Archive for category reality
I know it’s April already, but happy new year everyone!
For those not in the know, I got a somewhat unexpected new job prospect (and offer, which I accepted) at the end of 2012. Since then, I’ve been a senior member of the technical operations team at TripAdvisor.
TripAdvisor is the world’s largest travel site, with over 100 million reviews, and over 100 million unique users per month. For people keeping track, this is the third company I worked for during the year 2012, and all three have been mentioned on The Office (Linden Lab [Second Life], Harmonix [Guitar Hero / Rock Band], and now Tripadvisor [check out the Schrute Farms episode]). However, it’s not just popularity or “hipness” that led me to shift around.
I like to tell people (and recruiters) that I have four rules for picking a place to work:
- Must not be generally evil or tending towards evil (in my opinion) — This rules out most banks or the pharmaceutical industry, any petrochemical comany, and probably currently most of Google and Facebook.
- Must be a profitable venture — I’m too old to play the startup risk game.
- Must be accessible to my apartment in Boston via public transportation commute of <30 minutes — I don’t own a car, don’t want one, and I’m not moving anywhere.
- Operations and Systems must be critical to the core business and of the highest priority — My job is best executed when it has the highest respect and attention of the company and management (immediate as well as upper).
It was that last one that I forgot about when I ended up at Harmonix. After being at Linden for 4+ years, I could feel myself falling into the crotchety grizzled BOFH sysadmin role. Come to think of it, that probably happens to anyone in my field after a few years in an organization. Spending a year at Harmonix was a great chance to broaden my horizons, relax, and experience new perspectives on things. As I stated in an earlier blog post, I loved working there, and I do miss the place, people, and incredibly fun things happening in their awesome Central Square office. At TripAdvisor, we’re still in the business of providing joy to people. Rather than by selling some of the best video games, this time it’s by helping folks plan and take vacations.
Very similar to my time at Linden Lab, when I told people that I worked at Harmonix (makers of Rock Band and Dance Central franchises) the first response was usually “wow that’s really cool.” However, the second response was more often than not, “are they still relevant? What are they working on now?” While it’s true that the heyday of plastic instruments (and maybe console gaming in general — according to some naysayers) has passed, I’m still rooting for the folks over there, and I happen to know that they are still a vital, awesome independent studio with the best people and some blow-your-mind projects in the pipeline. If I was still there, I’d be hustling along side them doing my best to keep up and push forward the state of game network interaction and back ends. That being said, the effort that game developers (particularly independents) put into network features, operations, and backends is decreasing over time. And it should be. Great games are great because of the focus on art, gameplay, story, and other intangibles. Console manufacturers and third-party contractors can be brought on to do the job now of multi-player matchmaking and scoreboard databases, letting game makers stick to making awesome games and fostering and maintaining player communities — both things that Harmonix has done and will continue to do very well.
What drew me out to TripAdvisor (other than the folks I already know who work there — hi Laura and Drew!) was the scale. Honestly, I missed the excitement and challenges of running a huge infrastructure. At its peak, Second Life consisted of three data centers, 12,000+ servers, and received a new rack of 40 servers or so every couple of weeks. TripAdvisor isn’t quite that big infrastructure-wise (although we have 5 times as many employees), but we serve 2 billion ads a year, and are peaking at 600k web requests per minute (and growing tremendously still year-over-year). The company has a weekly release cycle, an innovative and freewheeling engineering culture, and an unofficial motto of “speed wins.”
At first, being a somewhat methodical systems engineer, the concept of putting velocity in front of “correctness” scared me a little bit. I’ve focused on things like proper cabling, thorough documentation, long planning cycles, enforcing automation prior to production, eliminating waste, etc. Here, though, I quickly learned that it’s important to keep moving and to cut a little slack to the folks that came before me for bad cabling, some missing documentation, or leaving a half dozen underutilized or unused servers around (sometimes literally powered-off in the racks or on the floor) while buying new ones in a hurry. If everyone takes the extra time (myself included) to do things the absolute correct way, we’ll lose our competitive advantage and then I’d be out of a job. So yeah, speed does win.
At this point, I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer you all potential jobs here. So, visit TripAdvisor Careers, find something you want to do, and drop me a line if I know you — I’d love to give a few hiring referrals, and yes we are hiring like crazy as the company expands!
So, my team won the 2013 MIT IAP Mystery Hunt this past weekend. More on that in another post though.
On my way into work today after sending some emails about mystery hunt infrastructure, I started thinking on something and it seriously pissed me off. Our team, and other teams running mystery hunt in recent years have been unable or unwilling to use MIT network and systems infrastructure to run the activity, and have instead needed to use private and other funding sources to host our hunting and collaboration tools with other internet hosting providers. This morning, I realized that our team should be able to have this event hosted at MIT next year, and that’s the angle I want to take when I start politely talking to the new leadership at IS&T. I just can’t find out who any of them are right now or their email addresses since their website is down. Not that email would necessarily get to them anyway. Even before the hunt, I was working on an email to send and post to open forums about these things, but now that the weekend is over and I’m facing the daunting task of running the system next year for our team, here goes:
An open letter to the Acting Director of MIT IS&T (if any person exists), and the MIT Administration:
Why does the MIT Mystery Hunt need to be hosted at EC2 or get sponsorship and infrastructure from VMware, Google, or Rackspace in the first place? MIT is still, in my opinion, the world’s preeminent engineering institution, yet its inability to host something as relatively mundane as a student-run puzzle hunt activity (yes the largest in the world, but still it’s just a puzzle hunt on a web site) in 2014 would be an absolute embarrassment.
