Icicle-Shaped Skillset

I’ve often said that “T-shaped” didn’t describe me very well.  I used to say π-shaped because I’m usually focusing deeply in more than one area and 2 seemed about right (and you are what you eat).  Last night I brainstormed the brilliant analogy of icicles for describing skillsets, especially the time component of losing and gaining skills. Of course, someone already wrote a great post about icicle-shaped skillsets.

https://pixy.org/4589852/ Free image/jpeg, Resolution: 1600×1200, File size: 127Kb, icicles on the black background

Don’t “Do” DevOps. Solve Problems.

Don’t “do” devops. Solve problems.

That was the advice I gave at DevOps World | Jenkins World last week in San Francisco.  It deserves more time and words than I could give it then.

The popularity and success of “DevOps” marketing is wonderful in many ways.  For one, explaining my resume is easier than it’s ever been.  But, like agile, the success of the buzzword has created new problems, such as unrealistic expectations among management and confusion about who should be “doing devops.”

Agile and devops concepts/culture/practices didn’t evolve in a vacuum.  They grew out of people solving old problems in new ways or needing solutions to new problems.  This context is critical.  Consider the two statements.

  1. Our management created a DevOps transformation initiative, so we implemented an Infrastructure as Code approach for our simplest test environments to show progress.
  2. We saw a lot of human error manually coordinating test infrastructure for all the components in one of our critical applications, this led to testers often not having a working app to test, so we automated provisioning and deployment across all components in order to eliminate the bottleneck for testing.

One of those is “doing” devops and one of them is solving problems.  One of them is easy, safe and ticks a box in a status report somewhere.  One of them is difficult, potentially disruptive and could cause even more delays until it works, but ultimately eliminates waste and brings real value to the business.

I’m not saying to ignore devops ideas–absolutely learn about them!  Then you can apply those ideas to their best effect in your specific context to solve your problems.

But declarative Infrastructure as Code is better than spaghetti automation!

Maybe.  No one wants spaghetti code, but working is better than elegant. I agree that IaC is a great approach, but if it’s not solving an immediate problem and delivering value, maybe it’s not the right time.

But we can’t afford to add risk to our critical application and the infrastructure that tests it!

Anything that’s important to the business will involve risk.  Why can you afford to be working on things that aren’t important to the business?

Surfacing the difference between #1 and #2 to management and getting agreement at the right levels can be difficult.  I think it’s a worthy cause.


Linux Desktop Rebuild Checklist 2 – Web Dev Tools

(This is pretty old now…)

Following Linux Desktop Rebuild Checklist 1

Sublime Text

I’m a Sublime Text convert. Official docs are sparse, but there are great unofficial (community) docs for Sublime Text.

It’s quite easy to install on Ubuntu/Kubuntu via webupd8.

# now for Sublime Text 3
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:webupd8team/sublime-text-3
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install sublime-text-installer

# old 2 stuff...
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:webupd8team/sublime-text-2
sudo apt-get install sublime-text


Change a file in your project and LiveReload automatically refreshes the browser via an extension (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Mobile Safari, and Opera with a config change).  Check out “LiveReload” in the Chrome Web Store.  Best out-of-the-box support for the filesystem piece is on Mac (and $$), but the Ruby project Guard and its various plugins allow for even more functionality for no charge (except the effort to figure it out).

On Linux, it’s quite simple, even for someone (like me) who knows very little about Ruby.

Install RVM and Ruby.

$ curl -L https://get.rvm.io | bash -s stable --ruby
$ source ~/.rvm/scripts/rvm
$ rvm use

Install Guard and Guard-livereload

$ gem install guard
$ gem install guard-livereload

Create a sample Guardfile (do this in your project dir).

$ guard init livereload

Then, edit the file for the filenames/patterns to watch. Here’s my simplest Guardfile.

guard 'livereload' do

Finally, run guard from your project dir.

$ guard
19:16:14 - INFO - Guard uses NotifySend to send notifications.
19:16:14 - INFO - Guard uses TerminalTitle to send notifications.
19:16:14 - INFO - LiveReload 1.6 is waiting for a browser to connect.
19:16:14 - INFO - Guard is now watching at '/home/mghicks/...'

