Archive for category Personal

John Philip Sousa at Interlochen

Recently, my brass quintet did a performance at a senior center in honor of Veterans Day. We opened the concert with Under the Double Eagle, by J. F. Wagner. I explained that this march was a favorite of John Philip Sousa. We closed the performance with Semper Fidelis, by John Philip Sousa.

After the performance, one of the residents at the center came up and told an interesting story. I don’t know if it is true, but I thought it was a nice story.

The resident told us she was a violin student at Interlochen in 1930. Interlochen was founded only a few years earlier, and construction on the campus was not yet complete. In particular, one of the performance venues was going to have an organ, but it was not ready yet. John Philip Sousa visited Interlochen while she was there, and apparently he was distressed because there was no organ.

According to the story, Sousa put out a letter requesting saxophone players. The response was overwhelming, and 75 saxophonists came to Interlochen. They played for a grand concert with Sousa, and they sounded just like an organ!



Legacy computer systems

Paul Vick writes about an early experience with a legacy computer. He never owned a CoCo, but it inspired him to learn about them. Our family’s first computer was a 16K Coco. If Paul had gotten that computer, it came with a great book on learning Color Basic and Extended Color Basic. I spent hours and hours typing in code listings from those books and the Rainbow magazine.

Now, you can experience a CoCo through a web page (Java required).

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Want to write a computer book?

I found this post interesting. Eric Gunnerson makes some salient points about the realities of writing computer books. Some of the comments add some more things to chew on. My interest in this stems from an experience I had a couple years ago.

When I was first learning programming in VB6 about five years ago, I monitored several newsgroups, mailing lists, and other online forums. I soon found myself being able to answer many of the questions that were posted in the groups, especially in a mailing list that was sponsored by Wrox Press. Some people appreciated my responses. Here’s a sample response that I’ve kept because it was very nice.

I would like to take a minute to thank you for the help and advice to you as well as the others who have sent responces to me. I have gotten more help from this one post than any other forum or search and with less arrogance in the responce. The last forum that I posted on got only one responce and it was rather rude in the making. “If you don’t know how to do this simple thing, you don’t need to be programming!” A real nice way to recruit people to learn or encourage them to do this huh??

Once again, I thank you for your time and responces. I have been in the IT business for over 8 yrs. and am glad to know that there are still some people out there that are willing to help rather than hinder. THANK YOU!!!.

Some time later, I received an e-mail from a Wrox representative trying to recruit me as either a technical editor or even possibly to write a book. After my initial skepticism that it was a come-on, I began mulling over whether I might want to help out with the writing of a computer book. Unfortunately, Wrox went into bankruptcy a few months later. It’s likely this e-mail was an attempt to get some more business. Wrox had also put a whole series of “handbooks” on sale for about $100. I convinced my boss to buy the set. The quality of the series was hit and miss, but the hits made the set a bargain.

(Note to wife: Yes, dear, I know I’m digressing.)

I’m sure I’m not alone in fantasizing about becoming a “famous” programming-book author and being recognized at usergroup meetings region-wide. Becuse of this pipe dream, I’ve always had an interest in Scott Mitchell’s blog and other posts that discuss writing.

What piqued my interest in Eric’s post was the following section:

Writing is a skill, and over time you should be able to develop techniques that work will with your target audience.

Good ways to practice:

  • Write a blog. Book writing is not like blog writing, but it’s a good, cheap way to practice, and a great way to get quick and easy feedback.
  • Write articles for an online programer’s site – something like CodeProject.
  • Write an article for MSDN
  • Answer questions on newsgroups or message boards

Strangely, the most important of these – the last one – has the least to do with formal writing. But it’s the most important, because to write a good book you need to have a deep understanding around what is hard (ie what is hard to understand, what is poorly documented, what is confusing, etc.) *and* you need to be able to explain things in ways that people understand.

Of course, I’m sort of doing the first suggestion (writing a blog). The next two suggestions are really the same. CodeProject, of which I am a member, has a lower entry point, since anybody can write an article.

The last suggestion is what resonated with me. Before I started programming full time, I spent 9 years doing business/technical support. I’m blowing my own horn here, but I can’t count the number of times I heard somebody say “I’m glad I got you!” when I took a call. My employer cultivates a close business relationship with our customers. We only have a few hundred customers, so you get to know the people and the cultures at different companies. I had a knack for being able to adjust the conversation to the level of the user. I always received good reviews from experienced users and users who were brand new to the system.

Adjusting to the user’s level is not as easy as it might seem. It’s simple to say it, but not so easy to put it into practice. Years ago, I learned about the four levels of competence. With regards to customer service, you typically want to have the support rep at one level higher than the customer’s level. Having a customer who is consciously competent talking to a support rep who is still consciously incompetent is not going to be very productive. The same problems can occur in user forums when people at different levels are discussing a topic.

