thirty-eight things tagged “technology”

On the Tragedy of systemd

Spent a decent portion of my professional life with init.d. Had to deploy a set of Ubuntu servers last week (use FreeBSD at home), which marked my first actual brush with systemd after a long while of sysadmin-ing Linux systems. It’s weird, takes some getting used to, and has a lovely Enterprise™ smell to it1, but I don’t think I mind it too much, especially with a nice cheatsheet. Just ergonomics; no comments on its security and stewardship 🤐

I wanted to know more about it’s history and enjoyed this really excellent talk by Benno Rice. Had no idea that its creator received death threats and various other forms of online abuse over an innocuous set of ideas and piece of software. Unbelievable.

Some select quotes from the talk and about systemd:

People have a complicated relationship with change. I like to say that nerds especially have a really complicated relationship with change. We love it to pieces. Change is awesome when we’re the ones doing it.

Benno Rice

The moral isn’t “Don’t use systemd”, the moral is “Write stuff in better languages than C”. rsyslog doesn’t exactly have an enviable security record either.

@mjg59

and finally,

The moral is “Don’t use systemd. And don’t chain core system functionality to software from teams with a track record of imcompetence.” It’s about better, experienced programmers. Not “better” languages.

@hyc_symas

Word.

  1. I imagine that init.d did too when it was introduced. ↩︎

On Convenience in 2022

Definitely the future of television I had in mind was me having to google every movie I want to watch to see if it’s currently in one of its one-month windows on any of the seven streaming services I pay for. This is way easier than buying a DVD. I love it.

@chasemit

Oracle

Here’s Bryan Cantrill’s classic assessment of Oracle Corporation (taken from this talk.)

On Twitter, a year after that video:

If you were an enterprise database customer who hadn’t heard of the Nazis, might it be easiest to explain them with Oracle allegory?

@bcantrill

I know people who’ve worked there (none of whom are with the company, mercifully) and have heard nothing but fascinating tales of dysfunction, fiefdoms, sinecures, overwork, and bureaucracy. One engineer told me that, of all the bad places he’d worked at, he felt his “soul dying slowly” at Oracle. It’s a generic and very real Evil Corporation™, and probably the company the protagonists in Office Space work at.

And this wouldn’t be too far-fetched a thought. Consider that the producers of Terminator: Genisys, who are an Oracle Co-Founders’s own children, based “Cyberdyne Systems, the fictional defense company responsible for the creation of the evil AI Skynet” on their dad’s company. Amazing.

Eliminating Distractions with MS-DOS

The Dune screenplay was written on MS-DOS on a program app called “Movie Master”. It has a 40 page limit which helps the writer, Eric Roth.

Writing is fundamentally about putting your ass in the chair and typing the words. Eliminating distractions (I’ve checked Twitter at least five times while writing this short blog) is a key to success. Nothing eliminates distractions like a stripped down simple program with no internet access. Roth also said the 40 page limit helps him structure his screenplays.“I like it because it makes acts,” he said. “I realize if I hadn’t said it in 40 pages I’m starting to get in trouble.”

Matthew Gault, “The ‘Dune’ Screenplay Was Written in MS-DOS”, Vice

On Doing Things Right and Doing the Right Thing

There’s a difference between doing things right and doing the right thing. Doing the right thing is wisdom, and effectiveness. Doing things right is efficiency. The curious thing is the righter you do the wrong thing the wronger you become. If you’re doing the wrong thing and you make a mistake and correct it you become wronger. So it’s better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right. Almost every major social problem that confronts us today is a consequence of trying to do the wrong things righter.

Peter Drucker

Pages Full of Links to Cool Things

Terra, Gossip’s Web, and Marijn’s Linkroll remind my (oldass) self of a more innocent time when one would ‘surf the internet’, come by a list of links another human being liked, and discover all sorts of strange and wacky handmade things. I think I’m saying I really miss how fun something like Geocities was.

God this is really happening

Update

Blogsurf.io is another blog aggregator managed by a human being.

