Where in the World?

Back in November my wife mailed a birthday card to a friend in Canada. It disappeared for five months, before showing up in our mailbox yesterday, stamped “Return to Sender” for insufficient postage.

But half the stamp is in English, and the other half… well… that’s certainly not Canadian French. It’s not even the Latin alphabet. It also doesn’t look Greek or Cyrillic. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego Did This Letter Go?

Parlez-vous français? If this is Canadian French, it’s changed a lot since my high school days.
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VB6 to VB.NET – The Most Useless Change

How long can a coder hold a grudge? Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to, oh, about twenty years ago.

The year was 2001, and Microsoft was cooking up something called the .NET Framework. I was in college, but had been developing personal projects for myself and others for years, mostly using Visual Basic. So naturally I followed any news on the future of Visual Basic with great interest.

Rumors abounded on the fora and newsgroups of those olden days.

(“What’s a newsgroup?” I hear some younger coders asking. But that is another story for another day.)

Some rumors were exciting.

VB.NET would support inheritance, the long missing piece of the Object-Oriented PIE pie. Without this, VB was often described as “object based, not object oriented”.

The VB compiler would also be released as a freely downloadable command-line tool. No need to overcome the then-significant cost barrier of purchasing Visual Studio!

Other rumors were disappointing.

VB.NET would not get its long-sought standalone EXE compilation. On the contrary, it would be dependent on a 19-megabyte .NET runtime download, just to run “Hello, world!” (Cue 56.6k modem noise.)

And the Visual Basic language was changing dramatically. In fact, VB.NET broke backward-compatibility with VB6. The changes were so significant that many complained the new language wasn’t even Basic anymore.

One critic coined the pejorative name Visual Fred to emphasize how different the language had become — a name that can still be found today in both the Jargon File and the Urban Dictionary.

But this is a story of a single change to the language. A change that is — in my opinion — the most useless change.

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Gov++: Git for Government

A friend of mine reposted this image on his social media. A summary: “What technology are you shocked has not advanced yet?” “The legal code… Why not put the laws into a git repository…?”

News flash: computer programmers think world would be better if everyone did things the way computer programmers did.

Something I’ve noticed about folks in STEM fields is their unwavering belief that every human endeavor would be improved by appling the principles used in their own field of expertise.

I can’t say I’m an exception: as a software developer, I too often think that government business would run more smoothly with the application of technologies such as Git, Jira, and test-driven development.

Rather than entertain the thought that I might be wrong, I’d instead like to think about what git-based legislation might look like.

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Christmas in BASIC

Long ago, when I was a child too young even to type, Christmas meant presents under the tree, snickerdoodles baking in the oven… and my Dad programming his Commodore 64 to play a Christmas carol.

The SID chip on the C64 supported three voices that could generate triangle, sawtooth, rectangle, or noise waveforms. Ever the audio perfectionist, my dad would fiddle endlessly in Commodore BASIC to generate the perfect bell, guitar, or drum sounds.

Not many years later, I would sit at our IBM-compatible, in the blue glow of the QBasic editor, trying to code the perfect Christmas scene, complete with twinkling lights on a tree and snow blowing outside a window.

This was a tradition for years, but as DOS faded away, so did our Christmas coding traditions.

Now that it’s Christmas Eve, I thought I’d take a brief nostalgic look back.

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Will Carrots Grow in a Flower Box Planter?

The cheapest plastic planter boxes available from my local home and garden store, circa 2015. Obviously I never bothered weeding.

Will carrots, a taproot vegetable, grow well in a flower box planter? That’s the question I asked myself back in April, when our planting season started.

Tonight is our first potential frost of the season, so after months of waiting, it’s time to find the answer.

My process was as follows.

First, I located two unused planter boxes in my shed. The boxes measure six inches deep if I’m being generous.

Next, I filled the planter boxes with the finest leftover potting soil, also found in my shed.

