Archive for August, 2003

Bad Habits

I have a bad habit. We all have bad habits, but I should know better. After all, I’m a professional software developer. I really should know better. But then, to be a bad habit, it must be both bad, and habitual.

To what behavioral horror do I alude? I like to test in production. You know, make changes to a live system, just to see what happens. Instead of making changes the test system. That was designed for testing. Changes. Bad!

But the first step with any problem is admitting you have a problem. For me, it started innocently years ago, with a web site I built and maintain for my employer. It has a small, well-defined clientel (Less than 200 users), and processes anywhere from $10 to $15 Billion dollars a month in transactions. Yes, Billion with a “b”. And so what do I do when someone reports a minor issue? Do I set up the test system, try to reproduce the problem, fix it, regression test, and then release? Well, yes, sometimes. But for minor little problems, I’ve been known to save time (hush, I know) and make the changes directly on the production system. This is an example of what professionals call Bad Mojo. Do not mess with this stuff.

While I have learned over the years not to do this at work (thankfully not the hard way; I guess I just figured out that Karma is not exempt from the Law of Averages), I’ve been doing so lately here on my weblog. Maybe this isn’t so bad, after all I’m running a personal site. I wouldn’t be the first person to let readers watch “over the shoulder” at the evolution of a design. Nevertheless, I’ve knocked the blog off the air several times while working on plugins, and this is bad form; the whole practice sets my spider-senses to tingling.

The moral of the story is that I’ve setup a mirror of this site on my Powerbook, and I’ll be (working at) confining development work to my local platform.

Speaking of site development, a few notes. Posts will remain sparse for a few more days, as I am visiting family for the Labor Day weekend, and am stuck in a pre-millenial backwater of the web (i.e., dial-up. Gasp!). I am, however, working on the site on my local copy, and hope to have a number of changes published to the site within the next several days. The overall look hasn’t changed greatly, but has been much refined (I hope). I’ve finally gotten my very first Blosxom Plugin working, and will be announcing that (and putting it to work on the site) soon. Comments are also in the works. Stay Tuned.

Flaming Potpouri for $100, Alex

Some random observations on Mozilla Firebird v0.6.1, for Mac OS X and Windows:

  • Warning: In the Mac version, holding CMD while clicking a tab closes the tab. Even if you’re working on a post via wikieditish in that tab. Even if you have alot of time invested in said post. You’ve been warned.
  • Finally got the Windows version to work on my work pc (Win2k). As noted previously, my clean install was crashing on startup. Consistantly. Even after some fairly thorough cleaning of old Mozilla install bits. Turns out it was crashing while trying to import IE favorites, and the IE Favorites tree has circular shortcuts. The solution is to move all Favs to another location (or delete them if you are feeling pyromaniacal towards your bridges), then start up Firebird. Once the import succeeds, it won’t try again, and you can restore your IE Favs if you kept them.
  • On the Mac, closing all browser windows has a curious effect. The menu bar reverts to Mozilla layout, including acces to the full Mozilla Preferences dialog and various debugging options. No parallel found yet in the Windows version.
  • The magic url about:config lets you edit many settings right in the browser window (but doesn’t work as a link in a page).
  • Scroll bars are not yet ready for prime time, at least in relation to themes. I’m currently using the theme Pinball, which does not appear to come with scroll bars. Instead, it depends on the default scroll bar implementation ( I think ). On my Windows install, switching to Pinball from another theme initially leaves the prior scrollers in place, but they break (i.e., look funky) when you scroll. A fresh restart of the app fixes the problem (assuming the theme is picked prior to restart). On the Mac, this theme never has working scrollers. This could be a bug in the theme’s chrome/rdf/other-mozilla-voodoo, but I’d hope the fallback behavior would, um, work.
  • Pop-up blockage belongs in the browser. Period. +1 for the good guys.
  • There’s a nifty extension available named StyleSelector that lets you choose alternate CSS stylesheets (or turn off all styles) right from the status bar. It needs an option to disable userStyle.css (the user stylesheet, see above) for those times when you think your ad-blocker may have whacked a non-ad.
  • To run Preference Manager in the Windows version, run MozillaFirebird.exe -p (as stated all over the Mozilla Site). This doesn’t work in the OS X version. Instead, use the trick from above in the list – close all Firebird windows. One of the menus revealed in the Menu bar will include the option to ‘switch profiles’. The resulting dialog provides access to the Preference Manager.
  • My Mac version won’t launch links from other apps… even after making a new profile, which is supposed to cure many ills. If I try (for example, clicking a link in or NetNewsWire Lite) I get the cryptic error “Error launching browser window:no XBL binding for browser”. Update: This seems to be fixed as of version 0.7.1, more info here.

