Show Me The Info

Last night I spent some time working on the design of my new logistics system. I’m developing from the ground up.

One question that I couldn’t easily break open was this .. What the point of an update screen?

Now, that flies in the face of the typical Browse/Update paradigm. At least, it seems to.

What’s the point of an update screen?

I would think, it’s so the user can do two things.

1. Insert/Change/Delete a record (the Delete doesn’t really fall in here)

and,

2. View the Information.

The browse should account for 2. at least a little bit. The more relevant information you have on a browse, the less the user has to go into the update screen just to check on something.

But number one, 1., can be dealt with, at least in some respects, in other ways.

The specific method I’m thinking of is the Right-Click.

A while back Bill showed me the power of the right-click inside a system, and consequently added it into my brain as another "way to get things done".

I’ve had another couple of days to ponder this. A great deal of info gathering will fall on the hands of the browse. Further, many of the methods we traditionally put into the update screen (child records, assignments, linking) can happen via right-click.

The update screen still has it’s uses. Particularly for straight-forward (what people expect) data entry, and information gathering of obtuse little fields that rarely are needed.

That’s my general thoughts on the matter, right or wrong.

The _Can_ Code Good

 Windows Live Writer is now fired up on my pc (thanks John, I should have followed your lead a while back), and is kicking.

I’ve changed my entire process twice in the last couple of months.

Until today, Writely was the new blogging tool of choice. However, as readers of previous posts would be aware, I had run into a couple of problems, and had to edit the posts once they were in Dev Dawn (WordPress Driven).

WLW has none of the same problems, as far as my limited experience tells me.

Inserting Links in WLW uses the same keyboard shortcut (<ctrl>K) as Writely.

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One _tiny_ niggle is that when tabbing into the Link URL, I’d like it to not do a Select All, but bring me to the end of the "http://" string. So I can continue to type without moving my hand to the arrow keys. Small niggle, and doesn’t detract from the allure of this system.

Inserting Images is much the same (<ctrl> L).

There’s a couple of points that have me really excited about WLW.

  1. It’s back on my harddrive. Now this ramifies (not really a word) into one of the other points below, but it also isn’t necessarily good. One thing I liked about using Writely is that my documents were stored where I could access them anywhere. However, in my current vocation, I’m pretty much using the same laptop 23 hours a day. So that’s not as big a deal as it could be for me.
  2. You have a much faster editing process. Not so much load time, but the use of keyboard shortcuts and the layout of WLW allows for a faster composing time. I’ll go over the layout in a moment.
  3. And lastly, most importantly for this little black duck .. I can SnagIt, save, and put it in the post STRAIGHT AWAY. Now, of course, this could have kind of happened earlier .. but with far more hassle.  WLW allows me to simply insert the image that I’ve just saved into the post, and at the end, I don’t have to worry about ftp-ing up the images, which is how I used to do it.

See, I’m old school like that. I like to have control over what is going on. Very retentive of me I know .. but still, it takes something of a bolt from the heavens to shake me. Of course, my searching out cool stuff also helps. I’m quite happy to jump in if it’s working. And it seems WLW is working.

As an aside (I should have done this pre-install), but I’m going to read the Licence Agreement you agree to when installing WLW. Hopefully nothing bad in there.

Anyway, moving along.

I’m doing this a little backwards, but here’s WLW with this post in motion.

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As I write this, I’m experimenting. Images have a bunch of very cool options to fiddle with. But before that .. you need to see the interface with more clarity than the above screen.

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Hmmm. This is the top left corner. Still doesn’t seem like I’ve got the hang of SnagIt-ing stuff .. this looks decidedly blurred.

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That’s the left hand, with the Sidebar.

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And the bottom left has the information text.

Okay, I’m going to forge ahead despite the lack of my SnagIt-ing skill.

Notice something about the images?

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You get a cool watermark effect! Very nice. This is very cool (although it’s just a text message). I mean, think about the Branding the little joschmo like me can do. I get to brand all images that go into the posts now. All of them.

Let’s now, after the excitement, let’s go back to the beginning. With the disclaimer that I’m discovering this as I write this post.

Preferences

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Writer

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The one point I’d make here is I definately want the auto-save turned on. Without a doubt there will come more than one time when something wicked walks this way and screws up what I’m writing.

Blog This

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The first option is to tell WLW what to do with the posting functionality by default. Because you can have multiple Blog Accounts (another great, but obviously expected feature), you might want it to prompt you, or to use the most recent.

Additionally, the current Blog Account is very easily changed, up in the right-hand corner.

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You simply select the Blog Account you want.

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You can see underneath are the Supported Content Types.

Customising the HTML allows some pretty cool freedom.

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You’ve got the HTML itself,

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And then the Template Parameters,

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Which can be easily added into the HTML template.

Very cool.

Plugins

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I liked the look of this plugin .. means one more thing I don’t have to worry about on the WordPress end. We’ll see how it goes.

Web Proxy

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Kept it small, cause it doesn’t affect how I’m writing.

Ping Servers

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This is nice too. Really, the guys at MS have taken a look at the cool functionality in the blog engines, and made sure some of the best bits are in WLW. Cheers and hats off to you fellows (both guys and dolls).

