Archive for February 2003

2003/02/03 03 Feb

New Column

I just got the March copy of the Programmer's Paradise catalog, which contains the first installment of my new column, a review of VMware, on page 11. “By the twentieth time I'd installed Windows 2000, I could do it in my sleep, even though I don't know a word of Chinese.” The only way to read the column is to get the catalog, which you can do for free here.

I've already written the next two columns for the catalog: a review of ERwin and an article about user interface design. Also in the pipeline: reviews of LeadTools, Camtasia Studio, and DevPartner Studio. Unlike most software reviewers who write for the magazines, who spend just enough time with a the product to get 750 words worth, I plan to review things that we actually use on a daily basis here at Fog Creek and talk about how we use them.

Commoditize Your Complements

Remember when I wrote that “smart companies try to commoditize their products’ complements?” We decided to take some of our own advice, here, so as of today, FogBUGZ can be run on top of MySQL, which is free, in addition to Microsoft SQL Server, which is expensive.

We also support two more source code control systems: CVSNT and Visual SourceSafe.

2003/02/04 04 Feb

[Image]I've moved Joel on Software to a new server, at a colocation facility operated by Peer 1 Network. In the process of finding a new home and getting it up and running I've learned quite a bit about how web hosting works, so I thought I'd describe a bit of it here and in the process provide a glimpse Behind The Scenes.

2003/02/05 05 Feb

Dave asks: "When I get Slashdotted we get about 5000 reads. I've noticed that number is about what some Manila and Radio sites have gotten when they were Slashdotted. Now, according to Joel Spolsky he gets about 400,000 reads from a Slashdot link, about 80 times the flow. Now here's the question. Why?"

Actually, I said 500,000, not 400,000, and I was referring to hits, not "reads." I'm not sure what a read is, but a hit is a single file served by the web server. Even the simplest page on this site consists of four files: the header GIF, the Made with CityDesk GIF, the CityDesk logo, and the article itself. Articles with pictures have a lot more. The number of page views we get, which only counts HTML files, is about 120,000 on "slashdot days." Since the average day has about 30,000 page views, only 90,000 are "extra." Still a lot more than Manila sites, but not 80 times the flow.

Another difference is that I almost always get slashdotted on a day when I release a new article. This is coincidentally the same day I send email to 16,000 subscribers telling them about the new article. And on average a few dozen webloggers will link to me on the same day, bringing in their traffic as well.

Some percentage of those people say, "Aha! This precisely proves my point!" and forward the URL to their boss or underling to hit them over the head with it. "See? Nya!" So there's always a multiplier effect.

Finally, Joel on Software has enough old content that many new visitors stay a while and click around. That accounts for a lot of the extra traffic on Slashdot days.

2003/02/14 14 Feb

New MicrophoneDue to the poor sound quality of the previous CityDesk online demo, I decided to invest in a real studio quality microphone instead of using one of those cheap computer headset/mike combinations.

It took me a while to figure out what I needed. The mike itself is a Shure SM58, probably one of the most popular professional microphones in use today and generally available for about $100.

I bought the Mic from Sam Ash on 48th street, hoping that they would be able to get me the right combination of cables and adapters I needed to plug this thing into a standard sound card. The stoner DJ sales dude sounded very confident but he didn't tell me that I needed a preamp, and he gave me the wrong kind of cables.

If you're trying to do this yourself, here's exactly what I have:

  1. the Shure SM58 microphone
  2. A basic desk stand. The clip part that connects the mike to the stand comes with the mike.
  3. a 3' mic cable (it only needs to reach the preamp). I bought a CBI LowZ Microphone Cable from Zzounds.
  4. A preamp. This boosts the level of the microphone to something that is called "Line Level" which is what a computer sound card needs. I got an M-Audio AudioBuddy from Zzounds.
  5. To connect the preamp to the sound card, you need a cable with a 1/4" stereo phone jack on one end and a 1/8" stereo "mini" phone jack on the other end. I assembled this out of two cables which I bought at my neighborhood Radio Shack. For some reason the professional music stores like Sam Ash and Zzounds think it is beneath their dignity to stock any parts with 1/8" jacks, but that is what your sound card needs.

The sound quality is really quite a bit better. Here are two MP3s, before (with the computer mike) and after (with the professional mike).

2003/02/25 25 Feb

The discussion forum for this site generates a lot of questions and commentary. As I said when I launched it, it's a bit of an experiment. Although it may seem simple, there are a lot of subtle design decisions and magic-behind-the-scenes in hopes of improving the quality of discussion that takes place there. So far, it has mostly worked.

Later this week I'll write an essay explaining everything, but because it's full of Heisenberg effects, the essay won't appear on this web site, it will only go out via email to email subscribers. You can subscribe here or at the bottom of any page on my site:



Don't worry, you can unsubscribe at any time; every email I send includes a single-click unsubscribe link. I will never sell your email address. Subscribe by Friday to be sure to get the essay. Once again -- the essay will not appear on the web and will be copyright so I'll ask you not to forward the email around. It's an exclusive benefit for email subscribers.

2003/02/28 28 Feb

The social scientist Ray Oldenburg talks about how humans need a third place, besides work and home, to meet with friends, have a beer, discuss the events of the day, and enjoy some human interaction. Coffee shops, bars, hair salons, beer gardens, pool halls, clubs, and other hangouts are as vital as factories, schools and apartments ["The Great Good Place", 1989]. But capitalist society has been eroding those third places, and society is left impoverished. In "Bowling Alone," Robert Putnam brings forth, in riveting and well-documented detail, reams of evidence that American society has all but lost its third places. Over the last 25 years, Americans "belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often." [2000] For too many people, life consists of going to work, then going home and watching TV. Work-TV-Sleep-Work-TV-Sleep. It seems to me that the phenomenon is far more acute among software developers, especially in places like Silicon Valley and the suburbs of Seattle. People graduate from college, move across country to a new place where they don't know anyone, and end up working 12 hour days basically out of loneliness.

So it's no surprise that so many programmers, desperate for a little human contact, flock to online communities - chat rooms, discussion forums, open source projects, and Ultima Online. In creating community software, we are, to some extent, trying to create a third place. And like any other architecture project, the design decisions we make are crucial. Make a bar too loud, and people won't be able to have conversations. That makes for a very different kind of place than a coffee shop. Make a coffee shop without very many chairs, as Starbucks does, and people will carry their coffee back to their lonely rooms, instead of staying around and socializing like they do in the fantasy TV coffeehouse of "Friends," a program we watch because an ersatz third place is less painful than none at all.

Cafe Du Monde

In software, as in architecture, design decisions are just as important to the type of community that develops or fails to develop. When you make something easy, people do it more often. When you make something hard, people do it less often. In this way you can gently encourage people to behave in certain ways which determine the character and quality of the community. Will it feel friendly? Is there thick conversation, a European salon full of intellectuals with interesting ideas? Or is the place deserted, with a few dirty advertising leaflets lying around on the floor that nobody has bothered to pick up?

— Excerpted from my latest article, “Building Communities with Software,” which will only be sent to email subscribers. Please subscribe now to receive the article, which will be sent out on Monday morning.

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