The Stack Overflow Podcast

Our favorite apps, books, and games of 2023

Episode Summary

The home team reflects on the last year, talks through tech news, and recommends some good reads for 2023.

Episode Notes

Adobe closed out 2022 and celebrated 40 years with an employee-only Katy Perry concert. Related: Ceora makes the case for virtual concerts.

DeepMind is teaching AI to play soccer, which naturally makes us think of QWOP.

ICYMI: Ghost calls out Substack and Substack responds.

BeReal is the iPhone app of the year. But not even Resident Youth Ceora knows anyone who actually uses it.

Some 2023 recommendations from the team: 

Ceora recommends Realworld (not to be confused with BeReal), an app that guides you through tasks and decisions big and small, from deciding on health insurance to improving your credit.

Cassidy recommends Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott.

Matt suggests fellow side hustlers check out The Freelance Manifesto: A Field Guide for the Modern Motion Designer by School of Motion founder Joey Korenman.

Ben recommends Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, a terrific novel about a love triangle between indie video game creators, especially fun if you grew up with Oregon Trail, Myst, and Super Mario. 

Episode Transcription

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Ben Popper Today’s episode is brought to you by A & I Solutions, a Broadcom Software Strategic Expert Plus Partner. You can achieve performance visibility with AppNeta, the only network and application monitoring solution that delivers visibility into the end user experience of any web application from any location, and continuously, with four-dimensional monitoring, flexible deployment, and more. Visit to learn more. Make sure to that link and let them know the podcast sent you.

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BP Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Stack Overflow Podcast, a place to talk all things software and technology. I am Ben Popper, Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. Thankful to be joined by my full home team crew, Cassidy, Ceora, and Matt. Hello, everybody. 

Ceora Ford Hi! 

Cassidy Williams Hello!

BP It's good to see all of you. We are rounding out the year; the timestamp on this is Monday, December 12th. I wanted to go over a few quick news hits and then maybe just reflect a little bit on 2022. So folks dropped some good links here. Adobe celebrated 40th anniversary with employee-only Katy Perry concert. Good for them. I'm glad they still got that kind of money. Good for you, Adobe. 

Matt Kiernander I'm not sure if anybody here has watched Silicon Valley, but it seems like there's fewer and fewer articles and things coming out recently that makes me laugh in reference back to Silicon Valley where I think they had a Blink-182 concert and stuff like that just for the employees of the company. And this was the only thing I've seen in the last 6 to 12 months where I'm like, “I'm glad that we can still kind of relate to that a little bit.” So I thought that was quite funny. But yeah, Adobe 40 years, that's pretty sweet. 

CW It's a thing. That's wild. And I've been to those employee-only concerts before and they are fun, depending on the employees, because tech people tend to follow certain stereotypes and those are very real. And so one of the concerts that I did at an internship that I was in was at Microsoft. We had a Young the Giant concert and Alabama Shakes. 

CF Young The Giant! Oh my goodness!

CW Yeah, it was awesome. And so, especially because it was interns and mostly young people, it was really, really fun to just jam with them and have this, I shouldn't say intimate because there was over a thousand interns, but a really cool concert just for us. And then at the same time, laughing at my sister at one of her roles they had an Adam Lambert concert. And she was saying she just felt embarrassed because everyone was just kind of looking at their phones down the whole time while he was performing. She felt like she was the only one at the front and on one hand it was cool because she made eye contact with Adam Lambert, but then she was also just like, “Why are we like this, tech people?” 

CF Oh my goodness. Wow. I would be so bummed out if that was me, but also so jealous that you got to see Young the Giant in concert.

CW I know. It was very cool. 

CF I wonder if I'll ever experience a tech company concert like this. We'll see. 

CW What's interesting is there were some that happened in the pandemic where one of my cousins had a tech internship this past summer, and because everybody was remote –the full internship was remote and everything– they just had a remote concert. And I forget the band, but it was a legit one, and I was just like, “Was it just like watching a YouTube video?” She was like, “Kind of, but it was more like a Twitch stream and we knew everybody in the audience in the chat while we were watching them perform, and they occasionally said hi to us,” and I thought that was fascinating. 

