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Fred Jablonski

May 18th, 2019

Fred Jablonski’s water bottle, a blue one liter Nalgene bottle, sat on his desk long after Fred Jablonski was gone. He only lasted a day. Showed up and decided that the job wasn’t for him or something, we never knew. In fact, no one ever introduced him to anyone in the the department and no one told us he was gone. But his desk was still his desk months later, the water bottle gathering dust along with the standard office supplies, pen, pencil, stapler and notebook. Fred Jablonski was The Dead Man in Yossarian’s tent. No one could be assigned to that desk the water bottle gathered dust until we moved offices seven months later. But the myth of Fred Jablonski long after the desk and dusty water bottle were left behind.

Fred Jablonski lived on because he became a kind of Spartacus for the software development department. Everyone was Fred Jablonski. See, when we changed offices we also got we one of those phone conferencing systems which asked you to record your names and then announced you when you joined the call. This annoyed everyone. So when you attended a conference call you would be met with a roll call of “Fred Jablonski”, “Freeeed Jablonski”, “Fred Jaaablonski”, “Jablonski, Fred Jablonski” every time a developer joined.  The rest of the company had no idea who Fred Jablonski was which only encouraged us for a time. Eventually the company grew and many people even in the software engineering department had no idea who Fred Jablonski was. And so, eventually Fred Jablonski faded… 

Personal Best

May 4th, 2019

Vinicunca

This is Vinicunca [wikipedia.org]. Commonly called Rainbow Mountain or The Mountain of Seven Colors. This photo was taken some 5,000 meters above sea level after a grueling climb (According to Wikipedia Vinicunca is 5,200 m.a.s.l., but that is the peak and we did not go to the highest point we stopped just above 5,000, so I’ll stick with 5,000 as my personal best). The climb itself would not be too hard, less than 500 meters vertical over a 5 kilometer trail, if it were not for the altitude. The altitude makes every step up, even a gentel grade, work is and the last 40 meters or so is a real lung burning experiance. Every 10 steps I needed to rest for 2 minutes to catch my breath. But I made it up, without a horse (you can rent a horse).

For perspective: The highest point in the contenentsl US is Mount Whitney [wikipedia.org] at 4,421 m.a.s.l. The highest point in Europe is Mount Blanc [wikipedia.org] at 4,808 m.a.s.l. (if you count the Caucus mountains on the Russia-Georga border as part of Europe then there are several taller mountains: Mount Elbrus [wikipedia.org] trumps me at 5,642 m.a.s.l. as does Dykh-Tau [wikipedia.org] at 5,205 m.a.s.l. and Shkhara [Wikipedia.org] at 5,193 m.a.s.l. — but that’s lower than the peak of Vinicunca so I’m going to stop there.) And finally, Everest South Base Camp in Nepal is 5,364 m.a.s.l. (North Base Camp is in Tibet at 5,150 m.a.s.l.).

Healthcare

March 31st, 2019

So the Trumpcare legal drama continues? I thought the Republicans had given up on their quest to destroy Obamacare, [wikipedia.org] maybe because it’s not newsworthy enough to make the BBC World Service daily anymore… Anyway, I don’t want to talk about the attempts to repeal Obamacare or Trumpcare, I want to talk the apparent lack of healthcare among people my age even under Obamacare.

Obamacare was passed in 2010 and in the years since I have been asked, three times, to contribute to not one, not two, not three but four separate GoFundMe [gofundme.com] campaigns to cover health expenses for people I went to high school or college with. GoFundMe was, coincidentally also founded in 2010 and according to Time Magazine [time.com] one third of all campaigns are now for funding health related expenses. That’s $650 million in funding!

For me, 100% of the campaigns which people have reached out to me over were healthcare expense related. One was a Kidney transplant, one a liver transplant and one was expenses for surgery needed due to a hit and run accident and the last was living expenses to avoid foreclosure because someone had fallen into massive debt to fund their fathers cancer treatment. (aside: I don’t know a ton of people my age in the US but two of them needed organ transplants before they were 40. WTF?) All of my friends and coworkers have made it through their funding issues. That’s great but what happens next time?

Post Obamacare, shouldn’t an organ transplant, even if it was likely caused by some pre-existing condition, or back surgery needed due to a hit and run be covered by even basic insurance? These are the type of things that fall under “it’s never going to happen to me but that’s why I have insurance” right? I don’t know if my friends chose to remain uninsured post Obamacare and pay the tax penalty but I think it says a lot about the state of the US healthcare situation.

To counter this, I will give the example of the wife of a friend. She is Singaporean, he is from Sweden and the family moved to Sweden six or seven years ago. A year or two into their relocation she was diagnosed with throat cancer. Being in Sweden, even not being a citizen, she was fully covered for all expenses and her job was held for her while she took a year off (I think she went back before the year was over but she had a full year if she wanted it).

Can you spot the difference? Americans need to open their fucking eyes. America is not the be-all, end-all of how things can or should be done and this ongoing train wreck of healthcare is a prime example of the bad that needs to be fixed (and for the record; guns is in the same category). It would help if a decent amount of Americans spent some time outside of the US to have something to compare our state to or paid attention to how many measures of things-that-matter that the US is not at the top —here’s a few cherrypicked examples:

Human Development – the UN Development Programme [undp.org] ranks overall human development [report.hdr.undp.org] the US ranks 13.

Developing Humans…

The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network [unsdsn.org] attempts to measure Happiness [worldhappiness.report]. The US? Number 19 this year… and falling over the last few years.

Why are the Nordics so happy?

Education? The OECD [oecd.org] ranks countries in their Program for International Student Assessment and the US raked average or below average (last results were released in 2015).

Admittedly I have issues with the Singapore system…

Ranking in the top 25 of all of these reports is something of an achievement, there are 195 countries in the world after all. I’ve been in Singapore for 15 years now and I have retained my US citizenship because I do think that America is a great country but as these measures show America is not worthy of being called the greatest. People should be a bit self critical and not blindly patriotic to the point of not wanting to do better. The current situation with toxic partisan politics and citizens who’s only information is soundbites and social media memes do not inspire confidence in me that the people of America are prepared to address these issues.

With regards to healthcare; I’m all for the individualism that is a key element of the American psyche, you should work for what you want and the government should not be forcing you to do things without good reason. But the cost of no healthcare is not just paid by you and yours. It’s paid by all, often in money to treat those who can’t pay, but also in opportunity, dragging the whole society down over the long run. And here I think the government is justified in intervening and making healthcare universal. Single-payer vs. Obamacare vs. Trumpcare vs some other solution yet-to-be-designed is where congress needs to do its job.

Looking up at lamps

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:

Untitled

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:

APC_0475.dng
APC_1419_dng
APC_1544.dng

Don’t believe the hype

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” [theatlantic.com] 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 [confusion.cc]!

The Right to Repair

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 [brickmedia.org]! Worked like a charm:

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

Long Dead Design Rules

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

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%

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  [codinghorror.com] published a new post on his blog a few days later, What Does Stack Overflow Want to be When it Grows Up [codinghorror.com]. Jeff’s blog is in my feed because I was fairly early user on Stack Overflow [stackoverflow.com], 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

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