Another Odd Site Launch: DetroitHockey.Net 2016

After launching a new site that wasn’t all that new, my next project was a redevelopment of DetroitHockey.Net that removed features rather than adding them.

With the fantasy side of the site gone and no longer reliant on the rarely-used DH.N Community Forums, I reworked DetroitHockey.Net to remove the forums.  I also pulled out my custom blog software and replaced it with WordPress.

The idea behind going to WordPress was that, while I enjoyed writing my own blog software, it left me somewhat behind the times as far as what the site was capable of.  It’s a wheel I don’t want to reinvent, so instead I learned how to tap into native functionality of WordPress to do the things I wanted to do.

With the loss of the forums and the continued simplification of the site content, I was able to go with a more streamlined design.  The header features the site logo (I launched with the 20th Season logo in place but it will revert when that season ends), an advertisement, and one navigation bar.  This is in contrast to the old version of the site, which had a logo, three navigation menus, a login menu, an ad, and a set of links to forum discussions.

I also took the opportunity to implement the sub-navigation menu system that I developed for FantasyHockeySim.com.

The home page features seven recent headlines from the WordPress-driven news section, an embedded Twitter feed (replacing a custom developed version of the feed display), the score of the most recent Red Wings’ game, and a calendar showing the current month’s schedule (with games denoted by opponent logo).

The individual article pages use a modified version of the WordPress Twenty-sixteen theme, wrapped in the DetroitHockey.Net template.

The only other page that was heavily modified was the DH.N Contributors page, which pulls from the WordPress user system.

This version of the site is intended to be transitional, with further revisions coming after seeing how the forum-less site is used.

It’s Quiet Uptown

So Jenny is obsessed with Hamilton and has been for months.  We got our tickets to see it in Chicago last week, she’s had tickets to see it in New York for months, she’s had the recording on a near-constant loop for quite some time, all that.

Of late, I’ve found myself listening to it pretty often, and something just clicked for me about “The Election of 1800.”

After several scenes of heavy drama surrounding the collapse of Alexander Hamilton’s political career, marriage, and the death of his son, Thomas Jefferson asks, “Can we get back to politics?”  It signals a shift in the narrative, that the characters and story are moving on.

The first half or so of the song sets up the conflict between Jefferson and Aaron Burr.  The title character finally gets brought in when asked, “Dear Mr. Hamilton: John Adams doesn’t stand a chance so who are you promoting?”

His response?  “It’s quiet uptown.”

It’s a callback to the previous scene, in which he and his wife reconcile while mourning their son.  It’s also a beautiful sign of how, while the rest of the world has moved on, he has not.

A New Site That Isn’t New: FantasyHockeySim.com

A few days ago I launched a new website. Kind of.

FantasyHockeySim.com went live last Thursday. The site plays host to a couple simulated fantasy hockey leagues using the FHLSim software. Through FHS, league members can manage their teams in real-time, as opposed to all kinds of manual data entry that is required by FHLSim out of the box.

And if that sounds familiar, it might be because up until FantasyHockeySim.com launched, all of that was a part of DetroitHockey.Net. FHS is simply that functionality spun off into its own site.

One of the leagues that had been hosted at DH.N, the National Hockey Association, is the official league of SportsLogos.Net. And some of its members were not happy about having to be members of a Red Wings site to do their fantasy hockey. So I decided to move things to a neutral site.

With the fantasy hockey side of things no longer reliant on DetroitHockey.Net infrastructure, this would also allow me to update the two sites more easily.

Originally, the site was going to be called FHLSite, as that’s what I had referred to my software as when it was a part of DH.N. I had a hard time coming up with a logo for that, though, so I changed the name to FantasyHockeySim.com, abbreviated FHS.

For the logo, I took the shield from DH.N’s primary logo and changed the colors to gray and blue, then put the letters FHS over the top of it. A pair of crossed hockey sticks – the sticks from the DH.N logo, appear behind the shield.

The logo for FantasyHockeySim.com on a blue background
The logo for FantasyHockeySim.com on a blue background

The basic site design was ported over directly from DetroitHockey.Net but the header and footer were updated. For the main site and each league, the basic elements of the template are the same, with branding images and an accent color swapped out to provide uniqueness. The main site is a blue-gray while the DFHL is red and the NHA is a dark blue.

