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October 26, 2005

Slowly going insane while waiting for a fix...

Over at Shirt Pocket, my friend and occasional co-conspirator Dave Nanian blogs about a bug in the OS that adversely affects his product and his customers' experience: Slowly going insane while waiting for a fix. In his post, he wrote something that really resonated with me:

This is really frustrating for our users, because things don’t work in a mysterious (and ungrammatical) way. And it’s frustrating for us, because it makes us look bad, incompetent and/or lazy. Honestly, we’re not.

We have had similar experiences, but I'll generalize: bugs and shortcomings in software beyond our control have the ability to profoundly and negatively affect our customers' experiences, and it's really frustrating for everyone — and for precisely the reasons Dave gives. (I'm likely to amplify on this in a future post.)

October 24, 2005

New Squeezebox!

I don't usually cover the gadget beat, but this one I had to mention. My friends over at Slim Devices today announced a new revision of their awesome Squeezebox music player. This is the third generation of the player to bear that name, and their fourth generation of product, with the first being the venerable SliMP3. On paper, the latest Squeezebox ("Squeezebox 3"?) looks similar to its predecessor. But in the flesh? Wow. I'm not sure who did their original industrial design, but the latest generation was Designed by a Professional Designer, and it looks gorgeous. I can't wait to get my mitts on one.

I reviewed the first-generation Squeezebox for the now-defunct Mac Developer Journal. (It was my first and so far only product review.) On re-reading, the technological details are a bit dated, but the conclusions stand: the Squeezebox is an excellent product, and definitely worth a look. I submit that a Squeezebox would be a great match with one of those little Tripath amps that everyone's been raving about lately; add an inexpensive pair of bookshelf speakers - or a pair of Minipods - and make a terrific small-room system.

(This is not a paid endorsement: my only business relationship with Slim Devices is that of a satisfied customer, although they did take me out to dinner once.)

October 23, 2005

Is it OK to Eat Peanut Butter with a Spoon?

It's a quiet Sunday night after a fun and relaxing weekend. My desktop machine is working on a build, with the progress scrolling by in a BBEdit shell worksheet. Elsewhere in memory, my pre-release build of Mailsmith is chugging away on a torture test (rebuilding all 140,000 messages representing nearly 2GB of stored mail and database indices), and I'm conversing with a couple of friends in a couple of different iChat windows.

I've got a search results window in BBEdit showing 34 occurrences of a function call that needs to be replaced with something a little more modern. As I stare at this, wondering at the tedium of repeating the same process thirty-four times (write new strings, wire up a dialog/sheet, test, document, check in, lather, rinse, repeat) it occurs to me that my professional career began almost twenty years ago to the day (week, at least). I've been at this a long time, to be sure. (Aside: it's funny how, in this futuristic year of 2005, I make my living using the finest technology of the mid-1980s.)

So, time for a peanut butter break. It's definitely tempting to dip the spoon in and pull out a standard consumption unit of peanut butter, especially if the peanut butter in question is the grind-your-own stuff you can get at some grocery stores, and it's made from honey-roast peanuts. When it's that good, is it worth the effort to dig out the sliced bread and strawberry preserves? Or is it OK to grab the butter knife and lay the peanut butter thick on whatever bland Anglophone-branded crackers happen to be around? (That may in fact be the only option at the moment: bread is not in evidence.)

Then there's the floor-mopping problem. I'm not a huge fan of housework, but I'm also not a slob - I do manage to keep the place reasonably clean, if not always well organized. I keep getting blocked on mopping the floors, though. It's such a huge pain in the ass: sweep, spray some sort of noxious cleaner in the corners, drag out the bucket, fill it with water and a little more of that noxious cleaner, grab sponge mop, mop, rinse, put everything away. So it's been a long time since I've mopped.

I was complaining about this to my sweetie, and she opined as to how everyone had something they get blocked on, be it mopping the floor, cleaning up old code, emptying the basement, whatever. She then proceeded to tell me how she mops floors, and we made a project of it - first to secure proper implements (a basic rag mop, not to be confused with whatever whizbang gadget the marketing people think you ought to have), then a demonstration of the proper technique (fill sink with very hot water and Lestoil, slop the solution on the floor, being sure to get in the corners, let it sit, then repeat once, then rinse the mop, mop up, and dry). And then I was on my own. Sure enough, it worked just like in the movies, and my floors are cleaner than they've been in years. I'm inspired to mop again, when the time is right.

Mopping the floor is an interesting archetype for lots of other chores that we have to do, be they mundane or complicated, housework or business. If you can get past the blockage, either on your own or with someone's help, the results can sparkle, and you wonder what took so long to get around to it.

So it is with the peanut butter. Is it OK to eat peanut butter with a spoon? Bet your ass it is - just have something handy to wash it down with.

October 19, 2005

N Reasons why You Should Send Me Scotch

You should send me a bottle of scotch (I like single-malts) because...

  1. I recently fixed a bug that you reported.
  2. It'll take the sting out of paying three bucks a gallon for gas.
  3. Your last upgrade to BBEdit was free.
  4. I got out of the way smartly, unlike that dope in the blue Expedition talking on his cell phone.
  5. Several very good friends of mine failed to win the lottery tonight.
  6. Scotch makes it easier for me to accept that the milled flaxseed on my cereal isn't brown sugar.
  7. It'll make it easier for me to explain why 4273390 really ought to be fixed.
  8. It would make my girlfriend happy. And when you think about it, there really is no higher purpose.

October 04, 2005

A Car is Not A Toaster

My daily commute is almost exactly 25 miles door to door, mostly highway driving, with a bit of suburban sprawl on either end. The highway portion is long enough (and I've been doing it long enough) that I've had plenty of time to observe how my road-mates drive.

I've concluded that waaaaaay too many people treat their cars like appliances: turn the thing on, then there's one pedal for "go", and another pedal for "what the fuck was that?". In between, they're completely disconnected from the road: they most frequently focus on clamping the cell phone between the ear and shoulder, and of course there are other distractions, many of which are understandable, but most of the time they're just zoning out.

IMNSHO, this is no condition to be in when you're piloting two tons (or three, if it's one of those giant SUVs) down the road at somewhere near a hundred feet per second.

My take on it is that if you're not aware of what's going on around you, and count on being able to hit the "WTF?" pedal any old time, you're gonna end up turning someone into a statistic.

(p.s.: a good friend of mine, when he saw the title, thought I was going to write about de-chroming a car. Ha ha, fooled you, Dave.)