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Maker’s Schedule (For Managers Too)

The following memo from a department head to staff is an example of how to implement a productive maker’s schedule at your workplace. This approach recommends starting with baby steps, evaluating results and making changes accordingly.

Comic strip from XKCD

Dear Colleagues in the Technology, Project Management and Product Teams,

Executive Summary:1

We are implementing a maker’s schedule starting this Friday May 31st which means developers will have from 12 noon onwards on Fridays to focus exclusively on writing code, with no meetings or other interruptions. (This also applies to other contributors besides developers. For more information, see details below.) The goal of this is to increase productivity, creativity and job satisfaction. This practice is based on science and employed by other successful organizations. We request your understanding, your support, and your help in making Friday afternoons meeting-free.

The Details:

We are implementing a maker’s schedule system starting Friday May 31, 2013. What is it? A maker’s schedule is calendar scheduling system that gives a group of people a continuous multi-hour block of time to focus on their work with minimal productivity diminishing things like distractions, context switching or frequent interruptions.

The word maker in this context often refers to people like software engineers, designers, testers, systems engineers, infrastructure engineers, documentation authors, editors or anyone else making something. What they are making could be software code, documentation or a configured server. It need not even be technical work. Managers also do the work of making: writing a memo, editing a budget spreadsheet or creating a slide presentation, for example.2

The human brain has evolved in a way that creative work, innovation and productivity are maximized when a person is able to focus and work on one task at a time for multiple hours. It takes several minutes, often half an hour or longer to get in the flow state of mind that results in peak performance at work. Hourlong or half-hour long meetings peppered throughout the day with breaks in between supposedly to do productive work result in low quality work, cause stress, and lead to unhappiness.

One way to do better quality work, get more done and be happier in your job is to divide your day into two halves. Get all your meetings, emails and administrative tasks done in the first half and spend the entire second half of the day doing enjoyable creative work that puts you in the flow state of mind. You will leave the office less stressed, more satisfied and happier each day.

If you are interested in learning more about the maker’s schedule concept, the article titled Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule by Paul Graham is a good introduction.

Below are the answers to some frequently asked questions.

Q: Who does this policy apply to?
A: This applies to all makers as listed above, especially all engineers and quality assurance staff, people who spend the majority of their time writing, designing or implementing software code, systems or designs. This also extends to those in management roles who’d like to use this time to do maker’s work.  At this time, we are not applying this policy to employees with special employment contracts like guild or unionized employees.

Q: When will we have maker’s hours?
A: Fridays after 12 noon, i.e. the latter half of all Fridays going forward until further notice.

Q: Does this mean I can go home early on Fridays?
A: No. This is not a summer hours policy. This is meant to be uninterrupted software engineering and development time. It does not change anything about when you are expected to be in the office. The prior agreed upon schedules you have with the company will continue.

Q: Why Fridays and why only Friday afternoons?
A: We analyzed our organization’s current meetings schedule and found that Friday afternoon is the period where there are least meetings and those meetings can be rescheduled with least impact. We are starting the pilot program with Friday afternoons. After some months of evaluating the results, we may extend it, keep it the same or cancel it. Until Further notice, this policy applies only to Friday afternoons.

Q: Does this mean I only get Friday afternoons to write code?
A: No :-) What this means is that we must all do our best to not organize, nor attend meetings on Friday afternoons so that time is exclusively reserved for writing code, building systems and doing other maker’s work. You are expected to do maker’s work every business day and to manage your own schedule to block off enough time to do that on others day the same way you already do.

Q: What about production emergencies? Can I get called into an emergency meeting to deal with a critical production emergency?
A: Yes. Production emergencies qualify among the rare exceptions.

