Um… I’m in Vegas

I flew into Las Vegas yesterday for one of my best friend’s bachelor party. I had no desire to come to Vegas, but I have to say it’s cooler than I thought it would be. We’re staying at the MGM Grand, and I got to see a few other places yesterday and today. So far, the MGM Grand pretty much rocks. I noticed a few oddities about Vegas since my arrival that most will probably find really trivial, but for some reason I find amusing. Read on for more ;-)

First, I have to mention the carpeting. I don’t know if there’s something about the desert air, or the largely fake indoor air, but the carpet everywhere I go seems to be brand spankin’ new! I’m not just talking about the hotel either. IN THE AIRPORT, the first thing I noticed when I got off the tram that takes you to your luggage is that the carpet looked (and felt) brand new. Same at the hotel, the other hotels I’ve seen, a couple of clubs, etc. I don’t know what the secret is, but it needs to find its way to the east coast… which reminds me… maybe the fact that it never snows (sleets, slushes or hails) in Vegas helps.

The next thing I want to mention is the cars. Every single car, it seems, is a taxi. I haven’t even seen any cop cars. A taxi driver said that most of the cops here are undercover, so I guess there’s more coverage than it seems.

The time change has me all messed up. I ate dinner last night at about 2am EST. Then I went out. I came home at around 2am Vegas time. Then I couldn’t sleep. Then I fell asleep and woke up at 7:30 local time and learned that the absolute best time to see Vegas is between 8-9am local time. I ran around and took some pictures of stuff, saw the Monte Carlo and New York, New York, checked out a few shops, and finally met up with the rest of the crew around 2pm local time.

I’ll write more about the MGM and the other places later. I haven’t seen Venice, Paris or the Bellagio yet, so I’ll have plenty more to write when I get back.

The Media Problem

As I see it, there’s an inherent problem with the scenario that currently exists in the media, whereby people who go to school for… journalism, end up writing about everything else. For example, what exactly qualifies a writer to write about technology? Is it good enough that they once were considered a guru at their last job because they knew how to recover from an Outlook crash and they kept their virus checker up to date? I think not.

Of course, I’m not saying that technical people can write either. The *other* big problem with coverage of technical subjects is that the writers, even if they have some exposure to what they’re covering, often don’t have the exposure needed to address the audience they seek to address. They also don’t have the resources to emulate an environment similar to that of their audience members. Read on…


This problem runs rampant, really. It happens *daily* — indeed, even multiple times a day, that I see stories about an enterprise-class something, reviewed, critiqued, praised, covered in some way by someone who somehow thinks that their little workshop, complete with a few PC’s and (gasp!) a sottering iron, is a suitable environment for putting enterprise-class software (or even hardware) through its paces in a manner that can possibly result in a review of that product worth reading by someone who might be in a position to deploy said product.

I have news for these writers: a publicly routable IP address does not a production environment make! Still, editors put really attractive titles on these stories, regardless of their technical merit (or lack thereof), in the hopes that they’ll attract…. mouse clicks!

That’s right folks! They really don’t care if the material is worthy of being read by their target audience. As long as the title is tempting enough to get you to click through to the full article (and all of the ads in the process), they’ve fulfilled their goal. They can now tell the people paying for ad space that their ad got another viewing.

Cynical? Perhaps. Could it be that the tech news “cognoscenti” (so called because their web sites look nice, apparently) actually care about attracting a technical audience by putting forth articles worthy of being read by a technical audience? Well, certainly there must be some cutoff of quality, otherwise they wouldn’t get hits. But they’re not trying to attract technical people. They’re looking to attract tech wannabies, which in the context of the technical world make up “the masses”.

The problem then becomes that you have mediocre material being read by large numbers of people who know enough to be dangerous, who are now going and professing absolute knowledge of a subject that they themselves learned from someone who is, alas, but a writer, not a tech.

So what is the solution? Well, I guess one would be for advertisers to put a higher value on the class of user clicking through a given site. Why HP would advertise highly technical products on a site that draws clicks mostly from people who still call AOL for support is beyond me. I guess because PHBs who call the shots in terms of budgetary decisions also mostly call AOL for support.

