Where Are The Wise Men?

Mike's Ramblings

2011 The Year I Learned To Fail

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As 2011 comes to an end, and I reflect about what over the year (which was a lot) and what I learned (which was tons) there is one thing that stands out. The one signal that God gave me over and over again, in tiniest details and in big, large letters was something simple, but took me a long time to understand.

It was that failure is OK. No, in fact, failure is a good thing. You can learn from failures, but you can't learn if you don't at least try. And, if you try, you may actually succeed.

The first sign of this was when I attended the Omaha Young Professionals conference in March. I really went to hear [Cory Booker][] but it was [Jason Seiden's talk][] that really spoke most to me. His talk was entitled "The Art of Failing Spectacularly". And it was about just that -- it's OK to fail, as long as you learn from it. But if you did something, at least you did something, as opposed to sitting on the sidelines, fearing what might happen if you live your story.

The next signal was from [Seth Godin][]. I had never really followed Godin before, but just after I heard Seiden's talk, I followed a link from somewhere about a free Kindle book. I love my Kindle and I love free. The book was [Poke The Box][]. And what was it about? Starting something, getting over the fear of failure. The same message came twice in six weeks. I'm now listening.

So I set out to, as Godin would say, poke the box. I was more careful at first at what I was going to poke. I work where the culture as a whole looks at change with a lot of suspect, but my management was open to a lot more change. So I started just doing stuff and making suggestions that were different, and feared. Most took, a few did not.

At my day job, I'm working with a team to replace an aging mainframe system. And we have been given some leeway on how to accomplish our end-goal. So I've been suggesting things that I would like to have done. Sometimes they are accepted, sometimes they aren't. And (uncharacteristic of me) I've started to push back on management when I think they have bad ideas or are pushing us in a direction that I feel is not quite right. Sometimes I win and sometimes I lose, but, more importantly -- I've won a lot of respect. And I find that I'm listened to more now than I ever have been there..

And I also have [my side business][], which is doing quite well. I changed a few things there, too -- I now have clients on support contracts, have sub-contracted work to others, and worked with some [great][] [people][] [as well.][] From the beginning, SquarePeg Systems has been a "let's see if this works" and, despite it's humble beginnings, it has.

As a family, we poked the box a lot. We were finally able to adopt Tyler after living with us for almost two years. The biggest changes this year has been starting (and all but finishing) a remodeling project in our living room (OK, headed up by Gina -- she has the vision for these kind of projects. I don't.) and switching to [Coram Deo Church][]. The church decision was hard -- we loved the people at Prairie Lane, but we wanted to be challenged in a different way. And God led us to Corem and we have been blessed (and challenged) by it ever since.

There are lots more signals I got about trying, and failing, and keep trying over the year. I could go on and on. But I'd rather poke the box then keep talking about it.

Review Pangolin Laptop From System76

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I had known that my early-model MacBook Pro was getting to the end of it's usefulness for me. I mean, it still runs but as software has grown more and more complicated, my MBP wasn't cutting it anymore.

Most people would just by another MacBook Pro! And, while that sounded tempting, I had a few things that held me back from that. For one thing, $2500 was a steep price for me and [my rising side-business.][] And the tools I use 85% of the time were not Mac specific. They are things like zsh, Emacs, Python, PHP, and some of[JetBrain's products.][] All of them would work on Linux, which is a much lower cost to entry than another Mac.

I started this journey around six months ago when I started scouring the Internet on what the best Linux-based laptop would be. I was quickly led to [System76][], a maker of Ubuntu-powered laptops, desktops, and servers. I was impressed when I scoured the web about this company. There were a lot of reviews and comments from their users and no one ever had anything bad to say about them. I mean, they had things that they wished that maybe were different, but everyone was happy with the hardware they were getting, how well it worked with the Ubuntu, and, more importantly, how happy they were with the post-sales support they were getting. The price was higher, especially compared to the laptops you get at big-box stores, but you got a machine that you knew would work with Ubuntu, and not have to fiddle around with it. But, regardless, it was certainly cheaper than a MacBook Pro!

aging MacBook Pro But I couldn't! I already had it maxed out at 2GB! So this was when I decided to make the plunge.

