Google Grand Central – Sweet or Superfluous?

Recently I was given an invite to join google grand central which is a free answering service provided by the almighty indexers of all that is important, My first impression of Grand Central was pure awe. I was given a free number which could serve essentially as a main line for all the phone numbers by which I can be reached. Grand Central has a nifty web interface which allows you to check who has called, route certain calls to specific numbers and take messages. I do think the service is rather neat, but on second glance, I wonder if it serves any real purpose. After two weeks of using the service I have not checked in to play with it again. What I really wonder is who would I actually give this number to? Is there anyone I would like to go through yet another degree of separation before being able to reach me? In the end, If I was important enough to need something like Grand Central, I would be important enough to have a receptionist.

I would love to hear about anyone else’s impression of Google Grand Central

flex accordion navigation using xml

Today I would like to share a flex application I think may be very useful to someone. Imagine you need to generate an accordion navigation with dynamic content such as the one used on the second level of cnn’s website. You would like to be able to use the same application over without massive effort, or copying and pasting code blocks all over the place. Sure this could be done with a mountain of javascript, or you might want to consider flex. For those with experience using flex, I present the mxml file free of charge. For those without any experience with flex, you may want to read a tutorial before jumping into this example.

 <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?><mx:Application
xmlns:mx="" xmlns="*" xmlns:flexlib=""
layout="vertical" viewSourceURL="srcview/index.html" backgroundColor="#ffffff"
import mx.collections.ArrayCollection;
import mx.utils.ArrayUtil;
public var navData:ArrayCollection;
public var index:int=-1;
Application {
backgroundGradientColors: #FFFFFF, #FFFFFF;
backgroundGradientAlphas: 1, 1;
vertical-align: top;
horizontal-align: center;
padding-top: 0px;
padding-left: 5px;
padding-right: 0px;
VAccordion {
textRollOverColor: #FFFFFF;
textSelectedColor: #FFFFFF;
color: #FFFFFF;
headerHeight: 35;
vertical-gap: 5;
header-style-name: gradientHeader;
.gradientHeader {
font-family: Verdana;
cornerRadii: 10, 10, 10, 10;
borderColors: #AAB1CD, #AAB1CD;
overBorderColors: #FFFFFF, #FFFFFF;
selectedBorderColors: #FFFFFF, #FFFFFF;
borderThickness: 2;
color: #FFFFFF;
borderAlpha: 1;
fillColors: #7f8182, #7f8182;
fillAlphas: 1, 1;
fillColorRatios: 0, 255;
overFillColors: #FFFFFF, #FFFFFF;
overFillAlphas: 1, 1;
overFillColorRatios: 0, 169;
selectedFillColors:#000000, #000000;
selectedFillAlphas: 1,1;
fontSize: 13;
padding-left: 10px;
padding-top: 0px;
LinkButton {
fontSize: 10px;
rollOverColor: #fafafa;
selectionColor: #fafafa;
color: #0B357F;
textRollOverColor: #25bbfc;
textSelectedColor: #0B357F;
padding-left: 15px;
padding-top: 5px;
.headerBox {
font-weight: bold;
color: #FFFFFF;
.students {
padding-top: 0px;
.medical {
padding-top: 0px;
.employ {
padding-top: 0px;
.services {
padding-top: 0px;
.label {
font-weight: bold;
color: #FFFFFF;
<mx:HTTPService id="srv" url="properties.xml" resultFormat="e4x" />
<mx:XMLListCollection id="headingData" source="{srv.lastResult.heading}" />
<mx:XMLListCollection id="linksData" source="{}" />
<flexlib:VAccordion id="accordion" headerRenderer="Header" width="238" height="230" >
<mx:Repeater id="rep" dataProvider="{headingData}">
<mx:VBox label="{rep.currentItem.@title}" styleName="headerBox"  backgroundColor="#fafafa" width="{rep.currentItem.@width}" height="{rep.currentItem.@height}">
<mx:Repeater id="linkrep" dataProvider="{}">
<mx:LinkButton buttonDown="navigateToURL(new URLRequest(event.currentTarget.getRepeaterItem()), '_top')"  label="{linksData.getItemAt(index+=1)}" />

What this application does is loads data from an XML properties file containing the titles for the headers, the names for the links, and the URLs. I think the example is pretty straight forward.

To compile this you will need the flexlib.swf added to your flex/frameworks/libs folder as well as the header.mxml file which is used to allow the accordion to activate on mouse-over. The header.mxml file was found on although the exact post escapes me now.

Here is the result

The xml properties file is here source file can be copied from above or downloaded

and the header

And finally the flexlib can be found here

Of course you may take out the reference to the header and to the flexlib and complile the AccordionNavigation.mxml alone if you like.

Happy Flexing!

Calvert Cliffs exploration – Winter ’07

Over the Christmas break I had the opportunity to visit a beach area of the Chesapeake Bay known as Calvert Cliffs. This area is known for its fossil deposits from the early to middle Miocene eras (anywhere from 8 – 23 million years ago) and has yielded fossils which have ended up in museums around the country. Although I am not an archaeologist, I was immediately astounded by the enormity of the fossil deposits in the cliffs. Of course the chances of finding something rare is..well rare, but to know that what is embedded in the hard clay is millions of years old makes every find special. Luckily, the day before our visit, it had rained all day, eroding the cliffs down. My wife found some fossilized coral, vertebrae, and a lot of extinct shells of scallops and ecphora (Maryland’s official state fossil!). We also found some fossilized bones and things we haven’t identified yet.More information about the area can be found here

Here is a video which shows the layers of fossils in cliffs.