Jen's Personal Blog

Writings that don't fit anywhere else

Jen's Useless Accomplishments of 2017

Every Friday I note some useless accomplishment I made in the previous week. It’s a helpful way for me to maintain a feeling of progress. In aggregate they tend to be pretty entertaining too.

Here’s a list of some of my most useless accomplishments of 2017.

  • Explored Meow Wolf.
  • Ate hot pot 3 nights in a row.
  • Went to Napa on a Tuesday, during a flood warning. Private tours everywhere!
  • Started my first D&D campaign.
  • Used git push origin master --force for a legitimate reason.
  • Gave a talk at the same event Buzz Aldrin spoke at.
  • Lost 0 fingers while using a table saw with all of the safety features disengaged.
  • Set up wireless backhaul in my apartment to get an old chromecast working better. Mysteriously broke the printer’s wifi.
  • Got my first roller derby black eye.
  • Got listed on Google Research. (Thanks Google+!)
  • Presented my first piece of installation art.
  • Got talk rejections from two conferences in a row.
  • Scored 77 points across 4 roller derby jams.
  • Drank 9 kinds of Japanese vending machine coffee.
  • Had my astronaut application officially rejected.
  • Made a fool of myself at a Japanese esports event.
  • After many rounds of firmware hacking, finally bricked my personal Google Glass. Booted a windows laptop off of a microsd card through 4 adapters (MicroSD -> SD -> CompactFlash -> PATA/ZIF40).
  • Broke compilation of an Android app by changing white space in a license header comment.
  • Did an aerial silks wheel down.
  • Picked all of the trainer locks at BSides LV.
  • Survivied using an unpatched Windows XP laptop at DEFCON.
  • Saw a total solar eclipse.
  • Live coded for 90 minutes without leaking an access token.
  • Used US dollars in a vending machine in Berlin.
  • Went to Poland mostly to collaborate with US based colleagues.
  • Hiked 3 times in one week.
  • Ran across 3 halloween street parties, all within a mile of each other. On October 8th. Nola really knows how to party.
  • Aggressively kicked a distinguished engineer out of a conference room, that they had booked >_<
  • Made it to 12,000 reputation on Stack Overflow.
  • Got my boss to draw me a dinosaur.
  • Something literally caught on fire while I was on livestream.
  • Sneezed while at a concert and had the performer said ‘God bless you’ to me… in the middle of their song.
  • Caught a Mewtwo in Pokemon Go.

These were all great, but my favorite useless accomplishment of 2017 has to be…

  • Spent 10 of my 18 hours between business trips playing D&D.

Thanks for the awesome 2017 everyone! It’s had some rough patches, but here’s to making 2018 even more great and stuff.

Ford GoBike: First Impressions

Ford GoBike launched in San Francisco this morning. It’s operated by the same company as Bay Area Bike Share, Motivate. The relaunch includes new bikes, new mobile apps, and a new title sponsor.

I’m a long time fan of bike share programs. I’ve ridden bikes on more than 10 different systems across the world. I was also a heavy user of Bay Area Bike Share, until I had an unfortunate incident involving a bike that failed to dock completely (read the postmortem here).

Here’s a run down on my observations from my first day riding on a Ford GoBike.

The Good

Ford GoBike is a big improvement over Bay Area Bike Share. Here are my favorite improvements.

Faster bikes

The new bikes are geared a bit differently, have narrower tires, and seem quite a bit lighter. This makes them faster. My unscientific gut feeling analysis indicates that I am able to ride 20% to 30% faster on the new bikes.

They’re not road-bike fast, but they’re fast enough that I need to watch out for the doors of careless drivers. The old bikes were so slow that I was able to break to a stop on every dooring-close-call.

No more sticky bike handles

The new bikes have handles made from a harder plastic. Hopefully this will resolve the most disgusting issue with the old bikes: their spongy, sticky handles would often leave your hands covered in mystery slime.

Clipper card check outs

Another annoying part of Bay Area Bike Share was the odd shaped key card required to check out a bike. It wasn’t flat enough to fit in your wallet, and it wasn’t small enough to fit well on your keychain.

With Ford GoBike, you can tap your clipper card to check out a bike. Here are the steps:

  1. Add your clipper card number to your profile on
  2. Tap on the clipper card reader on the right side of the bike you’d like to borrow

Mobile app check outs

In addition to clipper card checkouts, you can also borrow a bike with the mobile app. Here are the steps:

  1. Log into the app on your mobile device
  2. Tap on the in-app icon for the dock you’d like to borrow a bike from
  3. Punch the number displayed on the app into the 3 digit keypad next to the bike you’d like to borrow

Check in notifications

The previous generation docks showed only one indicator of a successful check in: a brief green light. As I found out the hard way, this was insufficient.

The new docks bear the same LEDs, but they’re backed up by check in notifications. These are awesome. Be sure to check for them after each ride to make sure your bike was safely docked, and to ensure that you’re no longer liable for the $1200 bike loss fee.

