Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Hallowe'en II: Boxing Day

Here's a scary/stupid trick to pull if you, like me, are a finalist for Biggest Email Pack Rat On The Internet.

Open Apple Mail's Preferences, select the "General" tab, and change Dock unread count from Inbox Only to All Mailboxes. I double-dare you.

Or, it might just be too depressing. I went from a mere(!) 355 unread messages to…


Let's see, at an average of just under 2 minutes each (clocked over a recent week), cleaning that out would take me some 78 days, 2 hours and 24 minutes, during which some 31,000 new emails (not including auto-filtered spam at ~85% of total incoming email) would arrive. Assuming I could stay awake that long. Caffeine is The Elixir of Life™, but… "filling a baby's eyedropper from a raging waterfall" does not even begin to do the image justice. Maybe the old Ragú ad slogan, "It's In There".

There has to be a better way.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Cover Yourself: Toolchains Are Agile, Too

As people who know me professionally and/or read my blog know well, I have been a (raucously) loud evangelist for test-first development (TDD, BDD, Scrum, whatever your flavour) for years now. If I write even an exploratory bit of code and don't have tests in place first, I get very uncomfortable. As complexity increases, without tests (preferably automated, repeatable tests), I argue that I simply can't know what's really going on, because I can't prove it.

A major corollary to this is test coverage reporting. If I can't see what's been tested and what hasn't, then in a very real sense nothing has been, since I can't document/prove what has been and what hasn't. And the better (more productive) teams I've worked in have established, and regularly hit, coverage testing better than 95%, with 100% being a common (and commonly attained) goal. (Edit: Note that this is for C0 and C1 test coverage; tools that cover C3 and C4 are rare to nonexistent in most languages, such as Ruby.)

As you may also know, I've been getting (back) into Ruby development, using Rails 3 on Ruby 1.9. Ruby's long-time de facto standard coverage tool for many years was rcov, which generally worked well. However, Rob Sanheim has stated that "RCov does not, and will not support C based Ruby 1.9.x implementations due to significant changes between 1.8 and 1.9.". He recommends either SimpleCov or CoverMe. Ripping out RCov and replacing it with CoverMeSimpleCov on a test project took all of five minutes and left me with attractive, functional, (so far apparently) quite accurate reports.

One of the basic principles of agile development is that the team must actively embrace constructive change as their project evolves. It's often easy for harried, hurried people to forget that that applies to their tools as much as it does to what they produce using those tools.

Just a thought as my evening winds down.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Well, that was fast.

Like many of you, I expect, I take a good look around at tools like editors when my needs change dramatically. A new system, or a language or app type I haven't worked with in a while, and I'll go out and see what the community is using (or at least buzzing about), narrow that down to a list of 2 or 3 to try, and start trying them out. Usually, I'll try one for a few days and then switch to the next one for a few days, until I've got lists of things I like and don't like, and make a decision. The last time I took a serious look at this was a couple of years ago, when I shelled out for Komodo IDE (which I still enthusiastically recommend to PHP developers in particular, by the way).

Recently, I've started working again intensely with Ruby, on a Mac instead of Linux as years earlier, and some quick research looking around mailing lists, group archives, and such, strongly suggested that TextMate was The Gold Standard.

But I'd never really done a head-to-head comparison, and I knew that BBEdit and RubyMine had passionate evangelists in the community.

So I downloaded the 30-day eval of RubyMine and fired it up.

I tried to open a Git project that I've worked with extensively in TextMate and from the Git command line. One immediate issue: copy-and-paste between the Mac pasteboard and the edit fields in the RubyMine dialog did not work. I then opened the project directory using RubyMine's "open a directory" feature; it found Git all right, but gave half a dozen red flags and refused to work further.

"What could cause such a reputed package to crap out so completely," I asked myself as I started browsing around inside the app directory. The answer became quickly obvious.

"Oh, it's a Java app." No native UI at all — though to be honest, you have to look closely at the UI widgets to tell.

It took less time to install the app, have it flame out, and uninstall it than it did to write this post.

