Jim's Blog Ramblings about novels, comics, programming, and other geek topics

28Oct/070

Transformers (Movie Review)

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Like many people growing up during the 80s, watching the Transformers cartoon was a cherished memory. I couldn't wait to get home from school to sit down and watch it along with GI Joe (the original series).

I didn't see this movie in the theater, so I am just now getting around to watching the DVD.

Transformers (2007)

Their war. Our world. ("More than meets the eye...")

Starring Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Tyrese Gibson, and Jon Voight

The movie starts out with the story of the "Allspark." The Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, are in a war with the Decepticons, led by Megaton. This war ravages their planet and the cube is lost. Both sides took to the stars to find where the Allspark landed and after many centuries (or more), Megatron discovers that it landed on earth, but he is accidentally frozen in the Arctic before he can capture it.

Optimus Prime: Before time began, there was... the cube. We know not where it comes from, only that it holds the power to create worlds and fill them with life. That is how our race was born. For a time we lived in harmony, but like all great power, some wanted it for good. Others, for evil. And so, began the war. A war that ravaged our planet until it was consumed by death. And the cube was lost to the far reaches of space. We scattered across the galaxy, hoping to find it and rebuild our home. Searching every star. Every world. And just when all hope seemed lost, message of a new discovery drew us to an unknown planet called... Earth. But, we were already too late.

The frozen Megatron is found by a group of explorers and taken to a secret underground US military base for research. Eventually, the Autobots discover that the Allspark is on earth and send Bumblebee to protect the grandson of the discoverer (but for some reason they aren't protecting his parents or his dad who is the son of the discoverer).

The location of the Allspark was imprinted on the discover's glasses and so the search is on to find the grandson who is auctioning off the glasses on eBay. The movie doesn't remind the users, but the Allspark was also moved along with Megatron to the underground compound. So the directions imprinted on the glasses (about 150 years prior to present) wouldn't have helped much.

Frenzy: All Spark located.
Starscream: This is Starscream: All Decepticons, mobilize.
Barricade: Barricade en-route.
Devastator: Devastator reporting...
Bonecrusher: Bonecrusher rolling...
Blackout: Blackout incoming... All hail Megatron!

I'll start out with the parts that I enjoyed the most. First, there was the casting of Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime. Cullen provided the original voice for Optimus Prime in the TV cartoon series.

As far as the special effects goes, I don't think they could have been any better. But I think there's only so much you can do with a live action movie like this. I'm not usually one to favor action over plot, but the action sequences work well here and there's enough scenes between the action scenes so that you aren't overwhelmed with explosions.

I didn't understand why the Autobots kept spinning in circles and doing flips (they're robots not ninjas)... Seems like too much on the special effects budget or someone in the SE crew had too much time to kill.

I also didn't like the couple references to "lubricating" on others (either Autobot->person, or dog->Autobot). Did we really need those two scenes? Did they really add anything to the story?

Finally, the one thing that kept me feeling uneasy through the entire movie was complete and utter commercialization of the movie. I didn't expect this, but within about the first fifteen minutes, I became annoyed and it only got worse throughout the movie. A Mountain Dew vending machine Transformer... constant reminders of the GM sponsorship by zooming in on each car's brand logo. Burger King and HP spots also run throughout the movie.

I thought the ending wasn't given enough time or emphasis. The realization that Optimus Prime would rather sacrifice himself over Megatron seemed like the right thing to do, but the more interesting part was when he said goodbye to his brother, Megatron.

Overall, it didn't live up to my expectations, but it was okay. If it wasn't for my childhood memories of the cartoon series, I don't think I would have enjoyed it very much.

The movie scores a 7.7/10 from IMDB, which isn't very bad, but lower than the the original TV cartoon series that scores a 8.3/10 from IMDB.

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28Oct/070

Generalizing versus specializing in software development

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Jason Gibb writes an interesting piece about the decline of solo software developers (referred to as a superhero or cowboy) [via Arjan's World]. He claims that there are too many skills, technologies, and methodologies for one person to adequately handle.

Speaking as a superhero (err... maybe I'm just a lesser known mutant hero), I don't completely agree.

Now, in the face of modern software development methodologies, the concept of solo developers seems antiquated, almost laughable.
-- Jason Gibb, Software Teams vs. Superheroes

Although I'd love to be on a team due to numerous benefits such as learning from others and delegation of duties, unfortunately I've been a solo developer for most of my programming years. There has been the occasional co-programmer or DBA, but for the most part I've pretty much been soloing the development part of the projects and doing just fine.