The Bad

As great as my ride was this morning, not everything about Ford GoBike is perfect. Here are some things I’d like to see improved.

Auto-renewal settings were changed

On the previous system I did not have auto-renew enabled, but when I logged in to Ford GoBike today I discovered that I was opted in to auto-renewal. It seems like they defaulted imported accounts into automatic renewal.

If I hadn’t accidentally clicked the auto-renew settings link while looking for something else, I would never have noticed it. I would have received a surprise-charge to my credit card in early 2018.

I encourage you to log into your profile, go to Membership Settings, and ensure that auto-renewal is set up correctly.

Only 35 stations

I installed the app a couple weeks ago, way ahead of time. I was greeted by over a hundred grey dots that represent the full planned network for SF and Oakland. I was delighted by the increased coverage.

Then launch day rolled around, and there was a bit of a bait and switch. I fired up the app and saw that only 35 of the stations were active. This is fewer than Bay Area Bike Share. In fact, the two stations closest to my workplace were inactive.

Riding around I saw that some of the inactive stations are already mostly set up, so I’m optimistic that the rollout will continue at a steady pace, including the increased coverage down into the mission district.

Rider liability is still very high

Despite paying an annual fee, the membership terms state that you are liable for $1200 from the time you check out a bike, until it is safely re-docked. That’s the cost of a pretty fancy road bike.

This is especially concerning because a lost clipper card, a stolen phone, or a hacked account can all be used to check out a bike on your account.

For example, you get mugged. Your wallet is stolen with your Clipper card inside it. You’re scrambling to deal with the trauma of the mugging, and the loss of all of the credit cards and identity documents in your wallet. Before you know it, the mugger uses your clipper card to go on a Ford GoBike joy ride. When they’re done with their ride, they ditch the bike in the bay. Then a few days later Motivate charges $1200 to your credit card. Sad face.

Account password rules

Accounts on have stupid password rules requiring the use of numbers, mixed case, and special characters. Rules like these are an outdated custom that hurts security. To make matters worse, there’s a maximum password length of 15 characters! Why on earth would a modern website have a maximum password length? I will be unable to use correct horse battery staple as my password :(

Account email cannot be changed

If the password issues weren’t alarming enough, here’s where it gets wacky. You can change your account email, but changing it does NOT change your account’s login. That is apparently stuck as whatever you used to sign up. This is alarmingly puzzling.

Pricing increase

The price of an annual membership for Ford GoBike has gone up by over 40%, from $88 per year to $124. This is a pretty jarring increase. But, the system will be much larger and the trip duration was raised from 30 to 45 minutes, so it’s still an OK deal.

The neutral

Some changes are neither good, nor bad, but still notable.

Bike seat height difference

The seat post height numbers are a little different on the new bikes. I used to ride with my seat height set to about 5. On the new bikes, this seems to map to a 4 1/2.

The Conclusion

All in all, I’m pretty happy with Ford GoBike. Some issues remain, but they addressed most of the concerns I voiced about Bay Area Bike Share, and the planned coverage area is much bigger. I hope the new bikes hold up better than the previous batch :)

Failed attempts to explain Developer Advocacy

About 7 years ago I discovered an awesome twist on the traditional Software Engineering career: Developer Relations. Over the years and across organizations the titles have varied – from Developer Evangelist, to Developer Advocate, and even to Senior Staff Developer Programs Engineer. But, all the while, one thing has remained the same: it’s really hard to explain what the heck we do.

Today my teammates and I, inspired by #BadlyExplainingYourJob, discovered that failed attempts are actually a great way to explain our jobs. Here is a list of those failed attempts.

I go places and talk to people about products, but don’t care if you buy them.

~~ Terrence Ryan

Explain how a Developer Advocate is not the same thing as a Technical Evangelist, over and over.

~~ Paul Newson

I’m a professional translator. I translate between Real World Engineer and Google Engineer.

~~ Aja Hammerly

I help people cause trouble with code.

~~ Jen Tong

I travel the world, excited to learn about how our products are broken.

~~ Brian Dorsey

I read Hacker News and Reddit, and pretend I’m an expert on stage.

~~ Sandeep Dinesh

I collect t-shirts from conferences, and tech companies while travelling the world.

~~ Mark Mandel

I’m the one Developers yell at when the platform isn’t working how they want; And I’m the one the engineers yell at when the developers aren’t using it right

~~ Colt McAnlis

I practice abstract driven development.

~~ Myles Borins

I look for places I want to travel to, and then see if there are conferences there I can speak at

~~ Mark Mandel

I make explosion noises at my computer when demos fail and get paid for it.

~~ Aja Hammerly

And, of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without…

I’m a people person. I take the code from the engineers and I bring it to the developers.

~~ Myles Borins

So yeah, hopefully that worked. You have a better idea of what it is we do, right? And it sounds great? Maybe you should come join us!