In order to make delicious food, you must eat delicious food

In order to make delicious food, you must eat delicious food. The quality of ingredients is important but you need to develop a palate capable of discerning good and bad. Without good taste, you can’t make good food. If your sense of taste is lower than that of the customers, how will you impress them?

Jiro in Jiro Dreams of Sushi

When I heard this quote, I immediately thought of software development. The best way to write good software is to look at the design principles of good software. You can’t work in isolation. That problem you have is the same problem that has been solved millions of times before by people that are better than you will ever be. Without good taste, you can’t make good food. This is why open source is so important. Look at the source code whenever you are curious how something works.

Trials and Tribulations of the D-Link DNS-320

A funny noise, is something you never want to hear coming out of your primary disk drive. If you are like me, you probably never think too much about backing up your important data before it becomes a looming emergency. I realized while listening to that noise, and watching the red HDD indicator light stay on constantly that I had some pretty important stuff on that drive. Wedding photos, baby photos, videos, documents and other things that you can’t just re-download. Why not have cloud backup? I’m a bit skeptical of entrusting others with my data. At the end of the day, a failure on their end may net you a refund, and you could even take them to court, but no matter what, you are never getting that content back. It was time to take matters into my own hands.

The Setup: I bought a two-bay D-Link DNS-320, and two Western Digital 2TB Red hard disk drives. The plan was to setup the disks in RAID 1, so the odds of a simultaneous failure were as statistically low as my finances would allow. I liked the D-Link 320 because it had compelling features, and a two drive system for a fraction of the cost of other names like Synology. I wanted CIFS and NFS sharing, and RAID 1. Everything else was a perk. Pleasantly enough the DNS-320 also comes with a UPnP server, and has some nice SMART monitoring options, which will send an email to me in the event that errors are detected. I would create one 2TB partition out of the disks, and share this over the network with restricted access. My wife and I would both be able to connect from our computers to back up any data we wanted.

Configuration: CIFS setup was a breeze, but NFS required a bit more poking around. This post is dedicated to overcoming some of the issues I had. Within the NAS web interface, partition your drives, and grab a cup of coffee. Straight forward stuff. I created a single partition labeled “Volume_1”. After this is complete, go to “Management” -> “Application Management” -> “NFS Service”, and check “Enable”, then click “Save Settings”.

Go into “Management” -> “Account Management” -> “Users / Groups” and create a user account if you have not already done so. Within “Account Management”, click on “Network Shares”, and click the “New” button. This will launch the wizard for setting up a share. Select the appropriate users, groups, settings, and on the “Step 2-1: Assign Privileges – Access Methods”, ensure that the “NFS” checkbox is checked.

Move along by clicking “Next” until you reach “Step 2-1-2: NFS Settings”. You will need to specify the Host IP address of the client that will be connecting to this share. This will white list the IP address supplied as a client location. I’m not positive what format you would use the denote multiple IP addresses, however, an asterisk character allows all hosts. I connect with multiple machines via NFS, so using a particular IP address is not sufficient. Despite being accessible to any IP address, the client will still need to authenticate using their credentials entered in “Step 1” and “Step 1-2”. I consider this good enough. Also, ensure the check the “Write” check box if you wish to be able to write files to this location.

Client Configuration: You will need to install the nfs package for your distribution of Linux. I am running Ubuntu 12.10, so the package is named “nfs-client”. Install it using “sudo apt-get install nfs-client”.

Now that you have the nfs-client package, you can use the “showmount” utility to list the shares on the NAS device: “showmount -e NAS_IP_ADDRESS” (e.g. showmount -e 192.168.1.1″). Depending on how you have the disks partitioned and shared in the NAS device, this path will differ.

Export list for 192.168.1.1:
/mnt/HD/HD_a2 *

This path should be consistent with the information in the “Network Shares Information” dialog. This can be accessed by clicking the magnifying glass icon underneath the NFS column in the “Network Shares” interface.

You can now mount your device using the “mount” command: “mount -t nfs NAS_IP_ADDRESS:/REAL_PATH /path/to/mount_point“. The NAS_IP_ADDRESS is the IP address of the NAS device. The REAL_PATH is the information obtained either via showmount, or the “Network Shares Information” dialog. The “/path/to/mount_point” is just an empty directory somewhere on your local machine.

You can also set this mounting option up to be persistent on reboots using the “/etc/fstab” file. Add a new line to this file, and format your entry similar to as follows:

# /etc/fstab: static file system information.
# ...
# <file system> <mount point>   <type>  <options>       <dump>  <pass>
# ...
192.168.1.1:/mnt/HD/HD_a2  /media/nas  nfs rw,hard,intr 0  0

The values used are identical to the values used in the mount command preceding this example. The options specify changes to the mount behavior. “rw” specifies “read/write” permissions. “hard” retries requests indefinitely. Coupled with “intr”, this allows requests to retry until the NFS server becomes unreachable, in which case the retries would stop. I would recommend these option when copying large amounts of data, or when on a wireless network as failed transmissions will be silently repeated without raising an exception on temporary timeouts, etc.

