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Seconds & pixels

"This is our last dance. This is ourselves. Under pressure."
Aldrin_Apollo_11_head

The more mundane affairs, now that we’ve left the Moon…

One of the things I enjoy the most about twitter is the accounts that are “livetweeting” some historical event as if they were taking place right now. I am a huge fan of the @RealTimeWWII account that has been live tweeting the war as it happened on this day and time back in the 40s (it’s now up to 1942).

The benefit of following a historical event this way, even one that I know well and studied for quite a bit, is that it’s no longer just an atomic “event”. The granularity, the detail and the real duration of it become much more obvious. It’s one thing to talk about the blitz and it’s another to follow the events that composed it day by day and being able to focus on individuals and how they were affected.

Something really exciting that I caught on to in the last few days is an account that is livetweeting the Apollo 11 mission. I’ve always been interested in this famous missions, but watching this event unfold through twitter has given me a new appreciation of both the complexity of the mission and a better understanding of what it must have been to live through that.

Here’s an example of what I mean. It’s one thing to talk about how long it takes to get to the moon and back, and targeting and landing and all that and it’s something completely different to really try and think about what it was like for the people, the three humans, that were part of all this.
They took off on July 16th and came back on Earth on July 24th. That’s 9 days! I’ve always known that this mission took a while, but it never really occurred to me what that meant. These astronauts had to sleep, they had to eat and they had to do what people usually do after sleeping and eating! Armstrong and Aldrin didn’t just walk on the moon, the dined and slept on the moon!

I have problems sleeping after a bad week and these guys had to sleep after getting to, landing and walking on the MOON, while still on the moon, without the certainty that they will be able to leave and go back home. They also had to sleep while hurling through space at over 6000 km/h as it took them several days to get back home. And we’re not talking power naps either, they slept more than I do on average night in my bed at home!

I think stepping back a bit too look at events this way adds a very human touch to the entire thing which you never get just by reading about it.

And moreover, I think it also helps to put our own lives in perspective. Yes, it is easy to get overstressed nowadays, maybe easier than “it used to be”, but if astronauts on the moon were able to make time for a meal and for a good night’s sleep, we all probably should too.

Tech debt: it ain’t all bad

Technical debt, as defined by wikipedia:

Technical debt (also known as design debt or code debt) is a neologistic metaphor referring to the eventual consequences of poor software architecture and software development within a codebase. The debt can be thought of as work that needs to be done before a particular job can be considered complete. If the debt is not repaid, then it will keep on accumulating interest, making it hard to implement changes later on.

I think the use of the word debt here is absolutely superb! The two really are similar in almost all ways I can think of. Take for example, the concept of interest.
Getting into debt means you have to pay interest. If the debt becomes too big, the interest can become so high that all you’re doing is paying interest off and no more money goes towards capital repayments.

Similarly, allowing technical debt to grow out of control means that you will be spending more and more time on paying off your “interest” (i.e. the extra work generated by the debt) and less and less resources will be available to work on the stuff that matters.

Anyone that has worked on software with bucket loads of tech debt knows this part of the metaphor really well. What I’d like to talk about today is that the other part of the metaphor also applies: debt is not all bad!

Debt is just another way of saying credit and credit is very important. You need credit to make large purchases, like a house, or to finance a budding business. Credit only becomes a problem when it gets out of control, but well-planned, affordable credit is key to economic development.

Similarly, technical debt is not all bad and it can add value to an organisation. When it is well managed, it can help get a product to market quicker, it can help prototype and experiment with features faster, it can be immensely useful. The key phrase in there is well managed. Allowing the debt to get out of hand will probably mean that all the speed a team gained in going out to market quickly is lost when bugs need to be fixed and features need to be added.

An experienced engineer should know when the time is right to clean-up some debt and when to let it linger a bit longer. Sometimes it’s appropriate and sometimes that God object just needs to go and you can’t have it any other way. Knowing when to do either of these is the hard part; I’m still learning how to gauge that.

If you find this topic interesting, I recently found a great piece about code debt that explores it a lot more than I have done here and that I would strongly recommend you check out: Technical Debt 101

Writer’s block

Lately, I have been experiencing an unusual kind of writer’s block.

It’s not a lack of topics or of desire or ability to put these into words. Rather, I have now reached a point where I am very aware, everyday, of how much there is that I do not know.

This makes it very difficult to write about the things that I *do* know, as I find myself questioning that knowledge in face of the big unknown. When there is a vast universe out there that you know nothing about, how can you confidently make assertions based just on the little bits and pieces that you do know!

 

 

Bertrand Russell: “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

 

I think this type of overthinking ends up being an issue for a lot of young developers as well, in their day to day work. They reach a stage where their mastery of the craft is better than it has ever been, but they become distinctly aware of how much there is yet to learn and become afraid to act independently or they over-analyse their every decision.

This is probably where having an experienced mentor becomes invaluably useful, to help you build confidence in applying and sharing your knowledge.
In my case though, lacking that advice at the moment, I’ll just bite the bullet and plough through all the drafts that are gathering dust here and share them with the world, for better or for worse. After all, if a blog doesn’t get criticism, does it actually exist at all ?

How to (really!) get a new Xbox One power supply

I previously wrote a bit about how to order a power supply for your Xbox One because Microsoft makes it so convoluted that it’s worth blogging about.

Unfortunately, the complication does not end with finding how to do it. While I would still point to that as the only way to order a brand new original power supply from Microsoft, I would not recommend it to anyone. Long story short, 6 weeks and 3 support interactions later and Microsoft still hadn’t shipped my power supply, nor were they able to explain why they hadn’t and what the problem was.

So if you still want to get an OEM power supply, but don’t feel like waiting 6+ weeks for no reason, take to ebay. You might just find what you’re looking for.

How to get a new Xbox One power supply

UPDATE
You might want to read my newer post about this before proceeding …

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Quick guide to something which is unfortunately and unnecessarily hidden and convoluted.

If you want to buy a new Microsoft OEM power supply for the Xbox One, whether because yours broke or you moved to a country with power settings than the one from where you purchased your console, here’s how you do it.

* Go to Xbox Online Service Centre.
* Sign in or register with a Microsoft account
* Register your Xbox if you haven’t done so already before
* Click on replace an accessory, select the xbox (not the kinect), and click power supply!

You can probably handle it from here. They say you will get the correct power supply for the shipping address you use (i.e. if you ship it to a UK address you will get an UK one).

In the UK this costs £30 at the time of this writing. Getting it to you can take 2-3 weeks.

If you have any other questions, contact Microsoft :P

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