Friday, December 30, 2005

The Big Blue Yonder

A coworker pointed me to this article: The Big Blue Yonder (Newsweek: MSNBC). “By giving away hundreds of its patents, IBM has turned a philosophical movement into a tangible business strategy. The company with the most to lose is Microsoft. A close-up look at the software war.

I think one of the things that the article failed to mention (even though it focuses on IBM) is that Microsoft has “given away” it’s products and pieces in the past because they were part of the larger whole: to everybody and everything Microsoft. They (for the most part) “gave away” Windows 3, 3.1, fW with the goal of getting Microsoft controlling the desktop and the foundation for eventual cash cows like Office (and in turn creating a huge side market for alternative desktops, then virus protection, etc.). Internet Explorer was “given away” for free, which eventually took Netscape out of the market. Windows Media player is also “free” and represents a future foothold through digital management (media is huge now, it’s only a matter of time

Those of us in the mainframe world remember having the ability to get source code to at least one of IBM’s operating systems. Redbooks on various topics are still available if you know where to look.

The article presents two sides: Microsoft and the rest of the world. They place SAP and Oracle on the fence in the middle. All points are arguable, but in this day and age anybody can argue a point to validity, so it’s not really worth arguing about.

It mentions Microsoft being on the defensive. Personally, the only thing that can hurt Microsoft is Microsoft at this point. I don’t think open-source, Java, and other non-Microsoft technologies will have an effect on them. It will be interesting to see where they want to take us in 2006 and 2007, which will have a bearing on the rest of the world of software development.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Grouchy's Gripe of the Day - Exploding Yogurt

I know this sounds stupid, but does anybody else take individually portioned yogurt to work for lunch? When you go to open that yogurt does it spit and splatter at you because it was pressure sealed?

This happens to me one too many times and it seems like the times I forget about the explosive contents of the yogurt I’m wearing something that stains easily and open with the pull-tab facing towards me. Before my dull brain realizes the danger it’s too late.

Pooofbthhh.

This doesn’t seem to happen with pudding, or other similarly packaged items.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Grouch versus Nature - the sequel

I’m not sure what I did to piss off Mother Nature, but her minions seem to have been actively working against me here of late. The most recent episode started with an innocent turd inside the garage near the garage door. At first we thought it was the neighbor’s dachshund that got free (as it does frequently) and stuck in our garage. The next night I returned from a hockey game to find some things on the garage floor. When I went into the garage the next morning, Christmas Eve, there were flower pots broken with dirt and crud scattered all over the place. There was something in the garage.

I informed the family not to open the house door until I figured out what was in there. Grabbing my knife and a hockey stick I went into the garage and quickly found a cute ball of fur sleeping in the small trash can we keep leftover bags of soil in. I poked the thing with the hockey stick and the cute ball of fur turned into an ugly ‘possum baring its fangs at me.

To make a long story short, I tried for about fifteen minutes to usher the thing out of the garage. It wouldn’t go. Not wanting to risk injury to myself or my family I took a shovel to it. When the full weight of the shovel on its neck had no effect I chased it around the garage with a steel support beam. After about 25 minutes I got the thing out of the garage and off my property.

The opossum caused about thirty dollars worth of damage to flower pots and aquarium supplies. This was a lot less than the mouse that peed all over my subwoofer enclosure, but annoying nonetheless.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Grouchy's Gripe of the Day - Portioning

Most of us have come to expect that the contents of every bag or box snack chips and cereal is going to be about 2/3 of the size of the box. Every time you open that big box of Cheerios you have to tilt the box so the ambient light extends beyond the cardboard to actual cereal. It has been documented all over the place. Packages and boxes stay the same or get bigger, the price stays the same or increases, and the product inside the box stays the same or decreases. Companies will spin this many different ways; “product research” tells us this is what the customer wants (bullpucky). My personal experience with the phenomenon has been with Morningstar Farms Veggie Breakfast Sausage Links.

I have been enjoying these meatless wonders for breakfast for well over a half a decade. Chuck them in the microwave with a bagel and two minutes later – yum. Morningstar Farms, however, has changed the product and packaging over the years, none of those changes seemingly benefiting the consumer.

  • they originally came ten to a thin box carefully arranged on a white try
  • one day, I opened a box to find the sausages had shrunk by about a centimeter (I had two different boxes, boxes and trays were the same, but the sausages were smaller)
  • they changed the white tray to a clear, flimsier tray
  • they increased the size of the box and started putting them into a sealed plastic bag instead of a tray
  • they decreased the number of sausages per box from ten to nine (which makes no sense – the serving size is two which means an extra sausage at the end or in my case where I eat four per breakfast a lone sausage left over
  • they changed the product made it - “better”, I detected no noticeable change in the product
  • they changed the box, graphically, rotated it 90 degrees, and made the box bigger, same product content
Remember, this entire time the price has been edging upward. The cheapest you can get these things is at Walmart for $2.99, unless you are close to a Trader Joes where you can get them for $2.69 or thereabouts.

