Borkware Miniblog

October 4, 2011

Speaking in Little Rock, AR October 11

Filed under: Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 9:02 pm

Just a quick note for anyone who hasn’t heard yet – I’ll be speaking at Apple Rock on Tuesday, October 11. Location is Pulaski Academy’s Murphy Theater. The topic is mobile development compared to the desktop. If you’re in central Arkansas, please stop by and say hi.

June 25, 2011

Speaking at CocoaConf

Filed under: conferences, Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 6:36 pm

Wanted to let folks know I’m speaking at CocoaConf, Columbus OH, August 12-13. There’s a pretty nice lineup of speakers and sessions. Mine about debugging and performance tuning.  Sexy and exciting topics to be sure.

For folks in/near the DC area, iOSDevCampDC is happening that same weekend. I wish I could be split in two, because they’ve got some good speakers as well.

June 14, 2011

Scrivener for long-form technical writing

Filed under: amosxp, meta, Random, writing — Mark Dalrymple @ 6:00 pm


Every now and then I come across a software tool that Gets It. A tool that does everything right. A tool that is a joy to use. VoodooPad is one. MarsEdit is another. Scrivener is the latest to enter the pantheon of My Favorite Apps.  The last three big chunks of new stuff for AMOSXP(3), (GCD, using Instruments, and a re-write and major updating of NSFileManager) were organized and written in Scrivener, and then later converted to DocBook for inclusion in the book. In all, about 18,000 words worth of work.

Scrivener is a non-linear text editing environment. Rather than having, say, a chapter of a book in one single Word or Pages document, you can have each section or sub-section of that chapter in an entity. You can organize these entities in an outline, and Scrivener will automatically flow the text as if it were a larger document. Each entity can be as long or as short as it needs to be.

For example, this is the “binder”, the outline view, for the new GCD chapter:

Dispatch binder

It has all of the sections of the chapter. If I’m wanting to edit the text for Dispatch Groups, I can select it in the Binder and focus in only on that text. If I wanted to make sure that the text flows into and out of that section, I can multi-select Time, Dispatch Groups, and Semaphores, and see those three sections of text in one editing panel, with subtle separators between the sections. If I decide that I really should talk about queues before terminology, I can just drag the entity and rearrange things. This feature alone, to me, is worth the low price of admission ($45).  Doing major surgery like that in a single document is fraught with peril.  With Scrivener, it’s drag and drop.  Don’t like it?  Undo it.

In addition to seeing the text, and a standard wordprocesor-style outline view (which I don’t use), there’s a cool corkboard mode. I originally thought it was silly and gratuitous, but I eventually found it to be a nice (and fun) way to play with the organization of the document. The corkboard mode also shows metadata, such as a high-level description of the section, its draft status, and other things:


You can see that most of the chapters are First Draft, meaning that I’ve gurgitated out the text, did an editing pass, and it’s ready to make the one-way trip to DocBookland for markup, professional editing, and indexing. A couple are “In Progress”, meaning they’re being worked on but not ready to see the light of day. I can tell at a glance what shape the chapter is in. You can rearrange the document here too. Clicking and dragging the note cards is reflected in the outline view, and hence in your overall body of text.

One of the cool things is the text contents of the note cards. The title of the card matches the title in the Binder view. Simple enough. But you can also have a description, independent from the actual contents of the section. Scrivener gives you a lot of opportunity for out-of-band data. With traditional word processing environments, pretty much everything that’s in the document is part of the flow of text, except maybe things like reviewer’s comments. Scrivener has lots of opportunities for attaching meaningful metadata to sections: add tags, arbitrary keywords, arbitrary long notes and descriptions. Fiction writers can tag scenes with characters, themes, locations, smells, etc. Later on they can do searches to see all the scenes a particular character is in, or what sections concentrate on badger foreshadowing.  I didn’t use much metadata stuff, mainly the note card descriptions and the status.

In addition to the “Draft” area, which has all the text of your document in the little entity files, you can have any number of non-publishing hierarchies of stuff. I do most of my research in VoodooPad – it’s where all the raw information goes as I read technical docs, research on the web, and write test apps. Then I bring it over piecemeal into Scrivener as I suss out how things should be organized, and figure out what needs to be included and what can be left on the floor. Here’s the research part for Instruments:


Each of the texty-looking icons is the equivalent of a text file. You can have whatever text you want there, formatted how you want, embedded images, etc. Kind of like Keynote, these text docs aren’t the leaves of the tree. They’re also the internal nodes. The “Different Kinds of Instruments” text doc actually has three child documents too, each with their own text. I can select “Different Kinds of Templates”, and see its text, along with the children’s text in-line (if I want). There are also images, in this case screenshots, that are part of the “document” hierarchy. As I was writing the chapter, I’d be migrating important information from Voodoo Pad, arranging and rearranging entities so the order of presentation made sense. I wrote a fair amount of the chapter’s prose here. As I took screen shots, I added them as child nodes to the text they would appear in. This way they’d carried along as I rearranged chapters. It’s a very powerful, yet easy to use system.