System76 has a wide range of laptops available, but the choice was easy for me -- [The Pangolin Performance.][] It seemed like a good development machine and my display needs are not that heavy to warrant the next step up. I spec'ed out what I wanted, and then compared it with a MacBook Pro. Yep, about half the price even though I was getting 6GB of RAM instead of Apple's 4GB, and I was getting a slightly larger hard drive. I thought I was getting a very good deal.

I ordered it about 10 days before Christmas, and System76 responded that it would ship within 8 business days. I was surprised when I found out that it was delivered early, and expected to arrive on the Tuesday before Christmas! And I was even more surprised to have it arrive a day earlier. Huzzah!

The packaging of the laptop was nothing to write home about, but it was extremely well cushioned and supported inside. It would be hard to damage it's contents. I took it out of the box and immediately started using it while the battery was charging

The first thing I noticed is how quiet it is. I didn't think the fan was even running! But it turned out that it was -- it's just that quiet. I had my Pangolin on my lap, doing lots of installation, configuring, etc., when my wife asked me if my lap was hot yet. I hadn't even thought about that, so of course it wasn't hot at all! I discovered why when I was packing it up after using it for a while on a table. Just left of where it was sitting on the table was a little hot, but underneath was fairly cool. It seems that the fan blows the heat straight to the left side instead of blowing it underneath. This allows the heat to escape and make your lap cooler as well as the underside of laptop itself. +1 for great design!

As for as Ubuntu? Almost flawless. I thought I had to call support to get Bluetooth working, but then I found the button to turn on the F12 key. That could have been an embarrassing phone call.

Note the word "almost" -- the one thing that I can't seem to get working right is to get Flash to use HDMI Audio. The HDMI Video works fine, and I got HDMI Audio to work out of normal Gnome apps, but Flash seems to cheerfully ignore the HDMI output and always goes to my speakers. Since my primary use of a developer machine and not a multimedia server, this is not a big deal.

The overall performance, however, is fantastic. The laptop boots in seconds, and every app I run starts in milliseconds. And I run Apache, PHP, MySQL and PostgreSQL most of the time. It finds my Android phone, Kindle, and iPod when I plugin them in and offers to start the right app.

So, after few weeks of fairly heavy use, would I recommend this laptop? Resoundingly yes! Especially if you are a developer in the open source space and just want everything to "just work". Everything just works for me -- without paying the Apple premium.

Maven Haikus

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You start a project

You initialize Maven

World is downloaded.

Dependencies Stink

What is the incantation?

Maybe God knows them.

Have some subprojects

Maven won't find sibling code

Then chaos ensues.

New dependency

Not found in Maven repo

Now build is broken.

Do you understand?

Maven has many errors

Now you start guessing

All day on Maven

Now the project is worse off

And your hair is gone

On Android

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I recently put my stake in the ground on the side of Android and, while I'm not quite up to my first month in usage yet, I can't think that the iPhone would be better than this. If you are an iPod user, you won't like having magical iTunes sync for music. But you can manually copy the files over and, if you don't like doing that, [there are apps][] [that do it for you.][]

I just got back from a trip and the GPS capabilities of our Android drive-by-drive directions were spot-on. Need to find a gas station? Literally hit the button and ask it.

I seriously couldn't ask for a better phone.

My wife likes her keyboard on her droid, but she also likes how much lighter my phone is than hers. I thought I would be annoyed by the Incredible's keyboard but I have gotten used to it. Or, rather, it's gotten used to me -- I now have a number of words added in and now it is smarter about spelling decisions.

screen when you are in direct sunlight (this is a big deal while geocaching) and sometimes it can be real slow when I turn it sideways. That especially happens when I'm typing something in and decide that I want to two-hand type, so I turn it. The screen generally does not rotate with it.

But the value and the usefulness of the phone outweighs all of them. I can't think I would like an iPhone more than this.

Carol and Robin

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This is the first in a series of Monday posts -- somewhat to get me out of the blog rut I'm in, and also because I tend to find interesting stuff on the weekend and post it on Twitter/Facebook. I might as well put it on my blog too.

I remember when this first aired (I think I was in junior high) and I still think it's hilarious. If the beginning seems slow to you, go forward to about the 6:23 mark -- when Carol and Robin do the skit a second time.