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Programming

Journal: Good Employees: Confidence Versus Ego

Journal by fragmentate

One of the challenges of being a CTO is finding quality people for your development team. When the search began for employees for our new venture, the pickings were slim. What we needed was a star. We also needed someone that would trust us, and not be argumentative about new concepts. It's pretty easy to pick out the "bad eggs."

In theory, PHP developers come a dime a dozen. People that call themselves PHP developers do; skilled developers with an appreciation for more complex tasks aren't quite as well-stocked. Through all the searching we decided to take an entry level programmer. Someone fresh out of school (where, not surprisingly, they used Java). Our platform was going to be built on PHP (via Symfony), Perl, Ruby and PostgreSQL. How you meld that all together requires some open thinking.

Our staff has grown to 3 engineers (myself included), and 5 developers. And the hardest lesson to teach is the difference between confidence, ego, and entitlement.

Confidence is knowing you have the knowledge and wisdom to take on a challenge with enough modesty thrown in that you'll ask for help if you're stuck. Well, the question is "how is having to get help confident?" The answer is quite simple. Confident people are very secure. Asking for help is not an admission of weakness, it's a sign of that security. Confidence is not gloating at your own success, but knowing that sharing the credit doesn't diminish your standing or the success.

Ego is the enemy of confidence. There are two types of ego to deal with. First, there is the type of ego that most people are familiar with. The person who thinks everything he says is right, and everyone else is wrong. The other kind is the one who's been told his whole life about how great he is and has been babied through every situation. The truth about this guy is that he doesn't realize that real-life is actually real.

This leads me to entitlement. Confident, or egotistical, the result is often a feeling of entitlement. Some people feel that they are owed respect, attention, or recognition. Confident people aren't really confident if they need constant approval. And I don't really have the time to hold their hands so that they feel good. Egotistical people, I must admit, are the hardest to cope with. Often, egotistical people expect the attention and when they don't get it, they get angry.

So, am I writing this just to vent?

Actually, no, I'm not. What I really want to do is help those people struggling to find real confidence in themselves. My hope is they can identify themselves, and improve their views.

If you want to be an asset to a company, you need to work hard. That much is obvious. When I was young there were all kinds of stupid acronyms describing how to be successful. The one I remember most is "You're not good at what you do until you've ACED it." ACED stood for Assertiveness, Confidence, Exploration, Determination. It meant that you had to be assertive and confident, but understand that you don't have all of the answers. You have to explore options, and when it seems they've run out you have to stay determined to overcome the challenges.

In order to be a good developer and move up to engineer you have to be truly confident. You have to broaden your problem solving options. You can't tie yourself to just one solution. It's not about Java, or PHP, or Perl, or C. It's about finding the most robust solution you can using a combination of tools. It's not about fanaticism, or zealotry. It's about working with others towards a similar goal. It's about taking your job seriously and loving what you do. It's not about brownie points, and recognition. It's not about posturing, or politics.

Ditch the ego. Don't expect to be respected. Earn what you need. We all need approval, acceptance, recognition, and respect. Those things have a price: you have to work for them.

All good things must be earned. If people are simply given those things they have no appreciation for them. That just leads to stagnation. I can't think of a single CTO that has any use for stagnant creative people. I certainly don't.

Social Networks

Journal: Social Contribution: ZooLoo, a new way to socialize

Journal by fragmentate

Just over one year ago the adventure began. We set out to create a new way to connect with others on the internet. There were a lot of blogs, and social networks to choose from. Then there were the less often used hosting companies where you could set up a very personalized presence on the web.

The problem with blogs is that there are too many in too many different places written by too many people using too many pseudonyms. No one really knows who YOU are. Frankly, it's not very personal either. It's a lot of effort to personalize it. It's very hard to share. All a blog really offers most people is a place to express their opinion.

Social sites often include some type of blogging mechanism. However, there is a price to pay. The game of social networks is making friends with as many people as you can using the mechanism they provide. Somewhere in that system the individuals are lost. It's all about building that friend list. Very little personalization occurs.

