Back And Blue

(stackoverflow reputation: 1984)

they understood

OK/Cancel: they understood

While waiting for my eleven o’clock Starbucks this morning (and by the way could someone please tell them it’s not bloody Christmas yet?) I was idly watching two young fellows Macbooking away from the “comfort” of their armchairs. They were hunched over the screen as they did whatever Mac users do and I couldn’t help thinking about how horribly incorrect their postures were from a workstation health-check point of view. I’m a little sensitive to such matters at present, probably due to the prolapsed disc in my lower spine.

At the office I use two 19″ 1280×1024 monitors, each sitting on two packs of paper (on my 4″ elevated desktop) to raise their tops to my eye-level. That gets me to something approximating a “healthy” set-up for my height (6′ 3″, or 190cm). At home, I’m crouching over my laptop like those Mac-boys and despite having almost as much screen real-estate (1600×1050) I can’t concentrate for very long, so I end up leaning back and reading blog posts instead of innovating (you may call it something else).

Mine is like this (only black)

Mine is like this (only dark blue)

I also finally got around to complaining about my office chair, with the result that, after a suitable bureaucratic wait, a rather spiffy new one was delivered, in which I’ve been enjoying correctly-located lumbar support all week, for the first time in years. The difference is, quite frankly, marked.

This matters, because I’m seeking to spend one or two days a week next year working from home, so I think I’m going to need to invest in some serious new desktop hardware. Something with three screens would be nice. A serious new desk needs to be considered, too.

For sitting, I had been planning on a Herman Miller Aero, but I’m now wondering I should be budgeting rather more for one of these instead.

If it’s Thursday…

(stackoverflow reputation: 1423)

One of my activities on a Thursday is to charge my nifty little MP3 player and load it up with the week’s batch of commute-time podcast listening material.

Beyond Excel, I’m interested in most things within the Agile programming camp, Ruby (on and off Rails), a little bit of .Net here and there and well, computer stuff.

I don’t (won’t) have an iPod or use iTunes, so I have to download stuff as it turns up in Google Reader. Not a huge imposition.

These are what tends to get listened to regularly:

Rails Envy: Weekly, about 15 minutes long and mostly about Rails and Ruby, it’s also funny enough to be worth listening to if you don’t have any interest in the technology. Maybe. “We ain’t got no rspec” (#38) is destined to become a great Ruby catch-phrase. If a programming language can have catch-phrases and in-jokes, that is.

Stackoverflow: Weekly, about an hour, this is usually a rambling conversation between Joel “on Software” Spolsky and Jeff “Coding Horror” Atwood. Up to #25 now (linked) and the most recent included Steve Yegge of Google, who is usually worth attention. I’d say the podcast is starting to find its feet of late as the proponents become more comfortable with the medium.

FLOSS Weekly: Regular hour or so interviews with various open-source luminaries. I don’t listen to them all, but I’ve enjoyed the ones with the original author of Audacity, Simon Phipps of Sun, Ward Cunningham (father of Wikis) and D. RIchard Hipp (SQLite) among others.

Rubyology: You’d think after 71 podcasts, the guy in charge would have sorted out the frequently dodgy audio levels, but apparently not. If you can stand the ropey sound, there’s a reasonably high standard  of Ruby-related content.

Herding Code: Four guys talking about programming topics with some bias towards Microsoft platforms, sometimes with a guest or two. Not the first one I dial up, if I’m honest, but it ticks along nicely in the background.

Not me, I get on at Cannon Street

Not me, I get on at Cannon Street

Fighting Talk: Nothing about computers that I’ve noticed, just a funny sports-oriented panel show from BBC radio, that I tend to miss when broadcast due to the requirement to be ferrying children to various weekend engagements. I hope no-one on the train thinks my occasional inane grin is directed at them.

I don’t listen to anything about Excel – I couldn’t find anything useful. Shouldn’t there be some kind of advanced Excel show? God knows there ought to be an audience for it. Maybe with a banjo theme tune?

Programming for (programmer) convenience

Here’s another piece of idiocy from Lotus Notes. I should say that I found this in version 6.5 and in the version that has now been inflicted on me, 8.0.1, it has been fixed. But I won’t let that stop me, it’s still a marvellous example of an entire development team failing to make that one last simple connection:

Could you just for once actually do it, could you?

Could you just for once actually do it, could you?

Have you spotted the idiocy? Notes has recognised that I have the post (sort of) open in the Preview Pane (much as in Outlook) and it doesn’t feel that it can delete it, perhaps because it might leave a decision about what to do with the empty space. So it closes the preview and invites us to try the delete again. Duh.

