Sunday, February 5, 2012

Commence Web Log... REBOOTED...

A little more than a year ago, on 18 December 2010 to be precise, I made my first significant attempt at blogging with a fairly clumsy homage to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on a Facebook fan page called "Fourteen Sports" with the intent to provide sports insight and analysis focusing primarily on college football, professional hockey and English Premier League soccer.

Facebook is clearly a very popular platform, and while I keep my friends list fairly small, I figured sooner or later it would get some attention. To some degree, well, it has. More on that in a second.

The idea that the timing chosen would be a good starting point was that for years, during the college football bowl season, my picks generally are accurate sixty to seventy percent of the time, and in the two years I have put a significant effort into my research, my accuracy was over seventy five percent.

As a result of a full time job, only having seen a handful (maybe parts of twenty games) throughout the regular season, and some difficulties with the platform, the concerted effort only lasted ten days. For the record, I went 20-15 and 21-13-1 against the spread in 2010, which would have been my worst record in a large number of years.   As an aside, though I did not keep score this season it would not surprise me at all if my record would have been reverse my 2010 record or even worse.  Hey, give me a break, I only saw parts of maybe three Notre Dame games amounting to not quite one whole game and half watched the Arizona-UCLA game in a hotel bar all season.   I saw more of the New Orleans Saints than I did ANY college football this season.

Back to the attention topic, what IS interesting, is that since my initial effort in 2010, periodically I have posted links and brief commentaries on those links that I have found mostly on on that Facebook fan page, and two people who I do not know, and do not appear to be fakes/spammers have liked the site. (My wife and I like the site too, but that is not the point I am making...)

Even more interesting, though, is that as part of my day job, in 2010 I wrote and published a utility to perform comprehensive extraction of data from Personal Storage Tables, better known as email messaging .pst files.  Its primary function is to convert all messaging information stored in a single binary .pst file to XML, which is the storage format for the PeDALS Preservation project, using the published Microsoft Outlook Personal Folders File Format specification. 

The published software is overdesigned for three reasons.  First, as a result of having an engineering education rather than a computer science background, I had only seen similar specifications maybe twice in my life prior.  Second, there were a few small but stumbling block causing errors in version 1.0 of the specification (Microsoft released version "1.7" on 20 January 2012, and I have not compared any of the revisions to the version that I used).  Third, there was the desire to examine the "whole" file with, at least, some small nod to potential forensics. 

The published software has a glaring data type conversion bug in it, which did not rear its ugly little head during what should have been considered a fairly reasonable period of alpha testing.  (To anyone who wants to try this out... I do brand the version published as a "beta" ;) )

Over sixteen and a half months, as of 5 February 2012, my overdesigned, flawed software has been downloaded 735 times!  People from 68 different countries have downloaded it (what country is "Satellite Provider"???).  The project has been contacted by some interesting folks about the utility AND the broader preservation project.  Even more amazing to me:  After an initial flurry of interest at the end of 2010, downloads have gone from averaging about 23 per month to averaging a little more than 40 per month!  This from a little special purpose utility that I did learn A LOT from.  Now if I had done it on iOS and charged 99 cents for it... OH, NEVER MIND...

For those who might be wondering, I fully intend to release an improved version, heavily redesigned based on the lessons learned interpreting the specification, with that data conversion bug fixed, too.
If you build it, they will come...  
 - Field of Dreams
WARNING:  I derive a fair amount of enjoyment by mixing in appropriate cultural references.  Seems to go with the territory...

There are several big reasons why I have never given blogging a significant effort.  The biggest is that I have always had, and I believe there IS a prevalent perception that there are a few good bloggers, like say Eric Lippert, Jessie Liberty or Scott Guthrie for you Microsoft development junkies, or, well, the well-known example of blogging success, Julie Powell, of "Julie & Julia" fame, and a large percentage of the rest are any number of different uncomplimentary adjectives meaning not-so-hot. 

Further bolstering my confidence in this endeavor is the fact that I have seen a lot more not-so-hot blogs than good ones, and some not-so-hot posts even from some generally pretty good bloggers.  Julia Child, it is said, was not impressed by Julie Powell's blog either, and while I am familiar with Julie Powell's story, I have not read the blog, but the reasons I have seen for Child to view Powell's blog as not-so-hot, it is not hard to understand why.  So, at the end of the day, everything IS a matter of perspective, and certainly one can be successful without being universally loved.

Case on point, with the utility that has been downloaded 735 times in 68 countries, the only review registered to this point has been a thumbs down.  That is OK, it is a pretty cynically designed piece of software with an ugly bug in it.  Now if that person had additionally told me "you're an idiot and I don't see how you get paid to write software", well... But, even then, I know what I know, I try to learn what I don't know, and a lot more of the time than not, I accomplish what I set out to do, even if getting there is not pretty. 

