Archive for November, 2013

Watching someone grow up on TV

Posted in default on November 26th, 2013 at 07:33:07

I watch reality TV.

One of the shows I watch is Gold Rush; I’ve talked about it before.

On Gold Rush one of the people is Parker Schnabel. Parker’s been on the show in part since Season 1; he’s an enthusiastic kid who started out helping his grandfather mine (and taught the rookie Hoffman crew a thing or two in the first season), and has since taken over his grandfather’s mine, and then moved onto the Yukon to mine his own gold claim.

I love watching Parker — not for the usual reason, which is that I enjoy feeling superior (yes, I will admit that watching people be idiots on TV gives me a small sense of superiority, even if I know most of it is scripted drama that isn’t real) — but because I’ve been able to watch him grow up in a lot of ways.

Parker has basically lived his life around the TV show for the past 3 years, and in that time, he’s gone from being a helper to running a mine under his grandfather to running his own — and he’s grown up. He’s grown from being a bit of an overeager snot — to actually being someone who is taking on responsibility and able to be the boss. He’s grown from someone who is putting all of his responsibility on others, to someone who feels very clearly the responsibility is on him, and wants to make it work.

Maybe I see some of myself in Parker; he’s the kid who moves 3 times faster and works 5 times harder than those around him, and still feels like he’s only breaking even; he is smart, cocky, and doesn’t tolerate fools well. He’s all in on a risky venture without proof that it will work, and without any idea what he’s getting into most of the time.

And when shit goes to pot, or he needs help, he’s still got parents who care about him and help him out; even if his dad is strict, he’s still got Parker’s best interests at heart, and they clearly want the best for him.

In the end, I guess I like watching Parker is a little bit like how I think of myself. Even if it’s stupid, mostly scripted, overdramatized reality TV, I like Parker, and I like to watch him, because he’s how I think of myself.

Coursera: Discovering I’m Still Bad at School

Posted in default on November 23rd, 2013 at 21:40:32

I’ve taken a handful of Coursera courses.

Or really, I should say, I’ve tried to take a handful of Coursera courses.

As with all other formal (or in this case, semi-formal) educational opportunities, I always start off super-committed. “I will do the homework early. I will watch all the lectures. I will take the quizzes without reskimming the lectures and use my copious notes.”

As always, it fails. I fall behind; I miss a week; I don’t start my homework until two hours before it’s due.

In a recent course, I was supposed to write a 2000 word data analysis paper. I pulled it up about two hours before the due date — without having watched most of the videos, or done anything else for that week.

After about 1.5 hours of work, I ran `wc` on my analysis … and discovered that I had what I thought were 2700 words, despite feeling like I was way under my limit. I spent the next 20 minutes trimming things out, and getting it down to just 2000 words… and then pasted into the online text editor, which reported that I had actually written 300 words. I looked back at my `wc` output and found that I had actually been looking at the number of *characters* — so I had written a 2000 *letter* report instead of a 2000 word report.

In the last 9 minutes before the deadline, I drastically tried to bring back some of the text I just deleted, and add some more things I had been meaning to add. In the end, I think I did very poorly on the assignment, but I have no one to blame but myself.

It’s the same as it was in college and high school; I’m actually semi-decent at some of the tasks, but sitting down, getting organized, and actually *doing the work* is always the problem.

Ah well. At least I’m learning some new things.

Joel Test for my current project

Posted in default on November 20th, 2013 at 07:50:14
  • Do you use source control? – yes
  • Can you make a build in one step? – yes
  • Do you make daily builds? – yes
  • Do you have a bug database? – yes
  • Do you fix bugs before writing new code? – yes
  • Do you have an up-to-date schedule? – no
  • Do you have a spec? – no
  • Do programmers have quiet working conditions? – no
  • Do you use the best tools money can buy? – yes-ish
  • Do you have testers? – Not convinced ‘tester’ applies in the sense that is meant by the Joel Test, but we have a QA team; most test code is written by programmers though.
  • Do new candidates write code during their interview? – yes
  • Do you do hallway usability testing? – no, but we don’t create a UI.

Going over this, I do have a feeling that the Joel test is directed primarily at things that users see and touch; with that not being the case, the projects I work on lack some of what is deemed as important, specifically because “hallway usability testing” doesn’t seem to apply the same way and ‘testers’ can’t really help as much as I think might otherwise apply.

Improving the World

Posted in default on November 17th, 2013 at 22:14:19

I like to improve the world.

