Archives for January 2006
Friday, January 20, 2006

Getting the full Rails stack installed on Debian

Ezra Zygmuntowicz has worked out the details of getting the full Rails stack working on Debian and it's pretty smooth sailing. I went with Quantact not Rimu but that seems to make no difference (as you would expect). I also opted for Postgresql8.1 rather than MySQL, used RubyGems 0.8.11 instead of 0.8.10, and haven't decided yet whether I will install a mail server or not.

20/01/2006 15:06 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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FCUK CAPSLOCK... a new campaign is born

My thanks to Paolo who even though he disagree's with me nevertheless thinks the Caps Lock issue is a battle worth fighting and has contributed the lovely campaign logo you can see below and in my sidebar.

Fcuk Caps Lock

I would address Paolo's concerns about using Caps Lock to change the cursor behaviour in PhotoShop by saying that one of our possible demands is that the space be re-assigned to a brand new modifier key that could be used for this and other things beside.

Some come and take up the fight with us. Wear the banner proud! Fcuk Caps Lock!!

Update: Christian Huack has gone to extreme lengths to demonstrate his support for the cause.

20/01/2006 13:32 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Quick update on applications hosting

Yesterday at Warren Noronha's suggestion I signed up with Quantact for a 128MB VPS account at $25/mth. That's roughly twice what I am paying TextDrive for shared hosting with them.

So far I'm pretty impressed with Tim (CEO of Quantact) and how he operates. Everything was setup very smoothly even whilst we were having trouble getting my details through his payment gateway (not being in the US or having a state seemed to get it in a tizzy). About 20 minutes after I signed up I was SSH'ing into my new Debian server as root.

Debian/sarge is completely new to me but seems nice and, with help from procreate and the highly available srbaker I was able to get going. When I see how easily a lot of the software I need for my Rails installation went in I guess I may have a greater appreciation for the concerns of packagers. Once sr had me setup with backports it all went in smooooth.

My intention is to move an application I had been trying to develop at TextDrive over straight away. That app was bumping into the process watchdog and only likely to continue to do so. We'll see how well it fairs on a VPS with a pretty cramped memory footprint.

Some observations: I have no idea of the contention on the box but performance, from what I've seen, is much better than I expected. When you see (as I did on some sites) guarantees of only 100MHz performance it sets you up for some pretty low expectations. Time will tell, i'm giving this experiment at least a month. So far it seems snappy. Also the 100Mbit connection makes life fast.

If things work out I will probably upgrade another notch and move a number of services I currently host with TextDrive. Whether, in the long term, I keep anything with them is not settled in my mind. I really don't want to be administering email servers and the like. So there might be a role there. We'll see.

Certainly I am learning, with the help of friends, a lot about hosting and how to make the best of it.

20/01/2006 11:02 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

What a waste of time the capslock key is!

How many times have I ever intentionally pressed capslock?

Let me put this question into context. I think I got my first IBM PC computer when I was 14. It wasn't actually an IBM, if memory serves it was a Hitachi, but anyway it had a genuine IBM PC clickety-clack keyboard. Which probably had a capslock key on it.

Some 20 years later I am using a PowerBook with a lovely, tactile, keyboard that also has a caps lock key. By surface area it is probably the 3rd or 4th biggest key on the keyboard and has a prominent position right under my left little finger.

With that kind of history and positioning behind it this must be a pretty damned important key, right? So, how many times have I deliberately pressed this key?

None. Zero. Never.

I'm pretty sure I have never thought to myself: I really want to type in ALL CAPS now, make it so! How about you?

My bonus question is: How many times have I accidentally toggled on the CAPS LOCK and ended up typing the wrong password into a field?

Probably about a couple of times a month which could mean upwards of 360 times since I started using PCs. It's criminal.

So why the hell do we still have a capslock key? If the Mac can go from PowerPC to Intel and mice can come with two buttons why the hell are we still saddled with this worthless key?

I think we should start a campaign to get the caps lock key removed. Whose with me?!?

20/01/2006 10:34 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Useful resource for web development

Code Style is a useful site with a lot of information about common fonts across Windows and Mac. In particular it helped me answer the question:

What is a good font to use for displaying <code> blocks in HTML?

And the answer was Monaco for the Mac, with a fall-back to Andale Mono which is common to both platforms, and Courier New as a backstop.

19/01/2006 18:37 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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My 7 month Mac report

I just read Dave Winers 6 month Mac Report. It occurs to me it is just over 6 months since I got my first Mac, so heres my report.

I bought the 12" PowerBook at the end of June 2005. I choose the 12" model because I wanted portablity over power. After 3 years of lugging a Dell around I was looking forward to something that wouldn't leave creases in my shoulder. For reference my Dell was a 15" Inspiron 4150 with a 1.6GHz P4, 1GB of RAM, ATI Radeon 7500 with 32MB VRAM, and a 40GB 5400 RPM HDD and boy was it heavy.

Performance: The PowerBook seems faster than the Dell but not heaps faster. I guess you'd expect that given the relative parity of CPU speed and the poor bus architecture of the PowerBook. Certainly with 1.25GB of RAM the PowerBook is plenty fast enough for everything I do (including development work, I don't play games on it though). Where the PowerBook really scores over the Dell is how it performs under load, it stays very responsive even when the CPU is running on overdrive. That really does make it more usable. I've not suffered from the kind of typing lags that Dave seemed to have with his iBook.

