Monthly Archives: August 2015

Review: April 1865: The Month That Saved America

April 1865: The Month That Saved America
April 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The statement in the first chapter Americans were born to secede and rebel caught my interest. Winik then went on to back up the claim describing how this country was founded by people crossing an ocean to flee oppression. They seceded from England. The Whiskey Rebellion arose in 1791 just two years after the Constitution went into effect.

Each central figure has his back story told developing an insight as to why he behaved the way he did. This style of organization feels not so much, but I understood the purpose.

Southern apologists want to see Lee and Davis (and the South) as in the right. Northern defenders want to see Lee and Davis as traitors. Confederate leaders received humane treatment despite by Winik being traitors. Union generals also gave generous terms to the surrender, so this treatment is not unprecedented. The Union leaders received a somewhat deified status compared to other Civil War books I have read.

I should have read this book a few months ago for the 150th anniversary of the events it described. August also starts with an “A”, so good enough, right?

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From Review: April 1865: The Month That Saved America published August 31, 2015 at 10:49AM.

Web browsing history

The history of what I have looked at in my web browser should be a feature I like. I know I read something this weekend about work ever expanding to fill the time. Even as efficiencies make things easier, there are places where waste balloons to make people work more than they really need. I eventually thought the example used were lawyers creating work for each other by overwhelming the opponent with too much information so they have to sift through more. It turns out that was correct.

In the middle of the week I ran across a couple articles about how automation while killing off some jobs will create others. I wanted to include the article from the weekend, but find it was a royal pain in the ass. About ten minutes in I wished that I had sent it to my boss like I thought I should just so it would be easier to find.

Eventually I located it to include in yesterday’s blog post. All it took was finding the right keyword.

I hit so many web pages, search is really the only way to find something so specific. And even then, I have to my library training to find something I want.

Bookmarks or Evernote or save later for services are not that helpful because I have to have the forethought to save them. All too often the things I save are not what I need later and things I failed to save are what I do.

I guess what I want is a smarter web browser history search which can figure out from my browser history what is related to a specific page.

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From Web browsing history published August 27, 2015 at 07:01AM.

March of the Machines (Automation)

Saw a tweet about and interesting piece in ABC News Australia Digital disruption: How science and the human touch can help employees resist the march of the machines. Basically, many jobs are going away due to automation. W.I.R.E.D. has a similar story: Robots Will Steal Our Jobs, But They’ll Give Us New Ones.

One of the long struggles I have ever pushed in my career is automation of machines. My approach falls along the line of: if it is going to be done more than once or will take a really long time by hand, then it needs to be automated. This is hard to do. The temptation is to do it by hand once, see how it went, then write a script which does it for the next time. The trouble being that if this is done between having completed the first one and the second, then there is little incentive. Best is to make the automation part of doing it the first time, the second time can include any remediation necessary to make it more perfect.

All this automation makes us more effective employees. My team of three managed hundreds of web servers and dozens of database servers for ten sites. Without automation that would have been a nightmare. The replacement product was more difficult to automate so with fewer servers we needed more people. Yet the drive to better automation is making lives easier. (Technically I left that program about a year ago when my replacement was hired and took over my spot in the on-call rotation.)

A fear I hear about automation is that people will lose their jobs. It reminds me globalization and manufacturing moving overseas to China. Highly repetitive, mindnumbing jobs were the most at risk and as those work forces got better, what was at risk moved up the complexity ladder.

The fear of both globalization and automation led to books like A Whole New Mind. The idea is that if your job is highly repetitive or analytical, then it is at risk to these forces. Becoming the person who designs, describes, coordinates, or finds meaning in stuff (aka “right brain” activities) is the way to survive the coming storm. This book very influenced how I started thinking about my work.

Back in 2003, I automated everything I could because I was overwhelmed with work and little resources beyond great computers and my own skill to make it better. My supervisees focused on meeting with the clients to talk about the web site they wanted and build that. I wrote code to report about or fix problems to prevent people needing to call or email about problems.

Where I wish we would head is more like You Really Don’t Need To Work So Much. I meant to send this to my boss (maybe he’s reading this blog)? All our efficiencies should mean we have less to do not more, so why do we work so hard?

The past fifty years have seen massive gains in productivity, the invention of countless labor-saving devices, and the mass entry of women into the formal workforce. If we assume that there is, to a certain degree, a fixed amount of work necessary for society to function, how can we at once be more productive, have more workers, and yet still be working more hours? Something else must be going on.

From my experience, the to-do list gets ever larger. Not because there is more to do, but because more is possible. I’d just rather spend more of my time on solving hard problems than easy repetitive tasks.

P.S. This post really only exists because I loved the phrase “March of the Machines” enough I wanted it as a title for something on this blog.

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From March of the Machines (Automation) published August 26, 2015 at 07:41AM.

Review: Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty

Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty
Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty by Dan Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a review of an advance reader’s copy (ARC) provided by Viking Books through the Goodreads Giveaway program.

News stories about the 800th anniversary a couple months ago attracted me to this book. I mean I was already vaguely aware it was forced on the hated King John. Plus the Bill of Rights was influenced by it. The hope is to learn something more from this history.

