Sunday, July 31, 2005

A Fine Weekend



Originally uploaded by CodeFin.
A picture from a hike that my sister and I enjoyed on Friday night. Though I can still feel it in my legs today, the scenery was fantastic, and we had an even better conversation.

On our way down the canyon I saw some people enjoying the warmth of a campfire as things cooled off for the evening. It was at that point that I decided we would be going back up Millcreek the following night for hotdogs and smores with the family -- and so it was. Saturday night was also spent up Millcreek.

I have been physically, emotionally, and spiritually fed this weekend, and feel for the first Sunday night in a long while that I am really ready to face the week ahead.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Friday

Last night my father challenged me to sit down and write one thousand words. He devised a template in the word processor thatwould hold one thousand words. If you are interested, you can do this by changing the margins so that the left margin is .5, and that all the others are .25. Then you add two columns with a space between the two that is .25. Set the font to Times New Roman at 12pt font size, and you are set to go. As I sit here writing this blog entry, I am using this formatting and hopefully it will focus my comments today.

When I sat down to take the challenge, I wasn't sure what I wanted to
say, or how I would say it. I just sat down and started writing
whatever happened to come to mind. In the end, I think that it was a
good flow experience. I didn't have anything in particular to write
about, but I was listening to a new Carole King album, and reminiscing
about my childhood. I am not sure if it made for great writing, but
the exercise of it all was good for the practice of it all.

I am quite pleased that it is Friday today. This week was tough, but
not as bad as last week. I guess that it is good that I can at least
say that things have been trending up. This morning I specked out
some workflow and program changes for an upcoming release. Program
design has been something in the past that has given me some anxiety.
I feel inadequate telling a programmer with years of experience how he
should change a program. Yet at the same time, I find satisfaction in
the idea that I am trusted enough to actually write the specification
for a project.

I drafted a flow chart before I wrote anything in word, or did screen
mockups so that I could take it to the programmer to see if he was on
the same page, and much to my pleasure he was ok with what I had
written. Of course there was a bit of the requisite grumbling about
making a change in the first place, but my position was well
justified, and the business owners had given unusually clear
justifications for the changes which made my job all the easier.

It seems that after the fiasco of last week everyone is trying
unusually hard to be cooperative and agreeable when it comes to
process, design, and the general workings of the office. I really
hope that things hold out and that they continue to be cognizant of
everyone's position in this great whirligig we call software
development.

So, as I was saying, it is Friday, and that is a great thing. For
the first time in two or three weeks, it seems that some of the clouds
have cleared, and we are actually getting work done. I am also
looking forward to a weekend. It has been a while since I have taken
any photos, and I think it would be nice to get something new to post
to my flickr account.

Also I have realized that there are a whole bunch of books that I
would like to finish before I get back into school, and if I am going
to finish them I am going to have to dedicate more time than I have
been to the task. Some of the books are fiction, and others are
related to CS. The fact remains that I want to read them all, and I
know that when school gets going, I won't have the time. So here's to
my reading list!

I hope to be better at updating the blog here in the next week. I
know that I have slacked off; I just haven't felt much like writing,
and feel like I haven't had anything useful to say. I will try to
find some new and interesting stuff to write about.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

30 Days Remaining

One month from today the grind will begin again. The return to school always comes with mixed emotions, however this fall; I think that I am looking forward to it more than I have in a long time. As mentioned earlier this summer, this was my first summer off in my entire collegiate career. It has been times to focus more on work, read good books, enjoy some extracurricular programming, travel, and relax. Yet, at the same time, I have really missed the rigor that school brings into my life. I believe that when I am in school, I am more goal oriented, that I plan and make better use of my time.

In the past four years, each return to school has been after at most a one month break, and at least a two week recess. When your recess consists of two weeks away, you barely forget that you were away before you have to go back. However, with near four month holiday, the time seems much more significant, and though it may sound mentally ill to you, I have grown to miss school. Even though I have never been a great “campus participant”, by way of sports, campus involvement or otherwise, I enjoy just being there, reading the school newspaper, and complaining about campus politics. I enjoy the friendship of colleagues who have similar goals, and are equally committed to reaching them. Though the nights are late at the math center, there is a group committed to getting the job done.

