Uitindu-ma la protestele de ieri am fost surprins ca nimeni nu face legatura dintre altercatiile cu fortele de ordine si Revolutia din 1989, singura perioada in care tin minte ca ar mai fi fost asa ceva in Romania. Ieri se vorbea de Colectiv, de cit de nesimtiti sint la PSD, ca jos Dragnea. A fost Colectiv atit de departe incit nu mai tinem minte cum era? Lumea era in strada scandind impotriva clasei politice in general. Acolo nu s-au bagat ultrasii sau jandarmii, iar lumii ii era lehamite de orice forma de politica. Acum, insa, lupta e polarizata, jos unul, sus altul, si am cazut iar in ciclul ala puturos din care nu am mai iesit din '90 citeva decenii: un permanent vot impotriva, punindu-ne bolnav sperantele in cealalta directie, ca si cum citeva rocade intre partide ar fi rezolvat ceva. La Revolutie am dat jos un sistem, iar acum, cred eu, orice mai prejos de atit este un rateu gigantic.

De aceea nu o sa ma vedeti prin piete scandind impotriva unuia sau altuia. Sint toti la fel. Singura solutie este castrarea politica: sa nu mai aiba nimeni posibilitatea de a da legi nediscutate, sa poata introduce oricine o lege sau un veto la o lege cu un anumit numar de semnaturi, sa eliminam posibilitatea, prin Constitutie, ca un presedinte sa tina parlamentul blocat sau ca un parlament sa se joace cu legislatia pe cintecul vreunui partid sau ca DNAul sa tina parti si tot asa. Sa tragem la raspundere oamenii pentru vorbele, promisiunile si faptele lor. Nu cu legi si inchisori, ci public, colectiv. Cumva am uitat ca alegerile politice sint doar o abstractie a vointei populare care se poate schimba in orice moment.

Ce faci cu cineva care ti-a inselat increderea? Nu i-o mai acorzi. Daca ii dai cheile de la casa si te fura, ii iei cheile! Poate il si bati mar, dar in mod clar nu il mai lasi in casa ta. Solutia nu e nici sa dai imediat cheile altuia, ci sa le tii tu si gata.

Repet: Protestele de dupa incendiul de la Colectiv erau o explozie de indignare impotriva intregii clase politice, Revolutia de la 1989 si ce a urmat imediat, singura perioada in care imi aduc aminte sa fi fost jandarmi cu tunuri cu apa si gaze folosite impotriva manifestantilor in Romania, a fost o explozie de indignare impotriva intregului sistem politic. Ma pis pe manifestantii din Piata Victoriei daca tot ce vor este sa il dea jos pe Dragnea cind pleaca de la servici, daca asta e toata ambitia lor.

Last year I wrote a blog post detailing my experience with social media after four months. This is the followup, after I've had a whole year to take advantage of these tools.

Social Media - what is it?


To me social media means the big two: Facebook and Twitter. I still have no idea what Instagram is and I don't really consider LinkedIn as social media. And Google+ is not worth mentioning. I know there are a lot of other social sites, but I ignored completely photo and video platforms - since I rarely express myself visually, and I've tried some technical platforms like StackOverflow, HackerRank or GitHub, but again didn't consider that "social media". Probably I should, since I love software development and having people to share this with would truly be a social experience for me, but I started this experiment with focus on general social interaction. Also... Slack... what the hell is that?

What I used social for


In the previous post I said that I am using Blogger to express myself, as I have done for more than a decade, and use some tool to automatically share this on Facebook and Twitter. Not surprisingly, very little people were engaged by this method of communication. It works better than RSS feeds, that's for sure, but most of the time people on social media (including myself) want to shut off their brain and read something light, not my crazy ramblings or technical posts. I've created a Facebook page for my blog, so people can use that as an entry point, if they want, but all the posts there are shares from Blogger.

I was saying that I was pleasantly surprised by Twitter and the quality of content there and less enthusiastic about Facebook. However, Twitter changed some things lately, mostly allowing videos, images and smileys (what you, young folks, call emoticons - or is it emoji?) to take less space. The effect is that there are a lot more visual opinions (let's call them that) on Twitter and thus becoming harder and harder to read. Also the amount of postings there is overwhelming. I tried to look for some tools to limit the number of tweets or organizing them somehow, but unfortunately I found none that did what I envisioned. The result is that occasionally - every week or so - I scroll through Twitter until I get tired and put links in my to read list, but most of the time I only cover a day or two of content.

I found that whenever I see something that I believe is worth sharing I put it on Facebook, rather than Twitter, mostly because I have few friends on Twitter and there is that 140 character limitation. However, most of the time I just post the link anyway and maybe say a few words. I wonder if that short circuits me thinking about the subject and then writing my opinion on it, as I am doing with this blog, but most likely I would rather not share than write so much every time, so I don't know if the occasional Facebook posts are taking away Blogger posts. I will actively try to not make it the case. I noticed, though, that people that like my Tweets are often not in my friends list, so I guess it's more general an audience. That being said, all my Facebook posts are fully public, anyway.

Speaking of Facebook, when I compile my weekly reading list I also scroll down through the Facebook wall, but even with my extension to filter posts based on own content and less images, videos and likes, I still get bored rather quickly. Sometimes the jokes are funny or the pictures interesting, but I am not really a Facebook reader. Lately I have been unfollowing people in order to keep a modicum of content curation on my wall. I was really disappointed by the events system, as well. A lot of people just mark all events they could possible go to with 'Interested' and then they never go. Also the events that appear on Facebook feel like complete bullshit most of the time anyway. The ones that I would have liked to attend either don't even appear or they are so niche that I never hear about them until it is too late.

One thing that I thought I would use Facebook for was the messenger app. And I do use it, but very rarely. In the Yahoo Messenger days I would chat a lot with people. Somehow all that became frivolous, not only for me, but other people as well. Now I see young people just getting a lot of notifications and ignoring them. So what's the point, anyway?

And speaking of... God, notifications are annoying. Everything wants to notify you of the very important thing that happened on it. It does so by blinking, beeping, animating or any other histrionic method of getting your attention. They do it incessantly until I stop caring. Notify away, I will ignore you.

What I will be using social for


I don't foresee any change in the future other than maybe using less social media altogether. I am half convinced that I should try to develop meaningful human relationships, at least as another experiment. Clearly social media does NOT connect people on a personal level at all. I've heard about these young kids that share everything they do on social media. Maybe they do, but I am not following them. To me that's another network altogether. The occasional curiosity to see what is "trending" or "popular" disgusts me every single time. The things my friends share are not truly representative of them. And if I make the first step and post some weird feeling or situation I am in, I mostly get no reaction. People avoid negative emotions unless they are manic: hate, anger, disgust take first stage while depressive thoughts, sadness or desperation are avoided. Same for positive emotions, by the way, when people are extra happy about having a child or something like that. Just mildly enjoying something and feeling good about oneself is generally ignored.

Conclusion


I am not going to commit social media suicide or anything, but I concluded that I want to know what people think, rather than what people feel, and social media is used more for the latter. Therefore my commitment to online electronic expression is not going to increase towards Facebook and Twitter. As always, I do hope I will blog more meaningful posts. Wish me luck!

I am often left dumbfounded by the motivations other people are assigning to my actions. Most of the time it is caused by their self-centeredness, their assumption that whatever I do is somehow related more to them than to me. And it made me think: am I a good/bad person, or is it all a matter of perception from others?

I rarely feel like I do something out of the ordinary for other people; instead I do it because that's who I am. I help a colleague because I like to help or I refuse to do so because I feel that what I am doing is more important. Same with friends or romantic relationships. Sometimes I need to make an effort to do something, but it's still my choice, my assessment of the situation and my decision to go a certain way. It's not a value judgment on the person, it's not an asshole move or some out of my way effort to improve their life. What I do IS me.

It's also a weird direction of reasoning, since I am aware of the physical impossibility for "free will" and I subscribe to the school of thought that it is all an illusion. I mean, logic dictates that either the world works top-bottom, with some central power of will trickling down reality or it is merely a manifestation of low level forces and laws of physics that lead inexorably towards the reality we perceive. In other words, if you believe in free will, you have to believe in some sort of god, and I don't. Yet living my life as if I have no free will makes no sense either. I need to play the game if I am to play the game. It's kind of circular.

Getting back to my original question: Isn't good or bad just a label I (and other people) assign to a pattern of behavior that belongs to me? And not before I do things, but always afterwards. Just like the illusion of free will there is the illusion of moral quality that guides my path. While one cannot quantify free will, they can measure the effect my behavior has on their life and goals and determine a value. But then is my "goodness" something like an average? Because then it would be more important the number of people I am affecting, rather than the absolute value of the effect per person. Who cares I help a colleague or pay attention to my wife? In the big sea of people, I am just a small fish that affects a few other small fish. We could all die tomorrow in the belly of a whale, all that goodness pointless.