Note on Permissions: Initially when I copied my content over to the NAS, I did so via NFS, and I was not able to view the contents via CIFS (Windows sharing). The problem came down to permissions. The directories did not have a executable bit set for “other”, so permission was denied when a request was made to show the contents of a directory. This was difficult to locate as the UPnP server showed all my media without any permissions issues. A quick search of UNIX permissions revealed that the executable bit is necessary to list directory contents, and the NAS is accessing content created via NFS as “other” (neither user, nor group permissions apply). You can recursively grant the execution bit of any existing content by issuing the following command from the top directory: “chmod o+x -R /root_directory“, where “root_directory” is the folder you want to change. The “-R” flag will recursively apply this permission to all content within.

Lessons Learned: I have about 50GB of pictures and video, and another 20GB in purchased content. I underestimated how long this would take to transmit on a 802.11g connection. 54Mbps is just under 7MB/s. This means that a 50GB transfer would take over 2 hours to complete. And that is not counting temporary speed drops, hard drive access times, retries, etc. When working with large amounts of data, I recommend a 1Gbps Ethernet connection. I will probably be investing in a new router soon that can accommodate these higher speeds.

The D-Link DNS-320 is a solid first time NAS device for under $150. Other than a few gotchas when setting up the NAS (most self inflicted), this device is NFS friendly, and has made a fine edition to my hardware ecosystem.

Working for a Development Firm is Like Being a Rented Sports Car

As my last post alluded to, I am leaving my current development firm. The reason is primarily a boost in earning potential at another employer, but also a culture change. To explain the culture at a development firm I created this analogy:

Imagine you rent a Mustang, or a Corvette. (Of course you are gonna get the insurance!) What are you going to do with that car? Everything that you fucking can! You are gonna imprint the gas petal into the floorboard, and drive fast and wreckless. After all, you have to get every dime you can out of your rental before your time expires right?

Now imagine you own a Mustang, or a Corvette. Yeah, you would probably hot dog it, but it also your purchase, so if you wreck it, you are gonna be upset with yourself. In other words, you are going to maximize your purchase by caring for your vehicle, and obeying the speed limit (most of the time anyway).

I have just described the difference in my view of an internal development team, and an outsourced development team. Clients want to maximize that dollar when they outsource, which is done by getting the most work in the least amount of billable hours. They want the sports car rental. They aren’t going to set a moderate pace; they are going to speed! I’m not saying that all development firms, or all clients are like this (I’ve worked with great clients in the past). But I am saying there is a struggle between maximizing value and being realistic about what you promise.

How does a client pick your development firm? By your firm being the lowest bid. They understate the hours needed for the work. They over-promise features on an unrealistic deadline. When Company A quotes $100k under Company BCompany A gets the work. And the client isn’t going to be cool with missing deadlines, or cutting functionality. So now management is in a battle with the client who is pissed off because the original bid was unrealistic, and wants to rectify the problem. That shit rolls down hill to you – the developer.

And I can tell you, its not possible to write good code faster. Someone micro-managing me, asking me what I’m doing every five minutes isn’t making me any more productive.

There are lots of companies that push hard. You can make a good living working for these places as long as the compensation, or bonuses are commensurate with the work that you put in. But busting your ass all day, every day – every day feeling 10 hours long – every day being full of epic code pushes, and near impossible deadlines met in the 11th hour – that is a young man’s game. That is pretty appealing when you are 22, fresh out of college, and eager to prove yourself to the world. Stressing out at 4:50 on a Friday, trying to get something delivered while your wife and daughter patiently wait for you to get off work just isn’t worth it. I’d rather enjoy my time with them. I’m not mad about it – its just how the game is played.

Which is why this Sports Car is up for ownership. He is done with the rental game, being driven too hard, too long. He wants a nice garage somewhere, and a driver that just takes him out on Sundays for a trip around town. I want to spend time with my daughter while she is still young, instead of delivering some milestone that I wont remember in a month. If I wanted a stressful culture, I would have worked for a startup. Then at least I have some small chance of hitting it big when we get bought by Google.

Working From Home: Redux

In July I wrote about my experience of working from home after one month. Six months later, I’m still working from home, but more the wiser. I had a lot of fears, and uncertainty one month in, and despite the silver lining, I wondered how some of the long term attrition would affect me. Happy to say, six months later I’m alive and kicking, hoping to never set foot in an office again! Here are some thoughts looking back.