Real Programmers Don’t Use PASCAL by Ed Post, Copyright (c) 1982 More Pasta

Back in the good old days – the “Golden Era” of computers, it was easy to separate the men from the boys (sometimes called “Real Men” and “Quiche Eaters” in the literature). During this period, the Real Men were the ones that understood computer programming, and the Quiche Eaters were the ones that didn’t. A real computer programmer said things like “DO 10 I=1,10” and “ABEND” (they actually talked in capital letters, you understand), and the rest of the world said things like “computers are too complicated for me” and “I can’t relate to computers – they’re so impersonal”. (A previous work [1] points out that Real Men don’t “relate” to anything, and aren’t afraid of being impersonal.)

But, as usual, times change. We are faced today with a world in which little old ladies can get computerized microwave ovens, 12 year old kids can blow Real Men out of the water playing Asteroids and Pac-Man, and anyone can buy and even understand their very own Personal Computer. The Real Programmer is in danger of becoming extinct, of being replaced by high-school students with TRASH-80s!

There is a clear need to point out the differences between the typical high-school junior Pac-Man player and a Real Programmer. Understanding these differences will give these kids something to aspire to – a role model, a Father Figure. It will also help employers of Real Programmers to realize why it would be a mistake to replace the Real Programmers on their staff with 12 year old Pac-Man players (at a considerable salary savings).

LANGUAGES

The easiest way to tell a Real Programmer from the crowd is by the programming language he (or she) uses. Real Programmers use FORTRAN. Quiche Eaters use PASCAL. Nicklaus Wirth, the designer of PASCAL, was once asked, “How do you pronounce your name?”. He replied “You can either call me by name, pronouncing it ‘Veert’, or call me by value, ‘Worth’.” One can tell immediately from this comment that Nicklaus Wirth is a Quiche Eater. The only parameter passing mechanism endorsed by Real Programmers is call-by-value-return, as implemented in the IBM/370 FORTRAN G and H compilers. Real programmers don’t need abstract concepts to get their jobs done: they are perfectly happy with a keypunch, a FORTRAN IV compiler, and a beer.

  • Real Programmers do List Processing in FORTRAN.
  • Real Programmers do String Manipulation in FORTRAN.
  • Real Programmers do Accounting (if they do it at all) in FORTRAN.
  • Real Programmers do Artificial Intelligence programs in FORTRAN.

If you can’t do it in FORTRAN, do it in assembly language. If you can’t do it in assembly language, it isn’t worth doing.

STRUCTURED PROGRAMMING

Computer science academicians have gotten into the “structured programming” rut over the past several years. They claim that programs are more easily understood if the programmer uses some special language constructs and techniques. They don’t all agree on exactly which constructs, of course, and the examples they use to show their particular point of view invariably fit on a single page of some obscure journal or another – clearly not enough of an example to convince anyone. When I got out of school, I thought I was the best programmer in the world. I could write an unbeatable tic-tac-toe program, use five different computer languages, and create 1000 line programs that WORKED. (Really!) Then I got out into the Real World. My first task in the Real World was to read and understand a 200,000 line FORTRAN program, then speed it up by a factor of two. Any Real Programmer will tell you that all the Structured Coding in the world won’t help you solve a problem like that – it takes actual talent. Some quick observations on Real Programmers and Structured Programming:

  • Real Programmers aren’t afraid to use GOTOs.
  • Real Programmers can write five page long DO loops without getting confused.
  • Real Programmers enjoy Arithmetic IF statements because they make the code more interesting.
  • Real Programmers write self-modifying code, especially if it saves them 20 nanoseconds in the middle of a tight loop.
  • Programmers don’t need comments: the code is obvious.
  • Since FORTRAN doesn’t have a structured IF, REPEAT … UNTIL, or CASE statement, Real Programmers don’t have to worry about not using them. Besides, they can be simulated when necessary using assigned GOTOs.

Data structures have also gotten a lot of press lately. Abstract Data Types, Structures, Pointers, Lists, and Strings have become popular in certain circles. Wirth (the above-mentioned Quiche Eater) actually wrote an entire book [2] contending that you could write a program based on data structures, instead of the other way around. As all Real Programmers know, the only useful data structure is the array. Strings, lists, structures, sets – these are all special cases of arrays and and can be treated that way just as easily without messing up your programing language with all sorts of complications. The worst thing about fancy data types is that you have to declare them, and Real Programming Languages, as we all know, have implicit typing based on the first letter of the (six character) variable name.