So here I am, asking essentially a "who am I" question - painfully aware it has no final answer - in a world I think is determined by tiny laws of physics that create the illusion of self and with a quantity of consequence that is irrelevant even if it weren't so. I am torturing myself for no good reason, ain't I?

Yet the essence of the question still intrigues me. Is it necessary that I feel a good drive for my actions to be a good person, or is it a posterior calculation of their effect that determines that? If I work really well and fast for a month and then I do less the next, is it that I did good work in the first month or that I am a lazy bastard in the second? If I pay attention to someone or make a nice gesture, is it something to be lauded, or something to be criticized when I don't do it all the time? Is this a statistical problem or an issue of causality?

And I have to ask this question because if I feel no particular drive to do something and just "am myself", I don't think people should assign all kind of stupid motivations to my actions. And if I need to make this sustained effort to go outside my routine just to gain moral value... well, it just feels like a lot of bother. And I have to ask it because the same reasoning can be applied to other people. Is my father making terrible efforts to take care of just about everybody in his life, making him some sort of saint, or is it just what he does and can't help himself, in which case he's just a regular dude?

Personally I feel that I am just an amalgamation of experiences that led to the way I behave. I am neither good nor evil and my actions define me more than my intentions. While there is some sort of consistency that can be statistically assessed, it is highly dependent on the environment and any inference would go down the drain the moment that environment changes. But then, how can I be a good person? And does it even matter?

After a slightly misused sabbatical year, I went through a period of trying to get hired. That means interview after interview with people that were assessing my fit within their company. Man, that sucked! I mean, I am a white male professional in a business where everyone is looking for personnel and still it was frustrating, demeaning and painful. But I am not here to complain (maybe a little :) ), only to share my experience and my... constructive criticism.

The story


OK, so first off, the only other real experience in looking for work was more than ten years ago and then I was an absolute beginner on the market. However, back then I knew I was a nobody, while now I know that my experience and passion put me way up there as usefulness and value go. I may have started off this campaign with an unhealthy level of smugness, but it goes off quickly, I assure you.

I am lucky that I had this year of experimenting before I started looking, which allowed me to treat it as any other experiment: I accepted almost all interviews and I went diligently through the entire process, no matter my personal opinion about the company. That helped a lot as a learning experience; while I know how to code, it quickly became apparent that I have no idea how to convince others about it. I set up to try everything, learn from it, while continuing to be principled. In my mind that meant completely honest. I didn't expect company people to be honest with me, but that was on them. I would be a perfect WYSIWYG candidate. Better to fail fast, rather than have a miserable experience in the relationship. BTW, that is also my strategy with girls, which explains why I am virgin. I stuck to my guns, though.

The experience


I am not going to name names here. This is not about how awful some companies may have been. It is all about my perception of the hiring process. And it is that it sucks!

I don't know if in other fields it goes smoother, but imagine this: the only people that have any idea about how to hire people are the HR people and they have no idea what software programming is like. I could be married with an HR manager and she still would not know anything about software development. The technical people may know how to code, but they have no idea how to determine if the other person is any good and if you are a technical person you are definitely not an human resources person. I applaud people who can be both, mostly because I have not met one and I can't think of any scenario that would produce such an individual other than some radioactive alien arthropod biting a regular person.

Funny enough, compared with my past, is that HR mostly liked me while the technical people (the majority more than a decade younger) mostly dismissed me. At first I felt like a complete impostor (of course), my self esteem plummeted (which didn't help any), and I was about to beg for a job (which is what most people do, I hear). However, I tried to see the situation from the point of view of the people trying to hire me (I know: shocking!) and I could understand their situation and empathize. Think about it. How would you test someone for a programming job? Who would you call in that meeting? What would be the salary that you would budget for that person (in EUR, after taxes)?

Did you really think about it? Come on, make an effort. I guarantee it's worth it.

OK, so the HR people looked at my resumé and saw that I have had a lot of stable jobs before in all kinds of environments. I was a pleasant enough person (I mean, for a techie, which means without obvious homicidal tendencies) with a very good understanding of the English language. No obvious conflicts, although I may have been too honest in my (err.. constructive!) criticism of past employment. I mean, come on!, every dev can tell you that managers don't know what they're doing, right? If I think about it, the job of the HR department seems fairly simple to me: look for a candidate that fits the profile, lure them in, do the most simplistic psychological screening possible, then pass it along to the tech department. It's something that AIs will probably take over soon. I may fondly look backwards to these times, when there existed people that were actually biased towards me! The typical HR person is a girl. Now, if I am being insensitive here, I apologize, but if you want to seduce a tech to the point where he would do anything to come to you, you use a nice, sexy girl. It's only natural when devs are mostly male virgins. To be honest, these girls could have hated me or wanted me to have sex with them and I would have had no clue whatsoever. If they said it, I took it for granted. If they lied, again, it's on them. If they remained quiet, then I couldn't parse it into text and who's fault is that?

So then there was the tech interview. You have some guy who thinks he's God because he can code and maybe have some overview that is slightly larger than those of his juniors. He is young, probably coming from some technical university (yes, in Romania people actually do look for coding work after studying Computer Science). He has no idea how he needs to conduct an interview, but admitting to that, even to himself, is a bit too discordant with his view of his person. So he does what every tech would do in this situation: he Googles it. You might be amazed, but Google actually turns up some good advice, but you must be willing to admit that your expectations for how to do that may have been completely wrong. So he does the second thing anyone does when Googling: looks for links that validate their own beliefs (and also have some template for interviews that they can quickly print and use).

Am I being unfair here? Probably. But it is a good theory to explain the types of interviews that I had and how they all seemed carbon copied after each other. The template is basically this:
  1. an algorithmic question, such as: how do you refresh a sorted list from another complete sorted list, or how do you intersect two sorted lists, or how do you search into a sorted list or... wait a minute, are they all about bloody sorted lists?
  2. general algorithmic knowledge questions, such as: what is the difference between a list and a linked list, or an array and a list, what are the complexities of operations on lists. Pretty much there has to be a data container there.
  3. general language knowledge questions, such as: behavior of some implementation in a specific language, the results of SQL queries, characteristics of SQL indexes, some HTML stuff, the life cycle of ASP.Net if you are really lucky...
  4. tools and ways of working in tech from previous employers. Here they are actually interested, because while they appear to be judging everything you say, they actually want to hear of better ways of working themselves.
  5. questions about a project you really liked or had a lot of influence over. Yeah! And while you feel like an idiot because no one ever let you work on a project that you think was special, the interviewer learns from your experience and adapts it to their crappy project.
  6. asking you if you have questions for them and looking like they expect you to have some really sensible and relevant questions when all you want is to know if they want to have you or not

The existence of the first step is being fed by sites like HackerRank, Codility and CodingGame, which should never be considered as anything else than learning tools, if not just silly games. However, since these people went through grueling university lectures about algorithms and then inflated their own ego playing on the web sites above they assume you should know about them too. It doesn't matter that they rarely found use of any of it when working on their projects, they just push it under the vague concept of "wanting to see how you think". However, they are not logical problems (like they used to put 5 years ago, copying from Google and the like), they are very specific coding situations. You may know the exact solution - because you played around with algorithms when bored - or you might have no idea how to solve the problem.

And here you are now, facing a guy that looks critically at you, while trying to think of the problem, finding the best solution and doing it before the guy gets bored. It will take him about 60 seconds to get bored, too, as he already knows the answer to the question and he feels it's obvious and the only one possible. Hell, he knew how to solve this before he even left university! It doesn't matter that several scenarios fight for supremacy in your head, that for each there is another solution, that the very simple solution feels too simple and your brain is wracking itself to find another one - that would be probably either wrong, over engineered or both. And you want, you really want to implement a three step algorithm that you know always works (1. Google it 2. Think of something better 3. Use the best implementation found), but you believe it would be perceived as not knowing your stuff. I mean, what if you are at work and your Internet dies? Surely you need to solve the problem anyway, right?

In truth, the lucky scenario is if they send you to HackerRank or something similar to solve a technical test before you meet with anybody. That goes over fast and easy, while you hack comfortably in your underwear and you have no stress about who is thinking what. The unlucky scenario is that you get a guy who thinks you are not a true developer unless you are working on open source projects on GitHub in your spare time. Oh, and they need to be interesting to him.

Yet, after you go through the first two steps, the rest are a breeze: you know your stuff, you know your languages, you can even think of a project or two that had something remotely instructive in them. It feels like you went over a bump, but now you can go full speed. They ask you various things about your past experience, you gladly oblige, make a few jokes, get some laughter, start to feel good about yourself. Surely, you will pass the interview.

