Cat Show

At the risk of coming across as a crazy cat lady, here’s another set of cat photos. Mom and I went to a Cat Show today, our first, and I couldn’t really resist bringing a camera to a conference hall filled with hundreds and hundreds of kitties.
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The “Mancoon,” one of my all-time favorite breeds.

More pedigreed adorableness after the jump.

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Silicon Valley: Business Remodeled

I was putting together some webdocs for a new site we’re opening up at work, and I put together a list of possible “tones” for the site. These included

  • Professional (serious)
  • Professional(silicon valley)
  • Humorous but Classy (a la Twitter)

I was a bit further along in my work when I realized I had unthinkingly split up the professional world into the old classical businesses and those residing in Southern California. If I had put more thought into it I would not have been so surprised at my findings, but the fact that I did it instinctively was not expected. Has it been long enough that the lax extravagance of Google’s work environment has lost its shock value? Have in-house snack bars and break rooms with bean bag chairs and Wiis become the norm? 99% of the student developers I know take for granted that they will get certain perks once they graduate and get a job. Granted, the CompSci students I know are probably destined for cushier jobs than most, but it’s still not an uncommon feeling. If you become a developer, you will get elaborate computer systems, bountiful free food, and enough complimentary t-shirts to clothe you for a year. If you don’t – well. You’ll notice the other type of “professional” I labeled as “serious.” Serious means suits, serious means cubicles, serious means bosses who stress about your TPS reports and enforce the 30-minute lunch break.

From my point of view there is no in-between. Either you have a dress code or you don’t. I suspect this is an idea developed by the software development tycoons and tailored towards those fresh-faced, innocent developers like myself who have just emerged from the womb of academia and are terrified at the face of the big bad real world. If it’s a choice between a 3-piece suit and a worn t-shirt, there’s not much of a decision, really (unless you’re one of those strange people like me who gets an extreme sense of self-satisfaction from wearing clean, pretty clothes).

Even now, when I’ve started to move away from businesses like Google and Apple, I tend to see the business world in black and white. I recently went through the tedious process of finding a job in a new and unfamiliar town. My first thought was to do the wimp’s version of manual labor – barista. Once I discovered that even coffee shops require resumes and got turned down from various restaurants and bookstores, I started looking for desk jobs – clerical assistants, paperwork pushers, etc.. Which category contains the job I eventually got is inconsequential – it seemed to me there weren’t other options. Either I stand on my feet all day forcing a smile at customers, or I sit in a chair all day staring at a computer screen. Surely there is something in between, but everything I looked at was easily categorized into a single-bit classification system.

If this radical segregation of professions has been drilled so deeply into the world, and even more powerfully into my mind, what other cultural consequences come from the emergence of these t-shirt wearing empires? What feelings do they impart on me such that I see Google as a warm and loving figure, of offices filled with friends and laughter, and everything else labeled “business” as cold people in pinstrip suites hurrying down concrete streets? Whatever these tactics, there is no question they are brilliant and even less question that they are effective. They have permeated so deeply that although I look onto the people of the world, my eyes see it only as they have taught me.

I am left wondering what the world is like from outside this Silicon shell.

Stella

It’s early Saturday, and that means I’m in my room with good lighting and not much to do. Displayed here for your pleasure is the fruit of this combination; a collection of glamour shots of my roommate’s cat, Stella. I am currently holding back the urge to scream her name out, Streetcar Named Desire style.

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More after the cut, since image files are large files. You’ll thank me when you’re older.

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An Open Letter to the Sketchy Guys on 6th St.

Dear Sketchy Guys –

I see you every day, pan-handling for spare change in your dirty clothing and thin jackets outside my temperature-controlled office with a business casual dress code. I hear the hungry growling of your big-gulp cups as your plaintive, smokey voices waft along your breath to ask for some change, for some food, for a kind smile and a “I don’t have any, sorry.” Truly, my heart bleeds for you and I can’t escape the pang in my chest when I walk away with a wallet full of small bills.

HOWEVER.

I understand that asking for money is a fast-paced and competitive business, since each client rarely gives to more than one person a day, but some of your tactics are ineffective, insulting, and just plain stupid. Allow me to elaborate.

