Mike Bailey

I saw robots! - My Tour of Toyota

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Robots welding car bodies at Toyota plant in Altona

Today I did the the Toyota Altona plant tour.

The tour was exciting and enjoyable. My favourite moment was when our guide pushed away a pinboard to reveal a line of eight cars being operated on by large welding robots. Sparks were flying in what must have been dangerous work when humans did it.

I think it will take a couple of nights to decompress and digest the information - there was a lot to take in - but here are some initial observations:

  • Assembly line workers perform a very different profile of work to knowledge workers. Wherever possible they seem to have been replaced with machines.
  • Humans are required on the line for processes where increased levels of dexterity, mobility, visual perception or tactile ability are required.
  • The robots and humans seem to get along well. When humans stop for morning tea the unmanned vehicles that carry parts around go and charge themselves.
  • Quality Circles - staff can form a quality circle if they believe there is an improvement that can be made to process. There is a well defined structure to the process which helps staff participate in modifying the process.
  • The system is incredibly well run but we saw very few “screens”. Reports and graphs were printed and pinned on boards. Dynamic status boards were painted with coloured lights to indicate status. A large board would have a similar level of visual detail to an iPhone app. Simplicity!
  • The work environment was sympathetic to the humans in it. Noise wasn’t excessive and they used music to signal problems on a line.
  • If staff climb into a machine they put a lock with their name and photo on it - a great safeguard that makes workers responsible for their own safety.

EC2 Outage: Pimp my Fail

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Amazon are reporting degraded performance for some volumes in a single AZ in the us-east-1 region.

Twitter has lit up with complaints. An amusing one referred to “Amazons Elastic SLA”. Overheard in the office “The Cloud’s down! Does that mean it’s sunny?”

Fire Drill for the Cloud or You’re Doing it Wrong

Some pretty high profile websites are timing out which seems to indicate we’re not the only ones to have failed to take advantage of the high availability made possible by the AWS service stack.

More concerning though is the lack of design effort put into their error pages.

Take a Lesson from the Masters

GitHub put the fun back into fail, like the sound effects on TV’s Funniest Home Videos.

My all time favourite 404 page captures the awkward embarrassment on an unsatisfiable request.

iPads are just made for Screencasts

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Killer app for iPads

Trying to justify getting yourself a new iPad3? My favourite use for my iPad lately has been watching quality screencasts by Gary Bernhardt (Destroy All Software) and Ryan Bates (RailsCasts). Each offer a premium subscription model where you pay $9 a month for access to their full catalog along with all new videos.

I’ve never really been into Screencasts but I’ve only recently discovered the secret seems to be in keeping them short. Here are two I’ve been really getting into.

Worth Paying For

How much do you earn each month from your craft? I wouldn’t think twice about paying $9 a month to the individuals who create such valuable art. To be honest I think we’re getting it cheap.

Destroy All Software

Gary Bernhardt has a communication style I can only describe it as “performance vim”. You spend most of the ten or so minutes watching him make text dance in a full screen terminal. It’s like pairing with someone you can really learn something from. The iPad is just the right size to make it work.

Destroy All Software Screencasts


Ryan Bates has been producing short (5-12 minute) screencasts covering all manner of topics of interest to “Ruby People” for years now and making them available for free. Ryan makes his screencasts available via RSS which means they automatically find their way to my iPad.

Too many in our community give of themselves without making it easy enough for us to give back. I contacted Ryan a while back to ask how I could donate. I’m glad he has now made restructured things to make his ongoing work sustainable.

Ryan Bates has been producing quality RailsCasts for years now

Back To My Mac, Confessions of a Reluctant Apostate

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Rethinking Fanboyism

Two years after replacing my Apple Macbook Pro laptop with a Dell running Ubuntu Linux I’m going back to Apple. I moved away from Apple for a mixture of philosophical and practical reasons. One of the main reasons was my belief in the importance of a viable linux desktop operating system. The backflip came about because I feel happier when using Apple products. In my attempts to get away from Apple I think I’ve learned more about why they have been so successful.

