Archive for July, 2007

Treating the symptoms, but not the problem

Posted in Daily Entries on July 11th, 2007 by Mike Taber – 2 Comments

A few days ago, I was riding up the elevator to my office and as usual, was annoyed when it stopped at the second floor. My office building has a parking garage right behind it and there’s a connection to the second level of the building. I have a parking pass in another garage because there’s a two year waiting list for this one, but I digress.

What has often bothered me is the fact that I need to get to the eight floor and more often than not, on my way up in the morning I’m stopped by people who take the elevator from the second floor to the third floor. To get to the elevator on the second floor, you have to walk past the stairs to the third floor. But these people will wait for an elevator so they don’t have to climb 13 steps. It’s a little ridiculous.

Today, was even more so. The man who got on the elevator had two bags over his shoulders. One was a gym bag that had an old pair of sneakers sticking out of it and some gym clothes next to it. The other bag had some office documents I presume and a Lean Cuisine meal sticking out the top.

This is a classic case of treating the symptoms and not the problem. “I’m overweight so I’m going to go to the gym and get on a diet to lose weight.” Nevermind changing the basic habits that made me that way to begin with to solve the problem long term.

I’ve seen this is software too and it’s just as annoying. The following is a recreation of some code I worked on a long time ago.

// Fixed: autocorrect if this variable wasn’t set to keep the progg from crashing
if ( selectedOption == null )
    selectedOption = 1; // default to the first option

Hmmmm. Here’s a thought. Instead of just avoiding the problem, why don’t you find out what’s causing it and fix it!

If the user didn’t select something, chances are they didn’t mean to select option 1. You can’t make the assumption that the user even knew what Option 1 was, let alone that they wanted to select it. Very poor bug fix if you ask me.

When you’re debugging a problem, make sure you understand the root cause of it and treat that. Don’t assume that by fixing the symptoms, you’ve fixed the problems. That’s like getting treated for lung cancer while you continue to smoke like a chimney.


Google does it again… and again

Posted in Daily Entries on July 6th, 2007 by Mike Taber – Be the first to comment

It seems like it’s been years since I started using Google Maps and Google Docs. It probably has been for Google Maps, but I only started using Google Docs this past year to write articles for my blog and share them for review with other people. In the past week, my two biggest complaints about both applications have been answered.

Google Maps:
My wife used to hate using Google Maps. “It doesn’t usually know the best route to take” she claimed one day, while touting Yahoo’s Maps. If you talk to a hundred different people and ask which their favorite online mapping application is, you’re probably going to get a range of answers, centered around less than five applications.

Ask the same hundred people if there’s anything in their favorite application that they don’t like, and you’ll probably get a range there as well, centered around a few specific problems.

My wife’s complaint about Google Maps is well taken. For example, if she decides that she wants instructions from her mother’s house to her uncle’s house, it takes her down some rather unpleasant roads. They’re basically ripped to shreds. Anyone from New England knows that it snows here… a lot. And that snow has a tendency to destroy roads. The state of Massachusetts isn’t know for its ability to keep the roads in good condition, so Google has you driving over these roads where the speed limit is technically 40 mph, but realistically if you want your teeth and the shocks on your car to still be intact, then you drive a bit slower. I know, I know. Speed limits are just suggestions in Massachusetts. Please bear with me.

Google Maps just came out with a new feature that allows you to drag the route that it has mapped for you so that you take a slightly different route. So if you know that there is construction going on for a particular stretch of highway, you can use Google Maps to help you find an alternate route and set alternate waypoints in that area. Very very cool.

Google Docs:
Over the past year or so, I’ve half written quite a few blog entries that I never finished. Google used to only show you recently edited documents and sort of hid the rest of them. It was very annoying to have edited a document, and then try to find it again several months later. Yes, they run a search engine. But search will only take you so far.

Search is great for telling you what exists if you already know what you’re looking for. But if you’re looking for things that were lost or forgotten along the way, search falls up short. As an example, lets assume that you have archived a bunch of files on your hard drive because you don’t use them very often. A year later, you want to go back and look at them to see what’s there. If you knew what was in them, you could search. But it’s been a year and you can’t remember what’s there so you want to iterate over all of them. This is where Google Docs fell short. It didn’t let you easily iterate over each of them and look to see what was there.

Enter the concept of folders. Phew! Good thing the Google engineers were on the ball here. This newfangled folder concept is great. I can’t imagine where in the world they got it from… oh wait. Yes I can.

It does seem to baffle me that they didn’t create folders from the very beginning, but I guess they just wanted to make it simple. They did acquire the product after all. It’s not as if Google created Google Docs from the beginning. But with the clout of Google behind it, there’s active development going on, and the product is getting better, which is something I’m ecstatic about.

Now to go in and see what’s there so I can organize it a bit better and finish off some of those blog posts and articles I never got around to finishing