Wednesday, October 5 2011, 01:46 am

Go Go Texas Rangers

texas-rangers.jpg This is the year I can feel it. The year the Texas Rangers win the World Series. Each player is continuing to play well in the playoffs. They might not be a constant force in every game, but every player has stepped up. TV commentators have been forced to mention how well the Ranger's batting order plays and how there is no real "number 9" slot.

In a perfect world they will sweep the National League team, which will work out perfectly for my Game 4 tickets. The NL teams look like they will be good competition though so I will just hope for a good Game 4 to go to.

Go Rangers!

Friday, September 9 2011, 05:20 pm

Put This In Your Pipe and Market It

Places of higher education teach ways in exploiting the ignorance of the common man. Who'd a thunk it? Read on, if you dare, to find out the results of the Humble Geek marketing contest.

Honorable Mention

Inserting advertising into TV reruns is a new fashion statement.

Second Place

Restricted to late night or weekend time slots, informercials provide marketing in 30 minute episodes. Cheap slogans are what make or break these gems. Who can forget "set it and forget it!"?

First Place

The pinnacle of marketing gimmicks must be the 30-second "As Seen on TV" advertisement. In under a minute you are bombarded with how your life is too hard and how you should spend $19.95 plus some shipping and handling for, not one, but two easy cut knives and a bonus cooking pamphlet. The First World has too many problems and we must be saved.

Monday, August 29 2011, 01:13 pm

We Take Our Existance in Vain

You know what really grinds my gears? When you pull out of a drive-thru window at a restaurant and you get behind some old guy going 5 below the speed limit. --Old Chinese Proverb

  • Gladiators (Animal fighting)

Killing humans (and animals) in the name of sport.

  • Saloons (Clubs)

Killing brain cells in the name of finding a mate.

  • Reality TV

Killing common sense in the name of money.

  • Social Networking

Killing privacy in the name of information.

  • Government Privilege

Killing freedom in the name of power.

What do the bullet points have in common? A chronic disease found inside all living creatures that keeps us from being perfect: vanity. Heck, we even have a magazine that exclusively tailors to it!

Stop me if I'm being too obvious, but if we don't change now we are destined to have the film Idiocracy become a documentary.

Monday, August 8 2011, 10:35 am

Yearning to Learn Computer Programming?

Controlling the flow of electricity inside your computer is a phrase that sounds better than the noun I will blab about today: programming. Sure, you could read a "How-to Program in 30 Minutes!" book or Google search another blog for a lesson or two, but if you want to understand why instead of how programs function then please pay attention.

What programming language should I learn first?

Say what again. I dare you. Wrong question to ask. Understanding concepts and having common sense are far more important than the language. Those two qualities will carry over across multiple languages unless the language itself is poor. Specifically you must understand that your code must be generic and modular. These are not new concepts, but they are easily overlooked or not mentioned any more. Modern texts teach specific language techniques that get you running a basic program quickly, but when you attempt your own program you end up with something that will not compile.

Programming: think, design, analyze

Please be prepared to spend hours on a simple problem. If the first solution you think of involves a globally accessible variable and calling it directly across three functions there is probably another solution that puts the variable in a restricted name space. Never take the easy way out until you are certain it is the only way out. If in doubt speak out! Ask questions among other programmers and see if your idea is worth the bytes used to store it.

Redesign is fine

It is rare for me to accept the code I write the first time as good code. With this in mind, you should be prepared to see the code you write in the future. Don't become too attached to it as you may find out it has serious bugs that may require you to completely rewrite the code. Plan ahead by not only leaving good comments, but clearly defining test blocks. I have seen older code blocks with tests that are not obvious until I study three other source files. It should never take longer than a few minutes to catch up on code you have not seen in a while.

Show me the money

Ready to start programming? Start with globally used, free tools. The C and Python languages have large open source communities with tools that work on Windows, Linux, and OS X. Don't forget to save any code you write into a version control system. Git is a good start. Using git alone is a good test to see if you can make it as a programmer or not.

Sunday, June 12 2011, 10:43 pm

The Time is Now

mavs-2011 A team that played team basketball has taken the 2011 NBA Championship. Congratulations are in order for the Dallas Mavericks as they put together a team of players that have tales of Finals lost but finally won their vindication tonight.

There is No "I" in Team

dirk-on-lebron The 2011 NBA season was littered with media attention that was concentrated on two or three players and not a NBA team. I have no doubt that the off-season will be littered with what two or three players need to do instead of what a team needs to do to return to the NBA finals in 2012.

What Will the Future Bring

Will Kidd retire? Will there be any changes on the Dallas line up? I don't think anyone has a return trip for the Mavericks in their mind right now, but I believe it is possible. The team that had everyone in the media against them did what no one thought they could do. Go Mavs! See you in a few months!

Saturday, January 15 2011, 08:00 am

Red Hat Irony

A company devoted to promoting open source initiatives uses one of the largest closed source database engines on the planet. Red Hat uses Oracle, in particular, with their Satellite software (a.k.a. Spacewalk). The bright light at the end of the tunnel is that they are switching to using PostgreSQL, however it is not a high priority so it may take another year or two before the transition is complete.

