Saturday, August 30, 2003

Issues at work

Stardate 56083.0 (8-30-2003)

Most of this week was spent either at work or on soccer. Work was frustrating. The monthly comparative testing needed to be redone. The powers that be wanted it done by someone else, because despite the fact I have documented the process step by step, no one else can figure out how to do it. So I walked a coworker through it. It crashed, and panic ensued because no one could find out why. I get blasted for not helping. I had sent CrashFinder to the guy, and another coworker sent the Dr. Watson logs to him. The guy is still stuck. Finally, I had him sit behind me and watch as I walked back through the call stack addresses  In about a minute, I found a piece of code that was allocating pointers for 5 array slots, and freeing 6. Next, the code had been there for three months, so I was quizzed on why this never showed up before. There has been a flurry of patches and software installs on the server over the last two weeks. Any one of those could have uncovered the issue.

I've had a lot of calls and messages about someone's daughter signed up for soccer, and has not heard from the coach yet. I took down the numbers, and informed the appropriate age coordinator. April and I are puzzled why these calls are coming to us. April thinks that people at the kids school now refer to her as Mrs. AYSO soccer. I have not heard any complaints from my U6 boys parents, so I am hoping I did ok. I did notice that the rosters that were handed out the the coaches were not the most up to date ones.

Practice for both Rachel's and Patrick's team went pretty well. I was surprised that some of the girls on Rachel's team have not played before. 

Blogging is of course all the rage on the net now. I guess these personal logs fit the category. Some of the Microsoft people are blogging in Got.Net. One thing I did notice was that I blog more frequently than most. There are a couple of MS guys that make two or three entries a day, but most of the ones I read are updated every few days to once a month. Some give interesting insights on the culture and changes at MS. The technical support needed lots of help. The BLASTER worm caused MS to pull quite a few from other teams to help combat it.

One person went the the Linux Expo. He said his badge had MICROSOFT printed in nice, big letters. The most frequent comment he got on this was, "Well, at least you are not SCO". SCO is suing IBM. They say that Linux includes code they have copyrights on. They have replaced MS as the big evil in the open source world. Their web server was down last weekend due to a denial of service attack. They are offering anyone with Linux a $699 license. Considering anyone who has the OS got it for considerably less than that, if not free, I don't think they will get much response.

Microsoft now relies on Linux now to protect them from viruses and worms, as well as DOS attacks. A friend verified that the servers in Salt Lake are not running Windows anymore.

I found a some funny stuff this week.

The Mac Killed My Inner Child (language warning).
Google knows the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

I personally liked the C program that demonstrated the flaw in Deep Thought.

With all the other viruses coming up in the news, this one was good for a chuckle:

You have just received the Amish virus. Because we don't have any computers, or programming experience, this virus works on the honor system. Please delete all the files from your hard drive and manually forward this virus to everyone on your mailing list. We Thank Thee.The Amish Computer Engineering Department

The buzz for the past couple of weeks is the Star Wars Kid. Some of the discussion around the net is about what a fat, pathetic loser the kid is. The site gets millions of hits each day, so I would guess the pathetic losers are not a minority. Then there are the people that take the time to make all the variations. It's amazing how one video that was probably done on the spur of the moment generates so much interest.

End of Entry

Monday, August 25, 2003

New school building - St. Benedict

Stardate 56082.5 (8-25-2003)

The SoBig F virus variant has been causing lots of trouble; at least that’s why I assume the network has been slow. I notice it more at work then at home.

Cognizant, the Indian consulting company has had some strange issues. On one application that dumps information to a fixed format file, they reported that null values in the database were written as blanks on the output. I’m not sure what they expect to see. Should the application make up stuff to put in there? They have been good at finding documentation errors.

