Happy Memorial Day?

It’s the time of year where we’re supposed to remember all the sacrifices made by our armed forces. But we’re also in the midst of a great debate about relaxing efforts to contain the pandemic.

I certainly do not want to downplay the losses and suffering of our veterans – but I’m also infuriated by efforts to downplay this pandemic.

So let’s look at some stats. Here is where I’m getting my numbers for the pandemic – 98,034 as of this writing. And I’ll be referring to the military death totals listed here.

So, all provisos about the pandemic numbers aside (I think they’re probably under-reported) – more Americans have died from COVID-19 than Vietnam (58,029). Think about that. Vietnam took place over a decade or so (depending on how you wan to track it). Think about the chaos and disruption that caused, and who knows what costs to our country for the veterans and their families. We’re about three months into the pandemic at this point… And I’ll bet you an N95 mask that a good number of our Vietnam vets have been taken by the coronavirus.

And, we’re approaching the number killed in the first World War. God forbid we surpass WWII or (horrors) the Civil War.

Here’s another interesting thing to think about. According to this site, almost 7,000 Americans have died in the war on terror, plus about 3000 who died in 9/11 – for a total of 10,000. That’s about 1/10th of the number who have died from COVID-19. Now, consider how much has been spent on our war on terror. Something on the order of 5 trillion dollars (source). I am not saying that we should have not spent that money, or fought those wars. That’s irrelevant to this. My point is, we really need to think about our priorities. I didn’t bother trying to track down what the US spends on research/prevention for pandemics, I’m sure it’ll be depressing.

So, the next time you hear someone try to downplay this pandemic – ask yourself, when’s the last time you lived through a couple Vietnam war’s worth of dead Americans? In three months.

Please stay at home! I don’t care what your state decides to do. Stay home. I think it’s only going to get worse.

May you live in interesting times.

Flashback Friday: Meet Magento Asia 2018

Back in November 2018 I had the luck to attend Meet Magento Asia, in Bangkok Thailand. It was my first time to Thailand and it was a blast! Really love Thailand, and this was a great first exposure to it. We attended again at the end of 2019.

Benefits of Remote Work

As I’ve written about previously, I have a little more experience working remotely than many others who have been thrown into remote work due to the pandemic. For me, working remote is the norm so having to work from home hasn’t been a big jarring challenge, but it’s totally understandable that this “new normal” is causing problems for workers and employers alike.

I do think, however, that this is a huge opportunity for organizations – this is their chance to realize the benefits of remote work – and to discover that the changes that have to be made for an organization to handle remote work efficiently are extremely beneficial even if things go back to “normal” at some point.

Flexibility

The first key benefit that organizations will realize with a remote-capable workforce and ability – it gives far great flexibility. If your employees can work remotely as efficiently as when in office, it opens up options. Running out of office space, or need to close the office for renovations, etc – it’s no big deal because your employees can all work capably from home. This is not flexibility that you’d have otherwise.

Resilience

Closely tied to flexibility – resilience means a remote-capable organization can roll with the punches way better than a traditional office-bound organization. We’re all seeing this right now because of the pandemic – but it could happen in much more mundane scenarios – fires, floods, power outages, etc. I once had to leave an office in a high-rise because of a fire alarm. By the time everyone filed down 18 floors and waited until 20+ floors of the building was clear – the day was lost. This would not happen with a remote-capable organization – either some of those employees would’ve been at home and unaffected, or we could’ve all just headed home (or to a coffee shop) and finished our work day productively.

Another way to look at this is that being remote-capable allows an organization to keep employees who may otherwise leave because they need to move to a new geographic location. This is an extremely common reason why employees leave – and everyone knows how expensive it is to train up a new employee. Keep them, let them work remote!

Expanding the Talent Pool

This should be a fairly obvious benefit – it’s simple supply and demand. By ignoring physical location, you are vastly expanding the pool of potential talent available to you. Even better, because of cost of living differences, your offer may be way more attractive to a potential remote employee than a local employee. The higher your area’s cost of living is in comparison, the more important this is. Silicon valley companies that don’t regularize remote work are at a huge disadvantage!

Enhancing Organization

This is probably worth a post all of itself, but the very act of making your organization ready for remote work will drastically enhance your organization, especially when it comes to project management. Remote workers need to be able to see everything necessary to work on a project – status, what is done already, requirements, deadlines, etc. The very act of pulling all this information together into one place, accessible to everyone, is also a huge boon to non-remote workers. It’s a win-win!