OPERATING SYSTEMS

What kind of operating system is used by a Real Programmer? CP/M? God forbid – CP/M, after all, is basically a toy operating system. Even little old ladies and grade school students can understand and use CP/M.

Unix is a lot more complicated of course – the typical Unix hacker never can remember what the PRINT command is called this week – but when it gets right down to it, Unix is a glorified video game. People don’t do Serious Work on Unix systems: they send jokes around the world on USENET and write adventure games and research papers.

No, your Real Programmer uses OS/370. A good programmer can find and understand the description of the IJK305I error he just got in his JCL manual. A great programmer can write JCL without referring to the manual at all. A truly outstanding programmer can find bugs buried in a 6 megabyte core dump without using a hex calculator. (I have actually seen this done.)

OS/370 is a truly remarkable operating system. It’s possible to destroy days of work with a single misplaced space, so alertness in the programming staff is encouraged. The best way to approach the system is through a keypunch. Some people claim there is a Time Sharing system that runs on OS/370, but after careful study I have come to the conclusion that they are mistaken.

PROGRAMMING TOOLS

What kind of tools does a Real Programmer use? In theory, a Real Programmer could run his programs by keying them into the front panel of the computer. Back in the days when computers had front panels, this was actually done occasionally. Your typical Real Programmer knew the entire bootstrap loader by memory in hex, and toggled it in whenever it got destroyed by his program. (Back then, memory was memory – it didn’t go away when the power went off. Today, memory either forgets things when you don’t want it to, or remembers things long after they’re better forgotten.) Legend has it that Seymour Cray, inventor of the Cray I supercomputer and most of Control Data’s computers, actually toggled the first operating system for the CDC7600 in on the front panel from memory when it was first powered on. Seymour, needless to say, is a Real Programmer.

One of my favorite Real Programmers was a systems programmer for Texas Instruments. One day, he got a long distance call from a user whose system had crashed in the middle of some important work. Jim was able to repair the damage over the phone, getting the user to toggle in disk I/O instructions at the front panel, repairing system tables in hex, reading register contents back over the phone. The moral of this story: while a Real Programmer usually includes a keypunch and lineprinter in his toolkit, he can get along with just a front panel and a telephone in emergencies.

In some companies, text editing no longer consists of ten engineers standing in line to use an 029 keypunch. In fact, the building I work in doesn’t contain a single keypunch. The Real Programmer in this situation has to do his work with a text editor program. Most systems supply several text editors to select from, and the Real Programmer must be careful to pick one that reflects his personal style. Many people believe that the best text editors in the world were written at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center for use on their Alto and Dorado computers [3]. Unfortunately, no Real Programmer would ever use a computer whose operating system is called SmallTalk, and would certainly not talk to the computer with a mouse.

Some of the concepts in these Xerox editors have been incorporated into editors running on more reasonably named operating systems. EMACS and VI are probably the most well known of this class of editors. The problem with these editors is that Real Programmers consider “what you see is what you get” to be just as bad a concept in text editors as it is in women. No, the Real Programmer wants a “you asked for it, you got it” text editor – complicated, cryptic, powerful, unforgiving, dangerous. TECO, to be precise.

It has been observed that a TECO command sequence more closely resembles transmission line noise than readable text [4]. One of the more entertaining games to play with TECO is to type your name in as a command line and try to guess what it does. Just about any possible typing error while talking with TECO will probably destroy your program, or even worse – introduce subtle and mysterious bugs in a once working subroutine.

For this reason, Real Programmers are reluctant to actually edit a program that is close to working. They find it much easier to just patch the binary object code directly, using a wonderful program called SUPERZAP (or its equivalent on non-IBM machines). This works so well that many working programs on IBM systems bear no relation to the original FORTRAN code. In many cases, the original source code is no longer available. When it comes time to fix a program like this, no manager would even think of sending anything less than a Real Programmer to do the job – no Quiche Eating structured programmer would even know where to start. This is called “job security”.

