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isn't quite ashamed enough to present

jr conlin's ink stained banana

:: Failure Favor

Dear Web Devs,

Hi, can i ask you a favor?

Web pages are complicated beasts. There’s lots of moving parts as things get pulled in from all over. Which means, there’s more than a fleeting chance that for random reasons and efficiency bits of the page may “go missing”. A broken image may be one thing, but a missing CSS file is quite another.

Can i ask y’all a favor? Turn off “style.css” for this page.

Can we make that a thing? Can we use CSS for good and help the rather high number of folks who don’t just know to force refresh a page (or even what that means) from thinking their computer is broken or been hacked? Basically, consider your page’s failure modes, and help out folks that may not understand what to do. Honestly, it’s not hard.

Let’s treat our users like we’d like to be treated when we’re not fully versed on automotive repair, furnace maintenance, municipal transit regulations, or all the stuff that they’re far smarter about than us. That’d be swell.

:: eBiking

Let me start by saying i’m damn fortunate. i make enough and work somewhere that makes it possible to even consider buying a $1000-$3000 bicycle. i’m also fortunate enough that i live about 10 miles from work and am able to rationally consider spending 40-60 minutes getting to the office. i’m totally, and painfully aware that this is a deeply first world problem, and in fact a problem for a very small percentage of the general population.

So, yeah, much like watching Top Gear drone on about the values and faults of a car greater than the yearly income of most folks, here goes.

i’m now officially on my second eBike, and want to pass along some of the lessons i’ve learned.

The First Bike

The first bike was a Riide electric, which i got off their kickstarter for $1500. This was an experimental bike for a number of reasons, and while i was more than a little leary about giving a random bunch of strangers a sizeable chunk of money with only the promise that a bike would show up, i was able to consider that an acceptable risk.

The bike was very much version 1, but a pretty good v1. The bike has some fairly top notch gear on it, including disc brakes, and rugged tires. E-Bikes tend to be either throttle based (kind of like a motorcycle, but with the option to pedal), pedal assist (where there’s a motor that only runs when you’re pedaling), or a hybrid of the two. Riide is throttle based, with a reported range of about 25 miles and a top speed of about 20 mph. It’s a single gear bike, that gear being equivalent of being about gear “8” of a 10 speed. The battery is replaceable, but not considered user serviceable since Riide wanted to make the bike as simple as possible.

As i’ve learned, that’s also kind of a problem. There’s no battery level indicator, so you have no idea how much charge is left on your bike. The throttle tends to be “all” or “nothing” which is fine for starting off, but odd when you’re at full speed. i usually throttled back, but i have no idea what that does to performance or battery life. Top speed really depends on terrain and how much you had for lunch (the spandex guys will still fly by, but you’ll breeze by most everyone else).

i also have no idea how far you have to really ride before you can get any appreciable charge back onto the battery. i had it die on me once about 2.5 miles into a 10 mile ride, and it never fired up again until i put a full charge on it, so not quite sure about the recharging capacity. The bike is surprisingly easy to work on, which turned out to be a good thing. i had to swap the proprietary battery out which required a lot of creative thought and use of one of those combination bottle/paint can lid openers you get at the paint shop.

The Riide folk are EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD at customer service. They were more than willing to cover costs of proper repairs and adjustments to the bike should i have wanted them. This is why i’ve given my Riide to a friend because i think he’ll enjoy it. Might as well spread the addiction around.

Still, i needed to upgrade to something i can absolutely rely on, and matched my actual use more.

The New Bike

The Second bike was a bit more than the Riide, and it shows in a lot of ways. It’s a 2016 iZip Dash e3, and it has a lot of things the Riide doesn’t, like a swappable battery, built in speedometer/odometer with range and power gauge, front fork shocks, kick stand, fenders and back rack. It also costs roughly twice what the Riide cost.

The Dash can do a top speed of 28mph or it has a range of 36+ miles. High speed burns battery pretty fast, so it’s ok if you’re going for a 8 mile total trip. The battery takes 4-6 hours to recharge which is 2-3 times as long as the Riide took. There’s no throttle, only pedal assist, but it’s geared so riding without power doesn’t require standing on the pedals to get rolling. Honestly, unlike the Riide, you can use the Dash without power and not give yourself a heart attack going uphills or doing standing starts. i’ve actually ridden the Dash without power and lived to tell the tale.

Granted, the bike does look a bit less “cool” than the ride. Honestly, it has an odd “PeeWee Herman” vibe to it, and i’m not really sure why. The built in lights are mostly for show, so i’ve had to strap on some LED lights to keep from getting murdered. The grips don’t really allow me to mount a mirror easily, so i’ve had to fit one that uses a velcro strap. The owners manual spends a LOT of time carefully pointing out the various ways you can die and be horribly mutilated while riding a bike in general rather than go into detail about any differences riding this one. Feel free to laugh at me. i’ll be giggling too as the shocks smooth out the crap roads around here and i blow by folks sitting in traffic.