It hasn't been easy or fun, but I've picked up enough skills to manage. To be honest, I've always felt a bit inferior to others who had the time and resources to specialize in a single field or at least a few less categories of the development processes. And being a jack-of-all-trades (master-of-none) has its downfalls with learning new technologies. However, there are also downfalls to becoming too specialized.

For today’s modern software, it takes a well-coordinated team of highly skilled, highly specialized engineers, designers, architects, database administrators, build managers, and Web professionals to create the next cool thing.
-- Jason Gibb, Software Teams vs. Superheroes

Jason lists several skills that a team must know and says that a single person just can't handle all of it. But, I'm not buying that...

I've used (or could claim to know) about 90% of the basic skills and almost all of the Web development skills. I would never claim to know everything about a particular item (and I'd question anyone's sanity who would such), but knowing enough to understand and implement (with using maybe some reference material - you can't memorize everything) usually works well enough to make good (or even great) software.

I also think it depends on the scope of the project. Solo developers aren't building the next version of Microsoft Windows or Mozilla FireFox. Larger projects require bigger teams with more specialized personnel. However, that doesn't mean the solo developer will die out.

I'd even argue that the vast majority of programming projects are not large scale projects, but consist of less than three or four people in the development team. And I'd even wager that most of them are generalists that overlap in a few common areas with maybe only one or two specializations.

In fact, I think the number of solo developers will stay around same level as now over the next few years. My thoughts are based on the trend of technologies becoming easier and requiring less skill to use - even though there's more technologies arriving each month/year.

Do you remember when you needed to remember the database specific SQL statements? Now that nearly every database vendor has an adequate development environment, learning the exact differences between the DML/DDL SQL syntax has become marginalized. Sure, you still need a solid understanding of database design and familiarity with the database specific tuning - you could even have a real DBA review the design and do some tuning - but for the most part it could be done by a single person.

As more projects move towards ORM and away from SQL, there's one less thing for the developer to learn. Sure, the developer would need to learn an ORM software, but seriously... just download SubSonic and you'll be up and running in a few hours (or less).

As far as web development goes, anyone that's being doing web development for a while should have an understand of almost all of those categories. However, since very few development projects are external, certain categories such as SEO and SEM doesn't really apply.

I think that generalists are here to stay. Why would a company who can only afford a few programmers only want their staff to know a handful of skills? And as a developer why would you want to limit your growth by only knowing a handful of skills?

At the current rate of change in the industry, the technology or standard that you specialize in could be dead in five years or less. Or maybe someone just out of college arrives and knows enough of the technology to impress your organization and they are willing to work at half or one-third your salary.

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24Oct/073

Resources for the Firestorm 2007 Aftermath, San Diego

It looks like some of the fires are beginning to die down and the hopefully the worst is over. There's still a few fires burning and several thousands that cannot yet return to their homes.

I was fortune enough to have escaped the evacuations this year. However, a few of my friends were evacuated from various parts of the county. The fires did come very close to my previous condo in Spring Valley (near the Sweetwater Reservoir) where I was living just a few months ago before I moved downtown.

As anyone who browsed my other articles or article categories can discern, I'm not a fire fighter, news blogger, or a blogger who writes about local events (except for the occasional San Diego photo).

I'm going to post a few more helpful links and hopefully you'll find these as useful as the last set of links. After a week or so, I'm going to try to resume my normal writing of programming and miscellaneous stuff that interests me. For now, I'm going to keep these two posts at the top of my blog in case anyone arrives here from another web site.

Link to original article San Diego Fire Resources.

Helpful Links for the Aftermath

Official Information
List of Burned Homes
Health
List of Disaster Relief Organizations & Charities

Some tips for now & later

Meta blogging

Initially, I posted the San Diego Fire Resources article for myself and a few friends. Somehow, the article started to spread and 48 hours later the page had received over 11,000 page views (and still climbing).

Early on, the team at KTVK TV (Phoenix, AZ) added a link to their front page. And to my surprise late on Wednesday (Oct 24, 2007), Brian Williams' MSNBC Nightly News linked to the article along with ABC 2 (Baltimore, MD), PBS, WAVE 3 NBC (Louisville, KY).

This was interesting, since the article was never submitted to any search engines and just spread via word of mouth and a few links from fellow bloggers. On an average day, the site was getting about 30-50 views/day and occasionally bursts of around 200-400 views/day when a programming article link was published on another site.

