In Which Amy Encounters a Superior Mind, Recognizes (Again) Her Own Incompetence, and Rededicates Herself to Alleviating the Problem, Though Not Without Some Concern About When She’ll Actually Find the Time to Do So

Posted by amy on October 29, 2007

A few weeks ago, I was introduced to Stevey’s Blog Rants. I started reading them, and I realized, yet again, that I am a crap developer.

I am a hack. I know nothing. I claim not to be a script kiddie, and I’ll stand by that claim, but only because those of us who are just competent enough to know that we are incompetent are EVER SO SLIGHTLY more competent than people who don’t realize that they are utterly incompetent.

I know people whose lack of ability to solve programming problems is always, always caused by some quirky gotcha in the language being used, and never ever by their utter lack of understanding of the most basic, fundamental aspects of programming. They’re sure they’re just misusing the subjunctive, and in reality, they’re babbling in gibberish that is less comprehensible than my 10-month-old’s. (Those people are always certain that everyone is simply misunderestimating them. Would that it were true!)

So I’m not that incompetent.


[ Ack, I am being attacked by a babbling infant. She has noises for "nurse now, mom" and noises for "check it out, mom, I'm turning on the stove!" and noises for "I'm sitting in a big poopy puddle" and noises for "stop typing now, mom, or I am going to jam the caps lock permanently on." That's the noise she's making right now, in fact, SO I BETTER GO BEFORE I FIND MYSELF YELLING AT THE INTERNETS ALL THE TIME. Back later.]

Right, back to how bad a developer I am. Can you believe I’m supposedly using this blog to drum up business? Hi, prospective clients! I suck! Let’s talk. Before you turn away in disgust and say “why should I talk to you, you sucky developer?” let’s get some perspective. Steve Yegge, who works at Google, and before Google worked at Amazon, also claims he sucks. Suckage is like wealth: graded on a curve. Steve Yegge says he sucks because he’s measuring himself against all the other developers there at Google. I say I suck because I’m measuring myself against Steve Yegge (though, don’t get me wrong, I also suck as compared to many developers suckier than Steve Yegge. Steve Yegge is several levels up in developer competence than I am. Several.) The principle holds, however. Developers who don’t think they suck are only hanging out with crappier developers. And not only does that mean that they don’t even know how incompetent they are, they also have no way of getting less incompetent even by osmosis, because they’re not putting themselves in a position to osmose anything from anyone else. ( I read a sample chapter in Chad Fowler’s My Job Went To India… about this, which made a huge impression on me:

Legendary jazz guitarist Pat Metheny has a stock piece of advice for young
musicians: “always be the worst guy in every band you’re in.”

Attempting to be the worst actually stops you from selling yourself short.
You might belong in the A band but always put yourself in the B band,
because you’re afraid. Acknowledging outright that you’re not the best
wipes away the fear of being discovered for the not-best person you are.
In reality, even when you try to be the worst, you won’t actually be.

This is why Max joined an orchestra this year, even though it’s a lot of effort and feels very far over his head. He’s learning a lot more than he would learn just playing by himself. It’s also one of the great disadvantages of independent contracting — the reduced opportunities to be part of a team of your betters. You really have to make more of an effort to seek out your betters to work with them, because you don’t always get to do it on your paid work.)

Anyway, you don’t want developers who don’t think they suck, dear prospective clients/employers. Stop looking for people who self-identify as ninjas and experts and superstars, and find some nice modest developers who have some sense that there’s stuff out there that they don’t know, and will admit that they don’t know that stuff not because they don’t NEED to know it, but just because, hey, they don’t know it. They’d be better developers if they did know it. They’d like to know it. Maybe it’s even on a list of things they’re going to learn. Maybe that list is far too long, and maybe they only have fifteen minutes every other week to even get the list out and look at it, but they have a list of stuff they don’t know that they think they SHOULD know.

In fact, what I’d do, if I were you, prospective employer/client, is ask: “Where are the holes in your technical knowledge?” I suppose that if people started doing that, we’d all start picking one or two safe-ish things to reply, like how everyone says, when asked what their weaknesses are, that they’re a perfectionist who hates being late. “Oh, I always get confused by my splay trees.”

Of course, Steve Yegge would probably tell me that splay trees are not a safe-ish reply at all. Everyone should know about splay trees. Fundamental stuff, splay trees are. He’s probably right. I don’t remember covering splay trees in my one data structures course, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t. I’ve never had occasion to use them in my developer life, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t, if I knew what they were and when I might. For all I know, I am using splay trees every day. So now I have to go learn about splay trees.

Actually, dear readers, I do have a plan for a fun, exciting, and exhausting project that will help me get some of that CS knowledge I am lacking. The project remains, right now, in super-secret stealth mode, except if you know my mom, in which case she’s told you all about it already. As it takes shape, I’ll reveal more details about it.(Or if it doesn’t end up taking shape, I’ll pretend I never wrote this and look at you all confused if you ask me whatever happened to my mysterious and exciting project I mentioned on the blog. What project? I’ll say. I never said there was any project. You’ll show me the actual words in which I said “oh, there’s a project”, and I’ll look you straight in the face and say “nope. Never said that. Didn’t write it. No project.” And you’ll shake your head and roll your eyes and let it slide, because that is what we do these days. )

Also: I think that I am getting way too obsessed with Steve Yegge. And given that Steve Yegge basically thinks I’m crap*, that’s probably unhealthy, don’t you think?* No, steve yegge did not drop by this blog and say “amy, you are crap.” But he did say “If you don’t know how compilers work, then you don’t know how computers work.” I don’t know how compilers work. And he frequently talks about how woefully deficient he considers programmers to be who are lacking a long list of skills and knowledge that I, too, lack. I would not, for example, pass his phone screen. If I had a job interview with Steve Yegge, he would skip the hello and go right to Do you have any questions for me?”. So I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m crap, even if he might be too polite to say it to my smiling avatar face.

