// why am I so n00b?

After reading a lot of rants and essays about developers, their working environments, tools, the process of getting their work done (in relation to “the business” side of things), and career opportunities, I find myself wondering; do we just whine too much about it all, or do we really have to put up with so much more crap than other industries or professions?

Do we suffer from an inflated sense of entitlement - did we (and are expected to continue to) study, learn and practice for years only to end up like battery chickens, churning out code, or are we “deserving” of extra perks, privileges and financial reward?

Yes, developers are almost entirely responsible for every cent made (and even more so for every loss!) in almost every industry these days, and in most cases, I really don’t believe they get the credit they deserve (new product launched, management team praised and treated to expensive outing, golf day, or conference to show it off while we are at work hacking on the Next Big Thing). But we’re not alone in our suffering and expectations of better things.

Somewhere there’s the Accounting Drone capturing all the cents made possible by the developers. The Accounting Drone also has a shitty manager who expects them to capture more cents every day, under shitty conditions with just as shitty deadlines, for very poor pay. This guy’s job security is also near non-existent. Nobody capturing all the cents means us whiny developers don’t get paid. Maybe there are some rants and essays about the unreasonable conditions and tools the Accounting Drone must endure.

Elsewhere, there is the Sales Bro. Generally the bane of every developer’s life (worse than project managers!). It’s all very well for us to come up with the latest and greatest version of Thing2000 the world has ever seen, but I personally do not know a single developer who would be capable of selling Thing2000 on their own. Yes, we’ll all be highly indigent when Sales Bro “sells” Thing2000 Feature X before it exists, but at least someone out there actually knew Thing2000 existed and (hopefully) needs it to have Feature X (and is thus generating revenue for Accounting Drone to count and pay us with). I’m sure Sales Bro also has a blog where he complains about how he can never get his job done because developers are always so slow and uncooperative in delivering new things his customers need.

Let’s not forget Support Pleb, who has to suffer through customers rants and idiocy, while finding creative ways around developers shortcomings. I’m fairly confident a very large percentage of issues Support Pleb has to deal with day-to-day could be resolved by a bit of development time. This guy puts up with a huge amount of shit that would otherwise fall directly on developers, again, for crappy pay and non-existent job security. I’m pretty sure Support Pleb bitterly resents those developer slackers who always seem to be making more work for him, yet scatter like ants when problems are brought to their attention.

Finally we also have to have the Big Wig at the top somewhere. Those unreasonable people who are always hiring newbs and firing us, placing us in uncomfortable office environments, not shelling out for the tools we need, and dictating unreasonable deadlines. Again, unfortunately, I do not know a single developer capable of establishing and running a business the way Big Wig does. Big Wig possibly posts internet rants about how all he wants is for his Accounting Drones, Sales Bros, Support Plebs and developers to make more money for him - and doesn’t find that an unreasonable expectation, since he’s established and ensures the continuity the enterprise paying all their salaries.

So, are developer rants and whines about how bad they have it justified? For the most part, I’m going to have to say no. I’m also going to hazard that most of the problems developers face, in terms of unreasonable expectations, poor tools, lack of recognition, are not a result of simply being in software development as a profession, but are the result of poor management (at various levels of an organization), and are in fact faced by most other professions as well. We’re just more comfortable getting behind a keyboard and dumping our thoughts on the internet :).

TL;DR: As much as we like to think we might be, we’re not the be-all and end-all of our place of employment, and find a job at a company that makes you happy(-er).

Heh :D

So I’ve started work on my own small RSS aggregator for some or other web project I may or may not actually complete. And no, it’s nothing like Gregarius, it’s more of an ‘internal function’ of a larger project.

So anyway, after checking out the various RSS version specs and things, I hunted down as many feeds as I could to get an idea of the kinds of data I’m going to end up sifting through.

