Wednesday, 1 July 2020

7 questions to ask yourself before committing to anything

I should subtitle this as: "learning to say no".  I'll explain.

I was put into an interesting position earlier this week, I was asked to commit to doing a piece of work for the next 5 weeks, starting in 2 days time.  This task would most likely take up a good 20-30 hours of my working week.

"That's not a problem", I hear you say, "I'm sure you could juggle things around to make that fit".

Well, that was the other problem, it's also a nice problem to have, being asked to help out on more things, but there comes a time when you have reached maximum capacity and you need to identify that, otherwise what you'll end up delivering for other people is going to be of lower quality than what you want it to be.  Sure, for some people this might be okay, do a lot more things, drop the quality a bit, it's no problem, someone else will pick up the slack,etc...etc...

That doesn't work for me.  If I commit, I'm all in.  Call it a personality issue, a psychological trait, something that I need to resolve from my childhood, whatever... the point is, if I take something on, I want to make sure that it has my full focus.  My view is to switch it around.  If I ask someone to do something for me, I expect (my missus would probably say, I would "demand" ;-) ) that they do what I've asked and to the depth of what I've asked.
If I ask someone to help work on one of my cars, or to help decorate a room by painting it, I don't expect the to turn up every now and then, fiddle around with a few things, do a half-a$$ed job and then say, "ta da, all done, I'm off now".  leaving me to pick up the pieces, clean up the mess and pretty much end up re-doing the job again myself (cos I'm a perfectionist, don't you know...not).

Back to my problem above.  I'm already working on 2 projects during the working week.  I'm juggling handling both by making sure I have a clear definition of the activities that are needed, what tasks are required, what the dependencies there are and what the risks are.  I also work out who I am reliant upon for certain tasks and what their track record has been, are they early, on time, usually late on delivery, also what is their experience? will they require longer to do a task as this is their first time? or it's out of their comfort-zone?  will I be required to do some hand-holding and mentoring to get them along their journey, before I can do my piece?

All these things are eating up that one commodity that is the rarest of them all....TIME.

If I work it out, I'm paid to do a 37hour week, yes, shock!horror! wow, that's amazing, only 37hours.  When was the last time I worked a 37hour week?  I'd say, probably around 20years ago!
The reality is, it's usually a 40hour week, with a few hours extra here and there, so let's roll it up to 45hours a week.  Now, juggling 2 projects that are similar but very different means doing some interesting time-slicing, I worked out that I could "assist" by providing "guidance" on the 2nd project, so long as I wasn't committed to any deliverables.  Well, let's just say that didn't last long, I was on the hook for delivering some rather complex work, that if I were not me, I would have just banged out in a week, thrown it over the fence and said, "yep, that's good enough, get going". 

However, I'm annoying.  Let's say, I needed to process 60,000 things, I chose to take a small sample to get going, like 10/20/30 to then prove everything was doing what it should and resolving oddities that weren't doing what they should.  Then ramping up to 100, then 1000 noticing a 0.1% failure rate, which isn't bad, but not good when ramping up to 60,000... As I say, if I need to and if time dictates, then I would accept that level of failure and would push the thing live (btw - this is not about automated driving of cars or auto-piloting / controlling a helicopter, but that is potentially my flaw, I treat all of my work like that, I recall a manager in my past once asking,  "is anyone going to die just because you have a few bugs/errors in the code?".... the answer at the time was "yes", but at this moment, it's not about dying, it's about accuracy, that was more important, the accuracy needs to be as high as it can be)

So, being asked to commit to another 20-30hours of work was nice...but I had to make the tough call and reply, "sorry, but no".   Oh, that went down well.  Like a lead balloon.

I was escalated, as that's what happens.  I stated my case and I think the penny then dropped.  What do we actually want this guy to do for us?  If I hadn't have stood back and assessed this (like the 7 questions), then I would have put myself and everyone else involved into a false sense of security that I could dedicate and commit to doing this extra work, when I knew in my heart I could not.
I went for the painful option of saying, "no", up-front.  Yes, it's hard and I'll probably have some mental marker put against my name somewhere, but, I seriously hope that it is understood why I made the decision I did.  If, in the future, I were "on the bench" (wow! haven't had that luxury since about 2005!) then sure I would have embraced the opportunity to help out, 'cos that's what I do.

But, I hear you recoil and ask, "But Tony, you are such a high-level ranking person in your company, why are you doing manual tasks that involve rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty, aren't there a whole load of youngsters that can do that work?".  Well, firstly my response to that would be too impolite for me to put in writing.
<rant>I'll save the real rant for another time, but, if you've "risen" to such lofty heights that you "don't do the work anymore", then, in all honesty, what use are you?  you're just admin.  you'll demand the salary of a CTO/CEO, but really you are just admin, you can arm-flap, wave your hands about, draw a few boxes on a whiteboard, but you can't really "do" anything anymore.  Also, unless you're really good, your knowledge is also out of date in 6 months, okay, some things will always be the same in IT, so experience and knowledge of that will help.  But, if you cannot flip your laptop around and show me your screen and have "at least" 1 IDE open doing some form of coding, then I'm sorry, but you're in the wrong job, go and work in marketing or sales. </rant>

The moral of this is: think before you act, pause, take a breathe, take a moment, consider the outcomes, run through the possibilities and risks.  Then act.

