‘Twas a Good Year — Debugging 2016

Having a Guinness in Constanta (RO) with two gorgeous ladies — here’s to friendship and 2016

John Oliver’s closing “Last Week Tonight” episode ended on a note I’m not quite pleased with. While he himself, the general public and well-known stars from all around the US, and possibly other countries, were flipping off 2016 on camera, I couldn’t help myself thinking, this is a terrible note to end the year on. The entire “fuck 2016” attitude just doesn’t sit well with me, because you see, I’d like to think of myself as a pragmatic individual with a problem-solving attitude, and just like in programming, when you see a bug, you either call it a feature or you sit your ass down and come up with a solution.

Now, admittedly 2016 was nothing short of “bugs”, “compilation issues”, “merge conflicts” and even some chilling “fatal errors”.

Mark Zuckerberg — being clueless as he usually is about the ways of the world and people in general — thought that social media should enclose traditional media as well — and you know, let’s just call the whole internet Facebook if we can. Little did he know that people tend to be sheep and take as facts anything that’s put into words, be that a meme, a picture of a world leader with a quote, or a Buzzfeed article spreading like wildfire between the uneducated and ignorant population of a planet too preoccupied with selfies and the number of reactions and likes they get, to pay attention to genuine information in between the graciously Facebook generated noise and “bitmanure*” (* digital — made of zeroes and ones, called bits — shite). It’s one of those bugs you kind of thought would crop up at some point, but you never expected it to happen on the production server on a Wednesday morning causing a shit-storm of angry customer emails and lawsuits. Oops, that happened.

Samsung decided the right year to mass-produce the first time-bomb disguised as a premium phone was 2016. Software bugs can only go so far, so let’s have some buggy hardware on the market as well. Who knows, some may explode during shipping, some might down a few flights here and there, at the end of the day any advertisement is good advertisement, right? Ehm, not quite, and to this day I will refuse to believe these batteries ever went through QA. I know electronics, I know how batteries work. There is no way in hell these passed QA!

It happened. Nobody thought it would but it did. The Brits went nuts. Only for a day, but it mattered. See? This is why you don’t get hammered the night before your job interview. It won’t go well. And it matters. And this is why you don’t vote angry. At anyone or anything. You will not make the right choice. The same way you don’t get a divorce just because your neighbour said he saw your wife letting the postman in and forgetting your father in law is a postman. You get your facts right, then you do the deed. But given the fact that the Brits have not really been pissed off for a while and for such a long time they were too nice to create anything more damaging to their image than Gogglebox and Little Britain — which incidentally might actually happen now — the Brits have decided it was time to get pissed off American style, and do the unthinkable, namely vote while being completely uninformed, some possibly hammered and/or out of spite. Talk about giving a monkey a banana-shaped, painted yellow piece of their own excrement and then act surprised when it tastes like well, crap. Not quite what you were expecting, innit? Well done “luvs”, enjoy your next decade of extremely unstable and not so great British Pounds and trade negotiations. Buckle up, it’s gonna be a heck of a rollercoaster and I am not sure all the screws are tightened…

