Greatness Abides

Okay, so when I looked at Google news this morning, this story was in the “For you…based on your interests” section: Gremlin Brings Chaos Monkey Testing to Spinnaker CD Platform. Now, I’m a respecter of Dev Ops, but I’m not really a practitioner of Dev Ops. So I think this is cool, but the coolest thing about it is that my amazing wife invented Chaos Monkey. And now Dev Ops people all over the place are using it and excited about it and it’s really quite valuable. This, right here, is another reason that tech needs women.

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It Could Be Better

A long time ago, my housemate (who is one of the only people who reads this – Hi, Kurt!) had this great explanation for why his homework wouldn’t compile: “It was perfect, so I fixed it.” Man, that so describes every programmer I’ve ever worked with. (Incidentally and orthogonal to the point of this post, I suspect that this attribute of programmers coupled with the increase in the global number of active programmers accounts for so much of the frustration I experience with software nowadays.)

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Things I Wish

I wish that Google provided an offline/dev version of Firebase so that I could work on my mobile app when I’m not actually online. Sort of like they offer a dev version of Datastore for App Engine development.

I wish that Google made their Flutter documentation available as a downloadable package so that I could refer to it while I’m not actually online.

I wish that I could test the capability of Flutter+Firebase to deal gracefully with network unavailability.

I wish that software development didn’t suck.

In 1984, I was able to write a FORTRAN IV program to do a bunch of math and then output bitmapped Mandelbrot graphs to a dot matrix printer because the language was stable, the hardware was stable, and the manuals were printed out and stuck in binders on the shelf over the computer desk. Today, I can write programs anywhere but the languages aren’t stable and the hardware isn’t stable and the manuals are online. If I write code in a stable language for stable hardware, nobody I know will be able to run it.

Progress.

Mobile Enterprise

So, I’m writing another mobile app. This one is a chore list for our household. And, since our household is not technologically homogenous, I’m writing it in Flutter so I can deploy it to All The Devices. Flutter’s idiom is lambda-heavy, and most of the tutorials and examples wind up embedding application logic in the UI, which I find hard to follow at times and which, as a practice, makes me itch and feel like I need a shower.

A helpful soul on StackOverflow pointed me at an example project that demonstrates how to build a functioning task list app using a variety of different frameworks. I decided to go with flutter_redux, which is pretty cool once I managed to understand how it works. You just treat your application as a giant state machine, you store all the state in a single state class, and everything that happens is an event/action that gets sent through a set of functions that you write and attach to the framework. All of which is ridiculously complicated, yet elegant at the same time. I wind up writing reams of code just to get the first screen to display. The marginal cost for additional screens, though, is tiny, and logic is nicely decoupled from presentation. It seems very FizzBuzzEnterprise, though, honestly.

Cranky Old Guy

Yeah, so I’m listening to Surveillance Valley (see previous post) and it’s got me thinking all paranoid and crotchety, as one might expect. So now I’m reminiscing fondly about UUCP, UseNet, FidoNet, and RumorMonger/LACS. Thinking about how, if I were going to try to come up with some sort of communication network that was hard to spy on, I’d have to start with the idea that any participant can show up anywhere at any time.

This is sort of like when engineering management got all us developers in a room at Netflix after we had yet another database outage that cost the company gobs of money and cause much customer unhappiness. They told us, “Look, we can’t stand having our business vulnerable to single points of failure. We’ve gotta be redundant. So we’re going to the cloud. Amazon’s cloud. And you’re going to make it happen. How you do it is up to you, but that’s the fundamental truth. You also need to be aware that your head is on the block if your system fails. And here’s another truth: any single server in ‘the cloud’ can die, at any time, for, like, no reason. Get happy about that.”

Okay. So, what does that kind of network look like? Any message sender/consumer can appear at any time, at any place. Imagine a world where that is the thing that got built, instead of the Internet. Is that better?

Book Recommendations

My friend Matt Maxwell wrote The Queen of No Tomorrows and it got published by Broken Eye Books. It is totally worth buying and installing on your phone so you can read it in line at the grocery store, while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office, and any other time you have five seconds to spare. I did and my only regret is that I didn’t have more seconds in a row to slurp that creepy goodness in.

Ben Aaronovitch recently tweeted his approval of a book by Aliette de Bodard, so I ran off like a good fanboi and bought The House of Shattered Wings. Yup, I liked the book, despite really, really being irritated by the way the fallen monk behaves. So, yeah, check that one out.

Now I’m listening to Surveillance Valley on the recommendation of Patrick Reilly, and it’s got me thinking about network externalities, privacy, store-and-forward, dead letter drops, and other groovy communication behaviors. Totally interesting read.

Nonrandom Thoughts on a Holiday Afternoon

Oh, lots of things going through my head. No real coherence to speak of, though.

Let’s see,

Victor / Victoria

Before I ever moved out of my parents’ house, I saw the movie, “Victor / Victoria” and took to heart an exchange that doesn’t even make it to the quotes section on IMDB. There’s this bit early on where Robert Preston challenges Julie Andrews with, “Name me one thing a man can do that a woman can’t,” and she responds, “Peeing standing up,” but he’s not flustered; he says there’s no reason a man can’t pee sitting down.

And you know what? If you pee sitting down, there’s no splashing that spatters all over the rim of the toilet bowl and when it’s time to clean the bathroom, it’s an easier job. If the mark of genius is laziness, I’m fucking brilliant. You know what else? My wife loves that our bathroom isn’t spattered with urine. She’s called this out, specifically, contrasting me with other men of her acquaintance.

Lesson for so-called incels: if you were less objectionable, people wouldn’t mind hanging out with you. It’s not them, it’s you.

Also: solve the whole seat up / seat down debate: lid down. Dunked by Miss Manners, y’all! I’m telling you, other people matter.

Slack Integrations

I’ve been keeping my bagpipe music as ABC files for years. Because I’m a curmudgeon and I hate all the WYSIWYG score editing software in the world, but still. Anyway, when I joined a band, I started transcribing that music to ABC, too, and now I’ve got the job of being the music librarian. It turns out that there are several good reasons to use ABC instead of CelticPipes or whatever, not least of which is that a text file is an excellent candidate for inclusion in a git repository.

Anyway, I’ve been asked by several people if I could email them or otherwise let them know when the music has been updated in our band folder on Box. Sure, I can. Get on our Slack group and join the music channel and you’ll see a notice every time someone commits a change to the tunes, and every time the PDF files get rebuilt.

80s Nostalgia

I don’t care what Ernest Cline says, the 80s sucked. For the most part, those of us who remember them fondly at all do so because the 70s sucked even more. Even so, not everything was horrible. Amidst the shitshow that is late December 2018, there are a few bright lights from the 80s that still make me happy. Among these is X.