Interview - Rick Baker - UBB.Threads Developer

By AWS · Nov 18, 2004 ·
  1. AWS
    Rick Baker is the developer of wwwthreads now known as ubb.threads. He was kind enough to give a little insight to himself, wwwthreads and his future plans.

    Can you tell us a little about yourself?

    Well, let's see. I'm 35 years old and live in Washington with my wife and 3 kids, a 7 year old girl, a 5 year old boy and a 2 month old boy.
    I've been in the programming field for about 9 years. Before that I worked for about 10 years in the timber industry which I was very, very happy to get out of with all my body parts still intact.

    I know you're into body art. Can tell us how many tats you have and why you decided to get your first? Do you still have the body art site and if you do what is the URL?

    I currently have 6. I say currently because they are quite addictive and the wife and I are planning on going in shortly for another ;) I got my first about 12 years ago. I had always wanted one and finally got the nerve to do it. It was a spur of the moment type thing and is my least favorite of all my tats. It's just a stock flash tat, the type you see on the wall when you go into a tattoo shop. All of my others are custom, one of a kind pieces, so I plan on getting my first redone at some point.

    I ended up getting rid of the body art site. I started it because for as long as I've been coding threads I've never really ran a community site of my own besides the threads site. But, I just didn't have the free time to devote to it so it would thrive properly, so I shelved it. Maybe someday when there are more hours in the day I'll bring it back :)


    Can you describe your typical work day?

    I work 2 different jobs so I'm normally found in front of the computer for 12-15 hours of the day. My day job is working for a company called TechTell, where we specialize in network monitoring and the other is coding .threads. I work from home which is nice since my commute to work involves me walking downstairs to my desk with the only traffic I have to avoid is a kid or two.

    When did you first start to program?

    I actually started programming when I was in my early teens. I had an Atari 400 with the membrane keyboard. It was programming in Basic, so it's not what you'd consider real programming, but it was a start. Spent some time in the 80s tinkering with the TRS-80. I got back into it around 10-11 years ago on a MUD, multi-user dungeon. Shortly after that I discovered Perl and the rest is history.

    What was the first piece of software you coded?

    The very first thing I actually coded was my "Mega Search!" This was about 9 years ago. It basically was an interface that would go out and grab results from all the popular search engines at that time. Ok, so it wasn't very Mega! But it was a learning experience ;) The first stand-alone piece of software I wrote was a paging program. It would parse an email and send out the subject to the proper support person's pager. It was extremely crude and involved alot of splits and chops.
    It's actually still in use today although it's been revised a bit.

    Other than Perl and php what other languages do you program in and do you have a favorite?

    Those are the only 2. I've tried to dabble in C but dabbling is as far as I've gone. My favorite is a tough call. Both have their advantages, but if I'm going to be doing something totally web-based then I'll always choose PHP.

    What were the goals you hoped to achieve when you first started to code w3t and what motivated you to code a forum software package?

    My initial goal was to create a discussion board for the ISP I was working at. This was around 8 years ago so there wasn't much available at the time, at least there was nothing available that wouldn't crash horribly when being used by more than 2 people ;) So, I set out to give our users a way to communicate that wouldn't frustrate them to death. My goal with what is well known as w3t, starting at version 3, was to create a reliable system that maybe some other would find useful.

    Where you successful in realizing those goals?

    Yes and No. Version 1 of w3t was totally flat file based and it worked on a small scale, but didn't perform as well as I was hoping as it had file corruption issues. Version 2 did alot better. For that version I was using Perl's DBM, which was much more reliable than using flat files so it didn't corrupt itself all the time. Version 3 was a pretty big success and really took off with several hundred copies being downloaded each month once it was released.

    What year was w3t released and how long did it take to get the finished product out the door?

    What I consider the first real version of w3t, version 3, was released in 1999. I started from scratch again, and used MySQL for the backend.
    It probably took about 3 months to get the first stable version out the door. Not an extremely long development cycle, but at the time discussion boards didn't have all the features that they have today so it didn't take too long.

    Now that a couple years have passed do you think your decision to sell w3t to Infopop was a good one and tell us some of the reasons you made the decision? I know at the time many of the users on the old w3t forum were concerned. The concerns disappeared rather quickly when it was clear that Infopop wasn’t going to change anything. From a user perspective I think the decision was rather good. It made w3t available to a larger audience and having the backing of a company can only be good.

    Yes, I think it ended up being a very good decision. The main reason I think so is because if that didn't happen, development of w3t probably would have stopped. I was getting totally burned out. I'd work for 8-10 hours at my day job and then code w3t around that. That meant getting up at 4-5 in the morning and answering support questions until I went to work. Then I'd get home and code, and then manually process the orders at the end of the day, somewhere around 9-10. Plus, at the time I was trying to maintain 2 versions of w3t, the PHP version and the Perl version. I was very torn about making the decision because I didn't want to let any of my customers down, but it was really the only way w3t was going to progress much further.

    Can you tell us what has changed for you since Infopop acquired w3t?

    I actually started to have some free time again, not alot of free time since I still had 2 jobs, but enough to keep me from getting burned out.
    Things got more structured as well so I'd know what we were putting into the next version before I even started on it. Before I would just add features in until I was satisified there was enough for a new release.

    Can you tell us a little bit about the new forum package that you and Infopop are coding?

    Not too much at this time. Since it's both Charles, the UBB.classic programmer, and I working on the product, naturally it's going to be a blend of .classic and .threads. One of the big things we'll be going for is scalability, so we'll be doing alot of caching tricks to really ease the load on the DB. Community sites are getting bigger and bigger and the software needs to be able to handle that load. This was where .threads was progressing, but there were alot of things that wouldn't work with caching due to the way it was designed. With the new product we won't have those obstacles. The best thing is when you've been coding something for several years there are always things you wish you would have done differently. This new forum package gives us that chance.

    What will happen to ubbthreads once the new product hits the market?

    It will still be available in the members area and we'll do maintenance releases as bugs are found, but there just won't be any new features added to it.

    What do you do to unwind after a day of looking at thousands of lines of code?

    I'll either play a couple games of online poker, catch up on some of the TV programs I've Tivo'd, like CSI, Lost or Smallville, watch some SportsCenter, or try to spend some time with the family.

    What websites do you visit for online enjoyment?

    Slashdot on a daily basis for my geek news. And then all the sports sites I can visit to plan my Fantasy Football lineup for the week. ;)

    Can you tell us about your development environment? The music you listen to. The systems you code on. The tools you use.

    I have 2 20" flat panel screens with a dual boot of Windows and Gentoo Linux on my development box. Though I'm thinking of just ditching Windows completely since SP2 totally hosed my Windows install. I also have a standalone Gentoo box on which I have Apache and MySQL running.
    The dual flat panels work well as I can do all my development work on one screen and then everything else runs on the other, browsers, IRC, etc.

    I definitely don't have a typical music collection. At any time during the day there could be anything from Eminem to classical playing on my jukebox. I've got a couple thousand songs in my collection that usually just plays on a random shuffle.

    Last but not least. Vi or Emacs?

    Vi all the way. I spend probably 80% of my work day inside of Vi and wouldn't have it any other way.

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