Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Buzzword overload

There's a question on StackOverflow about the best source code comments people have seen or written. My favourite answer is this one, which doesn't require any programming knowledge to understand, since it's impossible to understand anyway. I found it quite hysterical:

This method leverages collective synergy to drive "outside of the box" thinking and formulate key objectives into a win-win game plan with a quality-driven approach that focuses on empowering key players to drive-up their core competencies and increase expectations with an all-around initiative to drive down the bottom-line. I really wanted to work the word "mandrolic" in there, but that word always makes me want to punch myself in the face.

Nothing about "solutioning", though; perhaps it's out of date. I'd never heard the word "mandrolic" before, so perhaps I'm out of date.

Gail has on occasion actually used some of these words, particularly "synergy" and "solutioning", and doesn't understand why I laugh every time. I have an idea what it "means", or what it's supposed to mean, but to me, "synergy" is just the quintessential buzzword that doesn't actually mean anything.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Failure is not an option

Our camera stores pictures on a compact flash memory card. The other day when changing the card, Gail managed to bend a pin inside the camera, so it wouldn't recognize any card. We took it into a camera repair shop yesterday, and it's going to cost us $200 to get fixed. The repair guy said that Gail likely tried to put the card in sideways or backwards or something and that it's not that uncommon. For a fairly expensive piece of equipment, this seems like a blatant design flaw. If a card should only go in one way, why can't they design them so that it's physically impossible to put it in wrong? Make it so that it's impossible to screw it up. Failure should not be an option.

We had the same problem with an old wireless PCMCIA card. We had a PCI card in the computer, and that card had a slot that the PCMCIA card could slip into. But it was entirely possible to put the card in the wrong way, in which case it simply wouldn't work. (Luckily it didn't damage the card.) Unfortunately, it wasn't plug and play, so you had to shut the computer down, put the card in, and boot it up again. If you got it backwards, you'd have to shut the computer down again, reverse the card, then boot it back up.

The designers of the SD card that's in my kids' $89 cameras seemed to get it right:

  1. Make it a rectangle that's longer than it is wide, so you can't put it in sideways
  2. Put a notch in one corner so that if you put it in backwards, the notch makes it not fit before the card gets to the pins.

Update: I wrote the above before talking to the camera guy. Turns out it is impossible to put the card in backwards or upside down, but it is not impossible to put it in sideways. If they had made it "portrait instead of landscape" as the camera guy said, this possibility would have been removed as well.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

I'm not a big fan of the snow. I go skiing once or twice a year, maybe more in the future because I took the boys last year and they enjoyed it, and tobogganing and making snowmen with them is fun too, but other than that, I'd be fine living somewhere that never got snow.

However, and I can't explain this, one of my favourite things is a work-from-home day when I sit down at my laptop, sip a mug of hot chocolate, and watch a huge snowstorm outside. Maybe it's the knowledge that I don't have to navigate the roads, or maybe it's just the fact that it's cold and nasty outside and I'm toasty and warm inside, but I love that feeling.

It's snowing like crazy outside, and I just finished my hot chocolate. I might make another cup. It's a snow day today so the boys and Gail are home, but I'm warm and cozy inside and have no plans of venturing outside today (except maybe to shovel later on but I won't think about that now). <Happy sigh> Suddenly my TLS certificate validation problem on the Mac just doesn't seem so daunting.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The might know science, but they don't know web programming

While trying to buy tickets online for the Ontario Science Centre, I saw this:

Seriously, how hard is it to accept a postal code without a space and add it yourself?

Later on in the transaction, I hit an SSL error because the certificate was valid for "www.ontariosciencecentre.ca" but I happened to type "ontariosciencecentre.ca" into my browser, and none of the links after that redirected me to "www.". If their certificate relies on the "www." prefix, then their web server should be redirecting me.

They might know everything there is to know about science (and they do, I've loved going to the Science Centre since I was a kid), but their webmaster has a few things to learn.

