’ve been paid.  PayPal has a feature called Instant Payment Notification, or IPN.  It took me a little while to get it debugged and working so I thought I would post a simple, but working, IPN solution that uses ASP.Net, VB.Net and SQL Server. Continue reading