  • I know my hair is red, but please stop calling me “Little Red Riding Hood.” She wore a red cape, idiots. Also, calling me anything with “little” in it will get you tortured and killed when I take over the country. It does not help that I am taller than you.
  • Telling me to “Smile, honey!” will result not in me smiling, but in me fantasizing about punching you in the face.
  • Telling me I’m beautiful while asking for money and sneering in a lecherous manner is not effective.
  • Asking me to come in with you to a small, dark, and crowded shop to buy you food will not work. Even if your intentions are harmless, please remember that you are an old sketchy man and I am a young woman not inclined towards being molested.
  • When you ask for money and I ignore you, it is not ok to stand up and follow me while you keep asking. Please don’t be offended when I start walking faster – it’s nothing personal, really. If you were wearing a $3,000 suit and reading a copy of the Wall Street Journal I would do the same thing.

By following these simple rules you can elevate both yourself and your fellow sketchy men, redeeming yourselves in the eyes of the public. Remember, it is not your situation in life that makes you sketchy, but what you do with it. So stop being sketchy. Please.

Sincerely,

– Clare “Little Red Riding Hood” Bayley

Verification: The Missing Link Between Tester and User

My main project at work for the past couple of days has been imbibing as much information as I can about the testing framework Selenium. I must say, this thing is pretty sweet. It automatically navigates and tests your webpages using javascript interface commands in the same way a user would and in some ways they couldn’t, such as asserting the existence of internal variables. To use most of the complicated stuff you have to set up the Remote Control system, which means installation on a server, configuration, actual coding, and all that techy stuff. Being, as I am, a very impatient person, I have so far avoided this process and used the Selenium IDE for all my poking around purposes. The central capability of this IDE is the ability to assert the existence of text on a page. Well whoopity-doo, you might say. That sounds boring and unhelpful. Allow me to enlighten you:

Steps in a hypothetical Selenium test:

  1. Navigate to login page
  2. Enter admin username and password
  3. Click the ‘submit’ button
  4. Assert existence of text (Welcome: admin)

If you enter the correct username and password the assert returns true. If you enter incorrect information the assert fails. This is a pretty simple example, but things can get a lot more complicated. If you have different types of users, you can make sure correct viewing permissions get set.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Allow me to rephrase that last sentence:

“If you have different types of users, you can assert the text that displays the users status upon login.”

Selenium forces the developers to add ‘status’ text to each and every page they want to test, letting the framework verify where they are. But – this is a pretty big issue in usability, too! When testing any application it is best to assume that your users are dumb and confused, and you have to make sure they can still understand and work with the interface. Letting them know what’s going on is a big part of that, and also a common oversight during development. After all, developers certainly know where they are – they built the landscape and have a map in their head. Selenium testing gives them a new reason to add roadsigns, as it were. Suddenly it’s useful to them!

It’s not just text verification, either. One of the things that annoyed me at first was that the test recorder cannot imitate or detect the use of back/forward buttons. This enforces the use of circular navigation, a design tactic which allows all webpages to have access, not necessarily direct, to all other pages without using browser navigation. Webpages that don’t include this design can make even power users get lost, and I speak here from personal experience. I get so frustrated when I have to click the header and go back to the main page just to navigate somewhere else.

In short: Selenium is a program that imitates an end user. When developers design their pages for Selenium tests, they design pages for pseudo-user tests, making an otherwise dreary task a necessary and invaluable one.

Paamayim Nekudotayim

Stumbled across this while researching Selenium, and thought it was pretty darn cool.

The official name for the symbol ‘::’, is Paamayim Nekudotayim (פעמיים נקודתיים ), which is Hebrew for ‘twice colon’ or ‘double colon.’1 You can interpret a lot of the English language by deciphering the Latin roots of a word, but it’s not very often that someone gets to whip out their mad Hebrew skills to enlighten their comrades and spread knowledge of the true meaning of words.