Isolation It was a fear that never manifested itself. A coworker of mine warned me that after several months of working from home, he was like a lost puppy when someone would walk through his front door. Hell, I’m a bit strange after staring at the computer screen for a few hours, let alone months of working from home. I attribute this mitigation to my wife and my daughter, and keeping an active social life. I always eat lunch with someone, and keep my weekends full to break up the weeks.

Work is a great place to meet new people, but its not the only place. I still meet friends through friends, and have family, etc. I find that not having a soul-sucking commute and eight hours a day at a desk has made me more social (or at least more energetic). At the end of the day, I want to go out and do things and hang out instead of come home and crash on the couch with some greasy snack food named “regret”. My biggest connection is now user groups in the area. Its educational, and fun.

Reduced Visibility Since you aren’t there, are you going to be passed over when it comes to opportunities, praise, feedback, inclusion in discussions, etc? The answer is YES. The bigger question is if you really want to be in all those silly meetings anyway. I’m guessing you wouldn’t choose to work remotely to place work more in the forefront of your life. After hearing the glorious silence, I find all of the managerial office discussions distracting and just want to know what the outcome is. Less is more.

While I have upheld my end of the remote work bargain, there is still a trust issue. it can be frustrating for your boss when you don’t immediately respond to communications because the fear is “Oh man, we cut this guy loose, and we will never hear from him again!”. We started a new project and I had to (and still at times) push back on the amount of micromanagement. I think there is still a failure to understand that if the agreement is to let me work remotely, then the implied statement is that I am disciplined enough to get my work done.

I think I will prefer ROWE. An employee should be able to work when they want, and how they want without conforming to office hours. The bottom line for a business is that I deliver, not that I put in exactly 40 hours. More on this in a moment.

Getting into a Rut It happens to everyone from time to time. Maybe even more so in the winter. Its cold outside, and the daylight hours are short. When you are working from home, the days start to blend together, and it becomes harder to remain motivated. Caffeine will only carry you so far…

The best thing I did for myself was joining a gym right up the street. I try to visit a few times a week. Its amazing how much stress, tension, and anger you can eliminate just from jogging in place for 30 minutes. I come back refreshed, focused, and energized. When I have several visits in a week, I begin to look forward to the next visit, an this helps me get through the day.

For God’s sake whatever you do, don’t setup for work within arms reach of the junk food in your kitchen!

Another drain is being constantly focused. When you need to be, this is a good thing, but the human mind can only concentrate for so long before fatigue becomes a factor. I read an interesting article called the 10x Developer in You where the author describes the Pomodore Technique. He suggests 25 minutes of concentration, and a 5 minute break. I have opted instead for 45 minutes of concentration, and a 15 minute break, since I often get into problems that extend beyond the 25 minute mark. I have found my productivity (and attention) back to where it was when I first started remote work.

ROWE

ROWE focuses on results, and not hours. Remote work is half of the dream realized, but you still have to conform to office hours. What is the point in working from home if you still have to act like you are sitting in an office?  I think the ideal job would allow remote work and practice ROWE.

For those of you that aren’t parents, a one year old’s sleep schedule is quite erratic, and my shifts don’t always line up with her awake times. I resent having to work while she is awake, only to get off five minutes after she has gone down for a long nap. My daughter goes to sleep around 7pm, and I would prefer work after she is asleep so I can spend more time with her during the day. ROWE accommodates this, whereas a traditional schedule does not.

Charlie Maffitt has some great advice on breaking old habits and adopting a ROWE work style: http://blog.bignerdranch.com/1183-old-habits-die-hard-adapting-to-rowe/

 Final Thoughts

You might be sick of hearing those lucky bastards say it, but this is a game changer. Light traffic is irritating to me now, and I don’t know how people deal with it both directions, 5 days a week. I have a lot more time for reading, playing, and relaxing.

My wife and I have plans for long term travel just around the corner. We underestimated the costs of moving, and the overhead of renting a place for an entire month on top of your current rent. Nevertheless, its still on the books, and later is better than never.

We are also looking to move further out of the city. Without worrying about the commute, you can move further out and maximize your purchasing power.

I think this is the next revolution for workers. This wasn’t possible before for the most part because the technology wasn’t ther, but many jobs today can be done as easily from home as from an office. The entire notion of putting on a silly suit, sitting in traffic an hour, and sitting in a stuffy cubical away from your family most of your life just strikes me as bizarre. The workers will start to demand it, and the employers will have to stop being so controlling about monitoring their staff. This is how you fix rush hour – not by adding mass transit and more lanes. This is how you lower gas prices – not with more fuel efficient vehicles. This is how you fix the depressed American worker – not with medication.

Food for thought!

 

 

 

Something Witty About Diamonds and Pressure

…in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

– The Third Man

Inspirational Lyrics

“That’s life, that’s what people say.
You’re riding high in April,
Shot down in May.
But I know I’m gonna change their tune,
When I’m right back on top in June.”

