Pressing Pause while Compile, Dammit Ramps Up

I know that my blogging here has been sporadic. And I'm not alone: a number of my colleagues were in the same boat. So Joe Rinehart, Nic Tunney, Marc Esher, Scott Stroz, Todd Sharp and myself have decided to pool our resources. We've started a group blog called Compile, Dammit.

This is an experiment, but so far it's going extremely well. Having multiple people working on the same blog means a lot more posts and a wider variety of perspectives. I think this is a very interesting idea that I haven't really seen tried before.

The focus over on Compile, Dammit will be in two main areas: server development (Groovy, Grails, Spring, etc.) and client development (RIAs, ExtJS, JavaScript, CoffeeScript, jQuery, etc.). This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, and we'll likely see content on a whole range of topics. But most of the content will probably fall under those two umbrellas.

So, I'll probably be pressing pause on this blog for a bit while I contribute to Compile, Dammit. If you're interested in topics like this, you should definitely add our new group blog to your reading list!

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Fix for Using Subclipse Keyboard Shortcuts

Just a note for anyone who uses Subclipse within Eclipse to work with a Subversion repository. In the past, you could easily assign keyboard shortcuts within Eclipse for SVN update, commit, etc. In the newer builds of Eclipse I couldn't get this to work.

After searching Google, I found the answer in this Subclipse ticket. In order to get the shortcuts to work, you must go to Window > Customize Perspective, then under the Command Groups Availability tab, check the SVN option. It may require a restart of Eclipse, but the Subclipse keyboard shortcuts will now work.

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My cf.Objective() Dependency Injection Presentation

Just a quick note that I've uploaded the Dependency Injection presentation which I gave at cf.Objective(). Feel free to let me know what you think! Thanks.

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Trog Bar Outlook Add-On

Trog Bar

I recently installed a pretty cool add on for Microsoft Outlook called Trog Bar. Not only does it offer some nice features that Outlook alone doesn't have, but it wraps a nice task management system as well.

To the left you can see what Trog Bar looks like. It docks to the edge of the screen, and can be set to autohide if desired. Across the top are quick links to mail, calendar, task list, contacts, compose, and send/receive.

The calendar is great for the simple reason that you can specify more than one calendar to show events for. The fact that the Outlook To-Do bar would only show events from one calendar always drove me crazy. I have a personal account and a work account that uses Exchange, and Outlook will only show one. People have been asking for this simple feature for years. It's great to see someone add this.

The main area is your task list. You can quickly search, view all tasks, view complete tasks, incomplete tasks, etc. If you use Outlook's categories option, you can also assign categories to tasks and view the list by category. Last but not least is a view called Task Sense. Trog Bar has some nice algorithms that populate this list automatically to show the most likely tasks to do at the current time. More on this in a moment. (And no, the tasks shown here aren't my tasks, I grabbed this screen shot off of the product page. Feed mammoth??)

The notepad lets you quickly type in new tasks and store them as "unprocessed". It's very easy to fire off tasks into this application (as it should be). When you have more time, you can click on the Unprocessed Tasks link to show the tasks that still need "processing".

If that sounds annoying or time consuming, don't worry, it isn't. Processing new tasks is really easy. You just click the task to open the task editor (see below).

For a task to be processed, you have to enter in a due date and ideally one or more Categories (think Tags) and Projects (a parent task containing multiple child tasks). This takes about 10 seconds, and then you save it. That's it. The way Trog Bar works is largely based on the Due Date you specify. It is smart enough to treat the Due Date as both a target date as well as an indicator of the urgency of the task. So you are free to treat it as a sort of strength indicator if you choose.

Trog Bar task editor

The Task Sense list seems largely based on this "urgency value". In other words, if you set the Due Date for two weeks later, it isn't that "worried" about you actually doing it on that date (though you can, of course). Instead, this is an indicator that the task is probably of medium-ish priority, and it places it in the Task Sense list accordingly. Three weeks out, lower priority. One week out, higher priority. You get the idea.

