15 February 2010

Weren’t those my pixels?

As you can see at Microsoft’s Mac blog, Word 2011 will have (counting the menu bar) 8 horizontal strips of controls.

I love portrait displays, and have one, but I often use my laptop without one. And the laptop screen is wide, not tall. This seems like a terrible use of space, when they should be figuring out how to get more of my content visible without scrolling.

They say you gain vertical space compared to Office 2008, so maybe it’s a good thing I haven’t installed that yet!

I’m not even going to discuss visual clutter or whether you can find things — the ribbon may indeed make Word’s vast number of features more approachable.

For contrast, Pages has 5 strips of controls (menu bar, toolbar, format bar, ruler, and stuff at the bottom), and one of those is shared with the horizontal scroll bar so it doesn’t steal vertical space. Yes, there are palettes, but they use space on the side and don’t steal content area from typical documents.

14 February 2010

Coders at Work

I recently read Coders at Work by Peter Seibel. It’s a series of in-depth interviews with 15 noteworthy programmers, including Jamie Zawinski, Guy Steele, Ken Thompson, and Donald Knuth. Topics range from personal questions (“How did you begin programming?”) to occasionally esoteric discussion of computer science.

One thing I was continually struck by: that’s me! I don’t mean I’ve made a major impact on the world of computers, but so many of their attitudes and approaches were the same as mine. Perhaps that’s not surprising — a couple times it’s mentioned that perhaps 2% of the population are true programmers (who really understand and enjoy it), and I’m obviously in that group. And I’ve used some of the same computers (though one of them had a cutting-edge IBM 1620 in his high school, while our 1620 was obsolete and almost impossible to repair). But I don’t know what explains why we’re not fans of brainteaser interviews.

I’m not sure I use print statements to debug quite as often as most of them, though it is something I do often. I hadn’t realized how common it was!

Everyone (except Knuth) was asked whether they had read Knuth. I did read volumes 1 and 3 back in college, but haven’t referred to it more than once or twice since. That puts me about in the middle of the pack.

The book is marred by a few typos and formatting errors (e.g. an entire paragraph in bold), but is attractively set in Gill Sans.

I enjoyed it greatly. It was a nice mix of stories (such as what was going on at Netscape) and computer science (which as a practitioner I’ve gotten away from). Highly recommended to at least 2% of you.

12 February 2010

Switching Email

I just took a couple of steps in the email world: I switched both my server and client.

I blame Apple. They announced iPad, and I’m making sure I’ll be able to fully use it.

For various reasons, I have multiple email accounts. Until now, I’ve been reading some with Apple Mail on my Mac, and also on my iPhone. The accounts are set up to use IMAP, which means mail is on the server (or if you will, the cloud). I can get it anywhere.

But for my oldest accounts, I’d used Eudora as my client, and Eudora Internet Mail Server for the actual server I ran. And I’d set things up with the POP protocol (which is essentially client-centric). This meant that I needed a master device that sucked the messages off the server. I couldn’t retrieve mail from my iPhone, because my laptop was the master owner. And EIMS didn’t support SSL anyway. EIMS also supports IMAP to the standard, and Apple Mail is apparently buggy, and doesn’t play well with EIMS.

I thought about buying a mini with Snow Leopard Server and running mail off it. That would give me the cloud and the security. But it costs $1000. I might have been able to add SSL on top of EIMS, but I’d still be dealing with the mismatch between it and my IMAP client.

What I ended up doing was using Google Apps Standard Edition. I don’t care about the actual apps (Calendar, Chat, Docs), but they do provide what is essentially Gmail for your domain. In my case, domains (since my wife and I get mail at three different domains). Although they push for the Premier Edition ($50/year/user), the free Standard Edition provides domain aliases (so we can handle our three domains via the same site) and nicknames (so I can have app-specific addresses).

Basic setup was easy. I had to prove I owned my domain, which I could do by putting a file on my server. The domain aliases were a bit trickier — Google checks for “domain.com/file” but I’d set up Apache so it was actually at “www.domain.com/file”. There was no error message — and since it’s free, support is only via a forum (which I still haven’t gotten an answer from). But I eventually figured out what was going on. But then, one of the domains took, but the other did not. (After several hours, it finally did.)

Google provides a way to test things, so I created an account on my iPhone and made sure I could send and receive via IMAP.

I don’t do my own DNS so I had to contact my ISP. They threw the switch, and things pretty quickly were working!

While I get no spam on my Gmail account, I get a fair amount to my older addresses (the fact that it’s multiple addresses probably works against me). Google has so far filtered all of this about as well as SpamSieve did on the client side — I get a bunch that’s not blocked by the server, and (being paranoid) go through it for false positives on occasion. (I have gotten two false positives in almost a week.)

On the client side, I had to learn Gmail’s idiosyncratic approach to IMAP. You will need to enable the advanced IMAP controls via Gmail Labs, and expose the labels. Then the important thing, if you want things to look more or less like IMAP, is to ensure that any message has only one label. I had originally used the tagging model, and assigned labels liberally. After all, Google wasn’t duplicating a message in the In folder and the Developer folder. But IMAP (at least as implemented in the Apple client), does.

Luckily, it’s easy to set up your filters so that an incoming message that’s filtered skips the inbox. At this point, the IMAP client can move things between folders, and the right thing happens. Well, you’ll probably want to read Google’s documentation on how to set up for IMAP, since some of the system folders should be set up in a less intuitive way.

So far I’m pretty happy with this. As far as I can tell, it’s been totally transparent — I still get and send email with the same addresses. I can get mail via IMAP or the Web-based Gmail interface. And I’ll no longer need to administer my own server (as easy as that was with EIMS).

10 February 2010

Diaspora Campaign

I’ve been intrigued by the RPG Diaspora, a grittier take on FATE than the pulp Spirit of the Century. I began running a game earlier this year. Material from the campaign is now on my web site, including the cluster the players created in the first session, characters, and Rob Helm’s writeups of the next two sessions.

At some point I want to write up a review of the game, but in general I’m pretty happy with this version of the FATE rule system. The authors obviously began with Spirit of the Century, but tuned it for a more realistic feel, which also happens to play faster. A number of areas have been streamlined. I do have a nagging suspicion that had I not seen Spirit of the Century first, the rules would have been a big confusing.

07 February 2010

Super Bowl 44 Ads

Elise and I watched mostly for the ads (since we didn’t have any attachment to the teams). I think my favorite was probably Google’s: a short story, told entirely with words (there was a map but it was just an illustration; so were the sound effects). Who would have thought?

And we both hate talking babies. Boo, E*TRADE.

01 February 2010

Leaving GameHouse

After nearly 8 years creating casual games at GameHouse Studios, I’ve decided it’s time for a change. Thanks to Mike Ash’s blog, I stumbled into an opportunity to work on Mac applications from home. I’ve worked out of my house for about half my career, so I know I can handle the different work conditions.

I’ll definitely miss GameHouse, and all the people I worked with there. I’m staying until the end of the month, to help get our next game out the door.