The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Working at home sucks?

After a couple of days in which I'm glad we keep bourbon in the 10th Magnitude office, Scott Hanselman's examination of working remotely seems timely:

I see this ban on Remote Work at Yahoo as one (or all) of these three things:

  • A veiled attempt to trim the workforce through effectively forced attrition by giving a Sophie's Choice to remote workers that management perceives as possibly not optimally contributing. It's easy to avoid calling it a layoff when you've just changed the remote work policy, right?
  • A complete and total misstep and misunderstanding of how remote workers see themselves and how they provide value.
  • Pretty clear evidence that Yahoo really has no decent way to measure of productivity and output of a worker.

All this said, it's REALLY hard to be remote. I propose that most remote workers work at least as hard, if not more so, than their local counterparts. This is fueled in no small part by guilt and fear. We DO feel guilty working at home. We assume you all think we're just hanging out without pants on. We assume you think we're just at the mall tweeting. We fear that you think we aren't putting in a solid 40 hours (or 50, or 60).

Because of this, we tend to work late, we work after the kids are down, and we work weekends. We may take an afternoon off to see a kid's play, but then the guilt will send us right back in to make up the time. In my anecdotal experience, remote workers are more likely to feel they are "taking time from the company" and pay it back more than others.

I like working from home when I have a lot of creative or intense work to do, but generally I prefer working in the office. I've also been thinking about the compromise solution of moving to within, say, 500 meters of the office, so I can get home in 5 minutes if I need to.

Meanwhile...back to work.

The reading list expands...

Two guys on vacation, new guys not starting yet, my day began at 7:25 this morning. At least Parker got a taxi to day care, sparing me the need to drive home tonight in a blizzard.

So I'll just add these to Instapaper and hope I have to fly somewhere soon:

Oh, and don't miss Jennifer Lawrence answering stupid questions after her Oscars win Sunday night.

Douglas Adams was right

From The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

From this week's news:

If calculations of the newly discovered Higgs boson particle are correct, one day, tens of billions of years from now, the universe will disappear at the speed of light, replaced by a strange, alternative dimension, one theoretical physicist calls “boring.”

“It may be that the universe we live in is inherently unstable and at some point billions of years from now it’s all going to get wiped out. This has to do with the Higgs energy field itself,” [theoretical physicist Joseph] Lykken [of Fermilab] added, referring to an invisible field of energy that is believed to exist throughout the universe.

“Essentially, the universe wants to be in different state and so eventually it will realize that. A little bubble of what you might think of an as alternative universe will appear somewhere and then it will expand out and destroy us. So that’ll be very dramatic, but you and I will not be around to witness it,” Lykken told reporters before a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston this week.

And...has this happened already? We can't possibly know...but Douglas Adams might have known all along.

Petitio principii

...or, my thought about the controversy surrounding the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty: whether or not agents of the United States could have found (or, indeed, did find) Osama bin Laden without using torture does not matter one bit. Torture is wrong; no outcome that requires torture is worth the moral cost.

But even if one were to accept the clearly false proposition that Osama bin Laden was the most powerful and dangerous criminal in the world, and even if one were to accept the flatly immoral proposition that there are circumstances of such immediacy and lethal potential that justify torture, torture in pursuit of this man still wasn't worth it.

I don't find Zero Dark Thirty morally ambiguous. I don't think Kathryn Bigelow meant to glorify torture; I think she meant to hold up a mirror.

If the events depicted in the film are true, we destroyed lives in the most repugnant way imaginable to get revenge on a madman. We cashed in a century of setting of moral leadership to kill one guy. Forget about whether it was worth it. Is this who we want to be?

Inside a Pan Am a warehouse

Redondo Beach, Calif., resident Andrew Toth has build a mock-up of a 1970s-era jumbo:

The new cabin - about 60 feet long, stretching from the airplane's nose to the front of the wing - is an almost exact replication of a 1970s and '80s vintage 747.

In addition to first class, Toth installed 26 powder blue seats in what was called Clipper Class - a premium economy class section with extra legroom.

Much of his plane is a former Japan Airlines 747 he rescued from storage space for retired airplanes in the Mojave desert.

Perhaps most impressive, the first-class galley, or kitchen, came in one 800-pound piece from Mojave, trucked on a tractor-trailer and moved by four men from the parking area into his space. Contractor Doug Bernhardt was in charge of making it all fit together.

"We get a picture, and we look at it and he says, `This is what I want it to look like,"' Bernhardt said. "That's the magic in it. That's where you have to have an imagination."

While most of the interior is real, Toth uses some re-creations. But things must be perfect. His upper deck tables were constructed incorrectly, and while only serious Pan Am lovers can tell the difference, Toth had them remade. "Unless it looks exactly like it did when I was a kid, I'm not going to be happy."

Wow. Just, wow.