Thanks

There's a lot of great bloggers out there that provided excellent and live coverage of the firestorm and I'd like to thank you guys for the coverage and information that you've provided. Even the local newspaper moved to a blog to distribute information because their web servers became overloaded. The web community has also provided lots of opportunities to volunteer and help out.

Update 1 @ 10/24/2007 10:15 PM: Added link to Safe Cleanup of Fire Ash and Relief Tips for Dealing with Air Pollution

22Oct/0718

San Diego Fire Resources (Witch Fire & others, Oct 2007)

"[Witch Fire] is the worst fire this county has ever seen -- worse than the Cedar Fire [of 2003]," Sheriff Bill Kolender

Lists of Burned Homes & Buildings

Maps

Official Information

Local News, TV, & Radio

Local TV
Local Newspapers
KPBS (TV, Radio)

Local Bloggers & Photologs

Photographs & Imagery

Web cameras

Miscellaneous

I'll try to update this when I find other good links and resources. If you find any good links, just post them as comments below.

Update 1 @ 10/22/07 9:30 AM: Added more links

Update 2 @ 10/22/07 11:20 AM: Added more links

Update 3 @ 10/22/07 12:35 PM: Added school closures, USFS WMS/KML downloads, USFS ArcIMS site, and Air Quality Forecast links

Update 4 @ 10/22/07 1:22 PM: Added 211 San Diego link

Update 5 @ 10/22/07 2:20 PM: Added Cat Dirt Sez blog, Nate Ritter's twitter feed, Dimamite's list, and Lyon's Peak web cam links

Update 6 @ 10/22/07 8:01 PM: Added CraigsList link

Update 7 @ 10/23/07 8:15 AM: Updated SignOnSanDiego's Fire Blog link; Added North County Times link

Update 8 @ 10/23/07 7:40 PM: Added Red Cross's Safe & Well List link

Update 9 @ 10/24/07 9:15 AM: Added link to Ramona Sentinel Newspaper

Update 10 @ 10/24/07 9:30 AM: Added UT and NBC7 links to burned homes lists, CBS 8, and SignOnSanDiego Fire Map link

Update 11 @ 10/24/07 5:00 PM: Added new list of links for Resources for the Firestorm 2007 Aftermath

20Oct/070

ASP.NET MVC Framework Article Roundup

Over the last two weeks there's been a lot of posting over the new MVC (Model-View-Controller) framework being added to ASP.NET. Here's a few great links to help you get a handle on the buzz and information.

Scott Guthrie's Announcement

  • ASP.NET MVC Framework
    By Scott Guthrie (Oct 14, 2007)
    "We'll be releasing a public preview of this ASP.NET MVC Framework a little later this year.  We'll then ship it as a fully supported ASP.NET feature in the first half of next year."
  • MVC Presentation and Screencast from ALT.NET Conference
    By Scott Hanselman (Oct 8, 2007)
    "ScottGu gave an hour long presentation on the upcoming MVC Framework and I took some guerilla video."

Reactions

  • Scott Guthrie announces ASP.NET MVC framework at Alt.Net Conf
    By Jeffrey Palermo (Oct 5, 2007)
    "Scott Guthrie proposed a topic at the Alt.Net Conference today, and the topic was an overview of the MVC Framework his team is working on."
  • Developer Notes for the ASP.NET MVC Framework
    By Sergio Pereira (Oct 15, 2007)
    "The new MVC framework draws from the collective knowledge in the existing implementations (.Net or not) to help the ASP.NET developer create applications that support the following important characteristics: Testable, Maintainable, Pluggable, Separation of concerns."
  • Observations on Microsoft MVC for ASP.NET
    By Damien Guard (Oct 9, 2007)
    "Gurthrie and Hanselman presented Microsoft MVC at the Alt.Net conference which revealed some interesting details buried in the video, my rough observations and notes based on the prototype they showed..."
  • MVC versus MonoRail and the Corporate Giant
    By Ben Scheirman (Oct 15, 2007)
    "System.Web.MVC will reach an audience that MonoRail doesn’t:  The corporate giant who already swallowed the pill and will do anything that Microsoft pushes, good or bad."

MVC Background

  • MVC: No Silver Bullet (introduction & overview to MVC)
    By Andy Wardley
    "The Model-View-Controller (MVC) Design Pattern is much heralded as the 'Right Way' to build web applications. Although MVC is undoubtedly a valuable and useful way to architect such systems, I believe it goes far deeper than MVC alone."

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18Oct/070

Is Agile the Future of Software Development?

