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Comment: So few experts... (Score 4, Insightful) 220

by Tomster (#49398529) Attached to: How would you rate your programming skills?

In my experience nearly all of the people who self-rate as an expert are really intermediate or maybe advanced.

I think the main reason for the gap is most programmers don't get the opportunity to work closely with a real expert/master. They judge themselves based on the apparent skillset of their current and prior co-workers, and once you have a few years of experience it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that since everyone else around you is about equal to you or less experienced, you must be an expert.

tl;dr, if you think you're an expert you probably need more exposure to better programmers.

Comment: Communicating with people (Score 1) 473

by Tomster (#45167659) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What Are the Hardest Things Programmers Have To Do?

People are the best part of my job...and the worst. Technical challenges can be a real PITA but they don't even come close to comparing to the difficulty of people challenges. And of those challenges, communicating clearly with people is perhaps the most difficult part of my job on a daily basis. (The second is dealing with "problem people", who have some kind of personality issue that makes them difficult to work with.)

How many times have you heard someone start a sentence with "I thought what you meant was..." or "I thought you knew..." or something similar. Or said the same yourself. Communication is hard, and if you think otherwise you probably don't realize how many assumptions are being made on both sides when you talk to people.

The other hardest thing is getting a story (requirement) to "done done". Writing unit tests and getting them to pass is easy. The hard part is making sure I update the design document, project wiki, and deployment doc; that I check the license agreement for the library/framework I just downloaded; that I don't have SQL injection problems; that I've added system tests; .... Of course having a checklist helps.

Comment: It's great to be old (Score 2) 365

by Tomster (#43585945) Attached to: Can Older Software Developers Still Learn New Tricks?

When I was younger (twenties and early thirties[1]) I had to work hard to learn something new, because quite often there were fundamental concepts, tools, or processes that were completely new to me. Nowadays when I learn something new, there's usually something pretty similar I already know, and while some of the practices will change (hopefully for the better) the basic ideas are largely unchanged. JSON? Yeah, a lot like XML or HTML, oriented towards JavaScript. Git? Take all your regular VCS concepts and add the concept of a complete repository on every developer's box. NoSQL? Think hashtables...really, really big hashtables. Virtualized OSs? Kind of like multi-tasking -- only your tasks are operating systems instead of applications.[2]

All four of those technologies have become prevalent within the past few years, and it took me no more than a couple weeks to grasp the fundamentals of each and start being productive. Sure, I spent time Googling and reading documentation, but I also didn't write code that would be a great candidate for the DailyWTF.

So yeah, I love being an old fart in his 40s. You can hire that twenty-something kid for half my salary, and he might put in more hours (most weeks I top out at around 45), but I can tell you I'm way more productive today than I was in my 20s. And I can learn those "new tricks" just as well or better today.


[1] That's when I was in my 20s and 30s, not during the 1920s and 1930s. Now get off my lawn dammit!

[2] Yes, those are huge over-simplifications, to the point they kind of make me cringe, but the point is these new technologies all have parallels to something older.

Comment: Just walk (Score 4, Informative) 635

by Tomster (#43173705) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: How Do You Stay Fit At Work?

First -- having a standing desk is awesome, and you're probably doing more for yourself just with that than you could with an exercise program while still sitting 8+ hours a day.

Second -- take a break a few times a day and go for a brisk walk. Ten or fifteen minutes of walking will clear your head, helping your concentration for the next couple hours of work, and get your heart rate up a little.

Third -- cut out the crap and start eating healthy.

Fourth -- don't buy into the "you need to get motivated" crap. If getting motivated worked, there wouldn't be such a huge industry in motivational books/conferences/blogs. Motivation will last a week or two, but when that initial enthusiasm wears off willpower and discipline have to be there to take over long enough to establish new habits. For most people that takes about a month.

Fifth -- lead a balanced, healthy life. That's not always possible, but when something is out of whack in your life there are going to be consequences, so take care of yourself -- not just physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.


