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Well I didn’t have a date with Destiny, but we had a productive meeting with the client, and then he proceeded to ply us with drinks until we were all having a very merry time at some bar (I think it’s called the Jungle Room) in the Mandalay Bay).

It was such an obvious attempt to thwart our attempts to limit the scope of the project to fit the budget (Sure! We’ll build you an online presence complete with mobile integration, CMS, CRM, and AJAX in exchange for a Snickers bar, a bit of string and some pocket lint. Just buy me another drink!).

God I love Vegas.

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I’m in Las Vegas for a business trip. The usual scope definition/requirements gathering type of planning meeting. You just have to love the slot machines in the airport. They seem to attract badly dressed tourists like moths to a flame.

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My PageRank has been in decline lately. I was as high as a five, but just checked and am now down to three. Was it something I said? Or is this the result of rel="nofollow"?

My guess is that it’s a little bit of both. It seems that this has been implemented far and wide, but in such a manner as taking a sledgehammer to pound in a nail.

Hopefully I can correct this in Subtext. First, I need to make sure that rel="nofollow" can be turned off and on easily in Subtext. I really don’t need it since I delete comments left on my blog almost immediately.

Better yet is to have Subtext render the rel="nofollow" in the attributes of comments for a short period of time (configurable of course). After that period is over, the rel="nofollow" is removed. By then you should have surely deleted the comment. That way we can all spread the Google Juice around.

If that doesn’t help, then I’ll start link whoring. Hello? Link to me!

UPDATE: My blog’s homepage is ranked three, but my archives are ranked five. Odd.

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You ever work on a project trying to change out how something works and uncover a beautiful elegant extensible design that just makes it a snap? Me neither, but if I do run into such a phantasm, I’d probably get very excited.

Well that’s how I feel about A List Apart’s new design. It just makes me go “Unnnhhh!” (and that’s a good thing in case you didn’t know).

Taking a look at it, my first thought was “Steal Steal Steal!” And by “Steal” I mean, “Be Insipired By”.

It’s such a cleanly laid out site that makes good use of screen real-estate. I think current web-design is often stuck in late 90s mentality that a page width has to fit within 800 pixels. Heck, my own site is stuck in that mentality. But I noticed that A List Apart (ALA for short) requires at least 952 pixels of width to fit it all in. By not kowtowing to the remaining grandmas who still can’t crank the resolution above 800x600, a lot of space is opened up to present more information in a much cleaner fashion.

If I didn’t have so much work to do right now, I’d redesign my blog right now.

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Well I’ve decided to start a new magazine called Desert Survival. Check out the inaugural issue.

MagazineCover

Ok, I lie. I built this using the fun and friendly Magazine Cover creator. Took me all of five minutes. Now it’s time to quit goofing off and get back to work.

[Listening to: Bruce Lee - Underworld - Beaucoup Fish (4:42)]

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Putting the ball in the back of the net in a competitive game of Soccer is one of the most exhilarating feelings around. Why, I think it can feel as good as … well I won’t go there. Suffice to say, it’s a great feeling, even in a city rec league. As long as there are teammates patting you on the back, refs blowing a whistle and a net to capture the shot, it just feels great.

Scoring two in a game, well, that’s even better.

Missing a third great game-winning opportunity, well that almost makes you forget about the first two in frustration. That’s the nature of sport.

My league team that played so dreadfully last season has bounced back this season and we are riding high on an unbeaten streak. We won our last three or four games in a row until this past sunday when we could only pull out a 2-2 tie, both scored by yours truly. Unfortunately, I had a fantastic opportunity to put the game away off a corner kick. I beat the goalie with my header but a defender standing in the goal headed it out just in time. A great defensive play, much to my dismay.

I attribute my personal improvement to taking the entire weekend off from work, which was a welcome and refreshing break. It’s amazing what a full weekend away from the computer (apart from checking emails and reading blogs which don’t count) can do for a person’s sanity. I recommend it.

Last night after the game, we went out to dinner in K-town for some Soon-Dubu (Korean Spicy Tofu Stew). I love Soon-Dubu. The spicier the better. Unfortunately, it has its downsides the day after. For those of you familiar with Korean food, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Let’s just say spicy going in, spicy going out and leave it at that.

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UPDATE: They now have a book on Amazon.com!

This site (postsecret.com) is one of the most interesting, compelling and touching (in that pulling the heart strings kind of way, not in the Michael Jackson sort of way, though there is a bit of that I suppose) website/blog I’ve ever had the pleasure of discovering. I found it via Ian White’s blog. (Apparently he is a geek.)

