abqdan: (Default)
Yes, I know - I thought the whole chat roulette thing died a death long ago - killed off mostly by guys who think waving their penises at total strangers is a smart idea.But apparently it survives. I loved this compilation (must have taken ages to make) of the reactions of random people as they discover a guy in a bikini lip-syncing to Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe". I assume he had to edit out a lot of penises...

Saddening

Jul. 20th, 2012 11:53 am
abqdan: (Default)
Of course, the news of the shooting at a movie theater in Colorado was shocking - awful. But what saddened me afterward, was tuning in to both left and right talk radio stations this afternoon.

Rush's show was all over the place with bizarre comments and theories. While they mostly came from callers, the stand-in for Rush was encouraging those ideas. In just a half hour with the show, I heard these suggestions:


  • The guns the guy had might have come from 'fast and furious' and Obama is to blame

  • The character "Blane" in the movie is supposed to be Obama

  • The character "Blane" is intended as an attack on Romney

  • Obama just pretends to care about the shooting, because it's an election year: After all, he let Occupy Wall Street protestors harrass and murder bankers


I truly couldn't stomach any more. Tuning in to the left-wing talk radio I got:

  • This is the reason to introduce more gun control

  • This is NOT the reason to introduce more gun control

  • Everyone should be required to carry a gun; then the crazy guy would have been killed before he could do anything in the theater


The left-wing talk show also included an extended interview with someone in the theater, asking the stupid questions we now expect from all media following a trajedy:

  • How did you feel when the gunman opened fire?

  • Were you concerned for your own safety?

  • What did you hear in the theater as people were shot?


It seems nothing can now happen in the US without being sensationalized, politicized, and used to promote the agendas of various special interest groups.

So I'm sad, not just for the people directly affected by this senseless act, but for our society as a whole.
abqdan: (Default)
The TiVo is up and running, and Netflix and HuluPlus are working correctly, if slowly. It's surprising to me, having owned a ReplayTV (a now-defunct company) that the TiVo interface is comparitively unresponsive for a dedicated DVR box. I suspect part of the problem is the amount of content they've tried to cram onto the HD menu displays, including a completely (to me) unnecessary picture-in-picture feature. So far I've found four completely different layouts for keyboard input - very confusing. This seems to be because the apps for things like HuluPlus are designed by the content owner, not by TiVo; it's a shame they haven't forced a generic layout and interface standard on these providers. In all cases, the on-screen keyboard is squeezed into a very small space on screen, to allow for other 'active' content. Poor design.

The YouTube app is particularly frustrating, because it insists on doing an 'intellegent' search as you type in your search terms. The result is frequent delays between letter selection and on-screen display. Even worse, the latency encourages additional key presses, resulting in incorrect data entry. Poor design.

I wonder if app designers ever actually TEST their apps with real people. We now have apps to access HuluPlus on both our Sony Bravia internet-enabled TV, and on TiVo. The two apps are quite different, and both lack obvious features like displaying shows by season. The Sony app makes browsing a long-running show extremely difficult - hundreds of episodes of Law and Order, in chronological order, but without original air dates, and showing 12 shows per page. It isn't mandatory to make the machine-human interface as complex and difficult to navigate as possible, but many designers put a lot of effort into that. The TiVo box at least shows a title that includes the Seaons, but it shows even fewer titles per page, and scrolls s-l-o-w-l-y compared to the Sony TV. And again, I can't just select a season to view. (At least Netflix understands that TV shows are collected in seasons, and gives you the option to get to the season you want)

I'm realizing I may have to face the inevitable and keep the cable TV option, because while the TiVo would be sufficient to meet my needs, the slow response in changing channels would probably drive Bill crazy. While I prefer to watch pre-recorded programs (mostly through a VPN connection to a UK ISP), he has a genetic need to be able to channel surf, which looks to me to be impossible on the TiVo box.