Comment: Re:Cool! (Score 1) 178

by Tomster (#42989063) Attached to: France Plans 20-Billion Euro National Broadband Plan

Politicians and bureaucrats throwing money at a perceived problem or personal desire does not make for a well-run economy. Government spending distorts pricing and profit/loss signals for products and services. As a more egregious example, consider Mayor Bloomberg's recent proposal to install thousands of electronic charging stations in New York. Where is the need for them? Nonexistent. Or try the subsidies to the sugar growers. I could go on forever....

Then look at all the waste endemic to government spending. Where does that come from? Government has no competition and it has a captive "customer base" which provides funding through taxes which are required by law to be payed. There is consequently no significant pressure to reduce costs or be more efficient because the government can always raise taxes and its "customers" have nowhere else to go for the services government provides. Oh sure there is a lot of drama surrounding this, especially at the Federal level. Whenever there is some (perceived) threat of spending "cuts" the government "shuts down" by inflicting the maximum amount of discomfort on citizens. Naturally there is a hue and cry from the affected populace and they suddenly decide that maybe a tax increase is a good idea after all.

A recession is caused when -- across the economy in general -- prices are higher than what people are willing to pay for them. One reason for this is a lack of confidence; people (and businesses) save more and spend less when they feel uncertain about the future. Recessions aren't a bad thing; they are a normal part of a healthy economy. Recessions allow for a re-allocation of investment in more profitable areas.

Prior to the government's active management of the economy, the U.S. experienced recessions on a regular basis. No government spending was needed to recover; market forces were sufficient. Government "investment" and other interference in the economy just creates market distortions and hinders necessary corrections in the economy.

Comment: Poor design, untestable codebase (Score 1) 457

by Tomster (#42563247) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What Practices Impede Developers' Productivity?

Some good comments have already been made; a hearty "me too" to bad requirements, meetings and other time wasters, interruptions, and bad prioritization of tasks/stories.

My contributions to the list are poor design and untestable codebase.

Poor design makes it difficult to understand what the code is doing and change it. Hidden side effects, a nightmare of dependencies, poorly named classes/methods/fields, badly thought out abstractions, copy-and-paste coding, the list goes on. When the design is bad, it will take me about three or four times longer to implement a feature or fix a bug. When it's complete crap, that multiplier probably doubles.

An untestable codebase means the only way to see if my changes are good is to build, deploy and manually test the application. Maybe that's only 30 seconds, although it's more likely to be measured in minutes. Even if it's only 30 seconds, that's about 28 seconds longer than it takes to run a unit test. Give me unit tests, or give me death by a thousand wasted minutes.


Comment: Re:Shouldn't the Moon be off limits? (Score 1) 269

by Tomster (#42340597) Attached to: Property Rights In Space?

...why mess with a body that so affects our world? Umm, look around -- we've been messing with our own planet pretty seriously for a century or so now. Anything we do to the Moon will have minor-to-none effects on the Earth for long enough that by the time there is any noticeable impact to the Earth it won't be a problem for us.

As for accidentally putting an asteroid into the Earth, we understand calculation of trajectories well enough to prevent that sort of thing.

Comment: Similarity to the New World... (Score 3) 269

by Tomster (#42339999) Attached to: Property Rights In Space?

Property rights in space will likely be determined by who gets there first, and who can muscle away the competition, either by military or political means.

Personally, I'm terribly excited about the upcoming prospects for things like asteroid mining and permanent settled colonies on the Moon and Mars (as a couple good early candidates). It looks like we are on the cusp of an explosion in private commercial space flight, exploration, and development. And with China getting into the game, we may have another space race.

Comment: Re:Do we need a new Mendeleev? (Score 4, Funny) 238

by Tomster (#42110753) Attached to: Large Hadron Collider May Have Produced New Matter

To make significant advances with a successor hadron accelerator we'd be talking about building something at least several times larger and the obstacles are enormous... Staggering costs, the irradiation of the inner detectors, data processing, construction times stretching into multiple decades. Not to mention that the LHC consumed most of the world's supply of helium for years on end.

