Category: rants

  • I just had my last lab today, probably for a long time. I’ve been on and off again about finishing my degree in CS for 14 years, and I’m finally buckling down to finish the work. Part of this work was the second lab in the physics series, the heat and optics lab. I enjoyed it more than I anticipated I would, and now that it’s over, I’m a little put out.


  • I’d like to preface this rant unbiased and fair comparison with the following: I’m a software developer, and a nit picking one at that. It was immediately apparent that Teams was trailing behind Slack. After years of enjoying Slack (despite them taking 6 years to implement a desktop dark theme), Teams felt clunky, disorganized, and disappointingly immature coming from the largest creator of professional corporate software the world has ever seen. Given that Teams comes from the tech titan that is MicroSoft, they should be all the more embarrassed by this paltry offering.

    Let’s start with the frustration of setting your status and using an emoji

    So, you open up “Edit Status Message” and you want something fun like “working remotely 🏡” or “lunch 🍕”. Both of these are out of the box included with Slack. The good people at Teams, in their infinite wisdom, couldn’t fathom making a few clickable presets, so you must type every single status you want to set. No recents, no suggestions, just type it every time. What a wonderful age of feature rich technology we live in. 

    So, accepting your fate of carpal tunnel syndrome coming in a few years earlier because of this, you type “working remotely” and use `windows key` + `.` to open the emoji popover, and type house to filter down to a few options. You choose one, hit enter, and then, you hit escape. That’s when you’re hit with one of Team’s secret treasures: escape closes _both_ the emoji popover *and* the set status message popover. Wow, stellar stuff MicroSoft!

    So, you then must repeat the above process, thinking now there’s now way you make it past 40 without reconstructive wrist surgery, and think that repeating the windows key + period combo should close the emoji popover. You know in your mind that it doesn’t, but you just can’t accept there’s no hotkey shortcut to close this popover. Must you click on the X close button every time? The answer is nay, and I will show you my secret power here.

    The solution: enter TWO emojis, then use backspace to delete one, which also closes the emoji popover. 

    If you’re thinking it’s ridiculous, that this production product surely cannot have such a flaw, you’re not alone. It’s true, and I would ask anyone who can prove me wrong to call me out. I’m not holding my breath.

    Oh, and for those of you who are wondering how this works in Slack: hitting escape successfully dismisses the emoji popover while leaving the status message modal in place. 

    Point 1 for Slack.

    Moving on, let’s touch on memory and resource consumption

    Double – from my limited ability to compare the two (a surface go laptop), Teams pulls up to 1.1 GB of RAM when channel surfing. Slack barely ever peaks for 500MB. Slack is also faster in loading new channels, and presents a smoother experience (my opinion). Teams struggles to keep up, 

    Triple – I pushed Teams up over 90% CPU utilization! I had to work harder to get Slack to push itself over 30%. 

    Teams appears to have been so poorly optimized for its own, native, home operating system (Windows). Slack works great on any OS, and certainly outclasses Teams in terms of performance on Windows. 

    Point 2 (and 3) for Slack.

    Teams, Channels, and how they sneakily collapse without asking

    Have you ever wanted to have channels that you’ve joined to just hide automatically? I haven’t, but if you have, Teams is the perfect choice for you! Let’s back up a little first. 

    The assumed team structure structure using Slack is that everyone is part of the same unit, with differentiated access channels depending on factors like role, projects, interests, etc.

    Teams scopes this out further, assuming that everyone joining is a part of an organization, but must be broken into teams, and from there you can have channels. It’s not a way of grouping channels, it’s a way of separating users. 

    I much prefer Slack’s approach here, I believe Team’s teams is too abstract to be useful. 

    The layout, then, is that channels are organized under teams, which is one of the sidebar options. If this sounds a little cluttered, that’s because it is. You can click on the team names to expand/collapse the channels underneath. Teams takes is a step further in the app though: clicking on other teams will RANDOMLY COLLAPSE another team. This is completely intolerable, as now I have to click twice to get back to that channel, if I just wanted to quickly bounce between a few channels. 

    You also cannot drag/drop or rearrange your channels like you can with Slack. Slack allows you to create group sections, and choose how the channels are organized. Teams gives you zero customization options. 

    Point 4 for Slack.

    The Layout

    No contest, Slack has it all in one view: Channels, DMs, Threads, and Activities (Mentions and Reactions) all in one view. You switch between them like you’re changing channels. It’s very simple. 

    Teams doesn’t do this. DMs (Chats) are in a completely separate tab view from Teams/Channels, same with activity. More clicking to get to the same thing. More context switching, more view loading. More inefficiency.

    Point 5 for Slack.