This is a site where people anonymously send a postcard with a secret. Some are sad, others are anger inducing, and then there are the humorous ones like this one.

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After reading over my last blog post, I wondered why my posts take such a virulent tone towards Joel Spolsky when I think he’s wrong. Looking around the web, I noticed I am not the only one.

I mean, I’ve never met the guy. He hasn’t killed any puppies that I know of, nor has he insulted my mother. In fact, I am pretty sure he doesn’t even know my mother.

Then I read this snippet of a great comment from Melissa in my blog…

Joel just likes to write with conviction, irrespective of the matter at hand. He probably has strong opinions about light butter/no butter/movie theater butter on his heat-expanded maize kernels, and he could probably write a persuasive as hell argument for his position and the more suggestable among us would immediately agree and get on their knees to show their appreciation for Joel’s relieving them of their obligation to think for themselves.

That’s it! Joel is an authority in topics of software, and like it or not, authority carries with it power, which carries with it responsibility (thanks Uncle Ben). He writes that BDUF is absolutely necessary, and suddenly hundreds of software middle managers across the country are thwarting their teams efforts to engage agile methodologies.

“If Joel says BDUF, then we do BDUF. We’re bringing back Ye olde Waterfall Methodology.

So it’s not that I think he’s wrong, it’s that he is so forcibly and authoritatively wrong. I’d love for him to try and make BDUF work with some of my current clients. A few weeks into it and I’d have to have the straight jacket and padded room reserved (Lord knows I’ve had a stay there).

So that explains my harsh attitude. Well… that and the arrogant tone he takes. That seems to get my dire up. Especially when he put down corporate developers.

In any case, one post mentioned why anyone is still reading Joel. Well as much as I like to get my panties in a bunch when he says something stupid, 99% of his writings are still top notch insightful and worthwhile. In every position I’ve been in, I would circulate links to various articles he has written to help improve software development practices. 99% of the time, he knows his stuff. It’s that 1% of the time I wish he’d just shut up.

[Listening to: Stretch ‘n’ Vern / Get Up! Go Insane! (Fatboy Really Lost It Mix) - Fatboy Slim - Greatest Remixes (7:14)]

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Gray Hair Well it had to happen sooner or later, my first gray hair. Today, a gray hair, tomorrow I’m shopping for Depends. I need to quit working so much.

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Now I like to take shots at myself for producing drivel now and then, but today, I’m going to take a shot at someone else’s drivel. I really should be working right now, but I really need to stop a moment to respond to some FUD. Once again, Joel Spolsky sprays more ignorance on his readership with this quote…

I cant tell you how strongly I believe in Big Design Up Front (BDUF), which the proponents of Extreme Programming consider anathema. I have consistently saved time and made better products by using BDUF and Im proud to use it, no matter what the XP fanatics claim. Theyre just wrong on this point and I cant be any clearer than that.

First, as Brad Wilson mentions, Agile does not mean no design.

The primary mantra of agile methodologies is to do only what is necessary, and no more. For a product company like Joel’s FogCreek, a functional spec is absolutely necessary. (As an aside, I’m a fan of his Painless Functional Specifications Series and have used it as a template for functional specs on several projects). They are not treading new ground with their products and the requirements appear to be very stable from release to release. For example, for CoPilot, Joel dictated the requirements which the interns implemented.

However, I’d point out that the spec he published for all to see is a great example of doing what is necessary and no more. Notice he didn’t list out the specific database tables nor class diagrams. This spec is not an example of big design up front. It is a great example of doing just enough design up front as necessary. How very agile of you Joel and you weren’t even trying.

The second fallacy is that Joel takes his narrow product-based experience and applies it to all of software development. When you are the one who gets to define requirements and your project does not explore new ground, Big Design Up Front hands down can work. But try applying that approach to a client project and watch with horror as three months into the project, the client changes his mind on a feature and leaves you with a hunking mass of outdated and useless UML diagrams you spent eighty man-hours producing.

Agile methodologies are designed to manage change. When you don’t have change to worry about, you can resort to BDUF (though even then I’d only do what is necessary). Agile methodologies weren’t designed to handle developing the software for the Space Shuttle. Requirements are fixed and hardly change in such a project.

But most real world projects have a lot of change. Where does that change come from? The client! There are other sources of change during a project’s lifecycle as well, such as new technologies and from new ideas gained during the project, but the majority of it comes from the client changing his or her mind.

Your typical client knows jack shit about how software is really developed. Yet you expect the client to be able to express extremely detailed requirements for what he or she wants? Might as well hand her a keyboard and tell her to write the code for what she wants. Would you try that with a home builder?