Well we'd best get started then. I can contribute $100 or so and will pick up some helium balloons from the party store. Anyone else in?

Comment: Re:$2 Billion in electioneering (Score 1) 503

by Tomster (#41812837) Attached to: Favorite U.S. Political Party

Medical trauma analogies are old but effective. The "US economy" is an overweight patient who hasn't been exercising or eating healthy. He has diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease from his lifestyle. His doctors have him on a cocktail of drugs, and every time he goes in for a checkup they increase the dosage or give him a new medication. But they tell him he's "doing better" every time he comes in.


Comment: Thank you Obama, Bernanke, congress, etc. (Score 1, Flamebait) 342

by Tomster (#41649167) Attached to: As Gas Prices Soar So Does City Biking

Over the past 40+ years, in a slow and ongoing process, your fiscal and monetary policies have been destroying our buying power, your crony capitalism has bailed out the too-big-to-fail corporations and allowed the Big Industries/Corporations (finance, food, education, health, military, etc.) to influence the competitive landscape in their favor, your ever-increasing laws and regulations make it more and more expensive for companies to hire workers and raise their salaries/wages, and your social policies are enabling an increasing number of Americans to be non-productive members of society.

There are other contributors, but thanks to the above what we're experiencing, economically, is a slow death by a thousand cuts. I'm making a good bit more today than I was 20 years ago, yet my lifestyle is largely unchanged. The stuff I need to buy is a lot more expensive today than it was then (with the exception of housing; I made a couple of good decisions there). Some of my friends aren't so fortunate; they've seen their lifestyles decline.

But don't take my word for it; do your own research. Like me, you'll likely be surprised, shocked, and dismayed at what you find.


Comment: Re:Best way to watch TV (Score 4, Insightful) 479

by Tomster (#40466291) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Best Way To Watch TV In 2012?

Oh, come on. Look at what the other networks did with the Zimmerman/Martin case just for one example. Then there was the "exploding truck" case from a while back. And then....

They are all biased and ratings-driven crap. Fox News appears to look worse to most people just because it is the only MSM voice that is right-wing instead of left-wing. It's a crowd of people on one side hollering "blue", one guy over there hollering "red". Who stands out?


Comment: Re:God's experiment in free will (Score 1) 1226

by Tomster (#40145807) Attached to: Debate Over Evolution Will Soon Be History, Says Leakey

Anyone can cherry-pick Bible verses to "prove" their position is right. What's harder to do is to understand the Bible as a whole, and what a verse means in context.

Exodus and Leviticus are part of the Old Testament; and, specifically, concern themselves with God's laws for the Israelites. Christians today (since Christ's time, actually) are under a new covenant which we call the New Testament. The Old Testament is no longer applicable as law.

The sooner the entire world can start reading the Bible and understanding what God wants us to hear, the better.


Comment: It's a joke (Score 1) 343

by Tomster (#38982371) Attached to: Three Unexpected Data Points Describe Elementary School Quality

I live in one of the best school districts in the nation, in an affluent suburb. The five years of schooling my child has had so far could easily have been condensed into 2 years. Repetition (which I realize is needed to some extent for memorization and skill to develop) and preparation for standardized tests takes up most of the time. Add in the fact that standards for passing are ridiculously low. Add in the political correctness (don't get me started on the focus on "environmentalism" and being "eco-friendly"). I can only imagine what it would be like if we lived in an "average" area.

I'm tired of this crap. I'll be supplementing my child's public school education starting this summer. My hope is for him to be able to graduate high school as a sophomore. If you think that's unreasonable or that I'm a slave driver, you haven't paid much attention to how easy school is. And my child is one of the smart ones.

Final note -- I have nothing but praise for teachers and others in school who do their best to encourage, motivate and teach their students while putting up with the bureaucracy and system that straitjackets them.

"It's ten o'clock... Do you know where your AI programs are?" -- Peter Oakley