Saturday, December 31, 2011

How to smash your head against a desk

    Well, I made my decision. I took the shorter path, maybe. I have decided to work through the book "Mastering Xcode 4: Develop and Design." The book is very well written and comprehensive. Instructions and examples are all very clear, just make sure you look very carefully at the provided images of various parts of the Xcode software to see what "view options" are selected. If you are not familiar with Xcode, and I am not, some of terminology will take a little getting used to.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Teaching yourself to write software

    I have been programming off and on again for around twenty years now. There is just something that I really find exciting about making a machine do exactly what I tell it to do. Of course that is often a problem as well. A computer cannot guess at your intentions or motives. Right or wrong, it will do exactly what it is told, nothing more. For the most part, my experience has been primarily in Microsoft Windows.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

USB Video, Fact or Fiction?

    In my last post I wrote about ordering myself a USB Video Display Adapter. Well, as it happens, it has arrived and I have taken the plunge and opened the box. In the next few paragraphs I will attempt to go over both the pro's and the con's of such a device.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas is the time for wishes to come true ...

    Today, a decision was made for me. Well, that is to say, a solution presented itself. Just in time for Christmas too. First a word about using the word Christmas.

    I am not Walmart. I am not Amazon. I do not even call myself "Christian" and my beliefs are my own. I do, however, say "Merry Christmas." Christmas is more than a religious holiday, it is an American Cultural holiday and has been for a very long time. So, I will not say things like: Merry XMas or Happy Holidays or any other such nonsense. If this offends you, then that is your problem. Deal with it.

Lessons learned

    This is not a typical blog post. Well, maybe for me it is. Then again, this isn't a typical blog. When I first started this particular blog I had some fairly high hopes for it. It is fair to say that I have let this blog down a bit. So, this post is all about the lessons I learned from trying to blog.

    Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction. This blog has been very deficient in purpose and direction. No matter how motivated or driven I was to write something, it never really felt like any one post was the "defining post" or that one post should naturally follow the previous post. Most blogs have a "theme" or at the very least a rather broad topic. This blog, lacking any real purpose or direction has become more or less a dumping ground for things I occasionally found interesting or happened to be bored enough to write about. Not something that will keep people coming back to read your latest post.

    Being personable without being personal. This is a balancing act that most people who write for public reading often wrestle with. While in a "blog" it is quite normal to write about your personal opinion on a given subject, it should never be made personal. Recently in the news a blogger was sued for some $250 million dollars. She used her 100+ blogs to slander a man and accuse him of everything from tax fraud to embezzlement. Try as she might, she was unable to use the protections that are afforded to members of the press. Bloggers are, generally speaking, not journalists. The judge decided that since she (the blogger in question) had no journalism training, had shown no means of fact checking, had often posted the same story re-written across multiple blogs and under different pseudo names that she was in fact liable for damages, and thus not protected as a journalist. I think this is an important distinction that many bloggers just don't or refuse to accept. If you are going call yourself an independent journalist, you need to hold yourself to the same standards as a "real" journalist. If you want to find out more about the case mentioned, Google is your friend.

    Editing counts. I cannot tell you how many blogs I follow.  I really don't know. However, what surprises me the most is the misuse of words. Incorrect spelling is on the decline, but I do think people should actually read what they have written. Auto correct can kill it for me. One blog in particular has finally driven me away. While it was a good source of tech news, the sheer number of misused words made each "article" not only annoying to read, but forced me to focus what the author was trying to say rather than just read the article and be done with it. The biggest is offenders are"to, too and two;" with "by, bye and buy" coming in a close second. Personally, this really drives me nuts. If you are going to write for public reading, at least have more than a tenuous grasp on your chosen profession.

    Style is nothing without substance. There is no way to count the number of blogs that have a good or bad style. It really is rather subjective. However, there is such a thing as too much. Bright neon pink should never border lime green. I am sure you have seen them. It's not just blogs that are guilty of this, many "legitimate" sites do this as well. I myself played around with the templates here on blogger.com. In the end, I settled on the current "template" because it was easy to look at allowed me to focus on the content. Granted, the content is more of a mashup of random ideas that would and could easily be seen as a feng-shui nightmare, but it is what it has become.

    With all of these lessons learned I now have to make a choice; reshape my current work or start fresh and try again. Blogging requires commitment, focus, direction and skill. Well, to do it correctly it does. I have many demands on my time, and many more that I should put ahead of a "hobby." Then again, everyone needs a hobby. That's their one escape to forget about the rest of the world, at least for a little while.

    This then, is the end.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I am so done with Windows

    I got up early this morning thinking I was going to have a really good day. Yes it was raining and a bit chilly, but it was also the start of my five day weekend. Longest paid weekend I have ever had, I love the holidays.

    Before the clock showed seven this morning I got a call from a frantic co-worker. Apparently he inadvertently installed a driver for a keyboard with the wrong language for yet another co-worker. At this point I should mention his job is working on Windows based computers. The normal solution is of course, just uninstall the driver and install the correct version. Of course if was that simple I wouldn't have anything to blog about.

