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Comment Like This Is For The Benefit Of The Students... (Score 1) 142

The sole purpose of this is so that some politician can claim "I proposed legislation to ensure that all grade-school children in this state are taught programming" next time they're up for re-election. It doesn't matter if the bill passes or fails, it doesn't matter if what the kids are to be taught amounts to one hour over eight years of schooling or a full hour a week for the full eight years of grades 4-12, since all this is really about is to get a line on a politician's resume that shows how *deeply* they care about STEM education. That said, one hour over eight years is a nice safe way of ensuring that the person behind it can't be accused of "wasting taxpayer dollars" should it actually pass.

Comment Re: How is this news? (Score 2) 269

Even in small companies, where the number of employees are small, some employees are more equal than others. More on that later, but just to share my telecommuting experiences.

I've worked in a telecommuting position twice. The first time was 100% telecommuting, with the distance between me and the office being about 1300 miles, from 2005-2008. The hiring situation was unusual - they came to me, I'd worked for them in-office for three years in the late 90s, they knew what I could do, etc. It started out well, although they had me doing semi-relevant work until the contract they'd hired me to work on came in. Despite the company setup being quite able to do proper teleconferencing (I'd done a study on the practicality of it in 1998 as one of my last tasks in my previous time) communication was e-mail and conference calls only, despite my agitating to try to get proper video teleconferencing going (being able to see people, expressions, gestures, read body language is a must for effective VTC). It worked until the contract didn't come in, and I got shunted onto other work, increasingly with people who'd been hired after the first time I'd left, and with some health issues on my part and work in the area I specialized in becoming scarce in the company, it was only a matter of time before they laid me off (I wasn't cheap, they could hire a couple of kids straight out of college to do straightforward coding for the same), although I'd have preferred it if they'd just cut me when things started going south, without spending six months criticizing me for not being as good at something I'd never been hired to do in the first place, then laying me off on the second day of my Christmas vacation after I'd worked right over the actual holiday to hit a deadline).

Second experience soured me a lot more. The company was a just-ceased-to-be-a-startup located 90 miles from where I lived, so office visits were fairly regular, I was hired as one of the staff in their new Milwaukee office for a "custom-tailored" position. Spent the first week in the main office in Madison, which was like something out of a Hollywood movie on tech startups - cubicle land, but very relaxed office environment, lots of perks to be in the office, those nice $600 chairs, real "this is a great work environment" stuff. So when, after a couple of months in temporary office space, we finally got into our new office in Milwaukee's trendiest tech neighborhood (which isn't very trendy compared to almost anywhere else's tech neighborhood) and which was a brand-new facility in old warehouse space, we were a little underwhelmed to discover the four of us who were starting out the new remote office were to be the company's guinea pigs in an open office environment. Less pleased still when we discovered the "desks" we'd got were actually cheap dinner tables from a local store, chosen more for their rough-hewn appearance matching the designer's vision of the place, and less pleased still when the temporary "loaner" chairs for the main office were replaced by those special "conference room chairs" intended to ensure you're uncomfortable, and available from the local Staples for $79 each.

We had the gear to do proper VTC, but it was never used, considered too much effort, even though they were "going Agile" (I think it's a requirement if you want to be a Hip Social Media Company) and having the daily 30 minute meetings. That became less of a deal for me when it became clear that at 44 I was considered some sort of relic by the Fresh Young Rock Stars, and the work my job had been built around was either outsourced to new "company partners" or ignored because proposed solutions didn't match the existing skill sets of the FYRS, who seemed to live in mortal terror of learning anything new, or the idea that maybe my antiquity meant I'd learned a thing or two. Throw in the promised weekly visit by the manager never happening, and we became increasingly isolated, generally treated as "out of sight, out of mind" and very clearly second class citizens. As senior second-class citizen, I kicked up most of the fuss about the crappy environment, which didn't endear me to the manager, despite me having done some bloody good work for them. OK, so I got a bit *too* pissed off, and telling your boss that the fscking chairs aren't acceptable probably did merit the warning about unprofessional behavior (although it's odd how it's always the employees who're unprofessional, when employers can act like bastards and get considered *more* professional for doing so), until finally they basically announced what they were going to do what the previous telecommuting employer had done, and stick me in a "designed to fail" role, so I quit - I suffer from pretty severe anxiety, and the way they'd designed it to fail was to make my new role as anxiety-inducing as possible.

