I don't WANT to let go! The Media Rip Saga - Part 1: Formats and Tools.

[caption id="attachment_498" align="aligncenter" width="300"]image1 A Musical Mind[/caption]

A coworker at my previous job once said in response to my whining a bit about having just lost 700 songs from my digital music library "Let go of your music collection!".  That got me thinking, long and hard.


Why am I lugging around this corpus of several thousand compact discs? Why do I have several shelves worth of DVDs? Why don't I simply let go of the whole idea of media ownership and just drink from the infinite fire-hose that is the internet?

Because, when push comes to shove, my media is part of me.  My CD collection represents innumerable fond memories of places, people and moments I've moved on from but that inhabit special places in my heart and mind.

You may have heard the theory that when one sense is diminished, the brain compensates by heightening another. I'm partially blind, so many if not most of my fond memories have a soundtrack. Being able to listen to that particular album and feel some semblance of that moment wash over me is like having a personal time machine.

Oh hey, there's that Autechre album, not available anymore anywhere as far as I can tell. That was one of the first times ever that I was really turned on by electronica. Music plays in my mind's eye - one of my best friends and I walking into a record shop on Newbury Street. And there's that Boiled In Lead CD I got the day after I was invited to an incredibly cool private concert at a farm in NH by a friend who's since passed away. Neither of these things is on Spotify near as I can tell. If I let go, I lose them, and an aspect of those fond memories along with them.

But I'm getting older - in fact I turn 50 in a few months. Having moved countless times I have begun to feel the weight of my possessions. I recognize that I am privileged in that I can make this choice. Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to buy a NAS (Network Attached Storage) and spend their leisure time converting their media collection into a giant bag of bits. I count myself lucky.

So, now that you've heard way more than you ever wanted to know about why I chose to embark upon this epic project, let's talk turkey in case you're thinking about doing this for yourself.

Preserving all your media in virtual form can create a veritable labyrinth of choices. As with all things, I suggest keeping it simple. I'll tell you what my choices were and maybe even offer another option or two along the way, but mostly I'll be guiding you through my process as it has evolved for my purposes.

First let's answer a basic question: What kind of media do you want to preserve? In my case the answer is simple. My collection consists entirely of CDs and DVDs, as well as a handful of Blu-ray discs.

The first big choice - to compress or not to compress? Compressing your media will save you disk space, but cost you in terms of fidelity. The movies you rip won't look exactly as they did on disc, and the music you rip won't be exactly as it was in its original form either.

I will not go down the rabbit hole of trying to convince you of any particular absolute truth, but my ultimate destination ended up being "I never want to have to do this again and I want no loss in quality".

So, on the video side, I don't use any compression at all. I rip my movies straight to Matroska video or ".mkv" files. This format is incredibly rich and versatile, and also has the advantage of being open source. Why do I care one might ask? See above - I NEVER want to do this again :) So I don't want to be beholden to some company or other deciding that the format I chose is changing, going away, or under license dispute. These are my bits embodying my legally purchased media. Full stop.

On the audio side, I was able to take advantage of an excellent format called FLAC. It provides some compression so as to save space, but most important for me is the fact that it's lossless, so I lose no fidelity at all in my ripped copy. This format is also open source, and the author is a fellow Somervillian :)

Having made the important decisions about format, let's choose appropriate tools.

For the video side, I chose MakeMKV. It's cross-platform (Mac, Linux, Windows), has a very straight forward user interface, and is dirt cheap. You can download it for free, but to rip Blu-ray discs, you have to pay them $5 or $10 to unlock the decoder. Trust me, for the power this tool offers, give them their money. They've earned it. This was one of the only tools I could find that made ripping both Blu-ray and DVD discs easy while also giving me the flexibility I needed. A number of lesser tools I tried had nice user interfaces, but were rife with bugs. making it nearly impossible to extract the raw bits with no compression.

Another critical tool if you want to rip TV series from DVD is a little thing called FileBot. It will rename the files to conform to what Plex requires.

For the rare case where multiple episodes in a TV show are glommed into one big file, I chose MKVToolNix to split .mkv files into usable chunks  I'm unsure whether it's worth the effort, especially for series with lots of episodes.