The C# project is now coming along nicely. I’m ready to test, but other testing needs to be done first. One thing I did learn from this is that Oracle hates multiple threads on one connection. I remember someone telling me that before. Oh, well, now it is firmly in my mind. I also found a neat way of parsing command line arguments. Ray Hayes put together an object to parse the args to properties in an object. This does away with clumsy if/else and switch constructs. Another feature of his class is that it uses C# object attributes to alias arguments to the same property. Therefore, things like ‘-u’, ‘—u’, ‘user’, and ‘name’ can all do the same thing. The next step is to build the reports into it as XML documents.

School started up again. Rachel and Patrick got up and ready in no time. They were both anxious to get back to school and see friends. They are also going to a new building purchased last spring. Grades K-2 will go there, and 3-8 goes to the old building. The school needed more room. The family went to see the new St. Benedict’s ‘campus’ last Friday. It’s nice, but I was surprised at how small it was. I thought it used to be a public school at one time, although not recently.

I did manage to take the kids fishing on Sunday. It was great fun, although a little hot in the morning and we didn’t catch anything. People around us were catching fish. I never was a good fisherman, but I still like to do it. It did keep the kids outdoors, and we all got some exercise. I would like to try doing this at different place each Sunday if the weather is good.

The bad/good news is that Gail Meyer, Ray’s wife, got a promotion, so the Meyer family is transferring to Boston. I’m happy for them, but I will miss Ray. Fortunately, we live in the age of the Internet, so communication over long distances is easy. I was asked to take over the job of Chief of Operations, and I accepted. Ray handed a hat he had made in Orlando to me. that says “USS Ticonderoga – OPS Chief”.  I will admit to being touched.

End of Entry

Tuesday, August 19, 2003


Stardate 56081.9 (8-19-2003)

The wife, kids, and I went to Yellowstone Park the end of last week.

We had a good time. We drove all over, except the east entrance, which was closed by fire. The kids were most impressed by the animals. There certainly were a lot of bison. It seemed that each time we drove over to the east, we were delayed by bison standing in the road. The cabin we stayed in was pretty much like a hotel room, with lights, bathroom, beds, coffee maker, and more. The major difference was the kids could go out back and play in the trees, chasing squirrels, gathering rocks and sticks, and just have fun.

The geysers and mud pots did not impress the kids too much. I am always in a state of wonder that about one hundred thousand years ago, the area was a volcano. It still is, in a way. The old volcano powers the geysers and mud pots. My kids talk about volcanoes quite a bit, and I tried to explain that they were now in an old one. One hundred thousand years is not all that long ago, geologically speaking. The dinosaurs had been long gone before that.

We took a walk up to the grand canyon of Yellowstone. The kids all had to have walking sticks. 

 Of course, lots of wildlife. I had to do a lot of talking to convince April the buffalo were not tame even though they seemed like it.

Patrick and Rachel participated in the Junior Ranger program. They filled out a few puzzles, answered questions on what their favorite animals and features were. The part I liked is that in order to get a patch, they needed to attend one ranger lead talk. The ranger was 73 years old, and he gave a good talk. He lead a group of kids partway up a trail. One of the stops looked down the grand canyon of the Yellowstone. He told everyone that the view was the same for your parents when they were kids, and the same for the native Americans before the white man came. He then lead them to a tree where a bear had marked his territory with claws. The last part showed trees taller than he was. He told the group that when he started working in the park seven years ago, the trees were only up to his ankle. 

All in all, a very good experience.

There was even a little ceremony and an announcement to everyone in the ranger station as Patrick and Rachel received the badges. I wish I would have known, because I left the camera in the car.

The typical issues waited for me returning to work on Monday. It seems I never need to worry about losing my job, because there are always things that no one else knows how to do. There was not as much e-mail as I usually get, so that was a relief. IT had to search all the laptops because the welchia worm got loose inside the company. The fix for the RPC hole was posted on July 16th. I am puzzled as to why they waited until the worm was loose before updating systems.

End Of Entry

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

C# Error

Stardate 56081.3 (8/13/2003)

I was looking into some strange things on my C# project, because ThreadPools do not work the way I expected. I found an article by Marc Clifton  that somewhat explains why. He recommended a ManagedThreadPool  class developed by Stephen Toub  at Microsoft that might work better. I went to get it, and discovered that I had it already. I’ll have to see if it works the way I want. 