Very little about academia has been easy. Just look at me. Four years and one major change later, I still don’t have a bachelor’s degree. However, in this past year, I think I finally learned what it takes to make it as a student. I was finally lucky enough to find an academic advisor that gives me encouragement, some friends to help me stick to the task, and a subject area that I feel passionately about studying. The first three years of my collegiate experience were nearly a complete mess, however, if there is any redemption to be found in the system this last year has made up for what feels to be a career of earlier mistakes.

Math isn’t nearly as terrible as it once was. It even has the potential to be fun, and if not fun, at least it has given me a powerful tool that helps me to be able to model the world around me. As it sits now, I am three courses away from a minor in mathematics, and I am so excited to complete that journey. In my mind, it is akin to completing an obstacle course. It is a testament to the idea that if one works hard enough, one really can overcome their weaknesses.

Computer science is my major. Last fall I couldn’t say it because I hadn’t been accepted into the program yet. Now, however I can say it. I am majoring in computer science. I got accepted into their program. The classes are challenging, and I may not always be the brightest crayon in the box, but I work hard, and am pulling my weight. I am thoroughly enjoying the things that I am learning about computers, and how they work. Computer Science is a relatively new field to academia, but its breadth and depth is impressive and humbling. I hope that my thirst for knowledge of and about it never dies.

That’s probably enough on the waxing eloquent about school, and my sappiness about finally finding a place where I seem to fit into academia. One month to go, and the homework will begin again. That gives me a few more weeks to sit back, relax, and work on personal projects, yet at the same time, I am filled with excitement about what lies ahead. No, it won’t be easy, but as I was reminded earlier today nothing worth having is.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Friday Randoms

Yes, I am very glad that today is Friday.  Not just any old vanilla Friday, but a PAYDAY Friday!  The most wonderful and spectacular thing about payday Friday is that I can put some money in my savings account, pay off the credit card, and decide what kind of treat I deserve for working so hard to earn the money, except that I purchased my treat last week and yesterday, so today I won't be purchasing myself a treat.  While I am on the tangent of treats I will tell you that last Friday I purchased myself some new clothes at Old Navy, and had the car washed.  Yesterday I went to Boarders, and purchased myself a new book – OH and if you want to consider the Harry Potter book a treat, I purchased that for myself last Saturday.  So, all in all I think that I am pleasantly treated out for this pay period.

The great thing about today in addition to being Payday Friday is that it will put an end to what has been a "depths of despair" week.  I am not sure that the woes of my employer will go away, but at least everyone will be farther away from the whole thing.  I would just love to talk about the whole ordeal in more detail, except then I wouldn't have a job, and that would put a damper on the whole Payday Friday thing, and as much as I complain about work, I know that I am even worse when I don't have any. 

I have learned that when it comes to cookie cutter video game quests versus reading Algorithmics, the video game will win.  I suppose that explains why I can't trust myself to have video games installed on my PC when school is in session.  I have only two chapters to go in Algorithmics and that seems like too much.  Heaven help me next spring when I have to take a class on Algorithms.  If it is like this book I am reading, it will take a lot of brains and determination to keep that one in the air.  At any rate, video games have been a great escape this week.

I have a few Friday questions for you.  If anyone has any answers, I would love to hear them.

  1. Do you use a news Aggregator?  If so, which one and why do you like it?
  2. Do you know anything about compiling C code in Visual Studio .NET 2003, or do you know of any good C compilers that run in windows?
  3. I am looking for more blogs to read, any recommendations?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Piper's Due

When you work in the real world as most of us do, you often confront real world problems that have real world consequences. With software, sometimes there isn’t room for any margin of error. In the event that something gets messed up due to innocent mistakes on the part of many people, the piper must be paid his due. The problems are being worked on, and eventually it will all come to a resolution, and through the process I have gained yet another valuable insight into software development. The “how it should be” versus “how it is” debate comes freshly into mind, and I can’t help but wonder if on critical programs having 100% code coverage wouldn’t be worth the money.

I have been quiet on the blog this week because there has been so much going on at work. It has been challenging, and when I get home at night, I haven’t been keen on the idea of trying to put together my thoughts.

In other news, I finished Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince on Sunday. After I got my book on Saturday, I couldn’t put it down. Honestly, there is nothing akin to the feeling of loosing yourself in a work of fiction. Cheers to Ms. Rowling for getting so many people back to the good old analog book! I don’t think that I am ready to talk spoilers here, so I will just say that if you haven’t read the Potter books, you should.

