Today is my two month monthiversary at my new job. Haven’t had time so far to sit back and reflect and let people know, but now during packing boxes for our upcoming move downtown, I welcome the distraction.
I dove into the black hole. I joined the borg collective. I’m now working for the little search engine that could.
I sure had my reservations while contemplating this choice. This is the first job I’ve had that I had to interview for – and quite a bit, I might add (though I have to admit that curiosity about the interviewing process is what made me go for the interviews in the first place – I wasn’t even considering a different job at that time). My first job, a four month high school math teaching stint right after I graduated, was suggested to me by an ex-girlfriend, and I was immediately accepted after talking to the headmaster (that job is still a fond memory for many reasons). For my first real job, I informally chatted over dinner with one of the four founders, and then I started working for them without knowing if they were going to pay me. They ended up doing so by the end of the month, and that was that. The next job was offered to me over IRC, and from that Fluendo and Flumotion were born. None of these were through a standard job interview, and when I interviewed at Google I had much more experience on the other side of the interviewing table.
From a bunch of small startups to a company the scale of Google is a big step up, so that was my main reservation. Am I going to be able to adapt to a big company’s way of working? On the other hand, I reasoned, I don’t really know what it’s like to work for a big company, and clearly Google is one of the best of those to work for. I’d rather try out working for a big company while I’m still considered relatively young job-market-wise, so I rack up some experience with both sides of this coin during my professionally mobile years.
But I’m not going to lie either – seeing that giant curious machine from the inside, learn how they do things, being allowed to pierce the veil and peak behind the curtain – there is a curiosity here that was waiting to be satisfied. Does a company like this have all big problems solved already? How do they handle things I’ve had to learn on the fly without anyone else to learn from? I was hiring and leading a small group of engineers – how does a company that big handle that on an industrial scale? How does a search query really work? How many machines are involved?
And Google is delivering in spades on that front. From the very first day, there’s an openness and a sharing of information that I did not expect. (This also explains why I’ve always felt that people who joined Google basically disappeared into a black hole – in return for this openness, you are encouraged to swear yourself to secrecy towards the outside world. I’m surprised that that can work as an approach, but it seems to). By day two we did our first commit (obviously nothing that goes to production, but still.) In my first week I found the way to the elusive (to me at least) roof top terrace by searching through internal documentation.The view was totally worth it.
So far, in my first two months, I’ve only had good surprises. I think that’s normal – even the noogler training itself tells you about the happiness curve, and how positive and excited you feel the first few months. It was easy to make fun of some of the perks from an outside perspective, but what you couldn’t tell from that outside perspective is how these perks are just manifestations of common engineering sense on a company level. You get excellent free lunches so that you go eat with your team mates or run into colleagues and discuss things, without losing brain power on deciding where to go eat (I remember the spreadsheet we had in Barcelona for a while for bike lunch once a week) or losing too much time doing so (in Barcelona, all of the options in the office building were totally shit. If you cared about food it was not uncommon to be out of the office area for ninety minutes or more). You get snacks and drinks so that you know that’s taken care of for you and you don’t have to worry about getting any and leave your workplace for them. There are hammocks and nap pods so you can take a nap and be refreshed in the afternoon. You get massage points for massages because a healthy body makes for a healthy mind. You get a health plan where the good options get subsidized because Google takes that same data-driven approach to their HR approach and figured out how much they save by not having sick employees. None of these perks are altruistic as such, but there is also no pretense of them being so. They are just good business sense – keep your employees healthy, productive, focused on their work, and provide the best possible environment to do their best work in. I don’t think I will ever make fun of free food perks again given that the food is this good, and possibly the favorite part of my day is the smoothie I pick up from the cafe on the way in every morning. It’s silly, it’s small, and they probably only do it so that I get enough vitamins to not get the flu in winter and miss work, but it works wonders on me and my morning mood.
I think the bottom line here is that you get treated as a responsible adult by default in this company. I remember silly discussions we had at Flumotion about developer productivity. Of course, that was just a breakdown of a conversation that inevitably stooped to the level of measuring hours worked as a measurement of developer productivity, simply because that’s the end point of any conversation on that spirals out of control. Counting hours worked was the only thing that both sides of that conversation understood as a concept, and paying for hours worked was the only thing that both sides agreed on as a basic rule. But I still considered it a major personal fault to have let the conversation back then get to that point; it was simply too late by then to steer it back in the right direction. At Google? There is no discussion about hours worked, work schedule, expected productivity in terms of hours, or any of that. People get treated like responsible adults, are involved in their short-, mid- and long-term planning, feel responsible for their objectives, and allocate their time accordingly. I’ve come in really early and I’ve come in late (by some personal definition of “on time” that, ever since my second job 15 years ago, I was lucky enough to define as ’10 AM’). I’ve left early on some days and stayed late on more days. I’ve seen people go home early, and I’ve seen people stay late on a Friday night so they could launch a benchmark that was going to run all weekend so there’d be useful data on Monday. I asked my manager one time if I should let him know if I get in later because of a doctor’s visit, and he told me he didn’t need to know, but it helps if I put it on the calendar in case people wanted to have a meeting with me at that hour.
And you know what? It works. Getting this amount of respect by default, and seeing a standard to live up to set all around you – it just makes me want to work even harder to be worthy of that respect. I never had any trouble motivating myself to do work, but now I feel an additional external motivation, one this company has managed to create and maintain over the fifteen+ years they’ve been in business. I think that’s an amazing achievement.
So far, so good, fingers crossed, touch wood and all that. It’s quite a change from what came before, and it’s going to be quite the ride. But I’m ready for it.
(On a side note – the only time my habit of wearing two different shoes was ever considered a no-no for a job was for my previous job – the dysfunctional one where they still owe me money, among other stunts they pulled. I think I can now empirically elevate my shoe habit to a litmus test for a decent job, and I should have listened to my gut on the last one. Live and learn!)
(This post is only about music – for people not from Belgium, Luc de Vos, singer of Gorki, passed away yesterday at 52)
I am 15. I hear a song on the radio, and I don’t understand the lyrics. Why would you ask a piranha to devour you? Still, I’m intrigued. I’d only really gotten into music little by little. My earliest musical memory is hearing my parents’ record player playing ‘I want you’ by Bob Dylan. After that, it was my inexplicable arousal at seeing the Hey You the Rock Steady Crewvideo in 1983 when I was 7, getting the Top Gun soundtrack on cassette (my first ever music purchase) in 1986, and watching the video for ‘I want your sex’ by George Michael in 1987 over and over on my recording of Veronica’s “Countdown”. At my confirmation (12 years old), when kids typically get some kind of bigger gift they’ve been dreaming of for a long time, I still chose a computer instead of a stereo.
I am 16, I just had my birthday. I am doing a summer job at my family’s company (which processes animal fat) and I am staying with my grandparents in Bavegem. With the money from my birthday I bought a portable stereo CD/cassette player for the incredible amount of 6000 BEF (or 150 euro as the kids would call it these days). . I listen to nothing else for weeks on end. I can still hum the amazingly beautiful piano part that closes Mia from memory. It’s been my favorite song ever since.
I am 17, and learning the guitar. It turns out that Mia is quite complicated to get right, because of that perfect 3/4-5/4 tempo, or whatever you’d call it if you knew anything about music. It doesn’t help that I’m left-handed playing on a right-handed guitar, but I make the song my own. To this day though, I can still not play and sing it at the same time. There is something about the timing of how that third line starts before the music starts, where he signs ‘Mensen als ik’, that I just can’t figure out. It’s magic – it makes this song all the better.
I am 17, and Gorky is now Gorki, with completely new band members. I see them live for the first time, at ‘De Kring’ in Merelbeke, with my best friend Jeremy. I wish I had bought all the t-shirts that night – they had a different one for each of the new songs. The album sounds so different – parts of it recorded in Africa. I don’t listen to that album enough, but I still love playing Berejager on guitar, such a beautiful intro.
