The "Servers" circa 2006

Eight weeks ago, I resigned from the only non-University job I have had in 15 years.

Last week, I returned to the University, and the job I held for the 6 and a half years prior.

I’m not really sure I have a cogent set of thoughts and feelings about it. On one hand, I’m worried. The things about the culture and the environment that frustrated me before have not gone away. There’s nothing I can do to change them, and for a variety of reasons, outside of my director and maybe one or two others, there’s nothing I can do to even broach conversations about changing them – at any level. The same worry I had before that these things about the culture and the environment will threaten the future of the initiative as a whole (and in turn, my future) has not changed. In some ways, it might be worse – the nagging thoughts and feelings that I might have failed this time make me worry whether I’ll make it next time.

There’s a quote that the internet attributes in one form to Maya Angelou and another to Mary Engelbreit. “If you don’t like something, change it, if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”

So I will focus on the other hand. And on the other hand I’m thankful. Thankful to my director and the initiative’s director for the opportunity. Thankful to be in a place where I know I can contribute. Thankful for an environment that allows for research and contemplation, and (usually) the time to fail and succeed. Thankful for all the same flexibility and security and interesting work that made it a great job then, and a great job now. Thankful for an overall culture that at its core has a mission that I believe matters and can make a difference.

I’m thankful that the job has a new role, and to spend a portion of my time exploring the work we’ve done over the last six and half years to find things we didn’t know that were there.

I personally bought some books last week:


I don’t know yet where it’s headed, but I will looking at the data we’re generating, and building more skills in analysis, visualization, and the communication of that data, and while learning, teach what I’m learning along the way. It’s a little vague, and that’s because the problems are vague – it’s more about trying and doing and seeing what works and what doesn’t and building on that step by step.

So I’m looking forward to seeing where the next year takes me, looking forward to help with existing efforts wherever I can, to interacting and learning more with my colleagues around the country, to working to “commit code everyday”, to watching something really interesting emerge out of the data we have, while working with and learning MongoDB, Riak, R, SciRuby, Graphite, Statsd, D3, gnuplot, rubyvis/protovis and whatever else that I don’t yet know I need to know.

Capistrano Campout

I’ve become a huge fan of Campfire as a group communication tool over the last six months, in both teams that I was part of during that time, and I’ve seen how incredibly useful it can be as a hub to track automated pieces of information as well, like GitHub’s commit integration with campfire.

So if I have GitHub commits – what about capistrano deployments? I’ve had capistrano integrated with email in my own coding projects, but email is a bit limited – having a real-time posting to capistrano would be even better.

So, inspired by the already existing and excellent projects: capistrano-mountaintop and capfire. I’ve married and extended the ideas in both with capistrano-campout.

Campout will post/speak a configurable message to a campfire room as the capistrano deploy task starts – and utilizing the EngineYard eycap logger routine, will capture the capistrano logger output to a file, and parse it for success/failure – and will post a configurable message on post-deployment success or a different message on post-deployment failure, as well as following the capistrano-mountaintop model of pasting the log to the room as well.

You can also specify sounds to amaze annoy your co-workers.

Campout includes a generator to generate the configuration files for your project as well, and includes support for loading from a campout.yml and/or a campout.local.yml ( ala rails_config ) – so that you can have shared and/or personal settings, as well as a built-in mechanism for keeping the campfire token out of open repositories.

I’m not sure that campout fits anyone’s needs other than my own, but if you use capistrano and campfire – you may want to give it, or one of the other projects a try – having deployment notifications in campfire can be incredibly useful, especially paired with other events.

Betelgeuse, Betelgeuse, Betelguese


I’ve naturally been thinking a lot these last few weeks about my future. About the things that I want to learn. About the kinds of things that I want to do. About doing things that matter.

However, the perspective I’ve gained from all that thinking about the future is that I need to do a lot less of it.

I have spent most of my life, maybe all of my adult life thinking about the future. Thinking about “the next.” The “what I want to do when” kinds of things. Constantly thinking about what all of the possibilities of the outcomes from my own actions or those around me are going to be.

Even in the most pedestrian of things – like walks with my dogs, I’m still thinking of “next”. I’m not thinking about the walk, I’m not stopping to enjoy the weather or the trees or the things along the road. I’m thinking about that email that I’m going to send, or whatever thing I might do when the walk is done. As such there’s little joy and happiness in the moment, because I’m always thinking about what I’m going to do when the moment is over.

And it’s not like it’s all that productive or prepatory – I will spend time thinking about what I want to do or what I should be doing, or what the best thing to do next is, so much that sometimes I fail to do anything. I like to make fun of the bureaucratic tendency in organizations that “plan to plan” – but I’m not sure on a personal level that I’m all that different.

I do this so much so that I’ve forgotten, if I ever knew how to begin with, to live in the here and the now. It’s all thinking about doing without any regard to being.

I’m not sure how to fix that, other than paradoxically (for me) not trying to think about how to fix it.

My title comes from some of the yak shaving that accompanied this post, because something really interesting happened on that path.

In trying to find some kind of photo illustration that would hint at “capturing the moment” – I came across a night exposure I had made during December 2008 that’s at the top of this post.

There’s something interesting about trying any kind of photographic exposure of stars. Even the 15 second exposure for this image is enough time for the earth to turn just enough that it will give you just the hint of a star trail (pretty evident in the large size view ). I know it’s 15 seconds because of the EXIF data uploaded to Smugmug with the photo.

I started looking at the stars, and wondered what the reddish one was in the image – I had known before, but didn’t remember any of my stars. I was pretty sure I was looking at Orion. So I ran Stellarium – set my coordinates from google earth, set the date and time to the time the photo was taken – and I could browse exactly what that star was:


I could look it up and figure out why it was red, and even search to see why I was taking pictures that night (it was the night of an “almost supermoon” ).

And maybe all of this is a bit of the reminder that I need. And that’s to remember that we live in incredibly amazing times. The technology we have enables things that were next to impossible to learn and explore so easily just 10 years ago. And it’s only going to get better and better. There are real problems to solve, and part of thinking about the future that’s good to do is figuring out what I can help do to solve them.

But I need to get there by learning, doing, and most importantly being – one moment at a time.