Q: What about meetings between makers? For example, between two software engineers.
A: That is a slippery slope. We are strongly discouraging meetings on Friday afternoons in this policy, but we are not the meeting police and are not going to ban all meetings, especially if all the attendees have a strong desire to meet. We trust you to use your best judgement and lean towards not holding meetings on Friday afternoons unless you determine you have a good reason to make an exception to this policy. Our suggestion is this: Pair programming is encouraged. Working sessions are ok, assuming that in the entire working session multiple makers are making something together. However having staff meetings at this time is not a good idea. Nor is it a good time to have your weekly 1-on-1 with your manager. Remember your manager is likely to be using this time to do their own maker’s work. So on the question of can developers hold a meeting with just developers at this time, ask yourself why. What is the meeting for? Is it a working session where each of you will make something together? If yes, that’s likely fine. If not, schedule it for another time.

Q: What should I do when someone invites me to a meeting on Friday afternoon and I plan to observe the maker’s schedule and write code at that time?
A: Please always be respectful, courteous and friendly while declining meetings. Use your discretion and common sense. If the meeting request comes from someone it may not be wise to decline, consult with your boss. In many cases, you can politely, respectfully and nicely point the meeting requester to this policy at http://www.rajiv.com/blog/2013/05/24/makers-schedule-for-managers-too/ and suggest or request another time. Letting your collaborators know about this policy in advance will also help.

  1. Thanks to David Perpich for suggesting this executive summary. []
  2. Since processing email has become such an information overload problem, distraction and waste of time these days, we hesitate to classify doing email as productive maker’s work. If you don’t have the unproductive bad habit of checking your email every 15 minutes and instead you process your email during a few blocks of time a day, you may consider email productive work too. []

Social Graphs API: WordPress Plugin: Blogroll Links

If you already know what the Social Graph API and XFN are, you can skip the background information and go directly to the Blogroll Links plugin for WordPress that is designed to work with these.

Update: 2010-Feb-20: Version 2 of the Blogroll Links plugin for WordPress uses the Shortcode API and so introduces a new code-tag format. The new plugin still supports the old (now deprecated) code-tag format for backwards compatibility. See below for examples.

Social Graph API

Google recently announced the Social Graph API.1 From Google’s Code site:

With so many websites to join, users must decide where to invest significant time in adding their same connections over and over. For developers, this means it is difficult to build successful web applications that hinge upon a critical mass of users for content and interaction. With the Social Graph API, developers can now utilize public connections their users have already created in other web services. It makes information about public connections between people easily available and useful.

We (Google) currently index the public Web for XHTML Friends Network (XFN), Friend of a Friend (FOAF) markup and other publicly declared connections. By supporting open Web standards for describing connections between people, web sites can add to the social infrastructure of the web.

The Google Code site also has a video introduction to the open social graph:

The Google Code site has some interesting example applications. To see the power of the open social graph, follow these links:

All I did was enter my home page http://www.rajiv.com/ into these applications and got the results linked to above.

XHTML Friends Network, a component of open social networks

XFN (XHTML Friends Network) is a simple way to represent human relationships using hyperlinks. In recent years, blogs and blogrolls have become the fastest growing area of the Web. XFN enables web authors to indicate their relationship(s) to the people in their blogrolls simply by adding a ‘rel‘ attribute to their <a href> tags, e.g.:

<a href="http://www.rajiv.com/" rel="friend met">Home Page: Rajiv Pant</a>

The above link means that the page at http://www.rajiv.com/ belongs to a friend of the person who who owns the page this link is placed on. The met tag specifies that the two friends have met in real life. The link above would not be placed on a page owned by Rajiv Pant. It would be placed by a friend on their page, for example, on http://www.paradox1x.org/

Here is another example:

<a href="http://photos.rajiv.com/" rel="me">Photo Albums: Rajiv Pant</a>

This link states that the page at the URL http://photos.rajiv.com/ belongs to the same person who owns the page this link is placed on. For example, the above link would be placed on http://www.rajiv.com/ telling the Web that the URLs http://photos.rajiv.com/ and http://www.rajiv.com/belong to the same person.

To find out how to write and use XFN, or to write a program to generate or spider it, visit the XFN Web site.

Blogroll Links Plugin for WordPress

For people who maintain their Web site or blog using the WordPress blog content management system, I created an open source plugin called blogroll-links that uses WordPress’ built-in Blogroll feature2 and presents links to friends’ home pages and own pages on social networking sites using XFN in the links.

Features of this plugin

  • It can show the links by category in blog posts and WordPress Pages.
  • It uses WordPress’ standard built-in Blogroll links database. There is no hassle of another list of links to maintain.
  • It can be used to show only the links assigned to a particular category, by stating the category slug as defined in that category’s setting in WordPress.
  • It honors the Show/Hidden setting as defined for each link in WordPress.
  • It displays the link in the same window or new window, as specified for each link in WordPress.

See this plugin in action

  • http://www.rajiv.com/friends/
    • The two lists, first one of links to my own pages on various social networking sites and the second one of links to some of my friends’ pages are generated by this plugin. Yes, those social networks’ logo pictures are also taken by the plugin from the WordPress standard Blogroll links. Code:
    • <h3>My Pages on Social Networking Sites</h3>
      [blogroll-links categoryslug="rajiv-web" sortby="link_name" sortorder="desc"]
      <h3>Web Sites of Some People I Know</h3>
      [blogroll-links categoryslug="people" sortby="link_name" sortorder="desc"]
  • http://www.rajiv.com/charity/
    • This list of charitable organizations with brief descriptions is generated by the plugin. Code:
    • [blogroll-links categoryslug="charity"]
  • http://www.rajiv.com/blog/2004/08/02/search-engines/
    • This list of search engines is maintained as Blogroll links in WordPress. Code:
    • [blogroll-links categoryslug="search-engines"]
  • http://www.rajiv.com/
    • The featured links shown under the “What’s featured here?” section shows the links I’ve categorized as featured in WordPress’ Blogroll links. Code:
    • <a title="featured" name="featured"></a>
      <h2>What's featured here?</h2>
      [blogroll-links categoryslug="featured" sortby="link_name" sortorder="desc"]

Download & install plugin

  1. WikiPedia article explaining what an API, or application programming interface is. []
  2. It does not make you maintain yet another list of links []

Google Web Toolkit: Develop and Test in Java, Deploy as AJAX

I’m building a pull-down-menu navigation for the rajiv.com site using the Google Web Toolkit (GWT) and I’m impressed by this Google product.

It allows you to create user interface (UI) widgets and dynamic functionality for your web app using the Java programming language. You develop and debug your app in the Eclipse Integrated Development Environment, just like you do any other Java app. When you are done, GWT translates the Java app into AJAX technologies: JavaScript, HTML, CSS and XML. This gives you the advantages of both worlds: You program and test using the robust Java platform and the final output is in AJAX (no Java applets at all) which works consistently across most modern web browsers.

Developing a web page UI using GWT, Eclipse and Java saves a lot of time over the alternative of coding all the AJAX (JavaScript, HTML, CSS, XML). GWT also takes care of issues like cross-browser compatibility and the AJAX UI not conflicting with the browser’s back button, which would otherwise have to be extra coding and testing work if developed in AJAX.

What’s also great is that the generated HTML pages are clean and nicely documented using comments, all automatically done by GWT.

Java programmers should welcome GWT since it gives them the ability to create rich dynamic HTML functionality in the robust environment they are familiar with. You can view the Java source code here.

Java Progammer? Use BeanShell

BeanShell is a fully Java compatible scripting language, capable of interpreting ordinary Java source files. You can also use it for working with Java interactively like an interpreted Unix Shell or Perl. You can try out Java’s object features, APIs, GUI widgets and other libraries hands on.

BeanShell is free and also ships bundled with popular applications such as BEA Weblogic, Forte for Java and the NetBeans IDE.