If you read between the lines above, I obviously said, "yes", to the 7 questions earlier in the year, hence I'm working on 2 full time projects at the same time.  I made the decision to commit to this, I went through the "7 questions" and the answers worked for me.  However, doing it again, the answers weren't going to work for me, I chose to pass.  I'm sure someone else will pick up the work and do a really good job of it.  I don't need to take the credit for everything!

What this has all concluded is that I need to have an application to assist me, to help me to scientifically work out if indeed I am able to take on extra tasks and to then calculate when best to fit that into the working week.

Naturally, this will have to have some A.I. in the equation, so that it is learning from any previous bad choices or decisions that didn't work out, it would also be great if it could work out predictive information such as, "you've been operating at this velocity for X period of time, you need to reduce your workload down by x% for y% of time and then you can look to increase it again by i% after j% of time for a duration of...", you get the point. 

This would be an awesome product wouldn't it.  I'd buy it.  In fact, I wonder if I have any spare time to make such a product myself.......

btw - I agree that the 7 questions listed above don't always make sense and you could draw up a slightly different list, but they are mostly correct for the context of being asked to assist with doing something.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Common Sense A.I. might be coming sooner than you think

So, here's a photo of a bunch of books that just happen to be sitting on my work desk, looking all majestic and intellectual.

This is the sort of thing that a lot of people over the past few weeks have started to strategically place behind themselves for those all important conference calls, where other people will be looking and trying to eye up, "so what books do you have behind you?....oh, maybe I should read some of those and then I'll be as smart as you".

That could be why these books are not behind me, they are infront and to the side, I can see them but you cannot.  What is behind me? hang on, let me turn around and look......a MASSIVE 3D printer with a Playstation 2 Time Crisis gun on the bed (absolutely no idea, maybe I found it in a cupboard and it was making it's way off the "games room", but I got distracted), some photo's of my MG F over the years taken by professional photographers as I was entering "event/shows" and a couple of fully working but not used Atari 520ST FM computers.  Wow, not sure exactly what message people will take from that, but, y'know I like to keep them guessing.

Anyway, back to the books... I can actually confess that I have read "most" of them, quite a few are those dry academic / theoretical one's that professor type people like to read and as you know, I'm not really one of those, I like to get the general idea and then go make something with that knowledge and learn from making mistakes / errors (aren't you glad I don't do Nuclear stuff!)

As you can see, there are a lot of "proper" A.I. books there, and some random books that I bought way back in the early 2000's, such as, "The private life of the brain", "How to build a mind", "Cambrian Intelligence", "Life and how to make it", "Digital Biology" and "The next Common Sense".

Now, anyone, just reading those titles' may have wondered what was on "my" mind, back in those days.  Well, I had a vision, I could "see" where things needed to go and I was trying to line up my own brain to be able to go in that direction.  However, the technology was lacking.  Yes, I was working for some very smart and advanced technology companies at the time, but, I was not meeting with like minded people.  If I started talking about the world I could see and wanted to help build (maybe not be part of? 'cos, well, it's not my thing, so maybe this would be a Mars mission or something?), then people would just glaze over or pat me on the shoulder and tell me to "lay off the [insert whatever here]", I never really found "my kind".

I have been close though, I did meet up with the very nice people from Soul Machines - I still have the beautifully hand crafted blue business card of the boss blue-tacked to my wall, over there (not within web camera view).  They were visionaries, they had access to the technology, they had money, but they had no real direction (at that time), I even pondered going to work for them, just to get close to the technology and the kool-aid.  The moment passed.

I even ventured into trying to apply my vision into something real myself, but as we know, doing a very demanding job that takes up pretty much all my time, mostly has me working away 4-5 days a week, working evenings in hotels, I was never going to find the time to actually physically BUILD the robots and CODE the robots (hence the 3D printer).  I even tried to convince my wife to install ROS onto her laptop so she could help me.  She has no enthusiasm for the IT industry any more, she just knits, or sews, or does whatever she does, enjoys life playing with Libby, our rag-doll cat.

As you can see by this article, I did do some work with ROS:
but that was back in 2017/2018!  I've not had a chance to look into it since.  Yes, I can put all sorts of reasons as to why.  But ultimately, it was because it wasn't a high enough priority goal.

