Saturnboy
 3.24

Adobe killed this blog when they killed Flex. Well I guess Flex is not all the way killed, more like stumbing around with a knife in the neck. So what’s next? I’m breaking out my crystal ball to see what the future holds…

Flex’s Future

With a singular, spectacular blog post Adobe eviscerated Flex and any hope of ever using Flex again. Thanks Adobe! Flex is dead dead, not just a little dead. No one in their right mind should ever start development on a Flex app. Period. I’ll make a nice pull quote just so you understand my opinion on the matter:

“Flex is dead!” — Justin

Spoon is not dead, nor is the open sourcing of Flex on Apache (as Apache Flex), but alas, no amount of open sourcing or intense community love will change things in this particular case. But since everyone is in love with zombies nowadays, I’m sure there are plenty of people and companies out there that see the simulacrum of life in Flex and call it life.

Flex Mobile’s Future (aka Adobe AIR)

Flex Mobile, aka Adobe’s cross-compiler that take AS3 code as input and outputs iOS binaries (as a fully formed IPA) and also Android binaries (APK), is decidedly not dead yet. But the most unfortunate part is that it certainly should be. In general, cross-platform mobile solutions (particularly Flex Mobile) really suffer when the make contact with reality (a real app with real functionality and real users). Sure they can be made to look pretty, sure they make great demos, and sure they lower the initial bar for developer. But you will never ever have as much control as you will when you go native. It is still the case today (March 24 2013) that the only good answer is go native, and write it twice. Twice being once for iOS and once for Android.

Flash Player’s Future

Banned from iOS, unsupported by Chrome Mobile, officially discontinued on all interesting mobile platforms, click to install on desktop Safari, no 64-bit flash player on linux, and now click to run on Firefox. Hmmm…I wonder what is next? How about dead. Yep, my crystal ball says that the flash player itself is on the gallows.

Let’s think about how Adobe makes money from Flash (this is coming from a developer that actually knows nothing)… From what I can tell, they sell really nice authoring tools, they sell some server-side tools (mainly Flash MediaServer, aka FMS), and they have a bunch of game stuff. I love games and I love watching video online, but does the flash-related parts of any of those mostly desktop businesses look healthy and awesome to you, especially with the rapid growth of mobile and tablets?

Adobe’s Future

Adobe will be certainly fine (but again, I’m just some guy who writes code). I always think of them as a tools company. Photoshop is a sweet piece of software (Photoshop 1.0 source is now available in the Computer History Museum). But the whole platform play that is Flash and Flex? I always felt that was Macromedia’s idea, and Adobe just went along for the ride after the aquistion. That ride isn’t much fun anymore.

And who just left? Kevin Lynch is moving to Apple (aka they guy who was chief software architect at Macromedia).

My Future

I know I’ll be doing some more speaking. And I’m trying hard to figure out how to create more teaching opportunities. I love teaching, but for whatever reason it’s hard to find the right teaching opportunity with the right students. I’ll always be learning new feameworks and languages, because that is a constant. But writing more content for this blog, probably not so much…

I’m working on couple of app ideas right now, and still writing lots of code, but only a little bit of that work will make it all the way to this blog. Watch my my github for some new projects.


 11.10
Life, Work
off

Back in December 2009, I had the amazing opportunity to teach for a whole week at Boulder Digital Works. BDW had just started that fall and the first class of 12 students1 was just getting started on a 60-week program.

Teaching was a ton of fun! We wrote some PHP code together and everyone was able to experience a little slice of the joy/hell that is development. We also did a lot of talking, which was fun, too. Since most of the class was non-technical, we didn’t geek out technology stuff, instead we spent a lot of time talking about meta-development. We talked about process, how developers think, how development fits into digital, what it means to actually build something real, etc. I found the whole thing to be very cathartic, having 12 smart people listening to me and participating in a fun discussion was just awesome.

To Be Great

One of the more interesting topics I discussed during class was how to be a great developer. I spend a lot of my time and brainpower thinking about what I can do to be better. That’s the mountaintop, but it’s always a long way away.

Some options for improvement are external but many are internal. For example, I’m always asking myself: Who knows something that I want to know? Who can I model? What can I borrow from those around me? Who can I mentor? Who should I ask to mentor me? What should I learn next? What should I forget? What can I read? Do I need to change my approach? What is today’s definition of value?

I always think my kung-fu is strong, but I’m not a master. So here’s a quick summary of the components of greatness as I see them today. Please feel free to ignore everything as you see fit.