Usability: MacOSX is streets ahead of Windows XP in my book; they're not even in the same city really. The UI is generally well done, pleasant to use, and doesn't have too many surprises. I was able to switch in no time with only two things catching me out for a while: 1) In most Windows apps Alt-W gives you the window list, in MacOSX Cmd-W closes the current window. It took me a few weeks to learn to stop doing that. 2) Maximize doesn't. But I quickly adapted to whatever it is that it does do. In short I was more or less immediately productive with MacOSX.

When you add that I can drop to Unix whenever I need, that QuickSilver is an incredible productivity tool, and access to a wide range of excellent applications like Omni Outliner Pro, OmniGraffle Pro, KeyNote, TextMate, and XyleScope. The only application I really miss is Trillian Pro although maybe Proteus is a replacement.

Stability: MacOSX just doesn't crash. As I reported the other day I have had continuous uptime of over a month. I restarted at that point to install 10.4.4, who knows how much longer it might have run for. This is a compputer I am working out every day. That's a pretty good definition of robust to me.

So, what don't I like?

  • Battery life isn't great. It's not a problem the way I work, but I imagine it would be disappointing if I were away from a power socket more often and for longer.
  • Screen brightness isn't great. I didn't notice it before but now I have a 20" Dell panel next door you can see it. And if you want to get 4+ hrs from the battery you need to turn the brightness down.
  • Safari still crashes or behaves unpredictably. Not enough for me to switch to Firefox but, after 3 point releases of Safari 2.0 it's pretty much unforgivable that it still crashes.
  • Mail.App is bleh
  • Firefox looks awful and Camino has few pluses over Safari.
  • Some UI glitches as reported earlier.
  • Umm... that's about it

Summary: Nicest computer I ever owned. I love it.

19/01/2006 18:19 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

You're not seeing me from my best side

Ugh:

Irulan:~/Projects/squib matt$ action_profiler WelcomeController#index
WARNING: overridding NODE *
/opt/local/lib/ruby/siteruby/1.8/rubygems/customrequire.rb:27: [BUG] Bus Error
ruby 1.8.4 (2005-12-24) [powerpc-darwin8.3.0]
Abort trap

That's not what I wanted to see. Yet ZenProfiler is working:

Irulan:/opt/local/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/ZenHacks-1.0.1 matt$ sh zenprofile-demo.sh 
zenspider profiler:
Iter = 5000, T = 0.70851300 sec, 0.00014170 sec / iter
  %   cumulative   self              self     total
 time   seconds   seconds    calls  ms/call  ms/call  name
100.00     0.61      0.61        1   610.00   610.00  Range#each
 90.16     1.16      0.55     5000     0.11     0.11  Factorial#factorial
 77.05     1.63      0.47     5000     0.09     0.09  Integer#downto
 16.39     1.73      0.10        1   100.00   100.00  dummy
 16.39     1.83      0.10    20000     0.00     0.00  Fixnum#*
  0.00     1.83      0.00        1     0.00     0.00  Fixnum#to_s
  0.00     1.83      0.00        1     0.00     0.00  ZenProfiler#instance
  0.00     1.83      0.00        2     0.00     0.00  Time#initialize
  0.00     1.83      0.00        1     0.00     0.00  String#to_i
  0.00     1.83      0.00        1     0.00     0.00  Object#initialize
  0.00     1.83      0.00        1     0.00     0.00  IO#write
  0.00     1.83      0.00        1     0.00     0.00  Time#-
  0.00     1.83      0.00        1     0.00     0.00  Module#method_added
  0.00     1.83      0.00        1     0.00     0.00  Float#/
  0.00     1.83      0.00        1     0.00     0.00  Array#shift
  0.00     1.83      0.00        2     0.00     0.00  Time#now
  0.00     1.83      0.00        1     0.00     0.00  Class#new
  0.00     1.83      0.00        1     0.00     0.00  Kernel.printf
  0.00     1.83      0.00        1     0.00   610.00  #toplevel
  0.00     1.83      0.00        1     0.00     0.00  Class#inherited

real 0m1.631s user 0m0.704s sys 0m0.295s

I did wonder about the witches brew that I ended up with when getting Ruby 1.8.4 via DarwinPorts. Damn.

19/01/2006 13:55 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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It's good to be in the middle

Here's an interesting research finding:

New research suggests observers tend to overestimate the performance of people located in the centre. “We have identified a biasing cue in objective judgments: the target’s position”, the researchers concluded. “These results have implications for selection interviews and performance assessment tasks such as grading, auditions or any evaluation of individuals competing in groups”.

[From the British Psychological Society Research Blog]

19/01/2006 13:47 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

It was an interesting experiment but I think it's over

I signed up for shared hosting with TextDrive last year so I could start developing Rails applications. At the time they were a small company with big ideas and the service, although a little quirky, felt like doing business with friends -- there was a lot of excitement and energy in the air. At the time I remembered thinking that it would be very hard to scale this up and charge what they were charging ($12/mth). But you can hope.

