23 Oct 2014
There are a couple of things that I've been intending to do for a while now but not gotten around to. In an attempt to give myself a little nudge to actually finish some of them I'm going to mention them here.
My employer got acquired by Oracle Corporation a few months ago. It feels a little strange to think that I now work for the second largest software company on the planet. Things seem very good so far and I'm generally feeling positive and excited about prospects for the future. I finally have more than one display and a modern machine! However, it does mean I now need to update my CV, 'About' Page, LinkedIn... This task is much bigger than this tiny paragraph gives it credit for. It's about time I got it done.
Update the Vagrant box used to publish this blog to base it on Debian instead of Ubuntu. No real reason, I'd just rather use something closer to "standard" Linux, and the Precise Pangolin base image is four versions out of date and two years old. It would also be a nice opportunity to use an actual shell script to provision the box instead of one big inline command. I'm also wondering whether to get rid of the post tags and move back to a single repository processed by Github's Pages infrastructure (the current source uses plugins which require building the site manually, and it's a bit of a hassle to publish to.)
Build cool things. When I last updated the 'About' page, I mentioned building a fileserver to house all of my most important data. I need to get around to nailing down some specifications.
02 Aug 2014
Every year, I travel to Leeds for a weekend to attend LeedsHack. The idea is, go to a museum in the city centre and develop an idea into some cool software over the course of 24 hours (Saturday lunch through Sunday lunch) and maybe win some cool prizes at the end. There's usually at least a couple of sponsors with a cool API you can integrate (or crowbar) into your project in some way to mix things up a bit.
Here's what I had time to figure out this year:
- My friends are awesome.
- Jamie Knight is a really cool guy. He carries an awesome lion everywhere and cares not what anyone thinks. He's also done some really cool things, and he's the first person in a long time I didn't have to explain my Cerebral Palsy to.
- Even though I feel like the least intelligent person in the room a lot of the time, there's plenty I do know. What's actually important is caring about what you do, doing the best job you can, and not letting yourself coast on what you know.
- Even when I/O APCI emulation isn't killing the performance of the VM, running Windows in a VM for development can be infuriatingly slow. Don't do that.
- When you know you're going to be attending a hackday where you'll probably need a Windows development stack and you use a Mac, take the time to install and configure BootCamp instead of thinking a VM will be fast enough. If you do, at least test it first.
- If you can, build projects that can run on Linux. It's really easy to make that fast, even on Windows, in a VM, or on a phone!
- If you're going to spend nearly twelve hours reinventing wheels on the basics of the project because changing the stack it's built on suddenly seems like a great idea every four hours, make sure there's not another framework out there that has half of what you're building as a demo on its' front page.
- MVC rocks and I really need to invest the time to pick it up properly. Working in old stuff all day every day makes you rusty.
- I should build some cool applications for SailfishOS, running on my Jolla. It runs a complete Linux stack you can use for anything you like.
- I can now write posts and blog directly from my phone via the mobile network connection, with a bit of work in a terminal. The onscreen keyboard would be difficult to use but I can blog on any machine with SSH and/or PuTTY now, instead of needing to set everything up and install software. X-Forwarding for desktop applications also works.
- Again, there is no excuse for not buying the best kit you can for your developers. If a new machine (or even just two big monitors) makes a developer 10% more productive, that screen pays for itelf very quickly and your developers will love you.
- I need to look after my own interests when it comes to my career. That means a lot of things that I won't go into in this quick post, but might cover later on.
That's all for now. I need some sleep!
28 Jul 2014
I've heard it said widely (though I'm not particularly in the mood for concrete evidence) that the statistical likelyhood of a person suffering from depression at some point in their lives shares a positive correlation with their level of education.
Sometimes, when I know that I'm going to be alone, I like to sit outside in the very late evening. There's something about the darkness combined with an almost complete lack of any noise whatsoever that I find extremely relaxing, and there's nothing else quite like it for me. It just so happened that tonight was one of those nights.
As I lay outside on my back staring up at the stars (something of a rare sight with all the light pollution and clouds I'm normally treated to), I began to think about how everything around us is moving away from us faster and faster as space itself continues to expand. I wondered if perhaps one day, there wouldn't be any stars left in the night sky for us to see.
