Life in General

Strive to Compete

If you walked up to me and asked me if I was competitive I would probably say no without even thinking about it. After all, I don’t consider myself to be a competitive person. I’ve been one of those people that honestly believed it was more about the effort than the outcome.

At 27 years of age, I am beginning to realize that people who tell you “It’s not about who wins, but about how you played the game” are just lying to you. After all, if you aren’t striving to win then why bother playing at all?

Last week was the orientation for my new job and of the group of 85 of us, we were organized into 10 tables. Each table represented a team. At the beginning of the week, we were told that there would be a points competition. At the end of each day there would be a 30 minute wrap up session where we would be quizzed on the presentations for the day and awarded points based on correct answers. Pretty cool right?

When you look at the mechanics, the organizer just incentivized the whole week of training. Pay attention, get the answers right, and you get points. What are we playing for? No clue. It was SECRET!

It didn’t take long for the rivalry to heat up with the competitive personalities at my table rearing their heads. Mine included. I took notes better than any class I’d attended in college. Just for the chance to win. It didn’t matter what we were playing for, we were going to win.

In the end, the prize was small and nominal and yes we did win. We felt good too. We felt accomplished. It was as if someone walked up and told us “Your table payed attention better than any other table in the room.”

We were all beaming with pride. It wasn’t until just then, at 27 years of age, did I realize that winning IS everything. You have to believe this or you won’t give it your all.

So why do we tell our kids that being a good sport is the most important thing and that winning is secondary? I guess it is to foster good social skills above domination.

This is something I am struggling with as I coach and Under 4 YMCA soccer team. Each and every week I have to hide my game face and encourage a group of kids to foster their love for the game. This is easy, but it isn’t easy to suppress the competitive spirit. After all, I pretend like it doesn’t matter, but I want to win and I want to win big.

When we are falling behind, I know it shows in my behavior.

So here I am. Telling you that yes it is important to be a good sport, but by golly you better be out there playing to win.

Professional Development

Never Stop Moving Forward

I’ve been working in my field for a very long time now, roughly 10 years to be exact. In those 10 years I’ve managed to keep learning new things year after year. Sometimes these new skills were learned with specific purposes or through on the job encounters. On the other hand, I’ve also had jobs that really didn’t challenge me and that I could easily get by without doing much or without growing professionally.

While these types of jobs can be “easy” or “fun” for people that know how to fill their free time, they can be really detrimental to your professional growth. To combat this negative growth I’ve really had to be deliberate about growing my skill set and expanding my knowledge. I’ve not always done a great job of making the most out of my situations at all times and there are times where I’ve looked at myself and thought “I really could be doing a lot more with my time.”

When you find yourself in that type of situation, how do you keep yourself from growing stagnant and becoming irrelevant? You never stop moving forward. I don’t mean this in a truly literal sense. I mean it in the sense that in most jobs the industry will continue to evolove and expand. When you find yourself stationary, you will find yourself becoming irrelevant as the industry passes you by. If you commit to forward movement though, you will either maintain the status quo and merely keep pace with the industry or if you work really hard you can be a trailblazer and lead the industry.

It takes a lot of dedication and work just to keep up, so it stands to reason that being a trailblazer is immensely difficult and it is. That’s why there are so few of them.

So just how do you keep up with a growing industry? For starters, you need to analyze what your current skill set is. If you don’t know where you are, how will you know where you need to go?

Once you’ve established where you are you need to get a feel for where the industry is headed. You can do this a number of ways, and I do all of them with some regularity.

Check out current job listings

It might seem like an odd thing to do and your employer might look at you funny if they notice, but what better way to see what future jobs will require than to look at current job openings. Don’t limit your scope to local jobs either. Check the regional areas that are the epicenter for your industry and see what skills are in demand.

Join an onilne community

It’s easy to see where an industry is headed if you are part of the community of that industry. Not all industries have online communities so you may have to venture out and do some networking.

Subscribe to some periodicals

Get a subscription to a few of the industry magazines or start reading their respective websites on a daily/weekly basis. This will introduce you to new concepts/technology in your field and give you cues on where things are headed

Once you gather all of this information, just how do you apply it? That really depends on your job/industry. For me, it’s reading and doing. Getting my feet wet with new technology in some sort of demo or building a new application using a new language or framework. The hard part is figuring out what skills are hot and getting in on the action early. It’ll be up to you to take charge and make yourself one of the elite.

