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May 2007 - Posts

I still don't get Twitter

There were another two entries on News.com today about Twitter, and I keep asking, who cares?

If you're not familiar with the service, it's like short attention span blogging that can blast everyone with text messages with whatever you post. You can do RSS or view on the Web as well. But honestly, so what?

I mean, aside from Tyler who posts lots of pictures of himself balancing beverages on his knees and sporting Crocs and shades (;)), who needs this? Not only am I not interested in giving the world a play-by-play every time I take a shit, but I'm even less interested in seeing other people do it. It's like the people who change their status on Facebook ten times a day. I just don't care.

It really strikes me as a short-lived tech fad for narcissists and the people who love them. I'm starting to realize that some people spend way too much time being plugged in (and this from someone who makes his living doing so).

Living in the realm of satisfying development work

Way back in 2004, when I first started writing blog entries on weblogs.asp.net, I made a lot of posts about what it takes to be satisfied in development work. The winter before that I got laid-off from a job I didn't like anyway, and I started the year making mad money on a contract job at Progressive.

But I wasn't happy. Despite all of that money, I was bored to tears and disinterested. During that time I did manage to build PointBuzz, largely on existing code, but I wasn't doing much in the way of work for me. I thought at the time that maybe being full-time for me and not The Man was the only thing that would make me happy.

By spring, the book I talked about writing since the previous fall looked like a certainty, and I got a contract from Addison-Wesley. I quit Progressive, and did a lot of thinking, relaxing and writing that summer. I remember crashing in the "red room" at home in the sun, laptop with me, books around me, writing. My former wife thought maybe I was depressed or unmotivated, but I had a lot going on my head (something I wish I would've communicated more to her).

I went a long time not working a day job, getting by on the little bit of money that the business was generating. Early in 2005 I started contracting for a local firm, and I really liked the client they tasked me to work with. I had a great volleyball team that spring too. I was a little concerned that despite all of the contemplation in the prior year, I had no game plan to really build a business.

Then, in April of 2005, my wife left, and I was plunged into a panic of sorts. In the long run, we never got back together, but we both learned a lot more about ourselves, something that's easier when you don't have to look out for someone else. I stopped contracting in the fall and coached high school volleyball, and wondered if I wanted to write code at all. Ever.

At the start of 2006, running out of cash again, I looked for a job. In January, I took at job at Insurance.com. The truth is that I hated it, probably for the first several months. I didn't like the rigidity of the 9-to-5 routine. I took the job because the start-up atmosphere was still there, but with a slightly more mature organizational feel. But I couldn't get over that loathing toward myself for working for The Man. I felt like I was weak, and not driven enough to work for me.

Six months into it, I started to do work that I enjoyed. I was getting projects that were interesting to me. I wasn't totally sold on the place, but I was working with incredibly talented people, and that turned me on. It was the thing I didn't like about consulting. If you're the smartest person in the room, you don't grow much. At this job, there were scary brilliant people around me.

By the time this year started, things had turned around. I found myself taking ownership in stuff. The company was looking out for us and I felt like I was actually compensated for what I was worth, a feeling I've never had at any day job. I was getting validation that I used to tell myself I didn't need. Simply put, I liked my job, and I liked writing code again.

Today a substantial amount of code that I wrote went into production, and that's a good feeling. This year I was motivated to hit a milestone on my forum re-write, and I feel like I can quickly start to crank out components for my various sites. This line of work is fun again.

How xhtmlconformance kicked my ass

This morning I started combing through every config file on two servers that I mentioned in my last post. Eventually, I found this in the root app of the second machine that was giving us problems:

<xhtmlConformance mode="Legacy"/>

I think I knew almost as soon as I saw it that this was causing my pain. There had to be some reason that would cause the framework to render all of the cool stuff differently. Sure enough, that was it. I also suspected that blogging about the problem might prompt one of the gurus to post, and the "Gu" posted. Scott is the driving force behind asskickery in the ASP.NET world. If he posted fifteen minutes earlier, he would've destroyed my glory moment at work when I found the problem. :)

Knowing how we screwed up, now I can vent about the support. Well, I can partially vent, because as it turns out we didn't have to pay for it. The credit card system was down so we got a freebie. Anyway, looking around at the Reflected code, we knew pretty early on that something was causing the rendering to fire an alternate path. We just couldn't figure out what. The first guy we talked to was too much of a generalist, and making me chase down client scripts that, as far as I know, aren't used in ASP.NET v2 anyway. Then they sent us to an IIS person, which seemed a little weird. They handed off to AJAX, which hasn't yet called us back anyway.

