The Truman Show is about Software Developers

I’m pretty sure that “The Truman Show” is an accurate description of what it’s like to be a software developer. Take the following clip for example starting at 55 seconds in:

“Blocked at every turn!”

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve thought about this line as it relates to the very real *struggle* it is being a software developer.

I mean here is Truman, he knows where he wants to go, Fiji. Getting to Fiji seems like it should be so simple. Really. All you need to do is get down to an Airport, hop on a few planes, maybe take a boat, and you are in Fiji in no time.

It should be so simple.

The reality is that it is not simple. In fact getting to Fiji is quite possibly the most difficult thing he has ever done in his entire life. He runs into issue after issue after issue trying to get to Fiji. He tries to implement solution after solution, and consistently fails. If that doesn’t reflect how I, a software developer, feel *every day* than I don’t know what does.

Here is the thing. Truman is persistent. He keeps going. He get’s creative. And in the end he finally benefits from all his hard work. The problem was *a lot* bigger than he could’ve ever thought. The problem was huge, but Truman solves the problem and he learned a heck of a lot along the way.

So, fellow Software Developers, as you struggle today remember Truman. Remember to be persistent. Remember to be creative. When you run into a blocker, back up, and try a different approach. I believe in you, you can do it.

Discovery Benefits – A Frustrating Experience

What follows is my experience thus far with Discovery Benefits. This post is more of a frustration dump for me than anything else. Discovery Benefits administers the COBRA accounts for my previous employer. My experience with them thus far has been frustrating. Their website is:

Discovery Benefits runs very slow and has little knowledge about the internal workings of their organization.

I have contacted Discovery Benefits multiple times. Each time asking them to add a dependent to my COBRA plan. Initially I provided dependent information to them via their own forms. After I contacted my insurance provider I was informed that not only did Discovery Benefits enter my wife’s name incorrectly, but they also did not pass on my dependents information.

I called Discovery Benefits and talked to a COBRA representative. The representative looked through my file and found the information I originally provided. They did not have any idea why that information was not entered into their system. The representative informed me they were entering the information now. They told me everything should be resolved within 3-5 business days.

Nine business days later I contact my insurance company to confirm that my dependents have been added. Most of the information is correct, but they are still missing information about one of my dependents. The insurance company tells me that I need to call Discovery Benefits to add the dependent. (Which I’ve already done).

I call Discovery Benefits up again. The customer service representative tells me that they have all the information that they need from me. However, the internal department responsible for adding dependents has not added the dependent yet. I ask the representative for a reason why. The representative cannot give me a reason. The representative repeats that “for some reason” the dependent has not been added. The representative tells me that they will add a note to my account about this issue.

I call Discovery Benefits back. I ask to talk to the department responsible for adding dependents. The representative does not know what I am talking about. I have to explain to them. There is a department within Discovery Benefits responsible for adding dependents to COBRA accounts. I then explain to them that one of my dependents has not been added and I want to talk to someone who can tell me why. The representative tells me that I cannot talk to that department. The representative still cannot give me a valid reason why the dependent has not been added. They continuously repeat “for some reason”. When I ask to talk to someone who knows what’s going on, the representative tells me that there is nobody I can talk to who knows what is going on. They communicate to me that the best that can be done is to add a “prioritized note” to my account.

Discovery Benefits - Delighted Customers
Not so much

To summarize. Discovery Benefits does not know what is going on. They cannot connect me to somebody who knows what is going on. And furthermore, there is nobody at that company who knows what is going on.

The best that Discovery Benefits can do for me is to add a prioritized note to my account. I am stuck. All I can do is hope that somebody sees this note and chooses to address it.

Discovery Benefits has proven that it is not capable of providing satisfactory service or information.

Why I no longer contribute to StackOverflow – Michael T. Richter

I ran into this post by Michael T. Richter a while ago and found it to be an interesting read. I certainly recall the regex question he’s talking about and I remember stumbling upon that question myself back in the day. In the past StackOverflow did seem more like a community of developers who wanted to have fun and help eachother out. The dude makes some good points in his (now old and deleted) post.