My whole gripe is why lead me down this path, nickel and dime’ing me on a product I and my family seems to enjoy? People that like your product, notice the change. The people that are occasional buyers or only buy the product once in a while – won’t notice you are nibbling away at the value of the product as a whole.

I have seen this same thing happen with some cars. I owned and loved my dark blue, 1992 Mitsubishi Eclipse. It is still my favorite car. But to see how they have taken the nice crafted interior and craftsmanship and replaced it with cheap crap you would find on a Kia or Ford Escort. Plus the price has gone up $8,000. Yup - $8,000 more for cheaper parts and labor.

I thought about writing to Morningstar Farms, asking why they torment me so. But I suspect my letter would either go unread or will be answered in form-letter from someone working for pennies in a far away land. So I’ll probably stick to my sausages, taking them out of the oversized box after I purchase them so they actually fit in the freezer.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Armageddon PPV

I'm in somewhat of a funk right now, in mourning, just typing away mindlessly here at work. For giggles I analyzed the reports from the latest WWE pay-per-view and provided a list of what happened and what I think should have happened. I didn't order the pay-per-view; $20-$40 seems like an awful lot to spend on something that really isn't top-notch quality anymore.

JBL vs. Matt Hardy

What happened: JBL quickly squashed Hardy.

What should have happened: It doesn't really matter, neither has an interesting future right now.

MNM vs. Psicosis and Super Crazy

What happened: MNM won.

What should have happened: MNM lost the titles on Friday and Melina supposedly "warmed up" Batista before that match. They should have had the team come out of fewer than half the paparazzi usual part of their entrance, had them eventually lose the match even with Melina's interference and cheating, then have all three sulk back with little fanfare. This sets up multiple lines post and during pap-per-view.

Chris Benoit vs. Booker T

What happened: Benoit won his first to pull 3-1 in the best of seven for the US title in a "best match ever between these two".

What should have happened: Exactly that.

Bobby Lashley vs. William Regal and Paul Birchill

What happened: Lashley quickly won.

What should have happened: Young stars and an old veteran; nothing interesting to promote at this time.

Juventud vs. Kid Kash -- Cruiserweight Title

What happened: Kash gets a clean win.

What should have happened: Don't care.

Kane & Big Show vs. Batista & Rey Mysterio

What happened: Kane choke-slams Rey for the clean win.

What should have happened: Batista and Rey were fresh off the "Friday" win ofthe tag titles but Kane and Show were out for revenge from the previouspay-per-view. I would have put Kane and Show on the verge of a win only to have Melina (from MNM above) come out, fake assistance to Kane and Show but screw them over somehow to give the pin-fall to Batista. (This sets up her dumping MNM to leech onto Batista's fame, then assist with dumping him and the title when the next champion and more famous individual comes along, Randy Orton perhaps?).

Undertaker Vs. Randy Orton -- Hell in a Cell

What happened: Undertaker eventually wins.

What should have happened: The Undertaker formula is dated and needs a change; plus the guy should be retiring or at least diminishing sometime soon. I would have had the Orton's finally "kill off" the Undertaker - maybe not even bothering with the pin-fall; just put some magic dust and a cross on him then leave. The "body" would disappear and the pay-per-view would be over. Then, perhaps, have the Undertaker perform a Gandalf the Grey turning into a white-clad something (angel) that would gradually ascend through humility and shame to perhaps retake the title one last time before retirement (from Orton when he gets the title through Melina's treachery above). Title in hand, the white Undertaker would be called back to his true calling - "retiring" and leaving the title open (for a pay-per-view tournament showdown).

Monday, December 12, 2005

Cold Heat, does it work?

Cold Heat soldering toolI received some of my Christmas presents early this weekend. One of those presents was the Cold Heat battery powered/cordless soldering tool. So, does it work?

I took the device out to the garage with a pair of 12-gauge monster speaker wires. I figured this would be a more than adequate test if I could tin two ends then connect the two ends together. The tool did an adequate job of getting solder into the hair-thin copper strands that were twisted together to form the wire. When I tried to generate enough heat to connect the two wire I wasn’t as successful. Also, unlike the commercial where the guy solders something then immediately touches his finger to the tip to prove it isn’t hot anymore, the tool does stay hot a little while afterwards so don’t be an idiot and try emulating the commercial like I did.

