Orcmid's Lair
Orcmid's Lair

Welcome to Orcmid's Lair, the playground for family connections, pastimes, and scholarly vocation -- the collected professional and recreational work of Dennis E. Hamilton

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Recent Items
Friday Cat Picture: Streaks at 21 (from 2007-09-07...
Geek Dinner Collection: 2007-09-12 Hanselman Event...
Confirmable Experience: What a Wideness Gains
Confirmable Experience: Consider the Real World
Suono: Playing with HDR Photography
Interoperability: The IE 8.0 Disruption
Golden Geek: Executives and Malcontents
Social Computing: My Graphs over Our Grid?
Microsoft ODF Interoperability Workshop
European Independence and Open-Source Development


Friday Cat Picture: Streaks at 21 (from 2007-09-07)

Technorati Tags: orcmid, cat pictures, cats, Friday cat pictures

Streaks at 21 (click for larger image)[update 2008-10-10 Streaks would have been 22 in September 2008.  She didn’t make it. 

The sweet cat that my sister raised from a kitten died on May 27.  It’s hard for me to imagine what the lengthy period of companionship represents. 

Our youngest cats were 14 this September and I know we’d miss any of them, even while thinking how nice it would be to be able to go on trips and not be concerned for their care.]

My sister's cat Streaks is 21 years old.  She is not so kittenish, but she still has her moments and is a loving cat.  She sat still for me setting up a new Vista Home Premium PC in the room where she usually spends most of her time undisturbed.  

Now her human has found more games to play.  Wait until the broadband is installed, Squeaks.

[update 2008-10-10 This retrospective re-post is part of my preservation of material originally posted on Orcmid’s Live Hideout.  I am consolidating the material I want to preserve here and on Professor von Clueless in the Blunder Dome.  These blogs are at my own hosted web site, are fully backed-up on my SOHO system, and can be moved at will.  I prefer that.

 update 2007-09-11 Uh, the cat's name is Streaks, not Squeaks.  I must have Smalltalk on the brain.]

Labels: cats

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Geek Dinner Collection: 2007-09-12 Hanselman Event

Technorati Tags: orcmid, geek dinner, Scott Hanselman, Redmond, Bellevue Crossroads, bloggers, Microsoft

[This 2007-09-13 Orcmid’s Live Hideout Post is being recovered from my Live Spaces blog for improved preservation and consolidation. While it is a way to appear to be blogging more regularly, it is also a serious preservation attempt. I want to move off of Live Spaces anyhow, since I can now accomplish all of the same things in a place where I have complete backup and preservation capability. It also happens that there are some threads that were partly over there that I want to build on over here.

I did not know that this was more urgent than I realized. It seems the latest Windows Live Writer (or Live Spaces itself) will not let me retrieve previous posts beyond the latest 20. So I am literally scrapping this one off of the blog page. We’ll see how it goes.

Scott Hanselman hosted another of his Bellevue Crossroads Geek Dinners this past Monday, 2008-10-06. It is appropriate to retrieve this message while I stall my preparations for a response to Hanselman on a different topic.]

2007-09-12: Scott Hanselman 2007-09-12: Nerd Dinner 2007-09-12: Nerd Dinner 2007-09-12: Nerd Dinner Mystery 2007-09-12: Charlie Owen

2007-09-12: Nerd Dinner 2007-09-12: Nerd Dinner 2007-09-12: Nerd Dinner 2007-09-12: Charlie Owen 2007-09-12: John Lam

My snapshots from the casual dinner meet-up called by Scott Hanselman with swag by Charlie Owen. Here I play with the thumbnails that Flickr provides, along with the ease of using photos in posts via Live Writer. I do fancy my Live Writer, yes I do.

[update 2008-10-09: Along with movement of this post to Orcmid’s Lair, there is also a confirmable-experience moment concerning these digital photos. They appear much darker than on my previous display. This is a noticeable concern and a complex confirmable experience situation. There’ll be something more coherent about that after I manage to calibrate my new monitor for reliable digital-photography work. Oh, I’m also making use of the categories feature and have abandoned any effort to keep cybersmith posts all in one place. Scary.]

[update 2007-09-13: Arun Bhatnagar has put his photo set on Flickr. They provide a great demonstration of how the Crossroads Mall building is unusually inviting for socialization and informal meetings.]

