Technology

The New Republic as a product

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

From a poster at Hacker News commenting on The New Yorker article, Inside the Collapse of The New Republic:

I think I’m exactly the audience that TNR wants. I’m well-educated, make a good living, largely agree with them politically, enjoy long-form journalism, and am familiar with the brand and its history.

Yet I don’t think I would ever subscribe to TNR. I just see a magazine as something that’s going to pile up in my house. I can read more than enough great content online for free. If I was going to subscribe to a magazine, I think that The New Yorker is a lot more interesting than The New Republic.

Take note, journalistas. This is how your readers view your stuff — not as a “public trust”, “a voice”, or “a cause”, as TNR was described by the exiting editors in their resignation letter.

For better or worse, readers view your stuff as a product. And a product, to be bought, let alone used, needs to be useful.

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Solving problems with startups

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

Interesting insider Q&A with Paul Sutter, co-founder of Quantcast. Via Hacker News:

Q: What methodical process did you follow for your startup? Did you first test the market using tactics similar to the lean startup approach?

A: Basically, make a list of known problems that you’re well suited to solving, rank them by criteria, fail a lot, bang your head against the wall, and eventually things start to stick.

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Web interest in Apache Storm, Kafka, Spark in the Python community

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

Apache Storm, Kafka, and Spark are gaining a lot of momentum in the data analysis and processing communities. I was curious whether the interest in using these technologies with Python, in particular, is growing. Based on these Google Trends reports, it seems like it is.

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Clojonic: Pythonic Clojure

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

In June 2012, I promised myself that I’d learn Clojure “as a mind expander”. As a long-time Python programmer who has been using Python full-time in my work at Parse.ly, I wanted to explore. I wrote then:

I don’t know whether Clojure programs will be better or worse than equivalent Python programs. But I know they will be different.

It took me awhile, but in January of this year, I started teaching myself the language.

Rich Hickey, and the “Cult of Personality”

My approach was to first learn the underpinnings of the language from books and online videos. If you embark on this for Clojure, you will inevitably run into the copious publicly-available material from the language’s creator, Rich Hickey.

In stark contrast to Guido van Rossum in the Python community, Rich Hickey is undeniably not just the Clojure language’s creator, but also a kind of spokesperson for a functional programming renaissance. Guido van Rossum generally lays low and lets the Python language and community speak for itself, and tries to avoid controversy. To him, Python is just a popular tool he happened to create, and it doesn’t represent any major paradigm shift in programming. It’s a positive evolutionary improvement supported by a great open source ecosystem and community. To Hickey, however, “traditional” programming languages — but especially popular ones with an object-oriented focus, such as Java and C++ — are just plain wrong. He proposes Clojure as an antidote of sorts.

You can get the gist of this from his motivating videos, such as Hammock-Driven Development, Are We There Yet?, and Simple Made Easy. For a thorough overview of Clojure as a language, you can also get a walkthrough by Hickey, given to a room full of Java developers, in Clojure for Java Programmers Part I and Part II.

Here is a summary of the viewpoint. Most languages are missing some important attributes that can help us tackle the most complex issues in programming projects:

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“So, you work in IT?”

Monday, August 18th, 2014

For many years, IT as a field was dominated by people who could not write code.

This is because computer technology was mystifying and befuddling to most people that anyone who knew merely how to use computers with any level of comfort could demand a tax from those who didn’t.

During that same period (late 90s and early 2000′s), programming itself was being commoditized by offshore outsourcing, so the same IT people were positioning themselves for management positions. This is how MIS (Management of Information Systems) became a popular career path among the IT elite, and why when I was in college in 2002-2006, Comp Sci enrollment was at a major low.

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Python annotations and type-checking

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

In 2010, the Python core team wrote PEP 3107, which introduced function annotations for Python 3.x.

Nearly 4 years ago, I wrote this response to the PEP, but I published it to a discussion site that ended up becoming defunct (Clusterify). I saw that recently, interest in function annotations for type-checking was revived by GvR, and thought I might resurrect this discussion.

Background

There is a huge flaw with the creation of Python annotations, IMO. Lack of composability.

