Archive for jpnance

Rule #1: VPN Connectivity

I’m going to start my own tech company someday and I don’t want it to be a failure. That’s why I can’t afford to forget this list of incredibly important things I’m learning along the way.

Rule #1: It must be dead simple for my developers to connect to the VPN.

You know what sucks as a developer? Getting a page at 8:23pm — halfway through your beer; four innings into the game — and having to fix something that broke. You know what sucks as a business-owner? Having to wait more than five seconds for the developer to be up and running on the VPN so he can start figuring out what’s wrong.

I’m not talking about the time it takes to get in touch with that developer or the time it takes for him to get home or whatever. You can’t anticipate those things and I don’t expect every one of my developers to perpetually be on call.

I’m talking about the time it takes from the instant he opens his laptop to the instant he’s actually able to start fixing problems. That time should be five seconds or less.

At my previous job, getting logged on to the VPN was horrific. The process was, roughly:

  1. Go to http://oldjobvpn.com/.
  2. Enter a username/password which I rarely used and may or may not remember.
  3. Find my keys so I can get a six-digit number from my RSA token.
  4. Make sure I’m doing all of this from Internet Explorer and have the right Java plugins or whatever installed.

Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad. Sure, there’s room for error but it’s just a few steps, right? I mean, I’m logged in now! What more could I want?

Oh, I need to actually deploy code?

  1. Go to http://oldjobdevdesktop.com/.
  2. Enter a username/password which I often used but was not necessarily the same as any other.
  3. Fire up a remote desktop to the development environment and make my changes there, perhaps fighting with stupid things like screen resolution compatibility.
  4. Go to http://oldjobtestdesktop.com/.
  5. Enter a username/password which I often used but was not necessarily the same as any other.
  6. Fire up a separate remote desktop to the testing environment and double-check my changes there, perhaps fighting with stupid things like screen resolution compatibility.
  7. Use the same remote desktop to pull down the checked-in changes and deploy to production.
  8. All of this at a snail’s pace because, after all, we’re talking about virtual desktops across the internet.

So I have to remember three separate username/password combinations, have my keys nearby, remind myself that I can’t launch the VPN from Chrome or Firefox, make sure I’m using the right remote desktop clients, and endure what could only be considered great bandwidth if it were 1996.

My word, did that ever suck.

At my current job, this is how I get on the VPN:



That’s it.

I should clarify that SSH is my preferred way to interact with my development environment, not a requirement of the infrastructure. If I wanted to launch Eclipse or IntelliJ or anything else, I could. In short, it’s completely as if I’m sitting at my desk, writing code the way I want to. It took less than five seconds: two mouse clicks, one password (my normal corporate domain password), and zero frustration.

Consider these two snapshots in time, sixty seconds after I open my laptop: at my new job, I’m looking through revision logs and diffs trying to figure out what change was made that broke things; at my old job, I’m still waiting for the VPN launcher to finish starting up.

It’s not just about crisis mitigation, though. It’s also about innovation.

Developers, generally speaking, like working on code. They can be utterly indifferent about the product but still want to improve the code base and implement their own ideas. Those ideas don’t have normal working hours. They could strike at 11:10am or 10:11pm and, either way, I want my developers to have the easiest possible path to putting those ideas into code.

If it takes a tedious, error-prone, blast-from-the-past process to log on to the VPN, I will get zero non-critical off-hours work from them. If it’s easy, though — maybe two mouse clicks and one password — they’ll have virtually no excuse to not hop on and hack a few lines.

So the case for a dead simple VPN is two-fold:

  1. Something went wrong, it has to be fixed, and every extra second it goes unfixed is costing the business money
  2. A developer’s desire to work for free is directly affected by the barriers to doing so and, as such, those barriers should be as low as possible

Sounds obvious when I put it like that, right?

Death of a Feature

Pinned tabs in Google ChromeUPDATE: I just discovered that double-middle-clicking a pinned tab (i.e. closing a “deactivated” pinned tab) will close it in the familiar manner. I hereby retract some percentage of Contention 2 and some amount of frustration expressed in Contention 5.

I’ve decided that I care a lot about the “pin tabs” feature in Google Chrome. When Chrome 5 went live last week, I didn’t really notice most of the changes. I did, however, notice that tab-pinning, a feature I learned about only a week or two prior, had been completely destroyed for the way I use it.

It was jarring enough that I felt Google should know about it. Evidently, it’s jarring enough that I feel like you should know about it, too. In its entirety (although edited for a couple of typos, in brackets), here’s the feedback posting I sent them:

I happened upon the “pin tab” feature at the tail-end of Chrome 4’s run. I loved it. I could finally take Gmail, Google Reader, Twitter, and ESPN FantasyCast — tabs that I knew I wanted running all the time — and reduce their screen real-estate footprint. It was easy to drag tabs over to the “pin” section and then take them out again. If I decided I didn’t want a pinned tab to be open anymore, I could close it in one middle-click. When I restarted my browser, I started fresh again with nothing auto-loading and destroying my memory usage.

