Something They Leave Out

Here’s something the tutorials don’t tell you, but that is kind of important: Flutter plugins add their own CocoaPod dependencies to the iOS project. This is why the installation instructions for Firebase tell you to skip through everything in the iOS installation after you install the GoogleService-Info.plist file. The rest of the installation gets handled by the Flutter plugins for Firebase.

True But Misleading

Oh, BBC, never change. Here’s a quote from an article on the latest recommendations from the IPCC:

If you fly regularly, replacing flying with other forms of transport may have a bigger impact on your carbon footprint than changing your diet. A passenger’s carbon footprint from a one-way flight from London to New York is just under half a tonne of greenhouse gases. Switching from a regular petrol vehicle to an electric car could save more than double that over a year.

Right. If I drive an electric car from London to New York instead of flying, I could save a bunch of carbon emissions?

Team of One

I have been writing programs of varying complexity since I was in the 6th grade, so, call it 39 years. For a portion of that time, call it 14 years, I worked on code that had other people contributing to it. During that, what, 36% percent of my programming life, I learned many lessons that I’ve carried into my solo programming.

Tools, best practices, all kinds of work patterns and code idioms show up in my personal projects not because they’re the most efficient way to get the project done, but because I’ve learned that if I ever do want to collaborate with someone, then that’s made a heck of a lot easier if I do some planning in the beginning. Also, because I love future me, I don’t want to give future me some big pile of spaghetti code with all kinds of undocumented special cases just built in.

Continue reading

I Hate Your Bot

I dunno, something like a year ago, a guy I know started retweeting a client of his who was working on building a chatbot platform. Now, let’s be honest: in customer facing positions, a lot of interactions are going to be the same. People are way more similar than they are different, and so if one person has a problem, it’s probably true that lots of people have the same problem. So, as a customer service operator, you’re going to spend a lot of your day saying the same things over and over. It’s understandable, then, that companies want to use automated systems to handle customer requests. Why pay a human to tell customers the same thing over and over when you can pay a human to type it once and have a computer send the text a zillion times?

I get irritated by this, though. Given that I understand the motivation and the logic, why do I get cranky? Because although I am far from unique, I am still far from the 80% case and there’s never a clear path past all the B.S. to get to a real, problem-solving human being. (And even when I get to a human, empirical evidence suggests that the human in question is more likely to hit a hotkey response than to actually answer my question.)

Chatbots, artificial voice systems, call center scripts, they all bug me a LOT. Why? Because they all are trying to send the signal, “I am a human being who deserves compassion and respect and engagement,” all simultaneously with sending the signal, “I do not respect you, I do not actually care about you, I am not going to listen to you, and I am going to consume your time and energy.”

If you’re going to build a system that pretends to be human, you need to build it to feel and to empathize.

It’s Never Easy

So, the Internet of Things is a thing that’s mostly just a security nightmare, but there do exist some services that I find actually helpful. For instance, I put an Ambient Weather station on our roof and hooked it up to Weather Underground and that lets me get ad-free weather forecasts. Lots of people have one or two such services that are helpful for them.

And then there’s IFTTT, which is a service that lets you wire services together. Common uses are package tracking (“when my package arrives at the destination, send a text message to my phone”) or weather alerts (“when tomorrow’s forecast calls for rain, remind me to take an umbrella to work”). This is super nifty and helpful, and lots of people use it to make their lives a little bit more convenient. I wanted to create an alert based on comparing the temperature from my weather station to the temperature inside our house.

You can’t do that. You can compare a measurement to a constant (“when the outside temperature falls below 72 degrees…”) but not to another measurement. Technically, that would wind up being harder to implement and consuming storage space that would probably scale in costly ways, so I understand why IFTTT hasn’t done it yet. However, it’s pretty straightforward to do as a one-off program. But, I thought, if I have this desire, I can’t be the only one. I bet there are other people who’d like to compare a measurement from one service against a measurement from another service and then fire off an action based on the three possible outcomes (less than, greater than, equal to — see, your elementary school math does have applicability in life).

It turns out that IFTTT is pleased to offer a straightforward API to let you integrate your own service with theirs. The first stumbling block I hit was that my service would need to be an OAuth 2.0 provider. It shouldn’t be a surprise that being an OAuth provider involves a lot of infrastructure; it’s not having that infrastructure that makes being an OAuth client so attractive.

So now, with no clear path to monetization and this huge pile of complicated work in front of me, I’m thinking that no, I don’t actually need to write this service. I can just write a simple program that will poll for the information I actually care about and send me an email when the conditions are right. Trying to solve the problem for everybody just isn’t worth the expense (because dedicated servers with static IP addresses and domain names and databases with same are all readily had but they aren’t free and they cost way more than the Raspberry Pi that I’ve already got).

Here’s A Useful Testing Application

So, a few years back, I consulted at NASA doing some work on a really cool system for storing and retrieving documentation on systems in flight. Basically, it was a very customized Bugzilla that winds up saving the American taxpayer millions of dollars every year. There’s a post I wrote at the time about how to print to PDF from Perl that is still the single most popular blog post I’ve ever written. It still gets traffic, and that tells me that the library is still terrible at telling you how to use it. Anyway, that’s not what I want to talk about today. Today, I’m advertising another application that arose from the same gig: a dummy SMTP/POP3 server.

Continue reading

VPN, part 2

Well, the configuration I’d put together before turned out not to work when I was at a hotel and trying it out. I got distracted and didn’t do anything about it for a while, but today I had some time and I started digging around. Guess what? Someone solved this problem ages ago and someone else wrote about it last fall!

I uninstalled openvpn from the pi, just to make sure the bogus configuration got deleted, then ran the road warrior script from Boom, it worked.