Author Archives: jzb

Why PR Spam Makes Me Crazy…

It’s been nearly two years since I stopped working as press, yet I still get pitches almost daily from “pray and spray” PR folks – almost always about things that I wouldn’t have covered even if I was still doing my old beats.

One of the reasons this makes me crazy is obvious: I don’t need more email to sort through. I get plenty of email to sort through as it is, I don’t need spam from PR folks who can’t be bothered to keep a decent list of press. What makes it worse is that they often will do the “just making sure you saw this” follow-up w/in 24 hours if I just hit delete. (Few things strike me as more entitled than PR folks who think they’re owed a response from a person they’ve never corresponded with before and they haven’t done their homework enough to know that you’re not even in their target demographic.)

Aside from that, though, it makes me crazy because it’s a reminder just how lousy tech press has become in general. There’s no attempt to build relationships with tech press these days for the most part, because there’s damn little real journalism going on. The bulk of stories are reactionary – Acme Corp did Y today, so we’ll put up a 600-word post about it that only skims the surface and never revisit the topic again, unless it’s an outrage post of some sort that has a lifetime of a few days.

It also makes me crazy because people get paid ridiculous amounts of money to… spam journalists. I’ve seen the rates offered by third-party firms that spam me, and they’re ridiculous when you take into account what they actually do. Companies should be paying PR people who have contacts in the industry, who know and understand the products they’re pitching, and know the publications.

If you’re doing tech PR and you can’t name the current masthead of publications that are important to your client you have no business in the industry. If a person has left a publication and you still don’t know about it months later, you have no business being in the industry. Seriously, how can you be responsible for relationships with, say, ReadWriteWeb and not notice that someone’s posting frequency has gone from three times a day to zero for months? You’re clearly not paying attention to what they’re writing about, how can you possibly be effective in pitching them?

Finally, it makes me crazy because one of the reasons the tech press sucks so much these days is there’s damn little money to pay people to do good coverage. And one of the reasons there’s damn little money is because it’s been diverted from advertising to ineffective social media and PR campaigns from over-priced firms that aren’t doing their damn job! So tech companies are basically shooting themselves in the foot, paying huge retainers to PR folks and skimping on supporting the publications that … they’re paying the ineffective PR firms to get coverage in. Then they’re surprised when they don’t seem to be getting good coverage. Sigh.

Brief Review: Seiki 4K 39″ TV/Monitor

Just a bit ago, I blogged about getting a 4K monitor working on Fedora 20. Now that I’ve had a bit of time with the monitor, I wanted to comment on the experience a little.

Reviews on various sites really bagged on this monitor’s color/clarity compared to traditional computer monitors. While I don’t doubt discerning users might find flaws in this monitor, it’s just fine for my use case. That is, I spend the day using IRC, a few terminals, Web browser, PDF reader, mail client, and maybe LibreOffice.

If I’m using any sort of image editing/photo editing software, it’s strictly for cropping and re-sizing. So, honestly, it doesn’t matter to me if things are perfectly color-calibrated or if it’s good for gaming.

Compared to my 27″ Apple Cinema Display, I’d give it a B- or C+ for picture quality. But a small sacrifice of picture quality is well worth the extra desktop space.

Daily Use

The productivity increase I got from the 4K monitor was so great, I finish my work in half the time and have been promoted twice in the last week.

Uh, OK… not really. But we geeks are always chasing that tiny productivity boost, or searching to zap annoyances in our work day – and I’m happy to say there has indeed been a productivity boost and some zapped annoyances.

You can’t really quantify the improvement you get from a new setup like this, but if I had to… I’d say it’s 10%, maybe 15% more productive. I find myself spending less times tabbing through things, I can actually have four to six things open at the same time for a task without any need to tab through windows and find something. Example: Planning the Infrastructure.Next events, I can have a few emails or Web browsers open that have speakers’ abstracts, the Lanyrd page for Infrastructure.Next @ SCALE and Infrastructure.Next @ Ghent, a terminal for using middleman to update Red Hat’s Open Source Community blog, and still keep an eye on IRC/IM.

Ergonomics

The 39″ monitor is the same distance as the 27″ monitor, which admittedly is not the best layout ergonomically. The top and far right/left of the monitor are just high/far enough away that it’s slightly uncomfortable. I’d like to push the monitor back about another six to eight inches, but there’s not room on my desk.

