Nibble Stew – a gathering of development thoughts: How about not stabbing ourselves in the leg with a rusty fork?

When faced with this kind of pointless and harmful routine, one might suggest not doing it any more or replacing it with some other, more useful procedure. This does not succeed, of course, but that is not the point. The reasons you get back are the interesting thing, because they will tell you what kind of manager and coworkers you are dealing with. Here are some possible options, can you think of more?

Source: Nibble Stew – a gathering of development thoughts: How about not stabbing ourselves in the leg with a rusty fork?

I can think of another…

The Sock Puppet of the Auditor
“We hired auditors at great expense of time and money, and we’re going to do what they told us that ‘all’ companies do, no matter how inappropriate it is for us and our particular workflows.”

DHH “not yet feeling the awesome” of WSL

This has been one of my all-time favorite Twitter threads. David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of Rails, is trying to “live” in Windows, and set it up to do Rails work. He’s blogging the “experience,” and it’s not going very smoothly. Everyone is telling him to use Windows Services for Linux for this, but he’s “not yet feeling the awesome.” I’ve tried using WSL several times for doing development on Rails applications. I, too, am not feeling the awesome, despite the cheerleading by Windows thought leader Scott Hanselman. Despite my personal experiences with it, given how vociferously people recommend WSL for Rails work on Windows, I kept wondering if I were missing something. I’ll take this as final confirmation that I’m not missing anything, and delete the mental bookmark to go back and try this again when it becomes WSL 3.

IMHO: The Mythical Fullstack Engineer – Stack Overflow Blog

It鈥檚 my experience that the above MVFE is pretty uncommon. The profile describes a person with skills requiring thousands of hours to master, but who doesn鈥檛 take part in the holistic decision making process. By nature, the value of a fullstack engineer stems from their ability to make competent unilateral decisions (decisions without asking anyone for permission). I鈥檓 sure there are people who mostly fit the MVFE, but I wager that they are few and far between. You could probably summarize my view about the MVFE as:

It鈥檚 very impractical to become a fullstack engineer without understanding the big picture.

In my mind, a fullstack engineer鈥檚 value is mostly derived from their ability to single-handedly design, architect, execute, and operate an entire end-to-end system. Assuming this is possible, it almost completely eliminates integration overhead.

Source: IMHO: The Mythical Fullstack Engineer – Stack Overflow Blog

There’s a lot of subjectivity in this article, but I think it covers the topic pretty well. I consider myself a full-stack engineer, and that self-identification hinges on both emphasized points above. First, I’ve spent the time to learn all the pieces. Other people don’t see all the late nights, banging away on my home lab, or my church’s setup, forcing things to work when they didn’t want to, integrating pieces all over the stack, setting up solutions to help people get things done, or just to scratch an inquisitive itch.

For instance, I’ve run my own web server on a public address. This will cause you realize how hairy the raw, unfiltered internet is, and will force you to learn about the basics of hardening a server and firewalling a network connection in a New York minute. I’ve run my own email server. That will teach you about spam, attachments, white and blacklists, abuse addresses, and lots of stuff about making your server look legit to other servers. I’ve run a Windows domain for my whole family’s computers, with roaming profiles and everything. (Side note: do NOT use roaming profiles.) I’ve run my own personal cloud. My own mobile sync server. Media servers. TV recorders. The list goes on.

In my professional career, I’ve gotten to work on some of the biggest, baddest tech ever made. I’ve setup a Sun E10000 from scratch. When I took the official Sun training on the kit, I fixed the lab’s setup when it broke. I’ve configured a 384-tape robotic backup system. I’ve commissioned $15M of EMC disk cabinetry. I’ve trained extensively on Oracle, and setup a North-American-spanning network of 20 instances. These technological implementations are fading, now, but the concepts haven’t. We just answer the same questions with different hardware and software these days.

When I encounter a new technology, at this point, it usually doesn’t take long to slot it into the larger context of computing services. For instance, I recently tried to use Elasticsearch for a project at work. While I eventually found an easier way to do what I needed to do, through several weeks of experimentation, I now know what that technology is about, what problems it solves, how it works, and what it takes to implement it. Now I have this tool in my toolbox, and it’s very possible that I will yet use it for a different project. I’m incredibly grateful that I have a job where I can occasionally do a little “R&D” like this, to learn something new, but it takes substantially less time to divert my attention like this, than other people might spend, because of the experience I already have.