Update: As you can see in the comments, Ken Huxley from the Science Centre has fixed the postal code problem and is working on fixing the SSL problem as well. Kudos to him, and my apologies for my condescending "has a few things to learn" comment above (not to mention the title of the post). When he mentioned that he was going to reconfigure DNS to fix the SSL problem, I realized that I understand at a high level what he's going to do, but I have no idea how to actually do it. I guess I have a few things to learn as well. But if I hadn't whined written about the problems I found, they wouldn't have gotten fixed, so it's nice to know that my blog has made the world a better place.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Stability in the NLL

OK, this is getting ridiculous. There's a news report saying that the owner of the Chicago Shamrox is trying to sell the team, and they might fold (as early as this week) which would require yet another dispersal draft. Is anyone else getting tired of this? The last time an NLL season began with exactly the same teams as the previous year (in the same cities) was 1993. Here's what's happened since:

  • 1994: Removed Pittsburgh
  • 1995: Added Rochester, removed Detroit
  • 1996: Added Charlotte
  • 1997: Removed Charlotte
  • 1998: Added Ontario and Syracuse, removed Boston
  • 1999: Ontario moved to Toronto
  • 2000: Added Albany, Baltimore moved to Pittsburgh
  • 2001: Pittsburgh moved to Washington, Syracuse moved to Ottawa, added Columbus
  • 2002: Added New Jersey, Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver
  • 2003: Washington moved to Colorado, removed Montreal
  • 2004: New Jersey moved to Anaheim, Albany moved to San Jose, Columbus moved to Arizona, removed New York and Ottawa
  • 2005: Added Minnesota, removed Vancouver
  • 2006: Added Edmonton and Portland, removed Anaheim
  • 2007: Added New York and Chicago
  • 2008: Removed Arizona
  • 2009: Added Boston, removed Chicago?

Sometimes franchises fail because lacrosse just didn't sell in that city (Ottawa, Anaheim). Sometimes they fail because of corrupt or incompetent ownership (Vancouver). In the case of Arizona, it was some mystery reason that made no sense — they shut down operations because the season was cancelled, but then the season was resurrected two weeks later. Arizona management announced that they had already shut everything down and couldn't restart it in time (though every other team managed it), so they'd just sit out 2008 and return in 2009. Of course they didn't return at all, so it sounds to me like they used the season cancellation as an excuse to fold up operations since they weren't making much money. This is too bad (particularly for Arizona fans), since they had a very good team that made the finals twice in three years. The Chicago thing sounds like another mystery reason — their owners say that it's just too difficult to manage the team in Chicago from their offices in Atlanta and LA. Mmmmmmkay. Never heard of phones? Email? Video conferencing? Hell, hire someone who lives in Chicago that can run things.

What the hell ever happened to due diligence, not only on the part of NLL ownership groups, but on the part of the NLL itself?

Apparently the Chicago owner announced that he wanted to sell the team during the middle of last season, which means that less than two seasons after he bought an expansion franchise, he's trying to sell it. Did he not consider the "difficulty" of running a team from a thousand miles away before spending $3 million to buy an expansion franchise? Did the NLL not ask him how he intended to run the team from a thousand miles away?

Twenty-one NLL teams have folded or moved since the league was formed in 1987. Of those, four only lasted a single season. Compare that to the NHL, where a total of eighteen teams have folded or moved since 1917. Three cities (Pittsburgh, Washington, and New Jersey) have had NLL teams fail twice, and the New York Titans are threatening to make it four. Does this sound like a good league to purchase a franchise in?

Having said that, the Toronto, Colorado, Calgary, Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Rochester franchises are all healthy. I don't know about Edmonton, Minnesota, Portland, or San Jose, and I haven't heard too much lately in the way of negative rumours about those four. I really hope that the late 90's and early 2000's were a kind of experimental phase for the NLL, where they tried lots of new markets, many of which failed. Now that they have a core of seven or eight franchises that are doing well and are unlikely to fold, perhaps we'll see a little more stability.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

On rebuilding

I read an article on general borschevsky's Maple Leafs blog the other day that contained the following text at the bottom:

Brian Burke believes Mats Sundin is not interested in returning to Toronto. No one seems to mind. Despite the obvious need for a top line centre, despite the need for veteran leadership, despite the fact that this team is already better then last year's team and that the playoffs are just a short win-streak away,...

As soon as I saw the line about "the playoffs are just a short win-streak away", I cringed. I immediately commented on the article, saying that this is why many people think that Leafs fans are stupid. No matter how bad the team is, these die-hards always seem to think that if we just make the playoffs, the Cup is ours. Or that making the playoffs, even if you get swept in the first round, makes the season a success. I wrote a little while ago about delusional Leafs fans who think that every year is the year. I, on the other hand, have accepted the fact that this year's Leafs are not a contending team, and are likely not even a playoff team. In the long run, this is probably good, in that they will get a higher draft choice, and Our Saviour will pick the next Sidney Crosby.