Android was the Catalyst

I didn’t get a smartphone until mid 2011 and even then it was mainly because the battery on my Nokia was needing to be charged nightly. I picked up an HTC Sensation and began hating it almost immediately. I’m usually pretty good at pointing out flaws but the HTC was a bit of a mystery to me. While I can list a few flaws (battery not lasting a day is one!) I just didn’t like using it. After three months I decided to buy my first iPhone.

I Feel Love

So this is the fucked up thing. Within 30 minutes I was texting people to tell them how much I love my new iPhone. It may make me sound like a total fanboy but even while I was in the store I was bonding with the device. It feels wrong saying I love a machine but  at the same time I’m curious how it could elicit such emotions. I can only put it down to the design of both hardware and software.

The Cathedral and The Bazaar

Steve Jobs was the high priest at Apple. We’re told he was obsessive about detail and that it was his way or the highway. Part of the reason I avoided getting an iPhone was the control exerted over the distribution of Apps through the App Store. I was surprised and disappointed by my first experience of the Android Marketplace. A search for “shopping list” returned hundreds of apps with no indication which were most downloaded or highly rated. Maybe you can’t design an OS or phone by committee?

Get Out of my Way

If I’m going to be iPhone boy then life would be easier if I used OSX on my desktop.

It’s been about 4 years since I last bought a new Macbook Pro. My efforts to avoid vendor lockin are now being replaced by efforts to avoid unproductive work (like debugging problems printing from Ubuntu 11.10). I want to get on with the fun stuff and OSX just seems to make the fun stuff so much easier.

So What Now for Freedom?

I was shocked earlier this year to hear a techie say he wouldn’t care if the linux desktop went away because he’s happy with OSX. My issue is that Apple could make OSX unpleasant at some point in the future and without a viable alternative to switch to we would just have to accept it.

I don’t think me going back to Apple is going to make an ounce of difference to Linux but what would the world be like if everyone followed this path? I guess I’m no longer willing to sacrifice my own happiness trying to support this particular ideal.

Well Done Steve (and Company)

The iPhone and Macbook Pro are masterpieces. (I didn’t mention I’ve had an iPad for the past 12 months and love it to bits). I tried to extract myself from this web of awesome production but have failed because they are so well designed. I would love to create something as compelling.

Lost Dogs Home Cry Poor

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[Update] The ABC have acknowledged that the Lost Dogs Home does actually get funding from government.

Lost Dogs Home Receive Millions from Government

You’re possibly already funding The Lost Dogs Home through your Council rates. As a provider of pound services to Victorian Councils they receive government money to impound the majority of animals coming into their “care”. Of the animals not reclaimed by their owners in time last year, most were killed (13,594 in total).

They are also contracted to provide Animal Control Officers to Councils. They have the power to hand out fines and seize people’s pets.

LDH received $6.9 mil from “customers” in 2009-2010

Yet They Claim to Receive No Government Funding?

The Lost Dogs Home repeated claims to receive no government funding despite the fact that local government pays them to impound the majority of the animals.

The home, founded by a group of animal lovers in 1911, gets no government funding. However, Dr Smith revealed that in the past year – apart from Mr Samways’s gift – it had received more than $6 million in bequests and donations.

“$3m benefactor Frank Samways is a dog’s – and the Lost Dogs Home’s – best friend” - The Age, 29 July 2011

Here Graeme Smith is reported to have made the claim personally,

The Lost Dogs Home’s Graeme Smith said the organisation did not receive any government funding, unlike the RSPCA. ‘’Tenders are judged on many factors. These include financial, ability to deliver, customer service, management, quality, etc,’‘ Mr Smith said.

“Pound kill rate sparks concern” The Age 1 May, 2011

This week Graeme Smith stood by and made no effort to correct a television reporter who claimed his company “relies solely on the public’s generosity to get by financially”. The ABC have since issued a correction to the story after a viewer complaint. Why does it take a concerned member of the public to notify them when Graeme Smith was standing right beside the reporter?

LDH get $3 mil donation from Goodfordogs on Vimeo.

The Public are Being Misled

If you live in Melbourne there’s a reasonable chance you’re already paying The Lost Dogs Home to impound cats and dogs through your Council rates. The majority of animals not claimed by owners are being killed.

