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Tech Culture

This Week in Programming: It’s All Canceled

Developers are helping collect and track data on the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, all in-person events are cancelled.
Mar 7th, 2020 6:00am by
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Last week, we talked a little bit about how it can feel a bit like end-times these days, and I wondered if developers might be able to lend a hand in tackling issues like global climate change and a pending pandemic. Well, it’s a week later, and nothing much is better.

I mean, we DO have a variety of nifty visualization tools for COVID-19 that show us in real-time just how screwed we are…so that’s nice. (If you want to get in on the fun, ProgrammableWeb writes that a new API and SDK launched this week to provide “data collected from global health organizations and local administrations that are tracking the spread of the virus,” adding on to the collection it posted last week.)

Meanwhile, some well-intentioned folks over on a coronavirus subreddit implored users to get in on the distributed computing fun — both at Rosetta@home and Folding@home — “to help research into COVID19.” The timing is right, seeing as another long-running distributed computing effort has just decided to call it quits this week: after 21 years, SETI is shutting down the distributed computing part of its operation.

So, if you were contributing some extra processing power to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, perhaps consider better saving the planet from a pandemic, rather than turning to mining cryptocurrencies. Already, “the Rosetta molecular modeling suite was recently used to accurately predict the atomic-scale structure of an important coronavirus protein weeks before it could be measured in the lab,” which may “guide the design of novel vaccines and antiviral drugs,” says a blog post from the University of Washington. To that end, however, I might ask — are we really relying on distributed computing instead of requesting that some of our multibillion-dollar tech companies just donate the processing power already?

Moving along, the tech industry is really taking the bull by the horns and doing what it can to solve the virus by taking some old fashioned steps, such as canceling EVERYTHING. That link is a (continuously updated) ZDNet list of canceled and still scheduled tech conferences that, at the time of this writing, lists more than two dozen that have either canceled completely, rescheduled, or changed to an online-only format. Even Austin’s stubborn SXSW threw in the towel this past Friday.

Of course, here at The New Stack, we had been keeping track of a conversation around virtualizing the Kubernetes Contributor Summit when the Cloud Native Computing Foundation  called off KubeCon Amsterdam entirely, moving the event to an undetermined date later this year. The sentiment, it seemed, was that an online conference simply wouldn’t suffice. Well, now a number of major developer conferences, such as Google I/O and Facebook F8, have canceled completely, others such as the Game Developers Conference (GDC) have also postponed, and others still, such as next month’s Google Cloud Next and GitHub Satellite, have opted for the online-only version, canceling the in-person event itself.

A number of tech companies have also limited non-essential employee travel, and those with campuses located where an outbreak is occurring have told their employees to work from home. It seems that virtual interaction will have to do for now. Microsoft, for example, has shut down its entire Seattle campus until March 25th, requiring all its workers to work from home. Since you, too, may soon be working from home, I thought we would leave off with one final read — Love in a time of Corona Virus — Tips, Tricks and Best Practices for Working Remotely, a blog post from Microsoft’s Scott Hanselman that seeks to “showcase some of the great tips and suggestion[s] for remote work.”

Speaking of working from home, there could be just one upside from all of this — perhaps we could learn how to travel less, work from home more, and do a little bit of that climate saving we’ve been talking about?

This Week in Programming

  • New Go API Updates Protocol Buffers: The Go team this week released a new Go API for Protocol Buffers, which is Google’s language-neutral data interchange format that lets you “define how you want your data to be structured once, then you can use special generated source code to easily write and read your structured data to and from a variety of data streams and using a variety of languages.” The protocol buffer bindings previously in use were first launched a decade ago and users have run into a few problems with it that the team says share a “common solution: The Message interface should fully specify the behavior of a message, and functions operating on Message values should freely accept any type that correctly implements the interface.” To that end, they have released APIv2, “a new, incompatible major version of the protobuf module” that will provide “first-class support for reflection, custom message implementations, and a cleaned-up API surface.” As for APIv1, the Go team says it intends to maintain support indefinitely. Oh, and while we’re here, for you frustrated Golang developers, I present to you a rant from someone whose “honeymoon with the Go language is extremely over.

  • Meet Deno, The “Better” Node.js: It looks like Node.js creator Ryan Dahl has continued his efforts to one-up himself, with what InfoWorld is now calling a “better” Node.js. Basically, Node.js suffers from three basic problems, he says: a poorly designed module system, with centralized distribution, legacy APIs that must be supported, and a lack of security. Deno is the solution. Put simply, Deno is “a program for running JavaScript and TypeScript code outside of a browser” and this article gives a detailed overview for the interested, with one primary caveat — it’s mostly a “reasonable and fun environment to use for building small private scripting projects in TypeScript” and not yet something for production environments.

  • The Leap Day Exception: Last week, we experienced one of those things that, as developers, you feel like you’re trained to think about, but obviously slipped the minds of some, as sites and applications went down left and right — it was Leap Day. Well, there’s always a chance to learn from our mistakes, so here is a list of 2020 Leap Day bugs that shows just how prevalent the issue was this year, written by Matt Johnson-Pint, an author and developer who focuses on such issues. (In other words, if any of your software fell victim, perhaps he should be added to your reading list.)
  • A Look Ahead at Visual Studio Online: Microsoft has offered a peek into what’s new in Visual Studio Online, its managed development environment that’s available from Visual Studio Code, the private preview Visual Studio IDE, or the browser-based editor. New features, they write, range from “enhanced environment configuration with custom Dockerfile support to enabling setting changes to environments.” That’s just the TLDR, though. Users can look forward to environment customization, expanded support for PowerShell, the Azure CLI, native debugging for Go and C++, updated .NET Core SDKs, and improved Python support, as well as “turbo mode”. For those of you still just using plain old Visual Studio, Microsoft has also previewed the Spring 2020 roadmap for Visual Studio through June 202, and it’s looking for some feedback.

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TNS owner Insight Partners is an investor in: Deno.
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