This soldering tool is (was designed) for quick, short bursts of heat. It is battery powered and thus portable, making it a very handy tool for quick repair jobs where an soldering iron with a cord would be a pain in the ass. This tool is not good for heavy duty jobs or for extended use (like product assembly, or a lot of soldering).

Friday, December 09, 2005

Sharpening my C

Looks like I get to add C# to the list of computer languages that I either know or are fluent in. Our department is being prodded off other languages and development platforms onto the Microsoft world. A couple hours and about 6 gigabytes of storage later I have Visual Studio 2005 installed and ready to use on a freshly re-imaged workstation. When I look back at my life both professionally and personally I have dealt with my share of languages:
  • Assembler (6502 and 8088 micro, 370 and HLASM mainframe)
  • BASIC (DOS, VIC-20, Commodore 64, Apple ][)
  • C (DOS)
  • CL (AS/400)
  • CMS
  • COBOL (Microfocus Unix/Windows, MVS, VSE, AS/400)
  • Cold Fusion
  • Envision BASIC (UniBASIC)
  • HTML (if you consider it a language)
  • JCL (MVS/VSE includes JES and POWER)
  • Java
  • JavaScript
  • PHP
  • PL/SQL
  • Perl
  • REXX (mainframe and AS/400)
  • SQL (Oracle, DB2)
  • UniData UniQuery
  • Unix BASH shell scripting
  • VBScript
  • Visual BASIC
  • Windows Scripting Host
  • XML/XSLT

Out of all the languages I like COBOL the best. COBOL has stayed consistently the same for decades and then some. It’s always been there, dependable and able to get work done in both a transactional and batch environment. COBOL has no real API; it is simply verbs and nouns in sentences. But for all the power COBOL has it sucks at many modern tasks like string editing and handling, flexible storage areas, and inter-program sharing of storage (especially with separately compiled run-units). For decades people have been trying to kill COBOL. It lives today running on mainframe and mini computer systems processing your bank accounts and credit reports, but the drive is to Java or .NET (C++, VB or C#).

Wish me luck as I embark on yet another learning experience. I wish it would be the last one but as with everything, it probably will not be.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

RIP Dime

It's hard to believe Dimebag Darrell was gunned down here in central Ohio one year ago to this day.

Lord (bored) of the Rings

I received the Lord of the Rings Extended Box Set in the middle of this week. I have already seen the theatrical versions of “The Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Two Towers” so I viewed “Return of the King” on Wednesday. About four and a half hours later (or so), it was over and I have to admit through the splendor and grandeur that is Peter Jackson’s trilogy I was glad it was over. It seemed like forever. I’m not sure if the first two entries will be as extended as the last was but it would be easy to sink into a sofa surrounded by munchies and just disappear for a day – just to watch the movies. There are still six DVD’s of extras and “Appendixes” to go through.

I did notice one problem when viewing “Return of the King” on my big screen using progressive video component output. The output freaked into white lines for a couple of scenes.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Attack on Pearl Harbor

Occurred on the morning of December 7th, 1941 at 7:53 am.

I studied the World War II Pacific theater quite heavily in high school. At one point I could name each ship at it's location in the harbor from memory. I have forgotten some of that knowledge but still remember where the Arizona, Nevada, Oklahoma and Ward were docked or anchored.

I have Pearl Harbor on DVD but the attack and later raid on Japan were the only pieces that interested me in an otherwise boring movie.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Death or unga-bunga?

Did you ever have one of those days at work where you feel like you are one of the individuals given the choice of death or unga-bunga?

For those that do not know the joke:

Two men are captured by a tribe of savages. The chief walks up to the two frightened me and states “you have two choices: death or unga-bunga”, points to the first man and says “choose.”

The first man thinks about his choices then replies. “Well I don’t want to die. I choose unga-bunga.”

The chief raises his staff in the air and yells “unga-bunga”. All the savages yell “unga-bunga” and start dancing.

The first man is taken into the center of the village and the vilest of acts are performed upon him, over and over again for hours and hours until the man is simply a mere shell of what he once was. He is alive, but scarred for life.

The chief returns to the second man: “choose – death or unga-bunga.”

After witnessing the horrific treatment of his colleague the second man proudly replies “No human being should ever endure what that man did; I choose death!”

The chief raises his staff in the air and yells “Death, death, death by unga-bunga”.

It’s just like that at work sometimes. You have witnessed or been down a long and painful path and when given the alternative don’t see how it could possibly be worse; but it is. So you embark upon that long painful path again hoping that death comes quickly or salvation arrives.