Labels: confirmable experience, cybersmith, geek dinner, photography

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Confirmable Experience: What a Wideness Gains

Technorati Tags: confirmable experience, successful communication, dependable systems, usability

Four years ago, I replaced a failing 21” CRT display with a 20” LCD monitor.  The improvement was amazing.  I have since upgraded my Media Center PC with a graphics card that provided DVI output and there was more improvement.

But the greatest improvement came when the 20” LCD monitor recently began to have morning sickness, flickering on and off for longer and longer times before providing a steady display.  Before it failed completely, I began shopping for the best upgrade on the competitive part of the LCD monitor bang-for-buck curve. 

These days, 24” widescreen LCD monitors are the bees knees.   For almost half what I paid for the 20” LCD in 2004, I obtained a 1920 by 1080 DVI LCD (Dell S2409W) that is not quite the the same 11.75” height but is 21” wide.  The visual difference is dramatic when viewing 16:9 format video and also when viewing my now-favorite screensaver.  I added a shortcut to my Quick Start toolbar just to be able to watch the screensaver and listen to the bubbles while making notes at my desk.

I'm tempted to zone out over the screen-saver (click for full-size image)

One of the problems I had with the 20” old-profile (6:4, basically) was that I could not work with multiple documents open at the same time.   I don’t mind only having one fully on top, but I often needed to be able to switch between them easily.  In some standards-development work that requires comparison of passages in different documents, it was also tricky to have them open in a way where I could line up the material to be compared and checked.

The wider display permits having more of an application open, such as Outlook, and it also allows access to additional open material. 

What I hadn’t expected was the tremendous improvement that becomes available when there is a 21” task bar at the bottom of the screen.   I did not expect an advantage there as the result of the wider display.  That alone has made my working at the computer more enjoyable and more fluid. 

My desktop is still too cluttered with icons and I am still tidying them up, removing ones that I rarely use.  Even so, the perimeter of the display provides for more icons on the outside of the central work area so that I can find them without having to close or move application windows.  That’s another bonus.

Wideness gains more than height (click for full-size image)

I must confess that I haven’t had so much fun since I progressed from Hercules-graphics amber monitors to full-color displays in the early 90s.  It is sometimes difficult to realize that it wasn’t that long ago.

Oh Yes, the Confirmable Experience …

There are two confirmable-experience lessons here.  First, the subjective experience I am having is mine.  The wide-format monitor is an affordance for my heightened excitement and enjoyment, but the experience is mine.  Others have different reactions and, in particular, have their own ideas about display real-estate, task bars, and other user-interface provisions.

For the second lesson, recall how much emphasis I give to using a screen-capture utility for computer forensic and trouble-reporting work.  That will often provide important out-of-band evidence for a problem that one user is seeing and that another party does not.

These screen captures provide similar evidence of what the wider-format display provides for me.

They don’t provide any assurance that you will see them the same way I do, however.  If you click through to the full-size images, you’ll see a rendition of the same bits that my display shows me.  I assure you that the image I see when replaying those bits to my screen is exactly the same as the one I took a screen capture of.  

There are a number of ways that your experience will be different.   At the most fundamental level, there is no way to know, using these images only, to determine whether the color presented for a particular pixel on your display is the same that I see on mine.   The PNG files do not reflect what I saw.  They do faithfully reflect what my software and graphics card used in the internal image that was presented via my display.  But we have no idea whether your computer is presenting the same color using the same bits.  There are other differences of course, in that gross features may not be viewable in the same way my monitor allows me to see them (unless yours has at least the 1920 by 1080 resolution that mine does).  This is all there to interfere with our sharing this particular experience of mine even without allowance for our different vision and subjectivity influences.

The takeaway for this part is that context matters with regard to what qualifies as a confirmable and confirmed experience.  It’s also useful to notice how many different aspects of the computer bits to displayed pixels pipeline can influence whether or not I have successfully shared relevant aspects of my experience with you.

And we do manage to make it all work, most of the time, for most of us.

