Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Just Do It

After having a conversation with a collegue where we turned grandiose in our plans, he became frustrated because of the obstacles in our company. I said, "do get some code working and you'll feel better". Joel had this to say in Getting Things Done When You're Only a Grunt.
A lot can be done to improve the project just by one person doing it. Don't have a daily build server? Make one. Set your own machine up with a scheduled job to make builds at night and send out email results. Does it take too many steps to make the build? Write the makefile. Nobody does usability tests? Do your own hallway usability tests on the mailroom folks with a piece of paper or a VB prototype.

Outbound Filter or Inbound Filter

I have had three occasions to remember Joel's reference to tact filters. He said
there's always some person without an outbound filter who feels compelled to tell you about how he uses Opera, so he doesn't have this problem, although, frankly, I could care less what Anonymous uses. He's not even human to me, he's anonymous.
Joel refers to Jeff Bigler's description of Tact Filters. Here is Jeff's entire post.
I came up with this idea several years ago in a conversation with a friend at MIT, who was regularly finding herself upset by other people who worked in her lab. The analogy worked so well in helping her to understand her co-workers that I decided to write it up and put it on the web. I've gotten quite a few email messages since then from other people who have also found it helpful.

All people have a "tact filter", which applies tact in one direction to everything that passes through it. Most "normal people" have the tact filter positioned to apply tact in the outgoing direction. Thus whatever normal people say gets the appropriate amount of tact applied to it before they say it. This is because when they were growing up, their parents continually drilled into their heads statements like, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all!"

"Nerds," on the other hand, have their tact filter positioned to apply tact in the incoming direction. Thus, whatever anyone says to them gets the appropriate amount of tact added when they hear it. This is because when nerds were growing up, they continually got picked on, and their parents continually drilled into their heads statements like, "They're just saying those mean things because they're jealous. They don't really mean it."

When normal people talk to each other, both people usually apply the appropriate amount of tact to everything they say, and no one's feelings get hurt. When nerds talk to each other, both people usually apply the appropriate amount of tact to everything they hear, and no one's feelings get hurt. However, when normal people talk to nerds, the nerds often get frustrated because the normal people seem to be dodging the real issues and not saying what they really mean. Worse yet, when nerds talk to normal people, the normal people's feelings often get hurt because the nerds don't apply tact, assuming the normal person will take their blunt statements and apply whatever tact is necessary.

So, nerds need to understand that normal people have to apply tact to everything they say; they become really uncomfortable if they can't do this. Normal people need to understand that despite the fact that nerds are usually tactless, things they say are almost never meant personally and shouldn't be taken that way. Both types of people need to be extra patient when dealing with someone whose tact filter is backwards relative to their own.

Friday, March 21, 2008

MST, MDT, MT or Mountain Time

I have had an uncommon interest in time zones ever since I developed software to handle them in NetTime. Living in Arizona has added to this. We buck the daylight savings system most states follow in the USA.

So this morning I was prompted by a pet peeve. When referring to a time zone which one is most appropriate to use?
MST (Mountain Standard Time)
MDT (Mountain Daylight Time)
MT (Mountain Time)

Grammar Girl says,
"It seems to me that people often don't even know whether it is standard time or daylight-saving time. It doesn't hurt to use EST or PST, but I've certainly seen people write PST when it is daylight-saving time, so I think it's fine to say just eastern time or Pacific time. It's better to leave off a detail than to get it wrong!"
I agree with grammar girl. If you have the discipline to use CST or CDT accurately, go ahead. Otherwise, you should play it safe. For March 20, 2008, use "The server issue was resolved at approximately 6:30 AM Central Time". Grammar Girl continues to describe a frustration that Arizonans can relate to.
"Also, after living in Arizona and missing enough meetings because of time-zone confusion, I like to spell things out as clearly as possible, so I appreciate it when people say something like "We're meeting at 1:00 p.m. eastern time -- that's 10:00 a.m. your time." (Of course, then you need to make sure you do the conversion right.)"

Thursday, March 20, 2008


We have been navigating the red tape in our company to get some software tools we want to be effective. This quote from Milton Friedman kept coming to my mind.

