Thursday, August 31, 2006

Another CSS BMG

What started as a simple project, do a simple but attractive style sheet for a friend's new blog, is turning into a minor annoyance due to CSS, Blogger's CSS and IE. So y'all are going to read yet another CSS BMG (bitch, moan and gripe).

The first BMG is directed at Blogger. Blogger inserts two CSS files for the bar at the top of the blog, one for general layout and one of six for colors. Part of beauty of CSS is that styles cascade from defaults down to inline styles. In other words, if you set the font and color for all paragraph tags then all paragraph tags will have those settings; if you override the color on one via class or id attribute the font will still apply. Well, that screwed me in two ways. First, my settings for margin and padding for all DIV tags were not altered by Blogger's top bar causing layout disaster. If Blogger is going to go through the trouble of overriding every other tag they should ensure every tag they use has every single margin, padding, line-spacing, font, etc. attribute set to not rely upon browser defaults. Second, Blogger's CSS will alter the margins for DIV tags with the IDs of "wrap", "wrap1","wrap2","wrap3" and "wrapper". Here I am banging my head against the wall attempting to find out why I can't move a DIV down no matter what the padding setting on my DIV#wrap was.

The last BMG is directed at Microsoft and that blankety-blank unfixed piece of crap that is IE6. Most Blogger templates use a clear:both or clear:right on the footer DIV so the footer clears the rightmost DIV (usually "recent posts", links, etc.). If you have a DIV that clears inside of another DIV it ignores the margins of the containing DIV. The result in this case is that the content in the left margin gets set to the background color of the containing DIV. Nice. Firefox and Opera render the template without flaw. A Google search puked out about 659,000 hits on the topic of IE quirks with CSS, floats and clear. Using "clear:both" on any element other than a BR, after a "float:right", causes the left border of a higher-level container (in this case a DIV) to be lost in IE6Win. That did the trick.

What's really sad is the number of "hacks" out there to get a "standard" like CSS to display correctly in a browser. Microsoft is clearly the most flagrant violator but Mozilla, Firefox and Opera have and have had their quirks as well over the years. This is fine example of how the computer fails us. It's not like there aren't tests out there (for years now) to assist browser developers in implementing an adequate standard. I'm sure there is massive work to be done behind the scenes, work that probably isn't feasible if you have limited funds or another operating system to shove out the door. When I look back, though, at the man-hours and effort lost to software that does not work or requires "hacks" to get around, and multiply that times how many other nerds like me suffering with this as well, I can't help but feel a little bitter about computer programming. Users deserve better.

Real-life Dilbert-type managers

I've seen these before, but they are always worth a chuckle...

A magazine recently ran a "Dilbert Quotes" contest, looking for people to submit quotes from their real-life Dilbert-type managers. These were voted the top quotes in corporate America:

  1. "As of tomorrow, employees will only be able to access the building using individual security cards. Pictures will be taken next Wednesday, and employees will receive their cards in two weeks." (This was the winning quote from Fred Dales, Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, WA)
  2. "What I need is an exact list of specific unknown problems we might encounter." (Lykes Lines Shipping)
  3. "E-mail is not to be used to pass on information or data. It should be used only for company business." (Accounting manager, Electric Boat Company)
  4. "This project is so important we can't let things that are more important interfere with it." (Advertising/Marketing manager, United Parcel Service)
  5. "Doing it right is no excuse for not meeting the schedule." (Plant Manager, Delco Corporation)
  6. "No one will believe you solved this problem in one day! We've been working on it for months. Now go act busy for a few weeks and I'll let you know when it's time to tell them." (R&D supervisor, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing/3M Corp.)
  7. Quote from the Boss: "Teamwork is a lot of people doing what I say." (Marketing executive, Citrix Corporation)
  8. My sister passed away and her funeral was scheduled for Monday. When I told my Boss, he said she died on purpose so that I would have to miss work on the busiest day of the year. He then asked if we could change her burial to Friday. He said, "That would be better for me." (Shipping executive, FTD Florists)
  9. "We know that communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with the employees." (Switching supervisor, AT&T Long Lines Division)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I'm seeing rotation

Possible tornado in Pickaway CountyLast night around 6pm or so we had some bad weather come trucking through town; bad weather that included tornado warnings. Of course, whenever anything above a gust appears around here the weather folks on the local news stations wet themselves and go into street-level doppler radar continuous coverage full-on geek erection mode.