The saving grace is hosting, right? You can customize your site. You can invite whoever you want to see it. You control the content. You can install blogging software. Wait, you don't know how to install web applications on a remote server? You don't know HTML? PHP? ASP? JSP? You're going to have a difficult time with the hosted solution.

Well, I introduce you to ZooLoo. It has the best of all worlds. There are social features so if you delight in finding and adding arbitrary people to your friend list you can. If you want to blog, we even included a blog. You can manage photos there. The real benefit is that you can create customized pages as if you had your own hosting. You have a site you can show to others. You have something you can customize. The tool we've written is called "zCreator", and it allows you to create site pages.

That's not enough? Well, you can also buy your own domain name from us and have it pointed at your new ZooLoo site. Or, if you already own a domain name and know how to set the DNS, you can use that domain name instead. It is vanity domain names the right way.

Best of all you can control who sees it. You can have a "My Heavy Metal Vomit Parties" page but restrict who can see it. Maybe your parents shouldn't see that page. Then you can have a photo album with "Pictures That Make Mom Happy" -- that you may want your friends to see.

That's the beauty of ZooLoo. I think we got it right. Now we need to polish it based on user feedback.

I am the CTO of ZooLoo. And I'm proud of what we have accomplished: My ZooLoo Site

Biotech

Journal: Beatless Artificial Heart Approved by FDA

Journal by fragmentate

According to Technology Review:

Earlier this month, the first fully implantable artificial heart was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It brings hope to patients who are near death from heart failure; yet some major problems remain with it--namely, its large size and relatively short lifespan.

The current artificial hearts and circulatory assist devices mimic the heart beat with a pump, but a variation on this new artificial heart is a continuous flow device:

But an alternative design, conceived by O.H. "Bud" Frazier, a prominent heart surgeon and pioneer in the development of cardiac devices at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, pumps blood through the body continuously, rather than with the periodic beat of the normal heart.

Slashdot.org

Journal: Moderation in Moderation

Journal by fragmentate

A bit of a rant follows.

I decided to view only comments that were moderated negatively, i.e. flamebait, troll, redundent, etc. What I found was a surprising trend. It seems most moderators use their moderation points to express their disagreement rather than rating the content being reviewed.

After having read the moderation guidelines I see that the SlashDot crew actually meant to make the most insightful, interesting, and funny posts more visible. Thus, they encourage positive moderation, rather than negative. Yet, over and over, as I use the Meta-Moderation tool I find many things I disagree with modded as "Troll" or "FlameBait" -- but, at the same time, it's only flamebait to me. I have to be objective and use my brain. I have to take a step back and decide, "is this comment truly FlameBait? Overall, would the vast majority of readers see it as flamebait?" Usually, the answer is "no."

It's difficult to mod something I don't agree with positively. There are some things I cannot be objective about. In those cases, I simply do not use my moderation points, and I reply instead. If you're modding something down because you disagree, or up if you agree, use the reply button instead of the moderate button.

Objectivity is difficult, I know.

The Internet

Journal: Wasting Advertising Dollars

Journal by fragmentate

A disturbing trend is surfacing again in the world of "Online Advertising." Amateur "Online Advertising" agencies are trying to take it on as though it were television advertising. In other words, appearance is far more important than visibility. In this age, visibility means being found by the search engines.

Many advertising agencies have the know-how to handle television advertising by making ads appropriate for their clients. For example, you expect a much different commercial for an investment firm than for a beer company. Demographics are what it is all about; and that is based on the visual aspects of the ads. I won't go into a diatribe here about demographics and online marketing. Suffice it to say that the online market has thinner lines drawn between demographics.

The new trend -- which is actually an old trend coming alive again -- is to create completely visual sites without regard for the legible content. Sure, you can read it just fine. But to a search engine spider, it's invisible. So these micro-sites don't get indexed unless you just happen to find the words surrounding the link that leads to it. This is, of course, assuming it was linked to from some other site.

There are ways to keep a page visible to the spiders and still make a nice flashy site. These TV/Radio advertising agencies claim to also be online marketing specialists. But, having gone through their portfolios, they treat it just like TV -- a captive audience that is forced to watch ads. Unlike TV there aren't a limited number of channels to choose from. So, for people to find your "channel" people most often use search engines.

