Tuesday, 31 December, 2002

A Depressing Year

I just spent an hour reviewing my diary entries for the past year, and thinking of how I would characterize this year.  In a word, difficult.  Or perhaps the year of the incomplete project.  I've had better years.  There have been some bright spots.  The addition of Charlie to our family in July ranks right up there in the highlights, as does my successful completion of the Waco Wild West Century.  Beyond that, not much positive stands out.  Nothing much negative stands out, either.  Mostly the year has just been a wash.  Looking back, I'd say it's the most depressing 12 months that I can remember.

So I'll put it behind me and work to make 2003 more memorable.  Here's to a great new year.

Friday, 20 December, 2002

Feeling Out of It

I started coming down with something on Sunday, and by Tuesday evening I was totally out of it.  Coughing, sneezing, headache, and congestion.  Strangely enough, this time it didn't turn into a chest cold, which is usually what happens when I get my annual case of the creeping crawling crud.  It usually puts me down for a week or so.  Needless to say, I've not been much in the mood to write or do much of anything else.

Friday, 13 December, 2002

Holiday Party

This evening was the annual Catapult Systems Holiday party at the Renaissance Hotel in Austin.  Every year the invitation says that dress is semi-formal, but many of us take the opportunity to go formal.  This year I added a red bowtie and cummerbund set to my tuxedo.  Debra was dazzling, as always, in her formal gown.  How did I get so lucky?

This is the fourth Holiday party I've celebrated with Catapult Systems, and I realized today that three and a half years is the longest I've worked for any company in the computer industry.  It's not that I'm a job hopper, but rather the companies I'm working for seem to go out of business or get swallowed up by some bigger company that then decides to "downsize."  At any rate, I'm happy to be at Catapult, and doubly happy to be married to a caring and beautiful woman like Debra.

Tuesday, 10 December, 2002

Prey, by Michael Crichton

I've long been a fan of Michael Crichton's work, but most of his recent novels have left me cold.  His new book, Prey, reverses that trend in a big way.  The subject:  nanotechnology.  A company working on nanobot surveillance technology for the Army releases a swarm of the critters into the wild.  They evolve quickly, and soon come to see humans as prey.  It's a frightening tale, and told in much the same way that made Jurassic Park such a captivating story.  The central theme is one of my favorites:  the unintended consequences of new technologies.  It's a great read.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, 07 December, 2002

Jerry's Graduation

My brother Jerry graduated from the University of Texas today with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Public Relations, and Minors in Business Foundations (whatever that is) and Mechanical Engineering.  After the ceremony (an amazingly short one hour, start to finish), we all headed back to our place to celebrate, accompanied by the excellent food that Debra prepared and my PR Porter, which also was excellent.  My older brother arrived from Arkansas, my sister from Wisconsin, Uncle Ken and Aunt Amy from San Diego, cousin Marty from Denver, and a handful of Jerry's friends from the University.  Most people took off for 6th Street at about 10:00, leaving Debra, my sister, and me here to clean up and crash.  Parties are fun, but I'm glad we don't do them too often.

Friday, 06 December, 2002

Charlie De-stuffs a Pillow

Did you ever wonder how much stuffing goes into a standard pillow?  I got the answer today when Charlie decided to de-stuff his pillow.  Well, truth to be told, I found out how much stuffing is in half of a pillow.  The other half is still in the pillow.  I'm hoping that we're nearing the end of Charlie's "chew everything" puppy stage.  Fortunately, his destruction has mostly been limited to things like pillows and water hoses, but the disposables are almost gone.  I don't know what we'll do if he starts chewing on the furniture.

Anybody know how to get rid of the bright eyes effect from the flash?

