las vegas

It was all about cold weather, TV, lots of lights and travel for the past week. It was a long weekend for Thanksgiving which got appended by one additional holiday and with one additional sick leave, I got almost a week off. Weather is playing tricks here – one day it stings any exposed part and couple of days after I can walk out without a jacket.

First two days went in Harry Potter’s latest episode and lots of TV. Finally I ventured out to West side of US – Las Vegas and Grand Canyon. Las Vegas was as expected – lots of pomp and glitter. You can feel the Presence of Money like God. We stayed in Fremont Street which was like a relative cut off from the family with new money – it must be still doing okay with night lit up like day and all night music. It is a crazy town with all sorts of people doing all sorts of things – crazy ones and those who want to go crazy for some time before retuning to normal world.

Drive to Grand Canyon was probably one of my best so far – really picturesque. There were too many views which could have been made into wallpapers. Some turns reminded me of “RoadRash”. Five hours drive ended in an awesome view - you can just look and wonder what happened here.

After 6 flights, walking the strip twice end-to-end and messed up sleep, inevitably I crashed for one day before getting back to regular routines.

user interface prototyping

Read an article in Slashdot on tools for UI prototyping. This question used to come up many times during project initiation phases, but due to lack of time, never gets done properly.

I have used Microsoft Excel in the past and found it useful to give an idea to users about how the application will look. It has some advantages:-
• Need not write unnecessary code during prototyping. Sometimes things may wither at prototyping stage itself, so the time spent at this stage may not be that useful.
• Faster prototyping – the interest may wane if we linger on the prototype for too long.
• Easier to change – It should be possible to change the prototype (after all it is only a prototype, so it shouldn’t take a day to make the changes that the user specified). Better yet, it should be possible to change the prototype while sitting with users.
• Hands-on by users – It should be possible for users to comment or even change the prototype by themselves. Cell comment in excel may be useful in this as well as to specify some special logic on certain parts/fields in the UI.
• Change of existing UI: Can copy the existing UI, color the portion which is about to change – good way to communicate the change.
• It also solves the confusion that users might think the prototype is the actual thing. A prototype which is made in HTML might give that impression that now that the prototype is done, it shouldn’t take time to release.

While all this is good, I would still like to try out something which is easier and faster to use, easier to change and doesn’t require me to learn a new programming language altogether.

I am also on the lookout for better stencils or templates or tools to make process flow diagrams. Visio is good enough, but I need to spend time to spruce it up – it is the basic problem, just conveying the meaning in the crudest/easiest way possible is not enough for the interest to stay in the diagram for a moment more – if colors and jazz can work, I am all for it.
spanglish and sideways

I watched two movies recently – spanglish and sideways. Spanglish for the second time - first time was in a marathon movie session in a flight. This movie has even Adam Sandler acting decently – I mean, the guy made too many bad choices (films like Waterboy, I couldn’t even watch the ads). But he gives a controlled performance, within limits and makes it bearable. I think Tim Robbins and Tom Hanks are of that variety – not overdoing it, but wins it by keeping it simple, the handicap of not being flamboyant is used as strength. Movies which are filled with lot of quirky stuff, strange characters and situations (which makes me think how they came up with it in the first place) are fun to watch. Supporting cast in this movie was very genuine and was given some meaningful lines – they were not invented to push the story forward or fill in time.

Sideways – I thought it was a real ride, stuff for which people should be going to movies for. Paul Giamatti is a real worker. Even in a part time job in Negotiator, he had made an impact. I am no movie critic, so I won’t attempt to do that. But there were couple of thoughts – even though it was kind of obvious that wine was being used as a metaphor for all sorts of things, it made some sense. Miles reminded me of people who are really good at some specific things or passionate and knowledgeable about some topic like sports or technology, but generally numb otherwise. Geeks can be fun if you can find something in common with them.

Also it sort of made me think about the friends we take along with us. Most of the times you know what is wrong and with very few of them you can get it out in the open. You can be friends with a person for really long time, probably life time, even without actually talking about certain issues. There are certain boundaries which are not crossed and still being a genuine friend in the marked enclosure. And there are other kinds who cannot understand you, but still you carry them along without even thinking about making an effort to make them understand your thoughts. They may really be in for a surprise. There are some about whom you don’t really think about consciously any more, they have become a part of the habit called life with all their good and bad. There are some whom you can fight with using tooth and nail and still it can make the relationship sane and not superficial. And then there are some who do not see you when they look at you, but still give you a feeling that you are the center of their universe.

software plumbing

I used to be impressed by the dexterity of the maintenance men who come around to fix things around house – about how neatly they accomplish things like fixing a leak or checking the wiring etc. Most of them have ability to make the things work with a quick fix, common sense and knowledge of the tools to use to fix something and they don’t make a mess.

This post is not about the house maintenance, but about putting together a software solution to the immediate need, having the knowledge to select the best tools for the job and to reach a quick solution, not building a house from ground up. In “Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, there is a passage about making a replacement part made from a soft drink can for a friend’s expensive motorcycle – when you tell them that it is made from tin can, they may not allow you to put it in. I think it is a natural tendency to buy the packaged/branded/expensive product from a super store and expect that it is the best solution.

This is inspired by something I read today. It talks about “Actual Capabilities over Intended Use”. I loved the idea of using components for what they could do, not what it is documented to be able to do. Find ways to use components where they seem to be perfect and natural fit. I had once made a solution to execute a java component from a code which will be called by Unix script which will be called by java stored procedure which will be called by pl/sql procedure embedded in oracle report file. I had a natural choice path – I couldn’t use certain combinations because of certain system restrictions which leads me to the next natural choice.

Examples over Documentation: for anyone who has gone through endless pages thinking that “all this is good, but how do I do it” might identify with this. Having a Ten Minute Test is a great way to start using something by first seeing how it works – they don’t show you the user manual of a plasma TV in the shop, but they display it out front and give you a remote, may it should be the same with software also – give a chance to test drive. If I am not able to make something work, then I can go into documentation or even the next step – source code. Reading code is the final truth than reading a manual and wondering whether it meant what it said.

listen

“You should go home and sleep.” “I am listening to these guys talking.” “From this far away?’ “I am not sure what they are saying,...