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belated independence

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We’re almost at the end of the day after Independence Day, and I’m finally getting the opportunity to sit down and write a little about my own Independence Day, 2007. I’m not American, but I had one, nevertheless.

July 4, 2007, was the day I started quitting my job, at a major IT company. I say “started” because I haven’t actually resigned yet: it’s too soon for that. I need to give four weeks’ notice; I gave eight weeks of actual working time, or ten weeks if you factor in holidays that I won’t be taking. What I did was inform my manager that I was leaving, with the rest of the team here being told soon afterwards.

Where am I going? Not another job, at least not yet: in early September I will start full-time study at University College Dublin (UCD). The course is Structural Engineering with Architecture, straddling two disciplines. A lot of mathematics, a lot of looking at the “designed environment”, some graphic design, even some materials and construction.

I thought it was a good all-rounder course: while I enjoy architecture and design, I have no illusions of becoming an Architect with a capital A; it would take a certain level of Arrogance that I don’t have or want (I hope). More details to follow as I get them.

That is not the only change around here: not long after the meeting where I made the announcement, a former colleague of ours came calling. He still works for the same company, but in a different area, and he needed a place to stay for a few days, possibly longer. He’s not Irish, but married an Irish lady, whom (he says) is no longer a Lady. As a result, my place is now his “halfway house” on his way to the divorce courts and out of the country. Good thing I have that spare bedroom.

The last change will take the next eight weeks to engineer: the end of this blog. The reasons are complex, and will be the subject of further entries, but the most straightforward is that this blog is out of step with the way things are done today. Blogging is no longer an end in itself, but a means to an end: an end that I have little interest in achieving.

Written by brian t

July 5, 2007 at 11:51 pm

Posted in blogging, life, study, web 2.0, work

lumbering pottering

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A Saturday at home, with my energy levels back to normal. I’ve been taking advantage of the fine weather to stay indoors, giving my bedroom a top-to-bottom cleaning. Windows and walls first, cleaning off a strange black dust that may be fungal. It might be a sign of damp, which would be odd considering I’m on the top of a 3-floor building that doesn’t leak. It’s only happening on the inside of the external wall in that room, and it may have something to do with its construction; under the flaking wallpaper is a layer of galvanized steel, and I have no idea why.

While cleaning the wall I had my Bluetooth headphones on, catching up on podcasts, but anyone watching me would have been bemused by some of my odd expressions and exclamations as I was on my knees with brush and cloth. You can share the experience I had; head off to Neil Gaiman’s web site, and enjoy Neil’s reading of his short story How To Talk To Girls At Parties. The story is included in his Fragile Things anthology, which I bought last weekend but haven’t started yet. Hilariously surreal, it follows a couple of teenage boys as they blag their way in to a party with some most unusual guests.

With the curtains washed, rehung, and closed to dry, and parts of the carpet wet, I’ve been doing more laundry, making lunch, and have settled down with coffee to watch the Grand National at Aintree. One false start, struggles to get the riders lined up, but … They’re Off!

Written by brian t

April 14, 2007 at 3:25 pm

Posted in life, work

aisles of bile

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bible superstore A strange sight from Fort Collins, Colorado, on my walk last Saturday. I didn’t go inside the “Bible Superstore”, out of respect… who am I kidding? I didn’t go in because I knew I’d be at risk of falling down laughing, and making a fool of myself. How could there be such a thing as a Bible Superstore? I can just imagine the layout:

  • Aisle 1: Bibles
  • Aisle 2: Bibles
  • Aisle 7: Bibles
  • Aisle 8: Bibles
  • Aisle 9: Bible Study
  • Aisle 10: School Books (Intelligent Design)

On Sunday I moved to Denver from Fort Collins, and on Monday I took a flying visit to Colorado Springs by Greyhound Bus. From the bus station I grabbed a cab to my company’s offices; the cabbie looked like Jerry Garcia, and we got talking about Colorado Springs, since it was my first time there. When I asked about Springs’ reputation as a very Christian town, with churches visible everywhere, it was like setting a fire under him. He was what you can call a pantheist, meaning he had a general belief in a “universal power”, but he’d given up on organized religion many years before that. The recent scandals in the town, involving Ted Haggard of the 14,000-strong New Life Church, had made world headlines (such as CNN), and to the cabbie this was just the latest confirmation of his opinion that organized religion is morally bankrupt.

I spent the day with my North American counterparts and their manager, who are about the only people left in a cavernous office floor. Cubicle after cubicle of beige and brown, desks gathering dust, chairs upended, the carpet in the aisles grubby and faded. It was a beautiful day outside, so we all walked down the hill to a barbecue joint, where I had another huge but tasteless sandwich. (If the bread, meat and cheese have no taste, no volume of condiments can make a great sandwich!)

