You are not my friend

Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

I have come back from the holidays intending to revise my digital ecosystem. I may call it digital minimalism if you will. 

I want to reduce my time on things I don’t need and services I don’t use anymore. 

I started by disabling every automatic renewal on the services I am currently using. When they expire, I will decide if I need them again or if it is time to dismiss them.

At the same time, I unsubscribed from every marketing mailing list I currently receive. Usually, I go into my inbox and delete those messages without reading them. That’s a waste of time and aggression to my time.

The funny thing is that most unsubscribe pages tell me something like, “We are sorry to see you go.” 

That’s a big lie.

That wording is something that you say to a friend, not a customer. If I have bought something from you, that doesn’t mean we have become closer. We did not become friends. You are just trying to put your hands in my purse again. 

I think this behavior has to stop, which is why I am taking action.

I am sure I will miss something I can care about, but I trust the Internet serendipity, and sooner or later, I will find it somewhere sooner or later.

Design is care

Photo by Med Badr Chemmaoui on Unsplash

Yes, design is care.

It is caring about the people who will use your product, and it is caring about the people who will make that product run. To make a great design, you must take care of the two sides of the coin.

You need to care about design to make great design. If you don’t come from the design world but, for whatever reason, you find yourself managing a design team, you need to care about design first and business later. 

If you are a designer, you need to care about the implications of your design. Ethical, emotional, political, and business implications.

To design just for beauty is not design, art, maybe.

I see too many companies and designers that are careless. They want to get money from their users, and I hate that behavior.

A personal e-mail server will never work

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina 🇺🇦 on Unsplash

I have used the same personal e-mail address since Google released Gmail. I never changed it.

Recently I was thinking about opting out of Google for my personal stuff. I am a little tired of feeding these tech giants with my data while getting very few rewards.

Running an e-mail server is not a big deal—the hosting where CorrenteDebole is hosted offers that service by default. It would take no more than five minutes to set up a new e-mail address and start switching my communication from Google to my server. Technically is a no-brainer.

Before taking action, I investigated the implications of that choice. 

Sadly, as I suspected, that would not work at all. Technically, it would work as a charm, but in the real world, there is a massive risk that my mail messages will never be delivered.

I am hosting Corrente Debole with a very well-respected hosting company. They gave me a static IP address for my host; in the last fifteen years, I did not have any issues with them.

The problem is that many big e-mail providers have blocklists to prevent spam. A few companies are maintaining these lists, which I discovered are not public and very often contain IP address ranges. I don’t know what other services are running on IP addresses close to mine. The risk of being already on a blocklist is quite high.

There is no way out.

You can’t solve this problem in any way. The only way to have a relative guarantee that your mail messages will be delivered is to have your e-mail on one of these giants.

Frustrating.

The excellent idea of having spammers cut out of your inbox has paved the path to an oligopoly.

Anyway, it seems I am in good company, and these guys ended up with my conclusion: a personal e-mail server will never work in 2022.

I can’t find the link to the first I read on the subject, but here’s what Cory Doctorow is saying about this issue: Dead Letters

Quite sad.

We need APIs

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

In our company, we heavily rely on APIs. We connect to Harvest, Expensify, Salesforce, and other systems to collect data and move the data to Qlik Sense for the creation of analysis tools and dashboards.

Unfortunately, inherited from our shareholders, our current ERP system does not expose any API. Someone has to export the data in Excel format every few days, push it to Google Drive, and let Qlik Sense make his magic.

That’s not effective at all. I have tried to get APIs from that bloody system for the last four years. No luck.

I think that technology adoption is critical for business growth. 

If I can save people time daily by automating processes and data reporting, people will spend that time on business-critical actions. 

Calling a client, refining a presentation, calling it a day early, and so on.

Smooth integration between systems is based on great connectors. Great connectors rely on APIs.

Every minute someone jumps from one system to another to replicate the same data is a lost minute in productivity. It’s simply dumb. You will need to authenticate to the other system and copy data from one system to the other. It is not just dumb, and it is prone to errors.

