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A taxonomy of IT users

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Over the years I've seen a small collection of fake-names crop up in the sysadmin space. Here is a list:

BOFH
An oldie, but a Sysadmin who has gone over to the dark-side.

Fred
Originally coined by Laura Chappell, Fred is the User From Hell. Or, The Power User who Isn't. Fred knows everything, or rather, thinks they do. They're wrong, but don't know it, and it makes your life all too interesting. Fred may be a manager, a peer, or a frequent-flier in the ticket queue.

Leeroy
Originally from a famous Warcraft video, this is the peer who just deploys stuff because it's cool. They... haven't learned (the hard way) how this can go wrong, so aren't naturally suspicious. This could be the rose-colored glasses of youth and exuberance, or it could be a trusting nature. They'll learn.

Brent
Coined by The Phoenix Project, Brent is the person that ends up with their hands in everything one way or the other. They may be a single-point-of-knowledge, the only person who knows anything about topic X, or just the person that gets handed the weird stuff because, well, "Brent probably knows". A lot of us are a Brent, and it sure as heck makes getting long vacations approved difficult. There may be more than one of them, depending on topics.


I used to be a Leeroy, then I learned better.

I've been a Brent (oddball-stuff troubleshooter variety) at my current and last three jobs.

Right now people have figured out that I know how to use Wireshark to discover oddball problems, so I'm having to do a lot of packet analysis lately to rule out oddball problems. This isn't something I can cross-train on very well, but I'm going to have to find a way; people's eyes tend to glaze over when you get into TCP RFCs and it's easier to make me do it and not have to learn for themselves.

Having watched recent events unfold, I'm beginning to wonder what effect employment contracts are having on how companies and their employees respond to catastrophic reputation-loss events. A certain well known open-source company is undergoing this right now, which is why I'm thinking about it. Because they're big enough to have had lawyers go over their employment agreements for more than just intellectual property clauses, I'm guessing it's also picked up a few other goodies along the way.

The Setup

  1. $Company does something.
  2. $Activists say, "Hey, that's bullshit."
  3. $Supporters say, "Dude, not cool."
  4. $Defenders say, "Hey, no biggie, eh?"

Steps 2-4 can happen in 30 minutes these days. At this point the news is still expanding. But now the interesting things start to happen. As the $Defenders and $Supporters+$Activists start hammering on each other in social media the ranks of both camps increase and at some point, somewhere a subset of $Employee chimes in and after a while maybe $Company.Officer actually gives an official statement. By now the shit-storm is well and truly engaged.

Free Speech Means Freedom From Arrest (but not binding contracts between private parties)

Bloggers like me have known for over a decade now that mouthing off about one's employer is a great way to get fired. Some companies actually have clauses in their employment contracts that read, in effect:

You will only talk about the $Company in glowing terms. Or else.

The language is actually written like, "under no circumstances will you do or say anything that will reflect negatively on the company," but this works for now. This is called a non-disparagement clause, and is perfectly legal. What's more, it's common practice to use severance agreements to bind outgoing employees to those same clauses (if they weren't already bound by the employment agreement) in perpetuity to ensure that the now-ex employee doesn't mouth off about their old employer; less of a risk for voluntary departures, more of one for involuntary ones.

Your free speech has a price. Maybe it's $10K. Or $20K. $30K? $30K and 4 months health-insurance coverage to carry you to your next position? Okay, $75K, 5 months, and 10K shares of preferred stock. Have a nice life.

Shit-storm Meteorology

So you're in the $Activist+$Supporter camp and $Company is being strangely silent on the topic of what bonehead thing they did. The only people from the company talking about the thing are firmly in the $Defender camp, which only cements your opinion that they're just not getting it and are hopelessly out of touch.

What if you're a $Supporter that is also $Employee? If you have a non-disparagement agreement in your contract voicing that opinion is to risk your job and future employability. Unless you're also in $Company.Officer, speaking up is a very bad idea no matter how loudly the $Activists are crying for redress (in fact, speaking up even if you're a $Defender is a bad idea, but it's less likely to pothole your career-path). The Cyclone of Suck accelerates.

