Sorry for the recent silence, folks. With work, Ben, and the Thanksgiving holiday, I haven’t had much time for blogging of late. There should be some interesting things coming up soon, so hopefully things will pick up here soon.
The real thing I wanted to mention is that our house in North Carolina finally sold. The closing was today, and fortunately we were able to do our part remotely without having to take days off from work to be there in person. There were a number of last minute repairs that had to be done (which suspiciously were caught by the buyer’s home inspector where our own inspector found none of these issues a few months before), but those have been taken care of. We’ve officially severed all our ties down south, so we’re no longer Rednecks and have been firmly reinstated as Hillbillies again. (There’s a subtle but definite difference.) Considering that both mortgages combined ate up more than half of my pay in a given month, we’re definitely relieved.
In celebration, here’s a peek at the final colored version of the Gamester picture I previously taunted you with. Enjoy!
Been meaning to blog about this for a while, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. I mentioned my new job a while back and gave you updates about the resulting move throughout that process, but I never really mentioned much about the job itself.
I work (as a contractor) for a company called ManTech. I’m currently working on a number of projects, all of which either directly interface with or are satellites of our main project, which consists of computer based training for the Navy Reserve. We’ve used a standard called SCORM to develop a Web-based learning management system. We then take a series of computerized training courses–some developed by a partner company and converted by us to a Web format, and some developed in-house–and provide the necessary back-end to maintain the learner’s training history and progress. My first project was actually to build a content management system to manage photographs and other content that support our artists while they generate graphics for these lessons. I’ve now moved more deeply into some of the other projects directly interfacing with the LMS, and I’ve been tapped to become our resident expert on CORDRA.
The real meat of where I’m going with this, however, is that I’ve had to learn a whole new programming language. I’ve worked with a number of languages over the years, most notably Perl, Java, and SQL. The complete list is actually quite lengthy, but many languages I “know” (like C/C++) I haven’t touched since college or I’ve taught myself to use for my personal amusement and have little to no professional experience with. Perl fit into the latter category until my last contract assignment; technically, so does Java, as I’ve mostly used it for personal projects. (I did do some Java work on the early GPF site though, but mostly behind the scenes.) Unfortunately, a good chunk of my professional work since college was tied up in report writing using technologies such as BusinessObjects and FOCUS, a realm of the IT industry I’m thankfully starting to escape from. (I graduated from college expecting to program, not build reports with pre-packaged tools.)
When I applied for this job, I knew they were looking for someone with Java (or some other object-oriented programming) experience. What surprised me was that while they seemed to be looking specifically for someone with a little Java know-how, the real language they were planning to use was C# .NET.
Now anyone who has followed GPF long enough should know by now that I’m not a big fan of Microsoft. Yes, I use their products (one almost has to if they want to function in the computer world), but their history and business practices speak volumes about their corporate ethics. I’ve dabbled a little in Windows programming over the years; I’ve toyed a little with Visual Basic and took a course in Visual C++ back in college but never did much with that beyond a little playing with fractals. In general, though, I prefer to focus on technologies with strong cross-platform capabilities, mostly because I feel that users should not be discriminated against due to their personal choice or corporate mandate of operating system. This, among many other factors, often makes me lean toward open source.
The Reserve, however, like many government and corporate technology departments has mandated a “standard” platform for use within their organization. This platform, as you might guess, is largely based on Microsoft technologies. Thus, almost all of ManTech’s development work (at least on this family of projects) is done in Visual Studio 2005. Many of our projects are Web-based, so we do a lot of ASP .NET work with C# as the chosen language. (.NET uses a common language infrastructure so it doesn’t matter what language you actually use to build your application in. It all compiles to the same bytecode, which the runtime then executes.)
Now I had heard a lot of comparisons between Microsoft’s .NET and Sun‘s Java platform; indeed, a Google search turns up a ton of them (over four million results at this writing). I remember when Microsoft first announced .NET, and recall the buzz that it would destroy Java much like how Internet Explorer decimated Netscape in the browser wars of the 1990s. (Personally, I don’t see that happening, especially since .NET is only available on Windows, but projects like Mono could help bring .NET to other platforms while biting into markets that Java currently has dominion over.) So I was quite curious to see what .NET could do, and whether or not I might find myself on the other side of the fence once this was all over.
Well, I’m not over–or even on–the fence, but I’ve learned to appreciate the various tints of green on either side. My previous experience with Java made jumping into C# and .NET relatively easy, and I found myself writing real, useful code quicker than I expected. There are even some things that are much easier to do in C# that they are in Java, like designing the GUI. (This, though, is more a function of the IDE than the language, and is one place where Microsoft has always shined. Visual Studio can sure make a programmer lazy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Then again, I’m also trying out Eclipse for Java work, so that might swing that factor into balance.)