I heard about the cell in Pickaway county just as I pulled into the garage. One of the kids called later to ask if we heard about the warning, I said yeah, but after turning on the news there was on just south and east of us heading northeast. Guh-reat. Now here was where the weather nerds got annoying. They would be jabbering amongst themselves and "zooming-in" with "street-level" radar and all you would see is a big yellow blob on the television. C'mon how the hell are we supposed to know where the storm is if we can't see where it is. Zoom back out you dipsticks! I got annoyed with NBC4 and went to ABC6; they were vacant and confused so I ended up at WBNS 10tv. Unlike the other stations they weren't hysterical. Their forecaster actually apologized for interrupting programming but a "tornado warning" took precidence.

The other frustrating point of the evening was the dozens of people calling in with "I saws me some rotation" and "there was rotation" and "Yup, rotation". Could anyone get actual authorities on the line; y'know someone that might actually know if that formation in the sky was actually a funnel cloud, a tornado, or just a storm cloud?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Operation F-Windows Part Two

UbuntuThe "family" file server that was running Windows 2003 Server on an IDEQ-210B mini computer is now Ubuntu Linux 6.06 LTS on the same computer plus an additional 3-Com Gigabit NIC and 400GB Seagate SATA drive to replace the 200GB Seagate PATA.

The conversion was fairly straight forward. I installed the server image using the LAMP option, used a post-install script to update /etc/apt/sources.list, install all additional software, upgrade existing software and apply fixes, then I manually set up Samba. I'm putting the finishing touches on the firewall before I open the machine up to incoming connections from the Internet. All LAN traffic is isolated on the GB NIC while traffic coming from the Internet (and going to it) is restricted to the on-board 10/100 NIC.

I installed the Fluxbox window manager so I can use the mySQL administrator and I am considering the installation of VMWare Virtual Server to isolate various pieces on virtual machines; perhaps even a Windows 2000 Server just for nostalgia or if I want to run Windows programs without having to deal with Wine.

I have to say that I'm happy with the outcome so far. The next big test, really big test, is to see if Ubuntu desktop is good enough for my parents who are looking to step out of the Windows 98SE/dialup world into Yahoo! DSL - which is claiming to require Windows XP. I asked if they wanted to try Linux before plopping down $80 on some version of XP, which makes sense. If it doesn't work, spend the money but if it does, spend that money on yourselves for raising such a fine, well adjusted young man (yes, it's my brother, but that's beside the point).

Spam flood

My main Yahoo! account just received 366 bulk mail messages in two hours. That's about three every minute. I can guarantee every single one of them came from a list over seven years old.

It seems like every spammer will use the line "it's not causing you any harm, just delete them from your inbox if you don't want to read them". That really isn't the problem here. The two problems are 1) it isn't feasible for a person like me to go through the three messages per minute looking for mail that got accidentally marked as spam so I have to result to the "Empty all" feature and hope nothing got flushed by accident, and 2) think of all the wasted traffic and space - if these bulk mailers are blowing their worthless and unwanted wad on a million accounts that's easily over a billion (trillion) bytes of waste.

They are all bottom feeding garbage.

Monday, August 21, 2006

New low point in correctness

from "Tom and Jerry" smoking scenes to be cut after complaint : Reuters

A channel airing the cartoons has agreed to cut scenes that glamorize smoking after British media regulator Ofcom received a complaint from a viewer who took offence at two episodes.

In the first, "Texas Tom," the hapless cat Tom tries to impress a feline female by rolling a cigarette, lighting it and smoking it with one hand. In the second, "Tennis Chumps," Tom's opponent in a match smokes a large cigar.

I grew up watching Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry cartoons (largely unedited) and as I am nearing the big four-oh I can't help but get sickened by such blatant sissification of the human race. I don't smoke. I'm pretty damned sure I can make my own decisions about smoking without some British wuss's input. What's really sad is the Tom and Jerry cartoons have already been butchered to make them ethically, racially, socially and just about everyally correct that I get offended every time I see them. I remember every missing scene. "Didn't Bugs shoot Yosemite Sam in the head, there?"

Ugly...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Loving Husband...

A man and his ever-nagging wife went on vacation to Jerusalem. While they were there, the wife passed away. The undertaker told the husband, "You can have her shipped home for $5,000, or you can bury her here, in the Holy Land, for $150." The man thought about it and told him he would just have her shipped home.

The undertaker asked, "Why would you spend $5,000 to ship your wife home, when it would be wonderful to be buried here and you would spend only $150?"

The man replied, "Long ago a man died here, was buried here, and three days later he rose from the dead. I just can't take that chance."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I Object! (part two)

Back in April I had a rant on object oriented programming so I guess this rant is an extension; think of it as bitch plus plus.