Over the last year there have been some problems. I think people on Gilford and Harwood have been suffering most recently but Barclay and Bidwell (my server) users were plagued with unreliability problems (and very tiresome 1hr+ restarts) lasy year. I guess things have improved somewhat since their move to a new datacentre but it's hardly been anything to make a song and dance about.

At $12/mth I wasn't complaining particularly loudly. I didn't have live applications unable to serve customers. I hadn't recommended paying clients to use the service. It wasn't hosting my email or anything vital. In short, the interruptions to service were irritating and I would wish for better but I still felt I was getting, more or less, what I was paying for.

Now I'm getting closer to releasing an application, developed with a friend in the U.S., and trying to test it and running into the TextDrive AUP and a watchdog terminating my processes with prejudice -- no exceptions allowed. Let's just say these are not mammoth processes so I was quite non plussed. I also wasn't terribly impressed that the terms the watchdog works under were not listed in the AUP (it is even more aggressive than what is defined there).

So, TextDrive has been an interesting experiment but I just don't buy running applications on shared hosting at $12/mth. Apparently their business hosting packages have higher limits and less contention on the box. Frankly, at this point, the balance in my goodwill bank doesn't extend to giving them $60 for a month to find out.

Instead I am going to look at using a Virtual Private Server. You may still have contention issues, I'm concerned about the real life performance you get, and it means having to administer the box yourself but I have realised, yet again, that I don't like giving up essential controls over my environment to other people. VPS seems to be a good compromise between shared hosting and the costs of a dedicated server.

It seems the experiment may not so much be over as moving to a new phase.

18/01/2006 17:35 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Where are all the good, royalty-free, photos hiding?

I take building presentations pretty seriously these days and when I use imagery I like to use something striking. I have a DVD library of very cheap images from Hemera (BizArt) which I have used before, but the images are borderline crap. On the other hand Getty Images have some nice pictures but they are dreadfully expensive (in the order of £69 for a single image).

So I was interested in a post on the Presentation Zen weblog today about where to find good images. A site not mentioned there is FotoLibra which markets it's members images.

17/01/2006 15:00 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

IVR cheat sheet

I was reading Dan Bowen's post about a pet hate of my own: how the service economy more and more frequenty means: no service here!

He mentions the IVR cheat sheet run by Paul English which attempts to show how to circumvent IVR systems and get a human being at a number of big corporations like American Express, Exxon Mobile, Paypal and so on. According to Dan, Paul has many more - as yet unverified - cheats to work through.

The good news is that Paul also has an IVR cheat sheet for UK companies. It's not very big right now (only 15 companies) but there is an update page you can use to add your own cheats.

I routinely have to go through hell to get to a human being if I want to speak to Cahoot so, next time, I'll add that to the list. He has Amazon UK who I also have need to contact from time to time.

Good stuff.

17/01/2006 13:54 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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How to be an industry lobbyist

Okay you all thought it was hard. You've seen these tireless shillsparagons on TV fighting the corner for their embattled paymastersconstituents. Now Chris Hoofnagle lays it all out for you:

I've made the entry to your new career simple with this privacy industry deck of cards. These cards articulate all the arguments you need to make your case, without actually knowing anything. Master these arguments, and you too could be a high-paid lobbyist for almost any tech industry.

The world could use more advocates of parochial vested interests. So start practicing!

17/01/2006 10:12 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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The Lords give me pause for thought again

It's a topsy-turvy world alright.

When Labour came to power, oh so long ago now, with a plan to get rid of the undemocratic house of lords my attitude was:

Bring it on. The sooner the better!

So it's confusing to me how glad I am that it didn't happen. This government (which I voted against) seems hell bent on following the U.S. lead of plunging towards a culture of secrecy and unconstrained executive power. The Lords have turned out to be a valuable counterweight for at least some of those abuses.

Yesterday the Lords voted in favour of 3 ammendments to the Home Office ID Card bill. Of particular significance is the ammendment to block the scheme until the full costs are known. Reading about it earlier there was a suggestion that the National Audit Office should evaluate any proposed costings by the home office. I think that is a sound idea. I would rather have an open, scrutinzed, process and risk paying more than take the risk of letting the government continue to operate in secret.

As any reader of this blog cannot but be aware: I am dead against a mandatory ID card as envisaged by the Home Office. The idea of a system to speed up my access to government I am for. Better government record keeping of significant life events (births, deaths, and so on) I am for (they are shockingly bad at this). Voluntary identity cards, that people can choose to carry as a convenience, I am for. But I reject the right of the government to have me tagged and squirrel away every detail they can about me in their snoopers register (aka NIRS).

It seems to me that this government runs with open arms towards a massive, centralized, state bureacracy that interferes with our lives whilst shielded from scrutiny by increasing secrecy about its own actions.

Uncle Tony commands and you obey!

We know where this kind of socialism leads.

(My thanks to Matt Lyon for the excellent rendering of our glorius leader!)

17/01/2006 09:47 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Monday, January 16, 2006

A business case for podcasting

Looks like IBM are innovating in the use of podcasts internally:

The group previously scheduled a weekly conference call with all the employees it needed to coordinate with -- a conference that involved as many as 7,000 people. Now, supply-chain executives upload a weekly podcast, which staffers can listen to when they want.

