Archive for June 2007

Frisbee God Scott Zimmerman Pens MSDN Article

I was just reading “8 Tips and Tricks for Better BizTalk Programming” in the May 2007 MSDN when the word “Frisbee” in the author’s bio caught my eye.

I was pretty good with a disc (3 world records, all of which have been long eclipsed), but Scott Zimmerman was the Michael Jordan of disc. I think he held every throwing record, probably multiple times.

Reading that just sent me down nostalgia lane: Skippy Jammer, Crazy John Brooks, the Coloradicals … Southampton, La Jolla Cove, Mission Beach Rollercoaster …

Geez, now I’m going to have to learn BizTalk just for the offchance of jamming with Scott at some development conference…

Volcanic Caesura

After Pele rolled over, she’s gone into a deeper slumber and the Big Island is experiencing the lowest level of volcanic activity since 1983. Such pauses have happened twice before during the current 24-year-long eruption and previously lasted just a few weeks.

The effect on the Kona (leeward) side of the island is dramatic. For the whole time I’ve known this island, the 14,000′ Mauna Loa creates a huge atmospheric eddy in which the volcanic aerosols are transformed into “vog” (volcanic smog). This makes Kona “normally” hazy, with an indistinct horizon and, for some, noticeable effects when exercising. A few times per year, when the winds shift, and the sky becomes blue, it’s literally like a scrim being lifted. It’s been like that every day for the past couple weeks.

No one expects this pause to be long-lasting, but for the moment, it’s marvelous.

"Set Publish Date" works or not in LiveWriter Beta?

I am setting the publish date of this post to tomorrow (6/30) at 6:00:00 AM, although I am publishing it on the 29th at 7PM.

WiiWare: Small (and Non-Professional?) Game Development for Nintendo

Wii has announced that they will be opening the door to small developers on the Wii. The first take on this is that “WiiWare” is primarily about downloadable games a la XBox Arcade, but we all knew that was coming. More surprising is that Nintendo says that they will not apply their notoriously thorough and expensive vetting process to such games. No details on the SDK: whether it will be C-based or some form of managed language and no word on whether it will be free.

Forza 2 Killed My Launch XBox 360

Apparently, that my XBox 360 lasted from the day it went on sale until today is unusual. I was negotiating a turn in Forza 2 and the system froze. Rebooted, it froze during race startup. Rebooted, and now it’s “the Red Ring of Death.”

According to this site, I can expect to be told that it will cost $140 to get a refurbished replacement, but if I bitch I’ll get 25% off. Oh well, maybe the replacement will be quieter — there’s no way the fans I had on this thing were up to spec.

XML Report Generators: Any Opinions, O Web?

We have a database (SQL Server) that has a field in which we store fairly-hefty (1-4MB) XML documents. We need to create reports. Lots of reports.

The schemas upon which the documents are based are quite complicated and we have thousands of records.The reports need to be modifiable by inexperienced programmers, so a visual report designer is an absolutely necessity. Any opinions on good tools? (Big Faceless has high Google rank. Anyone use it?)

I d/l’ed a demo of Crystal Reports, but:

  • Found it hard to configure my data source and schema (and even though I thought I finally got it right, although I can now see the “tables” and “fields” from my schema, it still says Records: 0)
  • Am not sure I can configure it to use an XML database field as a datasource

Am I a fool to use Crystal Reports or just a fool to not have figured it out?

Anyone looking for some freelance report-generating work?

Top 10 Things To Do With Your Petaflop Supercomputer

Now that IBM has a petaflop supercomputer, the question becomes what to do with it:

10. Develop a coherent exit strategy from Iraq

9. Crank call Gary Kasparov at 3 in the morning and ask in that creepy computer-voice: “Would you like to play a game … bitch?”

8. Write a script that saves the Geico Cavemen sitcom from being canceled after 3 shows

7. Port Rails to VBScript

6. Explain the plot of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

5. Open the pod bay doors (Or not — let the computer figure it out.)

4. Hook up with slutty, esteem-challenged teraflop computers by telling them you think they’re still hot

3. Explain Paris Hilton’s popularity

2. Calculate shorelines post-Greenland icecap meltdown. Give seminars on how to buy to-be-oceanfront real-estate, particularly distressed and defaulted properties, for no money down!

