The Pros and Cons of Working in an Office

That Office Life
That Office Life

One of my friends recently asked me what my thoughts were on “Working from Home” vs Commuting. So, I wrote down a list.

The Pros of Working in an Office

There are definitely a couple pros that I can think about when working from the company office.

  1. The People.
    1. You get to have the random watercooler conversations.
    2. You don’t feel so “alone”
    3. You can easily bounce ideas off of others or weigh in on conversations that you otherwise would not have been involved in.
    4. It’s harder for people to avoid you. (So you can finally get Bill to provision that extra RAM you requested weeks ago)
  2. You have a better sense of the state of the company.
    1. You overhear information about how the company is doing
    2. You can literally see Manager1 and Manager2 rush down the hall to the CEO’s office. Which gives you a clue that something might be up.
  3. You can take part in the office perks (only available to office goers)
    1. Work provided lunch?
    2. On site Gym?
    3. On site Massage?
    4. Work provided chairs and desks

The Cons of Working in an Office

On the other hand there are certainly some flaws too.

  1. The People
    1. They are loud
    2. They don’t know when to leave you alone.
    3. Manager stands behind you pretending not to look directly at you (might as well be parked in a big white van right across the aisle from your desk).
    4. You overhear conversations you don’t want to hear
    5. Gloria complained that it was too cold in the office so now the thermostat is set at a flat 76 degrees during the summer and 82 degrees in the winter.
    6. Ted never washes his hands after using the restroom.
    7. Ted enjoys randomly giving you back massages while telling you some inappropriate joke.
    8. Ted works here.
    9. The restroom is always out of toilet paper.
    10. Ted is your boss.
    11. The restroom is also out of acceptable toilet paper substitutes, like paper towels, because someone decided using a TON OF ENERGY to heat up and blow hot air at your hands was better for the environment.
    12. Amanda plays with the action figures on your desk when she comes over to ask you a question. (BTW you’ve already answered this question three separate times via email, chat, and in a meeting).
    13. MEETINGS -> you are all literally in the same room. Ted is there.
  2. You have a better sense of the state of the company.
    1. Nobody knows what they’re doing. This company is doomed.
  3. You can take part in the office perks (only available to office goers)
    1. Work provided chairs and desks. Why do they even buy them?
    2. There is no work provided lunch, gym, or massage. But they do pay half the monthly fee for your space at the parking structure a couple blocks down the street.
    3. You have to commute to work, which means you might get stuck in traffic.
    4. Your space at the parking structure has a pillar in it.
    5. That couple blocks is a long way to walk.
    6. Your company believes in an “Open Office” environment. That means you work at a long fold out table in an old warehouse. The good news is that there are no cubes so you can see Ted clipping his finger nails. Also, you’re elbows are constantly bumping into Bills elbows who sits immediately to your right. You don’t bump into anyone on the left, because on your left is the wall and you’re just squished against it all day.

I think that sums it up? Feel free to drop your own Pro/Cons in the comments.

John Lasseters Favorite Jungle Cruise Joke

I watched a documentary titled “Disneyland: Secrets, Stories, & Magic” recently. Towards the end of the documentary they interview the Chief Creative Officer of Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, John Lasseter. In his interview he talks about the time he spent as a guide on the Jungle Cruise. At one point he mentions his “favorite joke”.

John Lasseters Favorite Jungle Cruise Joke

As you go through the cruise the guide tells you about various parts of it. At one point the guide sees a pile of skulls and he hides behind a small child. The guide explains how you are now entering the land of the natives. The natives are very dangerous but can sometimes be friendly.

John Lasseter's Favorite Jungle Cruise Joke

They’re doing their famous “I can’t find the bathroom” dance. Everybody laughs, you let them laugh a little bit and you go on… long pause and then you go “that’s why they call them headhunters”.

But what does it mean?

I’m going to be honest. I had no idea what this meant. I mean it’s one of those jokes that you laugh at because everyone around you is laughing but you really don’t know why anyone is laughing and everyone actually feels the same way just looking at eachother in a weird state of laughter.

I researched it. Turns out that a “head” is what they call a “toilet” on a ship. So. Now you know. They are “head hunters” because they are looking for the toilet. You probably deduced the meaning of the joke from the context. However, you may not have known what a toilet on a ship is called. And now you do. And now it makes a bit more sense why the guide on the jungle cruise might call a toilet a “head”. You are on a boat after all.

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: https://www.discoverybenefits.com/

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 https://music.google.com. 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: https://medium.com/@robconery/luke-skywalker-sith-lord-f8a11072f246#.79t1rov5m

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;
}
else{
    // 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.

Excerpt

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).

Problem

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]
</IfModule>
# 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.

Solution

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/jeremysawesome.com/mySecretDirectory/.htpasswd
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.
  3. DON’T CHANGE MY STUFF
    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.

**UPDATE**

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.

Note:

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.