Jul 21st, 2009

It Seems So Obvious

It seems so obvious: If you want to develop software that’s useful to people, you’ve got to talk with them. But too many developers take the anti-social approach and consider customer support to be beneath their status… If you really want to write useful software, stop spending all your time keeping up with technology. Don’t worry if your resume isn’t filled with the latest buzzwords. Instead, invest your time in talking with your customers. They don’t care what programming language you use – they only care whether your software meets their needs, and the best way to ensure that is by breaking out of your cone of silence and opening the lines of communication.

Via SvN

Jul 16th, 2009

The Hyannis Sound - On The Clock

I’ve been a big fan of The Hyannis Sound since 1999, when the first Chip joined the group. Some friends and I camped out in the backyard of their (then) Orleans house in the summer of 2003 because… well, just because. It seemed like a good idea at the time, (though incidentally that was the same weekend my Jetta’s engine decided to explode, so maybe I should have stayed home?) I digress…

On the Clock is THS’ third 100% studio album, their 16th overall, (though wikipedia would have you believe it was 14). It’s an excellent work overall, and most definitely re-playable. I have the slightly annoying habit of listening to new music on repeat ad nauseum, and there are absolutely tracks on this disc that will make my recurring playlists. Without further ado:

Biggest Surprise: Track 7 - Falling Slowly (Holy Crap!)

Biggest Disappointment: Track 10 - Something Happened on the Way To Heaven

Overall Rating: The mathematical average of my ratings is right around 75%, but since I’m rating on a scale of 1 to 10, I’ll happily give it an 8/10.

Read on
Jul 14th, 2009

XHTML 1.1 Strict New Window Links With jQuery

I was throwing together a prototype site last night and I thought it might be nice to aim for XHTML 1.1 Strict compliance, really just for kicks. Most of the time, this is no big deal, but I was stuck on one need that the site had: open off-site links in a new window. The target attribute is a big no-no in XHTML Strict and while I'm not really a purist, it was somewhat bothersome that I only had one error left without a good markup-based solution.

One of the tenets of XHTML is to force (strictly!) the user-agent to be responsible for the agent-specific actions on the page. In this case, since a modern browser on a modern OS can handle a "new window", the browser should handle it. But, the same site, when rendered in a different browser (e.g. Safari on the iPhone) might not be able to handle a new window, so the markup itself shouldn't add such an instruction. Sounds annoyingly simple enough, except when I want the non-standard action.

Enter JavaScript, which shouldn't surprise me since I want to manipulate the DOM within browsers that can handle it. A quick google led me to an example over at Sitepoint using Javascript to add the target="_blank" attribute after the page loads:

function externalLinks() {
    if (!document.getElementsByTagName) return;
    var anchors = document.getElementsByTagName("a");
    for (var i=0; i<anchors.length; i++) {
        var anchor = anchors[i];
        if (anchor.getAttribute("href") &&
            anchor.getAttribute("rel") == "external")
            anchor.target = "_blank";
window.onload = externalLinks;

This really seemed inelegant to me. I'm already using jQuery on the site for something else, so I re-wrote the above into a jQuery chain, which just feels better:

Jul 4th, 2009

Two standard deviations from the mean

Instead of our students learning about the technique of calculus, I think it would be far more significant if all of them knew what "two standard deviations from the mean" means, and I mean it.

Jun 30th, 2009

Arthur Benjamin's Formula For Changing Math Education

I am speechlessly in agreement with this. I've ranted about math education before. There's something just so effective about his three-minute stated solution to the problem. I dig it. I never use calculus, but statistics? Easily on a weekly basis.

Jun 30th, 2009


via -Gareth- – RIP MJ.

Jun 26th, 2009

Customer Service Win: Liberty Mutual

A little over a month ago, I was gifted with a light-duty trailer. It's about 15 years old and I'll use it to haul crap to the local recycling/refuse center, transport craigslist purchases, annoy the cats, etc. The only catch is that my vehicle for towing it is a 2002 Saturn SL sedan, but he's scrappy, so I have high hopes. In Massachusetts, for light-duty trailers there's no insurance premium, but you do have to register the trailer so that it has its own plates. Your insurance company gives you an RMV-1 form to bring to the ever-exciting Registry of Motor Vehicles, you pay some fees, get a plate, and you may commence hauling.

We switched insurers last year after Mass de-regulated it's auto insurance. I was a Commerce customer via AAA for years, and put up with their piss-poor customer service for the 15% discount I was recieving. (It was almost an even trade.) My company offered a group discount for a couple of companies, and based on what I wanted to insure, my only option was Liberty Mutual. I hadn't heard anything bad about them, but also nothing good. From the first call with our rep, I've been pleased, but not so over-the-top pleased that I felt I needed to say anything about it.

When people do what you perceive as their job, that's not much to write home about. When they exceed those expectations, then it's noteworthy.

I've been pretty busy the last month and haven't had a chance to get the trailer hitch installed on my car. As a result, I never bothered to register the trailer after my visit to Liberty's office. Today I received a call from the agent who assisted me saying they noticed I hadn't registered it yet and that my RMV-1 form was about to expire.

Wow, that's totally my own darn fault. Matt FAIL.

Then she said there was a new form in the mail and that it should arrive tomorrow.

Liberty Mutual WIN. +10 for making my life easier, guys. Thanks.

Jun 24th, 2009

Failing Slowly

Not sure which is funnier: the comic, or the ridiculous banter on the dilbert.com website about how "software can't be 100% bug free" and "it's impossible to fix every bug".

Oh shut up people! It's a comic strip!


Jun 22nd, 2009

I Don't Care How Good You Are At Programming

I don’t care how good you are at programming, finding bugs, whatever. If you’re rude, or if you speak poorly to people who don’t understand your... quirks... you will wind up being shunted to the side. No one wants to work with someone who makes them feel beat down all the time, or someone who they simply can’t understand, or someone whose reaction to every issue is to start wailing about the end of the world.

Via SvN

This is such a great concept to keep at the front of one's mind. Everyone, from your customers to your co-workers, family and friends, deserve your niceness. Their concerns and questions are real. Your attitude can go a long way toward keeping the peace! Her follow-up post defining What Really Is Nice? also hits home for me.

Jun 19th, 2009