Undying Hunger

If you have the hunger to be better then you’re always on the upslope. And this isn’t the vanilla-level hunger of “Hey, there’s more I could learn.” This is the full on, I’m-starving-more-is-never-enough hunger.

Once upon a time, back when I was a young lad of 10 or so, there was a series of TV commercials asking “Do you see the glass half full or half empty? Blah blah blah” After the hundredth viewing, I turned to my dad and said, “Dad, I see it as not enough! What does that make me?” And in his infinite wisdom, my dad replied, “That makes you a hog!” – which is an apt description without a doubt.

To be great, you need to be a hog.

Effort

Where hunger is internal, effort is external. Where hunger is mostly mental, effort is mostly physical. Effort is all about doing the work, expending the energy, getting really tired, waking up the next day, and doing it all over again. There is an obvious correlation between hunger and effort, but it’s definitely not one of causation. I fully control my decision to turn off the TV and pick up a book or sling some code.

The best thing about effort is that it’s just a switch, and I truly believe that. You can decide for yourself to turn it on any time you want. And with the right carrot, you can even flip the switch on for someone else. In my many years of coaching frisbee, I have repeatedly witnessed the switch being flipped. People can be taught to work hard, but it’s a heck of a lot easier when they are on a team of hard workers.

Unfortunately for me, the effort switch is more of a dimmer switch then an on-off switch. Burning bright and bringing a high level of effort for an extended period of time is hard. Motivation naturally ebbs and flows, and it’s challenging to maintain it. The best solution I’ve found to keep motivation high is to find a partner in crime. When there’s someone else to work with and compete against, it’s much easier to work hard. When I’m on my own, the only trick I have is to maximize variety, some days I work hard by doing some extra reading, some days it’s writing, some days it’s hacking, etc.

Effort in athletics is pretty easy to recognize. It’s spending time in the weight room during the off-season and out-hustling the other guy during the game. Effort in development is a little harder to figure out. Some of my typical outside-of-work adventures include reading (books, blogs), writing (this blog, the occasional article), speaking (local user group), teaching (BDW), and lots of side projects (contribute to open source, silly iPhone apps). There are also quite a few at-work hustle opportunities: you can give a brown bag talk, you can mentor others, and you can be a good mentee (basically you need find someone who knows something you want to know and beg them to teach you). But my favorite thing to do at work is find a like-minded peer and inspire them to work hard. You can do this by co-reading, co-writing, co-speaking, pair programming, etc.

To be great, you must work hard, constantly.

Creative & Pedantic

Unfortunately, no matter how hungry you are or how hard you work, you must also be creative to be a great programmer. Without creativity, you will forever be a cog in the machine. You might be the best cog ever, but you are a cog none the less. In Hackers & Painters2, Paul Graham talks a lot about the creative nature of software construction. Hackers, painters, architects, and writers are all makers in Paul’s world, and he spends quite a bit of prose comparing them.

I really like Paul’s take on the process of construction, and the different disciplines that practice it, but I try to take a more practical view. To me, creativity is nothing more than a measure of one’s ability to escape the box. I see it as just another skill that can be learned, practiced, and improved. Over time, you can learn to recognize the box faster and more fully. The more boxes you see, and solve, the more solution patterns you will remember. Eventually, you will develop a toolbox of escape tactics.

Again, it’s still not enough. No amount of creativity will help you actually implement a solution to any given box. There are a lot of details that are critically important to the construction process. Paul Graham writes, “In both painting and hacking there are some tasks that are terrifyingly ambitious, and others that are comfortingly routine.” Much like Superman has Bizarro, the creativity has pedanticalness (yes that’s a word). Many of the routine tasks in programming are routine to the point of being tedious.

I often liken the pedantic aspect of development to licking envelopes. It’s easy, but yuck! Who actually likes the taste of envelopes? If you don’t do it right, then don’t be surprised if you mail explodes while in transit. In my experience, there are a multitude of development tasks that taste a heck of a lot like envelope glue, but you don’t really have much choice. You can either do them the right way, or watch them explode.

To be great, you must embrace both the creative side of development and the pedantic side.

Ego

The number one, most important, aspect of greatness is ego. The truth of development is that not everything goes your way. And even when it does, it can be exceedingly difficult. For all those times when you are tumbling down the mountain, you need a certain amount of ego to arrest your fall and start upwards again. I’ve actually spent time and effort into stroking my own ego for this simple reason: you learn more when you lose than when you win.

I heard a pretty amazing football stat the other day. In 9 of the last 10 seasons in the NFL, at least one last place division team fought their way to first place in their division the following year. Most recently, the Saints finished 8-8 in 2008 and were in last place in the NFC South. In 2009, they won their division at 13-3 and went on to win the Superbowl. Why? Because you learn more when you lose than when you win. Fact.

