<CharlieDigital/> Programming, Politics, and uhh…pineapples

23Dec/10Off

Mistletoe: Weirder Than You Ever Imagined…

Posted by Charles Chen

In my 29 years of life, I've never once thought much of mistletoe.  We all know the holiday songs, kissing under the mistletoe, etc.  But just what the heck is the stuff?

An NPR story on the harvesting of mistletoe piqued my interest:

He settles on around 35 feet, but Anderson can handle it. At 60 years old, he's a seasoned climber with all the proper safety gear. And he likes being up in the trees — he says it's both challenging and peaceful up there.
That's one reason you won't find him on the ground with a gun, shooting the mistletoe out of the tree. That's how many people harvest it. Anderson laughs, agreeing that the rifle method is easier.

He settles on around 35 feet, but Anderson can handle it. At 60 years old, he's a seasoned climber with all the proper safety gear. And he likes being up in the trees — he says it's both challenging and peaceful up there.
That's one reason you won't find him on the ground with a gun, shooting the mistletoe out of the tree. That's how many people harvest it. Anderson laughs, agreeing that the rifle method is easier.

Interesting.  So it turns out that mistletoe is harvested from the tops of trees.  Okay, but why?  Wikipedia to the rescue*:

Mistletoe is the common name for a group of hemi-parasitic plants in the order Santalales that grow attached to and within the branches of a tree or shrub. The name was originally applied to Viscum album (European Mistletoe, Santalaceae), the only species native in Great Britain and much of Europe.

Mistletoe plants grow on a wide range of host trees, and commonly reduce their growth but can kill them with heavy infestation. Viscum album can parasitise more than 200 tree and shrub species. Almost all mistletoes are hemi-parasites, bearing evergreen leaves that do some photosynthesis, and using the host mainly for water and mineral nutrients.

Fascinating stuff!  And the kissing stuff?

According to Christmas custom, any two people who meet under a hanging of mistletoe are obliged to kiss. The custom may be of Scandinavian origin.  It was described as early as 1820 by Washington Irving in his "The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon":

"The mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at Christmas, and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked the privilege ceases."

And of course, that tradition is probably tied to this little tidbit:

In cultures across pre-Christian Europe, mistletoe was seen as a representation of divine male essence (and thus romance, fertility and vitality), possibly due to a resemblance between the berries and semen

So there you have it: mistletoe is divine male essence.  Probably more than you ever needed to know about mistletoe and an interesting conversation starter for your holiday get-togethers :D

Happy Holidays!

* By the way, if you haven't done so already, consider making a donation to Wikipedia this year.  It's tax deductible and it keeps Wiki free of ads!

Filed under: Random Thoughts 1 Comment
5Dec/10Off

Why The Office Is The Worst Place To Work

Posted by Charles Chen

Caught this editorial on CNN this weekend:

Companies spend billions on rent, offices, and office equipment so their employees will have a great place to work.  However, when you ask people where they go when they really need to get something done, you'll rarely hear them say it's the office.

If you ask, you'll usually get one of three kinds of responses: A place, a moving object, or a time.

They'll say their house, their back porch, an extra bedroom they've converted into a home office, a library, the coffee shop down the street, the basement. Or they'll say their car, or a train, or a plane -- basically, during their commute. Or they'll say really early in the morning, really late at night, or on the weekend. In other words, when no one else is around to bother them.

Indeed, I think it's important to realize that different individuals have different productivity models.  By that I mean that certain people are "morning people" and their brains are most active and creative in the morning.  Others are "night people" where there brains are most wired and effective in the evenings.  Some people feel more comfortable with natural lighting during the day time.  Some prefer a bright working space while others prefer a dim one.

It seems counterproductive to force everyone into one model of the work environment when the preferences that maximize the efficiency of each individual can be vastly different.

And then there's the bigger issue of interruptions:

I don't blame people for not wanting to be at the office. I blame the office. The modern office has become an interruption factory. You can't get work done at work anymore.

People -- especially creative people -- need long stretches of uninterrupted time to get things done. Fifteen minutes isn't enough. Thirty minutes isn't enough. Even an hour isn't enough.

I believe sleep and work have a lot in common. I don't mean that you can sleep at work or you can work in your sleep. I mean sleep and work are phase-based activities. You don't just go to sleep or go to work -- you go towards sleep and towards work.

You aren't sleeping when your head hits the pillow. You start the sleep process. You have to go through phases to get to the really beneficial sleep. And if you're interrupted before you get there, you have to start over.

The same is true for work. You don't just sit down at your desk and begin working effectively. You have to get into a groove. You go towards good work. It takes some time to settle in, clear your head, and focus on what you need to do.

A very good analogy and I wholeheartedly agree.  At the same time, to ensure that this model works, teams need the right tools (Webex or equivalent, chat clients, VOIP, etc.) and the right people to make it work.  To some extent, it takes a good amount of trust that each member of the team understands their tasks and roles to get their jobs done without having to have a manager or supervisor constantly buggering for a status or having meetings to figure out the status of the tasks.

At least for myself, I find it incredibly difficult to work any any problem of moderate complexity without sitting down and having a solid bloc of a few hours to work on the problem.  There's nothing worse than having to do a mental context switch when one is working on a difficult problem.  Well, it's only worse when that context switch is for a meeting that's inconsequential to the tasks at hand

Filed under: DevLife 1 Comment
3Dec/10Off

VSTO: The Customization Cannot Be Installed

Posted by Charles Chen

Got this strange error today with an Excel add-in I'm working on:

The customization cannot be installed because another version is
currently installed and cannot be upgraded from this location.
To install this version of the customization, first use Add or
Remove Programs to uninstall this program

Now this seems pretty straightforward, right?  However, the add-in doesn't show up in the Add/Remove programs menu!

No amount of clean solution or rebuild would resolve this issue.

Google didn't turn up any results on MSDN.  So I fired up ProcMon.exe to try to isolate the source of the issue and what it was trying to load.

Turns out that it was trying to read values from a key at:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\VSTA\Solutions\{GUID}

Deleting this key fixed the issue :D

Still not sure what caused the issue in the first place, but this is a quick any dirty way to resolve it (for now).

Filed under: Office No Comments
3Dec/10Off

Windows 7 0x800704cf Error

Posted by Charles Chen

So I turned on the computer today and the network shares weren't working.

Ran through a couple of checks:

  • Can I ping the machine? Check.
  • Can I remote desktop into the machine? Check.
  • Are the firewall settings okay? Check.
  • Can I access the share using the IP? No go.
  • Can I access the share using FQDN? No go.
  • Reboot and try again? No go.

Turns out that this is an issue with Windows 7.  It creates hundreds of these random adapters in Network adapters (need to turn on Show hidden devices from View).

Now the question of how to remove all of these.  That led to a Microsoft tool called devcon.  Conveniently, Microsoft doesn't include an x64 version of it in the download on the Microsoft website; only an x86 and ia64 version...(not enough ellipsis in the world to express my annoyance).

Luckily, others have already gone through the pain of extracting this from other sources.

Now just run:

devcon remove *6to4mp

And you should be good to go.

Filed under: Miscellany No Comments