General blog entries that aren't articles in and of themselves.
My first real software development job out of college was with Microsoft. The year was 1997, and the boom was in full swing. Enthusiasm was high, parties were epic, and it was a time we've not seen since. It was also the era of "everyone has an office," and nobody really questioned it. Indeed, the only place on campus that I can remember not being this way was a large room in which something like the "open office floorplan" was used for contractors. And I remember thinking it was counterproductive, even then.
As a developer, I liked having my own space. Shelves for my reference books (and I'm still old-school that way). Some posters on the wall to set the nerdy mood. A huge white board that was all my own. It was my space, and the mindset that went with it had a direct impact on my morale and productivity. Of course, the real benefit was the door. It was open 90% of the time. Anyone could come by, and collaboration never suffered. But I could also close it, meaning that if I wanted some "in the zone" time I could have it. I could even put a sticky on the door, letting people know that I was unavailable except in emergency.
You simply can't do this with an open office plan.
Headphones are an invitation to be tapped on the shoulder. A "quick question" never is, and even when it is, pulling someone out of the zone means that quick question cost a half hour, at best. White boards are shared, so you can't keep a design up for weeks while refining it. And the chocolates on my desk seem to mysteriously disappear overnight. That one is still a mystery.
What I've discovered, though, is that for the past 18 months, "working from home" has reinforced these beliefs and given some concrete experimental evidence to support them. So what have I discovered?
A private space to work provides the same benefits as an office in the building. I can close the door. I can socialize to family members that when the door is closed, I'm concentrating, and please don't interrupt unless you have to. This is generally respected in my household, with the notable exception of the cats. But cats are jerks. Working from home means I can have that private space that isn't afforded in an Open Office building. My point here being that I believe we've all experienced this, now. Has anyone, working from home, not found it better to have your own private space? Do you honestly work in the common areas all the time because the distractions are something you seek out? I doubt it.
When working from home, if someone needs you, they have to get in touch electronically. They don't get to walk over and tap you on the shoulder. Or, worse, stand there and wait for acknowledgement. But with the exception of a ringing phone (who calls unannounced these days?), all communication can be asynchronous. Emails can be read and returned in their own time box. Slack allows you to mute notifications except when urgent if you want. Even chat applications let you set your status as "busy" if you want. I wish Slack had a status called "In the Zone," but that's a feature request. I truly hope this understanding persists once we all return to the office.
I confess, I have a remote work habit that sounds ludicrous but actually functions at the highest level: I work from Las Vegas. Yes, I live in the San Francisco bay area, but, at least when the pandemic has allowed, I will often travel to Las Vegas for a week. I get a nice hotel room at my favorite center-strip resort, usally complimentary, and work from the comfortable hotel room where I have good Internet connectivity, a decent sound system, and a desk. I honestly get up at the start of the day, work without interruption, and put in a full day. My productivity is even more than at home, as there are no family members (or, as I said, cats) to interrupt, even legitimately. Meetings for the past 18 months have been on Zoom anyway, and the worst I got from those who didn't know my plans was a comment that my artificial background looked like a Vegas hotel room. In the evenings, I got good food, perhaps saw a show (nothing refreshes the mind like Penn and Teller!), and got to play some poker or roll dice. I don't really drink much, so I got up the next day refreshed and ready to go.
This may or may not work for you. You have to have the discipline to actually get the work done. For me, the enjoyment of my evenings wouldn't be there if I knew I had work piling up or people suspicious of my work ethic.
I remain of the opinion that Open Office Floor Plans are a drain on productivity and morale, and in light of 18 months of solid "work from home" data, I see no reason to change this opinion. And now I have some solid experience to back it up.
Day 1 of the new job: Holy crap, I have Imposter Syndrome!
Day 5 of the new job: I’ve seen this all before and done this all before. Holy crap, I have Dunning/Kruger Syndrome!
There's a commercial that plays on satellite radio with a jingle that's a really annoying earworm (no, not Kars-4-kids, but just as sticky).
I am about to sign up to use the service.
Dammit! The annoying jingle worked because when I realized I needed this, it's what came immediately to mind.
