Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Suiting up

I named this blog (and my tech-focused twitter account) GeekInASuit because I had spent a good chunk of my career in the financial industry doing technical architecture, and other technical consulting, and was the person who could talk to the nerds and the suits.  I wore a suit, and so signaled in a way that finance folks would talk to me, but also had earrings, long-hair, and otherwise "signaled" that I wasn't just a suit.   It was a great ride, and it was a lovely role, being the cultural translator, often gleaning important insights that helped clarify project details that could have been miscommunicated.  I relished that part of my career.

Then I took a job at Google, and everything changed. My role was decidedly technical, but all my customers were also technical.  I lost the primary purpose of geekinasuit, and even more, Googler culture really venerates the geek, not so much the suit.  To be honest, I kind of got shamed out of the suit. Lots of social pressure was applied, as well as a nearly endless supply of t-shirts - I swear, 20% of my compensation, by weight, was t-shirt.  So I relented, and spent most of a decade wearing jeans and t-shirts, usually with nerdy slogans or fan-service.  While in one sense, it didn't matter, I had come to like dressing up a bit.  I enjoyed taking a bit of time for self-care and grooming beyond simple standard hygiene.  So I was sadder than I realized, when I finally accepted it, and stopped upgrading my wardrobe as jackets and shoes and pants succumbed to wear and tear (and got a little tight, I admit).  It was with sadness a couple of months ago that I realized that my last suit was actually no longer going to fit me. The lining was worn out, and the wedding I was preparing to fly to would require actually buying a new suit.  I had let things go that far.

That wedding coincided with my departure from Google/YouTube. I left for a variety of reasons, moral, financial, emotional - I left with some sadness and wistfulness, but also with a sense of maybe getting back to myself.  I had gone down a deep hole in Google, lost a lot of professional contacts, reduced to only Google's technology stack. I mitigated it with doing a lot of my work in open-source, but it certainly wasn't a life I had led before, connecting with colleagues at conferences, serving customers more directly, and working with the technologies most of the industry uses.  But also... I stopped appreciating having my identity swallowed by the behemoth that Google had become.  Don't get me wrong - there are lots of good people and ideas and challenges at Google. I did work there that I'm very proud of (the Dagger and Truth frameworks, for example) but it also took me over, in many ways.  So I left, to join Square, and help in their mission of economic empowerment (by helping them scale up their development).

And I suited up.  I decided to restore at least that, even if just as a symbol to myself, to be better, to push myself, to care for myself, as superficial as clothing and appearance are.  So far, I've been suited-up 95% of the days I've been in the office, and it feels really good.  It's a state-change in my brain, segmenting a work mode from other modes, and it oddly helps me stay focused (pretty necessary in the open-office wasteland that characterizes basically every tech company for some reason).

I am, once again, a geek in a suit.  And I love it.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

WTF does "vend" mean? A terminological journey with no clear ending.

So there I was, in the middle of a code review, adding a method which (in the language of dependency-injection) "provided" a value into a managed object graph with a different key, in advance of a migration.  Doesn't matter why.  But the word "provided" is so frequent that I went with a different word that (in my brain) seemed to mean the same thing: vend.

Now, the root of this little language odyssey is simply that I hate repeating words unnecessarily.  If you use dependency-injection, the word Provider is vastly overused thanks to Guice's Provider<T> interface, the JSR-330 which standardized it, and it's baby brother Dagger and other frameworks which adopted the standard terminology (Spring, J2EE, Tapestry, etc.)

Since the API involved was a method annotated with @Provides and the method was called provideBlah() (real method name changed to protect the innocent), and I just wanted some variety in my life. So I described the change this way:
Vends a [redacted] into the dagger graph, in advance of an API change where [redacted] will consume that in place of [redacted].  Part of a migration to make [redacted] require fewer assumptions (and fewer build deps) of its consumers.
Could have been "supplies" but I didn't want to imply the Supplier<T> interface, which is a thing.  I went with "to vend".

In that context, I got a drive-by comment.

3:24 PM, Nov 16
What does "Vend" mean in the context of this change?

I was doing a cleanup using some of our awesome google-made bulk refactoring tools (notably Rosie), so this was one of those "dammit, why can't you just approve my change and let me get on with my life moments."

At first, I just went ahead and answered:

3:31 PM, Nov 16
> What does "Vend" mean in the context of this change?
Provide into the graph.

