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Working Nine to Five
(20 February 2009)
As featured at Seattle Represent!

Most of the the western world has adopted a common work schedule based around an early morning to early evening time frame: the so-called 9 to 5 workday. Resulting phenomena such as so-called rush hour traffic reflects this with people trying to arrive to and leave from their jobs around these times.

In cities like Seattle it is not uncommon to see bumper to bumper traffic at a standstill on I-5 or the 520 bridge consisting of car after car containing a single occupant during rush hours. While corporations such as Microsoft promote and reward carpooling and busing for commuters, these options don't appeal to many who insist on having a more flexible mode of transportation that doesn't rely on the cooperation of others.

That it is expected most people will not be home during the course of a normal workday, some businesses don't seem to recognize the importance of this scheduling. Take UPS, for example, though the same is likely true of FedEx and DHL as well. (Cable service providers are notorious for their "between the hours of x and y" arrivals that often equate to half a workday.)

Businesses such as UPS will not guarantee a narrow time frame for the delivery of their services. As for weekends when most people would be at home, delivery is often not an available option. Even the U.S. Postal Service is considering dropping Saturday deliveries because of decreased profits and is removing many public mailboxes from around town as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported in January. Delivery services are also notorious for leaving packages on doorsteps in even the most crime-infested neighborhoods.

With Seattle's unemployment rate having hit 7.1 percent in December, and the fact many out of work would leap at the opportunity to work part time during odd hours and weekends, wouldn't it make sense to provide jobs during these times to help ease the stress our economies are facing?

As a specific example, I'll use a UPS delivery that was scheduled to be made to me on a Friday. I knew in advance I would not be home from 11:30am to almost 2:00pm and called UPS to attempt to arrange delivery be made later in the day as I wouldn't be available the following week. Unfortunately, nothing could be done until the driver left a note on the door of my building informing me and anyone else that read it that I wasn't home for delivery…which was about 10 minutes before I arrived back home. Only at that point could I call to make arrangements to pick up the package at their south Seattle warehouse during their narrow one hour window between 7 and 8pm.

When I then called UPS to tell them I wished to come in person to pick up the package, I was instructed to leave a call-back number for which to receive a return phone call within the hour. The response was prompt, but all the operator could provide me was a street address and local landmark -- Cosco -- while suggesting I use other services to figure out how to actually get there and back.

Luckily Seattle has an award-winning Metro bus service, a LostInSeattle.com mapping site, and I'm not afraid of taking the time to ask and answer questions. After speaking with a kindly Metro rider operator, we figured out the logistics of traveling from downtown Seattle to the UPS warehouse and back for such a common "special event," and I hope both Metro and delivery services can somehow integrate the data into their services.

Both the UPS and FedEx warehouses are located near the corner of Airport Way & South Snoqualmi Street. I don't know the FedEx office hours, but UPS packages may be picked up the same day as a missed delivery from 7-8pm if notified in time using the phone number included on their notice left at the door.

If busing from downtown Seattle, take the 131 route from 2nd & James near Pioneer Square leaving at 6:34pm and arriving approximately 15 minutes later at Airport Way & S. Snoqualmi St. UPS is to the northwest of the intersection; FedEx to the southwest. The next 131 bus in that direction departs an hour later at 7:24pm, but that would seem to be cutting it too close to 8:00 when UPS closes.

To return to downtown on the 131 from the warehouses, the buses depart at 7:16pm, 8:17, and 9:17, leaving a best case scenario of about half an hour and a worse case of an hour and a half turnaround between arriving and returning.

A UPS operator informed me that their computers weren't set up for sharing this kind of information, and I've been hard pressed to find an actual email address on their website to send it to. Surely I may find a way to get UPS, FedEx, Seattle/King County Metro (metrokc.gov and 206.553.3000), etc. to integrate this and related information into their systems.

I know I'm but one small drop in the bucket, but I sure do love making waves.

Speaking of waves…

I was heading out the door to catch the various buses I needed to take for the three hour trek back and forth to the UPS warehouse when I noticed a new UPS notice for someone else attached to the front door. Peeking up the road I saw a UPS truck pulling away from the curb so I started shouting "UPS! UPS! Stop!" Some gentleman on the corner was kind enough to flag down the truck for me, and the driver stopped on the next block.

UPS had just tried to deliver a package containing medicine to a neighbor whose intercom doesn't work, but he still had my package yet didn't try buzzing me because at that point mine was flagged for delivery to the warehouse so I could pick it up in person.

My neighbor was home, and this is apparently not the first failed attempt at delivering the medicine she needs. She even mentioned packages getting stolen from her doorstep when I mentioned that the UPS driver at first offered to let me sign for it to leave it on her doorstep, but when I suggested I'd rather leave her a note for her to come knock on my door to get it in person, he changed his mind.

This 9 to 5 world of doing what one is instructed if not ordered to do rather than the mindset of simpler times of going to extremes to make life a better world for one's neighbors is something I've never understood nor accepted.

It's become so bad that I'm not surprised when I hear of people I've come to know expatriating themselves to foreign countries trying to escape this dumbed down, conformist mentality inflicting the western world.