Cost Savings

Finally, what is probably the most obvious advantage of having remote workers – cost savings. By not having to pay for as much (or any) office space, a huge expense is removed from the balance sheet. Add in all the associated costs – insurance, power, internet access, cleaning, catering, etc – it makes a difference. Some of this should certainly be passed on to the employees in terms of salary increases or something else, but the fact remains that a remote organization is much leaner than a traditional brick and mortar office-based shop.

But… How Will I Know They’re Working?

I think the real reason behind much of the reluctance of organizations to embrace a remote office is the perceived lack of control. After all, how do you know your employees aren’t just playing video games and drinking their days away if you let them work from home and (gasp) set their own hours?

The real problem here is not a remote office issue – this is a management issue. Employees obviously need to be responsible and do their work. But this is not a factory floor – you can’t just measure how much time they spend staring at their screens and take that as measure of how “good” an employee is.

The issue is figure out the real KPIs (key performance indicators) that are appropriate for each role in an organization. This is not easy and never has been! But getting this right gives an organization an enormous advantage, both in terms of employee productivity, happiness and efficiency.

What you should not do is set up some sort of ridiculous surveillance system to make sure your employee is sitting in their seat and doing whatever you think they should bed doing. Employees should be rewarded for doing their jobs well, and you should be doing everything in your power to empower them to figure out how to do their jobs productively and efficiently.

If an employee slacks off and doesn’t get important work done, their KPIs should reflect that, and there should be consequences. And if they can get their job done right, their KPIs should also reflect that. Whether they’re sitting in their seat 8-5 is completely irrelevant and counterproductive. The point is to have empowered employees you can trust.

New Windows Terminal

Just updated windows so I could install the new windows terminal – and I’m quite impressed. It’s noticeably faster than what I was using before, and seems like it’s quite configurable. I spend so much time on the command line that I sometimes forget I’m even using windows.

You can install it via the windows store. I had to update windows to meet the requirements.

Next up, install WSL2 which I’ve heard many good things about. I might wait a bit on that one, because it seems much more likely to throw a wrench into my current dev setup and make me burn a lot of time to fix… but the benefits sound great.

Flashback: Meet Magento Netherlands 2016

Continuing with my “flashback” series – at this time last year we were at what may end up being the last Imagine event. Sad though, so instead I’ll put up some pictures from MMNL 2016.

It was only four years ago now, but it seems like so much longer! I was accepted for my first Magento speaking opportunity at Meet Magento Netherlands in Utrecht. I had an amazing time and met so many people that I’ve gone on to spend many a late night with at other Magento events over the last four years.

You can see the official MMNL photos here (day one and day two) – much better than my phone pics from back then.

It really was a great event, and I also had a great time the other years we attended MMNL – hoping for another chance soon!

Synology 2 NAS

Recently it was decided that the time had come to upgrade our storage setup here at home. We’ve been relying on some external hard drives for backup that were getting pretty long in the tooth, and needed to either get new ones or figure out another option.

I’ve also given up on streaming music services. I used grooveshark back in the day, and like it – but then it went under. Tried Spotify and Google Music – and they’re ok, but didn’t have a lot of my old music I like.

I came up in the Napster days and have a decent sized MP3 collection, still sitting around on the old drives in my old desktop machine. Putting those on the laptop wasn’t a great option, too many files! Not to mention my completely legal copies of movies and TV shows built up over the years.

So, after a lot of research and debate, I picked up a Synology 2 NAS from Amazon, with a couple 4TB drives, and a USB-C drive enclosure. I needed some way to get stuff of all those old hard drives sitting around the house!

We’ve had this thing for almost two months now and it’s working like a champ. I’ve condensed most of my old files onto it, and it’s serving as the backup location for two laptops. Backing up over wifi means the laptops actually get backed up as often as they should! It also works well as a Plex server.

I’ve been careful to not turn on the “cloud” functionality on it – I’m perfectly happy if no one (including me) can get at the files on the NAS from outside the home network!

Now I’m starting to see the limits of our ISP-provided Wifi router as the network gets more and more use… might be time for more research… or even go old school and run some ethernet!

Flashback: Imagine 2016

Since we didn’t get a chance to attend Imagine this year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought it might be fun to post a few pics from the 2016 edition of Imagine, at the Wynn in Las Vegas. I was looking forward to seeing what changes Adobe would be making for the first year Imagine was rolled into Adobe Summit, and see what the new venue was like – guess we’ll all have to wait for 2021 to see that!

