Friday, April 29, 2005

Google Desktop Search + Java

One of my favorite pieces of software that died while trying the Extreme Sport of transitioning from DOS to Windows was Magellan. It was a file manager for DOS that indexed your hard drive, then showed you the results in a list. Searching for some phrase that was on your drive was instantaneous. Now, you can get the same thing with Google Desktop. My only complaint is that you can't tell it what types of files you want it to index -- it defaults to things like Office documents and emails. But, lo and behold, there is a plug-in API. And someone has written a Google desktop plug-in that indexes Java source files. Plug it in, let it trundle a while to build the index, and you have instant access to interesting stuff you have in your Java files. Great for spelunking around a deep and wide object hierarchy. Because it's indexed, it's as fast as Ctnl-N in IntelliJ for finding classes, but it works over the entire file system, even on really large drives.

It indexes on the fly (it's amazing how fast it picks up new files), waiting on CPU idle time to kick in. The indexes on my machine currently take up about 1.5% of the disk. It changes the way you search for things, though...I'll give up 2% of my hard drive to get instant access to needles in a 30+ GB haystack.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Helpful/Annoying Software

Helpful people are annoying. Robert Fripp Aphorism

I can't stand chatty software that's trying to be helpful. I understand the motivation (Grandma needs help when she runs (or, more likely, walks) the computer) but I can't stand it. The first thing I do when encountering a fresh Windows install is to turn off all the cute animations, tips, offers for tours, etc. Bob or his illegitimate son, Clippy, anyone? My latest rant-inducing episode: I just installed Visual Studio .NET 2005. It very helpfully rewired my operating system to open all .java files in Visual Studio when I double click on them (because they must be Visual J# files, right?) Arrrgh! It's not like I can't change it back, it's just annoying.

As a public service, here is how to turn off those nattering ballon tips that appear over the task tray and never seem to go away. Thanks but no thanks:

Registry Key: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced

Data Type: REG_DWORD [Dword Value] // Value Name: EnableBalloonTips
Setting for Value Data: [0 = Balloon Tips Disabled / 1 = Balloon Tips Enabled]

Exit Registry and Reboot

Also as a public service, if you don't know about it, there is an entire web site dedicated (no, devoted) to fixing annoying software behavior: Talk about a cottage industry with guaranteed growth...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Andy and Joel

I've been catching up on some geek reading lately. You know those books that twinkle at you from the bookshelf, when you know good and well you should read FooBar in Action book or some other varmint-ridden OReilly book, some books entice with their "You don't need to read me, you want to read me" smoky looks. Well, I succumbed recently. I had a trip and decided that instead of taking "normal" reading material, I would take two enticing geek-tomes. My choices? Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made by Andy Hertzfeld and Joel on Software: And on Diverse and Occasionally Related Matters That Will Prove of Interest to Software Developers, Designers, and Managers, and to Those Who, Whether by Good Fortune or Ill Luck, Work with Them in Some Capacity by Joel Spolsky. While at first glance, it looks like I picked the 2 books with the longest sub-titles, that wasn't the case.

Both books are great reads, but the interesting juxtaposition between them is the cultural whiplash you get if you read them side-by-side. The Mac book is all about figuring out The Coolest Way to Do This Thing That Hasn't Been Done Before, mostly in Motorola 68x assembly language. It's frightening to think that the first Macs (you know, the ones with a graphical user interface) had only 128K of memory! The overriding concern was uncompromising excellence. Joel's book is much more pragmatic. It has lots of good advice for anyone engaged in software development. In fact, lots of the advice that I foist on people in my Clean Up Your Code talk overlaps with some of Joel's advice. In one of the chapters he talks about the battle within Microsoft between the pragmatists and the visionaries.

Which brings up the interesting question: when should you be pragmatic and when should you be visionary? If the Mac guys had been pragmatic, we would have had a slightly sexier Applet ][e, not the Mac. But, being visionary doesn't mean that you win or even survive (see BeOS, Amiga, NextStep, the list goes on and on). That's the razor's edge we talk as technologists -- figuring out when to be pragmatic (and get paid, keep a job, and other mundane concerns) and when to say "What the f%#k -- I designing a dialog box with rounded corners because it's never been done before!". For more information about this dilemma, see Rails, Ruby on.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Aspects in the Business Layer

While I was at No Fluff, Just Stuff Boston this last weekend, I got into a conversation with a couple of interesting guys (sorry, fellows, I didn't get your names) at lunch who had attended my Enterprise Debugging session. This always happens at No Fluff, Just Stuff events -- the conversations with other speakers and attendees at lunch and in the halls is at least as interesting as the talks. Anyway, we started talking about aspects and how mainstream they are slowly becoming. I stated my position (which I blogged about earlier) that I believe that they will gradually make their way from the boundary layer into the business layer much like OOP did (see my previous blog entry about this theory). Neither of them bought it -- they were both convinced that aspects are forever going to reside in the boundary layer.

Then, I challenged them: name some cross-cutting business concerns. We thought about it for about 30 seconds and came up with several: legal, regulatory, sales & marketing. These are business concepts that cross-cut the traditional business layer, needing just a little attention in lots of places. And that's why aspects exist. This re-affirms my thinking that we will see this type of code more and more as aspects become more mainstream. It took 1 believer and 2 skeptics about a minute to find where aspects fit outside the business layer. Imagine what we would find if we actually put some effort into it!

Saturday, April 09, 2005


Who does definition sound like:

This person has an intense and obsessive level of focus on things of interest and is often characterized by special (and possibly peculiar) gifts; one person might be obsessed with 1950s professional wrestling, another with national anthems of African dictatorships, another with building models out of matchsticks. Particularly common interests are means of transport (for example trains), computers, and dinosaurs. These interests are often coupled with an unusually high capacity to retain and recall encyclopedic amounts of information about the favored subject. In general, orderly things have appeal to these individuals, and they often manifests extremely sophisticated reason, an almost obsessive focus, and eidetic memory.

Sound like most of the developers you've ever met? Well, it's the Wikipedia definition of Asperger's Syndrome, a really mild form of Autism. Instead of seeing something like autism vs "normal" mental development, it's really more of a sliding scale. You've often heard that developers have special in-born characteristics -- I think these folks are a little more towards Aspergers than most. This explains a lot about the social skills and concentration abilities of really brilliant developers who don't interact well with the other humanoids. And why we can't get dates.

Update: Coincidentally, the very night that I posted this blog, I went to dinner with someone (very well respected writer and speaker) who has a child with Aspergers. He was telling me that this is a real problem in Silicon Valley -- geeks marrying geeks and having borderline autistic children. Talking to him made me realize that this entry might be construed to trivialize Asperger's Syndrome. That is not my intent at all -- it is a serious condition. However, talking to my friend drove home the point I made above even more strongly.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Leaving DSW

After 11 1/2 years, I'm leaving The DSW Group to take advantage of an extraordinary opportunity at ThoughtWorks. I have had a wonderful run at DSW, and both I and the company have benefited from my years of working there. I leave DSW on very good terms, leaving lots of friends (not just coworkers) behind. While Terry and DSW didn't want me to leave, he understands that I have a unique career opportunity in ThoughtWorks and he wishes me all the best.

Consequently, my email addresses at DSW will no longer be active. If you need to reach me, you can do so at nford <at> or at <at> Of course, you can keep up with my travels, career, and hobbies still at and here at my blog.

Thanks again to everyone at DSW for making my employment stay there extremely rewarding on a personal and professional level and I wish them all the best as I move to another chapter in my career.