This is turning into a monster post. I’m going to push the rest to another post, where we’ll look at the Imaging options, and some other stuff that I find out about before then.

‘Nuff Said,

Business Acumen From An Ice Storm

In this article detailing Rob Pardo’s Keynote at the Austin Game Conference, we get a pretty awesome look into the minds of Blizzard.

They run their company the way I’d like to do Development.

A couple of quotes will say it better than I can.

Easy to Learn, difficult to master is the first Law. Design in the depth first, the accessibility later. A lot of folks seem to approach this the other way; when we first develop our games, we first try to come up with the really cool things that add years of replayability. Then we start talking about accessibility afterwards.

Concentrated coolness. What this means is, rather than make variety and lots of things to do, make fewer things really cool. The best example in woW is the class system. Lots of games have more classes, multiclassing, etc. We consciously avoided that in order to make each class as cool and different from the others as possible. This allowed us to have unique spells, abilities and mechanics. No red fireball, white fireball, blue fireball, etc. Even the two pet classes, hunters and warlocks, use their pets completely differently. We consciously avoided sharing mechanics across classes. We recently announced that the paladins and the shamans are switching sides. One of the primary reasons why we undid that rule was that we found ourselves merging them into each other for PvP balance. So we decided that it was less important for each side to have its own class than it was to have concentrated coolness for each class.

Don’t ship until it’s ready. This matters even more with MMOs. You might hear that it’s improved later, but no one actually goes back to try it. You will really cripple yourself, you put at risk the next five years of your product. So hopefully all you publishers will give the developers more time.

There’s a lot more of what Rob Pardo says in the article. It’s all gold. They are the most successful (in my mind) gaming company today. Their lessons in Development are global in scope. They don’t just apply to games.

So go have a read.

The Donut Sprinkles of Clarion

I’m not sure I’ve done this before, and if not, it’s to my shame.

Clarion Mag is an awesome resource for Clarion Developers. Most Clarion Developers already know it, I’m teaching something about sucking eggs. But I thought I’d give a shout out to Dave for the marvellous work he does .. and to go take a Gander Over Here at almost one thousand reasons why ClarionMag is such an amazing place.

Cheers to Dave for the time and effort you put in keeping the articles and information flowing in!

Some Kind of (D)NA

Microsoft has released a Beta of XNA (XNA Game Studio Express is the fully featured name).

I’m interested. And not just because I’d secretly (not so) like to become a fully functional Game Dev.

We’ve been investigating the Microsoft mapping Api (Virtual Earth) .. and by all accounts (see ClarionX, Edit :: Actually, check it out on the post below, John put it up here), it’s pretty awesome. And it’s free, well .. sort of.

Anyway, the long and short of my point is this .. I think, and I’ve said this before, that we are seeing signs of Microsoft, the big bad Kinglomerate of the Hill, shifting foundations. They are certainly embracing a form of Open Source, even if it’s branded with a big red/white hot poker.

Personally I’m itching to get a look at XNA, maybe at christmas time or something.

In other news, Next Generation has put together the Top 100 PC Games,

.. released since January 2000, based wholly on unit sales. Revenues, aggregate review scores, commentary, franchise information and more are included.

It’s an interesting list. Blizzard’s three entries (where’s Starcraft?) are all in the top ten. That’s pretty special I would think. Rumors of the Sims durmise have been greatly exaggerated. It’s still Grand Maestor over all.

For the moment, ‘Nuff Said.

A Partially Digested Look At GMail

Gmail is one large beast. Like the rabbit warren, the further in you venture, the more there is to see.

At least, that’s been my experience.

Recently I decided to move all my email dealings to Gmail, prompted in no small part due to the meltdown of my laptop.

I can say that so far it has been a resounding success. Gmail makes a lot of tasks simpler, and adds something new (well a few things new) to the mix.

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You can see the format of the page when you log in from the image above. Simple.

Basically, you’ve got your inbox. Any new emails are there (apart specifically filtered ones, which I’ll go into later).

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Clicking on an email will bring it to the screen. You can read it (boring), OR .. you can do stuff to it. Waaay cooler.

The coolest functionality Gmail provides, in this write’s opinion, is the Labelling. An email can be labelled, Labels can be part of the filtering process, you can very easily sort by Label.

See, at first, Gmail confused me. There was just an Inbox and then some other folders .. but I couldn’t create my usual convoluted folder structure like I’ve always done in dear old Outlook (and Express). This is what sort of lamed me off a few months ago when I first looked at Gmail.

The light was slow, but it did dawn on me.

Who cares?? What’s the point of a folder? To allow me quick access to a specific set of emails. Most usually emails from a particular person or group.

Labels baby!

They take the place of folders, sprinting away down the track leaving the old tortoise (hmmmm, really, perhaps I should have thought this one out a little more) to cludge away with his archaic practices.

Well no, not really. Folders work for the desktop. They make sense, because that’s the way windows has done them. And by windows, I mean Microsoft. In most people’s experience, although folders were around before then, no doubt. Just different.

Anyway.

