So, my kids wanted to buy me a large teddy bear for my birthday. There so happened to be one at the local Safeway, but it was $75. The last time we bought a giant stuffed thing, it was a giant dog from Costco. I don’t remember the price, but I thought, Costco, it’s got to be cheaper…
We went down to Costco, but I we haven’t had a membership there for years. Time to renew. One thing led to another, and rather than the simple run of the mill membership, I allowed myself to be talked into the “Executive” membership, which ‘gives’ you a credit card, and a $60 cash back card (offsetting the extra expense of the super membership). Well, how bad could it be. I went from having really no credit cards last year, to having 4 of them today. That must be good for credit worthiness right? At any rate, I finally got the card, and thought, hay, I might as well read all the fine print.
The first thing that came in the mail was the “Account approval notice”. This one is interesting because it’s basically just the “congratulations, you’re approved for a card, it will be coming in the mail shortly”. It does list the credit limit, the outrageous interest rates, and down at the bottom, below the fold, “Personalize your PIN”. Aha! This normally discarded little piece of paper is the one that has the credit card PIN, which most people don’t know. For an ATM card, you always know the PIN because without it, you basically can’t use it. But, your credit card PIN? I don’t usually know that, and why? Because I’m not looking for it, and I usually throw away this intro piece of paper. Well, now I know, and I’ll try to keep track of this radom 4 digits.
Next up, the giant new card package. This is the set of papers which include the terms and conditions in minute detail. This shows the 29% rate you’ll be charged whenever you do anything wrong (like not pay your bill on time), as well as the ‘arbitration’ clause, which ensures you never sue them whenever they do something wrong. One small piece of paper in this set says “FACTS” at the top of it.
The FACTS sheet. This piece of paper tells me about the many ways in which they’re going to use the information they gather on me to market to me. Not only the company itself, but their affiliates, and even non-affiliates (basically anyone who wants the data). This is normally a throw away piece as well, but this time I decided to read the fine print. What I found was one section titled “To limit our sharing”. Well, that sounds good. Call a phone number, go through some live menu choices, and there you have it, you’ve limited the usage of this data. All you can do is limit the affiliate usage of your data, but it’s something. I even chose the option to have them send me a piece of paper indicating the choices that I made.
I feel really proud of myself. I normally ignore most of the stuff that comes from credit card companies, as most of it is marketing trying to sign me up for more credit cards, or point systems, or whatever. This time, I really dug in, and caught some interesting details. I’m curious to see how the “don’t market to me” thing works out. Of course, once you click off that checkbox, they probably simply sell your info off to someone else to harvest. I feel like that’s what happens when you unsubscribe from an email list as well, but I can’t prove it.
At any rate, I learned something new today. Read some of the fine print, try out a little something you haven’t in the past, and go on an adventure!
My birthday is coming up in November, and just today I was clicking through one of those web sites that says “45 discounts seniors can enjoy”. I’ve been doing “computing” in one form or another since I was about 10 years old, and I’m about to be 53. If I can do the math, that’s been a very long time. Looking back on my earlier years, I recognize a cocky genius of a software engineering talent (if I do say so myself). In more recent years, it hasn’t been about an ability to sling code hard and fast, but rather reflecting upon years of developing various kinds of systems to come up with non-obvious solutions faster than I would have otherwise.
Aging in tech typically means sliding slowly into a management position, slowly losing your tech chops, and mostly riding herd over the young guns that are coming up through the ranks. I’ve taken a slightly different path over the past few years. I did manage the cats who created some very interesting tech for Microsoft: XML, LINQ, ACS/Service Bus, Application Gateway, but more recently I found myself writing actual code myself, while inventing new ways to hire for diversity (http:/aka.ms/leapit). It is this latter initiative that I find very fascinating and invigorating as I age in tech.
The premise of the LEAP program is that ‘tech’ broadly speaking, has advanced enough in terms of complexity, that some things are now easier to achieve than they might have been 10 – 15 years ago. The kinds of “programming” that we’re doing is changing. Whereas 15 years ago, having the skills to debug windows kernel was a great thing to look for, today, being able to do a mash up with they myriad web frameworks that are available is most interesting. Knowing R or machine learning tools is increasingly important. Those kernel debug skills, not so much.