But enough about politics. About nine years ago a small startup decided to revolutionise the tech industry and make the world a better place and did so with the help of people like you and I and announced with modest fanfare in the tech community that they’ve built a smartwatch. One that does what you need, and does so without having to charge it every day. And it caught on. Sort of. Since then, about 2 million people have spent a modest amount of cash on Pebble watches. I own the original Kickstarter edition, the Steel, and the Time Steel. All fantastic watches, and all with a battery life of between 5 to 10 days. Now, you’d expect this to be an upbeat story with a fantastic outcome, except it’s not, and it’s not because yet again marketing and advertising fuelled and generated brand popularity trumps quality and practicality, and all people know about in terms of smart wearables is FitBit and Apple Watch, the former of which dismantled and bought the intellectual assets of Pebble. Why? Because apparently Pebble did not put enough effort into fitness tracking and it’s hard to compete with brands that stick their faces on anything that you lay your eyes on for more than a split second. My problem with this is actually not so much the fact that FitBit purchased Pebble. Companies merge into other companies all the time and often for the better, what pisses me off is the reasoning behind it: fitness. I have been a smartwatch user for a number of years now, and I have also met people wearing either a FitBit or an Apple device, but I have yet to meet one person who actually does anything scientific or practical with the data their device generates. You certainly don’t need GPS to find your way back home on a morning run, and I am pretty sure all of us can count the number of times we ran around the block or set a timer on a regular watch or the phone to ring after we’ve ran or cycled for 30 minutes. Nor is it much use to know how many calories you’ve burnt throughout your workout. May be relevant to a select few people, but to the vast majority it isn’t and the device’s use is literally none other than a “cool factor” that either makes them feel socially accepted or even revered or fools them into thinking they’re now part of the “fitness” community. The harsh truth is you’re neither. You’re likely just as fat and ugly and uncool as you were before you cuffed yourself with a gadget. All the cool and fit people I know, were like that long before anyone even thought of smart wearables. What this Pebble — FitBit merger did was nothing else than eliminate the only truly practical and mature smartwatch on the market, the one smartwatch that was more about notifications and a background presence in your lifestyle than an overpriced and unfit for purpose jewellery that sits on the charger half your life or tracks your sitting habits on the couch. Thanks to all the posers and pretend fit people, Pebble has been killed. How many calories does that count for?

You simply can’t end the year without a moment of silence for the greats who have left us this year. They were plenty and will all be greatly missed, but someone I particularly felt close to in terms of artistic expression, was Leonard Cohen. I am not a connoisseur of the afterlife, but I certainly hope that true to his lyrics he has now found peace “A thousand kisses deep”. He was an incredibly unique and talented poet who was lucky enough to touch plenty of souls by turning his poems into sheet music. While left and right artists appeared and faded away, Leonard kept getting his music out there and getting the standing ovation every time he appeared live. Few know how to transcend generations and find a space in the music industry for decades. Truth be told, from a purely musical perspective, his vocals while full of personality, crackles and the ladies out there might even say deep and mysterious sexiness, his voice wasn’t really a singing voice, and that’s one of the things I always appreciated. He never wanted to seem more on stage than what he really felt he was — the poet, and the man who managed to put deep feelings and intimate thoughts into words without emasculating himself in the process.

I’m not sure if Leonard “Looked at us one last time” on his way out when he was told “It’s closing time” but he will forever “Dance us to the end of love” over and over again.

While based on the above and not only, reality might look a bit bleaker than some would like or may have imagined at the end of 2015, as a developer by trade who earns a living by writing shitty code to some extent or another — and yes, we all do that, whether you want to agree with that statement or not — I believe this is all part of a larger picture, which in development at times is called debugging, other times refactoring, but it still comes down to one thing and one thing only. The first code we write is never great. Maybe we’re POCing something, maybe we’ve no time to invest in very well-crafted code then and there, maybe we’ve yet to learn the latest ES6 syntactic sugar, but most of us never want to leave it as is, and we always make an effort to clean that function up, get rid of all the console logs, add the comments we’ve omitted throughout the entire development phase, and finally sit down to write that documentation in markdown rather than just post-it notes sitting on the bezel of the whiteboard in the boardroom.

And I believe this is what people are genuinely like. Sure, 2016 seems like the year we’ve spent a hell of lot of time on development without testing or frankly, even planning. But I have to doubt that there is an overwhelming majority of us — earthlings, citizens of planet Earth — who don’t want to refactor all this, and make it better in 2017, clean up as much and as well as we can all the wrongs we’ve committed against ourselves, this planet, and our future. No, I am not an optimist. Never was, never will be — simply too pragmatic to be one, but I refuse to believe that as a society and as individuals we are destined to willingly reverse evolution, and not better ourselves and our surroundings in one way or another, therefore I solemnly declare 2017 as the year of debugging and refactoring. Code. Ourselves. Our society. Happy coding and a less buggy New Year.

Writer of code, blogs and things that live on the web. Pragmatic doer, Lego fan, Mac user, cool nerd. JavaScript and Flutter enthusiast. HMH.engineering editor.

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