Let’s look like an idiot

I used to write a lot. I had been keeping a personal blog and a technical one for years. I moved house a few times, and every time I threw away a bunch of useless stuff. Now, I have completely ditched my personal blog and have kept only a handful of posts in this blog that might still make some sense. I was reading this book from John Z. Sonmez lately and I started wondering why I no longer write.

softskills

When I started my blog back in early 2010s I was tired of fining half-baked solutions that didn’t work. The author would throw out a few random things and you were meant to stitch them together in order to get something working but then you realize they missed a big piece of work. Off to the next entry in the Google search results (I’m sure Google was a thing then). When I wrote about something I also provided fully working code with it, which was pretty good and I was getting good feedback. I pretty much stopped doing that when I joined Atlassian.

That was a fairly big shift for me I think. After joining Atlassian back in early 2014, I suddenly realized “Oh shit, this place is out of my league”. I kept my head down, learning from people around me. In the first few months I was overwhelmed with the amount of information coming from the fire hose. Once thing settled down it was interesting to see when an advanced topic came up, not only people had heard about it but they also had a few ideas. After a while this became normal to me and every time I thought about writing, a sound in my head would say “what’s the point, you’re most likely going to be wrong!”. I couldn’t risk looking like an idiot. Once or twice I wrote about the side project I was doing, and that was all. I’m going to trying something new and start writing again. I might have a different perspective that might be interesting for some people. Yeah, let’s look like an idiot.

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Protect your calendar, save your sanity

Our workspace is full of interruption these days and it has become harder to do work that requires focus. Are you among those people who avoid the interruption by blocking some time in their calendar? How long before someone comes along and double books you? A similar story is people inviting you to a meeting while you are away on leave or dropping kids at school.

Calendar-meme

You can’t train everyone to use the ‘Find a time’ feature of Google Calendar. One solution is to auto-decline invites for that 7am meeting without you moving a finger.

The rest of this article is about Google Calendar, you may stop reading if you use something else 😉 There used to be “Automatically declining events” configuration in Labs, but it doesn’t seem to be available anymore (at least to me). However, it is still easy to do simple automation like this using “Google Apps Scripts”. Have a look here to see how it works.

I had used Apps Scripts before, so I wrote one (using this as a starting point) to do what I needed. It tracks my out of office hours and declines all the incoming invites with a polite response. Check it out here on GitHub, copy and modify it to fit your purpose. When you run it for the first time, you will need to grant access to manage your calendar and send emails as you. Set it to run every few minutes and you are all set. No more meetings when you are away.

Relay ME is now open-source!

This entry has been cross-posted in Codolution’s blog.

After recently announcing end-of-life for Relay ME, I have got a lot of responses from people who were using this app and relied on it for their business, and couldn’t find any alternatives to it. Unfortunately, or fortunately, texting is still a big thing and we don’t have a proper bridge to bring it to our online world. I was wondering if I could do something so we could keep this app working for as long as possible, given the fact that we can’t spent much time maintaining it. As a result, we have this app and its server-side components (used for OAuth flow, linking to GMail) open-sourced. You can find them on GitHub now (here, and here). You can now start contributing to this app, fix issues, and add features to it by sending pull-requests in GitHub. There will also be a public Trello board to track tasks and issues, to give visibility about what is happening in this space.

In terms of app maintenance, it will be kept alive but I don’t think any technical support can be provided at this stage. We hope that we can fix bugs and improve the app by getting help from developer community in the future.

EOL for Relay ME

This entry has been cross-posted in Codolution’s blog.

It was a few years ago that I started working on an Android app called Relay ME, just to learn how to write an Android app. Its aim was to forward texts as emails, and allow the user to reply to them using email.

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 12.38.54 AM

Despite lack of proper resources it didn’t take me a lot of time to make it work. It was the time of apps with black background, if you still remember it, and expectations weren’t high. If your app just worked you were in a very good shape 😉 However, a lot of things changed while I was keeping this app alive. I did things that are now taken for granted, dealt with things that are history (ActionBarSherlock, ADT Plugin, and Google OAuth 1 for example), implemented best practices to become obsolete next year, and scrambled to fix issues caused by new releases of the platform. Creating and maintaining a mobile app requires a decent amount of effort these days, especially if there is big pile of historical baggage to carry around and technical debt to pay. The time has come for me to close this project to be able to focus on the current work at hand. The biggest take away for me was to never underestimate the time you need to spend on customer support and investigating issues.

Pictures

I have already open-sources the codes for the Android app in https://github.com/codolutions/relay-me-android-studio-project. I hope it can be useful for someone who wants to do something similar to this. If you are a developer interested in maintaining Relay ME and supporting its user base on Google Play, get in touch with me at info@codolutions.com. All I need from you is interest and commitment.