But still, there’s need for old codgers to apply themselves in ever creative ways. I look out onto the tech landscape, and I see myriad opportunities. I see the continent of Africa sitting there, daring us to capture it and harvest the energy and greatness that awaits. I see urban environments across the US, who are all consumers of tech, and can be turned into creators of tech just as easily. I see AI applications that can be applied to our ever burgeoning populations of elder folks, robots, AI, automation of various forms. As an older technologist, rather than going softly into that good night, lamenting the loss of my lightning quick programming skills, I see opportunity to leverage what I’ve learned over the years to identity opportunities, and marshal teams of engineers to go after them, adding guidance and experience where necessary, but otherwise just getting out of the way so the energetic engineers can do their thing.
I may or may not be able to pass a typical tech interview screen these days, but I’m more concerned with changing how we interview for tech roles in the first place. I’m more likely to identify how to incorporate the views of youth, the elderly, the farmer, the street performer, into the evolution of tech offerings to make their lives better. I’m more likely to, without fear, create a tech start up with a clear purpose, and the financial support necessary to see it through its early rounds.
Aging in tech can be a harrowing experience. In some cases we age out of certain roles, but with some foresight and thoughtfulness, we leverage our years of experience to do ever greatly impacting things, while avoiding merely being surpassed by our up and coming peers.
So, as I age in tech, I’m looking forward to the discounts that are coming when I reach 55. I’m looking forward to the seniors menu at Denny’s. I’m looking forward to being able to think of anything I can imagine, and actually turn it into something that is helpful to society.
Aging in tech is something that happens to everyone, from the first line of code you write, to the last breath you take. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the journey thus far, and am looking forward to many more years to come.
For the past few years, I’ve had this HP Photosmart printer. It’s served me well, with nary a problem. Recently, I needed to replace ink, so I spent the usual $60+ to replace all the cartridges, and then it didn’t work…
An endless cycle of “check the ink” ensued, at which point I thought, OK, I can buy some more cartridges, rinse, repeat, or I can buy another printer. This is the problem with printers these days. Since all the money is made on the consumables, buying a new printer is anywhere from a rebated ‘free’, to a few hundred dollars. Even laser printers, which used to cost $10,000 when Apple came out with their first one back in the day, are a measly $300 for a color laser!
So, I did some research. In the end I decided on the HP MFP M277dw.
It’s a pretty little beast. It came with an installation CD, which is normal for such things. But, since my machine doesn’t have a CD/DVD/BFD player in it, I installed software from their website instead.
It’s not often that I install hardware in my machine, so it’s a remarkable event. It’s kind of like those passwords you only have to use once a year. You’ll naturally try to follow the most expedient path. So, I download and install the HP installer appropriate for this device and my OS. No MD5 checksum available, so I just trust that the download from HP (at least over HTTPS) is good. But, these days, any compromise to that software is probably deep in the firmware of the printer already.
The screens are typical, a list of actions that are going to occur by default. These include automatic update, customer feedback, and some other things that don’t sound that interesting to the core functioning of my printer. The choice to turn these options off are hidden behind a blue colored link at the bottom of the screen. Quite unobtrusive, and if I’m color blind, I won’t even notice it. It’s not a button, just some blue text. So, I click the text, which turns on some check boxes, which I can check to turn off various features.
So, further with the installation, “Do I want HP Connect?” Well, I don’t know, I don’t know what that is. So, I leave that checked. Things rumble along, and a couple of test print pages are printed. One says: “Congratulations!” and proceeds to give me the details on how I can send email to my printer for printing from anywhere on the planet! Well, that’s not what I want, and I’m sure involves having the printer talk to service out in the internet looking for print requests, or worse, it’s installed a reverse proxy on my network, punching a vulnerability hole in the same. It just so happens a web page for printer configuration shows up as well, and I figure out how to turn that particular feature off. But what else did it do.
Up pops a dialog window telling me it would like to authenticate my cartridges, giving me untold riches in the process. Just another attempt to get more information on my printer, my machines, and my usage. I just close that window, and away we go.
