Work

I’ve been at my present address less than 8 years, and for about half of them I’ve been  looking for a ISP that doesn’t throttle, scan packets for the MPAA, nor overcharged for decent internet speeds. Unfortunately, until this past month, I was stuck with a slower connection since dealing with the high price and horrible customer service from a certain very large cable and internet provider was something I didn’t want to deal with both personally and professionally.

Professionally, someone is paying me to call ISPs* and handle setup and outages.

In business paying a $120/month for a monthly business-class ISP is not really that much considering business speeds, but $60–$100 for something they use a few hours a day, mainly for simple communications and entertainment, it’s pretty steep.

So, at home I went with DSL, with its more modest bandwidth (<8Mbps) & $25/month that went up to $35/month. Considering Comcast (now Xfinity) charges $50+equipment rental fees of $7/month–$14/month, and after adding in fees and taxes the bill comes out to being in $60s per month for that speed (despite what it’s introductory pricing says). However, many people want faster speeds such as 50Mbps than DSL can offer. So, they go with Comcast where it’s not uncommon for people to pay at least $70/month for faster speeds.

I signed up with sonic for their introductory DSL package switch over that simply meant paying sonic the same price for faster speeds. AT&T was providing 6mbps as well, but it would have been $35/month (up fro $30) vs. Sonic’s 12 month $10 discount to more up to that speed. So, we saved $60 in a year while upping our speed from 3Mbps to 6Mbps. This is where it stayed until Sonic’s Fusion (up to 50Mbps) bundle became available in my neighborhood this past quarter. Again, I am finally able to switch to a faster connection and bundle in phone service (with 8hr/month long distance free) for ~$45+. The difference: $10/month more. But it got rid of the $36/month AT&T bill. So, we will save $25/month.

So, in total if I had Comcast ($66) & AT&T ($36) instead of Sonic (~45$), I would be spending over twice as much for pretty much the same thing. I just wished I could have gotten this when I heard about it, I could have saved over $1500 by now. My hope is that they continue to expand and reach more people. If you want to save money or like all that sonic wants to do: make internet better in both speeds and money for everyone, vs. what everyone else is doing: increasing rates with each speed boost and slowly over time. (when I first moved in we had a Comcast bill half of what it was when we cancelled them a year and a half ago)

*More about this later…

QualtyNerpFowndThis is actually the first time in a long time I am not taking an iTunes update, given that it doesn’t fix the graphic artifact during scrolling issue, and other users are reporting worse things happening. In retrospect, I should have stuck with 11.x . iTunes 12.x is looking more like Windows Millennium everyday.

Sad.

This was once SoundJam, an app so good that Apple bought it. But this is now another example of an app in the care of a company too big to care to give it the attention to detail, and true UI/UX modernizations and feature enhancements an indie would have. A third party company would have listened to their customers or face declining sales. Apple is too big to truly care about the declining quality of iTunes. Whomever is sitting in charge of shipping product quality control is obviously not paying attention, and this toxic style of management is what can and has brought once great companies down.

Since v4 the only “improvements” have been cosmetic and the addition of the various stores. Apple has never addressed iTunes key failings and has instead focused on bloating it u to the point where once loyal users are looking elsewhere for leading edge features.

But this isn’t really about Apple. Apple is really an example. This is about a mentality epidemic in proportion of people who think that marketing, money or someone else can make up (or take the blame) for subpar products. The logic is as follows:

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Finding a current table of color laser Airprint capable multi-function printers (MFP) with prices and features is impossible. [If you are an Android user, just replace every reference of “Airprint” to “Cloud Print” since it is essentially a copy of Airprint, and would help Android users to find printers too] So, gathering info quickly to recommend a printer is laboriously slow at best. Adding Airprint capabilities to product page table lists and being able to filter by it (as “wireless” and “color” are valid filters on most company and shopping sites) would speed up information gathering. I only found out about Airprint coming to Xerox when I visited MacWorld Expo and asking a Xerox engineer. Worse, is this info has dropped Airprint off of HP’s list pages — but is at least still buried in each printer’s page in fine print.