There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you're doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I'm not so careful about the content of the present, but I'm very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else's money on myself. And if I spend somebody else's money on myself, then I'm sure going to have a good lunch! Finally, I can spend somebody else's money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else's money on somebody else, I'm not concerned about how much it is, and I'm not concerned about what I get.
Here is a video of Milton Friedman about this. Here is a chart of the quadrants he talks about.

We have been working in quadrant III. Trying to get our company to spend their money on tools we need. We had to convince them that they will get a timely return on their investment.

Key words: budget

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Programs I use at work

Here is a list of programs I like to use at work. Someday I may need this list to install some of my favorite apps.
Prioritized 2016-01-14

Beyond Compare
Calendar 2000
CutePDF Writer
DS Clock - Time format "h:mm t", Arial (9 pt.), disable sound, pale green background, black text
Internet Download Manager
MS Visual Studio 2013
MS SQL Management Studio
Unlocker 1.9.2
VLC Media Player

Crimson Editor 3.70 - Has column mode editing [Edit/Column Mode Alt+C ] and it is open source
Also has Convert Tab to Spaces (Document/Tabs & Spaces/...)
-- TortoiseSVN
Log Parser 2.2
NeoShooter, 4.0.3b*
Regex Coach
Simple-Adblock.com (Ad Blocking for Internet Explorer)

If your menu toolbar is not visible you get to these settings by clicking on the "Firefox orange button in the title bar and then choose AddOns.
Change the Alt+Tab behavior to the FF and Chrome default. In the "Tab Opening" tab, uncheck Location under the "Open new tabs for". This will allow the same behavior as before where Alt+enter opens in a new tab.

Adjust the appearance given to unread tabs.  Under the Appearance button, choose Tabs.  In the Tab Highlighting section, click Unread.  Uncheck enabled. I do not need to be so distracted just because one of my tabs refreshed itself.  For the "Current" Tab uncheck the color.  It is also distracting.

- Omnibar  Instead of Omnibar, customize what is shown in the navigation tool bar. Right-Click in the tool bar and choose customize.  Drag the items you do not want into the Customize toolbar dialog.  I drag everything except the address bar, the refresh button, the stop button, Ad-Block Plus and favorites.  The address bar in FF seems to behave like the omnibar in Chrome.  There is no need for the search box.

Blank screen saver
- path "C:\WINDOWS\system32\scrnsave.scr"
- Shortcut key Ctrl+Shift+F
- Put the shortcut on your desktop and you can always hit the shortcut to quickly eliminate the screen and the distraction while on a phone call and then instantly return to your work.
Foxit Reader (PDF), 2.0*
Dropper - get the color of any pixel on the screen

Chocolatey - a command line download and installation utility for windows
The following commands use Chocolatey to download and install stuff
"choco install 7zip.install" "choco install 7zip.install" install 7zip and put 7zip in the path.
"choco install gow" installs Gnu On Windows, lightweight alternative to Cygwin

* Older or hard to find version. I may have to login to pages.google.com to get these through a web filter.

Monday, March 17, 2008

"8 billion existing web pages be damned"

"8 billion existing web pages be damned" is my favorite one-liner from the latest article on JoelOnSoftware.com. It is was the idealists said when they said IE8 needed to be strict when rendering web pages.

It is a good description of the chasm between idealistic engineers and compliance with the standards and pragmatists who want to make the software work with the existing customer base.

There is no solution. Each solution is terribly wrong. Eric Bangeman at ars technica writes, “The IE team has to walk a fine line between tight support for W3C standards and making sure sites coded for earlier versions of IE still display correctly.” This is incorrect. It’s not a fine line. It’s a line of negative width. There is no place to walk. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

That’s why I can’t take sides on this issue and I’m not going to. But every working software developer should understand, at least, how standards work, how standards should work, how we got into this mess, so I want to try to explain a little bit about the problem here, and you’ll see that it’s the same reason Microsoft Vista is selling so poorly, and it’s the same issue I wrote about when I referred to the Raymond Chen camp (pragmatists) at Microsoft vs. the MSDN camp (idealists), the MSDN camp having won, and now nobody can figure out where their favorite menu commands went in Microsoft Office 2007, and nobody wants Vista, and it’s all the same debate: whether you are an Idealist (”red”) or a Pragmatist (”blue”).