17 Mar

How I Save Time with the Right Shortcuts, Handpicked Apps, and Finetuned Hardware [Spring 2015 update]

Over many years I’ve found a lot of good hardware and neat apps that work well together. In the spirit of the setup and how I work interviews, here’s my advice on picking desktop hardware, some of my favorite software, and various productivity shortcuts, all of which may prove useful to other multi-monitor Windows users who work with a wide variety of applications.

Warning: this is a relatively geeky entry, but these recommendations are the fruit of years of hard-won experience! Beyond advice about specific products, I hope you’ll get some broadly applicable help out of this entry, as technology adoption is a madness that requires method. Read More

12 Mar

Why You Want to Develop in Production-Like Conditions, and How to Do it with Vagrant

Like many people developing with WordPress, I used to use XAMPP to run a Linux/Apache/MySQL stack under Windows. This beats developing directly off a remote server by a long stretch (in case anybody still does that), but it turns out to be quite a hassle as you wrestle with / vs \ in paths and other discrepancies between the Unix and Windows worlds. Developing in an environment as close to production as possible ends up being a much better choice. Popular free tools to do so are:

  • VirtualBox to run other operating systems within your own
  • Vagrant to manage development environments within VirtualBox
  • Puphpet, a wizard-like interface to help set up Vagrant through Puppet automation scripts. Phansible does the same but using Ansible.

Yes, these work somewhat like Russian dolls, as modern web development has a severe case of tools to set up tools to set up tools. It can get a little crazy at times, so you want to find the sweet spot where you gain efficiency without becoming a slave to your toolset (which is supposed to save you time in the first place). Getting this up and running is a big enabler for continuous integration, and why you would want to think and develop that way is the topic of a separate entry.

In this post I’ll share some practical details to contribute a little back to the open source community and not just consume its benefits passively.  The end result is a fully functional Unix environment serving a WordPress website locally on a Windows PC, across a whole local network.

This entry is written from the perspective of “Unix as a foreign language” from a Windows native. It does assume that you have read the basics about VirtualBox and Vagrant, and focuses on common roadblocks that I’ve encountered along the way. As always, the key to learning a whole new way of doing things is to break it down in small digestible chunks. Read More

18 Mar

Time to Pick Up a New Newsreader

I have been consuming newsfeeds since Pointcast (1996) and CDF/IE 4.0 (1998) so obviously once RSS gained momentum about a decade ago, I got hooked. It remains my main way to keep on top of both fresh news and background material. In recent years I tried several times setting up Twitter (by itself and via desktop clients such as Tweetdeck) but never reached an acceptable signal/noise ratio so I gave up and only check it out once in a while, certainly less than my daily RSS consumption. Read More

04 May

Interesting Online Marketing Tools – 2010 Edition

The marketplace for tools helping interactive marketers with their tests, tracking, and optimizing, seems more vibrant than ever. More and more small companies know what the issues are and work on helping solve them. Unfortunately, tools are time consuming – it’s not copying some javascript in a CMS template that’s really the problem, it’s all the post-implementation data cleaning, reconciliation, and analysis so you can actually get value out of the tool. Also, beware of self-inflicted wounds as all these third-party javascript calls will slow down your site.

As far as we’re concerned we’re making sure we don’t just play around too much and actually fully use a tool before considering implementing yet another one. Right now we’re focused on Clicktale, mostly for its forms analytics. A bit slow but if you’re into analytics, you owe it to yourself to try it.

There are other tools that we’ve been using for a while, and yet others that we might test later. I’m sure I’m missing many but here’s a list: Read More

23 Jan

State of the Software Development Management Tool Market

As recently as 18 months ago it seemed there wasn’t much to handle software product development except either bug databases, generic wikis and intranet platforms, or maybe expensive and (for my purposes) cumbersome enterprise software, which is not what I’m interested about.
Now that I’m looking again at this though (we need something to keep our growing team in synch at Soflow), there are at least three new applications meant to address the need for the right mix of structure and flexibility:

Atlassian provides both issue tracking and collaboration but I’m looking for a single tool that seamlessly supports the whole product management and development process, from business case to user requirements to functional specs to tracking development progress, tests and debugging. Borland has CaliberRM but it needs its own server (the fact it comes both with a web and a desktop client is attractive though) and is not exactly cheap. But if I look in that direction there are plenty of requirement management tools.
Here are my notes so far:

Read More

18 Aug

Organizr is Nice, But Not a Web App

Sure, Organizr is great, and the folks at Ludicorp work impressively fast. However, please stop calling it and others like it web applications (I’m not saying its creators do, but others introduce that confusion, starting with Macromedia). This is a Flash application that doesn’t expose its state to its host browser (to the best of my knowledge, by definition). ActiveX didn’t turn COM into a web standard and likewise Flash isn’t part of the fabric of the web. (It’s impossible that you read this weblog and confuse the web for the internet, right?)
No wonder Organizr behaves like a desktop app, that’s basically what it is, because what is Flash but a desktop runtime that happens to be integrated with most browsers? As an aside, it’s funny to think that Microsoft helped Flash get its ubiquitous reach and ultimately become a development platform (rather that just a nice animation player) in order to prevent Netscape from becoming… an ubiquitous development platform. Well done Macromedia!
Back to arguing that you need to support REST to be a web app. For example, if I use Organizer’s nifty widget to select a specific timeframe (which reminds me of Photoshop Album’s smart recognition that time is an intuitive way to access pictures), there’s no way I can share that specific state with you since the URL stays the same. Or maybe using Flash for applications makes you part of the invisible web (Flash content is not invisible to search engines anymore), like all those databases hidden behind POST forms and authentication walls. Can you belong to the web even if your content repository or application state is hidden from it? Anyway, there’s an API for those inclined to complement the Flash interface with a web app, and my architectural comments are not meant to minimize Ludicorp’s achievement.
08/19/04 update: read the comments, Organizr is actually a web app once you put it in the broader Flickr context. It’s just a matter of better exposing the relevant URLs right from the Flash tool. This goes to show Flickr has sound fundamentals and room to grow. Exciting stuff! Also, Anil Dash and Robert Scoble chime in.
08/24/04 update: The Flickr crew not only listens, it follows up fast. Organizr now exposes URLs for selected photos and sets. If you can likewise surface the URLs for search queries, tags and date selections, I’ll be a very happy camper!
11/11/04 update: Jon Udell: The state of rich Web apps.
11/20/04 update: Kevin Lynch: Making Rich Internet Apps Web-Friendly.
05/10/05 update: Flickr moves from Flash to Ajax (now live).
08/18/05 update: An Interview with Flickr’s Eric Costello.

17 Aug

Web Accessibility Toolbar

The Web Accessibility Toolbar:

"has been developed to aid manual examination of web pages for a variety of aspects of accessibility. It consists of a range of functions that:

  • identify components of a web page
  • facilitate the use of 3rd party online applications
  • simulate user experiences
  • provide links to references and additional resources."

This is a must-have that lets you do more with a web page than what a dozen different bookmarklets could offer. IE only.

Read More

01 Mar

FreeTextBox 2.0 Just Released

New feature list:

  • Cross-browser support (Mozilla 1.3+, PC/IE 5+)
  • Button/DropDown feedback
  • Localization (create your own language files)
  • Inline toolbar customization
  • Back button support in IE
  • Office 2003 Style
  • External JavaScript
  • Completely recoded as a development platform

A couple .NET blog/portal platforms already use this nice editor control.