CF Believe it or not, virtual concerts aren't that bad. They aren't that bad, you guys. You’ve got to give it a try. It's not the same as being in person, obviously, but they're fun. I've done quite a few because obviously I can't go to Korea every time there's a concert that I want to see, so they usually do a virtual one and they can be pretty fun. If the performers are good and they know how to engage with the audience, they can be fun.  

BP I buy it. I mean, the Super Bowl halftime show, sometimes it rocks. You're in a room with a bunch of people and everybody's just kind of hyped up to see it. That's not one of those interactive ones, but it's a live music event that you can consume from home. 

MK I mean, they did it in Fortnite as well. They had some really big names in an in-world virtual thing. Oh my God. 

CW I’m wearing my Fortnite sweatshirt. 

BP Nice. 

MK I also just want to add, I feel like it's every maybe six episodes or so, Cassidy just drops that she has yet another family member working in tech, and I feel this is all part of her grand plan to unleash The Williams Co at some stage in the next five years.

CW A dynasty, yeah. That's the dream. We'll see if they're less annoyed with me someday about getting them into this industry.

BP So we know AIs are learning to do everything these days. They can make the art, they can write the essays, they can craft the music. But somebody dropped a link in here. Now they're learning to play soccer. I don't believe this. Tell me more. 

MK This I just found comical to an extent because it's a great article. It's from Wired, and they're basically documenting how they are teaching AI to play soccer. And you’d think with ChatGTP and everything else, you're like, “Okay, cool. So I can have a conversation with an AI and it'll do things.” But the way that they were talking about how they're teaching an AI to play soccer, there's actually a lot of nuance and depth to it that I hadn't initially thought. For example, getting a human to be able to run, for instance, and using kind of real physics, all the different bones and the way that our joints move and restricting that. And then once they've learned how to run, there's a lot of decisions that you need to make. Say for example, a ball is coming at you and getting yourself in a position to kick the ball in a way but also make an informed decision as to where that is going to go. There's a lot of steps and sequences that needs to happen. And they've got a couple of videos up here showing the iterations that they went through of the AI on the floor kind of learning how to walk and run basically, which is them writhing on the floor in what looks like agony. And then they basically take MoCap data from a person playing soccer, and then they use that to kind of feed and train the algorithms. So then you get these very awkwardly stilted puppets, kind of hobbling around the field trying to kick a ball. I found it really fascinating. 

BP If you ever want to see drunk zombies learning how to play soccer, this video is for you.

CW Did any of you ever play QWOP in the browser? 

MK They mentioned that in the article. Yes. 

CF What is that? 

CW So it's QWOP, just the letters on your keyboards, where you have your upper leg and lower leg and your left and right leg. Each of those letters, Q, W, O, P, corresponds with one of those things. One is upper left leg, upper right leg, lower left leg, lower right leg, and you just have to walk as far as you can pressing those keys. It is very challenging. 

CF I'm sure. It sounds like it.

CW That is the first thing that I thought of when I saw this. It's like an AI playing QWOP. 

CF Yeah, there were a couple things I thought of when you were describing this article. One thing was, when I was I want to say like 11 years old, I participated in a study almost, I guess you could say. Not really a study, but a thing at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia where I was a healthy child, I could walk normally, never was injured, anything like that. So they had me hook up to this contraption that tracked the pattern of my footsteps. And they had me do different exercises that kids, when they're injured and they're in rehabilitation, when they're in physical therapy, those are the exercises they do, and they would match up my footsteps as a healthy kid to what they should aim for. And I kind of was wondering if they had actual soccer players or humans who can play soccer wear a device almost like that, to kind of have something for the AI to train up against, if that makes sense. Because that's basically kind of what I did except it wasn't for AI, it was for kids. And then I thought too about motion graphics and how much goes into the physics of it and trying to get the motions to be as natural and close to the real world as possible. It's interesting. I feel like it's a lot more complex than it seems, especially if I sat down and tried to do this, I probably would be ripping my hair out because we don't think about how much goes into making these things natural because it just comes naturally to us. We don't think about what it would be like to try to get a little computer program to replicate those same actions. So yeah, it's cool. 

CW Yeah, it reminds me of all of those behind the scenes clips of actors wearing a green body suit with little white balls attached to them so they can map a digital character onto them.

MK I also want to shout out the first sentence of this article which says, “DeepMind’s attempt to teach an AI to play soccer started with a virtual player writhing around on the floor.” So it nailed at least one aspect of the game right from kickoff. 

BP You can get a yellow card for faking it these days. Yeah, I love this because even though in the version they're showing the puppet humans still look a little silly, it's clear that they've started without being explicitly told to do this. They picked up on some strategies for how to pass, how to clear the ball out, how to stay on or offside. So it's always fun when you see those kinds of emergent behaviors. You don't train that specifically, you just let the machine kind of run. And then it starts to look more and more like what we would consider soccer. All right, moving on. Little beef today on the internet, but I think it's all cleared up. Some folks from Ghost who make a wonderful piece of software you can use to send your newsletter sent out a bunch of tweets to the folks at Substack saying, “Thanks for copying all of our code and using it. It seems like it's running really great over at Substack.” 

CW Yeah. I was shook when I read that. 

BP Yes. They came on pretty strong and then there was some back and forth in the internet dialogue about, “Hey, this is an MIT license and all you're really supposed to do is show it. Well, where should you show it? What's the right place to put the copyright?” And then eventually the folks from Substack came back and said, “Well, all we're really doing is borrowing your theme editor so that people who build themes over there, their themes will run well over here. And also olive branch– we'd love to work more together.” So Cassidy, you saw this, what did you make of it? 

CW So for those who don't know, like Ben said, Ghost is a newsletter platform, but it also can help you build a blog, a website in general. It's a very powerful piece of software for building things. And it's open source and they have pro plans and stuff. They're very transparent and cool and you can do paid subscriptions and stuff. And so when the Ghost founder, I think, called out Substack, they were just like, “We thought this was kind of cool, but kind of interesting how you're kind of using our stuff.” And he had lots of screenshots to show just how closely lined up it was. And I was floored because these are two completely separate companies doing very, very similar things. Like you said, Ben, it was kind of resolved later –kind of– where the Substack person said, “We're not powered by Ghost, we just happened to build this thing that works with Ghost themes and so people can make a Substack thing but it will look like a Ghost thing if they want it to.” But it still felt just enough like teetering that kind of line where there should have been some kind of credit in a license, some kind of reference somewhere. 

BP Yes. I think that that's totally what it was. It’s that they should have worked this out. They should have said, “Hey, we're thinking about borrowing this because we want to make it easy for people to carry themes over. What do you think is the best way?” Because the license really is very permissive. 

CW Yeah, they have the most permissive license that you can get.

BP Yeah. Also they're sort of naturally competitors of a sort, so that adds a little bit of extra spice. But yeah, it's one of those gray areas where when you are going to go borrow from something, it's really about etiquette, and then you avoid a little PR disaster for yourself.

MK So I just had a look at the response from one of the founders from Substack and I think one of the corrections that he was intent on making was that, and this is to quote that person, “Substack is not powered by Ghost. Rather, we built our own theming API that's compatible with themes built for Ghost, including those built by third parties.” So that makes it seem like they're making sure the integration is tied. Am I understanding that correctly? 

CW Right. So it's like if you made a theme for, I was about to say your MySpace page. If you made a theme for any website you're about to make, it could work on Ghost and it could work on Substack using the exact same theme. That is what they built. 

CF Yeah. I've looked at the thread from the founder of Ghost, and I kind of see where he's coming from, because if I put myself in his shoes and I wake up one morning and I see that one of our competitors has something that looks nearly identical to what we've spent all our time building, without any prior notice, I probably would've assumed that they're building based off of work that we've done. So I do think that for courtesy and PR, absolutely it would probably be best to say, “Hey, we're going to be doing this thing that's going to look like your thing, but it's not quite.” You know what I mean?

CW Right. And it wasn't even the look and feel too. The actual network requests were kind of pinging things in a way where it looked like they were straight up stealing code– which they weren't. They did clear that up. But like you said, they should have said something. They should have made that clear. 