And then you get "the call", where you know you have failed from the tone of the HR girl who needs to tell you that they won't be going further with it. You still hope against hope while she goes on and on and on through her complex script of letting you go easy. She thinks she's being thoughtful, yet you are a tech and you want the answer first and the explanations after. And you despair. Obviously, you suck. You will never get a job. You are worthless, less than worthless, a complete buffoon. And here you were, thinking that years of successful work with people that appreciated your efforts meant anything. When was the last time you learned something new anyway? Last month? Three programming languages and five new frameworks launched since then, not to count the new versions of old frameworks that you never got around to master. Who were you kidding? There are ten year olds that can code better than you. And they are not married yet! You know getting a dog will ruin your career. You are a fossil, admit it! In five years you will be begging for food on the street with a sign that says "Will code for bread". And you know what? You are right: you are an idiot!

I cannot claim absolute truth here, because I don't have enough data to arrive at a clear conclusion. That is because when they flunk you, the sweet HR girl stops contacting you altogether. If you are lucky the company didn't use their own human resources and instead you arrived through a dedicated HR firm (headhunters) and they have the decency to not only tell you didn't pass, but also make the effort to tell you why. The people you maybe knew at that company and were really supportive of you joining their team drop from the face of the Earth. Clearly, you were too stupid to work there, so they cut you off. At the very best you are an emotional mess and they don't want to have anything to do with that. So the next section is mostly speculation, but I will try to make it sound good.

The Explanation


There are a zillion reasons people don't want you in their team on the specific project they are working on and that have nothing to do with your value as a human being.

You might have asked for a sum that is too large for what they were prepared to offer. Even if you are that valuable, they are too cheap for it. It's like the girl who dumps you without telling you why (maybe mumbling something about you being insensitive) because you said you liked anal and she was afraid to try it. It may also be because you think you deserve more than people are actually willing to pay in general. That's on you. However, the correlation between your skills and your pay is not linear. It mostly depends on the market. After all, you are trying to sell yourself. You are already a whore, now you are just negotiating on the price. Today you may be a hero, tomorrow you will be the guy that made some money in that [enter fleeting fad] boom and lost it all in the subsequent crash.

People might put a lot of value on algorithms. It may be a good decision, because in their project they often meet situations where good algorithmic knowledge saves the day. If you are not good at it, or you couldn't prove it in the makeshift interview you flunked, they have every right to not go through with it. They might also not know any other way to test your knowledge and be too lazy to actually look for value in people. There a lot of other similar reasons that you may file under this scenario. They wanted something specific from you, didn't tell you and you don't have it.

They think you are old. And you may just well be. Age discrimination aside, why should they hire someone like you when they perceive the same value from a guy 20 years younger - and way cheaper? If I had to chose, I would have no qualms whatsoever. This is also linked to expectations. Remember when you were counseled to try to move to a manager position before you got to [enter ridiculously low number here]? That translates to the expectation that after that age, being a simple techie means there is something wrong with you. This will never ever change. Look at the age average in all the big companies: it's about 30. Startups even less, around 22. That doesn't mean you need to become a manager, I am sure old managers feel just as threatened. Plus, you might really suck as a manager. I know I would. Unofficial sources say that even the places that usually hire people for experience (like government jobs) stop looking at resumes for people over 45. Age does matter, so plan for it.

And then there is the idea that if you are inexperienced you can learn quicker the things that "you really need", like that framework that became famous while you were reading this blog post. You may be experienced, but will they need to fight with you on whether to use ASP.Net MVC over ASP.Net forms? (or is ASP.Net MVC obsolete already? I don't know, I was blogging). I don't know if that's true. I did learn quicker when I was young, but that was mostly by failing miserably again and again. On the other hand a job position where you are hired for your ability to fail your tasks sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

There is also the personal thing. You might have rubbed someone the wrong way. That means not that you are an awful person, but that you just don't match with a person who you might have had to work with if they went forward and hired you. Again, want to be married with the girl that hates you, no matter how big her boobs are? You may be an asshole, but maybe the other person was, too. Some people might feel threatened by you, either because you threatened their life if they don't hire you or because they think you are way sexier than them and you would cock block their attempts to woo the HR girl. You won't become a better person by trying to be liked by everyone. They might have hated your shirt, for example, the one that you thought would look really professional, but they saw as threatening, because they usually work in shorts and t-shirts. Point is, they had some expectations and you didn't meet them. Were they justified? You don't know and you shouldn't care.

The position you would be working on is equally important. You might be a brilliant web developer, but if they actually wanted a server guy, or viceversa, they will drop you. They will not admit that they were not specific in their job description, of course, and instead just blame you for not being "a good fit". Imagine you are a cube that is crying it didn't fit in a circular hole. Ridiculous, right? I mean, would the tears be blocky? As a specific example: I went somewhere for several interviews. I was "a perfect match" for one and not the right person for another. The JD document they sent for both positions was identical.

Solutions


Since I code and have an overview on life, I can definitely tell you how interviews should be conducted, but you will have to buy the paid version of this blog for that. See, I am learning fast, in one phrase I was both a tech, a business person and an asshole.

The truth is that the only way I could think of that wasn't insulting to everyone's intelligence was to actually show them a computer, a real problem, and let them fix it with me watching and helping next to them. And it still wouldn't be sufficient. If it were "real" enough, then it would take time to understand all of the aspects of the problem. The guy might be overly nervous with me next to him. I know people that can only work when no one is watching, and they do great work. Plus, they may have experience on that exact problem and suck at anything else.

Unfortunately, in all my interviews the only tools that I had to work with were pen and paper. Putting aside the fact that I don't even understand my own writing, the last time I had to actually write anything on paper was... oh yeah, the last time I was looking for a job. Does it make sense to conduct software development interviews with no computer? I would say no.

Conclusions


There is a schism between what they expect and what you expect, what you think of yourself and what they do. That is the real reason behind every failed interview. It doesn't really matter if they had unrealistic expectations, but it matters a lot if you had. Like every experiment: acquire data, reason about the data, propose a theory that explains it, test it against new data. The best way to achieve anything is to change your behavior towards the goal. The important thing here is to define the goal. Is it to get hired at any and all costs? Or is it to find the place where you will enjoy working, keep growing and be appreciated for your efforts?

In the end it so happens that not only did I get hired at the company I was aiming for, but I did it on the position I feel I was best suited for, rather than some mediocre second best. Like with dating girls, it is worth waiting for the right one. And with software, you get to do side projects, too!

I was in some sort of American campus, one of those where they found a gimmick to show how cool they are. In this case it was reptiles. Alligators were moving on the side of the street, right next to people. They would hiss or even try to bite if you got close enough. I was moving towards the exit, which was close to the sea and leading into a sort of beach, and I was wondering what would happen if one of these large three meter animals would bite someone. And suddenly something happened. Something large, much larger than a crocodile, came out of the water and snapped a fully grown adult alligator like a stork snatches frogs. What was that thing? A family of three was watching, fascinated, moving closer to see what was going on. "Are these people stupid?" I thought.

Sure enough, the dinosaur thing bites through the little kid. The father jumps to help but is completely ignored, his sudden pain and anguish irrelevant to the chomping reptile. Other tourists were being attacked. One in particular drew my eyes: he had one of the things pulling with its teeth on his backpack. The man acted like something annoyed him, making repeated "Ugh!" sounds while trying to climb back on the walkway. His demeanor indicated that he didn't care at all of the reptiles, temporary annoyances that stopped him from returning to normal life. At one moment he paused to scratch an itch on his face. His fingers were bitten clean off, blood gurgling from the stumps. He was in shock.

Somehow, a famous actor jumped from somewhere and made it clear that it had been just a show, although the realism of it was so extreme that I felt an immediate cognitive dissonance and the scene switched.

I was at the villa of a very rich friend and there was wind outside. Really strong wind. Nearby wooden booths that were at the edge of his garden were pushed towards me, threatening to crush me against the wall of the building. I went inside, telling my friend that he should take whatever he needs from outside because the wind is going to tear them away. He calmly pressed a button on a remote and an inflatable wall grew around the compound, holding the wind at bay. Cool trick, I thought, trying to figure out if it was firmly anchored to the ground by wires or it got all its structural strength from the material it was made of. It had to have some sort of Kevlar-like component, otherwise it would have been easy to puncture. I calculated the cost of such a feature as astronomical.

We went in, climbing to the second or third floor. Out the window I saw buildings, like near the center of Bucharest. The wind was wreaking havoc on whatever was not firmly fixed. The building across the street was 10 floors tall and apparently someone was doing roofing work when the wind started. The fire used to heat up the tar was now really intense from all the fresh oxygen and smoke was billowing strongly. Suddenly the top floor caught fire, flames stoked by the wind into unstoppable blazes. I called my friend to the window and showed him what was going on. While we watched, floor after floor were engulfed in flames, explosions starting to be heard from within. The building caught fire like a cigarette smoked in haste. I thought that if the wind went through the building, via broken windows and walls, then the a very high temperature could be reached. And as I was thinking that, the building went down. It didn't collapse, instead it leaned towards our villa and crashed right next to it.

