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August 23, 2006

My Favorite Recruiter Emails

Well, my contract ends on September 29. Considering the way things are going at the company where I work, there's no chance it'll be extended. So I'm looking for another job.

Over the last year I've received about 1,482,199 emails from various headhunters trying to place me into inappropriate jobs. It's hard to decide which is my favorite email, but I've narrowed it down to four:

1. Today I got a request for a Java developer. The job requires 10 years of Java experience. I don't know why the sender thinks I have any Java experience at all: it sure ain't on my resume.

2. Yesterday I received an email which began "I don't have any details for the Perl Position." He did manage to note that the location is Memphis, Tennessee. That was all I needed to see. Next.

3. A few weeks ago I got a description for a job in Seattle. The company wants an experienced Perl programmer, but will only pay entry-level wages because the language is Perl. Good luck on that one, guys.

4. Yesterday a guy sent me the exact same email for the same job FOUR SEPARATE TIMES over the course of two hours. Pay attention!

It's going to be an interesting job hunt.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 03:44 PM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2006

Borland Brings Back Turbo

Today I read at PC Magazine that Borland (formerly Inprise, formerly Borland) is bringing back the Turbo line of compilers. In anticipation of the September 5 release date, the turboexplorer.com website has gone live and begun the countdown.

Wow. The Turbo line was one of the most unfortunate casualties of the 90s. Back in the 1980s when the personal computer was on the rise, very few programming tools were available for home hobbyists. PCs typically came with the MS BASIC interpreter and there were a few shareware/freeware tools available, but real compilers for real languages (Pascal, C, etc) were only available for hundreds of bucks each--a lot more than the budget of many experimenters.

Then Philippe Kahn created Borland International, packaged up his Pascal compiler and started selling it for $49.95. It was smaller, faster and cheaper than anything else, and it sold like crazy. While other packages provided a command line compiler, Turbo languages gave you an IDE, a command line compiler, programming tools, examples and great documentation. Borland grew and created more Turbo compilers such as Turbo C, Turbo Prolog, Turbo Basic and Turbo Assembler. Suddenly average Joes could afford real production-quality programming tools for the PC, and it created a flood of new software and small software companies. Hobbyists and kids could try their hand at writing real programs in real languages.

I was a Turbo C fan. Late in 1997 I picked a C book at random and bought the second edition of Prata's C Primer Plus. It was a great book, but I didn't have a C compiler (all C compilers cost $300-500+) and couldn't run any of the examples or do any of the exercises. The next spring Borland released Turbo C 1.0 and I plunked down my hard-earned $99.95 for it. It was a great little compiler, and I upgraded it to 1.5, then Turbo C Professional (with Turbo Assembler and Turbo Debugger). Although I never sold any software I wrote with it, I spent many hours during my college years with Turbo C and Assembler, and got a lot of enjoyment out of the package. In 1991 I made my final upgrade to Borland C++ 1.0. After that I had no time to program until I finally reached the Linux world.

Now Borland is planning to resurrect the Turbo brand with the release of 4 new compilers: Turbo C++, Turbo C#, Turbo Delphi and Turbo Delphi for .NET. They'll be giving away an "Explorer" edition for free (but you can only have one language installed per computer); those who need more capabilities can purchase the "Professional" edition for "less than $500". Looking at the feature list, the Explorer editions already look pretty capable.

Although I'm happy to see the return of Turbo and wish Borland the best, I have to ask the question: does it matter?

Once upon a time, if you wanted to get into programming on the PC you had to use BASIC or cough up money for a real development system. Borland made real development systems at affordable prices (and Microsoft soon followed with its own line of "Quick" compilers) and opened up programming to "the rest of us".

Nowadays, though, it's a different world. Young 'uns who are technically-oriented and interested in programming have a whole universe-on-a-disc in Linux, with all the tools and compilers they could possibly want.

Borland is aiming to attract Windows programmers: kids who want to learn to program "visually" on Windows, programmers who want to try out a new programming environment, programmers who are tired of Microsoft's tools and are looking for an alternative. Alternatives are good.

Will Borland's alternatives be good enough to lead programmers away from Microsoft? Personally, I can't say (my only experience with Microsoft was that copy of Visual C++ I bought and barely used). Borland knows the challenge. We'll see if it can live up to that challenge. Go, Borland!

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:16 PM | Comments (0)

August 04, 2006

Happy 4/8/6

In 1996 I pulled the motherboard out of my former-286 and replaced it with a 486SX handed down by my friend Matt. He sold it to me for $50, the cost of the 4MB of RAM. I don't remember how fast it ran, but it was something like 33MHz. Very speedy: the DOS DIR command generated output faster than I could possibly read it.

