Archive for October, 2006

HOWTO: Lose Friends and Alienate People

October 31, 2006

Reg Adkins writes about 10 Ways to Lose Friends and Alienate People. It’s an accurate list and I’m proud to say I pretty much avoid all 10 in my daily life – some more subconsciously than others.

One interesting thing I found while reviewing his list is that I think it’s as apropos to raising kids as it is to keeping friends. I made a pledge with myself a long time ago (long before I was a father) that I would treat my child with respect and appreciation – just as I had been treated. After almost 5 years (I know I know – just wait).. I think it has built a great bond between my daughter and myself. The two biggies for me have been admitting my errors and being sincere.

For sure I don’t mince words when patience has left me (who’s exit by the way, is substantially quickened by whining). And my daughter has no doubt about who sets the rules, but we have very clear lines of communication about how we are feeling. It is not unheard of for Daddy to apologize after being grumpy or saying something unfair (we’re *all* human after all). I only expect the same from her.

One thing she never gets from me is the dismissive ‘yes yes that’s wonderful dear’ line. I can’t stand it when I see and hear parents do this to their children. If I am in the middle of something else (like a conversation with someone else) I take the time to make it clear to her that she will have my honest attention when I’m finished what I’m doing. She’s not even 5 but she sure seems to understand that quite well.

While all this reads like a self-congratulatory post from a doting father – hey I could be accused of worse things – I think Reg’s post is an important one. I know plenty of people (many of whom are parents) who would do themselves good to read it.

DIY Surgery…

October 31, 2006

One evening each year I get to pretend I’m a brain surgeon and cosmetic surgeon rolled into one. Three pumpkins went under the knife (and spoon) on the kitchen floor tonight to my daughter’s absolute delight. Although she seemed gung-ho to help me “scoop out the guts” tonight, one feel of the cool gooey innards turned her into an instant spectator… Here’s hoping you all have a happy and safe Halloween tomorrow night. 😉

Ignorance and the Shortchanging of Joe Public

October 26, 2006

I read a post today by Penguin Pete asking whether or not there are any passionate Windows users. In terms of absolute numbers, I think there are a huge amount of them. But in terms of OS demographics I’m sure Mac and Linux have a much larger proportion of passionate users in their camps. In fact, I’d bet that Linux has the highest percentage of passionate users – likely by a wide margin. (And of course along with that chest thumping comes the smallest absolute number of users.)

Perhaps even more interesting is how Pete then goes on to discuss the relative ignorance of the typical computer user. He poses the idea that for a great many users it is not a case of wanting to use Windows, it is a case of people thinking they have to. Does the typical user even know there are completely valid alternatives? He cites a few silly sounding examples: “Some Windows users even think their operating system is AOL or Explorer”, which, while slightly insulting are likely accurate in more cases than you’d think. (Don’t forget, the most powerful leader in the world sometimes uses “The Google”.)

It’s easy to chalk up that whole discussion to Linux snobbery, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. I think we sometimes forget that there are an absolutely huge number of computer users out there that have little clue about the Internet nevermind operating systems. We are huddled in our igloo made of websites, newsgroups, and blogs, (nevermind podcasts and videoblogs) and we sometimes severely overestimate the computer-saavyness of the general population. Pete also proposes a wonderful meme idea at the end of his post where you would post results from a survey questionnaire given to Joe Public. The compiled results would indeed be quite interesting.

Now just in case I haven’t insulted quite enough people, I’d like to steer this ship slightly off-course to a topic that usually makes the rounds at my place of work every year or two. It involves the relative ignorance of the general public when it comes to my line of work (something that usually get’s barely a mention on this weblog). You see, I design buildings – multistorey offices, commercial and industrial buildings, the odd condo or two, that sort of thing. I also teach some basic courses on residential structural design and construction methods to architectural technology students at a local college part time.

A few things that never cease to amaze me about the ‘average person’:

– If I walk into any office building at all and ask the person sitting there “what do you think is above those ceiling tiles and lights?”, 9 times out of 10 the person won’t have a clue.

– Even more troublesome to me is the realization that they DON’T WANT to know. They don’t care. They are spending half their lives sitting under what might be millions of pounds of concrete and steel, and yet there is not even a inkling of a desire to find out, ask the question or look it up in a book.

– There are a huge number of people who are perfectly happy going through life learning nothing new. And when I say perfectly happy, I don’t mean it sarcastically. They would be satisfied reaching the age of 90 knowing nothing more than they do now. I’m not sure what percentage of the population holds this view but I think it’s higher than you or I would likely estimate. I would think these are generally not the people flying about on the Net – not for the most part, you and I.

A side effect of this ignorance is something that has bothered me to no end since entering the profession of structural engineering: Why is it that your average realtor can lay claim to a 5% commission on a home sale, while an structural engineer attempting to charge a fee based on 2% of the construction costs of a building is laughed out of the room? I’ve done a few residential side-jobs during the past 10 years and it’s rare that I’ve ever been able to charge anything close to 2% of construction costs, never mind 5%!

I will never forget one of my first days in this profession (all wide-eyed and bushytailed) and walking to lunch with a former colleague. He told me that after 10 years he was getting out of the profession and explained why (see the previous paragraph). He said that “people will pay exhorbitant fees when it involves their money or their health”. So if you’re a doctor, accountant, or even better a lawyer, you’re likely all set.

Even if I am held personally responsible for the design of that million odd pounds of steel hanging 30 ft. over your head every day (which I am), the ignorance of the general public to that fact changes the whole profession.

