Monthly Archives: May 2009

Secret Stuff Afoot

I sort of have an informal goal of blogging about once a week, and I have to apologize because I find lately that I’ve got nothing to talk about–or more accurately, nothing I can talk about.

We’re hard at work on the next version of ComicBase (in a way, we’re always hard at work on the next version), but this time, we’ve decided to save the big surprises for the actual release date…and that’s a secret too. All I can say at this point is that it looks really, really cool!

As for other things, well since this is a blog loosely connected to my business, I’m never going to be talking about politics, religion, or anything that’s likely to personally offend anyone I do, or am likely to do business with. Since we ship on six continents, that pretty much leaves penguins as topics of open and freewheeling conversation (Oooh! Could I tell you a few things there! [actually, not really]). I also have to respect the privacy of family, friends, and customers, so even if there’s a Really Colorful Story I could share involving any of the above, I can only do so if I change all the names…

…but let’s be honest, I’m such a geek that the work I can’t tell you about is already pretty much crowding out the personal life stuff I can’t tell you about. Sigh.

So welcome to Pete’s unintentionally muzzled, very quiet lately blog. Product announcement (and much retroactive blabbing) to follow…at a time which has not yet been publicly announced, and which I thus can’t comment on at this point.

Internet Explorer 8 Ships, Fixes Dropdown List Problem

Microsoft finally made Internet Explorer 8 a “recommended download” with the latest set of patches on Microsoft Update. At first glance, there’s not a ton new with IE 8, but it does fix one incredibly annoying problem with all previous versions, including IE 7: Dropdowns containing many items no longer take a huge amount of time to be built, freezing the page (and computer!) during the process. Firefox and other browsers haven’t had this problem, but it’s nice to see IE finally getting this one fixed.

Why is this one important? My big point of pain was the “List of Titles” under the seller inventories on Atomic Avenue. After complaints from users, we tracked down what appeared for all the world to be a hard crash in IE 6 and 7 to the user’s going to my personal titles on Atomic Avenue, where my list of over 10,000 titles in stock resulted in a drop-down list which could take several minutes to fill on a fast computer.

Cutting down the number of titles resulted in an exponential decline in the time required, leading me to guess it was a case of the programmer equivalent of the blonde joke about painting lines on the highway–basically, the programmer was adding onto the end of the list in a way which involved constantly going back to the start, counting to the end, then tacking on the item there, rather than setting an index point at the end and tacking new data on from there directly.

On modern machines, the lazy, brute force way of adding to lists by counting from the beginning is normally not a problem, but when thousands of items are involved, you can quickly set up conditions so that the computer must walk up a number of items in the list equivalent to  [the number of items in the list] raised to second or third  power—each and every time they want to add a new item. Repeat that ten thousand times, and you can see how little programming inefficiencies, repeated with very large numbers, can become killers.

Once we discovered the original problem in Internet Explorer, we’d been forced to cap IE clients to seeing the first 2000 titles worth of content from a given seller when viewing individual inventories. This only affected a couple of sellers on the system, and was largely a temporary measure until we could address the matter in a more satisfactory way.

Unfortunately, one of those sellers with wide-ranging titles for sale was me! (By nature, we tend to grab one copy of everything in order to throw it in ComicBase).  Happily with IE 8 now available, we’re safely able to remove that limit (and warn users of older versions that they could do better if they upgrade to the latest version, or use another browser like Firefox which never had that particular problem). We’ll track browse usage in the months ahead and see whether we still need to engineer a workaround for older IE user.

(I’m hoping not, frankly, since any fix would not only be reasonably complicated, but would also involve a fair amount of overhead to load up the list, realize that there’s too many to be safely be shown by old versions of IE, then display smaller batches in a safer way. Having Microsoft simply fix IE seems much preferable, although if nobody ever updates their browser, we may have to rig up the workaround anyway, I guess…). In any case, kudos (and thanks!) to whichever person on the IE 8 team fixed this one!