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Ask Slashdot: What Do You Wish You'd Known Starting Out As a Programmer?

ErichTheRed Re:SW Engineering as a _trade_ is still maturing (411 comments)

This is a big issue for me as well (I'm in systems integration, not dev, but we have very similar problems.)

- There's no equivalent of an ABET accreditation for training standards. I know lots of awesomely talented self-taught IT guys, but I also know a lot of people who just don't have the troubleshooting skills or discipline. (I would qualify as self-taught, coming from a science background.)
- Training is left up to vendors with an interest in selling products, as well as making IT professionals think their products are the only way to accomplish something. (Every OS, every packaged product, every database, is like this -- even for open source stuff.)
- There's no professional standards. Standards are extremely hard to nail down in a fast paced world, but I'm talking minimum stuff like secure coding and the low-level plumbing of network communication.
- There's no barrier to entry and no progression within the profession. It would be great if we could make sure people start out as technicians, then lead technicians, and THEN they start to get calling themselves senior, architect, whatever. How many Senior Systems Architects do you know who have amazingly huge gaps in their knowledge?
- Because there are no standards, or professional qualifications, there's no basis on which to hold someone accountable for a bad design. Their responsibility ends with "sorry."

I think some maturity and standards would do the software and systems worlds a lot of good. Employers wouldn't have to guess whether a candidate is lying to them regarding their abilities, professionals would be able to push back on stupid decisions based on a body of standards, etc. I think too many people think the equivalent of a P.E. is too much like a union, or they don't want the responsibility that a designation like that brings with it.

5 hours ago

Dramatic Shifts In Manufacturing Costs Are Driving Companies To US, Mexico

ErichTheRed Re:Not flat. (190 comments)

Your parents and grandparents were able to buy a house, two cards, and send 2 children to college on a single income. You can't.

I think there are two main factors driving this:
- Up until about the 70s, there was no competition for labor...the US was its own market and very few people ever even left the country for extended periods.
- The labor/management balance has shifted dramatically in favor of management.

The other component of your nostalgia moment was that your parents or grandparents were typically employed either for life by the same company, or by a small number of companies. Jobs were stable and employers invested in their employees, who in return had more loyalty. In the case of factory work, unions kept management in check and ensured their members got a decent middle class wage. I know this because I grew up in a Rust Belt city in the 70s/80s, and saw exactly what happens when this support structure is kicked out from under employees.

The problem today is that management is in the drivers' seat, and has convinced labor that they can be exactly like them if they just work harder and complain less. The "job creator" meme is very strong, even among the poor/unemployed, which is surprising. Not every employer is like this, I agree, but enough of them are that it affects everyone. I happen to be very lucky and working for a good employer, but when competitors start putting downward pressure on wages and benefits, it takes a very strong company with a good market position to hold the line.

6 hours ago

Dramatic Shifts In Manufacturing Costs Are Driving Companies To US, Mexico

ErichTheRed The cycle continues (190 comments)

It's interesting to watch how things oscillate from one extreme to the other. In computers, it's the shift from terminals connected to mainframes, to PCs, to terminals that look a lot like a smartphone, and now a little bit back towards PCs. I'm guessing this insourcing trend will start swinging back the other way once labor here gets too far above the price levels it's at now.

The company I work for basically the opposite of leading edge -- we do IT services for a very staid, downtime-averse, risk-averse industry segment. They're just starting to figure out that offshoring whole development groups isn't giving them the savings they predicted, a fact that most companies realized a lot sooner. So not every industry oscillates in phase, but the pattern is everywhere.

Serious question though, for those with of the most often cited problems US manufacturers complain about is the lack of skilled factory workers. What exactly do people need in the way of skills that they didn't have 20-30 years ago when the manufacturing was offshored originally? If it's just running CNC equipment or similar, isn't all the programming and such done by the engineers? What is the skill they need?

6 hours ago

Daimler's Solution For Annoying Out-of-office Email: Delete It

ErichTheRed That's never going to happen in a US company (231 comments)

The problem with implementing something like this in a US company is the staffing model. European companies tend to have more people doing similar jobs, so that one person actually can fill in for another. Most out of office messages say something like "I'm not here, please contact my manager XYZ for assistance." 9 times out of 10, there's no backup person who can actually provide an answer, simply because there's no backup staff that knows enough to solve a problem.

The other issue is that at least in IT, most places still allow individuals to knowledge-hoard. Often it's unintentional (see understaffing above) because there's simply no time to ensure someone else knows about what you do. But sometimes people do this in a misguided quest for job security. Also, a very small number of people do it to cover something up -- there stories out there about people who found loopholes in purchasing/accounting systems and used them to write checks to themselves or divert equipment...and only got caught when someone else started reviewing things they had been handling themselves.

In my opinion, a lot of the knowledge-hoarding would stop if people were able to trust their employers to keep them employed, or to at least treat them fairly if they had to be laid off. Sure, implementing worker-friendly policies would probably be expensive in the short run, but I can't tell you the number of times I've walked into a new job where the previous individual held all the tribal knowledge about a system or process. I think this policy is a very good one -- especially for employees who work a stressful job and have family commitments, etc. Being able to completely ignore everything during a vacation would be something many employees would stick around to keep. Personally, I have a very busy work schedule and 2 little kids at home. Between not sleeping normally and often having to use my downtime to finish extra work, I would _love_ to be able to say "here, this is your problem now" for 2 weeks. (I wouldn't even have to go anywhere...just put me somewhere to turn off my brain for a couple days.)

It'll never happen here though -- there are too many people who buy into the "job creators" meme and let their employers walk all over them...everyone who even suggests a worker-friendly policy is a lazy entitled socialist here.

3 days ago

Is Remote Instruction the Future of College?

ErichTheRed Might work for adult education (81 comments)

I think one of the things they're missing about college is the overall experience. Adults going back for a degree might want a stripped down experience like this, but I think that students going through their first post-high school education experience benefit from "being somewhere." I graduated about 15 years ago, but even with all the change in the world, there's still no shortage of immature, directionless high school seniors.

Going somewhere to college and dealing with all that this entails gives a student that bridge into the real world. Especially if a student was helicoptered over by their parents and wasn't challenged by K-12 education, gaining experience with failure, stress and dealing with people is very important so you don't get fired from your first job. Some of the things a student has to do during their college career that an online classroom can't provide are:
- Dealing with dorm living and roommates (interpersonal skills, uncomfortable situations, etc.)
- Working to hard deadlines that don't get extended just because you ask
- Getting that first awful set of exam results that makes you realize you actually have to study for the first time in your life
- Getting exposed to classes outside their comfort zone
- Dealing with bad professors, toxic classmates, etc (perfect prep for a real world job)
- Navigating social situations, drinking, partying, drugs, all that stuff
- Learning basic self-care if they live away from home (laundry, cooking)
- Most likely, learning how to hold down a job while balancing all your other responsibilities
- Living on an incredibly limited budget (I remember thinking I was the richest man alive when I got my first real world job after school.)
- Especially if you're at a large state university like I was, learning how to work within a system. (Everything outside the classroom is similar to dealing with a state agency...if you approach it like that it becomes a lot less frustrating.)

So, yes college is incredibly expensive, tuition has to come down, etc. etc. -- but other than the military, how does a high school student make the transition from being a dumb kid to being a responsible adult?

about a week ago

Silicon Valley Doesn't Have an Attitude Problem, OK?

ErichTheRed Re:Bro, u jelly? (261 comments)

Nope. Our customers have experienced all of the bad things you've heard about with Wipro and their ilk.

And yes, there are plenty of stereotypical brogrammer worker bees as well. I was just highlighting the fact that putting these types in charge just breeds more of them over time as they try to act like the boss.

about two weeks ago

Silicon Valley Doesn't Have an Attitude Problem, OK?

ErichTheRed Watching Bubble 2.0 deflate... (261 comments)

Hmm, let's put thousands and thousands of socially maladjusted techies together in one region, appoint a bunch of hypersocialized "brogrammer" types as their bosses, and see what happens. What could possibly go wrong???

I work in the "tech industry" but I work for a specialized IT services firm, which is almost the polar opposite of a bubble-fueled Internet startup. I watched the dotcom bubble inflate and pop, and now this one's on the way out too. By contrast, the people I work with are totally normal. Some have their quirks, but we have very few jerks. Steve Jobs may be the poster child for "tech visionary" but people conveniently forget that he was an absolute jerk and people hated to work for him. In my mind, anyone who emulates that is someone I definitely don't want to work with.

The "techie asshole" personality really does feed on itself. Take a bunch of recent grads with no real world experience and put them under someone trying to channel Jobs, Zuckerberg or similar. Pretty soon, everyone starts acting like that. I'm not surprised at how much sexual harassment goes on in these environments given this fact. It doesn't help that the press is falling all over itself to pump these guys up and give them superhuman status. Yes, smartphones are cool. Yes, people are walking around with $800 touchscreen computers in their pockets that let them do more than they used to. But in my mind, all these late-bubble-stage startups are doing is creating one-off websites competing for everyone's attention. No one's really inventing much new -- it's all about advertising, page views and the sale of your personal data. Some stuff that has come out in the last few years is extremely cool, but a lot of it seems a lot like the very late 90s when the bubble was the frothiest it had been and everyone is piling on hoping to cash out before the big pop.

about two weeks ago

With Chinese Investment, Nicaraguan Passage Could Dwarf Panama Canal

ErichTheRed Interesting (322 comments)

When the original Panama Canal was built, there were huge engineering problems that couldn't be easily solved. What will be interesting to see is how quickly this one will be completed with modern technology, modern medicine against tropical diseases, etc. I thought there were plans to widen the existing Panama Canal - were those scrapped?

