Thursday
Mar192015

New Years Resolutions

Huh?  What do you mean it's March?  Would you believe this has been a draft since January?  No?  Well you're right, but I don't know what else to call this.  Anyway...

I've been doing a good amount of thinking, chatted a bit with Adam, and made a few decisions about this little coding odyssey of mine.  One thing that didn't change is the final goal.  I want to write code for a living.  What changed is mostly the path to get there.

Originally I thought I would learn as much as I could, and then look for a job.  Some personal stuff got in the way for a while and I got discouraged.  Recently I found my resolve again, and I thought I'm going to be much more mercenary in my approach.  Forget learning everything, I'm going to learn just enough to get a new job, then look at broadening my skills and branching out.  That's just not me, though.

I didn't quite realize it as it was happening, but during the email exchange and my own introspection I decided I'm going to learn and practice, and just see what happens.  Part of this is, for the moment anyway, going back to PHP, which was the first language I learned past the most basic of levels.  I'm certainly no expert, but I'd like to think I'm beyond a beginner.  Maybe a journeyman.

I think for me, for now, this is a good solution.  I recognized a lot of good stuff in C#, but I think it was too different.  I would get tripped up by too many little things.  I could tell they were the type of things that would become second nature eventually and go away, but constantly grinding to a halt to fix these things was very discouraging.

Right now I think it's more important that I make things and I believe PHP will make that easier for me.  I realize this is not all that different from my original plan, except that getting a new job is less of a focus.  I still want it, but I've come to understand that I can't rush it.  I would be a wreck if I thought I had landed a job and wasn't sure I could pull it off.

What's that?  I haven't said anything about resolutions?  Right, I was just getting to that.  I'm going to try to do at least a half hour of programmery stuff every day.  Maybe not Sundays, we'll see.  But the rest of the time.  Whether that's writing code, reading a book abot coding, learning a new concept, whatever.  For the past two days it's been setting up an IDE and AMP stack.  Soon that might involve setting up a Linux box, since Windows is full of enough gremlins that setting up an AMP stack is taking 2 days.

Either way, I think it's more about the journey for me now.  It's odd, because I feel like I'm being both laid back and serious about this.  I'll try to write on here more again, and be more varied.  I have dissertation length rants about how awesome the Thing and the most recent Godzilla movie bubbling away in my brain.  My wife is sick of hearing about it, and if I don't get it out somewhere I think my head will crack.  

Ok, since you're begging for a little taste of that, there are at least 4 nods to the original Godzilla in the most recent one.  They are the year of the atomic testing/attacks to kill Godzilla (1954), the name of the doctor in charge of project Monarch (Serizawa, the name of the doctor from the original), the news story near the end with "King of the Monsters" in the banner (name of the Americanized version of the original), and the opening and closing shots of still water (admittedly, I'm reaching on this one, but it's possible!).

So there's more of that to look forward to...hopefully I'll stick with the plan, and we'll see what happens.  Until next time!

Tuesday
Feb172015

Getting Back on the Horse

The long silence is finally broken.  Without going into too much detail, I had a case of the frownies for a while there.  That's not altogether unusual for me in the winter months, but I think some family stuff made it a little worse.  Regardless of the cause, I feel the cobwebs starting to fade, and the creative juices starting to flow a bit.

I actually wrote some code for the first time in a few months the other day.  Nothing too complicated, just a simple web form that sends an email.  We use a form like that for help requests at work.  The existing one is probably about 12 years old and was made using Frontpage.  It worked, but the code was nearly indecipherable.  We're replacing that server soon, so we wanted to get rid of any of those old frontpage pages.

To make it a little more interesting (both for me and the users) I added some Javascript that will randomly select one of a few different broken computer images each time the page is accessed.  I also added a hidden form element that will submit the IP address of the machine the form was sent from, which will be helpful.

I also volunteered to write a little article on how passwords work for the company newsletter.  I thought that might be fun for people to have an idea how that works.  If it gets accepted I'll post it here.  I'm going to try writing more regularly here, both about coding and the nonsense that entertains me

Sunday
Nov162014

Closures

I'm writing this shortly after my bigfoot/werewolf expose. I'm assuming my revelations are not going to rock the scientific and para-scientific communities to their respective cores, so I should continue documenting my JavaScript odyssey and get a head start on closures.

This was a new and initially mystifying programming concept to me. In some ways it's still mystifying, but it's something that just seemed to make more sense as I thought about it, which is unusual for me. That doesn't sound good, but I mean that I usually only get something when I actually do it. Adding database content to a webpage is a good example of that. I first did that with PHP, and I copied sample code, substituting my own values where appropriate. It made no sense to me until I did it a few times.

I had a different experience with closures. When first learning about them, I found the concept incomprehensible. The basic idea is you write a function, and in that function you write another function, then you return the second function. The trick about it is that any variables you make in the first function are available in the one you return. Normally function variables disappear as soon as the function is over. In this case JS takes that environment created in the first function and tacks it on to the returned function for later reference.

For some reason that clicked in my head in a way that most other novel concepts don't. I did write some sample code to make sure I actually understood, and it worked. Stuff like that always makes me a little philosophical. Curious about how the brain works.

I discussed this a bit with mentor Adam, and he said closures don't come up a lot for him, and when they do it's usually somewhat esoteric, where he needs an original value of a variable that would otherwise be inaccessible. Neither of us could come up with an example of that, but I understand what he means.

I was a little surprised at that, because it seemed to me that closures were a great way to reuse simple variable names without having to worry that you've already used that variable name somewhere else. Admittedly, I'm approaching this from a theoretical position and he's approaching it from a functional one. It may well turn out that once I start really writing code that I don't turn to closures nearly as often as I think I will while learning about them.

