Hashemian Blog
Web, Finance, Technology, Running

December 26, 2006

HTML Forms, Part 1

by robert hashemian @ 8:12 pm
Filed under: web

My first experience with the World Wide Web about 13 years ago was in school using NCSA Mosaic running on Sun SPARCstation hosts. Mosaic was the original graphical Web browser from which all modern Web browsers today can claim their common ancestry. It was a giant leap from text-based applications such as Usenet readers that were much more common back in those days.

Soon after Tim Berners-Lee invented HTTP, a bunch of developers from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign got together and Mosaic was developed. The resulting work was eventually licensed to Netscape and Microsoft. The Netscape and Internet Explorer browsers were born out of that licensing and the rest is history.

While today's browsers are much more versatile and dynamic, they are essentially the same utilities at their core as the original Mosaic was. The user initiates a request to a Web server, and a response is returned and displayed on the browser. Initially the interaction with the Web servers were one-sided and static in nature. A page was requested and data consisting of text, images, and hyperlinks were returned to the browser. Tags were used to position and style the elements on the browser area. But soon all that changed when web pages were armed with forms from which users would be able to send data back to the servers.

Of course browsers can’t just sent any arbitrary data to the server. The type and format of that data is dictated by the browser. Data not conforming to what the server expects will be, at best, ignored. But what is the mechanism by which data is sent to a server? For that we need to study the two most common request types (a.k.a. verbs) browsers send to servers; GET and POST. We'll look at these two request types in part 2.
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December 19, 2006

The Middle Class Holiday Bonus Shaft

by robert hashemian @ 11:12 pm
Filed under: financial

If you read any financial papers or visit any sites with a financial slant around this time, you’re bound to run into an article or two about holiday bonuses. Generally the newsworthy ones are about bonuses granted to money managers and deal makers in big investment outfits.

The usual suspects are fund managers, top brokers, investment bankers, and the likes who rake in hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in bonuses at year-end. Things were not rosy a few years back so bonuses weren't as generous then. Poor babies had to deal with abject destitute. Now that the good times are back and the financial companies are making money hand over fist, bonuses will no doubt follow the trend. If you're looking to get invited to a posh party this new year, I would definitely suggest getting in on the invite list of a fund manager.

One might rightfully ask me, "If you're so bitter about this, why don't you kick it with these boys?" fair question. Maybe I don’t have the instincts, or the guts, or the interest. Money isn't everything, and it's nothing if I hate my job.

At the opposite end of the spectrum there are those with lower-paying jobs. You know, the trash collectors, cleaning staff, bus drivers, etc. No question that sometimes their jobs are more meaningful and crucial than those of the top guys. But even some collect substantial amounts during Christmas time in the forms of gifts and tips. Certainly nothing to compare to what Wall-streeters rake in, but considerable relative to their regular wages.

What's left is the middle class. A few so called lucky ones get paltry bonuses and the rest, nothing. They are not high enough on the ladder to get the out-sized loots, and not low enough to deserve anything meaningful. And isn't it just splendid that tax season would be just around the corner, when the middle-class is expected to pick up the bulk of the tab? I can't wait to give that huge tip to the Fed.
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December 11, 2006

Gmail Mail Fetcher

by robert hashemian @ 11:28 pm
Filed under: email,google,web

A colleague of mine sent me a note today regarding a new addition to Gmail, Google's free email account. It's called mail fetcher and it allows a person to import mail from other email accounts using the POP protocol. It's a trivial feature which other services such as Yahoo and Hotmail have had for years, but it gives Gmail another advantage to attract new users who might have needed that excuse to join, while holding on to their current base of users who might have defected to other services if Gmail didn't have this feature.

Not all users have this option yet (including myself), but I assume it will be rolled out to all Gmail users soon. This is indeed a convenient service for those who have multiple accounts and would like to have all their emails flow into one inbox. The catch is that those external accounts would need to provide the POP service for this to work and not all services do. This is specially true of other free services like Yahoo and Hotmail who block POP access as some users might opt to import their emails elsewhere and that would mean fewer page views (thus fewer banner views) on their respective sites. Ironically in a show of goodwill, Gmail has provided its users with a POP download service to allow them to view their emails from other locations. If all services provided a two-sided POP access, it will be up to the users to choose the service that best suits them for viewing their messages. That would mean that the site with the superior interface and features would claim a bigger slice of the much coveted eyeballs.