Not to be disuaded, "someuser" pressed on:

3:56 PM, Nov 16
Normally, "vend" means to sell ...

Ok... gonna try again to avoid the digression and nerd-sniping...

3:59 PM, Nov 16
Vend also implies supplying, and I was trying not to overload the term "provide" because in this context, "provide and bind" are both apt terms. Regardless, I've updated the description.
And vend only means sell in a societal context of capitalist voluntary exchange. I can't imagine it would mean sell in the context of an API. :)

This last paragraph was a total indulgence on my part, and the result of my having mainlined (liked, literally injected into my arm) econ textbooks and treatises for the last few years.  And obviously my big mistake in the effort to avoid being nerd-sniped.

Not to be so easily dismissed... "someuser" decided to call me out.

6:17 PM, Nov 16
I agree that "vend" implies supplying something, but I have only seen it in the context of a sale. With all due respect, can you point to a definition of vend that means to supply or provide, that is not in a "societal context of capitalist voluntary exchange"? (I'm actually really curious, as in, I quite often read etymologies of words. :-) )
> I can't imagine it would mean sell in the context of an API.
That's why I was confused :-)
Thanks for changing the description though :-)

Oh, it's on like the break of dawn, now.

I started looking. I couldn't find definitional resources (but I knew this was a particular inflection of use in the context of computer software and API design.

I started with a web-search of the terms: "api which vends a type" just for starters. I was not disappointed. Nine relevant examples in the first three pages.

Then I got philosophical, noticing that the code examples in which APIs which were described to "vend" things seemed to always be in Objective-C or Java sources. I started to think back, way into the early days of my career, steeped as they were in NeXTSTEP, and wondered whether there was a connection.

Here is what I replied.


9:29 AM
No, but I can find examples of its usage in tech, from which I apparently have picked it up over a couple of decades:
Some of these you have to ctrl-f/cmd-f and search for "vend" as they're not in the description but in comments. Also, in some cases it is synonymous with "supplies" (as in via the return type) and in other cases with "offers" in the sense of exposing an API):
(sourced from the first few pages of the google query "api which vends a type")
I have a hypothesis: This language originated in the NeXTSTEP community (of which I was a part), and entered into the MacOS/iOS community lexicon from that source, and also into the Java community by way of a lot of NeXTSTEP folks joining Sun and related Java-oriented enterprises (at one point Javasoft was 25% populated by former Lighthouse Design people, of which I was one). So I suspect I picked it up early, but it is a very uncommon (as I find out in researching it) usage... but not purely in my head. :)
Small addendum... a straw poll of my team which includes iOS developers as well as android developers suggests that it is vastly less common than I would have imagined from my own biases. That doesn't discount the above links but provides a bit of a ratio, a denominator for the numerator of anecdotes I cited above. Seems like a fringe usage, and sadly, provides no insight into from whence this minority usage actually derives.

How common is this in use behind the walls of corporate secrecy? Doing an internal code-search I see a handful of examples with a cursory scan of initial results - all  in API docs with this usage of "supply".  It at least seems that I'm not entirely out of my mind, or at least others share my heterodox usage.

So now I'm damned curious. How did I pick this up?  I see these examples of the usage - is there a common source?  Did we all pick it up from one place, or did we independently start using it the same way?

If any of the three people left following this blog have a clue about this, I'd love to hear more insights.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Keep maven builds safe from "M.A.D. Gadget" vulnerability

Coming out of blogging retirement to point at a rather big issue, and to contribute to solving it a bit.

Per this blog article from Nov 2015 there is a rather large security vulnerability observed within the apache commons-collections library versions 3.0, 3.1, 3.2, 3.2.1, and 4.0. In the spirit of the fact that vulnerable classes are called "gadgets", a colleague of mine referred to this as the M.A.D. Gadgets bug. In essence, classes which reference Apache commons' vulnerable versions and perform serialization can effectively turn the entire JVM into a remotely exploitable exec() function (metaphorically speaking).

While people are busy swapping out vulnerable versions for newer ones, the way dependency graphs work in automated dependency management systems like maven, ivy, gradle, etc, is that a project might be obtaining vulnerable versions from a transitive dependency. That's bad bad bad. So, apart from updating deps, it's important to guard against a recurrence, and you can do that, at least in maven, via the maven-enforcer-plugin.

