Tomorrow, voters will go to the polls in the 91st district and make their choice for State Representative. Win, lose, or draw, I am proud to have stood by Mike  over the last 11 months trying to let the world know why Mike Bryant is what the 91st district needs. Throughout this entire campaign, Mike and myself have tried to conduct ourselves with dignity and honor. We have run a clean campaign. (I know we were accused of otherwise because we pointed out Teddy’s voting record and stated why we don’t agree with it. However, stating a voting record is not underhanded. An voting official is the sum of his or her voting record. But anyway…)

If Mike wins, I know he will work hard to do what he said he would do: That’s why I’ll vote for him. If he loses, he’ll commence to doing what he has tried to do since I’ve known him: Create great software using Information Technology talent from right here in Eastern Kentucky. Either way, it’s good to have a guy like Mike working to make the 91st district a better place.

Mike is like a 10-year-older version of myself in a lot of ways. I can only hope to conduct myself  over the next 10 years the way Mike has. I am proud and honored to call him my friend.

[Facebook folks: If you like Mike and think he’ll do a good job, consider liking this post, or better yet, share a comment about why YOU like Mike!!]

Mike Bryant Will Work for You with a Programmer’s Approach

Mike Bryant has been a computer programmer for the last 15 years. He has worked for, Time-Warner Cable, as well as many other businesses. What exactly about this job would make someone a good state representative?

To answer this question, it helps to know a little about how a programmer approaches the problems that he or she tries to solve every day. The general process a programmer employs to find solutions goes something like this:

  1. Figure out what the problem is
  2. Gather as much information about the problem as possible
  3. Analyze this information to formulate a plan of action for solving the problem
  4. Write computer code based on the plan
  5. Test the code to make sure it’s working as planned
  6. Revise the code to fix any errors
  7. Repeat steps 5 & 6 until everything’s working

The keystone of a programmer’s approach lies in the first three steps. Writing code is actually a small part of solving a big problem. The programmer doesn’t do anything until he has an idea of the facts about the problem and how the building blocks available to him fit together. Useful programs ARE NOT a result of some knee-jerk reaction or off-the-cuff decisions.

If you look at the economic and political climate in Kentucky at the moment, it would seem that our current elected officials have made a lot of decisions without any analysis whatsoever.  I get the feeling that most of our senators and representatives read a summary of a bill and totally ignore the details. Too bad the summaries aren’t what determine the success of legislation. As the old saying goes, the devil is in the details!  I’m not saying that everyone in Frankfort is so short sighted, but the results of their actions speak for themselves.

Mike will use his analytical skills to craft good legislation that actually make things better for the 91st district? It’s true that legislators have to deal with tons of requests and details every single day. Does Mike possess some super-human mind that will allow him to track all the facts in his head? No, but he does know how to use spreadsheets and databases to get to the details needed to make good decisions. Computers are really good at crunching details. Luckily, Mike is really good at telling computers how to work for him!

It may seem odd to think that software can make that big of a difference. However, it’s been proven over and over in the business world that software which lets decision makers see underlying trends pays off big time.  In government, this would translate to a government that actually works for the people.

I know that when Mike gets elected, he will be a champion for data-driven decision making. Furthermore, I know that he will share his custom-written software solutions with his fellow representatives so that they all can make better decisions based on what the facts are. I’m confident that when decisions are made based on the details, things in Kentucky will start to change for the better. What an exciting thought!

Mike Bryant is a Change in the Right Direction

When I think about what Mike will do to help Breathitt, Estill, and Lee Counties if he gets elected, I get excited. Why? Because I think Mike will be a strong voice, the likes of which the 91st district hasn’t seen at least in the last six and a half years since I’ve been in Breathitt County. Mike won’t be a mouthpiece for anybody, be it a Republican, Democrat, or Whig. Sure, he knows that he will have to work with the other legislators to make sure the people of the 91st district receive their fair share, but he won’t jump at the majority leader’s every whim. I’m willing to stake my reputation that if Mike gets elected, his voting record will reflect the needs of his district.

