31 May 2009


Alton Brown; I’m just here for the food, version 2.0; p. 7

I know there are those who would say “who cares? As long as I know how, why bother with why?” I can only offer that for me, until I deal with the why, I don’t really know the how...if you know what I mean.

Yes, Alton. I know exactly what you mean.

22 May 2009

Blogger RSS feeds by label

Turns out that Blogger can generate an RSS feed for a label. This means that—e.g.—those of you only interested in my gaming related posts, e.g., could subscribe to this feed and only see those. (Provided I remember to tag them.)

Discovered in Blogger Buzz: Thanks for the feedback so far!

21 May 2009

Lost cheats

Yeah, I’m trying to flush out some of my blog drafts. This one was started last week after the season finale.

The victory for a mystery writer is when, during the big reveal, I say, “Of course! I should’ve known!” The trick is to make me feel like I had enough information to know then secret when I didn’t. If I figure it out before the big reveal, it’s a let down. If I feel like I couldn’t have figured it out, then I feel cheated.

Lost does the latter.

My accusation, however, is unfair on two accounts. First, it isn’t over. There’s still the chance that—when it is over—I’ll say, “Of course! I should’ve known!”

Second, I don’t think Lost is meant to be a mystery. At least, not a conventional one. So, I try to take it as such, but I think this is why I’m always a little dissatisfied by it.

The new command line

Coding Horror had an article called: The Web Browser Address Bar is the New Command Line

I once developed the “perfect” search GUI. It had all the power and flexibility you’d want, and it was all visible.

My boss and mentor said even he found it intimidating. Intimidating the user was not what I was going for.

So, I went about applying progressive disclosure. The power wouldn’t hit you all at once, but would be made visible in little pieces. I hoped in a natural way that wouldn’t prevent people from finding the power when they needed it.

(Aside: Progressive disclosure is in direct conflict with visibility. Too many times these days visibility is being sacrificed. Users either don’t know about a feature or get frustrated trying to find it. Progressive disclosure is a good tool, but it needs to be used carefully.)

My boss’s answer? The same one Google would come up with. A simple field and search button backed by an engine that would just return the answer the user wanted without the user having to figure out how to properly form the query. No GUI for forming the query. No special syntax for forming the query. Just a box and a button (and a smart engine). He was right.

I loved a to-do list application I used that had a simple text field for deadline. I could type “today”, “tomorrow”, “Friday”, or any number of other simple and direct ways of expressing it and the application would figure out the appropriate date. I was disappointed when the “upgraded” it to a fancy calendar control.

Something similar came up at work recently: Do we give the user a multi-select box full of choices or just a text field to list choices separated by commas? In this case, the text field really was the better choice.

I started this post before I’d seen it, but I am now reminded of Guy Kawasaki’s interview with the author of In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing.

Arm-chair marketing: Rabbit?

It doesn’t really seem very useful, but for some reason, I want to like Nabaztag, the multipurpose Internet-connected Rabbit. Functionality aside, though, here’s my arm-chair marketing...

1. The name Nabaztag strikes me as the kind of name that is only going to be successful if your product is incredibly compelling.

2. The tag line Rabbit? Calling it a “rabbit” isn’t bad, but “multipurpose Internet-connected Rabbit” isn’t any more informative than the name. Just about any other word that would describe this thing would be better in place of “rabbit”.

More on M.I.T. 6.001

See the previous post

My follow-up question that I meant to post: Assuming Sussman’s opinion is true, is this a practical assessment of an unfortunately reality? Or is the the natural evolution of software engineering?

Dan Weinreb has weighed in on the subject.

I absolutely agree with Dan’s point that the language is somewhat beside the point.

After reading his post, my question is: Should a university be teaching students things they will encounter in the field or things that they won’t encounter in the field?

My perspective on this has changed a lot between the time I entered college and now—after having dropped out and worked as a programmer for 15 years.

(I suspect M.I.T.’s answer may be: Both! This one course shouldn’t be used to characterize the entire program.)

10 May 2009

Star Trek

They do the kinds of things that I wish prequels wouldn’t do. They do the thing that I wish franchise reboots wouldn’t do. As the trailers showed, they have today’s kind of over-the-top action that seemed at odds with the spirit of the original series. Oh, and did I mention that Trek had more than used up their time-travel allowance?

It’s unsurprising that I have criticisms. What’s surprising is that...they really feel like trivia. It’s a really good movie, and it feels like it really honors the original Trek and what it was about. The characters are all made more without going too far.

Well, that’s my first impression. I remember saying Episode I was “really good” the day I saw it. So, I won’t try to answer the big question. Mr. Abrams has scored a victory, though, simply because people are seriously comparing his film to Khan.

08 May 2009

Wired’s GeekDad on the new Star Trek movie

10 Things Parents Should Know Before Seeing The New Star Trek

My favorite bits:

8. Do I need to sit through the credits for some sort of bonus movie at the end?

This should’ve been question number 1, not 8. The answer was “no”.

It’s a space action flick, so it’s fairly loud throughout. The space battles are loud [...]

Ha ha ha ha ha ha

06 May 2009

Kindle DX

Jeff Bezos wrote:

A strange thing happened on the way to the paperless society. We humans created more paper than ever before. Computer printers (and their evil companion, the ink-toner cartridge) have proliferated, and most of us routinely print out and lug around loads of personal and professional documents. Why? It’s not that buying printers or changing ink-toner cartridges is fun. It’s because reading on paper is better than reading on traditional computer displays. Printing has been worth the hassle.

(It’s currently on the Amazon home page, but I didn’t see a permanent link.)

Reading on paper is better than reading on traditional computer displays? There was a time when that was certainly true, but it hasn’t been true in a long time.

Why do I print things out? There are a lot of factors, of course, but here are currently the primary ones.

Area: I can spread four sheets of paper out on my desk. Buying a display or multiple displays that can show as much at one time is expensive.

Flipping through papers is often easier than managing windows.

I do have a portable screen, but it has less area and flipping between documents on it can be more overhead than managing windows.

These are all trade-offs. The point is not that paper has a clear advantage for any of them. The point is that paper still has enough of an advantage enough of the time to make printing worth the hassle.

The Kindle DX does add another variable to the mix: A portable display with a larger area and different characteristics. It doesn’t, however, fundamentally change the equation.

Having said that, I’ve been wanting something the size of the Kindle DX for a long time. There’s a reason you can buy—e.g.—paper notebooks in pocket, digest, and letter sizes. I think there are roles for devices in similar sizes.