How will we build The Digital Society?

Tomorrow, I head to Florida for Gartner Symposium/ITxpo. I’ve attended this amazing event for the last few years, and it’s always energizing, thought provoking, and challenging. As a side benefit, I always get my 10,000 steps in each day.

The opening keynote this year is titled “Building Platforms for a Digital Society” which is timely for many of the things I’ve been contemplating lately. How will we transform our cultures to address the new technological realities never before faced in human history: machine intelligence, economics of abundance, disruptive and exponential advances in nearly every discipline?

How will we rectify increasing lifespans and population growth with the threat of mass unemployment as more and more jobs, even non-manual jobs, are automated? The old rules increasingly will not apply. New ways of thinking and new ways of acting will be required, new legal frameworks crafted and refined.

We face unprecedented change and opportunity, and the 12,000+ people I’ll be hanging out with next week will be among the vanguard. I can’t wait for the discussions, debates, presentations, and workshops in the coming week!

If you’re going to be attending #GartnerSYM, send me a tweet (@raytoler) or message me on LinkedIn and let’s connect!

Moar Will Have To Wait

In the mail this week was a letter from my ISP, Suddenlink. They had Good News!™ They were magically increasing my Internet speed for FREE! FREE!!!!! I should have known something was awry when the letter said that I was going from 150 Mbps to 200. I never had 150. It also noted that I now had a 550 GB monthly allowance on data.


When I signed up for my original plan, there might have been a cap – I honestly can’t remember – but it was high enough, especially compared to the maximum theoretical speed, that I wouldn’t ever realistically run into it. I certainly never have.

But still… A cap. A meter. A pair of digital handcuffs. Something that restricts me. I hate that. It’s like the speed governing chip on my car. Am I ever really going to drive more than 135 mph? Not on purpose. But knowing that the engine could do much more and is being artificially limited because of some nanny-minded bean-counter just itches. I do the occasional Netflix binge. I move big data files to my remote servers. I work from home on occasion. Add to that the newly announced Wi-Fi calling from AT&T and my shiny new 1TB Dropbox plan, and this data-cap thing gets a tiny bit worrisome, even beyond the itch.

Yes, I will have another, please.I hopped online to read about the change (burning my now precious bandwidth to do so) and learned that Suddenlink has rolled out Gigabit ethernet to my town. Huzzah! Never mind that my router would probably cook an egg at those speeds or that I doubt I’d ever use the burst (or be talking to a server that could provide it), it’s more. It’s more than more, it’s MOAR in the parlance of the day. And moar is better. And it’s only $100 or so a month.


I’m already paying $100 or so a month.

I called Suddenlink. The automated system can’t connect my phone number with my account. Doesn’t matter, the service people always make me repeat all of that information anyway. I say “representative” five more times until I stop to listen (because options have changed) and say “add or change services.” Ten minutes with something worse than hold music. It’s hold music interspersed with cheerful people shouting the wonders of Suddenlink.

Martin answers the phone. Martin looks up my info. Martin tries to sell me the cable and phone bundle for $60 or the cable only bundle for $50. “Now which of those sounds better to you?” Nice try with the sales psychology, Martin.

I tell Martin that the last thing I need is another thing in my house ringing and that I haven’t had cable for 5 years. I hear the three-ring binder softly close with a whuff of disappointment. Martin looks at my account again and says it looks like the plan I’m on is no longer offered and that for only about $20 more each month, I can get Gigabit ethernet with the 550 GB cap. I note that the letter I got says I already have a 550 GB cap. Martin tells me, no, it’s actually a 450 GB cap.


I tell Martin that I’ll have to research my actual usage with their system and then decide what to do, but in the meantime, what is the new price of my 200 Mbps service? “About $75.” “Great, let’s do that for now, then.” “I’m sorry, but I can’t change that for you, I’m going to have to send you over to our retention department.”

The hold music and Stepford community players return.

Jared answers the phone. Martin has told Jared… nothing. I go through the entire story again. Jared says he can get me Gigabit for $120 or 200 Mbps for $75. I clarify the data caps. He notes that I can buy additional data up front for a small additional fee. I pass. During the hold music I’ve done a quick scan of my usage history and it’s not so bad. I can probably deal with 450 GB, especially for $30 less each month.

