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ink08 » Uncategorized
Skyline of Richmond, Virginia

Down with modal windows!

08.27.08


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These guys have been annoying me for a while, and in a sudden flash of insight I remembered what they are called: modal windows, i.e. windows that hog the focus and that you must interact with and dismiss before you can use the rest of the UI again.  These are almost never the right thing.

The use case in which modal windows tend to irritate me most is when I need to configure a program using one part of the UI based on information presented in another part of the UI.  What I’d like to do in this situation is put both these parts of the UI on the screen side by side, so that I don’t have to constantly switch back and forth.  If the part I’m using to configure is modal, this is annoying; if the part I’m consulting while configuring is modal, it’s impossible.  The use of modal windows slows down such a task by about an order of magnitude.

A frequent offender is IntelliJ IDEA, an  otherwise excellent IDE.  Restricting the user’s flexibility in the UI in this way is particularly inappropriate in a product whose users are (by definition) developers. Grrr. IDEA is also bad about stealing the focus from other applications with largely irrelevant windows indicating the progress of background processing tasks, at least under GNOME.

Great moments in visual communication

07.08.08


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Came across this in a document today (confidential information has been scrubbed):

Confusing Diagram

Note that the numbers in the diagram and the numbers in the list that follows have nothing to do with each other. Someone’s getting Tufte in their Christmas stocking this year…

Love and hate in San Francisco

06.03.08


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So I’ve finally completed the Move from Hell… and by completed, I mean that my room is crammed full of boxes and my previous co-tenants should lose only a small fraction of their deposit due to the mess we collectively left behind. So yeah, there’s still some work to do to finish moving in to the new place. I’ve sworn by the moon and stars that this time around I will complete that process, fully and swiftly… not like those other times… this time will be different. But the time-pressured stuff where I worry about leaving other people in the lurch is over.

Moving, as all humanity seems to agree, sucks. But I do feel a sense of cleanness and accomplishment now that it’s over, much though I want to do it better the next time. Also, I did have a few bits of extraordinarily good luck. I bought the U-Haul damage coverage, which I usually don’t–so they can pay for the car I smashed the first time I attempted a right turn in my 14-ft van. The neighborhood I moved to has an obscenely, reliably available quantity of parking for which I don’t even need the neighborhood parking permit I’ve yet to obtain. And tonight, as we scrambled desperately to really, truly, finally get the very last things out of the house, it turned out to be trash day… a little here, a little there… thank you, neighbors, and I hope you already put in all your trash, because now those suckers are full. If the household chemicals currently in the back of my car don’t leak into the Goodwill stuff and the cardboard (or worse, the upholstery), I’ll be willing to call it a success.

Anyway that’s the hate, such as it is. On to the love.

I believe I can truthfully claim to have loved San Francisco before this past weekend. But somehow, starting Saturday morning or early afternoon, walking the street, I came to the persistent feeling that being here I’m swaddled in a warm, protective blanket. Looking even at places that I used to think of as grungy or uninteresting, I see beauty. I feel that I’m connected to something enduring and meaningful. That I’m home.

I don’t know what it was. It could be that after a year in the city I’m reaching that mass of friends where I feel like I really know people here, where I have opportunities to hang out and places to go that weren’t available before. It could be that a pleasant, intoxicated episode Friday night left its mark, as such episodes sometimes do. Whatever it was, I’ll do my best to keep seeing the city in this light.

Blindingly obvious insight…

05.18.08


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…into the conferral of honorary degrees at graduation ceremonies:  they have nothing to do with the honorees.  The purpose is holding them up as an example to the graduates.

The Flywheel

04.10.08


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Flywheel

As a one-time summer employee of Jim Collins (as a member of the vaunted “chimp” research team, although really just a small cut above gopher-chimp status) and a sometime aficionado of his works, the single concept he’s come up with that I most find myself pondering is the Flywheel.

A literal flywheel is a very heavy wheel which, because of its weight, is resistant to changes in its rate of rotation. This means that it’s extremely hard to get a flywheel spinning, requiring a lot of energy. But it also means that once you do have it moving, it will keep moving with very little additional effort. At that point, it stores a tremendous amount of energy.

The Flywheel is the central concept of the book Good to Great. It links the early stages, which can be summed up as figuring out which flywheel to push and getting the right people around to push it, with the late stages, where your company becomes awesome (okay, great).

It is rare to find such an apt physical symbol for abstract processes, and the wisdom of the Flywheel is simple. If you want to get anything done, then: (1) You need to keep pushing in the same direction for a long time and (2) When you first start to push, it’s not going to feel like you’re making progress; it will be impossible in these early stages even to imagine the incredible power the Flywheel will have once you really get it going, or how long it can keep gaining more and still more momentum even once it’s already at a good clip.

In some sense these points seem blindingly obvious, a truism; especially point (1). But keeping in mind point (2) and reflecting on the image of the Flywheel can be more valuable than you might think when attempting to change something for the better.

A corollary of the fact that you need to steadfastly push in the same direction (or perhaps more accurately, on the same wheel) is that you’d better identify the right flywheel to begin with. Not just any group of people, operating according to any culture and ethic, will be able to identify the right wheel, or have the resolve to keep pushing it: hence the earlier chapters of Good to Great.

The Flywheel concept applies to any attempt at significant change, notably personal behavior modification. Lately I’ve been seeing flywheels everywhere, and trying to keep the Flywheel in mind as a caution and an inspiration.

I’ll end this post by pointing out again the dualistic nature of the Flywheel: the downside is that you have to push hard and long before seeing results, and you must remain consistent even as your faith that you ever will see them is tested. The bright side is that, if you stick it out, the results you see, and the progress you can continue to make, will be beyond imagination. And that duality might remind those familiar with Collins’ work of another concept that’s worth reflecting upon.

Vegas -> Dallas -> Austin

03.01.08


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Well, I got about what I expected from US Airways, with a delayed flight and a missed connection in Vegas.  Fortunately, I was able to re-book on American Airlines flights to Austin via Dallas that should get me to Austin by 9:00 am.  Sleep was never in the cards tonight anyway, and I’ll still have time not only to make my noon orientation, but to hit Curra’s with Jeff beforehand.   Here’s hoping my luggage shows up.

Ah, Las Vegas.  A city built on hot sand, broken dreams, and $5 lobster. Apparently gambling is big here:

Vegas airport slots

And yes, Kenny Rogers is a whore:

Kenny Rogers is weak

I really pity…

08.17.07


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…anyone out there whose name is Lolita.  It must be very hard for such people to get their email through spam filters.

WordPress success

08.15.07


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Well, I have to say the WordPress install process was easy enough that I feel not even the slightest bit l33t for having gotten it running. The world-readable file with database password concerns me slightly, but what the hey. Database password security seems surprisingly lax to me on the whole, with passwords invariably winding up hardcoded into files all over the place. I wonder what the Right Way to deal with DB passwords is.

Stay tuned as I try to get away from the horrifyingly-I-don’t-give-a-fuck default WordPress theme to something sleek and sexy, during which process my stellar engineer’s design sensibilities will be sorely tested.