Personally, I don’t have a need for a POP service. I converted to Gmail years ago when they blew away the competition with their giant 2 Gigabyte storage, and I have been a faithful user ever since. What concerns me however is the old adage of putting all my eggs in one basket. And this is a free basket with no guarantees. What would happen if Gmail suddenly decided to cut off my access? Of course they wouldn't just block access to their users willy-nilly, but suppose they decided to pull the plug on some of their users for whatever reason? Perhaps you unknowingly violate an obscure term of service; off with your head. What would be the recourse? Who can you complain to? How or where would you defend your case? You can write to Gmail support, but who knows if they will answer, or how long it will take before they restore your service, if ever?

It's a free service after all, and I suppose they have every right to terminate whoever for whatever reason. Meanwhile all your incoming emails, all your existing emails, all your calendar appointments, and all your contact lists will be out of reach. What would happen to your business, that solely relied on Gmail for customer contacts, now that your access has been cut off? I wonder if people ever consider the downside of this arrangement. It's easy to forget that when the service has been working flawlessly for years. I do wonder about that sometimes. When I enter my account and password and wait for the screen to reload, I wonder if this will be the time when I will be greeted with the message:
Sorry, your account has been disabled. For more information about Google Accounts, please consult our Help Center at http://www.google.com/support/accounts/.
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December 3, 2006

The Agnostic Advantage

by robert hashemian @ 10:29 pm
Filed under: religion

The other day I was browsing through Amazon's bestseller books page when I came upon the book, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is the famed British scientist who authored the controversial book, The Selfish Gene, back in 1976. These days he is better known as a vocal atheist and an equal opportunity denouncer of religion and theology.

The subjects of God and religion have become hot topics these days, perhaps more pronounced than the decades past. Each side has dug in its heels and are duking it out on the public arena. The battle between evolution and intelligent design is only one front on that war. Each side is engaged in a struggle to win as many converts as they can and usher more people into their camps. Having a strongly neutral position, I decided to engage in a bit of research and listen to what each side had to offer.

In the end it became obvious that what each side seems to be targeting is the agnostic. Agnostics offer a tempting target to both atheists and the religious because of their openness, tolerance, and their willingness to listen. They are fertile ground to those who want to persuade them to join their cause against the other side.

Neither religion-oriented nor atheists, they are the Switzerland of the war waging between atheism and religion. I suspect another major reason behind targeting this group is that most people, whether they admit or not, are agnostics in nature. They might label themselves atheists, but still struggle with the 'what if' question, as in what if there exists a supreme being who has had a hand in orchestrating everything around us? Or what if science does prove the existence of God some day? On the other side, many religious people are disillusioned with the current world affairs and wonder if there were a God, would he have allowed the state of world to be in such dire condition? Religion hasn't scored many positive points lately. From terrorism to church scandals, religion's image, as an institution, has been considerably damaged, disillusioning many believers.

Each side of this battle has a treasure trove of arsenals in the forms of theories, testimonials, and evidence (however tenuous) to support its position. They are all compelling points of argument, but when you clear the haze, the crux of both arguments rests on a rather simple, yet fundamental, unknown; the origin of the universe. The religious camp argues that the universe could not have come to existence by chance. That it would have needed a designer or a creator, as everything else does. Even if you trace the origin of the universe to the big bang, someone had to be there to spark that original event and place all matters in their current forms. Atheists, while admitting lack of knowledge on the pre-bang conditions (at least for the time being), counter that time and evolution are responsible for the current nature of the universe. Besides, if everything must have a creator, they respond, then God must have had a creator as well. Following the same argument, his creator must have its own creator. This leads to an endlessly vicious circular reference whose final answer is as clear as the exact value of Pi.

Obviously the old age debate will not be resolved any time soon, if ever. Which is why many have decided (consciously or otherwise) to remain agnostics. They see value in both sides' arguments, but they also see plenty of inconsistencies and contradictions. Fence-sitting has its privileges. You can believe in God, but also believe in evolution. You can believe in having a good moral character without believing in heaven or hell. You can believe in science without believing that it can or will ever answer everything about the universe. Yes, sometimes it's troubling to subscribe to two contradictory views, especially when those views within themselves are contradictory. But given the belief choices available today, why not sample all the good parts? After all, we live in the age of iced-coffee, kosher ham, and veggie burgers. Why not religious ambiguity?
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November 26, 2006

Dollar's Doomsday

by robert hashemian @ 12:18 am
Filed under: financial

Dollar
When I wrote this blog entry about the dollar over three years ago, the dollar and the euro were at parity levels, give or take a few cents, and the euro was climbing robustly. Soros had taken a strong position against the dollar and was beating the drum on how grim the outlook for the dollar was. The dollar did lose ground but it finally stabilized and everyone thought the bad news was over. Not so fast.