After then lovingly scattering a handful of old carrot seeds to the wind over the loose soil, I gave the whole setup a good watering, then settled in for six months of salutary neglect.

Today I carefully dug out all the carrots in one box. The other box I gave to the kids, whose retrieval strategy was more “give it a good yank.”

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Are Smartphone Cameras Good for Astrophotography?

The Moon and Mars, around 2020-10-03T02:00Z

As Betteridge’s Law of Headlines suggests, the answer is no. But this was excuse enough for me to lug my old telescope into the yard for a gander at the Moon and Mars.

The Moon appears nearly full — just one day past the Harvest Moon.

Mars is just a few days from its closest approach to Earth, and about a week and a half away from opposition (so Space.com tells me), so it’s looking pretty bright itself.

During my viewing, a few hours before optimum for the East Coast, Mars appeared to be about three lunar diameters from the Moon, which would be somewhere around a degree and a half. That’s wider than the field of my widest eyepiece, hence the hop from one to the other in the video.

The telescope is a Celestron 4.5″ Newtonian that I’ve had since I was a kid. It’s been gathering dust for a very long time, and is a tad out of collimation. Video was shot by hand-holding my Moto G to a 25mm 1.25″ plössl eyepiece.

And no, I didn’t expect much, other than to enjoy a cool evening and view two of my favorite objects. Yes, I went down to a 5mm eyepiece to check out the detail along the lunar limb.

Mars showed its distinct color, but I never got sharp enough focus to see any detail. The best view was with my naked eyeball, past the limbs of the apple tree in my front yard, watching the Moon and Mars rise together.

Someday I hope to visit them both.

Internet and its Uses

Back in the days of the ’90s, when the economy was booming and two-digit years were a thing, I remember it was a time of optimism. The Cold War was over. The world was building an International Space Station.

And the World Wide Web was blossoming.

This created enormous opportunities. Now, we could get our news whenever we wanted it: not just from the morning paper and the evening news broadcast. Email and chat rooms connected ordinary people (not just the tech literate) around the world. Information that once required hours of research in a library was now available at our fingertips.

Surely (we thought back then), this new Information Age would lead to a golden age of enlightenment and learning, where the light of science and knowledge would forever be a beacon to a human race as it transitioned into something far grander than ever before!

Last night, I sat with friends as we watched Tik Tok videos of people eating dandelions.

What the heck happened?

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Eight Years of Raspberry Pi

This morning I was digging through some drawers trying to find something when I came across this dusty old first-generation Raspberry Pi B.

Raspberry Pi B. Dusty like a bottle of fine wine, but not as pleasant to drink.

If you’re not familiar with Raspberry Pi, it’s a single-board computer priced at around $35, originally designed for educational use.

Over the years I’ve used these boards in quite a few projects. Seeing this old one made me think about how far Raspberry Pi has come in the past eight years.

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What are StackExchange’s Pronouns?

The phrase “dumpster fire” gets bandied about a lot, but such is the current state of the venerable StackExchange network. In the past two months, the leadership team has clashed with the longstanding community:

Now, new CEO Prashanth Chandrasekar fiddles as Meta StackExchange burns down over the latest controversy: the abrupt and unexplained termination of a community moderator. This action has led to the resignation of close to 80 other moderators, and caused some to question whether the corporate leadership is listening to the SE community.

What’s the latest casus belli?

Third-person pronouns.

I’ve never heard of such a brutal and shocking injustice that I cared so little about!

Zapp Brannigan, Futurama
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Mounting my Google Drive on Ubuntu 19.04

…is supposed to work right out of the box. Just open the Gnome settings app, choose “Online Accounts”, and add your Google account. You’ll have to enter your credentials, and make sure that “Use For…Files” is turned on.

Then open Nautilus file manager, look at the locations panel on the left, et voilà, you should see a “<your.google.account>@gmail.com” drive ready to be mounted.

And I did… except when I tried to mount it, I got a timeout error.

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