Cloudy With a Chance of Five Mile Visibility

I still like when airline pilots turn on the public address system and tell us about the flight.  A few even still announce interesting landmarks (“passengers on the left side of the plane will have a great view of New York City”), but most limit themselves to a brief “welcome aboard” message and another quick warning close to landing (“I’ll be turning on the ‘Fasten Seat Belt’ sign in a few minutes…”).

I don’t need constant narration, but I enjoy the faint reminder of an era when jet travel was glamorous and passengers in sandals were unthinkable.  Having said that, however, pilots need to think carefully before giving weather reports.  It’s not a bad gesture, but they usually get a bit carried away.

A frustrating percentage of pre-landing weather announcements sound like this:

The temperature on the ground in Boston is 37° Fahrenheit, with some cloud cover, winds from the southwest at 10 miles per hour, and five miles visibility.

Five miles visibility.

Honestly, I’m glad the pilot is aware of that — it seems like useful information to have handy when flying an airplane — but is there anybody else on board who cares?  Even other pilots who happen to be in the cabin really don’t need to know at that moment.

I bring this up not because it happened once on a flight (which would have been amusing, though not particularly memorable) but rather because it seems to happen on every flight.  Respectable and talented pilots have told countless people across the country how far in front of them they could see, and it’s time for the practice to end.

I Can See Clearly Now

The Boston Pops (and the Boston Symphony Orchestra) launched a completely new ticketing system on their website last year, for which they deserve major praise.  Among many subtle and useful features is the one obvious feature virtually all online ticketing applications have always lacked: the ability to see a seating chart and select specific (available) seats from it.

Boston Pops Ticketing

Buy tickets by selecting the seats you want

I’ve already found the perfect seats in Symphony Hall after extensive trial and error, so before this new application arrived I had to coax the old software into giving me the seats I wanted.  Now I can see quickly which shows have my ideal seats, add them to my cart, and buy them.  I completely approve of this new site.

On the other hand, it wouldn’t accept my donation.  The checkout page offers a section to donate to the Pops, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood, or “Education Programs.”  Since I’m spending less on the Pops this year than I budgeted, I added a small donation.  By the time I got to the “preview” screen, there was no trace of it.  Unfortunately for the Pops, the $5.50 per ticket service fee was then added to my total, making me disinclined to try again.

Now that my tickets are safely in hand (or, at least, in the mail), I don’t mind mentioning that Linda Eder will be singing with the Pops this year on June 9th and 10th.  This alone has had me jumping out of my chair with excitement since I first learned of it in January.  You should immediately buy tickets for yourself.

I Flld Ot My Cnss Frm

I got my “Annual Resident Listing” form from the City of Boston today.  It already lists my correct name, date of birth, gender, and voter registration status.  Then it has, in a column headed “Occupation”


I think they were going for Software Developer.  Ironically, if they’d hired me, they wouldn’t have had this little problem with over-eager abbreviating.

It’s Called an “Airplane”

Let’s recap.

At about 7:45 am Eastern on February 13th, I purchased a Grande Café Mocha from the Starbucks at the corner of Boylston and Tremont streets in Boston on my way to the airport.

At about 11:00 am in Chicago, I purchased a regular “Traditional” on wheat from Quizno’s on Concourse B at O’Hare International Airport (billed, strangely, as “Liquor Bar”).

By about 10:15 pm Mountain Standard Time, I paid for drinks, dessert, and tip at Boulder’s Dinner Theatre in Boulder, Colorado.

Once safely home again, I tried checking my card’s balance online, and instead got this disconcerting message:

Your account may be at risk for unauthorized use.

They’re now disabling my card and mailing me a new one.  Since there are no unexpected transactions listed online, I can only assume that I’m effectively being punished for having a layover in Chicago during which I was hungry.

If that’s the case, we’re going to have to have a little chat about how airplanes work.  See, although I started my day in Boston, it’s completely plausible that I’d end it in Boulder.  Airplanes move very, very fast, so it’s possible to travel a long distance in a short period of time.


Sophie likes the arcade games at Chuck E. Cheese — especially the kind that win her tickets so she can get prizes.  Admittedly, she hasn’t yet developed much strategy for these games.  If she gets the skee ball all the way up the ramp (i.e., into the gutter) she gleefully rips off her single consolation ticket with the same elation as the kid who just hit the 100-ticket jackpot on a neighboring game.

Fortunately, she also doesn’t covet the 3,000 ticket prizes like older kids (and grown ups) do.  She’s entirely content with a bouncy ball, a little plastic lizard figurine, or even a Tic-Tac-Toe game.  (She doesn’t know how to play yet, but she really likes the shape of a Tic-Tac-Toe game.)

When we went just after her third birthday, she picked out a nice collection of prizes — a tiny slinky, two bouncy balls, and some stickers, to start.

The woman (high school girl?) giving out the prizes was very friendly.

Woman: You have 20 tickets left.  What else would you like to get?
Sophie: Umm… an Orca!

Woman: (beat) A what?
: Orca!

Woman: …
: Fish.
: Oh!

You know that show, Are you smarter than a fifth grader? I have a pitch for a version where adults compete against Sophie.

Even in a contest of Wicked trivia, where I should be an expert, I’ve now learned that Sophie knows more of the lyrics to Wicked than I do.  She’s unstoppable!

2,147,483,647 + 1 = 2,147,483,648

I love PHP.  For starters, it doesn’t have any of those pesky “compiler errors” other languages have.  Just think how much time I would have wasted over the last six years if I had to fix my errors before running my programs!

Plus, PHP doesn’t buy into the idiotic notions that integers have “maximum” values.  Other languages throw around fancy claims like “signed 32-bit integers can’t be larger than 2,147,483,647.”  Ha!  Real programmers know that’s only because the language designers were lazy! PHP respects our intelligence.  It’ll tell you the “maximum” integer value, but if you need a bigger number, just ask for it!

echo PHP_INT_MAX . ' ' . (PHP_INT_MAX + 1); 
// Produces: 2147483647 2147483648

(But seriously folks — I know other languages will coerce up to a 64-bit integer when the need arises.  MySQL does, for one.  I still laugh at the idea that I can write “max + 1” and have it actually work.)

Text to HTML to Text

Found in an application built circa 2001 (I’ve replaced the descriptive variable names with $xxx):

$xxx = $this->htmlToText('<span>' . $xxx->get_lead_title() . '</span>');

So… first we wrap something in <span> tags, and then we convert the HTML to text?


Best… PDF… Ever!

Suppose a person were interested in learning the date of the commencement exercises at Grand Canyon University.  This should be easy!  For example, Boston University’s Commencement page includes this text in enormous lettering:

Commencement 2009: Sunday, May 17, 2009 1pm Nickerson Field

Grand Canyon’s Graduation page makes no mention of the date, but it does have three prominent links for Student, Faculty, and Guest information.

Grand Canyon University Graduation Page

Grand Canyon University Graduation Page

Clicking “Guest” would prompt you to download a PDF file titled “Graduation at a Glance,” as seen here:

Download Window

Download Window

Opening the file, though, reveals the real magical wonder of this experience.  Examine, please, the document in its entirety:

Graduation at a Glance

Graduation at a Glance

The entire thing reads “Graduation — at — a Glance Coming Soon!”