Category Archives: personal

on open-source

I am a huge fan of FLOSS: free/libre open-source software. My website runs on CentOS Linux, one of my home machines runs Kubuntu (you Gnome users are lost), I use emacs (down you vi fiends!), Anti-Vir, Crimson Editor, Firefox, Apache, PHP, BitTorrent, Python, WordPress, and so many more I can’t count them all.

I have often thought about how/whether I can contribute to these projects. The ones I use are all worthy of support, and I suspect many more would be if they got some momentum behind them. And I don’t have the time, skill, desire, or energy to try to pitch-in on bug fixes, feature adds, porting, or any of the other thousand and one things these projects ask for.

I contribute by linking back to those projects. I tell my friends and family about them, and try to get them to use them and spread the love, so to speak. On a few projects I have contributed to their donations page. And I contribute to those projects by releasing libraries of my own.

Code I’ve written, mostly in the forms of low-level data structures and little utility functions, may not be very sexy, or even ever get used, but I put it out there for folks to grab.

I love the determination and drive shown by those pushing forward on FLOSS projects, and I wish I could contribute more. Maybe some day I’ll be able to, but for now, thanks for your efforts.

the good, the bad, and the ugly

I have had many teachers through the course of my life, and expect to have many more as time goes on. But something I have been able to identify very quickly about every teacher I’ve ever had, are their strengths and weaknesses of teaching the topic at hand.

My favorite college professor is Dale Bryant, the long-time computer science teacher at Hudson Valley Community College. Dale’s approach to teaching was fun, energetic, and engaging. And he was under the impression that if you wanted to learn, any way you could was great. If the way he discussed and presented material didn’t click with you, he didn’t mind if you went searching elsewhere for an explanation that worked for you. This happened many times with my friend John Deignan who would routinely ask me questions about programming concepts in general: object-oriented issues, library questions, the ‘how does this work’, and the ‘why do it this way instead of that way’ questions.

For John, Dale’s explanation of template classes and functions in C++ didn’t gel. But with both more time available, and an understanding of his personality, I was able to come up with a metaphor that worked for him.

I have been fortunate to have very few teachers who were bad, and even fewer who were ugly. One of my first-semester instructors at HVCC, in trying to teach us Excel and Access discovered that she didn’t know how to do the assignments in the book. And her idea of teaching was to ask questions of the class, and then practically shout the answer out if no one spoke up within about 10 seconds.

Contrast that approach with my calculus teacher who had (either on his own, or discovered) come up with little songs and ditties to help us remember how to do derivatives – including his famous quotient derivative rule song to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it”. Or my discrete structures professor who would crack jokes about having an 8AM class full of computer science folks who don’t start cogitating until lunch time.

Unfortunately, this semester I have had the experience of having another bad teacher. The first day of class sounded promising, and I was actually looking forward to his approach, but he quickly showed an inability to teach. He may know the material, and be able to perform the tasks required in database consulting and administration, but he can’t teach it. I had a leg-up on the rest of the class in having taken a couple database classes in the past, and of designing and implementing several on my own for either other classes, or personal projects. But when even the folks who have been to every class aren’t “getting it” (not just those who have missed half the classes), I have to wonder whether or not he knows what he’s doing.

The common trait across all the good teachers I’ve had has been interest in the subject. Whether it’s literature, composition, programming, terrorism, or something else, good teachers are interested in the material. The common trait I’ve seen across those few excellent teachers I’ve had has been the ability to connect with students, and not hold themselves above the student, but rather to remember what it’s like to not know yet.

The bad and ugly teachers I’ve had have shared something too, they’ve all been unable to communicate – and they’ve all forgotten what it’s like to not know. Some of them haven’t known the material, or have not cared. But they’ve all been unable to connect with their students.

I don’t know how good teachers appear. It might be by birth, upbringing, discipline, predisposition, personality, or because they had a great teacher who inspired them. Maybe it’s a combination of all of those factors. To those who are just blasé, I hope you can become better. To you who plain suck – please quit: you’re doing more harm than good.

But to those great teachers out there, thank you for your efforts – we notice.

new york international auto show

This past weekend I was visiting friends in New Jersey, and we went to Manhattan for the New York International Auto Show on Saturday. If you have never been to the NYIAS, it’s huge (held in the Javits Center), and has a ridiculous number of people in attendance each day.

