Category Archives: Other

MovieBob and Magneto

(Inspired by the article: “Magneto was Right” which has subsequently been taken down, but the video is here)

I really liked the character of Magneto in X-Men 1 and 2. The character had a point and a purpose and an inner consistency. He wasn’t “evil” any more than most of us are, he simply framed things differently than Xavier and acted based on his own values.

It’s like this: The power goes out in my neighborhood and some people think “candle light block party” while others lock the doors in case there’s looting and riots. Neither option is totally far out, it just depends on how you see the world.

Coming back to Bob. I got picked on in school. Most of the people I associated with got picked on too. Depending on the day and context, it was because I was a band geek, or a theater dweeb, or a fashion train wreck, or socially inept, or somehow being “an easy target”.

At least, that’s what I’ve always assumed. And since it was me getting picked on and not me picking on them, I assumed there was a flaw in me that invited the abuse.

But I think MovieBob is truly onto something, and not just because he’s using comic book characters as his foil.

My favorite point:
Bullies pick on us NOT because “we’re different” (MovieBob says “I can attest that they came in all shapes and sizes. A veritable rainbow coalition of torment.”).

NO, the thing we all suspect deep down is that it’s not that we’re different, we’re BETTER.

Bob uses images from Revenge of the Nerds in his discussion, and that might be the most accurate. The narrative of the geeks realizing their own self worth and playing to their strengths may be a fantasy, but it’s definitely a satisfying one as well as one that is actually playing out in reality with more and more frequency.

LINK: Do what you love

And thanks to Doug at http://www.asknice.com for pointing it out.

http://www.paulgraham.com/love.html
How to Do What You Love
January 2006

To do something well you have to like it. That idea is not exactly novel. We’ve got it down to four words: “Do what you love.” But it’s not enough just to tell people that. Doing what you love is complicated.

The very idea is foreign to what most of us learn as kids. When I was a kid, it seemed as if work and fun were opposites by definition. Life had two states: some of the time adults were making you do things, and that was called work; the rest of the time you could do what you wanted, and that was called playing. Occasionally the things adults made you do were fun, just as, occasionally, playing wasn’t– for example, if you fell and hurt yourself. But except for these few anomalous cases, work was pretty much defined as not-fun.

And it did not seem to be an accident. School, it was implied, was tedious because it was preparation for grownup work.

The world then was divided into two groups, grownups and kids. Grownups, like some kind of cursed race, had to work. Kids didn’t, but they did have to go to school, which was a dilute version of work meant to prepare us for the real thing. Much as we disliked school, the grownups all agreed that grownup work was worse, and that we had it easy.

Teachers in particular all seemed to believe implicitly that work was not fun. Which is not surprising: work wasn’t fun for most of them. Why did we have to memorize state capitals instead of playing dodge-ball? For the same reason they had to watch over a bunch of kids instead of lying on a beach. You couldn’t just do what you wanted.

I’m not saying we should let little kids do whatever they want. They may have to be made to work on certain things. But if we make kids work on dull stuff, it might be wise to tell them that tediousness is not the defining quality of work, and indeed that the reason they have to work on dull stuff now is so they can work on more interesting stuff later. [1]

Once, when I was about 9 or 10, my father told me I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up, so long as I enjoyed it. I remember that precisely because it seemed so anomalous. It was like being told to use dry water. Whatever I thought he meant, I didn’t think he meant work could literally be fun– fun like playing. It took me years to grasp that.

Jobs
By high school, the prospect of an actual job was on the horizon. Adults would sometimes come to speak to us about their work, or we would go to see them at work. It was always understood that they enjoyed what they did. In retrospect I think one may have: the private jet pilot. But I don’t think the bank manager really did.

The main reason they all acted as if they enjoyed their work was presumably the upper-middle class convention that you’re supposed to. It would not merely be bad for your career to say that you despised your job, but a social faux-pas.