I feel... icky.
To have an application autopost to Facebook requires that you give Facebook access to your web site and allow their "engineer" to log in and test your app. These are, without exception, clueless and underpaid non-technical people in third-world countries.
I've gotten all of my applications approved after much angst.
What I didn't do was turn off Facebook's access after. Now they are asking that access stay open and they pop in every month or so and post a test.
I'm beside myself with distain.
With billions of users, Facebook owns this market. There won't be a "MySpace Event" that unseats Facebook. Ever. The only way they'll lose their dominance is if we get decentralized social feeds, much like we have a decentralized web of HTML sites.
We need a social protocol like HTML and browsers that support it.
We then need unassailable identity verification (or proper anonymity) and a protocol for creating a social graph (think "your friends" or "your followers" and such).
At that point, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, et. al. become obsolete and the users take back their content and control.
It'll be another 3-5 years.
There have been more than just a few instances where interactions "at work" have gotten a little too personal or awkward for my tastes. Nothing with me, thankfully, but I've seen it in meetings.
Now that we're all working from home, I think I know what it might be - we're working in the same place we live and play. To me, this often makes work feel more informal. We work in our pajamas (or less). We can get up and go into the bedroom to get something. Lunch is from our kitchen.
I think, perhaps, it's natural to feel more informal while working, perhaps subconsciously, and this leads to violations of work protocols and professionalism.
This is probably obvious to everyone else, but it just occurred to me ;)
You know what I'm missing? Improv comedy. Not that I got to go all that often, but now that there's no theater at all, I miss comedy shows. When things start up again, it's high on my list to re-engage.
Protip - before you cancel that meeting because you're just so busy, ask yourself if anyone else is likely to be in the same boat. Is that meeting really going to happen? Especially during the holiday time, odds are that someone else will be the person to cancel or postpone it and you'll get the time back without being "that person."
Or maybe it's just my experience ;)
You've heard of Sonos, yes? Whole-house audio, wireless and able to bridge pretty-much any source. It'll play my music library, stream Pandora, talk to Alexa (or Google), and even stream the same music in all rooms. The little boxes can do it over WiFi or ethernet and form their own mesh network as well. All in all, it's pretty slick and incredibly well done. Further, once you buy a device, you're done. There's no subscription cost for their service and upgrades.
Of course, this makes sense, seeing as the boxes are expensive. The "Connect," which is a passive audio source (meaning you need to plug the audio output into an amp, like your home theater system) runs over $450. The powered version (into which you can just connect speakers) is a couple hundred more, around $650. Then they have powered speaker versions for a couple hundred up to $500. And I've not even gotten into their home theater sound bars and subs, which can run, as a set, over a grand.
So you feel me on the cost.
Over the years, I've acquired three Connects, one Amp, and one "One," which is their powered speaker. All are first-gen units.
Now we get to the dilemma: Sonos has noted that these first-gen units are underpowered for modern times and they've given them end-of-life. They now have a v2 (called S2, whereas the older units are called S1) and say that new features and modern features will only come out on S2. S1 gets bugs and security patches, but that's it. Initially, they'd said they'd brick S1 (seriously!) but they walked that back when customers rightly revolted. But if you have any S1 devices in your home, you can't use S2.
There are three options: first, just stay on S1 and life goes on like it is now, but no new features. Second, buy some S2 units and split your home. S1 is one Sonos network and S2 is another. There are problems with this, but generally, you can do it. Or, third...
Upgrade everything to S2. To encourage this, Sonos is giving S1 users a 30% credit on any purchase of an S2 device that maps to an S1 that they already have. So in my case, I could buy three S2 "Connect" equivalents and one S2 "Amp" equivalent and get 30% off each. The offer is only per S1 device you already have. Sonos will take the old devices and recycle them for you if you want, or you can do it yourself. Or... as it appears, you can still use them. That's right, you could grow your system by double, split it (S1 and S2) and get 30% off of the S2 stack as a spiff.
