Watching the Clock

Today I was forced to leave work early due to what might be my first 24-hour flu in almost 10 years.  Of course, I was still there for six of my usual eight hours.

Since getting home, I've tried sleeping off and on, but find that I can't seem to get myself to that state where I can easily lose consciousness.  Instead, I've sat on my bed with this trusty HP notebook and watched each and every change to my LED clock radio for the last nine hours.

Fun!

Of course, I've been doing other things while combating the urge to reverse-digest my food ... it's just amazing how slowly time moves when there is very little to keep you distracted.

Einstein once explained the theory of general relativity with the following example:

"If you hold your hand on a hot stove for a minute, it feels like an hour. Spend an hour with a beautiful woman, and it feels like a minute"

This is an apt analogy for my afternoon.

When I think back to the two weeks I recently spent with Reiko in Japan, it felt more like a few days.  When I think of the three weeks that have passed since my return to Canada, it feels like a few months.  I realize that this is due to a great many reasons, none of which I intend to address in this post, but I do look forward to the coming future when Reiko and I will share the same house.

While time may seem to move much faster when I'm with her, I have no qualms about quickly growing old with my Reiko-chan.

Rise of the Home Servers

I love storage, and lots of it.

Since first becoming heavily involved with computers and the internet, I have often struggled with simple things like storage.  Where can I put all my files where they will be easily accessible the next time I want to view them?

In 2000 I started building myself dedicated servers that would sit on my network and act as a simple file store.These systems would later be used as FTP servers to share my data, as well as XDCC servers.  This provided the necessary resources for me to both share as well as receive more information from people online.

By 2001, my file servers had grown to hold 300 Gig of information (which was massive at the time) spanning 9 hard drives and two computers.  This was also the time that blank CDs had come down to be roughly $2 each, so were an affordable solution for archiving older files that were seldom in demand.

Of course, since then my file servers have progressed both in size and intelligence.  I currently have a single Linux box that runs some custom software written to improve ease of use.  I don't have a problem remembering what's on hda1 and hde2, but I do have a bit of an issue seeing 16 mapped drives in my windows environment.

To that end, I wrote an application that will work with Samba and handle multiple drives on the fly, letting me view them all as a single drive.  If I add another hard drive, then this software will pick up the new device, format it accordingly (if it's never been formatted), and automatically let me gain the advantange of the extra space.  What used to be a 400 Gig drive would now appear as a 700 Gig drive, if I were to add three hundred gigs to the machine.

No restart required.

This appliation also allows for automatic version control of certain files, with content indexing so that I could query a database for files containing certain words or names.  I was really looking forward to finishing it off in a way that it could be offered to the general public.  I can see some great uses for this in a non-corporate environment where people don't want to use a specific Document Management System or worry about things like version control.  Unfortunately ... someone's beaten me to the punch.

HP Media Center ServerOn Paul Thurrott's site, he talks about Microsoft's upcoming Home Server (previously code-named "Quattro").  I can't say that I'm not impressed by some of the features discussed in this article, but I am a bit disappointed that I couldn't have come up with something better sooner.

Depending on the legalities of releasing something that essentially does the very same thing, but on a LAMP platform, I might still release my custom app to the general populace.  I can't say that it will have the same robust backup functions that the Microsoft version will have, but I think that it would provide just about everything that anyone would need.  And if it's an open project, people could always help out by posting revisions or customizations of their own.

It will be interesting to see these devices released later this year.  Hopefully the sticker shock won't keep people from making use of this sort of technology.

Flawless Upgrade

On Monday, the great people at WordPress released version 2.1 of their popular blogging software. I've been paying attention to this update for quite some time and found that my site would not have any problems upgrading. In fact, some of my plugins would work better and the pages would load faster.

So, today I took the plunge and made a complete backup of my website (rather than just a differential backup), copied it back to my computer (I hadn't realized that it has grown to 600+ MB with all the images), and upgraded the package.