Some programming tools NOT used by Real Programmers:

  • FORTRAN preprocessors like MORTRAN and RATFOR. The Cuisinarts of programming – great for making Quiche. See comments above on structured programming.
  • Source language debuggers. Real Programmers can read core dumps.
  • Compilers with array bounds checking. They stifle creativity, destroy most of the interesting uses for EQUIVALENCE, and make it impossible to modify the operating system code with negative subscripts. Worst of all, bounds checking is inefficient.
  • Source code maintainance systems. A Real Programmer keeps his code locked up in a card file, because it implies that its owner cannot leave his important programs unguarded [5].

THE REAL PROGRAMMER AT WORK

Where does the typical Real Programmer work? What kind of programs are worthy of the efforts of so talented an individual? You can be sure that no real Programmer would be caught dead writing accounts-receivable programs in COBOL, or sorting mailing lists for People magazine. A Real Programmer wants tasks of earth-shaking importance (literally!):

  • Real Programmers work for Los Alamos National Laboratory, writing atomic bomb simulations to run on Cray I supercomputers.
  • Real Programmers work for the National Security Agency, decoding Russian transmissions.
  • It was largely due to the efforts of thousands of Real Programmers working for NASA that our boys got to the moon and back before the cosmonauts.
  • The computers in the Space Shuttle were programmed by Real Programmers.
  • Programmers are at work for Boeing designing the operating systems for cruise missiles.

Some of the most awesome Real Programmers of all work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Many of them know the entire operating system of the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft by heart. With a combination of large ground-based FORTRAN programs and small spacecraft-based assembly language programs, they can to do incredible feats of navigation and improvisation, such as hitting ten-kilometer wide windows at Saturn after six years in space, and repairing or bypassing damaged sensor platforms, radios, and batteries. Allegedly, one Real Programmer managed to tuck a pattern-matching program into a few hundred bytes of unused memory in a Voyager spacecraft that searched for, located, and photographed a new moon of Jupiter.

One plan for the upcoming Galileo spacecraft mission is to use a gravity assist trajectory past Mars on the way to Jupiter. This trajectory passes within 80 +/- 3 kilometers of the surface of Mars. Nobody is going to trust a PASCAL program (or PASCAL programmer) for navigation to these tolerances.

As you can tell, many of the world’s Real Programmers work for the U.S. Government, mainly the Defense Department. This is as it should be. Recently, however, a black cloud has formed on the Real Programmer horizon.

It seems that some highly placed Quiche Eaters at the Defense Department decided that all Defense programs should be written in some grand unified language called “ADA” (registered trademark, DoD). For a while, it seemed that ADA was destined to become a language that went against all the precepts of Real Programming – a language with structure, a language with data types, strong typing, and semicolons. In short, a language designed to cripple the creativity of the typical Real Programmer. Fortunately, the language adopted by DoD has enough interesting features to make it approachable: it’s incredibly complex, includes methods for messing with the operating system and rearranging memory, and Edsgar Dijkstra doesn’t like it [6]. (Dijkstra, as I’m sure you know, was the author of “GoTos Considered Harmful” – a landmark work in programming methodology, applauded by Pascal Programmers and Quiche Eaters alike.) Besides, the determined Real Programmer can write FORTRAN programs in any language.

The real programmer might compromise his principles and work on something slightly more trivial than the destruction of life as we know it, providing there’s enough money in it. There are several Real Programmers building video games at Atari, for example. (But not playing them. A Real Programmer knows how to beat the machine every time: no challange in that.) Everyone working at LucasFilm is a Real Programmer. (It would be crazy to turn down the money of 50 million Star Wars fans.) The proportion of Real Programmers in Computer Graphics is somewhat lower than the norm, mostly because nobody has found a use for Computer Graphics yet. On the other hand, all Computer Graphics is done in FORTRAN, so there are a fair number people doing Graphics in order to avoid having to write COBOL programs.