Stopping the Cyclone

It is possible to avoid the cyclone, or at least minimize it. It requires a fast response from $Corporate.Officer in a way that even the $Activists can recognize as meaningful. This is a hard step to take since it usually requires admitting fault (and thus, liability) which is why the first statement is almost always something like...

There there, we're not evil. We promise. We do good things too.

...and is lambasted by the $Activists as not addressing the problem. This is likely to accelerate the cyclone, not spin it down.

Another way to slow it down requires hard choices made by $Supporters who are also $Employees, by voluntarily severing employment due to whatever happened, refusing a severance agreement (and thus accept a period of no pay-check or even unemployment benefits), and saying why they left. It works better if more than one make this grand flounce.


This is just a theory of mine for how "never trash-talk your employer" clauses intersect with online debate. When I see people getting ever louder in indignation that some company or organization is remaining silent on some contentious topic, I do wonder if that's because the very people who would give the desired response have been preemptively legally gagged.

Not a bad observation

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A friend of mine recently posted some job stuff and he had a good observation:

I investigate businesses that pay employees under the table. I ensure that unemployment insurance is paid by the employers, protecting the employees and ensuring they get unemployment insurance if they get laid off (if they get paid under the table they don't get unemployment).

I have been picking up a lot of businesses who are avoiding taxes (surprisingly, or maybe not, software companies are a big issue, along with housecleaners and dog groomers/sitters/walkers).

Emphasis mine.

You know, that's an interesting point and doesn't surprise me much. He does his work in the Seattle area, which is one of the major tech-hubs. And one thing tech-startups are known for is distributed offices. Take a 10 person company with people in 6 different states, no one who has run a company like that before, and you have prime conditions for dropping the ball on unemployment reporting and payment.

So you fired the slacker living in Waukegan, Illinois. Did you report their earnings in Illinois, where they live, Wisconsin, where the shared-office they 'worked' out of was, or Washington State, where HQ is?

aaahhh.... lemme get back to you on that.

As he tells me, that can be a very expensive mistake to make depending on how long the misunderstanding was in place. Your payroll vendor may or may not know WTF they're doing with a startup-style distributed office, so don't rely solely on them. Work location and residential location are different things. You can work in Vancouver, WA but live in Portland, OR; you pay Oregon income taxes, but will earn Washington unemployment if you get laid off.

10 year blog-anniversary

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10 years ago today, I had my first post.

This was done as part of the first big project I was given when I started working for WWU: figure out how to serve web-pages from home directories. Which I did, and this blog was a way to make sure it actually worked. It did. Back then I used Blogger and their FTP publish option to maintain this thing, I've since moved on to my own domain and actual blog-software.

10 years later I'm also starting a brand new job, and am all of 3 days into it so far. By now I'm just beginning to get a handle on the complexity of the problem I'm facing.

I'm not posting as often as I used to. In part that's because I've been working for places that have intellectual property they need to protect and talking about what I'm working on is frequently a violation of that, and in part there are other outlets for the shorter stuff. Twitter for instance, and even ServerFault.

I'm still here, and still going. Some pointless stats after the cut.

Unions and tech-workers

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My fellow technologists are some of the most rabid anti-union people I know. However, I believe there is a kind of union that we can actually benefit from. Read on.

By far the biggest complaint I hear against unions is this one:

BozoBob does a fifth of the work I do and he gets paid the same. How the **** is that fair? ****ing unions!

With a distant second of:

BozoBob has been here fifteen years and does half of what I do. So why the **** am I getting laid off and not him? Seniority?? ****ing unions!

Now that the big critiques are on the table, to look at what unions could bring to the the tech worker market I'll need to set some definitions.