Another article by Marc Clifton, “A Look At What’s Wrong With Objects” had a good paragraph in it about formal education.

“What happened to formal education? People get degrees nowadays to get jobs and better pay rather than actually learning something. Learning seems to have taken second seat in the orchestra of life. But there's some justification to this also. My experiences with institutes of higher learning here in the United States (and in particular, California), has been terrible. Antiquated machinery, obsolete programming courses using out of date operating systems and tools, and professors that grade on "following directions" rather than solutions that try to be efficient and high performance. And the biggest complaint of all--colleges and universities haven't a clue what real-life programming is like. Sadly, formal education seems to be a necessary evil at this point, at least in the computer science field. It used to be that universities were the leaders in innovation and research. Now they seem more a haven for the socially inept and "education" leaves one technically incompetent.”

I think this applies to a lot of areas, but I do find that new hires just out of college want step by step instructions on how to do something. Given that Utah is last in the nation for spending per student, I should not be surprised.

I also found a blog entry on GOTDOTNET.COM from Eric Gunnerson  praising generic programming., and some discussion by Don Box about it. I am guessing from this that the new specification to ECMA on .NET includes generic programming. The specification for Java 1.5 is also supposed to include this. Personally, that’s one of the things I love about C++. I can’t wait until some of these other languages implement it. I like the calendar on the right they use to go to different blog entries. I want to replace the scroll down menu on the left with something like this for the personal logs.

There was a message from Desktop services at work about the RPC buffer overrun bug and the Internet worm that takes advantage of it. I wonder why they took so long to distribute the message given how fearful they are of viruses. Microsoft calls the patch for this a HotFix. I would not have a problem with the term if it installed without having me reboot to activate it. The term hotfix means that you install it on a running system, and it starts up. If you need to reboot, then it’s a patch. Microsoft wants everyone to see it as an enhancement, instead of a bug fix. 

My sister, Susan, told me I don't use names in the logs. Most of the time this is on purpose. I like to 
respect people's privacy. She also told me it wasn't necessary to call me anymore, all she had to do is read these to find out what is going on with my family.  That was not the purpose and she said it as a joke, but I guess it is true.

I read in the paper that Senator Orrin Hatch wants to repeal Article II, Section I of the Constitution that says the President must be a natural born citizen. He says it's not just for Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I think that's the main reason. Another columnist in Sunday's Standard Examiner listed a list of events he said that proved the Republican party was trying to make the US a one party state. It was tongue in cheek, but I would be interested to see how much of it was true.

Last, as I review the entry, I was using the word interesting all over the place. I redid a lot of it, but I could replace some of those with fascinatingintriguing, or remarkable. A thesaurus can be so much fun. :)

End of Entry

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Van collision

Stardate 56080.9 (8-9-2003)

The van was in a collision last Thursday. I wasn't there, so I am not sure of the exact details. April was at a stop light, and a pickup truck hit the van behind her, which was pushed into ours. It's in the shop now. There was not much visible damage, but when I drove it home that night, the rear wheels vibrated badly. April said the electrical system winked off and on as well. I hope to get it back by next Wednesday for our trip to Yellowstone.

The AYSO under 6 boys soccer teams are finished, and I sent the list off to the coordinator, Doug Lawton. When I started this, I was told Doug was hard to get along with. He's an ex-F16 pilot, so he does come across as strict and bossy. On the other hand, if you have a problem with something, he is quick to help. So I can deal with the other. Lord knows I have plenty of personality flaws.

Patrick has been questioning me about when soccer is starting. It's good to see that he is still interested, even anxious to begin. I am coaching my daughter Rachel this year, too. So it's going to be very busy for the next few months. I read on theCaptain's log that his son is interested in sports. I might suggest soccer in the spring.