What on Earth happened in Chrome 5?

Contention 1: I now have to pin a tab by using a context menu. Okay, it’s not the end of the world but, man, it was really nice to be able to just drag the tabs from one side to the other.

Contention 2: It’s not nearly as simple as “closing” a pinned tab anymore. Now, when I middle-click (to close) a pinned [tab], the tab stays there in a “dimmed” state. I guess, as far as the browser is concerned, the page has been destroyed but whenever I go back to that tab, it will reload it. Okay, I guess that’s fine, if sort of annoying that I explicitly have to un-pin a tab (through the context menu — see Contention 1) to remove it altogether.

Contention 3: Pinned tabs stick around between browser sessions and load themselves. If I close my browser and restart it, the pinned tabs will still be there. This is where pinned tab persistence needs to stop. The pinned tabs, however, will also load themselves whenever I restart my browser. Maybe I’m in the minority here but I cannot stand when things start loading automatically, especially five or six browser windows. It puts an amazing amount of load on my CPU and RAM and, really, it’d just be better if they tried to load one at a time. I digress a little bit but, at the least, I’d like to be able to say in the options “don’t bother loading my pinned tabs automatically”.

Contention 4: Google’s own applications kind of suck, given Contention 3. As I said, I use Gmail and Reader pretty much all the time and I sometimes even like to have Documents and Wave open (pinned). When I open the browser for the first time, I have several Google applications load. Fine. My login session hasn’t been initiated, though, so they all load with a login screen. Okay. So I log in to the Gmail tab and then go over to the Reader tab. I try to refresh so Reader can pick up my fresh new login cookie and I just get the login prompt again. Hm, alright. I go up to the address bar to type in “reader.google.com”, I press enter, and I get a new tab. Apparently, I can’t actually do anything in the address bar of a pinned tab. Let’s make that…

Contention 5: The address bar is pretty much meaningless in a pinned tab. When pinned tabs don’t load as you might expect and you can’t get back to the original URL (like, for instance, in the Reader — or any other Google application — example), the address bar just opens up new tabs. So, in my example, here’s how I get Reader back into my pinned tabs:

  1. I get frustrated that I’m having to do anything this out-of-the-way
  2. I open up a new tab with Reader in it
  3. CONTENTION 1 ALERT: I right-click my new tab and pin it
  4. CONTENTION 2 ALERT: I try to close the other useless one by middle-clicking out of habit
  5. I get frustrated that I can’t close pinned tabs easily anymore
  6. I right-click the old tab and un-pin it
  7. I finally am able to close the old tab
  8. I get really frustrated when I realize that I’m going to have to go through this rigmarole every time I restart my browser if I want more than one Google application to be pinned
  9. I stop using the pin tabs feature because it’s been destroyed beyond all recognition
  10. I fire off a lengthy and sarcastic feedback email to try to save this previously excellent feature

Contention 6: The “pinned tab” section doesn’t even work properly depending on how you close the browser. I’m still a little shaky on how to reproduce this but let’s give it a shot. First, pin a few tabs to your browser and then close it by using the ‘X’ button in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen. Open the browser back up and the pinned tabs should be there, reloading themselves. Now un-pin all of your tabs and close them each one-by-one using either CTRL+W or a middle-click. (The idea here is that you’re closing your browser by closing each of its tabs individually, rather than just clicking the ‘X’.) When you open your browser back up, the pinned tabs should still be there, even though you pretty much specifically said “I don’t want you to be pinned anymore”. Note that if you un-pin them and use the ‘X’, the expected behavior (no pinned tabs) occurs.

So that’s my gripe list. I really like the idea of pinning tabs but I think the Chrome 5 iteration of the feature was a solution looking for a problem. I still use Chrome because I like it but, reluctantly, I have stopped pinning tabs because, for me, they no longer act at all how I like them to.

Please let me know if you need any more information on how to replicate the bug I present in Contention 6.

Thanks for listening,
Patrick Nance

State Radio

State RadioThe prevalence and popularity of reggae music is always something that has boggled my mind. I simply don’t see the appeal of Bob Marley or Sublime, and when I stopped by Slightly Stoopid’s ACL set in 2008, I felt even further vindicated in my disdain. State Radio don’t buck the trend enough to make me interested but I did wanna give them some props. Their album The Barn Sessions is reasonable and, at times, even engaging. I would never have expected myself to say that about the reggae-rock epics they’ve recorded.

Some of the tunes are downright reminiscent of the random reggae deviations you find on albums like The Clash and My Aim Is True. The difference, though, is that those tunes are the exception and not the rule. When I listen to State Radio, the songs seem lengthy for the sake of filling up a 74-minute disc.

THE VERDICT: Seriously, I never thought I’d speak this favorably about a reggae album.