When I read Eric’s comment about the importance of being able to understand a problem and then describing it in terms that are at the level of the audience, I thought to myself, “I have those skills. Maybe I can write technical articles and books.”

All I need now is an interesting topic and time. When I come up with both of these things, I think I’ll still be keeping my day job. In reality, when I come up with enough time, I’ll probably be retired and will have more interest in going to the golf course than writing a book.


Dealing with knee pain

Duncan MacKenzie points to an article about the use of glucosamine and chondroitin for joint pain. I am not a dedicated runner, but I do spend time on the treadmill a few days a week. In the summer, I like to golf, and I carry my own clubs. I have noticed in the last year or two that my left knee begins to ache after a while. It doesn’t ache every time, but it is happening more frequently.

I wonder if it is osteo-arthritis? Is my pain as severe as the kind other people are experiencing? My pain is a general ache. I don’t experience a sharp or stabbing pain, like you might get when you pull a muscle. My dad had to give up his weekly bowling league, which I still do, because of knee pain. I don’t want to give up these activities because they keep me healthy.

I suppose I should ask my doctor, but it’s hard to justify making an appointment for such a minor issue that may simply be a fact of getting older.

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Now running WordPress 1.5

As announced nearly a month ago, WordPress 1.5 is out. I’ve delayed updating to version 1.5 because I wanted to update the Linux distro I use (Trustix) from 1.5 to 2.2. I wanted to update my Linux distro because I had available an 8 GB IDE drive from an old computer that died. The computer had a single 2 GB SCSI drive in it, and installing an IDE drive was going to change the boot device and require me to reinstall an operating system.

I was reminded today that installing new software on old hardware can be quite a challenge.

Actually, the first trouble I had wasn’t software related at all. I’ve gotten used to clamshell cases that open without tools. The Trustix box isn’t so friendly. I needed drive rails to fit the 3.5″ hard drive in the 5.25″ bay. I didn’t have any. However, the tape drive in the box was broken. I was only keeping it around because I didn’t want a big hole in the front of the case. Well, appearances were sacrificed for the sake of progress.

The drive rail attachment required me to contort my hand into a very painful position in order to get the screw aligned with the hole. Interstingly, to me, I found I had better success when I used my left hand to guide the screw. I may post a few sentences about that another time. In all, it probably took me 90 minutes just to install the hard drive, which includes the time I spent searching for a spare set of drive rails and an IDE cable.

The Trustix installation took several tries before it worked. I had two big problems. First, the previous owner of the hard drive was an HP Pavilion which used a “cable select” ribbon cable. The Trustix computer had a standard IDE cable. The drive was sort of working, but it was not working very well. To change the setting, I needed to find the documentation for this drive, which was bought in 1997.

Well, I found it, but I was still having problems. I couldn’t get anything to install on the SCSI drive. It turned out that the Adaptect 2940U controller has a buggy implementation of the INT13 protocol that is used for large drives. Since the SCSI drive is only 2 GB, it didn’t need the INT13 feature, so I turned it off.

Yay! Trustix installed and seemed to be working just fine. I was able to get our Thunderbird mail data restored and configured Samba. I then went to work on Apache and MySQL. The Apache part went pretty easily and I was able to restore the static pages from our kitchen remodel. That blog was posted with MovableType, but I’m not reinstalling that. I’m just keeping the static pages for reference.

However, I then tried to restore the WordPress 1.2.2 version. It wouldn’t work. No errors — just a blank page would display. I tested PHP, which was updated to version 5.0.3 with the Trustix upgrade. It worked. I tested that the user name in the WordPress config had access to the database. Turns out, that the 1.2 version has problems with PHP5. The problems are bugs in PHP5, but workarounds were done in WordPress for 1.5.

This was no skin off my nose. I wanted to upgrade to 1.5 anyway. I downloaded and installed the new files. It’s really a very easy installation process, relatively speaking. I ran the upgrade script, and got a message that the database wasn’t available.

Weird! I’ve tested it. Everything should work. I confirmed that the PHP/MySQL package was installed. I did some Googling, and found out that the package does not install in an enabled configuration. You have to edit the php.ini file and uncomment the line that specifies the library to use for the MySQL integration.

I did that, and here I am telling the boring story of how I spent the last 14 hours. If my wife was wondering what I was doing all day, now she will know.

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The flu is like a lover

This is really off the wall, but I thought it was funny. Imagine getting this in an email message.









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Funny coincidences

So I posted earlier today about a site I ran across with some good advice for consultants (and really customer service in general). Then tonight I get an invitation for an online survey. What’s the topic of the survey? Job satisfaction and using online job boards.

Really, I’m happy with my job. 🙂

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