Product search

January 31st, 2012 by Joe

Last weekend I set out to build a shelf for G’s room. My main goals were to custom-fit it to a particular wall in her room, and to keep the cost low. I’d done a few shelves like this in our last house, using melamine boards from Home Depot or Lowe’s.

After sketching my rough plans, my usual next step is to drive over to Home Depot and look at what boards they have in stock. I then adjust my plans on the fly while standing in the store aisles. This time I decided to try doing that step at home, via the web. That way I could know the exact cost ahead of time, compare other stores’ prices, look at alternative materials, and decide whether to buy vs. build.

Home Depot’s site made this appallingly difficult to do. After 5 minutes of drilling down through vague category names, I gave up and tried keyword searching. That turned up a donut machine as the top result by relevancy for “melamine“, as shown in the below image. (The model number contains “MDF”, and MDF must be a synonym for melamine — but why is Home Depot selling donut makers anyway?)

product search results from home depot

I persevered and clicked through several pages of results on the Home Depot site, eventually finding the few different boards that I had in mind. The exercise made me think, though, that there is potential for a retailer that can provide a great user experience and great results for this kind of situation.

A simple trunk hack

January 26th, 2012 by Joe

Tired of your stuff rolling around in the trunk of your car? Here’s a quick hack that can help.

trunk hack

  1. Find a medium-sized plastic bin. An old cardboard box would work, too.
  2. Find a small block of scrap wood.
  3. Put the bin against one edge of your trunk, then put the block up against it.
  4. Temporarily tape the block down to the trunk liner.
  5. Take the bin out, set it aside, and then take the whole liner out.
  6. Flip the liner upside down and put a couple of screws into the block, to fasten it permanently to the liner.
  7. Remove tape.
  8. Put the liner back in your trunk.
  9. Put the bin back into its spot.

You can put small or delicate items inside the bin to keep them from rolling around.   And it’s easy to take the bin out whenever you need to carry something that takes up the whole trunk.

Jurassic Park source code

January 20th, 2012 by Joe

Jurassic Park is on AMC right now (one of Chrissy’s all-time favorite movies). Dennis (aka Newman) is hacking away at a computer, just before he explains that some systems may go down, and runs out to drop off the dino eggs. I decided to pause and take a look at the code. It was blurry when paused, but I could pick out a few strings keywords, some comments, and regexes. A little bit of googling, and I found the exact file:

Surprisingly, I didn’t find any trivia sites or references to this fact. So, here’s my first, tiny, and probably last contribution to the pile of movie trivia available on the internet. Click the thumbnail below to see the code up close.

Jurassic Park source code

Now that I’ve posted an image which contains both a copyrighted movie and copyrighted source code, I feel I can take the SOPA & PIPA thing more personally. (Not that I didn’t take it seriously before, I just need to experience things myself in order to take them to heart.)

# CheckOutActive - Check the active window out for modification
# Usage: Called by a user­defined menu item
# CheckOutActive uses the ProjectInfo command to determine the
# parent project for the file open as the Active window. Once this
# project has been determined, the file open as the Active window
# can be properly checked out.
# © Apple Computer, Inc. 1988
# All rights reserved.


# Request a comment before we check the file out. It is still possible
# that the checkout will fail because the lastest revision on the trunk
# is already checked out for modification by someone else.

(Set comment "`Request -d "{Task}" "What changes will you make?" || Set error {Status}`")
If {error} == 0
Evaluate "{®3}" =~ /(,([0-9.]+[a-z]*)*)®4[0-9.]+/ # {®4} contains the branch
If "{comment}" ‚ ""
Checkout -t "{comment}" -c -m -project "{®2}" "{Active}{®4}"
Checkout -c -m -project "{®2}" "{Active}{®4}"
If {Status} ‚ 0

Update Aug 2016 — Got this message from Lawrence D’Oliveiro at :

Came across your blog item about the source code extracted from the Jurassic Park screen shot.