Last night, around 23:00, I decided to spend a few ££££ and refresh myself with ROS once more:

Okay, I'm not going to build a Terminator T100 (or whatever they are called), but I am going to teach myself the basics of the message queue mechanism that the ROS system is built upon.  (I do remember that much from before), but this time I am going to be a little un-conventional, I'm going to be looking at putting the Robot Operating System into my Radio Controlled Boat and Tank!

Yes, due to the wonderful COVID-19 lockdown period of time, I have used the evenings and some weekend time (as I am actually AT home!), to build a small boating lake (well, 12-15ft x 8-10ft for the marina part), along with a 4ft wide "river" connecting down the garden to the proper pond thats about the same size as the marina, except it's about 5-6ft deep for the fish.  I don't see it taking too long to finish that off, I do need to design a small motorised ramp, or, a Falkirk wheel of some sort - but that's a no-brainer, that's just digging stuff and getting pond liner worked out.

Then, I shall have ready my autonomous boats.  Okay, so it'll just be an intelligent Train set, in theory, but I then want to take it beyond the boats just using sensors to do reactions.  I want to then have the boats detect the sunshine, to then "decide" that they want to go for a drive out and about, rather than sitting on the shelf waiting for me to take them to the boating lake.

If you imagine, the boat(s) and tank(s) are just IoT devices on the Edge of the network... NOW, IT ALL STARTS TO MAKE SENSE!!! Ah, ha. a bit like back in 2016 when I was building "Smarter Buildings", this is the same sort of thing, but this time, I'm going to be capturing small packets of data from sensors, do some local processing and send larger datasets back to a central system for storage and then it can be analysed and smart stuff can be determined from the data.  This smart stuff, can then be sent back to the device, so next time around, it can benefit from this rather than having to go back to the central system each time (a bit like a Cylon).

Then, I'll work on some other logic that calls out to the mysterious A.I. stuff (black box algorithms) that will allow the boats to make informed decisions, all on their own.

Then, of course, once I've got that perfected (it'll likely be around July/August 2020), I'll move onto the Tank(s).  Well, that's going to be more fun...they can be protectors of the garden, they can patrol and learn about their environment.  Okay, so basically, all of this is to eventually, get back to my in-famous desire to build a GardenBot!  One that knows how to do gardening, learns about the growths and changes to the plants / flowers and behaves accordingly.  Learns when too much water has been used, when to "thin out" the plants, when to add more water, when to cut out dead flowers, etc... but that'll be a 2021 goal target (well, it's been a goal for over a decade, but at least I'm doing something about it now!)

This all ties in nicely with this article that was just published.  The brains behind Watson (yeah, that thing that paid my bills for a few years), has decided to read some of the same books that I've had on the shelf and due to him not really needing any money, he can "play at R&D" to his hearts content.  Am I jealous?  sure.  Do I want to call him a git, under my breathe, sure.  Should I ping him an email and ask if we can work on something together?  errr...maybe not just yet.  Let me get my autonomous boats and tanks working and "thinking" first.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Got a bit distracted (again)

Okay, so whilst I've been championing the "Do Something else...." mantra (and then promptly did some work over the weekend, but it was by choice, not pressured), I managed to hookup the equipment that I had for my old radio controlled boat.

Now, I confess, I did not build this boat.  I did have a boat that I built when I was about 14-ish, it was a 4ft massive beast that I built with my grandad, he managed to get hold of an old glow-plug engine that baffled me and before we had the chance to fit it, I returned home and the boat never got finished.  Then when I was about 21-ish, I sold the boat to my sisters husband (at the time), who was an RC car enthusiast, he rebuilt the engine and got it working, but never fitted it into the boat - I then bought the boat back and was going to get the radio gear and finish it off......then it sat in a cupboard for many many years until I eventually decided it should go to someone who will finish it off, yep, I put it on eBay and it went for a mighty sum!  mainly because it was original and wasn't finished - apparently very desirable.  If you take a look, you'll see such boats selling now for around the £750

Anyway, roll forward until a couple of years back and I wanted to do something with robots and autonomy, as you can see from my history, I'd built Arduino robots, visual recognition processing etc... but I wanted something a little bigger and different.  So, whilst at an antiques fair, I stumbled over this lovely looking old boat.  Now, it's about 1/2 the size of my old boat, but it was at the same stage, someone had got to fit the prop-shaft and rudder, but nothing else.  I got it for a super bargain price of £35.  It needs a repaint and re-sanding, if you're after perfect, but as it is it's absolutely fine.

I ma de a temporary stand for it and went off on a mission to figure out what "bits" I needed to make it fully radio controlled.  I bought a Reflex Stick Pro 3, 2 channel, BEC system radio controller that came with a BEC receiver and a little servo.  I did some research and purchased a Mtroniks Viper Marine 20 ESC.  What's that?  well, it's a little unit that you plug everything into in the boat - a bit like a car ECU.  I also purchased a DC motor (although I don't have the box details anymore).