I’ve talked to Teddy about 3 times, long before Mike ever decided to run. He’s a nice man, but he doesn’t have a voice of his own. Any time I have asked him what he thought about certain policies or things going on in the legislature, he always fills me in on what all the other representatives thought about the situation. He never indicated to me what he believes or doesn’t believe.

There’s nothing wrong with Teddy being a nice guy, but it is a problem when he isn’t willing to stand up to other state representatives to make sure the 91st district doesn’t get overlooked for the betterment of other districts. Niceness is no substitute for passion! I get the feeling that Teddy votes with other state reps hoping that they’ll vote with him once in awhile, but I don’t think he gets that much backing from others. I realize he has to work with others, but once in awhile, a little bucking might funnel some much-needed resources into the 91st district.

There have been accusations that Mike has been slinging mud. Teddy’s supporters are portraying Ted as a victim of some evil plot to defame him. I have never heard Mike say anything about Teddy’s character. I can’t speak for Mike’s other supporters, but Mike and I aren’t really concerned with Ted’s character. As best I can tell, Ted is a good Christian fellow. My personal reasons for supporting Mike are very clear and they have nothing to do with me thinking Teddy is a bad person:

  1. I think Ted’s voting record does not support the wishes of his constituents.
  2. Aside from some of Ted’s legislation supporting education (which is good but not really that good considering he’s had 8 years to introduce stuff), I think the legislation Teddy has introduced has been lackluster and inconsequential.
  3. Mike is passionate and willing to fight for what the 91st district needs: anti-drug efforts, job opportunities, and infrastructure (high-speed Internet access and better roads).

Teddy’s nice. The current social situation for the hard working people of the 91st district isn’t so nice. Teddy’s approach isn’t working.  Since he isn’t willing to change his approach, I’m willing to change my State Representative.

Reversing a String in

The following code snippet shows how easy it is to reverse a string in

Dim originalString As String = "Some text here"
Dim reversedString As String = originalString.Reverse.ToArray
'reversedString now equals "ereh txet emoS"

As you can see, this is very easy to do, however, most of the examples I found online were overly complicated. So, I thought I’d post my nice easy way.  Happy coding!

Free Helvetica Font Alternative

People like Paula Scher despise the classic font Helvetica, but to my untrained eyes, it is a fantastic font for clean headings. Unfortunately, the many variants of Helvetica are not free. Linotype and Adobe both have their implementations, but they cost around $25 per variant. That’s just too much to pay for a font. What to do?

Today, I was working on a project where Helvetica would have came in very handy, so I did a web search and came upon a FREE decent alternative released under the GPL by Red Had a few years ago called Liberation Sans, designed by Steve Matteson. Obviously, it’s not exactly like Helvetica, but it’s close enough to fool the average (read: non-typesetter) person. Besides, it looks a lot better than Microsoft’s ripoff Arial. Check out the sample below that shows all four variants that are available:


For me, this is an excellent find. Very importantly, it is released under the GPL so you can use it for anything you like, as long as you promise to allow others the rights to always use it too.

If you like Liberation Sans, click here to download it. Many thanks to Red Hat for allowing this great font to be freely used and distributed.

How is Mike Bryant Going to Reduce Taxes While Still Balancing the State Budget?

Some people have questioned exactly how Mike is planning on reducing the burden on the taxpayers while at the same time raising money necessary to balance the state budget. This is a perfectly valid question. Anybody trying to decide who to vote for should be asking this question.

The answer boils down to simple economic principles involving the number of taxpayers and how much each taxpayer must pay. Currently, most politicians view the number of taxpayers as a constant. In this scenario, the only way to increase tax revenue is to increase the amount of taxes each taxpayer must pay.

Mike’s solution is to increase the number of taxpayers. If you increase taxpayers, then each taxpayer is responsible for less. How do you increase the number of taxpayers? Provide jobs. When you get more people working, you can raise more money with each person paying a smaller percentage of their earnings. Consider the following simplified illustration:

Illustration of Mike Bryant's Tax Plan

The best part of this is that Mike’s promise to bring jobs into KY is anything but lip service. As a private citizen, he has been working to bring jobs to the area since he left Atlanta to move back home. Despite his struggles to find steady work upon returning to the mountains, Mike continuously gave work to local people whenever possible. Whenever Mike benefited, so did those around him.

