Ramblings Posts

Ramblings

RIP Michael Jackson

I grew up in the 80s, against the backdrop of Michael Jackson’s music. I remember my parents listening to Thriller, Billie Jean, and Beat It. In many ways, Michael Jackson defined music in the 80s.
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Microsoft

Why Bing Sucks

So I see Microsoft’s is attempting to rebrand the old Windows Live Search as bing.com. The commercials on TV are advertising it as a different type of search engine - a “decision engine.” Yeah, when I heard that, I, too, wondered exactly what a “decision engine” was. But the commercials are clever and somewhat funny to anyone who has ever spent time searching through hundreds of results for a single missing piece. But where’s the meat? My coworker Brian, a few weeks ago, provided a great example of how this claim of being a “decision engine” is kind of a joke. And it can be summed up in a single sentence: “How big is the sun?” Maybe now you’re confused about what I’m talking about. What does the sun have to do with search engines? Well, try plugging that sentence, word for word, into your favorite search engine. Our of curiosity, I ran this search on a number of top and up-and-coming engines to see what they returned. Google is obviously the 900-pound gorilla in this space, so they’re a logical place to start. When you ask Google “How big is the Sun?” Big Brother Google replies, right at the top “Mass: 1.9891 ×1030 KG 332 946 Earths,” with most of the results relevant to the question at hand. In fact, all but two of the results were directly relevant to the question asked. Yahoo didn’t return a nice little piece of math like Google did, but all but one of the search results is _directly _relevant to the question asked. The only result that wasn’t relevant was that VH1 has some videos by a band called Big Sun, but that was torwards the bottom of the SERP. The newcomer Wolfram Alpha, which bills itself as a “knowledge engine” gives you a simple result, 432,200 miles, along with a handy formula for conversion. Not a traditional search engine, but closer to a “decision engine” than Bing … And finally, the “decision engine” Bing. So how does the vaunted “decision engine” handle knowing how big the sun is?It doesn’t. The first result is a garden furniture store in Austin, Texas. The second result is an Equine Product Store in Florida. The third was pictures of the sun from the Boston Globe - okay, that one was close. The next results are a realty company in Florida and an athletic conference. Only then, six results down, do we get into the meat of the question. Look, it’s easy to hate on Microsoft. It’s no challenge anymore. I, personally, am not exactly a fan of Microsoft, but I’m hardly an enemy either. At worst, I’m indifferent. And, as an aside, I really feel sorry for the poor guy they send to the OSCON keynote every year who literally gets hammered for no good reason by what can only be described as nerd rage from the questioners. And yet every year, they come back with more money and more people. I almost posted an entry about it last year. It was really kind of sad to watch. Anyways, the point is, there are some things that Microsoft _has _done well. Office? Great productivity suite. Windows 7? From what I’ve seen, it looks pretty good. The XBOX and gaming units at Microsoft do gangbusters. But it just seems like they’re irrationally pursuing this search thing, out of spite, at this point to the detriment of the rest of their business. Considering that bing doesn’t appear, at the surface, to be any different from Windows Live Search in terms of its usefulness (that is to say, not), Microsoft is throwing tons of money in the form of development and marketing to something that just isn’t very good when they could be focusing on the core parts of their business. But, then again, I’m not Ballmer.
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Ramblings

Iran Elections ... or ... will the revolution be Twittered?

I’m sure many of you have been following what’s been happening in Iran, right? Or maybe you haven’t because, like often happens in international events, the American media has dropped the ball in the most epic of fashions. And I’m talking Ed Scissum (God bless him) fumbling deep in Bama territory to give Auburn the win in the ‘97 Iron Bowl dropping the ball. It’s been that bad.
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PHP

Drama? In My Developer Community?