Second, I understand the field I write software to support, because I studied it. I think the modern incarnation of the programmer, toiling away in the bowels of a big company — which is most developers, by simple numbers — is the total inverse of this ideal. I have a degree in mechanical engineering. I’m a good engineer, for the same reason I consider myself a “full-stack” guy. I see the big picture, and how everything underneath it contributes to making it look the way it does.

Even more than studying the math and physics, I was drawn to engineering, because that’s how my mind works. When I look at an engine, I notice the systems that are interoperating: the mechanical masses, the fluid flows, the thermals, the electrical connections, the air flow. I feel these things in my gut and see them in my mind’s eye. I understand how all of these subsystems work to produce power and torque, the difference between those two things, and when it’s appropriate to focus on one over the other. To me, it’s the same thing with an IT solution. I can picture the large subsystems working together to make up the final system in my head, and see the servers, the services, the networks, the databases, the networking, and the automation that will be needed to implement it.

In a lot of ways, the training in how to think about a problem in engineering school is perfectly suited to creating full-stack solutions. Start with restating the problem. Get to the heart of the business problem you’re trying to solve. Where’s the friction? State the givens. What do we know already? What pieces of data do we have? How do we get that into the system? Finally, specify what you’re solving for. What are we missing? How are we going to transform what we have into what we want? How will the people who will use the system need the program to work, and the data to be shown?

Most people working in software in my industry have been trained in how to write some code, and that’s about the end of it. They might understand how to write a loop in Java, but they don’t understand how to setup a Java application server, or a load balancer, or a firewall, to say nothing about the database. They also don’t understand how our products work, how they’re designed, or what the engineers working on them need to help them in that endeavor. I find myself in the rather rare position of understanding both halves of this equation. In my 25-year career, I’ve met only a handful of people who can straddle the fence between the physical, engineering problem domain, and the IT implementation like this. In the manufacturing world, we are indeed few and far between.

There’s one other thing I want to talk about, and that this article’s presumption that Javascript is the piece for the front-end, in the jigsaw puzzle that is a full-stack web application these days. I still like Rails’ templates, and, of course, Microsoft is pushing Razor. Javascript enhances both of these things. However, the article hints at how a lot of people are doing the entire front-end in Javascript now, and I find that disappointing. In an aborted effort, I tried writing an application in Java with an Angular2 front end. The amount of duplication astounded me. When you combine this duplication with the fact that Java and typed Javascript are two of the most verbose languages to work with, well, you get a mess.

Using an API back-end and a pure Javascript front-end is, perhaps, the single greatest argument against full-stack development you can make. Given the sheer amount of work involved in separating the front-end, completely, from the back-end, it almost requires two different people or teams. If you sat down, and wrote out the most terrible theoretical idea you could come up with for software development, it would probably look like “write a single application, broken right down the middle, in 2 different languages.” Unfortunately, that’s the nature of web development right now. I lament that this is where we’re at in our technological evolution, but until network bandwidth takes another leap forward, this is what we’re stuck with.

.NET Core 3.0 concludes the .NET Framework API porting project 路 Issue #130 路 dotnet/announcements

With .NET Core 3.0, we鈥檙e at the point where we鈥檝e ported all technologies that are required for modern workloads, be that desktop apps, mobile apps, console apps, web sites, or cloud services. That鈥檚 not to say that we don鈥檛 have any gaps or opportunities for new technologies, but we generally believe we won鈥檛 be finding them in the .NET Framework code base anymore. Moving forward, we鈥檙e focusing our resources on incorporating new technologies.

Source: .NET Core 3.0 concludes the .NET Framework API porting project 路 Issue #130 路 dotnet/announcements

As an almost-20-year hard-core Linux zealot, who watched, in horror, what Microsoft did to the burgeoning personal computing market in the 90’s and early 00’s, I will probably be suspicious of everything they do for the rest of my career. I will never “forgive” them (as if that’s a thing) for funding the SCO v. IBM fiasco, and I still want to know who was involved in that scheme. That being said, even I have a hard time being cynical about .NET Core. This seems to be a good vision and direction, and they are executing very quickly on it. They are delivering what Mono might have been, if more “weight” had been behind it.

A reflection on the departure of RMS – Thomas Bushnell, BSG – Medium

RMS treated the problem as being 鈥渓et鈥檚 make sure we don鈥檛 criticize Minsky unfairly鈥, when the problem was actually, 鈥渉ow can we come to terms with a history of MIT鈥檚 institutional neglect of its responsibilities toward women and its apparent complicity with Epstein鈥檚 crimes鈥. While it is true we should not treat Minsky unfairly, it was not 鈥 and is not 鈥 a pressing concern, and by making it his concern, RMS signaled clearly that it was much more important to him than the question of the institution鈥檚 patterns of problematic coddling of bad behavior.