However it has been archived and so I link to the archive here, mainly for my own future reference.

Why I no longer contribute to StackOverflow – Michael T. Richter

Google Music Canceled, Panic and Resolution

I love Google Music. I’ve been using it since the day (or the month) it came out and I will most likely be using it until it goes away (or I die, one of the two). I’ve built up a large number of playlists and a library. I have go to playlists for when I’m down or when I need to get into that “Work” mode. I have never canceled the service and I still get the promotional price.

And then Google Music was canceled

Imagine my surprised panic this morning when I found the following in my inbox:

Google Music Subscription has been canceled.
WHAT?!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOoooooooo!!!!

Egagh! Wha? Panic panic panic panic… what? Why has this happened to me?! WHY?!!!!

If they canceled my order, did they kill my promotional price?

Still panicking I went and searched through my emails from the last several days. I found the following email regarding my payment method not working (those credit cards, always expiring).

Google Music Order is on Hold Email
My order is on hold and will be canceled. Thank goodness for this Fix button.

They gave me a whole day to update my payment method. Why hadn’t I done it? Oh, yeah, the day that they gave me was Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is quite possibly one of the busiest days of the year (besides Christmas).

Excellent! The email that Google sent me includes a “Fix or Retry now” button. This should be able to “Fix” the issue! Unfortunately, no. There was no information on the resulting page that indicated or alluded to how to fix the issue.

So I did what any other normal extremely panicked person would do. I started up a support chat with Googles Customer Service.

The Customer Service Representative was very nice. They told me that I should be able to “Resubscribe” to Google Music and that I should be able to maintain my promotional price.

So that’s what I did. I visited There was a friendly banner right at the top asking me if I wanted to resubscribe. So I resubscribed and everything is great – panic subsided.

That said I do have a couple of suggestions based on this experience.

  1. If you are going to provide a “Fix” button… then at the very least it should point the user to how to fix the problem. A simple “Order Canceled by mistake?” would’ve done wonders in my situation.
  2. Maybe give the user more than a day to fix the issue? Especially if the day you give them just happens to be a national holiday.

Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight

In response to:

Not sure I can get on board with the description in that article. It’s interesting, and it could be possible, but the optimistic/skeptic inside of me doubts it.

First we’ve got the Emperors words.

Take your weapon. Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete

So let’s distill that into an if statement

var lukesSide = light;
if(takesWeapon && strikesEmperorDownWithHatred){
    lukesSide = darkSide;
    // Lukes side is ?

So… we know that Luke didn’t both take the weapon AND kill the Emperor so we have to jump into the else block. Assuming that Luke’s side did not change, and he started out Light, then he would still be light.

Then the next thing: the false assumption that hate makes you powerful. This claim is not substantiated. Luke asks Yoda about this straight up in the Empire Strikes Back.


Luke: (…) Is the dark side stronger?
Yoda: No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.
Luke: But how am I to know the good side from the bad?
Yoda: You will know… when you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, NEVER for attack.

The author tries to make the claim (as does the Emperor) that hatred leads to power and that Luke feels it coarsing through him. However, we know, as did Luke, that the dark side is not stronger.

I’d like to think that Luke is having an internal struggle between both sides. It is at this crucial point that he remembers his conversation with Yoda back on Dagobah. When it comes down to it, how will he know the good side from the bad side? The answer, as you read above, is that you will know when you are calm, at peace, and passive.

The author of this article carefully leaves out the bit just after Luke stares at his hand and supposedly claims power. Let me fill it in. Luke calmly collects himself, turns off his Lightsaber, throws it away, and then addresses the Emperor.

So… the very last actions that Luke takes are ones that a “good” Jedi would take, given our definition of what makes a “good” Jedi.

Here, Luke clearly chooses to be calm, peaceful, and passive – the Emperors plans to turn him have failed. Obviously, the Emperor would then be a bit miffed, but to say that he now viewed Luke as a rival is taking it a bit too far. If Luke had truly turned, do you honestly think he would’ve turned off his lightsaber? No… he would’ve used the force to attack the Emperor and strike him down.

