Is SCO out of its corporate mind?

November 29th, 2004 § 6 comments § permalink

What the heck? Would someone please tell me what that means? (This is a screenshot taken from the SCO site this morning.)

Didn’t anybody at SCO realized they have that banner on the site yet?

Update: They have noticed the banner and changed it. Another interesting screenshot and an article can be found at Newsforge.

Why SCORM?

November 26th, 2004 § 1 comment § permalink

A friend of mine, who works in the education industry, asked me the following questions about SCORM:

Why SCORM? Why should I use it, with all the paraphernalia of files it entails, instead of using, for example, a weblog with some JavaScript to integrate the learning objects or an in-house system?

I’m asking the question in the context of small schools with a limited budget, no technical support staff, small labs with no servers, unknowledgeable professors, etc.

These are pertinent questions, and I’ve thought about them many times since I started consulting in this area, although never in the context mentioned above.

So, why choose SCORM? As it often happens when considering a new technology for adoption, people tend to rely more on hype and market considerations than on what the change really means.

» Read the rest of this entry «

The way of pain

November 25th, 2004 § 2 comments § permalink

Tenth day at the gym. After more than ten years without any kind of regular exercise. In the first two days, every workout session seemed like torture. Climbing down the gym stairs to go home, I felt my legs wobble as if they were made of jelly. At least, as my instructor said — and I didn’t believe at first — the worst pains were over in five days.

The last time I exercised regularly was in the high school. Even then, I had to be forced to practice any kind of sports. Except for the sporadic basketball, which I liked, anything else only contributed to my skipping the classes every occasion I could.

I remember testing my physical condition with the Cooper test back then. Two thousand and four hundred meters in twelve minutes. I finished it gasping, very proud of my result — just to find out later that I was barely the average range. From there, things only got worse. When every flight of steps leaves you out of breath, you know it’s time to do something about it.

I don’t know what’s worse: wake up in early in the morning, something completely incompatible with my lifestyle, or get to destroy myself in a treadmill or an exercise bike. Thinking better of it, I guess there are things worse then that; for example, see an woman twenty years older than me lift four times more weight than I’m able too, without hardly breaking a sweat. At least I’m already seeing some progress in my efforts.

Anyway, after ten days, I feel better. I’m able to finish every exercise series assigned to me, and I’m feeling my body grow more flexible. Muscles I didn’t even know existed are hurting all over my body, but helping me too. The only thing I think I’ll dislike forever is the exercise bike. I’m required to pedal for twenty minutes, and I can’t take my eyes out of the clock, counting every second still remaining.

Now, I just need persistence. As the old saying goes: if it isn’t hurting, it’s not working. But I’m just being way too dramatic about the whole thing; working out is not that bad, especially after it, when you are full of endorphin. Speaking of endorphin, a few days ago, I was waiting at the doctor’s office, leafing through a health magazine, when I found an article saying that regular sex (every other day, that is) is equivalent to a regular program of aerobic exercises. Good to know.

:-P

Runs like a fox…

November 24th, 2004 § Comments Off § permalink

Preparing for the upcoming full-page Firefox ad that will appear in The New York Times next month, the Spread Firefox campaign organizers are asking the site’s users to create quips or small stories to persuade people to switch to Mozilla. The three best quips will be used in the ad.

I was browsing yesterday through the quips already suggested, and had a lot of fun. There are some really interesting phrases, and also some that made me laugh out loud when I read them. Some, I can’t really know what was in the mind of the person who created them.

For example:

“I use Firefox because it’s so self-contained. Everything it installs goes into one folder.”

As if readers of The New York Times will know what a self-contained executables is… Also, the fact that Firefox installs itself to a single folder has no importance whatsoever for users. I can’t even imagine what the person who invented this quip was trying to demonstrate with it.

Another fun example, from someone who wants to rule the world:

“Would you be a puppet, if you could be a puppeteer? Use Firefox and get control back!”

From the series “Doesn’t make any sense”:

“Spreads like wildfire. Runs like a fox. Firefox.”

The next one caused my mind to turn around itself. It’s like that thing Bilbo said in his birthday party — you think you understood what it meant, but you didn’t, not really.

“It does what you want it to do, and it doesn’t do what you don’t want it to do.”

I laughed out loud at the next two. Mixed metaphors are really painful.

“Stop just exploring the web, grab it by the tail. Download Firefox!”

“The web is a jungle. Don’t explore it; dominate it. Be a Firefox. Free.”

A Zen moment — or a Yoda moment — depending on your preferences:

“Spreading I am, Fire I can be, Fox here I come”

You know what just occurred me? Considering the large number of research about pornography, indicating that it’s responsible for a big part of Internet’s total traffic and that it’s addictive, a quip suggesting that Firefox is good for this kind of browsing will be very, very successful.

I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Just kidding.