Just in case anyone’s struggling, I’ll spell it out: the program tells us it will do something we may not have known it could do (automatically close the Preview Pane) and then tells us to manually repeat an action that we know it definitely can do: delete a post. It says “document”, which might offer a clue, but I’m a user here – these are just emails as far as I’m concerned.

In the time it took to code the “problem” identification and the explanatory dialog, the developer could have just deleted the damn post.

Software like this does wonders for my self-esteem, I tell you.

CodePlex – hardly any trouble at all, really

Well, by now there should be something visible here:

http://www.codeplex.com/xlvbadevtools

Which is nice.

Remind me why I decided to put the project on CodePlex again? Oh yes, Microsoft site, programming language, application, not SourceSafe, blah blah, blah.

I did try SourceForge first, I have to admit, but I couldn’t figure out how to hook up my local TortoiseSVN installation to their servers. I guess I failed. CodePlex seemed slightly easier to understand, except that when I tried to import a standard SVN structure it failed, telling me I wasn’t a proper person in Team Foundation Server (or whatever they call Son of Sourcesafe). From scouring the FAQ, discussion forums and whatnot, I determined that this was not a completely unheard-of problem and emailed support.

I had to wait a while, but a response duly came and they’d fixed it. Since it seems to happen a fair bit, you’d imagine they’d try to deal with the problem, but what do I know? The SVNBridge program, which acts as a sort of proxy SVN server so that local SVN software can talk to the CodePlex TFS setup, is now working, although there’s an extra intelligence test needed: you need to append a “_cp” to your username to get a valid TFS login. Strangely, when it wasn’t working, the software was doing that for me, but as soon as the server-side problem was dealt with, I had to type the extra bit myself.

Sneaky. I wonder if these barriers to entry are deliberate or incompetent?

Whatever. It’s there, it’s released and I’ve even logged a couple of obvious issues.

Next, I’ll try to put something together that explains the plumbing.

Mmmmm, Shiny!

Browsers++, eh? Google have launched their browser, in beta form at least. Of course, “beta” for Google doesn’t always mean what it means for others – is gmail still in beta, by the way?

Anyway, ever ready to while away half an hour of work time looking at something new, off I went to the download page. A smallish (475KB) bootstrapper pulled down the actual installer, managing to find the necessary information about our somewhat complex Monte-Carlo proxy-server load-balancing  script without grief (presumably by digging into the IE or Firefox connection settings) and ran. Pretty pain-free, apart from this:

Getting warm, getting warmer, oops!

Getting warm, getting warmer, oops!

Ah well, it is a beta, after all. And it appears that the crash may have occurred at the run-after-install bit, since by the time it happened I had a desktop icon that seems – touch wood – to work.

A little detail that I really appreciated was that the install option page included a setting to make Chrome my default browser but it was unchecked by default. Nice one.

And then it just mostly worked. Some minor issues with font sizes, which seemed to randomly apply changes across tabs when I zoomed in or out using Control +?- or Control-mousewheel, but otherwise my regular stuff all seemed to render pretty well, internal or external.

It appears that the Chrome rendering engine shares the same standards book as Firefox’s – both render our IE-specific corporate intranet home page with the same set of “errors”. I tried looking to see what in the CSS was causing the problem but my limited skills weren’t up to the task. But while I was searching the source, which on a right-click/”View Source” request opens in a new browser window, which is nice, I discovered something nice. Nothing earth-shattering, but nice. I hit Control-F, which did what I expected, typed a few characters and the page was scrolled to the first found instance. As expected. Then I noticed something.

Score points for attention to detail

Score points for attention to detail

See what they did? No? Look at the vertical scroll bar. That’s a really nice touch. I like the way the “what to find” box organically grows from the surround too, and the animation is smooth, too. I suppose they could have made it slightly bouncy, in the way that Flash apps seem to like to work these days, although that can make one a little nauseous when over-done.

Oh, and another little plus on the view-source-in-the-browser thing is that links to, for example, stylesheets, are navigable. That removes a tiny piece of Firefox excise that I didn’t previously even know existed.

I’m sure there are all sorts of other little things. The address-bar within each tab may prove to be a boon, and the process-per-tab thing could be useful, although I can’t say crashing ranks very highly on my list of browser annoyances. We’ll have to keep sucking it to see.

I won’t be deleting Chrome. Neither will it be elevated to the status of default browser in the short term – I’m far too fond of my little set of FF add-ins. When Chrome has features that give me the capability provided by, at least, AdBlock, Firebug and Greasemonkey then we may be in business. But I think it’s going to be something of an uphill struggle until something really compelling and unique is offered. The thing is, Windows users who cared have already switched from IE to (mostly) Firefox and I don’t see a reason, other than possibly the bleeding-else coolness, to change again.

At least, I don’t see the compelling reason to switch yet.