    The uninstaller removed the files but not the registry entries. Now every time he tries to install the correct drivers it just asks him to uninstall the old one first. He even tried to re-install the first set of drivers in an attempt to re-run the uninstaller again. Now he has to spend his day manually scanning and searching through thousands of registry entries in an attempt to find the one that is holding things up. I do not envy him at all.

    I have been in his position many times and I remember the countless hours of frustration and stress I spent on various Windows machines trying to get something to work the way it was suppose to. Driver issues are probably the worst. This is especially true when working with hardware from a smaller, less-known company that may or may not have the best quality driver programmers at their disposal. These smaller companies usually cannot afford to offer the best support and the user base is either nonexistent for help or so overly technical that any help they may offer is rendered useless.

    While I do pity my co-worker and I do genuinely feel bad for him, I can't help but look upon this as a reminder as to why I switch to a Macintosh. I have not had to restart my computer (as of this writing) for 11 days and 19 hours. Not too bad. While I do not consider myself an Apple "FanBoy" (I love my Android phone) I do really like the fact that my computer just works.

    I hope my co-worker can fix the problem and get his friends computer working before the weekend starts. I am just glad that, for once, its not me in the hot seat.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Changing habits

    I have been using computers for as long as I can remember. My first computer was a TRS-80 Color Computer II. It was good for what it was. You could plug it into a TV and write simple BASIC programs for it. It was a lot of fun. My first "real" computer was an IBM XT with a clock speed of 4.77 Mhz (Not Ghz) and had 64Kb (Not Mb) of ram. It had no hard drive and only a single 5 1/4 inch floppy disk drive. In order to use the other side of the disk you had to cut into the disk casing (there used to be a special tool for this as well) and actually flip the disk over. This was not unlike an old fashioned record player. It came with MSDOS 2.1 and could display text in four colors. It was a powerhouse for its day and was the machine that got me into low-level "assembly" language programming.

    I have been coding in various languages for over twenty years now. In the last few years my actual time writing programs has taken a dramatic fall. I have relegated myself to keeping track of developing software and trying to stay on top of the latest trends in software development.

    I blame this on my Apple Macbook Pro. Why? Because it just works.

    About a nine months ago my wife and I switched from PC to Mac. We did it all in one day and haven't looked back since. Usually we would by a new (or upgrade an existing) PC around every nine to twelve months. We had to do this one person at a time for cost reasons and so we had developed an "upgrade cycle" that was nearly never ending. I managed to convince my wife that an initial layout for higher priced Mac's would be cheaper in the long run because we would be able to break the upgrade cycle.

    It was a tough fight that took a few years, but finally she relented. She had concerns about applications she used on the PC and the total cost of switching over. These are justified and I did my best to assure her that everything was going to be fine. So far that has held true.

    For me at least, I am still forced to have Microsoft Windows. This only due to a single program that I "must have" for work; the IBM Workplace Forms Viewer. There is no alternative to this application and it is Microsoft Windows only. I also need to be able to digitally sign these form and the software for windows that does that prevents me from using such applications as "Wine Bottle" or other methods of virtualization. So I use Parallels Desktop and now I can run this one application that my employer forces upon me on my mac desktop. If I could find a way to get rid of this one application I could dump Microsoft altogether.

    My wife, on the other hand has already dropped Microsoft from her radar. Her only regret is that we didn't make the switch sooner. She loves her 21" IMac, and I must say the display really is beautiful.

    No, we have not become "Mac-O-Lites" although I do frequent the "Cult of Mac" web site. We just really like that our computers just work. It even found and setup our network printer on the first try. No installing drivers, or setting up network configurations. It found everything on the network and it took less than twenty minutes to get everything up and running.

    It is also because everything "just works" that I really have no interest in writing software anymore. I think my MacBook Pro is making me lazy. Yes, I can re-write the IBM Workplace Forms Viewer for Mac, but I really don't want to. I started to at one point and even got to the point that i could open and edit a few of the forms and save the data back to the file.

    But alas, I have found an easier "more Mac Friendly" solution. Adobe Acrobat Pro. You see, Mac's can natively print to PDF. I can then use Acrobat Pro to make a "blank" form not only fillable but also digitally sign-able. I even found "ezPDF Reader" for my Android phone that lets me edit these PDF's right on my phone. Once I get a tablet (I hoping for a new Kindle Fire for Christmas) I will be able to load that app on the tablet and continue to work from the tablet using PDF's.

    Mac, has once again, screwed me by "just working". Thanks.

    So what now? Now, I am in that transitional phase between developer and user. I am sliding away from writing my own software and just using what works. Its amazing how much is really available. Oh, I also haven't had to restart my Macbook Pro in 18 days, 14 hours and 31 minutes as of this post, but that's just bragging.