Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Back to my old profession

 In the last few days I've been working at my old profession - HTML monkey, and let me tell you I realise why I stopped (even though I never really stopped).

My wife performes with this music group, they play Rebetiko (greek blues, I guess) and she sings. Like all music groups they are trying hard to gain recognition - and as part of that they decided they want a Website. So we're starting small as the budget is low, and for started I started by designing a simple web site (I'll do the administrative side later, as it is much less important).

Let me tell you HTML is boring, and desiging it is hard, especially designing “good” HTML - since the “client” is never happy - especially when you do it for free (where he should be happier). The worst part of it is that the site is in hebrew - which makes it even harder to design, none of my favorite editors really support hebrew very well - and working in right to left mode is also hard for me... The main problem is, I'm no designer - I'm just a simple old HTML monkey - I know the technique and how to achieve almost any design thrown at me - but here it's my job :-(

I'm not publishing the URL of the site for two reasons:
1. It is not yet on air (I just purchased hosting services today - and the DNS is not updated)
2. There is nothing I feel proud about - it just doesn't look to good in my opinion...

It was fun registering the domain, and discovering that my Registrar Handle (for Israrl isoc.org.il) still exists from 1995, using it instead of re-entering all the info - and even finding out that it works!!! Sitting until late at night with my wife deciding on color schemes - turning it into a CSS style sheet, and making a site layout... Cropping and working with images, without any coding at all (for now) - that is yet to come.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Excellent Resource - HTTP Inspection Tools of Note

 Thanks to Port80 for providing these links, may I add a small contribution TamperIE from Bayden Systems a small utility that doesn't actually look at HTTP but at your GET/POST data and allows you to see and modify this info.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Microsoft's XML Team is asking you:

I saw this in Signs in the sand blog I read from time to time, MS XSL team is doing a survey on their blog, first I want to thank Oleg for the pointer, second I want to say that this is a great idea in my opinion to ask the developer community on what features they need/want.

My own experience with XSLT is quite limited, I have worked with it a few years back, and did some things with it, but I feel a bit un-qualified to answer the questions - especially the size questions, since I haven't dealt with large size XML/XSL combinations. However, and this is something that I think was agreed in all the posted comments, when programming with XSL (and it is programming) there is often a need for more functions, string functions, math functions etc... but again, I'm not that knowledgable about the subject so I will let smarter people answer.

The great thing about this idea is that it is well trageted, as a software engineer working on our product I have three clients usually:
1. The end users - regualr people who get to use the applications
2. Integrators - 3rd party companies who want to use our product as a platform (API)
3. Internal - other products within the major product scope who need to work with the internal components.

The easiest of the three is the internal customers, I can always know exactly what they need and why, and usualy can offer solutions for them that fit exactly, since they are consulted and working with me.

The hardest are of course the end-users because there are so many of them and it is very hard to get a solid response. Need I say more?

The integrators are a mixed bunch, but also a solid one - they are technical people using your product, and using it for their own needs, if you do your job well they will have no complaints. it is easier with black-box components like the XSL component when there is a well defined spec that everyone understand - but still sometimes input on features is required - and the perfect thing to do is ask, and ask the ones using it - just like in this case. Up to this day, I've enjoyed working with the XML team's product, Keep up the transparency and interest in the developer community, and thank you!

Searching and Finding a new home

Originally posted on: http://geekswithblogs.net/meshel/archive/2005/06/15/43800.aspx 

Since our wedding (and before) my wife and I have been searching for a place to call home - for at least a year, maybe more. This made me think a lot about what kind of place I would like to live in, and I reached some conclusions - if I could I would like to live in the country - away from city life, not that I dislike the city, but that is what I prefer. I grew up in a small village and as a young boy, going to the city was a major hassle - in Israel nothing is far away, but the fact that there was close to no public transportation made it very hard to get there. So the city was always and still is facsinating for me. But I do prefer not to live there.

The trouble with moving out to the country-side is work, as sad as it may be, I still have to work, and my current line of work as a software engineer forces me to be close to the city, why? since the company I work in (and I believe most companies here) do not think so highly about Tele-Commuting. It is sad that the company I work for is that way - since our product is about Tele-Commuting (Remote-Collabortaion, Communication etc...) (check out http://www.interwise.com - disclaimer: I work for this company). Now that would be logical if the product wasn't that good, but the fact is it is really good (again, I work here, but I really like it and this is my opinion). Truth is I haven't pushed for this - but I think I know the answer I will get. I would love to be able to work most of the week from home and commute to the office 1/2 days a week (or maybe even less). The software we develop makes it possible to work with a team from home, and even join into meetings and be very productive. Even the network infrastructure here in Israel can already support high traffic easily (assuming I manage to reduce my downloading habbits :-)).