I haven’t tried Ruby on Windows, but there is a tutorial for using RVM with Cygwin. Git for Windows also has the option to work with Cygwin (selected during installation). I’ve tried Git on Windows with the Git shell, but not with the Cygwin option.

JSHint and JSONLint via NodeJS

Never sweat a missing comma or semi-colon again!  JSHint and JSONLint are the two biggest time-savers I’ve added to my toolset.  Thanks to the NodeJS community, NPM, and NVM, it’s trivial to install and use them.

Install NVM and the latest Node.

curl https://raw.github.com/creationix/nvm/master/install.sh | sh
echo "\n. ~/.nvm/nvm.sh" >> ~/.bashrc
source ~/.bashrc
nvm ls-remote
nvm install 0.x.x (use version from ls-remote)

Install JSHint and JSONLint.

npm install -g jshint jsonlint

Configuring Sublime Text next…

Linux Desktop Rebuild Checklist 1 – Base System

  1. Install via Unetbootin (I’m using Kubuntu these days)
  2. Fix monitors (important to do before next step)
  3. Install synergy
    sudo apt-get install synergy
  4. Add synergy to startup (see http://askubuntu.com/questions/15212/start-synergy-on-boot)
  5. Connect to NAS
    sudo apt-get install nfs-common
    sudo vi /etc/fstab	/home/mghicks/Data  nfs rsize=8192,wsize=8192,timeo=14,intr /home/mghicks/Media nfs rsize=8192,wsize=8192,timeo=14,intr
    mkdir /home/mghicks/Data /home/mghicks/Media
    sudo mount -a
  6. Additional repositories
    sudo cp /etc/apt/sources.list /etc/apt/sources.list.backup
    sudo wget http://www.medibuntu.org/sources.list.d/$(lsb_release -cs).list --output-document=/etc/apt/sources.list.d/medibuntu.list
    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get install medibuntu-keyring
    sudo apt-get install linuxmint-keyring
    sudo apt-get update</span>
  7. Additional codecs, fonts, tools, etc.
    sudo apt-get install ttf-mscorefonts-installer non-free-codecs flac libdvdcss2 vlc* mplayer dvdrip
    sudo apt-get install build-essential curl git-core
  8. Install Chromium
    sudo apt-get install chromium-browser

    and extensions: Adblock Plus, Reddit Enhancement Suite, LiveReload, Personal Blocklist

  9. Install Banshee (not the best, but the only one I’ve found that *easily* syncs my ratings between players–suggestions welcome)
    sudo apt-get install banshee
  10. Install Shotwell
    sudo apt-get install shotwell

Upstairs Bookcases Finished

N & I needed more space for books, and though the upstairs hall was wide enough to allow a row of bookcases. Are there ever enough bookshelves?

We brainstormed for ideas at IKEA, but the height was a problem. The wall was too short for most half-height media shelves (which are shallow enough) and the hall was too narrow for most half-height bookshelves (which are short enough). Because our rental walls are so dark, we also wanted white to brighten the hall a bit. N scoured the internet for solutions. We found $1200 units, $20 units, and no middle ground. We weren’t happy about it, but settled on four $20 units from Walmart. I wanted to save the $26 shipping cost, so arranged for (free) in-store pickup. I hope I never have to choose to use Walmart again, but if I do, I’m not sure whether the free in-store pickup is worth having to deal with a Walmart store.

Picture of hallway bookcases facing bedroom
Hallway bookcases facing bedroom

Picture of hallway bookcases facing office
Hallway bookcases facing office

To get around the baseboard trim, make it easier to clean, and for easier browsing of the bottom shelf, we built bases to lift the units up about 3.5 inches. These cost around $15 in wood, nails, and paint. Another $20 went into hardware to secure the shelves to the bases, wall, and each other. The total project cost was around $120 and took about 9 hours over 3 days (excluding the delay from ordering 1 bookcase to check it out before committing to the other 3). This would be a Saturday project except for waiting for paint to dry between coats on the custom bases.

Close-up picture of custom base
Close-up of custom base

Close-up picture of bookcases over trim
Close-up of bookcases over trim

ShopBot CNC at the TechShop

I took the ShopBot CAD/CAM and SBU at the TechShop on Sunday. Here are too few pictures of the fun.

