Category Archives: Technology

A tale of two processes

(this is NOT transportation related! Skip if so inclined).
During my first year at A Company, I worked with one other developer, who, although in Austin, wasn’t physically co-located. Because we didn’t have an office. There were 2 of us in Austin; he worked in his house; I worked in my garage. (Like the Fonz!).
How did we manage to communicate? Well, on IM, mostly; sometimes on the phone if time-critical or hard to explain; once a month or so in person (we’d ride our bike to the other guy’s ‘office’, actually). Other tools we used? Bug reports; emails; the typical slate. With the other two developers at the company (in Virginia)? Same story, although less often (didn’t work as closely with them): IM most of the time, phone when necessary, in person when no other choice (once or twice a year to do some heavy whiteboarding, perhaps). Who told us to work this way? We did. The other guy and me.
Lately, at A Company, there’s guys insisting on a new process. It mandates a meeting, in person, every single morning, at the same time each day, in front of a big section of wall with a bunch of post-it-notes. It as a matter of practice basically requires that communication be done in-person (heavily disparaging the use of tools – even IM and bugtrackers). It requires that people work pretty much at the same velocity all the time – no matter how inspired you might be one day or blocked the next. It requires a fairly non-flexible work schedule. It heavily encourages the same level of documentation on all features (index cards). Who told us to work this way? They did. (Not me, obviously).
Which one of these processes do you think calls itself Agile? Which one claims to respect self-organized teams? Which one supported flexible work environments – where the other developer (not me) would sometimes take off and hit Barton Springs, where I (me) would often take the laptop other places with wifi and work? Which one’s self-image better fits with the idea of being stuck in an office from 9-5 every single day? Which one actually does, in practice?
Yep.

I Hate The New Facebook So Much HATE HATE HATE

So since they’ve switched it to being twitter, i.e. “ten year old girls high on methamphetamines supplied with a bunch of megaphones”, I thought the one thing I could make use of was the ability to share some pithy stupid quote from IM.
Guess again. Apparently the stuff below is just too verbose for the New Brevity. I have not felt this crotchety in quite some time.

My contribution today to software memeology:
what’s the real status of it anyways? is it: “thursday, the dude from (some other group or company) rings the doorbell, and we discover the flaming bag of algorithm” or is it that they’ve already gotten the bag and they think it’ll take until thursday to stomp it out?

M1EK versus solar

I don’t have time for anything but a quick hit, so here you go:
As the Statesman indicates, some councilmembers, most notably Mike Martinez, are balking at the cost of the proposed gigantic solar photovoltaic plant out in the middle of nowhere.
This is a good objection. I commented to this effect at the austinist last week.
One of the primary benefits of solar PV is as a peak demand displacer/replacer. Why would you want that capacity at the other end of your distribution network from the actual customers, where you undergo all the normal distribution losses and don’t get any ancillary benefits for the customer, like shade (cooler roof)?
If you want to invest a bunch of money in PV, and don’t want it to be simply rebates for customer systems, then build an Austin Energy photovoltaic farm on top of a bunch of short, wide, buildings with air-conditioning needs. Like the Convention Center, or the millions of warehouses up off Metric, or Costco. AE still owns the energy, but it’s being delivered to the grid far more efficiently than from the Webberville location.
(Also, an eastern location is kind of stupid as well – there’s a non-trivial difference in hours of sunlight between west and east Austin).
In short, since unlike a coal or natural gas plant, you don’t have to put it in the middle of nowhere, why on earth would you want to, and suffer the same drop-off in power due to transmission that they do? Why not take advantage of the few things solar PV is unquestionably better at – nobody minds it if there’s solar panels on a roof nextdoor; and everybody loves some free shade.
If you wanted to build a solar plant in the middle of nowhere, given all the above, what should you do? Solar thermal – i.e. the mirrors that focus on a bunch of molten salt. Much more efficient than PV, and there are no ancillary benefits like shade that go to waste when you’re out in the middle of nowhere.