I threw together this github gist with an example configuration that can ban this dep from your deps graph, including (most importantly) inclusions via transitive dependencies that you didn't even know you had. Here is the gist's content (I'll try to keep both updated if I change them).

  <!-- ... -->  

So... fix your projects... but also make them better. Throw this into your project's parent pom, and then it will give you a build-breaking knowledge of whether you're vulnerable, and you can update your deps or use dependency exclusions to prune out any found occurrences you get from your upstream.

Edited to include all affected versions, and re-published from my original article in March, because's url management is frustrating.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Wow, I suck at blogging.

I just discovered, because of a bug filed on the Guice project, that my blog DNS settings were pointing at a domain parking page. Whoops! When I made the transition from Canadia to Amurika this year I totally neglected to fix up some domain settings. My bad.

But it sort of highlights that I don't have a good discipline around blogging. Examining this, I see about ten draft posts in my blogger account, that I never got around to posting, and which are now sort of obsolete and irrelevant. I'm not so narcissistic to think that everyone cares what I have to say but I provide zero value by never writing at all. :( So, sorry for that. I look with irony at my post of a few years ago stating that "I'm totally gonna blog again, now, promise!" Apparently not.

Life has been crazy - being at Google is a whirlwind. It's exciting, stressful, but also charming. You get very much "dug in" in certain ways, but most of those ways aren't awful - they just occupy your attention.

What IS wonderful is that I've been able to work on primarily open-sourced projects, being a part of the the java core-libraries team. This has meant working on the google core libraries offering Guava, dependency-injection frameworks such as Guice, and Dagger, as well as a host of smaller projects such as Auto (let robots write it!) and contributing to my little testing/proposition framework, Truth. Seeing these things evolve, sometimes in response to each other, has been wonderful. And I get paid to do it! Why? Not because Google is purely altruistic, though Googlers seem to have a really strong bent towards contributing back. But these things really help Google develop world-class software at-scale.

I was in a little internal un-conference of core-librarians of the various supported languages, and my boss pointed out that the fact that we HAVE core libraries and tooling efforts like this is a major contributor to Google's competitiveness and capability. We fund people to figure out what patterns people use and what code developers re-write on every project and creating hardened, efficient, common implementations/APIs/frameworks out of them, where appropriate. We don't try to re-use everything, but we dig and see where we can "maximize the productivity of labour" (to borrow from the economists) of our colleagues by reducing their coding and testing burden to focus on the things that make their application unique from others. In short, we invest in future production, in future capacity for our developers, both in quality and velocity.

Often, we aren't writing tons of code to do it, but rather examining patterns and tweaking, deprecating certain approaches in favor of others, and using the rather stunning tooling we've evolved (blogged about elsewhere) and tools we've open-sourced, to migrate our entire code-base from deprecated forms to new ones. But we also consider new approaches, libraries, and frameworks, both developed internally and externally. It's actually remarkable (to me) that a company this big can change direction so quickly, and adapt to new realities so quickly. The joke among my team is that we're starting to be less a core-libraries team, and more of a javac-enhancement team, since we are also doing a lot of building in static analysis and checks (thanks error-prone folks) into our tooling to prevent error at compile time as we are building new frameworks and tools.

While we've had a few false starts here and there, we are increasingly engaging in joint projects and accepting contributions into the codebase from external parties who benefit from the open-source work as well, which is gratifying. Nothing quite so happy as win-win exchanges.

All told, it's been a couple of years of full engagement, and not a lot of time to do tech blogging. But I'll give it another go, even if it's just to do updates like this from time to time. It's the best job I've had to date, and I am thrilled to be in contact with such high-quality professionals as I am on a daily basis.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Five years out, and still stable. (Or how I installed new git on old unix)

So, I have an OpenBSD 3.9 machine. It's circa 2006 since I last updated it. Lame, I know, but it's stable, doesn't really do much, has few problems and security holes, and runs nearly no services. But I store some files on it and have been using SVN to manage them. I wanted to start using Git, since I use it more consistently these days. I thought about Mercurial, but - meh - I've stopped fighting religious wars, even with myself.