Satan Advertises
(22 February 2009)

Author Piers Anthony writes in On a Pale Horse, the first book in his Incarnation series, that "Satan had been the most proficient publicity department extant, but only a fool would believe the advertising." When this author read the passage nearly twenty years ago, the concept hit close to home having grown up with a picture hanging in the bathroom that read "Money is the root of all evil" to which people are quick to point out that it is the "love of money" that is the actual culprit. Whatever the case, advertisement is a huge industry, and exposure to ads is virtually inescapable in the western world.

From the logos on products people own, to labels on food packages, to signs throughout the city, to the print, radio, television and movie ads that litter the rest of the media; the average American is bombarded with hundreds if not thousands of advertisements every day. Google Answers user "Bobbie7-ga" tries to answer the question of just how many in an informative response at http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=56750 (retrieved: 22 February 2009).

Coaxing people to respond predictably hits to the core of advertising, and the proficient use of social and psychological cues including "the subtle use of language and body-language to influence other people" — as United Kingdom Defense Contractor "Mom" describes neuro-linguistic programming in a personal correspondence — is crucial to grab and hold the audience's attention.

One means to this end is to use a common brainwashing method of repeating the advertisement over and over again until it sinks in. There is also the inherent assumption that an audience will believe the ad to be true: another key component to "catapult the propaganda" as former United States Central Intelligence Agency Director and President George H.W. Bush's Yale University Skull & Bones son later put as President himself while explaining Social Security reform.

Advertisements are a powerful force: from early subliminal ads for popcorn and Coca-Cola that were shown on the screen during a drive-in theater movie increasing sales of said products by 57.8 percent and 18.1 percent respectively, reported by Wikipedia, to those containing catchy tunes that have rocketed more than one music career; some of the most recognized icons got their start through being featured in advertisements. A topless young Jodie Foster appearing in a sunscreen ad is but one example. The Trix Rabbit another.

The advertisement industry itself is so powerful as to actually decide the content that would otherwise be presented. For example, this author suspects one would never find a birth control ad alongside one for diapers except in a most liberal free press. Competition is fierce, and rival products are pushed aside by content providers in the pursuit of the bottom line.

One day a year is even set aside for brand new advertisements — Superbowl Sunday — a professional sporting event derived from a children's playground activity known commonly but derogatorily as "smear the queer" where players attempt to prevent someone on the ball so to speak from advancing to their goal. Millions if not billions of dollars are funneled into the ad campaigns launched this special day, and the censorship of otherwise proactive commercials is not unheard of. Case in point: the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) ad that was submitted this past year was considered by the censors too risque to air.

Advertisement is considered such a powerful force that companies will even go so far as create them to dissuade doubts arising from their faulty products rather than spend that money actually fixing the product as evidenced by Apple Computers mocking the Microsoft Vista operating system after a Microsoft ad campaign to regain users' trust.

At the same time, it is not uncommon for a company to mock itself as in the long-running series of Geico caveman ads or the recent spate of Jack Box bus injury commercials. The success of these campaigns will surely prove overwhelming. This author is not so sure about the Microsoft Mojave ads trying to camouflage Vista's problems.

Notable advertisement campaigns that have had a complete opposite effect would include the New Coke switchover fiasco forcing the soda bottlers to return their product to its "original" formula as well as Jack in the Box's attempt to rename their fast food chain Monterey Jack. (This author had hoped to see the address for sending get well cards to Jack Box located in that California city rather than San Diego as advertisers often rely on synergy to sell their products elsewhere such as the hugely popular McDonalds' Happy Meal toys.)

In the vein of media giant relationships, the American icon known as Disney — often under fire for recalls of their dangerous products and the creepy films their numerous subsidiaries produce — has recently tried to distance itself from the other American icon McDonalds, even going so far as to kick the restaurants out of their theme parks. It would seem the 2004 Morgan Spurlock documentary "Supersize This" has had a lasting effect on what people think about the fast food industry.

With advertisements permeating every facet of life these days, many people force themselves to tune them out as best they can. Repetition of this behavior enforces it to the extent that ads commonly used may easily become blocked from conscious recognition. Sometimes this is as simple as ignoring specific regions of a computer screen that display ads, but sometimes a more heavy-handed approach is employed including computer applications to block the ads entirely.

In extreme cases, it is not unheard of for people to turn off the media channels entirely. Individuals who develop allergies to perfumes, for example, may stop reading magazines they enjoy that happen to contain free perfume samples. The hit animated social satire television series The Simpsons even joked about banning peanut butter from the school because of one person's allergy to that legume. (Some people even refuse to watch The Simpsons because they consider it a children's cartoon rather than realize it a well-crafted commentary of modern society.)

This latter approach bandied around by both the extreme left and extreme right is horribly counterproductive in the long run. The more one reads, the more one sees, the more one hears, the more one smells, touches or tastes — the more one learns — is far more beneficial to themselves and society as a whole than living inside the narrowest of viewpoints.