Tech Worker(a): The intuitive definition of this is, "People who work in tech the way I do", which for readers of this blog is primarily the systems administration space and closely adjacent areas like software engineering and network engineering. These are people who work with tech, tend to be highly skilled, and also tend to be highly mobile; if a job is crappy, get a new one, there is always one out there for you.

Tech Worker(b): Now there is a different class of worker out there. These are people who work for tech, so the food service workers at the Google Cafeteria, the massage therapist working for a tech startup, the accountants who do the taxes, the travel specialists who arrange conference travel, the driver of the shuttle bus that brings workers from the affordable part of town to the company campus. These are the people who work for tech who aren't getting six figure salaries and can't necessarily leave a crappy job for a new one at the drop of a hat.

Exempt Employees: A bit of a labor-relations term, but this refers to the Fair Labor Standards Act definition of an employee who is exempt from mandatory overtime. There is a lot of labor law, and worse, case-law, that goes into defining who is owed what for hours worked and I'm not going to get into that here. Employers really like to employ nothing but exempt employees because it means they don't have to track hours worked, and don't have to pay anything extra if everyone is putting in 60 hour weeks.

Tech Worker(a) is almost always Exempt.

Non-Exempt Employees: As you'd expect, these employees earn overtime and are almost always hourly. And frequently part-timers. In many cases employers set rules in place to prevent the earning of overtime unless specifically cleared, which in turn guarantees a maximum 40 hour work-week for these employees.

Tech Worker(b) is often Non-Exempt.

Independent Contractors: a.k.a. "1099 workers". These are not employees of the company, they're employes of another company paid to do something the company wants. That 'other company' may be the employee themselves acting in a corporate way, or it could be a personal-resource firm. Such workers rarely have benefits provided by the company itself, expecting the contracted company to provide for it. They only get 'overtime' if it has been specifically negotiated.

(If you've ever wondered why in blazes contractors charge $200/hour for their work, it's because they're having to pay for their own health coverage, both the employee and employer FICA payment, and other such 'invisible' costs of employing someone).


Traditional Unions

The ones everyone loves to hate (see above critiques for the biggest hate-sources) came about as a push-back to excesses business took during industrialization. Textile work, assembly-line work, and all sorts of other big-headcount industries needed workers, and they didn't need particularly skilled workers since most of it was learned on the job. Which meant that if an employer didn't like a worker for some reason, they fired them and got a new one since there was always another hungry mouth to take the job and wouldn't be such a problem.

So if you wanted to keep your job, you kept your mouth shut and didn't make waves. Which in turn meant putting up with working 6 days a week, being asked to work late for big jobs, possibly buying all of your work-equipment at the company store (at company prices), and a whole bunch of other things. When you are a faceless cog in a sea of cogs, saying "I am special!" means you just get replaced with another faceless cog.

DevOps is all about removing "I am special!" virtual-machines from a sea of identical cogs; er, virtual machines. Yes, I do sometimes worry about the robot revolution.

Traditional unions came about as a way to push back against the exploitation business owners found so profitable. If all the faceless cogs band together and say, "Oy, enough with the 12 hour work days already," it's a lot harder to ignore them. The owners sure as hell tried, but once union penetration in a given industry is high enough there isn't a big enough pool of faceless cogs to ruthlessly exploit without side-effects, which in turn means they have to improve working conditions to compete with the unionized workplaces.

Traditional unions as most people understand them work best in industries where workers are easily interchangeable. The power each individual worker has is so small that there is no leverage for them to exploit other than banding together to pool their power. Seniority is a fair proxy of effectiveness as a worker since actual training only goes so far.

Traditional Unions and Tech Worker(a)

Tech Worker(a) is:

  • Highly skilled.
  • Specialized in diverse technologies.
  • There is a shortage of such workers in certain markets.

Tech Worker(a) is not:

  • Interchangeable with each other.
  • Quick to train up from scratch.

