joel: Sheep (Default)

There has, for quite some time, been the concept of “drag-and-drop” programming, where you can pull components out of a toolbox and hook them together in a GUI, and the tools you're using just generate all the necessary code “under the hood” to make things go together.

I realised a few moments ago that the more apt description of how this tends to actually be used is “poop-and-fling” programming: code monkeys throwing shit at a wall until enough of it sticks.

joel: Sheep (Default)

Just to sum things up from news about SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the US) today, the conservative position is:

If it is a question of the first amendment right of a corporation being restricted due to a demonstrable pattern of past abuse of such rights, vs. a state's right to declare whether or not that speech is a crime *at all*, then SCOTUS must strike down the law in question.


If it is a question of the eight amendment right of a human being to not be subjected to cruel or unusual punishment, then SCOTUS striking down laws that require mandatory life sentences without parole for juvenile murderers — not saying that such a sentence is, itself, unacceptable, only that legally mandating that sentence is — then SCOTUS has no business wading into “ethical and moral decisions” that should be reserved to the states.

Thankfully, at least the second one went to the side of sanity.

joel: Sheep (Default)

Well, we managed it: I finally got to see a Shuttle launch. Yes, there was a two-week delay due to the failed APU during the first launch attempt, but the second attempt went off flawlessly, without any delays at all.

Deb and Amy both took photos of the 12 seconds or so we could watch (due to a low cloud ceiling immediately over the launch pad, it rapidly vanished from sight), and I'll probably arrange to post some of them once they're available. But really, the view isn't all that different from what you can see on TV or from any number of sources. Though it is easy, given cameras auto-adjusting brightness, to not really get a good feel for how *bright* the flame pillar is. Imagine the sun nearing the horizon, but not yet into the “big red ball” that is easy to look at stage. Rather, imagine it at the point when it just starts to become possible to look at it for more than a split second, but not really comfortable. That's about the right equivalent.

What you don't get — and barring both an incredible sound system and audio that they don't broadcast *can't* get — is the sound. Imagine a really, really *good* thunderclap, about a quarter to a half mile away. The sort that if it were right overhead, would have you hunting for clean underwear. Now imagine that sound going on for a good thirty seconds or more, solid, without getting any quieter. That's at 3-5 miles away (as close as they will let anyone get; out to roughly 1200 feet, the overpressure of the "sound" — shock waves, really — is enough to be lethal, and it will permanently deafen you well beyond that range).

And when it *does* quiet down, it isn't by much; it shifts into the deepest roaring rumble you can imagine, right down on the very edge of hearing. In fact, a fair portion of it is below "hearing", and is instead felt as a distinct "throbbing" of the volume rising and falling. That lasts for a good couple of minutes; you can still hear it — clearly! — when it is something well over 50 *miles* downrange.

To sum it up another way:

“Hey, we're going to strap you on top of the equivalent of a tactical nuclear warhead and light the other end, if everything works out it should fling you off the planet.”

A yield equivalent to kilotons of high explosives… by way of using kilotons of high explosives.

joel: Sheep (Default)

With apologies to [personal profile] ysabel (for her pain):

There is little that compares to the schadenfreude of listening to a former coworker describe the new and fresh stupidities of a former employer where they are culturally ingrained (and inevitable).

joel: Sheep (Default)

A co-coworker came to me today and asked my opinion about using ‘thru’ vs. ‘through’, and when I did some looking, I found that the definitions listed in most dictionaries appear to be missing an important consideration (in fairness, dictionaries are not generally repositories for the finer points of things like this).

‘Thru’ is, at least according to most of the dictionaries I consulted, an accepted variant spelling of ‘through’, but is noted as being considered “informal”. I would agree with that for most prose, but there are cases in which ‘thru’ is, at least to me, perfectly warranted even in a semi-formal writing.

The main usage that comes to mind, and the one the question was about, is using it in the context of describing a range, in which case I feel that the most appropriate variant is the one that most closely matches “how compact” the overall expression is. For example:

  • Tuesday, July 4th through Friday, July 7th
  • July 4th thru 7th
  • July 4th through July 7th
  • July 4–7 (that's an en dash, for the heathens out there…)

Thus, using ‘thru’ is appropriate as a “mid-point” between the longest form (the word ‘through’) and the shortest (the en dash).

joel: Sheep (Default)

A lesson my mother has never learned:

“Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble.”—Samuel Johnson
joel: Sheep (Default)

Unfortunately getting the full effect requires having a login, but take a look at the e-incode site. Now, imagine that there are now half a dozen drop-down menus across the top instead of two, and that the left sidebar is filled past the bottom of the screen with navigation links (both presented reasonable sanely, mind you). Last of all, imagine that the content seen on the login page is all still there, but there is enough additional content above it to push the images to the bottom of the page.