I am 17, and it’s my last year of boy scout before becoming a leader. I have a mini-JIN camp called JINTRO during the year, that ends with a party. I dance with a girl to Mia, and one minute into the dance she says, ‘no no, we’re not going to do a one-tile-dance for the rest of the night. Here’s how you do it’ and she teaches me two basic moves to make a slow dance more interesting. Thank you, Karlien, for changing my life.
I am 18, and we travel through Catalunya with the boy and girl scouts group I’m in, and a local Catalan group. This is one of the CD’s we brought with us as a sample of our own culture. The Catalans love it – they say it sounds like Bruce Springsteen. I can see where they’re coming from. At the end of the two weeks, he guitar player of their group nails down a really good version of Mia (without the words of course)
I am 18, and have my first serious girlfriend. Mia is a song that runs through our history together – we must have danced to it at every party that played it (she messaged me yesterday that she immediately thought of me when she heard the news… just like I did of her). Back then, parties still had blocks of 3 slow songs every one or two hours. I miss that tradition… The moves that Karlien taught me put me well ahead of the pack of my fellow young adult males, and that paid off generously in the young adult females agreeing to dance with me at every party. (The theory of compounded interest clearly put in practice, now that I think of it)
I am 19, and one of my fellow boy scout leaders gives me an old demo cassette of Gorky. Among other things, it contains a cover of the Pixies’ “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, some of their songs that didn’t make their debut (but appeared on Boterhammen, like ‘Ik word oud’, or were turned into a b-side). It also contains the original version of Mia, as a fast-paced slurred-sung rocker. They made the right call slowing it down.
I am 21, and I have a radio show at a student radio I helped start up. I am too young to know how the world really works and just send out interview requests to managers and record labels for bands that I like. In those days, I got to interview my favorite band, The Afghan Whigs, as well as other bands like Everclear and The Sheila Divine. But we also managed to get Luc De Vos as a guest on our radio show, and Jeremy and I interviewed him inbetween songs for an hour. (That tape is at my parents’ place. I have an Excel sheet that tells me exactly which box it’s in, and I hope I can recover it next time I go to Belgium.) I tell him about that demo tape that I have, and he asks for a copy. A little after that, I bring him a copy of that practice tape, I put ‘Congregation’ by The Afghan Whigs on the other side (because I want one of my favorite bands to know another one of my favorite bands), and I go past his house to drop it off. (From the news report this weekend I hear he still lived in the same street, so I can only assume he was still living in the same house he’s lived for the last 17 years).
I am 22, and Luc De Vos plays solo at the university somewhere, in an auditorium. I think it was one of the first times he ever did that. He probably already read out a column he wrote. But I remember how amazing he was by himself, what beautiful versions of these songs that I knew so well he played, songs that usually they didn’t play live because they were the slower ones. ‘Arme Jongen’, I remember him playing it there like it was yesterday.
I am 26, and I see him at various festivals, always there to either play or enjoy the music. I see him backstage with his son, recently born. He is walking around with some kind of elastic band tied around his waist that keeps his kid from running away more than ten meters from him, and it is hilarious to see in the backstage area.