I’m thinking, I’m a Microsoft employee. I’ve been around computers my entire life. I probably upgrade things more than the average user. I know hardware, identity, security, networking, and the like. I’m at least an “experienced” user. It baffles me to think of how a ‘less experienced’ user would deal with this whole situation. Most likely, they’d go with the defaults, just clicking “OK” when required to get the darned thing running. In so doing, they’d be giving away a lot more information than they think, and exposing their machine to a lot more outside vulnerabilities than they’d care to think about. There’s got to be a better way.
Ideally, I think I’d have a ‘home’ computer, like ‘Jarvis’ for Tony Stark. This is a home AI that knows about me, my family, our habits and concerns. When I want to install a new piece of kit in the house, I should just be able to put that thing on the network, and Jarvis will take care of the rest, negotiating with the printer and manufacturer to get basic drivers installed where appropriate, and only sharing what personal information I want shared, based on knowing my habits and desires. This sort of digital assistant is needed even more by the elderly, who are awash in technology that’s rapidly escaping their grasp. Heck, forget the elderly, even average computer users who’s interaction with a ‘computer’ extends to their cell phones, tablets, and console gaming rigs, this stuff is just not getting any easier.
So, more than just hope, this lesson in hardware installation reminds me that the future of computing doesn’t always lie in the shiny new stuff. Sometimes it’s just about making the mundane work in an easier, more secure fashion.
I’ve gone back and forth on this over the years. For the most part we’re ‘cord cutters’. For me it wasn’t about cost, but about changing viewing habits. We found that of the cable offerings, all we were really using was the connection to sling tv so we could watch Indian serials and movies. Well, with roku, that’s just a single paid “channel”. Then came the Amazon Firestick, and all the video content that comes with Prime. Netflix rounds out the offerings that are most common, and with them creating new content of their own, the likes of HBO and Starz begin to pale into a distant memory.
So, what about DVDs? Well, most of the time, content available on DVD is available through one of our online subscriptions. But, not always. Netflix doesn’t have everything, and in particular, they don’t have some stuff that I would consider to be archival. Even if they do have something, they may not have it for very long.
I have a strategy around DVD purchasing. In general I’ll only purchase a DVD if it’s less than $10. I can justify this as it’s less than the price of a single admission to a movie theatre. Also, if the DVD is cheaper than the rental price on Amazon, I might buy it. I’ll buy those compilation DVDs that are like “Oceans 11, 12, 13, and Original”. That’s 4 movies in all, at least a couple of which I’ve seen a couple of times, and would watch again. The very first one from the 60s was interesting, because although they “got away with it”, they didn’t end up with anything. I’ll also purchase DVDs while in India, or on Amazon because they won’t show up necessarily in the US. Ra-One for example, or the Dhoom movies (although the latest did show up).
I have 118 DVDs now. I do two things. 1, I archive the .ISO file and store it on the Synology NAS. Then I use Handbrake to convert to a .mkv file, so that I can serve it up easily using a Plex client on the roku, or firestick, or any client in the home (iPad, phones, guest laptops). This is great. But, running a home NAS is an interesting business. The Synology is pretty good, and the one I have has been in almost constant operation for about 4 years now. I’ve added one disk, so it has roughly 5 terabytes of storage, with a couple of storage bays open. At some point within the next 4 years, I’ll be contemplating replacing that thing, at a cost of who knows what. In the meanwhile, I hope to gosh nothing catastrophic happens to it, because other than being RAID, I don’t have a backup, or who knows if it suffers a debilitating virus.
Which brings me to a secondary analysis. I could leverage OneDrive, or some other cloud storage mechanism to archive all this stuff, and just use the home NAS as a local cache. That would give me the quick access that I want, and the security of a cloud backed up thing to boot. That would be a great solution for what I travel. I can still have access to various files, without having to expose my home NAS to the wilds of the internet. The cost might be about the same as purchasing a new NAS in a few years, so that’s something to look into.
On top of putting my data into an easily accessible place, I can then use it as a dataset to do various experimentations. What is it about the types of movies that I collect. Run some cloud based analytics on the images, dialogs, years, actors, etc. Basically, I could run my own little Netflix scoring engine, and on my own decide what kinds of new movies might be of interest to me. And then, I wonder if I could sell this information to advertisers, or movie makers? Something to think about.