Professional Development, Programming

On Becoming a Better Programmer

Nick Halstead runs a programming blog and is one of my favorite reads. His insight is very good and he has a lot of experience. His post today was about becoming a better programmer and was a very good read. I totally agree with what he was saying, but I had something to add. I think we would all write better code if we had this in the back of our minds:

Always code as if the guy who ends up maintaining your code will be a violent psychopath who knows where you live. –Martin Golding

Tech

Using the Group Policy Management Console (GPMC) in Vista SP1

If you didn’t already know, consider yourself now informed that installing SP1 for Vista removes the GPMC from Vista. Running the GPMC from a Windows Server 2008 or Vista machine is the only way to access the 700 additional Group Policy settings available for Vista and Server 2008 machines. With the release of SP1, Vista no longer has the GPMC bundled with it.

I don’t really know the exact reason that it was included in the first place, or why it was quietly removed, but it was. If you managed a domain with Vista based workstations then odds are that you’ll want to take advantage of the GPMC from a Vista based machine.

With v2 of the GPMC not available as a standalone download, what exactly are your options if you’ve already installed SP1? For starters, you could roll back and remove SP1. This is probably more trouble than it is worth and not the path I’d recommend.

Your best bet is the Microsoft Remote Server Administration Tools vor Windows Vista. RSAT is available in x86 and x64 variations. Simply download and run the installer to get started.

Once the wizard is done, there are a few additional steps needed to enable the features that have been installed.

  1. Open your computer’s Control Panel and click on Programs and Features.
  2. Under Tasks on the left, click Turn Windows features on or off (Fig. 1)
  3. Once the list of available features is populated, find Remote Server Administration Tools in the list and make sure it has a checkmark next to it (Fig. 2) and then click Ok.

Fig. 1
Click on \

Fig. 2
Put a check next to \

Next you can start an empty MMC from your start menu (“mmc” + Enter) and add in the previously available GPMC span in from your File menu and get back to editing those GPOs.

Credit goes to Matty-B from this thread for the tip on grabbing RSAT.

A few notes about RSAT from the Microsoft website:

  • RSAT should not be installed on a computer that is running the Windows Server 2003 Administration Tools Pack or Windows 2000 Server Administration Tools Pack. Please remove all versions of Administration Tools Pack from the computer before installing RSAT.
  • Only one copy of RSAT can be installed on a computer at one time. Before installing a new package, remove any existing versions of RSAT, including any copies that are in different languages.

Life in General

Woodworking

I better slow down with all these blog posts or someone is going to think that it’s all I do. I’ll stick to the story that many of them are future dated and show up when I want them to.

At any rate, I was just checking out my old profile on blogger and I saw that I had woodworking listed as a hobby of mine. It’s certainly something I enjoy. I enjoy the pure idea of constructing something from raw materials. This is not limited to raw pieces of timber.

Then I started to think about it further and I can’t actually remember a single noteworthy piece that I have ever constructed. I certainly enjoy it and know that I’ve built things in the past, but I currently have nothing to show for it. What a travesty. I hereby commit to building something from raw materials in the next 6-8 weeks and posting about it once it is complete.

I don’t know what I am building yet, but I am building something.

Life in General

Why Aren’t Bidets More Popular

I frequent Heather Armstrong’s blog, Dooce, and on Monday she linked to this strange commercial for a bidet. The expressions on these people’s faces made me wonder, why aren’t bidets more popular here in the states?

I mean, these people are obviously really enjoying that little splash of water. So much so that they are hitting that button over and over again just to get that sensation. Is there something that I don’t know about bidets that make them totally awesome in other countries, but make them wholly uncool over here?

Are we just too prude to admit that a little splash of cool water is nice? The place Lauren and I had our wedding reception had a bidet in the honeymoon suite, but I didn’t use it. Not because I was afraid, but because I didn’t know how.

Is that the problem? Nobody over here wants one because they are afraid to admit they don’t know what to do? I mean, how do you explain splashing water all over yourself if you screw it up. Nobody is going to believe you used a bidet. They’ll think you don’t know how to go to the bathroom and think you peed all over yourself.

I’m going to find somewhere that has a bidet and try it.

Oh and if you want to see the video that spawned all this madness, I’ve embedded it for your viewing pleasure.

Javascript, Programming

How To Identify a Javascript Keycode

I recently made some modifications to a client’s website that involved using key presses to trigger certain events. I had the numeric keycode for a few of the keys that were already in use, but I didn’t really have a good way of identifying the keyCode for the additional key events I wanted to make use of.

Googling for the result left me with a lot of links that had incorrect information. I searched a little more and found a small Javascript snippit that was supposed to tell you what the keycode was when you pressed down a key, but I found it to be incomplete.

I took that snippit and expanded it to work in IE and Firefox. I’ve included the source here, but you can also check out the working demo.