The Soul Stirrers

The Soul StirrersShame on me, I guess, for having no clue who The Soul Stirrers are. Evidently, they’ve been going strong (with varying lineups, of course) since 1926. Sam Cooke even headed them up for awhile and, although I really don’t know much of anything about soul music, I’ve heard that name before, therefore he is important.

Let’s keep the context, though. I’m, frankly, not sure which album I’m listening to but it seems to be a self-titled one. The album is a cappella and, judging by the warmth of the recording, must have been cut in the ’60s, at the earliest. Who knows what I’d be getting if I went to their set at ACL? I’d loosely expect a backing band and, beyond that, four guys who have only cursory connections to the original group. As much as I like the gospel sound, I probably have to pass on this.

THE VERDICT: I really do like ’em but I’m just not sure I wanna bother with the current version.

Alberta Cross

Alberta CrossCrack open a brew, sit back in your lawn chair, and cool off to the folk-rock groove of Alberta Cross. Meanwhile, I’ll be checking out The Virgins, blissfully unaware of the middle-aged Texan-fest going on at the Barton Springs stage (oh, by the way, the schedule has been released!). It’s not that I dislike slow-paced music, as a rule, but to have an entire catalogue of it is silly.

Admittedly, the deck was stacked against these guys. Saturday’s already a tough day to compete during for my mindshare and, as luck would have it, they were put up against The Virgins, whom I’ve already lauded. The lack of upbeat tunes isn’t helping the Alberta Cross case at all, though.

THE VERDICT: As much as I’d love to awkwardly stand around and pretend like I’m into it, I’ll pass.

The Henry Clay People

The Henry Clay PeopleI’ve never really liked punk rock all that much (well, save for Me First and the Gimme Gimmes) and I have a hard time classifying The Henry Clay People as much else. At this point, I’ve listened through For Cheap or for Free and didn’t care; then I listened through some weird live album and continued not to care.

To their credit, they seem to have a slightly more versatile sound than standard old punk rock — “This Ain’t a Scene” sounds downright Tom Petty-esque. As much as I admire a willingness to deviate, though, it almost certainly won’t be enough to attract my eyeballs in person. I guess if I’m particularly annoyed with the alternative acts at that point, I’ll head over.

THE VERDICT: Highly doubtful.

The Dead Weather

The Dead WeatherTo set the record straight, I don’t particularly like the Raconteurs. Broken Boy Soldiers is boring and, even though Consolers of the Lonely is much better, I just expected more as a big Brendan Benson/White Stripes fan. I was even surprised at how unenthralled I was at the Raconteurs set at last year’s ACL. Add to that the last-minute cancelation of the White Stripes show in 2007 and, well:

The Dead Weather had better get this right.

Horehound is a gem and it actually gives Jack White a side-project chance to shine on stage as opposed to the ho-hum Raconteurs who can’t decide who to feature. I’m not so deluded to pretend that I don’t really just want the White Stripes (and, let’s be honest, the Dead Weather aren’t all that far from it) but I’m still looking forward to this show.

THE VERDICT: Jack White owes me.

The Avett Brothers

The Avett BrothersEmotionalism isn’t the latest album by the Avett Brothers (see: I and Love and You) but since the “latest” one isn’t out yet — and nobody seems to have a preview copy — the tracks I’ve actually heard include “Die Die Die”, “Paranoia in B Major”, “Will You Return”. Make no mistake: they’re really good and generally upbeat which is not what I’d expected.

I wasn’t sure how much I’d buy into this indie-folk kind of thing, considering how burnt out I’ve been on Rilo Kiley and the like (I’m looking at you, Saddle Creek Records). The Avett Brothers have a fresh sound to my ears, though. They’re adequately hip and bluesy at the same time and I’m definitely fine with that.

THE VERDICT: Sounds like a good afternoon possibility.

Jypsi

JypsiPretty standard country fare. Don Imus likes Jypsi and he’d know better than I would. Their tunes are catchy and they use a fiddle and they’re all siblings — like pretty much every other country act you’ve ever heard of.

Not that I tried incredibly hard but I couldn’t find a free copy of their new album, I Don’t Love You Like That, which, I don’t know, I guess I’ve come to expect during this whole project. Admittedly, I’m one of those awful people who just generally doesn’t spend money on music but still. It seems like a relatively unknown country group would be willing to front the tunes.

What do I know.

THE VERDICT: Not for me.

Deer Tick

Deer TickI don’t think I’ve ever really heard Kings of Leon (although: forthcoming!) but my prejudice has decided that Deer Tick sound just like them. Uh, for whatever that’s worth.

Take some old-timey rock-and-roll, add a country twang, pulse for thirty seconds, and you’ve got Born on Flag Day. And, yeah, I really don’t know what else to say. There are a couple of choice tracks (“Easy”, “Straight into a Storm”) but it all seems so standard. That’s what makes my “job” hard, too, because these guys are almost the definition of my borderline.

I’m gonna say “no” on this one but I’ll live with the fact that I’ll probably end up checking them out anyway.

THE VERDICT: These guys are from Rhode Island? I’m so confused.