In other news: Every time I read the word “XPath” I interpret it as a dying face sticking out its tongue. XP

1http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paamayim_Nekudotayim

The Power of Water & the Future of Fire

The Aqueon fireplace is quite possibly the coolest piece of home decor I have seen lately. Possibly ever, actually. Everyone loves fireplaces, for roasting marshmallows, warming your feet on a cold day, gathering around to laugh and drink beer, or to light other things on fire. But this, my friends – this is not just a fireplace.

This is a fireplace that burns water.

The Aqueon uses electrolysis, the same process used in hydrogen powered cars, to seperate the hydrogen and oxygen from the water. The hydrogen is ignited immediately to create the flame, and then some of the oxygen gets injected for color and brightness. The excess oxygen is released into the room.

Over all, this so-called “fireplace” is actually 3 useful appliances in one:

  1. A fireplace (well, duh)
  2. A humidifier (burning hydrogen creates water vapor)
  3. A plant (it oxygenates the air)

And it consumes only water and, I assume, a small amount of electricity to spark the flame. What’s not to love?

(interestingly enough, when I went to poke at their website I couldn’t find a link back to the Aqueon page. This might have something to do with their “fireplaces” section being broken down to gas, wood, and electric. :D )

Things That Bother Me: Teachers Asking Questions

Initial Disclaimer:

This post does not apply to liberal arts classes where discussions are encouraged, or any class where there is more than one answer to a question. The majority of my schooling has been in math & science, and there is only one derivative to any trigonometric function.

The room falls silent, the last syllables to drop from his lips echo across the lecture hall, finally absorbed into desks and paneling. He looks around expectantly – no one raises their hand, no one meets his eyes, no mouth opens to utter more than an awkward cough. Shuffling sounds fill the silence, sounds of bodies rubbing against chairs, paper rustling along desks, pencils tapping onto any available hard surface before quickly falling silent, embarrassed at their loud intrusion into the stillness. He looks around, heart in his throat, waiting, waiting, hoping there will be just one, just one student who will lift their arm and vibrate their throat to say an answer, a wrong answer, a question, a snarky question, an insult, anything. He would even welcome a request to go to the bathroom, the silence has gone on so long, gone on beyond the point of reason, gone on beyond the point where he can assume no one knows, yet his pride will not allow him to speak just yet. He must give them a little more time, a little more chance to redeem themselves, to distinguish themselves from the classes that have gone before them, from the bodies which hours before, days before, years before, sat in these same chairs and did not answer. Silence fills the hall.

Anyone who has made it up to the 3rd grade has experienced this, the awkward tension which follows when a teacher asks a question to the class. Very rarely does this actually elicit an answer, even a wrong one, because all students can be classified into these categories during those times:

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Let us look at the possible scenarios involved here were a student actually to speak:

  1. Someone answers with a right answer.
    1. The class learns the correct answer, and the teacher moves on with the lecture.
    2. The answerer is identified as a brown-noser by the rest of the class.
  2. Someone answers with a wrong answer.
    1. The teacher corrects them with the right answer and moves on with the lecture.
    2. The teacher tells them they’re wrong and continue waiting. (loop and evaluate again)
    3. The student who answered has just been embarrassed in front of the entire class.
  3. Someone answers with a clarifying question.
    1. The teacher answers it, then answers the question and continues with the lecture.
    2. The teacher answers it, then continues waiting. (loop and evaluate again)
  4. Someone says something else, usually irrelevant.
    1. The teacher, annoyed, will give the answer and continue teaching.
    2. The teacher is pissed for the rest of the class, spoiling his mood for the day.

You will note that one of the results of all of these situations is that the teacher gives the correct answer and continues teaching. Also note that this is the same result that would have occurred if the teacher had never asked the question in the first place. Not only that, but the negative consequences that follow from every above scenario are avoided. Asking questions and getting answers only causes problems, asking questions and getting no answer wastes time and causes embarrassment for all parties, so why do they continue to do it? Why, from elementary school to graduate school, do teachers ask questions to their students? I can think of only a few reasons, all of which I will now demonstrate as futile.

To Keep the Class Engaged:
Easy. If you’re sleeping through class already, you’re not going to wake up to the sound of a question being asked, much less the silence of it not being answered. If you *really* want to keep your students engaged, either say something genuinely interesting or vary the tonality of your voice so no matter what you’re talking about it sounds interesting.