Wow. Despite the fact that there are standards out there doesn’t seem to mean much. Nearly every feed is a world apart from the next one, either throwing in millions of useless custom tags, renaming standard tags to some other random thing that made sense to the author and nobody else, leaving out loads of actual useful information, mixing and matching the specs as they feel the urge, and a million other randomnesses.

Anyway, on the way to making sense of it all, I fed some of them through MagpieRSS, which actually does a fairly reasonable job of making them a bit more sane. Still, I have to guess a lot of fields and things, and pretty much hope for the best.

At the moment, people’s RSS feeds generally seems more psychotic than some of their use of HTML.

(Wanted to reply to this NewsForge article, since some other seemingly know-it-all n00bs were ranting in the comments about Smarty being a waste of time, however their comments system won’t let me post [most likely a problem on SAIX’s side])

After having used Smarty for around 2 years now, I don’t think I could ever go back to writing PHP applications without it.

It’s brilliant to be able to spend some time working out your code, logic, etc all nicely in a PHP script, assigning the variables and values you want to present on the final page, then go and throw together a plain HTML page with some smarty tags to display that information.

Bug in your HTML? No need to dig through PHP scripts bloated with loads of HTML searching for problems, just whip out the template and correct it easily. Same goes for debugging the PHP code, it’s not all mixed in with the HTML so it’s millions of time easier to debug.

Overall, there’s no faster, cleaner way of writing PHP applications.

I just came across a post on Voodoo Extreme about the fact that IGN are offering fansite hosting. The commentary along with the post really made me think about the state of fansites in recent years.

They really *have* pretty much completely died off. The closest you’ll get to a fan site these days is something like the SGS or Prophecy forums. I see the Prophecy homepage is even a store-front now, with the forum coming across as an afterthought. Perhaps a little closer to the original fansite idea, you get places like BeyondUnreal and GameSpy’s various Planet* sites. However, these sites have taken themselves from traditional fansites, to giant networks, many of which focusing on some business model or another, rather than the game that got them going in the first place.

On the other hand, a site like UnrealZA is perhaps one of the few remaining dedicated fan sites around. Although, most members on the forums hardly play the game any more :), the idea behind the site and it’s operation has remained pretty much the same since Buccaneer founded it way back in 1998 (granted, a lot of sections and things have been ‘streamlined’ or removed completely due to lack of interest from maintainers and readers alike).

Sadly though, I have also noticed fewer and fewer visitors, and new community members, on the site. Perhaps this is why the bigger sites have reformed themselves from mere fansites like UZA, to the giant networks they are today. I’d really like to try some new stuff with UZA, which I believe could be rather successful (thinking the ’network’ approach of some sites), however on the other hand, I’m worried about losing UZA’s ‘identity’ and ’legacy’ which has been one of the cooler things about being involved with UZA. It really is a pretty unique place on the local gaming scene, I think.

But we’ll see what develops over the coming months.

So ja, it’s been reported that the games SWAT 4 (via the latest patch) and the latest Splinter Cell games both have ’live’ advertising, which download as you play and display stuff, basically no better than banners, on posters, vending machines, billboards, etc. within the games.

Both of these games seem to have been ’enhanced’ by what seems to be a recently launched ‘service’, Massive Incorporated, specifically set up to place advertising within games.

Personally, I have a few problems with this. Firstly, I’ve already payed around R400 for my game. Now as I see it, things like advertising are usuallly used to subsidise either free services (eg: banner ads on many websites), or relatively cheap services (eg: ads on TV and radio). Now why the hell do publishers feel the need to milk even MORE money beyond the R400 a copy they are selling?

Secondly, there is NO opt-out. If you want to play the R400 game you just bought, you have to agree with the fact that you will be downloading these ads and wasting bandwidth on every map/level change, that they will be defacing your game, and you will be sending the advertisers ‘usage statistics’ - how long you looked at each ad, what angle you looked at it from, how far away you were from it, etc. As I read elsewhere (forgotten the URL at the moment), it’s pretty scary that this is the ‘first generation’ of this technology - I can only imagine the kinds of things they’ll track about your playing habbits in the future.