When I spoke to the Xerox engineer he said some Color MFP under $1000 (for SoHo) and all Enterprise models had (or would have) Airprint, but looking at the official list today there was nothing to compete with HP’s $400 retail (~$300 street price) Color LaserJet M175nw MFP [now replaced by the M177fw] which offers Wireless print through Airprint — thus iOS devices can print without loading any software (and scan with software). Also, Canon had imageCLASS MF8580Cdw, at $600 coming out. At the show the Xerox rep, pointed out several sub-$600 Xeroxes that either had the feature or would get it with a firmware update. But since then, I have forgotten which ones those were. So, when someone shot me a quick email “Hey, saw that printer ____ and they told me to ask you about it. Which models would you recommend?” I looked it up, which led me to the first line of this post.

Airprint means that visitors do not have to go through an arduous process to print documents. No one has to call tech support, anyone with an iOS device can print simply by…

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Excuse any typos, but this is a seat of my pants post… I finished up one job last week, which led to time to refactor this proof of concept class while revising other work. Exterior demoes of these proofs get reactions akin to saying, “Wow!” But I feel like Oz, saying “pay no attention to the duct tape and zip ties holding up the curtain!”

When I say “proof of concept” I usually mean, if you look at the underlying code you realize the magic is in the amount of code smell (aka Bad Practices used) — which happens when I just sit down with an idea and just write something that works and best practices aren’t at the forefront. An analogy of this would be an artist sketching a picture quickly to just practice the art and exercise their perception-hand-eye-coordination. Another dev would see this stream-of-consciousness sketch-style coding, and think “that’s crap!” because trying to modify it would be a huge pain. And I couldn’t disagree, because modifying would be a huge job in comparison to writing new code.

However, It is times like these I like to reread this: http://stilldrinking.org/programming-sucks to remind myself that when I mentioned how I hate working with “crappy” code or incomplete documentation. 

Any time I do toss a stone at some crappy code, I get some snarky “this is where the magic happens” comeback, and sometimes even that venn diagram showing my comfort zone outside it. Yeah, guys… I get it. I realize that we are all guilty of it because of workload or time constraints — no one is perfect. There is only so much one can do in one session, even if that session is a solid 13 hours (which I have done before). So, I can either throw stones or TRY to develop better sketch practices with each sketch. This is what I have been doing the past week. I will write a class with comments, DI, patterns, etc. Then look back and see where the comments/structure broke down or when things got vague or messier. Things are improving, but they aren’t where I would like them to be.

But, does it really matter if my on-the-fly code is written poorly as long as it doesn’t crash? Probably not to anyone that might use it, but oddly I can’t get a voice out of my head that says this is wrong. If I want to see better examples from others, I should practice what I preach, and only release the refactored stuff, and things that don’t set off any code reflection warnings. Last week I only had the energy to write 3 base classes, each one had at least 2 or 3 code smell warnings. This week I refactored and got fewer warnings, but then the limits of the docs smacked me in the face, and things broke. I suppose this is part of the growing pains of learning how to use new tools. And then I bang on the problem until I either revert to a smell-but-working version or figure out what the documentation meant. This is when I re-read this: http://stilldrinking.org/programming-sucks so I don’t feel so bad about why I am not getting it.

A few days ago I was in a Costco and I came across a display of solar portable panels with a company representative giving demonstrations to whomever would stop long enough to speak to him. Me, being always curious about the current state of various technologies, stopped to speak with him. After discussing the power output per panel, how many it would take to power my laptop (4) and how the system worked, he asked what sort of engineer I am. I admitted to him I wasn’t an engineer (at least in the sense that he was thinking), but I knew a bit about pretty much anything with electrons running through it.

