Posts from February 2006.

Notes from the States – Day 3: Short but sweet.

Sunday 26th Feb 2006 was a nice relaxed day.

In the afternoon I just wandered around Austin taking in the quiet Sunday scene. Had a bit of food and coffee to clear the hang-over and then headed back to the hotel once the blisters started to appear.

Room hadn’t been cleaned yet, so grabbed my laptop and sat down in the lobby to catch up on the news and stuff with the slightly quicker ‘net connection down there.

Met a few like-minded REAL Worlders there, so had a couple of nice little chats as people came and went.

Later, after getting another shower to shed off the last of the hang-over went down to the bar and met up with some other REAL Worlders again, and then went out for a great steak at “Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse”. Very nice, had a good conversation about various subjects ranging from colour-spaces to the differences between the various States of America.

When we got back met up with a load more REAL Worlders, including Aaron Ballman and Mars Saxman, but I was really shattered so only stayed for about half an hour before heading off to bed.

Short day, but really nice, looking forward to meeting more people today. Talking of which better get off to Registration and breakfast.

Speak to you later!

Notes from the States – Day 2: History, beer 'n' boobs!

I couldn’t sleep. As much as I tried I eventually awoke at 06:30 am and couldn’t get back to sleep, even thought I didn’t go to sleep until after 00:30 the night before.

So, I eventually got up, showered, shaved, and made my way out to the lobby to settle my bill (zero, all paid via earlier).

After a short ride by a really nice man driving the Hilton courtesy bus back, went back to the airport to pick up a Super Shuttle into Austin to the Omni hotel and dropped off my bags as I was a little too early to check in.

I then took a nice stroll around town, getting completely lost. It’s real strange seeing street names sign-posted across the entrances to totally other streets when you’re used to streets being sign-posted on the side of buildings actually on the street!

I eventually found (with the help of a nice gentleman outside a bar) the Visitors Information centre. From there I worked my way up to the Capitol building and had a look around. Impressive building, it’s strange how open it is for people to just wander around (obviously you can’t go into the private offices).

I then followed a self-guided walking tour, looking at all the buildings and stuff. Part way through I stopped off at a deli and had a sandwich and coffee. It was a fantastic sandwich, Pastrami and Swiss on Jalapeño Cheese bread, probably the tastiest sandwich I’ve ever had. Yum.

It started to drizzle mid afternoon so I headed back to the hotel and checked in, where I was warned that it’s Mardi Gras weekend, so if things get a little too loud to give them a call.

Once into my (nice) room checked my mail and posted my previous entry via the (free but slow) wireless internet. When I first got into the room though, the phone rang, I thought it might of been Dr Gerard Hammond whom I had planned to meet up with later, but it was someone very different and totally unexpected, Mandy my wife!

She was a little worried as she hadn’t heard from me in two days! For me of course it was only a day and a half, it was only mid afternoon but for Mandy it was late night. Anyway we had lovely chat (I guess it probably cost a fortune), it was great to be able to talk to Mandy.

Met up with Gerard in the hotel’s atrium bar, where we had a few beers and a good chat about REALbasic, the community surrounding it and some other stuff, then decided to go out and get something to eat and check out some of the live music.

When we came out of the hotel and turned the corner to go down to 6th street where all the action is, I was surprised to see that the police had closed the road to all traffic. There were police everywhere! All the streets leading to 6th were blocked off by police cars, and all up and down the street were little groups of police with some very long batons hanging off their belts. Serious stuff, I guess things can get a little out of hand on Mardi Gras weekend then, or do they do this every Saturday night?

We checked out a few restaurants and then headed into one that first took our fancy. Good food, I enjoyed my Chicken Chipotle, but Gerard had a bit of a shock when he opened the napkin in the bread basket, cockroaches on the bread! Eeewwww! The waitress was also a little shocked too, and very embarrassed and apologetic, we got a free sweet as compensation.

So off to check out the music and get one last drink (we had already had 5 or six beers so far).

It kind of looked as though things were getting set up for a parade, but when Gerard asked a girl selling beads about it she said no, “just beer ‘n’ boobs”!

It was just before 9pm, and things were only just starting to come alive, eventually we came across “Bourbon Rocks” which seemed to be bouncing with life, a band in full swing knocking out some great rock. “All beers $2 until 9″ the guy on the door said, so we got in there quick as it was 5 to 9 and got our cheep beers.

The band was excellent, great music and the lead singer was putting on a great show, so we stayed for “just one more” beer. And then another, another, another, another and then a few more!

