Saturday, July 18, 2009

Getting Started with Stack Overflow

I joined Stack Overflow shortly after it launched, but I didn't do anything with it. I found it in search results here and there, but I never asked any questions. I would have done more, but new users are pretty helpless. You can't vote up or down, you can't comment on answers, you can't post an answer with more than 1 link, etc. It's almost like you're not wanted. Compared to the relative freedom of Wikipedia, it was really demoralizing to me.

I decided tonight to actually try to get some reputation. Most of the interesting stuff happens around 50 reputation, so that's my goal. I answered 2 questions this evening. Suddenly, my rep is skyrocketing. I'm at 31 right now, and I bet that will continue to climb on its own. It seems that people are very willing to vote your answers up if they are relevant. As you can see, it shouldn't be hard to get to the point of actually being able to contribute.

So, if you want to get started with Stack Overflow, here are my suggestions.

  1. Go to the newest questions page.
  2. Find something that you know something about. Don't troll, and don't post to random topics about which you know nothing.
  3. Write an answer.
That should just about do it. Don't despair, it's easier than it initially seems.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fixing the Xbox 360 's Grinding Noise / Tray Ejection Problem

I spent an evening performing unexpected surgery on my Xbox 360. When I put a game in, the drive made the most horrible grinding noise. On top of that, the drive would not stay closed. The tray would almost always eject seconds after being closed. Research led me to conclude that the rare earth magnet that is part of the disc clamp had probably become unglued. Since my initial warranty has long since expired and the red ring of death warranty only has another year, I decided to crack the case myself.

It's not worth going through the details, but I did find two useful videos. The first is an overview of the problem. The second is a good tutorial on opening the 360's case. I used some Zap-A-Gap brand contact adhesive that I had laying around to actually reattach the magnet.

I felt quite proud to have diagnosed, researched, and fixed the problem on my own (without sending my console to Microsoft for repairs). $100 plus shipping just to have some intern apply some glue is a little extreme. So many people have had this problem that YouTube videos just refer to it as "the grinding noise problem." Either Hitachi (the drive manufacturer) just made a lousy drive, or Microsoft didn't correctly anticipate the effect that their game furnace would have on the glue that Hitachi used. I don't know who is to blame, but Microsoft should extend their warranty on the 360 to 3 years for all defects, not just those that cause the red LEDs to light up in a circular fashion. I don't expect my car to wear out in 2 years, and I use it every day. My game console shouldn't wear out, either.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Feedback Works!

It's hard to say if this is coincidence, but it's worth mentioning. A few weeks ago, I sent eBay feedback on their new site design. My gripe was that they were nesting scrollable areas within scrollable areas. As I was using the site today, it dawned upon me that the bad behavior was gone. Somebody actually fixed it. Perhaps it was my email; perhaps it was the combined voice of thousands of users; perhaps some developer just realized that there was a better way. Whatever the case, I'm glad that eBay made the change, and I like to think that I helped in some way. Thanks, eBay!

Before, things just felt wrong. I would be scrolling the page, and it would mysteriously stop. This happened on every single page, it seemed. When they switched to good design, I didn't even notice at first. It just felt natural. This brings to light a sort of design axiom: design successes are invisible, design flaws are glaring.