I panicked. I knew that on 9/11 the towers collapsed because of the intense heat, but a nearby building was structurally weakened by the towers falling and it too went down eventually. I ran towards the ground floor, jumping over stairs. If the villa would crumble, I did not want to get stuck inside. While fleeing, I was considering my options. The building that went down had people in it, maybe I should head right there and help people get out. Then I also remembered the thousands of people helping after the September 11 that later got lung cancer from all the toxic stuff they put into buildings. Besides, what do I know about rescuing people from rubble? I would probably walk on their heads and crash more stuff on top of the survivors. I've decided against it, feeling like an awful human being that is smart enough to rationalize anything.

As I got down I noticed too things. First there was a large suffocating quantity of white big grained dust being blown by the wind, making it hard to breath. The light was filtered through this dust, giving it a surreal dusky quality. I used my shirt to create a makeshift breathing mask for the dust. Then there were the people. A sexy young woman, short skirt, skimpy blouse, long hair, the type that you see prowling the city centers, was now crawling on the ground, left leg sectioned just under the knee, but not bleeding, instead ending with a carbonized stump, like a lighted match that you put off before it disintegrated. I saw people with their skins completely burned off, moving slowly through the rubble, reaching for me. Some where nothing more than bloodied skeletons, some were partially covered in tar, the contrast of red inflamed burns and black tar or burned clothing evoking demonic visions of hell. These people were crying in pain and coming towards me from all sides, climbing over the ruins of buildings and cars. The smell was awful. I ran, parkour style.

As I woke up I tried to remember as much of the dream as possible. I still have no idea what I was doing in that campus and how I had gotten there. I was fascinated by the scene with the shocked tourist, as it implies knowledge of human behavior that I don't normally possess when awake. It was completely believable, yet at the same time bizarre and unexpected. Great scene! I've had disaster dreams before, top quality special effects and all, but never was I confronted with the reality of the aftermath (I usually died myself in those). I am certain I made logical decisions in the situation, but at the same time I felt ashamed at the powerlessness, fear and the fact that I was running away. Should I have stayed and helped (and gotten cancer)? Should I have rushed home and blogged about it? Maybe a strategic retreat in which I would have conferred with experts and then maybe got back with professional reinforcements?

What felt new was that while having all those random thoughts and running, I wasn't really thinking of my life. I wasn't considering whether my life is worth saving or what the purpose of my running actually is. It wasn't thinking at all; just running. It was visceral, like my body was on autopilot, taking that stupid head away from the danger before he thinks itself to death. Considering it was a virtual body in my actual head, that's saying something. I am not just sure what.

Anyway, beats the crap out of the one with being late for the exam, not having studied anything...

No, it's not about mine, although this blog has had its ups and down. What I want to talk about is the list of blogs I am following and how it (d)evolved.

When I was an enthusiastic beginner in software development I was hunting for interesting blogs that would give me valuable insights into the minds of good developers, the quirks of frameworks, the hidden tools and processes that would make my life better. I was adding blog after blog to my RSS list. Later on, I kind of stopped. I had things to do, work to be done and unfortunately went through some jobs that were not conducive to learning. Perhaps seeing myself as an expert also hindered enthusiasm in learning (note to self: don't do that!). The obsolescence of the tool I was using to read RSS with and the death of Google Reader also did not help. So recently I just went back to that list of blogs and started organizing it with a new tool. I use Feedly now, in case you were wondering.

Today I had an epiphany. I have over 150 blogs that I am "following", 100 of which are software related, yet only very few of them are actually spewing content anymore. In my three year hiatus from blog reading most of the technical blogs just ... stopped. Some of them just plain vanished, complete with content that I had linked to in my own articles. At that time I was considering blogs as permanent as you can get. I mean people just write stuff for the heck of it, so others can read and learn. There would be no reason for any of this to disappear - there are still pages from 1990 active on the Internet, for crying out loud! So what happened?

One theory is that blogs were created as representations of a person's evolution. For example you are a good WPF programmer and you create something like Dr. WPF's blog. When you stop doing WPF (because Microsoft dropped the ball with it!) you stop writing. Perhaps the author still blogs in other places, other blogs that are thematic, I don't know. Another theory is that people just blog at a certain stage in their life; it's like a quarter-life crisis. When they mature, people stop blogging (which says something...). Maybe the social media explosion pushed people away from personalized platforms and they do all their publishing on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Medium and so on. As the IT industry moves at an ever increasing pace, the blogs may turn into antiquated relics that are obsolete by the time several posts have been published.

I feel sad either way. When I started blogging, people would come to me for help. After all I started the site years before StackOverflow arrived on the scene. I would write about programming, books, anime, life, personal ideas, jokes, space, science, rants, whatever. It happened several times that I was looking for a solution to a problem and found myself explaining it in an older post. People still praise some posts because they refer technology that is maybe a decade old. Others for getting the full picture on how I got to the end result. So for all these vanishing blogs, I feel a sense of loss for all the knowledge that was lost, for all the voices that turned silent.

I know that as a blog dies ten others appear, but there is no sense of origin anymore, no chronological timeline of the evolution of the person writing. I can even go down the "they are not making them like they used to" road. For me a blog would have functioned as a sort of resumé of someones's work. If I liked an article, I would look at others, maybe subscribe. This way I would be connected not with a concept, but with a person: as they grew, I grew. And SEO be damned, I don't care people don't discover my blog anymore because Google can't make up its mind on what I am actually writing about. When people do come, they see me, not just disparate out of context solutions to their 5 minute problems.

So I wrote this article to express my sorrow. I guess that I miss my friends, even if they never knew me.

In September last year I was leaving my job and starting a sabbatical year, with many plans for what seemed then like a lot of time in which to do everything. I was severely underestimating my ability to waste time. Now the year is almost over and I need to start thinking about the technologies in my field of choice that I need to catch up with; and, boy, there is a lot of them! I leave the IT industry alone for one year and kaboom! it blows up like an angry volcano. To be honest, not all of these things that are new for me are just one year old, some I was just ignoring as I didn't need them for my various jobs. Learn from this, as especially in the software business it gets harder and harder to keep up to date and easier and easier to live in a bubble of your own or your employer's creation.

This post is about a list of programming topics that I would like to learn or at least learn to recognize. It's work in progress and probably I will update it for a time. While on my break I created a folder of software development stuff that I would "leave for later". As you can imagine, it got quite large. Today I am opening it for the first time. Be afraid. Be very afraid. I also have a lot of people, either friends or just casual blog or Twitter followings, that constantly let me know of what they are working on. As such, the list will not be very structured, but will be large. Let's begin.

A simple list would look like this. Let me set the list style to ordered list so you can count them:
  1. Typescript 2
  2. ReactJS
  3. JSX
  4. SignalR
  5. Javascript ES6
  6. Xamarin
  7. PhoneGap
  8. Ionic
  9. NodeJS
  10. .NET Core
  11. ASP.Net MVC
  12. R
  13. Python
  14. Unity
  15. Tensorflow
  16. DMTK/CNTK
  17. Visual Studio Code
  18. Jetbrains Project Rider
  19. npm
  20. Bower
  21. Docker
  22. Webpack
  23. Kubernetes
  24. Deep Learning
  25. Statistics
  26. Data mining
  27. Cloud computing
  28. LESS
  29. SASS
  30. CSSX
  31. Responsive design
  32. Multiplatform mobile apps
  33. Blockchains
  34. Parallel programming
  35. Entity Framework
  36. HTML5
  37. AngularJS 2
  38. Cryptography
  39. OpenCV
  40. ZeroNet
  41. Riffle
  42. Bots
  43. Slack
  44. OAuth
  45. OData
  46. DNS
  47. Bittorrent
  48. Roslyn
  49. Universal Windows Platform / Windows 10 development
  50. Katana
  51. Shadow DOM
  52. Serverless architecture
  53. D3 and D4 (d3-like in ReactJs)
  54. KnockoutJs
  55. Caliburn Micro
  56. Fluent Validation
  57. Electron

Yup, there are more than 50 general concepts, major frameworks, programming languages, tools and what not, some of them already researched but maybe not completely. That is not including various miscellaneous small frameworks, pieces of code, projects I want to study or things I want to do. I also need to prioritize them so that I can have at least the semblance of a study plan. Being July 21st, I have about one full month in which to cover the basic minimum. Clearly almost two subjects a day every day is too ambitious a task. Note to self: ignore that little shrieky voice in your head that says it's not!

