Robert Hahn

inspired by integration

I'm always interested in infrastructure that brings people together and facilitates communication. I'm currently exploring social software, markup & scripting languages, and abstract games.

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noted on Thu, 24 Nov 2005

The End.

As much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t seem to get it together enough to post regularly here. And if you were one of the secret members of my audience who were still following me, I’d like to thank you for checking in on this site every now and then.

But this is not the end of my blogging. I’ve started up a new blog based on typo, which provides me with many features out of the box. I got started using Typo because of this contest, which I’m participating in (wish me luck), and I guess the work I’ve been putting into my submissions kind of made me a convert to the platform.

So, if you want to keep reading about my thoughts on building and managing web sites, please point your browsers here:

I’m not planning on taking this site down anytime soon, but if I do have to, I’ll move over some of my favourite posts so that you’ll still see the content.

Thank you very much for visiting me here. I hope to see you at the new virtual home soon!

Robert Hahn

noted on Thu, 30 Jun 2005

Rails Day Results

So, as I had mentioned a short while ago, I was aiming to participate in Rails Day. And I did. The results came in late last night. And I didn’t win. You know what? That’s just fine with me.

You see, the version that I last uploaded to the server wasn’t the right version. I have no idea what happened, but the files didn’t properly check into svn, so if the app worked at all (I was too chicken to find out), then it wasn’t what I intended to do.

So what was my project? I called it Ritka: Rails TimeKeeping Application; it was a billing/invoicing application for services businesses. Which, now that I see the results, sounds pretty similar to the first place entry.

It’s my intention to keep working on my project and put it up for people to download and run. I believe that I’ve got some great ideas in there, and with a little work create something that’s useful, painless, and eliminates almost all the drudgery from tracking your time to sending out the invoices.

Looking back on the experience, I have to say I learned a few things. Ajax was one of them. Yes, I taught myself how to use Ajax during the competition. That was probably a productivity-killing move. I also should have blocked off more time before the contest to carefully plan out the application, with ‘outs’ in case I was running out of time. Finally, I should have designed a project that would take 20 hours to build — that way, if I crashed hard (which I did), I wouldn’t feel so bad about packing it all in.

Anyway, I had a ton of fun, and learned some valuable lessons in the process. Thanks so much to the Rails Day team for taking the time to organize the competition!

New Keyboard Fun

So, a week or two ago, I ordered a Kinesis Advantage USB keyboard because, after a little research, found that it was the best there is for reducing arm and hand strain. This action was precipitated by what I think was an RSI-related attack.

I’m still not quite up to speeed on it, but I think most of that has to do with the fact that I’m not doing the exercises daily. There’s a lot of exercises to do, but I can certainly see the value in doing them.

Because I haven’t been doing my exercises, I have no muscle memory for the placement of the arrow keys. Since, when editing text, I often use keyboard shortcuts to move around by word, or to jump to the beginning or end of a line, this was a serious productivity hit. Fortunately, I was able to come up with a solution that I think was pretty clever.

One of the neat things about this keyboard is that you can program macros into it. I can program almost any key, or key chord to type one or more characters on the screen. I put this feature to good use. vi(m) fans might be tickled by this. I mapped the hjkl keys to the basic cursor keys. Shift-hjkl will select the text as you cursor around. The w and b keys are for advancing forward a word or going back by a word. The d key deletes a line. a and z take you to the beginning and end of a line, while A and Z select from the cursor position to the beginning and end of a line. So: not exactly vi-like, but the mnemonics are easy enough, and it works well with all GUI apps. There is one minor drawback however, and if anyone has an answer to this, feel free to contact me. In vi, you normally have to shift between normal mode and command mode with the escape key. On this keyboard, I have to hit Program-F10 to toggle macro mode on or off. This isn’t a big deal, since my productivity got a huge boost, but taking a moment to find those keys do incur a bit of a cost.

So: a hearty recommendation to vi-lovin’, Advantage-using people - use your vi muscle memory on all your apps by spending a bit of time setting up macros for your keyboard. You can thank me later when you do.

noted on Thu, 05 May 2005

The Case of the Missing Articles: Closed!

Now that I think on it, I’m sure I wrote some articles between May and September last year. For example, I wrote a pair of articles (and published it) on The Great Eye Experiment (1, 2, which detailed my idea about wearing contacts strong enough for reading text off a screen, and wearing glasses for distance work. But they’re not here, and I can’t find them anywhere on my system.

Checks ah-hah! Hey, Nerad! Announcements of my demise are somewhat premature... by about 5 months. But now that you tricked me into writing twice in one day, the clock is officially reset.

I just discovered that I was publishing off a backup, not the original. And I found the original too. That’s why you’re seeing a flurry of articles.

And, to make this post even more random-seeming than ever, I leave you with this observation: I’m the owner of Mac OS X Tiger, and I’ve been typing my posts in TextEdit. Something really interesting is happening here --there’s support for ligatures! Check it out: look at the characters fl and fi.

Checks some more... ah. That ligatures thing? Only on Tiger. If you don’t have it, you can’t see it. It seems that OS X 10.4 automatically replaces fl and fi with their ligature equivalent. That is still very cool, and extra points to setting it up to downgrade nicely (although I’m sure they never took this into consideration as a use case when implementing it).

One year?? Already???

That Nerad... holding me accountable for not writing! That does it! I’m just going to have to bring you up to speed on my doings.

One year?? Boy the time went fast. Before I tell you what happened, let me first apologize for not writing. Will I write more often? Probably. But it might not be here. So let me explain.

I thought I wrote about this, but I can’t find it anywhere. Strange. Let’s see. Almost a year ago, I lost my job working for an incredible communications company. I chose to view this as an opportunity to start up my own business building web applications and HTML templates. It’s been a very good year so far, but the hours are very, very long.

Along the way, I learned about Ruby on Rails, then learned it. I’ve recently finished my first Rails-based website, and as of this time, it hasn’t yet launched, but it will soon. While I haven’t (yet) seen the wild productivity enhancements other people claim (like 10x shorter development time), it is fast, and I can already see that I’m doing the work of 3 people. The biggest hurdle for me was the ramp-up time. I didn’t get the right ah-hah moment when building with this until about 1/2 way through my client’s web site, at which point things clicked, and I was whipping through the features at an incredible rate.

The biggest problem with this project is the documentation — there’s too much of it, and it’s written for people who already know what they need to look for. This situation is gradually changing, and it seems that the easiest way to ramp up on Rails is to do 2-3 tutorials that are offered.

So, on the horizon, there’s a Rails day contest coming up, and I’m looking to enter it. There seems to be lots of prizes being offered, and that’s really cool. But I’m not in it for the prizes. I just want to have fun and see what kind of rabbit I can pull out of my hat. Maybe the idea I’ve got for my application would be different enough to attract notice. I sure hope so.

Now, I mentioned earlier that I might not write much more on this blog. Please emphasize the word might. I really don’t know what I want to do yet, but I was thinking that it would be nice to host my blog at Yes, that’s my business site. That will mean that I’ll have to think carefully about what I write. Maybe. Maybe I’ll just set up a site and continue to write like I always have. Did I mention I don’t know what I want to do yet?

I do know one thing. Building a business is hard work, and does an excellent job of taking focus away from writing. I fully expect that over the next year, things will settle down a bit, and I can extend my focus back to writing. I just don’t know when.

noted on Wed, 22 Sep 2004

"Intellectual Heritage"

Tim muses briefly on how he thinks about the data on his computer. If there’s ever a time and a place to have this kind of thinking widely deployed, it is now. So I make a lazyweb request: If you’re a designer, I’d like to see a t-shirt that has something like this: On one side, we have a 2 column chart. The headings for the columns will be “You:” and “Me:”. Under the “You:” heading is the phrase “data”, or “office documents”. Under the “Me:” heading is “Intellectual heritage”. On the back, I want it to say something like “You created it. Why should the software you use own it?”

Gah, there’s a reason why I’m not in marketing. Look, if you need a clue, here’s a good one. You create something using commercial software, which you don’t own, but is licensed to you by the vendor. Odds are pretty good that the software you use isn’t the best at doing anything you might need it to be good at. Maybe you love a certain word processor’s UI, but hate the way they make you build tables in the document. If you saved your document using that software’s proprietary file format, you will have to use the crappy table layout feature. On the other hand, if you could save it in an open, publically documented and standardised format, then you can shop around for any other program that just might do tables better than the first program, and use it just for your tables. You get to do whatever you want with your creation. If that’s not freedom, I don’t know what is.

One not-very-related thought that Tim’s musings brings to mind is that this is so important, that for almost none of us to have gotten the point right away must imply that our mandatory history classes have failed to teach us some important lessons. Lessons about racial memory. Lessons about how much we can’t learn because information was truly, permanently lost to us.

noted on Tue, 21 Sep 2004

The Great Eye Experiment, Part 2

Today is the day I type my first blog entry without wearing any glasses. Yep, I have my contacts, and already I see I’m in for an interesting ride. After the contacts went in for the first time, and settled down, I immediately noticed that my right and left lenses have considerably different strengths. My left lens is about where it should be, but my right was a tad weaker, meaning my focal point is about a foot or two further away. I’m not sure whether this is a problem or not, because I normally read with the left eye anyway. Also, this set up gave me a bit of a secret power: if I have a meeting with someone, they’ll tend to be exactly where my right eye can focus best. Also, the right eye proved just strong enough for it to be legally ‘safe’ for me to drive to work without needing corrective glasses. Which is not to say, of course, that I don’t need them. I most assuredly do, and the glasses will be arriving roughly about a week from now.

But I’m not quite sure if I’m going to like it. See, during the day, my eyes became quite strained while I was looking at the monitor. Upon relating that to my wife, she wondered if I hadn’t been set a wearing schedule to help my eyes acclimatize. I hadn’t be given one, and the subject wasn’t even brought up. I will probably wear them for part of the day tomorrow to help my eyes a bit, so the current theory is that this is too great a change for my eyes to just take it in stride. If the strain persists after a couple of days, I’ll probably put a call in to discuss it, but for now I’m choosing to believe that this is just an adjustment period, and that I’ll get used to it.

Clearly, though, I’m taking a bit of a chance — if I need to correct my contacts, then my glasses will become less effective. So I’m hoping I won’t have to.

Stay tuned for more updates.

noted on Mon, 13 Sep 2004

The Great Eye Experiment

When I was very little, my mom noticed that there seemed to be a shimmer in my pupils. She pointed this out a couple of times to the doctor, but he dismissed it, until finally, probably to placate my mother, he scheduled an eye exam for me. It turned out that not one, but both of the lenses in my eyes were dislocated. Although I don’t remember for certain, I remember that it was speculated that I was seeing triple of everything through these dislocated lenses.

I underwent surgery — I think it was around preschool or kindergarten, I don’t precisely recall — to have a corrective procedure done where they used a laser to grind out the lenses into dust. I don’t recall what the procedure was called; email me if you have a notion. When the bandages came off, I thought they broke my eyes, because I didn’t know then how it was supposed to be. With no lenses, I had no focal point — it was surmised that my focal point was very far away, because I had to have convex shaped lenses on my glasses in order to see clearly.

When I was about eleven or twelve, my mother took me to the doctor to see if it might be possible for me to wear contact lenses. It turned out that this was just able to be possible, although the lenses, which are rigid gas permeable (RGP’s) were so heavy that they kept sliding down whenever I blinked. But I was able to see for the first time without glasses, and I was pretty excited about that. I still had to wear a set of reading glasses if I ever wanted to focus on things up close, because, without natural lenses, I couldn’t focus on anything really close to me at all.

Since that time, life has been good. Whenever I needed a new set of contacts, we’d try to see how close to 20/20 I could get (and as technology improved, so did my ability to see). My reading glasses changed a bit too, from bifocals to progressives, as I began to spend more and more time in front of a computer, and needed support for that intermediate distance.

Three weeks ago, I went in for an optometry appointment at the University of Waterloo, where I learned that my eyes were in really great shape, and that my prescription hadn’t changed since I was 14 or 15. That was more than half a lifetime ago, so I’m feeling pretty good about that. I schedule a contact lens appointment, because I’ve been wearing the pair I’ve got now for at least 7 years (and they’re doing just fine for all that too, thank you very much) and would like to see them replaced.

That appointment happened a little over a week ago, and now I’m ready to tell you my story. This is just one of those stories that needed lots of context before it made sense.

