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Regiment's Day At T2

Regiment's Day at T2 (Göta Trängregemente) was celebrated today in Skövde. A friend and I went to look at it; it was quite impressive.

T2 is responsible for training soldiers and officers mainly in supply and logistics tasks, and is the only regiment in Sweden to do this. As a result, my home town Skövde is growing increasingly important for the military defense as several military installations (logistics regiment, armor regiment, ground warfare school etc) are now located here. Each year there's a new influx of conscripts jogging around on the streets; military police traffic squads directing traffic downtown; and towards the end of their training, squads moving from intersection to intersection downtown, "playing" out urban tactical warfare scenarios.

Officers and soldiers from T2 demonstrated today how they work through field hospitals, mobile resupply units and security forces. They set up a mobile resupply station, as well as a field hospital, in a matter of minutes. The coolest thing was when they simulated an enemy attack a few minutes later, and the security group returned fire using their AK5's, and the APC attacking with its 20mm automatic cannon.

The day also featured parachute jumpers - Team Svea, a parachute show group within the army, consisting of all female officers - as well as helicopter shows, dog training, and the motorcycle group Arméns Lejon.


Easeability, Not Usability

I'm hacking together a little CMS (Content Management System) for a friend of mine, Victor. I took a look at several different CMS's already available on the Internet, such as CoWiki, Mambo, Drupal and several others. They are all pretty efficient, and incredibly powerful.

But not easy.

I browsed through them and a bunch of others, and I realized that there was no way whatsoever that I could put those into the hands of a couple of guys that hardly knew what HTML was. Mambo, in particular, offered some of the best functionality, but I struggled for days just trying to tame the beast. Ultimately, I realized that if I can't understand it - and I'm a professional software developer - then my clients probably wouldn't either.

Only one option remained and that was to write something myself. And now I have. "qsite", which my little invention is called, builds on the input language of CoWiki, but offers a dramatically simpler interface. And it's customizable within reason, of course, but yet simple.

I find myself getting increasingly intolerant towards poor UI design, and systems which take days to figure out. Don't Make Me Think is the key word here - any system should be easy enough to use, yet powerful, without having to delve through tons of manuals and QSite 101 websites.

If you ask me, Easeability should be the new Usability.


My Little World Of Nanoseconds

One of the problems with my line of work is that I actually have very few people around me in my day-to-day life that understands precisely what it is that I'm doing.

So what am I doing? Well, the short answer is that I'm developing CTI operator workstations for large, enterprise-scale corporations. Sounds exciting, huh? I still have problems explaining my line of work to women... their eyes sort of wander off looking for other, more exciting people, to talk to. ("Telephone systems", I say. And then their eyes start flickering.)

The long answer is that I'm living in a world where the average time unit is a billionth of a second, and where tens of thousands of my lines of code execute in the same time it takes for you to take a sip from your coffee mug. I feel at home with these nano-timeslices; I know my way around them. I keep track of multiple lines of execution, where different threads of my programs execute side by side at total breakneck speed. To handle it all, I introduce abstractions on many, many levels, where each task is broken down and isolated, until I have a huge, giant framework operating on hundreds of different levels, at which I can poke my head in at arbitrary levels and take a look at what's going on.

In the world I live in, much of the framework is actually written by other people; really, really smart, ingenious people that continually develop software, and along with that, methodologies for developing that same software. Ways of further abstracting away the difficulties of writing software, and making the process easier, faster, and more readable. Some of these guys work with great abstractions of methodologies, other guys work with the individual bits and bytes that talk directly to the hardware.

People go to school to learn this. I never did - I learned most of this at night, hacking away on my home computer, and when I got too old for that, I learned it while building computer systems that employ people - that really provide jobs for people - and provide services for maybe hundreds of thousands of others. (Yes, we have that many users.) And, of course, also learning through constantly reading books, blogs, articles and watching what's going on in the online community. The internet has been a marvelous tool indeed.

To me, building software is more of an art than a trade anyway. I have a strong creative streak in my personality that at times have driven me into music or writing... but mostly these days, all of my creative efforts are consumed by writing software. I'm not sure that's all 100% good and well, but it tells me that software is something you can really pour your heart and soul into, if you do it right. The downside of it is that it so quickly loses its value... within two years it's usually old stuff anyway.

