Medium, and The Reason You Can’t Stand the News Anymore.

December 8, 2017

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You can draw a straight line from the bad incentive structure forced upon news outlets to the unprecedented divisiveness in our country. And it’s time we realized what’s going on.

Fantastic read, well worth the time.

The Future of DevOps is AI

December 7, 2017

The work of systems administration, that is, racking new hardware, running cables, and loading operating systems, is quickly becoming eclipsed by devops. Servers come from the factory ready to rack, and the base operating system has become nearly meaningless in the context of running applications thanks to Docker. All you need is a baseline Linux install, the specifics of what each application needs to run are taken care of inside the Docker container.

If you are running your workloads in the cloud1, the need for a dedicated sysadmin is even more redundant2, since both the hardware and the base operating system are outsourced to AWS, Microsoft, or Google. However, bridging the gap between deploying applications to production and writing the application code sits devops, which for the past several years has been a fantastic opportunity for sysadmins to branch out into new and interesting ways. That opportunity is not going to last forever though. The core tasks of a devops engineer are repeatable, and the current complexity that devops now handles is moving more and more towards simplification.

In devops, there is a starting point, a set of tasks, and a specific end goal to achieve. Primarily, a devops engineer will take code from a repository and build out the systems to test and deploy that code to production in a secure, scaleable environment. That’s what I do anyway. History tells us that any repeatable, programmable task will be automated by a machine sooner or later, and I think we are starting to see what those new machines will look like.

Jason Kottke posted a link to Chess.com earlier today about how Google’s AlphaZero AI became the best chess player in history in four hours. It wasn’t loaded with a chess program, the AI taught itself how to play, and became unbeatable. Putting Skynet theories temporarily aside, how big of a step is it from there to automating devops? An AI could be trained on Github, given AWS or GAE as a deployment ground, and given an end goal of each application up and running.

Programmer friends who I floated this idea to in the past had mixed replies. Some claimed that the AI necessary to do this would be beyond anything currently in our capabilities. Others said that it might be possible. I think the writing on the wall is clear. It is possible, and I imagine it’s only a matter of time before the big three cloud providers each deploy their own version of automatic code deployment. It won’t look like much from outside, the only configuration they’ll need is access to your repository, and the AI will build up everything else necessary.

The models exist, the artificial intelligence exists, and the need for the service exists. DevOps is a career path with an expiration date. If that date is 10, 20, or 30 years down the road, I can’t tell, but it’s closer than any of us working in the industry would care to consider.

  1. Which you really should be. 

  2. Well, that is if you are running your applications in the cloud the way the cloud was meant to be used. 

The Fight for Public Land in Montana's Crazy Mountains | Outside Online

December 6, 2017

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In the fall of 2016, Rob Gregoire, a hunter and nearly life-long Montanan, won a state lottery for a permit to take a trophy elk in the Crazy Mountains, which rise from the plains about 60 miles north of Yellowstone National Park. Landowners around the mountains were charging about $2,000 for private hunts on their ranches. “That’s just not what I do, on principle,” Gregoire says. So he found a public access corridor that would take him into prime Crazies elk country—the federal land covered by the permit, which in total cost about $40.

Such trails have led into the Crazies for generations. And disputes between landowners and those who would cross their properties on these trails reach back nearly that far, too. By 2016, the trailhead Gregoire found was “the last non-contested public access point on the 35-mile-long eastern flank of the Crazy Mountains,” he would write later to his U.S. senators.

Yet even on what Gregoire thought was a public throughway, the Hailstone Ranch had posted game cameras and signs claiming that the Forest Service didn’t have an easement to use the segment that crossed the private property. After consulting with the Forest Service, Gregoire decided to hike the route anyway. He used an app to stay on trail where it seemed faint, to make sure he kept to public land. Then one evening as he returned toward the trailhead after an unsuccessful hunt, Gregoire found a deputy sheriff from Sweet Grass County waiting for him. The deputy handed Gregoire a ticket for criminal trespass. After court costs, the ticket cost $585.

Ridiculous. When republicans talk about taking land away from the government and giving it “back to the people”, what they really mean is take publicly owned land and give it to wealthy landowners. These landowners then then put up no trespassing signs. How is that giving land back to the people again?

What's a Computer?

November 22, 2017

I’ve been enjoying watching the new iPad commercial of a kid and her iPad roaming around the city. Two things come to mind. First, is this what it’s like for kids in the city? Having never lived in one myself I find it fascinating that she just roams around, takes the bus, hangs out in an alley, whatever. Second, and more important, is what she’s doing with that iPad.

