I learned about difftastic today, which aims to show differences between files while being aware of the underlying programming language used in said files (if any).

Structured diff output with difftastic on a change in Mailhog
Structured diff output with difftastic on a change in Mailhog

It’s basically magic when it works!

I generally like the built-in diff in the JetBrains suite of IDEs. The one I use these days is GoLand, but I believe they all support adding an external diff tool. Since difftastic is a console app, here’s what I had to do on my Mac:

  1. brew install difftastic # install the tool
  2. Install ttab using their brew instructions. This allows GoLand to launch a new tab in iTerm and run the difft command there. Otherwise, using the External Diff Tool in Goland would appear to do absolutely nothing, as the output of the tool isn’t displayed natively.
  3. Configure the external diff tool using the instructions for GoLand.
    1. Program path: ttab
    2. Tool name: Difftastic (but can be anything you like)
    3. Argument pattern: -a iTerm2 difft %1 %2 %3
      1. The “-a iTerm2” is to ensure that iTerm is used instead of the default Terminal app.

Now you can click this little button in the standard GoLand diff view to open up the structural diff if needed:

Screenshot of GoLand's diff viewer with a highlight around the external diff tool button

Ideally the diff would be integrated into GoLand, but I don’t mind it being an extra click away, since difftastic doesn’t work reliably in many situations (particularly large additions or refactorings).

Landscape from Death Stranding

🌐 General

A somewhat slow week on personal projects and learning as more of my time has been dedicated to my full-time job, which is a frequent-enough occurrence that I probably won’t mention it here again.

📦 Death Stranding

Maybe it’s the cool overcast couple of days we’ve had here, which mirrors the game’s mood, but I’ve been really enjoying playing Death Stranding this week. I was initially repulsed by its nonsensical premise, convoluted plot, and terrible on-the-nose naming for everything and everyone. I’m really glad I gave it a shot after all, because this game’s got soul.

Walking across its lonely, grey landscapes gives me that same “wistful explorer” feeling that I got from the original Mass Effect UNC missions. It’s just you and the environment for extended periods of time—a meditative experience. It’s balanced really well with its tightly integrated multiplayer component, which brings other players’ creations into my world. It’s easy and free to provide positive acknowledgement of their contributions and to help each other complete missions or build structures. All this supports the theme of connection and cooperation, which despite the dystopian backdrop puts this game squarely into “optimistic scifi” category for me. It feels good to play it.

The game also has a lot of what I consider respect for the player:

  • Apart from the Save function being a bit buried, menus are quick to load and navigate. Everything you need to use quickly has shortcuts. Surprisingly many games get this wrong. I remember being annoyed with Witcher 3’s menu system, which was slow to load but had to be opened frequently even during combat.
  • Avoiding repetitive encounters. Since the main game loop is ferrying packages back and forth between points on the map, it could be frustrating to constantly be running into the same enemy encounters, but Death Stranding avoids this trap. Passing through a field of BTs seems to happen only on the initial approach to a mission waypoint. I remember completing a mission like that, then getting another mission to navigate back through the same area and bracing for the inevitable repeat of the same encounter, but feeling pleasantly surprised at its absence.
  • Inventory management can be fun for some, but there’s a button to just “do it for me”, which I appreciate.
  • Same with balancing while moving on foot. It’s a neat mechanic that could be rewarding to master, but sometimes I just don’t want to worry about it, and the game provides an easy way to do that (hold L2+R2).
  • Saving defaults for deliveries and photo mode settings.

… and many others. All these little touches make what could be a boring walking simulator an experience that stays interesting and rewarding. I’ve had a hard time putting this game down!

Death Stranding screenshot of a woodsy area.
Approaching Wind Farm in Death Stranding

✨ Server-Driven UIs

Did a little bit of reading about these, trying to understand why as an industry we’re seemingly reinventing HTML+CSS+JavaScript. Some resources I found useful:

There’re many SDUI frameworks out there already:

I suspect the big tech companies that built their in-house SDUIs will open source them eventually, or another open source framework will be released separately, and there will be a convergence of sorts. It seems like a generic-enough problem.

Overall, I feel that Apple and Google are at least partially responsible for the thin->thick->thin client swings. They had an opportunity early on to take existing Web formats and make them work for their mobile OSs, but they chose to build custom platforms instead. The trifurcation of UIs was unnecessary. My hope is that someone figures out how to take HTML+CSS+JS and convert that into native components on mobile, so we could converge again on technologies that aren’t owned by big corps.

