Category Archives: teleworking

Traffic Server Summit (by ‘net)

I spent two days last week at the trafficserver summit.

Or rather, two evenings.  The summit was held in Silicon Valley (hosted by linkedin), while I remained at home in Blighty with a conferencing link, making me one of several remote attendees.  With an 8 hour time difference, each day started at 5pm and went on into the wee hours.  On the first day (Tuesday) this followed a day of regular work.  On the Wednesday I took a more sensible approach and the only work I did before the summit was a bit of gardening.  Despite that I felt more tired on the Wednesday.

The conferencing link was a decent enough instance of its kind, with regular video alongside screen sharing and text (though IRC does a better job with text).  The video was pointed at the speakers as they presented, and the screen sharing was used to share their presentations.  That was good enough to follow the presentations pretty well: indeed, sometimes better than being there, as I could read all the intricate slides and screens that would’ve been just a blur if I’d been present in the room.

Unfortunately most of the presentations involved discussion around the room, and that was much harder, sometimes impossible, to follow.  Also, speaking was not a good experience: I heard my voice some time after I’d spoken, and it sounded ghastly and indistinct, so I muted my microphone.  That was using just the builtin mike in the macbook.  I tried later with a proper headset when I had something to contribute, but alas it seems by then I (and I think all remote attendees, after the initial difficulties) was muted by the system.  So I had something approximating to read-only access.  And of course missed out on the social aspects of the event away from the presentations.

In terms of the mechanics of running an event like this, I think in retrospect we could make some modest improvements.  We had good two-way communication over IRC, and that might be better-harnessed.  Maybe rather than ad-hoc intervention, someone present (a session chair?) could act as designated proxy for remote attendees, and keep an eye on IRC for anyone looking to contribute to discussion.  Having such a person would probably have prompted me into action on a few occasions when I had a comment, question or suggestion.  Or perhaps better, IRC could be projected onto a second screen in the room, alongside the presenter’s materials.

The speakers and contents were well worth the limitations and antisocial hours of attending.  I found a high proportion of the material interesting, informative, and well-presented.  Alan, who probably knows more than anyone about Trafficserver internals, spoke at length on a range of topics.  The duo of Brian and Bryan (no, not a comedy act) talked about debugging and led discussion on test frameworks.

Other speakers addressed applications and APIs, and deployments, ops and tools.  A session I found unexpectedly interesting was Susan on the subject of how, in integrating sophisticated SSL capabilities in a module, she’s been working with Alan to extend the API to meet her needs.  It’s an approach from which I might just benefit, and I also need to take a look at whether Ironbee adequately captures all potentially-useful information available from SSL.

At the end I also made (via IRC) one suggestion for a session for the next summit: API review.  There’s a lot that’s implemented in Trafficserver core and utils that could usefully be made available to plugins via the API, even just by installing existing header files to a public includes directory.  Obviously that requires some control over what is intended to be public, and a stability deal over exported APIs.  I have some thoughts over how to deal with those, but I think that’s a subject for the wiki rather than a blog post.  One little plea for now: let’s not get hung up on what’s in C vs C++.  Accept that exported headers might be either, and let application developers deal with it.  If anyone then feels compelled to write a ‘clean’ wrapper, welcome their contribution!

 

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Mobile phone as modem

After my recent scare, I’ve decided I definitely want to enable myself to connect through the ‘phone, and I’ve been playing with using the mobile phone as modem.  That, I assumed, should be straightforward from home while I have my normal connectivity: first go online with the phone via my home wifi, then connect the phone to a computer by USB.

I’ve been through each of those steps before now.  When I plug in the USB cable, the phone offers a choice of four connection modes.  So this time, instead of my customary “mass storage” I selected “Connect PC to Web”.  Unfortunately neither OpenSolaris nor MacOS responded by finding a network device, so I guess I have to look for drivers.  So much for never having to look “under the hood” in a modern OS 😦

Moving to Bluetooth (only the Mac has the hardware for that), I hit a different snag.  The Mac doesn’t want to use the ‘net connection I’ve set up on the ‘phone.  Instead, it prompts for my credentials from a GPRS provider.  Seems it’ll only use the phone as a dumb modem 😦

Guess I still have some RTFM to do before forking out to subscribe to a service.

Limbo

Yesterday late morning, I suddenly found myself unable to connect to the ‘net.  This was sudden death: I’d been on earlier, and just had a break of maybe 15 minutes. After a couple of tests for “usual suspects”, I logged in to the router, and found it had indeed lost the connection.

I have the ‘phone number for my ISP, so I tried it.  But the ‘phone wasn’t working either: it wouldn’t even give me a dialtone.  That’ll no doubt be another symptom of the same underlying problem.

But how to contact BT to complain?  My mobile phone is working fine, but doesn’t give me the standard operator numbers I’m accustomed to: 150 is invalid on it, and 100 gives me O2’s operator, who has no idea how to contact BT’s.  Neither can I look it up without ‘net access.  The joys of a single point-of-failure!