This machine ran DOS 6.2, Windows 3.1 and clocked a lot of WordPerfect time. There was no need for communications programs since I lived in far western Minnesota, out of range of BBSs or internet.

The important software, though, was Linux. I'd met a local ham who'd moved back to Montevideo, Minnesota after spending many years in the real world. He was shocked that anyone in Nowheresville Minnesota had ever heard of Linux, and invited me to come over to his workshop to discuss radios and computers. He dug around and found an extra 4MB of RAM to bring my system up to a full 8MB to run X, and gave me my first multi-CD multi-distribution Infomagic set with Red Hat 2, Slackware 1.something, an old Debian and the sunsite archives. Great stuff.

Over the next week I spent numerous hours trying to figure out how to install Slackware on my system. Partitioning the hard drive was simple. The hard part was figuring out and manually performing a lot of tasks which are done automatically now. It was a serious learning experience, and it was a dream come true when I finally booted to the Slackware login prompt.

I made the 45 mile trip to the nearest bookstore in Marshall, Minnesota and bought the only Linux book to be found in that part of the state: the second edition of Running Linux. I finally had a chance to check out Unix, and it was a whole new world: fun and full of new things to learn. Ten years later I'm a Perl programmer who uses Linux every day, thanks to that little 486SX and that set of Linux CDs (which still have a place of honor on my CD rack).

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 01:52 PM | Comments (0)

August 03, 2006

Happy 3/8/6

Yesterday I wrote about my old 286. Today is 3/8/6, so how about my old 386? Well, I don't really remember much about it. Sometime in the mid-90s (I think it was 1995) my friend Matt gave me his 386SX motherboard when he upgraded to a 486SX. I vaguely remember that I used it to run Windows 3.1, X-Com and Ultima VII, but didn't have enough RAM to run Linux.

And I'm fairly sure that I didn't use it for long before he upgraded again and sold me his 486SX. More (much more) about that tomorrow.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 02:40 PM | Comments (0)

August 02, 2006

Happy 2/8/6

Someone pointed out that today is 2/8/6, so I thought I'd reminisce about my old 286.

I bought my 286 in 1989. I can't really remember why; I think I'd caught the upgrade bug. My old Epson 8086 machine felt a little slow for Turbo C and Ultima IV or V, though realistically it was probably fine--I just wanted to upgrade.

So I sold it to a classmate and started reading every page of Computer Shopper (back then it was as thick as a phone book). Finally found the absolute cheapest price and bought a 286 from an outfit called Syntax Computers in California. It was junk: froze up randomly and was generally built very shoddily. I returned it and waited a month to get my cash back. The world is a better place without Syntax Computers.

While waiting for my refund I read some reviews of PC clone makers and ended up buying a 286 machine from a place in Chicago. It ran at a blazing 12MHz, had a full 1MB of RAM and a 256K VGA card. I bought my own 65MB hard drive and a 2400 baud Cardinal modem and installed them myself, then loaded DOS 5 or 6.2.

I probably got more use out of that 286 than any other computer I've ever had. It ran without a problem or a change for at least 6 years. During that time I used it for a lot of C programming, a lot of Ultima and Wing Commander, Civilization I and Might & Magic III, F-15 Strike Eagle II and F-19 Stealth Fighter and the SSI Gold Box AD&D games and many other PC game classics.

Then there were the hours spent on the local BBS systems in Milwaukee, on ExecPC (are they still around) and even on the Internet in 1992. I remember going to yahoo.com back when you could look at all the new websites listed every day. I didn't have any form of Windows, so it was all text-based browsing. I used gopher more than www. And I remember seeing a notice about a little homebrew Unix-alike called Linux, but was disappointed that it required at least a 386. I'd always wanted to try Unix.

More than all of those combined were the hours spent running WordPerfect 5.1. The 286 took me through college with my own papers and the papers I typed for others (at $1 per page), all the way through seminary with many, many papers, and through at least my first year of my first church. It never quit.

In 1996 or so I started replacing parts and the motherboard was one of the first to go (I still have it packed away in a box, though), but I used the case for up until 2002 or so: over the years it held a 386, a 486SX and various Pentia. It's still sitting in my basement with a 100 or 200 MHz motherboard and CPU.

So I bought the 286 out of the pointless desire to upgrade for the sake of upgrading, and ended up learning that the specifications of your computer are far less important than getting real use from it.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at 10:24 AM | Comments (0)