Now try to find the training site link.

Fail #1 (minor/arguable): having both top bar and side bar navigation is usually confusing to the user. There are ways to make it work, but this site doesn't really do them properly.

Fail #2 (significant): neither the top bar nor the side bar have a link to the training site, despite the fact that it is a fairly major destination for folks coming to this page, *and* the fact that many folks looking for it will be coming to this page *for the first time*.

Fail #3 (significant, but compounded with #2 becomes FAIL): making the training link a graphic that is the same size, shape, *and* position on the screen (for normal-size screens) as a banner ad, *and* occurs below a "demo" graphic of the same type that *says* "demo" near the left-hand side (thus making it look even more like a banner ad).

It literally took me ten minutes to find the stupid thing, because I have (like so many others on the 'Net today) a strong mental filter / "blind spot" to catch banner ads. I literally *did not see it*. Yes, the photons went from the screen to my eyes, and I'm fairly sure my optic nerve continued to work, but the "front end" pattern recognition in my brain that turns a visual signal into meaning information -- the act of "seeing" -- filtered it out of my perception. Entirely. To the point that when I finished hunting every obvious place on the page I *still* didn't see it.

I had to go check the email a couple of times, and be sure I was in the right spot, and think about the unlikelyhood of them not having *some* training link on the front page, before I went back and started looking at the page in a very deliberate "item by item" search. Even then I almost skipped over it.

joel: Sheep (Default)
Saw a new frob on the Google results page today: the "Wonder Wheel". Checked it out a bit, and it does in fact appear to do a fairly decent job of one of the most difficult things to track in search engines: 'related concepts'. For amusement and (hopefully) educational value, I tried searching for "Google Wonder Wheel" and selecting the Wonder Wheel on the results. What can I say, meta amuses me. The search turned out just fine, but then I made the mistake of actually going to the documentation site for it and trying to read it. Had I not gotten there directly from the core Google site, I would have been seriously wondering if I had somehow gotten misdirected to a phishing site; the main distinction was that whomever wrote the site was fairly clearly a native speaker of English, given the word choices used. But the rest of the writing... I believe my third grade English teacher would have failed any essay written this way. A small sampling of the gems to be found:
  • The fun starts off with the very first paragraph of the main page:
    "The wheel shaped like tool, with the simple aim of simplifying and arranging search results, is gaining popularity among users worldwide (where available) and reached 1 million google wonder wheels."
  • Then we have another lovely bit further down:
    "Google wonder wheel by definition is a wheel display of relevant search terms."
  • Moving on, we find the next gem in the lead-in to the "Step by Step" page:
    "Google Wonder Wheel is a new great feature from Google which allows you to see relevant search results to your query in a unique semantically relevant and graphically design way."
  • Another from the same page:
    "Among all the options Google has to offer its users in order to optimize their search results the Google Wonder Wheel is the option you should look for in order to display relevant results in a different way."
  • And finally, the treasure I found just before I stopped inflicting the site on myself:
    Also find the best Stock Market online
    I have no idea what the hell this is bit is about; the words "Stock Market" are a link which I refuse to replicate here, because I have no interest in promoting it.
Free hint to Google: if you're going to have such a cool feature, you might want to consider assigning a copy-editor (or at least a tech writer!) to go over the public information site *before* you roll it out.
joel: Sheep (Default)

So this recent bug with the older ("Phat") PS3 units not being able to connect to PSN, sometimes crashing, sometimes resetting dates to Jan 1, 2000 or Dec 31, 1999, is all over the news. My psychic predictions:

  1. It will prove to have been a leap-year related bug. Why? Things started "just working" again with a *no update* "fix" that happened to start working... pretty much exactly as the day rolled over in the UTC timezone.
  2. My bet is on buggy handling of a 30-year offset from the standard "Unix epoch" calendar (0 = the start of Jan 1, 1970 in UTC). Why? Because while 2010 is not a leap year, a 30 year offset would be 1980, which *was* one.
  3. My bet on how it got there?
    1. Developer Alice uses one of the umpteen standard implementations of the Unix epoch calculation to represent the system time internally, because it is simple, readily available, consistent, and has no licensing issues.
    2. Designer Bob sees the default time when nothing else is available is 1970, and says "Hey, 1970 is silly, it should be 2000".
    3. Developer Clarissa says "Okay, no problem, we'll just add 30 to the year value" (mistake 1).
    4. QA gal Denise does some basic testing of the calendar, for example "the first leap year that the unit will be in production" (2008), and files a bug when he observes that 2008 is not being handled as a leap year.
    5. Developer Eustance, who has the most unfortunate name in this entire narrative, gets stuck with the bug and goes hunting. He realizes that the problem is because with a 30 year offset, leap years aren't lining up correctly, so he implements a quick hack to calculate the leap year "properly" (any bets on whether this hack handles the 100-year/400-year rules correctly? I thought not...) and hands it back. All is well... or so it seems.
    6. QA gal Denise, under time pressure for the release, checks that 2008 works now, and it does. Unfortunately, since she *doesn't* know the internal workings of the code, there is no obvious reason to test for the alternative corner case: times that happen during a "leap day" which have no equivalent in their "partner" year at the 30-year offset, leading to an illegal calculation and much *boom*.
    7. PS3s ship with horked code
    8. PROFIT!!!
  4. And why this is happening only on the older "Phat" PS3s? Because at some point someone looked at the code mentioned above, saw the bug, and fixed it (I can only pray to $deity that they fixed it by MAKING THE BLOODY DEFAULT DATE AN OFFSET FROM 0 AND USING THE CALENDAR LIKE IT WAS INTENDED DAMMIT). However, since different generations of PS3 actually run on different hardware internally, they almost certainly have multiple builds, and when (if) this was merged back, it was *not* merged to whatever build the Phat PS3s run on. Oopsie.

The "best" part of this? Sony's blog said that they "hoped to have a fix within the next 24 hours". If by "fix" you mean "do nothing because the units cannot log onto PSN to download an update, but it will fix itself 24 hours after it started", sure. And hey, if we're lucky, they *might* even bother to merge the fix back to the correct build and release an update someday.

On the other hand, if this is the bug the next time it will bite is in 2014, and who's going to still be running a PS3 in another four years, right? And it's only one day every four years, for the oldest console generation, they'll just wear out by then, surely...

Sadly, unless someone intimately familiar with the software involved comes out and discusses it in ways that would probably cost them their job (at the very least put it at serious risk), we'll probably never know for certain.

joel: Sheep (Default)

So, to be fair about it, I'm following up on my previous post to say that my new lead/boss/I-still-haven't-figured-out-the-org-chart-detail was reasonably sane about the situation the next morning.

Since then, the issue itself has been lowered in priority, but primarily because the entire arrangement currently in use has now been scheduled to be ripped out at the roots and reworked, the way it really fundamentally needs to be anyway, and it isn't worth rewriting the thing right this second when migrating to that will force the change anyway, along with others. And because we aren't intending to use it for any additional live customers any time soon.

She definitely did at least catch the look of growing horror on my face that morning when I found out just how deep the insanity runs. It is worse than I originally thought. Not going there right now, but suffice to say that it isn't just the one item out of that conversion "branch" that needs to be dealt with, it is pretty much all of them.


Feb. 1st, 2010 07:30 pm
joel: Sheep (Default)

Okay, time for me to vent for a few. I'm not going to (fully) name names, and it seems relatively unlikely that any of the people involved will ever bother reading this journal even if they found out it existed, but frankly, even if they do? This is my ranting. If you're here, you think it is about you, and you care about my opinion, then do something to fix the cause.

This got really long... )
joel: Sheep (Default)
Won't be trying to do this until a future year, at this point, but I had an utterly geeky idea for a pumpkin: use the classic "potato clock" (zinc/copper electrodes stuck into just about any organic material with phosphoric acid) to direct-power low-draw LEDs. Done right, it should provide a couple of volts, which should suffice if the right LEDs are picked, and it doesn't have to run for more than a few hours.

For bonus geek points: use 'blinker' LEDs.
joel: Sheep (Default)

So, up front: everyone in the house is pretty much okay, nothing worse than a cauliflower ear, a couple of minor glass cuts, and a chunk of lost sleep. All of the pets are accounted for and okay, though we'll see how well the fish weather the extended power outage.

I'll post pictures later, as soon as I can arrange to get them off of my phone. Suffice to say that I showed some of them to a co-worker earlier, and got a couple of 'holy ****' comments.

joel: Sheep (Default)

First Post! Oh, wait…

Mostly just to post something here and try it out, since I’m here at [personal profile] ysabel’s request.

Things I’ve found broken so far:

  • Spell checking ("Spell checker not set up properly. banner=")
  • Creating a userpic (goes to select screen, never brings up image, also does not appear to be any way to bypass it and say just use the entire thing)
  • Preview has a “Tags” area but does not show tags provided on the post
  • Nor, in fact, does it appear to show an of the other stuff like mood, location, or music


joel: Sheep (Default)
Joel Aelwyn

September 2012

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