Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"What are your thoughts on Vista?"

Part of being a tech is fielding these types of questions when the next release of a Microsoft product comes out. Thankfully, I have developed one simple rule that has worked for me since Windows 3.1:
If the version number ends in .0 don't install it!
Vista SP1 is already in the works and is rumored to be set for a release later this year. This is why I do not run and install new Microsoft releases. There will be one major patch before it is stable and by that time we'll know exactly what we're getting into.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Feature or annoyance?

There are a lot of birthdays to track for our family. The current webpage I use has 76 friends and family on there. For the techies, it's a javascript page that dynamically generates those birthdays coming up in the next 3 weeks so we can keep track. There's been a random bug that's been driving me nutz, every so often birthdays would stop showing up.

Today is a good example, there are 7 birthdays in the next 3 weeks, and none of them are being listed. See if you can spot the bug:
birthDay = new Date();
dateInfo = birthdays[idx][1].split("-");

// Internal JS representation is 0-11 not 1-12!
birthDay.setMonth(dateInfo[0]-1);
birthDay.setDate(dateInfo[1]);
The birthdays array contains two items, a name and a birthday represented as MM-DD. Everything is well formed in the source data and loads properly. However, on days like today it fails. Take a minute, I wont make you suffer long...

If you figured it, skip the following explanation;

It has to do with the Date class in Javascript. As it turns out, Date will not let you set a new month into it such that the existing day in that Date object is invalid.

In the code above, when the object is created it gets today's date; Jan 29 2007. When you try to do the SetMonth for February, it fails as February of this year cannot have 29 days. However, it does push the month to March, which can. Not sure why it pushes to March, but it does. This resulted in all the February birthdays I had "mystically" going away for a little while, then coming back.

The fix? Do a birthDay.setDate(1) to force it to a day we know all months have and everything works as expected.

The dream is over...

I received the live gift card that I had won in an online drawing (it was IEEE, don't look at me like that!). Sadly, I realized how much of an adult I've become. My first thought wasn't that it was 5/8s of a PS3 or enough to get a 360... no, much more mundane. I replaced the dryer that's been busted for awhile.

Felt good about it though. Saved the family the cost of a dryer. Still, the kid in me wanted to buy some kind of toy. *shrugs*

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

You're kidding, right?

Although, with some thought, it makes sense I just found out (thanks to this SANS article) that while the JRE installer on windows is blissfully updating for you (to make sure you get the latest security updates) it is not removing the old, security problematic, versions! I just removed 3 other JREs floating around in my system previous to the latest. For info on removing them from Windows look here.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Not my usual music...

...but it should be. Last year I heard a song in the background of Wreaths Across America (main site here). Between the song and the imagery I could barely hold back the tears. Looking at all the graves - the true price of our freedom - and listening to the song, well, it did it's job.

I bought the CD last year once I found The Right Brother's website. Ripped it to MP3 and promptly allowed myself to get lost in the season and forget that I had it. As I sit here listening to it now, I've never been more proud of a purchase. The CD was entitled "Remember: A Military Appreciation Project".

It is that. The song that hooked me was "For my country", here's the beginning:
I've never served in the military,
or put my life on the line.
I've never made a sacrifice, for my country.
But I know of those who have,
lost it all in the fight
and of the ones they left behind
for my country.
My thanks to all the men and women, past and present, who have defended or defend us today. I will not forget, and I will ensure my children never forget.

More Firefox fun...

Okay, I finally tried it. I really thought that the Mouse Gestures thing (all-in-one Gestures) was gonna drive me nutz. The idea is that you can control many of the functions of your browser with some mouse gestures.

What is a gesture? You hold down the right mouse button (on windows) and draw on the screen. So, if I want to open a new tab; I hold down the right mouse button and draw a line "Up". This opens a new, blank, tab for me to use. To Close that tab I right click, draw a line Right, then down, then left.

It sounds more awkward than it is. I tend to be a keyboard guy; I learn the shortcuts and I try not to use the mouse. There are some things (like web surfing) where that doesn't work as well (try tabbing through an RSS feed or a Digg Screen *shudders*). Gestures make it much easier.

Once you get it installed, you need to learn one gesture: Down-Right-Down

This gesture opens up a window with all your gestures so you can see what you can do without having to open up the AddOn Options for All-in-one. You can then tweak what you like to use. I geeked a bit here; I took the screen and photoshopped it into a quick reference card that I have next to my monitor. I also turned off a lot of the extra ones (I don't need zoom-in/out etc.) so the sheet is pretty small.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Exactly what are your goals?