I also went to see the Tim Burton version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Though the movie certainly has its weird quirks, I really enjoyed it, more so than the Gene Wilder version. I think that Charlie and his grandpa were more believable, and that with the some of the background story Willy Wonka doesn’t come off quite as insane, just reclusive and awkward socially.

That does it for the today. It is time to get ready for work.

Cheers!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

CodeFin's Podcast RSS Feed Writer - Beta v1.0

I am quite happy to announce the first version of CodeFin’s Podcast RSS Feed Writer. It may not look like much right now, but a lot of work has gone into it, and it does a great job at what it has been programmed to do. Basically it is a simple web application that allows patrons to manage their podcasts. The advantage is that it automatically updates an RSS feed for the user. This allows people with feed aggregators to automatically download podcasts, the newest version of iTunes does this really well. Though my feed generator doesn’t have support for all of the iTunes tags so that one could list in the iTunes music store, it isn’t far off, and for the time being, it is possible to subscribe manually to a non-iTunes feed.

I thought I would take you kind readers on a little tour.

screenshot


Above is a screen shot of the first page that one would see after login. This is where a new pod cast would be entered. Simply give it a title, description, and select the audio file that you would like to upload from your hard drive. When you click submit, the upload will take place, and as simple as that you will have a working XML RSS feed with that cast in an enclosure. After upload, an HTML link is shown that the user would be able to paste into their blog.

screenshot


Because no one is perfect, editing of podcasts is a necessary function. The above screen will allow the user to edit any aspect of a podcast, including uploading a replacement file, or even deleting the whole thing if the user desired.

screenshot


Users will also be allowed to update their profile in the even that they want to change the channel information that is displayed in their RSS feed. On the profile page is also a bit of HTML code that the user can use to place their feed into their blog template, one as an explicit link, the other as a link that would alert smart browsers to the fact that there is a feed.

That pretty much does it for the tour. Yes, the software is quite vanilla right now, but the core functionality is there. Really this project was a lot about proving to myself that I could do it, while also creating something that my father could use. Now that the basics are in place, it is time to start working on features. In the near future I would like to add support for the Apple iTunes music store tags, automated posting to a user’s blog, and a personalized landing page that contains public access of all of one’s podcasts, and finally, the ability to upload through the software and publish to your own web space (similarly to the way you can use blogger as your CMS system, but publish to your own domain).

At this time I am going to put the software out there as is for public use. Yes, I realize that I am being quite generous with my storage space and bandwidth. However, I really don’t see this as being a problem. I have more than I will ever be able to use right now, and if it were to become an issue, well… I’ll cross that bridge when/if I have to.

It has been a fun project thus far, and I suspect it will keep me busy and entertained for a long while.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Stats Fixed, Beta Coming, Treadmill

Reading the fine print can often help resolve questions, if you take
the time to do the reading. It appears that DreamHost clears the log
files each day after their stat aggregator generates its pages. I had
set up awstats to run each morning at three AM, this is why I was only
seeing 7 visitors to the site. Because there had only been seven
visitors between midnight and three AM. I changed the crontab to that
it would run the awstat generator at 11 PM, and though I am sure that
I loose the few hits between 11 and midnight each evening, that is a
heck of a lot better than loosing a whole day. I read somewhere on
the DreamHost page that it is possible to save all of your logs, but
the space that they take up goes against your storage. It is probably
something to consider. At any rate, the mystery has been solved, and
I am still very happy with my new host.

I think I am just about ready to take my Podcast RSS Writer into beta.
I don't have any illusions about what this will be, but if it can be
of use to anyone, that would be totally cool. I still need to write
the documentation, and write some "approval" process code so that I
can throttle registration, but other than that, I think that version
1.0 is good to go. In the very near future I will be adding support
for automated posting to your blogger blog, and support for the Apple
iTunes music store (man those folks added a lot of, in some cases,
redundant stuff to the feed).

Before I can code tonight however, I have to pay the price for not
spinning this morning. The punishment is an hour on the treadmill.
When all is said and done, I will feel good for having spent the time
running.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Stats, Software, Books

After a week of blogging every day, I think I have finally run out of things to say for the time being. I also think that moving hosts has killed my audience. Perhaps for much of the world, the DNS change wasn’t as fast as it was for me. According to the stats with the new host, my visits are WAY down. Normally I get around 70 visits a day, and since my move, I haven’t seen even 50 visits yet. Pretty frightening isn’t it? This is probably where I should remind myself that blogging isn’t about who reads and comments, but about the process that I get to go through as I sit down and compile my thoughts every now and again. It should be a bonus if anyone else finds it useful.

