Personal history

If you have been reading here any length of time you may have noted that I don’t hold Microsoft in the highest regard. The fact that it has been on my mind may be responsible for the sidebar comment and the Vista review. What I have been considering doing is writing a bit of my personal history.

About 6 months before I graduated from college I was offered a job as an assembler programmer. If I had taken that job then, today I would likely be writing or designing code for operating systems (Windows, linux, etc.), device drivers (graphics or network adapters, printer drivers, etc.), or specialized hardware (mp3 players, cable or satellite set top boxes, robotics, etc.). I have written assembler code for process control type applications and used a bit of assemblier in DOS, but that’s pretty much it.

The job offer that I did accept about a week before I graduated was a close cousin to the assembly programmer. I became a systems programmer. My job was mostly spent keeping a small data centre and its network running. Most of the programming I did at the data centre was writing utilities, scripts and data conversion programs. Most of the utilities I wrote were for the express purpose of making my job easier. Or, as in this case, making it so that someone who wasn’t a programmer could do the routine parts of my job.

Initially the only operating system used in that data centre was VMS. Over the years I worked with MicroVMS, VMS, OpenVMS and OpenVMS AXP. OpenVMS can still be purchased on Itanium and Alpha systems from HP. Later other systems were added to the data centre including Novell Netware and variants of unix. Although it isn’t on my resume, I had a one year contract with Digital Equipment as a VMS consultant to work with 2 of their customers.

So, are you wondering what this has to do with Microsoft? Well, an engineer named Dave Cutler was one of the architects of VMS. He was also an architect of other operating systems including Windows NT. To anyone who has worked with both operating systems ‘under the hood’, the similarities are unmistakable.

Based on what I’ve said, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for someone to conclude that VMS has an associated third party industry of add-on security products like anti-virus software. But that isn’t the case. I won’t say that VMS never had any security issues. But, every version of Internet Explorer I’ve worked with has had far more security holes than VMS had in the 10+ years I worked with it. And, Windows NT (and derived versions) have had few security problems in the areas where the OS was/is similar to VMS.

About 20 years ago, I encountered a story/joke which is a bit crass, but illustrates a very valid point:

A woman was visiting her psychiatrist and says, “I’ve been married 3 times but I’m still a virgin.”
The psychiatrist asks her, “How is that possible?”
She says, “Well, my first fiance was in the military and got called to go overseas. We got married just before he left. He was killed in action before his first round of duty was up.
“My second husband was elderly. The wedding and reception put such a strain on him that he died of a heart attack on the way to the hotel.
“And, my third husband is in advertising. All he does is sit on the edge of the bed and tell me how good it’s going to be.”

IMO, the cornerstone of Microsoft’s success has not been writing good software, but in telling people how good it’s going to be. And, when compared to the promised and actual features of every other OS I’ve worked with, they have done an abysmal job delivering. I don’t suppose I’m really looking justify my opinion. Over the years I’ve met alot of programmers. Most of them had an unwritten priority of writing good software. Some were more skilled than others in doing that. What I think bothers me most about getting rich from bug ridden software is not the getting rich part (money is not the most important thing in the world), but in the stain said bug ridden software has on the reputation of the profession and those who practice the craft.

feed stealer

When I wrote the techy post below, I received a couple of trackbacks because I mentioned Fedora Core 6 and Gentoo. They were from different sub-domains of the same domain. It appears to be a site much like bitacle in reading feeds and publishing the contents (including the copyright notice). As an experiment, I wanted to mention that according to wikipedia Ubuntu, Mandriva, OpenSUSE, Fedora Core, Debian, Gentoo, Slackware, Knoppix, MEPIS & Xandros are the top 10 linux distros.

Once I have that problem sorted out, I’ll tell you how the techy stuff is going.

Techy post

I realized on Monday night that it had been 2 weeks since I posted. There are a few techy things that I wanted to mention.

  1. I’ve made a few more changes to the Spam Karma auto purge plugin. This weekend I should be able to test it. If it performs as expected, I will release it into the wild next week. I’m going to make a second version for WordPress MU which will have a feature not required in a stand-alone WP install.
  2. I’ve been running gentoo linux on this computer for the last 7 months or so. I’ve decided to switch to Fedora Core 6. Hopefully, this weekend I’ll be able download the 6 cd images needed. If that goes as planned, you won’t see alot of me next week.
  3. Last week I went to an official Vista launch day. For all the neat things they have done, I was quite underwhelmed. I know eventually I will be working with it. But, you can count on it never getting installed on any computer I own. More than once in the course of the day, I silently wondered how many people in the audience were familiar with the innovation of the Open Source and GNU communities. For example, Windows Vista has a sidebar on the desktop. For the sidebar you write gadgets using javascript. Extensions for Firefox which have been around for quite a while are written in javascript. I saw little innovation in which one could say the idea was original.
  4. For the last couple months, signups have been disabled at Homeschool Journal. We did that because we had reached our account’s capacity. The work that I’ve done with Spam Karma has extended the window in which we had to plan what to do next. Sometime in 1-2 months we will be moving Homeschool Journal to another provider where our account will give us a bigger slice of the server. Bigger accounts cost more and we will eventually have to look at ways of funding the site.
  5. After we have the account but before we move Homeschool Journal, I will be working on optimizing the code and implementing a few other features. So, for a while I may be throwing a few techy accomplishment posts at you.

