I have new hardware

We’re all getting new computers at work. Finally, no more 386 with Windows NT! We’ve gone with 8GB laptops, with 256 GB SSDs and dual 1200 x 1920 displays running 64-bit Windows 7 Enterprise.

The only decision now is what to name it. For the last couple years I’ve gone with GAGARIN but I want something new and sexy. I was hoping to get everyone to stick to a theme like the Seven Deadly Sins, but we’d probably end up fighting over WRATH.

We could go with

  • Alecto
  • Magaera
  • Tisiphone

who where otherwise known as The Furies from Greek Mythology, but three isn’t really enough to go around. Seven or more would be ideal. I don’t want something obvious like the Seven Dwarfs. The surnames of The Magnificent Seven might be cool.

Or perhaps the Enterprise Captains:

  • April
  • Pike
  • Kirk
  • Spock
  • Picard
  • Archer
  • Janeway

I was thinking of the names of The Fellowship from The Lord of the Rings, but out of the few hundred hosts on the network they’re pretty much already covered. I’d get shouted down for suggesting Sith Lords from Star Wars or Replicants from Blade Runner so we need something else.

Movies and mythology are fine, but how about something historical? Like the Mercury Astronauts:

  • Shepard
  • Grissom
  • Glenn
  • Carpenter
  • Shirra
  • Cooper
  • Slayton

Seven Emperors?

  • Julius
  • Augustus
  • Galba
  • Hadrian
  • Nerva
  • Sallust
  • Vespasian

In all probability we aren’t going to stick to a theme, so I’ll have to end up choosing something just for myself. I’m partial to Battlestar Galactica characters, or even names of Sci-Fi corporations like Weyland-Yutani, Tyrell, Cyberdine or Greystone.

Leave a comment, give me some suggestions.

San Francisco

Here I am in “Sunny California”, only it’s not so sunny right now. It’s cold, wet and miserable. I don’t travel well, and it usually takes a good week for me to recover from jet lag. I left Sydney around 1pm on Friday, flew 13 hours to San Francisco at 88 mph and arrived 8:30am on Friday. How’s that for time travel.

Actually, we circled SFO for an extra hour or so because Air Force 1 carrying President Obama was there. I don’t know if he was coming or going. I had hoped to see his plane when I landed but the arrivals area doesn’t have many airfield-facing windows. I think if I had stopped to look around I might have been pulled aside for questioning by overenthusiastic security personnel.

I was disappointed, too, that I wasn’t subject to one of those famous TSA gropings I’ve heard about. I don’t see why you can’t enjoy getting groped and I was quite looking forward to it. Maybe on the way back?

I was supposed to go into the office on Friday afternoon but after a shower and a quick trip to get some supplies I thought I’d watch a bit of TV. I must have instantly dozed off, and when I woke it was 7pm. Oops.

So I went out and had dinner. Fast food here is so cheap it’s ridiculous. I can see I’m going to have fun with Subway’s $5 menu. I had a $5 Chicken and Bacon Ranch which normally costs $10.50 in Perth.

After dinner I didn’t feel tired so I watched watched TV, Skyped home and played around until I was tired which was midnight. I went to sleep thinking that I’d wake up at 7am and check the weather and maybe go out exploring but I didn’t actually wake until 1pm. And it has been constantly raining all day. Not a heavy rain, but somewhere between a constant drizzle and a light shower. Anyhow enough to dissuade me from venturing far. I ended up to walking out to Wal-Mart to find some Star Wars toys. Hehe. I was also hoping to catch an NHL game but lower deck tickets to see the San Jose Sharks are $145. About $100 too much for me. I’ll try calling home again, and go out for another Subway tonight and see what tomorrow brings.

Fast Karts

I went Karting last week as part of a team building exercise at work. It was quite a day. It was at a place called Warren’s Ultra Fast Karts, at a place called Barbagallo Raceway north of Perth. We were all excited. The Australian Festival of Speed had been held the previous week which was a once off petrol-head dream showcasing the best of Australian motor sports. Mark Webber had even driven a few laps in his top of the line RB6 Red Bull Formula 1 car.

Now, were were led to believe that we’d be racing on the actual raceway in twin engine super-pro karts at more than 100km/h on the same track that you see the V8 Supercars competing. Something got lost in the translation somewhere, and we ended up on a shorter track in smaller karts. We felt a bit disappointed, but looking back it’s probably just as well we were in smaller underpowered karts.

The marshals explained to us that we were under a mix of official international race rules and house rules, which meant a “strike” system. If you broke some of the “cardinal” rules, you would be shot on sight, no questions asked. These rules included taking your helmet off, getting out of your kart and generally doing something completely unsafe and idiotic. There were also “crash and burn” rules, which involved ignoring directions from the officials, overtaking while under the yellow flag, causing contact. Three of these strikes, and you’d be thrown out on your ear and never invited back.  And finally, there were “points rules” which meant race points would be deducted from you for spinning off track and generally making racing mistakes.

The only thing they didn’t explain was scoring. Being a competitive guy that I am, I really wanted to win the respect and admiration of my peers as well as a shiny trophy. If I had known how we were to be scored, it would have changed my whole strategy.

Anyhow, we had a ten minute practice run and five races. The first four races we were lined up on the grid by car number, once in order then once in reverse order. I was in car 20, the highest numbered car and so I started last in the first race. I was cautious as well, because I could remember the last time we did indoor karting. My workmates couldn’t tell the difference between real life and X-box gaming and I wanted to stay clear of everyone. In the second race I started on pole, which was good. In the first race we were all a bit cautious and apprehensive, even with the ten minutes of practice were were given to familiarise ourselves with the cars and track. During the second race you could tell everyone was going hell for leather, pushing the envelope and beyond into the kitty litter. Seeya, suckers. Unfortunately I was involved in an “incident” and managed to bend one of my wheels. Three wheels wasn’t going to cut it. The marshals were unimpressed, citing the “crash and burn” rules and the fact that there was only one more spare car for the entire event so I better take care of it. Man, it wasn’t even my fault! That was on the second to last lap so I didn’t manage to get any more times in.

We pulled in after the second race, and had a look at the results. I came last in the first race and first in the second. Between all of us we kind decided that it was all just a fun, noncompetitive scoring scheme since those who started at the front generally finished in the first three positions, and those who started towards the rear scored only minor points.

We had two more races, again starting in car order then reverse order. I was being pretty cautious because I really didn’t want to wreck another car so I was holding back a bit and not doing much overtaking.

Then for the fifth race we were handicapped according to points. I started third last, and I felt ok about that because I knew I was in the top three racers. Knowing that it was a handicap and remembering how some other guys raced I knew that everyone would bunch up about three quarters of the way around the track and there’d be havoc so I decided to take the last race nice and easy. No way was I getting close to those other Kamikazes. The race ended with more spins than a Dead or Alive song.

After the race the final results were announced. I ended up coming fourth. We also found out that points and positions had been decided by fastest lap times, race by race. Not by finishing order. There were transponders in each car which registered every time the car went over the start/finish line. Man I wish I had known that at the start. I still could have won the last race by holding back for a lap then blasting away at a couple hot laps with nobody in front to slow me down.

It was a good day and we all had fun, but I hope we can try something different next year.

The motion blur is real man, not photoshopped.


The Internet makes you stupid

I dare ya, I double dare ya mother fuckerI’ve been thinking lately on my online patterns of behaviour. I spend a lot of time online. I work in IT, and Internet is critical to the job I work in and the customers I serve. I research solutions to technical problems using various intranet and extranet resources, and have the ability to remotely log in to customer sites all over the world to perform hands on support. This week alone I have digitally “visited” sites in all six inhabited continents, managing servers as if I was sitting at the keyboard.  Outside of work, how much time I spend online depends on who you ask. I think I’m fairly restrained in my usage, and don’t feel the need to spend a great amount of time in front of the computer when I come home, since I’ve already spent 9 hours at work.

I hear about Internet addiction all the time. I’ve read interviews about people, mostly kids but sometimes those more mature, who go through a withdrawal if they’re away from their digital life for more than a few hours. The moment they wake up they’re on their computer checking Facebook or other social media sites. On the way to work they’ll be tweeting like their life depended on it. If it’s not Twitter or Facebook, it’s Texting. You’ve heard of Tennis Elbow? Try SMS Thumb for size.

It’s not until people get to work that the full cost of peoples seemingly endless appetite for distractions is realised. I must say that I don’t observe this at my own work place (hi guys!) but I know people who spend more time on Facebook than they spend on their duties when at work. Between Facebook, Twitter, Texts, Instant Messengers and emails it’s a miracle they get any work done at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the social media aspect of the Internet and often hit up Facebook at home and even at work. Unlike some people, though, I do all this in moderation. I can’t even say I really enjoy Facebook all that much, as there’s sometimes a very low signal to noise ratio.

Having said that, there are other online distractions to tempt you. I compare the Internet to a large Newsagent which has magazines on every subject you care to name. I have absolutely no interest in about 90% of the mags I find at these news stands, and there’s about 1 in a hundred I would find indispensible and would buy without thought if I had the money. Browsing the Internet is like flicking though the rest of  the “fringe” magazines, the ones that aren’t central or vital but catch your eye and pique your interest enough for you to reach out and open them up. You quickly turn the pages, skimming the titles and articles for something interesting. You look at the pictures and graphics for something attractive and meaningful. You might quickly cover the whole magazine by flicking through it in under 15 seconds but you may spend a minute skimming one or two articles which seem interesting. You never really spend the time to sit down and read the mag from cover to cover, at least not without the owner kicking you out.

So it is with the Internet. Any web page has text and pictures, and may include other rich media covering the subject at hand. But there’s also handy hyper-links to other related articles which lead on to yet other pages. Hell, even at Wikipedia you can get completely distracted from your original train of thought or research and wind up at completely unrelated articles before you can say “six degrees of Kevin Bacon“. I find myself doing this all too often.

What I have noticed is that this has effected the way I think. I’ve change the way I use my brain and how I focus on tasks. Rather than being able to focus on one particular task for any amount of time, I find that my focus switches from one task to another in rapid succession, often coming back a number of times to the same task to progress it a little more before switching to another new task. This seems normal to me now. I’m distracted by emails, phone calls, alarms and instant messages, but these are all evil necessities in being able to perform my duties. While writing this very article, I’ve checked Facebook, the current Commonwealth Games medal tally, the latest Formula 1 Grand Prix news, how F-Duct technology was developed, tonight’s TV schedule, when the next episode of Caprica will be available for download, what other movies Eric Stoltz has been in… and so on. It’s why I found it so difficult to sit through a trial when I had jury duty. There was nowhere to escape. There was no control. I had to sit there and focus on one tedious subject for a few days and it was hard.

At work I can be working on many different calls on different subjects at any one time, and I have to switch between, say, hardcore VB or C# coding to a  more artistic user interface design solution and anything in between very quickly. The range of products we have is hard to keep up with, and when you introduce new versions of these products each with new features and sometimes new bugs I find that I am swamped with too much information, too much stuff to remember.

Internet makes us (well, me, at least) think broad and shallow, rather than narrow and deep. I can’t tell whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, really. It could be argued that this is the way of things, now. To live in the 21st Century is to think fast, move from task to task, have many transient and temporary relationships as opposed to a few deep and lasting ones. It means rent rather than buy, and to be a jack of all trades and master of none. To know lots of facts and have many experiences, but to understand little and have few meaningful memories.

What do you guys think? Leave a comment if you can pull yourself away from Farmville long enough.

Ode to a small piece of unwanted cake I found in the work fridge one midspring morning

Not even a particularly Nice shade of green

We have a tradition, which I’m sure most company offices have, of bringing a cake to share with everyone on your birthday. The cakes vary between home made and store-bought, and occasionally we get a mix of pastries or party pies and sausage rolls to introduce some excitement and variety in our culinary experience.

Invariably there is always one piece of cake left which without fail finds it’s way to the top shelf of the kitchenette fridge sitting all alone on a plate with a hurt look of dejection after being shunned by my workmates.

It must be out of some sense of nobility that nobody ever wants to eat that last piece of cake in our workplace. Granted, in some workplaces and households there’s often a mad scramble and sometimes deception, bullying, begging, pleading, threats and intimidation involved when it comes down to the last piece, but not here. It’s all, “Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly” or “No, you go ahead. I’ve had enough”. And it’s all sincere, too. Not one single person reveals that look of “Please don’t take it because I really want it” via sheepish, pleading eyes.

So, what happens with that last piece of cake? Nothing. It sits there on the plate on the top shelf and keeps drying out, looking more and more like the “Before” shot of a Botox story in Women’s Weekly. It withers and dries after a few days, and when most of the moisture has escaped is when the mould sets in.

The cake is evolving, gaining sentience and is trying to escape. To what end? Probably for vengeance. For days the cake has been shut in a cold, dark box waiting for a saviour to take him away. The monotony has been broken by rare glimpses of faces opening the door to put their own lunch in the fridge, and turning their noses up in disgust at the horror they see before them on the top shelf. Well no more. The cake wants to find a human and eat all but the head, and leave the head sitting powerless trying to deal with the fact that nobody will finish it off. It’s going to grow appendages and lash out the next chance it gets.

To break the chain, when we had an office birthday last week I offered the last of the cake around to everyone and then made a move to throw it out after it was refused. “What are you doing?”, came the cries. “You can’t throw out perfectly good food!”.

