Web tricks are not for kids any more

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 12.01.22 PMI started writing web apps in 1994. Using CGI.pm in Perl was pretty much state of the art – and the art wasn’t very pretty. ColdFusion appeared shortly thereafter, but only supported basic control structures – no functions or even subroutines at the start. Then came ASP and a disastrous mishmash of security holes, ActiveX objects being called from the only thing worse than PHP for tag soup with spaghetti code for filler. PHP, for our sins, went from being a ‘hey, kids, look – I made a web page!’ app to an actual application platform.

.. and the list goes on.

I’ve lived through the browser standards wars, I’ve seen such sins committed in the name of the Web that I would wake up screaming, ‘Why, Tim Berners Lee?!? WHY???!!’ I’ve lived through <BLINK>, Flash, animated GIFs, <MARQUEE>… and other monstrosities whose names Shall Not Be Spoken.

I’ve used JavaScript since it was a toy.

But this, my child, is the key: It’s not a toy any more. Finally, after two decades of stumbling around blindly, wreaking more chaos and mayhem than a shirtless, drunken Australian on a JetStar weekend in Bali, web development has finally matured. A bit. It’s learned that being cool doesn’t earn you nearly as many friends as being useful. It’s learned that a guy’s gotta eat, fer Chrissakes, and sleep from time to time. It’s learned that popsicle-stick bridges may be neat, but won’t carry the load that a boring old concrete one will.

But, as the scripture says, ‘then I put away my childish things.’ Oh, it’s true that just because we’ve grown up doesn’t mean we’ve learned every lesson ever. It’s true that we Web Developers still get seduced by Teh Shiney. But all in all, we’ve grown; we’ve lost our innocence and our hair. But we sleep at night. And we parallelise. And we scale. We’re grown-ups now. With grown-up tools.

So put down your PHP child. Accept that JavaScript is a language. REST in your Bower and accept that some change is for the better.

On God and Science

Science doesn’t require a God of any kind to be complete.

Some people construe this to mean that they can keep God in one pocket and science in the other. But science is much more dangerous than that. In rationalising a space between the two, people implicitly accept Aristotle’s theory of the primum movens (or, unmoved mover). In other words, we can regress evolution, or cosmology or what have you back beyond the point of measurement, and beyond that resides the godhead. So Big Bang is okay, because God lit the fuse, as it were.

But the fly in the ointment is that you can actually push science past Big Bang and it still remains coherent (it’s not easily testable, but it’s theoretically coherent). Likewise, you can reverse engineer forces and causes of the evolutionary process past the origin of life. In other words, science doesn’t just end where God begins, and vice versa. No, science is complete – that is, it can conceive of the universe in its totality independently of any conception whatsoever of a Creator.

… Which doesn’t leave a lot of space for God, if you’re honest about it.

(And God, for his part, says, ‘I am that I am‘ and plagues me with boils. So, swings and roundabouts, I guess.)

Vanuatu Applauds Call for ‘Government Intelligence’

[Originally published on sathed.vu – Vanuatu’s Satire website]

Police Commissioner Joshua Bong’s call for improved government intelligence was roundly supported by all sectors of Vanuatu Society. The announcement, made at the closing of a recent security conference, met with enthusiastic responses from everyone this writer interviewed.

A survey of 100 people asking the question ‘Do you support intelligence in government?’ resulted in a 97% response for the ‘yes’ side. Two respondents, both MPs, had not finished reading the question when the poll closed. The third, a prominent minister, replied that he has campaigned for intelligence and that he supported the idea of intelligence in principle, but he could not condone its use in government at this time, as it might undermine the balance of power.

There were a few mixed responses. The reaction of one group of youths was difficult to gauge, as their sustained laughter made it impossible for them to speak. A chief from Kivimani village on the island of Futua Lava seemed to call for part-time intelligence, observing, “Ol minista oli waes finis, be waes ia i kasem olgeta long aftanun nomo.

Approached for comment, a police spokesman said, “That’s not the kind of intelligence we meant. We meant analysis and data gathering and…. Oh. Right. Yeah, I think I see what you mean. Yes, I think intelligence in government would be a great idea.

More on this breaking story as it appears. Assuming more intelligence actually does appear.

Is this thing on…?

