Saturday, October 18, 2003

Trek stuff

Stardate 57101.8 (10-18-2003)

I've been wandering the net again. I went over to Wil Wheaton's site. The captain visits here regularly. I do on occasion, but I don't usually find too much that interests me. I did today. The entry was a letter to the Cubs fan that caught the foul ball in game 6. He goes on to tell 'that guy' he knows how he feels. Wil was on a 'cult TV show', where he got some rough treatment from the fans. Of course, I and some of the readers of this blog will know he is talking about his role as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I didn't realize until now how bitter he still is about it. On the other hand, he taking steps to deal with it. It could be worse. Rush Limbaugh for years gave a hard-line stance against drug users. Does the same apply to him now that he admitted to drug addiction?

One thought that struck me while reading this. Many of the blogs have a link to place comments. I am not thinking of putting something like that here, but on the Enterprise reviews. It seems to be an obvious idea, and I wonder why it did not occur to me before.

On the Code Project, I found this article on the good and evil of moving development off-shore. There were some good points. I found the one about the lack of programmers in India driving up the salaries interesting. I don't hate these people, but I would like to compete on a better footing. I always look for ways to be more efficient One point I did miss from this is that the region is more unstable than the U.S., and development project can disappear in a blink of an eye.

Wednesday I had a meeting at my kids school to go over the computer situation. It's pretty sad. It's an old building, so the electrical system is not up to the job. The power pulled by the labs overwhelms the circuits and blows fuses. The have a hodge-podge of systems and OSs. There are at least five separate networks, and the two campuses have no connection. The first task of the new group is to inventory what is there, and make recommendations to the principal. She's not very computer literate, so I gather she is not as supportive of computers in the school as some would like. The leader of the volunteer group is gung-ho, and he wants everything networked together (preferably wireless),  instant messages, with e-mail and Internet access. It will be interesting to see what he can get away with.  One of the things you expect out of a private school is a better education. Computer skills are now necessary, and every school has a program. This one is not where I think it should be. I would like to eventually see a web server that the older kids could play with putting pages on.

I had a short conversation with Brady Jugler at the Senior Officers Meeting Friday night. I asked if he had some time to show me Flash. He readily agreed, and then asked how I had done the rotating image on the ship web site. I told him it was done with JavaScript. He told me that it would work better in Flash, and why. All good points, but to me the con of that is you need Flash to change it. With Javascript, you only need Notepad, vi, or your favorite text editor. To add a new image, you add one line to add an element to a list:
    image_list[image_index++] = new imageItem("float.jpg");
 image_list[image_index++] = new imageItem("enterprise.jpg");
image_list[image_index++] = new imageItem();

The script can be changed to slide show the images in order, or randomly by changing a single variable in the script.

Wil talks about Cubs fans having a passion for the team and how this passion is the same as the one Star Trek fans have for the TV show. I agree. The same passion exists for programming languages, editors, operating systems, book genres, music, and just about everything important to us in life. The previous paragraph is another example. I don't have an overriding need to use Javascript, but it was the best solution given the limitations I have for the site. I could have done it a number of other ways, and my request to Brady was aimed at finding more skills. Brady definitely has a passion for Flash, but I have found that same passion to blind people to different ideas and ways of doing things.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Stardate 57101.4 (10-14-2003)

The Frightmares activity went well, except for Lagoon insisting that we remove all uniforms, insignia, and costumes. I was nervous about taking three kids of widely different interests by myself. But they did well. It was kind of sad to see that Rachel is too big to ride on the kiddy rides by a few inches now. 

The new benefits enrollment  information came in at work on Friday. The number of plans offered went from 4 to 1. The amount they will reimburse for such things as surgery went from 90% down to 85%. The copay goes up from $15 to $20. There is no word on the premiums, but my guess is that they will go up. I wonder what the point of doing the enrollment is. What choices are there?

I was reading in the Sunday paper this morning that techies are having to learn job hunting and interviewing skills. Because of the dot com crash, the recession, and overseas competition, jobs are scarce. I find this frightening. I have not interviewed for a job since 1987. My resume' is up to date, but I don't have any ready answers to job interview questions and those skills are very bad.

Rachel is still struggling with math, but she is doing better. She objects to studying it, because she says there is no use for it. So it was ironic that Thomas came downstairs that day saying that he only had four stuffed animals, and Patrick had seven. Rachel turns around on the stool and informs him he needs to find three more. I asked her how she knew that, and she grumbled that ok, she used math. 

Monday one of the analysts comes around looking for documentation on the server program I work on. She needed it to write up requirements for a new program they have been working on to replace it. That made me feel rotten. It's like someone planning your hanging and having you hand over the design for the gallows. 