“Hey, I’ve written you a list of exactly how I want my house to be. I’ll be back in a month to see the finished product. Can’t wait!”

I sure hope you wouldn’t. Most likely you’d want to check in every now and then and see how things are going. And as you see the house develop, you might change your mind about a few things.

Developing software for a client is very much like that. A client often doesn’t know what she wants until she sees it. As the project unfolds, the client (and development team) learns more and more about the product and starts to realize that some of her initial requirements don’t really make sense, while also recognizing that there are other requirements that she hadn’t thought of, but your demo reminded her.

Try BDUF on a project like that, and you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and failure. That’s where an agile methodology really shines. Divide the project up in iterations, do just enough up front high level design to give the system coherency, and then flesh out the design during each iteration via some up front iteration level design and refactoring. Again, do just enough design as necessary, but no more.

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Hulk I just hate it when software designed to save you countless hours of development work just don’t work out of the box. Especially when you pay good money for it. I’ve come to expect a few hiccups here and there with open source software. But purchasing an expensive rich editing component from a leading vendor, performing a fresh install, and having buttons popup javascript alert boxes with debug information is inexcusable. Along with some other features just plain not working.

It just makes me angry! And you don’ want to see me when I’m angry! Grrr…

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Wireless PC Lock I don’t know about you, but running into an unlocked workstation in the office is like finding a voucher for a free airline ticket and hotel stay at Vegas complete with gambling money. In other words, pure fun. (Ok, perhaps I overstated that a bit. I’d much prefer the free stay in Vegas. Anyone? Anyone?)

There are any number of interesting pranks you can pull, but my favorite continues to be to take a screenshot of the user’s desktop, and then move all desktop shortcuts into a backup folder. Also make sure to hide all the taskbars. Then find a decent inconspicuous vantage point and watch as the unsuspecting user flounders with an unresponsive desktop. That’s usually good for a few laughs.

Alternatives include replacing desktop background with embarassing images and changing all the sounds in the systems to embarassing sounds, or simply to sounds for other system functions. The last one is quite subtle, but can be quite confusing as it shows how reliant we can become on sound to navigate a computer.

In any case, in his role as desktop hijinks party pooper, Scott Hanselman has unveiled his latest installment of his “Some Assembly Required” column.

In this installment, he highlights a fine piece of USB hardware, a wireless pc lock, used to automatically lock your machine when you are away. The hardware unfortunately comes with some lame software, so he proceeds to build improved software that can not only lock your machine when you’re away, but set your IM status to away (along with other functions and an extensibility model). That’s pretty sweet and all, but if this catches on, finding unlocked workstations could be a thing of the past (unless you happen to wander into the business or marketing department, the source of all email viruses in any company).

Well, I guess there’ll always the prank of stealing the USB dongle.

Security Question\ I am a little ignorant about how USB works, but one security question this raises is what happens if you walk away, and I put an intermediate USB device between the dongle and the computer, and record the data going back and forth. When the user returns, he or she is quite unlikely to notice if the dongle is in the back of the computer (think corporate workstation). How will this device and software protect against that?

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Balloon
Bowl

Let me know if you like these videos I’m posting or if you’re one video away from cracking my skull with a wet noodle. Cause if you want to crack my skull, you’re really going to have to wait in line.

Meanwhile, watch as this skateboarder skates through a pool full of blue balloons for a neat visual effect.

Update: As Diego points out, I always forget to link. Damn it! Well I linked it now!

\

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Man, I’ve been so heads down busy with work lately that I haven’t had time to regale you with the fantastical events that have been going on around here. Tales of wizards, warriors, and actuarials. Seriously, kick-ass actuarials.

Instead, I’ve simply been linking to other people’s mindless drivel, rather than producing my own. However, I did have a moment to breathe today and watch this hilarious video.

Seriously, go check it out. Now! Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back. If I have ever lead you astray with one of these video links, you let me know. But I don’t think I’ve gone wrong yet. Except for maybe that chair sex video. You know, the one that put Paris Hilton out of business. Seriously, furniture fornication was probaby out of line.

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Ha ha ha! Thanks for publishing this one Robb. If anyone is offended, my finger is pointing at Robb. I’m just the messenger.

A farmer walks into his bedroom where his wife is lying on the bed, reading a book. The farmer picks up a sheep he had brought with him in the room and throws it on the bed.

“That’s the pig I screw when you’re not in the mood,” says the Farmer.

“That’s not a pig, that’s a sheep, “ replies his wife.

“Shut up, “ says the farmer, “I’m not talking to you!”

[Via Sharp as a Marble]

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Reading this post from Jayson’s blog caught my attention for two reasons. First, his very strong reaction to some code that swallows an exception. Second, the fact that I’ve written such code before.