Why is it conventional to pretend to like what you do? The first sentence of this essay explains that. If you have to like something to do it well, then the most successful people will all like what they do. That’s where the upper-middle class tradition comes from. Just as houses all over America are full of chairs that are, without the owners even knowing it, nth-degree imitations of chairs designed 250 years ago for French kings, conventional attitudes about work are, without the owners even knowing it, nth-degree imitations of the attitudes of people who’ve done great things.

What a recipe for alienation. By the time they reach an age to think about what they’d like to do, most kids have been thoroughly misled about the idea of loving one’s work. School has trained them to regard work as an unpleasant duty. Having a job is said to be even more onerous than schoolwork. And yet all the adults claim to like what they do. You can’t blame kids for thinking “I am not like these people; I am not suited to this world.”

Actually they’ve been told three lies: the stuff they’ve been taught to regard as work in school is not real work; grownup work is not (necessarily) worse than schoolwork; and many of the adults around them are lying when they say they like what they do.

The most dangerous liars can be the kids’ own parents. If you take a boring job to give your family a high standard of living, as so many people do, you risk infecting your kids with the idea that work is boring. [2] Maybe it would be better for kids in this one case if parents were not so unselfish. A parent who set an example of loving their work might help their kids more than an expensive house. [3]

It was not till I was in college that the idea of work finally broke free from the idea of making a living. Then the important question became not how to make money, but what to work on. Ideally these coincided, but some spectacular boundary cases (like Einstein in the patent office) proved they weren’t identical.
… read more here: http://www.paulgraham.com/love.html

Don’t Tell Me “It’s Complicated”

HT to my hero and writing inspiration Seth Godin. His post here got me started, and his style is something I have wanted to emulate for years now.


Please

don’t tell me that it – monitoring – is complicated.

Don’t tell me you’re a snowflake – unique in your need for 1200 alert rules.

Don’t tell me “but our company is different. WE create value for our shareholders. Not like your other clients.”

Don’t tell me you can’t do it because…

Because

I’ve been creating monitoring solutions for over a decade.

I’ve designed solutions that scaled to 250,000 systems, in 5,000 locations

I work at a company that has written millions of lines of code to do this one thing, and do it well.

So please Don’t tell me it’s complicated.

Tell me what you need. What you want. What you wish you could have.

And then LISTEN to what I have to say. Because I’ve seen this before. I’ve done this before. And it’s NOT complicated. It’s also not easy.

But it is simple.

Colored Perceptions

I will freely admit up-front that I know little, if anything about businesses, startups or even management – except for the kinds of work environments and management styles I prefer to be an employee of/in/for.

Having said that, Bob Lewis’ recent article on the Phoenix principal (http://www.weblog.keepthejointrunning.com/wordpress/?p=2972) reminded me of Crayola.

In my mind, when thinking about how successful a company can be in the future, the starting point is “what do they do?” – well, “everyone knows” Crayola makes crayons. Everyone knows that.

[note: when reading over this, my wife quickly pointed out that “everyone” is obviously people who don’t spend a lot of time being with or shopping for kids. Because what I discovered below is pretty common knowledge in her circle of associates. As always, YMMV.]

As far as product diversity, my assumption was that their product line would include different sized boxes of crayons, and that they’ve branched out into washable markers. I figured they probably get some revenue from supplying those small 3- or 4-crayon packs to restaurants. After that, there’s not much to say, right?

Take one look at their web site though, and the whole theory is blown out of the water. This isn’t a crayon company. This isn’t even an art-supply company.

From what I can see, Crayola sells artistic inspiration, and it’s target consumer group is one which universally – to the last person – believes they are imminently talented artists. Kids.

The Crayola web site is completely focused on encouraging visitors to be artistic. There are coloring pages. Lesson plans for teachers. An e-card creator. An online calendar that lists events like National Wildflower week (May 4-8), International Museum day (May 18) and the Dragon Boat festival in china (May 28).

This point was driven home (hah!) when my wife showed me a sidewalk paint foam sprayer she bought for my son’s birthday.

A Sprayer. For paint. That foams. On your driveway.

That’s about as far from waxy crayons as you can get and still be in the same solar system.

Maybe I’m lionizing them and this is just good business (again, I’m not a business guy so I could be overly impressed by nothing). But it seems to be that this is a company that is thinking hard about their essential mission, and choosing not to be stopped by artificial boundaries with regard to “this is what we make”.

Someone once told me that Cisco bills itself (internally at least) as a software company. Not hardware, that’s just a means to an end, which is delivering the IOS (among other things) to customers. I have a few friends in Cisco now, and I’m not sure that’s really the case. But at the time it struck me as a novel way for them to look at themselves.

This realization has, in turn, made me think hard about what my mission is – in life, in business, in my usual work day. Do I really just fix computer problems? Is there (or could there be) something more noble to this, a higher purpose which would inform my choices?

I’m sure a lot of people may see this as a cynical exercise in re-branding – doing the same thing but calling it something different. But this has to be more than billing myself as “a sanitation engineer” instead of a garbage collector. This needs to be a change in focus and philosophy, or else it will be easily detected for what it is – a cheap marketing ploy.

So that’s it, my big idea for the week. I think I’m going to go crack open that package of glow-in-the-dark finger paints and see what kind of mess I can make.

Showing Your Scars

One summer I was hired to help build scenery for a local summer stock theater venue. The problem is that I had been trained as an electrician, so every task in the wood shop required that I learn new skills on-the-fly. Because this was a job not a class and I was expected to know what I was doing, I didn’t ask enough questions and ended up making about twice as many mistakes as necessary on everything. Most of those mistakes weren’t life-threatening.

But one of the times, I was working on the table saw had my first experience with kick-back (for a video of what this looks like, see here. No, that’s not me.).

Similar to the video linked above, I was lucky that nobody was hurt, but then something weird happened – everyone started showing off their scars.

Guys who hadn’t even been in the wood shop when my accident happened came down from ladders, up from trenches, and over from across the park to show me scars that decorated their arms, fingers, hands, legs, and torsos. Each one came with a story, and the stories were remarkably similar:

“I was doing this thing… I was standing in the wrong place… I stopped paying attention for a second…  and BOOM!”

This story was followed by “And that’s why from then on I always make sure I <fill in the name of the safety procedure>”.

In addition to being thankful that no one was harmed, I was grateful for them not making me feel like I was a complete numskull for letting this happen. Apparently it can (and does) happen to everyone.

But I also wondered why nobody thought to tell those stories on the FIRST day. Like I said earlier, this wasn’t a teaching environment but I could imagine some sort of first-day ritual – the showing of the scars – where everyone lists their  experiences (in effect, showing their scars) and sharing the life lessons they learned from them.

Because not EVERYONE has had EVERY mishap, but in a team of 5 or more professionals, collectively the group has seen a lot.

At the time I thought that if every scene shop adopted a custom like that, more people would learn better lessons and have fewer scars (not to mention more severe injuries) to show for it.

I was reminded of this episode in my life the other day, when someone tweeted about reconfiguring a remote network device, only to find they had messed up one of the commands and the entire site was no longer accessible. A 2 hour drive was required to get on-site and fix the issue.

Immediately after the tweet came an outpouring of advice:

“Cisco’s ‘reload in’ command is your best friend.”;
“Always test your config in GNS3 first”;
“Never update a config until another set of eyes has looked at it first”
…and so on…

It reminded me of everyone coming down to the scene shop to show me their scars.

The next time you are sitting with your colleagues at the office – maybe you have a new face on the team; or maybe it’s YOUR first day; or maybe you’re starting a new project. Think about ways you can initiate a “showing of the scars”. Go around the table and list out your worst mistakes and the lessons you learned from them.

I’m willing to bet that you will grow closer as a team; that fewer “rookie” mistakes will be made by everyone; and that even the most grizzled veterans will probably learn a few things they didn’t know (or possibly had forgotten).

More people learning better lessons with fewer scars to show for it.

Day 04 – Understand More

Last year I discussed how some areas of technology were in (and others were out) of the range of our understanding – depending on what area of focus we have ourselves.
And the guys from Gesher Academy ROCK!
 
I still think those things are true. We need to be willing to understand, and simply prioritize based on the available time and importance.
 
However, a blog I read recently reminded me of an important aspect – we also need to know why.
 
In an essay titled, simply enough, “Why”, Derek Sivers points out that you need to understand WHY you are doing what you are doing. And the answer is not a panacea. By asking and answering “why”, certain aspects of life will become more important, and others less so.
 
If your goal is to be famous, then you may have to make sacrifices to family life or even money. If your goal is job stability, then career growth may take a back seat.
 
This is the ultimate form of understanding. It is the meta-understanding. Once you nail down the fundamental reason for your choices, you can make them faster and with more confidence that they will ultimately get you where you want to go.
 
Derek summarizes by saying:
 
“That’s why you need know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Know it in advance. Use it as your compass and optimize your life around it. Let the other goals be secondary. So when those decision moments come, you can choose the value that you already know matters most to you.”
 
Shakespear famously wrote “To thine own self be true”. But this is impossible unless you first take time, as Siver suggests, to really understand what you want.

#BlogElul 02-Act

An excerpt from an essay I wrote for an upcoming issue of “Data Center Journal” was especially relevant to today’s post. The essay is titled “Data, Information, Action”:
The saying, “you can have data without information, but you cannot have information without data,” may never have been so blindingly obvious or true as it is today. We are awash in seas of data, fed by thundering, swollen tributaries like the Internet of Things, mobile computing and social media. The goal of the so-called “big data” movement is to channel those raging rivers into meaningful insight.
For almost 20 years, my specialty within the field of IT has been systems monitoring and management. Those who share my passion for finding ever newer and more creative ways to determine when, how, and if a server went bump in the night understand that data versus information is not really a dichotomy. It’s a triad.
Of course good monitoring starts with data. Lots of it, collected regularly from a variety of devices, applications and sources across the data center. And of course transforming that data into meaningful information—charts, graphs, tables and even speedometers—that represent the current status and health of critical services is the work of the work.
But unless that information leads to action, it’s all for naught. And that, patient reader, is what this article is about—the importance of taking that extra step to turn data-driven insight into actionable behavior. What is surprising to me is how often this point is overlooked. Let me explain:
Let’s say you diligently set up your monitoring to collect hard drive data for all of your critical servers. You’re not only collecting disk size and space used, but you also pull statistics on IOPS, read errors and write errors.
That’s Data.
Now, let’s say your sophisticated and robust monitoring technology goes the extra mile, not only converting those metrics to pretty charts and graphs, but also analyzing historical data to establish baselines so that your alerts don’t just trigger when, for example, disk usage is over 90 percent, but rather, for example, when disk usage jumps 50 percent over normal for a certain time period.
That’s Information.
Now, let’s say you roll that monitoring out to all 5,000 of your critical servers and begin to “enjoy” about 375 “disk full” tickets per month.
That, sadly, is the normal state of affairs at most companies. It’s the point where, as a monitoring engineer (or, at the very least, the person in charge of the server monitoring), you begin to notice the dark looks and poorly hidden sneers from colleagues who have had “your” monitoring wake them one too many times at 2 a.m.
So, what’s missing? The answer is found in a simple question: Now what? As in, once you and the server team have hashed out the details of the disk full alert, the next thing you should do is ask, “What should we do now? What’s out next step?” In this case, it would likely involve clearing the temp directory to see if that resolves the issue.
And the next logical step from there is automation. Often, the same monitoring platform that kicks up a fuss about a server being down at 2 .m. can clear that nasty old temp directory for you. Right then and there, all while you’re still sound asleep. Then, if and only if, the problem persists, will a ticket be cut so a human can get involved. And said human will know that before their precious beauty sleep was so rudely interrupted, the temp directory had already been cleared, so it’s something just a bit more sophisticated than that.
This type of automated action is neither difficult to understand nor super complicated to establish. But in the environments where I’ve personally implemented it, the result was a whopping 70 percent reduction in disk full tickets.

#BlogElul 01-Prepare

(This post is a day late. I guess you could say I wasn’t prepared to post it during the long holiday weekend. ON the other hand, posting it then would have caught people ill-prepared to carve out the time necessary to read it.)
Preparation implies forethought, knowledge, information, capability, and (as I mentioned last year) choice (http://www.adatosystems.com/2015/08/16/blogelul-day-1-prepare/).
Prepare is wonderful. Prepare is beautiful.  In the world of IT, preparation is the work we hope we get to do every day. It is the hope we have as we drive to work.
The idea of “prepare” has an ugly underbelly though.
To borrow a concept from “Stranger Things” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stranger_Things_(TV_series)), the “UpsideDowns” of preparation, where everything that we know and find familiar is a dark, twisted, and toxic mirror image, is “reaction”.
And THAT is a term that IT pro’s know all too well. Managers will chide us that “we’re being too reactive”. As if ignoring the system outage, network spike, or looming disk capacity issue is going to make it go away, or teach it a lesson that it needs to wait its turn.
“Let it wait” is the phrase non-IT people say without realizing it translates to “Do what *I* want now and I don’t care if the event punishes you doubly-hard later.”
So how do you avoid the demogorgon of the UpsideDown of IT?
Partly, by doing what the kids in the NetFlix show did – huddle up your posse of friends, identify the enemy for what it is, be relentless in saving each others’ butt, and rising to the challenge no matter how tired or drained you feel.
But that’s only part of the answer. The other answer is “I don’t know”. After almost 30 years in IT, I still find myself running full-tilt through horrific architecture landscapes not of my choosing, trying to evade the ravenous monster that gamely pursues me.
If there are better answers, I’m open to them. As are the comments below.

 

#BlogElul: ZeroDay

tl;dr version

A daily blog-athon running from now until Oct 3rd, with hundreds of people writing a daily post on a specific theme. You are invited to participate. I am.
Source Code
Coming up soon (the evening of Oct 2nd, to be exact) is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.
As I mentioned last year (http://www.adatosystems.com/2015/08/16/zeroday-introducing-blogelul/), between now and then is a time to reflect on how the past year went so that you can commit to making adjustments in attitude and behavior so that we continue to improve as people.
To help with that, a bunch of folks from all walks of life participate in #BlogElul: A daily writing exercise that could be a single sentence, a haiku, or an 800 word essay. Each day a single word is provided as the theme, and people take it from there.
If you missed this series last year, you’re probably thinking “Leon, this is a Jewish thing and completely outside the scope of my experience.” Yes and no.
If you have worked in IT for more than 15 minutes, you’ve probably been involved in a large development project, system rollout, or upgrade. And as the date for the big cutover approaches, there are usually daily status updates. I’m taking this opportunity to set up a standing meeting and report on my progress toward the upcoming release called “MyLife, 5777”
If you are interested in joining in you can find more information on the blog of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, the woman who started it: http://imabima.blogspot.com/2016/08/blogelul-and-elulgram-2016.html
If you have suggestions on what I should include for any of the days, let me know!
Meanwhile, here is the word list I’ll be following:
Elul 1 (Sept. 4): Prepare
Elul 2: Act
Elul 3: Search
Elul 4: Understand
Elul 5: Accept
Elul 6: Believe
Elul 7: Choose
Elul 8: Hear
Elul 9: Observe
Elul 10: Count
Elul 11: Trust
Elul 12: Forgive
Elul 13: Remember
Elul 14: Learn
Elul 15: Change
Elul 16: Pray
Elul 17: Awaken
Elul 18: Ask
Elul 19: Judge
Elul 20: Fulfill
Elul 21: Love
Elul 22: End
Elul 23: Begin
Elul 24: Hope
Elul 25: Intend
Elul 26: Create
Elul 27: Bless
Elul 28: Give
Elul 29: Return