Being a .NET developer by trade I imagine my next job will be in that area. Also, while I hate this state of affairs, notice there is nothing related to WPF up there. The blogs about the technology that I was reading a few years ago have all dried up, with many of those folks moving to the bloody web. So, I have to start with:

  1. ASP.Net MVC Core - the Model View Controller way of making .NET web applications, I've worked with it, but I am not an expert, as I need to become. Some quickly googled material:
  2. .NET Core - the new version of .NET, redesigned to be cross platform. There is no point of learning .NET Core as standalone: it will be used all over this plan
  3. Entity Framework Core - honestly, I've moved away from ORMs, but clearly Microsoft is moving full steam ahead on using EF everywhere, so I need to learn it well. As resources, everything written or recommended by Julie Lerman should be good, but a quick google later:
  4. OData - an OASIS standard that defines a set of best practices for building and consuming RESTful APIs. When Microsoft adopts an open standard, you pretty much know it will enter the common use vocabulary as a word used more often than "mother". Some resources:
  5. OAuth - An open protocol to allow secure authorization in a simple and standard method from web, mobile and desktop applications. It is increasingly used as "the" authentication method, mostly because it allows for third party integration with Facebook, Twitter, Google and other online identity providers. Some resources:
  6. Typescript 2 - a strict superset of JavaScript from Microsoft, it adds optional static typing and class-based object-oriented programming to the language. Javascript is great, but you can use it in any way you want. There is no way to take advantage of so many cool features of modern IDEs like Visual Studio + ReSharper without some sort of structure. I hope Typescript provides that for me. Resources:
  7. NodeJS - just when I started liking Javascript as a programming language, here comes NodeJs and brings is everywhere! And that made me like it less. Does that make sense? Anyway, with Microsoft tools needing NodeJs for various reasons, I need to look into it. Resources:
  8. Javascript ES6 - the explosion of Javascript put a lot of pressure on the language itself. ECMAScript6 is the newest iteration, adding support for a lot of features that we take for granted in more advanced languages, like classes, block variable scope, lambdas, multiline literals, better regular expressions, modules, etc. I intend to rewrite my browser extension in ES6 Javascript for version 3, among other things. Here are some resources:
  9. npm - npm is a package installer for Javascript. Everybody likes to use it so much that I believe it will soon become an antipattern. Functions like extracting the left side of a string, for example, are considered "packages".
  10. Bower - Bower is a package manager for the web, an attempt to maintain control over a complex ecosystem of web frameworks and libraries and various assets.
  11. Docker - The world’s leading software containerization platform - I don't even know what that means right now - Docker is a tool that I hear more and more about. In August I will even attend an ASP.Net Core + Docker presentation by a Microsoft guy.
  12. Parallel programming - I have built programs that take advantage of parallel programming, but never in a systematic way. I usually write stuff as a single thread, switching to multithreaded work to solve particular problems or to optimize run time. I believe that I need to write everything with parallelism in mind, so I need to train myself in that regard.
  13. Universal Windows Platform - frankly, I don't even know what it means. I am guessing something that brings application development closer to the mobile device/store system, which so far I don't enjoy much, but hey, I need to find out at least what the hell this is all about. The purpose of this software platform is to help develop Metro-style apps that run on both Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile without the need to be re-written for each. Resources:
  14. HTML5 - HTML5 is more than a simple rebuttal of the XHTML concept and the adding of a few extra tags and attributes. It is a new way of looking at web pages. While I've used HTML5 features already, I feel like I need to understand the entire concept as a whole.
  15. Responsive design - the bane of my existence was web development. Now I have to do it so it works on any shape, size or DPI screen. It has gone beyond baneful; yet every recruiter seems to have learned the expression "responsive design" by heart and my answer to that needs to be more evolved than a simple "fuck you, too!"
  16. LESS and SASS - CSS is all nice and functional, but it, just like HTML and Javascript, lacks structure. I hope that these compilable-to-CSS frameworks will help me understand a complex stylesheet like I do a complex piece of code.
  17. AngularJS 2 - I hear that Angular 2 is confusing users of Angular 1! which is funny, because I used Angular just for a few weeks without caring too much about it. I've read a book, but I forgot everything about it. Probably it is for the best as I will be learning the framework starting directly with version 2.

So there you have it: less than 20 items, almost two days each. Still bloody tight, but I don't really need to explore things in depth, just to know what they are and how to use them. The in-depth learning needs to come after that, with weeks if not months dedicated to each.

What about the rest of 35 items? Well, the list is still important as a reference. I intend to go through each, however some of the concepts there are there just because I am interested in them, like DNS, Riffle, Bitcoin and Bittorrent, not because they would be useful at my job or even my current side projects. Data mining and artificial intelligence is a fucking tsunami, but I can't become an expert in something like this without first becoming a beginner, and that takes time - in which the bubble might burst, heh heh. Mobile devices are all nice and cool, but the current trend is for tablets to remain a whim, while people divide their experience between laptops and big screen smartphones. The web takes over everything and I dread that the future is less about native apps and more about web sites. What are native mobile apps for? Speed and access to stuff a browser doesn't usually have access to. Two years and a new API later and a web page does that better. APIs move faster nowadays and if they don't, there are browser extensions that can inject anything and work with a locally installed app that provides just the basic functionality.

What do you think of my list? What needs to be added? What needs to be removed? Often learning goes far smoother when you have partners. Anyone interested in going through some subjects and then discuss it over a laptop and a beer?

Wish me luck!

It became obvious to me that one of the most popular and common ways of "winning" consists in changing the definition of what that means. See capitalism for example, boasting that a group will benefit if each of its members attempts to improve their lives. The "winners" will pull everything up and will expand while the "losers" will just fade gently into the background. Allegedly, the greatest demonstration of this is the victory of capitalism over socialism and communism. But it's all a fallacy, as their reasoning can be translated as follows: "We measure success in capital, others don't. In the end, we have more capital, so we win". It's not who is better, but how you ultimately define "better". I find it disturbing that an economic model that attempts to optimize happiness has not emerged at any point in history.

This not only happens at a macro level between countries or economic systems, it happens between people as well. "Successful people" proudly announce their recipe for success to people who wouldn't really consider that a good thing. See people that cheat and corrupt and kill to "get ahead". One might covet their resources or power status, but how many of the "losers" would actually condone their behavior, take the same risks or appreciate the situation you get when employing such tactics? Same applies to heroes. We want to save the world, but we are more afraid of trying and failing. Heroes go past it, maybe not because of courage, but because that is their set goal.

Yet competition is the engine of evolution. Doesn't that prove competition is the solution? I say not. Look at the successful animals in nature: they are perfect for their niche. Crocodiles spend huge amounts of time motionless just beneath the surface of the water only to jump and snatch their prey when coming to the watering hole; cheetahs are faster than anything with legs, catching their prey in a matter of minutes; sharks roam the water, peerless in their domain. And yet all of these creatures are far from perfect. They age, they get sick, they don't build anything lasting more than their own lives, their only legacy are offspring just as flawed as them. And guess what? All of these creatures are getting less and less because of humans: weak, pathetic, inoffensive hairless monkeys who can achieve more than any others just by banding together and sharing their resources and their results. If competition would be the ultimate solution, then there will be a creature strong, tough, intelligent and immortal. Yet there isn't one.

I submit that competition is great only if two elements are fulfilled: a) you have the ability to evolve, to improve. b) there is someone better or at least equal to compete against. If b is not available, complacency will turn competitivity towards the weak. Instead of getting better, you will stop others getting to where you are. It's a simple application of available force. If point a is missing, you will be the one that a stronger competitor will stifle. And yet, what I am describing is not competition, but having a purpose. Behind the appearance of competition, when you try to catch up with someone better, you actually set a goal for yourself, one that is clearly defined. It is irrelevant if the target is a person or if they even consider themselves in competition with you. One might just as well choose an arbitrary goal and improve themselves by reaching it.

Why am I writing about this? For several reasons.
One is to simply make evident that if you envy someone for their success it is either because you can't get possibly there or because you won't - you have determined that to take that path would take away something that you value more. For example comfort. People envy the position of others less so, but they basically are not prepared to make the effort required to get there. Yet laziness doesn't disappear. Why? Because one reaches a goal after many attempts and failures, not in a straight line. Only once someone got there, it is much easier to follow their path sans the potholes, the setbacks and the mistakes.
Another is to show that the purpose defines the path, not the other way around. Setting a goal defines both success and failure and that is why many people with responsibility prefer to not set one. However, without the goal, people just stagnate, go around in circles. Look at space exploration: each successive US administration comes with another idea, abandoning what their predecessors did, going nowhere. When did they do anything that mattered? When they had a clear goal of doing better than the Russians. If someone were to go and colonize Titan and start living there, they wouldn't find it so expensive and pointless to go to the Moon, asteroids and Mars. Without someone to do that, though, they don't do anything.

Laziness is in our nature. Evolution is lazy. Competition is ultimately lazy. You can get comfortable in your lead, while occasionally shooting other racers in the foot when they get close enough. The opposite of laziness is not work, but direction. Once you set a goal, you know how far you go and how fast you get there. A group benefits more when all its members work towards a common goal. Funny enough, in such group scenarios competition between members is often cancerous. I find it also amusing that there is always someone better or at least equal to compete against: yourself.

When I was young I occasionally wrote short stories that were moderately well received by my friends, but I have never attempted to do anything "real"; I would just get some weird idea in my head and it would materialize after an afternoon of furious writing. There was nothing to it in terms of technique or studying the classics or anything, just telling a story. In fact, trying to rewrite it afterwards would ruin it, betraying the underlying lack of craft. After a while, I just stopped, but I held tight to the belief that some day I might actually do this well, like write a novel. Not for money and fame, but because I would like to "be that guy".

