Stop Billing yourself as Hubris

I don't know about you, but typically when I hear the label "evangelist", I think of a branch of Christianity I have walked away from and dudes who got their heads chopped off for spreading the same religion. 

So I don't really get the role of the Evangelist in the tech world. No - I get it from a business perspective. I just don't understand why the hell folks have decided to name themselves like this. At all.


(On a sidenote, why does the ad say "Coming to America" when he's helping the Toronto Maple Leafs?)

Consider the phrase Webguru or Webmaster. Gone the way of the buffalo, and you might just consider anyone who would bill themselves as such to be, you know, TOOLS! 

So when I hear Evangelist, I think of an individual with a short lived job title that'll probably be looked at with disdain as some corporate branded hubris. 

Goodbye to the Ballmer Peak

Today I say goodbye to the Ballmer Peak. 

I have never handled alcohol well. I've rightly earned a reputation as an overdrinker. Typically, this is a joke among everyone who hasn't had to deal with my bullshit, most especially my wife. 

But in software, drinking IS a joke. I've never particularly understood this. I find that software requires a fair amount of my wits to do well. Though, I will say software is aided by a bit of numbness, I tend to see this in the form of low light at night listening to RainyMood.

I've had three major careers in my life: cook, writer and coder. All of these fields have the reputation for heavy drinking. In reality, the only place where I saw it, and where I learned the majority of my bad habits was in cooking. You drink there, because there is fuck all to do after a late night shift, you're hot, you're in pain, you want to blow off steam, because you're poor, you got your ass reamed and it really doesn't matter if you're hungover, because your job actually feels better a little numb. 

As a writer, I pretty much completely sabotaged my career by drinking. I worked mainly in copy, but the opportunities I was given by various editors to step up were typically ruined by drinking and quickly doing stories that were badly worded and poorly thought out. I was poor there too, but less so. But hey, writers drink right?

In my late teens, I learned HTML/JS (no CSS back then), C++/C, and PERL all on a POS laptop from my girlfriend's dad. Being a writer sounded sexier, so I gave coding to the cubicle drones. In my late twenties, I was back in the saddle. I found here too that drinking was just as encouraged and supported as cultural as my past two careers. This time, though, I had money.

If you can't tell where I'm going here, allow me to clarify - I think all of this is FUCKING STUPID.  To cut around, the anecdotes and get to didactics - there is absolutely ZERO benefit to ascribing drinking as a part of coder culture. Coding is about building, intelligence, innovation, and cleverness. And alcohol benefits none of those things. It's antithetical to the culture entirely. 

Software is the culture of late nights of coffee and Coke. Sometimes Mountain Dew. Sacrifice, for the glory of outsmarting the other guys, of creating Cathedrals. It has higher aspirations than the acctrument of success that goes with glorifying alcohol. And that is the only reason that I see this so common in popular depictions of coding. People who code are supposed to be rich now. And rich people drink to excess. Like they don't give a shit. They can afford to be out of it. In reality, coders can't and shouldn't.

Go ahead and drink. Seriously. I'm not being anti-alcohol. But don't ascribe it any power to code. For every crazy Friday with cheers all around, back it with hundreds of cups of coffee and bloodshot eyes. 

Why I switched my team to Sass after about 15 minutes

Chris Coyier | TXJS 2013 from SlexAxton on Vimeo.

After one of my team members sent my company's dev crew this link the other day, I decided to spend some time this weekend incoprorating Sass into my workflow for an upcoming web app. 

As my spoilers in the title indicate, I have now decided that my team is going to be required to use these tools. There was initially, not a lot of resistance, but just a plain lack of interest in these tools at my company. All but one of us really didn't feel much push to start using a tool that we felt saved us very little time and could possibly screw up our workflow. 

Well, here I'll say that I was wrong. Sass is excellent and I'll just bullet point this:

- I can continue to use CSS the same way as before, especially with automated compilers. There are other tools like CoffeeScript that yeah sure I type less, but now I can't work in JS.

- It's intuitive as hell. I only spent a little time with the documentation and the code was doing exactly what I expected even when I simply guessed its style.

- Sass allows me to have a base variable to store things like color definitions in one place. Now if only I could get object classes in Sass.

For me, the biggest issue was that Sass meant processing got added to realm that previously didn't have it. Processing adds complexity, which adds the likelihood for bugs. The reason this doesn't matter is that CSS is already pretty screwy in that small typos already completely fuck up entire sheets, and the processing with Sass is so low level that anyone who has programmed for a shortwhile won't be confused by method. 

The biggest point is that Sass is tooling done right - turning a shorthand into actually workable commands within the existing CSS framework. Other modifiers tend to force your hand to only work in shorthand, but as a coder, you want both availble. Sass does exactly that. So if you don't work for me, you may not be required to use Sass, but I would recommend you try it.

Godspeed coders. 


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The only thing I haven't done of those things online is play bridge. 