The biggest change was the replacement of the DH.N Community Forums as a communication hub and an identity provider. DH.N’s Invision Power Board installation is integrated into the entire site, which included the fantasy hockey side of things. It would not be available upon moving to a new domain.

I decided to create a team on Slack and build a login system around it.  I’ll write more about this in a future post on lessons learned about the Slack API, but the short version is that their OAuth workflow and API combined to allow me to have users with accounts on the FHS Slack team log in to the main FHS site and see their unread message counts, effectively replicating the functionality of the forums.

The end result is something curious, where I’ve launched a new site but created virtually no new functionality.  I think it’s a good starting point, though.

Building Physical Things

Part of why I love software development is that I get to make things.  Through my efforts, something new has been created.  It’s a pretty awesome feeling.

As much as I love it, there’s something even better about building physical things.  Even something as simple as an Ikea bookcase.

Ikea "Hemnes" bookshelf box
Ikea “Hemnes” bookcase box

You start with a box.  It’s relatively small and clean and self-contained, but it really isn’t anything useful.  And the first thing you do is destroy it.

An unboxed Ikea "Hemnes" bookcase
An unboxed Ikea “Hemnes” bookcase

That neat and tidy box becomes a bunch of parts spread all over the floor.  It’s a mess.  It’s not useful and it’s even worse than the box because it’s in the way.  But the mess is also potential, as each of those parts has a place.

A partially-assembled Ikea "Hemnes" bookcase.
A partially-assembled Ikea “Hemnes” bookcase.

Then you get to work, and things start to come together.  The pile of parts gets smaller and smaller, fitting together with each other.  Your project starts to look recognizable, like, perhaps, a bookcase.

A completed Ikea "Hemnes" bookcase.
A completed Ikea “Hemnes” bookcase.

Then it’s done.  Your pile of parts is gone and in its place is a piece of furniture.

Working in software, there are no parts, really.  No matter how many pieces your project may be in, none of them are physical.  You can’t spread it across the floor and piece it together like a puzzle.  I wouldn’t trade my job, but sometimes it’s nice to solve a problem that’s a little more tangible.

On “Guaranteed Installation Windows” and Comcast

Seemingly everyone has a Comcast horror story.  No one likes the company and people who use their services do so begrudgingly.

Except for me.

Oh, sure, I know they’re ridiculously overpriced but I recognize that they can get away with that.  I don’t expect them to charge less than market value out of the goodness of their hearts.  They’re a business; they want to make as much money as possible.  Aside from the price, though, they’d been pretty good to me.  Seemingly I was the only customer they treated well.

Until last weekend.

I just bought a new house and Saturday was my big moving day.  I spent most of the day lugging around furniture.  Mattresses and a pool table.  The big stuff.  Heavy stuff.  By 4:00 PM, I was behind schedule and tired and ornery but I had a “guaranteed installation window” from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM – set up using Comcast’s “Movers Edge” system – so I adjusted my schedule to make sure things were ready for the technician.

I made sure my TVs and the cable boxes I was bringing from my old apartment were all out and accessible.  My cable modem was plugged in and ready to go.  And I kept moving a little bit but for the most part I waited.

And waited.

And at 6:10 PM, I Tweeted this:

At 6:47 PM I got a phone call from the technician telling me that he would be unable to do the installation that day because he didn’t have any equipment for me.  Two things were wrong here.  First, as I mentioned, I brought my own equipment.  Second, apparently this lack of available equipment was not evident until 45 minutes after my appointment was supposed to happen.

So I told him that I had the equipment already, brought over from my previous residence.  He was first surprised, then told me that I needed new equipment for their X1 platform.  I told him that I already had the X1 equipment.

At this point, he paused for a moment, then asked me if I’d tried hooking any of it up.  I had not, so he told me to give that a shot as service to the house was already showing as active.

So an hour after the technician was supposed to have been there, I found myself doing the install myself.  The TVs worked just fine.  He called back as I was getting the modem set up.  After I had it plugged in, he sent it a signal.  It worked too.  Happily, he pronounced everything complete and asked me to text him the address from which my equipment came, then disconnected.

The next day I got a response from @comcastcares apologizing for the late appointment arrival.  After I explained that it wasn’t a late arrival, it was that he didn’t show at all and I basically did the install myself, they gave me a $20 credit.

Frankly, my time is worth more than that.

Now, the experience isn’t going to get me to switch, and Comcast knows that, which is why they can get away with this.  They’ll continue to take my money (minus a token $20) happily.  They’ll put up with public shaming in the form of this post as long as I pay my monthly bill.

So I don’t expect to change anything.  I’m not trying to change anything.  I’m just putting this out there as one more Comcast horror story.

Fixing the Joe Louis Arena Farewell Season Logo

Given my recent history, it would seem that I’m contractually obligated to dislike any graphics package any team in the Detroit Red Wings’ organization puts out.

I didn’t like the Red Wings’ Winter Classic jerseys in 2014 or their Stadium Series jerseys for this year.  I don’t like their Hockeytown logo.  I didn’t like the Grand Rapids Griffins’ 20th Season logo or their updated primary logo and I disagree with their choices in the fan-designed jersey contests.

So when they unveiled the logo celebrating the team’s final season at Joe Louis Arena, it should come as no surprise that I was unhappy with it.

The Red Wings' "Farewell Season" logo for Joe Louis Arena.
The Red Wings’ “Farewell Season” logo for Joe Louis Arena.

The primary problem I have with this is that the only way it says “Joe Louis Arena” is literally.  Much like my complaint about the Hockeytown logo.  Even then, they didn’t use the arena’s actual name but the nickname of “The Joe.”

The main elements of the logo are a big block of text, a Stanley Cup silhouette, and four stars representing Stanley Cup Championships.  Visually, this feels more like a logo celebrating those championships than the arena that hosted the team when they were won.

The Joe isn’t all of that interesting of a building but at least try to represent it visually.

I threw together a rough drawing of the direction I’d like to have seen them go (and I emphasize “rough”).

My idea for a Joe Louis Arena "Farewell Season" logo.
My idea for a Joe Louis Arena “Farewell Season” logo.

The primary element of this design is a drawing of the exterior of Joe Louis Arena.  It’s not a beautiful building by any means but it is recognizable and as such it makes sense to use it in the logo.

I kept the “Farewell Season” text across the top of the logo and the Winged Wheel at the bottom.  The four stars are kept, two on each side of the Wings’ logo.  A ribbon is added across the bottom of the arena rendering containing the remaining text from the original logo.  The bounding shape is changed because I think it works better as a patch.

The only element removed is the Stanley Cup silhouette, which I don’t think is necessary.

I should again emphasize that this is a rough drawing.  The rendering of the arena is pretty sloppy.  I think a better job would be done if it were actually being used (in fact, the Red Wings already have a pretty good drawing of the arena on their “JLA Insider” page of their web site, though I think it’s a little “comic” for use in a logo like this).  For anyone who thinks an arena can’t be rendered well on a patch, I give you the Maple Leafs’ patch for their final season at Maple Leaf Gardens, the Devils’ patch for their first year in Prudential Center, and the Hurricanes’ patch for when they moved to what was then Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena.

So change the shape, change the colors, change any of the other elements…  Just include Joe Louis Arena.  That’s what the logo is supposed to be for.  Show it, don’t just say it.


EDIT 2/15: I got some feedback that the bounding shape is unnecessary because it reduces the impact of the arena’s distinctive shape and I agree.  I mocked up a version that uses the drawing of the arena, the ribbon, and the Winged Wheel without losing any of the important elements.  Even the four stars are kept.

Revised concept for a Joe Louis Arena "Farewell Season" logo without a bounding shape.
Revised concept for a Joe Louis Arena “Farewell Season” logo without a bounding shape.

 

Martin Biron, John Scott, and Software Development

Martin Biron was the last player in the National Hockey League to wear #00.  It’s one of my favorite stories because it mixes hockey with the pitfalls of software development.

Biron, then a rookie goalie for the Buffalo Sabres, appeared in three games in the 1995-96 season wearing #00, which he had worn during his junior career as well.  He wasn’t the first to wear it – John Davidson had donned #00 for the New York Rangers in the 1970s and Ed Belfour wore it in an All-Star Game in the early 1990s – but by the time Biron made it back into the Buffalo lineup during the 1998-99 season he’d lost the number forever, switching to #43.

Between Biron’s final appearance in #00 and his first in #43, the NHL rolled out a new stat-tracking software package.  If I recall correctly, it was developed by IBM (though I’ve heard Compuware mentioned as well, I could be mis-remembering) to much fanfare.  Unfortunately there was a bug that only applied to Martin Biron: It assumed jersey numbers were non-zero.

When I wrote the software behind the short-lived Hockey Sweater Numbers web site I specifically made sure to handle this.  IBM – ridiculously, to me – did not, and rather than fix it the league just banned the numbers that the system didn’t account for.

Why is this story on my mind right now?  Because of John Scott and my own web site.

There used to be a listing of all of the winners of NHL awards on DetroitHockey.Net.  I just pulled it off the site because that data is all over the Internet, I don’t need to worry about it on DH.N.  But I still maintain the database for my own personal uses.

John Scott is a journeyman enforcer.  He started this season with the Arizona Coyotes, out of the lineup more often than he was in it.  When the NHL launched their web-based All-Star voting campaign, though, Scott quickly rocketed to the top of the voting.  When the dust settled, he had been elected as the captain of the Pacific Division team.

Almost immediately he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens of the Atlantic Division, then demoted to their American Hockey League affiliate.  The league never wanted him in the All-Star game and it appeared that their problem was solved.  In the end, with the support of many players but seemingly few front offices, Scott was allowed to play in the All-Star Game.  He would captain the Pacific Division but would represent neither the Coyotes nor the Canadiens.  His petition to represent the St. John IceCaps, his AHL team, was denied.  He was a man without a team.

Like something out of a movie, the journeyman now-minor-leaguer with five career goals scored twice and was named MVP of the event.

Within minutes of the announcement, I found myself staring at the administration system for the NHL awards on DH.N, entering Scott as the winner of the All-Star MVP award, and stumped because my system requires a player to represent a team and Scott doesn’t have one.

The story I’ve laughed at so much has come around to bite me in the ass a bit.  Software not written to handle the strange things hockey throws at it.

Unlike the NHL, I’m adapting my software.  I’m hacking in the St. John IceCaps as Scott’s team.

NHL All-Star MVP of the AHL's St. John's IceCaps
NHL All-Star MVP of the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps

Failing Fast is Still Failing

I love agile development methodologies.  Specifically the ability to fail fast and adapt as necessary.

I love cloud services for making failure cheaper and therefore easier.  We can try new things because the risks are lessened.

We have the process for failure figured out.  We have the technology for failure figured out.  I think we’ve still got to figure out the emotional impact of failure.

We don’t like to talk about touchy-feely things in engineering, but the fact of the matter is that failing fast, failing in ways that we’ve built business cases around, failing inexpensively…  is still failing.  And it doesn’t feel good to fail.

The team I’m working on had what we thought would be been a rubber-stamp demo scheduled for last Thursday.  We were a few weekly sprints into the project.  We’d demoed it previously and made some changes based on that demo.  We were working the way we were supposed to.

The demo revealed that a handful of requirements hadn’t been communicated.  Somehow this was missed earlier.  Much of our work was invalidated.

We failed.  We failed quickly.  We failed in such a way that we could iterate on our work and save the project.  We did what we were supposed to do.

But in our next retrospective, we couldn’t get over how much it stung to do it.  We recognized that the process was meant to catch these things, that we hadn’t done anything wrong inside that framework, but couldn’t shake the feeling that how things went down just sucked.

I don’t know how to get over that.  It feels like failure because it is failure.  If we expect it at a process level, maybe we need a way to account for it on an emotional level, too.

Why I Write What I Write

It seems weird to justify what I write in my own blog but I was recently sent a piece by Mark Llobrera that resonated with me and I wanted to spin off of it.

The fear of stating the obvious is one of my primary personal roadblocks to writing.

I have a horrible time deciding whether or not I should write something because I feel like I shouldn’t take the time if it won’t be original.  I fear that more than I fear writing something people won’t read.

Once I’ve written something, I’m disappointed if it doesn’t get a response, but that doesn’t really kick in until after I’ve published it.

The funny thing is the quote from The Web Ahead that inspired Llobrera’s piece:

I wish people would write more… In the future, we would have a better understanding of what people are thinking now. I’m very glad that I’ve been doing my blog for 15 years. I can go back to 2002 and get a feel for what it was like to build websites. Back then we thought X was true or hadn’t even considered Y. You forget these things. Having these written records—not of anything important or groundbreaking—but just the day-to-day. The boring stuff. That’s actually what’s most interesting over time.

