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Monday, March 30, 2009

Big Demo

It's been quiet a busy week, and I've been slacking on my blogging because of it.

Work has been eating up a lot of my time, culminating in an important demonstration today for one of the company VPs. Everybody has been working overtime in the past week trying to get things in place so everything. Far from feeling abused and downtrodden, I'm actually energized by the whole experience. We needed to pull together as a team to meet a tough deadline, and in the end we produced some really spectacular results.

Dana's been a little sick lately, with reoccurring mono and an ear infection. I'm starting to come down with a little touch of something myself. We're heading to the doctor tomorrow, and have been taking loads of vitamins, so I hope it all goes away soon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

10 mysteries about Lost

I'm super-pumped about the new episode tomorrow night. With my excitement comes the requisite speculation, hours reading LostPedia, and all sorts of random conjecturing. I've come up with a list of 10 mysteries that need to get answered (and answered well) before the series ends, or I am going to be righteously pissed. Notice that I am not saying that all of these mysteries need to have a "good" explanation, some of them (like the mystery of the sickness) I fully expect to be explained away as having just been a hoax.

  1. What the hell is special about Walt? And, an ancillary mystery: If he's so special, why has his character played such a minor (non-existent) role in the past few seasons?
  2. What's the nature of the sickness, the vaccine, and the quarantine? Was any of it real or just a hoax? Relatedly, why do women seem to have such trouble giving birth on the island? Why does Danielle think that the sickeness is related to the monster (and, what the hell is the monster?)
  3. What is the nature of the feud between Ben and Mr. Widmore? What are the "rules" between the two of them? Which one of them is the "good guy", and which is the "bad guy"?
  4. Who are Jacob and Richard, what are their backgrounds, and what are their purposes? What is Christian Shephard's relationship with Jacob, and why is he used as a spokesperson for Jacob from among all the other dead people on the island? For that matter, so long as I am musing (and since we all saw Locke come back to life after his second plane crash), is Christian really dead?
  5. The island seems to have it's own consciousness and it's own agenda. What is the nature of this? Is Jacob the persona that's acting on behalf of the island, or is it something else all together. To what end is the island acting?
  6. What was the incident at the Swan station? For that matter, what is the purpose of the Swan station, and what is Radzinsky's relationship to it? How did turning the failsafe key make all the problems go away (and why didn't somebody turn the key sooner?)?
  7. What makes Locke so special? We saw in the flashback that he failed the little test that Richard administered, so why is he still chosen to be the leader of the others? What does being their leader entail, and why the weird selection process?
  8. What really lead up to the Purge? Why did some of the Dharma Initiative people (Ben, Ethan) join the others and choose to kill all their Dharma friends and relatives? If the Dharma Initiative was really trying to save the world, why would the Hostiles want to kill them all (and who will save the world now that they are gone, assuming the world really does need a'savin'?)
  9. Why did the Oceanic 6 all need to return to the island? Locke putting the frozen wheel back on it's axis seemed to restore the flow of time and "saved" the people still on the island, so why did he have to do anything after that?
  10. What is special about Desmond, and why don't the "rules" apply to him? What are he and Penny up to now? On a related matter, was Penny born on the island? How did she know so much about it (including how to look for magnetic disturbances to find it)?
There are a number of smaller mysteries that have been raised this season and that I expect will be answered shortly, so I haven't included them here. There are a few other issues that I wonder about, but that I don't think are as important, or that will probably be explained as part of a larger explanation of one of the things above (What is the statue, what is the temple, etc).

Sunday, March 22, 2009

House Hunting

We've started the process of house hunting. We're not in any kind of a hurry to get into a house, but if we could find a nice place sooner rather then later that would be a good thing.

Going to visit houses is such an interesting experience. Some of the houses are very nice and very well staged. Some are ... not so much. A handful of the ones we've gone to visit are down-right embarrassing. This market isn't great for sellers already, but some of these sellers are really not doing themselves any favors with the way they try to sell their houses.

We went to visit one house today that was particularly bad. From the outside it was a quaint little rancher. Needed a little landscaping work and the vinyl needed some washing, but my initial impression was a positive one. We walk into the house and immediately notice several things:
  1. The whole house smelled, very strongly, of curry. While not entirely unpleasant, it's not a smell that would go away quickly.
  2. An older woman, who I assumed must be the current owner, was sitting in the living room the entire time. I'm not sure how other people feel about it, but I get a little bit uncomfortable really examining the house while the current owner is staring at me. I definitely found myself rushing more then I would otherwise to avoid the awkwardness of that lady's presence.
  3. There was unflushed urine in the toilet. Nothing says "this house needs a thorough cleaning" like an unflushed toilet.
We visited another house that was decent enough, except it smelled strongly of smoke and was filled with all the accouterments of disabled elderly residents.

Another house we visited in the same neighborhood was well out of our price range, but it was much cleaner and better staged. Plus, the cluttered little office-basement was filled with all sorts of UNIVAC-related memorabilia, which I found to be particularly thrilling. It's a disappointing day in realty when prospective home buyers are more interested in the owner's possessions then they are in the house itself.

We visited a house last week that was particularly embarrassing. The current owner, who was a home-builder by trade apparently, followed us around the properly through the entire visit. The house was in lousy condition, and for everything we saw to be particularly poor there was an explanation ready: "I'm going to fix that", he would say. Or, "I'm going to finish that". Judging by the work that had been completed in the house already, we didn't even want to see what the finished product would be.