Remember: Luke does not strike the Emperor down, so his journey to the darkside is not complete. Here, in the moment where he could’ve claimed evil victory he chooses not to.

In the moment of his greatest temptation Luke chose Light side qualities. Thus, I can say with confidence, that Luke Skywalker is a Jedi Knight.

Password Protect a WordPress Subdirectory with .htaccess

There are questions all over the internet regarding how to password protect a sub-directory when you are using WordPress.

I just spent a long time fighting a frustrating battle with this as well. So I’m documenting the resolution here for my (and anyone’s) benefit.

 In short

  1. WordPress does not mess with requests to actual directories or files.
  2. If WordPress is messing with your request then you aren’t requesting an actual directory or file.
  3. It’s likely your Error codes aren’t setup to return actual files.
  4. Make sure your .htaccess file isn’t generating 500 errors (i.e. ensure the path to your .htpasswd file is correct).


I’ve added a .htaccess and .htpasswd file but all I see is a WordPress 404 page. I can’t stop crying because it’s not working and my brain hurts.

Yep. That happens. WordPress comes with the following .htaccess file by default:

# BEGIN WordPress
<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^index\.php$ - [L]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule . /index.php [L]
# END WordPress

Let’s break this down.  First we are checking if the mod_rewrite module is even installed. If it is then we are turning the RewriteEngine on. That’s all great. We wouldn’t want to use the engine if it didn’t exist… right?

RewriteBase / – This sets the base of every subsequent Rule and Condition to the root `/`.  This way we don’t have to include the root directory at the beginning of any of our rules.

RewriteRule ^index\.php$ - [L] – This rewrite rule checks to see if we are on the index.php page already. The dash in the rule means do nothing. So… if we are already on index.php don’t do anything. The [L] option means that we should stop processing rules now. Don’t do anything else, we’ve got what we wanted. Quite literally this is the [L]ast rule that should be processed.

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f – This condition makes sure that if the current request is hitting an actual existing file then we should do nothing. So WordPress won’t mess with your requests if you try to link to an actual file.

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d – This condition makes sure that if the current request is hitting an actual existing directory that we should do nothing. So WordPress won’t mess with your requests if you try to link to an actual directory.

RewriteRule . /index.php [L] – Finally, if our request passed the above two conditions (it’s not an actual file and not an actual directory) then map the request to index.php. Now the request is mapped and WordPress can do its thing!

That’s Great But…

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking:

If what you are saying is true, then I shouldn’t be seeing a 404 page. My password protected directory actually exists!

Yes. You are correct, your directory does exist.


When you password protect a directory with .htaccess you are telling the server to return a certain response code. The 401 response code meaning the user is unauthorized, to be precise. When the browser received this response code it triggers a username and password prompt. However, and here is the problem, the browser is never receiving the response code.

Why is the browser not receiving the response code?

Good question. If you remember the WordPress .htaccess checks if the requested url points an actual file or directory. It only rewrites you to the index.php file if you aren’t actually requesting a file or directory. When you throw the 401 response code you aren’t actually requesting a file or directory. You are essentially requesting nothing (because you are unauthorized). So the WordPress .htaccess file is behaving correctly – it’s rewriting you to the index.php page and giving you a 404 (because more than likely your password protected directory does not match a permalink on your WordPress blog).

So… if WordPress is making sure that you actually requested a file then… you need to make sure that you are actually getting a file! You can do this by adding the following line to the top of your WordPress .htaccess file:

ErrorDocument 401 default

What you are doing is telling the server to return the default 401 file when it encounters a 401 response code. Once you are returning an actual file WordPress won’t try to grab your request.

Ok. I added that and I’m still having issues. What gives?

If you are like me, then the 401 response code fix wasn’t enough. You are still having the same issue and by now you are wanting to… oh gosh I can’t even think of anything to describe this type of pain.

Let’s look at our .htaccess file we are using to password protect our sub-directory. If you are anything like me your file might’ve looked something like this.