And the #1 use for a petaflop-capable supercomputer…

1. Barter it for an iPhone

Austhink’s Rationale: Software for Decomposing Arguments

Rationale is an interesting program that allows you to visually represent arguments:

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It is essentially a domain-specific Visio or MindManager. Since it is domain-specific, it is faster to construct a complex tree and additionally export the structure as a text outline. This also limits it a little, in that I couldn’t find a way to associate a single point with multiple higher-level positions (“Ruby is easy to learn” relates to both training developers and maintenance). While it could be argued that one should continue to decompose one’s arguments until they fit into a neat hierarchy, that seems a little over-zealous for the general case. (Incidentally, I didn’t use the product to structure this paragraph, but it turned out quite close to the sort of text generated by Rationale.)

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It’s fun to use and you can rapidly construct arguments either top down (“We should use Rails for our next application” because … ) or bottom-up (“Ruby’s interactive console allows active exploration” supports … ). It does not attempt to parse your logic (it won’t balk at “because I say so”) but it can help structure an argument for conversation and review.

As long as everyone agrees that decomposition is a productive route and as long as people aren’t so cagey that they recognize that structuring a debate is 3/4 of the way to winning it. That’s my biggest problem with the product; at $199 for a perpetual license or $100 per year, it’s a little pricey for something I don’t think you’ll be using in many meetings. However, as an educational tool, I think it’s a good bargain. The educational rate is $49 for a perpetual license or $24.50 annually, and I think this would be a very good tool for students learning rhetoric, debating, logic, or composition.

You can download a 30-day trial version from Austhink.

Reading Shakespeare

 Charles Petzold has a post in which he talks about the unique experience of reading a book . In the post, Petzold mentions a device that caused a buzz at a recent O’Reilly conference; the device was a book that somehow embedded a screen for displaying hyperlinked content (from the picture, it looks like it used some kind of flexible screen). Petzold says that while this sounds good initially, it will inevitably lead to more and more ancillary “fat.”

I think he’s right. I remember that the first few Shakespeare plays I read were from school-provided texts. They had footnotes for virtually every sentence and they were incredibly distracting (“Fardel: A burden.”) It was only when I learned to willfully ignore the footnotes that I began to understand why people love Shakespeare. (Exception: ignoring footnotes is not recommended when reading Nabokov.)

Borland StarTeam Best SCM Tool, Says Survey

eWeek is quoting an Evans Data survey in which Borland’s StarTeam was rated the best source control management (SCM) software, beating out CVS, IBM ClearCase/ClearQuest, Microsoft Visual SourceSafe, Microsoft Visual Studio Team System, Perforce, Serena/PVCS, and Subversion.

It’s an interesting result, because surveys have a strong tendency to correlate with marketshare, but surely StarTeam does not have dominant marketshare. Meanwhile, SCM tends to be a “good enough” solution, where people generally stick with what they already have. Is StarTeam so exceptionally good that it can overcome those tendencies?

Update: Evans’ methodology is to survey users of the tool in question, which ought to overcome the “marketshare == survey results” problem that one gets in most “reader’s choice” surveys. On the other hand, it may inflate the influence of cognitive dissonance; people invested in niche products (StarTeam has about 9% marketshare, according to BZ Research) have a psychological pressure to praise them more than do people invested in market leaders (who, after all, know the market has endorsed their decision, making criticism come a little easier to the tongue).

I don’t have deep opinions about SCM tools (except about Visual SourceSafe, which I despise), but I asked one of the judges in that category for the Jolt Awards his opinion. He recalls Evans “finding that among Java IDE users, the preferred IDE belonged to Rational. This struck me (and others) as being implausible, but not impossible. This survey result, however, does strike me as quite impossible.”

Having said that, I solicited Eric Sink (of SourceGear, a competitor of Borland’s) for his thoughts and he responded in the comments section. Sink characterized StarTeam as a product that is in the category of SCM tools that are “mostly or somewhat liked” by their users.

I’ve only used StarTeam momentarily, quite awhile ago, so my skepticism about the results may be sheer ignorance of a great product.

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