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The American Caliban

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Happy Kazoo Day from Be My Blog! [Jan. 28th, 2014|09:20 am]
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In honor of National Kazoo Day, all of us here at Be My Blog are honored to present the finest arrangement ever of Led Zeppelin’s ultra-classic “Whole Lotta Love.” While you may be tempted to bail out from this challenging yet respectful tribute, we urge you to stay up to 2:05 or so for the vocal breakdown which breaks and downs like a real breakdown.

 

Mirrored from Be My Blog.

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A train station, a high-speed camera, and a lot of hard work [Jan. 26th, 2014|11:17 am]

Adam Magyar’s “Stainless” video series turns train platforms into lucid dreams.

http://vimeo.com/adammagyar/stainless-42st-exp

Mirrored from Be My Blog.

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SELECTED SEARCH TERMS BY WHICH OTHERS ARRIVED AT THIS BLOG [Jan. 17th, 2014|06:08 pm]

MOST RECENTLY WE HAVE:

  • w4m in orang county
  • pornphatos
  • stahlhelm chile
  • philiesssex
  • chilean military uniform
  • dale earnhardt was an asshole
  • santa ana boxing club 2011

THANKS FOR YOUR PATRONAGE

Mirrored from Be My Blog.

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Workplace Stories: The Screaming Hole [Oct. 6th, 2013|08:56 pm]

screaming woman

For two years I had the honor of managing a group of medical transcriptionists at a good hospital.

It was a diverse group in every way. Most of them were post-menopausal women, who are the main battle tanks of the American workforce. These people did difficult clerical work quickly and accurately. They did not take sick days, nor were they late. They were polite, pleasant, and serious about their jobs.

They were also very strange people. Medical transcription requires analytical intelligence, reading comprehension, fast good typing, and patience. It’s for obsessives who love medicine and science, can spell perfectly, and feel personally and emotionally attached to good grammar and the formatting of reports. Most of them have inadequate educations for their talent. People like this are not normal in any way, thank goodness.

My responsibility was to shield these productive eccentrics from the management, and vice versa. This was largely a success and the short management career went very well.

One of the low points was set of new silly rules about lots of things, from an insulting and ambiguous dress code to bad pay changes. People who had been paid by the line for typing reports were to get hourly pay, for example, which wasn’t helpful to the most productive ones. The changes were resented. In the middle of this, the management coughed out another chunk of stupidity. A note was sent out asking us all to let management know what they could do to help us be better at our jobs! And happier, too!

People who are underpaid, and know where the hyphen goes in “salpingo-oophorectomy”, and type 100 wpm with zero errors, and know that the ilium and ileum are very importantly different, are not the ones you want to taunt this way.

The only real answer is “more money.” We all know what they want, though: pointless crap. A special lunch for employee of the month, ice cream socials with the executives, customer service training with cake.

Here are the requests I got:

  • Helmet-like popcorn makers attached to our heads so that popcorn would occasionally roll down into our mouths through a tube
  • Prozac-coated keyboards that would make us less crazy as we typed more, because in general the reverse was happening
  • A hole cut in the wall from our office to the unoccupied central courtyard, so that we could stick our heads through and scream when things were too much
  • Uniforms so that women wouldn’t have to make difficult postmodern decisions in order to comply with the new dress code.

I sent these along as requested to my boss, who was the CFO and a vice president. She was smart and gave a damn. She was also very conventional. She called me up and said “JESUS CHRIST, who are these maniacs you work with?”

“The best in the business and the most productive people here,” I said.

That year I got 15% more money than we’d been promised to give out as raises.

I still want a screaming hole, though.

Mirrored from Be My Blog.

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Annals of Literature: The Palantir Mistake [Jun. 9th, 2013|10:05 pm]
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The technology company Palantir Technologies may or may not have been part of the NSA’s currently publicized surveillance program “PRISM.” Right now it looks like a confusion among names. But considering their established relationship with the U.S. Department of Defense, the “Intelligence Community” (love the phrase), and their long-known relationship with the CIA, it wouldn’t be surprising. Leaving aside their PRISM possibilities, let’s look for a moment at the company.