What i Learned

The ultimate thing i learned? Go try a few bikes. The place i bought from had dozens of models available and folks willing to answer questions and offer good suggestions. There are all sorts of options out there, from the sane to the insane, and like any vehicle, you should get one that meets what you’re actual needs are rather than what you think you need.

And yeah, they’re not cheap. You’re not going to be able to pick one up at a WalMart black friday sale with a 50% off coupon. That’s actually kind of a good thing. Eventually, they may get down to prices comparable to a used Chevy.

Still, they’re a freaking blast to ride.

:: Black Electrical Tape Based Security

So, both Apple and Google have decided to be quiet about letting you know a page is not as secure as it should be. Instead of showing you a warning, they’ve opted to just show the page as insecure and not raise any concerns. It’s a fair point. Most folks STILL don’t know to look for the “lock icon” showing that a site is running a secure connection. Heck, this block runs in the clear currently. Why bother the user’s pretty little head with scary symbols?

Well, probably for the same reason that if your Factory Authorized Vehicle Service told you “Oh that? Yeah, just put some black tape over that “Check Engine” light. It’ll be fine!” you’d probably consider going somewhere else to get your brakes checked.

The problem is that the page has said “i’m going to be secure. Everything we talk about is going to be encrypted. It’s safe here, so you can talk about anything.”

Only it’s not. It’s invited friends, some of which can’t keep their mouths shut.

So the browser has instead said “Yeah, no, this isn’t a safe spot, so no encryption. No lock for you, but it’s a normal page.”

But it’s not. The site is going to do things based on the idea that the page is safe, like ask your for passwords or personal info. Sure, you may realize that it’s a bad idea, but the folks far less familiar with security (that would be the VAST MAJORITY of people online) will look at the happy plain-gray icon and feel it’s A-OK to type in their credentials, because there’s nothing to scare them off from doing it.

Thing is, i get some of the complaints. Sure, it’s annoying that you’ve got some jpgs on a CDN, and sure, it’s hard to make a page that doesn’t specify scheme, but yeah, no. You might feel a tad differently if there’s a rogue bit of javascript reporting back keystrokes.

Yes, having that odd looking icon is troubling and confusing to users. That’s kind of the point. It’s the proverbial “Check Engine” light of the internet and yes, there’s going to be some users that happily ignore it and horrible things will happen to them. Those folk are doomed to their gleeful ignorance regardless.

i’d rather not doom the small percentage of folks that have Darwin-like evolved to look for those warning signs.

Oh, and by the way? Go secure your site. It’s free now.

And then this happens:

:: Questionable Career Advice

Every year or so, i have a friendly meeting with my latest manager who inevitably asks the question i hate the most: “What is your career path?”

There’s lots of ways to ask that question, and you’ve probably heard a bunch of them. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”, “How do you feel you can better yourself as an employee?”, etc. They’re all basically the same question. It’s a question asked by management to employees for any number of reasons. Usually, it’s because of some mandate to show “employee growth” as part of some retention initiative, or as a metric for managers to show their superiors that they’re doing a good job. Sometimes, it’s even asked as an honest query for personal or professional growth.

i’ll be frank. Over the past 30 years, i’ve never had a singular focus on an overreaching goal. i’ve never wanted to be “CTO of a Fortune 500 Company” or “Chief Architect of Foo” or whatever. Those positions, while bringing great acclaim and glory, tend to be bogged in politics and other crap that i would much rather avoid. The driving force of my personal career has always been: “Do what you can to make the world better” and on a lower level “Do your job better than you did six months ago”.

There’s a lot of reasons for this. Computers and the Computer industry are pretty new. Heck, most companies “pivot” half a dozen times in five years. We’re finally getting to the point where there are “mainstay” companies that are becoming entrenched, but the web is really only 20 years old and societies don’t really move that fast. i also prefer being in a support role. If others are the “Rock Stars” i’m perfectly fine being the bass player. The odds of being a “Rock Star” are pretty small. The odds or being good enough to play in great bands and make a more than comfortable living doing what you love are actually pretty high. Ok, that’s a crappy expansion of a crappy metaphor, but you get what i mean.

The problem is that sort of view flies in the face of decades of Tony Robbins style career guidance. If you’re not 40 and on the board of a fortune 500 company, you’re obviously a failure. Granted, the fact that there are about forty one million people in the US alone who are about your age, i’m pretty sure that the top 500 companies don’t have 82,000 people on each of their boards. In short, exceptional people are exceptional. Yeah, it’d be nice, but it takes a LOT more factors than just “hard work” and “focus” to get into a position like that.

