Blast from the past: 5 worlds

5 Worlds is a Joel Spolsky classic. This article needs to be updated (it’s from 2002, when shrinkwrap software was still A Thing) but it still has a lot of wisdom and illustrates just how large the scope of work available to software developers is (even more so now that software is eating the world).

Whenever you read one of those books about programming methodologies written by a full time software development guru/consultant, you can rest assured that they are talking about internal, corporate software development. Not shrinkwrapped software, not embedded software, and certainly not games. Why? Because corporations are the people who hire these gurus. They’re paying the bill.

Note that assuming a software developer is a webdev is like assuming a lawyer is a trial attorney. Just like there’s lots of ways to practice law, there are lots of ways to build software. And, to be honest, this is probably true of every profession. If you go to a party and ask someone “what do you do” and really really listen, chances are you’ll get a startling view of the world, because everyone does something interesting.


Boulder Blockchain Meetup

I went to the Boulder Blockchain Meetup a few days ago. It was fascinating. The entire room was full to standing, and they went around and asked everyone to do a quick intro. Then we separated into three grouos:

  • beginners
  • developers
  • everyone else

The beginners group, where I went, was about 10ish folks in a room discussing all different aspects of the blockchain, from who might be interested in using it to what a particular coin might be used for to ‘buying the dip’. I was surprised at how many non developers were there (40-60%). There was a lot of talk about ‘trading’ crypto currencies. To be honest, it felt a bit like the wild west, with plenty of interesting work and some scams all mixed together.

However it was interesting enough to me to take a deeper look into Ethereum (there are so many crypto currencies, but this seems like a good one to investigate, if you are a developer). This looked useful, as did this.

Finally, if you’d like a two minute intro into why this is worth investigating, here’s a video from the Meetup website (otherwise, you should totally check out the next meetup):


How can you ignore the feed?

Joel Spolsky has a post up about how the design of software affects society, which has some great points about how ignoring Twitter and Facebook and other feeds of information that are constantly coming at him makes us happier. He’s not alone in thinking that the design of software intimately affects the people that use it. Here’s a great post from 2003 on social software by Clay Shirky.

Joel says:

I gave up on the feeds because they were making me angry. A lot of times I was angry because of politics, but even on non-political things, the feeds seemed like they were full of conflict and stress.

I can’t tell you how much happier I am without them. Am I the only one that hated reading feeds? Do they make everybody unhappy? And if they make people unhappy why are they so popular?

And then goes on to examine how these companies have leveraged human behavior and technology to keep us coming back.

I have had issues with this myself (I’m no snowflake).  For Facebook, it’s “I wonder what happened to <old acquaintance>?”.  For Twitter it’s “what are people talking about now?”.  What has worked for me?

First, take the applications off my phone.  The phone is ever present, and if I have access, I will look at the feed.  “Oh, I wonder who has posted something interesting to Twitter.”  Yes, I should limit my access to my phone too.

Then, I changed my password to something hard to remember, that I have to look up someplace (from a password manager).  This means that I can’t login on a whim, but have to take the extra step of looking up my password.

I use the applications for limited purposes, not for general entertainment.  For Twitter, I limit idle scrolling and really focus on the ability to communicate with anyone anywhere, as well as friends I have on Twitter.  Rather than logging in to post something, I’ve set up several zaps to push content from other sites to Twitter.  I also have stagnated at about 500 followers, so if you are looking to be a Twitter influencer, don’t ask me for advice.  For Facebook I’m even more careful.  I stay logged out of Facebook, and only login when I have specific tasks–share an article or contact someone for whom I have no email address.

I never allow the applications to send me notifications.  The emails they send to pull me back in are bad enough.

These platforms have tremendous value, but if I am not careful I get sucked in and waste time and brainpower.  There’s a great book, Feed, and a primary plot driver is how humans will act when we have access to the wonders of the Internet embedded in our brains.

It’s a dystopian novel.


Nest Cams to Help General Contractors

I had an interesting conversation with a friend last night who was doing some home remodeling.  He mentioned that part of the hassle of any such project was that the general contractor (GC) with whom you are directly in contact, doesn’t really know the state of construction site (what has been done, who has stopped by to work, what it looks like, etc).

They are limited to three sources of information:

  • their subcontractors
  • the homeowner
  • a site visit

The first source may or may not be reliable, depending on the relationship and how busy they are.  Using the second leads to every homeowner’s nightmare (micromanaging the home improvement project), and also may have some reliability issues.  The third may not be feasible, depending on the size of the project and the number of projects the GC is running.

However, there is now a fourth option that my friend mentioned.  (I thought of drones, silly me.)  My friend had anecdotal evidence that using these outdoor cameras was very helpful to some general contractors.  They can review footage in much less time than driving to the site.  They can send video around.  They can text their subs and resolve any issues that may arise, or reschedule work if needed.

