The Christmas Post – 1 Week Late

So, I’m lazy (and busy) but mostly lazy, and haven’t posted my Christmas post. Not that I had some huge thing to post or deep insights into the Season, but it can hardly go without a mention.

Obviously, my big gift to myself was building my computer (and buying the parts). J– got her pink iPod mini (and she was surprised, thankfully!). She gave me a Wusthof Classic Santoku (or Asian) knife, a ton of sushi-making materials (which work wonderfully, I might add), way too much chocolate, and a nice broadcloth white shirt. I know I’m forgetting something, but we had a good Christmas between the two of us, and not just for the gifts. Although, the gifts were nice, especially the stuff from our parents. Automatic coffee maker, with built in grinder, you are wonderful, if a bit noisy. They should put decibels rating on packing for those things.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without the families. All in all, the gatherings weren’t that bad, considering the sheer volume of parent/famliy exposure we subjected ourselves to, it’s a wonder we haven’t throttled anyone, much less each other.

Oh! I know what I forgot. And I’m wearing it for the love of Pete. J– got me a T-shirt with a Get Fuzzy panel on it! I love that comic. Yeah, it’s a well-worn path of comic strip, but it’s so funny to me because the cat, Bucky, is the perfect example of how I imagine our cat Mina to be. Sarcastic, scheming, and somewhere barely underneath her skin, ready to usurp us at a moment’s notice. I’m trying to find the strip, but Comics.com only makes it easy to find the last 30 days of comics. This one was published on 11/24, if you’re interested.

Anyway, since we’re bored, we’re falling back on on consumeristics roots and going to Costco.. never been there, but I here it’s like a slightly less evil Sam’s Club. Hey, at least I don’t hear about Costco building stores literally on top of ancient ruins.

A New Tagline

Tonight, J– and I went out for Chinese food. Which is to say, we went to a strip mall that served food cooked by Chinese-Americans. We had Triple Vague Delight, Six Ways, with rice. Of course, at the end of the meal we got not just the bill. Oh no, we also got fortune cookies. Ah, fortune cookies, that wholly American contribution to an ironically obscure practice in China. By the way, no one in China had heard of fortunes stuffed into cookies before someone in the States saw the market for them.

I digress. I dutifully crack open my fortune cookie, fully expecting two things: 1) A stale cookie and 2) A cheesy fortune. I get neither. What I do get is a crispy yet tasty cookie and an interminalbly profound fortune. So profound that I immediately say to J–, “this has to be stolen from someone”.

The fortune? “Simplicity of character is the natural result of profound thought.” The source? Chinese proverb? Nope. William Hazlitt. Wonder if his heirs can sue a fortune cookie manufacturer.

Up and running

My new machine is up and running. Actually, it’s been running for a while, I’ve just been playing with it so much I didn’t post.

One annoying thing to remember if you’re building a new system and expect to play any game made in the last 4 years. Many of the game publishers are putting DRM on their discs now which won’t allow you to play the game from a CD or DVD writer drive. You’ll need to add a CD-ROM drive to pass their system check, usually every time the game starts up. One more BS thing to keep in mind.

So, my system as running currently is:

  • MSI K8N Neo Platinum motherboard (Model 7030)
  • Athlon 64 3400+
  • 512 MB PNY PC3200 RAM
  • 120GB Maxtor SATA 7200 RPM Hard drive
  • BFG Tech GeForce 6800 OC 128 MB video card
  • Rosewill Combo Drive (52x32x52x16x) Model C523216
  • Dynex 52x CD-ROM (Model DX-CDR100)
  • Thermaltake Silent PurePower 480W W0013
  • OEM Floppy drive
  • Antec CS400B Case

As soon as I get a little more RAM and a KVM switch, I’m all set.

Oh, and just for the record, while time-consuming (it probably took me a decent 5 hours to assemble and configure the OS), this was way easier than I imagined it to be (knock on wood). A great learning experience and something I’ll have to do again, if for nothing else than the joy of actually building something that works. I can finally imagine what all the gearheads in the ’50s must have felt when that GTO finally turned over after a rebuild.

