Category Archives: Observations

General observations about society or life in particular.

Always be shipping

In a year and a half as a lead on a fairly massive software project with a very small and tight team, one axiom sticks out as the key to happiness — always be shipping.

It forces you to look at problems in smaller chunks. (Admittedly much easier said than done!) It gives the team a constant sense of accomplishment, as the thing they are working on is constantly seeing some sort of polish or improvement. For building larger projects, shipping components behind the scenes and letting them bake in production is a really nice and easy way to keep things moving.

Earlier this year my team without the aid of automated unit tests (we had some UI tests that were getting quite a trial by fire!) rattled off an admittedly stressful 33-day streak of shipping at least one thing, whether it be a bug fix, improvement, or new feature. The conditions were that the one thing had to pass QA before it went out — no shortcuts, no releasing for the sake of releasing. As I said, it was stressful, but it was a great exercise. (That being said, do not try this at home.)

I’ve been applying the “just ship” mentality to my weather projects recently and it has helped me overcome a lot of analysis paralysis of how to proceed. As a result, long-standing bugs in the @chswx bot have been fixed and the accompanying website finally got the mobile-first facelift it needed.

Shipping makes me happy. It should make you happy, too.

Just ship, baby.

So much iOS 7 frenzy, so little time

A lot has been written about iOS 7’s release since yesterday. I’ll spare you those nitty-gritty details. If you’re interested in a high-level overview about how it all works and what to expect if you’ve yet to get it installed, I think James Williams did a really superb job at showcasing the big things.

From a personal perspective, I offer these thoughts:

  • iOS 7 feels lighter and more effortless to use than its predecessors. I’ve thought this since I first put beta 2 on my daily-driver iPhone 5 and I still think this now.
  • I stopped noticing the icons about a day or so in the first time. They are not the end of the world, nor are they a sign that the operating system is somehow horribly flawed. Is there room for improvement? Sure there is. That improvement will come as this look matures.
  • My excitement wasn’t around the public availability of iOS 7 itself (I’ve been running the gold master build for a week) but was more focused on finally seeing what app developers have done with the new interface. It’s impressive what some have done in three months, while others simply reskinned their existing apps to keep up (anything built against the iOS 6 SDK looks tremendously out of place). My best advice is to not judge iOS 7-ready apps by what came out on Wednesday — it will take more time for new conventions to really work themselves out in the iOS 7 world. The emphasis on using the full screen for content should yield some tremendous creativity and excellent design — I’m pretty excited to see what people come up with.
  • iOS 6 has looked gaudy and heavy for a few months now. It’s such a jarring difference going back and forth between the two looks.
  • My iPad 2 is finally starting to show its age — it does feel a little slower and the iOS 7 interface is just inferior on a non-Retina display device. (I’ve seen it on a fourth-generation iPad and it is just gorgeous.)
  • Some of the special multitasking gestures on the iPad feel awkward now, especially swiping four fingers up from the bottom of the screen to get to the task list. Before, the foreground view (active app or home screen) would slide up, revealing the linen-backed task list panel underneath. Now, swiping up continues to display the multitasking UI, but the active window slides up and to the left, which just does not feel natural. This definitely needs some work.
  • I will never get over seeing non-geeks get really excited for a new release of an operating system. It wasn’t long ago when similar enthusiasm would draw blank stares and the friend zone.

Where have all the custom themes gone?

Who out there still fully customizes (or even totally writes from scratch) their own theme for their CMS or otherwise themable software? More and more this seems to be a dying art, especially on personal blogs, and it’s kind of a shame. I find a lot of joy in rolling my own code. Are theme frameworks just that good now that writing from scratch is foolhardy? Genuinely curious.

The challenge of keeping up

I feel a lot better about being overwhelmed with the breakneck pace of technology over the last year or two after reading Calvin Webster’s post on his trying to keep up. I personally feel the challenge to continually learn and, in some cases, reinvent myself has been the hardest thing about my career thus far. But enough about me, go read Calvin’s post. It’s a good one, and I like the steps he’s taking to try to keep up.