    The uselessness of Team’s Activities

    Imagine getting push notifications on your phone, tapping on it, but it doesn’t drop you into the app or context of that notification. It just tells you about it. That’s exactly the experience using Team’s Activity notifications. You get to see what happened but, unlike Slack’s notification which take you to the context when clicked, clicking on an Activity notification opens a milquetoast version of the message/conversation you can reply to, without the rich context of the rest of the channel. 

    Point 6 for Slack. 

    Channel Names (better get it right the first time)

    So you go to create a channel (project-thing), only to realize you didn’t make it a shared channel, or some other kind of channel. You figure, no big deal, I’ll just delete this one and recreate it the correct way, using the same name since I’ll be removing this channel.

    In a sane world, that would be the end of it. In Teams world, once a channel name has been used, it is protected in perpetuity, meaning that the handy name of project-thing must now be changed. To fix this, you actually have to rename the old channel (z-trash-1), delete it, then the name project-thing will be free to use again.

    This kind of janky fix is unintuitive, and unnecessary. Say I really wanted that channel back, I would choose to free up the name when that channel was deleted, then bring it back as project-thing-1 or project-thing-(restored) and rename from there.

    Point 7 for Slack

    Wrap up

    It’s fair to say that Teams is lacking compared to Slack. It might be even fair to say that Teams and Slack are in different echelons when it comes to collaboration tools.

    Slack and Teams go beyond being just chat clients, they are the future of work. ChatOps, the practice of setting up workflows and status updates to all be delivered via chatbots and web hooks, is the future of work. Slack does it best right now, but there’s much room for improvement. Perhaps MicroSoft will rise to the occasion to fill that void. Perhaps not. I’m not holding my breath 😉

  • Recently on HN, Reddit, and even the New York Times, I’ve been reading articles and comments discussing whether or not COVID-19 is the death knell of in-person universities. They make some decent points:

    • Colleges did make the transition to online
    • Students were able to learn
    • Especially in America, large groups of people in a small room won’t be medically feasible given the continued pervasiveness of COVID-19.
    • Some students say they even learn better online than in person.

    These are all valid points. I learn better with a hybrid approach, where most days I will sit in class but on the days where I have to work or something comes up, the lecture is still uploaded to watch later in the day. The hybrid approach also has the added benefit of allowing students to review the lecture a second time (or more) if they so desire.

    There is, however, an issue with one not so small portion of collegiate education online: the labs.

    For the Harry Potter fans, consider that taking Physics, Chemistry, Biology, or Geology without any of the labs is analogous to Professor Umbridge’s approach to teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts without practicing what you’ve learned. You’ll have all the theory you need, but have you really reached the full extent of your education if you don’t know how to apply that knowledge in the lab?

    Labs are more than just showing up and tooling around with cool gadgets. They’re a practical application of knowledge gained in the classroom, and invaluable hands on experiences that prepare students for work after college (industry or academia). For the students who learn and understand best by doing, like myself, there is no replacement. 

    Another facet of in-person education: the performing arts. Rehearsals for orchestra, big bands, and large choirs would require massive space following the 6-foot spacing rule, and masks can’t be worn if you play woodwind or brass instruments. Choir would be a disaster, as that’s nothing but people constantly forcefully exhaling in a room with other people.

    The online experience

    Friends and colleagues of mine from Eastern Washington University have, overall, given me the impression that online learning in the Spring quarter was an awful experience. This is OK, and I’ll explain why: high schools, colleges and universities around the globe were given NO lead time to prepare for teaching their subjects online. Students who were expecting fully in person classroom experiences were instead given Zoom lectures.

    So, between poorly prepped Zoom lectures and expectations of the traditional college experience, it’s no wonder people had an awful time of it.

    This can be fixed, of course, and I expect that many teachers will spend time over the summer retooling their lesson plans and lecture setups to accommodate what is sure to be another term spent in quarantine, given COVID-19’s current rate of infection across the US. This still doesn’t address how to handle lab work, which is necessary for a lot of jobs that require graduate education (medical field, research, engineering, and more).

    How can we fix this?

    One solution may be to rapidly develop VR labs, but this lacks physical feedback as well as requiring every student who wants to take a lab to probably spend a cool grand or more in equipment (not everyone already has a VR capable PC). This would be a replacement, but not even close to being as good as the real deal.

    Remember those little science kits for children? Super size and super charge them for the college student labs, and you might be able to carry on with in home experiments. This of course isn’t feasible for any of the more hazardous, and of course more fun experiments that require ventilation hoods, protective shielding, or controlled chemicals and supplies.

    So what can we do in the meantime? The answer is of course to adapt the best as we can, and hope that a viable vaccine is near on the horizon. Wear a mask in public. Keep your distance. Use common sense. We’ll get through these times, and maybe, if we act together, thinking about the welfare of ourselves and one another, these times might just be a little shorter.

