Indistinct world

February 13th, 2003 § 2 comments § permalink

The frame of my prescription glasses broke unexpectedly the day before yesterday. When I was going home from work, I heard a sound like a low click coming from the frame, but when I checked it I didn’t notice anything wrong. Some hours later, when I was at a men’s meeting in the church, the frame simply fell apart, and the world went indistinct.

I wear glasses since I was seven, and I wear them the whole day. Except in the shower, or when I’m sleeping, I rarely take them off. Although it was not the first time something like that happened to me, the last time I broke my glasses had been so long ago that I had forgotten how badly I rely on them. I can only read if I hold the book a few inches from my face. I can’t use the computer, and even moving around is difficult.

In the morning (that was yesterday), I called work to inform I was not coming in the morning because I needed to fix the glasses. I took my wife with me because I didn’t feel confident enough to get on a bus and go to downtown all by myself barely aware of what was happening around me. Finding a place to fix the glasses was easy, but it did take some time to meld the frame pieces together, and we had to walk around a little while we waited because the place we went had no waiting room. I can’t express how I was relieved when the fix got ready and the world went back to its usual distinct state.

After that, I decided to buy the new glasses I should have bought six months ago when I went to the ophthalmologist the last time. I had my current glasses for almost four years, and I think it was old age that caused them to break. My myopia stabilized two years ago, and in the last test I made it had even got a little better. My wife and I went directly to the store of a man who has made my glasses for the last fifteen years (with a single exception) where we ordered my new glasses and new lenses for her glasses (she had went to an ophthalmologist recently, too). The bill was a hefty R$ 373.00 because I use lenses with anti-reflection coating and a special treatment that makes them go dark in sunlight (I’m photophobic). We had a pretty interesting time at the store talking about how lenses are made, which is something I always wanted to know more about. The technology in this area has improved a lot since my last pair was made.

The new glasses will be ready early in the next week. I hope the fix I made to my current glasses holds until the new ones are delivered. An indistinct world is no fun at all.

Kevin Mitnick’s site is hacked

February 11th, 2003 § Comments Off on Kevin Mitnick’s site is hacked § permalink

The site of Defensive Thinking, Kevin Mitnick‘s security consulting company, was hacked two times in the last few weeks. In the first break-in, somebody calling himself BugBear defaced the site, adding a new page that congratulated Mitnick for his return to freedom and informed him that hacking into his site had been easy. A few time later, another person hacked the site to ask Kevin to hire him as the company security officer.

Ironically, Defensive Thinking’s site runs IIS, Microsoft’s Web server. I thought somebody who is in the security business would know better than use such flawed application. Although Mitnick dismisses the invasions as amusing, I wonder what kind of company will trust him to help them secure their assets.

(via Adriana)

Two years

February 10th, 2003 § Comments Off on Two years § permalink

Today my wife and I are celebrating our second wedding anniversary. Those two years were surprising, complex, blessed, happy, and everything else a year with another person at your side can be. I thank God for every day in those two years, and ask Him for His guidance for the next years.

Differences in language error patterns

February 10th, 2003 § Comments Off on Differences in language error patterns § permalink

As I wrote some of my last posts, I happened to notice that the pattern of errors in different languages seems to be different too. To explain why I noticed this, a bit of information about this blog follows.

I have another blog that mirrors this blog in my native language, which is Portuguese. Almost everything I write here ends up there as well and vice-versa. The few exceptions are posts in one of them that are heavily dependent on the cultural context and consequently wouldn’t make sense in the other blog. Writing in two different languages means a lot of translations and corrections back and forth between those languages. Most of the times I write the post in English and translated it back to Portuguese. It may seem strange, as Portuguese is my native language, but one of my goals with the English blog is to improve my English writing skills, which means I tend to prefer writing the posts in that language.