[From the Corporate Blogging Blog]

16/01/2006 17:46 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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I don't like ads in feeds

I just loaded the eWeek Macintosh feed and noticed something odd looking about it. It took me a moment to realise that each post had an advert. The total effect is to make it look fugly. An advert-per-item RSS feed is never going to work with me. I won't put up with that level of noise to signal ratio. What's even worse is that this is an exercpted feed so I get one line of the article and a 4-line advert. Dumb!

16/01/2006 17:25 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Who says I drink too much coffee!?!

Holy rotting coffee maker gaskets batman!

16/01/2006 17:09 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Something i've noticed about Amazon

I've gotten into the habit of leaving a bunch of stuff in my Amazon shopping cart. If I see something interesting I put it in the cart and click the Later button so I don't accidentally order it. Now, when I go back to my cart it tells me if the price of items in the cart has gone up or down. Quite often I will go there one day and find a bunch of items 5UKP cheaper. Sometimes this is a cue to me to buy them although I have resisted that urge for about 3 months now (economy drive).

It did make me wonder whether you could build a service that let me enter the price I would pay for particular items and then automatically buy those items for me if and when they reach that price. Could you do it with the Amazon API?

16/01/2006 15:46 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

And our survey says...

I got my site verified in Google Sitemaps today and it may have an answer for why I'm tanking in the Google rankings:

What Google tells me

Apparently I talk a lot of nonsense that nobody thinks is a worth linking to and it just took Google a little while to catch up with me. Not what I was hoping to hear but I guess it's probably true. Two years ago I was pretty focused on personal KM and intranets. These days I just ramble.

Probably my page rank would have suffered less if I had just shut up ;-)

Update: except that Paolo just showed me his PageRank profile from Google Sitemaps and it is identical to mine, and nothing seems to have happened to the standings of his blog.

I guess Google just hates me.

16/01/2006 14:38 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Mini-milestone

I bought Irulan, my 1.5GHz 12" PowerBook G4, at the end of June 2005. Since then I've had to reboot it maybe 10 times. There have been several MacOSX updates, several QuickTime updates (and I have to reboot for these why exactly?), and a couple of instances where I decided to restart either to fix some problem or test something out.

All of which has conspired so that, up to now, my maximum system uptime had been 27 days. Which was, more or less, what it was when the 10.4.4 update came out. This time I hung on though and yesterday we crossed the 31 day mark:

PowerBook uptime as of January 2006

I think uptime of a month and running for a machine that I am pushing hard each and every day is pretty good going and yet another vindication of my decision to switch.

16/01/2006 14:20 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Three Mac oddnesses

I have three strange MacOSX UI quirks at the moment. None affects my work but all three are mildy irritating and I'd like to fix them.

The first invovles the I-beam cursor. What i've noticed is that the I-beam cursor does not travel properly from one monitor to the next. That is, if I'm editing text in a window on one monitor and then move the mouse to the other monitor the cursor disappears at the edge of the screen but does not re-appear on the other monitor. I either have to click somewhere and it will appear as an arrow cursor, or if I bring it back onto the original monitor the I-bean cursor re-appears at the edge of the screen. That one is weirdest and the most irritating of the three.

The second involves Safari and how it sometimes doesn't show links in the status bar. That is, when I mouse over a link it doesn't reflect that visually or by displaying the link URL in the status bar. I'm not sure there ever was a visual indication but the status bar thing is weird. The links are still clickable though. Note that I'm talking about all links in all my Safari windows. It seems like Safari just gets into an i'm not going to show you any links now mode.

The third seems mainly to affect my iChat windows although it might affect any windows with rounded corners. What happens is that, when the window is over another window with a white background, and it has focus, you can see a little wingtip. Like so:

Showing an iChat wingtip

Like I say none of these problems amounts to a hill of beans but it sure would be nice to get rid of them. Anyone have any clues?

16/01/2006 13:57 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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The attractive side of XML-RPC

XML-RPC is a neat way of hooking up processes on different computers and operating systems. Now I find there is a neat client for MacOSX too! You fill in the endpoint URL, the method name, and the parameters (using Javascript syntax). The client then shows you in separate tabs: the request XML, the response XML, and the response displayed as a property hash. Looks very handy for XML-RPC debugging.

My only request at this point would be a way to save & reload queries.

16/01/2006 13:39 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Taming QuickSilver

Alcor's excellent tool QuickSilver has become the constant companion to my PowerBook. If I could keep only one (among the many excellent tools I've discovered since becoming a Switcher) it would be QuickSilver.

One thing that was bugging me though. When I'd use the phrase 'it' it would bring up iTunes as the first choice when 99% of the time I'd be wanting iTerm instead. The worst part is that I've gotten so automatic in my use of QS that I would hit 'it' + confirming for QS that I did want iTunes and hence making the problem worse.

Yesterday one of the kind denizens of FreeNodes #quicksilver told me how to get around this and it's a handy trick to know. When you use your trigger to bring up the app selector bezel (I use Cmd+Enter which on the PowerBook keyboard is the two keys to the right of the spacebar) and type your phrase, e.g. 'it', you then press the down arrow to drop down the menu of choices and, from there (not the bezel), right click the application you don't want.

In that menu will be an option "Decrease Score" which when you select it should descrease the weight of the association between 'it' and iTunes. In my case it allows iTerm to beat iTunes and now iTerm is the default choice and I am happy.

