exo : blah


Thu, 21 Dec 2006

date formats

When I am king there will be one utterly unambiguous date format that everyone will use. Additionally, timezones will be abolished. There will be much rejoicing by anyone who has ever had anything to do with programming and dates.

posted at: 15:07 #

Sat, 02 Dec 2006

never put an ncp carpark ticket in your mouth

The coating on one side of them when fresh out the ticket machine adheres significantly better to the skin on your lips than that skin does to the underlying layers of skin.

posted at: 14:17 #

strategically important

Almost every time you hear a politician talk about Iraq or Afghanistan they talk about strategic importance. We have to remain there because of their strategic importance in the world.

There’s rarely much discussion of what might be strategically important for the people in these places. You have to think this is a large part of the problem with our approach to foreign policy.

posted at: 13:31 #

Fri, 24 Nov 2006

bug reporting

For my sins I am currently running a test program at work. It’s not something I’ve done before and I’m not sure I’d want to do it again but it’s an interesting experience. It’s certainly educational. One of the things it’s given me an appreciation for is bug reports and how to make sure you get good bug reports.

The first thing I’ve learned is you need to standardise terminology. Unless everyone doing the testing uses the same terminology then you are going to have problems. It doesn’t matter whether it’s features in the thing you are testing, how they refer to the platforms (Operating System, Browser, Phone, whatever) you are testing on or the term they use for a save dialog, everyone needs to call things by the same name. Your bug tracking system may be able to help you in this regard by providing customisable dropdown lists for things like functionality area or platform. If it does then use them as much as possible.

As an example of this if it’s important what Windows service pack you are testing on then everyone needs to refer to these in the same way. This is for the simple reason that if you want to find all the bugs in Windows XP Pro SP2 then you need rely on the fact that searching for “Windows XP Pro SP2” in your bug tracking system will find all the bugs on that platform. If someone refers to it as SP 2 instead of SP2 then you’re in for pain.

The next thing is that bug titles matter. You have to be able to read the bug title and have a reasonable idea of what the bug is about. This is especially important later when someone comes and asks you what a bug is about. If that bug is titled “Widget tree fails to initialise correctly” then it’s going to be a lot harder for you to recall the details. If the title is “Widget tree only populated with even numbered widgets in widget editor” then you’ll have a much better chance of being able to recall what the bug is. Essentially the title should provide you with enough context to recall the details of the bug if you’ve looked at them before, and enough context to roughly grasp the bug if you’ve not looked at the details.

Screen shots are invaluable. It’s so much easier to comprehend visual bugs if a screen shot is provided. That’s not to say that they are a substitute for a description of the bug but it’s much easier to show the way in which the alignment of widgets in the widget tree is erratic than it is to describe it. I think the basic rule is that the the description should provide enough text that you can be sure of finding the bug if you search for it. If the bug is a visual issue then it should have a screen shot. One caveat to this is that if the screen shot is demonstrating a problem with a textual component - e.g. a stack trace - then it’s important to have that stack trace as text so you can search for it later.

You have to have information on how reproducible the bug is. If the bug report says that something failed without saying if it consistently failed or it failed just the once then you’re missing vital information. This is most important for catastrophic failures. If something fails you need to know if it’s a consistent occurrence or if it was something that happened only the once. Make sure people understand that there’s nothing wrong with submitting a bug about something they couldn’t reproduce as long as they say they couldn’t reproduce it.

Be a bastard about spelling. You need to be sure that when you search for all bugs with Widget in the description that you will get all of them and that there are not bugs with Widjet that you are missing.

The final point is that you need to make all this stuff clear up front and then reinforce it immediately if people get it wrong. Do not hope that people will pick up on stuff as they go. If they are submitting bugs and you are not pushing back on these issues they’ll, understandably, assume what they are doing is fine. This is the one I find the hardest as I’m a pretty laid back person and I don’t like to give people grief but you are digging a hole for yourself if you don’t. If you explain things to people and tell them why things are this way then they will understand.

posted at: 23:08 #

Sat, 04 Nov 2006

six months on the road

It’s been six months since I decided that a road bike would be a good thing to own. I was doing a lot of mileage on the road on the mountain bike and getting fed up with wearing out knobbly tires on the road. I toyed with the idea of a second set of wheels but you really should use the right tool for the job.

Plus more bicycles is almost always the right answer.

It’s mostly been a good experience. The sheer fitness of purpose that a road bike exudes makes it a joy to ride. It is one of the few things I own where it’s hard to imagine something better suited to the task at hand. And it shows in the ease with which you can cover the miles. On the mountain bike 30 miles on the road seemed like a pretty decent ride whereas now if I get home and I’ve done less than 30 miles then I feel a bit let down. I find myself adding in extra loops to rides partly to prolong the ride and partly as I often find the ride’s taken less time than I expected so I have the time to go further.