I really wanted to build a box with tabs and slots, but was rightly convinced to scale back my expectations by the instructor, Matt Santelli, president of Exhibiments. (Incidentally, his company makes the tap handles for Fullsteam. He was great!) So, I just cut out some names.

Obviously, it’s incredibly cool to cut through stuff using computers and servos to move a 1/4″ piece of sharpened metal spinning at 12000 RPM. If this is not cool to you, please step away from the blog.

But for me, beyond the obvious coolness of CNC tools and equipment, the really interesting thing is called the toolchain, or “how do I get from concept to automating stuff?” At one end of the chain is you/your idea and at the other is the CNC mill/router.

Many CNC tools use a programming language called G-code for automation. The TechShop’s ShopBot PRS Alpha 96 does, too. But raw G-code reads like assembly.

G21 G00 Z1
G04 P2500
N50 G00 G90 G53 X14.326 Y22.226
N60 G43
N70 G01 Z.1 F.3
N80 X14.67 Z.082
N90 X13.083 Z-.001
N100 X14.67 Z-.084

So, we use some other tool(s) to create the G-code that runs the machines. This is the toolchain. There are a bunch of options, and almost none of them are free.

We used ShopBot’s PartWorks ($795 bundled with others) for class, which is a rebranded version of Vectric’s VCarve ($599).

Either program will import a variety of vector graphics formats. So, without any additional research, money, or effort, I can create ShopBot/G-code designs by using something like Inkscape to create drawings at home (though it lacks many CAD features). Then, import those drawings to PartWorks and generate toolpaths at the TechShop. And finally, cut on the ShopBot.

Need I say that I want to find alternatives for generating G-code?

Monitors won’t sleep (power management) if synergy is running

Similar question to Monitor won’t enter power save mode, however I only experience the problem under synergy. Screensaver settings work, but the monitors never go to sleep. When synergy is not running, monitors go to sleep at the interval set in Power Mgmt Preferences. I’m running synergy under my user account. Dell Desktop, Ubuntu 11.04, standard install video drivers (installing the proprietary drivers causes many errors.)

Turns out, this behavior is caused by screenSaverSync=true and the fix is screenSaverSync=false. Pic shows the windows GUI placement.

See also,

I love the classic dodge in the bug report:

Closing this bug report since it is more than 2 years old. If this is still a valid bug, please request that it be reopened on the mailing list.

Remarks on Internet Freedom

I wonder if Lieberman, McConnell, and King noticed the Secretary of State’s comments about internet censorship.

On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it. Now, this challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic. The words of the First Amendment to our Constitution are carved in 50 tons of Tennessee marble on the front of this building. And every generation of Americans has worked to protect the values etched in that stone.

… Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world’s networks. They’ve expunged words, names, and phrases from search engine results. They have violated the privacy of citizens who engage in non-violent political speech. These actions contravene the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which tells us that all people have the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” With the spread of these restrictive practices, a new information curtain is descending across much of the world. And beyond this partition, viral videos and blog posts are becoming the samizdat of our day.

As in the dictatorships of the past, governments are targeting independent thinkers who use these tools. In the demonstrations that followed Iran’s presidential elections, grainy cell phone footage of a young woman’s bloody murder provided a digital indictment of the government’s brutality. We’ve seen reports that when Iranians living overseas posted online criticism of their nation’s leaders, their family members in Iran were singled out for retribution. And despite an intense campaign of government intimidation, brave citizen journalists in Iran continue using technology to show the world and their fellow citizens what is happening inside their country. In speaking out on behalf of their own human rights, the Iranian people have inspired the world. And their courage is redefining how technology is used to spread truth and expose injustice.

Now, all societies recognize that free expression has its limits. We do not tolerate those who incite others to violence, such as the agents of al-Qaida who are, at this moment, using the internet to promote the mass murder of innocent people across the world. And hate speech that targets individuals on the basis of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation is reprehensible. It is an unfortunate fact that these issues are both growing challenges that the international community must confront together. And we must also grapple with the issue of anonymous speech. Those who use the internet to recruit terrorists or distribute stolen intellectual property cannot divorce their online actions from their real world identities. But these challenges must not become an excuse for governments to systematically violate the rights and privacy of those who use the internet for peaceful political purposes.

via Remarks on Internet Freedom – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.