All right. I’m just having some fun at the expenses of the Spread Firefox’ users, but I think their efforts are truly valuable. If I could come up with a good catch phrase, I would surely contribute it. Since I can’t, I will leave that to more imaginative minds than mine. I guess they will do fine. Before people say I liked none of the phrases, I found some quite interesting, like those two:

“Freedom of Information starts with the freedom to access it. Use Firefox!”

“We gave them the product. We asked them for $50,000. They gave us $250,000. Any idea why? Get Firefox.”

Now, I will just wait for the ad. I’m really impressed by the terrific dedication shown by the Mozilla community. The results are wonderful. Eight million downloads of a preview release and six million downloads of another release just a few weeks later are quite a remarkable achievement. Here in Brazil, I’m quite satisfied to see a major newspaper putting out article after article about Firefox, including a switch guide and a very positive poll. If things keep going like this, I’ll finally start believing standards have a real chance to succeed in the Web.

Addiction

November 23rd, 2004 § Comments Off § permalink

You are reading your favorite comic strip when the Internet connection at work goes down. The forty-five tabs you have open in your browser become instantaneously useless. News arrives from support: the link to the broadband provider is down, and won’t come back anytime soon. You are now sure that this is a conspiracy to curb the sacred procrastination that is the right of every programmer. Time passes.

A few minutes later you need to understand an obscure parameter in a system function you are using. You open another tab in the browser, without even thinking about it. All sites you try to connect to are suddenly giving you “connection refused” messages. You thoroughly check the connection parameters in the browser before remembering that the unthinkable happened. You despair of life. You can’t even remember that the tool you are using has a help system as comprehensive as the one you are trying to access on the site of the tool’s maker. More time passes.

Without access to e-mail, newsgroups, forums, and blogs, you are starting to feel isolated from the world. In the office, silent until them — the only noise that of the air conditioning and the occasional ping of an e-mail hitting an inbox — voices begin to sound, a rare cacophony. Time is still passing.

After a couple hours, your hands start to shake — a sure sign of abstinence syndrome. You decide it’s time to go home before things get worse. At home, you at least have your old dial-up connection. You close the open programs, and prepare to shut the computer down.

Suddenly, a lonely instant messenger windows pops up on the screen. The connection is back. Relieved sighs sound around you. The following silence is complete and almost instantaneous. Ecstasy — and network saturation too.

Lies, damn lies, and statistics

November 22nd, 2004 § 2 comments § permalink

That’s probably true for most blogs with a heavy technical content, but I was surprised to find that over 50% of the visitors of this blog access it through a RSS reader. I guess that has something to do with the fact that all feeds for the blog have the full text of the entries, eliminating the need to visit the site, but the number was above what I would expect intuitively.

Most of the RSS accesses come from the big centralized aggregators like Bloglines and Kinja. The rest is split up between dozen of client aggregators, with Newsgator, FeedDemon, and NetNewsWire being the most used. There are even some people using Konfabulator applets. Interesting.

With regards to browsers, responsible for 40% of the remaining hits, Internet Explorer is still the lead. A little more than 50% of the visitors use IE, and 35% use any of the Mozilla variants. Considering the site’s profile, the numbers seem about right. IE numbers are high also because a good percentage of visitors coming via search engines use it. Nonetheless, Mozilla usage is growing, as expected. If Mozilla’s adoption rates continue holds to what the logs show, IE will be overcome in a few months.

I was a bit disappointed by the kind of search queries that lead to visits to my site. None of them was interesting. I think I’m not writing enough strange entries to attract this kind of crazy searches. Also, most of the people visiting the site via a search engine must be frustrated when they come to my site. Most of the entries related with the search phrases have nothing to do with what people where looking for. More than often, a random combination of keywords triggered the inclusion of the site in the search results. People looking for analysis of books and movies also leave the site dissatisfied: my reviews rarely contain spoilers, which limits analysis — even if I wanted to do them.

Referrer spam is coming back after a long winter. Many of the spam URLs that appear on the logs also appear on spam in comments. Since the problem is still small, I’m not bothering with it know.

Well, that’s enough statistics for today. I should be doing something more useful now, but such is the nature of bloggers — navel-gazers all of them.

Reading

November 19th, 2004 § 2 comments § permalink

Being the book addict that I am, I couldn’t help but be pleased when I came home the day before yesterday and found six new books waiting for me. I can’t compare the effects of the smell of new books to that of cocaine, since I never used the latter, but judging from the things people say about it, I guess the former has a similar result on me.

From the six books, I had already read two, borrowed elsewhere. I decided to buy them because my wife wanted to read them, and they were part of a promotional package in the online bookstore I use at the time. Unsurprisingly, those two books are The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, both by Dan Brown.

