Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Perspective

As I walked into work yesterday morning, I took note of the slight fall chill in the air, the way that the sun was peeping through the high clouds, and the fact that everything was absolutely normal. It was early, the traffic hadn't really picked up yet, though there were a few early risers walking to their various work establishments in their usual morning rush. If I hadn't been listening to the radio on my drive in, I would have supposed it a perfect fall morning. But as I made my walk through Regent Street, across first south, my thoughts were taken to a different place and different people, who weren't experiencing my perfect fall morning.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the people whose lives have been drastically changed because of Hurricane Katrina. Life in Salt Lake City followed its normal path yesterday. Work with a host of meetings, a class at the University, and then back to work to finish off a host of tasks received in the morning. Everyone was just doing what had to be done, and yet, I couldn't help but think of those who couldn't resume normal life yesterday. For the coming months, they will be facing the challenges of rebuilding their homes, and businesses.

It is indeed sad that it takes a hurricane, demonstrating the great power of nature, to remind us once again how very fragile we are. I am grateful to those who have made time to go and help, for organizations that donate time and money to distressed people and places. I was touched by the story of a man profiled on NPR yesterday morning, a police officer, guarding some downtown streets in New Orleans with the hope of fending off looters. He said that his home was a few miles away submerged under six feet of water with no roof. He recounted to the reporter that he had lost most everything, but not the things that mattered most, for his wife and children were safe and alive. Knowing that his family was still safe, he could show up to work and try to help others. What a perspective his story brings to light.

Armed with a different perspective, staying up a few extra hours to do homework doesn't seem too bad. Having a job where the hours and work are steady is a blessing. Life as I know it right now is actually quite ideal.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Warming Up

I am trying to get used to this new schedule. It seems that my summer vacation may have made me soft. If I was to work before 10 and in bed by 10 I was a happy boy. Unfortunately, a student who wants to keep a job can't work those hours. In the mean time, while I get used to the rudeness of my alarm clock and force myself to stay up later than I am accustomed, I will just be thankful that I have the opportunity to go to school and have a job at the same time. A bit of gratitude can go a long way toward fixing my outlook on this roller coaster we call life.

Today was the third meeting for the classes that meet Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Assignments are coming out, and most of us are settling into the classes quite well. At this point in the program, many of us have been following each other for two years now. This gives way to some comfort, if not with the subject, then at least with the people in the room. I found the CS undergrad Linux lab today, and was very pleased with the facilities. Not only was it cleaner, brighter, but filled with new fast machines. This afternoon after class, a small group of us spent some time working over optional exercises dealing with how to detect memory allocation for basic types in the C programming language on different platforms. Though it sounds completely insane to admit it, the assignment was actually fun. I don't know a lot of C, but get the feeling that I will learn quite quickly.

Tomorrow will mark the second day in my Tuesday class. Tuesdays and Thursdays are hard because I should put in a full 8 hour day at work, with a break in the middle of the day for a class. Just typing it makes me tired; I haven't tried the 8 hour deal yet. Tomorrow will be the first run.

I may be somewhat on top of the CS stuff I have on my plate right now, at least until new assignments come out on Wednesday, but in the meantime it is time to hit the Analysis books again.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Sofware to Ease Web Life

So I guess that I got into a mood to try new programs so I downloaded Sage, as suggested by Michael Sarver. It does a pretty good job, still not exactly where I would like to be with regard to RSS aggregating, but it is a bit closer than scrolling through all of the live bookmarks. For a free program, I really can't complain.

I also downloaded the newest version of Google Desktop. What an impressive piece of software. It is a lot closer to what I wanted with regard to feed aggregation, but I haven't come to a final decision as to my feelings on the side bar. I love the fact that I can subscribe to flickr RSS feeds and have random photos show up every few seconds. The fact that it also "learns" how I surf the web to show me things that it thinks I will find interesting is cool, albeit a bit big-brother-ish.

