Saturday, October 01, 2005

A public face

This past week brought quite a few MVPs by our offices. Per usual, it was nice to be able to show a very little of what we're doing. On the other hand, it introduces another level of information dispersal and access protection to think about. On the one hand, acknowledging a problem with the software or talking about a planned feature could be considered to be an implicit promise to fix or implement something. On the other hand, not talking about what we're doing means that we miss out on valuable feedback.

So what would have been future design feedback is now feedback on existing design, which is, well, not always pleasant. It is sometimes difficult to participate on public newsgroups or mailing lists. One doesn't read much positive feedback (but then again would you really join a newsgroup to laud the developers who wrote the feature that made your day?), and there's as much negative feedback as one might want. Some of it is completely appropriate, and takes you back several months to the point where there was an agonizing choice... either the PMs at an adds/cuts meeting, or at some late point when a problem was finally realized where all the principals weigh the cost of addressing it and making sure that it was really fixed without other repercussions. I wince once when a hard decision happens, and then again when that first person says, "What were you thinking when you wrote that?" or "Don't you do any testing?"

It's just not useful, for me at least, to try and address all the posts. Some are unrelated to the software at all, and have to get redirected to a more appropriate area. Others are FAQs, asked on the order of three to four times a week, and points to people's lack of willingness to search the archives. Some, though, are the good problems: the ones we don't see in-house, the environments we don't have in a test lab or on a dogfooder's or beta tester's computer. These are the ones where one tenacious and helpful user makes it so we can fix the problem for untold others who won't report the issue. The other good ones are when there is an obscure error message that doesn't have an obvious solution but that we can help diagnose what's going on and solve some settings issue or help out with some workaround. Being able to respond to those makes me feel good about my work.

Then there are the total flame bombs that get dropped by irate customers, or better yet, irate non-customers. I personally do not know how to respond in a positive fashion to these, especially the ones that have horribly flawed or missing logic. I really don't understand the sense of entitlement evidenced by some posts. That a piece of software might not do everything you want should be par for the course, but does it mean that you're somehow entitled to have it "fixed" to do what you want it to do? Is it merely a problem of that the public listing of features not being specific enough to let you know what will and will not work? Comparing one piece of software to another might be useful to pick which piece of software is appropriate to use, but if it compares unfavorably, does it really mean that you're due some kind of replacement version that addresses those problems?

Ultimately, I will go into work and write the best software I can.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A hole to crawl into

Somewhere between a recent series of emotionally charged misunderstandings with a friend of mine and the Seattle weather and who knows what else, I've regressed to not wanting to leave the house. Yesterday, I felt competent enough to stare at e-mail, usenet, and blog postings, but felt entirely lethargic and slept through most of the day, never making it in to work. Today, I spent a short day at work, and then worked at negotiating a truce between two owners in our building with adjacent units with regard to sound issues. Blech.

Both yesterday and today, there were social events that were interesting that I could have attended. I'm just not sure what made them unworthy or home so inviting. It certainly wasn't the lure of SciFi Original Pictures or one of the Law and Order variants. Nonetheless, it's somehow easy to stay up until 5am alternating between channels and web browsing.

Makes me wish I were back on the playa, where the nights were colorful, the stars inviting, and it was a joy to walk everywhere with my friends and my sweetie.

Guess I have some more decompression to do.

UPDATE: In terms of actually interesting late night television, I stumbled on ASSSSSCAT: Improv on Bravo, and laughed my fool head off.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The nth social networking software

As much as I enjoyed Friendster when it came out, it took quite some time to set up the various pictures and profile information, and then to go through to find whether my friends had previously joined, and if so add them or if not invite them, and then perform periodic maintenance as other friends joined but didn't know I was there to add me (or, to the more paranoiac part of me, did know and chose not to add me anyway). Much like having a blog makes me feel, it is nice to have a little web corner-of-the-world, where if people want, they can stop in and say a virtual, "Hi!"

But then, Orkut came out, and of course, some people liked that one better. Friends gradations is pretty cool; I always had the 7th grade question of "Are they really my friend? Or just my acquaintance? Or what?", and that solved it, while at the same time re-inforcing the 7th grade popularity contest in my head. (This friend is a better friend than this other friend, etc.) Orkut has its own profile system, which also serves to link people with similar social interests, regional interests, etc. It also takes a fair amount of time to fill out.

Now that I have the blogging bug, I'm discovering that the various journaling resources on the web are just another form of the social network software, though the focus tends to be on personal publishing. Sure, I can just publish my blog and never look any further, but Blogger also has a profile mechanism. Furthermore, my wife and several friends post on LiveJournal, and in order to see the more private posts, you have to be part of their friends. And there again, you have another social networking issue — where are your friends posting? do you have an account on their blogging system? do you have your profiile on that blogging system or can you point to some more generic profile?

The whole profile thing predates all of these services though. Even basic sales websites want to know your address and credit card information, but then go further to establish buying patterns and areas of interest to give you targetted advertising. Microsoft's Passport was a simple attempt to have a single roaming profile that other websites could use, so you wouldn't have to enter in all your information over and over.

It would seem to me that, with the proliferation of social networking products, that someone would undertake to create a system where people could publish their own profiles (with private information hidden) and that any number of web sites could extract the information they want. That furthermore, it would be extensible, such that if there's some new bit of trivia that a particular service to which you subscribe desires to know about you, you could extend your own profile with that information. There would have to be some kind of standardization, lest they ask you to produce the data in three different ways based on three different modes of consumption, but that seems like it would be relatively straightforward. In today's world of XML and XSLT transforms, you might even just be able to have the data once and just mirror it into other formats. Friends/Acquaintances would be referred to by the locations of their published profiles, etc.

In the interim, though, it seems an interesting exercise to see if I come up with the same Favorite Movies in the same order on the various web sites I have to fill in that information. Right now, you can clearly see that I'm of many minds about things (or at least am absent-minded sometimes).

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Too much|little to post

I don't know that I've come up with good decision criteria as to what should go into a blog. The obsessive-compulsive part of me thinks that a crafted, well-honed, fine piece of editorialship is required. The rest of me balks at both the effort that would be required and the necessary reduction of the thoughts that that kind of piece would require. Ah, well, I suppose, after some consideration, that I'd prefer to show my foibles.

But first, I can show you the foibles, er, postings of my wife in her journal. She's abroad for an educational stint at the American University in Cairo. She's away for a while, which can be kind of hard, but between Skype and iChat A (we don't use the "V" yet, since her connection doesn't have enough throughput), we get to talk to each other pretty regularly.

Now back to the nitty gritty. This week, I ran into yet another "can't install/use except as admin" program. These irk the crap out of me, largely because I want to be able to make it so that guests of my house can't (accidentally) destroy my stuff on my computer, but that they should be able to install things when I'm not home. I have heard arguments that IT departments want to be able to restrict people from installing anything, but that seems like an orthogonal problem. It is just a bug (sorry, I meant design flaw) that a regular application cannot be installed merely because the setup program seems to believe it needs administrative credentials. Many things should Just Work™ in a non-admin setting. Apparently, it's problematic enough that (1) developers cannot program correctly for non-admin users and (2) users who should not be admin users are, and invite attack upon themselves, that there are whole other blogs on it.

On the personal side, I ended up hanging out with quite a few friends this weekend that I have not hung out with regularly in quite some time. I spent some amount of time continuing my recovery period from Burning Man, mostly in the form of laundry (of which some is now been pink-ified!), though partially putting various things back into their storage, where they will not be touched for another 51 weeks. I did get a chance to meet some new folks, friends of friends, and head out for a sailing day trip on Puget Sound with them. It reminded me of my two previous longer-term experiences with sailing, and how I certainly enjoyed all the ropework involved. The capstone of the weekend, blog not included, was a fierce gumbo made by my next door neighbor who invited me to dine this evening; by the way, he makes a mean Sazerac-oidal concoction that won even my licorice-hating self over. All in all, a good weekend.

In the vein of the useless: Currently listening to "myself typing this blog entry".

Monday, August 15, 2005

Once more into the breech

After thinking about blogging for several months, today I finally broke down and did it. I ended up trying to think of something sufficiently witty to name it, when my wife reminded me of Technosloth, my registered (and largly unused) domain, and voilà. After battling with Camino (which would not let me edit my posts) and then Safari (which would only let me spell-check and add images), and finally having to resort to Firefox, I could prepare my initial post. Whoop-de-doo!

This weblog will probably end up being (using intent as a directive) a log about personal pet peeves with coding practices, Real Life™ problems of a developer, and other miscellany of my life.

May you have more patience with me, than I with the world.