QuickSilver truly is an outstanding tool and it has many tricks to teach me yet!

16/01/2006 12:18 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

ActiveRecord, Ruby 1.8.4, and GCC4

Yesterday was something of an exercise in frustration when I attempted to update my PowerBook to the latest and greatest Ruby 1.8.4. I use DarwinPorts so you'd think it would be easy but it's wasn't because (a) I didn't realise you had to manually use

sudo port sync

to get the list of ports to update (so I didn't realise they even had 1.8.4) and (b) various ports wouldn't update properly or compile.

In the end I ripped out my existing DarwinPorts installation, upgraded to the latest XCode 2.2, and began to rebuild. At the end I had 1.8.4 along with the relevant gems and extensions and it all seems fine. Squib is running okay using it.

However I notice that the ActiveRecord unit test suite is failing in some rather peculiar ways. Most of the errors relate to the non-existence of tables and rows which are there at the beginning of the test run (I verified that the executed DDL correctly created the tables). So it seems like something is dropping the tables and/or deleting rows as the tests execute. But if there was such a huge problem with Ruby/MySQL why is squib running okay? (Yes I am backing up my data!)

Where I do have cause for concern is the interplay between GCC v3.3 and GCC v4.0.1. When I tried building Ruby 1.8.4 just after the release (to help with Rails testing) it didn't seem to work properly using GCC4. The wisdom at that time seemed to be that something in the GCC4 compiler wasn't right and was building ruby improperly. So naturally I used

sudo gcc_select 3.3

before attempting to get the Ruby DarwinPort built. However when I came to testing the MySQL native extension I got a very unpleasant error:

dyld: NSLinkModule() error dyld: Symbol not found: _sprintf$LDBLStub Referenced from: /opt/local/lib/ruby/gems/1.8/gems/mysql-2.7/lib/mysql.bundle Expected in: flat namespace Trace/BPT trap

The general wisdom seemed to be that this was an error caused by compiling with GCC4 but I was compiling with GCC3! In desparation I tried using GCC4 and it worked!

But now I have Ruby compiled with GCC3 and various native bits and pieces with GCC4 and it does not make me happy or comfortable that everything will be okay. Especially in the light of the unit test failures in ActiveRecord.

I'd be interested in hearing from anyone else whose tried these tests. Maybe there is something amiss with them.

Overall I'm left with the feeling that Ruby 1.8.3 and 1.8.4 could have been smoother. And was it beyond Apple just to fix the Ruby install that came with Tiger in the first place?

16/01/2006 11:53 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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There's a 50% handling charge on that item

Another excellent piece by Gary North on Sam Walton and how his heirs are suffering from the routinization of charisma.

16/01/2006 09:17 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Another ghost in the machine

Ken Yarmosh is another ghost treading light in Google's index. It looks like Ken talks about much more useful and interesting stuff than I do so it's probably even more frustrating for him.

What I want to ask Google is this: How can it be that a page that no longer mentions me at all is the number one hit for my name?

But of course there is no one at Google to ask.

16/01/2006 09:06 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
Saturday, January 14, 2006

Thanks are due

Well I have a nice new weblog really. The last vestiges of the old site are now pretty much abandoned. First I have a lovely new banner graphic that my friend bethlet has created from a photo she took while we were out having cocktails last year and Andy was able to quickly modify Squibs Fragen3.14 theme to support banner images. I wrote Squib and even I am impressed at how easy that was!

In other changes Andy and I have done a round of SEO optimisation and our sites now get pretty good ratings using an SEO analyzer and, for the first time, my site (the homepage at least) is XHTML trans compliant. I'm not sure how useful that is but it's satisfying none the less.

So, my grateful thanks go to Bethlet and Andy for their hard work! I'm really pleased with how it's turned out :-)

14/01/2006 16:46 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Thursday, January 12, 2006

It doesn't take Freud

To work out that, yes, I am a complete egomaniac :-)

12/01/2006 11:20 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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I'm in freefall

So I just thought I would check and see how volatile this ranking thing might be. On Monday Phil had me pegged at #151. When I checked on Tuesday I seemed a little higher than that maybe #120'ish. Today I am at #252. I guess the optimist in may says that if you can drop 100 places in two days you can go up 252 places by next Monday.

Here's hoping...

12/01/2006 10:11 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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More on my Google implosion

I'm working on the theory that Phil Ringalda is right about Google hating duplicated content. I'm going to try and get the aggregators with copies of my content to stop publishing it and see if that helps to resuscitate me. I never understood the issue until now but I guess this may be an anti-splogging defence.

What really ticks me off though is that I am completely guessing. Google offers me no way to understand what has happened. They may be punishing me for something completely beyond my control and I have no way to tell. The more I learn about Google the more it feels like some kind of Skinner Box gone awry.

So now I am faced with the prospect of attempting to get any aggregators republishing my content to stop. I've the good folks at iaslash.org a polite request that I hope they'll act upon. I'm also trying to get the test blog Phil noticed shut down.

I notice that Phil has been resusciated so maybe, if I can de-duplicate myself, I have the answer.

12/01/2006 08:51 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Giving 10.4.4 a wide berth

Usually I'm a complete update junky and would have jumped all over the 10.4.4 update but, for rather silly reasons, I didn't. My uptime was an almost record breaking 27 days and I really wanted to make it past 30 days.