One odd thing about Scrivener is that it is actually fun to write in. No other text editor feels as responsive as Scriv’s. It’s hard to describe, but typing just feels better than in other apps. The obligatory full-screen mode is nice when you have to concentrate to Get Things Done.  Also, I am a huge fan of the “typewriter” mode. This centers the line being edited in the window. I can have a tall window so I can get lots of context, but when I’m actually typing and editing, the text is in the sweet-spot of my eyeglasses.

Indie developers would should take a good look at Scrivener’s website.  I spent a long time reading the materials, and looking at the demo movies.  They’re all very targeted.  “Here is a cool feature, here’s how it fits in with the rest of the product and here is how you would use it.”  After awhile, I got a very good sense of the how the product worked, and what particular features would make my life easier.  I had zero problems getting Real Work done immediately after download.

So, if you’re into any kind of long-form writing, whether it be novels for NaNoWriMo or technical books, or even the occasional complicated blog post, I recommend you check out Scrivener. It does so much Right that it is a joy to use.

May 6, 2011

Blast from the past: gprof

Filed under: history, programming, Random, Visix — Mark Dalrymple @ 1:56 pm

Dino rific

I stumbled across this little tutorial I wrote back in the mists of time, probably around 1996 or 1997.  And it was based on a tutorial I wrote at Visix, probably in 1993 during one of our Optimization Parties.  It describes how to read the output of gprof, a profiling tool available on most unix systems.  It’s even still there on Mac OS X.  So you kids with your fancy Shark and Instruments, here’s what some of your elders used.

gprof is not a GNU tool, even though it has the leading “g”.  That “g” probably stands for “call Graph” profiler. You’ll need to check your system’s documentation (e.g. man gprof) for exact instructions on getting gprof to work, but usually it just involves compiling and linking with -pg, running your program, and doing gprof gmon.out > oopack.

Here’s a 300K sample of output from gprof on the Dec Alpha if you want to take a look at it. This particular report is from a run of AOLServer 2.2.1 which involved fetching index.html 53,623 times.  The links that follow go to anchors in that 300K sample.  What was I wanting to profile?  I wanted a gut check to make sure that life in the server was sane, and if there were any obvious bottlenecks that maybe I could address if I had the time.  The test was to fetch index.html over and over again. In this case, around 53,000 times

There’s 4 parts to gprof output:

  • Built-in documentation: Short form of everything here, and more.
  • Call-graph: Each function, who called it, whom it called, and how many times said calling happened.
  • Flat profile How many times each function got called, the total times involved, sorted by time consumed.
  • Index: Cross-reference of function names and gprof identification numbers numbers.

I go to the flat profile section when I first start looking at gprof output. The big time consumers are usually pretty obvious. You’ll notice that each function has a [number] after it. You can search on that number throughout the file to see who called that function and what functions that function calls. Emacs incremental search is really nice for bouncing around the file like this.

Here you can see that DString is a big time gobbler:

  %   cumulative   self              self     total
 time   seconds   seconds    calls  ms/call  ms/call  name
 17.7       3.72     3.72 13786208     0.00     0.00  Ns_DStringNAppend [8]
  6.1       5.00     1.28   107276     0.01     0.03  MakePath [10]
  2.9       5.60     0.60  1555972     0.00     0.00  Ns_DStringFree [35]
  2.7       6.18     0.58  1555965     0.00     0.00  Ns_DStringInit [36]
  2.3       6.67     0.49  1507858     0.00     0.00  ns_realloc [40]

Out of 21.05 seconds of total clock time, Ns_DStringNAppend consumed about 4 seconds, or about 18% of the time in and of itself. It was called 13 million times.

MakePath consumed one and a half seconds itself, and its children consumed three and a half seconds. At least one individual call to this consumed 0.01, and at least one individual call took a total of 0.03 seconds in MakePath and its children.

Handy tip – the function numbers in brackets are approximately sorted by time consumption, so a function with a [low number] will generally be more interesting than one with a [high number].

Now that you know that Ns_DStringNAppend is called a bunch of times, this could be a useful target for optimization, I’d look at its entry in the call graph section.

Before doing that, just for illustration, take a look at AllocateCa [33] since it has all of the interesting pieces of the call graph in a more compact size:

                0.04        0.18   53622/160866      Ns_CacheNewEntry [62]
                0.04        0.18   53622/160866      Ns_CacheDoStat [58]
                0.04        0.18   53622/160866      Ns_CacheLockURL [64]
[33]     3.0    0.11        0.53  160866         AllocateCa [33]
                0.16        0.17  160866/321890      Ns_DStringVarAppend [30]
                0.06        0.00  160866/1555972     Ns_DStringFree [35]
                0.06        0.00  160866/1555965     Ns_DStringInit [36]
                0.04        0.00  160866/1341534     Ns_LockMutex [43]
                0.03        0.00  160866/1341534     Ns_UnlockMutex [53]

The entries above AllocateCa [33] are the functions that call AllocateCa. The entries below that are the functions that AllocateCa calls. There are two numbers separated by a slash: the first number is the number of calls that the function has made, while the second number is the total number of invocations of that function.

In other words, for 160866/321890 Ns_DStringVarAppend [30], AllocateCa called Ns_DStringVarAppend 160866 times. Across all of AOLServer, Ns_DStringVarAppend was called 321890 times.