This was either my 2nd or 3rd year attending Imagine, and even though only 4 years ago, the camera on the phone I had back then is still noticeably worse than what I have now! Back then I still worked for Nexcess and represented them in the booth and in an unexpected speaking session. I’ll save that story for another day…

I’ve attended a lot of Magento events over the years, and I’m planning on posting more of the flashbacks in the coming days.

Remote Work – My Take

Ironically, I’d been planning on writing some travel-related posts here – never quite got around to it and now as pretty much everyone must suddenly work remotely thanks to the pandemic, I decided instead to write up some tips for those companies and individuals working remote for the first time.

I have worked remote for the majority of my time since 2002 or so. Most of that time has been either working at home, or wherever I happened to be at the time. My experience includes working for myself, or for an organization that was mostly not made up of remote employees. Of those organizations, one handled it pretty well… the other not so much.

You do You
So, nearly every remote work article I’ve seen talks about building a separation between your “work mode” and “live mode.” That’s great, but if it’s not working for you – find out what does. Everyone’s needs and job requirements are different. What makes sense for one may not for others.

I’ve been working remote for most of two decades. I’ve never had an office where only job stuff happens. I’ve always tended to migrate around the house and yard as I work, I find that a change of location and scenery helps me focus. That’s what works for me. Experiment, and see what works for you.

Learn to work with basics
Because I travel so much, I’ve learned to work with just the laptop. I’ve tried using giant monitors, or multiple monitors and honestly it doesn’t work – for me. One advantage I have then is that I can work pretty much anywhere I can sit down relatively comfortably – couch, hotel bed, desk, etc. All I really need is internet access.

Getting online is a key requirement. Our home wifi is decent but can go down. Hotel wifi is notoriously bad. It pays to know how to use the mobile hotspot mode on your phone when you need it – hopefully your phone and provider makes that possible!

Set up your app and mute yourself!
Do yourself a favor and learn how to set up whatever app(s) you use so that it starts up with your camera off and your mic muted. You can always turn them on manually once your meeting starts. This can prevent embarrassing mistakes!

And please, please mute yourself when you’re not talking. Zoom likes to change view to whoever it thinks is speaking – so if you have a dog barking or other noises in your background, it can be quite annoying to everyone else.

Apps like Zoom are very bandwidth intensive – you may get some mileage out of turning off your video if your connection is struggling. I know the pundits like to tout the benefits of being able to see the other people in your meeting, but in my experience most meetings revolve around a screenshare and having all the other people transmitting video does seem to strain a poor connection unnecessarily. So, in my opinion, it may be better for organizations to ask their employees to not have their video on by default.

Trust your employees
This brings up another much discussed element of the our new remote work world -some companies and managers can’t seem to figure out how to handle workers who aren’t in the office.

If your organization can’t seem to figure out if an employee is contributing when their not sitting in an office… you have a larger problem than how to handle remote work! Figuring out the right way to measure this is not an easy task, especially for developers. This is not a new problem – and there’s tons of discussion out there about it – but a very important one for leaders to focus on and continually try to improve. This pandemic may be just the chance to figure this out and reap the other benefits that come with having remote workers!

Razer Stealth 13 – almost one year review

As always, I’m not updating my own site as often as I should. Something about cobblers and shoes? Anyways, it’s been a while since my last post about being back in the Windows world. Hard to believe it’s almost been a year – but seemed like as good a time as any for a new post.

This little guy keep soldiering along with very few problems – none that I can attribute to the hardware at least. Well, except for an annoying issue that the internal mic doesn’t seem to work -but I’m pretty sure that’s due to Windows, not the hardware – and I typically use a headset anyways on the few occasions I need it.

I have noticed the black paint coming off along some of the fairly sharp edges on the case. That’s about it in terms of it showing its age.

Windows on the other hand is… Windows. I can live with it, at least I haven’t been annoyed enough yet to try installing Linux. The WSL set up I’ve written about before has worked out well enough for the projects I work on. I haven’t gotten around to trying Docker out – after my previous experiences with Docker (on a mac) I’ve not been to inspired…

Having access to games has been nice in this new Coronaworld. I still manage to get online to shoot zombies in Left 4 Dead a few times a week, and I rewarded myself with a new game about a month ago after launching a new site. Space Engineers is definitely my kind of game. My latest creation is a ridiculously ugly mobile base cruising around the earth-like planet spoiling the landscape. Planning to try my first space launch soon!

Hope everyone is staying at home and keeping healthy.