Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The Programming Meme

My buddy Vittorio tagged me for this meme that has been making the rounds.  It is interesting to see what some people have answered.  Mine probably is pretty tame in comparison I am sure.

How old were you when you started programming?

My first computer was the Commodore 64 in the early 80's.  I think it was around 1982 or early 83, so that would have made me around 7.  My first exposure to programming was typing programs out of magazines and books.  I remember computing the checksum as a way of catching errors.  We initially had a tape drive for storage and eventually had the 5.25 disk drive to save files.  I learned quickly the BASIC language and programmed trivial things there.

It would be a few years later when we got a 286 10mhz (it was a JET!) computer with 640K RAM and some obscenely small harddrive size that I forget now (maybe 20MB?).  It had a Hercules graphics card that drove the monochrome monitor (amber no less).  I became very proficient with word processing and using DOS at that time.  I tried using QBASIC I think around that time.

How did you get started in programming?

I was only interested in computers as a hobby until I started working after college.  My degree was for operations management and statistics.  I happened to be working when the internet boom started (and busted).  Since operations management was often about manufacturing and manufacturing jobs were often located in small towns, I watched my colleagues with envy as they got better projects in better locations just by learning Java.  I will never forget Shelbyville, TN or Shenandoah, IA - if they weren't such horrible places to work I would probably never have jumped at an opportunity to learn ASP and get out of manufacturing consulting.  It was simple to learn ASP and by extension VBScript and I never looked back again.

What was your first real language?

I didn't program again after my brief stint with BASIC until college.  I had my intro computer science course taught in Turbo Pascal.  It wasn't terribly hard and I enjoyed learning the algorithms.  I knew BASIC from the C64 and TRS-80 days, but I would say that I learned Turbo Pascal probably better than that and it was my first real language.  Of course, I don't remember it at all now, but I was good in the day.

What was the first 'real' program you wrote?

I had to write a final project for my CS course in college.  I ended up writing a poker program that emulated the kind of poker you would play on a slot machine.  It actually worked pretty well and I wish I still had it. 

What languages have you used since you started programming?

BASIC, Turbo Pascal, VBScript, Javascript, VBA (for Access), VB6, TSQL and now mostly C# these days.  I don't know if XSLT, XPath, DHTML, etc. count or not.

What was your first professional programming gig?

I think my first program I got paid for was writing some VBA code for a Lotus Notes application (what a gawdawful programming model, btw) at a client.  Before I finished it, I was sent to a small startup called Point.com (now defunct) and wrote a whole ton of Javascript and XML code.  This was using the XmlHttpRequest object well before people called that 'AJAX'.  Unfortunately, the bust came around that time and that code never saw the light of day...

If you knew what you knew now, would have have started programming?

Hard to say.  Part of me wishes that I would have gotten a masters in CS or taken a number of other programming courses in college.  Part of me however wishes I would have just gone to medical school and kept this as a hobby.  It just depends on the day of the week and what I am working on.

If there was one thing you learned along the way that you would tell new developers, what would it be?

Find a better developer, read their code, understand their code, and then emulate them.  This is also called "saddle yourself to a better developer and learn".  I became a better developer when I watched my friend help me with an Access database that I was attempting (badly) to write for a internship one summer.  He was (and probably still is) a much better developer.  I learned a ton just by seeing how he was doing things.  Later, I would see code from senior developers and I would study their style to learn what they were doing.  I always tried to emulate what I saw and make it a part of my style.  If I had never read anyone else's code or never tried to incorporate it, I would still be a second rate programmer (I might still be... who knows).

What's the most fun you have ever had... programming?

I actually enjoyed learning Javascript and XML back in the day.  I remember being excited about optimizing the rendering speed in IE 5 for a particularly large XML payload.  I was learning a lot, and becoming a better developer.  I didn't mind working crazy hours and I read constantly on how to be better at ASP, Javascript, and XML.  The projects I hated were the ones where you produced code, but never got to see it get implemented and never saw anyone use it.

Now... on to two other suckers:  Nino and James - you've been 'tagged'.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Questionable Science Alert Part 2

The Weasel sent me this link to a paper describing the Coulomb explosion cited as the source for this heatless phenomenon.  Apparently, the "vaporize" in this context describes breaking the atomic lattice into what could be called atomic dust and does not refer to actually converting matter to energy ala e=mc^2 style (which would be quite powerful).  A read through the paper seems to indicate that the speed at which the atoms are bombarded, coupled with the short duration of contact, leads to a strong electromagnetic field instead of the heat that would usually occur.  Too bad the article didn't mention this, as it is much more plausible.

