Ramblings Posts

Ramblings

Penn State

As a college football fan, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least have some thoughts on the biggest scandal ever to hit college sports. I remember when this first started to surface last year. I was very cautious at the time as everyone around seemed to be out for a pound of flesh. I generally try to avoid mobs and witch hunts - what I most wanted was to let the investigations play out, and find out who knew what and when did they know it. Because only once we know the facts of a case can we truly sit in judgement. Well, now we know the facts, and it’s worse than I could have ever imagined. Now, I haven’t read the Freeh report - I really haven’t had time (or desire) to digest a 227 page report detailing the actions of a child molester and the people who enabled him, even after they knew. But the report is the probably the single most damning thing ever to land on a college athletic program. It eclipses Kentucky’s point-shaving in the 50s. It eclipses Louisiana-Lafayette’s academic shenanigans in the 70s. And it most definitely eclipses SMU’s “Pony Excess” in the 80s. This is, without a doubt, the worst, most rotten thing I could possibly imagine. I don’t think this would have even been imaginable 15 years ago. And yet, here we are. All of those cases pale in comparison to what happened at Penn State. As the report details, the problems at Penn State were wider than just the football program. Many, many people, from the President down to janitors, knew what was going on … but nobody said anything. A culture of silence and, more importantly, a reverence for athletics beyond all reason, pervaded everything that happened in State College. Nobody would go against, or risk threatening, the almighty sacred golden calf that was the Penn State football program. For all intents and purposes, Penn State football and Joe Paterno were sacrosanct and any attempt to confront them would elicit the highest orders of outrage. What happened to those kids was terrible - and the justice system will see to it that those responsible are held to account for their crimes, as will the completely justified lawsuits which are sure to follow. But there are some other points surrounding this whole thing that I think are worthy of pondering here as well. For the longest time, I held Joe Paterno and Penn State as the paragon of stability that all athletic programs should strive for. I mean, here was a guy that was head coach for 45 years. In that same time period, Auburn had six coaches and Alabama had eight. In retrospect, I can’t help but wonder if that same stability allowed a culture to flourish that enabled something like this to happen. Is it good for one person to be allowed to accumulate so much power and hold it, unchecked, for so long? Would a few changes in administration have helped deter this situation? I would like to think so and, in truth, it may. But think the problem is bigger than Penn State and cuts right to the heart of the worship of college athletics in the United States. This same “athletics can do no wrong” culture can be seen at many major Division I schools. I mean, in my heart I would love to believe that something like this could never happen at Auburn. But I also cannot discount the power that the athletic department holds. The same can be said for Alabama, LSU, Oregon (whose program I think is absolutely rotten to the core on so many levels) and so many programs. Can I honestly believe that a janitor who sees something like that janitor at Penn State saw and has to decide between his job and reporting will do the right thing? And even if they keep their job, would have to constantly be on the lookout for some crazed “fan” much like we hear every week on Finebaum to do something insane? That’s the thing about this whole sad situation that I don’t think is getting enough discussion. This scandal is an indictment of the worship of athletics that pervades colleges across the US. Penn State just took that same worship that happens at every Division I program and turned the knob to 11. As a result, a culture of silence allowed a child molester to run rampant for years with the full knowledge of many people, who placed covering up for the name of the Nittany Lions above doing the right thing. This. Has. Got. To. Stop. The thing that is so damning about all of this is that it’s not the oh so loved “lack of institutional control” that we usually hear about when it comes to sports scandals. In this case, the institution was in such complete control of every aspect of Nittany Lion culture, that no one would dare go against it. This is unique, uncharted waters for college athletics. Now, I don’t know what the NCAA will do, if anything. Frankly, my opinion of the NCAA is right down there with the UN in terms of being able to do anything useful. But if there’s any justice in the world, the NCAA will drop the hammer on Penn State and end the program. At least for a couple of years. And if the NCAA doesn’t do it, Penn State should, for once, do the right thing and pull the plug themselves. Shut everything down, cool everything off and, in a few years, return with a new focus on what is really important. Because even though all the people responsible are gone, the culture is still in place. You have to change the culture. Yes, I said it. I’m talking the Death Penalty. A slap on the wrist - a few scholarships lost, a TV or bowl ban - would be insulting. To do anything less in this situation is to condone the very attitude that allowed Jerry Sandusky to molest children for years. A message needs to be sent, to universities and fans across the nation that there is a line of acceptable behavior and culture when it comes to college athletics, and that Penn State flew over that line at supersonic speeds. There must be accountability. SMU paid some played. Kentucky shaved some points. But at Penn State, a culture of silence and reverence for athletics enabled a child molester to go unchecked, with full knowledge of the administration, for years. If that’s not worthy of the ultimate penalty, the entire NCAA is s sham and should itself be disbanded. For the average college football fan, this should be yet another sobering reminder of the dark places that operate at some of alma maters. For as much as we would like to believe in the purity of sport, this scandal - perhaps the saddest and worst ever - indicates of the depths to which evil can spread.
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Ramblings

