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We loves the green
One of the refreshing changes in my new job is that one of the large core pieces of our system is very easy to JUnit test. I hate that unit tests can't be brought to bear on more kinds of problems, but when they can, boy it is satisfying.

Today, for example, in order to fix a frustrating bug I had to learn how to use JavaCC grammars for the first time. Powerful it may be, but if you're trying to understand machine-generated code with variables named "jj_la1_0", it's difficult to feel confident monkeying with a grammar. Hard to know what's going on, very easy to screw something up.

JUnit to the rescue. This is one of the situations where I actually do test-driven development--- I pre-write tests that start out green to prove that I didn't break the system. And then I pre-write even more tests that start out red to prove that my fix isn't working yet. And then I keep tinkering until they're all green.

But there's an arguably even greater benefit of JUnit than the red/green: you can run in a cleanroom environment. That means:
  • You don't have to wait to rebuild and re-initialize the entire integrated system
  • You don't have to click through the GUI to exercise your code
  • You can debug without stepping through thousands of false positives to get to the part of the system that you're working on
  • When something breaks you don't have to wonder if the code you changed interacted with something else
  • When something works you don't have to wonder if some other part of the system is masking an error
And at the end I had it all working, and I know it works because the little bar is green. Yay!
Killer Bees!
Actually, they were just normal bees. Call me an alarmist. But killer or normal, upon attempting to grill food tonight we found two little wasp nests inside our grill:
Our choices were clear:
  • Declare the back yard a total loss. Watch more movies. Maybe read a book.
  • Spray poison into the grill, and get stung. Never feel comfortable using the now-poisoned grill ever again. Buy new grill.
  • Attempt to scrape the nests from the grill, and get stung.
  • Turn on the grill, raining down propane-y death on the wasps inside, and get stung.
Since I wasn't willing to surrender the back yard to the wasps, that meant that all roads let to getting stung. Which in a sense made the choice really easy--- with a level playing field sting-wise, one of the options stands out clearly as the best choice. Well, at least the most pyrotechnic choice.

To minimize the risk of getting stung in the process of incinerating my waspish enemies, I decided to create a home-made bee suit. This was, of course, an extremely stupid idea, and as such it needed to be thoroughly documented. My plan was basically to put on gloves, lots of clothes, and a jacket tucked into pants, but the weak point in my plan (okay, the weakest point in my plan) was the head area. What to do with the head...

Initial drafts of the design involved a Reynolds' Wrap window built around a sun hat, but the plastic wrap proved uncooperative. To put it mildly.
Well it turns out that in broad daylight you can see through a plastic trash bag pretty good, so I alarmed our neighbors by marching out into the june heat cloaked in winter jackets and garbage bags to smoke out our wasp adversaries.

Unfortunately there was no dramatic Flaming Wasp Attack, because of course the grill heated up far too slowly and they simply flew away. Anticlimactically, I didn't get stung, or even harassed particularly. I just threw the little nests over the fence. The end.

But you wanted to hear that I got stung, didn't you? Didn't you? For shame.
Come Taste The Aroma

I'm ordinarily not one to criticise creative word choice, but somehow "Come Taste the Aroma" just seems sort of invasive to me.

I prefer to merely smell my aromas, thank you very much.

While you were sleeping

Apparently while Joe, our CEO, was at home last night eating dinner with his family and watching the ball game, he also managed to negotiate an aquisition deal with Yahoo. Trusted sources also indicate that I have X-ray vision, and that I can bend steel girders with my mind.

To be fair to anyone who was fooled, the last company I worked for did get aquired 6 months after I started, and the way I heard about it was basically by reading it in the paper the next morning. But even the San Jose Mercury wouldn't print a rumor this unsubstantiated. Wow, is the bay area tech industry ever like junior high school... "You would not believe who Yahoo hooked up with! Oh. My. GOD."

Jason is Bad at Math
As part of my obligatory competitive analysis for a project I'm working on, I must endure the fingernail-pullingly-demagogical Jason Fried.

This week's SVN Tautology is that venture-funded companies are stupid / bad / immoral / not customer focused because they sometimes fail, and that the NEW, better thing to do is to build companies using an innovative technique (apparently invented by Jason Fried) called "self funding". As far as I can tell, Jason is saying that because a lot of venture-funded companies fail, the only correct way to run a company is to be immediately profitable and then build only on your own profits.


