The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Simple Azure management using CloudMonix

We've been using CloudMonix for a while to manage and monitor our Microsoft Azure assets. By "we" I mean both Inner Drive Technology (home of The Daily Parker) and Holden (my day job).

CloudMonix recently added a new feature that automates virtual machine (VM) management. See, Microsoft charges for VMs by the hour. So if you have a VM that is only used at specific times, you're wasting money by having it run all the time.

A great example: Our continuous integration (CI) server, which builds and tests our (Holden's) applications every time a developer publishes a change to our master Git repository. Typically no one is making changes outside of business hours. So most of the time, the CI server just sits there, doing nothing.

Last week I configured CloudMonix to shut down our CI server every night at 6pm and wake it up at 7am the next morning. I only made two minor errors.

First, shutting down a VM in Azure makes its IP address evaporate, which screwed up some of the tests that connect to Salesforce. Second, the CI server runs a weekly build and smoke test early Monday morning, so we know first thing that the build is OK for the week. It was running at 4:15; I had to move it to 7:15. And all is good.

NCPC predicts warm, dry 2016 for Chicago

The latest Climate Prediction Center forecasts came out this week. Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel says it's pretty unusual:

[T]here is a chance that La Niña conditions (the opposite of El Niño) could develop in the summer or fall time frame. Unfortunately, the appearance of La Niña in summer or fall in Illinois typically means hot, dry weather.

This is the first time I can remember CPC forecasting an increased risk of warmer and drier conditions so far out for Illinois. If the forecast comes to pass, this could be a challenging summer.

Despite the chilly weather earlier this week, the latest Chicago forecast calls for slightly-warmer-than-normal temperatures all the way out till next Wednesday. I'm fine with warmer, drier winters here. But like Angel, I'm worried about a hot, dry summer.

Working in tech can suck

The Economist peeks under the skirts of the top tech firms and finds what people in my field have known for a long, long time:

However, a career as a software developer or engineer comes with no guarantee of job satisfaction. A survey last year of 5,000 such workers at both tech and non-tech firms, by TINYPulse, a specialist in monitoring employee satisfaction, found that many of them feel alienated, trapped, underappreciated and otherwise discombobulated. Only 19% of tech employees said they were happy in their jobs and only 17% said they felt valued in their work. In many areas they were even more discontented than non-tech workers: 36% of techies felt they had a clear career path compared with 50% of workers in areas such as marketing and finance; 28% of techies said they understand their companies’ vision compared with 43% of non-techies; and 47% of techies said they had good relations with their work colleagues compared with 56% of non-techies.

No amount of talent or effort can make up for having chosen to work at Sidecar, a ride-sharing service which shut down in December, rather than Uber or Lyft, its still-expanding rivals. Moreover, tech startups typically attract talent by offering shares. Employees work like dogs in return for supposedly making a fortune when the firm goes public. However, such firms often use multiple classes of shares that preserve the biggest gains for insiders, leaving the employees with common stock that can easily lose value. In particular, startups have taken to offering later-stage investors guarantees that they will get their money back, if either a subsequent funding round or an eventual initial public offering (IPO) values their shares at a lower price than they are paying. When firms have to pay out on such guarantees, they generally do so by issuing extra shares, which dilute other common shareholders such as their staff.

The tech industry offers fabulous rewards for a fortunate few: almost half of the world’s billionaires aged under 40 are tech types. It offers a wonderful life for many thousands more: they get to make serious money by turning science fiction into reality. But the industry is also rife with disappointments: endless toil that produces meagre returns; and dreams of reinventing the world that turn into just another tough and insecure job.

Sounds about right. It also sounds like the TV business, which, as Hunter Thompson once summed up, "is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason." Tech sometimes looks like that, too.

Hottest year ever

Even though the U.S. only had its second-hottest year on record, NASA and NOAA reported today that worldwide temperatures were the hottest since records began in 1880:

Globally-averaged temperatures in 2015 shattered the previous mark set in 2014 by 0.23 degrees Fahrenheit (0.13 Celsius). Only once before, in 1998, has the new record been greater than the old record by this much.

The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1.0 degree Celsius) since the late-19th century, a change largely driven by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.

Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with 15 of the 16 warmest years on record occurring since 2001. Last year was the first time the global average temperatures were 1 degree Celsius or more above the 1880-1899 average.

The Times analysis:

Politicians attempting to claim that greenhouse gases are not a problem seized on that slow period to argue that “global warming stopped in 1998” and similar statements, with these claims reappearing recently on the Republican presidential campaign trail.

Statistical analysis suggested all along that the claims were false, and the slowdown was, at most, a minor blip in an inexorable trend, perhaps caused by a temporary increase in the absorption of heat by the Pacific Ocean.

“Is there any evidence for a pause in the long-term global warming rate?” said Gavin A. Schmidt, head of NASA’s climate-science unit, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in Manhattan. “The answer is no. That was true before last year, but it’s much more obvious now.”

How was the U.S. not hottest-ever last year? If you look at NASA's map, you can see why. Almost the entire world was significantly hotter than normal, except for the Antarctic Circle, bits of the North Atlantic, and the eastern U.S.:

They've even got a nifty video showing the progression over time:

Chicago's Internet tax

I've just spent a few minutes going through all my company's technology expenses to figure out which ones are subject to the completely daft rental tax that Chicago has extended to cover computing services. The City theorizes that rental tax is payable whenever you pay to use a piece of equipment that belongs to someone else for a period of time. This makes a lot of sense when you go to Hertz, but less when you use Microsoft Azure.

