Showing posts from 2017

Continued Car Musings

After a brief spate of car fever, I did some research on (say) a Chevy Cruze Diesel or a Chevy Volt.  What with the recent flooding in Houston, I convinced myself that buying used might be a bad idea, so I decided to check out incentives and options out there.

The short version: Math doesn't lie.

Let's say you finance a $30,000 at 0% interest for 5 years.  That's 60 months, so the math's rather obvious: $30,000 / 60 == $500 / month.


The reality is, like a good Dave Ramsey acolyte, I'll likely be buying used again.  I haven't bought a new car since 2004, and one can generally save thousands / tens of thousands of dollars that way.

A Word About Dannah

My friend Dannah (Russell) Jones died this past Friday morning, after collapsing following exercise the night before.  She was thirty-eight years old.

I met Dannah when we were freshmen at Georgetown College in 1997.  She was a self-proclaimed "military brat" lately of Dayton, Ohio.  She had a spark of life, humor, and intelligence.  She made some friends, but she wasn't a "joiner."  If Dannah didn't like you, you'd know about it.

That entire freshmen year, Dannah and her roommate Crystal hung out often with me and my roommate Charlie.  We'd knock around the greater Lexington, KY area in her Hyundai Accent 2-door hatchback, Charlie and I smashed into the back seat.  The first (and only) time I ever saw Titanic we went in her car.

As people do, we parted ways.  I decided to bury my heart in work, where it would stay for the next 15 years and Dannah apparently went to to a career at NASA and other concerns in Alabama.

She loved her family like she lo…

Review: Baby Driver

Much as it takes a symphony in multiple movements to fully exercise an orchestra, Edgar Wright's Baby Driver fully exercises film as a systemic input to your brainstem. I left exhausted, happy, and eager to see it again. Act I, Take Me Away! Act 1 is Wright's original concept writ large: "Baby" is a getaway driver, and we see a contender for the best getaway scene in film set perfectly to a soundtrack. This is the overture, the who, what, and where. There's almost no dialog--just searing "wow....Wow....WOW!!!!!"

Then from that allegro, an adagio: A minutes-long scene shot as a SINGLE FOLLOWING SHOT with lyrics from a song visually embedded throughout.  Once my brain got it, it was this surreal joy, all from an unassuming kid going for coffee down a street.

Per IMDB, this shot took 28 takes to get, and it seems a miracle it took that few.

Act 1 closes with the divvying up of the money, the thieves going their separate ways, with John Hamm's greasy, …


I've just been having a rough time lately.

I'm like an overstuffed Tupperware and me trying to close the lid and put one foot in front of the other isn't working so well in the past few days.

This is me attempting to talk that out, to myself.

To begin: My sixteen-year-old stepson chose not to live with us, and the Kentucky judiciary has supported that decision.  Months of preparation and legal wrangling resulted to a seven minute conversation in chambers.  That was a month ago, June 8th, and the reality of it settles upon me a little more each day.  It's all just sadness and anger, and it comes out at inconvenient times for no apparent reason.

Sometime in August, I'll put the kid I swore to love on a plane and send him back to a bad situation because ultimately he chose that over being part of our family.  Maybe if I write that sentence a thousand times I'll understand it.

Everyone in my family has accepted the above reality, and I've had a year to get r…

The reality of the next car purchase

I haven't bought a car for myself since 2008, at which time I bought an eighteen year old car I never should have sold.

In the intervening ten years, I've had two cars, both welcome hand-me-downs from my wife:  The Camry-of-Doom and Sparky, my current 2010 Ford Fusion.
Having moved to Austin, paid-off my wife's Sienna minivan, and begun to sock-away some funds for a new ride, it seems time to consider what's next.
Idly checking, I noticed my Fusion's worth has nose-dived from around $9000 during the $4/gallon fuel days to roughly $2000.  There are other things: Some electrical gremlins are popping up.  The traction control system was inoperative for an entire day, then fixed itself.The tire pressure systems likewise seems to be dying.  Likely this is just dying batteries in the in-wheel sensors, but still.The Sync system seems more an more reluctant to work with my iPhone.  Every iPhone firmware update makes this worse, it seemsIt's not as safe as a newe…

Fathers: Never Give up. Never surrender.

I kid you not, this is like the Winston Churchill "never give up" speech for me.


No 'Bite' today

"You've lost the bite in the bit!" my dad yelled.


I was about nine and we were installing a swinging gate on our farm, drilling two holes in this gigantic post my father sunk into the ground in front of our tobacco barn.   I was excited to be helping him, since I was a general doughy screw-up (his pre-conversion past time was calling me 'Lardy').

Anyway, I'd been using the brace and bit apparatus because we were probably 100 yards from the nearest electrical outlet.  It was a neat hand tool: You basically put the drill bit where you wanted a hole, put your shoulder to the knob at the back, then turned it until you bored the hole desired....

...unless, that is, unless the drill bit lost its 'bite'.  The front of the bit had to be cutting fresh wood.  Mine was spinning uselessly.  There was little to do but withdraw the bit from the hole, clear out the debris, and begin again while pressing much harder.

