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Monday, July 14, 2008

Welcome to the real world

Today was my first day working a "real job" at Ionx, and I have to say it was everything a first day should be. Starting also today was a senior software engineer, Rachael (I don't know spelling, so forgive me if this is wrong) who did her M.S. at RPI, spent time teaching at a community college, was a consultant, and worked someplace on embedded sensor systems (not necessarily in that order). Rachael's job is to do some work in the area of low-power doodads, and porting APIs from one low-power doodad to another, or whatever. I, on the other hand, am doing some integration and testing work for satellite jibba-jabbas.

I know, of course, a little bit more then I'm letting on here. I haven't signed any NDA yet, but I heard somebody mention that I need to and I don't want to poison the well on my very first day. If, after signing the NDA I find myself able to share a few things, I might very well do that.

I got set up on the company email system early in the day, but by the end of the day the configuration tool was still telling me that my version of Outlook is unsupported. I started the day with Microsoft Office 2007 Home and Student installed on my work computer (nobody quite knew how or when that version got installed), and downgraded quickly to Office XP Professional. The email didn't work in either version, which makes me wonder what versions, exactly, this stupid configuration tool is possibly targetting. To top it off, some of the data files I am playing with are Excel-based, and the 2007 version was helpfully opening some of the older files in "Read-Only Compatability Mode". When my job involves modifying Excel-based configuration files (Don't even get me started on the poor choice of medium), "Read-Only" isn't such a great thing.

Another tool that is in use at the office is Microsoft Groove; a program that appears, on the face of it, to be another clone of AOL's mighty instant messenger. I'm sure it has more features and functionality, but I didn't realize until 4:30ish that the 2007-version of Groove installed on my computer (again, inexplicably) was newer then the versions used on other computers, and was helpfully set to ignore invitations and communications that come from older versions of the software. Maybe I've been living in the opensource world a little bit too much, but when productivity software is set, by default, to be incompatible with other people's software versions, it doesn't seem to do much to improve productivity. In fact, I would go so far as to say that these kinds of "features" are little more then detractions from the power, capability, and value of the software. I would expect expensive and professionally-developed software to be more interoperable, more flexible, more helpful, and more useful then the free alternatives. In my first day on the job, this has proven quickly not to be the case.

My work computer came pre-installed with Windows Vista (I guess they got a great bulk deal on Microsoft products), which makes today the first day I have been a Windows Vista user. I have to say that it wasn't the disgusting travesty of a software experience that some people have promised. There were a few hangups here and there, but overall it was a decent computing experience. By the second hour I was quickly glazing over all the obnoxious UAC messages. This is probably bad for computer security in the long term (auotmatically clicking "Ok" to every message that pops up sort of defeats the whole purpose), but I didn't find it to be a huge drain on my productivity. There are a few specific problems I did have:
  1. How do you change a file's extension? I spent about 15 minutes trying to change a mis-named file to have the .xls extension (so I could try to open it directly in the wrong version of Excel) before giving up in disgust. I tried everything that I could remember to try from my days on XP, and nothing yielded fruit. I went in to the console and tried to rename the file: Access Denied. The solution that I came up with is to email the file to my other computer (a Linux machine), rename the file there, and email it back. I'm sure there has to be an easier way, but I couldn't find it.
  2. Uninstalling programs is obnoxious. I click to uninstal a program and am greeted with a dialog box "Are you sure you want to uninstall this?" I click yes, only to be presented with a UAC dialog box informing me that somebody (maybe me) is trying to unstall the program in question. Is this okay? Yes. Finally, when the uninstall dialog pops up, it asks me a third time "Are you sure you want to proceed?" I'll tell you the same thing I told the other two fellas: yes. For the first time, uninstalling AOL or RealPlayer is just slightly more annoying then keeping them.
Overall, the first day was good. I have high hopes for this job, and think it could turn out to be pretty cool.

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