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Monthly Archives: May 2010

Turn It Down

12 May 2010

Turn It Down – Proposing A Solution To Noise Disturbances In Dormitories

Bud Leiner, Sharon DelRosario, and Diana Alvarez

When we first started, our group consisted of just Sharon and Bud; Diana joined later. Our group focused on the Musical or Sound-Smart category of Multiple Intelligence (MI) theory. When thinking of music, we did not identify a problem with it directly. This made it hard in the beginning to choose a topic. Prof. Richards Young clarified the instructions, guiding us to use the MI category in our presentation, as oppose to focusing on music.

During our first get-together in class, we brainstormed ideas. We talked about roommates and conflicts between people in the dorms. Sharon brought up how noise carries between adjoining rooms. The thinness of the dorm walls does not dampen the sounds. If they were thicker, it would likely eliminate a lot of conflict between suite mates and neighbors. Sharon and Diana actually live in the dorms themselves and know all about this. So, this was the perfect topic for them.

We talked in class and came up with a possible solution; make the walls more soundproof. For this, we each planned to investigate different ways to soundproof walls. Knowing the University’s current budget circumstances, we also had to consider the economic impact of our solution. That day in class, we also talked about how we could incorporate music into the project without having to actually go up and embarrass ourselves singing or doing something crazy. We decided to perform a skit to demonstrate the problem and solution.

We outlined a general overview of the project and arranged to meet during the weekend. Via email and text messaging, we talked about solutions we thought were best to sound proof the walls. We concluded that Wavebar Quadzero by Pyrotek would be our best option. It is lower cost, durable, and best of all, effective. We met up at Sharon’s dorm on Sunday and each brought the supplies that we assigned each other. While there, we built the simulated wall before and after the installation of the sound barrier material. We talked about how the sound barrier works, who makes it, and how to install it. We also made up a little skit of two college suite-mates not getting along because of the noise disturbance. The following class, Tuesday, we presented the problem and solution and it went very well.  Everybody got a good laugh at the skit and at the same time, it was informative.

We worked well together as a team. The project achieved the assigned goals. We grade the presentation an A- grade. Sharon was very involved with writing, presenting and preparing. She should receive an A grade. Diana participated with preparing and presenting. She should receive an A- grade. Bud participated with writing and presenting. He should receive an A- grade.

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Just Another Writer’s Block In The Wall

27 April 2010

Just Another Writer’s Block In The Wall

“Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It’s a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write.” – Paul Rudnick

The American Heritage Dictionary defines writer’s block as: “A usually temporary psychological inability to begin or continue work on a piece of writing.” The definition sums up my current predicament rather accurately. When you fear failing or seek perfection, your brain will find ways to protect you from those fears, even if it means not accomplishing the task.

As I prepared to write this research essay assignment, I discovered I was not able to find a topic that I wanted to study and write about. I began considering various topics but for one reason or another the topic no longer fulfilled my need to write. As my imagination searched for topics to consider, it always came back to a single thought. “Everything I’m thinking is a bad writing idea. I can’t think of anything good enough to consider.” I repeatedly found myself engaged in nonsensical distractions and habits.

As an attempting to find a way through my block, I chatted with friends and coworkers. In one exchange with a coworker, I said, “Maybe I should just write about the inability to write.” At first, I joked with the idea, but as we talked and shared ideas, I began to consider it as a legitimate topic.

I started looking into how this subject might work. I learned writer’s block is very common, even among professional writers. Writer’s block is a tedious phase a writer must fight through. Like a baseball pitcher in a slump, the writer must continue to step on the mound and attempt to throw strikes. In my research, many articles simple tell you to quit procrastinating.

Harold Rosenberg, Ph.D., wrote, “Whether we call it “writer’s block,” or procrastination, or just plain laziness, almost everyone of us … had difficulty completing a writing project….” Rosenberg went on to describe how writer’s block commonly results from how we’ve done things in the past (Rosenberg 40).

