Thursday, January 27, 2011

If only there was a little girls hack night...

My not-yet-6-year-old daughter isn't very curious about what I'm doing or where I'm going when I'm not with her. So it was unusual for her to show interest in my going to All Girls Hack Night. As I said before, All Girls Hack Night is a monthly meeting of female developers, where they get together to work on their code projects and talk, with a brief presentation on a programming topic thrown in. I told Erika I was going to a meeting with women programmers. I didn't expect her to make anything of that bit of information, let alone to take interest in it. But she did. "So you are a programmer?" she exclaimed. "Yes," I said. "I didn't know it! How do you act like a programmer?" she asked. I thought this was probably her way of asking "what do programmers do?" I said, "you write code on a computer", feeling uncertain, as usual, how much background information to supply. How do you describe succintly, without taxing a 5-year-old's attention span, what is code and how does one write it? She didn't ask me to explain, but had other questions. "Who are those ladies?" I said I could name some names, but she doesn't know them. Of course, that was even less helpful. Then she told me several times that she wanted to come along. I hated to tell her that this is for grown-ups only. I feel like I should do something about this interest of hers. I know there are some programming environments and languages for children, but they are aimed for older children, at least nine years of age. (And probably for a good reason -- most programming concepts are too abstract for a 6-year-old to understand.)

The previous All Girls' Hack Night in December was sparsely attended (yes, holidays), but this one picked up again, with one woman doing a short presentation on CodeIgniter, a PHP application framework. Then a representative of our sponsor, TabbedOut (that provided the meeting space) talking about her company and mobile software development it does. The rest of the time we were supposed to be working on our projects, but as in all coworking situations, we mostly chatted.

The talk of web development (in which many of these women specialize) inevitably brings up the topic of cross-browser compatibility, or lack thereof. Many web developers would like nothing better than for people to stop using IE 6, so that they would never have to code special hacks just to get a page to display in IE 6. But sometimes even convincing your own family to drop it can be very hard, especially if a family member is older, not too tech-savvy, and stubborn. One woman weaned her mother from IE 6.0 by installing Firefox and changing its icon to IE. Her mother, who was't very observant, noticed it only half a year later. She got angry, but the daughter asked, when was the last time you got a virus? True, mother admitted, she hasn't got a virus in a long time (that coincided with the time she had been using Firefox), but that's only because she was "being safe on the internet". The daughter didn't buy it, pointing out that she used to have to wipe out the hard drive on mom's computer every 3 months to get rid of malware. But you can't very well explain this to a person who, seeing a printer that advertised itself as wireless, demanded to know why the daughter plugged it into the wall. After all, it's wireless!

Monday, January 24, 2011

It's true what they say about crappy AT&T customer service

At first I thought that people who had been complaining about poor AT&T service (and I've heard many such complains over the years of living in Austin) have just had bad luck. I've had AT&T DSL for almost a year, and had no problems with it. The I started having intermittent outages; they've been going on for nearly 4 weeks now. Starting around the 27th of December, the connection would go down for hours, sometimes days at a time. The DSL modem web page showed that everything was fine, except the DNS status was "fail". Indeed, we were able to ping various servers on the internet by their IP addresses, but the websites were inaccessible. However, the status still remained "fail" even when the websites were accessible.

Ray submitted 3 service tickets to AT&T (this after going through the motions of power-cycling the DSL modem and the wireless router -- AT&T tech support phone bot won't even redirect you to a live agent until you do it), and none of technicians fixed the problem. The first two did not even come into the apartment, they just "checked" (or claimed to do so) the box outside the apartment. One technician recommended swapping out the old DSL modem for a new one. It happened to be just barely under warranty, so we got a new modem for free. It didn't make one bit of difference.

The third technician came inside, and, of course, found nothing wrong with the modem or the phone line. He then told me that the AT&T "cabinet" on Jollyville Road had been run down two weeks ago, and a lot of people lost their internet connections. I pointed out that this has been going on longer, since around December 27. He said, that's when it happened. I can understand if he doesn't have the dates straight, but telling me that AT&T computers are still "readjusting" to rerouting of connections sounds ridiculous. They've been readjusting for 3 weeks?

As Murphy's law has it, when the technician was visiting, DSL was working fine. Still, he said he was going to call "them" (AT&T tech support?) to ask to do "rip and rebuild" of "virtual cross-connections", and that should fix it. Half an hour after he left, he called me back and said that rip-and-rebuild has been done. However, I could not check whether that fixed anything, because my DSL was working the whole time. The hope lasted a day; then the DSL started its up-and-down dance. So nothing really was fixed.

Luckily, it's been up for the last two days, thus I haven't yet switched to Time Warner cable internet. While the connection stays up, I'm lulled into procrastination. But if the connection goes down one more time, I'll be sure to drop AT&T and switch to cable.