Saturday, June 30, 2007

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means…

While wandering around online, I came across the blog of a couple of software developers. Some of the contents made me shake my head.

I’m not going to name names since that would be tacky. I don’t want to embarrass anyone. They’re a husband and wife team, and I honestly wish them luck. However, there are a few things that I have to say.

One of the two of them, while discussing the fact that advanced math isn’t often used in day-to-day coding (and she’s right. For most stuff, the most complex math you use is algebra), made the comment that not every programmer writes algorithms.


*Every* programmer writes algorithms. An algorithm is just a series of instructions to accomplish some task. One of the most basic things a programmer learns to do (usually in the first few days of classes), namely a for loop such as the following one

for(int i = 0; i < 10; i++)
cout << “hi!” << endl;

is an algorithm with a big O of n. Actually, in this case you could argue that the big O is C where C = 10 since the value of i is known, but still.

Not every programmer writes innovative new algorithms, but every programmer does indeed write algorithms.

The fun continues.

In their “about us” section, they state that if they do a web app for you from the ground up, it’s going to be in Ruby on Rails. They go on to say that they can also do maintenance in a few other languages, but they end by saying “We’ll use the technology that’s the best fit for your project.”

I’m sorry, but if you do everything new in Rails, you are not going on a mantra of “best technology for the project.” Rails, while neat, is not the best solution for every web app out there.

I hate to rain on their parade, but they might want to re-think either their claims or their bias.

Then again, she says that they look for contracts and employers that won’t have an issue with bringing a nursing infant to a meeting.

I have nothing against mothers (or kids for that matter. I actually like kids.), but a meeting is not the place for nursing or an infant. Meetings are there so people can get things done. Distractions of that magnitude do not belong there if it can be helped. If you have a meeting, please leave the baby with someone who can watch him or her while you’re gone.

Like I said, I wish them luck, but I think they have a little bit to learn.

Current mood: amused
Current music: The Pillows – Blues Drive Monster

Friday, June 29, 2007

Head, Meet Desk
James Opens up a Can

This town never seems to stop amazing me. They tout that they are the first state capitol (you can’t miss it. The bloody signs are everywhere. They even have a plaque on the court house proclaiming that the stone it refers to was from the first capitol building) and want to be considered a great and wonderful place, but they refuse to do anything to make that happen.

The local newspaper (yes, the town of about 25,000 people only has one paper) has a web board on its site where you can discuss the news stories. So many of the people who use it make my head hurt, and the frightening thing is that they really are indicative of the general population.

Two of the mind-numbing issues follow.

First Issue – The Library

There’s a 0.49 mil levy on the ballot in November to support expanding the library (that means that, for a house appraised at $100,000 the tax increase would be $49/year). It’s not a bad little library as it stands, but in a town of this size, I’d really expect a little more.

The plans are for, among other things, a nice connector from the main building to a now-closed school that they purchased next door for extra space and the addition of a café and a small used book store so they can divest themselves of less frequently read books year round without having to wait for the yearly book sale.

I think this is a positive thing. Unlike what most of the people who responded seem to think, a library is more than just a place to walk in, get a book, and walk out of again. It’s an integral part of the community and serves not only for the dissemination of information, but also as a gathering point and culture center.

The best libraries I have ever been in have had not only books, but displays of art and discussion rooms. Hell, the library at my alma mater (which has about the same number of people as this town) had art displays on almost every floor except in the general stacks on the top two floors and even had a rock and water garden on the first floor (Asian Studies).

This is something that the people here don’t seem to understand, because most of the comments were of the “why do we possibly need that? It’s a waste of money. Just walk in and get a book” variety. To top it off, they were downright violently opposed to the people who advocated the expansion and started arguments of the “well, *I* never use the library, so why should *I* have to pay for it??” and “Since the city is wanting taxpayers to pay to expand the library, I think they should have taxpayers pay to expand my house!” sort.

No, I’m not kidding about the house expansion comment. Someone on there honestly made it.