These then sat nicely in a box on the shelf under the boat for, let's see....maybe 3 years now?  Yep, I would see the boat every time I worked from home as I had to pass it to walk out of the office.  I did spend from July 2018 until about December 2019 working away from home, so it was fair to say, I could have worked on it over the weekends, but I had no reason to go into my home office.

Anyway, long story short, I made a comment to my manager that, "hey the COVID-19 lockdown, might actually get me to finish off my boat".  So I thought, why not.

It took me about 10 minutes to figure out how to connect the radio gear and get it working (outside of the boat).  wow, I should have done this sooner!  then I realised I didn't have a prop-shaft coupler, so ordered one online (it should arrive soon).  However, I still need to make an engine mount platform (okay, that's another 10 minutes).  Then the boat will be done.

(Not quite sure what the whining noise is when the power goes through to the DC Motor, but I'm sure I'll figure out if it's something serious or not!)

Proof that the radio kit works using all the components.

Now, as I say, just waiting for the prop-shaft coupling and I can put it all together and go test it out in Pond#2.

I've decided that pond#2 is too small, pond#1 is 1/3 the size of that one!  So, Pond#3 is now under design and construction.  The previous builder who lived/built the house I live in, made this lovely decked area down the other end of the garden, with a nice little hut/house thing that we put the hot-tub/spa inside, but the rest of the space outside of it is just decking.  It's a bit odd, I've been wondering what to do with it.  I've lifted up a few planks and it's about 2ft deep, already got (old) pond lining to keep out the weeds, so I'll lift the rest, it's probably about 12ftx8ft wide, so I'll make it into a boating lake!!!  Then, if I'm feeling more adventurous later in the year, I might connect the 2 ponds up with a canal way between them, we'll see, that's a stretch goal!

What it'll mean is that I can use / test the boat out whilst we're all still in lockdown.  There is a proper boating lake in Warminster, I know, I've been there before on a Sunday morning and taken a look.  It's rather large, so will be more than enough for my boat - but that's for POST-Lockdown!

So, what was the distraction....well, I was in the garage prepping to replace the battery on my old 1959 Austin A35 (the +ve earth strap is corroded away and causes the car to stop) and I looked up to the shelf above and I saw my SHERMAN TANK - it's radio controlled and fire's BB-pellets etc... it's a 1/16 scale I believe.  Anyway, I was thinking to myself, I wonder if I could make that autonomous too.... I've got the Raspberry Pi's, got the cameras, got the WiFi, got the processing power, how about doing something useful with it....

I ummed and arr-ed and I was thinking, it's a bit small.  It might have too much issue driving around the garden, so what I need is a bigger one.  Obviously I went online and found 1/6th scale versions - awesome!!!!  Wow, look at the £2-3000 price tag!  The 1/16th one's are still going for £2-500 though, so not cheap.

I decided, what I really want it one big enough to sit on.  Then I found this man!  and he has answered the question that I haven't asked.  But the answer is "yes".

Oh, this is going to potentially be an expensive lockdown, but it could end up being a lot of fun!

Instead of the lawnmower engine and gearbox, I was thinking of a mobility scooter, electric engine....y'know, eco friendly and all that.  let's see.  although as research has shown, their might not be enough torque, oddly enough, which might be true.  Might need some EV motors from something larger, like a Nissan Leaf or a Tesla!

UPDATE: just stumbled over this guys website (he's not that far away from me), I was looking to see if there were any plans that I could purchase and I'd build the rest.

and of course, these people do similar 1/6 scale tanks for sale:

Tuesday, 21 April 2020


If it's a clear night outside and you have the opportunity, it's always a nice thing to take time to look up at the stars above and put things into perspective.

Last night, Venus was shining away super bright over to the west.  Quite a few normal satellites criss-crossing overhead - I must live on the M4/M25 crossroads as there are quite a lot going over my house!

and then, just for a treat, there are these little beauties who zoom overhead making a great scene:

If someone hasn't heard of them, or even know about them - that's quite a lot of people, to be fair, then it's a great wind up (in the current climate), that the Aliens are driving in single file and making their way over to London, oh look.... there they go....  :-D

You can select to see where they are in real-time, or see the Visible Times and you can plan when to go out into the garden.   have fun!

UPDATE: Found a great website that shows you all satellites in 3D from where you are.  CHECK IT OUT:

So, for my best chance of seeing Starlink, I shouldn't actually go in the back garden, but cross my road and go into the BIG empty field that has a gradient going downwards to the river Avon and I'll have a great clear view from west to east to see LOADS of those going along in a trail.  awesome!

Sigh: this is what happens when you've watched everything on Netflix, have fixed all your cars, have done all the gardening, are awaiting on spare electrical parts to arrive to do other projects....yep, you go outside and look into space.  Why haven't we been doing this before?! :-)

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Do something else.....