Recently I have revisited that belief and decided to take it further: actually plan the novel, write it, see what I am truly capable of. So far, it has not been going well, but I've learned a lot. Hopefully I will retain the level of interest required to carry it through. However, in this post I want to explain some of the things that I have become to understand about writing stories and one in particular: the shortcuts.

Many a time the story needs to go somewhere, but in real life terms getting there would be boring or be prohibitive in terms of time. In that case a shortcut is taken, either by some gimmick, by montage or, as is more often the case, through camera work. How many times didn't you watch an actor looking intensely for a threat, their face or person taking over the whole screen, only to be caught off guard by someone or something that suddenly comes out from outside the camera angle? And if you think just a little bit about it, it would have been impossible to be blindsided by someone coming from there because, even if we don't see them, the person the camera is pointed at would! In a typically evolutionary way, someone tried it, it worked, it caught on and now finding it irritating is seen as nitpicking. "Well they needed to make it happen, it doesn't have to make sense".

That thing, right there, when common sense is sacrificed for expediency, is killing - a tiny bit - the story. And while it works on camera, it is much more complicated in writing, because what you don't realize while going through the motions of empathizing with a character and joining them in their adventure is that the writer needs to know and understand everything that happens, not only what is "in the scene". If the murderer suddenly appears next to the victim and kills her, the writer might decide to not explain how he got there, but they need to know! If not, the story gets hurt.

To build my experience, I've decided to practice on writing something that seemed easy at the time: a Star-Trek novel. I love Star Trek, I've watched almost everything there is, including fan made videos, and most of the time I've felt like I would have made the story a little better. In fact, I was acting like a tester, considering that every single error the developer makes is an affront to common sense and anyone would have done better. I've decided to put my writing where my mouth was, at least give all those screenwriters a chance to get vindicated (and, boy, did they!). My thinking was that Star Trek has a constraining mythos that would force me to use already existing concepts - thus restricting me from thinking of so many things that I would never start and also allowing me to not need to reinvent or explain them - as well as a positive vibe, that would force me from writing depressing "everybody dies" stories. Well, guess what, in my story almost everybody dies anyway; take that, Star Trek!

My point is that trying to write that way revealed the many flaws in the Star Trek storytelling. Every time there is a "problem" someone comes up with a device or algorithm or alien power - usually termed somewhat like "problem remover", that just takes the pesky technical aspects away from the narrative and helps the viewer focus on the important part: the characters and the plot. I mean, while people still debate the limitation of phase cannons - that at least attempt to appear grounded in science - no one says anything about stuff like "inertial dampeners" which pretty much means "that thing that removes that kink that no one actually knows how to get rid of". This is just the beginning. Let's stick with Star Trek Enterprise for now, the one that put Star Trek back on the map and had the most compelling characters and storylines. Think of your favorite characters there: Picard, Data, Worf, maybe Deanna Troi. How did they get there? What was their childhood like? What are they doing when they are not on duty? The show has tried to touch on that, but just with the "whatever is needed for the story" approach. A more direct and obvious way to demonstrate this: there are no toilets in Star Trek. No one needs one, either - have you seen how the brig looks?

As characters go, everybody on that ship comes from the Starfleet Academy, but what do they learn there? What are the paths that they need to take in order to graduate? How do they reconcile vast differences in culture, language and learning speed for all the races in the Federation? I mean, they are all human with some stuff on their face and some extra makeup, but the background story, as something different from merely what you "see", needs all that information. The Star Trek universe survives in these loose network of stuff that taken separately and given some deeper context might make sense, but taken together they just contradict each other. And again comes the nitpicker label to stop you from ruining the experience for everybody else.

This brings me to the shortcut side effects. As a reader and especially as a viewer, you enjoy them because it takes you faster through the story. They remove what is not relevant to you. Well, emotionally relevant, but that's another can of worms altogether. As a writer, though, as a storyteller, these things are slow acting poison. After decades of watching Hollywood films, trying to write something feels like stepping barefooted on glass shards. You feel dumb, not only because it is impossible to write what characters do without a deeper understanding of who they are, not because you realize that even the smallest attempt at writing results in way to many questions to answer on paper - although you need to know the answers, but also because you start seeing how shallow was your interest in all those characters you actually loved watching on the screen. It's like that moment when you realize your lover has a secret life and it hurts because you know it's you who didn't notice or take interest in it, it's all you.

That's not bad. It makes it obvious that you casually ignore some layers of reality. It can lead to getting to appreciate them in the future. The difficulty I feel comes from not ever having trained for it. In fact, I have been taught to avoid it, by passively watching just the surface of everything, never attempting to infer what the depths hide. And when I try, at my age, to change the way I see the world, my way of ... being me, it's fucking difficult. Even simple stuff like mentally trying to describe a place or a person when you first see them, in terms of senses and emotions and comparisons with common concepts and - hardest of all - putting it in actual words... all of this is hard! It feels like an operating theater in which I perform while others watch me and judge. I feel anger and frustration because it conflicts with the original story, where I was good at writing.

There was a very stupid movie where Kate Beckinsale would be Adam Sandler's girlfriend (I mean, impossible to suspend disbelief, right?) and he would be annoyed with all the touchy-feely aspects of their relationship and instead use this "problem remover" remote that would fast forward past it. And then he comes to regret going through important bits of his life like a senseless robot and what it does to him. The movie might have been bad, but the underlying idea becomes very real when you attempt to write stories. Your characters are your lovers, your children, your spawn. Ignoring them is a crime to the story.

Think of the classical iceberg metaphor: just the tip is visible. It also applies to stories. The writer needs to have all that cool stuff hidden under the surface of the book, just in order to show to the reader the content. Characters need backstories that you will only hint at, but that you must know. Stuff that is excruciatingly boring to discuss in real life, like what the light in a room makes you think of - if you take the time to do it, which is never, you must put on paper because you know how it feels, but how do you translate that to another person, with another mind, culture, references, upbringing?

There is no real end to this post, I could write a lot on the subject - I am writing about how hard writing is, I know: ironic - but I will be stopping here. Probably readers have done that a while back, anyway. To the obstinate who got to this part, I salute you. Who knows, perhaps not taking the short path while reading this post has somehow enriched your story. I am not a writer, these insights have come to me just from attempting to do it. Perhaps that is the best reason to try new things, because besides feeling like a complete moron, you gain new valuable insight every time you do.

To be frank, I never intended this to last too much. I have been (and proudly, like a true hipster) avoiding creating a Facebook account and the Twitter one I only opened because I wanted to explore it as a machine to machine messaging system and never looked back after that idea bombed. So this year I went on Facebook and reactivated my interest in Twitter, now with a more social focus. The reason doesn't really matter, but I'll share it anyway: I had an asshole colleague that refused to talk to me on anything else other than Facebook Messenger. Now we barely talk to each other, anyway. So, what have I learned from this experience? Before I answer that question, I want to tell you about how I thought it would go when I went in.

What I thought going in


I have been keeping this blog since 2007, carefully sharing whatever I thought important, especially since I am a very forgetful person and I needed a place to store valuable tidbits of information. So when Facebook blew up I merely scoffed. Have other people use some sort of weird platform to share what they think; let them post cat videos and share whenever they go to the toilet: I am above this. I carefully study and solve the problem, read the book, research new stuff, link to everything in the information that I think relevant. I have my own template, I control the code on my blog, people can chat with me and others directly, comment on whatever I have done. I can also edit a post and update it with changes that I either learn as I evolve. My posts have permanent links that look like their title, suckers! I really don't need Facebook at all.

And Twitter. Phaw! 140 characters? What is this, SMSes online? If you really have something to say, say it in bulk. It's a completely useless platform. I might take a second look at it and use it as a chat system for the blog, at most (I actually did that for a while, a long time ago). I am not social, I am antisocial, suckers! I really don't need Twitter at all.

There you go. Superior as fuck, I entered the social media having a lot of smug preconceptions that I feel ashamed for. I apologize.

Facebook


So what did I learn from months on Facebook? Nothing. Hah! To be honest, I didn't disrespect Facebook that much to begin with. I had high hopes that once I connect with all my friends I would share of their interesting experiences and projects, we would communicate and collaborate better, we would organize more parties or gettogethers, meet up more frequently if we are in the same area. Be interesting, passionate; you know... social. Instead I got cute animal videos, big pointless images with texts plastered all over them - like this would give more gravitas to bland clichés, pictures of people on vacation or at parties - as if I care about their mugs more than the location, political opinion bile, sexist jokes, driving videos, random philosophical musings, and so on and so on. Oh, I learned a lot from Facebook, most of it being how many stupid and pointless things people do. Hell, I am probably friends with people I don't really know for a good reason, not just because I am an asshole who only thinks about himself!