On the audio side, I used XLD for the Mac. It's on par with Xact Audio Copy for Windows, the most highly regarded audio ripper out there near as I can tell. It rips to FLAC effortlessly and the developer maintains a very high quality checksum database of every CD that's been ripped with the tool so you can be sure that your results are crystal clear and bit perfect. I've had Linux folks ask about something similar for them, and I haven't been able to find anything yet. Sorry about that. If someone finds something that does similar things and has a nice UI, do let me know.

You'll also need a place to put the resulting bits. A really safe place. This is a labor intensive effort, and you really don't want to lose all your countless hours of work due to a hard drive failure.

I chose a Synology DS216+ii for the task. It's a nice little box that holds two big hard drives that you can run as a RAID set. In addition to having hardware that meets my needs, I chose these folks because the software the NAS runs is easy to administer, incredibly flexible, and has a rich ecosystem. One great feature I've not seen elsewhere is with just a few clicks, you can back up your data to cloud services like Glacier. Synology has a proprietary suite of software you can use to manage your media. I chose Plex because it's feature rich and for a lifetime fee will automatically transcode movies and music to work with any viewing or listening device.

In the next installment we'll start getting into the nitty-gritty of how to get the job done. The good, the bad, and the ugly!

Hacking the Wetware

Working for Amazon has been a revelation to me in ways large and small.

One of the biggest by far has been coming to the understanding that career growth was not in fact laying in wait around the next corner if only I could master the latest technology trend. There are baseline skills that can either accelerate or retard your growth in profound ways, and many of them reduce down to changing the way you think in or react to various situations. Let's walk through a few of them.

Taking Ownership

You are well and truly the captain of your own ship. Your performance is your responsibility. While these statements may seem blindingly self evident, in fact there are some subtle traps for the unwary who may not even realize they are rationalizing about failure by abdicating responsibility for their own success.

This can take the form of seemingly innocuous behaviors like not wanting to burn bridges or be the bad guy, but when push comes to shove everybody loves a winner and nobody respects a human door mat. Find ways to constructively deal with conflict head on and ultimately attain your goals. The inherent tension of conflict pales in comparison to the confidence you will gain by standing your ground.

Learning How to Learn Effectively

What do you do when presented with a new problem that you find daunting or confusing? Most of the time this happens to me it's because there's something I'm unfamiliar with, that lies outside my current wheelhouse.

It's very easy to feel utterly overwhelmed by the sheer scope of a problem or by the fact that the problem seems to be so foreign as to not offer any foot holds or surfaces within reach.

I have found that keeping a very simple check list in mind can keep me from feeling overwhelmed and help avoid "analysis paralysis".

  • Just try something. Doing literally anything can help un-stick your brain and get past a roadblock.

  • Write an outline, create a very rough draft.

    • Write "throw away" code / prose fully intending to not save any of it. This can be very liberating when you're stuck!

    • Turn to novel sources of action oriented inspiration, I have found Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies deck helpful at times like this.

  • Narrow or broaden your focus. Are you actually concentrating on the key thing you need to accomplish? Does what you're working on create value for your stake holders?

    • Is your problem well defined? Flesh out the problem statement. Even if you're working on something creative, limitations can be incredibly inspirational! (There's a pithy quote about this I can't bring to mind right now :)

    • Break off the tiniest piece of the problem. Whatever you're comfortable with. Write the introductory paragraph or a few lines of code, even if it's just the header! Sometimes the simple act of getting started can create a momentum of its own.

    • Use tools like outliners or mind maps to work out the general shape of a problem. I've often written an outline and literally cut & pasted that outline into the document or code I need to write as a starting point.

  • Practice! The process of building a skill is universal across virtually every discipline. In Peak: Secrete from the New Science of Expertise, Robert Pool introduces us to the idea of "deliberate practice". More than just doing a thing over and over, deliberate practice involves being taught by an expert and applying those lessons to the process of practice. While Pool specifically dresses fields like athletics or piano playing, we can apply this idea to all kinds of disciplines. One great example of applying deliberate practice in my field is Katrina Owen's superb exercism.io which poses carefully crafted problems to students and then lets experts critique them and suggest better, more elegant or concise ways of solving them.

Emotional Maturity

I used to pride myself on being a passionate practitioner of my craft. Lately I've been feeling like that's less of an advantage and more of a liability. Avid Grtimm's excellent blog post on this topic had a great deal to do with changing my mind, and I suggest you run out and read it and other posts he's made along those lines post haste. They're worth it.

In point of fact I feel as though I should strive for dispassionate responses to problems and situations, especially those that are emotionally charged.