Those people that have known me for quite some time, know that I don't just do work-work.  I used to.  Oh, yes....I used to do that a lot.  I'm probably from the generation of IT guys that screwed it all up for the newer generation.  Why's that?

Well, IT was fascinating in the late 80s and all the way through the 90s....the possibilities, the basic-ness of it all.  Yes, you as a single person "could" do it all.  you could be the person that knew about hardware, knew about infrastructure, could make your own 10-base-2 (or was it 10?) cables (the one's that used TV aerial cable), before cat5 cables took over - but hey, you still did that too.  You knew how to network PCs together, different network cards, token networks connecting to the 10-base-2/10/T (whatever), how to configure Windows or even Novell Netware (wow, there's a blast from the past for you) to use that networking....and you even knew how to write code, so you could write the applications that people could use on those PCs... and being able to have a printer setup on the network so everyone could print via the network, well, my friend, you had hit the pinnacle of knowledge.  You were awesome.  You could then extend and expand your coding capabilities to now write software applications that would enable you to exploit that networking capability, client/server apps were born, oh the heady heights of more possibilities....and then....and, the network expanded, it grew from just one office to multiple offices being connected via dedicated ISDN lines to then divisions of offices across countries, how we skipped and revelled in our greatness...and then, the ultimate....the "internet"came along and that required expanding the mind to cater for more higher level thinking and approaching software applications in a different paradigm.  Different coding software was required, using the traditional 'C' code, whilst it did work for a while, (who remembers cgi-bin dll's!!!) need to evolve, then "internet" coding languages started to grow... JSPs (yeurgh...but they did the job) and Micorsofts version ASPs (Active Server Pages) now let you basically write client/server apps but now going across the "internet" rather than just local networks.... and then things ballooned.

Where was I? oh yes, we were the generation that screwed up IT for you lot.  Because we had some a wonderful time of gorging on the bliss of new innovation, we, and I mostly cast that as guys in their 20s, dedicated our lives to this stuff.  We spent work time doing the work that was needed.  We spent the evenings trying more things out, learning what would and wouldn't work.  We spent weekends building PC towers, installing Windows NT onto them, learning how to setup IIS so we could serve up web pages and web applications, that we would then use this knowledge back in the work place (or get new jobs), where we could apply this new found wisdom....

and that was the good and bad.  we dedicated our lives to this work.  What is the end result?  Where did it get us?   well, most, either became socially isolated (some still are), divorced (or equiv.), single, y'know all those views of negativity that society will throw at you.  But, we were and mostly still are happy.  Then the 2000-2010 period of IT hit.  That sucked.  You had to be a specialist, you had to focus on a single area of expertise, you could no longer be "the IT guy", you needed a whole team, in fact that team was then out-sourced because it all go so complex (I'll save that rant for another day) and well, most of those original IT guys, well, they go moved into management.  It's a very slippy slope to then drift into Sales...and well, that's the death-knell right there.... you then sit back and look at your life, whilst sitting on the park bench feeding the ducks bread (even though you know that is bad for them) (if this is in 2020, then you will be social distancing / self isolating, so you'll be in your back garden or strolling along a canal/river) and wonder, "where did it all go wrong?", "it used to be fun, I used to enjoy IT, I used to enjoy what I was doing, was it me or was it the Technology?"...

As someone, who spent 3 years dedicated to working for a specific Pharmaceutical company whilst working for a rather large IT company (iAnywhere/Sybase - who then got bought by SAP), I mean dedicated. 90-100 hours per week.  In France, Spain and Italy. Every week, for 3 years.  Just myself & 1 other guy (RIP Colin), we built the impossible, okay, "I" built the impossible, but I don't invent, Colin was the visionary, but not the doer, so I was the doer, the Pf.... company were happily paying for our services time, they were getting something way ahead of the competition, our company loved us, they could just ignore us and they we're getting paid several million $$$s per year for our services..and then that project came to a natural conclusion.  We finished.  I was exhausted, it was like a non-stop marathon, that was originally meant to just be a stroll in the park.  I learnt a lot.
And then the lovely Sybase company made the both of us redundant.  They had chosen to shut down the Professional Services part of their organisation and were just going to sell the products and provide support only.  WTF.  No discussion, no nothing, just finished.  We approached the Pf.... company and they were willing to take us on for a 6month contract, but they had just got a new IT Director involved who had a "new" vision and was going to shelve on existing projects and go in a new direction with different technologies and skillsets (It was much later that I got to know, he only last 6 months after screwing everything up and I could have gone back to them, but hey-ho, I'd moved on by then).....It was after this event happened (2008, I think, when the financial crisis hit, oh yeah that was fun!), that I did the retrospective thing and looked back at what I used to enjoy... of course I went through all the stuff from above ^^^^^^ and then I realised....that was ALL work based.  Where was the stuff that "I" used to like doing? what happened to the "hobbies" / "interests"?  I'd sacrificed them all for the job(s)....

