Stupid F’ing Anime Review Websites

Stupid f’ing anime review sites:

So, I ended up with Tchaikovsky’s 4th stuck in my head. That caused me to hit the web to see if I could find a copy of O. Tezuka’s “Legend of the Forest” – which was a Japanese animated “Fantasia” like movie to that symphony.

One of the neat things about that movie is the Tezuka starts out with still images and progresses through the various technical improvements of animation as time passes in the movie: So the movie starts out as still drawings, then becomes zeotrope cycles, then black and white animation, then realist animation, then basic color, then multi-plane-depth animation, etc.

Tezuka long revered Disney and you can see the care taken in reproducing dead forms of animation and the technical changes that Disney invented or popularized. The whole thing exudes a love of traditional animation and the idea of fusing it to music as a form of art.

Anyway, that’s what you see if you are familiar with animation, how it has progressed in Japan, and the people involved.

Apparently none of that knowledge is required to run an anime review site. Go do a web search on “Legend of the Forest” and read any of the reviews. I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t complain about the “cheap” or “outdated” animation.

Miss the point much?

Upcoming Christmas Concert

I was reminded that I should be posting about up-coming concerts in case folks would like to go.

Both concert bands that I am playing in will be performing in the 4th Annual Christmas Extravaganza concert at Ohlone College. That is happening, this Saturday, Dec 10, at 2 pm in the Smith Center of the Ohlone College Campus in Fremont, CA.

The flyer for the concert can be found here: http://www2.ohlone.edu/instr/music/images/flyer_owo_dec.jpg

Like last year, this concert will feature the 4 Ohlone band groups: the Wind Orchestra, the Community Band, the Mission Peak Brass Band, and the Tuba Ensemble.

The latter two are rather unique. The first is a british-style brass band. And the other is one of two regularly rehearsing tuba and euphonium ensembles in California.

Expect to hear a mix of Christmas music, and maybe a sing along here or there.

The concert will run about 2 hours. Tickets are $15. There will be a free reception after.

As with las year, we will also be collecting canned and dry foods for a local food-bank.

Directions to the Smith Center can be found here: http://www.ohlone.edu/org/smithcenter/

Remember to leave some time to park and get your ticket. This is usually our most-attended concert. Also, the flea-market will be doing on in the lower-campus area, so that might make parking a bit slower than usual.

Feel free to ping me with questions. Otherwise, I’ll see you there and have a great holiday!

Happy Halloween!

Werewolf? Check.
Zombies? Check.
Calypso? What the…?!

Busy busy…

I find it hard to describe how busy I have been in the last few months. In the last few weeks the amount of work has fallen to what might be more normal levels, and I’ve caught some rest. But really, for a period of months there I quite-literally did not have a single night or day free it seemed.

Not that there were not enjoyable moments. For example, I squeezed a much wanted trip up to Seattle where Frnkzk was a wonderful host for myself and Sue. We spent a wonderfully packed long-weekend seeing the sights of that good town, and also were able to enjoy the train ride up and back.

But aside from that, there were other things. Let’s see if I can sort them mentally now.

I quit my job for one. I walked away from what has been the highest paid position I have ever had. Believe me, any reaction you had reading that sentence is but a drop in the bucket to the thoughts in my own head screaming at me about doing it. But I did.

Two years ago, I had been working for a small consulting company. About 20 people in all, it was mostly full of those shockingly bright and irreverently creative people I love to be around.

Then we were bought by a big giant, behemoth company. And for the first time in a long time I had something like a retention bonus offered to me. I was happy for this.

Most of the employees from SmallCo hung around both for their retentions, and also out of respect for their bosses and coworkers. We truly all gave it a shot.

It turns out though, that BigCo was not a good fit. They had all the pains of a big company, (Rather more, IMHO. By big-company standards, this place is dilbertesque.) but none of the benefits: No good sales channel for our work. No real partnership for our previous sales channels.

