Signs That Might Be Omens

The last time I posted here, I was 42 days away from attending the O’Reilly  Open Source Conference.

It turns out, that as I found myself moved to post here again, that I began writing this last Monday, which was 42 days since the start of OSCON.

Life has such an interesting symmetry to it.

It was also the day that I submitted my resignation to NC State University, where I’ve been, with two short interruptions, for 27 years as a student and a staff member.


As far as a review of OSCON itself, it deserves a longer review than I’m prepared to give it – and I’m not sure that quite does it justice, pro or con.

All of the break out sessions that I attended were pretty good. The tutorials were incredibly well put together, if blindingly fast. Mostly I got exposed to things that I need to go back later and dig into.

And I learned that whether or not containers are the future for all production services, they are absolutely the present and future of setting up environments for training sessions and labs and demonstrations.

The keynotes didn’t inspire me. Some of the people giving them certainly did.  Particularly Nikky Mill, Jerome Hardaway, and Suz Hinton

The vendor keynotes were the same old drivel they’ve always been.

But something kind of remarkable happened outside of the keynotes, sessions and events.


The grant that funds my work at NC State is now beginning its eighth and final year.  While it may (likely) return in the Agriculture Bill for a new round, and a competitive application, as I mentioned in the last post the non-profit organization that that oversees our application has changed focus.  Less in-depth technology work in support of Extension programs nationwide, and more process improvement and professional development in design thinking.

So I’ve been working on ramping down the technological projects I built or helped build over the years, and keeping a very selective eye out for what might be next.

There’s a huge number of factors that find their way into my job decisions now.  The same things that have always been there: the technology is important; the culture is important, the meaning of the work is incredibly important; the feeling that my work is valued and that I can make a contribution and help others learn and grow and in the process learn and grow myself is non-negotiable.

But there are other intangibles: I’ve been full remote for over 10 years.  I work really well, if a little too long, remotely. How important is remote to me? Could my ~5Mbps DSL only-low-latency-service-I-get internet service even support remote work? It does now because I designed my infrastructure to allow it to be easily managed over reliable, low-latency, but low bit-rate connections, but what about one I didn’t design?

And retirement. My retirement is a pension plan that now returns a significant amount per year at retirement for every year I stay in the plan. I can’t transfer it outside of state institutions. I can’t get the state’s contributions and roll those over elsewhere. I certainly can freeze what I have now and start new, but to come close to the yearly increase in value, any new plan has to involve a significant contribution amount. Any 401K match or even an unheard of full-employer contribution isn’t going to do it.

And there’s a very large pool, employer-paid premium health care. I thankfully am healthy enough that I don’t need it right now. But when I have needed it, just for minor things, it alleviates a significant amount of stress and worry. (Do not get me started on the abysmal state of healthcare portability and expense).

Any opportunity needs to be the right one. The right culture, technologies that I believe in and enjoy (there’s a lot of those). The work really has to mean something. I want my work to help others and to have value and to continue to learn. The work needs to be flexible, if not remote. And then there’s that retirement and healthcare thing.

I’m really incredibly thankful to be in the field I’m in. There’s a shortage of employees and there’s a lot of work available. Most of it is still not the right opportunity, but that leaves a lot that is.


But as that job board at OSCON filled up over the days I realized something, that I’ve known for a long time, I’ve even stated it to myself and others, but it came back stronger than it ever had.

I want to do leading-edge technology work in a top-tier Public University environment.

I still want the same exact thing I wrote last time I tried to make a job change. That is, to Do, Learn – but within higher education computing.

Higher education computing is so fascinating, and it varies tremendously by division and department, academic vs. administrative vs. research.  It varies dramatically in scale and scope.  No other environment that I’ve ever had external exposure to comes anywhere near the generalization and the opportunity (if not the requirement) for individuals and small teams to do so many different things (and still need to master a few). I think it’s fashionable these days to call this “T-shaped skills” – only it’s not only collaborative breadth, it’s functional breadth.

I would have never had the opportunity to do as many things as I’ve done, from computing support to development to networking to hardware to servers to being a business analyst applying my work to multiple knowledge domains, anywhere else.

And in its promise, if not always the practice, I believe fundamentally in the teaching, research and outreach mission of the University.

