<CharlieDigital/> Programming, Politics, and uhh…pineapples


EditPlus Rocks!

Posted by Charles Chen

Not that EditPlus didn't rock before, but it's rockin' even harder now with the release of version 2.3!

Two of the biggest features are the addition of indentation based collapsable code regions (I've already got collapse/expand hotkeyed!) and "Copy as HTML" which allows you to copy the contents of the workspace as HTML which retains the formatting and your environment colors!  Awesome!  This makes it perfect for writing up web based documentation.

Aside from this, 2.3 also introduces other features like the new "Find in Directory" command you can use on the directory toolbar, the "View in Browser 2" command which allows you to hook up IE and FireFox (or IE6 and IE7) to have seamless browsing with one and external launch with the other, and various bug fixes with the FTP component.

All in all, an awesome version that has some loooong overdue features.  If you don't have it already, nows the time to download it!

Filed under: Awesome, Dev No Comments

Down on ASP.Net

Posted by Charles Chen

First, some random stuff.  I got a free t-shirt from Newegg yesterday and I didn't even have to buy anything!  It turns out that scammers have been using Newegg's domain in phishing attacks.  As I was reading through this, I thought to myself: isn't there some way to counter this?  I came up with a pretty simple solution and emailed it to Newegg's customer service email: why not just have all account holders, when they enter their information, also enter three code words -- for example: "Apple", "Frankie", and "Coolio" -- and from that point on, any correspondence would include one of these three words, selected at random, in the subject line.  This way, a customer can easily scan emails which appear to be coming from Newegg and tell which ones are spam and filters can also be set up to simply remove anything from Newegg that doesn't contain one of the code words in the title.

There would be no way for a scammer to overcome this without knowing the codewords (yes, I did think about it for a while and one codeword would probably work just as well since if you compromise even one, you've compromised the effectiveness of the entire system).

So simple (simple to program, simple for customers), yet so effective...I like simple things.

On another front, I've been working on a consulting project kind of indepenently with a development team in a primarily Java environment.  I've been doing some really nifty UI work and the sort of cutting edge web software that I love to do (I know you can't tell by this webpage 😀 and I know his blog is displaying incorrectly in IE7).

Working with this team has reinforced my belief that web UIs have no place on server side applications except in HTML pages and JS files; server side UIs must die.  The entirety of the work that I've done has been in JavaScript classes that are essentially client side renderers which consume data provided by JSP pages as JSON strings.  It's a beautiful thing to behold from a design perspective.  Those guys that have no clue how to do UI are not tasked with doing any of the UI work; they just provide the data services that I need to render my UI.

Since I first came across AJAX, it has always been in my mind that, given this tool (a gift from the web programming gods, I tell you), the ideal way to write web apps goes sooo far beyond what any server web application platform can offer.  Perhaps some view this as a bit radical, but I have proposed that the application server be completely oblivious to the existance of any UI at all; all functionality is exposed as a web service and it is then up to the consumer of those services to decide what to do with it.  What exactly does this mean?  The server delivers what is essentially a base HTML page and from that point on, the server side app has no further involvement in the UI.  All of the rendering is then accomplished by client side scripts through DOM manipulation.

This has HUGE advantages over traditional postback/getback models.

  1. The rendering script can be cached.  That means that while you may bulk up on the scripts, you end up saving a HUGE chunk of bandwidth on not delivering highly redundant HTML.  Using this model, you only ever deliver data, NEVER delivering UI markup.
  2. The design is incredibly clean on the server side.  None of this intertwining of UI postback handling and layout garbage.  The application is responsible for providing data services and data services only.  This is a win-win situation as it does not ask the application programmer to build UI (something which most are terribly incompetant at).  At the same time, given a base set of messages, the UI developer can start working on client side code immediately with mocked up messages.
  3. The application is highly reusable now.  The same web services powering the web application can be retooled a bit to power ANY client.
  4. It offers a better user experience.  This is true for any usage of AJAX.
  5. It offers a clean separation of concerns for the two domains of the application: the UI and the server components.  Completely clean.  No half-assed distinction as with ASP.Net and ASP.Net controls.  There is no concept of UI at the server side -- NONE -- only data.

I can't be the only one that believes in this, can I?

But in any case, I'm really down on out-of-the-box ASP.Net and I'm really down on people that adhere to it because it's easy (don't get me wrong, I love .Net).  It all goes back to the drag-&-drop mentality.  I abhor this approach to software.  When something goes wrong, developers that adhere to this philosophy are like deer in headlights.  Source is your friendGet to know Source.  It'll be good for you in the long run.

Nothing against Infragistics, but has anyone seen the HTML source produced by their ASP.Net controls?  Wow.  Fugly beyond belief and HEAVY to boot (the same is true of SharePoint...it's unbelievable).  Not only that, the markup in the page is horrendous and completely illegible...how do they stay in business?  Oh yeah, the gigantic cadre of drag-&-drop professionals brought up in the drag-&-drop era.  They've sold the idea that these controls save time and money while I would argue that the time & money saved is not that significant it since it leads to hard to maintain code, heavy markup delivered to the client, "cookie" cutter UIs that tend to look alike (even across organizational and business boundaries), and a lack of tailoring to the users.  I mean, it may save what? a few hours of development time?  But you end up with code that is incredibly heavy, hard to read, and hard to maintain.  It's time for server side UI to die.  Completely.

I'll admit: not everyone is as comfortable as I am working in the DOM on the client side and working with JavaScript and raw HTML constructs.  But heck, this stuff isn't brain surgery man.


