General Words About General Things

When all your posts start off as “I know it’s been awhile…”, it’s probably time to give up the whole blogging thing. Too bad, not giving up on it quite yet! Lots of stuff going on here though, some things I can talk about, some things I don’t have quite enough information on to talk about yet. Our lease is ending at our current apartment in a few short months, and we’re pretty dead set on moving to some place else. We rushed into our current apartment in our move from St. Louis, and now we’ve had a year to learn a bit more about the city. Now we can take a couple of months, and really pick out the place that’s best for us. Plus now we have some idea of what neighborhoods are good, which suck, and how to get around the city. Obviously, moving sucks though, but at least we don’t have an entire house full of crap to move this time.

One of the reasons I haven’t blogged in awhile is I’m on a bit of a programming drought. DjTracker sort of hit a wall when I realized I specifically didn’t have a real use for it. I was hoping to some degree that I could get my office to switch issue trackers to something more usable and sane, but that wasn’t met with a whole lot of interest. No biggie really, their current issue tracker is working out great for someone, so I suppose that’s all that matters. Once I didn’t have a use for it though, I didn’t really know what else to do with it. YaBa’s been ‘done’ for awhile for a variety of reasons. Then I couldn’t really think of something else that I wanted/needed to develop.

Meanwhile at work, I’ve mainly been doing more maintenance on older applications, or making just some small simple stuff. Some if it’s been cool, no doubt, just nothing groundbreaking or even lengthy really. I’m supposed to blog for them on ChicagoDjango, but given that I’ve done so little actual Django work lately it’s been difficult. I keep hoping we’ll get some new customer that wants to do something that’s just wicked awesome. Ah well, we’re still getting customers at least, I have a job, and I do get to make some Django applications on occasion. I’d just like to have a challenge or two thrown my way in the near future to spur some inspiration on my end.

On the upside, since we haven’t had a ton of work lately I’ve been able to learn a bunch more javascript than I previously knew. Normally, when everything’s in full swing, we have a UI guy that does most of the design and javascript, so us Python developers can plug away on the backend stuff. Since we’ve had more time lately, on the last couple of small Django applications that we’ve had I’ve been able to do the javascript myself instead. Nothing exceptionally fancy, but I’m more comfortable with it now than I have been in the past. That’s a plus there. Again, just wish there was *more* to do. We’ve been down a programmer most of this month, and I still haven’t felt actually busy. I think I miss that aspect of Contegix sometimes, where I was always busy. It certainly makes you feel more important, or at least relevant.

Anyways, it’s a fairly pretty day here in Chicago, if not just a bit on the cold side. Kristie and I are currently at Winston’s drinking some coffee. Time to plan out the rest of our day!

Much Ado About Nothing

It’s been an awkward and frustrating couple of weeks lately. Not everything is going quite as we had planned it I suppose you could say. The Wildlife Rehab site is on a bit of a hiatus as we try to work out where we’re going to place some new content, and where that content is going to come from. Not to mention a laundry list of tweaks and changes that’ll need to be taken care of at some point, but there’s a few items blocking progress on that list. Hopefully that’ll all come together soon, but it’s also not a major rush of any sort either.

Work lately has been a bit on the ho-hum side of things. I’ve mainly just been doing odds and ends style work on legacy applications and other maintenance style work. I have had a couple of really simplistic and short Django applications to write, but nothing major or thrilling. Nothing exceptional worth really talking about. Oddly, I’m supposed to blog something for Imaginary Landscape, but considering how little I’ve had to do in terms of actual Python/Django work, I have no idea what to blog about. Hell, I barely know what to put on this blog most of the time. On the upside I am going to PyCon next week, so after I get back from that I’ll hopefully have something to blog for them. We’ll see I suppose.

Currently though, my main focus at work is developing an iPhone application. I have some pretty mixed feelings over the whole situation. First off, it’s a monumental task in my eyes, and I’m not sure that management totally gets that. I’m getting some of my first glimpses ever at Objective C, and I’ve been pretty clear that I have to learn a new language, and a new development environment. I’ve played with it a bit thus far, and even though I have C/C++/C# experience to some degree, Objective C just feels so incredibly foreign to me. Obviously, it doesn’t help that thus far I’ve been trying to learn strictly via Apple documentation and online tutorials while hopping between other small issues as well. I know it’s something I can do, that’s not the question, it’s more how long it’s going to take. I don’t have a personal vested interest in making an iPhone application, it’s not something I want to slap on my resume some day really. Thus, I’m not cramming at home in my off time to learn more. I like Python, so in my off time I write my code in Python.

