The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches and paperclips

From
"Smirk" <{{charles@pickint.net}}>
To
spc@{{pick.net}} (email @ work)
Subject
ip address stuff
Date
Wed, 14 Mar 2007 16:41:49 -0400 (EDT)

Hi Sean,

I like the IP address layout you are using. Could you add some features?

The check box column should have one checkbox in the column header that would toggle all other checkboxes on or off.

-S

I spent the day working on what I thought would be something quick.

The first order of business was to get the webpage (mentioned above by Smirk) to send the information it had back to the server. And that's when I started running into some real issues (and let me just state for the record that so far I'm not a fan of JavaScript). Issues with tool use (specifically, software tools) and user expectations.

The IP files I edit look something like this:

192.168.1.0	00:00:00:00:00:00	Obnoxico & Co. network
192.168.1.1	DE:CA:FE:BA:D0:01	managed switch
192.168.1.2		|		their stuff ... 
192.168.1.3		|
192.168.1.4		|
192.168.1.5		|
192.168.1.6		|
192.168.1.7	FF:FF:FF:FF:FF:FF	Obnoxico & Co broadcast

Nice and easy to read. Vertical columns nicely arranged. But each column isn't nicely delineated in the actual “text.” Here, let me do a “reveal codes” and I'll show you:

192.168.1.0→00:00:00:00:00:00→Obnoxico & Co. network↵
192.168.1.1→DE:CA:FE:BA:D0:01→managed switch↵
192.168.1.2→→|→→their stuff ... ↵
192.168.1.3→→|↵
192.168.1.4→→|↵
192.168.1.5→→|↵
192.168.1.6→→|↵
192.168.1.7→FF:FF:FF:FF:FF:FF→Obnoxico & Co broadcast↵

The right arrows (→) represent the HT character, and the crooked arrow (↵) represents the end of line marker (under Unix, this is a single character LF whereas under Windows, this would be the two character sequence CR LF). And by using HT as a field separator, my columns don't line up logically (although visually, in my text editor, they do).

And that's an issue.

A hard issue.

Oh sure, most people can probably deal with a file that looks like:

192.168.1.0	00:00:00:00:00:00	Obnoxico & Co. network
192.168.1.1	DE:CA:FE:BA:D0:01	managed switch
192.168.1.2	|	their stuff ... 
192.168.1.3	|
192.168.1.4	|
192.168.1.5	|
192.168.1.6	|
192.168.1.7	FF:FF:FF:FF:FF:FF	Obnoxico & Co broadcast

But I can't. It would drive me up a wall. The solution would be to read in each line, expand the tabs to spaces, then pull out each field according to which character columns they're in. That would solve that problem, but it still leaves some other issues.

The last three features Smirk requested I woudn't say are necessarily hard to implement, but getting the user interface right is. Or at least, a user interface I would like (and that would be a minimum number of mouse clicks, because lord knows I don't want to have to check 32, 64 or even 128 individual check boxes to unassign a block of addresses—then again, I'd probably never use the web interface at all so that point might be moot). But what Smirk is asking for is an interface closer to how he works, which mimics a spread sheet (which I touched upon the other day).

And there's still the issue of just how much Smirk or P will update the IP list. My updating the lists hasn't been that much of an issue, and the only reason it's an issue now is the lack of updates to The Company Twiki. (what good is a knowledge base if no one bothers to update the knowledge?) And if the number of times it actually comes up that Smirk has to update the IP list is small, then perhaps writing this piece of software isn't really worth the effort (which is where I'm leaning).

On the other hand, this issue is deeper than just updating a list of IP addresses—at the core, it's a collaboration issue (even if right now it's just between Smirk, P and I) and the fact that Smirk uses hammers, I use screwdrivers and P uses a wrench. And all we have are paperclips (hmmm … that certainly came out of left field).

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