At the end of the year, I had spent most of my time “on the bench.” Which means I wasn’t earning the company anything, I wasn’t doing, and I wasn’t learning. I suppose that would have been nice if I was able to have had the time off, but my boss in a mistaken bid to keep me and the other workers “engaged” effectively handed us bullshit busy work during those down times. Just enough to make sure I couldn’t say… take the day off and go hiking, or such.

I felt my skills atrophying. And I felt them doing this at a time when my current skill-set is highly in demand. Naturally, the sharks were circling in on us. Everyone from SmallCo was getting calls from recruiters and former partners looking to poach us.

So rather than getting poached, I opted to eat shark meat.

Looking at various people tempting me with work at their company, I (and eventually some friends who had left SmallCo) turned the tables on them. We hit up our resources and started our own partnership. And then asked each of the sharks if they’d mind getting us as subcontractors instead of direct employees.

Most opted for it.

So on top of the trips running around, family, music and all else, I’ve been starting a business. I’m already on my first batch of booked work that will keep me busy through Thanksgiving.

I hesitate to declare success in any form, as it is far too early, but it does seem to be working. After I’ve booked two or three more gigs, I might. And maybe after we have formal health insurance in place for a year or so, then I’ll know it’s true.

Right now it’s all very, very fragile and new. But keep you fingers crossed for me. I hope it will work well.

You now have the cows complete attention…

Now THIS is how you do a Flash mob…

Death of the Sysadmin.

A Sysadmin. You usually run into one at your place of work, or school. Heck, you might be one. The term is loosely applied to the person or persons who form the work-force in that department usually referred to as Information Technology.

To me though, the meaning is a bit more specific. Its a term I usually apply as a positive acknowledgement of certain skills. Other folks I might call an operator, a network guy, an Exchange admin, a cable monkey, etc. Generally, Sysadmins are people who have a diverse set of system skills, deep in many important areas, and at the end of they day are the ones responsible for “making things work.” Really good Sysadmins know how to balance user needs and security on a budget. And they usually teach and communicate well.

The job of Sysadmin has changed over the years. Back when a company had maybe a mainframe, he was the guru that could debug the runtime errors and bring the system back to operation. Over time as systems became more diverse, the sysadmin would run the newer Unix stuff, and this new fangled web technology, etc. The skill-sets became broader.

Experienced sysadmins have extreme depth of understanding on the systems that were being run by their organization. In many cases they embody that variable of “organizational knowledge” that is so enigmatic to capture on paper. Not a lot of business people realize that. It’s that depth of system-wide understanding that makes them so effective at figuring out problems, sometimes in seemingly magical ways. A good Sysadmin can add a lot to a company’s bottom line.

I think though, that the job of being a Sysadmin is dying away. And it makes me sad.

I’ve always been tough to peg into a single point on the job board. At different times I’ve held the job of a full-time sysadmin and of a full-time programmer. That mixed skillset of administration and programming has served me very well. Usually my jobs are a blend of both: I was either the programmer that could set up machines to run reliably, or the Sysadmin that could actually talk and work with the programmers.*

The last few years I’ve been working as a consultant on a lot of VMware and virtualization technology. And I see a lot of Sysadmin’s struggling hard. Virtualization requires a fairly substantial knowledge base: systems (of course), networking, storage (NAS and SAN) and the ability to debug and detect non-obvious problems in the interaction of all of the above.

Considering the technical expectations placed on you as a Sysadmin, to find yourself suddenly having to work at “expert mode” on an area you have no knowledge on is scary. Especially when previously some of the fields had a full-time person handling that job. If you are a Sysadmin focused in a relatively small area of expertise, virtualization of servers can see like an insurmountable thing to know. Learning-wise, it’s like trying to read the dictionary in a single sitting.

And aside from raising the tech bar significantly, virtualization is reducing the number of sysadmin jobs out there.

Let me explain: If I were to start a new company today, I would not build a machine room full of computers. Heck, I probably would not rent machine room space in a colo. I’d be leveraging one or more of the existing cloud infrastructures out there.