The really frightening thing in my opinion, though, was not the fact that someone made the comment that the city should pay to improve their house or even that some people are opposed to expanding the library. The thing that made my jaw drop was just how many people said they never used the library and seemed proud of that fact. To top it off, they were not only proud of the fact that they never use it, but think that it should not be a public resource, but instead that you should have to pay to use it!

Yes, people there actually said that you should have to pay if you wanted to use the library.

Folks, the library is there as a public resource for all to use – young or old, rich or poor. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a coin in your pocket, you can walk into that building and learn something or find a book to pass the time. To say that it shouldn’t be that way is an insult to all of the people that clawed their way up the ladder from practically nothing, because that proposition means that they would never be able to do that.

It’s disgusting that these fools think that way. That’s the only way I can think to put it, though I admit that I may be a bit more adamant in that view because I have known people who really have pulled themselves up out of poverty through effort and public resources like the library.

Issue the Second – Historic Theater

The Majestic Theater, a historic theater and one of the local cultural draws is looking at doing renovations. It’s run by a non-profit organization much like the local art gallery (which, though small, is nice. If you’re in town, stop by and wander through. It’s in the park and it’s free) and derives its budget from grants, donations, and box office sales.

Keep the sources of funding in mind. It’s important later.

First, however, a quick word about the theater:

As I said above, it’s a historic theater. From what I gather, it’s been around since before the Civil War and was even turned into an emergency hospital during said war.

The inside is a wealth of period architecture and artwork. Outside, the sign for the theater (which spans the street) is the last arch from Columbus’ old Arch District and, it must be said, looks darned spiffy at night when it’s lit up. Even if it weren’t for the artwork and history, it runs a number of performances each year (for extremely reasonable prices – we’re talking like $5). It’s even been named a National Geographic travel site.

The bottom line is that it’s a very nice place and could serve as a wonderful anchor for the revitalization of the historic downtown.

However, when the paper ran an article that the Majestic was looking for funding to do improvements, the locals started griping about the possibility of another levy when the truth is that there wouldn’t *be* a levy. They’re looking for grant money and charitable contributions.

When that was repeatedly pointed out, they started saying how there was no way they could get grant money for that. I know better, but that’s because I spent four years working for a non-profit who, among other things, acquired grants for those sorts of projects.

The discussion went on from there about how it would be wasted money and that nobody should bother. That’s right. We shouldn’t ever try anything because nobody cares or we might fail.

Sorry, people, but the world doesn’t work that way. If you want something, you have to fight for it. Personally, I hope that the library’s levy passes (and the money is used properly) and that the Majestic gets the funding it needs for improvements.

The thing that these people really don’t seem to understand is that those improvements pay off for the city as a whole. They help bring not only tourism dollars in, but can also make it a more desirable place to move both families and businesses to (which this town really needs).

To the residents of Chillicothe, and indeed the residents of all other towns and cities in this country that feel the way these people do, I have the following to say to you – you disappoint the hell out of me. Try doing something for people other than yourself once in a while. You might find that you’re doing yourself a favor in the process.

Current mood: annoyed
Current music: Van Halen – Right Now

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Grace vs. Force

It seems like most martial artists that you see now are taught to focus on raw strength. They all just try to overpower their opponents. It’s all just punch and kick faster and harder than the other guy to them.

It seems to be an American thing. Think of the most popular American sport – football. The biggest part of what’s drilled into the head of the people who play it from the time they’re kids is that you hit the other guy as hard as you possibly can.

As a consequence, they tend to lack grace. Their motions are jerky and disjointed. Their balance is not the greatest, and they aren’t prepared for surprises because they expect the other guy to be doing pretty much the same thing.

The real practice of martial arts, as opposed to simply being a bruiser like most of them try to be now, requires a great deal of grace, finesse, and balance. In fact, it has a lot in common with dancing – one motion flows into another.

Your opponent moves and you counter, avoiding his strike and flowing into the opening that his attack creates.

Strength often takes a back seat to grace in the actual practice of martial arts. People are very fragile creatures. It doesn’t take a lot to incapacitate, injure, or even kill. The only thing going at an opponent full force generally does is make you tired.