AuthType Basic
AuthName "Password Protected Area"
AuthUserFile /public_html/
Require valid-user

This looks perfectly valid to me. However, it turns out this file is generating Internal Server Errors!  (I know because I added a ErrorDocument 500 default line to my WordPress .htaccess file just for kicks.) But this shouldn’t be generating a 500 error unless I’m doing something wrong.

Turns out. I was.

The AuthUserFile argument needs to be the full server path to your .htpasswd file. Turns out, /public_html wasn’t actually the beginning of my server path. As a result the server was throwing a 500 error. Once I figured out what my entire full server path was, and added that to my .htaccess file, everything started working.

To Recap

  1. WordPress does not mess with requests to actual directories or files.
  2. If WordPress is messing with your request then you aren’t requesting an actual directory or file.
  3. It’s likely your Error codes aren’t setup to return actual files.
  4. Make sure your .htaccess file isn’t generating 500 errors (i.e. ensure the path to your .htpasswd file is correct).

Whew! Thank goodness that’s over. Happy Blogging 🙂

Building StackOverflow Reputation – One Answer a Day

So. I’m a little low in the reputation department of StackOverflow. I mean, my reputation is ok, but it’s not AWESOME. And I need my rep to be awesome because well it’s all in the name. So, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m going to answer one StackOverflow question every day  (weekday that is… on the weekends I’ll probably be sleeping or eating pizza or sleeping. So stop expecting so much. Stop it.) How long am I going to do this? I have no idea. I plan on making this into a habitual thing.

So here is my StackOverflow reputation as of right now:
jeremysawesome StackOverflow RepRight here I’ve inserted the flair badge which should be kept up to date with my current rep points.

profile for jeremysawesome at Stack Overflow, Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmers

So we will see how the “answer a day” thing goes.

However, I’m going to try and make my answers as helpful as possible. I don’t want to just “give” an answer, I want to also explain it. I want to explain the problem and what it was I did to fix it. I want to link to relevant articles if necessary… I want my answers to serve as teaching material for anyone else who might eventually have the same question. Answering questions in this way I believe will benefit me as well as the person asking the question.

Why would answering questions benefit me? I think that it helps me personally to be able to communicate better. If I’m able to explain a problem and how I solved it to someone else, every single day, then it’ll help me level up my communication skills. If I’m able to clearly understand a problem, and how to solve it, it will help me with my debugging skills. If I don’t know how to solve a problem, then I will most likely be doing research into how to solve the problem. This, in turn, will help me to continue learning.

So let it begin, the quest to answer a StackOverflow question everyday is underway.

My Computer Updated Itself to Windows 8.1 Today

The Windows 8.1 experience that I’ve shared below is just that, an experience. Windows 8.1 itself is fine, I’d prefer if it gave me more customization options. Personally, I’d prefer not having a Windows button (I’ve got a windows key on my keyboard). Personally I’d prefer full screen search over the tiny search bar in 8.1. So Microsoft would’ve done better to provide personalization options, not to choose for you.

And I’m a little ticked off.

First off, my computer updated itself without my knowledge nor my permission. It had asked me a few times, to which my answer was always “Not Right Now”. However, it decided, of it’s own accord, that it would update itself. That kind of behavior is not acceptable.

In addition to updating itself to Windows 8.1 it also decided that it would be helpful and download/setup/install a bunch of apps for me. Once again it did so without asking for my permission. It then decided that it wanted me to create a special Microsoft Account to use my personal computer, Luckily, I found a way around that (using my smartphone, because my computer wouldn’t let me use it).

When I finally got into the computer I discovered that it had changed a number of things that I did not tell it to.

  1. It Rearranged my taskbar icons.
  2. It added a Start Button
  3. It threw Internet Explorer onto my taskbar
  4. It changed the way I search for things in the start menu.
  5. It changed the way my start menu looked.

All in all, I wasn’t that happy with the way Windows 8.1 decided to force itself upon my machine.

A few tips for the future.