For the record, general borschevsky is neither delusional nor stupid. He responded to my comment, saying that making the playoffs may not mean a Cup victory, but it does mean that we'll be watching the Leafs in the playoffs, and it'll be exciting and entertaining. And for those of us not employed in the sports industry, that's what sports is, isn't it? Entertainment? This is a good point — neither Toronto nor Pittsburgh won the Cup last year, but I am quite sure that Pittsburgh fans enjoyed last year's playoffs a lot more than Leafs fans did.

There are three reasons a team misses the playoffs:

  1. Your team sucks because you are rebuilding, and after a few years, you will be a contender.
  2. Your team sucks because you are rebuilding, but after a few years, you will still suck.
  3. Your team just sucks.

Of course, the difference between groups 1 and 2 can only be seen through hindsight. The Leafs have missed the playoffs three years in a row, and I think they were squarely in group 3 during that span. They were not rebuilding — you don't trade away a prospect and a draft pick for Yanic Perrault if you're rebuilding. But the Leafs are clearly rebuilding now, so if they miss the playoffs this year, it will be because they have moved to either group 1 or group 2 — only time will tell which one.

I have been a Leafs fan my whole life. In that time, I have never watched a Leaf game hoping that they lose. So why is it that I cringe when someone suggests the possibility that the Leafs might make the playoffs this year? Because I have managed to convince myself that in order to get good, the Leafs will have to suck for a while. I mean really suck. It'll be a tough couple of years (or more), but if Our Saviour does what everyone seems to think he will do, the Leafs will be a really good team in four or five years. I know that there's no guarantee (losing is a necessary but not sufficient condition for building a winning team), but I have some confidence, so I'm willing to put up with the sucky years, mainly because the only other option is stay mediocre-at-best for the rest of whatever. So I've convinced myself that the Leafs will suck for a few years but in the long run, this is a good thing. I've braced myself for the pain. Then someone says "the Leafs could make the playoffs!" and I realize that if that happens, the pain will likely still come, it's just been postponed.

I love analogies. I'm not always good at coming up with them, but I love them. So here's my analogy. Sorry if you're reading this over lunch.

You went for dinner at the local greasy spoon and had the monster chili burger with onion rings and big piece of coconut cream pie. And a Diet Coke. Man, was that good. But a couple of hours later as you're sitting down to watch the Leaf game, you realize that the Diet Coke just isn't sitting well. Damn, shoulda had the chocolate shake. The discomfort turns to pain, and a few minutes later, you start to wonder if your dinner might, ahem, come back. Twenty agonizing minutes later, you're now hoping it will come back, since that will likely make the pain stop. You make your way to the bathroom not looking forward to what's about to happen, but ready for it. But when you get there, the bathroom door is locked — your roommate, who went for dinner with you, is in there already with similar issues. Do you bang on the door and thank your roommate for allowing you to put off the inevitable upchucking? No, because as unpleasant as it's going to be, you know it's necessary, and you've braced yourself for it.

Dumb analogy? Well, sure it is. Dinner is likely coming back up anyway, whether the bathroom door is locked or not, whereas the pain of not making the playoffs but not getting any better either can continue indefinitely. So here's another one:

You're in the dentist's office getting a filling. The dentist is about to stick that four-foot needle in your mouth (and then wiggle it around just in case you can't feel it). You grip the armrests, leaving visible dents that patients that use that chair the next day can still feel, bracing yourself for the most unpleasant part of any dentist visit. (Aside: I've had many fillings and four or five root canals and crowns, and for me, the needles are always the worst part.) Just before the dentist gives you the needle, he remembers something. "Oh, hold on" he says, puts the needle down, and starts fiddling with some other equipment. You breathe out, having been given a little reprieve. A minute later he picks the needle up again and says, "OK, I'm ready now". You grip again, and again he says "Oh, wait a sec" and puts the needle down. Now say he keeps doing this, several times. First off, you might want to find a less forgetful dentist. Secondly, by the seventh time he does this, you're ready to yell "Just give me the damn needle, will you?" Do you want the needle? No, but you know it's necessary and you've braced yourself for it.

So when someone suggests that the Leafs might make the playoffs this year, I say no. Not because I want them to lose, but because they are rebuilding and they need to lose for a while in order to get better. It's necessary, and I've braced myself for it.