November 13th, 2014
A Bridge To Nowhere:
A bridge builder was completing his inspection of Zjing's Bridge when he spied master Kaimu standing nearby.
The builder said to Kaimu: "I have heard your monks speak of themselves as 'software engineers.' As a true engineer I find such talk absurd…"
"In my profession we analyze all aspects of our task before the first plank is cut. When our blueprints are done I can tell you exactly how much lumber we will need, how many nails and how much rope, how much weight the bridge will bear, and the very day it will be completed…"
"Your monks do no such things. They churn out code before your customer has finished describing what is desired. They improvise, reconsider, redesign, and rewrite a half-dozen times before delivery, and what they produce invariably crashes or proves vulnerable to attack. If I were to work in such a fashion, no one would dare set foot upon this bridge!"
[Via The Tao of Mac / links]
July 22nd, 2014
The Fasinatng … Frustrating … Fascinating History of Autocorrect chronicles the work of Microsoft's Dean Hachamovitch, who implemented AutoCorrect back in Microsoft Word 6:
It wasn't long before the team realized that autocorrect could also be used toward less productive – but more delightful – ends. One day Hachamovitch went into his boss's machine and changed the autocorrect dictionary so that any time he typed Dean it was automatically changed to the name of his coworker Mike, and vice versa. (His boss kept both his computer and office locked after that.) Children were even quicker to grasp the comedic ramifications of the new tool. After Hachamovitch went to speak to his daughter's third-grade class, he got emails from parents that read along the lines of "Thank you for coming to talk to my daughter's class, but whenever I try to type her name I find it automatically transforms itself into 'The pretty princess.'"
July 21st, 2014
Michael Lopp remembers how playing Mtrek set him on the path that led to his becoming a software engineer:
Mtrek is a real-time multiplayer space combat game loosely set in the Star Trek Universe. Sounds pretty sweet, right? Check out a screen shot.
Designed and written by Tim Wisseman and Chuck L. Peterson in the late 80s at University of California, Santa Cruz, Mtrek is completely text-based. To understand where an enemy ship was, you had to visualize the direction via the onscreen data. If this wasn't enough mental load, it was absolutely required to develop a set of macros on top of the game's byzantine keyboard commands in order to master a particular ship. Furthermore, if you weren't intimately familiar with the performance characteristics of your particular ship, you'd get quickly clobbered.
After months of playing, I learned that one of the the game's creators, Chuck L. Peterson ("clp") was a frequent player. After one particularly successful evening with my Romulan Bird of Prey, I mailed clp and asked if there was anything, however small, I could do to help with the game. Without as much a signal question to vet my qualifications, he gave me a project. […]
By way of contrast, consider Robin Sloan's piece, posted earlier today, on The secret of Minecraft. Twenty years from now, will we see a generation of coders inspired by Minecraft?
July 2nd, 2014
Craig Mod answers the question – especially relevant in the light of yesterday's post – How are apps made?
The first pass should be ugly, the ugliest. Any brain cycle spent on pretty is self deception. If pretty is the point then please stop. Do not, I repeat, do not spent three months on the radial menu, impressive as it may be. It will not save your company. There is a time for that. That time is not now. Instead, make grand gestures. General gestures. Most importantly, innumerate the unknowns. Make a list. Making known the unknowns you now know will surface the other unknowns, the important unknowns, the truly devastating unknowns – you can't scrape our content! you can't monkey park here! a tiny antennae is not for rent! You want to unearth answers as quickly as possible. Nothing else matters if your question marks irrecoverably break you. Do not procrastinate in their excavation.
July 1st, 2014
App: The Human Story is seeking funding via Kickstarter:
App creation has become the new art form for our generation. This is the story of the cultural phenomenon that touches all our lives. […]
I've backed it, even though I'm slightly wary of the possibility that the whole thing could turn into a happy-clappy paean to the wonderful world Steve Jobs gifted to us all with the release of iOS 2.0 back in 2008. I'm hoping that impression is just the effect of their cramming so many brief interview snippets into their teaser; in the full film, with more space to expand on their subject, here's hoping we'll get a more nuanced prespective on the story so far. We'll see.
June 23rd, 2014
Reading Shawn Blanc's Command Space: A Review of LaunchBar and a History of Application Launchers, I could only nod in agreement:
Want to launch an app on your Mac? There is, ahem, an app for that.
Whenever I do a clean install of my Mac (which is less often these days), the first application I download is LaunchBar.
Because to me, my application launcher is how I get around my computer. Without LaunchBar installed it's like I'm at a friend's house, trying to navigate to the kitchen in the middle of the night and I can't find the light switches and I keep stubbing my toes on the furniture. […]
I've been using LaunchBar for 11 years and I hope still to be using it 11 years from now. It's the most solid, reliable and downright useful piece of software I've ever installed on a Mac.
