Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas

The old fat man dressed in red, with a long white beard just visited my home.  He said that I was mostly good this year, and left a whole bag of presents.  He only had a few moments to spare, so we served him with a ginger beer and a few cookies.  (Apparently, he is lactose intolerant and doesn’t particularly like the taste of milk.) He then rushed away, promising to visit us again on the New Year’s Eve in about a week.  He also left a message for me to pass on to all of you.  Here it goes:

Merry Christmas everyone!  Best wishes to you and your loved ones!

Happy Programmer’s Day

My brother reminded me that today is Programmer’s Day, an official holiday and appreciation day for those hundreds of thousands of people who spend their days teaching computers new tricks.  I know that not many people think about it, but I do and I find it totally fascinating, that everything, every tiny little thing that we see on a computer screen is thanks to someone who programmed it in.  Just think about it.

What are you staring at now?  Probably a web browser.  That’s a large and mighty complicated program that was written over a few years by hundreds, if not thousands of programmers.  Your browser runs on top of an operating system, which again was written by many programmers over lengthy periods of time.  The browser, through operating system, communicates with the server that runs my blog.  All those communications go through a number of networking devices (routers, switches, firewalls, load balancers, etc), which run software written by more people.  My server runs Apache web server software.  Which runs PHP software.  Which runs WordPress software.  Which connects to MySQL database.  These are just a few major pieces of software involved in the process.  There are probably thousands of smaller applications that nobody ever thinks of, that still do their job to deliver this content from me to you.  Like TinyMCE editor that I am using inside of WordPress to write this post.  Or like Google search engine that you probably misused to get to this post.

Do you like any video games?  Those are software applications.  How about YouTube videos?  For you to be able to waste time at work this inefficiently, a lot of software had to be written by a lot of people.  Oh, are you working then?  Doing some calculations in Excel or drafting up Word document?  Maybe you are working through some customer data in the CRM application.  All those are software applications too.  They didn’t just grow on trees.  Someone somewhere had to think them up, design them, implement them, and maintain them.

Oh, and do you know what’s even crazier?   Programmers are using software applications created by other programmers.  Operating systems, text editors, compilers, linkers, debuggers, and more!

Software industry is very young.  I’m not sure when was the first program ever written, but, according to Wikipedia, the first theory was proposed by Alan Turing in 1935.  That’s not even 80 years ago.  And if you look around you now, the amount and the complexity of software applications created to date is immense – from operating systems, through games and business applications, to all the things online and mobile.

But that’s just the job, right? All those people were paid for it, right? Wrong! Very wrong!  While many did indeed get paid, there is plenty of contribution from amateurs and enthusiasts.  Those are the people who push the technology, ask hard questions, and try to make the world a better place not necessarily for their own greater income, but out of pure curiosity and for the love of science.

Anyways, I’m getting carried away.  All I wanted to say is that it’s important to pause once in a while, look around, and appreciate what we have and people who brought us all that.  Computer software is not the single most important thing around us, but it is one of those things that we rarely notice, until it breaks.  So, have a thought about what software you use, what role does it play in your life, and how did it get there.  And then, find a programmer and buy him a beer.  Because there is someone somewhere not just using his software, but enjoying and/or depending on it, and not thinking about it.

One last thing I wanted to mention.  Of course, I knew about Programmer’s Day for a while now.  And, of course, I knew that it is an officially recognized holiday in Russia.  But what I didn’t know is that I actually know one of those people who worked to make it an officially recognized holiday.

This particular day was proposed by Valentin Balt, an employee of Parallel Technologies web design company. As early as 2002, he tried to gather signatures for a petition to the government of Russia to recognize the day as the official programmers’ day.

Valentine Balt currently works in FxPro, here in Cyprus.  And we had a few drinks together.  Well done, Valentine!

To all you programmers out there – happy Programmer’s Day.  I wish you faster computers, shorter compile times, fewer bugs, better APIs, clearer specifications, more pull requests and patch submissions, and more appreciative users.  Enjoy!

Happy SysAdmin Day!

Today is the last Friday of July, which means that it is System Administrator Appreciation Day.  To all my friends and colleagues who spend days and nights and servers rooms or on shifts, who works remotely even when on holidays abroad, who’s mobile phones constantly buzz with SMS notifications of devices and services going up and down, who remember more numbers – IP addresses, network masks, port numbers, RFC numbers, etc – than any mathematician, who can troubleshoot a problem even with amount of alcohol in their blood lethal to mere mortals, to all of you guys – Happy SysAdmin Day!  Have a good one!

Tsiknopempti

Yesterday was Tsiknopempti – one of my favourite Cyprus holidays.  There are many names for it in English, but none of them really explains what’s going on.  Some of the names are “Barbecue Thursday”, “Meat Thursday”, “Grill Thursday”, “Smelly/Stinky Thursday”, “Fat Thursday“, etc.  Most of the people work only half day, and from around midday or so, the grills are coming out and everyone is cooking meat – ribs, chops, sausages, etc.  The smell of barbecue is in the air everywhere.

Today, is a Recovery Day.  But I don’t know yet if anyone is celebrating it but me.

Which day is your candidate for the Groundhog Day?

This blog post (in Russian) tells a story of a young woman that really loves the first day of winter, when the first snow falls. The author suggests that if there was a chance, this woman would have chosen the first day of winter to live through again and again, like the character of Phil, played by Bill Murray in the excellent movie “Groundhog Day“.

