Sunday, October 8, 2017

Why I Stopped Blogging

Two years ago, I pretty much stopped blogging altogether. It was sudden.

I'm guessing you didn't notice. However you consume information, I'm guessing that there's a lot of content there, and you didn't miss one little voice in the maelstrom fading off.

And that's ok.

But I do have more to say, so here I am back at the keyboard telling the world about anything and everything that comes to mind.

First things first, however. I've done some introspection into why I stopped blogging in the first place, and why I'm starting back up.

You Can't Play the Blues in an Air-Conditioned Room

The overarching theme is that what I used to write about most is what was wrong with my workplace, and ideas and ways to fix it, in case they were useful to anyone else. That all changed when I took on a new challenge, left my job, and was really happy with the result. All the change I wanted to see in my world? I had gotten there.

I Achieved the Remote Work Dream

And it has been everything I have hoped it would be. I've missed a lot of opportunities to talk about what remote work looks like after you've done it a while, and while a retrospective of that is coming, the upshot is that it has freed me to spend more time with family, work on side projects, avoid the stress of driving/commuting, and made me more productive at my primary job.

Meetings are Minimal

At the old gig, there were a lot of meetings. Meetings can become so odious that entire books are written about their negative effects. With the new gig at a much smaller company, meetings are minimal. Most communication takes place via our internal chat app, where we maintain presence and discuss everything the moment it occurs, not sometime later down the road where we have everyone captive in a room for an hour. My organization has a single two-hour recurring meeting every week where we plan out the work for the week, and that suits me just fine. We don't chat to fill the time; when the meeting's over, it's over.

Email is Minimal

Because we have the internal chat app, most of our messaging happens over that. Even the business users have become comfortable with sending us a quick chat to ask a question, instead of sending a two-page email and cc'ing the world. The chat app saves history of all communications, and responses are generally short and instantaneous. The less time you spend reading and receiving email, the more productive your day.

Small Company FTW

We've all heard the parable of how bad things happen at companies with deep reporting structures. The game of telephone that happens between layers of middle management, especially with potential for positive spin on the way up, can wreak havoc on productivity and morale. In my current organization, the management layer is so thin that you can read newsprint through it. Everyone in the organization is trusted to make their appropriate level of decisions and everyone contributes to the product in some way with more than just organization and words. It is organic and just right. I'm starting to think that the best way to organize a big company is to make it a collaboration of small independent internal companies, without worrying about efficiencies of scale (because the efficiency would come from not having a lot of employees dedicated solely to communication between units (i.e., management)), but that's a blog for another time.

But My Work Here is not Done

While I have a life that I'm loving, and a job that's ideal for me, that doesn't mean everyone has that same good fit. My new aim is to help other technologists find their mojo, through growing their confidence, technical education, and networking (despite possible introverted tendencies). Additionally, I am here to help companies really understand their workers and encourage positive productivity.

So yeah. I'm back. Let's get this conversation going!

Thursday, May 14, 2015


I was having a few problems with my Lenovo Yoga 2 the other day.  For some reason it was really dogging, and I was getting close to chucking it all and reinstalling, but then I came across this article, which, while it's advice for a much older machine, I thought that I'd try out what it had to say.

Well, I'd heard of perfmon, but I really never checked into how to use it.  This article suggests running

perfmon /rel

from the start menu or a command prompt.  After you do that, it will collect up data from the past few weeks and present it in a graph form.  Mine looked like:

That's really cool!  So you have a day-by-day look at what your system has been doing, and where it's been failing.  Clicking each of the red x icons gives you a look at what failed on that particular day. The blue information icons tended to be system or application updates.  You can see application crashes and other things that may be affecting your system. 


Thursday, March 26, 2015

I Want to Speak. What Topics Are Best?

We know that community conferences like That Conference and Codemash fulfill multiple roles in a technology community.  They provide networking opportunities, sure.  But they also provide educational sessions for people to learn new technologies, transition between technologies, or enhance their knowledge within their own skill set.

It's easy to figure that the topics at a conference run the gamut of all possible talks, and that you should just speak about what you know.  To first order, that's sort of true.  But not all topics are created equal, and I thought I'd share what I've found most useful, when attending conferences.

For me, conference talks fill that space between blogs about technology, and books. They're the perfect hybrid of dynamic, up-to-the minute content that books don't have, coupled with the story-telling dynamic presentation format that blogs just can't quite reach, most of the time.  Books work well as references.  Blogs work well as permalink content that can be searched on the web for little bits of esoteric information and deep dives.