The only other solution I can see is what already happens. Savvy users recognize a flawed information distribution model when they see it, and seek out more useful sources of information. Some of the best information I’ve gotten is from non-commercial sites that don’t exist for the purpose of amassing mouse clicks. Other great sources are IRC channels, and google groups (an interesting model that seeks to amass mouse clicks by republishing useful information from sources that don’t).

Reader beware.

Everything on TV last night, summed up in one blog post

Drama, drama, scandal, scandal, drama, gasp, teaser, teaser, drama, drama, teaser, scandal, sensationalism, scandal, drama, sensationalism, gasp, oh no!, I pick you, drama, teaser, scandal, can you believe this, drama, we’ve waited so long, scandal, but before we do that, drama, drama, gasp, teaser, tonight we’ve seen drama, teaser, scandal, sensationalism, drama, teaser, scandal, goodnight.

I hereby declare prime time network television *completely* devoid of anything remotely interesting.

I’d like to put forth the fact that people seem to watch this crap anyway as proof that the American viewing audience is completely lacking in brain cells. It scares me that they’re going to pick our next leader.

My comp sci grade

Hey all, Good news.

My final grade in my Computer Science 102 class was a 99.38, which is an A!! Turns out I got the highest score on the final exam as well – a 100.5 (there were extra credit problems, which account for the .5). I should find out my math scores tomorrow. I’ll post them here.

later.
brian.

The Curse of Geekhood

Being a geek is a blessing and a curse. The blessing part is that I haven’t seen any popups, gotten a virus, had a catastrophic desktop system crash, or had any of the issues people complain about every day. It’s also nice that if I need software to do something it currently doesn’t do, I can make my own software to do it.

The curse is this:
If a geek can justify the purchase of a piece of technology, they are *not* going to get the product that just “gets the job done”. Examples follow – read on…


My officemate dropped his Sony Clie thie weekend. It fell out of his hand and onto the floor. Somehow, he dropped it in such a way that it looks like it crashed to the Earth after a full millenium of traveling through space after just barely surviving the explosive destruction of the Death Star.

Of course, he used his Clie all the time. For everything. He should – the thing costs hundreds of dollars. That thing should be able to have a pizza waiting for him at his house when he gets home from work. All us geeks complain about the price of technology, too. Know why? ‘Cos we know we’re gonna wind up paying for it anyway. We can’t help it.

So instead of looking at his Blackberry 7290 and saying “Hey, I have a calendar here, an address book, email, phone — good enough”, he immediately is online looking at the new Clie models, the Treo, the Tungsten, the Zire… so I had to go into Devil’s advocate mode:

“Why not just use the Blackberry?”
“If it did what I needed it to do, I would”
“It has a calendar”
“It doesn’t look and act like the Palm one”.

He’s right, it doesn’t. However, his initial gripe about all this was that he could either buy a new PC or a handheld. That’s a helluva choice to have to make, and I for one would be bitter about having to make it (that’s me, I’m bitter). However, it’s way more fun and interesting to buy a handheld than a PC. PCs are boring, and in our line of work we have to look at them often enough that they really get dull. Handhelds do way cooler stuff than PCs, partly just because they can do some of the *same* stuff, but with more portability than a PC.

I had to buy a printer this weekend, because my current printer is a 10-year-old monochrome HP printer. I wanted color, and a duplexer (er, a duplexer means it’ll print on both sides of the paper). Think I got off cheap? Nope. I could’ve spent about $200 less than I did, but NOOOOOOOO. I got a photo printer that can print really nice 4×6 color prints in 36 seconds, which is about half the normal time for that task. It prints black and white pages at a rate of 25 per minute, which is fine for home use. It prints color at about 18 per minute, which is actually really good, and it has a resolution of something like 4500×1200 in color.

I didn’t need all that. I also didn’t need a fax machine or another scanner, or a color copier, all of which are built in.

The curse of the geek is that it is not in our blood to be frugal and practical when shopping for technology items. Especially those which are for personal use.

If you use mapquest, read this

I can see it playing out like a movie. The head muckety-muck over at Google emails the big cheese over at mapquest. The mail says, simply “Good morning. I believe I’ve just put you out of business. No hard feelings.” The big cheese at mapquest runs home, only to be found by his wife later that evening, curled up in a corner, shivering, sobbing, and talking to himself. You must see Google Maps.


