Blog entries from December, 2005

Ham I Am

Sunday, December 25th, 2005 at 10:55 pm

Every christmas since I saw the Ham I Am episode of Good Eats a few years ago I lobbied to try out the city ham recipie. This year I was successful and it looks likely that I will be asked to do it every year…

On a side note I found the episode transcript significantly more useful than the recipe as the commentary contains crucial information.

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Different del.icio.us integration

Friday, December 23rd, 2005 at 8:20 pm

For a while now I have integrated del.icio.us with my site via the RSS feeds. This was a workable solution except that there were two issues:

  • First it was dependant on fetching the RSS feeds from del.icio.us during a page load. This didn’t always work, as shown by the outage last week;
  • Second it only enabled me to automatically include links at the leafs of the tree that is my computer collection as the RSS feed for a manufacturer page (eg computers+apple) also included all the item specific links (eg computers+apple+powermac+6400).

So what did I do? I pretty much copied the code from PHP Parsing Del.icio.us except that I grab all my links and load them into the database instead of writing them to a text file. Then I modified my display code to take into account any sub-branches and exclude them.

The main benefit is that each page load is only dependant on the local database and I am also no longer constrained by the thirty link limit of the RSS feeds.

I still need to wean my links page away from the RSS feeds as well…

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Good design from bad design

Thursday, December 22nd, 2005 at 10:14 pm

In my regular trawls through the various RSS feeds that I regularily look through I came across an essay by Scott Berkun. I cannot recall which one I found first but one in particular caught my eye: Why good design comes from bad design.

It has been recognised for quite some time now that most of the issues we have at work now derive from incomplete consideration of how to go from the requirements to code, ie the design. Back in September we formally introduced a design step in our process and provided a couple of examples of the main areas to consider. There was one small comment that said that even the alternatives that were not chosen for the final design should still be documented, including the rationale behind why they were not chosen.

One of the issues (apart from developers still skipping over design) that I have seen is that some of the developers are treating design like a bit of bureaucratic nonsense and spending as little as time as possible on it. On a number of occasions that I have reviewed and then discussed these documents I received a number of “oh yeah” or “that’s a good idea” responses, even when I suggested trivial (but often signifigant) changes such as a different name for a function. (This is where the mentoring aspect of my role that I touched upon yesterday)

This ties in with the Scott’s essay in that I feel that we are not yet experienced enough to know what makes up a good design, maybe never considering the varied nature of the applications we build. I am now more convinced that coming up with multiple designs is critical to getting a good design and it needs to be explicitly part of our process. How can you learn without being able to compare what is ‘good’ against what is ‘bad’?

I am almost hesitant to bring up the procedural versus object-oriented debate at this point but I will anyway… The paradigm chosen for an application is often arbitrary (also more often with a poorly designed interface whatever the paradigm) and I feel that the simple act of coming up with multiple designs can transform it from what the developer is most comfortable with to what is most appropriate. In most cases it should simply be enoigh to select a couple of screens from the application and write out some psuedo-code in each paradigm that will generate the screen… Another important ingredient is to then discuss the result with other (appropriate) team members…

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360-degree feedback

Wednesday, December 21st, 2005 at 9:24 pm

This morning before we headed off the South Oakleigh Bowling Club for our end of year barbecue we were each given a report of our 360-degree feedback. Although I still have concerns about the entire process (two of the people I gave feedback on I have barely worked with so it was very difficult to rate them) I am happy with my report.

The first section of the report was about twelve key values/behaviours and all of these for me were either meeting or exceeding expectations. However when my average ratings are compared against the entire team’s average a slightly different picture is shown and that is that I need to work on communication and effective team stuff, the mentoring part of my role as a senior developer…

Read the rest of this entry…

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Renovations are nearing completion

Monday, December 19th, 2005 at 10:17 pm

Sometime between last Thursday and today (I took Friday off) it appears that the painters were in at the office and their job is almost complete excepts for some little patch jobs. This morning the comms guys were in to finish patching in the remainder of the network and phone points and throughout the day there were a couple of guys preparing the floor and laying down the new carpet tiles. When I left there was even someone installing the new video intercom outside the front door…

The only major work that there appears left to do is for the desks to be setup and that could be done well in advance of the 16th of January which is when the last lot of people move across. At that stage we will see how well open plan really works…

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Being forced to relax…

Thursday, December 15th, 2005 at 3:32 pm

Instead of going to work today I stayed at home and didn’t do much except for starting the reinstall of Windows on a laptop for someone and a little sorting through my computers.

Why did I take the day off? Because I had to.

If I had not taken today off my leave balance would have hit an (arbitrary) limit on the 9th of January and HR doesn’t like that. The second thing that annoys me about this policy is that it does not take into account leave that has been booked in the future, such as the two weeks I have planned for the end of January…

Fortunately I will avoid the disruption caused by the rest of our team moving back from the building next door…

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A tag based blog

Thursday, December 8th, 2005 at 10:25 pm

Many months ago I came across a blog post about how to make wordpress tag based in a similar form to del.icio.us. With my OSDC posts this week I have finally started to add tags and this evening I added in the display of the tags for each post and the display of all the tags in the side navigation bar.