* * *

All that to say: That'…

Dr Who Series 10: Bill Saves the Day?

So, after the dirge that was series nine--Clara's gone, yay!--we waited.

We waited since DECEMBER 25, 2015.  We noticed there'd be a new companion and she'd be "cool and different".  We heard Moffat was leaving.  We noted Capaldi was bowing-out.  None of these were good signs.

This sounded much like Poochie had come to the Whoniverse

Thus far, it would seem that's entirely wrong. 
Bill's a (slightly unintelligible) delight, and Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor is now....well....spry.  Wiping his memory clean of dour Clara seems like it made him whole again, like he's once again the madman in the box, with all of Time and Space.
Want to take a ride?  For the first time since Matt Smith's 11th hung-up his bowtie and fez, the answer seems to be: "YES!"
The first two episodes have been small, almost in the way that Series 1 and its zero-budget was small.  In "The Pilot," we're largely stuck on earth, learning who the doctor is wi…

Let Brad Code

I'll never forget M.

M was my mentor, and we didn't always get along.  I chose him as a mentor because we didn't get along.  I needed someone who had different perspectives than I did.

Anyway, one of our early meetings, I talked about people at work I admired.  I expressed that I admired a guy we'll call Brad.

Brad was a guy I'd worked with many times.  He was part of senior leadership, and he still found time to write code, on the evenings and weekends if necessary.  At the time, his architecture team was embroiled in doing the scut work of rolling-out "Agile Development" to a hardware-development organization.  (Another really long post for another day....)

....but M wasn't so happy about it.  M was a Principal Engineer (there's another name for it there, but let's just call it 'Principle') and he took a dim view of people that wrote code at that level.

"Do you really think Brad should be writing so much code?" he asked.


Software Development: Study Tactics and Logistics. Forget Strategy.

Herein, I shall commit heresy.

I'm going to suggest that "Software Strategy" is useless:  Enabling success involves the very large, and the very small, leaving "Strategy" in the useless middle.

Who am I to say this?  I've been in software for 18 years, and I've been in a leadership role for the last 8.  I've spent innumerable hours in "Strategy" meetings.  I've had just about enough of that and I'd like to suggest a better way.
What I'm Not Saying I'm not saying that "Business Strategy" is useless.  Knowing what your business is and (more importantly) what it is not is a key to success.
I'm not saying that perfecting your tactics and logistics will lead to success.  I said they "enable" success. That being said, I shall try to show that concerning just strategy without caring for tactics or logistics will lead to failure no matter how good the strategy. Definitions So, some working definitions: Tactic…


Here's a shot at some frequently asked questions:

'Harvid'?? My name seems hard for most humans to say.  One day, my academic team coach in college conflated the terms 'Harold' and 'Harvard' and what came out was 'Harvid'.  Thus a nickname was born.'miniharryc'? The year was 2003 and as a member of Blogger, I had early access to this newfangled webmail thing called GMail.  I needed to come-up with an email address, and I was tired of my perennial shortname 'hcombs' or 'hcombs0'.   At the time I drove a MINI (2003 R50 5-speed British Racing Green w/white top), so I prepended those 4 letters to the front of an easier way to say my name.  Thus, 'mini-harry-c'.How did you get into programming?  I was never a programmer in High School.  I've always been a computer geek since DOS 2.11 and an Tandy 1000 EX, but was never particularly into programming.  I took a 'CSC 111' class in the Spring of 1998.  I took the ne…

On Regaining and Retaining Your Perspective

Why is it so hard to keep perspective?
No, Ansel Adams, I'm not talking about the physical perspective you have on a landscape, but rather the dispassionate distance from a situation needed to keep you from punching the clerk at the Kwik-E-Mart when he screws up giving you change.
I certainly know what losing perspective looks like: You're afraid, alot.Your lower-brain puts you in fight-or-flight mode at any point.You increasingly focus on yourself to the exclusion of the greater good, morality, or simple humanity.You say things you don't mean.You do things you don't really mean, either. One thing I've noticed is folks in tech lose perspective faster than most.  I have some ideas on why that is.
First, our brains are bathed in dopamine for hours per day.  We're doing something we genuinely love, and like junkies, when we detox, we get the shakes.   We lose our rationality.   Anything that takes us away from creating siphons-away that sweet, sweet buzz and we sta…

No, I Don't Want to Play Games at Work

I'll never forget taking Tyler on a tour of our new offices in Building 001 at Lexmark HQ.

Back in the day, 001 had been a manufacturing line that made the iconic IBM Selectric Typewriter and the Model M buckling-spring mechanical keyboard.  People still like those things today.   Suffice it to say, it was a quarter-mile long building with a floor flat as a pancake, and roughly 35 yards wide.

For a good decade after I hired-on, most of that building sat empty, home to a disused loading dock and stacks of IBM standard issue desks and chairs.  In 2012, our control-freak CFO decided we needed to do some "space consolidation" so he spent millions of dollars outfitting that area as a massive cubicle farm and moved us from our private offices and labs into that farm.

We got one concession out of that, though: A Game Room.   My second line (she'd go on to be my direct boss, and she was a hell of a good one) pushed relentlessly for the sort of gaming room that would attract…

A Year Elapsed...Now What?