So in thinking about it, I have come to the conclusion that losing the job is not a big deal. After all, I have been unsatisfied with the level of challenge and the lack of opportunity to learn new things. What bugs me the most is that I have no clear idea of where I want to go. The goal was to be a senior level developer, and I have been so for years now. There is always new things to learn, but I need a new goal. It makes it hard to answer the question of where I want to be in five years. 

I have been doing a lot with the ship website. This is an ongoing project, and I am having fun with it. There is lots to do with it, and with the operations site and this one. April has become pretty good at keeping the brownie troop site up to date.  These sites are the few places I get to do visual work with. Everything I do at Ingenix is behind the screen, so to speak. Usually I don't hear anything until something goes wrong.

I hope that no one gets offended by the zombie story I included in the review of Impluse. It came to mind very quickly on watching this episode. Zan has a strange sense of humor. It's still going because when he found out I was part of the Ticonderoga group, he took to calling me ol' Ticonderoga Tim. I've held on to the zombie letter for more than a decade just because it's a different perspective on this genre.

End of Entry

Monday, October 06, 2003

Two log entries in as many days.

Stardate 57100.6 (10-06-2003) 

Two log entries in as many days. I was just now idly wandering the net, browsing one of geekdom's holy shrines, SlashDot.org. I found an interesting article on software fashion. It got me thinking about the technologies. I've played with each of the three they single out. The first is Enterprise Java Beans a.k.a. EJB. I never did too much with this, because it was meant for distributed networks and that meant I needed a network. I was never sure what issues this technology was designed to address. 

The second is Struts. The issue this was meant to address was the variety of display devices. I agree with the author, it was good in concept, but way to complex. One of the design issues I consider each time I write a program is the fact that I will need to come back to it and make modifications. In this case, complex is not good. Actually, I can't think of when complex is good. Past entries have stated what I have been playing with, C/C++, Perl, Java, and C#. Each time I have come up with a task, each of these has been able to fulfill the job. Each has weaknesses, but if you know what those are, then you can make them dance to the tune. 

The last is my favorite: Extreme Programming or XP. I like this one because when it was a big fad, I bought the concepts. Basically, it took the best practices of other methodologies and took them to extremes. If unit testing was good, build automated unit testing that runs each time you make a change. If code reviews were good, put two programmers at the same computer, with one reviewing the code the other is writing (pair programming). I put a lot of this to practice, and found some flaws. Automated unit testing was good, but it fast became a monster that smashed its' head into the immoveable and immutable object called THE DEADLINE. Pair programming fell to a personality flaw of mine that my carpool buddy points out each time he ponders an answer I give to his questions. "Don't get bored and wander away!". I found the answer, and I want to move on. 

Yes, April, blah, blah, blah. Thomas has decided that he no longer wants to wear diapers. This was brought on by pressure from Dad, his brother and sister, but mostly from friends. He's been successful a few times, but it's an uphill battle. 

End of Entry

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Jason Fox Comic, Soccer

Stardate 57100.5 (10-05-2003)

I read in Discover magazine about Technorati, a web site that tracks links and commentary in the expanding world of Web logs. It has a breaking news page that ranks news items by how many times they are references in blogs, and not by the number of major news source references that Google and others used. If a large number of professional organizations run a particular story, it shows up in Google. If the majority of bloggers tracked by Technorati ignore it, it won't show up there. I thought it was an interesting concept. I checked it out, but only one item caught my attention today. It was a story about how millions of technical and service jobs, including call center jobs, are going to India.

Thursday is supposed to be swimming lessons for Rachel and Patrick. The power blackout canceled the one that day, and the week before I got bad directions off the net and could not find it. It's getting frustrating for April and I, as well as the kids.

April and I went to a murder mystery fund raiser for the school on Friday. It was ok, just crowded and noisy. The actors where hard to hear. The other complaint was the single cash bar, and the long line in front of it. The joke was that the place was not used to Catholic functions.

We sent Patrick and Rachel to a friends house in Eden. We were worried about Patrick, who does not like sleeping away from home. It stormed pretty bad that night. The friends mother and Rachel said he did fine.

The soccer games on Saturday went well. Both Patrick's and Rachel's games were at the same time. So I arranged for a parent to coach Patrick's game. One of the kids was out of town, another was sick, and a third refused to play. So Patrick ended up playing the whole game. Rachel's game was against a team with some large girls. They still did well. The one part I would have liked to change was the fourth quarter. I would have put Rachel and one other girl named Fiona in against these girls. Oh, well, everyone had fun, which is the point. Rachel's friend, Audra, who she stayed with, did get hit in the face by accident.

