Category Archives: general

General catch-all category

Why Can’t Companies Just Be Honest?

Seriously. Customers will appreciate it more and give the company the benefit of the doubt. I’ve had so many instances in the past where if a company had just come clean it would have given them a lot of good will. When we moved to San Francisco about 7 years ago the moving company’s driver got pissed, dropped our trailer off at the yard in Phoenix and drove off. He didn’t tell anyone. Well, the company bullshitted us for 3 days telling us our stuff would be there the next day. Three days we took off of work. No truck. Finally they came clean. It took a threat to start talking to my congressmen about who is in charge of interstate commerce to get a call from the CEO the next day. Granted, the truth wouldn’t have been pretty but it was going to come out anyways. Then, we found out that once they did figure out where the trailer was they sent a 19 year old driver to get it. It’s not legal for this kid to drive across state lines at night due to his age I believe he said but he did it anyways because the company told him to.

So what brought this rant forward? FedEx. Normally FedEx is pretty good. Not this time. I ordered a projector from woot the other day and it shipped very quickly. It even got to the Benicia terminal a day earlier than expected. I might get my projector a day early I think. Wrong. So it goes into a delivery exception while on the truck a day early and returns to the terminal. No biggie, it’s still expected to be here on time. The next day comes and we wait around…and wait….and wait. Then, at 7:50pm we notice that another delivery exception has been noted on the account and that it is going back to the terminal. But this time it gets better. The report says “customer not available or business closed”. My wife was home the entire time waiting in the living room about 15 feet from the front door. The dogs were in the house as well. There is no way the FedEx driver attempted delivery. I called FedEx and asked what happened and of course all the person on the other end could tell me was what I saw on the Internet.

Then the kicker. I ask “aren’t the drivers supposed to leave the yellow door tag indicating that they attempted delivery?” She says it’s a “courtesy” and not “policy” and that he might have run out. I call BS again. This is just ridiculous. It’s obvious that the driver never attempted delivery and just headed back to the terminal.

Well, it gets better. The next day the package never even gets put back on the truck. It just sits at the terminal and I call again. This time they guarantee it will be delivered the next day (today). I’m not holding my breath. The next kicker though, is that yesterday they again show a delivery exception with “customer not available or business closed” yet again. This, even though it never went out for delivery in the first place.

FedEx, get your act together. It’s not so much to ask for a huge company like yourself to actually have a better feedback system on tracking.

Fonts and Coding

This issue seems to get beaten to death but since I switched back to IDEA from Eclipse recently it was something I revisited(1). While on Eclipse I had just used Courier New but I’ve never really been totally sold on it. In general I don’t like serif fonts for coding. The serifs seem to take away from on-screen readability. But I never really liked any of the sans-serif monospace fonts available either. Lucida doesn’t look good to me…something about the spacing bothers me. Fonts are one of those purely subjective things, though. I have tried some of the bit mapped fonts that I’ve seen listed by other people in the past as well but since I run at relatively high resolutions they don’t ever work well. I really needed a scalable font.

Enter Consolas. Consolas is this new monospaced font from Microsoft that is standard on Vista and available for those that have Microsoft Visual Studio. The installer won’t actually even let you install it unless you meet those constraints. But luckily you can install the free version of Visual Studio, install the fonts, and then remove it. 🙂 And then you can save the font files off by themselves for future use.

Here’s an example of the font on IDEA with font anti-aliasing turned on, running under Java 6. Even running under Java 6 you still need to turn on font anti-aliasing to get it to look similar to Eclipse. I’m hoping the next version of IDEA that officially supports Java 6 will be able to use the platform anti-aliasing that comes built-in.

fontexample.png

I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has switched to this font or if they’ve tried it. This is my favorite so far and I’m really happy with it. It’s funny sometimes how something that would seem so insignificant as a font can change your productivity. Well, I should say that a bad font can really screw with my concentration at times…I’ve had enough experience with typesetting/publishing in the past that crappy fonts bother me a lot.

(1) Switching was not really my choice. My new group uses IDEA while my previous one used Eclipse. They’re both good IDEs. This isn’t really a post about the merits of each IDE.

Warning Signs About a Job Posting

I tend to look at local job postings on a semi-regular basis. Not because I’m looking to leave my current job usually but rather because I’m curious and like to see what trends are forming and to see how healthy the local job market is.

But by watching these listings I’ve definitely formed opinions about what I think are warnings signs to stay away from a particular company/post.

1. They say how great or HOT they are in a given area

I’ve seen both Nextag and now Next Internet using this tactic on Craigslist. If you’re so hot, why do you have to tell me about it? If you’re so hot, you’re going to get interest without having to ask for it just because you’re at the center of the known geek universe and word tends to travel pretty fast.

