red-winged blackbirds and the limits of my VisualStudio knowledge
Friday, March 11 2022
It was a warmish, springlike day, and this morning I heard a sound one doesn't normally hear near the house up here on Hurley Mountain: the call of red-winged blackbirds. The call sounds like someone pronouncing "Chef Boyardee" by forcing air out under pressure from the space between their gums and their lips. I remember red-winged blackbirds from the ones that used to live in the marsh (38.099592N, 79.133070W) on the family farm south of Staunton, Virginia when I was child. I've also seen them perched on the telephone wire along Hurley Mountain Road where it passes between the Hurley Mountain Escarpment and the wetlands along Englishman's Creek (41.922368N, 74.086989W). But up on Hurley Mountain, away from large open wetlands, red-winged blackbirds are normally never seen. This made me wonder if what I was really hearing was a blue jay that had learned how to do the call of the red-winged blackbird. (I never actually saw any red-winged blackbirds, though I heard them on separate occasions hours apart near the house.)
At the end of the day yesterday, U, the impatient (and somewhat infuriating) software architect who has been providing me advice while I build out an AppStream login system, asked me to send him some of my code so he could figure out why my AppStream URLs were producing a 500 error from an Amazon server. The idea was that he would be getting back to me this morning. But the morning came and was almost over and he still hadn't gotten back to me. It's easy for me to get paranoid in situations like this and I began to wonder if perhaps the code I'd sent to U was so fundamentally flawed that my boss was reconsidering whether or not to even have me on the project. This grew out of the background feeling of impostor syndrome that probably haunts most people who do what I do for a living. So I messaged my boss the CTO to tell him that U had never gotten back to me. This caused the CTO to message U, and at noon we finally had a meeting.
Right away U wanted me to open up my code and run it in VisualStudio. I can do that, but, since everything I know about VisualStudio I taught myself (although I did learn about NuGet from Victoria, a colleague at the Red Hook office until she left in 2019), it wasn't long before U told me to do something I had no idea how to do. He wanted me to set a breakpoint, and I've never once used breakpoints in my entire life. (I learned how to program in the web paradigm, where one typically just prints out values to see what happens, and it's no big deal if the code keeps running, since it won't be running for long. And I've never thought that breakpoints would solve any problem I debug that way.) After hemming and hawing for a bit and acting like the interface wasn't working, U told me "just hit F9." And that created a breakpoint. As for inspecting values of variables when those breakpoints were hit, I had no idea how to do any of that stuff, so I had to be told in excruciating detail where to hover my mouse by the already-impatient U. And sometimes the CTO would tell me to do something different involving the Immediate Window, which I'd never heard of. Finally I told them that I was completely self-taught with respect to VisualStudio and that there is a lot about it I do not know. It was a little embarrassing, but it wasn't exactly realizing that I was walking down a hallway in high school with no pants on. Eventually we managed to find the source of the problem: the way I was handling the API-produced URL was causing it to be URL-encoded. Without that, the AppStream URL worked as intended. Everything would've been so much better had U not said at the end that my code was disorganized and just kind of stuck together. That might've been somewhat true, but it was, as I pointed out, a work in progress. And the code he'd sent me as a model was not particularly well organized either. I suspect he was just trying to get back at me for our little clash a week or so ago. But I'm sure my coding style has as many issues as my VisualStudio talents; in my 25 year career, I've rarely had anyone critique my code; generally, if it worked, that was all that mattered. So I've probably internalized a lot of bad coding habits (despite my attempts to absorb best practices from practical examples).
After that there was another meeting about the scope of a supposed training session about Azure DevOps, something Joe, the lead developer in my scrum group, had been advocating for. I didn't really see the need for it any more, since I'd already taught myself everything I thought I needed to know about the topic and would've been happy to teach the others. But Joe is gung-ho on trying to get our company to spring for more training, so I'm trying to be supportive of that view. The meeting ended up being somewhat contentious, with my boss, the CTO, getting worked up about some particular that doesn't concern me. It seems like he's a bit anxious and disagreeable, which is probably how he got to be CTO to begin with.
After that, I drove into Uptown mostly to return some cans and bottles for deposit money and to buy more bottom-shelf liquor for the laboratory. The pandemic is in such a lull right now that I didn't even bother wearing my mask into the Hannaford, though I kind of wished I had once the very friendly guy returning several shopping carts' worth of cans and bottles hadn't done a few half-coughs within a few feet of me. He paused his returns so I could use the machine, and as a thank you, I gave him all the bottles and cans the machines had refused. I was wearing my mask when I went into the liquor store. All the employees there are still also wearing masks, and about half the customers are still wearing masks too.
Back at the house, I eventually took a nap for an hour and a half. I was feeling mildly depressed, probably from the beers I'd started drinking and ruminating over what U had said about my code. But I can't let this stuff get to me; I have a good job, I'm doing good work, and I'm not even working very hard. I need to remember that.
I've been working on building a single increasingly-large ball of Oscar's fur for about a year now. As of today, the ball is a little over four inches in diameter and close to perfectly spherical. It's so perfect that I want to leave it as it is. So I've started making another fur ball using what I brush off of Oscar every time he climbs in my lap.
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