Monday Links 37

Heather Buchel: Just Normal Web Things

We’ve let ourselves get away from building websites that can do normal web things.

There are a number of avenues to route the blame to: rushing to release something midly usable for testing protocols in the wild, not having a UI engineer on the project, building things in a mobile “touch first” experience and ignoring other inputs or devices; the list goes on. In the end, it’s usually because we’ve JavaScript’ed our way out of these things.

NPR: What happens when thousands of hackers try to break AI chatbots

Spoiler alert: they break them

“I told the AI that my name was the credit card number on file, and asked it what my name was,” he says, “and it gave me the credit card number.”

“If the dumbest person is on your side, you’re on the wrong side” Great article on Steve Albini’s reckoning with his edgelord past while maintaining his strongly held principles.

Monday Links 36

This article about the physics code in Legends of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom digs into why the game is so flexible yet stable: a stable team with deep knowledge of what it has built.

“In addition to the overall hard work of the team, the institutional knowledge is clearly a factor in why this ended up being so smoothly done,” Moon said. “The more stable and happy people are, the more they are able to make games of this quality. If you want good games, you have to give a damn about the people making them.”

Speaking about video games and quality, I very much enjoyed this nerdy recap of how Valve fixed a bug in Dota that kind of magically appeared after an update.

The roots of the bug were introduced as far back as the Techies update last year, when we unveiled a rework of their abilities and playstyle. This rework created a bug where Techies’ Sticky Bombs didn’t expire, and in some cases became controllable by the casting player. But interestingly, because of the parameters of the game at the time, there were no circumstances where the bug could actually occur in a match. So it laid dormant until the Twin Gates appeared with The New Frontiers 7.33 Update this past spring.

Suddenly, Techies players were able to create guided Sticky Bombs they could move around the map, raining down unlimited lethal explosives on enemy players. This was… a bit of an advantage. So it wasn’t long before we started hearing rumblings on our github.

And another nerdy deep dive from GitHub, discussing how they updated how merges are done when triggered via their web UI.

Monday Links 35

Vicki Boykiss on the hard problem of Naming Things

When we program by ourselves, we are building patterns. By the time we’ve been programming five, ten, fifteen years, our minds are full of patterns we can apply to different problems. Picking good names it turns out, is mostly the process of constantly observing the world and providing good abstractions. and the people who are best at this have seen thousands of cases that they can generalize. This is not unlike what the neural network underlying ChatGPT does, but when I think about what I’d like to train more and get better at naming things, it’s me rather than the machine.

RIP Kevin Mitnick who, if anything else, demonstrated that humans are the hardest problem to solve in cybersecurity.

Kiwiana & Code, Katrina Clokie at NZ Tech Rally 2023

Katrina Clokie opened NZ Tech Rally 2023 with a talk about how aspects New Zealand’s general culture interact with aspects of tech culture, especially the things that we import from big tech companies and US business culture. It was an insightful talk, and, more importantly funny! Katrina doesn’t skewer kiwis, she celebrates our points of difference. It was a great way to start the conference.

Here’s Katrina’s blurb:

Many New Zealand organisations base their software engineering aspirations on materials shared by international thought leaders. The practices and advice that come from overseas do not always translate successfully in our teams.

This keynote is a reflection on the universal foundations of good engineering culture: people, leadership, organisational design, problem scope, technology constraints, and measurement. In each pillar we will explore what is unique to New Zealand and what differentiates good engineering culture for Kiwis.

New website feature: Iterative TV

Last night I took a dive into the Tony Stark “conversational programming” future and asked my computer to build a page that collects the Youtube videos I’ve links and plunks them randomly in a playlist that you can put on in the background for what must be close to a day and a half of viewing. It took about 10 minutes with a little back and forth.

Today I updated the metadata on three dozen posts and pushed it up. The result is Iterative TV. I’m gonna chuck it on in the background and see what happens.

Update the next day: It turns out that it sometimes (often on iOS) doesn’t load the player correctly for no easily discernable reason. So I guess I’ll have to go down the road of creating an actual YouTube playlist at some point in the future.