Communication Hubris

From the Googles:



excessive pride or self-confidence.
synonyms: arrogance, conceit, haughtiness, hauteur, pride, self-importance,
egotism, pomposity, superciliousness, superiority; More
antonyms: humility

(in Greek tragedy) excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods, leading to

Just when I think that I’m a great communicator, life enlightens me and shows me that I am deluded. This enlightenment usually takes the form of a small child.

You really have to be a great communicator to help children understand things. Not even ethereal concepts. Just ordinary things. Like hats.

              (pointing to one of many caps in the closet) 

Yes, that's a hat.

  (pointing again to another cap) 

Yes, that is also a hat.

 (pointing to yet another cap) 

          That is a hat as well. I could add that 
           the hat is actually a cap, but we'll get 
            into subsets when you're older. Actually, 
            each hat you've pointed to is technically 
 a cap. But there are some hats 
hanging in the closet as well.

(pointing to first cap)

Sorry: yes, that is a hat.


I wonder whether my youngest child would be better served by me just shutting the heck up. I’m not a poor communicator. Most of the time, anyway. I’m actually a pretty decent communicator. I make a living at it, for crying out loud.

It’s just that I’m not in the 90th percentile. My child reminds me that, on a good day, I’m solidly entrenched in the 60th percentile.

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A Luddite’s Take on Cloud Implementation

In 1987, farmer, essayist, and poet Wendell Berry offered up his standards for technological innovation:

  1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.
  2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
  3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.
  4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.
  5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.
  6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.
  7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.
  8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair.
  9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.

These tenets were published in an essay, “Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer.” And, being the contrarian that I am (and both a Berry fan and a technologist), I wonder: Can we use these standards for cloud adoption? I will try.

Cheap: Going to the cloud for either storage or computer processing can be cheaper than buying a new computer. Depending on  your storage needs, it can also be cheaper than buying a new drive. So, that’s one.

Scale: The scale of virtual machines is as small or as large as you need. And, when you’re done using it, you can terminate it and not have to worry about recycling the box it’s in.

Work quality: Depending on your current hardware setup, a cloud-based solution can (not necessarily will be) better and faster than your current machine.

Energy: If your storage is on an external drive, then cloud loses this one. But if your computational needs are intensive but not often, a virtual machine wins this one.

Solar powered: We’re tied here. Come on solar-powered machines.

Ease of Repair: If you’re a hardware person, having your own storage or computational solution at hand wins out here. If you’re not a hardware guru, it’s actually pretty good to have a cloud solution because you can get help with any problems. This help can be either the cloud provider or your fellow users.

Local provider: Okay, this one is a draw. I think Mr. Berry (who would probably be appalled by this post anyway) would be laughing at me.

Local maintenance: Small computer shops are going away but, while they’re around, the cloud solution loses this one.

Lack of disruption: Technology is usually about disruption. Computers disrupted paper. Cloud disrupts private technology. Berry probably wouldn’t see any difference. We’ll call this one a draw.

Looks like the cloud wins. I’m going to write to Mr. Berry and let him know.

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Goodbye cloud. Hello big data. Oh yeah: nice to see you again, cloud

This week I started my new gig at Cloudera. I’m quite excited about the opportunity. Although, I already miss my colleagues and friends at Eucalyptus.

It’s a big change for me. For the first time in seven years, I won’t be documenting infrastructure.

Except that I will. Big data in the cloud.

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Thanks for Nothing: Help that Sucks

I love Amazon. I used to work there for years. Most of their documentation is really good. However, I found the following help for downloading Kindle for Mac to be . . . well . . . please refer to my previous utterance, in the title for this post. (Hint: It rhymes with “bucks” and “shucks.”)

I searched for “Kindle for Mac download” and got this page on the first hit:

Image of sucky help page on Amazon. The first step reads, "Wait for the download to complete."

Okay, “wait for the download to complete”? What download? And there’s no TOC or breadcrumbs anywhere that points to more context. Sure, I could download it from the App Store. But I loathe the App Store (speaking of crappy interfaces).

And, even if there’s another way to perform a task, that doesn’t mean someone should  publish a set of steps that requires extra insight and context not included in the page. How about a link? Or breadcrumbs? Or a TOC?

(Note to self: make sure you didn’t create the Amazon page in question. If you did create it, delete this post.)

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Change and Stability

Well, it looks like I’ll be an employee of Hewlett Packard soon. HP bought the company I work for, Eucalyptus. We’ll be joining the cloud org.