Don't be a PHP / JavaScript / Java / Ruby developer - Be a Software Developer

Among the many sites I follow for programming discussion is /r/PHP on reddit. While most of the discussion is more user-based than I would like - things like frameworks, use of PHP-based software packages and the like are usually discussed more often than actual programming - there are occasionally a few gems worth chiming in on. But it never fails that, at least once a week, I see the headline “How do I become a PHP developer,” or “What do I need to know to be a PHP developer?” My answer is simple: don’t. Just stop. Don’t be a “PHP Developer.” Don’t be a “Java Developer.” Don’t be a “Ruby Developer.” In fact, don’t be any kind of developer that depends solely on a single language. Languages come and go. Ten years ago I would bet the majority of web programming was still done in Perl. Fifteen years ago the web was still widely misunderstood and Java was promising that we would only have to write code once to run on any computer. Twenty years ago you found C, FORTRAN and COBOL on mainframes. Every few years a new language comes around and everybody moves to it. Sometimes they stay around, and sometimes they don’t. C has been around for many years and is just as valid now as it was twenty years ago. Even if you’re programming in C++ or Objective-C (both of whose roots go back further than you probably realize), you still need to understand the fundamentals of the C language. Will we still be using Clojure in 20 years? How about Coffeescript? Who knows. Maybe. Maybe not. My point is, don’t chain yourself to a single language. If you do that, you will be forever behind the curve. A good developer should be able to work independent of his/her tools, should be always willing to learn new and exciting things, and should be able to apply lessons learned in past development independent of the language they are working in. A good developer should be able to come up to speed quickly on a new language. And while it is true that every developer will probably always have a preferred language and a language they’re best at, we as developers should always place the craft of software development ahead of specialization in a single language, and we should be willing to use the best tool for the job independent of our linguistic preferences. While PHP is my primary language (and what pays the bills), I am not a PHP developer. I am a software developer who works in PHP among many other languages. It should always be the goal of every developer to remain at the forefront of our craft. That means not chaining ourselves to PHP, Ruby, JavaScript, Java, Scala, Python, or any other language.
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Apple

Disabling Text Zoom in Netbeans

A couple of days ago, I upgraded to the most recent version of Netbeans - 7.1.1. I had been running a 7.1-DEV nightly from back in 2011 and just hadn’t bothered to upgrade yet. The first thing I noticed is that this version of Netbeans introduced a “feature” that allows you to zoom in or out of text. This is accomplished by, on the Mac, holding down the Command key and scrolling on the trackpad. The problem with this is that it is very easy to trigger accidentally - to the point where I was doing it multiple times a day. Even more irritating, there was no indication as to what the zoom level was or easy way to revert to normal view. If you trigger it accidentally, you just have to kinda zoom back out until you find a setting somewhat similar to the rest of your tabs. Fortunately, someone on the nbusers mailing list mentioned how to solve this problem, so I want to post it here in case anyone else gets as lost and frustrated as I was. Open the preferences page. On the Mac, you would go Netbeans Menu -> Preferences. Go to Keymaps. Search for “zoom”. Remove the bindings for “Zoom Text In” and “Zoom Text Out.” Double click on the Shortcut and hit backspace twice.
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Business

