...: Marsh Chatter
Pondering Tools ..: Craftsmen Do!
As I approach my 22nd year in the technology arena, I'm pondering the tools we use in business. My first "job" setting up/using computer technology was early 1987. I am not counting the 2 semesters of college programming in 1981, nor 10 years of Selectric Typewriter or dedicated word processor devices, although, they were "techie" for their time (hush now, all you main-framers).
Anyway - back on topic!
Since I've been involved in technology, it is common and expected that your employer provides your computer hardware and software. In the office environment, computers are considered a tool (albeit more expensive) - just like a stapler or 10-key adding machine. Having it, is essential to doing business.
Contrast that with the life of a consultant, who is essentially "the business owner". During the years I was actively consulting, I provided my own tools. Software or hardware, I made the purchasing decisions, the replacement rules, etc. Many of you out there fit this role - past or present.
Owning the average computer (hardware & software) used in business has been out of range for the normal employee. In fact, even now, if there is specialized software, the price is still out of range for many employees. But...
In today's common business environment, especially in the developing environment - the cost of a quality system is not that high. Many developers I know actually have multiple computers of their own, on top of the system(s) their employer provides.
Now the Pondering Part...
The types of hardware the average company provides is usually middle of the road, occasionally upper-middle of the road, with very few providing high end or bleeding edge systems. Some companies have very long turn-over periods - commonly 3 years, but some have gone to 4 or 5 years (especially for those economically challenged companies).
For a developer - 3, 4, or 5 years is way "past due".
Let's think about that statement: Over the last 3 years...
Wide-screen monitors have dropped significantly in price. So much in fact, that I replaced a 19" CRT with a 24" LCD widescreen - for $100 less than my first 14" VGA monitor. The cost of the change was paid off in the first week of ownership by the productivity gains alone.
Quad processor systems, are actually "reasonably priced". Many are less than $1000. Three years ago, these same systems were non-existent or north of $4000-5000 (my educated guess). Completely out of range of your average developer.
Wireless keyboards, mice, speakers are also prevalent.
Hard drive space has dramatically increased - it is not uncommon to find a Terabyte - THAT's Right! a Terabyte in the mid-$100's. Three years ago? Maybe a hundred gigabytes for that much.
For me, in 3-4 years, I have gone from Visual Studio 2003, to Visual Studio 2005, to Visual Studio 2008, and over the next year a move to Visual Studio 2010 is likely. My productivity has increased dramatically with each shift.
The point is... the demands on developers are always increasing - yet companies insist on sticking to 3 or more year turn-over cycles for the tools we use. I would like to ask the developer community... should we really be "held back" by these business rules?
A long time ago, I worked on cars, trucks, and boat engines (e.g. gas and diesels). I owned my own tools, some I still have. The mechanics (aka Automotive Technicians) at most car dealers and many auto-care providers MUST own/provide their own tools. Now the computerized testing devices and of course the basic lifts and structural equipment is owned by the facility. But, those big red, gray, or black tool chests on wheels are not provided by the repair facility - they are owned by the mechanic. They are locked when the technician is not there and it is VERY BAD MANNERS to take a tool without asking the owner first. These tool sets are not cheap! Some can cost $10,000... many are more, especially for the electrically fluent technicians.
Where I work now, for various reasons (most pointed out above), a few people have brought their own equipment to use. For me, being "cube-based", I would be concerned with some equipment getting "legs"... but I have considered supplying my own equipment because of situations where you have so many sessions going that you are down to 100k or less of RAM, or the monitor dimensions on work system are eye-straining (and I am aware now with the larger monitor at home), or the inability to consider using local VM's because of lack of memory or horsepower, or the process to get something authorized to purchase is just too much of a headache (e.g. reminds me too much of my time in the Navy when I had to go to purchasing for petty cash to buy less than $10 worth of light bulbs at a civilian store, because the base supply was out. I spent 4.5 hours seeing 4-5 people and waiting. I nearly just paid for it myself because of the hassle!).
So I ask you...
As developers, authors, programmers... are we not craftsmen? (FYI no slight intended to the feminine members of our community - I just wanted to do a slight word play on a Devo tune)?
Should we provide our own tools, even as an employee?
A decent system - say portable with widescreen is in the range of $800-2000 depending on flavors. You could replace that every year or two and still remain fairly current. The basic cost of developing tools say an MSDN package from Microsoft is not out of reach and would provide access to much more than just the editing environment. Other vendors are available.
Your employer could provide a common source storage tool, along with common network space, and business e-mail service. But the basic hardware (e.g. computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc) would be up to you to buy, maintain, and update as you see fit.
