Monthly Archives: September 2006

Avast! It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day!

September 19th is “Talk Like a Pirate Day

On the web site linked above is a full list of pirate jargon (I finally know what “avast” means!) and even pirate pick-up lines. I recommend not using the pirate pick-up lines unless you are outside of striking distance of the person you are using them on.

UPDATE: Be sure to find yer pirate name, ya filthy landlubber!

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Captivated by HDR

When I was a teenager, I used to take pictures for my school newspaper. I really liked it: getting into games for free, getting a lot of attention from fans, players, and cheerleaders. I even got to learn how to do darkroom work.

My instruction in the dark room came from a senior named Wayne Joness. To my mind at the time, Wayne was kind of a hippie version of William F. Buckley, Jr. I’m not saying that Wayne was part of the counter-culture or anything, he just seemed a mix of eclectic skills and preferences. He also knew a lot of big words. Wayne taught me how to develop B&W film and pictures in a very ad-hoc manner. Something must have took, because I did okay in school.

Later, I wrote freelance for the local town newspaper, my County weekly, and the regional daily. I met some serious photo-heads at those places — guys with more money hanging around their neck than some people have in their cars. I got to really love a good picture: composition, tone, range. Back then, and especially once the newspapers started going digital, we had to make sure we controlled our picture’s dynamic range.

To see what that means, and a really great picture, let me continue.

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XJAX Update

Quite a lot has been going on in the world of XJAX lately. I thought I would share some of it with you.

First of all, I’m busy working on the next version of batBack, my proprietary program to do distributed non-structured text evaluation. That’s coming along well! Originally, I thought version 2.0 would be more of a generic blog toolbox, but as it turns out, there are a lot of companies “poaching” on my space. I have read of a couple over the last month doing universal toolboxes. Since i don’t have unlimited resources, I thought it would be better to go back to content organization and retrieval. I have some prototype screens up, and some neat ideas to share when I get ready.

There’s an interesting blog entry over on a blog called Mukund which talks about identifying users without the use of cookies. Seeing as how I have had about a dozen users complain about missing functionality when they have cookies turned off, this seems like an interesting idea to chase. While I understand some people wanting to lock down their computers as much as possible, overall I think this is a losing game. It’s like the radar vs. radar detector wars in the consumer sector, only on side has all of the cards. A totally secure computer is a totally useless one. I really do not envy security administrators: their job is getting harder by the week.

Over the last year, I’ve been in contact with a few other guys like me who are working on a universal web operating system using XJAX (although they did not use that name.) As a couple of them have noted, this is going to change the nature of the internet in a big way. For instance, your blog provider may just provide a text-storage facility for your posts: you may have another provider take care of handling your comments, and several other providers taking care of adding bells and whistles to your sites. In the commercial sector, companies can deploy core business practices as XJAX services that can plug into web sites in all kinds of neat ways. Let’s say you run a used car lot. You could provide an XJAX tool that let’s users review your inventory and make an offer. Another company may provide insurance quotes in a similar manner. Yet another company may provide financing. If you are putting together a blog entry about buying cars in your local area, you could easily add a set of tools for buying, insuring, and financing the car, all without having to write any code at all! It will certainly make the web more immediate and useful to most people.

So it’s really good that in a year the market has picked up on the XJAX ideas and ran with it. If you mention dynamic script tags or JSON today, a lot more developers know what you are talking about as opposed to even six months ago. I don’t know how far along many of these companies are — after all, I’m on version 2.0 of my tools and some of this stuff you couldn’t find ANYWHERE a year ago — so we’ll see. In the meantime, it will be fun to watch how it all turns out!

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Notes From the Old Man

The character of Colonel Tigh, from the Sci-Fi series Battlestar Galactica
I liked the Col. Tigh character, until they made him into a caricature.
Probably the fault of writers who never knew a really good tough XO

I have an affinity towards hard-core characters in fiction and real life. I’m not talking Rambo or John Wayne — I mean earthy people that simply have a high level of standards and expect those under them to keep up. We used to call it leadership. Nowadays, perhaps, they would have these folks singing Kumbaya and participating in focus groups. Things change.

For that reason, I also liked Colonel Tigh the first season on BattleStar Galactica. Hard-charging, loyal, drinks too much, sleazebag for a wife. All of the characters on BSG were deeply flawed (if you haven’t noticed), but Tigh and Adama made a good team. You could picture them having a long friendship and ending up where they were. Later in the series, however, the writers took the drinking too far, brought back the wife and made her a problem, and had the Colonel do some really bone-headed things. In my opinion, this did not fit the original character. Characters don’t suddenly spring into life in a series — to be an XO there has to be a sufficient back story and competence that would prevent all of that malarkey. But heck, I’m no science fiction series writer, so there you have it. For a while there, it just looked like somebody actually captured a neat dynamic that we see in the military — hard XO, softer CO, loyalty, duty, and honor promoted above all else. Flawed characters still acting as a functioning team. Then they blew it. Next season they’ll probably have Tigh beating up old ladies or something. He seems to be a favorite whipping boy.

Lately I’ve been interviewing folks for technical jobs. Seems like about every year or so, I’m on the other side of the phone interviewing you schmucks to see if you can fit into open positions. When I do these interviews, I begin to feel like Tigh — having to make tough choices among really good candidates. Having to hold the standards high enough that some won’t make it through. I have to be more demanding than my easygoing character allows. I hate being like that, but it’s a tough world, and the customer’s needs have to come first. So I get a little crusty.

Here’s what I’ve learned this time around that I can share with you:

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Now That’s Flying!

Helicopter partially landing on roof to remove wounded
Afghan Helo Rescue Mission

A friend sent me this picture yesterday. It shows a helcopter hanging just the back-end onto a building on a cliff in Afghansistan while wounded soldiers are carried out. The pilot is an EMS pilot in the real world. Gosh — that’s great flying. It reminds me of those pilots in Alaska that put skis on their planes, and then land uphill on the side of a mountain for tourists. When the tourists are doing taking pictures and such, you turn the plane around, then ski the plane down the mountain until it is fast enough for take-off. This could get even more exciting, say, if you skiied off a cliff. The plane would still fly out okay, but it would be a heckuva ride.

In this case, there are so many risk factors it isn’t funny. Doesn’t look like too much rotor clearance. There are a lot of small things on the ground around the copter. Then you’ve got mountain winds, thermals, and eddies. Finally, your entire weight and balance changes each time somebody gets on or off the helcopter.

Way to go guys! That’s quite a piece of work.

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The Wave

I live in a rural area. There’s really not a lot around here, the property is loosely zoned and most of the land doesn’t have restrictions. Add to this the fact that we live out from the city, and our surroundings are, say, eclectic at best.

We have all sorts of people out here: a little ways down the road a retired Oracle employee is creating his own vineyard on a several hundred acre farm. Next door, there’s a lady who raises wolves. Down the street there are a couple of million-dollar homes, and nearby there are a lot of poor families living in substandard housing.

I’ve worked all over the United States, from Georgetown in DC to Austin, Texas to San Francisco. So why the heck do I like it here?

It’s a good question, and I’ve thought about it a lot. One thing stands out in my mind: The Wave.

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Negative Databases

How can you NOT like an article that begins like this?

IN THE 1940s a philosopher called Carl Hempel showed that by manipulating the logical statement “all ravens are black”, you could derive the equivalent “all non-black objects are non-ravens”. Such topsy-turvy transformations might seem reason enough to keep philosophers locked up safely on university campuses, where they cannot do too much damage. However, a number of computer scientists, led by Fernando Esponda of Yale University, are taking Hempel’s notion as the germ of an eminently practical scheme. They are applying such negative representations to the problem of protecting sensitive data. The idea is to create a negative database. Instead of containing the information of interest, such a database would contain everything except that information.

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