In Which We Acquire Rackspace

The word is out, Anso Labs has a new brother-in-arms.

In all reality not a lot has changed, we do exactly what we were doing before (solving the open source cloud) but now we have more computers and a wealth of new teammates with lots of experience.

Rackspace itself is a nice company to work at. They have a very family-like atmosphere, surely attributable to their fine Texan upbringings, and they’ve put an immense amount of resources at our collective fingertips without trying to control us in any way. They also gave us cowboy hats, so we’re pretty much best friends now.

Anso Labs

I have a job. Technically I have it since pretty much the day I left Google but up until recently I had been a part-time contractor to leave my options open for contracts while I traveled around the world, but I am now a full-time employee of Anso Labs working on OpenStack and many things about that are marvelous.

My office is a house that is on the other side of the block from my house — they actually touch at the back corners — and it has a tea making robot and a Tesla.

My team is smart, small and features two people I worked with at Flock back in my early days of startupery.

My project is interesting and important and is getting lots of good attention from the right people. NASA is our client so we get cool badges and I’m pretty sure I’m on the shortlist for the space ark (see you later, meatsacks).

I get to work on something I like, that other people like, with people I like, in a language I love. Oh, and I get paid. Hoo-rah.

Thirty-Four Dollars

And some small change is my current available monetary collection. Brushing quickly aside the relative value of that in other parts of the world and all the many people for whom this is a weekly occurrence, it isn’t a hell of a lot of money but it needs to last me the next few days. Actually it needs to last two people the next few days.

But, let’s start at the beginning.

Act 1

I am born on what is likely a hot, bright day (though the sun hasn’t come up at 2:30am) on July 31st, 1984 in San Jose, California, into what is not a privileged family but certainly an overall happy one and with enough members to support each other. Fast-forward a little under 18 years.

I am, not quite freshly as I hadn’t attended for about a year, out of high school but I graduate nonetheless and end up with a job as a web developer that plays well to my computery history and gives me a good platform for learning this whole web thing. In addition to that I am working occasional jobs in catering and in directing cars to their likely parking spots at the local big concert venue. I am also living in a house with another young programmer and going to school full-time at a local community college. Monthly amount of money left over for food after paying rent, utilities, phone bill and gas was in the range of $200: we ate a lot of pasta.

A year or so later I discover that the company I work for is spamming people, I am bored with all the programming classes available at my school and I somewhat randomly end up at a conference where I get offered a great job in Vancouver, Canada. I take the job but am dead broke for the first couple weeks. Coworkers are wonderful and support me during those couple weeks and one says to me, “Don’t worry mate, this is the last time you are ever going to be broke.”

-Punchline enters stage left-

Little did this friend know how horrible I am with money.

Act 2

I have made a good amount of money in my life and I have spent nearly every penny of it. Not counting a couple things like the deposit on my house and money that is in a 401(k) I have just a bit over 3,400 pennies left. That doesn’t concern me too much in the long run, I like to tell people I’m investing in myself, or indirectly in the internet because I’m fairly sure that as long as it is popular I’ll have a job, but it does provide a plethora of day to day concerns for the usually short (but unnervingly often) periods of time where I have over-planned my budget.

Things also change significantly when you have somebody else whom you are for many practical purposes responsible for. Knowing that I can happily live on rice alone (I’ve upgraded from pasta) does not mean I want to force that upon somebody else, and poor planning can put me in a position where I have very little alternative. Caring for somebody else’s well-being is a wholly different beast from caring only for your own.

Act 3

Whether I actually change my habits based on these most recent monetary outages is yet to be seen, I obviously haven’t ever done much about it before (except attempt to get larger amounts of money at a time) but I do somewhat feel like maybe I am getting too old for this. Scraping by is all fine and good for a 25-year-old but at 26? I should learn some sense.

Full-time employment (more on that later) will shortly solve the current situation but while I sit at home for the last couple evenings of this two month deficit I can’t help but think of all the things I could do to run into this issue less often.

I should probably double my rate.

Mornings with the Chromebook (Google Cr-48)

A couple days ago I received a great surprise in the mail, Google’s prototype Chrome netbook. Lots of people have already written a bunch about it elsewhere, so I’ll just cover the things that were important to me.

It fits perfectly into my daily flow as the device for all the stuff that isn’t being “at work” or gaming. I usually work from home so the distinction between work and not-work tends to be whether I am sitting at my desk, so many of the other tasks or activities tend to take place on random surfaces and largely while lounging on a couch.

In the past I’ve owned a Macbook Air that fit the same niche for not work or play, but the “cbook” has a couple benefits that are simply based on having a rounded rubberized surface: there are no hard metal edges to dig into my hands or stomach (if lounging on a couch).

