A Nice Sunday

Farewell Bill!

I spent yesterday in Seattle attending to several important life tasks. The foremost of which was saying “farewell” to a great friend and colleague, Bill Dickson. I’ve known Bill for around twelve years, and had the great pleasure of being his boss for a fair amount of that time. Bill’s a great guy, and one of the best sysadmins I’ve ever managed. Bill has found a new job, in another state, so is leaving Seattle in the next few days. He held court at the Big TIme Brewery in the University District yesterday from about 11:30 AM until sometime after 3 PM. I showed up about 12:30, and hung around until a bit after 3. A parade of well-wishers and old friends came by to say their farewells. Among the folks there were a few other ex-digital.forest tech staff, including the amazing Tom Kepler, and Matt Jay with his wife Jen.

L-R: Kepler, Jen and Matt Jay.

Quite a few other folks I had hoped to see were absent. 🙁

Earlier in the day I was actually at digital.forest, in my old office (now strangely and sadly empty) building a new server. It is a nice little dual-processor, 1U (but not unnaturally long!) server. Soon I’ll be moving this website, and all my other scattered web properties (www.goolsbee.org, etc.goolsbee.org, mac-mgrs.org, etc etc) onto this machine. I have stuff scattered all over both d.f shared servers, and a few of my own, very old, and very crufty servers (including a 1998-vintage 233MHz G3, which serves most of the images on this site!) The point being to consolidate and make my personal webstuff more portable. Less impact on d.f, and easy to relocate should I need to do so.

Before Bill’s send-off I spent a bit of time installing an operating system (BSD) on the hardware. In a lot of ways this new server will keep me connected with Bill, as he’s moving his web stuff onto this new server as well. I trust him with root more than I trust myself.

Our new web server.

After 3 PM I ran back downtown, and had a meeting/interview with the CTO of a company that is interested in me. Yes, a job interview on a Sunday. More news on that should it develop.

My work in laser cut vinyl.

The digital.forest logotype

This is my work.

That’s a double entedre of sorts as it is also, for the moment, my employer, but what I’m talking about here is this logotype. Back when dinosaurs in neon-colored Member’s Only jackets roamed the earth, I was a Graphic Designer. I designed this at the request of my friend, Chris Kilbourn, who started d.f back in 1994. For posterity, here is the back-story of its creation; (Kilbo can fill in any details I’ve forgotten in the comments)…

When I was a professional designer I kept sketchbooks. Usually hard-bound books of blank heavy paper. I doodled and wrote in them constantly, usually with a black felt-tip pen. )I hate ball-points, and pencil doesn’t hold up well to wear.) I’ve kept all sorts of bad habits over the years but losing this good habit of doodling I regret deeply.

Several years prior to doing this logo for d.f I had done a whole corporate identity for a housing development called “Pine Lake Glen” on the Issaquah/Sammamish plateau. Back then it was a lot like the area I live now; high ground in the Cascade Foothills, with a few horse properties and widely scattered houses. It was just beginning to be developed. Now it is a bustling surburbia with a Starbucks on every corner, and expensive SUVs plying the driveways and parking lots. In my sketchbooks at the time I doodled a lot of trees coming up with the look for PLG. I settled on a set of three, which I had created with a paintbrush. I’ve often thought about driving up to the plateau and seeing if the signage I designed is still there, some 20+ years later.

When Chris asked me to design the d.f logo I remembered all those trees I had drawn years before and dug out my sketchbook. Sure enough, at some point I had made the perfect “tree”, with a fat loose-ended marker that had a wonderfully frenetic, organic shape. It would contrast well with the circuit-board motif I planned to mate with it to capture the incongruous combination of thoughts that is digital.forest. The typeface may look familiar to anyone who has ever driven the Autobahn: it is the condensed variant of the Deutsches Institut für Normung face created for highway signage. You know… all roads lead to:
All roads lead to Ausfarht!

I prepared other designs, but I knew this was “the one” as soon as I completed it. I presented a range of offerings to Chris but he saw the beauty in this one and went with it. I created some great letterhead, and some truly amazing translucent business cards (which d.f sadly no longer uses.) We’ve kept the overall design in the intervening sixteen years, and like a good logo should, it has stood the test of time. Recently we went through an office remodel. It took forever, and frankly drove many of us nuts, but one highlight was revealed at the end. Out in the lobby, highly visible as you step out of the elevators is my work embedded in the floor in laser-cut vinyl:

Though I’m leaving digital.forest the identity I created for it sixteen years ago will always remain. As an artist, it is always satisfying seeing your work… at work.

The Winding Road Ahead, and a Glance at the Rear View Mirror.

To some this sign may be a warning. To others it is an invitation. A temptation. A true desire.

I’ve driven this particular road many times and always pause at that famous sign. It is one of those landmarks and moments where you step out of the car, relax a bit, stretch your legs, gather your thoughts, take a deep breath… and then dive in. As the road coils and contorts before you the senses heighten and sharpen, and your focus becomes laser-like. Right now I’ve metaphorically pulled over at that sign and am shaking the thoughts of the long straightway that lies behind me out of my mind, preparing for the focus required of the next challenge.

