Older blog entries for prla (starting at number 120)

Going Mobile

While developing our web app, which we hope to unveil this summer, we felt from the very beginning that we needed to reach out to mobile device users. So after a few months of hammering away at our web version, we feel it’s time to start working on the mobile side of things.

Taking advantage of some theoretical work for a university subject on user interfaces, I was able to gather some knowledge about the current state of the so-called mobile web. And from what I learnt, for us it pretty much boils down to picking one of two options, which are a) a mobile version of the website, which would be accessible through a URL using the device browser of choice or b) a stand-alone application, such as a Java MIDlet.

Both have pros and cons but we decided to stick with the latter. The support for handheld CSS seems to be crafty these days and I guess we’ve already had too much headaches with regular web browsers to plunge into building a mobile web site. Moreover, our conceptual model for the mobile app fits rather more naturally in a stand-alone app, basically because one of our primary goals is to depend a bare minimum on network connectivity. We want data to be synchronized with our server on demand and only then do we need the link. So, forcing our users to rely on network access to even use the app in the first place seems wasteful and uncalled for, no matter how coverage has been and will be improving over the next couple of years.

We still need to cover a lot of theoretical ground before we’re able to even think of pulling this off successfully - for instance, we’re pretty much clueless about SymbianOS support. But for now, I think we’ve laid the conceptual foundation of an interesting side kick for our web app which may - or may not - tell how successful it can ultimately be.

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Slashdot Revamped

Since I can remember, Slashdot always had its same old look. It’s not bad and it’s certainly a trademark. But, in a sense, I believe it also made it look a little deprecated. Now, with the ferocious competition from Digg, Reddit and friends, I guess CmdrTaco and his gang finally decided to do away with the ancient design. So they held a contest for it, offering a laptop along the way.

Personally, I think that instead of hiring some design firm (which could undoubtedly come up with some awesome modern design), it was clever of them to ask the community to redesign the site for them, effortlessly picking the best of the bunch.

Turns out the best is an awesome face lift, which preserves every bit of the so-called trademark, but lends it a totally refreshed and slick look at the same time. The best of both worlds, I say. This is a perfect example of how small (but deep) changes can make a world of a difference when it comes to designing for the web.

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Wordpress Tinkering Reloaded

Hacked away some more on Wordpress this evening and I think this is as far as I’ll go for the time being, considering I’ve finished implementing what I’ve always wanted to have in the first place.

Building upon last night’s modification, I’ve now extended the DokuWiki parser in a way that it picks up the titles of existing pages (listed on the sidebar) and links appropriately back to them, in effect allowing me not to bother with explicit linking. So, say, if I have a page about Apple, which I actually do, everytime I mention it, it’ll get automagically linked to my own personal page about it. Like it just did.

The hack was unreasonably simple and that’s a testament, again, to DokuWiki’s awesome codebase, its parser being particularly well laid out. All I had to do was write the following almost trivial function and call it in the right place inside parser():

function wp_pages(&$table,&$text) {
  extract($GLOBALS);
    
  $pages = $wpdb->get_results("SELECT id,post_title FROM $wpdb->posts " . 
			       "WHERE post_status = 'static'");

foreach($pages as $page) firstpass($table,$text,'/('.$page->post_title.')/s', "<a href="?page_id=".$page->id."">1</a>"); }

All we do is retrieve all page titles from the database and swap their occurrences in the text with their respective HTML links, using DokuWiki’s own firstpass(), which does exactly that. So far I tried to break it in many ways but to no avail, which is a good thing.

Enough Wordpress/DokuWiki hacking now, let’s move on to other things :)

I’ve also added a couple more pages (you can access any of them from the sidebar on the right) and images illustrating a few of them (take for example the Ruby on Rails or Photography pages). Now that I got the basic infrastructure laid out for easily adding structured content to the site, expect an increase in the number of pages in the near future. Hopefully something will also be of interest to you and not just to me.

