Zero

August 23rd, 2016 / No Comments » / by Sean

When is a file not a file?
‘ls’ show a file with a smile
It’s a zero byte file!
Like a hipster with no style
GPG the tricky beast
Hidden is the file
It has inflated nothing into a feast
What is this 20 kilobyte file?
Surprise, the key has revealed the guile
Who mourns for an empty file?

I’d like to make a deposit

March 31st, 2016 / No Comments » / by Sean

A set of devilish cats run a bank for dogs
The dogs happily deposit their bones, and treats
But secretly the cats are trading bones on the black market for cat nip
Dogs quickly sniff out this traitorous plot
There is a war of cats vs. dogs
In the ensuing melee the rats take over the bank
The rats become wonderful stewards of both cat nip and bones and all is right in the world of rats, cats and dogs.

What I learned as a Consultant

March 29th, 2016 / No Comments » / by Sean

Consulting is hard

In my four years as a consultant I’ve worked 110 hour weeks, worked regularly past midnight, and missed more social occasions and holidays than I remember.  I feel consulting and the grueling hours is largely the reason one of my relationships ended, and why I haven’t been in a relationship in quite a while.  Even though I was luckier than most in that I wasn’t constantly hounded to produce more hours.  Make no mistake it’s a hard life.

Life on the road is fun only for a little while

Traveling week to week starts off as fun. You get to often see new places, and you get miles and points.  You get to eat out at fancy restaurants but you do so alone, and with the looming work all the time.  Rarely did I have opportunity to ‘see’  the sights on such trips.  And often trips were to Nashville, or Des Moines which some of these places have practically no night life on a Tuesday night.  I spent more time working in hotel rooms than sleeping.  I for the most part worked on projects solo, or with remote teams, and as such I rarely had companions to go out and have dinner with or have drinks with.  It is a pretty lonely existence taking a red eye flight Monday morning, working till 7pm in the office.  To then go out for an hour or two for dinner, then usually 3-5 hours of more work when you get back to your hotel.  Then rinse and repeat for the rest of the week.

Your home is often more of a liability in this lifestyle.  It’s nice for a while to not have to pay for meals during the week, but when you get home Thursday or Friday and you’re exhausted from working a 60 hour week, the last thing you want to do is go to the grocery store for your two or three days home until you have to do it again.   This list just gets longer and longer, the same goes for mowing your lawn, or fixing that leaky faucet, or getting an oil change.  Sure you can use all that extra consulting money to hire someone to take care of your house or stuff.  But then that takes even more time. In the end does that put you far ahead?  I’m not so sure.

There are a lot of mediocre to terrible consultants

I actually think that consulting can be wonderful for both the client and the consulting firm in certain situations.  There are many consulting firms which think they can take college grads put them through four to six weeks of training and drop ship them to client sites and they’ll be wonderful billing consultants.  I’ve seen it work well in a handful of cases, but more often I’ve seen this fail miserably.  More often than not I was consulting by cleaning up the mess left by other consultants from my own firm, or even by another firm.

The perception that consultants are the ‘best of the best’ rarely panned out that way in my view.  I know many consultants I would personally never hire or recommend.

There is always someone willing to work longer or harder than you

Especially in the larger consulting firms, the race to partner or the next role is real.  And even though you’ve sacrificed all the holidays and spent more time in hotel rooms than your actual home.  There is almost always someone who has done it and more, and forget your quaint 120% utilization they are pushing 200% utilization.  When it comes to reviews and promotions I have no idea how you compete with that.

‘Best Practices’ is a sales gimmick

More often than not what is ‘sold’ to the client is rarely what I’ve delivered to a client.  Not so say I didn’t meet client requirements, or didn’t finish projects.  But, often what is sold to client’s is my years of expertise, and knowledge of systems.  However, when it really comes down to it, project managers and client leadership or even client employees will steer a solution right off the rails into a train wreck.  Then you’re forced to come up with a solution which is far from ‘best practices’ and then devolves slowly into the uncharted, and often risky.  I have developed and worked on many more ‘less than ideal’ solutions than I worked on solutions I felt good about.

How your work is perceived is more important than the work itself

I’ll fully admit I’m bad with people.  And, this more than most things with consulting I utterly failed at.   I pride myself with coming up with solutions and building solutions.  However, more than a few times I’ve gotten into trouble for purely political and social reasons more so than the work.  I’ve delivered solutions I hated and thought were terrible, and even client employees may know this.  But if the client management thinks it’s wonderful than all is well with the world.  On the converse if you tell a client you’re falling into a ditch to never return, they will often perceive you as the problem, not the problem at hand.  I personally never learned to tell a client ‘no’ and not have it blow up in my face.

Having a great project manager can be wonderful

As much as project mangers (PM’s) are reviled by the workers doing actual work.  Having a good project manager can mean the difference between a failed project, and a wildly successful one with follow up work.  Clients and leadership and sales all seem to buy into these elusive unicorns called PM’s.  But, when it comes to execution and actually determining effectiveness of your specific PM it somehow falls into this ‘blind spot’  where suddenly billing hours seemingly is more important than the success of the project.  When it comes down to recognizing  your PM is really a horse with a fake unicorn horn and calling them out on this somehow almost never pans out.  A good project manager will juggle the competing task items, resources, and perceptions of everyone involved.  It is not an easy job and I personally would be a terrible PM, but I can recognize a good one.  And if you happen to be on a project with a great PM it can be glorious rainbows and unicorns.

Mimosa

March 9th, 2016 / No Comments » / by Sean

Change keeps on coming

March 9th, 2016 / No Comments » / by Sean

This website has been woefully static for far too long.  And this largely reflects my crazy life I’ve been leading for quite some time.  I am looking to change this in a big way and create new unique content.

In the past 3 months I’ve…

  • Sold a house I loved
  • Brought a client through to go-live
  • Bought a GoPro (finally)
  • Bought a new house in a new city 800 miles away
  • Started a new job which I quite enjoy
  • Moved about 3300 lbs. of stuff across 3 state lines
  • Moved away from the city I’ve spent 31 years in
  • Drove 12 hours with a cat meowing constantly (there is a video)

So look for new content to be posted here soon.

Getting Debian to boot on an Intel NUC

May 18th, 2014 / No Comments » / by Sean

So after purchasing some Intel NUC’s I wanted to get Debian to boot up on it.  Well apparently Intel has some very specific boot EFI locations.  Supposedly the latest BIOS updated 2/24/14 fixed this, but alas that didn’t work either.

  • Install Debian as you normally would.
  • Download Live CD
  • Boot to Live CD
  • Open Root Terminal
  • $ mount /dev/sda1 /mnt
  • $ mkdir /mnt/EFI/BOOT
  • $ cp /mnt/EFI/debian/* /mnt/EFI/BOOT
  • $ mv /mnt/EFI/BOOT/grubx64.efi /mnt/EFI/BOOT/bootx64.efi

I am assuming you have a x64 install.

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Rethinking the server

July 6th, 2013 / No Comments » / by Sean

So I’ve been thinking about servers a lot recently.  Mainly because I’ve since pulled out my bulky power hungry Dell Poweredge 1950 from my friend’s colocation.  I have to admit I’m slightly sad to see it go, but into the world of VPS’s it is for me.  At least for now.

Or is it?  So I’ve found other colocations that are cheaper than what I was paying but most have fairly restrictive rules.  Mainly around bandwidth and power.  I get these datacenters make their money on charging extra for those things, but what if I did constrain myself on bandwidth and power.  There is a deal I’m considering that is a 10mbit connection, 120 Watt maximum power for $25.50 a month.  It’s a great deal, no doubt.  However, there is no way I can get my Poweredge 1950 to run that efficiently (I checked).  The best I could muster by gong down to 1 power supply, 1 CPU, and a minimal amount of RAM is 175 watts at idle.  So clearly the 1950 is out.

IMG_0684

So why exactly is the 1950 so power hungry?  In short it’s all high end components (for the time it was built) with a fair amount of redundancy.  And you can of course still buy servers today that are basically the same but with newer faster parts.  Think about my 1950 pictured above,  I have two hard drives, a RAID card, two CPU’s and a bunch of RAM, and to top that off two power supplies.  The CPU’s themselves are 95W processors to boot.  So trying to make this thing sip power is pretty futile, because it was designed to be redundant, and always on.  And for some applications they need to be on all the time, but if your pinning all your hopes to one physical server you are stuck in the past.

Software and networks have gotten a lot smarter. So if I have an intelligent application that is load balanced or fault tolerant I can hedge my bets on multiple servers with single points of failure instead of just one.  Not only that I can use power efficient technologies that are available to me today.  So for 120 Watts of power I could have…

Twenty Raspberry Pi’s!

Untitled-1

 

Yes I could have 20 Raspberry Pi’s!  There are a handful of ARM based server solutions out there.  But alas they are ‘quote’ only pricing (cough).  So if you have to ask how much generally it is quite a lot.  However, I could buy 20 Raspberry pi’s and run that for 120 watts.  I will say the application needs to be well tailored to run on such small low end systems but the idea is very compelling there are a few people trying it out.  Instead of VPS systems for low usage customers, what if I had my own whole ARM based server. By the way if someone could please make a 1U server case with a power supply, and distribution for a bunch of Raspberry Pi’s that would be great.  I’d gladly pay a hundred bucks for some steel in the shape of a 1U server and some plastic clips to mount a bunch of Raspberry Pi’s.  And I guarantee you others would too.

Three Intel Next Generation (of) Computing Units

nucx3

With the Sandy Bridge and newer Intel microarchitectures there have been ‘desktop’ class CPU’s that are in the 35W TDP range.  This low amount of power isn’t really unheard of in the notebook family.  However, such a low TDP brings in some cool form factors.  Which Intel decided to sell something like this with their Next Generation of Computing (NUC) units.  These sip power at around 40 watts at load.  Not only that the performance of these units is impressive, at 2200 passmark or better range.  It’s also worth nothing that Gigabyte has their Brix which is basically the same idea but with a few more options.

Three Lenovo ThinkCenter M72E Tiny’s

thinkcenterx3

Before the NUC was sold to consumers Lenovo had their own spin on the ultra compact computer, with their ThinkCenter M72E Tiny and M92p Tiny computers.  These are basically the same hardware as the Intel NUC.  However, they do not rely upon SSD storage.  And there is a 2.5″ laptop hard drive inside this one.

All of these solutions I could run multiples of them inside of a 1U space for under 120 watts.  I know somebody is going to grip at me, that I’m classing ‘consumer’ level geral to run inside of a datacenter.  And my response is your absolutely right I do want consumer grade gear.  It’s not exactly unheard of, after all the Dell Poweredge R210 II I can configure with a ‘consumer’ grade Celeron processor.  If I can run more instances for the same power I’ll gladly take more systems and resources to make up for possible hardware failures.  As well as I can hear the dissenters that will bring up blade solutions.  But in the end blade solutions won’t work for me when I rent out 1U of space.  I’m not going to spend $20,000 on a blade enclosure, power supply, and a bunch of blades.  But I will spend $1500 on 3x computers, or even $1000 on 20 Raspberry Pi’s.  I really think the future is low power for small to medium sized datacenter consumers.

Create an ISO image from CD/DVD in Mac OS X

July 5th, 2013 / No Comments » / by Sean

Quick how to, create an ISO image in Mac OS X.

  • Open a Terminal Window
  • Find out which device is your optical drive
diskutil list
  • Note which /dev/diskX corresponds to your optical drive.
  • Unmount your disk drive
sudo umount /dev/diskX
  • Create a copy of your disk to a file
dd if=/dev/diskX of=mydisk.iso
  • Let the copy run, it could take some time for it to complete.

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‘Open Stage’ in Richardson

February 14th, 2013 / No Comments » / by Sean

This is perhaps new newest obsession   It’s been a while since I was single and trying to ‘get out there’ as it where I’ve been looking for interesting ventures to meet people.  I generally hate bars, the people smoking, the fact that I’m not a ‘regular’, and the ‘The Pub’ in Frisco cranks up the music so loud that my ears ring when I walk out of that place.  So I saw a mention for this event that is done weekly in Richardson called the ‘Open Stage‘.  I went and it’s an eclectic group of performers and those who appreciate that sort of performance.  And it is absolutely great, I will definitely be going again.  In fact I’m working on an essay I would like to perform at some point.

openstage

Random shot taken on my Sony RX100 (I love this camera).

Sears’ Terrible iDevice Checkout

February 9th, 2013 / No Comments » / by Sean

So I had a painfully long 20 minute checkout at Sears earlier tonight.  I have to say I’m appalled at how shamefully terrible their new checkout scheme is.  Talk about a nightmare customer experience.

  • I walk up with 8 items ready to buy at the register
  • I have to wait several minutes because they are trying to check out 2 other customers buying 1 or 2 items each.
  • Upon finally getting the attention of a cashier she says she needs to get the ‘ipod’ and check me out (while standing in front of a seemingly usable register).
  • After waiting yet another couple of minutes she finally starts to scan the items into the iPod.
  • This process takes much longer than it should, and it is obvious the scanner/iPod are inadequately slow.  After each scan it requires several seconds for it to register and add the item to the total.
  • She has to re-scan several of the items because they did not properly register on the ticket.
  • The cashier then asks me for my phone number, and ‘Show your way’ rewards.  I refuse to give either.
  • She asks for a phone number anyway
  • She asks for a credit card to which I refuse and say I will pay in cash.
  • Then the cashier proceeds to enter the transaction ID into the cash register to then complete the transaction.  She has to manually type from the iPod to the cash register.
  • Even on the customer keypad the total is not itemized but grouped as one item.
  • I finally pay her and she gets my change and receipt with the itemized pricing.
  • Throughout the process she blamed the technology for being slow, and apologized for the long delays.

Flaws with this system

  • The scanner is so slow, even if the barcodes were read properly the first try on each attempt it would take at least 5 seconds to scan each item.  Talk to any grocery store cashier 5 second scan times is terrible.
  • The user interface on the ipod is woefully too small.  The cashier was constantly scrolling on the device to determine if every item was scanned properly.
  • The customer has no real time feedback as to what each item cost.  And it would be cumbersome for the cashier to announce the price for each item individually.
  • Receipts have to be printed on the ‘normal’ register and takes keying in several things to get it to print.
  • Transferring a transaction to a register to pay in cash is also quite cumbersome.
  • It just takes too long for the whole transaction.  I can’t imagine on Black Friday with lines of dozens of people waiting and 5-8 minutes (assuming they improve their speed) for each customer to check out.
  • Quit pestering me about your stupid rewards program.  If I don’t want to participate don’t ask for my phone number anyway.

Why this works in the Apple Store

  • Many Apple stores often do not have formalized cash registers
  • People generally don’t buy a large quantity of items at an Apple store, since they have mostly higher priced items

I really think this is an attempt for Sears (one of the oldest retail chains in the US) to be hip or cool by copying Apple.  But, in many ways it fails to understand their business.  Sears isn’t in the same high margin sales business that Apple is in.  I don’t think there is an expectation for Sears customers to be hip and trendy. Sears if nothing else is about volume, their slow checkout will deter customers and may lead to walk outs who don’t want to wait for their slow checkout process.  I know in theory this increases the number of registers if you have an army of people with these iCheckut devices but that isn’t really reducing costs since you have to pay all those people to check people out.

This is a massive customer interface failure.  There are distinct disadvantages over the ‘normal’ cash register transaction.  You are losing features that the customer had yesterday that your new checkout scheme does not offer.