CF And even regardless of common courtesy, and I hate to say that but I feel like in business sometimes people don't care too much about that. I feel like for the look of it too, from users or potential users, it just doesn't look good. If you come across this thread and you're like, “Oh my gosh. Why would they do that over at Substack?” That's just not a good look. So, yeah. 

CW And also honestly, because people don't often do their research and kind of look at the big headlines and stuff, the original Ghost founder thread where he was pointing all of this out went very viral, and the Substack one has not gotten that bad popular yet. 

CF I noticed that. So… 

CW You're going to want to do some work to clear that up. 

BP That's always how it is. Easy to get fired up about something that seems inflammatory and the sort of neutral even-toned explanation that comes after doesn't get as much traction. One thing I wanted to ask– did y'all see what they picked for App of the Year on the Apple App Store? 

MK No. What was it? 

CW BeReal? 

BP Yes, BeReal. Have any of y'all heard of this or used it? 

MK Nope. 

CF No. 

CW I've heard of it. There was actually a really funny SNL sketch about it, but I haven't used it. But for those who don't know what BeReal is, you get a notification at some point during the day and you have to take a picture of what you're doing in that moment. And it does front facing and back facing camera. And if you don't do it within two minutes of the notification, you're not being real and it'll shame you. The SNL sketch was very funny because a bank was being robbed and everyone got their BeReal notification, and so there were hostages taking pictures and stuff and the robbers did it and everything and it was very funny. And I admit the concept seems cool. I know zero people who actually use it. 

BP Right. Yeah, I think it might be people younger even than us. I met someone who just graduated college and they were the first person to tell me about BeReal and how it was what their whole social clique was into and it was the anti-social media. It takes away the stress of preparing your look and posting with the right caption. It's just once a day, just be real with all your buds, and then that's a way to check in with everybody. 

CF Nobody in my friend circle has mentioned this app. 

CW Yeah, Ceora's our resident youth.

CF I'm the Gen Z rep and I haven't heard not one Gen Z person say this or mention this. 

CF I asked some of my cousins who are in college and stuff and they're just like, “BeReal used to be cool for like a week.” And I was just like, “Sorry. Okay.” But that's all I got. I don't know who uses it. 

MK I'm not sure if it's a time thing where it's at two o'clock every day or they just randomly do a time throughout the day, but I feel like this is one of the social media apps that would actually incentivize me to try and so some cooler things with my life.

CW In hopes that the notification happens while you're being really cool.

MK I'm water skiing like, “Come on!” 

BP Right. But to me it's also kind of the opposite. It lessens the FOMO because everybody's just doing their thing. All right, great. Well that's all the stuff we had on our links, so I thought maybe, given this is towards the end of the year, we would pass the mic around and folks could talk about one thing that they really loved doing this year or one recommendation for a book or a movie or one thing they're hoping do next year. I'm happy to go first to give people some time. So I am maybe three quarters of the way through this book. It's called Tomorrow And Tomorrow And Tomorrow. Any of y'all heard of it? 

CW My sister read that this past week.

BP Yes. I would really recommend it. It is a book about a group of friends and their lives intersect in a bunch of ways, but they are gamers and then they go on to create a game development company together. And it's written from the perspective of people who grew up in the ‘90’s first with Nintendo and Donkey Kong and then went on to do those things. There's this cognitive dissonance of how it is a really well-written novel with character depth and nuance and romance, but then it's also really relatable for me because they're talking about Oregon Trail and Super Mario Brothers and stuff like that. I'm like, “This is it. You're in my world and I can relate to you.” So for anybody who's listening who loves gaming and also maybe is in the mood for fiction that's a bit challenging and I think a bit rewarding, I would recommend this book, Tomorrow And Tomorrow and Tomorrow. 

CF My recommendation is this app called Real World. As most of you know, I'm the resident youth on the Stack Overflow Podcast, which means that I'm still figuring my life out in a lot of ways. And Real World is really cool because it's a very aesthetically pleasing app that walks you through the process of getting a car loan or investing or improving your credit score. those kind of things that you kind of have to figure out if you want to become an adult in the United States of America. So it's been really helpful. Recently I got a car and I kind of followed the steps that the app outlined. And so that's my recommendation. Even if you're technically not young or whatever, it still has a lot of useful tips that I think could be helpful for a lot of people, and it's all in one place so you don't have to worry about spending hours looking through YouTube or Google and stuff like that. So that's my recommendation. 

BP Cool. 

CW So for myself, first of all, I've been trying to write more in general, and I've talked about Obsidian plenty on this show. I try to write as much as I can in Obsidian, just notes for myself, but also in general little snippets where I'm like, “This could be a blog post someday,” or, “This could be something.” And so that's part of a recommendation. The rest of the recommendation was a book that a friend recommended to me called Bird by Bird. And it is a book about writing and some instructions on writing and life. And at first I was just like, “Eh, it seems kind of boring, but I'll read it just to see what it's about,” and it was probably one of the funniest instructional books I've ever read. There were so many parts where I genuinely laughed out loud and I had to find a person that I could talk to about a certain paragraph because it was really, really entertaining and the author had good self-deprecating humor but then also had really practical tips. And it's definitely geared towards people who want to be a writer and write articles, write novels, write things. But at the same time there were just enough tips in there where I've been writing more on my own, even if it's just something that I'll never publish, just to kind of get the words on the paper, and it's been really good for building the habit. So the book Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. 

BP Cool. 

MK Okay. I've done my research and I've gone through my good reads list, and so my recommendation is, I'm someone who's quite transparent around the fact that I would love to make more money online. I would love for that to be kind of a thing that I do. It's something that I enjoy doing, I have a YouTube channel, I like writing, I like creating stuff. So the book that I read that was actually really helpful to me was called the Freelance Manifesto: A Field Guide for the Modern Motion Designer. And I know that's not for everybody. Motion design isn’t a field that a lot of people are into, but this person basically talks through everything that they did to build up a successful motion design studio, from how to negotiate contracts, how to scale, how to take on certain projects, whether you are doing it yourself or you are also hiring somebody else to do that. And it taught a lot of business rules that I hadn't really even thought of. And it was kind of a turning point for me when I do my own kind of contract work. Being able to advocate for myself and set a rate in which I'm actually comfortable doing it as opposed to something that is going to be taxed and then I'm like, “Oh, I only ended up with X dollars afterwards.” So that was actually very, very helpful. A lot of my other books are very much self-help and relationship-y type things, which may be not for everybody. Therapy, great investment, highly recommend doing it. If you're looking at a New Year’s resolution. Even just some online help, somebody to chat to to get things off your chest. You have to pay for them to listen to you so you don't feel guilty about all the emotional labor of friends. Big plus in my book. 

BP Nice.

CF And I will say, therapy is tough. It's not going to be a walk in the park but I do think it's worth it. I wish somebody would've told me that, because I thought it was going to be all fun and positive and like, “Yeah, I'm just talking with my friend.” But it can be a little tough. 

MK Do not make the same mistake I did, which was booking my therapy appointment in the morning before work. That was, ohh. Do it at the end of the day when you don't have any commitments afterwards, especially if you haven't done it before. Because if you're talking about some pretty serious stuff, the last thing you'll feel like doing is sitting down and going through a refinement session or anything like that.

CF My first session was right before my one-on-one with my manager. I was like, “I need five minutes to get myself together.” So yeah. That's great advice. I wish I would've heard that before I started, but yeah. 

BP Awesome, y'all. In one caveat, I will say I tried to get a cool piece of tech, which was headphones that you can use while you're swimming. I thought that would be kind of a cool thing. My wife and I have gotten into swimming. But then I realized that you need to load MP3’s onto them and I don't have MP3’s anymore. So I’ve got to go get some old CDs out of the basement and burn them to my hard drive or something. 

CW Wow. Do you have a CD drive that you can do that with? 

BP No ma'am. No, I don't. I’ve got to figure that out. 

MK Does anybody have any quick tech recommendations, whether that's a $10 purchase or a $50 purchase that they're like, “This was incredibly useful and made me happy.” 

CW I got an arcade machine and I love it and I highly recommend it. It was a gift, coolest gift ever, and it came loaded with just all of these old games because there's a Raspberry Pi thing and I'm forgetting what it's called, I think RetroPi. There's RetroPie and a bunch of different other variations that you can load onto it that would let you load these old video games on it, these old arcade games. And what's cool is we have a whole lot more storage than the Game Boy had back in the day and so I have all of the games on it, from NES to Super Nintendo, to Game Boy Color, to PlayStation, all of them, and I've only had it for two weeks. But oh my gosh, it's so dang fun. I have my Chicken Run game that I had on Game Boy Color in second grade, and now I can play it again and it is a blast. So it's kind of a tech rec. If you want to waste time and be in one place, get an arcade machine 

MK Chicken Run! Oh my God. That is a plus from the past. Holy moly. 

CW I know! I loved Chicken Run. 

MK Dude, that's selling for $162 on Amazon right now on Game Boy.

CW Well, or you could get a RetroPi.

BP What's the reverse of a productivity hack? This is a productivity suck, but it sounds pretty great. 

CW Yeah, this is a life hack, a fun hack. Not every moment needs to be productive. So fun. 

MK I do have a tech rec as well. It's pushing the hundred dollar limit, but I still found it valuable. I bought a HomePod Mini recently. I don't have speakers in my living room, reminders, timers, all that kind of stuff, and it's actually made quite a tangible improvement to just my quality of life as a human. The reason for that, Ceroa, you might be able to relate to this as someone from the ADHD realm as well. When I'm cooking, setting timers, doing things, I've gotten into the habit now of whenever I need to do something, I'll just say, “Hey, smart home device, remind me to do this tomorrow, or remind me to do this this afternoon.” And so all these thoughts that kind of come into my head throughout the day I just offload immediately to the HomePod and then I'll get a notification on my phone at 12 o'clock or the next day. It has saved me so many times. Things like booking travel insurance for a trip that I’m having later on, or making a dinner reservation, or doing all those kinds of things. It just all goes there. And then cooking as well. You have multiple timers now, so if I'm cooking chicken for 20 minutes, I set the timer on that and then I can just go and browse Reddit or do whatever else and I'm just waiting for that. It's offloading a lot of the mental angst.

BP Nice. Yeah, we have a good dialogue this year, so I'm glad. Notion, Obsidian, HomePod. I've really been craving a thing where, you know how in Slack you can remind me about this message tomorrow? Where it's like, “I do need to respond to this, but now is not the right time.” I really want that for iMessage where it's just like, “Remind me to come back to this text message.”

CF Me too! I've been saying this for so long. Or, you know how with Gmail you can have the send later?

BP Snooze? Yeah. 

CF I wish I had that.

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BP All right, everybody. It is that time of the show. Let's give a shout out to somebody who won a lifeboat badge, came on Stack Overflow and helped save a question from the dustbin of history. Thank you to Flopsy who has an adorable bunny avatar. “How do I order the array of objects with TypeScript by value?” Appreciate it, Flopsy, and congrats on your lifeboat badge and helping out 25,000 people. Thanks for listening, everybody. It's been a great year. We grew the podcast a bunch. We passed 500 episodes and 6 million downloads in our little run since we've been going, so I appreciate everybody who's listened and feel free to write into the show or hit us up on social or whatever it may be. And we continue to get folks emailing with suggestions of guests who should come on and sometimes they're great and those people end up being guests, so don't hesitate. I am Ben Popper. I'm the Director of Content here at Stack Overflow. You can always find me on Twitter @BenPopper. You can always email us with questions or suggestions, And if you like the show, the nicest thing you could do for us would be to leave us a rating and a review, because it really helps. 

CW I'm Cassidy Williams, the CTO over at Contenda, and you can find me @Cassidoo on most things.

CF My name is Ceora Ford. I'm a Developer Advocate over at Auth0 by Okta, and you can find me on Twitter. My username there is @Ceeoreo_.

MK And I'm Matt Kiernander. I'm a Developer Advocate at Stack Overflow. You can find me online @MattKander.

BP All right, everybody. Thank you so much for listening, and we will talk to you soon.

MK Thanks. Bye! 

CF Bye! 

CW Bye!

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