Those errors tend to propagate among other automated systems, and that’s a big issue. We are not a big company where you may have ‘slaves’ dealing with data entry. Every second of each person in the company is valuable and needs to be protected as much as possible.

This is why we need APIs. And, eventually, you need them too. No matter how big you are.

Do what you love

Photo by Tamara Gore on Unsplash

I hate the narrative about “do what you love.”

It is a big lie. If you think doing what you love will make your professional life easier, you are lying to yourself.

When I saw this sentence in the mission of a company I used to work for, I instantly knew I had made a mistake accepting that position. It was true.

I do not argue that your professional life should be centered around your inner passion. I am just saying that doing what you love makes your job harder, not easier.

I love what I do. I spend every second of my working day doing what I love in the best way possible. 

That’s the problem.

If you are doing what you love, you spend everything you have trying to make it perfect. You will not accept anything below the standards you set for yourself. You will never be happy about what you deliver. You will continuously try to improve it, make it better, and get close to what you consider the best you can do.

This drives you to an endless loop of dissatisfaction.

You indeed need to do what you love. More important is being able to let it go at some point in time. 

There is another crucial point to make. Doing what you love leads you to think that your discipline is vital to the company you are working for. That’s a big issue. 

That may be true if you are a cardiovascular surgeon, but how many of you are surgeons? Very few.

Your job alone is worthless. You, and your company, can survive only by being part of an ecosystem.

Even the guys cleaning your offices overnight are critical to the success of your endeavors.

On being productive

Photo by kris on Unsplash

After my holidays, Medium started to think I needed help with being more focused and productive. And the endless count of articles on productivity has begun to appear on my suggested reading list. I don’t understand how the recommendation engine is working here, but that is what is happening.

I read a few of those articles, and I was sure that this behavior would have increased the number of articles suggested in the upcoming days.

Nevertheless, I was curious.

None of them were beneficial.

Every single article misses the most important point: every human is different.

It is impossible to write a recipe that will work for everybody. I started to push the “show less like this” button.

When I want, I can be productive. I doubt the methods and tools I use to be productive will work for someone else. They are built around the way my brain and body work. They are strictly tailored to me, and they fit my behavior.

In the few articles I have read, I haven’t found any suggestions that could improve my productivity. Most are just a list of common sense advice like “Sit in a quiet room if you want things done.”

Come on.

Being a *NIX sysadmin

Photo by Gabriel Heinzer on Unsplash

A few days ago, I was going few some old links I had saved in the past. In my browser, there is a dedicated bookmark folder for those links. Its name is “Old stuff.”


I found something I completely forgot about: Nine traits of the veteran Unix admin.


I was a Unix admin more than thirty years ago. As I wrote yesterday, I am sure I would not be able to do that job today, but it was amusing.


Those years had an incredible impact on the way I approach problem-solving. Without any doubt, I can say that what I am today is possible because of those early years of my career.


I reread the article. I found it as attractive as it was the first time I read it.


I found one of the traits so true: We prefer elegant solutions.


I live that principle every single day.

Flashback

Photo by Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash

There are a few cardboard boxes I haven’t opened since I moved to my new house, which was over three years ago. They contain work stuff from the past. Notebooks, documents, media, and papers. I was looking for some old notes that I knew were in there.


It was a sort of flashback.


While emptying the box searching, I found a print dump of something I wrote in 1993. I could not remember I had written something like that.


You find out you are old when you find your source code printed on old printer paper. I don’t how many of you can remember that kind of printer paper. Dot matrix printers that used hole-punched paper with alternating colors for each line. Old stuff.


I forgot what I was looking for and started reading the content. I remembered when I wrote that piece of code in a few seconds.


One of our clients asked to customize their Unix System V computer default printer spooler. For some reason, they wanted to have the ability to give priority to some print jobs. This is a functionality that the default printer spooler did not offer out of the box. I wrote something like one thousand lines of bash script to mangle the print queue according to their specifications.


I went through the source code, and I was surprised. Did I have this command of bash back in 1993? I read the print and confessed I did not understand some of the code. It took me some time to understand what was going on clearly.