At the insistence of a friend who introduced me to Gmail a year ago, I also downloaded Google Talk this week. WOW! As Jeff Croft suggests, it doesn't really offer anything new to us, but I like the way it feels. It isn't as fully featured as my other two IM clients MSN Messenger and ICQ, but one thing I really like is that it fits right into the Google Sidebar. I suppose that if I have to give up desktop real estate for something, it may as well do everything I want from Notes, to Blogs, to News, to Instant Messaging. The big question is how to convince my ICQ and MSN contacts to move over to Google Talk.

I have a little bit of homework to do this weekend. I got most of the reading done last night, so I am on top of that. However, I do have a pretty good assignment to do in Introduction to Mathematical Analysis I. If I start now, I might have tomorrow off to rest.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Day One Day Two Recap

I have made it through the first two days of school. It looks like it will be an interesting semester. As I continue in computer science the name of the game is that of continually peeling back the layers of abstraction so that as a programmer, I understand exactly how where and why the computer works the way that it does. It is really fascinating (and heady) stuff.

It is painfully obvious that there will be plenty of homework this semester. I went home yesterday with homework and reading assignments after the very first day. Homework may not be the most entertaining thing in the world to do, but at least when it is finished, the doer really feels like he/she has put in an honest days work.

I am still feeling rather un-inspired right now when it comes to having things to say with regard to blogging. However, I just downloaded the blogger plugin for Microsoft Word that allows one to post right from the word application. We'll see how it turns out. I am still a bit mystified about how I can encode links. It may suffer the same fate as blogging from email.

I am still looking for a good feed reader? I am now to the point where hovering over live bookmarks is getting to be a real pain. There must be a better way. Any recommendations?

Oh cool! When I hit publish, it brings up a window called "HTML Viewer" where I can edit. That is how I shall include links. Perfect!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Year One!

Post one, in classic programmer style was "Hello World". It was my introduction to the world of blogging, I was charged up and ready to go, but I didn't know what I would say. All I knew is that I wanted to do it. Yes, I became a blogger when everyone else did. I wasn't one of those trendy early adopters, but at least I caught the vision and started. 244 posts later I can say that this is a lot of fun. It has been an outlet for reflection, expression, and learning. I find myself trying just a little bit harder to pay attention to the world around me, because I want to have something to say for my blog.

So it's a year later, and I decided that for the one year anniversary I would do a re-design. Also in that first blog post, I talked about how I wanted to create my own template, and I thought that I would have time to get that going in a couple of days. That was a farce, with the business of school there wasn't time. However, this summer I found some time and desire to see what I could put together. Some things remain quite similar to the way they were before. Others have changed a bit. I couldn't have done this completely on my own, as I am inept when it comes to design. I have thanked and linked those people who helped me in the about section. Though it still feels like a work in progress, and there are many other things I would like to add and try- this is a good milestone, and it will probably stick for another year or so.

I appreciate those of you who come here and read my writings. I think I know who a few of you are, but I am sure there are others that I don't know. It has been pleasing to get a few comments now and again. When I started this thing, it was totally personal; I never counted on having an audience. Lest I fool myself, I realize that my readership isn't huge, but there are a few loyal friends out there. Thank you for your support.

Here I am at the end of the summer. Tomorrow I go back to school. It has been grand to rest, work, and play. I didn't do everything that I wanted to, but I sure did a lot. I designed some programs, I wrote some programs, and I visited new cities, read good books, enjoyed the company of friends and ate great food. Really, there is nothing to complain about. Though there is an inevitable stress that will accompany the grind of being back at school, I am excited for the challenge. It will be good to be back with my friends, and back on the campus. There are many great things about university life, and having missed them this summer, I'll try to emphasize the good this fall.

Thanks for visiting, and I hope you'll come again!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Summer Reading Review

As I try to wrap up the summer, I wanted to publish a consolidated list of the reading I got done this summer. Admittedly, there is a lot more fiction in this list than computer science related stuff. But hey, it is summer, and reading fiction was fun. I heard a quote today:

"When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes."
-Desiderius Erasmus

Isn't it just fantastic? Now my spending habits may be a bit more complex than that, but books certainly have had a large influence in how I have chosen to spend my hard earned pennies this summer. Without further ado, here's the list.

