Let’s dust this off

About six years ago, I started this blog as a place to leave a breadcrumb trail of things I learned while working with technology. The thought was that I would write a quick post about problems I ran into, with pointers toward whatever solutions or resources I found. Somebody’s got to write/link all those answers we’re always googling for, after all.

Several web/IT jobs later, I’ve probably neglected to document a few hundred small problems that I’ve come across. The web seems to have gotten along without me, but as someone who leans heavily on Stack Overflow and other discussion sites it does feel like I’ve been shirking my civic duty by not recording novel problems I encounter.

Last week, I started the iOS Accelerator at Code Fellows and today they strongly encouraged* us to begin maintaining blogs about what we’re working on. I’m still getting oriented in Swift / Xcode, but it seems safe to assume I will continue to run into UI gotchas and self-inflicted bugs and will have plenty of grist for this mill.

*by “strongly encouraged”, I mean that I’m in class right now and they’ve set aside an hour of time to make everyone set up a blog

Best way to find duplicate files in XP

I’m restoring my music library from a cluster of badly organized backups, and I needed a way to find duplicate mp3 files across several folders. After trying a few freeware options, I was most impressed by Duplicate Cleaner, which scanned quickly and offered many fine-grained selection/deletion options.

Now I’ve just got to re-install iTunes and hope it doesn’t give me any guff.

O’Reilly’s Head First Series: HTML with CSS & XHTML

At first I dismissed the O’Reilly Head First series – it looked like one of those condescending high school text books that try too hard to be cool. Compared to other books in their subjects, they don’t cover much ground – 500 pages just on the basics; no thanks. I wanted deep technical explanations and a text that covered the topic all but exhaustively.

I choose a phonebook sized HTML & CSS book from the library and started reading through it. When I got to the good stuff, I went to the computer and tried putting it to use. Only then did I realize how little I actually understood. Sure, I could explain the concept of semantic markup or the idea of CSS property inheritance, I’m pretty good at picking up concepts on the first pass. But application? Not so much.

Once again, in my hubris I had waded into a topic as far as my technical understanding would let me before actually applying anything I’d ‘learned’.

That’s when I realized that the corny book with all the silly pictures might be onto something. Sure, other books have exercises at the end of the chapters, but I almost never do them (they’re boring). When I do work through examples, I often find that my solution was slightly different than the one listed in the appendix (if they bother to include the solutions at all). That always gives me the uneasy feeling that I’m missing some general principal or style guideline, even if my output is correct.

So for me, the Head First format works well. The examples develop over the course of the chapter, in small enough steps that they don’t feel like speed bumps, and although the low density format doesn’t turn on the infovore in me the way other O’Reilly books do, it’s strangely satisfying to tear through a hundred pages in a single sitting. By being forced to actually do everything in the examples in order to follow along, I ended up retaining more.

This book wasn’t nearly a complete overview of basic web design, but it was the perfect entry point for me. From now on, whenever I approach a technical topic, I’m starting with the Head First version if there’s an equivalent available. It seems to be the perfect workaround for my lifelong habit of focusing on concept rather than execution when I’m learning something. That will at least get me across the threshold.