Friday, October 31, 2014

Driving and Riding

I spent yesterday not going out.

This was deliberate, because I spent Wednesday with way too many people trying to kill me.

Now, normally, I like to keep the number of people trying to kill me as close to zero as possible, excluding my ex-wives, but sometimes you have to leave the house and run errands or whatever, and when I do that I do it on my motorcycle. I have a Suzuki Boulevard C50T, which I bought brand new a couple of years ago and really love riding. It's comfy enough for daily riding, it's big enough I'm not worried about taking it up hills or on the highway, it's nimble enough that I'm comfortable in traffic, and it's small enough that I get pretty good gas mileage (on the order of a VW TDI, and it's easier to park).

Riding a motorcycle is great, even in the rain; if you're geared properly, the rain isn't even that big a deal: just take a little more care, give yourself a little more space, and be aware of your temperature, and you're fine. I committed to riding my bike in the rain when I bought it because I wanted to get my money's worth from it. If I didn't ride in the rain, I'd probably get to ride it 70 or 80 days a year; if I am willing to ride in the rain I can ride for 300+ days a year (this past February on the anniversary of my bringing it home I ran the numbers and I rode 311 days last year).

Riding a motorcycle is pretty relaxing, too; it requires concentration and attention, and so there's a focusing effect that even a short ride can have that's salubrious to the soul and restorative to the mind. By connecting yourself with the bike and riding with your whole body, you disallow the rest of the world permission from taking over your thought processes, and you get to think about what you want to think about, whatever that may be. Hopefully, it's mostly about riding the motorcycle. But sometimes, what you're thinking about is all the people who are trying to kill you.

Because a bike isn't a car, there are a lot of drivers out there who just mentally edit them out of their mindscape. And because driving a car has become something that most people do while doing something else, it gets dangerous. And I don't think most drivers recognize how dangerous. Even in slow traffic on surface streets during busy times, the average driver is still whipping around a four thousand pound box of liquid explosives and flame at 30+ feet per second. If a car hits me going 25 miles an hour, it's basically like I fell off a second-story balcony onto the car: if I'm lucky, I'll break something unimportant.

Wednesday, it was raining, and that makes me more cautious. So I was able to avoid the three people who tried to change lanes into me. I was able to spot and avoid the SUV which nearly ran me over. I was able to get out of the way of the hot rod on the highway who couldn't stop in time. But really, the average ride for me is a crapshoot when it comes to other vehicles on the road.

I imagine it's much worse for bicyclists, since they don't even have the protection of an engine, but the sheer entitlement of some drivers makes me wonder how there aren't more fatalities every day from traffic accidents.

I probably should try to make this about something, probably something in tech, but that would be a pretty big stretch, but let's try this: if you're designing software or software processes, you need to think about the bike riders: the careful, dangerously exposed, invested users. Try and make sure you're not accidentally trying to kill them. Maybe even add special lanes where the normal users (car drivers) can't go, so they can do what they're trying to do safely and comfortably.

Nothing like a bad metaphor to end a blog post about boring personal shit!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The #OpsLife In Action

I am currently, as they say, a "gentleman of leisure" in my career. That is, I am between gigs. Which is to say, I'm currently unemployed.

This is weird for me, honestly; I've been more-or-less continually employed in one sort of job or another since I was 14 and got my first job doing the breakfast shift in a Hardee's Drive Through. I did some time as a security guard for a while after high school, and then I read this amazing book: Microsurfs, by Douglas Coupland. I think for anyone who was inside the IT industry at the time, it's hard to understand the draw of this somewhat-cartoonish story, and for anyone outside the industry at the time, it's hard to understand the appeal of the industry in any way, but for me, a 20-year-old living in the bleak winter wastes of Kansas, the life described in the book was exactly, exactly, the life I wanted for myself.

So I packed all of my shit (and all of my wife's shit) into a rented U-Haul, abandoned everything, and drove to San Francisco. No job prospects, no contacts, nothing but the absolute conviction that there was a life in IT in San Francisco that I had to be a part of.

The reality of living in San Francisco in the late 90s and working in IT was, as one can guess (or knows, if one has any experience of that time), not exactly as portrayed. I did not become a computer programmer; instead, I went almost immediately into the Support branch of the Operations side of the house, and have spent basically my entire career there. Fielding end-user calls for legacy systems. Taking on more tasks and responsibilities, eventually managing a team handling the 24/7 support as first-line agents, and chairing High-Severity conference calls to discover and solve company-impacting service outages. Getting burnt out on that, and moving into the database administration end of the work, leveraging my "utility infielder" abilities to pick up the projects no one else wanted. Nurturing relationships developed during 3AM phone calls to solve problems before they got to the "outage" stage. Making friends and finding support among colleagues both inside and outside Operations, and developing a mindset that was focused on the customer as much as the environment.

Taking on a role slightly too big for me, as an exciting opportunity, and working and stretching and expanding to fill the role, and then seeing the role change as management changed, and suddenly being out of a role to fill. And contracting for the first time: parachuting into issues with a new eye and a fresh perspective and presenting solutions without any backup, and having them work, first time. Exciting times, different times, times not clearly imagined nearly half my life ago.

