Categories: "computer/tech"

Job Dreaming


If you asked me to describe my dream job, here are some things I would include:

Makes the world a better place

You only live once, and I want to spend my career doing something important. I'm not just in it for a paycheck, I want my work to make the world a better place. Three areas that I've thought a lot about are science, education and politics. I would much rather work in one of these than just helping a company sell widgets.

A fresh start

My seven years as a web developer have focused on maintaining legacy code. That means someone else wrote the app, making the decisions (and mistakes) that I have to live with every day. I've tried to keep up with new methods for programming, but they're hard to bolt on to an existing app with spaghetti code inside. Starting a project for scratch means I can do it right from the beginning (or at least I can make my own mistakes).

Working in a team

I've telecommuted 100% of the time for the last 5 years. I loved avoiding the long drive to work, but it got lonely at times. Worse than that, I was the only PHP developer in the company, so I didn't have anyone to bounce ideas off of and learn from. Working with other developers would be ideal, though I would still want to have some creative control.

At least some telecommuting

Spending two hours a day in the car is a real drag. I've done it before. While there are advantages to spending some time in the office with the rest of the team, I would prefer to do most of my work in the quiet of my home office.

Benefits

Working as an independent contractor has its upsides, but it also meant that I got no benefits from my job and no paid time off. The ideal job would include generous benefits, vacation and sick time.

A bitchin' computer

I'm currently using a 2010 iMac with a 27" display. I love it, but as long as I'm dreaming, the ideal job would provide me with the latest and greatest Mac. The Macbook Pro recently got updated and now includes a retina screen and a lighting fast SSD instead of a hard drive. That should do nicely.

The job I started this month fulfills all of these requirements. I'm a software application developer for the National Higher Education Benchmark Institute. It's part of Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, and it exists to collect data from community colleges around the country and create reports and analysis for colleges and policy makers. We work to help make education more cost-effective. Given the importance of education to the future of the world and the budget difficulties faced by educators and students, this seems to fit my first requirement. I have a real chance of making the world a better place.

I will get to create a project from scratch, assembling state-of-the-art tools rather than battling with legacy code. The project I was hired for is called Maximizing Resources for Student Success and it is funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

I will be working with a team that includes other developers and researchers. So far they all seem like interesting and talented folks. And the atmosphere on a college campus is nice, too. I love how I can walk through the halls and hear different languages being spoken.

Though I'll drive to the office for the first few months, the plan is for me to telecommute three days a week after that. This should be a good mixture of concentrated coding sessions and team interaction. I think I can handle the drive twice a week.

The JCCC benefits are by far the best I've ever been offered. Health, dental, vision, retirement, KPERS (Kansas Public Employee Retirement System, I'll be vested in 5 years), federal holidays, paid Xmas break, vacation, personal days and sick days.

Oh, and the SSD and retina equipped Macbook Pro is gorgeous. The fact that it was purchased with Bill Gates' money is a funny little bonus.

LEGO NXT Segway on my kitchen counter

Practicing for robotics camp. The instructions for this project are here: http://www.nxtprograms.com/segway/index.html
[youtube]EhSCaGMgAJg[/youtube]

iOS to Get More Voice Control

MacRumors (via TechCrunch) is reporting that the next major version of Apple's iOS will include more deeply integrated voice controls. I've been hoping for something like this for a while. Voice control is the inevitable direction for interacting with machines, especially mobile devices lacking a full-sized keyboard. Google's mobile OS, Android, is currently ahead on this. It allows you to enter text with your voice in any application. iOS has some basic voice controls for making phone calls and playing music, but I've long hoped that they would extend this to more applications, including 3rd party apps. There are some very useful (and free) iOS apps that you can control with your voice, including Dragon Dictation, Dragon Search, Vlingo and Siri. Apple acquired Siri about a year ago.

If you haven't seen Siri in action yet, check out this video:
[youtube]MpjpVAB06O4[/youtube]

It's impressive, but I'm excited to see what Apple could do with this after 1.5 years of development integrating it into iOS. Currently I can hold my phone's home button and then say, "Call Sara" or "Play songs by Phoenix," but I'd love to be able to say, "Listen to NPR newscast," "Start 10 minute timer," "Search Amazon for books about programming" or even "Hulu Plus: Play last night's Daily Show." If Apple provides a voice API to 3rd party developers we'll see stuff like that and much more.

The new features of iOS are expected to be revealed at Apple's developer conference, WWDC, this June. They'll also be discussing their new version of the desktop operating system, OS X Lion (10.7). Developers with early releases of that have already discovered that it contains some new text-to-speech voices. Perhaps that's a clue that Lion will be getting some voice control features, too. I've been using voice control and dictation software on my Mac for years (currently Dragon Dictate), but it suffers from the same lack of OS integration as Siri. It only makes sense for Apple to include these features in both iOS and OS X.

What do you think? Do you like talking to machines? Or are you frustrated by inaccuracies? When a machine responds to a voice command, do you say "Thank you"?

Update (July 25, 2011):
More info has come out about this new feature. It's rumored to be called "Assistant."

Update 2 (October 4, 2011):
Apple has officially announced the new feature and they're calling it Siri.

A Bible verse that's not true

This is not true:

Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

--Mark 11:24

An update to my religious autobiography

I recently ran across a book that played a significant role in one phase of my life, so I've updated my religious autobiography by adding this paragraph:

Over the next few years I had many discussions with family and friends about my shift in beliefs. For some of them, my decision to go to a church that worshiped with instruments was almost as bad as abandoning God altogether. (This fact would prepare me and them for the bigger shift that I would go through a few years later.) One of the books that helped me cope with this situation was Free In Christ by Cecil Hook. The book is available for free online or you can order a print copy. Hook never left the coC, but he spoke persuasively against the legalism and division that is so prevalent in many churches of Christ. I recommend the book to anyone in the church who wants to see things from another prospective and anyone outside the church who wants to see what makes this little non-denominational denomination tick.

Who is the villain?

Who is the hero and who is the villain?

[youtube]oMwW6Q1JfAA[/youtube]

It's a Bible-believing[tm] preacher ranting about how another preacher is too accepting and non-judgmental. This guy made Joel Osteen seem like a nice person who's not too caught up in the uglier parts of his religion. I guess when you're immune to hocus pocus stuff you just see that one is a nice guy and one is an angry pompous ass (that comes at 9:19 if you just want to skip to the shouting).

Gravatars

I just added support for Gravatars in the comments of this site. What that means is that you can go to gravatar.com, sign up for a free account, upload your picture, and then the picture will appear next to your comments on this site and any others that support it. It's keyed off your email, so make sure that you enter the same email address when you comment here that you used to set up your Gravatar account.

I took the idea from Henry and Brendon explained it to me. If you use b2evolution and want to add this feature to your site, email me and I'll tell you how I did it. It's very simple. Too simple to even bother with a plugin. You just edit your skin and add a few lines of code.

Dean Kamen's work on prosthetics

Astounding.

(via Signal vs Noise)

Instant translation

Google announced their new AJAX Language API today. I thought a translator that worked as you type would be cool and I was able to put one together in just a few minutes:

Instant translation

Now I wonder how hard it would be to make an iPhone optimized version . . .

Lifelike robotic quadraped

[youtube]W1czBcnX1Ww[/youtube]

Boston Dynamics, a small DARPA-funded robotics company is designing the robot in the video for the US military. The video shows the bot, called BigDog, maintaining balance while being kicked, slipping on ice, climbing over rubble and leaping. It can carry more than 300 pounds.

(via io9)

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