I Like My Hair

When my Mom wants to change something about herself, more often than not the first place she goes is for the hair. Well, unlike her, I like my hair: it’s short, easy to manage, and keeps me relatively cool. Most importantly, my hair has never been a cited reason for rejection by the chicas.

Since I did want to change something but really dig my hair, I decided to change a few things about my website. There wasn’t anything wrong with the old layout: I just wanted to do something different. And unlike a few times before, I didn’t do a total change. I just wooled around in my stylesheet and shifted some colors and positions here and there. If any of my readers (all 1 of you) really don’t like these changes, I’ll fix everything back. If you are only slightly annoyed by any of this, just deal with it :) Anyway, when graduation finally gets here, I’ll probably be doing a lot of stuff to the backend of my site. Who knows, it may even become useful to somebody besides me.

Life Before the Internet

As hard as it is for me to believe sometimes, there was a time when I did not have access to the Internet. I have very good memories of what was going on in my life during this period, but I couldn’t tell you how I was able to find information on anything. Obviously, there were books, but I don’t remember buying or checking out that many at the library. Then there was TV. I can honestly say I learned a lot from TV, but it’s not like you can get information on demand: You’re at the mercy of whatever is floating over the airwaves. Particuarily, I wonder how I got current news and statistics? I guess I watched CNN and just grabbed stats as they came across. The problem with the statistical stuff not being online was that it was very hard to remembers certain stats from year to year. Now, I can just hop online and pull up secular statistics for about anything and do comparisons. No more hard-core memorization.

Implications of the Internet
It seems like I remember that people shared information with each other verbally more before the Net. There was, from what I recall, a lot more exchanges like, “Hey man, I saw on TV last night…” Nowadays, it’s more like “I found this neato website with [insert name of desired information here] on it. I’ll e-mail you a link to it.” This sort of link exchanging is all well and good, but you have to wonder if society will lose the ability to summarize information on the fly. This is a valuable skill to possess when decisions must be made quick and there is one or two people who must disperse information to an entire group.

I do wonder whether having information on-tap will help enhance our ability to remember facts and figures…On the one hand, we probably don’t try as hard to remember certain things because we know we can pull them up anytime at our leisure. On the other hand, we may be more effective at remembering really important stuff because we don’t bog down our brains with so many of the things that are readily available now.

The Aggressions of Various Programming Languages

In my experience, different programming lanugages have different ways of dealing with programmer errors. The following list, while not exhaustive, should highlight the tactics of some of the most popular languages (both past and present):

  • QBasic – In keeping with the simplicity of its design, QBasic informs you of errors in nothing more than baby talk. For example, you may encounter “Out of Range!” or “Var not set!”
  • C++ – A true bureaucrat, C++ gives you a ton of information which means nothing, making you feel very stupid in the process. After a few years, you think you’ve got a handle on it, then it throws out some new jargon you’ve never seen. For example:
    “c:\documents and settings\new user\somefile.cpp(3) : error C2065: ‘cout’ : undeclared identifier

    c:\documents and settings\new user\somefile.cpp(3) : error C2297: ‘<<' : illegal, right operand has type 'char [13]"
  • Java – Much like its C++ cousin, Java burdens you down with tons of details about what you’ve done wrong. It is supposedly smarter than C++ and tries to prove this with its gargantuan error messages. It even tries to offer remedies for your unholy instruction.
  • PHP – The passive-aggressive language, PHP says almost nothing when you’ve done something wrong. It just presents you with blank screen whose source code contains nothing but a generic header. After a lot of massaging and appologizing, you can generally get it cranking the way it’s supposed to.
  • Perl – Despite its name, Perl is not smooth at all when dealing with errors. It routinely screams the word “Die!” complete with the exclamation point. After panicking for a few seconds, you decide to dig into the code and see what exactly has died, only to find that you simply forgot a semi-colon. Talk about a manic, overly-dramatic performance.
  • Python – Python is a bit dyslexic. It points to errors in the wrong place, swearing up and down you’ve messed up in a particular location, when if fact you actually messed up somewhere several lines above. Being called a liar by a programming language is probably the most insulting thing possible.

