Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Where Are All The Male Nurses? (Part 1)

Something has piqued my curiosity in the last little while. Perhaps you can help me out with understanding this phenomenon.

The gender gap in the work force.

There is a growing concern that the majority of workers in the science and technology industry are male. This is causing people to ask "Why aren't women going into science and technology?" Here is an example of one such article:

http://www.girlscouts.org/news/news_releases/2006/doe.asp

In the past year I've seen many-an-article, television ad, and banner-ad on various web sites showing concern over this.

This is a part of the larger concern re: the gender income gap; men earn more than women. A lot of that can be explained away by how most high paying jobs are occupied by men. Sure, most CEOs are men. Having attended both college and univetsity I saw that some programs were conspicuously male, and others female, and some a mix.

I started off in Aviation. Women represented just over 10% of the class. I then switched into Computer Engineering. My graduating class was 100% men. Mind you, there were only four of us. But in the larger class of Computer Engineering, Computer Programming, System Support, and Networking it would have been about 10% female. A walk through the college would show that the automotive wing was mostly male, and the hair dressing students were about 99% female.

In university, most engineering students and computer science students are male. Most language students were female. (Although my experience with business students is about half and half. There may be a gap there, but it's small enough to not notice by just looking.)

So there's this push to get more women in high paying fields, especially science and technology. Or, stated another way, to get more women into traditionally male dominated fields.

So my question is this:

Where's the push to get men into female dominated fields?



Of course, the first objection to this question is that female dominated fields are usually low paying, such as hair dressing, and beautification (or whatever it's called). Okay, so maybe we shouldn't be pushing boys to go en mass into hair dressing, or early childhood education just to even things out. (Average starting salary for early childhood education graduates is about $12 000/year.)

But what about nursing? Most nursing students are female. Nurses don't make minimum wage. They can do quite well for them selves. Ahh, but are there nursing jobs out there? YES! We're not producing enough nurses to fill the demand. In fact we're facing a dangerous shortage of nurses! When was the last time you saw an ad trying to recruit men into nursing?

Now, don't misread me. I'm not saying we shouldn't try to recruit girls into science and technology, or other high-paying fields. But we should see both sides of the equation, lest we
be accused of holding a double-standard.

When it comes to making the work force equitable, as a society we're still not 100% consistent. While studying computer science in University most students were either from Bangladesh, or from Sault Ste. Marie, and were white. There were a few Asians in the mix too. But I noticed a conspicuous lack of Native's. Yet, I hadn't seen any push to up the Native population in computer science. Yet Algoma's Native population would be very high compared to most other universities I'm sure. (I could be wrong. I have done no research on this.)

Or we could take a different approach to thing. Instead of obsessing over how certain fields need representation equal to the general population make-up we could take a novel approach and encourage people, both boys and girls, to explore their talents, skills, aptitudes, desires, and choose a life-path based on those things.

Nah....that'd never work.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Should I Stay, Or Should I Go

I'm at a crossroads right now. I am working at completing my final course, chemistry. When I finish that course, Algoma University will owe me a three year bachelor of science degree with a computer science major.

Now, if I take eight more classes (technically seven, but one of them is a full year course, and might as well be two classes) then I can get a four year bachelor of computer science degree.

What I want to know from you, my faithful readers, is do you think it's worth it?

Here's some extra facts that may play into your advice:

  1. I'm now 28 years old, and I want to get on with my life.

  2. I have a three year Computer Engineering Technologist's diploma.

  3. I have two years working experience at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources where I did some database design and maintenance work (in Access), some software testing, and a bit of programming.

  4. I worked for Point of Presence technologies programming and doing database work for about a year.

  5. I have two years experience doing web site programming (HTML/CSS/Perl) with the federal government.

Furthermore, the way the schedule is at Algoma this year, I would have to do 6 courses in the fall semester, and two in the second. I would also be holding onto my job and working at it for 15 hours/week.

Do you think it's worth it? Or should I stick with the three year degree and be happy with that?

Coolness

Right now the main fridge is empty. We use the fridge in the garage as our main fridge. It's kind of annoying always having to go back and fourth between the kitchen and garage.

However, the freezer of the kitchen frige doesn't freeze things, but it does keep them cool. So we use that as a fridge.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Car Update

Turns out all the car needed was an oil change. All trips to the mechanic should be that easy.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Don't Mow My Lawn

When I first moved in with theMcQueens in September of '04 they had a ride-on lawnmower. It was a cool looking machine. Robin used to mow the lawn. She would ride around on it. She would have fun with it.

Then, soon after I moved in the mower broke. One of the belts in the engine broke. Now, if you remember previous blog posts, this was the time that the cars were breaking down. Plus it was when Craig and I moved down. Life was busy. When life gets that busy in September, a broken-down lawnmower falls down the priority list.

The grass grew.

It soon started to snow. Then I went back to the Soo. I came back down to Ottawa in April. The snow had melted. The grass was long. They hadn't fixed the lawnmower yet. They checked out hardware stores for replacement belts, but to no avail. The stores didn't have belts the right size.

After a while of the lawn had gotten really long. The above-ground pool started to look like an in-ground pool. They borrowed a lawnmower from one of Robin's teachers who lived in the area. They continued to use that lawnmower for that summer.

In September, I moved back to the Soo for eight months. I returned the following May. They were still using the borrowed lawnmower.

Thankfully, they managed to buy a used lawnmower. It's a pretty nice mower. It's a maulcher. They returned the borrowed lawnmower. Apparently, it broke down soon after it was returned. (Or maybe it was that the owner's other mower had broken down...I forget.)

Friday, July 07, 2006

What Grinds My Gears

You wanna know what really grinds my gears?

When you're driving along in your car, and you shift from one gear to the next, but you let out the clutch a little too soon, before you're fully in gear.

That's what really grinds my gears.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Pool Is Cool

Pastor Jack took all the sand out of the pool filter and took out the tube with the protruding fingers. The tube was split in two. The fingers were fine.

We set out to replace the tube. It seems they make the tubes differently nowadays. Our tube only has one opened end. Tubes these days have both ends opened. So Pastor Jack had to get a plug to close one end.

So, now the filter is working. But there's a bunch of sand on the floor of the pool. So, it will need to be swept up. No biggie.

Dude! Where's the Car?

I came home last night to find an empty driveway. I went inside the house. Bruce and Jane were talking. Wendy was home, and brother Jack was home. That left Robin and Pastor Jack out. But both cars were away. Robin's not old enough to drive.

I have been thinking recently that nothing has broken down in about two weeks, so we're way past due. Furthermore, the cars haven't broken down in a couple of months, so they're past due. I wonder what's going on.

Shortly after I got home Pastor Jack came home with Robin in the Tercel. I asked Jack "Where's the Intrepid?"

"It's in the shop."

"What's wrong with it."

"Nothing yet. But it might need a bit of work and I want to get it done sooner rather than later."

This isn't all that bad. The only issue is that on Sunday I have to be at church at 8:30, but the rest don't have to be there until 10:00. So either someone comes with me, some stays home, or the other car gets supersaturated with people.

Wow. What a boring blog entry.

Sex.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

How did I come to live with such a fine family as the McQueens?

It all started years ago in Sault Ste. Marie. Pastor Jack had won a webcam. Pastor Jack didn't know how to hook it up, and being a computer guy he asked me to help him, with the payment being a dinner with his family. At the time I was living on student loans. For those of you who have ever depended upon Ontario's student loan program, you know how awful the system is. I wasn't always eating all seven days of the week. So the promise of a dinner was an enticing one.

The webcam was a USB webcam. But the McQueens didn't have USB capabilities on their computer. There was no USB connector on the computer. But the motherboard did have an array of pins for a USB connector, but you would have to by the USB connector separately. At the time their were two different standard layouts of pins on a motherboard for USB connection, but this mobo had neither. It had one of its own.

"Sorry, Pastor Jack. At this moment I can't do anything for you. You'll need to get a USB conector. If we can find one for the pins on the motherboard it'll be about $12. If we can't we can always get a USB card for about $40. What's for dinner?"

We searched long and hard to find the right USB connector for the computer. But to no avail. Soon it became apparent he would have to buy the more expensive card. So he got one. I came over for another dinner.

I hooked up the card, plugged in the camera. Nothing. Hmmmm. I wonder what's going on.

Here, it's fair to mention that I used Windows 3.1 until December of 1997. That December I was living in Toronto. I came home at Christmas and asked my brother to upgrade my computer to Windows95....and throw that Linux thing on that he and another friend were telling me was so great. At this time I was working for Air Canada and I had dreams of being a pilot, so I didn't care to get my hands too dirty with Linux installations, etc.

After installing RedHat v5 or some early version he showed me how to use it. He told me what Free Software was all about, how it wasn't just free, as in beer, but free, as in speech. How source code could be modified. He showed me how I wasn't stuck with one desktop environment, but I had many to choose from, and in fact I didn't even need a desktop environment for I could use a virtual terminal. He showed me how the command line was a power horse, something to master, not something to hide and get rid of and pretend doesn't exist (like Microsoft thinks).

I instantly fell in love. At first I didn't know how to really use Linux. All my work was being done in Windows, but I was still booting into Linux every day just to play around. Application by application I started switching from Windows to Linux, and at a certain point I just stopped using Windows. I haven't looked back.

