January, 2008 Archive
January 30th, 2008 by chris in Regular Stuff
Oh man, I finally did it. An actual splash page. You know what this means, don’t you? A splash page is the gateway drug of web site development, since I have one I may as well expand my horizons and follow up with a full-blown site addiction.
I’ve actually been working on my website quite feverishly for the past week and a half. I’ve got the content written, but it hasn’t been vetted by anyone yet. I chose a color scheme (which I am not revealing yet) but don’t have a layout designed, although it’ll probably be the standard 2-column with a header and footer dealie that every company seems to have. I guess they have those sites because they work. Whodathunkit huh?
Maybe I’ll use a ton of animated .GIF files and some moving backgrounds. Oh, you know what else would be great? MIDI or WAV files that auto-play, and just to be sure you hear it I’ll make sure to amp it up and put lots of high-pitched sounds like screaming kids or something. You know what else people like? Bold Comic Sans in pink over a fucia background. And clip art.
Either way, I’m just excited that there’s some forward momentum with this. Business has been picking up quickly and projects are beginning to come in. I need more though, the mortgage monster demands to be fed.
January 29th, 2008 by chris in Regular Stuff
Hey! I know you’re reading this! I got your emails and replied to them — check your spam folder!
(10 bucks says he didn’t know he had a spam folder!)
January 28th, 2008 by chris in Regular Stuff
No wonder they chose a word that rhymes with “confusion” to name their “language”. One of the sites I’ve been working on for flyte was done in Coldfusion and it’s driving me insane. I’m not a Dreamweaver user, I do my sites by hand because I’m cantankerous and old-fashioned. I also think tacos are too spicy and prefer to eat my steak through a straw*. I guess my main beef with it is that I have to mix my code and my design elements together that makes things messy. And there, I think, is the heart of my issue: I don’t like messy code, I crave order and structure in my programming so that I may have disorder and chaos in the visually creative world.
Ever since PHP gained OO capabilities, they were less than stellar but a step in the right direction. Now they’re improved (esp. now with some actual namespace support) and I’ve made it my choice for rapid web development using MVC architectural patterns. I’m not attempting to start a flame war. I do not dislike any of the other languages or framework systems out there, but it’s got a familiar syntax, is well supported, and does everything I need it do to with reasonable amounts of speed. If not PHP, then I work in Java, for most of the same reasons; plus with XSL I can actually port between languages for the heavy lifting without having to make changes to my templates.
So, here I am, trying to get as much as I can done with CF and it’s been slow going. Sometimes I think it almost needs DW to be effectively programmed with any real speed. Of course I know that’s not true because of how similar it is to many other markup languages, it’s just a little smarter. I think that’s where it becomes more difficult to work with, because it does emulate many language features, but inside of a markup format that I’m not familiar with using. That’s where Dreamweaver would come in real handy.
The purpose of me writing this is to vent some frustration while I’m working on this site. I need to do so many things that I know how to do so well in other languages, such as parsing delimited files, graphics manipulation, input validation, and more. I’m almost positive I could do most (if not all) of those things, but it just doesn’t seem to be sinking in how to do it because I keep having to look at design elements alongside the code which confuses me to no end.
Does that make me some kind of snob? I mean, after all, myspace is done in CF. Actually, that almost helps me rest my case because it’s such a terrible looking site. I can’t help but think that if they had used an MVC-capable and extensible language they could have at least made it less hideous. As I like to say, it’s eye-gougingly good. This wasn’t meant to be a rail on that horrible site, but I can’t help myself - when the opportunity is presented, I simply must accept.
But really… does that make me a snob? That I don’t like these new fangled coding techniques? Am I some sort of dinosaur? Am I holding on too tight to my C and Pascal memories from years gone by? Or am I one of those people who has to buy the loaded version of something even if I’m only going to use one or two parts? I think a combination of both, but is that so bad? I think I’d almost like to be called a ‘purist’ when it comes to my development style. I look at some of the new stuff coming along, and I keep feeling like I need to give up a lot of control in the name of speeding things up.
Maybe the moral here is: if you take your time, do it right, and are comfortable, it doesn’t matter which language(s) you use, as long as you use them well. Crap. Now I feel like getting back into it. Thanks, blog.