Said remote office has now closed - another of the four left a couple of months after I quit to work for the company behind WordPress, who seemingly *really* have the telecommuting thing sorted out, another was laid off, and the shiny new office was closed, as the company (who I won't name, but the name rhymes with "Outlet" if you shouted it, and whose product is basically a social media marketing SaaS platform) started to experience high turnover as the FYRS decided they had to move onto bigger and better things with higher salaries, unlimited vacations and Friday afternoon in-office keggers be damned (then again, the company used the term "rock star" to refer to any competent employee - there were one or two people there who were worthy of the name, but I had problems with people who had hissy fits at the thought of using anything other than PHP and moved from a badly set up PostgreSQL database to MongoDB not because they actually needed it (much as they liked to say "big data" a lot) but because they got badly confused by anything more than the simplest SQL getting described as "rock stars". Then again, when the manager's title got "bumped up" every two weeks, like the generallisimo in some banana republic being awarded a new medal to ensure his loyalty, what do you expect? If he's still there, he's probably Supreme High Grand All-Powerful Almighty Head Manager Of Software Development For Life, With 27th Degree Bars, Eagles And Diamond Clusters, 1st Class, by now. Probably required a separate line on the org chart just to fit in his title.

I've not worked since - after being thoroughly screwed over by two employers in a row, I don't trust anybody enough to work for them, and the mental health problems that the experience of being fscked over by people I'd considered good friends (in more than a work capacity) twice in a row has put me in a position where, after multiple suicide attempts, and the "well past sell-by date" age of 49, I'm unlikely ever to work again. Which is nice in some ways, because I can make the company's name fairly obvious, it's not like they can make me any more unemployable, is it? The only person I'll ever trust enough to work for in future is myself.

So, for me at least, telecommuting has been a bad experience. However, in both cases it was due to the company treating the telecommuter as some distant outpost that wasn't really part of the *proper* company and, in the first case, a lack of understanding of what was required to properly integrate a telecommuter into a team. Sh....uh, Outlet should have known better, being more media savvy and having people working for them who knew what *didn't* work well with telecommuting, but didn't really give a damn. So in return, I didn't give a damn about them, and was glad when they got acquired. By now some of those self-described "rock stars" are probably getting the sort of "you know nothing, old man" attitude I got from others. At least, I hope they are. With knobs on.

I think telecommuting *can* work, but a company has to get over some of the delusions about the reduced productivity of home workers (probably true of some people, but most people I've known who worked that way put in *more* time than if they'd been office) and try to ensure a level playing field where telecommuters are properly set up so that they're fully part of the project they're working on, not just in terms of being integrated from a software development perspective, but in terms of meetings, hell, it wouldn't even hurt to VTC them in for big in-office announcements, rather than just e-mailing them as an afterthought.

Comment Building Simulator 2015 (Score 5, Funny) 134

Graphics so real you could almost be there although we can't figure out why you'd *want* to be there, exciting architecture-based gameplay. Defeat enormous boss structures such as gothic cathedrals and terrifying office blocks, advance to higher levels and face ever-more-powerful types of inanimate building...

Comment Pretty Lame Selection (Score 5, Insightful) 209

At least most of these actually got off of the ground and some really don't belong in a list of bad aircraft - the example of the Comet has already been raised, the MiG-23 wasn't a bad plane by any means - unforgiving of inexperienced pilots, but so was the F-104 and *that* one gets included in a lot of "best planes ever" lists. Total production of the MiG-23 family is over 5,000 - bad planes don't get built in that sort of numbers.

Throw in planes that were pretty adequate in their time but verging on obsolete when they had their 15 minutes (the Devastator), those that weren't actually bad but had the misfortune of being the successor to something so successful it wouldn't go away (the Albacore). It's difficult to call the Me 163 a bad plane - it was a desperate measure that made it very dangerous, but it's a very significant type. The He 162? Another desperation measure, but one of the more trusted opinions on the merits of aircraft (Eric "Winkle' Brown) found it a downright joy to fly, although again it was (again) unforgiving of inexperienced pilots, which perhaps wasn't the best quality for something intended to be flown by pilots with minimal training.