I would not be able to do the job I was doing when I wrote that code.


It was a flashback.

Back in the trenches

Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

Guess what? I’m back in the trenches.

Holidays are over, and it’s time to get back to work and head to the end of this year.

Almost a month has passed since my last update on this blog, and it’s time to start writing again.

A few highlights:

  • I didn’t even turn on my personal computer while I was on vacation. It might not have been the smartest choice, but I managed to completely zone out from the world of work and just focus on family and friends. It felt great.
  • I was able to connect with my children easier than before. I felt less need to be “right” and more able to listen. Most of my conversations went deeper and were more interesting than previous conversations.
  • I read 17 books, each representing a different genre, and none were business related.
  • The best things I got from this vacation could not be paid for with money. The sand under my feet was rust-colored and smelled of salt and seaweed. The wind crashed against my face, cold and smelling of the sea. Wisps of clouds flitted past the peaks of the Dolomiti mountains. The sun shone on them, turning them golden-yellow. My children laughed as they ran ahead of me, footsteps sounding on the stony path up to the house. I laughed together as I chased after them. And then we stopped, sitting on a bench outside our hotel, watching them breathe. We talked about everything – about the school, our interests, and what we wanted for the future.
  • I never used cash. Every place had a POS, finally. I guess I was just lucky, but it was great.
  • I have a million new ideas that are popping up in my head, and I will need to make time to write them down. I will need to find a way to put my thoughts into words and nudge them, at first gently and then with a plan and then with a deadline, but I am excited about the prospect of going on this adventure and creating something new. I would love to take on this challenge.
  • Each day, I read at least two newspapers. Truth said, it was highly depressing.
  • I filled my Paper Republic notebook with story after story. I drew pictures of characters in the pages’ margins, flowers, birds, and boats. I wrote a lot, but only in my Paper Republic notebook; using pen and paper helps me remember stories.
  • Doing nothing was an art, and you could not improvise. It had to be cultivated like a garden over the course of years. Doing nothing was a skill. You could get better at it. I had mastered it during these dreary holidays, in which I did nothing.

I can say this was an analog vacation, and I enjoyed it very much. Digital only came to a place to stay in touch with people I care (a lot) about. Nothing else.

The next few months will be challenging, and I will need to work hard to close this year with flying colors. I feel we will need to take a step forward with the organization. I am ready to take on the challenge.

And now, it’s about time to open my work inbox and see what happened.

Gone fishing

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

A hot summer sun beat down on the city. Just a few days and I will be on holiday. In that time, the only thing I will have to do is talk with the people I care about.

I have been thinking about what I would do next on this blog. I thought I would write some more for a while. I would write about how the grass felt like a fine shower of rain on my body and how the sounds of insects, animals, and the wind never startled me. I would write about how I learned to speak the language and how to negotiate trades with the owners of the shops and taverns. I would write about growing food or gathering it from the bushes that lined the river. I would write about making friends who changed as often as the wind in the trees. I will not do those things, though.

A few weeks ago, I found that I do not want to write on it for some time.

I will take a break from writing for a while.

I will crawl into bed with the covers pulled up to my chin. The weight of my book will comfort me as I read, and only when sleep comes over me will I lay it down, my hands aching from holding it open. I will listen to the rain falling on the roof and lull me to sleep. It will be as if the rain is describing a world outside this one, where we never face our fears or the pain of our actions and never understand that we do the best we can given what we have.

Finally, I need some fresh air. I don’t like what I read in newspapers, LinkedIn, or other sources. Everything has become so convoluted and, sometimes, inexplicable to me. I need to step back for a while and go back to the basics.

I think it is about time to stand up with more strength, personally and professionally. I can do it, but I need some distance for a while.

I will see you in September.

Dead by smart working

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We had a hall-hands meeting yesterday afternoon. We gave a few updates on what’s going on together with a glimpse of our financial status after the first semester.

While I put together the presentation, I looked at the Profit and Loss, which was pretty good.