I find change a bit more difficult as I age. However, I still have some giddiness when I come upon some new venture. It usually feels exciting  and hopeful. And this new path in my professional career feels the same. I’m looking forward to working with current teams at HP.

I don’t think much will change for a while. I believe it will be a smooth transition. And I get an excuse to bug my quasi-colleague Anne Gentle at OpenStack.

More to follow as I navigate the path.

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On Jazz Snobbery: Letting Go of Rock Star Status

“You rock.”

“She’s a rock star in our industry.”

Rock schmock.

I have an appreciation for rock music. I grew up with it. I bought my first Beatles LP when I was five. Went to see Jethro Tull at the L.A. Forum when I was 11. Played rock music in bands throughout junior high, senior high, and college. I lived rock music for a while.

But here’s the thing: rock musicians are pretty crappy musicians. Rock music is on par with nursery songs. There’s very little difference between most rock songs and, say, Baa Baa Black Sheep. Rock songs are just choppier, heavier, with some distortion thrown in. And sometimes less farm animal imagery.

My wife tells me I’ve become a jazz snob. And she may be right. I do love jazz. However, I still appreciate pop and rock music too. It just doesn’t signal the epitome of musical prowess for me. Even jazz is pretty tame, compared to some classical compositions. But at least jazz isn’t bound to pentatonic scales, based on four or five chords.

Okay: I am a jazz snob.

Maybe that’s why I cringe when someone says that so-and-so is a rock star or that what’s-her-face rocks. You mean they barely know their craft? Or do you mean they look the part, even if they are crappy at their profession? Rock stars preen, dress to look rock-ish, and try to make playing an open G chord look difficult or vicious or painful.

A jazz musician doesn’t need to prance around the stage or look the part. A jazz musician communicates with his music. She lets her instrument speak for itself. You don’t need to see a video of Mimi Fox speeding down the road with a boa constrictor in the passenger seat to appreciate her guitar chops.

No writer should have rock star status, unless said status is used as an indictment on the writer’s inability to communicate well.

So, what do you call someone great in their field? How about a great composer? Or a real good Them What Writes. Anything but rock star.

Posted in music, writing | 6 Comments

The Writer’s Toolkit: Word Up!

I have a new book to store in my Powers That Be reference shelf. This shelf holds what I consider to be the pantheon of grammar and stylistic reference material. This collection includes Garner’s Modern American Usage and Grammar Girl’s The Grammar Devotional.

And now it also displays Marcia Riefer Johnson’s Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them). This wonderful book is worth reading if only for the chapter on writing procedures.

But it’s the entire book that I find so helpful, both in the new ideas it contains, and the reminders of rules that I’ve cast aside (mostly out of forgetfulness). I found helpful hints and reminders for the Scot who works as a writer, and for the Scot who works as an editor.

I will be referring to Marcia’s work often and, in the course of this blog, please note that all future errors I make are due to my own neglect rather than Marcia’s teaching.

If you’re serious about your writing, I encourage you to read Word Up! And, while you’re honing your writing chops, visit Marcia’s website. She posts even more wonderful advice to help you become a great communicator.

Posted in books, writing | 1 Comment

Kindle Unlimited and my dysfunctional wishlists

I am trying out the most expensive library card ever. Kindle Unlimited seems like a nifty idea. $9.99 a month for unlimited reading.

As long as the offered books are ones you want to read. That should be the tagline.

I have one public Amazon Wishlist. Currently that list contains 255 books, six of which are offered by Amazon Unlimited. Going by that one list, the Unlimited deal isn’t so good for me.

However, I also have 33 private lists, all but five dealing with books, sorted according to genre. (Yes, I know: feel free to make fun of me.) 

Oh, and that number doesn’t count the gift lists I have.

Anyway: I’m trying to figure out how much crossover there is between my lists and Unlimited. So far, it’s very low. My expectation is that Amazon will expand the Unlimited offerings. I’m sure it will, but perhaps not very quickly in the genres I’m interested in (politics and philosophy).

Still, I remain an optimist (I am, after all,  a Minnesota Vikings fan), so I will stick around for a while and see what happens. Unlimited is like my writing: I like the idea, just not the initial implementation.

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What a great theme song

Yes, the television show is dated. Yes, the show was sexist (hey: it was the 1970’s, even the non-sexist stuff was sexist). Still, what a theme song.

RIP, Mr. Garner.

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Saturday Haiku

Early morning: dark,
silent, quiet, filled with books,
coffee and poems.

Posted in poetry | Leave a comment