The State of Serverless

Almost, but not quite there yet

In my spare time I have been mucking around with 2 big Functions-as-a-Service (FaaS) offerings, AWS Lambda and Azure Functions. I’ve been meaning to write up a “The state of serverless development” post, but today Mike Roberts updated his overview of the market for serverless computing and it’s far more thorough than I could ever be.

The whole thing is well worth a read if you’re interested in the area, but these parts (emphasis mine) really resonated with me:

Serverless is not the correct approach for every problem, so be wary of anyone who says it will replace all of your existing architectures. Be careful if you take the plunge into Serverless systems now, especially in the FaaS realm. While there are riches — of scaling and saved deployment effort — to be plundered, there also be dragons — of debugging and monitoring — lurking right around the next corner.

Serverless services, and our understanding of how to use them, are today (May 2018) in the “slightly awkward teenage years” of maturity. There will be many advances in the field over the coming years, and it will be fascinating to see how Serverless fits into our architectural toolkit.

This is exactly right in my experience.

Lambda and Azure Functions let you write+deploy code quickly without an infrastructure team and an execution platform. However, the developer experience is often a big step backwards – Lambda doesn’t offer any remote debugging support, and just running+debugging functions locally is a big pain. Azure is further ahead in debugging, but things are still more complicated and less reliable than when debugging traditional apps. Integration testing is difficult on both platforms.

A few years ago, this short piece by former Vancouver councillor Gordon Price made a big impression on me.

The Canadian Institute of Planners had decided to celebrate Vancouver’s West End neighbourhood by giving it their 2015 “Great Neighbourhood” award. Price noted that this is ironic given that during its most recent development boom, the modern West End was widely regarded as a terrible planning decision:

…this neighbourhood of old converted single-family homes was largely bulldozed to create the Great Neighbourhood of today. The West End, during the boom era of highrise construction in the 1960s, was considered a concrete jungle – what most Vancouverites didn’t want anywhere near them: everyone’s best bad example of urban redevelopment.

Impossible to do that today. Imagine taking a square mile anywhere south of 16th Avenue and rezoning it for the kind of development that characterizes the West End.

This really surprised me as someone who moved to Vancouver in the 2000s. Nearly everyone loves the West End now! It’s got a lot of relatively affordable rental apartments, it’s close to all kinds of natural amenities, and it’s a short walk from downtown.

Fast-forward to late 2017, and I’m digging through old newspapers at the VPL for Abundant Housing Vancouver. When I get to the 1960s, I find out that Price is right: many people really hated the modern West End when it was being built. Here are just some of the articles I found.

I recently built a web tool to solve a simple question that comes up often in urban planning: after taking setback requirements into account, how much of lot can be built on? The answer is often surprising: for example, Vancouver’s most common residential zone only allows houses to cover about 28% of the land.

It was a fun weekend project, and a few weeks later I decided to upgrade it on a long plane ride. It’s now a neighbourhood-level simulator with many more parameters:

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These are mobile and desktop-friendly, and the visualization is entirely done in the browser. Here’s how it all works.

AHV Letter Builder

Software for Housing, Part 1

I’m a member of a nonprofit called Abundant Housing Vancouver, and as you can probably tell, I happen to do some programming too. In 2017 I was able to spend a lot of time combining these interests which was pretty great!

Over a few blog posts I’ll briefly outline the projects I worked on – they’re all open source and who knows, they might even be useful for other housing advocacy groups someday. First up: the Abundant Housing Vancouver Letter Builder.

Japanese Apartment Hunting

Craigslist, eat your heart out

Over the past 10 years, I’ve spent a lot of time looking for apartments in both Vancouver and in Tokyo. It’s been an interesting chance to compare two very different cities.

Vancouver has a remarkably low vacancy rate, so right off the bat renters are competing for a very small pool of available homes. Apartment hunters are also usually stuck with Craigslist. Craigslist is far and away the best place for browsing apartments in Vancouver, but not because it’s a well-designed site. It’s a perfect example of network effects: it offers a poor user experience, but landlords can’t afford to ignore the large pool of renters using Craigslist and vice versa.

Things are very different in Tokyo. It seems difficult to get comparable rental vacancy data (see the numbers and caveats here), but the sheer number of rental listings available online makes me suspect that the vacancy rate is much higher than in Metro Vancouver. The tools are better too: apartments tend to be listed by brokers on a few big websites, and the experience for renters on those websites is much better than on Craigslist.

Since most North Americans don’t know what they’re missing, I’ll give a quick overview of what it’s like to look for an apartment in Japan.

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I'm a software engineer in Vancouver, Canada. I'm into databases, urban planning, and serverless development. I can be found on GitHub and Twitter for computery things, LinkedIn for professional things, and Twitter again for urbanism things. Sometimes these overlap!

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