… it’s more likely than you think! And here I thought drama was isolated to fandom mailing lists and MySpace! I was not at php tek this year. I keep meaning to make it to that conference, but, let’s face it, the week before Memorial Day is a really lousy time to have a conference. I usually like to take that Friday off to make it a long weekend. I may finally make tek next year, though. But, even if I went, I don’t usually get invited to the cool parties. It’s really for the best, though. I usually end up drunk in a bar listening to good music rather than trying to discuss functions and benchmarking after having imbibed a large quantity of booze or making an ass out of myself by diving into bushes. Ask me about that some other time. Apparently, at php tek, at one of these “cool-people-only” parties (okay, it was apparently an after-hours panel), a bunch of people cooked up this idea of having a uniform PHP coding standards amomg their own projects with the goal of having them adopted as some type of official standard. Now, in and of itself, this sounds like a good idea. Most other languages have at least a suggested best practices (Sun’s coding conventions for Java or Apple’s for Cocoa come to mind) even if you don’t use them. Every job I’ve worked in has had some standard, even if I had to write it. Most of them were derived from the PEAR standard, including what we do at dealnews. But hey, variety is the spice of life, right? What’s the harm in another choice? Nothing. So we’ve established that the idea of havng a[nother] PHP coding standard is not necessarily bad. The problem, as with all things, is what happened next… Somehow, they managed to get a closed mailing list on php.net. Think about that for just a second. This group, composed of some guys from some projects with no official relation to PHP other than being users of it, somehow ended up with [email protected] WTF? I would love to know how that happened.More to the point, this will cause conceptual confusion among new, and even existing users. When I first heard about this, my first thought was, hey, this is on PHP.net, right? It must have some kind of official recognition, right? Well, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t. It’s just … some guys. Put yourself in the shoes of a new PHP user, visiting PHP.net for all your manual needs. Oh, what’s this? Standards? Well, I better use those! It was a suspiciously closed action for such an open-source project. The original mailing list was a closed list until Rasmus himself opened it, and the members don’t exactly seem keen on welcoming any input from anyone outside their little clique.Some of the things being said by the “PHP Standards Group,” quite frankly, make me very suspicious of their motives. Things like “All of us are too busy, both with real jobs and our various projects, to fight the battles that come of trying to make this a completely open process where anyone with an email address can contribute” reek of self-aggrandizing nonsense. I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit. Plain and simple. And the fact that no one else in the group has stood up to say otherwise speaks volumes. There’s a phenomenon that I have seen occur on mailing list called implicit acceptance. If you don’t stand up and say otherwise, you are implicitly agreeing with the stated course of action. So, if anyone in this group disagrees with the stated opinions, guys, now’s the time to man up. If you’re going to have a mailing list on php.net, and call yourselves the “PHP Standards Group,” you need to welcome input from the PHP community - all of us - not just your group. Otherwise, you don’t need to be on php.net, and you don’t need to be calling yourselves the “PHP Standards Group.” It is overly focused on OO. I know a lot of people think that objects are the answer to everything. I have strong disagreements, but I will save those for a later post. But (kind of tying into my previous point) there are a _lot _of people using PHP in a strictly functional way or in a way that sanely mixes functional and object oriented programming. Any standard - if it’s going to be called a PHP Standard - needs to take all widespread uses of PHP into accout, and not just OO. Now, as I said before, I’m not a “cool person.” I don’t have CVS commit access. I don’t have thousands of followers on Twitter or a cool blog (no offense to my five regular readers - you guys rule and I’ll buy you a round sometime!). I’m just some guy who’s been writing PHP for the last nine years or so. So, while it appears this “group” probably won’t care what I have to say anwyays, here is my humble suggestion for a path forward.** **Figure out the semantics. **Notice that all this stuff we’re talking is appearances and semantics. Nobody is discussing the actual proposals (as they have been made) so far, just the actions of the people involved. What exactly is this project trying to accomplish? Are you trying to write a standard for your project(s), or are you trying to produce something useful for the community? If this is just for your project(s), move it off php.net, call it something else (“The Shared Standards Working Group” or some other such nonsense), and do whatever the hell you want. But if you’re going to call yourselves the “PHP Standards Group,” and have your project on PHP.net, you have to welcome input from the community, even if you ultimately discard it. The thing I don’t understand is why this group appears so afraid of public input? Okay, the signal-to-noise ratio can get pretty high sometimes, sure. But for every ten, hundred or five hundred bogus suggestions you get, you may get one really good one. One you might not have thought of yourself or no one in your tight little circle might have seen. And this is the true power of any open-source project. I would urge the “PHP Standards Group” to overcome their fear of public input and let us - the users - have an input in the community process. As always, this represents my own views only, and not those of my employer, the beer I’m drinking (Fat Tire Amber) or my cat.
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Ramblings