Secondly, I tend to think that making an iPhone web application makes a lot more sense in a lot of ways. Obviously, it’s *free* to do so, which is a big plus. It also doesn’t require anyone to learn Objective C. You don’t have the risk of spending weeks/months of development time, just for Apple to potentially decline your application. We could build it using tools we’re familiar with, in a much shorter amount of time. Finally, should anything ever happen to me, they wouldn’t have to find someone that knows PHP, Python, bash, AND Objective C. Those people exist, but they’re likely to be expensive.

Finally, I see so much else we could be doing to improve our current infrastructure including servers, documentation, issue tracking/management, and quality assurance with the free time we’re spending on this random iPhone project. I guess I look at and think that if we improved some various aspects of our infrastructure that down the road we’d have even more time to spend on projects such as this, and be able to do it with less distractions. They have a lot of good things going here, and it’d be nice to bring some legacy items we use up to date.

In the end, the iPhone stuff isn’t that big of a deal. I’ll do it, and I’ll try to enjoy it I suppose. It seems a bit silly to me overall, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. I just wish the project we were working on was somewhat more entertaining. If it nets the company a few more customers that’s a good thing I suppose. Of course that’d mean I’d have to write more iPhone applications :).

Other than that, not much going on lately. I’ll be sure to update with more information after I get back from PyCon, which I am pretty excited about. Just wish it’d hurry up and get here.

Furry Little Critters

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you’ve probably heard me talking about my recent side project. It’s a work in progress for a non-profit company outside of St. Louis, MO that helps save wild animals that are commonly found in Missouri. They rescue anything from squirrels to skunks, from cute to terrifying. My sister’s been involved with them for awhile, and found that they recently needed a more efficient manner of processing volunteers. Previously they had a PDF that could be downloaded, or you could call in and offer to volunteer. This obviously required humans to take a lot of time just handling and processing new volunteers. That translates to time volunteers can’t spend on event planning, fund raising, and most importantly, caring for animals.

Now they have a handy Django based application, that’s admittedly very, very basic. Ultimately, it’s just a form that saves information to the database, with the standard Django administrative application to allow admins to view their volunteers, and manage them. Naturally when a form is submitted, an email goes out to the staff alerting them of their new applicant containing the information that they submitted. Now they have the application at a glance, and can decide if they’d like to give this person a call, and if they meet their volunteer requirements or not. Initial feedback I’ve had so far seems to point to this being rather helpful thus far, as they deal with an influx of volunteers thanks to a recent TV spot, and other local news sources. Spring time equals mating season for many animals, and just like humans, mating always lead to at least *some* bad fortune.  As a result, spring is when they often need the most help.

As I was working on the site and dealing with their current host (who to my surprise was quite knowledgeable and helpful for being your standard “cheap” host); I offered to rebuild and redesign the entire site. I didn’t really have any side projects at the time as outside and personal interest in DjTracker waned, so I figured it’d be a fun project and who knows, maybe it’d save a couple of critters. I’m fairly certain I couldn’t deal with the stuff they deal with in caring for animals, so I figure this is about as close as I’m getting to actually nursing an animal back to health.  At this point the site is mostly done bringing us to what I consider the most awkward part of web development.

As we sit now the site is fully functionally CMS-lite system. I’m just using flat pages for the majority of the content, a simple blog build out for the news, django-photologue for galleries, and few other lightweight applications for odds and ends (gluing everything together, events, visitors, etc). The design and layout are pretty much set as well. Now where the awkwardness comes in is that you now have the child of two different people. On one side I put in a lot of effort to make this site, copy content over, and trying to make everything presentable. On the other side, this is a non-profit company’s “customer” facing website that will always represent them. It creates this weird situation where I don’t want to insult any of their ideas of what should change and how their site should be presented, and they don’t want to insult any of the work I’ve put forth thus far.