And finally, it’s just plain intrusive. I like seeing often humerous made-up posters where they’re needed - which is normally seldom in most games. I don’t want to see darn Coke ads in my games. Also, I’m sure publishers and advertisers will start pushing developers to include even more and more advertising billboards/posters/vending machines/etc in their levels, until one day you’re sneaking/running/driving/strolling/handing/rolling around some kind of psycho colourful flashing whacked hall of nothing but lame-ass banners and shit. Piss off with that stuff, please.

Aaaanyway, you may have guessed this idea doesn’t appeal to me at all. Unfortunately once the trend is started and the standards are set by a few games, things will only go downhill.

What’s also scary is that both SWAT and Splinter Cell are Unreal engine games :(. At the moment though, neither Epic or Midway have signed on with Massive Inc. it seems.

I must say, I’m rather disappointed with my “SmoothWall experience” so far. I’ve been tasked with setting up a SmoothWall firewall/proxy machine at work, and from what I’ve read, it’s like the best thing since sliced bread.

Unfortunately I cannot agree.

The installation tends to go fine, it partitions the hard disk by itself, installs fairly fast, then steps through a simple setup ‘wizard’. Here we are prompted if we want to enable or disable ADSL. Now, I want SmoothWall to connect via our ADSL line. BUT, it seems the developer’s idea of “ADSL” is in fact “USB ADSL Modem”.

Anyway, after figuring that one out, and after much shuffling of subnets and IPs between the router, SmoothWall, and my PC, I finally get it to use the router as a gateway. I try visiting some sites - DNS lookups fail. I take a look in all the log options on SmoothWall, and find the firewall is blocking DNS traffic, and is trying to route everything through the same (“Green”) NIC, rather than the second (“Red”) one.

Sooo, turns out I can fix this by running the “setup” tool again, and ‘pretending’ to change the IPs, so it resets everything (re-writes the firewall rules maybe?). Cool, everything’s working again. Not quite.

Seems after that, the proxy magically stops working altogether, so from the web interface, I just disable it, and re-enable it. Cool, everything’s working now. Riiiiight.

A few hours later, suddenly the internet is dead. Hmm, seems the firewall is blocking all traffic again and routing though the same NIC. Sooo, I repeat the whole IP change/reset, proxy reset, etc, and everything’s cool.

A few hours later I find myself repeating the whole procedure again.

This is seriously lame, having to practically reboot the entire machine every few hours. So I think maybe I’ll try to set up a PPPoE connection. So I go and configure the router correctly, test ‘dialing up’ with my machine in XP, all’s cool. Now to set up SmoothWall. Running the setup tool again lets me set the “Red” interface to “PPPoE”, and that seems done. Now where do I put my username and password to dial up?

Apparently the “ppp settings” page of the web GUI is where it’s done. Now excuse my ignorance, but this looks like a modem dial-up page, asking for phone numbers, which COM port my modem is on, etc, etc. A bit of searching around the rather un-helpful support forums, reveals that this is indeed where you need to configure PPPoE usernames and passwords. Just leave all settings alone except for login details.

I give it a shot, tell it to connect, nothing happens. Check the logs, and not surprisingly, it’s trying to connect via ttyS0 (COM1).

Now, apparently there’s supposed to be an option to select the correct interface in the drop-list where you select which port your modem is on, on the “PPP Settings” page, but for some magical reason this does not exist for me.

Unfortunately their forums are also not very helpful it seems, and even after composing a very descriptive help request, I get a rather sarcastic “RTFM” response for a subject not covered in the manual.

Basically the manuals are not up to scratch, the support forums are full of leetbois, the options in both the setup tool and web UI are obscure, and the whole thing is bloody useless, needing a darn reboot every few hours. WTF.

