Ketchup

I mean catch-up.
Too much work for too long meant many accrued life complications, so I’m on a purge…

Anthem

Breaking news: Identity theft is a bad thing

One target is paper: The last 3 weekends have included many hours of sorting through paper files for shred, toss, or reuse as scrap.  (Yes, I caught my mother’s frugality, so our family prints on the blank sides of old stuff, which is fun when you discover weird personal history on the flip side years later.)

In the shred category: I award special recognition to Anthem, Discover, and US Bank for taking an extra decade to notice any news about that new-fangled “identity theft”.  (It took them until ~2006 to start removing complete SSNs and account numbers from monthly statements)

The other is Digital: Today I turned to my blog feeds.  15 years had “collected” roughly 450 feed subscriptions in my reader, which I’m still reading daily.  …Well, I knew some of those 450 had gone dark, but managing them has been a recurring pain (browsing feeds by name isn’t easy in Feedly – how about some basic alphabetical sorting?).

Awesome

Awesome

So I decided to clean house on my feeds.  +A couple hours = a couple realizations:

  1. It’s messed up that I can get sentimental about an RSS Feed.  WebMonkey, I still miss your irreverent teaching methods, and I probably owe you my career.   But in culture of obscene plenty, I gotta start dropping some burdens.
  2. Blogs are Dead!  At least half of those feeds are now offline or haven’t been updated in 5-10 years.  Now I know why the huge feed count was only netting a few dozen posts per day.
    But why have bloggers given up?   Facebook and its ilk are obvious.  Long-form takes too long, and “Sharing” is now a grunt-button (yes, a grunt is how much value you’re sharing with those things) .   With grunt-buttons over at the HealthyViralConservatives page (that’s probably a thing), we smart people are all now stealing our own thunder.  But minimal effort = minimal value, so those with nothing to share are sharing the most, and discourse is dead.

…But wait, isn’t this Rob’s like, yearly blog post?  Yeah, I’m not done yet — that’s another comeback in the works.

Not Awesome

Not Awesome

But what direction?  Journaling is a great exercise and enjoyable, but what do I have that interests folks?
Comments would be a great measure, but I’ve never been popular enough for much of them, and folks have even LESS time for comments in the grunt-jab era, so they’re out. But …Akismet brags it’s outright blocked 18,279 spam comments just since I switched to WordPress 2 years ago.  And I get regular notices of spam comments quarantined for review (and that’s easy.  The last blog move was good to me, and I’d like to heartily thank the whole WordPress community.  Posting is way more likely when I’m not just cleaning up.)
So, without bothering on analytics, maybe the spammers know something.  They LOVE two ancient posts in particular:  my write-up on Royal TS (RIP), and another about line-breaks in VBScript.  (Was 2005 special?  It was arguably the golden age of blogging, but I’ve no idea how that could still echo now.)

So I’m gonna go with the topics: “meta-throbs” journally junk like this doesn’t enthrall, but every geek loves good Tools and Tips.  And I’ve always got tons of those, so I’ll try to get back to sharing them here soon.

I’d love requests too, but certainly won’t get my hopes up.  After all, there’s probably a heart-warming new LiberalCatVideo with a grunt-button.

Trans Cat

Standing Desk, day 6

Previously, on Standing Desk: Day 1 and Day 2

Well I’m over a week into my experiment.  Here’s what I know:

  • Standing all day definitely gets easier.  My feet aren’t really sore anymore, or maybe I’m just used to it.
  • BUT, a bad night’s sleep is a lot more noticeable.  I had a couple rough nights, and standing around really made me want to crawl back into bed (more than a chair would).
  • I’m not noticing any general energy improvements yet.
  • But I do feel generally more Ready and Present while I’m working.  37 Signals’ Jamis says it better:
    My attention span improved, too. I noticed an immediate increase in my ability to focus on a problem for longer, and with greater clarity. When I was blocked by some problem, I was able to just walk away from the desk, whereas before the effort of getting up from my chair often made me prefer to just sit and stew in my frustration.

  • I’m getting used to it. Walking up to my desk doesn’t seem unusual anymore. Nor does the various fidgeting, dancing, pacing it allows. I didn’t even think about it today until I was walking out to my car.

So I think it’s a good thing and I want to continue.  My next thought is about getting a real standup desk (“real” as in no cardboard boxes required).  Apparently, IKEA’s Jerker is Undisputed King of Standup desks.  It does look great, but I can’t seem to find it.  More news as it happens…

Standing Desk, day 1

Today I took a plunge with a standing desk, for a few reasons.


Health
I often sit all day long, and rarely make the time to exercise.  Humans weren’t made to sit.  I think this sums it well:

Sitting is one of the most passive things you can do. You burn more energy by chewing gum or fidgeting than you do sitting still in a chair. Compared to sitting, standing in one place is hard work. To stand, you have to tense your leg muscles, and engage the muscles of your back and shoulders; while standing, you often shift from leg to leg. All of this burns energy.

For many people, weight gain is a matter of slow creep — two pounds this year, three pounds next year. You can gain this much if, each day, you eat just 30 calories more than you burn. Thirty calories is hardly anything — it’s a couple of mouthfuls of banana, or a few potato chips. Thus, a little more time on your feet today and tomorrow can easily make the difference between remaining lean and getting fat.

Olivia Judson in the New York Times

Productivity
Not that productivity is what humans were made for either, but if I’m taking time away from my family and Life to go work, I should use that time well.  Too often my train of thought is “I’m sitting in front of a computer, now what can I do with it?”  rather than “For what purpose am I standing in front of this computer?”

Peer Pressure
A friend and
several bloggers I respect have made the switch, and had good things to say.  I’m a big fan of reviews and anecdotal evidence.  :7

…So this morning I put some cardboard boxes under my keyboard, mouse, and monitors.  (It’s ugly, but a cheap way to try before I buy a real standing desk.)

Some things I’ve already noticed:

  • It’s hard.  Everyone says the first 2 days are brutal.  Yup!  They also say around day 3 it gets easy and then it starts paying back with better energy.  Here’s hoping…
  • With the right tunes, I catch myself dancing!  Yes, I’m sure you’d like to see that.  I checked and am relieved that google says I’m not crazy (or not alone, anyway).
  • Moment-to-moment priorities are easier.  For a couple years I’ve had a sign reminding me to “Decide Standing” when I pick my next tasks.  The opposite is true now – I can now take a 2-minute sitting break to pick a task.  This comes much more naturally!

Wish me luck.

Corporate-vs-Consultant

Wow, I’ve been out of it for a while…

I’ve failed to mention my new job at TQL as Web Team Supervisor (best described as “all things web”).  Well, 2yrs ago isn’t “new” anymore, though.  The job was both a break for me and also an experiment to try A) being not a consultant, B) working for a non-IT organization, and C) working with bigger stuff.  The break/experiments are over now — my questions are answered and I’m back to working on Slingshot Solutions full-time (never actually stopped, but it was only for a few clients). 

Enough background.  Going into this, I wanted to start a “consultant-vs-corporate drone” comparison .  Coming back out, I do again.  So here it is.  I’ll just sketch it here and fill it in as I think of it.  Consider this in progress:

Hours

Working For The Man: Regular and Separate.
But too many, and for no extra reward but sacrifice to my own quest for perfection.

Working For The Me: Free and Easy.
“Working for the man” can mean “I’m the man!”  But sometimes it’s too free.  I often found/find myself working at odd hours I shouldn’t.  And often my boss was a jerk — time off doesn’t pay the bills, so no vacation and no sick time.  Chalk this up to I’m just a nincompoop.

Sense of Ownership

The Man: Good-ish.
Unfortunately, a strong sense of ownership without enough discretion = lousy follow-through and perpetual frustration.  Not my bag baby.

The Me: Great.
The only limit is my own capacity.  Time tends to be the biggest limit for me (I often suspect this is more a bachelor’s game).

Stress

The Man: High.
An uptight organization’s expections often venture outside of performance.  Uptight sucks.

The Me: High.
Remember that bit about Ownership?  It’s not all healthy.  While it’s great to own your own business, it really sucks when it owns you.  (works of my own hands … otherwise known as idolatry, I’d say).
OTOH, I noticed I smile, sing and play music, and play with my kids a lot more lately (at least when I’m not swamped).

Teamwork

The Man: Great.
It’s wonderful to let HR, Accounting, DBAs and Network Admins just do their thing, so I don’t have to.

The Me: Sucks.
Yes, I use good subcontractors, but everything is still ultimately my problem.

Motivation

The Man: Consistent.
There’s always someone else watching (or at least the sense that there is), which keeps me on my game.

The Me: Variable.
As a lone consultant, motivation is more easily affected by other influences like mood or weather (these snow days are killing me!)

Motive

The Man: Convoluted.
When politics/red tape get in the way,
it’s sometimes hard to tell if I’m fighting for project’s success or just
my own ego.

The Me: Clear.
Simple: My customers’ success is my success.

Driving Oblivion

“People should be ashamed when they are passed on the right”

I’m not a bumper-sticker person.  I really have never had one, and probably never will.  I guess my soapbox-ish feelings have never overcome my greater aversion to more visual pollution.  …Except when it comes to driving considerately.  If I saw one, I’m sure I would buy and apply a bumper sticker along these lines:

keep right (except to pass)

Driving considerately depends on awareness.  If you’re oblivious to what’s going on around you, yes “mental auto-pilot” might keep you personally safe (somewhat), but it interferes with the effective flow of traffic. 

This “driving oblivion” is essentially a form of laziness.  People should be ashamed when they are passed on the right, and should feel the need to apologize somehow, perhaps by flashing their lights in acknowledgement of the inconvenience they may have just caused the passer.  But of course they’d have to notice that too… 

A similar symptom of driving oblivion is failure to indicate: just drift on over to wherever you feel like being, with no consideration for other drivers.

I guess flow and being considerate are big with me these days.

A not particularly-related frustration, but one which also breaks flow, is traffic waves.  I think I mentioned once that I’d meant to write about it as a form of compression wave, but fortunately someone beat me to it.  Traffic waves are actually not a symptom of laziness, but rather one of greediness — never allowing enough space in front of you that someone else might be able to cut in line.  In the process, your foot ends up back-and-forth between pedals, magnifying the compression waves and actually slowing the flow.  (Imagine a sink drain that burps, back with the air, forth with the water).

(Normally I’d apologize for venting, soapboxing, etc.  But lookee there at my name up top!  Speaking freely is a blog’s “why”.)

Miscellaneous Brrreeeport

Looks like I’m:

  • Participating in Scoble’s

    brrreeeport

    experiment.

  • Syndicating Digg’s Programming news here now (in the sidebar).
  • Considering participating in Technet ScriptCenter’s Scripting Games event, despite my busy-ness. (Hey, I could be a contender!)
  • Baffled why UC would require its own Alumni (aka “prospective donors” to UC’s board) to jump through Stone Age hoops to get a transcript (this is 2006, and phone isn’t even an option), and they’ll still take “5-10 days” to process it.
  • Downloading various free VMwares at the moment. Oh, and eating cookie dough.
  • Wondering why the machine I’ve reinstalled at least 12 times in 12 months — due to strange disk problems, but with different disks — now appears problem free after switching its filesystem from NTFS to FAT32 (which is supposedly more fragile).
  • Also wondering why the Virtual NT4 Server I spent the last week fighting with just refuses to run IIS4.
  • Avidly tracking shipment of my new little Athlon 64-based machine, due here Tuesday.
  • Chuckling at the recent surplus of general serendipity.
  • Remembering that Tuesday is Valentine’s day….

Rant: The Rise of the Machines

I don’t remember who (for reasons explained shortly), but some blogger I read recently said “It’s sometimes difficult to remember that Technology exists to make things possible.”


This phrase is echoing through my head right now, as I watch my primary work machine slowly image a backup of its hard drive onto another machine, since the hard drive just crashed.  First strange sounds, then periodic freezes, and an hour later my screen is vivid abstract art.


Of course the drive’s S.M.A.R.T. status is still “OK”.


Better than this, it took about two hours to find the right combination of BIOS settings, network boot disk, and Ghost disk before I could even start the imaging process.


This has been a very bad technology year for me.  Ugly details below (including grammar, I’m sure), but here’s the gist: 



  • Computers do a lot less helping me these days, and I do a lot more helping them
  • They are much more prone to problems.
  • Even when they’re working “by design,” they are configured with stupid defaults and limitations which I have to fix (e.g. Windows Explorer).
  • They claim to be smart, offering to configure, automate, or fix themselves, but they create more problems, or actually worsen the problem in the process!

<DETAILS type=“ugly”>
In January, a previously stable workstation had its hard drive die, or so it seemed after 6+ reinstalls.  See, when I replaced the drive, the installation would freeze randomly.  Turns out the BIOS was misdetecting the replacement drive’s geometry, so I got to find and manually input heads, cylinders, etc — something I haven’t done in at least 10 years, and not my idea of a “trip down memory lane.” 
    That fixed the install, but the same spontaneously corrupt files issue has continued with the new drive.  ….I know drives die (moving parts & all), but drive controllers??


In May, the problems with my file server started.  It has mirrored drives.  One drive had a problem, the mirror broke, and the other kicked in (hurrah).  When I let the HighPoint RAID manager software fix the mirror, it “fixed” it alright …in the wrong direction! (since previously visible partition info disappeared afterwards). 
    Drive now non-bootable, with much research I restored the drive’s partitions with BootPart, and (hurrah) it booted, but Windows wanted to “fix” all the errors on the drive.  I let it do so.  Not until later did I realize that it was disconnecting most every file and subfolder from its parent folder, making them all Now “lost”.
    Oh, and Windows just “fixed” itself out of working.  So, time for a reinstall, happy that I keep the OS on its own partition, and careful to leave the others alone.  Ah, something worked, now about those files…
    Half a dozen file-restoration utilities found nothing more than a big jumbled mess of files without structure (and often without names).  At the end of that track, and crossing my fingers, I remembered I’d been doing nightly backups of important data…
    Whadya know, the backups are corrupt!  Again, very much effort to restore (so glad it was a zip file), and hurrah, I see files.  In fact, I think I’ve restored most of them, but we’ve discovered at least one missing, and I’m still wading through the “lost” files for possible luck. 


In the midst of the file server’s woes, my web server’s Windows Product Activation spontaneously went nuts.  At login, it would insist on activating Windows (which I’d already done), but when I said go ahead, it would say it’s already activated and boot me out.  Much research, booting to safe mode, fiddling with files, finally a Windows installation “repair” operation.  Success?  I login once, twice to check, and stuck again! 
    I gave up on it for a while.  A server mostly doesn’t need console access, so I was able to do a lot of things by other means.  The repair had made it completely unpatched though, which worried me since it’s by necessity exposed as a web server.  Eventually I did fix this, but only because of research on another machine’s WPA woes…


See, I was doing some “quick” troubleshooting of a friend’s laptop.  Windows search didn’t work, and there were a few other quirks, so I quickly ran System File Checker to fix possibly corrupted files.  No idea if this worked, because the subsequent login gave me the required WPA re-activation dialog, and again WPA was broken!  (blank this time).
    SO, I ran another Windows “repair” process, and it asks for a product key?!   (Duh, it’s a repair, not a fresh install, get it yourself!).  I got the key, tried it and it didn’t work. 
    Turns out it didn’t match the CD — there are OEM CDs, Volume License CDs, Retail CDs, and probably other flavors.  They’re all the exact same OS, but with different classes of keys.  I have no idea what this accomplishes for the licensing folks.
    So I restart the repair with a different CD & key.  It works, but then I get mysterious error dialogs with sentence fragments “could not complete the file copy operation, you may need to retry or“ — yes, or what?   I check and clean both disc and drive, but with no luck.  Fortunately it let me cancel that specific copy but continue the rest of the install.  I got the same error about 5 more times, but it worked.  Much re-patching ensued.
</DETAILS>

Aside: System File Checker is good.  Windows Product Activation is bad. 


I know drives fail.  I know software sometimes gets confused.  I could handle these much better if I still trusted the other software which is supposed to prevent, fix, or mitigate such problems. 


….And I’m seriously fantasizing about becoming a farmer. 


Have we reached the point of unsustainable complexity??