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:: Chaos and Kindness

There are two completely different events that have happened in the last week that i need to think about. i tend to find that i think most when i am on a keyboard, so yay you ineffable void and ad bot now reading this, you get more words!

1) Mozilla’s Layoffs.
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The company i work for announced layoffs for about 70 out of 1000 employees. The folks were chosen by project and role, that part is normal. What’s not normal was something i don’t think i’ve ever seen another company do. The employees were not treated like modern lepers and tossed out the door.

Instead, they were told that they were going to be laid off, but still had access to most of the things they needed. This included company mail, internal Slack channels, resources, etc. Folks inside the company rallied to support them. Spreadsheets were created that had employee info and prospective or recommended hires from folks networks. Social Media networks hosted “#MozillaLifeboat” to help get folks on their feet fast, and many very positive words were said in praise of those who were let go.

The folks who we let go were treated like humans. There was an all hands meeting held a couple of days after the layoffs occurred. The folks laid off were encouraged to attend, ask really hard questions, and were given good answers.

Ask yourself, “Would your company have done that? Could they have done that?”

Granted, mozilla works pretty hard on not hiring sociopaths and jerks, so it’s just not really the culture to be terrible to each other. Still, i’ve been through five rounds of layoffs, and had never seen that level of trust.

As remarkably smooth that incredibly disruptive and painful experience was, it did absolutely drive home a point i’ve been thinking for years: You need to be most loyal to the friends and colleagues you meet in your career than to anywhere you happen to work. Any employer that demands faithfulness solely to them is a huge risk to your professional and personal life. Your friends are who will help you, your employer is not. If you work for somewhere you can’t get that, it’s a HUGE red flag. The money might be good, but the risk is tremendous. i can say with first hand knowledge that getting paid well at a place that doesn’t respect you as a person eats at you in subtle ways.

A side product is that you remember that you’re dealing with people, and as such, folks are making it up as they go. Folks want you to believe that there’s a plan and direction, but quite often, there’s not. More often than not, there’s just a rough guess and a general feeling dressed up in powerpoint slides and bold rhetoric. Again, unless you’ve got sociopaths at the helm, layoffs hurt the folks making the decisions about who stays and who goes. Even if they are sociopaths, the company is giving up the money invested in the person and whatever income that person could have brought in.

(Oh, and if you’re ever working somewhere and see absolutely no sign of remorse or regret when an executive talks about layoffs, leave. i’m talking about actual regret, not “Sorry to see those folks go :sad face emoji: it’s terrible. Anyway, who else here is excited to see the Project Foo we’re launching!? [loud, upbeat techno music]”. Yeah, after that, spend the rest of the day polishing up the resume and sending notes to your network about potential leads.)

2) Actix drama

i’ll preface to say that i don’t know all the details about the drama around actix-web. As i understand, there were some concerns around coding practices, a single maintainer, and some folks who may have been jerks. Coding practice discussions are part of any open source projects, single maintainers are concerning for anything other than a small package that’s just starting, and half of the world are jerks.

What happened was that the project maintainer pulled the library code off of github and announced he was done with open source. Honestly, that’s good, because i believe he didn’t know what open source really was.

Let me diverge a bit here.

Open source is about trust.

When you decide to use a package, you are extending trust that:

  • The program/library/package works.
  • It will continue to do so.

Bug fixes, improvements, documentation, etc are also part of that, but kinda fit into the list above. Open source can sometimes be called “Free as in puppy” in that you might be getting into a lot more than you expected.

It’s very rare that the trust is broken. There are ways for a package maintainer to step away from a given package. They could ask a larger group to take over. They could pass it on to someone else. They could “archive” the package and let someone else fork it into a new version. Almost never does anyone just yank their code down in the same way that you almost never see an argument end with someone throwing a temper tantrum. It’s sad because while the author may have been a talented engineer, i can no longer trust anything that they produce.

Would things have been different if folks were not jerks? Probably. Likewise, i think folks were presuming a level of emotional maturity that may not have been present. i don’t fault the author for his actions, even though i’m deeply impacted by them. i’ll survive, reassess and move on. i’m saddened by them, but i look forward to the growth that i hope he gets to experience.

So, how do these things both relate?

In essence, it’s about people. It’s about remembering that at the end of the day, we’re all real, breathing, mentally weird beings and not just clever bags of thinking meat. Sure, there are some openly hostile folk out there, and there are trolls, dirtbags, grifters, and fools, but those tend to be the painful exceptions, rather than the rules.

As Michelle McNamara often said, “It’s chaos, be kind“.

    What do you think, sirs?

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    :: A Few Thoughts about the Star Wars

    Ok, let me get a few things out there.

    1) i have not seen the final Star Wars movie yet. From the sounds of things, i’m tempted not to, but i’ll probably watch it on some streaming service eventually.

    2) i find the various uber nerdy videos talking about the details of Star Wars hilarious, whether they intend it or not. Star Wars is about as far from hard science fiction as the Lord of the Rings. And i’m about to go off on one aspect of it just like those uber nerds.

    3) i’ve been watching Star Wars since i sat in on the first one in a mostly empty theater on release day, when Han shot first and you could see the matts on the TIE fighter flybys.

    Ok, so Star Wars is pretty much about one family. One really screwed up family, but one family, the Skywalkers. Since The Force is a thing in this universe, and has been for quite some time, it’s reasonably safe to presume that there was at least one other family out there. Otherwise with the various alternate species that are also Jedi or Sith, someone back when got James T. Kirk freaky.

    As i understand the last movie’s major plot point (oh, yeah, spoilers, i guess) one of the main characters turns out to be from one of those companion families of Force folk.

    We learn in the early movies that being able to lift spaceships out of swamps or become a walking bug zapper is a hereditary trait. It’s a biological component called midiclorians or something. That’s kind of the equivalent of living in a world where folks with red hair can fly (not dye jobs either, gotta be born a proper ginger).

    That’s awesome and all, except that during that same time, a couple of the big time Forcey folk decided that all the lesser Forcey folk should instead focus on Forcing daisies up out of the ground. The whole “Special Order 66” or 69, or 72 with chicken, or whatever. So, we’re talking a pretty successful level of genocide against a bunch of Force users/sensitives/etc. Pretty darn horrific, if you ask me, but hey, they’re space Nazis, so genocide is kind of their thing.

    What’s more, with the death of all the other Jedi/Sith over the arc of eight movies, essentially you’ve just reduced the pool of high power folk chock full of midiwhatevers to a breeding pool of two.

    Now, just think about what that means if you actually pay attention to things like biology. There are not a whole lot of populations that survive from just two individuals. Hell, a species is considered “endangered” at below a population of one thousand.

    So, what does this mean for the future?

    Get ready for a few generations of Space Wizard Inbreds. Yep, Bill-Bob-Skywalker using the force to play banjo on some porch on Degobah thinking that sarlac’s sure got a pretty mouth. And yeah, you thought Luke and Leia kissing was creepy, just wait ’til you start thinking about how the Jedi/Sith repopulate.

    Oh, yeah, and don’t forget that they can wield superhuman powers.

    Thank God they’re in a galaxy far, far away. i don’t want them doing donuts in a rebuilt X Wing (with mud flaps) while orbiting Uranus.

    :: Raspberry Pi, PCA9685, and YOU!

    i made a creepy eyeball pumpkin over the weekend. There are lots of how-tos for these sorts of things, so i’m not going to do that. Instead i’m going to offer some lessons-learned.




    First, off, i’m a software guy. This is the first time i ever played around with servo motors.

    So, let’s start off at the top, shall we?

    Aside from the raspberry pi, you’ll need

    • A fake pumpkin big enough to get your hands into (yes, both hands)
    • A box cutter with a fresh blade, because otherwise it’s not going to cut right.
    • A PCA9685 servo controller board. Get the one from Adafruit. Yes, you’ll have to do soldering to add the pins. If you get one that’s already soldered, you’ll still need the Adafruit libraries and documentation, because they’re better than the ones that come with the pre-built boards.
    • 4 strand of Female to Female jumper wires. Really, you should have a bunch of these lying around if you’re going to do stuff with a Pi other than run Pi-Hole or HomeAssistant on it.
    • A hot glue gun and a surprising number of glue sticks
    • 2 bags of 10 full globe plastic eyeballs. Yes, the half eyeballs look better, but they stop looking better once they turn any angle. Yes, it’s more eyeballs than you need. You’re going to screw up a few.
    • About 10 inches of PVC pipe. You will need to bring a sample eyeball with you to make sure it fits inside the pipe.
    • A three AAA battery holder plus connector wire (optional, but since there’s, like, one electronics shop left in the San Jose area that even comes close to having it, it’s a good a reason as any to go to Excess Solutions, which has become the last one standing from Weirdstuff and HSC)
    • Nylon zip ties. (unless you’re planning on hot-gluing the motors to the pipe because you never want to use those motors for anything else ever again.)
    • A roll of 20 gauge bailing wire you bought back in the 80’s and forgot you had until now, but thank you past you for not pitching that.
    • A 1.25″ SpeedBor drill bit you got to add a drain to a sink years ago and also forgot you had but thankfully didn’t pitch or sell.
    • A dremel with one of those drum sander bits.
    • a breathing mask because it turns out that dremel’d off foam gets friggin’ EVERYWHERE.
    • Two cans of compressed air.
    • A shop vac with a reasonably clean filter.
    • A chop saw, rotary sander, laser level and drill press. Ok, like me, you probably don’t have that, and unlike some of the other crap on this list, you’re not going to get those either. So, instead build a bunch of crappy rigs to try and keep a hacksaw straight while wondering if you ever had a proper PVC pipe cutter (you don’t). You’ll also need whatever sandpaper you can find to take all the plastic burrs off the bad saw job you did.

    Now for the lessons learned:

    • This is going to take all day. Plan accordingly.
    • Wiring up the PCA board involves you understanding the semi-arcane labeling systems that exist for electronics. Basically, for the Raspberry Pi:
      PCA Pi GPIO post Notes
      GND 6 Ground (also pins 6,9,14,20,25,30,34, or 39
      OE Output Enable (NOT USED)
      SCL 5 (Serial Clock Line)
      SDA 3 (Serial Data Line. No idea why “A” either other than easier to read as tiny print.)
      VCC 1 IC Power (3v also pin 17)
      V+ 2 Servo Power (5v also pin 4)
    • Wire up the boards and add the motors (remember, for the motors, darkest wire is “Ground”) with power off.
    • Once things are wired up, boot up the Pi.
    • Make sure the Pi has the I2C kernel mod loaded (use sudo rpi-config to turn it on).
    • You also want to apt install i2c-tools as well so you can verify that the PCA board is recognized:
      # i2cdetect -y 1
           0  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  a  b  c  d  e  f
      00:          -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      10: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      20: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      30: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      40: 40 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      50: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      60: -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      70: 70 -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      

      No values at 0x40 & 0x70? It’s not there.

    • Drilling holes on the directly opposite side of a ball is not easy. You can build a jig to hold things. i wound up taping a bit of PVC pipe to an old phone book, finding the center, and using a bit of wire as a post to hold it in place. i still screwed up, and that’s why you buy two bags of eyeballs.
    • You will try to be all sorts of clever in how you want to rig up the eyes. Don’t be. Simplicity works better than imagined artistry. (Plus fishing line will NOT cooperate with you trying to emulate eye muscles no matter what elder gods you may invoke.)
    • Make sure every single time you’re about to do something irreversible, that you’re working on the correct side. You can hide some sins, but not all of them.
    • Make the eyeball mounts first. These will take most of the day and be really annoying. Remember to cut more than you think you’ll need because you’re going to screw some of them up.
    • Depending on how bug-eyed you want your eyeballs, you can drill the swivel point deeper or shallower into the lengths of PVC. Mine are around 7.5mm in. Remember what i said about irreversible? Mark which side of the tube is the front. Future you will thank you.
    • Drill all the holes before you start gluing things in place. Each hole will need 45 – 70mm clearance (depending on where the motor is attached). Use a sample eyeball mount to figure out placements. If you’re feeling super clever, you can push a length of wire from the inside out to not where to drill the hole.
    • Did i mention that pumpkin foam gets everywhere? Oh, just wait.
    • Since the shell will be thick (anywhere from 10 to 40mm), you’ll need to dremel out a bunch of it. This will terrify you because it’s a whirring destruction machine and you know your hand is going to slip and destroy everything. Fortunately, this will distract you from the ungodly amount of dust being generated.
    • It’ll be only afterwards as you survey the foamy carnage that you’ll think about setting up the shopvac to suck up the dust being generated.
    • Oh, yeah, and the face mask would have been good too.
    • Place the eyes into the holes and secure them in place with hot glue. Bonus, you want to hold the eye in place with one hand while applying the glue otherwise the damn thing will slip off, or the glue will leak and stick to everything. Check each before everything sets.
    • ProGuy who did it once tip: compressed air will help set the glue quicker that just ambient temperature will.
    • Once all the eyes are in place, try to secure the internal cabling. Don’t try to use blue tape to hold things in place in there because holy hell there’s still ground up foam? You can use bits of blue tape to hold strands of wire together.
    • Plug the eyes back in, pray to whatever gods you have, and power up to check what’s working and what’s not.
    • Tweak the range of movement, because it’s not going to be from 0 to 180. i use 20-160. You’ll know when you no longer have eyeballs that sound like angry bees when they’re resting.

    There, that’s it! Wasn’t that easy and fun?

    Of course it wasn’t.

    Still, if you want to add a light, i found an old LED bike light works pretty well and might even be a bit overpowering.

    :: In Praise of Robber Barons

    John D. Rockefeller became the nations first billionare (back when the cost of living was around $.25 a day and the average wage was around $430 a year) He was the richest American ever, and widely considered to have been the richest person on the planet. His company, Standard Oil, was considered the most ruthless and cruel monopoly and is the textbook example of Monopoly used still today.

    Andrew Carnegie pretty much was American steel at a time when everything was made from steel. Steam engines, the rails they ran on, the beams used to construct modern buildings, cars, ships, you name it, all steel, and pretty much from his foundries. He killed over 2,000 people because his get away flooded a town, and he is responsible for the Homestead Strike which is one of the bloodiest anti-union attacks. Fair wages and decent working conditions? Bah, peasants.

    William Randolph Hearst build a publishing empire from salacious articles and, frankly, out right lies. Heck, to boost sales of a flagging paper, he even convinced the country to go to war. (You, know, just in case you think that conservative nut jobs riling up the masses is a new thing.)

    Why do i note these folk? Well, recently i’ve been thinking about our current crop of robber barons. It started when i was listening to a podcast talking about the Vision Fund which gives questionable startups like WeWork ungodly gobs of cash.

    The point really got driven home when i saw this tweet showing how taxes for the top 400 have dropped over the years.

    So, what are the ultra wealthy folks like Bezos, Jobs, Zuckerberg and the rest doing with their cash? They’re “reinvesting it” using investment funds like the Vision Fund above. They’re burning it in rocket fuel.

    Know that they’re not doing with that huge pile of cash? Building universities, or public squares, or even over-opulent tourist attractions lording over large swaths of green space. Basically, the old robber barons at least had some level of civic mindedness (or at least sense of legacy) to realize that at least trying to buy some positive legacy might be a good idea.

    At least that’s one thing i can look forward to. The new crop will be forgotten quickly.

    They’re the kings that Ozymandias was trying to impress.

    The ones you have no memory of.

    Because, you know, fuck them.

    :: Goals Keeping

    Can i take a moment to say that i have learned to hate Goals?

    i don’t mean things like “Personal Goals” (like to learn to play the piano, meet some famous individual, travel to location, etc.) or the sort of things they keep track of in football matches, i’m talking about the Goals you’re expected to set and achieve every quarter/year by your employer.

    What Are They?

    A Goal is how you justify being paid. They’re a set of tasks that you’ve declared you’ll accomplish in X period for the benefit of the organization. They’re the short description of your work that your boss will read and regurgitate up the chain to whoever decides you get a paycheck.

    If you’re clever, your goals will align with your company / division / team.
    If you’re creative, they’ll extend the reach of company / division / team and make your direct chain look better.
    In reality, they’re an experiment to determine who is good at predicting the future or has insider information that can be attributed to higher placed individuals.

    Why They Suck

    Goals are great if you’re doing factory work. They fall into the class of “i will do X more efficiently to increase profitability”. This could be reduce costs. This could be to increase productivity. This could be to acquire more revenue or assets for the org. If you’re working for an org that does something like that, it’s super easy to come up with one or more goals. Again, if you’re clever, you’ll even help yourself out by quietly introducing an inefficiency that you can then claim to improve in some future period.

    This is because your manager is not paying attention to you specifically. Often, the system is self reporting. You set your goals and later report accomplishment or failure. This is super obvious if there’s a “self-assessment” operation. You’re going to report that “i’m Awesome! Except for the fact that i only did 10x more this quarter than i predicted.” That last bit shows that you’ve got room to grow and will be the point that your manager will discuss with you during your review.

    There is absolutely no reason to be honest, even though you’re regularly told you must be. Let’s say you were honest and put down “i got everything done, on time and on schedule, but the project was cancelled.” You would be at a disadvantage since there’s no win and you’ve effectively wasted your time. You had no control over the project being cancelled, but that was also a failure for not predicting it would. Management has a reason not to give you a raise. Congratulations.

    Mind you, your boss is most likely innocent in this. They have to repeat this operation with however many reports they have, which gets multiplied up the chain. If you’ve ever been a TA grading papers, you know how much fun it is. At some level there’s a fixed budget that is used to determine who gets a raise, promoted, or dismissed. If the pool is about 5% per employee, and Sue gets a raise and bonus of 7%, then Bob may get only 3% this year. Better luck next year, Bob.

    Where things start getting ugly is when you aren’t doing a metric based set of tasks.

    Take, say, what i do. My job is to work on key back-end services, modernize and support them. My job is to deal with the acquired technical debt accrued with each new product release. And because New Thing is Awesome happens a fair bit, there’s a good amount of debt as folks wander off between New Thing is Shipped and Audience is Relying on New Thing. Never mind what it’s like at We’ve Been Charging Customers For Two Years for Thing, and Now There’s A Critical Bug.

    Because, yeah, those things happen.

    So, when it comes time for me to put together a list of goals, things get ugly fast. i have to predict the future, then when chaos happens. i race at the end of the evaluation period to try and do the thing i said was important however many months ago. If i were really playing the game right, i’d let the chaos collapse around me while i focused only on the few tasks i said i would.

    i mean, sure, three core items of technology collapsed and the market disappeared, but look at the kerning and word placement on this document. ✔️

    Sometimes figuring out goals is easy. In the first half of the year, i put together a new client library for one of the services i oversee and greatly improved operation and utility, and i was able to show a tick mark next to a goal, meaning i’m getting paid this half of the year.

    i also did a bunch of other stuff, like work with 3rd party vendors, maintain support libraries, build relationships with customers, etc. that kept me pretty busy, but no check mark for that. Most of the time, i do support. i’m one of the “medics”/”clerics” of the org.

    i have a beefy goal for this half of the year, but we might remove it. i’ve been busy pushing a critical bit of infrastructure closer to done (not a personal goal). We’ve also got an intern next year and it’ll be a good project for them. So, that leaves me without a goal.

    Aside from the critical bit of infrastructure (which is more a shared goal), keeping things running so we can consider offering a pay service (also shared) and getting my boss up-to-speed (shared), and whatever other fires crop up.

    This leads to “retroactive goal setting” where i get fairly late into the half and thanks to copious weekly activity report keeping, specify what major accomplishments i hit as ‘goals’. Usually with my direct managers approval because my goals are late and they need to checkbox that they’re in.

    Because, again, this is more about giving someone a reason to continue to pay you for 6 months.

    So, what should we use?

    i’m willing to say “right tool for the job”.

    For tasks, there’s no reason not to use a task list. As an org, you probably already have these. They’re what you use to get to your corporate goals.

    For determining value, there’s, i dunno, let’s use employee contributions. Folks should keep a list of things they’ve done and (with the help of their manager and peers) write up a summary that can be presented at the end of the evaluation period, because that’s the end goal anyway. Maybe it’s “increased the number of X by Y%”. Yay you!

    As an org, it’s a lot easier to plot how well your group is doing to achieve a given set of goals. There’s your group metric, but at the individual basis, probably not a great idea to introduce something that’s going to be gamed like nobody’s business.

    Unless your job is to pull the lever and press the button to make the widget, there’s going to be a lot of complexity and unforeseeable events. Don’t make things hostile toward those.

    i generally rally against the idea of work accounting. Not being held accountable (as in “you failed to deliver a task we needed by when we needed it that you said you could do), i mean accounting (as in you committed over 200,000 lines of code this quarter and resolved 47 issues). It’s why i am not a super fan of scrum’s Burn List.

    But yeah, the current state of Goal keeping is just the fever dream of accountants.

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