I’ve seen the same thing over and over again. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s watching a couple of karate-ka spar or trying to teach people how to fence. They almost always seem to want to simply overpower their opponents.

Granted, it can work sometimes, but if you ever face someone who uses finesse instead of force and try to force your way through the fight, you fall flat on your face. This is something that most of the fencers learned when they fought me.

Personally, I would advocate that all martial artists learn to dance. I know it sounds silly to most people, but the movements have a lot in common. It’s a matter of grace. In fact, a lot of people who have seen me use a blade can tell you just how much it looks like a dance.

There’s one other advantage to learning to dance – it’s a wonderful social skill. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in this area (and others that I’ve been in) who think that dancing is completely the opposite of everything masculine. Of course, they also think the same thing of anything artistic.

The Midwest seems to be especially bad about that mindset. In high school, I was at a friend’s house when his stepfather came home. Since I’m a fairly large guy, he asked me if I played football. I told him it didn’t really interest me. The immediate follow up was along the lines of “What are you? A sissy? You probably play flute in the band don’t you?” in a rather taunting voice since, of course, football is the only thing that matters in this life.

My friend turned pale, afraid that I was going to kill his stepfather.

The thing is that it isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, it’s pretty widespread. It’s a shame really. I think the world would be a little better off if people relied less on brute strength and more on grace, finesse, and judgment.

Current mood: contemplative
Current music: Loreena McKennitt – Between the Shadows

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Nice Swag and Weirdness

If you haven’t been paying attention, I develop software. Most of said software is for Windows though I do get the occasional request for something on Linux.

That said, I tend to use Visual Studio a fair amount. I started using it back in version 6 when I was writing C and C++ code in college because it let me get work on projects done on the weekends without having to drive the 45 minutes to campus to use the unix labs (this was back when Linux was a pain in the rear to get to work.).

The fact that VS has a nice graphical debugger and Emacs didn’t have one at the time didn’t hurt either.

For the longest time, my license was covered by the university because we had an insane site license deal with Microsoft (basically any software they made we could get for about $10). Of course, after I graduated, that didn’t apply anymore.

The graduation gift from a friend of mine was a copy of VS2003 which was rather appreciated. When VS2005 came out, I didn’t want to throw down the $300 to get a copy, so I stuck with 2003 until the Express editions came out.

While the Express editions are nice, they’re kind of limited (which is sort of the point). That’s why I was happy when I found out that Microsoft was giving away free copies of Visual Studio 2005 Standard for watching a couple of podcasts and paying about $11 shipping and handling.

I just got my copy in the mail yesterday. I was surprised it only took a week to arrive. If you’re interested, click on the link above and jump through the rather simple hoops. It’s well worth it, but you’ll have to do it soon since the offer ends June 30th.

Now for the weirdness.

It seems that my Zipper program is one of the more popular examples of the use of RubyZip out there because, on checking my logs, I found a lot of hits from Google for “Rubyzip example.” Curious, I decided to check for myself, and it turns out that I’m on the first page of the results.

I thought that was kind of neat. Maybe that means that people are actually using at least some of my free stuff after all.

Granted, the reason I wrote the ruby programs was to scratch my own itches when I was setting up an entertainment computer, but still, it’s nice to know that someone out there is at least looking at it.

Now if I can only figure out why I keep getting so many referrals from dvd4arab. Don’t ask me. I just look at the logs and scratch my head…

Current mood: amused
Current music: The Cars – Hello Again

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bye Bye Mr. Science Guy

Today I am sad.

It seems that Don Herbert, better known to his fans as Mr. Wizard died today at the age of 89.

I remember watching his show as a kid. It’s one of the reasons that I enjoyed science.

Farewell, Don. I hope you’re resting well now. You will be missed.