Sunday, January 9 2011, 08:00 am

GT5: A Love/Hate Relationship

Six years in the making, then delayed by worries about piracy (which is already broken), Gran Turismo 5 hopes to push up the bar in car simulation games. How does it fair? Follow me as I review a few aspects of the game that left an impression on me.


The game has been polished with the most expensive car wax Sony could buy. The Premium cars, tracks, and photo mode are definitely great pieces of eye candy. However, the Standard cars are a big eye sore when you have one next to a Premium. It's unfortunate that Standard cars were not at least given a larger resolution skin for their bodies.

All of the traditional Gran Turismo tracks are present along with a few new ones. The license tests unlock the full Nürburgring track. The snow and dirt tracks bring a new, challenging races. Then there's the Top Gear track, from one of my favorite shows. It's more difficult than it looks on television.

Now to get down and dirty. The computer racers do not have a clue that you exist in the race. I will be repeatedly rammed from behind or side swiped by turning cars. More than once I have had to restart a race due to an AI driver knocking me off track. This problem is often called "sitting on rails" and it is easily seen in this simul^W... game.

Mechanically the cars are all treated in a generic, arcade-like manner instead of like a simulator. Transmissions shift as fast as F1 cars. Even the 1960 models - unmodified. I have yet to see the merit in the transmission tuning upgrades. I actually own a 2005 BMW M3 and can tell you it is already modified, at stock, as good as it can get. Putting on new exhaust or intake systems hardly give more than 20 HP (and I'm talking about $5,000 in mods). In Gran Turismo 5, the tuning shop tells me the 2004 BMW M3 will get 30 HP just from a new air filter and new exhaust. The one positive thing I have seen is that the cars that have paddle shifters finally have paddle shifters in the interior view. They were missing from the Prologue version.

Created by a company based in Japan, there is an astonishing amount of NASCAR material. From special events to a large amount of cars, it seems the creators love NASCAR. The only real motorsport, Formula 1, has a lesser following with only four cars and no special events.

The menu system is a bit akward at times. For example: pausing the game, going into settings, then backing out, immediately resumes the game instead of backing out one level. Loading times seem to be at fixed times - I have a Intel G2 80gb SSD and loading times take about 15 seconds with very little activity on the HDD light. This can be annoying when there are 5 menus to go through to get to a race, too. If you don't play connected to Sony's Playstation Network, expect to be greated with a half dozen "Would you like to go online?" prompts, too.

There are patches being released to tweak parts of the game so there is hope the game will become a truer simulator over time.

Thursday, October 28 2010, 12:01 am

Cross-Platform Graphical Library Maddness

An application that provides the user a window with buttons and input boxes is a given in today's graphically driven computer universe. Operating systems of all shapes and sizes provide a programmer the tools and libraries to accomplish their goal of providing such an application. Most of them are pretty boring or are too specialized to be worth taking time to study. The libraries that people should familiarize themselves with are those that can be utilized across operating systems, which include being able to run across multiple types of hardware devices. Two libraries come to mind - GTK+ [has a very interesting history] and Qt (pronounced "cute").


Today, both libraries offer very simple methods of creating a GUI. So, depending on what language your project requires, either one would be able to provide you with a robust and full featured set of options. The current drive to use Qt is entirely commercial driven - by Nokia - who owns Qt. It's the same drive that Sun made with Java. There's no logical reason to use Java. People have just be taught that it [Java] is the best and there is no other language that can do the same job (read: subjective).

I believe the "Qt hate" or "GTK+ hate" stems from the past when Qt didn't offer as many cross-platform routines as Glib (from GTK+) did or vice versa. It has been my observation that people have not spent any time with both libraries and make rash statements about the other library out of ignorance. Most Qt developers view GTK+ as a legacy library that should be abandoned. Don't tell them that there is still active GTK+ development (GTK+ 3.0 is coming soon) driven by a large community, which includes Red Hat.

Need a simple OpenGL widget in your window? There's GtkGLExt, or Clutter for GTK. Starting with Qt 4.0 a similar API for OpenGL handling was implemented.

Need video/audio capability? GTK+ apps can use GStreamer. Qt has phonon.

Need XML or HTML handling? GTK apps can use libxml or GtkWebKit while Qt apps would need to use the Qt APIs.

Nokia is also attempting to drive Qt as a "write once, run anywhere" library. This is great in that it some-what promotes FOSS, but if you wish to use GTK+ you can write once and run anywhere, too. I have done so with a GTK+ app for my $DAYJOB that can compile under Fedora and Windows and does advanced things like TLS encrypted XML packets over a TCP connection and scanning documents (using SANE). Neither library has an advantage.

More recently, Nokia has tried to push the mantra that you can write a Qt app quickly and simply. GTK+ developers can also use Vala to write a GTK+ app quickly and simply. The amount of code to write to accomplish the same goal in each library also ends up being about the same.