Annoyances

A few annoyances with the setup so far.

First, the power management and Fedora don’t seem to get along. I had to turn off power management in KDE, because either Fedora was crashing, or the monitor wasn’t waking up again or taking a signal after KDE put the display to sleep.

The monitor has a sleep feature that kicks in at a regular interval, and the option to turn it off is greyed out in its menu. So, every few hours I get a overlay display on the monitor telling me it’s going to sleep in 60 seconds. So I grab the remote, mash a button, and it stays awake. (Or if I’m not at the computer, I have to power it on again when I get back to the desk.)

Not a huge deal, but also a bit annoying.

It has a PC input for sound, but I haven’t found a way to select that input while also using HDMI, which is annoying.

The only workable input to get the 4K resolution is HDMI. I’d like to use DisplayPort, but that’s not an option for this display. I’ve read a bit about “active” DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapters that might let me use the laptop DisplayPort successfully, and I’m going to try that soon.

tl;dr

For my use, the positives outweigh the negatives, though I debate whether I should have waited for the Dell 4K monitors. Higher cost, but probably better quality and easier to set up.

But, you get what you pay for. The Seiki is cheap and available now. It works well enough that I’m sure I’ll get quite a bit of use out of it. Worst case scenario, I could always use it as a TV if 4K ever really becomes a thing for Blu Ray/streaming video and replace it with a Dell or another proper 4K monitor when they become more available.

If you spend all day at the computer, I’d strongly recommend checking it out.

Venue Change for London Cloud Summit

Just a bit over a week before the London Cloud Summit for 29 January, and we have a great line-up of speakers for the event.  One small housekeeping note, we’ve had a venue change from Shoreditchworks to The Bakery, which is here:


View Larger Map

If you haven’t signed up yet, there are a few seats left, so grab your ticket today:

Full schedule on Lanyrd.

The 4K Desktop on Fedora

Seiki 4K on Fedora

Seiki 4K on Fedora

Like a lot of folks, I caught the “4K is for Programmers” post off Hacker News a few days ago (it’s here, but the link seems to be borked at the moment) and got to thinking about more desktop space. Much more.

My current setup, when not traveling, involves a 27″ 2560×1440 display – usually connected to my laptop. Even with that, I found myself tabbing through windows too often balancing terminal windows, browser windows, and mail.

Eventually I decided it was worth a shot, and ordered the Seiki 4K 39″ (SE39UY04) off Amazon. Unfortunately, didn’t seem to have much luck getting it going with my existing video card in the workstation or my laptop, so I wound up ordering a EVGA GeForce GTX760, and slapped that into the workstation.

It takes a few steps to get it going at its full resolution on Fedora 20, at least with my setup:

  1. Install the nVidia drivers as explained in this F19 nVidia install/un-install guide.
  2. As shown in this forum post, add a line to /etc/X11/xorg.conf in the Device section with several options that are needed to pass the right resolution:Option "ModeValidation" "AllowNon60hzmodesDFPModes, NoEDIDDFPMaxSizeCheck, NoVertRefreshCheck, NoHorizSyncCheck, NoDFPNativeResolutionCheck, NoMaxSizeCheck, NoMaxPClkCheck, AllowNonEdidModes, NoEdidMaxPClkCheck"
  3. Add the file /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/10-monitor.conf, with this content:
    Section "Monitor"
      Identifier "Monitor0"
      Modeline "3840x2160" 307.00 3840 4016 4104 4400 2160 2168 2178 2250 +hsync +vsync
    EndSection
    Section "Screen"
      Identifier "Screen0"
      Device "HDMI-0"
      Option "ModeValidation" "AllowNon60hzmodesDFPModes, NoEDIDDFPMaxSizeCheck, NoVertRefreshCheck, NoHorizSyncCheck, NoDFPNativeResolutionCheck, NoMaxSizeCheck, NoMaxPClkCheck, AllowNonEdidModes, NoEdidMaxPClkCheck"
      Monitor "Monitor0"
      DefaultDepth 24
      SubSection "Display"
        Depth 24
        Modes "3840x2160" "1920x1080"
      EndSubSection
    EndSection

And that’s really it. Once I logged out and back in, it automagically detected the highest resolution and set the monitor to it.

Is the picture as nice as the 27″ Cinema Display? No. But it works fine, and after some tweaking (turn the Sharpness to 0, use the User preset) it’s a respectable picture.