Also a disappointment is the "TiVo Desktop" software, which it turns out is required to access music. We have all our CDs transferred to MP3 format, and stored on a central server (a 2 Terabyte NAS storage device). Any of our computers can access the library. Theoretically, the TiVo should be able to access them too. However, it turns out that the TiVo cannot actually access the server directly; it needs a host computer running its resource-hog Desktop software. This means having a PC turned on somewhere on the network for TiVo to be able to play music. Not ideal. I've now discovered that the Desktop software cannot access music files on a shared drive; I would have to copy all the music from the server to the host PC in order to access it. Stupid design. And it appears from the manual that even if I could get that to work, the TiVo does not have the capability to browse music by genre (from the MP3 tags), nor can it randomly play music - you point it at a folder, and it plays what is there. This is much less functionality than even the most rudimentary $20 MP3 player. You can't see it, but I'm shaking my head in sad wonderment at the people behind this software...
abqdan: (Default)
Here's the plan

  • put up an antenna, and feed that into the house distribution system.

  • Add Netflix on demand, and HuluPlus on demand.

  • Add TiVo, to work with terrestrial TV broadcasts and Netflix/HuluPlus

  • Cancel Comcast TV


The original plan included switching to DSL from Comcast Internet, but sadly that's not doable at the moment. Local DSL has very bad reviews, and much as I'd like to move from Comcast to DSL, it ain't gonna happen.

So at this point, I have the antenna assembled and ready to mount on the roof. However, it turns out that there are building codes for antenna, requiring appropriate grounding of the antenna pole, and lightening filters for the antenna cable; so a run to Lowes is required to buy the varioius supplies for that. As a stop-gap measure, I've connected an indoor antenna to the house wiring, which seems to be pulling in reasonably good signals.

The TiVo arrived, and is not (as advertised) up and running in minutes. It was very easy to connect, but when powered up it decided to display its logo at 480i resolution, although the TV is 1080i capable. Only the top part of the TiVo logo's head was visible, with no on-screen instructions. After a few minutes, I reached for my trusty Google, and was researching the problem when the unit finally woke up, displayed in 1080i, and continued on with the setup program. Forty minutes after I started, it stuck at "Loading... (99%)", prompting a second run at Google. Lots of answers, but none obviously relevant to me. After 45 minutes, it happily announced (paraphrased here) "A new update has been downloaded and must be applied. After the update has been installed, the set up will continue. The system will restart now". Hmm.... sounds like a Windows box! It duly restarted, sulked, and came back... to the beginning of the setup routine. Sigh. Now running through the setup for a second time. Currently staring at the message "Loading.... (99%)"
abqdan: (Default)
Bill has covered a lot about our recent trip to Vancouver, so I won't go through all that - since our friends lists overlap almost compleletely. But I did want to comment on the event itself.

This was my 16th consecutive convention - I can't quite believe I've invested well over $16,000 dollars in this event! (Typical cost with airfare and hotel, convention fees etc). The cost may well be the reason that attendance has been declining in recent years, but that's a different topic.

I enjoyed this convention, only because I consider convention to be a family reunion of sorts. I communicate regularly with a few dancers outside Albuquerque, but for the most part, this is the only time in a year when I get to see people; and yet conversations flow as if with old friends - it is remarkable that we can as it were just 'pick up' where we left off last year. Thankfully as we all get older, we're all prone to forget some back-story for each other, which makes old discussions new again!

The convention itself was horribly low-key; rather than feeling as most do that this was a FABULOUS gathering of FABULOUS gay men (and women), it felt more like we all happened to meet at business convention. Missing were such items as the 'welcome gift' we usually receive - I have various bags and water bottles that I've received from past conventions; nothing from this one.

The convention traditionally opens with a Grand March - where members from each club group together and march from some external point into the ballroom for the opening remarks, national anthems, and sometimes performances, together with the opening dance.