All in all, it took a total of 20 minutes.  19 of those minutes involved the backup.  55 seconds was me staring at my screen saying "No way".  And the other 5 seconds involved loading the upgrade script and seeing the end result.

Flawless upgrade.

It doesn't matter how often I see happen.  I am always amazed by the consistent quality and reliability of this software package.

I tip my hat to the developers and testers who have put countless hours into this project.

Well done.

Opera's My New Browser of Choice

I've been using Opera for just over a day, and I can't believe how well it operates.  For the first time in over eight years, my default browser is no longer IE.

I've become rather accustomed to IE6 over the last five years, and all the little quirks that come with using the application.  I'll freely admit that I continued to use Microsoft's browser despite the frequent reports of exploits and other deficiencies, but none of the other browsers really appealed to me.  A few years ago I had given FireFox a chance to wow me, but it managed only to frustrate me with the miriyad of differences.  Opera, however, has come out on top as my new browser of choice.

There are quite a few things about this application that I enjoy.  As with most current browsers, there is a tabbed interface.  But on top of this is the ability to have my own custom CSS files (if I ever felt the need to override the various style sheets that are out there), a download manager, and a decent personal information container.  The list if features is a bit longer, but I've yet to explore that far into the application.  Just for my standard browsing, the experience has already proved superior.

One little area that I would like to see changed is Opera's handling of certain downloads.  I work with lots of Torrent files on a daily basis.  I am very happy with BitTornado and do not want to use Opera's built-in Torrent client.  To that end, I'd like to override the default so that BitTornado is called accordingly.  I'm sure that it can be done ... I just haven't found the setting, yet.

This browser seems to run on almost anything.  There are versions for mobile phones and even the Nintendo DS.  A few friends have said how much they prefer this browser over the other standards, and I can certainly see why.

If you've grown tired of IE and FireFox, you might want to give this a try.

Semi-Functional?

It appears I've stumbled across a little problem with my website.

Earlier today, I downloaded the latest version of the Opera web browser, and this site will not load in any way.  At the moment, I'm not exactly sure why this is the case.  However, this should be a great opportunity for me to learn more about web programming and how to ensure compatibility with all browsers.  I still have a bit of work to do before this site is fully w3c compliant, but I'm sure that I'll get it nailed shortly.  Unfortunately my focus has been changed lately with other projects.

My apologies to all the Opera users out there.  I will be testing this site with other browsers over the coming week to ensure proper compatibility.  Luckily, I can make use of the Mac versions of Firefox and Safari while at work, and all the standard browsers that are used in Linux and other variants of *nix.

Update

It seems that it wasn't a problem with the browser, but with one of my .php files.  Sometimes the most obvious answers are always the most overlooked.

Either way, I still need to fix the style sheets to look proper in non-Microsoft browsers.

Betrayed Trust

Today I saw something quite upsetting, and I'm not exactly sure what to do about it.

There are three homeless people in my neighbourhood who are seen regularily asking for change or handouts.  One person has been asking for help since the mid-90s according to a few of my neighbours here, while another is relatively recent, having come into the area only six months ago.

Today I was in Richmond getting a few things for the upcoming week when I saw this newer bum in the parking lot of Lansdowne Mall.  I don't mind seeing homeless people in different parts of the Lower Mainland, but what I saw today was this person getting into a car with some bags reading "Future Shop" and "Winners".  Nobody else was in this car.  Just him.  He was driving!

I'll admit that seeing gas for the low price of 96.9 today was quite a shock (it's usually 10 cents higher here), but I didn't expect the change in price would allow the homeless to drive a car that's under 5 years of age.

Now, I must also admit that I did not strike up a conversation with this person to see if perhaps he was borrowing another person's car and running errands (which would still make me suspicious).  But it strikes me as odd.  Why would a person who has been asking for change at the corner of Granville & 70th in Vancouver be driving a car in Richmond?  Does he live a decent life with what change he collects from the generous people that walk by?  I had once brought this man a coffee on a day when it was just too cold to sit outside, and I can't even guess at how often I've given him whatever change I might have had in my pocket.