The undoing of a thought experiment

I have a thought experiment in draft that toys with the notion of what Lowcountry Bloggers roundups would have been like if Twitter really did kill RSS. It’s interesting, but then when you consider how much differently Twitter would likely have evolved if in fact it was groomed to be a replacement for RSS, it all kind of unravels a bit. I’d still like to hear your thoughts, though.

WordPress 3.1 coming soon

WordPress 3.1 is coming soon, and it really seems it’s getting some serious CMS muscle. Features such as internal linking are right out of every major CMS’s playbook, and post formats are a very interesting WordPress-based answer to the different post types Tumblr provides. I’m not sure how much mileage I’ll be getting out of those features, though, as I do a majority of my writing in MarsEdit and leave the WordPress control panel to handle system administration tasks. It’s unclear if WordPress’s developers have added anything extra to the XML-RPC API to allow third-party clients to take advantage of the post formats (I suspect not, given that they are theme hooks). The other consideration: data portability. Most, if not all, WordPress blogs to this point have implemented asides using theme logic to find posts in a specific category (In Brief here on jaredwsmith.com). This works well and is inherently compatible with all sorts of third-party clients from MarsEdit to Flickr’s auto-post. If my mischievous, tinkering side somehow convinced my rational, change-resistant side that moving jaredwsmith.com to something like Melody was a good idea, it would be trivial to write Melody template code to format posts in my In Brief category in a special way. If I implemented asides (or other post types, for that matter) using WordPress’s hooks, it is less clear whether it would be so easy. Thus, I’m likely to stick to my category-based way of differentiating posts; it might not be the most elegant solution anymore, but I know it works and I know it will remain compatible even if I switch platforms.

Oh, The (Lack Of) Humanity

One feature of New Twitter is that it puts your new followers right in plain view on your home timeline. As someone who doesn’t get new follower e-mail anymore, this is a handy feature. However, it’s just been damned disappointing how many accounts follow me that are either pure spam or just a feed of links to a blog. Come on people. You can do better than that.

iLines and my never-ending phone indecision

There are lots of people standing in iLines this morning so they can get their new, shiny, black-only iPhones 4. I did the iLine thing a couple years ago at the opening of the Charleston Apple Store. It was fun — there’s undoubtedly an energy around the Apple experience. It’s downright fascinating to watch just how easily Apple can whip the masses up into a frenzy for their products, and it seems from various things I’m reading around the Web that iPhone 4 is no exception.

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April Fool’s

phpBB 1 Essentials CoverToday I tweeted an announcement of a new phpBB book — phpBB 1 Essentials. As you might expect, it was an April Fool’s joke. It wasn’t a bad one, either — pretty sure a couple people were convinced. Patrick O’Keefe, who runs phpBBHacks.com, and I have collaborated on several April Fool’s jokes over the years over there, and it’s always a pleasure to cut up a bit on an annual basis. :)

My favorite April Fool’s gag of the day, though, is popular Web comic xkcd‘s command-line interface. It’s awesome enough that xkcd ensured good fidelity with popular UNIX commands, but it’s even more awesome that the source code to the joke was released under the GPL. Looking around, it seems it was adapted from an old WordPress command line theme. I sincerely hope xkcd retains “unixkcd” (as it was dubbed) as an interface option going forward. (Update: unixkcd does indeed live on.)

A month of Chrome on the Mac

It’s been around a month since I pulled the trigger and made the Google Chrome beta channel (which I’ve since upgraded to the dev channel for extension support) the default browser on my Mac. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough to where I can’t go back to Firefox now as my daily driver.

The three big reasons why Chrome reigns supreme? Speed, more speed, and WebKit. And now that extensions have come over to the Mac, there’s not too terribly many reasons to stick with Firefox anymore.

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