6 Technologies From My First Job

I was sitting around on New Year’s Eve playing Zork, and I got to reminiscing about technologies I have used which either no longer exist or have passed into no usage. Thinking back to my first summer job where I actually got paid to program (actually, I was paid to do physics, but programming was a big part of it), here are six tools I used…

KIM-1

First, we used a KIM-1 microcomputer. This 6502-powered beast had a whole 1024 bytes of memory, and no persistent storage. We used this to control a Perturbed Angular Correlation Gamma Ray Spectroscopy experiment.

After the experiment ran for a while (collecting data in scalar registers), the KIM-1 would dump these registers out to a more “permanent” storage – in this case paper tape. This was great stuff to work with, frequently breaking, sometimes absorbing moisture and swelling.

The experiment would generally run for a couple of days, after which we would have to process the data – which meant uploading it to the mainframe. For the upload, I used a very old (even then) teletype machine, connected to a screaming 300 baud acoustic coupler.

Using this, we uploaded the data to the university mainframe, where I got to analyze it in one of my favourite languages of all time, APL!

Computing was different then!

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Posted in Software Development, Technology

A New Phone – Galaxy S4, but not really by choice

I finally upgraded my phone last week, having given up my previous phone when I switched employers at the end of June. My previous phone was a Windows phone (a LG Optimus Quantum), which I really liked, but it was 2 and a half years old, showing its age, and stuck on Windows 7.8.

I struggled for quite a while trying to decide what phone to get. A big challenge is that I do not really use a phone as a phone very much. Almost all of my communications is email, sms, Facebook, Twitter, etc., all which I could do as well or better on a small tablet (except SMS). Still, I do need a phone sometimes, just not very often.

My first choice was to get a new Windows 8 phone, because I love the whole Windows Phone user experience. Unfortunately, there a number of obstacles to getting a Windows Phone:

  • All of the Windows phones on the market here in Canada are almost a year old, which is pretty old in this market. The only new activity is with the Lumia line, which unfortunately only available from Rogers in Canada (and I absolutely, positively will NOT do business to Rogers).
  • The carrier I deal with primarily is Bell, and Bell’s interest in Windows phone has always been marginal at best. There is one device listed on their web site, and none available locally at their retail outlets.
  • Microsoft’s whole story on Windows Phone scares the crap out of me. I have no confidence in their commitment to the platform, and no confidence that if I buy a Windows Phone 8 device now that I won’t be orphaned in 6 months.

So, Windows Phone was pretty much a non-starter this time around.

So, I started looking at Android devices (I am not quite crazy enough to drink the Apple koolaid yet!). I was primarily considering three devices:

  1. Galaxy Note 2
  2. Galaxy Note 8
  3. Galaxy S4

As most who know me know really well, I love devices that I can write on. Hence my interest in the Galaxy Note products.

I was really excited in late June and early July when I read that the LTE version of the Note 8 was coming to Canada, and that it supports phone calls. Yes, I know, it would be a big-ass phone, but for the amount I use it as a phone, it would be fine (with a bluetooth headset, or in hands-free mode in the car). Unfortunately, the version released in Canada does not support phone calls (we are screwed once again – not sure if this is Samsung’s decision, or Canada’s carriers, or the CRTC, but it really pisses me off!) So my dream of having a single device covering all of my needs was dashed.

I also gave serious consideration to the Note 2. While it does support handwriting, it is a little too small to really be useful for document review, note-taking, etc. In addition, the Note 2 is approaching obsolescence with the Note 3 rumoured to be due out in a few months. Again, not crazy about the idea of being stranded on last-generation hardware. Finally, it is a little big as a phone. In a way, it is a “worst of all worlds” device, being too small to be a good tablet and too big to be a good phone.

So in the end, I went ahead with the S4 (despite the fact that Canada got screwed on the processor). I have had it for a few days now, and while the user experience does not come close to Windows Phone, it is adequate. The camera is a huge leap from my previous phone, especially the low-light performance. I am just discovering the apps that I like (beyond the basics that I found right away). One thing that is annoying (though I knew about it before buying) is the amount of storage taken up by the OS + Samsung bloatware. On a 16 gb device, to have over half of it taken up by the OS and vendor components that cannot be uninstalled is just sick. I immediately picked up a memory card, and that alleviates the problem somewhat, but it is still annoying.

I may post a more thorough review once I know better how I feel about the device.

 

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Posted in Android, Samsung, Technology, Windows Phone

And Now for Something Completely Different

A few new things going on…Python, JavaScript (more than I have ever looked at), Tornado, MongoDB, nginx, Go…plus learning a whole new application and processes.

Exciting times!

Posted in Cool Stuff

The 3 Most Annoying Attention-grabbing Blog Post Headlines

Have you ever noticed that there are several headlines used repeatedly by bloggers and other digital writers, all of which are designed for nothing else than to try to grab traffic? Not that there is anything wrong with trying to grab traffic, but more often than not these posts are nothing but fluff, and simply play off public opinion regarding some polarizing topic.

The three which annoy me most are:

  1. Technology is Dead! – applied most commonly to the PC, and anything to do with Microsoft
  2. 10 Reasons Company  X got everything wrong!
  3. 10 Things you MUST do today or your career will DIE!