Here are some things to watch for from "online advertising" agencies:

  • Navigation done wholly in JavaScript
  • Fancy drop down menus done wholly in JavaScript
  • Flash based content is not visible to engines
  • JavaScript generated content is not visible to engines
  • Non-descriptive titles, headers, and footers

Ask questions. Lots of questions. Ask them about each of the points above. If you get a sample of your site, right-click and "View Source...". If there is no textual content -- and I mean content, not HTML -- have them split out the flash files and embed some textual content describing what is on screen. Maybe next time, I'll go into how these sites aren't accessible to the visually impaired...

There are actually very, very few companies that know how to properly handle your online marketing campaigns. They know the right mix of graphical to textual content. They know how to give you the visibility you need. And, best of all, they know how to quantify the results.

Media

Journal: Nokia to go Head-To-Head Against iTunes?

Journal by fragmentate

Nokia recently acquired Loudeye Corp., a digital media distribution channel. BusinessWeek is speculating, 'the company may be seeking to go after none other than the 800-pound gorilla of the digital music world, Apple Computer (AAPL).' They continue, 'Yet the Loudeye brand is virtually unknown when compared with that of Apple's hugely popular iTunes service. This gives carriers the chance to market their own brand instead, says P.J. McNealy, an analyst with American Technology Research.'

Networking

Journal: Cisco Pushes for Household Market

Journal by fragmentate

Cisco is pursuing the private consumer market rather than only targeting technophiles, and businesses. Cisco recently acquired Scientific-Atlanta, the second largest provider of digital cable hardware for consumer households. This could be the first step in getting them some name recognition. FoxNEWS reports, 'After setting records for profit and revenue, Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) is taking on a challenge that may be more formidable than pleasing Wall Street: The networking gear provider plans a consumer advertising push aimed at getting average Internet users -- not software programmers and hardware administrators -- to recognize and even embrace the brand.'

Simply adding a secure router to a home network -- rather than directly connecting a computer to a modem -- is a great first step to deterring would-be attackers from accessing those computers. This pursuit could be a boon for the internet as the completely unsecured machines would be less accessible.

Google

Journal: Google Analysis of Click-Fraud Inaccuracy

Journal by fragmentate

This morning Google released information about their analysis of the exaggerated click-fraud numbers. Without pointing fingers, they mention that click-fraud analysis companies need to clean up their methods. From the post, "A rigorous technical analysis by Google engineers has found fundamental flaws in the work of several click fraud consultants - flaws that help explain why widely quoted estimates of the size of the click fraud problem are exaggerated." They even point out some obvious shortcomings of the methods used. The entire report is in a document (PDF) containing their complete analysis. It's an interesting read if you're in this market. Often there is a lot of FUD involved in pushing click-fraud detection products. Although the problem with click-fraud does exist, exaggerating it doesn't help anyone except the fly-by-night operations in it for a quick buck.

This story is related to a previous release on Slashdot. Looks like Google took the initiative here.

The Media

Journal: Reuters Admits Photos Were Doctored

Journal by fragmentate

Reuters pulled a photograph of burning buildings in Beirut yesterday after a post on the Little Green Footballs blog outed it as digitally manipulated. The photo, filed on Saturday by freelance photographer Adnan Hajj, ran with the caption "Smoke billows from burning buildings destroyed during an overnight Israeli air raid on Beirut's suburbs."

Another image from the same photographer was found to have been doctored.

Whether you're a CNN fan, or a FoxNEWS fan, you have to wonder how much of what we see is fake, or exaggerated.

PC Games (Games)

Journal: Black & White 2: Plagued With Bugs

Journal by fragmentate

Embarrasingly, I just recently opened a game I got on release day (September 16, 2005). Black & White was a great game for killing a lot of time, but I stopped playing it because it would crash frequently while saving. So, enter Black & White 2 (B&W2), hopefully a much improved product. Much to my dismay, no such luck. It arbitrarily, and at the worst possible times, crashes. No warning. No dialog. Just my desktop where the game used to be. In spite of two patches from Electronic Arts (EA), it still just crashes.

