Category Archives: Technobabble

Turned 26 today… ruminations on me and tech

When I first discovered web design, HTML didn’t fascinate me nearly as much as JavaScript did. It was a language I could play with, and do some pretty neat things with. I managed to come up with several extensions to what JS would allow: a Basket to carry values and objects between windows and documents, a BigDecimal library for calculations with as many digits as you damn well please, even most recently a little assert() function. I’ve written articles on JavaScript several times, and even a big 1100 page book specifically on JavaScript. I’m still the author of probably the only article on the web focusing on JavaScript strict warnings, and I was once the moderator of a forum on JavaScript — a job I walked away from because it just got too big about the same old stuff.
Aside from the assert() function, I haven’t really written anything new in JavaScript in a very long time.
Oh, I’ve been focusing on Mozilla-based technologies more and more — on stuff that isn’t supposed to run in a web page. On XUL and XBL. On specific components within Mozilla that happen to be useful to whatever subject I’m thinking about or developing. But largely I feel my efforts have hit dead ends.
When it comes to JavaScript, I’ve really lost my drive to innovate. With that loss of drive has really come a loss of interest in almost anything that is directly about JavaScript in the traditional forms. I stopped participating entirely in the Javascript help forums I used to moderate. Maybe I’ll drop in on an IRC channel on FreeNode (I think it’s FreeNode), #javascript, and lend a hand there, but that’s about it.
Or maybe it’s not the drive to innovate so much as it is the drive to learn and to teach. I’ve got so much to learn about the guts of Mozilla, particularly C++ (which I’m slowly gaining the ability to read and write), that JS, a language I used to love and now just use, that making new tools in JS, writing new articles to show people about JS, has pretty much lost all appeal to me.
It’s useful of course when I’m designing a website and the customer wants an effect a certain way. Beyond that… there’s Mozilla’s user interface. Other than that… damned if I know what I’m going to do with the JavaScript knowledge I’ve gathered.
I’ve been thinking for months about designing a gridded textbox set, where JS does the tabbing from one field to another for you automatically, for data entry. Why haven’t I done it? I can’t convince myself that anyone would find it useful.
I’ve been working on a MathML editor in XUL. Recently I had to scrap one approach I was using that relied heavily (too heavily, as it turned out) on XBL. I’m reorganizing, but I promised Daniel Glazman that I’d have something ready by early December for his Nvu project. That has not happened.
And of course there’s DOM Inspector. Once again, I respect Christopher Aillon a hell of a lot; I just wish there were more of him, and that he didn’t have such a massive load himself to deal with. 🙂
Okay, I admit, I’m going through some self-doubt caused partially by too many projects I want to help out in, too little time to work on them, and no money to really support me while I do it. I’m on a vacation now; you’d think it would clear my head. It’s only making me restless.
Even fixing simple XUL bugs in Mozilla — and there are a couple where code I have personally come up with is available and easy to modify to fix these bugs — isn’t appealing to me right now.
There’s other stuff that I’m working on that doesn’t involve technology so much (read: amateur fiction), which is at a roadblock as well, so that outlet is closed too.
But to sum it all up: I haven’t got the foggiest idea what the hell I’m supposed to do when I’m on, or when I’m not on, a break.
Am I burned out? Again?

The new Carquinez Bridge

“What a magnificent bridge,” Gov. Gray Davis of California said about the Alfred Zampa Memorial Bridge this past Saturday.
And what a magnificent commute Tuesday morning, even for people who didn’t cross it.
Vallejo Times Herald article
San Francisco Chronicle article
I was going to work in Benicia, which involves crossing under I-80 to go onto Curtola Parkway (which becomes I-780) . It took twenty minutes to navigate what usually takes five, max. Some people were stuck in that mess for hours. One lane open for four hours of traffic, and one of the three lanes closed for another two hours. Oops.
It’s like building a hammer, selling it to the customer, and telling him, “Oh, we’ll replace that macaroni head with a metal one before you need to use it.”
Apparently, they now have all lanes on the bridge open, but it still is not a pleasant memory.
What kind of tribute to a working man is it to build a bridge named after him… that doesn’t work?
“What a magnificent bridge.”

Patch Maker love

I have a lot of respect for Gervase Markham’s Patch Maker, so much that I really can’t imagine hacking Mozilla without it. Sure, there’s a few weak spots in it — I use timeless’s cvsdo and cvsu Perl scripts for actually adding files to my local CVS tree.
One of the reasons I love Patch Maker so much is the fact that you can do all your important stuff in one command line — call up files, list the files in a patch you’re working on, back the patch out or put it back in, add a file to the patch, diff, etc. Well, almost. If you want to rebuild a certain directory, you have had to change to the directory, do a “gmake -f Makefile” from there, and then change back out to the /mozilla directory.
Not much fun. Until I put a little Perl code together to automate that process for me too. Gerv had reserved a “pmmake()” subroutine in his Patch Maker script, but never implemented it. With a little creative design work to find the right Makefile files to use (once!), I actually managed to get it working. Not bad, I think, when I only touch Perl code once every six months…
I hope Gerv applies the patch and releases a new sub-version of Patch Maker. pmmake() is so useful right off the bat that I’ve found another reason to love Patch Maker. You want me to hack the lizard without it? You must be joking.