Note that it is not always 10 things – some of us can only count to 3.

Those are my favourites – what are yours?

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Posted in Rant, Stupidity, Trends

Immigration: The new Off-Shoring?

I was just reading an article over one The Atlantic, entitled The Myth of America’s Tech-Talent Shortage

I think “myth” is too polite a term here. Complete and utter bullshit would seem to be more appropriate, both for the situation in Canada, and in the United States.

On the one hand, there is constant whining on the part or the tech industry that they cannot find enough qualified people. Their solution: allow in more immigrants who, while qualified, will often work for less money in order to get here and get established. This is, in effect, absolutely no different than off-shoring the jobs in order to get them done more cheaply. Whether they hire people off-shore, or bring people from off-shore here, it amounts to the same thing.

On the other hand, we have stories like this one on age discrimination, this one Companies won’t even look at resumes of the long-term unemployed. Then there are the many, many articles regarding the challenges of new grads finding work in their fields, including many in STEM fields.

So lets look at these points:

  • Tech companies claim they cannot find qualified staff;
  • These same companies do not hire new grads because they “lack experience”;
  • These same companies will not look at long-term unemployed (assuming 6 months is “long term”), because there must be something wrong with them, or because all of their skills have become obsolete in 6 months;
  • These same companies do want to hire over 50s because their skills much be out-of-date

Does anyone else see the bullshit in this situation? The reality is that

  1. Companies want experience, but they do not want to pay for it. 
  2. Companies can get experience for less by importing it, because many people want to come to North America.
  3. Companies are not interested in investing in building the experience base by hiring the inexperienced and growing them.

I have worked for many companies that did hire new grads, did invest in growing that talent, and did hire experienced people (even though they were more expensive) to mentor that junior staff. And you know what, those companies were successful. 

Do not get me wrong, I am not “anti-immigration”. I think that immigration adds a great deal to our country.

Just don’t try to feed me some bullshit line that it is the only way to get the technical talent you need.

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Posted in Rant, Technology, Trends

Why I Love UX (or How to Piss Off an Entire Department!)

Last Friday, I tweeted something which was badly worded, and managed to piss off much of our UX team (not to mention a few UX people far and wide):

Pissing off UX

Now I ask you, how could that post possibly offend anyone (note sarcasm)?

So, I would like to clarify what I was thinking when I posted that (and again ran into the problem that most of my thoughts do not fit into 140 characters).

First, I had been reading a number of posts and other articles by so-called UX experts, thought leaders, and others (all off whom shall go nameless, as I do not need anymore flames – well, actually I enjoy flames, but am full at the moment). Like many fanatics, they have (in my humble opinion) some fairly radical beliefs that are not well grounded in the real world. These are the “UX people” to whom I was referring in my post. Yes, my choice of words was bad.

Secondly, I have a great deal of respect for the UX process. I even have a lot of respect for most of the UX people I know (even the ones with whom I disagree). Frequently it is the UX department with whom I have an issue. I have the same issue with Marketing (the department) versus Marketing (the process), and with Architecture (the department) versus Architecture (the process).

The comparison with architecture is particularly relevant, as I have had many arguments over the years in software organizations as to whether “architect” is a role or a job title – should there be an “architecture group” separate from the development team. My belief is a resounding NO! I tend to believe that “architect” is a role which and individual with the appropriate skills and training assumes on a specific project. On another project, that same person may be a senior developer. My concern with architects in a group by them selves is that I have frequently seen these groups (a) become extremely elitist; and (b) become too far removed from the reality of implementation, leading to architectures which are elegant, beautiful, and difficult to impossible to build on-time and on-budget. Often, the 99% philosophically correct, current-best-practice architecture is not necessary, when the 80% solution can actually be implemented on-time and on-budget.

I find that UX groups is some organizations, and UX thought-leaders in the world at large, are falling victim to much the same challenges I described for architecture. Too much separation between UX and implementation creates certain challenges.  And, there is often little willingness to deviate from the “philosophically correct vision” in favour of practical reality.

And as a final thought, I definitely do not have all the answers in these areas – I just have some very definite questions about how we (in the global sense) do things.

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Posted in Process, Software Development, Technology, Usability

Deceptive Use of Statistics in Headlines

I was looking at the Apple stock chart on CNN.com, and saw two apparently contradictory headlines listed:

 

I knew that it was likely just a case of using different comparison time frames, but it still looked amusing!

As I looked at the two articles, my suspicions were validated. The article on the left was describing a Q4-Q1 drop of 33%, not all that surprising given the iPhone 5 launch and holiday season. The second article was describing year-over-year Q1 growth of 25%, which seems pretty good.

Isn’t it nice how you carefully select which stats to use in your headline, in order to drive the perception you want?

As Twain said: Lies, damned lies, and statistics!

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Posted in Life, Stupidity, Technology, Trends
Obligatory Disclaimer
Please keep in mind that any opinions, points-of-view, comments, or other content which I post to this site are mine and mine alone. They in no way reflect the views of my employer, my country, my dog, my cat, or anyone else you can think of. To paraphrase Monty Python, "That is the theory that I have and which is mine, and what it is, too."

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