Give yourself that fraction of a second to take a breath, look at the response that's on the tip of your tongue or keyboard. Ask yourself "Is this really what I want to say? Am I being fair to the person I'm interacting with? Am I really acting in the best interests of both myself and my team?"

This can be incredibly difficult in the heat of the moment. It's a skill I am working very hard on cultivating, and I have achieved some modicum of success here, but my personal evolution in this area is far from complete.

Healthy in Body and Mind

There was a time when the stereotypes about people working in technology were more true than not. Many of us didn't take care of ourselves all that well. Obesity and even poor sanitary habits were not at all uncommon.

Thankfully, I've been a member of the once a day shower club my entire adult life, but my diet and exercise regimen were pretty atrocious for quite a long time.

I'm still not quite as disciplined as I'd like to be where diet is concerned, but I work out every day and have been losing some weight recently. I just can't say enough about how much this one simple change has benefited my mental well being both in terms of mental acuity but also in terms of being able to handle stressful situations in a more productive and professional way.

I've found my Apple Watch to be incredibly helpful in this regard. It tracks many different kinds of work-outs, in addition to tracking my heart rate and calories burned through the day. Its "Activity Rings" display tracks the amount of time I stand as well as how much exercise I get, and I'm a total sucker for gamification, so its achievements system keeps me motivated, pathetic though that may be :)

Exercising regularly is the only way to go. Full stop.

I still have a long way to go before I'm at my ideal weight, but I feel like I'm well and truly on the path to getting there. I start every day mentally refreshed and ready to conquer whatever challenges come my way. A big improvement over falling asleep at my desk :)

Another often overlooked aspect of living a healthy life is getting enough sleep. A lot has been written about how getting enough sleep can be critical in maintaining willpower, self discipline, and self control. I definitely struggle with this, as after getting up early to work out and working a long day it can be tempting to goof off for a while rather than getting to bed.

Something I've found rather helpful in this regard is an app called Autosleep. It uses the data on pulse rate and movement collected from my Apple Watch to give me a really rich report on not just how many hours I slept, but also the quality of sleep and periods during the night when I was awake, whether or not I was aware of it. Those old cheeky after school special slogans had some truth to them - "Because knowing is half the battle!".


Personal discipline is at the heart of good decision making and the bedrock of any successful career.

The most effective and productive members of my field utterly regiment their days. What goes where is of less importance than the fact that they do the same thing pretty much every day. Code reviews in the morning, followed by whatever meetings are required for the day, and then another burst of focused productivity before heading home.

To be honest, I have yet to attain this kind of self regimentation, but it's good to have goals to work towards :)


These are just a few of the things that have been on my mind of late. I wrote them down in the hope that someone else may find them useful. If I have learned anything over the last few years it is that "common sense" is anything but common.

"disce semper quasi victurus vive quasi cras moriturus" - Learn as if you're always going to live; Live as if tomorrow you will die.

IOS 11 Makes the iPad Pro Sing!


A while ago I wrote a post about the then new Apple iPad Pro with its awesome keyboard.

I gushed about it already in that post, and that aspect hasn’t changed, but I’ve gotta say, Apple’s new version of IOS really catapults this device into new planes of usefulness.

An issue I’ve had with IOS for as long as it’s been around is Apple’s insistence that the user forget about things like files and just let the software keep track of everything.

While I applaud the idea behind this, the actual implementation meant that using your iPad for actual work in day to day life became needlessly complex. Where did my file go? I have no idea! How do I get the data out of here and copy it to that app over there? Not a clue! It’s all magic and jazz hands!

With IOS 11, Apple has finally reconciled itself to the fact that people tend to think of their data in terms of files. It may not be the world’s most perfect abstraction for everything, but given that people have been getting on with their lives just fine with it ever since computers were a thing, it’s about time that they caved and made it actually easy for thoser of us trying to do actual work.

To wit - The new “Files” application. To their credit, this isn’t your ordinary file manager - it presents a unified view of your files whether they’re on your iPad or a cloud service like Dropbox, Amazon Drive, etc.

They’ve also added the ability to drag and drop files between applications! Finally I can write a document using my favorite editor - Editorial, and check it into source control using Working Copy.

The implications of this are huge. IOS has always had an incredibly rich ecosystem of very rich, high powered applications, but until now wrangling data between them was an exercise in gymnastics I could do without.

