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My first United flight

Well I'm about to embark on my first ever United Airlines flight. I'm always up for something new and the fact that I have recently been demoted to serf status with Qantas means I don't really have anything to lose. Qantas don't have the worlds most amazing reputation so I could be in for a pleasant surprise.

My first surprise (of the unpleasant variety) is that the United online system really sucks. It's called Ted (part of United) which is cool, but that's about where the coolness ends.

Searching for flights was confusing in a number of ways: does "2nd day" mean it lands the day after departing or 2 days after?; why can my travel agent book flights that don't even appear in a web search.

I have obviously signed up for the United Miles Plus program which was painless and free, but the Miles Plus website really makes me feel like a consumer not a member. I have been spoilt by the Qantas frequent flyer online system which lets you see your forward bookings (literally before you hang up your phone with the Qantas rep) and other fun stuff. Not only does the United Mileage Plus site not do much, you have to keep going backwards and forwards between "My Mileage Plus" and "Mileage summary" which involves a change from https to http (and a browser confirmation dialog) and a login check redirection page (with related delay).

Let's hope their service and lounges is better than their technology!

07:34 PM, 30 Nov 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

This is very good news. Hopefully this will be another tool to help IT departments and companies look at Postgres as an alternative for mid-range databases.

The sort of things that are implemented in MySQL or Sybase are much better (IMO) developed on Postgresql. The only impediment to being a total replacement for all enterprise DBMS products apart from Oracle is better replication support. Even many applications using Oracle would be excellent candidates for Postgres if they are not using Oracle's real winning features like the Media server.

10:14 PM, 23 Nov 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

del.icio.us uses perl/mason

And I discovered this tidbit because i hit a bad database handle in their code and they have fatal error display turned on!


System error

error: Can't call method "prepare" on an undefined value at /www/del.icio.us/comp/user/get line 13.
context: 
... 
9: my $usedb = 'master';
10: my $ret;
11: 
12: if (!$auth_user) { $usedb = 'user' }
13: if (!exists ($db->{$usedb})) { $usedb = 'master' }
14: $user_name_q->{$usedb} = $db->{$usedb}->prepare('select * from users where user_name = ?');
15: my $query = $user_name_q->{$usedb};
16: $query->execute(lc($user_name));
17: 
... 
code stack:  /www/del.icio.us/comp/user/get:13
/www/del.icio.us/site/dhandler:194
/www/del.icio.us/site/autohandler:108

I'm surprised they don't use some sort of global cache for prepared statements - that query must get run a LOT.

06:50 PM, 23 Nov 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

Reading Bill Atkinson Code

I can't wait to get my eyeballs on this! According to this blog by Grady Booch, Apple and Bill Atkinson have given the goahead to allow the Computer History Museum to exhibit the source code of MacPaint.

It's the software cool equivalent of Woz's disk drive controller :)

08:32 PM, 22 Nov 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

Java, Ruby on Rails and Buzzword compliance

There's this great article on O'Reilly network's OnJava site titled Ruby the Rival, ie. Rival to Java. It's a Java site, so you expect the article to relate the article to Java. In fact in that light, the article is very compelling - real Java people (some ex-Sun) moving to Ruby on Rails? Now that is a story.

The real heart of it in my opinioin though, is eloquently summed up by this comment from James Duncan Davidson - author of the Java Servlet API.

... I think that's the real win from the recent attention on Ruby on Rails and the breakaway from viewing the world with Java-colored glasses. It's not that Ruby on Rails is going to be the next Java. Far from it. It's that Ruby on Rails helps to break this idea that there is "One True Way." There's not. There are many different ways to solve a problem. And really, none of them is the clear-cut winner. There's just places where one solution has advantages.

Hooray! Yes, Java is best of breed for some things (eg. cross platform sand-boxed gui's), but so is Ruby (Rails web apps). And so, for that matter is Perl (system glue, reporting); Objective-C (many things - if only Yellow Box was still available); etc.

It is an unfortunately popular belief that there can be a single language/framework that suits all (or even most) problem domains. If developers really believe that, why do their applications nearly always contain two languages? How's that? How about Java+SQL? or Perl+JavaScript? or PHP+ActionScript? The truth is that languages/frameworks tend to model some real world problems better than others.

