Duct tape, pine cones, a Swiss Army knife and a virtual machine or two

Today, two things that amaze me to no end:

First, a set of tools for functional testing, that allow me to write .NET code that talks to a Java server which starts a web browser, and makes it load JavaScript which then calls back to the server, and somehow this setup works and allows me to control multiple web browsers in a coordinated manner!

Second, something I thought about today only after I left work was still bugging me when I got home. So I fired up my Windows XP Mode, used it to open a VPN connection (via a web browser!) to work. Through the VPN I then used Remote Desktop to connect to my work desktop. On that desktop, I fired up my Windows XP Mode, and used it to open a VPN connection (standalone client, this time) to a network hosting a production server. Through the VPN I then used Remote Desktop to connect to the server, wherein I fired up SQL Server Management Studio to run a query against the production db.

what would mcgyver do

The most amazing thing?

While in Management Studio, I selected the query I had written, and hit Ctrl+C.

Then, I moved focus back to the computer I was physically on, opened Notepad, and hit Ctrl+V.

And it worked.

Don’t let anyone tell you programmers can’t get their shit together. If copy-paste can work reliably through that many layers, it can’t all be doom and gloom. 😉

PS. Longer-than-usual wait on Chapter 5. I’m not procrastinating, I’ve answered most of the questions already. Some of them, however, were exercises spread out to the next two weeks, and I can’t really write down the results until I have them. 

The whole idea of “learn a new language every year” is that you are a programmer. Programming is what you do. You are defined by being a programmer, by writing code. That is you, right? And it is a type of craft, and it requires craftsmanship. And in order to develop that in yourself, you learn a new language every year, and you develop yourself as a programmer.

Network problems

A few weeks ago I tried installing Visual Studio 2010. The installer failed a couple of times, but after the successful install, I quickly had to remove it because of an issue that came up: every program that tried to access the network simply hung instead of running.

Uninstalling VS helped, so I figured the beta was buggy and forgot about it. Until yesterday, when installing VMWare Workstation 7 caused the exact same issue. Obviously the culprit had to be something else, then.

I had installed a NetLimiter 3 trial  a while back, and let it expire since I decided I didn’t need it after all. Having a hunch that it might be the root cause, I tried to uninstall it. However, the state of my OS was such that even the uninstall failed.

Fortunately, a reboot later, I was able to first uninstall VMWare, then reboot again and finally remove NetLimiter. And wouldn’t you know it, after reinstalling VMWare, everything still works. So apparently VMWare did something with the network that NetLimiter really didn’t like.

This also means I wrongly blamed VS 2010 Beta 2 for the issue, so it might be appropriate to give it another shot. I’m really looking forward to trying ReSharper 5, particularly Structured Patterns and Call Tracking.

Good times.

Plenty of Fail

I’ve kept quiet recently mostly due to a single reason: I’ve encountered a person at work with whom I find working particularly difficult. I’m uncertain as to how I should phrase the situation. Objectively, his style of interaction and mine don’t match, and Unfortunately, the topic of the day is a different kind of fail.neither one of us is willing to adapt to the other.

Subjectively, he drives me fucking nuts.

I don’t want to cast blame, but I’m inevitably going to, anyway. He comes to ask me a question, interrupts me mid-answer, visibly ignores me when I’m trying to emphasize a point that I feel is essential in understanding what I’m trying to say, zones off, and acts in a seemingly arrogant way. He doesn’t respect me as a developer, regardless of the countless times he’s dropped a problem in my lap and I’ve solved it for him. And rest assured, every time he does something that I find genuinely good, I commend him for it. And if I find that I was wrong and he was right, I admit it. Right away, even.

Now, my style of discussing things may be a bit extreme to some people. I raise my voice when I get frustrated, particularly if I have to explain the same thing FOR THE SIXTH GODDAMN TIME AND YOU’RE IGNORING THE ANSWER AGAIN, AREN’T YOU, AAAARGH STAB STAB STAB.

Easy now. Deep breaths.

As I was saying, my style may not suit everybody, and for a while I was willing to accept that the fault might be entirely in me. Intellectual honesty demands me to admit that I might be the cause.