Jones does a good job establishing the political climate in England which led to barons entering into an open revolt and John needing to sign this document. Apparently like the United States Constitution, the Magna Carta was a living document for decades establishing the rights granted to the people in exchange for the king to be able to tax them. The influence centuries later and it has on us even 8 later is remarkable.

Sadly, my main impression of King John is from Disney’s Robin Hood movie. And while I know the story of him came later, the real John whining and sucking his thumb feels pretty correct.

Some places were kind of confusing. (The copy has notes not to quote it before the publication date, so I’ll refrain from posting too much here.) Guess I can say sometimes a title is mentioned and half a page later a couple given names without context that they are linked to the title.

The text of the Magna Carta at the end was a nice touch.

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From Review: Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty published August 25, 2015 at 11:05PM.

TED Talk: How to make stress your friend

Stress is not our enemy. Kelly McGonigal says if you believe stress is bad for you, then it increases your risk of death by 43%. Those also stressed who do not believe it to be bad, do not die anymore than others with low amount of stress. (Gosh, I love the power of the mind.) Blood vessels of the stress-is-bad believers constrict but not so for the stress-is-good, which might be why they have cardiac event. I do have a love affair with being in this state, so it is probably good that I share this belief that it is a good thing as it prepares me for life.

Something I do quite a bit is talk to others when I am stressed. That Oxytocin is involved in stress responses, so reaching out to others helps the recovery of the event.


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From TED Talk: How to make stress your friend published August 25, 2015 at 07:26AM.

Review: The Martian

The Martian
The Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was lovingly written by an obvious space nerd. Weir explains large amounts of science and engineering in a very accessible format. As only a true space nerd would do, there are lots of jokes and puns. Not everyone will like them, but they enhanced the story for me.

The story works as a framework to describe the technical challenges to life on Mars. The Apollo missions were visits of a few short days and Whatney, our hero, was planned to have a few short weeks on Mars. Only it goes all wrong.

What I enjoyed most was
the isolation. So many authors try but fall flat.

Given the fiction part of science-fiction, the problems arrive one after another to give Whatney something to solve without too much of a break to recover. A normal mortal would have broken under the stress. But, then, NASA would not send a normal mortal to Mars. :)

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From Review: The Martian published August 19, 2015 at 09:42PM.

TED Talk: The dangers of “willful blindness”

… a term used in law to describe a situation in which a person seeks to avoid civil or criminal liability for a wrongful act by intentionally putting him or herself in a position where he or she will be unaware of facts that would render him or her liable.


Another Margaret Heffernan TED Talk based her book Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril. People sometimes avoid conflict by going out of their way not to know information that is ethically questionable. Whistleblowers are a unique breed of people who care so much about an institution they want to save it through their actions.

P.S. The other Heffernan TED Talk video I posted is Dare to disagree posted last week.

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From TED Talk: The dangers of “willful blindness” published August 18, 2015 at 07:45AM.

TED Talk: Dare to disagree

I live my work life trying to prove my ideas wrong. And I gather around me others willing and capable of doing the same. It is the best way to get things right. It takes an appreciation for the ability to disagree. It takes collegiality in conflict, debate, and willingness to solve the problem.

“Openness is not the end. It is the beginning.”


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From TED Talk: Dare to disagree published August 11, 2015 at 07:57AM.

Search Within Files

I keep some logs in a directory just in case I need to reference them later. The kind of data that has saved my bacon on a handful to times. Of course, it has over 3,000 files (16GB) in the directory. Of those less than a hundred were potentially relevant. And in the end only a couple dozen had the data I sought.

Windows Explorer used to make this easy to search. I could put in the pattern I wanted and tell it to search the text within them. It would give me the file name for each containing the search string. For whatever reason Windows 7 had to make it more difficult.

So, I wrote the easiest of Powershell scripts:

Get-Content $filelist | Select-String -pattern “Search String

Good thing too because apparently I need to to go through my Indexing Options and identify every file extension I want to search to index file contents. What a royal pain. My guess is doing so would also blow up the EDB data file from its currently 2GB to something way larger. 10GB? 50? 100? Yuck.


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From Search Within Files published August 10, 2015 at 04:30PM.

Emergency Alerts

Earlier there was some kind of emergency alert pushed out to mobile phones by the state. The current and prior phones are capable of getting presidential and imminent threat emergencies plus Amber alerts.

I never know what they are about because in the freak out about Why In The HELL IS MY PHONE DOING THIS?!?!?! the reaction is to stop it as fast as possible. And then I figure out to disable them. In the process I completely forget that there was something people wanted me to know. I just know I do not want to get these alerts anymore.

If it is actually an important emergency notification, then I guess someone else will tell me.

Same thing with my TV. Back when the TV channels delivered them, they were not so bad. It was just a few seconds of annoying noise and nothing to be done except mute the TV, but by the time I found the remote usually it was over… so why bother? But with my current setup the noise is excruciating and terrifying and keeps going until I stop it.

Thankfully the noise with the radio is not that bad. I’m terrified of going to satellite radio in fear they have gone the mobile or DVR route of “advanced technology” means scare the crap out of listeners.

Photo from New York National Guard used with Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

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From Emergency Alerts published August 03, 2015 at 06:35PM.