I must apologize to Gerard at this point, I think I encouraged him to stay for “just one more” a little more than I should, but in all fairness he did surprise me a couple of times by saying “lets have just one more” himself.

The band even played some Led Zeppelin at my request too, they really knew how to play, the lead guitarist got a nice little workout with that request!

And of course, with this being Mardi Gras, the band got the occasional flash of boobs!

Eventually we came to our senses and wandered back to the hotel, although I got a bit confused and headed off in the wrong direction at first, convinced we had to cross the street. It didn’t look right, but I was convinced I was going in the right direction. Eventually we asked a police man what direction the Omni was, and he just pointed up at the huge tower with Omni written on it, a block or so behind him! I still thought it was the wrong direction but decided to give it a go! I think maybe I was a little drunk. :-)

Now I’m paying the price for all those beers. It’s looking like a really nice day outside, but I’m not looking forward to the bright light!

I won’t be drinking like that again this week, I want to enjoy and get the most out of the conference and therefore can’t afford to have a hang-over spoiling it. But I had a blast last night, it was a great time to be out and about in Austin.

Notes from the States – Day 1: I had to take my shoes off!!!

Wow, US Homeland Security is serious stuff, flying to the USA involves many security checks, which I guess in the end I’m quite thankful for.

2006-02-24 06:40 GMT: As I queued in Edinburgh to check in for my flight to New York – Newark, the first of three flights to get me to Austin Texas for REALWorld 2006, I was given the third degree like never before.

We’re all used to being asked “did you pack your bag yourself?”, “has anyone given you anything to carry on the flight?”, “Have you got anything sharp in your hand luggage?”. But I wasn’t expecting “Who owns these bags?”, “Where did you pack your bags?”, “Where have your bags been since being packed?”, “Have your bags ever left your sight?” and a couple of others I can’t remember.

Then as I was checking in I was asked whether security could search my bag as part of a random check? First time I’ve ever had my main luggage bags searched, in over 9 years of frequent flying around the World (on a couple of occasions literally around the World, on my travels to New Zealand and back). Wasn’t an ordeal, the guy was very nice about it and very gentle with my kit, we had a nice chat actually, apparently he was in “the force” and had a torch similar to my mini maglight, but bigger. When all was done I locked my bag up and the security guy put my bag onto the belt of an empty check-in desk, I must admit I was a little worried that it would be forgot and wouldn’t make it to Newark.

The flight from Edinburgh to Newark was fine, pretty uneventful until we got close to our destination and started our descent when we met the worst turbulence I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience. Scary s$*t, we had a real rough ride there, and had some spectacular drops. You should of heard the screams, I’ve only heard anything like it while watching some crappy airplane disaster movie or something. At first I was laughing it off, but towards the end after a few sudden drops as we neared the runway I wasn’t smiling any longer, in-fact I don’t mind admitting that my hands were gently wringing the life out of the arm wrest!

After kissing the ground on exiting the plane, onto US Immigration. I’ve only been through US immigration twice before, both times were excruciatingly slow, hot and very tiring. This was nothing like that. I queued for maybe five minutes and then I was up (a new guy on came shift and I switched across and was third in line). Got the finger print and picture thing done, and then the usual “business or pleasure?” (actually it was just “here on business?”, he’d read my visa waver card), “what do you do?” etc. And then “have you been to the States before?”, my answer “yes, a couple of times.”, and then he asked the trick question … “When was the first time you visited?”. Had to think about that one, it was quite a while ago, “1998″. “Thank you, have a nice stay!”. Pretty painless really, much better than last time.

Waiting for my bags was a little nervy, fingers and toes crossed in hope that my bag made it onto the flight. Bags took a while to come out, no surprise there, seemed to come in waves, I guess as they were unloaded from each of those little trucks you see scooting around on the tarmac. First wave of bags came and went, mine wasn’t there. Second wave came and went, no sight of my Samsonite. Third, no bag (getting a little nervous now), fourth, oh dear. Long wait. Is that it? Surely not, there’s still about twenty groups here still. Wait some more, bugger. Fifth arrives, and mine is first! Thank [insert preferred descriptive expletive here, something like "goodness" will do]! :-)

Through customs (apparently that consists of just queuing and handing them your customs card), and then I need to find where I drop off my case for the trip through to Austin (via Cleveland). Easy, couldn’t miss it. Nice lady checked the tag on my case and said “Just give it to that guy to put on the belt, it’s unlocked right?”. Eh? “You must unlock your case, just scoot over there and unlock it and then give it to the guy.”. I’m surprised at this, obviously this is so that the bag can be searched, it wasn’t just my case, I heard her ask everyone, but this really goes against the grain for me. In the U.K. we’re used to being told to make sure your case is locked so that it can’t be tampered with. Got no choice, and I’m not going to argue about it, so just step aside and unlock it, open and close each latch to make sure it really is, and then pass it onto the guy who out it on the belt. Fingers crossed again that those latches don’t spring open in transit and I lose all my loosely packed socks and shorts or something. Don’t relish the idea of going commando!