The mud is a great teacher. But you must have a certain level of mental fortitude to climb out and get clean again. To me ego is just that – confidence in yourself and your ability, lack of fear, and a basic mental toughness. I’ll go willingly into the mud to take on a difficult problem or learn a new language (or maybe a new API instead of another language). And if I get thrown into the mud unexpectedly, which happens all the time in consulting, there won’t be any fear or panic.

Do I get dirty? Hell yes. Does it stink? Of course. Having confidence in yourself and believing in your abilities doesn’t magically transform the metaphoric mud into flowers, it’s still mud.

To be great, you must be confident and fearless.

Conclusion

It’s hard to know what you don’t know. In fact, it’s really damn hard. But I don’t find it discouraging in the least to know the code I write today is going to suck compared to the code I write tomorrow. That’s called progress.

I feel good when I focus on what I do know. I know I want to be the best dad I can be, the best husband I can be, and the best developer I can be. And today, that means this:

  • undying hunger — more is never enough
  • effort — constantly work hard
  • creative & pedantic — embrace both sides, writing elegant algorithms and head-pounding debugging
  • ego — be confident in yourself

So stay hungry, work your ass off, lick your envelopes, and welcome the mud at every opportunity. Good luck.

“And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.” — Martin Luther King, Jr 3

Footnotes
  1. I’d like to thank BDW’s First 12 for listening to a crazy opinionated developer. @botvinick, @kygalle, @dasn101, @tetonmarketing, @jefferyjake, @justinmccammon, @rosErin, @JadedSkipping, @hseal, @tegoenfuego, @dviens, @ndubsglobal
  2. Hackers & Painters by Paul Graham
  3. I’ve Been to the Mountaintop by Martin Luther King, Jr. This speech was given on April 3, 1968.

 5.5
Life, Work
off

This post is a follow-up to my previous post, The Schizophrenic Programmer. I must have struck a chord, because I got a ton of fantastic feedback not just on this blog, but also on Reddit and DZone.

After further reflection, I still agree with what I said and my conclusions. Moving forward, I plan to learn fewer languages and less syntax. My daily pain is that too much of my knowledge is too tightly bound to the implementation details, and when I switch languages I can’t bring my solutions to bear. It sucks, and it makes me feel stupid. So the simple fix is to put my energy into learning more unbound concepts (like my soft skills of speaking and writing) and more easily transferable concepts (like APIs).

Analytics

google-analytics

I had a huge bump in traffic mostly due to Reddit and DZone that basically crushed my regular traffic down into the noise. My poor slice at Slicehost was taking a beating, so I quickly installed the Hyper Cache plugin. It’s dead simple and it really works. On Sunday morning, my load went from 0.2 to 0.02 instantly.

I also tracked my twitter analytics via bit.ly. As a side note, you can just put a plus “+” at the end of any bit.ly url to see it’s analytics. So, since the original post was shortened to http://bit.ly/cR6cnY, the analytics are available here: http://bit.ly/cR6cnY+.

Commentary

Lots of stuff was said, but I just wanted to touch on some of the key points.

  1. I feel your pain – thanks. I find it comforting to know I’m not alone.
  2. definition of schizophrenia – a couple of comments mentioned that my post had nothing to do with schizophrenia. First, I suggest you look it up: “contradictory or antagonistic qualities or attitudes”. My Erland knowledge is definitely in opposition with my Java, which is in opposition with my Actionscript, etc. If you don’t have this problem, good on you. Second, there’s thing called artistic license and if you are a writer you get to use it. I picked a sensational word for a reason. I welcome criticism of the choice, but it’s silly to take umbrage with its validity.
  3. short sighted – my plan was called out as short sighted a couple of times. I tend to think of life and plans like this… There are three choices when it comes to plans. First, you can have no plan, and just drift along. Sometimes you get smashed into the rocks, and other times you wash up on a tropical paradise with beer, virgins, and fiber broadband. Second, you can have a short term plan that gets revisited and revised as things change. Third, you can have a short term plan, but be so unbelievably naive that you think it is actually some awesome long term plan. Life is agile. All plans are short term.
  4. embrace and extend – a few people said don’t fight it and embrace the insanity. I really lust after new stuff, so it was easy to try to the embrace-the-insanity method first. Alas, it didn’t work out and I think it actually made matters worse. Thus, I decided to go with a new plan to fight against the insanity.
  5. python – a couple people mentioned I should switch to python. Yes I’ve written many thousands of lines of python, but none in 2010 so far.