Labels: confirmable experience, trustworthiness

Hi Dennis,

Having myself moved to a 24" LCD six months ago, there are a number of things you can do to enhance your screen real estate:
- Unlock the taskbar
- Drag its top edge UP so that it become 2 (or, even better, 3) lines high
- Create a folder containing shorcuts to your most common apps. (Don't have the folder on the desktop)
- Drag that folder to your new taskbar; a new toolbar will appear
- Right click on your new toolbar, and turn off text displays (name of toolbar and name of apps); it will now be a fraction of its original size
- Resize the new toolbar so it sits just to the right of the Quick Launch toolbar
- Do exactly the same exercise for utilities you use all the time
- Do exactly the same thing for folders you access all the time. You could do the same for common documents.

Now you have one-click access to the apps, utilities, and folders that you use all the time, and its hardly used any screen real estate.

Finally, remove 99% of the junk off your desktop.

Ian Easson
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Confirmable Experience: Consider the Real World

Technorati Tags: Clarke Ching, confirmable experience, successful communication, dependable systems, trustworthiness, cycle of learning and improvement, usability

Clarke Ching just posted a great illustration of a confirmable-experience situation.  Until a set of comparative photographs was available to illustrate some different experiences, he and his wife did not know how to understand a difficulty that one had and the other did not (and check the follow-up for more important reality). 

This is the entire crux of it. 

I often go on about the importance of confirmable experience in the area of trustworthy and dependable systems.  Providing confirmable experience is something software producers (and motivated power users) need to pay attention to.  Clarke provides the Cool Hand Luke reality version.  Sometimes communication is not simple and it is important to remove the barriers.

I want to post this here and I also want to drag it into my confirmable-experience cybersmith collection too.  I want it here because it is so juicy, even though this is not my main confirmable-experience category location.  Well, I think not.  I will resolve it for now with cross-posting.  Sometimes, I need to make a mess to know that is not the way to do it.  Now I have to dig my way out of it.

Labels: confirmable experience, trustworthiness

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Suono: Playing with HDR Photography

Technorati Tags: orcmid, Nikon D80, HDR, High Dynamic Range, photography, Stuck in Customs, suono, Trey Ratcliff, Dougerino

I envy Dougerino’s proficiency with High Dynamic Range (HDR) photographs.  On a photo-walk with him at the Seattle Aquarium on Saturday, 2008-09-20, I figured this was my best chance to get some tips and try the technique myself.  I also figured that the garish lighting and colors in aquarium displays would grant me license to mess up color saturation and other aspects of HDR that would be unreal for many other subjects.  I’m using the subject to cover up my inexperience with the technique.

Sea Anemones at Seattle Aquarium, 2008-09-20 (HDR photo, click for Flickr sets)

My first non-trial effort is the photograph of sea anemones in captivity, above.   The HDR image is produced from three separate digital exposures using my Nikon D80.  It took a while to learn how to set the D80 to automatically take three successive pictures at –2ev (2 full stops under), +0ev (normal metered exposure), and +2ev (two stops over), but I finally got it working.

The downside of this arrangement is that it takes a while for the camera to grab the three separate shots, I can’t see what is happening (the SLR mirror being raised) while the images are being taken, and the +2ev exposure is noticeably slow under low light conditions.  Keeping the camera stable is important.  I was hand-holding my camera, with my back against a wall.  That, combined with using a Vibration Reduction (VR) lens had the images be more stable than I deserved. 

While I and the camera were still enough, the anemones were not motionless as sea water circulated in the tank.  Look closely at the full-size Flickr version and you will see what looks like multiple-exposure effects in the tubes of the center anemone.  The tops of the tall anemones are also fuzzed because of movement there.

Now that HDR images, not to mention saturated color and extreme Photoshop effects,  are becoming popular on Flickr and photography web sites, it is easy to suspect HDR where it is not present.  Sometimes, the clues are pretty subtle.

Beside the hands-on tips from Dougerino, I found Trey Ratcliff’s Stuck in Customs web site with great examples and tutorial information.   Because Ratcliff offers many HDR images, I thought that was before me in his “Some of my favorite shots of children.”  Ratcliff’s HDR tutorial illustrates the use of PhotoShop layering techniques to eliminate blurred images in the combined separate exposures.  I thought I was seeing that in the image of the girl in this detail:

Stuck in Customs: Bangkok Belly Flop (detail, click for original) 

No.  That is not an HDR image.  My suspicions were groundless.  Some photographs are richly hued and at the right moment without requiring doctoring, at least not of the HDR kind.

The following image from the same set is an HDR image. 