I should start off by saying I'm not very friendly towards computer methodology purists; those folks that see the world one way and only one way and any deviation from that is a sin against their god and you therefore kill babies in blenders, eat puppies, etc. I usually take the viewpoint of "code has to be written somewhere, might as well write in the location where it is most efficient and where it will get the most use." Unfortunately, throughout history (long), that viewpoint seems to get me into arguments with the purists because some of the time doing so will break one of the rules of their methodology. I guess the best way to explain this would be to look at a strict, multi-tier object oriented structure.

data service object
provides standardized properties and methods to data objects to isolate them from the physical RDBMS.
data object
creates and uses data service object to
  • delete a stored object by unique ID
  • create or update a stored object by unique ID
  • read a collection of records by unique ID or other searchable field
(aka CRUD) and uses business entities
  • map columns to/from business entity properties
  • requires a business entity to create, read, update or delete
  • creates and returns a collection of business entities for read requests
business entity
contains only properties, overriden methods and constructors
business object
creates and uses data objects to
  • save and delete business entities
  • read business entities
  • search for business entities by searchable field(s)
uses business entities for
  • evaluation of business rules
business objects do not (appear to) have a state (i.e. are stateless);
presentation objects
create (or not?) and use a business object to
  • fetch data that needs to be presented
  • evaluate and store data in business entities

Of course, this structure is just one of a couple dozen "standard" ways of implementing this kind of methodology and there are hundreds of books that would support and/or refute line-by-line everything mentioned above but I'll just go with it but keep my points to a minimum so you don't get bored, teary-eyed, listless and then run off to surf porn.

Why must all business logic be in the business object?

Example #1: in a table containing 14.5 million rows you need to update 1 million rows that meet specific criteria. Do you:

  1. Run a process that creates a business object that creates a data object that retrieves 1 million rows creating a business entity object for each row then returns that collection of objects to the business object which loops through the collection one record at a time making updates to the business entity and using the data object to save the changed business entity (with the data object creating, using then destroying a data service object 1 million and 1 times)?
  2. Run a process that creates a business object that creates a data object that creates a data service object that tells the database to do the whole damn update?

Of course the answer is "depends, does somebody want a report?" because if that "Coke-bottle glasses wearing paper-hoarding genetic mutation that can find a report from March 4, 1982 in a nine foot stack of green bar" wants a report you really can't just pass the whole event to the database – might as well do the whole object tossing process. However, if you want it done in the most efficient manner possible you go to the database, which is already optimized to do such a thing.

Example #2: you need a collection of objects where the selection criteria are not only in the object but in associated objects with 1-1 and 1-many relationships between the two. Do you:

  1. Run a process that creates a business object that creates data objects for each type of object then uses the driving data object to retrieve the initial set of data creating a business entity object for each row then returns that collection of objects to the business object which loops through each of them using the associated data objects to create business entities for each associated record evaluating all criteria adding the business entity to another collection of selected records?
  2. Run a process that creates a business object that creates a data object to fetch a collection of records using pre-defined criteria in both objects to call a database procedure to fetch the result set creating business entities for each row then returning them in a collection to the business object?

If you are the object oriented guru you say the second option, of course.

Huh?

But I thought rules for valuation and evaluation had to be in the business layer because the database shouldn't know how to calculate a balance or determine how old someone is (it should only know how to handle CRUD). Apparently the duplication of logic and relocation of code is acceptable in this case because it provides a more practical and efficient view of "read only" data (I forget what the actual word for this was but it made me just want to say "why don't you simply it read-only instead of something obscure like neojurassient"). Well why not move update logic to the database as well? "No, no, no that violates the rules of separation of business from persistence" they would say as I cocked my head like a dog trying to equate his owner's noises to "am I going to get fed" or "can I go pee on something".

Example #3: you have your three tier framework as solid as a rock then along comes department X (with the blessing of the CEO behind them) with a completely different architecture written in a completely different language. They need minimal read and update integration with your RDBMS. Do you:

  1. Count your blessings because you moved such logic to your RDBMS so everybody who needs to use it can use it?
  2. Create an entirely new layer to interface the two languages?

Of course, you silly fool, the answer is the second one. You write a service and let the foreign system interface with yours using the service. I try to comprehend where the "service" component fits in and my best guess is that it is between the presentation and business logic. I seem to remember Enterprise Java Beans having a similar construct with the "stubs" on the presentation and application tiers talking to each other via RMI (?). Or would the service be a business object? To me the only standard thing between all of these languages and tiers is all of them can talk to a database right out of the box but need a service, web service, RMI, etc. to talk to each other. Seems stupid, doesn't it? I'm not advocating opening up a database to the Internet at all (no way). But it seems like, again, that the higher up the tier the code goes, the more beneficial it is to multiple tiers beneath it and more beneficial to the database in terms of efficiency.