I can give a quick update on my reading. I have been into the book PHP and MySQL Web Development, and reading a lot on php.net, while working on my podcast RSS writer. Being focused on the podcast project pretty much gave me an excuse to put Algorithmics aside again. I know that I need to grow up and finish the book. On my plane rides to and from Philadelphia I managed to polish off around three chapters. I should have just finished the book while I had the time, but it kept putting me to sleep. Not that the book is boring, but I have learned that sleepiness is my brain’s way of telling me that I am not following/digesting the information presented in the text. I get tired, and fall asleep— not that it ends the brain torture as I usually keep thinking/dreaming about the insane concept that I am grappling with. So much for Algorithmics being a book written for the lay computer scientist, true, you don’t need technical expertise, but you had darn well better understand math, learn quickly, and have the ability to keep track of a whole bunch of examples and anecdotes in your head at the same time, or it will just make the book that much harder to slog through. On a brighter note, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince will be out this weekend, and I can’t wait to get into that one. Maybe I should set a goal that I MUST finish Algorithmics before I can have the sweet dessert of the Potter book.

Tonight, rather than working on the Podcast RSS writer, I think I will turn off the PC and read about Algorithms.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Annoyances

I have been criticized in the past for ranting on this blog, but hey, it is my place to write about the things that matter to me.  So if I want to rant, why not?  Sometimes there are things that are just too annoying for words. I was confronted with two particular annoyances this morning, and I have decided to share them with you for your reading pleasure, and my sanity.

Annoyance #1: Corrupted iPod
I got an iPod for Christmas last year.  For the most part I have really liked it.  No, I don't use it for the hard drive.  Yes, I do use it for my music.  No, I don't have a lot of music, because contrary to the wishes of my younger siblings, I deleted all of our Napster age illegal downloaded music, and started over completely with only the stuff that I actually own, and the stuff that I have purchased off of iTunes circa Spring 2004.  This brings up my trouble with the iPod.  I don't know what causes it to happen, but apparently just plugging the dumb thing into my computer causes the drive to be corrupted.  It is really annoying, as iTunes claims that all is fine and well and that everything is concurrent.  However, Windows begs to differ by showing me this little warning triangle in my task bar.  I don't know what causes this to happen, but I do know that I am highly annoyed by it, and that I am VERY tired of formatting the iPod and starting over.  Today, I thought that I would take the iPod to work and listen while I worked, only to find that the darn thing is CORRUPTED AGAIN.  No iPod listening today, I should have just left the darn thing at home like I usually do.  Is this some curse of the Apple world on my iPod, because I plug it into a Windows machine?  My little brother has an iPod, he got one at the same time.  He also uses the Windows version of iTunes, but I don't think he has ever had this trouble.  Ideas?

Annoyance #2: Online Pay Statements
My employer has determined that they can save 300K each year in postage and printing costs if they don't print payroll earnings statements for the employees.  They instead have built a statement of earnings feature into the HR system, and think that we should be expected to log in to see it each week.  What a pain.  That is all I have to say about it.  The login process… if you have the page bookmarked.  Two logins and 8 clicks, that sure sounds convenient don't you think?  Before, all I had to do was open an envelope that they sent to me and put it in a file.  Now I have to go through this whole process just to find out how much I am getting paid each pay period.  Logging into the bank to see the deposit would be faster, but how can I check for accuracy if I don't go through their process to see the "online statement".  They claim that many other large employers already do this; maybe they do… but is it that inconvenient?  How about at least sending me an email notification with a link directly to the statement, where I only have to log in once?  All I can say is that there must be a better way that saves the company lots of money, but doesn't do it at the inconvenience of the employees!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Ready for a New Week

Well, I managed to polish off ten bugs this weekend on my RSS generator. It seems to me that as I am fixing the obvious holes new features keep coming to my mind. Some would be rather simple to implement, others would be a bit more challenging. I am pleased with where it is going, but as I work with the code more and more I am wishing that I had chosen to create classes, rather than just pages with an execution thread and a lot of functions. I may still go back and re-factor parts of it into classes that would make sense. It would compact come of the code down, and make maintenance a bit easier. Except for the fact that I haven’t been creating classes in PHP, I have paid attention to OO principles and made it so that most of the code can be re-used. However, I think that a query class would be SO nice.

