In which I write a continuous build system for bagpipe music using Perl and a Makefile.
The problem: the band has sheet music that everyone is supposed to memorize, the membership is geographically dispersed and not everyone can make it to every practice, and during practices and workshops and after competitions the music can get edited to reflect feedback and (one hopes) improve the performance. How do we distribute the music to everyone?
Continue reading “Sounds Like a Job for Perl”
So this feels like the most Silicon Valley thing I’ve said in a few years, but the thing I’m working on right now is basically the same parts and programming language I was working on as a hobby back in 1997. Yes, the machine is in someone else’s data center, yes, the services it’s interacting with are running in still other data centers; even so, I am writing Perl CGI scripts and cron jobs to respond to automated messages and run intermittent build and release processes. What a blast from the past.
I have had the same email address since 1995. I have been buying things online since that was available. These facts mean that my email address is on every spam list in the world, and that every merchant I’ve ever bought anything from as well as all the spammers and scammers send me at least one and often more than one email every day.
Multiple levels of filters and unsubscribe links mean that my morning inbox is only full, not bursting, but even so, I wind up just selecting everything and tossing it into the trash. I love the subject lines that tell me not to miss out on this opportunity, which is almost gone. I feel encouraged by them, and press delete even faster.
I have been writing a couple of mobile apps in Flutter for the past few months, and as I neared feature-complete ready-for-internal-beta I started getting frustrated by the framework’s limitations with the app stores. The build system won’t build an artifact that the Google Play Store will accept come August, and the iOS build has problems, too. I gave up and started working on a simple web game using flutter_web, only to find that it wouldn’t let me make a user interface that didn’t suck for typing. So, fine. I’m going back to Java. At least I can build and release a Java application that works right.
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.
Continue reading “Greatness Abides”
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.)
Continue reading “It Could Be Better”
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.
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.
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?
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.