Or, in my case, take my S1 Amp and put it in my travel trailer on its own network. Then I could upgrade the three Connect units into S2 units and give them away to friends. A friend who doesn't have Sonos would be thrilled at S1, as it's still pretty cool. The unit wouldn't be eligible for the discount, but it's usable, albeit with today's older feature set.
But that's 70% of $650 + $450 + $450 + $450. More than just casual chump change.
You can't fault Sonos for not being able to use 15 year-old tech in a modern way. On the other hand, that's one expensive upgrade!
If you give advice here, please be snarky, because I already know what I'm going to do ;)
One thing to come of this pandemic is the unintended stress and integration tests being put to our systems, especially home automation. In my house, we have, by being home 24/7 for the past two weeks, put enough unexpected stress on our house that some very interesting failure modes are starting to make themselves known
It started when a couple of my smoke detectors started giving false alarms. This wasn't a case of low or dead batteries, and it tended to happen early in the morning. Some research indicated that the particular model I have tends to give false alarms when dirty. Sure enough, taking them down, the amount of dust was higher than usual. My only hypothesis is that everyone being home 24/7 and the house being mostly closed because of cool weather means more humidity. That could mean dust is "sticking" to things. So, time to clean all the detectors.
And our smart thermostats are completely confused. The concept of "home" and "away" is nonsensical to it now, and its learning logic doesn't appear to know how to cope. I've turned them to full manual and nailed them to the temperature we want. I'll reprogram them later and turn off learning entirely. There is no "house arrest" mode. There should be!
One stress test that we've all been part of has been the Internet and cell system - and it's notable that it's held up pretty well for the most part. Usage patters have changed considerably, but we're all still online. We're all trying to work from home and binge watch movies. Bandwidth usage has spiked - but nothing's fallen down. This is good news.
For April Fool this year, I was going to spin a tale of how I'd accepted a request to stand for election for Congress in 2022 and would be beginning my campaign immediately after this year's election. I think it would have been totally believable and fooled many of you.
Due to the current world situation, I clue you into my planned prank and then ensure you know that it would have been a prank and hope that you get a grin imagining how it might have played out.
April Fool is out of bounds this year - but humor still helps.
Unless you think it would have been a crappy Fool, in which case I still love you, but you're wrong ;)
(I encourage everyone to post what they would have done, in the bounds of good taste, but not actually pull the prank itself)
Universal has chosen to release some moves direct to digital in this time of "shelter in place." For $20, you can get "The Hunt," a film that should be in the theaters, to watch at home for 48 hours. This is great, as we're all going to need entertainment and lots of it. And for $20, a family of four is seeing this film at a price much less than they'd pay in a first-run theater.
My only concern? Those who invite all the neighbors over to save even more money. Because that's not social distancing, is it?
Please think about this before you do such a thing. It could save your life or the life of an at-risk loved one.
Any other time, I'd see these ludicrously cheap fares to Tokyo as a reason to do a mileage run and enjoy a few days in a great city.
And then I realize why travel prices are falling through the floor and plan my next trip to Costco, instead.
CNN reports America's largest coal miner just filed for bankruptcy, as expected.
So much for "Promises Made, Promises Kept," Mr. Trump. Coal is obsolete. There are so many reason to celebrate this fact. I don't even need to be pleased that you're bass-ackwards policy was a bad one and it's yet another nail in your coffin-like legacy.
Though it does kinda feel good to tick that box.
Now, if only we could put some money into broadcast power and room-temperature superconducting so that we can be even that much more efficient...
Musings from the Starbucks.
Power companies are ditching coal in favor of cleaner alternatives at a rapid pace. US power plants are expected to consume less coal next year than at any point since President Jimmy Carter was in the White House, according to government forecasts released earlier this month.-- CNN
We lost power on Saturday due to PG&E's idiotic need to shut power off when high winds pose a fire threat. We got it back late yesterday. For those unaware, this is simply because of mismanagement over the past decade by a for-profit utility. But hey, why get all political, right?
Three Things I'd Like Right Now:
1. A 12kw Generac house backup generator, since it looks like these week-long power outages, multiple times per year, are going to be the "new normal" for the next five to seven years, or so they say.