Using a camera system, like the nest outdoor camera, gives the GC an independent, truthful view into the construction site.


Panel on Net Neutrality

I’ll be participating in a livestreamed panel at 7pm mountain tonight, hosted by Representative Jared Polis.  We’ll be discussing FCC net neutrality actions.  (They’re rolling back ‘common carrier’ status from ISPs as of today.)  (Update 12/12, apparently the reclassification is happening this week, not today.)

Please feel free to join!


Supporting your local newspaper

We are subscribers to the local paper (the Daily Camera).  It’s not perfect (and there are of course online subscription options), but the experience of reading newspaper is different than the experience of reading online.  They both have strengths.

Online:

  • read from anywhere: anywhere that has an internet connection, of course
  • searchability: you can search for a particular word within an article or a specific article within an edition
  • shareability: super simple to pass on an article that you think a friend would enjoy via email, text, etc

Offline/paper:

  • discoverability: often you’ll discover stories that you didn’t know you needed to read
  • focus: when you’re reading the paper, you aren’t distracted by any notifications or other applications
  • browseability: you can easily switch between sections and discover related articles
  • shareability: when you read an article you like, you can point it out to a family member and they can immediately read it if they like

There’s also a comforting ritual about it–wandering out to the driveway every morning and enjoying the early morning across the seasons, younger family members seeking out the funnies, folding the newspaper and reading it on the couch.

Supporting local news organizations is much like supporting local shops or local farms. In all of these cases, you’re trading efficiency for resiliency (the centralized solution is in general more efficient, but concentration means more chokepoints).  If you don’t support local options, eventually they won’t be available. If that’s OK with you, that’s fine, but it’s not OK with me.


Using Amazon Mechanical Turk

chess-1215079_640So, after over a decade, I finally found a use case where I had the clout and the need to use mechanical turk. I wanted to write about my experiences.

What I used it for: We were looking for some data on businesses.  We had business name, city and state, and wanted full contact information.  We paid a dime for each listing, and asked for email address and physical address.  We asked about each listing twice so that we’d have some kind of double check.

How effective was it? This varied.  If you were using the master workers, it was very effective, but slower.  If you open it up to all workers, you have to review their work more closely.  The few times I rejected someone’s task, they wrote back and asked why and tried to make it right, which was a testament to the power of the system (it records rejections).  Make sure you break the work into a couple of smaller groups so you can iterate on your instruction set (when workers asked questions on the first set, the answers went into the instructions for the second set).  We still had to review all the listings and double check any that didn’t match between both task answers, but that was a lot quicker than googling for each business and doing the research ourselves.

How much did it cost? On the order of a couple hundred bucks to process around fifteen hundred listings.

What kind of time savings did we see? Assume we had 1500 business names, and it took us 90 seconds to google the business name and find the information.  That is 1500 listings * 1.5 minutes == 37.5 hours, and this is on the low end.  Instead, it took about 2-3 hours of setup, and then 36 hours of calendar time (when I was able to do other things like sleep and work on other problems), and we were done.  Then I would say it was about 7-10 hours of review. So you are trading a couple hundred bucks for at least 20 hours of saved time.

Would I do it again? I think mturk is perfect if your problem has the following three attributes: more money than time, a task that is extremely simple, and time to review the finished product.

Other tips? You have to build it some kind of sampling for correctness. I have no idea what the quality is if you pay more than a dime per task.  Make sure you think about edge cases.  Provide tips to your workers (“check whois records as well as google”).


The Deployment Age

If you haven’t read The Deployment Age (and its follow on post), you should go read it right now.

The premise is that we’re entering a technology super cycle with the Internet and PC where the technology will become far more integrated and invisible and the chief means of financing will be internal company resources.  The focus will be on existing markets, not creating new ones, and refinement rather than innovation.

If you work in technology and are interested in the big picture, it is worth a read:

Some things we’ve learned over the past 30 years–that novelty is more important than quality; that if you’re not disrupting yourself someone else will disrupt you; that entering new markets is more important than expanding existing markets; that technology has to be evangelized, not asked for by your customers–may no longer be true. Almost every company will continue to be managed as if these things were true, probably right up until they manage themselves out of business. There’s an old saying that generals are always fighting the last war, it’s not just generals, it’s everyone’s natural inclination.

Go read it: The Deployment Age.


Good time had by all at the HN Meetup

Where can you talk about super-capacitors vs batteries, whether you should rewrite your app (hint, you shouldn’t), penetration testing of well known organizations, cost of living, and native vs cross platform mobile apps?  All while enjoying a cold drink and the best fried food the Dark Horse can offer?

At the Boulder Hacker News Meetup, that’s where.  We had our inaugural meetup today and had a good showing.  Developers, startup owners, FTEs, contractors, backend folks, front end devs and penetration testers all showed up, and, as the Meetup page suggests, ate, drank and chatted.

Hope to see you at the next one.



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