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Memory gets triggered in the most unexpected ways. I maintain a fairly large library of printed and electronic books (most of them DRMed -the light cases socially, kindle and Adobe locked the rest unfortunately) on subjects that interest me. It is fairly evident that I will not read them all, but I always have a book (and sometimes a paper) to recommend to a friend that has a problem. It seems that I am not the only one that thinks that personal libraries are supposed to be full of unread books.

Anyway, I was listening to Podcast.__init__ Episode 95 and one of the guests mentioned Parsing Techniques – A Practical Guide by Grune, I think it was when they touched Earley parsers and how most books about parsing do not really touch on how the actual parser is built. Wait a minute I’ve got that PDF! And you can go to the author’s site and download it. And you know what? There is a second edition out. For > 100 euros for a DRMed PDF I may not buy it since parsing is definitely not my thing, but somebody else out there might need the second edition. Judging from my skimming of the first edition, this is close to the encyclopaedia of parsing. I will go through some pages tonight.

Just for a refresher.

That’s the bear trap, the greatest vice. Your job. You can justify about any behavior with it. Maybe that’s why you do it, so you don’t have to deal with all those other problems.

I never expected to find the explanation of BOFHiness in The Soul of New Machine. The book lived on my wishlist for a long time and it was gifted to me, only to wait there inside the kindle for a couple more years. Tracy Kidder follows the team that built Data General’s Eagle, their first 32bit machine and a kind of Plan B for the company, since the market was being dominated by the Vaxen and they had to react. Serious computing history unfolds in front of you.

A very interesting story, and lucky Kidder got to follow a lot of the story in the making, even though this was supposed to be a secret project. While this is not a hard science book, you get to learn a lot about computer architecture, or depending your skills, computer architecture history. You get to understand the magic that happens when your keystrokes are transformed into the desired result. The moment when the software and hardware connect. I particularly enjoyed the chapters about debugging boards with an oscillator.

While I cannot claim the brilliance of Tom West, I do see elements of similar behavior and the reasons for this. I need to work on that.

Thus he supplied them one answer to the question of what happens to computer engineers who pass forty.

I reached 44 yesterday. Still not a middle manager.

I really like Bob Frankston’s essay about The Regulatorium and the Moral Imperative which links to stuff that the first pages of Technologies of Freedom (which I am currently reading) touch on. But when I read the following, I couldn’t help linking it to both the Regulatorium and Pournelle’s Law:

“In a series of valuable reports, [Ralph Nader] and his associates have confirmed dramatically what earlier studies had demonstrated less dramatically – that governmental agencies established to regulate an industry in order to protect consumers typically end up as instruments of the industry they are supposed to regulate, enabling the industry to protect monopoly positions and to exploit the consumer more effectively.”*

Or as a good friend once pointed out: It is hard for them to press hard their (most likely) future employers.

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We were interviewing someone for a DevOps position. They were working at a managed network / security services company and needed to change a life and career. Their work was pretty much summarized as “A client files a change request; we implement it at the network device and we’re done”.

No provisioning, no automation, no versioning of configurations was in place. The candidate was not in a position to write code also. Since they were clearly more junior than the position required, we were saddened and in a way gave them some subtle advice to improve on their skills in order to have better luck next time they knock on a door:

  • Learn to program in Python.
  • Do that because you can learn to code with paramiko and Netmiko.
  • Learn some basic git usage.
  • It does not matter that your employer does not require you to automate stuff and practice version control. You will write a program in Python that will ssh into the client’s equipment, backup the configuration in git and push the requested changes back.
  • You will have automated your work and will have more free minutes per day to read about stuff.
  • You will have more to talk about in your next interview.

When you’re not pushed by the environment, you need to begin from somewhere. Oh and understand some basic statistics, because you will need to understand what you graph. It should not only be pretty. It should be useful.

Beyond Blame

2017/01/05

That went away fast. You can finish it in one shot. Especially if you are in one of the most thankless professions, with lots of responsibility and zero authority. The narrative, however thin, feels close to heart because this things happen. Or may have even happened to you or someone you know.

cynefin_framework2c_february_2011_28229

The Cynefin model

While this is no Phoenix Project, the first sixteen chapters serve to lay the playgound for implementing a proper postmortem process, where no one is afraid to withhold critical information. This along a very useful bibliography is presented in the last chapter.

As always, the hard thing is to make people who think that “rolling heads” improve morale and performance, to see the error of their ways.

Yesterday’s Kin

2017/01/04

Why are you here?

To make contact with World. A peace mission

I first learned of Nancy Kress via the IEEE Spectrum podcast. Since Yesterday’s Kin was not published yet, I read the Beggars in Spain. This week, it was Kin’s turn. It read fast, less than two nights in a row. Science fiction and genetics is Kress’s playing field and she handles it well.

So what do you do when an alien race, advanced in Engineering comes your way? How do you proceed when they reveal an incoming threat for both races and request for scientific assistance? How do you deal with information sharing? With conspiracy theories that arise worldwide? How do you build trust?

I really do not know what to write without revealing the plot. This is a fast paced story, the genetic science “computes” (well at least if you are not a biologists, then maybe it does not, but I remember she does a lot of research prior to writing anything). It is one of those stories that when reading them I think “It runs so good that I do not see a perfect ending”. Indeed the ending is not the best of endings, but at least it is plausible within the novel’s context and its sub-arcs.

A really nice piece for when on holiday.

 

Eight years ago I began a draft of this post with:

I (re)discovered this tutorial on Haskell and Hugs, while cleaning up some old (circa 2001) email.

And it just stayed there. Until tonight; my n-th restart on understanding Haskell. I may be late, but I do not quit.

Hugs reboot, 2017

Hugs reboot, 2017