    A side note, the massive increase in Zoom usage has resulted in many hilarious faux pas by people unaware their cameras are still on.

    I wrote this post under the assumption that we will be returning to life as we knew it before COVID-19 in the near future.

  • I’ve come across some articles (this one in particular) that bash on convertibles, and don’t pull the punches. 

    I have also noticed, during my recent search for a new car, that American domestics have all but given up the convertible form factor. Your options, as of 2019, for a new convertible are limited to the following: The Buick Cascada, the Chevrolet Camaro, the Ford Mustang, and, even though I would barely count it as convertible, the Tesla Roadster.

    Before I delve any further into refuting the alleged downsides of convertibles, however, I want to extoll their virtues.

    The Highway Example

    Imagine you’re driving down Highway 1 on the golden coast in the middle of summer. It’s a brilliantly bright day, heat tempered into comfortable warmth by the ocean air, occasional patches of mist brush against you, making your skin tingle. The wind is lightly tousling your hair, and you have a playlist of The Eagles and America music keeping you company.

    Now, forget everything in the above paragraph. You’re still driving down Highway 1, but you have no idea what it’s like outside b/c you don’t have a convertible. The A/C is sterilizing the ocean air, the roof prevents any sun from hitting you, and your windshield wipers dispel any mist on the windshield. It’s a clinical, detached experience, devoid of anything that makes driving enjoyable.

    That’s a large difference, but I think it best illustrates why you’d want to own a convertible. It’s not because it’s the fastest, or the most practical, or the safest. 

    It’s because a convertible lets you enjoy the world as you drive through it. It’s an immersive experience, and takes the monotony out of even the most boring of commutes, time and again. 

    But back to talking about convertibles

    I was a little cheesed that there’s not as much in the way of convertible selection as there used to be in America. I can understand why. 

    • They’re not as safe as their full body counterparts.
    • They’re not really practical for a family. (see the rise in SUVs)
    • They’re typically more expensive than their full body counterparts.

    I’d like to imagine that, even given the above facts, convertibles still appeal to the rebel in all of us, even more so than motorcycles. I’m going to rebut most of the claims made by Aaron Miller in the article I’ve linked to above in an effort to make the convertible more attractive.

    1 – He complains about bird poop

    This is laughable as argument number 1. I truly believe you’re more likely to get hit by bird poop walking in and out of work than you are by sitting in a convertible. 

    2 – He says: “Putting the top up is an enormous pain”

    Not really. I push a button, and the car takes care of the rest, even rolling the windows up. I don’t think I’d ever consider it a “pain” or even and inconvenience. It’s just part of parking a convertible if you had the top down.

    3 – He states: “It rains”

    Um… duh? Of course it rains, that’s when you don’t put the top down. I’ve never had either of my convertibles leak on me, and one was almost 20 years old.

    3.1 – He complains about trunk space.

    Neither of the two convertibles I’ve owned have had tiny trunk spaces. In fact, my Chrysler 200 has a massive trunk when you’re not storing the top in there, and even when you are, there’s still a decent amount of space.

    4 – He mentions mold

    Could this not happen to any car that gets water in it, maybe even by means other than rain through the top (e.g. snow on your shoes).

    5 – He claims they’re slow

    I didn’t buy my car to go fast. I bought a convertible to cruise with the top down and enjoy it. And honestly, my 200 isn’t going to be breaking any land records, but it’s no slouch of a car, either.

    6 – He gives some random, outdated example

    Not even worth a response.

    7 – He says convertibles are flexible

    On this point, and on point 11, we are in total agreement. It can be unnerving to feel your car “flex” a little from time to time, but you get used to it. This is a byproduct of the convertible form factor, and unavoidable without being re-engineered.

    8 – He says “We don’t want to see you”

    I cannot tell you how much I don’t care.

    9 – He claims the shapes suck.

    This is largely subjective, but I have to disagree. The new Mustangs, Camaros, and the Tesla Roadster look pretty sweet. I’m not a big Buick fan, but even the Cascada looks pretty sharp.

    10 – He says you can’t hear the radio

    This complaint leads me to believe the author has never ridden in a convertible made within the last 20 years. My 2000 Camaro had a sound system w/two modes. The first mode was for driving with the top up, and, surprise, the second mode was for driving with the top down. You had to manually toggle it, but it worked very well. My 2012 200 also has this feature, but it’s toggled automatically.

    11 – He says: “Sunburns Suck”

    Again, …duh? Sunburns can happen in convertibles, but can also happen if you leave your arm on the side of the car with the windows down. 

    I would hope that I’ve refuted enough common complaints to restore someone’s interest in convertibles. If nothing else, I’d like to be able to send this to someone next time they get snarky about convertibles.