On why the past isn’t so great Monday, Jul 12 2010 

Now playing: ♫ The Best Is Yet To Come – Tony Bennett

I was talking to a friend of mine last week about music.  I mentioned that I enjoy listening to rock and pop music from the 1950s and 1960s.  He replied “yeah, the 50s were great.  A happier, friendlier time, without all this emo rot on the telly and radio, and worries about oil and the impending financial doom.”  I looked at him with the most surprised look I have ever had.  Then I asked him on what merit he based this opinion on, especially since he wasn’t even born until the 1980s.  He simply stated “that’s what everyone says”.

To be fair, I do believe him.  That is what almost everyone who didn’t study world history and wasn’t alive in the 1950s says.  But I would like to rebut his comments:

  1. “A happier, friendlier time”
    Obviously, he has never studied the Cold War.  The entire world was on pins and needles, worried that at any second the nuclear war would start and the entire human race would be utterly obliterated.  The perceived fallout from the Cold War definitely added many unhappy moments to the decade, and most of the Western world was very unfriendly to anyone in Latin America, the USSR, or any communist country.
  2. “Without all this emo rot on the telly and radio”
    This is by far the easiest to rebut.  People claim that “emo” (the angsty teenagers — not hardcore emotive nu metal like the word originally meant) and songs about failed relationships and depression started in the late 1980s or early 1990s with the punk/grunge scene.  I would like to point out that one of – if not the – most famous musicians of the 1950s, Elvis Presley, recorded “Heartbreak Hotel” in 1956 and that song basically started his large success.  This song was actually inspired by a suicide note.  If you want to define “emo” as most modern people do, this is the epitome of “emo” songs.
    Note that I’m not putting down this song or Elvis Presley at all — I am simply making an observation.  In my humble opinion, the word “emo” is far too overreaching and overzealous for its own good and should be stricken from the world’s collective mindset.
  3. “Without worries of oil and the impending financial doom”
    Of course, the worries of oil were almost non-existent.  But the cost of the Cold War, namely the quickly skyrocketing cost of maintaining strong military and defence systems, coupled with the loose trade regulations led by the Conservatives, meant that there was always the chance for financial ruin.

Of course, if you were quite young (or not even born) in the 1950s, you probably don’t remember much of that.  You were too busy having fun and enjoying your innocence to remember any of that.

In a more personal look at the effect that the passage of time has on our recollections, let me point this out.  Last year, I had a longing to relive the mid-1990s.  I remembered it as a quite enjoyable time; I made a lot of friends, I graduated at the top of my class in school, and I got my first look at this new-fangled bit of technology named the “World Wide Web”.  However, yesterday I found a journal I wrote in from 1994 to 1997.  I read it and was horrified at what I found: rants about how hard school was, how mean many people were to me, and even a two-week long epic about me fracturing my arm.

I remembered none of this until I reread my journal.  And I think that’s what the point of this article really is.  The past may seem like a better time to you, but it may not have seemed like it when it was the present.  Be satisfied that you have happy memories.  And instead of reliving the past (and all of your prior troubles) over again, it’s better to live in the present and make the most of what life has dealt you.

The case of the missing manager Monday, Dec 14 2009 

I was reading the awesome Screwed article on Rands In Repose when I finally realised what the problem I’m having at work is.

I have no manager telling me to get the hell going.

You see, like most startups, we have like…5 people on our team total.  And the problem is that most people think I’m the manager.  To outside people, it may look like it.  Well, actually, if I were to draw an org chart I’m probably the top of the development leaf.  The problem isn’t that I have no managerial experience.  The problem is nobody above me is pushing me to do anything and the developers below me don’t care about anything at all.  Things are starting to slow and stagnate.  The developers below me are pretty much not doing anything related to the project… they’re using the excuse that they are waiting on design specifications that I’m supposed to write.  The problem is I can’t write those specifications yet.  And for that we need to look at the org process and the use case specification.

Ah, the use case specification.  I slaved on that thing for 9 days getting it correct and making sure the “Product Champion” (fancy word our org. uses for product manager) had input because she’s the only person here who actually knows our users.  After it was finished I was to send it off to everyone in the team and get input.  This is part of the very little process we have; everyone has to approve a doc before we move to the next step.  And I think that’s reasonable with a 5 person dev team.  That was 19 June.