As of the latest check-in the product is more stable than it was last week, not only that, but I think it looks a lot better as well. I am no CSS genius, but the layout is clean and consistent. It would be a lot of fun to get a graphic designer to make it look all professional, but I will have to go with what I can do myself for the time being.

There are some changes that I would like to make to the database tables, now that I better know what I want to be doing. Hopefully I can get that wrapped up early this week so that when rfin gets back in town, he can cut his teeth on a new version.

Being that I have to work at my real job all day tomorrow, I had better get to bed.
Cheers!

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Here Already


Green Grass
Originally uploaded by CodeFin.
Well, it appears that things are growing just fine over here at DreamHost That was the fastest and least painful DNS change I ahve ever experienced. I think things were only down for a matter of a couple of hours.

Codefin.net is now ready to grow into its new space, complete with a version of PHP that will let me continue to work on the podcast RSS writer. Hopefully, I will get some time to work on that this afternoon.

Last night I spent most of the evening playing online with friends, watering the lawn, and getting awstats installed and running here on my website. Having shell access to the servers at DreamHost is really nice. I didn't like their stat tool, so I was free to install my own. Though they won't help out with the technical stide of third party installs, there is a forum and a wiki where many members have posted detailed instructions on how to do various tasks-- like installing and compiling your own PHP, or installing awstats. I even set up my first ever cron job last night.

Things are good.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Here we go!

I have officially changed the DNS settings to that codefin.net will
now point to the dreamhost servers instead of ipowerweb. This
probably means for most of us that in the next couple of days the site
may not show when you try to visit. Don't worry, I haven't left the
web! Just keep trying and all will be back to normal really soon!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Excellent!

Special thanks to Jeff for his comment yesterday.

Also thanks to Brian Sweeting, for responding to an email out of the blue with nothing but great things to say about DreamHost.

Finally, huge kudos to DreamHost, for running a hosting company that does things right. So far they have truly lived up to their name. I purchased a new domain name and hosting plan with them last night, and I haven't been let down. I am sure that I will have more to say about DreamHost later, at this point I am very confident that we will have a good relationship.

I compiled my own version of PHP today on dreamhost, changed php.ini to my liking, created a new database, uploaded my podcast rss writing program, and this morning was able to upload a very large file to the server via POST of an HTML post form. Needless to say, the wind is in my sails again, and I am excited to continue with the development of my product.

As my plan with Dreamhost will allow me to fully host 3 complete domains, and in light of my ipowerweb plan expiring in the next month, I will be moving codefin.net over to the Dreamhost servers soon. I am a bit nervous about all of that, but in the next week or so when you see codefin.net go down for a couple of days, you will know why. Ipowerweb has been nice, they gave me a great start on the web, if you don't have a lot of need for custom services they really are a great host with a good admin control panel. I would still recommend them to people who are wanting to start a website at a really reasonable price ($8/month). The plan I have chosen with Dreamhost is more expensive, but much less than dedicated hosting, so I think it is a good deal. Not to mention I get a TON of storage and bandwidth.

For a quick change of topic-- my heart goes out to those who are hurting in London today. I wish that our world could live happily together in peace. I am very grateful that my sister who is participating in a conference there is safe. Get home soon and safely Kate.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

I Give In

In life you win some, and you lose others.  Today I will admit my defeat with regard to my issues with ipowerweb.  I have been unreasonable in my wants, and after talking to more than a few technical support reps trying to convince them that they needed to change php.ini for me, I finally realized that when you have 400,000 customers, making a 'simple' change to a configuration file on one server would introduce inconsistencies making support an utter and complete nightmare.  So with my newly gained understanding, I apologize to ipowerweb.

Understanding the situation still doesn't fix the problem though.  I discussed some of the options with regard to resolution with my father last night. 

  1. Sign up for dedicated server hosting at $65/month.
  2. Change my home ISP, rent a static IP, buy a box, and host it myself.
  3. Find an acceptable 3rd party RSS generator and hosting service.
  4. Try to find a corporate sponsor to host the program where php.ini can be changed.
  5. Modify the program so that it doesn't do file uploads.