The other interesting thing to see is China making these huge investments in other countries. Having a competitor for the Panama Canal would really change international trade. I also heard China is investing heavily in Africa and the Middle East, basically for leverage against the US and Europe. It may be one telecom billionaire making the investment, but I'm sure the Chinese government is going to do anything it can to help.

One of the things most people see as a bug but I see as a feature with China is their ability to just do things. There's no debate, no fighting with Congress, etc...they can just tell millions of people to move out of the way of an infrastructure project (e.g. Three Gorges Dam.) That's going to be a huge advantage they have over the West during this century. Another big shift that China is basically just making happen by fiat is the forced urbanization of the country...moving peasant farmers off their land and into cities (which is what those "Ghost Cities" are supposed to be for.) Just look at the fights that happen when someone's land is claimed by eminent domain for a construction project in the US...none of that happens there, and anyone who complains is marginalized.

about two weeks ago

Hack an Oscilloscope, Get a DMCA Take-Down Notice From Tektronix

ErichTheRed This is a tough one. (273 comments)

On one hand, some people might say they paid a huge amount of money for a product that had this (locked) functionality built in, and they have the right to hack it. On another, it's not a trivial amount of effort to write the software that does the analysis, so I could see why a company wants to protect its intellectual property. Otherwise, why would they bother? They would have to ship the device at a higher price to cover the cost of developing the features.

I think the solution here is for the companies to implement reasonable security. Cisco is famous (at least lately) for shipping crippled hardware that is fully capable of performing the functions that are unlocked by various licenses. They implement it as a soft key that ties in with the device serial number (i.e. pay your money, go online to Cisco, give them the license code and your serial number, and they give back another code to enter into the device. And presto, instant feature. Another example I have right here at work is an IBM DS3500 disk array. There are feature keys for everything -- volume snapshots, remote copy, SSD support, increased number of hosts, and a very mysterious, strangely named "Turbo Performance" option [1]. So this is nothing new -- my disk array is running the base configuration and I'm fully aware the controllers in it are shipped with these capabilities. It's weird having to buy $10K pieces of paper, but I see why they do it.

It seems like Tektronix was relying on security through obscurity and they assumed no one would try to build hardware keys to work around their feature protection. HP recently did something similar with the ProLiant and Integrity server line that Oracle/Sun did a while back -- they simply stated that no firmware upgrades would be available on their machines without a warranty or service contract. As someone why buys old hardware for fun, it makes it difficult to get it to the last firmware that HP released for it. But, fixing firmware isn't free, so there's that angle as well. I think the HP/Sun/Oracle stuff is aimed more at forcing you to buy service from them, so it's a little different.

[1] Side note - even the reseller who sold us the device couldn't tell us what Turbo Performance did. After a lot of digging, I figured out that this option is used when you add tons of disk shelves to the array, and it lifts an artificial performance cap on the controllers.

about two weeks ago

LinkedIn Busted In Wage Theft Investigation

ErichTheRed Time for a professional organization in IT (108 comments)

The current culture in IT is a breeding ground for problems like this. LinkedIn is a public company now, but I'm sure they still operate in Silicon Valley start up mode trying to grind 80-hour weeks out of everyone without paying for them or staffing appropriately.

I know it's a total pipe dream, but I have an idea that would get IT the representation it needed without the Randian folk getting upset about unions...a professional organization. The AMA ensures high salaries for physicians by limiting the number of spots in medical school as well as setting a high bar for licensure. Professional Engineers (the actual licensed kind) are liable for their work and can refuse to sign off on things that they deem unsafe. Law is a bad example (the ABA went down the same roads we in IT are traveling.) Professional organizations would bring at least a minimum level of universal training to the field. Right now, what passes for education beyond a CS degree is provided by vendors with a vested interest in you buying their product. Projects that you see all over the IT press that blow up after millions of wasted dollars were flushed down the toilet probably would have a better chance of getting shot down right away.

The problem is that there would have to be a split in the field with regards to job duties, and I don't know how that would be easily separated. Things like tech support, documentation and basic systems administration might be better classed as paraprofessional jobs so that things like OT and on-call hours would be easier to ensure compliance on. And on the other side, systems architects and engineers would need to step their game up...mandatory continuing education, etc. Right now, skill levels and education experiences vary wildly. Hiring someone involves either giving them ridiculous tests to see if they're lying about their experience or just hoping you can smell BS. It would be a good thing for employers as well in the long run.

