Three Tough Projects and Bands That Got Me Through Them

Creative Index

The now defunct Creative Index was a search engine aimed at indexing portfolio sites. The Creative Index was perhaps the most open-ended project I have ever taken on. The goal was to allow people to list their various portfolio sites, have the Creative Index scrape their sites, index all the textual content, and make it searchable via a Google-like interface. Of course, the project was doomed from the beginning, as results would be measured against Google, and we all know how that goes. I had never taken on a project that required taking such unstructured data, also another reason it was doomed. Most portfolio sites contain very little text, which makes matching and ranking difficult.

And that’s when I discovered the Mars Volta. While writing the engine to handle the retrieval of web pages, I learned just how chaotic the underbelly of Internet is. Circular redirects, 404s, bad links, authenticated pages made my code check hundreds of variables in the most paranoid, chaotic way possible. The Mars Volta’s drug-induced, hallucination-inspired free-form rock-jazz-samba was a great soundtrack to the chaos I was trying to make sense of.

Creative Portfolio Display

In July of 2010, I had the distinct honor of developing one of the few InApps for Linkedin. LinkedIn’s InApp platform runs on Google OpenSocial. OpenSocial is a great way to plug in 3rd party apps in a secure way. However, the normal development workflow changes quite a bit, as OpenSocial acts as a caching proxy. So in order to get changes in your app down to the user/tester/you, you need to set an additional variable that will re-retrieve the specification for your app. In order to get to that, you need to find the URL to the iframe that contains your app, which is only available in a javascript block, add the cache busting variable, drop the URL in your browser, and hard refresh. That only worked sometimes. And when it did work, it was pretty much guaranteed that the change you made didn’t.

Needless to say, the workflow was painful, even on the best days. Add to that, some weird firewall issues, and you had a situation that would make St Francis of Assisi murder kittens. That’s where Passion Pit came in. Their music is just so…damn…happy. In most cases Passion Pit saved me from putting my fist through my monitor.

RightScale, Rackspace Cloud configuration

In attempt to save ourselves some money, and automate a lot of the SysAdmin work I’d been doing by hand over the past couple years, I undertook a partnership with RightScale. Since in every case, the servers I was deploying didn’t have php, or any other language I knew by default, I had to resort to bash, which I didn’t know. This project took me very out of my comfort zone, had a Mt Everest of a learning curve, and was so essential to our growth that it couldn’t fail. There were also tons of moving parts that were out of my control. RightScale’s integration with the Rackspace cloud is in Beta, which meant that in addition to struggling through a language I didn’t know, I had to differentiate my own errors from things that were problems with the sever images. Tons ‘o fun.

In stepped The Bronx (III), probably one of the most solid rock bands I’ve heard in a long time. Their tracks had a real sense of purpose, and the lyrics echoed a lot of my desperation. In particular, the line in Pleasure Seekers where desperation is cited as inspiration totally got me through.

Jul 31st, 2011