The future is scripting and templating

I was *really* impressed with the Turbo gears 20 minute wiki screencast. (eventually I’ll get around to checking out the Ruby on Rails screencast as well, though I’m sure it kicks a similar magnitude of ass.)

In 20 minutes, the screencaster (Kevin Dangoor) builds a simple wiki using a object-relational mapping library and a templating library, and even throws in some AJAX-like functionality into the client (which works in no time because the data to be displayed is already in a dictionary, ready to be rendered in any format)

Anyone doing development for the web should think twice about bringing the slow, expensive and overly complex J2ee stack to the party. Complexity is not a virtue.
One couldn’t get but a tiny fraction of the amount of work done in 20 minutes with J2EE. So why is the software industry so wedded to the Java train?

Managing Interruptions

The field of HCI known as Considerate Computing or Interruption Management appears to be taking off, shoving its way into widespread consciousness in the form of a New York Times Magazine article “Meet the Life Hackers” and a follow up segment on NPR’s Day to Day (Thanks to Frank)

One can find a slightly deeper overview of the field of considerate computing in here [Warning: PDF] , published January 2005 in Scientific American.

This is a fascinating area of study (for me at least) and its really just in its infancy – computers have finally gotten so powerful that there are lots of left over cycles to make users come first, and taming the information firehose that was enabled by computers in the first place. The foundational studies of just how much interruptions affect users accomplishing their primary task were published in 2002. One study [(McFarlane, 2002) ](http://www.interruptions.net/literature/McFarlane-HCI02_2.pdf) of a set of users playing an interactive game interrupted by a dialog posing simple questions showed a 36% decrease in accurate game play, and 70% decrease in accurately handling the interrupting dialog.

I wrote a paper surveying some of the basic research in the field, as well as focused on managing person-to-person remote-collaboration interruptions in the spring for my HCI (Comp 171) class at Tufts if you’re interested.

The best resource I know of for material in this area is www.interruptions.org which has PDF available of much of the important research in the field, including the two “foundational sources”, one of which I referenced above.

News Map

Saw Ben Shneiderman present for an hour today at Tufts on information visualization. Will post much more from the notes I took in the coming days. Did see this cool application of Treemaps for representing news articles from (i presume) google news though: http://www.marumushi.com/apps/newsmap/newsmap.cfm
Everyone’s probably seen that already, but I’m always the last to know 🙂
Another news map that isn’t as pretty, but is more interactive is here, and a few other consumer applications of treemapping can be found by the hive group here.

Progress In Eclipse Land

Matt brought to my attention that two of the things we worked on (One of which I presented in a poster session at EclipseCon 2005) together at IBM are gaining traction with the core Eclipse platform team –

  • Control Sets: The ability to make rich contributions (more rich than the buttons/menus enabled by actions) to coolbars, toolbars, and the status line. We created our own extension point to do just that for IBM Workplace Managed Client (or whatever the management team has decided to call it today)
  • Personalities: The ability to fully control how the window is drawn in a soup to nuts fashion as is possible with the advisor, but such that more than one different kind of window can cohabitate simultaneously in the same VM/Eclipse Platform session

Good to see our ideas weren’t so crazy after all 🙂

Cleaning a grubby iBook

I had a problem with my ibook – the areas next to the trackpad (in front of the keyboard) had gotten grubby one sunday with newsprint on my hands from the NYT and I couldn’t get it out for the life of me. So I was at the library trying to study, and found that a white eraser cleaned up the click wheel on my ipod mini pretty well, and that’s the same porous plastic as that part of the ibook, so when I got home I put my trusty Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser to work, and the grubbiness is gone! Looking at the Staedtler site, they even recommend their plastic eraser for cleaning wallpaper and lightswitches.

Why I like Eclipse

Its a known element of human behavior that familiarity with something means one will like it more – make people listen to a set of music snippets, and the ones that they hear more they will rank better. So perhaps I like Eclipse just because I’ve been using it forever (or it contains at least small snippets of my code), and know all the keyboard shortcuts to be more productive. I’ve just commented on my dislike for IDEA Intellij, so I was psyched that the J2EE project I’m working on now does all the J2EE stuff in an ANT Script, leaving me able to use Eclipse as my IDE of choice.*
My top reasons I like eclipse this week (esp after recently using intellij):

  • Fast UI – it ain’t swing – when I go back to work there it doesn’t pause while it redraws.
  • Pretty intelligent workflow – smart enough as of the 3.0 Jobs framework to allow me to background long running tasks and get my work done. Continuous compilation. (as opposed to environments without that)
  • The ecosystem – this week I had to start working with a bunch of LoadRunner “scripts” which are actually C-code – and loadrunner comes with the worst editor ever. To the rescue, the Eclipse CDT – let me edit the code with an outline view and functionality almost as good as the Java mode
  • Eclipse also has performance tools which I’m hoping to try out this week once my loadrunner scripts are done

Well that’s all I got

* I was a little disappointed with the state of the Eclipse Webtools project last time I tried it – I guess after using WSAD and its successor Rational App Developer I expected at least a form-based web.xml editor – wonder why IBM didn’t just donate an older version of its editor?

Intellij IDEA sucks

I recently got a new job where most people use Intellij IDEA. This professional product claims to “intensely focused on developer productivity” – which is interesting because of the way when files change, or once just leaves the product idle for a little while, it launches a modal dialog to show you how long it is going to take to let you do your work again – sometimes if that’s long enough, it’ll show you the quick tips which you can scroll through – the more work it has to do, the more you’ll learn about the product presumably, and thus the more productive you’ll be when it’s NOT blocking you from getting one’s work done. How can a product be this unthoughtful about the workflow of its users. Eclipse handles this great.
This is all besides the fact that its written with an ugly swing interface which takes 2 or 3 beats to redraw when unminimizing the window.
Ugh!

Expensive car keys

Ugh, I lost my keys the other day, including my car key, remote, and house keys. Cost to replace house key, twice – $3 (including labor). Cost to replace car key, because it has a “chip” in it: $24 for the key, $44 for the labor to cut the key and hook a computer up to the car to tell it to start when it sees the new master key. I’m at least as much for progress as the next guy, but seriously, this shouldn’t cost this much.
Anyways, in the hopes that my keys will reappear (I lost them somewhere between my car and kickball, no more than a couple hundred yards) I went ahead and postered the immediate neighborhood So we’ll see if anything comes of that.
Lost Keys Flyer