Obviously, I make a lot of errors when writing. In the last posts, I realized that the mistakes I make when writing in English are different from those I make when writing in Portuguese. The former are mostly phonetic errors, while the latter are often orthographic errors. For example, sometimes I write sense, when I mean to write since. In Portuguese, I usually have doubts about how a word is properly written. To use another example, I could write desvaneio (which is usually translated to reverie), when I should have written devaneio. It’s a spelling error, but different from the kind of spelling errrors that happen in English. I don’t quite know how to explain the difference. Observing a bunch of posts, newsgroup postings, and Web pages, I found a similar pattern.

I’m curious to know if my observations are true; if they are, I wonder how those patterns would be in other languages besides Portuguese and English. Well, I will search a little bit about this subject. If I can find any useful information, I will write more about it later.

Directions

February 10th, 2003 § Comments Off on Directions § permalink

Should you ever need directions some day when I’m nearby, don’t think about asking them of me. You may end in a completely different place. I can’t remember how many times somebody asked me directions to some place, and I provided what I considered correct instructions with the exception that I was mistaken about a seemingly insignificant detail that later turned out to make a big difference.

For example, recently I was explaining to a friend of mine how to get to his home from where we were, and I told him to turn right in a given street. But, I should have instructed him to turn left at that point. He followed my instructions, and it took him half an hour to find a return point since he was not familiar with the region. I simply don’t know why it happens. It’s probably related to my being terribly inattentive sometimes.

So, don’t trust me for directions. And I’m forced to say that it almost happened again today. Someday, somebody will end up in another city because of my blunders.

Open source and documentation

February 10th, 2003 § 3 comments § permalink

Shelley Powers recently commented on a very common problem in open source projects: the lack of documentation, whether regarding the installation or the use of those projects. As she said, there a kind of perception that the programmers responsible for those projects should not be bothered with demands for documentation as they are already doing people a great favor by building them.

I don’t want criticize or belittle the efforts of programmers who create open source software. To the contrary, the generosity of many of those programmers is astounding and worth of praise. Nonetheless, documentation (or lack thereof), is really an issue in open source problems, normally stemming from the insufficiency of resources and time to do it. Documentation is a time-consuming tasks, and it’s perceived as something that will take time from more profitable activities like improving the application. And, for most people, it’s a boring task too.

All that facts result in a huge deficiency in that area, although I believe many programmers involved in open source projects are as good technical writers as they are programmers. Nevertheless, only big projects, like Apache and JBoss, are likely to have specific teams that, while still participating in development, are primarily responsible for documentation.

I think this mentality must be challenged. The open source community must recognize the problem and take the necessary steps to correct or at least ameliorate the situation. Each programmer in a open source project should find ways to help the project users with respect to documentation, whether those users are programmers or not.

Open source programmers must realize that, even if users only resorts to documentation when nothing else is left to do, it may be the difference between a useful tool and an abandoned one. However noble is the intention behind a open source project, without documentation the chances it’s adopted beyond the initial user group are reduced if the documentation is lacking — especially in corporate environments where training and discovery of quick solutions for occasional problems is crucial. Documentation is also necessary if the knowledge about the application is not to be lost. In fact, this is the whole reason behind the Linux how-tos. Finally, the current growth of open source desktop applications creates a new demand in that area.

Volunteers are as needed here as in any other area of the open source development process. I believe the adoption of simple documentation practices could result in a huge gain for open source. A simple and obvious way of helping is documenting difficulties and solutions when installing or using a given program, and later donating this documentation to the program developer. Most how-tos were created in that very way. Additionally, people interested in helping open source projects may do it helping with the documentation. BottomFeeder is an example of that. Its documentation is written by a volunteer. This is an excellent practice, and many projects many benefit from similar offers. Also, initiatives like The Linux Documentation Project are always needing more people.

My belief, stated many times here, is that technology that doesn’t improve users’ life is pointless. Documentation is part of this because its lowers the barriers to entry. Moreover, it’s a market demand. And people should never forget that open source projects answer to those same demands.

Programmer burnout

February 9th, 2003 § Comments Off on Programmer burnout § permalink

Some days ago, James Robertson briefly commented on programmer burnout resulting from the improper choice of technology in projects — in that specific case, Visual C.