Prompt Them to Learn Through Guilt and Embarrassment:
(Note: This tactic not guilt-inducing in all students)
These are college students. Friday night they will get wildly drunk, pass out, and wake up with a penis drawn on their face. The mild embarrassment induced from asking questions is not enough to overcome the mighty power of laziness.

They Don’t Know the Answer and Hope the Students Do:
This one is actually 100% valid, but reserved only for cases such as high school gym teachers being forced to teach advanced mathematics. (for reasons I’ve never understood, all K-12 gym teachers must also teach one academic class)

Identifying Brown-Nosers for Future Ridicule and/or Sources of Worship:
Also valid, but in a selfish, malicious way.

I am obviously approaching this from a biased perspective, and even though I stand firmly with my opinion expressed here I cannot help but wonder if there is something else they hope to obtain by this. I have been taught by some of the most brilliant people in their fields, yet even they cannot logic through what I have expressed above. Perhaps I am missing something, or perhaps it’s just something taught in teacher-school, a relic of olden days when children were beaten with a wooden stick if they didn’t answer promptly. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” still applies if you don’t remove the actions which prompted a need for said rod. How ’bout we just ditch the system all together, and use neither rod nor spoilage – neither answers, nor questions.

Final Disclaimer:
I suppose I should have titled this “Teachers Who Ask Questions and Expect Answers,” since some of my all-time favorite professors use questions often and effectively in their lectures – because they don’t expect any answer. In fact they often give it themselves, right after they ask the question, thereby instilling curiosity into the student’s minds and satisfying it immediately, creating a pleased sense of fulfillment in the students allowing them to enjoy and (dare I say) look forward to lectures. Imagine, teaching in such a way that your students actually want to learn – genius!

A True National Hero

What are the qualities that define a hero?

Other than superhuman powers, wicked cool technology, and blood-flow-constricting spandex, they all stick it to the man in defense of the little guy. Sometimes this happens in real life, too.

Mary Bach, a consumer advocate from Pennsylvania, has made it a personal crusade to protect the rights of the average consumer from the monolithic giants of retail. Angered by the careless disregard for our money, she has taken such companies as WalMart, KMart, and CVS(-Mart?) to court over repeated & illegal overcharges.

Such corporate transgressions include:

Charging $0.28 tax on toilet paper, a non-taxable item

A $3 item ringing up as $5 dollars, repeatedly, despite being informed of the error

Charging $5.60 in illegal sales tax on a pair of digital converter boxes

Now, to be fair, she was the one being directly wronged in these instances, but since all the stores failed to correct the problem after she informed them, the problem obviously applies to everyone who buys toilet paper. (which, we should hope, is mostly everyone)

Every time Bach goes to small claim courts she files for minimal damages, to the tune of $100 + court fees. Money is clearly not the issue, but it’s so nice to know that someone is paying enough attention to their receipts to notice when these stores don’t care to notice how much they’re wrongly charging their customers. Whether or not these overcharges are intentional, it says a lot about the direction of retail that customers are too busy to notice or care about paying $0.28 in tax when they don’t have to. It’s not a lot of money on a single receipt, but when Walmart is running ads telling consumers they can save $700 per year, it’s clear that the idea of making savings out of change is becoming a pretty big deal. It makes me pretty angry to think that stores encourage people to shop around to find the difference between a $7 item and a $6.50 item and then think nothing out of charging $0.50 illegal tax on that $6.50 item. It’s just another pathetic example of corporations pulling the wool over the eyes of their customers and taking advantage of that demographic of over-stressed, under-paid people who just want to put food on the table and toilet paper in the bathroom. Which is a pretty damn big one.

I can’t seem to find anywhere whether or not the stores actually changed their ways after these lawsuits, but my guess would be the money they make from overcharging nickels and dimes is a lot more than losing $100 and change. A valiant effort, nonetheless – one which will hopefully raise the indignancy of the general population to a level where big-retail can no longer get away with stuff like this. Maybe. Someday. Until then, I’ll just go right on being angry.