And its not just getting rid of that machine room. Servers and services are handled offsite as well: Smart** developers will set up proper QA, dev, and prod separation, and make sure things are redundant in their cloud space. A good HR department will leverage things like ADP for processing and books. A good sales staff will probably want Salesforce.com. Email can run through one of several decent solutions out there. Literally, the only job left is cabling workstations and setting up printers: IE: Cable Monkey. And most tech guys will do that on their own to just have it.

You can argue each of these points as a value tradeoff. Cash vs reliability, etc. But when you get down to it, most businesses will err on the side of cash.

And that means, there are going to be less sysadmin jobs. I think there are going to be two levels: those who are able to do the job of what is now 3-people and running the cloud-level stuff. And those who are basically hanging on as vestigial cable monkeys.

I know it’s a harsh assessment. But it’s what I see now.

It is never a pretty situation when you have a large number of people who are going to be vying for a reduced number of jobs. That means salaries are going to drop. And people are going to have to find new areas to work.

The sysadmin job usually collected the people who didn’t fit well or didn’t want to fit well into the usual square-hole roles of the IT department. It will be rather demoralizing for those types of folks to have to go into other areas. I really do think we’re going to see the death of this profession in how morale-crushing that forced movement will be.

I’m lucky enough right now to “get” the virtualization side of the house. I’m studying up in areas I lack and can do the gig. But it feels less fun. You’re spread thinner than before and that true experienced “depth” of knowledge is lacking. That and I know I’m busily helping companies marginalize people like myself.

So I’m half looking at brushing up my programming skills and wearing that hat for a long while. I don’t know. I’ll sure miss being a Sysadmin. It’s more fun.

* I hesitate at times to say “I’m the sysadmin that programs.” For all the respect I have for the Sysadmin profession, many systems administrators learn some programming skills by osmosis and produce write-only code. Everything has its place, yes. But I’ve done serious team programming, understand development models and practices, love source control and documentation. Not that all programmers necessarily do that, but that’s another post.

** Boy is this another post.

More about the new college goal…

It was interesting from the last post, I got a question about which college I was thinking at going to. And I realized I was introducing my plan in a very soft and hidden fashion, because I am scared of it.

When I say I want to go to “college.” I mean, I want that intense period of education again. But I have just about decided it will not happen at a degree granting secondary institution — since those seem to be a lot of money and wasted time between the few moments of learning you get there.

When I first thought about going back to “college,” out of a desire for that intense period of learning, I did thing about going to one of those degree granting places.

Initially, I looked to my alma mater (JMU) and looked for degrees that would allow me a high latitude of choice in my area of study, as well as traditional degrees on the things I like: computers, music and history. I made contacts with professors and administrators and sounded out how possible it would be for me to continue my education that way. It would be expensive (as I’d be out-of-state again) and I’d need to do some pushing for an academic sponsor, but I could do it.

I also examined programs near where I lived that were of a similar bent. Stanford offers an adult-focus liberal studies masters that is almost exactly what I think. The cost here would be even higher, but theoretically it could be done while working if I gave up all other activities.

There are two drawbacks to the traditional academic path. The first is my current degree. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Media Arts and Design. It is a hybrid degree that isn’t a traditional path. Any academic program that accepts me (especially traditional ones I might pursue, such as history, music, art or computer science) will probably hand me a large load of undergraduate work to “normalize” me into the round or square peg they expect as a graduate student. In other words: a lot of my education time would be taken up with various forms of busy work. More-so than already happens in a graduate degree.

And that leads over to the second drawback: money. Or more specifically: value for the amount spent. If I pursue a traditional degree, I am shelling out a lot of money on top of my normal rent, health and food expenses. And a fair amount of what I will be buying will be coursework that I may not desire, or will be remedial. I understand that the higher mountain-peaks of education I desire rest on a good foundation of general education, but lets face it: how many courses did you take in college that were a waste of time?