I hope this gets a KB article, or if there is one, it's really hard to find!

We have a "scoring game" at work where we give +1 or -1 to people, and post it on our internal Wiki. Today I gave Microsoft support a -1, and Scott Guthrie a +1
 

A bad day for ASP.NET AJAX

The post I just wrote was sucked into the ether and required me to login again. It's at least the tenth time I've logged in today to this site or the blog site. Clearly they're having cookie issues in the upgrade.

Anyway, we tried today to deploy a project today to another server, after testing it on several others, and our local machines, for several weeks. On the new box, the scripting pieces that wire up RequiredFieldValidators, as well as the initialization stuff for AJAX, was not rendering in the pages. I mean, the same code is generating different markup on two different boxes. It's incredibly frustrating, because the validators don't work, and there's a Javascript error around the AJAX pieces.

You'd think, "Duh, AJAX Extensions aren't installed." That would be plausible, but the ScriptManager control is on the pages, so if it weren't installed, then the page would fail outright. Instead, it's executing, but missing important pieces. web.configs are the same other than the database connection strings.

We opened a ticket with Microsoft, and the first guy couldn't help. They transferred us to an IIS person, which I didn't understand at all. Now it sits with someone in the AJAX group.

The overwhelming theme with the AJAX framework, for me, has been that it just doesn't do the "xcopy" deployment thing very well. It's very frustrating. I hope in the next version of the framework, when it's no longer an "extension," so you don't need several dozen lines in web.config.
 

Why is ajax.asp.net down NOW?

Why in the world would they be updating the ajax.asp.net site right now, during the business day?

Probably because I need it right now more than ever. 

Posted: May 16 2007, 10:57 AM by Jeff | with 4 comment(s)
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Crowds are stupid: The Digg factor

This week's blast of Digg with the HD-DVD encryption key was interesting enough to watch. If you weren't following, one of the keys that allows HD-DVD gear to playback discs got out into the open, and it was posted on Digg. A lot. At first they tried to remove the stuff and ban users that posted it, because it was a clear violation of the DMCA. The site eventually went down and in the long run, they decided to just let it go.

Kevin Rose, Digg's founder, not only conceded defeat, but posted the code himself. I think the world of this guy, who started out as a nobody on TechTV, but I can't say I entirely agree with his actions. They were doing the right thing removing the naughty data because there was potential for harm to the company. While I agree that the code would eventually get out into the world well beyond the scope of Digg, he made his play way too soon. He put his business at risk. And then to post the code himself, well, that's just asking to be sued.

The unfortunate thing is that the bulk of techie nerds aren't even the type I know and look up to, they're the hacks who work at Best Buy in the Geek Squad or are help desk jockies. They have their high ideals about open source software and free love, but fail to grow and mature to understand that in a capitalist culture, someone has to make money. People need jobs to eat. That's where the disconnect is between the crowd and Digg The Business. Let's face it, crowds are stupid.

I 100% believe in intellectual property rights, and at the same time, I hate DRM, dongles and anything else that makes it harder for me to use something I paid for. I don't live under the fantasy that if no one gets paid for music, software, movies or whatever, that it'll just magically exist anyway.

But laws are what they are. Right or wrong, they're there. Civil disobedience is one thing when you're talking about human rights, but it's quite another when you're talking about zeros and ones traveling through the air and on copper wires. I'm not so jaded that I don't believe that the democratic process can't work to make meaningful change. Look at the recent Internet radio royalty structure. Enough people made noise, and now there is new legislation to make it reasonable so that Net radio doesn't die and go away. The people spoke en masse, our representatives listened.

Unfortunately, Rose was right in his post that the community would rather see Digg go down in flames than do what's best for the business. They might get their wish if Digg gets sued. If there's anything I've learned in the last nine years hosting communities online, it's that they require some moderation if you hope to keep them useful. People get all pissed off when we remove things that violate our terms of service or that we consider spam or whatever, but that's why we still have a loyal and continuous user base. We don't censor ideas, and we never have.

The whole incident pans out what I've been saying for the last couple of years, that the "wisdom of crowds" is really that crowds are stupid. It also proves my Jerry Springer theory. It's not that TV executives are serving crap because they want to, it's because that's what the audience wants. As the audience of sites like Digg grows and becomes more mainstream, it shows that the crowd really does want that. Maybe that's kind of sad, but I saw it coming.

Posted: May 03 2007, 12:38 PM by Jeff | with 4 comment(s)
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