My apologies on the rollercoaster ride of a post – many thanks if you hung on all this way. But there you have it. I think that on the whole, the general public is ignorant about a lot of things. Be it computer operating systems, professional engineering or politics among other things. Is that insulting? Maybe to some. I wish it (the general public) would prove me wrong in this regard, but it hasn’t.

What do you think? Am I severely shortchanging Joe Public?

Take Back Your Time

October 24, 2006

Did you realize that today is "Take Back Your Time" Day?

The aim is to fight the "epidemic of overwork, overscheduling and time famine". You do this by cutting one thing out of your schedule, or maybe cutting one activity from your child’s schedule today, and spending that time going for a walk, spending family time together, planting a tree etc..

I feel as overworked (and overwhelmed) as the next person. Maybe I’ll cut out a little early today and make an extra hour of time for my family tonight.

Take back some of your time.

Misinformation will hurt Linux more than Stallman ever could

October 23, 2006

Undoubtedly, Richard Stallman will be pissed when he reads this article. And it won’t be because he’s accused of killing the Linux revolution (in terms of Linux proper, he doesn’t much care about that either way I think). No, I think he’ll be pissed because the article suggests that he thinks all software should be free of charge. I’ve read and listened to Stallman several times and he’s clearly stated that he’s not against charging money for software. He’s against proprietary code. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. How can a large publication like Forbes do an article on Stallman and miss the whole ‘Free as in speech, not as in beer’ concept?

Ignorance and misunderstanding will damage Linux and open-source much more than Richard Stallman ever could.

Update: Here’s the author’s blog post remarking about the influx of hate mail he’s getting. Care to leave a reasoned comment for him? Fight FUD with facts and not zealotry. It works better.

And now for something completely different…

October 23, 2006

1. It’s good that Felipe Massa won the Formula One Brazilian Grand Prix today. He’s the first Brazilian to win his home grand prix since Ayrton Senna did it some 13 years ago.

2. It’s even better that Spaniard Fernando Alonso won the F1 drivers championship for a second year running. Now that Fernando-Renault cap perched in the back window of my car does not look so out of place. 😉

3. It’s absolutely great that Michael Schumacher has now officially retired. Now I am free to cheer for Ferrari once again (I have personally forbidden myself to do anything but jeer the Scuderia -and more importantly Michael- since Jerez in 1997). I am not sure if I will cheer for them or not, but at least now I can allow myself to do so.

How’s that for an off-topic post 😉

My Travel Gadget List

October 21, 2006

Brad Kellett asks “what gadgets do you take with you when you go on a trip?”. I think he’ll be disappointed with my response.

Brad, I am a simple man. I don’t do a heck of a lot of work related travel. I actually do a fair amount of travel for work, but almost all of it is local – sigh- 😦 So my list of ‘gadgets’ is based on a typical pleasure trip and likely not what you were looking for. But you asked for it.. 😉

-Cell Phone (A 3 year old Audiovox CDM8300)
-Palm Zire72 PDA (now rarely used-see next item)
-Blueline NotePro (9.5″x7.5″) Hardcover Notebook
-Various Pens (Assorted Pilot G-2 Mini’s being my current favourites)
-Insignia Portable DVD Player (7.5″ LCD) – you can never get enough Fairytopia
-Swiss Army Knife (a mini one)
-PNY 1GB USB key (you never know!)
-My Daughter’s Tablet PC – actually it’s a Magnadoodle (the handwriting recognition is absolutely killer)
-Braun-Oral B rechargeable toothbrush
-Various sundries to keep me smellin’ nice for the ladies… 😉

There you have it. An atypical gadget list (atypical for the blogosphere anyway).

From humble beginnings

October 21, 2006

One of the neat things about Linux is the fact that it has been developed in the open. Even if you’re not a Linux user, isn’t it neat to read this usenet posting where Linus Torvalds announces his project? Even better is one of the reply posts by James da Silva the very next day which ends with: "Good luck on your OS project, it sounds like a lot of fun." .

Who knew?  😉

A user base willing to learn and try.. is this not a good thing?

October 21, 2006

Earl Moore is trying out Ubuntu. And while it wasn’t all happy happy joy joy, he stuck it out and conquered his installation problems. Kudos Earl for stickin’ to it.

I had my fair share of issues when I first tried Ubuntu Breezy. So much so that I created a working dual boot system but gave up after I couldn’t get sound working correctly. Months later, I came back to it when Dapper came out and have since made the leap. While I still run a dual boot setup, XP hasn’t been booted on it in probably 3 months.

While I don’t think Earl is anywhere near making the leap (he’s quite a happy Mac camper I think), he’s at least testing the waters to see what else is going on out there. This is good.
While installing Linux can be a challenge on some systems, and despite the fact that it can throw up a few (different) hurdles that pre-installed Windows and Mac machines don’t have, I still think it’s a wonderful system. An amazing accomplishment.

Now there is always going to be the camp out there that thinks everything should ‘just work’. And if it doesn’t, then it’s not a real solution. Bah I say. If Linux remains the domain of people who want a cutting edge, stable, secure and truly open operating system and are willing to learn a little bit to get it, then so be it.

Best case scenario, it starts to truly compete (market-wise) with Windows and OS-X. Worst case scenario, you have a smaller market OS with a user base full of smart people willing to learn and try new things. A win-win from my standpoint.

The Merits of Blogging

October 20, 2006

Jonathon Wellons writes that ‘If you’re not blogging, you’re wasting your life‘. While I think the title of the post is a little extreme, I completely agree with the points he makes in his brief but nonetheless inspiring post, a snippet of which is:

“…You should be sharing the things you learned so other people will learn from it and maybe teach you something new. You should be entertaining the rest of us; and we will return the favor…”

He’s preaching to the choir. 🙂