However, having discreetly approached the issue with fellow workers, five people out of five found him exceptionally difficult to work with. So although I’m certainly responsible for my part, maybe, just maybe I’m not entirely wrong in pointing a finger in his direction.

A bit of Great Success, too.

This friction (which hadn’t quite escalated this far at the time) was one of the primary reasons I agreed to a job interview at Sininen Meteoriitti, back in August.

I’ve only been to a couple of interviews during what passes as my career. But there was one distinct difference between this one and the ones I had been to earlier. I decided to bring my personal quirks on the table from the get-go, and I kept an eye on how they reacted to me. In essence, I did what I should have done every time, and interviewed them right back.

In September, I got a call from Meteoriitti. The caller told me they couldn’t hire me yet, but would it be OK if they kept my contact details anyway? Of course, I said, and pushed the idea to the back of my head, feeling a bit disappointed, since in my book “later” means “next decade, if ever.”

Apparently not so for Meteoriitti. Just over a month later I got another call, this time saying it’s a definite “Go” if I’d still be interested. Hell yes I was!

So yeah, I’m switching jobs again, after only a year and a half. But I’d like to emphasize, that while I took the interview mainly because of things I was dissatisfied with at my current job (and felt I was unable to change at the time), I’m taking the job because I really feel that things clicked here.

Let’s see how I can rock the boat there. 🙂

Security warning redux

Back in January I wrote about the security dialog for downloaded content in Windows Vista. Today, Jouni Heikniemi explains the mechanism behind the warning. In my post I pondered thusly:

Obviously the information about the original location of the file is stored somewhere, otherwise the button couldn’t have appeared when I moved it there.

Well, perhaps it isn’t that obvious. Jouni gives an example of the metadata stored within:


So the metadata identifies the originating zone. I’m left wondering why I wasn’t able to grant full trust without moving the file back to the original location. Perhaps there is more than one stream?

Practice what you preach

Time management

I keep telling myself I’d like to try a stint of project management. Preferably something safe, like the mini-software-project I’ll tackle at some point in my undergrad studies.

I was recently asked whether or not I’d be a good manager. I replied that I’d like to think so, because I have strong opinions on what makes a good manager. Of course, even if my opinions were based on something other than whatever feels good to me, that alone wouldn’t qualify me as one.

One aspect of project management is scoping things so that you can reasonably expect to finish the items in the scope, with the resources you have and within the expected time span. If succeeding there is a feature of a good project manager (and yes, it is), then I’m sorely lacking. See, after my vacation, I took two uni courses, both of which were programming labs. Having a fair bit of programming experience under my belt, I figured it’d be easy as pie. Six weeks is plenty of time. I went as far as tackling the other one, the Data Structures Lab, in C. I’ve never written a line of C before, bar the usual print(“hello world!\n”);

Of course, I can afford to make mistakes in lab projects. However, it’s somewhat disheartening to notice, that after eight years of professional programming for a living, I still suck at estimating both the amount of effort something will take, and the amount of actual programming time I can devote to something. And mainly because of arrogance.

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” –Douglas Adams

In fact, what makes this even worse, is that I made this exact same mistake back in early 2008 when I worked on my Java lab. I had six weeks, and I failed to consider that it’s six weeks of evenings and weekends. And now, just like then, I was insanely tired when I reached the finish line, and I didn’t have the energy to put the polish I would have wanted to the labs.

Incidentally, that’s one reason why I haven’t blogged for a while. I felt somewhat burned out after all that, and decided that my RSI-ridden hands needed a rest as much as my stressed-out brain did.

Compiler complainer error

Another mistake I’ve repeated is falling into the pattern of whining instead of changing things. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and I’m going to try something new: effecting change. I’ve tried to change things before, in a previous job, but mainly by either dictating things or arguing for or against things. In retrospect, it’s no wonder it didn’t work. I must have seemed like a total asshole.

This time, I’ll try a different approach.