I'm not a religious person, in fact it kind of makes me a little sad to think that there's no reason at all for us as a species to be here; that it all happened because... well, it just did. The fact that there was a precise chain of events that lead us to this point is completely irrelevant - none of it had to happen. Everything that happened did so because the conditions just so happened to be right.
I thought about what we're actually doing to this entirely unique little blue speck we call home and the people we share it with. In the name of progress, in the name of keeping people safe, in the name of our economy[^1] or in the name of religion[^2]. I thought about how if we'd managed to properly colonise space already then all of this would seem so completely petty and insignificant.
People seem so content to just keep on fighting the wars of their ancestors, to keep on sucking the very life out of the one place we have to call home in the endless pursuit of profit and control that will - exactly as Monopoly has taught all of us at some point - all go back in the box in another 60 years or so. The thing is that when we die, what we leave behind for our children and the rest of the world to fight over is less than what we started with. Eventually there'll be nothing left worth fighting over.
The last thing that popped into my mind before I grabbed my laptop to write this post was a specific line in Isaac Asimov's 1956 short story The Last Question. If you've not read it yet, I would strongly advise you to do so because it'll really make you think about just what it is humanity is doing with its one and only existence.
"Entropy, little sweet, is just a word which means the amount of running-down of the universe. Everything runs down, you know, like your little walkie-talkie robot, remember?"
"Can't you just put in a new power-unit, like with my robot?"
"The stars are the power-units, dear. Once they're gone, there are no more power-units."
Jerrodette I at once set up a howl. "Don't let them, Daddy. Don't let the stars run down."
"Now look what you've done." whispered Jerrodine, exasperated.
"How was I to know it would frighten them?" Jerrodd whispered back.
"Ask the Microvac," wailed Jerrodette I. "Ask him how to turn the stars on again."
"Go ahead," said Jerrodine. "It will quiet them down." (Jerrodette II was beginning to cry, also.)
Jarrodd shrugged. "Now, now, honeys. I'll ask Microvac. Don't worry, he'll tell us."
He asked the Microvac, adding quickly, "Print the answer."
Jerrodd cupped the strip of thin cellufilm and said cheerfully, "See now, the Microvac says it will take care of everything when the time comes so don't worry."
Jerrodine said, "Now children, it's time for bed. We'll be in our new home soon."
Jerrodd read the words on the cellufilm again before destroying it:
INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER.[^3]
Don't get me wrong, I really appreciate the way the stars look for a while; they're giant flaming balls of gas and matter in space, and I can see them. I think it's amazing that we're here by the sheer force of statistical anomaly (or certainty depending on how you look at it.) I think myself incredibly lucky that I have the opportunity to be alive and think about these things. It's just a shame that I usually regret thinking about them for too long.
[^1]: For which no American ever went to prison. Unlike Iceland, where they let the banks fail and threw people in jail and now the economy there is booming.
[^2]: See: every industrialised nation on the planet, the war on terror, the global financial crisis and Gaza; respectively.
[^3]: This excerpt very slightly edited. Sorry Isaac. I couldn't pick my favourite bit of the story, so you get this one.
01 Jul 2014
In the excellent documentary and biography The Internet's Own Boy, it is explained that Aaron's suicide prompted some attempts at reform of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (the CFAA) - the primary law used to build up the extensive list of charges levelled against him. I did some further reading around this, finding the following:
In the wake of the prosecution and subsequent suicide of Aaron Swartz, lawmakers have proposed to amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Representative Zoe Lofgren has drafted a bill that would "help prevent what happened to Aaron from happening to other Internet users". Aaron's Law (H.R. 2454, S. 1196) would exclude terms of service violations from the 1984 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and from the wire fraud statute, despite the fact that Swartz was not prosecuted based on Terms of Service violations. [...] As of May 2014, Aaron's Law was stalled in committee, reportedly due to technology company Oracle's financial interests.
As it turns out, Oracle (and a number of other influential Silicon Valley companies) have been actively working against Aaron's Law, because limiting the scope of the CFAA does not serve their interests. I won't bother to rehash the rest, because you can read about that for yourself in any number of places online.