A plea to web app developers

Ok, this won’t win me any points if some random web app developer happens across my page, but I have a request for anyone who’ll listen.

Please, for the love of God, consider the actual user of your application.

Let me explain where this comes from. I work on the development of a web app, not in the technical sense (I’m not working in the backed), but I am using an admin-type web interface to modify and enhance the UI that our customers will use. So, in essence, I’m the middle man. I consume what our solution provider makes, use the product to create another product, and then maintain that second product. Confused? It’s a standard scenario I’m having trouble verbalizing at the moment (Christmas is close and I want out of here; give me a break).

This is my dilemma, issue, beef, if you will. One of my tasks is to implement user assistance. I won’t get into the idiotic implementation our solution provider has “provided”, but suffice it to say, they need to read this post as well. We have gone with hosting static files on the same server as the web app, linking to those files from the UI of the application, and then doing whatever we need to do in our own “environment”, so to speak. Yes, it’s a hack, but it’ll work for our purposes and minimizes the politicking that would be required to use, say, ASP. I digress…

My plea begins here. Adding a link to our static pages is fairly simple, unless you want to do anything except add a value for “href”. Why? Because the Active X control that has been implemented allows only for input of a protocol and an address. Because lots of people are linking to Gopher these days. (Seriously, that’s an option in the pull-down menu.)

This is a dead easy thing to implement. Allow me as a middle man user to add links to whatever I want however I want. I can’t say how much the system cost the organization, but adding fifty bucks to the cost of the license to implement an Active X control that allows me to specify a value for “target”.

I know that right now, someone is saying, “just edit the code, dummy.” Yeah, there’s another shortcoming. While you can edit the code directly, sometimes code changes take. Sometimes they don’t. No one set down why code would be reverted, or a way to change something and set an ignore switch somewhere. Even our developers went, “Humph, isn’t that interesting?” Not very helpful.

After I rolled my eyes for the 7th time this morning, it dawned on me that I’m on the receiving end of a more fundamental problem. It’s not that the tool couldn’t accommodate these enhancements, it’s that the solution provider didn’t think anyone would use their product any other way than how they imagined it to be used. Ok, that was a mouthful, so I’ll just say it bluntly.

The original developer was shortsighted. They envisioned a single scenario of implementation and use, for both the middle user and the end user. It never occurred to them, or was completely ignored by them, that legitimate uses outside of their development efforts should be accommodated. Every crappy HTML editor in the world allows you to set values for the “a” tag. Not theirs. Why? It would’ve cost them something, and they weren’t willing to spend the resources.

Who am I to tell them how run their business? Their customer. While it may be a PITA for me to work with, I have to work with it because I have to provide a solution. The ultimate sufferer is going to be my end user, my customer, because I have to spend ridiculous amounts of time coding the simplest things, which leaves less time for me to actually assist the user. To me, that’s a bad tradeoff.

So, my plea is this, web app developers (or, really, solution developers): Think about the actual end user. Make your solution fit what they will need. If your customers (people like me) are going to use you app to build other apps, I need to provide things like documentation, user assistance, UI enhancements, and god knows what else. Making it simpler for middle-level developers to use your apps only improves your products.

Mash-ups

I’m addicted to mash-ups.

Most of them suck, usually because someone is trying out a new technique or learning their way around a mixer (and, no, I shouldn’t be one to criticize because I couldn’t mix two tracks of static). But once in a while, a great one comes out, like the Grey Album or Collision Course or The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu.

It’s an interesting concept of doing music, completely (or heavily) relying on other artists for your source material. It’s gets to the heart of copyright law or lack thereof. When does artistic freedom trump the rights of copyright holders (and not necessarily the artists who created the work). Should artists be able to consent to their work being used for such a project, or dictate the terms of another artist’s project? Should artists be able to sample whatever they want as long as they don’t try to pass the original work off as their own?

But I’m neither a lawyer or an artist, so I’ll just sit back and enjoy the product of this controversial practice. Like today: presenting, The Beastles.

More mashy goodness at DJ BC: The Boston Mash-up Project.