Currently IS&T’s web site itself is down, email delivery between MIT and the rest of the world is spotty, the tech’s web site is inaccessible, 3down (the institute’s site-outage notification site) itself is down, and most other MIT-related and hosted web sites other than the front page are also inaccessible. The director of IS&T has resigned (apparently not as a result of these issues, The Tech reports — I’d link to the article but, well, you know, the site’s down).
The administration and IS&T will surely blame the DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack and anonymous (the amorphous organization out there on the web organizing these attacks) for all of this. Yet a site like WBC (Westboro Bible Church) has been the target of attacks for weeks now and none of their hateful websites are down or have needed to be mangled, or have been compromised or vandalized as badly as MIT’s have. Several other websites and companies (some of which I have worked for or currently work for) are also regularly targets of DDOS attacks and yet remain generally accessible and organized in the face of even the worst full-frontal internet assaults. IS&T’s response to the DDOS attack has been, from external appearances and my experiences on campus this weekend at least, worse than the attack itself. Continued vast service outages, intermittent detachment of MIT from email systems around the world, and zero effective communication with customers, departments, and students as far as I can tell. DDOS attacks are a fact of life on the internet. They should, like anonymous itself, be respected but above all expected.
At MIT, departments like the Broad Institute, Media Lab, CSAIL, etc. all have split off from MIT’s network and computing infrastructure because of IS&T’s apparent perennial failure as a service organization worthy of MIT and the people that work and study there. Here’s an anecdotal example of the kind of failures that these departments and organizations expect:
When I was a Systems Administrator at IS&T, installing what passed as a small-sized supercomputer into an IS&T server room (hosted for the department of Biology if my memory serves correctly) caused a fire, power outage, and a rushed redesign of the power infrastructure, followed by several more power outages.
Universities like UIUC, the state systems at California and Florida, and Universities of Wisconsin, and Ohio all have well known, fully operational technology incubators and “startup factories” on their campuses connected and serviced through their network services, infrastructure, and hosting and IT departments. As the birthplace of so many startups, ideas, and technologies, it’s shameful that something like this can apparently not exist on the MIT network under the umbrella of IS&T in its current form. Is this because of current administration and management’s short-sightedness, entrenchments, technological incompetence, or a combination of all of the above?
With my team winning the 2013 MIT Mystery Hunt, we are already starting to look towards the 2014 Hunt and the network and computing services it will require. By engaging with the new leadership at IS&T, our team should be able to use the actual MIT infrastructure to give us what we need and want for a successful activity that showcases MIT to all of the world. We want to be able to have this event hosted on MIT’s network. Anything else should be an embarrassment to whoever is in charge of IS&T as well as the rest of the Institute’s administration.
- Senior Systems Engineer, Tripadvisor (Formerly at Harmonix, Linden Lab, UIUC, NSA, and MIT IS&T)
- Systems Infrastructure Manager, MIT Mystery Hunt Team <full text of Atlas Shrugged>
- MIT Class of 2000
Aaron Swartz, best known as a co-author of the RSS specification, a co-owner of pupular social news site Reddit, and a lead campaigner against internet censorship and corruption committed suicide yesterday at the age of 26.
It’s sad to see such a brilliant, creative mind and potentially positive, young, influence for good in the world and community gone. I didn’t personally know him, and I can’t say I don’t have mixed feelings about the JSTOR incident (although it has been instrumental in bringing publicity to the issue of journal access and the heavy-handedness of computer-crime law in this country).
Some may say he went too far, pushed the envelope, and was unreasonable. George Bernard Shaw said the following:
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Yesterday vs. today:
With regard to the picture “It’s a Wonderful Life”, stated in substance that the film represented rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.
So, what do you think?
Ahh, 1998. A much “simpler” time. Got this from a friend at the agency back then. Digging through old papers and I figured I’d post it without comment.
Also, this doozy from 1993 is cute:
Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,
I've been trying to slow the pace of our life lately. It occurred to me that the deliberately slow approach to the game is what makes me love baseball so much. I enjoy all sports, but there's something special about baseball that helps me relax. You girls aren't too excited about my love for baseball, but I'm happy to have a partner now in you, Max.
Happy tax-time, and Thanks for the link, @Pranjlolz:
Created by: OnlineCriminalJusticeDegree.com
So I have some thoughts about the new CDMA iPhone (compatible with Verizon’s network) released today that folks have been frothing about. Everybody knew that the AT&T exclusivity deal with Apple was ending this year, so it’s inevitable that other carriers — particularly Verizon, would eventually end up with an iPhone to sell to their customers.
The issue with Verizon, however, is that their CDMA network is incompatible with the electronics hardware in the iPhone for AT&T. This means that making an iPhone available to Verizon customers was never just a matter of flipping a switch somewhere, or installing some code in firmware. New electronics had to be designed to be integrated with and fit into the quite constraining iPhone form factor, and of course tested and approved by various regulatory officials.
CDMA, however, is on its way out the door. Verizon, AT&T, and other carriers, are already rolling out so-called 4G networks that will be wholly incompatible with already-odd-duck CDMA (the network, for example, lacks the ability to transmit voice and data at the same time — no web surfing while talking).
My question is then, is it really worth it for Verizon (or Apple for that matter) to go through the effort and expense of designing and rolling out this new phone on an old, deprecated network? Apple COO Tim Cook reportedly said that building it as a 4G LTE phone would “force some design compromises” and “customers have told us they want the iPhone now.” So for those still on Verizon’s network, wanting an iPhone, but unwilling/unable to switch to AT&T, my advice would still be to wait. I’d hope that this little side detour into CDMA 3G-land doesn’t delay the eventual release of a 4G LTE iPhone for both AT&T and Verizon in the near future.