Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Bye-bye Knight

ImageLast week was my last at Knight Foundation. The departure is both sweet and bitter. I’m excited about the new gig, but am remembering all the good things about the last six years.

This was the first time I’d worked in philanthropy and It makes for a very different view of business. At one level, it’s very similar to a for profit business. You have IT. Accounting. Administration. HR. Office maintenance. People have jobs they come to in the morning and families they come home to at night. You make friends. You make enemies. You have quiet times You have time when you think all the time in the world is not enough for what you need to do.

But at another level it’s very different in that the business mission is “to do good”. It’s very fulfilling to work towards “doing good” as opposed to “sell more cars”. And it’s not easy. You would think it would be easy to give away money. But it’s actually very hard to give away money _well_. You are entrusted with someone else’s money and you have to to a good job giving it away. No, you’re supposed to do a great job of giving it away. If you give it away and find it didn’t do any good, you failed at your job. If you give it away and it does good, but could have done better elsewhere, then you could have done a better job. And it’s damn hard to measure “good” in any quantitative way.

This makes for a very interesting group of people to work with. In my case I was lucky to work with some of the smartest people I’ve known in my life. Philanthopries are interesting, Knight was fascinating.

But in my heart I’m a software developer through and through. I’ve been doing it since they invented dirt and in all those year have never gotten bored of it. Like many organizations, Knight is using more off the shelf software these days for internal use. And that’s an excellent fit for the organization. We had a older grants management system around which we had to write software to get the functionality we needed. Now we’re moving to an open source grant management system which works at a level the older enhanced system could only dream of. Absolutely the right choice for the organization. But a large chunk of the software I work disappears right there.

I also wrote a great deal of software in the first three years I was there. Most of that software worked excellently and was well designed. The result for the organization is great. The result for me is that now I do more configuring to prepare for the new year than developing new software.

The other challenge is that IT organization in philanthropies tend to be small to non existent. Our entire IT staff is four and a half people. And some of those people have active responsibilities in generating technical grants. I _am_ the programming department. I love the independence. I can say “I want to move to Visual Studio 2012” and start right then and there. But what I don’t have is other programmers around me. I don’t have someone working with me side-by-side writing a new system. I don’t have someone who I can ask to grab a cup of coffee and follow me to the whiteboard to sketch out one of my crazy ideas.

And so I move on to my next gig, but Knight will always have a special spot in my heart.


Categories: Personal, Tech Tags:

The First Disk Drive

2011/01/14 1 comment

Can’t believe I never heard of this before after all these IT years (decades). The first production dick drive was the IBM 350 disk storage unit which came out in 1956. It had 50 platters and weighed over a ton. And all that area gave it a whopping 5 megabytes (NOT gigabyte). It was not large enough to hold a single image from one of out modern high megapixel cameras.

I can’t find a price for it but the computer system with the disk drive leased for $3,200 per month. And that’s 1956 bucks.

It’s crazy making to compare that to what we have now where it’s not uncommon for folks to have a terabyte  at home for about a hundred bucks. But this stuff was incredibly advanced for it’s time. Before this processing was mostly done on tapes. If someone needed to know how many of a product was in stock an operator would have to run a job and mount a tape which would then be read sequentially until the item was found and printed out. The idea that a production computer could reach right into its permanent storage at any point was as radical as the interplanetary internet is today.


Categories: Tech Tags:

The Scarlet Pumperpennny Gets a Mac

2010/12/28 1 comment

A friend of mine just received a MacBook Air for Christmas. I thought this may be an interesting opportunity to follow someone through learning the Apple way which is so “easy an intuitive”. She would probably prefer I not use here name, so I’ll call her the Scarlet Pumperpenny.

Scarlet is a very intelligent lady. She currently uses computers (Windows) heavily throughout the day and has done so for many years. She uses a desktop at work but has a personal laptop so she is no stranger to varied sized keyboards, mice, and touchpads.

She emailed me a bit worried that she would have trouble using it. I immediately replied that she would have nooooo trouble at all based on the consistent plaudits I’ve heard from the Applerati over the years and my own experience learning Macs. Certainly if she could handle those clunky PCs, the Mac would be effortless to learn.

Looking forward to her first story!


Categories: Tech Tags:

Math Really can be Beautiful

2010/07/21 1 comment

What do you get when you plot the roots of polynomials using different colors for each degree? Incredibly rich artwork! Thanks to Dan Christensen for producing them and John Baez for making me aware of them. Don’t know either one, but managed to bring some joy to my day!


Categories: Tech

Charlie Brooker on the iPhone

Charlie Brooker (@charltonbrooker) just made a series of tweets about the iPhone that were so good they need to be saved for posterity. I wish I had his ability to capture the essence of a humorous situation in so few words.

(read from bottom up as on Twitter)


# Aw, I’m just messing, fanboys. I’m sure it’s lovely. I don’t know whether to buy one or wait until one gets issued to me by the government.     half a minute ago  via web

# Hey, maybe some of those factory workers tried ringing the Samaritans but couldn’t get through because they were holding it the wrong way? 9 minutes ago via TweetDeck

# You’re right, fanboys. It’s a fuss over nothing. It works perfectly well if you lie it on a desk and jab at the screen with your nose. 14 minutes ago via TweetDeck

# Fret not, left-handed iPhone users: Apple will solve the issue by forcibly injecting your brain with a new OS that turns you right-handed. 17 minutes ago via TweetDeck

# Next week: Apple unveil a toilet you can’t sit on. 30 minutes ago via TweetDeck

# This whole iPhone 4 antenna issue reminds me of Steve Martin inventing ‘Opti-Grab ‘ spectacles in The Jerk. 30 minutes ago via TweetDeck

Categories: Tech Tags:

Don’t Use iTunes to Design your Next Atomic Bomb

On the lighter side of ribbing Apple, it appears that the company explicitly declares in the iTunes Terms and Conditions (search for “nuclear”) that you should not use iTunes for “the development, design, manufacture or production of nuclear, missiles, or chemical or biological weapons.”

Darn, another Apple restriction, And I and so many others had hopes along that line!


Categories: Tech Tags:

Hodgman and Long are Funny, Ellen is Not

Remember those great Apple “Get a Mac” video ads with John Hodgman as the PC and Justin Long as the Mac? Boy, those were great weren’t they? Apple approached the situation with a real sense of light humor, poking fun at Windows and the PC. I love humor and am so glad that Apple does too. You can still see all the vids right on the Apple site at

Of course, that only applies if it’s Apple doing the jabbing. Ellen Degeneres made a funny spoof commercial of the iPhone on her show. Mashable reported that Apple was none too happy with the commercial. Ellen says “They thought I made it look like it’s hard to use and I just want to say I’m sorry if I made the iPhone look like it was hard to use.”

I guess under Apple’s humor laws Ellen’s joke was in poor taste for casting a bad impression on the usability of their product, whereas Apple’s own ads casting a bad impression on the usability of Microsoft’s product was witty.

Interestingly, the video on the Mashable story, when played, says “Sorry, this title is no longer available. You can see the original here and Ellen’s “apology” here.

In Britain the ads were done with comedians David Mitchell (the PC) and Robert Webb (the Mac). Charlie Brooker wrote about the ads in the Guardian saying “they are best known for the television series Peep Show – probably the best sitcom of the past five years – in which Mitchell plays a repressed, neurotic underdog, and Webb plays a selfish, self-regarding poseur”. So the ads speak as much about Apple as it does about Microsoft. Now that’s funny!


Categories: Tech Tags: