Hello, Boys and Girls

I have decided to forego a job in the computer industry and instead teach. There are two reasons for this decison. One is that as a teacher, I get all holidays and summers off. The other is that the only way I can change the many things I hate about eastern Kentucky is to take hold of the education process. Instilling a love for education in kids is tough. I read one study that said that kids are only influenced somewhere around 12% by what they are taught in school. There’s no way I’d bet on a horse race with those kinds of odds, but I think there are enough kids living in eastern Kentucky right now that have the potential to do great things. My job as a teacher will be to help them find opportunities that they may have otherwised missed.

I guess all my years of studying computers won’t go totally to waste since that’s what I’m going to try to teach. As far as ushering my students into the 21st century, I couldn’t have picked a better subject. There is almost no job or skill these days that doesn’t require some computer knowledge. I hope my students become so proficient with technology that there is no way that companies will send jobs to India. I’m sick of hearing about the superiority of India: Educated eastern-Kentuckians will do just fine!

The obvious response to my mission is that thousands of teachers started with the same vision yet it seems that none have managed to do very much about it. This is true. To put this as arrogantly as possible, I haven’t tried yet. If I weren’t so bull-headed, I wouldn’t have made it this far. If I devote my life to the cause of education, I believe that things will change. I may not live to see it, but I can sow seeds that will blossom long after I’ve gone. No matter what happens, at least I can say I tried.

The Tech of 2003

Even though it is the 11th of January, I figured I’d post my thoughts on the state of technology in 2003. In a nutshell, 2003 was a very disappointing year. Nothing revolutionary (or for that matter evolutionary) happened. PCs got faster with better graphics and more memory, but the applications that take advantage of this power never materialized. Statistical analysis and number crunching have benefited because raw proccessing power is the key to such apps. There are plenty holy grail applications that have failed for years because of the lack of speed. Voice recognition, facial recognition, and natural language text translation could become a reality now if somebody would try to code them again in earnest.

Consumer electronics saw some really neat trends with the most important being digital music. Portable digital players got smaller and cheaper with higher capacities. The Apple iPod is the coolest even though it is more expensive than all the others. Napster, iTunes, and MusicMatch have all made buying digital music easy and legal. I think the music industry should have embraced the downloading of music years ago because they are making money hand over fist with it. It’s so much cheaper for them than trying to sale CDs retail style, especially now that they’ve finished digitizing the existing catalog. Aside from digital music, large format High Definition televisions got cheaper. Sadly, HDTV content didn’t get much of a boost despite government mandates that all stations must broadcast HDTV signals by 2006. Let’s just pray that 2004 is more interesting.

Game Boy Advance

Mom got me a Game Boy Advance for Christmas. I didn’t ask for anything this year, so this awesome gift really blew me out of the water. I really like the GBA as a platform because there are so many games for it that have been ported over from the Super Nintendo. Two games in particular that I’m incredibly excited about are Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

The first game I went to buy was Zelda since it really is my favorite game of all time. (I have beaten the game at least 2 times a year since I got it in for SNES in 1994.) The hunt for the GBA version of Zelda proved to be as elusive as the hunt for the Triforce itself. I started off going to the Wal-Mart here in Hazard. Not a trace of the tiny cartidge, even though I had seen one there not more than two days before Christmas. In an effort to find it, Mom, Dad, and I loaded up and went to the Super Wal-Mart in London. Again, no dice. We proceeded to the Big-K. Nada. On the way back, we passed by Manchester, which has the smallest, most decrepit Wal-Mart I have ever been to. Mom suggested we try there.

I merely laughed but Dad pulled off the exit anyway. I went in, navigating through the puny store to its proportionally matched electronics section. In the GBA case, there lay eight copies of that which I sought. Just as in the game, sometimes the most unlikely place will hold the key to a query.

Return of the Chili Cheese Burrito

Taco Bell has brought back the Chili Cheese Burrito. CCBs were the first thing I ever ate at Taco Bell. They have so much more flavor than a bean burrito and they’re nearly as cheap. Yay!

Beyond that, the break has been very good thusfar. I have watched the 5th season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I know, I know…Trav watches too much TV. (At least it makes more sense and is cheaper than zipping around some God-forsaken strip job on a four-wheeler.) I have also been playing a lot of video games, specifically Castlevania: Lament of Innocence and Tron 2.0. I have loved the Castlevania series since I was a kid, having spent countless hours beating my head in the carpet each time Dracula roasted me. The latest Castlevania has some of the best creepy fugal music I’ve heard in a long time.

Tron 2.0 picks up where the classic 1984 movie left off. The visuals are simply amazing. The black contrasting so sharply wiht all the neon colors is amazing. (I found out last night that the visuals are accomplished using the latest pixel shader technology.) There’s plenty of jumping, shooting, and puzzle solving to make this a good FPS title. I don’t say this enough, but at the momment, Life is good.

The Wall

When I go to sleep each night, I simply must be facing the closest wall. This ritual, as far as I remember, spawned from my childhood when I was extraordinarily afraid of the dark. I figured that if I didn’t see the monsters, they wouldn’t see me. The best way to keep from seeing them without smothering under the covers was to just make sure I faced the wall before I went to sleep. Fast forward about 15 years and I’m still doing it.