Not everything is bad, clearly. The messenger is the only widespread method of online communication outside email. I know when people's birthdays are (and what day it is currently). People sometimes post their achievements, link to their blog posts, share some interesting information that they either stumbled upon on the Internet (most of the time) or thought about or did themselves, there are events that I learn about from other people going there, like concerts and software meetings and so on. Oh, and the Unfollow button is a gem, however cowardly it is! However, I am no longer "reading my Facebook", I am scrolling at warp speed. I've developed internal filters for spammy bullshit and most of the time, after going through three days worth of stuff, I have only five or six links that I opened for later, one of them being probably a music video on YouTube. It still takes a huge amount of time sifting through all the shit.

Twitter


What about Twitter? Huge fucking surprise there! Forced to distill the information they share, people on Twitter either share links to relevant content or small bits of their actual thoughts, real time, while they are thinking them. There is not a comfortable mechanism for long conversations, group conferences or complicated Like-like mechanism. You do have a button to like or retweet something, but it's more of a nod towards the author that what they shared is good, not some cog in an algorithm to tell someone what YOU need. More work stuff is being shared, books that have been read and enjoyed, real time reactions to TV or cinema shows, bits of relevant code, all kind of stuff. In fact, very few people that spam Facebook are even active on Twitter. Twitter is less about a person than about the moment; it's more Zen if you want to go that way. You are not friends with folks, you just appreciate what they share. It's less personal, yet more revealing, a side effect that I had not expected. And when you reply to a tweet, you are aware of how public it is and how disassociated from the post you reply to it is. There is no ego trip on posting the most sarcastic comment like on Facebook.

Not everything is rosy there, either. They have a similar Facebooky thing that shows the title and the image/video of a shared link so you can open them directly there. So if I want to emulate the same type of behaviour on Twitter, you can by endlessly posting links to stupid stuff and follow other people who do that. You can Follow whoever you want and that means that if you are exaggerating, you end up with a deluge of posts that you have no chance of getting out of. I still haven't gotten used to the hashtag thingie. I only follow people and I only use the default Twitter website, so I am not an "advanced user", but I can tell you that after three days worth of Twitter posts that I have missed, I open around 50 links that I intend to follow up on.

So?


Some of the mental filters developed apply to both situations. The same funny ha-ha video that spams the Facebook site can be ignored just as well on the Twitter page as well. Big font misspelled or untranslatable text smacked on top of a meaningless picture is ignored by tradition, since it looks like a big ad I already have a trained eye for from years of browsing the web before ad blockers were invented.

Some of the opinion pieces are really good and I wouldn't have had the opportunity to read them if all I was looking for was news sites and some RSS feed, yet because of the time it takes to find them, I get less time in which I can pay attention to them. I catch myself feeling annoyed with the length of a text or skipping paragraphs, even when I know that those paragraphs are well researched pieces of gold. I feel like I still need to train myself to focus on what is relevant, yet I am so fucking unwilling to let go of the things that are not.

With tweaking, both platforms may become useful. For example one can unfollow all his friends on Facebook, leaving only the messaging and the occasional event and birthday notification to go through. It's a bit radical, but you can do it. I haven't played with the "Hide post (show fewer posts like this)" functionality, it could be pretty cool if it works. Twitter doesn't have a good default filtering system, though, even if I get more useful information from it. That doesn't mean that specialized Twitter clients don't have all kinds of features I have not tried. There is also the software guy way: developing your own software to sift through the stuff. One idea I had, for example, was something that uses OCR to restore images and videos to text.

Bottom line: Facebook, in its raw form, it's almost useless to me. I remember some guy making fun of it and he was so right: "Facebook is not cool. Parents are on it!". You ask someone to connect with you, which is a two directional connection, even if they couldn't care less about you, then you need to make an effort to remove the stuff they just vomit online. The graphical features of the site make it susceptible to graphical spam - everything big and flashy and lacking substance. Twitter is less so and I have been surprised to see how much actual usable information is shared there. The unidirectional following system also leads to more complex data flow and structure, not just big blobs of similar people sharing base stuff that appeals to all.

But hey! "What about you, Siderite? What are you posting on Facebook and Twitter?" You'll just have to become friends and follow me to see, right? Nah, just kidding. My main content creation platform is still Blogger and I am using this system called If This Then That to share any new post on both social networks. Sometimes I read some news or I watch some video and I use the Facebook sharing buttons to express my appreciation for the content without actually writing anything about it and occasionally I retweet something that I find really spectacular on Twitter. Because of my feelings towards the two systems, even if I find an interesting link on Tweeter, I just like it then share it on Facebook if I don't feel it's really something. So, yeah, I am also spamming more on Facebook than on Twitter.

What else?


I haven't touched Google+, which I feel is a failed social platform and only collects various YouTube comments without accurately conveying my interests. I also haven't spoken about LinkedIn, which I think is a great networking platform, but I use it - as I believe it should be - exclusively for promoting my work and finding employment. I've used some strong language above, not because I am passionate about the subject but because I am not. I find it's appropriate though and won't apologize for it. I couldn't care less if people go or don't go on social networks and surely I am not an trendsetter so that Zuckerberg would worry. I only shared my own experience.

For the future I will probably continue to use both systems unless I finally implement one of the good ideas that would allow me to focus more on what matters, thus renouncing parts of my unhealthy habits. I am curious on how this will evolve in the near future and after I leave my current hiatus and go look for employment or start my own business.

Almost a month ago I got started being active on StackOverflow, a web site dedicated to answering computer related questions. It quickly got addictive, but the things that I found out there are many and subtle and I am happy with the experience.

The first thing you learn when you get into it is that you need to be fast. And I mean fast! Not your average typing-and-reading-and-going-back-to-fix-typos speed, but full on radioactive zombie attack typing. And without typos! If you don't, by the time you post your contribution the question would have been answered already. And that, in itself, is not bad, but when you have worked for minutes trying to get code working, looking good, being properly commented, taking care of all test cases, being effective, being efficient and you go there and you find someone else did the same thing, you feel cheated. And I know that my work is valid, too, and maybe even better than the answers already provided (otherwise I feel dumb), but to post it means I just reiterate what has been said before. In the spirit of good sportsmanship, I can only upvote the answer I feel is the best and eventually comment on what I think is missing. Now I realize that whenever I do post the answer first there are a lot of people feeling the same way I just described. Sorry about that, guys and gals!

The second thing you learn immediately after is that you need to not make mistakes. If you do, there will be people pointing them out to you immediately, and you get to fix them, which is not bad in itself, however, when you write something carelessly and you get told off or, worse, downvoted, you feel stupid. I am not the smartest guy in the world, but feeling stupid I don't like. True, sometimes I kind of cheat and post the answer as fast as possible and I edit it in the time I know the question poster will come check it out but before poor schmucks like me wanted to give their own answers. Hey, those are the rules! I feel bad about it, but what can you do?

Sometimes you see things that are not quite right. While you were busy explaining to the guy what he was doing wrong, somebody comes and posts the solution in code and gets the points for the good answer. Technically, he answered the question; educationally, not so much. And there are lot of people out there that ask the most silly of questions and only want quick cut-and-pastable answers. I pity them, but it's their job, somewhere in a remote software development sweat shop where they don't really want to work, but where the money is in their country. Luckily, for each question there are enough answers to get one thinking in the right direction, if that is what they meant to do.

The things you get afterwards become more and more subtle, yet more powerful as well. For example it is short term rewarding to give the answer to the question well and fast and first and to get the points for being best. But then you think it over and you realize that a silly question like that has probably been posted before. And I get best answer, get my five minutes of feeling smart for giving someone the code to add two values together, then the question gets marked as a duplicate. I learned that it is more satisfying and helpful to look first for the question before providing an answer. And not only it is the right thing to do, but then I get out of my head and see how other people solved the problem and I learn things. All the time.

The overall software development learning is also small, but steady. Soon enough you get to remember similar questions and just quickly google and mark new ones as duplicates. You don't get points for that, and I think that is a problem with StackOverflow: they should encourage this behavior more. Yet my point was that remembering similar questions makes you an expert on that field, however simple and narrow. If you go to work and you see the same problem there, the answer just comes off naturally, enforced by the confidence it is not only a good answer, but the answer voted best and improved upon by an army of passionate people.

Sometimes you work a lot to solve a complex problem, one that has been marked with a bounty and would give you in one shot maybe 30 times more points than getting best answer on a regular question. The situation is also more demanding, you have to not only do the work, but research novel ways of doing it, see how others have done it, explaining why you do things all the way. And yet, you don't get the bounty. Either it was not the best answer, or the poster doesn't even bother to assign the bounty to someone - asshole move, BTW, or maybe it is not yet a complete answer or even the poster snubs you for giving the answer to his question, but not what he was actually looking for. This is where you get your adrenaline pumping, but also the biggest reward. And I am not talking points here anymore. You actually work because you chose to, in the direction that you chose, with no restrictions on method of research or implementation and, at the end, you get to show off your work in an arena of your true peers that not only fight you, but also help you, improve on your results, point out inconsistencies or mistakes. So you don't get the points. Who cares? Doing great work is working great for me!