My experiences with C# these past few months haven’t killed off my interest in Java, but it did prompt me to download Visual C# Express to do some off-the-clock experimentation. It even reinvigorated one of my old side projects; there’s a chance that Mandelbrot Madness! may get a new .NET 2.0 Windows version that is roughly comparable to the much more up-to-date Java version. I’m curious to see where .NET is going to eventually end up. If I can keep up with it, I’ll try and post more thoughts on these technologies when I can.
I’ve been meaning to write about this for several days now, but just haven’t found the time until now. On Monday evening, I drove down to my old alma mater where I was asked to speak at my old campus ministries group, Campus Light. I was active in C-Light almost the entire time I attended Tech, eventually serving in every office the group had. I was rather (in)famous among the group for my lengthy Bible studies; my favorite was my study on Ehud entitled “The Southpaw who Saved the Country from the King in the Bathroom.” (Maybe someday I’ll reproduce that one here for your amusement.) As a Tech and C-Light alumnus, I was on the short list of potential speakers that they wanted to invite, and my recent move back to WV made arranging a date much more feasible. While the attendance could have been better (there were no classes Tuesday due to Election Day, so a lot of students weren’t there), I did get to meet a couple of new people and enjoyed seeing some old familiar faces. I especially enjoyed being able to share a Bible study with a group again; we’re still looking for a new church here, so beyond our personal daily devotions we haven’t had much opportunity for corporate worship.
I struggled a bit in coming up with a lesson to share with them, mostly due to lack of time. (Where have we heard that before?) I thought about digging up some of my old C-Light lessons or dipping into my collected stash of Sunday School material, but then I realized that I had the perfect lesson right at hand. My experiences from the past year had plenty of life lessons for me, and there are no better lessons to share than life experiences. You may be able to reason away theology, but you can never deny someone’s personal experience. I shared with them the events of my life in 2006, emphasizing the various life transitions we went through (the baby, losing/gaining jobs, moving, buying/selling houses, etc.) and tried to tie them to recent and upcoming transitions they have/will experience (graduating high school and college).
When tying everything to scripture, I found two appropriate passages. In the first, Matthew 6:25-34, Christ informs us that we should not worry about what we will eat or wear, or what tomorrow may bring. We are the crowning achievement of God’s creation, and He cares for us more than anything else. He will provide for our needs if we trust in Him. However, the second passage, James 4:13-16, puts a different light on things. James reminds us God’s plans may be different than ours, and we should submit to His will. We shouldn’t boast about our own accomplishments and plans, but should be flexible, trusting, and understanding when His plans overshadow our own. Together, these two passages paint a larger picture. While God promises to provide for our needs, sometimes we go through dark periods, “valleys” where we are seemingly alone and unprotected, to teach us valuable life lessons and further reliance on Him. Sometimes there are lessons we must learn and grow from; other times, the experiences we gather are not for our own edification, but are to ultimately be shared with someone else to uplift, encourage, or educate someone going through a similar “valley.” In the end, God does not place more upon us than we can bear.
Fortunately, you guys get the short version of this, mostly because you’ve been reading along through most of the events as they’ve happened (or, if you haven’t, they’re archived here so you can if you so desire).
I am contractually obligated (via a marriage license and the fact that I’ll be sleeping in the back of the Ford for the next few weeks if I don’t) to post the above picture. Tonight, WVU is playing Louisville. Personally, I have very little interest in sports (I’m a geek that way) and at my best have only the tiniest comprehension of (American) football and its rules. My in-laws, however, are huge WVU football fans, as is just about every other person (living or dead) in this state. My wife is positively giddy about the game, which is undoubtedly a big deal as both teams are highly ranked this year (by some truly bizarre ranking system that I think requires a university degree in its own right to understand). By pure coincidence, the nanny dressed Ben in his WVU onesie this morning (a gift from one of our baby showers). This sent my wife over the edge, forcing her to demand that I post the picture. And here it is.
Mind you, I’ll have absolutely no problem if Ben turns out to be a total jock someday (negative connotations removed, of course). I’ll support any healthy endeavor he decides to participate in, be it athletic, intellectual, creative, or what have you. Just so long as he isn’t embarrassed that his old man is a code monkey and living proof that white men can’t jump. (Yes, I know that’s a basketball reference in a post about football. Sue me.)
I sit here typing one-handed with a baby sleeping (finally) in the other arm to confirm that yes, there’s no celebratory anniversary pic on the GPF site today. (Today is GPF’s eighth anniversary, for those who didn’t know.) I know a number of you have asked or hoped for one and have even given me plenty of ideas, but time just hasn’t been on my side. When I did get a bit of time yesterday evening, I made an executive decision and worked on actual comics (and nearly completed the digital half of one). I thought producing more content was more important than working on some quick sketch to celebrate an arbitrary date on the calendar. Sorry to those who are disappointed. However, I have uploaded the latest batch of finished strips, so GPF is on track for a return to updates (albeit one per week) on Monday, November 6th.