Although I never experienced such level of stress, I can easily identify myself with those programmers’ predicament. In some days, the frustration that comes from using flawed technology in my daily job is almost as maddening.

I work in a Windows-only shop, which means the chosen platform for most applications is an ASP + SQL Server combo. To be fair, this choice is in part dictated by the Brazilian market conditions. Almost all companies working with technology here use the same technologies, and the prevalent mentality is that nobody was ever fired for opting to use Microsoft products. Nonetheless, knowing this does little to mitigate my frustration.

In my particular case, part of the problem is that I got spoiled. In my previous job, I was in charge of choosing the company’s technological direction. I have always been a Borland fan, and the obvious decision was to use Delphi. So, in the three years I spent there, I used it for almost all majors projects. The few exceptions were some virtual stores done with Microsoft’s Site Server Commerce Edition — an experience I hope I can forget someday.

Delphi is both a mature environment and a powerful language. I’ve been using it since its first release, and now I have little patience with inferior solutions. At the time, I developed a lot of object-oriented libraries for various common tasks, especially those related to the applications’ data layer. That libraries ranged from simple units comprising lightweight classes for database access to complex frameworks dealing with every aspect of an application including automatic SQL generation, XML serialization, and user interface modularization using XSLT transformations.

After that kind of experience, ASP is a step back. Grouping functions in some include files is the best you can do in ASP projects to achieve some kind of isolation between the application tiers. Of course, you can use COM objects, but they are pretty limited, and — however incredible this may sound — some clients actually forbid companies from installing COM libraries in their servers. If a company can manage to persuade its clients, the libraries usually must be developed in Visual Basic, which is not so far from ASP.

Obviously, all those facts imply in longer development cycles. Still so, most companies keep trying to deliver their products in unrealistic time frames. That imbalance is what causes the referred burnout. Especially because programmers know that things can be done in a better way. As the delivery date approaches, the stress level is guaranteed to shoot through the roof.

The obvious options to solve the problem in the programmers’ side, which is trying to change the corporate culture, is an inglorious effort that will certainly result in more frustration and stress, and has few chances to succeed. With respect to the companies themselves, the corporate inertia that denies every possibility of finding effective solutions is proportional to the size of the company multiplied by its Dilbert coefficient.

So, I fear to say that there’s no simple solution. Ironically, the market itself is responsible for blinding companies to the losses that result from continuing in that suicidal path. Companies that go under when programmers finally get so fed up with mismanagement that they leave are pretty common. The case Robertson cites in which the company realized its mistakes and started searching for solutions is exceedingly rare. So, I believe programmers must find their own defense mechanisms to avoid getting burned out. After all, I’m just stating the obvious when I say that there’s no point in wearing yourself out because others are failing to realize their errors.

Tidbits: For fun and profit

February 8th, 2003 § Comments Off on Tidbits: For fun and profit § permalink

For profit:

  • Free as in Freedom, a book detailing Richard Stallman’s individual trajectory in the open source movement, is available for free at O’Reilly.
  • Cascading versus Indexed Menu Design is a study of three common kinds of site navigation menus that seeks to determine which of them is more usable. The conclusions it reached were interesting.
  • Unix.se published an interview with Dennis Ritchie.

For fun:

  • The Mystery of Time and Space is an simple Flash game resembling some solo role-playing games.
  • How good is your spelling? Take a test featuring 50 commonly misspelled words chosen by a copy-editor in the course of his professional years. I managed to score 84%, even making some with some dumb mistakes.

Male or female?

February 6th, 2003 § 2 comments § permalink

Contrary to most the quizzes you get in e-mails every day, the Gender Test is actually interesting. You answer a series of questions, and the program will determine whether you are male or female. It’s also designed to improve itself based on users’ feedback regarding the correctness of the evaluation.

Well, it correctly determined that I’m a male, with 95% confidence. Not that I had any doubts about my masculinity 😉 The site says it can get to 100% accuracy, but I don’t know in which circumstances. After the test is taken they explain how the results are achieved: statistical analysis, with a well chosen set of question that both genders are likely to answer in very distinctive ways.

