Wednesday, February 28, 2007

survivor answers

[By popular request, here are the questions to the answers in this post.]

1. Why are manhole covers round?


2. There are three switches in one room and one light bulb in another. How can you tell which switch controls the bulb if you can only make one trip from the switch room to the bulb room?

3. If a plane crashes right on the border of the US and Canada, in which country would you bury the survivors?

4. You have two fuses which burn unevenly (not at a constant rate). You do know that it takes one minute for each fuse to burn completely when lit at one end. How do you measure 45 seconds?

5. You have four people (A, B, C & D) who have to cross a bridge. One or two can cross at once and they travel at the speed of the slower person. There's one flashlight which is needed to cross the bridge. A takes one minute, B takes two minutes, C takes five minutes and D takes ten minutes to cross. How do you get all of the people across in 17 minutes?

6. How far apart are the hands of a clock at 3:15?

And the ever popular:

7. Tell me one of your faults.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

mr. biteme, of the nantucket bitemes?

I was helping my stepfather install the new version of real player (yeah, I know) because he absolutely had to play some ra files. At one point - and apparently I wasn't aware of this technical limitation in CODECs - it's critical that Real Networks have his e-mail address in order to play an audio file.

Of course, I entered biteme@no.com. It said that address was in use.

So I changed it to biteme@noway.com. And that address also was in use.

Finally I added a bunch of random characters to the domain and got through. You think maybe Real Networks could figure out that people don't really want to give out their e-mail just to listen to some bird calls?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

idiotic ui choices

Imagine if you will a website, belonging to a bank. As part of their new security policy they give you a series of questions for which you are supposed to provide the answer. One of these questions asks for a name of a particular family member.

Which I enter.

And the website tells me my answer must be 4 characters long. But the name isn't. So the right answer to the question violates the input requirements. What am I supposed to do? Make up something longer (I was thinking "biteme" might be a good choice)? Then I won't be able to remember it.

Bad user interfaces (particularly on the web) make me want to get a job as a fishing guide or something.

Friday, February 16, 2007

google v. help

[I've since found that Jeff Atwood already did a much better article on this. Go read it instead.]

When's the last time you tried to find something in an application's help system?

Being typical, I rarely seek help (or driving directions). When I do get stymied enough to venture into an application's help system, I inevitably end up more stymied, plus pissed off. It's rare that I actually find a useful answer.

Typing the application name plus my question into Google search seems to have a much better win/loss record.

Bonus question: what does this mean for help in your application? Should you skip the perfunctory lame attempt at a CHM file and just let the user Google your forum? Or should you try to come up with a help system that actually works?

mike gunderloy's "coder to developer"

This is the book you wish all the junior programmers you've ever worked with had read. Actually, a lot of senior programmers could use a good whack in the head from this book too. Mike describes many of the practices you need to implement to move past the "good coder" stage to "good developer" - things like bug tracking, source code control, automated testing, documentation, IDE extensions.

Instead of just saying "do this or suffer", the book includes specific tools, many open source or free, to implement the practices. Of course, the tools mentioned in the book are almost immediately out of date, but you should be able to find the latest best of breed tools for each category without much trouble (one place to look is Mike's blog, The Daily Grind).

If you (or your employer or your clients) comes up short on the Joel Test, this book is an excellent resource for flipping those particular bits.

Friday, February 9, 2007

bad windows explorer ui

Who thought it would be a good idea to pop up a dialog box when I drag something across a folder in Windows 2003 (note: not drop into but go over). I was trying to copy a file and had the misfortune of a target just below the "My Shared Folders". Every time I dragged (drug?) the file over "My Shared Folders" it popped up a dialog about logging on to Windows Live to...blah...blah...blah.

Of course I had to dismiss the dialog, canceling the drag operation. Then repeat three times (after all, insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting a different outcome). I finally had to sneak up on my target folder from below, dragging the file around the outside of the window and approaching from beneath.

Serpentine!

Of course I was doing this via VPN over a mediocre connection so it was that much harder to maneuver. Nice job with the UI, guys.

Monday, February 5, 2007

guy kawasaki video

There's a good video of Guy Kawasaki on startups. His blog is interesting reading, too.

degrees of broken

I'm reading the recently released Dreaming in Code, by Scott Rosenberg. So far it's entertaining and insightful about software development. I was struck by this sentence, from chapter zero:

Their work is one percent inspiration, the rest sweat-drenched detective work; their products are never finished or perfect, just various degrees of "less broken."

Which is as true a statement about software creation as I've ever heard. Our work is never finished and never perfect, just "less broken." If you hear someone describe their program as "bug-free" you know they've still got dirt on them from the turnip truck.


I'm off to make something a little less broken today...