Tag Archives: Personal

The Quoracast

I started a podcast. It’s called “The Quoracast” and is an unofficial podcast dedicated to profiling members of the Quora.com community. Episodes can be found on the iTunes store or on Quoracast.com

Money Looks Worse When Wrapped in Red Tape

What’s the EV of filing a remissions claim of $650 with the US Department of Justice?

Dear HAAANH,

As a player on Full Tilt Poker, you may be aware of the recent settlement reached with the U.S. Department of Justice (the “DOJ”).

Full Tilt Poker will not offer real money online poker in the U.S. until it is permissible to do so under relevant law.

In relation to your account balance, you will have the opportunity to file petition with the DOJ through a remission process which will be administrated by the DOJ.

In light of the above, only play chip games will be available to Full Tilt Poker players in the U.S. following re-launch, in the first week of November, 2012. Your Full Tilt Points balance will remain intact in your account.

Please note that we are unable to answer queries in relation to your funds – all such questions should be directed to the DOJ in accordance with the procedure to be defined by them.

Please retain this email for your records.

Sincerely,

Full Tilt Poker

Lessons from Spiceworks

Friday was my last day as a Software Engineer in Test Intern at Spiceworks.  If I wanted to work in Austin as a software tester, I absolutely would have stayed, but it is not a pursuit I currently have in mind.  I recommend anyone looking for a software internship in Austin to consider applying there. It was a memorable, influential experience and I am grateful to the company for providing me with the opportunity.   I learned a lot there, which I want to put into words.

Understanding the Company   

At Spiceworks, no matter what role you play, you have to understand the high-level mission of the company to some degree.  At its core, Spiceworks is two goals cohered together: to provide free high-quality network monitoring software and to provide a niche social network for IT professionals to interact.  My job was to help test the “Community” side which is a sort of Facebook-esque forum.  I wrote and edited automated tests using Ruby and Watir (Web Application Testing In Ruby) within the Rails framework.

Understanding my Role

After a part of the site is released or updated, a manual tester goes through the different potential user flows and tries to discover bugs.  Then, a software engineer automates those tests, writing out the flows so that they can be run nightly as regression tests.  I only did this once, and it took me the duration of Winter break.  Most of my time at Spiceworks was spent editing regression tests that had already been written and were failing due to an ID change in the DOM or the addition of a lightbox somewhere.  Occasionally the changes were more complex, such as when the user profile pages were overhauled, but most of the changes were minute.

For several reasons, there were many nonworking Community regression tests when I began working for the company in November.  While the Community and the monitoring software are both crucial to Spiceworks, development priority seems to be given to the software, and deservingly so.  Most (or at least, a very large portion) of the Community members also used Spiceworks to monitor the network where they worked, and if the monitoring software they are using doesn’t work, they have no reason to go to the Community and talk about the product.  More importantly, while the Community tests were breaking, they were usually due to subtle errors that rarely affected user experience.  Nonetheless, they needed to be fixed, making them the perfect job for an intern.

Ruby is Fun and Powerful

In a nutshell, my job was to look at static HTML in Internet Explorer and prod the page to make it simulate a user’s experience.  This is performed by wrapping a browser and manipulating it like you would any object.  I performed experimentation using interactive Ruby (irb) to make sure my code worked before putting it in the unit test file itself.  It can be a real game to find the most reliable and efficient way to identify an object.  For example, after using Watir to make a browser object that represents your IE instance, you can do something like:

ie.div(:class, “Jeff”).link(:id, “blog”).click

You can also use regular expressions:

ie.link(:text, /Jeff’s Blog/).click

While seemingly elegant, this is frequently a more volatile approach than going through the DOM tree because the order that text appears on a page can be nondeterministic when dealing with forums.  If there was a hyperlink with the text “Jeff’s Blog” at the bottom of the page, and someone made a post above it containing a hyperlink with the text “This page is not Jeff’s Blog”, the latter would be selected.

If I do any HTML scraping in the future I will probably use Watir because I find the syntax very intuitive.  The trickier issues arise when you want to do advanced things like mess with a predictive search bar, binary search a list of pages, or tinker with Javascript.

Creative Scope

Many people including myself select a career as a programmer because they want a job with creative freedom and individuality.  In contrast to this, working at a company usually puts you in a position where team members rely on you to act predictably so that they can black-box whatever project dependency you are working on and assume it is going to function.  I felt valued at Spiceworks because once I had proved I was reliable enough to fix small problems during my first couple months, I asked for and was provided a bigger assignment that allowed more creative freedom.  I got to spend Winter break writing my own test.  It was some of the most gratifying programming I’ve done, and since it was from scratch, I got to automate it however I wanted to.