Conclusion: Firebird, thoroughly unpolished at version 0.6.1, utterly rocks. It is now my default browser at work, on my (personal) Mac, and on one of my three home WinPC’s (the other two will fall as soon as I have time).

Breaking the Silence

Once again, it’s been a few days since my last post. It’s time to remedy the situation.

One of the things I was worried about when I decided to begin this weblog was content… specifically, having the discipline to post my content on a regular basis. I’ve never been a good journaler. I ran a practice blog a few months ago, and quickly found that I spent more time working on the infrastructure than on the content. Much more.

I have started writing new entries several times over the past few days. Each time I seem to get distracted or obstructed by something different. I am quickly finding a fundamental difference between writing prose and writing code – the way in which difficulty affects my desire to complete the task. When writing code, a more difficult problem tends to spark my interest, and draw me into working harder at solving the task. Technical difficulties add to the challenge. When writing prose, however, technical difficulties tend to turn me away from the task at hand. I attribute this to the differences in my perceptions of these tasks – I enjoy coding much more than writing.

For example, when writing blog entries, I often cite topics which should contain links to other resources (e.g., Blosxom). Even using textile to compose my entries, I still find the task of looking up and typing in URLs to be tedious. Late last week, I began a post, only to quickly tire of including the links for Blosxom, the plugins page, etc., yet again. So I stopped what I was doing and went looking for a better way. I recalled seeing something in Dean Allen‘s Textile 2 Announcement post regarding storing of URLs in an external file, to avoid embedding them in the text. As well as I can tell, this feature is not (yet?) a part of the perl port of Textile 2.

This led me to attempt my first ever Blosxom Plugin. After many hours of hacking (and still no post), I decided that: A) my perl is rustier than I thought, and B) My original concept for the plugin might be flawed. Eventually I gave up, but the post didn’t get done.

A day or two later, I started on another post. Again, I got distracted by the need to look up (and type) URLs, and again, I got sidetracked by the desire to come up with a strategy. I spent some time carefully combing through the Blosxom Plugins Registry looking for something applicable. Eventually, I thought of a refinement of my original idea, and returned to the failed plugin. Much hackery later, I still had no plugin (and no post). I am very close, but still sans cigar. I plan to post about it on here soon, and to seek help on the Blosxom mailing list and/or

Another hurdle to writing blog entries is the difficulty in formatting posts for my subject area. When trying to include sample code, I’m finding the interaction between wikieditish and textile to be a problem. Escaped markup in the original post gets un-escaped in the wikieditish edit box. Another enhancement for later, but one I plan not to address at the expense of site content.

This is a test…

This is a test of a new plugin for blosxom. More info to follow.

Update At least this used to be. Now it’s my testing sandbox. Never know what you might see.



It’s been quiet here for a couple days. Besides being out of town for a few days, I’ve been doing some reading/surfing/learning about CSS, site design, etc. Posting frequency should pick up again soon.

I did take a stab last nite at my first Blosxom Plugin. My perl seems rustier than I thought, however, and it’s still not working. More reading ahead….