Stuck in Customs: Morning Skaters in Iceland (click for original)

If you look at the largest image on Flickr, you can see that there are indications of skater motion in comparison with the clarity of the ice surface.  I also suspect there was not a 4-stop range.  The D2X might have been working in a faster range of shutter speeds, too.

That’s all guesswork.  It is valuable to be able to discern how a photographic subject was lighted, an unaccustomed test that I seldom pass.  Now I must also train my photographer eye to discern how HDR was used, if at all, along with other digital-processing effects.

Meanwhile, I am able to enjoy and learn from the wonderful images that appear in daily Stuck in Customs posts.  You can too.

Suonare is the Italian verb for “to play” in the sense that a pianist plays a keyboard.  With the advent of computer-based music and photographic-image processing, I extent the notion to similar play via my computer keyboard, not just my MIDI controller.  Suono is “I play.”

Labels: photography

That turned out great. Makes me wish I had tried an HDR of that scene.

Yeah, Tray Ratcliff is great inspiration. And those photos of kids are amazing. the one of Cambodia reminded me of a girl I took some pictures of at Angkor Wat. Not because it's anywhere near his shots, just because it's a smiling kid in Cambodia.
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Interoperability: The IE 8.0 Disruption

Technorati Tags: interoperability, web standards, trustworthiness, IE8, usability, web site construction, compatibility

I've elected to adopt the IE 8.0 beta 2 release as a tool for checking the compatibility of web and blog pages of mine.  I see how disruptive the change to default standards-mode is going to be and how IE 8.0 is going to assist us.  I need to dig out tools and resources that will help me mitigate the disruption and end up with standards-compliant pages as the default for new pages.

Looking Over IE 8.0 beta 2

I avoid beta releases of desk-top software, including operating systems and browsers.  Because the standards-mode default of IE 8.0 is going to place significant demands on web sites, I also thought it time to install one copy of IE 8.0 simply to begin assessing all of my web sites and blog pages for being standard-compliant enough to get by.  I am willing to risk use of beta-level software in order to be prepared for the official release in this specific case.  I'm also sick of having IE 7.0 hang and crash on mundane pages such as my amazon.com logon.  I'm hoping that even the beta of IE 8.0 will give me some relief from the IE 7.0 unreliability experience.  And so far, so good.

With the promotion of beta2 downloading this past week, I took the plunge.  Installation was uneventful and all of my settings, add-ins, favorites and history were preserved.  My existing home page, default selections, menus and tool bars were also preserved.  [I am using Windows XP SP3 on a Windows Media Center PC purchased in September, 2005.  IE 8.0 beta 2 also seems faster on this system in all of its modes.]

I did not review much of the information available on IE 8.0, expecting to simply try it out. 

The IE 8.0 address bar emphasizes the domain name of the site being visited (click for full-size image)

My first surprise was a change to the address bar.  There is a new format where all but the domain name of the URL are grayed.  That was distracting for the first few days and it still has me stop and think.  I realized this is the point: emphasizing the domain name so that people will tend to check whether they are where they expect to be.  I like the idea, even though I have to look carefully and remember the full URL is there when I want to paste it somewhere or share the page on FriendFeed or elsewhere.  I take this provision as one of those small details that demonstrates a commitment to safe browsing and confident use of the Internet.

The broken-page indicator appears any time that a page does not satisfy strict-compliance. What I was looking for, and saw immediately, is the new compatibility-view button.   This "broken page" button appeared on the first site I visited after installation of IE 8.0 beta 2.

Clicking the button causes it to be shown as depressed and the page is re-rendered as a loosely-standard page with the best-effort presentation and quirks renderings of IE 7.0 and earlier Internet Explorer releases.  If you leave the button selected, the setting is remembered and automatically-selected on your next visits to the same domain.  It stays that way until you unselect the button by clicking it again while visiting pages of that domain.  It was this feature that tipped-me over in wanting to check out my own pages using beta2 (although I thought the button was tracked at the individual page level until I read the description of domain-level setting). 

By the way, if a page is detected to require a standards or compatibility mode specifically, no compatibility view option button is presented.The amazon.com site is this way from my computer, and so is Vicki's pottery-site home page.  I looked at the source of the amazon.com site and confirmed that they are not using the special tag that requests that the compatibility view be automatic.  I didn't check the HTTP headers to see if they are using that approach to forcing a compatibility or a standards-mode view.  I know I did nothing of the kind on Vicki's site.  This suggests to me that there is also some filtering going on in standards-mode rendering to notice whether a compatibility view should be offered.  I'm baffled here.  I am curious whether there is any browser indication when the compatibility view is selected by a web page tag or HTTP header.  I suspect not and I'll have checked into that soon enough.

