Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Think Small

March 12, 2008

A college student wrote in to Picnik asking for general advice about how to create a similar project for school.  After reminding him that we’ve had a team of people working on Picnik for several years, and tossing a few book recommendations his way, I closed with this advice:

Overall I think the best way to start is to have an interesting, compelling vision for what you want to create, and then throw away as much as possible until you’re down to the absolute smallest thing you can deliver that would make sense.  It’s easy (too easy!) to add features, but removing unnecessary complexity after the fact can be nearly impossible. Think small! Version 2 (or 3) is usually a complete rewrite anyway.

Ubunting

December 16, 2007

I’m writing this blog post while running Ubuntu!  The migration is now (more or less) complete and it had some delights and some frustrations.

After spending a bunch of time trying, unsuccessfully, to re-partition my hard disk I decided to throw in the towel and just start from scratch with a complete overwrite.  To my surprise, though, Ubuntu installed itself automatically into a dual-boot situation.  And, even more delightful, it was smart enough to import my user settings (such as Firefox bookmarks) across the divide.

From there, though, things went downhill.  Networking was flaky and, after appearing briefly ended up disappearing for a few days.  It took several sessions of poking and prodding to get the network connection running.  I’m still not sure what I did or if it’ll still be there the  next time I reboot.

A similar problem occurred with the video drivers.  My laptop has a native 1280×800 resolution, but the computer was running at 1024×768, making the screen appear blurry.  Many more sessions of poking and prodding got that fixed, but again — I’m not quite sure what did it or what’ll happen the next time I reboot.

The only remaining major issue is that the monitor’s brightness is turned way down.  This laptop’s screen is kind of dark to begin with, and it’s kind of hard on the eyes when the brightness is at its lowest.  I managed to boot once into a bright screen, but it didn’t last and I’m not sure what did (or didn’t) work in that situation.

So now, I’m recompiling the kernel with the hope that I can enable some toshiba extensions or something that’ll turn on the brightness hotkeys.  Hopefully it’ll work — I’m mostly stumbling around in the dark.

Overall, I’d say that this OS is a long way away from prime time.  Linux is still far too arcane for even an intermediate user.  One of the more frustrating problems is the sheer number of variants and revisions that are out there.  I’d find several solutions to my problems online, but then I’d never be sure which, if any, applied to the version I was running.

Once it’s up and running satisfactorily, I expect Ubuntu will meet all my needs as a communication platform (email, chat, web browsing), multimedia platform (playing music and videos, and editing and managing photos) and as a web development platform.  At this point, though, I must admit that my confidence level is quite low.

Leaping To Linux

December 9, 2007

Today I started preparations to convert my main computer over to linux. Ubuntu, specifically. This computer had become too slow and unstable and I figured if I was going to have to re-install Windows anyway, I might as well take the opportunity to make the conversion.

It turns out my leap won’t be such a big one after all. I’d like to keep Windows around just in case, and to do the occasional Win32 development, and I found a tutorial that’ll let me do an in-place conversion. All I need to do is find enough space on my hard disk to create a new partition.

So today I’ve been deleting unnecessary applications and redundant files, and now I’m defragmenting the hard disk. Tomorrow, we jump!

Zippy Mouse

November 7, 2007

Here’s a weird one: changing the refresh rate on my monitor here at work makes my mouse noticeably faster.  Usually I run at 60Hz, but to deal with some hardware issues I sometimes change to 120Hz.  And then my mouse cursor becomes so responsive it’s actually hard to control.  Is the mouse software running off the monitor’s refresh rate?

I have two identical monitors, both plugged into the same video card, and when they’re running at different refresh rates I can compare the mouse behavior for each, and it is clearly different.  It seems that it’s the cursor acceleration which is different as opposed to the overall speed.  Anyway, I wouldn’t have expected a relationship between mouse performance and display hardware refresh rate, but there you go.

How Microsoft is losing

May 4, 2007

I’m working on a specification document for my new job.  I need to draw a diagram showing how various servers communicate with each other.  Unfortunately, Word keeps hanging after I get a few boxes done.

I kill Word, submit the error report, and Microsoft tells me to download some updates.  Fine.  Except now I need to validate my installation of Office.  Fine.  Validation is only possible if I’m running IE, and I use FF.  Fine/Grrr.  I copy the URL of the page I’m on, launch IE, and paste it in.  Same error message. Grrr.

I click around a bit, find the right link to get back on the path, and try installing the validation control.  Doesn’t work.  Try again.  Works, apparently.  No, wait, it wants me to install it again.  Third time.  Oh, look, my installation of Office is valid!  Thanks, but I already knew that.

Okay, now can I update Office?  No, it says that the update manager thingy isn’t available for me.  So I click around some more, find the Office Update section.  No guidance is provided as to which update I might need.  SP4 is more than 100MB.  Does it include all of the previous updates?  Do I need SP3 to be installed first?  Do I have SP3 installed?

I close IE, head back to Firefox, and download OpenOffice.org.

Time to Convert Another One?

June 21, 2006

Kate and I did the server shuffle a few weeks ago.  Kate’s desktop computer became our mail/web server, and our web/mail server became a file server, and Kate got a new Mac Mini to use as her desktop computer.

We started setting up the file server yesterday — formatting the old computer and installing Windows XP on it.  After going through the setup process, I tried to install updates to make sure my computer didn’t turn into a spam zombie.  I was redirected to the Microsoft Genuine Software something-or-other, and then got this screen:

validation.jpg

A few points about this:

  1. I am using a legally purchased and activated copy of Windows XP, within the terms of the EULA.
  2. With all the resources Microsoft has at its disposal, there is no excuse to present me with an “unknown error”.   Whatever my failure case is, Microsoft should have tested for it and presented me with a more meaningful message.  This is just laziness.
  3. What is my “local product support team”?  My IT department?  Sorry, but my house doesn’t have one.  The place of purchase?  This software was purchased more than 5 years ago from some long-forgotten small PC shop.  Do they mean Microsoft support?  Probably, but do they really expect me to start searching their website for the phone number?  Ever hear of hyperlinking?  And should I really be expected to wade through some phone queue just to make their software useable?

Microsoft needs to realize that I have a choice as to which operating system I install.  Windows is already in the minority in our household (the score is Linux: 4, Windows: 2, MacOS: 1).  They can’t continue to rely on their position as the “default” operating system, and creating a frustrating user experience right from the start has only eroded that position even further.

This is all about user experience.  If Microsoft had provided clearer guidance, I would’t be so incensed.  But instead they’ve put up a blank wall and expected me to go find my own ladder to get over it.