The author of that story also asks an interesting question.  If you had a choice, which would be the day you’d choose to live through and through, like in that movie.  If you could pick any day at all, which one would that be?

For me personally it is a hard choice indeed.  I love and cherish every day of my life.  Except for, maybe, Mondays.  I’ve had plenty of excellent days over the years and I can’t really pick one of them.  But if I had to, I guess I’d have to go with the 1st of January, the New Year Day.  Why? Well …

I am Russian and Russian celebrate the New Year like nobody else.  It’s one of the biggest holidays in our culture.  We eat, we drink, we have fun, and everybody stays up until very late.  Until early morning even.  1st of January is a public holiday.  No matter which day of the week it is, you don’t need to go to school or work.  Since everyone stayed up late, most people sleep through the morning, waking up in the afternoon.  This is probably the only day when I am not standing out in this regard, when I’m not the only one who loves waking up past midday.

Oh, and then there is food and television.  31st of December is the evening of celebrations.  We prepare lots of food.  We call plenty of guests.  We dress nicely.  We behave.  It’s all nice, but it’s a tiny bit too official and tiring.  On the 1st of January though, it’s totally different.  It’s the relax time.  There is still plenty of food and drinks from yesterday.  Whoever survived the drunk night is not in the mood for any official behavior.  People under-dress, grab food, and spend a lot of time in front of the television watching entertainment shows or movies, taking short naps in between.

By the evening, people, and people I of course mean myself, are often recovered enough to take a short walk.  Time to see friends or relative or visit the nearest pub.  Slight tough upon the yesterday celebration with an attempt to reconstruct the chain of events from a collective memory.  And then early bed time.

I think that year on year, 1st of January is the closest day to a perfect one.  So if I had a choice to live through one day time after time after time, I’d choose that day.  Gladly, of course, I actually do have a chance to do so.  It’s just that I have to wait a year in between.

What day is your candidate for the Groundhog Day?

Happy Programmer Day!

Today is the 256th day of the year, which means it’s Programmer Day once again.  I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate all my colleagues around the world and wish them all quieter rooms, better tools, larger salaries, faster computers, and fewer bugs.  Let the source be with you! If you write code and 256 has a special meaning to you, I tip my hat to you and hope you’ll enjoy this little comic strip from Geek And Poke.

For those of you who are not programmers, but curious about a special meaning of 256, the explanation is really simple.  Bit a smallest unit of information, which can only take values of 0 or 1 in binary notation.  Bits are organized into bytes.  There are 8 bits in a byte.  Which means there are 2 to the power of 8 combinations of ones and zeros in a byte.  2 to the power of 8 is 256.  There are a few more meanings to the number, if you are still interested.

Happy Programmer’s Day!

Yes, you’ve heard that right – it’s Programmer’s Day today.  At least in Russia, this is an official and recognized holiday.  Not a public day off, though.  Programmer’s Day is celebrated on the 256th day of the year, which falls on September 13th, except for leap years, when it’s on September 12th.

Congratulations to all programmers all over the world and kudos for your hard and often boring work.  Keep it up and enjoy the day.  I wish you fewer bugs, faster compilers, and flexible libraries.

And while I don’t dare to call myself a programmer, I’ve wrote enough to code to join the celebrations today.  Beers, vodkas and tequilas are waiting for the evening!

P.S.: And if you are an outsider and have no idea how a typical programmer spends his day, here is a chart.

Appreciate your sysadmin. At least today.

Today is the System Administrator Appreciation Day.  I wish a happy sysadmin day to everyone who ever took their time to answer a stupid question for a billionth time without resolving to violence, to everyone who ever spent a night or a weekend in the office fixing a problem that he didn’t create, to everyone who makes IT infrastructure invisible until there is a problem, to everyone who spent their own free time to make things better for the rest of the world, to everyone who despite working hard and taking a lot of initiative is often the first person to blame, to everyone who spent hours in the freezing datacenters or on pan-frying roofs or in dark and stinky basements, to everyone who’s mobile phone receives dozens of SMS messages every hour 24×7, to everyone who’s mobile number is posted on all office white-boards with the caption “Emergency”, to everyone … you got the idea.

If you know a sysadmin, take a minute of your time, go and say “Thank you”.  If you have some change in your pocket, buy your sysadmin a pint of beer.  If you are a hot girl, go give him a kiss and a hug.  Or her.  If you are not a sysadmin, you don’t have and probably won’t ever have an idea of how hard these people work to make your life easier.  It’s their day today.

If you still don’t understand what sysadmins do, have a look here.

Christmas season and blog stats

I don’t know exactly how all those online shops do during the Christmas seasons (probably they are blooming), but I can show you what two weeks or so of Christmas and New Year’s holidays can do to one’s blog statistics.  Here is a screenshot of weekly stats for my blog:

Weekly stats - Christmas edition

X-axis shows a few last weeks of 2007 as well as a couple of weeks of 2008.  Y-axis shows the number of visits this blog had for each of those weeks.  A home-made red marker with a word “here” tries to bring your attention to the celebration of Christmas and New Year represented on this graph.

As much as it was expected, that was quite a dive I must say.  Reasons?  I’d say there are only two:

  1. Many people are busy with shopping, celebrations, travels, and other holiday matters.  Mostly off-line.
  2. Many companies closed their offices and that minimized many employees’ access to the Web.

Gladly, things are rushing back to normal.