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Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Slow Week

As the holidays approach, things are winding down at work, and all around me. Several of my colleagues have left on vacation. Projects have been put in suspension, to be revived in the new year. So, things slowed down considerably for me at work.

We had a bit of a thrill early in the week when one of our programs started spewing out nonsensical results for no discernible reason. I was the secondary person in charge of this program. One of my colleagues was the primary support person for this program. It was an old program, written about 6 years back. My colleague wrote parts of the program himself, so he dived right in and started debugging the program.

But the program was not in a mood to give up its secrets that easily. We went round and round in circles without being able to put our hands on the problem. After two days, we finally figured out that one of the inputs to the program, that comes from a mainframe system in fixed width format (the format in which there are no spaces between different items of data, you are just told that columns x through y represent some piece of data and y+1 through z represent some other piece of data, and so on), had changed format in a very subtle way. So, the program was reading garbage data based on the original format and producing garbage output. It turns out that our IT department had changed the format of the file the previous month and "forgot" to tell us. Nice going, but pretty much par for the course as far as our IT department is concerned!

It was also time for us to fill out documents listing our accomplishments for the year in preparation for annual reviews. In years past, the annual reviews used to take place in March or April of the next year, and we used to get goals for that year only at these reviews. It used to be a constant source of irritation for some, amusement for some others, that we got our goals for a year about a third of the way into that year!

Last time, the company changed practices drastically and had our reviews completed by March of this year. That was a whole 4 to 6 weeks earlier than it had been in years past. Continuing that trend, the goal this time around is to get our reviews completed by January of 2010. Thus, our managers had us complete our accomplishment documents before the end of December. Since I am off on vacation later in the month, I decided to complete my document this week.

As always, I managed to fill a pretty hefty 3 or 4 page document with truths, half-truths and lies about myself and what great things I accomplished during the year. I don't know whether I missed anything significant (things that happen early in the year sometimes get forgotten because I think they happened in the previous year, or they just completely skip my mind sometimes). My manager will review my document and let me know if something is off in the coming week. Hopefully, that is the only major thing that gets accomplished between now and the new year. I am just about ready for a break!

In the world of blogging, I continued my usual schedule of publishing by adding posts to my blog at regular intervals. This last week, I added a post on finding running differences using Access, a post on Vedic Mathematics about mergers, a review of the TomTom XL330S GPS, and a post on funny street signs depicting streets and other place names that might elicit snickers.

I also did some research, and added a way for people to subscribe to my posts using what is known as a feed. I have no experience with RSS, Atom and other services of this ilk, so the terminology was quite confusing. I managed to set it up, but in the process I accidentally created two feeds for my blog instead of one and created other such problems for myself. It turns out my blog already had a feed even though I don't remember setting it up in the first place, so I created another one. Then I had to figure out which one to get rid of because the earlier feed actually had subscribers, so if I deleted the wrong feed, I would have some pissed-off readers who might decide not to read my posts anymore! I ended up spending several hours sorting all this out.

I also figured out how to add a button that enables people to click on it and start "following" my blog. That button is part of widget that actually tells you how many followers there are. Some followers also have profile pictures that you can show off on your blog. It seems to be a good, visually appealing widget to add to your blog if you have one. You can get it by going into Layout->Page Elements in Blogger. Then click on "Add a Widget" and add the "Followers" widget to your blog. You can then place it wherever you like on the sidebar. Unfortunately, my blog does not have any followers right now, so there are no pretty pictures to show to visitors! Maybe somebody will take pity on me and start following me soon!!

During my research, I also found out about something called "page rank". Essentially search providers and other websites out there rank your website based on the popularity of your content as well as the number of other websites that link to your sites and various other criteria. There are then websites that provide you the results of this ranking in the form of widgets you can embed in your website to tout yourself.

After experimenting with several providers of such widgets, I created a bunch of widgets that show my Alexa page rank, my Google page rank, the number of back-links and indexed pages as reported by Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc. I don't know whether any of this makes a big difference, but I figured it wouldn't hurt. You can see these widgets in the left sidebar of the blog.

The Alexa page rank widget comes from Alexa itself. I found this other site called that provides a bunch of widgets related to page ranks. If you own a blog and are in any way concerned about your page ranks and tracking them, these widgets are probably a good way to start. They are not the most visually pleasing widgets, but they seem to be pretty fast, so they don't slow down the loading of the blog, and the information in them might be helpful to some. You can find several websites talking about your page rank and how to increase it by googling for terms like "improve page rank", "how is page rank calculated", etc.

My karate classes take a 2-week hiatus until the new year. I am done learning my black-belt kata, Seiyunchin. It is a complicated and confusing kata with a lot of unconventional moves that I have to keep practicing over and over again so that my body and brain get used to them. But that is pretty much the only thing standing between me and my black belt. My sensei has let me know that as soon as I feel confident that I can perform this kata without hesitation, he is ready to administer the black-belt test to me and see if he can promote me to Shodan.

Maybe 2010 is the big year as far as graduation from my karate class is concerned. I hope I will get some time to practice this kata in the coming days when I am not refreshing my memory of it in my karate class. Then, with some hard work, hopefully, I will be ready to take the test by March or so. My sensei has a reputation for pretty tough black-belt tests, so I have to make sure I don't become over-confident and end up failing in my first attempt because of not enough preparation. Either way, it looks like next year is going to be interesting in terms of my martial arts training! Wish me good luck!!

Now, as always, it is time to take care of various end of week chores before I head back to work tomorrow. I also have to start packing for my vacation, and make sure the rest of my family does not decide to take everything but the kitchen sink along in their suitcases! I will tell you how successful I was when I write after my vacation!!

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