We dropped the second line and got DSL. It was finally hooked up last night. I have not really had much of a chance to do anything yet, but at least the web pages are much faster. The only problem is if I have to work from home, I need to use the primary phone for dial up. I might ask my manager for broadband access, but I don't think she will go for the expense.  

Rachel went to a Girl Scout camp at Weber Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week. She had lots of fun, but I can't see that she learned anything really useful. I went to pick her up on Wednesday, and arrived a little early. The flyer from the organizer said we needed to be there at 7:30 exactly, or our child would go to the Odgen police station. I sat in on the last of it that day, and they had a flag retirement ceremony. I'd never seen one before. They cut the 13 stripes from the flag one at a time, and each time the name of one of the original 13 colonies was mentioned. I wondered if it was in order of ratification of the Constitution, and this was confirmed when Rhode Island was the last one mentioned. I know they were the last one to ratify. 

The C# project is almost complete. It's been a fun little jaunt. Some things I tried did not work out as I would have thought. The problem this project is supposed to solve is the monthly testing. I need to sequence a growing number of items through a server program to check the results. But if the items are not done in a particular order, it shows up different on different OS platforms. I tried to create a thread pool queue in C#, but I found that the same item was being picked up by more than one thread. I then went to entering all the items in an array list, and having the threads pick up items out of the list. It seems to work pretty good, except the threads gradually die with database exceptions. If I can work that out, the project will be complete.

My carpool buddy had annoying problem. He is enhancing an old C application, one that I recommended redesigning 6 years ago. The testing went well for him, but another tester found a crash. The program was running off the end of an array, which in C is possible and always causes a crash. A coworker tried to run it in debug mode under Visual Studio.NET. It ran fine. After a whole day, he finally figured out that VS.NET was running the program on top of their Common Language Runtime (CLR), which is one of the centerpieces of the .NET framework. The CLR was detecting  the array overrun, and expanding the array. The program was not running on the CLR in release mode, so it crashed. We found a way to do the same thing he was trying to do without overrunning the array, and it ran faster to boot. I was not pleased that Microsoft decided to add things to a programming language that should not be there. 

This whole thing led into a heated discussion of language features, particularly automatic memory management. The point some made was that if C/C++ had memory management, this would have worked. I pointed out that the original approach was slow, and it would have been redone anyway. This just revealed it sooner. Automatic memory management is not a feature of a language I look for. It's ok to have, but there have been a few times when it got in the way. Last week I was reading similar topics on Bjarne Stroustup's web site. His opinion is that there is no one computer language that is best. I would agree with that. My C# project above was chosen because I wanted a language with multithreading support, and that produced an .EXE, and I wanted to play with something new.
April found a Time magazine article about how software development is moving offshore to India. It mentioned the same outfit that my company is using. A lot of developers have lost jobs over this. The whole thing has been the hot topic at work. It has people worried, and I think for good reason. A developer in India is paid $10,000, whereas one in the U.S. is paid $60,000. There is a movement to have the government put restrictions on it, but that will take years. I need to start taking steps to deal with the possibility.

I did find a couple of amusing Flash animations, Jedi Switch and Linux Supervillian.
Long entry this time, but it has been a busy week.
End of Entry

Friday, August 01, 2003

--> Stardate 57080.1 (08-01-2004)

Aha, the actress who plays T'Pol on Enterprise was not happy with the direction of the character either. I don't like a constant wimpy, weepy portrayal of a character such as this. Especially when she is Vulcan, who it has been emphasized over and over keep emotions under tight control. Star Trek has had quite a few strong female characters. One scene that sticks out in my mind is from the episode 'Conspiracy'. An admiral is under alien control, and beating up Worf. He does manage to summon security, and Riker comes, and gets beat up. Dr. Crusher walks in, the admiral charges, and she calmly shoots him with a phaser. I remember commenting after seeing it for the first time, 'Why didn't anyone else think of that?' 

The study of alternate propulsion is not dead. Warp drive may be possible according to a BBC article. NASA does have an advanced propulsion lab, but I don't think they are thinking this far ahead. 

