Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hacker News Fires Steve Yegge

I woke up this morning...ish... to discover that Hacker News had finally had enough of me being at Google, so they forced me into early retirement.

On Monday I was honored to be able to deliver a keynote talk at OSCON Data. In the talk, I announce at the end that I am quitting a project that I had very publicly signed up for, one that I am not passionate about and don't personally think is very important to the human race. Though others clearly do, and that's a legitimate viewpoint too.

But the power of suggestion can make you see and hear something entirely different. If, for instance, someone tells you that I gave the talk wearing a gorilla suit, then when you watch it, I will magically appear to be wearing a gorilla suit. It's actually a gray jacket over a black shirt, but you will perceive the jacket as the back-hair of a male silverback gorilla! And to be honest the talk could have benefited from the judicious application of a gorilla suit, so no harm there.

Similarly, if someone on Hacker News posts that "Steve Yegge quits Google in the middle of his speech" and links to the video, then you will watch the video, and when I say the word "project" at the end of my speech, a magical Power of Suggestion Voice-Over will interrupt -- in a firm manly voice totally unlike my own quacking sounds -- with "Gooooooogle". And then you will promptly sink into a 15-minute trance so that the voice-over can occur in the middle of my speech where Hacker News said it happened, instead of 96.7% of the way through the talk where it actually happened.

I am going to harness this amazing Power of Suggestion, right here, right now. Here goes.

You are going to come work at Google! You are going to study up, apply, interview, and yes, you are going to work there! And it will be the most awesome job you've ever had or ever will have!

I hope for your sake that this little experiment works, because Google is frigging awesome, and you'll love it here. And they'll be happy to have you here. It's a match made in heaven, I'm tellin' ya. It might take you a couple tries to get in the door, because Google's interview process -- what's the word I'm looking for here -- ah yes, their process sucks at letting in all the qualified people. They're trying to get better at it, but it's not really Google's fault so much as the fault of interviewers who insist that you're not qualified to work there unless you are exactly like them.

Of course, there are interviewers like that wherever you go. The real problem is the classic interview process, which everyone uses and which Google hasn't innovated on, not really. It's like deciding whether to marry someone after four one-hour dates that all happen on the same day in a little room that looks kind of like a doctor's office except that the examining table is on the wall.

The reason I haven't been blogging lately is that working at Google is so awesome that I just don't feel like doing anything else. My project is awesome, the people are awesome, the work environment is over-the-top-crazy-awesome, the benefits are awesome, even the corporate mission is awesome. "Organize the world's hardline goods in little brown boxes delivered straight to your doorstep" -- that's an awesome mission, yeah?

Wait, sorry, that was a flashback to the Navy or something. "Organize the world's information" -- that's the one. It's a mission that is changing the course of human events. It is slowly forcing governments to be more open, forcing corporations to play more fairly, and helping all of us make better decisions and better use of our time.

In that vein, the part of my brain that makes Good Decisions was apparently broken a few weeks ago, when I allowed myself to be cajoled into working on something that I wasn't passionate about. I am an eternal optimist, and I figured I could teach myself to be passionate about it. And I tried! I spent a few weeks pretending that I was passionate about it -- that's how I got through my Physics classes in college with A grades, so I know it's a mental trick that can sometimes work.

But then I wrote my OSCON Data speech, in which I basically advise everyone to start working on important problems instead of just chasing the money. Or at the very least, go ahead and chase the money in the short term, but while you are doing that, prepare yourself to help solve real problems.

And after writing the speech I realized I'd completely failed to follow my own advice. I'm getting old and I only have so many "big projects" left that I can actually participate in. So in my mind it's a complete cop-out for me to take the easy path and work on a project that my company is excited about but I am not.

Now, as it happens, I am in fact working on a very cool project at Google. It's not important in the same sense that curing cancer or getting clean water to impoverished cities are important. But it's a project that has the potential to revolutionize software development, and NOT through some new goddamn dependency-injection framework or web framework or other godawful embarrassing hacky workaround for a deficient programming language. No. It is a project that aims to turn source code -- ALL source code -- from plain text into Wikipedia. I've been on it for three and a half years, and I came up with the idea, and the team running with the idea is fantastic. The work may not be directly important, but it is an enabler for important work, much like scaling infrastructure is an enabler.

So I am happy to continue working on that project for now. Yes, at Google. I may even blog it up at some point. But I'm very serious about brushing up on my math and statistics, some of which I haven't applied directly in 20 years, and start focusing on machine learning problems. Particulary, if I may be so fortunate, the problem of curing cancer. I may not be able to participate directly for a few years, as I need to keep working and paying the bills just like you. But I'm studying hard -- I started up again a few days ago -- and I've demonstrated to myself quite a few times that if I do anything daily for a few years I can get pretty good at it.

Anyway, I'm late for work. Isn't that nice? I like the sound of it. It has a nice ring to it: "I'm late... for my job."

So come work with me! Unless you are curing cancer, of course.

Friday, July 22, 2011

eBay Patents 10-Click Checkout

San Jose, CA (Reuters) — Online auctions cartel eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY) and its collections and incarceration arm PayPal announced that on July 21, 2011, the two companies had jointly been awarded United States Patent No. 105960411 for their innovative 10-click “Buy it Now” purchasing pipeline.

The newly-patented buying system guides users through an intuitive, step-by-step process of clicking “Buy It Now”, entering your password, logging in because they signed your sorry ass out again, getting upsold shit you don’t want, continuing to your original destination, accepting the default quantity of 1 (otherwise known as “It”), committing to buy, clicking "Pay Now", entering a different password than your first one, clicking "Log In" again god dammit, declining to borrow money from eBay’s usury department, reviewing the goddamn purchase details since by now you’ve completely forgotten what the hell you were buying, and finally confirming the god damned payment already.

The 10-click checkout system, known colloquially as 10CLICKFU -- which many loyal users believe stands for “10 Clicks For You” -- was recently awarded top honors by the National Alliance of Reconstructive Hand Surgeons. 10CLICKFU incorporates a variable number of clicks ranging from eight to upwards of fifteen, but eBay’s patent stipulates that any purchasing system that lies to you at least nine times about the “Now” part of “Buy It Now” is covered by their invention.

The patent award came as a surprise to many analysts, since several of eBay’s related patent attempts had been rejected on the basis of prior art. In one well-publicized filing, eBay had tried to patent a purely decorative, non-operational “Keep me signed in” checkbox, but Sony’s PlayStation Network already had one just like it. And another eBay patent claim for excruciating page load times was rejected because the iPad App Store is still loading.

But eBay’s boldest and potentially furthest-reaching patent attempt was for “100% Inaccurate Button Text”. The invention claim was based on several of their UI elements, but rested primarily on the “Buy It Now” button, which eBay claims contains enough inaccuracies to render it "complete bullshit." Their patent was rejected by the US Patent Office review committee on the grounds that the Firefox browser’s “Do this automatically from now on” checkbox has been complete bullshit for over fifteen years. eBay says they will appeal the ruling because the checkbox is not technically a button.

eBay’s spokesperson Paula Smugworth announced that eBay will continue to innovate on ways to remind their users that monopolies can do whatever the hell they want. “Not that eBay is a monopoly,” she added. “But if we were a monopoly, then we could do whatever the hell we wanted. I’m just sayin’.”

eBay’s stock rose on the news, driven largely by anonymous shill bidders.