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June 26, 2004

My Amazon search horror

Inspired by postings from Don Box and Wesner Moise, I had a quick hunt on Amazon for books about Taligent.

Searching on Amazon UK for 'taligent' turned up three books, all ludicrously expensive for a curio, so I thought I'd try Amazon US. That turned up 82 books, of which, you guessed it, three were about Taligent. The rest were books that merely mentioned Taligent somewhere. Number 5 was "Understanding Color Management," which came up because Taligent were mentioned as a founding member of the ICC. Number 6 was the Buschmann POSA book, which apparently cited a Taligent document. Number 15 was Michael Crichton's Disclosure, in which a chap called Sanders rejects a company name on page 417 because it is too similar to Taligent.

Stop the madness, Amazon! How on earth can I possibly find what I'm looking for in this mess? Yes, I realise that the Amazon UK "does author or title contain word" algorithm is not always sophisticated enough. But it's right 99% of the time: when I'm searching for a book, I'm almost always looking for an author or title match, not for any and every book that mentions my search terms in passing.

Searching the book text is useful, but the default search should work on title and author alone, and maybe the blurb if Amazon really want to bloat the results. "Search inside books" should be an explicit option for when the customer knows, or has found out, that the basic search won't do, and is willing to put in the effort of wading through the tide of irrelevant sewage to find what he's looking for.

June 26, 2004 in Usability | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 24, 2004

Penguins colonise hot sandy places

Nabil Suleiman of the Iraqi Linux User Group: "There is a shortage in power and water supplies, and sewage systems, so the last thing Iraq needs is spending billions of dollars on very expensive and overpriced products, especially software products."

June 24, 2004 in Software | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

MSDN UK flies the community flag

Belated thanks to the MSDN UK team for the London Technical Roadshow (and to Tim Sneath for drawing our attention to it). Not only did our delegates find the technical content informative and eye-opening, but they were very impressed by Microsoft staffers' openness. "They were all, here's my email, here's my blog," said one attendee. For people used to strictly controlled corporate communications, MSDN's approach is a real breath of fresh air. Until I heard the surprise and pleasure in my colleague's voice, I hadn't realised how much I'd got used to hearing the reassuring internal hum of Microsoft in flight over the last six or twelve months.

What's even better? Last month I had a colleague who accepted our choice of tools vendor. This month I have a colleague who appreciates our choice of tools vendor, and has both the contacts and more importantly the moral permission to use those contacts to make the best of those tools. Microsoft have a happier and more committed user, and my team feels more confident and better supported. Microsoft may win, but I win too.

June 24, 2004 in Software | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Echoes and amplifiers

Mark Bernstein argues that the immediate-response nature of comments and trackbacks contributes to duels and mob mentality amongst webloggers, and suggests that the cooling period introduced by waiting for a centralised distribution service is beneficial.

Mark is obviously too young to remember the glory days of Usenet. Between propagation delays and the intermittent habits of dial-up users, Usenet threads were typically spun out over weeks or months. And yet Usenet became a byword for flamage, feuding and noise, and rightly so. Clearly rapid response mechanisms are not the problem, and forcibly deferred gratification is not the solution.

Could the problem be that some people don't get on, and/or that some people are griefers (aka killers), and that in a very very large group these small percentages add up to a large number? You know, like, a social problem rather than a technical one? Oh, perish the thought. Because, you know, that would be difficult to solve.

June 24, 2004 in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 21, 2004

Icons as API

Wesner Moise: "Microsoft should simply offer standard Windows XP icons and other resources as part of the Windows API."

Consistency of look and feel is more than just consistency of controls. It includes consistency of graphical and textual elements. Including common graphical and textual elements as part of the API would be a big timesaver as well as removing the nasty copyright niggles Wesner talks about.

June 21, 2004 in Usability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 16, 2004

DLL hell to versioning hell and back again?

Wesner Moise: "In a break from the present scheme, Longhorn will no longer support multiple CLRs. Every managed application will be forced to use the latest version of the CLR on the system."

Wasn't it only a couple of years ago that we were being sold on the benefits of being able to have side-by-side CLRs, so apps that were written to the idiosyncrasies of 1.0 wouldn't break under 1.1? Does this mean that if my customers upgrade to Longhorn and the Orcas CLR, then my apps written to the Everett and Whidbey CLRs may break?

June 16, 2004 in Software | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 04, 2004

I me my

Cyrus raises a chortle: "I thought that while I was on the topic of cute, adorable new things that smell slightly like poo it might be a good time to talk about VB."

Like Cyrus, I am impressed with and envious of the new "My" 'thing' in Visual Basic Whidbey. One of the goals expressed by the ASP.NET team in particular has been "reduce the amount of code you have to write in common scenarios by [outrageous number] percent." The "My" 'thing' does exactly that -- encapsulates the 90%-of-the-time case so developers don't have to pay the "flexibility tax" unless they actually need that flexibility.

There may be a danger that encapsulating this stuff means some developers will be lost at sea when the 10% time comes. Most developers will build up experience with the API using common cases which are well-documented and have many samples, and this stands them in good stead when the edge case arrives. With "My," developers' first encounter with the real API is likely to be an obscure edge case which may be poorly documented and involve cryptic overloads or flags or whatever. Whether this is a serious issue is something that I suspect could only be resolved by user testing.

Then again, for savvy developers, My.Xxx plus Reflector would be a great way to get proven sample code for those real APIs.

So I'd certainly like something like this in C#. The "My" keyword feels very un-C#-ish, a bit baby-talk -- I'd feel more comfortable with a simple unadorned Computer.Xxx, User.Xxx, etc. -- but that's the smallest of niggles. There's no honour in grinding out the same old clipboard or network code again and again, so yes, let's have a shortcut. Why not?

June 4, 2004 in Software | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Nothing to fear

The Register reports how a member of a Clash tribute band was cuffed and questioned by anti-terrorist officers for texting the lyrics to Tommy Gun to the singer. "Once he explained that the message was not part of a terrorist plot, the police accepted his explanation and let him go, but not before suggesting to Devine that he be careful about where he sent such messages in future."

Gosh, it's just as well David Blunkett has promised us that "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear," because otherwise I might have got the wrong impression.

June 4, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 03, 2004

E-learning Latin

BBC News reports on the Cambridge Online Latin Project: "Pupils now get to read about the exploits of "wheeler-dealer" Caecilius who manages to offends his wife by buying the prettiest girl available at a slave market and Grumio the cook who is in and out of affairs."

Nice to see distance learning being used to enable children who don't share majority interests to at least have a go at something a bit more out of the way.

June 3, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack