Rainy days and Java always get me down


I've Moved My Blog

It's currently located at http://www.urlinone.com/blog

I should say "I'm moving my blog." It's a pretty painful process.

Pebble has blown up on me, and it's been many months since I've been able to blog reliably. I've lost posts. And now I've got to figure out how to migrate my past blog posts from Pebble to my new destination without all the URLs changing, lest external links become 404 Not Founds.

Why does everything in the 21st century have to be a three-day project???

So, I'm in the middle of documenting one gripe when another one arises! Sheesh, what a day!

Have you ever had a pop-up window open in Firefox that lacks certain UI features like a menu bar, tool bar, tabs, etc.? Pebble pops up such a window when you want to create a blog entry.

Well, when a second program pops up a new tabbed window into that undecorated window, you've got problems. I was creating my previous blog entry, went to look up a word ("unusability") in the Google Desktop Search toolbar, and it popped the search results into a new tab in the same tabless window where my blog entry sat half-written. So, there I was, staring at the Google results when I wanted to get back to my blog entry. I had no controls to change tabs. No menu. Nothing helpful on the right-click menu, either! No gadgets, no widgets, no what-zits.

Must I once again use the questionable word, unusability? Must I again invoke Jakob Nielsen? Must I again profess my disdain for all things software? Must I remind you of the reasons for the name of my blog?

When you're faced with a window showing you no controls, and you know your work is hidden back there somewhere, and you don't know that any of the myriad possible keystrokes is going to help you, well, there's reason to be cranky.

After a lot of frantic keyboard pounding, I stumbled on the magic key sequence. You can switch "tabs" with a Ctrl-PgUp or Ctrl-PgDn, even if they're hidden.

The good news is that I didn't lose my work. (You're all just freakin' lucky, that's all I can say.) And, yes, switching tab windows with Ctrl-PageUp and Ctrl-PageDown is kind of handy, even when the tabs are visible. But, does it have to be so painful?

Why must software hurt? *sniff sniff*

For several months, I have been too swamped to blog for reasons I won't go into now, but I am irritated enough by what just happened that I am making the time to vent.

How many times have you been doing something on a web site that takes a while (or you get side-tracked), you finally go to submit, and you are greeted with the login page. Your server-side session has expired, and your work is gone. If you are lucky, depending on how the site is implemented, you can click Back and recover your completed form. If you are really lucky, you can complete the login, and the site will have maintained your form data and submitted it. If you are really unlucky, your work is simply gone, never to be seen again. Your choice is to recreate it from scratch or just say screw it, which is what I've just done. I'm writing this, instead.

It's enough to make you not want to do meaningful work in a browser. In fact, when I have lengthy text fields to write (like this), I typically do it in a text editor. But what are you supposed to do when it involves all kinds of form controls, such as checkboxes, drop-downs, radio buttons, or text fields? You are at the mercy of the server session to keep your session alive until you click submit. You can't really preserve that in a text editor, without a whole lot of effort.

I can't claim to follow Jakob Nielsen's work, but losing your work because of a session timeout is the ultimate in unusability (if there is such a word).

Either the browser needs to be made smart enough to preserve previous inputs to compensate for this case (perhaps a Firefox extension would do the trick here), or server-side code has to be a little more forgiving of form submissions from expired sessions. This is the kind of awful user experience that makes people, myself included, hate computers.

BTW, Simon, nice job on Pebble. I can write with impunity in the blog entry form, because, even if my session expires, Pebble lets me log in again and submit my blog entry at the same time. That's the way it ought to work...

... which brings me to the other half of my gripe. You never know how a web site works (or doesn't) until it's too late. Maybe there should be some kind of operational policy file you can query that tells you how long a session lasts, what happens to form submissions when a session expires, and so on. At least then you know what you're dealing with.

Even though Pebble works, I'm still doing a Select All, Copy All before clicking Post. One bitten, twice shy.