Besides, there are so many things that can ruin otherwise good designs - how many 50s US jets are considered jokes because the DoD decided they were to be powered by the Westinghouse J-40? Not bad planes, but a bad engine. Some planes that escaped from the J-40 and had alternate power plants suggested (F4D, for example) ended up being considered classics.

Comment Re:*sigh* (Score 1) 358

Like tech hirers really value the fields they hire from that much. They may consider a 'B' in CS better than an 'A+' in English, but maybe the 'A+' in English will be more useful when they declare you obsolete after two or three years because it's cheaper to get a fresh college grad who they can pay less and who was taught the latest and greatest software development fad at college, than to continue to pay you.

Yeah, file me under bitter. I'm good at what I do, but at 47 I'm over 20 years past my sell-by date as far as most tech companies are concerned. OK, so it doesn't help that I live in a town where unless you want to be a Java code monkey or a Microsoft sysadmin, you're screwed. Even if there were jobs around, I've been backstabbed and screwed around by almost every employer I've ever had, and frankly don't trust *anyone* now. In fact, after the last experience I had, I don't even trust friends who recommend me for jobs. That was the one that made me completely give up. I'm now resigned to being out of work basically for the rest of my life (while hoping a terminal disease comes along to shorten it). Next step is to sell the computer.

I could have taken either path after high school - had no trouble getting on a good CS degree course, and came out with a 2.1 (OK, so I'm not an A+ in CS, maybe an A- or a B+) but would just as easily have done an English degree and gotten that A+. I suspect the English degree would have been better in the long run. I steer people away from CS-oriented stuff as a career when I can unless they're considering something that'll give them dual-purpose skills they can apply in other fields, or they can specialize in fields that seem to be more secure in the long-term. For example, a degree in CS with a strong focus on databases - the theory, the implementation, administration - seems like a very safe option even now, and if they offered degrees in systems administration, I suspect those'd be very safe too. Both do require a CS core, but throwing out a lot of stuff that's of little use in practice in favor of more relevant stuff aimed at the specialization would be very useful.

I used to think that the degree course I did, which was broad and deep (British university system - bugger all about being "well-rounded", it's CS all the way through) but while I still think it's better than the US approach. It didn't do a damn bit of good in the end, because so many places couldn't care less about any of it (didn't even know what half of it was, and when they did it was sometimes worse (*)), they just want somebody who can do what they're using this week and doesn't mind a career path that places "lay him off and hire somebody cheap straight out of college" ahead of career advancement.

(*) "How do you know functional programming, that's after your time? So you can code in *F?" "No, you stupid bastard, I learned ML before you were born, on a course taught by a very nice man called Robin Milner. You probably haven't heard of him because he wasn't a Silicon Valley billionaire".

Comment Re:Nothing to do with hole size (Score 1) 405

I wonder if this is a US-specific problem. Back home in Scotland, there were public links, where basically anybody could play, and while I never really saw the point of the game myself, my younger brother went through a phase where he was into it - at quieter times, like on Saturday mornings, he and his friend could go down there and play for free - the place rented old sets of clubs for next to nothing which he could often get back just from the golf balls they found while playing, The responses about "it used to be middle class" seem to reflect the US - in Scotland (at least, 20 years ago, maybe it's gone bad since) it was for absolutely anybody - I'm from a pretty solidly working class background.

All that said, I agree that making the game easier won't really attract people - it's the modern perception (and US reality) of it as a rich man's game. *They* have the time because it's a slightly (very, very slightly) more active variation on a business lunch - wander around hitting a little ball occasionally and talking business. Or so they claim, anyway. I suspect that people who're there to play the game tended to go around faster since they spend much less time chewing the fat about Big Business Deals or Who To Screw Over Today.