I understand that for a lot of people the whole point of a GUI is that you don't have to use the keyboard to make things happen, but in practice there are times when dragging-and-dropping just isn't enough. The way LaunchBar teaches itself the abbreviations you type to select an application or action is just so much more efficient than selecting a file and picking options from the Services menu or the right-click pop-up menu.
The really sad thing is, I occasionally find myself trying to trigger LaunchBar when I'm at work, using a Windows XP computer. It's such a disappointment when I realise why that keystroke didn't do anything useful…
June 22nd, 2014
Paul Ford documents his experience of using Kinja to write content:
the only button left for me to hit is the (HTML) button but god help me i'm honestly scared.
Honestly, quoting text from his post doesn't do it justice. Follow the link to get the full effect.
[Via Waxy.org: Links Miniblog]
June 18th, 2014
Jennifer in paradise: the story of the first Photoshopped image…
"It was a good image to do demos with," Knoll recalls. "It was pleasing to look at and there were a whole bunch of things you could do with that image technically." And maybe there was something in it that hinted at the kind of more perfect world that Photoshop might reveal. Knoll would leave a copy of the software in a package including the picture at the companies he'd visited. Often he'd return to find that the programmers had cloned his wife.
[Via Wis[s]e Words]
May 3rd, 2014
Michael Teeuw has made himself a Magic Mirror:
[…] I started to figure out what was needed: a mirror, a thin monitor, a Raspberry Pi, some wood and paint, and lots of spare time.
Now, a regular mirror would not work. The mirror needed to be semi transparent. Or to be more precise: it should behave like a mirror when the screen behind it was black, and should behave like a regular glass window when information is displayed on the screen.
This is the same idea how a mirror in a police interrogation room works. When only one room is light, it behaves like a mirror. Otherwise it’s a regular glass window.
What i needed was a observation mirror. Now, believe me when i say you’ll be asked weird questions when you ask a glass salesmen for an observation mirror. They are probably have even more creative minds … Oh well, a dirty mind is a joy forever.
Anyway, eventually I was able to get my hands on a nice piece of observation mirror: let the fun begin!
Me, I'm not so bothered about the mirror part of the equation. It makes for a neat visual effect, but it'd feel as if I was running a desktop PC with a picture of me as the wallpaper, which just seems weird. I look forward to the day when we can buy thin displays in large enough sizes at cheap enough prizes that every room can have a decent-sized 'status display/dashboard', all connected wirelessly to a local web server and displaying the content of my choice.
[Via The Tao of Mac]
April 20th, 2014
This description of how Duplo, Flipboard's new page layout engine, works is fascinating. It's ludicrous to think of just how much work your computer can get done in a few fractions of a second just in order to optimise the display of a bunch of text and images for maximum readability:
Duplo is a new layout engine that starts with the ideas in [Flipboard's old layout engine] Pages but uses a modular block and grid system to quickly fit content into thousands of page layouts in all sizes.
Duplo starts in a similar way as Pages: A designer creates a set of layouts. From this set, Pages selects the layout that best fits the desired content.
However, while Pages looks at about 20 candidate layouts, Duplo looks at anywhere between 2000 to 6000 candidates, searching for the best layout to fit the content. […]
Me, I tried Flipboard a while ago but on balance I tend to prefer the Instapaper approach. But it's good that clever people are putting so much work into trying to find better ways to make content readable in so many form factors.
[Via Daring Fireball]
April 19th, 2014
Spreadsheets, the app:
Spreadsheets \'spred-,-shets\ , verb,:=
- Using technology to track sexual performance?
- The act of sexual intercourse?
"Spreadsheets and golf are the two things you can enjoy even if you're not good at them." – Kevin Costner (revised)
"Love is the answer, but while you are waiting for the answer Spreadsheets raises some pretty good questions" – Woody Allen (revised)
What is Spreadsheets?
Spreadsheets is a mobile app that monitors your performance in bed to provide statistical and historical feedback. Find out how many thrusts per minute you’re averaging, how long you go for, and exactly how loud it gets. Keep a record of your encounters, date, time, and performance.
How does it work?
Spreadsheets monitors data from user’s movement and audio levels through the accelerometer and microphone to provide statistical and visual analysis of their performance in bed.
Spreadsheets does not record or playback audio or video. That would be creepy. […]
Right. That's where you draw the 'creepy' line.
[Via Extenuating Circumstances]
March 16th, 2014
After Dark in CSS is an exercise in nostalgia for those of us of a certain age:
[Via The Tao of Mac]
March 9th, 2014
Tickle is another spoof app from the man who brought the world Jotly:
Tickle is a new app that will help you get out of awkward situations. Using your phone's accelerometer, Tickle will generate a phantom phone call when you touch your phone in an awkward manner. […]
Unlike Jotly, this is a spoof app that the world could definitely use.