The very bad week of Microsoft Windows Azure

Microsoft has suffered some unfortunate outages this week, first affecting SQL databases on Monday, and then yesterday storage:

On Friday, February 22 at 12:44 PM PST, Storage experienced a worldwide outage impacting HTTPS traffic due to an expired SSL certificate. This did not impact HTTP traffic. We have executed repair steps to update SSL certificate on the impacted clusters and have recovered to over 99% availability across all sub-regions. We will continue monitoring the health of the Storage service and SSL traffic for the next 24 hrs. Customers may experience intermittent failures during this period. We apologize for any inconvenience this causes our customers.

The outage caused problems throughout the Azure universe, because SSL-based storage underpins just about everything. Without Storage, for example, any VM that goes offline can't restart, because its VHD is kept in Storage. Web sites and Service Bus were also hosed. My customers were annoyed.

These problems can affect any computing system. The problem with Azure Storage going down was the scope of it: millions of applications. Even the largest colo data center only has tens of thousands of computers. With so many people affected, the outage looks like a disaster.

I'll be watching Microsoft closely over the next few days to see what more they can tell us about the outage. But if this was all do to certificates expiring, wow.

Hacking the Vatican

Security guru Bruce Schneier examines Papal election security:

Probably the biggest risk is complacency. What might seem beautiful in its tradition and ritual during the first ballot could easily become cumbersome and annoying after the twentieth ballot, and there will be a temptation to cut corners to save time. If the Cardinals do that, the election process becomes more vulnerable.

A 1996 change in the process lets the cardinals go back and forth from the chapel to their dorm rooms, instead of being locked in the chapel the whole time, as was done previously. This makes the process slightly less secure but a lot more comfortable.

There are also enormous social -- religious, actually -- disincentives to hacking the vote. The election takes place in a chapel and at an altar. The cardinals swear an oath as they are casting their ballot -- further discouragement. The chalice and paten are the implements used to celebrate the Eucharist, the holiest act of the Catholic Church. And the scrutineers are explicitly exhorted not to form any sort of cabal or make any plans to sway the election, under pain of excommunication.

Of course, no amount of security in the world will prevent the electors from replacing Joseph Ratzinger with someone at least as out-of-touch and reactionary as he is, given the constitution of the cardinality these days.

Amazon music pricing puzzlement

Why does Amazon charge 30% less for some CDs ("includes free mp3 version of this album!) than for just the mp3s? Case in point, a back-catalog Dixie Chicks album, $9.99 for just the mp3s but $6.99 for the mp3s plus CD.

My only hypothesis is that they want to get rid of the physical inventory, and they're willing to take a loss to do so. Any other guesses out there?

(Yes, Dixie Chicks. I didn't know I liked them until Pandora sent them my way. In the last three months I've bought about a dozen albums from groups I never knew I liked because of Pandora, which I hope helps the musicians a little bit.)

And the Oscar for best ballot goes to...

This guy, who shared his Oscar ballot with Hollywood Reporter:

Best Cinematography

“I liked Life of Pi, but I’m suspect of any nominee that used a lot of CGI, since you can manipulate the photography so much. Lincoln was way too milky for me; I have that problem with almost everything Janusz Kaminski does. The Anna Karenina cinematography was totally unimpressive. Django Unchained was Robert Richardson, and he, in general, does far too much top-lighting for me. I’m voting for Skyfall because I want Roger Deakins to win an Oscar. Now, I’m a person who knows that Roger Deakins shot Skyfall, but a lot of people in the Academy will have no clue who did because they don’t tell you on the ballot; in fact, they won’t vote for it because it’s a James Bond film -- you know, ‘How can you give James Bond an Oscar?’ But they should go back and rewatch that opening shot where Bond is approaching the camera, and he’s out-of-focus and he slams into focus in a way that I’ve never seen done before. I also really love the way that Deakins plays with dark and light in the film.”

Best Picture

“This is a preferential system. I’m putting Amour at No. 9 because I’m just pissed off at that film. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a movie that I just didn’t understand, so that’s my No. 8. Les Miserables goes in seventh place — it’s not just the most disappointing film of the year but the most disappointing film in many years. Above that I’m putting Silver Linings Playbook, which is just a “blah” film. Django Unchained will go into my fifth slot — it’s a fun movie, but it’s basically just Quentin Tarantino masturbating for almost three hours. Next up is Life of Pi because of how unique it is and for holding my attention up until its irritating ending. Argo is gonna go in third place, but I don’t want it to win because I don’t think it deserves to win and am annoyed that it is on track to win for the wrong reasons. Actually, come to think of it, do we have to put a film in every slot? Because what I want is for my best picture choice to have the best possible shot, so why even give any support to the others? [He has his assistant call the Oscar voting helpline, finds out that voters can leave slots blank and promptly removes all of the aforementioned selections.] I’m basically OK with one of two films winning. Lincoln is going in my second slot; it’s a bore, but it’s Spielberg, it’s well-meaning, and it’s important. Zero Dark Thirty is my No 1.”

He may not have anything in common with any other Oscar voter (there are almost 400), but it's refreshing to hear the honesty—and the depth of knowledge.