So, I made a decision in late 2008, to make sure I ALWAYS MAKE TIME TO: 

"Do something else..."

and that is something I really hope that during the 2020 lockdown IT people decide to do -- don't think to yourself, oh, I now seem to have this time int he evenings and weekends, where I cannot go out or do things, therefore maybe I should just work 7 days a week.... or do work/work related things.

No, "Do something else..."

So, what do I do, then? some of you may (or may not) know, I've been building a custom car for the past 10 years, why so long?  well, there was no rush and well, it's more about the journey isn't it really!  I've also had 3-4 other cars I've acquired and worked on during that time.
Am I a fully qualified mechanic?  No.  Do I have a degree in auto-electrics? No. Do I know what I am doing all the time? No... but I have a methodical & logical mind... it can be applied to all sorts of problems and challenges.  It's also a great feeling to look back at a solid / real thing (not something within a black LCD screen) and say, "Hey, I made that / I did that,...okay, it's not perfect but have you ever had a go?..No?...well, maybe you should!"

I also dabble with a little bit of electronics / robot / arduino / raspberry pi stuff too - except, that is usually my autumn/winter time focus - it's cool to see what you can do with these things nowadays - their usage is only limited by your imagination and their specs are awesome, the RPi4 is as powerful as an Apollo 13 computer that went to the moon (or something like that)....

Well, as it is 2020 and working on the cars has been great the past few years, I have those vehicles sitting in the garage or on the driveway, unable to drive them because of COVID-19....

Well, it's time to catch up on some YouTube videos!!!  Whilst it might not look like you are "Doing something else...", actually you are, you can learn quite a lot and have some fun along the way.

I've been watching these guys since about 2012, they have grown quite a lot since the very early days when Marty used to work on cars on his mum's driveway (he now has a dedicated garage with a proper hoist and everything - am very jealous).  As you can tell, they don't take life too seriously - but they do enjoy "Doing something else...".  Their day jobs are music orientated, nothing to do with cars - and that's the thing that I think I really like about them, they do the day job, but they find time for an outside passion.  They're not experts, but they are willing to give it a go and have fun learning along the way.  sometimes good things happen, sometimes not.  but, when they're sitting at the riverbank feeding the ducks in the future, you just know, they'll have a smile that they spent their spare time "Doing something else...."


and watch their latest YouTube video : MightyCarMods

I had to post a few photo's as I can empathise about the wiring on a car - here's a couple of photo's of me having to wire my custom car from scratch - it's mind bending:

after figuring it all out above and getting it all working...... I then had the car painted....and the painter just chopped through all the wiring and ripped it apart, he assumed that as it was a mess it wasn't working and was going to be re-done!!!! ahhhhhhh!!!!  well, I did have to re-do it all again and it took me twice as long

I can also feel the pain of working in a tight space for a rear/mid engined car.  my MG F is a nightmare to work on.  You have so little access, you almost have to work by touch & feel to get anything done on it.

I decided (a while back now) to fit a new 52mm throttle body to the car and to have a silly air-pod filter (no it doesn't make it quicker, it just sounds much better!)

 look at the restricted space you have to work on in there!  would I do it again? sure thing!  So whilst everyone is in lockdown and it's really tempting to spend your time, like we did back in the 90s, but for different reasons, please consider what you are doing and why you are doing it.

"Do Something else...."

 As to me, what am I about to do....well, I've just been up in the loft/attic and I've dug out a PS1, PS2, XBox 360 (I skipped the PS3) and a mini-PS1 and have just hooked them all up to the 55" TV in the spare room to re-kindle some Laura Croft, Parappa the Rapper, Tekken 2, Destruction Derby and GTA: San Andreas playing.... again, I had these things in the past, but never really took the time or allowed time to enjoy them.  Now is the time.

UPDATE:  btw - just because I've shown interests in cars and "other technology", that doesn't mean that I'm saying you have to stick close to your field of work interest.
You could easily take up learning how to do crochet, get yourself a pottery wheel (Amazon will still deliver!), learn pilates, decide to take an online course in "how to read aramaic", so that you can read really old biblical-era documents, or study all about the "occult" - there's 1000s of books to gorge your interests there, or if you're more of a physical focused person look to do things in that respect.

All, I'm saying is, just because you do work/work with a particular thing, doesn't mean it has to be your life - your job doesn't have to define who you are.  Which is an interesting quote as I was watching an episode of "Dirty Money" on Netflix, the Wells Fargo episode, and there was a quote from a guy who said that actually was how most Americans perceived themselves.  They were defined by their job and what they did for work, that was "them", which was why when they were unfairly fired from their jobs they mentally collapsed and were in turmoil.