THE REAL PROGRAMMER AT PLAY

Generally, the Real Programmer plays the same way he works – with computers. He is constantly amazed that his employer actually pays him to do what he would be doing for fun anyway, although he is careful not to express this opinion out loud. Occasionally, the Real Programmer does step out of the office for a breath of fresh air and a beer or two. Some tips on recognizing real programmers away from the computer room:

  • At a party, the Real Programmers are the ones in the corner talking about operating system security and how to get around it.
  • At a football game, the Real Programmer is the one comparing the plays against his simulations printed on 11 by 14 fanfold paper.
  • At the beach, the Real Programmer is the one drawing flowcharts in the sand.
  • A Real Programmer goes to a disco to watch the light show.
  • At a funeral, the Real Programmer is the one saying “Poor George. And he almost had the sort routine working before the coronary.”
  • In a grocery store, the Real Programmer is the one who insists on running the cans past the laser checkout scanner himself, because he never could trust keypunch operators to get it right the first time.

THE REAL PROGRAMMER’S NATURAL HABITAT

What sort of environment does the Real Programmer function best in? This is an important question for the managers of Real Programmers. Considering the amount of money it costs to keep one on the staff, it’s best to put him (or her) in an environment where he can get his work done.

The typical Real Programmer lives in front of a computer terminal. Surrounding this terminal are:

  • Listings of all programs the Real Programmer has ever worked on, piled in roughly chronological order on every flat surface in the office.
  • Some half-dozen or so partly filled cups of cold coffee. Occasionally, there will be cigarette butts floating in the coffee. In some cases, the cups will contain Orange Crush.
  • Unless he is very good, there will be copies of the OS JCL manual and the Principles of Operation open to some particularly interesting pages.
  • Taped to the wall is a line-printer Snoopy calender for the year 1969.
  • Strewn about the floor are several wrappers for peanut butter filled cheese bars (the type that are made stale at the bakery so they can’t get any worse while waiting in the vending machine).
  • Hiding in the top left-hand drawer of the desk is a stash of double stuff Oreos for special occasions.
  • Underneath the Oreos is a flow-charting template, left there by the previous occupant of the office. (Real Programmers write programs, not documentation. Leave that to the maintainence people.)

The Real Programmer is capable of working 30, 40, even 50 hours at a stretch, under intense pressure. In fact, he prefers it that way. Bad response time doesn’t bother the Real Programmer – it gives him a chance to catch a little sleep between compiles. If there is not enough schedule pressure on the Real Programmer, he tends to make things more challenging by working on some small but interesting part of the problem for the first nine weeks, then finishing the rest in the last week, in two or three 50-hour marathons. This not only inpresses his manager, who was despairing of ever getting the project done on time, but creates a convenient excuse for not doing the documentation. In general:

  • No Real Programmer works 9 to 5. (Unless it’s 9 in the evening to 5 in the morning.)
  • Real Programmers don’t wear neckties.
  • Real Programmers don’t wear high heeled shoes.
  • Real Programmers arrive at work in time for lunch. [9]
  • A Real Programmer might or might not know his wife’s name. He does, however, know the entire ASCII (or EBCDIC) code table.
  • Real Programmers don’t know how to cook. Grocery stores aren’t often open at 3 a.m., so they survive on Twinkies and coffee.

THE FUTURE

What of the future? It is a matter of some concern to Real Programmers that the latest generation of computer programmers are not being brought up with the same outlook on life as their elders. Many of them have never seen a computer with a front panel. Hardly anyone graduating from school these days can do hex arithmetic without a calculator. College graduates these days are soft – protected from the realities of programming by source level debuggers, text editors that count parentheses, and user friendly operating systems. Worst of all, some of these alleged computer scientists manage to get degrees without ever learning FORTRAN! Are we destined to become an industry of Unix hackers and Pascal programmers?

On the contrary. From my experience, I can only report that the future is bright for Real Programmers everywhere. Neither OS/370 nor FORTRAN show any signs of dying out, despite all the efforts of Pascal programmers the world over. Even more subtle tricks, like adding structured coding constructs to FORTRAN have failed. Oh sure, some computer vendors have come out with FORTRAN 77 compilers, but every one of them has a way of converting itself back into a FORTRAN 66 compiler at the drop of an option card – to compile DO loops like God meant them to be.