In some rare cases, I still get to go down to the assembler level. That's the level where all of these abstractions finally move aside, and I get to touch the actual machine - the raw processor in where all of this power lies. To me, laying my hands on and touching the raw metal, the processor, does to me what I'm sure many others feel when they get to drive the car of their dreams. Actually, I never cared much for cars or engines or whatnot, and I never really understood people's fascination with them. Cars are mostly just big, bulky and loud machines anyway; compared to the insane, raw, brutal effiency of this terrible number-cruncher that lies embedded in the heart of my computer. Why would I play with cars when I can play with the most technologically advanced miracles of nanoelectrical engineering in the world?

It's a world that not many people understand. When some people ask me what I do for a living, I say "I work with computers". They then usually nod appreciatively and go "wow". Sometimes I build the simplest possible program for some silly task and people look at me and say "you did this? wow!!" They have no idea.

So this world of mine, then, this world of nanoseconds, threads, timeslices and bits and bytes, will have to be my little secret. And the fact that I sometimes go home from work and feel like I've written music like a Sibelius symphony will have to stay with me. It's like going home and saying "I wrote the most wonderful music today", only that they can't hear it, nor see it, and thus must take me by faith.

But they do use it.


World War I: Outbreak

For some time, I've tried to understand the First World War and how it could break out. WWI rarely gets the attention it deserves because of the much bigger Second World War, but it is fundamentally important to understand it; not only because it shaped the world we live in today, but also because without it, WWII could never have happened.

About ninety years ago, in the city of Sarajevo, several shots suddenly rang out among the crowds. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was killed. In a matter of weeks, the repercussions of this fatal shot triggered a war that swept the entire globe for four long years. How was this possible? Was it a mistake? A dramatic and unfortunate turn of events?

To the modern, democratic mind, the outbreak of the war is nearly impossible to comprehend. But Europe as it was in 1914 didn't know what we know today. It had come a long way from the Medieval Ages; and it had seen the development of industrialism, nationalism and colonialism. The map of Europe had been altered many times by wars between neighboring nations, in instances such as the Thirty Years war, the wars of Napoleon which swept entire Europe, and not forgetting the enmity between the two archrivals Germany and France. Many political, religous and economical factors weighed heavily upon the situation.

The long arms of the European nations reached all the way around the globe. Great Britain, the high seat of the British Empire, had colonies all over Africa and the Middle East, and whose interests stretched as far as China, Canada and Australia - "the sun never sets on the British Empire". Every corner of the world was dominated in some part, more or less, by the European nations.

Europe itself had been torn apart from the time when Roman legions conquered the barbarians of the North. It withstood bloody wars and battles which raged over the continent. Kingdoms were built, torn down, and rebuilt. When protestantism appeared under Luther, it threatened the old power structures of the catholic church, and once again Europe was torn apart by wars. The crown of European superpower leadership changed many times, and if a nation wasn't an impressive worldly power at some point, it suffered heavily under the boot of someone else.

Not only was it a battle between the protestant and the catholic churches; there was also the emerging threat from Islam that quickly came into play as the Ottoman Empire grew in power in the 14th and 15th centuries. The front lines of the invading forces ranged all through the Balkan countries, and during the centuries caused untold grief, as the civilian population found themselves living in a warzone that regularly erupted - the last of which occurred just a few years ago.

Nevertheless, the wars hitherto had been smaller and isolated. But as industrialization came along, the awesome power of the industrialized nations also became a factor. Railways were built, massive oceanliners produced, intricate methods of telecommunications were devised. The world became smaller and smaller, and the populations of the nations involved grew massively. It was no longer impossible to raise an army that consisted of millions of men, instead of tens of thousands.

Naturally, the weapons became ever more powerful as well. When the Americans fought their Civil War 1861-1865, they still stood up facing each other in lines on the battlefield and fired into each other - with moderate success. Fifty years later, accurate rifles and machine guns had been developed, although very little thought had been given to defensive measures, such as cover and concealment, prepared positions and so forth. Further, the concept of mobility had not been given much thought - people still walked on foot and moved by horses. The stage was set for battles in which an awesome firepower was introduced, but very little mobility or tactical defense. When the armies would line up to face each other this time, they would be mercilessly torn apart and cut down like grass going through a lawn-mower.