It’s no different than what I deal with at work really, except maybe the people behind this side project know me to some degree, and respect me which maybe just exacerbates the problem. It’s actually not a problem as of yet, but from working for other customers I know how easily it can get a bit tense.  Honestly, I just hope they like it, and that it makes their lives a bit easier. Ultimately, I think those goals will be accomplished, so I’m pretty optimistic about the situation.

More Changes

So once upon a time I had a Wordpress blog, then I had my own hosted Wordpress blog. Then I wrote my own blog engine, and hosted it myself. Now I’m moving on to using Blogger for my blog purposes. There’s a couple reasons behind this, most of them even being sane reasons. First off, I really don’t blog that much. I was paying for a VPS at Linode, which worked great so nothing against them, but it just never seem justified by how little I actually used the VPS.

Secondly, I’m going to PyCon soon, and I hope to blog a bunch and take a bunch of pictures. YaBa was/is great, especially if you want to integrate a blog application into a larger site, but it was a bit much for what I needed. Plus I was never completely satisfied with the gallery stuff I created. Now I plan on using Flickr, or something of that nature, for my photo hosting needs. Hell, maybe I’ll even use Facebook if I have to, who knows.

Oh, and there’s one other reason, this blog I feel looks a bit more professional. I’ve never been too shy about the fact that my design skills are not my strong point. It’s weird. I mostly understand CSS, HTML, and javascript, but I’m completely inept at using them to make something appealing to the eye. Art just isn’t my thing, and likely never will be I guess. I’m mostly alright with that I think though. I’d rather be handling scaling issues, developing quicker algorithms, or tackling troubling problems rather than making something pretty. The unfortunate side effect of that is that if something isn’t pretty nobody cares :).

Anyways, I’m pretty excited about PyCon. I believe Imaginary Landscape will have a booth there, so you’ll likely see me around the booth. Of course, I’ll be trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible from the various talks going on. The schedule is just about perfect for me, so I don’t have to make any Sophie’s Choice style choices on which talks to attend. Hope to run into some people I talk with online and the likes while I’m there. More than anything I hope to soak up a bunch of knowledge from people way smarter than me!

Why Netflix, Why?!

If you haven’t been rocked yet by the news of Netflix inking a deal with Warner Bros, then prepare for a shock before reading this WSJ article. Now, after WB releases a new movie, there’ll be a 28 day holding period before it’s released by Netflix. I guess part of what’s so shocking about this is that
we’re accustomed to Netflix being the good guys, the ones that fight for the consumer, not against them. They’ve brought us great movies at low prices, right to our door! Hassle free! It’s been so nice for so long, but now what? We can likely expect this decision to partner with WB to lead to other deals with other studios. In other words, we can expect this to get much, much worse. Netflix is saying that this’ll allow them to bolster their instant play library, which could be good for consumers, but only if it actually happens. 

My question is how does this really help Warner Bros? I only buy movies that I feel are absolute MUST HAVE movies. Other movies I just rent, or just completely pass on until they stumble their way onto my TV via my wife or cable. There is also the rare scenario where I just rent the movie for a few bucks via my Xbox 360, but that doesn’t happen to terribly often. I’m curious how many people WB thinks are going to buy movies now that this deal is in place. Is it enough to offset the number of fans they’ll piss off? How about this WB, can we expect to see ridiculous prices on movies to drop? Perhaps instead of $30 for a new Blu-ray movie, we could see 20-25 instead? Maybe then I’ll care. 

Unfortunately, it’s just too expensive to buy every movie that I think *might* be good. There’s too much garbage to sift through to find decent movies in a store these days. So I can either do a bunch of research to ensure I buy good movies, rent movies a month after they come out, or just not care at all. As the movie studios know, after the initial excitement passes that comes with a new movie release, excitement for it wanes, leaving it unknown and uncared for in the minds of many. Take the Psychonauts video game for instance. The launch was sub-par, and it took months for the media to really back it. Despite a lot of love from the media, the game never really seemed to take off. It’s still on everyone’s underrated list, and a lot of people’s “I should really play that list”. 

I just don’t get it. I don’t see anyone benefitting from moves like these. Maybe WB gets a marginal amount of more money, but I just don’t see it. I don’t see people spending 20-30 bucks on a movie they’re not absolutely sure they want. They’ll wait it out and rent it, or hell, maybe Blockbuster and Redbox will get rich off all this.