Similarly, for 53622/160866 Ns_CacheNewEntry [62], means that Ns_CacheNewEntry called AllocateCa 53622 times, and AllocateCa was called 160866 times total.

So, just by looking at this snippet, you know that the three Ns_Cache functions each call AllocateCa about once per serving of index.html, and that AllocateCa makes a single call to Ns_DStringVarAppend, Ns_DStringFree, etc… each time. What’s also interesting to note is that someone is calling Ns_DStringFree more than Ns_DStringInit. This may be (or may not) be a bug in AOLServer. You can go see Ns_DStringInit and Ns_DStringFree yourself and track down who the culprit is.

The floating “3.0” on the left is the percent of total time that the function consumed. The two columns of numbers are the amount of time (in seconds) that the function consumed itself (AllocateCa took 0.11 seconds of time total to run its own code) and the amount of time in the function’s children (0.53 seconds were spent in its children)

Getting back to real analysis of DStringNAppend, you can see that MakePath made 50% of the Ns_DStringNAppend calls. Since you know that there were 53623 fetches of index.html, that means that for each page, MakePath was called twice, and for each call to MakePath, Ns_DStringNAppend was called 64 times.

If one call to MakePath could be elided (since it’s getting called twice), or if fewer than 64 Ns_DStringNAppends could be done per call, we could see a performance boost.

Just browsing the gprof output can be an illuminating exercise. If you have a gut feeling that a particular function is a hot spot (say, Ns_LockMutex [43]), you can see the call graph for that function, see if it’s consuming lots of time, or if it’s being called a whole bunch.  Here it was called 1,341,534 times, or about 25 times per page serve. Maybe that’s high.  Maybe that’s right.  Sometimes a suspected culprit isn’t there, or you find a surprising time waster.

Because this sample gprof output was done on a Dec Alpha system, there was some suckage involved, such as no explicit time recorded for system calls. So we don’t know if, for example, select() blocked for a long time on each call.


April 3, 2011

My first professional bug

Filed under: history, programming, Random, Visix — Mark Dalrymple @ 8:23 pm

Clearning with rooking grass

Mike Ash’s recent Friday Q&A about signals mentioned SIGWINCH, the hearing of which always sends me down memory lane.  My first professional bug was centered around SIGWINCH.  By “professional bug”, I mean a bug that someone paid me actual money to fix during a period of employment.

I went to work for a company called Visix straight out of college in the early 90’s, which at the time sold a product called Looking Glass, a file browser much like the Macintosh Finder but for Unix.  Eventually Looking Glass would become the Caldera Linux desktop.  Looking Glass supported the major graphical windowing systems of the time: X11, Intergraph’s Environ V, and Sun’s SunView.  The image at the top of this posting is the only screen shot I could find of the version of Looking Glass I worked on running on SunView.  Notice the awesome desktop widgets at the top.  That was typical SunView style, so Looking Glass was pure awesome eye candy in comparison.

I was hired for the tech support team, and our duties were phone support (typically debugging network configurations and X server font paths) and porting Looking Glass to other platforms.  Being the Lo Mein on the totem pole I got given the old platform nobody wanted to touch any more: SunView.

SunOS 4.1.X had just come out, and Looking Glass would hang randomly.  It worked fine on 4.0.3.  My job was to find and fix this hang.  This was my first introduction to a lot of things: C, unix systems, windowing systems, navigating large code bases, conditional compilation, debuggers, vendor documentation that wasn’t from Apple, working in a company, and so on.  Luckily the SunView version didn’t sell terribly well any more because everyone was moving to X11, but there were a couple of customers bitten by this problem.

So what is SunView?  SunView is a windowing system: different programs run displaying graphical output into a window.  Nowadays that’s commonplace, but back when SunView came out it was pretty cool.  SunView was one of the earlier windowing systems,so it had a bunch of peculiarities: the biggest was that each window on the screen was represented by an honest-to-god kernel device.  /dev/wnd5 is a window, as would be /dev/wnd12.  There were a finite number of these window devices, so once the system ran out of windows you couldn’t open any more.

There was a definite assumption of “one window to one process” in SunView.  Your window was your only playground.  Looking Glass was different because it could open multiple windows.  Because of the finite number of windows available system-wide, we had to create the alert that said “You can’t open any more windows because you’re out of windows” at launch time, thereby consuming a precious window resource, and hide it offscreen.  It was the only way we could reliably tell users why they couldn’t open any more windows.  Glad I wasn’t the one that had to make this work in the first place.  I was just fixing Legacy Code.

The other peculiarity is that you never got window events.  Even in the 1.0 version of the Macintosh toolbox you could easily figure out if the user dragged the window, or resized it, or changed its stacking order.  In SunView you just got a signal. SIGWINCH, for WINdow CHange, and hence the memory-lane trigger.  The user moved a window?  SIGWINCH.  The user resized it?  SIGWINCH.  The user changed the z-order?  SIGWINCH.

With just one window that’s not too bad.  Just query your only window for its current size.  For us, though, we had to cache every window’s location, size, and stacking order.  Upon receipt of a SIGWINCH we would walk all of our windows and compare the new values to the cached version.  If something interesting changed we would need to do the work of laying out the window’s contents.