Today I read Rui Carmo's take on the update and I'm pretty glad I didn't take the plunge. I was hoping for improvements in Mail.App at least. Frankly updating to get a flaky Bluetooth updater is not my idea of an upgrade!

I'll wait and see what happens and maybe reach a mini-milestone while I'm at it.

11/01/2006 23:18 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Chat transcript searcher

One of the few things I miss from my Windows days is the Trillian Pro instant messenger client. These days I sit in IChat for AIM and ICQ and Colloquy for IRC. Although I rarely start it, I have AdiumX to handle MSN, Yahoo, and the like. IChat is okay but the whole thing is a mess compared to Trillians integrated approach.

In particular I find that trying to search transcripts is a real pain. Both IChat and Colloquy make their transcripts practically impossible to search. Colloquy's own search function doesn't seem to work. XML formats all over the place. Yuck. Don't even get me started about Trillians beautiful Activity History.

Unsanity are addressing this issue with their new Chat Transcript Manager. Right now it's $10 (down from $20) and despite my thinking some sort of Spotlight integration is in Aim, Colloquy, and Adiums future I think CTM might make a good solution today.

I already use Unsanity's FruitMenu and WindowShadeX and think they are great tools. Chat Transcript Manager looks nice and does most of what I need. For $10 it's hardly got to save me much time to pay for itself. Downloaded!

10/01/2006 13:09 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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So I do exist

Some interesting things have been discovered since yesterdays post. First Phil Ringnalda has observed that I am still in Googles index. Phil who also suffers from Googlitis but is perhaps a little more sanguine about it observes that

When your weblog is result 151 for your own name as a phrase it feels like you have been disappeared.

He's not wrong. I looked through quite a few pages of results to find my blog but, never guessing it would suddenly be down in the 150's, I obviously didn't go far enough. Still, it is comforting to know that I am still in there somewhere. Thanks for spotting that Phil.

Something I want to clear up about Phil's post is that my weblog was never really here. This is a test weblog I created when I was first tested Squib, long after this problem began. I'm glad Phil pointed to it though because I had understood that Userland would have deleted it by now and I'm a little surprised it's still there. My original weblog was here which does redirect to it's present location.

Over night Terry Frazier emailed to ask whether Googlebot was still indexing my weblog. The answer is that it is, as recently as 4am this morning it went over the entire thing. Good suggestion Ter, but apparently that's not the answer. With reference to a lack of comments on this blog, they will be back soon in some form or other.

Cristian Vidmar thinks I will never get back the No. 1 slot. But Christian seems to be referring to a search for "Matt" where I was never the first hit (nor even on the first page). I'm talking about hits for "Matt Mower". You'll notice that the top for that search are, directly or indirectly, referencing me. Nothing new has become more relevant.

So the situation seems more hopeful. If I'm not in the #1 I am, at least, still there at #151 and Google is crawling my blog regularly. This suggests that I, or somebody, did something to make this happen. If Googlebot keeps visiting then maybe it can be undone.

So I am left trying to understand what caused my downfall and what to do about it. I don't favour a general de-emphasis of weblogs as Christian suggests, it's been two months already surely others would be bemoaning their rotten luck as well?

And why do I think this is very important?

Yahoo, MSN, and Dogpile all put my blog as the #1 hit for "Matt Mower". Yet I never even thought to look and see if it was a general effect. Rightly or wrongly for me, as I suspect for many others, Google *is* search.

10/01/2006 13:01 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
Monday, January 09, 2006

Crocodile: New antidote found.

Just one of the many excellent spam titles I have read this evening as I wade through recently imported email archives from 2002-2004 sorting the wheat from the chaff which, apparently, I can't figure out how to make Mail.App do for me.

For the record: however long it takes to import about 30,000 emails into Mail.App it takes much longer to index them afterwards (the last batch of 10,000 took about 5 hours of 100% CPU!)

Also exposing yourself to that many spam... maybe I am not feeling quite as clean as I did when I started...

09/01/2006 21:18 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Looking for a helping hand...

Does anyone know anyone at Google who can help me? I refer to the problem of my blog suddenly and apparently arbitrarily disappearing from the results of a search for "Matt Mower" that I reported in November and confirmed earlier in January. Google don't appear to respond to a message sent via their request form so what the hell are you supposed to do?

It's not like some other Matt Mower suddenly became more relevant than me and knocked me down a peg or two. That I could live with. What has happened is that my blog has just gone and the rest of the search results (which are still primarily about me) have moved up a rung or two.

Since everybody these days equates what's in Google with what exists on the web, Google are effectively saying "This guy's blog doesn't exist." How can this be right? Where was my right of appeal? As a blogger, as a person, this sucks.

Surely there is some kind soul out there who can help me? Please.

09/01/2006 20:29 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Do we trust Logitech?

As an experiment I have begun using my Logitech MX1000 mouse with the PowerBook. Since I got the PowerBook I've been using the trackpad which, unlike any trackpad before it, I have found very useful. But I kept looking at the (expensive) mouse sat there unused all this time and thought it was a waste. It's a good mouse and maybe all those extra buttons could be handy...