I’ve identified a problem that I feel needs to be dealt with: too long feedback loops. We write code, and we get comments after a period that may turn out to be months long. At some point, the value of the feedback is less than the cost of the changes the feedback implies, because we’ve built other things on top the things we built before, and it becomes a lot like trying to change a bottom card in a house of cards.

To combat this, I’ve recruited a co-worker to help review code. My code, that is. I’m hoping in turn he’ll feel comfortable letting me review his code. And if this works out, we will see if we can get others to take part, and switch reviewer-reviewee-pairs often. The important bit is to keep it informal, keep the iterations short and make everyone feel it’s peer review, not review by superiors. That way, I’m hoping the feedback loop stays short, and the usefulness of the feedback is maximized.

Reviewing is also a great way to cross-pollinate knowledge and good ideas. I really hope this works out.

Awesome errors

Yeah, I know, it sounds like an oxymoron. But then you run across something like this:

Firefox failing to recover last session

First, it starts with an apology. Well, not exactly, the text is “Well, this is embarrassing.” But it’s funnier than “sorry”, and a lot of software that says “sorry” usually also throws its hands up in the air and give up on trying to help you.

It then expands on why the situation is embarrassing. “Firefox is having trouble recovering your windows and tabs.” That feature comes into play not only when you ask Firefox to save your session, but also when Firefox crashes – so there’s a good chance we just ran in to an error while trying to recover from a previous error.

Finally, “This is usually caused by a recently opened web page.” Ah, more information. This might help me avoid the issue in the future. I doubt that the cause was a web page in this case; it was probably more due to my whole laptop locking up for so long I got bored and did a hard reset. 🙂

Then it gives you an option: try recovering some of your session. Maybe you just wrote the perfect blog post, or tweet, or what have you, and you would really hate to lose it. Granted, there’s a possibility that one of the tabs you want to recover is the one that caused the problem, but clearly Firefox is putting in some effort, trying to help you.

There’s an article that sort of explains why I’m feeling so happy about this, but I can’t find it. I think it was by Joel Spolsky. Anyhoo, the gist is, when your customer encounters an error in your product and you own up, and then handle the situation really well, the customer will actually like you and your product more than they would have if the error never happened.

Firefox handled this in a way that made me like it more. Well done, Mozilla. 🙂

Random tidbits

I’m too lazy to finish the travelogue now (and truth be told, even I find it a little boring as a tale instead of the experience), but I think I’ll get around to it later. In the meantime, some interesting bits and pieces.

I’m learning C!

Well, trying to, anyway. I decided to do my data structures project in C. The single most useful resource so far: How to read C declarations.

TortoiseHg now runs on x64

As of 0.8, TortoiseHg works with the 64bit Windows Explorer. Yum! I had close to zero success running it using a 32bit Explorer on Windows 7 – the fractional bits of “success” were the times I noticed TortoiseHg overlays in the File Open dialog of a 32bit app… 😛

The mystery of the Two Document Folders

I figured out why I have two sets of “My Documents” (and a bunch of other links I can’t open) in my home directory:

Screenshot of Windows 7 Explorer showing two "My Documents" folders

I figured they appeared when I chose to have Explorer display all hidden files and folders. The second “My Documents” is in fact a NTFS junction point that exists no doubt for compatibility reasons. The first “My Documents” folder is really called “Documents”, Explorer just has some magic to translate the name. I wonder what happens to the junction if I switch languages…

Live Writer needs to ask for confirmation before publishing a blog post…

… or I need to stop blogging when I’m too tired to think straight. I was trying to change the formatting of a block from “Paragraph” to “Heading 3”, and what I did instead was hit “Publish”. Apologies for RSS subscribers, all um… two of you, I have a sneaking suspicion you may see an earlier version of this post due to said mishap.

That’s it for today.

London travelogue, part 1

It’s been a week since we returned from our trip to London, and I thought I’d post a bit on said trip.


Hit Helsinki-Vantaa around 15:00 local time. Dropped our bags at the BA bag drop — which was still handling a flight to Rome, so we had to queue for about twenty minutes before proceeding. Did the security dance and sat down to wait for boarding.