What’s also noticeable is that after a couple of hours on the road you don’t feel as tired. It’s simply much less effort to get the thing going and to keep it going.

The bad is that hills hurt. As soon as the road gets anything like reasonably steep I really begin to suffer. Years of having a mountain bike have acclimatised me the the idea that you always have a lower gear. This is not the case on a road bike. You run out of lower gears alarmingly quickly and after that it’s all suffering and brute strength to get yourself to the top. I imagine this is doing wonders for my fitness but it doesn’t make it any more pleasant.

On the plus side it does now mean when I’m on the mountain bike most hills seem pretty easy.

A road bike also provides one with an appreciation of how badly maintained many roads are. You do feel all the bumps.

The other bad is that because I bought a low end road bike it came with Shimano Sora Dual Control levers. These are terrible. Normal dual control levers come with the brake lever, which also acts to let you shift up the cassette/chainrings, and behind this a smaller lever behind this to shift down. The brake lever on Sora units functions in the same way but the downshift is via a tiny little release on the side of the unit roughly level with where the brake lever pivot is. This is fine if you are riding on the hoods of the lever: both up and down shifts are equally accessible. If you have your hands on the drops though down shifts are not at all easy to reach. It’s an ergonomic disaster. The levers are the only reason I wish I’d spent some more cash and got the next model up. And of course because they are only 8 speed and everything above them is 9 or 10 upgrading would not be cheap.

posted at: 22:03 #

Sat, 07 Oct 2006

rss2mail2 v2.29

A release with actual features!

The features in question being that now if you do:

rss2mail2 --add http://example.com/feed.atom

it will fetch the feed, pull the feed name out and use that as the name of the feed. Which is nice. If you pass in the --auto option with this then it will do auto discovery on the URL first.

The other new feature is the --opml switch which will spew out the list of subscribed feeds in OPML format. You will of course need the relevant CPAN module, XML::OPML, for this to work, however if you don’t have it then it’ll fail gracefully.

There’s also a couple of new options in the configuration file: max_not_found and no_diffs. The first of these allows you to set how many failures occur before a feed is unsubscribed from. The second turns off the diffs on updated feed entries.

The final new thing is that the add, update and delete confirmation messages now provide you with the feed name.

And of course there’s a couple of bug fixes.

It’s available for download in the usual place.

posted at: 17:43 #

Wed, 30 Aug 2006

rss2mail2 v 2.28

So, another release of mostly bugfixes. Alexey Tourbin pointed out that if you choose the mail per item option then it should deliver the mails in the order the items were posted so that’s fixed.

It also now spits out the URL of the feed in the automatic unsubscribe messages, as well as having the number of failed attempts before this happens increased.

The rest are just minor fixes, mostly to deal with overly clever Atom feeds.

And as a bonus it now depends on List::Util as well.

Anyway, you can download it as ever.

posted at: 22:01 #

Wed, 02 Aug 2006

pump up your tyres

If anyone ever asks me for my top tip for the casual cyclist it will be pump up your tyres. Sometimes it seems like every other cyclist I see is wallowing past me on grossly under inflated tyres, thereby greatly increasing their rolling resistance and making their bike corner as if mounted on jelly.

posted at: 20:36 #

Mon, 03 Jul 2006


I now have a cat. There will be no pictures.

posted at: 09:41 #

Fri, 09 Jun 2006

a sense of deja vu

During the last world cup I spent a lot of time worrying about the scores. This was not due to an overwhelming love of football rather than it being my job. While the rest of the country, or so it seemed, drank themselves into insensibility in front of the telly I huddled over a computer monitoring and tending various data feeds. It was no fun and I swore after that I would never again do anything involving the distribution of time critical information.

So, this afternoon as the world cup kicked off and people in the office did the usual calling out of scores I thought there had to be a better way. And so we have wc_score_updater which cheerfully rips scores from the BBC’s website and then runs a command when they change, passing in the scores as an argument. In the default case it runs send_jabber which is my quick hack to send jabber messages. It has a config file.

They have zero documentation but they’re simple and you’re bright people so I’m sure you can figure out how to make them do what you want.

posted at: 21:15 #

Thu, 06 Apr 2006

Zawinski’s Law

It used to be the case that Zawinski’s Law was true. Having just been looking at Trillian and noting that is supports reading RSS feeds I think it’s time to replace “read mail” with “read feeds”.

posted at: 12:52 #

Sat, 18 Mar 2006

other method

You wonder what other method includes.

posted at: 17:45 #

Tue, 14 Mar 2006

storytitle 0.6

Just a short note to say that thanks to a patch from Anthony DeLorenzo storytitle has been updated to pay attention to user file extension preferences.

