A Labourer at the Bitface

Relaunch

If you pay attention to URLs and such — and if you’re reading this at all — you’ll be aware that my blog is not sited at the root or home page of the devilgate.org site, but at devilgate.org/blog/. For a long time the home page has been a very basic one, with just a few links to the other places you can find me online.

As of today, it still contains those links, but is a slightly more modern, sophisticated page, and has a new focus.

That new focus is job-hunting. I’ve been working at <name redacted at company’s request> for more years than I care to think about — well, <name redacted at company’s request> and one of its precursor companies, BIS, that it bought up in the 90s. And this is the first time I’ve named it in public on the internet. Edit: And unnamed again, for now at least.

The reasons I never named it before are to do with keeping work and the rest of my life separate; and more to do with the fact that, as quite an elderly tech company, it didn’t really have any concept of its staff having an online life outside of it — or even inside of it. At least until the last couple of years, when it launched a Twitter account and a YouTube channel… and the less said about them the better.

The same agedness is part of the reason why I have never contributed significantly to any open-source projects: my contract effectively disallowed it.1

And I’m making it public now — and I’m relaunching my front page — because I’m not going to be working there much longer.

Even in the teen years of the 21st century, we are not past the time of jobs being moved offshore, it seems. Well some jobs, at least; and <name redacted at company’s request> have been moving development jobs to our — to their, as I should learn to say — offices in Manila and Bangalore for years. It was only a matter of time, really.

So about three weeks ago, me and the four other remaining developers in the team were told that we would be leaving at the end of June.2 It wasn’t a shock, or even a surprise. In fact, I think we were all fairly pleased, in the end.

I’ve been expecting it for at least a year, since the last of the developers in another team were sent on their way. To the extent that I’ve been looking around, have been for a couple of interviews; because I didn’t want to be just hanging on there for the redundancy money. That would be a terrible reason for staying. And while the work was still OK, I didn’t have to find a job, so I felt I was in a position of strength.

Now, of course, I’m quite pleased that none of those opportunities came to anything, because I do get the redundancy money. And my CV is up to date, and my LinkedIn and more importantly Stack Overflow profiles are looking reasonably good.

I’m treating this as an opportunity: I’m keen to learn new things, have new experiences, and hopefully work in a development environment with releases more than twice a year, and with end-users I actually get to talk to.

So things are OK, but I am looking for a new job. So if you happen to know of anyone who’s looking for a Senior Software Engineer, or Lead Programmer, or similar, with a lot of experience in Java and various other languages (and who is currently learning Swift), then send them my way.

And I don’t mind being public about all this now, because I fully expect any company I work for in the future to have a more open, progressive attitude to its employees being citizens of the net.

Well, unless Apple are recruiting.3


  1. And, to be fair, I never bothered to seriously investigate changing that. []
  2. Unless we find other jobs within the company, which is extremely unlikely. []
  3. They are, as it happens, but their “London” site is in Uxbridge, a kazillion miles on the wrong side of town. []

I Upgraded my MacBook

And it’s like having a new machine.

I have a 13-inch MacBook Pro, mid 2010 model. I bought it in about September or October 2010. Which means it’s getting quite long in the tooth. The MacBooks have come on a long way in what they offer since then. Mine had 4GB of memory and a 320 GB hard drive. Nowadays they have solid-state drives by default and start from 16GB of memory, I think.

Thing is, it was still fine in most ways, but it was getting very, very slow. It wasn’t too bad once everything was up and running, but waking it from sleep meant I’d be seeing what Ginger out of The Wildhearts called the “spinning fucking rainbow” (and everyone else calls the beachball) for a long time.

Even when it was up, just switching apps could trigger the slowness. So I was thinking about upgrading. But I figured there was life in the old beast yet. I took inspiration from Jason Snell who writes of upgrading a 2009 model.

According to Apple, the most memory this model can support is 8GB. But according to Other World Computing, this particular model, though no others from around then, can actually take more — up to 16GB.

I went to Crucial, which is noted as the best site for Mac upgrades in the UK (OWC is only in the US). Its tool said it could only take 8GB. But I looked around various forums and decided that there was enough evidence that OWC were right. Plus memory is so cheap these days that the difference in price between 8 and 16 was very small.

So I took a chance and ordered 16GB, plus a 500GB SSD.

Installing the memory was trivially easy. You don’t need more than a small Phillips screwdriver to open the case, and the memory modules themselves pop out and slot in very easily.

But with the two 8GB modules in, it wouldn’t boot up. I just got series of three beeps, repeated every few seconds.

A bit of googling told me that means “bad memory,” essentially.

I tried taking it out an putting it back in, swapping round which module was in which slot, and so on, but to no avail. I put the old memory back just to check that I hadn’t damaged something, and it started up like before.

So it looked like OWC were wrong, and I was restricted to 8GB. I was considering sending the memory back to Crucial and hoping I could get I refund. But then I tried one more thing. One of the new 8GB sticks along with one of the old 2GB ones.

And it booted up, smooth as a cliche.

Of course I tried swapping out one 8GB stick for the other, to check for the possibility that one of them actually was bad. But both of them worked. So it seems that this MacBook can take more than 8GB, but not as much as 16. Which is strange, but never mind.

I’d have to say, though, that the difference in performance wasn’t obvious. But I didn’t spend lot of time with it like that, because I still had the SSD to install. That’s very slightly more involved, needing as it does a Torx screwdriver. But it’s very easy.

Before all that I had made sure my old hard drive was thoroughly backed up, you won’t be surprised to hear.

I booted up in the new configuration and told the Mac to set itself up as a new installation. It downloaded El Capitan over the air and installed away.

There was one slight glitch in this process. Something went wrong with the installation and I started getting a kernel panic on bootup. I don’t quite recall the details now, but I just reformatted the SSD and installed again, and it all went fine.

And the difference… The difference is astonishing. Even with many apps open (I currently have twelve), and a whole stack of tabs in Safari, using it is effortless. Apps switch without the slightest lag. I can start anything up with only a few bounces. I’ve hardly even seen the rainbow.

Even Lightroom, which is the heaviest-weight app I use on here, starts in under ten seconds.

In short, this is the way a computer should be.

Awakening

You’ll have noticed, I’m sure, that after my brief comments on the threeStar Wars prequels late last year, I didn’t come back and say what I thought of the sequel. Which was, after all, the main reason I watched the prequels in the first place.

That was lax of me, but in honour of the DVD ofThe Force Awakens having arrived, here we go now. I won’t go into much detail, though: many pixels, and hours of podcasts, have been generated discussing this movie, and the internet doesn’t need mine at this late stage. But I’ll just quote what I wrote privately after seeing it the first time:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: I loved every moment, every frame from the scroll onwards. No, before that: from the logo appearing on screen.

Hell, I think “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” comes first.

Anyway, this is a flawless movie. OK, exaggeration: but it is a wonderful, masterful piece of work.

The other thing I thought was, “Move overEmpire: there’s a new bestStar Wars film.”

Tim Bray speaks wisely on selfies:

Somewhere right now there’s a young woman who’ll lead her nation to war, or write a book that wrenches a generation’s heart, or help make technology that touches a billion lives. Unlike previous generations of such women, her biography’s early chapters will be improved by selfies.

Source: “Photographer”?

Patience by Daniel Clowes (Books 2016, 5)

As I said, I ordered this right off the back of reading the review. I read it almost as soon as it arrived, and then read it again. It’s a fast read, being a graphic novel, and been a timey-wimey story you want to read it again to see how it twists.

It’s really good. Every bit as good as the review suggested — if not quite as good as the blurb suggested.

I’m not going to say much more about it, as almost anything would be spoilers. A time-travel love story. Totes excellent.

ETA: It would help if I could actually spell the title!

Christ, we’re gonna have to pull all our photos from Flickr if this goes through: Daily Mail publisher in talks with companies over Yahoo takeover.

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge (Books 2016, 4)

A rereading, this, but I remembered much less of it than I thought, and enjoyed it even more than I expected to.

All I really remembered in any detail was the dog-like pack-based beings, the Tines. Maybe a vague sense of the rogue superintelligent AI that caused all the problems.

And the “Zones of Thought” themselves, of course. A genius idea, which, in brief summary, is this: the further out from the galactic core you get, the more advanced the technology that is possible. Implicitly that includes biology. It’s never explicitly stated, but it seems likely that deep inside the galaxy, in the “Unthinking Depths,” intelligence is not possible. Further out you get the “Slow Zone”, which is where Earth is.1 Only sub-lightspeed travel is possible here, and machines cannot become intelligent.

But all this changes when you get to the galactic fringes, or the “Beyond,” where FTL and something close to AI are commonplace. And the further up the Beyond you go, the more this is true, until you reach the “Transcend,” where godlike AIs exist.

My memory was that the sections with the Tines were kind of annoying, with a sense of, “I want my space operas to be set in space, with high tech; not on a mediaeval-level world with nothing more advanced than cartwheels.”2 But of course the story of the kids stranded on the Tines’ World are both fundamental to the overall story, and at least as good as the galaxy-spanning main plot.

This book has gone from new, Hugo- & Nebula-Award winner to SF Masterwork in what feels like a very short time. It was first published in 1991, which is 25 years ago. I suppose that’s enough time to become a classic.3 The accolades are thoroughly deserved, of course.

The SF Masterworks edition has an introduction by Ken McLeod, which is well worth reading, and the whole is highly recommended by me.


  1. Or possibly, was: Earth doesn’t feature in this story. []
  2. I lost interest in Stephen Baxter’sOrigin: Manifold Three largely because of the scenes on the stone-age planet. I see from GoodReads that a lot of other people had trouble with it too. []
  3. Arguably it was instantly a classic, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. []

“Would you go anywhere near a book described on its back cover as ‘a cosmic timewarp deathtrip to the primordial infinite of everlasting love’?”, begins this Guardian review ofPatience by Daniel Clowes.

What other answer could there be but, “Hell, yeah!”? My copy arrived today.

The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross (Books 2016, 3)

I read this about a month and a half ago, and already it has slipped quite far from my memory. That’s not a good sign, is it?

I’m also almost sure I wrote about it already, but it seems not. I certainly can’t find anything on either my Mac or iPhone.

But never mind. It’s Stross and Doctorow. What’s not to like? It’s also, I think, something of a fix-up. I certainly felt that I had read the early part of before.

We’re in a near-future, post-singularity world, where our hero, Huw, wakes up with a hangover to find that he has been invited to do jury duty. But rather than determine the guilt or innocence of alleged criminals, this jury’s job is to determine the desirability of a piece of new technology.

Huw is a singularity refusenik, who wants to remain on Earth as a baseline human, rather than take advantage of the ability to upload his personality and live forever in the orbital cloud. The jury’s job is to assess whether a piece of new tech should be allowed to come back from the cloud to Earth.

At least, that’s the theory. It goes a long way from there, as you might expect.

It’s good, but as I suggested above, not that memorable. On the other hand, that could just be my memory.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, by Philip K Dick (Books 2016, 2)

Nothing to do with stigmata, really, and the titular differences aren’t even mentioned until three-quarters of the way through the book. It’s almost as if Dick wanted to use the title, and then realised, “Oh, I haven’t said what these stigmata are yet, or why. Better throw them in.” Because they are also entirely irrelevant to the story.

Oh yes, the story. Hmm. It’s not one of Dick’s best, and a lot of it barely makes sense. Or at least, it makes sense in that it’s internally consistent. But it’s hard to believe. The UN conscripts people using a military-style draft, to go and live on the colonies — Mars is the only one we see, but several other planets and moons within the solar system are implied.

Colonists’ lives are so hard and unpleasant that the only way they can get by — and the only entertainment they have, it seems — is to lose themselves in shared hallucinations induced by a drug called Can-D, during which they enter the world of characters called Perky Pat and her boyfriend Walt. These are inspired or induced using “layouts” — groupings of miniaturised artefacts that become part of Pat’s life, and hence of the colonists’ hallucinations.

In any group entering the shared experience, all the women always take the part of Pat, and all the men that of Walt. Which seems very limiting and heteronormative.

And, oh, yes, the sexual politics.

In some ways they’re not too bad. The main character, Barney Mayerson, is a precog — oh yes, we have those, too, except when we forget that we do — and his assistant, Roni Fugate, ends up with his job, which is a quite a senior one at the company that makes “mins” — miniaturised items for use with the Perky Pat layouts. They use their precognitive powers to know what items are going to be fashionable. Other than that, the existence of reliable precognition seems to have had no impact on society.

Maybe that’s why he wrote “Minority Report.”

Anyway, at the start, she is also his lover, which seems to have happened as soon as she started working with him, almost as a given.

On the other hand, a significant part of the plot is driven by the fact that he has never got over his breakup with his wife — which I think might have been as long as twenty years ago — whom he dumped because she was bad for his career, or something.

In fact she’s a highly skilled potter, who makes artefacts that are miniaturised for use in these famous layouts. Mayerson rejects her latest designs, saying they won’t be successful, when Roni says they will. His attempt to screw up his ex’s career leads her (and her new husband, who is acting as her salesman) into the arms of a rival corporation.

That body has been set up by the mysterious titular character. Palmer Eldritch has just returned from a ten-year trip to the Proxima system, whence he might have bought back a new drug, Chew-Z, that has similar properties to Can-D but is even more powerful.

Also global warming: the world is unliveably hot, so everyone stays in air-conditioned buildings (and makes things worse). In America, at least. We don’t hear anything about the rest of the world. And forced “evolution”: some people go for expensive treatments in Swiss clinics, which give them bigger brains and and leathery skin, at least on their head. Though sometimes it goes wrong and their intelligence decreases.

It’s all quite, quite mad, and the conclusion probably makes even less sense. But what the hell, it’s fun enough while it lasts.

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