Questionable Science Alert

A recent article floating around suggests there is a new laser that has been developed that can vaporize matter without creating heat.  I have to wonder what the caveats of this claim are as it seems to violate some pretty fundamental rules of physics.  If the matter is vaporized, it must take some form of energy - heat, sound, light, etc., but this is not mentioned.  With so little to go on, this sounds like a "where does the poo go?" type of claim to me and wholly unscientific.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Turning corpses to oil

This is probably one of the funnier pranks (and pretty ballsy) I have seen in awhile.  Members of "The Yes Men" managed to infiltrate a Gas and Oil convention and deliver the key note.  Sarcastic hilarity ensues...

Monday, 29 January 2007

Free T-Mobile HotSpot Access

Users of Windows Vista (of which I am) are entitled to receive 90 free days of T-Mobile Wifi access at any HotSpot location starting today.  Since there are like 2.8 billion Starbucks locations in the US alone (all of which are HotSpots), this means you have pretty good chances of being able to redeem this offer (at least in Seattle where approximate 1.3 billion of those Starbucks are located).

I signed up today thinking there would be an elaborate process to confirm that I was running Vista.  I was imaging some applet like that horrid WGA (Windows Genuine pain-in-the-Ass) that keeps popping up everywhere.  Luckily, no such garbage.  In fact, it appears that T-Mobile is validating eligibility by a simple browser agent check.  While the average user might not know how to change that browser string, you can bet a number of users do know how (Firefox has some great ones).  I suppose T-Mobile doesn't really care too much at this point or they would have done it differently.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

An Office with a View

One of the downsides of consulting is that there is no permanence in what you do.  By permanence, I mean that I never get too comfortable with whatever I am working on or even where I am located.  They just change too much.  Unlike 'normal' jobs, where your title and responsibility remains the same for long periods of time, consulting is inherently about change.  I suppose one might argue that this lack of permanence might be a good thing as well - especially if you hate your job or situation and desperately need change.

I have never had an office.  I have never had an admin (or secretary as we used to call them).  I have never worked in the same role or with the same client for longer than 18 months.  Even at longer engagements, my role on the project is constantly changing according to needs.  One day I will be writing code and another I will be writing business cases.

My latest project comes with an unexpected perk - an office.  Well, not really an office as much as a phone booth.  It is approximately 6' by 4' in dimension with a table, phone and a window.  However, this piece of real estate has a door and is not a cube for once.  Today was my first day in my new phonebooth office.

My excitement at having a semi-private working space was dampened a bit this afternoon as I discovered what my view consisted of.  I look directly over some train tracks nestled between a building to my right and a scrubbrush covered hill and highway overpass to my left.

I don't know what it is about train tracks that attracts bums and filth, but there is an unmistakable association between all three.  Throw in a highway overpass nearby and you have a regular cesspool (though, not in an Indian-train-depot kind of cesspool way).  Today I was reminded of this even more as I unavoidably had to watch the homeless man under the overpass walk into the scrub brush, lower his drawers, and presumably drop a deuce.

Perhaps offices are overrated...

Friday, 19 January 2007

2006 mini-storm aftermath

Raymond today blogged about the aftermath of the big windstorm that hit the Puget Sound area*.  While devastating to this area, it is not as interesting to as the mini-storm that followed about 3 weeks later.  A little over a week ago, the area had a small spackling of snow.  I have never really understood how < .5" of snow will actually grind the entire area to a halt**.  A normal commute of 1 hour from Bellevue to Seattle went to 4+ hours.  Even worse, Tmobile was unable to handle the call volume of all the people now parked on I-5, I-405, and I-90, so if you were actually in an emergency you were pretty much SOL.  What does this tell you?  Mainly, forget about getting help here if god forbid there is an actual crisis.  The cell phone infrastructure can't handle half an inch of snow, let alone a major disaster.


