Words Have Meaning Part I: Facts

The universe is a vast, confusing, and changing cosmic terrarium. We are confined by its rules and trapped by its expanding boundaries. In an effort to add some structure to the chaos, hone our understanding of the mechanics, and persist information beyond our generation, we use words, numbers, pictures, labels, diagrams, standards, and many more tools to calculate, predict, record, and preserve observations about the various universal processes that surround us.

When we assign a verifiable value to an observation based on our best collective understanding, we call that value a “fact.” Facts are tricky because they represent the current understanding of an experience. That distinction is important because it’s easy to become disheartened when journalists or scientists discover new information or issue updates about a phenomenon that was long regarded as factual. Facts can change through further observation, experience, and the discovery of more detailed experimental evidence. So what do we believe? Are facts rock solid or can we assume that nothing can truly be known?

Let’s use Earth and Sun for examples. The understandings of Earth’s shape, its place in the solar system, and Sun’s place in the universe has changed over time.

It was an understood fact that Earth was flat in pre-classical Greece. Aristotle eventually showed evidence that Earth was in fact spherical. For a time, Earth’s flatness was a fact. Using our vast technology, we know now that Earth is an ellipsoid, but it wasn’t so easily understood in the past. Pre-classical Greeks were eventually proven to be incorrect and thus the facts changed.… Continue reading

Software Shop Success Checklist

Teams of people need structure. Humans are imperfect, forgetful, prone to mistakes, and often cut corners for convenience or “time saving”. Yes, structure and organization are important for teams of programmers and software engineers no matter how many times your leaders have declared that you’re an Agile (with a big A) and agile (with a little a) shop.

Ask Questions during Interviews

It’s easy to get swept up in the marketing techniques that a lot of software companies use during the recruiting and interviewing phases. Maybe you’ve been eyeing a particular position for awhile and finally have the opportunity to make it through the on site gauntlet. You may also be desperate for a job for one reason or another. Regardless, it pays off in the end to make sure you’re aware of how the business operates under the hood.

These guidelines are especially important if you’re signing on as a full time employee or with a company whose primary business is something other than writing software. The former because it’s mentally more difficult to give up benefits, vacations, and a consistent salary should you find out that you’re really not enjoying the job. And the latter because businesses that focus on something other than software are notorious for, frankly, not giving a crap about their various IT/software departments.

During the interview phases of your job search, make sure to take time to ask the interviewer your own questions. Many people overlook this part of the interview phase either because they’ve been in the interview process for 6 hours straight and want to go home, or they just don’t care.… Continue reading

Working “Crunch” Overtime Might Not Help a Team Deliver

The deadline is approaching. Your project is a mess. Your team doesn’t know if delivering on time is going to be possible. Your director has a genius idea. Everyone work overtime with no plan in mind! Have you ever been in such a situation? It’s quite common if you work in IT or software engineer. For some reason, management thinks that everyone working more hours is directly proportional to more productivity.

There’s a problem with that. The common 40 hour workweek was created from evidence-based research. For nearly all professions and activities, the productivity, efficiency, and general output of a worker drops off dramatically after a certain number of hours in a day. It’s easy to simply say, “Work more hours!” It’s a lot more difficult to use a logical approach and discover the root of what’s causing delays in the project.

It’s disheartening when your director or boss says something like, “We signed up for this profession. We knew what to expect when joining this company. Every project has a “crunch” time for people to work overtime. That’s the industry!” I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that reasoning. If projects are consistently late or require “crunch”, then something has been fundamentally wrong with the project planning from the beginning each and every time.

Look, I get it. Really, I do. People want to solve problems. In an engineering profession, people have a genuine interest in producing solutions to problems. Unfortunately, a lot of the solutions attempt to fix the wrong problem.… Continue reading

Open Offices Aren’t Always the Solution

What’s with the latest craze in the office organization of the service industry? Are we really going back to huge, open spaces with no sense of privacy at all? With companies like Facebook, Google, and even smaller companies like Valve praising the open office concept, it sure seems like it will be here to stay for awhile. That’s unfortunate, because open offices suck!