So, back to my bug.  It took me a solid month to fix.  All this time I thought I was a failure and was worried I’d get fired.  That would be embarrassing. It took so long to fix because it was part time work in amongst my other responsibilities, and also because it was difficult to reproduce.  Spastic clicking and dragging could make it lock up, but not reliably.  Using the debugger was pointless – a 4 meg Sun 3/50 swapped for two hours as dbx tried to load Looking Glass.  I ended up using a lot of caveman debugging.

Event queues

The application event architecture we used is shown right up there.  Each window had an event queue (remember that one window to one process assumption) that held all of the mouse and keyboard events.  Upon receipt of new events (I forget if we got a signal for that, or if some file descriptor became readable), we would walk our windows: read each event, handle it, then move on to the next window.

I was getting some printouts, though, showing an window receiving mouse-downs and mouse-drags, but no mouse-up.  Occasionally I would see a mouse-up, with no mouse-downs.  Ah-ha!  The mouse-up was being delivered to the wrong window’s event queue, probably due to some race condition down in the system that didn’t notice the current window changed during the drag. The fix was easy once I found it : just merge the events from all the windows first, and then process them.  Happiness and light.

It was then I learned how expensive malloc is.  I malloc’d and free’d event structures, but performance was dog-slow, especially during mouse drags.  Caching the structures made life fast again.

Memories like these make me so happy with the cool tech we get to play with these days.

March 31, 2011

My Time Machine Exclusion List

Filed under: off-topic, Questions From Friends, Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 12:18 pm

A friend recently asked me about my opinions on the Time Capsule. I had the first generation device. It was OK, but slow, and eventually died the death of the power supply.

I have the latest gen now, 2TB, and love it. With 10.6 over a fast network, I don’t notice the hourly backups. One thing I did notice as time went on that the backups were getting kind of big. I want my individual machine backups to be under 1TB so I could archive them to some terrorbyte external drives I already have. I’d exceed that if I backed up too much junk too often.

My main goal for backups is to restore my $HOME data in the event of a machine failure. I don’t plan on restoring the OS or Applications from the backup. I’ll just use whatever OS is on the replacement machine or install my own, and I’ll install applications as I need them.

Backup Loupe is a great application for looking at your backups and seeing what’s being piggy. A file that’s only 50 megs is not a big deal, but it becomes a bigger deal if it gets touched regularly and gets backed up every hour. Using Backup Loupe, and general foresight, I have built this exclusion list over the last year or so. Unfortunately the list is not in any sane order. I’m not sure what order it’s listed, since it’s not chronological.

Time machine exclusions

Some are pretty obvious:

~/.Trash – no need to backup trash.

/Library/Application Support, /Library/Caches and ~/Library/Caches, those will be re-created by applications. ~/Library/Application Support I do back up since it might have useful goodies.  [edit: Mark Aufflick suggests preserving /Library/Application Support/Adobe.  Personally I just use Lightroom and Photoshop CS5.  Lightroom is pretty well behaved, and I’ll just reinstall Photoshop.  But if you had the full Suite, that’d probably be a huge pain].

/Applications, I’ll just redownload and reinstall them.

/Users/bork is a test user I only use for development. No need to back that up.

The various parts peculiar to individual app or companies are there because they’re either big, can be regenerated, or an app touches a file often. Camino is one of them. I don’t use it very often, but every time I do I have to back up 50 megs. So its application support directory is on the chopping block. Similarly, Chrome gets updated every week, and is pretty big.

/Developer and /Xcode4 are there because I’d fill up the Time Capsule just from Xcode updates. I can always download the latest one if I’m setting up a new machine.

~/junk is a directory I use to throw junk into (hence the name). NoBackup is a similar directory at the top level. I have one in Movies too as a place to store one-off iMovie projects. Once I create the final movie the project can go bye-bye, and I usually don’t feel the need to back it up in the interim. I can get the original footage from the camera again. If it’s something larger or more important, I’ll leave it in ~/Movies, which does get backed up.

~/Downloads is another place for stuff I don’t want to delete right now, but won’t cry if it suddenly went away. If I want to keep it, I’ll put it somewhere that’s backed up.

Lightroom generates previews of photographs so that the UI is more responsive. Those can be regenerated later, so they don’t ned to be backed up.

All system files, including /Library/Printers,and /usr are things that would come with a fresh OS instal. Things in /usr/local I can re-install as needed. Same with /opt.

My music lives on another machine, so I don’t need to back up ~/Music

I check with Backup Loupe every now and then to make sure there’s not a new suprise that’s getting backed up.

Addendum: courtesy of brad@cynicalpeak, there’s other trash directories, /.Trashes, /Volumes/*/.Trashes if you have multiple disks.  Also /var/folders is yet another cache location.

November 4, 2010

Links from my MacTech talk

Filed under: Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 1:54 am

For the folks who had the stamina to sit through my talk about Debugging at today’s MacTech conference sessions, here are some links I mentioned

And for the folks who missed it, I believe MacTech will be selling DVDs.