CS RELATED
Joel on Software
What a great book. My copy has post-it flags coming out of numerous pages. There were so many essays that resonated with me. If anyone is looking for an insider's view of software development, this is a good one.

Out of Their Minds
This book was recommended to me by my first CS teacher Art Lee It was a fascinating read about the beginnings of computing. I really appreciated hearing about the first programming languages from the actual inventors. Thanks to some careful narration and explanation this book is easily readable by anyone.

Algorithmics
Detailed, Thorough, and defiantly not for the faint of heart with regard to math talk. I am still chugging away on this one. I would have finished it MONTHS ago, if it weren’t for the fact that I can only digest a few pages at a time.

The Best Software Writing I
An entertaining, and quick read, I wrote a review of this book on my blog here.

FICTION
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Book four remains my favorite to this day, but it was so very exciting to spend 16 hours reading book six this summer. Reading this book was very much like visiting an old friend- comfortable, fun, and friendly. Regardless of how you feel about Rowling, she deserves some credit for creating an amazing world that has captured the hearts of millions.

Ender’s Game
Not the first, second, or even third time that I have read this book. It is one of my all-time favorites. Each time I read it, I come away having learned something different. It is fascinating how time changes our perceptions.

Ender’s Shadow
This book is a retelling of Ender's Game, but from a different character's perspective. This was my second time through this book.

Shadow of the Hegemon
This book is the sequel to Ender's Shadow. Again, it was a second reading.

Shadow Puppets
I read the other Ender books so that I could read this one and the next one which finish off the story of Ender's friend Bean. This book was told in classic Orson Scott Card style, and I loved every bit of it.

Shadow of the Giant
This was the final book in the Ender's Shadow series. I know, some don't have much appreciation for science fiction, but Card is a great story teller, and his characters are so human and real it is hard to not recognize parts of you in them. Once this happens you are compelled to read every page, wanting to find out what happens next.


HISTORICAL FICTION
The next three books were also by Orson Scott Card. I hadn't planned on reading them at the beginning of the summer, but when I was raving about the Ender's Shadow series to a friend; he told me that I needed to try these books out that were by the same author. I was quite skeptical, as historical fiction has never been one of my strong suits, but these really surprised me. It was wonderful to read this author's suppositions as to what these great bible women's lives would have been like. Card certainly did a lot of studying and research to write these, and they are well executed.

Sarah: (Women of Genesis)

Rebekah: (Women of Genesis)

Stone Tables


End
So that tells the story of my summer reading. There is a lot that I didn't get done, that is the thing about books, there are more than there is ever time to read. I am looking forward to this school semester where once again I will get to focus my reading on Math, and Computers. It won't be as easy as some of the stuff I read this summer, but after having a nice rest, I am ready to take it on again.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

1812 Overture in Deer Valley



What a great way to spend the last Saturday before school starts. I had the chance go hear the 1812 overture performed outside at Deer Valley with real cannons. The scenery was beautiful, the company was great and the music was beyond fantastic. When my friend called me up on Friday to tell me that she had an extra ticket and asked me if I wanted to go, I knew immediately this wasn't a concert to be missed. The program listed Shotakovich: Festive Overture, Addinsell: Warsaw Concerto and Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture. But there was a lot more than that. Selections from Grieg, Stravinski, and Rachmaninov were also played. I may have totally massacred the spellings there, but needed to mention the additional bonuses. This concert combined two of my favorite things, the great outdoors, and classical music. It really doesn't get much better than what I heard and experienced this evening. I can't remember a Utah Symphony concert where more crowd favorites were played in succession. What a treat! I can't think of a better way to end what has been a great summer.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Flickr - love/hate


Flickr overload
Originally uploaded by Pandarine.
So it seems that flickr is going through some growing pains again. There are issues over ID mergers with Yaoo. Some are less than thrilled about the new ranking system, so-called interestingness. Others are frustrated with the so called flicky awards. There are also many photographers out there working very hard to self promote their work. The picture that I have blogged comes from a member who is trying to make a statement about flickr's social games, the funny thing is, he is so popular that even his "overload" photo easily made it into the top of the interesting bucket.