And, I think, some of those focusing themselves on careful parsing of RMS鈥檚 words are falling into the same pitfall as he. His intentions do not matter nearly as much as his actions and their predictable effects.

Source: A reflection on the departure of RMS – Thomas Bushnell, BSG – Medium

I don’t want to rehash the story that leads to this; I just thought this was the best take I’ve seen about the situation, and worth capturing for posterity.

Epically-smart people seem highly disposed to self-destructive behavior, which results in alienation that they can only blame on other people. If someone writes an email like Stallman did, and utterly fails to account for the bigger picture, while simultaneously failing to make his comments in a way that doesn’t take enormous academic effort to interpret without revulsion, then, really, how smart is he?

A “public figure” like Stallman (as head of the FSF) must understand that you can’t make comments about something as serious as the Epstein/MIT connection in a casual manner. If you’re going to make a comment, you simply must provide total context. You can’t hide behind excuses, like it was part of a larger thread, or that it was on a private list. As a spokesperson, you have to understand that everyone is watching what you say. To his credit, he didn’t try to have a protracted fight about this.

I’ve watched with great sadness for almost 30 years while Stallman has squandered his beautiful idea with bad politics, and I’ve often wondered why. I suspect this whole situation is a large key to that puzzle. Not that my opinion matters聽one whit, but I agree with Bushnell that the correct outcome has been achieved.

This bunk bed is $1,200 a month, privacy not included – CNN

Housing costs have become so expensive in some cities that people are renting bunk beds in a communal home for $1,200 a month. Not a bedroom. A bed.

Source: This bunk bed is $1,200 a month, privacy not included – CNN

Given the software/tech-related bent of my news feeds, I see the ridiculous cost of housing in the Valley come up a lot, but I think it’s largely invisible here in the midwest. I’ve posted articles about single bunks in flophouses going for thousands of dollars a month, but now, finally, naturally, there’s someone who has started a bunk-as-a-service company. A “share” allows you to stay in any of their flophouses. At least the CEO seems pretty pragmatic about it, and doesn’t come across as the usual, crazed, psychopathic founder type.

I Miss My Old Graphics

Someone on Twitter mentioned BeOS, and that got me looking over my old pictures from the previous incarnations of my blog. This was how the site looked when I hand-coded it. I miss it.

Old Graphics (RedHat & Ximian Desktop)

I had created the graphics all by hand in a graphic editing program that came with FrontPage 97, called Microsoft Image Composer. (I still can’t drive Photoshop.)

This is what it looked like before I did a big upgrade. I still like the look of the title with the color gradient.

Old Old Graphics (BeOS)

I still use the 4-corner gradient I created with that program as my desktop background on every computer I use.

Web Development Framework Trends

Back in April of 2014, I was vacillating between using Ruby on Rails, and Entity Framework on ASP.NET, for a new project. All other things being equal in programming or system administration, I like to sit on the intersection of functionality, for actual productivity, and popularity, for availability of reference material. To check on the relative amount of helpful documentation I could expect to find, I ran a comparison on Google Trends.

April, 2014

Disappointingly, Rails seemed to be losing ground to EF.NET, at least in terms of Google searches. I tried to console myself by saying that Rails was mature by that time, and EF was still struggling to find its niche, which both reflected in the results. Five years later, I stand by that interpretation.

For comparison, I wanted to see what the situation looked like today. Both technologies were trending down since the last snapshot. I took one guess as to why, and this is what I saw.

July, 2019

For the fun of it, I threw in another couple of terms…

July, 2019, with Frameworks

Yikes. The popularity of React and Angular has stomped the axis of the graph. Clearly, Javascript-based front-end technologies have taken over web development mindshare.

I find this state of affairs to be morose. Some time ago, through a series of inescapable constraints, I was backed into a corner to write a new web application in Java/Javascript. Through other, defaulting logic gates, I wound up trying to use Spring Boot and Angular 2, in particular. I found them both to be tedious, laborious, and almost utterly devoid of helpful documentation on the internet. The only consolation I can take from the graph, above, is that React seems to be winning against Angular. I haven’t tried it yet, but it gives me hope that it’s better.

In the end, after literally weeks of reading and searching, I found exactly one, non-trivial example of how to use this stack, and that was only because I sent an email to the guy who seemed to be the chief evangelist of Java/JS on the internet. While that was great, his example was so out of date, I couldn’t reconcile how to translate his approach into modern idioms. Coming from the Oracle/Java world, this stack is intended to be all things to all people, and it shows. There is no commonly-accepted way of doing things with it that people seem to agree on.

