Tuesday, May 30, 2006

What does THAT have to do with technology?

This topic doesn't necessarily have to do with technology, but it is "six degrees of separation" from technology. The company that belongs to the subject of this post was the first to do Internet animation. His name is John Kricfalusi, and he is the creator of "Ren and Stimpy".

Most digitheads I know are either fans of animation, or they are amateur animators. If you have artisitic talent, John K. (as he is known), in conjunction with the AFISA, is conducting animation lessons for budding animators for FREE. All you need to do is purchase a book from Preston Blair (which is mentioned on his blog).

John K. has also entered the art world. His sketches are being displayed at the Every Picture Tells a Story gallery in California, and he also displays his caricature work on this blog. You can also purchase his sketches or have him do a custom sketch for you.

If you are interested in taking FREE lessons from a master, and/or if you are interested in commissioning him for a sketch, visit his blog at http://www.johnkstuff.blogspot.com.

P.S. I've purchased one of his caricatures, and I'm very pleased with it, especially with the "exquisite detail" on Bugs! Here is the picture that I purchased:

Monday, May 29, 2006

Number, please...

If you have a mathematical background along with your IT background, you probably won't have to read this post, because you will already understand the subject of this topic.

One of the best advantages to have as an IT professional, particularly if you are a network administrator/engineer or a software engineer, is to have an understanding of the numeral systems that are represented in computers.

I wrote and published a document called Number Systems in Computers that gives a high-level overview about the number systems used in computer science. The document also contains some links and references to more material that will give you more information about the number systems.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Section 508 - it won't get you out of the military.

If you work on IT projects that has the federal government as its customer, or if you would like the government to be a future IT customer, then it's imperative that you know what Section 508 is. Even if you don't work on government projects, it's a good thing to understand.

What is Section 508?
In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. According to the official web site on Section 508:
Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Under Section 508 (29 U.S.C. ‘ 794d), agencies must give disabled employees and members of the public access to information that is comparable to the access available to others.

What are some examples of Section 508?
Anything that will grant disabled users more access to IT products. Some examples of Section 508 implementation include:

  • Text-to-speech for deaf users

  • Braille for blind users

  • Reduced use of color and flashing graphics for colorblind users

Section 508 Compliance
For various standards and compliance for information technology products (hardware, software, documentation), visit the Electronic and Information Technology (Section 508) Homepage

You can also view the Accessibility Forum, which supplies tools and gives tips on making web sites Section 508 compliant.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Keeping Up with the Poindexters

In 2003, I taught a Java class. Usually, my classes had a diverse mix of students. The students varied in age, career points, and IT knowledge. This class was different. Nearly all the students in the class were around the same age, and all of them were IT workers. What made this class more interesting is all the students were displaced workers. The reason why they were in my class was the same for all the students - "I was laid off a year ago, and I'm having a hard time finding a job in my field because my skills are out-of-date. So, I'm in your class to learn new skills so I can get a job." Nearly all the workers in the class worked with "dinosaur technology" (ex: mainframes, COBOL), and they got caught up in the Year-2000 frenzy that was occurring in IT a few years back. During that frenzy, their skills were extremely valuable. Now that the frenzy was over, they were no longer needed. The problem was that they rested on their laurels, and they didn't prepare for the future.

If you are involved in the IT industry in some way (professional, student, instructor), you understand that the field changes often, and it is very important to keep up with the latest technology. If you don't keep up, you may end up like my students in my 2003 Java class. So how can one easily keep one's skills current? After all, it seems like there is not enough hours in the day, and it seems that there is too much information.

Here are some tips to help keep up-to-date in this ever-changing field, or as I put it affectionately, "keep up with the Poindexters":

  • Take classes It is a fact of life that in order to survive in the IT world, continuing education is a must. Don't feel like you're being singled out - other professionals, such as doctors and teachers, have to participate in continuing education in order to maintain their licenses. For those who are located in the US, the most economical solution is taking the class at a community college, if there is one in your area. The class, including your books and lab fees, can run between $250 - $400 USD, depending on where you live in the US. Classes conducted by private, for-profit institutions are significantly more expensive, and the pace is sometimes too intense for someone who is relatively new to IT.

  • Attend Seminars and Conferences If money is an issue, this may not be the best solution. However, if your university or employer is sponsoring a conference or seminar, you may be able to go for a low cost or for free. Seminars and conferences allows you to get the latest information from professionals who are either working with these technologies or are the inventors of these technologies. Seminars and conferences are also a good way to build your professional and social network.
  • Join a Professional Technical Organization This is a way to "kill two birds in one stone", so they say. Not only will this help with building your professional and social network, but it will also help you keep current with the latest trends in technology. Plus, membership to some technical organizations can have its privileges. You may be able to get discounts at events or on products just for being a member of a particular technical organization. If you are a student, you can join at a significant discount. For example, the American Society for Quality (http://www.asq.org), a professional organization focusing on quality, offers a significant discount on membership fees for students. The American Society for Quality and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (a.k.a. IEEE) (http://www.ieee.org) are two national organizations. For local organizations, the best thing to do is do some research and find out about the technical organizations that are available in your area.
  • Subscribe to E-Mail Newsletters This is an easy way to keep up with the latest information on a variety of technologies. Usually the E-Mail Newsletters provide a summary of the topics being discussed, along with a link to a more detailed article. It allows you to filter what you need to know. It is a time-saver in the long run. You don't have to filter through 20 web sites to get the latest technology information. This can also be an economic solution, since most sites offer this service for free.
  • Use a News Aggregator Many sites offer RSS (rich site summary) feeds with the latest updates and news. A news aggregator allows you keep up with the latest news from your desktop without having to go to a number of sites. No, this blog does not offer an RSS yet. :)
  • Talk to Other "Digitheads" "Digitheads" is my term of endearment for fellow IT professionals. Sometimes talking to your colleagues can give you some insight to the latest technologies. While this is a good way to get some information, you need to be careful of personal bias or misinformation from your colleague.

  • Subscribe to technical magazines (on-line or print) Like the newsletters, this is another way to get the latest information. However, with some publications, be careful on the quality of the information. Some of the articles may be slanted because of the author's or publisher's bias.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Just When You Thought It Was Safe....

In Greek mythology, Achilles was considered the most invulnerable mortal man. However, he did have a vulnerable spot - his heel. With Apollo's help, Paris was able to expose that weakness and kill Achilles by shooting him in the foot with an arrow.

What does that have to do with computer science and technology? The story of Achilles should be a lesson that the manufacturers and the engineers of other operating systems that are NOT Windows should learn. For years, Windows (and its predecessor, DOS) was vulnerable to viruses, trojan horses and worms. Other operating systems, such as Apple OS, Linux and Unix, appeared to be impervious to these threats. In fact, these OSes often bragged about their invulnerability to these threats. Although some operating systems are less vulnerable to viruses and other malicious attacks than Windows, there is no invulnerable operating system. A virus writer has recently found Apple OS's Achilles heel.

In this recent article from Yahoo! News, a new virus has been discovered on the Apple OS. It is quite interesting that experts have warned about vulnerabilities in the Apple OS earlier this year, yet Apple seemed to ignore those threats.

Linux is not necessarily impervious to attacks. In 2004, Forrester Research concluded, based on their research, that Linux is not necessarily more secure than Windows. In fact, although Windows's flaws were more severe, Microsoft was quicker to repair security holes than the leading manufacturers of Linux. (The article can be found in LinuxWorld - Forrester Questions Linux Security)

Why are these supposedly impervious operating systems being attacked? As Linux and Apple OS begin to grow and gain a bigger profile, they becomes a larger, more visible target to the villains.