Thursday, January 31, 2008

Decompression Time

Telecommuting is a wonderful thing. You don't have to get up early if there's bad weather, don't have to wonder if the car needs gas, and your commute time rocks. But commuting has its good points, and I mean more than catching up on your podcasts.

Unless you're a crackberry addict or cellphone-inmate, the commute delineates the workday and the non-work with a bright and sharp line. If you hoped to drop by Jill's office to discuss the new budget, too bad, you'll get to it tomorrow. You're driving home and the radio DJ is spinning an Alice In Chains rockblock. Work will resume when you get back to work.

Or maybe you had a bad day at the office. The big boss came down and insinuated that your team could pull more weight, or Accounting screwed up your reimbursement again. You get in the car and drive a little faster than you know you should and you curse at the slow poke in front of you, and ten minutes later you're over it. Muscles unclench and frayed nerves unwind and you start thinking about home, anticipating, and you feel a little better.

The telecommuter enjoys no such separation. You can't get away from the office because you live in it. Maybe you have a separate "office" in your house, but c'mon, it's a room. It's not like you'd have to grab the keys to get there. If you really wanted to get something done and it didn't happen, the desire remains like an itch you can't scratch, unless you keep working.

And if you have a day where you couldn't kill that bug if you worked for RAID, there's no commute to calm down in. You leave your desk and a minute later you're at the dinner table, steaming to rival the broccoli.

Well, I've done far too much of it, and I'm instituting a calming commuting time here at home. I'm going to read, write, listen, and above all relax so that when I walk down the stairs and see my family, I'm ready to not work and be home.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Coding Horror Is You

Props today to Jeff Atwood for his excellent post on Steve McConnell's Code Complete and more specifically the "Coding Horror" sidebar icon that appears therein. To quote Atwood, "You're an amateur developer until you realize that everything you write sucks. YOU are the Coding Horror."

How true. And how do you interview after coming to that agreement? "Yes, I'm experienced with that type of development and my code sucks."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

XO Donators Bellow Over Long Wait

On Monday I received an email from OLPC saying that my laptop shipment was queued up and that I'd receive another email on Wednesday with further info. I received an email Thursday morning at 2:34 a.m. saying that they were waiting for more inventory and would send me another update in "the next few days." I've been waiting since the end of last month, but this is a volunteer non-profit operation with ambitious goals.

A few seconds of googling will prove that people are receiving their laptops and this operation has received enough media attention to know it's not a scam, but I was surprised that some of the G1G1 donors think so. You can feel the flames from some posts several feet away. One donor even called her state's Attorney General's office.

Whoa, folks! I'm eagerly anticipating my XO and I'm disappointed by the delays, but easy on. This organization wasn't designed to handle retail-type delivery of laptops to individuals. It was designed to engineer a revolutionary learning tool for the children of developing nations and deliver those learning tools in bulk to those children. Quickly fulfilling online orders to individuals is a much different logistical operation than shipping hundreds of laptops to a school. There's ample proof on YouTube that G1G1 donors are receiving their laptops, so there's no scam here. Just be patient and, as Douglas Adams said, don't panic.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Gerstmann-gate Update

I thought I'd ranted about this earlier, but I guess I found myself too apoplectic to type. Back in November Gamespot fired their editorial director, Jeff Gerstmann, under suspicious timing. Gerstmann had just written a negative review of Eidos' third person shooter "Kayne & Lynch: Dead Men," which Eidos was heavily advertising on Gamespot's site. Rumors quickly circulated that Eidos pulled their advertising and blackballed Gamespot in retribution for the negative review, prompting Gamespot to terminate Gerstmann in a panic so severe their own integrity sprinted away.

With Gerstmann himself saying little and Gamespot issuing bland denials and hoping the affair would go away, there's been little in the way of credible information, excepting what I read today, that is. Sam Kennedy, an editor at Gamespot competitor, has written a persuasive blog post detailing the managerial changes at Gamespot that lead two integrity-challenged marketing execs into the big chairs of Gamespot's editorial division. In addition, Kennedy mentioned a couple of supporting facts I hadn't heard, specifically that Gamespot reviewer Frank Provo and Gamespot Reviews Editor Alex Navarro both recently quit, the former stating in a farewell post, "I won't lie to people and tell them a game is good when it isn't. I won't downplay negatives that readers have a right to know about."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Reality Shows Brought Game Shows To Primetime