Every year convention organizers try out new forms of the Grand March, some successful, some not. DC for example introduced the concept of a seating area for the opening ceremony, followed by the grand march and dancing - a great concept adopted by the Atlanta convention last year. Some ideas have been less successful, like interminable speeches of welcome from politcal hacks, while everyone stands around in the ballroom (no seats). We're all getting a bit old to sit on the floor for long periods... In previous years, some Grand Marches have taken us through the gardens of the hotel, and one (infamous in the lack of forethought) had the whole thing in the gardens in blazing sun, without warning anyone to bring hats or sunscreen. But the point of the Grand March, just like the Pride Parades, was to announce to the locals We Are Here, and We Are Fabulous.

This year, the grand march was a short walk up a flight of stairs, well out of the sight of other guests or Vancouver in general. There was precious little organization in the ballroom (which became an issue later for 'progressive squares') and there were no speeches of welcome. A tradition I know many people missed was the singing of the American, Canadian, and Japanese national anthems. (We all learned the Japanese one in LA, where they had the thing playing on the hotel TV channel for days! We then forgot it the day after). And again, traditionally, the callers are all introduced during the opening ceremony, but this year they were absent. I was told (but have no confirmation) that a certain straight caller had objected to being on stage during the opening ceremony, because they weren't being paid for it. I hope that isn't true, but it wouldn't surprise me).

This is supposed to be a GAY event, which requires a certain flourish. But there were no decorations, no gay flags, no drag queens dressed as Scarlett or Mammy - nothing to make if feel special.

Another disappointment to me was the setting for the display of the memorial panels - these hold the badges of dancers who have died. It's always very moving for me as I take a moment to stop by and visit with old friends who are no longer here. But this year, instead of setting aside a quiet room with appropriate lighting and music, the organizers apparently just stuck the panels out of the way at the end of a corridor, next to one of the dance halls.

I sense that money was a problem for this convention, and I'm sure they did the best they could with the people and money they had available. The three organizers are all lovely people and are expreienced in this kind of project; but it was I think worst convention I've attended (setting aside the wreckage (literally) of the Las Vegas convention, which had to be hastily re-arranged after they imploded the original host hotel!)

I am hoping for Great Things for San Francisco next year - I don't think they'll disappoint!
abqdan: (Default)
Boy, you'd think tech companies didn't actually WANT you to understand their pricing or products. After a 9 day outage on our cable, including our Internet, I decided to try DSL instead.

CenturyLink offers six months at $29.99 for a 7Mbps download speed. That's a nice saving over the current charge of $50 for our Comcast Internet. But wait... if you dig through the offer details, after six months, the rate goes up to $45, for a slower download speed - Comcast currently gives us around 12Mbps.

Well, OK, but DSL is advertised as a dedicated, CONSISTENT speed. Cable speeds can vary with demand, so DSL still sounds like a good enough deal. Until you read through the agreement for DSL from CenturyLink:

"Download speeds will be up to 15% slower due to network requirements and may vary for reasons such as customer location, websites accessed, Internet congestion and customer equipment. Consistent speed claim is based on CenturyLink providing High-Speed Internet (HSI) subscribers with a dedicated, virtual circuit connection to the CenturyLink central office."

Yes, I realize many of those things are out of their control - but this sounds like KYA language to me. So the speed may be 5.95Mbps on a good day (allowing for the 15% management overhead), but may go down to ... what? No idea. Better read some reviews.

You can't fault Centurylink for their honesty - they allow customers to post reviews of their DSL on their own website. I know, that means they'll all be good reviews doesn't it? The marketing guys will weed out the bad ones, but hey, it's worth a look...

The first TEN reviews were all bad, from 'marginally deficient' to 'downright awful'. I didn't read further - maybe they don't HAVE any good reviews.

Still, I could give it a one month try. The six month period is listed as 'no term commitment'. Just checking the fine print... Early termination: Full payment of remaining months of offer period, up to $200. Well, that sucks.

I'd like to leave Comcast behind, but it sounds like I might be jumping out the fry pan into the fire with DSL. and we don't have any other companies or options in Albuquerque. Scratches head....
abqdan: (Default)
So, the GOP has decided to apply to the Supreme Court to hear a case concerning DOMA. (Actually, BLAG is doing this - the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group.) The President has argued that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional, and instructed his justice department not to defend challenges to it. The initial response from the tea party republicans was to vote to spend several million tax-payer dollars to fund outside attorneys to defend the law instead; but now they want to take this to the Supreme Court?

