Illusory Follies Andrew Flanagan's Blog


Scuttle Firefox extension

I use Scuttle on my server (for storing bookmarks). The beauty of the solution is that I have a centralized repository of bookmarks (which isn't too special considering that many services provide this feature) but in addition, it's very nicely set up to server as Live Bookmark lists in Firefox. So for example, I can have a single Live Bookmark drop-down for all work-related links, or all my "daily" websites or whatever and automatically add and remove from them as I see fit. The Live Bookmarks mean that all I need to do to reorganize links is retag them and it's instantly working on all the computers I have.

It's handy. But there's a problem. The Firefox extension for Scuttle isn't really being maintained. It's pretty simple but needed a new "max firefox version supported" string in the configuration. I've updated this and am now posting the unofficial 0.4.2 release of the Firefox Scuttle plugin with support for Firefox 3.5+.

Install Firefox Extension for Scuttle 0.4.2


Cell Phones

Well my new position has been keeping me busy writing software for Symbian, Nokia's primary phone operating system. I hate it. It's fun to learn new stuff and it's probably a good thing to be learning. But it's still awful. Documentation is terrible. Developer forums have lousy support. Two unique programming elements: descriptors and the cleanup stack just make life agonizing.

I've never appreciated C# so much.

On the bright side, it's drawn me back into C/C++ coding which I haven't done in years. That part is fun. It's funny how many things I take for granted with C#. I've even gotten lazier considering some of the wonderful upgrades to C#  3.0. For example:

List<string> list = new List<string> { "Susie", "Lucy", "Bobbie" };

This makes sense to me. It's easy and straightforward. It saves [development] time.

At work things have been interesting because I've been working with developers firmly set in an embedded mindset. They think in terms of saving bytes. My .NET programs take up 20MB of RAM just in basically displaying a simple window with a few controls. It bugs them.

I don't know -- I see the point of using assembly, C, even the horrible descriptors of Symbian for situations where you are highly concerned with efficiency. However, it does seem that you're going to be forced to spend more development time (by a huge amount) and the code will almost by necessity be much more difficult to maintain. When there's no clear single way to convert a descriptor to a char * every developer will do it differently and the code will be more and more complex and incomprehensible. It might run fast, but it's not flexible.

In the world of mobile development, optimization for speed seems important but if you take 6 months to update your application when new feature sets become available, your product likely isn't selling.

Along these lines of thought, I'm considering pouring a bit of time into iPhone development. I've always shuddered at Objective C but I need to bite the bullet and get into it. My assumption is that I'll be happy with it since from what I've heard it balances maintainable,  understandable and easy-to-write code with reasonable performance/stability.

I'll keep you posted.


Design & Functionality

I have always been a stickler for functionality in my programming. What I seek to do is develop solutions through code that model existing efficient functionality or create entirely new abstract models that can be understood clearly and manipulated easily to achieve functionality.

I'm not a "GUI guy" and I have a hard time when I move from developing an easy-to-interface class library to an easy-to-use user interface. Basically, I seem to have no trouble with the idea of adequately describing objects (even abstract objects) and developing easy interfaces. However, displaying this information to a user is harder.

I'm a big fan of simplistic interfaces. I like my new virtual server provider and my new domain registrar because both sites are simplistic. They have well-defined functions and they present the information in easy-to-understand lists. You don't have to grasp some complex object model or understand what the difference is between clicking on "My Account" and "My Hosting" or some bizarre thing like that. It just makes sense.

Now, at the same time, both these sites (and I love them dearly) are rather ugly. I myself don't mind this at all. They're functional and they feel right -- like a solid metal tool in my hand, it doesn't look pretty but I thoroughly enjoy using it.

The intersection of functional code and beauty to me is pure happiness. However, beauty is, or at least is often regarded as being in the eye of the beholder. And on the Internet, there's a lot of beholders.

I'm reminded of the site CSS Zen Garden; it allows you to view the same material using many different style sheets. There's some beautiful graphics and layouts but at the same time the actual content never changes (you're simply switching stylesheets). I like this a lot. Beautiful websites are great but beautiful websites where the presentation is perfectly separable from the content are wonderful. I know this isn't really "functionality" but it allows the opportunity for such. With this concept, you can develop extremely functional content and then alter the stylesheet to present that functionality in a myriad of ways.

I actually did something like this (but very simplistically) for our family website. I have a stylesheet for each month and every month visitors are presented with a different stylesheet by default. It helps keep the site from feeling old and boring to myself and to others. The functionality is always the same (very plain-vanilla WordPress functionality)

There's a lot of this sort of thing happening on the Internet and there are plenty of good, clean websites with very solid and well-thought-out designs that provide excellent functionality. But it's not really the norm I wouldn't say.

My new iPhone to me is an example of combining functionality with beauty. It's not quite as functional as I would like but it's much better than what I've had in the past. The interface and presentation of material though is absolutely wonderful (like much of what Apple makes).

I guess my rambling point is that popular success seems to lie at the intersection of functionality and beauty. Allow users to aid in defining beauty (through open and customizable interfaces) and you've added even more value.

I'm revving up to produce some new web applications (and possibly an iPhone app if I can find the time). I think my biggest issue is that although I feel confident making functional applications and making them have customizable interfaces, I'm pretty lousy at developing anything more than the most simplistic presentation. I've picked up some books on design so maybe I'll actually get better at it. We'll see... more to follow as I pursue this.