Saturday, January 29, 2005

 

Iced In

We had freezing rain last night in North Georgia. The result is a quarter-inch layer of ice over everything: roads, cars, sidewalks, etc. So I'm stuck in my apartment today. This would be the perfect time to snuggle up with my girlfriend, sip cocoa, and just watch movies all weekend. Unfortunately, I have no girlfriend and no cocoa.

We don't get much snow in the Atlanta area, but we do have about one major ice storm per year. The weight of the ice causes trees and power lines to fall, causing damage and leaving people without power, but the ice usually melts in a day or two and everything gets back to normal. Georgia Power repair crews and salt trucks are busy during these times, but there's not much else that anyone can do about it.

A few hardy souls in my apartment complex are chipping the ice off of their cars so that they can go somewhere (work, I assume). Because I was bored, I took a look at my car to see how much effort would be required to get the ice off of it. The thickness of the ice varies from about a quarter-inch to about a half-inch, depending on where it is. I have remote-control door locks, which is good because it would be impossible to put a key into the frozen keyhole. By opening the door handle and pulling back and forth for a minute, I was able to crack the ice around each of the doors enough to get them open. But the ice on the top surfaces of the car is thicker than the ice on the sides, so getting rid of the ice on the windshield and rear window would take a lot of chipping, or about an hour of letting the engine and defroster run.

So, rather than try go anywhere, I'll take advantage of my forced imprisonment and do some house cleaning. The stack of unopened mail on my kitchen counter has reached the can't-add-more-without-an-avalanche state, so I'll start with that. And if the kitchen counter looks clean, then I'll have to clean the rest of the kitchen to match. And then if the kitchen is clean, I'll have to clean the other rooms too. I always put off cleaning as long as I can, but once I start, I get manic and obsessive about it.

If all goes well, I'll end up with a clean apartment. That's nice, but I'd prefer the girlfriend and cocoa.


Friday, January 28, 2005

 

Eyes On The Prize

Episodes of the PBS documentary series Eyes on the Prize are available for download at http://www.downhillbattle.org/eyes/download.php. They're available via BitTorrent, so the more of us who download it, the better.


Thursday, January 27, 2005

 

Selective Hiring

Joel Spolsky has a good commentary on "selective" hiring: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2005/01/27.html. The point of his article is that no matter how hard you try to hire the best employees you can, you are unlikely to find anyone of exceptional ability.

Spolsky's observations about availability of the best talent works on the other side of the job market too: the best employers don't have a lot of job openings, and have no trouble filling those they do, so most open positions are not great jobs. This is why good people with good jobs tend to stay where they are, and bad companies have a lot of turnover. No matter how great an employee you are, a great job is hard to find.

The company I work for is looking to double the size of the software development staff this year. Management admits that with this rapid influx of people, "maybe some of these new hires won't be the best". It would be refreshing if they would admit that none of these people are going to be the best. It would be even more refreshing if they would admit that the people we already have are not the best.

I'm interested to watch the social dynamics of doubling the size of an organization. When it's complete, half of the developers will be "new guys", and the other half will be "the old guard". Many of the open positions are managerial, so a lot of the old guys will have the new guys as bosses. The new guys will be as suspicious of the old guard as the old guard is of them. Will the new guys take over, or will the old guys quell the rebellion?

I hope we'll all learn to work together, and that none of us will delude ourselves into thinking that we're the best people doing the best work at the best jobs in the world. We're all going to make mistakes, we're all going to want to do better, and we're all going to need help from one another.


 

Crashing Appliances

Our environment is becoming more intelligent. Processors are pervasive. However, along with the benefits come problems with reliability.

Thankfully, when the embedded CPUs around my home malfunction, they don't become maliciously sentient like they do in the movies. Instead, they just crash. Things stop working, and I have to restart them.

My TiVo has been locking itself up about once a week. The picture freezes, and the unit no longer responds to remote control or button presses. The only solution is to unplug the power, plug it back in, and wait several minutes for it to reboot. The wait is annoying, and I've lost a few minutes of shows that were being recorded during the time when TiVo locked up. I've searched the Internet for more information on this problem. Many people report it, but there is no solution suggested other than the power reset.

Last Saturday, my DirecTV receiver went haywire as well. I turned on the monitor, and saw only a gray screen and heard a voice repeating the syllable "Teh" over and over. After waiting a few minutes to see whether it would fix itself, I unplugged and replugged the power, and after a couple of minutes of re-retrieving channel information from the satellite, it worked again.

I suspect the time will come when there will be a reboot switch for the entire apartment. I wonder how many times per day I'll need to flip it.

[UPDATE: I ran across a link in the blogosphere to a story about cars infected with viruses from mobile phones. How soon will it be until we have to stop carrying mobile phones to avoid the risk of infecting our intelligent environment? Could all wireless technology disappear due to the danger?]


Friday, January 21, 2005

 

Overheard at Work

Being moved from a nice quiet office to a noisy cubicle environment has mostly sucked. However, there is occasionally some entertainment mixed in with the noise:

First Cubicle: Dammit! Why can't I log in?

Second Cubicle: Because you're a tool.

First Cubicle: (not hearing) What?

Second Cubicle: You need to set "tool" to "false".

(A few seconds pass.)

First Cubicle: Where are the tool settings?

(Quiet chuckling is heard in several other cubicles.)

Second Cubicle: Don't be a tool!

First Cubicle: Well, dammit, how do I turn it off?