I’ve specifically stated that this is why I write up my code samples the way that I do.  I want to document what I was thinking at the time that I wrote a certain piece of code.  It may not be original or it may become outdated but it explains how I think.

For some reason, while I apply that logic to code samples, I give myself a different standard for my free writing.

I think what I need to remember is that I’m writing, first and foremost, because I like writing.  If I want to put something to paper (so to speak), it shouldn’t matter if someone else has as well.

Last week I threw out a whole piece I’d written about WordPress issue #34976.  I threw it out because I had dug into why WordPress plugins weren’t updating for me and was writing up my findings when I discovered that WP already knew, so I figured I shouldn’t bother.  Had I published it, though, it would show my thought process through tracking down the bug, which is something I say I want to do.

Clearly I have work to do on this and reading that piece makes me realize it.

Thoughts on The Force Awakens

Like any self-respecting nerd, I have capital-t Thoughts on The Force Awakens.  I didn’t see it on opening night but I did make it before the weekend was out.  I’m sure my thoughts aren’t anything new but I want to get them out of my head so they’re coming out here.

It should go without saying but there will be spoilers ahead.  Sorry, no getting around that.

I should also state off the bat that I loved the movie.  I’m going to focus on things that could come across as complaints but I feel like they’re nit-picks more than anything.  The Force Awakens was beautifully put together.  Well-acted, visually-stunning, with an incredible John Williams score.

That said…

I came away from the film feeling like it was a “darker and edgier” remake of A New Hope.  Orphan from a desert planet meets an unexpected older mentor, finds that s/he is force-sensitive, sees said mentor struck down by a dark Jedi in a black suit and mask, then barely escapes as a planet-destroying superweapon is wiped out by a rag-tag fleet.

But wait!  It’s gender-bent!  And the mentor is killed by his own son!  And the superweapon is even bigger!  And people actually get stabbed/sliced/etc. by lightsabers!  It’s like they took the Battlestar Galactica playbook and applied it to Star Wars.

It’s awesome.  It’s larger in scope than Episode IV.  But I think it’s impossible not to make those comparisons.

Additionally I have an issue with the balance of power between Rey and Finn.  Rey is a complete badass.  Pilot, mechanic, handy with a blaster and, apparently, extremely strong with the Force. Finn…  Well, comparatively, he’s okay, I guess.

I’ve seen a lot of stuff calling Rey a Mary Sue (or other worse, misogynistic things) but I actually have no problem with her character.  I just wish we saw more of what makes Finn tick.  This is a guy who deserted the First Order because it was The Right Thing to Do.  Who picked up a lightsaber because it was the only weapon available and he needed to fight.  Who used that lightsaber – with no training – to fight the closest thing to the personification of evil that he’s ever seen.

That’s badass, too, but seems overshadowed by just how incredible Rey is.  Not saying anything should be taken from Rey, I just would have liked more backstory for Finn.

That said, I imagine backstory for both characters will be prevalent in future films.

On the Dark Side, we have Kylo Ren.  Clearly this is a heavily-conflicted character.  It’s impossible not to compare him to Anakin Skywalker (which, as he basically worships Darth Vader, is pretty much the point).  I think he could actually be more of a bad guy than Vader as Anakin was pretty much tricked into joining the Dark Side.  Han Solo tells his son that he’s been tricked, but I think Ben chose of his own free will to become Kylo Ren.  We may learn otherwise in future films – redemption arcs are big in this series – but it seems to me that Ben didn’t want the power of the Dark Side for any noble purpose like Anakin, he just wanted power.

Seeing him without his helmet adds to that, I think.  He’s not a deformed half-man confined to a suit like Vader.  He’s a human who chooses the suit.  He can take it off.  He just doesn’t want to.

Speaking of the Dark Side…  As Rey embraces the force in her battle with Kylo Ren, it sure seems like she’s putting a lot of hate and vengeance into it.  We know those lead to the Dark Side.  I wonder if anything will come of that.

If the new trilogy is darker and edgier, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Rey to turn to the Dark Side, with her conversion showing Ben just what a horrible thing the Dark Side is and pushing him back to the Light Side.