The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Reason #1.414213562 I hate PHP

Work was there. But then again, I was in my cubicle with that neat Zen-like emptiness to it.

Today's PHP problem I don't think was necessarily a PHP problem as it was a lack of documentation about installation. One of the clients uses OSCommerce, an open-source shopping cart management system and one of the modules “supposedly installed” was EasyPopulate, which allows one to populate the product database on the webserver from a spreadsheet. The customer used it once before, but that was then.

This is now.

Try as I might, I could not get the module to load. It was there, written in PHP, on the server, nestled among all the other PHP modules making up the shopping cart. Only it would not run.

Or rather, the shopping cart software would refuse to run it.

Or something like that.

It took me the better part of an hour (using Google) to find anything close to installation notes, for a slightly different version (“let me tell you about slightly different versions … ”) and it wasn't terribly surprising when those instructions didn't work.

Another hour or so was wasted trying to locate the module to download any version; old, new, borrowed, blue, anything.

I will say that the OSCommerce site looks good, but actually finding anything useful? Like … oh … the software? It's a sad state of affairs when one realizes that one downloaded what they were looking for by mistake (I was trying to download OSCommerce itself, thinking the module was one of those that used to be third party but had become part of the main distribution—I thought I downloaded OSCommerce but instead I had downloaded the latest version of the Easy Populate module). Yes, the site is that bad.

Now, the installation of the module. The module itself came with no installation guide, I guess on the assumption that you have the OSCommerce guide and that tells you how to install modules, cause the Good Lord knows that what I thought was the module installation module wasn't installing modules. I ended up having to go through the source code to the module, finding out why it was refusing to run and found the answer—because the module wasn't listed in one of the database tables that OSCommerce uses.

Some sixy SQL statments later (one to see what was in that particular table, one that I botched so badly that it basically wiped out that particular table, and fifty-eight to restore the table and add the new module) it was added and would now run.

Not correctly mind you, but it would run.

Some more hacking on the module (“no, the product database doesn't have those fields, so forget about them!”) and I think it works.

I hope.


This is not a keyboard

Now, About that keyboard …

I'm picky about keyboards. The only keyboard I use are IBM keyboards. Specifically the IBM AT or PS/2 keyboards. Nothing matches the feel of the IBM AT keyboard; not even the PS/2 keyboard (although it comes very close). But those are quite rare, and the lack of a separate bunch of editing keys is a bit bothersome to me (as I'm used to the inverted-T layout of the arrow keys). PS/2 keyboards are easier to come by and with the exception of the CapsLock key being where the Control key should be (were God intended it on keyboards used by programmers) it's just as good as the IBM AT keyboard (oh, you can also rearrange the keycaps on the PS/2; good for practical jokes).

And both are, as far as I can tell, indestructable.

But I don't have one of those at work. I have … this.

This is not a keyboard. Oh sure, it may look like a keyboard, and it may even marginally function like a keyboard. But it is not a keyboard. This is a weak imitation of a keyboard. This wouldn't even survive my using it to hit a luser, much less survive me pounding the hell out of it in frustration of using Windows. This is a joke of a keyboard.

And that's my judgement on just the feel of the keyboard.

I also have problems with those … extra … buttons that adorn the top edge of the keyboard. The function keys? They don't work. Not unless you hit that small “F” key on the far left edge, which supposedly toggle between the use of the function keys as function keys, and the use of the function keys as some random controls for some bits of software somewhere. And that small ovoidal key above the small “F” key? That's the “User” key, which, curious about, I hit.

Immediately the screen shut off, shortly followed by my screaming out in alarm that this “User” key was in fact, a stealth Big Red Switch. Turns out it just locked (as in keyboard lock, not crash locked) my Windows session and blanked the screen. Intuitive use of the “User” key that. Now I'm paranoid about pressing any of the other “buttons” on that keyboard.

I'm seriously considering bringing in my own keyboard. I did that for my last two jobs; I don't see why this one should be any different.


Grass is always greener on the other side of the roof

The offices where I work are on the second floor. Below is the view outside the window of the conference room.

[Grass is always greener on the other side of the roof]

Why yes, there is grass growing on the roof. Why do you ask?


Your friendly neighborhood Big Brother

With 3,600 stores in the United States and roughly 100 million customers walking through the doors each week, Wal-Mart has access to information about a broad slice of America - from individual Social Security and driver's license numbers to geographic proclivities for Mallomars, or lipsticks, or jugs of antifreeze. The data are gathered item by item at the checkout aisle, then recorded, mapped and updated by store, by state, by region.

By its own count, Wal-Mart has 460 terabytes of data stored on Teradata mainframes, made by NCR, at its Bentonville headquarters. To put that in perspective, the Internet has less than half as much data, according to experts.

Via The Diff Wire, What Wal-Mart Knows About Customers' Habits

Like last week, this week again I went shopping at Wal★Mart. I was talked into shopping there for a few weeks just to get a feel for how much money we won't spend there, as apposed to Publix. Yes, we're evil for doing it, and articles like the above don't make it any easier to do.

It's also amazing the amount of data they have, and how they can pour through it. Privacy and Big Brother issues aside, it is fascinating that they are able to data mine that much data. Who would have thought that Pop-Tarts and beer are big sellers prior to hurricanes? And how do you come up with the queries to find out such information?

But least you think that all that data Wal★Mart has can only be used for evil:

STILL, as Wal-Mart recently discovered, there can be such a thing as too much information. Six women brought a sex-discrimination lawsuit against the company in 2001 that was broadened this year to a class of about 1.6 million current and former female employees. Lawyers for the women have said that Wal-Mart has the ability to use its human-resources database to calculate back pay for the plaintiffs as well as to determine whether women were fairly promoted and paid. The judge hearing the case, which is pending in a federal court in San Francisco, has agreed.

The database is unusually detail-rich, said Joseph Sellers, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “They've put into their work force database the information that bears on virtually every facet of compensation,” he said. “They have performance reviews, along with seniority, the time spent with the company, which store they worked in. So you can compare people working in the same store, to measure whether men and women are paid differently.”

Via The Diff Wire, What Wal-Mart Knows About Customers' Habits


Talk about ironic advertising

I'm sure this is completely unintentional, but I found it hilarious.

Update very early Tuesday morning at 1:27 am, November 16th, 2004

Wlofie: “Yes, that is funny.”

Jessica: “Yeah, there's something funny about it. The fourth figure, doesn't fit. A scuba diver in the sky maybe?”

Spring: “It would have been funnier if it was the CIA. But not the Navy.”

Sigh. So much for attempting to point out the ironic placement of a Navy ad in a page about 1984 (and Big Brother).

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