Another Hairy Practical Joke

Some time after the first incident, my now-beardless oldest brother decided to host Christmas. My other brother would be there, and I had long given him grief about his unkempt nostril hair (what are brothers for?), so I bought him a nose hair trimmer as a gift.

I thought he’d love it, so I was disappointed when he left it behind. That’s when I decided it was his turn for a practical joke.

I bought a second trimmer and arranged for the first one to be given to him a few weeks later. In the meantime, I took the second trimmer with me on a Carribean vacation.

After my brother had been using the first trimmer for a month or two, I showed him pictures of my vacation – which featured the second trimmer.

In one, the nose hair trimmer was lounging by the pool. In another it was dancing with my wife by the beach. The final picture showed it taking a swim – in the hotel restroom. Yes, I took a picture of a nose hair trimmer floating in a toilet.

My brother, of course, was disgusted by that last picture since he thought it was the nose hair trimmer he’d been using for several weeks. I enjoyed his reaction so much that I waited several days before telling him the truth.

A Hairy Practical Joke

Many years ago my oldest brother lived in an apartment complex that had tiny mailboxes. Any mail that wouldn’t fit would be left out in the open – for everyone to see.

So I thought it’d be funny to mail him a package labeled “Infectious Disease Center: Test Results Enclosed” when he was out of town for a few days.

He got me back for that in a big way.

It was around that time that I developed a hernia. The surgery required being shaved “down there,” which my brother thought was pretty funny.

A few days after surgery I received a letter from him. Thinking it was a get-well card, I opened it without concern for its contents – and suddenly found myself covered in hair.

There was a note inside. It said, “I’m sorry they had to shave your naughty bits. I shaved my beard this morning and figured you could put it to good use.”

He wasn’t kidding. He actually shaved off his beard and mailed it to me.

Hire Remotely

When I read Paul Graham’s essay about how difficult it is to find great programmers, my reaction was the same as Matt’s: why not hire more remote workers?

Two years ago I was searching for a new job, and I only considered positions that enabled working from home (something I’d done for almost 20 years). Given what I’d heard about the huge demand for mobile developers I figured there would be plenty of options, but I was wrong – there were lots of jobs but all but a few of them required going to an office (and, in my case, moving).

That really surprised me. There are plenty of talented developers who have chosen not to live in overpriced tech hubs like Silicon Valley. If it really is hard for companies to find great programmers, then why don’t they stop requiring people to move to where they are and start allowing people to work from wherever they choose?

Fade to Black (A Ramble)

Throughout my life I’ve been strangely attracted to dark humor.

Before I wrote software I was a cartoonist, and back then I’d wonder what humor was and why people laugh.

I decided it was madness escaping.

We’re all a little bit insane, doing and believing whatever it takes to avoid the horrible truth that one day we’ll die of old age unless something bad happens first, and when we’re gone the universe will quite clearly continue on just fine without us. Laughter is the sound of that pressure escaping. In a group, it enables us to shed our differences and admit we’re all fucked.

Given that rather bleak perspective, it’s perhaps no surprise that I lean towards dark humor. Not the mean-spirited kind, but instead the kind based on hope.

This is where I start to ramble.

There’s a thing called “middle age settling,” where as you approach middle age you realize you’re not going to change the world as much as you thought you would when you were younger. So you settle on changing a smaller part of the world instead.

In order to do that, you still need hope. Hope that the world is still worth changing, hope that you can at least make things better for the people you love (and maybe even the people you don’t love).

Hope, unfortunately, can be hard to hold onto the more you learn about the world. That seems to have been a problem for some of the dark humorists I’ve enjoyed. As they got older they stopped sounding like disappointed idealists and started sounding like cranky cynics. They faded to black.

That’s something I may struggle with, but so far I haven’t given in to cynicism (of course, I’m a spry young 47, so there’s still time). I continue to laugh at the unpleasant things that bind us, like the universal truth that nothing is funnier than an improperly stifled fart in the middle of a church service. The fact that others laugh with me despite our differences gives me hope.

The Programmer’s Dream (A Ramble)

Programmers dream of new code.

