Breaking the Build

For work, I am reading a book called Continuous Delivery. Its tagline is “Reliable Software Releases through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation.” I am reading it so that I can apply its principles both for software projects at work and software projects at home. Lately, I have been seeing ways that I can apply it in real life. For instance, the book has a chapter on Continuous Integration, of which there exists a companion book as well as numerous other texts on the subject. The first role of Continuous Integration is “Thou shalt not break the build.” For every change that is made, there should be tests that make sure that a regression has not occurred. How can I apply this rule in real life, though?

Last week, I had worked enough hours that I came home and decided to finally deal with the mess that was my dresser and closet. Both were overflowing; I didn't wear most of it and, when input my clothes up, I just crammed them wherever I could, regardless of where they went or whether there was room to put them where they were being shoved. So, I took out every piece of clothing I owned, touched them all, and determined whether I wanted to keep them, given them away, or just get rid of them. It took two hours, but I finally got the mess under control. Now, to apply Continuous Integration to this problem, I need to define some tests that I check every day.

Here are the tests I came up with, in the form of a check list:

  • Ensure that the top of the dresser is clear
  • Ensure that the top of the cedar chest is clear
  • Ensure that there is adequate spacing between hanging clothes so I can see what is there
  • When opening drawers to remove clothes, ensure that the remaining clothes are neatly folded

These basic tests that I mentally check every time I go in our room or closet have helped me, in the last week, make sure that the clean up I did last week does not suffer a regression. If, like this morning, I discover something on the dresser, I consider the build to be broken and revert the change (I removed the offending article and worked to make sure that the problem was fixed). Over time, I hope that incremental changes like this will help make sure that the master bedroom and closet are neat and tidy. Then, I can tackle the other rooms in the house. The keys to make sure that problems are taken care of as soon as they occur, just like in Continuous Integration.


Lottery Savings Plan

While listening to the Freakonomics podcast the other day, I ran across the episode entitled “Lottery Loopholes and Deadly Doctors”. The episode put forth a problem: how can you increase the savings rate, especially for the poorest people? Stephen Dubner states that, even though the poorest do not have enough money in the bank to help counter the smallest of emergencies, many are still willing to put a few dollars a week into the lottery in the hopes of winning big. His argument is that the poorest believe that a few dollars a week will not hurt them, will never get them out of their financial mess, but winning the lottery big would make their problems go away even though the chances of winning are very, very small.

As a possible solution, Dubner describes something called Prize-Linked Savings (PLS) accounts. Basically, it is a special savings account where you get slightly less interest than normal. Periodically, maybe once a month or once a quarter, one winner is chosen from those that contributed (likely proportional to their contributions) for a big prize that is composed of the reduced interest on all of the contributions. That way, it is revenue-neutral for the banks offering the product and it plays on the needs of people to gamble on the “big win” to get them to save. Even better, if you don’t win, you still get to keep the money in the savings account, plus the interest that it accrued. Nobody loses.

Well, that isn’t quite true. You see, even though no one is actually risking any money, the States still consider it gambling and in competition with their own, State-run lotteries. The States argue that they would lose revenue for things like education if people were not participating in their lotteries. So, it is actually illegal to have the PLS accounts in most States. Personally, I think that the PLS accounts are a great idea. If the States see revenue fall from a lack of people playing the lottery, then the programs that revenue stream supports should be re-evaluated for necessity. If the programs are necessary, taxes should be raised according so everyone shares the burden of the necessary programs. That would reveal more about the true costs to each citizen of government and open the door to programs like the PLS accounts that might actually get people to save money for emergencies.

The Neverending Story

As an adult, I cannot believe I have never read this endearing book that was the inspiration for one of my favorite movies as a child. The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende, goes far beyond the plot of the movie, whose end occurs around half-way through the book. The book is much darker than the movie ever thought about being. I have had a hard time deciding how much to talk about here; on one hand, the English translation of the book is 29 years old. On the other hand, how many of my contemporaries have actually read the book versus just thinking they know the story since they have seen the movie?

In the book, Ende covers the nature of the Nothing, what happens to the Fantasticans (I actually like the name Fantasians much better) when they are taken by the Nothing, and how the Nothing affects the real world. The scene with Gmork, where all of this is explained, could not be more different than it was in the movie since the brief spurt of action found in the movie is not present. Once Ende gets beyond the end of the movie, he starts to explore the idea of what happens when you allow yourself to get too wrapped up in fantasy and who you wish you can be and begin to forget who you really are.

if you loved The Neverending Story as a child, I highly recommend reading this book as an adult. Be prepared for your conception of Fantasia to be forever altered, though.