At home after the games, I picked up my email and found out Captain Rex Rouviere found a job in Alabama, and will be moving away. The farewell was a 2 PM. I did manage to swing by and say goodbye. It would have been nice to stay, but I needed to get Patrick to the toy store to find a gift for a birthday party on Sunday. Rachel was also cooking dinner on her own for the first time. The captain did say some good things about me to the admiral. I appreciated that.

The birthday party on Sunday was at Dinosaur Park. It was good, and the kids got to run around freely. Thomas clung to me almost the whole time. But he does this a lot, so I wasn't surprised. Patrick got to play with friends, so it was a good thing.

April's mother is not doing well, so April is trying to fly out the last week in October. She has frequent flyer miles, but they require a Saturday stay over. She might fly out the 25th, which is the same day the fleet is going to the simulators. It looks like I won't be able to go. There are several other conflicts that day as well. It happens a lot that things all pile up on the same day.
I sent this around work Friday. I titled it "Bart Simpson could learn from Jason Fox". I was told it was a bright spot in a bad week for a lot of people. It does make me wonder what Bill Amends background is.

End of Entry

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Harlan Ellison quote, Borg Tax

Stardate 57100.1 (10-01-2003)

Some of the network services quit working (ftp, ping) after a crash. I used the System Restore feature to get them working again. To my surprise, it worked. I will have to remember that the next time I grumble about how much disk space it takes up.

The captain set me a Yahoo news article about the Amazing Race being renewed for another season after winning an Emmy over Survivor and American Idol. I have to admit being disappointed when season 3 of this show did not air last spring. It did finally air over the summer, which turned out to be much better anyway. Season 2 aired on Wednesday, the same time as Enterprise. Season 3 aired on Thursday. So knowing the fact that there will be another season is a relief.
Tuesday I found out that a couple of people had been let go that day. There was no reason given. The rumor is that corporate in Minneapolis mandated a percentage reduction for all offices. The manager doesn’t foresee any more layoffs, but then you never can tell. Four others are being moved to other projects. The bizarre thing is they have to apply to those positions through an outside recruiter. How does this save any money?

I found this quote:
"When they say, 'Gee it's an information explosion!', no, it's not an explosion, it's a disgorgement of the bowels is what it is. Every idiotic thing that anybody could possibly write or say or think can get into the body politic now, where before things would have to have some merit to go through the publishing routine, now, ANYTHING." - Harlan Ellison
ST and Sci-f  fans will recognize the author. I guess its true, but is this a bad thing? I entered into doing reviews of Enterprise on a whim, and some of them are very negative. But they are my opinion, and others have their own. Some people loved the same episode I didn’t care for. If they present arguments as to why, I might change my opinion. There is a lot of subjects out there. For instance, this blog on the Civil War . And this: Talk like a pirate

April read my last entry just as I had most of it done. She skips over the Star Trek comments with ‘Blah, blah’, and reads the stuff that interests her. This will probably become an innate ability for my kids. RSS is technology that attempts to do something similar, according to some in the media.

One of the parents at St. Joseph's is looking for volunteers to do some IT work. I just emailed him and volunteered. It would be good experience, and a chance to network in case my current job runs out.

I added a borg tax questions to the humor section. I found the questions on the net in 1993.  I forwarded it around the office, and my boss forwarded it to a friend he knew that worked for H&R Block. The answers are his. 

Q. Do we file as individuals or as a corporation?
A. As a corporation only if each borg is in "good-standing" with the local planet's franchise tax commission. And properly capitalized!
Q. Can we deduct the cost of building/operating the Borg ships as a business expense? <<
A. Only if the operations can show a "business intent" -- otherwise, it's just a fun loving hobby.
Q. Does assimilating a world count as a Capital Gain? Can we use our one-time deferment after we've assimilated the known Universe?
A. The one-time deferment is available only if you have not assimilated any other Known Universe's within a time period which extends exactly 24 months prior to and after the current assimilation.
Q. Can we claim mileage credit?
A. Only if you have a valid "log book" and deviations from the standard rate per galaxy/mile equivalent are frowned on.
Q. If the IRS audits the Borg, is it against the tax codes to assimilate them? Rather, could we simply destroy them?
A. Destruction of the tax codes or documental evidence is plainly discussed in Section 7453 -- "Rules of Practice, Procedure and Evidence" -- believe an adequate paraphrasing would be that "if you can't find the body, you don't have a crime....."
 End of Entry