Why Plug-In Hybrids Are Nowhere Near Ready

I own and drive a Prius. I love the thing. I’m constantly defending it from FUD. But there’s a difference between defending something you like based on facts and just becoming a credulous sucker – and that line is crossed with the plug-in hybrid, being pushed disproportionately by a group connected with our local electric utility. The following is a comment I made to a post at my favorite car blog, Cars Cars Cars:

The metric to help people cut through the plug-in hybrid fog is this:
Toyota had to figure out this “keep the charge on the battery between 30 and 70%” strategy to make the thing last longer than the “few years” the anti-hybrid FUDders like to claim it will.
So figure out how much more battery you’re going to need to drive on all electric for a lot longer than the Prius (several times larger than existing Prius battery). Then double it, so you can keep the charge in that band. Then figure out how much that weighs and costs.
Or, wait for a magic new battery which can fully deplete and fully charge while still lasting 15 years.
Either way, it ain’t happening soon.

Nobody ever raises this “charge band” issue specifically when talking about plug-ins, but it’s clearly the biggest obstacle to surmount. Either you need to haul around batteries ten or twenty times the size and weight of the already big Prius battery, or you’re going to be stuck in cell-phone hell where, like the incorrect FUD spewed about the Prius by hybrid haters, the battery really WILL die after just a few years or a few tens of thousands of miles.
The summary is this: without a radical, not merely evolutionary, improvement in battery technology, the plug-in hybrid is a non-starter. Period.
Keep in mind, while digesting these arguments, that the electric utility has a demonstrable incentive to push plug-in cars even when the technology isn’t really ready – the intention is that people will charge these vehicles mainly overnight, when the utility is literally swimming in energy it can’t really sell. It’s a boon to the utility to be able to get any money for that night-time electricity; otherwise they need to run some of their plants in less efficient modes (raising overall costs) or resort to costly energy storage schemes. They’re not idealistic crusaders here; they stand to seriously improve their finances.
References:

itunes 7 sucks

Do not upgrade from itunes 6 to itunes 7; not even itunes 7.0.1. The machine on which I’m composing this crackplog is used only for email, non-work web-browsing, and playing music; and itunes 7 skips terribly whenever I load a new page in firefox – and this is not an underpowered machine. The 7.0.1 update actually made it worse!.
This is what I get for being a slave to apple’s music library management stuff. Sigh.

New links

Chris Mooney has moved here (a much more palatable host) and I’ve added Tim Lambert.
Both often cover the distortion of science perpetrated by the current sorry crop of right-wingers. And don’t fall for bogus claims of balance by shysters trying to convince you both sides are equally bad. They’re just not. This is almost entirely a Republican problem, and it’s not going anywhere. The mostly non-religious but very-rabid right-wingers at my last job were, despite being a highly educated and self-described moderate bunch, falling for most of the denial science pushed for profit by the GOP’s pseudoscience shills. If those people are unwilling to use their critical thinking skills when their political party tells them not to, I fear for our future. I ain’t kidding.
For instance: There isn’t really any lack of consensus on global warming, people. The scientists who study climate are overwhelmingly speaking in one voice. The few skeptics who remain are largely shills funded by the oil companies. Yes, for real.
I note in passing that my buddies at Hit and Run are still curiously silent on the global warming news of the day.

Choice is never bad

This is pretty much how I feel about what Microsoft’s done to the computer software industry. Unfortunately, the site for which Julian writes pretty much takes Microsoft at their word and buys the “statists envious of successful corporation” version of the story.
It’s even remarkably timely.
So please imagine a world in which:

  • Meaningful commercial operating system competition existed, thus pushing Windows to actually satisfy customer needs rather than those of its business partners’. IE, what we had from the 80s through the early 90s.
  • Non-trivial commercial office suite competition existed, meaning that Word, Excel, and the lot would have to be GOOD, not just good enough.
  • Commercial browser competition had existed for the last 5 years, meaning IE wouldn’t have been able to take half a decade off after Netscape died.

And, no, open source can’t save us, with the trivial exception of browsers (which just aren’t all that complicated compared to the other things above). I’ve been using linux, on server and desktop, at my last three jobs. I even prefer it for work. That doesn’t make it a competitor serious enough to do much good, even though Microsoft has to say it does so they look good for the media. (In 2005, I couldn’t get sound working on a friggin’ mass-market HP-Compaq box running Red Hat Linux (and later, same problem with Debian) – and I was far from the only one).
The third-grade libertarians out there replied at the time: “the market will save us” – pointing to the transition to the internet, which would supposedly make operating system monopolies a non-issue. Problem is – Microsoft knew that was a threat and fairly effectively (and obnoxiously) killed it.