The Concept

Look, I get it. Someone saw the cube farms and said, “Why are all these people locking themselves away? We need to be more collaborative! Our products are failing because no one is talking to each other. Tear down these walls!” Down came the walls. Soon enough the facility planners were shuffling desks together, removing all partitions, knocking down walls and replacing them with fishbowl style glass walls, and preaching Agile processes. All the while the seasoned veterans are running for the doors as quick as possible.

The Good

There really isn’t a whole lot that I like about open offices (as an introvert), so this might be a biased section. However, I will say that open offices do encourage you to talk to people near you that you normally wouldn’t. This can be a good thing in the sense that you get to know your coworkers. But when a project needs to be worked on diligently, the open office spaces seem to encourage people to just chit chat about random stuff all day. Joking, yelling, talking loudly, and throwing stuff around is just a little bit of what can be experienced in an open office.… Continue reading

Completing Three Major Projects in One Year

I think it’s important to brag about any project that you manage to take from idea to completion. Many people (myself included) have a ton of ideas, few of which become something, and even fewer of which are actually finished and out there. So you should take any opportunity you get to shout out anything you’ve completed.

Built a website? Cool. Remodeled your kitchen? Nice. Wrote a short story? Awesome. Get out there and tell people!

I know the feeling of wanting to start something new every day just to forget about any mistakes you might have made in the previous day. It’s all about start, start, start. It’s never about finish, finish, finish. I guess sometimes we feel like “new” is better than “old” even if that “old” thing has potential.

Without further ado, these are three major projects that I managed to complete in late 2015 and early 2016. They’re not much, but hey, they’re mine!

Twolips Dating

TwolipsDatingSplashTwolips Dating is an online dating community aimed at those who want to find others based on their knowledge and skills. Find yourself attracted to someone really good at math? Awesome. Find people in the community who have answered a ton of math related trivia questions and quizzes. Sign up for free.

Or just check out the blog to follow updates until you’re ready to start.

Safer Stash

SaferStashSplashSafer Stash is an online encrypted virtual storage for your physical stuff. The image above does a good idea of succinctly describing it.… Continue reading

Agile Development isn’t a Silver Bullet

Buzzwords are the worst. The absolute worst. They seem to be something that some higher up read about and decided to preach to his or her employees. Inevitably the buzzwords will end up on job requirements (even if the job has nothing to do with that buzzword) or talked about endlessly during job proposals and interviews. Honestly, it’s a huge red flag if someone repeats a certain methodology, process, or philosophy without justifying the context. “Agile” is just one such buzzword that seems to be really misunderstood and misapplied.

When Agile Becomes a Burden

What is this “Agile” thing? Supposedly its a software development methodology designed to react to a faster paced and rapidly changing form of software construction. Perhaps your requirements are in flux, or your customers don’t really know what they want until they see something in development, or you’re just really interested in that “scrum” word you keep hearing about on various tech blogs. Regardless, you really want in on that sweet, sweet Agile action.

You hire some scrum masters, software engineers (remote is OK), QA engineers, technical writers, and business analysts. You setup a scrum board. You preach the tales of development sprints, user stories, and research spikes. You do all the things that you learned during your 2-day Agile bootcamp in Silicon Valley. Oh man, you’re on a roll you think to yourself. There’s no way a project can fail if I know of all the problems in our daily standups!

Over time, some cracks start to appear in your process.… Continue reading

Add New SSH Login to Azure Linux VM

Some time ago, I created an Ubuntu virtual machine in Azure using a password-based login. Over time, I got annoyed with having to enter the password each time I logged in, so I decided to switch over to using SSH public keys. Unfortunately, the Azure documentation regarding such a scenario assumes only that you will be creating a new virtual machine from scratch to create a public key based login. Have no fear. I have figured out how to do this without having to recreate your virtual machine.