Instead, i try to find somewhere to work that matches closely with my desired life goal. By the way, if your life goal is “Make shit-tons of cash and retire to a private island in the Pacific”, that’s fine too. It’s just not mine. If i’m going to be mostly doing support, i want to make sure that what i’m supporting does things i approve of. If it doesn’t i’ll go somewhere else. Yeah, i’m fully aware that my gender, race and career choice makes that exceptionally easy to do. That’s why i try not to have dirtbag motivations.

So, how do i answer the question i loathe? i still have no clear idea. Most companies have HR department provided “Career Tracts” or pay grade differentiates. Things like “these are the responsibilities outlined for a SE-III mark Alpha” or whatever grade is above what your current position is. They usually indicate what tic-boxes need be checked for you to move to a slightly better pigeon hole. Honestly, i’ll probably just select a few from that list and offer them as “Career Objectives”. Some of those might even be interesting to follow up on. In reality, though, i don’t really see myself radically changing my personal tact anytime soon.

i’m pretty fulfilled with how i’ve chosen to earn my keep.

As for the question, “How important is a bass player to a Rock Star”, i’ll offer this:

:: The Breakup

Dear Windows,

We’ve been through a lot, haven’t we? Heck, i still have the diskettes with Windows Version 3.0 on my desktop right now. i’ve done development on various flavors of you since long before the web existed. Often deep into the code, making drivers and other applications.

i’ve used pretty much every version (well, except Windows Me, because nobody in their right mind willingly did that), mostly because it was the only useful operating system that didn’t mandate what sort of hardware system it ran on. i’d build my happy Franken-puter and load up whatever version of Windows i happened to have on hand.

My how things have changed over the years, huh?

One thing i’ve noticed is how… well… unreliable you’ve become. That, and more than a little creepy.

Take the latest version, Windows 10. Sure, it’s free, but that’s just the initial monetary cost. i’d be paying for it with my information. You know, there’s something to be said for how valuable my information is considering how many companies are willing to give me things in exchange for it, but that’s beside the point.

No, the real problem wasn’t the creepy, privacy bits, it was the fact that you blew up spectacularly on my personal machine. It’s nothing all that fancy. It’s, maybe 3 years old, with a 2.8GHz 8 core with 12GB of memory. Sure, it’s got two network cards in it, but that’s not a big deal, since that’s pretty much the case with every laptop that has wifi and a network connector. i mean, i updated a slightly newer laptop from Win7 to Win10 just to figure out the bits that i need to turn off. So, after a bit of strong debate, i decided that the accelerated startup time and (theoretically) reduced footprint of Windows 10 would be nice. i let you update my home workstation.

And that’s when everything went to hell.

Suddenly, the network cards that you had just used to update yourself were no longer recognized. Drives i’ve had working just fine for years with zero SMART alerts, were acting sporadic. And then, after a quick reboot, nothing. No boot for me. The system i’ve used for years was dead in the water.

i did what i had learned to do whenever this crap happened in the past. i downloaded a linux distribution so i could boot my system and try to figure out how to fix things. No surprise, my system booted up from the Live CD. Ok, bit of a surprise, it booted a lot faster than i remember it doing so. i then grabbed a few tools and started work. i didn’t finish it, however. i actually kinda enjoyed using my Linux desktop as it was. There were a few ugly bits, but i fixed them reasonably quickly. Things, however, “just worked”. Heck, even the xbox 360 wireless joystick “just worked” (even if the green ring keeps flashing).

Yeah, there are things i can’t do. i can’t run Silverlight, nor can i run VisualStudio. It’s ok, though. i can run you in a nice, protected virtual machine. You just don’t get to be the guys in charge anymore.

Perhaps i’m just not your target demographic anymore. i mean, i like using a computer, not just having a box to check facebook or twitter while watching youtube videos. Frankly, i’d be kinda concerned that i have to use Windows for that, since none of those really need Windows either. i don’t really need a digital personal assistant to send my data somewhere so that i don’t have to type in “Dentist appointment” on a calendar. Pretty sure i’m perfectly fine doing that myself. i don’t really need an “App Store” since i tend to compile most of the apps i run. Same with a Music store, or Games store, or Video Store. It’s like you guys want to be Walmart or Amazon. i’m not super comfortable with that fact, because i can choose not to go those stores, but the computer i use every day is a bit more “personal” to me.

So, yeah, it’s been 30 years. Can’t say it’s always been fun, but it’s been a learning experience for both of us. i’m sure you’ll continue to do well, but feel free to watch out for that screen door on the way out.

Blogs of note
personal Christopher Conlin USMC memoirs of hydrogen guy rhapsodic.org Henriette's Herbal Blog
geek ultramookie

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