Author: klynton

Business tools have come a long way in the last 10 years. I went from 0 to a fully functioning website selling products in 5 hours for $0.

What the hell is wrong with my phone?

My only phone since 2007 has been an iPhone. Every year or two I upgrade to the latest model. Tired of having to worry about disk space I paid for the 256GB iPhone 7+. The iPhone 7+ has been the absolute worst device I have ever owned.

The timeline:

Mid-May 2017: My phone restarted on its own. Later that day it ‘restarted’ again but never came back. The screen only showed the Apple logo. I could not update it, restore it, or restore from backup. It was just gone. The phone company replaced it.

Late-May 2017: The replacement phone had bits of white glue sticking out of the sides of the screen. The phone company replaced it.

8 July 2017: I unplugged my phone in the morning and it rebooted. It took 4 minutes to reboot again and then 1 minute to boot enough for me to log in. All of my saved passwords are gone. No apps are logged in and all the apps on my phone think it is a new device. I restore the device from a 4 day old backup and all of the passwords are saved again.

10 July 2017: I open Messages but I’m unable to type anything or select any conversations so I reboot the phone. After the reboot all of the history in Messages is gone. I restore from a 2 day old backup and my messages are now there minus ones sent in the last 2 days.

11 July 2017: While driving my phone stops responding. The screen is black, the home button does not work, and the power button does not shut it down. I force reboot the phone and it starts working again. I plug the phone into the computer and looked at the crash logs from the device. locationd crashes anytime it is accessed.

I try to back up the phone to my computer but get an error. I try to do an unencrypted back up but it fails. I try to backup to iCloud but I get an error that says “Some files were unavailable to backup.” I try changing the encryption password and it fails. I reboot my phone and the computer. I still cannot back up the phone.

12 July 2017: Any app that tries to access location data either crashes or hangs for 10 seconds (which is apparently the longest apps will wait for locationd to respond). Almost every app I use accesses location data for something: Twitter, Calendar, Maps, etc. So every app hangs for 10 seconds before allowing any input.

I get fed up with waiting so I decide to restore the device from a 4 day old backup. I still cannot backup the iPhone. Each backup that fails creates the backup directory and grows the file size to within 100MB of the older backup before failing and removing the directory.

After the restore location services still do not work, apps still take 10 seconds to accept input, and locationd is still crashing. The apps that rely on locationd still crash. Loading the Settings app takes ~20 seconds and it also crashes or hangs before allowing any changes. I CAN back up the phone which I do immediately. The phone company will be replacing the phone.

Out of the 6 iPhones I have owned I have never restored any of them more than once. This device has had to be restored 3 times in the 2 months that I have had it. After it crashed while I was driving I can no longer use any location services even after a complete restore of the phone software.

I have entertained the idea that all of this could be my fault. But it seems highly unlikely. I haven’t jail broken the device, dropped it, or installed an iOS 11 beta. I really doubt my ability to cause Exception Type: EXC_BAD_ACCESS (SIGSEGV) Exception Subtype: KERN_INVALID_ADDRESS at 0x0000000000000000.

What the hell is wrong with my phone?

A Sea of contractors.

Over the past couple years I’ve seen a lot of enterprise IT departments. Most of them are filled with contractors. In some of these companies there are only 5 or 10 technical employees. The rest of the people in the IT organization aren’t actually employed by the company. That means that the majority of the people who build, maintain, and manage their infrastructure and applications are contractors.

Most of the companies are “IT” companies. These are software companies, hardware vendors, and financial services companies. Software and hardware are their business. Without technology and engineering these companies don’t exist.

(One financial services company I saw with more than 400 employees had about 8 employees in the entire IT organization: the CTO, the VP of Engineering, 2 Directors, and 4 managers. The other 50, or so, people who worked in the department were contractors.)

A company over 50 people can’t function without some sort of “IT” department. Someone has to manage email accounts, desktop hardware, office WiFi, and the mix of SaaS applications most companies use. With almost all of the company’s business being done electronically it’s impossible to not have an “IT” department.

I have spent a long time trying to figure out why a company would do this. I have a few ideas:

  • Maybe the company bought into the “IT is a cost center” mentality brought on by CFOs and people with MBAs. As if there is a single part of the company that can function without IT resources. I’d like to see a breakdown of the marginal cost/revenue of engineering vs. accounting employees.

  • Maybe the engineering teams were really behind schedule and adding more project managers didn’t get the software shipped. Having a product owner for every component didn’t work. So now, it’s time to throw engineers at the problem and hope that helps.

  • Maybe it is financially motivated. Spending $150,000 a year, total, for a competent contractor is a lot less than a full time employee would cost. The team of contractors can always be supplemented with consultants. Plus, without all those employees the Director’s bonus looks huge!

  • Maybe it is the only way to get work done. If it is easy to hire and fire contractors but almost impossible to hire and fire full time employees contractors make sense. (Keep thinking about the government benefits if you do get hired full time!)

There are good reasons to bring in contractors: getting a specialist to set up a particular piece of software, building out prototypes without taking away from your core set of engineers, a contract-to-hire employment plan, and event services. These are all reasonable things for which to hire a contractor.