So I find that the basic mouse function fine but, without Logitech specific drivers, most of the extra buttons do funky things that, by and large, you'd rather they didn't do. The only solution appears to be to install the Logitech Control Centre for MacOSX.

My Mac has been working pretty well thus far and I think that this is, in part, because I have not installed any significant system affecting products from big vendors. In my experience Big Vendor system software is often a festering pile of crap made without a care for the users system. On Windows Logitech drivers and software were flawless but My Mac works good and I want to keep it that way.

Does anyone have any experience they can share about using LCC on MacOSX Tiger? Am I being paranoid? Or should I steer well clear?

09/01/2006 20:11 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

It has occurred to me...

...that Safari hasn't crashed for quite a while. In fact I can't actually remember the last time it crashed. Looks like whatever changes they made in the 10.4.3 update did the trick.

Now, can anyone tell me why my Powerbook sounds like an Airbus getting ready for takeoff? It's been this way since I got home (many hours ago) but was fine earlier on today. Activity Monitor and XRG both show nothing much going on: CPU is at 54 degrees, load average is 0.37, 0.48, 0.62. It's puzzling.

I don't want to restart if I can avoid it. My uptime has reached 24 days. My previous record is 27 days. Since I bought the Mac back in June I've never reached 30 days uptime. There has always been some update that required a reboot. I am determined to beat my record by at least 3 days.

Let's see what logging out (and going to bed) can do...

09/01/2006 00:27 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Sunday, January 08, 2006

What money, users, and a five year headstart won't buy you

Ari Paparo has written an insightful and, probably painful, post about how Blink.com, despite many advantages, was eclipsed by Del.icio.us.

This post wasn’t meant as a defense of Blink or my own decisions while I was there. My intent was to show that product design matters. We had more money, more users, a five year head start, and some really, really smart people working on bookmarking in 1999. The bottom line is that we simply didn’t get it right. Some simple innovations like using tags instead of folders, making public the default, building better discovery features, etc made the difference between being an also-ran and a hot acquisition target.

Worth reading if you're thinking about introducing a product. I've become very sensitive to design over the last few years. That design is important is a lesson that Paolo hammered into me. I guess I have learned to value good design but still cannot produce it. Anyone who has seen the Squib admin interface will vouch for that. But I try.

I'm also going to be involved in launching another, much more significant, project this year. I've already realised that thinking hard about design and usability are going to be key factors in whether we can be successful or not.

We don't have Ari's cash so we're going to have to make the most of our advantages!

08/01/2006 22:24 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Office in Darkness

For no reason in particular: a picture of my office taken this evening.

My office at night, click for notes

(Click it to go to Flickr if you want to see the notes)

08/01/2006 20:44 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
Saturday, January 07, 2006

A time for great applications

Getting the Powerbook has had a strange impact on my life. Beyond the obvious - that the Powerbook is a great computer and that MacOSX is light decades ahead of Windows in terms stability, usability, and bliss - I was never a Windows or Unix evangelist. I have become a Mac evangelist (I think my CEO is on the ropes, I see an IMac in his future).

Part of this is the quality of some of the applications for this platform. The Way of the Mac seems to extend out to Mac developers.

TextMate hits version 1.5 today and is the best editor I have used since Brief (anyone remember that). It's got warts and flaws and it's not all it will be given another 12 months of work, but it's a hugely productive text editing machine that has, alongside Ruby, made coding a pleasure for me again.

Then there is QuickSilver which, since it was introduced to me (by the SuperNode?) has relegated the dock to being a distant memory. Now with the newly released v3744 I can get application menus within QuickSilver. If you've never experienced QuickSilver then you don't know what you're missing and with this new ability it's simply amazing.

A year ago I was fed up with computers, writing software, bugs, crashes, stupid applications. Today I find my interest in development rekindled, bugs rare, crashes rarer and seeing my MacTop come to life still - 5 months later - brings a smile to my face (esp. since it comes to life in about 1.5 seconds!)

07/01/2006 00:29 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
Thursday, January 05, 2006

For Who The That Unlike Our Product

This product vision model helps team members pass the elevator test -- the ability to explain the project to someone within two minutes. It comes from Geoffrey Moore's book Crossing the Chasm. It follows the form:

  • For (target customer)
  • Who (statement of the need or opportunity)
  • The (product name) is a (product category)
  • That (key benefit, compelling reason to buy)
  • Unlike (primary competitive alternative)
  • Our product (statement of primary differentiation)

Joel on Software

Interesting questions to think about both from the Squib perspective but also for my work at PAOGA.

05/01/2006 18:19 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

I <3 Kawasaki

GuyK on his next PowerBook.

05/01/2006 14:19 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Hunting for Squib

I just committed some changes that Andy sent me last night that update the Fragen3.14 theme for Squib. I've switched Curiouser and Curiouser! to use Andy's theme and I think it looks pretty spiffy. Something else that's spiffy is the way the sidebar is now completely dynamic -- driven by a simple YAML which aggregates chunks of user written HTML, OPML, Textile, or Markdown content. This means the user can re-structure and add to the sidebar content without having to change the theme at all.

We're making pretty good progress towards the 0.4 release in all areas but one: Multiple Weblog Support. I need this right now but I'm struggling to get it done because it's a pretty major change (curse me for not anticipating this requirement when I started Squib). Worse yet I will have to merge it with the huge number of improvements that we've made since I branched. Subversion makes this possible without going insane, but it's still not pretty.