Tech Worker(a) is a very poor fit for traditional unions, as they do not fit the profile of 'exploitable class'. This is a problem for the US Civil Service, which is largely unionized; they have a hell of a time retaining this class of tech worker. Those that do stick around in Civil Service do so for reasons other than monetary.

Traditional Unions and Tech Worker(b)

These are workers who could benefit from a traditional union. These workers are working for companies that grew up thinking they only employed type A tech-workers and have a second class of workers supporting them. A lot of the 'support' roles may be filled by Independent Contractors, who in turn just may belong to a union such as the SEIU, IBEW, or CWA; the labor relations part of HR is handled by the contracted agency not the tech-company itself

Tech companies frequently do 'outsource' such services as the ethos of:

Do what you do best,
If you're not the best, pay someone who is the best to do it,
If you can't find someone who is the best, find someone who can be the best and help them become the best.

Is very prominent. This is why the -as-a-service movement is taking off, and the same model works for staffing the company cafeteria and running the employee-shuttle fleet. In many cases, it's not Google we should be pushing to allow unions in their support tier, it's the contractor Google pays to provide the support services. And if it so happens that Google is directly employing these people, then definitely push for collective bargaining.

Tech Worker(b) is the traditionally unionizable class of technical worker. Tech companies resist unions for many reasons, chief among them being they haven't had to deal with them before and they're good at increasing costs; very much against the lean concept.

Non-Traditional Unions

Or, the unions people don't think of as unions.

These come in a couple of different types, from Professional Organizations like AICPA for accountants and NCBTMB for massage therapists, to the wobblies (IWW) which push for unionization across the entire workforce rather than just one sector of it.

LOPSA is starting down the Professional Organization path with the LOPSA Recognized Professional program they announced at LISA 2013.

Professional Organizations often have some interaction with state/county/local government license boards, which gives them some geographic cover. AICPA manages the CPA exam. NCBTMB manages the national certification test, and ABMP does legislative advocacy and provides insurance support for massage therapists. There are others out there, and these tests/exams are in place to ensure that people who claim to be a certain type of professional actually have a minimum amount of knowledge and commitment to continuing education.

Such organizations are less concerned with working conditions than they are with ensuring the profession as a whole is viewed positively, and people know what to expect when they hire that kind of professional. Some do work against professional exploitation and can even bring sanctions down on workplaces who violate codes of conduct. These are unions, they're just named differently.

Professional Organizations and Tech Worker(a)

As I mentioned earlier, LOPSA is taking a step down this road for the Systems Administration profession with their LOPSA Recognized Professional program. This is not without controversy as the audience at LISA13 demonstrated, and the ongoing debate in the mailing lists and elsewhere continue to show. It's a move by a professional organization that represents a minority of the profession attempting to set a standard for the whole profession, for the betterment of that profession.

Vendors have been doing this for years, though not under the guise of a profession. The Cisco series of certifications are commonly used as gatekeeping tests for hiring network engineers. LOPSA is attempting something similar with the profession, we'll see if there is any traction there.

Professional Organizations don't do collective bargaining the way traditional unions do, they're more about indirect influence. LOPSA won't call a strike against, say, ACME Widgets; and even if they did it wouldn't be legal so ACME Widgets would be perfectly in the right to seek legal action. No, they're much more about making sure the profession as a whole is supported and has some form of group advocacy pushing for improvement.

Like traditional unions organizing an industry, Professional Organizations are more effective the more people belong to them. LOPSA represents a minority of systems administrators right now, so they face an uphill battle to professionalize it. In 10 years that may be different, and LOPSA membership may be on most system-adminsitrator resumes.

The Professional Organization is the kind of collective action entity that Tech Worker(a) can actually benefit from. It leaves individual salary and compensation negotiations in the hands of individual workers, and doesn't have any bearing on who gets the axe in a layoff. It can, however, recommend minimum acceptable benefits and compensation levels for these workers which will aid in salary negotiations by individuals. They can provide backstop health and/or liability insurance for independent contractors at rates much better than individuals can obtain. They can provide industry-proficient legal support, or referrals to such. They work with the educational sector to ensure up-and-comers get what they need to join the profession.