On 11 August the product champion finally read it.  Wait, what?  It took almost a month?!  She had a few corrections and additions that I added in about an hour.  I sent it off to everyone in the team again.  On 21 August (10 days later) one dev replied and had one small clarification.  There are still two people on our team that haven’t even opened the PDF.

Yes, there are two people on our team that haven’t opened the PDF after 6 months.  I will call this WTF #1.

Closely related is the fact that in the course of use case development I had to prototype two small features.  I used Visual C++ 2008 because they were related to the way Windows would handle things (it was ensuring that Windows would support multilingual support the way the product champion wanted it).  I raised a few questions and concerns to two members of the team and they went completely unnoticed.  It’s like nobody on the team but me even cares about this software.  I will call this WTF #2.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand.  I’m not supposed to write the design specification below use cases until all members of the team read the use case doc.  Obviously, it’s been 6 months and there are still members who haven’t.  I have gone ‘underground’ and started writing the other specifications actually at the request of the product champion, whom is just as concerned as I am that this is heading nowhere fast.  We don’t even have VCs or investors yet because we have nothing to invest in.  Now that’s all fine and dandy because we can get paid our half-salaries indefinitely as long as “financial” (if you can call one person who is basically investing her life in this business “financial”) continues to have money.  But the problem is I think this is giving everyone else on our team the feeling that we’re able to stagnate.  I mean, what’s the rush, we’re getting paid (even if it isn’t all of what we’re worth) and we don’t technically have to DO anything, we can just keep trodding along and never even make a product.  This is WTF #3 and it’s the biggest.  I think this team needs a HUGE shakeup.  I think it needs fire and determination.  And where do good teams get fire and determination from?

Leaders.  They get it from leaders.  And our team has none and I think that’s where the huge problem is.  We have nobody making us stay on schedule.  And do you know what’s worse than having a tight schedule where you know you won’t deliver?  We don’t have a schedule.  UM is quite content with “when it gets done, it gets done” — probably the worst schedule known to productive society because it’s far too open-ended.  We have another project… an embedded system that I can’t talk about because of NDAs.  And I see this project working and progressing and it’s almost ALMOST to the point of being able to have VCs and I am truly starting to wonder where the hell our team went on the radar of…everybody.

I should’ve left a long time ago.  And to be honest, I wish I could leave.  This is fruitless and getting nowhere fast, especially since it’s far too late to ask for new team members (and actually I know that I couldn’t get them anyway.  I’ve tried.) and I feel this is going to drag on forever.  My screw-i-tude is higher than anyone could imagine.  What I need right now is UM or a manager or ANYBODY to come and say to the entire team: “here’s a schedule, let’s take this software and GITFO the door”.

And before you tell me that I should be inspiring myself to do it, YOU inspire yourself after watching nothing happen for 6 months, no other orgs nearby to get a job with (a hick town, that’s what this is) and no schedule.  I’ve been fighting tooth and nail to get this project done since…09 December 2008 according to this document.  It’s getting increasingly harder to self-motivate, especially around other devs that don’t gaf about this software or me or themselves, it seems.

I stick around here for only two reasons: The idea itself is fantastic and this could be huge if someone would actually make it MOVE, and there’s basically nothing else around here I could do other than work for a small store being a cashier.  Yeah, I have looked but found nothing else, and I really like software dev and I do not want to work as a cashier.

And before you comment about how I should move to somewhere else where I could be useful.  Yes.  I should.  But I’m tied here due to family stuff (stuff that I wouldn’t go on about in a blog).  So that isn’t an option yet, at least not for a few years.

So I think what this team needs now is just authority.  Someone to come in and say to this team “why are you all on your asses?  Get to f—ing work.”  And I think what I’m going to go do right now is send this to my team and my managers and hope for the best.

Well, to my managers at least.  I know my team won’t care or read it.