I say all that to say that I sorta missed the whole 95/98/ME/XP/NT/2k architecture. I didn't know a lot of specifics. One of the specifics I didn't know was that 95 didn't handle USB.

"Sorry, Pastor Jack. Windows 95 doesn't deal with USB. You'll need to get Windows 98. What's for dinner?"

So we get a Windows98 installation disk. So I go over to install that, and get another dinner, of course. (At the time, to have this done at a computer shop would have been about a $45 bench charge, plus about $22/hour. Pastor Jack was getting a bargain. Computer work for the cost of a dinner.) But Microsoft does the most annoying thing with their installation disks. The installation disk is not the same as an upgrade disk. I think that has to be one of the stupidest things around.

"Sorry, Pastor Jack. We have the installation disk. That's for if you're doing a clean install. We can do that, but it will mean erasing the harddrive. Do you have backups of everything?"

"We have backups of the programs, but not the user data."

I look around and the user data is scattered all about the drive. Too much stuff would be lost. We decided the upgrade would be better.

"Sorry, Pastor Jack. We'll need to get the upgrade disk. What's for dinner?"

Okay, so we return that disk and get the upgrade disk. I go over and upgrade to Windows 98.

"Good news, Pastor Jack! It works! What's for dinner?"

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

I Got A Virus!

I received a virus the other day via email. Now, many of you know I don't run Windows. I have a Linux desktop, and a Mac laptop. Those systems are generally free of viruses. (People say when Mac becomes more popular there will be more virii. This may be so, but Mac OS X is much more popular than Mac OS 9, and lower, but they had virii, and OS X doesn't...until now.)

This is a pretty nasty bug, so everyone be on the lookout. This is the email message I received in my inbox:


Thou hast just received the Amish Virus.

As we haveth no technology nor programming experience, this virus worketh on the honour system. Please delete all the files from thy hard drive and manually forward this virus to all on thy mailing list.

We thank thee for thy cooperation.

— The Amish Computer Engineering Dept.



I know I don't have to delete everything, but when the Amish tell you to do something, and reinforce it by telling you that you're on the honour system, an honourable person, such as myself, has no choice but to follow through.

I happen to have admin privs on both my computers, so I figured I'd go the extra mile and delete everything, not just what I had in the account of the user who received the virus. I write this from work, where I don't have write privs to many directories so I shouldn't loose too much here.

But this really sucks because I don't have any backups! When will I learn to backup?!?!

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Pool Party Continues

Yesterday, when I came home from work the pool looked different. Instead of a clear-blueish colour, it looked darker. I was informed that a bunch of the sand from the filter was spewing into the pool. So, the McQueens decided to go to the pool store and find out what's going on with it.

Somewhere on the filtering unit is an O-ring. Or at least, somewhere on the unit was an O-ring. Apparently, these O-rings are pretty popular and pool stores generally have them in stock. But not this store. Not today.

So the McQueens left the pool store to go to another pool store. It was closed. (What kind of a pool store closes on a Saturday morning in June? You'd think that would be prime business time for them.)

There's another possibility. There's this pipe that goes down into this big tank which is filled with sand. The pipe them has a number of smaller "finger" pipes that protrude. One, or more, of those fingers may have broken. But if you tip the tank over to see, then you risk busting even more fingers by the weight of the sand. So you have to scoop the sand out first. But the hole is really small.

So, Pastor Jack wen outside with a plastic tea-cup to start scooping. I'm soon taking off into the city to get some undisturbed chem. study time. It will be interesting to see the progress he makes by the time I get back.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Browser Wars

Every now and again I'd like to take some time to talk about something else, other than my life with the McQueens. This is one of those times.

I am a professional web developer. I spend my day at work developing web pages. And I have come to a conclusion. MicroSoft's Internet Exlorer costs technology divisions, probably in the end, millions of dollars a year.

How can this be?

Well, let me explain how it works. Ever wonder how web pages are made?

Web technology is like most other technolgies. There are two distinct components: the nuts'n'bolts and the interface. The nuts'n'bolts is the part you don't see. It's the part you don't need to know about to use the technology. It's the engine inside a car; CPU + mobo + memory + storage in a computer. The interface is the part you do see. It's the part you interact with. It's the steering wheel+the instrument panel + the gas pedal+the brake pedal + etc. in a car; the monitor + the keyboard + the mouse + the printer + the speakers + etc. on the computer.

It's also pretty clear that the quality of the nuts'n'bolts and the quality of the interface are largely independant of one another. Just because you have a great working car doesn't mean it's going to be nice to look at. And just because it's nice to look at doesn't mean its going to make it past 150 000 km.

Web pages are a number of technologies working together to make the coolest thing since sliced bread. You've probably heard of HTML. That's the basic "language" web pages are written in. Another "language" is called CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets.

