Podcast #32

by Jeff Atwood

on December 4, 2008

This is the 2^5 episode of the StackOverflow podcast, where Joel and Jeff discuss software piracy, dealing with public criticism, how to get people to answer your questions, and the ideal programmer office.

  • A brief digression about the analog to digital television switch. Make sure you watch this brief instructional video so you're prepared.

  • Joel gives an overview of Fog Creek's attitude towards software piracy and licensing. At its root, we believe that buying your software has to be easier than stealing it. Stop thinking of it as fighting an enemy and think of it as simply being better than the alternative.

  • On advertising: if you can get people to talk about or willingly watch your ad, you've already won. This is why Wil Shipley's rant about the Mojave Experiment is counter-productive.

  • I argue that Apple is making real headway in mainstream marketshare, largely because they've won the advertising war so decisively. Joel argues that they haven't. Which of us is right?

  • One of our major performance optimizations for the "related questions" query is removing the top 10,000 most common English dictionary words (as determined by Google search) before submitting the query to the SQL Server 2008 full text engine. It's shocking how little is left of most posts once you remove the top 10k English dictionary words. This helps limit and narrow the returned results, which makes the query dramatically faster.

  • Congratulations to Stack Overflow team member Geoff Dalgas; he's the proud father of a new baby boy as of last week!

  • We plan to mail out weekly email summaries of other people's answers and comments to your posts -- much like FriendFeed -- for people who haven't visited Stack Overflow in a week or longer.

  • Some topics are just fundamentally hard to understand, like the Monty Hall Problem, and lead to a lot of extra discussion. The two banned topics on the XKCD forums are 0.9999 = 1 and airplane on a treadmill for that reason.

  • Joel "doesn't want to get too inspirational and stuff" but if you're not doing a few things where you're failing a little, you're probably not trying hard enough. I say if everyone likes you, you probably aren't doing anything interesting.

  • Joel points to Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper: "pretend that your reader is lazy, stupid, and mean." And the converse, as a reader, is to try to infer the most charitable possible interpretation of what you're reading. Not that anyone actually does this, in my experience.

  • Can you tell the difference between people who honestly want to have a discussion about a topic, and people who are using that topic as a prop for their ego? Learning to make this distinction can ultimately save you a lot of time.

  • My favorite Stack Overflow question this week is a classic, one of my early favorites: How to get attention for your old, unanswered questions. The response by icelava is absolutely on target -- if you want people to pay attention to your question, you have to pay attention to your question. Provide status and progress reports from your own continued effort to answer the question yourself. An excellent example of this is lassevik's tenacious return to his oddball problem which ultimately turned out to be a bug in the video driver, not his code!

  • Joel's favorite Stack Overflow question this week is Must haves for a developer's office. Hard to disagree with the community on this one: a quality chair, two large monitors, whiteboards, and control of the lighting. If possible -- and this is usually a hard thing to get, so you have to really consider how realistic a negotiating position asking for your own private office is. That said, Joel and I continue to believe having a private office is the most ideal programming environment; it offers choice between open/noisy and closed/private. This also depends how much noise you can tolerate. In any case, demand your Programmer's Bill of Rights. As Joel says, "it's only money".

We answered the following listener questions on this podcast:

  1. David Ackerman: "As a recent graduate, I've been on a lot of interview trips recently. The interviews that didn't result in offers have hurt my confidence more than expected. Jeff, you get a lot of flak on your blog, how do you stay positive when people are tearing you apart?"

If you'd like to submit a question to be answered in our next episode, record an audio file (90 seconds or less) and mail it to podcast@stackoverflow.com. You can record a question using nothing but a telephone and a web browser. We also have a dedicated phone number you can call to leave audio questions at 646-826-3879.

The transcript wiki for this episode is available for public editing.

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