Business trip to Hell

At 01:46 -0600 on February 15th, I was woken up by a chorus of beeping noises. Power had gone out, and two UPS systems plus the home alarm system were keen that I should know about it. I was aware of the weather forecast and figured there was a good chance the outage would exceed the 15 minute capacity of the UPS batteries. (Now that’s an understatement.) I wandered downstairs and did a controlled shutdown of my work laptop and home server.

Social networks

I’ve written before about how the business model of Facebook drives the algorithm, and the algorithm drives our current political situation in which lies and conspiracy theories are resurgent. It turns out that the situation is worse than that. Researchers at Indiana University Bloomington have built simulations of social networks, in which each node is an imaginary person with a random set of connections to other nodes. To model the real world, each simulated person has a limited attention span — they can only process a certain number of incoming messages.


In 1971, William Friedkin won a Best Director Oscar (and four more Academy Awards) with his 5th movie, “The French Connection”. Based on a true story, the movie’s amazing car-vs-subway-car chase sequence became famous enough that it has been referenced in video games such as Grand Theft Auto IV. In those pre-computer-graphics days, car chases were filmed by actually performing them, and in this case the chase was shot in Brooklyn in real traffic, without a permit, with the car speeding through 26 blocks of the city at 90 mph.


I’m not really a big company person. Big company recruiters look for years of experience in very specific areas. Companies looking for generalists tend to be small. I got into a big company by having some very specific experience, but I survived by being in small autonomous departments. There’s a common perception that someone who has been at IBM for 20 years has an irredeemable big company mindset; that they would have culture shock working on a small team, and probably can’t even wipe up a coffee spill without filing an APAR.

Worst summer ever

“If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.” — General Philip Henry Sheridan Back in May you might have heard that IBM decided to lay off thousands of workers in response to the coronavirus pandemic. There were apparently cuts in June too, and then North America Sales had its turn, and on July 1st I was told that my position was being eliminated at the end of the month.

Graham Linehan

Once upon a time there was a talented Irish comedy writer named Graham Linehan. He wrote for acclaimed comedy shows including Harry Enfield and Chums and The Day Today. For The Fast Show he co-created the characters of Ted and Ralph, an impoverished closeted gay English aristocrat and his Irish estate worker. The characters were carefully observed and affectionately and positively portrayed. Linehan also wrote for Brass Eye, a satirical show which, among other topics, took aim at homophobia and media hysteria over pedophilia.

On Git branch naming

What’s happening? A configurable option is being added to the Git version control software, to GitHub, and to other systems associated with Git. The option will let you configure what you want as the default branch name for the primary source code branch in newly created repositories. The default value for the name of the primary branch hasn’t been decided yet, but popular options include “main” and “trunk”. No existing repository will be affected.

Dear white people

This is the first of a series of articles I plan to write about issues relating to the Black Lives Matter movement. Because we’re in a crisis — well, a cluster of crises really — I’m going to start by writing about short term actions, and move on to history and longer term considerations later on. Over the last few weeks lot of white people have suddenly realized that America has a massive racism problem.

Plague Journal

We’ve now been isolating for well over two months, and distancing for a week or two longer than that. We went out to see a friend a couple of times, to borrow and later return an oximeter, as we were both feeling short of breath from time to time. We both measured as normal, in my case it was just normal mild panic attacks for the obvious reasons. We’ve been out and bought takeout food via curbside pickup a few times.

Unofficial Signal PIN FAQ

The Signal secure messaging app has started forcing users to set a new PIN, popping up a nag dialog saying Create a PIN PINs keep information that’s stored with Signal encrypted. They’ve done a terrible job of communicating why they’re doing this, so I went away and read a bunch of forum threads, GitHub tickets, blog posts and support documents and here’s my own attempt at an FAQ more clearly answering the questions which immediately occurred to me when I got the nag dialog this morning.