I took my student laptop (an Asus EEE 900) with me, thinking it would be easier to carry that around instead of my own laptop. Besides, were it to get stolen, the cost of replacing it would be much lower. There were some open WLAN hotspots, but none of them had a strong enough signal for me to do anything with, so instead I began a game of Solitaire on my iPod.

Approximately an hour to boarding there was an announcement saying we’d be delayed for 40 minutes due to the plane arriving late from its previous flight. I didn’t think much of it, but a half hour from that, they announced another delay. Eventually we boarded the plane two hours late, and arrived similarly two hours late of the intended schedule.

After departing the plane on the tarmac and having a bus drive us to the airport, then walking through the seemingly endless hallways to the luggage pickup, our bags were already there. I also spotted an ATM and withdrew some local currency. A few minutes later we found our way to the Tube. I bought both of us Oyster cards with a travelcard and some charge for the trip from Heathrow and back.

We took the Tube from Heathrow to Earl’s Court, switched lines there, and found ourselves at Bayswater Station at 22:30 local time. We spotted a Subway, went there to grab a bit to eat, then went on to the hotel, which was a two-minute walk from the station.

The hotel room was comfy, if cramped. Unfortunately, the net connection was not wireless, and I hadn’t brought an ethernet cable with me. When we were settled in, it was getting pretty late already, so we turned on the telly, watched it for a while and then went to sleep.


We got up relatively early, seeing as we were still in the GMT+2 sleep cycle. I had looked up the local map, and knew there was a mall called Whiteleys near the hotel. We hit the mall – almost no stores were yet open. There was a Starbucks though, so we went there for breakfast. I have to say I’m disappointed with the Starbucks latte. 🙂

After breakfast we did a quick tour of the Books, etc. store at Whiteleys (I bought “The War of the Flowers” by Tad Williams, entertaining read and refreshingly, not a trilogy). Back to the hotel for a bit, and next up was Camden Town.

I didn’t really know what to expect from Camden Town, but it would definitely have exceeded whatever expectations I might have had. The Tube exit was to the side of Camden that was filled with street merchants, little clothing shops, veggie restaurants and whatnot – the entrance was on the other side, which we immediately labeled “the boring side of Camden”.

We walked from street merchant to store and back in the maze-like alleys of the Stables Market for hours. There seemed to be no end to new things to see. And to buy, of course.

Dog on a riverboat at Camden Lock Village

The experience was pretty overwhelming, being used to living in small suburbs. My feet were beginning to scream – the walking shoes I was wearing weren’t really intended for the cobblestone streets of the Stables Market.

Upon our return from Camden Town, I picked up an ethernet cable at an electronics store to get online at the hotel. With that sorted, I was able to get the netbook online and report in to people back in Finland. It was also useful for looking up Tube routes, and for the online check-in due for our way back on Sunday.

To be continued

I intended for this post to be only moderately long, and to publish it today. In order to do that, I’m going to have to cut off here. Apparently it’s not possible to write anything meaningful about a week’s worth of events in only a few paragraphs. Who knew. 🙂

London calling

So my vacation has just begun. I’ve only got three weeks this year, because I switched jobs about a quarter of a year into the period that determines the yearly vacation time. I didn’t negotiate more paid vacation time when I took this new job, either. My mistake, but there you go.

We’re kicking my vacation off with a trip to London tomorrow. We’ll be there for a week. Our current plans include some of the mandatory sights, but mostly I just want to wander around a bit, sit in cafés, browse books at book stores and get to know the local culture a bit.

In the meantime, three of our friends are touring the Europe together on the InterRail. With any luck, they’ll manage a detour to London for a day or two so we can hit the town together, and see what sort of mayhem we can come up with. 🙂

In other news, I’m futzing a bit with Windows Live Photo Gallery – I think it really needs a publishing plug-in that creates a zip archive from the selected images. This will most likely end up being Yet Another Project I Won’t Finish, but still, it’s enough to keep me interested.

Another developer-y thing I’ve been looking at is the XNA framework. It’s really fun, even if all I’ve managed so far is to draw a couple of lines here and there. I’m considering starting a small game project with a friend of mine.

This about wraps it up for today. Rytmis out.

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