We spend a good deal of our time working on code we didn’t write for software we didn’t create, much of which we believe is horribly written (or, at least, could be done much better). We dream of a chance to start fresh, working from scratch on a brand new piece of software that will eventually become something someone else has to work on and believes is horribly written.

If we’re lucky our software will look pretty solid from the outside. It may do weird things from time to time or very occasionally crash, but on the whole end users will think it’s stable and well thought out. Those of us who can look at it from the inside are amazed by this because we see a house of cards just waiting to come tumbling down. I think one of the benefits of open source is that we can see more clearly that everyone else’s code is just as frightening as our own is.

This situation reminds me of how I used to look at our culture when I was much younger (it’s a tenuous connection, but as I said, this a ramble).

I used to assume there were people in charge who knew what they were doing, who planned how things in society should work. As I got a little older I got more cynical, believing these people were trying to keep the rest of us dumb with shoddy schooling and mind-numbing entertainment, in the hopes they could get away with whatever it is powerful people are always trying to get away with.

Then as I got even older I realized that the people in charge are as clueless as the rest of us. Like our software, our society just kind of happened over the years and it’s always on the verge of coming tumbling down. Nobody really knows what they’re doing or what they’re talking about.

If you can get over the sheer terror of that thought, it’s actually quite liberating.

Mobile Apps Are Scary

In 2006 I wrote about how the fear of installing desktop software accelerated the move to the web. Security warnings, firewall alerts and antivirus popups made installing software feel like an incredibly risky thing to do.

We’re seeing a similar situation with mobile apps now. The seemingly simple act of installing an app requires you to first approve a scary list of permissions, and while some may approve them the same way they dismiss a EULA, others find them daunting. Add to that the spammy notifications and addiction-feeding of popular games plus the privacy violations of popular social apps, and it feels like I’m watching a rerun from eight years ago.

If this trend continues, the whole debate about mobile apps vs. web apps will be pointless: users will feel safer with web apps so that’s what they’ll choose, and developers will follow.

The End of Glassboard

Justin Williams brings the unfortunate but inevitable news about the end of Glassboard:

Over the last year we have tried a variety of different methods of converting Glassboard into a sustainable business. The reality is that we failed to do that.

Starting next week, we will be converting everyone’s account to a premium account for the remaining few weeks so that you can export your boards and keep an archive should you desire.

I’m sad to see Glassboard go away. It was the first Android app I wrote, and I have great memories with the team of friends I worked with at Sepia Labs. I feel bad for Justin that he invested so much time and money in keeping Glassboard alive only to see it fail to gain traction.

For me personally, Glassboard was a reaction to the whittling away of online privacy. I’m proud to have worked on something that said “privacy is important” at a time when so many other apps were sharing, leaking, and even stealing, your private information. None of us foresaw Edward Snowden, of course, but we did foresee a backlash against the loss of privacy which I believe is still in its infancy.

It would be easy to blame Glassboard’s failure on users’ lack of concern for their privacy, but I think it had more to do with our flawed initial experience and downright terrible business model.

Our initial user experience made it hard to get started with the app, which killed any chance of the viral growth necessary to build a large user base. And we did so little to promote our premium version that very few Glassboard users knew we even had a premium version (and those that were aware of it saw little reason to upgrade).

There’s certainly no guarantee Glassboard would’ve succeeded had we not made those mistakes – as Brent Simmons points out, an app like Glassboard “is going to be a challenge no matter what” – but I do think those mistakes guaranteed it wouldn’t succeed.

I Hate the Command Line


Back when I was a Windows developer, I learned all sorts of arcane things about the platform. I felt I had to in order to be a good developer, and much of it was necessary to support customers running into problems.

Four years ago I bought a Mac, and three years ago I ditched Windows entirely and started learning Android development on my Mac.

I decided I really didn’t want to learn all the innards of the Mac. I never liked dealing with all that on Windows, and since I wasn’t a Mac developer I figured I could skip it.

Which means, of course, that I’m totally useless with the command line. Terminal? No thanks. Bash? Forget it. Git? I’ll use SourceTree instead. If it doesn’t have a GUI, I don’t want to touch it.

Sure, there are probably a ton of cool things I could do from the command line. But I’m happier not feeling I need to know all that stuff.