There are plenty of places a Google search away that will detail all the awesome features in IOS 11, but to me this is far and away the most important. Overall, the changes in 11 makes it feel like I’m working on a regular laptop when I’m working on my iPad Pro. Given how the whole thing is no bigger than any regular iPad case you might have, it’s really liberating! I could go for a walk or a bike ride, throw the iPad in a backpack, and think nothing of it.

Apple IPad Pro Smart Keyboard

So, after suffering a few years with a flaky iPad Air 2, my lovely wife convinced me that it was OK to treat myserlf last week, and I got myself a 9.7" iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard.

To be honest, I've been super unhappy with Apple keyboards of late. They seem to think that everything should be a laptop keyboard - super - compact layout and a super squishy typing feel.

However, i my opinion Apple's superior mechanical designers are firing on all cylinders with the new iPad Pro Smart Keyboard.

The layout feels like a regular laptop keyboard. The keys aren't cramped at all like the ones on the old iPad Air 2 Keyboartd case I used to own, and the typing feel is surprisingly good for a device that folds into the caser and barely adds a quarter inch to the combined thickness of the device with the case closed.

It's also notably lighter than the old keyboard case, which added markedly to the overall weight of my iPad.

As I write this I'm 35,000 feet up in an airplane on my way to a Florida vacation to visit my in-laws and two of my best friends who recently moved there.

Typing on this keyboard is surprisingly comfortable. In fact I'll go out on a limb and say it's the most comfortable mobile keyboard I've ever used.

Unlike other iPad keyboards, the Smart Keyboard mates with the iPaad Pro through a mag connector where the case attaches to the iPad. This means that Bluetooth pairing isn't required which is a big win. Anyone who's used a Bluetooth keyboard will know that they can sometimes need to be repaired, usually at the least convenie moments.

There's also no external power source required - no battery to worry about having to charge or fiddle extra cables to have to haul around.

It's more expensive than the average Bluetooth keyboard, but from where I sit you get a lot of value for those extra dollars.

In short, this keyboard is precisely the kind of super elegant, ergonomic design with unusual attention to detail that made me an Apple hardware fan all those years ago.

So I got a new keyboard (WASD Code 104 Key)

Readers of this blog will know that I love mechanical keyboards. Traditionally I go for the super clicky Cherry MX Brown switches.

However, my next door neighbor at work very politely informed me that I was driving him stark raving bug house with the machine gun like sound of my typing.

So, after some heart felt recommendations from my coworkers I bought a WASD Code 104 Key Keyboard.

It's a nice compromise. I'll always prefer the superior tactile feedback of the Cherry MX Brown switches, but given that each key doesn't issue that satisfying (or annoying, depending on your perspective)  CLICK, typing on this keyboard is still extremely comfortable.

The keyboard offers some great features. One of my favorites is a set of DIP switches on the keyboard's underside that allow for hardware configuration of a number of important characteristics. For instance with the flip of a switch I turned on "Mac Mode" which put the Command/Apple key in the right place among other things.

I also find the white backlighting this keyboard offers to be very pleasing to the eye. If I'm honest with myself the cool green backlighting is one of the features of love about my Razor Black Widow Ultimate.

The only down sides I can cite for this keyboard are the lack of pass through connectors for USB and headphones. Both my DAS and Razer keyboards have these and they're very handy for things like hooking up your mouse.

Overall it's a great keyboard and I'm pleased that I can type comfortably without annoying the crap out of my coworkers :)

I Pushed the "Easy" Button :)

A couple of years back, frustrated by the challenges of running my own Wordpress site, I decided to give Pelican a try.

It's what is know as a "static blogging" tool. This means that you treat your blog just like any other code - you write your articles using a text editor, run a command and the article is produced in its final form ready for consumption by web browsers. Maybe run another command, and your article gets uploaded to wherever your blog is actually served.

There are lots of advantages to this model. For one thing, it's simple "static" HTML. That means that the only thing your site has to do is server that content. Unlike tools like Wordpress, which require a fair bit of supporting infrastructure like a database.

Another huge benefit is that you have the ultimate in control. You can modify the results to your heart's content, unconstrained by anyone else's idea of how it should look or work.

However, I'm not a web developer. I can create web pages, but they're ugly, and while I possess more than enough know how to run all of the needed infrastructure and keep it safely locked down, that's not how I choose to spend my very limited free time.