* Both of those statements are lies
January 24th, 2008 by chris in Regular Stuff
Wow, never thought I’d get so into this, but I’ve been playing with Final Cut — and loving it! I shot some video the other day of a pair of wolf hybrids that I walk occasionally. A client contacted Peace of Mind Pals, and I was asked if I wanted to do this because the person specifically requested a male dog walker. Always up for a challenge, I accepted the assignment, met these dogs, and now I’m in love with them. Don’t get me wrong, nothing will ever replace my Goldens, but these two guys I’m taking care of are really something special. Ok, enough gushing about dogs, I’ve got other things to gush about…
I really wanted to capture these guys on film, so I took my Canon GL-2 over on a visit with me, put in a fresh tape and battery, and let the camera run until the tape ran out. We climbed on the rocks, went down to the water, slipped on some seaweed, and then just had a quick headbiting session–all on tape. When I got home, I captured the video, then started messing about with Final Cut Express. I can’t believe how easy they made this. My lengthy history with computers aside, I found this app to be so easy to get started and comfortable with, like it was designed for me.
Being a stranger in a strange land, I didn’t think I’d be able to pick this up with such ease! And, sure, I had to make a few trips to the user guide, which was even more of a treat. I think the reason I’m writing this is because I kept procrastinating playing around with this because I thought it was going to be brain-bustingly difficult. I’m not a creative pro (even though I know many, it never seemed to rub off on me) but sitting down to do this just made all the sense in the world. What was funny is that I had always used iMovie and was never quite satisfied. Turns out I could have been doing some very cool stuff all along.
My first experience consisted of a single 60-minute clip. I never hit pause on the camcorder, I just let the tape run and caught everything that happened. It wasn’t super interesting for the most part. There was even a section of about 28 minutes that had nothing but waves crashing ashore. That’s really pretty nice actually. Did I mention I get to do this dog walk at a cliffside property directly adjacent to Two Lights State Park?
Within an hour I had nailed down turning markers into independent clips, and how to make subclips of those, too. I had created a multi-track sequence complete with audio and video transitions to keep things smooth, and just for good measure I added some titles. My next thing is going to be to add a music soundtrack to some of the headbiting and nosing scenes. Turns out you can shuttle through the video, hit the ` key to make a marker, rinse, repeat. When you’re done, click the little turndown arrow next to the clip in the browser and you’ll see your markers. I created a new bin (folder) to put my clips into, selected all the markers, dragged them into the new bin, and voila! clips! Then I created a new sequence (closed the original one first) and started dragging my clips into the timeline. When I had them in the order I wanted and had tweaked the start/end points, I opened the Effects tab of the browser and dragged down some transitions.
It took me longer to export the video to Quicktime and DivX than it did to do the actual editing. I’m still amazed.
Ok, I’m done gushing about this. I guess I never realized I had a videographer buried in me. If nothing else, I’ve found an excellent new hobby for myself, which now I’m sad took this long for me to figure out. I’ve had this camera for about a year now and never knew just how much I could get from it. I’m not the Aspiring Director or anything, but now at least I know I can do some fun stuff when out with the dogmutts that will carry over to home.
January 22nd, 2008 by chris in Regular Stuff
Did you know that a full 3% of last week’s visits to my site came from my former place of employment? And I want to know how my site came up when they searched for “bad blogs on in—–care”*. I said lots of nice things about the company, just not the dimwit who’s been running the show! Wow, even Google thinks I’m disingenuous!
Ok, that was it for now.
*broke it up because I don’t need more search hits associated with them
January 21st, 2008 by chris in Regular Stuff
…when will you get it? The insurance and drug companies are not going to provide you with the correct tools to provide proper MTM (Medication Therapy Management) services! Take it from someone who worked at one of the companies charged with providing commodity MTMS: your patients’ best interests will not be served. Isn’t that why medical industry practitioners get into the field — to help people? I agree that the financial benefits are pretty sweet, but don’t you think that you should be providing a level of care that justifies those invoices? I firmly believe that all clinicians enter the business for the right reasons, but then end up getting swayed by some pretty powerful lobbies out there. And it’s only getting worse.
Never mind what the pharmaceutical companies try and foist on you. Follow your instincts, your training, your heart: give the patients what they deserve. MTM is an up-and-coming answer to a problem that big pharmaceuticals have caused by flooding the market with so many drugs: it helps patients manage their drug therapies and manage their diseases and conditions better. One extremely common result is that when a pharmacist (someone who is actually trained to know which compounds are active) sees the whole picture, they can often reduce the total number of meds being taken by a patient. Sometimes that’s achieved by combining a med, other times by suggesting alternative therapies whose side effects may be the treatment for another ailment.
This is a big deal, people. As a consumer, I personally find a lot of comfort in knowing that there is an unbiased, independent, thoughtful, caring person willing to provide this service to me. Sure, I do have a personal bias because I am a minority equity holder in the PillHelp Company, but I wouldn’t be involved unless this was something I believed in. I wrote the software that powers PillHelp, and I did it for far* below my standard rate. I’ve been working on it for more than three years now, and have been nothing but discouraged by the lack of conviction being displayed by these pharmacists. Recently, a large chain opted to not license the PillHelp Works software, and instead joined forces with an insurance company. What this did was effectively remove authoritative oversight from the hands of the people who should have it, and instead handed it back to the conglomerates to try and figure out which drugs they can get cheaper while still collecting the same premiums from their customers.