I witnessed when I begin procrastinating, it feeds on itself and I’ll delay for extended periods. The enormity of the task swells with the anxiety of not being able to write. John Walsh described how “the blank page before you grows to the size of a tablecloth.” Walsh pointed out “Some of history’s most famous, and prodigiously fluent, authors suffered temporary cessations of text: Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, Katherine Mansfield” (Walsh 22). Dennis Upper demonstrated the unprejudiced onset of writer’s block with an article he had published in Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, wherein he published a blank page. Quite comically, the reviewer of Upper’s article pointed out he saw no mistakes in the article (Upper 497).

However, Peggy Simson Curry wrote, “… being unable to write is primarily a state of mind.” “This insidious thinking persuades the writer to question every story idea that comes to him” (Curry 22). Curry’s writing hit my story on head. The fear of not writing, echoes back the fear itself. The inability to write is in your head. That may not always be true, often you just need to reevaluate how you are approaching your topic.

In his book, “Writer’s Block: The Cognitive Dimension”, Mike Rose described how teachers want students to be explorative in their writing. But he also points out how that conflicts with the student’s process. By spending time trying to compose to meet the presentation requirements, the student focuses on grammar and structure over exploration (Rose 72-73). Stephen Fry wrote how “absurdly difficult” it is to write until it becomes easier. Fry went on to quote, indirectly, Thomas Mann, “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people” (Fry 2).

It is so difficult to get over a hill, but when you reach the top, the resistance subsides and you gain momentum as you continue your journey. And my writing is much like that hill. Once I can begin to write, I can continue to advance toward my goal.

My inquiry forced me to evaluate how my writer’s block developed and how I subconsciously encourage the stranglehold it exerted on my writing process. I learned the writer can accept the writer’s block but must not dwell in it. Writer’s block will occur, so I, the writer, need to understand the steps necessary to move through it.

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AYE! EEE! The Fear In Internet Explorer

11 March 2010

AYE! EEE! The Fear In Internet Explorer

“The fact that Internet Explorer is so widely deployed makes it a prime target. This, combined with the ‘social engineering’ aspect of these attacks – tricking the users into installing or clicking on something they shouldn’t – means the browser will continue to be a focal point of attack.” – Neil MacDonald, Gartner Research

As an information technology professional, I work with computers everyday. Of all the browsers I’ve used, I have grown to detest Internet Explorer for many reasons: Internet Explorer runs as part of the operating system; it lacks standards compliance; it lacks innovation; its excess features endanger the consumer, and; Internet Explorer is slow.

My first Web browser was Mosaic. It is a simple browser designed for uncomplicated web page viewing. Mosaic, a kludgy computer program, delivers the Web in a very minimal form. I used it during the early 1990’s. In the mid-1990’s, my preferred Web browser became Netscape Navigator. It was based on Mosaic’s Web engine. Navigator was very innovative in its day, but it had its share of bugs. Internet Explorer came about in the mid to late 1990’s based on technology similar to Netscape Navigator. All Web browsers evolve throughout the years to allow us to really understand the presentation a designer is trying to convey. During my career, I have used many different Web browsers, sometimes by choice and other times out of sheer necessity.

Microsoft Internet Explorer is the most commonly used Web browser. But Internet Explorer has more than a few flaws and underachievements. When the Internet became popular in the late 1990’s, Microsoft intertwined Internet Explorer with its operating system, Windows. Soon thereafter, Microsoft accelerated its updates to Internet Explorer and became as good or better than their competitors. However, Internet Explorer never would fully support World Wide Web Consortium’s standards. Microsoft’s progress came to a halt after establishing dominance in the Web browser market. The changes Microsoft made to Internet Explorer added features that endangered its customers. This bloat not only put the end-users at risk, but it also increased the time needed to load the Web page.

During one of our scheduled computer system update cycles, I updated our company’s computers using what was called “Internet Connection Wizard”. I remember thinking, “I already have an Internet Connection. Why do I need to use a Wizard to connect?” I would eventually learn this was Microsoft’s attempt to replace the default Web browser on all Windows computers.

Microsoft’s connection wizard forced their otherwise unpopular Internet Explorer browser on us consumers. Internet Explorer 4 became part of the core operating system. By Microsoft imbedding Internet Explorer in the Windows operating system, the Web browser was now at the fingertips of every Windows user. Internet Explorer soon thereafter became the number one Web browser because there was zero cost to the consumer and it was already installed on their computers. Netscape tried to fight back, both by changing its business model and fighting in court. However, Netscape would fail and die a painfully slow death. Well, near death, because it would be resurrected in an open source development named Mozilla and later renamed to Mozilla Firefox.