The Value of Culture

As a company full of tech-savvy people making software for an audience of tech-savvy people, Spiceworks derives a lot of value from being human and outwardly facing.  This symbiosis between Spiceworks employees and product users requires a consistent, positive image that’s only attainable by being a great place to work.

I’ve thought a lot about whether a stated company culture shapes the personality of its employees or rather if the company personality is a natural composition of that of its employees.  I know at least the first is true; Spiceworks has left a lasting impression on me.

Loss

Until today, I have been lucky to have very little understanding of what true loss feels like.  I have previously been hit by the news of the deaths of two meaningful figures within my life as a musician, but neither was a blood relative.  I responded with a state of shock, followed by a deep sadness over the fact that, while I can objectively recognize the sadness of the situation, I don’t respond with the tears and hysteria that seem like normal human emotion.  In the past, I have dealt with this through music.  Pia was a dog of mine, and the second song is about JD Salinger.

Coping with Pia

jds

Hello

5/31/11

Thanks to Tucker Bickler, my tasteful, affordable webmaster, I finally have a blog. Since it will be awhile before I get this epically long post I’m working on finished, here’s a mediocre song from the hundred or two I have written. The mix is very bad. I made it a couple years ago:

Carnival of Wonder

If anyone remembers a little show called Are You Afraid of the Dark? then they probably also remember the notorious episode Laughing in the Dark (I know Rob Secker does). AYATD was sort of a children’s “Twilight Zone”. It was also a show on “Snick,” Nickelodeon’s Saturday evening cash cow which consisted of several hours of high-quality, youthfully addictive entertainment. Some great shows came out of Snick, which I have always surmised was due not only to it having the highest viewership of any time during the week other than maybe Saturday or Sunday morning cartoons, but also due to a noticeable shift in the flavor of content vis a vis the light of day.

AYATD was a perfect example. It gave me very much a grown-up feeling, the terror of The Entertainment. There is an autonomy about subjecting yourself to that kind of terror, and is probably the same reason why people watch scary movies. Perhaps this deeper compulsion to watch the show also rubs off on the parent directly or out of concern/curiosity of how scared their own child will get. I wonder if paternal eyes were ever rolled at the timid mettle of a young boy weeping in fright when Zeebo the clown popped out of a funhouse door.

When I found out how to sample audio from internet videos, this was of course the first thing I thought of, and I found the YouTube of it, broken up into several parts. My song opens with the first scene of the show being cleanly sampled while swirly, elongated and abbreviated samples from throughout the entire episode are pitch bent. Next, a guitar that I sampled from something I don’t remember allies with a goofy Nickelodeonesque beat and some samples of “The Midnight Society,” the group of cool, popular kids that gather around a fire to tell the stories, and are featured before and after commercial breaks to sort of bracket the episode’s scarier content with some good-looking, racially diverse teenagers.

I bet they had a better time than I did at high school fire pit parties.

The only way to get friends that cool is to tune in at eight PM, enormous bag of off-brand Fruit Loops in hand, and get your adrenaline shot up by AYATD. The Midnight Society also served the purpose I mentioned above of bracketing from the scariness. By using a second layer of fiction (the kids telling the story) to insulate a potential child (who didn’t realize that Dora the Explorer came on at eight AM) from being noticeably scarred by AYATD, Nickelodeon was probably doing a good job of keeping parents comfortable with the channel even if they walk in on their children watching this scene, which is from a different episode:

A couple seconds ago he tore that face off his own head.

The beat gets cut off by the ringmaster welcoming the story’s protagonists to the funhouse where the rising action increases in slope. The ringmaster is arguably the most evil character in the episode. Though I’m not entirely familiar with D&D classifications, Zeebo is more of a bad-chaotic antagonist than the ringmaster’s soul-collectorish characterization. The Stevie Wonder sample was a non-sequitur that occupies an amount of sonic space cheaply relative to how much work I had to put into integrating it into the song (time is an issue when you have only four or five hours on Saturday night to finish a song, and a test to study for on Sunday). Having Stevie provide a produced, repetitive melody gave me ample freedom to write a grimy, contrasting drum break (which I have more practice doing) reminiscent of the intro, playing parallel to phasing audio from the kids walking through the funhouse.

I still enjoy listening to this song as it evokes not only the nostalgia of watching AYATD, but also the nostalgia from memories of myself listening to and chopping up the audio of one of my greatest childhood fears, and feeling vengeful.