Comment Currently unemployed, but... (Score 1) 308

...when I'm in work, there does tend to be overlap. Not 100% overlap - a full mirroring of a work system - but enough that I could throw together anything I might need for work with reasonable certainty that it will work without problems. The major difference has tended to be the system - typically work environments have been Linux while I've been using Mac OS X on my home setup - and that the home system's running a more up-to-date setup than I do at work. It's just a more comfortable environment for me, and a good percentage of the time what I'm working on/learning is as much for my own benefit as for my employer. I may use their specific problems as the target for what I'm learning, but anything I learn that isn't proprietary to my employer has value to me.

Of course, being stuck in the desolate IT wasteland (at least as far as anything interesting goes) that is Milwaukee and being in my mid-40s acts as a big demotivator for learning anything new, because employers seem to think somebody fresh out of college who has just learned the same skill is more desirable as a hire than somebody with that skill plus 20 years prior experience. I'll admit I'm not as cheap to hire, but experience seems to be a liability in the IT market, not a plus, with the people hiring apparently of the belief that all knowledge becomes obsolete the instant something new and shiny comes along. So nowadays I learn not because I'm under any illusion it'll make me more hirable, but because I find it interesting. It means I end up working on more offbeat stuff that's not necessarily of interest to anybody but me (like writing my own language for the hell of it) but I've got to keep my brain busy.

Comment "Colossus - The Forbin Project" Is Both. (Score 1) 186

Clearly there was a major flaw in the requirements stage for this - the person who omitted "The project must not enslave humanity." has a lot to answer for, although it's possibly it was just due to vague requirements specification and there was a "The project should not enslave humanity." in there, that the developers felt they had to work around in order to achieve the management goals.

Other than that though, it's a wonderful example of project management on a very large systems engineering effort gone right. The system's so robust that it *kills* people who try to introduce bugs or take it down, it integrates with a completely incompatible outside system seamlessly (pre-dating Plug And Play by decades), the resulting combined system scales well (it's too old to be web scale, so shut up), it's not beyond using the threat of nuclear destruction to make sure its deadlines are met (and hopefully to target people who ask if it's web scale) and it not only patches itself, but by the end of the movie it's fully in charge of its own SDLC and is working on writing the next major release without outside intervention. Other than the killing people and enslaving humanity bit, which can be characterized as a feature as well as a bug, who *wouldn't* want to manage a project like that?

Comment Re:Total bullshit (Score 3, Interesting) 185

Get off their collective asses? What's the urgency? Are the names of these exoplanets going to have any significance to *anybody* other than astronomers anytime soon? For values of "soon" that could measure in centuries. It's not as if somebody's desperately waiting on this information so they can put out bus timetables.

Comment Umm, it's also an API... (Score 1) 189

Apple never claimed they were going to offer that stuff.

However, Apple *has* provided an API that provides iOS 5 apps with a cloud-based key-value store that *applications* can use pretty much however they want to. There'll be a lot of interesting iCloud functionality appearing over time, but don't expect stuff like co-editing because that's not what the service is intended for.

Note that I'm currently less than delighted with iCloud however - for such a big deal, flagship, gosh-wow product, for iCloud mail (both via IMAP and the web-based version) to be dead as a doornail less than 24hrs after launch is pretty poor.

Comment Even "Good" Companies Can Be Two-Faced (Score 1) 735

First company I worked for was a great place to work - small but growing, varied work, nice salary increases (yes, this was almost 20 years ago). I left rather regretfully - personal circumstances meant I'd had to move out of the area, but they even helped me out by taking me on as a contractor for the first six months in my new location, while I got on my feet there.

Later, after my next employer had been and gone and I'd been out of work for some time, they came back and asked if I wanted to telecommute. Didn't work particularly well, but they stuck by me even when I went through a burnout and had to go on short-term disability until my brain was less fried.

However, all it took was one incident with miscommunication between two managers, which resulted in one of them losing face, and I went from being prized to getting a lousy review (which I protested as strongly as I could) and put on a probationary period - where I was put to work doing something completely different from what I was really hired for, and generally treated like scum before finally being laid off (and I later heard they were very pleased because they'd found out that the money saved could pay for two outsourced developers).