I also checked out the InPrivate browsing feature, which, although popularly dubbed the "porn mode," is very useful when using a browser from a kiosk or Internet cafe and when making private on-line transactions from home.

At this point, I am not interested in special features of IE 8.0 other than those related to improving the standards-compliant qualities of web pages and the browsing experience.  I may experiment with other features later.  My primary objective is to use the facilities of IE 8.0 and accompanying tools to improve the quality and longevity of my web publications.  Once I have some mastery over web standards, I will look into accessibility considerations, another project I have been avoiding.

Disrupting the State of the Web

The problem that IE 8.0 is intended to help resolve is the abuse of Postel's Law [compatibility view offered] that the web represents: "be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others."  The abuse arises when what you do is based on what is being accepted, with no idea what it means to be conservative.  The web was and is an HTML Wild West and it is very difficult to enforce conservatism (that is, strict standards conformance in web-page creation).  Since browsers also varied in what they accepted and then what they did with it, loosely-standard pages and loosely-standard browsers have been the norm and web pages are crafted to match up with the actual response of popular browsers. 

Since Internet Explorer is made the heavy in this story, we now get to see the price of changing over to "be strict in what is accepted and be standard in what is done with it."  This is a very disruptive change.  We'll see how well it works.   Joe Gregorio argues that exceptions to Postel's Law are appropriate.  Some, like Joel Spolski [no compatibility view], think it might be a little too late.  There are already some who claim that the IE 8.0 Compatibility view is a sin against standardization [compatibility view offered], no matter that not many of the 8 billion and climbing pages out there are going to be made strictly-conformant any time soon.  With regard to compatibility mode, I think it is foolish for it not to be there and Mary-Jo Foley is correct to wonder how much complainers are grasping at straws.

It was surprising to me to observe how regularly the compatibility-view option button appears and how terribly much of my material renders in IE 8.0's standards mode.  Apparently the button is there because IE 8.0 can't tell whether the page is really meant to be rendered via standards-mode or is actually a loosely-implemented page.  I'm spending a fair amount of time toggling back and forth to see if there is any difference on sites I visit.  This suggests to me that there is going to be a rude awakening everywhere real soon now.  It is also clear to me that I don't fully understand exactly how this works, and I need to find a way to test the explanation on the IE blog and the discrepancies I notice, especially when the compatibility-view option is not offered and I know nothing special was done to accomplish that on the web page I am visiting.  I am also getting conflicting advice when I use an on-line web-page validator.

This change-over to unforgiving, default-standards-mode browsers is going to be very disruptive for the Internet.  In many cases, especially for older, not-actively-maintained material, the compatibility view is the only way to continue to access the material successfully.  There is a great deal of material for which it is either too expensive or flatly inappropriate to re-format for compatible rendering using strictly-standard features.  Without compatibility view, I don't think a transition to standards mode could be possible.  The feature strikes me as a brilliant approach to a very sticky situation.

Although there is a way to identify individual pages as being loosely-standard and intended for automatic compatibility view, that still means the pages have to be touched and replaced, even to add one line to the element of the HTML page.  There are billions of pages that may require that treatment.  Perhaps many of them will be adjusted.  That will take time.  Meanwhile, having the compatibility-view option and its automatic presentation is very important. 

There is also a way to adjust a web server to provide HTML headers that request a compatibility (or standards-mode only) view of all pages from a given domain.  That strikes me as a desperate option to be used only when there is no intention of repairing pages of the site.  I might do that temporarily, but only while I am preparing for a more-constructive solution that doesn't depend on compatibility view being supported into the indefinite future.  The variations on the available forms of control (browser mode, DOCTYPE, HTTP header, and meta-tag) need to be studied carefully.  I expect there to be confusion for a while, probably because I am feeling confused with the ambiguities in my experience so far.

Another problem, especially with regard to IE 8.0 beta2, is that we don't reliably know how badly a loosely-standard page will render with a final standards-mode browser versus the terrible standards-mode rendering that beta2 sometimes makes at this time.  It is conceivable that the degradation might not be quite so bad as it appears in beta2, but there is no way to tell just yet.