After that though it should be plain sailing to the 0.4 release and I feel like I'm still on track for mid-January. I've also dusted off the MemeScope aggregator code I was messing with last year. It's almost unrecognizable now (being written for the, now ancient history, Rails 0.11 and on Windows no less!) but it should be reasonably easy to get it working again.

In 0.5 I want to merge the aggregator into Squib. Again, this is something I really want. Blogging for me was never the same after I stopped using Radio's River of News aggregator. Although the aggregator was basic and faulty the model was just right. Nothing has replaced my ability to see a post in my aggregator, click a button marked Post, and have it neatly formatted as a new entry ready to blog about. I want that back and Squib 0.5 will give it to me.

0.5 will also see MetaWeblog API support (courtesy of code from Typo) and some other neat bits and pieces. 0.5 will be good.

So good progress being made to 0.4 and an exciting roadmap for 0.5! Now I just have to find time to do it!

05/01/2006 13:08 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
Wednesday, January 04, 2006

How much less do I exist?

It's depressing. For so long I had come to believe that a search for my name would give my weblog as the No.1 result. But, as I reported at the beginning of November my blog has disappeared from a bunch of search terms. But not all of them.

I tried contacting Google but no response. I can't see any logic to it. For 2 years or more my blog was me as far as Google is concerned. Now it's not and I can't seem to do anything about it.

Yeah it's depressing.

04/01/2006 11:13 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Experimenting with Markdown

One of the nice things about Squib is that I can switch between authoring formats on a post-by-post basis. Andy persuaded me to add support for Markdown syntax. Because of the excellent RedCloth and BlueCloth gems I was able to add both Markdown and Textile with about 15 lines of code. Recently I've started writing some posts using Markdown and, since I don't tend to use advanced HTML in my posts, it works well.

04/01/2006 11:10 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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A sidebar your honour

I don't presume that we invented it but I have noticed that Paolo and I have a neat protocol for sidebar conversations. When chatting with Paolo we often drift off at tangents while persuing our main topic and responses to these tangents are given (in parentheses). This thread of the conversation then continues alongside the main thread, in parentheses, until it finishes. At a later point other sidebars may occur. It's neat.

04/01/2006 10:32 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Death Ratchet

Michael S. Rozeff, Louis M. Jacobs Professor of Finance at University at Buffalo, talks about the uncertainty and factors involved in the ever increasing expanse of state power. There is the big ratchet theory:

One explanation (among several) of our Brobdingnagian State is that growth of government sometimes occurs via a ratchet effect. A big event happens, like World War I. The State assumes powers it didn’t have before the war. Afterwards, the status quo ante is never fully restored, even though the emergency, real, contrived, or imagined, is over. The new status quo is one of increased State power, perhaps with some reversion back to the previous situation. This rise and partial reversion is the ratchet effect.

But this does not explain everything and we turn to psychology for an understanding of how dependency upon the state comes into play. Once people grow to depend upon the state they tend to look to it, and not themselves, for answers. How many times are we all guilty of hearing something on the news and saying "the government should do something about this!"?

It appears to me that the powers-that-be work the electorate’s psychology to make this happen. The details vary from case to case. The electorate is primed for acceptance by such elements as fear, desperation, and anxiety. A desperate and fearful people will be willing to adopt desperate solutions. People impatiently demand action and solutions. Sitting idly by while businesses liquidate excess inventories or labor moves to new locations takes time, and this will not do. People are suffering and something must be done! The enemy has struck and we must act!

And there are other effects from behavioural economics that affect how fuzzy personal preferences can be exploited:

Status quo bias is a cluster of decision-making behaviors that have been measured experimentally and observed in practice by researchers in behavioral economics and finance. For example, people randomly given coffee mugs are more reluctant to sell them than people randomly given money are to buy coffee mugs. The ownership of the mug itself changes their preferences in favor of the mug.

All a leader has to do is "endow" citizens with the war, instead of a mug. Once they take "ownership" of it, they will be reluctant to give it up. It’s that easy.

Lastly we have another well-known psychological factor: loss aversion. As a general population we are more risk averse than we think. If we have taken a £200 loss then it may take a £500 gain to put us back on track. We're like bad poker players who can't let go of money already in the pot. Our gains have to exceed our losses by a considerable factor leading to another supporting factor for status quo bias.

Rozeff's view is that the power of the state increases because the present incumbents of the state take opportunistic decisions relative to their powerbase and follow that up with attempts to validate these decisions and make them the norm. It's not a "secret cabal" conspiracy theory but a reflection of how natural human tendencies go awry when given unreasonable power. The more spheres in which a government can extend its influence the more likely people are to look to it for answers and be subject to government propaganda and biases.

I think that this supports my view that we need to find a way forward that allows us to dismantle the government apparatus. Unless we accept that the only way forward is the constant ratcheting up of self-serving government power until it reaches crisis point and revolution.

Read Rozeff's piece and see if you don't agree with me.

03/01/2006 08:55 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Sunday, January 01, 2006

2006

In 2006 I hope to learn how to combine my growing love of psychology, my rediscovery for my passion for crafting software, and my need for home, love, integrity, and financial security.

01/01/2006 17:17 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments: