Word for the day – “Interrotron”

I was taken by a short film (okay, short video, if you insist) referenced in today’s New York Times app.

It’s about a man standing along the route of the Kennedy assassination, who was carrying (and under) an umbrella on that sunny day in November, 1962.  A thought-provoking production by Errol Morris, and not what you might assume.

What really caught my eye, though, was a credit at the end of the video for the “Interrotron Tech”.

A what?  It turns out that rather than an adjunct to waterboarding (what was suggested to me by the name), it’s a variation on the teleprompter where the subject of the interview sees the image of the director (that is, the person performing the interview) in front of the camera lens the same way a person giving a speech or working a newscast sees text – and the setup is replicated for the director, who sees the interview subject.

The point of this?  Says Morris, this actually allows a true face to face interview – eye contact – through the camera.  The conversation is carried on by two people who are looking at each other in the eye, just as you and I might when talking, but the interviewee is looking at us.  Morris invented this, and has used it for several of his works.

What a fascinating word, though.

Deja Vu

I’ve been told that as a new parent, there is an eerie moment the first time when they find themselves saying something to their kids – a feeling as the words come out of their mouths – the realization that they are saying to their kids exactly what their parents said to them in the same circumstances, 20 or 30 years ago.  They have an immediate inescapable realization that they are “becoming their parents”.

I had a similar technological moment not long ago, talking to my parents-in-law about Facebook.  They were not entirely clear on what Facebook is, or why people use it.  I explained as best as I could the concept of “friend” as a verb; and wrapped up my thoughts this way:

     “Facebook isn’t really the best way to communicate with me.  I’m not on it very often; in fact I find that I really don’t have the time to spend to check in with it frequently, and don’t feel the need to do so either.”

Boing!  As I was expressing this thought, my brain was pulled back to the mid-1990s.  I had been enthused about a new technology called email, and had gotten my father set up on America OnLine. And now  in 2011 I had the stunning feeling that I’d heard this before… my father explaining that he just didn’t have time to check the computer every day to see if he’d gotten any messages.  Why would he want to do that, he said, as after all people could always call him on the phone if they wanted.  And I, in my late 20’s or early 30’s couldn’t communicate the excitement, no, the necessity of this new (to him) way to keep in touch.

It’s 2011; we all use email and the web, but the composed-form email message is “history” to more and more of the Millennials that I encounter.  It’s txt and Facebook and Twitter now.

Is it incipient obsolescence to argue about whether this is true, desirable, or meaningful?

iPad Time

What do you know, I’m actually on the vanguard for once.

I skipped the first generation of the iPad because “circumstances” were not propitious for the investment in an unknown technology.  Or, to put it another way, I simply didn’t have a way to justify the cost… with uncertain “benefit” to counter $500-$800 in outlay.

(Compare and contrast with my my lack of an iPhone – mostly a result of my strong dislike of at&t and its predecessors – although not of course helped by the costs for the device and the required data plans.)

But having passed up the iPhone, I did decide that the second-gen iPad was a worthwhile investment.  Made a bit easier by paying with our 21st century equivalent of S&H Green Stamps, credit card points.

So, I admit to scheduling a trip down to the Back Bay on 11 March, the day of the unveiling, and I don’t have to describe for anyone the sheepish “late to the party” feeling of seeing the lines down Boylston Street block, the a block of Fairfield, and then a significant remaining queue down Newbury.  Okay, yes, I didn’t get there for almost a full hour since the lines opened, but still…

As my friend Linda might have put it, “dontcha want it just a bit too much?”.  She would, of course, be correct.  But I had to do something

Here’s the question I asked (ignorant, of course, as to how constrained the supply would be, even weeks later): how long am I willing to stand in line for this?  Seriously, though I thought at the time the choice was only between waiting a few more days, if I wanted one more quickly was I willing to wait?  And if so, what would be the best strategy?

Here is what I decided: I would be willing to experience the delight of cooling my heels for 90 minutes, but no more.  After all, I’d never been at an Apple launch before… but given what I saw that Friday, I suspected that any Saturday line would be seriously longer than that hour and a half.

The optimization I arrived at was that I would spend that 90 minutes waiting for the store to open Saturday morning.  I would get there at 0830 for the 1000 opening; if the line then seemed to me to be more than minimal I would just forego the thrill.  (I did make one adjustment: normally I would never drive downtown, but I realized that with a 20 minute investment in an easy drive I could cut my losses if there turned out to be a raving horde.)

There was no horde.  I got there a bit earlier than planned (because of the drive vs. the T), and found myself #15 in line.

It turned out to be exactly two hours to wait and then complete the transaction, getting just in under the parking meter.  Good strategy – and pretty happy customer.  I’m not usually the guy with the newest, shiniest kit, but for once it’s nice to be there.

Fun in the Cloud – Backing Up – Part 4

Simple Sync to the Cloud

Keeping backup sets in sync

The last part post described my implementation of rsync into Amazon Web Services (AWS), with storage on the Simple Storage Service (S3) and an rsync target server supported by Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).

So, that’s it, right?  This can support any sort of data; along with a mirroring function it should be sufficient.  And that would be correct, but we’re not done yet. Continue reading

Fun in the Cloud – Backing Up – Part 3

Backing Up via rsync to the Cloud

Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3)

Ah, an interesting creature, this S3.

If you read the developer’s information for S3, it strikes you as an interesting way to upload and download “objects” of indeterminate size into “buckets”… but it’s not a filesystem like we’re used to.  And you can’t (natively) mount (or attach) it to a host. Continue reading

Fun with the Cloud – Backing Up – Part 1

Most of my professional career has revolved around data.  I’ve been the designated recipient of sad takes from colleagues (and friends and family) of hours of work, lost – either because of hardware or software failure.  And just like anyone who brings work home, I’ve been determined, perhaps far too obsessively, to try to protect myself. Continue reading

On change, on keeping up

My wife gets perplexed about a couple of things.

She has a ability that I envy: through force of will, she sits down at her desk and starts to work. Stuff (including my occasional observations) fly by her, without disturbing the continuity of her process.

On the other hand, I’m constantly circling the task at hand. If the right opportunity presents itself, I can dive in, and three hours later – time for lunch? We were going to do what, this morning?

She can’t understand how I get work done. And she can’t understand how I know such intimate details about that thing sitting on her desk that connects her to email and the web and to YouTube videos and the online New York Times.

Part of the answer seems to be how I’m wired, part of it is the times that we live in, and part of it is what my basic skills are.

How much of the time of those of us in IT is spent “doing” what we do – project work, responses to requests from our colleagues or customers, fire fighting – and how much do we spend thinking, reading, researching the stuff that’s not necessarily at the forefront of our concerns but represents the continual replenishment of what we knew about yesterday that’s irrelevant for tomorrow?

Hard to figure out the balance there.

But as I get older, fortunately or not, I begin to see the limits.  The hours of the day are finite; and the time that I spend in the present is time I don’t spend thinking about the future.  The time I spend in response isn’t time that I spend in initiation.