MTM is an opportunity to insert checks and balances into an industry that is quickly beginning to run amok. The earnings potential is very high (or else why would insurance companies be doing it??) and the health benefit potential is even higher. So, my point here is to tell these silly pharmacists to stop resting on their laurels, go out there and do something more than dispense pills, and get onto the next phase of your trade’s evolution.
*0 dollars is far below my standard rate
January 19th, 2008 by chris in Regular Stuff
What is it with people always telling me how smart I am?* And how rich I could be if I used said smarts? We’ve already determined that for whatever reason, people in positions of authority don’t seem to be too keen on me, and I can’t seem to market myself well (ok, at all). I know lots of stuff, and I’ve got what amounts to being nearly a photographic memory. But I’m not just good at regurgitating the information I’ve consumed, I’m also good at processing it, maximizing its sweet, sweet nutrients, and then morphing it to serve a purpose.
Just today someone said to me that I “just get it” when a concept is presented to me. I seem to know where I fit into something and have no problem with boundaries. My problem always comes up when someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about tries to come over into my territory. Call it a personality flaw or whatever, but I don’t like people nosing into my business when they have no reason to other than for some ego satisfaction. The way I look at it is that I’m hired to do a job, and if left to get it done, I will, and I’ll do it exceptionally well. We can’t all be perfect, right? I know that this brave new world we’re living in is full of social networking, group-think, and uninhibited collaboration, but sometimes it’s just good to do some things by yourself.
My last boss, during a dressing-down session (that I benefited from tremendously) called me “the smartest person in the building”. Coming from him, that meant a lot. But he was also telling me that if I didn’t get my shit together, the hammer was going to drop and it was going to hit me square on the head. Hard. The problem with being the “smartest person in the building” is that a lot of people feel very threatened by me. They think I’m being disingenuous or condescending. If there’s anything that my friends and people close to me know, I am neither of those things. My kid brother screamed at me one day for using a specific tone of voice, because he thought I was trying to get something from him. Well, I was. I was trying to get him to shut the hell up and calm down.
I get people excited. Not always in a good way. I’m also one of those people that you’re either a huge fan of, or you just can’t stand to be around. That’s too bad, but it also seems like one of the curses of being smrt. The other thing is that I’m not one of those intellectually smart people. I do read, quite often actually, and not just comic books. Although I do enjoy my comix a great deal. My loss on Jeopardy! would be astounding and magnificent. But, when it comes to my tech, I’m pretty much the authority among the people I know.
Whelp, done stroking my own ego. I just felt like it was necessary to share how proud I am that someone new noticed my luminosity :-)
*Here in Maine, I think they call it “wikkid smaht”
January 18th, 2008 by chris in Regular Stuff
Holy cow has it been a long time since I’ve written this much code in such a short time. For the past couple of years my focus has been mainly on infrastructure and hardware services, and less so on the software development front. Right now I’ve got three websites worth of PHP code to finish up, and then my big PillHelp Works SAML interface for secure data exchange. Thankfully on the PHW side of things I had been using the JBoss suite for the past year and a half, so integrating SAML was actually kind of a walk in the park. The PHP stuff isn’t challenging so much as it’s voluminous.
I wish I could say I was developing some super-amazing new stuff, but I’m really not. Although I am definitely doing it in a different way from what my contract holder has seen. I’m using all object-oriented PHP, using a 100% XML-based data structure. What this means is that I can use XSL to lay out pages, working with AJAX is easy, and the data can be syndicated, traded, or otherwise disseminated with very little effort and with great ease down the road. I can’t think of any other PHP sites I’ve done that have worked this way, although other people have been doing them for quite some time. I confess that I did end up writing a couple of shortcut helper functions to handle things like loading templates and loading objects because working with XSL in PHP is a fairly redundant piece of business.
When I was at Intellicare, I kept thinking about how much fun it would have been to get some kind of coding project. Even a small one. I actually missed doing this, can you believe it? Although I know in a year I’m going to say the same thing about infrastructure and systems administration. That’s one of the reasons I ended up deciding to go it alone, because I’d have the opportunity to do anything I wanted, and if other work came in, I could just subcontract it out.
The SAML stuff is coming along really well. I think that was my inspiration for doing these new PHP sites in a very XML-heavy way - part of it has to do with it being so much easier to move between languages and not have to think about the data presentation layers so much because at least that much is handled the same way.