We are running smoothly as a company. The usual slowdown is because of August, but we will recover in the last quarter. I have been there and seen that.
From a General Manager’s perspective, there’s not much to worry about.
That’s a typical case where figures do not tell the whole story. We are indeed okay from a financial standpoint, but what happens inside the company?

I headed to our main dashboard and looked at working reports from Harvest. Plenty of overtime.

That’s not good.

I started thinking about that and thought about a few weak signals I got from the endless calls I have every day. I heard people saying they did not have lunch, and it also happened to me a few times. I heard people who could not go to the bathroom because of conference calls. I looked at my email inbox, and the number of emails I received after 6 pm was too high.

So from where is overtime coming?

I think there are two main reasons. Sometimes you have very demanding clients that may lead you to overtime. In other cases, it is just not being strong enough to enforce boundaries.

Both of the cases do not depend on people suffering from them.

In the first case, you want to retain the client, make him happy, and avoid conflicts.

The second case is just a side effect of smart working, remote working, or working from home.

I have read dozen of definitions of smart working and remote working. I do not find any of them satisfying.

I will generally talk about “working from home.”

Working from home is like placing a marble on a slightly inclined plane. You start establishing some well-defined boundaries between work and personal life. The marble starts gaining speed and kinetic energy. It’s a slow process; you do not notice it until it’s too late.

You quickly find yourself in the situations I was talking about before.

It does not happen when you work in the office because there are well-defined breaks that you can’t avoid—commuting to and from the office, lunch, and coffee breaks. Those things impose a break, even if it is a boring break like commuting is.

It is not easy to set those boundaries when you work from home. You jump out of the shower and sit in front of the computer. After a few days, you are entirely sucked up.

Again, that’s no good at all.

As a General Manager, I have to work on this during my holidays to get it fixed when we come back. It is imperative. It is not sustainable in the long run.

All senior people in the company must commit to this. We must protect our people from clients and themselves when they cannot. As senior managers, we have to take the hit. It is our responsibility to bring that overtime if needed.

Being a senior manager means staying in the front line.

It’s not you, it’s me

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

As some of you know, Sketchin has been part of the Business Integration Partner group for the last three years.

There are a lot of interactions between us. We exchange documents, spreadsheets, reports, pitch decks, case studies, etc.

BIP lives in a Microsoft world, which is fine. Sketchin lives in an Apple and Google world, which is fine. Different views on different ecosystems. Lucky us, we were not forced (yet 😉 ) to change.

Yesterday I had to work on a pitch deck where Sketchin is marginally involved. Just one slide.

I received a link to the shared document on Teams, which redirects me to a Sharepoint resource. No way. I did not have permission to view or edit the file. Hours were lost trying to get the permission fixed.

Finally, I was able to access the document online with my browser. Yes, PowerPoint in a browser. I can’t imagine a worse nightmare. As the title says, it’s not you; it’s me. I tried to design my slide for quite a long time, but it was not coming along well with the interface. I did not find a way to do what I wanted to do. I tried to copy data from an existing Powerpoint presentation and paste it into the browser presentation with no luck.

Yes, I gave up.

I edited my slide locally on my personal computer, and then I sent it as an attachment to an email message. Someone will have to spend time integrating my contribution to the master document.
Incredibly inefficient.

At the very same time, I had to edit another presentation in Keynote for another client while collaborating with other people online. I did it directly in Keynote since the deck was shared over iCloud. It was a breeze. Half an hour and I was done.

Working on the same ecosystem makes things easier. Conversely, the Microsoft Office suite is below par compared to its Windows equivalent.

Every time I have to deal with a native Microsoft application on my Mac, I have to spend three times the time I would estimate to do the same thing on my Mac.

I can’t get into the Microsoft workflow. Powerpoint is what causes me the more significant pain. Again, it’s not you; it’s me. Spending so many years on Keynote must have sculpted a particular workflow in my brain, which is extremely difficult to change.

Again, and again, and again…

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

I headed to the newly announced website with great hope under my fingers.

Alessandro, I told myself, this time they will surprise you. They will have done things right!

Ehm, no. It was not the case.