So, I've switched my blog back to Wordpress, but this time I'm letting someone else do the hard work of keeping my site happy and secure. There is this tendency in my industry to build everything we use just because we can.  There was a time I felt the same way, but not any more.

These days I'm married and have a social life. My burning enthusiasm for technology hasn't waned a single iota, but now I realize that there's more to living than technology.

Balance is a good thing, as is knowing what's actually important and where to spend your time and energy in the service of adding the most value.

Avdi Grimm, a technologist whose work I admire, wrote a great piece about the buy versus build dilemma recently. After substantial time and effort, he ended up using the same package I'm using to host this blog.

There are other aspects to my choice that feed into my personal situation. I don't have a lot of time to blog these days. I'm not complaining, I have a job I love, a Masonic lodge I'm proud to be a member of, and a marriage that leaves me happier and more fulfilled than I have been my entire life.

So when I post, it's in the "in between" times. I started this post on the subway on my phone, picked it up later on my iPad, and am now finishing it relaxing in our living room with my lovely wife on our Macbook Pro while she reads. Wordpress makes this a breeze. It has a super slick authoring interface that lets me compose right in the browser. It does grammar and spell checking by default, and automatically saves drafts so I don't have to worry about losing my work if my laptop dies or I have to stop for a real life intrusion.

This is not in any way an indictment of Pelican. As a matter of fact, Pelican was a real delight. From a software perspective, its code is clean, readable, and incredibly easy to bend to my own nefarious purposes. When I'd decided it was time to admit that it wasn't working for me, I decided I wanted to build a converter to mirror the posts from my old blog over here on wordpress.com. It was a great side project and I enjoyed building it quite a bit. In addition to the stellar code base, the Pelican community was incredibly helpful, answering all my questions and taking an interest in why their tool wasn't working for me.

Ultimately, my decision came down to recognizing the way I like to work, and where I wanted to put my effort. It's not about Pelican, it's about me.

I love you Pelican, but I'm struggling.

Happy 2017 all!

A little over two years ago, the Wordpress instance I had been "maintaining" to run my blog was hacked by a bunch
of script kiddies.
Not like I'm excusing them or anything, hacking someone's hobby domain feels rather like walking into someone's
yard and, if you'll forgive me for being crass for a moment, smashing the garden statues and relieving yourself
in the pool, just because you can. However, I was doing a really crappy job of securing my site.
I had set it up several years before on a Linode. I wasn't a "Devops" professional at that point, so I really
had no idea what I was doing, and I made every mistake in the book.2017
Static blogging was becoming all the rage, and my Podcast.init co-host was using
Pelican so that seemed like a good choice. It was very straight forward to set
up, and I could run it on a much simpler set of infrastructure. No database, no complex interactions between
web server and interpreter, just a simple instance running a webserver. That's all. Super easy to lock down.
Being the major nerd that I am, I did automate the whole thing using Chef. You can find the recipes
on my github. I even had it set up so that chef would handle updating
the site when I checked a new post into git.

And, from an infrastructure perspective, it runs like clockwork.

More recently, i was able to even eliminate the instance and just serve my blog from
But there's more to any system than the infrastructure that runs it. It has to be usable in a way that fits the
needs and workflow of its users.

Through no fault of its own, I am beginning to wonder if Pelican doesn't fit my needs.

It's a fantastic package for all the reasons I outlined above, but I'm just not posting like I used to. Why?

When I thought about it, I realized that I used to do a ton of blogging in the "in between times". On the go, on
vacation, or in bed at night while my wife read. Wordpress has some superlative tools for this. It has a really
nice web based authoring interface, complete with draft capabilities, rich markup, and the ability to effortlessly
integrate images and other media into my posts.
I've tried doing this with Pelican. either using Editorial - the incredie
programmable editor for IOS (You can write Python scripts to do text processing in IOS from your editor, how
cool is that? :) or using Panic's outstanding Prompt SSH client to connect to my
cloud based development box and do the editing and publishing from there.

And, it works. I have successfully done it. But I certainly wouldn't call it convenient.

So, I'm looking into other options. At this point, I'm wondering if I've learned all I can from running my own
blog, and if maybe I mightn't be better served moving to one of the hosted services like
I'm certainly open to other ideas though, I do enjoy the simplicity of static blogging, but making it harder than
it needs to be feels like shooting myself in the foot.

Does anyone have any thoughts or ideas? I'd love to hear from you if you do.