Here is the source for my little keycode function. Keep in mind that I am using jQuery to update the input box with the correct keycode value.

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<script type="text/javascript" src="jquery-1.2.3.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
function keyCheck(evt){
	key = (evt.which) ? evt.which : evt.keyCode;
	$("#keyCode").val(key);
	//alert("KeyCode = "+key);
}
</script>

CSS, Design

To Reset Or Not

There is an ongoing debate about the use of CSS Reset stylesheets in web development. (See here, then here, then here) If you aren’t familiar with the concept, the idea is that a CSS Reset attempts to equalize the differences between default browser styles. At first glance this is a great idea right? Who wouldn’t want to start from the same place in the design phase of the project?

Despite the appearance that this question would garner an obvious answer from most people in the industry, both sides of the camp seem to be holding firm in their own collective thoughts. Reset advocates can’t seem to imagine a world without it while detractors seem to think it’s a downright waste of time.

I can see both sides of the arguement. On one hand, starting from the same point with all browsers and not having to worry about specific browser quirks as much is an ideal thing. On the other, I’m used to doing it this way so why should I change?

One issue I have with the Reset technique, and this is something the anti-Reset camp uses as an arguement, is that it can create more work for the developer.  The Reset removes all the default styles so the developer has to go in and re-add styles as needed. While this may be true, isn’t that part of the job? Isn’t building out the stylesheet for a site doing exactly that? I get that wiping the slate clean with a Reset might force you to manually override a few of those things again, but I don’t honestly remember the last time I left something default anyway. Most elements of my pages have enough style applied to them that they are completely different from the default versions of themselves anyways.

The answer, and it was probably said best by Eric Meyer himself, is to each their own. If you want to use a Reset CSS, go right ahead. If you don’t? That’s fine too. The old addage “There is more than one way to skin a cat” rings especially true in the world of web development and using a CSS Reset is merely one avenue a developer can pursue in building out any given site.

Personally, I am going to give the Reset concept a try and see how I like it. I’m very used to building out separate styles for different browsers as it is so I don’t think it will be that much extra work.

CSS, Design

Using a CSS Grid System For Layouts

If you’ve ever attempted to build a truly clean, cross browser compliant, css based layout then you know that it can take quite a bit of work for everything to come together. One of the tricky parts is getting your horizontal alignment setup.

CSS Framework is almost an oxymoron in that most websites rarely share enough CSS to warrant the overhead or work of building an actual framework. What if the framework did nothing more than handle positioning?

Enter the 960 Grid System.

The 960 Grid System is built on the fact that the number 960 has a high number of divisible whole numbers making it a very suitable width for a column based grid system. Couple this with the fact that most, if not all, of your end users should be capable of displaying a 960px wide site.

The way the grid system works is this. You select either a 12 or 16 column grid system. The 12 column layout has 60px columns and the 16 column layout has 40px columns. Each column has a 10px margin on either side, making a 20px gutter padding between each column.

When you want to make use of the grid system, simply include the CSS files included in the download. Next, you’ll specify a wrapper/container div and with a class name of “container_12” or “container_16”. This sets up the container to make use of grid units. Finally, begin setting up your divs with class names in the format of “grid_xx” where xx corresponds to 1-16 depending on your container size.

An example is available on the 960.gs website. I’ve included it below:

<div class="container_12">
<div class="grid_7 prefix_1">
<div class="grid_2 alpha">
...</div>
<div class="grid_3">
...</div>
<div class="grid_2 omega">
...</div>
</div>
<div class="grid_3 suffix_1">
...</div>
</div>

With a multitude of site layouts on my horizon, I am definitely going to make use of the 960gs framework and I’ll report back on how well the system worked in streamlining my design and development time.

Site News

Changing Gears

Back when I started blogging in 2005 I struggled with the idea of revealing any personal details on my blog. I’m a pretty private person so maintaining an online personality was never something I ever really wanted to do. Over the years, I relaxed that stance and casually began to talk more and more about my personal life and I’ve told plenty of wacky stories about my family.

Some things have come up recently that have reinforced my original thought process of keeping my blog posts to a technical subject matter.

I recently made some comments about a previous job of mine and those comments have apparently been interpreted in a negative way. If anyone that read that post is still around, let me be the first to say that my post was in no way was meant to speak bad about the company, team, or personnel that were there during my tenure. My experiences at that time had more to do with where I was in my career and what expectations I had for the job.

With that said, I apologize if I rubbed anyone the wrong way or if I somehow came off as abrasive.

From this point forward, my blog is going to trend back to the way it used to be. That is to say that personal posts will become less frequent and my thoughts on design, usability, development, and professional development will begin to dominate the blog.

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