Thanks for reading. As always, I love feedback.


 4.21

Hi, my name is Justin and I have a problem. I’m insane!1

Being insane really sucks. But I’ve got a plan to get back on track. First, I’ll dole out some blame. Then, I’ll give a little background. Next, I’ll really dig into my current insanity. And finally, I’ll layout my plan for the future.

The Blame

I like to curse. And when I’m mad, I find it definitely helps to calm the rage. So to begin, I’d like to give a big fuck you to Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas, the pragmatic programmers. I love you guys but you get at least some of the blame for making me insane. Next, I’d like to give some blame to my wonderful employer, Gorilla Logic, and their penchant for landing such a diverse set of inspiring projects. You suck for building a candy store and filling it with the sweetest treats.

Unfortunately for me, the lion’s share of the blame is mine and mine alone. I’m insane today because of my lust for the new coupled with my desire to be great. I want to be a great dad, a great husband, and a great employee. Who wants to be average?

It’s just not possible that I’m alone. Who doesn’t like cool new stuff? Who doesn’t want to be great? There must be thousands, if not tens of thousands, of fellow developers suffering from insanity that goes undiagnosed. So this tale goes out to you, my functionally insane brethren. Together we can heal ourselves.

Who Am I?

I’d like to give a little background before I get in too deep with my current insanity. I’m a developer. I get paid to write code (woo hoo!) to solve problems. Blah, blah, blah, if you just fill in the rest with a bunch of geek stereotypes you won’t be far off. Yes, I like to IM my coworkers instead of just walking over and talking with them. Yes, I read slashdot. Yes, I read sci-fi. Yes, I played lots of Dungeons & Dragons.2 Et cetera…

I consider myself a smart guy, just like every single developer I’ve ever met. I stay hungry and motivated to learn something new every day, every week, every year. Thanks to Andy and Dave, I learn one new language every year. And most importantly, I try very hard to listen or at least listen more than I argue. Sometimes it doesn’t work out so well, but that’s another tale…

How I Became Insane

I’m a big fan of “right tool for the job” in both life and development. In the realm of development, the concept of right tool for the job has metamorphosized into right language for the job, aka polyglot programming. On the face of it, polyglot programming has a lot of advantages (here’s a good talk by Dean Wampler), but it is one of the root causes of my insanity.

At Gorilla Logic, we are regular practitioners of polyglot programming. Our typical enterprise RIA project uses Java on the backend and Flex on the frontend. Of course, the mix of languages doesn’t stop there. I develop for the web, so when you talk about websites, WordPress and Drupal are immediately in the conversation, and thus PHP. And since a rich client-side experience is critically important, HTML, CSS, and Javascript are drawn into the mix. In the mobile world, Blackberry and Android are thankfully mostly Java, but anything Apple takes me into the non-GC’d world of Objective-C.

I’ve also been diligently learning my one language a year for a while now. And when you combine that with work, it has simply become too much. I’ve become scattered, my mind has become messy. Looking at the syntax level, the symptoms are acute. I can’t write a loop. I can’t match a pattern. I can’t build array operations. My context switching pain is severe, it can literally take hours before I get back up to speed with the language at hand.

But it’s not just the low-level stuff anymore. I’m finding that even at the highest levels of architecture, clean thought is hard to achieve. Different languages tend to espouse different patterns and paradigms that directly impact architecture level decisions. For example, if I wanted to write a server in PHP I might consider using OS support like fork and cron. In Java, I’m off in thread land. Erlang it’s processing and messaging. Scala is all about actors.

I find myself mixing paradigms and doing stupid stuff, like trying to fake Erlang’s message passing in PHP by multiple scripts communicating by repeatedly touching rows in a database. Dumb, but becoming harder to avoid as everything slowly bleeds together in my mind. I’m in the mud and I desperately what to be clean again.

My Current Insanity

Here’s a broad sample of what I’ve done lately (as in the last month or so) for work and personal projects:

Erlang – Work
Freshened my Erlang, wrote a sample custom module for ejabberd, played with Nitrogen.
Flex/AS3 – Work
I helped out a little bit with FlexMonkey 1.0, including the fuzzy pixel bitmap comparison support.
Flex/AS3 – Work
ScrumMonkey is another Gorilla Logic open-source project. I upgraded everything to work with Flex 4 and LCDS 3.0.
Java – Work
Fun with Spring, Hibernate, and Spring Actionscript. Can’t say any more about the project.
Javascript – Work
I helped develop FlexMonkium, a Selenium-to-FlexMonkey testing tool that enabled automated functional testing of hybrid web apps. I used Javascript and XUL.
Objective-C – Justin
Wrote and published a US states and capitals memorization helper app. Read more or get it from the app store.
Objective-C – Work
iPhone and iPad. Cool stuff. Can’t talk about it yet.
PHP – Justin
Released Viceroy, a one-column WordPress theme with a dash of pink.
PHP – Work
We needed to get our community feedback out of Google Groups and into our FlexMonkey Forum. I wrote a simple scrapper in PHP and blogged about it.
PHP – Justin
Various WordPress and Drupal side projects just for fun.
Ant, Maven, Bash, Rake – Work & Justin
Scripted a bunch of stuff…

And that’s just my current insanity: the languages that I’ve touched lately. But I’m not special! At least, not in this case. The list is similar for many co-workers, and many of my friends that are web developers.

The Sensible Plan

If I’m to blame, then I’ve got to be the one to fix it. So here’s my plan:

  • Forget one language every year – Forget the syntax, forget the weirdness, and forget the whole ecosystem (frameworks, tools, community). Say goodbye and don’t look back. But before you leave a language behind, pick one core concept, one of the things the language does right, and take that with you. For example, when I forget Erlang, I’ll take the concept of concurrent programming with me. So I’ll remember stuff like immutability, message passing, and processes. When I forget Ruby, I’ll take DSLs with me. Ruby does lots of stuff well, like blocks, mixins, terse syntax, and meta-programming, but I always enjoyed using all the great DSLs the best, so that’s what I’ll remember.
  • Don’t learn one programming language every year – Yep, I’m going against Andy & Dave. So no Haskel, Clojure, Duby, Go, or Reia for me this year. I’m obviously feeling a little full on languages right now, so I’ll take a break for a few years.
  • Learn one or more APIs every year – Since Web 3.0 is all about APIs, I might as well spend some time learning more of them. The big boys are obvious: Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Google Maps, but there are plenty more that are really interesting. From the practical side, every single web project either integrates with other APIs, wants their own API, or has some set of requirements that force a good SOA architecture (aka some internal set of APIs).
  • Upgrade my soft skills – Slinging code is fun, but it can’t be the only thing I do if I want to be a great employee. So instead of picking up all these little bits of shiny tech, I’m going to going to focus my lust for the new on upgrading my soft skills. I write this blog to improve my writing, but I haven’t spoken at a big conference since CLEO/QELS in 1999 and I was really bad. So I hope to do some public speaking in 2010.

Basically, I’m hoping to elevate my kung-fu by going for more depth of knowledge. Then, I’ll do my best to control the relentless expansion of breadth. New and shiny is no longer sufficient. Talking things through with co-workers and writing this post is a great first step into the future. I’m already feeling optimistic about my path.

Footnotes
  1. I’m not really insane, at least I don’t think so. I’m just functionally insane. For a glimpse into the mind of a real schizophrenic, I highly recommend Is There No Place On Earth For Me? by Susan Sheehan. It won the non-fiction pulitzer prize in 1983, so it’s a little bit dated now, but an unimaginable story.
  2. Actually, my friends and I played a lot of Rolemaster (wikipedia) and Champions (wikipedia) which are superior role playing games. If you are a true fan, you’ll understand. If not, the image of boys with dice conjured by Dungeons & Dragons is a good takeaway.

UPDATE: I wrote a follow-up post to address all the great feedback: Schizophrenic Following


 10.23
Code, Life, Work
off

Welcome to the humble beginnings of my blog.  When I start something new, I always try to start with a goal.  And I also believe strongly in having one, and only one, primary goal.  Sure you can have secondary goals, and yes, things certainly change over time.  So…

The primary goal for this blog is my writing. I desperately want to be a better, faster writer.

Once the choice of a primary goal is made it acts like The Force–and as Obi-Wan says “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”  Everything in this blog, especially code-filled posts about Flex animation or Nginx configuration files, will always be about my writing (that’s the surround and penetrate part that binds this blog together).  I want to find a voice that is terse, but informative.  I want to go deep into the details, but I don’t want to bore.  And it’s gotta be funny.  Along the way, I expect there’ll be some swearing, cursing, and lots of frustration, but there always is when code, work, and life collide.

Why?  It’s probably something from my science upbringings, but I always like to question decisions, including mine.  First, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a job posting without “Excellent written and verbal communication skills” in it somewhere.  Second, and more importantly, communication is one of the keys to success in today’s global society.  And that’s that, not much to question.

Please enjoy, and I do so love feedback.


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