I can come up with any more number of examples, but those are ones I have seen used in arguments lately. The person arguing for using Qt has no idea about the matching GTK+ API and vice versa. I think it's great that both Qt and GTK+ offer such a wide range of features that are easy-to-use. You can choose a language (C, C++, Vala, Python, PHP) and write a program that could be used by thousands or millions of people across many different types of devices. Now get out there and start programming.

Thursday, August 5 2010, 05:43 pm

Thirty Ways a Software Grows

The following recount is rather generic in nature so I do not have to worry about stepping on any toes, but it is all true.


Everyone has a workplace story to tell and I've finally gotten around to writing about my own. I have had a rare opportunity to write and maintain software for a company that has plenty of history. The company I, still, work for has been around almost as long as Microsoft to give you a point of reference.

In The Beginning In traditional fashion of the time, which still holds true today, the company started by buying the rights to a software that someone else wrote. The country of origin: Canada. I do not know much about the company or who were the original authors besides a few names I've seen in copyrights, so unfortunately I do not have any juicy stories to tell about them. They wrote to Minix, which surprisingly still exists today. The data was stored in ISAM databases (Google it), which unfortunately still exists today. The program displayed via a terminal-based text screen with support for input fields and displaying different types of screen layouts, which, also unfortunately, still exists today. The only saving grace was that it was written in the C language.

Abraham Lincoln The company originated in a log cabin, now turned historical landmark. I heard the winters were cold, and the summers were hot. The size of the cabin is about the size of a traditional living room with two whole stories. There was also the shift from Minix to UNIX and DOS operating systems to keep up with growing demand.

Enterprise Split Eventually the software became outdated, in a sense, for the customer base the company wished to sell to. Enterprises wanted a more robust and fully featured software. The solution? Rewrite! The company moved to a different city, but left behind the original software - to live in its own filth.

Dungeon Upkeep Keeping the software maintained to a point people could still use it was the job of a fellow I only met once when I was being interviewed (for an unrelated position!) so I can't tell you any juicy stories about them either. However, I can tell you the software essence remained the same. They continued to use the original UNIX compiler and coding techniques. These techniques include typedefs to normal C keywords and functions. Numerous programs that simply copy & paste code from other programs. Global pointers ruled the entire source code base from top to bottom. Return values were rarely checked. Instead of calling the standard rename or delete functions, system calls were made to the operating system's shell tools. The source control system involved cloning the main source directory per release - some of which I did not find when I took over. Take this scenario for instance: One customer was given a compiled program on Monday but changes would be made to the same program and given to a different customer on Tuesday. Every customer had a unique compiled version of the software. Let that settle in your mind for a moment.

Change of Hands A friend of mine, who has moved on to greener pastures, took over a few years ago. He began a very important and rigorous job of evolving the software into a state that a guy off the street could come in and program to. The code went from 1980s leftovers to 1990s l33tsauce. It was now source controlled in CVS and macros were removed. Some of the copied code were moved into libraries that were compiled against. A small set back to the improvements happened when another programmer was hired and began transforming perfectly good code into obfuscated and over coded code. String pointers were turned into "static const char *const variable;" nightmares. Functions were rewritten to be twice as long and contained bugs that I had to find and fix for about a year.

Modern Tools After I took over we released a major version. This version was the first version where all of the software was released in one update. It was all source controlled, and I implemented a sane update system that insured customers would all be on the same software level. Lately we've moved the code into git and I have been loving every minute of it. The software is slowly emerging from its colorful past.

Over the Rainbow GUI, SQL, Cross-platform. These three words are the embodiment of the future of the company. If I get a chance to finish the project, it should provide the company and its customers with a fresh breath of life.

Wednesday, March 31 2010, 09:54 pm

SSDs Speed Up Anything and Everything

Computer storage technology was running out of innovation a couple of years ago until the next step, in many steps to come, arrived: the Solid State Drive. Quick summary: Traditional hard drives are spinning discs of a magnetic substance that hold all your precious junk. An SSD is a collection of flash memory modules similar to those found in SD cards for your handheld camera. The end result is RAM-like performance without the con of losing everything when you turn off the power. It's hard to grasp this concept until you've seen the difference first hand.

First up I decided to install Fedora 12 x86_64 and perform a package update. This involves hundreds of packages ranging in all shapes and sizes. On a traditional hard drive I would be dreading the thought of performing this operation as it would most likely take about 15 minutes of my precious time. My mind can now rest at ease with the speed of an SSD:


The target device my SSD was going into was the Sony Playstation 3 as I noticed the multitasking introduced in previous updates caused excessive hard drive usage, most likely by usage of lots of swap space. It's slightly visible in the video below that the performance delta between boot times is different:


In other important news, my Grand Theft Auto 4 boot times were reduced by 20 seconds to 1 minute 37 seconds. A new GTA4 patch reduced that by another 4 seconds. I can also tell that there is some intentional latency programmed into the multi-tasking option. Was the $200 upgrade worth it? Yes ma'am!

Problem: Taking out the trash takes a long time to do.
Solution: Install an SSD!

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