October 29, 2010

Benzado: How to Learn to Program in 2010

Filed under: programming, Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 10:39 pm

My bud Ben Ragheb wrote a blurb on learning to program in 2010.  I too started with the 8-bit personal computers of the 80s and typed in games from books and magazines, so I’m usually at a loss when someone asks me how to learn to program.  Usually I point them at the browser and mumble “Javascript”, then run away when they’re not looking.


July 13, 2010

Help menu search as shortcut button

Filed under: off-topic, Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 12:45 pm

Ever find yourself wanting a short-term shortcut button for something in an application, especially something buried a couple of levels down in menus?  I’ve been using the Help menu search field to essentially pre-cache a menu item for quick access.

Specifically, when I work on the newsletter for my community orchestra, I have all the submitted stories in one Pages™®© document and the final newsletter in another document.  I strike out stories as I move them over. I can tell what’s been finished, but I don’t destroy what’s there in case I need to undo or refer to something.  There’s no toolbar button that I could find for strikeout, so I just search for ‘strike’ in the menus. Now when I want to strike out some text I just go to the help menu and hit the first useful item.


Help menu in Pages with 'strikethrough' selected

April 9, 2010

ipads, on a bike

Filed under: cycling, Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 8:31 pm

To keep myself from dying too early, I’ve been doing a lot of IndoorCycling (a.k.a. Spinning). Today I forgot my heart rate monitor so I borrowed one from the club. I wanted to record my heart rate (usually my Garmin records it and makes a nice pretty graph). I couldn’t do that, so the next best thing is to sample data once a minute and write it down.

As I was heading to get a clipboard and some paper, I remembered, “I have my ipad with me for random other reasons. I also have Numbers™ I can just type stuff into a spreadsheet.”

And amazingly enough, it worked great.


(and as you can see here, I’m dead. Actually, the loaner strap had a limited range)

September 7, 2009

VoodooPad and Subversion

Filed under: programming, Random, VoodooPad — Mark Dalrymple @ 2:55 pm

Yeah, Git and Hg are the new hotness, but for some projects I’m still using subversion.

A also like keeping my project documentation in VoodooPad. By keeping a narrative of development in an ever-growing VP, I can go back and figure out where certain “design” “decisions” came from that are currently causing me problems. Not that it ever happens to me. *cough*.

Anyway, I’m moving into a new 13″ MacBookPro (sweet sweet little machine), and I’m taking the nuke-from-orbit approach: only installing software and data files on-demand. So now I need to be able to commit VoodooPad doc changes. This is complicated by VP docs being a bundle with files coming and going as the file is edited.

VooDooPad has nice Script Plugin support, including some sample LUA scripts. Oooh! “Commit changes to subversion”. Perfect!

Getting it set up correctly isn’t 100% obvious – here’s how I do it:

  1. Snarf the “Commit changes to subversion” code” and paste it into a new file living at.
    ~/Library/Application Support/VoodooPad/Script PlugIns/Svn Commit.lua
  2. Subversion now lives in /usr/bin, so edit the /usr/local/bin references accordingly. Here’s my version:
    VPLanguage = lua
    VPScriptMenuTitle = Subversion Commit
    -- we assume subversion is located in /usr/bin/svn
    -- add new files
    os.execute("/usr/bin/svn st | " ..
    	       "/usr/bin/grep '^\?' | " ..
    	       "/usr/bin/sed -e 's/\?[ ]*//g' | " ..
    	       "/usr/bin/xargs /usr/bin/svn add")
    -- clean up deleted pages
    os.execute("/usr/bin/svn st | " ..
    	       "/usr/bin/grep '^\!' | " ..
    	       "/usr/bin/sed -e 's/\![ ]*//g' | " ..
    	       "/usr/bin/xargs /usr/bin/svn rm")
    os.execute("/usr/bin/svn ci -m'auto commit'")
    os.execute("/usr/bin/svn st")
    vpconsole("Commit complete.")

  3. Set up your favorite form of passwordless access. I’ve been using ssh’s authorized keys: passwordless access quickie.
  4. Restart VoodooPad to get the new menu item.
  5. Make changes, and no longer fear commitment.

January 31, 2009

An unusual arrangement

Filed under: off-topic, Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 6:09 pm

Picture 2.png

It’s been awhile since I last used a two-monitor setup. Usually I do all of my work on a 15″ MacBookPro or one of the plastic MacBooks. But I wanted a better monitor for the desktop when I’m doing photostuff, so now I have two monitors again. Last time was in 2002 when I was doing contracting, and the client’s product I was working on wouldn’t fit on a laptop screen. I used a secondary monitor for running the software.

Even back in the Mac II days I always got really annoyed with the “traditional” way of setting up multiple monitors: having it so the desktop areas had large coincidental areas of vertical or horizontal border, so you could have one window span both screens and have it look non-horrible. My problem was I would always overshoot one monitor and end up on the other. I had really come to depend on Fitts’s Law. So why not use that for the monitors too?


I use my monitors as distinct playgrounds: Code and whatnot on one and the client’s big-assed program on the other. Lightroom’s Develop pane on one, and the Library grid on the other. Photoshop’s editing area on one, palettes on the other. I never have one big window that straddles both screens. Hence, my arrangement, seen above, connects the monitors at one corner.

This gives me my sides as big Fitts’s Law targets, as shown in the cute kitty picture. I can slam the mouse to the side to get to the tools. The menu bar at the top remains a nice big target. If I want to go to the other monitor, I throw the mouse to the bottom-left corner.

