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Looking up at lamps

Sunday, March 24th, 2019

A few years ago I was waiting for my coffee in a Starbucks and while I was standing at the pickup counter I was playing with my phone. I think at the time it was an iPhone 4 so, yea, a few years ago. Anyway, I took a photo of the lamps hanging down. The photo was awesome, these two bright lamps floating in darkness. Over the intervening years I took quite a few similar shots looking up at lamps. Some were very cool, but over all the phone camera was not up to making great photos so I never shared them. But the cameras have gotten much better and now in have Lightroom Mobile to even take “raw” photos for editing.

Armed with better camera and editing software I revisited the original Starbucks:


I have taken a lot of up-lamp shots. Looking like a fool in restaurants and bars and shops craning my neck back to look up with the phone or holding the phone out over and over to take a photo where I can’t see the screen and then checking on the alignment of the shot. Five, six, ten tries to get the shot. Here are some of my best:


Don’t believe the hype

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

“[R]ather than drawing conclusions about who was vicious or righteous—or lamenting the political miasma that makes the question unanswerable—it might be better to stop and look at how film footage constructs rather than reflects the truths of a debate like this one. Despite the widespread creation and dissemination of video online, people still seem to believe that cameras depict the world as it really is; the truth comes from finding the right material from the right camera. That idea is mistaken, and it’s bringing forth just as much animosity as the polarization that is thought to produce the conflicts cameras record.”

Ian Bogost, in “Stop Trusting Viral Videos” [] published by The Atlantic

The paradox of having access to more knowledge than at any time in history and not being able to transform that knowlwdge into wisdom.

As Chuck D told us “Don’t believe the hype!” anyone sharing video or images has an agenda and if it ain’t “look at how cute/smart/funny my kid/friend/co-worker/cat/dog/<insert living thing here>is then think twice.

Also: I have a history with Sergei Eisenstein []!

The Right to Repair

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

So this happened:

Actually it happened back on the 10th of December. My original Apple Watch’s screen just fell off while I was walking around. I was actually packing for my vacation, which started on the 12th. So I just tossed the watch aside, no time to do anything and I was not planning on taking the watch on vacation anyway —one less thing to charge.

While on vacation I thought about checking at duty free to get a new Watch and save some tax but I never got around to looking. Back in Singapore in January I checked at a local shop and they said the Watch was out of stock and would take two months to get, at least the version I wanted. Since I expect Apple to release a new version in four months or so (Apple Watch is still an April product right?) I passed. No point buying the old version two months before the new one.

So… what to do. Looking again at my old watch it looked like the screen just came in glued. So I reconnected the one thing that looked like it was connecting the screen to the main board and with a satisfying “click” the screen came on. To fix the floppy screen I had to resort to using The Kragle []! Worked like a charm:

Which makes me part of the reason Apple is minting less money []. So far it’s survived two weeks including several trips to the gym:

Long Dead Design Rules

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Long ago, in tenth grade, I took a drafting class. Long enough ago that we used pencil and paper and had actual drafting tables. We did a little work once in AutoCAD but mostly we used pencil and paper.

I don’t remember much of drafting but I have remembered, again and again over the years, one thing my teacher told us. He was talking about design rules, rules which we must always keep in mind when drafting a blueprint for a building. Over the years I’ve found a two of these rules have been forgotten. Or maybe they never really were rules but they make sense to me and I think they should be reinstated.

Rule number one was about clocks. Clocks and airports as my teacher told it:

“It should be impossible for people to be out of sight of a clock in an airport.”

Anyone who has traveled should appreciate this one. Sitting around in airports or shopping while you wait for your flight the last thing you want is to loose track of the time. Or for others to lose track and make your plane late while they are paged and run through the airport and struggle to find a place for their carry on baggage. I would actually extend this beyond airports to train stations. They are better in my experience at least in Europe and Japan. But nearly every airport and too many train station I have been in suffer from a lack of big, visible clocks. Most times today at airports the only clocks you can find are small ones in the corner of the TVs showing upcoming departures or arrivals. Even Changi, the best airport in the world fails at this rule.

Rule two, was very similar, maybe more of a corollary to rule one:

“It should be impossible to be more then [10 meters] from a trash can in a shopping mall.”

Maybe rule number one fell out of use as we all had watch’s and now phones in our pockets (and with network set clocks the time is correct unlike way too many watches which have slow batteries or were not wound…). This rule, if it was ever followed, was killed by terrorists. I blame the IRA. It started, not in shopping malls but on streets and tube stations. I don’t remember it being a big problem in the malls in my home town or on campus in college but when I moved to London the near complete lack of trash cans — or bins to humor British English speakers — was jarring. I was told it was because tube stations and bus stops were preferred targets for the IRA and they would just dump the bombs in the bins. From there I started to notice, in the aftermath of 9/11 that trash cans in Washington DC’s metro stations and on the streets were removed. Sometimes a simple metal ring with a clear plastic bag was still there but proper trash cans were gone.

Since I just returned from a trip to Japan I should also note that in Japan there is a lack of bins in public places. Your best bet for a bin is in convenience stores, which are omnipresent so you just have to get used to carrying your trash till you pass a convenience store. The first time I went to Japan in 2004 I commented on this to my friend living there and was told that this was not a recent change in Japan. People are used to carrying their trash till they come across a bin, there have never been large numbers of public bins on the streets. Earlier this year when I was in Tokyo on business my Australian colleagues commented on the lack of bins and it was my turn to explain the culture.

On solution architecture and lifelong learning

Sunday, November 18th, 2018

I have been a solution architect for over a decade now and for several companies, though almost exclusively in APAC. Over that time one thing that has stood out to me is how poorly defined solution architect is as a job. And not just across different companies but within the same company. I have seen Solution Architects act as glorified project managers for customers or salespeople to create or evaluate proposals. Other times I’ve seen solution architects play the senior technical problem solver, working on day-to-day operations or planning. I’ve meet amazing solutions architects who come from completely non-technical backgrounds and I’ve meet techies who can’t solution themselves out of their pre-conceived boxes.

I have been a solution architect now in the same company for eight years. I have been in the same industry, telecommunications, for my entire career. Working in the same company and industry for so long has created a major issue for me if I wanted to change jobs: domain knowledge. Or, more specifically, how recruiters focus on domain knowledge or skills. It’s an effective way to filter a large pool of applicants or potential applicants but I don’t consider domain knowledge to be one of my key skills. Domain knowledge is the result of my key skill: learning.

A few years ago I would have listed technical foundation alongside learning but, while I still think a solid technical foundation is one of my key skills it’s less important than learning. Eight years ago when I started this job my area of deep domain knowledge in telecommunications was in what are known as Value Added Services or VAS. But a year in that was less important and I had to quickly become an expert in Core BSS domains: Customer Relationship Management, Ordering, Charging and Billing. This involved a lot of discussion, listening, reading product documentation and industry standards —I read close to 800 pages of 3gpp standards for Online Charging at one point. A few years later and I had to learn “Digital” —how Content Management Systems work, what Search Engine Optimization is, how online Campaign Targeting and Execution are done— and I have had to learn what Agile, DevOps, Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment, Microservice architectures and how it enables all of that. I had to understand revenue recognition rules to handle IFRS compliance issues, security standards like PCI DSS and GDPR. And I’ve had to learn to find and evaluate hidden risks and costs associated with any and all of this to ensure that projects are managed end-to-end for risk, TCO and business benefits. Some of its technical and some of its much more “business”.

The point of this soup of terms and idea is that I knew none of that when I started this job. So how would any HR or recruiter judge me? I know the answer is that they judge me badly. I’ve been interviewed enough times and been told by enough recruiters that I don’t have the “right” experience. But they don’t want to hear about the ability to learn, and learn quickly. My most valuable skill is not something that shows up in job descriptions. We hear a lot, or at least I do, about how lifelong learning is the skill of the future. If that is so I should be well positioned, but I feel like it’s not valued, either not for someone my age? or experience? or recruiters and HR are not ready to evaluate people in the lifelong learning job market.

Top 10%

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

Last week LinkedIn reminded me I have worked for the same company for eight years. In the same role. By coincidence Jeff Atwood  [] published a new post on his blog a few days later, What Does Stack Overflow Want to be When it Grows Up []. Jeff’s blog is in my feed because I was fairly early user on Stack Overflow [], though I had already left day-to-day programming, a choice driven by the economics of making a good living as a techie in Singapore. Coding was the only career I ever wanted but it lost out in the end to wanting to live and travel outside the US and getting married.  I moved into development management and then into solution architecture, so I don’t have a lot of chance to practice software engineering or programming.