Well, it turns out Jan van Lohuizen, a Republican pollster, advised the GOP in May that their anti-gay rhetoric was no longer working with independent voters. Sure, it kept the far-right base voting, but they are a 'safe' voting block anyway - it's the independent voters who are critical to winning elections. The GOP are experts at 'framing'. They are also very disciplined when getting new points out. They know that repetition of key phrases makes them true in the view of many voters. So here's the new framing that Lohuizen suggested:

People who believe in equality under the law as a fundamental principle, as I do, will agree that this principle extends to gay and lesbian couples; gay and lesbian couples should not face discrimination and their relationship should be protected under the law.  People who disagree on the fundamental nature of marriage can agree, at the same time, that gays and lesbians  should receive essential rights and protections such as hospital visitation, adoption rights, and health and death benefits.This is not about giving anyone extra protections or privileges, this is about making sure that everyone – regardless of sexual orientation – is provided the same protections against discrimination that you and I enjoy.

This is a big turn around from the current GOP position, but if it wins the votes, they'll certainly go with it. I doubt that many republican politicians have deeply held beliefs that giving equal rights to gay citizens is wrong; it's just been inconvenient to do that while winning elections.

So, what has this to do with their push to have the Supreme Court decide this issue? Do they believe the court will rule to support DOMA, even though successive federal courts have found Section 3 to be unconstitutional? I suspect it's the opposite. Continuing to fund a losing battle against the provision in district courts simply emphasizes their opposition to our civil rights, and flies in the face of the advice from Lohuizen. Supporting a repeal of the provision in the legislature would raise the ire of the far right faithful base - to the point that they might not turn out and vote in elections. But if they push it to the Supreme Court, and those 'activist judges' overturn Section 3, then they have the best of both worlds. DOMA is gone, the far right don't blame the GOP, and those running for election can start to use Lohuizen's messaging - "Well, of course, gay people do deserve some rights, and those aren't special rights (even though we've been telling you for 20 years those are 'special' rights)".

I hope that the Supreme Court will find Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional; this section is the heart of the legislation. I also hope it doesn't provide any electoral advantage to the GOP - whatever happens, I won't forget that our rights were used as a political football by them.

Dreams

Jun. 14th, 2012 11:07 am
abqdan: (Default)
I don't normally remember my dreams; and those I do are fragmented and indistinct. So I was a bit surprised to have my mother turn up in one last night. She died in 1987, and while of course I think of her from time to time, she hasn't featured in any dreams since just after her death.

She was here at our home, in the kitchen; hair done as it always was for one of her nights out (she ran a club in London, and often had to go to formal events) but instead of the usual flowing evening gown, she had on her old winter robe and slippers!

She was helping me plan... my funeral. She was quite insistent that I couldn't leave all this stuff up to chance. Music, venue, food... All of which in the cold light of day is amusing, since my mother's idea of a funeral would have been an open bar at a local pub, with sausage rolls, chicken and mushroom vol-au-vent and ham sandwiches!

Sitting on the bar stools at the kitchen counter, she insisted I write everything down. It was not at all a sombre meeting - quite the reverse. It was good to see her again and we laughed over the task in hand.

I woke up not at all rested, even though I went to bed early and got up late.

I think this must be a result of various deaths and bad news lately - Bill had news of the death of an old friend of his yesterday, and that was on top of my own friends' issues that I wrote about recently.