Digital Scrolls

I’ve written before about my curiosity as to whether or not the period we are living in will be well documented. So much of our lives are digital these days, and so much information has already been lost. I can look back at my own digital history and see how much information of mine has disappeared. I have this big box of floppies. There are like 200 floppies in this box. Yesterday, on a whim, I picked up a USB to 3.5” drive and started going through some of the old disks in this box. I want to get rid of them because I haven’t looked at them probably in 8 or 9 years. A lot of stuff had already degraded to the point of not being readable - these disks have moved with me many times and have not lived in an environment conducive to data preservation. Many simply refused to mount properly and a lot of what did was often riddled with data errors.
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Ramblings

Angry Rob is Angry

… or, beware of deals that look too good to be true. In my professional career, I have now found only two things that have a 100% failure rate. The first was a batch of Digium TDM-400P FXO/FXS card. Every single one we deployed from that batch at my previous employer failed. I hear they don’t have those problems anymore - using a different fab shop now, I guess. But I still don’t like that card for that specific reason. The second 100% failure rate came just this evening. The culprit is this little POS: Dual Xeon 2.4GHz 2GB ECC 120GB 1U Rack Mount Server being sold by Geeks.com. Look, it’s a 1U for $375. I’m not expecting the universe out of these things. With that in mind, let me document the last two days of my life. I ordered two of these little guys about a week ago, and they arrived on Tuesday. I intended to turn one into a general purpose test and development box, and one was going to go to Atlanta to replace the 1U Celeron in my friends’ data center. So I get the machines home, unpack them and try to boot. The first one won’t POST. No beep, no video, just a bright orange surrender HD light. Research tells me that the motherboard is fried. The other one booted up fine. I figured I was just unlucky, so I RMA’d the first one today and was going to put the OS on this one. Well, the OS install went fine but when it came time to reboot … presto. The exact same thing as the first. No video, no beep, orange HD light. Of two machines ordered, both of them failed within 48 hours and both in the exact same way. So now I’m out at least $60 in RMA shipping charges - and I have no servers - just because this company apparently has no Q.A. So take my experience as an example of what not to do when ordering a server. A good deal can turn into a major headache incredibly fast. Me? I’m ordering Dells from now on.
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Ramblings

Virginia Tech

You know, I’m only a little over two years removed from college. I still remember what living in and around a college campus, in a college town, is like. Hell, I really miss it - I miss the hell out of Auburn. I miss the community feel; biking to campus, taking classes, hanging out with friends, going to bars and just the general feel of the area.
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Ramblings

Swept Away

It seems so fitting, and yet I didn’t even realize I had done it. And now that I realize it, I’m a bit sad. As of yesterday, I’ve been out of college for two years. It seems fitting then, that yesterday I finally cut the last remaining tie I had to Auburn and gave up the 334 cellphone number I’ve had for six years in favor of a more functional 256 Huntsville number. Yeah, it’s just a number, but it’s still a little sad to me. Hell, I don’t even pay bills to the University anymore, most of my friends have gone on or graduated, and I’m going on two years in Huntsville, but that number was the last reminder of college and of not having responsibilities. On the plus side, I did get a slick new Motorola Razr, though I feel like I’m Will Smith in Men In Black and I’m gonna break this thing. I hope it’s better than the LG it is replacing.
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Ramblings