  1. Do not update my machine without asking me
    1. If I tell you to wait, then you better wait and you better not update without me.
  2. Do not *force* me to make a Microsoft Account to use my own computer.
    1. Make the fact that it’s *optional* more clear.
    1. I have icons on my taskbar for a reason, don’t mess with them
    2. Don’t try to trick me to use IE by placing it in prominent places on my machine
    3. Don’t add things without asking me
    4. Don’t change things without asking me
  4. It disabled my PS3 controller(that I spent a long time trying to get to work on my computer).

This whole process would’ve been a whole lot less frustrating if it allowed for more input from the user. It should’ve told me about all the changes it wanted to do (add IE, add the Windows button, modify the Startmenu), and more importantly, it should’ve given me the option to keep things the way they were.

So… now I proceed to search the internet for ways to make my computer the way I like it again. Which makes me even more frustrated.


It appears there is no built in way to turn off the Windows button in the taskbar. There is also no way to make my Start Screen searches full screen by default anymore. (Ok, so if I actually click the apps view, and then search, the search is the way I want it to work). The only way to get these things back to the way I like them is by re-installing windows 8, which is pretty annoying. All in all I’m really sad with the way this whole update happened.


Kaira mentioned that she’s been postponing the update by doing the following. Maybe that will help some of you.

What I do is, when the prompt asking to restart at a time of my choosing sets, set it to as late as it goes, then rush over to the Windows Store. Click Updates (top right) and you’ll see it downloading 8.1. Click that and something at the bottom comes up, and you can select Cancel.

A Few Ideas Regarding SCRUM Process

We’ve been using SCRUM at work. It’s certainly been a learning process. During that process I’ve learned that I’m not a very big fan of SCRUM. I’ll write more on that later. That said, I’ve come up with a few ideas which I hope will make my time, and my teams time, with SCRUM a bit better.

  1. Start measuring stories on complexity not time.
    It’s very easy for a story to be under-estimated. If a story is not estimated correctly, it will take longer and you will most likely miss your Sprint. Don’t think about time when estimating, we like to think we can get things faster than we actually can. Think, instead, about how complex something is. The more complex it is, the higher point it should get.
  2. Use a 10 point scale in your head when estimating.
    Depending on what you are using, the SCRUM point scale skips numbers. Our numbers are:

    0, 0.5, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, 100, INFINITY

    When we see numbers like 13 we immediately think that they are “big” numbers. So when we estimate we tend to pick numbers under 13 even though the story being estimated might require a 13. So, I say pick a number between 1 and 10 in your head and then translate that to the SCRUM numbers.