So, I remove my second card from my SLI system, and try it with only one card plugged in. Things were looking good. I stepped away while the game was paused, and came back to a dialog stating that B&W2 had to close. Progress! At least now I'm getting a dialog.

Spoke too soon. It crashes again a few minutes later with no warning.

Against all my principles, I install the game on a second machine -- A VIA chipset based system with an ATI graphics card. Poor graphics notwithstanding (it's a cheap ATI card), the game ran rock solid for hours. Now, this suggests that my graphics card on my superior machine is probably defective. So, I grab a fresh new card -- an nvidia 7600GT based card. Still no luck. The game still crashes.

The excuse? The game is not stable on nForce4/SLI systems using an nVIDIA graphics card. The solution? Well, EA, in a tech support response, stated, "we suggest you replace your system with a compatible system utilizing our suggested minimum requirements." Huh? I exceed those. So, the obvious question is, "Are you suggesting I shoot for the bare minimum?"

Two weeks later...

"No, we suggest you use an ATI based system, rather than nVIDIA. The game was designed to work on ATI."

That's just insane.

What they've managed to do is alienate someone that spends (and recommends) thousands of dollars a year on game software (I have kids). I won't ever buy another EA product again.

Maybe it's a blessing that Microsoft bought Lionhead Studios. And I can't even believe I just said that.

System specifications:
(I did set the BIOS settings to very conservative values as well
i.e. RAM at 3-4-4-7)

ASUS K8N-SLI Deluxe
AMD 64 3500+ @ 2.2GHz
2048M Corsair DDR RAM (2-3-3-6)@400MHz
100G SATA + 300G SATA Seagate hard drives
Two eVGA [nvidia] GeForce 7900GT KO 256MB Graphics cards in SLI configuration
Pioneer DVD/CD RW

Perl

Journal: The Perl Prima Donnas 1

Journal by fragmentate
Back in the raucous days of the .com boom (heretofore known as the .bomb) there were many perks for software developers, and especially for perl and PHP programmers. Today, however, I focus on the perl prima donnas.

I'm currently looking to fill two perl positions so I set out on a mission to find some quality perl programmers. I posted the opening to a few boards, and received over 300 responses. Out of that 300+ I eliminated nearly two-thirds. That left me with an ample 100 resumes to go through. I was deceiving myself...

Below are actual excerpts from the various responses I got:

I'm going to need two laptops, and I can only telecommute.

Do you guys offer a company car? It's like 5 miles from me and I cannot take the bus.

I'm an extremely dedicated worker. Once I get in the zone I cannot leave it, so I need there to be an onsite chef, or at least someone ordering meals for me.

If I work 40 hours at the office, then 40 hours from home every week, can I have every other week off?

No signing bonus? QuePasa.com gave me $5k up front.

I can only work 8pm to 5am, I'm demophobic.

I only do design work, not actual coding. I've been doing perl for 10 years now and have progressed far beyond simple coding.

Now, I'm sure this problem isn't specific to perl programmers. However, personally, I haven't run into this with any other discipline (we've hired several Java and PHP programmers).

Seriously guys, the boom is over... welcome to the post .bomb era. You guys just don't want to work. So you can wallow in your own pity, with your angry wives and parents to whom you make countless excuses about how companies don't appreciate your skills.

By the way... both positions are still opened...after 6 months.

(this is a followup to my last journal entry, the quotes in this were taken directly from the emails, the quotes in the last journal entry were taken from memory)

User Journal

Journal: A Break

Journal by fragmentate
Exploring new technology -- which sent me on a whirlwind tour of "The Web" -- is extremely time consuming. The sheer bulk of untapped innovation is staggering. Trying to find developers that think that creatively is even more staggering. It seems the bulk of developers are victims of the process. The process spoon feeds them a design document that took weeks to compile. They don't ever have to be creative. They're easily stumped by questions that require creative thinking.