James Kim

So, for those who have either been following the James Kim saga or have been forced to because it was every other item on digg, you likely know he has been found dead. We won’t know a final cause of death until an autopsy is performed, but I have no doubt that it will show he died of hypothermia and exposure to freezing temperatures. This is going to sound insensitive, but I’m going to say it because it needs to be said: if there is a poster child for having done every possible thing wrong in trying to survive in an emergency situation, James Kim is it. I’m sorry that he died, but he went into a situation unprepared and once there made the absolute wrong choices. I just hope everyone else learns from his mistakes.
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Auburn

Going Back to Auburn

I went down to Auburn for the game yesterday. Had a great time; Auburn let the game be more interesting then they should, but took care of things in the second half to cruise to a 38-7 win over Buffalo. Except for a brief visit in 2005, this is the first time I’d spent any significant amount of time in Auburn since I moved to Huntsville. It’s only been two years. It might as well have been twenty, because I hardly recognized the place. Roads are closed, new buildings are being constructed, and lots of activity is taking place. There are two giant buildings downtown that weren’t even in sight when I was there.Everything has changed so much. It felt strange, walking around Auburn. I saw four wonderful years of my life staring back at me as thought I had walked away from something unfinished. Almost like there’s some studying that needed to be done or a party to go to. As I walked around campus, in spite of how much had changed, I noticed how much had stayed the same. I saw a black bike parked outside Cary Hall and a freshman cursing because he has an 8PM biology lab and is missing Babylon 5. As I walked down towards the Extension - my dorm complex for my first two years at Auburn - I walked past a very familiar parking space and make note of all the changes. On one side of the complex is a brand new building that wasn’t even there when I lived there - it was a parking lot. The Village Kitchen - the place I ate so many meals - is now gone as well. But I only saw that for a second.Then I looked closer and saw a sophomore struggling to carry his laundry and books to the laundry room so that he could study while he waited for the dryers that never seemed to work quite right. As I stood in the stadium, I could almost feel the junior within me; with two of his fraternity brothers within him, drinking smuggled-in alcohol and talking at length about what Coach Tuberville was doing wrong at the half. During my time at Auburn, I was a frequent poster on the computer message boards of the school newspaper, the Auburn Plainsman.I remember one particular thread when discussing as we often did the endless administrative corruption that we were so fond of. We all saw the ghosts in the cupboard and then congratulated ourselves on being smart enough to see them. The topic got onto the perceived lack of alumni involvement in anything other than athletics, and I remember saying then that “having a piece of paper entitles you to only care about football.” And as I walked around Auburn yesterday, I came to understand how completely wrong I was. It’s not that we as alumni don’t care about our alma mater. It’s not a lack of caring, but a different perception. We don’t see the problems that students see because we don’t see Auburn as the current students see it. We see Auburn as it was for us. We see Auburn through the wide eyes of a freshman trying to find a room in Haley Center with only five minutes until class. We see Auburn as hanging out with friends in Foy, or band parties at fraternity houses, or late night study sessions and trips to coffee shops. We know the bars as they were for us (The Blue Room, Finks (before it was whatever it is now and before it was Tigris), etc). Our memories have glossed over any problems we faced to leave only the perfect image of four wonderful years. We see Auburn as a football game with friends on a warm autumn eve under a sky of orange and blue. I still miss college, and I miss Auburn. But more, I miss the Auburn that was for me. Maybe that’s why it hurts when I go back and see how much things have changed. I have this image in my heart of Auburn as it was when I drove down in August of 2000. I guess it hurt when I went back and saw how much it has changed. Auburn is moving on without me. And it hurts that, no matter how much I want to, I can never go back. “The arrow of time points in one direction only.”
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