The Three Rs

No, I'm not talking about reading, writing, and 'rithmitic, I'm
talking about the three Rs that are critical in creating and keeping a
software organization strong.
The three Rs in this case are Rigor, Resources, and Raison
d'etre. Let's take a look at each of these in turn.


I begin with resources because when push comes to shove
this is one of the most important factors in making your team a
Am I saying that you can't build an incredible team with nothing but
the sheer will to bring your idea to fruition? Hell no. I'm saying
that good will only goes so far. After a while you will need to pay
your people what they're worth, and be able to hire enough help that
individual contributors don't feel like they're being exploited and
suffering from burn out.
This is a mistake I'm seeing more and more companies make over time.
Modern development techniques are increasing our overall
productivity dramatically, but they are not a substitute for having
enough man power to do the job you need done in the time frame the
business demands.
You can't substitute creature comforts for this either. No amount of
free snacks, soda, coffee or snuggles will make an engineer who's
working night and day with no time to take care of themselves
happy. These things are nice add-one and can make employees feel
valued, but only when they're in addition to an environment that gets
the basics right.
There are other aspects to being properly resourced. Be sure you can
afford the equipment you need. If your business demands that you run a
data center, do it right! If you don't, you will increase the
frustration your employees have to deal with day to day to get their
jobs done, and that will seep into overall job satisfaction very
There's more to say on this - good office work environments including
sit/stand desks, keyboard trays or whatever else your employees need
to be productive without harming themselves. Don't skimp on this
stuff, it's super important, and your employees will thank you for it.


I wrestled with myself a bit as to whether this should come
first or second, but anyway, Here we go. We all know that having
rigorous processes as individual contributors and organizations is
important. It's what enables us to deliver quality software in a
timely fashion and bring value to our customers.
However a lot of people, including some very experienced engineers,
seem to think that how we get there is some kind of magical journey to
another dimension, only attainable by the assistance of some wizard or
But the cold, hard, in-sexy truth is that it's all about
discipline. Doing precisely the same set of things over and over again
until they become second nature, "baked in" whatever you want to call
Let's take code reviews as an example. I can't even begin to tell you
the difference I've seen between strong organizations and weak ones,
and almost inevitably, how teams handle code review is the canary in
the coal mine.
I'm not suggesting that code reviews in and of themselves are some
kind of magical panacea that will make your organization great, but
chances are good that if you're doing regular code reviews with every
merge, you're also doing testing. If you're doing comprehensive
testing, you're probably also taking the time to write good
documentation. The list goes on and on.
Everybody knows these are good things, but why are so many
organizations slow to adopt them? Well, as usual with such things,
It's Complicated. One contributing factor is definitely team size
versus work load, as outlined in the section on Resources.
Individual contributors who are working straight out all the time
aren't going to take the time to do proper code reviews, and chances
are good that in such organizations, their managers won't be pushing
for them either. It's a kind of myopia that cripples teams and
actually hurts the business both short term and long. Some people are
beginning to see that, but it's something we should all be aware of
and actively promoting within our organizations wherever we are on the
discipline curve.