So, April 1st will mark a year since Lexmark paid me to find a new job.

To recap, I agreed for that year, I'd not besmirch the name of LXK, recruit anyone of my old colleagues, or attempt to work there again.  The last is really not an issue, but the former two are tougher.  I'd dearly love to reach out to folks and get them to work with me again.

That middle item is the reason I'm writing tonight.  As I write this, I've just done 170+ miles in our Sienna minivan, shuttling goods from our garage to a Life Storage facility up in Georgetown, Texas.  Our daughters have been accepted to a private academy up there, and the place seems much more like us than Austin proper.  We're house-hunting and trying to cache stuff up there for the inevitable move sometime in April, May, or June.

Anyway, that much time on the road gives one a chance to think, especially what the right thing to do is once my contractual gag-order expires.

On one hand, oh the stories I could tell!   St…

Trying Blogs Again

Let's get this out of the way: Social media killed the blog.  Before 2007, there was a cacophony of individual 'Blogs where people shouted their unvarnished opinions into the aether.  Some had quite a following, especially in tech.

The concept was strikingly simple:  Use a blog engine (like this one, Blogger) or bootstrap your own site on Wordpress and make your content accessible to anyone with an internet connection.  This was the internet at its purest:  Content and hyperlinks all "webbed" together, with idea building upon another free-flowing idea.

So where'd it go?

It went on Facebook.

Facebook and Twitter launched in 2005-2007, and one can map a direct decline the the number, length, and quality of blog articles since then.   People put their "quick shots" up on twitter, and a good number of blog entries were just that--motes of observation.

The interactivity on those sites was much better as well--one got immediate comment feedback, "@replie…

The "Puck" factor, or "nobody cares what you think"

I heard a sermon yesterday about "Authenticity."   The general theme was: "Isn't it exhausting wearing a mask all the time.  Stop caring about what people think and expect and just be yourself."

Wow, I wish it were just that simple.

First, we must deal with "The Puck Factor".  This guy:

Bascially "Puck" was a universally-reviled character from the MTV Reality show "Real World" in the 1990's.  To sum-up He was unapologetic in his self-centered asshattery.  Looking at Puck and saying, "Just be yourself," was like an exercise in an Ethics class.  Puck liked hurting other people.  That was genuinely him being him.
....which brings us to yesterday.
Yesterday was going just fine.  We went to church, got home, and I was outside setting things right from our rained-out camping trip, and my wife comes around and we start to talk.   All was still going well until we got to a topic of general disagreement between us.
I kept my m…

On Agile: Generalists vs Specialists

Let's imagine you're a Program/Product Manager, SDM, or Lead Engineer/Architect.  You're starting a program to develop tech thingie 'X'.  You've read all the books.  You've looked into Agile, from the brevity of the Agile Manifesto, to the what-are-you-selling nonsense that is the Scaled Agile Framework.

In all that, you come to the same decision that people have had since Amenhotep designed the first pyramid:  How do you organize yourself?  That is, how do you set-up your group of people to accomplish the task? Digression: On the Spotify Model At this point, many of you will yell: "Self organizing teams!!!!" like it's some sort of talisman, obviating any need of further thought.  "Smart people will organize themselves optimally."

Let's take this head-on: No, they won't.   To be precise: At scale, this does not work. For our purposes, "scale" is about 10-20 people or more.   They'll do their best, but results w…

Work for a Place Where You'd Happily Be the Janitor (Ownership)

Just now, I had a lovely conversation with a gentleman who'd come to Amazon in 2005.  He was working for another (very large) tech firm at the time and he saw that Amazon had the same revenue as CorpX but had 1/3rd the number of employees.

He made it through the interview process and they said, "Very glad to have you; now we just need to figure out what you're going to do."

"I'll happily be the Janitor.  I'm glad to be here."

* * *

That little anecdote brings to mind a principle: "Work somewhere that has a culture you believe in."  I believe in the culture here, as expressed in the published Leadership Principles.  Ownership is the next-to-top one (right behind "Customer Obsession"), and it ends with, "Never says, 'That's not my job'."

In other words, do what needs doing.  Nothing is beneath you.  You own part of this company; act like it.

And you know what?  It's really true.

Last year, they asked for v…

2016 A Year in Review

It's been quite a year.  The previous twelve years I've written this blog, I've been based out of Georgetown, Kentucky, and I worked at Lexmark.   I've added many things in that time: A wife, a step-son, two daughters, and 2 houses.  Through it all, I remained in Georgetown and worked at Lexmark.  As I write this, both have changed.

Set your wayback machine for Jan 1, 2016 and let's see how I got here.

January 1st saw us in Indianapolis, Indiana, with the whole crew visiting the Indianapolis Children's Museum.  The museum was great, but in the back of my mind I had a feeling of change coming.  Lexmark had put itself up for sale in October 2015, and things within were highly uncertain.  Whenever I visited a new city, I constantly asked myself: "Could I live here?"  With regards to Indy, I said, "Yes" and kept it in my mind.

When I returned to work in January, a pall hung over things.  Management was more flinty than usual, and we sound found …