A starter web app using Java and React

As a back-end developer, every time I start a web application with front-end code it becomes a mess. I usually start with something very simple in Node and it quickly reaches a point where I can’t really manage it. This time I tried to organize my web app so that:

  • Its back-end code is in a language I’m more familiar with, i.e. Java.
  • It uses a proper dependency injection, i.e. Spring.
  • It uses a modern front-end framework, i.e. React.
  • The same templates are used in server and client side code, i.e. it is isomorphic.
  • It isn’t ugly, at least using some LESS styles and Bootstrap.
  • It has basic wiring for database access.
  • It can run in Docker.

If you think you can use this starter app, please feel free to clone/download the code from https://github.com/n0rm1e/spring-react-starter-app/. Please feel free to give feedback and/or contribute back. Its front-end code is based on Facebook’s comment box tutorial, you may already be familiar with. Credits to Benjamin for the idea and starting point.

Diagnostics for Android apps

This entry has been cross-posted in Codolution’s blog.

Let’s assume you have got a great Android app, how do you go about diagnosing problems users have with it? One big problem with mobile apps is the fact that it is gone out of your hands and you can’t see what’s happening when things go wrong.

broken-android

Ideally, you would ask the user to send you some logs, but it is not as easy as it should be. Some time ago you could install an app that would read logs for you, but in a fairly recent versions of Android they can only see their own logs which is not very useful. You could ask users to root their device, or install developer toolkit and use ADB. Good luck trying. This is when a simple diagnostic tools could be helpful, if it allowed users to send your application’s logs back to you. Please meet diagnostic-tools.

Here you have a jar file you should to your project, which will give you a LogCollector. This class can read application logs and send them in an email with some information about the runtime environment. It actually doesn’t send email, it prepares it and lets user decide how to send it. Give it a try by installing the demo app or building it from source code.

2015-06-18 12.43.03

What you need to do is (refer to the demo app if something is not clear):

Add this jar file to your Android project. You can also build it yourself from source code. However, the demo app defines a project dependency instead.

Add a provider as shown below to your application. This is needed by FileProvider to share the log file with the email sending app as an attachment.

Add the XML file mentioned in the configuration above, which specifies the path for the files exported by this provider.

And finally, when you want to send logs, call the log collector.

mLogCollector.collect();
mLogCollector.sendLogs("info@codolutions.com", "Error Log", "Hey there, here is your log!",
"Some extra information, just because you wanted.",
"com.codolutions.diagnostics.demo.fileprovider");

Just one more thing that could be useful: If you are lucky enough to spot the issue and fix it, you go ahead and upload a new version, but there is no guarantee users will opt-in to your fix. One thing that can help with that is a kill switch. Using the kill switch you can remotely disable particular versions of your app and force users to upgrade to the latest. I’d recommend you to have at least a very basic kill switch from day 1, you never know when you are going to use it.

Credits: I have borrowed some code from https://code.google.com/p/android-log-collector/.

Catch UP

This entry has been cross-posted in Codolution’s blog.

Background

catchup-screenshotI have a couple of friends in Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Foursquare, etc. I try to catch up with them once in a while, but I always miss important stuff and life events because I don’t check frequently enough. If this describes you as a social network user, you will probably want to check Catch UP out. Catch UP aims to bring the most important stuff from different networks in a single place, allowing you to make sure you don’t miss updates from your family members or best friends. There are a few similar applications out there, but we thought we can give it a try and learn more about social networks along the way.

 

How it works
  • You connect your social accounts, via OAuth (no password entered in the app)
  • You select a list of people you would like to filter your feed with
  • In separate dashboards you will see your own posts, and updates coming from your list
  • You will see the hot items, those who attracted a lot of attention, in a separate dashboard
  • You can see how connections in your list have been engaged with your own or each others’ posts
  • You can get notifications about new updates from your list
Considerations
  • We plan to provide this for free, for all the users. The base functionality will be free of advertisement and free of charge, forever.
  • We will provide some extra features for a price, expecting a percentage of users to take them up, covering some of the development and running costs.
  • In order to provide an acceptable experience for everyone, we might impose some limits in the app, since we have some infrastructure constraints and usage quota imposed by networks we connect to. We try our best to give users a better experience as we continue working on this.
  • It allows multiple accounts of the same network linked in the application. One of the problems of using multiple accounts is logging in and out all the time. Once these accounts are linked, they can be used at the same time with no switching required.
  • It uses OAuth so that users authorize the access to their accounts without compromising their security (revealing their password).
  • We have made a decision to use browser-based OAuth flow, so that users can make sure they are securely connected to their social network website using their trusted browser. It eliminates the possibility of phishing attacks like this one.
  • It is not aiming to replace client apps for the social networks it connects to. It won’t end up implementing all the features of each social network either. All the activities displayed in the app link back to the original update and open in the native client of that network if one is already installed, which can be used for anything that’s missing here.
Final thoughts

catchup-logo

Catch UP is currently available on Android and Windows Phone only. iOS and web client is being considered, but nothing is planned as of now.

Feel free to give us your feedback in order to make this a better product. What do you care about most? What do you want to see added to this next?

You might ask, what is about the logo? It talks about the infinite cycle that you have to break somehow to get a living 😉