The first time we see her with the iPad she’s chatting with a friend over FaceTime, snaps a screenshot, and draws on it. She shows the screenshot to her friend, then sends a copy of it over Messages. Next she’s in an alley with a bunch of furniture, sitting in a seat and twisted to her left to type on the iPad keyboard. She notices a praying mantis on a leaf next to her and quickly snaps a photo, dropping that picture into what looks like a Pages document about bugs in the city. We see her typing in a bakery, drawing in a tree, and reading a comic on the bus. Finally, she’s laying in the grass in her backyard typing again, and when her neighbor asks her what she’s doing on her computer, she replies “what’s a computer?”

We’ll put to the side the ridiculousness of that question, as we the viewer are supposed to assume that the next generation is going to grow up using the tablet form factor and will have no idea what a classic desktop computer is. It’s a stretch, but ok. The commercial calls back to a previous iPad video that shows people working in different ways in different occupations using an iPad Pro. In the previous video they use the camera to capture and analyze athletic performance, they type and draw, share building schematics, and use the iPad in place of printed technical manuals. Both commercials point to the type of lifestyle and work-style that Apple believes the iPad is best suited for.

In no video does it show a developer sitting at his desk for eight hours a day starting at the screen and trying his level best to edit code, ssh into servers, and manage his git repositories. All things that are technically possible on an iPad Pro, but not better than they are on a Mac. A few months ago I bought an iPad Pro, Smart Keyboard, and Pencil and attempted to work only using it. The experience was very similar to using a laptop. The screen was small, and I wound up hunched over my desk for several hours a day struggling through tasks that were second nature on the Mac. Before my two-weeks were up, I wound up returning the iPad and getting my money back. I bought a 27” iMac instead, and it’s been fantastic.

However, the experience made me think about what kind of work I do and how I don’t want to get stuck in the past while the world moves on around me. There’s a thin line between waiting for the technology to mature to the point where you can use it without stress, and growing stagnant. There is a fairly good chance that many new developers in the next ten years might not have worked on anything but an iPad, depending on if they got one issued to them in school or not. I want to be able to move to the new technology when it’s ready for me, but judging when it’s ready might not be something I can do objectively, but I think we can lay some ground rules.

The iPad needs to be able to connect to an external monitor and trackpad.

Yes, I can hear the “but it’s a touch interface” objections from here. To answer that I’d like to point at the current iOS feature to 3D press on the keyboard to move the cursor in a text field. Like Jason Snell has argued, they’ve already given us a mouse-like interface, why not take it all the way? It’s probably healthier to move around all day like the kid in the video, but there are a whole lot of us who have a desk they sit at every day, and the iPad is simply poorly ergonomically designed for long periods of work.

The iPad needs to be able to run a full suite of Unix tools.

So much of my development work happens in Terminal.app. For example, in one of our applications we need to run a Django app that uses a ssh tunnel to a MySQL server, and then be able to load the Django site by browsing to localhost on a particular port. One could argue that if that’s the kind of work you are doing, you should just use a Mac. I’d argue that loosening of the iPad restrictions just a bit would open the device up to an entirely new class of user. They don’t need to give full access to the Unix underpinnings of iOS to provide a Unix development environment, they could chroot the user in a sandbox. It’s technically possible, but not currently possible.

The iPad needs a local and remote backup solution.

I worry about my data. Too much, obviously. My Mac runs the classic 3-2-1 backup system (three copies of your data, two local, one remote). iCloud backup could work, but a local Time Machine would be even better. Being able to restore just one file to what it was an hour ago is, at times, priceless. I’d say we are probably closest to having this, depending on the app you are using, but a system-wide, effortless, file-level backup and recovery system would be fantastic.1

I may be able to switch to an iPad before all these three things happen, but it would be so cumbersome and difficult that my work would suffer as a result.

What I don’t want to do is jump on the “it’s not a real computer” bandwagon. That’s the same argument that was used against Macs for years, back when my Mac was the only one in the company outside of design. The Mac was derided for years as an expensive toy by IT departments and PC enthusiasts. They were wrong then, and those saying it’s impossible to get any real work done on an iPad now are wrong. What I’m saying is that for now, it’s impractical for me to use an iPad for every day work, but I don’t think it’ll stay that way forever. For now, there simply is no alternative to the command line to do what I do. In the future, that might not be the case.

I’ve found it interesting to look at how work was done before computers became commonplace. Writers used typewriters, which served as the models for how computers first evolved, but I think the more interesting occupation to look at is that of an architect working at a drafting table or a drawing board. They might have done some sketching or taken down some ideas in a notebook, but the real work happened with an expansive canvas in an environment that was conducive to long periods of uninterrupted work.