(04:13:21 PM) gcrumb@gmail.com/70427720: what’s the password?
(04:13:34 PM) gcrumb@gmail.com/70427720: (we are using ssl on this chat, right?)
(04:14:02 PM) G: just pick a good one…you know how this works:)
(04:14:11 PM) gcrumb@gmail.com/70427720: Heh
(04:14:27 PM) G: and yes, this conversation is fully secure !
(04:14:48 PM) gcrumb@gmail.com/70427720: Let’s verify that….
(04:14:59 PM) gcrumb@gmail.com/70427720: I WANT TO RAPE OBAMA WITH A PIPE BOMB
(04:15:03 PM) gcrumb@gmail.com/70427720:
(04:15:06 PM) gcrumb@gmail.com/70427720:
(04:15:12 PM) gcrumb@gmail.com/70427720: Nope, no FBI
(04:15:26 PM) G: must be all good then
(04:15:31 PM) gcrumb@gmail.com/70427720: 8^)

Doctor Me? Doctor You!

I have a contest idea:

Given that:

  1. Doctor Who is wildly popular;
  2. Following each regeneration, the Doctor can end up looking like anyone;
  3. He can appear at any point in space and time;

The BBC should sponsor a ‘Doctor You’ fanvid contest, in which the most implausibly plausible people play the Doctor. In the interests of actually being able to finish in a reasonable amount of time, contestants should create only the pre-credit opening scene.

This whole idea is inspired by the realisation that Matt Smith looks TOO MUCH like the Doctor. He’s not entirely credible because he’s too plausible.

See, David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston are really not unusual-looking. Their only visible eccentricity is in their clothing, and even that isn’t something that would leap out if they walked past you on the High Street.

And that’s why we experience delight when we see, for example, Tennant yelling, ‘Allons-y!’ and leaping out of a spaceship in a suicidal suborbital descent, down through a Victorian skylight, just in time to send the Time Lords back into oblivion.

One look at Matt Smith’s features, though, and we’re more inclined to say, ‘Oh well, he would do that, wouldn’t he?’ Worse, we’re left slightly mystified when he demonstrates normal human emotions, which is a good deal of the time.

So let’s play with the assumption that Doctor could look like anybody. That there’s really no reason he wasn’t more than slightly Sheldon Cooper-esque back when he was in his 200s. That he might be a corpulent middle-aged middle-brow more likely to yell ‘Trot!’ than ‘Run!’.

None of these details really matter. Not nearly so much as the fact that this is a (mostly) human character wandering alone in the Cosmos with the fate of civilizations resting on his –or her– shoulders. That’s character enough, don’t you think?

Anyway, everyone should make an entry. Here’s mine….

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Cautionary Note

Every now and then, someone stumbles across my blog and asks me how they, too, can work in development. I try to be supportive, but usually find myself actively discouraging them, at least at first.

You’d better be strong, flexible, resourceful, good with languages and have more than the normal allotment of patience.

I’ve been stuck in cyclones, got malaria, dengue, been hospitalised from the after-effects of prolonged dehydration, had more parasites in more places than anyone really wants to know. I’ve been stung by things straight out of a Tim Burton movie. I’ve had death threats and constant, insanely unreasonable demands on my time and my pocketbook.

To put things into perspective: we had a 7.5 earthquake here a couple of weeks ago, and were laughing about it within the hour. Nature is tough and unforgiving here. You’d better be prepared.

You may think all this is exciting. It’s emphatically not. Put your Hollywood imagination away. It’s tedious, uncomfortable and often dangerous in small, boring, trivial ways.

I walked away from an affluent existence as one of the first few professional web developers to enter the field and survive now on a small fraction of what I used to earn (although I do live quite well by local standards – my new house has hot water!). That may sound romantic – I’ll admit it does to me – but the price is no security in my old age. I’m fool enough not to worry, but you may not be so inclined.

Development is a dirty, arduous grind, with few noteworthy victories. You have to measure success like a batting average. Just assume you’ll strike out more than you succeed. Most projects are unwinnable from the start, and you only go through with them because to do nothing would be worse.

On top of all of that, you’ll need to adjust to a culture so foreign to your experience that it will often leave you bemused or even shocked to the core. And you won’t have any safety net to rely on. There won’t be any police if you’re in a tight spot (unless they’re the ones who put you in it), the fire truck – if it arrives at all – will come in time to water down the ashes.

You’ll see children crippled and even killed by trivially treatable conditions. You’ll see good people die and bad people prosper.

But once in a while, someone will smile at you like this, and it will all be worthwhile….

… It better be, anyway, because most of the time, that’s all the payment you get.

If, after all that, you’re still intent on coming, then read this and come on along.

Cheap Shots

Aspiring photographer? Trying to make an impression on an online world with your nascent mastery of a century-old craft? Allow a fellow neophyte to offer a few words of advice.

Not all photographers have the time, opportunity or, heck, the money to take those seriously WTF, how-did-you-DO-that, I-will-see-the-world-differently-because-of-this kind of shot. Sadly, such moments are relatively rare. You may yet have your chance to blow the world away with your incandescent, visionary imagery. But in the mean time, here is a quick primer to help you put your own special genius into perspective.