And so, I find myself continuing to archive my DVDs. It’s something I’ve gone into and out of doing over the past 15 years. Today, they’re so cheap that even though a lot of content can be found through streaming services, it’s worth the convenience to store them and make them available locally. We’ll see if using the cloud as backup, or as primary storage, makes sense.
So, I received an email a few weeks back which essentially said “would you consider a role working for the CTO as a Technical Advisor”. Well, at first, I wasn’t sure what to think, but then I actually talked to who was asking me the question, and I thought, “wait a minute, this could be a really cool thing”.
It’s like this. At Microsoft, we don’t always have a person in the role of CTO. Bill Gates was “Chief Scientist” at one point, and Craig Mundie I think had the CTO role, as did Ray Ozzie. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s a distraction.
The current CTO is Kevin Scott, and before I actually met him, the #1 comment everyone said about him was “he’s a really cool guy”. Well, after meeting him, I have the same sentiment. Kevin’s not an industry luminary from the birth days of the personal computing industry like Ray Ozzie was, he’s an engineer’s engineer with a pedigree that extends through Google, a startup adMob, and LinkedIn, where he continues to be responsible for their backend stuff.
I’ve been at Microsoft for 18 years, which means I’ve done a fair number of things, and I know a fair number of people. The first aspect of being a TA is getting around, meeting with people, and spreading the word that there’s actually a CTO.
What does the CTO do? Well, the best description I can give is the CTO acts as the dev manager/architect for the company. The scope and responsibility of the CTO can be very broad. Part of it is about efficiency of our joint engineering objectives. Part of it is making sure we’re marching to the beat of a similar drummer. Can you imagine, Microsoft has a few multi-billion dollar businesses, led by business managers who are fairly autonomous, and have quite strong independent personalities, or they would not be in the positions they are in. And along comes the CTO to help unify them.
Really, the job is being fairly impartial where necessary, and just reminding people of their shared goals and objectives, and helping them to reinforce achieving them.
Being a TA to the CTO? Mostly it’s about going deep in areas. Kevin Scott is a fast learner, fully capable of digesting tons of info, and fabricating a well informed opinion on his own. The challenge is one of time. Microsoft is vast, and if you want to go beyond the surface level in many areas, you’d spend all your time in meetings, and not actually be able to synthesize anything. So, the TA role. We have those infinite number of meetings, going deep on multiple topics, synthesizing to a certain level, and surfacing interesting bits to Kevin where decisions and direction might be required.
The the surface description of the role and responsibility. The truth is, it’s not at all a well defined role. Eric Rudder was Bill Gate’s TA, for five years, and he was quite a force, doing more than just feeding Bill Gates opinions on what he heard in the company. We’ll see what our current office of the CTO is capable of, and what kinds of value we are going to impart on the company.
I am excited for this latest opportunity. I think it’s a fitting role for where I’m at in my career, and what value I can contribute to the company. So, here we go!
Just yesterday, I wrote Donald Trump is not a dumb guy. In that missive I was telling myself not to be fooled into the mass hypnosis that Donald Trump is currently performing on the world. But, alas, someone I actually respect posted a comment questioning my beliefs, and suggesting that I was ok with mass murder.
Well, I am by no means a trump supporter, nor a war monger. I’m a great many things, but probably none of the things that this person now believes about me. It’s worth being more direct, so here it is.
Thoughts on Donald Trump. First of all, it’s probably worth me describing myself in terms of nationality, ethnicity, political and religious leanings. I am a 52 year old black man born and raised in the United States of America. I grew up in the very conservative Orange County in California. Home of John Wayne, and the John Birch society, if you know what that is. I grew up in a time when my father, who repaired typewriters in schools, had to suffer the indignity of being called a nigger by children in the schools where he worked. In my home, we were born Christian and while my father was alive, we went to church regularly.
My neighborhood was just a bunch of working class Mexicans and some blacks. The barrio by any other name. A place rough enough for the police to only show up in twos if they knew what was good for them. Migrant workers (“wet backs”), just working people trying to raise their families.
My dad died when I was 7. At age 10, my mom decided we’d had enough of the Mexican upbringing, and we cast our eyes on a new housing development a couple miles down Orangethorpe. A new 2 story 4 bedroom house, surrounded by respectable white folks! Gee, we were moving on up. So, I went through middle and high school like that, still as Christian as ever, although we didn’t go to church after dad died. Mom was probably mad and disillusioned with god. At any rate, I made it through high school, went to Berkeley to study electrical engineering, and eventually started my first company, Adamation.
I did software that was off the beaten path. Yah, there was this Microsoft thing out there, but these were the days of Mac, NeXT, Taligent, BeOS, and that fledgling Linux thing.
I married a woman I met in college (she was from Goa India), we had a child, we eventually got divorced. I did not become a hindu during this time, but I was certainly immersed in a lot of hindu ritual and culture. I’ve read the Bhagavad Gita, and various other Hindu texts. They seemed quite alright, and offered up a more ancient view of how the world works from a religious perspective.
Roll forward some more years, and I made the move to Microsoft (1998). The heady days of the birth of XML (which I helped drive for 5 years), and the birth of the CLR and .net frameworks. And then, 9/11. I went to work to see panic in the halls. Colleagues with vague middle-eastern or southeast Asian ancestry or looks, scurrying into my office with reports of their friends being beat up in other parts of the country. My own fiduciary responsibility driving me to tell close friends that I would have to fire them if they continue to distribute incendiary emails imploring people to route out the terrorists and get rid of them.
Very challenging times.
Roll forward a few more years, 2005, I find myself moving to India to create the Engineering Excellence group in Hyderabad, a relatively new development center for Microsoft. Somehow, drawn to India again. This time around, I fall in love with a woman who is muslim. So, I read for the first time the Quran. What an eye opener for a Christian such as myself. Turns out, we (jews, Christians, muslims) are all praying to the same god. Go figure. Men have created the dogma around killing each other in the name of this god. And so, I wanted to marry this woman. And to do so, I needed to be a muslim man. Lucky for me, I was already circumcised…
And so, I’m now married to a muslim woman, I consider myself to be a muslim, and we have two beautiful children who are also muslim.
My journey back to the US was less than positive. My wife had a 10 year visa, but on one of our returns (2009), the border agents at the airport pulled us aside, and into the dreaded interrogation room. We’re not going to let you into the country until you have a green card, even though you have a valid visitors visa… Yep, we flew back to India the next morning. But why? This is my wife? “Sorry sir, we don’t know who this alien is, and once she enters the country, she may not leave”. So, even though we were married, in process of obtaining a green card, and all that, we could not enter the country.
Roll forward to 2016. Donald Trump, that figure from my past who had always been there, as an entertainer, but never any real significance in my life, is tearing up the Republican party. They are nothing but deer in the headlights of his red neck hick mobile fueled by bigotry, misogyny, racism, and all the other things that tear apart civil society. He is tearing back the curtain of political correctness, and essentially relieving the pressure that a set of Americans feel has kept them bottled up far too long. They made, and they’re somewhat active. His opponent, an ineffective democrat who did not have the pulse of the people in the way that President Obama did before her. All excuses aside, I’m not sure having Hillary in office would have been that effective with a house and senate controlled by republicans. But, I digress.
Donald trump using a series of tactics that are so obvious from an outside observers perspective that I’m always surprised (becoming less so) that they work. Like Penn and Teller (magicians), he tells you exactly how he’s deceiving you, how he’s using misdirection, how he’s manipulating your emotions, appearing to join your perspective, and then he pulls the wool over your eyes and you still can’t believe how he’s pulled that off. It’s just sickening.
His first few months in office have been typical for someone full of bluster, but little political experience. First he shocks the world by essentially saying “all bets are off. You can throw out all your past assumptions, there’s a new sheriff in town”. That’s a tactic. Now everyone is on pause. Is he as racist, isolationist, bigoted, misogynistic as his bluster portrays, or is he simply the best Democrat that could be elected at this time to deal with the Republic controlled house and senate.