The Big New Thing in IT these days is the concept of DevOps. It's sort've been around for a while, and the definition of DevOps changes depending on who you ask about it, but mostly it's the idea of breaking down the barriers and conflicts between the guys building the tools and the guys responsible for managing and maintaining the tools. It's a cool idea, and it's something I wasn't honestly prepared for at this point in my career. It's meant I've had to do a lot of catching up in a short time: teaching myself python, taking classes for javascript, reading books about node.js and other development tools. Leaning heavily on my experience with Oracle and MySQL and Postgres and bash and perl to expand my horizons to find a new way of thinking about what I do, and a new way of looking at the world. Well, not totally new, but maybe the same way through a different lens.

I've met and made friends with some awesome people, many of whom I'd love to work with again if the opportunity permits. And learning to think about development outside of the "black boxes thrown over the wall" model of my OpsLife experience has been very interesting. Adding more tools to the toolbox, as my wife says.

At 20, I changed my entire life to work in IT as a career. At 40, it feels like I'm doing it again. It's pretty scary, but honestly? The life I have is better than the one I imagined. Or the one Douglas Coupland wrote about, for that matter.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Thoughts on Shootings (and the stuff that went down in Ottawa).



There's a scene in the pilot episode of Life (the TV series with Damian Lewis and Sarah Shahi) that I still remember as being the moment where I fell in love with the show. It was the moment that carried me through the really fantastically bad parts of season two (and there were some really fantastically bad parts in season two). 

It's a pretty normal moment for a police procedural: our detectives have tracked down the bad guy and are kicking in the door because that's what cops on TV do, and there's a shootout and the bad guy gets shot and dies, and we in the audience are all supposed to feel good about it because the bad guy was a bad guy and the cops are the good guys.

That's not the thing here, though. We've been told the bad guy is a bad guy. He's in an apartment with enough coke to get a good chunk of the LA Metro Area high, and it's pretty clear that the bad guy killed a 9 year old to show how much of a bad guy he was. But anyway, there's a shootout, because TV, and the bad guy gets shot by Sarah Shahi's character and falls down on the gross, dirty bed. And Damian Lewis' character runs over and kicks the bad guy's shotgun away, and leans down and puts his hand on the bad guy's forehead, and just holds it there. And he whispers "Shhh. It's all a dream. Go back to sleep, it's OK. It's all just a dream."

On one level, it's a comment on Damian Lewis' character and that character's somewhat off-kilter survival methodology, because as an oddly-shaped buddhist, he points out a number of times that life is really just mostly a dream (it's more complicated than that, even in the show, but just bear with me) so what he's saying is, at least to him, on some level, true.

But it's also this strange moment of comforting, where other cop shows would be all like "welp, nice job, well done, ignore the dead guy", there's this moment of bringing the humanity to a character that we-the-audience didn't even know existed two minutes ago, and will stop existing right there in front of us. It's humanizing on a number of levels, not just for the protagonist we're supposed to like, but for this obviously-bad-person who existed simply to be killed. It was a moment that said "look; even the bad people, even the really bad people, deserve comfort and love, at least a little bit, at least at the end."

I am profoundly moved at the article going around from the newspaper in Ottawa about the people who tried so hard to comfort and save the soldier who was killed. I'm glad that story is being told, and I think it's a great lesson to learn for all of us. 

But I also wonder: did anyone comfort the man who died when the Sergeant at Arms shot him to stop him from killing anyone else? 

"When you are dying, you need to be told how loved you are." That simple human moment is so, so important, not just for the person being comforted but for the person doing the comforting, but for we-as-the-audience, we-as-human-beings, because we are all, good and bad, angry and happy, sad and joyous, hurt and hurting, human beings together. And at the end, when we breathe our last, good or bad, hero or villain, it is important that we are reminded at that moment when we are present for each other in whatever way: "When you are dying, you need to be told how loved you are." We know that Michael Brown didn't get that comfort. We know that Trayvon Martin didn't get that comfort. 
Jaylen Fryberg didn't get that comfort.

I am sorry for the victims. I am sorry for the perpetrators. I am sorry for the RCMP veteran who had to kill someone to stop them. I am sorry for everyone who had to witness it, and for all of us who saw it and read about it and knows someone who knows someone who was there. I am sorry for all of us, all of us human beings, that it happened. But I do hope that we don't forget that those words, those brilliant, simple words, are as true of the most despotic villain as they are of the most virtuous hero.

"When you are dying, you need to be told how loved you are."

My wife would remind me now that we are all dying, every moment; that we are all one breath closer to the last one. We know that Michael Brown didn't get that comfort. We know that Trayvon Martin didn't get that comfort. 
Jaylen Fryberg didn't get that comfort.

You are loved. All of you. Every one of you, even the ones I don't like very much. You are loved. You are so, so loved.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

LISTEN.

I was thinking about commenting in another thread on feminism but realized that given the question and the subject matter, my best bet and best method of being feminist was to shut the fuck up and get out of the way. There are places where my voice can be an important one, but this was not one of those places.

Mostly, as a white male feminist, my job is to listen. I must, must,must remember that.