State of the Apartment: Black Hole Edition

Seriously, nothing has changed in 12 months. Or everything has changed. More on this technology koan later.

State of the Apartment: One year later

No posts in a year is unacceptable. Most of my quick wit is out on Twitter. I really love the short form of 140 characters, dropping punctuation to denote subtle sarcasm or the popular all-caps for DRAMATIC EMPHASIS.

Tonight, though, a lot of life is going on around me, and I feel at once a part of it and yet wholly separated. An old college friend is in the hospital, dealing with the aftermath of a brain aneurysm. My boss tweets a video to a million people of a recent accomplishment: a rocket that comes back. An independent writer in the gaming industry decides she’s had enough of your (our?) bullshit. Meanwhile, I’ve worked through dinner again, unwinding to cartoons and reading about a computer virus that somehow burns your neurons. Am I missing out on something, or are we all just doing exactly the right things? I like to think that, if you made it so far as to have a Twitter presence, or a television and some Blu-Rays, then that’s not too shabby at all. It takes enormous willpower to change, and if something starts going to shit, we individual humans will definitely change… just as long as Earth keeps us around. I’m changing little bits, here and there. I’m doing a horrible job of it, but I’ve seen some progress. Let’s just make sure that no matter what happens, we keep moving forward.

History in video form

Just spent a year building a spacecraft that docked with the International Space Station. If you missed it, follow along!

Falcon 9 Liftoff, 5/22 early morning:

http://vimeo.com/42613988

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What are new space dreams made of?

The last few days I’ve been planning a business trip to Cape Canaveral, FL for some integrated testing. I’ve had to talk to a travel agent, get permission to go on base, clear up all my credentials, take some training courses. When all’s said and done, I will be in another state for a few things, some fires will be put out, confidence will be built, and I’ll be on my way. Unexpected things might happen, and I might get delayed or interrupted, but once I’ve taken that first step to the airport, it’s all downhill and reactionary.

During all this, something occurs to me that is simultaneously frightening and amazing: In 50 years (or less) we might have manufacturing plants in orbit around Earth. Someone of the next generation may be doing the very same song and dance, but instead of going across the country, they’ll be traveling to LEO. There will be fires to be put out, tests to be run, confidence to be built. Millions of miles above the Earth’s surface. There might be orbiting universities where you can get accepted based on SAT scores and physical results. There might even be some sort of Space Amusement Park for weekend getaways.

Is this real life?

Astronauts are selected for their well-rounded skill set, and trained for years to become familiar with a system they didn’t, or couldn’t, design. Astronauts have to represent their country and follow the directions of thousands of people and do science experiments for others, planned out to the minute. This couldn’t be further from the truth of how business works in commercial industries: Chief architects of complex systems, or business consultants with a wide range of experiences in the field, are flown in. As temporary employees, they are paid to fix the problems and be on their way as soon as possible. Researchers build their own test beds and operate them because they want to know why the Universe works the way it does. If they have to go into the field to get the best results, they do it. Having to run an experiment over the phone or webcam would be borderline insulting.

Can you imagine being an Orbital manufacturing consultant? I just did. There are thousands of job titles right now that may seem nonexistent, or laughably specialized and niche. If all goes well, and if the vision of a few reaches out to touch the many, jobs as mundane on Earth as “Garbage collector” or “Landscaper” can become “Suborbital waste management expert” or “Orbital horticultural technician”. These necessary but unheard-of roles leap off the pages of science fiction and into reality, as soon as commercial space actually goes commercial.

Protect IP Act

My letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on the Protect IP Act. Of course I haven’t read it (I can’t read legislation and understand it – I found this out in my US Government course), but I trust the allegations of Markos Moulitsas and the Daily Kos community, as well as Lawrence Lessig of Rootstrikers and the handful of Twitter followers I have who’ve been vocally against this legislation.

