Why is it xmas anyway?

Ponderings - 2 Comments » - Posted on December, 21, 2006 at 9:51 pm

As a side not in an email to a group of friends I asked “Why do we call it xmas? It’s not crossmass, it’s christmass. What accent spawned the abbreivation xmas?” and I get a reply from the honorable Johnny G:

I believe the x comes from the greek ‘chi’ originally, which was used as an abbreviation for christ. More recently it is used by people such as myself to take out the ‘christ’ from christmas and reflect the fact that it’s more of a secular orgy of consumerism than a solemn observation of some dead guy’s birthday… sometimes you also see people write about ‘xians’ or ‘xtians’, which riles up religious folk somewhat… (you asked!)

Verified by the blogging Reverend Collins. Stick to the top paragraph. If you read too much, you’ll turn into a xtian.

Waste water, go to jail

Environment - No Comments » - Posted on December, 9, 2006 at 11:00 pm

It’s hot. Damn hot. 36 degrees, dry as buggery. We’re going into stage 3 water restrictions on the 16th Dec, which means our veggie patch will almost certainly perish. What really annoys me is that I see our neighbours watering their grass with a sprinkler system whenever they feel like it. I don’t know if they haven’t seen the ads on TV, or if they’re ignoring it and hoping nobody notices, or they’re down right stupid, but it irks me real bad. Do they think they’re above it all?

Goulbourn is in an even worse plight than us, level 5 water restrictions! That’s 150L per person per day, no outdoor use (what so ever), and certainly no use on vehicles, with fines of $220 to $2,200. My cousin was saying her friend (lovely guy apparently) washes his car in the garage so he doesn’t get caught. Maybe he just doesn’t understand the problem? It’s not about beating the system when you’re city is turning to desert.

This guy got me thinking, how long until it really is a criminal offence to waste water? How long until people are allotted 20L a day to use or trade as they please. Will there be millionaire “water moguls” who become powerful because they own water? Maybe I should invest in some really big tanks…

When Installers Go Bad

Linux, Software, Technology - 2 Comments » - Posted on November, 30, 2006 at 11:35 pm

I recently bought a brand new Core2 Duo. With this new CPU I decided I would install the 64bit distribution of Gentoo onto a free partition I have on the current hard drive. This would allow me to then use my previous installation in 32bit mode if I needed to go back to my old setup.

So I downloaded the 2006.1 Gentoo live cd and whacked it in. Firstly, because of issues with motherboard makers not including native ATA devices on the board (just SATA to ATA converters), it could not detect the cd drive (which is funny because it’s booting off it….). This wasn’t too hard to fix, a trip to the Gentoo forums and the kernel line “all-generic-ide” and she booted sweet.

So the rest of the “live” experience is great – I have a fully functioning GUI and all sorts of other things I don’t need. A tty would have done me fine actually. Anyway, I decided to use the GTK+ installer to install my new Gentoo distro. I have previously installed Gentoo many times, but always by hand. So I tell it to reformat the hdk4 partition and install on there. I assumed it wouldn’t touch any of the others, and that everything would be hunky dory.

So I click the final button, and the installation process starts….”Resizing partitions” it says. Here’s me thinking “What the hell is it resizing? I didn’t tell it to resize…” and then bleep – “Error resizing ext2/ext3 partition”. The installation stops. There is no resume button. There is no restart button. I know for a fact that the only ext2 filesystem I have is the boot partition. I open up a terminal and check my partitions with good ol’ dependable fdisk…..1 partition. HOLY SHIT, IT’S WIPED MY PARTITIONS!

I work in software, so I realise that it’s hard to make things error free, but holy shit, this is MY system THEY just screwed. Thankfully I had backed up all my photos and music, so I didn’t lose anything, but I had a great little setup and it’s all gone.

I went to work the next day and angrily replayed the previous nights events to kindred souls. Fletch said sardonically “….How much did you pay for Gentoo again?”. I reckon he hit the nail on the head right there; I can’t expect people writing code in their back yard for fun (and writing install wizards doesn’t sound like fun to me) to knock something up that is professional, well tested and robust. There just isn’t the driver for it.

Some things are tried and tested, like fdisk, mkfs and tar (which is pretty much all you need for the manual installation) and then there is the bleeding edge GUI installer for my Mum. Gentoo is not meant for my Mum, and given the horrendous mess it made of my hard drive I don’t think they should even TRY to be more user friendly. Leave that up to Ubuntu, Suse and all the others. They already differentiate themselves with the whole “meant for computer dudes” thing, I say they should stick to their guns, and not try to keep up with what the “Mum distributions” are doing. Or if they DO go down that path, do it well instead of half arsed.

Females and Failures

Gender, Software - No Comments » - Posted on November, 15, 2006 at 3:22 am

Further to my rant the other day, I wonder if the shockingly high project failure rate in Software is in any way related to the shockingly low participation of females in the field. Is there some sort of relationship between lack of females and failure?