OK - better start making my list!
abqdan: (Default)
Well, I'm 60 now, and a generous estimate puts me at well over 60% of life expectancy.The phrase 'all downhill from here' springs to mind. About a year ago, Lindsay, someone I've known since we were both five, let me know she was battling breast cancer. Today I found out the cancer won. Lindsay and I were playmates, in the same 'secret gang'. We would sit in her tree-house with our other two gang members, and figure out important things like breaking codes and how to follow suspects without being noticed so we could solve mysteries. We knew all the same people; went to the same primary school until age 11, then transferred to the same high school where we were in the same stream until we left to go our separate ways to different colleges. We lost touch fairly quickly after that, but heard each other's news from time to time through mutual friends, then a couple of years ago, were reunited by Facebook. I never got around to visiting Wales where she lived with her children. It was on the 'to do' list. It seemed like there was plenty of time.

Then there's Alan. A quirky, intense guy I knew at high school. He and I were both 'odd ducks' - unlikely friends really. Girls at school loved Alan; and I remember our first vacation together when we were both 16 - an older friend (18) drove us to Butlin's holiday camp at Minehead. This was an 'all-inclusive' holiday at an amusement park - very popular in Britain in the 60's. We shared a cabin, and on the second night we were there, Alan 'entertained' a young lady in our room, so I went for a VERY long walk on my own. Alan and I were the stars of our high-school production of Pygmalion the following year - he played Pickering to my Higgins. I have some old black and white pictures of us together on stage somewhere. We also lost touch after school, and re-connected four or five years ago through a mutual friend, and we kept in touch on Facebook. It turned out Alan is gay - I really should have known back at school, but he hid it well. After his college graduation he headed to Germany (he was a whiz at languages). He married (a woman) and had two children, then finally came out and married a German guy. They were together for many years. Three years ago, they built a house in Thailand for their retirement. Toward the end of 2011, he was diagnosed with cancer; at which point his husband left him alone in Thailand, saying he couldn't deal with the house or Alan, or their adopted (Thai) son. He's been in and out of hospital every since; his adopted son has returned to his home village, also unable to cope with the situation. I suspect Alan has not been easy to be around, but he's in a very desparate situation. I heard from him today and it seems the latest round of chemo did not work. He has a new boyfriend - a 28 year old local. Most likely just there for the place to live and some money, I have to hope he's also taking care of Alan. I'm glad he has someone with him now. He's asked if I'll go visit, and once again I'm putting it on the 'to do' list, knowing that such a trip would be expensive and probably won't happen.

I heard from my sister-in-law just now; she told me my brother (six years older than me) has decided not to attend any more of his school reunions; too many 'empty chairs and empty tables'.

Getting old sucks; but it beats the alternative.
abqdan: (Default)
Just received this email:

Attention Account User,
Scheduled Maintenance & Upgrade
Your account is in the process of being upgraded to a newest of Windows-based servers and an enhanced online email interface inline with internet infrastructure Maintenance. The new servers will provide better anti-spam and anti-virus functions, along with IMAP Support for mobile devices that Support IMAP to enhance your usage.

To ensure that your account is not intermittently disrupted but active during and after this upgrade, you are required to kindly confirm your account by stating the details below:

User name:
Password:

This will prompt the upgrade of your account.

Failure to acknowledge receipt of this notification, might result to a temporal deactivation of your account from our database.

Your account shall remain active upon your confirmation of your login details.

We do apologize for any inconvenience caused.

Help Desk


Well, can't have that can we? They didn't mention which account they're talking about, so I sent them every user name and password that I could think of, just in case.

:-)
abqdan: (Default)
In researching some packages this week, I've realized why so many sites are now getting hacked. It's Apple's fault. No, not really, but their iWeb suite might share some of the blame.

At one time, the people who put together websites were programmers. They knew various computer languages that let them create these sites. They also knew about good coding practices, validating input, and preventing misuse. Then came along a number of 'easy' website authoring tools, which let novices point and click and build a website.

This is heaven for hackers.

It's not that the publishing products are evil; neither are the individuals who want to post their own website. The problem is lack of experience, and naivety. Suppose for example you create a nice little web form for people to use to comment on your great page, or to collect names and addresses. That seems innocent enough, but a hacker can craft a string of characters that when typed into that form can take over your entire website and make it do things you didn't mean it to. Professional programmers know this, and know how to prevent it (mostly); but most amateur/hobbiest web builders have no way of learning this, nor do they have the training to deal with the problem.