Some months ago, since I kept hearing and reading about them everywhere, I decided to get them and see if they were really good as people were saying. I got them and read them in a couple days and I have to say that I, too, enjoyed them. Both books have their merits; they do entertain the readers, and that’s more than can be said about a lot of more respected works. They are not deep, there are lots of flaws in Dan Brown writing style, but their pace is fast, and they manage to keep the reader interested to the very end.

What’s more impressive about the books, of course, is their success. The Da Vinci Code has been on The New York Times’ best-selling list for eighty-six uninterrupted weeks already. Almost every day, wherever I go, I see people reading or carrying a copy of one of those two books. Conspiracies really sell, it seems. Dan Brown must grin from ear to ear every time he awakes. Considering that the books are a hodgepodge of crazy theories (most of them incorrect, as we know from their historical context), he’s doing extremely well.

Together with them came one of the thousand books devoted to the analysis of The Da Vinci Code. I wasn’t really interested on it, but without it I couldn’t get the promotional price so I bought it anyway. Amusingly enough, this book was written by a pastor associated to the Dallas Theological Seminary, one of the most respected Baptist seminaries in the world. Considering that I’m a Baptist myself, I’m curious to see what the author has to say about the subject.

The other books are the complete new trilogy by Neal Stephenson, The Baroque Cycle. Neal Stephenson is one of the authors you can’t find in Brazil, except by importing his books, so, albeit his fame, I have never read one of his books. I own a digital copy of Cryptonomicon, which I purchased at Fictionwise, but I didn’t read it yet.

The events in the book happen amidst the big political and social changes that dominated the late 17th and early 18th century, including the big scientific advances that took place in the period. Many of the characters are historical, including Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, whose conflicts are part of the plot. The plot, by the way, is said to be colossal, which scared some readers. Me, I like them big plots.

Now I have four voluminous books by Stephenson (the smaller is over 800 pages long) to read on my (probable) vacation by the end of the year. Judging from the reviews, I think I’m going to like them. The book titles are interesting by themselves: Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World. Intriguingly, the covers are silver-, bronze-, and gold-colored, respectively.

As soon as I finish reading them, at some unspecified time in the future, I will review them here. Recently, I’m not taking time to review the books I’m reading because I’m too short on personal time, but there are some authors I found recently that deserve the effort. Philip Pullman and China Miéville are two names that come to mind.

So, what have you been reading?

Apache dying

November 17th, 2004 § Comments Off § permalink

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that the Apache server that runs this site and others in my server was dying unexpectedly at odd times due to an unidentified problem. After some searches in the server logs, I found the problem was related to logrotate. Every time logrotate ran, it reloaded Apache, but the Apache service failed to come back up after it had been shut down.

After some fruitless googling, I gave up and hacked the logrorate command to reload Apache twice. I tried other approaches, but that was the only one that worked. It’s a real kludge, but since I couldn’t find another way, I figured it was better than nothing.

Anyway, searching for some details about Debian’s Apache package today, I came across a bug listing that described the very problem I was experiencing. As it turns out, that’s an old known bug in Debian’s Apache, with no available fix. There are some kludge solutions, much like the one I’m using, but it won’t be fixed until Debian’s next big release.

At least I found out that I’m not the one to blame for that one.

Koders

November 17th, 2004 § Comments Off § permalink

I heard a lot about Koders in the past few days, but hadn’t bothered to check the site until now. Koders is a search engine for source code, and it enables developers to search and browse the code found in thousands of open source projets.

I run a few queries, and the results are interesting. Next time I need to find how to do some programming task, I will check Koders and see how I fare. Since reading code is a lot harder than writing it, searching Google or Google Groups for articles and detailed explanations will probably be quicker and more useful most of the times, but it’s nice to have such large body of code readily available for study.

Kudos for whoever came up with the idea.

Death March

November 5th, 2004 § 2 comments § permalink

I guess every programmer was once part of a Death March project. Here in Brazil, I think Death March projects are the norm, given the common tendencies of managers to underestimate the time it takes to develop applications, and the huge competition caused by restricted markets in some cities. Consequently, things fail, mistakes are made, and delays accumulate.

Today, I finally left this stage in a project I’ve been working on, and I can now believe the situation is under control. The last three weeks were a chaotic mix of long hours, little sleep, and too much despairing. The extended holiday I was dreaming of disappeared amidst unending lines of code.

This project, to tell the truth, wasn’t that big. But internal flaws magnified the problems, and incorrect decisions about them let the application in a brittle state where it was unable to cope with some scenarios it was intended to deal with.

The only solution was refactoring, which was what I did. Code endlessly reproduced all over the application by way of Copy & Paste Programming was refactored into methods. 800-line long methods were trimmed to 50 lines or less by the use of strategic sub-routines. In two weeks, the code stopped looking like a mess, and became readable. I finally believed things would work out well in the long run.

So the story has a happy ending because the client tested the system and, except for a couple misunderstandings, the code worked. No show-stopper and no inconsistencies. And I lived for another day.

Where am I?

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