If you’re creating some sort of enterprise-y, company-wide system, containing highly-important data, I could see breaking the backend and the frontend apart along language/framework lines, to facilitate having different teams coding them. (Even though the strict typing of a JS frontend is going to drive both sides crazy.) But for a tiny, departmental web app? Containing no sensitive data? That just tracks dates? Which might be used by a handful of people? Using a Java/JS solution for this is like using a nuke to get rid of a gopher in your back yard.

Rails shines the brightest when making small, line-of-business apps like this. Fifteen years after the first release of Rails, there is still nothing in the web development world that can touch it for productivity. Ruby’s interpreted nature — while prone to being slower, compared to typed, compiled languages — is precisely what makes it so easy to use, and so flexible in the role of a database ORM.

It seems that Entity Framework never really got off the ground. Most people writing about it recommend using something else, like Dapper or nHibernate. Dapper does so little for you that you might as well just write text-substituted SQL yourself, and nHibernate is really out of date, so I’d rather just put up with EF’s limitations. And, again, I’m sad, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to get backed into a corner of using ASP.NET for another project. I’ll do my best to make sure it’s .NET Core, for future-proofing, but, for the same reason, EF Core isn’t any better.

Ruby on Rails on Windows is not just possible, it’s fabulous using WSL2 and VS Code – Scott Hanselman

I’ve been trying on and off to enjoy Ruby on Rails development on Windows for many years. I was doing Ruby on Windows as long as 13 years ago. There’s been many valiant efforts to make Rails on Windows a good experience. However, given that Windows 10 can run Linux with WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux) and now Windows runs Linux at near-native speeds with an actual shipping Linux Kernel using WSL2, Ruby on Rails folks using Windows should do their work in WSL2.

Source: Ruby on Rails on Windows is not just possible, it’s fabulous using WSL2 and VS Code – Scott Hanselman

I’ve been doing Rails for about 13 years as well, and I’ve been following Scott for probably about that long. Heck, being a tech evangelist for Microsoft, it was probably him that alerted me to the fact that WSL was being put into Windows to begin with. And using it for Ruby on Rails development is precisely why I wanted it.聽So when it was first released in Windows 10 Insiders Edition, I hastily upgraded my gaming rig to try it out.

There were literal, show-stopping bugs that prevented doing the “normal” 聽kind of Rails development, where you install a Ruby version manager, then install the bundle gem, then install Rails, then bootstrap your site.

I keep wanting to say “emerge” when I mean “install.” I guess using Gentoo broke my brain, but, really, that’s what’s going on. When you’re doing this sort of thing, you’re installing software that’s dependent on your environment, which is exactly why portage was created.

I filed some bugs, and watched and waited. A couple of them were fixed pretty quickly. But then other problems became apparent, and they weren’t going to be fixed any time soon, so I gave up.

Then they announced the release of a big upgrade to the system. So I tried again. And, again, I found problems that prevented me from being able to develop with Rails. So I gave up, and stopped watching this space.

Now Microsoft has been evangelizing a total rewrite of WSL, and how they’ve made it “native,” and how this fixes compatibility problems and speed issues. But all they’ve done is make the tool a total virtualization of the environment, when the whole point of WSL was that it was not a virtualized environment!

WSL was supposed to bring “open source” development (like Rails, and Node) out of the dark ages on Windows, and make it a first-class workflow on the platform. This was easy to believe, because Microsoft was really lagging in these popular development scenarios, and it could be expected that they were motivated to create a bridge to get back on equal footing with Mac as the platform of choice for working with modern web technologies.

However, the situation on Windows is now worse than ever. It used to be such a hassle to do this kind of work on Windows that you’d install VirtualBox, create a VM, map your VM’s drive onto a Windows mount point, and run your development tools on the files in the mounted drive. Now, WSL2 is basically doing that for you, and not even giving you the courtesy of a GUI to manage the virtualization settings.聽I guess the positive way of looking it is that they’ve created a VirtualBox-type Linux VM with all the file-system mapping pre-configured.

It’s telling that the workflow that Scott is proposing is to use Visual Studio Code with a plugin for remote development.

Whatever. It’s a hard pass for me, dawg. If I needed this, I’d just install VirtualBox, and be explicit about what I’m doing.

As a side note, I’ve been using RubyInstaller for years now, on my work laptop, and it “just works.” I mean, sure, you’re limited to a specific version of Ruby, but I just make that my base, and “emerge” that one on my Mac and the Linux host server, and everything lines up. So my need for any sort of virtualized Linux environment on Windows has already been satisfied.