As one of the first children of the Internet age, I saw as a student and a young adult the awesome benefits of the Internet as a platform for free speech, technical innovation, and global community organizing the likes of which the world has never seen before. Even though you are a co-sponsor of this bill, I urge you to reconsider this legislation’s execution, as it does not do enough to protect poetic license, innovation, and community organizing.

This bill could put in jeopardy many, if not all, of the transformational organizations that have come from the Internet in the last decade, despite all the possible abuses of copyright (and questionable media prosecution tactics) and an unforgiving copyright law on the verge of a cultural evolution.

Form letter below:

Please withdraw your support for S.968, the Protect IP Act. This bill could destroy the Internet as we know it.

If S.968 passes, then the government could order Internet providers to block sites like Red State, Daily Kos, YouTube or even Facebook if even one member of those communities posted material a copyright holder considered infringing. This would put an end to all online content sharing.

Just as bad, all website owners would be forced to enact massive new private security measures, which means no one would bother creating new Internet companies anymore because of the cost and risk involved.

That’s why tech giants like Facebook, Google, Twitter, eBay, Yahoo, AOL and Mozilla are opposed to this legislation, and why Microsoft has withdrawn its support and is now opposing the bills. It’s why more than 100 of the nation’s leading Intellectual Property law professors are opposed to the bill. It’s why the Consumer Electronics Association, which comprises over 2,000 American technology companies is opposed to the legislation as currently written.

Protect IP, as currently written, is dangerous to our way of life. Please withdraw your support for this legislation.

The Missed Connection

Found this in my backup documents from a few months ago. Seems like it was well-written, and given the topic I assume I had ample time to craft it…

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It felt like they took 45 minutes to board the airplane, but I finally got off my phone just as they pushed back, which was at 3:17 for a 3:40 departure. I thought it took a long time to board, but apparently it was disturbingly early. And yet we landed at 5:46, half an hour late.

A lot of things should have tipped me off that the plane landed late. They made an announcement urging the immediate and expedited passage of three people flying to colorado springs since they had to huff it across the whole Denver airport. When I negotiated my own exit, I made a beeline to my next gate, made sure everything was on time, and went off to find food. After all, I knew that I had an hour layover.

I stopped off at the bathroom, walked in a circle around the central rotunda, and unable to locate a proper sandwich (mayo AND mustard? Might as well set me on fire), I got a personal pizza and a bottled water, hoping that I could digest it because that’s the kind of trip I’d been having.

I leisurely walked back to my gate and found a spot among the crowd to sit down. But something seemed very off; the plane was moving backward. I guessed this was some kind of readjustment to align with the jetway, but dismissed that as the jetways themselves are adjustable. So I went to the front desk, and the flight to LA had disappeared from the boards. At this point I am more confused than I have ever been in recent memory. Where did my plane go? Did I miss a gate change? Confirmed this was the right gate, so time to ask: “Where’s the flight to LA?” “Gone. What seat were you?”

“Are you serious?” I grab my phone, and actually check the fucking time. It’s 6:17, seven minutes after my scheduled departure time. I thought I had an hour layover, and my plane is gone after 20 minutes of walking around the fucking airport? I checked my gchat and twitter post logs, since I know I was chatting right up until takeoff, and tweeting immediately after landing. This is when it actually dawned on me that I had missed my flight.

“Were you seat 15C or 11C? I gave them away when you didn’t show up.” “Yeah, I was 15C.” I didn’t even know my own seat number. I usually check that kind of thing while walking down the damn jetway. I guess I made some standby traveller’s night, but now I’m getting home at 1am.

Rule #1: VPN Connectivity

I’m going to start my own tech company someday and I don’t want it to be a failure. That’s why I can’t afford to forget this list of incredibly important things I’m learning along the way.

Rule #1: It must be dead simple for my developers to connect to the VPN.

You know what sucks as a developer? Getting a page at 8:23pm — halfway through your beer; four innings into the game — and having to fix something that broke. You know what sucks as a business-owner? Having to wait more than five seconds for the developer to be up and running on the VPN so he can start figuring out what’s wrong.

