Play In Work

So, once upon I worked at this massive corporation with a name known worldwide. It started with a big red H. Things were going well. I loved going to work – of course, there were sucky days too, but I loved going to work. I got to work on really cool problems. I was appreciated. I got to sit down with great minds and learn from them, and really, that’s what I enjoy – learning stuff. It was like playing. In fact, I played with problems. Sure, I had to apply the stuff I learned, but that’s learning too – from theory to practical.

And I had a manager who let me do that, and I thrived. Granted, there were days when middle-management and upper-management had frowns, but they smiled more than they frowned and we understood each other.

Then, we got bought out and the ‘restructuring’ happened. So I got a new boss, aptly named Rex. He walks into the lab one day – he was always perturbed I wasn’t in my cube but instead in the lab – and he says,

“Taran, you need to work on <insert this project here> because it’s <insert someone else’s excuse here> and we need it done now.”

And I said, “OK – I’ll play with it after lunch!”

And T. Rex said, “We don’t play here at <insert company name that starts with big red H>. We work.”

I stared at him.

I saw a man willing to suck the joy out of what I got paid for in some misguided thought that it would increase my productivity – staring at a screen like a drone. The fun is the zone. You can be doing the most horrible thing in the world, but if you’re having fun doing it, you’ll get it done.

I was wrong. He was simply catering to someone else, assuming I was that someone else, and trying to lead what he thought of was someone who would quickly get out of his control and start making his life interesting, which could also be a code word for bad by his read.

And maybe – just maybe – statistically, he was gambling the right way. Just maybe. Sure, he would have lost the bet with me (in fact, he did), but he was erring on the side he likely most experienced.

But how could you not enjoy what you do? We’ve all done things that we didn’t enjoy, but exactly when did people start making a habit of doing that?

We had a team that played well together. We had a way of making things work, all with our own different skill-sets, abilities and talents that somehow worked.

I wasn’t the first to go, but I did go, and when someone asked me when I had decided to leave, it was that day that Rex and I had that brief conversation.

I don’t regret the decision. I do regret being forced to make that decision. I scored high in every review, got stuff done, was promoted a few times, etc. Sure, I wasn’t special. Sure, I didn’t deserve special treatment.

But why is not being miserable considered special treatment?



Technology Is Stuff That Doesn’t Work Yet.

Technology is stuff that doesn't work yetOne of the things about the writing of Douglas Adams is that he had a keen eye for what was happening around him and could express it briefly: ‘Technology is stuff that doesn’t work yet.’ You can think about that statement as long as you want and find no real fault with it.

Consider this: We don’t talk about fire technology. We don’t discuss wheel technology unless we’re dressing up a car, and speaking of which, most people are completely oblivious to internal combustion engine technology.

As someone who, since 11, has been working and playing with technology, and who works in technology to this day, I have to admit being a little disappointed with our body of achievements in the last 33 years. OK, personal computer technology is no longer a catch-phrase, and internet technology is a phrase maybe used by the people who the geeks don’t want to work for. Electric cars, sure. But really, as someone who has always been involved in technology – from electrical to electromechanical to personal computing to nuclear to medical to military to medical to financial to document management to internet to…

Well, that’s the problem with defining yourself with ‘technology’. Technology is the stuff still being worked on. It’s not done yet.

Some of us have to get it done, but we miss all too often – a sore point with me, where we write software that doesn’t really do what we want it to do.

More of that over the next week with a few posts based on some of my reading…




The Switch to

WordPress LogoA little over a week into it, and a few posts down, I can say that I can give some form of review on using As someone who has been running his own Drupal sites for over a decade, and as someone who just wants to log in and write when I have the time…

Yeah, this is so much less masochistic. The entire backend of the blog is straightforward and doesn’t require layers of documentation (or a decade of experience) to understand. It doesn’t do all the things I was doing with custom modules with the Drupal sites.

Here’s the thing. The amount of management per feature is much more manageable than running my own Drupal site. This is not a ringing endorsement of WordPress over Drupal, but it is one for my particular use case.

Updates automatically go to my social media sites. It took me all of 14 minutes to set that up, and it took that long because I change my passwords and sometimes forget them.

All in all – $99 well spent.



Why Windows 10 Means Linux for Me.

An update / upgrade is available for your [linux / windows / mac] computer...via @stickycomicsWindows 10 is a scary beast. Forget the ‘keylogger’ issue, which has been exaggerated, but instead all the fun things that Microsoft is doing with it.