In the basement of a building in Oakland, there is a master/apprentice instrument repair shop. Usually about a dozen guys are working there to learn how to be repairmen in the practical way. Many great repair shops on this coast came from that unofficial school. I’ve been there many times for work on my instruments and have marveled at the place and wished I had the time to work there and learn.

So that is what my “college” plan is. Save up enough to live on, and apprentice myself in the areas I desire. For example, there’s a composer I already know well and would love to approach with the following offer: I’ve got my bills paid for then next year. I want to learn composing. I’ll work for you as your assistant for free for a year if you will teach me on the way.

And that… I hope… would be real learning.

I have a new goal…

It’s simple really. I want to go back to college.

But not the kind of college you think of. When I look back on what I really, really got out of college it was two things:

#1 – Basic life skills. This includes, how not to drink too much. How to cook and do my own laundry. Setting an alarm clock and paying for staying up late. And learning how to correctly bend and manipulate rules, and how to sometimes talk yourself out of trouble with a cop or a boss.

#2 – A period of intense learning that developed a set of skills I rely on. When it really is cut down to what mattered, this comes down to about 3 different professors and about 6 classes that truly made a difference. Maybe about a dozen more classes that helped build a foundation that the high points stand on, but not really.

When I say I want to go back to college, I want to expand #2 from above.

College can be easily wasted. In some ways I was very lucky that it is in my nature to involve myself in stuff I think is interesting. It would have been very simple to coast through whatever degree was handed to me. Very few people, it seems to me, were treating it as an opportunity to learn. I really wasn’t either. But I lucked out that I was curious, and was given room by others to pursue that. I ended up swapping degrees, and almost becoming a staff member in another program as I helped them put together computer labs and start new courses. I ended up helping professors on personal work at their houses, and doing things that on-paper no administrator should have trusted to a simple undergrad student. I owe a lot to those people I mention above who let me truly learn. I guess in some ways, I lived a bit of Mark Twain’s quote: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

Even if I had been self-aware enough to take further control of my education at the time, I don’t think it would have done me any good. How would I have known then, the directions I would like to go now? The further directions I would like to go for my music and tech ideas? Hence, a desire for more “college.”

One of the strongest lessons I’ve learned in life is “don’t be the best person in the band.” I learned it hard in music in college as I showed up low in skill and was dumped into a superb talent pool. I have re-learned it again and again. The times I have improved the most have been the times I’ve felt like I am completely outclassed by the people around me. It motivates me to do better, and by having such shining examples constantly around you, it rubs off. And that’s been true for music, or programming, or managing, or sales, or whatever.

The thing I know now, is where I would like to go. And in some cases, I know professionals I would like to follow. I would love to spend a year learning music and arranging from professional composers I know. I know people who, if I had the time and bills covered, if I offered to show up and help them with their craft, in return for being apprenticed, who would probably gladly let me.

And that will be my next college. There is a tech boom looming right now, and I am looking at finally being out of debt and stable. If I can do that, and put away enough for a few years of stable living, I think my goal is to take myself to college.

I even made it look like it was done on a crappy photocopy…

Creative urges strike here and there. I don’t know why. The joy is occasionally following them.

I hate updating my resume. I don’t normally like self-promotion, and to try and recall and distill your work to a few sentences is annoying at best. So rather than being stuck with big resume updates each job shift, I try to check in and keep mine current every few months.

On this last go-around of updates I got an idea stuck into my head. It was one of those creative ideas you can not get out of your head until you’re done with it. So I found myself scouring image boards, and then spending time in photoshop to age a document, make it look hand written and make it work as a single visual piece.

I present my professional resume, done as a circa-1985 D&D character sheet:

Resume done up as a D&D Character sheet circa 1985

My resume done up as a D&D Character sheet circa 1985

And yet, it is still a resume of a sort. The statements are generally accurate, if altered. Please, if you think of something awesome I missed out on, let me know.