April 2017 Archives

Because it is easy to do.

Because you complain that you can't think of anything that would make your conference more appealing to women, and this is a tangible thing that you can do to make your conference more appealing to women. It is usually as easy as clicking some extra buttons on the web form when you order the shirts.

Because you should be happy that there is something you can fix without having to learn a new skill, spend a million dollars, or form a committee. Its like when someone complains, "Damn! My partner gets so upset about little things like me not taking out the garbage." Be glad he/she isn't complaining about something big and difficult to fix like wanting a bigger house or to be married to an astronaut! Be glad when there are easy problems to fix.

Yes, there are bigger and more important things to do with respect to making conferences more inclusive, but this is an easy one to check off. So... no excuses.

[I'm not singling out any particular conference. This is just something I've been meaning to post for a while. I am also guilty of not providing women's sizes at conferences in the past, but I've learned my lesson.]

DNS as Code

StackOverflow has open sourced the DNS management system we've been using for years. I was the original author, and Craig Peterson has been writing most of the code lately. A blog post went live about the system here: Blog post: Introducing DnsControl - "DNS as Code" has Arrived

My favorite part of DNSControl? We can switch between DNS providers faster than cyberthreads can take them down.

Check it out if you manage DNS zones, use CloudFlare or Fast.ly CDNs, or just like to read Go (golang) code.

Tom

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Technical Tips

Review: Tivo BOLT+

The newest TiVo model is called the BOLT. I've been using TiVo since the first generation, back when it used a dial-up modem to download the tv guide listings and software updates. My how far we've come!

If you have a TiVo already, the BOLT user interface looks and acts the same but everything is faster and better. There is a new feature that automatically skips commercials (if the TV show permits it), an a feature that plays shows at 30% faster speed, with pitch-correction. Everything is faster. This unit has more RAM and a faster CPU than any previous TiVo model, which really shows in the UI. Everything is snappier and that makes it more usable. Most importantly apps like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and Amazon Prime start up instantly instead of making you wait a frustratingly long amount of time. On the old model I'd think twice before starting the Netflix app because it took a full minute to start. If I accidentally hit a key and exited the app, I'd often give up and return to watching recorded TV rather than start the Netflix app again. It just wasn't worth it. The new model eliminates that kind of problem.

That said, the real star of the show is the setup process. Every home electronics manufacturer should be jealous. Since I bought my TiVo online from TiVo.com, they've connected its serial number to my account and therefore have been able to do most of the setup ahead of time. I simply plugged it in, moved my CableCard from my old device, and followed a few basic instructions. I was shocked at how fast the process was. I was shocked at how streamlined it was. This level of perfection must have touched on not just TiVo's engineering team, but everything from logistics, to finance, to packaging, to documentation. I kept saying, "That was too fast! I must have forgotten something!" But no, it really was set up and working. I was sitting back streaming an episode of Rick and Morty.

Even the documentation is excellent. Having such a refined setup process reduces the amount of documentation need, of course. Therefore the docs focus on what's new and basic tips. For example, it points out that even if you haven't received your CableCard yet (that comes from your cable provider and they often drag their feet sending you one), it tells you to do the setup anyway as you'll be able to watch unencrypte channels and stream. Good point. I would have assumed I should leave the TiVo in its box until the CableCard arrived... an unnecessary delay! This tells me that their customer support group and documentation group actually talk with each other.

The Netflix app is much better than on my old TiVo Series3 and TiVo Premiere models. The old models have a Netflix app that uses the buttons on the remote in ways that I can only describe as "creative". Had the product designer never actually used a TiVo before? On the BOLT the Netflix app uses the buttons for the same functions as when watching TV. A lot of the functionality that hasn't changed just plain works better because the CPU is faster. For example on the older slow hardware it is typical to press a button, the TiVo is slow to respond, you press the button again because you think maybe the TiVo didn't receive the first keypress, then both keypresses execute and you are fucked. I hate to dis the engineering team at Netflix, but the app just fails (on older TiVos) in ways that smell like the developers weren't not given access to actual hardware and designed it without realizing how slow the CPU would be. The TiVo BOLT's faster CPU seems to have caught up with their slow software. This is really the first TiVo model where using Netflix meets my high bar to be considered "usable". Netflix on my Mac still gives slightly finer control (you can skip to a specific place by clicking the timeline), but I'll be watching a lot more Netflix on my TiVo now.

The HBO app is better than on the older TiVos but every time I use HBO Go I feel like I'm using a product that is just struggling to run, leaving the engineers no time to make it run well. That said, the faster CPU makes the HBO app less annoying to use. Good job, Hollywood!

The only feature that the new TiVo is missing is the ability to download streams and watch them later. Right now it seems like any streaming is buffered for only a few seconds. If your ISP is having a bad day, you might spend a lot of time waiting for it to buffer. For programming I know I'm going to watch, I wish the streaming services would just let TiVo download the show to my harddrive. I'm sure their lawyers have their knickers in a twist about such features (IP lawyers think that 1's and 0's stored on a hard drive are totally different than ones stored in a buffer. When will they learn?). That said, such a feature would probably make it easier on the Netflix CDN considering they could trickle-feed such videos to me during quieter network times. But I digress..

Lastly... you might be wondering why I'm writing about TiVo on a blog for system administrators. Well, I believe that using a DVR is an important part of time management. Using a DVR puts you in control of your TV-watching time. Otherwise, the TV network controls you. This is why I dedicate an entire page to DVR tips in Time Management for System Administrators.

If you have a TiVo and are considering getting the BOLT or BOLT+, I think it is completely worth it. If you don't have a DVR, I don't think you can go wrong with a TiVo.

Five stars. Would buy again!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Time Management

Hollywood doesn't understand software. Not, at least, as well as high-tech companies do. This is very frustrating. Bad software keeps wrecking my entertainment experience.

I'm currently writing an article and I need to come up with a term that means software that was written by old-school (historically non-technology) companies just so they can say "Look! we made an app! Will you shut up, now?!" as opposed to software that has great fit and finish, gets updated regularly, and stays current.

My favorite example of this is the CBS streaming software. It seems like it was written just to shut up people that have been asking to stream NCIS, not because CBS actually wants to be in the streaming business.

The HBO streaming software is frustratingly "almost good".

The Weight Watchers app is also in this category. I don't think Oprah approves of this app. Or, if she does, she hasn't seen the competition's applications. This is a "shut up and use it" app, rather than something they're betting the company on. I'm a WW success story but only because I learned how to work around the app, not with it.

Most enterprise software seems to be in this category. "Oh shit, it actually works? Better ship it!" seems to be the rule for most enterprise software. There's no budget for fit and finish for internally-developed apps. There are exceptions to this, of course, but not that many.

Software is eating the world, yo! Develop in-house software competency, hire executives and managers that understand SDLC and operational principles (i.e. DevOps). You can't take a pass on this and hope it is going away. Computers are not a fad. The internet isn't going away.

P.S. No offense to my friends at CBS, WW, HBO, enterprises, and Hollywood. It isn't you. It is your management.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Rants

The new season of Archer starts tonight.

You're welcome.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Entertainment

 
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