Now I need to find the time (yes, more of it) to go through my past posts and add sensible tags. I shall see how things go…

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Conference swag

Thursday, December 8th, 2005 at 7:58 pm

I have just sorted through the stuff I collected at the conference and threw most of it out except for:

A nice collection but now I need to find time to read the books…

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My precious returns

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005 at 9:20 pm

The other reason that I’m too tired to finish my previous post about OSDC is that I have my precious back with a replacement hard drive. I have finally upgraded to Tiger and for the past couple of hours I have been performing a fresh install of the OS and also installing the applications I need for day to day tasks…

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OSDC 2005: Day 3

Wednesday, December 7th, 2005 at 8:44 pm

On this third day of the Open Source Developers’ Conference 2005 that everyone was getting a bit tired.

Today’s highlights:

  • Learning Haskell (Tang, Autrijus)
    This morning Autrijus followed on from his talk yesterday about the Perl 6 implementation in Haskell by explaining the fundamentals of the language. It is scary how much my head is hurting by those academics and their declarative language. Thesis papers as documentation…
  • Lightning talks
    As yesterday the lightning talks session was a must see. One of the talks was allowed, even encouraged, to exceed the five minute limit as it was very insightful about how we (ie Australians) should negotiate with Americans (the talk was from an American now working over here…).

(I may add to this very short list in the next couple of days after I recover and also digest all the new information…)

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OSDC 2005: Day 2

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005 at 9:05 pm

Following on from yesterday the second day of the conference in all ways met or exceeded my expectations.

As requested by the conference committed a number of people have put the photos they have taken at the conference up on flickr.

The highlights:

  • Instrumentation and Control Systems Used on the Australian Synchrotron (Farnsworth, Richard)
    Although the talk was light on the gritty details it was great to hear that a conscious decision was made to select open source solutions where possible. An example that was given was how they simplified the acquistion of RF emitters by telling the manufacturers the output requirements AND what software (an open source physic control suite) it needed to be controlled by out of the box (albeit a very box box). Richard also stressed the parallels between the science community (papers, peer review, building on others research, etc) and the open source community.
  • Towards best practise development: Developing standards and procedures for consistent results (Bailey, Nathan)
    This talk was extreemly interesting to us as it was our manager talking about how we work. It is good to know the difference between what management thinks we are doing compared to what is actually happening.
  • Lightning talks
    Lightning talks will always be one of the best sessions at a conference due to the high percentage of content versus waffle and the sheer variation in their topics. One of the best today was Paul’s talk on automating mimesweeper using perl…
  • Introduction to Pugs: Perl 6 in Haskell (Tang, Autrijus)
    This was definitely the talk of the day as Autrijus ran us through how quickly the implementation of Perl 6 in Haskell was done. However what really hurts the mind is that it was not just an interpreter but also the ability to compile Perl 6 into other languages such as PIL (for Parrot) and even Javascript. Argh!

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OSDC 2005: Day 1

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005 at 12:06 am

Today (now it is technically yesterday) was the start of the Open Source Developers’ Conference 2005. The conference was off to a good start as the bag included a book: Firefox Secrets

The talks that I went to today were much like last year, of a very high calibre, with the highlights being:

  • Making Things Move: Finding Inappropriate Uses For Scripting Languages (Oxer, Jonathan)
    Although I had seen this talk before it was still excellent and a great opening talk for the conference as there were no heavy concepts. Unfortunately it reminded me of the projects in my list that I really need to get working on…
  • Parsing, Analysing and Manipulating Perl (without perl) (Kennedy, Adam)
    We didn’t even make it to lunch before the first head hurting talk came along. Using the perl modules Acme::Bleach, Acme::Buffy, Acme::Morse and others Adam we to the extreme to show us how the oft quoted statement “Only perl can parse Perl” is incorrect, it should really be “Only perl can run Perl”. With that out of the way he explained to us that by thinking about documents of Perl instead of Perl code it was possible for PPI to even exist. Now that we can ‘parse’ Perl it is possible to build into other programs (such as an editor) the ability to correctly syntax highlight, correctly tidy it up, and even calculate a wide range of metrics. That is why my head hurts…
  • It’s Good to be Greedy: Keeping a Straight Face around Regular Expressions (Balbo, Ben)
    Ben’s talk on regular expressions pretty much convered ground that I already understood. With one exception: look-ahead and look-behind assertions. Since I have never needed to use them (maybe that is because I didn’t understand them before) I never got around to understanding these assertions. But there was something about the way Ben explained it that made them so clear…
  • Zaltana (Penrose, Mr Scott)
    Zaltana is Scott’s name for an environment where different web applications in different languages can coexist under the same authentication and with the same look and feel. The key to it is the greater control over the request lifecycle that is provided by mod__perl 2.0. A filter takes the authentication details from apache and passes them to the application and another filter takes the xml output of the application and transforms it into XHTML/CSS with the appropriate look and feel. I recall having some vague thoughts of this nature back in June when Stas Bekman gave a presentation about modperl 2.0 at perl mongers. But Scott has actually done something…
  • Conference Presentation Humour (Baxter, Anthony)
    During the dinner Anthony Baxter gave a presentation about presentations which convered pretty much the same ground as the similar presentations by Paul and Damian. Apparently a joint presentation was in the works between Anthony and Damian however as Damian was unable to attend the conference that did not pan out…

I ended up talking with Anthony after the dinner where he revealed that the format of his presentations was inspired by Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture keynote at OSCON 2002.

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