How Do You Type That?

by Nick Monday, May 19, 2008 8:33 PM

On Saturday when I was out with the Cream City Flickr Group on a photo walk, I happened to take a picture of this sign outside of La Fuente, which if you don't know, is a fantastic Mexican restaurant in Walker's Point.

I Heart La Fuente

Now I remember that the "heart" character is in the extended ASCII character set, but can you actually type it in the address bar of a modern web browser?

Incidentally... their website is actually www.megustalafuente.com which I suppose is a close approximation to the sign in Spanish.

Quotable Twitter

by Nick Wednesday, May 14, 2008 8:39 AM

From Jeff Atwood:

"How will this software get my users laid' should be on the minds of anyone writing social software (and these days, all software is)."

Isn't that the reason why men do anything?  To impress women?

Monday Music - Coulton Craze Edition

by Nick Monday, May 05, 2008 8:37 AM

In honor of a fantastic Jonathan Coulton concert in Madison on Friday, I give you a Monday Music twofer!  First there is RE: Your Brains

And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't include Code Monkey.

That's the great part about his fan base... they are all perfectly willing to make his music videos for him with World of Warcraft.

I took a few pictures with my camera phone if you're interested.  It should come as no surprise that the crowd is very geeky, and almost everyone there was wearing "the uniform"... i.e. khaki's and a polo shirt.  And when Paul and Storm announced a giveaway for the first person who could show a 12 sided die, not only was there one person there with one, but it was a race between a dozen people to see who could get it out first.  And when Jonathan asked for a Mac Book power cable because he forgot his, there was actually someone there who had one to loan.

That's Not What I'm Doing!

by Nick Friday, May 02, 2008 1:23 PM

It is my belief, based on previous experience, that every software developer should at some point in time have to watch someone who is new to your software, actually use your software for the first time.  If software is truly simple, and very usable, then it should be pretty obvious to even the most novice of users, and they shouldn't need a manual.  Moreover, things that would make someone's life very easy seem to become crystal clear as you watch the struggle to do something, and watch them try to do something the way they think it ought to work.

Today I had a similar experience to this (although not with software that I wrote), when my girlfriend started using Twitter today.  She was trying to send me an @ reply, but kept sending them as direct messages, and wanted to know how I was sending the replies so they showed up in my micro log.  We went back and forth in various emails, when finally I said this:

OK... in the box where it says "What are you doing?", you can type something like "@NickSchweitzer You are a twit" without the quotes, and it will then show up in my private twitter area, and also be visible to people in your twitter log.

Then she replied with this:

that's silly!

it's asking me what I'm doing but I want to message someone else? that's not what I'm doing!

I read that and sat back in my chair for a minute, and then went to the Twitter site, and then looked at how the twitter badge displays my micro log starting with the phrase "what am I doing...".  "Damn, she's absolutely right."  And the funny thing is, the Twitter home page has an incredibly simple layout which on the surface just screams "easy to use and understand".  And yet, just by the simple phrasing of a label, they completely mislead their users so as to not understand how to use their application.

Making something simple really is much harder than it looks.

LINQPad - The Must Have Tool

by Nick Wednesday, April 30, 2008 11:24 AM

I mentioned a couple weeks ago during my live blogging of Deeper in .NET that I was surprised that the LINQ discussions didn't utilize a utility called LINQPad.  I thought it would be worthwhile for those of you unfamiliar with the tool to write a little bit more about it, just to emphasize the importance of downloading it.  LINQPad is essentially a better version of SQL Management Studio, except instead of using raw SQL to query your database, you can use LINQ snippets.  There are some pretty sweet features in my opinion.

Ability to Navigate Foreign Key Relationships:  When you add a database connection similar to what you might do in SQL Management Studio, it shows you all the foreign key relationships with a hyperlink.  That means that when you click on the relationship, it automatically takes you to that table so you can view.  You can then see all the parent relationships so you can navigate back.

Ability to View Lambda and SQL Code:  After you've written a LINQ query, you can change the output view to show the resulting lambda version of your query, and also the resulting SQL code that gets executed.  This is invaluable as a learning tool for one, so you can see exactly how lambda expressions expand, but also to ensure that the resulting SQL is what you expect.

Ability to Run Other .NET Code:  This isn't just for querying.  You can include more complicated code in there as well, with looping structures and conditionals as well.  This gives you the opportunity to really write code snippets and test the output before you include it into your larger .NET projets.

I've really only just scratched the surface of what you can do with LINQPad.  Really you just need to download it.  It's a single executable that doesn't even have an installer.  The author of the program believes that anything with the word "pad" in the name should only require a single executable.  The only prerequisite is the .NET Framework 3.5.

O'Reilly also had a webinar more than a month ago (MOV format) with a live video demonstration of some of the cooler features which you can watch.  I highly recommend you do, so you can see some other cool features available.

My Morning Routine

by Nick Thursday, April 24, 2008 9:37 AM

I hate Internet Explorer 7.0 with a vengeance, but unfortunately due to certain policies at work, I have to use it.  The reason why I hate it may seem trivial, but it just goes to show you how a simple annoyance can eventually upset you to no end.  Internet Explorer refuses, absolutely refuses, to honor "Lock the Toolbars".  You see, I am very anal about what toolbars and strips I have on my screen, and I like to maximize the amount of viewable space for actual browsing.  So I actually try to get as many toolbars scrunched together as I can.  For whatever reason, every morning when I log in and start IE, it reorders my toolbars so that the "Links" bar is below my del.icio.us toolbar, and I have reorder them so they are next to each other.