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Wordpress 2

Spent some time this morning looking into the new major version of Wordpress and despite not having upgraded this very blog into it (yet), I think it’s a pretty decent overhaul. Perhaps not as ground-shattering as you’ve probably have to come to expect from a software’s new major version, but still very much worth to upgrade. I understand from the website that upgrading from version 1 to this one shouldn’t be much of a problem, but still I haven’t tried it yet.

What I did do was giving a shot to the Mac provided Apache server (1.3.33) and installing a fresh copy of WP2 in my iBook’s localhost. The first (and pretty much only) problem I bumped into was that PHP was non-existent, so I just grabbed this nice Apple Developer HOWTO and installation was a breeze. I did notice however that compiling stuff from source with gcc in Darwin is a bit slow, at least on my system.

Once I got WP up and running, I did a quick survey of the administration interface, so here’s some thoughts on it:

  • The admin interface got a face lift, not much a departure but it’s now more blue and generally pleasant to the eye.
  • There’s Javascript goodness all round, the kind that is actually useful and doesn’t get in the way. And it’s cute to boot.
  • The themes section is better presented and there’s now support to edit the Kubrick’s theme header colors from within the admin interface. Only changing the title and description font colors did work, though, which is OK by me considering I prefer to use background pictures in it. But changing the text color easily still comes in handy. This is all part of the Current Theme Options feature, which I assume are different for each installed theme.
  • Of special interest to me and Tiago is the fact that his DokuWiki markup plugin works like a charm under WP2. All it took was simply copying the doku/ folder from my current WP1 installation to WP2’s plugins folder, et voila.
  • RSS feeds seem to be working fine despite Russell's reports on the contrary. I do wonder why Safari’s RSS icon in the address bar looks for the Atom feed instead of the RSS2 one I provide in the links within the blog itself.
  • There’s now a nice feature of importing posts and comments from other blog systems (namely Blogger, Movable Type, TextPattern and plain RSS) into WP2. This is good because now I can actually import all those dozens of entries I got in my old Blogger blog.

And that’s pretty much what I could gather. When I have more time, I will make a complete backup of my current WP installation and proceed to upgrade it to version 2.

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Delusional

Cringely:

The classic example is Microsoft, where hiring smart people fresh from school and working them 60 hours or more per week – in an environment where they don’t even leave the building to eat – leads to a state of corporate delusion, where lying and cheating suddenly begin to make sense.

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Wanna write a device driver for Linux?

I was just lazily going through my feeds and bumped into this. According to KernelTrap, there is now a “Linux Device Driver Kit”. Cool!

The better way to introduce is letting Greg Kroah-Hartmann, Linux kernel hacker extraordinaire, do it for me:

“It is a cd image that contains everything that a Linux device driver author would need in order to create Linux drivers, including a full copy of the O’Reilly book, ‘Linux Device Drivers, third edition’ and pre-built copies of all of the in-kernel docbook documentation for easy browsing. It even has a copy of the Linux source code that you can directly build external kernel modules against.”

This really goes a long way to lower the barrier to entry for wannabe Linux device driver writers. I used to be quite into OS stuff some years ago and for whatever reasons that’s no longer the case, but this is a really nice thing and hopefully it will further enhance Linux kernel development.

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11 May 2006 (updated 22 May 2006 at 10:40 UTC) »
Aardvark'd (or: Ripped Off'd)

[ I always keep my reviews someplace else but I decided to repost this one here because it’s both a) related to technology and b) it’s a red alert. So to speak. ]

Boy, what can I tell you?

Aardvark'd” is supposed to be a movie documenting how four intern developers at a New York based software company create a new application in twelve weeks. In itself, this is probably already uninteresting for anyone who’s not tech-inclined and has no idea how software is actually developed in the real world. Problem is, even if you fit this bill but were in fact interested in learning about it, it’s certainly not in “Aardvark’d” you’ll find out how it goes. Producing a movie like this, you not only alienate about 95% of the world population from the get-go. You go the whole distance and simply alienate everyone.

For this is a terrible, terrible documentary. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this stuff sucks. Rarely in the past I’ve been so disgusted with something I see on the screen, even moreso when I spend real cash having it shipped all the way from New York. Because what we actually get to see is four dudes, some of which look like it’s the first time they’re getting out of their respective houses, doing just about everything except for coding and getting an application off the ground: one plants tomatoes, another covers his windows with alluminium paper because he thinks some end-of-the-world type thing outside is targetting him (incidentally this is the same guy who seems to be conditioned into saying the word “like” every couple of seconds. Go figure.), another speaks so slow he’s either stoned or retarded. I could go on, but you get the idea. And don’t even get me started on the soundtrack. I want a puff of whatever these guys have been smoking.

This is a real shame simply because the potential for this to have been a great innovative documentary was enormous. Instead we’re left with an incredible waste of our time. I feel like Joel Spolsky - the company owner, mentor of this project and the one who’s pitched so much about this DVD that he tricked me into buying it - literally sucked 80 minutes out of my life for nothing. I should be reimbursed for this.

Not even the short appearance of Paul Graham, one of the most proeminent advocates of creating your own company, makes up for it despite those incredibly short five minutes truly being the highlight of the feature.

I hate the concept of censorship, but this one shouldn’t have been allowed off the press. This movie is just wrong. Just wrong. Avoid at all costs.

Technorati Tags: fog creek, aardvark, joel spolsky

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3 May 2006 (updated 22 May 2006 at 10:44 UTC) »
Design Simplicity

After a wonderful weekend spent in Madrid to attend Riverside’s gig (write-up and pictures) and feeling like crap for the entirety of yesterday with a sinusitis attack, I’m now back on my feet. Meanwhile, some things that have crossed my radar and incidentally are now crossing yours:

  • Ryan Freitas, of Adaptive Path has a very interesting article describing how they teamed up with upcoming startup Sphere tackling the challenge of ruling the weblog search arena. The emphasis is on simplicity while delivering a host of decisive features, focusing on improved result presentation and the accompanying screenshots are tremendously cool.

  • Still on the design theme (I’ve been reading quite a few articles on that subject lately, you see), with so many blogs out there, one issue that tends to be overlooked is how comments are styled. Granted, most of the time people probably don’t even read the comments following an article but still the issue is relevant. SmileyCat features a Blog Comment Design Showcase and there’s plenty of great examples to go around. Here are my favorites, one for a white-based design and the other for a dark-based design:

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Could Google Dumb Us Down?

It’s been a while but for a good reason. We’ve been giving a lot of love lately to the shiny new web app we’ve been developing on and off for the past few months. And today I’m proud to have open its doors, albeit just a little bit, so a little of sunshine can go through. Suffice it to say, for now, that we’re still far from production mode and the next few weeks will be spent on some testing in our inner circles, desperately trying to iron the most obvious and silly bugs. More on this later, as I plan to write a series of articles documenting our experience while developing this app. I just couldn’t imagine this could be so much work, even if the tools available these days take a lot of the burden out of it.

Other than that, I guess I finally choked long enough in my own delirium and decided it was time to hit the books and actually get down to work, university-wise. The semester is quickly drawing to an end and there are still so many loose ends, it’s unbelievable. A lot of project works, at least one of them a bit, shall I say, tricky (writing a Prolog interpreter in Python, in this case) and others just plain boring. But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do or so the saying goes. Come July, if all goes to plan, I’ll be able to catch my breath. Or not.

And into the title of this post, which pretty much boils down to this: these days, when I want to learn how to do something - say, the syntax to checkout a specific SVN repository revision - my first (and pretty much only) thought is simply hitting Google with the plain question. More often that not, I get the right answer right away. No thinking involved. What happened to the days when you actually had to read the manual or, God forbid, look into the source?

I leave that question hanging in the air.

Technorati Tags: google svn subversion prolog python

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15 Mar 2006 (updated 22 May 2006 at 10:44 UTC) »
Paper Sketches

Ryan Singer:

Hereâ€[TM]s the most important thing about paper sketches: If they arenâ€[TM]t borderline indecipherable to anyone who wasnâ€[TM]t present while they were drawn, you wasted your time. As long as you know what the elements mean, thatâ€[TM]s enough. Youâ€[TM]ll be making the real screen in five minutes anyway.

Technorati Tags: 37signals

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