Last week, Dice’s Mark Feffer sent an email to me asking what my specialty is. Meanwhile, I have met at least 3 other people in the IT field this past week and a half. All of them eventually asked what my specialty is. The thing is, my specialty is actually the opposite of a specialist: I know most if not all of technology available, what is coming and what is possible now to integrate them. This allows me to do my job of recommending electronics and computer technology pretty well.

How do I do it? Read on to learn what resources I tap every time it is time to buy any electronics…

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I have been silent since about the beginning of the year thanks to an old project that is restarting and being revamped (and hopefully finished). So, the focus the next month will be doing that. I’ve intensified my efforts at learning more AJAX and refining both my PHP and MySQL abilities. As I continue to work on one project I find myself using more and more advanced techniques that I simply didn’t use very much before.
It is funny that while working on what I consider prototypes I code a bit “sloppily.” I am often guilty of not commenting my code and only writing about what I did in my dev-log I keep.

Also, even though I plan out the overall architecture of a site, I tend to build things organically from there—only referring to the plan after each component is fleshed out. I know this is not the way pro devs work, and that this practice would be unacceptable in a team development environment. But this approach works for me because I tend to learn faster that way. When I look back at the original files, I can see my evolution as a scripter.

During second pass, I tend to add comments and refine the scripts further. Sometimes I rewrite old blocks of code or methods to use fewer lines and run a bit faster. But most of the time I just pretty up the code and double-check my indenting, method names—making the classes and declarations follow a consistent pattern, etc.

Aside from that I have been delving into other designer’s and developer’s blogs, and have found some of them worth more than just the coding knowledge they have in them. I have found a few programs to track how I spend my time. One of them, RescueTime is a neat one that I wish I could afford/justify the paid version. Just using the free version, my past 3 weeks efficiency ratings have been kind of insane. Last week’s rating was 1.26 (where 1 = 100% efficiency). I owe this to my quickly switching apps and RescueTime double-logging (I think). Either way, I am working between 30 and 60 hours a week.

Also, I have downloaded a ton of free apps using AppAdvice.com’s AppsGoneFree iOS app. Almost everyday there’s a neat app to try in addition to the free games. One app: aTimeLogger, I started using to see how much time I was wasting each week. After a few weeks I can safely say that I do not waste as much time as I thought. This month, I have spent around 30% of my time working (including learning and staying current), 20% of my time sleeping, 20% socializing, 10% absorbing TV, Movies, Music or Books, 8% on maintenance (eating, bathing, chores, record keeping), 5% on traveling, and the last 7% doing miscellaneous things. 30% of a person’s day is about an 8 hour workday. So, I guess working outside an office actually does work for me. What I didn’t realize is that I spend an average of 1 hour traveling each day. If I lived in a place where I could take public transit, I could reclaim at least some of that and use it for reading and learning more.

About learning: The more I learn the more there is to learn. Hopefully I can finish up the revisions to the site and get it to a state were I am happy showing it off. CSS3 is a lot of fun, and I want to play with some of the newer features. My older layouts depended on CSS 2.1 sleight of hand. CSS3 is another step in the right direction, but still not “there.” Good thing there are plenty of trailblazers with helpful blogs about CSS3, PHP and AJAX. Stack Overflow is becoming more and more useful as I try to find the “magic words” to learn how to do things better, smarter, faster.

Last, I have been slowly working on the Communication Series. As I said, I want to finish it and look it over for overall consistency and make it something that flows seamlessly (while also hyperlinking the hell out of it). It is still about 30% written, but that might change, because I also write organically. DiceNews is still on the back burner, but they seem to be backed up a lot. Hopefully my latest revision will make it through the editing process unscathed.

BTW: I just realized today is the 12th anniversary of my first personal web site! Add another 4 years to that and your go back to my first hand coded sites—oh how I hated kludgy table layouts. Add another 4–5 years to that and that’s how long ago I was using dial up to connect to BBSes to connect to the Usenet and argue with people about the Sci-Fi books I was reading. Heh. How times change.