– Frank Sinatra from That’s Life

All I Want for Christmas…Is Nothing

I want to focus on what is important this time of year – family and giving. I’ve decided that I have everything that I need, but I would love to see some donations to non-profits to help the less fortunate. Please view my Donation Page to quickly and easily give to my favorites!

Happy Holidays everyone!

Saving Money

As I walked out of the Lilburn International Farmer’s Market today with four full bags of groceries for $22, it struck me that I’ve been overpaying for groceries my whole life.

How to shop is a learned behavior, and my parents never took me to a farmer’s market. We went to premium chain grocery stores, and payed premium prices. I’ve been spending money on things without thinking about it for a long time. The way I bought everything all came down to doing what my parents did. But times are different now. The consumer has a lot more knowledge of competing retailers, and thus a lot more choice.  I thought I would pass on a few everyday (no financial advise!) tips for a more frugal lifestyle:

First off – the “Golden Rule”: Never pay full retail. Yup. There are simply too many competing products in every space, too many retailers, too many sales, and an abundance of used items to every pay top dollar.

Groceries: As I mentioned in my opening, find a local farmer’s market. There are probably plenty around you. If there aren’t brick and mortar stores, check with your city’s website to see if they have a market on the weekends. Buying local, and direct can saves lots of money, especially on produce. Eat less meat. Meat is expensive, and too much is unhealthy. Substitute expensive meat for cheaper, healthier options.

Dining Out: Skip dinners and go for lunches instead. The prices are usually one third to one half cheaper than their dinner counter parts. Usually the portion is reduced, but not by the same percentage as the cost. Reducing portions is healthier anyway, as restaurants have distorted what is a reasonable meal size. On the subject – skip drinks, appetizers and desserts at restaurants. There is usually a high markup for these items. If you go with someone, split an entree. Depending on the restaurant, this is usually more than enough for two people. If not, order an entree and a side.

Clothes: Try TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or Khols. You still get new, name brand clothing, but for a fraction of the price. Shoes can be purchased at Payless, or other discount sellers. You may not find exactly what you want, but I think forcing you to expand your wardrobe diversity is a good thing. You might like the look of something you never considered. If you are buying for kids, try consignment sales. Lots of items are never used, since kids grow so fast.

Furniture: Craigslist! People get tired of perfectly good furniture all the time. Let others take the hit of the retail cost. You get to pick from thousands of items on websites like Craigslist for a fraction of the cost. My wife’s latest Craigslist trophies include a $2200 leather sectional couch for $400, and a $600 ottoman for $115. Half of our furniture at this point was acquired from Craigslist.

Utilities: After spending almost three years in New England, I have learned that it’s acceptable to open your windows. Save the AC for when its above 80, or excessively humid outside. Cut cable and pick up a streaming service such as Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu. You don’t need 300 channels if you only watch a handful of shows.

Transportation: While Atlanta’s options aren’t overly appealing, there are usually enough public transportation options to use for your commute. Outside of commuting, you and your spouse can get away with sharing a car on the weekends. Carpool with friends, or alternate weekends in which you get the car. You will not only save on the cost and maintenance of a second vehicle, but also gas, and insurance.

Books: Stop buying them! I’m not advocating that you stop reading of course, but rather check them out from your library. You are paying taxes to fund these municipal services, so leverage them. If you must read the latest best sellers, check what your friends have. When I finish a book I never lend it out – I give it away to whoever wants to read it next. Even e-readers have services that allow for lending digital copies.

Games: Lots of video games quickly depreciate in value. Within a few months of the launch date, the game may drop $15-20. Within six months the cost is probably half the launch day price. Within a year, the game usually ends up as part of a bargain sale. Forget the hype of playing the latest and greatest. Lots of online deals websites are heavily biased towards electronic items, including games. Keep an eye out!

Interestingly, we have less income now that my wife stays at home. We also have more expenditures now than we did when we made more income. We pay considerably more rent, own a new car, and yet we still manage to pay down our debts we accumulated when making the higher income. The trick is to shortcut everyday expenses, and prioritize your wants, and differentiate them from your needs. You aren’t entitled to have all the nice things your parents have. They are older than you and have been accumulating their possessions their entire lives. You are younger, so don’t make the comparison.

I wish someone had imparted this advice on me when I was younger, and I hope that these tips helps others to stretch the all-mighty dollar and live a little more comfortably.

Modding Out Bob

Meet Bob. Bob works in a warehouse gathering items to ship out for fulfillment of online orders. Customers hate to pay for extra shipping, so companies like Bob’s often group items going to the same destination together into the same box to save on shipping costs. The criteria for grouping sound simple: an item can only be placed in a box with another item if both items are going to the same destination. Whether Bob realizes it or not, he is performing an equivalence relation to the shipping orders he fills.

New blog post is up: Read More