I’m not talking about the time it takes to get in touch with that developer or the time it takes for him to get home or whatever. You can’t anticipate those things and I don’t expect every one of my developers to perpetually be on call.

I’m talking about the time it takes from the instant he opens his laptop to the instant he’s actually able to start fixing problems. That time should be five seconds or less.

At my previous job, getting logged on to the VPN was horrific. The process was, roughly:

  1. Go to http://oldjobvpn.com/.
  2. Enter a username/password which I rarely used and may or may not remember.
  3. Find my keys so I can get a six-digit number from my RSA token.
  4. Make sure I’m doing all of this from Internet Explorer and have the right Java plugins or whatever installed.

Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad. Sure, there’s room for error but it’s just a few steps, right? I mean, I’m logged in now! What more could I want?

Oh, I need to actually deploy code?

  1. Go to http://oldjobdevdesktop.com/.
  2. Enter a username/password which I often used but was not necessarily the same as any other.
  3. Fire up a remote desktop to the development environment and make my changes there, perhaps fighting with stupid things like screen resolution compatibility.
  4. Go to http://oldjobtestdesktop.com/.
  5. Enter a username/password which I often used but was not necessarily the same as any other.
  6. Fire up a separate remote desktop to the testing environment and double-check my changes there, perhaps fighting with stupid things like screen resolution compatibility.
  7. Use the same remote desktop to pull down the checked-in changes and deploy to production.
  8. All of this at a snail’s pace because, after all, we’re talking about virtual desktops across the internet.

So I have to remember three separate username/password combinations, have my keys nearby, remind myself that I can’t launch the VPN from Chrome or Firefox, make sure I’m using the right remote desktop clients, and endure what could only be considered great bandwidth if it were 1996.

My word, did that ever suck.

At my current job, this is how I get on the VPN:



That’s it.

I should clarify that SSH is my preferred way to interact with my development environment, not a requirement of the infrastructure. If I wanted to launch Eclipse or IntelliJ or anything else, I could. In short, it’s completely as if I’m sitting at my desk, writing code the way I want to. It took less than five seconds: two mouse clicks, one password (my normal corporate domain password), and zero frustration.

Consider these two snapshots in time, sixty seconds after I open my laptop: at my new job, I’m looking through revision logs and diffs trying to figure out what change was made that broke things; at my old job, I’m still waiting for the VPN launcher to finish starting up.

It’s not just about crisis mitigation, though. It’s also about innovation.

Developers, generally speaking, like working on code. They can be utterly indifferent about the product but still want to improve the code base and implement their own ideas. Those ideas don’t have normal working hours. They could strike at 11:10am or 10:11pm and, either way, I want my developers to have the easiest possible path to putting those ideas into code.

If it takes a tedious, error-prone, blast-from-the-past process to log on to the VPN, I will get zero non-critical off-hours work from them. If it’s easy, though — maybe two mouse clicks and one password — they’ll have virtually no excuse to not hop on and hack a few lines.

So the case for a dead simple VPN is two-fold:

  1. Something went wrong, it has to be fixed, and every extra second it goes unfixed is costing the business money
  2. A developer’s desire to work for free is directly affected by the barriers to doing so and, as such, those barriers should be as low as possible

Sounds obvious when I put it like that, right?

The obligatory 6-month post

I am a week away from 6 months of working at SpaceX. It’s nearly unfathomable how bizarre that is.
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Great Transitions (part 2)

Editor’s note: This post was hastily written my first week on the new job, and sat in draft for 2 months.

I owe Hugh (one or two time poster on this very blog) at least one Very Fancy Hat for introducing me to a SpaceX recruiter.  Read more

Perspective

I think I was in the bathroom doing bathroom-y things, and I noticed the brand new carpet in my apartment. Something so simple threw me down a scientific and philosophical rabbit hole, which I forgot about until just now discussing dreams about pizza. Not sure why, but that’s the point, right?
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