Here we are again. The euro is near $1.31 and the British pound is nearing $2. What gives? It's the irresponsible spending. It's the careless borrowing. It's the head-in-the-sand mentality that the world loves the dollar and it won't let it sink. At some point we have to wake up to the reality that this is business, not charity. People will not punish the dollar because they disagree with the US policies, but they will bail when their interests are in jeopardy.

And jeopardy is what we have now. We are funding an endless and hopeless war without a timetable to disengage, while the rest of country goes about its business as usual. The stock market is up but now it seems that it might be on a shaky ground. And the one possible bright spot in the economy, the housing market, has run its course and it's on a descent path. Personal debt levels are at all time highs, and yet we continue to believe that all is well.

Ever get a feeling that our economy today is built on a house of cards? It is. Without the foreigners, like the Chinese, that have vast reserves of dollar denominated securities, the underpinnings of our economy will come apart in a hurry and the economy will collapse.

We have no one to blame but ourselves. For years, we have been the junkies and the foreigners happily supplied the drugs. They always knew what they were getting in return for their products had dubious value, but didn’t have the courage, or the will, to put a stop to it. They were just as addicted to our IOUs as we were to their products.

By some accounts we are already in the middle of a long crash. The dollar is not even at a third of the value it had 30 years ago. But at some point the slow fall might turn into a fast plummet and that won't be pretty. All will suffer from a dollar crash but none more so than the US. The wealthy Americans will be fine. Their Asian accounts, European real estate holdings, and Gold and global funds will be their tickets out. As usual, it's the middle class that will take the brunt, and it'll be a painful one.
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Dollar's Doomsday

by robert hashemian @ 12:18 am
Filed under: financial

Dollar
When I wrote this blog entry about the dollar over three years ago, the dollar and the euro were at parity levels, give or take a few cents, and the euro was climbing robustly. Soros had taken a strong position against the dollar and was beating the drum on how grim the outlook for the dollar was. The dollar did lose ground but it finally stabilized and everyone thought the bad news was over. Not so fast.

Here we are again. The euro is near $1.31 and the British pound is nearing $2. What gives? It's the irresponsible spending. It's the careless borrowing. It's the head-in-the-sand mentality that the world loves the dollar and it won't let it sink. At some point we have to wake up to the reality that this is business, not charity. People will not punish the dollar because they disagree with the US policies, but they will bail when their interests are in jeopardy.

And jeopardy is what we have now. We are funding an endless and hopeless war without a timetable to disengage, while the rest of country goes about its business as usual. The stock market is up but now it seems that it might be on a shaky ground. And the one possible bright spot in the economy, the housing market, has run its course and it's on a descent path. Personal debt levels are at all time highs, and yet we continue to believe that all is well.

Ever get a feeling that our economy today is built on a house of cards? It is. Without the foreigners, like the Chinese, that have vast reserves of dollar denominated securities, the underpinnings of our economy will come apart in a hurry and the economy will collapse.

We have no one to blame but ourselves. For years, we have been the junkies and the foreigners happily supplied the drugs. They always knew what they were getting in return for their products had dubious value, but didn’t have the courage, or the will, to put a stop to it. They were just as addicted to our IOUs as we were to their products.

By some accounts we are already in the middle of a long crash. The dollar is not even at a third of the value it had 30 years ago. But at some point the slow fall might turn into a fast plummet and that won't be pretty. All will suffer from a dollar crash but none more so than the US. The wealthy Americans will be fine. Their Asian accounts, European real estate holdings, and Gold and global funds will be their tickets out. As usual, it's the middle class that will take the brunt, and it'll be a painful one.
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November 19, 2006

PS3 and the culture of impatience

by robert hashemian @ 11:02 pm
Filed under: social,web

Sony PS3 on eBay

Judging by video games today, we have certainly come a long way. I remember my first video game. I must have been about 13 or 14 when we bought it at a tag sale. It was one of those consoles that you hooked up to the TV and it pretty much offered a crude black and white ping pong game that you could play against the console or an opponent sitting next to you. Plain joysticks slid two sticks up and down on the screen and a square ball bounced back and forth over a thick line bisecting the screen.

I played that game countless times against a wall or on occasion, my sister. I think that console is still somewhere in the bowels of the house where my parents still live. My fascination with that game, or any video games for that matter, is no longer there but I can understand the excitement a kid (or an adult) might have for video games today, but only to a point.