Trying to think who I can ask to borrow a BT line, and is likely to be around at this hour, I wander down into town.  There in the centre is still an old-fashioned red call-box.  Miraculously it’s working, and doesn’t even stink of smoke – how things have changed since those phoneboxes were something we had to use regularly!  I successfully phoned BT: not a human, but a long series of menus that actually worked(!)

The system promised a next-day response, so I just had to hope it would happen in time not to miss a couple of meetings, including crucially the ASF board and new-member elections (online voting, and online access required for research prior to voting).  The board election was interesting, with a much higher number of (strong) candidates than ever before.  I was back online in time to vote for the board, but not to research the new member candidates, so I confined myself to voting for nominees with whom I’m already familiar.

The worst thing about this little episode wasn’t so much the sudden and unexpected loss of contact, but the uncertainty over it.  First having to figure out how to contact BT, then just hoping they’d fix it in a reasonable time.  I think they’re not bad at that these days, but when you rely as much as I do on it, it’s always a worry.

So whilst in town I also went in to Carphone Warehouse and asked about contracts for mobile broadband connectivity.  The man there recommended that since I have a mobile phone on monthly contract, I should ask my provider to upgrade that.  Which means, slightly painfully, having to use the phone as a modem anytime I want to use the connection to get online from a computer.  There’s still no deal available that gives me connectivity both from the phone and from a USB stick for a single subscription 😦

Portable Computing

I’ve had a laptop for years. The current MacBook is smaller, better made and more robust and portable than its predecessors. But it’s still rather heavy, useless in full daylight, uncertain how it would fare in bad weather, and not really something I want to carry around the mountains whilst on holiday.

Neither do I want to be out-of-touch for an extended period. Sometime no doubt I’ll be able to carry a USB storage stick with my private SSL keys in a virtual machine, and expect to be able to use it every time I touch base in ‘civilisation’. But nowadays, I dread getting stuck on a Windows box where I can do nothing other than surf the bloody web.

So I’m interested in an intermediate device: smaller and lighter than a macbook, with both GSM and wifi connectivity, and with some kind of terminal/ssh capabilities as well as web, POP and IMAP clients. I asked on IRC, where I happen to know pctony is a Blackberry user. But he warned me against the blackberry’s terminal capabilities, and suggested an iPhone would be a better bet.

I’d definitely be reluctant to get an iphone: with the branding and marketing, it would smell like buying designer clothes [shudder], and on a more rational level it’s rather severe lock-in. If the blackberry’s idea of a terminal is really poor, then that’s not an attractive proposition. What about an Asus eee PC? Or a top-end ‘phone with Linux or Symbian? Anyone suggest pros and cons of the various options?

.co.uk in a timewarp

Yesterday El Reg ran a story about how UK companies can’t recruit IT talent, and lack the imagination to update their working practices to what people find acceptable this century. It attracted quite a few comments, showing a thoroughly predictable (to a geek) lack of sympathy with the poor companies. They are, and have been for as long as I’ve been in the business (over 20 years now) the authors of their own misfortunes.

At my venerable age, they no longer insult me by offering peanuts of the kind that dip below the statutory minimum wage once you factor it over all the unpaid extra hours. But even when they talk of really good money, they’re stuck in a dinosaur mindset.

Here’s my contribution to that article. I meant to post it anonymously, but forgot to check the box, so my name’s already attached to it.

[Ring Ring]

“Hello, [me] speaking”

“Hello, this is J. Random Recruiter. Is this a good time?”

“Yeah, fine. What can I do you for?”

“We’ve got a city financial company needs your skills, in particular [foo]”

“Indeed?”

“Would you be available to work in The City”?

“I work for clients around the world. The City is fine. Just so long as they don’t expect my bum physically in their seat on a regular basis. Happy to travel to London occasionally – say, up to once a month.”

“They’ll pay £150K for this. And that’s a permie salary”

“Great. And that’ll be based on working primarily from home?”

“No, clients won’t generally do that. But you don’t have to live in London, you can commute in from the country”.

“It’s a minimum of five hours from here to Paddington, one way. About monthly is OK; anything much more frequent isn’t. That’s why I work from home, for clients around the world”.

“You find clients who are happy with that?”

“Most of my income comes from America, which means it’s losing its value. I’d welcome work coming from London.”

“And you wouldn’t consider moving”?

“Yes, but not to anywhere in SouthEast England.”

“They might be flexible on the pay”.

“The money is fine, thank you. Southeast England isn’t. That’s what I’ve escaped from, and I’m not about to go back”.

“Oh. So you wouldn’t be interested?”

“As I said, I’m happy to go up there from time to time.”

… and it draws to a close. We haven’t even discussed the work itself, beyond the recruiter having taken an interest in my CV. He can use our telecoms infrastructure to do his job (contact prospective recruits) remotely, but won’t countenance the recruits themselves doing likewise.

Not all of them say £150k (the last one I recollect did). But the shape of the conversation is remarkably predictable. I expect hacks prepared to work in central London are in huge demand and commanding correspondingly inflated pay, while those of us who won’t do it will find my tale very familiar.