Latest and Greatest

I have nearly finished my Mozilla Composer Tutorial. It is the result of about three days worth of work. As you’ll notice, there’s a pretty lame Flash animation at the top. Believe me,I wouldn’t have included it if it wasn’t part of the requirements of the project. I’m sure it needs some revisions and I need to add some navigation elements at the bottom of the page, but as it is right now, it’s not a bad piece of tech writing, even if I do say so myself.

I did the whole thing using Macromedia products. It must be said that Macromedia’s FireWorks can really spank Adobe’s Photoshop in some areas. Fireworks’ native file format is readable to any modern browser, thanks to its use of the PNG file format. And, even better, the web graphics produced by Fireworks are smaller with better color saturation. I thought pigs would fly before I would denounce Photoshop, but I think that day has come. Fireworks is king!

Joss Wheadon’s Emotional Rollercoaster

Joss Wheadon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel can make me feel very sad faster than about anyone. Me and my roomate have been watching the 4th season of Angel, and the first 3 episodes weren’t sad at all. This fact is very much unlike Joss, who normally bums us out in the first episode. (This trend is more consistent in Angel than in Buffy.) Starting with the fourth episode in the season, though, all that changed. I was wrenched when it was over. And me, being the one who likes to know what happens next, loaded up the subsequent episode. Same thing. I went to sleep last night an unhappy little boy. Joss never lets any of his characters be happy for too long. It wouldn’t be so bad if I weren’t so emotionally invested in the characters. I think they are all well written, as none of them fit into a neat little catagory. Almost every character he has created is neither all good nor all bad. Even the worst of his villians can garner pitty, since they are almost never evil for evil’s sake. Anyway, I’ll dive into some more of season 4 tonight and end up a wrenched-out ball of emotions again…It’s oh so fun!

[Note: When I say a wrenched out ball of emotions, I don’t mean that I break down and cry or anything like that. I don’t get that invested in my shows. What I mean is that I’m either sitting there at the end of an episode saying, “Oh my God! That didn’t just happen!” or “Why didn’t you let them be happy for just a second!!!” And I don’t lose sleep over my shows either, just in case anyone may wonder.]

Mad Max

It dawned on me the other day that the Mad Max movies make no economic sense. Sure, there was plenty of scarcity, and scarcity is the thing that economics focuses on. However, in studying econ, you learn that people substitute more costly things for those that are less costly when things get the most scarce. The biggest, most illogical economic feature of the entire movie is the use of huge, gas-guzzling muscle cars. Fuel is the currency of their world, as it is the most precious thing available, yet the inhabitants of this post-appocolyptic universe give power to those individuals with the most wasteful equipment. In the real world, the muscle-bound head hauncho would be riding on a mo-ped. You know, the kind that gets 30 miles to the gallon. His people would marvel at his ability to travel 60 miles on a gallon of gas! Efficiency is his source of power. [Geez, this post makes me realize why I’ve always been considered a geek!]

Recognition

I found out yesterday that I was voted Outstanding Student in the Department of Information Systems by my professors. I don’t work hard because I seek accolades like this, but it does make all the hard work and extra hours of gleening my assignments for errors somewhat more tolerable. This is an acknowledgment that what I’ve done up to this point is what I should have been doing. The one thing I hope that comes out of this is that it’s important not to underestimate someone just because he comes from one of the most backwards places on Earth. We all are neither ignorant nor dumb, and we have as much potential as anyone else. Representing my area in a positive light is important to me becase we all do not fit the stereotype.

I will not let this go to my head. I don’t know anymore about computers now than I did yesterday before I found out. Nor is this a reason to let my guard down, as I have “many miles before I sleep*.” Hopefully it can never be said that the effort I put in is proportional to the amount of praise I get for it. That’s not how I operate.

