The Legend of Nicky Poot

Each year at the Automattic Grand Meetup, everyone gives a four-minute “flash talk” on any subject. Here’s the talk I gave this year.

Yours truly delivering this talk.

I’m sure we’ve all had this experience: you’re sitting around with a group of people when suddenly there’s a lull in the conversation. Everyone ran out of things to say, and now you’re all just sitting there awkwardly.

When this happens to me, I break the lull by suggesting we share embarrassing moments. Everyone tells a story about something embarrassing that happened to them. It’s a great ice breaker, and it’s especially good when the people don’t know each other very well. You all admit to something stupid you did, and suddenly you’re the best of friends.

This is exactly what I did a few years back at a mobile meetup when a bunch of us were sitting at a table staring at our phones to avoid eye contact. To break the lull, I said we should each share an embarrassing story, and I volunteered to go first.

The story I told was from age 16. Despite being an atheist, I was a member of a Presbyterian church youth group. Because there were girls there.

There was one girl in particular I had my eyes on, and one night at the youth group I was able to sit on the floor next to her while the pastor talked about something. I really wanted to impress her, so I leaned over to cooly whisper something in her ear.

And suddenly let out an enormous, completely unexpected fart.

I was shocked – I had no idea that was in there!

I hoped that nobody knew it was me, but that plan was foiled by the pastor. Right before my outburst the pastor said something like, “And Jesus said…,” and then when he heard my outburst he pointed at me and said, “But not like that!”

So everyone knew I was the guilty party.

From that point on, the girl I wanted to impress started calling me “Nicky Poot.” Twenty-five years later, I ran into her on Facebook. One of the first things she said was, “Hey, do you remember Nicky Poot?”

Who knew a single fart would have such a long shelf life.

So, there you have an example of an embarrassing story. If you’re with a group of people and there’s an awkward lull, just ask everyone to share something like that, and suddenly everyone is having a good time.

But take my advice: when you tell your story, don’t lean over. You never know what might come out.

FeedDemon Support Group is Pining for the Fjords

It has been almost three years since the end of FeedDemon, but I’ve kept the Google Group for FeedDemon available for those who needed help.

Legitimate questions posted to the group have slowed to a trickle, but the regular influx of spam that I have to moderate hasn’t abated. So I’ve decided it’s time to close the group.

Rather than kill it outright, for now I’ve made it read-only just in case anyone could benefit from the information it contains.


“Look out you rock ‘n rollers … pretty soon now you’re gonna get older.”

One of the downsides of getting older that nobody tells you about is you live to see some of your cultural icons die.

My first hint of that came in eighth grade when John Lennon was murdered.  Even though the Beatles were before my time, their music was my soundtrack back then. John’s work in particular resonated with me, and his death came as a shock.

It’s weird losing these people I’ve never met whose creations have touched my life as deeply as only close friends have. Kurt Vonnegut, Carl Sagan, Frank Zappa, Jim Henson, George Carlin – when I heard of their deaths, I felt like I’d lost an old friend.

I feel a bit of that today with the news that David Bowie has died. His music has traveled with me all the way from the days of FM radio and LPs to these days of smartphones and streaming audio.

I never really connected with the various personas that Bowie adopted over the years, but I admired his ability to transform. Because another downside of getting older is we tend to forget we can still change.

We’re an odd hodgepodge of traits and beliefs we’ve tried on over the years and continue to wear even after they no longer fit us. Trying on something new seems dangerous compared to the safe comfort of lackluster familiarity.

That Bowie was able to change himself in front of us – multiple times – is almost as impressive as the body of work he created. Like all the icons I never knew who touched me all the same, I’m glad his time here intersected with mine.

My Son Can Dance

He certainly didn’t inherit this talent from my side of the gene pool, but my 16yr-old son Isaac is a pretty incredible dancer.

This weekend he performed in front of his high school classmates, most of whom had no idea of his gift for movement. Seeing and hearing them react to his moves was a great experience, and the standing ovation he received at the end was well-deserved.

Nice one, Isaac – I’m proud of you not just for your skills, but also for having the courage to get on stage alone and do what you love.

Android’s Fragmentation Problem Is Being Replaced by the Support Library Problem

Android has long labored under the shadow of a “fragmentation problem” that makes it tough to write apps that work reliably across the many devices and platform versions. I’ve written before that this problem is overblown, yet it’s not without merit.

Google has done a lot to address the fragmentation problem, including creating support libraries that make new features available on older devices. These libraries have been a huge help to developers like myself.

But I’ve noticed my fellow devs getting less enthusiastic with each support library release. Sure, we look forward to the new features and bug fixes – but we’ve learned that with each release comes a new set of problems, some of which are specific to certain versions of Android. We’ll spend time coding workarounds for these problems, then have to revisit them the next time a support library is updated.

This situation is starting to resemble the fragmentation problem the support libraries were designed to address. Instead of writing code to deal with problems in specific Android versions, we’re writing code to deal with issues in specific support library versions.

The Code That No One Touches

Every app that’s been around for a while has code that no one touches.

The rest of the code may be great, but there’s that one area written a long time ago that everyone is scared to work on. It’s so fragile that if you touch it you’re likely to break something, forcing you to descend into its unfathomable depths in order to repair it.

If you do have to work on it, the rest of team turns somber and treats you like a soldier headed to battle. They know they won’t hear from you for a while, and there’s a chance you won’t return.

Perhaps one day you announce you’re finally going to refactor that code. “It’s ridiculous to have this awful code in our app, and I’m going to correct it,” you foolishly say. A few days later, after discovering new swear words as you try to figure it out, you decide now isn’t the best time to fix it. “Maybe I’ll tackle that after the next version ships,” you proclaim, secretly hoping nobody remembers you saying that.

When a new developer is hired, the rest of the team wants their first task to be repairing that old code. They’re new, excited to be on board, and eager to prove themselves – so let’s welcome them by throwing them into the dark pit that hides beneath our software.

But that never happens, because the people in charge don’t know about the problem. Nobody mentions it to management for fear of being assigned to take care of it.

And so the old code lingers, like a basement closet nobody wants to clean out. The code that no one touches never goes away.

Monty Python and the Holy Roller

french-taunterIt’s only Sunday, but I can honestly claim to have had the highlight of my week already.

There’s a local rock radio station whose weak signal sometimes gets overlapped with that of a religious station. This has led to delightful moments such as a Primus song morphing into a hellfire-and-brimstone sermon.

This morning, for some reason the rock station was broadcasting parts of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. As I drove out of my neighborhood the scene with the French taunters was playing. I heard John Cleese utter, “You tiny-brained wipers of other people’s bottoms!” and then it suddenly changed into a hymnal.

Maybe it was a “you had to be there” moment – but I was there, and I found it so hysterical I almost had to pull over.