💠 Misc

  • 🏃🏻‍♂️ Ran 17k this week. It’s my longest distance yet. Proud of myself for slowly working up to this number while staying injury-free (*knocks on wood*).
  • 📸 Found another use case for Syncthing: using the PS App on my phone to synchronize screenshots with my laptop for easy uploading into posts like this one.
  • ✉️ Messing around with WordPress plugins for sending these posts as emails. I haven’t really shared this site or these posts too broadly yet, but I suspect any family/friends interested in reading them won’t be familiar with RSS/Atom.

Library hallway with several stacks on each side

Let’s try this.

I want to set a clear intention. I’ll write these for myself, expecting no one else to read them, knowing full well that someone might. What I want to get out of these:

  • Slow down time. I tend to fall into these routines, especially around middle of summer and winter when the outdoors feels downright hostile. Other times it’s when work is particularly stressful. Either way I get caught up in it and time seems to fly by. I don’t like that feeling.
  • Leave a trace for myself. I don’t have a great memory, and unless an event has been documented either visually (e.g. through photos) or in writing, it fades quickly.
  • Clarify. I definitely write to think. Even if I end up deleting or not posting, I’m hoping this practice will help sort things out in my head.
  • Practice writing. I don’t intend for these posts to be even remotely polished, but I do want to write clearly, in general. This here can serve as a scratchpad to try things.
  • Connect with others. Maybe. I don’t know how I feel about this yet, but perhaps these can fit a space between social media, which I quit, and conversations.

I’ve learned that putting pressure on myself never works, so I’m treating these as an experiment. I’m gonna let myself miss weeks or write very little, change the format, write in short form or poorly, and just generally do a terrible job. I also may decide to take these posts down or quit altogether. This is for me, not the reader.

I was inspired by Jamie Tanna’s week notes. I like how he keeps it simple, which I’m sure helps to make it a habit. Let’s see how it goes for me.


🌐 General

A bit of a transition period both professionally and personally. Letting go of my past self is both scary and liberating. The fear is always that I’ll slip back into old roles and habits.

🔃 Syncthing

This one’s more from the week prior, but I spent a bit of time setting up Syncthing between my laptop, phone, and NAS. I’ve discovered it some years back, but couldn’t really find a use case for it at the time. Now I have two:

  1. Some personal docs that I’d like to be able to access on the go, but also keep available on my laptop, while holding the source of truth on the NAS. These are things like insurance docs, vaccination records, etc.
  2. Screenshots that I take either on the laptop or phone. On the former, the Desktop folder is shared, which makes every screenshot automatically sync to the phone. This is convenient when needing to grab some info in a rush out the door. I’ve got Google Photos automatically syncing photos from the phone, so the reverse sync case is already covered.

One thing I’m missing is a way to notify me when there’re syncing issues, especially on the NAS. I changed some permissions there while doing something else and only realized that this broke syncing hours later when I opened Syncthing’s UI. I only did that because I had just installed it, so was curious how it’s running, but this isn’t something I’d want to remember to do regularly.

🏃🏻‍♂️ Fitness

I’ve accepted that if I want to retain—never mind improve—my running level I’m going to have to go early in the morning. It sounds pretty obvious when I write it out, but just in the past couple of months alone I’ve missed many opportunities to run outdoors because I woke up too late or simply wanted to get my workday started as early as possible, thinking “oh, I’ll just go later”. After 8am the temperatures rise really quickly and stay high late into the night, so practically the optimal window for a run is between 6-8am. It’s too dark before 6 and too hot after 8. I need some time after waking up to settle my stomach, which shrinks the window further.

Now, while I still aim for that sweet spot I will be going when it’s “too hot” and compensate by not pushing as hard or doing shorter distances. I did my longest run yet today (16.5k), starting at 10am. It was slow, and I stopped a few times in a shady spot, but it felt better than just not going altogether. Thankfully, fall is coming, which will allow for more flexibility.

🎮 Video games at the library

Who woulda thunk? I was pleased to discover that my local library allows borrowing (recent!) games for the Switch and PS5 for a week at a time. This is perfect! I’ve been wanting to try out several games that I’m not certain I’ll like, so paying any amount for them, even if used, feels like too much. Current list:

  • Monster Hunter: Rise. ❎ Only one I played so far. Too much like Breath of the Wild, which I didn’t enjoy.
  • Spirit of the North
  • Super Mario 3D World
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
  • Death Stranding

Other than that I bought and played through Signs of the Sojourner. For a game where all you do is talk it stressed me way out. It does a good job driving home the message that people grow apart, and that you can’t expect to see eye to eye if you lose touch for a long time. I explored way too far way too early and tried to talk to everyone, which meant that half way through the game I couldn’t match any cards with anyone anywhere! That in turn resulted in (probably) the worst possible outcome at the end. While it was frustrating I’ll probably give it another shot when I feel in a less rejection-sensitive space.

