Book Review: Dishwasher by Pete Jordan

DishWasherPeteThis book is about Dishwasher Pete’s (aka Pete Jordan) quest to wash dishes in all fifty states. Why anyone would want to do that, or would even care to read about a slacker trying to do it, is hard to imagine, but I found it a great read.

Perhaps I found it interesting just because I wanted to understand why anyone would want to wash dishes (the Dirty Job’s slant), or perhaps because of my brief (two-day) stint as a plongeur, or a desire to travel the country. But most likely it’s my love of a real-world adventure told by a great story teller.

This type of book often has the danger of the author who takes themselves far too serious, or on an ego trip. I mean who really cares about a dishwasher. But this is really a book about a lot more.

There’s the cultural differences throughout the country, where it’s easy to get a dishing job, and where cultural prejudices precludes it. It shows you that dish washers are an important part of our world, and that despite their low-standing they still are needed, and that whether you’re on an oil-rig, dinner train, commune, jewish nurshing home, cannery, or Oktoberfest, there’s someone in the dish pit taking care of business. And of course, I found it amusing that if it weren’t for the cyclist unfriendly roads of Pittsburgh, he could be my neighbor.

And finally there’s the philosophical perspective this book tries to provide towards the end. After ten years soaking suds, sleeping in a van, traveling the country, and bouncing between jobs, what else can you do with your life. Well, if your like Dishwasher Pete, you can become a pretty good writer.

Updates (01/28/13):

Intermec Scan Configuration

I received a CN3 today to try out with our snapRetail applications and at first it seemed like things weren’t working correctly with scanning, but it soon became apparent that it was just a matter of scanner configuration.

Virtual Wedge

Virtual Wedge ConfigurationThe first problem I had was ironically the problem of scanning ocurring when I it should be disabled. By default Intermec has enabled a keyboard wedge, “Virtual Wedge”, that accepts barcode data from the scanner and generates key events to simulate that the data has come from the keybooard. This is easy enough to disable, just go in to Intermec Settings (Settings->System->Intermec Settings) and disabled the Virtual Wedge and after copying the Intermec Data Collection dll over to my program the terminal scanned only when I wanted.

While I guess it’s ok to enable this by default, though it has always been a pet peeve of mine to call applications barcode enabled, when all they are doing is using a keyboard wedge. While this “works”, it creates an incredibly clumsy interface for barcode scanning that keeps the scanner always enabled, and puts barcode data anywhere the keyboard focus is set. This may be “ok” for consumer devices, so I can put barcode data in my Word document, but for “real” applications it is really a bad idea.

What bothers me even more is when people claim that they have a barcode-enabled handheld program, when all they’ve done is turn the keyboard wedge on. Perhaps the worst case of this “mis-advertising” I’ve seen was during the keynote of the 2006 Microsoft Embedded Developers Convention where they demonstrated creating a “barcode enabled application” to a roomful of developers when all they had done was use a keyboard wedge. Perhaps if they would have attended my session they would have been able to do it the real way ;-).

Automatic Symbology Conversion

Once I got back to being able to control the scanner, and configure the Symbologies, I went in to the Item Lookup application to try scanning some barcodes. Everything seemed to be scanning fine, except that whenever I scanned a UPC code I was receiving thirteen digits (with a leading zero) instead of twelve as I was expecting from a UPC barcode.

UPC A xmit as EAN 13This gets in to the whole world of automatic barcode conversions. In order to support the requirements of different industries and governments there are a broad variety of similar, but slightly different symbologies. This means that for a US-based retail , the developer must take in to consideration EAN8, EAN13, UPCA, UPCE0, and UPCE1 barcode symbologies. In addition, there are also UPC Supplemental barcodes (extra information often used on books for ISBN numbers), check digits, and expansion of EAN8 barcodes to EAN13.

In this case, the default configuration that Intermec has selected is to convert everything to an EAN13 symbology which in my case caused the problem. This is also configurable through the Intermec Settings application, and disabling the conversion “UPC A xmit as EAN 13” solved my problem. Alternately, this can be configured programmatically through the Intermec Data Collection API but I like keeping these types of paramaters configurable by the end user.

However, the lesson is that even if the hardware vendors decide to make it easy for the application developer to use barcodes, its still important for them to understand what “magic” is happening under the covers.

Around the Burgh: Sunset Hills Farm Alpacas

This weekend we went up near Butler, PA and stopped at Sunset Hills Alpaca Farm and learned more about Alpacas than we ever expected. I’d heard about Alpacas before but really only knew that they were related to llamas and were used for wool. But there’s a whole world of Alpacas and several farms right in the Pittsburgh area.When we arrived we hadn’t realized that this was a family farm and wasn’t really intended to be a public curiosity, but everyone we met at the farm was very friendly and encouraged us to look around and see the Alpacas.When we went out to the pasture to see them, they were very curious in seeing us as well. We had heard that Alpacas are known to spit, which is not just saliva but actually the regurgitated stomach contents and rather foul. However, these Alpacas were very friendly and curious about us..

We also learned a little bit about Alpacas. For instance, Aplacas come from the Andes in Peru and there isn’t such a thing as a wild Alpaca, they were bred down from vicuñas in South America. And, despite their cute fuzzy heads, they don’t like to have their heads pet, but don’t mind being pet on their neck and backs.

The Drive By:
After we were there for a while Lara came out leading Zephyrus their most prized Alpaca. He has won over 10 color champions, and is valued at over a million dollars!!! It’s hard to imagine a farm animal being worth that much!! But he’s sired several other champions and has a virtually perfect pelt and demeanor.

Apparently the way breeding can occur with alpacas is something they refer to as a “Drive By”, essentially a female aplaca is brought to the farm, they are brought to a clean area, and then they are bred. The other curious part about this, is that since alpacas aren’t very big, they don’t need a large trailer and can show up in a mini-van, like this one.

Almost as soon as the female alpaca got out of her mini-van, they were ready to go, and breeding was soon in process. Since alpacas are dribble ejaculators the whole process can take anywhere from five minutes to over an hour, with the male “orgling” (an odd groaning sound) to put the female in the mood. Or at least for a while since after ten or fifteen minutes the female was getting pretty bored and layed down until Zephyrus was done. The other interesting part is that female alpacas are induced ovulators, which means that they don’t really have to worry about the timing, she will ovulate in response to the attempt to breed.

And if all goes well, in another 11 months they’ll have another baby alpaca to continue on the Zehphrus family, like the ones that were recently born this year that were in the barn.

So if you get a chance, be sure to visit an alpaca farm and see these amazing animals.

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