Friday, January 06, 2006

Apple, MySQL, Blessings, Memoirs of a Geisha

At the office, I have been using a now-venerable Toshiba laptop. During the cold war era, the Toshiba folks helped the Evil Empire with the design of silent propulsion (I mean machining propellers, not Red October-style science fiction stuff) and were thus disliked. But now that the Russians are our friends, I like Toshiba and I like their laptops because they work well for me -- better than the other laptops I've used. However, the office laptop (an 8100) is acting up; it's old and out of warranty and I got approval to order a new one. The new standard corporate machine (not a Toshiba anyway) runs micro$oft virusware (my inner feelings about MS are leaking out now), but the Powerbook alternative runs Unix and is cheaper besides, even with the 3-year AppleCare that everybody tells me to buy. ("Are you guys telling me the hardware is a piece of junk?" I asked.) I feel better not running 'doze and also not having to do the installation of whatever flavour of GNU/Linux I would have decided to put on the Standard Corporate Machine.

Getting approval was one thing -- ordering it was another. The first shot was... the IT folks didn't want to touch this order, so maybe just pull out my personal credit card and get a reimbursement? But is this capital vs an expensed item? Then I heard that somebody successfully ordered one of these (a more expensive one, actually) through the corporate ordering system (but not through the IT department), and so we tried that for a while. But I didn't want the bigger, heavier, more expensive PowerBook; I want the smaller, lighter, cheaper one. It turns out that this machine is below the capital threshold, so it's a credit card purchase with company reimbursement after all. Whew! There are hurdles, but they can be overcome.
So in a few days it'll be sitting on my desk. I hope the security cable fits.

Yesterday at the office, I was distracted with a lot of interesting technical issues and didn't get around to the work I was supposed to do. What I'm supposed to do is influence people. Convince and sell and nag and "evangelize" and negotiate. Exert Influence Without Authority (a great book by the way) to help move the organization where we really want to go. So I was very happy to accomplish something in the service of that goal, but something that would also nourish my inner geek. I used MySQL to create a couple of tables, populate them with some data, and crank out a few charts. The charts will be used to nag managers. I think MySQL is really cool. The documentation is easy to understand and you can come up to speed really fast on it and simple things are really simple to do. And it's all free (in both 'free speech' and 'free beer' senses).

In this job I don't do as much coding in C; it's more a staff role. But coming up to speed on MySQL, gluing a web interface onto it (that's next week), adding graphs, etc., is enough coding-like that it keeps me sane. The code isn't directly for products, but the impact is supposed to include better products and more predictable schedules. So as I think about it (as I write this now) I think I am having a pretty good time. Another blessing to be thankful for.

Yet another: my article is now up on -- part 1 of a 3-part series on how an old C hacker drags himself into the 1990s by learning Python.

This afternoon the lovely Carol told me she wanted to see Memoirs of a Geisha instead of going bowling. So we abandoned our teen-agers for the local multi-plex, and I gained points for going without complaints. And also for having enough cash on hand (ATM + cash back this morning - the conveniences of modern life!) for tickets. But on the way home I lost my hard-won points. Carol was talking about some smart young guy (the son of someone she met recently) who wanted to succeed in business but didn't think he had to go to college; I remarked off-the-cuff that "he's not as smart as he thinks he is." That was the wrong thing to say to her at this time about this guy. I'm not even sure why I made such a judgmental remark. And it's not necessarily true; Bill Gates never finished college, and he's arguably very successful in business.

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