This makes the mouse enter the second screen at the top-right, and I keep my Photoshop palettes and Nik plugins panel up near that corner for easy access. I twiddle what I want, then throw the mouse into the upper-right corner to get to the main screen. If I lose my mouse, I can just keep mousing up and to the right until I see it on the main screen.


Why not put the other screen to the right? I keep my Dock hidden on the right. With today’s wide-screen displays, horizontal real estate is cheap, vertical real estate is still precious (six more lines of code! woo!). Having the Dock Fitts-style on the right makes it very easy to access.

Why not off the bottom? I use the hard border of the screen when resizing windows large – grab the corner, resize larger quickly until hitting the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately the green jellybean rarely does what I want it to do.

I’m not saying this is the best way for everybody, but it works very well for me. If you get frustrated with your multiple-monitor setup by accidentally mousing into the other screen, give the corner-connection a try.

July 1, 2008

How I Got Started In Programming

Filed under: meta, off-topic, Random, work — Mark Dalrymple @ 10:47 pm

The redoubtable AnneKate™ tagged me with a narcissitic brain-dump meme, How I Got Started Programming, so I figured I’d chime in. Usually I don’t do that stuff here, but hey, it’s my blog, I can me me me me if I want to.

How old were you when you started programming?

Sixth grade. Which would put me around 12 years old maybe? My dad brought home an Apple ][ (amazing how many stories like this start off with that machine), intending to do Typical Computer Things like track finances and write simulations of radiation-resistent DNA (my Dad’s awesome), but I noticed that it could play GAMES, and I glommed on to it. Dad got occasional visitation rights, but for the most part, the machine was all mine.

It was a super spiffy version, too. It had 48K, plus Applesoft BASIC on a card (Integer BASIC on the motherboard). To switch between languages, you powered-down, flipped the switch, and powered back up. (this was before DOS 3.3). Eventually the machine got a Language Card (16K expansion).

How did you get started in programming?

Typing in programs from magazines and books. This was the time when print publications (remember those?) would have complete program listings. I learn best by by eye -> hands -> screen -> eye -> brain, and this is how I learned programming. Actually, where I learned debugging, since you learn more by making (and finding, and fixing) misteaks than you do by doing things perfectly the first time. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

What was your first language?

Apple ][ Integer BASIC. Later Applesoft, and then the UCSD Pascal system.

What was the first real program you wrote?

Where “real” is something non-trivial, and not something I typed in from a magazine. It was one my Dad designed, and I implemented. It was essentially a quality assurance database system for a Radiology department. Diagnoses could be entered, and then later correlated with reports from Pathology. Or something like that. As far as I was concerned, it was “type stuff in, save it to disk”, and then periodically run the worlds most inefficient multi-device sort. But it was cool seeing three Disk ][ units hooked up to a machine, all running.

It was at this time I learned what flowcharts were (remember those?), sigma notation, and basic algorithms and data structures.

What languages have you used since you started programming?

Roughly chronoillogical order, favorites starred

Integer BASIC (*), AppleSoft BASIC (*), UCSD Pascal (*), FORTRAN IV (under UCSD Pascal), VAX FORTRAN, VAX assembly, VAX BASIC, VMS DCL, Dbase ///, Turbo BASIC, Mac/TML Pascal (*), Hypertalk, Object Pascal, C (*), C++, Newtonscript, /bin/sh, /bin/csh, emacs lisp, Tcl (*), Perl, Oracle SQL, PL/SQL, PHP, Objective-C (*), /bin/bash, Javascript, Pythong, Java, Sawzall. HTML (XML and generic SGML) if you count those as languages.

Badgers, or Wombats?

Badgers, definitely.

What was your first professional programming gig?

Visix Software (R.I.P.) We did a cross-platform toolkit called “Galaxy”. It ruled™, and was definitely ahead of its time. Its geometry management system has not been approached by anything I’ve seen since.

I started off in tech support answering questions about network configuration for our license server and X11 Font Paths for our Looking Glass product. Eventually worked my way up to Señor Software Engineer working on some important parts of the product. Also, because of Visix, I spent four months on Wall Street.

My first “will program for food” was a couple of summers and Christmas vacations during college at the Little Rock VA Hospital, assembling PC-clones from spare parts, and building some software tools for the department. One was an elaboration of the previous medical system (this time in a “real” database, Dbase ///), and an isotope tracking system. I couldn’t really be paid, so I was officially a volunteer. If I was there for four or more hours, I got a cafeteria meal voucher, which was *just enough* for a cheeseburger, onion rings, and a coke. It was the only non-lethal thing there.

If you knew then what you know now, would you have started programming?

Hell yes! I’m having the time of my life, and I get paid for it.

If there is one thing you learned along the way that you would tell new developers, what would it be?

This is more generic life advice, but something I feel strongly about: Surround yourself with people that are smarter and more talented than you, and learn from them. See what they do, figure out why they do it. Ask questions. Bask in their greatness and absorb everything.

At Visix, I spent a big chunk of time hours and three whiteboards going through the Galaxy “Class Manager”, figuring out how it worked (which was a combination of C++-style vtables and Objective-C runtime lookup, but all in vanilla C, with a lot of macro magic).