I don’t have anything against contractors. I’ve been one. It can be rough. Since they are not employees they have to provide their own hardware. They don’t have access to the same benefits (or maybe even holidays) as employees. They know that a bad quarter means that their contract might be terminated. (Cisco seems to be one place where actual employees have this problem.) Or Congress could have another budget showdown (all the downside of working for a government but none of the upside).

To mitigate these risks people have started companies that hire employees and then contract them out to larger firms like a “temp” agency would. This provides them with the benefits and stability of being fully employed and mitigating the risks.

As someone who has run a business I cannot think of a worse outcome than the people who my business depends on not having the same incentive to see it do well as I do.

I’m afraid I’m not as smart as I used to be.

I spent a few minutes this evening going over some old philosophy paper assignments. Looking at them, I can’t believe I was able to write those papers. I almost cannot imagine myself writing those papers. I vaguely remember reading some of the essay pieces but, now, I don’t remember enough to write anything coherent about them.

I wish I had been a better student.

How many things am I, are we all, half-assing our way through that we could be doing the right way? I feel that the answer is “too many”, but why? Why are we doing things that we absolutely know will hurt us in the future? Is it because we’re discounting the future value? Are we valuing the present too much?

I remember wanting to watch some TV show instead of doing one of the assigned readings. I can’t say now why that was a better thing to do other than “that’s what I wanted at the time”. I stayed up late so many nights reading assignments and writing papers that were due in 8 hours because I hadn’t bothered doing the work during the week that I was given.

I never did my best work because I never put everything into it. I could make excuses, I had a full time contracting job, I went to school full time, I had a wife and four kids. All true, but I stopped myself from doing my best. Despite all of that I was able to write the papers. Even though most of them were late.

I’m afraid I’m not as smart as I used to be but I am surely more wise. I may not be able to offer Socrates’ argument showing that there is no akrasia. But I know what’s important and I know how to prioritize and execute the tasks that need to be accomplished, shut out distractions, and complete my work.

This must be how my elementary school friends who were WWE fans felt.

I don’t get excited for sporting events or other TV shows. I’ll waste time watching good TV but I don’t get excited about it. It’s to something to do while I’m doing something else.

I can’t wait for the UFC 182 bout between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. Both of them undefeated, both of them extremely good at what they do. The stats and skills are so even that I can’t even guess who will win. There’s been a lot of bullshit leading up to the fight so I expect it will be good.

This must be how my elementary school friends who were WWE fans felt.

Docs and Spreadsheets

I worked as a middle manager in a large corporation so I’ve been on the sending and receiving end of emailed spreadsheets and Word docs. Why? Because that’s how business was done.

I worked in a training organization where we were required to report on training completion numbers. The official training completion report was created by me (and others) copy/pasting a list of names filtered from a website into a specific tab on a spreadsheet, deleting the extra cells that were not needed, and making sure the VLOOKUPS in the spreadsheet actually did what they were supposed to do. As manual as this sounds this was the automated version. We used spreadsheets as a business automation tool.

Since we didn’t have the option to just get completion numbers from the website we had to create our own solution. It probably took 5 people 200 or so hours (not including continued maintenance) to get to that level of automation when it would have taken a person on the web team an hour or two to just add in a completion percentage. This was the process for reporting numbers that carried penalties in the millions.

A lot of the reason we had to do the completion numbers like this is because we had agents who were on vacation, sick leave, FMLA, absent, or simply didn’t work for us anymore. It seems to me that since this is an employee and I am able to track that status somewhere it would be trivial to pull from our HR solution (PeopleSoft) and compare with the vendor’s site.

I think reasonable people could agree that this wasn’t a good solution for the problem we had.

I’m not quite sure how the idea for Google Docs came about but I imagine it went something like this, “Executive: I’m tired of having to email people Excel spreadsheets and Word Docs because I can never tell who is reading them or who they might have emailed them to” but it was probably way more creepy.

I’m also not sure what problem they are solving other than “I no longer have to email these docs or spreadsheets around” and creating the problem of “I don’t know what anyone has shared with me, when, or how to find it”. I spend about 30 minutes a week trying to find an old spreadsheet or doc that someone has shared with me. To combat that problem I’ve begun making a copy of each doc that someone sends me so that I’ll be able to find it. Another thing that trips me up here is the difference between “Drive” and the Apps, I don’t know what data will be stored where.

So what is the problem that is being solved with Docs? Is it that we need a minimally viable word processor in a browser (that breaks copy/paste about half the time)? Or the ability to share and restrict permissions to the file? Or the ability to allow everyone to view, some to comment, and others to edit?

Spreadsheets seem to exist to keep arbitrary numeric data and Docs seem to exist to keep anything longer than an email. Is that all? Billions of dollars over the last 20 years for something as simple as “arbitrary numeric data” and “more information than will fit in an email”.

I’ve seen a couple start-ups in the last few days that are trying to fill a perceived gap between what companies actually need and what is provided by Google Apps. Spaces, which was recently bought by one of my favorite group chat applications, Slack (affiliate link) is clearly aimed at the Docs aspect. The second is airtable which is obviously going after the spreadsheet aspect.