I also tested plugging in the 27″ display and the 39″ display at the same time… yep, they both work. So if I can clear enough space on the desk, I’ll have waaay too much desktop space to play with. It has four outputs: HDMI, DisplayPort, and two DVI. I may see if it can drive all four just for grins, though I can’t imagine using that setup all day.. or having space for it on my desktop.

Given that the 4K post seemed to spark a lot of conversation, I do hope we’ll start seeing some focus on higher resolution monitors in the near future. We’ve been stuck for a few years with stagnant pricing on higher resolution displays (e.g. 2560×1440 displays) and not many options. Looking forward to working with the new biggie-sized desktop.

4K and Fedora?

Decided that mere 2560×1440 resolution was just not cutting it on the desktop, so I ordered a 39″ Seiki 4K monitor on Amazon. Should be arriving tomorrow. Wondering if anyone else in Fedoraland has set one of these puppies up, and if so – what video card and drivers you’re using?

I have a Dell dual-Xeon workstation with a nVidia Quadro NVS 295. A bit of googling suggests that it might have trouble driving something with a resolution higher than 2560×1600. Any experience with this video card and Fedora would also be welcome!

FOSDEM Distributions Developer Room: Call for Participation

FOSDEM LogoOnce again, FOSDEM will have a cross-distribution miniconference on 1 & 2 February 2014. We’d like to invite submissions of talks, Birds of a Feather (BoF) sessions, or round-table discussions from any interested representatives of Linux distributions or individuals who have a topic of interest related to Linux distributions.

Proposals should be submitted through the FOSDEM proposal system (Pentabarf) here:

https://penta.fosdem.org/submission/FOSDEM14

You’ll add your session title, speaker bio, and abstract for the talk. If you’ve presented or submitted at FOSDEM previously, you should have an account in Pentabarf. If you haven’t created an account, but have presented at FOSDEM previously please contact me before creating an account – the odds are you have an account that was created previously by the FOSDEM organizers.

Deadline for submissions is 22 December 2013. Since we’re on a tight timeline, this is unlikely to be extended.

In addition to speakers, we also need one moderator for each day, and a video volunteer for each day. The moderator will introduce the speaker, keep time, and pass the microphone around for questions. The video volunteer will handle recording of sessions with provided equipment. (Don’t worry, we’ll also provide training as well.)

The call for participation is going out a bit late, so please do speak up quickly if you’re interested in participating! Also, please do help spread the word so we can ensure the best possible program for this year’s FOSDEM.

First Impressions at AWS re:Invent

Last year I attended AWS re:Invent, kinda, sorta. We were in Las Vegas to put on the first Apache CloudStack conference and most of my time and brainpower were consumed with last-minute planning for that event. I did spend time in the developer area, on exhibit floor, and some of the after-parties – but it wasn’t a usual conference for me.

This year, I’m actually not consumed with pre-conference planning (though the CloudStack Collaboration Conference is happening next week in Amsterdam, and I’m sad I won’t be able to attend), so I’ve been paying attention to re:Invent.

Generally, I tend to attend more community/FOSS and techie shows than big vendor blow-outs like AWS re:Invent. The very scale of the event is really impressive, and I have to give Amazon kudos for the slickness of the presentations and how smoothly the event is running. The registration, for instance, was totally slammed on day one – yet they kept the lines moving really well and even had a DJ (!) playing tunes in the corner to make the wait a little better.

The content on the other hand… well, it’s a bit generic and the keynote yesterday was definitely not what I was hoping for or expecting. First, I was surprised and disappointed at the amount of time Amazon spent calling out competitors (IBM, for an admittedly silly marketing stunt) and dissing private cloud. Does Amazon offer a solution that’s really appealing for certain applications or certain types of companies? Yup. Is public cloud ever going to be the majority of the compute market? I’m not convinced.

The keynote yesterday felt like a plea to enterprise, and way too much preaching to the converted and marketing fluff that we already knew anyway. Yeah, we get it: AWS is big, lots of customers (oooh, pretty NASCAR slides) and so forth. At least they did announce a few new services during the keynote, so attendees got a little excitement.

For me, the biggest part of any event is the “hallway track.” On one hand, it’s pretty good here because there’s about 9,000 people – you can easily find interesting people who are doing fun stuff with AWS and other tech, so that’s been good.