Popularity: 14% [?]

how did I ever live without xkcd?

Posted by amy on October 10, 2007

John mentioned the webcomic xkcd in a post on our course site about his feeds, and now that I subscribe, I have absolutely no idea how I ever lived without it. Sudo make me a sandwich is hanging in our kitchen now.

heh heh, sanitize your database inputs! (imagine me pushing up my glasses while snorting, revenge of the nerds style.)

Popularity: 14% [?]

Airport Extreme is a big disappointment. Or, (10?) Things I Hate About Apple

Posted by max on October 05, 2007

I bought the elegant little Apple Airport Extreme back in the summer. Network disk (pseudo-NAS) support! Printer sharing! Fantastic! Besides the fact that our last wireless router was puking to death again (why does that always happen to us after <2 years? Do I emit gamma rays from my head?), I was excited to enable USB printer networking and shared network drives.

Only in both cases, they don't work. At least not in a way that is useful to me.

1) Printer sharing

There are two defects here: one design, one implementation. After trying to figure out why I couldn't do anything that my fancy-ass new multifunction printer that Canon sells as a loss leader for its pricey ink cartridges, I discovered that it it normal that non-printing functions don’t work unless the unit is directly connected to the computer. Networks are for printing only. No scanning, no ink maintenance fancy stuff, just printing. That’s the design problem, and it’s a major bummer, but it wasn’t a deal killer. (OK, well, nothing was a deal killer; I bought the damn thing.)

Nope, what ended network printer sharing for me was that the shared network printer would periodically disappear or otherwise become unavailable for users on the network. Had to delete the printer and re-add it, or at the very least power down the router and printer and power up again. That’s crap. So now the way I provide reliable-ish network sharing is to connect it directly to my computer and share it as a network printer.

That’s crap.

Grade: F. I would blame Canon, because they make great hardware and execrable software, but I had a similar problem with my old HP Laserjet 6MP printer.

2) Drive sharing

I finally got my ass in gear and moved my old 250GB USB drive from my slowly-decommissioning Windows machine onto the Airport Extreme. After many slow reboots of the router (yeah, any change requires a reboot; couldn’t it at least boot faster, damnit?! I’m not even getting a DHCP lease from my ISP — it’s static.), I discover that the Airport Extreme is unable to share NTFS volumes. Well, that’s not so multi-platform, now, is it? FAT32 is insecure and doesn’t work for big volumes, say, any hard drive created after about 1998. HFS+ would have been an option if this drive were originally on a Mac, but it wasn’t. So my best options are:

  • Copy all of the data off the drive and reformat to HFS+; remount on the Airport Extreme after getting their wonky SMB networking
  • Abandon the project, as the USB drive is already 5 years old and isn’t worth spending a lot of time monkeying with

Guess which one I picked?

Grade: D+. You’ll note that the spec sheet mentions nothing about not supporting NTFS. I’d like to blame M$ for that one, but there are plenty of NAS vendors that offer NTFS support.

While I’m at it, let me complain about Apple file sharing. You seem to be able to choose between a yucky slow SMB implementation and AFP (which does appear to be much faster, at least for authenticating). I have grown frustrated with both and am now very, very happily using instead sshfs, which is great both on the LAN and across the Internet. Too bad ‘Doze doesn’t support user-space filesystems; so no sshfs for Windows.

(To run SSHFS, I use Google’s MacFUSE project and their SSHFS executable. I don’t remember exactly why, but the MacFusion GUI doesn’t work on my machine.)

Popularity: 19% [?]

Installing Ruby 1.8.6 on Ubuntu Feisty Fawn (7.04)

Posted by max on October 04, 2007

Ubuntu seems to be the big distro these days. (Remember all of those other “it” distros? Slackware? The original Red Hat? Mandrake? I am vaguely tired of the trendiness of distros.)

Anyway, there is no package yet for Ruby 1.8.6 on Ubuntu Feisty Fawn (7.04), which is unfortunate, since mongrel_cluster doesn’t work properly under Ruby 1.8.5.

The install steps I got at Urban Puddle (here) were nice, but Rails still wasn’t happy: I kept getting that awful `require’: no such file to load – rubygems (LoadError) error.

Here’s what I did to fix it. YMMV.

Building Ruby (from Urban Puddle):

tar xjvf ruby-1.8.6.tar.bz2
cd ruby-1.8.6
apt-get build-dep ruby1.8
./configure --prefix=/usr
sudo make install

Next, to fix it:

cd /usr/src/rubygems/rubygems-0.9.4
sudo ruby setup.rb

Et voilà :

max@somehost:~ $ irb
irb(main):001:0> require 'rubygems'
=> true

I’m not quite sure why the Ruby source doesn’t ship with the rubygems source. Is it because rubygems is still a < 1.0 release?

Popularity: 18% [?]