Professional Organizations and Tech Worker(b)

Some of these workers already belong to Professional Organizations. The CPAs that do the company books? AICPA. The massage therapist in the headquarters Health Center? ABMP or AMTA. The tech companies that employ them are already used to working with the members of these organizations, and by extension the organizations themselves. Individual barganing is very much a lean concept, and these organizations maintain that.


Tech workers like myself can benefit from collective action. The best template for us is the Professional Organization: active in advocating for the industry, provides support for members, and helps ensure the educational pipeline is adequate for supporting the profession.

Systems Administration can benefit from professional organizations, and so could Software Engineering.


tl;dr: Unions bad. Professional organizations, a kind of union, good. We should get some.

The tech-perk you don't think of

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TechCompanyDayCare.png

On reflection "tech company" here is really, "tech company big enough to have a large corporate head-quarters". The startup I just left had:

  • No cafeteria, but we did have a kitchen that we shared our meals at when we went out to get stuff and the once a week company paid lunch. No stove, though.
  • No gym, but the building we rented our space from had a gym floor we could use.
  • No game room, more of a game-nook.
  • No wet bar, but beer did get put into the grocery order once in a while. No hard stuff or wine though.

However, that startup was in year-3 of a significant baby-boom. In my time there we'd had people do work-from-home days, late-start days and early-departure days due to daycare problems. If you're the primary care provider for someone under 4 years old you will only be able to answer the odd email while you're at it and will live for kid-naps.

A corporate daycare perk seems like a win: what parent wouldn't want to check in with their kid over lunch, and companies would get more out of their employees.

On-site day-care has some strict labor requirements though, so it's only for companies big enough to support full time dedicated support people. If they can afford personal trainers or professional chefs five days a week, they're probably big enough to afford day-care professionals.

Degrees of offense

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I'm at LISA13 right now and I have a couple of blog posts percolating, but this one I can do right now. I went to the two Women in Advanced Computing events here and as usual they covered things allies (people not recognized as women who wish to help out) can do to help out. One of the best ways is to call people on their sexist bullshit when you see it happen, but sometimes we can't use the language we otherwise would or maybe indicating dissent is an actively dangerous thing to do.

That is some sexist bullshit right there.

What you'd like to say. Maybe you actually can, and if so, great! Do so. Maybe the culture of the group you're in accepts that kind of blunt statement and it's ok.

Or maybe it isn't. Maybe that's the kind of statement you make when you're perfectly prepared to break all relations with everyone else in there, but you don't want to do that. There are graduated ways to indicate that something is problematic and still maintain relations within that group.

Someone might be offended by that.

To people from the American mid-west, where non-confrontation is taken to a high art, this is actually a moderately strong statement. It indicates offense is possible here, and we should be wary.

To everyone else in the US it's more, "aaand so would me saying you don't look good in that color. What?"

It's weak-sauce. Don't use it unless you're in a room full of mid-westerners or simply can't indicate stronger offense without consequences you can't live with.

Someone will be offended by that.

Very strong words to a midwesterner, and language that even the coasties would recognize as 'possibly a problem here'. It flatly states that offense will happen, but doesn't identify who might be offended. This might be strong enough to get people to think about what they just said/wrote. Or not.

$Group may be offended by that.

This identifies the offended group that may be suffering offense. This starts the process of assigning ownership of the offense to something other than an indefinite 'they'. Identifying the $group may make people thing about what they just said. As with the indefinite version of this, it's still a pretty weak statement but at least it names who the offense will be experienced by.

$Group will be offended by that.

This flatly states that $Group will be offended. This is stronger than the nebulous 'someone' in that it identifies the group and is more likely to promote empathy towards the group and thus be a stronger prod towards change.

I am offended by that.