And so, he bombs Syria. Now, it strikes me as a lifelong pacifist that bombing people is nothing to be proud of. Every time a building of “collateral damage” is destroyed, every time a truck plows into a crowd of people, every time a government chooses to gas its own, every time we shoot a petty dictactor in a hidey hole, my heart sinks. We should never be proud of our ability to hunt down and destroy human beings. It’s sad that we have people we believe horrible enough to have this done to them, and it’s sad that we’re horrible enough people to do this.
For ever cop that kills a black man, I’m scared for my safety. For every muslim identified terrorist that pulls off an atrocity, I’m scared for the safety of myself, and my family. For every executive order issued by my own government, I afraid I will be rounded up and placed in an internment camp or worse.
I live in a world now where I have a contingency plan for rapidly departing my own country as soon as the “muslim registry” rears its ugly head. Fleeing the country may be no solice, nor refuge though. Our next best stop is India, and they have a tolerance, but not love for muslims. Anywhere else is a dice role with an American passport, and a family with mixed heritage.
And so, to rephrase my previous post on the subject. Donald Trump is not dumb. He just blew up a Syrian air base in response to the Syrian government using chemical weapons on its own people. Using chemical weapons is an international crime easily deplored by all countries. The Syrian government should be held accountable for this action.
Donald Trump has gained enough political saavy to exploit this situation to his own gains. I doubt he cares much about the loss of life in Syria, but he does care about getting China to deal with North Korea. He will use his bombing of the Syrian air base to show that he’s got big guns and is not afraid to use them. He will say this in plain word’s to China’s president, as he has him sitting in his own private resort, sitting on his own patio, drinking from his own wine glasses. This is big dog diplomacy 101.
So, in short, to my colleagues who might question where I stand on subjects of Donald Trump, muslims, war, and the like. I would rather go to jail than go to war (never registered for the draft, got three threating letters from the government on the same). And for those who think I’m a hypocrite for such a stance, I guess I’m the worst kind of conservative. I will defend my family til the death, but for a country that would just as easily shoot me at a traffic stop, or stick me in an internment camp, or call me nigger and equate me to the lowest of animals, I say “fuck you”, I’m surviving as best I can, and I’m going to do right by mine, to survive and thrive, and raise my kids to build a better society that doesn’t suffer from all this nonsense.
I have to make a note to myself as a way to mark various events that are occurring, while I can still remember. A little time capsule if you will.
I did not vote for Mr Trump in the 2016 election, but I am certainly an observer of human behavior. I recently read an interview with Scott Adams in which he explained his views and observations of trump as essentially a mass hypnotist. I tend to agree with this view. That and the fact that Mr Trump is decently good at quite a few things, but probably not a master of anything. His combined skills on those several things have kept him in an elevated position his entire life.
But, what do I observe today, Friday April 7 2017? A couple weeks back, North Korea doing saber rattling as usual. US and Japan doing military exercises near them. Syrian government allegedly using chemical weapons on their own people, and the Chinese president Xi Jinping doing a world tour, stopping by the US colony to check on things.
So, what happens? The US drops a bunch of munitions (roughly 50 tomahawk cruise missiles) on a Syrian airbase that was supposedly a part of the use of the chemical weapons. And, the next day, president Xi comes to visit…
Now, while the various pundits are wondering what this little show of aggression leads to in terms of the US involvement in Syria, I tend to think it has nothing to do with Syria at all. It’s a calculated way for Mr Trump to show his lack of fear, and ability to act unilaterally. He probably could not care less about Syria. What he does care about is showing China that he’s not afraid to go after North Korea. He’s trying to show the rest of the world that although his rhetoric is America first protectionist, it is in fact “American interests first”, which is subtly different, and means everything in the world. Mr Trump is telling the world, he will use American military to advance and protect American interests around the world.
This gives teeth to the “China better do something about North Korea, or I will”. Mr trump is going after the Vladimir Putin “strong man” leadership style. He doesn’t care about his popularity, as he knows there’s nothing like a little world skirmishing in the name of American interests to boost that. He’s playing the world, and the world is probably a step or two behind. This will be interesting to see the interaction with China, because although Mr Trump might be playing the world, China plans 50 – 100 years ahead.
Grab your popcorn.