Alex Iskold writes about the Future of Software Development at Read/Write Web. There he makes a few nice points comparing the waterfall model to today's more trendy and talked about agile processes. He doesn't get into the various other software development life cycle models (SDLC) such as Spiral, Incremental, XP, etc.

In the real world, software projects have ill-defined and constantly evolving requirements, making it impossible to think everything through at once. Instead, the best software today is created and evolved using agile methods. These techniques allow engineers to continuously re-align software with business and customer needs.

Alex talks about the failures of the waterfall model, which most everyone should have learned in college or during any reading of a good software engineering book.

The only part of the article that I don't seem to grasp is the intentional exclusion of mentioning the .NET framework. Even if the author doesn't like the framework, surely it is worth a mention in his list of "modern programming languages." In his list, he only includes Java, PHP, Python, and Ruby.

A few commenters pointed out the lack of including the .Net Framework as a modern language or reusable library. David Murphy of BuzzSort wrote "On... The Future of Development" and reminded us about Workflow and LINQ (two of the newer .NET technologies).

..whilst it was an interesting read I believe the picture it left was incomplete and inaccurate.

I believe that all of the agile buzz over the last several years is just a fad and eventually the good items from the agile processes will just be commonplace in the development environment (we'll probably have a new name for it by then). Just look how some of the agile processes are now being incorporated for the masses (Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF) for Agile Software Development, Microsoft eScrum).

I also believe that there's not one technique, model, or set of methodologies that can work for every project or team. And that it is the job of software engineers along with project managers to help focus the energies and talents of the developers and designers to make the best possible product.

Having fewer developers and a good strategy should result in better products. This is the same conclusion that Bob Warfield came to in his article titled "To Build Better Software, You Need Fewer People (But Why?)".

A few choice quotes from the R/W Web comments:

Waterfall said "I can't see anything you've described not being possible by following the waterfall method. Somehow people have turned the phrase agile development into a mythical beast capable of achieving miracles."

Paul W Horner said "Software developers have always had huge problems when working in large teams. That hasn't changed at all. In many ways Agile is just dodging the real issues."

Jimbo said "There's much more to software than web 2.0, search engines and social networking sites."

14Oct/072

Little Italy Festa, San Diego

Every year the Little Italy district of San Diego holds the Little Italy Festa street fair. Usually, the streets are covered with tons of chalk drawings (Gesso Italiano), but this year - due to weather, we think - the number of artists were less than before. There's also lots of food and gift booths selling kettle corn, t-shirts, and lots of jewelry.

Below is a photograph of a chalk drawing off India Street at Little Italy, San Diego.

Little Italy Festa - Chalk Pavement Drawing

Photograph taken Oct 14, 2007

11Oct/070

Tired of grilling squirrel burgers?

Ben Scheirman writes about software quality and says that we need to be more careful to not make squirrel burgers. This is an excellent article that just serves as another reminder to not cave in (too much) to pressure to deliver products quickly without quality.

Back at your desk, you are realizing that you are about to deliver to your manager a squirrel-burger.  He wants X features, but you can’t deliver them on time.

This reminds me of having to ask your client to choose two of three things: quality, time, or money. You'll never get high quality, quick turnaround, and a cost effective project. If you want to spend the money, you can get quality and time. If you want to give up the time, you can get quality and cost savings (money). And if skip quality, then you can get time and cost savings (money).

Scott Bateman also has some nice comments there in Ben's blog post. Scott provides five tips to help provide estimates to your managers.

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7Oct/070

Debugging code is like farting…

This little Zen-like quote was found via secretGeek's post called "Q: What's the cleverest kind of code?". Leon answers his question declaring "A: No code at all!"

In his research, Leon was searching for the Brain Kernighan debugging quote (shown below) and discovered it on Chris Sells' blog. The Kernighan quote has been around for a while and most everyone that has been writing code has probably already seen it.

Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place.  Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are, by definition, not smart enough to debug it.
--Brian Kernighan

WikiQuote has a few more quotes from Kernighan. But I think the jewel of Leon's post comes from the quote taken from Chris's blog entry who cites Paul Downey.

Debugging is like farting - it's not so bad when it's your own code.
--Paul Downey

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6Oct/070

Broadway & Eighth Avenue

I passed this building for about nine months before I noticed the painting. It's behind a parking lot and trees cover the view from Broadway. Even after I first saw it, it took me a few days find it again.

The building located at Broadway and 8th Avenue, San Diego.

Broadway & Eight

Photograph taken Oct 6, 2007