 It seems that option three or five seem to be the most reasonable.  I think that I am going to go ahead and pursue option number five, but I feel badly because I know that it really will destroy the ease of use.  You see, with the program the way it currently stands, users don't have to have an FTP account – when they sign up, a directory is created for them, and all they have to do is submit the file in the HTML form, and the program does all the work.  Under the new paradigm, I won't be able to do anything that deals with the upload, because of the values in php.ini.  This means that the user will have to have/know three things:

  1. They will need FTP access to a server somewhere
  2. They will have to know the URL to the directory that they FTP files to (though I may be able to capture this so they only have to learn it once)
  3. They will have to know the name of the file they are uploading, and be cognizant that it can't have any spaces in the name, and that the name must be unique
  4. When updating a podcast .mp3 file, the user will have to delete the old file manually and replace it manually
  5. Once the file is uploaded to the server, the user will then be able to use my program to input the file name, and I can update the RSS feed.

Looks like the program will be loosing a lot of functionality.  In my opinion, it takes the program from something that most any computer user could use to something that only the more "technically savvy" would want to do. 

<tangent>
Maybe I shouldn't worry or care about who could or couldn't use the program and what level of technical expertise one must have to use it.  The argument could be made that only technically savvy people write blogs, and only the people up on the very latest of the World Wide Web are going to be into podcasting.  This would mean that having access to an FTP account probably wouldn't be an issue, right? 

Of course, given enough time, if this podcast thing takes off the content management systems of the world will build automatic support for this stuff into products.  However, if the CMS was written in PHP or even CGI and is hosted on a shared server, I see this as a great problem, as you will hit the upload issue again.

Blogger has its version of podcasting called audioblogger where you can dial a California phone number and record your cast there, and they will post it to your blogger blog.  However this solution just doesn't cut it for me.  It isn't podcasting in its truest form, but I am sure will fill its niche. 

If there is anything I am learning it is that we need to be making things simpler on the Internet – not more difficult.  I watch my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and siblings work with the Internet, and it seems to me that it is still a very imperfect user experience.  Seriously, filling out an HTML form correctly is hard enough, let alone clicking that browse button, which brings up the dialog box to let you choose the file you want to upload. (If you understand file systems and care where you save stuff, this isn't a problem, if you don't understand file systems – let alone care where you save things this becomes very challenging.)  Walking some of the above-mentioned users through the FTP process with an FTP client, or maybe just IE would be doable, but MUCH more challenging. (Think upload dialog box times 10 with complexity.)  This is not to say that I think my family is dumb, as they are not.  It is to say that the user experience should be something that anyone can do – easily, without a lot of training, experience, or supervision.
</tangent>

So I have this little application.  It does some great things, and has the potential to make a task easier for some family and friends, but because I am not a commercial entity, the project just isn't feasible.  I will make the changes to the program so that my father can upload his podcasts.  I don't want to throw away this version, so I may try to set up a toggle in the installer that would allow me to either run the uploads for the users, or require that the users upload the files external to the program.  It will involve some changes to the database, and program logic, but if I get motivated and excited about it again sometime here soon, I think I will be able to get that pushed through.

In the meantime there are some security fixes that need to be fixed regardless of the upload process, and a really annoying bug dealing with file mime types.  On the positive side, if the users have to do their own uploading, then I don't have to worry about the whole mime game anyway.  Though I think I have a solution, so I may try to implement it just to see if I was right.

Cheers!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Web Application and Hosting Woes

It's Tuesday, but it feels a lot like a Monday.  Today marks the first day back in the office in 10 days – that's right TEN days.  Count them 10 wonderful days of not being at work!  Can you tell that I was a little happy to be not at work?  My attendance at NECC in Philadelphia provided me with the great opportunity to re-charge my batteries, and get excited about computers and all of the great things that they can do for us.  I had ten glorious days to eat great food, read, learn, and see some of the great new things that technology has to offer us.  Now that I am done gloating about my fantastic ten days off, I will get to the meat of this post.  Please forgive if this comes off as a rant, I will try so very hard to keep it nice, but I am also at the end of the patience line with my hosting company.