Thursday, 05 December, 2002

Web Apps Suck

I've long held the opinion that Web apps suck.  Not all, mind you, but a goodly majority.  I know that seems like heresy, especially coming from a technologist.  How can Web applications suck?  Isn't the Web the great enabler?  The playing field leveler?  The magic bullet that's finally going to bring computing the the great unwashed masses?  Don't believe it.  It's silly to think that a web application, written to run inside a web browser and on multiple different operating system and hardware platforms, will have all of the features and functionality of an application that's written to take advantage of all that today's hardware and operating systems have to offer.  First of all, you're at the mercy of the lowest common denominator:  the browser and the abysmal application environment that it presents.  Secondly, except for the few million of us who have broadband (and even for some of us), the Internet connection on which thin client applications rely is slow and unreliable.  Finally, there's the whole security issue that nobody's quite figured out yet.  Face it, most web applications are slow, clunky, and insecure.  We've all known this from the beginning, but we've been screaming "thin client, thin client" hoping that somebody would come up with the answer.

The answer, I'm happy to say, is fat client applications that take advantage of the underlying hardware and operating systems, and access services on the Web.  The whole idea of thin client Web applications, when the client often has as much or more power than the server, is a joke.  We've wasted a huge amount of effort trying to write browser-centric applications because we thought it would let us write a single application that runs universally.  And we've had some small measure of success, provided you're happy with slow, clunky, and insecure applications.  The Java crowd has the same dream, and most of the same problems.

As I said, anybody who has been in this business for more than a year understands these things, and understood them back in 1995 when people first started talking about web applications.  So it was with some humor that I readthis article from Computerworld magazine.  "Sometimes we had to tell the client that what they wanted was unrealistic for the Web platform."  I'll just bet that "sometimes" turned out to be "often" or maybe even "most of the time."

Do you think some sanity is returning to the software world?  It can't happen too soon.

Tuesday, 03 December, 2002

A Puzzle

My sister sent me this puzzle today.

A jailer has a large number of prisoners to guard and has to seat them at a number of tables at mealtimes. The regulations state the following seating arrangements:

  1. Each table is to seat the same number of prisoners.
  2. The number at each table is to be an odd number.

The jailer finds that when he seats the prisoners:

3 per table, he has 2 prisoners left over;
5 per table, he has 4 prisoners left over;
7 per table, he has 6 prisoners left over;
9 per table, he has 8 prisoners left over;

but when he seats them 11 per table there are none left over.

How many prisoners are there?

I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to find 6 unknowns with a system of 5 equations before I realized that I was looking for a common multiple of 5, 7, and 9 (call it CM) that was one more than the number of prisoners.  That is, CM is divisible by 5, 7, and 9, and CM-1 (the number of prisoners) is divisible by 11.  The first such number is 2,520 (there are infinitely many), which is 5*7*9*8 (i.e. the 8th common multiple of 5, 7, and 9).

I think the key insight to the puzzle is that you're looking for a common multiple.  But given that insight, is there some way (other than trial and error) to know that the answer can be found at the 8th common multiple?

Monday, 02 December, 2002

What is Microsoft .NET?

What, exactly, is Microsoft .NET?  That's a question I'll be answering over the next six or seven months in my new position.  The local Microsoft Technology Center contracted with my employer,Catapult Systems, for a technical writer.  More specifically, for a programmer who can write.  So for at least as long as this contract lasts, I'll be working on .NET documentation and training materials at the local Microsoft office.  This pretty much removes me from direct involvement with the Inquisite product that I've been working with for the last 3-1/2 years.

I find it ironic that a month after I announced my plans to try moving away from Windows at home (see my entry for November 2), I find myself totally immersed in Microsoft technologies at work.  This should prove interesting.

Sunday, 01 December, 2002

Home Improvement

Our dishwasher started leaking last winter.  Since we were planning to remodel the kitchen, we decided to stop using the thing and wash the dishes by hand.  Things don't happen that quickly around here, though, so after 9 months or so of hand washing the dishes and no concrete plans to remodel the kitchen, we went and bought a cheap dishwasher yesterday at Home Depot.  Okay, so I'm not a professional installer or anything, but I've done this before.  Couple hour job, right?

Doing your own home improvement is cost effective only if you don't take your time into account.  This particular project took almost a full day, what with an electrical problem (bad circuit breaker) and several trips to Lowe's and Home Depot to get parts.  Among other problems, the supply and drain lines on the new dishwasher didn't match my plumbing fittings.  Yes, I should have checked that before I went the first time.  You'd think I'd have learned by now that new appliances and fixtures don't "just work" in my 25-year-old house.  I always have to work around some problem or another.