I'm sure things will have to get very bad indeed for anything to happen given the culture in IT. IT people have really done a good job convincing themselves that they're white collar professionals, lone wolves and would never need any leverage against an employer. Having a professional organization rather than a union would probably quiet some of this, espeically when people see that they could increase their income and improve working conditions for everyone by doing it. The problem is the toxic "job creators vs. lazy entitled workers" meme -- people need to realize that business owners aren't just going to welcome you into their club if you play by their rules. It's an adversarial relationship, always has been, and people need to treat it that way. Workers will always try to get more for their labor, and management will always try to squeeze as hard as they can. The only way to balance that out is to organize.

about two weeks ago

Getting Back To Coding

ErichTheRed Less coding, more assembling pieces (240 comments)

I'm in systems engineering/administration, so the vast majority of my "coding" experience is focused on automation and scripting. Predictably, stuff like this is very procedural and different from application development. However, the biggest shift I've seen is not really in the complexity of tools, but the shift in focus to gluing together pre-defined parts. Sure, languages have always had standard libraries, but development (especially in the mobile OS or web framework environments) often leaves me trying to figure out how much I would have to code from scratch and how much work has been done for me simply by including Massive Functional Library X. Don't get me wrong, it's a good thing to not have to do everything yourself, but I sometimes wonder how much control one gives up when they just write an app by putting someone else's code together.

One example from my side of the fence is Windows PowerShell. It's amazing, but it really requires a complete shift in thinking if you're used to writing VBScript. JavaScript or batch language automation. With the other languages, you have to write lots of code to parse command output or iterate through a WMI structure. Some of the stuff is so complex that sysadmins who don't really know the under-the-hood workings just cargo cult the whole thing and make a mess. PowerShell became useful to me when I realized I no longer had to write chunks of code solely dedicated to reading the contents of formatted CSV files. Lots of the complexity of that rolls up into a line or two of script. Again, it's not a bad thing, but if you're used to DIY, it makes you wonder how the "magic" is being done. When you move up the stack (iOS, Android, etc.) that abstraction is even more in, just call this library which handles the entire database-access layer that used to be huge amounts of coding.

about three weeks ago

Hotel Chain Plans Phone-Based Check-in and Room Access

ErichTheRed Does the Millenial hype actually match reality? (120 comments)

The last dotcom boom seemed to be mostly about eyeballs and getting people on the web. Now the popular meme is that Millenials are the new hot group to market to, and they are constantly glued to their smartphone of choice 24/7. However, just like the popular images of the fedora-wearing tech hipster and others, how much does this picture of a hyper-connected, distracted, wants-to-be-advertised-to-24/7 Millenial match with actual people?

Sure, you can easily point out tons of people watching movies on their 4" screens, listening to music through tiny earbuds and devouring social media. I'm just not sure _everyone_ under 30 is like that. Stories like this that predict a relatively small technology enhancement will fundamentally change the nature of commerce were pretty common at the end of the last boom too. Couple that with some of the (admittedly less insane) IPOs lately and billion dollar valuations on websites that don't make money right now, and you're looking at the last gasps of inflation for Bubble 2.0. My prediction is that social media, tablets, apps and so on will live on, but they're going to be less front-and-center in peoples' lives as people get tired of it. Everyone I've ever talked to who has an iPad or other tablet says the same thing -- it's a good content consumption device but they still need a computer for anything more complex than email.

The security implications of hotel room access through smartphone could be interesting. Done properly, it's probably as safe as Prox badges or traditional keys. However, given that this is a large hotel chain, I guarantee they're going to farm the app development out to the rock-bottom bidder. This happens all the time with large companies that say, "OMG we need tablet and phone apps NOW!!" It's kind of a given that version 1.0 is going to have, I'm not sure everyone is so averse to dealing with people that they would want to check into a hotel without stopping at the front desk. (Hint: If you're not a jerk to the front desk staff, and ask for something cheap like a room upgrade, you're likely to get it, which is something an app's business logic won't do unless you're Triple Executive Platinum 1K Plus.)

about three weeks ago

"ExamSoft" Bar Exam Software Fails Law Grads

ErichTheRed Hits just keep on coming for lawyers... (100 comments)

It's actually interesting that the bar exam is administered using software running on somebody's personal computer. All the computer based tests I've taken (GRE, various vendor certification tests) have been at a Prometric or similar testing facility on their hardware. They're actually pretty strict -- no personal items of any kind allowed in the room, the only scratch paper you get is a whiteboard and marker, etc. I know the bar exam isn't a multiple choice test you can memorize the answers to, but even so, how do they guarantee integrity? Wouldn't it be safer for the state to just rent laptops for all these temporary testing locations they set up? (I remember hearing that they use hotel space or similar locations.)