I think the next step for me is going to be getting back into writing code. It's been tough lately. I think it's a combination of the weather changing and some personal family stuff. I've had a lot of trouble summoning the will or energy to do much of anything. Even writing this has been a struggle. I'm sure these feelings will pass, as they always do, I just wish I knew a way to speed things along.

Thursday
Nov132014

How I Know My Wife Still Loves Me

Not that I have any doubts (I mean, c'mon, it's me, right?), but every now and then something comes up that lets me know she's not sick of my nonsense yet.  One of those things came up yesterday.  Prior to that, it was getting me a calendar featuring goats in trees.  Now, I didn't even know goats in trees was a thing.  It seems all the pictures are from Morocco, but I'm sure it happens elsewhere.  Anyway, at some point in the last few years I've developed a fondness for goats.  I have no idea why or when it happened, but there's just something about them.  I even looked into whether we could get a goat, but it's illegal where we are.  So she knows about the goat thing.  She also knows that the only real criteria I have for a calendar is it has to be bizarre.  Needless to say, the goats in trees calendar delighted me to no end.  Here's a representative example of goats tooling around in trees.  You can search Google and get hundreds more like this, and there are a number of youtube videos of it as well.  

Ok, so that was the previous time, what was it this time?  Basically, I have started going to the gym more (as in, more than none, which is what I was doing before) and I'm working with a trainer.  I found out my trainer just turned 21 not too long ago, which is one of a few times I have actually felt old.  The other time was at work.  They send out anniversary emails each month, and one of the call center people informed me that she was 13 when I started working there.


Sorry, I got off track there.  So my trainer is young, but has surprisingly good taste (meaning he likes things I like).  So I decided I'm going to give him a cultural workout by introducing him to the very best sci-fi horror movies ever made.  These are, of course, The Thing (82), and Alien.  I figured I should also throw in one of the best action movies ever made, Aliens.  Before lending them, though, I rewatched them, and it really rekindled my love of Alien.  It used to just be fun and scary, but watching it now there's a certain artistic flair to it that I'm really drawn to.

So what does this have to do with the proof of my wife's love?  She sent me this in an email yesterday

Friday
Oct312014

The True Explanation of Bigfoot

This is actually a coincidence that this is coming out on Halloween. I intended to write this up a week or so ago, just never got around to it (like everything). Anyway...

Every now and then I become infatuated with the paranormal. I believe that the vast majority, if not all, reports of paranormal activity are cases of apophenia. That is one of my favorite words, and it basically means recognizing patterns in randomness. That being said, some of the stories are fascinating, and I find myself getting drawn in from time to time. Aliens are a perennial favorite, as is the Jersey Devil and the Amityville house. This is about none of those. This is about bigfoot.

Normally I'm not a big fan of the bigfoot stuff. My interest in this stuff is seemingly random, so I can't offer any explanation about why I never usually get into the bigfoot stories. The only thing that stands out is that I'm also in the middle of a recent spike in my affection for the northwest. Much like the paranormal, my affection for the Pacific Northwest waxes and wanes, and this just happens to be a time when both are in full swing.

For the uninitiated, bigfoot is the golden boy of the cryptid community in the Pacific Northwest. I don't know if bigfoot and the forests here are quite as synonymous as the Jersey Devil and the pine barrens, but it's close. Many a local business will include bigfoot in some capacity in their advertising. I've seen cartoon versions on shopping bags, pizza boxes, there have even been local exhibits dedicated to the big guy in some museums around here.

So what's the deal? Some believe bigfoot is a missing link in human evolution that's survived undetected for all these years. Others believe it is a primate, but unrelated to humans. Those are some of the more reasonable explanations. I've heard theories that the reason we can never find evidence of bigfoot is because they live in another dimension and only pop over here occasionally.

The skeptics point out that if bigfoot is actually a real thing, then there needs to be a significant breeding population of them to perpetuate the species, which means it would be basically impossible for them to avoid detection.

Now I know what you're thinking. "Thanks for the bigfoot 101 class, but what's the REAL deal?" Ok, so here goes. Consider the werewolf. Now we all take it for granted that werewolves are humans that turn into wolves during the full moon. But think about it. Why would humans turn into wolves? It makes no sense. The true explanation is that humans turn into a type of were-ape, better known as bigfoot. Feel free to take a break now, as I'm sure your mind was just blown.

You're back? Good. I think this is a phenomenon that affects almost all species. Ever seen a wolf spider? They're big, hairy spiders that prowl around and pounce on prey instead of making webs. They're a type of were-spider! That's why you never see little wolf spider nests or baby wolf spiders. They're not an actual species, just transformed regular spiders.

I know what you're thinking again: "Okay, smart guy, explain why this stuff shows up all the time instead of just during the full moon". That's fair, and I acknowledge it's a potential hole in my theory. All I can point to is that the whole full moon thing was thought up a long time ago. Times were tough back then, people had a lot more to worry about than what phase of the moon was responsible for turning people into monsters. It probably seemed like it happened a lot during full moons, and that became an accepted part of the legend. Related to that, I think it's regular dogs that turn into werewolves. It's the only thing that makes sense, right?

I think the beauty of this theory lies in its simplicity. Why can we never find bigfoot corpses in the woods? Simple, the infected people are only bigfoot for a short amount of time. That's why we can't find conclusive proof. This also explains the lack of a breeding population. The whole world is a potential breeding population!

Stephen Hawking is known for attempting to create a unified theory that explains the two dominant schools of thought on physics. And where he has failed, I have succeeded in crafting a unified theory of werewolves and bigfoot. This may mark a turning point in my career. I might just have to give up IT and programming to become a professional monster hunter/talking head on those paranormal shows that all the rage these days. We'll see. If I'm talking about closures in a few days then I guess the real life X-Files thing didn't pan out.