This semester, I decided to see whether or not I could manage to go to sleep without facing the wall, so I forced myself to lay on my side that doesn’t face the wall. I laid there for about an hour and a half and finally dozed off. I thought I’d won, but I woke up about 15 minutes later, I was looking square at the wall. So much for change.

Internet Explorer Woes

We all probably use Internet Explorer (IE) several times a day. It flawlessly renders our pages while allowing us to seemlessly download helper apps so we can experience sound, video, and animation. It truly is the easiest browser out there. However, I am seriously considering not using IE anymore not because it isn’t great for its purpose but because it makes me so vulnerable to a barrage of online attacks. Almost every single week since Windows XP launched, Microsoft has released patches to keep IE from providing script-kiddies access to my system. The most recent security hole, which hackers to spoof the URL of the current page very easily, is the last straw. No more IE for Trav.

You may be wondering what I’m going to use to acess the Net. The answers are Mozilla and Opera. Mozilla is the free open-source alternative. It has thousands of people around the world continuously pruning its code and finding the security bugs that IE is plauged with. It offers tabbed browsing and a fully-featured email client. Mozilla supports many of the plugins that IE does and it is very standards compliant. Ocassionally, you’ll run across a page that won’t render correctly in Mozilla, but most of the time, it’s not the browser’s fault: Some crappy webmasters worship only at the feet of IE.

The free version of Opera is ad-supported, meaning that there is an ad that always stays at the top with the navigation controls. Opera is absolutely the best for those of use who like to use the keyboard to navigate the web. One key allows me to instantly go back and forth without ever touching a mouse. Opera’s tabs are, in my opinion, better than Mozilla’s because they are easily accessible and opened from the keyboard. Opera also has a “Hotbar.” With the Hotbar, you can visit a site and add notes about it which will become available whenever you access the site they were written from. This is very handy for reasearch. Opera also has a nifty download manager that is a little more user-friendly than Mozilla’s. Opera’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t handle DHTML very well. (DHTML is the technology that allows for some of the neato menus that can be found at many sites.) Its DHTML support has gotten better over the years, but Mozilla is still stronger in this area.

In conclusion, let me say again: IE puts you at risk while you use the Internet. Consider using Mozilla or Opera.

Bill G.’s Little Secret

This article recently posted on MegaGames suggest that the gods of Redmond have a dirty little secret: They’ve been cheating on their own Windows 2003 Enterprise Server!!! That’s right, boys and girls. Bill G. and company have apparently been using Linux in order to provide downloads to its London customers. I guess they need high reliability, which is something that the in-house bit jockeys have been unable to provide.

Bliss

Life is currently good. I found out today that I got out of a nasty final I was really dreading. I also got $78 for selling back two books. That’s awesome. I’m heading to Lexington tomorrow to do some Christmas shopping with a pocket full of money (not really…but it is more money than I’ve had in awhile).

At times like this, it’s easy to remember why it’s fun just to live. School has largely taken away all the stuff I love lately. I haven’t had time to do anything fun that I enjoy. It’s stupid to let something take you over like that, but in a few short months, I’ll no longer have to worry about it. A real job is nothing like school. With a job, you work on projects that have meaning then get paid for it. I can’t wait.

Silicon Sensitivity

According to this CNN article, it is apparently possible for high-tech and industrial terminology to offend people. Using the terms “master” and “slave” to refer to two devices on the same channel has apparently pissed somebody in Los Angeles off. This is the most ignorant thing I have ever heard. For one, the devices aren’t being deprived of any rights. The “master” device does not value itself over the “slave,” nor did it purchase the rights of the “slave.”

I seriously wonder what’s next. Are we no longer going to be able to refer to hardware which has been intentionally been told not to function as “disabled?” These poor pieces of hardware are just abled differently. Am I going to be subpeonaed into court for asking someone to hand me a “female DIN plug?” Everytime the male DIN plug is inserted into the female DIN plug, the female DIN plug is objectified and denied the basic feminine freedoms. Philips head screwdrivers better watch out: The Coallition for the Women named Philipa wants to know why Philip has the right to claim the four-way for his own. Give me a break.

Overuse of Braille

Why is it that there is Braille notation on most public things in America? I realize that it is an attempt to give blind people some independence. I have no gripe with that; however, there comes a point when you have to ask, “Why?” I can almost guarantee that the rest of the civilized world does not suffer from being overly-accessible to the point of it becoming stupid.

There are a couple examples of where you can find Braille that really gets to me. Putting Braille writing on drive-up ATMs is absolutely the most ridiculus thing I have ever heard of. Granted, the same ATMs that are found at a walk-by location are probably installed in the drive-through, but still, it certainly begs the question…

Putting Braille writing on bathroom doors of public restaurants is also slightly odd. In order for the blind to successfully navigate, things must be in the same place, standardized in such a way that allows for rote memorization. I have never been in two restaurants, even from the same chain, where the bathroom was in an identical place. So unless the blind plan on feeling out an entire building until they feel the notation for “Male” or “Female,” what is the point?