The strongest thing you can say without resorting to profanity or explicit accusation. It assigns ownership of the offense to the person right in front of them. You are offended, so own it. They can't dismiss the offense without dismissing you, and if they do that, that's a very useful thing to know about the people in the group.

On how to answer surveys

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[As it is National Coming Out Day, I point out I did that here]

If you're a systems administrator, you've taken surveys. It seems any vendor with a support contract will send you one after you interact with support in any way, and most commercial websites have 'how are we doing' popups to capture opinion. Some of these are quick 3 question wonders just to test the waters of opinion, but once in a while a real survey ends up presented to us.

Real surveys have multiple pages, ask the same kind of question multiple ways to cross-check opinion, and often have an incentive attached to actually take them. The real surveys are prepared by outside parties, presumably to be scientific in the opinion they're trying to assess (there is in fact a difference between 'it looks right' and 'there is science here').

There is an art to answering surveys, and it depends on what your goals are as an answerer and what the survey is attempting to gather.

The vast majority of surveys I get presented come in three flavors:

  1. Hand-wringy "how are we doing???" quickies.
  2. Standardized "how did we do?" longer form ones, usually after interacting with support.
  3. Formalized surveys assessing satisfaction with or overall opinion of a company or product (almost always from the company itself).

The first two kinds are the type of survey that will elicit a response from the company if you answer it right. If that's what you're looking for, perhaps you did have a bad experience with support or maybe there is an ongoing frustration you want to talk to someone about, here is how to get that.

5 point scales (5 is Very Satisfied, 1 is Very Dissatisfied)

4-5: Good! No contact needed.
3: Some contact likelihood.
2: Guaranteed contact. This is dissatisfied, but hasn't written the company off yet. Can be salvaged!
1: Has written the company off.

A 1-star review is someone blowing steam off and is pissed. A 2-star review is someone with specific problems that might be redeemable.

5 point scales are hard, which is why most seem to be going with 10 pointers these days.

10 point scales (10 is Very Satisfied, 1 is Very Dissatisfied)

8-10: Good!
7: Neutral. Good option to pick to avoid getting called.
3-6: Bad, but redeemable. Nigh guaranteed to get a call.
2: Really bad, probable call, but they'll have kid-gloves.
1: Written off.

This scale is nice since you get a nice little spectrum for how pissed off someone is. If you want someone to call you, anything from 3-6 is a good choice. 7 is good for "I don't like it but I don't want to talk about it."


Rule of thumb: 1-point responses are vindictive, and are probably people who can't be reasonable on this. Safely ignorable.


Formalized surveys need as many respondents as possible, good and bad, to be scientific.

This is why they usually come with incentives, to lure in the people who don't give a damn. If you don't want to answer it because it comes from a company that sells crap, this is your chance to let them know. Save the loaded language for Twitter, though; subtle carries far.


Quickie 3-question wonder surveys are mostly to smoke out dissatisfied customers, and maybe take opinion temperature.

I've already described how it's used as a customer-service opportunity to win back the dissatisfied. As for opinion temperature, the internal dialog goes kind of like this:

Our TPS score dropped from 8.2 to 7.9 this month, and our 1-point reviews jumped from 5% to 8% of respondents. Clearly our customers hate the new interface.

The people who take the time to answer those are people who have something to say (they love or hate the product), or those whose whim strikes. It won't catch the mushy middle who just don't care. They're about as useful for opinion targeting as a finger in the wind is to determine wind-speed.


Companies do strange things with unscientific survey data

Strange things like couple Support Engineer pay to the average score on the 3-question-wonder post-call surveys. If you happen to know what a certain company does with this data, you can further game it to your advantage.


Way back in the pre-internet era my family used to get phone survey calls periodically. One of the first questions they asked was this doozy:

Does anyone in your family work for market research or related field?

Because people who know how surveys work can game them and ruin their scientific validity. It just so happens we did have such a person in our household. And it just so happens they're right.