Time starts moving quicker as I grow up, become an adult, and graduate from college. More and more albums. Every album still contained at least one killer song. ‘Leve de Lente’ still gives me goosebumps when those guitars crash in. ‘Vaarwel Lieveling’ is possibly his most underrated song – I don’t think I’ve ever heard that one played live. ‘Ode an die freude’, ‘We zijn zo jong’, ‘Duitsland wint altijd’ – I love the sound of resignment he has in his voice, like a deep sigh put too music. That album came with a floppy disk (!) with the lyrics. ‘Het voorspel was moordend’, ‘Tijdbom’ – while the music came back to being a bit more convential, the lyrics got more hermetically sealed. I must admit that I slowly lost track – having moved to Barcelona at some point, it was much harder to catch them live of course. I know their first five albums the best, and while I still bought the others (having missed only one), none of them had the luxury of not having any other album in my collection to compete with like their debut album had. But there is no denying that when they were great, they were still amazing. A song like ‘Veronica komt naar je toe’ managed to pull together so many different things. The title was a recurring slogan of a Dutch channel that was popular among young people in Belgium, for lack of a Belgian alternative. Here’s a great song, with a great chorus, and his ability to sample just this one sentence to evoke a memory of youth every one of my generation remembers (while it evoked at the same time my personal memory of seeing ‘I want your sex’ on Veronica). And then he manages to evoke such a common feeling everyone has, where you are trying to grab that fleeting thing you were thinking just a second ago, straddling typically complicated-to-phrase words in Dutch with effortless ease – ‘Wat was het nu ook alweer/dat ik wou doen/het was iets belangrijks’ (or ‘What was it again/I wanted to do/it was something important). In the beginning, his lyrics were quirky in ideas, but fairly straightforward in their phrasing. Further on in their career, they experimented quite a bit musically, but especially the lyrics could get complicated, and with exceptional and inventive phrasing.
I’m 31, and I live in Barcelona, but I travel back to Belgium because Gorki is playing their debut album, Gorky. I wrote about that concert back then, but that memory is still strong. I can’t believe that was 7 years ago…
I always enjoyed reading his columns in Zone 09 whenever I was in my hometown, I thought he had a great gift for writing. I noticed just now he left behind quite a few more books than I had, so I started tracking those down. So many of my memories have his music attached to it. His was the first band that opened me up to a wider range of music, away from the mainstream (not everybody would agree I guess, but I never considered them mainstream. Their debut album certainly was different enough from whatever was considered mainstream at the time, and as often happens this debut was only widely recognized several albums into their career later, while at the same time those later albums never really got the same kind of traction.)
I loved his way of looking at the world, the way he described it in music, lyrics, writing, and interviews. Always with that cheeky look. Like, surprisingly it now turns out, so many of my generation, his music was intertwined with my growing up. Here’s a man I was hoping to live long and make much more music, and grow old playing hundreds of songs in bars and clubs, but it wasn’t to be. He set out to be a successful rock singer, whether that was tongue-in-cheek or not, and by all accounts he achieved what he set out to do. And everything he did, he did it for the best of reasons. He did it for ‘a fistful of bonnekes’…
In the fall of ’98 I had a thing for a girl I didn’t want to have a thing for. I had also just seen one of my favorite movies, Much Ado About Nothing (the original Brannagh movie, not the Josh Whedon one that I didn’t know about until recently and have yet to see).
I decided to exorcise my feelings into a good old-fashioned mix cd (well, I guess that wasn’t old fashioned back in ’98). I cut up the movie dialogue into pieces, and interspersed them inbetween a song selection aiming to match the flow of the movie lyric-wise and, in places, matching them sound-wise too to the movie snippets. It ended up being two cd’s, and a bunch of my friends liked it as well so I think I ended up making about 30 copies of the thing.
Today I needed to recreate those two CD’s plus its original packaging. That means I had to actually buy CD-R’s (didn’t have any anymore after the move to the US), buy jewelcases (can you believe that I actually have actual boxes with actual empty jewelcases that I *kept* in storage in Belgium? These days if you want to buy them they’re a little harder to find than they used to be, even though I’m sure there must be landfills full of them all over the world), and go to a print shop to print the front and back covers.
Being the obsessive backupper that I am, it was easy to find the sound files back (actually, I took a morituri rip that I made at my best friend’s house, who has the CD’s, last time I was there – so that I would have a perfect .cue sheet that would stitch the tracks together). I knew I had the files for the fronts and backs somewhere as well, but they were a little harder to find because I couldn’t remember their names. But I trusted my OCD self that I had backups from fifteen years ago somewhere here with me in NY, and I started looking for files from the same timeframe, until I came across the files I was looking for hidden in a subdirectory.