Some news reporters had caught a woman in Toronto doing this a number of years ago.  She would beg for change outside some of the huge banks, and at the end of the day she would go home to her lavishly furnished, lake-front penthouse apartment.

While I doubt this person has a penthouse, I am curious to know if he's a legitimate person in need, or just another scammer.  Of course if he is a scammer, how should I expose him for what he is?  It's one thing to be truly needy.  It's another to take advantage of the few good samaritans that are left.

Cold Turkey for Coffee!

In the event of any confusion regarding tonight's title ... I'm not trading the turkey for coffee.

Instead, I'm going to reduce my coffee intake by 50% starting immediately.  After tallying up the amount of money spent at Starbucks over the 2005 and 2006 years, I was shocked to discover that I could have bought my own coffee-producing nation for the same amount.  To that end, I've made this decision.

No ... seriously.

At work I am fortunate enough to have free access to a beverage which tries to look, taste and smell like coffee.  It even goes by the same name, so I shouldn't need to buy any on the way home after a difficult day.  On weekends, rather than getting a latte, I will have a grande mild coffee.  I've given myself a maximum coffee budget of $20 per month, and $10 for the remaining two weeks of January (since we're already half into it).  Any extra money that I might have at the end of each month after paying all the bills will be put towards my wedding next year.

I really enjoy coffee.  The latte's, the occasional espresso, a capuccino here and there (depending on where I am), and even the rare americano.  The caffiene is nice, but more than that, I enjoy the atmosphere of the coffee house.  I enjoy the smell of the beans as they add their distinct flavour and aroma to the hot water passing through.  I enjoy the polite conversation with the baristas while my drink is made.  It will be hard to give up.

However, this is something that I've considered for a long while.  For some, coffee is a treat that can be enjoyed every once in a while with friends.  For others, it's a fundamental part of their morning or working routines.  Without coffee, some become irritable, while others develop headaches and have difficulty focussing on tasks.  Unfortunately, I am one of the ones that become irritable because of the headaches and can't focus on any task worth doing.

So ... time to ween myself from the addiction.  I'll readily admit that I will continue to drink coffee at work, and have a grande mild from Starbucks on weekends once or twice, but I will scale back my intake by one half starting today.

I'll try not to become totally useless like the last time I tried to quit coffee....

Moving at the Speed of Society

In this increasingly fast-paced world, just how fast is too fast?

When I was much younger, I had watched an episode of Star Trek (Next Generation) that involved a world that had just successfully launched their first warp-capable space vessel.  Because of this event, the Enterprise was nearby to witness the test flight and make themselves known to the planet's inhabitants.  Rapid technological advances allowed the people of this planet to go from a pre-industrial world made of many nations, to a planet with vehicles capable of faster-than-light travel in the span of about 300 years.

That's a pretty short amount of time when you think about it.

By the end of the episode, the Enterprise is asked to leave the planet for a while so that the society can become accustomed to all the changes that had occurred before the next big adjustment (accepting extra-terrestrial life).  This decision was not made lightly by those in power, and the two arguing sides made very good cases about why their world should or should not consider opening relations with the Federation.

Of course, this is a very quick summary of the episode, and I'm not going to talk about how much to a Trek fan I used to be, but it falls in line with many of the issues I've been thinking about regarding the speed of change all over the earth.

The technological advances made by the people here on Earth are incredibly spectacular.  Most would have laughed 30 years ago if someone would say that by 2005 the average person in Westernized nations could carry hundreds of hours of music on a device the size of a pocket calculator, have more processing power in their digital watch than the entire Apollo spacecraft, or carry a video conversation in real-time with someone on the opposite side of the planet.  These would have been classified as extreme science fiction.

Yet here we are, and then some.