In his post Jeff mentions the “people reached” feature of Stack Overflow:

Stack Overflow later added a super neat feature to highlight this core value in user profiles, where it shows how many other people you have potentially helped with your contributed questions and answers so far.

So I checked mine: 

Almost one million people! Wow. But much more impressive, to me, is this stat:

Top 10% overall“. I have not contributed to Stack Overflow in years and I’ve still managed to crack the top 10%. I’m proud of that. Anyone want to hire me to go back to writing code?

Justin Bieber has banana

Sunday, October 7th, 2018

The whole series of things need to be done as a project looking person the ringer enterprise architecture is it from Justin Bieber has banana

Siri was listening to my daughter and I discuss what drink (Ribena) and snack (Strawberry Pokki) she wanted after Chinese class this morning. I’m dying… “Justin Bieber has banana…”

Just to make sure Google can index this: The whole series of things need to be done as a project looking person the ringer enterprise architecture is it from Justin Bieber has banana

The Rabbits in Memphis

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

Memory is a strange thing. The ability of a smell, taste or sound to immediately invoke a specific memory is amazing. There are foods that take me back to Charlottesville or DC or London. But one of the funniest triggers I have a sound association with a book and by extension a movie.

The sound is Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis [] album and it is forever linked to images of the rabbits in Richard Adams Watership Down [].

My association is not from the first time I read Watership Down but the second. Sitting in my tiny one room flat in London listening to Dusty in Memphis in early 2002. I bought a copy of Memphis for £5 at a used CD shop in Islington on a whim. I listened to it on my crappy laptop speakers. Reading Watership Down because I had just labored through Ulysses and I needed some lighter fare.

Maybe the link was burned into my mind due to my mental state at that time. Having just gone through a bad breakup and still a bit lost in London. I played Memphis over and over. It wasn’t my “breakup song” I wore out Black by Pearl Jam for that, but that is a different story.

A few bars of Just a Little Loving is all it takes to open the flood gates. I can see Fiver, Hazel and Bigwig. “Seeing” them is another odd feature of memory… I see the animated movie version [] of them I watched when I was young. A movie that I loved but also scared me a bit as a kid. It was probably more then close to 15 years since I saw the movie when I read Watership Down in London.  But the images from the movie are linked to the songs on Memphis. I remember reading in a psychology text book about the fallibility of memory, an example given about a man who have very vivid memories of when he first heard about the attach on Pearl Harbor — that he was listening to a baseball game when the broadcast was interrupted, he cloud remember the inning and the score.  The only problem is that Baseball has never been played in December.  His vivid memory had become corrupted with some other memory. I guess listening to an album and reading about rabbits is not same league as hearing about an attack like Pearl Harbor but somehow I just remembering the movie from my childhood as I read Watership Down has linked it to Dusty in Memphis.

Dusty in Memphis is still one of my favorite albums and Watership Down is one of my all time favorite books. I’m listening to Memphis as I write this and it still invokes a strange mix of feelings, anthropomorphic rabbits and imagery of London: crying for Hazel and watching the sun set from Finsbury Hall.


Wednesday, September 26th, 2018

I can imagine three possible groups in the target audience for this product:

  1. People with OCD
  2. Teenage girls
  3. People with maids who don’t have to actually fold and put away their tee shirts

My own experience of race in Charlottesville

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

I grew up in Charlottesville. Where all the Neo-nazi shit happened a year ago. I played flag football and capture the flag as a Boy Scout under the Statue that was the trigger for the whole episode. But I’m white so I don’t have much experience of being the target of racism. For me, growing up in Charlottesville, I never thought of people’s race much.

My first understanding of race differences was in retrospect years later.  I think it was sometime during middle school (more on that later).  My first encounter with race, though I didn’t know it, was when I was in kindergarden and first grade. One of my best friends was a boy who lived just a few minutes down the road named R—.  He was black, but I don’t recall ever thinking about that until much later.  I’d visit his house, he’d visit mine, we sat together on the bus, things like that.  I don’t remember much other than his first name and being fascinated by the fact that the living/dining room of his house was all one big room and there was a step in the middle (split level) unlink my house.

I think the first time I realised there was something about different skin colors was about the same time he moved, a couple bought the house just behind my parents, a couple who were mixed.  Someone adult must have said something at some point, I don’t remember, but I do remember wondering why it was an issue.  They had three kids, two girls — M—— and L—— and a boy, J—–.  We played with them regularly and it was never much of an issue. We discovered a bat on the ground of their back yard one summer day and after poking it (thinking it was a wounded mouse or something,) it flew away, bumping into at least one of the girls head or cheek on the way.  One of the worst spankings I ever got as a kid was after my older sister and I got caught playing with matches with those three.  Oops.  My sister and I were doing a “fire safety demo”.  We had a wood stove at home at the time so had been taught the rules before, though we weren’t allowed to use the matches. So we took the matches and the neighbour kids back into the woods behind the houses and showed the them how to light a fire (the fire was in the hollow of a cinder block) and how to put it out and make sure it was covered with soil.  Worse beating I ever got, my dad knew before we even got home.  Don’t know who squealed.  That’s a different story though.

I got a better concept of race and the issues with race in seventh grade, in Ms. B—–‘s social studies class. I don’t recall all the details but we covered the civil rights movement of the `60’s that year.  I went to middle school in Jackson P. Burley and as part of the lesson Ms. B—– explained that before integration Burley had been the black high school.  Maybe I already knew that, it was written above the main entrance; Jackson P. Burley High School, but I remember it from her lesson. We also covered the race issues that took place in Charlottesville in the `60’s, especially around the destruction of the Vinegar Hill district. As part of the same term I remember we also talked about the way that black culture was at the forefront of popular culture, from Jazz to Hip Hop. I have a vivid memory of sitting in that classroom with those school issue blue and white headphones on and listening to 2 Live Crew sing “Banned in the USA” (if you must []) and Bruce Springsteen’s original “Born in the USA” (to be fair []). “Banned in the USA” was probably my first exposure to any form of rap or hip hop.  MC Hammer doesn’t count, but I think I heard Funky Cold Medina that same year. I associate that song with a girl that was being made fun of, oops.

Outside of black or African American friends or schoolmates I think the only other experience I had with minorities through middle school was, as far as I remember, one kid who was Arabic.  I think.  His name, H—– was definitely of Arabic origin but I don’t think it was ever discussed. I was not until high school. Looking back I hung out with a diverse group of kids.  There was my neighbour, M—–. Who was black. As was O—.  F—- was Taiwanese, G—– was half Polynesian and J– was half Arabic.  Being a college town Charlottesville was diverse for its size compared to other nearby parts of Virginia.

The most negative experience I had around race in high school was when M—— was followed around a video store I once worked at and then the manager actually followed us out of the store and around the mall.  Trying to see if M—— had stolen something. Which he had not.

I guess all of that shaped my view of race.  I knew the negative shit, the racism and hate was out there but people’s skin color was never part of any mental process for me when deciding how to deal with a person or situation.

There was one other big factor that shaped my views, not directly on race, but on the wider subject of bigotry while I lived in Charlottesville: Club 216.  216 was the only real club in Charlottesville for dance music and I got big into the Techno and Dance scene my last year in high school.  I spent a lot of time in and around 216 over the next few years, until I moved to Northern Virginia. 216 was run by the Piedmont Triangle Society, of which you had to be a paid member to get in. If you don’t understand what that means… It was a gay and lesbian club operated by a gay an lesbian society. So I spent a lot of time around gay and lesbian people. I was friends with a lot of guy and lesbian people. Some well adjusted “normal” people, some… less so. But this was also never an issue.  They were just good company and their scene was the best dance scene in town.  I have a lot of great memories of Friday and Saturday nights in 216. And road trips with homo- and hetro- friends to seek out better parties at raves across Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region.

So that’s my experience of race in Charlottesville.  I know there was racism, and other bigotries, but there was a lot of acceptance and diversity too.  In my life after Charlottesville I had a lot more formative experiences with regards to race; reading The Invisible Man, living in London and traveling around Europe. Visiting Japan (where J——- famously said “I’m white, I’ve never experienced racism” when the only empty space on the rush hour train was around the four of us – all four of us white gaijin. And, of course, I’ve ended up marrying a ethnic Chinese Singaporean, so most of my family is not Chinese and I live as a minority in Singapore.  Where most of my day-to-day friends are Indians. 

P.S. If anyone wants to understand Charlottesville’s history of race from a wider perspective check out The Charlottesville Syllabus [] on Medium.