2. A week of stopped-time to catch up on my TODO list, reading, and dare I say a little television.
3. Delicious cake. Enough said.
The worst part about training a new Pandora station is when a song comes on that you love, but is quite clearly not in the genre you're trying to curate. You have to thumb-down the song, but you also really would like to hear it.
I travel a lot for work. Often, dinner is going to be at whatever the hotel offers, and a lot of the time, that's getting food at the bar. It continuously amazes me how much people will say, out loud, during a conversation in such a venue. A lot of the time it's office gossip, which is fascinating. Some of the stories would curl your hair, especially when the participants have had a few drinks. But sometimes the conversation is all work, and just paying attention turns me into a fly on the wall of the company meeting room. I know how projects are doing, which initiatives are getting traction and which aren't, what's likely to be canned, and who's on the up or down as far as promotions go. Potential mergers have been mentioned, with the people talking presuming that they're just sharing information with each other that they already know or should know. Now I know. Something to keep in mind if you travel, yourself (from either end of this dynamic).
Speaking of traveling, I'm often asked what my number-one top travel tip is. I'll give it to you here as one Thing, but look for an expanded post on it in the future. The tip is this: stop thinking about leisure travel in terms of "here's when I'm going, and here's where I'm going, now how can I get the best deal?" That's a trap. The options, once you've locked yourself into a time and location are often very limited. Instead, invert the model. Make a list of places you'd be interested in going. Make a range of dates you could travel. Then start looking. Be flexible and look for sales to destinations or drops in prices when you can go a week before or a week after your first guess. Last year I wanted to get away for Thanksgiving, but chose to not fix my sights on any particular location. I looked at prices in the time range I was considering and ranked them based on both the price and the attractiveness of the destination. One morning, for whatever reason, Japan went on sale. I mean a big sale. I booked it then and there, and spent an incredible week in Japan for next to nothing.
President Trump just said that he's now going to start calling the "Fake News" the "Corrupt News." This is his new term.
I just registered corrupt.news
Happy Wednesday. ;)
Just remember, everyone has their fandom!
And, of course, if it bites itself and you die, that's voodoo.
Donald Trump not human? Cut me a little slack on that one...
Who knew that sperm whales are the noisiest animal on Earth?
I'm often asked about my personal productivity strategies, and the number one tip that I like to give out is the benefit of making habits of the things that you find valuable. It is said that it takes 21 days for form a habit, and that one must be committed to establishing it. I could argue that if you can remember to do something for 21 days, you've already made it a habit. If the habit I want to create is eating delicious cake every day, I suspect I could do without help. When it's remembering to floss, on the other hand, I might forget if I'm in a hurry, or even blow it off. In this case, I find that checklists help.
Applications like Todoist work for me, as they let me make a checklist of tasks and set them to repeat daily (or in some cases, on weekdays, weekends, or whatever schedule works for me). Initially, I had a single checklist, but I found this difficult to work with. Sometimes there are tasks that are expected on a given day but just aren't going to get done, often for very good reason. For example, one task I have is to make a daily journal entry about a particular topic. The problem is that the topic doesn't generate activity every day, so checking off this task when there is nothing to journal about is perfectly okay - but I get "credit" in the app for actually doing it. There is no way to mark it, as we'd say in the betting world, "no action."
My solution was to split out my list into two categories and then split those into two more. The two categories are health habits and all other habits. I treat health differently because many of the items are non-negotiable. Take my blood pressure medication, for example. That goes into the second split of "maintenance," which means that it's a "no excuse" task.
Tasks that aren't maintenance are improvement, and those are the ones that, more often than not, wouldn't get done if I didn't hold myself accountable. Improvement health tasks like working out or meditating (though that's becoming more attractive the more I do it). Improvement habits like committing to writing at least one sentence a day (hat tip to Stephen Barnes for this one).
In all cases, checking them off provides the dopamine reaction I'm after. I want to see, every day, 100% on maintenance tasks, and as close as I can get on the improvement tasks. If something can't be done regularly, I re-evaluate it to see if it must be dropped from the list or if I need to make adjustments to make it possible.
