Monday, July 13, 2009

Leaky, pretty pipes

Hey, this is cool: Yahoo Pipes. It's a free tool for playing with RSS feeds.

I used it to create a politics only RSS feed for a Norwegian election blog aggregator, (for some reason they're not interested in 70 year old movies..) It reads my regular RSS feed, filters it on the category, and outputs the result as a new RSS feed. Look at the picture to see how it's done.

Notice the category.0 / category / category.1 part. Yahoo Pipes is a leaky abstraction. It pretends to protect you from the ugly details of XML, but when your blog posts have either one or two categories, like mine do, you still need to know that to an XML parser there's a difference between a single node and a node list.

To most people that last sentence made no sense at all. XM..what?? Neither will most of the modules in the Yahoo Pipes toolbox, such as regex and loop. In other words, this is a service for people with technical instincts. It's programming, just prettier.

But still: Really, really cool.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Charles Stross on his software career

Author Charles Stross has been writing a series of posts about his former life in the software industry. Read it to destroy your belief that important software and internet services are generally written by people who know what the hell they're doing.

Often, what you have is what Stross describes here: one stressed out programmer maintaining a Gordian knot of code that was only ever meant for demo use, but then somehow it ended up in production and now they can't ever get rid of it. From which point possible futures include burnout, bankruptcy, or gigantic profits.

Stross left the industry at about the time that I entered it, around 2000. His publishing career has since included novels that combine H. P. Lovecraft with IT, and I now understand why. My own experiences have been less harmful to sanity, (except that first part time job where I wrote a webmail solution in C, which to you non-programmers out there is like inventing and building your own car because you're too lazy to learn how to drive a real one.) On good days I even feel like I know what I'm doing. Then the bug reports start coming in.