This sounds like ExamSoft is like one of the firms mentioned yesterday that refused to support custom firewall configurations "just because." They have a monopoly on testing software, refuse to update anything, and are pretty much the only game in town, leading to crappy software. I am intimately familiar with companies like this in my little corner of industry.

All that said, I've also heard new lawyers aren't exactly in for a fun ride. Basically, anyone who didn't go to Harvard, Yale or Stanford and didn't finish in the top 10% there is doomed to never make old-school lawyer salaries. Apparently the American Bar Association threw open the floodgates and allowed way too many law graduates onto the market, and accredited way too many law schools. This coupled with the offshoring of routine legal tasks means that there's way fewer jobs at big law the image of the high-powered corporate lawyer in the $1000 suit driving the S-Class is only available to a very select few now and the rest of these law grads are paying off 6 figure debt while scraping for any work they can find. It's kind of sad (yes. yes, lawyers are evil, blah blah blah) to see other professions being hollowed out the way IT and engineering have been. Doctors are still in good shape though -- the AMA ensures that only X doctors graduate medical school each year, and X is always matched to meet or be below demand. Wish we in IT had that kind of representation!

about three weeks ago

Ask Slashdot: Is Running Mission-Critical Servers Without a Firewall Common?

ErichTheRed More common than you think (348 comments)

My job requires that I deal with a lot of, to put it politely, vertical market software companies. As in, they're the only game in town for that particular function in the industry I work in. It's extremely common to see stuff like this, and it's usually justified by saying "firewalls won't protect you anyway, so why bother?" I only slightly agree -- in my mind the most important thing is to severely limit the use of admin/root accounts and protect their passwords, since you can shut off any security measures once you're through the door.

Usually, it's just laziness on the part of the vendor. The software is assumed to be running on a closed network with no external access in many cases, and a lot of people don't get that even closed networks aren't really closed anymore. I'm completely platform-agnostic, but I've noticed this a lot with typical Windows DCOM fat client / SQL Server (or worse, Jet/Access DB) pairings. As soon as you try to run these securely on a general purpose desktop, you find that port-based firewalling is very difficult to do without opening a huge range of ports due to the way RPC works. Yes, there are workarounds, but in general the protocol is not firewall-friendly. And, the golden rule of vertical market software is "thou shall not upgrade thy technology stack, ever." I do desktop systems integration -- OMG, getting poorly coded VB6 applications working on Windows 8 is a nightmare even with the compatibility toolkit, etc. Not sure what it is with the market segment I'm in, but I see lots of VB6 married to a Jet database, and lots of craptastic fat Java applications. Both can be killers to fix and get working without access to the code/programmer.

about three weeks ago

Nuclear Missile Command Drops Grades From Tests To Discourage Cheating

ErichTheRed High stakes testing strikes again (122 comments)

If the tests were the sole basis for who gets promoted in a particular group of officers, I can see why the cheating occurred. Since promotion is tied to pay increases, and the job doesn't really change that much (other than you might be the "lead" launch officer or whatever...) people would be tempted to cheat to make sure they get the highest score. If I had a job that was that boring, I sure would want to get paid the most I possibly could for doing it.

This is a common problem with high stakes testing. Standardized tests like the SAT, GRE, MCAT, LSAT etc. have entire industries built around getting the maximum score possible on the test, since it largely determines your future prospects. For example, if you're planning on law school, due to offshoring and the Bar Association not protecting the barriers to entry, the profession is completely dead to anyone who doesn't graduate from Harvard, Yale or Stanford (in the top 10% of their class.) As in, no one should waste their money on law school if they can't get into one of these schools. Guess what a key factor for admission is? Yup, LSAT scores!

Closer to home, our county's police force is well-known as an extremely stable, very well paid job opportunity...yes, it means you're a cop and you get all the crap that goes along with that, but it's in a reasonably safe part of the country, you can retire in 20 years with a fully vested pension, health care is completely free, and they're not offshoring cops. As a result, thousands and thousands of people take the police civil service exam every year and they're competing for maybe 50 or 60 spots. When several hundred people get 100% on the exam (and some get more than that due to bonus "status" points,) I'm sure there's extreme pressure to perform. I imagine cheating is dealt with swiftly, and for people who have their heart set on getting the job, not ever being able to compete for it again might be enough of a deterrent. But for these missile launch officers, it might have been different. I can't imagine anything more boring than doing a 24 hour shift waiting for an order that has a 99.9999999% chance of never arriving. The temptation to get ahead and move on with one's career must be huge.

about three weeks ago

Ask Slashdot: How Many Employees Does Microsoft Really Need?