Bonus List: I have one for "Memorize." This is, obviously, anything I need to commit to memory. I put the text in a task and read it once per day and then check it off. After a time, the every-day repetition gets the job done and I can remove the task. Ask me to do some Shakespeare for you some time - this is how I memorized Dogberry's part in Much Ado About Nothing ;)
Do you think this would work for you? I'd love to hear thoughts and refinements! What would you add/change to this?
Uber's new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has been all over the media trying to rehabilitate Uber's reputation by telling us that Uber cares and will make things right when they go wrong. This is great spin, but is it really true? If my experience with Uber, lately, is any indication, it's not. It's business as usual at Uber.
Have you ever contacted Uber's customer service? First, you can't do anything except send a message with the app, but even then, you are constrained in your topics and ability to do so. Often, to get someone to read your issue, you have to select an irrelevant topic.
Once making it past that hurdle, you then send your message and wait for the inevitable misunderstood response. I have honestly never sent a message to Uber in which the response was in any way relevant to my actual complaint. Once going back and forth for the better part of a day with Uber, one may get a response that is aligned to the subject, but there's no guarantee there.
In my latest interaction with Uber, I requested a ride while in San Francisco. The app told me the wait would be about 8 minutes, and I waited while watching the car make its way to me. Once it was near, it was clear that the driver was going the wrong way and would never be able to reach my location. Sure enough, as the app was telling me that the driver was arriving, the car disappeared and the app told me that the driver had to cancel. Just like that.
I had to start over, wait another ten minutes and then... same thing. Driver cancelled.
The third time was a charm, some half-hour after I'd requested my first ride.
I contacted Uber and explained the situation and the response to me was that I should be fine, I wasn't charged a cancellation fee.
I explained that it was the driver who had cancelled and noted that had I cancelled, I would have been charged $5, but when a driver does it, there's no consequence.
The response I received asked me for a screen shot of the $5 charge I incurred.
After going back and forth, I finally managed to explain what happened and was then told that this is the policy and there would be no refund. Not even an apology.
So... Dara? How is this "making it right?"
My son likes to think he's a lawyer and, unlike many children who ask the same question over and over will often ask the same question multiple times but with different angles. At some point, usually pretty early (I like to think I'm a smart guy), I realize he's doing this, and I shift into giving a response that I've found works well. I can't claim credit for it, I read it on a parenting blog.
When I was in high school, in the 80s, I was part of a group that hacked into corporate voicemail systems so that we young hackers could communicate. Voicemail was pretty obscure then. You could find me, around lunchtime, at the payphone on campus, picking up and leaving messages. (Note for the young, look up "payphone" if you need to).
Welcome to the future! I'd heard that Jean Michel Jarre was working on a new album, and last night saw a post that noted that it's out. I remember growing up in the '80s, and when an artist I liked had a new album, I'd have to make my way down to Big Music and go see my buddy Bob. He'd almost always have it in stock, but sometimes he'd have to order it and it would be a couple days before I got my hands on the CD. Before that it was waiting for the vinyl to show up. Those were the days, right?
So last night I see the post and click through. There we are on iTunes, with the album available. One click and my account is debited the $14 or so, and the download begins to my iPad. I'm not worried about single-device, of course, since I know that any iDevice I have (or even my PC with iTunes installed) can get the bits. I close iTunes, open my Sonos controller, and tell it that I'd like to listen to the album on the master bedroom speakers, please. Five seconds later I'm listening to the opening notes of Jarre's new offering.
And wow, this is good stuff! Collaborations with a whole bunch of other artists (including Tangerine Dream!). Clearly Jarre's style, and even more cool, clearly some of these artists are fans, as you can hear their components are often in the style of Jarre's older works. Musical respect.
The takeaway? This is the future I imagined when I was 21. If you'd asked me to describe "a day in the life" when I was in college, this is it. And that's simply amazing.
The album: https://itun.es/us/rpbO8
The very talented Matt Zanzibar has delivered the logo for Sleestaq, LLC, my new company for all of the web development and properties I'm working on. Much more about all of this to come, along with my new goal of a daily blog entry here at Bit.Parts!