Three Books I Read on Simulated Realities

As with all rapidly losing-blooded Americans, I want a global virtual reality network.

Much as I was excited about diving into a few novels (Snow Crash Neal Stephenson, Ready Player One Ernest Cline, Rapture of the Nerds Cory Doctorow & Charles Stross) in a row about this type of thing, every imagining of some form of Virtual Realm (VR) has problems. Annoying ones:

  • The rules are badly defined. 
  • Virtual characters do things that make no sense.

These books aren't annoying as stories. They're exciting adventures. 

Snow Crash combines ancient religion, computer hacking, rival corporate gangs and the urban virtual world, the Metaverse, in a violent action story that takes a humble katana-wielding pizza delivery man to the root of all human language. It's a satire of corporate idealism, American evangelicalism and post-Nuclear politics (there's a dude rolling around on a motorcycle with a warhead), but the only element without the humorous play up is the Metaverse.

Stephenson coined the term and since then it's been every geek's dream to bring it into existence in various forms, such as SecondLife. The MetaVerse is an urban landscape and for the most part people interact and act much like they do in reality from a first person perspective. Of course, you can make your avatar look however, many folks resorting to cheap duplicate avatars similar to Barbie and Ken dolls.

In contrast, the hero of Doctorow/Stross's book, Rapture of the Nerds is staunchly anti-technology and horrified of upload himself up into the cloud. It's a virtual reality, but you go there once and you stay. For most of the world, it's a gateway to immorality; for Huw, the story's protaganist, it's dying. It takes a while for the book to get up in the cloud, in point of fact, it's a pretty wild undertaking of Apocalyptic Christians living in a giant anthill, bizarre cyborg infections, multi-genitaled religions and repeated betrayls. 

Once in the cloud, Huw's reality is completely virtualized and controlled, down to his own emotional reactions, which have buffers, filters and dials to adjust. He can fork his own self repeatedly to aid him in processing or trying different realities at different speeds. It's a strange form of conciousness to describe, but nicely matching with how we currently view computer programs own operations and manipulations. 

Ready Player One is the most familar virtual universe. The OASIS is a gaming environment turned virtual world. School classes are now held there as does most socializing, and of course there are thousands of adventure worlds of every imaginative ilk - sci-fi, fantasy, hybrid or simply friendly places like SecondLife - to explore. The real world is a bit of a shithole, so the book makes no satire - it's just better to leave the real world and enter the OASIS, where the book spends most of its time.

Each book has its own successes and failings as novels, but none of these really annoy me and when they are flagrant, it's typically because the story needs to move on. It's sci-fiction after all. But on the technology stuf - well, that's worth taking a look at.

The main issue with the majority of these proposed virtual worlds is the inefficiency. I get the literary motivation for the avatars - a VR is just an excuse to have a fantasy world that plays by whatever arbitrary rules that satisfies the story's need for excitement. Better than any fantasy world too, because the author can just decide whenever that previously stated rules don't apply.

Why the emphasis on rules? When you have wizards inside of Cyberpunk planets fighting starships (as in Ready Player One), you need rules so you can understand what is important or what is at stake. Stories without stake are pretty boring. 

But back to inefficiency. In the movie Hackers, there's so massive hack at the end where the characters are all using these virtual reality headsets to navigate some database. It really doesn't make sense - why can't they just type some macros into in a command line and get what they need immediately? It's the same in these literary VRs.

Why spend a bunch of time walking, actually walking, to your friend when you can just message they instantly. We do that now. Why make a rendezvous in some secret location when you can just email a person? I think it's easier to encrypt a simple text message over encrypting instant voice communication and digital rendering of several characters simultaneously as happens repeatedly in Ready Player One.

It's a problem of motivation. The author's need to play in a sci-fi world makes sense, the reader's desire to be in that sci-fi world makes sense, but why the characters would operate in this made up world that humans made and then elected to be a part of doesn't.

Since I've picked on Cline's book a bit, I'll say at least his has small caveat that the VR was originally a gaming environment, but in general, when the modern day Web user has more instaneously and efficient modes of communication than folks in a vast global virtual reality network in the future, the author's imaginings at this point are akin to fiction of modern magic, not because of the level of technology required to produce a VR environment, but because we know that VR realms just don't operate in the manner's described as we've had some taste of it with online communities and gaming.

It's sort of like one of those images where you see what the future looked like to folks 100 years ago 

It takes a couple core concepts of what "technology" is and pushes them to extremes. Ships were the most powerful form of technology at some point, so therefore the future will be dominated by ships of war that can go on land. Watch out!

It's unfortunate, but Stephenson's Metaverse style fiction isn't all that enthralling and the need for a full digital rendering of a person in the other novels is not a breakthrough in a science fiction sense (I doubt the author's think so or care). It is just another fantasy world erected in order for characters to do cool things and have fun. 

Quiet frankly, you do have fun and perhaps because you aren't struggling with a mind altering concept of reality just to turn the pages, you can enjoy that.