My understanding of the tax and the City's might not be completely orthogonal, but here are some examples of things that I've flagged for my company. This clearly falls within the tax ruling. You pay for an online service that runs on someone else's computers. This is exactly what the city was after when they extended the rental tax.

Microsoft Azure: The tax only seems to cover Azure Compute fees, and specifically exempts Storage charges. So how are database hours taxed, then? With Azure, you pay for Database compute and storage together. Clearly Azure Storage is exempt, though. So now we've got a recordkeeping burden that Microsoft can't help us with yet. Great.

LinkedIn Professional: This may be subject to the tax, if you interpret the tax very broadly. But a LinkedIn subscription isn't so much for the use of its computers (which is free), but for enhanced features of the product that seem more like consulting services than compute time. I think we'll see some litigation over services like this one.

JetBrains ReSharper software license: This does not seem subject to the tax, because we're only paying for a license to run the software on our own computers.

Basically, the City is trying to raise revenue any way it can, but they don't have the technical wherewithal to understand why the tax as constituted makes no sense. Some people in my company feel this makes Chicago unattractive to business, but that's true only if you don't count the difficulty getting talented people to move away from all the city has to offer. It's a frustrating new tax, though, and one the City probably wouldn't have to impose if the rest of the state would pay for its share of the services that Chicago provides to it.

Too many craft breweries? Seriously?

Washington Post writer Fritz Hahn is freaking out that the U.S. now has more breweries than ever:

As of Dec. 1, 2015, the Brewers Association had counted 4,144 breweries in the United States, the most ever operating simultaneously in the history of the country. According to historians, the previous high-water mark of 4,131 was set in 1873.

Even when they are given a chance, some small brewers have expressed frustration with the way beer bars order products. Instead of buying three kegs of a new beer and running through them all, as it might have done when local beers were a novelty, a bar tends to buy a keg and, once it’s empty, fill the draft line with a competitor’s product, and then another one, and so on, before rotating back to the first brewery’s beer weeks or months later.

Many in the beer industry pin their hopes for small breweries on localization: the idea that consumers would rather drink beers made down the road than across the country. Lary Hoffman, who co-owns Galaxy Hut in Arlington and Spacebar in Falls Church with his wife, Erica, prefers to stock most of the taps with Virginia breweries, such as Blue Mountain, Champion and Three Notch’d. “You can get any style of beer locally now, and the quality is on par with the best beer in the world, so why not seek out the regional option?” he asks. A handful of national brands, including Bell’s and Avery, show up on the 28 taps at Galaxy Hut and the 24 at Spacebar, but they’re the exception. Customers would be angry “if our draft lineup looked like a Safeway shelf,” Hoffman says.

So, the problem seems to be, too much choice? Yeah, I'm not sure that's something we need to solve. Of course it can be daunting to look at a beer list from a place like Beer Bistro or The Green Lady. That's a problem we want. I lived through the 1980s and early 1990s, when we had maybe four "craft" breweries including Anchor Steam and Sam Adams. I'd rather live today, thank you.

Second-warmest year in the U.S. record

Via the Illinois State Climatologist, NOAA reported this week that 2015 was extraordinarily warm:

The 2015 annual average U.S. temperature was 12.4°C, 1.3°C above the 20th century average, the second warmest year on record. Only 2012 was warmer for the U.S. with an average temperature of 12.9°C. This is the 19th consecutive year the annual average temperature exceeded the 20th century average.

(Emphasis mine.)

Moreover, in 2015, every part of the lower 48 states had above-average temperatures:

Nineteen consecutive years of above-average temperatures. Yes, that does mean they'll change the averages soon. But they've already done once in the past 19 years, since normal temperatures are based on moving 30-year data sets. (Current normals are based on the period 1981-2010.)

News tuff to read

I may or may not have a letterspacing error in the headline...

Short list today, so I may do it after work before rehearsal:

Not to mention, I still haven't finished the Economist's special Christmas issue. Maybe I need a long flight or two?

Skipping an ice age

The Earth has global cool periods periodically, the last one ending around 10,000 years ago, which gave us humans the push we needed to invent complex civilizations. Even though global temperatures were higher about 8,000 years ago than they are today, they were dropping gradually until about 200 years ago. (Any guesses why?)

In short, we're due for another glaciation. But it looks like that won't happen:

[S]cientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research found that the relation of insolation and CO2 concentration in the atmosphere explains the last eight glacial cycles in Earth history. At the same time, their results illustrate that even moderate human interference with the planet's natural carbon balance might postpone the next glacial inception by 100,000 years.

"Even without man-made climate change, we would expect the beginning of a new ice age no earlier than in 50,000 years from now—which makes the Holocene as the present geological epoch an unusually long period between ice ages," explains lead author Andrey Ganopolski. "However, our study also shows that relatively moderate additional anthropogenic CO2 emissions from burning oil, coal and gas are already sufficient to postpone the next ice age for another 50,000 years. The bottom line is that we are basically skipping a whole glacial cycle, which is unprecedented. It is mind-boggling that humankind is able to interfere with a mechanism that shaped the world as we know it."

Yes, we've probably prevented another ice age, even as we've killed off more species than any other force in the last 66 million years.

And if anyone tells me that tomorrow night's -19°C low temperature somehow means we're not warming the planet on our own, I will become verbally violent.

It's Friday, I think

This means I have some time to digest this over the weekend:

I might have a chance to read this weekend. Perhaps.