Why

February 4th, 2003 § 4 comments § permalink

I was nine then, enjoying the third grade in a small school in the neighborhood I did live at the time. I was an overly curious boy that loved to read and study, and would spent my days between school and the books I managed to borrow from a reluctant librarian who didn’t believe I could read so fast.

In that particular grade, my Portuguese teacher was a small and beautiful woman called Mrs. Natividade. She had a short blonde hair and an open smile that spoke of her love for her students. Pregnant at the time, she was very emotive, and sometimes that led her to cry in the class. My classmates and I would stand still, not even daring to breath, until she stopped crying. It frightened us to see an adult cry. Nonetheless, we loved her. She was gentle, and cared about us.

She encouraged us to write. I know it was part of her duties, but she did it in a special way. She corrected our mistakes, and sometimes selected some of our texts to read them aloud to the class. It was glorious when that happened.

One day, she asked us to write a text without providing a subject, as she would usually do. I let my imagination run free, and wrote about a farm. The story told how the farmer was losing his crop to birds that would eat the grain, and how he managed to solve his problem. It was childish and simple, but she liked it. She praised my text, and said she had loved it. I believed her. The original text, with her written observations is still in my possession.

I never saw her again after the year ended. But she taught me a lot of things that still guide me to this day. She nurtured my abilities, and helped me to develop my language skills. That first experience with writing became one of many joyful forays in the realms of literature.

As I progressed through school, I developed a taste for writing. I wasn’t a prolific write; I just enjoyed the occasional incursions in paths I had not walked before. I wrote poems depicting the fight of the pieces in a game of chess. I wrote tales about courageous starship crews risking their lives exploring the galaxy. I wrote about my faith, and any other subjects I was interested at the time. I chronicled my daily life in a journal, recording thoughts, aspirations, and fears. And I read. I admired those who could write better than I will ever do, and envied their skill and eloquence.

Time passed. I had to forget about going to a university because of my financial condition. I found a job to help my family, and put my technical skills to good use. Writing was relegated to an even lower place. I never abandoned reading, but wouldn’t write anymore. More time passed. I married and changed jobs.

In the course of my first year in the new job, I discovered blogging. Luckily, I stumbled upon technological blogs, and found aggregation too. Reading blogs became a daily pleasure. I was amazed at the quality of what people wrote. Their voices awakened my long dormant desire to return to writing. A few months later, I started my own weblog. I would link a lot, and comment on things I found interesting. Sometimes I even ventured an original writing.

Meanwhile, I had found people in the company I worked for who shared the same desire for writing. Two became friends. One was a former musician, now working to make a living in an unrelated profession. The other, although working in his field of choice, wrote poems in his free time, and wanted someday publish his already written books.

One of those friends was a blogger too, and had preceded me for a few months in the blogosphere. As our friendship grew, he suggested a joint writing project. I invited our common friend, and proceeded to created a shared weblog were we could dump our thoughts. I loved it. The blog was an outlet to our writing desires. Those friends encouraged me to return to poetry, and helped me in my first feeble steps back into the art. We laughed at our mistakes, and shared our dreams. Writing was once again part of my life.

I’m blogging because I love to write. And also because I love to read what people write. I admire Shelley Powers’ passion when she talks of what she really cares about. I admire Jonathon Delacour when he expresses eloquently what matters to him in life. I admire Dorothea Salo when she shares tidbits of her life that show the human being behind the words. I admire Doc Searls telling about his six-year-old son reactions to the Columbia tragedy.

I admire the other sixty or so people in my blogroll who times beyond count provided valuable insight about things I was interested in, and shared their lives in their writing. I don’t agree with everything they say, but I have grown to respect them. And I also admire the countless other writers out there, in the vast spaces of the Web, pouring their souls into their words.

The Web is full of life. And life tells itself. That’s why I blog. I’m still finding my voice, but I can see where I’m going. Some long lost dreams are real again. It may not matter to anyone else, but I don’t care. I have found a part of my life again.

Where am I?

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