It is certainly lower powered than my other laptop, the top of the line 15inch Macbook, I don’t intend to use it for coding in any way as I have quite a dedicated coding environment on my other systems, but it browses the web with ease letting me watch videos, update bugs, review changes, and ssh into my server for IRC and the like (though I’d love a more powerful terminal).

There are a ton of bugs and they are well-discussed but if I know anything about the extremely excellent Chrome team it is that they are amazingly productive, and since all the things I have had issues with are already tracked in the issue tracker and assigned for fixing I am confident that the changes will be rapid and thorough.

Chrome team: Great work guys, and thanks for giving me a chance to try it out.

p.s. The free 100mb wireless account is a really nice bonus, too.

Scifi Reading List

Reading list! I was hoping somebody would ask 😀

Iain M Banks was in there heavily, however I held off on the Culture novels for a bit because the two novels that were next aren’t available on Kindle, but they aren’t really dependent on each other in any way except for Look to Windward being loosely related to Consider Phlebas and I had already read Consider Phlebas and Look to Windward was available… so now I am going through the rest now. I also read the remaining non culture novels that I hadn’t read, and Transition was pretty awesome. ANYWAY.

Read the Ken Macleod books in the Star Faction series (already had Star Faction itself years earlier), and they were amazing, I love that guy’s poli-philoso-scifi, fucking awesome. Also read his Engines of Light series, they were okay, interesting stuff but not nearly as interesting to me as the Star Faction set.

Went though the Hugo and Nebula award winners (just novel and novella) for this year and last, of which I’d recommend “The City and The City.” Boneshaker was pleasant for steampunk, I’d maybe read some more from that author but not right away. From many many awards ago I also recommend Shade’s Children, amazing.

Went through a bunch of random other scifi, some Neal Asher, if you’ve read any of his books you know what to expect but “The Line of Polity” was better than most (check out “Cowl” for a great time travel concept, though), sort of on the level of a reasonably interesting television show but nothing that moves you; worthwhile padding material.

Some more Alistair Reynolds, I’ve already read most of his stuff but I read “The Prefect” and “House of Suns,” of which I would recommend House of Suns for anybdoy who is a fan of Greg Egan, it has a ridiculously epic story. Saturn’s Children from Charles Stross was the only scifi from him I had left (everything else he wrote is great also) and was a pleasant little raunchy romp and I recommend it to anybody.

In newer stuff I recommend “Julian Comstock: … “, a great one off. I also have found the “WWW” series entertaining so far, light reading and short but got me through plenty of uncomfortably warm nights in Paris. The new William Gibson just to keep up (I’ve read the rest).

On the older end I read the whole Red, Blue and Green Mars series, totally awesome. There are a variety of things one can fault in the novels however they really gave me chills thanks to their very immersive nature. Also the second half of the Dune double trilogy, the first novel of which at least is mind blowingly amazing (reading the first three is required).

Outside of Scifi, “Fermat’s Last Theorem” was great and it was interesting reading “Botchan” while living in Japan.

Seven Months of Travel

I fly home tomorrow, it will be my first time back in the U.S. since April 29th. The trip was mostly living for two months at a time in London, Berlin and Tokyo, between each we spent two weeks in Paris and in Bangkok / Koh Samui, and there were a variety of smaller trips amongst the larger stays.

I visited 10 countries (The Netherlands, England, Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Thailand, Singapore and Japan) and will have gone all the way around the world, woo hoo! This trip was my first to Asia but certainly not my last.

Along the way I was kept sane by my trusty Kindle. Whether sitting on an island beach in Thailand, in a sweltering room in Paris, by myself at a ramen place for lunch or on one of many, many trains and planes I was able to read contently. At rough estimate I went through about 29 books on the trip, most of reasonable length and most were scifi.

Next stop, home, San Francisco. I’ve missed you.

Oh and if you are around, come eat a burrito with me.

P.S. I feel like I should be doing something to protest the TSA, I personally have no issues with being groped or seen nude but the whole thing seems to have gotten to a level that I feel should be fought against.

I Love e-Sports

I have a confession to make: I enjoy watching Starcraft 2 commentated matches. There are plenty of voices and personalities that I don’t care to sit through but there are a few great ones. My current favorites are the two guys on GOMtv, Artosis and Tasteless.

There is something very authentic about the commentary and hype surrounding the matches, much more so than watching any “real” sport. More popular games, such as baseball or football, often rely on stats and artificial tension to give the impression of knowledge and predictability where in reality the results from moment to moment are mostly random.

In Starcraft 2 the commentary past the first speculative minute is rooted deeply in actual strategic knowledge and experience. The units and relationships between them are static, results of given strategies are actually predictable up to a certain level with much of the tension coming from the actual skill of the players in maximizing the potential of their strategy.

The candor of the commentators is also thoroughly heartwarming as a geek. They are talking very seriously about a video game but they don’t take themselves seriously, they definitely know their audience and make jokes that only a geek could love… and geeks love those kinds of jokes the most, myself included. And they are having fun doing it all and that is contagious.

