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jr conlin's ink stained banana

:: The Internet Hates Long Lived Things

First off, this is not about ageism. i’m talking about long lived connections. There are a few folk out there that believe that you can hold a connection between two devices open forever. This is not the case. There are a lot of reasons that a great many things will actively fight your long lived connection. So, here are a few insights from someone who has dealt with Very Long Connections in Webpush and was once naive like you.

Why does the internet hate long lived connections?

Short answer: Money.

Longer answer:
The internet is not free.

Everything about the internet costs money, because everything requires either power or devices. Devices are way more costly because you not only need to buy and power them, you need to shelter, maintain, inspect, and eventually replace them. This includes everything from colocation farms to servers to cables to the conduits that carry the cables and the folks who’s jobs it is to do all that sheltering, maintaining and inspection. The costs may be near infinitesimal for a 10 byte ping, but they’re there, and they add up surprisingly fast.

i’ll also add in that connections between devices also have a software cost. Turns out, there are a limited number of connections that a given computer can accept. There are also constraints depending on the language you use, how much memory you have installed, how fast your CPU is, and how many files you need to have open. There are fun ways to tweak that number and get really high counts, but if you’re doing any actual work with them, you’re going to hit that upper limit. If you’re doing real, serious work (like running TLS so things are secure) boy golly are you going to hit that number and it’s not going to be anywhere near that 10 million connection number someone built for Erlang.

So, in that sort of world where having connections that are basically doing nothing but tying up resources, connections are not going to stick around. You may not want to pay for them, and neither do any of the dozens of intermediary companies what want to maximize profits. They’ll spot a connection as being underused and will simply drop it, since there is probably some other company that wants to use it and send lots of capital producing data over it.

There are tons of reasons a connection could be killed at any time and a whole lot of incentive to ignore any requests you might make to keep a low bandwidth connection up. This includes various “Keep Alive” packets helpfully provided by protocol authors. Those tend to be very light weight dedicated Ping/Ack packets that are sent on a regular cycle. They’re useful if you’ve got a lull for a few minutes, but anything longer than that and the connection is toast. You’re better off crafting a NoOp type message that you fire off regularly. Granted, i fully expect that those will be dropped in the future too once providers use stuff like packet inspection machine learning to further reduce costs and free up “idle” connections.

Well, what about using stateless UDP instead of stateful TCP?

It’s not a bad idea, really. It’s the reason that QUIC is the base for HTTP 3.0, and it’s very clever about making sure that packets get handled correctly. Packets are assigned Server Ids, and cryptography is isolated so data corruption doesn’t cause blockages. Even though, if there’s a connection severance, it’s still dependent on the Client getting back to the Server. The server needs to be at a known, fixed address. That’s neato for things like HTTP, but less so for things like WebPush where the client could be waiting hours or days for a response, and unless the client is actively monitoring the connection (remember, built in KeepAlive packets ain’t enough), it’s basically doing long polling, so you’re kind of back at square one.

(There’s definitely something to be said about that for things like WebPush. WebPush’s “Immediate receipt” requirement, like relativistic travel, depends a great deal on the perspective of the parties involved. That’s a topic for another post.)

So, be mindful young protocol developer/designer. The internet is out to get your long lived connection dream and will dance on it’s grave at every opportunity.

:: Pandemic Network Effect

There was an article done years ago that pointed out folks who’s job started during a recession generally earned far less over their careers. There’s a lot of reasons for this, but a big one is that folks don’t generally discuss their salaries so they have no idea if they’re being grossly over or under paid.

i can’t help but wonder if we’re overlooking a huge hurdle for folks starting out now, in the midsts of a global pandemic. In short: Are they missing out on peer networking?

Let me be open and say that i’m an introvert. i’ve trained myself to be sociable and can present as extrovert when needed, but it’s draining and not really my happy place. That said, i’ve still built up reasonably good relationships with folks i’ve worked with. i’m sure that some dude in a pressed white shirt and lavalier mic would proclaim this as “Networking”, but it’s something that i’ve kinda fostered and benefited from. A good many of those are with folks i’ve not directly worked with on a project, but have been folks who’ve i’ve had parallels with. i may have met them at a meeting, or in a few cases, at an offsite. Maybe it’s been one of those “Fellows in Arms” where we’ve all done some terrible group improvement class being directed by a dude in a pressed white shirt and lavalier mic.

With a year of “social distancing” and zoom meetings, that’s one less year of building the sort of work network that’s going to be critical to getting better positions, or be a lifeline when the layoff axes start falling. What’s worse is that video meetings are tiring and terrible as is, so the thought of doing them outside of work isn’t really going to be super appealing. Nor are junior folk going to see how beneficial they can be from more senior folk dragging them off to some semi-casual meet-up.

Plus, conferences and big get-togethers are probably not going to be happening for years to come. Sure, it was funny how you’d catch Con-Flu after a meet-up, but that didn’t carry the risk of killing you or doing serious, long lasting bodily harm. i’m going to guess that it’s going to be a while before insurance companies reduce the liability costs for those.

Humans, even the more anti-social of us, are social creatures. We think in tribes and communities.

If you’re a junior person, don’t neglect this. Reach out to mentors and peers to find and establish networks.

If you’re a senior person, watch out for the junior folks. Maybe introduce them to some of your larger nets the way you would at a conference.

Eventually the pandemic will go away, let’s make sure the damage done isn’t worse than it already is.

:: 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.
social media love
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“.

:: 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.

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