Problem is - Git, even an old 1.4 version, doesn't exist in the ports tree of OpenBSD until 2007. So, what am I to do? I could update my copy of OpenBSD - an option. A good one that, in the long run, I really should do, even just for security fixes. I could bump the ports tree up a couple of versions until the git port exists, and then try to build it and hope the toolchain works. There are a lot of moving parts to the ports infrastructure, and they evolve between releases of OpenBSD. I played with that for a minute, and in the end, decided to go for broke, and do the naive thing that shouldn't work.

I un-tarred the latest Git 1.7 that's part of the latest OpenBSD release, into /usr/local, deleted the +DESC and +COMMENT files, and basically ran it to see what broke.

Well... it couldn't link to - fair, since I only had So I symbolically linked it. Did the same for libcrypto and libiconv. Seriously. Just symlinked them, hoping no symbols were used by git that had been added or changed in more recent versions.

Worked like a charm.

OpenBSD, and the various core libraries have been stable enough that half-again as many version bumps in libc haven't changed it enough that git needed it - likewise libcrypto. Kudos! I know I lucked out, but still - impressive.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Singleton and Request scope considered harmful? No! Scopelessness considered harmful.

I watched an e-mail thread discuss how Singleton and Request scope in Guice were harmful, because Singletons can only depend on Singletons (without magic) and that Request Scoped items can only depend on Request Scoped and Singletons... followed by the idea that because "we're stateless" with minimal global state, so we shouldn't need global things.  And because it's cheap to build things so we can build them all the time.

I feel that this perspective comes from a lot of fighting with scopes and scoping problems and probably is an honest attempt at resolving them - if you're stateless, then scope IS somewhat irrelevant... but it also turns out that if you're not stateless (by accident) and you go scope-less, then you have state accidentally scattered all around your object graph without realizing you've copied it.  Leave aside entirely that you're going to thrash garbage collection because your dependencies are stored in ivars which will go on the heap...

So what should happen here?

Other than Guice, all other dependency-injection containers of any substantial distribution use "Singleton" as the default scope, not "scopeless" (or what spring calls prototype scope).  This is because Singleton is actually cleaner and easier to understand.  There is one copy of this in the system... so it needs to either be stateless or carefully guard its state for multi-threaded access.  But also the lifecycle is clearer - app starts up, component starts up, component shuts down, app shuts down.  Scopeless (Guice "default" scope) actually have an arbitrary lifecycle based on who asks for them.  

If you have Foo -> Bar (where ->  means depends-on), and Foo is any real scope (singleton, session, request, per-thread, whatever), but Bar is scopeless (meaning a new one is created on every demand), then Bar's lifecycle is different if Foo depends on it than if Bash depends on it because it attaches to the lifecycle (lifetime... or scope, if you will <ahem>) of the dependent component.

This is freaky because it means it's sort of indeterminate until used (I call it the Heisenberg scope).  And each time it's used it could be different.

Again, if it's stateless, no problem... but if it's stateless, Singleton is no problem... and cleaner... because you'll uncover scoping problems more quickly with more restrictive scope policies.  But moving everything to no-scope means no clear lifecycle... or rather, whatever lifecycle and lifetime you happen to have in whatever calls it. 

I think people look at scope as "magical" - especially in the Guice community. I don't see this kind of thrash in Picocontainer, Tapestry-IOC, or Spring user communities.  And I think it's because "prototype" scope (scopeless) is seen as a quasi-factory behaviour, not a dependency/collaborator injection behaviour.  The two are subtly different, and I think the distinction is lost in the Guice user community.  I have ideas as to why this distinction arose between the Guice community's thinking and others', but I'll leave that for another post.  

The point is, Scope implies a validity within a lifetime, and if something is stateless, there's no reason it shouldn't be the one and only copy with a lifetime of the entire application's lifetime. I've long posited that "games with scopes" is a dangerous thing in dependency injection, but this is solving the problem by dropping a 16 ton weight on your own head.  It uses the most magical quasi-scope to create a fan of instances where a very small set of collaborators are required.  

I'm getting close to believing that Fowler, Martin, and others were wrong, and that Dependency Injection (heck, occasionally O-O) are just too dangerous. Seriously.  I can't imagine not using them, personally, but I find so many teams and projects where they just think about the problem so unhelpfully and then their clean-up efforts are worse than the mess they created. <sigh>


Thursday, 11 February 2010

Shu-Ha-Ri not harmful... it's misunderstood and mis-applied.