After ten years in my position at digital.forest, I’m looking to move on to something new.

If digital.forest were a road it would be a well-maintained six-lane freeway today… but I knew it when it was a dirt track alongside a cow pasture. Founded by a close friend in 1994 it was essentially a one-man operation for several years. My friend brought me on-board in the spring of 2000. In the decade since it has grown and prospered. The road did indeed have many treacherous grades and diminishing radius curves, but we navigated them all with aplomb and daring. Our industry boomed, and while we managed to raise some very modest capital, we watched in awe as competitors pulled in millions of dollars, and built amazing facilities. Then, very soon thereafter our industry busted. Those very same competitors had over-built, over-extended themselves, and died off at an astonishing rate not seen on earth since the K-T Extinction Event. We used our revenues wisely, not spending on luxury offices or standard “dotcom datacenter” frivolous eye candy, but instead focused on finding, serving, and retaining what we had: Great Clients. We did this through conservative spending on what was really important to our clients, namely buying critical infrastructure to ensure their uptime. This allowed us to grow and thrive when others were shrinking or dying. Of all the things we’ve done before or since, those worst days of our industry were truly digital.forest’s finest hour, and I look back at what we did, and how we did it, with pride.

We filled our original facility to capacity, and in 2004 went looking for a new one. We found one of those amazing facilities built in the exuberant boom days that had never been completed. It was perfect for us. Not too big, but with room to grow. Over several months in 2004/2005 we completed the long-dormant construction and moved in. It was the craziest half-year of my professional life. My team worked around the clock, seven days a week, for four months straight to build, equip, and then move a live datacenter twenty-nine miles across a major metropolitan area. Operationally it was a flawless migration. Our Account Management team did an amazing job working with our clients, letting them know what was going on and why, and scheduling their move times weeks in advance, often down to the minute. My Technical Operations team executed the move with speed and precision. Most importantly, we did not lose a single client in the process.

What amazing clients they are! I’ve met truly wonderful people during my time at digital.forest. It has been a privilege to serve them, and a joy to watch many of them succeed and grow. Most of all though, the greatest benefit for me has been to make many of them my friends. Our clients are in very good hands, as my other privilege has been to work with some of the most competent and capable people I’ve ever known in my twenty-five years in business.

That move to a new facility is what transformed digital.forest from a rural two-lane blacktop into a super-highway. We expected that “room to grow” would last us a few years, but within months we were expanding again, metaphorically going from two lanes to four, and then six. Curves were smoothed out, bridges built, grades reduced, and guardrails erected. What was once a winding road was now a superslab, on a straight and fast course over the horizon.

Personally, I prefer the winding road to the wide freeway. The challenges are more vivid, and the work keeps me alert and feeling alive. It has nothing to do with the size of the company, as even large organizations can have immediate challenges. I joined one of the larger companies in the Fortune 500, Federated Department Stores (now Macy’s Inc.) in 1990 when they committed to completely transforming their advertising processes from analog to digital. What an amazing ride that was! I left Macy’s to join a small, but international publishing company in 1995 to create an entire IT operation from scratch, then volunteered to transfer to their UK headquarters to successfully reorganize their IT department. From there I went to digital.forest and helped it grow eightfold during my tenure. It is on these sorts of courses I prefer to grab the wheel and shifter to carve up the corners. No freeway driving for me.

I have some projects to complete and/or hand off to others at digital.forest, but mostly I’ll be focussed on finding that next great road. Something that will get my engine roaring in tune with gear changes and sweeping curves.

Let me know if you hear of one.

What Just Flew By My Office Window

One of the cool side-benefits of working where I do is our proximity to Seattle’s Boeing Field. Interesting aircraft seem to fly by fairly often. My office window faces NNW and Boeing Field’s main runway’s southern end is literally smack dab in the middle of my window, a bit over a mile away. My office is on a hillside, and I’m on the 6th (top) floor, and the runway in the Duwamish valley below:

View Larger Map

I was at my desk a bit ago and heard the unique sound of four big radial engines roaring by. I look up just in time to see a distinctive boom tail go off the edge of my window. I grab my camera and run out onto the deck outside the kitchen and sure enough there is a B-24 Liberator. Unfortunately it is in a steep bank left turn, flying away from me. By the time it turns and is heading north with a side profile it is over Lake Washington and far away. I snap off a photo though:

B-24 Liberator over Seattle

I walk back inside and sit at my desk, only to hear ANOTHER roaring warbird. I scurry back to the deck just in time to see a P-51 Mustang roll left, then away following the B-24. It was too small and too fast to get a photo of, but I was able to watch it with my binoculars when back at my desk.

One old plane is an anomaly. Two in quick succession is a pattern. So instead of getting back to work I sit and watch the runway. Sure enough a few minutes later an unmistakable shape arose from behind a massive hangar that houses the Boeing Military AWACs planes at the SW corner of the field. It slowly and gracefully lifts away from terra firma at a pace leisurely enough for me to get outside and shoot this sequence of photos:

It is of course a Boeing B-17. One of this city’s most significant contributions to the war effort in WW2.

Just thought I’d share.

