Oct 292008
 

Tim has a post where he advises developers to contribute to open source projects so that hiring managers will look favourably on them. I have some problems with this, as do many of the commenters on his post.

First off, I agree that contributing to open source projects is admirable and to be encouraged. There are, however, a number of developers who work for companies with employment contracts that say, more or less, anything vaguely code-related that you come up with while employed by us is ours, not yours. Which means contributing any code to any outside project is liable to cause problems, or at least a certain number of hurdles. There are other ways of contributing to any community that are arguably just as valuable, such as taking part in organising events such as local conferences, volunteering at local centres that teach people how to use computers, assisting users on web forums, or teaching at local community colleges. Concentrating on writing code for open source projects seems restricting.

The second issue is that it’s discriminatory against those who simply don’t have the time. Working single parents suffer particularly from this issue, but any working parents of school-age or younger children have the problem to some extent. By the time you’ve picked the children up from school or day care, fed them and the rest of the family, cleaned up, taken them off to sports/music/whatever, helped with homework, and done the laundry or whatever other chores are necessary for that day, all you really have energy for is to unwind and relax. Especially if you suspect that the toddler will sleep as badly as previous nights this week, waking you up at midnight, 4 am, and 6 am. When you have to be awake for the day job, as that’s the one that’s currently paying the bills, staying awake into the wee hours isn’t an option for those who need more than just a few hours sleep a night to function properly. No matter how passionate they are about coding.

In my case, the project I’m working on for my day job is the one I think about in spare hours at night and at weekends. If I were writing code, I’d be writing code for that project in preference to an unrelated open source project. I don’t think that attitude should be penalised by hiring managers either.

Jun 192008
 

There’s been a lot of discussion in the papers about the newly-tabled Bill on Canadian Copyright; suffice to say there are lots of issues with it and it needs to be sent back and turned into something that meets the needs of the citizens and residents of this country. If you’re living in Canada, I’d recommend you read some of Michael Geist’s blog, particularly the summary of last week, and then email your MP about the issues that concern you the most. For me, it’s the potential that playing DVDs from a region other than Canada could violate the law. If I’ve bought the DVDs legally, or had them given to me, why should playing them violate the law? Why should getting a cell phone unlocked violate the law? Why should backing up my CDs violate the law? This is one of the few issues I can remember where it seems that every newspaper has the same tone to the editorial – and it isn’t complimentary to the government.

Mind you, my local MP isn’t exactly known for listening to his constituents (there’s still a lot of local anger at his crossing the floor after being elected), so who knows how much good my email (a heavily edited version of the one at that used to be found at http://www.copyrightforcanadians.ca/action/firstlook) will do.

Update: it looks like the Minister supposedly in charge, isn’t – Canadian Industry Minister lies about his Canadian DMCA on national radio, then hangs up – Boing Boing.

Jun 122008
 

My daughter is now two, and likes some different books to the set I reviewed six months ago, although she still likes the Boynton books and Mother, May I? by Grace Maccarone (I suspect because it has a picture of a truck in it, and features a hug at the end).

In no particular order, we have Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins and Eric Gurney, There’s a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer, Dog In, Cat Out by Gillian Rubinstein and Ann James (lots of scope for making up stories about what’s happening in the pictures), Waves in the Bathtub by Eugenie Fernandes (make up your own music for the song, it will sound much better than the tune in the book), and Where’s My Teddy? by Jez Alborough (ours is bundled with It’s the Bear!, which gets nearly equal billing in the toddler appreciation list). These are all books my son liked as well, so chances are good that other toddlers will enjoy them just as much. My son didn’t have Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett, but my daughter likes it.

And, of course, she also likes anything with a picture of a truck in it.

Jun 092008
 

My toddler daughter loves trucks; she’ll gleefully point them out on the street and in books until you’re sick of the word. So just before her birthday, there was me in the toy store looking at truck-related toys for her (trucks, trains, cars, other assorted toy vehicles) trying to pick out something that didn’t entirely duplicate what she already has. Behind me, I heard a customer ask the clerk for help. The conversation ran along these lines:

Customer: Hi, I’m looking for a toy for a two-year-old.
Clerk: boy or girl? Not that it should matter, of course.
Customer: it’s a girl.

At which the customer was taken over to some other aisle, far away from the trucks and trains and related toys, despite the claim that “it shouldn’t matter”. I was in the toy store for a while, and she never did make it over to what I guess was considered the “boy” side of the store. My daughter loved the trucks we got her, and likes having the truck book that her grandmother gave her for her birthday read to her (to cries of “truck! truck!”). I just hope she doesn’t notice that every driver of every truck in the book is a man.

Apr 182008
 

Bisphenol-A, a chemical found in many of those hard plastic water bottles (look for polycarbonates with the recycling number 7, although not all of those have BPA in them) has been in the news recently, culminating in today’s announcement of a ban of baby bottles containing BPA by Health Canada. This continues a trend from a US National Toxicology Program report that expressed concern, although it stopped short of calling BPA dangerous. Since, like many households, we have quite a few of these bottles around, and since the chemical is supposed to be particularly dangerous to infants, I figured I should see which of the many plastic bottles and baby bottles we have might be safe. The polycarbonate bottles are deservedly popular; they don’t have the “plastic” taste that bottles made of #5 plastics do (although those are said to be completely safe since they don’t leach), and they are unbreakable, unlike glass.

Looking at various manufacturer’s web sites shows you who’s prepared and who’s sticking their heads in the sand hoping it will all blow over. In the prepared category, Rubbermaid gets full marks for having a clear page listing all the products with and without BPA. Nalgene (made famous in Vancouver when MEC, a major local store took all the bottles off its shelves because of BPA) states they’re phasing out BPA and promises to have new non-BPA products using tritan instead of polycarbonate in the stores starting next month. I don’t have any of their bottles, but I know a lot of people do. Camelbak points out on their web site’s front page that not all #7 plastics contain BPA (true), but ignores the fact that there’s no way a consumer can tell which ones do. They’re also introducing a line that uses non-BPA tritan. I gave a friend one of the Camelbak bottles for Christmas and will replace it once the tritan versions come out.

In the middle, since they don’t use BPA, but don’t tell people that on the web site are Medela, who make various breastfeeding pumps and accessories, including bottles. The Brita water filter company has a horrible flash web site with no search button anywhere. The pitcher doesn’t look to me like it’s made out of polycarbonate and that was confirmed from this post. It would make sense for Brita to add that information to their FAQ.

On the unprepared side, Gerber loses points for not even mentioning the issue anywhere on their site; the baby bottles I have from them are number 7 and other sources say they have BPA, so out they go. Tommee Tippee (a U.K. brand for baby bottles ad sipyy cups) has a page from January 2007 in which they say BPA is perfectly safe and that they use it in some products, without mentioning which, so I’m not sure what to do about the ages-old hard plastic sippy cup I have from them. It isn’t polycarbonate, but does it have BPA in it? No idea. Avent is another baby bottle manufacturer that admits they use BPA and say it’s safe. Tommee Tippee isn’t available in Canada anyway, but I guess the other two are going to have some problems in the next little while, as are the retailers that stock them.

There are lots of blogs out there with listings of products that have or do not have BPA (e.g., this one). As with many health issues it’s hard to know how to far to go without going overboard, particularly with various health administrations seemingly differing in their views of what the risk really is. I find it ironic, however, that the manufacturers of products mostly used by adults, where the risk is smaller, seem to be more responsive than those of products used by the infants who are most susceptible.

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