ErichTheRed All large orgs are like this (272 comments)

I work for a medium-large organization (a few thousand people worldwide, nothing like a Microsoft or IBM.) Both very small and very large organizations have problems. Small businesses are usually run by a tyrannical owner and their family, and all others are treated like "the help". Large organizations develop their own political infrastructure, and yes, they collect a lot of unnecessary employees. I'm not sure which is the bigger problem.

When things get too big, there are some people who get very good at either (a) hiding out and not doing a whole lot, or (b) taking advantage of the size of the organization and slowly building empires around themselves. I'm on a very small (way too small for the amount of actual, real customer work we do) product engineering team and am sometimes amazed at how easily some other groups within our company can just ask for and receive more headcount. Good politicians do very well in large organizations. In addition, there are simply a lot of jobs that involve processes that could be automated, but for whatever reason they're not. How many large-company employees do you know that simply take an input stack of work, perform some sort of transaction on it, and pass it on to the next person in the chain? A lot of this is probably holdover from when companies actually did have thousands of people manually processing paper and requests.

Also, in large organizations with long-term employees, it's very easy for the employees to get wrapped up in the organizational procedures themselves. I have a lot of friends who work for the state university system and in local governments, and they tell me all sorts of stories about people throwing fits over the number of sick days they have banked, etc. just because it's a very important part of their work culture. There's a lot of bureaucracy just for the sake of it, and long-term employees use "the system" to maximum advantage. The problem is that it distracts from the actual work that needs to be done.

I'm not really sure we _should_ get rid of every single inefficient position, for one simple reason...these office jobs keep a huge chunk of middle class with reasonable skills and medium levels of education employed. Take those out everywhere and suddenly millions of people start defaulting on their debts and the economy collapses. In that case, either (a) the economy reorganizes around a Star Trek The Next Generation model, or (b) we start seeing some really bad stuff happening in the near future. Losing manufacturing was bad -- imagine what happens when millions more have nowhere to go and nothing to do.

That said, try to get a bug fixed or feature added in Windows or's not easy and I think I know part of the reason. :-)

about a month ago

The Billionaire Mathematician

ErichTheRed Persistence or raw intelligence (96 comments)

" Dr. Simons is quick to say this his persistence, more than his intelligence, is key to his success"

That's a very interesting thought. I'm very interested in science, engineering, etc. but seem to lack the innate math ability to do anything beyond a bachelors degree. I probably would have been a lot happier as a researcher, but by the end of doing a BS in chemistry, I was pretty burned out. What's interesting about that statement and made me think is this -- if we were able to pull in more people who aren't "good at school" but still have something useful to contribute, there could be a lot of talent picked up. Success in early education still hinges on the ability to do well on timed tests that check your ability to remember key facts. Therefore, it favors people who can get the material down quickly and have a photographic memory. And it all builds -- early diagnostic tests in elementary school start identifying people's strengths and determining where they should focus, the SATs and other entrance exams determine to some extent what further education you are able to pursue, and exams in undergrad college courses determine whether you stay in the education game or not. For people who don't do well on tests, this can really discourage any further study, even through there's much less emphasis on this kind of learning/testing cycle in graduate studies. It's an interesting thought now that a lot of "knowledge work" is even disappearing and we have to find something for everyone to do. Identifying talent without equating talent to memory ability is a challenge for the current system. I'm not saying everyone can be a Ph.D researcher, I'm just saying that I think we miss a lot of people who could be good at this stuff along the way.

One of the things that has always struck me about math education is that so little applied math is taught. Now that I don't have the pressure to perform on exams anymore, sometimes I go back and try to figure out some of the math concepts that I never fully understood. Pairing the procedural stuff with a real world example makes it so much easier to understand, and makes it less of a procedure. Simons is a good example of taking something highly theoretical (basic math research) and applying it to something practical (being one of the first hedge funds to do HFT/heavy data analysis.) Unfortunately, it's very difficult to teach applied math to a class of 30 students, some of whom don't care, so a lot of people miss out on this. But it's kind of like have to have a good early education experience to make the jump from chemistry being a jumble of elements, equations, etc. to a set of rules describing how materials interact. People who don't get that exposure in their first chemistry classes aren't likely to continue.

