Nerd Show and Tell: Meet Alex “the Yellow Dart” Poiry
The fifth episode of Podcast Awesome focuses on Alex Poiry, the Head of Security at the Font Aweome. It doesn’t take long for things to get a little zany after Alex gives a rundown of the duties he has at work. He shares his love of early 2000s memes and how he ended up working in tech after earning degrees in history and German. He also discusses his interest in historic European martial arts and how they relate to virtual reality in general. Oh, and did we mention that he got tennis elbow using a long sword?
What’s your professional background, and what’s your role at Font Awesome?
My professional background is broadly technical. I have a CIS degree with a Masters in Security Engineering, and I’ve been a software engineer, engineering consultant, and security engineer. The common thread in all of these jobs is that I solve problems via code. In some cases, the problem space is very specific and, in some cases, very broad. Some work has been heavily focused on design and operations, and some has been pure code/POC.
At Font Awesome, I feel like I’m still defining my “official” role. There is a need for someone with a security focus, and I see myself in a hybrid role. I plan to help build features as a developer while also improving our security posture where practical. It is likely that I will need to take on a pure security engineer role occasionally, but I’ll try to keep a foot in each world.
What new tech are you interested in and learning about these days?
Because I need to get up-to-speed on the Font Awesome stack, I’ve backed off the bleeding edge in technologies and have re-focused on core competencies in our stack. At the moment, I’m diving pretty deeply into Elixir, which I’d never used until a few weeks ago. I also like to be a bit artsy when it is practical, so I’m trying to learn some of the basics of general design and the tools. I think I have a sort of intuitive sense of some of it from childhood art lessons. Still, I’d like to formalize that knowledge a bit, just to be able to contribute more periodically.
What icon pack do you think should make it into the Font Awesome canon?
The longest-lived and most continuous civilization in human history is probably Ancient Egypt. Some groups have been around longer, but they pass through periodic changes that would make them seem somewhat foreign to themselves given sufficient passage of time. Ancient Egypt not only has an atypical continuity, but it also seems to hold broad appeal and fascination worldwide. I think we should have some of the common hieroglyphs and the ankh, perhaps something that looks like the pyramids at Giza. Also, on a side note, a Cthulhu icon.
What are your favorite Font Awesome icons?
I’m a big fan of the honey badger, flux capacitor, and apple core.
What is the weirdest or crappiest job you’ve ever had?
Probably working in the Geek Squad. Retail is not great work, in my opinion, but add that you’re selling something to people that most of them need but don’t understand, and it gets much worse. You do that long enough, and you see everything. I’ve seen:
- Computers full of mice and cockroaches
- Computers that someone managed to spill ice cream and Mountain Dew into, then kept running it as if nothing had happened
- Component shoved into the wrong slot and customer claiming “it came this way”
- Computers where the kid forgot to remove his weed stash before his parents brought it to Best Buy
At the end of the day, it was a job where everyone seemed to want their computer fixed for free, despite barely knowing how to turn it on. People often want to argue about why their computer was broken and whose fault it really was, despite all the previously mentioned oddities. I’m not here to judge, but Internet STDs aren’t covered under warranty).
I remember one particularly salty cattle salesman who had purchased the cheapest computer we sold and was trying to edit and upload videos (in the mid-2000s). He’d downloaded and installed several free video editing tools that came with browser toolbars. I’m sure it’s some other kind of spyware. He was saying that not only would we fix his computer for him, but we’d also compensate him for lost revenue. This would include driving into the store, taking time off work, not being able to sell this cow because he couldn’t upload a picture, etc.
The store managers were also underpaid and didn’t usually give me much support, so I was alone trying to reason with this man. I walked him through all the problems and how he’d caused them, how they could be fixed, but it wouldn’t be for free. He just kept saying, “Don’t you stand behind your product?” I finally got sick of it and told him, “I’m standing behind the product right now looking at what you’ve done to it, and I don’t see why we should pay to fix it.” My manager did come out after that.
What are you nerding out about these days?
I have an ongoing interest in linguistics. At the moment, I’m working on a library that will generate a language based on the rules you provide or simply generate one at random. Currently, I have the ability to generate valid phonemic groups of arbitrary length. I’d call them “words,” but that isn’t quite right as they have no meaning. They are just “valid utterances” based on the rules of phonics you supply. For example, the maximal syllable shape in English is 3 consonants (the sounds, not the letters), a vowel, and 4 more consonants. For example, strengths (which looks like it has 5 consonants, but “th” makes a single sound).
Additionally, no English syllable begins with the sound “ng,” which frequently appears at the end of words like “beginning.” So, based on these and other rules, we can produce utterances that conform to the phonemic rules of English but aren’t actually English words. This part of the program is completed.
I’m now working on a part that will conjugate or decline words based on rules. Let’s say we get the word firbin and make it a noun. More than one firbin would be firbins. The place where firbins rule would be firbindom. If I were like a firbin the adjective might be firbiny which means if I did an action that was firbiny you would say it was firbinily done. If the noun had been firbish, several might become firbishes. If firbin is a verb, I firbin, you firbin, he/she/it firbins. I was firbining yesterday. I’m now done, so I firbinned. Or perhaps instead of firbinned, I actually firban and have firbun (as in the irregular verb to swim).
While this is relatively easy to do in your own language, creating a whole new language with a different set of rules would only require you to define the rules, then let the library generate a lexicon. Once that is in place, we can define even more rules about how the language might change over time. Let’s say that, as our language progresses, we tend to drop “r” sounds. So firbin gets pronounced more like fubin. Later the “f” gets more voice so fubin might become vubin. Then we have a reverse Great Vowel Shift, and the “v” becomes more open so vubin becomes woobeen. And the options go on and on. With this library, you could:
- Create an entirely new and random language
- Create a language exactly like another language but with an entirely different dictionary
- Project a current language back in time to guess what it was like earlier
- Project a current language forward in time to guess what it will be like in the future
- Take a dead language and imagine what it might be like today
- Take a back constructed language, like Proto-Indo-European, and project new branches