Quote from "Java Enterprise Best Practices"; In spite of my recommendations to avoid stored procedures, there are valid reasons for using them. Specifically, stored procedures can significantly speed up some very complex database operations and encapsulate complex transaction logic. The rule of thumb in these situations is to write the application using prepared statements first and identify the bottlenecks and complexities. Once you have identified them, manage them by moving special cases to the database in the form of stored procedures. If the changes are designed to improve performance and are successful, keep the changes just in those bottlenecks. Also, stored procedures allow the DBA to handle the database logic and allow the programmer to use just the exposed hooks. But, no matter what, never resort to placing business logic into stored procedures!

Okay, just how the hell does this work, add separate code for these cases? Business entities (entity beans in this case) use a persistence manager to load and save themselves. Properties are mapped to/from columns via your code, a meta-data based framework, or by the container. But you still have a one-to-one relationship between "types" of business objects. The "more efficient in this case" stored procedure is going to be doing most if not all of the complex transaction. I assume this involves a number of tables and records at the simplest level (persist all of these records) or some business logic (if this situation exists, do this, etc. in addition to persisting data). Does the business object (session bean) bypass the business entity and perform a direct action through the data service (through a special business entity)?

Does anybody understand why I get frustrated sometimes? It just seems to me that through all of this decoupling, separation and redundancy this whole ideology is adding a lot more physical code, more hardware requirements and the need for more resources to manage the latter with the same amount of direct one-to-one coupling? A lot of the time I think it is the responsibility factor kicking in when I start asking questions about why this framework is better than the other one or why this RDBMS is better than this one or why should we throw money and time into something that is probably replacing something that works but isn't current?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Yeah it looks funny, so what

Okay, for the one or two of you that might actually read this blog and are wondering why it looks so funny - blame Awardspace.com. The stylesheet (for the non-geek, a stylesheet is a plain text file that contains information used to format elements of the web page; like setting a default font or moving the menu box to the right) is hosted there. I went with an external style sheet because every time I would change the template I would have to republish the entire blog; which a while ago was a gigantic pain in the ass with a moderately sized blog such as the Grouch Blog (or Blog of the Dead). With a separate stylesheet I could simply change it on the fly without having to republish. It's actually quite cool; Blogger should seriously consider providing space for external templates and associated files (like images). Back to the problem, though. Awardspace is doing maintance on their CP1 server: All accounts and web sites on CP1 server of AWARDSPACE.COM cluster will be down due to hardware upgrade.. They also did this on July 24, July 21 and June (depends on which news link you click, for some reason the downtimes don't appear on all pages... gasp). Oh well, I get what I pay for...

to mySpace or not mySpace

I'm debating on whether or not I need to get something on myspace.com; yes, that seizure inducing collection of broken HTML, annoying Flash and molested CSS. Grouchette has one. Both her kids have one. So I should get one, right? I don't want to be left out of the pool of over-sexualized, hip-hop teenagers and college students and the creeps that prey on them, do I? Where else can I become friends with complete strangers and people that probably wouldn't give me the time of day or even acknowledge my existence at a bar or other public setting?

At the risk of feeling left out I might have to pass on this trend. I had a personal home page (the Grouch Net) back when the web was in its infancy (to show you just how much of a fossil I am, this was back before Internet Explorer even existed and Netscape was displacing the Mosaic browser). Eventually I switched from the ISP hosted space to a geoCities web page. Then I got bored maintaining it; why bother maintaining something when there were millions of identical pages out there. I had a live journal for a while. I created the Grouch Blog as "blogging" was getting very popular. Again, though, there are millions of other blogs out there so why maintain this one? I ask myself that question every time I post to it. Then I see the other blogs out there on Blogger and can easily state about eighty percent of them are crap.

The disturbing trend in Blogger blogs is making them look like mySpace pages. Instead of using one of the adequate templates they provide, these bloggers are thrusting these black background, microscopic font, disable everything, squeezed into a narrow scrolled window "masterpieces" at us. Good lord, am I that out of touch? Is this what is cool? There is also a picture template people are starting to use that does not render well in all browsers.

Which brings me back to mySpace. I'm too old for mySpace. Even if I wanted to be cool and feel younger I'm still too old for mySpace. I'm not cool enough for mySpace. I would want to change mySpace to make it conform to my relatively bland but readable presentation style. So, I'll abstain from mySpace and concentrate on what I do best, complain about stuff to probably nobody.