There are a lot of problems in higher education (I’d be happy to enumerate all of them) and higher education computing, but the ability to make an impact with technology, both quickly, and more importantly, layered over months and years and decades, is really unmatched. The rapid pace of technology and academic (undergraduate) turnover is balanced by a long lived and deliberate culture.  Affecting change can be long, slow, and hard, but time also allows for pretty amazing systems to emerge bit-by-bit and brick-by-brick.

Higher education computing (not just research) shaped what would become the web on top of its internet, it gave us the distributed filesystem. It produced the fundamental authentication technologies and concepts that underpin every platform. It honed Linux.  There are thousands more technologies, large and small that emerged from higher education computing.

Most of all, despite itself perhaps (it might not again today), it gave us open source, and open source completely changed the world of computing.

I want to be a part of that. That still exists in pockets in higher education computing at every institution, a provision of time and the space and the problems that interest me most. The University is still the best place – or at least my best place –  to have the chance to do and to learn.

My realization at OSCON was that at next conference I had the opportunity to go to, I wanted my badge  to read University of ____ or ____ University below my name, and not a technology company or a retailer or a medical institution, or any of a thousand other great places.


On August 1, 2018 I had an interview for the first time in four years.

I’ve been doing some form of what I do now professionally for 26 years, I’ve dealt with tens of thousands of computing problems and situations, I’ve given presentations, great, meh, and downright bombed awful. I’ve been on the stage with the Governor.

And I still get nervous as hell talking about it.

This was a University job. And from every bit of University web searching, and technology searching, and blog posts and twitters, it was a job that I felt like I could be a good fit for, and that I would enjoy.  It was a pay cut and a commute. But it was interesting and meaningful work, and a peaceful commute (maybe even actual public transportation!), and if you are going to be on site for any job, as walkable and pretty an environment as you can find.

It’s also the type of technology work that I will never ever be able to explain to my parents, which is usually the best technology level I enjoy the most (sorry y’all! I’ll fix those browser popups soon!)

I drove around for a bit, because I’m a sysadmin and I get to the things with plenty of time to spare, because anything can go wrong.  Then I started worrying about a speeding ticket. Because I’m a sysadmin and anything can go wrong.

I really enjoyed the interview. I was clearly nervous, I couldn’t remember what Ansible galaxy roles I had used. I couldn’t remember what all changed between Apache 2.2 on Ubuntu 14.04 and Apache 2.4 on Ubuntu 16.04. I’m sure I couldn’t remember a bunch of things I now don’t remember I couldn’t remember.

But I was me, fully me.  Rambly, knowledgeable, and completely honest about what I did and didn’t know, fully hopeful and realistic both at what University computing is about.

And more, the people I had the opportunity to meet seemed to be completely okay with me being me. And that was pretty awesome.

I asked a few questions to understand the team dynamics as best you can in that setting. That team, and the culture that’s been built there seems pretty fantastic. The team values their work, and they most certainly value each other, and they are most definitely making an impact.

I don’t know if it’s one of those “don’t look too eager” faux paus to say, and I said as much. But you know, to hell with conventional wisdom. When you know something is right, you say it.  We got to the end of the time:

“I really want to work with all of you, and I hope I have that opportunity”


On August 23rd (Universities take forever to process hires, and this time not one, but two were involved). I found out officially that I’d get that opportunity. I accepted on the spot.

I’m going to be working on who knows what all, but to start, it’s going to be a lot of OpenShift. I’m joining the UNC Middleware team within their central IT group as a Senior Solutions Engineer – which is by far my favorite official title that I’ve ever had.

Beginning September 24th, my badge at any future conference that I have the chance to attend, or speak at, or support, for as long as they might have me is going to read:

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

And I couldn’t be more excited.

42 Days To Go

Three years ago the non-profit organization that also manages the USDA grant that funds my position at NC State University hired a new director. And as is often the case with new leadership, and honestly needed to happen in this case, the organization developed a new focus and set of priorities in guiding and coaching individuals and teams to take projects from concept to implementation – an interesting combination of design thinking and a strategy that Adobe uses called “Kickbox“.

My part of the project that focused on custom developing and hosting innovative technologies is no longer a core priority, though also as is often the case in grants and Higher Education, and to my employment benefit, the work that was part of the ongoing grant still remained, and a portion of my work now is to help transition that to off-the-shelf alternatives or to find a soft landing for the custom platforms.