When all of these factors came together, the lines were drawn in the sand, everything was ready. The old rivals of Europe stood facing each other, teetering on the brink of war; but the times and scale of events had changed beyond their comprehension. When she shots finally rang in Sarajevo, old-school doctrine set the snowball in motion, and it rolled ever faster until no-one could comprehend the situation fully, let alone stopping it. Predetermined battle plans rolled into motion and unfolded on a larger scale than anyone had ever believed. The awesome might and thunder of industrialized Europe, fueled by distrust, hatred - in some cases racism - rolled out on the battlefield, and at the end of the war ten million people lay dead on the ground.
Lay me down, in the cold, cold ground
Where before me many men have gone
When they come I will stand my ground
Stand my ground, I'll not be afraid
Thoughts of home take away my fear
Sweat and blood hide my veil of tears
Once a year say a prayer for me
Close your eyes and remember me
Never more shall I see the sun
For I fell to a German's gun

/Sgt. Joseph Kilna MacKenzie/

The world would never be the same again. As a direct result of this war, another world war would break out 25 years later - really the continuation of the first - and this time it would be much, much bigger.


Taking A Stroll Down VCL Lane

With Delphi, Borland decided to include the source code to the Visual Component Library framework. This was a stroke of genius, because every once in a while, I find myself strolling down VCL lane and browsing through the source. Whenever I do that, I learn an immense amount of how Delphi works, and how the VCL wraps around the messy Win32 API; and I always find tiny little caveats and things I hadn't noticed before.

For instance, I had no idea that there was a TApplication.ShowMainForm property. This property decides whether or not to show the main window at application startup. Previously, I have used quite elaborate methods to avoid this; including using OnFormCreate to set the coordinates of the window to negative values, and hiding it immediately after OnFormShow and stuff.

This property takes all of this away, and I would never have found it if I hadn't - just in passing - glanced over the TApplication object and how it works.

I realize that somewhere out there, there are a bunch of really good Win32 programmers who wrote this. I envy them. In my dreams, I'd like to be one of them.


The Spiritual Implications Of Katrina

Rick Joyner of MorningStar Ministries in North Carolina has posted two Special Bulletins recently on the impact and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

They're available at MorningStar Special Bulletins page.

By far the most interesting statement is this quote:
The most common question I have been asked about this tragedy is, “Is this storm judgment from God?” Without question the answer to this is “yes”...
I think he's correct; I feel that Katrina is God's judgement especially on New Orleans, but also that it's meant for good, not bad. The city seriously needed to be cleaned up by a good bath, and now that this has happened, it can start moving again in a different direction, into the purposes for which it was built.

Is there going to be judgement upon Sweden? I sometimes feel that this nation is in the last breath of God's grace. Judgement has already come upon us in the form of floods, Estonia that sank, and others. Will it ever become as bad as Katrina? Unless Sweden changes course, probably. If so, at least take heart, because that shows us that God still cares about us. It would be much worse if the He didn't judge.


He Comes, Riding On The Clouds

I have a song by Paul Wilbur called "Days Of Elijah" which I love very, very much. The text goes something like this (with a fast beat and a joyful tune):
Behold He comes
Riding on the clouds
Shining like the sun
At the trumpet call

So lift your voice
It's a year of jubilee!
For our of Zion's hill
Salvation comes!
The song paints a picture of Jesus, riding in on the clouds towards Earth, and his face is shining in all the brilliance of the sun. Imagine that moment when all the continents will look up into the sky and see Him coming!

And what a glorious moment, then - in a twinkling of an eye, all deception, humanism and worldly affairs end all at once and Truth instantly laid bare, with Jesus Christ returning to make all things right! Every wrongdoing punished, every lie and deceit laid bare in the open for everyone to see and justice and righteousness spreading like a raging wildfire all over the planet... On that day when every tear will be wiped away, every broken heart lifted up and every evil crushed in a burning hatred towards everything that steals and destroys.

Yes, God will have his revenge. His Love will have revenge on six thousand years of death.

"Lord, come soon..."


Work, Work, Work

Been working pretty much lately. Monday through Wednesday I was on Gotland, paying a visit to our business partner Datatal. Having just come home at midnight, I'm now going to get up in six hours to drive down to Stenungsund and work there for the remainder of this week; and which will continue for Tuesday to Friday next week.

Yech.

I like sleeping in my own bed, not in hotel rooms.


Katrina

I'm sure no one has missed how the events have unfolded in New Orleans. With the National Guard arriving on the scene, I'm sure the military presence will bring a sense of calm and order to how things are proceeding.

What has struck me so deeply is that we've seen a large, American city actually be wiped out. When the Governor of Louisiana called out "Everyone must leave, now", I thought: Now this is getting biblical.

I think Joel Spolsky's little reflective blog post says it best.


 

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