It appears the media are being told a very different story and are not checking the facts. Members of the public deserve to know the truth about where their money is going.

The same message applies to the Cat Protection Society of Victoria.

RVM in Production

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[update] Aussie Rubyists are discussing this on rails-oceania@googlegroups.com

I’m a relative newcomer to Ruby Version Manager (RVM) because I haven’t needed it till now.  Last week I started work on a project that uses JRuby and RVM is now a part of my tool chain.

“RVM is a command line tool which allows us to easily install, manage and work with multiple ruby environments from interpreters to sets of gems.”


I think it’s a pretty amazing project and Wayne E. Seguin deserves respect for gifting us with such a great tool. I think it’s great for dev but…

I’m just not sure I want RVM in Production

As I said, I’m new to RVM. I don’t know it that well yet so I’m not qualified to speak about it with any degree of authority. The idea of running rvm on production servers seems wrong to me because it seems to dump a load of non-standard complexity onto sysadmins while ignoring the unix idioms and conventions they know.

Do we really need to be so specific about versions?

In an age of virtualisation and cloud computing, a production server probably shouldn’t need to have more than one version of Ruby installed. RVM makes it easy for devs to specify that this web app uses ruby-1.9.2-p180 while that one uses ruby-1.9.2-p290. I’m just not sure they should be expecting operations to be providing them with such specificity.

Don’t sysadmins have enough to deal with already?

Developers may spend months or years in the same cosy environment working on software they know backwards. Sysadmins deal with chaos everyday. They put out fires, multitask and deal with hundreds of different bits of software. What makes this possible is conventions within the unix world. Logs go here, start scripts there, this is the library load path, etc… System administration can be like working in a busy kitchen. Special off menu orders make their work harder and are not appreciated!

I just wonder whether developers demanding specific Ruby patch levels will come across like the folks ordering coffee from LA Story?

[Update] I was running into a few difficulties using RVM so at least for now, I’ve settled on a very simple use for RVM on my workstation. Bundler does a great job managing my gems so I’ve set RVM to use system Ruby and I’ll only use a .rvmrc in projects that are not using my default of ruby-1.9.2.

An Elaborate Hoax

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Do you like mysteries? Want to help solve one?

[UPDATE] The identity of the anonymous sender has been revealed! He trusted someone he shouldn’t have. Still deliberating on the best thing to do with this info.

A Very Strange Email

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from an anonymous sender making some pretty outrageous claims about The Lost Dogs Home. He wrote that they had hired someone with slaughterhouse experience to be their new operations manager. The “evidence” provided was a LinkedIn profile that looked potentially fake.

A Very Strange Profile

Someone obviously spent a lot of time creating the profile but as was pointed out to me by a Linkedin user, it’s quite possibly a fake.

This Linkedin profile could be a fake

Linkedin Is Not Reliable Evidence!

Anyone can say they work at LDH. It took me all of 2 minutes to update my profile to say I was a ‘Voice of Reason’ at LDH. It’s simply not credible evidence is it?

Linkedin is not “reliable evidence”

 So What’s The Big Deal?

Truth is important! Serious claims like the ones sent to me should not be made (or accepted) without evidence. Ideally the authenticity of that evidence is available to be verified by anyone. That’s not possible with the Linkedin profile I was sent. Sometimes evidence consists of the testimonial of a trusted person. My anonymous emailer did not meet that criteria.

What’s Really Going On Here?

The person who sent me the original email was annoyed when I didn’t write about it. I don’t know why he was going to so much trouble to get me to spread the story. It was suggested that someone may be attempting to discredit some animal welfare advocates. There are now a small number of Facebook accounts who are spreading the Linkedin profile by posting it on other people’s walls (68 since Thursday).

This post is intended as a reminder that we should not believe everything we read on the Internet. We only serve to discredit ourselves when we succumb to intellectual laziness or worse yet, the arrogance of willful ignorance.

Look At Your Data - John Rauser

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While I couldn’t make it to this year’s O’Reilly Velocity 2011 I’m excited so the videos are available to watch for free. My favourite talk from last year was John Rauser’s “TCP and the Lower Bound of Web Performance”.