💠 Misc

  • Learning
    • Reading up on Server-Driven UIs. The tech pendulum swings back and forth, but every time the situation is not quite the same as the last. Conditions change gradually until a shift occurs. I’m curious how we got here.
  • Reading
    • The galaxy, and the ground within. I would read anything Becky Chambers writes. It’s the kind of sci-fi I wish we had in abundance. The starting point is respectful mutuality rather than psychopathic individualism. It shows that you can have an interesting story without domination, ambition, and abuse moving it forward.
  • Watched
    • First two episodes of The Sandman. Digging it so far.

Prometheus has this line in its docs for recording rules:

Recording and alerting rules exist in a rule group. Rules within a group are run sequentially at a regular interval, with the same evaluation time.

Recording Rules

I read that a while ago, but at the time it wasn’t clear why it mattered. It seemed that groups were mostly intended to give a collection of recording rules a name. It became clear recently when I tried to set up a recording rule in one group that was using a metric produced by a recording rule in another group.

The expression for the first recording rule was something like this:

(
  sum(rate(http:requests[5m]))
  -
  sum(rate(http:low_latency[5m]))
)
/
(
  sum(rate(http:requests[5m]))
)

The result:

Using a recording rule from another group

It’s showing a ratio of “slow” requests as a value from 0 to 1. Compare that graph to one that’s based on the raw metric, and not the pre-calculated one:

Using the raw metric

The expression is:

(
  sum(rate(http_requests_seconds_count{somelabel="filter"}[5m]))
  -
  sum(rate(http_requests_seconds_bucket{somelabel="filter", le="1"}[5m]))
)
/
(
  sum(rate(http_requests_seconds_count{somelabel="filter"}[5m]))
)

The metrics used here correspond to the pre-calculated ones above. That is, http:requests is http_requests_seconds_count{somelabel="filter"}, and http:low_latency is http_requests_seconds_bucket{somelabel="filter", le="1"}. The graphs are similar, but the one using raw metrics doesn’t have the strange sharp spikes and drops.

I’m not sure what’s going on here exactly, but based on the explanation from the docs it’s probably a race between the evaluation of the two groups resulting in inconsistent number of samples used for http:requests and http:low_latency. Maybe one has one less sample than the other at the time they’re evaluated for the first group’s expression, which I think could show up as spikes.

Whatever the cause the solution is simple: if one recording rule uses metrics produced by another make sure they’re in the same group.

I was trying to add this site to Indieweb ring last night and found that it couldn’t validate the presence of the previous/next links, even though they were clearly in the footer of every page. I cleared the WordPress and Cloudflare caches without success.

Since Indieweb ring runs on Glitch, which is a large public service, I suspected that maybe Cloudflare was blocking their traffic. Sure enough, checking my http access logs I couldn’t find any requests from Glitch, and switching nameservers to my web host resulted in a successful check:

Indieweb ring's status checker log showing two failed checks and one successful one

This was happening even with the “Bot Fight” option set to off, “Security Level” set to “Essentially Off” and a disabled “Browser Integrity Check” option.

[side note] I love that my autogenerated site identifier for Indieweb ring is a person worried about taking pictures and writing. Accurate.

I got an M1 mac at work recently and hit a strange issue trying to run the Goland debugger:

Error running '<my test>':
Debugging programs compiled with go version go1.17.8 darwin/amd64 is not supported. Use go sdk for darwin/arm64.

Wait, amd64? I had installed the arm64 go package after the switch to M1, so why did it think I was running on amd64?

Turns out I had used homebrew on my old Intel Mac to install and use a newer version of my shell (bash). Because amd64 homebrew installs amd64 binaries the shell itself was running under amd64 and any app it ran would think the CPU architecture was also amd64. Running arch in the shell confirmed my suspicion.

The solution was to switch to the Mac’s built-in bash shell, reinstall homebrew, reinstall bash, and set iTerm to use /opt/homebrew/bin/bash instead of the default /bin/bash . I followed these instructions for switching to arm64 homebrew and kept the old Intel homebrew around aliased to oldbrew as suggested to still have access to amd64-only apps.

In re-reading The Wrong Abstraction recently, I’ve realized that while we often talk about code being an artifact of production, it often functions more as a decision log.

In her post Sandi writes about how the Sunk Cost Fallacy plays into the hesitation we as developers feel when encountering perplexing abstractions. Part of the recommendation is to consider that

“It may have been right to begin with, but that day has passed.”

