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2 months in

Filed under: General,Life,Work — Thomas @ 11:54 pm

2015-1-3
11:54 pm

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.IMG_20141229_144054The 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!)

I think it’s better to look odd than to look normal

Filed under: Life,Music,New York,Places — Thomas @ 3:54 am

2014-10-3
3:54 am

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!

So then that happened

Filed under: Life — Thomas @ 5:04 pm

2013-6-7
5:04 pm

I’ve been more quiet than usual lately. I guess that’s what happens when you get married.

Oh, yeah, so that happened.

natalia-thomas-060-low

When I first met her years ago at a friend’s birthday drink she sat next to me all night and completely ignored me.

Years later I crashed a women only outing where she happened to be as well.

A random party, a six-o’clock-in-the-morning omelette on a terrace watching the sun come up, a birthday party, a jaunt to the Gentse Feesten and a long Christmas in august later, we were already together for two months before we knew it. I took her to my sister’s wedding, and not even three years later we went to our own, three weeks after I proposed. (Tip for anyone thinking of proposing: maybe the sauna isn’t the best place after all)

Getting married to her ended up being the most natural decision I’ve ever taken. And the answer to the most-asked question? Yes, it does make a difference. No, I didn’t expect it to. But it does.

Thank you to everyone who ever dumped me – I had no idea better things were coming.

Organizing photo libraries

Filed under: Life,Pictures — Thomas @ 12:51 pm

2013-5-18
12:51 pm

The weather’s picking up so it’s time for spring cleaning around the house. When I moved back to Barcelona three years ago I took with me my old analogue photos and negatives, with the idea of sorting through them at some point and getting them digitized. And while I’m at it, maybe it’s time to pull all my various folders of photos together too and organize them.

Well, I finally started. I grouped the negatives, labeled them by year, put them in individual envelopes, and handed them off to a professional lab to scan them after doing a quick test run on one set (which turned out great, but it’s *really* annoying me that they scan to JPEG by default, charge 40% extra for TIFF, and use a non-multiple-of-8 resolution to scan at which means I can’t losslessly rotate the negatives. Yes, I’m anal.)

So now I pulled together all my various folders of photos, and before I start doing tagging and stuff like that, I want to organize them in a decent folder layout. Googling for ideas pretty much suggests that the way to go is

YYYY/MM/DD

with possibly some description together with the DD

I’m not really happy about that, however, because there are certain things I’d like to be able to do:

  • easily see where photos come from – did I make them ? did I get them from someone ? Did I download them from Facebook ?
  • Are these original files from a camera without editing ?
  • Are these the original scans ? From negatives ? From actual photos ? Or are they retouched, rotated, denoised, …
  • Are these photos SFW ? Can I point my media center slideshow to this directory and have it safely show any photos under it ? (What do you mean, you’ve never snowboarded at night in only your underwear, and mooning the photographer ?) Or maybe not even SFW, but simply watchable and reasonable quality or subject material?

I realize some of these issues can not be resolved simply with a directory layout. But I’m sure some of you must have had similar issues or come up with a slightly better layout ?

Point me in the right direction please.

Tripping

Filed under: Conference,Flumotion,Life,Music,Travel — Thomas @ 10:42 pm

2010-9-6
10:42 pm

I haven’t done much work/conference travelling in the last months (I even skipped GUADEC, boo!), but it seems now is one of those months where random rears its pretty head again.

Right now I am at the other side of the world, in Sydney, a Holiday Inn in King’s Court (interesting neighbourhood…) This is late notice and I might not read my mail anymore, but hey, if you’re around and I know you, drop me a line. I was hoping to see Jan, GStreamer’s release ninja, here, but apparently he lives on the border of New South Wales these days…

I’m here for two and a half days, and then I fly back to Barcelona, and then to Belgium for my sister’s wedding where I am the best man.

My next trip is to the Open Video Conference where I’ll be doing a quick overview of Flumotion and HTML5. The conference is 1/2 of October, so I’ll be going to New York a few days before. I hope to go to FOMS as well for at least a day, but I’m also going to the Business of Software conference in Boston because, hey, we’re a software business! And it’s just around the corner from New York…

Further down the line there’s Streaming Media Europe in London on Oct 13-15, where I will do another presentation and assist in a panel.

And finally I hope to make it to the very first ever GStreamer conference on the 26th of October in Cambridge, but I really should get my act together and book a ticket for that soon…

Now I wouldn’t be me if I wouldn’t try and squeeze a concert into these trips.

So far, I’ve gotten a ticket to see the Walkmen play in Boston on the 7th of October. I want to get tickets to see the XX and Zola Jesus on the 2nd of October in New York, but I can’t make stubhub or related sites deliver tickets to Europe… Anyone in the US feel like joining me for that concert and receiving the tickets ?

It’s going to be a busy fall…

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