My presence seemed to bring out the worst in my colleagues, in a good way – if that makes any sense. They had a new face to pour out their troubles to, all the while keeping up a brave sense of humour that would not be out of place in a Dilbert cartoon. I got even more of the same from their manager, who took me back in to central Colorado Springs and joined me for dinner and a beer. (I had a nicely microbrewed oatmeal stout and a huge “Chicken Gringo” concoction, with cornbread and potato wedges, that I couldn’t finish.)

As I Twittered in from the bus station, on the way back to Denver: it was one of those days that confirms your suspicions and fears. My US colleagues feel just as threatened as we in Europe do, and as isolated and frozen out of the “career path” in my company. For most of the day I was just someone to talk to, a role I’m happy to play if it helps, and this time I’m sure it did. The manager treated me as an equal, and clearly needed someone to help him make some sense of what is going on.

My qualms about the my employer’s plans seem to be well-justified. I am not going mad, and neither are those colleagues of mine with similar concerns. I can’t really say any more, but what I can say is that there are changes coming my way this year. I’ve learned things I might not be supposed to know, but the effect will be to give me more time to prepare.

The last couple of days in Denver were a mix of gonzo walks and lazing around in my nice hotel room. I will say some more later, but right now I have an ice hockey game to go to, so I need to get my skates on.

Written by brian t

March 15, 2007 at 12:04 am

Posted in america, humour, religion, work

an all-american day

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We’re not in Kansas, Toto. We’re in Colorado. It’s been quite a day, perhaps the most surreal I’ve had in the USA to date. It started out simply enough, with a copy of USA Today, and local TV, then the short trip to the office, where the course is being held. The attendees are mostly American, with a couple of Europeans and Indians. The trainer, as is to be expected, is Scottish.

Breakfast is served in the training room, which is a nice surprise in itself, but today was my first encounter with the legendary Breakfast Burrito, something I could easily become accustomed to. After a Sushi lunch, a real surprise: an unveiling of a new motorbike, built by Orange County Choppers for my company. No, I didn’t get to ride the bike, but seeing the bike and the stars of the show definitely let me know I was in America.

Now I’m back from dinner with the rest of the people on the course, with conversation covering just about all levels of technology from the high – computers and storage – to the lowest – cars and beer. My final course of the day? Apple Pie, of course. It doesn’t get more American than that, does it?

Written by brian t

March 9, 2007 at 6:16 am

Posted in america, work

up in the world

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It’s on: I fly out to Denver, the Mile-High City, on Tuesday. Three intensive days of TTT (Train The Trainer), a semi-social visit to another company site, and then a few days vacation in and around Denver, Colorado.

I would call it a “holiday” if it was in any other country. I change planes at Heathrow, which is risky, but the alternatives were Frankfurt (totally unfamiliar to me), or various US airports, but I’ve been warned against going through any major US hub.

I was only granted permission to go on this course, on expenses, on the grounds that I will redeliver training on the product family. Later this year, in Bangalore is the current plan; or it was the plan a week ago. Since then something has happened that blows the situation wide open, and my involvement could go either way. I’ll explain as best I can without exposing any sensitive information.

OEM is short for Original Equipment Manufacturer, and applies to any company who makes a product released under another company’s name. Dell, from example, does not actually make anything at all: it is an assembler of PCs filled with OEM components from such companies a Intel (CPUs), Seagate (hard drives), or Broadcom (networking).

The OEM company behind my trip to the USA makes storage software, which my employer re-sold under its own name. It’s fairly high-end stuff, but it can take advantage of our less-expensive hardware in a horizontal scale-out architecture, so it has the potential to become even bigger than it is, by entering the “midrange” market aggressively. We’re due to meet company representatives, and be trained by them on advanced diagnostic techniques and system planning.

In the middle of last week, however, it was announced that my employer (a big company) is acquiring the OEM (a small company). The employees of the OEM are becoming colleagues of mine.

I can see two possible outcomes of this. On the one hand, the barrier between the two companies is being torn down, and I will have more direct access to knowledge and resources. It could mean that support for this product is no longer needed, and I go back to other products.

It could also mean that my role expands, since my employer has just demonstrated its full support for the technology in no uncertain terms, and probably plans to roll it out on a wider scale. Which reminds me of what Victor Kiam said about Remington, all those years ago: “I liked it so much… I bought the company.”