If I a nickel for every company that wasn't built on credit, I would have zero nickels. All businesses run debt, even if it's just a little bit to buy a delivery truck, write the first version of the software, etc. Even in self-funding companies you have to use your existing cash cows to fund your next ideas, because your next ideas aren't making money yet because they don't exist yet. There's nothing different about borrowing against your own past successes, borrowing from a bank, a VC, or Visa... you just have to be willing to pay the corresponding finance charges.


Maybe Jason wants to make the point that VC-backed companies are less successful than self-funded companies. First of all, that's not true. But even if you define success as "the duration of the existance of the company", then I guess I would just have to say well duh. Some business models are riskier than others, and a smart business man bent on near-term success can choose the low risk route to keep the business going. But keeping your doors open for 5 years isn't any more likely to get you big revenue than persuing your idea more directly on credit--- but it will make you 4 years older when you finally realize that your idea had a low revenue ceiling. VCs and their portfolio companies bet big to win big; more likely to fail, maybe, but also more likely to pay off bigger, and sooner. For VCs, a small, long-lived, profitable company with low revenues is a failure. If you're making 10% annually on the company that you're working on full-time to keep in business, well, you should have bought a mutual fund.

Customer Focus

On the other half you’ll find [me] representing people building companies with a different set of investors: paying customers. -- Jason Fried
This is a great example of how Jason writes--- he says something that sounds pithy and quippy, but that is logically nonsensical or misleading. In this case, he is implying that being self-funded somehow makes you more customer-focused. It's true that some businesses treat their customers like shit, and that's just got nothing to do with how they are funded--- if anything it's the companies who can afford to invest up front in good customer service and good products that are more likely to be good to their customers than the penny-pinchers. Step the fuck off, Jason.
My First Onion Article
Deborah Jacobson, columnist

A day without

By Deborah Jacobson

I read in the paper last week that there was going to be a nation-wide strike of immigrant workers, to show the United States what a day without immigrants might be like.

Honestly, I was all for it--- as a liberal, I believe in acceptance, and people need to realize that as Americans we should accept and help the lesser peoples of the world, even if they are Mexicans and Orientals. Those people need jobs, and more importantly they need access to positive role models like the white Americans they serve every day.

Sure, it would be nice if they weren't overrunning the place the way that they have been recently--- there are just so many of them, they can't possibly all have been literate enough to apply for visas. And they can't possibly all have jobs, either. Especially those Mexicans down on the corner--- I can tell that they are just here for the crack dealing.

But that doesn't mean that they aren't helpful! I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have Maria to clean the house for me, or Nguyen taking care of the garden. Lord knows I couldn't afford to pay white people to do those jobs. And that's when it hit me: What if I'm going to be affected by the "day without immigrants"? Fortunately, Maria's day off was today anyway, and I don't think Nguyen can understand any language well enough to know about the strike.

But then I got to thinking about other things--- what about restaurants? What about gas stations? Judging from the slurry of Mexican gibberish coming from the kitchen at Cafe Fino where I like to have lunch, surely there are immigrants in there that might strike? I started getting worried. But by three o'clock, I had forgotten all about it. Lunch was open, just like normal, as was the gas station (which had a credit card reader at the pump, so I didn't even see if there was anyone inside.) Of course my bank was unaffected when I went to cash a check--- you know how bad foreigners are with money.

By dinner time I was actually going out of my way to try to experience the strike--- by going to the grocery store. But Whole Foods was just as bustling as ever, with their delightful staff and healthy food. Come to think of it, I guess they don't really have many immigrants there--- some things are just too important to run sloppily.

So as the day winds down, I must shake my head in disappointment. After all the news press that this "day without immigrants" got, it turns out that the Mexicans and Orientals were too lazy to even strike correctly.

Deborah Jacobson writes lifestyle columns for a variety of newspapers from her home in Palo Alto, California. Would you like to send Deborah a question, suggestion, or comment? You can direct all of your mail to debjacobson@paloaltoherald.com

Working for JotSpot is the first time in over a decade that my paychecks are handled by something other than ADP. (JotSpot's financial system has a name: Sylvia.) If only ADP had skimmed a buck off of every paycheck, that would have been some good money.

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