Dozens of nations are now playing catch-up with the so-called "first-world" countries.  Technology that we had grown accustomed to over the span of three decades is being delivered by the crate to people who may still worry about a clean water supply or when the next political coup will happen.  But the technology they receive is not the basic technologies that we started with ... these people are getting semi-current electronics.

These people will have thin and powerful cell phones without going through first the pager, then the "brick" cell phones.  These people will have notebook computers with rich colour screens, without first dealing with dull grey herculean PCs with monochrome monitors (brown and orange being the two colours, of course) and puny hard drives.  These people will be connected to a rich internet full of content, without first going through the growing pangs of boring HTML sites made in notepad and tested time and time again in some browser that can't yet handle frames.

I'm not saying that this is a bad thing.  It's great that some people will not have to suffer through the now-inconvenient conveniences of the last 30 years.  However, I do wonder what effect this will have on these communities.  For most of the people on earth, technology has been pretty much consistent for over ten thousand years.  There have been little advances here and there, but these could be taken in stride ... people could adapt at their own pace without worrying about what they'll have to learn tomorrow to replace this new technology.  Going from a water-powered mill to a hydro-electric dam took over 400 years, yet they're based on the very same principle.

I think it's great that people all over the world are plugging in to the global community.  Not only can they learn more about the world around them, but we can learn more about these new cultures and the ideals they follow.  My biggest concern is whether they can keep up with the speed of change and not self-destruct.

There's A First Time For Everything

It seems that tonight I'll be going without the benefits of my notebook. Perhaps this means I should go and get some things ready for my upcoming Japanese Language classes at Langara.

So, despite the fact that my notebook can go an hour and a half on the original battery (not bad for a 3 year old notebook), I'll keep this post short.

Hopefully tomorrow I won't forget anything1.

Sitting Idle

Shortly after becoming involved with computers, I started wondering why people would let such wonderful data processing machines sit idle for most of the day. There is always so much work being recruited by distributed computing projects, and considering the amount of raw power that goes to waste every day, I'm surprised that large vendors such as Microsoft and some Linux variants don't include some built-in software that makes use of the extra clock cycles. Just think of how far [email protected] or [email protected] would be if the userbase was increased by a factor or two!

I mention this because, like the idle computers that are online 24 hours a day with very little to occupy themselves, I have nothing to seriously occupy myself with at work. Since the middle of 2006, it seems as though I've been cut lose to accomplish very simple tasks, but not be a part of any enjoyable solutions.

I am a solutions provider by nature. When somebody has a technical or process problem, I think of ways to solve the problem. If I can use technology, then I'm in my element. If it's a very complex problem that needs technology, then I am really in my element. Not being able to flex these mental muscles leaves me very unfulfilled and this seems to follow me home....

The last major project that I had at work was finished in the early fall of last year. Since that time, I have tried to occupy myself with side projects and minor maintenance issues reported by users. The maintenance I can understand. This is a regular part of dealing with software. Things break or processes change, so software needs to be updated from time to time. The side projects that I do at work are typically done to both keep myself happy, and to provide value to my co-workers. Unfortunately, these are usually cancelled long before they even get off the ground.

Since last summer I have felt as though my efforts are largely ignored. I know that I was a bit pre-mature telling my employer that I would be leaving an entire year in advance, but given the complexity of the proprietary enterprise software, I would have figured that a new programmer would need at least six months to get the ropes before I would leave. So far there have been no mention of a possible new employee, and any new work that needs to be done goes to the my already-over-worked teammate. Unless I'm the only person in the office during an emergency, I barely seem to exist.

I wonder if I could work on an as-needed basis. They could call me a day or two in advance, and I would show up for given days. Because I would already know the data and software inside and out, there would be no waiting time for me to provide a solution (unless it's a nice, big project). This would give me the opportunity to find other work during the day and perhaps move towards an alternate career path.

Or perhaps I should just cut my losses and move on.

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