Fingerprinting your way to security

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The NSA Raccoon is mostly right in this one:

For two reasons.

Reason 1: You (probably) don't own your phone

If you haven't rooted your phone, you don't really own it. While Apple says the fingerprint images are not uploaded to the borg collective, it's just one network hop away should the collective decide that it really needs them. A phone is a data-network connected device, after all, and the wireless carrier's customizations makes it a lot easier to get local access to the device if they want to.

Reason 2: Rooting won't help much either

Among the many disclosures since Snowden started his leaks is that law enforcement has a dirty-tricks bag deep enough to get into practically anything once they decide they need in. If it's got a data connection, and you haven't taken specific steps to keep others out, they'll still get in.


That said, if there is one thing we've learned from all of this is that there are massive databases at work here, and databases are only as good as the collected data and its indexes. Since fingerprint image collection isn't in the borg collective, it's not going to go into the secret national identity databases. They'll still need to take active effort to collect that information.


Fingerprint readers are nothing new:

FingerprintLaptop.png

My work laptop has one, and they've been on business laptops for years. What's new is that they're now on a data-connected device the habitual users don't own or manage, and is tightly integrated into the OS (unlike my laptop, which runs Linux; the reader has never worked for me).


What I'd like to know is where was the hue and cry over Android's face-lock ability?

That's another extremely useful biometric, and one that's arguably even more damaging than fingerprints: facial recognition in all of it's crappy implementations has been used by law-enforcement for a decade now. A good face-capture allows facial-recognition to work against random video feeds of public places to track individuals, something the ever expanding CCTV network enables.

Fingerprint readers tied to the borg collective will tie individuals to specific high value locations where fingerprint collection is deemed worth it.

Face-capture readers tied to the borg collective will tie individuals to low value public locations.

One of these is more likely to be deemed a serious invasion of privacy than the other, and it isn't the technology Apple just added.

In defense of quiet keyboards

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Like many sysadmins I learned to type on an IBM Model M keyboard. That was a mechanical switch keyboard and any time you made a key-press there was a click sound. It was also made to engineering standards unheard of today, and the very keyboard I learned to type on two and a half decades ago would probably still work today if it were still with us (it got lost in the great AT to PS2 interface switch).

That keyboard was a joy to use. Good key travel, nice feedback when typing.

However, it had a bad habit. It was noisy. A fact I didn't mind since the computer was in the basement and I didn't have to share that space with anyone.


Fast forward to the modern era of open-plan office space where even the paltry protection of our cubical walls is being taken away from us in favor of tables in clusters and such keyboards are downright anti-social. Pack 5 power-users into a small space with concrete floors, give each of them a mechanical switch keyboard and it'll sound like a horrible accident at a pachinko ball factory; only going on for 9 hours.

Like many sysadmins I've learned to type really fast. When I'm rattling out command-lines as fast as I can think, it can sound like repeating gun-fire (really: that analogy was drawn for me back at WWU during an intense trouble-shooting session at 4am).

As a kindness to my office mates, I stay away from mechanical switch keyboards and stick with the soft thud of a scissor-spring keyboard. Since I learned on a Model M, I hit those scissor-spring keys with about twice as much force as I need to so even they clatter a little bit. It isn't as nice as that old Model M, but it sure as hell is a lot easier to live next to me as a result.

Back at WWU when I shared an actual office with one other person I could possibly have gotten away with a mechanical-switch keyboard. Now that I share a table-cluster with two other people, and we're close enough together we can hear each other mutter darkly as we debug, that's no longer the case. Head-phones to drown out the typing sounds of your neighbors should not be required-issue for working in an office.


My current office keyboard is not the engineering marvel of that Model M. It's only 8 years old and most of the home-row key-caps have simply eroded off. What's more, there are very shiny spots on the spacebar where my thumbs have polished nice divots. Also, the U and the I keys are beginning to get erratic. It's probably time for a new one.

Happily, like that Model M, they still make the model I'm using.

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