I caught an interesting article over on /. this morning entitled "Will Telecommuting kill a Career". I've been telecommuting full time now for almost five years, so you might assume I shot over to see if they predicted the death of my career. As usual, the comments ranged from silly "Tele-commuting didn't kill my career. Slashdot killed my career!" to "I knew a boss that only telecommuted!", and everything in between.

The not-so-simple answer is that telecommuting is not for everyone or every company. First, the person working has to be disciplined and focused to get their work done and to provide consistent results. Second, management has to understand that because they don't see someone doesn't mean they are not productive or an active member of the company. Third, there has to be mechanisms and culture in place to make the first two happen.

My boss and most of my coworkers are in the UK , 5 hours ahead of me. When I'm coming in each morning they're heading out to the pub for lunch. I check my email for anything that happened before I got in, answer any low priority questions in email and any high priority ones in IM. When required, we break out the land lines, but we keep it to a minimum to save some $$ on the phone bills.

Has it killed my career? No. My goals were not to climb the corporate ladder into management and beyond. I have increased my skills, both managerial (ever try remotely managing people you don't see daily over multiple time zones and countries?) and developer. I have a challenging work environment and my boss and I work out ways to continue improving my skills. I'm currently writing a replacement for one of our key production lines and working with multiple groups within our organization to do that. I'm visible, active, and challenged.

Will it kill your career? I can't answer that. It will depend on a lot of things. I can provide you with some questions to answer though:
  • What are you goals?
  • If you are looking to climb the ladder and that requires face time and schmoozing, don't telecommute all the time. It's not likely to help.

  • Is your corporate culture tolerant of Telecommuting?
  • I've worked for companies that were both tolerant and intolerant of telecommuting. If your corporate culture is against it, don't do it.

    Tolerance tends to come from the people high up. I've talked with many upper management types that, in their own words, cannot get anything done at home. Thus, they believe no one can. Bucking that trend wont help your career prospects unless your looking to be the maverick in the company.

  • Do you have a compelling reason for doing so?
  • "Because I want to" isn't going to show the people above you that this is a good idea. Have a solid reason or set of reasons before approaching management.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Laughing at yourself....

Monday was a day for oopsing on the local network. Over the weekend we lost power for a few minutes. In typical geek fashion, my first thought was "S0lid test of the UPS and Linux box!" so when I got around to checking the logs I found that the linux box didn't realize the power had gone out and had instead rebooted. The cause? I plugged the box into the wrong side of the UPS. Doh!

Simple fix. Then, later on, I decided to change my default shell from bash to tcsh. Easy enough, bust out vim and change /etc/passwd. Log out, log in and... get denied login. Chase my tail for awhile and end up in the recovery console for Ubuntu. Oh, right, helps to install the shell before you attempt to use it. Doh. Installed and running, another simple fix.

When this type of stuff happens I tend to laugh and shrug it off. It's how you learn. During those times where your going "W.T.F.!?" and crawling through cables, manuals, and figuring things out you find out what you know and don't know.

I owe Santa a thank you for the opportunity to learn. Hopefully, she wont be too pissed if I mess up the access on the web server and she can't get to the birthdays while I figure this stuff out!

Monday, January 15, 2007

You lucky ....

Been awhile since I posted a poker story. This weekend was the start of the poker season for my friend's game and the first game that my wife was able to attend. I think she lived up to the stories, going from short stacked most of the night to placing 2nd.

This hand eliminated the first player from the game. I was in late position and looked down at K-K. I raised to 2x the big blind (typical raise for the table) the button and SB folded, the LB called, and the other 2 players folded.

The flop came down blank-blank-Ace rainbow. Yuck. The SB bet, and I put him on aces. The bet was relatively low, and I was getting good odds so I called. Another blank on the turn. He doubled his previous bet, which gave me about the same odds, so I called again. River was a King. Yup, I got lucky. He went all-in. I got even luckier.

After some brief thought I called him and he showed A-low. Luck? Foolish play? Stubborn streak? All would be right. Had I not hit the river, this post would have been entitled "You foolish....". Sometimes, it pays to be a little stupid.

Don't do it often though.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Cutting down on the Snail mail spam!

Lifehacker has a nice article up entitled "Five Ways To Clean Up Your Snail Mail". There are two nice links for getting some of the "You've been approved for yet another credit card!" mailings (simple OptOut) knocked down and for reducing the amount of junk you get via the Direct Marketing Association (links right to the DMA's opt out form).

You can check out the other 3 at Lifehacker's site.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

"How not to lead Geeks"

Ran across this on my morning readings. It's a post from The CHO entitled "How not to lead Geeks". Found myself nodding my head and agreeing with a lot of what was in there.