The bad, really bad, is the conference scheduling site is terrible and there’s no attendee directory whatsoever. I was doubly disappointed when I looked on Lanyrd and found only about 40 people signed up. It would have been great if I could have searched a directory (opt-in, of course) to try to connect with people ahead of time to meet and talk about their cloud usage.

Maybe next year. Overall, I think re:Invent is worth the time, money, and trip if you’re using AWS or are trying to disrupt AWS – but there are a number of things Amazon could do to make the conference more friendly for attendees and partners.

Apple’s “Pathological” Approach to Customers

I think Lawrence Lessig puts his finger on it pretty well with this post about the problems with Apple’s “communication” strategy about bugs/feature removal in upgrades:

But the argument I want to advance here is different. It is that in the “hybrid economy” that the Internet is, there is an ethical obligation to treat users decently. “Decency” of course is complex, and multi-faceted. But the single dimension I want to talk about here is this: They must learn to talk to us. In the face of the slew of either bugs or “features” (because as you’ll see, it’s unclear in some cases whether Apple considers the change a problem at all), a decent company would at least acknowledge to the public the problems it identifies as problems, and indicate that they are working to fix it.

Why is that what decency requires? And why, then, is the pathologically constipated way in which Apple communicates with its customers indecent?

Because when you see the incredible effort that is being devoted to dealing with these either bugs or features, there is an obvious incredible waste of time and resources that Apple could avoid simply by saying what they know.

For many users, communication is one of the strongest arguments for open source.

The fact that the source is open may not make a lick of difference to people who aren’t good with code, and/or are uninterested in spending the time to maintain or add features, or fix bugs. But they can have a direct line of communication with the developers who are working on features. Maybe a project you’re using goes in a direction you don’t like (for example) but at least you see the “WONTFIX” in the bug tracker. With Apple? Who the heck knows?

Many of the freedoms that are important to open source/free software folks seem like abstractions to non-developers. Apple provides a really good object lesson that shows that there are concrete reasons, beyond just hacking the code, that users should prefer open source.

A Response I’d Never Like to Hear or See Again: “Just Don’t Use X”

Well, Actually TrollcatLet me say this up-front. I’m guilty of this myself. I’ll own it, I’ve said variations of this about plenty of technologies or services.

Someone complains about a mobile OS, “oh, don’t use that. Use [insert speaker’s favorite mobile OS here].” Someone complains about Windows/Mac/Linux, “simple, just use [Windows|Mac|Linux] and your problem goes away.”

Someone complains about a problem with Facebook, Gmail, Google+, Twitter, etc. “Oh, just don’t use it. Simple.”

You get the idea.

The speaker may be the best kind of correct, technically correct, but they risk invoking the “fail mode of clever” which is (as John Scalzi so eloquently put it) “asshole.”

You may think your absolutist, well-thought-out, well-reasoned manifesto against $thing is convincing. It may even be convincing to anyone willing to 1) take the several hours it takes to hear the diatribe, and 2) trade off the benefits or perceived benefits of their choice to embrace the alternative. (This is assuming you offer an alternative. Many folks like to bash things and then not even up an alternative, which isn’t a winning strategy. Yes, I’m looking at the whole “Defective by Design” campaign when I say this.)

It’s totally OK for you to refuse to use a service, operating system, program, or whatever. More power to you. Just don’t assume that your choices are applicable to others.

People use Facebook for complicated reasons, and often actually are aware how annoying the service is and how shitty it is that Facebook continually tweaks privacy options/settings and the flow of posts, etc. People use Windows for complicated reasons that depend a lot on their level of comfort with computers, applications they need, etc.

“Just don’t use X,” is not a constructive comment. That’s not to say offering an alternative is bad or wrong, if done reasonably. But “just don’t use X” is pretty much a non-starter.

And don’t even get me started on the folks who recommend telling others when they encounter problems with X “simple, just tell them not to use X and to use a better service/technology.” Yes, because what will win users/customers is to reply to their issues with an invitation to make changes on their end that will be perceived as disruptive. Way to go champ, pick up your prize for customer service at the front desk.

You can advocate for better options, but leading with “just don’t use X” as an absolutist statement pretty much guarantees you’re going to be ignored and annoy the other person or people. Take a stab at being empathetic with others and realize that your set of choices and values may not apply well to their situation.