    0.5 1
    1 2
    2 3
    3 4
    5 5
    8 6
    13 7
    20 8
    40 9
    100 10
  3. Take the larger of any numbers present.
    I’ve dubbed this Jeremy’s law. During the course of estimating you might find yourself wrestling between a 2 and a 3 in your head. Take the bigger number. If there is any doubt in your mind, you should just take the bigger number instead of committing to something that you are not sure of.
  4. Look back at similar stories points. Did we complete them or were they underestimated?
    Previous stories you have completed might be similar to the ones you now have to do. Or they might have a similar complexity. Rather than estimating a whole new estimate, use that information to your advantage. If, in the past a story like this took a long time, it will probably take a long time again.
  5. Forget about doing it right the first time.
    This will be the hardest for me. I like to do it right the first time. But when it comes to SCRUM the key is to get stuff done. Once you have something done you can then iterate on it. Now – I’m not saying that you shouldn’t program using SOLID principles. I am saying that it’s easy to spend a lot of time analyzing things. Just jump in there and start coding it up.Think of the story as not having to be totally complete. Think of it as a step towards being totally complete. Just get it done as fast as possible. Than pass to testing. Once it’s done we can reiterate on it to improve it. But the first goal should be to get something out the door.
  6. Do create follow up stories (discovery stories for what is wrong)
    During a SPRINT review a stakeholder might not approve the story to go live. We should create a discovery story then and there to figure out what further they need from the story. Create new stories based on the results of your discoveries.
  7. Once a story meets ac it is done
    As long as the original story meets the acceptance criteria we can consider it done. Anything that changes the AC should yield a new story with new AC. This will allow us to iterate on the first while keeping the first story in a “done” state.
  8. Be more pro active about sending too complex stories back to be broken up further.
    Big stories need to be broken up. It’s just how it is. Don’t feel bad about sending a story back to be broken up.
  9. Don’t take in a thirteen if possible.
    In our version of SCRUM, stories that are 13 points will take up the whole Sprint. And because we know that things usually take longer than we expect, a thirteen will definitely overflow the timebox. So, send it back to be broken up.
  10. Pull smaller bits more often into master.
    There are certain bits of code that we add during the course of a project that can be added to master. We split the stories up, but maybe we can also split the code up as well. Instead of pulling a huge change into master, let’s identify the things that can go to master as we go along.
  11. Push things out as frequently as possible.
    Avoid the big pushes and potential big breakages by pushing smaller bits of code out more often. We talk about this often and say it is a good idea, but we don’t do it. We don’t need to get stakeholder approval to fix a bug we find, so push the bug fix live. We don’t need stakeholder approval to fix performance issues – so push those live. We don’t need approval to repay technical debt – so push that live.I’d reccomend we push anything live that we can. The stakeholders like to bundle everything up into a gigantic push. We really need to let them know that a better way to do it is a little bit all of the time.
  12. Immediately create stories for what needs to be done as soon as it is known.
    I think we as developers should be more pro-active about creating stories. If we find something that needs to be done, create a story for it. It’s hard to prioritize these kinds of stories because they are not necessarily related to business initiatives. So, use your best judgment in when to pull it in. The key is, it’s not going to get done unless we remember to do it.
  13. Always be thinking of ways to improve the process.
    Don’t be afraid to get rid of waste. If we get rid of the “big” waste, it enables us to see the smaller waste. If something is wasteful, don’t be afraid to get rid of it or let someone know you think it is time for it to go.

I really hope these things help. Ideally I’d like to move away from SCRUM. However, if I’m going to have to use SCRUM then I might as well figure out how to make it better.

Do you have any ideas on how to improve the SCRUM process? What do you do? How did your teams make things better?

URF! Ultra Rapid Fire mode needs to come back!

URF Login on April 1
URF Login on April 1

Riot introduced Ultra Rapid Fire mode into League of Legends on April 1 as an April fools joke. However, the community saw it as far less than a joke. The reasons that Riot gave for introducing URF included aboloshing “anti-fun”. I think they were on to something.

Here are the basics that were granted in Ultra Rapid Fire mode:

  1. Mana and Energy costs were removed (no need to manage that resource).
  2. Ranged champions attackspeed increased by 100%.
  3. Every champion begins the game with 80% cooldown reduction on abilities and spells.

This handy tool tip explains the gist of it:

The only way to play League anymore.
The only way to play League anymore.

There were some additional features I liked, movement speed was increased, so I didn’t have to buy boots every single game.

I played URF everyday since April 1st when it came out. I was very happy that (after the community begged and begged) Riot extended it for another week. But, alas, Riot ended it last night, April 13. I played one last game with ‘Vi’ which we won, and waved goodbye.

At the time I thought that everything would be fine. I’d go back to playing normal mode and it’d be just as fun as it was before. This morning I logged in and played a match with Vi on the Twisted Treeline map. It was very disappointing.

The movement speed was too slow, even with Boots of Speed. Waiting for cooldowns to proc was annoying. It took forever to build any items (even on Treeline). I was overwhelmed with a feeling of general frustration. The game had become less fun.

It used to be that I looked forward to playing League of Legends. However, when I think about playing League of Legends now I just feel extremely disappointed. I don’t really want to play anymore. It’s not that the game is bad, it’s a good game. But, after seeing how fun it could be it’s just not as interesting anymore.

Other people have noticed the same thing. The community is longing for URF to come back. Notice some of the response.

So with that said, I think I’m going to be taking a break from League of Legends. It’ll give me some time to finish some other games I’ve been needing to finish, like Tomb Raider 2013. Maybe I’ll come back later refreshed and find the game to be fun again. Maybe I’ll get fed up and program my own URF mode game. Or… maybe it is just time to say goodbye.