The need for expertise and facility with semi-automated tools as part of preserving sites with standards-conforming web pages is probably a short-term business opportunity.   The web sites that may be able to make the transition most easily may be those like Wikipedia, where the pages are generated from non-HTML source material.  (That makes it surprising that Wikipedia pages currently provoke compatibility buttons and compatibility view is needed to do simple things like be able to follow links in an article's outline.)

Mitigating IE 8.0

To mitigate the impact of IE 8.0 becoming heavily used, it is necessary to find ways to do the least that can possibly work at once, and then to apply that same attitude in making the next most-useful change, and so on, until the desired mix of standards-compliant and loosely-compliant pages is achieved.

To find out what tools are available along with IE8 beta 2, these pages provide some great guidance and resources:

  • Ed Bott 2008-08-28: An IE8 Beta 2 Q&A
  • IE8 Blog 2008-08-27: Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 Now Available
  • Microsoft: Windows Internet Explorer 8 (beta): Home Page 
  • US ISV Developer Evangelism Team: Consumers Begin Using Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2
  • MSDN online: META Tags and Locking in Future Compatibility (preliminary), with details for how to mark pages and also set the sites HTTP response headers (not for the faint-hearted)

That should point you to all of the resources you need to understand how to check sites, how to use the compatibility provisions, and other ways to take advantage of IE8 availability when it exits beta.

I'm looking at a progression that will allow the following:

  1. Have a complete site automatically set to be browsed in compatibility mode (EmulateIE7, in my case), buying time to provide finer grain solutions
  2. Modify templates on blogs such as this one to specify compatibility mode on all new and updated pages until I say otherwise
  3. Find a way to make bulk changes to pages, adding a head element that specifies compatibility mode for those pages
  4. Decide how to migrate pages so that their results are delivered best in standards mode.  This may be a very long-term approach that doesn't begin implementation until the percentage of old browsers still in use diminishes enough to have standards-mode browsers be dominant.  There should still be a substantial period of time while compatibility mode is grand-fathered by the latest browsers.
  5. Even if compatibility modes eventually disappear from popular browsers or whatever comes after the browser, there will be a lasting need for compatibility view of archival materials, or some other creative solution that allows those materials to be accessed in a standards-mode world.
  6. There will be future breaking changes in standards mode as updated/successor standards are introduced.  The compatibility view requirement may never disappear, although its future achievement may be accomplished with less disruption.  Unless, of course, we fail to learn the lesson.

I will work out my own approach on Professor von Clueless, since I have definitely blundered my way into this.

This post is also being used to identify the IE8 mitigation required for this blog, along with some other improvements:

  1. It is a prospect for assessment of standards-compliant presentation via IE8 beta 2.
  2. It is my first use of Blogger Labels (Categories in other blogging systems) to archive Orcmid's Lair posts by categories as well as having weekly chronological archive pages and the buckets of individual posts made in the same month.
  3. I am setting up Windows Live Writer image-uploading capability to FTP images to a directory of the blog; the images in this post are the confirmation of that.

When I update the template to force compatibility with the current loosely-standard blog-page generation, this post will reflect that too.

[update 2008-08-30T16:42Z I had a few clumsy bits to clean up, taking the opportunity to elaborate further in some areas.  The disruption with standards-mode web browsing is a great lesson for standards-based document-processing systems and office-suite migrations toward document interoperability.  I'm going to pay attention to that from the perspective of the Harmony Principles too.]

Labels: confirmable experience, IE8.0 mitigation, interoperability, trustworthiness, web site construction, web standards

just make it simpler: use Firefox

you have better things to do that support poor browsers that never took standards serious.
My concern is not about choice of browser, it is about the level at which my web-site and blog pages are standards-conformant and will render properly with a standards-conformant browsers.

It happens that the IE 8 beta 2 compatibility-view option is giving me a way to confine my incompatibilities and then remove them as browsers all become standards-compliant together.
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Golden Geek: Executives and Malcontents

Technorati Tags: orcmid, cybersmith, Golden Geek, 1960s, managing developers, software development, Sperry Univac

Earlier in this series:
2008-05-13: Wandering into Computing
2008-05-08: Don't Call Me a Coder!