My inner CFO and CIO teamed up and hit my inner geek with a bar of soap wrapped in a sock: “$30 a month is $360 a year. That’s a big chunk of a PS4.” “Ok, 1GB speed. Do you have the backbone in place? How many devices are going to need that speed? Most of the house is on Wi-Fi. The 550 GB cap is silly for a connection that fast.”*

My inner geek slinks away in defeat. Moar is better, but moar will have to wait.

*I have more to say on both the data cap and how I decided I was probably ok within it, but that’s a story for another post.

No Sound from the SQ-80?

Just a short post that I hope will find its way into the search engines in the hopes that it helps someone in the future. My Ensoniq SQ-80 stopped making any noise a month or two ago. As it turns out, I ran into an RTFM error. Except that I bought this synth second hand and didn’t have TFM.

The SQ-80 Master Settings Page
The answer was right in front of me…

Earlier today, I was on the excellent Ensoniq Resource page and found not only a PDF of the original Musician’s Manual, but several other manuals and schematics as well. Had I been smart, I would have scanned through it first. I went the long way, but in the interest of Internet time, here’s a choice bit from page 18 of the user guide:

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you don’t have a CV Pedal plugged into the SQ-80, you should NOT leave this parameter set to PEDAL=VOL when you turn the unit off. If you do. the next time you power it up, the SQ-80 will set the “straight synth” volume to zero — it won’t make any sound. To get the volume back to normal, just go to the MASTER Page, select this parameter and set it to PEDAL=MOD.

Of course, I took the long way around and, in fairness, would not have turned to the Master Settings page information first. But once I knew where I was looking, there it was!

It’s been a long time since my Ensoniq OS chops were strong, but I’m glad to have this synth back in the mix!

When I Was a Child

Once or twice a year, I get the urge to install some variant of Linux or Unix and set something up. What something? No idea. Which is why, of course, the experiment is typically abandoned within a week or two.

Well, that’s not always the case. Abandonment still occurs, but sometimes it’s because I discover that my project, let’s say “build a super secure personal firewall using OpenBSD,” wasn’t worth the effort given other tools I already had in place. Ok, maybe also a tad over-ambitious.

Other times, I have some vestigial Silicon Valley idealism resurface, making me want to move away from Mac OS or Windows, angst-ridden over all of the things going on that I don’t know about. I’ll compile my own kernel! I’ll run wireshark and review source code! I’ll shut down all of the unnecessary services! I’ll make a personal media serv… no I won’t.

It’s not that I don’t have the desire. It’s more that the *n?x communities I end up in still haven’t moved away from the Nick Burns stereotype. There’s an elitism that permeates much of the culture, despite the best efforts of some really helpful distro teams and well-meaning benefactors. It’s hard to RTFM when you don’t know where TFM is or even what it is that you don’t know. There’s more often than not a tone of “I’m not going to hold your hand” in the community forums.

It's the email that's stupid, not you, right?

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate and agree with the underlying sentiment. Point someone toward the bait store instead of handing them a plate of sushi and they’ll be better off in the long run. But many of the experts I’ve come across online are just that: experts. They’re not teachers, mentors, or guides. They have the knowledge, but they came by it via years of effort and struggle, value it highly, and often hold onto it like a dying Skeksis emperor.

I am... still... emperor...
I am… still… emperor…

Years ago, I was a decent programmer. I only knew one language, BASIC, and I only wrote for three platforms: Apple II, TRS-80, and my beloved Commodore 64. I even wrote an assembly program once to see if I could do it. I know I have the aptitude, the creativity, and access to the necessary tools. What I no longer have as much of are time and dedicated focus.

So how do I resolve those self-imposed limitations, an arcane ecosystem with a long history, and a cultural group that values DIY and distrusts tourists, with my goal to learn a new programming language? As usual, there’s a quotation that applies.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

This time, however, I am reversing the lesson. What is needed is not the abandonment of childish ways, but rather the adoption of them. I need to forget what I’ve learned over the last 25 years, to abandon what I “know.” I need to ignore the tweaking and the tribes and, above all, to seek out the education culture instead of the expert culture to help me learn.

In recent searches, I rediscovered the Raspberry Pi’s simplistic beauty. It’s powerful, but accessible and affordable, just as my Commodore 64 was. More importantly, the communities are full of projects and lessons geared toward the beginner. Toward the new mind. Of course, a new model has just hit the market, so everything is sold out, but that will pass.

This time, there won’t be a nebulous project. I know exactly what the end result should be. The project is to learn.