Their current homepage splashes a story about combating human trafficking. Rich liberals hate human trafficking right now, a lot. What’s to like? They also sent “Philanthropy Engineers” (I did not make this up) to Oklahoma to fix things with computers in some way. Take a moment now to look through their website. They’re Google-smart and clearly successful, and it looks like a great place to work. Plus, strong ethics. Just look at the mission page. Not only are they committed to saving lives and fixing diseases, they have an explicit mission to preserve civil liberties. Very explicit.

If the CIA is a big customer and investor, you’re the darling of the Department of Defense, you advertise your usefulness in the fight against terrorism, and you’re making a pantsload of money off this, how can you possibly have any “commitment” to civil liberties? What do you do for the CIA, tell them what the mountains are like in Afghanistan? Or how likely it is that Suicide Bomber #53 will show up at Bagram next week? Who do you think you’re fooling, other than yourselves?

Also, “Palantir” is a funny word. Why would you name your company that?

J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel The Lord of the Rings is a nerd Bible, the original sword & sorcery fantasy. After Peter Jackson’s films, everyone knows it. In the novel, the Palantir is a crystal ball. “Kingly” people with appropriate credentials can stare into the Palantir and see all over the world. There are my enemy’s armies! Looks like the harvest is going well! Oh heck, is that a pirate ship? Send the cavalry!

Unfortunately, the major antagonist and bad guy has got hold of one of these things and because he’s kingly and a demigod too, he exerts influence. The bad guy can mess with another Palantir customer’s  visions and distort them, showing only bad news, twisting images, creating paranoia, and wrecking morale. A key plot point involves a good guy king spending too much time looking into the Palantir like bad daytime TV and getting so depressed about his war with evil that he commits suicide, nearly killing his son as well, and dies in flames clutching the thing. It is literally an epic fail. Another powerful character slides into 100% nasty evil partly because he gets trolled by a hijacked Palantir. He gets his town wrecked by angry anthropomorphic trees and later is stabbed by his assistant. One sees a pattern.

Another smarter kingly type picks one up to mess with the antagonist a little and scare him, and then doesn’t use it any more, because the thing is dangerous. Why pick it up, even during a war, if you don’t have to? It’s unreliable now and will lead you to make bad mistakes and give up the fight. It’s not useful any more. That’s the end of that!

I understand that nerds use words that are “cool,” or even entire ideologies that seem “cool,” without thinking about the meaning of, well, anything at all. Happy Star Wars geeks get together and march in parades as the civilian-murdering, robotic, and incompetent adversaries from the movie, for example. What the hell? Oh, right. It just refers to something. Meaning is not important.

In this case, though, it’s just too damn good. The generous, progressive, socially involved, and brilliant philanthropy engineers at Palantir are one and the same with the surveillance state. Whether or not their Prism is the current PRISM, they’re both key vendors and and investment for the U.S “Intelligence Community.” These are the people who tell the President who should be drone-murdered, which civilians are threats to national security, who’s going to try to blow us up, and who is being troublesome. There has been the occasional misstep here, which is mentioned even in the news.

Our government has in its hand a Palantir, some of which is provided by the eponymous company. Look into it and you’ll see enemies without and within, plots, revolutionaries, malice concealed as dissent, and an unending future of unstoppable terrorism and necessary war. The one thing you won’t see is the sign that says “STOP! This is stupid and evil. Get a grip willya?”

So far the national Palantir has been bad for everyone. Be smart, kingly types, and throw the thing away, and throw away the war on terror as well.

And by the way: that company should change its name once it has the guts to dump its most important customers. If they read more, they’d make fewer branding mistakes and kill fewer people.

Mirrored from Be My Blog.

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FLABOB AIRPORT! [Mar. 16th, 2013|08:04 pm]

Hi there. Today I visited a place improbably named “Flabob Airport” in Riverside, California. The picture below sums up the place, but see also the link below for the full photo set.

There is a DC-3 there, and weird art, and you can walk on to the runway if nobody notices. It looks like an airport from an old Hollywood movie. The airport is in the middle of a grubby neighborhood full of gangbangers and the oppressed. You should visit if you’re in the area. If you’re in the area, I offer my sympathies.

flabob weird art

 

The full photo set at flickr

Mirrored from Be My Blog.