Professionalism and respect: raising the bar for developers (and myself)

This article and the accompanying discussion on Hacker News really got me to thinking tonight. I’m not going to say much about the post itself other than that I agree with Dan’s sentiments. I don’t know who in their right mind would address a guest at a professional conference using the term “sexy.” But it did get me to think a little bit more about professionalism, professional behavior and how it relates to software development. We as developers, and especially those of us in the Internet world, are used to a certain level of what would be traditionally considered non-professional behavior when it comes to the workplace. Most obviously, there’s the dress - T-shirts, jeans or shorts (depending on your climate) and sandals are common dress. Many companies’ offices are outfitted with lots of things you would not find in a traditional office - ping-pong tables, beer kegs, beanbag chairs. It’s all very collegiate. We tend to have very little patience for those who “don’t get it” - every developer has probably at one point labeled a user a PEBKAC. And then there’s the language - I think developers might be second only to sailors in finding creative ways to swear. Essentially, we get to be big kids. It’s a pretty sweet gig! I think a lot of this is because we, as developers, value one thing above all else: the ability to deliver. As I think about it, I can remember working with some brilliant people - and some of them had absolutely no social skills and no idea that some of their behaviors were not just unprofessional, but outright disgusting. If you can ship quality, it doesn’t matter if you wear a suit and tie every day or you wear a threadbare T-shirt and haven’t shaved since Nirvana first hit the radio. To us as fellow developers, what you produce is what matters above all else. As one comment said: The programming world is so used to breaking the norms, revolutionizing industries, and wearing T-shirts and sneakers to work that we forget, sometimes, that some aspects of “professionalism” actually do serve a purpose. While these things may be “okay” in our culture - the culture of dot-com, the culture of software developers - to outsiders, we are baffling, uncouth, at times rude and definitely unprofessional. Now, if you’re working in a startup, you’re probably around only a few other people who are like minded and are part of the culture and won’t think anything of strange behavior as long as you ship. My last job was with a startup that was 4 months old when I joined the team and was still very small. I remember hearing a story about someone in the company who, during a long night of coding in a small office, just got up, took his pants off, sat back down and started coding again. This may be kind of an extreme example, but this general kind of behavior is considered the norm for developers, especially in Internet startups. But, there comes a time when we have to drop - or at least tone down - the unprofessional behavior and actually start taking business seriously. I’m not exactly sure what that point is, but it’s probably about the time that people who are not part of “the culture” become involved. Marketing, sales, business development, management, accounting, and other more traditional business fields are not part of our culture and they don’t get our ways. Once these people become involved, and definitely once/if they outnumber the developers, we must begin to accept the fact that we have to modify our ways a little bit. The thing is, we criticize them as being “stiff,” “squares,” “boring,” “demanding,” “not getting it,” and the like. We begrudgingly work on tasks for them, the whole time complaining to our coworkers in our culture about what we have to do for marketing, or accounting or whatever and how they just don’t see the big picture. But we are unwilling to meet them even half way when it comes to working in a professional environment. I don’t know if they’re trying to understand us, but are we even trying to understand them? Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to raise the bar for myself a little bit when it comes to being professional. No more T-shirts and jeans or taking shoes off. I’ve tried to stick to “business casual” dress, although it’s tended to be a bit closer to the casual side (I still wear sneakers and my shirt is almost always untucked). But I’ve worn collared, button down shirts and khakis - something that would have been unthinkable a year ago. I’m actually even thinking about wearing a tie occasionally. I’ve been trying to tone down the language and start thinking respectfully about each task regardless of it’s interest factor. I guess what I’m trying to get to in my admittedly rambling diatribe is that professionalism starts with respect: respect for ourselves, respect for our craft, respect for our employers, respect for our coworkers whether they are developers or not, and respect for our peers. We need to begin to have more respect for what we do as a craft and profession, and more respect for the people we encounter every day. We should always strive to treat everyone we encounter with the respect they deserve at the very least as fellow human beings. That means not referring to users that break our software as idiots and not referring to women presenting at conferences as sexy.
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Ramblings

