Remote work: the last meritocracy

The general idea of remote work is that you do the same job you would do in the office, but you don’t have to actually go to the office. This removes all the problems with people and politics of the office. That’s viewed as a huge benefit, but the reality is that many people only keep their jobs because of the people and politics of the office. Remote work strips all that away and leaves you standing naked in a meritocracy where only your skills matter.

I’ve worked remotely for 7 out of the last 9 years. For 4 years I was a remote contractor left to my own devices. I spent 2 years working as a remote worker for a non-remote company and I’ve spent the last year-ish working as a remote worker for a remote company. While sitting at home looks the same in all cases, each of those situations were very different from each other.

Here’s what I have learned from each of those situations:

Remote work as a contractor

StressedUnless you want to spend a lot of time chasing business, chasing cheques, and schmoozing on the phone, you’re screwed. The vast majority of remote “employers” are really just guys with ideas that want the cheapest possible labour to see if their idea has legs. They’re not invested in the idea of building a remote workforce for any reason other than they see it as the cheapest way to get going. They’ll work the shit out of you to see if you’re good “startup material” (which really means “I have no money because nobody but me believes in my idea”) and discard you when you’re so exhausted you trip. If they have no backers, be wary. Don’t know if they have backers? Google it; Angels and VCs love to talk about who they’re backing.

I spent about 25% of my time actually working and the rest of the time doing these tasks in no particular order:

  • Trying to find new work.
  • Trying to get paid for completed work.
  • Trying to figure out the best way to acquire gear and services (from a tax perspective).
  • Learning how to do my taxes properly.
  • Mourning the loss of my skill set because I was not using it.

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A primer on your phone, I mean…your website.

The world of things is grouped into three categories for me. There’s things I know, things I don’t know, and things that in order for me to understand they even exist you’d have to go back to the Big Bang to give me enough context to get a grip on. I think that most of us think that most people know what we know, or at least have enough context to get up to speed pretty quickly. Recently, however, I find myself talking to a lot of end-user website owners and I’ve come to realize that is not so. I’ve had to have many Big Bang conversations with website owners in order to explain what I felt were pretty fundamental pieces of the Internet. So, I thought I’d try to lay out the basic things that I think everyone that owns a website needs to know.

Confused

Many of the people that cross my path daily are legitimately trying to understand all the moving parts of their website; but there is a sub-community that promotes willful ignorance as well. In some circles it has become chic to be incompetent with technology. We wouldn’t dream of saying things like “I take my car to work but I have no bloody idea how to drive” or “Lawnmower? Not a clue how it works, when it runs out of gas I just throw it out and buy a new one because I have no idea where the gas goes in”. But it is somehow OK, and in fact fashionable, to say “my website? Not a clue how it works. When it stops working I just scream and yell at random people until someone fixes it”.

So here’s my attempt to help.

Continue reading “A primer on your phone, I mean…your website.”

Centralizing logs with Papertrail

Sysadmins have a love/hate relationship with logs. We spend hours and hours every day diving through them looking for clues about what happened that shouldn’t have, what didn’t happen that should have, what systems and people are actually doing, and gauging capacity for the future.

It’s one thing to look at one log for one particular issue; but some complex issues lead a merry chase through many logs or many servers which can get very complicated very fast. To ease that burden, all but the simplest of setups should employ some form of log centralization. Centralized logs are easier to access en masse and they’re easier to bring analytical tools to bear to pry out their secrets.

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I am 1:249/207 Hear me Bark!

I was assigned a Fidonet node number tonight. That will mean almost nothing to anyone, but to me it’s an accomplishment. It took me 3 days of hacking around to get this thing set up.

Fidonet was the predominant pre-Internet message network which was created in 1984 and had an initial 12 nodes (BBSes), peaking in 1996 with ~40,000 nodes and down to about ~2,000 now.

I’ve been a Linux hacker (the good kind) all my adult life and have therefore been surrounded by other hackers of varying degrees of competency. Through those people I’ve learned that anyone can run a script, but the true mark of a craftsman in any trade is the ability to apply abstract knowledge to new situations.

Continue reading “I am 1:249/207 Hear me Bark!”

Breaking crypto: Not like the movies!

Web encryption is at the top of the discussion list these days in geek circles and with good cause. The revelations over the past few months that many countries are collecting wide swaths of Internet data on their own and foreign citizens has made us all stop and re-think things. We used to think it was fairly near impossible to collect every email and every web session that passes through the Internet but that assumption is now being challenged. Even the security of our encrypted web sessions using the tried and true Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) technology has now been revealed to be orders of magnitude less secure from government prying than we thought. As we work our way through this maelstrom of blows to the head it’s becoming clear that the only answer to true privacy on the Internet is Trust No One (TNO) encryption.

Who uses encryption, anyhow?

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Why loosing Lavabit and Silent Mail doesn’t change anything.

Here’s a non-concept for you: secure email. There’s a lot of media frenzy surrounding the recent shuttering of Lavabit and Silent Mail and most of it is unwarranted (see what I did, there? Warranted?) While any security is certainly better than no security, the media is presenting the loss of these services as something that matters and honestly, it really doesn’t. Email is so inherently insecure and the laws of most countries allow law enforcement to warrant emails anyhow, so there’s almost no advantage to using a secure email service if your intention is to be bad. In short, there is no such thing as secure email.

I had never heard of Silent Mail before a few days ago but I have both a Lavabit (had) and a Hush Mail account; both provide encryption bundled into their email service and from the press surrounding Silent Mail, I assume it offered a similar service. Continue reading “Why loosing Lavabit and Silent Mail doesn’t change anything.”

From bartering to Bitcoins; How did we get here?

I doubt there’s a single person alive in North America who is unaware of the financial mess the United States is in. Jumping from Fiscal Cliff to Sequestering, it’s quite obvious to all of us that the “money” in question does not exist. Greece is in a no better state half-way across the world so it’s pretty easy to make the argument that money is broken. When your country has over-leveraged its financial resources so terribly that you know, deep down inside, that your money and property can become worthless overnight with the flick of a pen in government house, what do you do?

Get new money, of course. Continue reading “From bartering to Bitcoins; How did we get here?”