On GeoCities’ closing Monday, Oct 26 2009 

Now playing: Lady of the Flowers by Placebo on Placebo [1996] (iTunes)

I’ve been so very busy at work the past few days that I had forgotten I signed up for this blog.  I remembered yesterday evening, but couldn’t think of a topic to write about.  However, this morning I was reminded that today is the day GeoCities closes.  And of course, sites like XKCD are parodying the bad HTML and broken images we’ve all grown to hate.

However, I want to remind you of a better time.  The GeoCities of the mid ’90s; the GeoCities I once knew, used, and loved.  Before the commercialisation, before the Yahoo! aquisition, before its own personal “eternal September” of clueless newbies.

GeoCities, circa 1996, before it sucked.

GeoCities, circa 1996, before it sucked.

There was, and still is, a lot of technical information of GeoCities, and a lot of it is rare content that you won’t find anywhere else.  There was more information than you would think, especially on old technologies including GEOS, Roland synthesisers, and RISC CPUs.  There were fansites of good ol’ TV shows…remember Suddenly Susan?  Smart Guy?  Even classic telly, such as Gilligan’s Island and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  There were MIDI archives.  There were some excellent history and genealogical resources.  And was there a more expansive lyrics archive on the early Web than Andrew’s Lyrics?  (There actually were much better ones on Gopher, but that’s an entirely different subject.)

And GeoCities was the beginning of the social Web revolution, allowing anyone with access to a keyboard the ability to write a Web site about anything, thereby bringing people who wanted to just have a page about their family.  I’ll admit I’m a bit guilty of doing that myself; I signed up for a GeoCities page in 1997, relatively late, and used it primarily for voicing my opinions on computing and showing off my family pictures.  I closed it down in ’99, because I was far too busy being a full-time administrator to keep it up.  Not to mention the commercialisation that came…banner ads and the watermark were just the beginning, as we would all find out when Yahoo! purchased them.  However, that was what proved the fatal flaw with “anyone with a keyboard can sign up”: the general masses gained Internet access, and back then everyone was flooding Yahoo! to get their wide variety of services (primarily for email and messenger).  These masses used terrible, disgusting editors (FrontPage Express, Hot Dog, and even Netscape Composer 4.x generated abysmal HTML) and wrote about nothing in particular.  This made the content rapidly decline in value, turning GeoCities into basically just a pile of meaningless babble and broken HTML, and the only thing declining faster than their reputation and content quality was their real userbase.  So here we are.  Yahoo! is dwindling, they’re strapped for cash, and probably just can’t afford GeoCities anymore.  In the eyes of most, this is a Good Thing™ because of the drivel that most people think GeoCities is famous for.

But I still remember the great big melting pot, the community that was GeoCities in the ’90s.  And though there are some modern hosting providers that are somewhat akin to this old GeoCities in terms of hosting (here are a few), none can match the community. And that is, I think, what GeoCities was for me and many others back then – a community of people from different backgrounds and cultures, sharing the collective of our knowledge (and family pictures) for the world to see.

Fare thee well, old friend.  Here’s to one last <marquee/> tag, and the hope that one day someone may be able to rekindle the community spark of 1995.

On a new blog Monday, Oct 19 2009 

Hello world, and everyone reading this.

First and foremost this blog is about my true feelings on just about everything.  I am opinionated, but open to new ideas; this will show through on my posts.  I have a wide diversity of interests ranging from cars and medicine to music and fine arts.  However, I’m a senior computer programmer by trade and computing will be a primary subject on this blog.

Let me start a bit about myself.  I’m a male, though not a stereotypical one.  I don’t have an overinflated ego nor sex drive and I don’t find “the chase” of a woman to be “fun”, whatever that may mean.  I believe in morals, in honesty, in dignity, in respect, and in values.  I treat others with all of these qualities and expect to be treated with them as well, and as you may expect I’ve found myself disappointed with most of the modern world because of this fact.

I was convinced to get this blog by a very close friend who told me that I should share my opinions and reviews with the world.  I have reviewed a lot of software, and I’ve written a lot of essays on a great many things.  Since I have them privately stored somewhere, I will post the more “exciting” ones as I find them.

But enough about me.  On with the blogging…