If I described my day job to most people, they would probably say I’m not improving the world very much. I work on improving the local search product of a commercial entity; the work I do doesn’t directly contribute to solving hunger, or saving lives, or what have you. I still feel like I am improving the world though, even if it’s in a smaller way.

Nokia phones are used by millions of people around the world every day. We get millions of users using our local search product every day. I can use the numbers we have to put a percentage on how many search queries are successful every day, and track that over the past couple years since our team started working on the problem.

What is a successful search query worth? Well, on a mobile phone, a bit more than you might think. In rapid-fire testing — attempting to run search queries as quickly as possible, with good knowledge of what I’m looking for and a solid understanding of the search experience — a single search query might take as little as 20 seconds. Reviewing some logs in the past and looking at typeahead, we have seen that for users on some devices, simply typing a query may take some users upwards of a minute.

If I can make search .1% better, with 1 million daily users, I’ve just saved 1000 users 30 seconds or so — or about 8 hours of productivity has been created that might not otherwise exist, assuming that the amount of productivity lost is equal only to the time to do a new search.

In the search team at Nokia in the past year, we have made much more significant gains than this; in fact, given our usage and our improvements in the past two years, the amount of productivity we save each day via improved search alone is more than 3 times the total working hours per day *of our entire team*. That’s right, with the improvements we have made in search, all the time we have spent getting to this point will be paid off in increased productivity in the world in 1/3rd the time we have invested into it; and we continue to make improvements at an approximately linear rate (without, so far, drastically growing the size of our team at a supra-linear rate).

While increased productivity isn’t the same as solving world hunger, or even more mundane acts of saving the world, it is a little bit nice to work on a product where the work we do is a net positive on human productivity. It’s certainly not going to save in the world, but it does help improve it.

Hidden Writing Archives

Posted in Web Publishing on November 2nd, 2013 at 23:48:18

So, recently I realized that my website essentially hasn’t been updated since 2007. (I noticed last week that I had an announcement on there about the presentation I gave at FOSS4G… in 2006. As a current event. Yeah, my website isn’t particularly up to date.)

So, I’m working on moving bits and pieces of it to git, so I can track history and changes more easily, and also because I think that having it open presents no risk and provides opportunity for me to more easily track what I’m doing there in public. However, since the website has been essentially a dumping ground for my various crap for the past 8 years, I’m being a bit cautious about it, and moving things in one by one. (There is some content in my webdir which should not be publicly available — everything from passwords to old client content which is currently protected by password.)

In the process, I came across a collection of articles that … I might have written.

I say might, because I have no real memory of writing them. However, they have examples which use my name; they are written in a style which is semi-consistent with how i would write, and most importantly, they’re hosted under my formal/writing directory (which no one else has ever had access to), which is also explicitly prevented from being crawled by robots.txt. The modification dates on these files are in November 2005 (all on the same day; which likely means they were copied en masse from something even older).

They’re all of things that were of interest to me at the time — how to integrate RSS into IRC bots, how to parse mood information from LiveJournal RSS feeds, how to parse the LiveJournal live stream, etc.

The thing is… I have no idea why I have them. Or why I hid them.

At the time, I was working on getting contracting work — this was before I had started working for Ning, during a time when I was grasping for contracting work to make ends meet, having ended my commute back and forth to wedü. I guess this means that I was actually (essentially) unemployed for a brief period there… perhaps I thought writing articles like this was a good way to draw attention to myself. But then my question becomes… why did I hide them from my robots.txt?!

My biggest fear is that this content is actually stolen from somewhere else — the topics are general enough that it could be. However, given the specifics of the topics, I think that they can’t all be.

While I would believe that someone else could write some of those, it would surprise me that anyone else wrote all of those, and put them in one place. So I think this *is* writing I created… but I have no idea why. With no historical version control, I can’t refer to that (curse you, younger, more foolish self!), and at this point I’ve switched computers enough times that there isn’t much left in the way of detrious of conversation logs from that time; even my email records only go back to 2006 consistently. I think this was actually content that was probably created before transitioning my website to a hosted webserver; this was from the days when it just ran off the server at the apartment.

I’ve googled titles and snippets of these; I see no other evidence of them on the web. I think this means these probably are my original content. Given that, I think I’m going to go with: share and enjoy! I’ve put these into the github repo under formal/writing, where you’re free to do with them what you will. I may try to tidy them up… heck, I may even try to write a few more, because I actually enjoy the writing style.

I just… find it weird that I have this content that the internet at large doesn’t have access to which I apparently wrote 8 years ago and have absolutely no memory of… what a weird thing to find.

(If you have any memory of me writing these articles, why, or evidence I’ve shared them in the past, I’d love to hear it!)