Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Last Day...

Yesterday morning I did my last potentially useful act at work: I sat with a group of my team members and answered questions they had, while being videotaped.  The questions were mainly things they imagined they'd want to ask, but wouldn't be able to because I'm not there any more.  The nature of the questions really drove something home to me: just how valuable experience is.  It almost doesn't matter what that experience is (I exaggerate, but not all that much).  The simple fact that I have been working for 45 years is valuable – I've seen a lot of things about how businesses work (or don't), dealt with lots of personalities, etc.  Working in IT for so long means I know a lot of things about how IT works.  Having been a low-level programmer for so long means I know about things like how networking works.  And on and on.  Most of the questions were about things related to my general experience, as opposed to any particular technical skill.  And how did I get this experience?  Mostly by being in situations where I had nobody experienced to guide me.  I suspect my leaving is, in the long run, very good for my team :)

In these litigious times, on your last day at work you're required to visit Human Resources for the “exit interview”.  In this choreographed event, you get information about your termination “rights” (such as the COBRA health insurance), your final paycheck, and you're given an opportunity to proffer some final advice to the company.  I didn't take advantage of the latter, as I'm sure nobody would actually pay attention to anything I said :)

For someone like me who is departing voluntarily and amicably, there's really very little to do in these exit interviews.  But nevertheless, we had something most unexpected happen right in the middle of mine.  I was huddled in a little conference room with Danielle (one of the company's local HR folks).  On the speakerphone was another HR person, Heather from San Jose, who was being trained.  We were going over a few questions I had when someone knocked on the conference room door.  A young lady with a funny look on her face (I interpreted it as disbelieving) said that someone wanted to see Tom (that would be me!).  This made no sense to either Danielle or myself, but I got up and went to see who it was.

Well, it was the entire Automation Team (the team I've been a developer and architect for these past five years).  Some of the team wasn't physically present, as they were on a business trip to England – but they were “there” anyway, thanks to Facetime on an iPhone!  It seems that the team was afraid I was going to walk straight out the door after my exit interview, and they'd miss the chance for something they wanted to do.

Or rather, something they wanted to present: a parting gift for me upon my retirement.  Not the traditional gold watch (thank goodness!), but rather an engraved baseball bat:

Now if you know me, but not through work, this probably is quite puzzling.  I know absolutely nothing about sports, don't watch them, don't know how to play them, and have no interest in them.  So why a baseball bat?  Well, for many years now (starting long before my job at ServiceNow even), my standard answer for any management challenge was “baseball bats”.  Need to motivate an employee to greater productivity?  A baseball bat, wielded vigorously, should do the trick.  Got a vendor whose prices are too high?  Just bring a baseball bat to your next meeting with him.  You get the idea.  It was a longstanding joke that all my colleagues knew about.

So they got me a beautifully finished baseball bat (in a velvet bag!), and somehow managed to get it laser-engraved as above.  I like that “Imperial Wizard” title, but they would never let me actually put it on my business cards (they had the boring title “Automation Architect” on them).

I'm feeling quite sentimental about this gift.  They've been a great bunch of folks to work with.

Then it was back to my exit interview, up to make my round of good-byes with the team.  Then I went down to hand in my laptop to the IT guys (James wouldn't let me keep it, dang it!).  Finally, I collected my box of personal possessions, enlisted Satya (our team's test guy) to help carry my server down, turned in my badge at the front desk, and then out to my truck to leave.

It was a sad drive home...

Something New on Mars...

Interesting image in today's raw image dump from Curiosity (on Mars).  This one is from the MHLI camera, showing a close-up of the rocky surface.  You can see the little “blueberries” frequently observed on the Martian surface, but there's also something new (to me, at least): the white bits that look almost like someone filled in some pits with silicone rubber caulking.  Other images in the same series show even more of this.  There's no explanation posted for this yet, so I have no idea what that white stuff actually is (I'm certain it's not really silicone rubber caulking :)

Flying Pig Moment: AGW Skeptics Might Be Right?

I was simply gobsmacked by this story out today about a new report from the National Research Council. The lead:
In the galactic scheme of things, the Sun is a remarkably constant star. While some stars exhibit dramatic pulsations, wildly yo-yoing in size and brightness, and sometimes even exploding, the luminosity of our own sun varies a measly 0.1% over the course of the 11-year solar cycle.

There is, however, a dawning realization among researchers that even these apparently tiny variations can have a significant effect on terrestrial climate. A new report issued by the National Research Council (NRC), "The Effects of Solar Variability on Earth's Climate," lays out some of the surprisingly complex ways that solar activity can make itself felt on our planet.
Well I'll be dipped in peanut butter! This is exactly what for years now many AGW skeptics have been urging climate scientists to examine – the causes for the clear correlation between solar irradiance and climate.  The scientists are presenting this as a new revelation (the better to get research dollars approved, I'm sure), but who cares?  Understanding the actual physics underlying climate is so much better than diddling models!

Travel is Just a Bit Faster These Days...

Check out the map at right. It shows how long it took to travel from New York City to various parts of the eastern U.S. – in 1830.  Looks like about three weeks to Chicago!  But you could get anywhere in New Jersey in just a day (though why would you want to?).

This article has several such maps, for dates ranging from 1800 to 1930.  Fascinating stuff!

Misleading News...

Holman Jenkins, writing in the WSJ($), sets us straight:
Said the New York Times climate blog, in an assertion that was echoed throughout the media: "The temperature differences between years are usually measured in fractions of a degree, but 2012 blew away the previous record, set in 1998, by a full degree Fahrenheit."

Really? If that were true, then hair-on-fire news should have been the fact that 2012 was 2.13 degrees hotter than 2011. That's a far more dramatic change, and in a single year.

Nor was it mentioned that 2008, in the contiguous U.S., was two degrees cooler than 2006. Or that 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 were all cooler than 1998 by a larger margin than 2012 was hotter than 1998.

Are you getting the picture? None of this was mentioned because it makes a mockery of using trends in the Lower 48 as a proxy for global warming, the misguided intent that permeated media coverage of the NOAA revelation. 
I had a similar discussion with several colleagues at work (my former work, I should say!).  They saw this same news, and their first reaction was “Dang, guess that global warming is for real after all!”  Knowing my AGW skepticism, they could hardly wait to tell me :)  It took all of 30 seconds to figure out what was really going on, exactly as Jenkins so nicely describes. The AGW enablers picked two arbitrary data points and implied something much greater than those data points actually showed – and their message was heard by the credulous, loud and clear...