Starcraft 2 has a rich “metagame,” something similar to evaluating the playbooks of historic games, and that leads to an extensive taxonomy of tactics and fake-outs based on preconceptions, mind games. The game is relatively new so the tactics people use change rather rapidly as new ideas are tried, and the actual rules of the game are even evolving along with them: there is always something new to see.

If you play the game check out some videos, you’ll be a better player and you’ll probably enjoy the commentary.

A couple links if you are interested in checking videos out:

I think both of those videos should be available without a subscription.

An Intro to Metal

A friend recently emailed interested in getting some recommendations for getting into metal, so I wrote up a little guide for him which I will duplicate here.

The main goal is to introduce somebody with little experience to modern metal, as opposed to something that would commonly be referred to as “heavy metal” in days of yore. Modern here doesn’t necessarily mean recent, I just want to establish that I am not talking about Slayer.

children of bodom

Glossary

So there are a few sort of subgenres in here, I’ll just try to describe the band as I feel them, but some glossary bits of ideas I use.

blast beat
effectively a beat that is fast enough that it is an affronting sound on its own, a little less about rhythm than about being forceful.
melodic
to me this means groovy, predictable traditional pop structure.
black
ostentatiously dark, often also means orchestrated / symphonic, usually with a spritual overtone.
sludge
usually very slow, long, heavy songs with long build ups and payoffs, designed with a metal mentality.
technical
very sharp, clear beats and guitars, usually very fast and clean.
cookie monster
that deep growly type of singing… you get used to it.
epic vocals
I tend to hate these as they make me think of somebody trying to emulate some stereotypical idea of a “rock star.”
mathy
usually this means complex time signatures and “angular” guitar, which in my mind means eclectic and complex progressions.

Classics

In the sort of “classic” style metal, the kind of big names that have songs that are about wild, fast guitars and drums, dudes who eat razorblades for breakfast and like it. These are probably not the ones you are interested in if you don’t already like metal but they serve as the background against which to compare many others.

Children of Bodom

  • Finland
  • Sort of genre-defining for “extreme metal,” smack in the middle of the spectrum.
  • Song: In Your Face, sort of the status quo sound.
  • Song: Warheart, an older song of theirs, one of my favorites.
  • I’m a big fan of the whole Hatebreeder album, personally.
  • Similar:

At the Gates

  • Sweden
  • More on the “melodic” side, these guys are kind of like a more pop structured version of Children of Bodom.
  • Song: Slaughter of the Soul, sort of their perennial song in my opinion.
  • Similar:

Dimmur Borgir

  • Norway
  • Sort of a flagship for the “black” and “death” side of the spectrum.
  • Song: Progenis of the Great Apocalypse … the video will make you hate the song even if you like the music, so you may not want to watch.
  • Similar:

Alright, now that we’ve got the classic scales somewhat defined, I’m not going to go into any music that falls neatly in those categories, but if you really like it 50+% of any random metal album you get will be similar to one of the above.

Sludge, Stoner, Progressive, Technical

Let’s move on to some of the further edges of things that you’ll still find in the metal section of the record store, these are some of my favorite bands (roughly in order from slowest to fastest).

Corrupted

  • Japan
  • These are on the extreme “sludge” end of the spectrum, very atmospheric.
  • Song: …at 924 gillman
  • Well, you may not actually find these guys in the record store since their albums are rare… which is kind of their thing.
  • Similar:

Sleep

  • San Jose, California! Hometown heroes <3
  • These guys are referred to as “stoner doom,” falls similarly to “sludge” although their songs are more “upbeat” (hah!) than Corrupted’s.
  • Song: Dopesmoker, it is a really long song, so this is only the first 7th, worth downloading a real version and listening to all of on a long enough trip, it’s great.
  • Significant slowdown in working on this list as I didn’t want to stop listening so that I could preview other song links :p
  • Similar:
    • Om, they’re actually mostly the members of Sleep.

The Atlas Moth

  • Illinois
  • Sort of halfway between “sludge,” “stoner” and “progressive”, some dueling screaming vocals thrown in, with a good taste for effects and builds.
  • Song: A Night in Venus Arms… , a slowly building flavorfest.
  • Song: A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky
  • Similar:
    • Battle of Mice, maybe? They are sort of halfway between The Atlas Moth and Slint, which is a good thing, too.
    • Neurosis

Gojira

  • France
  • More “progressive,” slower and more apparent overall rhythmic patterns, a nice medium between cookie monster and epic vocals.
  • Song: Vacuity
  • Trivia: their songs are largely about nature / mythic nature imagery.
  • Similar:

The Faceless

  • California
  • A very “technical” band, to the point you start to imagine that the band must lose conciousness while playing and let some sub-conscious rhythmic twitching instinct take control of their appendages.
  • Song: Pestilence they have epic vocals in here that I don’t really like, but otherwise excellent.
  • Song: Leica, starts off very similar to the Children of Bodom style, but then moves into its own:
  • Similar:

Honorable Mentions

Other bands that do a really great job and fall into a mix of categories.