Social software is an animal. The developers may try to design something to be used in a given way, only to find out that their user base has found a completely different use for the same feature. Once a piece of social software goes live, it very much gains a life of its own.

Flickr is just like an online game, and I should know having spent years playing them. There is a class system, there are the community giants, and the nobody's. There are those who love to be hated. There are those simply there to pet their egos. Some are there to exploit others, others are there to contribute. It is all the same.

I think that flickr is a great service. I believe that their photo management software is some of the best that I have used. I like the fact that I can just drag and drop photos to share on the internet. I love the way that I can organize them into groups, tag them, annotate them, title them and describe them however I choose. I enjoy the fact that I can comment and favorite other users photos. I love that flickr has made it open and easy to get your work out of their system and onto a blog, or into a 'flickr badge'. Honestly, it saves me hours of coding, or trying to find another solution to do it for me.

I used to love the social aspect of flickr. Then I learned that it is just like the social aspect of any other online game; it is best to have a few friends, but not worry about 'domain domination'.

For me, flickr is a great tool. I use it as an online photo organizer. I pay gladly for the service. If there are any social perks for being a member of the 'flickr community', then they are just that perks. I am not seeking them out, nor am I actively playing the game.

Is it overloaded though? Absolutely.
Am I a fan of interestingness? No. I agree whole-heartedly with a person who stated that a few hours a day looking at ‘explore’ on the flickr site is enough to make anyone vomit. There are just too many pretty photos. Why should we use an algortihm to tell us what is interesting, I liked the adventure of finding it on my own.

I had really intended on writing a small essay about hacking phpbb and nukephp last night, but apparently flickr got the attention today. Oh well.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Comment Spam is Lame

The title says it all. One of the reasons I have been ok sticking with Blogger is that I haven't had to deal with any comment spam here, ever. I like leaving anonymous commenting open, as it allows those of you without blogger accounts to say something when you feel so inclined. Let's hope that what I saw today was just a small one time occurrence, and not the rule.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Best Software Writing

I just finished reading The Best Software Writing, selected and introduced by Joel Spolsky. Many of you may have already finished this book, as it has been out for a couple of months, but if you haven’t, and you would like to consider yourself current with what people have to say about software, you should buy this book and read it today.

The essays in the book are taken from blogs or speeches that Joel found to be provocative, interesting, or just plain fun. They are all well written, and give the reader something to think about. It was a quick read, and kept my interest. One can easily tell when I am enjoying a book as it ends up being filled with post-it flags on the pages where something is said that resonates with me, and this book was no exception. I started the book while camping last weekend, and when we got home I was told that no one wanted to hear any more of the ‘geek jokes’. Oh well, it’s their loss.

I come away from The Best Software Writing with a laundry list of things to think about:

  • ’Best Practices’ in software development

  • The contrast between ‘developers’ and ‘programmers’

  • Social software in the context of the modern internet

  • Ideas for what makes good team leadership and product development

  • What makes for engaging, informative, and entertaining writing on software

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Home Again


Mouth of the Reservoir
Originally uploaded by CodeFin.
I spent the last three days camping at Utah’s Jordanelle Reservoir state park. It was very beautiful, and very fulfilling. It was good to get away from the computer for a bit, and exchange it for a good dose of clear air, warm days in the sun, and relaxing evenings by the fire. My only complaint about camping is that to stay clean, one must be quite diligent. But hey, I won’t complain about it too much, as it did get me out of the office, and aside from the work it was to keep bugs away, and keep the crew fed, I had plenty of time to relax, talk, read and nap.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Physics Demo Lecture

Last night I had the interesting experience of attending a physics demonstration lecture at the University. It is interesting that when you are just looking at the explosions, projectiles, impacts and shocks it becomes a lot more fun than when you are sitting through the demos during class. Yet at the same time, having been through the lectures and understanding the ‘magic’ (or math) behind the demo, I think that it causes one to have a greater appreciation for the show.