He's right though -- people who work hard and are persistent do get ahead. Not always, and life isn't fair sometimes, but that tends to be true everywhere. Yes, some people just get lucky, and we only hear about those examples in media. But for normals, how well you do is definitely linked with how much effort you put in.

about a month and a half ago

The Bursting Social Media Advertising Bubble

ErichTheRed Who is actually influenced by ads?? (254 comments)

I honestly don't understand the effectiveness of advertising, but that's just because I ignore most of it, and of the stuff that gets put in front of me, none of it influences a single purchase decision I make. I would much rather see a product for myself or rely on a non-sponsored recommendation from an acquaintance.

It boggles my mind that there are humans that are controllable enough to fall for the "Oooo, here's an ad!" --> "Let's click on it!" --> "Psychologically engaging content designed to sell me something" --> "Let's buy that!" chain of events. It must work, otherwise there wouldn't be a whole science behind advertising / consumer psychology, but I don't get it.

It seems to me that if you have a good product, it will sell itself and all you need to do is get a few people to try and recommend it to their friends. If you can do that, then you're just wasting money on traditional ads. Everybody knows Rice Krispies exist, and some people find them tasty. Why does Kellogg's have to tell the world over and over again that they exist?

Oh well, I'm not looking forward to the 40+% drop in stock market values that's coming with the next bubble pop, but I guess that's the way the new new economy goes.

about 2 months ago

Chinese-Built Cars Are Coming To the US Next Year

ErichTheRed I guess China is Japan 2.0? (431 comments)

Growing up in the mid-late 80s, I vaguely remember the US having a total freak-out session about the Japanese taking over. I was a kid, but I've also been told that things like MBA programs did anything they could to jump on the Japan bandwagon, training people in Japanese management techniques, manufacturing processes, etc. People were absolutely convinced that there was some magic that the Japanese people and economy had that absolutely had to be emulated. Even before the 80s, having the Japanese car companies come in and encroach on the Big Three's turf was a huge mind-shift.

I wonder if China is going to succeed where Japan failed sometimes, but I also know we've been down this road. There's no real secret to their success in manufacturing:
- They have a huge population, and most of them are not averse to factory work. (We've taught 2 or 3 generations now in the US that manufacturing is a dead end job.)
- A strong, authoritarian central government in China has control over the people and key industries, and can make instant decisions to bolster growth with zero debate. They can also crush dissent -- can you imagine how much easier life would be in the US without the president having to fight Congress over everything?
- As we've seen, environmental laws aren't enforced the way they are here. Even the most laissez-faire among us can recognize that China has pollution problems.

The one thing I see that's different from the 80s is that people in general in the US aren't as well off as they were. Even back then, there were still a few industries that provided lifetime employment at good wages. Same thing goes for retirement -- pensions were still available to some people, so they didn't have to be paranoid about retirement. Now, everyone needs cheaper and cheaper stuff. China is the home of cheap manufacturing and will continue to be for quite some time. Until people feel more confident and can spend actual income rather than incurring more debt, convincing people to pay more for a higher-quality product is going to be a tough sell. And that's where I think China might have an opening -- what Japan did for high end manufacturing in the 70s/80s, China is doing to the low end to some extent.

I own a European made Volvo (I think it was made in Belgium.) It's almost 10 years old and has 120K miles on it. The engine will run forever, and the car is fine except for the things you would expect to start wearing out around the 10 year mark (belts, bearings, engine mounts, etc.) Volvos are (were?) designed for extremely long service life, kind of like Toyota Land Cruisers. It'll be interesting to see if the new owners keep the quality the same.

One thing's for sure - the next 10 years will be very interesting. I come from the Rust Belt, and being a Rust Belt 80s kid was no fun. Now the god of almighty free market efficiency is coming for the last decent manufacturing jobs. Even more worrisome is the loss of white collar employment, you know, the stuff we studied for so we didn't have to work in a factory. Unless the economy does a complete shift of some kind, we're going to have to get used to extremely high sustained levels of unemployment.

about 2 months ago

Priceline To Buy OpenTable For $2.6 Billion

ErichTheRed Bubble bubble... (43 comments)

The last dotcom bubble left us with huge amounts of equipment, dark fiber and Aeron chairs. I wonder what we're going to get out of this one?

It's a shame to see it happening again, but I guess I'll just sit back and watch like I did last time. I still wonder why I don't jump in and make my millions at the right time during these bubbles, but whatever....

Uber, Lyft, WhatsApp, Twitter and now OpenTable are going to be the next, and

about 2 months ago



Apple buys iFixit, declares repairable devices "antiquated".

ErichTheRed ErichTheRed writes  |  about 5 months ago

ErichTheRed (39327) writes "Apparently, Apple is buying iFixit. iFixit is (was?) a website that posted teardown photos of gadgets and offered repair advice. According to the website: "Apple is working hard to make devices last long enough to be upgraded or irrelevant, making repairability an antiquated notion." It's all clear now — I can't replace the batteries, hard drives or RAM in new Macs because I'm expected to throw them in the landfill every 2 years!