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international group that establishes acceptable design standards for the Internet and Web languages. Based on W3C’s approval of new standards, Web browsers take steps to implement and accept those standards. This is often referred to as being “standards compliant”. Some Web browsers stay at the cutting edge of compliance and others only adopt those standards when they have no other choice. There are also browsers at the other end of the spectrum that implemented their own “standards”.

Achieving a near monopoly on Web browser market, Microsoft reached a point of over-confidence. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer made a couple advancements through versions 4 and 5. However, the other browsers made marked improvements through multiple generations in their products. New Web browsers came to the market place, including Firefox, Opera, Safari and eventually Chrome. These browsers innovated the interface and improved the performance.

In the State of Arizona offices, the Human Resources agency (HRIS) contracted to have Lawson setup a user portal where employees could maintain their own benefits elections. The system took advantage of some system holes in Internet Explorer 6 to allow specific types of code to execute. Lawson’s design made it impossible for other user platforms, like Apple Mac OS X, to use the system. But, the errors didn’t stop there. When Microsoft discovered a major vulnerability in some forms of Web scripting, Microsoft released Windows patches to fix these flaws. Lawson, the HRIS contractor, had to release emergency updates to allow their system to continue to function. Six months after that update, Microsoft released a major update, Internet Explorer 7. This update, again, included fixes to major security flaws and broke the HRIS system. Working at a computer help desk, I was able to witness this first hand through all the support calls.

The complacency of Microsoft also added a greater danger. Unscrupulous programmers, with a grudge against the giant Microsoft, sought out axes to chop down the beanstalk. Microsoft’s long stagnation with Windows and Internet Explorer gave the hackers the opportunity to discover and take advantage of flaws in the Windows operating system.

ActiveX is one of Microsoft’s non-standard designs for their Web interface. ActiveX controls are objects in the Web browser that actually runs other programs on your computer. These ActiveX controls have full privilege and access to Windows. The direct access to the Windows operating system gives the webpage designer access to areas of the operating system that control key functions. Because Microsoft so closely intertwined its operating system with the Web browser, once a hacker broke the thin security of the Web browser, they had also broken the operating system. As an IT specialist, I receive advisories from Microsoft on a daily basis. Three out of every five of these announcements report newly discovered vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer.

The specialized controls Microsoft added increased the amount of processing needed to show the Web page. On standardized benchmarks, such as SunSpider JavaScript, Microsoft Internet Explorer is rated the slowest of the five leading Web browsers. Google Chrome is the fastest, followed by Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, and, in fourth is Opera. As for standards support, Internet Explorer failed the ACID3 test. ACID3 is an online standards compliance test. Peacekeeper rates Chrome number one followed by Opera, Safari, Firefox, and lastly Internet Explorer. Peacekeeper is an online Web browser performance test.

In recent years, Microsoft has added support for many of W3C standards. However, the new features brought into version 8 are common in other Web browsers. Microsoft has still neglected many design elements common in other browsers, such as Cascading Style Sheets version 3, Scalable Vector Graphics and HTML version 5.  Firefox has for many years included nearly all of the features Microsoft added to Internet Explorer. Opera has always been an industry leader in Web browsers, it has the highest security rating, and it includes many features Internet Explorer refers to as “new”.

The latest version of Microsoft Internet Explorer, version 8, has addressed many of these issues, but has still trailed its competitors. Internet Explorer does have a couple new features that are noteworthy. The tabs can be color coded to give it a visual distinguishing characteristic. Internet Explorer now includes an option to prevent recording of cookies and searches called InPrivate mode or, as it’s more affectionately referred to as, “Porn Mode”. This mode gives you some security when using a public computer to check semi-private accounts.

Although Microsoft Internet Explorer has almost caught up to its competitors, again, their continued poor demonstration of constructive design gives me no desire to place my personal data anywhere near its interface. Internet Explorer’s greatest hope is to reach mediocrity.

 

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