Another really big issue is that one tends to have wonderful words run through your head much faster than one can type, and even a lot of times faster than one can speak.  Just speaking, I periodically spout things that people have told me would be fantastic written down and edited, but remembering it well enough the second time around, I frequently feel the a lot of the magic has been lost.  Even with this paragraph!

That is where I expect tools like my iPhone's Voice Recorder, Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking, and, at some point, Siri to come in.  This post, and probably several to follow, is being done the old fashioned way, and directly to the Blogger interface.  Being an enterprise software developer, the plan is for this blog and two other planned blogs, the sports blog and a software/technology blog to be a part of an integrated content management system using a service-oriented architecture, with the Orchard Project serving as a backbone codebase with the Blogger blogs being mirror/backup sites for the content published.  Not only is it because I prefer to have my content primarily on my own equipment and software, it never hurts to show the world what you can do, particularly when your most practical next career step remains directly in software development...

Services to integrate speech to text will be added to, at least, increase the speed of the drafting process, leaving me NOT with a blank page to stare at, but something to be edited, that is more like a conversation with my wife or my best friend about the chosen topic than even what is written here. 

Of course, however, I have been promising a sports commentary blog since posting that promise on a one page web site on 29 November 2003...
You know, my uncle was a political writer for one of those London tabloids. I can still remember his biggest scoop. The headline read: "High-ranking politician caught wearing women's clothing." Of course, you turn to page two and you found out it was Margaret Thatcher, but by then you'd already bought the paper.
- Jane Leeves as Daphne Moon to Congressional candidate Phil Patterson, played by Boyd Gaines, Frasier, "The Candidate", Season 2 Episode 7, Original Air Date:  8 November 1994
I do not do well with contrivance.  I am at my best riding life like a surfer riding a wave.  I point myself in a direction and let experience take me where it will.  A surfer redirects to some degree to extend the ride, or whatever, as do I in life, but I don't think the surfer ever knows EXACTLY how his ride is going to turn out.

To a certain extent, this is a contrivance.  I admit that there is a direction I would like to go, and while there are some readers who know me fairly well that may be pretty adept at figuring out why this, why now, I have no intention of revealing this now.  I have to keep you reading, don't I?

While I have firm confidence that the technical tools developed will serve a short to mid range purpose, the written effort may fall flat on its face.  I have often heard it said that one of the main goals of writers is to sell books or newspapers, or whatever.  One of the very unfortunate consequences of our time is that we have a very attention driven society.  Fifteen minutes of fame can be made to add up to a lot of something, more often than not, money.  Fortunately, people whose opinion I respect and trust, including my wife, tell me I am pretty good at this type of thing.  But, if this effort turns out terrible, I say you have Scott Hanselman and Jeff Blankenburg to blame for it.

Scott Hanselman, whom I met at Microsoft TechEd back in the days when he was still with Corillian, but would not know me from Adam, is my favorite blogger.  In 2007, he posted an entry about blogging that is amongst the most valuable set of tips anyone could post.  I can tell that following those tips himself are why I am always pleased to read new posts on his blog.  If I had one-tenth of his talent or presentation skills, maybe I would not be doing this.

This is to be my "personal" blog, and while there will be some overlap between this, my sports blog and my software/technology blog, this blog is mostly intended to contain either thought provoking or amusing observations regarding a holistic perspective to life.  I certainly do not want to rant, I have read too many blog posts where I feel that the author must look back on it and be embarrassed as all get out having posted it.  The waves I try to ride have crashed down on me too often to be Pollyanna-like either, nor would I want to post that either.  I am not baring my soul, only giving you something to consider, or make you smile.
You must be the change you want to see in the world.
- Mahatma Gandhi
Powerful words to close what has become a more long-winded initial post than I had intended.  Far more often than I am comfortable with, I hear trite, and often inflammatory, political commentary from both sides of the spectrum and all angles of the religious spectrum that truly only appears to guarantee more of what a large segment of the world regards as being unacceptable.  Even more uncomfortably, a large percentage of these half-baked, hyperbolic statements come of the very people who would find the results of the implementation of these statements unacceptable. 

The truth to the situation appears to lie in the ability and the willingness of everyone to think outside of the box, and to be able to look past the end of their own nose.

At this point in my life, I must accept that I am a technology person through and through.  The good news, especially for my wife, is that I am getting better all of the time at getting good value for my technology buck, and there is a lot of help around.  My wife has helped me immensely to see that I am a LOT more creative that I give myself credit for.

No matter what anyone would have you believe, it is not a one size fits all world, but I have been living closer to what I have always dreamed about than I ever realized.  My dream is probably simpler and sillier than nearly everyone.  Who cares?  The key for me, and for me alone, is to follow the example of Gandhi's quote above and be the change I want to see in the world... without feeling like I am living in Doc Brown's DeLorean.

Think different.


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