Requirements

  • Linux-based client (your computer)
  • Linux-based virtual machine in Azure with password-based login (Azure)

Create the RSA Keys on Your Computer

Azure requires RSA keys with 2048-bit encryption, so you should do this:

Just press ENTER when asked where to store the file unless you really want to put it somewhere other than the default. In most cases, the default is fine. After you pick the location, enter a good password to unlock the private key when prompted during login.

Transfer the Keys from Your Computer to Your Server

In order to copy your keys to the server on which you want to login, you will need to have a password-based login already setup. If this is your case, do the following:

Enter your server’s password-based login when prompted to begin the copying process.… Continue reading

Get Over Your Fear of Remote Work

This article is aimed at both employers and employees alike. In some circles of the technology industry, there seems to be this pervasive anxiety when discussing the activities of remote workers. In fact, certain CEOs have gone so far as to reign in the egregious act of working remotely by effectively banning the practice altogether. I’m sure he or she sent out a memo including words like “agile,” “synergy,” and “cohesion” to seal the deal.

As the complexity and needs of software continues to grow, companies need to be willing to hire workers whose only option is to work remotely due to location or other life circumstances. Rejecting a possibly great candidate because they are unable or unwilling to relocate across the country is a huge loss for many reasons.

First, the employer missed out on an opportunity with a great candidate. Perhaps that person would have been responsible for saving the company a lot of money or publishing a renowned product. Second, by hiring a remote worker, the employer can forgo the cost of physical on-boarding, providing a phone, providing a desk, and providing a location for which the employee can conduct work. Instead, the company only needs to provide hardware and software to get the employee started. Third, remote employees have far more time to actually do work without having to worry about travel time to and from the work location. In some instances, traveling can consume hours each day depending on the commute distance. Instead of wasting time in traffic, the employee can spend time on work.… Continue reading

The Woes of Windows Store App Submissions

I recently submitted a Windows 10 / Windows Phone app to the Windows Store named Data Viewer for Dota 2. I’m here to warn the world just how awful the process of submission can be.

Microsoft first created the concept of the Windows Store with the release of Windows 8, Windows RT, and Metro Apps — I mean Windows Store Apps — I mean Universal Windows Apps. Whatever you want to call them, the store quickly became an unregulated messy disaster full of copycat and scam apps. Many, many apps were nothing more than front ends to scamming websites, copies of things like Facebook, or general do-nothing apps with a price tag and description which made it seem like a good purchase.

In order to address this problem, in normal Microsoft fashion, Microsoft decided to wait 3 years and come up with a new process of submitting the app. Every app would be held to “rigorous” standards which would guarantee all apps were clearly named and labeled to prevent confusion and scams. There are several guideline posts out there from Microsoft, and you can rest assured that all of them are vague and barely helpful.

So how did this affect my app? Originally, the app was named “Dota Database” after its sister site and had the same icon as appears on that site. The first submission resulted in this super helpful message: The app name and icon do not accurately represent the features.

Uh…OK? I’m not sure it could even get more vague than that.… Continue reading

How to Rename Your App in Windows Store

This applies to the Windows Store and Windows Dev Center as of March 1, 2016 and assumes you are uploading a Windows 10 Universal Platform App.

The Windows Dev Center started out badly back in Windows 8, and it hasn’t improved too much since then. I have to be honest when I describe it, because it’s sometimes nothing short of painful. One of those pain points is the UI and poor documentation regarding the concept of the “App Name”.

In order to submit to the store, you need to create “App Packages”. Each package has metadata associated with it that you define in your “App Manifest” (Package.appxmanifest in your project). This manifest is where the app’s name must match exactly with whatever names you have reserved in your Dev Center for that app.

Creating the App Name

When you create an app submission, you have to pick an “App Name”. This is the name that is displayed across your Dev Center Dashboard and the Windows Store. This name also has to match exactly in your app’s created manifest. That secret bit of information isn’t documented well and seems to only appear in tiny text when you are creating an app package through Visual Studio.

Changing the App Name

If your app has not yet been submitted to the store, then you can change the name by reserving a new one in the Dev Center, changing the manifest to that name, creating an app package, and then uploading that package. Don’t try to rename directly from the Dev Center (that’s where I kept looking).… Continue reading