Friday evening I took the dog to the animal ER in Sunset. His ears are a mess again. We found out after the first time this is a common thing in Labs. After a cleaning, and prescriptions for pills and a cream, he is doing better. He is wise to hiding the pills in peanut butter, or else he is tired of eating it three times a day.

Most of that day was spent hanging around the computer and phone, waiting for Home Depot to call back on the status of my deck railing. I placed the order a month ago. I know it's small from their perspective, but I'd still like to get the deck completed before the next snow.

So I spent some time wandering the `net and doing some programming. I read between 300-400 words per minute, according to this site. That's probably pretty accurate, but I wonder if I am faster with printed pages. I know studies have shown screen printing is not as clear as paper, and Microsoft and other companies are trying to make it better. A few at work wonder why I prefer black text on a gray background. One reason is that it reduces the red fringing I see because of the thick glasses. I see much better with contact lenses. I should pick up a new pair, but I have just been lazy. My insurance should pay for a new pair, which would be nice, since with my prescription the contacts are expensive, and have to be specially ordered. 

I did a first pass at a C++ program to count words. There are a few things to work out with it, although I thought I got the punctuation removed. If you are bored, this is the output. 'I' is the winner at 1,689 occurrences, followed by 'and' for 87 log entries. There are quite few that only show up once, which I hope means I am not repeating myself. I will tell when I get to one hundred.

I also watched some of the host of 'The Amazing Race' diaries that appear on the site. He seem a little miffed that one team took the hockey shots instead of the single shot of vodka from the blade of a sabre. The team didn't do that on religious principles. He went on about how it was not the cheap stuff, but the 'top of the shelf' kind. I thought that the challenge was easy. I would guess the game gets harder as you drink more, but they only had to do one shot. 

I added a few new blogs from Utah found here. Miss Cranky was there as well. I could register my site there. Of course, there are millions of bloggers out there. Ted Koppel of Nightline noted at the recent Democratic Convention that thirty years ago, there were only three networks covering it. Now there are hundreds of channels, and hundreds of individuals making their opinions public through blogging. Thomas Jefferson would be pleased. 

Saturday Rachel came home from a week at Camp Cloud Rim. This year she was ready to go, whereas last year she cried that she did not want to leave. She hasn't talked much about what she did there. She is still singing the songs, and says "Hullo, poppet" from 'Pirates of the Caribbean' all the time. We also went out and purchased a bunk bed set for the boys. The idea was to put them side by side, but Patrick is pressing to do the bunk arrangement. I am not sure if he fully realizes that he will miss out on some of the bedtime ritual he likes (reading, having myself or April sit on the end of the bed). 

Sunday, this morning in fact, I tried making the banana cream pie again. It is not done setting up in the fridge, but it already looks better than the first attempt. 

End of Entry

Slanted Fedora Convention

Stardate 56080.1 (8-01-2003)
I wrote up last weeks log entry, but never got around to posting it. So I will be posting two (this one and 56072.5) in one day. 

The convention was fun. It's the first time I've gone to one where I knew more than just one person. And it's the first one I've been to since StarFest 2000. The costumes were great. I loved the play Robert Picardo and Ethan Phillips put on. Ethan went off the script a number of times, and Robert playfully slapped him for it. It may have been part of the act, but it was good all the same. My only disappointment was that I could not get a personalized photo with the two of them. Their plane was delayed in Las Vegas, so they had to skip doing that. I did chat with Robert in the bathroom.
The pictures from the convention seem to be popular. At least the number of hits was up this last week
The Borg is Eric Allan Hall
The Starfleet officier is Brady

Ray Meyer

About half the week I was sick, so there is not much else to write. I didn't get any further with anything. The need to get a calendar system for the logs is growing with the number of entries. When I started doing this, I was not sure if I would keep it up. But I find that I enjoy it.

Well, I guess two entries is good, considering how short this one is.

End of Entry