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 Posted by at 5:43 PM
Mar 302007

Folks seem to be getting good value out of today’s developer day. There are a few pockets of people working, or chatting amongst themselves, but the breakout session group in the center of the room is sizeable (although the size varies from session to session, of course).

We voted, so to speak, on what sessions to have, and decided upon Community, Security, Build, 3D, and FUEL. The Build session is ongoing right now. The last two are the ones that interest me most, personally.

The accommodations and setup have been quite nice here. It’s a good spot to do an event of this type.

I’ve dashed off another email to try to get some more progress made toward figuring out why the breadcrumb extension I’m working on adapting to our needs doesn’t appear to run. Hopefully I’ll hear back soon.

 Posted by at 5:41 PM
Mar 302007

I joined Shaver, Finkle, David Humphrey, and others for breakfast this morning, and now I’m hanging out waiting for the scheduled events to begin this morning. I’m admittedly more looking forward to the more fluid afternoon breakout sessions, but I expect I’ll get something interesting out of the whole day.

There doesn’t appear to be anywhere to obtain caffeine in the cold bubbly form I prefer. I’m a little concerned about this. It’s a good thing I drank a good bit of it at breakfast, but I do worry about the course of the day sans caffeine.

Between Shaver and Finkle, this thing looks like it’s been set up to run like a well-oiled machine. They’ve both been wandering around making sure things are all rigged up properly.

I’ve staked out my traditional back row spot; I like the back for the following reasons:

  • I can judge how others are enjoying the event by watching reactions.
  • I’m tall, and the tables at these events are always too close together, so I typically knock things over trying to stand up if I’m not in the back.
  • I tend to get up to stretch, or to visit the bathroom, more often than the average person, so why have to wander in front of people all the time?
  • I have a voice that carries, so I don’t need to be up close to ask the presenter a question (or, more frequently, to give them a hard time).

They have tons of cool “don’t hurt the web” posters here. I need to get one or two and a tube to take them safely home in. One of those would go nicely in my office along with my iMac “Yum” poster.

On the MDC front, I continue to await replies to certain queries sent along to the developers at wikitravel. I’ll ping them again if I haven’t heard from them by the time I get home from this trip.

 Posted by at 11:12 AM
Mar 222007

So I got asked yesterday if I’d do the release notes for the impending alpha 3 release of Gecko 1.9. Now, I’m a helpful sort of guy, so I said “yes” even though my memories of doing release notes aren’t pleasant ones (at Be, it took me a week of poring over the bug database to pull together a set of release notes for one OS update).

It’s obviously not nearly has hard when you’re dealing with a relatively monolithic object like Gecko as opposed to the more intricate creation that is an entire operating system along with all its supporting applications. So this hasn’t proved to be so bad.

Still, it’s not exactly my cup of tea either. It’s one of those things people tend to want technical writers to do that I think writers think — or at least, I think ;) — isn’t necessarily the best use of their time.

I suppose it’s something of an edge case. Yeah, it’s writing… I’m just… not sure how technical it is. I’ve always considered release notes to be more of a marketing issue. Sort of a set of bullet points to tell people why they should or should not choose to install a particular update.

For me it tends to turn into an internal debate as to just how much detail is needed. My inherent tendency is to want to document everything quite explicitly, and that’s not really what release notes are for.

Release notes are also a lot easier to do when a project is finished than at some point in the middle. Especially for a writer. You see, as a writer, at present I have only the vaguest idea of where the project stands at this very moment. I don’t really care. My interest lies in where the project’s going to be on the day the documentation needs to be completed. That’s a relatively immobile target to shoot for as a writer (although there are exception cases, where features are pulled or added at the last minute). Right now, I can tell you a fairly decent sketch of what documents will be needed for Firefox 3 and Gecko 1.9.

Conversely, a milestone release, such as the impending Gecko 1.9 Alpha 3, is a very fluid target. As a writer, that makes my life difficult, so I typically prefer to ignore it. While it’s interesting to engineers and testers that Alpha 3 includes support for APNG or includes the new XPCOM cycle collector, from my perspective as a writer that’s only marginally relevant. While it can help me prioritize writing work, it’s not going to absolutely dictate what I do, so it’s not something I generally track closely.

What matters, to me, is ensuring that by the ship date of Firefox 3, everything that needs to be documented is written up as clearly as possible. Documentation doesn’t get written milestone-by-milestone; it gets written with that end goal in mind.

That’s a long-winded way of saying that as a technical writer, having to switch gears and do release notes can be tricky, since I’m having to refocus from the big picture onto a milestone that previously was of relatively low interest.

Of course, someone has to do them, and I’m a helpful sort of guy who likes to be a people-pleaser, so when asked, I take it on, and will do it again if it comes up. I thought I’d share my thought process about my feelings on writing release notes, so there they are.

 Posted by at 4:59 PM
Mar 202007

The last few days, working on MDC infrastructure stuff instead of primarily documentation writing and editing, has been a nice change of pace. I love to write, but I do also enjoy coding and other nitty-gritty work, so it’s fun to shift gears and work on this backend stuff for a while.

The RDF and RAP stuff needed for the breadcrumb system we’re looking at implementing is all set up now, but after further research, it turns out WikiTravel does in fact have a MediaWiki extension that turns the RDF into the actual breadcrumbs. Which makes sense, in retrospect. I’m in communication with the guys there and should have a copy of the extension soon. Hopefully we can all work together on maintaining and improving it going forward.

I put together the templates for tagging articles and items as being specific to particular versions of JavaScript, which will come in handy for some upcoming work on the JavaScript documentation. Also, I’ve identified the CSS changes that need to be made to the skin to deal with some changes in MediaWiki 1.9.3 that cause minor but slightly annoying quirks in the appearance of our documentation. I’ve got a request in to get edit access to the appropriate files so I can make the needed changes.