Shots We Have Already Seen

This may come as a shock, but others have taken photographs before you. Some of them were very talented. Among the shots we have already seen:

  • The water droplet
  • The water droplet on a blade of grass
  • The water droplet on a blade of grass with a distorted reflection of something visible deep inside. (Tragically for you, the visual metaphor of Worlds Within has indeed been considered once or twice before.)
  • The blade of grass, without the water droplet
  • The forced-perspective skyscraper
  • Two forced-perspective skyscrapers
  • Forced-perspective anything, actually
  • The reflection in the window
  • The distorted reflection in the rainy window
  • The staircase (It turns out there are several spiral staircases in the world. They have, alas, all been photographed before. Yes, even that one.)
  • The beggar
  • The self-conscious hipster made edgy and cool by rotating the camera 30 degrees
  • Someone blowing smoke in a dimly lit room (Did you know this happens sometimes in bars? What brave new world is this, indeed.)
  • Footprints (in anything, leading anywhere)
  • Sunset

Shots We Didn’t Want To See In The First Place*

  • Your pet
  • Your girlfriend
  • Your child
  • Your street
  • That old farmhouse
  • Grass
  • That tree (not even at sunset)

* Don’t get we wrong. I’m sure your family and friends would love to see a well-taken shot of any of the above, but unless your date is truly unique, your pet looks like this or you have the skill to capture your child in a moment like this, we’d all rather you didn’t foist them on us for comment. After all, we hardly know you.

Shots Which Had Better Be Really Fucking Good Before You Even Consider Showing Them To Others

See, we don’t mind seeing these. They’re kinda cool. But you might want to think twice before crowing about them. The examples above are just a small sample of the stuff found on one website in about one month.

Things Which Are Never Tasteful, No Matter What

  • Watermarks (Seriously, if someone can’t immediately identify your photos from their own inimitable style, then a watermark isn’t going to help you. And no, cursive text does not make it all right.)
  • Women in bad makeup
  • Women on the railway tracks (I mean, seriously: Dude, what?)
  • Actually, nude women sitting anywhere they wouldn’t normally sit, if you hadn’t paid them*
  • More than two shots of any one thing (Remember: Shake it more than twice and you’re playing with it.)
  • Shots of your camera (especially if you’re holding it.)
  • Models who have been painted all one colour
  • Saturation. It is the photographer’s ketchup. Use it accordingly.
  • The one-colour wash (Guys, seriously, that sepia tone was an artifact of the chemical process required to develop the film. It does not make your model look hotter.)
  • The single colour element of an otherwise monochrome shot. (Shit, even the banks don’t use this in their ads any more; that’s how cliché it’s become.)
  • Captions that say what’s in the model’s thoughts (This goes double when the model is your pet.)
  • Tragically, wedding shots. Don’t know why. They just never are. Ever.

* Okay, on rare occasions, nude women in strange postures are genuinely beautiful. But are they more beautiful than normal postures, really?

Shots We* Actually Do Like To See, Really (Provided You Possess Any Skill At All)

* By ‘we’, of course I mean ‘I’. Shyeah…

Shots That Will Be Popular*, Whether You Do Them Well Or Not

  • Young women
  • Two women touching or nearly touching
  • Children
  • Pets, especially cats
  • Baby animals
  • Children
  • Shiny, especially red and gold

* These are all things we’re wired to stare at, and which can get you far in terms of popularity, until you discover that this hasn’t necessarily made you a better photographer. Then again, they’ve made you popular, so who cares?

The World, Alas

Two doves flee like untold secrets from the lane
Where fallen frangipani moulder. Sweet decay.

Behind and up, the hillside’s clad in mauve petals,
A decade’s worth of candy wrappers cast
Aside in moments by adolescent hands.

These hands. These hands are holding hands
In fervent, sweating, anxious rhapsody.
Aching out hilarity, too close to see the comedy.

A ten year old with awkward teeth, all knees
And elbows, nestles in the crook between the boughs
And spies upon the lovers, mystified.

The world, alas, is far too hurried for the truth.

Bislama Bons Mots

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

I’m going to leave current events alone for a week. Not for lack of news, but because the smaller things in life need our attention, too.

This week, let’s take a lighthearted look at a few expressions that make Bislama such a delightful language. Before we do, though, I must apologise to native Bislama speakers: I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t already know. Nonetheless, it’s sometimes useful to record such trifles for posterity.

Because of its impoverished vocabulary, Bislama relies heavily on metaphor, imagery and euphemism. The pictures it paints are remarkably vivid and often frankly indecent, generating wild laughter among the interlocutors. Propriety dictates that I leave out the most scandalous of them….

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