Decoding CAPTCHA’s Handbook

Some time ago I wrote an article about Decoding CAPTCHA’s which has become what appears to be the first resource most people encounter when searching for information in the decoding CAPTCHA space.

I had continued to write about CAPTCHA’s over the years with posts scattered around the web. A while ago I started to consolidate all of my content on this blog and realised that I had considerably more CAPTCHA related articles then I thought. Some were in an unfinished or unpublished state. I had considered posting them all online but instead decided to polish it all up into a much better resource and publish it as a book.

The book is now online and available for sale. Its not what you would call a top seller but has produced enough sales to offset some hosting costs for the blog which was one goal. I also wanted to test the waters when trying to sell an info product. Info products according to Amy Hoy and Rob Walling are an excellent platform to start learning how to build recurring revenue online. Certainly one thing I have learnt is that something borderline unethical such as the book will never become a great seller. Simply put the audience is unlikely to convert to be a high sales business because of the shady nature of the content.

Anyway for those interested in purchasing a copy you can either visit the Decoding CAPTCHA’s page or use the below.

Decoding CAPTCHA's Book
Looking for a practical guide to CAPTCHA decoding? All About CAPTCHA’s. This eBook will teach you how to identify weaknesses and exploit CAPTCHA’s from beginning to end.

Buy now using LeanPub

Buy now using Gumroad

Running three hours of Ruby tests in under three minutes

Recently the very cool hard working developers working on Stripe released a post about how they modified their build/test pipeline to reduce their test suite runtime from 3 hours to about 3 minutes.

The article is very much worth reading, as is the discussions that have come around it including those on Hacker News.

A few key takeaways,

* For dynamic languages such as Ruby or Python consider forking to run tests in parallel
* Forks are usually faster then threads in these cases and provide good test isolation
* For integration tests use docker which allows you to revert the file system easily

The above ensures that the tests are generally more reliable and you avoid having to write your own teardown code which restores state, both in memory for the forks and on disk using Docker.

A Culture of Quality

The best working environment I had the pleasure to work in had a strong emphasis on testing and software quality in general. Product teams were encouraged to spend extra time ensuring that everything worked over shipping before it was ready. The transformation it went through was incredible. Having come from a culture very much wild west through to where it was. An example of the advantages this brought was that before adopting this culture website launches were a traumatic event. Teams would block out 48 hours stretches and work solid fixing bugs at go live. Very stressful for all involved and not a healthy working environment. Contrast to where things ended up where several websites were launched on the same afternoon without a hitch. Very impressive considering the scale of the websites being dealt with (several million uniques a day).

I attribute most of these improvements being due to cultural changes that started in upper management and filtered down. In short the organisation adopted a culture of writing quality software and implemented in part by insisting on solid development process backed by a testing. This culture was so successful I remember the following happening one afternoon. Two individuals were discussing a new piece of functionality to be worked on. After several minutes discussing they convinced themselves that for a few situations that perhaps they didn’t need tests. This conversation was overheard by a less senior developer in another team who happened to sit behind them. Without pause he turned around and calmly insisted that not only would they be writing the tests they had tried to convince themselves were not required and that he would show them how to implement it.

This sort of culture where taking ownership of quality not just for your own work but for others can produce incredible results. As far as I am aware it is still being practiced as I experienced it there and I can attest to how effective it has been.

C# as a Language from old Google+ Post

The more I use C# as a language for writing things the more I am convinced that its approach really is the best language approach out there.

The unit test support is excellent which allows development speed to be just as fast as any dynamic language (Python, PHP, Perl).

The static typing catches so many issues before you get to runtime and allows sweeping changes without breaking things.

Unlike Java it has the var keyword (saves time and improves readability) and so many more useful functions which yes you can replicate but are just built in and work correctly.

Then you get to the really good stuff. LINQ is awesome. The lazy loading allows you to implement a repository pattern over your database which is just awesome. Set up the basic select * from then add extension methods allowing you to chain whatever you need, EG

from person in _dbContext.GetPerson().ByUserName(username).ByPassword(password);

100% elegant, easy to test, easy to write, easy to read and understand and generally works exactly as you would expect without any hidden gotchas. And because its lazy it doesn’t chew resources sucking back everything from the database.

You can use functional programming techniques if you wish, and with the new async decorators you can work in a node.js style if you with, with static typing and all existing library support.

Or you can continue to work in a C like manner, or mix it up with objects, procedural code and functional.

I switched back to Java not that long ago to write a simple server using Jetty and even with things like Guice (best DI implementation I have used so far) and Guava it was still painful. Less painful, but I really felt that the compiler was fighting me from doing things in an elegant manner most of the time. Even adding the “var” keyword would improve Java in a massive way. Add some functional programming in there and I would be pretty happy.

I just wish C# would run on the JVM as I would use it for pretty much everything in a heartbeat. As it is the Mono support is missing the stuff I really want and isn’t as seamless as the experience should be. A pity really as C# really is in my experience the nicest language to work today that’s production ready.