Sure, other disciplines of engineering have been around for a lot longer than Software, and due to social norms throughought the ages, they have been male dominated fields. So one could argue that it’s more due to the maturity of the field of engineering than to female participation rates.

But very few software projects actually fail because of technical issues. The majority of them fail because of miscommunication and mismanagement (aka requirements and schedule). Women are in general good communicators, and I wonder if the rate of failures would be reduced by an increase in the number of female Software Engineers.

What happened to women in IT?

Gender, Software - 2 Comments » - Posted on November, 13, 2006 at 4:39 am

The only female Software Engineer in the department gave a very interesting talk the other day on how the two genders differ when attempting to communicate. Do women in IT need to communicate in the male way in order to be accepted? No, in fact apparently women who use male techniques are often seen as “bitches” because people don’t expect women to be direct/short/aggressive.

Anyway, I am digressing; after the talk I asked if this difference in communication technique could explain why there are little or no females in the IT industry. Is it that the few females who do attempt to get into the field are met with a solid wall of mis-communication and frustrated, drop out and do something with more of their own kind? This would create a self-perpetuating male dominated field.

One of the old timers at work piped up and said “it hasn’t always been that way”. In my Software Engineering degree, there were 30 dudes, and 3 girls. So certainly in MY time it’s been mostly males, but a bit of history….

  • Ada Lovelace wrote a description of the babbage engine and had the Ada language named after her.
  • Jean E. Sammet was on a comittee that created COBOL and was a lady who worked for 27 years at IBM during the 50’s 60’s and 70’s.
  • Betty Holberton was one of 6 programmers of the ENIAC system back in 1945.
  • More…

So certainly women were a part of it at the start, and if what this old timer was saying is true, there used to be a lot more women in the field 10-20 years ago. So my question is what the hell happened to them all? Is there actually any data showing that the rate of women in IT has decreased?

Futhermore if it isn’t a communication breakdown, or some sort of acceptance complex, is it a brain thing at all? Is it that the female mind doesn’t have the same part of the brain that enables us guys to enjoy programming a fruitful excercise? Or is it a social thing? That from an early age, subconsciously or not, we teach our little boys how to put together lego (which lends itself to programming) and our little girls how to dress barbie dolls (less relevance to programming), and are thus setting the wheels in motion to guide what they do in later life?

RFID Garbage

Ideas, Technology - No Comments » - Posted on November, 6, 2006 at 11:32 pm

So I’ve had an idea. It is slightly evil, but could be very useful. It’s all about waste analysis.

RFID technology is starting to get wider usage in every day life. In some grocery stores it is embedded in the packaging of the products living on the shelves. For them it makes price changes a simple procedure and allows processes like automated checkouts (say bye bye to the checkout chick) to become a reality.

But as far as I know, the RFID tag stays with the packaging, which is where my idea comes in. See once you’ve eaten the contents of the packaging, you’ll be throwing it away. If you had an RFID capable garbage bin, it could collect metrics on the types of food you eat as well as when you eat it (well how often you empty your rubbish anyway). Add a set of scales to the bin and it can measure the weight of the waste a household produces, as well as the product breakdown (pun intended) of the waste.

Then every thursday night the trucks come around and take your trash and your data. The truk then dumps all its rubbish at the tip and dumps the collected data on a phat server. Now you have the waste statistics of the entire city/municipality/shire located on a big fat database in a server room somewhere.

Now enter the data mining guys. Some of them are evil, and some of them are good. For instance, if used for good, the data could help the council to improve waste disposal services. It could also send letters to people who recycle the wrong things, or throw things out which could be recycled. If used for evil, it would allow people (of any disposition) to really get inside your head and know you possibly better than you know yourself…. “amazing, I never knew I had tuna every 2nd friday of the 3rd month of a leap year”. Ahh the powers of datamining!

I’m sure there is a packet of money to be made in this. There would be a lot of information about peoples use of products. If they find a correlation between tuna and mondays, they’ll put tuna ads on Mondays. In fact, there are plenty of self made millionaires who have made their empire on other peoples rubbish. Waste disposal is a big industry – you’d have to silence the privacy advocates, but I’m sure you could do it….
But of course, you are too late. It his has already been done. Just google for rfid garbage bins! Woe betide us and our 1984 like future.

Hello World!

Uncategorized - 2 Comments » - Posted on November, 2, 2006 at 2:26 am

Well, I’ve gone and done it. I’ve finally registered a website. I actually started blogging about 6 years ago when I created the site “Ramblings of a Madman”. It never made it off my computer and was lost in a subsequent hard drive crash. Oh what could have been….

This site is to be a collection of thoughts and opinions of a couple of people who consider themselves thinkers. My Grandad has some very interesting opinions, and I should not discount them because he has lived through a hell of a lot more than me! There will be other bloggers from my family and friends here too…..so long as they are worthy of publication – there is no use introducing more crap into the internet.

Happy birthday my beautiful girlfriend Ele!