I’d love to send the whole thing to hell, but unfortunately I have to get it to work. *sigh*

Well because I’m apparently not doing any work here… I’m being trekked off to JHB yet again. No idea when I’m even getting back. Lovely 3 days notice I’m given too.

Seems whenever things in my life start settling down and I actually start getting things done, this shit pops up…

Hrm, I just remembered I was supposed to do some work for an old client this weekend too… LOLOLOL…… :-(


Seems I’ve been called off to head office again at literally a day’s notice. I was heading up next weekend though for a LAN with the Avatars (the UT clan I’m in), so I guess it isn’t all bad. Only problem now is carting around my PC, a new LCD monitor which I’ll pick up while I’m there, 2 weeks worth of clothing, and my laptop. Going to have to courier the PC up and have someone courier it and the monitor back after the LAN :(.

Internet is also blocked during office hours in head office, so I’m basically stuffed as I can’t exactly go home and see to things in the evenings. Where I’m responsible for a bunch of projects, websites, etc online, this isn’t exactly helpful at all. Hopefully I can still SSH home every now and then… Can’t even use VNC since my PC’s going to be all over the country.

Should be back by Monday the 28th… They don’t even know where I’m going to be staying while I’m up there.

*sigh* I hate this :(.

So I thought I’d try out the highly praised Ubuntu Linux. I thought to myself, what better way to try than with their LiveCD - no need to mess up any existing setups.

Anyway so I downloaded the ISO, and after burning the CD, noticed it had a Windows auto-run feature. So I ran it, and was presented with a nice little window asking if I’d like to install Windows versions of OpenOffice.org, AbiWord, Audacity, Gimp, PDFCreator, Thunderbird or Firefox. That struck me as rather odd for a CD that’s supposed to be convincing you Linux is better (“Hey! No need to convert to Linux, just check out all this cool Windows software!”).

So I’m thinking oooookay, so I decide to try out the Linux bit of the disc. Everything boots up nicely, nice little GUI boot loader with a couple of options presented in easy-to-use menus, nice splash image hiding all the auto-detection of hardware and genreral stuff that goes on at boot time (pressing Esc kills the splash image so you can check that everything’s okay in the background). Once it booted up into Gnome, everything looked cool. Nice default desktop setup, theme, etc. I realised at this point that my router had DHCP disabled, so Ubunto had me offline. There’s a ‘Network Setup’ option in the “Actions” menu, which presented me with a nice little wizard for IP, DNS, gateway, etc options. Upon completeing this wizard and closing the application however, nothing would work at all. Icons on the panel did not launch applications, and neither did anything in the application menu. I’d have restarted X, but with LiveCDs, they seem to terminate and reboot as soon as X shuts down.

So anyway, I restarted the whole thing, but with the router’s DHCP enabled. Everything worked cool, the applications on the CD all worked as expected. At some point I entered the Network Setup again and needed another reboot though. Seems as soon as that is run it kills the setup…

It’s a very minimal system though, nothing really useful on it beyond OpenOffice.org - and who uses a LiveCD to do their general word processing. It even had Synaptic - but it prevents you from installing software or even updating the packages list.

I also tried Gnoppix, which is based off the Ubuntu LiveCD, but it suffered the same network configuration application problem, as well as lacking any interesting software. It also included all the Windows software Ubuntu had. In fact the only real difference I saw between Gnoppix and Ubuntu was the boot up splash image. Most of Gnoppix is still ‘branded’ as Ubuntu.

I think if they dumped the Windows software from these CDs, they’d be able to load on a LOT of extra Linux software to impress potential users more, as well as making it more useful as a general-use LiveCD.

The only thing that would make me want to install a proper Ubuntu system at some later date at the moment would be the fact that it’s a full desktop installation out-the-box, with the ability to install anything else on demand thanks to its Debian base.

For the moment I’ll be sticking to Knoppix when I need Linux-on-the-go, which it loaded with tons of useful and fun stuff (pity about KDE, though).