This will be of interest to very few people…

posted at: 22:41 #

Sun, 26 Feb 2006

roadside rubbish

Something I notice a lot as I cycle along the back roads of Fife is the quantity of rubbish beside them. I don’t think that Fife is especially unusual in this regard either. Most of it is, if not exactly explicable to me, not surprising: crisp packets, empty cigarette packets, empty fizzy drink cans and so on. Some of it is baffling.

This afternoon I noticed at least a dozen cans of Tennants spread over about a mile. The odd can every now and again makes sense but so many in such a short distance is hard to account for. You have to assume those responsible were in a car as the road in question doesn’t really connect anywhere of note. Not to mention that a dozen cans of lager are reasonably weighty, although the consumption rate involved indicates this to be a rapidly diminishing problem, and the first can is several miles from anything that could even describe itself as a hamlet. Assuming that these cans have indeed been left by people in a car then you either have to imagine a car full of people shotgunning cans of Tennants and hurling them out the car as they finish or people with a car full of empty cans throwing them out as they go. Neither seems terribly likely.

The other thing that amazes me is the quantity of McDonald’s branded rubbish I see. I don’t see very much of it but as most of the roads I cycle on are at least 20 miles from the nearest McDonald’s to see any is vaguely astounding.

What puzzles me most about all this rubbish is that it’s there at all. Ignoring the possibility that the perpetrators have any sort of environmental conscience, or at least one that stretches beyond the environment within their car, I can’t help but think that throwing things out your car is no more effort than to put it in a bin at the end of your journey. I’m apparently mistaken in this belief.

posted at: 21:47 #

Fri, 24 Feb 2006

WWW is optional

Hello Canon UK. You are not the only offender by a long shot. Regardless, it’s not rocket science to make http://www.canon.co.uk and http://canon.co.uk/ both work and point at the same thing.

This is one of my biggest pet peeves with websites. Because I am lazy I tend not to type the www in URLs unless I know it’s strictly necessary. And even then I resent having to do it because the people setting up the website were too lazy to make it work. There really isn’t any excuse. Your webserver almost certainly supports the notion that www.example.com and example.com both point to the same website. Even the BBC, who for years didn’t and came up with numerous excuses for not doing so, have made it work.

posted at: 23:03 #

Mon, 23 Jan 2006

brane science

If you wanted to describe neuroscience to an audience of children then I can see why you’d refer to it as brain science. If your audience is radio 4 listeners and the program is start the week then it might be an idea to credit them with enough knowledge to know what neuroscience is.

Today I have learnt that scientists actually do study branes. Sadly it mostly seems to be the result of being too lazy to type an eight letter word.

posted at: 22:07 #

Wed, 11 Jan 2006

new mac battery type

One thing I’ve not seen mentioned anywhere, and I’ve not looked that hard, is that the new MacBook Pros have changed their battery type from li-ion to lithium-polymer. What interests me about this is that if this BIKEmagic article is to be believed then lithium-polymer batteries have a considerably shorter cycle life. A quick poke at the relevant wikipedia page seems to bear this out to some extent. Which is a little concerning given how much laptop batteries cost.

posted at: 23:31 #

the irony of crowds

posted at: 22:44 #

shouting at the radio

I drive 45 miles to work. It takes about an hour. An hour that, ideally, coincides with the last hour of the today programme on radio 4. Usually this means that I get to hear whoever they interview just after 8. This is often a government minister and seems to feature Charles Clarke disproportionately, although that probably says more about how I feel about him than actually reflecting reality.

The consequence of this is that I spend a chunk of my commute shouting at the radio. I like to pretend it’s therapeutic. This morning it was people interviewed about a man asked to take his hat off in a pub as the hat was obscuring the CCTV camera’s view of his face. “It’s for our safety” one man said. How? In what way does the pub being able to record pictures of you make you safer? I would hazard that most people on the point pf starting fights in pubs don’t look round the pub and think “Blimey, a camera. I might just have another orange juice instead.”

Usually though, it’s politicians that provoke the shouting. There’s nothing better than listening to someone avoiding the issue, conflating two unrelated issues or being just plain wrong (hello Charles Clarke) to make me shout at the radio. I try to listen quietly. It usually goes well for the first bit and then I’ll cheerfully be told that because the Americans have told us in the past when they were rendering people through the U.K. and they haven’t mentioned this lately that they obviously aren’t doing it. I then find myself shouting at, in this case, Jack Straw for making use of arguments so tenuous I wonder why not just say that he asked his magic 8 ball and it told him “My sources say no”.

Only marginally less annoying is the reverential attitude seemingly automatically accorded to any discussion on classical music.

I can’t be alone in doing this. At least I hope I’m not. The problem with cars is it’s hard to tell who among your fellow drivers is sitting passively, singing along to the hits of Bon Jovi or shouting at the radio.

The advantage is that you can shout at the radio.

posted at: 22:36 #

all the usual copyright stuff... [ copyright struan donald 2002 - 2012 ], plus license