The sooner we either a) rid the desktop world of Java or b) get the Java community to adopt usable desktop interoperability, the better. I'm years past the point where I care which option is selected, but one had better be.

Monday, 5 December 2011

YAHA! (Yet Another 'Hey, Apple…') Hey, SingTel, you, too.

Hey, Apple…

I like what works, and what helps me work better/faster/more enjoyably; the more of these boxes that get ticked, the better. After all, that's why I'm sitting in front of two iMacs with a MacBook Pro and iPad close to hand.


The new iMacs are a wonder. A 27" display, 2560 x 1440 resolution; absolutely gorgeous. I can have two full-page views plus a Terminal open on the same screen. Two steps forward for usability.

Now for one step back. The mouse cursor appears to be the same size as on my 15" MacBook Pro, even though I'm now looking at nearly three times as many pixels and, more importantly, screen area. How about taking a page from somebody else's playbook (for a change) and have some key sequence that would do a "radar-style" visual locator for the mouse cursor?

The Middle, or The Muddle, or Both

Seriously, I'm in love all over again with this new system. And if I weren't in one of the last Soviet-class customer-last economies, I'd be able to make even better use of the new tool.

With new hardware and software come new opportunities for learning. Anyone who's ever learned or discovered or done something new, or even new to him- or herself, has experimented; has pushed boundaries. Sometimes, they push back the first few times. "You'll know the pioneers because they're the ones with all the arrows in their backs" might be an Americanism, but its meaning is perfectly clear to anyone who's ever challenged Donald Rumsfeld's "unknown unknowns"; it's the things you don't know that you don't know that offer the greatest opportunities for learning — if you survive them.

Apple have always had a symbiotic relationship with leading-edge technical norms. The latest example, in OS X Lion, is that for the very first time since Macs have shipped back in 1984, no operating-system media (floppies, CDs, DVDs) come with the system. If you want to nuke from orbit and start over fresh, you use something called Lion Recovery. It's a sweet, eminently sensible idea: most Mac customers have access to fast enough Internet connections that downloading most of what you need to reinstall is less of a hassle than rooting around trying to find some discs that you just know you put in a drawer. Somewhere. Maybe it was in your home office. Maybe in the away office. Maybe they're in one of those bulging boxes marked "Computer Stuff" up in the attic. It could easily take you longer to find physical media than to download four gig or so of bits on a reasonably-modern, properly-managed and -provisioned connection.

Hey, SingTel…

And then there's Singapore.

Advertising here is (in)famous for always having the language "Terms and Conditions Apply", which in practice seems to mean "We don't have to do a single thing we said we would once you give us the money if we can think of a reason not to, or if we do deign to provide the promised product or service, we expressly reserve the right to make the experience as unpleasant as our most innovative Government Scholars™ can conjure up".

Case in point: said Lion Recovery. The way it appears to work is that when your Mac phones home to Cupertino, it then fires up a for-purpose Web server that listens on the usual ports for authenticated incoming connections (from Apple). Cupertino or its CDN upload the data to your Mac, which uses it to reinitialise your installed system. This only works, of course, if your Mac is connected to a network that allows you to do such things, without being blocked by either policy or incompetence. Ah, those terms and conditions.

The Singaporean Interwebs are full of woe documenting Apple customers' fate as victims of SingTel policy and/or incompetence, with Lion Recovery being the latest poster child for the meme. SingTel and StarHub, two of the three major telecoms companies here (and the two popularly thought of as more closely tied to the PAP Government) have intermittent-or-worse problems, while the third (M1) is apparently less hassle. People speak of tethering their Macs to their M1 phones and spending over five hours (in at least one case) successfully performing Lion Recovery. This would be greatly preferable to not being able to recover at all. Unfortunately, the M1 signal in the HDB tenement-with-pretension that I'm living in is too weak and unreliable to support that.

So I'm back to waiting, impatiently, for SingTel to get their cranial appendage out of whatever orifice it's presently stuck in, and work with Apple on fixing the problem. Apparently Apple have run against the proverbial brick wall on multiple occasions to try to help solve a problem over which they have zero control.

Hey, SingTel…