The iPad Pro right now is a professional notebook. I’m waiting for it to be a drafting table, something similar to the Microsoft Surface Studio, but without the suck.

  1. I know, the iPad isn’t supposed to worry about “files”, but then again it does have a Files app now, so I’d say that argument also went out the window. 

Scrivener 3 arrives with new interface, export options - Six Colors

November 22, 2017

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Obviously, Scrivener doesn’t turn you into a writer anymore than handing you a paintbrush turns you into Picasso, but if you’re looking for a tool to help you on your journey, it’s a great choice.

I used Ulysses when writing my NaNoWriMo novel, but Scrivner was a close second choice. I’m not sure if it’s quite for me, but it’s an intriguing app.

Veterans Day

November 9, 2017

I gave a talk at our school Veterans Day assembly today. I didn’t get everything I wanted to say in, but it seemed to go over well.

So, I thought an awful lot about what I wanted to say to you today. What message I could bring that would be of use to middle schoolers, and I want to talk to you about why you might want to consider joining the Navy after high school. Now, I’m not a recruiter, I’m not here to sell you some schickt or a bunch of meaningless jargon. I want to tell you what the Navy did for me, and what it could do for you too.

I joined the Navy when I was 18 in 1995, which probably seems like absolute ages ago to all of you, but it seem like yesterday to me. I was a rambunctious kid, bit of a troublemaker, you might say. And for me, at the time, college was simply not in the cards. I knew I needed to do something with my life, but I didn’t know what it was. I wanted to travel, and my dad was in the Navy when he was young and he went all over the world, so it sounded like a good idea for me too.

So, I signed up and shipped off to boot camp in Great Lakes, IL in October, graduated in December. After boot camp, I went to engineering common core, then I shipped off to San Diego for “A” school where I learned to be a machinist.

After San Diego I was assigned to the USS Platte, an oiler. We were a floating Caseys, a gas station for all the other Navy ships in the sea. We would pull along side another ship, the gunners mates would fire lines across to them, they’d pull the lines tight, and we’d run big hoses over to the other ship.

Then we’d just steam across the Atlantic pumping millions of gallons of gas over to the other ship. That was our job.

I went on two Mediterranean deployments during the three years I lived on the ship for six months each. During the deployments I visited Portugal, Spain, Gibraltar, France, Italy (spent a lot of time in Italy), Greece, and even went to Israel once. Back stateside we went to the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands once, and north to Nova Scotia once too. That was a blast, you can ask Mrs. Buys about that, she was there for that one!

Back then, and remember this was in the ‘90s, it was peace time, and we were an oilier, so keep that in mind, but we’d go from port to port, spending a week or two underway before pulling into port in another country for a few days. We’d get maybe a day to go explore wherever we were, sometimes go on an MWR trip or something. But, it was a blast, but it was also a lot of hard work. When you’re underway, there’s nothing better to do than to learn everything you can about the ship. And play cards. We played a lot of cards.

I got to travel, I learned that I loved the ocean, I was a firefighter on the ship, and I worked hard and became a radioman. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

After the ship I was transferred to a small joint-services command in rural England, six hours West of London in Cornwall called JMF St. Mawgan. This was a shore command that counted as sea duty for ship-shore rotation because it was so remote, but it was amazing. The Navy shipped our family over, and our Jeep, and we rented a farmhouse right outside a tiny little village. What we did there was… classified, and I was never sure if it was ever unclassified, so, we’ll just move on. I was a radioman and handled communications. The facility itself was underground in a building built to withstand a nuclear bomb. There were armed British guards at a big turnstile, then a long concrete tunnel, then you’d turn and it was another long concrete tunnel, then you’d come to a massive red 50 ton door, then a decontamination station, and then you would be in what was basically an office building.

We loved rural England so much we stayed an extra year. I spent four years there total, and it was another fantastic experience I’ll never forget. I was in England on 9/11. When everything changed. That’s a story for a different day.

Eventually, my tour in the UK came to an end and I had to move once again, this time the Navy shipped me all the way from lush green England to the high desert of Albuquerque, NM, where I was assigned to another special duty command, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which used to be the Defense Nuclear Agency. We built bombs, and they sent me every now and then up to the desert in Nevada north of Las Vegas to handle communications for testing these bombs. The base in Las Vegas was an Air Force base sectioned off into different areas that numbered up into the 50s.

After three years at DTRA, the Navy told me it was time for me to go back out to sea again. At this point, I had to stop and take stock of where I was in life.

I had joined the Navy 11 years prior with nothing but the shirt on my back. I was leaving with a family, a home, and the skills and confidence to build a career on. I looked at my young family and thought about all the long months out to sea and being apart from them, and decided that at this point I’d served my time, so I chose not to reenlist, and was honorably discharged in October of ’06.

This was meant to be a really short overview of my time in the Navy, but what I’d like for you to take out of it is that while I did work hard, harder than I ever thought possible for me, I also had some of the best times of my life in the Navy, and had experiences and went places that I never would have been able to otherwise. Navy life is unlike any other military service, or any other job.

Speaking of jobs,

No matter what kind of job you are thinking of going into when you grow up, there’s an equivalent in the Navy. The Navy is a microcosm of the United States, there’s people from all walks of life in the Navy. If you want to be a plumber, there’s a job for that. Computer programmer? There’s a job for that. Doctor? Yep. Mechanic, you bet! Construction? Absolutely, we call them the Seabees.

Don’t get me wrong, when you sign that dotted line to enlist in the Navy you are putting your life on the line. The shipboard environment is hazardous, and our ships are targets for our enemies. I’ve made, and lost, the best friends of my life in the Navy, and I’ve had friends who’ve suffered debilitating injuries. Life on the ocean is for the brave.

Being a sailor is an old service with old traditions. The Navy needs sailors to man the ships, and the ships of the United States Navy make up the most massive display of military power the world has ever known. It was an honor to be part of it. But more than that, more than flag waving and patriotism, if you want to be pragmatic about starting your life out on the right foot, the Navy is unique. You travel and serve, you do what you’re told when you’re told to do it. You learn just how hard you can work, you learn how to deal with emergencies and life-threatening situations. You learn, by pushing yourself further than you think you can go and rising to the occasion, just how deep your strength really goes.

I joined the Navy in 1995 with literally no possessions but the shirt on my back. I left eleven years later with a family, a home, and a profitable career path. Not everything has been roses and unicorns, but thanks be to my savior Jesus, I’m blessed more than I have any right to be. I owe that to the Navy. When I enlisted I signed a dotted line that I was willing to lay down my life for my country, but at the time the only country I was thinking of was a country of one… me. But what I learned in the Navy was that I wasn’t putting my life on the line for myself, I was doing it for my shipmates, for my family, for my kids. I put my life on the line because the country that let a dirt poor troublemaker from a Montana reservation rise up the ranks to be a respectable homeowner is worth defending. Because in America, where you were born does not dictate who you have to be. Your family name, your race, your checking account balance… none of that matters more than how hard you decide to work. You can wallow in your disadvantages, or you can rise above them. In America, you are not born who you were meant to be, you make your own destiny.

Do we have problems? You bet we do. Big ones. But you can’t help solve them until you solve your own. You might find yourself someday in the same position I was at 18. Listless, restless, no direction. In that case I hope you remember this, that I was once like you, and what worked for me, might work for you too.

And along the way you might find the best friends you’ve ever had, you might meet the love of your life, and you just might find a deep sense of patriotism that goes beyond waving a flag or slapping an eagle sticker on your bumper. I joined the Navy for selfish reasons, what I learned was that we did what we did for each other. For the man or woman standing next to me holding the line, fighting the fire. To keep the people we love safe, to maintain our way of life, a veteran put his life on the line.

Two Months With iMac Prime

November 8, 2017

The 27” iMac 5K is unquestionably the best computer I’ve ever owned. After two months of daily use, for twelve to fourteen hours per day, I can say without reservation that this machine is fantastic. Obviously, I’m late to the bandwagon on this, better reviews than what I would write have already been written, and although those reviews are from 2014, they hold up well enough for the 2017 upgrade too. The screen is beautiful, like a massive glossy magazine. The machine is fast enough so I nearly never have to wait. Basically, it’s everything I need from a computer.

What I Love

Having a desktop computer that is always on has benefits. My mail rules always sort my inbox. I have SuperDuper! setup to automatically clone my internal drive every weekday after Energy Saver wakes it up. The internal SSD is big enough that I’ve got all of my data downloaded and stored locally.

The iMac survived The Great Port Purge so far. So on the back of my screen I’ve got all the connections I need, including four standard USB ports and an SD Card slot for my camera. Three of the USB ports are taken up by my ScanSnap scanner, my time machine backup drive, and the SuperDuper! clone drive. The fourth is open for when I need to charge an accessory.

The two drives are held up by a Twelve South Backpack so they are out of the way and I don’t have to see any cable mess. That keeps my desk clean and my fussy mind focused.

In many ways I feel like the iMac is the last computer that Apple is shipping that’s not compromised to the point of suffering usability, reliability, or both.