They don’t log everything. A minor blessing if you accept logging, but a travesty if you really don’t want to be logged at all. I’m firmly entrenched in the ‘mind your own business’ camp.
There are very real issues, though. Some examples:
  • Oh, you didn’t want to download Windows 10 update? Well, you did. That was your bandwidth. That’s your hard drive space.
  • There is some sort of bittorrent-ish functionality, which means your machine – and by proxy your bandwidth – will be distributing Microsoft Updates. That might be OK, but I’d wager that the larger organizations aren’t going to turn this on so your plebian system will be feeding the corporate need for updates. So nice of you to subsidize them. How very socialist of you, my proprietary conservatives.
  • Oh, you didn’t want to download Windows 10 update? Well, you did. That was your bandwidth. That’s your hard drive space.
  • All major operating systems have been approached to have a back door into their systems. Linux confirmed this revelation by Wikileaks (yes, I have mixed feelings about Wikileaks, but this is not the forum). Apple and Microsoft have been quiet about it.
  • By default, your system shares your Wi-fi password with your social media friends. Yeah, read it again. Scary, right? Someone thought that sharing that password with your friends would make for a feature since they might want to come over and use your wifi… which, I suppose, is benign enough, but it also means your wi-fi password exists… outside of your system, where you can’t control it.
  • You get your very own advertising ID which allows you to be tracked across websites. It seems benign enough until you start seeing the results in your digital footprint.
  • Updates? You can’t turn them off. You either download and install, or download and install later. You lose that control over your system. Skip an update? Good luck. This is a big issue for those of us that may be using elder software, or who write software for a living. I saw it in the days of NT 4.0 right up. Nasty business, this.
  • Microsoft, and by proxy anyone who can tell Microsoft what to do (you know, Government) has the capacity to keep you from using websites.
  • Default child monitoring apparently happens… and through social media connections, determines who the parent is. This is a silly thing that I imagine COPPA will have to contend with, should any parent run into an issue with this. 13 years old, Microsoft, 13 years old – and you can’t determine that 100% reliably with software or data on the internet.
  • the ‘We don’t like the software you’re using so we will remove them’. Disguised as anti-piracy, legitimate use of software is threatened and opens up some serious monopolization issues that maybe Microsoft forgot about…
  • Old games may just stop working because of the copy protection mechanism having lost support.
  • Performance sucks from all accounts when it comes to frame rates. Windows 10 brags about frame rates, but it stutters and freezes at times.

So… yeah, I think it’s time for me to get off the Windows platform once I’m done with the sole Windows 7 system I have. Everything else is Linux or Android. Sure, I can work on Windows at work, but at home… my house, my rules.

Not, “my house, Microsoft rules”.


Tech Companies and the Landrover

Family Landrover again... 1977A friend and I were talking about how technology companies can be stressful when the old Landrover came to mind.

When I was a kid, my father and his younger brother took both of their wives – and me – down to Trinidad and Tobago and drove the old family Landrover around with me in the back.

Now, in the back of that model of Landrover, the brilliantly dull engineers that designed it had placed the rear axle and rear seats strategically such that there was no comfortable way to sit. Further, the roads in Trinidad and Tobago, even to this day, are not designed for a glorified internal combustion chariot with no suspension.

So it was quite uncomfortable. And at times, one could be in midair pondering how you got there before gravity killed the suspense. They adults would take turns driving, noting it with a precursor of, “Switch Drivers!”

And at some point, as my late Uncle said, I mumbled from the back… “Switch drivers!” They laughed. I grumbled from the rear.

Sometimes that’s what it seems like when you work at a technology company. It’s tough enough to contend with so much competition in the industries of technology, and then to predict where you’re going to be has dependencies on whatever technologies you build on. And it’s like building a house of cards in the back seat of a Landrover.

Cost of the industry. But sometimes you still want to shout, “Switch drivers”. And sometimes you should. Sometimes the company needs to understand that if the goal is to deliver quality in the back seat of a Landrover, you don’t have it bouncing around. Find ways to make the ride smoother.

Clustering and Databases

The Twingl Mind

Just this past week as I committed to the Pine64 cluster I’ll be building, I was looking at new ways to crunch some data. As such, I was looking into clustering and databases, something I haven’t done before.

Meanwhile, a Microsoft SQL Server DBA told me that some company had made a claim that they could import millions of records in minutes, or something along those lines. He was of the opinion that it was impossible. And here I am thinking about clusters and data, so I said, “ya know, if they cluster the databases they could get throughput that might allow for that…”

I’m not a DBA. I don’t play one on the internet. What I know of databases is limited to what I have used them for in the last 2 decades, and I have no real experience with clustered databases – but it stood to reason to me that a well designed cluster would have more throughput ability. That’s just a theory because of my limited experience, so… because I’m finally able to focus on writing and researching rather than updating my old site… I did some research this morning.

It ends up my MySQL bias shows a bit here not because I think it’s the greatest thing in the world (far from it), but because most of my experience revolves around it – and that biased my research. When I tried looking into Microsoft SQL Server clustering I found nothing I was looking for but plenty I was not (the Microsoft method of emulating Linux and making it worse). I gripe, but hey, I have a bias and let you know.

Here’s what I found.

Where would I use a MySQL cluster?‘: Interesting read and links.