2. They post for the same job every few months

Unless it’s a large company that I know is in growth mode then either one of two things probably happened. One, it’s a really crappy place to work and every person they find leaves within a few months. Or two, they didn’t find anyone and decided to put it off for a few months. Most of the time it seems like it’s from one of those companies that’s probably just barely staying afloat. They aren’t going under but they’re not really growing either. I’ve worked for one one of the latter before and it’s not fun at all.

3. They have completely unrealistic expectations

This one is more obvious but I’ve learned that a company that has unreal job requirements either expects a superhero / rock star developer or they really haven’t defined the job they’re looking for. The exception to this if they say something to the effect that they know that no one has all of these things but they are looking for someone with a certain set of them. It’s still a little worrisome because it still kind of smells like they don’t know what they are looking for but it’s not a definitive red flag. The times that I’ve talked to companies that want the rock star it’s amazing that they generally are also companies that balk at paying at rock star levels. I’ve seen one on in the east bay that is always looking for consultants in the 5 year experience range with a number of technology requirements and actually posts a salary level of sub 60,000. In the Bay Area that just isn’t happening. Well, unless it’s not a full time job.

And that leads me to my last one for now…

4. They post salary levels that are just insanely low

This one is really obvious but it’s more an amazement thing on my part that a company is so out of touch that they think they’ll get anyone by listing a salary that is at least 20K below market for a given job. It’d be one thing if it was a startup offering huge stock grants and being up front about that but it’s another when it’s just some consulting firm that has been around for a while.

Overall, at least here in the bay area, the job market is doing pretty well so if you are talented it puts you in a pretty good place to be a lot pickier about the type of company and environment you decide to work in. You just have to be diligent about looking for the warning signs of a company that would not be a good fit or has internal issues that would drive you crazy.

What other red flags do you notice in job postings?  I’m sure there are a ton of them and these are just the ones that I thought of off the top of my head.

Continuous Integration Server Overload

At my new place of employment (okay, so it’s been a few months already — time flies!) we recently decided to put a continuous integration server in place.  We had started with cruise control because a company we partnered with already had it setup and in place.  Cruise control has never been the most user-friendly and easy to use server and so we set out to find another one.

Before you think this is a review of a bunch of integration servers, I’ll just say it’s not and get that out of the way.  We didn’t really have the time do a thorough review of every server out there.   We just needed an integration server that was easy to setup and run.  Luckily we found it when we tried out Bamboo from the folks over at Atlassian.  We are already using Jira and Confluence in house so it also made sense to just get most of our communication tools from one vendor.  It was extremely easy to get going and to integrate with our Subversion repository. Its unit test run integration seems to work extremely well, also.  We know we aren’t using all of its functionality but as we have time and new requirements pop-up I’m sure it will get more extensive use (abuse) in our shop.

The thing that struck me, however, was just how many vendors there are that have continuous integration server products.  The ones that we found were Parabuild, Pulse, Bamboo, Anthil, Cruise Control, Team City, and Gauntlet (from Borland).  I know there are some others such as Continuum and Luntbuild but I didn’t really even have them on my list.

I guess I look at this and see two things.  One, the market is extremely saturated.  Some of these products are probably not going to see a lot of adoption.  These generally aren’t expensive products and so you have to sell a lot of them to justify even having a few full time developers and QA engineers on the product.  The second is that this shows just how much adoption there is for continuous integration and testing in Java development shops nowadays.  I think this is a great thing because it means more and more developers will get exposure to the concept of unit testing and continuous integration.  I still see too few developers that have exposure and experience with this concept.

I think next I’ll come back to more discussions about hiring woes and some recommendations for developers that are out looking for a new job.

I Thought California Was WARM

I can’t believe how cold this winter has been for us.  We’ve been here for a little more than 6 years now and we’ve never seen a winter like this.  For us, cold is 32 degrees Farenheit.  Yeah yeah, if you’re from Chicago or Milwaukee like we were then I know it’s not really cold but that’s what cold is to this area.  I really don’t remember it dropping below freezing for more than a night or two and if it did it was just by a degree or so.  However, this year it’s gotten into the 20s for multiple nights now.  Looking at the records it seems like we’ve set record lows in some cases by as much as 8 degrees over the last 5 days or so.  The rest of the week is only warming up to the lower 30s for our lows so it’s still going to be really cold compared to normal.

Our neighborhood has a weather reporting station which also has historical data available so I was able to go back and look at how cold it got each night.  It’s pretty slick actually.  I was able to check remotely while we were on vacation to see how cold it got.  Not that Anaheim was that much warmer.