Making Windows Tolerable

I got a new job a couple months ago. I suspect that IT departments of monstrously-large, international corporations are all reading from the same playbook in how to setup and administrate their networks, users, applications, and computers. The IT overhead was pretty overbearing at the previous place, and the only changes at the new place are purely cosmetic. (I hear of places which are worse than both of them, so it can be worse.)

Perfect example: the wifi is locked down, just the same, in both places. I don鈥檛 know how they do this. It must be either certificate-based authentication, or RADIUS. The end result is that you simply cannot put a personal device on the wifi network. If a customer were to demand it, they can make an exception, but for only a week. I guess that鈥檚 better than the old place, which only gave out single-day exceptions, but both organizations are demonstrating a cutting-off-you-nose-to-spite-your-face approach to the problem. As before, I can plug a computer into the wired network, and carry on just fine, thank you very much, so what did the policy do for them or for me? The answer is: inconvenience us both. So, first tip, for free, is:

Get a cellular plan with a provider which has good coverage at your office

I switched from AT&T to Verizon, because AT&T coverage around Columbus is famously bad, and AT&T has been telling people for a decade that they are going to put up more towers, but they never do.

Next? Proxies. OMG, proxies. What gives? The old place had a single proxy everything had to go through, and it needed authentication via the domain credentials. If you didn鈥檛 use it, or didn鈥檛 authenticate, you weren鈥檛 getting to the internet. Period. The new place has a world-wide conglomeration of about 20 proxies, depending on office location, and you get passed between them depending on what you need to get to. And they, too, need authentication via domain credentials. However, unlike before, these proxies can just be bypassed! If you use one of the proxies, you can鈥檛 reach about half the internet, like YouTube or Reddit, but if you simply do not configure your connection to use a proxy, you can get to everything just fine! And faster! So, second tip, to make Windows usable, in this situation is:

Use Firefox as your main browser, and install the FoxyProxy plugin

I just configure the plugin to use the local proxy to get to the couple of corporate machines I actually need to access, and it all works out great. I had to do this sort of thing at a different previous company, so I was prepared for this particular annoyance.

Next: Working with Linux. For many years, I’ve watched Windows Services for Linux take shape, and was secretly hopeful about it, even despite my general distrust and dislike for Microsoft and Windows. After it came out, I tried using it to develop with Ruby on Rails. It failed in about 3 different ways before I gave up. I鈥檝e continued to try it, and it continues to fail in obscure ways because it鈥檚 not, in fact, 鈥渞eal鈥 Linux, no matter what the paid advocates say (nor how cool they may be). So, third tip, to develop with practical web application stacks:

Avoid WSL, and keep using VirtualBox

The second half of this tip is, of course, what to do about a terminal and SSH. I thought I had it figured out at the previous company with Cmder and PuTTY. However, at this new company, people use MobaXterm, and OMG how have I not found this before? It鈥檚 seriously great. So, third tip, part deux:

Use MobaXterm

Windows 10. Ug. I鈥檓 actually glad that Microsoft is鈥 Microsoft, at this point, and allows companies to do unspeakable things to the registry and policies on the system that they will not expose to plebeian end users. Corporations have reined in the worst of the Windows 10 abuses. At least the playbook that big companies are using includes things like preventing the installation of game demos and requiring centralized approval of updates, which prevents a lot of day-1 update fiascos.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, Windows is still Windows, and you still have to use it all day long. One thing I really have come to despise is the Windows Explorer. As time goes on, it becomes a bigger and bigger sore point to me, because it’s so jarring after using Apple’s Finder all day long. About 15 years ago, a coworker introduced me to Directory Opus. It鈥檚 not cheap, but it’s an incredible replacement for the native application. I鈥檝e bitten the bullet, and bought it again. Fourth!

Buy Directory Opus

Seriously. Just spend the money.

The rest is a laundry list:

  • Use RubyInstaller to do Rails development. Everything else is broken.
  • Buy Sublime Text 3.
  • Install the Droid Sans Mono font. Other fonts may look a little nicer for coding and terminal work, but it works really well with the Windows anti-aliasing hinting system.
  • Buy Tower for a git client. You could use Sourcetree, which is free, but Tower is waaay faster.
  • Avoid the use of Skype wherever and whenever possible. It was great before Microsoft bought it, and now it鈥檚 just a 鈥渃orporatized鈥 trash fire. At least we get to save conversations at this company!
  • Go ahead and use OneNote, but please do not share the notebooks with your team. That way lies madness.