Even Unix might not be as bad on Real Programmers as it once was. The latest release of Unix has the potential of an operating system worthy of any Real Programmer. It has two different and subtly incompatible user interfaces, an arcane and complicated terminal driver, virtual memory. If you ignore the fact that it’s structured, even C programming can be appreciated by the Real Programmer: after all, there’s no type checking, variable names are seven (ten? eight?) characters long, and the added bonus of the Pointer data type is thrown in. It’s like having the best parts of FORTRAN and assembly language in one place. (Not to mention some of the more creative uses for #define.)

No, the future isn’t all that bad. Why, in the past few years, the popular press has even commented on the bright new crop of computer nerds and hackers ([7] and [8]) leaving places like Stanford and M.I.T. for the Real World. From all evidence, the spirit of Real Programming lives on in these young men and women. As long as there are ill-defined goals, bizarre bugs, and unrealistic schedules, there will be Real Programmers willing to jump in and Solve The Problem, saving the documentation for later. Long live FORTRAN!

ACKNOWLEGEMENT

I would like to thank Jan E., Dave S., Rich G., Rich E. for their help in characterizing the Real Programmer, Heather B. for the illustration, Kathy E. for putting up with it, and atd!avsdS:mark for the initial inspriration.

REFERENCES

  1. Feirstein, B., Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, New York, Pocket Books, 1982.
  2. Wirth, N., Algorithms + Datastructures = Programs, Prentice Hall, 1976.
  3. Xerox PARC editors . . .
  4. Finseth, C., Theory and Practice of Text Editors - or - a Cookbook for an EMACS, B.S. Thesis, MIT/LCS/TM-165, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, May 1980.
  5. Weinberg, G., The Psychology of Computer Programming, New York, Van Nostrabd Reinhold, 1971, page 110.
  6. Dijkstra, E., On the GREEN Language Submitted to the DoD, Sigplan notices, Volume 3, Number 10, October 1978.
  7. Rose, Frank, Joy of Hacking, Science 82, Volume 3, Number 9, November 1982, pages 58 - 66.
  8. The Hacker Papers, Psychology Today, August 1980.
  9. Datamation, July, 1983, pp. 263-265.

Users hate change by @sleepyfox on Github More Pasta

This week NN Group released a video by Jakob Nielsen in which he attempts to help designers deal with the problem of customers being resistant to their new site/product redesign. The argument goes thusly:

  1. Humans naturally resist change
  2. Your change is for the better
  3. Customers should just get used to it and stop complaining

There’s slightly more to it than that, he caveats his argument with requiring you to have of course followed their best practices on product design, and allows for a period of customers being able to elect to continue to use the old site, although he says this is obviously only a temporary solution as you don’t want to support both.

This argument is both incredibly entitled and terribly egocentric, as well as being wrong-headed on several counts.

Firstly: humans don’t resist change when it’s something that they asked for, they resist things being imposed upon them against their will. There is an incredibly persistent cultural movement in product design that “we know best”, this is a very parent-child style relationship: “Mother knows best”, that both disempowers and disengages customers.

Let me be clear: when I buy a product I am paying for what the product can do for me now. It fulfils a need that I currently have. I am not paying money out of my own pocket for a faint hope that the product may do something in the vague and nebulous future.

So: Product does X. I find that valuable. I pay $n to buy X capability. The product probably does Y and Z too, but I don’t care about that. I bought it to do X.

When you as a product manager or designer or PO or whatever decide that your product should do A, B and C too, I don’t care. I don’t want those features, I didn’t pay for them.

When you as a product person change the way that I have to use the product in order to do X, you are asking me to spend time, effort and attention to change my habits around X in order to do something differently, which may (or may not) benefit me in the future. In all likelyhood you made it easier for new users to learn X. I don’t care about new users. I care about continuing to use the product in the same way as I always do in order to do X, even if you have forced me to do it in a sub-optimal way.

Every change that you make to the product after I have bought it makes it more likely that I will leave your product and find something else that does X instead, because the cost to me to learn how to something different in your product is now not much different than the cost to learn how to do something in a different product.

The more times you force me to change my behaviour, the more badwill (being the opposite of goodwill) builds up. Eventually I’ll become so pissed off that I’ll move, no matter what the cost.