Now I go up to the departure gates area and wait in a long queue to go through security. Had my Boarding Pass and Passport checked twice while waiting, as did everybody. Moved pretty quick really considering what you find when you arrive at the scanners. I usually get sorted for the scanner nice and early, I empty everything from my pockets, wallet, loose change, gadgets, put them in my bag and then take off my coat, but I didn’t expect … “All males over the age of 16 must take off their shoes” was shouted out, “… or else you will be searched.“. “All laptops must be removed from bags and placed in a separate box.“. Why were only blokes asked to take off their shoes and put them through the scanner? Why not women too? I don’t get it, although I understand why it’s a good idea to have them put through the scanner (I saw Aeon Flux the other day, O.K. bit of entertainment but she had stuff hidden in her shoes, no man did from what I remember). I guess, in the end, it does make me feel quite a bit safer to see this kind of thing happening, it’s a pain, but better safe than sorry I say.

After that it’s been nice and calm. Had really nice service in the Garden State Diner (where I had a Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich, yummy), and even had one of the same stewardesses from the flight to Newark on my flight to Cleveland, which was nice, small World really isn’t it?

While I waited for my flight to Cleveland I caught a few of the endless CNN “loops”, it was quite strange to see some stuff about home on the news, i.e. the £40 Million robbery and something about the Mayor of London’s suspension for his concentration camp comment to a Jewish reporter. There was also something about Bono and Geldof being nominated for Nobel Peace prizes or something. It was hard to tell what was being said on the newscast as every other sentence was interrupted by airport announcements, but I did see a piece about some “eighty year old” driving for 14 miles the wrong way down the freeway, in the fast lane, which was quite funny.

It’s now 19:40 EST (00:40 GMT) and I’m now sitting in the departures lounge in Cleveland waiting for my flight down to Austin. My seat makes a “ffft ffft ffft” sound every time I move, a bit like some unfortunate harnessed beast from Star Wars complaining as it gets a heel in it’s side, and “Jody Maroni’s Sausage Kingdom” is smoking the place out. I’ve had a nice Raspberry, Strawberry and Low Fat Dairy Mix “All That Raz” smoothie (my first ever proper smoothie), and am considering wandering off to get a Starbucks.

I’m not going to submit this post just now as I’d need to pay for wireless access, but I will as soon as I get to somewhere with free internet access. I think I’ll post more “notes from the States” throughout the week, if anything just as something to look back on later, but also so that family and friends can see what I’m getting up to as well. I’ll try and write at least one post per day.

Ta-ta for now!

Update 19:54 EST (00:54 GMT): Got my Starbucks, my usual “Americano” (after much experimenting over the years I’ve settled on good old simple coffee), and boy they’re stronger over here (or maybe it’s just because that’s what I need just now)! Me likes.

Update 23:55 CST (05:55 GMT): Made it to Austin, with case and everything!

Flight from Cleveland was pretty smooth, didn’t even realize we’d actually taken off it was so smooth and I was reading about Yao the Houston Rockets 7 foot six inch tall Chinese basketball player in the in-flight magazine. Tiny little plane, but nice and quick on and off it.

Walked through the airport to baggage claim and as I came to the carousel my case popped up into sight from the chute, how jammy is that! First thing I did? Move to the side and pop my case open to check everything was there. Not sure my case was searched, one of the internal detachable side pockets was off it’s hooks and the batteries for my alarm clock were no where to be seen (later found down opposite sides of the case), but everything looks to be there. Sigh of relief.

Spending the night in the Hilton at the airport, nice big room, usual fair for a Hilton. Rather tired, been awake for nearly 25 hours now, time to crash (can say that now that I don’t have any more flights for a few days)! Night night.

Reduced support for next 10 days.

Just a quick note to let you know that CaseDetective support may be a little reduced over the next few days as I’m attending REALWorld 2006 in Austin, Texas next week (with a lot of hopping from plane to plane before and after).

In theory I’ll be able to check and respond to my email during that time, but please don’t be too upset if you don’t get a response until the week after.

Quick tip for taking screen shots.

Quick tip for taking screen shots…

Have folder (mine’s called “Blank”) on your desktop.

