Notes to Self

  • Things that are funny at 11:30 at night, in the office, after working 12 hours a day, seven days a week for over a month, are not funny during the day.
  • Things that are funny on a Sunday afternoon when you’re in the office for the 19th day in a row really shouldn’t ever be repeated again.
  • And those impressions? Not funny. Actually, they’re probably really offensive.
  • Oh, and no more caffeine for you. That headache? That’s why.
  • And eat some freakin’ vegetables, maybe some fiber. You’re a mess.

Geek Conference Network Woes

This is my third conference in March, and it’s the third one with serious wi-fi issues. What’s the deal? These are not quilting conferences. These are serious nerdfests, where the organizers are expecting lots of geeks with laptops sucking down bandwidth with abandon. If you don’t have that bandwidth, you will have a bunch of very unhappy nerds on your hands.\
If you’re going to have a technology conference, please invest in good wi-fi, especially if people are paying to attend. Charge a little more, over-provide. Just please, get it right.

Mountain View: Day One Recap

Yes, I am in Mountain View, and I really wish I had more time to see all my friends out here (I’m especially bummed about not having time to hang out with my brother, his wife, and Sam. It’s just a two day trip, and it’s chock full of meetings, all about this. We did a big presentation yesterday about it, what’s coming (shhhh, it’ll be cool), and how the world can join in. It was extremely gratifying to see geeks get really jazzed about it. It proves that even though I can’t explain it worth a damn, we’re headed in the right direction.\
I’m having a really good dinner last night at Nola’s in Palo Alto, and laughed our fool heads off. We rehashed the “good old days”, talked about geek energy and how to harness it, and what it feels like to be working on something we can truly be proud of.\
I was talking to Joe afterwards about stuff we’d worked on before, the old projects that still hold a special place in our hearts, and I thought about this silly fulfillment system I wrote when I first came out to Virginia to finally become a “real developer”. It was a maintenance system. People submitted tickets, filled in a bunch of detail about the affected system, the problem, the request, etc. Then, someone got the ticket, did whatever was in the request and then closed it. It ran reports, was extremely flexible in setting up types of requests, etc. I wrote it almost 6 years ago, and thought it was dead. I hadn’t touched it in about five years and figured people stopped using it and forgot about it long ago. Then, I got an e-mail about a month ago (and an IM yesterday) about it, asking who owned it, and if someone could add a feature to it. I was stunned. This thing that I thought was dead and buried has been used every day for five years by a couple different teams. No one’s touched the code, cleaned out the database or anything in five years and it’s still running like a champ, taking requests, running reports, etc. I thought the thing I was most proud of was what I did on AOL Search, but I think I may have a new winner. Almost everything I’ve ever written has a fairly short shelf life between versions. This tool is ancient and still going strong, which not only scares me, but makes my geek pride swell.\
Today? We’re talkin’ modules, modules, modules and javascript. Oh, and between all the module talk, I have to figure out how to create CSS blocks on the fly in Javascript. I’m really close, but man, does that spec need some work.

Most-Used Apps Of 2005

Molly did it, so will I. Plus, I need a break from writing about CSS. Why am I writing about CSS? You will know soon enough, my children, soon enough.\
I’m a Mac person. I think everyone who knows me knows this by now. So, it’s not going to surprise anyone that this list is full of Mac applications (and a web app or two).

  • Mail – It’s not sexy, but I get a ton of e-mail. Other than some quirks with the AOL IMAP servers, Apple’s mail app is awesome.
  • Thunderbird – HA! Yes, another e-mail client! I use Thunderbird for all my personal mail (all umpty-billion accounts too). It’s a trooper and handles multiple accounts and the hundred or so filters I have with aplomb.
  • iTunes – It’s on all day, every day I’m at work. I think I might use it even more than e-mail.
  • Safari – I love how snappy it is (most of the time), and how intuitive and slick the tabs are. It’s my browser of choice for actually browsing the web.
  • NetNewsWire – I read a lot of stuff that comes in through feeds, and there’s no better app on any platform for digesting a lot of feeds (442 at last count) quickly. It also does a fine job of grabbing podcasts.
  • Adium – Yes, I work for AOL and I don’t use our own IM client. Adium just kicks too much ass, and our Mac AIM client is too damn old. Adium does everything, and like NetNewsWire, is the best IM client on any platform, hands down.
  • Firefox – Yes, like my e-mail, I’m a two browser guy. For developing, there’s nothing better than Firefox. Between the javascript console and the web developer toolbar, it’s the best way to get my job done.
  • A tie between Oxygen and BBEdit – I use BBedit for quick and dirty hacking, and editing non-markup code like CSS, PHP, Tcl, JSP or Ruby. I’ve switched to using Oxygen almost exclusively for writing markup. It has just amazing tools for writing markup, from in-place validation to code completion to attribute auto-complete, which is really nice. BBEdit was definitely the winner early in the year, but Oxygen has come on strong late.
  • Transmit – Best FTP client ever, even better than WS_FTP Pro.
  • Movable Type – Yeah, I use my blog a lot, even though you don’t see it all the time. I prototype a lot of stuff in MT that I would normally write from scratch. I just love the template tags.
  • Instiki – I use it almost exclusively for presentations (with my s5 hack, but considering I’ve given over forty of those this year, I think it deserves a spot on the list.\
    There you go. That’s pretty much in usage order. I consume a lot of media…