Hilbert's Universal algorithm is unsolveable. Einstein wasn't able to find his Theory of everything. It's probably not possible to create a universal programming language that is best suited for all problem domains.

Perhaps the obscene difference in LOC (lines of code) between equivalent J2EE (Java) web-apps and equivalent RoR (Ruby on Rails) applications will be a clear way to explain these facts to business stakeholders. In case your particluar business stakeholders need an analogy, Davidson offers this:

It's like the structures that we work, eat, and live in. Some structures are best built with concrete and steel. Others with masonry. And yet others are best built with timber. Nobody has jumped up and said "All buildings must be built with bricks!" And there's a good reason for that. It'd be stupid. In a similar vein, not all web applications should be built with Ruby on Rails or Django or J2EE or Perl. There's a multitude of tools for any particular job. And there are new ones waiting to be discovered. The trick is determining the best one.

Will the days of buzzword-compliance one day be behind us? Perhaps we are entering a time of cool-compliance.

What irritates me is that in the "applet" space that Java invented, you look at Flash(plus Flex/Laszlo) and it crushes applets in both "cool" (get me to a good user experience quickly) and "powerful" (I get data binding/SOAP/XML-RPC/etc. for free). The fact that the "powerful" side of that isn't in the core JRE immediately kills the usefulness of applets, and if anyone can show me an applet that looks anywhere near as good as the Laszlo Dashboard demo in a similar number of lines of code, I might have a coronary on the spot. "Cool" counts for a lot, too.

Back in the day, an "Enterprise" executive would get back to his office from a trip and show you the in-flight magazine advertisment for Cisco routers, Java webstart or whatever, and ask "why aren't we using this - everyone else is". Now it's more like "My iPod is easy to use, and it looks great. Why doesn't our intranet work like an iPod".

While any form of artificial compliance is bad, I would much prefer being directed to be compliant with cool than the latest buzzword :)

10:17 PM, 21 Nov 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

Why is large-scale code reuse still an unsolved problem ?

I wanted to title this blog "Extreme Reuse manifesto" - but maybe I will write one of them, so I didn't want to steal my own thunder!

I have always been interested in the challenges of code reuse and lately have been thinking about my direction and the direction of the technology industry as a whole.

There has been some excellent commentary and discussion in Lars Pind's blog post Why Rails won't become OpenACS, or Rails is cool, but can we have a login system? which itself was a follow on from his post Reuse-in-the-large is an unsolved problem: Why I left OpenACS for Rails.

The thinking behind these posts came from this online sample chapter from Facts of Software Engineering Management by Robert Glass (in addition to Lars' experience). The sample chapter is an excellent and provocative read. It looks like an excellent book for anyone who is serious about furthering their understanding of the software development process. Time to track down those good technical book stores in Sydney (that I have been assured exist!).

04:18 AM, 17 Nov 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

It's been a long time since I blogged about that most interesting of legal cases SCO vs. The World (all SCO related blogs search).

My prediction in that first posting was:

In the end, I suspect the whole thing will fizzle into an expensive bad idea hatched by some genius inside SCO who just didn't think the whole thing through very carefully.

And it looks like that's exactly what's happening. SCO is grasping at such thin straws now that their court submissions have the most basic of flaws in them.

Go read the Groklaw article, it's an amusing way to spend a few minutes :)

12:41 AM, 15 Nov 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

RIP Peter Drucker [news.com.com]

A brilliant and effective mind that will be missed by many of us on this earth. Thankfully his inspiration is recorded in his books for us.

06:25 PM, 13 Nov 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

My point in comparing Jobs and Gates is not to poke fun but to learn.

In this nicely written piece, the author does this well. The negative effects of powerpoint on our presentations are well discussed elsewhere (such as in Tufte on Powerpoint), but applying the concepts of Zen to public presentation hits a true note.

Simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means.
-- Dr. Koichi Kawana

Presentation Zen also has an earlier post discussing the negative sides to Bill Gate's presentations in Bill Gates and visual complexity.