To scale his efforts to bring work to KY, Mike has several strategies that will certainly lead to employment opportunities for thousands of Kentuckians. Firstly, Mike will take measures to make KY, and especially Eastern KY, an Information Technology (IT) powerhouse. The low cost of living means that IT professionals living in the area can make a good living while providing their services at a cost significantly below the national average. What this means is that work that used to be done in Cincinnati or New York will be done in KY.

Secondly, Mike will travel far and wide to court any and all types of businesses who may have an interest in coming to KY. All companies willing to employ folks, both foreign and domestic, will be aggressively sought out. Over time, high school and college graduates will no longer have to leave home to find work: Instead, they can find a job close to home.

Thirdly, Mike will work to reform existing tax laws such that small and medium-sized businesses can more easily expand. Mike ran a small contracting business for awhile and he knows all too well that taxes severely limited his expansion potential. Businesses are no different than individuals. If there are more businesses paying taxes, each will have to give less to the government but the government will still have the same amount of money to perform its functions.

Mike’s strategies aren’t a magic bullet. They will take time. Perhaps more important to realize is that they will take hard work on the part of legislatures and citizens alike. However, the strategies are built on solid reasoning and are doable. One thing’s for sure, Mike’s not afraid of hard work, especially since helping eastern Kentucky prosper is one of his life-long dreams.

America Needs a Better Common Enemy

“From the day we were born, we were all meant for this moment. Today, we will put an American on the moon” – Gene Kranz speaking of July 20, 1969, as seen on Moon Landing: The Day We Put a Man on the Moon, Discovery Channel – March 1, 2010 @ 9pm.

A guy I have come to admire is Gene Kranz, who was the NASA flight director on several Apollo missions, including Apollo 11 (moon landing) and Apollo 13. I’ve been watching him on the History and Discovery Channels giving his accounts of the historic events he had a part in at NASA. Kranz is the epitome of the can-do attitude that allowed the United States to reach the moon first. (I’m not going to argue with anybody about whether or not we actually made it to the moon. I think we did. If you believe otherwise, complain somewhere else.)

Kranz was a fighter pilot during the Korean War prior to joining NASA as Flight Director.  As such, he understood risks. He knew that every mission, even down to the training exercises, could result in the flight crew dying. Kranz wasn’t alone in this knowledge: All the astronauts and everyone at Mission Control knew they had a sizable chance of not making it home…

In spite of this, 400,00 people (the estimated number of people involved in the Apollo missions) pushed forward day-in and day-out to make sure an American set foot on the moon first. It was a matter of pride. The United States, in all its turmoil of the 1960s, came together to rejoice as Neil Armstrong delivered his famous line, “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”

In addition to thanking the brave souls that braved the dangers and made it happen, I would like to thank the USSR for being the beautiful communist bastards that they were. They were truly an excellent common enemy. The USSR was cunning, had some of the smartest scientists in the world, and wanted to get to the moon as bad as we did. A scientific and engineering exercise was elevated to a contest of philosophies: capitalism vs. communism. Sure some people died, but the overall goal was to prove superiority. (No. I’m not saying the USSR was a good thing. But if you want to have a common enemy, here’s the one you would want.)

Today, America has one of the stupidest common enemies you could ask for: fundamentalist terrorists. It’s impossible for me to describe how much I despise these people without getting too profane, so allow me to articulate my disgust as tactfully as I can. These ignorant knuckle draggers blow stuff up, trying to kill as many people as possible in the process. This is so unimpressive. Humans have been killing one another for as long as there have been humans. You can literally beat somebody to death with a rock. So, these terrorists utilize modern weapons they aren’t even smart enough to invent to reek havoc. (I’m not going to debate that creating weapons is good or bad for anybody to do. Again, take it somewhere else.) Let me be very, very clear: I HATE fundamentalist terrorists SO MUCH!