On top of simple publishing tools, there are a plethora of hobby sites where clever people publish their cool scripts. They wrote a widget that displays a calendar - you can just grab the code, and plug it in to your own website - and it's free! The publishing tool makes it easy to insert the widget, and hey, the instructions on where to put all this weird code are right there on the page where you found it. And of course, the average non-programmer has no idea what that script ACTUALLY does, other than displaying a neat calendar. The fact that it also installs a back-door allowing a malicious person to take control of their site at any time is irrelevant...

And then there are the complete applications that users cheerfully download and then deploy on their websites. One of the most popular tools for self-publishing is WordPress - easy to install, configure and use. And also one of the highest sources of malware on the web. phpBBS - one of the most popular ever bulletin board systems, and also one of the most frequently hacked applications. And the list goes on. Many ISPs will automatically install dozens of applications, so the customer doesn't even have to go to the effort of downloading it - yet that same company will not ensure security patches are applied after the application is deployed to prevent the introduction of malware.

So it really isn't surprising that hacked sites are so prevalent on the web; what's surprising is that any are left that haven't been hacked.
abqdan: (Default)
In a remarkably poor piece of PR, Adobe have announced that critical security bugs (their words, not mine) will not be patched in older releases. If you want a safe product, you have to hand over $375 for an upgrade to the CS6 suite. Even though they just got done selling everyone CS5.5 (which contains these bugs). CS5.5 launched in April 2011 - it's hardly an 'old' product.

I think it's finally time to try GIMP and Nvu. I've thought about it often enough - this might be the final motivation.
abqdan: (Default)
Very nearly anyway. I bought my current vehicle, a Chevy Malibu, new in 1998. One (fairly) careful owner... me. The poor thing has survived, or been revived from, several fender benders, none of them my fault (of course) and all repaired under insurance. It's on its second windshield, second alternator, and second computer (for the A/C). Other than that, it's all original. It has 104,000 miles on the clock, because in the past 10 years I've hardly driven anywhere; but I drove it a lot when I lived in California.

Not surprisingly, the car is now feeling its age; the shocks need replacing, and Jiffy Lube found an oil leak on the seal around the oil pan on the last tune-up. I'm sure other trouble is probably brewing...

I think it's time for a mid-size SUV. I want something comfortable for trips to places like Denver, and it has to accommodate our camping equipment, and my massage table on occasion. I want cruise control, electric door locks/windows, CD player and auxiliary input for an MP3 player. All of which seems to be standard on all vehicles now; they were all options in 1998, the last time I went car shopping!

I've been comparing info on various SUVs online, and after a long period thinking the Hyundai Santa Fe would be the best option, I'm now leaning toward the 2011 Ford Edge as a better choice. Most reviews say that the Hyundai is now 'dated' and is supposedly being completely redesigned for 2013. Though is seems that the 2013 models are already out for some cars!

I won't buy new of course; I'd rather let someone else take the hit on the initial depreciation. And I like the CarMax service, because it's hassle free. I dread those long hours spent arguing with a dealer over the price, then feeling like I need a shower afterwards. I hated both of my experiences buying a new car in America. I'm a little surprised that 2011 used car prices are not that much lower than the current model prices at the moment; but I imagine that will change in a few months when the 2013 models are widely available.

So... I think a new car in the fall is the plan. Anyone have their own suggestions about a good used SUV make/model?
abqdan: (Default)
Who knew? Amazon now handles subscriptions for most popular magazines. Not well, but they handle them.

A month or so ago I ordered WIRED magazine. This week I received my first copy of... Ebony. While the cover story about Samuel L Jackson might be interesting, the publication is very short on Geek stuff.

I tried contacting the Ebony subscription department. On their website, their FAQ lists many possible queries, but not one concerning unwanted subscriptions. However, every paragraph on the FAQ includes boilerplate to the effect that "if you need more help, click on the customer services link on the left". There is, of course, no customer services link on the left; or indeed on ANY page in their website.