I think this is often how we think about organizational decisions. We make new ones all the time, and often they alter or completely reverse those that came before, even if people who made the initial choices aren’t available for consultation anymore.

I suspect it’s easier for us to undo organizational decisions than code decisions because the former are made in a more visible and social environment. It’s easy to skip fixing the wrong abstraction when that choice may only be seen by one reviewer as part of an unrelated change. Perhaps this is where pair or mob programming can help. More eyes on the wrong abstraction at the right time could be all that’s needed to address it.

Thinking about code as a decision log could also help. Removing the abstraction is just another event. Events are bound to a specific moment in time, and maybe today is the right moment for an event that reverses some of those previous decisions.

Another goodie from InfoQ Engineering Culture podcast: CA Agile Leaders on the Using Data and Creating a Safe Environment to Drive Strategy. Some quick notes + insights:

  • Biweekly status reports don’t really mean anything. Progress is shown with real data: stories/tasks moving to Done (based on the agreed Definition of Done). This data is critical. Executives need access to it in order to make informed decisions. Q: How do you break down the work in advance effectively? If you’ve got a clear target, but no clear way to get to it, how do you convert that into stories?

The natural human reaction to try and do more when we have a history of not delivering, thus overloading the system even further

  • I didn’t realize how natural this really was until I heard it. If your team’s batting .200, just increase pitching frequency! Then you’ll definitely end up with more home runs, right? Not sure how far this analogy will go, but I’ll try: what you end up is non-stop bunting, because there’s no time to wind up or recover.
  • What worked for CA was Management asking everyone in the org to limit their WIP. That’s true leadership courage right there.
  • Organizational temporal myopia: people’s inability to see themselves in the future, applied to organizations. Organizational focus is often on the long-term vision, so individuals end up inflating the amount of work that can get done to get to that vision sooner. I think the implication in the podcast is to focus on and commit to the short-term (sprint?), because you can imagine what the organization will be like a week from now versus a year from now.

Everybody gets mad if you’re not working on their stuff

  • Nothing gets done, but at least it looks like you’re working on everyone’s thing. Addressing this may be a matter of shining a light on what is vs. isn’t being accomplished. Circles back to safety. If you feel you can’t say that you’re gonna miss, it will look like everything’s going great with 67 projects in progress until the last second when all of them go red.

Not one person can save the ship from sinking, and not one person can bring the ship to shore.

  • There’s a culture of heroism, which mitigates against this collective thinking. Leaders are incentivized to work against each other by optimizing their portion at the cost of other parts of the org. There’re individual performance reviews too. Individuals get praised, which then causes people to create situations in which they have an opportunity to save the day. CA tries to show that collective work is more effective than individual, and work with organizations to change incentive structures away from individuals and toward teams.
  • Act “as-if”. Start showing and encouraging behaviours before they’re made “official”.
  • Withholding information is punishment. It’s actually painful. People will do this to each other at work. Culture of transparency helps work against these bad behaviours.

Lately, I’ve been listening to podcasts on my commute and while at the gym. The InfoQ Engineering Culture podcast is probably my favourite one so far.

The last episode I heard was Diana Larsen on Organisation Design for Team Effectiveness and Having the Best Possible Work-Life. The show notes are fantastic, but I thought I’d jot down the points that particularly resonated with me.

Every team needs a purpose

The boundaries of the work are important. Not feature scope, but “what kind of work are we doing?”, and “how is it unique?” The agile teams I’ve been on had a purpose, but the boundaries were only loosely defined. This resulted in unexpected work landing on our plate, because it seemed like it didn’t belong there the least, which was as awkward as it sounds. This has the effect of diluting the team’s focus, making it possible for every member to push in different directions.

A group of people need to build some mutual history to become a high performing team

Shared experiences bring people closer together. It makes a lot of sense, which is why it’s so surprising that teams are often expected to rush through the Forming, Storming, and Norming phases without being able to first, you know, ship something together.

This history can be built quickly when responding to a crisis

This makes me wonder if the most effective time to spin up a team is when there’s an urgent business problem requiring attention. Is there an equally-effective way to start a team with longer-term or less-visible deliverables?

Software is learning work – typing is not where the work gets done

Right, so why do I feel guilty about spending office time learning? There’s a constant sense of urgency in a business (especially a small one, I think) to ship, and pausing to learn seems to work against that goal. I don’t want to read every tech book that’s relevant to my work before writing any code, but also want to be able to spend time digesting information before rushing to apply it.