It is also has some extra configuration options which, if you choose to set them up, make this list more accurate. For example, you can define a category as an "80/20" category, meaning 80% result for 20% effort. In other words, biggest return on investment. Task Sense will rank these higher in your list. You can also set up an additional calendar containing high-level time blocks, like 8-5 M-F is Work, 6-12 is Home, etc. If tasks with a corresponding Work tag are created, Task Sense will weight them higher between 8 and 5, and Home tasks between 6 and 12. The point being that it builds up the Task Sense list in a fairly intelligent way.

Anyway, I've been using it for a few weeks now and I really like it. First, it is a handy, souped-up version of the Outlook To-Do bar. Second, it is a rapid task entry and organization tool. And third, it does a pretty good job of predicting and showing you relevant tasks at the right time.

The full version costs $35, and there is a free 30 day trial version available. To be clear, I'm not getting a free copy or anything, and am not affiliated in any way with the folks who make it. I just found it useful enough that it seemed worth a blog entry. ;-)

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66% Performance Improvement for Almost Any Desktop System for $279

I was recently contemplating the purchase of a new workstation, since my current system is about two years old. After some research, I ended up choosing NOT to buy a new system just yet, for a few reasons. Read on for an explanation of why, and how a small upgrade kicked up my system performance by two-thirds.

The main reason for the purchase delay has to do with SATA-III. While this new disk connection standard supports up to 6 Gb/sec transfer, and SATA-II is 3 Gb/sec, the reality is that right now the 6 Gb/sec speed is unusable in real life. No traditional hard drive comes close to saturating the SATA-II bandwidth, and they will NEVER get into SATA-III transfer speed due to the physical limitation of the spinning platters. And even the new solid state drives (SSDs) barely fill up the 3 Gb/sec pipe, and come nowhere close to 6 Gb/sec. So spending a bunch of money on a SATA-III motherboard and SATA-III drives is pointless right now.

Over the next 6 months or so, this will change. New SSDs will come out that have faster transfer, and more space, for decreasing price. But until an SSD comes out that actually uses the new bandwidth limit, SATA-III is little more than a marketing gimmick. Once they finally get to the SATA-III speed then I will reconsider.

In the meantime, what I did instead was drop about $279 on a new 600 Gb Western Digital Velociraptor drive. These spin at 10,000 RPM, compared to the normal 7,200 RPM, and this is the fastest non-SSD hard drive on the market. They are roughly 66% faster than a normal drive, basically approaching standard drives in RAID-0. Also, at 600 Gb in size, it can hold my existing system partition (which is about 400 Gb). It came with a program called Arconis TrueImage, so I used it to clone my existing 1 Tb system drive onto the 600 Gb Velociraptor, then pull out the old system drive and put the new drive in its place. Windows 7 boots from the new drive without knowing the difference. The cloning process took about an hour and worked perfectly. So I'm now running off of the 600 Gb drive.

Speed-wise, it's a big difference. I did a few real-world tests:

  • I timed the system boot time from POST until the desktop was fully loaded. By fully loaded I don't just mean seeing the desktop, but having ALL desktop widgets loaded, ALL system tray icons loaded, and until the CPU activity drops back to idle usage. It went from 180 seconds before to 110 seconds after. Result: 63% improvement.
  • I timed launching and building large Eclipse workspace. It went from 56 seconds before to 35 seconds after, a 60% improvement.

So basically, for $279 I've boosted my system speed by nearly two-thirds. That's pretty crazy, considering that swapping the CPU for a faster i7 or going from 1333 to 1600 RAM would probably only generate a 5% or 10% increase, and would cost way more than $279.

The surprising lesson is apparently: do NOT underestimate the impact that a really fast hard drive will have! This should be a nice boost to carry me forward until the SSDs get faster, bigger and cheaper.

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