House prices are probably not going down much lower then they are already. I have some hopes that mortgage rates haven't hit bottom yet, but I doubt they will drop too much lower too soon. We're not in a huge hurry but then again there's no real reason for us to wait too long either. What we need now is to just find good quality houses in our desired area in our desired price range.

Monday, March 16, 2009

March Miscellanea

Picked up a parking ticket yesterday in the city. 36$ is enough of a reason for me to just stay the hell away from there as much as I can. It's not like my money is paying for the city to get any cleaner, or is helping to decrease the murder rate or anything.

The reason for going into the city was to have a Wikimeetup. I wrote about that on my Wikibooks blog, so no sense to rehash it here. We've tentatively scheduled a "Wikis take Philadelphia" photo scavenger hunt event for 16 May, I'm sure I'll post more details as they surface.

I already know one thing that I want for christmas.

Tomorrow is the big 1.0 release for Parrot. I haven't done any developing for it in about a month, focusing instead on my M-on-Parrot compiler Matrixy. It's coming along quite well so far, and hopefully it won't be too long till we're on a regular release schedule ourselves.

Tonight I made a great salad with sauted garam-masala chicken and blood orange vinagrette. It's still amazing to me how we can eat like royalty for such little money and effort. Of course, we're probably going to follow it up tomorrow with some hamburger helper. Hamburger helper can be good sometimes too.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Whiteknight's First Law of the Internet

Whiteknight's First Law of the Internet: As the effectiveness of email spam filters increases, the number of strange, obscure sexual euphemisms will increase. I didn't even know my "male bayonet" needed "sharpening". Sounds more painful then helpful, maybe the spam artists think I'm into that kind of shit.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Programming Language Zealotry

A whole round of religious zealotry erupted today over which programming languages we're going to be using at work. We're a pretty small shop and for a while we could get away with people each using the tools they were best capable with to create various tools. For a while, I was even writing a few basic database tools in Perl (oh, those were the days!). However, management has since decided that we need to standardize our works on a single programming language for all tools (embedded systems excluded). The choice that we are going with is C#.

Before anybody starts making other suggestions or declaring that I "r teh ghey!!!1" for using C#, here's the reasoning behind it: We're a Microsoft house. The boss loves Microsoft tools. All our web development is done with Microsoft Visual Web Designer, our database is Microsoft SQL Server, everybody uses Windows, etc. Doing everything the Microsoft way might not be optimal to all people, but at least it's a consistent standard. If we're sticking with MS languages, we have 3 real choices for programming language: VB, C++ and C#.

VB is out of the question. A few people at work know it and can make reasonable things with it but, simply put, it's not the quality of language that we need for our applications.

The choice really comes down to using C++ or C#, and this is where the argument has erupted. Some of our engineers have started doing development in C++. Others, myself included, have been doing work in C#. When we're talking about Microsoft Visual Studio, both these languages compile down to CLR bytecode and have access to the entire .NET framework. Simply put, anything that you can do in one of these languages can be done in the other using the MS tools, no exceptions. The only difference between these two is syntax, but that hasn't stopped people from getting riled up about the decision! You'd think people's livelihoods were at stake the way they argue back and forth about these two languages.

I prefer C# over C++ for a number of reasons. I've never really been a fan of C++ anyway: It has a lot of muscle and a lot of great ideas but I always felt the syntax was a little messy. This coming from a Perl programmer! Since both languages use .NET, there's no performance difference between the two. I heard the argument today that C++ code could be compiled into native code on a different compiler for a performance win, but that's not even true when you consider that .NET has a decent JIT compiler built in to it. Plus, when you start talking about compiling down into native code you lose all those things in .NET that we currently rely on: Managed memory, safe pointers, and all the .NET libraries. Plus you'd have to support a second toolchain to write, compile, test, and debug all your compile-to-native C++ code.

I've seen all this crap before. I've seen the Perl people and the Python people and the PHP people go at it. I've seen Perl people versus Ruby people. I've seen C/C++ people against Java people. I've seen the Haskell people against everybody. Programming lanuage zealotry isn't a new thing, but it also isn't getting to be any more of a rational way to spend your time. Here are the facts about the situation at the office:

  1. Doing things in one language makes it easier to share people and resources between projects. All the coders have all the fundamental skills necessary to work on all projects written in that language. Plus, staffing is easier because you only need to find programmers who know that language, not programmers who know many specific ones.
  2. Using one language requires one tool chain. And when you're buying licenses to use professional IDEs, the amount of money is non-negligible.
  3. The performance gains of using natively compiled code over virtual-machined bytecode is really negligible. We're talking a 2x-3x speedup for most applications, which isn't going to do more then stall our need to update our hardware if we're so lucky to have a huge amount of traffic volume.
  4. And even if we can save money by pushing back a new hardware upgrade for a month or two, we are still losing because of the increased cost of development and maintenance.
  5. I'm the only person in the office who's doing full-time application development, and I'm doing it in C# (and doing it very well, might I add!). All our web developers are working in C#. All our embedded systems people are using C. Adding in a third language is just asking for trouble.
Hopefully we can put the argument behind us and standardize on C# going forward. However, if my experience with programming language zealotry in the past is any indication, I'm sure things won't go so smoothly.