The Horrors of Beta Software

I love Instiki, as I’ve said before. I’ve been running 0.9.2 on my Powerbook for a while (ran 0.9.1 before that), and love it. I was running it on my linux box. Notice the was in the previous sentence.\
What happened? That box was running RedHat 8. I decided it was time to upgrade to Fedora Core 3, and did so. Then, I went to fire up 0.9.2 again, and it didn’t work. It keeps complaining about something in Madeleine (the database). Not being familiar enough with Ruby or its various parts to figure out (something with YAML), I figured it might be because I’d upgraded from Ruby 1.8.1 to 1.8.2. So, hey, let’s try the new version of Instiki! It started up fine, and then barfed on the homepages of my three wiki webs. It was something with formatting, so I went right to the edit_web url, and switched it back to Textile. That worked for two of the three webs.\
On the third web, there’s a gigantic unordered list. Something in that list is causing Instiki to churn like mad. It locks up the machine, and I have to desperately try to kill it before the machine runs out of memory and thrashes itself to death. It’s funny that text can do that, but apparently, it can.\
I’m not sure what’s up, but for now, I’ve had to move everything over to my G5 and run it there (where everything still works, thanks OS X!).\
A few lessons I’ve taken from this:

  • use beta software at your own risk
  • don’t use beta software for “critical” data
  • backup everything regularly
  • beware systems that don’t allow easy import/export of data (Instiki has good export, non-existent import).
  • don’t use a development environment as a shared resource for important data.

The Phone Buying Blues

My poor Sidekick Color died last week. My wife wants a cell phone. I want something out of Star Trek that just doesn’t seem to exist yet (go figure). Deciphering cell plans, and deciding on a phone that will do all the things I want it to. Right now, I need a phone for Jen that doesn’t have to do a whole lot. A camera would be nice, but not required, and it just needs a good address book and battery life.\
My requirements are a little tougher. It has to be on this list, has to have a camera, e-mail, support internet-over-Bluetooth, and a calendar. Yeah, I know. I’m tempted by the Treo 650, but the only carriers who have it charge an insane amount of money for their unlimited internet plan (I did over eleven megs a month on my Sidekick). T-Mobile has a much more reasonable unlimited internet plan, but they don’t have the 650.\
The cell companies’ websites don’t help either. They don’t have reviews on the site, are sparse with the details, and navigation is a pain in the butt.\
If you’ve got any recommendations, I’d love to hear ’em.

Freaky Geekery With XSL and Blogging

Below contains some extremely freaky geekery… proceed at your own risk.

I’ve been playing with XSL recently, and was thinking that there really should be a blogging platform that uses XSL as its template language. We could get away from all the MT tags, all the funny TextPattern stuff, and WordPress could have some templating language outside of PHP. It doesn’t even have to be slow. Each type of page (home, archive, individual, etc) could be configured to put certain elements into the DOM, and you could then associate each template with an XSL file (like you do with TextPattern today).

It could be a lot of things, especially if the major tool providers could agree on a schema (I’m thinking Atom with some extentions for category lists, etc). Templates could be traded among systems. If you create a new tool, you’d only need to use DOM/XSL and you’ve got your templating language, and if enough of the tools support it, you know you’ll be able to find people who know. The people who know it, as an added bonus, are not limited to just blogging. XSL is used in other tools and industries.

Of course, I don’t have the time to do anything about any of this, but it sure would be fun, wouldn’t it?

Need to Edit XML?

On the recommendation of a coworker, I tried out Oxygen last week, and I love it. It’s a great XML/XSL editor and debugger, with in-place validation and transformation, and useful error messages. So, if you need to write some XML or XSL, check it out. Best part… it runs on OS X, Windows or Linux, and it’s got the smoothest Java GUI I’ve ever seen. Very well done!

Dude, I thought he was going to crap himself

I came up with a great line in a meeting the other day. We were talking about bad news, of which I had dispensed a large amount that day. I decided then and there that I’m going to buy a box of Depends adult diapers and start bringing them to all my meetings. For severe bad news, I’ll galantly offer them to the recipient before I give them the news and helpfully offer, “You might want to put these on,” before I launch into the painful topic. It seems the charitable thing to do.\
Yes, that was a much better idea than my idea to start distributing a screen saver that would take processing power from people and use it to serve out http requests. I thought it was brilliant. It could end up being the world’s largest web server. I have no idea how it would work. It obviously wouldn’t work for serving out files since everyone would have to have the files on their machine, but for dynamic requests that are processor-intensive (like, ahem, searches) why not? It makes perfect sense to me.