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The End of System Administration: “What would you say you do here?” [Mar. 13th, 2013|04:27 pm]

I have been a full-time Linux system administrator for more than a decade. This week, I lost my job because I am a full-time Linux system administrator. What happened?

For those outside my world, this is what a system administrator does: We manage server computer and networks. This means Internet sites, your computer system at work, and similar setups. The job dates back to the first time more than one person used a computer and someone needed to manage that.

That’s still the case, and there are many jobs for sysadmins. If you want to get one of those jobs, don’t worry.

However, I’ve been working in the world of leading edge startup technology companies, who write software themselves and also manage its use on the Internet. The trend here is toward something called DevOps (wikipedia article: DevOps). The short version of DevOps is:  Software engineers take on the tasks traditionally done by “Ops” (system administrators) and largely automate them. It’s part of a general trend towards very fast product creation, quick response to change, and cost-cutting. (Look up “Lean startup” for more on this.)

Here’s how the whole setup works: You hire some young, energetic people. Make sure that they can pass technology skills tests. Even more so, make sure they are socially and ideologically suited to the environment. The engineers have to get along with each other and help each other out, and since most of them haven’t worked at normal jobs before, this isn’t a given. And most of all, they have to buy the local ideology, whether it’s “lean,” or “DevOps,” or “Agile.”

The work environment for these people is fast-moving and very disciplined. There are daily short meetings in the morning. Programmers almost always work in mutually accountable pairs. Everything is tracked: accomplishments, stumbling blocks, opinions. There’s a heavy emphasis on making new things and getting them “out the door” as quickly as possible. Dreaming at the desk, absent-minded professoring alone at the whiteboard? None of that.

Meanwhile, the job of the system administrator shrinks. Monitoring, software deployment, scaling the size of the systems up and down, a load of tasks are automated after a quick initial assessment. This is done by software engineers. New tools have accumulated decades of knowledge built into them. Other roles have been taken by services; there’s an entire ecosystem of companies who take away one piece of system administration and replace it with an easy-to-use service that attaches to your other easy-to-use services.

Aside from some holes in this fabric, the role of the system administrator in an organization like this has been reduced to high-level technical support. When engineers need to know something serious about the way operating systems work, or what a database server can do, the local unix subject matter expert is useful. Just not useful enough. It has become the Willy Loman profession.

Most of this is an extension of what system administrators have always done themselves. If you do something three times, automate it. Part of it is the result of the dot-com boom and the terrible laziness of its self-identified geniuses. If engineers are forced to work in an assembly-line environment while watching each other, people can’t horse around all day. None of that is unexpected.

The tiresome part for me is that the interesting jobs are going this way. This last gig was the best job I’d ever had. Everyone was smart, interesting things happened all day, and the company was accomplishing things I was personally proud of. There was a real team spirit and a feeling of involvement in something bigger.

Until I found out I wasn’t seen as useful, which is never a good time.

So my advice to you is: if you want to go into cool startups, you should either be a very rich founder, or a software engineer. Don’t go into operations.

And most of all, be young, very young, and inexpensive, and energetic. The startup world is necessarily cruel because it is built on the need of great returns on investment. If you are comfortable in a very interesting assembly line job that could be lucrative, this is your world. If you are someone with a store of knowledge, beware. You will be abstracted, automated, and discarded.

Mirrored from Be My Blog.

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Picture Without Context For Today [Mar. 5th, 2013|05:46 pm]

kidcage

If you insist on context, go ahead and visit Inequality By Interior Design

Mirrored from Be My Blog.

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Happy Monday! Here’s where the money goes in the U.S. [Mar. 4th, 2013|12:14 pm]

Here’s a demonstration with graphs of income distribution in the United States. The phrase “income inequity” is pretty dry, but when you see it graphed it’s enraging. Disclaimer: I am neither a statistician nor an expert in graphic visualization. But holy cow, if this is even close to the truth…

Mirrored from Be My Blog.

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Robot “Dog” gets even more terrifying [Mar. 1st, 2013|12:53 am]
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Demonic cinder block-flinging semiautomatic not-a-dog will comfort you in your dreams.

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