Moving is Rewriting
No comments

As I’m pulling my life back out of a hundred cardboard boxes and settling into a new place, I recognize a kinship between moving and rewriting code. You spend a lot of time and effort, you Do Things Right This Time, you expend resources, and you feel productive for how much you’ve done. And in the end, you’ve probably just got a few new features and you’ll find a few new problems after a couple weeks.

WWW Will Never Die
Code: , , , ,
1 comment

ICANN is moving steadily to enact a fast-track process for gTLD creation (where “fast” here means “months instead of years”), so there could be a few more competitors for .com, .net, .pro, and the rest of the gang in a year or two. Some of the early candidates are .bank, .nyc, and .paris.

What this means, of course, is that www will never die. When a website could be advertised at “” or even just “google”, there needs to be something to indicate to the viewer they should go type this into their computer. It’s not going to be “Hey, now that you finally get that .com isn’t some kind of stutter, type this into your computer:” and it’s sure not going to be “http://”. It’s going to be www, and it’s going to just barely be the lesser of several evils for a long while.

Harkins’s Law of Enterprise Software

Bram’s Law cleverly explains why a lot of common software sucks. I was just chatting in #startups and coined my own law to lay alongside it. I think I finally understand why all the gigantic content management systems and “Enterprise solutions” I’ve seen are so terribly bad.

We were having a conversation about designing a particular feature to scale up nicely…

<goldbond> if you are going to charge for your application, scaling really isn’t a problem right? because you can just throw a ton of hardware at it without eating up all of your revenue
<axod> goldbond: depends how badly you scale
<axod> as long as you charge more than it costs ;)
<Harkins> So clearly, the more you charge, the less competent you need to be.
<Harkins> I’d better go raise my prices.

Getting Git
Code: , , , ,
No comments

I’ve been curious about git for a few weeks. I’ve heard friends recommend it, a lot of big projects (Linux kernel, Xorg, Rails) have switched to it, and I hadn’t yet learned a distributed version control system. I’ve bounced off the blog posts I’ve come across, they weren’t well-organized or assumed some basic familiarity I didn’t have. The man pages were also kind of intimidating.

Continue this post

Picking a Username

I used the handle malaprop as my
username on sites when I started doing stuff on the web, and it worked
decently. Short, memorable, and almost always available. I got involved
in Chicago programming communities and found a shortcoming: it often
took weeks or months before someone connected my name and my handle.
There weren’t any wacky sitcom hijinks, but it was confusing.

I switched to “Harkins”, which is what I’m still using today. It’s
DRY (rather than two names for the same person), short, easy-to-spell, but it’s available less and
less regularly as more people get online.

I’m trying to pick a new username. I’d like it to be based off my real
name, but I’d also like to balance that with brevity. “Peter_Harkins” is
plain too long, I don’t want to use more than 10 characters. “PHarkins” is
right out, I don’t need to be conflated with phone phreaks and other
creative spellers. I’ve been assigned “harkinsp” at too many schools and
workplaces to enjoy it, and it’s not very unique.

I’m tempted to get a bit playful and do something like “hark_ins”. I’d
have some hassle with the various underscore/hyphen rules of different
sites, but it’d always be available.

Any suggestions? What handle have you based on your name?

Finding Value in Bogosity
Code: , , ,

I found this post on design constraints to be great food for thought. The restrictions look like they’ll make for great exercises that I wouldn’t have otherwise thought to do. They remind me of poetic forms, in that they’re difficult but perhaps ultimately liberating..

Then I saw a blog post saying:

This strikes me as so bogus, I can’t even begin to describe it.

A little poking around turned up plenty more people echoing the sentiment: that the exercises were unrealistic, needlessly restrictive, unproductive, etc. They’re right for the wrong reasons: these are all reasons that this is exercise. You’re cross-training, learning to swim with one hand behind your back. I’m going to stop belaboring the value of practice because Steve Yegge already belabored it quite well, but you’ll stagnate if you don’t struggle to improve.

(And hopefully we’ll all start practicing often enough to start figuring out what does and doesn’t work.)

Free Shipping From Amazon Merchants
Biz: , , , , , ,
1 comment

I read a post today about a guy who bought a camera from an Amazon Merchant and left negative feedback after it was shipped poorly (via BoingBoing). They offered to refund the shipping cost ($75) if he’d take down his negative feedback. This caught my attention, because it’s happened to me.

A few months ago I bought from Amazon Merchants for the first time, getting three things from three different merchants. Everything arrived fine and within the same two days, so I went to leave feedback for all of them. They were all small, easily shipped, reasonably-priced, and they arrived fine, so I just gave them all three stars and got on with my day.

Within the next few days, all three vendors contacted me and asked me to remove my “negative” feedback. Well, not so much negative as “average” when I could have chosen “superb”. One looked like a form letter. All of them offered to refund my shipping if I’d delete my rating to stop pulling down their average rating.

It sounds like Amazon Merchants believe that even the smallest amount of feedback that’s not a 5-star rating hurts them significantly. I don’t know if that’s correct, if they’ll be explicitly punished by Amazon or just don’t want to risk having a lower total rating than their competitors, but they would all pay to remove my imperfect ratings. (I didn’t mean to harm them, so I just pulled the reviews without getting refunds.)

Perhaps it’s just chance that all four vendors offered to refund shipping to remove less-than-glowing reviews, but I have to wonder if Amazon’s feedback system is too strict. Buyers won’t see real negative feedback because Merchants are paying to have it removed. If Merchants can’t shrug off a few reviews now and then, unscrupulous buyers could leave negative feedback to bully Merchants into giving discounts after the sale.

Improvement and the Hawthorne Effect
Biz: , , ,
No comments

37Signals decided to experiment with a 4-day work week and announced last week that it had been success in improving productivity and employee satisfaction. I saw it linked from a few places, and the most common comment was “Wow, they should try a 3-day work week, they’d be even more productive, right? Wait, how about a 2-day!?”

Continue this post

StackOverflow Sounds Pragmatically Postmodern

James Noble and Robert Biddle wrote Notes on Postmodern Programming in 2002, and I was reminded of it Wednesday. In section 13 they describe “A First Example of Scrap-Heap System Construction”.

Continue this post

Turning WordPress Categories Into Tags
Code: , , , ,

I recently updated this WordPress install from 2.2.something to 2.5 and noticed that it now supports tags instead of just categories. I had been using categories as tags, but I’d rather built-in tags than fake it anymore. I didn’t want to manually retag a couple hundred posts with ~200 tags, so I wrote some SQL to do it for me. If you’re in the same boat

Continue this post