#Ramblings

Design Tweaks and New Content!

So I’ve tweaked the design of the blog a bit. There’s now a header, and all the links that were in the sidebar are now in the header. There were simply too many things being added and it was getting unwieldy having them all in the sidebar. It’s now fully responsive on all levels of mobile, tablet included! I’ve added a new page with a bunch of content I’ve been collecting on the subject of Interstellar Travel.

Cutting The Cord

“When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. “But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.” In 1961, FCC chairman Newton Minnow gave a famous speech bemoaning the state of television. While at the time he was criticizing “game shows” and “formula comedies about totally unbelievable families,” among other things, I would argue that his statements are even more true now than they were in 1961. I remember when cable TV first came to my family. We were living in Florida in the 1980s, and suddenly we had more choice than just four channels. Although it couldn’t have been more than 30 or so channels, there was now choice and and endless stream of things we could watch. Throughout the 90s, we always had cable through all our moves. When I left for college, we had cable in the dorms. When I moved out, I got cable. When I moved to Huntsville, I got cable. When I bought my first house, I got cable. When we moved in 2012, we moved our cable too. The vast majority of my life, I have had cable. And today, for the first time since I was a kid in 1980s Florida, I walked away from cable TV. We cut the cord, and went back to just a standard antenna and an Internet connection. This has been something that has been a long time coming. It’s something we first seriously started considering in 2012 when our daughter was born and we stopped watching a lot of TV. But even then, my dissatisfaction with the ever increasing price and decreasing quality of cable TV had been building since the mid 2000s. So this is why I decided to cut the cord and cancel my cable subscription.

Why you shouldn't learn to code

The Internet is abuzz with the news that President Obama is calling on every American to learn how to code. And while I think it’s a good idea for everyone to have a basic grasp of computer technology and a basic understanding of the role computer programmers play in the world, I have some very specific thoughts about whether or not everyone knowing how to code is really a good idea.

Nine lessons I've learned since becoming a Dad

On November 27th, 2012, I became a Dad. My little girl, Scarlett, was born at a little past 8pm that night. Being that she’s coming up on nine months here in just a few days, I thought I would look back on what lessons I’ve learned in the nine months since she’s been on planet Earth. This post could alternatively be titled: What I wish people had really told me before becoming a Dad.

NBC and the Olympics

It’s always amusing to watch what happens when old media slams head first into a new world. NBC, the broadcaster holding the rights to Olympic coverage in the United States, seems not to have realized how much the world has changed since Beijing in 2008. Social media is huge now - much more so than it was then - and people routinely have access to a much larger amount of information than we did back then. Whereas most countries saw it, or could at least access it, in realtime, NBC decided to show the Opening Ceremonies on a 3 hour tape delay so they could cash in on the larger primetime audience. I actually had to turn Twitter off yesterday afternoon because I was already seeing tweets about the Opening Ceremonies from people in other countries and at least one person I know who was actually at the thing. Now, to their credit, NBC is actually streaming a lot of coverage live on their website and showing highlights for the American audience in primetime. So why not do the same with the Opening Ceremonies? Why not stream it live on the website for those of us who might have wanted to watch it in realtime, then show the tape delayed version later for the larger audience? Well, someone asked NBC that and this was, no lying, their response:  “They are complex entertainment spectacles that do not translate well online because they require context, which our award-winning production team will provide for the large primetime audiences that gather together to watch them,” the network told the Wall Street Journal. Right, because we’re all bloody mouth-breathing morons who can’t figure out what’s going on without their precious context. Is this the same “award winning production team” that didn’t know who Tim Berners-Lee was or realize the significance of the computer he was sitting at? Tim Berners-Lee is why I have a job. Tim Berners-Lee is why I’m able to type this right now, and why an economy that generates billions of dollars every year exists. The British thought it important enough to salute him in the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. They didn’t even know who he was? Is this the same “award winning production team” that made cracks about Kim Jong-Il while the North Korean team was walking in the parade of nations? Yes, he was a brutal dictator and his “11 holes in one” story is laughable to say the least. But first of all he’s dead now, and second the Olympic Opening ceremonies are not an appropriate time or place to be cracking jokes about other countries’  deceased leaders. I wonder if the BBC called Mitt Romney (who was sitting in the audience) “the American Borat” or made cracks about the French president? Is this the same “award winning production team” that never mentioned that Kenneth Branaugh was playing the role of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, perhaps the greatest engineer that ever lived? Here’s a clue, NBC: anyone with two brain cells could figure out what was going on, and your “award winning production team” was annoying. Not to mention the advertising EVERY FIVE MINUTES during the parade of nations got really, really old.

Don't be a PHP / JavaScript / Java / Ruby developer - Be a Software Developer

Among the many sites I follow for programming discussion is /r/PHP on reddit. While most of the discussion is more user-based than I would like - things like frameworks, use of PHP-based software packages and the like are usually discussed more often than actual programming - there are occasionally a few gems worth chiming in on. But it never fails that, at least once a week, I see the headline “How do I become a PHP developer,” or “What do I need to know to be a PHP developer?” My answer is simple: don’t. Just stop. Don’t be a “PHP Developer.” Don’t be a “Java Developer.” Don’t be a “Ruby Developer.” In fact, don’t be any kind of developer that depends solely on a single language. Languages come and go. Ten years ago I would bet the majority of web programming was still done in Perl. Fifteen years ago the web was still widely misunderstood and Java was promising that we would only have to write code once to run on any computer. Twenty years ago you found C, FORTRAN and COBOL on mainframes. Every few years a new language comes around and everybody moves to it. Sometimes they stay around, and sometimes they don’t. C has been around for many years and is just as valid now as it was twenty years ago. Even if you’re programming in C++ or Objective-C (both of whose roots go back further than you probably realize), you still need to understand the fundamentals of the C language. Will we still be using Clojure in 20 years? How about Coffeescript? Who knows. Maybe. Maybe not. My point is, don’t chain yourself to a single language. If you do that, you will be forever behind the curve. A good developer should be able to work independent of his/her tools, should be always willing to learn new and exciting things, and should be able to apply lessons learned in past development independent of the language they are working in. A good developer should be able to come up to speed quickly on a new language. And while it is true that every developer will probably always have a preferred language and a language they’re best at, we as developers should always place the craft of software development ahead of specialization in a single language, and we should be willing to use the best tool for the job independent of our linguistic preferences. While PHP is my primary language (and what pays the bills), I am not a PHP developer. I am a software developer who works in PHP among many other languages. It should always be the goal of every developer to remain at the forefront of our craft. That means not chaining ourselves to PHP, Ruby, JavaScript, Java, Scala, Python, or any other language.

Disabling Text Zoom in Netbeans

A couple of days ago, I upgraded to the most recent version of Netbeans - 7.1.1. I had been running a 7.1-DEV nightly from back in 2011 and just hadn’t bothered to upgrade yet. The first thing I noticed is that this version of Netbeans introduced a “feature” that allows you to zoom in or out of text. This is accomplished by, on the Mac, holding down the Command key and scrolling on the trackpad. The problem with this is that it is very easy to trigger accidentally - to the point where I was doing it multiple times a day. Even more irritating, there was no indication as to what the zoom level was or easy way to revert to normal view. If you trigger it accidentally, you just have to kinda zoom back out until you find a setting somewhat similar to the rest of your tabs. Fortunately, someone on the nbusers mailing list mentioned how to solve this problem, so I want to post it here in case anyone else gets as lost and frustrated as I was. Open the preferences page. On the Mac, you would go Netbeans Menu -> Preferences. Go to Keymaps. Search for “zoom”. Remove the bindings for “Zoom Text In” and “Zoom Text Out.” Double click on the Shortcut and hit backspace twice.