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had programming?

At Visix, in the bootstrap days of Galaxy. I wrote a lot of demo programs and sample code, in addition to doing the “List Manager” (think Excel, but without the calculation engine). There were a lot of times I’d be working all night on some fun thing (like a graphics demo that needed scrolling, but we didn’t have scroll bars implemented yet, so I wrote a little joystick thingie). My favorite times were hacking on something fun, looking out the window, and watching the sun rise. It was magical.

Thanks AnneKate, that was a fun stroll down memory lane. Now get off my lawn.

May 15, 2008

launchd tech talk

Filed under: Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 6:02 pm

In case folks might have missed it : Launchd: One Program to Rule Them All Tech Talk @ Google, with Dave Zarzycki, the launchd dude.

March 26, 2008

Autorelease Pool Patents

Filed under: Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 9:28 am

During a discussion on Cocoa memory management on Cocoa-Dev, Bill Cheeseman posted the patent numbers for the autorelease mechanism. Here are some links, all called “Transparent local and distributed memory management” :
5,687,370, 6,026,415, and 6,304,884.

February 3, 2008

Sometimes a signed value isn’t so bad after all

Filed under: Random, whining — Mark Dalrymple @ 8:41 pm

Screen capture of Leopard showing 4294967113 messages

Wonder if a signed integer value and a sanity check for <= 0 would have caught this case? ( on Leopard. BTW. Anyone know how to get on Leopard to delete messages without moving them to the trash? command-delete moves to the trash, and doing a “Cut” takes a freakishly long amount of time.)

January 16, 2008

Macworld 2008

Filed under: Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 10:33 pm

View of the show floor.jpg

It’s Macworld 2008 time. I had Google Booth Bunny duty on tuesday. When I wasn’t working the booth, I wandered around the show floor with a camera, with the obligatory web gallery.

October 29, 2007

Speed Download for Apple Seeds

Filed under: irc, Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 10:25 am

Apple provides downloads for OS X version for developers with seed keys. That’s cool.

Apple’s webservers cut off long downloads after twelve hours. When it takes twelve hours and fourteen minutes to download something, that’s not cool. I don’t want to think how many multigigabytes I downloaded before figuring out that twelve-hour cutoff.

Jonathan Wight said on IRC one day, “dude, use Speed Download“. I did. It works. I watched the progress meter at 12 hours. download speed went to zero as expected. A couple of seconds later it cranked back up Fourteen minutes later I had a finished download. That’s cool.

October 26, 2007

NSCoder Night

Filed under: cocoaheads, Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 10:40 am

Chris Hanson and Scott Stevenson are organizing NSCoder Night in the Silicon Valley, a weekly event where Cocoa geeks can hang out for coding and mayhem at a coffee shop or a pub. It sounds like it’ll be a huge amount of fun.

For folks in the Pittsburgh area, Jeff Hunter is organizing DevHouse Pittsburgh thursday the 8th. It’s similar to NSCoder and SuperHappyDevHouse, but in the pittsburgh area. Some of the local CocoaHeads will be there.

September 29, 2007

Don’t Forget VoodooPad

Filed under: amosxp, programming, Random, work — Mark Dalrymple @ 3:57 pm

With all of the love and attention that Flying Meat’s Acorn is receiving, I figured I would remind folks about VoodooPad.

VoodooPad is a personal Wiki that lets you write stuff and link things around. When it sees words in CamelCapsStyle, it automatically turns it into a link to a new page where you can write more stuff. All pretty standard wiki stuff. It uses the OS X text engine so it has all of the standard word processing features you’ve come to expect, including stuff like tables and lists. This is especially nice because I get a lot of my emacs key bindings along for free. Muscle memory is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Screen Capture of VoodooPad pro

There are a couple of things I love about VoodooPad : it gets out of my way. I type, I link, I paste in graphics. Gus has obviously paid a lot of attention to the fine details and the app just gets out of my way. It is also very stable. I don’t remember when my last crash was. It just works. Just about every Leopard update makes SnapZ pro freak out and I have to get get new license keys (and then usually something fails on the server side, and takes 20 minutes of dinking around to get a license). Omnigrackle‘s layers get confused and the PDF export dialog has a bug that makes it easy to corrupt your document. regularly crashes. But VoodooPad just keeps on chugging along. Oh, and it’s fast, too.

Some folks I know put everything into a single VoodooPad document and use it to store their life (or at least their brains). I typically have one VoodooPad document per project, which usually fall int into one of three broad categories:

Design Document : I have one where I keep my design notes for the Extreme Cross Stitch Design software I’m working on for the Spousal Overunit. I dump figures from OmniGrackle in there, and use class names as the currency of links. This makes it very easy to capture my thinking about the specifics of individual classes, as well as highlighting the interactions between classes. Sometimes I can go for a month or two between working on the App, so having all this stuff handy and interlinked makes it easy to reload my mental state. My winning IronCoder entry included a VoodooPad design document with all sorts of notes. (The entry was Race Against Time, if you’re really bored)