Open said folder and maximize/strech it to cover your entire desktop, making sure it’s background is pure white.

Open application and take screen shots with plenty of the white folder background surrounding the window being captured.

If you’re taking screen shots of modal dialogs or sheet windows (Mac OS X) then before opening the dialog window make sure the main window is either moved out of the way or made small enough to be hidden by the new window.

This will give you a nice clean screen shot without any clutter from other windows on the edges.

Alternatively, just set your desktop background to white and hide the desktop icons (can be done on both Windows and Mac with a couple of clicks).

I prefer the first way as all I have to do is open up the blank folder and switch back to my app, but if you’re constrained for space (i.e. using 800×600) then the desktop method works well.

You can see this in action on my screen shots page for CaseDetective for FogBugz. The Mac OS X shots are taken with a blank folder for background, the Windows ones are taken with a white desktop and hidden desktop icons.

Update (2006-02-19): This post was inspired by a question across on the Business Of Software forums.

One response was to use Alt+Print Screen to capture just the window. Here’s my response to that…

The problem with Alt+Print Screen is that it still captures a rectangular area, so if you have rounded corners to your window (Windows XP) then you’ll get some of the background show through.

Using a white (or whatever colour you need) folder background fixes that quickly without having to get your paint brush out!

Cheap, simple and effective.

And if you were to use something like SnapX Pro on the Mac to take a screen shot of a Windows app in Virtual PC then you’d need to select a screen area rather than window.

Also, I’ve found that by using a fixed screen area for my screen captures I can get a consistent image size for both my Windows and Mac screen shots simply by re-sizing my windows to fit. This helps a lot as you’ll not have any problems in fitting those images into a neat grid, which always looks much nicer (in my opinion anyway). You’ll also get much crisper window edges if you take a screen area rather than single window, at least that’s what I’ve found anyway.

Change in SCM

A while back I wrote about my development setup, a part of which is of course Source Code Management (SCM).

At that time I was using Perforce, which I was more than happy with, it sure is a great system, fast, efficient and very stable. I had no real problems with it at that time.

However, at the beginning of the year I moved to Subversion.

There are two main reasons for this:

1) Just like Cade I felt the cost of buying a license prohibitive.

If I should need to step up from the free 2 users/workspaces version I would need to outlay $800, which is way out of my league just now. And because I’ve been hopping between my Desktop and Laptop I’ve been very aware that I don’t have any slack there, I couldn’t for example do a secondary checkout of a back version without dropping one of my users or over-writing my current workspace. The 2 workspaces/users limit is too strict when you want to do anything except straight-line development (a second computer is at least a second workspace, even if copied from the first computer).

Subversion is free.

2) I want to be able to submit versions while on the road (i.e. at REAL World 2006) or from either my desktop or laptop.

This means I need to run my SCM on my laptop, as I can’t be sure I’m going to have a solid connection to a remote server while on the road.

I also use “Portable Home Directories” to sync my home directories between my desktop and laptop, this means I might be half-way through some development when I sync between the two and then carry on development on the second computer. With Perforce this is impossible to do, as Perforce recognizes different computers as being different workspaces (or users, never quite worked it out), and gets in a bit of a tizzy when you try and check in stuff from a different computer than which you checked it out on.

For Subversion I’ve downloaded Martin Ott’s (co-founder of TheCodingMonkeys) compiled version 1.3.0 which includes the more stable fsfs rather than bdb back-end.

I’m now running svnserve locally on my computers as me, with the repository sitting in my home directory. This means I can check in any time I like on either machine as Subversion doesn’t lock on check-out by default. And because of the sync going via my server I have a backup there (onto an external hard-disk), along with scheduled backups to my .Mac iDisk and another networked external hard-disk. This means my repository is sitting in at least 5 separate places (not counting backups to CD/DVD)!

All in all I’m much happier now that I have Subversion, it’s moved on a lot since I last looked at it, it seems very stable and I’m finding it a lot quicker to use now that I’m back to the command line too. I did enjoy using a GUI with Perforce, and I’ve looked at some of the offerings available for Subversion, but in the end I’ve found the command line more than adequate.

The ISV Diaries

Cade A. Fasset has started to write The ISV Diaries, his life as a 1-man software startup.

This promises to be a great blog to follow as Cade builds his development infrastructure, product, website and finally starts to market and support his creation.

So far Cade has briefly described what he’s up to, SCM Woes, how he came to pick FogBugz for his bug tracking system (good decision!), and the fun he’s had in trying to host FogBugz remotely on Windows and now Linux.

I picked up on this blog from a very nice feature request he posted to the FogBugz discussion forums. His idea is that customers should be sent a second automated response if no manual reply has been sent within a set time period, e.g. 24 hours, which he thought was a great idea when he received a similar email from his hosting provider apologizing for not being able to respond within their normal 24 hours. Great idea, I hope Fog Creek are able to implement this in a future release of FogBugz.

Good luck Cade, looking forward to following along on your journey.

FogBugz Weblog

Michael H. Pryor (co-founder of Fog Creek) has just announced a new website, the FogBugz Weblog.

This is great news, I’ve always wanted Michael to have a blog, I’m confident he’s got lots to share with us, and I’ve often thought it would be a good idea to have a FogBugz specific weblog myself, but Michael has trumped this by creating the FogBugz weblog.

And what’s even nicer and totally unexpected is that in his introductory post Michael says “Future posts will be about CaseDetective, translating FogBugz, a Gmail like notifier for new FogBugz cases, a proxy for Vault to make it think it is talking to its own built in tracker, and more ideas that I haven”.

That’s very nice of him, thanks Michael!

Update: It seems people are missing the fact that there is a RSS feed at
Probably because the FogBugz Weblog isn’t properly exposing it, but it is there and does work.

Squidoo Lenses and plans for future products.

A day or so ago I got an email from Seth Godin which was sent to all Squidoo Lens Masters that had a lens in the top 100 to say that the ranking mechanism was about to change.

Originally Lenses were ranked by total visits since they were created, it was now going to be based on a rolling previous two weeks worth instead. So my RapidWeaver Lens which has been around since the beta days was likely to drop from the top 100, or so I thought.

Well, I’ve just looked at the “Top 100 Most Visited (traffic)” stats and this is what I’ve found:


As you can see, I’ve jumped from position 97 to position 20! Woohoo!

Now, you might be wondering why I have a RapidWeaver lens anyway, what’s that got to do with my current business, selling a desktop reporting tool for FogBugz called CaseDetective?

Apart from being a very happy RapidWeaver user and wanting to support a fellow U.K. based software developer, I’ll let you into a little secret… I had seriously thought about writing some RapidWeaver plugins. Having a RapidWeaver Lens would therefore have been a very good move, allowing me to gain an element of “master-hood” on the subject of RapidWeaver.

I say “had” because I’ve since decided not to take that path, writing plugins for someone else’s software isn’t the way I currently want to go with my business, I already have one “add-on” product in CaseDetective for FogBugz. I’d also have to spend considerable time learning Objective-C and Cocoa when I’m still enjoying discovering the power and new features of the forever evolving REALbasic language on a daily basis.

I must admit that the RapidWeaver plugin ideas I had were pretty darn good, and each was one that I could use myself, so there’s still a chance that I’ll build one or more of them in the future if no-one else does, but I have since come up with plenty of product ideas which I’ll most likely explore before.

All the ideas I have for new products are independent, i.e. they do not need any other software (other than basic OS services), which means they have their own market and are not constrained by the size of another product’s user base. I think this lack of independence in CaseDetective for FogBugz is it’s Achilles Heal, it means CaseDetective is forever tied to the fortunes of FogBugz, or any other bug tracking system that I might port it to. I’m also going to be forever playing catch-up with Fog Creek as they improve FogBugz and add features. I don’t want to be in that position with more than one product, one is enough.

Another benefit of the product ideas I have is that they are all able to be developed in REALbasic, and are largely database based and easily cross-platform, which plays on my strengths and interests.

The only problem, I’m so busy with CaseDetective I don’t have time to develop these ideas anyway! Which further backs up my decision not to create RapidWeaver plugins, I simply don’t have the time to learn the technology just now, even with Aaron Hillegass’s Cocoa: Programming For Mac OS X by my side.

I’m looking forward to a time when I’ll be able to develop some new products and hopefully improve my revenue streams, but at present there is so much I want to add to CaseDetective that I feel it might be some time before I’m able to get anything else to market.

Talking of which, I’d better get back to development, bye for now!

Plants are your friends

Merlin of 43 Folders has a nice post where he promotes solving problems by writing a note to yourself.

He discusses a lot of ways to progressively get to the root of your problem without bothering other people.

However, I think he’s missed the first and most important step, get a plant.

Eh? Get a plant? What do you mean Mr. Jones?

Get a plant, any plant will do (I have a cactus), and put it on your desk. Now, when you have a problem that you just can’t see around, talk to your plant about it.

As you explain your problem to your plant (in simple terms so that it can understand, they’re not that intelligent you know) you may find the solution just jumps out of thin air, it happens to me all the time.

Go on, give it a try!