Secondly: Your change probably isn’t for the better. Not for me, not for the majority of existing customers. As stated above, the real benefit is almost always for new customers, who will find it easier to learn to use X. That’s even assuming that this isn’t a ‘branding’ change, which actually benefits no-one other than the expensive branding consultants that you just paid.

The vast majority of the effort that designers spend on look and feel, typeography, colour palettes, image choice and placement, tone of voice, button placement, size and style and a host of other things are of marginal value at best. The really hard stuff - like ethics, accessibility and knowledge architecture are almost always neglected in favour of bike-shedding. The popular rise of apps like Pocket and browser features like Firefox’s Reader View are proof that it is the functionality and the content that is important, not what colour the buttons are.

Thirdly: the idea that you can just tell your customers to suck it up is a relic of last-century marketing that relied on captive customer bases and lack of customer knowledge, awareness and community. Modern customers are, in the majority, well informed and highly vocal with other customers in their community. Unless you have a significant barrier to exit you’ll find that your established customer base leave the moment your competitors make it easy enough for them to migrate. Even the most impressively built and reinforced barriers don’t last forever. OpenOffice and Google Docs, coupled with a change in the way that offices work have meant that even giants like Microsoft are losing their heartlands of enterprise business software contracts.

We can no longer afford to be complacement with our customers.

The idea that it is impossible to support more than one version of a product presupposes that a) work is required to upgrade both versions simultaneously, and b) that the existing product isn’t stable i.e. still many bugs being surfaced. We have many known solutions for the second malady (q.v. software crafting) but the first problem overlooks a simple strategy: Extensible Product Portfolios (EPP).

The idea of EPP is thus: when you have a product that works, and an existing customer base - freeze it. Instead of a major redesign because ‘Material Design is so 2014’ simply leave the product the way it is, bar minor BAU and bug-fix work. Instead devote effort into building a new, next-generation product that addresses (hopefully) a new customer segment, and allow existing customers to add this new product to their portfolio for a incremental fee. This allows existing customers to self-select into a new product, protects revenue and reduces the risk of existing product customers leaving due to badwill.

In this way a team/organisation builds up a protfolio of products, all of them profitable, all of them long-lived. After the vast majority of customers leave an old product for ‘2.0’ then when only a small minority remain you can sunset the old product, perhaps offering customers a free upgrade path, or just leave it running indefinitely as it’s marginal cost of maintenance is now essentially zero.

This treats your customers like adults, gives them the freedom of choice and empowers them to use that choice in order to best satisfy their own needs.

Tampography

Using a Bloopy Thing to print on all sorts of materials is called “Pad Printing” or tampography. Here’s a Big Bloopy Thing printing a very beautiful pattern onto a bowl (and here’s two of them going at the same time.)

You can use the same technique on all sorts of things: plastic bins, pens, keychains, golf balls, pills. The silicone/bloop conforms to the shape of the object to print on rather easily.

Quality Logo Products has a quick explanation:

Highly Informed Outrage

A lovely Techbro aside from the ongoing #shitkraken.

Greg Stenstrom, another poll watcher, said that in Delaware County, 47 USB cards were missing.

As a computer scientist, an American and a patriot, it doesn’t matter who those votes were for. It was shocking to me that that could even happen,” he said.

“There is no cure for this, no remedy for this. I don’t believe as a citizen and an observer to this, anyone can certify this with a good conscience.”

Harriet Alexander, “‘Your election is a sham’: Giuliani tells Pennsylvania ‘I know crooks really well’ as he appears in Gettysburg”, The Independent

(Emphasis mine.) Indeed, Gregory. When USB cards go missing, one needs formal training in Algorithms, Data Structures, the Theories of Computation and Complexity, Formal Logic (of course), and more, to express appropriate outrage at an election that’s fraudulent only in your head and only because your guy didn’t win.

The AppleTV Remote Sucks

Dec 9 It’s so bad a Swiss company made a much saner substitute that sells for ~$20.

The Salt Remove


Nov 16 Looks like you can use the old remote with the new AppleTV.


