You Can Also Find Me On StackOverflow

by Nick Monday, October 06, 2008 10:28 AM

Like most of the engaged developer community, I have discovered StackOverflow, the marvelous creation of Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky.  You can see my profile here.  So far I like the site.  The purpose of the site is to be the anti-Experts Exchange.  We all know Experts Exchange, and we all hate it's existance with a vengence.  It's the ultimate Walled Garden, and it sucks in Google furiously, so that its hard to actually find the answer to a question.  StackOverflow looks to succeed with developers where Experts Exchange has frustrated us all greatly.

I've yet to ask a question on StackOverflow, but I have spent a little time answering some questions, and even earned myself some of the easy badges.  It's a nice little ego stroke.  And overall, I really like the site.  It it easy to use, uncomplicated, and rewards people nicely, and at the same time seems to get the best answers to float to the top.  But it's also my nature to criticize a bit, and so here are the things I don't like about StackOverflow so far:

No Way to Link Duplicate Questions:  StackOverflow is sort of like a big Forum from the 1990's, but with extra "social networking" and "web 2.0" juju sprinkled in.  What that really means is that the user habits of a forum are likely to emerge very quickly, but that the site itself is just easier to use.  Because really... web 2.0 really just translates to good usability... not necessarily good user habits.

Probably the largest problem faced by a Forum moderator is the need to post a big post at the top of the forum that is called "FAQ - Read this First Before Posting" which is then largely ignored by everyone who goes on the forum so they can re-ask the question that was already answered in the FAQ.  In fact, odds are pretty much guaranteed that someone has complained about this already in the StackOverflow feedback area, but I'm too lazy to find it.  And there in lies the problem.  Once someone finds it, it would be nice if there was easy web 2.0 juju to link those together.

You can't prevent people from submitting duplicate questions because people are inherently lazy.  They don't want to go to the trouble of actually searching before asking, and maybe that's ok.  But by the same token, if someone is active in the community, they will eventually notice the same questions popping up again and again that they have already answered.  It would be nice to give them the ability to link questions together, rather than simply copying the same answer again... or worse, not bothering to answer the question again, because that gets frustrating, and in the end it doesn't serve the person asking.

How Many Profiles Do I Need?  StackOverflow is still in beta, and they are requesting input into new features, and also help with bugs.  They also have a nice blog where you can read up on the latest news.  But you'll notice that those two sites use different engines to run them.  That means that if I want to fully participate in the StackOverflow community, I need to not only register with the main site (using OpenID - YEAH!) but also with UserVoice for their bug/feature too (which doesn't use OpenID).  And since their blog is not linked into main site either, if I leave a comment on a blog post it doesn't connect up with my main profile.  This seems very strange to me for a site that is encouraging feedback by giving you points for helping.  No points for commenting on the blog?  No points for giving feedback on the site itself through UserVoice?

I understand the desire to not re-invent the wheel for a feature that is not core to your site.  After all, they went about the task of creating a site for answering questions, not blogging or bug tracking.  But at the same time, it would have been nice if they could have at least picked 3rd party software that adhered to the same principles as their core site... one of which being ease of sign up (though OpenID).  I don't know of a bug/feature site that use OpenID off hand, but I do know that DasBlog now supports OpenID.

And really, how much different is a blog post from a question?  And how much different is a feature request from a function?  I would think that they could have fairly easily incorporated all those features together, and encouraged even more feedback.  As it is, I don't want to post on their feedback site because I don't want to have to re-register again.

I'm sure more will come to me as I use the site more, but those two things jumped out at me almost immediately.

Google Chrome - Fail

by Nick Wednesday, September 03, 2008 7:13 PM

Everyone seemed to be pretty excited about Google Chrome yesterday.  I consider it to be a massive failure.  On my desktop machine running Vista, I decided to set it up with security in mind, among other things.  So I created two accounts.  The first is an Administrative account which I rarely use.  The second account is a lower privilege account.  If I want to install any software, I want I log in as the Administrator, install and get out.  My day to day usage takes place on my standard account.

Google Chrome however installs to App Data.  So when I install as an Administrator, it is only usable in the account that did the installation.  My normal day to day account can't run it.  So do I now have to install the software for every user on the machine that wants to run it?  Where's the security there?

FAIL.

Must Have Productivity Software?

by Nick Thursday, June 12, 2008 11:20 AM

Last night I headed down to Chicago for the monthly Alt.NET meeting, which was at the ThoughtWorks office.  Just briefly, that looks like a great place to work... they have a gorgeous office.

The meeting was mostly a smack down between ReSharper and CodeRush.  I seemed to stand out early on because they first asked which people in the audience used which one.  I think I was the only one in the audience that used neither... I am a Visual Studio purest.  For one, I was never willing to fork out > $100 for a productivity package like that.  For another... I like writing that much code by hand because I genuinely believe that it makes me think about my code and my architecture more.

Afterwards, I won a license to my choice of ReSharper, CodeRush or SqlPrompt.  Based on the smack down (which was done Horse style thanks to my suggestion), I had to say that CodeRush looked much cooler, and from a usability standpoint, seemed to be the better choice.  Hopefully I'll have my license in hand soon so I can test it out, and report on whether I think its worth the money, or whether it helps or hinders my code writing.

Out of the tools they gave away, the one they only showed briefly was SqlPrompt.  From the brief demo, all I can say is wow.  Intellisense in SQL Management Studio, or even Notepad?  Are you kidding me?  I'd love to get my hands on a copy of that... but once again... not sure I can justify the cost to myself.

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.

New Book Review Posted

by Nick Friday, January 18, 2008 9:18 AM

I have a new book review posted on BlogCritics.  It's on Programming WPF by Chris Sells and Ian Griffiths.  This is probably one of the best technical books I've read since doing book reviews.  If you're interested in learning the latest framework for doing GUI programming in Windows, then this ought to be the book you buy.

How Good of an Estimator Are You?

by Nick Monday, November 26, 2007 9:25 AM

Don't be ashamed to admit that you aren't a good one.  Many people are not, and I'm definitely not as good as I should be, given my profession.  But then again, in my profession, most people are terrible estimators.  That's why I picked up the latest book from Steve McConnell, called Software Estimation - Demystifying the Black Art.  This is the same guy who wrote Code Complete, which is considered by many (including me) to be the ultimate manual on practical software engineering.  I have a review of his new book on BlogCritics.  Check it out.  This should be on your book shelf, right next to The Mythical Man Month.

It's Actually Pronounced Zamel

by Nick Wednesday, May 24, 2006 8:52 AM

I have another book review up at BlogCritics.org, this time on a new O'Reilly book, XAML in a Nutshell.  If you're into the latest and greatest trends in software development, go check it out.  You can see a list of all my BlogCritics reviews here.

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Nick Schweitzer Nick Schweitzer
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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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