So eventually, after a lot of searching in the center of Israel area, we have come to settle on my home village, where we found a nice small house for a reasonable rent. This wasn't expected, we were looking in other directions when the offer came - and we were happy. The house comes with a nice garden, and we have to work on it to make it cozy - the house was built almost 50 years ago - and not in a high standard, so you can imagine - there is work to be done. However, it is not as bad as it sounds, and I expect to have a good time living there with my new wife and renovating a little in the house, gardening outside etc... Maybe even setting a small Wi-Fi network to use in the garden :-)

So we just finished ordering our new refigirator and oven and bedroom (my wife allowed no geekiness traits of mine to surface, and budget is limited :-( so currently I don't even have a place for my computer to stand... but we'll find something...). The trouble with a small apartment is that there is never enough space for everything you want.

I'm looking forward to moving in (in about two weeks when we finish cleaning the place up).

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Work Environments - and the web developer's problems

Originally posted on: http://geekswithblogs.net/meshel/archive/2005/06/08/42564.aspx

We all work in an environment, and I don't mean the office environment, but what we call the development environment. Meaning the work methods and project structure in which we develop our software.

I'm not very happy with my current work environment. And I would like to improve it, but I have two issues.

1. I have no idea how to make this one better
2. I don't work by myself, there are other people who use this environment and have to convert to it, and also some major release/build actions are dependant on this environment - and we can't just go ahead and change it. It would break other things.

Developers who develop stand-alone applications, have in my opinion, less trouble. basically they have one application to deal with and maybe integration with the OS. They might have to integrate with some server (this is not a standalone utility anymore - but still, the developer does not deal with the server on a DEV level but as a user).

We in the Web development area have a little more trouble. First this is a do it all team - we do not specialize in any specific area, we are expected to be many things at once - which can be a lot of fun, but can cause problems - since we are not experts in any of the areas. The problem is there is no single platform - we develop in paralel for IIS (Web Site) SQL Server (DataStore), Windows (Services, Filesystem and Utilities), Install (for all these componenets) - and all these interact with each other in a way that it is almost impossible to develop and test without the entire system set up. This is not even mentioning (but I am now), other systems in to which we integrate - our internal servers and clients which is a little easier since we have someone to ask and complain to... :-)

This poses several setup questions

1. Do we work on a shared/private environment (is all development done a single server or on the developer computer) - when more than one developer is concerned this question becomes more critical. (we work in private mode)
2. Web applications usualy support multiple/remote servers (Web server and SQL on same or seperate machines, multiple SQL (cluster), multiple web servers etc...) how do you build the corret environment for developing and testing. (unless specificaly tested we work in single machine mode - or seperate web from SQL)
3. Multiple Browser development - this is becoming less of a problem, but is still a serious one. (we mostly check for IE)
4. How do you synchronize your private (assuming each is working on his own) environment with the code base - since code is not just DLLs and files, but also database state and scripts which need to be applied to each DB in use. (we have a custom tool written for this - which is not as good as we want).
5. Moving between versions - when we fix bugs in older versions, how do you revert from and to a different version of the product (not to forget this requires a different database state beside the files).
6. Debugging - this is a real nightmare. These different work envs (DB, IIS, etc...) are not integrated, no single editor supports the full chain of events (this supposedly becomes better with the new VS - but I doubt that all problems are solved). We currently have to debug each component by it's own, with a lot of printing to file and generaly a lot of heart-ache.
7. Patches to production systems - there are a lot of scripts/files to apply on patches, currently we use a home built tool to apply patches (not to forget: patches need to support all environments) to existing installations. This is another overhead we have when developing a patch. The same problems apply to installations and major upgrades.

These are just some of the problems, and I'm contantly looking for solutions to them. maybe some day. One thing I realize by now, is that a lot depends on the original designer of the system. The build system, the directory structure - for example: in our system, due to some design decision, in order to have a full development environment we have to install the application (server application) on the machine, it is not enough to just download the lates code and start - since some actions and configurations are only done by the install program. This is a major problem when attempting to start a new developer or an old developer on a new computer - it can take hours or up to a couple of days. 

Tell me about your environments or if you have tool, process, or  ideas and suggestions I'll be more than glad to hear.

Sunday, June 5, 2005

My Wedding pictures

Originally posted on: http://geekswithblogs.net/meshel/archive/2005/06/05/41921.aspx

It has finally happened, I'm happily married to the loveliest girl on earth (I am biased - but that's how I feel)

I uploaded some of the wedding pictures to flickr, note that these are not from the official photographer that I had, but from my friends digital camera, also these photos went through no editing - I might do that later...


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