What An Awesome Future We Live In

Sometimes it’s easy to forget what an amazing modern world we live in. Even if I think back just 10 years ago, it blows my mind how much has changed. Just in technology, even. In 2002: Nokia was the largest cellphone manufacturer. Their top selling model that year was the Nokia 6100. I actually had one of these as a loaner phone once. At the time I was carrying this more modest model - a Qualcomm QCP-2700, complete with green screen. Tablets as we know them today didn’t exist. Oh sure there were primitive early tablets - Palm Pilots and the Newton come to mind. But they had as much in common with today’s tablets as a horse does with a Ferrari. HP was the leading computer manufacturer that year - following their purchase of Compaq. The same HP that almost sold it’s computer division late last year. Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist, and the best site on the web for tech news was still Slashdot. Wikipedia had just opened the year before and was still seriously lacking content. Mac OS X 10.1 was released that year, and I spent all summer lusting over the Titanium Powerbook G4 with it’s PowerPC processor running at a blazing 800 megahertz and a huge 40gb drive. If you wanted to read a book, you bought a paper book. e-Book readers, while the existed, were clunky and difficult to use, and titles were mostly restricted to technical publications. Nothing like the Kindle, Nook, iPad and other readers. Using the Internet on a mobile device, if it was available at all, was extremely limited. Remember WAP? I remember being amazed in college that I could use my phone to check the scores of other games while I was at an Auburn game. Wanted to find your way around? You had a map or directions. GPSs as we know them today didn’t exist, and certainly weren’t integrated into phones. Contrast that to today. The phone in my pocket is more powerful, has more storage, than that laptop I spent a whole summer lusting over, and can be used to surf the web just as well as any computer. The tablet I carry with me has access to a whole library of books, can connect wirelessly to the Internet almost anywhere, and can be held with as single hand. If I ever get lost, I can pull up a map on my phone that pinpoints my location to within a few yards of my area, and can give me turn by turn voice directions to get where I’m going. Facebook and Twitter connect millions of people together. I can even connect to the Internet on my laptop _in an airplane at 35,000 feet! _Downstairs, I have a 60” widescreen TV that’s 1.5” thick and weighs so little that I could mount it on the wall. Every time I hear people complaining about how things suck, I’m reminded of this video. Because everything really is amazing right now. We are living in an amazing futuristic world full of fascinating advancements that are are happening all the time. And what is most amazing of all is how quickly we got here. The world of tech between now and 10 years ago are so different. What will the world of 10 years from now be like?
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Ramblings

Personal Initiatives

About ten years ago (summer of 2002), while I was working in Yellowstone National Park, I took a lot of time that summer for personal reflection. The the rocks beside the Snake River and the roof of the cabin where I lived became close companions of mine. I took a lot of time to examine where my life was at that time, and there were a lot of things that I didn’t like. Towards the end of the summer, based on my reflections, I started writing a short series of notes to myself. I titled these “Personal Initiatives” and set out what I wanted to change and how I was going to go about doing it. There were probably 50 or so entries. Some of these were fairly arcane and maybe even silly. Among them: Get rid of my acne by washing my face twice a day. Wear contacts any time I’m not at home. Take better care of my teeth. Get in better shape. Pursue financial independence and keep a budget. Get better grades and get at least a 3.0 from that point out. After I returned to Auburn that fall, I looked over my Personal Initiatives from time to time. And it occurs to me what a good motivation this was for me. As evidenced, my near term goals in many of my initiatives I achieved within the next 3 years. I never earned less than a 3.0 after that fall. I was financially independent in 2004. I’m in better shape now than I was. Not only that, but my plans gave me goals. Even the arcane ones (“wash your face every day”) gave me little things that I could do to feel like I had accomplished something every day. Not every goal had to be in outer space - I could accomplish 5 things just by walking out the door each morning. Of course, some of them I completely blew too. There were a lot of entries about future planning that involved me becoming a pilot. Some other entries concern wanting to have a family (not there just yet…). But overall, I would say my success rate for my personal initiatives in 2002 to today is probably close to 75%. The reason I’m thinking about this is that I kind of feel a bit like did in the summer of 2002. Lost. Listless. Unsure of what I want in my life but unhappy with where I am. And without a plan. Every day I get up and go to the same job and do the same things I’ve done for the last five years. Then I go home and do the same thing each night. The cycle usually never varies. Now, to be sure, my life is much better than it was in 2002. I’m married, a homeowner, active in my community. But that seem creeping, nagging unhappiness is still there. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of taking an entire summer off to work and reflect on my life. But I’m seriously thinking that it might be time to write down some more personal initiatives. Having passed 30 now, I can’t help but feel that I’ve entered a new stage of my life and, if I don’t want to spend this entire decade listless and unhappy, that I have to begin to plan some things out and set some goals for myself. Yes. I think it’s time for some more Personal Initiatives.
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News