If that's the space that conference talks generally fill, then what topics to I find most useful? The topics I look for as an attendee are those talks that
  • Help people get started
  • Help people transition
  • Help people improve
If you're a prospective speaker and are thinking of submitting a talk, here are some ideas that fit the bill:

Introduction to "X"

Obviously, this talk is to help people get started.  In an introduction, you start people with the basics: what open problem this X technology or platform solves, why X is a better solution to those problems than other solutions proposed in the industry, how to get started.  In this type of talk, it's more of a survey designed to help people completely new to this technology, or maybe new to technology in general.  Advanced features and deep dives are unnecessary, and you won't get extremely detailed questions, so this type of talk may favor the new speaker.

"X" for the "Y" Dev

This type of talk is very similar to the Introduction to "X" talk described above, but it has a much more targeted focus: help someone transition from an existing technology to a new one.  Every technology has its way of looking at things and those memes are not obvious.  It's easy to write C# that looks like Fortran.  

These talks tend to have titles like "F# for the C# Developer : Learning to Funtional After Objecting All Your Life" or "TDD for the PHP Developer... Really!"  The point of these talks is still introduction, so the talk can't dive deep into the target technology, and you spend a great deal of time arguing by analogy from one language/platform to the other.  This type of talk favors the speaker that has made such a transition in the past and has good handle on what it takes to be successful with the new technology.

New Features in "X"

Technology changes all the time.  If you happen to be working with the next version of some product, there are people that need your guidance.  These types of talks help people grow in their current skill set.  You can assume a base knowledge for your audience, and sometimes get into really cool demos, as new features are generally put in to have a bit of a "whiz-bang" factor.  Here, you also have the ability to take a deep dive or two.

Top "N" Lists

This format can feel pretty tired, but I personally like seeing these talks.  These are talks like "The 5 Best Underused Features in Angular" or "9 Stories from the TDD Front Lines".  What I like is that while the presentation is centered on one particular topic or technology, you can tell quite a few disparate stories without the need for segue.  It's the presentation equivalent of a book of short stories, and if one doesn't really appeal to you, you wait five minutes and see if the next one does.  Also, some of the items can be beginner topics, and some can be advanced, so you can have a fairly diverse audience.

Real-World "X"

Probably my favorite type of topic.  If you are a frequent practitioner of any particular technology, you've run into situations where things didn't work out the way they did in the demos (Entity Framework? I'm looking at you!).  Your experience in the real world can save your audience time and bring some realism to a topic beyond the hype of the company that promotes it.

Remember, Call for Speakers for That Conference opens soon.  If you want to come out and share your experience, maybe one of these topics is right for you!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How to Be a Great Speaker

Full disclosure: I am not a great speaker.

I have spoken at precisely one user group and one community conference.  I love community, however, and want to offer my perspective on what makes a great speaker from a frequent audience member.  These are things I strive to do in my talks, but still don't have down.  Each one of these tips has personally affected my enjoyment (positive or negative) of a talk I've been to in the past year.

That Conference call for speakers opens in about a week, so you may not be at this stage yet, getting your abstract ready and such, but keep this handy for when you're preparing for your big day on the conference stage.

Practice, Practice, Practice.

This should probably go without saying, but the speakers that seem to do best have everything down. They've rehearsed their demos over and over.  They have their slide transitions down.  When its clear that you're winging it, unless you have a true gift for extemporaneous speaking (you probably don't, even if you've always thought you did), you lose your audience really fast.

Never Complain About the Conference Setup.

I was at a conference recently, and one of the speakers was having trouble moving his mouse in the limited space on the lectern.  That was pretty obvious from his frustrated mouse movements, but on top of letting the frustration show, about every five minutes, he would articulate that frustration. As an audience member, there was nothing I could do, but it made the talk feel like a downer.

Here's the thing: the audience doesn't care about excuses.  They don't need to hear why things aren't smooth. Make them smooth.  If you can't, move on as best you can.  The show must go on.

Give the Audience a Progress Bar.

This is a tip that hits me subtly, but no matter how rapt my attention is during a talk, at one point or another, I end up thinking, "Gee, how much is left in this talk?"  If you put this information right on your slides (Slide 21/44), the audience never has to move their eyes from your presentation, but if it's not on there, then the listener may switch on their phone, see the time, but also see a tweet from a good friend and think to respond.  At that point you may lose your audience member and not get them back.

Never Forget Your Fans.  

Good speakers are public figures.  They are authors, actors, and performers.  Just like the most famous of those, people will follow you.  These people are fans.  On twitter, they will follow you. IRL, they may follow you.  You may see them at every talk.  They're probably not even stalkers. Note that you might be a huge inspiration to them, and they may be starstruck.  Yes, over little ol' you. Embrace that.  These are like-minded folks in your tribe.

Never Complain About Your Time Slot.  

I know all time slots are not created equal.  Speaking over the lunch hour, or maybe very early in the morning when people were out the night before, or maybe last in the afternoon, when everyone's brains are hurting and full - yeah, I get that those time slots have issues.  You may not get the full room you'd hoped for.

But never say that to the audience that is there.  They have given up their lunch or come exhausted to give you the gift of their time and attention.  To learn from you.  Don't insult them.  Remember, you are happy to be there.  You're changing their lives.

Never Diminish Your Subject Matter.

In a recent presentation, I heard a speaker introduce a bit of their presentation by saying "This isn't very exciting."  Really?  Then why include it?  Actually, I haven't seen it, so it's totally exciting, to me.  Don't tell me what I should and shouldn't find exciting either.  I'm in tech.  I like lots of weird things.  I like to learn, too.  I'm interested.

Also, your material was good enough to get you a speaker slot to talk to your peers.  Never sell your material short.

Don't Recognize Comings and Goings.

I've seen lots of speakers do it.  It's like a reverse heckle of people who are coming in late.  "Thanks for gracing us with your presence."  Or "Ok, now that you're here, we can start."  No kidding, I've heard people say this.  People coming and going may be obeying the Law of Two Feet and coming from another sessions they knew wasn't going to be as awesome as yours.  Maybe they are leaving yours because they thought it was going to be more basic than you're aiming.  Maybe all the bacon has their stomach in a knot.  You don't know, so don't give comings and goings any recognition.

There is an exception to the rule.  If you have a packed house (good for you!), people who walk in may assume there are no more seats left and stand against the wall or sit on the floor.  It's reasonable to interrupt what you're saying to let people know that they can come closer and fill in gaps up nearer the speaker.

Don't Criticize Other Speakers.

I've heard speakers actively criticize other speakers.  As an audience member, that does nothing for me. But praising other speakers?  I love when a speaker does that. I'm always looking for great new speakers to check out.  Guide your listeners toward other great speakers.

Make It Easy to Follow Up.

Given that your material may create fans, followers, or folks with interest in what you have to say, make yourself available.  If you Twitter, then offer your handle.  If you have material to offer from your presentation, make sure you let the audience know how to reach your material, whether it's on Slideshare, GitHub, whatever, make sure you offer all links in some kind of url shortener.

Those are just some tips I wanted to share with speakers and prospective speakers.  Given that the Call for Speakers for That Conference opens up soon.  Get out there and speak!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Importance of Science Education

This week is American Education Week, and since I am a strong believer in education as the foundation of not only a strong culture, but also a strong economic future.  I volunteered to spend most of yesterday speaking to the 7th grade science classes at my son's Junior High School.  For five periods, I basically got to impart some of my experiences to the future minds of tomorrow.  Because I put this together in a very short amount of time, I started with a transcript of what I wanted to say to them.  I did veer off in places, but this is very close to what I said to them.  I thought I would share.

-- transcript follows --

Hi, everyone, and as Mrs. Lang said, I am Dr. Davis.  I was trained as a scientist, and I'm here today for American Education Week to give you a little insight into how science education shaped my life, gave me opportunities, and why science is important and relevant to us all.

It started with astronomy.

When I was a kid, we didn't have the level of distractions that I think maybe kids do today.  But what the heck do I know, I'm an adult?

It was all about staring up at the sky and wondering what's out there, and why.

While I was growing up, space travel was in its ascendancy.  The space shuttle program had started in 1976, and there was quite a bit of hype about it.  We watched the launches in school, and every flight was pretty amazing.

So it was pretty easy to be a kid interested in science.  We were sending people into freakin' space!

So I was always fascinated with science.  By the time I was your age, I had a computer that I worked with.  No kidding.  My parents really didn't have a clue what it was, they just knew I was kinda interested in geeky stuff, so they gave me a computer.  So I started learning to program a bit. Nothing but little bits of logic here and there.  Text-based adventure games.  And of course, I played a lot of video games on that thing.

And chemistry.  Boy was I fascinated by chemistry.  I don't know what they do these days in school. Do you do chemistry?  You know where you take one kind of thing, and add it to another kind of thing, and then the next thing you know, it's this completely third thing?  It's basically magic, if you don't understand chemistry.  You've got some hydrogen, and you get a flame near it, and BOOM! There's an explosion.  And what's really happening?  You've got a bunch of hydrogen gas in the presence of oxygen gas, and then give it a little energy to get the reaction going, and boom!  And it doesn't disappear, that's the crazy thing.  It becomes water vapor!

If you think about it, that's a bit like smashing a kitten into a puppy and seeing a bunny come out! Seriously, this is what people think of when they think of magic!  Except it's not exactly a hanky turning into a dove...

So I really liked science from these three angles.

So, hey, here's all this crazy cool stuff that happens in the world.  We've got the far reaches of the universe we're looking up at and exploring.  We've got machines that you can tell what to do and they do it; I can't get my kids to do what I want, but I can tell a computer what to do!  We've got the power of transmogrification in our hands!

Well, don't you want to know why?  Well, we can kind of explain it with some references to some abstract concepts, but if you really want to get precise, and science does, we have to speak in a precise, logical language, and that, generally, is math.

Strangely enough, most schools kinda teach it backwards from what you'd think.  They give you all this math from a very early age.  Add this, subtract this, check out this equation, solve this system of linear equations.  Sines, cosines, tangents, geometric proofs with their smug little theorems and postulates, and you're like, "Well, what am I going to do with this?"  And they pack your head with a bunch of techniques for solving problems you generally don't have.

You know, beyond the situation where you have 25 apples and your sister eats 17, and you're left wondering... you know, who eats 17 apples?  How could this number manipulation seriously have anything to do with real life?

So where they miss all the kids in school is that they never tell you why you're doing math.  Sure, everyone needs to be able to add and subtract.  That's easy and obvious stuff.  You get paid for doing some work for someone?  Bank account goes up by that amount.  Want to pick up the latest call of duty game?  Do you have enough money?  You better be able to subtract.

But that other junk?  When are you ever going to use that, right?

Well one place that you most definitely use it is to talk about science.  See, math is kinda the language of science.  Science starts with curiosity, asking question about what, why, how much, when.  Science, at its core, is natural philosophy, a curiosity about the world around you and why it behaves the way it does.  It's a systematically defined methodology for asking questions and getting answers.  It's not really a belief system.  It's a formally developed way of getting at the causes behind the things you see in nature.

And inventing new ones!

One of the major pushes in science in the last century.  You know, my century, the 1900's.  Ha ha... I'm old.  One of the major pushes was to explore the tiniest of the tiny.  While some of mankind was pushing through the atmosphere and thinking about worlds beyond our own home, some of us were pushing into the deepest reaches of inner space.

Around 1900, just over 100 years ago, we'd just discovered the electron.  It took about 25 more years, another quarter century to discover the proton.  And then we started getting particle happy.  We found the neutron, and then we thought we were done.  But nope!

So we discover more and more particles that make up those things.  Quarks!  Up, down, strange, charm, bottom, top.  Whole families of particles that we can't see!  So science really runs the gamut from the very large to the very small.  From the very current, to the oldest times imaginable.

Well, I was pretty good at math, and I kept challenging myself to do harder and harder things.  In high school, at least for me, science started to get really specific.  An entire year of Biology, an entire year of Chemistry, but when I got to Physics.  Whew.  Man, when I got to Physics, I was hooked.

I mean, here's a discipline of science that basically aims to explain everything.  From the fundamental interactions of the smallest particles to the gravitational attractions and atomic reactions that govern motions and explosions in the farthest reaches of space, Physics has you covered.  No other branch of science is this universal, in my opinion.  Chemistry is very localized to things that are above a certain size.  Biology is limited to living things.  Astronomy is limited to the motion of objects through space.  And they're all kind of weird specializations of what Physics does.

At least that's how I read it at the time.  So in college, I go for a double major.  You guys know what college is, right?  And what majors are?  That's where you kinda pick what type of thing you want to do for the rest of your life.

But I didn't know what I want to be when I grew up.  And in a lot of ways I still don't, I suppose, but I knew I wanted to have a solid foundation for whatever I wanted to do.  And to me, that meant science, since it teaches you not what to think, but how to ask questions and how to find answers. There's no better framework for asking questions out there.  We have refined these techniques over thousands of years and they haven't changed.  It is the absolute bedrock for critical thinking.

So I set myself up for a double major in math and physics.  Thing is, when you take one of the so-called hard sciences like physics, you need a lot of math to understand it.  Like I said, math is the language of science, and to push your understanding of something, you have to get better at "talking" about it, so you take a lot of math classes, too.

And then I got to the end of college, and looked around and thought to myself, "Well, I'm really not ready to go get a job yet.  I think I should keep studying more science and get super good at it."  My goal was actually to become a university professor, because science education was really important to me, and as a tutor, I enjoyed helping other people learn, too.  And to do that, you really need a Ph. D. in the subject you want to teach.

But I was hedging a bit, see?  I was not sure that I would be able to be a professor.  There's only so many universities, and so many openings, so I wanted to make sure that I could find employment no matter what happened, so I reasoned that instead of going on and getting a Ph. D. in math, it would be better to continue on in Physics.

So I did my Ph. D. research... That's the thing about getting a Ph. D. is that you have to contribute to science first before it will contribute to you.  Science is kind of selfish that way.  You have to contribute some original research, something that someone has never studied before, before you are considered to have a doctorate in a field.  I did my Ph. D. research at Fermilab, right here in our backyard.

Have you ever been to Fermilab?  Even on a tour?  It's pretty amazing.  It's this huge particle collider where they collide protons and antiprotons (antimatter protons, you know) like a half million times a second at the center of these detectors that are five stories tall!  These infinitesimal itty-bitty no-see-um particles banging together so hard they light up a five story detector half a million times a second. Again, we're talking real world no-nonsense freaking magic here.  The ring they use to accelerate these particles towards each other is three miles around!

So yeah, I studied bottom quark production at Fermilab.  I wrote a Ph. D. thesis and got my doctorate.  But as I was getting to an end, I noticed science funding drying up in the United States.  Funny thing about doing science these days, is that to do research, you have to be fairly good with computers. There's no getting around it.  Scientists can't do that much these days with just a protractor and a pencil.  Sure if the power went out one day, they'd still muddle through, but computers are a huge part of life.

Think about how much data is generated at Fermilab.  Five hundred thousand interactions every second, running for, what three years?  How many seconds are there in a year?  Kids, you should know this off the top of your head.  It's something like pi times 10 to the 7th seconds per year.  Times three years. That's a lot of data.  No way we're writing that out in a notebook.

So right about the time I was graduating, the tech boom was happening.  1999, still just before many of you were born, right?  Well, the web was really blowing up.  Lots of people needed people who could write code (that is... program) on computers to write web pages, set up databases, etc.  At Fermilab, when the detector is taking data, it's not like you're writing the data points down as they come in.  Nope, to get at what really happens, you write lots of code.  Eight to ten hours a day, every day.  Doing cool data analysis, plotting graphs, trying to play detective and explain what's going on.

I figured that I could definitely help out in the programming world, so I took my Ph. D. and jumped into the world of business.  Thing is, the world of business is a totally different animal, but they still rely on people who can think very logically and rationally.  They need people that can do data analysis.  They need lots of people.

And those people can be compensated quite nicely for their efforts, because especially in this country, there's kind of a shortage of people who can think logically. I don't know if you know much about economics, but when you don't have much supply of something, and there's a pretty high demand, the price of that thing goes up.  Every company nowadays needs people who can think scientifically at least somewhere on their staff.  And there's simply not enough people that can do it.

And realize, that I'm not talking about an innate ability.  Everyone can think scientifically if you put in some effort.  In some ways it's a lot easier than being creative, because it's applying a very specific set of rules, a very specific set of training.  And those are all things that can be learned through effort and repetition.

So in 1999 I took my first non-science job as a software developer, though I suppose you could say that's still computer science in some way.  Ever since I have worked in the fields of insurance, finance, investing, and banking.  These fields not only need people that can write code, but people that also understand the sometimes complicated math and statistics that are used in those industries.

Could I have done all these things without a science education and background?  Maybe.  But the path would have been a lot harder, I think.

Couple parting thoughts on the current state of jobs and science education: do you have to wait to college to learn these skills.  No.  Not at all.  Go to  There's an event coming up December 8, where hopefully your teachers in tech will do this with you.  If not, ask them why not.  Like today, ask them why not.

Also computing people love to share.  There is no easier field to get into at any age.  Free tutorials about how to program are everywhere.  Write web pages, write simple games.  I work with a conference called That Conference, and we have a kids track every year that shows kids lots of cool technologies.  This year, we had an eleven year old girl showing other kids how to program.  Eleven years old and gave her first conference talk.  So what are you waiting for?

All right, so let's talk about science now. Today.  What have we done since those days I used to look up at the sky as a kid?

How about I tell you about just two of our most recent awesome achievements?  Hopefully you've heard about this stuff in the news or from your mom and dad, since they're kind of a big deal.  Real envelope pushing kind of stuff.

10/25 - Alan Eustace - he attaches himself to a helium balloon and floats himself 25 miles above the surface of the planet.  That's like more than here to the Morton Arboretum, and he went up, just him and a helium filled balloon, straight up!  When he was 25 miles off the ground, he says to himself... "Okay let's do this thing!" and I believe a small explosive charge separated him from his balloon, and he started to fall. On the way down, his body was going more than 800 miles per hour.

To give you a kind of comparison, when you fly on a plane, it's like between 500 and 600 miles an hour.  So he was basically going 30% faster than an airplane.  Just him himself.  No power, no rockets, just the awesome force of this giant lava-filled rock we're sitting on yanking him from his high altitude towards itself.

On his way down, he was going so fast he created a sonic boom that you could hear from the ground.
18000 feet, and his parachute deploys.  He floats safely to the ground, having broken a record that someone had set only two years prior with a similar stunt.  Now these aren't rednecks with a bunch of Wal-Mart balloons tied to a lawn chair.  These are professionals, and both guys who did this had teams of scientists creating their gear to safely get them both up and back again.

So that's just a few weeks ago.  Science!

Amazingly enough, we've got another story that was just last week.  Anyone know about this?  It was pretty huge news in the scientific community, and maybe you should get yourself plugged in if you haven't heard of it.

Do y'all know what a comet is?  Like what differentiates a comet from a planet?  Planets generally orbit in circles around the sun and are generally pretty large.  Comets, in comparison, are smaller and orbit the sun at a crazy oblique orbit.

The Rosetta spacecraft was launched in March of 2004.  Now this wasn't our spacecraft.  This was from the European Space Agency, but 2004.  You folks were only a couple years old at the time! The goal of this spacecraft was to be the first spacecraft to orbit a comet.  It's supposed to orbit this comet called 67P for 17 months.  And it just arrive there on August 6th, and entered orbit September 10th.  It orbits at a distance of 19 mi away.  That's closer than that Alan Eustace fellow was to earth, for a sense of scale.

But that's not as crazy as the story gets.  The Rosetta spacecraft is an orbiter.  But it was equipped with a lander, too!  So on November 12.  I'm not kidding you, it was totes just last week, like just a couple days ago, the lander Philae touched down on the surface of the comet.  Now this comet is about halfway between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, so it's pretty far away. It's so far away that its signal takes a half hour to reach us.  And we just dropped a 220 pound robot onto a rock that's on the other side of the sun.

Now if that's not cool, I don't know what is.  Science!

Really, what I can tell you is that my journey started with the outermost reaches of the universe, looking toward the stars and wondering what was out there.  Sprinkle a little bit of science education in there, and I ended up researching the smallest known bits of matter, wondering what the heck was in there.

I want to finish up by giving you a couple resources on continued education.  People to add to your twitter feed, or even watch out for or whatever.

Seth MacFarlane, yes, the guy who created Family Guy, is an executive producer to the show Cosmos, starring famous astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  Bill Nye the Science Guy is another one who campaigns very publicly for science education.  He had on an amazing show years ago.  My favorite episode was the "Eye holes filled with glue" episode, which you can now find on if you search for it enough.

So I want to give a shout out to those people that dedicate their lives in a very public way, but I also want to give major props to all science teachers out there.  Mrs. Lang deserves your utmost respect for spending her life giving all y'all a leg up learning science, as it's one of the most powerful and enabling things you can learn, both for yourself and pushing the entire human race forwards. Without science, we wouldn't have such amazing things around us.  Remember, it's better to shoot for the moon and miss, than to shoot for mediocrity and make it.

I want to thank you for your time and attention today.  I know it's weird having someone come in and take over the class for a while, so I thank you for your attention.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Oh, Soylent. Where Have You Been?

Sunday night our family spent about three hours preparing, cooking, and cleaning up a pretty big dinner.  The entire time, I'm thinking, "This is madness.  Why should this have to take so long and be such a chore?"

The short story is that I was missing my Soylent.  I ate nothing but Soylent for a week a couple weeks back and documented that experience, and I found it rather freeing.

Pretty much every meal I've prepared since then, even juicing, has been an exercise in patience.  I enjoy food prep. I really dislike food cleanup, and they kinda go hand in hand.  I missed the simplicity of going to the fridge and pouring myself a glass of lunch.

Note: I was an early backer of Soylent.  I love the concept, and despite the criticisms, it's working for me.  My first batch was Soylent 1.0, and I really enjoyed the flavor and texture by the end of things.

I did become a subscriber.  Once a month, a week's worth of Soylent will be dropped off at the house, meaning that I can enjoy a "Soylent day" about twice a week and be happy with my occasional vacation from the tyranny of cooking and cleaning up my own meals.

This new batch was Soylent 1.1, and they certainly are taking care of their repeat customers, as it shipped a week after I ordered it.  New customers have to queue up for the stuff, while I get the leisure of the monthly subscription being delivered without fail.

So how does Soylent 1.1 stack up to the previous formulation?  I have a couple reactions.  One, the texture of the drink is a little smoother, as if the tiny oat flakes are more finely chopped.  I am not sure I like this new mouthfeel.  It makes the Soylent feel a little thinner than the previous version. Second, 1.1 is not nearly as sweet as the previous version.  I heard it was made that way to be a little easier to flavor the way you want it, but I preferred the slightly more sweet variety.

I still feel it's kinda odd to want this liquid food.  It seems crazy to me that the food I'm eating is being versioned like software, but overall, I find myself drawn to it.  The gas we pass is still strong with this formulation, but I don't intend to do it more than a day at a time, so I don't expect it will reach the former levels of toxicity.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Where is the Marketplace for Part-time Work?

I know I've hit the subject of part-time tech work in the past.  But that was over a year and a half ago. In tech, everything moves at the speed of light.  As a result, you would expect that any question I would have had wayyyy back then would have been answered by now.

But... crickets.

I like to think there's no problem so big our development community can't figure a way out to solve it.  We're an extremely well-educated and curious bunch.  We have many entrepreneurs in our space. We have extremely diverse interested.

We've solved the problem of getting around town using spare capacity in cars (Uber), and solved the problem with staying somewhere else where there's spare capacity (AirBnB).  And there's a question here about the legality of those.

Why then is it so difficult to manage the excess capacity in the world of development?  I don't know of a single development team that doesn't have lower-priority tasks that need working on, while the full-time, primary employees and contractors do the heavy lifting.  Things like fixing the build server, updating installed dev tools with new versions, doing low-priority bug fixes that keep your site from looking really polished.

If I were a product team manager, I would love to have access to a part-time off-hours person that could pick up some of these small tasks and run with them independently and check them in, fully tested.

But it's weird.  I hear nothing on the part-time work front.  I do see the occasional developer wondering, as I do, about the possibility of moonlighting, but all I ever hear as answers is "Have you heard of oDesk, eLance,, etc.?"

I have heard of those, but serious articles warn against being either a client or a developer on one of those sites.  The warnings make it all sound as if it's a big scam.

Furthermore, this whole things seems like a good consulting model.  If you're a consulting company, why not have some extra folks on the bench to do short-term part-time staff aug at lower cost to your clients?  A way to scale up and down when you don't need a full FTE to get some things done? Consulting agencies, have you considered doing this?

I'm still focused on why we're able to solve spare car and space capacity with technology, but we can't do the same with technologists.  Is it that it's too hard to commoditize development work?  It's easy to specify a bedroom or a space in a car, but not a build system, so it's hard to figure a price for the spare capacity?

I often hear as an answer to the "I've got some time evenings and weekends, how can I leverage my skills to do a little work and get compensated?" question: "If you've got extra time, there's always open source frameworks begging for extra help getting features implemented.  Why not do that?" Sure, there's a lot of things I can do, technical and otherwise, if I consider volunteering an option. But when I'm looking to trade spare time for money, it seems that the well dries up.

What do you think?  Feel free to drop a line in the comments section below.