“Face it,” I said. “It’s just going to sit on the top shelf like all the others until it grows mould and has to be thrown out. What, you didn’t think all those other single, lone pieces of cake were actually eaten, did you? I threw them all out, and this one will share the same fate. I’m doing it now just to save time so I don’t have to do it later.”

Eventually I was talked out of throwing it out, and there it sits. And there it will sit, evolving and plotting terror until someone else decides that sanitation is the better part of valour and has the guts to remove it. That person isn’t going to be me this time. I just hope I’m not the one to open the fridge to find a self-aware dessert with claws and teeth and a personality disorder brought on by a lifetime of rejection.

Time-saving email tips

My stats:
938 unread work emails.
1002 unread personal emails.

The madness has to stop. What was once a 30 minute annoyance is now my full-time job.  Here are 5 time saving tips:

5: Add a http://three.sentenc.es/ email signature and keep them short.

“Treat all email responses like SMS text messages, using a set number of letters per response. Since it’s too hard to count letters, we count sentences instead.

three.sentenc.es is a personal policy that all email responses regardless of recipient or subject will be three sentences or less. It’s that simple.”

Example signature:
Q: Why is this email three sentences or less?
A: http://three.sentenc.es

4: Type “Sent from iPhone” under your short responses.  People don’t expect long responses when you’re on your phone. Don’t forget to mispell a few words.

This all looks graet +1!!
Sent from iPhone.

3: Create a ‘VIP’ filter. Easy to do on GMail.  Add your boss, investors, and close friends. Flag them red and throw them in a separate folder. This is the first place I check every morning.

2: (Gmail only) Keep the spam out.  If you’re giving your address to a potentially shady website, tack on +spam to the end, example: yourname+spam@gmail.com. You can then filter those emails into a spam folder you check periodically. (ProTip: the +spam is a variable that can be anything you want, eg. yourname+football@gmail.com etc., make as many as you like)

1: Setup an email bankruptcy filter.  This is a little bit of a dick move, but if you’re getting hundreds of new emails a day, it just might work.

Step 1: Create a filter that auto-responds to all unopened emails > 14 days old w/the following message:

Your email (below) is now 14 days old and has not been opened.  To minimize email buildup your email has now been placed in the archive.  Should you still require a response simply respond back and you’ll automatically be added to the priority queue.  Thank you.

Step 2: Setup another filter that looks for the text “Your email (below)”, this will catch the email responses back to you from those still requiring your response.  Filter these into a special folder you check and respond to daily.

Good luck!

Via Kevin Rose

Will we be ruined by that which we love, or that which we hate?

An interesting web comic/graphic I found on the tubes. I can see that that there’s a lot of truth in this. In today’s society, we do indeed have in infinite appetite for distractions which lead us away from what is really important in our lives and I’m somewhat guilty myself. Can these distractions ruin a person? You betcha.

Amusing Ourselves To Death

Learning Chinese

China FlagSo, I need to learn to speak Chinese. Thankfully I don’t need to learn to read or write it, which makes things a lot easier. I downloaded borrowed some “Teach yourself language” MP3s which I have loaded onto my iPod and I’ve been working my way through them since Monday. Well, redoing the first lesson over and over is closer to the truth. I plan to do a couple short courses at TAFE over the next few months because I can only go so far with self study.

Why Mandarin? I do tech support for a global software company and we are getting lots of customers in China because of the massive investment in infrastructure right now. These guys will eventually need to ask questions or will run into problems (not with the software, because that’s perfect) so they’re going to need to speak to someone. We already have Mandarin-speaking staff in Singapore and indeed in Shanghai, but there’s only so many staff. Most of them are away from the office most of the time doing installations, training, audits and upgrades.

Me, I don’t generally travel. I’ve made my preference to stay at home for my family clear to my supervisors and they have honoured that. I generally don’t travel overseas more than once a year. So, I’m almost always in the office. So I’m going to be the one to learn Chinese to speak to our newest customers when they call.

I get the impression that my supervisrs would be happy if I complete a short conversation along the lings of, “I do not speak Chinese. Do you speak English? I can’t help you right now. Goodbye”, or perhaps, “Please hold while I transfer you to Jackie Chan”. But now that I’ve dipped my toe into the warm ocean of the Mandarin language, I’ve set a higher goal. I want to be able to watch a Jackie Chan movie without the subtitles!

I’ve got a question for anyone out there who does actually speak Mandarin: since, to speak the language properly, you need to have the right ascending or descending tones, how does singing in Mandarin work? I mean, the melody of the lyrics follows a natural rising and falling pitch and tone, so does this clash with what is supposed to happen in the spoken language which needs to follow its own rising and falling pitch and tone?