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By RexWorld ·
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How far we've come with software help systems

by RexWorld In reply to RexTech

<div xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">I'm not much of a graphic-arts person but I found myself on Friday needing to finish a couple quick graphics-related tasks. First I needed to find out the rgb values in a Flash movie, so I could duplicate them in an HTML mock-up. Then I needed to cut out a couple icons from the aforementioned Flash movie, make them into little gifs, but also make the backgrounds transparent.<br />
<br />Now I didn't know how to do either of those tasks, but I did have <a href="http://www.macromedia.com/software/fireworks/">Macromedia Fireworks</a> installed on my PC. Mostly because it came with Dreamweaver, not because I use it myself. But I fired it up and ran a couple questions thru the help system.<br />
<br />I am so grateful to modern help systems. Just a couple quick keywords in Fireworks got me exact step-by-step instructions for what I wanted to do. The transparent-gif thing I might have figured out on my own, but I would never have been able to figure out the eyedropper thingy to pick up colors from an image. Luckily I didn't have to--the program showed me what to do.<br />
<br />In a way that's what makes Google so powerful--it's a help system writ very very large. I'm thinking at some point there's a natural merge between the software help and Google help. That's kinda the direction we're headed with <a href="http://desktop.google.com/">Google Desktop</a>, integrating local and Internet search.<br />
<br />In a way that's actually one of my frustrations with Google Desktop--the fact that it doesn't index all the help files scattered around my PC. If I'm trying to solve a problem, there might be a program already on my PC that can solve the problem. But unless I fire up each program and query its help system individually I'll never find it. Maybe the next release of Google Desktop can fix that.</div><p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://rextech.blogspot.com/2005/05/how-far-weve-come-with-software-help.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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Way too overclocked

by RexWorld In reply to RexTech

If you're overclocking your PC so high that it requires a <a href="http://www.madshrimps.be/?action=gethowto&howtoID=59">dry ice cooling system</a>, I think maybe you're pushing too far. C'mon, let's just wait for Intel and AMD to figure out how to safely up the clock speeds. <br /><br /><a href="http://news.com.com/2009-1006_3-5672485.html">Moore's Law</a> is still in full effect, processors are going to keep doubling in power every 18 months or so. Just be patient and the hardware will catch up with the demands of the software. Do you really need to play Doom 3 at 120 frames-per-second?<p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://rextech.blogspot.com/2005/05/way-too-overclocked.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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He's not that David Chappell, bee-otch!

by RexWorld In reply to RexTech

<div xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">In most programming languages they have this notion of context--variables and sometimes methods have different meaning depending on the context in which they are used. For example, you might have a method that uses a loop variable called myLoop, and you might have that same variable name in multiple methods. But each of those is a distinct context, and so they have a totally different variable myLoop. The name is the same but the values depend on the context.<br />
<br />When I saw this post about <a href="http://blogs.msdn.com/gduthie/archive/2005/05/11/416423.aspx">David Chappell visiting Microsoft</a> to talk about <a href="http://rextech.blogspot.com/2005/03/public-preview-release-of-avalon-and.html">Indigo</a>, I was immediately confused. I had no idea the star from <a href="http://www.comedycentral.com/tv_shows/chappellesshow/">Comedy Central</a> was also a developer conversant in the newest Microsoft communications technology. Then of course I realized they spelled their names differently--the comedian has an "e" on the end of this last name.<br />
<br />But totally out of context, the note was just funny when I first saw it in my RSS stream.</div><p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://rextech.blogspot.com/2005/05/hes-not-that-david-chappell-bee-otch.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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Maybe America's youth aren't such bad programmers

by RexWorld In reply to RexTech

<div xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">Nice <a href="http://techrepublic.com.com/2100-3513-5702889.html">rebuttal</a> to an earlier News.com article lamenting the <a href="http://news.com.com/2008-1036_3-5675770.html">decline of America's youth</a> in a recent programming contest. I don't think it's totally settled--I do still sense a general decline in younger programmers.<br />
<br />It just seems natural though given a culture of grade inflation in the name of self esteem. Let's not give students bad grades because it harms their self image, but in the end that means giving good grades to students who don't deserve it. And they can then move on with those good grades and get a good job, and turn out to be idiot programmers. I've worked with a fair number of people who fall into that category--should never have been allowed into programming to begin with.</div><p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://rextech.blogspot.com/2005/05/maybe-americas-youth-arent-such-bad.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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Using del.icio.us to organize your own work

by RexWorld In reply to RexTech

Check out what an old colleague of mine from the BYTE Magazine days is doing with <a href="http://del.icio.us">del.icio.us</a>:<br /><br /><a href="http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2005/02/21.html#a1182">All about screencasting</a><br /><br />He's using it to bookmark and organize his own writing. In a nutshell, he has done something similar to what we tried (and largely failed) to do with our "<a href="http://techrepublic.com.com/1200-26-5124160.html">How do I</a>" pages. He has shared his expertise on this specific topic to anybody who wants it. And he's done it using totally free and public tools.<br /><br />I'm so slow, I think I finally understand what this tagging stuff can do. Maybe it isn't just a fad for the <a href="http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=digerati&x=0&y=0">digerati</a>.<p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://rextech.blogspot.com/2005/05/using-delicious-to-organize-your-own.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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Too many blog posts from MSDN

