Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Great Australian Survey are spammers

I signed up with the Great Australian Survey (www<dot>aussiesurveys<dot>com<dot>au) to see where BetterDeal were mentioned and I started getting the usual crappy offers from them. Kind of expected that, but the emails had an unsubscribe link at the bottom. I've clicked on that twice now and ticked the relevant boxes on their site but I'm still getting the emails. Either they are completely incompetent (why on earth are they sending emails to a address anyway?) or they are spammers.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Working from home is different

Working from home is certainly different to the usual office environment. In most offices I've worked in I didn't have a window to look out of, never mind looking out to see a fox, who seems to have taken a liking to lying on my shed's roof in the afternoon sun.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The changing face of spam

The Random Pub Finder has been getting a lot of spam reviews recently. This isn't a big deal, the reviews go straight to my inbox and don't appear on the site until I put them there, but the weird thing is the content of these spams. Many of them are bacon-related. Here's an example

"a rasher ( and reland), or a slice ( orth merica). raditionally the skin is left on the cut and is known as bacon rind. indless bacon, however, is quite common. n the"

I just can't work out what on earth they are trying to achieve.

On the other hand, email spam seems to be getting more sophisticated. I'm now getting quite a lot of spam emails that contain a single image offering whatever penny stocks I really need to buy, followed by some text that isn't related and is obviously being added to get through the spam filters. How can we ever defeat that kind of spam?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Dell vs HP

I've got a new computer from Dell and now my HP DeskJet 5550 doesn't work. Funnily enough the reason I've got the printer is because my de-facto mother-in-law bought a Dell computer and the printer wouldn't work for her either. Who's to blame for this I wonder? I've been fiddling around with it for most of the day and can't get it to work. I can print out the HP test page but any other page refuses to do very much except throw out a blank sheet of paper. Based on my experiences with the new computer that have been mostly positive (except for the shitload of rubbish software it came installed with) I'm going to blame Hewlett Packard.

Do you ever need to do a complete rewrite?

Joel Spolsky's article about rewriting software has always struck me as a very well reasoned argument for never rewriting software from scratch. He mainly talks about Netscape's attempt to rewrite their browser from scratch. You might claim this was a reasonable success in some respects since it led to FireFox, which now has a pretty decent share of the browser market (about 10% I guess). But compared to the market share Navigator had before they started their rewrite it is still pretty miniscule. Of course they may well have lost a lot of that market share anyway, since MS was installing their browser on every new machine that was sold. But MS stopped developing Internet Explorer after they achieved almost complete ownership of the browser market, which gave FireFox a chance to gain ground. So basically we'll never know what would have happened if Netscape had continued with their old codebase.  

So I was somewhat disturbed to find out one of my previous employers had decided to rewrite one part of the software product they sell. I could say who it is but I don't really want to have them getting their legal dogs onto me. I worked on this part of the system for over six years and it is pretty large (with third party code it's over 500,000 lines of code) and pretty central to the whole product. It is written in Delphi and the rewrite will be in C#. As a developer, you always want to work on the latest cool technology and always think the legacy code you're working on is a complete mess, so I'm sure they are happy to be involved on a green field project like this but I'd hope the people in charge would have a very good reason for wanting a complete rewrite, but frankly I can only think of one. It's probably getting increasingly difficult to get hold of good Delphi developers. The market is shrinking and from what I can see the good Delphi developers are moving onto other things, like C#.

I've heard they have a team of five people working on this and it is planned to be done in a year. OK, here's my guess on how long it will take. Whilst I worked there, there were probably on average about 2 developers working on this bit of the system. I'm guessing it continued with the same level of manpower after I left. When I started they already had a working product, if a little rough round the edges, so say that took 2 man years. I started in '98, 8 years ago, so we have another 16 man years of work, 18 in total. Divide that by 5 people and we have about 3.5 years to write a piece of software that has the same functionality as what they currently have... Lets hope they have five really good developers...

As an aside, it has to be pointed out you'd need to have very good reasons to want to get to C# anyway, whether through a rewrite or a migration. Whatever people say, Delphi is still a fine choice for Win32 desktop applications. OK, it is missing some of the nicer features of .NET like reflection and the availability of 3rd party controls is drying up but it still produces small, quick native apps. And if you have a stack of Delphi code, throwing it away is a very expensive thing to do.

But is there any other way? I thought about this when I worked at the company. Like any developer I wanted to move onto new technology so I had a long hard think about how to get from the Delphi codebase we had to C#. One choice was Delphi for .NET, but this looked like a pretty painful route, especially with the number of 3rd party controls (many no longer supported) we were using. My though in the end was the best route to take would be to componentise what we had using COM. OK, this wouldn't really be a step forward, more a step sideways, but once you've got those components in place you could start to replace each bit piece by piece.

But I hear you saying, that would take even longer, since you still need to rewrite each bit and you have the overhead of separating them into COM components in the first place. And you'd have to use that horrible COM Interop stuff as well. All true, but the major advantage of this approach is that you will always have an application in a state that is ready to ship, or very close at least. A complete rewrite means there will be a very long period of time when you can't ship anything at all, unless you want to add new features to the old codebase at the same time as adding them to the new codebase, which will be even more expensive and painful.

So I wish them good luck with their development. I really do hope it works out, because my livelihood now depends on their software...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

ASP.NET State Service crashes on shutdown

Am I the only person to suffer from this? Can't find anything on the web but whenever I shut down my machine the ASP.NET State Service crashes. I thought it was caused by my old machine but my new machine has exactly the same problem. No big issue since the machine still shuts down but odd that nobody else seems to be suffering with it.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

We are all doomed

There are still people who claim climate change is only a theory, just like there are people who think that evolution may not be correct or the Holocaust never happened, but there seems to be pretty much total consensus amongst scientists that it is happening and we are to blame. But even if climate change isn't happening, there is another problem awaiting us, which certainly can't be ignored. Fossil fuels will run out and, more importantly, we will pass the maximum level of production, possibly quite soon. And once that happens, if demand continues to increase, the price will rise pretty quickly. And oil is fairly fundamental to our economy, due to the amount used to produce and transport goods. I was pretty stunned when I noticed some apples in our local supermarket were being imported from New Zealand...

But running out of oil was bound to happen at some point in the future but unfortunately we have completely failed to address the issue, so we head into an uncertain future where "the Thames estuary is the most vulnerable place in northern Europe to major storm surges", which could affect me fairly directly.

I'd always thought that computers would help out here. I'm doing my part by working from home but unfortunately it turns out that growth of the Internet is actually sucking even more power from the grid, so perhaps that isn't part of the solution either. So, as the post title says, we are all doomed.

Monday, September 04, 2006

100th Post

So somehow I have managed to reach 100 posts on this blog. I was presuming that by the time I reached this point I would be a major web celebrity with millions of readers and I'd be rich beyond my wildest dreams through the adverts on-site. But it hasn't quite panned out that way and I have to say I'm disappointed in you all. Where are you and why are you choosing to read some boring old shite rather than the riveting stuff here? I feel like this kid...

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Apostrophe Protection Society

Some people seem to have a real problem understanding where apostrophes should and shouldn't be placed so I was pleased to find the Apostrophe Protection Society, who were set up "with the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark in all forms of text written in the English language". Their site explains all the rules which are generally pretty easy to understand, except for the occasional edge case.