With that new focus came new needs and new costs, enough that travel funding (which is not part of the grant) needed to be curtailed. The unfortunate part of that, however, is that effectively ended any travel for employee professional development, particularly professional development that supported earlier development efforts.

This past week, though, I realized just how much I’ve missed that PD opportunity these last few years. It started when I was reminded of how incredibly awesome the [now defunct] O’Reilly Solid conference was – where in 2014 I had the opportunity to touch the Boston Dynamics “Big Dog” (and more importantly explore a whole bunch of IoT and sensors and open hardware topics).

That all came to a head this past weekend, where after reading again just how incredibly inspiring it was to attend the O’Reilly Open Source Conference in 2011

I joked to my partner that if I won the NC Lottery over the weekend that “I’m going to OSCON!”

And she replied “why don’t you just go?”

And I sputtered a bit, and did the “but… but… BUT…” thing not unlike a Westworld android that has gone off its loop.

And then it dawned on me (it took a few hours and some Jameson’s) – “why don’t I?”

I’ve got a bunch of free airline points from some credit cards… I’ve got a little savings for the conference cost… And an AirBNB is a lot cheaper than a conference hotel… The NC legislature is giving University employees a bonus week of leave… There are few better places to be than Portland in July.

Why don’t I?  What was the lesson from 2011?  Doing something changes how we see it.

So 42  (42!) days from now, for the first time in three years, I’m going beyond the online PD I got used to doing again, and I’m investing in myself.

I’m going to OSCON!

Summer Solstice

Truman keeping watch on the river, Summer Solstice 2017

It’s been a while – over 3 years – since I last officially rambled on at “rambleon.org” and after some machination that deserve its own post, the summer solstice finds me posting here again, with old posts – and even posts at what was my “home” site at littleriverview.org mixed in.

I can’t guarantee that time won’t find me again posting again six months from now, at the next winter solstice. But it seems time again to return a bit to all the things that made rambleon, well, rambly, nerdy, funny, and maybe even sometimes poignant

In the meantime, there’s lot of history here, and a whole lot of broken links, and weird formatting that has creeped in my wordpress-to-octopress-to-jekyll-to-wordpress transition, so consider it to be web wabi-sabi and take with that the joy therein.

Winter Solstice

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The last rays of light of the Solstice Sun just a few hundred yards down the road from the LittleRiverView.

And we spin, another day, another dawn,
another year, another song.
Into winter we surrender,
Deep into it’s splendor.
In mirth we warm our bones, we dream these seeds we’ll sow.

– Elephant Revival, “Season Song

The last time I wrote words in this space, I wrote of a young lady that I encountered on a flight to Indianapolis, and the wish I ended the set of words with then was as much for me as it was for her, that our sense of wonder would not abate whatever the reality was to come.

That reality for me was release and pain, deeply intertwined: the official separation of a nine-year marriage, and the subsequent divorce. The separation and loss for both of pets that stayed with the other. Hard thoughts, hard feelings, hard grace, hard love.

It is an emptiness that hasn’t gone away.  I’m not sure it will ever quite go away.

And I’m not sure it should.

But in release, a reminder that life, that like the Universe, presents infinite opportunities to  dream, and to learn, to grow, and hopefully to be. A life that continually expands and reminds that there are thoughts/feelings/grace/love that have/do/will expand my capacity to fill in new spaces around that emptiness.

And this past year has been filled those expanded spaces.

With music.

With observation.

With exploration.

With energy.

With love.

With, to borrow from Kipling, both Triumph and Disaster, and I am learning, slowly, daily, to treat those two imposters just the same.

Life, reality, dreams, all that it has to hold, has shown itself to be an incredibly beautiful and amazing thing, and I wouldn’t trade one moment of the last year, or the nine years prior, or the last forty-three years of my time on this earth for anything.  Not one moment of the pain. For that provides the contrast to better see the joy that the last year held and all the years before.

Today is the Winter Solstice. A pause in the Sun’s declination as it appears to return again to focus on the Earth’s Northern Hemisphere, a key moment in the seasons on this Earth. And maybe that pause in the Sun’s declination provides the opportunity to both reflect and the opportunity to return to this space after this time of quiet.

I’ve seen a lot of musical groups this year. More, I think, then in all the years prior.  The words at the beginning of the this post are from a band that I had the chance to share this year with a dear friend that has been and is a deeply integral connection with this year’s music, observation, exploration, energy, and especially love.