(Laughter all around.)


Thursday, January 20, 2005

 

London Underground

From Adam Curry's Daily Source Code, a funny song about transit strikes:London Underground.mp3.

Warning: not safe for work, for kids, etc.

The creators of the song have a web site at http://www.amateurtransplants.com/.


Sunday, January 16, 2005

 

Google Calculator

While experimenting with my new French press coffee maker, I needed to know how many ounces were in a cup. So I entered "ounces in a cup" in OmniWeb's search bar, hoping that somewhere on the web there would be a page with this info. This is how I stumbled on Google's calculator.

Pretty nifty. Never again will I need to open Excel just to do some simple arithmetic; my browser can do it for me. In addition to doing arithmetic, it also knows how to convert units. For example, if I query for "25 miles in nautical miles", Google will tell me "25 miles = 21.724406 nautical miles".


Saturday, January 15, 2005

 

Fun With Photoshop

http://www.polyice.com/

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

 

Daydreaming About Developing Mac Applications

My mostly positive experience with Mac OS X, the success of the iPod, and the recent announcement of the Mac mini make me hopeful that the Macintosh user base will be expanding over the coming year. This leads me to think that maybe it's time I wrote a real application for Mac OS X.

Sean O'Leary suggested that I write some tools to make it easy for Windows users to move their data (file, e-mail, etc.) over to their new Mac minis. Not a bad idea, but it just doesn't sound "fun" to me. I had little need to move any data from my Windows machine to my Mac, so it would take me a while to figure out exactly what the users need and how to do it. Trying to extract e-mail and other data from Microsoft's proprietary apps would probably be a frustrating and fruitless experience.

A skills-development goal I have for myself is to become proficient with OpenGL and 3-D modeling tools. So maybe some sort of simple 3D modeling and animation tool would be a good goal. I'd like to create something that is for would-be 3D artists what GarageBand is for would-be musicians or what iMovie is for would-be filmmakers. I may be biting off a lot more than I can chew here, but I'm giving this idea some serious thought.

I've thought about getting involved with Firefox development. As a browser, it's fine, but as a Mac application, it bites. It doesn't have the Aqua look and feel, its AppleScript support is minimal, it doesn't interact with the keychain mechanism, and in general it just isn't a "team player" on my Mac. The Windows version of Firefox is much more pleasant to use than the Mac version; maybe I can help to reverse that.

I've written before about what I don't like about Shrook. Maybe yet another RSS reader would be useful, but I think I'll wait to see what the RSS support is like in the next version of Safari before embarking on that kind of development.

I'm planning to take flying lessons soon, so maybe an application for pilots would be a good way to combine my interests. However, right now I have no idea what would be useful in this area. The AOPA has a nifty flight-planning application that runs only on Windows. I can run it in Virtual PC on my Mac, but maybe I'll investigate the possibility of porting it to Mac OS X.

So many dreams. So little time.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

 

The Sweatshop

The new building where I work does not have adequate ventilation. Everyone has fans in their cubicles, but we're all sweaty, uncomfortable, and unproductive. I'm going to take a second fan into the office tomorrow. Maybe the added fan noise will help drown out the construction noise.

Today, our group's printer was taken away, to be given to another group. The person responsible for the move pre-empted our complaints by broadcasting an e-mail reminding us of the importance of sharing. It's been over thirty years since I was taught that lesson, so it's good to get a refresher.

This evening, construction workers came in to start putting up additional cubicles. I thought we'd have a fairly open space, but now it is just a tight cubicle maze. I look forward to seeing those cubicles filled with all the "bodies" management plans to hire. I hope they are told to bring fans with them.


Friday, January 07, 2005

 

Frustration Makes Me Stupid

I've been dealing a lot with our very-flaky network layer infrastructure. This thing requires a lot of configuration, and often doesn't work. And unfortunately, it is all under the control of other people, so when it is not working, I am powerless to do anything to fix it myself; all I can do is complain and wait for others to address the problems.

After a day of spinning my wheels trying to get this stuff working, I started trying my own workarounds. This was not a bad idea, but in my state of intense frustration, I did stupid things. I didn't carefully check the dial-in phone number, so I transposed some digits and spent a couple of hours trying to figure out why a modem wasn't answering. I've spewed out e-mails begging for help, but my e-mails contained numerous misspellings, bad grammar, and incorrect information. So, while the initial problems weren't my fault, I increased my misery and that of others by introducing more problems.

Yesterday, I left work early when I hit my maximum-frustration threshold. This prevented me from doing anything too stupid. Unfortunately, I hit that threshold at about 11 AM today, so I've been stupid all day. Maybe I should just take the day off, but I don't think that's feasible.

"Calm down. Don't let things get to you." That's what people tell me. Under better circumstances I have better control over my emotions, but when I'm already hating my job it's difficult to not let additional problems reinforce my anger.

But I'll try.


Tuesday, January 04, 2005

 

Imagine/Walk On The Wild Side

Adam Curry's 12/31/2004 podcast included a mash-up of George Bush singing John Lennon's "Imagine" and the chorus of "Take a Walk on the Wild Side". If you are a connoisseur of irony, you've gotta listen to it.


Monday, January 03, 2005

 

Colorful Metaphor

A friend of mine gave me a good line for describing a typical software-development project:

I've seen monkey shit fights at the zoo that were better organized than this!

I don't have the kind of personality that would let me actually use this line. Maybe a reader of this blog can find a good use for it.


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