Which reminds me that this site is in desperate need of a Zen-like overhaul. Maybe it's time to put Ascii-Art back into the 80s :)

09:06 PM, 10 Nov 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

Great article about how Cocoa is powering the emerging software market. It's about time, really, that application development became like this. The software engineering theory has been steadily improving since the early 70s, and yet software developers have been saddled with crud like MFC!

As my readers will know, I'm starting to dabble with Cocoa development in my spare time. I'm now learning to use Cocoa Bindings (and here) - truly inspiring stuff. I'd love to hang out with the framework designers at Apple :)

06:13 PM, 10 Nov 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

Google Map Risk [www.ashotoforangejuice.com]

The useability isn't there yet, but an implementation of Risk using the Google Maps API is seriously cool.

01:13 AM, 10 Nov 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

Six Stages of Debugging [www.68k.org]

  1. That can't happen.
  2. That doesn't happen on my machine.
  3. That shouldn't happen.
  4. Why does that happen?
  5. Oh, I see.
  6. How did that ever work?

12:33 AM, 10 Nov 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

Outlining

I have always been fascinated with the concept of an outliner. A computer application that does nothing more than facilitate the expression, collation and reorganisation of thoughts is, to me, the most fantastic thing of all. I am not alone in this thought, and outliner fans can get quite animated and excited about the topic.

I got thinking about outliners today when I found the excellent articles on http://www.atpm.com/ :

  • Outliner History
  • Outliner Features-Part 1
  • Outliner Features-Part 2
  • Outliner User Interfaces
  • There are more! Just search for "outliner" on http://www.atpm.com/
  • The problem is, no one thinks in quite the same way, so there is not really a one-size-fits-all outliner. Strangely, if you read around the web, most people's real favourite outliners are discontinued applications. Programs like MORE or NisusOutliner are very popular - and yet no longer sold! MORE is mercifully freely available, but as it is a Classic Mac application, using it is slightly frustrating and will be impossible on Intel Macs.

    My problem is even tougher : I have never found an outliner that suits me as much as the standard outliner in the Apple Newton. There is something about the physical and tactile feel of holding a sizeable unit and using a pen to write and draw. The Newton enhances on the qualities of paper by letting you reorganise, edit, fold etc. Everything that outliner software does for you, but on a small tablet.

    I still use my Newton, but the complexity in communicating between it and my Mac are too frustrating for normal use. If truth be told, the jeering I get when using it in public are probably more of a barrier!

    I have often toyed with the idea of writing my own outliner application. Perhaps now is the time to actually do it. Maybe I will be lucky and Apple will release an OSX tablet soon, and I can Inkwell-enhance the outliner. Then, at last, my Newton can enter into a well deserved rest!

07:33 PM, 09 Nov 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

Photo's now moved to 23 [www.23hq.com]

I have been meaning to move my photos out of the (very old) lars-images package on this site and into some community photo site like flickr.

I'm glad I waited, because there is a new photo hosting site that I really like - 23. It's simple to use, I like the way they are trying to bring local photo printing companies online, and I like that it's based on OpenACS!

I have a lot more photo's to upload, and the dates/tags/titles are not up to date yet, but it's a start. The "Photos" tab on this site will currently just take you to my album on 23 but I plan to put my own front end on it using their RSS feed so that the user interaction remains on this site.

23 is great. It's totally free - no ads either. The sole limitation of the free account is that you are limited to 20Mb uploads a month. To upgrade to unlimited uploads is only 29 Euro for the year.

07:26 PM, 08 Nov 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

I've started a blog a year since 2002 (the first one died in it's sleep), so it's time for this year's new blog!

I decided it was time to get started into writing Mac Cocoa applications, but where to launch my software and keep people up to date with progress?

Mark's Software : http://mark.aufflick.com/software/
and
Mark's Software Blog : http://mark.aufflick.com/software/blog/

And to launch it, my first real MacOS X Cocoa application, SkypeMenuX. It's, like, a menu ... for Skype. Check it out.

01:43 AM, 01 Nov 2005 by Mark Aufflick Permalink | Comments (0)

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