The HTML part is the data that makes up the page; the text, the links, the pictures, etc. The CSS part defines how that data looks; what colours are used, the layout, etc.

Web browsers (like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Safari, etc.) download these files (HTML and CSS files), read them, try to figure out how to display them, then show them to you, the user.

What's this, you say? "What do you mean 'try to figure out how to display them'? Aren't these languages well defined? 'Trying' implies that it might not know how to do it. It might fail."

You're question of the languages being well defined is a good one. In fact, the languages are mostly well defined. A group called the World Wide Consortium (W3C) defines those, and other web technologies. They say "this tag means that, and this style should be rendered that way."

In theory, people who program web browsers should take those definitions (aka: recommendations (like standards, but technically not standards)) and write their browsers to those definitions. That way, if a web page is written to those specifications, then any compliant browser should render the page in much the same way.

This is very important because not everybody is viewing the internet on a high speed connection with IEv6, with high resolution. Some people are browsing with graphics turned off. Some are viewing with cell phones, and BlackBerrys. Some are using FireFox. Some are using Safari or Camino on Macs. Some are using Linux.

What's this, you say? "Those people are a very small minority aren't they?"

Not as small as you may think. It's estimated that 20% of people have special viewing requirements, such as large fonts, large resolution, screen readers, etc. In fact, on this Blog, IE users are in the minority! The vast minority! There are more Mac users, and more Linux users than Windows 2000 users viewing this blog.

One of the ideals of the internet and the world wide web is complete open standards. Anyone can write a web page, and anyone can view it. If a page is written to the "standards" then even a blind person can view the webpage without issue. If it's not written to standards, it might give that blind person an awful hard time. If it's not written to the "standards" then a Mac or Linux user might not be able to read that page.

What's this, you say? "So, what's this have to do with costing technology divisions lots of money?"

The reason is this. Sadly, IE has such a huge market share that it cannot be ignored. Where I work (where there are thousands of users) it's the only browser we're supposed to use. (Alright! I confess! I've downloaded, and use FireFox!) In fact, a lot of web programmers seem to think it's the only browser, so that's what they write for.

The process goes something like this:

  1. Write some code.

  2. Load it in IEv6 to see if it looks right. If not, go to step 1 until it looks right.

  3. Repeat until page or site is finished.


But there's a huge problem with this:

IEv6 is far off the mark when it comes to the W3C "standards".

There are a lot of parts of CSS and HTML (and others) that IEv6 does not support. Instead, it introduces its own code, unique to IE browsers. This is "bad news bears." This violates one of the founding principals on which the WWW was founded, and what makes the internet, as we know it today, so great. One could argue that adding proprietary extensions isn't a bad thing. But I'm not talking about proprietary extensions. I'm talking about replacing an open standard with a proprietary one.

The problem with being pretty far off the mark is that if there's no standard as to what's right and wrong, they can change at will, and mess everything up. So a page that works perfectly in IEv6 may break when IEv7 comes out, and may be back to pefect for IEv8. It's completely unpredictable!

What is a web developer to do?

What a professional web developer does (as opposed to a script kiddie) is he develops to the "standards" and tests pages in mutliple browsers (with IEv6 being last, or not at all), and validates his code with the W3C. Then, he works on IEv6. Here's how the process might work:

  1. Write code

  2. Test in FireFox, and/or Opera. If it doesn't work, repeat steps 1 and 2 until it does.

  3. Test in IEv6. It won't work. Search the internet to find hacks to make it look right. Continue going through steps 1 and 2. Don't proceed to step 3 until step 2 passes.


Writing to standard code, once you know how, can be pretty fast. But throwing together hacks to make it work in IEv6, and still keep compliant is a right royal pain in the neck and can take ten times longer than writing the compliant code in the first place. And time is money, and that extra time/money is what's costing the industry lots of money.

It may seem I'm being hard on IEv6, and maybe I am. But it seems to me that it's such a bad browser (technically speaking) that it shouldn't even be seriously considered to be a usable product, especially in a professional setting.

If you doubt me, if you think your IE is good enough, check out the ACID2 test. Unfortunately, FireFox doesn't even pass that test. :( Opera, and Safari 2 do.

What's this, you say? "I'm not a web programmer, so what does this have to do with me?"

Well, probably not much. The reasons you should switch from IE have more to do with security, viruses, spyware, etc. plus the added features like tabbed browsing, extensibility, etc. that come with browsers like FireFox, and Opera.

Plus, if you switch from IE you will get the added satisfaction of "sticking it to the man". (I'd say, that, alone, would be worth the switch.)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Happy Birthday!

Happy 139th, Canada! You don't look a day over 118.