Is this blasphemy?
Would a company even consider this?
What are the tax implications?
Would we be considered "on-site consultants vs. employees".
Would a company provide an equipment allowance, like some in business receive a clothing allowance?
Who's insurance covers losses?
What happens when your system is out of commission - what do you or your employer do, then?
What say you?
Design Decisions: Good, Bad, and Ugly
This Chatter series is not meant to be critical. In fact, it is meant to ask questions about design in order to learn and find out what is good design… or not. You might ask… can someone who does “code” actually ask questions about design? I say yes. This includes form, function, color, and even imagery. You can to!
Graphic artists and such might sit back and give you a few “tsk, tsk” and please stay out of this type of design. I say… why are you hoarding the knowledge. Share the knowledge, inform us why or why not… don’t tell us to go away – these questions and results are a puzzle to us and people who write code don’t turn away from a puzzle.
So – let’s get to the first question in this series… First, the background “cause”…
I like many developers, and people in general, participate in the community of Twitter. I use a couple of clients, along with the web interface to this community information sharing tool. One client I use is TweetDeck. As far as Twitter clients go, TweetDeck is favored amongst the Tweeps I follow. TweetDeck requires the Adobe AIR runtime. I suspect many of the design decisions for TweetDeck revolves around the abilities or inabilities within the AIR runtime – I don’t know… that’s why I’m asking.
So here’s what I did… I was reviewing some of the Tweets earlier today, using the very small scroll bar to go up and down. At one point, I was clicking the arrow at the top of the scroll bar (e.g. cyan arrow). Several clicks into my review I saw a dialog (warning message box) pop up (e.g. dark black bar with “Do you really want to delete the All Friends column?”). Apparently an errant click caught the “x” button to close the All Friends column – just above the up scroll button (e.g. see red arrow).
Obviously surprised by this, I, of course, did not want to do this and pressed the Escape Key to close the dialog. Guess what…? That didn’t work. I then looked for a button to close the dialog. The only button visible (see yellow arrow) was whose hover tip said “Yes, do it!” and giving the ominous blue text saying “(this action cannot be undone – choose wisely)”. Well… “grasshopper” – as far as I could see… I didn’t have a choice. Escape didn’t work and there wasn’t a close button.
Puzzled yet? I was – but then I had the proverbial “V-8” moment. I like many people use TweetDeck’s ability to shrink the window from multiple columns to 1 column. I opened it up a bit and there was the Close button (e.g. pink arrow, below).
So… the questions…
Why are the scroll arrows so small? The click target is just a few pixels.
Why doesn't the Escape Key clear the dialog?
Why would the close button for this message dialog be “off screen”?
Wouldn’t you size the dialog to be narrower than the column the question is about?
Of course, now that “I know” – I will know how to handle the issue – but would a couple of changes make this more intuitive and more functional?
Living in a ..: Snow Globe
Yes, I like where I live. The changing seasons are the reason and snow is part of this. I grew up sledding -crazy sledding too!-ask me, skiing, building snow forts, etc. It's all good!
View out our window at north gardens.
Where I live now, is an active Lake Effect region. We are about 60 miles away from Lake Michigan and when the winds are right - we get lake effect snow - which is the nice light powdery stuff skiers dream of. The light stuff also builds up fast - so it is not uncommon to get 6 inch blasts that compound into several feet - IF there isn't warming/melting in between.
200 year old Oak tree and "road" - yes it is out there.
This is what winter is suppose to be - NOT the icy roads with crashes and dirty slush that usually ends up on the TV news. No - Winter is this nice knee deep powder that is just "cool" (pun intended!).
"The Marsh" with garden shed and tool garage in foreground.
Fortunately the wind has been low - so there isn't a lot of drifting right now. The weather map shows the storm is clearing out mostly, so it's time to go fire up the snow blower and clean the driveway. Look for me in about 2 hours... I will be the one with icicles hanging off my hat.
No. REALLY! - I did too... snow blow last night at 6 pm.
[ed. late edition] It's nearly 5 pm. It took about 1 hour to blow through the additional 7.5 inches added since last night. Total for this storm is close to 15 inches in our neighborhood - which is on top of 6ish inches gained earlier in the week. Looking good. Now for a little snowshoe action tomorrow, back in the marsh. Fun times.
Follow up - what it looks like "clean" - compare to above driveway end to street.
Follow up - one foot of snow in front of Miss Kim Lilac.
Protected north side of house, no drifting.
Expecting a really great year. The first Kalamazoo X Conference and more.