The problem only arises when you consider that at some point in the future, there may be more than one use case for function annotations (as the PEP suggests). For example, let’s say that in my code, I use function annotations both for documentation and for optional run-time type checking. If I have a framework that expects all the annotations on my function definition to be docstrings, and another framework that expects all the annotations to be classes, how do I annotate my function with both documentation and type checks?

This amounts to lack of a standard for layering function annotations. Is this really a problem?

It’s true that some standard for this could organically form in the community. For example, one could imagine tuples being used for this. If an annotation expression is a tuple, then every framework should iterate through the items of the tuple until they find an item of the matching type. However, this won’t always work: what if two frameworks are both expecting strings, or two frameworks are both expecting classes, with different semantics?

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Joel Spolsky’s business operating system

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Joel Spolsky wrote his first blog post in a year today, announcing Trello, Inc., a spin-off company for the successful project management product Fog Creek Software developed, Trello.

Trello has announced a $10M+ venture financing round and they are going to expand the product and team. This was a bit of a surprise to me, because Spolsky had always been critical of the VC-funded tech startup industry on his blog over the years.

But in the blog post, he explains, he has really been critical of the kind of company that this industry typically breeds. So, he has made his life’s work creating companies with a different “operating system” altogether.

highNotes

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5 years ago, I was bored

Friday, July 4th, 2014

I wrote this to a friend five years ago, a few weeks after I had quit my job to embark on the crazy ride that has been Parse.ly’s founding story.

You said to me, “I am glad that you left because you sounded unhappy there.”

But you know, I wasn’t exactly unhappy.

I was just bored.

I’m eager to work on my own stuff. I had a good work environment and I learned a lot. I was making money, had flexibility about hours and work from home, and was respected on my team.

But I had a couple of realizations. First, I didn’t see a future for myself in financial firms. I just don’t like their core business enough; in fact, I think their core business is somewhat superfluous and that financial firms should be way, way smaller than they are. They should make less money, have less power, etc.

Second, my specific project had this split personality. On the one hand, it wanted to be this cutting edge framework to really empower application developers throughout the company. On the other, it was a lost project — lots of code, lots of ideas, but no solid product and no real customer.

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Disable Google Hangout’s auto-mute on typing

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Damnit, Google. Sometimes, you make product improvements that are awesome. Other times, you make “improvements” that are downright depressing regressions.

In an effort to stop the annoying sensation that happens when you are on a Google Hangout video conference and you hear nothing but your colleague’s “tap-tap-tap” on their loud programmer keyboards, Google added a feature to the software that automatically detects when someone is typing and auto-mutes them.

This is a nice idea, but what about when talking while typing is what you actually want to do? In this case, Google provides no recourse. And indeed, recently I gave a walkthrough to my team of a new code project, but constantly cut out because as I was showcasing ideas in code (and even simply navigating code with my keyboard using vim), Google would constantly mute me and make me cut out. Damnit, Google! You suck!

Well, Internet users unite! We have a working fix for this “feature”.

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Truth on tap

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

Some people have put together an alternative to Wikipedia called Conservapedia. But, I won’t grace it with a link. I’d rather not let the Internet become more dangerous as a form of mind control.

The site is meant to provide explanations of world-wide phenomena in conservative terms. This brings full circle the blurring notion of truth in the Internet Era, as was described quite well by Clay Shirky in his essay, “Truth without scarcity, ethics without force.”

For example, the many-thousand word article on “Public Schools” includes a section entitled “Gender Disparity”. It explains that “Public schools as of late have seen girls’ scores soar above boys’ because schools have been geared toward the needs of girls”. It goes on:

Schools seek to emasculate boys by preventing healthy roughhousing and having psychologists put boys on drugs such as Ritalin. Then boys often come to hate school because radical feminists seek to prevent men from being men and forcing males to go through counseling to “discuss their feelings” and other liberal hogwash treating all students as if they were female. Colleges, because of this trend, see a trend of 60/40 female to male ratio because of feminist drivel such as romance novels in literature and ineffective therapy and attempts to push feminine traits on boys and young men making them frustrated and fed up with the system unless they agree to the school’s desire to become effeminate.

Now, certainly, there are valid conservative arguments against public schools. You don’t have to look far to find them. You might feel that a public school is a poor use of taxpayer dollars, is a violation of parental child-rearing rights, or is a form of mass indoctrination.

But, a feminist conspiracy?

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