I’m annoyed every time I have to use the infernal thing.

  • It tries (poorly) to be something other than a damn TV remote1.
  • There’s no way to tell which end is up.
  • There’s no accidental tap detection when you pick it up.
  • It’s way too small.
  • It’s way too slippery.
  • I use Siri to skip forward and backward because the edge clicks are unmemorable and dysfunctional.

I use the iPhone app when I can and, while I can’t stand the terribly implemented inertial scroll, still find it better than the hardware.

Inertial scrolling does in fact exist on the Siri remote, but the effect is muted. The on-screen movement doesn’t accurately reflect your swiping — scrolling is staggered and it often stops abruptly, when you don’t intend to stop. This makes aspects of navigation, like manual search or entering your email address or password, extremely cumbersome.

– Dave Smith, “My biggest problem with the new Apple TV remote

See also: Steve Brykman of ArsTechnica’s thoughts on “the nightmare horrorshow” that’s the remote.

  1. “You’re basically getting a giant iPad game that you have to play with a tiny remote” ↩︎

Because God Can See

When I was little — and by the way, I was little once — my father told me a story about an 18th century watchmaker. And what this guy had done: he used to produce these fabulously beautiful watches.

And one day, one of his customers came into his workshop and asked him to clean the watch that he’d bought. And the guy took it apart, and one of the things he pulled out was one of the balance wheels. And as he did so, his customer noticed that on the back side of the balance wheel was an engraving, were words.

And he said to the guy, “Why have you put stuff on the back that no one will ever see?” And the watchmaker turned around and said, “God can see it.”

Now I’m not in the least bit religious, neither was my father, but at that point, I noticed something happening here. I felt something in this plexus of blood vessels and nerves, and there must be some muscles in there as well somewhere, I guess. But I felt something. And it was a physiological response. And from that point on, from my age at the time, I began to think of things in a different way. And as I took on my career as a designer, I began to ask myself the simple question: Do we actually think beauty, or do we feel it?

Richard Seymour, How Beauty Feels

I want it to be as beautiful as possible, even if it’s inside the box. A great carpenter isn’t going to use lousy wood for the back of a cabinet, even though nobody’s going to see it. When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.

Steve Jobs

Do quite a bit more, good and invisible things, than required for the MVP or for the bloody “sprint.” You will then smile a lot and sleep quite well indeed. Excellence is a habit. It is yours. Nobody steals this from you.

Saved here via Stephanie Harcrow’s post.

Computers Are Fast

A nice little quiz meant to illustrate how much your typical Python and Bash code can accomplish in one second.

If the answer is 38,000, both 10,000 and 100,000 are considered correct answers. The goal is to not be wrong by more than 10x :)

and

A newer computer won’t make your code run 1000x faster :)

Hugo Migration

Gave Hugo a try and was quite impressed by the ease and speed. The official documentation kinda sucks at introducing key ideas (like taxonomies) in a gradual way that’s helpful to newcomers, but is great for variable and function references. Found these two posts very helpful. Here’s another that explains template variable scope well. And another that goes over theme development step-by-step.

Sticking to Jekyll for now since

  • I don’t post that often and can wait a minute for recompilation if/when I have that many posts
  • Hugo does not compile SASS like Jekyll; don’t want to make an asset pipeline or turn to readymade solutions like this
  • It doesn’t do archives like Jekyll. Approaches like these might be creative but… 🤷‍♂️

Hugo is as insanely fast as advertized. I love the section and taxonomy abstractions, myriad content types, and I18n support. I’d use it to build any static website that’s not a blog. For now, Viva Jekyll.

Letters to a Computer

The Des Moines Register on how to send them email in (I’m guessing) the late 80s/early 90s.

An article on how Baud Rate isn’t the same as Bit Rate

Baud rate refers to the number of signal or symbol changes that occur per second. A symbol is one of several voltage, frequency, or phase changes. NRZ binary has two symbols, one for each bit 0 or 1, that represent voltage levels. In this case, the baud or symbol rate is the same as the bit rate.

– Lou Frenzel, Electronic Design, “What’s The Difference Between Bit Rate And Baud Rate?

Via /r/bitcoin