Update A little while later the B-24 took off again and I managed to shoot it:

I’ve got to run up to Ballard this evening, so I’ll stop by the airport and see if I can catch them on the ground.

Intersections of Interest

Occasionally several of my personal and professional interests converge at one point. I enjoy making images. I enjoy telling stories. I enjoy technology. I make my living in the datacenter industry. I enjoy sharing all of these with others.

This week at work is the culmination of over a year’s efforts by my employer, and one of our clients. A medium-scale project is coming to fruition, involving the client, several contractors (Engineers, Mechanical, and Electrical contractors) our Sales & Operations teams, and mostly our Facilities Manager, who as always is able to make things happen timely and with a smile. My job? Capture it all, and present it as yet another example of what we can accomplish for potential clients: We’re flexible. We’re available. We’re here to serve the client’s needs, even if they are “off the price sheet” so to speak.

You can follow along on our Support Blog. First post is here. The second one is here. I’ll be posting again tomorrow with an update, and a wrap up later.

workworkwork, twitter

A very busy day today at work. We had some scheduled maintenance performed on our UPS systems. That in and of itself is not a big deal, it is just that last time we did maintenance on our UPS system something went completely sideways on us. Once burned, twice shy as they say.

I did my usual documentation and communication gig, which kept me moving back and forth between the datacenter and my desk to post updates. At the urging of a few clients I also tried out a new coms channel, namely Twitter. If you wish to follow what’s happening at a micro-level at the d.f facilty, go here.

On a totally unrelated note, my back is killing me. In a way I’ve never felt before. It is like I have a knife stuck between my left shoulder blade and my spine. Nothing I do seems to make the constant pain go away. I’ve tried mild OTC pain killers, I’ve tried ice, & heat. I’m trying bourbon at the moment. I had a herniated disc once, and that was much more painful, but this is in some ways worse as it just won’t stop.

Happy Birthday Macintosh!

Today is the Apple Macintosh’s 25th birthday. Time flies doesn’t it? I owe a lot in life to this little machine.

I first met the Macintosh in March of 1984. I was a Junior at Texas Tech University, studying Graphic & Package Design under Frank Cheatham. My Production class went to a computer store to have a look at one and get a demonstration. I can distinctly remember being impressed with the graphic capabilities of the machine and the quantum leap in the user interface from all other computer systems I’d seen before. My good friend and previous roommate was a Computer Science major, who built systems in our dorm room, so I was very familiar with computers, though not much of a user then. My other strong memory from that day was turning to a classmate and saying:

“When this thing gets “real” fonts, it will take off.”

I was referring of course to the early bitmapped “city name” (Monaco, Chicago, Geneva, etc) fonts that shipped with the Macintosh. “Real” fonts are just that, real. Typography that has been created and refined by masters over hundreds of years. Back when I went to school we had to learn to render typefaces by hand and I could write freehand in Garamond, Baskerville, Franklin, Helvetica, Century Schoolbook, and many other traditional fonts. Being able to just bang out a perfect typeface on a screen was a dream of every designer back then.

Well, either I was perceptive, or prophetic because not long after my graduation and entrance into the professional world Aldus shipped PageMaker, Adobe shipped PostScript and broke open the world of “real” fonts … on the Macintosh. I was present at the birth of “desktop publishing” as I was a young designer working in Seattle at the time, and all the “old guys” (as I called people my age back then) were terrified of computers and expected us kids to do all the technological heavy lifting. I learned everything I could about computers, software, networks, etc. Within a few years I was managing systems instead of designing things. By 1991 I was no longer a Graphic Designer, I was an IT guy. My design education has served me well however as the entire purpose of design, at least how it was taught to me, was the communication of complex concepts in visual/verbal form. Frank Cheatham insisted that we had to be able to EXPLAIN why we made the design choices we did. They had to make sense, otherwise, as he often said, “it was just decoration.” From that education I learned how to explain complex technology to non-technical people. I have also been able to explain non-technical things to technical people. (I’m a English-Geek translator.) This has allowed me to very successfully manage a class of people that many believe are unmanageable, “IT guys”.

I did my last professional graphic design job in 1994, designing the corporate identity of the company started by a friend of mine… a network geek I met “online” several years before on a Mac-focussed BBS. He was running the network at a local college, while I was running one at a department store‘s in-house Advertising agency. The company he started? digital.forest. That’s right, the company I joined six years later. Before that though my career took me to a publishing company headquartered in London. Along the way I learned UNIX (to manage Sun Sparcservers that ran The Bon’s OPI system), learned multi-protocol networking, people management, budget management, project management, etc. At The Bon I was telling “old white guys in ties” about this new thing called the Internet. I built my first DNS & web servers in 1995. Launched a web company of my own in 1998, and sold it in 2000.

If it were not for this little machine with a 9″ screen I’d still be drawing typefaces while designing things on paper. In a lot of ways I owe my whole professional career and adult life to this little computer from Cupertino. It changed my world. Changed my profession. Changed my career. Changed my life in some very profound ways. It even introduced me to most of my friends. It has been a very interesting 25 years. Happy Birthday Macintosh. I’ll drink a toast to you tonight.