With a common enemy like that, it’s no wonder this country can’t (or doesn’t want to) do something awesome. I think there are plenty of brilliant young engineers in this country, but what’s missing is the masses cheering them on from behind. How much pride can we get from killing more terrorists. Creating a weapon that kills more terrorists is so uninspiring. The terrorists don’t even care if they die as long as they can take out a bunch of us. The sense of competition is missing. Whether or not we like to admit it, humans crank out better stuff when there’s a competitive edge to whatever we are tying to do.

This is very much a rant against uninspired terrorism, but my point is that we do need an imaginative enemy to defeat. Either that, or a frontal lobotomy. I can’t decide which.

Handbrake 0.9.4 Encoding Settings that Work with a Blackberry Curve 8310

Through a lot of trial and error, I finally figured out what video encoding settings in Handbrake 0.9.4 produce video that will play on my Blackberry Curve 8310. Here’s the settings I used to produce working video, broken down by options or the tabs in Handbrake:

  • Container
    • MP4 File
  • Picture
    • Width:320
    • Checked Keep Aspect Ratio Box will automatically set properly proportioned Height.
  • Video
    • Video Codec:MPEG-4 (FFmpeg)
    • Two-Pass Encoding box checked (to improve quality)
    • Framerate:24
    • Average Bitrate radio button checked @ 768kpbs
  • Audio
    • Audio Codec: aac (faac)
    • Mixdown: Stereo

Any options I have not listed were left to the default settings. The video produced by this is perfect quality for a screen as small as a Blackberry. I’m not a videophile, though, so your mileage may vary. As far as speed of the encoding, a 44 minute episode of  House ran through a Two-Pass encoding in about 9 minutes on this system.

Vote Mike Bryant for KY State Representative in the 91st District

I’m super excited to announce that my very good friend Mike Bryant is running for KY State Representative in the 91st District. Mike is a conservative Republican, but most importantly to me, he’s a great guy. I’m going to vote for him because I think he will fight tooth and nail to make things better in Breathitt, Estill, and Lee Counties. I can’t possibly do justice to how awesome Mike really is: You’d really just have to hang out with the guy. That being said, let me try to explain some of the reasons I think Mike is an excellent choice to represent us all.

I met Mike about four years ago at a Kiwanis meeting. He told me he was a software developer and I told him about my CIS background. He, for whatever reason, decided I might know what I was doing as a web developer and asked me if I wanted to do some programming work for him. A week later, I walk into his office, he briefs me on the project, and I was off to the races. And lucky for me, I was good enough, because Mike kept bringing me aboard for more and more projects (which we completed quite successfully I might add). The important thing here is that Mike believed in me and gave me a chance. Mike is willing to give anybody a chance if they are willing to work. He has literally employed six local guys to work with him on projects in the short time I’ve known him! How could you go wrong with a guy like that?

Mike is serious about bringing jobs to the area. He attends regional development meetings frequently. It can’t be said that he hasn’t tried to bring opportunities to the area: I’ve been in the room several times when he’s been on the phone with companies who are looking to relocate to Breathitt County. It’s true that none of them have actually relocated here (because of lack of effort from others involved), but the point is, plain-ol’-private-citizen Mike has been trying to develop the area since I’ve known him. I’ve literally witnessed his attempts myself. As a Representative of District 91, I guarantee that Mike wouldn’t rest until he brought jobs to the area.

Because I know Mike to be a genuine, hard-working person who honestly wants to see Eastern Kentucky prosper, it is without reservation that I hope Mike Bryant becomes the next KY State Representative in District 91.

Canon 270EX Speedlite = Awesome

Today, I purchased a Canon 270EX Speedlite for my Canon EOS Digital Rebel T1I DSLR. The camera itself is great for the price, but the built-in flash results in blown out colors, especially at close range. I bought the 270EX because its rotating head allows for bounce flashing. After playing with it for an hour, I think the 270EX will take my flash photography to a whole new level, as the bounced light provides lighting without the loss of subtle differences in color. I’ve missed several good shots in low light conditions since I got the camera because I have been reluctant to use a flash. I think those days are behind me, now that I have better control over the light.

Thus, it is without reservation that I give the Canon 270EX Speedlite the Jerry Travis guarantee.