Maybe that's the point I'm kind of making here, leave yourself some room to not be 100% dependent upon a definition of a job/role/work, if that goes away, you should still be able to be "you".  There should still be a "you".  So, get thinking, get pondering and start "Doing something else...." ;-)

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Why I disagree with the term "Data Scientist"

....and other grouchy grumblings from an old IT guy :-D

Okay, first I'll say, I've been knocking around with IT since the early days, yes, yes, yes, that means I'm biased, IT racist (if you will) and very set in my ways about how things should and should not work with IT.....

in fact, I'm not.  I'm actually quite the opposite.  I'm very flexible and open-minded.  That's how I've managed to stay relevant over the past 25+ years.  I've evolved with IT......where it makes sense.

I've been cautious when I needed to, I've thrown caution to the wind on the odd occasion and just went with the flow to see where we'd end up.

However.  All this new nonsense about A.I (Artificial Intelligence) and the term "Data Scientist" as a job role just rubs salt into a paper cut for me.

1st you are not a scientist.  yes, okay, you probably were very good as maths (correct spelling) and statistics at school, did that weird class you could do at A-level (if they even do that anymore) and then moved into University where you gorged on how to process data using Analytical thought (there's the nugget, right there!) and then to feed your addiction, you then wanted more, you moved onto doing a Masters degree....oh, the addiction knows no bounds, you bask in your glory...and then it looks like you may actually have to stop doing this now and do a "real" job....hang on, one last saving grace beholds you....yes, you manage to convince someone you NEEED to do a Ph.D..... you are saved, 4 more years of rolling around half-naked with your numbers, stats and all those equations, you are a god in human form.  and as they say, "then that also ends and you have to get a real job".

But, you now have more letters after your name than the length of most peoples names, therefore you can command a high salary and demand superiority and aloofness of your greatness of being able to do some sums.  (Oh, I'm going to get some flack for that one, but stick with me!).

The pretty clueless people (okay, I'll say it, mostly about my age + 5years) who are in charge of departments are being told "we NEEED these people for A.I., we NEEED the Data Scientists, the IT Industry is telling us we do".  So, they hire these people.

Then they throw them at client projects that come along.....and they fail.  They fail bad. But, it's okay, "it was the clients fault, they didn't define their requirements properly", "they didn't set realistic goals", "they didn't really know what they wanted"...."we did our best".... blah blah blah...

So, something is a little wrong and no-one really wants to admit it.  Data Scientists are just Data Analysts.  We've always had these people, heck, back in 1996-2001 I was paid quite nicely for doing that very task.  Analysing and making sense of millions of rows of data relating to ticket prices and revenue sharing for a major European railway company....yes, it was mind-blowing....but, and I think this is the real point.  Being able to extract meaningful data from the massive amount of data is only 1 (yes ONE) tiny part of the equation.  You still NEEED to know about IT.  About writing applications (do NOT even dare to throw the, "but I can code in python" sentence at me!), about deploying applications, about scaling, ....basically about all the "IT Infrastructure" items such as Load Balancers, firewalls, security, etc... all the things that you are taught when you learn about "proper IT".

The problem here is that companies are "ass-u-ming" that the "Data Scientists" know how to do all the "other IT stuff", because, well because they are paying them a LOT of money.  Some will point blank refuse (I know I've worked with some), some will give it a go, "what's the worst that can happen"...."(see above^^^^)".... others, just swan off to some other company to carry on Sciencing some data and getting paid handsomely for it.

So, I suppose there's my disagreement.  There is an assumption that the "Data Scientist" knows all.  They don't.  They know half a dozen ML (Machine Learning) models that they can invoke with some python scripts and make some good sense out of massive amounts of data.  COVID-19 has proven that.  But it has also shown that garbage-in, garbage-out.  We're still not at the A.I. level that people assume, else an A.I. would have worked everything out for us and developed a vaccine by now.

With that in mind, lay back and relax and I'll take you on a little journey back, okay, maybe only 20 years or so and I promise I'll be brief.  It involves my old mate, Dion Ridley.  Dions great.  Love him to bits & I hope he's being safe over in NY.

Dion is/was a Software Engineer.  I on the other hand have and probably always will be a Software Developer.  "What's the difference?", I hear you say.

Well, Dion will obsess over making widgets, making them as good and as fast as they possibly can be and to be the most efficient code and to do the job and just the job they need to do and they will do it bloody well (cos he's a great coder, just don't tell him that, his head is big enough as it is).  I on the other hand, can make some widgets, they'll work, they'll do the job, but they'll mostly be for a Proof of Concept, just to give a skeleton of what really needs to be done.  Probably run slow, will use a ton of external libraries that I have no real understanding of what those functions do internally, but it'll work.  A bit like the black boxes you have under the bonnet in your car - they do they job and you don't argue.

And that is where I think the problem lies with "Data Scientists", they are the "Software Engineer" mindset people, they make algorithms that do specific things, they make ML widgets and they are REALLY good at it.