So Lundy and I got on the topic of Reality TV yesterday, I think in relation to the Writer's Strike, and he stated something that I hadn't realized; Reality shows are game shows. See, I don't watch Reality shows ... I watch watch what the DVR (it isn't a TiVo yet, grrrr!) records: LOST, Battlestar Galactica, Nova, Naked Science, Daily Show, Colbert, etc --- but I was watching when they began. I recall watching season one of The Real World, and it wasn't a game show. All of the members got paid equally and got to live in the swanky digs that MTV provided. Nobody won or got booted off, unless you count the comic who got voted out of the house in Real World's second (I think) season. So maybe The Real World originated that vote-to-kick-somebody-out concept too. Anyway, it still wasn't a game show, and it survived for a few seasons that way. But thanks to Survivor and its deformed children, it's all game shows (except The Osbornes, which was great fun).

Now, when I think gameshow I'm thinking The Price Is Right or Wheel Of Fortune. Daytime shows. But Reality shows don't ride in the back of the mini-van. They're occupy, and some would argue, dominate Primetime. And if I've got my dates right, they brought up some more traditionally formated game shows with them, because Survivor predated Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, right?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


The more I use my father's Mac the more its limitations annoy me. I'm not a Mac-hater; OSX is far superior to Windows and Macs have always had a better UI (I love their hardware too). But that UI is where the problems lie. Macs aren't designed for power users, at least not with most apps, so lots of functionality that I might normally expect is hidden.

And can we just admit that a single button mouse was a mistake and move on?

Speaking of Macs, I'd love to get my hands on a Macbook Air. I'm very glad to see more fanless laptops than the XO out there. Samsung has one coming soon as well.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"Insanely Great!" -- iTunes Got the First Part Right

Steve Jobs famously called Apple's Macintosh "insanely great!" (there's a book about the birth of the Mac that bears those words in its title). But Job's sense of greatness must have been drooling on itself in a padded room when iTunes was allowed to reach the public. What a piece of crap.

If you already have an existing digital music library when you start using it then it doesn't recognize most of your files; you need a third party app like iTunes Library Updater just to get iTunes to find all of the music you already own. Yes, iTunes asks you where your music library is located, but it either doesn't scan the files or it does a terrible job of it.

But even if you do have a music library that iTunes will actually recognize, it will repeatedly fail to copy many of those tracks into your iPod. And we're not talking about your grandma's iPod here, but a brand new 6th gen 160GB iPod. Amanda has seen lots of red and not lots of her music because of the insanely poor performance of iTunes.

So, I've decided to give Winamp a try, and so far, at least on my 4th gen iPod (thanks for the handmedown, Frank), it's working like a charm. Hopefully Winamp will keep up the good work and I'll be able to leave iTunes in the asylum.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Critical Thinking

Since I started teaching I wondered how to effectively teach critical thinking, and even today when I searched for the latest info on the topic I came up with the usual bland recommendations about encouraging questioning and inquiry, so here's my own first crack at a series of steps:

1) Observation->What are all of the facts at hand?
2) Assessment->What's the nature of the problem?
3) Relationships->What facts are related to others and how?
4) Categorization->What facts appear relevant to the problem?
5) Hypothesis->What is your belief about the solution to the problem?
6) Testing->Were you correct? If not, what new information did you learn that sheds new light on the facts and their relationships?
7) Recurse->As you learn more and your understand of the facts and their relationships change, go back and repeat the steps above (your new understanding of the facts may change your understanding of the problem, or even reveal new facts that you hadn't noticed before).

Unexpected Directions

I spent some time mulling over how I was going to write my most recent story, probably because it had the most abstract theme I've attempted (though, now that I think of it, the first I wrote might be a contender). The irony here is that the unexpected featured largely in the final result, and this story, more than the others I've written recently, took the most unexpected turns. It started with one insistent line and avalanched into changing the entire tone.

But, what's maybe most unexpected for me, is that I was ok with that happening. It felt right, and I don't usually intuit anything aside from dialog when writing fiction. Maybe, and I'm really not sure about this, I'm starting to learn something valuable about writing and being a writer.

Monday, January 07, 2008

WWI soldier's blog

I so love the Net at times like this. The grandson of a WWI soldier is posting his grandfather’s letters online in a blog, ninety years to the day they were written. .

Anybody remember the computer game “Fallout?” “War never changes…”