Corrupt regimes bank on controlling the media so that only their views and their views alone are presented — as part of the dumbing down of the population — and as "The Old Gray Man of the CIA," William "Bill" Colby, known for exposing The Company's "family jewels" from his tenure as Director in the 1970s before being abruptly replaced by Bush, to his suspicious disappearance and death in late April 1996 let us know, "the Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media."

A contemporary example of a controlled media source is the Armed Forces Radio and Television Station transmitted to American soldiers and their families stationed overseas. The military's Stars & Stripes newspaper adds another facet to this controlled media. Having been subjected to these for more than two years back in high school and college when this author was winning awards for Government and Leadership, mixed feelings developed regarding advertisements.

To begin with, there's the feeling of loss when commercials one has grown to love are no longer available, instead replaced by ads instilling paranoia about what one should and should not discuss in public. There is also the sense of homesickness when an article appears about one's hometown and old hobbies. Interesting anomolies also become apparent as in off camera banter during commercial breaks on ABC's Today Show most Americans never see. Sometimes there's even exposure to classified military intelligence most of the world will never learn, instead only knowing the official cover story.

All in all, commercial entertainment is not necessarily a bad thing, but as many may point out, Satan advertises.

Twiddling Bits
(23 February 2009)

So you're here in the Pacific Northwest and want to be a software developer for any number of operations like Microsoft, Nintendo, RealNetworks or whatever? You've got your certificate of accomplishment from whichever school in what limited skills you've amassed among the plethora of various programming languages the job offers always require, and you think you have what it takes to start coding applications for the rest of us to use on a daily basis?

My first big question to you is where did you really learn your skills? From reading magazines and online samples? Immersing yourself in them is an awesome idea -- a necessity -- but be forewarned: what you've been seeing are horrible examples of how to actually code properly.

To begin with, what's presented for public consumption is typically formatted to fit on the written page or typical computer screen. What ends up happening is that the style often evolves around an "if error then return" mentality to keep the columns tight for publication.

Case in point: here's how a function to create a simple object to manipulate might appear in print back in the day before all the assumptions being made today regarding operating system and code base idiosyncrasies began raising their ugly heads only complicating matters:

function bad() {
  if (! allocate memory)
    return error;
  if (! lock memory) {
    free memory; return error;
  if (! verify memory) {
    unlock memory; free memory; return error;
  if (! access memory) {
    undo verify; unlock memory; free memory; return error;
  do something to memory;
  return success;

Hopefully it is apparent from that bad example that as the "if error then return" method to programming is continued, the size of the function increases significantly with each cleanup routine that progressively grows in size; and with the function being riddled with return statements, upkeep will quickly become a nightmare to anyone trying to maintain the code.

We called it spaghetti programming.

Then there's the mentality of "if it works it's correct": homework assignments like search algorithms accepted shifting the text string being searched being repeatedly copied one character to the left in the buffer even if it's the complete works of Shakespeare, for example, being searched, rather than using pointers to scan through the string.

Here's how the code above should be written in an "if success then continue" give or take some unnecessary curly braces and a status variable not required when functioning properly. I've heard this kind of coding referred to as wedge programming.

function good()
  var status = success;
  if (allocate memory)
    if (lock memory)
      if (verify memory)
        if (access memory)
          do something to memory;
        else { status = error; }
      else { undo verify; status = error; }
    else { unlock memory; status = error; }
  else { free memory; status = error; }
  return status;

Note the single return and minimal success/error coding that doesn't keep increasing in complexity with each potential failure. Where status is set to error here is just a courtesy so that debugging checkpoints don't have to be set on each line in order to check the status of this function as a whole.

Manipulating the previous good function to include preprocessor commands allowed by languages such as C and C++ may result in something along the lines of the following code. As in this case, setting a single debugging breakpoint on the call to the "erroralert" function should be sufficient to expose the function call tree and eliminate the need for the status variable altogether as this more robust function demonstrates.

#define ELSE_ERROR(x) else { erroralert; x }
#define ELSE_ERROR(x) else { x }

function better()
  if (allocate memory)
    if (lock memory)
      if (verify memory)
        if (access memory)
          do something to memory;
        ELSE_ERROR (return error;)
      ELSE_ERROR (undo verify; return error;)
    ELSE_ERROR (unlock memory; return error;)
  ELSE_ERROR (free memory; return error;)
  return success;

FoxTrot browser The better function example above clearly shows the path to success as well as the potential errors that may arise. While the "return success" statement at this point could be located immediately after the "do something" statement, when setting debugging breakpoints, it's more intuitive to locate returns at the end of the function call.

Many programmers today are growing accustomed to a throw and catch mentality where if an error occurs they'd rather have something else deal with it. If you've ever used a program that drains your precious RAM before eventually crashing, it's often due to this mentality. Once an error is thrown off to some parent function to deal with it, the specifics of that error are long forgotten and recovery may result in the dreaded "blue box" Unrecoverable Error message forcing a reboot of your entire system or worse.

So to all you potential Seattle programmers out there: learn the ins and outs of coding before creating all these buggy programs that have infested the Internet.

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