No more appropriate words could mark the dual ending/beginning that this Solstice represents.

Here’s to warmth and mirth, but especially new seeds, new words, new wonder found each day and each dawn as the Earth turns and tilts the LittleRiverView back towards the Sun.

 

Head in the clouds

  

The first time I ever was in a plane, I was 11 years old. RDU to LGA in a day to watch a baseball game.And now, 30 years later, I’ve maybe averaged a flight a year, enough that the process is a little rote.

But not the view.

I never get tired of the view.

I always sit by the window when I can, and always end up with a neck cramp by the end of the flight, watching the clouds, the rivers, the mountains, the earth from 35,000 feet slip by slowly enough from that perspective, that time seems to slow down, punctuated only by crossing planes at different altitudes, letting me know how fast things really are.

Actually according the laws of space-time, time does slow, however infinitesimally.

It’s meditative. Work is next to impossible with no network and a tilted seat in the way. The social networks are gone, the feed readers are gone, the news I really have no interest in but click on anyway, it all fades away. 

I have my thoughts, the hum of the engines, and the quiet murmurings of 130+ souls on board with me.

But there’s only a few that I see staring at the sky and the earth below. They each have their own thoughts, their own lives, their own meditations, but my soul aches a little that they don’t look to see what they only can see from here.

But today, there was her.  A young  girl, unaccompanied for this trip, maybe 8 years old, maybe her first time on a plane, maybe not. She looked back once, eyes narrowed at the strange 41 year old white guy behind her with his bitchy resting face. I smiled shyly. And she did too.

The rest of the flight I stared out the window, phone camera in hand, occassionally looking forward to see her lifting her ipad camera, capturing the rolling ridges of West Virginia or just starting, marvelling at miles of Western Ohio farmland.

That young lady has so many years ahead of her, so many new experiences to come. So much life.

Joy, and laughter, and I’m sure heartbreak and sadness, and everything in between.

But whatever life brings, whatever she chooses to be and to do – whatever dreams and reality may come. I hope that she spends all future flights staring out the windows, at the earth below, and her head in the clouds.

  

On trees and life.

While I love walking down to the river here, and watching the water endlessly flow, and love watching the wildflowers crane their necks around as the day passes to present themselves full on to the passing sun, I remain most enamored by the trees.

Each and every tree here has its own personality, its own story that you can see etched into the bark, the limbs, the leaves, from the Tulip Poplars and American Sycamores, and oaks that tower almost 100 feet, to their progeny just making their way up into the understory.

Some days I want to catalog and name each one. Thankfully most days I’m just content to look.

There’s one though that catches my eye every single time I walk through through its area of the woods, maybe even more these days.

It is an American Beech, a tree twisted, turned, wrapped in age-old poison ivy vine, covered in algae and lichen, rotting at the bottom:

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That tree is beautiful.

That tree is a direct contrast to a message we’ve allowed to infect our thoughts, and our actions, and the way we go about living this short life we have – that somehow life is fragile.

Life, real life, is too short, and it is tough, it is triumph and tragedy both, but it is decidedly not fragile.

I am not downplaying tragedy, and the heartbreak of loved ones and idols and heroes whose life has ended before we wanted it to.

Whether the incredible forces in an earthquake, hurricanes, tornados, or the ravage of cellular processes gone completely awry in the case of cancer, to the debilitating self-punishing illness of depression, to the incredible forces involved in accidents, war, and weapons.  To even our own prisons we build out of pain and fear. Those things that bring an end or a pause  to each of our lives are the most powerful things nature – and we ourselves – can throw at us.  

Because the lesson of that tree is that life, real life, adapts, twists, turns, fights, it demands to be lived.

Because out of that twisted, broken, American Beech comes one of the most beautiful canopies in all of the woods:

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American Beech trees can live over 300 years.  I’m not sure how long this one will be here, its life, like ours, has no guarantee.

But that tree is a reminder that life is beautiful, and powerful, and is an amazingly adaptive journey.

That tree reminds me that Life is not tenuous. It is tenacious.  And our lives, lived, should be the same.

Happy Holidays!

While this is the iconic image of Christmas morning here beside the Little River:

This succession of (blurry, sorry, wrong shutter speed) images is perhaps iconic of 2014:

Sometimes in life, your goose just gets loose.

Though, this is equally as iconic of the craziness and the joy of 2014:

Here’s to holding on to our goose in 2015!