Here is the code in question.

public bool IsNumeric(string s)

{

    try

    {

        Int32.Parse(s);

    }

    catch

    {

        return false;

    }

    return true;

}

Jayson’s proposed solution is…

I personally would use double.TryParse() (and downcast accordingly depending on the result) at the very least. At the very most I’d break the string down to a char array, and walk the array calling one of the (very) useful static char.Is<whatever> methods…first non<whatever> value, break out of the loop and return false. I’ve posted before about the speed at which the framework can process char data…it’s very fast and effecient (sic).

For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume the method was intended to be IsInteger(). Using Int.Parse() to test if a string is a number doesn’t make sense since it immediately chokes on 3.14 (get it? Chokes on Pi. Get it? Damn. No sense of humor). If indeed this method was intended to be IsNumeric then I would suggest using double.TryParse and the discussion is finished.

Now in general, I agree with Jayson and often raise fits when I see an exception blindly swallowed. However, when you only deal in absolutes, you start to become a robot (yes, I am resisting the offhand political joke here). For every absolute rule you find in programming (or anywhere for that matter), there is often an example case that is the exception to the rule. As they say, the exception proves the rule.

The problem with simply parsing the string character by character is that it’s quite easy to make a mistake. For example, if you simply called char.IsNumber() on each character, your code would choke on “-123”. That’s certainly an integer.

Also, what happens when you want to extend this to handle hex numbers and thousands separators. For example, this code snippet shows various ways to parse an integer.

Console.WriteLine(int.Parse(“07A”, NumberStyles.HexNumber));

Console.WriteLine(int.Parse(“-1234”, NumberStyles.AllowLeadingSign));

Console.WriteLine(int.Parse(“1,302,312”, NumberStyles.AllowThousands));

Console.WriteLine(int.Parse(“-1302312”));

This is one of those cases where the API failed us, and was corrected in the upcoming .NET 2.0. In .NET 2.0, this is a moot point. But for those of us using 1.1, I think this is a case where it can be argued that swallowing an exception is a valid workaround for a problem with the API. However, we should swallow the correct exception.

Since there is no int.TryParse() method, I’d still rather rely on the API to do number parsing than rolling my own. It’s not that I don’t think I am capable of it, but I have a much smaller base of testers than the framework team. Here’s how I might rewrite this method.

public bool IsInteger(string s, NumberStyles numberStyles)

{

    if(s == null)

        throw new ArgumentNullException(“s”, “Sorry, but I don’t do null.”);

 

    try

    {

        Int32.Parse(s, numberStyles);

        return true;

    }

    catch(System.FormatException)

    {

        //Intentionally Swallowing this.

    }

    return false;

}

So in 99.9% of the cases, I agree with Jayson that you should generally not swallow exceptions, but there are always the few cases where it might be appropriate. When in doubt, throw it. In the rewrite of this method, notice that I don’t catch ALL exceptions, only the expected one. I wouldn’t want to swallow a ThreadAbortException, OutOfMemoryException, etc…

I would also put a //TODO: in there so that as soon as the polish is put on .NET 2.0, I would rewrite this method immediately to use int.TryParse() and make everybody more comfortable.

This is a case where I do feel uneasy using an exception to control the flow, but that uneasiness is ameliorated in that it is encapsulated in a tight small method. Also, one objection to this post I can anticipate is that it is freakin’ easy to parse an integer, so why not roll your own? While true, the principle remains. What if we were discussing parsing something much more difficult? For exampe, suppose we were instead discussing a method IsGuid(). Now you have to deal with the fact there isn’t even a Guid.Parse() method. You have to pass the string to the constructor of the Guid which will throw an exception if the string is not in a valid format. Yikes! I thought constructors were never supposed to throw exceptions.

In this case, I’d probably prefer not to roll my own Guid parsing algorithm, instead relying on the one provided. Why write code that already exists?

So Jayson, in general you are right, but please don’t beat me to death with a wet noodle if you see something like this in my code. ;)

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Shuttle Crew Very early this morning my slumber was disturbed by an extremely lound noise. Like Maverick in Top Gun, those durn shuttle astronauts did a fly by enroute to Edwards, setting off car alarms and howling dogs in the neighborhood. Couldn’t y’all have flown by quietly. There were people sleeping you know. Next thing you know, them punk astronauts will attach a huge bass subwoofer in the back of that thing, spinners, just to let you know what’s up.

All kidding aside, I am glad to hear they made it back safe and sound (a big sound). I wish I would have known they were swinging by. I wonder if I would have been able to see it from here.