I took a break from the real world so I could learn just how creative people are. A break is what I needed to refuel my mind with ideas. I think the "creative people" are always on break -- they're nearly impossible to hire. Most have unreasonable demands when it comes to hiring them. Here are some typical requests: (from actual interviews)

"I'll need two laptops."

"Will you guys be paying for my high-speed internet? I'll need to telecommute 3 days a week."

"What kind of company cars do you offer?"

"I want to set my own hours."

"If I work 40 hours here, and 40 hours from home in a week, can I have every other week off?"

Yes, the creative people are eccentric. We actually took a risk, and hired one... He was an employee for just over an hour. He left during a meeting, and just never came back. When I finally contacted him, he said that he can't work in an environment where there are meetings.

Give me A BREAK.

Amiga

Journal: Computer History Day

Journal by fragmentate
Friday, at the office, we had a "Computer History Day" where people brought their antiques in. Most people brought in 386's, and 486's. There were quite a few Commodore 64's, VIC20's, and even a Commodore 128. Three TRS-80's, and a Timex Sinclair also made it in. All machines had to be in working condition.

The only machine that was absent (until I got in) was the Commodore Amiga. Not one person had an Amiga. In fact, most people had no idea what an Amiga was.

My little computer that could is still in use today. I render 3D frames using Blender 3D and pass them to the Amiga for processing using ImageFX and some custom written hooks. So, that's what I demonstrated. All the while it was playing MP3's in 14-bit stereo sound (yes, 14-bit -- more on this later).

Not once did the MP3 skip. Which didn't really impress anyone. Not even in the slightest...

...until, I notified them that the machine was operating at 50MHz. Yes, 50MHz and it was crunching image data while playing an MP3 (192kbps). These machines were fabulous in their day. Just goes to show you what happens when something great is in the hands of a company that has a recto-cranial inversion.

The really amazing thing about the Amiga is how it even plays MP3's at all. You see, the Amiga only has 4 independent 8-bit sound registers. Two of the sound registers play on the left, two on the right. In spite of what you may think at first, you can't combine them and get 16-bit sound. Two of the bits are lost due to signing (one sound register has to always be positive, the other always has to be negative, the highest bit controls sign.) So, not only is this 50MHz machine having to decode the mp3, but also split the positive and negative swings of the audio to the 4 different registers. It's rather complex...

I was given a $400 "bonus" for having the most impressive machine there.

My Amiga 1200T (custom tower) is 13 years old, and still going strong with the following configuration:

Motorola 68060 CPU
128M PC100 RAM
120M Seagate 2.5" Internal IDE HD
240M Quantum 3.5" Internal IDE HD
10bT Ethernet (with BNC!)
64-bit 64M Pixel64 3D graphics card


They just don't make 'em like that anymore.
The Internet

Journal: YSS/SiteMatch eXchange/Yahoo!

Journal by fragmentate
Ovid (whoever that is) has a good analysis of a tool we're forced to comply with. The problem is, the only ones that can validate the data is Yahoo! We've been submitting these XML like files sans the XML header. In their specification they require it, but, frankly it confuses our browsers.

How does this kind of "work" get into something as big as Yahoo!? You'd think that Yahoo! would have scoured the Inktomi code to either learn what to do, or what not to do. It really is annoying to have to validate this stuff via e-mail rather than using an XML parser.

What?! XML can be parsed?! What a novel idea!

But that's not really the only issue with YSS (formerly SMX, formerly Paid Inclusion). Basically what this service provides is a means to appear in their natural search results. In other words, your site sucks, you haven't cleaned it up. You have URLs that are hideously long and conflagrated. Yet, for a price, you can appear mixed in with sites that have spent years trying to make their place in the supposed "natural" results.

It's hokey to begin with, and what's worse is Yahoo!'s clients bear all of the responsibility for the unverifiable file format. It's a good deal for Yahoo! They do practically nothing. You have to find the keywords, and they have to be the right keywords. Which keywords are right is subjective -- and Yahoo! is the judge. If they know what your keywords should be why don't they just give them to you? Then, after you do all the work for them, you have to pay them!

I'm in the right business!

For large values of one, one equals two, for small values of two.

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