Here are some quick highlights.
  • Geeks hate management-speak and see it as superficial and dishonest.
  • When managers don’t know anything about a technical question, they should simply admit it. Geeks respect them for that, but not for pretending to know.
  • Geeks have an ingrained sense of fairness, .... managers can’t say one thing and then do something else.
  • A slow computer lowers productivity and is a daily annoyance. So is outdated software. Give them the tools they need.
And one of my personal favorites
  • Programming is a creative process, not an industrial one.
Covers a lot of things I have realized in my own career, but hadn't attributed to the manager above me. Here's my addition:

Don't force Geeks up the ladder
There are ways for a Geek to keep climbing the ladder without having to follow the standard path. As a Geek with project and personal skills (no offense folks!) at each company I have worked for I invariably end up leading projects and teams and over time get the push to become a manager.

Oddly enough, I don't want to (at least not yet). I enjoy what I do, designing and building technology. Why would you take a productive employee and move them into a role where they wouldn't be as productive? "Because that's way things have been done for years".

Don't fall into that trap. Find other ways. In one company I worked with my manager to rewrite the "ladder" to account for those of us who wanted to take on more responsibility, but didn't want to give up what we were already doing.

Be creative!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Further tweaks to FireFox....

Previously I had shown you how to make a minimalist Firefox menu/navigation/bookmarks bar. Continuing on that trend is another extension that lets you shrink the tabs down to their Favicon only. FaviconizeTab allows you to shrink and unshrink your tabs, as well as being able to set specific sites, or parts of a site, to be automatically shrunk down.

This has become a quick favorite for me at work. Normally I have my Wiki, Pandora, and Google Reader open at all times, even when I'm not actually using them. Those 3 tabs consume most of the tab bar when open, and that's before you get to the tabs I'm using for work!

Now I can compress things nicely by right clicking on any tab and selecting FaviconizeTab. Here's the result. Once your used to it it's like minimizing and maximizing windows for regular applications.

I now have Firefox set up to automatically Faviconize Pandora's main page (but not the other member pages) and my Wiki. Other pages I toggle manually.

Not bad for a quick install and minor configuration tweaking.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Now what?

Ever have that something you've always wanted, worked toward, and then you finally get it and you have the euphoria of it for awhile and then you sit there going "Now What"? I've been doing that lately.

My Linux (Go Ubuntu! No wonder I saw so much press in 2006!) box is up and running. Simple LAMP (minus mySQL at the moment) configuration with SAMBA. The OS install took longer than getting everything else working (here is a nice tutorial on setup). Even the wife is starting to get hooked by comments like "pull it off the fileserver" (although with the USB hub setup I got her for xmas it's not as much a pain to move/backup files as it was before).

The kids have turned a corner and are often off by themselves attacking invisible evil Jedi's or playing Headache and "debating the finer points of etiquette" (I'll leave that to your imagination). Leaving the wife and I going "Now What?" - I haven't had idle time in a few years. It's odd to be able to be taking on some of the projects that were back burnered for so long.

On the martial arts front I'm understanding why Yoda and Ben didn't want Luke to leave Dagobah until he had control over his powers. Knowing how to use it and controlling its usage are as different as the light and dark sides of the force. I've dropped R2 and Yoda a few times myself. The rocks hurt when they land on you.

Hmm, the post is done. Now what?

Friday, January 05, 2007

They just don't make insults as they used to...

The post from Reluctant Nomad: Insults - they just don't make them as they used to does a nice job. Here's one to get ya going:
"They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge."
Thomas Brackett Reed

The world must be ending...

I got an email earlier this week from the people who were running an IEEE survey. I won the random drawing. I'm still in the "I'll believe it when I have it in my hands" phase of denial, but it all looks legit and I should see the American Express Giftcard in 2 to 4 weeks.

You have to put my pessimism in the right light though; if this is real, it will be the first thing I have won in a random drawing in my entire life. I never hit on these things, or didn't until this one.

An interesting start to 2007!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Welcome to 2007!

Looking back on 2006 there were so many things that went on that selecting a few to recap the year seems unfair. Honestly, the year ran the gambit for me. From my eldest finishing her first year of public school to being thankful my wife didn't have breast cancer and all sorts of events in between. Many parts of it are a blur and others felt like they were set to "glacial movement time".

Yet here we are, 2007. Silly rain removed what little snow we had brought into the new year and now it is a sunny, cloudless day in the mid 40s. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but we will be here to find out.