Goodbye GoDaddy

Using GoDaddy as my registrar is one of those things I’ve always felt vaguely ashamed of. Something I knew all the “cool kids” didn’t do, but I was already so neck-deep in them that I didn’t want to transfer. Not to mention I had my DNS hosted with them as well so the thought of going through all that trouble to move just seemed like too much of a hassle to deal with without good reason. In my last entry, I talked about setting up your own DNS server. This was the first part of my attack on moving my domains away from GoDaddy. But I didn’t have a real timeline to move away from them. Then came the news of GoDaddy’s support for SOPA - one of the worst attacks on the Internet since 1996’s Communications Decency Act. Now, to be sure, GoDaddy’s position on SOPA was not the first thing they’ve done to anger me. Their overtly misogynistic advertising has always bothered me, and their CEO Bob Parsons’ elephant killing and shameless exploitation of the natives angered me so badly that I almost left in April. But their aggressive support of SOPA was the final straw for me. I’d been a customer since 2003, but I simply could not take it anymore. So over the course of about 4 days, I transferred all my domains to Namecheap. Having never transferred a domain before, the process was surprisingly quick and easy. Once again, it makes me wonder why I haven’t done it sooner.
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Ramblings

RIP Dennis Ritchie

Unlike Steve Jobs, unless you’re in the tech industry, there’s a pretty fair chance you’ve never heard of Dennis Ritchie.
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Ramblings

On the death of Moammar Gadhafi

Revolutions are a dirty business in every country they occur in. Libya is no exception. Moammar Gadhafi was a terrible human being. He was a thorn in the side of 5 US Presidents. He actually did pursue a WMD program, only giving it up in 2006. Under him, Libya was a state sponsor of terrorism and was behind the destruction of Pan Am flight 103. At home, he brutally repressed his population and ruled with an iron fist. In short, he was not a nice person. According to a report on the BBC that I was listening to on the drive home, he was found hiding in a drain pipe in Sirte. He begged for his life, and was shot in the abdomen and again in the leg. Supposedly he “died” en route to a hospital, but at least one report mentioned an execution-style shot to the head. Now, is this what happened? There’s no way to know, and I suspect we never will for sure. And yet, I find myself having some difficulty taking any “joy” in his death, especially a death such as that. No man who begs for his life should be killed, especially without due process. I would much rather have seen him turned over to ICJ authorities and tried for crimes against humanity. And yet, it may have been the best possible outcome. Libya is not a stable country at this time and probably lacks the facilities to hold Gadhafi securely. There would be months of negotiations that would have to happen before he even got to a trial. All that time, his continued defiant existence would continue to empower his dwindling base. With him out of the picture, the rebels / new government should have little problem establishing itself as the new legitimate government of Libya, thus drawing a close to this whole thing even faster. Revolutions are a dirty business.
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Ramblings

RIP Steve Jobs

Normally, I’m not one to be too taken with the death of a “celebrity” … … but this one hurts. We truly lost a titan of our generation. A man who became synonymous with the company he founded, and whose products made life more awesome for millions of people. As I look around my house, pretty much every room has some touch of Apple, and all of that thanks to Steve. Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs. The world was enriched by your presence and is saddened with your loss. Thank you for everything you did.
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