Quote of the Day #001

Posted by Charles Chen

From November 20 issue of Time:

I also am in favor of toppling dictators, establishing democracy and watching it spread painlessly throughout every region where there is no experience of it.  Not only that: I am in favor of turning sand into ice cream and guaranteeing a cone to every child in the Middle East.  But you can't turn sand into ice cream.  That is not a defect in the execution of the idea.  It is a defect in the idea itself.

-- Michael Kinsley

Filed under: QOTD No Comments

Upstream, Red Team!

Posted by Charles Chen

Go RU!

Who would have thunk it?

The amazing thing is how much attention, both locally and nationally this has garnered.  All of the digital signs on the Turnpike declared "Go Rutgers!"; it kind of caught me off guard.

Now I'm off to watch the game...on my TV 🙁





Filed under: Miscellany No Comments

Bill Simmons: NBA Week 1

Posted by Charles Chen

I just had to share, a really humorous look at the week that was in the NBA.



An Early Look At JavaScript 2

Posted by Charles Chen

There's a slide deck over at the Mozilla deverloper site that covers some of the changes/additions/bugfixes to be found in JavaScript 2.  It's interesting and worth taking a look.

With IE7 just out the door, I wonder if JS2 will ever really take off.  Certainly, if Microsoft decides that they have no interest in JS2--and a good question is why would they have interest in JS2 if XAML with .Net is superior, in their minds--then it would end up excluding a large set of browsers and thus a large set of developers and users.

It remains to be seen how Microsoft continues to regularly update IE7.

Filed under: Dev No Comments

Spirit and Opportunity (a Tribute)

Posted by Charles Chen


16.5 Billion US dollars.

That's the budget assigned to NASA, all of NASA, for 2006. With this relatively miniscule budget, some of the brightest engineers in the world are asked to scrape by on what amounts to table scraps. These engineers are tasked with performing seeming incredulous feats, when we really consider the scale of things and put their tasks into perspective.

I saw an amazing picture the other day. It was a shot of the space shuttle launching from Earth, as seen from space by our astronauts in the ISS. The plume of smoke, from space, looks oddly organic: as if a tendril from a microscopic organism, reaching out into the space around it, feeling for a safe path. It’s a visual that I don’t think I will ever forget in its uniqueness and the amazing perspective that it provides (both literally and metaphysically).

What happened to the days when our superiority in space exploration was a well of national pride? What happened to the dreamers that dreamt of men on the Moon and voyages to Mars? Nowadays, once relatively technologically backwards countries like China and India are increasingly investing more money into their space programs as it is a source of national pride and profit in some cases:

Operating on a fraction of NASA’s budget, the ISRO has turned itself into the Energizer Bunny of space programs – it just keeps launching and launching and launching. Since 1975, the agency has lofted 43 satellites into orbit, 20 of them from Indian soil. An extraordinary string of successes – 12 consecutive launches without a failure – has attracted European and Asian investors looking to capitalize on growing demand for satellite communication and reconnaissance. A few big deals could turn the ISRO into a moneymaker, boosting India’s prestige… (Scott Carney, Wired, 11/2006)

It’s amazing when you start to wonder what could be if even half the amount of money spent on the Iraq war were given to NASA. What amazing places could we visit? What incredible sights could we see? What mind-shattering breakthroughs would we find in the fields of astronomy, physics, astrophysics, and our understanding of our existence could we encounter in the deeps of space?

I put a lot of blame on the current administration; it is one that has publicly cast doubt on and often put science to the wayside. It is one that has sat by abjectly while controversy swirled, allowing false prophets to cast doubt on evolution, the separation of church and state, and the importance of the science overall.

As I was reading my December issue of Car and Driver, I came across an article on the twin mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and the amazing journey that it has made. These machines are our proxies in the exploration of our solar system, providing us with an amazing view of one of the most promising planets insofar as human habitability goes.

There is something incredibly – and perhaps this is not the best term to describe this – awesome about the idea that this little man made machine is rolling along, millions of miles from the nearest human being.


I think the public, in general, has a hard time understanding such scale and take it for granted.

Thus far in human history, about two thirds of the 36 Mars probes have been lost en route or in the creation of smoking holes on the surface… (Aaron Robinson, Car and Driver, 12/2006)

What’s perhaps more enlightening is the following quote from Mark Maimone, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory mission planner:

As long as NASA keeps shoveling in the case – an additional $84 million since touchdown – “The pressure is still on to make use of this national resource”… (Aaron Robinson, Car and Driver, 12/2006).

It is quite incredible when you consider how much of our research of space is done on technology older than I am (25). Our shuttles are from a bygone error using computers which are probably outclassed by most smartphones these days. Of this, Robinson points out:

Because Congress is overdue in authorizing bandwidth upgrades to the Apollo-era global array of radio dishes called the Deep Space Network, the team gets only two brief time slots per day to phone the rovers.  (Aaron Robinson, Car and Driver, 12/2006).

It’s sad to come to this realization. The space program, to me, is a vehicle for inspiration. It should be a source of national pride. A source of dreams – impossible dreams – for a new generation of scientists and engineers. A well from which we draw inspiration for our students and our people. Indeed, it’s an amazing resource, one who’s monetary benefit cannot be measured or counted.

Perhaps the coolest part, at least to me, about the Mars rovers, is their “evolution” in the form of software upgrades. The Car and Driver article also speaks of the amazing journey and longevity of the rovers. Once thought to last perhaps only 90 days or so, the rovers have now surpassed a lifetime of ten times that. Like Replicants in Blade Runner, Man has created this proxy knowing that it would only live for short period of time and here it is, fighting to survive (well, with the help of some human caretakers, of course).