Oh, did I mention I’ve had the displeasure of having to work on a site written in ColdFusion? I don’t know what it is that I don’t like about it, other than being forced to combine the HTML and code together even if I don’t want to. I stopped doing that with PHP a bazillion* years ago. It kind of figures a site as horribly reprehensible as myspace would be done in CFML. I shudder thinking of them, the deadly duo.
Someday I may get down to writing about how much I dislike that I have three different programming editors (ZDE, Komodo, and Eclipse) because each of them has huge strengths depending on which language(s) I’m working in at the time. I don’t want to get started on that now, I’ll be sitting here all night whining and complaining.
Back to coding. I’ll try and stop before my brain melts out my ears. If that happens, my dogs would lap it up before I had a chance to scoop it back into my head.
*My spell checker did NOT barf on “bazillion”. Nice.
January 17th, 2008 by chris in Regular Stuff
It seems like I should be far better at making my own business website than I have been. I’ve been going through draft after draft of ideas about what I should be writing, how to present it, and how to attract customers without coming across as just some run-of-the-mill IT guy. I know how to do so much stuff, and I’m excellent with my clients, yet I can’t seem to get it together when it comes to marketing myself. I keep getting tripped up on how to categorize what it is I do, what it is my associates do, and how we all come together to offer a concise plan of attack to get the job done. I never thought this is where I’d get all hung up, but it seems to be a pretty common thing amongst the technologists I know. I’m more than just some ideas and a few words on a blog. I have a lot to offer just about any company that has a computer!
I think one of the things that’s keeping me down is that I’ve tried to go down this road before and failed. Nothing like being a little gunshy right from the start, but there’s little I can do about it other than go back to work at a ‘regular’ job and continue feeling like I’m being underutilized.
So the things that keep running through my mind all seem to have to do with how to get the message out, and not so much about what the message is. The problem with that is I’m going about it in reverse: I should be writing down my message (services, expertise, resources, etc.) and THEN trying to get it out to the people. But how? Where do I even begin. I made an outline of all the things I could do, using my resume as a starting point. I then moved on from there trying to come up with an outline of my skills, suggested solutions, and past experiences. That’s where I’m stuck now. I need to elaborate and make it something worth reading and digesting, something that screams out “YES! This is our guy!”.
I keep wondering how many more people there are like me out there. Since I’ve never done the consulting thing full-time, I don’t know how to acquire customers. Reaching them has so far been through word-of-mouth, or purely by accident. I know there are tons of places out there that must need my services, or else there wouldn’t be so many other consultants in the world!
Anyone got some ideas on this one? In the meantime, I’m going to continue plugging away at this.
January 15th, 2008 by chris in Regular Stuff
I really do. I think the thing is one of the nicest little pieces of tech that’s been introduced in a long time. And not just because I’m some sort of fanboi or that I want to have Steve Jobs’ baby. I love the display, the simplicity of the device, and its ergonomics. As far as a smartphone goes, it does pretty much the same stuff as the others, but in a more elegant and refined way. It has decent reception and call clarity, the rate plan seems fair, and normal actions such as SMS are even made to look more like what you would see on your desktop. iChat anyone? I’m not going to get into how great it is, as everyone’s already beat me to riding that bandwagon (into the ground…)
Get this: it can’t tell you how long I was on the phone with Jim for this afternoon. They can make it find out where I am on Google maps, I can put icons of bookmarks in the menu, I can send an SMS about the drawbridge being up at a bad time to 5 people at once. I can watch clips of a guy getting punched in the nuts, view PDF attachments, or take a picture of my dogs headbiting. But it can’t tell time.
You’ve got to be kidding.
My former cell phone, the 99-cent special, could do that. Actually, now that I think about it, ever single phone I’ve owned since the decline of the analog networks has been able to tell me how long I was on a call for. I make money by billing for my time. I can go onto the AT&T site, but it’s slow as hell (poorly coded using servlets) and sometimes my calls aren’t available for 48 hours. Oh, and when my statement closes, I can’t view my calls for several days. By some stroke of genius, my statement period closes at the end of the month, the same time I do my invoicing. How convenient - the irony is not lost on me.
I know they didn’t make this phone for businesses. As a matter of fact, you can’t even put an iPhone onto a calling plan that isn’t owned by an individual. If you don’t have a social security number on your contract, you’re not getting an iPhone. I had originally wrote something about this being a way of keeping the terrorists from getting their hands on tech, but then I changed it because I was getting off-topic.
So, now I’m going to ask: Please? Pretty please? With sugar on top? Can I have my friggin’ call duration?