This year John delivered an excellent talk entitled look at your data. He demonstrated how looking at averages hides a lot of what’s really going on and identifies how toolmakers might improve their offerings.

Modern monitoring software makes it easy to plot a statistic like average latency every minute — too easy. Fancy dashboards of time series plots often lull us into a false sense of security. Underneath every point on those plots is a distribution, and underneath that distribution is a series of individuals: your customers. – John Rauser

Lost Dogs Home Can’t Justify Their Killing

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[Update] Kate Hoelter is not among the more than 550 people who have Like’d this post on Facebook! We’re still waiting for her to come back with a figure for the number of animals they fostered out last year.

An animal pound contractor in Australia has discovered that selling themselves as a loving protector of animals can bring millions in donations. The problem is, their business model is based around adopting out a few of the unclaimed animals and killing the rest.

Management at The Lost Dogs Home must be fans of the TV series Mad Men, which featured 50’s ad men trying to sell people on cigarettes in the wake of a Reader’s Digest report that smoking will lead to various health issues including lung cancer.

The following comment was made by Lost Dogs’ Home fundraising staffer Kate Hoelter on the public Facebook Page of one of their ‘Ambassadors’, comedian Claire Hooper. I doubt Claire was ever told the organisation using her face killed 13,594 cats and dogs while reporting a $2.7 mil profit in 2010. Kate’s comment was posted in response to me pointing this fact out to Claire.

LDH comment on Claire Hooper’s FB Page

Let’s Break It Down Shall We?

The Lost Dogs’ Home does a lot of good work for dogs and cats.

You kill most of them Kate.

LDH killed 13,594 cats and dogs in 2009-2010

We work hard to reunite lost pets with their owners

You refuse to put photos of lost pets on the Internet to make it easier for owners to find them. and find loving new homes for those who are not claimed. You killed 6 out of 10 unclaimed dogs last year without ever making them available for adoption.

You close at lunchtime on Sundays even though weekends are the busiest time for adoption.

LDH killed 6 out of 10 unclaimed dogs in 2009-2010”

We run an extensive foster care program

I asked you how many animals were fostered in 2010 and you had no idea. I’ve offered to donate $100 if you disclose the figure within the week. We’re still waiting.

Mike Bailey bets $100 LDH won’t reveal number of animals cared for by their ‘extensive foster care program’ in 2010..

and a behaviour modification program for dogs so they can be rehomed.

How many dogs that failed your temperament test passed after being placed in this program in 2010?

The surplus income was spent on building new facilities

You ended the 2010 financial year with $9.3 mil cash and cash equivalents. In that same year you killed 13,594 cats and dogs while adopting out just 3101 animals.

such as The Lost Cats’ Home,

This is a warehouse next door that doesn’t even have an adoption section.

Sick and Injured Shelter

Indoor kennels…

and Training and Education Centre.

you mean to say you’ve been killing pets to save money to build a classroom?

Plans are under way to further improve facilities that will increase our ability to care for and rehome more pets.

What is the point of improving facilities when you close at lunchtime on Sundays and public holidays? These are some of the busiest days for adoption and pet stores are certainly open to take advantage of it.

Questions are being asked about why you are [pursuing more pound contracts][Pound Kill Rate Sparks Concern] when you already have such a high kill rate.

The Home runs many proactive services such as the National Pet Register which is responsible for reuniting over 19,000 lost dogs and cats with their owners every year through their microchip and free tag service.

Central Animal Records also run a microchip registry, as do Australasian Animal Registry. How does running an entirely separate business change that fact that you provide high kill pound services to Councils?

Online pet Licence helps educate new pet owners.

Once again, this has nothing to do with your decision to kill so many of the animals entrusted to your care.

The Home is run by a team of compassionate and dedicated people.

Motherhood statements like this mean nothing. Claiming to care does not equate to caring.

The Lost Dogs Home has a business model built around killing. The current leadership have been in control for more than two decades and refuse to make meaningful changes.

Statistics taken from The Lost Dogs Home Annual Report 2010

See also:

Pound Kill Rate Sparks Concern, The Sunday Age [May 1, 2011]