Brief Hello

I’m writing this post using Firefox on Gentoo linux. I’ll still be installing pieces and parts for a couple days. But, I’ll be able to background most of that. The list of software that I can install by a single command is rather impressive. I haven’t counted but I expect it to be in the range of 10-15,000 titles.

I even took a couple hours out tonight to play games 😉

Overlooking the hurdles I had in getting it running, I’m quite impressed. Installing software and keeping it current is exceptionally easy. Builds that are going on in one window do not affect the performance elsewhere in the system 🙂

Summer look

I’ve been wanting to design a new theme for the blog for a month or so. What got me to thinking about it was the many new landscapes I’ve seen in the last couple months since I changed the route I’ve been following and also in traveling to and from the apartment I rented. But I’m also someone who likes to explore an area and I’ve found an amazing number of places where you have a 180 degree (or more) view of miles of farms and forest.

After I finished with the drum sander this afternoon I was ready for a break from the last couple weeks. It took about 1/2 hour to find, settle on and manipulate (with GIMP) the image I would use for a banner. It took about an hour to choose (from the image) and implement the colours in the theme. Note that I used a copy of Atypical Christmas and most of the work was just adjusting the colours on all the various elements on the page. And then I spent about 1/2 adding theme options and widgeting the theme. I’m not going to immediately offer the theme for public consumption but I will be making it available on homeschool journal.

If you are coming in via RSS, come on over and have a look.

HEM and stuff

The unschooling carnival is being promoted in the HEM Editor’s blog. Thanks Helen and Joanne.

In my little world, I’ve been working on getting Gentoo up and running. It does not come with an installer and it is preconfigured with a minimal configuration. It is bringing back memories from 15 years ago when I first started working with unix. I’ve been using up my evening mental energy on that. I took last night off (mostly) and went on a 2 hour drive to explore the countryside. Tonight I’m trying to catch up.

Next week I will be away from the internet for the week. I’m getting on a plane very early Monday morning and flying to Toronto. I will be there all week. I’m hoping to meet up with at least one homeschooling family while there.


I haven’t made the time to write a succinct blog entry today. I had it in mind when I sat down earlier this afternoon. What I got caught up in was re-styling the WordPress 2.0 Admin Panel. Being an unschooler at heart, I mostly didn’t give up on it until I had most of it done. Andrea and I had discussed working away at changing it over the next couple weeks. And she had started it yesterday. Supper or something had interferred with the whole process. While it was still usable, the panel wasn’t very Ron-friendly for writing. I did those 3 posts last night. But today, the thought of using it again just got me all distracted 😉

Anyway, here is the original panel where you would write an entry in WP 2.0:

The original admin panel

And here is the new version: (It’s worth noting that I only changed the stylesheet.)

The new admin panel

Unofficial poll: Which one is easier on the eyes?

Modifying WordPress Plugins

We have a fair number of readers who use WordPress and I thought it would be worthwhile to share a few tips on modifying plugins that are already in use. The reason this is somewhat pertinent at the current time is due to interruption earlier today. Had I followed the steps I’m going to describe, I would not have had to make that post :).

  1. The first thing to do is disable the plugin in your template. To do this you look under Presentation->Theme Editor in the admin panel. The list of links on the right hand side of the page is the list of files included in the site. If the plugin adds something to your sidebar, then the file you need to edit is likely your Sidebar Template. The call to the plugin will be found between a <?php tag and a ?> tag. For example, <?php get_most_commented(); ?> produces the most commented info. If you change it to look like this: <?php /* get_most_commented(); */ ?>, then the plugin will not get called (and whatever changes you make through steps 2 to 4 will not affect what visitors to your site will see).
  2. Next, deactivate the plugin through the admin panel: Plugins->Plugins.
  3. Make your planned changes to the plugin and save your changes. I was upgrading a plugin to a more recent version.
  4. Activate the plugin. If the admin panel gives error messages when it does this, go back to step #2.
  5. Remove the /* and */ from your template and save.
  6. Use the View Site link to verify that the plugin is working ok. If it is not then go back to step #1.

Starting at step #3 doesn’t always work out the way you had hoped 😉

Making a simple web page

There are many good websites out there to tell you all you’ll ever need to know about making web pages, but some of them are either hard to understand, too flashy, or the examples aren’t really relevant to what you might want to do.

This tutorial is all about making a simple web page with text and graphic links to places that you, your younger siblings (if you are a HEK) or your children (if you’re a HEP) frequently visit. It is also known as a portal page.
Continue reading “Making a simple web page”

Creating a Banner Image

I’ll take you through the steps I followed in creating the poinsetta banner image and explain how I chose the colours for the ‘Atypical Christmas’ WordPress Theme.

The only tool I used was The Gimp. I edited the Cascading Style Sheet using the WordPress admin panel and edited the theme ‘live’ (look under Presentation->Theme Editor->Stylesheet).
Continue reading “Creating a Banner Image”