What amazes me the extent some people go to obtain a video game, a book, sports or concert tickets, or whatever these days. Are these items that important or that time-sensitive that require so much sacrifice? Perhaps I don't see the urgency the same way some people do. Take the PS3 as an example. Do people really need the console so bad that they are willing to camp out for days to be one of the first to have it?

We all know what will happen to these video games in a not too distant future. The novelty will wear off and eventually they will end up in the attic or some storage room, just like my old video game. Then most likely they will find their way to a landfill.

I was browsing eBay the other day and noticed a final bid of $15,000 for a PS3. Probably a bogus bid, but I think $3,000 was in line with how much a PS3 could fetch on eBay. To me, even the $600 retail price tag seemed outrageous. But then again, I guess I just don’t comprehend the exaggerated passion and zeal some people have for something as commonplace as a video game. I hope I never comprehend it.
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November 12, 2006

Mars Blue Sunset

by robert hashemian @ 10:32 pm
Filed under: science,space

Of all the images sent from various orbiters, telescopes, and satellites gathering information on mars, this one has captured my imagination the most. I think It was captured by the Opportunity rover and it shows the Sun setting on Mars.

It's a surreal image, inviting the viewer to look at every detail of the terrain on our sister planet. The Sun almost looks like a distant moon. Hard to believe that even at that distance, mars is still a slave to the Sun's gravitational forces. Notice how much smaller the disk of the Sun is compared to what we see on Earth. How could a star so far away from this planet still exert its forces on it? How could Mars still experience day time and night time from an object so distant?

Wouldn't it be something to actually be there and experience this image first hand? As much progress as we have made in space exploration, I suppose landing humans on Mars is still a distant reality, possibly way beyond my life time. Still, looking at this image tells me that we have no choice but to continue our efforts to learn more about the universe that we are a part of. Clearing the haze of scientific and mathematical complexities that are part of exploring the space, there is the essence of old-fashioned human curiosity that keeps driving us out into the unknown. It's as old as humanity itself, and it's a quest driven by a never-quenching and inexplicable thirst to explore, discover, and experience – a simple desire to know more.
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November 9, 2006

Digg Vs. Centenarians

by robert hashemian @ 12:01 pm
Filed under: health

I noticed an interesting fact about Digg's registration page today. It's a nice, clean page and, unlike some other sites that ask for everything private but the length of your nose, easy to fill out. The CAPTCHA is a challenge sometimes, but what is a site to do faced with an army of miscreants?

Anyways, the only private question there is the birthday. The day, month, and year fields are all pre-populated drop-downs. That's when I noticed that the year field runs between 1906 and 2006. So let me get this straight, a one month old infant can sign up for Digg, but a 101 year-old senior can't, unless he/she lies about their age. According to the census data there are about 55,000 people in the US with the age 100 or older. There's little doubt that the population of centenarians will continue to rise in the years ahead.

I guess the world really does belong to the young. Alright, I'm not faulting Digg here. I just notice stuff sometimes. We're all guilty of the same sin - writing off the seniors in the society. To borrow a song line from The Who, hope I die before I get old. But most likely their attitude isn’t quite the same anymore. More like, hope I die before I get really really old… well, actually, hope I never die.
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November 3, 2006

Politics of SQL Left Join and Right Join

by robert hashemian @ 7:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Politics of SQLThe other day I was helping a colleague with an SQL statement and I noticed he had a left join in his query. For those of you unfamiliar with SQL, it is a query language programmers use to access and manipulate data inside databases. Joins are used to cross-reference data between various database tables.

With the mid-term elections around the corner there is quite a bit of usage of words like right, left, liberal, and conservative around the nation, so seeing the left join in the query invoked thoughts of politics in my head. My colleague is a conservative, and I am firmly to the left of the center, but not quite off the cliff. We sometimes engage in political debates, and as all debates go have never convinced each other of the other person's persuasions.

Anyways, I scolded him for betraying his party by using a left join in his SQL statement. And then I thought to myself what a perfect way to resist the right-wing agenda.

So, no matter what your platform (as in your database platform), Oracle, SQL Server, MySQL, DB2, Sybase, or even Access, on November 7th boycott right joins and only use left joins. Then vote Democrat. You can do it. Right joins are useless anyways while left joins are so much more intuitive. They just make more sense.

Yeah, let's write a petition to ANSI and all database vendors and demand an end to the right join absurdity. Together we can send right join to the ash heap of query history. Obsolescence and deprecation is the right join's destiny.
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