* - My mother, who live about 20 miles outside of Seattle, was without power until something like 10 days after the storm.  However, I can almost understand that.  After all, she lives in a state with lots and lots of trees.  This is also a state that is rapidly expanding, so people cut down the trees.  However, people don't want to cut down all the trees, so they leave a few standing.  These trees now get to take the brunt of the wind and consequently fall-over on roads, houses, and yes, power lines.

** - To be fair, they don't salt the roads here and have minimal investment in road equipment to plow or sand the streets.  However, this doesn't excuse the piss poor driving of the majority of drivers.

Sunday, 17 December 2006

Christmas Muzak Unsafe for Work

I have a particular dislike for most Chrismas music.  I hate how commercialized and derivative everything has become today.  In fact, I think I would rather stab myself than listen to someone like Beezlebub bastardize another Christmas carol.

That is why I found this particular article engaging in a rather tongue-in-cheek kind of way:

Government asked to investigate Christmas music torture

Thursday, 05 October 2006

Star Trek in Practice

Mmmm…. teleportation.  Is this cool or what?

Friday, 08 September 2006

Peanut Butter Dispenser

I am a pretty big fan of PB&J sandwiches, though I don’t get to eat them that often.  The most annoying part of making one of these suckers is that the container is poorly designed for the building process.  I don’t know who thought it would be a great idea to put a fairly viscous substance into a plain jar and expect easy extraction as the jar nears completion.

It is a timeless ritual really… digging your hand into the jar with the pathetically thin butter knife and trying to scrape some significant peanut butter mass onto the knife for deposit onto the bread of choice.  This usually culminates (at least for me) with peanut butter all over the handle of the knife and my knuckles along with a resignation to throw away the last half-sandwich’s worth of the light brown gold (now decorated with swirls everywhere from futile attempts get on knife).

As I pondered this problem today, I came up with simple, yet elegant solution that I would submit to the manufacturers of this tasty treat to try:  the peanut butter gun.


As you can see, this would solve all the problems described.  No longer would you need to scrape the bottom of the jar and make a mess.  No longer would you leave any measurable amount of the peanutty mana to trash.  By choosing a wide enough nozzle, you could easily apply just the right amount on your sandwich.  An even wider nozzle could accommodate the chunky variety amongst the more scatologically adventurous.  In fact, just by varying the gauge of the nozzle, you could even direct the peanut butter into more delicate treats, such as crackers or celery (or tortillas with apple butter).

If Taco Bell can make the sour cream gun, why can’t we have the peanut butter gun?  You hearing me Jif?

Friday, 05 May 2006

This makes me wonder about those college rankings now

Ed Felten has a scathing review of Newsweek’s methodology for ranking the ‘top’ high schools in America.  Apparently, the dumber you are, the better the high school.

Monday, 24 April 2006

Not Bird Suicide

I forgot to update this earlier, but after some people reminded me, I thought I would share what really happened with our bird suicide.  It turns out that after I got him down out of the tree, he had a very thin nylon net wrapped around his neck that had caught and securely hooked him to the small branch.  It was the type of netting you see surrounding gardens to keep out pests.  From the vantage point of the ground and window where the picture was taken, you could not see it – which led to the distinct impression that the bird had hung himself.  I am not sure if he flew into the tree and got caught by the net, or was already about to expire and got caught when he fell.  I would suspect the latter, but who knows.  Poor birdie…

Friday, 07 April 2006

Bird depression is a serious thing

Sure, the weather has been kinda rainy here the last few days and not particularly warm.  It is just so sad when it gets to the wildlife and they feel there is no other way out.  I encourage you to reach out to the wildlife when you see the warning signs: swooping in front of cars, taunting the neighborhood cats, and later, just sitting there and not even singing.

I failed to act… and well, I found out too late about it.  Please.  Think of the birds!


I can only imagine the depression that would drive this poor little Robin to wrap the little branch around his neck and jump.

Thursday, 15 September 2005

This is so wrong...

Oh man… this one speaks for itself.

via Hack a Day

Wednesday, 14 September 2005

Dead Cats vs The Middle East

I suppose this fuel could be confusing here in the US.  When your buddy tells you he is ‘getting 20 mpg’ these days on the road, perhaps he is measuring in “meows per gallon”.  Regardless, what a way to reduce foreign oil dependency…



Funny Ad Campaign

I am not a huge Sun fan or anything (at least not after my Roth shows -98% gain since I bought them in ‘99), but their ‘rejected ads’ are pretty funny.