Today marked the first official day of my father's podcast titled FinCast.  Yes, it appears that the tech geeks in my house have some attraction to names that begin or end with Fin.  Anyhow, you can go visit my Dad's blog at http://rfin.blogspot.com.  What I am more exited to show you is his RSS feed which can be seen at http://www.codefin.net/podcasts/rss/users/rfin/rfinRSS.xml.  Sorry for the verbose links, it is the only way I can do it when posting from email.  I must share because I am so very proud of my achievement.  Yes it is just a simple xml file, but I wrote the code that created it.  Not only that, but it has this fantastic database behind it that makes certain tasks with regard to managing your podcasts very easy.  For example, suppose you want to change or delete a pod cast for some reason.  That isn't a problem, with my application you can see a listing of all your podcasts, edit or delete as you choose, even upload replacements, all the while making sure that your RSS feed is up to date.

There are three things that please me most about this web application. 

  1. It's mine – I wrote it with my own fingers and brain.
  2. It wasn't an assignment, I chose to do it, and I did it.
  3. It does something practical and useful that many people can't do for themselves.

The there are a lot of other things that I like about it as well.  For example, it has given me the opportunity to get more comfortable with SQL, HTTP sessions, HTTP upload, PHP as a programming language, program flow and control in an interpreted OO language, it is providing me with experience in writing, testing, and maintaining a code project, AND there are still a bunch of features that I can implement into the application making it more useful to a user and providing me with the opportunity to learn how to do more fun stuff.

This project isn't going to become anything big like any of these super web apps that I know, but I am having a lot of fun with it, and if I can create something that my father and I use then great!  If some friends want to try it out, and it fills a need that they have, that's cool too.  Oh, and another thing this little project lets me do is check a goal off of my list for this year.  I wanted to write a "real" program that does something.  While I didn't get to do it in .NET or Java, and it isn't a rich client, it certainly is a start.  Maybe in the future I can explore web services and do that too.  Talk about overkill for a small project, but it does give me a springboard to jump off of.

Now for the rant:
My web-host www.ipowerweb.com, has some great advantages.  Lots of space, what I find to be a great admin control panel, generally reasonable technical support people, low downtime (I don't think that codefin.net has ever been down) and it comes at a pretty cheap price ($7.00/month if you sign up a year at a time).  I am now finding that it has some disadvantages.  They claim that they support CGI and PHP, boasting that you can make your own web applications and host them off of your site.  Indeed, they do have the PHP parser on their server; however, it is in its default, out of the box configuration.  You may wonder why this would be a problem.  Two variables: upload_max_filesize, post_max_filesize.  Yes, those two variables in the PHP parser have completely ruined my faith in my current host.  Those variables control what you can upload to your server through any PHP script, and as a default they are set to 8M and 2M respectively.  Basically this means that the wonderful web application that I was describing above can't do GARBAGE as a podcast manager unless a sysadmin chooses to change those variables, or I find a new host where those variables can be set to something reasonable.  My host tells me that they would be happy to give me a server where I can change those variables to my heart's content for $65.00/month.  Do those two variables really make the difference between being in a shared-hosting/dedicated server situation?  If it does, would any kind readers take to helping me understand why?  If you don't know, but do know of a hosting company that will let those variables be set at reasonable levels (say 30M) then please drop me a line.  Until then, my little application is going to have to stay very little, as I can only upload files smaller than 2 megabytes.

Well folks, that does it for today.  Thanks for listening!

Friday, July 01, 2005

NECC - Redux

It is good to be home, I am glad that I had the privilege to see yet another of the great cities of the United States.

I am also glad that I was able to attend NECC, and have the chance to hear what some of the leading thinkers in technology education have to say about computing, teaching and learning. There is no way that I could have predicted the topics that were covered in this conference, my eyes were certainly opened to wide dreams, big goals, and a new approach to thinking when it comes to computing and education. As an aspiring software developer, it was enlightening to see, hear and learn about the challenges that the teachers of today face in their classrooms. It isn’t just about classroom management, or teaching reading writing and arithmetic, it is about teaching people how to grow up and become citizens in an ever changing world, where technology will play a critical role in just about every aspect of their lives.

I come away from NECC with a greater vision of what computing is now and what it could be in the future. It is exciting to think about what future computer systems will do to help solve interesting problems, and yet at the same time it is somewhat intimidating to think about what the future expects from us as a worldwide community. We have a lot of work to do!

NECC gave me the chance to break out of the monotony that I had been facing at work, and has helped me to recharge my batteries, and expand my vision. In short, it was really a great experience.