Shortly after the East-coast software-development operations of Sperry Univac were consolidated in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, we began hiring new college graduates and putting them through systems-programmer training (what we would now think of as operating-system and programming-languages and tools software development).  There were not yet many established computer-science undergraduate programs and we needed to provide some common foundation and basics for developers in our world.  We also accepted trainees from within the company, including one engineering draftsman and a number of administrative assistants (then known as secretaries).  I don't recall any computer operators or field computer-service types, although we did recruit promising candidates from those areas. 

I was one of the first instructors when this started around 1966.  I also became the lead for a small group of advanced-software development technologists (harboring one of the first efforts to build a non-LISP functional-programming system in the United States).

The software organization (remarkably small by today's standards) that these newcomers inoculated became youthful, rambunctious, and energetic.  It was a time of enthusiastic growth.

Dave: Brilliant Malcontent Hacker

One of the developers that I brought into my team, Dave B., had been miss-hired.  Although he came in along with a Summer crop of new-graduate hires, he was an experienced developer and drop-out.   His experience showed.  And Dave was seriously underpaid.  I suspect, when he was first hired, he was looking at more money than he'd ever received before.  It was also less than what the new-graduate limited-experience hires were making.   It didn't take Dave long to figure that out.  The problem, of course, is that once you are in the system it is very difficult to break out of the annual merit-pay gradual-increase system.

Dave was also a bit iconoclastic with a seasoning of malcontent.  That's probably how I was so easily able to add him to my group.   He was also an important, helpful contributor.  One of his achievements was to develop a braille-printing output converter so that our first blind programmer could obtain listings and tests that were readable as Braille from the back side of the fan-fold sheets. 

At some point, Dave's review came up and I put him in for the correction that he claimed was merited.  The adjustment was declined, of course.  The next step was to find a way to appeal it.   Dave had to do the real work but I was able to add my support and recommendation. 

Don: Decisive Executive

The appeal authority was Engineering Division Vice-President Don N., someone who only recently had the Systems Programming group brought under his wing.  I was several levels below Don and we had never met one-on-one.  Dave was given an appointment with the V-P.  That same day I received a phone call from Don saying he was about to meet with Dave and he had just one question: "Was Dave worth it?"  I said yes.  Don told me what he was going to do.    That's probably the shortest, most-decisive conversations I've ever had.

Later, Dave provided his account.  Don talked with Dave, listened to his concerns about his situation and I'm sure a little about the company and how we operated.  Then Don made his offer.   Don would approve the special pay increase and change of grade under the condition that Dave would stay with the organization for the next 18 months.  That was it.

Dave needed to think about it.  What he did instead was leave the company, ultimately starting his own small software consulting company in his home town. 

Lessons: Resolution and Confronting Life

There were two lessons for me.

First, was the great example of executive decisiveness.  The Vice President accepted my judgment as the direct manager and advocate for Dave.  His offer was completely straightforward. 

Secondly, how Dave was offered a clear resolution to his salary concerns.  What that unconcealed was that Dave's dissatisfaction was about more than salary.   Although Dave and I have been out of touch for 30 years, I now wonder if he appreciates the gift that Don made to him.

It is not unusual for people early in their career to decide that they path they are on doesn't work for them.  They may fault the world or their dissatisfaction may be something that drives them to realize that they crave a different path.  I think of Dave as having accomplished that.  I also think that happened for others who were still footloose and chose to stop programming and teach disadvantaged children or finish college and graduate school before moving into a different career.  There are also people who entered the system-programming group at that time and stayed on, retiring from what became Unisys.  Others left and returned, some more than once.

The Greater Lesson

A third lesson took me more time and many installments to appreciate.  I fit the pattern of the successful malcontent, just like Dave.  I've since learned how powerful it is to see the world as already perfect.  Then it does not need to be fixed and certainly not complained about.  That leaves only simple questions: what do I stand for, what am i committed to, and what's next?   While recalling Dave's experience this morning, I saw this nice reminder from Leo Babauta that offers access to freedom for malcontents.  It does not weaken the useful challenge to "change the world or go home."

I don't write these reminiscences in any particular order even though I have a progression in mind.  Sometimes, such as today, something triggers a recollection that I want to pass on at once.  There will be more like this.

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$$Author: Orcmid $
$$Date: 07-12-26 16:37 $
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