In the early hours of today, the site was marked as non-private. A new and valid SSL certificate was issued a few hours later to solve the problem.

I hit a couple of 404 errors here and there.

I tried to register my mobile phone number, but I could not even reach the page with the form to fill out.

The Public Administration has not made it again.

Very sad in 2022.

There are two other options to register. You can download a document, fill it and
send it to a specific email address. Not for me.

Finally, here’s the best shortcut: give a call to the number 06.42986411l, listen to what they have to say for a minute or two, and press 1. Done

Guess what I am talking about?

P.S. I guess this makes sense only to my Italian readers.

Unknown numbers

Photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

In the last three years, I have never answered phone calls from unknown numbers.

With a few exceptions, they are all robocalls. They found my mobile phone number in some legit way, or, I guess, in some less than legit way. I’m not too fond of that.

I never missed an important call from a client or a colleague.

Sometimes I answer and try to be as polite as possible. On the other side of the phone, a highly educated young guy is usually trying to earn money in a bloody labor market. You can tell from their tone that they are frustrated. Not everybody behaves like me. I am sure they have to deal with angry and bad-mannered people. It’s not an easy way to make a living.

That’s the reason why I respect them. I listen to the script and then say I am not interested in what they sell. I then thank you and salute them.

Some of them are frustrated, and I know the feeling. I just let it go.

Finding an actual human on the other side of the line is always rare. Most calls are automated, and a charming voice plays some script before you can talk to someone.

Efficiency and cost reduction. That’s the mantra.

Overall it is unfortunate.

In the next few weeks, a new registry will accept mobile numbers that do not want to receive robocalls. I am not sure it is going to work. As I said, there are legit ways for marketers to have my phone number in my database. My fault was that I should have been more conscious when I agreed to share my data for marketing activities.

Nevertheless, I think that these young guys on the other side of the line will have harsh times.

It is quite sad.

Flipper Zero

Flipper Zero

I love playing with Software Defined Radios, or SDR. Over the last few years, I owned many of them, ranging from cheap USB sticks to the pricey HackRF.
You can do a lot of exciting things with them. Well, exciting if you are a nerdy type like me.

You can listen to ADS-B from aircraft flying over your head. You can determine how many cellular base stations you have around you. You can trick your phone GPS into making him think you are on a Hawai island and a lot of other interesting stuff.

Sometimes you can use out-of-the-box software, or you may need more specialized software to do what you want.

On a marginal note, you must be careful since you can easily slip into illegal operations. If you stick with “listening” to radio waves and don’t transmit anything, you are on the safe side.

Here is a simple example of something that in some countries is illegal. If you buy a couple of high-end SDRs and you use the right software, you can build your own home 3G cellular network. Doing that is illegal; that spectrum is highly regulated, and you can’t just jump on airwaves and transmit.

When I saw the Flipper Zero Kickstarter campaign, I could not resist and decided to fund it. A few months later, my Flipper Zero device arrived home.

From a technical standpoint, the Flipper Zero is less versatile than other SDRs. I am simplifying the discussion here. The Flipper Zero is something less than an SDR and something more.

The frequency range it supports is much more limited than other SDRs. The HackRF One supports frequencies from 1 Mhz to 6 GHz, while the Flipper One is limited to sub GHz frequencies.

On the other side, the Flipper Zero natively supports RFID 125 kHz, NFC, Infrared, iButton, and Bluetooth LE. All of this with native hardware support. Other SDRs can do the same thing from a radio frequency point of view, but you need additional hardware to make it work with the external world.

Flipper Zero is self-contained in a nice case with an LCD and can operate autonomously without the need for additional hardware.

I love that.

I think they were able to simplify access to this kind of technology, even if they had to sacrifice a lot to make it happen.

You can still have a lot of fun with this device. It’s powerful, and it’s easy to operate.

You can flash custom firmware that enables some functions that may not be open in your country. As I said before, be careful. It may be illegal to operate on some frequency in your country.

Apart from that, you can also do nasty things that are illegal. There is a replay attack that forces Tesla cars to open their charge port. Fun, but not legal.