*Walking by a Woods on a Snowing Evening, Robert Frost

Ding Dong the Witch is Dead

I’ve seen every episode of Donald Trump’s reality show The Apprentice and tonight’s episode made me extremely happy! Omorosa is gone! I haven’t been this happy since Trump fired Sam. I didn’t hate Sam, I just thought he was an incompetent leader. Omorosa, on the other hand, was evil and self-serving. I realize the goal of the show is to win, but you don’t have to degrade those with whom you are competing on a show like this. That’s exactly what Omorosa did. She criticized every move that she didn’t make. I’m just glad Trump has enough sense to know that someone of her personality cannot lead a company.

I broke down and bought magicalsavant.com. It’s a more interesting web address than jerrytravis.com even if it is harder to remember. I may use magicalsavant.com if I sell my own software someday. Magical Savant Software has a nice ring to it.

Bill Gates’ Snake Oil Sales

Click here to read the interview that Bill Gates gave to PC Magazine recently. After reading it, you’ll probably be wondering how this man has amassed more money than anyone in US history. Michael J. Miller, editor-in-chief of PC Magazine, did the interview, and I feel he asked some very good questions that we all have been wondering lately. He asked Bill Gates why Windows has so many problems with viruses and worms. Bill’s response, from what I could distill, was Windows has problems with viruses because it’s so popular. What does the install base have to do with the fact that Windows easily allows viruses to run on it? In the small server market, Linux is fairly dominant and it’s rare when you hear of an exploit that cripples all these servers en masse. Granted, the popularity of Microsoft operating systems does help justify spending the time to write a virus. If Microsoft wrote a secure OS that was very difficult to write a virus for (Unix, Linux, Solaris, Mac OS X…), it would be very hard for virus writers to justify spending so much time to do so.

Gates goes on further to deny, very streniously I might add, that Windows is not more vulnerable than Macs or Linux boxes. While other OSs have their holes and vulnerabilities, they are so much harder to exploit than those on Windows. That’s because the people who write other non-Microsoft OSs realize that if something can be broken, somebody eventually will. When you write code with that mindset, you try everything you can think of to break the stuff. Microsoft obviously does not think defensively. [Note: I do realize that a product as complex as Windows will have holes in it no matter how well it is written. Microsoft, however, with Bill Gates as its mouthpiece and figurehead, uses this an an excuse to allow too many bugs to be released to the general public.]

Miller asks Gates about the lack of improvements to the search speed of the popular Outlook email client. (The slowness of the searching speed in Outlook has long been a sore spot with those who use it and keep a lot of email.) Gates says that Microsoft could fix it, but then goes into a big load of crap about some new features in upcoming products. He circumvents the issue and starts plugging new products!!! This is so typical of Microsoft: Ignore the now, leave the broken unfixed, and add new features that 99% of computer users never use. Microsoft really needs to realize that new features are only part of the reason people like to upgrade software. Improving upon the speed, stability, and security of existing releases is just as important. Based on this interview, I think it’s safe to use Steve Jobs’ former favorite phrase: Bill Gates “just doesn’t get it.”

Helpful Software

Here’s a list of (mostly free) utility software I use very regularly. I’ve used most of it for many years and have found that most of it takes the tedium out of using a computer effectively. Enjoy!

  • SCWebCam3 – What I use to take snapshots of my desktop and upload them.
  • Mozilla FireFox – A free, secure, open-source browser that has tabs and a built in pop-up blocker. Once you try it, you’ll never go back to IE!
  • ZoneAlarm – A free firewall. With so many holes in Windows and always-on, high-speed connections to the Internet, it’s crazy not to use a good firewall like this.
  • Style XP – Change more than just the colors of Windows with this theme manager. Once you get this program, thousands of free themes and visual styles are available at ThemeXP.org.
  • PDF995 – The cheapest way to make decent PDFs. As its name implies, it costs $9.95, but it’s well worth it if you need to make PDFs on the cheap.
  • SpyBox Search and Destroy – Great spyware removal tool. I use it now instead of Ad-Aware because it gets rid of more system hijackers.

This list could go on, but these are the titles I couldn’t live without.