The gullible consumer

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Friday, September 29. 2006 in Junk Drawer

I have more than a passing interest in web hosting, but I am constantly amazed at what some web hosts try (and succeed) to get away with. What I really love are those mega web hosts that provide dozens of gigs of local storage, "unlimited" bandwidth and a whole laundry list of "technologies" provided with each account. Oh, yes, and the accounts are some incredibly low price like $5 a month. And when they describe their network center it's as if they were hosted in the US Pentagon; I especially like the ones that provide pictures which invariably show barbed wire fences and canine patrols. Yep, all for $5 a month. And yet, if you do just a tiny bit of research you see that on the areas that should make the most difference, they are almost amazingly out of date: super old versions of Apache (usually 1.3.25), PHP, OpenSSL, MySQL, etc... Where the rubber meets the road, they are incredibly incompetent. And yet, they are signing up people like it's going out of style. Just goes to show you; even though he never said it, P. T. Barnum was right.
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Hey, it's only democracy in action

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Wednesday, September 27. 2006 in Programming

The Primary Election held in Maryland 2 weeks ago was, to be charitable, a fiasco. Election judges that simply didn't bother to show up, equipment that was either not set up or was still locked up, and, worse of all, e-poll registration machines that crashed at the drop of a hat. Heck, it even happened to me, and I needed to wait for about 15 minutes while the machine rebooted and they had to convince the machine that I had not already registered. Well, it appears that the e-poll machines and the software behind them (both by Diebold) were never really tested. In fact, the primary was just a super nice Beta test for the system. They then tracked the problems down to basically a memory leak. After 40 to 50 people were registered, the machine would crash. Just this week Diebold stated that "Hey, we fixed it!" As proof they ran this super test: they registered more than 100 (*gasp*) people through the upgraded machines and no crash! Wow! 100! Do these people have any sense of scale? This is woefully short of the number of people that the machine will be expected to handle. What sort of testing is this? But what am I complaining about... after all, it only affects one of the cornerstones of a democracy. We can't be bothered with protecting our democracy when we're busy doing it elsewhere.
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Conrad Poohs

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Monday, September 25. 2006 in Junk Drawer

Anyone else see the Sept 25th issue of Time Magazine. On the cover is a "picture" of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Holey moley if it doesn't look like something from Monty Python's Terry Gilliam. I half expected him to open his mouth and his teeth to start dancing around.
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Stay true to a language?

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Friday, September 22. 2006 in Programming

One thing which I find somewhat troubling, switching from language to language, is that one tends to use idioms and techniques in one language, that are really better suited for another. This is more often problematic when porting and application between languages, but can really happen at any time. It's ever more an issue when the languages share a lot of similarities. For example, consider this Perl code snippet:
($id,$name)=($1,$2) if $line =~ /|name="(\w+)" (.*?)|/;
Now with some very minor changes, this is also valid Ruby:
nid,name = $1,$2 if line =~ /|name="(\w+)" (.*?)|/
But even so, it is a very Perlish-way of writing Ruby. Instead, you could do something like:
if (m = /|name="(\w+)" (.*?)|/.match(line))      nid = m[1]      name = m[2] end
Which is certainly uses more Ruby-like concepts, but is more verbose and not that nice anyway (yes, you could make it less verbose, but stay with me here). I like the Perlish-way better. It's certainly cleaner. So do you write clean, concise code, even if it's not "true" to a language, or do you stay close to the ideals of a particular language, even if it means the code isn't as clean or clear as you'd like...? Me, I'm lazy, so I'll do whatever is easier without being so terse as to be painful. If a language gives me shortcuts, I'll use them, even if it means some language snobs may look down their noses. As far as the above, heck, I'm going to start calling that idiom a "Ruby-ish way" of doing it. Certainly if one started with Ruby and then learned Perl, that's what they would think.
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Generation e-gap

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Thursday, September 21. 2006 in Junk Drawer

Last week my folks switched from satellite TV to cable. The reason had nothing really to do with which service was better, or which had a better selection of shows; it was just based on which one was cheaper. Comcast was offering a 6-month deal, and they went for it. Anyway, the cable tech comes in and proceeds to rip out anything and everything that even *touched* the satellite box. After he leaves, my folks find out that "Hey, the VCR doesn't work anymore... and neither does the DVD player!" They take a quick look around the back of the entertainment center and, other than the power cables, not a single cable is going into, or out of, either the VCR or DVD player. They call me, and the next day I stop over and connect it all back up for them. But what makes this so interesting is the fact that I had to do it; my folks are smart, and not *that* old. Heck, my dad was a marine engineer with Sparrows Point, Bethlehem Steel, and the reason why I'm as handy as I am is, for a large part, due to the fact that I watched and helped my old man fix cars, do plumbing, and tinker with appliances... Certainly plugging in a few cables here and there shouldn't be that hard. But it was. I think the reason is that we have made a pretty drastic technology change over the last few decades. High-tech for my folks were efficient mechanical devices. Things you could look at, see them work, and see *how* they work. But when electronics started taking over, that all went away. I recall when we got our first TV set and looking in the back and seeing nothing but hot, glowing tubes. Not a gear or pulley to be seen. If the TV went on the fritz, you couldn't "fix it." If you were lucky and adventurous you took out a bunch of tubes from the back (make sure they had cooled down though!) and took 'em over to the hardware store, where they had this big machine that you could plug in a tube at a time and see if it was good or not. If God was happy, you would find the burned out tube, buy a replacement and plug 'em all back in, and you were back in business. But more often than not, you had to call for that king of all men: THE TV REPAIR MAN! No wonder the older generation has problems with all this "advanced" stuff now. The transition was very fast, and appeared very magical. My son asked me if I thought that, in 30 years or so, my generation would have the same problems with that future technology that the older generation of today has. I don't think so; sure it will be more advanced than what we have now, but we'll understand it, at least the core principles of it. It will be an evolutionary change, not a revolutionary one, and the former is much easier to handle. Oh, and even though they have digital cable, my folks think the picture with satellite TV was loads better.
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