Raison d'etre

This is about vision. I know, we've all had that
word misused, abused, and generally beaten to death so much over the
course of our careers that most of us cringe when we hear it. However
no other word embodies what I'm trying to get at in quite the same
In order to form a cohesive unit - something we all agree is critical
to success, we all have to know where we're going. What precisely are
we trying to build, and why? Where's the value for our customers, and
where do we see our product going in the future?
I've encountered many organizations where this isn't clear at all, and
when that happens, a sort of spiritual malaise sets in. It's like a
disease, spreading up through the ranks and sapping job satisfaction
and pride in workmanship.
Fixing things once your organization has gone this way is hard. I
mean, really hard, because regaining the trust of your team is not
something you can do over night. You'll need to overcome years of hard
earned scar tissue before people will be able to have the confidence
in you and your product that are necessary for success. There are no
clear cut prescriptions to make here, because each organization's path
to healing will depend on the nature and scale of the wounds.
Much easier to start on the right foot and stay that way. Doing so is
actually straight forward. The key is having a clear vision yourself,
and communicating that with your team.
I realize our business is a harm scarum one and that changes in
direction are not only inevitable but desirable to meet changing
conditions in the field, but how those changes are handled and the
frequency with which they occur can mean the difference between an
organization that thrives and a cadre of walking wounded, shambling
from one death march to the next until they take too much damage and
decide to ply their trade elsewhere.
Hiring and layoffs are another aspect of employee trust whose import
should not be underestimated. When you hire, hire for the long haul
or be crystal clear about what your expectations are "We're trying
this risky new thing and you're here to make that happen. If it
doesn't work out, we may need to go our separate ways." I can't
imagine anyone who wouldn't appreciate knowing that up front, and if
they have even a tiny amount of character and maturity, if that's the
way it plays out when the time comes, you can walk away friends. It's
a booming industry out there and there are no shortage of jobs.
If they must happen, layoffs should be handled quickly and
professionally. You need to be crystal clear with both the people
being laid off and the people left behind as to why this is happening
from the perspective of the business. The people who are left will be
nervous and unsettled, and they'll be able to recover much more
quickly if everything is handled in an above board way.
Again, don't lie. If you need to lay people off, and you have a
flexible schedule in your office, by all means do send out mail
saying "mandatory meeting at X time" to be sure everyone will be in
the office, but don't tell those being laid off that it's a meeting
about something else entirely. They will resent you for it.
Crystal clear, honest communication and clear vision will result in
enthusiastic employees who are excited at the prospect making their
company a raging success.

Bacon + Microwave = Jerky :)

If you'll indulge me for just a few moments I want to say a few words on a topic that's near and dear to my heart: Bacon!

I've encountered more than a few people who think that cooking bacon in the microwave is the way to go. Far be it from me to dictate anyone's tastes, but I've gotta say folks, if you rreally love bacon like I do, you should at least give cooking it in the oven a try.

Not that bacon cooked in a microwave isn't tasty. Far from it in fact, but what you wind up with is in fact something akin to bacon jerky. Bacon jerky can be a very tasty treat, but you haven't lived until you've tried Martha Stewart's super simple recipe for cooking bacon in the oven.

It comes out juicy yet crispy, with all the subtle flavor that make bacon an amazing taste treat.

To top of all off, cleanup is a breeze. No splatters mess on the stove.

[Editorial note: I seem to end up blogging a lot while flying. Maybe it's being trapped in a steel box for six hours. In any case, if all goes well this is the first one I've managed to post from the air as well. Yay living in the future!]

A few random thoughts on keyboards

I've recently been very underwhelmed with the keyboards Apple ships with their computers. They're trying to make them all feel like laptop keyboards, which is an idea I
rather disapprove of.
In particular the recent Apple Keyboard
has such shallow key travel it's very easy to fall into the bad habit of pounding the keys, and the overall layout feels squished
and constrained.
I've had a couple of the old school model A1408 "Apple Keyboard" (and its wireless cousin) in my drawer for years because I remember
liking them.
Thus far it's definitely a big improvement over the current squashed and squishy laptop like keyboard, but my gold standard for
keyboards is the Razer Black Widow Ultimate - I use one at work with my
Linux desktop PC and it feels glorious to type on. Beautiful mechanical keys with very distinct tactile feedback and a satisfying
(if perhaps somewhat loud for your officemates :) click.
The original Apple keyboard definitely has a better typing feel but lacks the tactile feedback of the Razor or other modern
mechanical keyboards making the typing feel still come off a bit squishy for my tastes.
I may end up investigating other modern mechanical keyboards to replace them - we'll see. One irritation I have with the Razor is
that they're platform specific. Is there REALLY any good reason for this other than to try to get me to shell out another $100 for
yet another keyboard? I rather resent that as other brands seem to cope just fine in both platforms.

UPDATE 02/22/2016

I ended up buying a Das mechanical keyboard for home, and thus far it's made me appreciate my Razer Black Widow even more.

It's not that anything is particularly bad at all about the Das, it's a perfectly fine mechanical keyboard, I just prefer the
more 'clicky' feel of the Razer, and really appreciate the niceties like the lit, labeled keys.
As it turns out, choosing the Das with no labels on the keys has turned into an enormous pain. I touch type fairly well, but
even still when I occasionally need to press some fairly arcane sequence of keys (Yes I DO need to hit Alt+F15 occasionally :))
the lack of labels really rains on my parade.
There's also the little tidbit that occasionally you might want your spouse or other friend who doesn't touch type be able to use
your keyboard and they simply won't be able to do it. At all.

So, unless you REALLY know you like it, don't do that :)