Written by brian t

March 4, 2007 at 11:25 pm

Posted in storage, technology, work

gooseberried

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One of my rare nights out, last night, ended in the usual way: in a noisy Dublin bar, with the colleagues I arrived with to my right, engaged in an inpenetrable shop-talk session. Another closed group of people to my left, whom I had been introduced to earlier, fully absorbed in a mutual self-congratulation session. Not one of the party displayed even the slightest general social skils. How hard is it to notice that someone in your party is sat there by himself, staring at the wall, wondering whether he should bother to inform people that he is going home?

A typical response to that might be something like “stop feeling sorry for yourself, get involved in the conversation”. Well, I tried that, and the other person reacted as if I’d just shot her, before asking me to repeat myself twice further, over the noise. I was hardly feeling sorry for myself; bloody furious is a more accurate description. Once again, I found myself in a position where coming in from the cold would require me to explain basic social graces to people, and I frankly can’t be bothered any more. Am I really getting so old?

Here’s a short explanation of what I’m talking about: when you’re in a party of people, it’s common courtesy to think about every member of the party. The amount of work involved depends on your role; e.g. for the hostess of a party it’s practically a job, but it will be much less so to a member of an informal group. A key point is to recognise that you are in a party of people; it might not be the party you arrived with, or would choose to be with, but consider it a test of your social skills to make the de facto party in to a real party, and to keep it that way for as long as the party is together.

If your party has wallflowers, or gooseberries, your party has failed. (A “gooseberry” by my definition is someone in a party who didn’t arrive with a partner, and feels left out of proceedings as a result of that.) It doesn’t matter who they are, or what their personality is like (shy, obnoxious, deaf); my view every member of a party has some measure of responsibility (however tiny) towards making whole the party a success. I’ve made it sound terribly serious and burdensome, but I’ve been in parties where that kind of thing seems to happen naturally, without any sense that it’s forced, or anything but a pleasure to all concerned. The “recovering nerd” in me relishes these little social skills, but it’s hard for me to apply them when I’m the gooseberry in question.

Meanwhile, back at work, my aim of going a year without any plane trips may soon be thwarted; I’ve been asked to attend a training course in the USA, near Denver, Colorado. It’s not fully approved, and nothing is booked yet, but it’s only ten days away. That would be four flights, with one change each way, but there are further complications; it’s “train the trainer”, so going there will almost certainly lead to a return trip to Bangalore, to give a less-advanced version of training on the product in question. Four more flights.

While in the USA, the timing is such that I could easily make it to SXSW Interactive, the annual culture and technology festival in Austin, Texas, with near-perfect timing. I’m not keen on travelling, and definitely not keen on seeing the US Homeland Security Theater on its home stage, but SXSW might let me make that sow’s ear in to a purse of some distinction. That’s two more flights: I did look at the possibility of taking the Greyhound, but that’s a 48-hour round trip.

Written by brian t

February 24, 2007 at 2:57 pm

Posted in life, travel, work

monitor wizard

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Monitors are the theme of this month so far, at home and at work. It tells you how little is going on, in general, that I find this a worthwhile topic to blog about, but hey.

In the office I’m just about the last person to switch from a conventional CRT monitor to a LCD, a 17-incher that another colleague was using before switching to at 20-incher left behind by someone who left. I’m managing to confuse the heck out of a few people by running it in Portrait mode, which suits me because of the amount of time I spend reading documents. It works because the vertical resolution, which is now the horizontal resolution, matches what I’m already used to, but it’s effectively twice as high; really great for Adobe Acrobat documents, such as manuals.

Meanwhile, at home, the 17-inch LCD TV / monitor I bought over three years appears to on its last legs. One edge of the display failed over a year ago, which didn’t bother me much, because it’s a widescreen, and that section is only used if I watch a movie from DVD. Now, however, the picture is completely scrambled most of the time. It’s OK for about a minute after power on, then goes again.

The warranty, such as it was, is long gone, so I had it in bits earlier this evening. Cracking open the plastic shell was a huge pain, figuratively and literally (fingers). Once I had the controller board exposed I could power it up and see if any connections were loose, but none were; the problem is in the core LCD module itself, a factory-sealed unit that I know not to bother opening. Besides the lack of screws, and the possibility of harmful chemicals, it’s a semiconductor that is very sensitive to moisture, dust and other contamination. I was pretty rough on it, I thought, but it made absolutely no difference, good or bad: the damage is sealed in.

Never mind: it’s had a good run, and I’m in the market for a new one, and a recycling service for the old one. The shops are open late on Thursdays here, so I’ll make a run in to Dublin centre, probably to Argos. Yes, they are a “box-shifter”, but I already have the catalogue and a Samsung model in mind. In general, I prefer box-shifters, for the simple reason that I’ve usually done more research, on the object(s) I have in mind, than any number of sales people.

Written by brian t

February 7, 2007 at 9:15 pm

Posted in technology, work