I’m also talking to sancus about getting nutch re-applied to the upgraded MDC, and about getting some bugs fixed there.

All in all, things are moving along nicely!

 Posted by at 5:11 PM
Mar 172007

I’ve put together the first two nifty new templates that will let us do some whiz-bang stuff in our documentation once we make our upgraded MDC site live.

These are fx_minversion_header and fx_minversion_inline. They insert noticeable banners or badges that indicate that a feature requires a specific version of Firefox or later. The cool part is that they automatically detect the presence of an article named “Firefox X for developers”, where “X” is the minimum version specified when using the template, and if a page by that name exists, a link is created so you can quickly get to that page from the badge.

There will be a number of great new templates taking advantage of the new ability to use conditionals in the templates soon; these two, however, will be exceptionally useful, especially as we work toward unifying some of our documentation.

There will be similar templates for JavaScript and Gecko as well, so that, for example, we can create one JavaScript reference, with features tagged as appropriate based on which version of JavaScript they were introduced in, so that people don’t have to read four or more references to find the information they want. Right now, we have a core JavaScript reference, that covers JavaScript 1.5, then you have to look at “new in” articles for the features that changed or were added in later versions of the language.

I’m hoping to get the RDF stuff up and running early in the week so I can start working on the new breadcrumb system.

So far there haven’t been any problems noticed in our staging version of the MDC wiki, although I don’t know yet if anyone else is thumping on it.

 Posted by at 7:29 PM
Mar 162007

So my work on the MDC upgrades has been stymied today by the tummy bug that my daughter has. It’s prevented any real work from getting done, largely through the lack of sleep induced by a sick child. I’ve spent much of today trying to catch up on sleep.

The ParserFunctions and StringFunctions extensions are now up and running on the staging server. The RDF extension is a work in progress, as it requires some PHP stuff to be installed as well.

However, I don’t need the RDF stuff for some of the templates I’m going to be working on, so I’ll probably tackle those this evening or so. However, breadcrumbs work does need the RDF extension, so that’s on hold until that’s all up and running.

On a totally unrelated note, looks like one of the recent WordPress updates slightly broke the theme I use on my blog here; the blogroll stuff has quit working correctly. I’ll see if I can hack up a fix if I can figure out why it’s not working right. While I’m at it I’ll be looking at adjusting some of the things people have pointed out about the commenting form.

This particular theme is no longer being maintained, but I like it too much to go looking for another one, so I’ll see if I can do updates to it on my own henceforth. We’ll see how my patience for that holds up.

 Posted by at 3:59 PM
Mar 152007

Let’s take these backward, just for fun.

The ugly: Today has been badly unproductive, largely due to whatever kind of vile microscopic thing that’s cavorting about inside my daughter. “Gastrointestinal distress” and “toddler” are not words you like to use in the same sentence, but there it is.

The bad: I’m still suffering slightly from the fallout from my technical problems yesterday following the Mac OS X 10.4.9 update, but it’s getting better now.

The good: I’ve installed the ParserFunctions and StringFunctions extensions onto the staging version of MDC; waiting on some configuration changes from oremj before I can proceed.

I’m enjoying this work on the MDC back-end stuff. It’s a lot of fun, and a little more nitty-gritty than I’ve been doing for a while. Nice to get my hands dirty again, so to speak (dealing with “the ugly” above notwithstanding).

It just occurred to me there’s another extension we need, so I’m off to go do that now.

 Posted by at 6:07 PM
Mar 142007

So I upgraded my iMac Core Duo to Mac OS X 10.4.9 late last night. This morning, I discovered that I couldn’t connect to any of the key Mozilla services I use most: IRC, mail, and certain areas of the web site.

Eventually I realized that the problem extended to any service requiring any sort of security privileges. SSL, secure web sites, applications that need administrative privileges, and even changing certain system preferences.

So I started up Keychain Access to run a diagnostic on my keychain, only to see that my keychain wasn’t listed, and a warning message indicating that Keychain Access couldn’t communicate with the securityd daemon.

So I did a ps and found that the daemon is in fact not running. A long series of reboots and tests later, I realized that the problem is that every time .Mac sync tries to synchronize my keychains, the securityd process dies — and the kcSync program that handles the keychain sync never exits. I suspect that kcSync is supposed to kill the security daemon, but is also supposed to restart it after it’s done syncing — but it never finishes.

A reinstall of the 10.4.9 update from the combo updater didn’t resolve the problem; nor did deleting extension and other system caches. I’ve now managed to disable keychain syncing temporarily, and have reset my .Mac sync data. It’s doing a fresh sync across to .Mac now. Once that’s done, I’ll try re-enabling keychain syncing and see what happens.

I’m a little confused as to why Firefox was affected by this, since it doesn’t use the keychain for security purposes at present. But it, too, had serious problems dealing with sites requiring security. Some worked, some didn’t. It was quite strange.

 Posted by at 12:36 PM
Mar 132007

oremj did a bang-up job and we’ve already got what appears to be a fully functional copy of MDC running on the staging server, now happily perking along in MediaWiki 1.9.3. He even updated all our extensions (including our old breadcrumbs!) to run on MW 1.9.3.

Please note that the links in the sidebar to the various languages take you to the deployed version of the wiki, rather than to the staging server version, so watch out for that while you browse about.

We could use some serious pounding on it, including adding and editing stories, to make sure nothing’s broken.

Once the additional extensions we need are installed, I’ll begin working on our new breadcrumbs implementation, among other things. There are several nifty new templates I have in mind that will make various things much nicer, so I want to do some experimenting.

 Posted by at 11:43 AM