During the appointment, I had to go through this process where I had to wear a set of lenses that was so powerful that my focal point was about 6" from my face. This is done as a way of having a known baseline against which they ‘correct’ until I achieve the best possible vision. But these contacts — if you who aren’t nearsighted, you will probably never understand how exhilarated I felt about wearing them. I was seeing, with my entire field of vision, and without glasses, Really Small Things. i was seeing things like the fine details in my watch, or the hairs on my arm, with a crispness I never dreamed possible. And so an idea was formed. I mentioned it briefly to my optometrist, who said that this has been done before, but I didn’t go through with it yet. The problem was that my insurance only covered enough for either 1 pair of contacts or 1 pair of glasses, and with this idea of mine, I’d need a new set of glasses and contacts at the same time.

So what’s the idea? I realized that I spend well over half my waking hours in front of a computer, looking through a very tiny part of my glasses (owing to the fact that they’re progressives) at the screen. That can’t be good for me. So, I figured, why not get extra powerful contacts that are optimized for the distance to a computer screen, then add on a pair of glasses that decreased the power a bit for 20/20 vision? I talked this over with my wife that night. She’s as excited about the idea as I was, but we’re both frustrated because we really couldn’t afford to cover what the insurance couldn’t cover. I was so excited about the idea I wanted to tell my parents, so I called them up to see what they thought. Also, since my mom has a much better sense of my eye health than I, it was good to have her input. Turns out they thought it was a good idea too.

In fact, they thought it was such a good idea that they wanted to pay for anything my insurance wouldn’t cover! So, mom, dad, if you’re reading this, I want you to know that I’m telling the world that I think the world of you, and that you are the Coolest Parents Ever! Thank you so very much for this gift.

Ok, back to the story. I cancelled my contact lens order the next morning, and scheduled a new appointment to try out this idea of mine. They were ok with it, and an appointment was made for today.

After going over the idea with my optometrist, who was in her last year of undergrad studies, she seemed a bit uncertain about this, and consulted her supervisor/teacher. He came in, reviewed what I wanted, and seemed to think that this was a really great idea for precisely the reasons I outlined above. So we went ahead and tested to see what sort of power I would need to see a computer screen without glasses.

I’ll be getting my lenses next Tuesday. That is when my Great Eye Experiment will begin. Here’s the hypothesis:

If you’re currently wearing contacts to bring your eyes to 20/20 (ish), and you need reading glasses to wear over top of those contacts, and if you’re the sort of person who spends most of the day in front of a computer, consider getting contacts designed to enable reading a screen without needing glasses, then order a set of glasses that adjust the contact lens power to 20/20, with possibly a smaller area for reading stuff up close. What I’m testing is that reading the screen with these special contacts would be a superior enough experience (in terms of increasing clarity and reducing eyestrain) that wearing glasses for the distance viewing becomes worth the price.

I will keep you posted on this experiment. My glasses can’t be ordered until after I get the new contacts in, so it will be two weeks from now, likely, before I can share with you the whole experience. I’m hoping though that if you have eye problems similar to mine, then maybe this account would be useful to you.

I'm On a Blogroll!

Extra cool. I would just like to say I’m tickled pink over the fact that I’m on a blogroll. Please go visit Douglas Nerad’s site and have a lookabout. I must say that on the basis of the book he’s currently got listed in the ‘read more’ section, he also has excellent taste in literature. The book, which I shall mention here for posterity’s sake, is Orson Scott Card’s Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing)

noted on Thu, 02 Sep 2004

What I want in a PDA

Slashdot gives us an opportunity to tell the world what we want in a PDA. Here’s my list:

IMHO, a PDA should be treated like a thin client. With something like this, I’d never need to upgrade to the latest and greatest. If I need more memory, I buy a new CF card. If I want to run new software, I get it installed on the ssh server. I might have to update ssh and the ebook reader periodically, though.

Consider: the screen’s good. The keyboard lets me input stuff far more easily than any of the pen-based methods, and actually, I wonder if the fitaly layout would prove to be a better fit for thumb computing than a qwerty keyboard. Running ssh would allow me to run any program I’d care to run, provided I have a server to log into. If I’m not connected, I have books to read still, and I don’t mind doing a nightly charge to get all that.

tall ship