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Mark Atwood
Another evening was spent walking around Greenlake Park Walking Path and then Gas Works Park with Silver, playing Ingress and Pokémon Go.

There were Pokémon Go players everywhere. It was especially spooky at Gasworks, after sunset, in the darkness dimly skylit by the lights of the city on the other side of Lake Union, dozens and dozens little clusters of adults, tweens, and kids, faces dimly reflecting the distinctively colored light from a Pokémon Go screen, on foot, wandering back and forth across the grass, along the waterline, and around the titanic metal structures of the park.

This is starting to feel like one of those B-grade science fiction stories, one of the early warnings of the alien parasite invasion is that you notice everyone everywhere all doing the same thing, alone together.

What the hell, I don't care. Silver and I both are enjoying the exercise and each other's company.

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About 10 years ago, I was involved with something that completely accidentally suddenly turned into an unlicensed supper club. And demonstrated exactly why supper clubs strictly control their RSVPs and headcounts:

A dozen-ish of us started getting together weekly in a group geek house for a book and craft club. A friend of one of us liked to cook, and offered to cook dinner for us and our friends in exchange for we all throwing in cash for ingredients.

The next week, everyone brought all their SOs to share the dinner. The week after, also many of our other good friends.

Within a month, pretty much the whole larger circle of friends was coming.
A month later, the friends of friends, and the friends of friends of friends started showing up, because the word had gotten out that for about $5 cash you could get a large filling delicious home cooked dinner.

Came the day when the house was full of a couple of hundred people, most of them strangers to us, all of them demanding a meal.

That was the end of that.

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Current Location: Seattle, WA

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A mile is a thousand strides of a marching soldier. A pound is a rock that fits in your hand. A cup is a good drink of water. A yard is one arm pull of fabric or thread. A bushel is one easily carried bundle of harvested food. An acre is the amount of land that one man can plow in one day. An hour is the length of time that can be easily snap measured by glancing at the angle of the sun. The traditional dry goods and wet goods volumes and weights are doubles and halves of each other, rooted in the smallest common food grain and the smallest possible pour of water. Inches, spans, cubits, feet, yards, are all derived from the human body, and let one use your own body to measure things out. Degrees F are a 100 unit scale from the lowest temperature to the highest temperature that will ever regularly happen were people could live before the invention of modern HVAC.

They all make sense, when you know their history, and are using them for what they are used for.

The metric SI units are useful doing... science. But not so much for living day to day.

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I wonder about media leakers.

I'm not talking about whistleblowers, who reveal coverups by governments and corporations that are keeping secrets of bad or illegal actions.

I'm talking about people who "confidentially source" to the media details of business negotiations, media productions, and gossip of private heartache. Things that are private and confidential for a reason, will be revealed when they are properly baked, and that do nobody any good for being revealed early, except maybe for a burst of clickstream traffic for the "news" source that "scooped" it.

I know a fair number of secrets. Some of them are close friends' private heartaches, which are theirs to reveal, if ever. And some of them are business negotiation secrets incidental to my job, and a few of them part of my job to know. I actually go out of my way to avoid learning things I shouldn't need to know at my employer, just so as to firewall myself from even the appearance of impropriety.

Any of them, if I "confidentially sourced" them to the tech press, would do nothing but cost money that is not mine for no honest gain to anybody, possibly prevent good things that I would like to have happen not happen, and would betray my own principles I try to hold myself to.

So, why do other people do it?

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Current Location: Ada's Technical Books, Seattle WA

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Long ago, almost two decades, which is a few eons in internet time, on discussion forums long since destroyed and passed away, I observed two different social justice zealots. This was before the term "social justice warrior" had been invented. (And as an aside, the term was invited and taken up by people who loudly described themselves as such. It was not, as they now claim, a term created as an insult by their "enemies".) Anyway...

There were these two social justice zealots. And each one claimed to be politically active in their local politics, each one of them working to undo a great racial injustice.

One of them, they were involved in a struggle to change the electoral rules in their city, to change it from at at-large vote for the entire city council, to instead divide the city up into districts, so that each geographic region of the city would have representation on the city council, as this was the way of racial justice, and any opposition to this could only come from wicked racists.

And the other one, they were involved in a struggle to change the electoral rules in their city, to change it from divided districts, one district per council member, to instead have an at-large vote for the members of the council, such that each ethnic group spread across the city could join in solidarity to back a candidate of their ethnicity, so that each ethnic group would have representation on the city council, as this was the way of racial justice, and any opposition to this could only come from wicked racists.

I was not the only person to notice this. However, despite some efforts, nobody was able to get the two of them to engage with each other.

I learned a number of important life lessons from watching this, all of them darkly hilarious.

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I've waited over a year to tell this story. And I'm going to leave out some details that are in my notes, for obvious reasons.

In November 2013, the OpenStack Summit was held in Hong Kong. My employer worked with their publicity and media relations groups and companies to arrange some interviews with the Chinese technical press with some "thought leaders" in my company, and I was tapped as one of people to participate. What was arranged was a panel interview, were all of the reporters and all of the interviewees all met all at once all at the same time in a meeting room at the conference center.

I showed up early to review the briefs and messaging, much to the relief of the marketing and publicity people.

At the stroke of the minute, one reporter showed up. I will not name them, or their employer. Their manner pinged all my rapid impressions that they were very capable. They were impeccably attired. Their questions were insightful, and each one lead logically from our answers and the earlier, and revealed that they had read the briefs as well, and was pretty familiar with OpenStack, with how the summit works, with my employer, and what my employer had publically said in the past about working with OpenStack and with open source. Their English was very good, though accented, and they took copious rapid notes while listening.

About 10 minutes later, all the other reporters showed up, late, about a dozen of them, with a female translater in tow. They were all male. Several of them were obviously hung over. I'm pretty sure several of them were still intoxicated. A couple were significantly overweight, which was odd for me to see on a Chinese man. They all arranged themselves in a phalenx behind one guy, who asked all the questions, from a notebook, via the translator. His questions were much less insightful, most of them were already answered by our advanced brief doc, and they were much more "fluffy", and much more about "why should China care?" He took no notes, and some of the men arranged behind him did take some.

The reporter we had been working with earlier sat silently in the corner, head down, eyes down.

I asked later, and had my suspicions confirmed. The excellent reporter we had been speaking to first, represented the *only* mostly independent tech press outlet represented. All the other quote reporters unquote represented state controlled media companies, or represented media outlets that were owned by state or army owned enterprises.

For obvious reasons, I am not naming anybody here, not even my own employer.

But, that was an interesting and illuminating experience, and is apparently just part of the facts of life when dealing with China.

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One of the tricks to writing with a fountain pen with highly saturated ink is to keep a small glass of water and a heavy paper napkin on the desk. If the pen ever skips, dip the nib for a moment into the water, and then wipe it off with the napkin.

I've been writing with FPs since 1987, and only figured this trick out this year.

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Current Location: Ada's Technical Books & Cafe, Capitol Hill, Seattle WA

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When I lived in North Carolina, my best friend was Michael Wilson. He was a big kid, two years older than me, one year ahead of me in school, and he lived on the same rural dirt road that I did.

We met on the school bus one of the first weeks of school when I was in the 1st grade, and completely new to the area. He decided we should be friends, and thus so we were. He was a big happy guy, despite his family's grinding rural poverty and the death of his father to lung cancer.

We stayed best friends for the next 7 years, until I left NC in 1982 at the age of 13 to move to UT. This was, of course, long before email and facebook, and cross country phone calls were expensive, so we promptly fell out of touch with each other.

A few years ago, I started considering finding him again, and hoping to discover him owning his own machine shop somewhere around there in NC. Last week I discovered that my sister Suzanne was FB friends with one of her old friends from NC who also lived on that street, and so I asked her about Michael.

Two years after our family moved away, in 1984, he and his mother were killed in a serious traffic accident. He would have been 17 at the time.

Goodbye, Michael. You are remembered. You were the first real friend to a shy scrawny overly smart kid who didn't know how to be friends with anyone until then.

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Current Location: Home, Capitol Hill, Seattle, WA

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At one company I worked at, one of the problems it didn't have was IT.

When someone was hired, by the time they got to their new desk, there was a computer on it with the correct image on it, their desk phone worked, their email worked, the calendaring and scheduling worked, and all necessary passwords and ACLs were configured. The internal ethernet networks all worked, were fast, and were properly isolated from each other. The wall ports were all correctly labeled, and there where the right kinds of wall ports in each cubical and conference room. The presentation projectors and conference room speaker phones all worked. The printers all worked, printed cleanly, were kept stocked, and were consistently named. The internet connections were fast and well managed. Internal and external security incidents were quickly recognized and dealt with. Broken machines were immediately replaced with working and newly imaged replacements. If someone accidentally deleted a file, getting it back from backup typically took less than an hour. Software updates were announced ahead of time, and usually happened without issue.

The IT staff did not seem noticeably bitter, angry, harried, or otherwise suffering from the emotional costs traditionally endemic to that job role. In fact, they were almost invisible in their skill and competence.

So, of course, came the day when the senior executives said "the carpets are just naturally clean all the time, we don't need all these janitors!". IT was "reorganized" into a smaller staff of younger and much less experienced (and probably cheaper) people.

Of course, it all went to shit. New employees would go a week before they had machines, phones, passwords, and ACLs. Printers ran out of paper, projectors ran out of lightbulbs, servers ran out of storage, networks got misconfigured, and so forth. The total time lost and wasted across the whole company was most certainly greater than the savings of laying off the expensive and skilled IT staff.

This is not to say that the reorganized IT staff were stupid or lazy. They worked very hard and ran themselves ragged trying to keep up with the cycle of operations, while trying to skill themselves up in their "spare time" and with a slashed training budget.

The lessons I learned from this experience speak for themselves.

What lessons that may have been learned by any of the other people involved, especially the executives who made these decisions, I cannot say.

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Current Location: Capitol Hill neighborhood, Seattle WA

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I was working on a highly constrained consumer electronics device, a little "satellite device" that spoke to the main device over a CATV RF coax cable and also received commands from an IR remote control. My code was failing in bizarre ways. I adopted an extremely paranoid defensive programming stance, filling my code with asserts and doing paranoid cross checking of all inputs. This didn't make the device work. Instead it consistently didn't work, instead of inconsistently, because the cross checks and asserts would usually (but not always) trip before it would crash. It also started to run out of memory because of the all the paranoia code I had added.

I asked for the source code for the driver for the IR receiver, and for the driver for the CATV RF digital transceiver, and for the peer code that was driving the cable digital that ran on the main device.

The driver for the CATF RF digital transceiver was handed to me the first time I asked. And by "handed to me" I mean that I was pointed to where it was sitting in the source repo.


The business partner / hardware supplier who was supplying the IR glue and drivers just , after giving me a runaround, finally just flat out refused, citing trade secrets, confidentiality, secret sauce, and similar bullshit.

So, I finally "stole" the source code with a disassembler. And found the sources of many of my problems. It was complete shit. "Unexpected" input from the silicon would cause wild random pointer writes. And random sunlight on the receiver optics would cause it. "Expected" input of undefined remote commands wasn't much better, generating and handing back blocks of garbage with incorrect block length headers.

I ended up writing, nearly from scratch, a replacement IR receiver driver.


The peer device driver code was written by a developer in a different group in my same company. I finally got the P4 ACLs to read it after loudly escalating, over the objections of it's developer and his group manager. It was also complete shit. I cannot even begin to remember everything that was wrong with it, but I not only figured out may of the sources of my own pain, I also found a significant source of crash and lockup bugs that afflicted the main device.

I was not allowed to rewrite the peer code, as it was not in my remit. However, I was able to sneak in and check in a large number of asserts, using the excuse that they were "inline documentation".


On, and the device driver for the CATF RF digital transceiver? The source code I got for the asking, without a fight? When I reviewed it was easy to understand, efficient, elegant, and as far as I could tell, bug free.


In the end, I made my part work. It just took over two months instead of the original guesstimate of less than two weeks. This caused a schedule slip in the release of the satellite box. Which would have been a more serious problem, except…


Except there was also major schedule slip for the main box. A significant reason for that slip was because the peer code that I had filled will asserts was now crashing with assertion failures instead of emitting garbage. I was lucky that I was not more officially "blamed" for that. The reason why I wasn't, was mainly because the people who understood what I did understood the problem, and the executives who didn't understand what the problem was were also too clueless to blame anyone, let alone me.


My lesson learned from this experience is: if someone is refusing to show the source to suspect driver code, citing trade secrets, confidentiality, secret sauce, partnership agreements, or similar excuses, it's not because they are protecting their magic. It's because they have screwed up, and they are trying to hide it.

A second rule of thumb I have is: source control systems that don't allow any developers to check out and review any arbitrary source code file are expressions of moral failure. It is unethical for an engineer, designer, or other technologist to ever sign off on a project that has been mutilated by such a broken tool.

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Current Location: Newark Airport, NJ

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