But, you need a "Software Developer" to be able to step back, look at the bigger picture of what a client/customer needs to achieve and then decide where those widgets can be placed to make maximum benefit.  The widgets are crucial, but they are just component 3, 7, 11, 19, 21 & 23 of a 30 component IT solution.

Here is a diagram that I believe shows visually what I'm trying to explain.  "AI" (or "ML" for the purists), is just a component piece of the bigger whole of a solution that you will deliver for a customer......"Data Scientists"'s not "all" about you ;-)

Whilst I give "Data Scientists" a bad rap, it's not their fault, it's the resource managers, the IT depts hiring them who mis-understand their value and then assume they are something they are not.  Vice-versa is also true.  For instance, I'm NOT a "Data Scientist", many bosses have tried to push me into it, I've given it a go...I've done online courses, I even wrote a few python brains (50lines of code) to drive a "car" around a course on my screen without crashing, but you know, it just didn't fit.  It wasn't applied.  It wasn't useful.  It was a widget.

Then I stumbled over this guys couple of articles and I totally 100% agree with him.

Get to know what the widgets are that are available, there are a lot of open source one's out there, then, if you need to drill down and do something specialist, then go get your "Data Scientist" involved and they'll revel in it and you'll get an awesome application made and delivered.

Just make sure that the right people are doing the right work to get the best possible outcome.  If you keep asking that plumber to do auto-electrical work, soon you'll have a steam powered car on your driveway :-)

Amusingly, I've just been making "ESRI Map widgets", but that's a different thing entirely!

UPDATE: Okay, so, as we all say, "It's my opinion, so don't go getting your nerve ending all sensitive and do the usual internet keyboard warrior thing".  But, alas, some of us have been knocking around in the IT industry for longer than some of you have been born (oh, another sentence guaranteed to wind up the youngsters), but what that has given us is 'insight'.  What you think is new and amazing, is usually just a rehash of something we all worked on 20years ago, but hey, you weren't there, so you wouldn't know and it's not the sort of stuff that gets taught or even passed down from master to apprentice (now I am showing my age).

This person just published this article, and to be fair he did a much more eloquent job with his words than I can - maybe he's a "proper internet writer" or something, but in essence he's saying the same thing as I was above.  Software Engineer.  Data Scientist. etc..etc...

This does raise the point though, like we had back in 2000, where the job title, "Internet Strategist" existed (yes, I had that for a while!), it sort of morphed into a new title because things moved on, what I am REALLY hoping is that Machine Learning does just become an API.  A blackbox.  Something that you just call from your code and it does a thing.  Do you need to know what 20 python libraries it executed in the background to get the result?  nope.  You just care about the output and how it relates to solving your problem.

So, yes there will still be Machine Learning / Data Science people but they will be doing just that and only that, working on that blackbox and making it very smart.  That'll leave the Software developers free'd up to know they can plug these blackbox components in to meet certain AI-esque requirements, but they don't have to actually know how to do ML themselves.  Then the balance will return.

However, and this is the usual thing, the rush of companies being led by the slightly-out-of-touch, will demand that they need all these Data Scientists and not employ Software Developers or Infrastructure Engineers, etc... or they'll let them go.  Then when the axe swings the other way - and it will - they'll cut down on the Data Scientists and will then have a panic rush to get the Software Developers back...but, oh no!  Then they'll claim there is a "skills shortage" for these people, so then they'll have to outsource them from some place else, except, they don't know where from as they've never really had good candidates before, so they'll find yet another country out there who are willing to charge peanuts for these services and the skills gap will be filled.  yay, pat those bosses on the back.  (Oh hang on, did I just describe 2000-2015 there).  As I say, the IT Industry is actually very new and it makes a lot of mistakes, frequently and it makes them over and over and over again.  No single person can make it stop, it takes proper leadership, but y'know, as they say, if you've been around long enough, you end up learning to go with the flow rather than disrupting it.  (Oh, that is so not me, but I unfortunately lack the power to influence).

So if you are a Software Developer, you stick at it, learn "just enough to get by", don't put your eggs in one basket, not that you would have done anyway, it'll not be in your nature.  Would you, in todays world, commit to ONLY coding in ONE language?  (okay, there are a lot of people I know who only code in Java, as it's got them through the past 10+years, but even they are now realising their shortfall), you "keep your options open".  Be flexible and adapt.  That way you'll survive and not get sucked into every new trendy / shiny thing that comes along.

(I'm not saying I always make the right choices there, I recall telling the head of SCEE (Sony Computer Entertainment Europe) in a job interview that I didn't see the point of connecting Playstation 1 devices up to the internet, why would you do that?....I'll just point out, it was 1996)

So, this opinion article appeared on Medium today:

and yep, you guess it, the title is "Don't become a Data Scientist, become a Software Engineer instead".

'nuff said.  ;-)