Rachel Davies, for whom I have incredible respect, posted this post called "Shu-Ha-Ri considered harmful". In it she points out that the basic notion of Shu-Ha-Ri from Aikido of graduated styles of learning - the novice, the advanced student, the master should learn in different ways, the novice learning more by rote, and more importantly, from a single master, the advanced student trying the techniques in varying ways and comparing styles, then the master innovating new combinations and techniques. Cockburn, often cited in the Agile community somewhat gets this, but his adaptation varies from this concept just a bit.

Rachel has an important critique, which I accept. She points out that agile boot-camps and other styles of training for organizations and groups and teams in Agile practices often cite Shu-Ha-Ri, and require that teams do "just the scrum by the book" (or whichever method is to be used), at least initially. Then, as they master these techniques as they are put forth, they can adapt. She, however, sees a disrespect for the unique circumstance of the student in this. In her words, "I'm uncomfortable with approaches that force students to follow agile practices without questioning." I agree. But this is not what Shu-Ha-Ri implies. Shu should always include questioning... but the student should test the technique as presented, and part of the discovery is finding out its limits - how it works, and how it does not. But it's an experiment. It requires a control... and the control is the basic form, attempted as instructed, to get a baseline. Teaching any technique, physical or mental has a similarity in that respect. Is the metaphor limited - yes, and I argue that it is the agile-boot-camp folks who often mis-apply the martial arts concept.

I understand the concern she raises, especially the respect for context and unique character of the teams and the flexible nature of knowledge work... but this betrays a misunderstanding, or mis-application of Shu-Ha-Ri. Shu doesn't imply that the students are fungible. Technique is still taught in the context of the student (team). Sutherland has it wrong when he days "only when you have mastered the basic practices are you allowed to improvise." In Aikido, the students who are in a "Shu" mode are not improvising with "different" techniques, but they are applying them in different situations, and seeing how they fit. One adapts HOW to do the technique for a tall person, for a short person, a heavy person, and advanced Aikidoka, an unranked novice, etc. Likewise with Scrum, you apply the technique, but the coach helps the team use the technique in context. That's Shu. Ha then is where a team combines the techniques in unique ways. They may remove a practice, or replace it and see how that fits. Ri (mastery), they are inventing new techniques, or altering the basic forms in different ways. This is all quite reasonable, even in an agile coaching context.

In Aikido, especially, students practice the techniques in multiple contexts, so they can get a sense of the suppleness. Students are asked not to innovate initially, nor combine techniques before they have at least mastered the basic technique itself - so they're not thinking through each step of a move while they're doing it - they "get" it. They they can move closer to innovation.

Rachel's post, while understandably compassionate, confuses two separate things... models of instruction, training, and practice with notions of respect, oppression, and dominance. Telling a student to try the basic move and get it better before expanding isn't disrespectful, it's understanding the learning models of the student. In practice, it is quite possible for a student to grok the technique more quickly, and if Sensei observes this, he will show the student something slightly more advanced, and have him practice this. Or, Sensei may see the student struggling to apply the move, and may change the context to let the student appreciate what's happening. The point of Shu-Ha-Ri is, as Rachel points out, to ensure that one doesn't miss the basics while playing with the innovative and the expansive. If it's being used to hold a student back, or somehow contains a disrespect for the student - that's a failing of the teacher (coach). Student-sensei relationships are adaptive to the needs of the student, else they become a mere posture of dominance and submission, without the deeper communication that's supposed to occur within a relationship of trust.

I feel Rachel is (unintentionally and understandably) mischaracterizing Aikido and Shu-Ha-Ri based on mis-perceptions prevalent in the community on how its concepts can be applied. Aikido is taught in many forms, but Agile is not looser, nor is Aikido tighter a discipline. Aikido is, in any good Dojo, taught with great sensitivity to the needs, the capacities and readiness of the student. It is taught to groups, individually - that is to say, it is demonstrated to the group, then practiced in pairs, with Sensei observing, correcting... coaching. If anything, rolling Agile out in a large organization, and taking large groups through paces in boot-camps which do one-size-fits-all is UNLIKE Aikido training.

Bootcamps fail to do Shu-Ha-Ri if they insist that all steps of Shu are learned at equal pace by all learners. This is not Shu-Ha-Ri being harmful - this is Shu-Ha-Ri being ignored.