As the red circle above (my picture emote of choice, although I’m considering changing to something more appropriate in moving people’s eyes to a certain part of the image) indicates, this email has the Label’s inbox and dev dawn.

inbox is transient, obviously. It only hangs around until you move it out of the Inbox. But everything else is gas.

In this particular case, I’d like to do something more to the email, apart from reading it.

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What can I do?

As you can see, there’s a few things. Unread. Star. Create Event.

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Right now, I want to add a new Label.

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Let’s call it "mushu rules" (— For more Mushu information, please visit This Site and others — End Advert Broadcast from 31st century).

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As you can see, the Email now has the "mushu rules" Label applied to it.

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Some nifty (and important) information can easily be found by clicking on the "Show Options" link (which becomes "Hide Options" immediately following).

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You get the normal email info, which I find useful when creating a filter (later).

Next, I’d like to reply to this email (It’s a spam report, which obviously would be pretty useless to reply to).

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There’s a text box at the bottom of the email. You can click on it straight away to start typing your reply. But wait! Some magic happens.

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A little bit of the Ajax mojo gets to work, and what was once a simple text box becomes a fully-fledged email editing window, complete with the usual text modifying functionality, CC/BCC’s, and a big To: window (plus more).

Once finished you can send it, save it, or discard it. You can do the latter two at any stage really.

One cool little bit of funk is the spelling.

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Choose your language and away you go. Of course, my spelilgn isi ewsomae, so i don’t need such a thing :).

Next up (and this is obviously not restricted to replies, but any email) you can add Event Information.

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Events are the bread and butter of the Google Calendar . To add a basic Event, you only need to click on the link.

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But if you’d like to get more freaky with your event-y .. click on "more event options >>".

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A new window pops up. Loading .. loading .. WHOAH!

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Interesting. It seems we’ve discovered some kind of wierd object known as a bug. But, it’s okay. This is a beta after all. So you know, beta’s have that kind of stuff in them. But come a Full Release, and BAM .. no bugs. Well, at least, I’ve heard that’s how it works.

A bit more adventuring and you can get around this little issue.

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At the top of your page, click on the "Calendar" link. It’ll open up Google Calendar in a new window.

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If you now go back and try "more event options >>" it will bring up a real non-bug information window.

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Cools! Edit your event info, Save Changes (whoops, I didn’t check out the Options on that page .. maybe next time), and away you go.

Next off, we head back to the Inbox.

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Notice that some of the emails already have Labels attached to them? How is this deep magic accomplished, I hear you ask in wonderment?

Filters.

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At the top of the page, you’ll see the option to "Create a filter". Click on this.

The next two images split the initial Filter page into two.

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Basically, Filter’s are Rules. You are telling the Gmail engine what you want done with an email (single, set, whatever).

This is cool. At this time, my filters are singular in effect. They take emails of a certain kind (From Email Address, and a couple of Subject lines) and attach a specific Label to them.
But you can do a whole lot more. I haven’t yet grasped the power of the Star functionality, but I’m sure it’ll come.

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However, at this time, we’re gonna take a look at the existing filters.

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I want to examine the last one, which is my Filter that applies the "news" Label. Let’s click on the "edit" link to the right of the Filter.

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Setting a single Email Address is easy, but I discovered when you want to add more than one Email Address to a Filter, you have to get creative by checking out the help. Or googling. Which you could argue is one and the same thing.

Anyway, the syntax for adding more than one Email Address to a Filter is as follows;

  1. Append the new Email Address to the end of the From: entry box, conjucting (not sure if this is the right word) with an OR in capital letters.

    It has to be OR, and it has to be in capital letters.

  2. Place parentheses ( .. ) around the entire string entry.

Click on the "Next Step" button.

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In this instance, we are editing, and thus the Label is there already.

Optionally, you can choose to apply the Filter retroactively. This won’t happen by default, although it would be cool to have a Global Option somewhere to turn this on. But anyway, until Google listen to my wisdom, click on the checkbox that says "Also apply filter to x conversations below".

Hit the "Update Filter" button.

The Filter will run, if you’ve check the checkbox, the emails will retroactively have the Label added to them (those that fit the Filter), and you’ll head back to the Filters Browse.

We’re almost done. Heading back to the Inbox, I’ve got a couple more things to bang on about.

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Some subtle advertising exists on the Inbox page. It’s cool, because it’s not intrusive .. BUT .. your eyes do notice it. Especially when it changes magically to account for what Emails you have in your Inbox. Before your brain worries about the big conspiracy theories, it thinks .. Cools!

The advertising is much more obtuse in an Email page. That is, when you are inside the Email, reading it.

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Feeling adventurous, I decided to click on the link "About these links". On first seeing that, I laughed. Who wants to know about these links? Well .. I kind of did.

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Pretty boring really. I thought it might have given me some info on the actual links, stats, something cool. Instead, it was just what you’d expect. Help on Gmail. How it works.

So this has been a Partially Digested look at Gmail. As said in the intro, it’s a large monster. I’ve only touched the surface today.

But thankyou for reading, listening (I wish), watching (again, wish) .. it’s been a blast.

‘Nuff Said, and Seeya When Next We Meet,