I decided to try and contact Amazon instead. Now this is normally extremely difficult. The customer service department at Amazon abhors any actual contact with customers. However, their subscription service does have an email address for general inquiries. Before sending them an email, I thought I'd check that Amazon also handles subscriptions for Ebony. On a search for Ebony, I ended up with this item:

I Want Your Big Cock - Volume 2 - Ebony (Black) Sex [Kindle Edition]

It seems Amazon really does have something for everyone.
abqdan: (Default)
When I started my Computer Science degree in 1971, one of the first things I learned was a programming language called COBOL - the CO mmon B usiness- O riented L anguage. COBOL was orginally developed out of mistrust. The US Navy didn't trust programmers to write code, and wanted non-programmers to be able to check what the code did. As a result, COBOL was designed as a very verbose language, which looked like a description of the operations it was performing:

ADD ITEM-COST TO TOTAL

is valid COBOL, and is also pretty obvious to non-programmers.

Well, being so clear is obviously not cool. Progammers soon discovered how to make the language far more obtuse. An infamous programming statement, 'GO TO" could also be used to write impenetrable logic into a program - and was eventually banned by most organizations using the language.

In my first job after college, we used COBOL, but we also used a MUCH better language, PL/1. This language not only was extremely difficult for anyone but the original programmer to read, but it also incorporated special characters not included on a regular keyboard - so it was MUCH cooler than COBOL. Alas, it was SO good that it all-but died out in 10 years.

Not long after I graduated - around 1978 - the computer press signaled the demise of COBOL. It was TOO verbose, and did not lend itself to those new-fangled real-time systems, where you could enter data on a screen attached to your mainframe and get instant results. But COBOL proved difficult to kill; it morphed into a language that could deal with real-time systems.

The next development was PC-based applications. These had to be developed using the Windows Operating System. COBOL clearly wouldn't work in that environemnt... Until someone developed Micro-COBOL, which allowed two important things - the easy movement of COBOL applications from the huge IBM mainframe systems to a user's desktop, and the development of new interactive COBOL programs.

Well, time passed. The language of choice became C, then C++, then Java, then C-sharp... and all the while, hidden away in dark corners of the world, COBOL continued quietly to support some of the world's biggest and most complex business systems.

Fast forward to 2012. Baby-boomers - the COBOL programmers of the world, are fast retiring. But COBOL's still there. This from Computer World:

"In a Computerworld survey of 357 IT professionals conducted recently, 46% said they are already noticing a Cobol programmer shortage in the market, while 50% said the average age of their Cobol staff is 45 or older; 22% said the age is 55 or older."

And this:

"David Brown is worried. As managing director of the IT transformation group at Bank of New York Mellon, he is responsible for the health and welfare of 112,500 Cobol programs -- 343 million lines of code -- that run core banking and other operations. But many of the people who built that code base, some of which goes back to the early days of Cobol in the 1960s, will be retiring over the next several years."

It seems then, that after 40 years, I could (if I wanted to) go full-circle and start a new career as a COBOL programmer! I have to say, COBOL was one of my favorite languages... I'm almost tempted to brush off my resume...
abqdan: (Default)
As I sit here looking up, I'm vaguely aware that way above me there is a glimmer of daylight. The walls are steep, and I'm not sure I can climb back up the way I came - why would I anyway? There are many more holes down here to explore; I'm not sure I want to escape. That one over there looks interesting...

I have of course, fallen down another 'rabbit hole'. I sat down over an hour ago to look up something trivial, and have spent the last 60 minutes aimlessly clicking and reading. And now, I'm writing journal entries, instead of climbing back out of this hole and getting on with anything productive. I can't quite remember what it was I wanted to know at the start of all this... I just remember it wasn't all that important.

I think I had more spare time before I got the Internet.
abqdan: (Default)
Just saw a news report about the guy behind Make: - a magzine that encourages hobbyists to make stuff.