There is more. You can actually contribute not by answering questions, but by reviewing other people's questions, answers, comments, editing their content (then getting that edit approved by other reviewers) and so on. The quality of my understanding increases not only technically, but I also learn to communicate better. I learn to say things in a more concise way, so that people understand it quicker and better. I edit the words of people with less understanding of English and not only improve my own skills there, but help them avoid getting labelled "people in a remote software development sweat shop" just because their spelling is awful and their name sounds like John Jack or some other made up name that tries to hide their true origins. Yes, there is a lot of racism to go around and you learn to detect it, too.

I've found some interesting things while doing reviews, mostly that when I can't give the best edit, I usually prefer to leave the content as is, then before I know the content is subpar I can't really say it's OK or not OK, so I skip a lot of things. I just hope that people more courageous than me are not messing things up more than I would have. I understood how important it is for many people to do incremental improvements on something in order for it to better reach a larger audience, how important is that biases of language, race, sex, education, religion or psychology be eroded to nothing in order for a question to get the deserved answer.

What else? You realize that being "top 0.58% this week" or "top 0.0008% of all time" doesn't mean a lot when most of the people on StackOverflow are questioners only, but you feel a little better. Funny thing, I've never asked a question there yet. Does it mean that I never did anything cutting edge or that given the choice between asking and working on it myself I always chose the latter?

Most importantly, I think, I've learned a few things about myself. I know myself pretty well (I mean, I've lived with the guy for 39 years!) but sometimes I need to find out how I react in certain situations. For example I am pretty sure that given the text of a question with a large bounty, I gave the most efficient, most to the point, most usable answer. I didn't get the points, instead they went to a guy that gave a one liner answer that only worked in a subset of the context of the original question, which happened to be the one the poster was looking for. I fumed, I roared, I raged against the dying of the light, but in the end I held on to the joy of having found the answer, the pleasure of learning a new way of solving the same situation and the rightness of working for a few hours in the company of like-minded people on an interesting and challenging question. I've learned that I hate when people downvote me with no explanation even more than downvoting me with a good reason, that even if I am not always paying attention to detail, I do care a lot when people point out I missed something. And I also learned that given the choice between working on writing a book and doing what I already do best, I prefer doing the comfortable thing. Yeah, I suck!

It all started with a Tweet that claimed the best method of learning anything is to help people on StackOverflow who ask questions in the field. So far I've stayed in my comfort zone: C#, ASP.NET, WPF, Javascript, some CSS, but maybe later on I will get into some stuff that I've always planned on trying or even go all in. Why learn something when you can learn everything?!

Coma is my favorite Romanian bands and I've known them almost since they were formed. They have been singing for 16 years now and it was nice to see the concert room filled with people of all ages, including a 16 year old boy who had his birthday on the same day. For me this concert was a double whammy, as the lead singer of one of the opening bands is a former colleague of mine. Yeah, small world.

The opening bands where Till Lungs Collapse and Pinholes. TLC were nice, with my boy Pava almost collapsing his lungs. Pinholes were a bit strange: from five people on the stage, only the drummer didn't sport a guitar. Their writing process must be weird. Then Coma came on stage, at about 0:00 and played for an hour an a half. They were great! I've been to many of their concerts and this is one of the best yet. The band's "curse" struck again, on Dan Costea's acoustic guitar, but they were able to continue without it with no problems. They sang all time favorites, some newer songs, they also did Morphine, which is one of my personal favorite songs of theirs. I wish they would have managed to squeeze Daddy in there, or at least 3 Minute.

Catalin Chelemen was on fire, Dan was doing his usual PR thing and he was great as well and it seemed like they all had a good chemistry with the new guitar player, Matei Tibacu. Well, new for me. Unfortunately the sound in Fabrica was pretty bad. While inside you could kind of focus on the right notes, especially if you knew what the songs were supposed to play like, if you try to gauge the quality of the concert from the videos that are online now, you want to mute it almost instantly. People were respectful enough not to smoke during the concert (I can't wait for the smoking ban to come in effect!), but my clothes still smelled of tobacco when I got home, from people smoking in the next room.

As far as I know you can hear them next at the Electric Castle Festival, July 14-17, with so many other great bands. I am tempted to go there, but I am not one for festivals. Great job, Coma, and good luck!

Click here to see some nice photos from the concert.

If there is anything that I am forced to say about Adrian Despot, the frontman of Vita de Vie, is that he is a true artist. The concert tonight was spot on, even if I am not a fan of the band. The guest bands were pretty good, too, but I have to admit that for most of them I was waiting for them to stop playing so I can listen to the great playlist from DJ Hefe. The audience was really mixed, ranging from little kids to old people. It felt great to see all these people singing along and reliving some of the greatest hits of the band.

I started watching the concert online. It was kind of extreme to go there at 16:00 and stay until 23:00, especially since I was worried about the food/drink/toilet situation and there was an afterparty as well. I have to say that all my worries were for naught. Really decent access to the food and drink stands and there was no queue at the toilets outside. Of course, the drinks and food were shitty and overpriced, but that was to be expected. It also was a really wonderful thing to stand in the middle of a crowd of people and not feel like I was smoking a cigar. The law against smoking in public places has finally reached Romania so it felt really wonderful.

By the time we got to the concert hall - umm, heated tent, but it was better than it sounds - the last band before Vita de Vie was playing, the rather good Relative, from Cluj. Energetic, professional, kind of bad public speakers, but they have time to improve. They were pretty emotional about their first venue in Bucharest and performing before so many people, so they were sweet. Then the main show started, with light shows, projections and a volume that felt like twice as loud as the bands before. My ears are still ringing.

Unfortunately something happened that ruined my evening, so I went home after the concert, rather than go to the after-party at Fabrica. I wish I was in the mood for that, but well, shit happens. So yeah, the show was great, the music pretty good - although I felt like the band would have done a better job with another lead singer :) The point is that Vita de Vie, like any other band - let's be honest, is a project. Individual people don't count unless they push the project further, make it better somehow. Adi Despot made that obvious when he called the previous members of the band to play some songs, as well as some collaborators in sideprojects started by current members of the band. Like him or not, he did bring showmanship to the project and he deserves to be the frontman.

Bottom line, I was impressed by the way the concert was organized (I am used to those really bad things where people just stand brushing against each other, suffocating in smoky improperly ventilated places, trying their best not to slip into the beer and piss left by people who couldn't get fast enough to the few malfunctioning toilets provided). I was also impressed with the guest bands, doing a really professional job, even if they have a lot to learn still.

You might be interested in the Facebook link of the event.

On the 9th of February I basically held the same talk I did at Impact Hub, only I did better, and this time presented to the ADCES group. Unbeknownst to me, my colleague there Andrei Rînea also held a similar presentation with the same organization, more than two years ago, and it is quite difficult to assume that I was not inspired by it when one notices how similar they really were :) Anyway, that means there is no way people can say they didn't get it, now! Here is his blog entry about that presentation: Bing it on, Reactive Extensions! – story, code and slides

The code, as well as a RevealJS slideshow that I didn't use the first time, can be found at Github. I also added a Javascript implementation of the same concept, using a Wikipedia service instead - since DictService doesn't support JSON.

Today I was the third presenter in the ReactiveX in Action event, held at Impact Hub, Bucharest. The presentation did not go as well as planned, but was relatively OK. I have to say that probably, after a while, giving talks to so many people turns from terrifying to exciting and then to addictive. Also, you really learn things better when you are preparing to teach them later, rather than just perusing them.

I will be holding the exact same presentation, hopefully with a better performance, on the 9th of February, at ADCES.

For those interested in what I did, it was a code only demo of a dictionary lookup WPF application written in .NET C#. In the ideal code that you can download from Github, there are three projects that do the exact same thing:
  1. The first project is a "classic" program that follows the requirements.
  2. The second is a Reactive Extensions implementation.
  3. The third is a Reactive Extensions implementation written in the MVVM style.

The application has a text field and a listbox. When changing the text of the field, a web service is called to return a list of all words starting with the typed text and list them in the listbox, on the UI thread. It has to catch exceptions, throttle the input, so that you can write a text and only access the web service when you stop typing, implement a timeout if the call takes too long, make sure that no two subsequent calls are being made with the same text argument, retry three times the network call if it fails for any of the uncaught exceptions. There is a "debug" listbox as well as a button that should also result in a web service query.

Unfortunately, the code that you are downloading is the final version, not the simple one that I am writing live during the presentation. In effect, that means you don't understand the massive size reduction and simplification of the code, because of all the extra debugging code. Join me at the ADCES presentation (and together we can rule the galaxy) for the full demo.

Also, I intend to add something to the demo if I have the time and that is unit testing, showing the power of the scheduler paradigm in Reactive Extensions. Wish me luck!