So - small firms can be good, but the very smallness that makes them sometimes great places to work can turn on your very quickly, and it's much easier to get canned because of a personality clash or an idiot who wants somebody else to take the fall for their mistake. Your company has already demonstrated that they aren't above outsourcing. You might feel bad about doing it at a time when your company sees you as their golden boy, but if the sheen wears off once those two junior developers get up to speed, that perceived loyalty on their part may evaporate. Go with the better offer - while people within companies may be nice or decent, companies themselves basically don't give a damn, and even a CEO who is your best buddy one day can turn on a dime and can you the next. Having a good offer from elsewhere is getting to be a rare thing - don't miss the opportunity. It's good that you're not jaded enough to automatically think that way - I've gotten to the point where I'll work for nobody but myself, I've got complete distrust of employers.

Comment Pleasantly Free of Trendy Process Related Titles (Score 3, Insightful) 624

It's nice to see the almost complete absence of any titles reflecting current "flavor of the month" development techniques. About the closest it gets is "Design Patterns", which I've not got the highest opinion of (for reasons I'll explain in a footnote) but which at least codified some common best practices in a way that they could be taught, rather than learned by trial and error.

Always been a bit bemused by "Code Complete". Read it (well, the first edition), enjoyed it, and thought it contained a lot of good stuff, but at the time I was perplexed by it being a Microsoft Press book. Seemed kinda like the Pope penning the definitive case for atheism.

Somewhat comforted to see The Dragon Book in there, even if it is in its newer edition. Think I've still got that one around. That, and the Hennessy and Patterson book "Computer Architecture: A Quantitative Approach". My edition's horribly out of date, but so am I..

(*) Big problem with design patterns is that there's a tendency to take them as Holy Scripture of some sort, and/or to unnecessarily squeeze algorithms into a given design pattern. However, the problem there doesn't really lie with the book, but with the reader (or the teacher of the course, I guess). "Design Patterns" strikes me as something that should be read after a decent level of programming ability has been reached and not before - there's a level of expertise required to know when using a pattern that'll make maintenance of the software a joy for all who touch the code, and when to just wing it. Too many people immediately jump in and conclude that they must use a Visitor pattern on each Decorator, except where there's a Mediator involved, in which case it's necessary to employ the Churning Curds and The Knot Of Fame, before finally employing The Clinging Creeper to either a Flyweight object for the Proxy, or an Abstract Singleton. Then they code it, and you end up with an exponential number of classes, several mutually inclusive interfaces, and a system so flexible that you have to embed a dedicated parser to make any use of it beyond initiating a single object.

Comment Re:Overly Picky HR Is An Issue (Score 1) 580

My life'd probably be a lot better if I'd managed to get my PhD. In my case the main reason I failed to get it was moving from full-time study to part-time study and full-time employment. Reckon I was about a year of full-time work from defending, but the demands of work (and being on the other side of the Atlantic from my supervisor) meant that from my first draft to defense time took over three years. Also, taking the basic direction from my supervisor lead me down something of a blind alley - the whole area of processor architecture I was researching was discredited, dead and buried by the time my defense came, largely on the basis of my own supervisor's work. If I'd got the PhD, well, given that I did I'd have had a decent chance of getting into R&D somewhere, or even just staying in academia. Instead, I got an M.Phil., a "consolation degree" that I had to explain to every potential US employer until I just started listing it like a Masters. If I even describe at as a "Masters via research" it sets off "overqualified" alarms.

Of course, there are a dozen different points in the past 25 years where, had I chosen A instead of B, I think I'd be better off than I am. Hindsight doesn't really do me much good, alas.

Comment Some Sort Of Material Science? (Score 1) 296

Well, comp sci wouldn't hurt, but depending on syllabus you may well got more relevant experience for working with embedded systems from having EE as a second major, and the combination of the two engineering disciplines is a strong one. Another couple of possible matches, if you can find somewhere that offers a suitable program, would be systems engineering (that is, the real "big picture" cross-domain, full-product-lifecycle discipline) or material science. The latter may be part of an ME program, depending on where you are, but in the alternate power area developing new materials is going to be central to decreasing the cost and increasing the efficiency of those power sources.

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