Those who know me well know that I’ll generally avoid using Microsoft tools if I can. However, I must say that Microsoft MapPoint is the finest product Microsoft makes, and I’ve found it very useful on a number of occasions. For me to say that about a microsoft product speaks volumes for how good MapPoint really is. However, I believe Google Maps will render MapPoint useless as well. What’s so great about it? Glad you asked.

It’s almost MapPoint, but in a browser, which means if I’m in some random place away from home and without my laptop, and none of the internet cafes have the expensive MapPoint software installed, I can just type in a URL, and I’m on my way. But you can do that with mapquest, so where’s the beef?

Google has done some truly sick things with standard browser technology. If you open a browser, and go to maps.google.com, and type in your address, your basic map is returned – or so it would seem. Click somewhere on the map and drag. Notice how the map moves. This is an endlessly useful feature. Mapquest doesn’t have it, nor does Yahoo! maps, nor does anything else browser-based. This is great for navigating short distances, which I do a lot, being new to the area and not too familiar with the back roads where I live.

But wait! There’s more!

Anyone living in New Jersey is sure to relate to my frustration with maps of New Jersey. There are areas where so many major highways come together that, on a map, it looks like a clump of hair. These maps are, at best, impossible to read and navigate. The only way to really figure it out would probably be to get up in a helicopter and figure out which roads really go where….

So they did…

Well, sort of. Google maps has employed satellite technology to create maps made up completely of satellite images. Still looking at the map of your address? Up on the top right of that page, click “satellite”, and you’ll see a satellite image of your house, street, town, whatever.

You can only zoom in so far, mind you, but it’s plenty for getting down to the root of things if what you’re looking at is exit 13 of the New Jersey Turnpike or something equally weird. What’s more is that the satellite map acts just like the regular map, meaning you can drag it around and check things out. Can’t tell what you’re looking at? Flip back to the regular map to see the street names and such, and go back to the satellite image once you have your bearings.

Nice. Very nice. I’ve been praying that something would kill off mapquest for some time. I’ve never used mapquest and *not* gotten lost. I used Google maps to navigate, among other things, exit 13 on the new jersey turnpike just the other day, and I didn’t make a single wrong turn. Anyone who knows me also knows just how amazing that is.

Enjoy.

Upcoming Final Exams :-(

Sorry for the recent silence. I’ve had a rash of smaller tests at school, and now I’m prep’ing for finals. I took two classes this semester. Computer Science 102 (basically, a class in how to program in C++), and College Algebra (er, that’s essentially Algebra II). I have an “A” in both classes right now, but as with most college courses, it all rides on the final exam.

My Comp. Sci. class has actually overlapped ever so slightly with my job. If nothing else, it enables me to understand how to *read* more code, which can, in some instances, help to troubleshoot applications that I have to run. It also has given me a little more courage than is likely healthy at this point. I recently rewrote some simple scripted tools I made in C, which is really overkill (a 40-line script written in bash or perl is likely a couple hundred lines of C).

As for my College Algebra class, it has, if nothing else, extinguished some of my anxiety toward math in general. The first thing I ever failed was Algebra I, in my freshman year of high school. I then passed geometry, and went on to fail Algebra II… twice. This class covered all of that material and then some, and with an eye toward moving on to Calculus, which I’m now looking forward to (it feels weird to even write that).

One thing I’ll say about all this math, though, is that I feel bad for all the other people in the class who have never taken even Comp. Sci. 101. I think math at this level maps *directly* to concepts that I feel are much more readily learned in the context of computers, which have a readily apparent purpose. Function manipulation is a perfect example. f(g(x)) didn’t look even a little bit odd to me, because it is a very, very, very basic, fundamental concept that you learn in the first 2 or 3 chapters of any intro to programming book. I asked my professor if there was any reason for me not to make that mapping, and he said “no, I do the same exact thing”. My math professor has some background in computing as well. He’s also left-handed and has glasses like mine (for lazy eye, like me).

Well, that’s all the news for now. Wish me luck!
later.