The demo was done as a part of the summer meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers that hosted by my university. The demo was open to the public, and I am glad that I went, even if it was a bit nerve wracking to be surrounded by physics teachers at first. As time went on, I decided that the physics geeks have a sense of humor similar to that of the CS geeks, and that in reality we are quite compatible.

My favorite joke of the evening was when a demonstrator was discussing wave mechanics. He brought 30 elementary school kids onto the stage and gave them all glow sticks, so that when the lights dimmed, the audience could see a wave propagate. Some of the kids were a little young, and didn’t get how to start the glow sticks, and the demonstrator was starting the youngest children’s glow sticks and he said “Now once you crack it, shake it up really good until it starts to glow. This is called chemistry, and we don’t study that here”. It is good to see that the old jokes between the mathematicians, physicists, and chemists are still being preached to the rising generation.

You probably had to be there to see the humor in it. I had a good time none the less.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Wild Flowers



Originally uploaded by CodeFin.
I went on a bit of a nature walk this afternoon with two good friends, and I am glad that I went. I don't think I have ever seen such fields of wild flowers in all my years of living in Utah. If you are near by, you must take a trip up Little Cottonwood canyon, up past Alta. The views are simply astounding.

Friday, August 05, 2005

More Thoughts on Linux

Even though it was pretty exciting to get a Linux distribution up and going on the laptop, and even though Open Office is a pretty cool application, having had some time to further consider the state of software in the world, I must ask why?

I understand that the very machine that delivers this blog to you day in and day out is running some flavor of Linux as its operating system, and that is totally great. I have also done my fair share of work on Unix workstations at school in the Physics, Math, and Computer science departments.

Yes, when it is up and running, it runs well.
Yes, the file system is very useful and powerful.
Yes, getting around on a command line and compiling stuff is enough to make any geek feel proud.

BUT — honestly, does every person in the world have the time/patience to download, compile, install, and tweak every aspect of their system? For example, getting the monitor to show at the right resolution, getting the laptop battery to show its charge status appropriately, making the wireless card work, or maybe something like getting the USB flash drive to be automatically discovered and mounted. The above reasons are the quintessential pillars explaining why Microsoft and to some lesser extent Apple rule the consumer PC operating system realm.

When it comes to parents, siblings, grandparents, and even myself to some great extent “it just works” and “plug and play” are the triumphant winners in contrast to “download this” “compile that”. Sure, the geek inside can say “Look, I got super-neato Linux running on my extra box this week.” To his friends, but how many hours did he spend doing it? Does it really run as stably as OS X or Windows XP? Can they do EVERYTHING that one would want to do on a computer with the fantastic programs that we have all grown to know and love? The answers will probably come back somewhat gray, but one thing for sure. I wouldn’t be too hesitant to walk my parents through a Mac OS upgrade or a Windows upgrade on the phone. But I would tremble in fear with the thought of walking my parents through a Linux install… especially in the dual boot world!

Perhaps one of the reasons that Windows is supposedly so “bloated” and that for years installing your own rogue hardware on a Mac voided the warranty is that each company took an interesting view of hardware/software development. Microsoft took the idea that they would write drivers for, and test as many different hardware configurations as one could come up with. The software is big, because they have to support them all. Apple decided that they just wouldn’t support non-apple stuff, so they didn’t have to worry about it – but they made sure the hardware they did support was good. Fedora Linux isn’t too terribly huge, and they claim that you can do anything that you can do in Windows, however, they never mention how much pain you might have to tolerate to get it that way, or that at the end of the day it might feel like a cheap knockoff of the original.

Yes, Linux and Unix have their places, and they do serve society in a great way. I am just not convinced that it is really the future of software. It isn’t friendly or easy enough. Some avid supporters may say “Yes, but we are getting there”, and maybe they are, but in my opinion not fast enough.

