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gnat (29)

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Journal of gnat (29)

Wednesday May 12, 2004
01:15 PM

Perl Books for YAPC

My generous employer (that's O'Reilly in case you haven't been keeping track) is sponsoring YAPC. We're trying to figure out which books to send as giveaways. We have a limited budget, so we can't just send 300 of each. My suggestion was two of everything on plus one each of:

Apache Cookbook, Apache PR, Apache: TDG, Adobe Photoshop CS One-on-One, Digital Photography Expert Techniques, Applescript: TDG, BSD Hacks, DNS & Bind Cookbook, Essential System Administration PR, Essential System Administration 3ed, Hardware Hacking Projects for Geeks, Linux Security Cookbook, Network Security Assessment, Network Security Hacks, Secure Programming Cookbook for C/C++.

Any substitutions you want to make?


Sunday April 11, 2004
04:07 PM

Geek Nest

So I finally got set up in the basement as a quasi-office slash geek boy love pad. Desk with scanner and bubble-jet printer, second monitor (yummy flat-screen HP), external keyboard, Playstation and TV in the corner, PC waiting for a hard drive so William can play educational games instead of Oddworld. Not set up is my Commodore 64 (William prefers MAME--faster loading!). I need to find a USB mouse, some external speakers, and buy an espresso machine from the New Zealand version of eBay to make the geeknest complete ...


04:28 AM

Photoshop Love-In/Lovin'

I don't shill for O'Reilly books in my blog, so be impressed that I'm sending out a major thumbs-up to Adobe Photoshop CS One-on-One . I was initially quite nervous about the format--too many colours for a serious book! Who was this guy trying to be funny? But it's not painful, it's really useful, and it has an amazing index that lets you randomly access what at first seems like a sequential read of a book.

I picked up some great things (levels tweaking, using the measure tool and Image>Rotate>Arbitrary to straighten images) and Jenine's working her way through the video lessons now. She just described it as "fun and interesting" in a surprised kind of way. I don't think anyone imagines that there's a fun way to learn the cool things Photoshop can do, but Deke's done it. We only have Photoshop 7, not CS, but 90% of what he describes applies just as much to older Photoshops.

Now, to tell her to go to sleep so I can read some more of the book ... :-)


Monday April 05, 2004
09:16 PM


After years of shying away from browser nightmares and the stigma of scrolling popup nonsense, I'm finally getting into DHTML. I love things like the ability to resort tables without reloading the page, preventing users from double-clicking on submit buttons, and so on. Lovely!


Sunday April 04, 2004
04:09 AM

User Interface Metaphors

Notes on a paper by a professor of mine:
  • orientational metaphors rely on up/down or left/right. E.g., wizards where "next" is always on the right, and "back" on the left, and scrollbars where "more" is up.
  • ontological metaphors treat things in the computer as objects or substances, but not specific objects or substances. Files have sizes, errors "prevent" the system from doing something.
  • structural metaphors treat the computer concepts as real objects. E.g., filesystem as filing cabinet with folders that "contain" files.
  • conventional metaphors are those used without thinking (e.g., all those above). Novel metaphors are those that are perceived by the user.
  • metonymy is substituting a part for the whole, as in showing a person's face in a chat, or paintbrush icons for the mass colouring operation.
  • the authors add process and element metaphors as categories. You use an element metaphor (paintbrush) to clue the user into what process metaphor (colouring big chunks of pixels as though by painting) is active.
  • metaphoric entailments are the implications/limitations of the metaphor. E.g. the desktop filing metaphor includes "we have files and folders" but in real life, a file is typically a folder of pages but that is not part of the desktop metaphor.
  • Rule 1: know the entailments of your conventional metaphors so you can indicate any standard entailments that do not apply
  • Rule 2: with novel metaphors, you have to spell out all the entailments because users will not know what to do with your innovative "office workflow as camel's digestive system" metaphor
  • Rule 3: use as many entailments as possible (though all should be justified in terms of functionality), because the more they can successfully follow their knowledge of the metaphor, the more they'll trust it
  • Rule 4: orientational concepts structure multiple members of a group, so consider the implications: if you say good is up and put error messages on the bottom, you have to put success messages at the top. What's a success message?
  • Rule 5: use as few process metaphors as possible--a lot of process metaphors give a lot of entailments, and the user is overwhelmed. Minimize the number of process metaphors, and maximize their coverage.
  • Rule 6: base every element metaphor on a process metaphor so if your process is budgeting software then the user shouldn't see icons from the world of sport
  • Rule 7: understand the user's metaphoric world. Yes, Apple, on what bloody planet does the trash can turn into a CD burner? not this user's, that's for sure!


Monday March 29, 2004
03:45 PM

Perl v Java

That's no "Perl proponent", that's ... me! Check out this article. I am the anonymous "Perl proponent" he mentions from the debate. I enjoyed beating up on Java, but not beating up on him--as the article points out, he isn't really a True Believer. He kept agreeing with Rasmus and me, and that made it very difficult to argue with him :-)

And here was me thinking the debate had been a waste of time for everyone. It can't have been such a waste if it planted the seeds for such a pro-Perl article.


Thursday March 25, 2004
08:19 PM

Wanted: GNOME Hacker

We've the lion's share of a Linux Desktop Hacks book done with KDE up the wazoo, but we're coming up severely short on the Gnome side. Surely there are Gnome hackers hacking the heck out of Gnome. And some of it even cool :-). We're looking for interesting things that live on, meander about, or otherwise delight on the Linux Desktop. The sorts of things that would thrill the power user and old hand alike.

If you're interested in pouring your favourite Gnome hacks into the pot, please drop a line to < rael AT oreilly DOT com >. Thanks!


Wednesday March 24, 2004
04:40 AM


Woo! Dates for the Australian YAPC are out. I know where I'll be on Dec 1-3, 2004. Airlines willing, of course.


Sunday March 21, 2004
04:21 PM

How to help someone use a computer

If you don't read Ask's linkblog, please let me direct your attention to How To Help Someone Use a Computer. When I saw the subject, I thought of my cardinal rule "make them do the typing". That one's in the list, and a lot more besides.


04:42 AM

They're a Weird Mob

Last night and this morning I reread a classic from my youth, They're a Weird Mob by John O'Grady (writing as Nino Culotta). It's ostensibly an Italian immigrant's story, humorous, about his arrival in Australia, making Australian friends, and learning to appreciate the Australian Way of Life. Riotously funny, and absolutely the best written form of spoken Australian I've ever seen.

It set me thinking about immigration, assimilation, and so on, because of course John O'Grady is definitely not the name of an Italian immigrant. The book is fiction, and has a very pro-assimilation agenda. At various times in the book, characters (who are never the friends of the immigrant) say derogatory things about the "dagos" and "wops". Those things go unchallenged for the most part, and I couldn't figure out whether they were unchallenged because O'Grady wanted to point out the racism and say "that's wrong" in a subtle way, or whether O'Grady simply didn't notice it himself.

So I Googled.

I didn't get an answer to my question. I did find, however, a list of his papers held for scholars by the Australian Government, an interesting paper on Italo-Australian culture which mentions O'Grady as the poster-boy for assimilation and which gave me some interesting background for the next time I read the book, a page on Ford Cortinas in the movies, and even etymology of the word nong which cites O'Grady for the first printed usage of the longer form "ning-nong".

And I got hooked up with a supplier of some of the O"Grady books I'm missing. I love Google.