The latest Magic Keyboard is great. Like others who’ve become accustomed to the new style of keyboards, every other kind of keyboard now feels like a mushy mess to me. This new one is crisp and precise.

What Could Be Better

Using the Magic Trackpad 2 is not the same as using the trackpad on a MacBook. I’ve had a hard time dragging things from one spot to another, like if I want to drag something from my desktop to a folder. I’ll click with one finger, then start dragging with another, and for some reason sometimes that drag just doesn’t happen. This might be a combination of a new Mac and a new operating system, it might be because I haven’t gotten the feel for it yet, but whatever the problem, it’s been frustrating.

The screen is so big that it takes more than one operation to move a file from one spot to another. That sounds like the firstiest of first-world problems, but it’s a real enough issue that I broke out my old mouse at one point. I’m still getting used to the trackpad, but so far my opinion of it has not been high. Perhaps it will improve with use. The multitouch gestures like five-finger swipe to show the desktop work well on the large trackpad, where the MacBook trackpad was always too small, and swiping from the edge to show the Notification Center works well, as does swiping to go back and forward in Safari. It’s a mixed bag.

This Saturday I’m packing up the iMac and bringing it to the Apple Store for repairs. I found a big, ugly, dead pixel center-right of the screen. When it’s up against a white background, like this text editor, it looks like a speck of dirt and I feel like I should wipe it off. But, it doesn’t go anywhere. So, although I’m loath to have anyone crack the seal on the Mac, I can’t go though the next several years staring at this dot.


If you, like me, spend a significant amount of time in front of a computer, I can’t recommend the iMac highly enough. It’s a beautiful work of art, designed to live in your home or office, and it’s also a powerful workhorse that can keep up with the most demanding tasks. It’s hard for me to recommend any other Mac in the Apple lineup right now to anyone but early adopters or those with enough technical savvy to work around the MacBook and MacBook Pro limitations. I’m hoping in another revision they’ll have some of the issues with the keyboard worked out, and maybe even throw in an extra port or two1. For me, this iMac is exactly what I need.

  1. Not likely. 

On That Which is Correct Politically

October 26, 2017

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SOCRATES: In fact, it is as if you know that you are wrong, and yet rather than seek that which is right, you complain whenever others point out how wrong you are.

This is so, so good.

My Favorite Things About Fall 🍁🍂

October 26, 2017

Top Four is one of my favorite podcasts. Possibly my number one, although its probably tied with ATP and The Talk Show. It’s a strong contender. Marco and Tif Arment chat about some random group of things, and attempt to rank said things, usually failing because they can’t make up their minds. It’s adorable. It’s clear that the two of them are having a good time, and listening always makes me laugh.

In a recent episode the pair ranked their top four favorite “Fall-tivities”, things to do in the Fall. They named a few things I’d never heard of, like pumpkin blazing, which sounds like a lot of fun, and talked about the corn mazes in the Northeast, which for some reason sound bigger than ours here in Iowa. A travesty if true.

Listening to the podcast put me in the holiday mood early this year, and since it’s good to think about good things that make us happy, here, in no particular order, here are a few of my favorite things about Fall.

  • Flannels, sweaters, and jackets
  • Getting a chill outside and coming inside to warm up under a blanket with a hot drink
  • Apple pie
  • The smell of cinnamon and spice in the air when baking said apple pie
  • Also pumpkin pie
  • Pumpkins on peoples porches
  • The leaves changing color and falling
  • The holiday season is coming, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years 🎁🎉🎊
  • Getting up before the sun comes up and going outside to look at the stars
  • Soups, stews, and chili
  • Smores in the backyard over a fire, just because.
  • Football and Fall soccer seasons
  • The long, hot, miserable summer is over. The seasons change, life goes on.

Fall is by far my favorite time of the year. The grass stops growing, but we don’t have snow yet. The days get shorter, but there’s still plenty of sunshine. Time to break out the gloves and hats and scarves. Time to bake some cookies and carve a pumpkin. Run a little later in the day, and enjoy it more because the temperature is perfect for running in long sleeves. Go for a hayride, have a bonfire, dig the decorations out of storage. Put our petty differences aside and remember that we are all neighbors. Give, laugh, love. Fall is the best.

The Good Old Days

October 9, 2017

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Air pollution that can cause respiratory illness and other health problems was far less regulated before the EPA was founded. The EPA estimated that the Clean Air Act, which regulates pollution from industries, prevented more than 160,000 early deaths, 130,000 heart attacks, and millions of cases of respiratory illness in 2010 alone.

But sure, let’s get rid of the EPA and bring back acid rain.


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