If for some reason IE crashes on me during the day, and I have to restart it, then I have to do the "move the toolbars" dance all over again.  Why on Earth can't IE actually remember my settings and honor them?!

Is Interviewing Worthwhile?

by Nick Wednesday, April 23, 2008 11:12 AM

As part of my consulting work, I do technical interviews, both for my consulting company, and sometimes for clients as well.  This is fairly new to me, but I've jumped in with both feet and like everything I do with my job, I've tried to read up as much as I can in order to get as much good information and do the best job possible.  I take interviews very seriously, and have always seen them as an important step in the hiring process.  That's why I found this particular tidbit from a recent Megan McArdle post to be quite troubling:

There's a rich body of literature suggesting that job interviews are actually counterproductive. You are much better off hiring people (or not) based on their resume and/or body of work. Interviewing actually reduces your chances of hiring a satisfactory candidate.

This hit me hard to be honest.  Has what I've been doing for the last several months to vet candidates been a waste?  My gut reaction is of course to say no, but I think she brings up an important point, which I've read many places.  Most people who interview don't do a great job at it, because they let the interviewee do most of the talking.  If you let the person being interviewed do most of the talking, of course you won't find out anything.  They've practiced their schpeel over and over again, and have it down pat, or at least they should.  As a result you might hire somebody who is all fluff and no substance.  Worse yet, you can miss out on a great person who has deep knowledge, but is very nervous and not a good speaker, or is introverted, and therefore doesn't know how to sell themselves.

One of the posts from Coding Horror that I found to be incredibly useful was this one on getting a phone screen right.  The gist of the post is that you, the interviewer, should drive the interview.  The interview should be technical, and very specific.  Ask them to define common terminology, describe a sample architecture for some made up problem, or how they would approach solving a problem.  Interrupt the candidate often with questions regarding how they did something specifically, or why they chose one method over another.

The problem for technical people is that we usually don't have a portfolio we can share!  When a programmer leaves a job, they generally can't bring the source code they wrote with them and show it to a perspective employer as a sample of their work.  Megan has the advantage of working in a field where she can do just that.  She can take articles she's written for other publications and show them to someone else as an example of the quality of her work.  In the technical world, the resume can be pretty useless.  They may accurately describe projects that they've been part of, but may exaggerate their part in creating that project.  And just because you helped write a piece of software that is in production today... was it written well, with good architectural and object oriented design techniques and is it maintainable?  Or was it certified as "Works on My Machine"?

In our profession, its also easy to get roped into the "years of experience myth".  Technology changes so quickly that a great portfolio of projects in one technology doesn't show whether or not you can, or are willing to, learn the next great technology that your company wants to employ.  In fact, I've often found that the best candidates in highly technical positions are the youngest candidates, because they still remember how to learn, and are passionate about it.  The older people get, the more settled into their ways they become, and the more likely they are to pigeon hole themselves into static methodologies.  That's why I always ask people what blogs they read, magazines they subscribe to, and what, if any, user's groups they are active in.  That is a huge indicator as to how passionate about learning technology someone is.  One of the best people I've seen hired recently was in his 50's.  Software development for him was a second career, and he took it up with a fierce passion.  So you shouldn't simply look at age either.

In short, if you don't think that interviewing is worthwhile, then it probably means that you're simply running down a person's resume, and letting them talk about where they've worked.  That is not how to do an interview.

More Web 2.0 Integration... Twitter Style

by Nick Wednesday, April 16, 2008 10:33 AM

So along with the recent news that I've joined Facebook, you can also follow me on Twitter.  One of the things that I kept hearing at Deeper in .NET a couple weeks ago was, "So what's your Twitter name?" and "Aren't you on Twitter yet?".  I heard it from so many people, that I finally decided to give it a try.  And if you're on Twitter and I should know about, feel free to drop your Twitter name in the comment thread so I can add you too.  Some of my blogs also feature my latest Twitter updates in the sidebar.

This Looks Super Cool

by Nick Friday, April 11, 2008 9:10 AM

Scott Hanselman has a great overview post up on ASP.NET Dynamic Data.  It's a new preview ASP.NET framework that works with .NET 3.5 which allows you to mark up your business objects with meta data that will be used by your GUI code to control what type of control is used to view and validate your data.  This is huge if you have multiple screens that show the same data points in multiple ways, because it allows you to centralize this code into your business objects so that you can change your visualization in one location, and have it spread across all your pages.  Wow!

Now the only question I have is why doesn't something like this exist for WinForms or XAML?  Or does it already exist and I just don't know it?

Deeper in .NET Downloads Available

by Nick Wednesday, April 09, 2008 11:40 AM

For those of you that missed Deeper in .NET, and didn't think my live blogging was enough, you can find links to presentation and code downloads at the WI-INETA site here.  I highly recommend the slides for The Science of a Great UI and The Scaling Habits of ASP.NET Applications.  The information presented in those two presentations were truly unique.  The LINQ presentations were good overviews of the technologies and new language changes to support them, and are worth downloading to review, but can also be found easily in numerous books, white papers and MSDN articles.

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Nick Schweitzer Nick Schweitzer
Wauwatosa, WI

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I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit. ... Full Bio

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