But then when you find them, what do you do with .cdr CorelDraw files from 1998? I tried inkscape, which uses uniconvertor, which on my F-19 machine failed with a constructor with wrong arguments in Python, which seems like a silly bug. I rebuilt the F-21 version, which gets past that bug, but then doesn’t actually convert anything. I tried an online converter, and it only picked up on the images and none of the text.
So I went the illegal route – I downloaded CorelDraw 11 from the internet, installed it in wine (which was surprisingly easy, it just worked), and I could open the files. Except that it was missing fonts and so the layout was all wrong. Sigh. Hunt random font sites for the missing fonts, install them for wine, open again, rinse, repeat. Eventually the files opened with the right fonts, except that one of the titles was too big to fit on the CD inlay. Oh well, adjust them all manually, make it a little smaller, export to eps, load in gimp, adjust the page as it was perfectly measured for A4 printing but I’m in the US now and the US uses letter which is slightly different, export to pdf so I could go to any random print shop in New York and get it printed.
CD burnt, on to the print shop, fiddle with the printer as nobody in the store can figure out which tray number the tray is where they loaded the card stock paper, and it’s not like the driver on the windows machine knows either – I had to do 5 failed prints to different printers before we even knew which printer was the right one. Cut up the paper by hand with scissors (which I suck at), put it all together, and be on my way.
All this just to say that, while I can be as good about backups as I want to be to bring back to life something I did fifteen years ago, there is still a whole lot of real-world technology fails getting in the way, like outdated proprietary file formats, not having good interchange formats, missing fonts, paper sizes and general Imperial/metric nonsense, ages-old printer crap and just simple manual tasks, which we as humans will probably inflict upon ourselves for forever. I mean, I’d sure like to believe that in the future it will be as simple as pressing a button and getting this 15 year old CD project 3D-printed all at once, but experience has taught me that most likely I will be fiddling just as much with getting 2040’s 3D printer to work with 2025’s data files.
And so it is that I arrive just after 6 at Barnes and Noble in Tribeca, queue up in front of eight registers with only one open, buy a book, get a wristband, go to the back where Emma Thompson is reading from her Peter Rabbit book, in her perfectly English and genuinely funny way, queue after the reading, and hear her say “I think it’s better to look odd than to look normal” to the seven year old twin girls in front of me. I wholeheartedly agree with her. I hand her my copy to sign, give her my two cd’s and tell her what they are and say that I thought this was a good opportunity to give them to her, and she smiles and seems genuinely surprised and pleased.
I think my dad would be genuinely jealous at this point – he always seemed to appreciate seeing her on the screen, and after today I can’t say I blame him. I hope she enjoys the CD’s, and if someone can recommend a good website where I can put these online for others to listen to, that would be great!
It’s two weeks shy of a year since the last morituri release. It’s been a pretty crazy year for me, getting married and moving to New York, and I haven’t had much time throughout the year to do any morituri hacking at all. I miss it, and it was time to do something about it, especially since there’s been quite a bit of activity on github since I migrated the repository to it.
I wanted to get this release out to combine all of the bug fixes since the last release before I tackle one of the number one asked for issues – not ripping the hidden track one audio if it’s digital silence. There are patches floating around that hopefully will be good enough so I can quickly do another release with that feature, and there are a lot of minor issues that should be easy to fix still floating around.
But the best way to get back into the spirit of hacking and to remove that feeling of it’s-been-so-long-since-a-release-so-now-it’s-even-harder-to-do-one is to just Get It Done.
I look forward to my next hacking stretch!
Happy ripping everybody.
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It’s been very long since I last posted something. Getting married, moving across the Atlantic, enjoying the city, it’s all taken its time. And the longer you don’t do something, the harder it is to get back into.
So I thought I’d start simple – I updated mach to support Fedora 19 and 20, and started rebuilding some packages.
Get the source, update from my repository, or wait until updates hit the Fedora repository.