Podcast interviews tell a bigger story than most blogs

I just received my first iPod from Amazon the other day and have been playing with it a little here and there. Having music to go is great but I’m really enjoying listening to podcasts! Just as blogs have become a more important source for technology news in my life than mainstream media, I can see podcasts having a similar effect on how I keep abreast of technology but at a higher level.

Blogs typically have posts with a very focused subject matter so you usually get insight into a piece of technology such as ActiveRecord or Hibernate. Podcast interviews on the other hand often give you the big picture of how the various technology pieces and practices intersect. For example I love hearing about how company X rewrote their site using technology Y, the challenges they faced with scalability, how they handled deployment, what they used for continuous integration, how long the release cycles were, how involved the customer was, etc… Geoffrey Grosenbach is especially skilled at touching on almost all of these aspects when interviewing folks in his Ruby on Rails Podcast.

There are 2 podcasts that really stand out in my mind that I’ve enjoyed going through the archives of so far. They are the Java Posse and the aforementioned Ruby on Rails Podcast.

What other really good technology focused podcasts are “must listen”?

Posted in Software Engineering, Web | 6 Comments

Well formed validation of XHTML pages

Validating XHTML pages is an interesting subject because no high traffic site I’ve ever tried it on actually successfully validates XHTML against a W3C validator. Most folks I know take it for granted that it’s unrealistic to write large sites with 100% W3C validating XHTML. However, that presents a real problem on the software engineering side where we want to be able to rely on our development environment or continuous integration to tell us whether everything is truly working and valid! Continue reading

Posted in Java, Software Engineering, Web | 1 Comment

More powerful database constraints with regular expressions

Is it just me or do you agree that we should be able to easily apply regular expression constraints to a column in a table without writing a stored procedure? For example if I want to guarantee that a varchar only contains alpha numeric characters with no spaces in most databases I currently have to write a stored procedure and use a trigger to call it on insert and update. Too much work for something that should be so simple!

Postgres is one of the few databases I’m aware of that currently solves the problem. You can see an example at Joseph Scott’s Blog of using a regex in a check constraint.

Sure, with Active Record in Ruby I can easily do this in code or in Java using the Hibernate validator but it’s a different story when you’ve got a database with multiple legacy applications and data loading systems running against it. In those cases the database if the final line of defense!

This is just a rant but I’m shocked that this situation hasn’t markedly improved over the past 10 years!

Posted in Database, Software Engineering, Systems Administration | Leave a comment

Behind Closed Doors

A great book I read recently from the Pragmatic Programmers is Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is either a manager or executive or aspiring to some form of a team leadership role! It lays out the day to day with a very realistic technical leadership role in an example company. It also shows how to apply some XP style planning to the prioritization and release planning process with a medium sized team.

My only complaint with the book is one sentence where they recommend feature boxed over time boxed releases which I generally disagree with.

Posted in Agile Development, Management | Leave a comment

Apple’s PR genius

I don’t know what kind of koolaid Apple puts in their PR but it’s working on me! When they announced the Intel MacBook Pro it took all my will power not to drop 3 G’s on a pre-order the minute the Apple store reopened! That’s when the genius of their slick products combined with great PR strategy really sunk in because they had me (along with other bloggers such as Matt, David, and about 100 other folks) hook line and sinker! Continue reading

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The time has come to upgrade to MySQL 5

We’ve finally hit the point at work where we’re ready to upgrade from MySQL 4.0 to 5. Data integrity has been a problem since I started at this job. Part of the reason is that MySQL 4.0 has an odd (to put it lightly) interpretation of not null and we still have a fair amount of legacy Perl code running the administrative portion of the site that lets bad data through. The lack of subselects for ad-hoc querying, aggregation functions, stored procedures, and triggers has also grown more irritating knowing that MySQL 5 has those features. Continue reading

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SMART objectives in moderation please

As a technology manager a big part of what I do is trying to help people do their jobs well. That includes removing obstacles, being an advocate when there is a problem, making sure the team is operating efficiently, ensuring people can usually work a normal day without overtime, and overall making sure they are happy and enthusiastic in their job.

Part of that process involves doing performance reviews to check-in a few times a year, get feedback from their colleagues, give raises Continue reading

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SEO Toolbox

At work when we design a new page that we hope to drive people to via search engines we often consult with our search engine consultant to ensure we’ve thought through the page design and that the HTML is up to snuff (e.g. proper use of the title, h1, h2, etc… tags). We’ve also seen dramatic increases to older pages when we’ve gone through a round of search optimization on the page so I’m convinced that SEO work is time well spent.

A coworker recently sent me a link to the free SEO Analyzer tool which looks like it might be helpful in the process. I don’t think it will ever replace our SEO consultant but it’s good to have tools like this in the arsenal. The other tools we use regularly are the Google Adwords Selector tool and the Overture Keyword Selector tool for helping us get the most effective wording to convey the content of the page.

If you’re interested in learning more about SEO or are curious which blogs you should be reading I’d recommend starting with this post on Matt Cutts excellent blog as he lists some great resources!

Posted in Search Engine Optimization, Web | Leave a comment

Google Analytics, if you’re not using it you should be

I’ve been using Google Analytics for about a month to track 4 of my sites (and more recently this one as well) and I am impressed! The key (in my mind) to Google Analytics and other high end commerical solutions like Fireclick and Omniture is that they use client side Javascript based tracking which is far less prone to crawler inflation and provides more information (e.g. flash version, screen resolution, color depth, etc..) than log based solutions.

Sure, you lose the 1-2% of users that have Javascript disabled but that’s a lot more accurate than the 15-30% overcounts I’ve seen in many log based solutions. If you’ve ever used AWStats on a high traffic site you’ve likely observed the gross overcounting that occurs from crawlers when AWStats doesn’t know about, spam bots,
etc…

In summary Google Analytics offers a lot of the features of the high end commerical solutions such as site overlay (temporarily disabled), funnel analysis, conversion or goal tracking, cookie based returning and unique visitor stats, detailed client stats, etc… and best of all it’s free. If you’ve got a personal website or are a small to medium sized company you’d be crazy not to at least try it!

That said, there are a few features I would like to see in Google Analytics:
1. Google Analytics desktop dashboard that gives me a quick overview of each of my sites at a glance so I wouldn’t have to login each time.

2. Live traffic data. I haven’t found a way to get up to the minute page view counts which is critical for identifying massive traffic spikes when they happen instead of the next day.

3. Similar to 1 but an aggregate report on the web version that gives me an overview of each of my sites next to each other. As it is I have to drill down into each site to get even basic overview info.

4. The one big feature I would like to see would be on the fly drag and drop pathway analysis like Fireclick and Omniture both offer.

Posted in Search Engine Optimization, Systems Administration, Web | 4 Comments

Blogging software

In moving from my old blog at JRoller to one on my domain I had to choose which blogging engine to use. After evaluating a number of systems such as Movable Type, Typo, Blogger with sftp, etc… I ended up with WordPress. My main requirements for blog software were: Continue reading

Posted in Systems Administration, Web | 9 Comments