Until next time.

With a world of buying choices at our fingertips for anything from eye liner to refrigerators it’s no wonder more and more web sites are adding user reviews and ratings systems to help guide people to the better products. But like all noble pursuits, there are those that “game the system” and use the very resource meant to help people in order to deceive them into parting with their hard earned money. This article is targeted at software developers that create fake favorable reviews and consumers who aren’t familiar with the ways to spot false reviews. Also, I include a message to online retailers/app stores, etc. that do not police their own reviews to strike down false reviews meant to help or hurt a product, and include techniques to ease the burden of self-policing. Note, this article is applicable to practically any site/store that allows reviews of any type of product.

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With the bulk of the comm series delayed, I thought I’d write the light hearted fun entry that’s been on my list for a long time.

In one of my incarnations, I work as a consultant for small businesses and home users. Usually I’ll be referred to someone by a friend or a friend of a friend. My many years of doing this have given me valuable insights of how a lot of people work. And time after time I’ve encountered this, and I can stay silent no longer. So with that….

DHP Presents: Excel is Not a Database!

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I had planned to have article 2 and a few others out by now. But technology is a cruel mistress. While fact checking my draft, I stumbled upon a media watch group that claims to be a grass roots group that tells the truth about what the media reports. They are so impartial that they call themselves Accuracy in Media. You would think a non-profit would take no sides in its evaluation of media stories, but the writing available on the site throws around loaded terms usually reserved for opinion pieces, not actual research.

Add to this when I went to their storefront, I saw a number of items available for one political party and not another. I am actually pretty disgusted that they have the gaul to have”Accuracy” in their name when they clearly have a bias.

So, I forgot about my draft and went digging. And the second I clicked a link on their site my computer crashed. It was clearly the bad PDF plugin that did it, and I can replicate it. So, like a good IT person, I submitted a bug report to my browser’s maker.

Then, I looked for my draft and I realized I made an “amateur” move. I was so wrapped up in evaluating while actually using a new word processor (I only intended to write an outline for the series I’m planning), that I failed to turn on the auto-save feature. I forgot that my original intent was to simply test out the software and switched to actual work without changing into a production mindset. I make the “forgot to save a draft” mistake so infrequently (about once a decade). And because my OS of choice is usually so stable, I’ve been lulled into a false sense of stability. (And no I am not using a .0 release of anything.)

So, while the last one (wordpress erroring out and destroying about 3 pages of text somehow) was not my fault. This one is, and for that I apologize to people waiting for the next entry into this series. Once again I am reminded of my (and others’) saying: “I don’t trust technology as far as I can throw it.”

“Oh well,” I say to myself, “maybe the next one will be written better since I warmed up my writing mode.” Once again, sorry for the delay.

This article was written in reponse to Lion, but it applies to pretty much any OS upgrade, aside from the OS X specific apps mentioned.

  1. Check you critical apps and anything you just can’t do without for compatibility. (Note: Rosetta is gone! you won’t be able to run PPC Apps)
  2. Update the Apps that you can.
  3. Purchase Lion from the App store for $30
  4. Make a USB stick installer out of because the Lion installer self destructs (kind of) after the install: http://osxdaily.com/2011/08/02/easy-way-to-make-lion-install-disk/
  5. Backup your files (or better clone your system to an external HD)
  6. Run Disk Utlities and Repair the Disk then Repair Permissions
  7. If you’re really careful, run a hardware diagnostic on your machine.
  8. Run the installer.
  9. Open the General preferences and check every pane for changes and make adjustments. (for instance you might want to uncheck “Natural Scrolling” in the Trackpad pane if you like the old way to scroll.)
  10. Write a terse but well argued letter to Apple about the changes your don’t like.
  11. Enjoy your new OS. And Check out my review of Lion in case you haven’t already. (Which I must update with my Apple app moving trick….)