Say hi to Kurt Vonnegut for us and, if you’re feeling up to it, shove a fish in Douglas Adams’ ear. :-P

Current mood: contemplative
Current music: The Pillows – Blues Driver Monster

Thursday, June 07, 2007

A Proposal

One of the hot topics in Congress lately is the possible changes to the way that H1-B’s are handled. The debates have brought out a lot of companies in favor of raising the cap (including Google. So much for do no evil…) and against the new accountability that had been proposed.

That’s right. The Congress critters actually advocated accountability for *all* companies that use H1-B visas instead of just the ones who are “H1-B dependant” (which is defined as having something like 20% of their workforce composed of visa workers). Part of that accountability was that the H1-B holder could not displace an American worker for a period starting 6 months before the H1-B holder is brought on board and lasting until 6 months after they have been hired.

The corporations really didn’t like that idea. It was a sacrificial lamb on the part of the legislators in all likelihood since it didn’t get mentioned with the introduction of a “compromise” version of the bill.

The corporations also didn’t like the fact that the proposed bill would have taken the fake hope of a green card out of the hands of the corps and put it in the hands of the government on a point based system. That meant that the people brought here on H1-B visas might actually have a chance at becoming citizens instead of being jerked around by their “sponsor” company.

If you doubt the being jerked around part, ask yourself how many H1-B’s you know. Now, out of those, how many got their citizenship as opposed to just being shipped back to their country of origin.

The reason they want to bring in more H1-B workers is as much a joke as the promise of citizenship to the people who hold them. It’s not because we need the skilled labor (with the rare exception where they actually do for the extremely specialized stuff). It’s because they want cheap employees that they can control more easily (and, for the dissenters out there, most H1-B workers are paid substantially less than their American counterparts).

With these things in mind, here is my proposal for H1-B reform.

  • Severely lower the cap for H1-B’s and make almost all of those available only for foreign students who studied for advanced degrees in the United States.
  • Limit the total number of H1-B holders that a company is allowed to sponsor to, let’s say, 10 (or maybe 1% of their total work force).
  • Make businesses more accountable. H1-B holders may not displace an American worker (as per the 6 month before and after part of the initial bill in Congress) and it must be proven that a qualified American worker could not be found (which they’re supposed to do anyway).
  • H1-B holders must be paid 120% of the salary for the position (this is as a deterrent). Additionally, the company shall pay double the income tax on that person’s salary (with the additional money to be split between Social Security and a fund for public works projects).
  • Any infractions regarding the above which are committed by a business are grounds for the prevention of them ever being able to employ an H1-B holder again (with the exception of their current H1-B employees, who will be allowed to work there until their visa expires and they either become citizens or return to their home country). Additionally, *large* fines shall be leveled at the company as a punitive measure.

If you think this all sounds extreme, you’d be right. My reasoning behind this is simple - Companies are abusing the system by stating that they “need” these workers and are unable to fill the positions otherwise when the truth is much different.

It needs to be made so that the system is not abused and it seems that the only way to accomplish this is to make it much more painful to hire H1-B workers than it is to hire American ones. Otherwise, the more corrupt companies will just consider it to be an acceptable cost of doing business (especially since it saves them money as it stands because of the lower wages most H1-B workers receive and the fact that they get the people with the visas to work insane hours).

If you need proof of the abuse, there have been instances stated before Congress of companies putting out ads specifically wanting H1-B holders for openings (which is illegal). I’ve even seen them locally on some of the job boards in the past.

There are some cases in which H1-B holders are actually needed. That’s why I made my proposal in such a way that the only H1-B workers a company hires are needed for their special skill sets.

Despite what a lot of people seem to think (and what Wall Street wants you to believe), the purpose of a company is not just to make a profit. It is to make a profit while being a socially positive entity. They are part of the community. They need to start acting like it instead of trying to grab every penny that they can no matter the cost.

Screwing over your community in the name of short-term profits is not a sustainable strategy. Unfortunately, the ones at the top often don’t care about long-term strategy. If they did, we wouldn’t have this problem.

Believe it or not, I’m a moderate. In this case, however, bringing moderation in as the norm requires some extreme measures.

Current mood: annoyed
Current music: Eve6 – How Much Longer