Category: Alaric

An actually usable voice assistant interface (by )

Ok, this is going to sound a bit weird, but I had a dream last night and part of that dream as an actually usable voice assistant system (as in, Google Assistant / Alexa type of thing). I woke up all excited about this, so I need to write it up so that I can see if it's actually a good interface when I come back to it in few days, or just dream-hubris... Read more »

Pictures from Space (by )

So the International Space Station (ISS) contains some equipment that's part of a project called ARISS, or Amateur Radio on the ISS.

One of the ARISS projects is occasional transmissions of images via SSTV, or Slow-scan television - basically colour faxes sent via radio.

Anyway, a few days ago, I saw that there was an SSTV transmission scheduled, and the ISS would be passing over England at times I would be able to try and pick it up, so I gave it a go... Read more »

A keyboard design (by )

Ok, so a friend of mine is making himself a custom keyboard - there's a whole hobbyist community of people who design their own, often based on a published design like the Ergodox.

This is related to something I've long wanted to do, which is to obtain myself a chorded keyboard. So I thought I'd write up my current thoughts on the matter, given that they've been brought to the forefront of my mind again!

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Time for a new job! (by )

So, this happened:

It is with great regret that I announce that Dotscience is shutting down with immediate effect. The global economic situation has caused our source of funding to cease and, as we have been unable to secure alternative funding we are now closing all our operations.

...which means I'm out of a job!

This isn't an urgent problem, as we have resources enough to get by for a few months. And I'm not actually free from my contract for a while yet (notice periods and all) so I can't start a new job yet anyway.

Which is a relief, because I'm still a bit burnt out and, right now, I'd much rather curl up and tidy my workshop and fix my roof and do some long-overdue maintenance on my infrastructure (you may notice that web sites I look after are starting to support https lately, for instance) than be thinking about another job. Right now, I am motivated to think about this from a "We're going to run out of money if I don't" perspective, which isn't great and probably won't look great in interviews. I need to get back to "I'm going to do something awesome and rewarding, that lets me apply my skills to doing good in the world" being my reason to work!

I liked the people I worked with at Dotscience, and I was impressed with how we managed to investigate a totally unfamiliar market (statisticians, or "data scientists" as they're called these days) and work out how to make a product they actually really wanted. I learnt a lot about product-market fit and how to find it, and learnt a lot about modern data science tooling. But, in a small team I didn't get to do much leadership, and the technical challenges were more "fighting third-party components that didn't quite do what we wanted" and "refactoring permission checking logic out of seventy-five different API call handlers" than the kinds of things I like doing.

So I definitely need to find myself something where I get to do some mix of the things I've enjoyed most in my career:

  1. Solving really hard technical problems, ideally ones with complicated and conflicting requirements. I love conflicting requirements. I'm in my element finding elegant compromises between them.
  2. Looking after a team. I joined a startup in the hope that it would grow until I could lead a team again... I like looking after people, helping them become their best, working out with them to form a plan everyone is happy with (ideally involving solving some conflicting requirements!), and then mucking in to get it done.
  3. Communicating with people. I really like talking to customers to understand their needs, talking to developers to understand their work, integrating the two to figure out a way the developers can meet the customers' needs, then communicating that back to the customers and developers (who, of course, both require quite different kinds of explanation) to see if it's right. I worked for a year in a role that was purely this with no coding at all, and it was pretty good; Dotscience was just starting to get customers when it was plucked from my grasp!

So, given that I can't start a new job for a while yet, I'm going to do my best to work on some personal projects for the time being. This will be a mixture of:

  1. Infrastructure maintenance/expansion, so I can feel the pride and security of operating on a solid base, rather than feeling the combined guilt/fear that everything I'm responsible for is about to fall apart. I've been too busy to look after the Snell-Pym Mainframe properly for years, and my work area is a mess.
  2. Exploring my curiosities. Network protocol design, for instance. I've spent too long suppressing my urge to explore interesting challenges because there's no time!
  3. Sheer fun stuff. I've a small list of computer games I'd really like to play, things I'd like to watch, and so on!

I'm tempted to avoid going back to my previous routine, though. Should I work part-time, say 3 or 4 days a week? Can we afford that? Or should I start my own business (I'm not short of ideas) so I can make my own choices?

Either way, definite requirements for my future career are:

  1. I've got to work from home (so it must be remote work), with flexible hours so I can fit in medical appointments and school pick-up. My wife has ongoing health issues due to a brain injury, which includes seizures; if I'm away, she's either on her own, or our eldest daughter has to look after her, which isn't a burden I want to regularly place on a 14 year old. I need the kind of workplace that's making a policy of being accessible to single parents, effectively!
  2. I need to earn enough to feed myself and my family.

So, it remains to be seen just how idealistic I can be about having a fun job where I get to make a difference, versus working in the code mines closing issues to pay the bills. I can do the latter, but I'll need enough time away from work to do something more appealing to remain sane!

I'm starting to feel tingles of excitement about interesting jobs I might do next... Suggestions for places that need somebody to guide a team to solve really hard technical problems are welcome, so I can start job-hunting with gusto in a few weeks' time 😉

A draft specification for IRIDIUM (by )

As discussed in my previous post, I think it's lame that we use TCP for everything and think we could do much better!. Here's my concrete proposal for IRIDIUM, a protocol that I think could be a great improvement:

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