MySQL Cluster Features & Benefits’: OK, I have to admit a few geek-gasms in here as I was exploring in the context of my own cluster, but a young software engineer who I respect has been waxing poetic about MongoDB, too, so I’m not done yet. I have until April 2016 anyway.

MySQL Cluster – When to use it and when not to‘: A wake up call; it’s only a presentation teaser and yet it manages to say a lot more with a lot less.

That’s just some stuff on MySQL.

So, in the end, I stand by the theory that a clustered database can get much better throughput than the traditional systems, and I don’t know why that seems like a stretch for some.

But I also know that I’ve only scratched the surface and that I have to dig deeper on that. My preliminary reads on MongoDB and Production sharded clusters make that also very interesting.

The Case For Case Insensitivity

I have no problems about case sensitivity. It’s likely because I’ve spent so much time on *nix that it doesn’t matter to me, but recently a friend – a SQL Server DBA-of-many-other-hats made a slight gripe about it over lunch. She was almost apologetic about supporting case insensitivity, and as simple as that its, it bothered me because I really had no defense for case sensitivity other than I’m used to it.

In fact, I’m still the guy who cringes when he sees a single character variable – the infamous ‘i’ in loops because it’s a pain to grep code for that. For my sanity, please use ‘ii’.

I googled around this morning because I was trying to better understand her perspective, and voila – Coding Horrors covered case sensitivity issues well back in 2005.

Yes. It’s bad on Productivity. I have to admit that. I’m pretty disciplined about it, but yes… I see it now.

So, yes, while I’m used to case sensitivity, I grok why it is an issue… it’s just been sort of a thorn in my hand I have grown used to.

Fortunately I’m not a complete idiot and don’t cherish it.


Planning the Pine64 Cluster

Pi Cluster mit Hadoop.

I recently backed the Pine64 platform on Kickstarter. Choosing the hardware platform for my next cluster was not as much fun as I would have wanted, but fortunately Jon ‘Maddog’ Hall helped steer me from a bad decision or two on Facebook. His post on the Raspberry Pi Zero is well worth the read for those of us who want to focus on the code rather than the hardware.

Anyway, this coming April – maybe sooner – I’ll have the 64+ 2GB Group Package in hand. It’s 10x PINE A64+ 2GB with power supplies (10) and 4K HDMI cables (10) Bluetooth 4.0/802.11BGN chip (10).

It’s also what I would call a good start. Having built a few clusters, this is well in my comfort zone. It’s not in everyone’s comfort zone, though, but it could be. This Make step by step instruction list for building a 4 Raspberry Pi cluster makes it simple for someone to start.

Clearly, I have some greater aspirations than 4 nodes. I wanted my next cluster to be 64 bit because I want the processing bandwidth. For what? For cool geeky stuff! I have ideas I want to play with.

But why would you want a cluster? Read this and decide.

The Fiscal Rollercoaster of Content

Ben Huberman points out that you can have millions of followers on YouTube and still be flat broke.  As someone who has never had millions of followers, I can say with certainty that having less than millions of followers on YouTube will likely have the same result.

It’s really no surprise. The only way to make money off of content is to own your own infrastructure, and the gorillas in the social networking background are making money off of other people’s content. OPC. And that allows them to negotiate better advertising rates than you, lowly YouTube channel owner, can negotiate.

Welcome to publishing.

Technology is wonderful when it isn’t in the way

This evening I was logging into my site and it hit critical mass. Unreferenced tables in some MySQL table. I’d just written about not wanting to do updates and simply focusing on content just a few days ago.

I was on the recliner, my Echo was playing Marillion’s Montreal, and as I looked around for something else, the title of this post came up in the lyrics.

17 minutes later, I had a WordPress managed site. Years and years of Drupal, managing my own site, etc. Sure, I paid. When I want to write, I want to write. Drupal had become too bulky for me to manage despite their best efforts otherwise. Well, maybe not their best. They’ve had other priorities. I am not one of the priorities.

But this isn’t about Drupal or managed WordPress sites (I didn’t sell out, I bought out). It’s about technology getting in the way, and it’s probably one of the things I hate the most about the world.

I’ve been working in technology for decades now. Most of what I see these days is glaringly in the way. People playing on phones and ignoring the person in front of them. The miscommunications so easily had when reading comprehension and writing ability are ill matched. The way I get buried in tabs on a browser because the damned browsers are designed around a concept 21 years old.

The way emails pile up because of the ongoing saga of spammers and marketers – and the imaginary line between the two. The way a speakerphone can garble interactive voice recognition systems.

We, as a society, seem intent on burying ourselves in shells of technology.

That is going to be the key theme of my writing here, I think – at least for a while. Sure, there will be technical stuff I wish to share, but only because I don’t believe that we should be tied to technology in such a way that a digital Thoreau might laugh from the binary void, shouting “Men have become the tools of their tools.”

Yeah, that’s not why I started in technology. That’s not why I started programming. I saw it as a way of making the world simpler, where I could focus more on living and less on the minutiae this world requires of us.