Will Linux serve as a great playground to learn about how operating systems work? Yes, it will do that, and do it well. Is it an OS that everyone should embrace? I am not ready to advocate that stance yet. Unix may serve 70% of the worlds web-pages, but that doesn’t make it the greatest desktop OS either. Maybe the argument is best framed inside the idea that the world has different operating systems for different tasks, each one built to handle a specific task well.

Certainly, if any OS is going to make it in this world, free or not, it has a tall order to fill in my mind. Windows and OS X may not be perfect, but they go a lot further than anything else I have seen.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Fedora Linux Anyone?

I crossed a major hurdle this evening, with help and encouragement from Curtis. I decided that it would probably be a good idea to get a distribution of Linux going on my laptop before school started as I know that in at least one of my classes, all of our work will be done in that environment. The disclosure from last year stated that if one wasn’t familiar with setting up Linux, they might find that it would be a bigger hassle than its worth if they were to attempt it during the semester. So with that thought in mind, I set out to try and figure out what I needed to get this thing up and running.

I am happy to say that I am writing this blog entry in Open Office, installed on a Fedora 4 distribution of Linux! I will post to my blog from Firefox, and then call it a night. This dual boot system is a little cramped right now (only 10 gigs free space on both the Windows and Linux sides) but it is certainly enough to get things going.

This evening I managed to get the monitor resolution working as it should. I learned a lot, and having tackled the monitor hurdle, I think I am ready to work on wireless networking, and then to all of the other stuff. Of note-- if people really think that Linux is the way to go as far as ease of use, I think that the jurry is still out. There is NO WAY that any of my family or non-geek friends could have gotten through this install tonight. Heck, I don’t think I would have made it without some moral support from friends.

This Linux stuff is cool, but it has a ways to go. I am just excited that I have it up and running.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Rainy Night


Rainy Night
Originally uploaded by CodeFin.
There was a pretty cool storm last night. It managed to take out the internet for a while, so to entertain myself I decided that I would try to get some photos of it. I think that I was reasonably rewarded for my effort. As done as rain-on-the-windshield is, I am pleased with the result. It’s grizzly photo for what was a grizzly evening so far as the weather was concerned.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Begin August

It just wouldn’t be appropriate to let the first day of August slip by without a blog entry. Today was a reasonable day at work. I worked on the specification that I drafted on Friday, and it is now set to be presented a meeting that will take place tomorrow. There is a lot of testing that needs to be done this week, and I imagine that it will take a great deal of my time between tomorrow and Friday. Thank goodness there is stuff to keep me busy.

I just finished reading this month’s Wired magazine, headlined “10 Years that Changed the World” celebrating the IPO of Netscape on August 9, 1995. What a fantastic article it turned out to be. This thing called the internet really has made its mark on the world, and though a decade is a great celebration, it is still young. We have much to look forward to in the form of online progress. It really is quite amazing that I can sit in my bed typing on my laptop that is wirelessly connected to over 8 billion websites. As the article pointed out, certainly the rulers of old would have paid a great price to have this wealth of information and knowledge. Lucky we are.

As my friends are in school are likely preparing for their finals this week, I am getting more and more anxious for things to get going again. Sure, there is a stack of reading that I would like to get through, and some additional features that I would like to build into the PodCast RSS writer, and a couple of other projects on the burners, but getting back to business will be good. I keep checking the class web pages waiting for updates, and so far haven’t found anything. Patience is the key to this one. In just a few weeks, I will see those web pages more than I will probably care to.

And so we begin August. As a child it was a time when all of my siblings would pile into mom’s car and go off for “back to school shopping” clothes, shoes, paper, pencils, and binders were the name of the game. Now August gives a little much-deserved rest to those who enrolled in summer semester, and reminds the summer rested that it is time to start thinking about academics again. This month will also mark this website’s first anniversary. I have one more small “vacation” planned for this month, it will be just the thing to end the summer well, a nice little three day camping trip. So, as I have enumerated this list. August is a good and busy time, a transitional month that bridges the easy living of summer repose to the rigor of fall academic exercise.