OSCON 2004 in Portland, OR

Looks like I get to go home again!
The O’Reilly Open Source Convention, my e-mail inbox informs me, will be held at the Portland Marriott in the week of July 25. Which makes me just peachy.
I’ve been thinking for a few days about trying to organize another Dev Day (like the one we had Nov 9 2001). The biggest question I have is “Where?”
But could we possibly set up a day in one of the Open Source Convention tracks for a Mozilla Technologies discussion? Or, if we had enough speakers, set up our own track at OSCON?
Sure, I’m ambitious. But if anyone out there is interested in speaking at OSCON about Mozilla and Mozilla-based technologies, please, let me know in replies to this entry. Given enough speakers, I can probably get OSCON to help us out. (Plus, speakers in past years have usually gotten free passes to the whole shebang of talks — and I want to speak on DOM Inspector…)

moznet needs a #thinktank

What with Mozilla 1.5 beta about to come out, I think it might be a good idea to have a channel on moznet specifically for “Think Tank” discussions. The concept is simple: a place where interested parties can discuss new ideas for Mozilla-based technologies.
To that end, I’ve committed to opening a #thinktank channel on Chatzilla when I use Chatzilla. Might be useful if for nothing else as a place to bounce around ideas which aren’t ready for discussion on #mozilla (which should remain oriented towards bug fixing and hacking the Lizard directly and immediately). #thinktank would be oriented more towards the long-term than the short-term.

Love (and hate) work…

My boss is pretty cool, most of the time. It’s when he’s out of town that all hell breaks loose. It’s bad enough for the grunts in the field… but guess which poor bastard he left in charge???
Said poor bastard didn’t even know the 1.5 beta freeze was coming up, and thus has not been able to focus one damned iota of his efforts on hacking Mozilla or seeing some of his code get reviews.
Said poor bastard is also exhausted, and will spend a good part of tomorrow earning a paycheck for contract work…
Sorry for the rant, but 70+ hour work weeks dealing with attitude problems all day long will drain anyone.

Dud Lite Presents: Real Men of Genius

Today we salute you, Mr. California State Governor!
(Mr. California State Governor!)
Only you could blame a Legislature for a budget problem you created.
(Budget problem you created)
Forty billion dollar state deficit? Who cares. You’ve got the power.
(Lotta power!)
And you’re gonna fight to keep the power.
(Fighting for the Lights)
So flip that reading lamp switch, Mr. Bear State Chief,
and raise a toast to your own recall election.
(Mr. California State Gooooooovernorrrrr)
Dud Lite Productions, Vallejo, California
A little lesson on California Recent History:
Gray Davis, the Honorable Governor of Califonria, faces a recall election. It’s a special election (the first special election in California history) with some rather ugly political maneuvering guaranteed ahead.
A couple years ago, California faced an energy crisis. The electricity rates Pacific Gas & Electric was charged by the power utilities skyrocketed, and PG&E was forbidden or unable to feasibly pass those rates on to the consumers. PG&E went bankrupt, and Gov. Davis started using state money to buy power for the state, on the electricity “spot market”, where prices could go even higher.
Of course, that money wasn’t in the state budget…
But not all the blame can be laid at the governor’s feet. Before that, the CA State Legislature deregulated the electricity industry, allowing the utilities to fleece CA in the first place and force PG&E into the hole.
Recall Grey Davis? Why not? And while we’re at it, let’s recall every member of the California State Legislature who voted for the deregulation and is still in office. Oh, and let’s thank President George Bush for not lifting a finger in the process.
Recession 2.0? I think so. The first one was taken off the shelves after only nine months…

OSCON 2003

Spending a couple days up here at the Open Source Convention in Portland, OR. Got some nice freebies, some not-so-nice freebies, and I’m just generally hanging out.
Among the not-so-nice freebies… well, I haven’t tried the lunch here. It’s being provided by Microsoft (I expect a mixed reception to that idea). Starts at 12:15pm today.
3:50pm Update: Well, the sandwiches were actually pretty good. But just in case, I left for a bit to get an antidote (Cinnabon at Lloyd Center Mall). Passing time waiting for the author’s dinner my publisher is throwing tonight.
Thursday: Lovely dinner Pearson Education threw yesterday. Blue cheese steak. Mmmmm.
Today, I dropped in too late for a chat with Wil Wheaton. Gotta catch him at Powell’s Books tonight if I can. I also am hosting a Birds-Of-a-Feather (BOF) on products… hoping someone shows up.
4:35pm update: One of the nice perks about being an author for Pearson is I get to pick up lots and lots of freebie books if I want to. Grabbed books on OpenOffice 1.0, mod_perl, Python, SVG, and a handy-dandy XML reference book. Need just about every one of them, too.
9:20pm update: Last report on OSCON. Just finished off the Mozilla BOF (we didn’t discuss anything but Mozilla). Lot of chat about bookmarks, Linux distributions without the latest & greatest, compatibility with plugins, a little on Bugzilla usage, just general stuff that I take for granted and don’t even think about. Myk Melez made an appearance (thank you), so I at least had someone else savvy about the code to talk there. The holes in my own knowledge about the code were a bit surprising; I distinctly did not like using the words “I don’t know”.
Never got over to Wil Wheaton. Oh, well. Life is good here in Portland, but tomorrow evening I hop a bus back to Vallejo.