Saturday, July 30, 2005

Some screenshots of the Haloscan Ping Firefox Extension

The configuration screen...

And the Ping Screen...

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Trackbacks are getting easier

Ever since I was introduced to trackbacks a couple of months ago I've had a worry about them... they're difficult to setup. So I thought I'd do something about it.

After a bit of help from my good friend Andrew Beacock, I got my head around trackbacks and set up a Haloscan account so I could get them installed onto my own blog. Getting it up and running was pretty straight forward, but then the tricky bit arrived... actually performing a trackback ping request.

In order to make a request you need to go to the Haloscan account and enter the trackback ping URL for the post that you want to ping. You then need to enter the details of your own blog... the blog title, post link, title and extract. It all seemed like a lot of hard work to me.

So here's what I did:
I wrote a Firefox extension to send trackback ping requests to Haloscan

In order to use it you need to set it up:

  1. Install the extension

  2. Configure it with the address of your blog feed (rss and atom are supported). You'll find it under Tools -> Haloscan Ping
  3. Log into Haloscan

In order to send a ping request:

  1. Write your blog entry and publish it

  2. Go to the blog you want to ping, and select the trackback URL

  3. Right-click and pick Ping Haloscan

  4. Pick the entry from your blog to ping with and click OK

Simple as that!

At the moment I'd regard the extension as being at alpha stage, so for now I'm sending it out on request. If you'd like to try it out then mail me and I'll send you a copy.
Once I've got some positive feedback for it I'll try to publish it on Mozilla Update and Mozdev.

Update:You can mail me here...

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Friday, July 29, 2005

Index Cards

In our version of XP, Stories get written on index cards.

Text on the front, in big marker pen describes the user action in a single sentence.
The aim is to get the people involved to think in small chunks, and to think about the fundamentals of each piece of work.

Text on the back, in biro describes any particular behaviour required, we call them the acceptance criteria. The aim is to get people to think about the exceptional requirements of a story, the bits that the simple view of the action doesn't cover, to think of the little gotchas that'll appear.

They work extremely well, focussing the mind on the job in hand.

But there's something I think we've missed the point of: For each story there is only one card.

Here are my thoughts...

Since there's only one card, the card needs to be with the people that are currently working on it. If the story's still being worked out, it's with the customer, if it's being developed then it's with the pair working on it.

That means that if the customer wants to change their mind after the story's been started by the development team then they need to find the pair that's currently working on it and speak to them.
Fair enough, we could have the stories stored electronically and then put a system in place to ensure that the pair are notified of any change as soon as its put onto the system. It wouldn't be difficult, the customer enters each story on the system, revising it until they think it's ready. The story gets marked as ready to start when they've had a discussion with the development team. Each pair would register which story they're working on, marking the story as in progress. And so, and so on.

Or, we could do the simple thing and use natural capabilities of the card; do the simplest thing that will work.

Simplicity is only part of the issue. The big advantage of actually tracking down the pair and speaking to them is that you then get into a conversation. A notification is one way, a conversation is two way. And things that are written down are open to interpretation.

Conversation is crucial to the success of XP, and keeping the story on the card just seems to me to be a great way of keeping that conversation going.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The second saddest post ever

The other thing I love about regular expressions is that you can NEVER test them enough. You always find yet another bit of text that doesn't behave itself. There's always better ways of doing what you're doing. And if you ever post a blog entry about one, you always have to follow it up with another that corrects it...



RTFM (again)

When I first started pair programming it took me about 2 hours to come to terms with the fact that sometimes you need to ask for help, and that it's OK to look in a manual. You won't lose face with your pair for doing that.

It took our boss about 2 weeks to notice the increase in traffic on caused by my arrival.

So why is it that whenever I'm coding on my own I will tend to try to hack through the undergrowth with a pen knife to get to the solution rather than ask someone if I can borrow their chainsaw?

The latest example is a problem I was having with a firefox extension.

I wanted the user to be able to select a piece of text, right click, pick my extension and have a dialog box where one of the fields contains the selected text.

Since I already knew how to do this I flew straight in and spent ages fiddling round in the dialog box's code with parent.getSelection(), parent.window.getSelection, parent.window.context.getSelection() and every other combination including parents, windows and selections that I could think of. Not a chance.

For some reason I couldn't get the text from the parent window. I suspect that firefox does not regard the window the user sees as the parent window, but I've not bothered looking to find out...

Anyway, quite early on in I thought to mayself:

'This would be easy if you could just pass arguments into the dialog box. I could just get the selection in the code that kicks off the dialog box and there we go'.

But since I knew I knew this wasn't possible.

An hour later I decided to take a look at openDialog, which is the call I was actually making to open the window. It turned out that yep, you can pass arguments into the child dialog box.

If only I'd just accepted that I don't know everything and looked at it an hour earlier I'd have saved myself a lot of stress.

Note to self... RTFM!