I can tell you what language that is: it’s MPW Shell script. This was Apple’s integrated development environment that ran native on the old (non-protected, non-Unixy, not-quite-multitasking) MacOS. I used it for many years from the 1980s into the 1990s, to write code in Pascal, then Modula-2, then C. Those “Checkout” commands are for the integrated version control system, called “Projector”, which I never quite figured out how to use.

Ultra-quick mockup, using Balsamiq

September 19th, 2011 by Joe

Just tried out the web demo of a wireframing tool that a coworker had mentioned, Balsamiq Mockups.  I was very impressed.  I was able to jump in and start dragging and typing, and finish my initial layout in about 2 minutes.  Then I tweaked, re-arranged, added, and removed elements with absolute ease.  Not once did I have to pause and think about where a particular function might be located, or have to fight against awkward dragging or resizing behavior.


The simple power of b-sides

September 17th, 2011 by Joe

The digital native generation has never experienced owning music in the form of a physical tape or disc. CD’s have become relics, as useless as 8-track tapes. Growing up in the 80’s (the heyday of the cassette tape), moving to CD’s in the 90’s, and then to streaming radio, podcasts, and downloads in the last decade, I have to acknowledge the leaps & bounds that the music industry has made in improving the quality, portability, and durability of their product. However, since I spend a decent amount of my time listening to DJ’s playing old vinyl, I sometimes ponder other aspects of what was better, worse, or just different with the old modes of distribution.

One big difference: iTunes lets you buy any single song, one at a time. We’ve always had singles, and record companies have always pushed individual songs rather than whole albums, but we’ve lost an important piece of the concept: the b-side.
Read the rest of this entry »

Commuting isn’t so bad, part 1

September 16th, 2011 by Joe

For much of my career I had a 5-minute commute. I wondered how coworkers could stand spending 2 hours a day in their cars. In 2010 Numara moved, bringing my drive to 20 minutes. Not ideal, but I still felt lucky to have a relatively short drive. This year, my family & I acted on a really great opportunity to move. One of the few downsides that I feared was my commute: it would be 50-60 minutes each way.

I asked friends about their commuting habits, and searched the web for advice. I am amazed at how quickly I’ve adapted my daily rhythm, so much that I actually look forward to the drive on most days! I’ve been jotting down some of my trials, successes, and failures over the past 3 months of learning to commute, and I figured I’d share them in occasional blog posts.

I’ll start with a simple tip: snacks & drinks.

Read the rest of this entry »

Do it without titles

September 9th, 2011 by Joe

Dear Gmail,

Why do you insist that every mail I send should have both a subject and a body?

I just want to send a single nugget of thought, sprinkled with #hashtags. I don’t want to spend extra time typing out a meaningless extra field (especially if I’m mailing from my phone and trying to finish before the light turns green).

If you expect to continue in your pivotal role as the glue between all of my apps and devices, you should stop hassling me with these silly warnings.

P.S. Most of the rest of everything you do is reliably awesome.

P.P.S. I stole the subject of this post from another blog, Launching a start-up? Do it without titles.

workout logger

August 12th, 2011 by Joe

Since April I’ve been logging all of my workouts & runs here on this blog, in the workout log section.

But writing the workouts down on scraps of paper, and then later taking the time to type them up, was getting tedious. I threw together a web form to make it easier. Now I can carry my phone around the gym, taking a few seconds between exercises to record my workout.

It’s a small static page with nothing on the server side yet. I save the data by packing it into a “mailto” link via javascript. I’ve got a head full of ideas about little bits of functionality I’d like to add, but even at this rough stage I’m finding it useful. I hope I get a few free minutes to keep toying with it over the next month.

Snow in June?

June 6th, 2011 by Joe says it might snow on Thursday:

picture of forecast

Kate’s hot air balloon

June 4th, 2011 by Joe

I helped Kate make this, starting with the
stripe generator and finishing the rest with MS Paint.