Tech learnin’

Well, things are not going well on the employment front, but at least I’m still learning things.

To wit:

  • JSP Yeah, I did a bit (day or two) of this about a year ago when I was investigating Epicentric, but never followed up on it. I’m following up a bit now, still don’t “know” it, but am writing JSP pages and beans. Not well, but am. Step in the correct direction.
  • Perl Again, going back to something I have not done for some time now. See the Quote-A-Tron stuff in an earlier entry (written in Cold Fusion…and then the same thing with a Perl backend. Same data.).
  • Linux Rebuilt the box, have things going very well now, so well that I want to upgrade to v7.1, which I probably will do shortly. Need more memory and another hard drive, however. That might be tricky…..we will see. Hey, got an FTP server installed on the box, so I can now treat the Linux box (if I so choose) as a remote server, so I can do HTML/PHP (etc) development on my Windows box (with a MUCH better editor etc). Way cool. Took a bit to get it working (I had everything correct but for ONE missing package (which, in retrospect, I should have known….).
  • Databases Just in general. Learning more PostgresSQL, more MS SQL Server, getting better at data design (need to learn ERWIN, however).
  • Networking No, not perfect there, but have a lot of boxes available to lots of others. Getting the whole TCP/IP thing much better than I ever did before, because I am BUILDING a network and HAVE TO understand it to make it work. Neat.
  • Hardware Don’t quite know how to characterize this, but I finally broke down and got a switch box. I now control three different machines (my old Pentium Pro, my new Pentium III and my Linux box) through this box so I have only one mouse/keyboard/monitor. Nice to run Linux off my big-ass monitor (21″); the video card — unfortunately — only handles up to 800×600 resolution, so that’s a little BIG, but with the FTP install, I really don’t have to go to the Linux box but for maintenance. So it works. Still need a printer, and networking that puppy will either be 1) Easy, if I an get an IP address for it, or 2) A bitch, and I have to run more cords through the switch box. Probably would make sense to spend a little more to get a network-ready computer, and then flex my networking muscles getting an IP for it.

Web creation…is changing

I sense a disturbance in The Force.

Maybe it is just my current state of (un)employment, but there has been a definite shift in the way the Web is built and is used.

Yes, this is not news to me, but — still — it seems to have gotten worse and worse.

Observations, in no particular order or of equal significance:

  • Personal: When I left my job last year — roughly a year ago (~15 months?), I had four firm offers (paper) and two other “please work for me offers” before three weeks were up. Now, five weeks after departure — and networking and sending out resumes blah blah…. — one interview in person, two on phone (one which led to the in-person interview). Bleh.
  • Web creation: There seems to be a departure from seeking out individuals who divine the Internet, it’s protocols, who can actually hand-code in favor or people with experience with software packages (middlewhere [sic] that does the publishing). This goes way beyond the earlier times, where you could do things with Vignette or what have you. Now we are talking companies are looking for developers who have worked with Ariba, PeopleSoft, WebSphere or what have you. I guess — I know — that this is a natural progression, and it mirrors the devlepment of the Web — first was Unix underpinnings, Gopher, all-command line interface, and then a GUI (mainly NT) took over for a lot of folks, and drag-and-drop mode replaced “cp -rf /one_directory/ /newroot/second_directory” or whatever. Show me an NT-only person who knows what GREP is, much less what it stands for (global regular expression print), and that’ll be…unusual.
  • Web creation, personal: Where does that leave me? Basically, one needs to acquire the skills with whatever application server de jour. That’s the only interest I’ve gotten from employers thus far, those that are using Cold Fusion (not a true application servers, but somewhat like middleware in the lightest possible sense). So what do I learn? Should I abandon PHP and Perl (self-taught) lessons — Java is planned, as is JSP — and just plug in a copy of something (I think I have WebSphere for Linux somewhere) and try to learn this stuff? Don’t know….
  • Platforms: Obviously, the world is split between the NT and *nix crowds. Both have merits; both have shortcomings. I personally like UNIX better, even though I have less exposure to it. At the same time, I know that I would be able to work in an NT environment more easily than I could in a UNIX environment if I was to pretty much have to go it alone (small company or whatever), as NT makes it easier to “figure things out” (face it: which is easier — clicking the Find icon in NT or using find | grep in UNIX? What’s easier — zipping a directory or going “tar xvf tarball.tar /home/httpd/html”? Not necessarily better [I prefer tarballs], but from a ease of use to the uninitiated). Again, it’s going to expertise honed at a job where you worked on that platform — as I had to learn Linux/PHP for SOS — or experience gained through a degree program. The Internet is growing up.
  • Hand coding: Getting to be a lost art, yet — at the same time — I can’t believe what I see advertised and what people tell me. NO. An application server is not creating style sheets that are compatible with both Netscrape and Internet Exploder. No. Not yet. Bitch enough to do it by hand now, no way this is automated yet. Or there is nothing I’ve seen to suggest this other than the lack of jobs that call for such skills, yet everyone is deploying style sheets. What gives?
  • Flash overkill: Java applets were supposed to bring interactivity and life to the Web, making the statelesss HTTP protocol just the backdrop of a dynamic Web experience. Yeah, that didn’t happen. Now Flash has taken its place to a certain degree (some sites, notably financial sites with stock tickers, still use applets, but very judiciously). However, Flash is the new poster child for bad design, and for many good reasons:

    • Designers are using the technology for splash pages. Splash pages are evil, regardless of the technology used to produce them.
    • Much like when desktop publishing first hit newsletters and magazines — when you’d get a publication with ~3 zillion font combos in it — people are using all the bells and whistles in Flash because they CAN, not because they NEED them. Yes, this too will pass, but it’s fucking annoying right now.
    • One of the bad side effects of the previous bullet point is the bandwidth the “cool” shit takes. I don’t notice it — I’ve had a cable modem for some time now (bless it!) and, at work, it’s always been T-1 or better — but others certainly do. Stoppit dammitt!
    • A lot of Flash just sucks, much like many Web pages sucked a few years ago (not that there are not a lot of sucky Web sites out there still….), because HTML and Flash are both pretty easy. So anyone (i.e. dunderheads like me) can do it. And they do. And they shouldn’t be! Or — at least — they should not be HIRED to do this dreck. What you do on your own site is one thing but…..

  • The incorporation of the Web: Yes, you’ve seen it happen. Or, perhaps more accurately, you are seeing it happen. Business has finally embraced the Web; it is no longer for academics, techies and geeks. The frontier days are close to over. This does not mean the “personal Web” will ever go away, necessarily: I think there will always be — percentage wise — a larger number of personal Web sites (“My name is Chuck and here are links to sites that I really like….”) than corporate sites. Makes sense, as there are more people than corporations, so it should stay that way, but what the hell do I know?
  • The rise | fall | rise of the subscription model: Yes, the Wall Street Journal is the only one who has really made this work. Will others — such as Salon and newspapers requiring this or that for archive info — endure (the models, not necessarily the sites)? Good question. The bigger question — which will decide the previous question is: What is the purpose of the Web for business? Yes, there are many answers — one is to have a Web presence to give basic company info, that’s a necessity to me, but what are the others????? Will people pay for content beyond financial content? To me, it remains to be seen.
  • Revolution vs. Evolution: To me, the biggest surprise about the Web/Internet is that it is NOT a revolution. Yes, it has changed things. Indeliably (sp?), and there is no going back (what? no e-mail?!?!?). How it has shook down is that it is just another deliver mechanism, albeit with “interactive” (i.e. feedback) mechanisms. Evolution: Changes everything (this does not). Revolution: Changes lots, but not all, and each revolution has it’s own degree of “change” (this fits the ‘net).
  • Show me the money: Notice that this bullet point does not say “Show me the (Web)monkey!” — important differentiation. As another channel for delivery of whatever — e-mail, personal stuff, corporate stuff, secret stuff — the Web has done this all, but what will make it rich are those sites/technologies that make someone rich. While the frontier days are damn near over, the gold rush is still on. It’s going to be interesting.

A glimpse of my week

One week with cats; each day they get better. That’s good.

Had first interview Thursday; interesting place. It was going back into time and going back to SOS. Same cast of characters, same story…..

Except I don’t give them a chance. Might be a good place to contract, however. They need some help, that’s for sure.

Got a switch so I can run all my boxes (three: New NT, old Win98, Linux) through one keyboard/mouse/monitor.

I’d still like to get a dedicated screen for the Linux box, however. I might just rebuild the old Win machine at some point, put a huge drive (20G, at least) and rebuild that as my Linux box. Then turn the other one into either a file server (Samba) or firewall. But all that is stuff I have to learn.

Unfortunately, I have lots of time in which to learn…..

Still raining. This has been the suckiest weather…..

I am discovering that Saturday is NOT a good day to Blog; probably when everyone else does it….