Food is expensive at the event ($3.25 for a 20oz Coke), but with such a captive audience, free-market capitalism gets to shine and charge what people will pay for a drink. Needless to say, we didn’t buy much at the show, but waited till we left to grab something from a street vendor (all of whom were a lot cheaper). It’s also a total rip-off to park anywhere close to the convention center when an event is under way. Parking lots and garages double their fees just to nail people who don’t want to walk a long way. Had we known this ahead of time, we would’ve parked a mile away where the rate was <$12 including taxes. All in all the show was a lot of fun, though I wish it hadn't been as crammed. I got to climb in a bunch of vehicles, both ones that I was interested in, and not. I also found out that a couple cars I like the looks of I won't fit in, so they're off my list of possibles. For some reason most manufacturers don't get it when it comes to big folks. I fit fine in Mazda's Miata, the Mini Cooper, BMW's Z4, and even the short cab edition of the Ranger. However, the Chrysler Crossfire, one of the few non-Ford-family vehicles I like the looks of, is too small to fit even close to comfortably. When sitting in the driver's seat, I had less than 3 inches of clearance between my shins and the dashboard. In my Protege I have over 5. I also decided that while I like the looks of Cooper, and fit in it quite well, it's not on my graduation list. Mercedes' Smart brand is on the list, though only as a commuter vehicle. Right now the short list for cars is the Mazdaspeed6, Mazda MX5 Miata, Lotus Elise, Mazda RX8, and Volvo S60R. For non-cars, the short list is the Ford Escape, Landrover LR3, Volvo XC90, and Ford Ranger Supercab. All I need now is to graduate and get a job 🙂

the society for creative anachronism

First off, what a great name for an organization.Second, I first heard about this group when I started researching knife-fighting techniques. One of the books I bought on the topic suggested that among the best ways to practice hand-to-hand combat is to join a local SCA chapter. I have spent more time recently learning about the group, and have become quite intrigued in their organization.

I have been interested in siege machinery, medieval weapons, horse-mounted combat, etc for a long time, but haven’t done much more than play various period-set games to acquaint myself with the terminology and technology of that bygone era.

The SCA, founded in 1968 in California (didn’t see that coming, did you?), places as its focus the recreation of the middle ages in today’s world. Currently comprised of 19 kingdoms around the world (though most are in the US and Canada), the SCA is further subdivided in feifdoms, barrons, etc – all old-world terms for the subdividions of kingdoms. Royalty is determined by competition at sanctioned events, and their is a full recreation of nobility terms, based on competition, favor of the current King/Queen of the kingdom, etc.

Most local meetings require medieval garb, and they have directions for making basic tunics on their website. Members make it their goal to learn (and perhaps master) ancient arts that have either long-since been forgotten, or have become passe in this modern era. Such disparate activities as sewing, metal working, armoring, jousting, and farming all come under the auspices of the society.

Even more fascinating than this, though, is the fact that the whole organization is voluntary. No one is forced to become a member to attend meetings (though to compete you typically must). The whole society is predicated upon respect and politeness – when meeting someone whose rank you do not know, a typical greeting may be “my lord” or “my lady”. Titles are earned, not merely bestowed, and each individual in the society works to create a simultaneous economy of pre-17th century Europe while living their normal lives in today’s world.

Upon joining the society, new members choose for themselves names (which must be period-appropriate) and occupations, with the only caveat being you may not have the same name as another member (no pairs of John Hunters walking about, but John Hunter and John Barber are fine). Depending on your locale, you may be able to join a guild of like-minded members to learn a similar trade, improve your fighting skills, or just converse.

Overall, the SCA has very few rules. Beyond disallowing conversation of modern-world things and events as a general rule, and requiring the donning of period clothing, they function as a live role-playing game.

From what I have read about the orgnanization, some members go so far as to design entire stories about themselves and their character name, so they have a ‘history’ in their anachronistic realm. Other participants are more in it for the fun of it, but have a chance to learn from others who have joined to actually live-out a personal fantasy and become very proficient at the occupation they have chosen.

Another bizarre feature of this society is the possibility of wars. No, not ‘real’ wars in which people end up dead, but wars for prestige of the kingdom, and (perhaps) the transfer of regions of a given kingdom to a neighboring one.

Since learning about these folks, and especially after my recent research into local meeting places, I have decided it would be fun to try it out for a while, and see if it’s something I would like to pursue as a hobby.

For more information, or if you have participated in the society and can give me some pointers, please leave a comment.

fantasy baseball

This year I am participating in a Fantasy Baseball league with some friends, hosted on Yahoo. The last time I tried out the fantasy baseball thing was 6 years ago, and I had no clue what I was doing – I just thought it was kinda cool. Well, this time around isn’t much different (yet) – I still don’t really know what’s going on, but am getting pointers from everybody else in the league (inluding our ‘commissioner‘) to help me out.

Since the season only started yesterday, standings are kind of pointless right now – but we’re all tied 🙂

I’ll be posting progress of the league throughout this baseball season.