When I was 12 (in 1964 - no need to get the calculators out) my best friend and I used to spend a lot of time browsing junk stores and army surplus stores. Less than 20 years after WWII, these stores were a mine of useful stuff. Relays, mercury switches, gears, wire looms, ammo boxes, gas masks, resistors, capacitors - all kinds of things. A lot of electronic surplus was sold at amazingly low prices, and he and I would design all kinds of projects. Our most ambitious one (never completed) was a slot machine. We made a lot of progress, developing a working coin slot system, and some of the mechanics for the wheels - but we eventually gave up on making it pay out on a win. I built many other things too, including crystal radios, an 'alarm' for my room (never could trust my brother not to go in there!) electronic games, amplifiers...

At that time, there were a plethora of stores with cheap components, and numerous magazines with project ideas. The library offered many books on simple circuits and kids projects. We weren't limited to electronics either; we built other mechanical gizmos from nuts, bolts and lot of balsa wood!

I had thought this whole genre had disappeared; video games and facebook have replaced hobby building by kids. I've no idea if surplus stores were widespread in the USA back then; I do know that radio shack was once a retailer of breadboards, resistors, soldering irons and the like - but now these items are in scarce supply in their stores, replaced mostly by cell phones. There are online sites that offer these components, but nothing beats rummaging in the aisles of a store for just the right relay for your project...

So - back to the guy behind Make: This magazine aims to get school kids interested in building stuff again. True, they are now using pre-assembled boards and ICs, and their projects are designed to hook up to their laptops, but the basic concept is the same. The kids they interviewed were delighted to have the chance to build from the kits the company supplies, and to invent their own projects based on the components available, plus things like lunch boxes and regular light switches. The story made me want to get out my box of bits and soldering iron and start assembling something!

I hope Make: is successful in encouraging that type of initiative in young people again; though I have a sinking feeling that video games will win out over the thrill of building a radio that doesn't require a battery or power source to tune in that classic rock station!
abqdan: (Default)
The US Supreme Court (in my humble opinion) overreached in widening the scope of the Citizens United case to affirm a 'free speech right' to endless spending by corporations on electoral compaigns.

Recently, the Montana State Supreme Court disregarded Citizens United in reaching their ruling about restrictions on corporate campaign contributions in that state; the US Supreme Court has now issued a stay on the Montana ruling, but they may take the case. Saw this on AlterNet today:

"Notably, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in the stay order that should the full Court take the case it "will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway."

SCOTUS is typically reluctant to reverse itself, but I wonder if this might be a wedge to allow them to fix the Citizens United ruling? What would help the right-wing members of the court to do the right thing is if the Obama SuperPAC suddenly received a billion dollars from someone like Buffett - I'm sure they'd then see that corporate speech is not covered under the constitution :)
abqdan: (Default)
Numerous Republican controlled state legislatures have over the past three years enacted photo-id and other requirements for voting. Disregarding the evidence of studies that show no widespread abuse of voting, they claim this to be necessary to prevent voter fraud. In actuality, there is far more evidence of voting supression by Republicans, where they have deliberately removed people from voting rolls without cause, used robo-calling to direct voters to the wrong locations, or announced that democrat leaning voters need to go to the polls on the wrong date.

I'm not unsympathetic to the idea that everyone should have some form of government ID. Indeed, Congress was of that opinion after 9-11, when they introduced the Real ID act: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/REAL_ID_Act. Many (most) countries do require citizens to have a government ID. And there is a generally available ID - the passport.

The issue though is that the people who are most likely to lack these documents - the elderly, the poor - would have to pay for a document to enable them to vote. They also just happen to be more likely to vote Democrat.

It seems to me that the constitution had this covered though. The 24th amendment says in part:

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax."

Well, if I pay the government for a drivers' license or ID card, then am I not effectively paying a tax? And if I can't vote because I can't afford that tax, am I not protected by the 24th amendment? It seems that at the very least, the Democrats should be insisting that fees be waived for anyone who cannot afford this documentation. And they should be out now, knocking on doors and making sure all registered Democrats do have some form of ID, or finding a way to get them one.
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