February 17th, 2014
I bookmarked Mike Hoye's Citation Needed weeks ago but never got round to posting a link here. Unfortunately I've forgotten where I came across the link to this piece in the first place, but I can't let that stop me. If this is the sort of thing you like, you'll enjoy this a lot:
"Should array indices start at 0 or 1? My compromise of 0.5 was rejected without, I thought, proper consideration." – Stan Kelly-Bootle
Sometimes somebody says something to me, like a whisper of a hint of an echo of something half-forgotten, and it lands on me like an invocation. The mania sets in, and it isn't enough to believe; I have to know.
I've spent far more effort than is sensible this month crawling down a rabbit hole disguised, as they often are, as a straightforward question: why do programmers start counting at zero?
Now: stop right there. By now your peripheral vision should have convinced you that this is a long article, and I'm not here to waste your time. But if you're gearing up to tell me about efficient pointer arithmetic or binary addition or something, you're wrong. You don't think you're wrong and that's part of a much larger problem, but you're still wrong. […]
February 5th, 2014
It's sad to think that something like Kitestring is necessary, but if such a thing is needed then it might as well be as straightforward as this:
Taking a walk?
Walking solo at night can be unsafe. But when you must go out alone, let us know your ETA.
Check in with us
We'll send you a text message when your trip is over. Just reply to let us know you made it.
If you don't reply, we'll send your emergency contacts a customizable alert message.
[Via One Thing Well]
January 19th, 2014
From the bash.org Quote Database:
<Aoi-chan> everyone's first vi session.
[Via Ivan Fyodorovich, commenting at MetaFilter]
December 26th, 2013
I'm always interested to read about the reasoning behind the decisions software developers make:
It took more than a year and three distinct attempts to get Google Docs in Basecamp … and still, the damn thing almost didn't get built. Why was it so hard?
We knew we needed it. Integration with Google Docs was a super-popular feature request, and usage in general is on the rise. Since Basecamp is a repository for everything project-related, it made sense to show the same love to Google Docs we show to any other type of file you can store in a Basecamp project.
Problem was, we don't really use Google Docs ourselves. […]
December 2nd, 2013
Quantified Breakup applies a little data analysis to the aftermath of the end of a relationship. Like these infographics about the Public Display of Emotions:
Every day we function within parameters. We do our jobs. We do our chores. We chit chat with the person who sells us groceries. We function very admirably.
But when something disruptive happens in our lives – a breakup or maybe even a serious family emergency – we sometimes can't help but let it all out. And I don't just mean at home. Sometimes, you kinda have to stop functioning and ball your eyes out in public. […]
Commiserations with other people about breakups seemed to reveal that I was not alone in expressing emotions like this! I've had women shrieking with joy as they told me about the therapeutic effects of crying publicly.
Here's a quick breakdown of public crying I recall from emails, texts and conversations (I started jotting down data for this in mid-October. Data does not include domestic crying):
Even as we read this, a software developer somewhere who has seen that post is working on a project called BreakupBuddy, an app designed to pull all this data together in a single place. Grabbing your location and the details of what you're listening to is the easy bit: the trickier part is providing a slick but flexible user interface so you can tag parts of the day according to your mood and behaviour. An in-app purchase buys the GetHappy module, which reacts to your mood changes by suggesting a cheery soundtrack, accompanied by pictures from your photostream of happier times. (If the facial recognition/tagging allows it to identify and avoid pictures of That Cheating Bastard, so much the better!) And of course, every status update gets posted to the social network of your choice, because like the lady said, public displays of emotion can be cathartic.
[Via Flowing Data]
December 1st, 2013
Jonas Lund's Gallery Analytics brings WiFi-based tracking to the cultural sector:
Lund's Gallery Analytics project is a site-specific installation for exhibitions that's able to generate data about behavior of visitors and present this data in a Google Analytics-like environment. By setting up a mesh Wi-Fi network and combining it with custom-made software, Gallery Analytics is able to track every Wi-Fi-enabled device (such as a smartphone) moving around in the area in real-time. […]
I can see how with a long-term exhibit you might want to tinker with the layout if analysis reveals that visitors are tending to overlook a particular piece, or perhaps even to swap out a piece that people aren't paying attention to for something that might attract more interest, but if you have a short-term exhibit will you accumulate enough data to draw firm conclusions about what is and isn't working before it moves on? Also, if you're a museum that hosts visits by groups you might find that a group of students being led through on a tour of your exhibits will end up distorting your stats a bit. What you really need is a real-life equivalent of the Referrer field to help you distinguish between a group being led around and individual, self-directed visitors.
All in all, this could be a heck of a tool for museum and gallery operators, so long as they don't go nuts and start assuming that the data is the whole story.
Now, for extra credit, consider your local shopping mall or town centre doing all of the above. Is that better, or worse, or no different? Please justify your answer.
[Via Extenuating Circumstances]
November 17th, 2013
15 Sorting Algorithms in 6 Minutes. Be sure to turn the sound up – it's half the fun of watching how each algorithm works.