I guess global warming doesn’t make it warmer everywhere.

Unboxing the Sony HDR-SR1

I decided to go ahead and keep the camcorder that I spoke of previously.  With the coupon we used it wasn’t as bad as paying retail.  It pretty much paid for the extended warranty which also covers accidental damage.  It’s funny because the accidental damage warranty is all dependent on how you word things.  For instance, if I dropped it in the pool it wouldn’t be covered, but if I said, “I spilled a 20,000 gallon pool on the camera” it would be covered.  Okay, not really but it depends on the type of accident from what I was told.  Anyways, you came for the photos, so here it is, still in the box along with the extended life battery:

Next thing, you gotta really want this camcorder since it clearly states that there is a 15% re-stocking fee if you return it and the box is opened.

Following the cutting of the re-stocking fee warning sticker we have what greets us as the top of the box is opened:

After removing the manuals, CD, and other documentation you see the familiar message that the manufacturer does not want you to return the item if it doesn’t work as expected.  I guess retailers kick the manufacturers pretty hard if things get returned for no good reason or if it’s too hard to use so they return it.

Look how neatly all the cables are packed up and stuff.

Here’s everything in the box.  The only thing really missing that would have been nice would be an HDMI cable.  Considering how much this thing costs and the fact that the folks that buy this camera are going to have an HD television and the fact that Sony makes these cables they really could have included one.

Then here are some various angles of the camera. 

           

         

I took some simple video clips with it yesterday and they look amazing.  Even in just okay light they looked great.  I can’t wait to take some video outside tomorrow under natural light and see how they look. 

Editing

Unfortuanately at this time there aren’t a lot of options for NLE work just yet. I’ve read some stuff about how using PowerDVD 7 Deluxe that you get a driver that can help you convert the AVC video that the camcorder records into a normal format that Premiere, Vegas or some other system can handle but I haven’t had a chance to try it yet.  I think I’ll probably store raw video on DVDs or an external hard drive for now in the native AVC format and then just work with converted MPG video using the included software.  I’ll primarily be producing DVDs for family members so MPG is fine for them.  I doubt it will be that long before I see more support for the format in things like Premiere, though.

Image Quality (Stills)

Still image quality is pretty good, especially considering it’s a camcorder.  Focus in low light situations isn’t spectacular but it’s not meant to replace my primary still camera.

Overall

I just opened it last night so it’s too early to tell but I like the camcorder so far.  I’ll post some small videos in coming weeks to demonstrate the camera. 

Trying Out Windows Live Writer

I decided to try out a new editor for my blog today.  It’s Microsoft’s Live Writer.  It seems to work pretty well so far.  It definitely has that Microsoft feel to it. 

Here’s the same photo from my previous post of the HDR-SR1 camcorder in it.

Let’s see how this looks.  If it works well then this is a pretty cool tool that’s a bit easier to use than doing direct HTML markup in WordPress.  I don’t like the rich editor in WordPress anyways.

To Unbox or Not Unbox?

So I picked up a Sony HDR-SR1 today at Best Buy since my old Canon ZR45 MC was really starting to show its age. We have a ton of family events coming up in coming months including a trip to Disneyland, a new member to my sister-in-law’s family, a close friend’s wedding that Myleene will be the maid of honor for and the list just goes on and on.

At this point I don’t want to upgrade unless it’s HD because I’m not going to buy a crappy camcorder and a good one will run pretty expensive anyways for normal SD. I also don’t like burning directly to DVD and tape is a pain in the ass. That leaves the hard drive option. I’d love a solid state HD camcorder but that’s just not in the cards anytime soon. This camcorder records in AVC format which is MPEG-4 basically. Editing software is not the most plentiful but there are options. Sony just announced some newer models that produce HDV on miniDV and some DVD models that produce AVC but no new hard drive based models that produce HD. The new AVC models don’t talk about increasing the bandwidth that they supply to the DVD so I’m guessing that it won’t be improved even if there is a new HDD model this year. I suppose I’ll leave it in the box for another day or two to see if there are any more announcements from Sony at CES. If I don’t hear anything I’ll go ahead and unbox it since they’ll announce any new offerings there for the foreseeable future. The SR1 also has the advantage that it has a manual control ring on the front and some other good inputs for things like shotgun mics and so forth.

I’ll show unboxing photos if I decide to keep it.

Yet Another New Look

I thought I would try out a new theme. I liked the functionality of Giraffe2, the previous theme but I really like the built-in look of Anaconda.

Let me know what you think.

Updated: I didn’t even realize it but my images and javascript directories for the theme weren’t permissioned properly. Oops. It should look much better now.