by RexWorld In reply to RexTech

<div xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">Full disclaimer here--my employer owns and operates <a href="http://www.newsburst.com/">Newsburst.com</a>. But even if they didn't it would still be my favorite RSS reader. What I love is that it's accesible from anywhere, so even when I'm on the road or at a friend's house I can pull up the feeds I like.<br />
<br />But the feature that has really come in handy is the Categories. These let you group your feeds--for example, I have one group of gadget-related feeds (<a href="http://www.engadget.com/">Engadget</a>, <a href="http://www.hackaday.com/">Hack-a-day</a>, etc.). So when you click on the category Newburst pulls in all those feeds, merges them into a single feed, and shows you the latest 25 items. Very handy to quickly scan what's going on with all them.<br />
<br />Now the problem is that my WebDev feed, which has the work-type stuff I read, is being overwhelmed by the MSDN posts. There's so many MSDN posts that some mornings when I check it, all of the 25 latest items are from MSDN. I couldn't see any other posts.<br />
<br />So I've had to move MSDN into its own separate Newsburst category, which I'm calling Microsoft for now. I suppose eventually I might add one or two other feeds into that category but for now I think MSDN is going to fill that all by itself.</div><p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://rextech.blogspot.com/2005/05/too-many-blog-posts-from-msdn.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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Flickr converts from Flash to DHTML

by RexWorld In reply to RexTech

<div xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">So Flickr quietly switched their photo pages last week from <a href="http://blog.flickr.com/flickrblog/2005/05/from_flash_to_a.html">Flash to DHTML</a>. Very impressive--it's a pretty seamless replacement.<br />
<br />Some of the behavior is a little different. As I recall the Flash photo page would slowly fade out the comment boxes but in the DHTML version they seem to just blink away. Minor thing but I guess you can't emulate everything in DHTML.<br />
<br />Still, the list of <a href="http://news.com.com/Will+AJAX+help+Google+clean+up/2100-1032_3-5621010.html">AJAX apps</a> is growing. I'm gonna be interested in seeing how Microsoft responds with <a href="http://techrepublic.com.com/2100-3513_11-5683842.html">IE 7</a>. That's the big unknown--despite <a href="http://techrepublic.com.com/2100-3513_11-5702247.html">Firefox's gains</a> IE still is the dominant browser. Microsoft could easily screw up life for all these AJAX apps by doing something non-standard in IE7.</div><p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://rextech.blogspot.com/2005/05/flickr-converts-from-flash-to-dhtml.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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Too much desktop searching going on

by RexWorld In reply to RexTech

<div xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">Microsoft, or rather MSN, has released their <a href="http://news.com.com/Microsoft+ups+ante+in+desktop+search/2100-1032_3-5706764.html">toolbar with desktop search</a>. Now the geek in me wants to download and give it a try. The problem is that I'm already running one desktop search engine--<a href="http://desktop.google.com/">Google Desktop</a>.<br />
<br />I'm sure my PC could handle the overhead of yet another indexer analyzing my desktop documents. It's a 2.8 GHz P4 with 1 GB of RAM. Not exactly state-of-the-art but plenty fast enough to juggle two desktop indexes.<br />
<br />I just am a wee bit nervous about giving access to my desktop to all these different programs. Not that I'm a total privacy freak but I am one of those people who shreds all my credit card bills and receipts just in case. You never know who's out there, and if I've got two indexers running that means twice as many opportunities for some hacker to find a way to upload the indices for his own nefarious schemes. <br />
<br />Who knows what's stored in the index files these programs generate--all my confirmation emails for Amazon.com purchases, eBay transactions, etc. Wouldn't want all that getting into the hands of some evil hacker type person.<br />
<br />I'll stick with the Google Desktop for now. Until I hear about some really compelling feature in MSN Desktop Search that makes me want to switch.</div><p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://rextech.blogspot.com/2005/05/too-much-desktop-searching-going-on.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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The problem with filters

by RexWorld In reply to RexTech

<div xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">I've got this simple Outlook filter set up so that any time an email has [TechRepublic] in the subject line it gets moved into my newsletter folder. So I can read them later and they don't clutter my Inbox.<br />
<br />Unfortunately I happen to work at TechRepublic and on occasion people send me emails about an HTML bug they need me to fix in one of the newsletters. So they often forward the newsletter itself and insert theire question at the top. This of course screws up my simple little filter, those emails get dumped into the Newsletter folder and I don't see them until the end of the day when I get around to taking a peek at today's newsletters.<br />
<br />I'm gonna have to make a more sophisticated filter, I can't just do a simple search in the subject line for [TechRepublic]. I hate that--the Outlook filter wizard is pretty good at basic stuff but when you have to try and figure out more complicated filters it gets hairy. Sometimes I wish there was just a SQL-like language I could use to write my filters in Outlook instead of using the wizard.</div><p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://rextech.blogspot.com/2005/05/problem-with-filters.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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Geek PowerToys

by RexWorld In reply to RexTech

Microsoft's <a href="http://www.download.com/3120-20_4-0.html?qt=microsoft+powertoys&tg=dl-20&search.x=0&search.y=0&search=+Go%21+">PowerToys</a> were initially these fun little add-ons you could download for Windows. Like little widgets to let you open a DOS shell from the current folder, or one that let you turn a folder of images into a screen saver. Just freebies that weren't officially supported by Microsoft.<br /><br />Turns out even the tools developers at Microsoft want in on the PowerToy action. They've published some <a href="http://blogs.msdn.com/classdesigner/archive/2005/05/17/418966.aspx">PowerToys for Visual Studio</a>. If that's not geek I don't know what is. An add-on gadget for your favorite development platform.<p><div class="blogdisclaim"><a href="http://rextech.blogspot.com/2005/05/geek-powertoys.html">This post originally appeared on an external website</a></div>

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