Data Dump and Organizer : I have another one where I keep all my notes, to-dos, transcriptions, and copies of interesting emails for the next edition of AMOSXP. You can see a screenie for this is over to the right. I blort in anything and everything I think might be interesting for the next edition. As I start chewing up a chapter, I have ready access to stuff to consider for exclusion (and stuff to nuke). Sometimes one topic (say an extension to a favorite object-oriented language) is too big for one chapter, so something like its automated memory management technique would make better sense living in the Memory chapter. So I can easily make a note in MemoryChap to say “go look over InThisSetOfNotes for these aspects of rubbish aggregation that would be interesting to talk about here”

Debugging Aid : For projects where I tend to do more debugging than design, I have a VoodooPad document that keeps my debugging notes. Usually for each non-trivial problem there’s a page with a dialog with myself. “So What’s the Problem Fool? Oh, Google Kipple is crashing when you frobulate the giznat. Does it happen all the time? No, just on the second launch. Maybe it’s the SpicyPonyHead user preference Hrm, could be” The dialog format lets me focus my thoughts by making explicit what the next useful piece of information might be, and it makes for easier reading when I need to revisit a bug or if I have to put it down for awhile and return to it later. The linky nature of a wiki makes it easy to put in different branches of investigation and let me revisit what I originally thought was a dead end, but might actually be the path to figuring out the real problem. Because Cocoa class names are CamelCapStyle, class names in stack trace become links. Ppaste in a stack trace and then link out to a class to jot down some relevant notes.

I’m a fan. Check it out.

September 27, 2007

Ten Tips for a (Slightly) Less Awful Resume

Filed under: Random, work — Mark Dalrymple @ 9:42 am

Steve Yegge knows hiring. His latest epistle is Ten Tips for a (Slightly) Less Awful Resume.

Rands also has a new article about The Button, the personality types you’ll run into during technical interviews.

September 3, 2007


Filed under: Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 5:21 pm

As part of my day-to-day work, I need to test my software with both admin accounts and non-admin accounts. Fast User Switching (FUS) is nice, for awhile, but it really started to get on my nerves. For one, I’d miss out on real-time entertainment from the company IRC channels. Then there’s the entering of passwords, and waiting for the Big Spinny Cube Effect. These are annoying, but livable.

The big thing is that in some wireless / VPN situations, the net connection would be available in one user but not the other; or the FUS act would disconnect me from the network or the VPN. And since I’m hitting internal resources for testing, this was totally Not Good.

BarryJ, (via my pal Mr. Machine Tool), pointed out that when you switch users with FUS, a window server and a pasteboard server are left running. This means that you can VNC from one user to another already logged-in user on the same machine.

It’s not perfect (the switched user might not be able to log to the console), and sometimes things lock up if I leave it running overnight, but it’s good enough for me to do my work with multiple user accounts and not have to actually FUS between them.

I use the Vine VNC server, and Chicken of the VNC client.

For the server, the changes from the default settings are setting a password, only allowing local connections (which requires SSH to be running). On the client, the host is localhost. So then FUS to the test user and crank up the server. FUS back to the primary account, and then start the VNC client.

August 30, 2007

Saving my Beacon

Filed under: Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 8:28 pm

I have a love/hate relationship with the MacBook keyboard. I really like the feel, but when I come to the MacBook (personal machine) keyboard after using the MacBookPro (work machine) keyboard (which I like even better), I have a hard time adjusting. In short, my typing is utter and total crap because I hit the corner of keys, which register a keypress by feel, but it doesn’t actually engage the key switch. This makes me sad.

On a whim, I picked up the Mavis Beacon typing tutor thing at the apple store (after going there to caress an iPhone in person). It’s an old, cheesy program, and some of the “games” are embarrassingly awful, but after doing a couple of basic typing exercise, I have the MacBook keyboard “feel” back again, and my typing accuracy improves a whole bunch. Which makes me happy.

August 24, 2007


Filed under: Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 11:24 pm

I promise to keep the non-programming content to a minimum (I’m sure many folks tune right out when camera nerds start talking). But I figured I’d point folks to my photo album:

August 22, 2007

Movies as Bug Reports

Filed under: Random — Mark Dalrymple @ 12:06 am

Sometimes when I’m building a bug report for somebody, I’ll make a movie of the application misbehaving. A picture is a thousand words, so a movie is at least 15,000 words a second.

For instance, I saw some strange behavior in Mars Edit’s preview panel with a <pre> block. I could spend a chunk of time describing the behavior, and even then would probably omit some important piece of evidence. Instead, I sent This Movie on to the Red Sweater Empire. DCJ asked me to try some stuff, we narrowed it down to line break conversion, and I found a work-around by putting in a space character in the <pre> block.

Similarly, we have an internal tool at the GOOG which I had difficulty getting working. I made a quick movie of it not working, sent it on to the developer, and he said “huh. you’re doing everything right. Lemme go look for the problem.” Sure saved a lot of back and forth, and also saved a lot of wondering “Is this a PEBKAC problem?” (I’m the first to admit I do stupid stuff.)

Naturally, include a link to the movie in any bug report. Sending someone ten megabytes in an email without prior warning could be interpreted as rude.

There are a number of screenShotMovieMakers. I’ve used SnapzPro for years, and have certainly gotten my money’s worth.

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