Between the Buried and Me

  • North Carolina
  • If there is a current mainstream metal sound that is still authentically on the metal side of “metalcore”, these are them, thrashy, moshpit metal that can hold a fan base with an unusually high ratio of teenage girls (the singer is cute and has good “epic vocals” when he wants to).
  • Song: Mordecai, gets much more catchy halfway through
  • Trivia: their fans yell “bee-tee-bam” at their shows.
  • Similar:

Demilich

  • Finland
  • Well executed death metal with vocals that sound like the mic is in the guys stomach.
  • Song: The Echo
  • Similar: there are a million bands that sound just like them, but I like Demilich the best 🙂

A Wider Net

Here a few bands I love that I feel have a thick metal streak but probably wouldn’t be classified as metal.

The Notwist

  • German
  • Yes, really.
  • If you get any albums after Nook you quickly progress away from a metal sound into an also very awesome set of music, jazzy moving through indie rock and electronica, but if you see see their live show it is an amazing electronica+metal take on all of their catalog, usually to the surprise of those who only know them from the more popular extremely mellow other albums.
  • Song: Belle De L’ombre / Walk On’, the first song off Nook, establishes the tone of the album
  • Song: This Room live, more glitch or experimental than metal, but a good sample of their live show.
  • They are on a Bay Area label (anticon) so they play shows from time to time with a variety of hip hop / electronica acts, highly recommended.

Capsule

  • Florida
  • Not to be confused with the japanese group.
  • They are more on the hardcore side of the fence but they verge on mathy metal in many songs.
  • Song: Cobalt connection, off the album Blue, this song epitomizes their sound for me.

Pelican

  • Illinois
  • Instrumental, ranging from things that sound like post-rock to straight on progressive metal.
  • Song: Dead Between the Walls good sample of their sound.

Boris

  • Japan
  • Kind of crazy, they do a lot of experimental stuff, but they have a bunch of good doom metal mixed in.
  • Song: Heavy Friends
  • Long Hair and Tights is a decent split of theirs for the metal mood.

Appendix A: Choosing a Random Album

Metal albums have some of the most satisfyingly indulgent cover art around, it is very entertaining to browse through them at a record store. While very generalized there are some rules of thumb for guessing what kind of music you are getting into as in most cases it is unlikely you will be able to read the artist name or even the album name off the cover.

  • Does it have a skull on it? Probably death metal.
  • Is there a vampire or a corpse being eaten? Satanic imagery? Probably black metal.
  • Are you having difficult figuring what the name is even though it is written on the cover? High chance of death.
  • Is there a picture of a viking, a sword or a shield? Viking / battle metal.
  • Is there a dark, full cover photo of a forest / still life? Doom and sludge.
  • Is the cover just some texture? Instrumental doom and sludge.
  • Organic, psychadelic or anything that looks old? Probably Stoner.
  • Digital anything? Drone or technical.
  • Lots and lots of stuff without triggering any of the others so far? Fast, grinding metal.
  • Everything else: probably death metal, but if you’re lucky it will be experimental technical.

Conclusion

Obviously by no means an exhaustive list, there are a ridiculous number of metal bands out there. Metal is has a heavy following in vinyl and going through the metal section at a place like Aquarius Records is a great experience.

Happy headsplitting!

Introducing: VisivoTab

Writing an extension for Chrome is an absolutely wonderful experience. The APIs are great, simple and easy to debug. I decided that it was a bit cloudy for the park today so I may as well do something useful with all my idle time.

I bring you VisivoTab, a Chrome extension that turns your ugly, boring “New Tab” page into a beautiful showcase of photo art hand-picked for your browsing interstitial pleasure by visivo on Flickr.

screenshot of visivotab

It’s damn pretty and that ain’t no lie. Install today!

(Thanks Jesse, for the idea)

Leaving Google

In a few days I’ll be leaving my wonderful job at Google (working on App Engine) and setting out on my own for a while.

It’s been an interesting ride, I’ve learned a lot and my coworkers have been awesome. I think App Engine is one of the coolest projects out there right now and I know they’ll keep up the good work. I’ll still be contributing to Jaiku/JaikuEngine.

As for the future I’ve got a pretty blank slate, and with spring just arriving in San Francisco that feels pretty damn nice. I plan on working on my own projects for a while, but am interested to hear about the cool stuff you’ve got going on, so drop me a line and buy me a beer 🙂

heres me soaring into the future
here's me soaring into the future

P.S. My new phone number is available on Facebook, update your records 🙂