Monday, July 24, 2006

A Birth and a Death

Well, well, well. "'The time has come', the Walrus said..." I can tell you now, Dear Reader, that unbeknownst to you, while you were going about your daily affairs, my buddy Ray Barber (of MacScripter fame) and I have been laboring day (Ray) and nite (me) to bring you GeekSuit!

What, you may ask, is GeekSuit? It's our new website, chock full of free- and shareware. For you, Dear Reader, we did it just for you. It went live last nite about 11pm and there's no looking back now.

I have to confess, though...A bit of sadness, as well. Nitewing '98's AppleScript Hideout served me well, lo these many months, and it is with a bittersweet taste in my mouth that I uploaded the redirect pages that will bring it down, forwarding visitors to the new site. Alas, poor Nitewing, I knew him...

Nitewing isn't dead, of course, I'll continue to write software as Nitewing '98, but with the Hideout gone, it won't be the same. The Hideout saw the publication of Romulan Hunt , the program that really started it all. But time marches in only one direction, and it seems inevitable that things and people get left behind you, no matter who you are.

I'm working on an invoice program, hopefully it will be done in the next week or so, and it will be published at GeekSuit, not the Hideout. Don't get me wrong, GeekSuit is lovely, shiny and new, with the possibility of new horizons. But I had grown fond of the Hideout, sort of my Batcave, my Frankenstein's laboratory, where I cooked up all sorts of wild ideas.

It's sort of the same feeling you have at your high school graduation. You always say you'll keep in touch, and you mean it, but you never do, and one day you turn around and those people are gone from your life forever.

The Hideout is dead. Long Live GeekSuit!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Barbarians at the Gates

It's been too long since I posted, I apologize, dear Reader.

I spent nearly 2 hours last night (while I was coding) having a "rousing discussion" (read, "not quite a flame war") with someone on one of my favorite forum sites. I had posted looking for information about how to switch off the "platinum window" look in AppleScript Studio and his reply seemed a bit terse, telling me that it wasn't something that I should want to do.

This lead to a conversation about application design. His position (and one echoed by many in the computer upper echelons {read, "programmers, network admins, and support staff"}) is that the programmer/designer is responsible for creating the interface for his application and allowing the user to modify it was not a good design decision. He went so far as to call it a "hack" and added that "hacks are bad software design."

First off, I object, still, to the mis-use of the word 'hack.' In the early days of computing, a hack could be anything from a piece of code to a practical joke. A good hack was one that was elegant and had some style or achieved its ends in a novel way. It was basically shorthand for "thinking outside the box."

In the 80's and 90's the word 'hacker' took on a negative connotation, as hackers were always in the news for gaining (illegal) access to some system or another. Ever since, the word has been a bad word, and I won't stand for its degradation.

That being said, the gist of our discussion came down to a difference in philosophy. I've been programming since the mid 80's, and have done both freelance/consultant work and paid (salaried) work for companies. And I've had many situations where the problem at hand couldn't be solved through the normal means and had to be 'hacked.' I can't say any of my solutions were elegant, but they got the job done and the paycheck in the door and made the user/client/boss happy.

I program now (since my disability) mostly for fun, but still retain the old-school notions of putting the user in control. For one thing, I realized long ago that you can't design an application in a vacuum: The users know what they want, what they will use, what their workflow is. And not consulting them leads to slow adoption of your application; sometimes they outright throw obstacles in your path.

Further, I believe that each person's computer is their personal workspace. We all customize our workspaces, whether it is where we keep the stapler and the paper clips or how we line up the icons on our desktop. Some of us are purists (still have that Apple blue abstract or Microsoft green desktop?) and some of us are rugged individualists who change our desktop picture, sound set, and icons. But each of us needs to be comfortable in our workspace, whether it's in meatspace or cyberspace.

When Apple started the brushed metal interface (years ago with QuickTime Player and iTunes) it was OK with me. Later, when it began to be applied to every app Apple wrote, I stopped liking it as much. I still believe the Finder should have white windows, not silver ones. And when an application gives me a choice of turning on the metal look or using white, I usually choose white.

That in mind, I was going to offer users the same choice, thinking, "hey, it's their workspace, why not let them make it comfortable/pleasing to them?" During the discussion, I opted to use the metal window look anyway, since it seemed to make sense for the application and allowing users to switch was going to be more trouble than it is worth, programmatically.

But I realized from the discussion that there is, despite the personal computer revolution, a large contingent of "high priest" programmers who believe that they know what is good for every user. I doubt that, and thought that this mentality was what the PC revolution was all about in the first place. Putting computers in the hands of "everyman" was meant to break the hold that the guys with sliderules had on the rest of us. It was supposed to allow the user to be in control of the system, not vice versa.

Which brings me to the point and title of this post. The barbarians were once us, the folks who believed that the PC belonged in the hands of the common man, for him to control. We stormed the castle and brought about a revolution, one that is still going on, though the social aspects of it have slowed in some areas and accelerated in others. We have an entire generation now that can't remember a time without personal computers. I'm not quite in that set, though I come from the generation before that can't remember a time without TV.

But the old masters are the new barbarians, and they are right outside our gates. The big corporations whose executive staff have raided their own treasuries and cut or terminated pensions, the government that talked up weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist, exposed one of our own secret agents, and has created a second Viet Nam, and the software/hardware alliances between the phone company, the NSA and a set of technicians who believe they know what is right for you: these are the new barbarians, ready to take us back to the "good old days."

Beware. The revolution isn't over, and it's still possible for the enlightenment to pass by the majority of people on this planet. Don't believe something just because it comes from the government, or your company, or your IT department. Think for yourself.

The cost this time could well be another dark age for humanity, if the barbarians make it through the gates.