Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Weblog usability mistakes

For those of us who blog frequently (ok, ok, try to blog frequently), Jakob Nielsen, the usability guru, has posted an article about the top ten weblog usability mistakes. Even if you don't agree with all ten points, I think it still makes a good read.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Be more productive, buy a bigger monitor

More than once at my old job I got into an argument with the powers that be about monitor size. They were all for buying small size screen monitors that were cheaper, I insisted on getting the largest possible screens which I affirmed could improve productivity. They didn't buy my argument and, consequently, didn't buy the monitors I wanted, either.

So, I never did prevail, but some vindication has arrived to me in the form of a New York Times article, Meet the life hackers (via), which discusses work interruptions, the secrets of highly productive professionals and software research that tries to get the most out of an inevitably interruption-filled modern workplace. Check out this bit from page 3:

The researchers took 15 volunteers, sat each one in front of a regular-size 15-inch monitor and had them complete a variety of tasks designed to challenge their powers of concentration - like a Web search, some cutting and pasting and memorizing a seven-digit phone number. Then the volunteers repeated these same tasks, this time using a computer with a massive 42-inch screen, as big as a plasma TV.

The results? On the bigger screen, people completed the tasks at least 10 percent more quickly - and some as much as 44 percent more quickly. They were also more likely to remember the seven-digit number, which showed that the multitasking was clearly less taxing on their brains.
So there, we should have bought bigger monitors that time. At least now I got that out of my system.

Friday, October 14, 2005

A visit to the infamous Zope hell

After spending a couple of weeks with my newborn baby I have returned to work and have found a couple of engagements where I have to correct bugs and create new functionality for some pretty big Zope based applications.

I have been working with Zope for years and I like it, but I am now used to what we could call Zope's best practices for web development, which include creating Python products, working exclusively on the file system, testing, using version control, keeping too much logic out of page templates, documenting the system and more (check the bottom of this post for links).

The problem with these applications I'm working on is that they are old school: hundreds of Python scripts and page templates all stored in the ZODB. Lots of the scripts call each other freely and there are also a bunch of javascript generating scripts which sometimes include very important pieces of business logic in them, making debugging and following the flow of the application very difficult for people unfamiliar with the code (myself!).

One of the systems is fairly well laid out and to be fair was developed at a time where information about Zope best practices and Python product development was scarce. The other one, however, seems to be an adaptation of some older system for similar but not altogether equal requirements and the scripts and templates are full of commented-out code and unused logic which make finding out what's going on even harder.

At least they do not include DTML, which I hate, and the scripts and templates are all organized into folders, so it's not the worst case of Zope hell I have seen, but making even simple changes becomes very difficult in systems like these.

After spending some time with these systems, I can see why some people loathe Zope and call it unpythonic (well, they call it other things too but they go against my self-imposed editorial policy). It doesn't have to be like this, though. Here are a couple of links for those who are interested:

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Python and NewsML

I'm researching a little bit into the Plone newspaper project that we could be starting soon. My client wants to use a special XML format to store and manipulate news items, and so they chose NewsML for this purpose. I have searched the web a bit, but haven't been able to find any Python software for handling this format. I may have to create my own parser. There are libraries for Java and Perl, though.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Pragmatic Studio

So, in addition to highly placed books in the sales ranks (compare to any Python book and we are thousands of places away), Pragmatic Programmer Dave Thomas and company are now offering an interactive Rails Workshop.

Sometimes its very tempting to see what the hype is all about. Maybe we need personalities like this in the Python world? How about some really exciting books?

Plone for newspapers

A newspaper with a modest budget contacted me (thanks to Alan Runyan of Enfold Systems) a couple of months ago because they want to totally rebuild their website using Plone. After a couple of meetings with the client we have agreed on principle to create a full featured newspaper product for Plone, which could be used by other newspapers around the world with limited budgets and small development teams for free.

I have used Plone for a couple of years now and I like it, but I have my doubts about how appropriate it would be for a newspaper project. So, before starting our work I thought maybe I should find out whether other newspapers have been using Plone. I have been unable to find one so far and the Plone guys don't know about one either. I know some newspapers use Zope, but being a CMS, I thought Plone would have its share. Anyway, here's hoping anyone that reads this and knows about a newspaper anywhere that uses Plone would leave a comment. It would be really good to hear about previous experiences of newspapers using Plone.