It made it to CNN, so it has to be true, right?"

Link to Original Source

"Clean up Github" -- A backlash against stereotypical nerd culture?

ErichTheRed ErichTheRed writes  |  about 5 months ago

ErichTheRed (39327) writes "The story on Monday about Julie Ann Horvath quitting GitHub because of harassment ties in nicely with this. A group called Ethical Code is starting a "Clean Up GitHub" campaign to request people to pull offensive comments out of their code. This brings up a very interesting it still considered too PC to expect people to be somewhat professional in their public code submissions, or is this a sign that the industry might be "growing up" a little? I'd like to hope it's the latter...."
Link to Original Source

Microsoft Retiring the TechNet Subscription

ErichTheRed ErichTheRed writes  |  about a year ago

ErichTheRed (39327) writes "One of the nicest perks that Microsoft offered is being retired. Microsoft has reasonably-priced "TechNet Subscriptions" which give you low-cost full access to download fully functional evaluation software. The idea is that IT people could use a product in their lab for learning or simulation purposes without having to shell out thousands for an MSDN subscription. These are being retired as of August 31st. Apparently they're trying to shift "casual" evaluation of software onto their Virtual Labs and other online offerings. If you want full evals of software, you're going to need to buy an MSDN Subscription. I know lots of people abuse their TechNet privileges, but it's a real shame that I won't just be able to pull down the latest software to replicate a customer problem, which is part of what I do on a daily basis. I guess you can mark this one as "From the one-bad-pirate-ruins-the-whole-bunch department...""
Link to Original Source

Ex-Employee Busted for Tampering with ERP System

ErichTheRed ErichTheRed writes  |  about a year ago

ErichTheRed (39327) writes "Here's yet another example of why it's very important to make sure IT employees' access is terminated when they are. According to the NYTimes article, a former employee of this company allegedly accessed the ERP system after he was terminated and had a little "fun". As an IT professional myself, I can't ever see a situation that would warrant something like this. Unfortunately for all of us, some people do and continue to give us a really bad reputation in the executive suite."
Link to Original Source

Change the ThinkPad and it will Die

ErichTheRed ErichTheRed writes  |  about a year and a half ago

ErichTheRed (39327) writes "Here's an interesting editorial piece about the ThinkPad over at CNN. The basic gist of it is what many ThinkPad devotees have been saying since Lenovo started tweaking the classic IBM design to make the ThinkPad more like a MacBook, Sony or other high-end consumer device. I'm a big fan of these bulletproof, decidedly unsexy business notebooks, and would be unhappy if Lenovo decided to sacrifice build quality for coolness. tl;dr: You can have my 1992 clicky IBM ThinkPad keyboard when you pull it from my cold dead hands. :-)"
Link to Original Source

IBM Sells POS Busiiness to Toshiba

ErichTheRed ErichTheRed writes  |  more than 2 years ago

ErichTheRed (39327) writes "Yet another move by IBM out of end-user hardware — Toshiba will be buying IBM's retail point-of-sale systems business for $850M. I'm not an MBA, but is it REALLY a good idea for a company defined by good (and in this case high-margin) hardware to sell it off in favor of nebulous consulting stuff?? Is there really no money in hardware anymore? I doubt they'll ever sell their Power systems or mainframes off, but you never know!"
Link to Original Source

Learning Programming in a Post-BASIC World

ErichTheRed ErichTheRed writes  |  more than 3 years ago

ErichTheRed (39327) writes "This Computerworld piece actually got me thinking — it basically says that there are few good "starter languages" to get students interested in programming. I remember hacking away at BASIC incessantly when I was a kid, and it taught me a lot about logic and computers in general. Has the level of abstraction in computer systems reached a point where beginners can't just code something quick without a huge amount of back-story? I find this to be the case now; scripting languages are good, but limited in what you can do...and GUI creation requires students to be familiar with a lot of concepts (event handling, etc.) that aren't intuitive for beginners. What would you show a beginner first — JavaScript? Python? How do you get the instant gratification we oldies got when sitting down in front of the early-80s home computers?"
Link to Original Source

America's tech decline: A reading guide

ErichTheRed ErichTheRed writes  |  more than 3 years ago

ErichTheRed (39327) writes "Computerworld has put together an interesting collection of links to various sources detailing the decline of US R&D/innovation in technology. The cross section of sources is interesting — everything from government to private industry. It's interesting to see that some people are actually concerned about this...even though all the US does is argue internally while rewarding the behaviour that hastens the decline."
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